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By: Amy Martin | AFAA Editorial Contributor
He has eaten his first peanut ... and his second and third, and well, today, he ate 4 peanuts.
"Not good." My son said, with a twisted face. After months of steady and incredibly slow increases, sometimes bumpy days and watchful nights…he finally reached the threshold to increase to his very first peanut. 

We did it. 

{I don't feel one bit badly about saying “we” because this is truly a family effort, even though my son has to be the one to ingest his poison, he couldn’t do it without us behind him every step of the way.

He has eaten his first peanut…and his second and third, and well, today, he ate 4 peanuts. Twice. Once in the morning and again tonight. Do you know what happened after he ate it? Nothing. 

I have cried every single time I have watched another OIT patient eat their first peanut; yet, on his day, I was all adrenaline, ready to pounce if need be, watching my contact-allergic child shove an entire peanut in his mouth. Everyone smiled and took pictures. As he announced his displeasure at the texture, everyone laughed and then….nothing. He was fine. All our work was paying off and I just witnessed it in all it’s glory.

Every day before had gotten him closer to where he needed to be, but now it is more outwardly meaningful. I am handing him whole peanuts to eat. No more liquid or powder, I know exactly what I am feeding him. At three peanuts, he was able to dose with Peanut M&M’s along with a good friend he has met through our weekly doctor’s appointments. The boys were so excited to buy red and green Christmas M&M’s. This week, when he increased to 4 peanuts, we decided to try flavored peanut butter. Next week, we will switch to plain peanut butter. 

Walls that once barricaded him and us from a normal life have begun to crumble. Today, he sat right next to his lifelong friend, who happens to live here in Utah, as the friend ate a PB&J sandwich. I ordered a grilled cheese for my son, despite the fact that there was peanut butter on the menu and teenage boys behind the counter who may not be as vigilant about cross contamination as I would like. We went to the grocery store and he got to pick out something as a snack that said “may contain” or “processed in a facility with peanuts.” So many new experiences!

When we began, his doctor promised us this life; a life that allows us even more freedom as we get closer to graduation. We put our faith in this doctor and this program and I can clearly say: it works. I have no doubt that even if some time in the next eight weeks we falter, we will not fail. I have said on the good days and the bad, before we even moved here and now, I will never regret making this choice for my son and our family.

 
 
By: Melissa Enos | AFAA Editorial Contributor
When you think of what you fear your child getting a hold of, what comes to mind?
Quick: Think of the question from a parent's perspective – what is dangerous to eat? When you think of what you fear your child getting a hold of, what comes to mind? For a food allergy parent, the answers might surprise you. Back in the early days of having a mobile toddler and the challenges that come with this milestone, I learned this lesson in the most interesting way. It was easy to protect my kid before he could crawl or walk. The only things he could put in his mouth were those that I put within his reach, right? It was great! Then he discovered the joys of movement, and…well…every parent knows the adventures that come next.

            We all know about the marbles, the building blocks, and anything else smaller than the diameter of a toilet paper roll. Being a good parent, I thought about those things as well. Maybe I was a little bit obsessive about it all, but better safe than sorry was my line of thinking. The funny thing is that even my obsessive nature didn't manage to stop all possible threats. One cold and rainy afternoon (translation: an afternoon with two young children bored out of their minds and wreaking havoc around every corner of the house), I finally managed to settle them down with a table full of paper and crayons. My little guy, being 2 ½ years old at the time, couldn't wait to follow his big sister's lead in creating a masterpiece. You can probably guess that I ended up pulling a crayon from his mouth not five minutes later. No big deal. At least I had to deal with that and not the two of them getting on each others' nerves.

            I never predicted what happened next, however. Just like one of those movies where the crazy dramatic action sequence happens in slow motion, I noticed my son reaching for a random cheese cracker that had been left on the table at some point. I practically dove over the table in an effort to reach the kid before that cracker made it to his mouth, thoughts of his severe reactions to milk products going through my head in torturous detail. Surely the characters from The Matrix movies would have been proud of me. Even better, I did manage to keep him from eating the cracker. I was so pleased with myself that I hardly even noticed the ache in my hip from having rammed it into the table when I landed.

            This was, for me, the moment when I realized that I truly am living a different kind of life now. I guess I kind of knew it before then to the point that I just made sure to give him only foods and drinks that were safe for him, but this is when the reality of it being much more than that actually hit me. Food allergies are so much more than just something I think about at feeding time. They're part of my family's life in every aspect starting with playtime, but I knew that soon enough it would be preschool, birthday parties, friends' houses, school, and everything else he might want to do. It was all suddenly as overwhelming as the day we got the list of allergies that affect my son to this day, and even more memorable to me than the actual diagnosis day. It was the day I realized this was a whole new way of life – not at all the one I had planned on for my children. When my son was first diagnosed at the age of 6 months, we were told there was an 85% chance he would outgrow everything by his third birthday. At the time of The Great Cheese Cracker Debacle, he was only 2 ½ years old. Maybe that was when I realized that things wouldn't be okay with less than 6 months to go before his birthday. I was living in a type of "temporary problem" denial that was shattered one afternoon when I dove over a table for a snack that's found on and under car seats all over America.

            Hard as that day was, it was also kind of liberating. I was finally free to put together a new life for my son and family – one that is safer, more realistic, and more inclusive of his unique needs. I was finally free to move forward and accept things as they are without the shadow of denial clouding my vision. I'll admit it's still tough sometimes. I wish the sight of a popsicle could make my little boy happy and not anxious, and I wish our entire kitchen didn't have to become a hazmat zone whenever someone spills a glass of milk. I wish this wasn't the reality of our life, but it is. It is our reality, and until it isn't, I'm finally at peace with this life.

            Moving forward in this new year, I resolve to take my acceptance one step further. The food that my son can have will no longer just be what we provide to keep him safe – it will become a central and integrated part of our entire family's diet. Our meals will be those that all of us can have and we will move on from simply providing a separate meal for my son. I guess that means a new adventure in learning to cook, but it's a good next step to take. Acceptance took quite a while in my case, but it's a great feeling, and a great opportunity to move past the fear and denial of those pesky cheese crackers.