It’s back to school time. I heard the internet’s collective cheer as parents and children started a new school year, and then the following week grumble as new clothes lost their shimmer and the reality of the next nine months starts to settle in like a fog.
With every new school year comes an increasing debate around food allergies. Peanuts, tree nuts, soy, dairy, wheat, avocado, strawberries, eggs, fish, chicken, you name it, someone is allergic to it. (Whatever we are doing as a society with and to our food, it’s beginning to emerge as allergies in our children. But that’s another post.)
My son, E, is one of those allergy kids. In fact, his allergies are so severe, I cannot send him to group childcare or preschool. I want him to have the socialization. I think it’s incredibly important. But his list of allergens is so extensive, group settings with other small children just isn’t safe.
But one day, my kid will have to go to school. He’s outgrowing many of his allergies, and by the time he’s ready for kindergarten, I’m hopeful that he will be completely okay. Chances are slim that wheat and eggs will ever be okay for him, though. And I think peanuts will always pose a problem while he’s young.
So, as the school year pushes into full swing, so does the conversation around eliminating certain foods from our schools. It’s a hot topic this year, and we are all divided. I’m always going to side with the most vulnerable among us, especially because this hits so close to home. This isn’t a debate about anything. This is about caring for children who could die from inhaling PEANUT DUST. Or vomits to shock from a crumb of wheat.
- Wash hands after eating. My niece, who is allergic to peanuts, reacts to traces of peanut residue on the shopping cart. My son pukes when he gets a tiny crumb of wheat. Wash hands, okay?
- Wipe mouths after eating. If you think your child might put their hands in their mouths after eating, go ahead and wipe their mouths. If you plan on kissing or hugging a kid with food allergies, take this to heart. Your love should not cause pain.
- Create a safe zone. Remove shoes before entering a house where children have food allergies. If you have someone over who has food allergies, wipe surfaces down, and give a good sweep or vacuum.
- Don’t mix food with toys. Don’t allow food to be in the same space as toys. Contact reactions are real, and they’re scary. Kids eat in a designated area, kids play in designated area and wash hands after eating, before playing.
- Consider changing your routine. If you or your child eats peanut butter or wheat bread at home before school, consider eating first, then washing hands and face, brushing teeth, and then changing clothes to minimize contact.
- Take allergies seriously. Yep, food allergies are a total pain in the peanuts. I get it. But you know what’s more painful? People (and specifically children who are too young to fully advocate for themselves) dying from a speck of peanut dust they inhaled that could have easily been prevented. Why did they die a needless death? Because you wrote the mom off as crazy. And speaking of crazy…
- Acknowledge the crazy. Parents of children with food allergies are totally crazypants. I’m raising my hand here because it’s true. But imagine the entire world was full of poison that could kill your child at any given moment and the only thing standing between death (or a trip to the ER) and your kid is YOU. All the time. You would be crazy, too. Hug that frazzled mom next time you see her.
- Skip food crafts. Macaroni art or jewelry making? Use toothpicks or beads. I’ll buy some for your classroom, and I’m sure every food allergy parent would gladly buy the supplies.
- Talk to your kids about food allergies. Your children are soaking up every attitude you have, more than every word you say. The words are still important, though. Talk to them about the importance of keeping each other safe and discuss ways you can work together to keep their friends safe.
- Volunteer to eliminate peanuts (or known allergens) from your child’s school lunch. Keeping our kids safe in community space relieves massive pressure for Crazypants Allergy Mom and Dad.
- Become an advocate. Be a safe harbor for these kids. Advocate for their safety, just as you would if it was your child in danger. Learn how to use an Epi pen. Learn CPR and brush up on food handling safety. Be a vocal supporter in the PTA, support separate eating areas and safe classroom policies. Give Crazypants Mom and Dad a hug and a bottle of wine when you see them.
Every child deserves to feel and be safe in our schools. You can help make that happen. Now, go forth and switch your peanut butter sammies to sunbutter and try to keep your sanity this school year. And for the love of Zeus, STOP MINIMIZING ALLERGIES. It’s harmful and directly hurts the children in your community.
Your Crazypants Allergy Mama,