Of Machetes and Medications

campYMCA copySunday afternoon I packed the kids’ stuff for camp as I’ve done at the same time every summer for the past five years.

I’m happy they have this opportunity to go every summer, to break up the routine, make a few friends and maybe escape the Sahara Desert heat wave that usually socks us in this time of year.

We’re blessed we don’t need to send them with special accommodations or instructions in order to spend a week away, that they interact well with their peers, that they’re respectful of their counselors, that peanuts won’t make their throats close up.

I mean, Jack’s not supposed to eat wheat, but it’s not life threatening. It’s not even really an allergy. Colin’s allergic to wasps, but that’s not a life threatening issue either.

Not really.

If a wasp stings Colin right on the mouth, or on his throat, he could be in real trouble with the reaction he gets, but what kind of freakish scenario would that be?

I’ve been stung a total of once in my life by a wasp and it was just last summer. Wasps are pretty much worthless assholes in my book, but I’ve never found them too terribly hard to avoid.

Colin, on the other hand, has been stung by a wasp twice. Twice in eleven years. And the reaction each time has been rather alarming.

The first time, he was four. He came screaming into the house, holding out his hand. I was preoccupied, on the phone trying to let people know about my dad’s accident. I shushed him and directed him toward one family member or another in a living room that was starting to fill with people, bringing groceries and condolences.

A day later I asked the doctor if we could delay a trip to the pharmacy to pick up the meds needed to reduce the swelling. By then Colin’s hand was roughly the size of a grapefruit. The doctor said sure, I could delay medication if I wanted instead to admit Colin to a hospital. He gave me a look that said he thought I was maybe the worst mom on the planet for asking.

I hadn’t mentioned I was late to help with funeral plans.

The next time Colin was stung was a year or two ago. We had tickets to a play, and on the way to our seats he detoured through a grove of trees where he was set upon by one of those flying assholes.

Colin didn’t scream or cry this time, and I thought that maybe his earlier allergic reaction was a fluke. Maybe we could watch the play and keep an eye on our kid and somehow he would … not be allergic … or something.

But as A Midsummer Night’s Dream unfurled on the outdoor stage, Mike and I weren’t paying attention. We sat on either side of Colin and watched hives spread up his back and neck. We left with him about twenty minutes into the first act.

I’m thankful Colin’s is not an allergy that requires an epi pen, or amputation or anything. It’s one that will cause some discomfort, and necessitate a little cocktail of over-the-counter allergy meds, but it’s certainly no reason for panic.

But as I was packing his soap and shampoo and toothpaste and sunscreen and bug spray, as I was stamping his postcards and gathering a couple pens and a notebook for his suitcase, my mind was playing out exactly the sort of freakish scenario I know will never happen, the one in which Colin is stung and it is in exactly the right place, and the swelling threatens his airway and the camp counselor is preoccupied with flirting with the waterfront director. God only knows what awful thing could happen to my kid out there in the mountains, separated from the nearest hospital by a full two-hour drive.

When Jack was a baby I admitted to a friend who didn’t have children that sometimes the new mom anxiety was suffocating. I was suddenly responsible for more than just getting myself through the day, but also for someone who could – for no real reason – “fail to thrive,” or spontaneously stop breathing during a nap.

The addition of these little people to our lives meant that my personal scope of vulnerability had just exploded and was expanding in all directions at the speed of light.

As the kids grew, and the possibility of anyone randomly choking on a Lego lessened, the anxiety dissipated. In fact, I didn’t realize until right at the moment I was packing two different kinds of allergy medication for Colin, I haven’t actually felt that kind of throat-clenching feeling in years.

As I stared at the medical forms, and the pile of toiletries and medications, I willed the anxiety to go away. I can’t wrap anybody in bubble wrap or visualize a special, invisible shield into existence to protect them while I’m not around.

Heck, even when I am around there’s no guarantee they’ll be totally safe.

Right at that moment, Jack bounded through the door, heralded by a cloud of midmorning heat and the smell of mown grass. He was brandishing a machete, a two-foot long agricultural souvenir from our trip to Guatemala in 2012. He sharpens it in his room on a regular basis. It has a decorative leather scabbard.

“Mom, there was a sucker coming up from that tree in the backyard, and I didn’t want to mow it, so I whacked at it with this,” he said, showing me the shiny blade.

“Did it work?”

“Sure did,” he said, affecting a Schwarzenegger accent. “Da trrree has been trrrimminated.”


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  1. Thanks for another great post, Manicmom! One line resonated with me above all the others. \”My personal scope of vulnerability had just exploded and was expanding in all directions at the speed of light.\”
    The weirdest thing happened to me when my children were little babies. My \”personal scope of vulnerability\” expanded unreasonably and illogically. I wasn\’t just afraid my baby would slip in the tub. I became terrified that I would slip in the tub! I became personally afraid of everything that I feared for my kids. I actually never considered it until I read that line you wrote. It was bizarre!