Drowning on Land

The other day, we were at Bethany’s for a playdate. The day was gorgeous, after an eternity of rain. Laura was there with her kids, too. The kids were all outside, running around, bouncing on the trampoline, begging for popsicles. Peter’s new puppy was running in circles. The gorgeousness of a Shenandoah summer was in full force.

The kids were playing in the barn, stacking bales of straw to make a fort in the loft. We checked on them a time or two, but figured they were fine. They all know the dangers that exist at Bethany’s, and they are a big group–eight of them, now! The two older girls are 10, and I trust them to at least have the good sense to come get us if anything goes wrong.

A neighbor kid showed up to mow the yard, and so Bethany, Laura, and I moved our conversation inside. I caught a glimpse of Petra through the window, coming across the porch. She was by herself, and I could tell that something was wrong. When she came in, her face was swollen and red. She was screaming and kept saying her face hurt and her eyes hurt. We tried putting a wet washcloth over her eyes, and that helped a little, but she still was in a bad way. I ended up bailing on the playdate and throwing Petra in the bath as soon as we got home. I gave her some Benadryl and washed the straw dust out of her hair. She seemed to be doing better by bedtime. I’m grateful to whoever it was that told me to keep liquid Benadryl in the house because this kind of thing can happen suddenly with kids. It did stop the reaction quickly.

She hadn’t ever had an allergic reaction to anything, but she definitely was allergic to the straw. We were both awfully shaken, at least in part because it came out of nowhere. Apparently this is a thing, not just with kids, but with anyone–we can all become suddenly allergic to something that never bothered us before.

The next day, we were supposed to go to Funschool. Petra started saying she didn’t want to go. Eventually, I was able to get out of her that she didn’t want her friends to see her–her face was still blotchy and red. She’s FIVE and she used the phrase, “I don’t want anyone to see me like this.” I convinced her that her friends love her and would want to see her, and that they wouldn’t say anything (and then I dashed a quick Facebook post to that group, asking them to tell their kids not to say anything about it).

Not the allergy face, because she doesn’t want anyone to see it. Just the face.

Her embarrassment about her friends seeing her like that helped me piece together one confusing and distressing detail of the allergy episode, which was that Petra came to the house alone. I would have expected Elisabeth or Lillian to come with her. I asked her, “Did you hide how much your face was hurting you from your friends yesterday? Did Lillian and Elisabeth not know you were having a problem?” She nodded. “Why?” I asked. She shrugged, and she looked like she might cry.

I have seen this from her before, over the past year or so. She gets terribly embarrassed and wants to avoid people. Mostly, that’s okay…I think she misses out on things because she’s self-conscious, but it hadn’t ever occurred to me that it could be dangerous before. I keep thinking, What if she had a respiratory reaction? She would have been in the middle of the yard, on the way from the barn to the house, and no one would have any idea that she was in distress. I know we can’t live in the what ifs, but the thought sits in my stomach and churns.

I tried talking to her about how, sometimes, it’s important to ask for help. I told her that her friends probably would have felt like heroes if she’d given them the chance to help her. She didn’t seem to believe it.

And I keep thinking, How many of us are drowning on land because we won’t ask our friends for help?

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