Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Working for Peanuts

At Idlewild Children’s Center, summertime means sack-lunch-every-Friday time. This will be my first summer packing lunches for Chloe, but I imagine she’ll eat whatever I throw in her (as-yet-unpurchased) lunchbox, assuming she’s in the mood to eat. Connor is a different story. It is well-documented that he is a picky eater. It is also common knowledge that I finally gave up that fight. I made the decision to serve him his own meal each night, with a perfunctory offer of whatever the rest of us are eating, followed by a polite “no thank you” and a pleasant meal with no fighting over food. As long as the meal has a fruit, a starch, and a protein, I don’t care if it’s the same thing every night and I don’t care if it’s the same thing I’m eating.

Sending Connor a sack lunch has never proven to be a problem. He has one approved protein source that doesn't need to be cooked and travels well in sandwich form (PB&J), and I can always throw in an apple and some chips. No big deal- at least not in years past. But this year, something happened to throw the whole system into chaos: I received a note from school that says, “Parents- No peanut products are to be brought inside the Center due to severe allergies among some students.”

What? Are you kidding me? I can’t send a PB&J to school with my non-allergic kid because someone, somewhere might be allergic? No. I do not accept this. Peanut allergies have always existed, yes? Well, in 30 years of carrying PB&Js to various public settings, I have never once seen someone have an allergic reaction to what I was eating. Never.

I can understand that there might be a danger if kids are bartering portions of their lunches, the way kids tend to do. But it seems like the simple solution is to instruct the kids not to trade food, and then to have the adults monitoring lunch make sure that the rule is followed. The not-at-all simple solution is to ban all peanut products from the building. I mean, seriously? Who is dictating this? Is it a protective parent? Is it lazy teachers who don’t want to enforce a “no trading” rule? Is it a skittish administrator who is scared she might end up getting sued if the wrong kid eats the wrong sandwich? Ultimately my question is, Why is this MY responsibility?

I’m not asking that rhetorically. I really want to know. Can someone who is a teacher, or the parent of a child with peanut allergies, please tell me what has changed since I was in elementary school that has made PB&Js so dangerous? I’ve researched it online, and I just don’t buy the whole “peanut particles might get in the air” explanation (see: my 30 years of public PB&J consumption). Give me something I can get on board with- I want to understand.

I'll tell you this: one way or another, I'm going to make sure my kid has something besides apple slices and Cheez-Its for lunch this Friday. I just want to know if it's really necessary for me to pull out this recipe in order to make that happen.


Anonymous said...

There was a girl in Drew's class this past year and she was/is severely allergic to peanut butter. So allergic even, that just being near it causes her to have problems immediately. She, along with the other students allergic to peanut butter, sit at the designated "no peanut butter table"-which is a pretty good distance from the other tables. She almost lost her life at the age of 2, when she ate a peanut butter cracker. Apparently, some kids are super allergic-even just being around it.

Shannon said...

Well, I know it seems a little excessive, but there seem to be children with allergies and some with ALLERGIES. In my experience in the preschool and elementary school settings there have been numerous issues with peanut allergies. I have worked in schools where there are certain classes that are peanut free and some that the entire school is peanut free. Some of the children are allergic to the extent if the peanut is ingested they get an itchy rash. Others have it to the extent that if the peanut touches their skin or is ingested an Epipen is involved. This is when the situation turns life and death. It is also surprising how many products have peanuts hidden in the ingredients. Most of the children that I have run into with a severe allergy are well aware of the consequences, so they tend to be over cautious. However, they are just children-they can't always make the best decision/choice for themselves. In regards to the teachers---c'mon steph. You were a teacher. I have a "no trading" policy in my room due to allergies to walnuts and pecans. We've talked about why we can't trade and the severe health consequences that are involved for the two children that may be the victim of a food induced reaction. In the end, kids are kids. If they want to trade something, they will find a way. A teacher can only keep his/her eye in so many places. I am constantly reminding the children and reprimanding children, who choose not to listen. Thank goodness for the squealers (sometimes)(-a rant about tattle-tailing is for another time). Then you pair all of these battles with those with the parents who are terrified to send their babies to school in the instance that they may ingest something with peanuts and make it to the hospital at the end of the day rather than home. Teachers and administration don't want that kind of life or death situation on their hands over a tree nut. Sorry about my rant, but I have talked to administration, to the parents, and been the teacher--it may not be a bad time to introduce Connor to soybutter-or crackers and cheese as an alternative. It may be a difficult road, but less traumatic and difficult than a tragic peanut ALLERGY incident.
Sorry if any of this sounds harsh, I just couldn't imagine anything happening to one of my little guys over a peanut. It would be totally devastating. All I can say, is imagine if your little one was the child with the allergy. What precautions would you be comfortable with in the realistic school setting.
As to why the wave of peanut allergies have become so tragic and common, there are different theories about this.

carrie miller

Shannon said...

(waving hand in the air) i am one of those parents who has a kid with an all nuts allergy and we have taken a fair amount of grief from other parents about this issue. i wonder if parents think we are making this up to make life difficult for them. they question me in detail as to what happens during an attack. if i had known, i would have taken a picture of my 2 year old looking like an elephant man to show around. man, that was scary.

for some (much speculated) reason(s) nuts allergies are on the rise--much different from when we were in school. i don't know why (please don't blame my limited breast feeding) and i sure wish they weren't. the thing that we worry about, as parents, is a child eating a peanut butter sandwich and then touching my child and it causing an allergic reaction, one that the teacher may or may not be able to handle despite our discussions with her/him. or our son, despite his usual caution with this issue, deciding to try it out.

now, we are not super crazy with it-just cautious in environments were we don't have control (like school and camps). JP and other have eaten pb and js at our house, with us exercising some caution.

i sure wish i didn't have to ensure a nut free environment for him at school (and, man, do i miss having nuts at home without all the precautions). but, that simply isn't where we are. and it sucks.

the end. (smile)

Stephanie said...

Carrie and Shannon were the exact two people I wanted to hear from on this issue! I can definitely relate to wanting some control over uncontrollable environments.

Jelly sandwiches it is!

JenLF said...

Steph - you could also consider, if they are allowed, and Connor will tolerate it, other nut butters. Our pediatrician is a little overzealous about peanuts, so Jonah still hasn't had any, but we do give him cashew butter and jelly sandwiches. It's a little more expensive, but to me, it tastes more or less the same, and it serves similar nutritional needs.

Cathy said...

Soynut butter! It's good and with jelly and bread, it's hard to tell the difference. Wow, I had no idea this peanut allergy thing was so serious. I just thought my pediatrician was being over cautious about it.