I didn’t want to read it. As a blogger myself, the title rang of “click bait.” You know what I mean. You’re mindlessly scrolling on Facebook looking at cute puppies and “Free Brady” posts and then all of a sudden you see something provocative. You think, I should look away. And yet?
The “12 Reasons Why Peanut Free Schools Are Not Okay” manifesto taunted me.
Maybe part of it was the timing. Not two days earlier, my husband spent five hours in an exam room at Boston Children’s Hospital with our three boys, 6, 8, and 10. They were there for extensive allergy scratch testing after our oldest had a mystery reaction to a plain bagel eaten at a bagel shop we’d frequented nearly every week for a few years without incident. Mind you, we were grateful to be there for allergy testing and not something worse. It could always be worse.
We’ve known since our oldest and middle were toddlers that they’ve been allergic to peanuts and tree nuts as well as a few other foods. The youngest had been tested and showed no signs of being allergic to any foods.
Oldest at the test the other day…not fun.
We’ve always been careful. We’ve always taken our responsibility to protect our kids seriously. We take all the food allergies seriously, but realize one tiny bite of a peanut could be catastrophic, especially to my oldest as he is also asthmatic. Anaphylaxis kills quickly and does not discriminate. So we carry the Epi Pens. Everywhere. They are not guaranteed to work. If they do work, they buy you 15 minutes til you can get to an emergency room. And so….We read food labels like it’s our job. It IS our job. We only go to certain trusted restaurants, over and over again, and when we do? We question them about every ingredient. Every time. We stay up on the latest allergy research. We are in Facebook groups for allergy moms. To have a tribe? It helps.
We read every single article written about every single child who dies of a reaction. And every time a child dies of an allergic reaction…at school, at a restaurant, at a camp, we all die a little inside.
I think you know why.
Despite all this, I have never asked that my kids’ school be peanut free. Have I advocated for them that their classrooms and field trips be peanut free? I have. And I will never apologize for that. I will never be bullied for that. And I will not feel sorry for that. Not one bit.
If we don’t advocate for the safety of our own kids, why should anyone else?
The author argues that there are kids who are allergic to many more food items than just peanuts. And she’s absolutely right. My oldest is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg, shellfish, sesame, sunflower, and….trout. (Please don’t pack trout in your kid’s lunch!) The middle…peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame and some raw fruits. The youngest…sigh. As of two days ago, peanut and tree nut.
I have never asked that my kids’ school be peanut free though. My kids have been conditioned from a young age that they are NOT to eat anyone else’s food or touch anyone else’s food. The author is correct when she asserts the rest of the world is not peanut free and it is most certainly our responsibility to help our kids learn how to navigate that world.
Does that mean though, that I want them to be confined in a classroom next to a kid eating peanut butter crackers and then touching all the shared materials my kid has to use two minutes later? We all know how neat and tidy small children are! Do you want arsenic sprinkled on your child’s crayons when you know kids put their grubby (they’re adorable but they’re grubby–let’s not kid ourselves!) little fingers in their mouths? Same thing….. Peanut = poison.
Do I want my kid on a field trip to a science center an hour away in rural New Hampshire where there is no cell phone reception eating his lunch in a small, closed off room with half the kids eating peanut butter with no school nurse present? I don’t. No. So to ask someone to not pack it for one day, I don’t think is asking a whole lot.
So, when I overheard a field trip chaperone (a chaperone!) saying to another chaperone a few years ago, “I packed peanut butter. The peanut allergy parents should just tell their kids not to eat my daughter’s lunch!” every hair on the back of my neck stood up. The parents had been asked politely by the teacher not to pack peanut butter. For one day. Let me tell you, my son, then in second grade, well knew that eating a bite of that girl’s sandwich could kill him. That was NEVER going to happen.
I was more upset that the mom had a chance to demonstrate some empathy for her daughter and chose not to. In addition to showing her daughter that it’s NOT important to be respectful to the teacher and follow the rules, she could have taught her that for one day, she could make another choice to help a classmate out….a “neighbor”….just by choosing another sandwich for lunch. But she chose to be small and mean spirited. And to me, when people behave like that, it’s not about FOOD. It’s not. Your kid can survive without peanut butter at school for one day. Or everyday if that’s what your school requires. You can eat it for breakfast, for dinner, on weekends, all summer….my kids are picky and yet, they survive without it (and trout!) and are hardly wasting away!
That’s not what this is about.
And I think that’s what is bothering me so much about this 12 point manifesto. I could sit here and successfully argue her rambling post, which is riddled with inaccuracies by the way, point by point. But to what end?
It’s not about the peanuts.
And it’s sad. I’m sad. For this mom, for her children, for the kids she purportedly coaches in soccer….that she sounds so angry, so entitled, so lacking in empathy. Her survival of the fittest attitude is the antithesis of what a coach, a leader, a mother typically embodies. It is callous, at best.
I have seen the best and the worst in people since my kids have been diagnosed with these allergies. I have to say, for the most part, I’ve seen the best—and that is what tugs at my heart and is appreciated more than most will ever know. Teachers and school nurses who have worked to keep my kids safe, friends and moms of classmates who have gone out of their way to ask me what safe snacks they could buy for play dates and parties so that my kids don’t feel excluded, and even their friends who at a young age, “get” it. Young kids, who are inherently good and kind and say things like, “I’m not bringing pbj for lunch because I don’t want to make JP sick.”
Children learn by watching us–for better or worse. Our children will become the best and the worst examples we set. So go ahead. Stuff your ”normal, healthy children” with peanut butter, Mrs. Butterfinger.
I’ll go ahead and stuff mine with empathy and compassion.
I don’t think they’ll ever miss the peanut butter one bit.