Lilah, who just rounded a year old, is an elegant eater. She prefers to dine, picking up one pea at a time, as her older brothers storm through the meal beside her. Benjamin eats like a caveman and Zachary eats like a compulsive dieter. Their baby sister eats like a girl who realizes her mother has enough drama without more dinnertime histrionics.
She eats what we give her, selecting from amongst the morsels with measured enthusiasm. While she prefers beans to chicken, she doesn’t whine or cry if the dinner is not her first choice. She just eats it. Then, when she is finished, she looks at me and starts talking as she clears off her placemat.
She is asking for dessert.
I bring in fruit, and she eats that for awhile, too. Meanwhile, Tweedledum and Tweedledee have left the table twenty minutes ago and are pummeling one another in the living room. J and I sit at the table, deflated, trying to pretend for a few minutes that Lilah is an only child.
It is a pleasure to feed this little girl, truly it is. Except. And here’s the big except.
Oh, my god, the hives. Everything she eats seems to make her break out in hives. First, it was just all forms of squash. OK, we can avoid squash. Then it was eggs. Fine. Daddy and Zachary are allergic to eggs – we can handle that. But then we noticed a few other things seemed to trigger the problem. Like lentils. And possibly other beans. And tomatoes. And chicken.
Who the fuck is allergic to chicken?
How exactly are we supposed to get protein into a child who has only one tooth but is allergic to everything? I would prefer to limit her soy exposure, as I don’t want her getting bosoms before she leaves preschool, yet a (hormome-free) t-bone is out of the question. She doesn’t even have enough teeth for hamburgers. Plus, of course, I need to be cooking food for the entire family, which means that it has to be something that suits Benjamin’s tastes, Daddy’s peculiarities, and my rather high health standards. Since Zachary doesn’t actually eat, he gets no vote.
(By the way, don’t even try to suggest things to feed her. Please trust me when I tell you that I have thought of every possible permutation and there is some problem with every conceivable meal. Either Benjamin doesn’t like it or J won’t eat it or it makes Lilah’s head spin around and sprout horns.)
We need to figure out to what she is allergic, as baby Zyrtec is currently her third biggest source of calories. When Zachary got his allergy tests, they poked his back with a series of plastic prongs and then looked for the reaction, a procedure that he is in no hurry to repeat, allow me to add. They decided he was severely allergic to eggs, which we could have told them. He has always had a reaction to anything made with eggs unless it involves baking them with lots of grains to absorb whatever proteins make him ill. There also seems to be a tree nut allergy, which is fine, as I cannot imagine him requesting something like a handful of walnuts or a bowl of toasted almonds. Thank god there was no reaction to peanuts.
They prescribed an epipen, a nifty little device that his exemplary parents manage to forget to bring with them about 92% of the time. Fortunately, Zach promptly vomits up all egg products, so we will probably never need the thing.
Lilah, however, seems to be a lot more sensitive and she is still tiny. She needed blood tests to determine exactly what she can safely consume. We were able to narrow the possibilities down. I rarely feed her processed foods, so I know all the ingredients in everything she eats, but it still involved a very long line of little vials they needed to fill.
So, I was assigned the task of holding her down with my body while three technicians sucked seven vials of blood from her arm. Baby girl did her job, too. That consisted of screaming with fury as she vainly attempted to get to her right thumb, which was tragically the same arm out of which they were removing a third of her blood.
As soon as the technicians were finished, she stuck that thumb in her mouth and then sat on my lap and whimpered. Eventually, when I felt strong enough to walk, I took her out to the parking lot and managed to get her to the car without hyperventilating.
As I was strapping her in, a man walked by with his child in a wheelchair. It was clear this little boy was severely disabled, both physically and mentally. He and his family face enormous challenges every single day. What ails that child will not be healed with a few tubes of blood and some Zyrtec.
Lilah’s blood tests haven’t come back yet. Yesterday, baked beans gave her hives. I suspect there are a few more epipens in our future.