A Mom’s Personal Story: Hello, Poison Control, Is This Dangerous?

Missy Stevens. Photograph by Robin Winkles.

By Missy Stevens

This is not a slumber party. We’re just doing this so I can make sure you’re not poisoned!

Add one more to the list of Things I Never Imagined Saying Before I Had Kids. It’s Sunday night and I’m spelling out the rules for our slumber un-party. Yes, we’re all sleeping in the play room, and that sounds like fun, but I’m on blistered, swelling throat watch for two boys.

This is not a party.

* Before we go on, I should say that my gut tells me we’re all okay here. And if you’re reading this then we are definitely okay, because it will be a way different post if things go south. Like I needed to clarify that. *

Back to swollen, blistered throats. My kids tasted a plant in our front yard that is poisonous. Now, before you call CPS, here are some things to know:

:: Yes, they’ve been told to never, ever eat plants.
:: Yes, an adult was outside with them.
:: Yes, there are things in our yard that are not okay to eat.

If you have children, you know. You know that, precious as they are, kids are notoriously terrible about listening to, believing, and then following the advice given by parents. Some kids – and I’m not naming names here, but if I did they would be the names of my kids – are certain their parents aren’t so bright. My kids think their father and I are befuddled. Sure, the taller, older, crazier people in the house mentioned something about not eating plant life, but there’s no way that applies to the plants in our front yard.

Well, kids, we do mean our yard and all yards. Unless an adult you know (not the one in the van offering you candy, or I guess, plant life) tells you a plant is safe, assume it’s not.

I’m certain we’ve had this talk with them before, especially since we do have some edible plants in our back yard. Or we did. Veggies and whatnot like water, and we are in a drought, so the veggies and whatnot died. But I know we were very clear: all plants are off limits unless a parent harvests them for you.

It doesn’t matter that we said that. Why? Because.

Because the gopher plant in our front yard is super cool looking and when you break off part of it, there is “milk” inside. This milk? It’s latex-laden sap. And according to the nice man at Poison Control (Thanks, Richard!), the latex-laden gopher plant is one of the most common offenders for serious allergic reactions.

In fact, when I told Richard what the kids got into, he said, “Ohhhh. Gopher plant. That one’s trouble.” Yay, I thought. And then – in my head – screamed, Of course it is! Half the front yard is herbs, but ohhhh, nooooo, they opted for latex!

Let’s back up a bit. It was about twenty minutes after the plant tasting that I noticed our three-year-old making a funny face. When asked why the funny face, he said, “I drank that milk out of the plant and now my tongue is spicy.”

Oh, crap.

In under a minute, we had the child identify which milky plant he sampled, and I was dialing Poison Control.

They had been outside – supervised – for an hour or so, and during this time their supervisor (again, not naming names, but if I did it would rhyme with Bark) was not watching their every move. We let them run and play outside, and while we keep tabs, we do sometimes look away. Obviously. And as we all know, you only have to look away for 3.5 seconds for kids to get into something. Or less. Or not even look away. My kids have hurt themselves right in front of us. It happens. They’re kids.

So it turns out that in one of these moments when Bark wasn’t staring directly at the boys, they broke off a bit of the gopher plant. The little one saw milky sap running down his hand, so he – naturally – licked it. And then he – naturally – rubbed is hand on his big brother’s face. At least we think this is what happened after piecing together the most reliable-sounding bits of their stories.

We’re guessing it was around 20 minutes later that I noticed the funny face-making going on. But the Poison Control man did not share my feeling that if it had been 20 minutes and they were fine, they’d probably continue to be fine.

Not so. Apparently, it can take anywhere from 8-24 hours for symptoms to show up and fully develop. What? And since we can’t be sure how much they ingested, or whether they’re very sensitive to latex, we have no idea what to expect. Oh, I said to the nice man on the phone. Oh.

And so, that is why I’m on Poison Watch.

Right now they’re both sleeping soundly, but I am wide awake, monitoring their breathing for signs of distress that might come from swelling throats. It’s been just over four hours, and so far the worst symptom is a bright red tongue tip on the three-year-old. I’m praying it doesn’t blister.


It’s morning now, and all is fine. The boys slept soundly – Mark and I should know, because we took turns staring at them all night, making sure they were breathing, distress-fee.

We don’t see a single sign of allergic reaction in either of them. So maybe they didn’t taste very much gopher plant sap after all, or maybe they’re simply not very sensitive to latex. Who knows. I’m just so thankful that the worst thing about my day is massive sleep deprivation. That, I can handle. I’m a mom, after all.

Is there a moral to this story? Maybe. Probably not. Because let’s face it, kids will get into trouble like this. It’s impossible to make every bit of our environment safe 100% time, and I would argue that it’s crazy to even try. So, yes, I advocate teaching your kids about what is and isn’t safe to eat – duh – and I advocate educating them about their surroundings. And yes, I’m so thankful that our story is pretty benign.

The moral, though, if there has to be one? Keep the Poison Control number handy. No matter how on top of things you think you are, you’re gonna need that number sooner or later.

That number, by the way: 1-800-222-1222

You can read this post and more blog posts by Missy at http://www.wonderfriend.com/

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