It has been over a year now since my son had a sudden and violent allergic reaction to a peanut butter cookie, after years of eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and peanut-flavored granola bars and Peanut M&Ms and french fries fried in peanut oil without a problem.
I've already cried over it; I've already ranted; I've already reorganized my pantry and sent lists to the school and compiled the careful, well-researched, incredibly short list of Restaurants That Are Mostly, Probably Safe. I've already dutifully, repeatedly reminded myself of the much longer and much more upsetting list of Childhood Diseases That Could Be Worse. I've already adjusted to the constant mental presence of this terrible knowledge, that the wrong bite of food could hurt or kill my son at any moment. I've made the syringe that contains the emergency medication that could save his life as essential an extension of my body as my glasses or my purse.
Out of life-and-death necessity I keep his allergy in mind every waking minute which after a while from an emotional standpoint is pretty much the same as not thinking about it at all. There seems to be a part of my brain that just does it, now. Like the part that remembers how to walk. I read ingredients and thoroughly question and instruct teachers and party hosts and babysitters and waitresses on autopilot. Solving a safe path through the world for him has for the most part become an intellectual not an emotional enterprise.
If I weren't like this, now, I'd be constantly crazy with worry and guilt and regret over aspects of childhood that I never recognized as being all that important until they were lost to him. Which just wouldn't do. Anxious, guilty, regretful people make mistakes, and this is an area where I cannot bear allow myself room for serious error.
But there are still moments, once in a while when the fact of his allergy hits me like a kick in the chest, the way it did on the day I first learned of it, and I struggle for a minute to breathe.
Like today when I was at a fancy little boutique grocery store and walked past their bakery display, blooming with beautiful extravagantly decorated heart shaped Valentine's cookies in every flavor and size.
I used to make a point, when he was younger, of buying my son, on the spur of the moment, little surprise presents of candy or food. Ridiculous things, sometimes, like rainbow lollipops the size of his head (that I knew he would never finish). I'm quite a stickler for health food in general -- in my house, whole, natural foods rule the table and fruits or vegetables are required with every sit-down meal . But I'm also a foodie, and a hobby baker, and I'm not ashamed to confess that I've never met an oversized artisan brownie I didn't like. And my son started out as a pathologically picky eater -- so resistant to eating, in fact, that for a frightening period of time he made himself ill.
So once his palate began to expand it became a joy to me to surprise him on impulse with pretty and decadent foods. Once in a while, when I saw a giant, artistically frosted cookie or a beautiful piece of chocolate artifice at a store -- the sort that makes your heart skip a beat when you see it, that reminds you of pressing your childish face to the glass in sad longing while your mother said, "No, not that, the smaller one" -- the sort you aren't supposed to spoil a child with -- I would buy it and give it to him, trying to tell him without words, See, this is what I wanted to tell you about the fun of food. This what you have been missing.
But today I knew without looking -- I've shopped hear before -- that not one of the beautiful heart shaped cookies would be labeled PEANUT FREE. I couldn't just pick one without thinking and buy it and meet him with it at the door when he comes home from school. The cookies at the bakery are just another one of so many things -- like the cake at most birthday parties and the candy from most candy shops and the ice cream from ice cream parlors -- that are off limits for him now, and may be off limits for life.
Which is why this weekend I am fairly certain I will wind up baking more homemade heart-shaped cookies, in every hue, than one child could possibly eat, and wishing I could make them as pretty as the ones at the store.