Lately, there seems to be a lot of venom out there on the interwebs between the food-allergy moms and the food-allergy-free moms. This is par for the course, with uproar on both sides ebbing and flowing, usually flowing when an article or blog post is written about how childhoods are ruined when food is banned from birthday celebrations at school. In general, I try to steer clear of these
wars debates for two main reasons. One, I feel like my family has a fairly good grip on both our food allergy management plan and our emotional state related to the kids’ allergies so there’s no reason for me to get inflamed about something that doesn’t directly affect us. And, two, I loathe reading insensitive comments from trolls who suggest things like, because my kids have life-threatening food allergies, their genes should just be allowed to be extinguished. You know, Darwinism in action. For the most part, moms (and, less often, dads) who write these unsupportive articles with regard to how their child’s life is being unnecessarily inconvenienced – or ruined – by another child’s food allergies are not bad people. They most likely are merely lucky enough to have a neurotypical and healthy child and are suffering from their own disability: a diminished capacity for understanding and empathy**. You see, your inability to empathize with my child’s life-threatening medical condition means that you’re teaching your child how to be rude and uncompassionate and a bully. And moreover, stop crying that your kid can’t feed cake to every other kid at school…since when is school your kid’s birthday party venue? And stop whining that, if you are given permission for the school to host your child’s birthday party, that you have to make a little extra effort to ensure all his birthday party guests – who have no choice but to be there – can participate in the event, which, you’re arguing, consists solely of scarfing cake. Teach him how to be a good host and accommodate his guests, not only so they’ll have a good time at his party, but also so it’s not interrupted by EMS taking a party goer out on a gurney while receiving multiple injections of epinephrine – or how about just so nobody dies at his party? Am I saying that my food-allergic child is more important or precious than your child? Of course not. But it seems to me that you’re saying your child’s cake is more important and precious than my child’s life. That’s not only rude, it’s psychotic. Given how prolific obesity and diabetes are, why are you even debating the merits of sending in sugar-laden treats for not only your child, but everyone else’s too? Save the birthday cake for the after-dinner celebration at your own home. Oh, you’re celebrating at home with another cake? Hmm, is it any wonder that nearly 18% of kids are obese? If you can’t think of a different way to celebrate another trip around the sun other than eating a piece of cake, here are some ideas:
- Give a dollar store trinket to each kid because we all know kids like those junky gifts even more than they like junky cake (pencils, erasers, stickers, pinball, paddle board, stuffed animals, bouncy balls, tattoos, bubbles, books, crafts, action figures).
- Come into his classroom and do a craft with the students – tell the teacher that it’ll be less mess than cake and won’t really take any more time.
- Negotiate a 15-minute longer recess and have the class sing happy birthday on the playground. This one is my favorite and probably the most appreciated by the kids and the teacher. The teacher should totally be on board since the kids will be occupied for an extra 15 minutes on the playground versus spending five minutes stuffing their faces with cake and then an hour bouncing off the walls from the sugar rush. Plus, she won’t have to clean up junky cake crumbs from her classroom.
- For younger kids, read a book to the class and then donate the book to the classroom.
- More ideas
*Wow, this post took a complete 180 from where I intended it to go. I was initially going to tell the food allergy moms to calm it down a bit. The article yesterday kept making disclaimers that life-threatening food allergies were game changers and didn’t apply. I initially didn’t have a problem with the author’s perspective. We keep shelf-stable treats in my kids’ classrooms for birthday celebrations, which are just about weekly. It works for us. But as I wrote out my thoughts here, I decided that it really is silly for someone to argue so vehemently for celebrating birthdays with food at school when there are so many more important reasons to celebrate without. **Instead of focusing on the inconvenience you feel for this one moment in time, picture instead what it’s like to live in the shoes of the mom of a child with life-threatening food allergies every single day. Below are some of the things you’d have to deal with (and to be honest, this barely scratches the surface). And by the way, I offer this information to provide perspective, not to receive pity.
- Every time your child eats anything, you wonder whether this will be the time that you have to inject him, as he screams, with epinephrine, ride to the ER in an ambulance, and pray to a god you may not even believe in that he will be OK.
- You know that the above is a possibility because when your child had that first reaction, you were dumbfounded by how quickly his lips and tongue swelled up, his eyes became red, and his skin looked blotchy. Then you watched him become lethargic and vomit, while he broke out in hives all over his body. At the ER, he just looked stunned, prone on the enormous hospital bed, you holding his chubby little hand as he wore an oxygen mask and a nurse took his blood pressure.
- Going out to eat is such a production and so risky that you usually just don’t do it. Grabbing a quick dinner from the grocery store is never quick. All the nicely prepared foods in those long display cases are off limits since they’re made in a kitchen that uses your child’s allergens, as is the salad bar and hot food bar. So you’ll need to prepare dinner, just like every other meal. Shopping for ingredients that come in a package is time consuming since each label has to be read every time you buy it. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to making all of your meals from scratch.
- When the school’s number comes up on your cell phone’s caller ID, especially around lunch time, your heart skips a beat as you snatch up the phone while praying again to that god you may not believe in that it’s not the nurse saying she thinks your child may be having an allergic reaction.
- You can’t help but read the articles about the kids who died from a food allergy when they come up on your Facebook newsfeed, and you cry not only for the family who lost their child, but also because the possibility is real that one day an article like that might be written about your child.
- A weekend spent with the grandparents feels like it requires more planning than the free time with your husband is worth. You pack all your child’s food for the weekend and present your food allergy reminder course to your in-laws before they leave with epinephrine auto-injectors in hand.
- Play dates and sleep overs are always at your house. Sending your child to a friend’s house, unless he shares your child’s allergies (and none of them do), is too risky.
- Even though you live in a safe neighborhood, your child can’t roam and explore like you did as a kid because you never know when a severe reaction may occur. He has to always be close to an adult who knows how to use the epinephrine auto-injector and can call 911 (and that person is almost always you).
- Going to another child’s birthday party sometimes requires more planning on your part than on the birthday child mom’s part. You need to find out whether your child’s allergen will be served, and if it is, you have to decide whether your child can even go. If he has bad reactions just by being around his allergen, you’ll flat out decline and then have to explain to your crying child why it’s too risky to attend. Your child can never eat the cake, so you spend the morning baking his own safe treat before each party. No biggie, your child is used to this and so are you. You get to the party and all the other parents wave good-bye and go have 90 minutes to themselves. But you have to stay: you can’t burden the birthday child’s parents with a crash course on recognizing an allergic reaction and EpiPen training. After “Happy Birthday” is sung and the mad dash to cut and serve the cake begins, your child looks at you expectantly and you nod, dodging around the other kids and the adults who are frantically slicing cake and flinging icing and crumbs like confetti as you try to procure a crumb-free plate, napkin, and fork so that at least your kid’s dinnerware will match the other kids’. Then you carefully place his treat down in front of him and answer his friends’ questions about why he gets something different. Upon returning home, you have him wash his hands well and change his clothes so that he doesn’t get itchy, red eyes within the hour, which is what used to happen before you learned this post-party trick.
- And given all of the above, you have to deal with people who still honestly think that food allergies aren’t real or who think that if your child eats just a little bit of his allergen he’ll be fine. Because, you know, it’s food and food is innocuous. OK, maybe he’ll get a few hives, but you’re really blowing this whole death thing out of proportion.