Thursday, March 8, 2012

"But Mom, I'm NOT Allergic!"

It's my daughter's birthday today. The daughter (as she reminds me) who I rarely write about. The easy child.

When my daughter was born, we were terrified she would also have allergies. We had put off having a second child because dealing with my oldest son's allergies was sometimes overwhelming. When she was born, my "DON'T GIVE HER FORMULA UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!" message made the nurses tip-toe past my room, shaking their heads at the nut cases who were ultimately handed babies to take home.

We did have her screened before six months, just to see if anything would show up. Nothing did, but the doctor warned us that screening tests for infants were notoriously unreliable. He gave us the then en-vogue advice: introduce solids slowly and avoid allergenic foods.

What we didn't allow for was that our daughter was a different baby than our son. Completely different. She was more than 3 lbs heavier at birth. As my mother said, she came out "fully baked." And she was hungry, dammit!

Her first solid food? Rice, beans and chicken with pretty heavy Mexican spices she lifted off my plate when my back was turned in a restaurant. Not only did she not have food allergies, she managed to get that food down without teeth and without choking. The old adage about they'll reach for it when they're ready was something I wasn't willing to hear, so she had to go way over the top of her baby seat to get there.

Way over the top has been a pretty good description of life with her ever since. Second kids always have to fight harder for attention, but in our house our daughter knew our son came first and that she had to push for the things she wanted. It wasn't that we loved him more. It was that he literally came first. First in our thoughts because of safety. First to be fed because of cross-contamination worries/special needs. First to be checked on at night. There just wasn't as much room for worry left in my brain to dedicate to my second child.

There didn't need to be. There was no special meeting required for her first day of preschool; I just dropped her off. Ditto kindergarten. I never volunteered as class mother for her parties, or chaperoned her field trips.  I didn't attend birthday parties with her. It wasn't fair that she got less of my time, but it was truly necessary. At least, that's what I told myself.

The scatological diaper contents hit the rotating appliance around first grade. No peanut-free table. "Mom, Ashley gave me part of her Snickers bar at lunch today!" she announce proudly. "WHAT?" I say, marching her over to the sink and thrusting her hands under. After a few moments, she makes it clear that the Snickers bar she ate was only a Snickers bar, not a ticking time bomb she had brought into the house. Long gone. Uneventful. But she really liked it. "Can we get some for my lunches?"

After tons of badgering, we started down the slippery slope of the no-longer-peanut-free household. A party bag treat here or there. Then: why shouldn't she keep her Halloween candy? Why couldn't she have peanut butter in her lunch? We had already gone part-way down the slope with cow's milk. (The growth and health benefits of milk outweighed the risk in our opinion.) Little by little, wrapped peanut-containing candy appeared on the top of the fridge and were packed in her lunch box, along with individual peanut butter cups with disposable knives.

While safety still came first (no peanut butter eaten at home), there was no reason she shouldn't have these foods, other than my fear of a mistake and my wish to give my son a "safe haven." And you know what? The world didn't end. Apparently, the need for the totally-free-peanut house was my need, not my son's need. My son already knew there was a world of foods out there he couldn't have and pretending that it didn't exist within our house didn't magically erase this fact.

My second child is outgoing and confident. However, she's played a game all her life that makes me wonder: the "do you love me enough?" game. The questions take various forms, but the most popular one is "if you were holding both me and my brother over a cliff and you just couldn't hold both of us, who would you let go?"

"I can hold both of you," I always respond. "I am strong enough to hold you both - I promise."

"But what if you just couldn't," she always continues.

"But I CAN," I say loudly. I have to say it loudly so we're both sure we hear it.


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