My heart is aching tonight. Partially from feelings of “mom guilt” because when I asked my son, Robby, this morning if he wanted me to bring him pancakes up to school for the student appreciation pancake breakfast, he said “No, that’s ok, mom,” but I should have done it anyway. He came home so bummed that he was the only one in his entire class who wasn’t eating it. The thought of him sitting there amongst his friends, however feeling so alone and embarrassed, breaks my heart. My heart aches from feelings of compassion, however I have no idea what it truly feels like to be in his shoes; something as simple as food, which is supposed to nourish our body’s, could also kill him with one bite of the wrong thing. My heart aches from feelings of confusion…confusion as to why others are still unable to know how serious this is, and how lonely and alienating this can be for a child.
In the 12 years we have been dealing with this, I have always tried not to impose others with his ailment. We go to parties bringing our own cupcakes, treats, and food. Over the years we have gone through school dealing with it on our own, keeping “treats” at school for the times other children were celebrating their birthdays, or when a teacher decided to hand out candy that may not be safe for him. Thankfully, a few years ago, the birthday food treats came to a halt, and then last year our school went peanut-free as we now have many students who are severely allergic. My son is severely allergic to milk (I’m talking off the charts), eggs, beef, pork, peanuts, and tree nuts. When our school decided to go peanut-free to protect other children from life threatening peanut reactions, it was a no-brainer for me…of course I support that, as a parent I know first hand what that feels like. If something so small as this new policy could save 1 life, then its the right thing to do.
I recently was asked by a couple of my friends if I feel that by having a peanut-free school it’s setting these food allergy children up for failure, by not dealing with the reality that the world will not be peanut-free once they leave the school…No, my answer is most definitely no. I do not view it that way at all. However, this shed some light on other perspectives that I had never thought of, which I do appreciate. It shed light on the fact that there is still so much to teach others about the seriousness of food allergies.
The way I see it is, everything we teach our children is age appropriate. When you teach your baby/toddler to eat solid foods for the first time, do you give them the entire grape, carrot, apple, and say chew this really well so you don’t choke, or do you cut it up into small pieces to ensure they safely learn how to eat the food first? When teaching your children to ride a bike, do you stand behind them and let go of their seat when you feel ready to do so, or do you tell them to get on the bike in the street, balance, and watch out for the cars? When you teach your child to swim, do you throw them in the deep end and say make sure you move your arms and feet so you don’t sink, or do you gradually teach them the age appropriate techniques to become a safe swimmer? Maybe these are no brainer answers for you, or maybe not! No judgement here! However, all are life and death situations right?
The same goes for children with food allergies, this can be a life or death situation in a matter of seconds. When Robby was a baby/toddler, I would chase behind him at parties to ensure he didn’t pick up unsafe food from the floor and eat it. When he went to his first friend birthday party, I made sure he had a safe cupcake to eat. When he went off to school for the first time, I ensured the teachers knew exactly what he could and could not eat, provided his snacks, and emergency meds. Although at the young age of 3 it was amazing to watch him navigate his way through food, he was always so careful even then! When he went to his first sleepover, I ensured he had his Epi-Pen, talked with the parents, and put snacks in his bag just in case. Now at 12 years old, he is away from me more and more with sports, friends houses, and school. I can only pray that all of these safety measures we have taught him along the way are engrained within him. However, the hundreds of kids that he goes to school with may not understand the severity of this, and this is why we are so passionate about spreading this message. True compassion comes in when we set aside our own personal agendas and needs, and treat others as we would want to be treated if we had a special need or circumstance. Believe me, these kids deal with this 24/7, their reality goes far beyond the walls of the school classroom and cafeteria, so there is plenty of time to “practice” what it’s like to not be protected in a peanut-free zone, and for many, like Robby, peanuts are just a small part of their condition.
I am incredibly thankful for those who have gone out of their way to protect my son. I also don’t hold anything against anyone that isn’t truly aware of what having a food allergy means, and that’s why it’s out mission to do just that. Not only to educate and spread awareness, but to do all that we can to ensure these children are not only safe, but also feel a sense of belonging in an world that can feel so alone. Compassion without action is only an observation…this pertains to anything in our life that we are feeling called to do something about.
We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences around this! Feel free to share below!