author of Feeding Eden

The Garlic Bread Barbecue

When you have a child with food allergies there are two kinds of screw ups. The first is that you can let your child eat the wrong food. The second is that someone else might give your child the wrong food without your knowledge. Sometimes you might find yourself playing a masochistic game by wondering which would be worse.

A few weeks ago my family was at a beach house barbecue with two other families - we milled about from screened porch to yard while the sun set over the trees and the adults lounged in the luxury of full plates and excited and distracted children.

Then my son did something he has never ever done: He asked one of the fathers if he could please, "Have another piece of garlic bread." It was the first time he asked anyone but myself or my husband for food and he ate it without telling us.

Fact #1 - There was a platter of garlic bread that had been slathered with butter (I watched the hostess prepare it) on the dining room table. Fact #2 - During the making of said garlic bread the hostess had given me a hunk of the baguette she used (I read the label twice) so I could make "safe" bread for Eden by slicing it and adding olive oil. The rest of his "safe" bread was on a plate set aside in a corner of their kitchen. Fact #3 The father that Eden asked knows my family, knows that Eden had multiple anaphylactic food allergies and has been sympathetic. Fact #4 Eden has had the potential for anaphylaxis to all dairy foods for over seven years. Fact #5 The father that gave Eden the garlic has been so heartfelt in his apologies that I've since wished I had been the one.

Well, Eden came to me a few bites into his bread and told me that his throat felt really itchy and he thought it was from my bread. We did a body check and he had two two small hives. After calming and reassuring him, he drank a glass of ice water which made his throat feel better. Then Eden told me "I don't think I need Benadryl," but I was ready with a full bottle and our two Epipens. He promised to stay in the same room with me and tell me about any more reaction. The hives receded completely and Eden reported feeling "Okay. I really think I'm okay." Okay.

But by the time we got home Eden didn't feel as okay. He began sniffling and blowing his nose. I went down the almighty checklist of anaphylactic symptoms: No other respiratory issues, no more skin issues, no swelling and certainly no feelings of mental distress. I gave him a dose of Benadryl as a preventative measure. But the next day Eden woke up with a head full of mucous and a "pressing all over my head." Snuffling and blowing, pulling tissue after tissue, and then, if anything, more Benadryl made him feel "stuffier." I wondered if I should have medicated him at all. (I also noted Eden had had very mild symptoms relative to his last "dairy accident" six months earlier and allowed myself to be a little happy about it.)

A larger, unanswered question looms. It's one that I've asked in my upcoming food allergy memoir Feeding Eden. An excerpt from:

I’m going to guess that almost all parents think about the worst—the what if?—at least once in a while. And so I’ve even asked myself what would be worse—if Eden ate deadly food on my watch or, with good or careless intentions, on someone else’s? Would it matter? My answer growls back at me with bared teeth for daring to ask: “No, no, no, you idiot! How could it matter whether you spend the rest of your life trying to forgive a friend or Drew or a stranger or yourself?” And still the same animal purrs into my ear in the dark hours: “Wait! Shhh. Now just think it. Think it.” And then I do. My sweet boy could in a moment be gone because and only because he opened his mouth to eat. How can I think it?

~ Chapter 8: New Normal

In my book, I answer myself by suggesting that instead of dwelling on the "What If" allergy parents need to channel their concern towards always being prepared with medications and emergency plans. But since writing that passage and being at the barbecue Eden has neatly coined "garlic bread barbecue" I've learned a little more. I've learned how hard it is to be that friend or stranger, to be the outsider without the medicine bag, the knowledge, the history of both making mistakes and forgiving yourself. In other words, I've learned that for allergy parents there is no "worse" accident so long as we are prepared to carry our children safely through to the one.