A place to rest. We're all looking for it. A place to feel secure, to let down our guard, to just breathe and not think, not fight. As a mom of a child whose life is threatened by food allergies, it's so very hard to find a place like that. Dare I say, it's near impossible. Because I'm constantly fighting to protect my daughter. Protect her from threats, like Snow White's poisoned apple, that hide within a tempting cookie or an innocent sandwich. Threats which cause no harm to most children, but could kill mine.
As I open my eyes to a new day, I'm confronted with self-doubt and questions like: "I know she's eaten this for breakfast before, but what if this batch contains something new? Something that could take her life?" I've checked the label, called the manufacturer, but still the question remains. Lurking like a monster in the shadows of my mind: "What if I missed something? What if I screwed up?"
As we head to school, an endless stream of questions roll over and over, like a steam roller raging through my thoughts. "What are the other kids bringing to eat? Will she wash her hands before lunch? Will she wipe her desk clean? Are the drinking fountains clean? The door handles? Will she refuse the candy her friend offers her on the playground? Do I have a safe alternative in case someone brings in cupcakes? Or will I have to soothe another heartache when I pick her up and she whispers, with tears ready to spill from lonely eyes, "Everyone had a cupcake but me, Mommy. Why can't I be normal?" Again.
"Have a good day," I say from the classroom door, hiding behind a brave smile. She kisses my cheek and skips off to join her friends.
The phone rings and my heart stops. My breath catches in my throat. Is it the school? Did something happen? No, it's just a robocall. I can breathe again.
I pick her up. Her face relaxes into a sunny smile, and she waves when I walk into the classroom. Is that rash on your arm from food? Are you coughing because your throat is closing or are you getting a cold? Why are your lips red, your cheeks flushed? Is that a hive or a bug bite? Why does your throat feels "squiggly"? Why does your tummy hurt?
Will I recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis? Can I dig deep enough, can I muster up the courage to use the EpiPen, even if I'm not sure?
I drop her off with friends, or the babysitter because I have a meeting that can't be missed. I've explained the EpiPen a thousand times and still I get a wide-eyed, slightly hesitant "OK. Don't worry," from whomever I've entrusted with her care. Those two, simple words, "Don't worry," meant to reassure, conceal terror and make my stomach turn. And yet I smile, push away the fears, kiss her forehead and walk away. Taking one last glance back, I wonder if the next time I stroke that porcelain forehead will be in the emergency room. Or worse.
Tucking her into bed, I lie down next to her, rub her back and softly sing a song. And thank God we made it through another day. When all is quiet and I'm weary and longing for sleep, I tiptoe to her side. Listen to her breathe. Feel the warmth of her very alive body against the cool pillow case. Then and only then, can I let myself relax, let my guard slip away, finding a place to rest within the gentle cadence of her sleeping breath. Tomorrow we start all over again.
Perhaps you think I drive myself crazy. No one can live like that. Yet millions of allergy moms face it daily. We face the very reality of losing our children to food. Is there anything more terrifying? That's why there are places of shadow in our minds. Places to hide the hideous monsters, like shoving them back into a dark, deep closet. They're still there, ready to lurch into view when the moment strikes, but at least they're out of sight, barely audible over the drone of life.
Because of the shadows I can go on with my day. I can put on that confident smile and read yet another ingredient label even though the words all begin to run together. I can banish the self-doubt. I can talk to other parents, watch their eyes roll, and calmly walk away knowing I've at least planted a seed. I can laugh. Find joy in my daughter's bright smile. Fill our lives with all that's beautiful. Celebrate. And find my place to rest.
Find more from Rebecca at Pure and Peanut Free.