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Valentine’s Day…from a food allergy mama’s perspective….

Posted Feb 14 2013 1:47pm

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. I hope you all have had a great day making your allergy-friendly pancakes, waffles, cookies, cupcakes and cakes. I hope your sweet little kiddos got everything they wished for today…and felt love and acceptance during what might be a difficult day at school.

Yesterday, John came home to tell me something that happened to him at school that broke his heart and spirit…not something you want to hear from your child. He was made to feel excluded and different, and as a 10-year-old boy, that kinda sucks. As his mom who has worked tirelessly for several years to give him and kids like him the opportunity to feel normal, included and safe in their very own little safe havens, aka their classrooms (classrooms, NOT lunchrooms), I felt defeated and just tired of it all. So I immediately went home, typed up this email to his school peeps. I want to make clear….his teacher and principal have gone above and beyond to make healthy and inclusive changes at our school.They’ve been outstanding. I know this issue could not have been prevented by them, because they have been awesome at asking me what THEY can do to make kids like John feel more secure, safe and included in their classrooms. I couldn’t ask for more. What seemed obvious to me, however, is that we really are a culture that is obsessed with giving lots of food and sugar to kids not just during class parties, but for birthdays, or for doing something great at school etc. All I’ve ever asked for with regard to serving food in classrooms that are potentially life-threatening to a food allergic child is to take a moment to stop, think and imagine what that child’s life is like. Think of THAT child…and what that world of exclusion and terror FEELS like. That if they made a mistake, inadvertently ate something, they could DIE. In minutes. Just for a moment. I wish we all could remember that Valentine’s Day, like every other day of our lives, should be about LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, COMPASSION AND KINDNESS of others. None of us are perfect…but if we remember to love, we’ll remember to be cool with kids who food allergies, disabilities, challenges, etc.

Here’s an excerpt of that email…sent with a broken heart. ;(

“I wanted to reach out to you both to let you know about an incident that happened today with John. He came home from school very upset, and hurt about a comment made regarding Valentine’s Day treats. A classmate was responding to a discussion that no candy or food would be allowed with valentines this year, and this classmate said “why don’t we put John and XX, the other food allergy kid, into the pod so we can have our candy?” or something to that effect?  I also heard from John that another classmate grumbled about no candy, and that even a couple more said their parents were annoyed because they already went out and bought a bunch of candy and now what were they supposed to do?

I truly appreciated the concern and care in asking me what to do about food in the classroom for the party in order to keep FA kids safe AND included. XX, you have gone above and beyond in helping raise awareness about food allergies at our school and keeping all our kids safe and included. XX, you’ve been wonderful and have always protected John and put his safety and well-being first.

As I’ve always advocated, I don’t believe in food bans, but I do believe in food free celebrations in order to keep children with LIFE THREATENING food allergies safe, and included. And, there are also a whole set of parents who actually wish there were LESS food, candy donuts cookies, etc. that was distributed to their children. Parents in general are trying to keep more tabs over what is being served to their kids at school. When you throw in the whole food allergy factor, and it could jeopardize a child’s life by having unsafe food in their own classroom, it’s even more important to establish clearer boundaries.

I am always teaching parents of FA children to never apologize for their child’s health condition. Because it is a condition, it is not a choice, or a dietary intolerance, etc. Food allergies can and do kill, and have killed children in their own classrooms. I just don’t understand why we can’t promote a fun, happy Valentine’s Day or other celebration WITHOUT food? Are games and projects not fun enough? Don’t 99 percent of these children get whatever food they want, whenever they want? Should kids like John feel like they need to be quarantined to the pod so their classmates can have food that John can’t even be near because it puts his life at risk? Shouldn’t we be teaching ways to look out for another, take care of each other, put others first?

Finally, I asked my first grader, who is brutally honest about what Valentine’s Day means to him…is it about candy and treats? Cards? His answer? Love, Valentine’s Day is all about LOVE. To that I’d like to add, any celebration at school should be about love and the inclusion of others. And if there are kids in the classroom who could die or feel totally left out because of food for a party, then we should be thoughtful of them by having celebrations that are fun and inclusive for EVERYONE.

John’s bummed, and hurt, but it’s par for course because he’s had to deal with these types of comments since preschool, kindergarten and first grade, until the time our school district enacted Food Free Celebrations. After a year of griping about the change, no one cared, loved the change and it became a healthier way to celebrate parties at school…something EVERYONE can appreciate.

Thank you again to you both for all your help and support. It is truly appreciated.”

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