I made a mistake today. It could have been a big mistake, but luckily, everything turned out fine. When I think about it now, I kinda feel like an idiot and am a little embarrassed to even share this story but I am doing so because it may serve as a reminder that you can never be too careful. We have been taking our girls to the Little Gym for a long time now. Our oldest is now in a class by herself and we just signed up our littlest for a parent/child class. Bear with me while I get into some details surrounding the events of the day...
Today was the first day that the girls' classes over-lapped. I would go into the gym with our littlest, while our oldest (allergic to peanuts and walnuts) would go into her dance class by herself. Due to the scheduling of the two classes, there were 15 minutes during which I would be in the gym with the baby while our allergic daughter would be in the play area waiting by herself for her class to begin. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to handle this 15 minute block before deciding to give it a try. I wasn't thinking about how my daughter would handle being in the play area by herself. I wasn't thinking about how she would interact with the other girls in her class as they all waited to go in together. I wasn't worried about her fighting, yelling, or making a mess. I wasn't worried about separation anxiety or her needing to go potty by herself. I was worried about food. I was worried because for 15 minutes of her life, I wouldn't be there, hovering over her to make sure she didn't come in contact with nuts.
After discussing it with my husband we decided to go for it. The gym teachers know about her allergies because we recently had her 3rd birthday there and had already discussed everything. That 15 minutes before her class starts is usually spent getting regular shoes off, tap shoes on, using the bathroom and washing hands, and then its go time. There really isn't much time for anything to happen, or so I thought.
I went over the "no sharing food" rules with her the entire car ride to the gym. Literally for 30 minutes, we role played, I quizzed her, she quizzed me, we discussed the rules, etc. The ENTIRE ride there. I know she is only 3 but honestly, she truly does have a good basic level of understanding regarding her food allergies. She even asks my mother-in-law if food has nuts in it before she eats it. She has never taken food from anyone else. She tells other kids and adults that she has a peanut and tree nut allergy. She points out nuts in the grocery store and points to cookies and brownies when we walk past the bakery section and tells me she can't eat that stuff because it might have nuts in it. Truth be told, I never in a million years imagined that she would actually eat something that someone else gave her. She has all the right answers when we talk about it.
Within two minutes of me walking into the gym with our littlest, I looked back to see what she was up to in the waiting area and saw her shovelving food down her mouth with about five other girls and one mother who had a container of snacks on her lap. I bolted out of the gym. It's amazing how many thoughts can run through your mind in such a short period of time - "Oh my God, I can't believe she is sharing food. We just went over this. She has never done this before. What is she eating? Does it have peanuts in it? It looks like cheerios or some kind of cereal. What if it's peanut butter cheerios? Oh my God, I am going to have to give her an Epi shot…" It's crazy to experience a few seconds of unknown regarding your child. I can imagine it would be similar to watching your kid fall down the stairs from the top step and there is nothing you can do to stop it and all you can do is wait until they get to the bottom before you can assess the damage. I couldn't grab her hand. I was too far away. The damage, if any, had been done. The food was in her mouth.
Holding my youngest in my arms, I dashed out and grabbed her hand. I semi-yelled at her, "What are you doing? We don't share food!" and the other mom looked at me like I was crazy. Cheddar goldfish. Ok, I thought, she has had goldfish before. I blurted out, "She has a severe peanut allergy," to the other mom and then rushed my girl to the bathroom to throw the rest away and wash her hands. Even though I knew cheddar goldfish were ok, I watched her like a hawk the rest of the class looking for sign of redness or itching or fussiness. Luckily, everything was fine and the rest of the class and day were non-eventful.
What if those were peanut butter cheerios or the mini peanut butter stuffed ritz crackers? What would have happened? As a food allergy mom, you can't help but think about the what ifs, because as food allergy moms, we know, we KNOW, that life can change in a split second.
I have to say, I truly am shocked that she shared in the snack fest today. I am left wondering if she did it out of peer pressure or because she didn't want to feel left out, or because she actually doesn't understand our rules enough to follow them, or if she really doesn't think her food allergy is real. I am definitely confused because this came out of the blue for me. This is coming from the mom that literally made food allergy flashcards when she was two years old because I was so determined to be on top of helping her understand and learn about her food allergy. One thing is clear to me - I used poor judgement. At the end of the day, even after all of the work we have put in to teaching her about her food allergy, I forgot about the fact that she is just a three year old. I messed up in trusting her at this young an age.
We used it as an opportunity to teach and talk to her. After my initial reaction, I calmed down and rather than punishing her or anything, I just tried to talk to her. My husband did the same when he came home from work. We have tried to use this incident as an opportunity to educate her more. She seemed really receptive and like she understood the seriousness of what happened, but she is only three years old.
I am left with thankfulness that everything turned out fine and I know my work isn't done. A food allergy mama's work is never done because you will forever want to protect your children. We learn as we go but I learned today that I need to remember how young she still is and not to let my guard down even when I have all the confidence in the world.