Food Allergies and Mother Fear

I adore Feeding Eden, the new memoir by Susan Weissman. While I do not have a child with food allergies, I find the topic endlessly fascinating. From the flap copy: "What do you make for dinner when your child has such severe allergies that even one bite of the wrong ingredient could be deadly?"

I have always understood that cheerful mothering is founded upon the ability to banish the suggestion of disaster. Those catalogs stuffed with childproofing gadgets promising: "Finally! A solution to dangerous hard bathtub walls," or touting that mesh thing through which babies are supposed to suck a strawberry without choking. They always made me want to scream. Parenting is tough enough without fate suggesting extra ways to suffer.

Author Susan Weissman was dealt a tricky hand when her infant son Eden became so sick at such a young age. Allergic to a long list of foods, it took years for their family to come to a place where every day didn't seem to promise disaster. In the youngest children, allergies are so very difficult to diagnose. And Eden was born before the latest slew of allergen labeling laws, which made Weissman's road that much tougher.

The allergy details are very interesting, but Weissman really shines when she's describing good old Mother Fear. After a particularly grim (and unexplained) allergic reaction, one emergency room doctor told her not to get crazy: 

"How wouldn't I know Crazy? Let me count the ways. Despite the doctor's counsel, Crazy and I became as intimate as lovers. Crazy became my stalker, my unwelcome houseguest, and even my muse. I see Crazy int he shadows of other parents, the parents with children like Eden. When I try to tout my sanity to teachers and friends--'Oh, I try not to get too crazy'--Crazy laughs its ass off in the corner."

As I write this, one of my kids is at hockey practice and the other one is climbing a tree. A hasty trip to the ER is potentially part of any parent's day. Only willful ignorance of that fact (and carefully fitted helmets and mouth guards) allow me to forget to be afraid. Weissman, forced to acknowledge daily risk so much more often than most, exercises for her reader the delicate balance between fearful and smart.

I predict this book will be around for a long time. It will become required reading for the parents of food allergic children. And for the rest of us, it's a thoughtful conversation with our very own brands of Crazy.