76: Who Wants Ice Cream?

76: Who Wants Ice Cream?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Who Wants Ice Cream?

I doubt whether the world holds for any one a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream.

~Heywood C. Broun

In minutes, my living room has become flooded with people. A giant man wearing black and yellow from head to toe presides in the middle, cradling my pink, wailing baby girl. Others look on. Bags and medical kits litter the floor as feet shift, faces move in and out of my sight.

While I focus on one.

“I have never held someone this small before,” the big fireman says. His hard hat nearly brushes the ceiling. “How old is she?”

“Eight months,” I reply.

The other two firemen, along with the three paramedics converse, then tell me what to do, where they will take her.

In another minute, like a vapor, everyone, including my child, is gone.

•••

The next nine hours bring a roller coaster of emotions ranging from fear to anxiety, anger to relief. But the next day, as the sun rises, I know the path of our lives has changed course. I’m unsure how to keep my baby safe.

The verdict? Food allergies. Lots of them: peanut, dairy, egg, tree nuts, sesame, and garlic. She’d eaten a tiny fleck of Swiss cheese that night. She’d found it on the floor, beneath my son’s chair. Minutes later, her cries pierced the evening silence, reaching an unbearable pitch, like shattering glass. Breathing trouble ensued, along with a bold white blister on her lip.

I called 911 and the sirens came blaring for her.

It is one thing to hear an ambulance or glimpse its flashing lights on the road. It’s another to hear the siren’s cries, look out your kitchen window, and see the cars pull over for the red and white entourage of trucks, edging closer, the noise deafening, knowing they are coming — that you called them — for your baby.

•••

Once Audrey received her diagnosis, I too went without dairy, peanuts, nuts, egg, sesame, and garlic so that I could continue nursing her. During this transition time, I lost twenty pounds because I was scared and didn’t know what to eat. Many of my favorite foods — peanut butter sandwiches, pasta, ice cream, cereal — were off the table. Unsafe. And I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous around food, worried about remnants lurking on toys, grocery carts, and other people’s hands. I suddenly felt closed off from the world I knew, where eating was enjoyable, a social event, a way to celebrate, and a comfort under gray skies.

On one of the many days when I felt sorry for Audrey and for myself, someone very close to me lamented, “And she won’t be able to eat ice cream. That is so sad.” Her pity only brought me down more.

With a diagnosis that eliminated any familiar means of comforting myself — no gooey doughnuts or cheeseburgers here — I felt lost. Alone, in a strange world, trying to navigate a new path for my daughter and myself.

Because her very existence depended on it.

Why Audrey? Why when no one in our family had allergies? And why so many allergies? Did I do something wrong during pregnancy? How were we going to live like this?

But I knew right away that I wouldn’t stop nursing. My daughter had a dairy allergy, but, blessedly, she’d been drinking my milk from the moment she entered this world. My milk was safe. I wouldn’t take that away. Not when so much had already been taken from her.

We would struggle together.

•••

Shortly after the ambulance tore through the streets with our young daughter, and the reality of our new situation settled in, I could only see what we’d lost. The freedom to eat what we wanted; the freedom to move through playgrounds, stores, and life without a second thought. I thought we’d been robbed, and I could only see what was missing in our lives and how bleak things seemed to be with danger looming over every particle that passed Audrey’s lips.

At one point, however, my attitude changed. On a visit to our newly allergen-free home, my mother-in-law spent the day playing with Audrey, reading to her, cuddling her, and spoon-feeding her. And then she touched my arm and said, “Audrey has food allergies. But she is an otherwise healthy, and very happy little girl.”

And she is.

•••

“Soy butter sandwich.” My son, Aidan, glanced up from his coloring. “Please?”

About six months after Audrey’s diagnosis, my husband and I, along with our two children, had settled into a new eating plan.

We said our goodbyes to such favorites as pesto, cashew chicken, pizza, Mexican food, grilled cheese sandwiches, microwave meals, and ordering take-out.

And we said hello to creative cooking. We found substitute ingredients that passed the taste test and helped us return to foods we’d always loved. We even made our own pizzas; we just left off the cheese. As Audrey grew, both she and her older brother joined me in the kitchen laying tomato slices and spreading onion slivers across the pizza dough. We found new joy in cooking together.

Everyone in our home eats Audrey-safe food. But it is not as difficult as first imagined. As a result, we are also eating healthier than ever — cooking our own meals, avoiding fast and processed foods, and branching out to foods we had never before tried — all positive results from what first looked only negative.

•••

At two-and-a-half years old, during a typical midweek meal of burgers and chips, Audrey has already blown on the hot food and taken several bites before the rest of us have finished saying grace. Whether it’s swordfish, coconut chicken, pancakes, risotto, or almost any other home-cooked meal, Audrey is usually the first to dig in and the first to finish, jump off her chair, and go play.

A few minutes later, I ask, “Do you want some more, Aud?”

She nods, then snatches a potato chip from my husband’s plate.

“Very sneaky,” he says.

Audrey grins.

When everyone finishes, I disappear for a few minutes before returning with a surprise. “Who wants ice cream?”

“Me!” my children both cry.

Audrey squeals as I dole out a big spoonful of cookies-n-cream coconut ice cream into her dish. It is her first time trying something she’s only seen others enjoying.

Watching her eat — inhale — the ice cream makes my husband and me smile, grateful for our healthy, happy little girl.

There is nothing unsafe for Audrey on this table. We have adapted, we have grown and eaten healthily together, all as a family. The path, once again, looks bright. And Audrey, with her wide range of tastes, is quite happy indeed.

That night, with all the fervor of a two-year-old child, she licks her plate clean.

~Mary Jo Marcellus Wyse

More stories from our partners