Yes, the title of this post is me channeling my inner 8 year old. If you added stomping feet and big, fat tears to the mix that would be exactly how I feel about food allergies.
We've been living with and dealing with Olivia's allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame for just about one year. I think about last year as "BA" and "AA" - before allergies and after allergies.
Before allergies I didn't pay much attention to snacks at school. I didn't worry that another student would bring something for a birthday treat that Olivia can't eat. I didn't read every single label at the grocery store. I didn't worry about walking into a restaurant and wondering if my child would be safe to eat there.
It's a whole new ball game friends.
I call restaurants before we visit - to make sure they don't fry in peanut oil or sesame oil. We avoid places like "Five Guys" and "Chick-Fil-A" because they fry in peanut oil. (With CFA we avoid them for other reasons too!). We can't go to the "hibachi" grill restaurants because they use sesame seeds on the grills when cooking certain foods and it's a cross contamination risk. We have to make sure pizza places don't use sesame seeds as a crust option - and if they do, we don't order from that place. We can't get doughnuts at bakeries because there's a risk of cross contamination with peanuts and/or tree nuts.
At the grocery store I read the labels of all crackers, cookies, cereals, and breads. We avoid everything that was made with peanuts or tree nuts, but we also avoid all items processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and/or tree nuts.
Which brings me to today's post.
Today Olivia cried at school because she felt left out. She cried because she felt like an outsider because she has a food allergy. And I wanted to cry with her.
The elementary school had their annual fundraiser walk today - and the "special treat" for all students was a cookie. A cookie whose label clearly stated that it was "processed at a facility where peanuts and tree nuts are used." A cookie that should have been a red flag for any child with an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts.[As a side note, none of the "helpers" handing out the cookies bothered to ask if anyone had a food allergy. They just gave every child a cookie. In my mind, that is irresponsible behavior. Maybe that's just me.]
I told Olivia she couldn't eat that cookie. I also told her teacher - and the teacher said "don't worry Olivia, you can have Smarties after the walk." I thought Olivia was OK with that. I was wrong.
After the walk was over and the cookies were being passed out, I looked at Olivia and she had tears silently streaming down her face. When I asked her what was wrong she said "I just want to have a cookie."
Damn those stupid cookies and their cross contamination risk.
At that moment I hated food allergies so very much.
There was nothing I could do to make things better.
I can't fix Olivia's food allergies. I can't make them go away.
And so, I did the only thing I could do.
I hugged her extra hard and told her how very special she was.
I told her that those pesky food allergies made her a very special little girl because she gets to have the Smarties that her teacher keeps just for her. I promised her that I would make her something special for dessert at home. And when her teacher saw the tears she hugged Olivia and said "you can have two packs of Smarties!"
All of that is just fine and dandy.
But it didn't change the fact that Olivia felt different because of her allergies.
It didn't change the fact that the school didn't think ahead and actually have something "safe" and nut free for kids like Olivia. It doesn't change the fact that until they find a cure for food allergies or until Olivia grows out of them, she's always going to feel "left out" and I'm not OK with that.
And as her mom it's my job to be her advocate.
It's my job to make sure she doesn't feel left out.
And so I say this - please, parents...if there is a child in your kid's classroom with any kind of food allergy PLEASE take the into consideration when bringing in snacks for birthdays or classroom parties. Don't just brush it aside and think it's not a big deal. Because food allergies are a very big deal. They are a matter of life and death. Kids with food allergies feel singled out all the time...please don't make it worse by ignoring them. Include them with allergy safe foods. Or better yet, don't send in food for birthdays. Do something else like stickers. And to the schools ... think before you do something like handing out cookies that might possibly be an allergy risk. The are safe foods out there - you just have to take the time to read the labels and do your research.
Kids with food allergies aren't "different"...they're extra special. Please remember that and keep them safe.