It takes a second — just one second. When I first saw him, he was reaching out to take her hand and it looked so sweet that the corners of my mouth began to curl into an unconscious smile. But in the very next moment, he turned his hand over and opened it, and the blood drained from my head as I gulped in a great breath of air and then let it out again in a desperate yell.
We were away this past weekend — our first trip away as a family in nearly three years, since before E2 was born even. Granted, it was to visit a fibre festival and, so — though very exciting for me — it was not M’s cup of tea at all, but he soldiered on admirably and enjoyed the change of scenery at least. The weather was good, the hotel was really very nice, and we had such a nice time that there was a part of me asking why we didn’t do this more often…?
The first reason is, of course, the chronic lack of funds, but the second reason is no less restricting. Packing for a weekend away — even with toddlers trebling the job — should only take an afternoon, but it took me several days to prepare, because I wasn’t just packing our clothes, but cooking and packing all the food that three of our group would need for the three days we’d be gone, along with all the dishes and utensils, washing up liquid and sponge, cooler and ice. And finding the best deal on a hotel should take an hour at most, but I spent a couple of evenings checking and cross-checking prices against reviews against amenities, because as well as having the best price, it was essential that room would be clean enough (no crumbs on the floor or in the corners) and we had to have at least a fridge and microwave guaranteed to be in the room. And though my sister lives within an hour’s drive of our destination and I wrestled for days with the possibility of staying at her place for free, I finally followed my gut and declined her offer, because I know how thoroughly she (doesn’t) clean her flat, and the idea of conducting E2’s first field trial of her newly-discovered cat allergy not by gently exposing her for a few hours and then going home, but by immersing her in a cat-hair-covered apartment for three days and nights running seemed just too cruel, too big a risk to take.
So I was exhausted before the trip began. And the car was laden down as if we didn’t expect to see civilisation for days. And the epi-pens were to hand, along with a list of hospitals. For three days, we ate cobbled-together, microwaved meals, sitting on the edge of the bed in the hotel room. And I remembered why we don’t do this more often.
But the weekend was a huge success. The room was beautifully clean. To my relief, we didn’t run out of meals. I loved the fibre-heaven of the festival, the girls loved the sheep and the music, and M… well, he survived it just fine. The whole weekend turned out as refreshing as it was exhausting. Most importantly, there were no emergencies — no one ate anything they weren’t supposed to. It was a lot of hard work and organisation, but I think it was worth the effort. And I think we’re going to try to get away again soon — perhaps a rented Winnebago, so we can cook fresh meals…
Today, I bundled the girls in the car and we drove 5 miles out of our way to the health food shop, where they sell the girls’ steel-cut oats and quinoa in dedicated bulk containers to ensure no cross-contamination. We could buy the same thing from the supermarket that’s only two minutes from the house, but they change their bins around and I just don’t trust that they clean them thoroughly when they do.
“Please can we go to the park?” E1 asked on the way home. “Pleeeeease?” The skies were threatening to storm, but they’d been so good, holding hands in the shop and touching nothing, most especially as we walked past shudder-inducingly dangerous bins of nuts. Yeah, they’d been good as gold… yeah, let’s go to the park and get what playing we could before the skies opened…
The girls headed straight for the slides — their favourite — and I looked for a bench to sit on and crack open my book. Allergy-mums are known to hover over their kids — Helicopter Mums, they’re called — and I don’t really want to be that kind of mum, but it’s hard not to be. It’s instinctive to want to stay very close, but the only bench open was a good twenty feet away and, though I felt pulled to watch their every move like a hawk, I forced myself to open my book and look down at it. They’d be fine. There were only a few other kids there. I could read a book while I watched them.
I don’t know why I looked up when I did, but I did. I don’t know why I looked to E2 instead of E1, but my eyes fell on her. And on the six-year-old boy who was standing in front of her, with his hand outstretched. I thought she’d made a friend, I thought it was sweet. But when he turned his hand over and opened it, I saw that he was giving her something… some food… He was sharing his food! And she… she was reaching up to take it.
“No! Nooooo! NoNoNoNooooooo!!!!” The other mothers’ heads jerked up and one of them leapt toward her boy. I immediately scanned the bench were she’d been sitting: a box of graham-cracker-marshmallow-teddy-bear crap, no doubt with an ingredient list the length of my arm. Yeah, something in there would have done her in, no doubt. She’d have blown up like a balloon. Or worse.
“She… she… has severe food allergies…” I explained hastily, breathily, pulling my baby back toward my chest and away from him. The mother nodded, apologised, corrected her son… and then moved to the other end of the playground. Had I overreacted? Had I been too loud? Too rude? …Actually, I think I underreacted. It had taken me seconds to get to my daughter. It had taken full nano-seconds for the sound to rise from chest — too long… too long… She’d nearly taken it out of his hand. It can happen too quickly — it can happen in just one second. And the result could be… unthinkable. When the sakes are that high, what can be overreaction?
I realised I still had my daughter gripped tightly to my chest, and I let her go. But first, a kiss on her sweet cheek… and another. And a quick admonishment: You never take food from anyone else. Never. And then a quick squeeze. And then I could let her go.
And I spent the rest of our time at the park hovering — book banished and me never more than a few feet way from my daughters — while I waited… waited… waited for my heart to stop pounding in my chest, and the panick to subside, and the adrenaline to cease coursing through my veins. Helicopter Mum, and for good reason.
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