I’ve heard that there’s no style of learning more effective than experiential learning. This stands to reason. Here are some things I’ve thought and some things I’ve learned through experience.
I’ve thought, “What a freaking nuisance. You know this is just an overprotective helicopter mom and because of her, because of these two or three nut jobs, I can’t make myself a damn peanut butter sandwich without breaking building ordinances. Anywhere.”
I’ve thought, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got it covered. Sure, little Billy’s mama made a stink about it, but we got one of the pizzas with soy cheese. We’re not jerks, of course we want the kid to be safe and able to have fun.
I’ve thought, “This is the mom’s issue.” “The poor kid gets stuck at the table with all the other kids he doesn’t know and has to have a special plate of crap brought out to him with his name on it. All because mom loves the attention she gets calling 13 times a day to make sure he’s not eating anything other than what is on the stupid list.”
I’ve thought, “Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen?”
I’ve rolled my eyes and used air quotes when explaining that a kid in my care, but not my kid, had “food allergies” and gone on to explain — in coded, but witheringly judgmental, language — said child’s mom and her hyper anxiety.
Whether it was coincidence or not, it was always the moms.
Thank God, none of these misconceptions had fatal outcomes or even critical ones.
Then experience came knocking and taught me in an afternoon how mistaken I was.
Do you remember your 9/11 story? I do. For years after that terrible day, anytime you were with someone you either didn’t know before or hadn’t seen since before that tragic day the conversation always got around to your story. Your experience of that day. It still happens, just not as much, as more and more “adults” are not of an age to have remembered it, or you’re so familiar with everyone’s tales that you reference rather than recount them.
Parents of kids with anaphylactic food allergies engage in the telling and retelling of our tales whenever we find someone that gets it. Unfortunately for us and our kids, parents of kids with anaphylactic food allergies are the only ones that get it. Each of us encounters the “me” from above, who doesn’t get it, and we know they don’t get it and that only makes us act crazier.
See, we have to be crazy. So crazy that you’d rather just bitch about me and my hyper anxiety then have to deal with my crazy wrath if any of my seemingly bizarre and self-centered requests are found to have been ignored. We’ve been granted the greatest education possible through our experiences. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Many parents have a crazy period early in their first child’s life, often during the first week or two, when they can’t stop thinking that it’s possible the baby will stop breathing and just die. We had this bit of experiential learning ourselves, and for a 10-day period after getting the kid home, one of us was awake at all hours of the day and night to make sure this didn’t happen.
How we’d stop it if it did is something we never even considered. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Then we realized that was crazy; if he was going to give us a few minutes we needed to take them. Parents learn those fears are baseless.
A year or so later, we were having our normal lunch. Then little red pinpricks appeared around our son’s red and watering eyes. That’s weird. Then bright red blotches all over his face and a high whistle from the air trying to get in and out. Then running to the car. Then heavy vomiting, as it was the only way it seemed he could get breath. Then, no breathing and beet red. Then enormous vomiting.
Do you know where you park at the ER if your 1-year-old baby is red and unable to breathe, turning purple, and you and your wife and your baby are covered in vomit as he writhes to try to loosen the vice grip of the snake he feels choking him, only it’s not a snake, it’s his own body choking him from the inside?
Wherever the fuck you want.
In our case it was at the door. The car was vomit-filled, and I mean vomit was covering the windows, all of them, including the windshield. By “at the door,” I mean they saw us and guided us right to the door. We left our car there, running, doors open.
Until that day, my experience at the ER had never failed to include a stop for at least a second of triage. Not this time. They saw the baby, saw he was barely holding on to his precious little life and the breaths were gone, and they pointed and told us “RUN!!” and we did. Adrenaline was flooding our bodies and brains and we did it. We ran.
When we got there we didn’t care who was there. We just needed someone to save our baby’s life. They did. We calmed down on the outside and panicked on the inside.
Eventually he was laughing and playing and my wife and I were trying to reflect his carefree demeanor, sneaking in conversation about what the hell it could be. We wouldn’t get answers until we saw the allergist a few days later. So we emptied our kitchen. Almost all of it. Because something in there could cause that silly fear we had as new parents to become a reality. Our little love could just die. It’s knowledge we will carry until there is either a cure or we die.
That’s it. That’s the list of all the ways we came to stop worrying. We got better at living with the knowledge, but we reordered everything, including our priorities.
I used to have a career working in the city, but since I know from all my conversations how many people think this whole “food allergy thing” is being way overblown by nervous parents, I ignored that job and rested on the laurels I’d earned. Once those were used up, I relied on the sheer audacity to just show up late, leave early or not show up at all, while trying to find something that worked closer to home, since we were told that if he went into shock the staff at the daycare couldn’t go with him; he would just be taken by the ambulance, terrified, waiting, perhaps for hours, until we arrive.
So, I took a $20,000 pay cut and took a gig, a good gig, one I love, but a step down to be sure, to be with him for the day, feet away, always ready to run. I’ve done it once and hope to never do again.
These experiences stick with you. Forever.