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 husband’s family is something I didn’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 it—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, “No we cannot do this! This is a massive mistake!”
But then another voice would calmly say, “Unless he eats or touches a peanut, an anaphylactic reaction is impossible” because Nick does not have an airborne allergy (where I’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. It’s hard for me to envision a situation that has the potential to take my beautiful son’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 “not knowingly” 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 Nick’s meals entirely—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 Child’s Life-Threatening Food Allergies by Linda Marienhoff Coss. It’s no beach-read, but it’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 son’s safety. The lovely British woman I spoke with calmed me down immensely, saying that Virgin has been “peanut free” for two years, so the planes were clean. She also said that every day they have umpteenth passengers with nut allergies, and since it’s known and well-understood, it is “absolutely not a problem.”
Those words, combined with an upper-class British accent, reassured the crap out of me.
On the day of our flight, I was armed with six EpiPen Auto Injectors, three bottles of Benadryl and a portable nebulizer in case Nick had an asthma attack on the plane (many children with food allergies also have asthma and eczema—our world is filled with fun!) In order to get through security, Nick’s allergist wrote a letter authorizing me to bring the medicine on board and I had copies of all his prescriptions. I had all the food he’d need for the trip, plus extra in case we were delayed anywhere.
All my worrying was for nothing, but my preparation helped everything go as smoothly as possible. I’ve seen airport screeners go nuts over tweezers, so I was pleasantly surprised to find them completely uninterested in our EpiPens (which contain needles). The guy glanced at the letter I’d brought and waved me on.
Asking the gate agents if I could board early to clean Nick’s seating area had been recommended, and this request was granted with no arguing necessary. I headed onto the plane with the other pre-boarders and went to work. I had reserved a window seat for Nick, with me next to him, and my husband and daughter behind us. I emptied the big pocket that holds magazines and passenger trash. I stowed the pillows and blankets they had out for us because possible peanut residue or not, those things are revolting.
Then I wiped everything down with Wet Wipes—the window, the window shade, the remotes, the trays, and the armrests. I had just started cleaning the seat and the floor with wide strips of masking tape when my seatmate arrived to see that she was sitting next to a Crazy Peanut-Allergy Parent. I assured her I wasn’t a lunatic. It was just our first flight and I was doing everything anyone recommended to get through it. Luckily, she was cool about it and said, “If it keeps us from having to make a pit stop somewhere, do whatever you have to do.”
With our two little seats a veritable peanut-free zone, and my little man tucked in between me and the window, I started to relax. This would be fine.
And it was.
If there was any hitch at all, it was that the flight crew knew nothing about Nick’s peanut allergy on both flights there and back, so I had to explain everything all over again after having just gone through it with security and gate agents. I’m not an assertive person—I hate asking for favors or calling attention to myself, so this part of being a peanut allergy mom is particularly difficult for me. But just like any aspect of living with a peanut allergy, it gets easier as we go along.
The prep work and the worry that went into flying our family overseas was extensive, but watching my twins laugh and play with cousins they’d never met before, spend time with aunts and uncles and grandparents they only see once a year, and hearing my daughter start to pick up a slight British accent by the end of our trip—made every second of it absolutely worth it.
You can reach this post’s author, Gloria Fallon, on twitter.