Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Peanutty Good

I can't remember how often I've mentioned my fears of food allergies here. I'm not allergic to any foods (which is a miracle considering I'm allergic to the outdoors), but with the prevalence of allergies these days, I have still been very nervous about Jacob. Even worse is that his older cousin Grant is allergic to peanuts and eggs, so knowing that those issues could be hiding somewhere in the gene pool is a little scary. I have no idea how these things crop up, though--whether it's genetic or environmental or completely random gene mutations--so it's such a crap shoot. It's almost enough to make me not want to have another child, but people get through it and so would we, I guess. Aside from the obvious health concerns that allergies pose, I dread the thought of ever having to work around them. Cooking and food shopping are often difficult enough for me, and I can't imagine having to stop and read labels on everything I buy. I already do that from time to time, and I feel like it makes me look neurotic or at the very least makes my shopping trips that much longer. It makes eating out especially hard, and I enjoy doing that from time to time. Long story short, it just makes everything harder. And it scares me to no end that one slip-up could cost your child their life. Ugh.

I was pretty careful in offering foods to Jacob when they were recommended. I stayed away from wheat, eggs and berries until he was a year old, and slowly conquered other scary foods as we went along. But once we got past a year or so, pretty much the only thing left was nuts. Jacob ended up accidentally testing out almonds a while back, maybe last summer, when my parents gave him Honey Nut Chex that they had gotten as a sample with their newspaper. I was sleeping when they did it and had a minor freakout when I found out. But all was fine, thankfully, so at least we had crossed that off the list. The only thing left was peanuts. I was scared to death. On the bright side, Jacob's daycare is already peanut free. So, not only would that not be a problem, but I also wouldn't have to worry about any accidents there involving other kids with peanut butter. I kept wanting to try them once he hit his second birthday, but I kept losing my nerve. He did have a couple brief run-ins with them at baseball games over the summer, like touching peanut shells or sitting within a few feet of peanut eaters, and since nothing happened then, I figured that maybe that was a good sign.

There's such an assortment of research out there about peanut allergies--that waiting to introduce peanuts prevents them, or that holding off too long actually causes them, or that eating peanuts while pregnant or nursing leads them, or that it actually may help avoid them. What?! Thinking back I think I mostly held off from peanuts while pregnant and nursing, but I think I indulged a couple times when the holidays came around and peanut butter cups and cookies were everywhere. But I mostly held off. Of course, that may mean nothing. I often wonder if there's actually nothing we can do about it and allergic kids would be that way no matter what. Still, I do wonder why it's so prevalent nowadays. Is it that our messing with the system (telling people when to introduce things) is making it worse? Or that all of the recessive genes for allergies are now teaming up as both parents contribute one, and it's becoming a dominant gene? Or are there environmental factors screwing with genetics or hormones or ingredients themselves that are making kids more susceptible? It's just odd and it's taking the fun out of things for so many people. It's hard to believe that so many schools can't have kids eating that kid staple, PB&J.

So, like I was saying, I kept losing my nerve. I'd think, "Oh, maybe tonight we'll try a peanut butter cookie or a peanut M&M," but then I'd think, no, it's not really convenient to go to the emergency room tonight if something went wrong because I'm alone/it'll mess up bedtime/the weather's bad and it might be a slow drive/etc. But all the while, in the back of my mind I kept thinking how nice it would be to add a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the list of meals I could feed him on weekends or when he didn't like our main course at dinner. The peanuts provide good protein and he already loves bread. But I just kept holding off. Until Christmas.

Among the items in the big spread at my aunt and uncle's house on Christmas evening was Chex Mix, and it was the real stuff (not the bagged kind) and it had peanuts in it. I held off giving it to Jacob for that reason, and surveyed the table for other potential peanut hazards, of which there were a few. At some point after presents, Jacob ran off with his cousins (my cousins' kids, ranging in age from about 13 down to 6) up to my younger cousin Megan's room. She's 17, and I guess she's now the cool cousin for the young kids, much like my Uncle Mark was always the cool uncle for his younger nieces and nephews. Ironically, she now has his old bedroom after my aunt and (other) uncle moved into my grandparents' old house. Anyway, when I went to track him down, I walked in to discover him eating a peanut (of all things) from a plate of Chex Mix sitting out on the desk. Oh crap. I didn't know if that was the first one or one of many, so for the next half hour (or admittedly, the rest of the night), I was constantly checking him over for any signs of problems--rash, breathing issues, swelling, etc. None came, though I knew in the back of my mind that sometimes symptoms don't appear with the first exposure.

Since then we've tried little bits here and there. A peanut butter-filled candy here, a bite of peanut brittle there, and so far so good. Yesterday when I was home with Jacob and he rejected my first suggestion for lunch, I decided to try a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Not only did we have no problems, but he LOVED it. He ended up eating two helpings, which pretty much amounted to a full sandwich. Woohoo! Incidentally, I don't like PB & J, and never have. At least, in my memory. I remember disliking the mushy sandwiches in my bag lunch (those didn't last long, apparently), and I have never eaten one since. I keep thinking I should try again, though I don't really need the fat content of peanut butter, no matter how much "good fat" it contains. I do, however, like peanut butter when it is paired with chocolate or anything dessert-like. And for the record, I read labels a ton when picking one, because I wanted one without a lot of fillers and crap in it. I ended up with Simply Jif, which has less sugar and a very short ingredient list. I read that reduced fat versions have a lot of junk for not a lot of fat savings, so I opted for the goodness of the real stuff. Small steps, I guess.

So, I'm hoping this means we're good to go. I'm just sad for all the folks out there who aren't--just read a post from a friend on Facebook today whose daughter came up positive for peanuts, among other things, and our nephew will have to deal with it forever, too--and nervous that next time it could be us. Knowing that allergens are out there makes it a much scarier world to send your kid out into, when one false move could kill them or have dire consequences. And God knows I'd never forgive myself if I did something to cause a problem. There's just too much that can go wrong. So, for now, I guess I can just thank God that Jacob appears to be fine and that the rogue peanuts on Christmas didn't cause a problem we'd have been hard-pressed to solve. And I will rest comfortably knowing that not only is my child safe, but he will also enjoy a life of peanut M&Ms, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and other peanutty delights. Yay :)

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