Sometimes I like to take a step back from the daily grind and focus on the "big picture." It only seems appropriate that my trip to an uber-sized warehouse store could help with this "big picture" endeavor. As the New Year has come and gone, it's good to periodically put things in perspective and reflect - how far we have come, where we are now, what may lie ahead in this allergy journey.
The start of the allergy journey was a bit like my arrival at Costco -
I make sure I've got my shopping bags, hop out of the car, turn to press the button on the remote to lock the doors, and begin my stroll to the store entrance. I clear the back end of my car, and... holy bleepety, bleep, bleep, bleep. I almost get bowled over by the white Suburban with fancy silver rims on a mission to get that coveted parking spot next to the store entrance. Geesh. I didn't see that one coming. An inocuous day like every other can completely change things (thankfully I didn't get run over). The day that my son had his first anaphylactic reaction certainly changed life in ways I couldn't have imagined.
As the rush of adrenaline subsides, I show my membership card to the petite, smiling gray-haired lady only to be greeted by this:
the "wall of death." When you're first starting out on the allergy journey after anaphylaxis unexpectedly enters your life, it's a whole new world, baby. I wouldn't have given this a second thought in my life b.a. (before allergies), but a.a. (after allergies), it makes me want to sprint, screaming bloody murder from the store. The world is filled with allergens and the sheer quantity made me think a demented Mr. Peanut was lurking in the shadows around the next bend to throw peanuts at my son. It honestly feels like the world is out to get you in the beginning.
As you slowly adjust to that whole new allergen-infested world, a constant barrage of emotions tend to flood your thoughts. Always little reminders of what you can't do. There's the food sample carts with its evil wafting aromas of warm, freshly baked, gooey chocolate chip cookies. Shopping carts filled with gleeful non-allergic kiddos, chomping and spilling greasy little crumbs like cookie monster, impede your progress through the store. As an allergy parent, it's not hard to view the traffic jam as a swarm of sharks. Suddenly, you realize you didn't wipe the cart down when you entered the store. You curse on the inside as you berate yourself from such a lack of oversight. You imagine the worst - a greasy slimy, nut-contaminated handle that your nut-allergic child is now touching. Grab the hand wipes. Thankfully, Costco sells those in bulk -
Just about when you've had enough because it really isn't fair that your child can't have this or can't have that, and your heart feels like it's been ripped out and stomped on the floor after explaining to your child for the umpteenth time why they can't eat something that should be safe (gotta love our food manufacturers and their unpredictable labeling practices), one more straw sets you over the edge. A middle aged man breaking the unspoken speed limit law of shopping carts fails to yield at the end of an aisle and runs into the cart of a petite, gray-haired seventy-something woman, who appears two-sizes too small to be pushing that giant Costco cart around. I was furious at how inconsiderate this man was - not thinking beyond himself and how his actions may affect others. As an allergy parent, you face this often. It's like the unannounced celebration, where your child sits on the sidelines and watches his friends enjoy "cross-contaminated with nuts" cupcakes. It may not have been intentional, but it hurts all the same.
What happened next in the cart-bashing incident completely surprised me, though. The older woman didn't give the stink eye or beat the man mercilessly with her over-sized purse - she laughed! Not just a small fake chuckle, but a full on joy-filled hearty laugh. The middle-aged man was just as surprised, gave a sheepish grin, and apologized.
This is what I am striving for on this allergy journey - to be like the little old lady. I'm ready to laugh when a shopping cart blindsides me. I can't change the situation, but I can change how I perceive it. Sure I have my days, but I try not to dwell there. Everything that happened in the store up to that point I can re-frame. The cookies - it is, what it is. I can't change it, but there sure are a lot of people advocating for clearer labeling laws and manufacturing practices that would make life easier for the highly allergic. I can hardly be envious of the parents swarming the cookie cart. I would be there, too, if it were b.a. I can mitigate the hurt a little by bringing a safe snack along. It's not the same, but it's the best I can do for now. I'm still working on my disdain for having to bake all the time.
The "wall of death" - I acknowledge that my son's allergens are potentially everywhere. I'm thankful when I know where they are because usually it's the hidden traces that sneak up on you. I no longer personally view my son's allergens as "loaded guns" or "poison." I periodically pull out these analogies because I find it helps people who have never dealt with life-threatening allergies understand the potential severity. In all honesty, though, I hate using them. It is food that my son can't eat.. period. I have made peace with the peanut, other nuts, eggs, and the multitude of other allergens that my son has. For the longest time a.a., I could not eat nuts. I've found myself healing from those wounds of old to truly enjoy a handful of almonds or a hard-boiled egg from time to time.
As for the beginning - nearly getting run over in the parking lot upon entering Costco? While I find it hard to let people off the hook for stupid, selfish actions that can alter the complete course of someone's life, I try to imagine other possibilities. Perhaps I saw wrong. Maybe they weren't going after that coveted parking spot after all. Perhaps they were speeding from the store because they had "just had enough of Costco." My heavens, if I could run away from allergies, I would have done so a long time ago. And I probably wouldn't have been thinking about how my actions could affect others while I was running. I can't run from allergies. There is nothing I could have done to prevent allergies from happening. We all do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time. I have hope, and I don't feel guilty when the latest population-based studies insist that introducing nuts earlier would have prevented my son's allergies in the first place. My son will never have an answer to that question, so it's not worth dwelling there.
So how do I handle all of those instances where it's hard to see the "big picture?" Costco has a giant-sized solution for that.