When my daughter was eighteen months old, I left her with a friend while I ran a couple of errands (had to pick up my eyeglasses, and zip to the local running shop to buy some paraphernalia for my upcoming half marathon). It was the first time I was leaving her with someone other than a family member, and I was ridiculously nervous.
My friend, whose daughter was (and still is) bestest friends with mine assured me that she'd hover over my girl as much as she does hers. I thought to myself, It's only thirty minutes, she'll be fine.
Twenty-five minutes later, as I hopped into my minivan, heaving a sigh of relief because I was headed towards my girl and could scoop her into my arms in mere minutes, my cell phone rang.
It was my friend, "Does your daughter have a peanut allergy?" she asked.
"I don't think so; we've never let her have peanuts. Why?" I answered.
"Just wondering. I have some granola bars here that have peanuts in them. Wanted to know if I could let her have one."
"No, please don't. I am keeping her away from peanuts until she is three. I have food allergies; I am super paranoid!"
At this point I was nearing her house, so we hung up.
When I got inside, the rest of the story was made clear to me.
My friend, who loves my daughter dearly, asked me, "Does her lip look swollen?"
Sure enough, my daughter's lower lip was swollen, just on the right side. My friend had given the girls a granola bar to share; as soon as my daughter put a bite to her mouth, her lip swelled up.
Thankfully my friend was savvy enough to know what was going on. She confiscated the bars, and watched my daughter with a hawk's eye. She's CPR trained, was at one time a First Responder, so she knew what she was doing, and what was going on. Her call to me was as much about finding out my location and how soon I'd be arriving as anything.
We watched my girl for hours; I called the pediatrician and followed their instructions. Later that week a trip to the allergist confirmed that not only did my daughter have a peanut allergy, but a severe one.
How could that have happened? An allergic reaction never happens on the first exposure to a substance. It takes at least one prior exposure for the body to build an immune response...the first time is always a gimmee. I had never given my daughter peanut butter, or any peanut product in the past.
Or had I?
Peanut oil is widely used in a variety of products, and machinery that processes peanuts also processes other products that don't have peanut ingredients. Clearly my sweet girl had been exposed to peanuts at least once prior.
Labelling has come a long way. Now companies are required to inform consumers if their product has peanuts in them; many go beyond that requirement and add if the product shares equipment with peanut products, or if the facility processes peanuts. I am eternally grateful for that; reading labels has become FIRST nature to me.
I understand that peanut butter is a staple in most US households. It's a great source of protein, most kids love it, it's convenient and inexpensive. I'd urge you, however, to hold off on serving it to your young children until they reach an age where you are certain they won't develop a sensitivity to it.
What is that age? It's unclear...I'd say six is a fairly safe bet. Not for sure, but probably fine.
The problem with a peanut allergy is, one time the child might have symptoms that are so mild they go unnoticed. The same for the next ten times. Or forever.
Or, they might get a swollen lip. The same for the next ten times. Or forever.
But...they might get a swollen lip, and then the next time go into anaphylactic shock, be unable to breath and suffer other serious system failures.
There is just no telling.
Peanut allergies are notorious for being totally unpredictable. They can come out of seemingly nowhere, and there is no way to know what will happen with the next exposure. Might be fine. Might not.
Next year my daughter is supposed to start Kindergarten. I don't know what I will do...frankly, with a life threatening allergy, I can't say I'm all too keen on the idea of assuming that she'll be fine.
The last time I did that, we discovered her allergy. She was in good, loving, capable hands.
What if the next time, she's not?