We Should All Be More Sympathetic To Families Dealing With Food Allergies

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

There are no food allergies among the students in my son’s preschool class. I am notoriously bad at things like thinking of interesting food varieties for a kid’s lunch, so I am really happy that I can pack him the same, uninspired lunch every day: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple slices, grapes, snap pea crisps, and apple juice.

I’ll occasionally mix it up, but the fact that I don’t have to think about what to make him for lunch makes my busy mornings easier. I save the interesting variety in food for his dinner. Would it make my life harder if I found out that I couldn’t pack his favorite sandwich daily because of a food allergy in his class? Yes, it would. Would I gladly do it? Absolutely. Because I am infinitely grateful to not have to deal with the stress and worry of having a child with a food allergy. And anything that I can do to make a food allergy parent’s life easier — I’ll do.

A food allergy mom wrote a diary of a day in her life coping with her son’s allergies for The Huffington Post this week. It’s a pretty sobering reminder of how difficult it is to be a parent in that situation, and how the rest of us need to try to put ourselves in the shoes of families dealing with serious food allergies. Her son is six-years-old and allergic to dairy, nuts, and peanuts.

She felt a need to write about some of the daily things she endures, because although people have become more tolerant of food allergy families there are still times when she feels unfairly persecuted; like the public thinks the onus of the responsibility should be on herself and her child. Can you imagine sending your six-year-old to school everyday and needing to trust that he could keep himself out of a dangerous, possibly life-threatening situation? I can’t. Her son needs to carry an Epi-pen with him everywhere he goes. My son carries a Batman figurine with him everywhere.

She knows that her son’s teachers know how to use an Epi-pen, but isn’t sure about the bus drivers. She waits for he son’s bus every day, and if it’s late and she hears the sounds of sirens her heart sinks and she goes into panic mode. Imagine that for a minute. When her son arrives home from school and claims to feel ill, she doesn’t get to do what the rest of us do — tell him to lay down and relax a little. She has to meticulously go over the steps he’s taken in his day to see if he’s been exposed to something that can make him really, really sick. From her post:

“My son tells me then that he picked something up at school. He thought it was a piece of plastic, and was planning to throw it in the recycling bin, but it turned out to be a chunk of Kit-Kat, instead. The chocolate melted all over his fingers, and he washed it off.
My stomach sinks a little bit. Did you touch your face or your clothes before you washed your hands? Did you taste it? Did you smell it? He says no. Did you wash your hands really well? He says yes, but I am skeptical.
“When did this happen?,” I ask next. Because the when is usually the most damning. If it happened first thing this morning, it’s unlikely to be the culprit right now. Unfortunately, the answer is that it happened right before he got on the bus, which gave him just enough time to start having a reaction if he perhaps touched his face or stuck his fingers in his mouth while on the bus, as sometimes he’s wont to do. If he didn’t wash well enough. If he even is having a reaction.
If, if, if.”

Here’s the thing: allergy parents do carry the onus of the responsibility for their child’s condition. They do it in massive ways every day — in keeping their homes allergen-free, in meticulously teaching their young children how to care for themselves in ways that young children shouldn’t need to think about, in trusting that their lessons will keep their children safe. If after all that, a child’s safety depends on a school providing a special area of the cafeteria so the child can eat safely, or “birthday treats” being banned from classrooms, or small modifications made to what other parents can pack in their own child’s lunches — then so be it. If we could just put ourselves in her shoes for one minute we would be less inclined to feel inconvenienced by modifying our own lives so her child can be safe.

Instead of feeling inconvenienced, those of us who aren’t forced to deal with food allergies in our own homes should try a different feeling, instead — gratitude.

Related post: 10 Things To Know About Parenting A Child With Food Allergies

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