I recently found myself parking my minivan outside the preschool a whole 15 minutes early. Since I didn’t want to just sit outside in the car with the preschooler and baby (I know, where’s my sense of adventure, right?), I decided to go ahead and take Thing 1 to his class. I’ve never been so glad to be early: on the table outside the classroom was the sign-up sheet for the Valentine’s Day party, unsullied by other parent signatures. After doing a little happy dance in my head, I rushed forward to stake my claim. As the mother of a child with food allergies, this goes a little beyond the Parenthood bit about Julia rushing to school for parent sign-ups to avoid the unwanted jobs. It means ensuring that my son can safely take part in class activities without being singled out.
While my son only has a dairy and soy intolerance, my daughter has severe milk allergies. I discovered the depth of how scary this can be recently when I took her to a play date at a friend’s house. The other little girl was in a walker eating yogurt melts, baby puffs and pancakes. I thought nothing of letting Thing 2 play, though I put out some of her dairy free puffs for her to eat. Unfortunately, she managed to get a yogurt melt into her mouth. Although I instantly pulled it out, and it couldn’t have been in her mouth for more than 5 seconds, she started to develop hives. They started around her mouth and quickly spread to cover her whole body. I’d never seen a reaction like that before, I had no epi pen (she hadn’t officially been diagnosed by an allergist), and I was terrified. Luckily, the hives were the extent of the reaction that time, though I’d hate to think what would have happened had she managed to ingest the yogurt melt. Needless to say, we have since seen the allergist and are now proud (?) owners of an epi pen.
Now, I absolutely do not blame the mother of the other little girl. First of all, even I was not aware of the extent of Thing 2’s milk allergy. In fact, I actually thought she likely just had a more severe intolerance than her brother. Also, I know that, unless you’ve had a child with allergies, you have a completely different mindset. You don’t have to constantly be on guard and aware of what your child is or could be putting into their mouth. Likely, you don’t read every label searching for anything that MIGHT indicate the presence of an allergen. Living with an allergic child is a completely different way of life, which is why I don’t expect other parents to be responsible for what my child eats. I do, however, expect them to allow me to be responsible for it. I also expect them to let teachers and administrators be responsible in my stead.
So, to the person who suggested that allergic children be required to attend a separate school (and to all those of a similar mindset): I apologize if using rice milk and vegan butter to bake cookies or cupcakes and buying nut free candy puts a cramp in your style or requires a small amount of extra time or money on your part. In turn, I ask you to consider that I live with those required extra minutes and dollars every day. Segregating our children is not the solution. In fact, the solution applies to more than just the issue of allergens; it applies to awareness in general: awareness of what we and our children are putting into our bodies.
When I say that allergy friendly foods were just a gateway, I mean a gateway to a healthier way of living and more cognizance of the world around me. Once I started reading food labels in an effort to avoid dairy and soy for Thing 1, I began to cut out foods that had ingredients I couldn’t pronounce or didn’t know what they were. That, in turn, led to doing the same for house cleaning and toiletry items. When Thing 2 proved to have extremely sensitive skin and eczema, we even switched to cloth diapers, which led to new laundry detergent, diaper ointment, and cloth wipes.
Even if you do not have an allergic child, I ask you to consider letting allergen free foods be your gateway, too. Then, not only would you and your child enjoy more wholesome and nutritious foods, but buying nut free candy for class parties wouldn’t seem like such an imposition. Rather than opposing forces in an allergy war, we’d be joining together in a fight for health. It’s a win-win.