If vacations revolve around creating memorable moments, we succeeded last July when a previously anonymous Vermont parking lot became a place we’ll never forget.
We were driving up Smugglers’ Notch to our vacation rental in Jeffersonville after a night of pizza and Ben & Jerry’s. The screaming in the back seat required a detour.
When we pulled off Route108 into the lot near the auto toll road, 7-month-old Edison was in trouble. He couldn’t stop howling. Angry bubbles of white and red skin dotted his body. The boils lining his ears made them look like broccoli crowns. His face was tomato-red.
There is no panic like that of parents calling a nurse in Boston while battling bad reception, trying to soothe a hysterical infant, and fighting the terror of the unknown.
It was the first in a series of life-changing events.
At home later last summer, Edison got hives after his first taste of yogurt. A blood test determined he was allergic to dairy, eggs, and nuts.
His doctors did not, however, test for a wheat allergy.
So after he ate wads of bagel (from New York’s Ess-A-Bagel, the finest shop I’ve ever found), hives blew up so violently that that there was only one clear course of action. We pinned him to our living room floor and stabbed his thigh with his EpiPen. My wife, Elizabeth, called 911. I hustled my two older kids to a neighbor’s house.
When I got back, the ambulance had arrived. Edison was doing better. The epinephrine had worked. But the EMTs wanted him at Children’s Hospital. Elizabeth and Edison went in the ambulance. I drove our car. I don’t like thinking about that drive.
That said, we’ve been lucky. In Vermont, Edison’s hives eventually faded before we gave him the Benadryl the nurse suggested. Hana, 8, and Wright, 5, are healthy as horses. But other children fight afflictions that no kid should know.
Edison has had just that one ambulance ride. We’ve hit on a solution for his asthma and eczema (two puffs of Flovent and a half teaspoon of Zyrtec daily). He is a happy boy, satisfied with the limited food group — rice cakes, Chex, fruit, and chicken are staples — that nourishes him safely. Every day, we hope he stays safe and his allergies go away.
But raising an allergic toddler, especially one still nursing, is a high-stress life. We live with the fear that a stray crumb deposits Edison in the ER.
We’ve stopped going to our usual restaurants. Because of doctors’ uncertainty of how allergens pass through breast milk, the pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, and omelets that fueled Elizabeth, a vegetarian, are out. Hana, Wright, and I must be vigilant when we eat our scrambled eggs. To a 5-year-old boy, a napkin is just a suggestion. A T-shirt, specifically the one he’s wearing, is a far better receptacle for stray smears of butter.
These restrictions are one thing at home. Edison is captive to his high chair. We stock the bread, wheat cereals, and flour out of reach. We don’t let him roam around the kitchen. We know the restaurants that are safe.
They’re another thing on vacation.
Since 2009, Vermont’s been our one-week summer getaway. The first three summers, we tried vacation houses in Stowe, Milton, and Richmond.
We’ve since settled on Nye’s Green Valley Farm in Jeffersonville. It’s a beautiful home. Hana and Wright scurry up a winding staircase to their second-floor room. Edison sleeps with us in the master bedroom. We watch the oranges and blues and purples of the sunset from three sets of windows in the living room. I sit on the deck and dream about the book I’m too frightened to write.
We drink in the Notch’s mountaintop scenery. We escape the heat with splashdowns in Lake Champlain. We chase the chickens and milk the cows and goats at Shelburne Farms. We fall asleep in the cooling breezes that tumble off Mount Mansfield. Back home, we make a book of that year’s vacation pictures.
But really, we go to Vermont to eat.
I’m a deep-fried, nose-to-tail pulled pig. As the family’s alpha chowhound, I pull our vacation sled with meals as my markers. We’ve hit four-baggers: the Rise and Shiner (a breakfast sandwich of egg, meat, cheese, and hash browns) at Kountry Kart Deli, cider doughnuts at Cold Hollow Cider Mill, macaroni and cheese at the Bee’s Knees, maple creemees at the Cupboard Deli & Bakery, just about everything in Montreal. At the Cabot Annex Store, Hana, Wright, and I compete for who can spear the most cubes of cheddar with one toothpick. Gluttony, it seems, is genetic.
Every year upon crossing back into the States at Highgate Springs in Vermont, I fear the border patrol will throw us in leg irons for my honest-truth answer: Yes, we drove four hours round trip for baguettes and butter, cornichons, and croque monsieurs avec frites at L’Express; brownies at Mamie Clafoutis; and a double espresso at Caffe in Gamba, and yes, I have a satchel stuffed with Coffee Crisp and Kinder eggs to declare.
Vacation would be hard. We thought about skipping it. On solo assignments that required travel through Vermont, as a form of gallows humor, I pulled over in that dreaded parking lot to start bike rides up the Notch. Elizabeth, however, feared the emotional battering of returning to the place where our troubles began.
But this is an important thing for us. Every year, when I eat the first blueberries of the season, I think of Cape Cod summers with my parents and sister. I want memories of our Vermont vacations to accompany my children as they grow into adults.
So our culinary chase and capture required alteration. To stay safe, we couldn’t eat out every meal. Two things happen if you mess up. Your wife and kid go hungry. Or your baby son lands in an ambulance.
A year ago, we had no idea the pizza crust I fed Edison was poison. We didn’t know his hives in Montreal were from bits of baguette. We thought his daily itching, redness, and overall aggravation were from the heat, not, as we suspect, the aftershocks of his parking-lot blowup.
Now we knew. We were nervous.
On vacation, you leave your daily worries behind. Food allergies don’t take vacations.
Before, we never mapped our weeks. If it wasn’t raining, we’d go to the farm. If it was hot, we’d hit the lake. When we were hungry, we ate wherever and whatever we wanted. We never read labels or asked about ingredients.
There’s no spontaneity with an allergic kid.
We planned each day with our activities and meals. We didn’t go to our usual pancake and egg joints. We made oatmeal or ate cereal, granola, and fruit for breakfast. Elizabeth cooked safe lunches for herself and Edison that would stay hot in a Thermos. We packed our permanent companions: two EpiPens, Benadryl, Zyrtec, Flovent, albuterol. Finally, by late morning, we’d be ready to go.
We skipped our Montreal trip. Elizabeth didn’t eat her favorites: the chocolate-dipped almond horn at Mirabelles, the mint ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, the chocolate milkshake at Al’s French Frys. Edison, now 19 months, squirmed out of our laps and reached for our plates at restaurants. (We worry about putting him in high chairs because of the allergens.) The Goldfish that once kept our kids from moaning on long, boring rides were out.
Our final stop is always at King Arthur Flour in Norwich. I usually buy bread flour, semolina, and all-purpose for the pizzas and spinach ravioli once in my kitchen’s regular rotation. Those purchases did not happen this year.
It wasn’t easy. As a parent of an allergic kid, you’re always on alert. You never feel comfortable. It’s tiring.
But the weather was good. Vermont glowed. Our hosts made us comfortable for a third straight year. My city kids loved hiking up the Notch, pitching rocks into the creek running off Moss Glen Falls, and uncovering the den of the groundhog that roamed the backyard.
Edison had no issues. His biggest problem was worrying about petting a baby turkey at the farm.
On our way back to Boston, after fighting traffic on Interstate 93 and Route 128, we arrived home tired. Edison didn’t stir after I put him in his crib. He was fast asleep. And safe.