I have a kid who is an instigator. His sole mission is to bother everyone around him. He throws emotional grenades and then runs away, like telling his 3 year old sister it’s her birthday and then telling her it’s not, so she sobs until we all agree it is, in fact, her birthday.
I have a daughter who is affectionate and loving and has allll the feelings, all the time, sometimes rapid-fire in under a minute. She is deep into the “I can do it myself!” phase, so basically everything takes seven times as long. If you forget and turn on a light before offering her the opportunity to show that she can now reach the switch, she will cry for a full five minutes at injustice of it all.
I’ve got another son who is obstinate. He will not do a damn thing for another person, especially if he’s asked. Clean up the blocks he dumped out? Hell no. Help your sister find her shoe? Not on your life. Answer a question when called on in class? You can fuck right off. But, if it’s his idea, he’ll crawl into your lap and give you a hug. He’ll unmute to tell his teacher she is great and if she wants the answer to her question he’d be happy to share it. He will never, ever, clean up, though.
It is for the obstinate five year old that I put a little extra effort into presentation at mealtime. He has the most refined palate of my kids, and if I put something beautiful on the table, he will ask to try it before either of his siblings. The instigator will agree to one bite if prompted, but will probably decline anything further. The affectionate daughter will gag on something she truly dislikes and then smile and say, “it’s good, Mom, I love you,” even though her eyes are watering. But Archie will say, “I think I’d like to try that,” take a bite, and tell me he feels surprised by the taste and he actually likes it very much. He has the highest tolerance for spice of the three, and will take a bite of a new food before I finish explaining what it is.
Every meal doesn’t go this way, but of the three, he is the most experimental. If I decorate a plate or make sure a dish includes lots of color, it’s to catch his eye instead of openly suggesting he try something (because God forbid he do anything we suggest).
Recently, I made Vietnamese-style fish burgers. Tilapia, green onions, ginger, garlic, sriracha, fish sauce, and an egg to bind. Shockingly, everyone tried them, and no one outright hated them, so I stand by my advice that presenting new foods in familiar packaging works (it’s just a new kind of burger!). I was stunned that everyone was on board, especially since they were not only fish, which is pretty unpopular among the kids, but also somewhat unfamiliar Asian flavors with a little heat from the ginger and sriracha.
I was basking in the glory of a successful meal when Archie said, “I don’t feel good. My mouth hurts.” His lips were red and swollen and he had a rash spreading up his face. Now, my boys are sensitive and often get hives on their skin or break out with an eczema flare from the wrong kind of sunscreen, but there is nothing more terrifying that an allergic reaction in their mouths. When we found out they were allergic to peanuts we were warned about symptoms in the mouth, like swollen tongue or complaining of itching, that could shift in a second to their throats swelling shut. A reaction in the mouth is serious business.
I gave him a hefty dose of Benadryl and sat with him so I could watch his symptoms. He crawled into my lap and said he was scared and maybe needed to go to the doctor, and then closed his eyes for a few minutes. The swelling in his lips and the rash on his face stopped spreading and eventually he sat back up and told me he felt better, but it was a long wait for recovery, maybe thirty minutes.
Accidents happen, and parents of kids with allergies know the risks when we send them out into the world, but to poison him myself was truly horrifying. I was wracking my brain for ingredients I’d forgotten that might have sesame oil, and coming up empty. He’d had all the ingredients before in different applications, and I couldn’t figure out what had happened. But, at his well visit a week later, I asked his doctor for a blood workup in case there was something we didn’t know about. Ginger? Peppers in the sriracha?
The results came back: he is severely allergic to fish. The test didn’t cover tilapia or the sardines that were in the fish sauce, but he had significant results for cod, tuna, and salmon. He is not, curiously enough, allergic to shellfish, which is the more popular allergy, but according to the tests he is more allergic to finned fish than to sesame, which he’d had moderate reactions to in the past. He has eaten lots of fish in his life. Not an ocean’s worth, but a bite or two almost every time I served it. Within the last year he’s eaten catfish and also fish sticks, though I don’t know what type of fish they were made with. And now, suddenly, he is very allergic to fish.
It’s one thing to know they’re allergic to something like peanuts and worry about exposure all day when they are in daycare or at the kids club in the gym. But I don’t know how to worry about all the things he could *suddenly* start being allergic to overnight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big league, professional worrier, but now every bite he takes is scary. Will it be wheat next? Cashews? Will his baby dairy intolerance come back as something more serious starting tomorrow?
At the end of July, Archie will be headed to Kindergarten at the “big school” with his older brother Jackson. We need to know everything he is (currently) allergic to, so that the cafeteria doesn’t serve him poison. So that I don’t serve him poison. Next week he’s having his first meeting with an allergist. The first of many, I’m sure.
It’s not just the everyday terror that bothers me. He was enthusiastic about food. He liked to try new things. He has mentioned what happened several times. “Remember that fish burger? I really liked it before I started to feel sick. I don’t want that to happen again.” And now, he’s shrinking back when offered something to eat. “Am I allergic to potatoes? Are you sure?” I mean, I was sure the last time you ate potatoes, but who knows? I don’t want him to have trauma around food. I love to cook, and he loves food that is pretty. He was the only kid who admitted to occasionally liking fish, and then it tried to take him out.