It was New Years Eve 2008 when I thought that my whole world was about to come crashing down. My beautiful almost-four-year-old boy, on the verge of heading to pre-school – feeling as though he was past the baby stage and could ‘hang out’ with the big kids.
We’d planned a quiet celebration that night – just family and a few friends. The adults had settled down to dinner outside and Jack was indoors playing with his newest friend – a delightful six-year-old girl who he had taken an instant shine to. Unbeknown to me sandwiches had been made for the kids and while Jack requested his usual vegemite, she had opted for peanut butter.
I was enjoying my dinner and a glass of bubbles when the little girl came outside looking anxious. “Is Jack allowed peanut butter?” she asked, “because he asked for a bite of my sandwich and he says his throat is stinging.” I raced inside to find that Jack had indeed taken a very small bite of the peanut butter sandwich and, although he looked okay, was complaining of a stinging sensation in his mouth and throat.
With a hard ball of panic forming in my stomach, I quickly got my Mum and husband to come and sit with him while I attempted to call the doctor on call for advice. My husband tried to reassure me, but I was fighting off tears as I got an answering service.
As I prepared to leave a message and then write down the mobile number for the doctor, my husband ran out to the kitchen and said as calmly as he could, “Hang up the phone and call the ambulance – now!”
But underneath the calm exterior my husband was panicking now too – Jack’s face had swelled to double its size in the time it had taken me to dial a phone number. I promptly dialled 000 while my insides churned and I fought the urge to vomit.
The operator answered quickly and as I explained where I was and what the situation was he urged me to get off the phone and get Jack to the nearest hospital as quickly as I could. There had been a serious car accident out the road and as we were in a rural area there were no further ambulances available.
Although the operator spoke calmly I could detect a note of urgency in his voice as he advised that it sounded as though Jack may be having an anaphylactic reaction – there was no first aid we could administer at home. He also stated that we should act quickly, but get him there safely in the first instance.
I hung up and it was all action – I was handed a pair of shoes, my handbag and my sister grabbed the keys and announced she would drive. I jumped in the front and my husband piled into the back with Jack – who was being so incredibly brave I thought my heart would break.
Once in the car we had just started down the drive when Jack vomited everywhere. My sister instinctively braked and my husband and I both yelled “just keep driving” in unison. My husband to this day says that he has never been so happy to be vomited on in his whole life. We figured it had to be a good sign – I rationalised that his throat could not be closed over yet if he was able to vomit – there was still air getting in!
The journey to the local hospital felt as though it took an eternity. As we arrived we leapt out and frantically located the entrance – the nurse hurried to the door as we rang the bell. We hurriedly explained what had happened and she ushered us into a cubicle. Almost immediately a man rushed in and introduced himself as the doctor.
The doctor calmly and efficiently asked us the necessary questions as he proceeded to assess Jack. None of this seemed to happen quickly enough for me as I fidgeted, answered questions as best I could and wondered whether my most precious gift was going to make it into 2009.
After his assessment was complete the doctor calmly stated “Okay, now everyone should just calm down a little, he has had a serious allergic reaction but has not gone into anaphylaxis.” I don’t think that I fully grasped what he had said for a few seconds, until he made it clearer. “This is not life threatening, he is breathing okay and he will be fine.”
I quietly sobbed with relief as I looked at the face of my almost unrecognisable baby boy so puffy with swelling and the vomit splattered clothes of my husband. We clasped hands and allowed ourselves a slight smile – we would celebrate properly when we had him home again.
A shot of antihistamine, and Jack fell asleep, no doubt absolutely exhausted by the whole ordeal. Once I could see he was resting I raced to the toilet. I needed to try and catch my breath. I couldn’t find the light switch and sat there in the dark trying to grasp the enormity of what had just happened.
Two hours later the doctor said Jack was alright to go home. The swelling would take a couple of days to go down and Jack would no doubt be tired the following day but he was alive. We arrived back at my parent’ house to find the party had died down, it was just my family left.
And as we stood out the back and watched the fireworks by the lake, I cried – with relief that I still had my beautiful boy and with sorrow for those parents who had been through what I just had and more, so much more.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem