Sunday, August 19, 2012

Innocence and Irritability

I have finally crossed over.  I AM that mom, the one that takes offense at innocent comments. *sigh*

Not really.  I usually take them in stride and accept them for what they are, comments made from a vantage of inexperienced lack of understanding.  Except for this morning.  An innocent comment made on twitter keeps rubbing at me, like that annoying pebble in your shoe when you don't have the luxury of immediately removing it.

"Kids were told they can't bring PB&J to school. Sad for their loss."  That is the extent of the innocent comment that has me agitated.  I understand that this is a parent quietly lamenting that the students at that school will not experience the same lunchtime simplicity he grew up with.  He is certainly entitled to feel a sense of sadness that his children, and the peer population, will miss this simple lunchtime tradition. Absolutely sincere here.

Personally, I'm not a supporter of peanut bans.  I think they create a false sense of security and lower the vigilance of the staff and the students by lulling them into thinking that the threat of accidental exposure has been removed.

Also?  How colossally unfair to ban peanuts and not other foods that may cause life threatening allergic reactions?  I know more than one child with atypical life threatening allergies.  One is contact sensitive to milk. He reacts ON CONTACT.  Tell me you will find a school that will ban milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products in order to spare this child.  I also know of life threatening allergies to eggs, chicken, garlic, wheat, and banana.  Can you imagine a school where all of these things are banned?

I know, I know. But peanuts have a sticky residue and their oils spread easily.  I've heard that.  Have you seen the way children eat?  Bananas are gooey and leave an easily transferred slime on little hands, as does yogurt.  Milk is more likely to be spilled and flood an allergic child's lap, possibly their lunchbox as well.  How can you possibly rank which life threatening allergen should take precedence over the others?  How does a school look a mother in the face and explain why they will ban the other child's allergen but not the one that will kill her child? Ugh. Not an easy place for the school, the staff, the parent or the child to find themselves.

Don't get me wrong.  I understand the why behind asking for a peanut ban.  I don't want anyone's child to be exposed to a toxic substance.  I don't want a cafeteria full of students to be forced to watch another child experience an anaphylactic reaction.  It is terrifying.  I don't want any school to lose a week of instructional time to grief counseling, trauma counseling, and funeral services.  Most of all, I don't want a child to die because of a 100% preventable exposure.

I digress. Greatly.

A parent is sad because his children can not bring PB&J to school.

Take just a minute and think about the other 16 hours in the day your child will get to enjoy their childhood favorite.  As an  after school snack, a Saturday picnic, a lazy dinner on a busy evening, on toast at breakfast.  Any day.  You pick.  Lots of time to eat PB&J outside of school.  Promise.

Now think about that other kid.  The one that caused the ban.  Who will never know PB&J.  Never.  Or Reece cups, eggs, or pumpkins.  Or Snickers bars.  Or about 95% of the ice creams on the market.  Anything from a bakery counter at the grocery store is off limits.  Donuts are almost never allowed. So many of the foods you take for granted and that embody your childhood memories? Not an option for the peanut allergic kid.

In addition this child will face ridicule and hard feelings directed at him because he is the reason the student population can not have their favorite lunch treat.  The kids know who it is.  They know why the holiday parties and birthday treats are restricted.

It does not foster feelings of pride and self confidence in the allergic kids to be the driving force behind dietary mandates at school.

And the bigger issue?  Your child will never know the fear of eating. That peanut allergic kid has sincere fear that he will die one day because he had a bite of a cookie.  Every day they are fearful.  Every. Day.  They are surrounded by a substance that is toxic to them.  They know that one moment of carelessness by another student, by a staff member, or even their self could easily endanger their life. Just one bite could change the future.

Imagine for just one moment that each classroom has an envelope of anthrax in it, and the children were told to "Just avoid it."  I don't know a single parent that would not protest.  For food allergic kids they face this everyday.  Their anthrax is all around them, and they have to "just avoid it."

