Drama and trauma and bees, oh my

A lot has happened this year, and it seems like most of it has happened to Archie, my middle child.

Archie had his tonsils and adenoids removed several years ago, and his doctor suggested putting in ear tubes just for the heck of it since he was already having surgery. We agreed, because what do we know about kids’ ears? And the whole thing was traumatic enough we couldn’t imagine going through it all over again if he needed ear tubes in a year.

He’s always been sensitive about his ears, especially getting water in them during bath time, but after a big ear infection that immediately preceded his tubes naturally falling out, things seemed to be fine. Until I took him to the doctor for something else and she mentioned that the hole in his eardrum from one of the tubes never healed and may need to be surgically patched “if it doesn’t heal on it’s own after a few months.” The tube fell out two years ago, so I guess extra ear surgery is on the schedule for this year. For a kid who is already pretty nervous about his ears, it will be a major endeavor. Just goes to show that impulse buying, including with surgical procedures, is never worth it.

On Valentine’s Day, the boys’ school had a party during each PE class where they did an obstacle course and got bags of candy. I got a call right after kinder PE that Archie had thrown up and I raced to the school to pick him up (luckily I was home and the school is only a couple blocks away). The nurse brought him out and told me a stomach bug was going around the school and not to bring him back until he was fever-free…but he didn’t have a fever. When we got home I asked if maybe he’d jumped or spun around a bunch in PE and made himself feel yucky (this has happened before at home) and he said, “no, I started feeling bad after the candy. My voice sounds weird now.”

I put down the Pepto I was about to give him, poured a big dose of Benadryl, and pulled up images of candy on my phone for him to look at. He identified the Snickers bar as the candy he had eaten, which was very bad news indeed since he is severely allergic to peanuts. He had pretty serious nasal congestion at the time, so when he started to cough a bit I wasn’t sure if the Benadryl was draining his nose and making his throat tickle, or if the cough was the next stage of allergic reaction. It got to the point where he was having trouble getting through a sentence without a cough, a serious indicator we learned from the asthma days, and we raced over to urgent care. I walked in frantic and shouty, holding a EPI pen aloft, and they took Archie in ahead of the crowd in the waiting room.

I told the staff I needed the doctor to listen to his lungs immediately, because I didn’t want to stab my son if he had post nasal drip. After rushed vitals the doctor came in and I shouted things about peanuts and anaphylaxis while he listened to Archie’s lungs and persistent coughing, and then he waved me over and told me to give him the EPI pen right away as his wheeze was severe through the stethoscope.

Archie was not pleased. His mother had yanked down his pants in front of a stranger and stabbed him with a needle (you can do the EPI pen through clothes during an emergency but his sweats were on the thicker side and had a pocket right in the area I’d need to stab). Within a minute or two he was able to yell at me full force, proving that the pen had worked to clear up his reaction. The thing about a reaction like this, is that the EPI pen is a temporary fix, usually enough to get you to the hospital. After you stab, it’s straight to the ER for monitoring to make sure it doesn’t roar back as soon as the pen wears off. In fact, our allergist said after an EPI pen we should call an ambulance and bring extra pens, because if we are driving to the hospital and our kid is in the back seat, we might not realize they are struggling to breathe again.

The doctor at urgent care agreed to monitor him on site and gave him a shot of steroids to help (Archie was thrilled). After several check-ins and recording of improved vitals, we were allowed to leave with a prescription for more steroids. He said if any of the symptoms we had just seen returned, I should stab him again and take him straight to the hospital.

A note from Archie. I must have been hovering nervously around him and this was his very kind way of telling me to let him be.

We were both pretty shaken after all this occurred in the hour and a half since he’d left the school party. His teacher was apoplectic — she is very careful with Archie and knows all his allergies. The PE teachers gave out bags of mixed candy and told the kids not to eat any until they got back to their classrooms. The whole grade does PE together, and there is absolutely no way for them to know which kids are allergic to which foods in a group that large, so I’m sure they hoped the teachers would catch anything dangerous. But…what happens when you give 140 six year olds a bag of candy? They eat it immediately. Archie ate the Snickers before he got back to the classroom.

I feel there is plenty of blame to go around. We spend a lot of time pointing out candy that contains peanuts when we go to the grocery store, and if a Reese’s brand candy in an orange wrapper had been in his bag I’m confident he would have known it wasn’t okay to eat. But a chocolate bar in a brown wrapper doesn’t really stick out as a dangerous item, and Archie has usually been able to trust that the adults in his life won’t give him anything poisonous. Our school district isn’t nut-free, and I don’t know what their policies are when it comes to staff handing out goodies to kids, but while the coaches could have killed my kid, I don’t know that they broke any rules. And I empathize with the department wanting to provide a treat to every kid in school on a tight budget, because it is certainly cheaper to buy mixed bags of candy that contain peanuts. The principal called to check on him, and I heard there was an all-staff meeting about the situation, which leads me to believe the coaches got in trouble (and possibly the nurse who assumed it was a stomach bug when he told her it was candy). I don’t know how I feel about that. Yes, they fed an allergic kid peanuts, but they did their best with a huge group of little kids, and I don’t know that it was against the rules. I think the solution is really to change the rules. That way they don’t even have to think about which kid is allergic to nuts — just know that they aren’t allowed at all.

