Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Peanut Free"

There are those of you who are rolling your eyes right now. I know because this is exactly what I would have been doing three years ago at the sight of this lovely photoshop graphic. But stick with me... I promise this post is not going to be a highly opinionated essay on the great peanut debate. I do eventually get to the point. :)

This is one of those issues where there really is no middle ground. Each side has a valid argument and a no peanut policy at school isn't fair for anyone. Not the teachers who have to police what comes into the classroom via lunch sacks, the parents who have to spend twice as much at the grocery store on individually packaged snacks, or the children who are stuck eating bologna and cheese over delicious creamy peanut butter.

Which is why the idea of prohibiting a food because of one child's special dietary needs can seem an extreme and unneeded burden on the other children and their families. It is also why the majority of parents of PA (peanut allergic) children are so incredibly grateful for the sacrifices other families make to ensure their children are safe at school.

I am, unfortunately, one of those grateful parents. Our school district has a strict no peanut policy at the preschool our son, Ace, will be attending for the first time this year and I couldn't feel more blessed. He was diagnosed with the allergy two years ago and it's been an uphill struggle more often than I'd like to admit.

Please don't misunderstand me. I don't feel blessed that my child's allergy has placed a burden on other parents. But that I can send my child to school knowing the chances of him having a life-threatening reaction are far less than if the other children are eating peanut butter crackers at snack time.

There are actually several parents of PA children, however, who do not support the full peanut ban because of a false sense of security it places over teachers and administrators. Before Ace was diagnosed I had always assumed an anaphylactic reaction would be unmistakable. Just like it is in the movies. But not all children who are having a severe, potentially life threatening reaction are going to have trouble breathing. Nor are they all going to swell into the size of a balloon, like Will Smith's reaction to shellfish in Hitch. All it requires is a reaction that involves two systems. So a child that is sick to their stomach and that has hives needs a shot of epinephrine and a trip to the ER just as badly as the child that has a bottom lip ten times it's normal size. A teacher might not be as vigilant for these signs in a school that is "peanut-free". And the "cure-all" epi pen only works if given within a certain time period. If given too late, a child that is suffering from anaphylactic reaction has a very real chance of dying.

Peanuts are just so sneaky. They tend to work their way into foods that you would never think to check. Unlike other food allergens, teensy tiny amounts of peanut protein can cause a severe reaction, so many of us avoid foods that do not carry a specific allergen warning. If it doesn't carry a warning if the product has been produced on the same line as/in the same plant as any specific allergen, we won't buy it. Foods that have been made in a bakery that also produces baked goods containing peanuts are considered unsafe as well. If it wasn't for the Great Value brand, I'm not sure what we'd eat around here.

A couple of years back we took our son out to eat at a restaurant (brace yourself, here comes a mother of the year moment) that served peanuts in buckets and encouraged patrons to throw the empty shells on the floor. We wiped down the table and sat him in the high chair. The closest peanut was three feet away. Within minutes his eyes began to water and swell. I shamefully had to admit this to our allergist, who gave me a pat on the back and basically said "don't worry, I have adult patients who have severe peanut allergies that are stupid enough to do this, too. Just don't do it again, OK?".

I used to think parents who took such crazy precautions were paranoid and overprotective. Now I have an epi pen glued to my hip at all times and have become an expert at reading food labels. We don't attend parties where there are peanuts. We don't go to the park during or after lunchtime. Sticky peanut butter fingers are a health hazard we can't afford to risk.

I'm not searching for sympathy. Actually, my intent is to extend a warm embrace of empathy to the parents, grandparents and guardians who are reading this whose children are attending a "peanut-free" campus this coming school year. It stinks. I know. And I want you to know that the sacrifices you make make a difference. And that they make a much larger impact on the life of that child and parent(s) than you could probably imagine.

My heart is pouring out more gratitude than words can express.

So, when you get that approved snack list that's only ten items long and contains the most expensive items in the store, just remember that Lou loves you. And if it seems no one else appreciates it, you can be rest assured that someone, somewhere is truly grateful.



Lloyd said...

Great post... When I was growing up (about 100 years ago) we thought nothing about eating things that contained peanuts. And, I too thought everyone was a little paranoid when my son told me not to feed my grandkids anything with peanuts in it. But now that I am a little wiser, I realize that some folks have this allergic reaction to certain foods and I realize that not everyone can enjoy peanut butter on their sandwiches and pancakes. God bless, Lloyd

He & Me + 3 said...

I have two with nut allergies so I can totally appreciate the precautions that they take to keep our children safe. You should check out Jane Anne's blog Gravity of motion. She has one with a PA and is an advocate. She puts me to shame in that area.
Great post.

Saleslady371 said...

Susanna is almost 2 and lactose intollerant. We're worried about protein because she's spitting out her mom's attempt with chicken, etc. Is this normal toddler behavior? She would love to live on Kix.

Avery's Mommy said...

Love this post. I would probably be one of those who didn't quite understand if i didn't have bloggy buddies like you & http://gravityofmotion.blogspot.com

Thanks for educating us on why this is so important. You should check out the other blog I mentioned.