Friday, September 25, 2009

Curdling the Milk of Human Kindness

Every year, on the first day of school, the big sheaf of memos comes home. Standard information gathering, standard field trip permission slips, standard careful requests about whether your kid has a mom and dad, one or two of each, or a freaky trio of open-minded interpretive millinerists. Somewhere in there is the standard no-nuts form (this refers to snacks and lunches, not parents, otherwise enrollment would be drastically reduced): several students have life-threatening peanut allergies, don't send peanut butter, read labels, blah blah blah, don't be a nasty killer lunch person. I have absolutely no issue with sending nut-free lunches. It's occasionally a bit of a pain in the butt, but really, compared to having a kid that can die from licking a peanut butter cookie? Not such a trial. Whenever I see letters in the paper belittling the seriousness of peanut allergies or complaining that it's an imposition having to work around them, I feel angry at the letter-writers' selfishness and insensitivity and, it must be said, a tiny bit smug at how evolved I clearly am in comparison.
This year Angus's collection of papers only had the nut allergy alert form. Eve's had one for nuts. One for eggs. One for dairy. Dairy. DAIRY. I quote: "This means no milk, cheese, yogurt, pudding, or anything including milk ingredients." Sure. No problem. For my kid whose weekly menu goes: Cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, cottage cheese, scrambled eggs with melted cheese, and whenever we go to McDonald's she has a GRILLED FUCKING CHEESE?
I have trouble with transition periods. I feel shaky and anxious when the kids go back to school no matter what. New teachers. New routines. New math that I'm too dumb to help with. And now they're telling me that, what? I'm supposed to nourish my kid on fruit and air for six hours every day? The whole class won't be able to have pizza day? (Dude, don't you EVEN go messing with pizza day). In addition, I feel like a real tool being pissed about this poor kid's allergies, because clearly -- not her fault. So I spent the evening composing a reasonable, carefully-worded, please-don't-label-me-as-a-difficult-parent letter expressing my concerns. Then I took a few Ativan and went to bed.
The next day I picked up the kids from school and walked over to the park so they could play for a bit before we walked home. I pulled out Eve's agenda and found a memo in the front pocket. The subtext of the memo was "Dear Parents: Due to the volume of angry, hysterical mail, we have decided the milk allergy is no longer life-threatening. We don't believe for a minute that all your kids are vegetarians, but we don't have the energy to fight with you about it. You all suck, Sincerely, The Management".
I'm not sure what I've taken away from this. The uneasy sense that I'm only willing to protect someone else's kids when it's not too big a hassle? A new appreciation for how difficult and scary it must be to have a food-allergic child, along with dismay at the fact that I lost the chance to take the high road? (If only I had just waited a couple of days and let everyone else write the angry letters, while handing out recipes for soy muffins and tuna tartare sandwiches). I don't know -- I emailed a really good friend whose son is allergic to milk, eggs and nuts and asked for her thoughts. She said her son had never been in a dairy-free classroom and that she thought it was her responsibility to teach him to be safe, not everyone else's responsibility to ensure that no dangerous food ever came within ten miles of him. She also said some people are real assholes about it, though (well, she put it more politely). I hope I wasn't. It definitely wasn't a stellar episode in my ongoing effort to stop over-reacting and blowing things out of proportion.
At any rate, I'm grateful to be in a world that still includes cheddar, swiss and Parmesan. And I'm still not sure having to write a letter saying "For the love of God, don't take cheese away from us!" tops having to go to Rogers Video and admit that I returned a Garden State case with a Dora's Pirate Adventure DVD inside on the parental humiliation metre. So, you know, there's that.

5 comments:

Amber said...

This is a tough call.

I think it's the combination of all 3 that would kill me, and eliminate any food that my child actually eats. Which, in fairness, is a problem. When a couple of dozen kids are denied access to any food that they enjoy that's really hard.

On the other hand, hello life-threatening. In contrast, having to forgo your favourite food seems minor.

I don't think that you were out of line to write a thoughtfully worded letter of concern. I can understand your hesitation and regret, though.

Magpie said...

I love the letter from the management.

I also like the practicality of your friend who has kids with allergies. Too often the "state" wants to take over and make sure that the individual is "safe", sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. Grade crossings are a particular peeve of mine - every time someone drives onto the railroad tracks, the powers that be say that the grade crossing must be eliminated so it won't happen. Well, how about holding the individual responsible for their actions? It's an analogy that has many holes, but I think you'll get my point. And the age of the children certainly would affect matters.

Lynn said...

Hee hee...nasty killer lunch person :).

My oldest has exactly those allergies -- nuts, peanuts, milk, and eggs. We definitely don't expect his classroom to be cleared of all these foods. He'll run into these kinds of foods his entire life, and he needs to learn to live in a world where they exist.

Although, we are lucky in that he is not anaphylatic to those foods (at this time, at least), so if the worst did happen, he'd get hives and vomit and maybe have some trouble breathing, but nothing life-threatening. Maybe we would feel differently if he was one of those kids who reacts when they are even breathed on by someone who has eaten an allergy food.

In any case, I consider it our responsibility to teach him that some foods are safe, and some aren't, and to give him some tools to deal with that. I know it's way too much to ask the other parents in the class to try to work with his restrictive diet -- first graders are way too picky as it is!

I think you did the right thing.

NoisyBluebird said...

You did do the right thing. I've always felt that it's my responsiblity to teach Aidan how to live safely surrounded by all the things that he's allergic to. I've always pushed education and respect with his classmates. If kids know how to behave and respect his boundaries (like not waving a cheese string in his face to be funny) then we'll be o.k. Yes, some idiot did that in Grade one. I also think that the school needs to own up to it's responsibility of making sure that the allergic kids are respected and kept safe. If a school simply 'elimates' a food from the enviroment then they have essentially put the responsiblity on the other parents to make sure that the allergic child is safe. To me this is the same as all the CYA labels on food now. However if they would just educate the students on how to behave and respect another students needs - and police this with zero tolerance for bullies - we could have all foods in the schools. Also, schools don't want to be medically responsible for the allergic children anymore. Hum, maybe we should bring back the school nurse...cause...um...kids get sick and a secretary shouldn't be looking after them???? Oh I could go on Alison...you were a good person. Best of luck...

alison said...

Amber said what I wanted to say. And I agree with the other commenters too. I don't know what I'd feed my kids in their lunches if nuts *and* dairy were forbidden. Rachel practically lives on peanut butter at home. In the mornings I have to make sure she's washed all the residue off her face and hands before she leaves so as not to trigger an epipen episode for the girl in her class with the peanut allergy. I get that. I do. And we don't send nut products. But Rachel's a girl who doesn't like meat and she gets her protein from guess what? Cheese, yogurt, milk. Subtract that and you're right, she'd be existing on fruit and air.