Your sadness at the loss of PB&J at school?  I know, it is real.  But please, for the sake of that allergic child, try to keep it short lived and quiet.  Don't grumble about it at home, or quietly with other parents.  Help foster a sense of tolerance and understanding.  Make sure your children know it is a small inconvenience that is totally worthwhile.  After all, would you really pay for your sandwich with another child's life?

For a very recent real-life story, if you need one of the many out there, click here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Starting school...again.

Just a little over a week until the new school year starts for my kiddos.  This year we will be starting not only a fresh year, but a new school as well.

For those of you who follow me on twitter, you know that I recently moved.  From the neighborhood where my car was stolen- twice- to a neighborhood where I'm sure my car would only have been taken if I had actually paid someone to haul it off.  It's nice to sleep at night without worrying about whether I will have a car in the morning.  (My daughter actually asked me once: "Mom, when they steal this car can we get a red one?" You know it's time to move on when your car being stolen is seen as a given rather than a chance.)

I digress.  New home. New school.  The girls finished out their year in the previous school, so that they could start fresh with the incoming class.  And so I could start to work with the school in advance, make sure they were ready for us.

Step one was to stop in and introduce myself to the school nurse.  Ask a few friendly questions and get a feeling for the policy and her role in allergy management, as well as her approach to it.  I was truly not prepared for the interaction that took place.  I left feeling discouraged that the nurse was not quite hostile toward food allergies, but was certainly not welcoming or flexible.  No, there are not peanut free classrooms.  No, children can not invite a friend to join them at the peanut free table.  Yes, if a child brings a peanut based treat to share during class it will be enjoyed. There's more, but those were the highlights. The nurse however, is only there one day a week.  This is both horrifying (I'm used to not one, but three nurses on staff at all times!) and wonderful (only one day of her influence to overcome).  The next step for me was to meet with the principal.

What a meeting.  She was kind, and receptive, and made all the right assurances.  Certainly we could have a peanut free classroom, certainly friends could be invited to the peanut free lunch table.  Hmmm. While I was relieved that she had the right answers, it was also problematic.  Did this mean the principal was out of touch with how allergy management actually happened at our new school, or did this mean the nurse was uncooperative and was putting up unnecessary roadblocks? I asked the principal to chat with the nurse in order to clarify the message and make sure we were all on the same page.  I then asked to have a meeting with the teachers so that they would be able to prepare over the summer for a very allergic student joining their classroom.

That was the last I heard.  No follow up, no meeting.

I consulted with the staff at the awesome school we have been attending, and we got a 504 in place stating all of the precautions that they had always taken willingly and proactively. (Really, I am so sad to leave such an amazing school.)  Because it looks like my daughter will need a 504 to make sure the staff of the new school are all on the same page in regards to my daughter's safely.  I want no mixed messages or grey areas here.

I then sent an email to request a 504 meeting with the new staff.  Let's get the ball rolling so this plan is in place and understood before the new year begins.  I remember being a teacher, and I know I would have appreciated having an entire summer to learn and prepare for such a change in the classroom. I also know that once the request is received in writing they have only 30 days to respond.

The response?  We'd be happy to meet after the summer is over, when the teachers return to school. *sigh*  So, yes.  The meeting to establish a 504 plan for my daughter is scheduled to be THE DAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS.  That should be helpful for the teachers.  At least it will be fresh in their minds.

It has made me a nervous wreck.  All summer long I have been trying to build the kids up for a great experience at an awesome new school, but I wonder if they can tell it's not heartfelt.  An awesome school would not put student safety off until the last minute. Eeek.  I'm feeling that I am likely to be THAT mom.  The one that causes the staff to roll their eyes and grumble, "Here comes Mrs. Mentor again.  What does she want this time?"

Hopefully I am awed and amazed by the meeting next week, and the level of awareness and receptiveness the teachers have.  Hopefully I walk away feeling relieved and a bit embarrassed to have been so stressed.


Wish me luck.