My youngest son has always been solid. From the moment he opened his tiny eyes on the world and decided it was satisfactory, he was clear about what works for him.
When we decided it was time for him to stop using pacifiers ( dummys in the UK) because he had teeth growing in, he found a way to stash them in different places around the house. So when we thought we reclaimed them all, he’d toddle into the room, chewing victoriously on a pacifier like a gangster with a cigar.
He didn't bother speaking until he could master full sentences. If anyone tried baby language on him, he'd look at them like they were deranged. He’s always been his own person, preferring to hang out in small groups and well away from drama.
So it was a surprise when his pre-school called to say that he’d caused a fracas during ‘fruit time.”
Apparently he had refused to eat fruit and wouldn’t be reasoned with. His uncompromising rebellion had brought on a full Spartacus moment, with an entire classroom of 3 year olds refusing their fruit too. So he’d been sent to the Principal’s office to explain himself, and so the other kids would calm down.
He sat on the time-out chair, his head down, swinging his chubby little legs, forlornly. When the Principal asked him if he knew why he was there, he nodded. He looked her straight in the eye and stated with great gravitas, “I don’t like peaches.”
Trying not to laugh, she asked why he’d been shouting. He said he’d told Miss Betsy he didn't like peaches but she kept telling him he did, and she wouldn’t listen so he had to shout. He agreed he'd say sorry for disrupting “fwoot time” but he’d only promise not to do it again, if they promised they wouldn’t try to make him eat peaches.
His ‘no peanuts’ rule came into place, somewhere around the beginning of elementary school. He came home outraged one day, as he’d been put at a lunch table where people were openly eating peanuts. He insisted I tell the teacher that he absolutely had to be on the ‘No Peanuts’ table, because his life was in danger.
I didn’t think he was allergic to peanuts, though we aren’t a particularly peanut family, so it hadn't crossed my mind But he was pretty adamant of the 'danger'. So we talked to the teacher, and he was moved to the ‘No Peanuts” table, and all was good.
A couple of years later, shortly after Valentine’s day, we were pottering about the house and suddenly he started screaming. He ran out of his room, his skin purple, vomiting and choking, his eyes wide with panic. “Poison! Poison!” he gasped.
I took him to the bathroom and held his head while his little body tried to expel whatever was in there. Mark went to see what he had eaten, and found the wrapper for a peanut butter cup that had been stashed away with Valentine candy he got from friends.
We gave him water and some antihistamine, and fairly quickly he was fine. Tired, emotional, but fine. So, we took him to get allergy tested. Turns out he is VERY allergic to peanuts. He even got his own epi-pen
He knew. Before we knew. Before there was any reason for anybody to know, he knew. And he trusted his gut
The peanut episode was a big lesson for Mark and I. In fact, maybe one of these days, I'll write my parenting book: “Before Giving Birth To You, I’d No Idea About Any Of This Stuff, So I'm Winging It,” because I’ve learned so much from my kids.
If either one of the boys tells us something is true, we start by believing them - no matter how unpleasant or implausible it might be. That alone has proved to be completely bloody invaluable over the years.
That wasn't necessarily the way things worked when we were kids : “Tough shit if you don't like peaches.” “You don't talk back to adults.” “A food allergy is just showing off.” Maybe I should dedicate a chapter to it in my parenting book, called “They Were Winging It Too.”
The world I grew up in, seems very different to the one my kids are growing up in now. And I can't help feeling I had it so much easier.
Another school shooting in the US this week and the only thing that surprises me is how numb I've become. I'm cooking dinner when my 15 year old comes in for a cuddle, because he's upset. I hug him and ask him what's wrong. He tells me he’s scared. He says he and his friends have been discussing the schools active shooter drill and they don’t think they’d have much of a chance of escape. He says they’re worried that there’s a store selling guns about a mile away.
I tell him he’ll be ok. I tell him about California’s gun laws. I throw in some statistics that might be helpful, like how it’s more dangerous crossing a road. I remind him how good he is at hide and seek. I point out how his father would walk through fire for him, if only just to bore him with TikTok videos he's found. He smiles. And we’re ok. We both agree we’re ok.
And we have dinner and move on, because there is no chapter in any parenting book for this.
I am glad my son is solid. I am fine that he doesn't like peaches. I am thrilled he is able to say no to those in authority who tell him he has to accept what is unacceptable. That gives me hope for the future. Because what is happening is fucking unacceptable
But right now, when he goes to school and a feel the tightness in my stomach, I remind myself that he, above all people, knows how to listen to his gut when it tells him something is dangerous. And I am grateful.
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