This will be the third year we will be sending our kids to school with no nut products. None of our three children have nut allergies, thankfully, but I am happy to make sure they don't bring any nuts into school that could cause an allergic reaction in a classmate. Our school doesn't prevent parents from sending in peanut butter or food with peanuts or allergens in them, but I want to, and I feel like I need to. In fact, I feel like we all need to. Whether they are "banned" or not.
I know nut allergies are not the only food allergy present in children (and adults), but they are a big one, with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimating that peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of food-related death. The number of young children affected by a peanut allergy has doubled between 1997 and 2002 and continues to rise.
The first time I came across the "nut free zone" was at the YMCA when Finn was in preschool. I had heard some stories about kids with nut allergies, and I was fine with making sure we didn't bring nuts into school, but it wasn't something that was on my radar. Especially with Finn, starting two year old preschool at 20 months, I was so wrapped up in his little world. He was fine, he didn't have allergies, it was a precautionary thing for a child I didn't know, and as I said, I was happy to oblige. But the importance, the vital importance, did not register with me, even though I didn't mind adhering to the guidelines.
But there were parents who weren't totally on board. Why should their children not have peanut butter and jelly because of one child who may or may not be allergic? Why should everyone be prevented from nuts or anything made with nuts because of "one" child? One mom went so far as to throw her snack in the trash one day when the teacher pointed out that the ingredients list had nuts in it, all the way down at the bottom. "This is ridiculous", she huffed angrily, smushing the box of cookies into the tiny waste bin dramatically before leaving. The preschool teacher shrugged her shoulders at me and explained that they had extra nut free snacks on hand in cases like these.
Dramatic parents aside, more and more I started seeing stories of children who died, or had been near death, from accidentally ingesting peanuts or something containing nuts. Even after years of vigilance on the child's part and in combination on the part of the parents, it got in. It got them. And often it took just one bite, just one tiny bite. And out of all the foods that were safe to serve, not sending my child into school with a potentially deadly element for another child seemed like a no brainer. No peanut butter? No problem. They can eat it all they want at home. The simple idea that if my child accidentally shared their sandwich with someone with a food allergy something horrible could happen. Obviously a sandwich is not worth that, not by a LONG shot.
Most of all, if I tried to put myself into the shoes of a parent of a child with a potentially deadly food allergy, what would I want to happen? In an ideal world, people might realize that to help make a safer environment, skip the foods that are a problem when you are at school, or a school picnic, or a birthday party, or a block party. Do the two second scan of the ingredients list, seriously it takes two seconds, and that could prevent a child from getting ill. Or, simply keep in mind, if it was YOUR child that had the potentially deadly allergy, what would be the base level that you would want from other parents? Could you imagine the stress even going to a simple play date? Making sure the other mom/dad/caregiver REALLY understands the severity of the allergy? It is difficult to comprehend entirely without experiencing it personally, but enormous enough for me to know how important it is.
I'm not going to say I have ANY idea what it must be like to be a parent of a child with a food allergy, I don't. But I know what it is is like to be a parent of a child. And I know how badly you want to protect them. I can't imagine having to rely so heavily on other people to help keep your child safe. You could tell your entire circle of friends, every mom in your child's class about their allergy, and another child could STILL have something that could make them sick. This isn't just an issue for families that have food allergies. Just don't send it in to school, or the birthday parties, or the picnics, or camp. Eliminate that option. Let them eat all the peanut butter and nuts they want at home when there is no risk of dangerous exposure to another child.
And even though, especially on the internet, it can seem like a really BIG, impersonal village, let's try to keep it still a village, still a community, when raising our kids. Let's take responsibility for our own children, and try to make sure we are looking out for others. If it was your child, you would want the same. If it was your child, that same attention from another parent could save your child's life. I'm going to step off my soap box for the night, but if you are a parent who has a child with food allergies and are looking for support, check out this local group. Here is a list of some allergen free snacks to give you some ideas too.