Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Newsflash: My kids allergy is not YOUR problem

***Shortly after writing this post, I heard from a friend whose daughter has a peanut allergy. Please note that my son's allergy is VERY different from peanut allergies. My son's allergy is not one that can effect him simply from being near the allergen. He has to ingest the allergen. For the sake of this article, I am referring to children, like my son, whose allergy is not as severe. For children who have a severe allergy, it is very important that concessions can be made and that the child is not teased or targeted because they have an allergen that is not their fault!

We are walking through a farmer's market.

There is a lady selling fresh donuts.

But even better, she has free samples.

My three-year-old little lady begins tugging at my elbow fat.

The lady is holding a donut out, offering it to Abigail.

The elbow fat tugging is her shy-girl way of saying, "Can I pleaseeee accept this donation of a free donut into my belly. Pleaseeeeee?"

I nod and am not at all surprised when her five-year-old brother immediately pushes his way to the front of our family mob to see if this free-ness can stretch to him as well.

He loves food.

And again I nod.

Oldest brother Isaac remains firmly planted halfway behind me. He likes donuts. But he is allergic to eggs. And eggs are in nearly ever baked good. I ask the famous, "Does it have eggs in it?" question already knowing the answer, and turn to Isaac apologetically when her answer comes out in the affirmative.

There is a moment when the lady, holding out the donut with her tongs toward Abigail, hesitates. Her eyes say to me, "Well if one kid is allergic, can the sister have one?"

In other words, "Is this fair?'

A conversation ensues. "His allergy is not her fault," I say. "He has to learn to live with it."

In other words, "No it isn't fair. But it's fact."

The woman surprises me by thanking me. "I'm so tired of seeing parents try to pad this life for their kids," she says. "The real world isn't free of pain."

Now don't get me wrong. I do my very best to help ease the disappointment of missing out on birthday cake and certain types of ice cream. If Isaac missed out on the donut, when we got home, he'd meander over to the snack cabinet and pick out something that his brother and sister wouldn't get to participate in. We try to even it out.

But in the end, my son has an allergy. (Currently, more than a quarter of children outgrow their allergy, and those allergic to milk, egg or soy are the most likely to be in the outgrowing bunch.*However, as his parent, I feel the tremendous need to prepare him to lead a life that may mean avoiding a certain food for the entirety of that life. I pray that is not the case. But it might be.

I have been so incredibly impressed by friends who purposefully change their birthday party recipes to make sure Isaac fits in. (This is despite the fact that he usually doesn't even bother trying their egg-free baked goods because he is so used to not being able to eat them.) And while I appreciate the kindness of my friends, I really do not think their kindness is required.

Isaac has an allergy and he must learn to live with it.

His brother and sister missing out on something simply because he can't partake simply isn't a good representation of the world he is growing up in. He  has to get used to carrying epi-pens everywhere he goes. And he has to get used to being denied a food everyone else is eating. He is blessed to live in a country where ingredient lists are readily available**, but when he can't be sure of what is in something, he'll have to pick something else.

And he certainly can't expect the rest of an office party to skip eating a food because he can't eat it.

I understand that we want to save our children from pain, but our world has pain. There are disappointments. And not being able to ever eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream certainly is one of them. But trying to protect him from that pain will not prepare him for that pain!

Please understand my heart. There are times when JB and I are passing a food stand, and we decide, quietly between ourselves, not to even go over there because we know Isaac will be left out. When we pick a restaurant for dinner, we purposefully choose one that will not completely limit what he can eat. We pick ice cream that he can eat, and we don't keep snacks in our house that have eggs.

But in the end, while we can make certain concessions, I tell my friends, "Your effort is appreciated but not expected."

And I mean that.

The idea that a classroom full of other children should have to not have snacks with eggs because my son is allergic, is simply ridiculous to me. Obviously, if this was an allergy that effected him based on the product being in the room, that would be different. But if he is only affected by things he eats, why should every other kid have to suffer because my son is allergic to eggs?

This is the real world.

And the real world has eggs.

JB and I believe that we are doing our son much more of a service to teach him to navigate the world's land mines instead of removing those land mines altogether.


TAV said...

I agree so much!!! The nut-free classroom idea I heard about is so ludicrous!!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for this post. My son's school is a nut-free school and I hate it! He doesn't like lunch meat or eggs, so peanut butter is the only protein I can give him for lunch and since it is banned from the school I feel like he doesn't get full. However, my daughter's school just designates an area where kids can go if they need to get away from the nuts. Makes it hard for feeding your own child.

C said...

Glad you clarified. This is hard. There really is no such thing as peanut free so I'm ok with teaching my son how to interact and protect himself. He sits at a special table. It is not ludacris, though, to expect his classroom to be nut free. We go to a Christian school and don't have to put up with those attitudes thank goodness. His peers actually look out for him and ask their parents for help. My kids are at an age where teaching the non allergic to protect while eating is important. The empathy this generation far surpasses ours. And for that I'm grateful. Thanks for touching on a hard topic