|I used to give each teacher a big Ziploc bag full of candy that my son could safely eat (I remember Smarties, red licorice
and other candy that wouldn't spoil quickly). She would keep it in her desk drawer. If there was an unannounced event
where the other students were having a treat, then the teacher would let my son dip into the Ziploc bag so he could
partake in the festivities. It relieved a lot of my stress (and guilt) because I knew he wouldn't be left out. There were times
when the other kids preferred my son's treat to their own. This seemed to make him feel better about what he could and
could not eat.
|Back in 1990, when Bud started preschool, it seemed like nobody was familiar with food allergies and epi-pens. So, I
ventured up to the preschool where my older niece and nephew had been very happy. It was time to think outside of the
After learning the school staff didn't have significant experience with food allergies or asthma, I volunteered to work in the
school office with the director. She was a one person administration and seemed a bit hesitant to accept the offer. But
her love of children and her large heart, let me in. We both agreed that Bud would not know that I was in the building.
It only took one 3 hour session before the director realized that I would add value and not get in the way. We settled into a
nice routine of me running for coffee and tea around the corner and then taking charge of book orders and other
repetitive tasks. It was good for me, valuable to her, and safe for Bud. To this day, I don't know if he realizes I was in the
building. I'm sure he'll have something to say by the end of this paragraph!
Fortunately for me, my sister in-law was a nurse and had a son the same age as my younger son. Her schedule allowed her
to watch my little one and keep an eye on his food allergies (yup, they both had food allergies) while I was out of the house.
I had to pay for the childcare, but it seemed well worth it at the time.
|My first meeting with the principal of our elementary school was a huge hurdle for me. I had no idea what to expect. I
shamefully admit that my throat was quite dry. In a school of 700 children under the age of 10, I needed to make mine stand
out, yet I didn't want to create a negative label for him. I also didn't want to be perceived as a hysterical parent while
presenting his case, so he would stand a chance of uneventfully surviving the next 5 years in that domain.
Much to my surprise, the principal was very professional and friendly. I felt like she was a bit patronizing, but later I
decided that was probably all in my head, since elementary school professionals, for the most part, are there to help. I
guess I just wasn't used to it.
Trying to be professional, I explained Bud's medical situation and what I thought it would take to keep him safe while
keeping a low profile in front of the other students. I made it clear that I wanted to keep "Operation Food Allergy"
unemotional for all parties involved. He was a smart independent little guy and I didn't want them to turn him into the "food
allergy kid". Food allergies are something we just happen to deal with in the background, and I wanted to keep it that way.
There were only three kindergarten teachers in the school back then and I had talked to numerous moms with older
children to get a feel for each of them. The word around the district was quite clear that parents were not allowed to
request teacher assignments for their children. I calmly and factually made my case for the teaching style and personality
traits that I thought would be most appropriate for my son's situation. For example, experience and composure under
pressure would be important in case of an anaphylactic event. It's much better received than "I don't want the new guy".
I requested to meet with his teacher, the school nurse, the cafeteria supervisor, the cafeteria monitors, the recess
monitor, the school librarian and anyone else that she thought would need to understand his safety requirements. (There
were no intentions for him to buy his lunch at school, since he had 11 food allergies and the idea of the peanut free table
had not yet been conceived.) It took a few trips back to the school, but she was able to put me in front of everyone I
needed to speak with before opening day. They each got a copy of the "operators manual" on that same orange paper.
When he finally got his teacher assignment, and I sat down with her, I offered to volunteer in her classroom in a capacity
that would help her out and ease some of the responsibility of Bud's situation for her. Without hesitation she made me one
of the cooking moms. For each letter of the alphabet that they would study, she would let the kids cook a simple recipe in
class with the help of the cooking moms. (I soon learned that elementary school was full of food allergy hazards and all
about eating junk food. That's what happens when you celebrate all of the holidays and the individual birthdays of 27
children in a single school year.).
The first recipe was apple sauce squares, so together we reviewed the ingredients. I was told it was just applesauce, flour
and sugar, so she didn't need me to show up for that assignment. Something in my motherly gut told me to be there, so I
politely insisted I would be present. I sat on the floor with the students as she began our first cooking adventure. First,
she picked up a 9x9 glass dish and announced she would use it to house the applesauce squares. Then she picked up a
stick of butter and started to butter the dish. Suddenly, she stopped, held the butter in the air and looked straight at me
on the floor and realized out loud "butter is made from dairy, so Bud would be allergic to this". I nodded my head yes and
expected her to faint, but she regained her composure and rather embarrassed said "Bud, I'm sorry, but you shouldn't
have one of these squares. We'll get you something else for your snack," and continued on with the lesson.
Afterward, she pulled me aside and professed how ecstatic she was that I made the decision to be there. In that moment
of buttering the dish, she "got it" and I knew from that point on, we were in this together. What a great feeling it was. It
made me want to give back, so in a moment of weakness I volunteered to help in the computer lab, since it was my forte,
and loved every minute of it. Whenever I was with Bud's class, I made it a point to stay away from him and give him his
space. Although it was kindergarten and there were always moms buzzing about the classroom, I didn't want to cramp his
style any more than necessary.
Between the teachers and the other moms, I met some great people that year that I otherwise would not have met. And my
son got the sense that school really is important. Even food allergies have an upside!
|Bud's fourth grade teacher was a food allergy parent's dream. As soon as I mentioned Bud's food allergies, she claimed
"that's easy enough". She declared that all celebrations and holiday parties would only include food that was food allergy
friendly for Bud. She told the room mothers, who were responsible for running the parties, that they were to operate from
the safe food list that I would provide to them. She gave me their names and phone numbers, and we were off to a good
year. I provided the two room mom's with a computer print out of party friendly safe foods, organized by brand, noting
where they could be purchased. I made it clear that exact brands needed to be used and they conveyed that to the other
moms who were contacted to actually purchase the food when it was party time. In a class of 28 children, all families took
turns buying food for parties. The room moms were terrific to deal with, and the families did a great job shopping for safe
It's encouraging to think that such wisdom came from a teacher only 2 years out of college. And this was back in 1996.
|Elementary school lunch can be scary. There wasn't an allergy free table when my son was young, so he sat between two
of his best friends who vowed to keep him safe. His friends didn't mind that he had allergies and I think they were almost
proud to help him out. Kids are great! Many of them don't seem to have some of the same hang ups that we have as
By high school, Bud told me that eating at the regular lunch table forced him to learn some valuable survival skills at a
young age. They served him well as he got older and progressed through the public school system.