My heart hurts.
I used to cringe when people said that. I thought it was a little cheesy & overdramatic. But I am saying it now because I understand and can relate to the feeling. My heart hurts.
Over the past few weeks I have seen references to an article written by a parent whose children do not have food allergies who feels her child’s rights to a “proper” birthday celebration are being smothered (“proper” meaning she can’t bake cupcakes from scratch or pick up any treat she wants to send to school to celebrate the occasion). Usually it was a link on Facebook and just from reading the title, I knew I wasn’t prepared to read the article. So I didn’t. For a while. Earlier this week, I caved. I read it. I was furious. I was sickened. And then something changed in my head. I felt sorry for this mom. She lacks quite a bit of critical information regarding food allergies that might help her be more empathetic towards children and families living with food allergies. At first, I didn’t want to share the article because I didn’t want it to get any more hits than it already has but I really want you all to read this and get your feedback too. Please see for yourself…
Here, you’ll find a rebuttal of sorts, with references and helpful information that would benefit us all in the long run. I hope you will share it in any way you can. Please help me get the word out. Please.
First, let me begin by addressing her misconception that when you have a food allergy (or multiple food allergies) you know exactly what your or your child’s physical reaction will be when exposed to that allergen. This is absolutely false. Previous reactions DO NOT predict future reactions. What was previously a mild skin reaction to exposure to an allergen (localized hives, eczema, etc) absolutely has the potential to escalate to anaphylaxis on the next exposure. There is no way to know what your or your child’s reaction to an allergen will be upon each exposure. For those who have previously experienced anaphylaxis, it is likely that this will occur upon future exposures but there are no guarantees. There are many theories surrounding this but the fact is that there is no way to be certain. Please read more over at FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) to learn more. If this parent is truly understanding (as she claims to be) and believes that “we have a communal responsibility to keep (a child with life threatening food allergies) safe” then this fact alone negates the entire rest of her article. In my opinion, all food allergies should be treated as anaphylactic food allergies. It’s just not worth the risk.
However, there is quite a bit more to be addressed. So stick with me a bit longer.
Another argument she makes is that the school only allows store-bought treats that are preservative-laden and unhealthy. (I must have missed the health lesson that states “real” cakes made from “real” ingredients are healthy but I do see where she’s going with this.) She goes on to state that someone she knows was only able to bring in gummy bears and juice boxes. Believe me when I say I know what it feels like to think “what in the world am I supposed to feed my child?!” The day we received Buddy’s diagnosis I fed him rice krispies, steamed broccoli, and shredded cheddar cheese for dinner because I was at a total loss and completely unprepared for such a blow to the system. Two weeks ago it took me 2 days to fully process the thought of changing his diet to be free of all of the top 8 allergens (wheat, dairy, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish.) It was hard. It IS hard. It is difficult to figure out what is safe and what isn’t and to find “treats” for your child. Please please believe me when I say I KNOW! Guess how I figured it out…sure I read A LOT of labels…but I also talked to other moms of kids with food allergies for ideas and support. I wonder if it ever occurred to this mother to talk to the parents of the kids with food allergies in her child’s class. My son’s school even provides email addresses for all of the parents in the buzzbook so if she wasn’t comfortable talking to another parent face to face about it for some reason, maybe an email would work just as well. Perhaps they would have been able to give her some ideas…like one of these…
Yes, they are a little more expensive than your typical store brands but many cover all of the top 8 allergens (and then some) so they would be an easy choice for a classroom with multiple food allergies. I happen to have many of their products in my own home currently as Buddy is still top 8 allergen free for the next month or so.
We WANT to be helpful. We are always happy to talk about what we know about food allergies; whether you want to know what foods are safe, what foods are not safe, how to read a food label, or just general information. Please ask us.
Here is the point at which I get a little confused with her argument…I’m gonna copy and paste in what she said so I don’t mess it up–
“I understand the problem with allergies because I have allergies; I’m allergic to egg whites. The difference is I don’t demand egg-free items when I go to parties or to work events. I don’t always get to eat what people are serving, but I certainly don’t demand that my friend make me a separate cake for me on her birthday. It makes sense to ban certain items when children are too young to ask and avoid foods that they might have sensitivities toward. But once we cross a threshold, personal responsibility and parental education need to come into play. I agree that a teacher should let all parents know about any life-threatening allergies in a classroom. However, my kid shouldn’t have to forgo his birthday cake because yours can’t eat it.”
First of all, she is so right. Parental education NEEDS to come into play. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this.
The general argument behind this article has so far been regarding bringing birthday treats to school. Here we take a sudden turn to adults, work environments, and birthday parties. I hope this mother understands that we don’t expect her child to “forgo his birthday cake” all together. By all means, please make your child a birthday cake for your celebration at home. I hope you will throw a party for your child and include all of their favorite treats. Few things bring me as much joy as throwing my son’s birthday party with all of his favorite foods and goodies, even though I have to be a little more creative about it these days. In an instance such as this, it’s the responsibility of the parent of the child with the food allergy to decide whether or not to attend and how to handle food at such an event. But let’s stick to the original argument. At school, in the classroom, in an environment in which my child needs to attend to receive his education, and needs to be safe from possible exposure to food allergens to live his life safely, your child does not need to have a birthday cake. If you must send a treat, please do so consciously.
As I said earlier, I hope you will share this and help me spread the word. I’m always here to answer questions and suggestions. I’m not a doctor, I don’t know everything there is to know about food allergies, but I know that my child’s safety, and every child’s safety, is at the very very top of my priority list at all times.
Thank you for listening. I look forward to hearing what you have to say on the topic. And, as always, I welcome any questions you may have.