Food Allergies

How a Cupcake Broke My Heart Last Week

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Last week, my heart broke and my head filled with rage.

For the first time, our preschool called to see if L could have the homemade cupcakes someone brought in for their grandchild’s birthday.

The cupcakes were probably okay. The bigger issue was that we didn’t know for sure what cake mix and frosting were used. Nor could we be certain if those involved in making them were diligent in disinfecting the counter or their hands after possibly eating peanut butter or trail mix. If I had been there, I might have said okay — because I could keep an eye on L. But I wasn’t there to keep an eye out for a possible reaction that I don’t even know would look like.

So we told them no, please feed our kid the goldfish we sent him with or the treat in his food-allergy box, and I started seething. You see, it was stated at the beginning of the year that all treats must be store bought. His teachers were allowing this guardian to break a rule that is supposed to keep other kids safe(er). A rule they promised they’d enforce this year because it wasn’t last year.

If we can’t read the ingredients on the package to see if there are peanuts, we don’t eat it. This is a life-saving skill I go over with my three-year-old every damn day. You can’t read the label on cupcakes brought from home.

My son is three, has faced challenges due to hypotonia, and doesn’t like school. He was excluded in an obvious way and I’m mad. Not only because it just plain sucks, but because being excluded like this opens the doorway to bullying. It’s fucking heartbreaking to have your three year old finally open up at the end of the day to tell you he was grumpy at school because everyone could have a cupcake and he couldn’t.

I mentioned he’s three years old, right?

Empathy. That’s what a lot of us food allergy parents want from others. Take a moment and put yourself in our shoes, or our child’s. Educate yourself. Make an effort to keep those around you safe, loved, and included.

This won’t be the first or last time we encounter this situation. I know that. But I’ll never not be mad when rules are broken because a teacher doesn’t like confrontation, or my child is given food he could get sick or die from just because it’s store-bought, or he was excluded from something he easily could be included in.

If your school tells you NOT to bring in home-made treats, it’s to keep kids from dying.

If your school/classroom/daycare is nut-free and you absolutely must bring in food for your kid’s birthday, then you absolutely must read labels to make sure there are zero nut ingredients and zero cross-contamination warnings on the package. If the label says “May contain Peanuts/Tree nuts/specific nuts” or “May contain other allergens” you MUST put the package back on the shelf. Yes, even if little Johnny is throwing a fit because those cupcakes have the Paw Patrol toothpicks and the blue frosting that makes your poop turn green. They aren’t safe.

If you are a school/classroom/daycare claiming to be nut-free but allows treats with cross-contamination warnings on the label, are feeding these foods to nut-allergic kids despite the warnings and parents telling you that’s a big NO, or allowing homemade treats, then you aren’t doing it right. AT ALL.

I used to be “that parent” who thought no visible peanuts meant it the food was safe for those with an allergy. So, I understand where the teachers and parents are coming from when they assume all food without nuts is perfectly fine.

But then we found out our littlest guy has a peanut allergy. I quickly learned that isn’t how things work in the food allergy world. That way of thinking is potentially lethal. Even the tiniest amount of allergen can send a child to the ER. I want to think that parents, educators, and childcare providers want to keep these children safe; they just lack some education in the subject. And there’s so much to learn.

When we know better we do better. But we can only do better when we take the time to listen to those who understand it best and work with them. Food allergy parents don’t want to be a burden, nor do we want our kids to feel like they are the burden. None of us asked for this. These rules about food in schools/classrooms/daycares are ultimately about keeping children alive. The guidelines parents give you while their child is in your care is to keep their child alive. That will always take a village and that village will always include you.

Don’t be scared to reach out to the parents of kids with food allergies. It’s awkward on all sides (well, at least it is for me; I’m still learning to advocate for my kid), but sometimes the most awkward conversations are the most necessary. Ask questions. Talk with parents to come up with better solutions or compromises. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate it when you work with us to keep our kids safe — and included.

/rant

Food Allergy Awareness Resources/Articles

FARE’s Be a PAL food allergy education program.

Advisory Labels: May Contain Confusion via Allergic Living

And in case you didn’t click on it the first time: Social Consequences of Food Allergy

Being a food allergy parent is a challenge and heartbreaking at times. Is your school/daycare truly nut-free? via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

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