I remember it vividly. She was just over three years old.
It was a Friday evening and I was grocery shopping for the week as I always did with my daughter.
The store we frequented at that time had shopping carts designed for kids that were shaped like little cars. Inside each one was a television screen that featured educational shows for kids to select from.
It was a parents dream. Their toddler could be occupied while you shopped in peace. Hallelujah!
It was especially welcome for parents who had children with special needs. At that time, my daughter was in speech therapy and was learning sign language since she was not able to communicate.
She had also been given an “educational ASD diagnosis,” meaning they knew she was on the autism spectrum but were hopeful with early intervention she would be able to assimilate by the time kindergarten began.
My daughter also had severe food allergies, reacting even to touch from her allergens.
That day we grabbed her favorite shopping cart, and she happily hopped inside. I placed my purse in the cart and grabbed my antibacterial wipes, so I could give it a little wipe down from whatever germs the previous users left behind.
But when I bent down to wipe off the steering wheel, my heart stopped.
There was my toddler. Holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that the previous user left behind in the seat.
I immediately smacked the sandwich out of her hands, unsure at that time if she’d taken a bite or stuck her fingers in her mouth.
I ran her to the bathroom to wash her hands, arms, and mouth. Then back out to the parking lot to sit with her in my car, epinephrine in hand, watching her like a hawk, ready to call 911.
Thankfully, she was okay. She did not take a bite of the leftover sandwich, so Benadryl was able to care for her topical reaction. But it taught me a very real and scary lesson.
That day, my daughter could have died. And I would have blamed myself for the rest of my life.
She’s had other close calls and anaphylactic reactions in the past, but I was recently reminded of what happened that day.
On April 9, a mother’s post on a blog called Urban Baby went viral after she was stopped in the grocery store and lectured by another mother for letting her child eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the shopping cart at the store.
The sea of comments that followed after her posting included everything from people calling that mother inconsiderate, to others jumping to her defense and stating they’re not responsible for the lives of other children.
One reply read, “That’s really inconsiderate So many kids have life threatening allergies to peanut butter. Eating it in a shopping cart GUARANTEES it will be smeared on the handle, etc. Its really awful you would do this. Sorry, but imagine if it were your child with the allergy.”
While another stated, “It is not your responsibility to protect other kids. If I am at store and my kids want a pb&j they will have a pb&j. It is not my responsibility to change my life to suite [sic] others. It is their responsibility to protect themselves.”
There is truth to both.
As a food allergy parent, each day my daughter leaves for school, goes to a friends, goes to church, or eats at a restaurant, it’s terrifying. You try to be as careful as possible, but there are no guarantees in life.
You don’t want your child to live in a bubble, so all you can do is educate them to the best of your ability and teach them to make smart decisions. And always carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with them at all times.
Thankfully, she’s old enough now where she’s more aware and can read labels.
But the truth is, especially when they’re small, we have to trust “our village” to help keep them safe. I had to trust her teachers, her caregivers, etc. I would pray, and still do, each and every day she walked out the door that nothing would happen to her.
While I learned a valuable lesson that day at the grocery store, it’s also about common courtesy. While yes, it is my responsibility to wipe down the carts for my daughter and try to rid it of any germs or allergen residue, I do believe human decency comes into play by people taking the time to think outside themselves.
One way to start is by throwing away your own trash, because let’s be honest, leaving a leftover sandwich (or any trash for that matter) in a shopping cart is just disgusting.
Do you know someone with a food allergy? How have you partnered with your friends, family, and/or community to try and educate others about the severity of allergic reactions?
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