This was our first exposure to peanuts for Archie, which is by design. When he was nine months old he got hives from his first exposure to yogurt, and to rule out the fruit in the yogurt as the possible problem, his pediatrician suggested an allergy test. We knew his big brother was allergic to peanuts (his eyes swelled shut after exposure and it was confirmed with a blood test) so we asked that Archie be tested for peanuts as well, and he came back positive for both dairy and peanuts. He grew out of the dairy allergy by age two, which is common, but we never exposed him to peanuts because that is not an allergy you generally grow out of, and it’s not often a mild reaction. And also, we had already become a peanut-free home because his brother was allergic.

We sent them to a nut-free daycare and made sure to complain whenever parents forgot (or just didn’t care) that no homemade treats were allowed and no nuts of any kind were to be sent in to school. Yeah, it’s gross to only give the kids Walmart cupcakes for birthdays, but big companies are required to list every ingredient in each item they sell, and Jonah’s mom might forget she added peanut butter chips as an afterthought and kill a kid by accident.

I honestly don’t know why more schools don’t ban peanuts on campus. It’s not like his dairy allergy that gave him digestive distress and itchy bumps — peanut reactions are often life-threatening and can close a child’s airway in minutes. The cafeteria doesn’t serve anything with peanuts anyway, but it’s not a nut free campus, so items are brought in all the time. There are EPI pens in the cafeteria behind glass for emergencies, but we are asking teachers to monitor hundreds of kids all eating at once, and kids love to share and swap food. An eighteen year old should know to ask what’s in the free cookie, but a younger kid doesn’t have much impulse control to factor in important questions between accepting a free cookie and eating that cookie.

Sure, it’s a luxury to have substitutes for hella-cheap and delicious peanut butter like cashew butter and almond butter, or even a seed butter if all nuts are banned, but breakfast and lunch in our district are free, and according to my kids, it’s delicious. Archie especially loves the chicken pozole offered for lunch. He is also severely allergic to fish, so on fish stick day I send him with a homemade lunch in case of cross contamination in the kitchen (there are always two options for lunch so he could order something without fish, but just to be safe he brings his own lunch those days). It’s not as if I need the school to outlaw everything my specific kid is allergic to, but peanut allergies are fairly widespread and its rare to have a kid be just a little bit allergic, like, oops I ate a peanut and now I have a widdle gas bubble! No, you’ve got hives and there is someone hovering nearby holding an emergency epinephrine shot.

I assume the people who are against banning peanut products in schools are the same ones who refused to wear masks during the height of the pandemic. I’m not allergic to peanuts, so what do I care if I leave a smear of peanut butter on the table that causes a severe reaction in the next kid to sit here and they have to be rushed to the hospital? I’m not an elderly person with a preexisting condition, what do I care if I get Covid and give it to everyone I interact with? For fucks sake people, protect kids even if it’s inconvenient.

Archie struggled for a full 36 hours before we declared him recovered from his severe reaction. Our allergist says every reaction is worse than the one before, and this was his first, which is terrifying. It was fairly traumatic, and a fellow allergy parent warned us of a period of heightened sensitivity following a big reaction, so all the foods that said “produced in a factory that processes peanuts” that had never caused problems before are definitely off limits until the visions of my child struggling for air wear off.

Shortly after the peanut fiasco, Archie’s teacher told us he’d been selected to represent his class in the school-wide Math Bee. An hour later, the Math Bee organizer (or Queen Bee as I think of her) called to tell me Archie had won. I thought, “that’s great! What is a Math Bee?” And then within a few days in became clear he would need to compete at the district Bee as the kinder representative from his school. There were a couple after school prep sessions and then away we went to a high school several miles away for the most nerve-wracking morning of my life (except for Peanut Allergy Monday). Archie was fine, though.

We attempted to get Archie to tell us what exactly a Math Bee was, and how we could help him prepare, and he said he knew a lot of math already and didn’t want to learn any extra from us, which seemed like a healthy way to look at the competition he actually had no interest in participating in. He explained that he didn’t actually win anything, it’s just that all the other kids got a question wrong and he didn’t, so that made him win. He thought the whole thing was stupid and tedious. He made it through five rounds of questions and was mid answer on the sixth when the buzzer sounded before his last syllable which eliminated him from the Bee. His answer was, of course, correct, but a tad too slow for the three second time limit (what the actual fuck).

When I saw him I told him how proud I was and that he did so well, and he immediately corrected me. “Mom, I lost. That kid over there won. Did you not see that?” *rolls eyes*.

A look that says, “Math Bee is BS.”

Archie is very hard to impress, and I hope someday he realizes what an accomplishment it was to win the school Bee and get most of the way through the district Bee (and he actually never got a question wrong). He has a very sensitive Bullshit Detector and doesn’t get involved with things that set it off. There was a photo booth setup at the district Bee with props and bee antenna and cutesy frames that all the kids were holding for pictures, and he flat out refused. “No, it’s stupid, I will do a normal picture but I will not smile or hold anything.”

We know he’s very bright, but we also know there is nothing we can do or say to get him to do something he isn’t interested in. For example, we have been told that he will lose next year’s Bee on purpose so he doesn’t have to go to district again and lose a precious Saturday morning on that nonsense.

Honestly, he might have a point.

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