I belong to an on-line, parent forum for children living in my town.
At the end of last year one mother posted about the end-of-year field trip and how outraged she was that the teacher had sent home a note asking parents not to pack peanut butter, as one of the students in the class had a severe allergy. Her post described how annoyed she was, how inconvenient it was for her, and she went on to explain that the child should not be allowed on the field trip if she had an allergy. I believe her exact quote stated, “Why should the whole class suffer because of one student?” Her insensitive and ignorant comments were met with a barrage of supportive comments for the child suffering the allergy.
I have a four-year old preschooler with a peanut allergy. This on-line exchange made me very anxious about how the parents in my daughter’s class would respond when asked to make special accommodations for her. At the start of the school year I felt hesitant to make special requests and worried that I would upset or offend other parents. Those feelings were short-lived, because at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to keep my daughter safe, my husband and I are her advocates and it is our responsibility to let the school staff know what special accommodations she needs.
At the start of the year I made two special requests:
(1) that every student entering the room wash their hands before touching any items in the room, and
(2) that any community snack brought into the room be free of peanuts or other nuts.
Both of these requests were fulfilled by the school staff and much to my surprise, parents embraced the requests. I watch every morning as all students wash and dry their hands before beginning their day.
Fulfilling special requests in a classroom is one thing, fulfilling them outside of the classroom is another…
Since school has started, my daughter has been invited to three birthday parties. Birthday parties, for parents of children with food allergies can be very stressful. Parents need to be informed about what kind of food will be served. Will the facility be cleaned before the party? What will the goody bags contain?…etc, etc.
When RSVPing “yes” to the parties, I did not anticipate or expect any of the hosts to meet my daughters needs. I fully expected that it would be my responsibility to bring the appropriate food, contact the facility ahead of time to discuss the cleaning of equipment, and to bring a replacement goody bag for my daughter.
My family was extremely surprised with how wonderful other parents were to our daughter.
For the first party, the mother of the birthday girl contacted ME about my daughter’s allergy. She explained what she would be serving and told me she would provide my daughter with a peanut free cupcake to have instead of the cake, because she could not guarantee that the cake was peanut free. On the day of the party she followed through with a delicious cupcake and saved the list of ingredients as well as contact information from the company making the cupcake, in case I had any doubts.
At the second party the parents of the birthday boy made my daughter a special peanut-free goody bag, and even made a second one for me to bring home to my two-year old (who doesn’t actually have a food allergy). What a thoughtful gesture!
The third party was also an extremely positive experience. The mother of the birthday boy emailed me a week before the party with a complete list of food being served. She explained to me in the email that her son really wanted my daughter to attend, so if there was anything I was uncomfortable with, she would gladly take it off the menu. She also emailed the facility where the party was being help and notified them that her party would include a child with a severe allergy, so they needed to make certain that the room was properly cleaned between parties.
The response that I have encountered by the parents of my daughter’s peers has been nothing but positive! These parents have restored my faith in the thoughtfulness and kind heartedness that people are able to provide to one another. Never once was it a “hassle” or an “inconvenience” to include my daughter. I like to think that these parents understand how important it is to keep children with food allergies safe from exposure and cross contamination, and that a little extra work is worth guaranteeing the safety of a four-year old child. I know that down the road we will encounter people who do not understand this concept, and who are not sensitive to my daughter’s needs. In the meantime, we will bask in the thoughtfulness that our current preschool community has created for us, and spread the importance of learning how to keep children with food allergies safe.