After hauling my groceries into the car, I’m ready for the hour-long drive back home, in time to pick my son up at school.
I double-check my phone.
Missed call. 802 area code. Shoot. Probably the school.
Why didn’t my phone ring?
It never does for some reason.
I check the message; it’s from the school nurse.
Cake has been brought into the classroom.
Can Brett have any?
My heart starts pounding. And as I continue on my drive home, for the next half hour, my brain is spinning with possible scenarios that could happen as a result of the answer to this question.
What’s the problem, you may ask?
What’s wrong with cake? Kid eats treats at school all the time, right?
No big deal.
But it is.
To the kid with a food allergy, when an unexpected ‘something’ is brought to school.
I continue driving. What to do. What to do.
And then finally stop at the first turn-around I see and call in to the school.
The nurse and I talk it over.
Will it be safe? Who baked it?
It’s probably ok. But what if it isn’t?
Is it worth it? Should he just opt out?
When he opts out, guess what?
Instead of learning at school, he’s upset in the nurses office.
Sometimes I wonder if the questions I ask, the precautions I take, as a parent of a child with severe food allergies, are just a little too much..
Sometimes I see the eye-rolling, the impatience.
I’m clearly viewed as:
Sometimes I think about the absurdity, having to plan every little detail of something so simple: something my child will put in his mouth. And eat. Like every other person in the world does every day.
Sometimes every hour.
Or every few hours.
Without a thought.
But then I open the news, and see for myself.
Not asking questions.
Not taking the time to double-check.
Not remembering the meds.
Not educating those around us of the issues facing life with a food allergy.
Sometimes results in this tragedy about a teen named Andrea. Or this one, involving a boy named Simon. Or this one, another teen, Morgan.
Every September, as kids get settled into the school year, deaths from anaphylaxis occur. These three have all happened in the past few weeks.
After the fact, we all scratch our heads and wonder.
Why didn’t they just ask what was in their food?
Where was the Epi-pen or Auvi-Q?
Why didn’t they just say no?
And this mom is reminded, in spite of the eye-rolling and name-calling by other parents.
There’s a reason we do what we do.
And for the questions we need to ask repeatedly.
If not, the consequences can be seen in the headlines.
To me, the answer lies solely with inclusion.
Kids do not want to stand out. They want to participate in school activities and events and not have to look different by asking 100 questions about their food or having attention drawn to the medication pack protruding from their waist.
If food wasn’t such a big deal, kids with food allergies wouldn’t be considered different at all.
And if food wasn’t such a big deal during the school day, parents of food allergic kids can put their anxieties away for the 7 or so hours they are in the hands of educators.
So I ask:
Why IS there so much extra food at school?
And how many times am I going to be asked this school year to decide on whether my child can participate. Let’s see….
14 kids x 14 birthdays.
Halloween party. Thanksgiving Party, Xmas Party. Easter. End of School.
Let’s add 2 more random events…there always are a few!
That adds up to 22 potential opportunities for extra treats in school out of about 37 weeks, an average of about every other week.
We have a small classroom; try doing the math for your kids–I’ll bet it’s even more often.
Food allergic kids and parents like me will be asked to make to-eat-or-not-to-eat judgement calls like this or just have our children excluded from the celebration (the most likely choice) almost every other week of the school year. Providing a special “allergy-friendly” treat for these instances worked when my son was younger, but not anymore. It’s not about the food for my son, he doesn’t care. It’s about participating with the class; not being singled out.
And non-food allergic kids will just be given lots of extra food and sugar they don’t really need.
Really, I’m not trying to be a kill-joy. I love food too. And I love celebrating my child’s birthday.
But don’t you think every-other-week is kind of often?
Food isn’t the only thing in life that’s fun.
There are alternate ways to celebrate.
It’s not just for the sake of food allergies, most of my friends aren’t exactly happy with the amount of extra, unplanned sugar and treats their non-allergic kids consume during the school day.
How about just taking a few extra minutes to think of alternatives, that can include everyone?
My son’s favorite: how about a few more minutes of recess as a treat? So much healthier; the kids enjoy it much more. And instead of kids returning from the celebration on a sugar-high (except for the food allergic child, who is just angry he had to opt out or have a dry allergy-friendly cookie instead), they come in from their extra few minutes of running around more focused and ready to learn.
If you are unsure this will work, or are drawing a blank on ideas, check out this link with some great alternative ideas for non-food treats and rewards.
Parents, teachers, think it over.
Fewer food treats: more active or non-food treats, you’ll have a safe classroom and healthier kids all-around.
Food allergic kids and parents like me won’t feel pressured to take risks, or be embarrassed or hesitant to ask questions, in fear of being thought of as one-of-those-helicopter parents.
All kids will be included.
There will be fewer allergic reactions.
And most of all, we can all focus on what our kids are learning during the day.
Not what they are eating.
How about you? Do you have ideas to share on minimizing extra foods in the classroom and focusing on non-food rewards? Would love to hear your stories, comments, experiences.