When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.
Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:
-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts
I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!
This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.
Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.
My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.