Reader’s Story: The Family Vacation

in Guest Column
Published: July 2, 2010

By Kimberly Burger Capozzi

My mother always used to say that the best thing about going on vacation was coming home, but I never understood that until my family took our first trip since learning of our son’s severe allergy to peanut.

Never have I been so happy to see my own kitchen floor. It’s covered in crumbs and sticky in places, but I know that those crumbs and sticky spots are NOT my son’s food allergens in our peanut and nut-free house. I wanted to kiss that floor when I saw it. Instead I dumped all of our bags and belongings, gleefully careless about what hit the floor or rolled under the couch.

The vacation started with some of the hardest cleaning I’ve ever done. We shared a rented beach house with family members in Duck, N.C. and to the average eye it was pretty clean, but not to the mom of a food-allergic toddler.

My husband took our son shopping while my parents helped me move furniture, vacuum behind pillows, wipe down dining room chairs, clean out the fridge, run dishes through the dishwasher and strip the beds. I found enough unidentifiable crumbs and other weird objects to feel it was worthwhile work, especially when I watched my son line up his toy cars under the couch where I had found all kinds of petrified foods.

My fantasy of relaxing at the beach was shattered when I found two piles of peanut shells in the sand within a few feet of our umbrellas. Fearing that the beach contained more peanut land mines, I spent a lot of time looking down at the sand, barely noticing the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.

We mostly skipped eating out, which was probably the best choice for dining with a 2-year-old anyway. But the amount of pre-planning of meals that took place with the various family members to prevent any dangerous foods making their way to the table was worthy of a U.N. security council deliberation, with carefully worded communiques and lots of diplomacy.

The good news — GREAT news in fact — is that my son had no problems on our trip. Our extended family really came through in supporting our food decisions and taking all measures we requested in order to keep our child safe. It was wonderful to have that kind of help for an entire week.

Watching my son dig in the sand with his aunts and run laughing from the surf was more than worth all the work and stress. Eventually, our concerns shifted to the very ordinary, like using adequate sunscreen and stocking the cooler with enough drinks for everyone.

Just as I reached this point of contentment, it was time to go home. It was a relief to be heading back to a house we know, where the grocery stores carry our favorite brands and the challenges of life are fairly predictable. Then a tunnel accident up ahead forced a detour along a stretch of highway in Virginia that might very well be the Peanut Capital of the World.

We passed about 12 peanut stands, peanut processing facilities and peanut fields. Would my son smell the peanut and react? Would he breathe in peanut debris? We shut off the car AC and prayed for the best.

Again, we got it; my son slept through the whole thing without so much as a hive. I slept well once we got back to our Pittsburgh-area home, our No-Peanut palace, recharging myself for the next adventure.