Have you ever seen, before your very eyes, a real life little boy, become a real life little hero? Last night, what I witnessed was something truly amazing. My son looking up at me with those sparkling and inquisitive hazel eyes. His eyebrows raised real high like kids do when they are excited about learning. He was coloring at the counter while I was washing dishes and he asked if I had remembered to go get a product called Sunbutter, a peanut-butter substitute that is made from sunflower seeds and is safe for those with a peanut and nut allergies. I almost forgot that I bought it. I said “Oh!”, and ran to the grocery bag on the dining room table and retrieved it like I pulled a bunny out of a hat, “I did get it!” He smiled really big and said, “That’s awesome, Mom! Can we try it?” To which I happily replied, “Absolutely!”
You see, my son is really interested in what I’m doing on this blog. He knows that I’m constantly writing, researching and talking about food allergies. He has been wanting to participate and help me come up with recipes. He has been particularly interested in the Natalie Giorgi story. I didn’t let him watch the news story, but I did tell him, in terms that were honest, what happened to her. It sparked a conversation about his own diligence in food inspection.
He has been a bit scared about it. He has asked if he will die from his food allergies (gluten and dairy). We told him that it is unlikely from the gluten and dairy, but that he really has to be careful about exposure anyway, because – and I had to be honest – the body will react stronger each time. That is how an allergy works. The body sees it as an invasion and it sends in more of its “troops” to fight it with each exposure.
It is fact and important for him to know. It is a conversation that was not fun to have with him but I believe that gentle honesty and a very thorough explanation of strategies that he can use to protect himself eased his anxiety about it.
After answering a lot of questions about Natalie and other food allergies, he mentioned that he has a girl in class that has a peanut allergy and that he really wants to protect her. My darling talkative seven-year old even began lecturing me to make sure I don’t ever put anything in his lunch with peanuts or peanut butter so that she doesn’t get hurt, All I could say was, “Baby, you know who you are talking to, right?” He said, “I know Mom, I just want to make sure.” I smiled at him in pride. He was right. After all, I taught him to double check on adults -even me – and applauded him for doing so.
All of that said, he was anxious and excited to try the Sunbutter. As I toasted the gluten-free bread, and carefully swiped a very thin layer (with a generous helping of grape jelly to help mask any weird flavor there might be), I was worried that he was going to hate it. I really wanted this to work out.
Lo and behold, we were pleasantly surprised and impressed that there was virtually no difference in flavor from real peanut butter. My son wasn’t just excited about the flavor, he was excited that he found something that protects his friend. I am inspired by my son’s curiosity and compassion. I’m also wondering how scary it must be for him, and other kids, to hear the story of Natalie Giorgi. She was a girl, diligent in her own care, trying to live her life like any other kid. One bite of of a rice krispie treat in the dark at a camp potluck event (not knowing the cook had put peanut butter on the bottom of these treats), three EpiPen treatments, and less than an hour later, she was dead.
This story has struck a nerve in our household as much as the Sandy Hook Elementary event did. For Natalie and her parents, there was no room for error. None. And the world has done nothing to help them avoid that error. Peanuts have not been banned. Schools still allow peanuts on the property. If you think about it, peanuts are everywhere and in thousands of things. And despite these news stories, people will still do what that cook did.
They say that charity begins at home. Do we really have to have peanuts and peanut butter in our life? What if something I make kills somebody’s kid? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to carry the knowledge that my cooking/baking killed someone. What if we could all honor Natalie and remove peanuts and peanut butter? This is America. We can be a country of people that can make progress. We can also be a country of people who live in blissful ignorance and throw tantrums when we have to be inconvenienced by others’ needs. What kind of reputation do we want? How inconvenient would it be to use Sunbutter instead of peanut butter? Or just forgo the culinary need for the peanut? To the parents of the peanut and treenut allergic children, this small inconvenience would hold the same value as jumping into a whitewater river to save their child. Alternatively, serving the allergen would be the equivalent of pushing them into it, just to see what happens. Which would you rather do?
My son’s request for me to make a safe sandwich to protect his friend’s life demonstrates so much compassion and thoughtfulness to the value of life of others. It means he would rather save her life than harm her. And that makes me proud.