Meet my son, the pineapple.
It’s just about the only thing he eats.
My boy, who was so big in the womb that he had to be air-lifted out of it, is now my house’s finickiest eater. He’s a healthy weight, thanks to the boulder-thick thighs he inherited from me. He wraps himself around me with a python’s intensity because he dreads being fed as much as I dread feeding him. It’s especially tough on my husband. He spends an hour after work each week trolling the grocery aisles, hoping that this would be the night that our little citrus-monger would eat a chicken nugget, chocolate chip waffle, or some thin cut French fries. The endgame stays the same. The chicken nuggets go cold on their tray, the waffle wedges wait while my son doodles in the maple syrup, and the fries are foregone for his own fingertips as he prods a pile of ranch dressing, smearing it across his cheek and finally into his mouth. That’s when he yells for his fruit cup or Greek yogurt. My husband and I have no choice but to appease the little dictator, anything to bring the meal madness to an end.
As he savors the cold, creamy yogurt, I think back to last Easter, when we first learned of his peanut allergy. My son was 16 months old at the time with no previous allergic reactions. My husband thought nothing of it when he gave my son a small piece of a chocolate-covered peanut butter egg. My son enjoyed it and asked for more. Thankfully, by the time he did, my husband already eaten the rest for himself. (Really, who can resist a Reese’s?!) So we got my son back home between family celebrations and put him down for a nap. Within an hour, he woke up screaming, “Mommy, Daddy!” and we raced upstairs, sure that he’d had a bad dream. Nothing could have prepared us for what awaited when we turned on the light. My son’s face was peppered in red hives and both of his eyes were nearly swollen shut. My husband cradled our boy and I frantically our pediatrician’s “Ask a Nurse” line.
“Is he able to breathe?” spoke the faceless nurse. I nervously confirmed – yes he could breathe. By that time, my husband had force-fed him some Benadryl. As long as he was breathing normally, we did not need to go the ER. She advised us to follow up with our pediatrician on Monday but it sounded like an allergic reaction to peanut butter.
I could devour peanut butter straight from the jar but I purposefully eschewed it during my pregnancy. Everything I’d read said that it could predispose babies to peanut allergies. I swore my OB said the same thing! When a blood test finally confirmed the diagnosis, our new allergist said that not exposing a young eater to peanuts could actually trigger an allergy. I didn’t know what to think, except that I’d failed my boy. Every kid eats peanut butter! What was he going to eat now? Was he ever going to grow out of this? Repeating his blood work in a year will tell us for sure, but more than likely, if he tests allergic next year, then he will carry the peanut allergy for the rest of his life.
The allergist gave us pamphlets explaining the different types of food allergies, enough to numb my brain, and a prescription for an Epi-Pen Junior. It broke my heart to give one to each grandmother, his primary caregivers during the workweek. “I hope I never have to use this,” my mother-in-law said. “If you do,” I told her, “you may as well call 911 for two ambulances because you’re going to need one for me!” I felt so totally defeated and worthless when it came to protecting my son.
A few weeks later, I noticed my dad casually finishing up a to-go order of Five Guys Burgers and Fries. He had his wrappers balled up in his fry carton and was slurping down a milkshake when I noticed another carton containing the shells of peanuts. My son was sitting at the other end of the table, intently watching Old MacDonald videos on You Tube, his arms still faint with initial red patches that took weeks to dissipate. I erupted, “What the hell are you doing with peanuts, Dad?!” I made Joan Crawford and the wire hangers look like kindergarten. “Calm down, hun; he’s fine.” Once I caught my breath and the blood pumped back to my face, I realized he was fine. I saw firsthand that my son could be exposed to peanuts without incident. (He was only in danger if he ingested them.)
I was relieved but we still had no idea what safe foods to feed him that he would actually eat. That’s when my husband discovered no-nut peanut and sunflower seed butter. They’re easy to spread with a smooth, mild taste and were right in our local grocery store. From the first night we tried them on crackers, my son loved it. We rejoiced at finally getting some protein into his limited diet. Of course, instead of using crackers, he decided to use his fingers for dipping sticks and tongue the butter off each one. But he was happy and so were we.
My son is wired to be the way that he is, never one to make things easy on his parents. He comes around on his own time, not on our time. Each day I learn to digest more of him – his ways, his charms, his quirks – and I realize it’s all a part of loving him; it’s all a part of letting him be a pineapple in a world full of nuts.
Jeanne Gyr is a university academic advisor living in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a mom to two young toddlers, aged two and one, though her preferred child is her miniature labradoodle, Phillip. She credits her husband for the modicum of sanity in her world and believes that “Golden Girls” actress Bea Arthur is her spirit animal. She thanks you for reading, and hopefully, for laughing.