“Why should I care about their food allergies?”
“Seriously, my daughter only likes peanut butter and jelly. What is she supposed to eat if the school is a Peanut/Tree Nut Free place?”
“Can’t they just sit at a different table or something?”
“Why should we have to suffer because they can’t have it?”
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…
How many of these comments have you made? Have you heard them from other parents in your child’s schools? I would put money on the table betting you can name at least one person, maybe even yourself, that has uttered a phrase similar to the ones above. My focus for this article will be primarily peanut allergies, as that is what is most near and dear to my family. However, I would like to say up front, an anaphylactic reaction can occur with ANY food allergy. Dairy? Yep. Soy? You bet! Peanut? Of course! Tree nut (which by the way is COMPLETELY different from a peanut)? Yes, yes, yes. Shoot, breathing in pet dander or mold spores can cause anaphylactic shock.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is far more than a dislike for a certain item. It is truly life or death for the individual suffering from the food allergy. Just some science for those unaware. Anaphylaxis is the reaction by the body that causes the release, no, the flood of chemicals into the body as a defense. The reaction can happen within seconds to minutes after exposure. The body identifies the allergen as an enemy, and therefore begins attempting to annihilate the enemy.
A person experiencing anaphylaxis will experience a sudden blood pressure drop and narrowing of airways, causing difficulty breathing. Symptoms can include, but most definitely are not limited to rapid, weak pulse, visible hives or rash and nausea and vomiting. When left untreated, anaphylaxis can cause loss of consciousness and death. The only treatment for anaphylaxis is an emergency injection of epinephrine and a trip to the ER for further observation or administration of steroids, etc.
My knowledge comes from personal experience
How do I know this? Well, anyone, if so inclined, can Google it. However, in my case, I watched my then 1-year-old son, go through an anaphylactic episode after being handed a small amount of peanut butter on a cracker. I have EMT training and knew all of the right things to do, but that was my baby! He was given an oral anti-histamine, epinephrine and steroid breathing treatments. I watched as he gasped for air. He laid his head on my chest and I felt him struggle to breath. I am writing this through tears, because in that moment, I didn’t know if he would live.
That began a long painful journey of repetitive appointments to the allergist. Blood draws that required me to hold him still. My heart has ached and more tears have flooded my face from this experience than any other in my life. A food allergy is LIFE OR DEATH!
Kids in Public School with Food Allergies
I was inspired to write this after reading a post by a horrified mother in a Facebook group, specifically for parents of children with food allergies. I will paraphrase and omit names for privacy. This woman’s middle school aged daughter was in the first few days of school and called home in tears. Some students had decided to smear peanut butter and peanut butter crackers in her backpack “to see if she would really die.” These children are 12 – 13 years old, and they were experimenting with death. Ya’ll, that ain’t cool!
There were numerous comments encouraging her and wishing her daughter the best. I was overwhelmed at the sheer number of other similar instances posted in the comments. A kindergartner was chased with peanut butter sandwiches because she was identified as having an allergy on the first day of school. In this article by the Washington Post, “Bullies use a small but powerful weapon to torment allergic kids: Peanuts”, a fifth grader with a severe peanut allergy had peanuts thrown at him during lunch.
A Michigan college student was bullied with peanut butter, when his fraternity decided to smear peanut butter on his face as a hazing stunt at the beginning of 2017. In this article by SnackSafely, Food Allergy Bullying Leads to Death of 13 Year Old Boy, Arrest of Another, one 13-year-old boy flicked a piece of cheese into another 13-year-old boy’s mouth. The result? Anaphylaxis, followed by 12 days in ICU and ultimately, the loss of life.
How do I handle schooling and food allergies?
There has been some opposition and judgmental glares because we are choosing to home-school our youngest children. The initial reason being all of the intense situations you just read about. One local school system is a peanut/tree nut free environment, that sits all children with a peanut allergy at a specific table. I know of at least 1 person that sends their child with peanut butter every day despite the call to avoid it. By alienating them, they are putting a HUGE label over their head and providing ammunition for bullying. I have learned to be responsible for my son’s environment instead of trusting others to have compassion.
Another local school system serves peanut butter and jelly to those with no lunch money, therefore contaminating the entire school. Any surface that a child with peanut butter on his or her hands touches, is now a potential death trap for my son. We have since felt that homeschooling is better for our littles than public school for many reasons beyond the food allergy issue.
One day, when my son can be in control of his environment, I will slowly begin to loosen my grip. For now, I will watch every interaction he has. Be at every. single. event. he participates in. I will be the barrier that takes the unpleasant comments and judgement regarding my son’s food allergy.
What can you do?
1) Stop judging! We are all parents doing our very best for our children. What may be best for my family, isn’t necessarily best for yours. You know what? That’s okay! It’s more than okay. That’s the way that it should be.
2) Please teach your children to be compassionate. Please educate them on food allergies so that they can be aware of the people around them. As Ellen DeGeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” After all, that is what we should be doing anyhow right?