Twinning: Taking My Peanut-Allergic Son Over The Atlantic Went Way Better Than I Expected
Having twins can be the most amazing experience of your life. It can also cause you to wake up in the morning wishing you were someone else. Twinning offers an honest depiction of life with twins from a mom who tries to keep things somewhere in the middle.
Flying to Europe to visit my husbandâ€™s family is something I didnâ€™t even consider when my twins were infants, mainly because it would have been too much work. Just driving to the mall with twinfants was a huge hassle for me, so taking a six-hour plane trip with them was not even up for discussion. When they were 16 months old, I discovered that my son Nick had a severe peanut allergy and suddenly, flying anywhere seemed nearly impossible.
As our family became used to life with a peanut allergy we navigated the difficulties presented by restaurants, preschool, playdates and birthday parties, but flying remained a dark cloud hovering in the distance. With in-laws in England and France however, I knew that getting my kids on a plane was not something I could put off forever.
This past November, we finally did itâ€”flying from New York to London with our 6-year-old twins. I cancelled the trip a million times in my head. The thought of Nick having an anaphylactic reaction 30,000 feet over the ocean with nowhere to land and get medical help triggered a voice in my head to immediately shriek, â€œNo we cannot do this! This is a massive mistake!â€
But then another voice would calmly say, â€œUnless he eats or touches a peanut, an anaphylactic reaction is impossibleâ€ because Nick does not have an airborne allergy (where Iâ€™d need to worry about peanut dust in the air or someone opening a pack of peanuts near him). His allergic reactions to nuts are from ingestion and contact. Itâ€™s hard for me to envision a situation that has the potential to take my beautiful sonâ€™s life away without spiraling into a blind panic. But the rational side of me knew that this situation was entirely doable, and, if well-managed, it would even be safe.
We booked a flight with Virgin Atlantic, which has a reasonable peanut policy: peanuts are â€œnot knowinglyâ€ included in any meals or snacks, but they cannot prohibit other passengers from bringing peanuts on board and eating them. I called the airline and ordered nut-free meals for me, my husband and my daughter, and I cancelled Nickâ€™s meals entirelyâ€”I planned to pack everything Nick would eat on the plane, effectively eliminating any chance of a reaction.
I started preparing for the trip the same way I prepare for everything: by researching my ass off.
A book that has helped me navigate many day-to-day situations over the years is How To Manage Your Childâ€™s Life-Threatening Food Allergies by Linda Marienhoff Coss. Itâ€™s no beach-read, but itâ€™s a great source of usable info and tips. I also leaned heavily on the astounding resources available on the Internet, especially the forums and blogs of other parents with PA kids who had already flown the friendly skies and all lived to tell about it. As I researched, I wrote up a huge list of things I needed to do and buy, and I started building up my arsenal.
Two weeks before the trip, I was teetering on the edge of panic again, so I called Virgin Atlantic for reassurance. I explained that this was our first trip and I was terrified about my sonâ€™s safety. The lovely British woman I spoke with calmed me down immensely, saying that Virgin has been â€œpeanut freeâ€ for two years, so the planes were clean. She also said that every day they have umpteenth passengers with nut allergies, and since itâ€™s known and well-understood, it is â€œabsolutely not a problem.â€
Those words, combined with an upper-class British accent, reassured the crap out of me.