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?