Caring About My Kid’s Peanut Allergy Doesn’t Make Me A Jerk
Over a decade ago, we got a call from our son’s preschool that he had an itchy rash on his forehead after eating a snack. It was peanut butter on a cracker, which he’d never tried before — he was super picky, and the social setting of preschool must have prompted him to give it a go. Instead of hardcore drugs, our son was pressured into trying a new, healthy food.
Peer pressure, then, could do some good, right? Except in this case. Fortunately the reaction was not severe, and we were able to give him an antihistamine to clear him up. We took him to the doctor to have him tested, and he came back allergic to peanuts.
I thought it was weird. None of us have food allergies and at the time, I didn’t know anyone who had them. We do, however, have a couple of other allergies that run in our family, but I’d never really thought about food allergies or what impact they could have on someone’s life until my kid was slapped with that label. Then everything changed, as things always do when it’s suddenly about you and your family.
We learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t just peanuts he had to avoid. We had to read food ingredient labels and keep him away from items that are prepared on the same lines as peanut-ish food, and even those things that are prepared in the same facility. I admit that it was pretty scary at first, but we got used to it. It was a struggle to move through the world knowing that just a teensy bit of peanut could potentially kill him, but once we learned the ropes, it became second nature.
We’ve also never run into “real life” situations where people weren’t understanding and eager to not accidentally end our child’s life. His schools have always been accommodating, and we taught him early on how to recognize and handle an anaphylactic reaction. (We’ve never ever had to deal with one, but dammit we carry Epi-Pens everywhere!)
What drives me crazy is reading about how some people view those with food allergies. For example, several years ago, I read an article about a local baseball stadium that declared a small area of seating to be “peanut free” — not every game of the season, just a couple — so kids could get out to a ballgame with a reduced fear of death. I had the displeasure of reading comments from total assholes about how they’d go over there and scatter peanuts around. Why? They hate children? They hate people? Someone else’s peanut allergy inconveniences them, even though there are thousands of other peanut-ridden seats to sit in?
Then you have parents who actually fight the attempts of other parents who want their child’s school to create a peanut-free zone. Food allergy bullying is also an issue, and is especially scary because kids don’t always realize the severity of the allergy. The bottom line? Your child’s ability to eat peanut butter doesn’t supersede another child’s right to live.
I’ve read all the arguments: You can’t put your child in a peanut-free bubble his whole life; and how realistic is it to create an environment while he’s in school that he can’t maintain when he grows up? While a child is young, they deserve to have a learning environment where their life is not in danger. In fact, public school districts are required to provide a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities, and this includes protecting them from death while they’re in class.
Out of my four kids, three can’t eat all food without risk of illness — in addition to my peanut-allergy son, I have a daughter with celiac disease and a little one who is allergic to a crap-ton of different foods. Fortunately, adjusting for them was easy because we’ve already gone down that road before. My son is 15 now and while accidental exposure is possible, he’s been trained on how to recognize a reaction and what to do if it happens. These lessons we’ve taught him early on, especially when we realized that a bunch of the food we were feeding him was potentially contaminated (sorry, kid!) and he had to stop eating it. My hyper-vigilance doesn’t stem from being a control freak or trying to protect my child from a mild, harmless (or imaginary) reaction. It’s hard to understand when you don’t have experience with it, but moms who want to check the food labels before their kid eats something aren’t being wankers. They just don’t want their kids to get seriously ill, and they don’t want to bury them. That should be easy for all people to understand.