2007-10-05

From the peanut gallery

My son's kindergarten year was just over a month along; I was at pick-up, waiting for him to come out of his classroom, walk under the rose covered trellis in the center of the kindergarten courtyard, and run up to me for a big hug and flash me one of his broad grins.

I was chatting with the other moms, still getting to know this new world of School as Parent Not A Student. Another mom came up and thanked me for some graphic design work I'd done for a charity dear to her heart, a physical and behavioral therapy center for children handicapped either physically or mentally. We went on to discuss my pregnancy (I was seven months pregnant with my daughter) and her other children.

Her youngest had just started preschool. She loved the place, but was considering switching schools, "We got a notice in the mail just before school started; the preschool campus is peanut free because some kid has an allergy. That's ridiculous! My daughter loves peanut butter and jelly. Why should I be inconvenienced because of someone else's kid's problem? I don't care. I'm still sending in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

The words are burned into my memory because I was so incredulous. This is a woman who's middle child, most unfortunately, was born with a constellation of issues which left her developmentally disabled in a variety of ways. This is also a woman who is extremely wealthy, and whose other children attend a very expensive, elite, private school. This is a woman who put her disadvantaged child into the public school system and lobbied heavily (to the point of a lawsuit) for said school system to provide this child with every possible intervention. This is a woman who put this child into kindergarten before this child was remotely ready, with the full intention of having her repeat kindergarten. This is a woman who understood that her child was disruptive in the classroom and whose private aids were a huge financial drain, but felt it was important for her child to be mainstreamed because the other children learn compassion.

This is a woman who told me all of the above. I didn't disagree with her decisions...every parent needs to be an advocate for their children, and needs to follow their conscience to that end.

But in response to her peanut allergy outburst, I said, "You do understand that while it might be a matter of inconvenience to you, it might literally be a matter of life and death for this child, right? A peanut allergy isn't something to mess around with."

"Whatever. It's not my responsibility."

Yup. Hypocrisy incarnate.

During this conversation my hand went protectively to my belly, hugely swollen with pregnancy. This reflexive gesture is one innumerable women throughout the ages have lovingly performed as they carry babies in their wombs, silently and ever so fervently wishing for them to be healthy and happy forever.

My daughter is healthy and infectiously happy.

She does, however, have a peanut allergy (we have no family history, so it was quite the surprise). It sucks so bad.

I'm not one to ask others to sacrifice for my sake. I chose a preschool for her because it is a cooperative and I am allowed to be there with her every day; as I signed her up I knew I could monitor what the other kids ate. I would be there with an Epi Pen if she suffered an anaphylactic reaction and couldn't breath. I could watch her, take care of her, be responsible for her.

As I walked through the gate on the first day of preschool I was thrilled -and nervous- to see a sign loudly proclaiming, "THIS IS A PEANUT FREE SITE."

I had checked a box on one of the bazillion of forms that yes, she has an allergy. I'd noted in the blank, peanuts. That's it, that's all I'd done. Had I raised a red flag that had altered this preschool campus? I didn't want that.

As it turns out there are two other kids at that site with peanut allergies, kids whose parents had advocated for them and requested that peanuts be restricted from snacks served. The school went further than that and asked that on the rare occasion food is sent in with a child that it be peanut free. I cannot tell you the piece of mind that this has brought me. I still am there at snack time, every day (I am almost always there, all day every day)...just in case.

Peanut allergies just aren't seen as serious, for some reason (links are from a blog new to me, these posts of hers prompted me to write about my daughter's peanut allergy). I have my theories as to why that is, but I'm sure it is a conglomeration of issues. That being said, I simply want my daughter to be safe in school.

I hate feeling defensive about my daughter's condition. As if it weren't real. As if I was just being hysterical. It's just Skippy, right?

7 comments:

  1. I love this. I'm there, too, not with an allergy but with the sickness thing. I'm seen as a hypochondriac because I do NOT want my preemie getting sick. Go figure. And not wanting your child to have an allergy attack isn't silly. Good lord, of course not.

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  2. Anonymous4:55 AM

    I find it shocking and sad that some people can be so insensitive. My three children do not have peanut allergies. My two youngest go to a preschool with a "peanut free environment" and all of the teachers are trained to use an epipen. To pack a peanut free snack/lunch to keep other children safe is the VERY least I can do. Remember people, it takes a village... It's stressful enough on the parents watching over the kids with the allery. How about counting our blessings that we are not in their shoes and lend some support? Mean/lazy people just SUCK! :) Hang in there!

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  3. Wow, I can't believe that a mother of a dissabled child could be so incredibly insensitive about another child's needs. Horrible!

    The public school that my kids attend are completely peanut free. The day care my kids attended this summer was also completely peanut free. Did this cause a few headaches while packing camp lunches? Perhaps. Was it worth putting another child's life at risk becasue of my small inconvinience? Never!

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  4. Another board I belong to had a very long debate about this a while back and it was very disheartening to see how many mothers felt the same way as the mother you encountered.

    I take it one step further and won't feed the children peanut butter in the morning for breakfast. I couldn't bear the thought of a child with a contact allergy being exposed accidentally because my kids didn't wash their hands properly. While my kids do love peanut butter and jelly, it's fine for a weekend snack when we're staying around the house.

    Both the daycare and the school are nut free and it's not a big deal to find nut free snacks for Lauren.

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  5. She is a sick woman. That's an inexcusable attitude. She can bathe her children in peanut butter all day and weekend if she wants--how dare she compare not eating a damn sandwich or certain snack at school to another kid's life and death allergy.

    This is about the instinct that I would think all adults have to keep all children safe. (You don't have to be a parent or have anything to do with allergies, either.) If an adult sees a kid standing in front of a bus about to get hit, most adults (please let this be true) would sure try to run and push the child out of the way, so how about leaving a sandwich at home to save her life that way?

    Assuming a parent knows, or is taught, how dangerous this allergy is, there's no excuse for not doing all he or she can to make that school environment safe.

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  6. What a jerk! I mean, really, inconvenienced??? Wow. I can't imagime how someone could have an issue of being incinvenienced in a life or death situation.

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  7. Mrs. B10:36 AM

    I am dealing with the same thing myself. I am finding that even my preschool does not really understand how serious this is. I feel awful asking anyone to change for me. The bottom line is I have to in order to protect my little girl. Your article really hit home and made me feel a lot better about what I am going through. Thanks.

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Brilliant observations: