Last summer, just after Mia was re-tested for her peanut and possible tree nut allergy, we were relieved at the news that her allergy was peanut-specific, and that tree nuts would not pose a problem for her. The relief was short lived; the celebratory cashew butter we slathered on sandwiches for lunch that day caused the worst allergic reaction Mia had experienced. It turns out the cashew butter was contaminated with peanuts. I didn’t realize it, of course, and I didn’t notice the warning on the label until it was too late.
I made the girls their cashew butter and jelly sandwiches and settled them at the table to eat while I unloaded the rest of the groceries. I was distracted and I didn’t notice until at least five minutes later, maybe longer, after she had already eaten at least half of her sandwich.
I turned around to check on the girls and saw Mia’s face covered with hives. I rushed to her and tore her clothes off to check the rest of her body, which was covered in red-hot, blotchy hives. No swelling, but that could be moments away. She was breathing fine, but again, that could change in an instant.
As I checked her, I must have been screaming something like “Oh my gosh. Mia’s having an allergic reaction. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Dear Jesus. Help. Help me. Help her! Oh my gosh. It was just cashew butter! What happened?”
I always wondered how I would respond if Mia had a serious reaction: would I be brave or would I collapse in a heap of tears, the paralyzing fear of what could happen preventing me from doing what must happen to prevent the worst possible outcome? Turns out, my reaction was panic.
I have no memory of exactly what I said in those tense moments, but both girls understood what was happening. Addie began to cry and Mia just sort of stared blankly at me as she watched my emotions wrestle with my good sense. Before long, she gently said, “I sorry I had ‘lergic action, mommy.”
All I wanted to do was pull her out of her chair and hold her close to me, close enough so she would be absorbed into my own body, so it could take over and heal her. I wanted to snuggle her tight enough for her to understood just how sorry I was I let something dangerous find its way into her body. I wanted her to understand I would never hurt her on purpose, and I would take her place if I could.
Her simple words pierced my heart and snapped me out of paralysis, and in a split second I realized I am going to make mistakes. Even if I’m brave. Even when I’m brave. But it is what I do in the wake of those mistakes that matters most. My children will see both my successes and failures and the way I respond to them, and what they see will shape them. And so, I pushed aside my fear and took action, doing what needed to be done.
Out came the Benedryl, and the Epi Pen was at the ready. Up into my lap came Mia. Addie wasn’t far behind. We prayed. We waited. We cried. We waited some more. Mia apologized again, and Addie asked if her sister would be ok. I told her I believed she would. I shivered as the next 15 minutes passed, praying that God’s grace would cover my mistake. It did.
Slowly, the hives receded. Little by little, normalcy returned. When the worst was over, I checked the packaging of the cashew butter, which said, “May contain peanuts”–words that now mean, to me “avoid like the plague.”
Having a child with a peanut allergy is not such a big deal on most days. Sometimes it is frustrating (we always have to be mindful of it, which can be inconvenient, and honestly, selfishly, I really really miss peanut butter). But once in awhile, it is utterly terrifying.
I used to think being brave meant stifling the tears and being fearless in the face of adversity. Now I know being brave means not letting fear stop you from facing the thing that scares you, even if you do it in tears.