Food Allergies and the First Grade

“Food allergies and the first grade.” That title sounds like it would be a good children’s book, right? All about how some poor kid is nervous about all the things that could happen at school but then the class bands together and everything turns out all right in the end?

Five more weeks until school starts.

There’s no reason for me to think anything terrible is going to happen with Eva’s allergies at school this year. Unlike our complete meltdown-fail two years ago, we have done this before. Eva made it through a whole year of half-day Kindergarten without a single overnight hospital admission and even though there were a few bumps in the road, we learned a lot and Eva proved to be about 90% reliable in the taking-care-of-herself department.

Plus, now that she’s gotten into a gifted program, she won’t be in a typical public school setting with thirty other kids and one overstretched teacher. She’ll be in a smaller setting with more supervision, more support, etc. We’ve already met everyone and we’re due to have a meeting before school starts and we can get everything in place and I should really calm down.

If it was just school, I think I’d be ok. Been there, done that, minimal medical intervention needed.

But…lunch.

Eva is so excited to have lunch at school. She’s completely zeroed in on school lunchtime as being the highlight of getting older. She draws pictures of fantasy lunch boxes and scours the coupon mailers for foods that look like they’d be good to take to school. And she’s pinky sworn crossed her heart that she won’t sit with anyone eating a PB&J.

Allergy kids eat lunch at school all the time. There are allergy-free tables and signs and hand-washing practices. And Eva will be wearing her Epi-pen and we’ll have the emergency plan in place.

A little boy died from his food allergy on June 28 after a classmate gave him cheese. Or, to be more specific, he either “flicked” it on him, put it down his shirt, or snuck it into his sandwich (depending on which news story you read). The boy died. The other boy got arrested. It’s all very sad. And I shouldn’t read the stories because they don’t help, but I did and these was this one article where a parent defended it all saying that the boys were just playing and it was nobody’s fault. And I just…

Don’t do that. You don’t have to point at this thirteen year old boy who made a terrible mistake and yell, “Murderer!” but don’t make it small because there might be other kids who can hear you. Other parents who also feel better inside if they can shrug and throw up their hands like “hey, what can you do?” as if having food allergies meant that kid was doomed and it was just a matter of time.

There’s lots you can do but the core job you have is to take it seriously. Everything starts there. Even if you don’t know what to do about someone else’s food allergy, if you take it seriously you’ll at least know to ask or err waaaaaaay on the side of caution. And I get it – sometimes kids are punks and they don’t know the difference between funny teasing and not-funny teasing, but I will tell you that Calvin once joked that he was going to “get” Eva with some peanut butter and we Shut. That. S#%@. Down.

If there’s a kid in your world this school year that has a food allergy, have the conversation at home and try to hedge the feelings of frustration if class treats are restricted or hands need to be washed more often. Explain that it isn’t something anyone wants to have and remind your kids that they only have to be careful for a few hours while their classmate has to be careful all the time. Just have the talk, even if it seems silly and obvious, because somewhere there’s a boy who is now due to appear in court because another boy died and I really, really, really wish someone had had that talk with him.

In the meantime, we will prepare ourselves, take precautions, and trust in the kindness of others. And breathe. We’ll breathe.

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