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"Nut-Free" Doesn't Mean "Nuts"

The mother of a new child in Maria's pre-school class asked me for lunchbox ideas that don't include peanut butter. I gave her a quick rundown of typical lunches and told her about sunflower butter, a sticky godsend for families who can't eat nut butters.

This mother showed an awareness that is growing among parents whose children do not have food allergies. She wanted to make sure anything she sent in her child's lunchbox would not harm mine.

I told her I deeply appreciate her concern and I added that her son might actually give up peanut butter because Maria can't have it. Several children last year stopped eating peanut butter so they could sit with my daughter, their friend, during lunch. When their mothers told me, my heart filled with gratitude. Children are kind and community-minded.

They have a lot to teach us.

There have been countless news and feature stories about the uproar caused in schools when the parents of allergic children request peanut butter be kept from the menu, or when schools do it on their own. One father, so upset his kid wouldn't have access to PB and J, told his child to smear the stuff on the walls. That'll show them. Nasty stuff is said about us and our "issues" because adults can't fathom going without a tiny bag of nuts on an airplane.

Here's what they're not getting: When a doctor hands you injectible Epinephrine, tells you to carry it everywhere you go, and instructs you to stab it into your child's leg like a dagger should she begin to turn blue, your own heart stops. The idea of losing your precious baby because she ate a cookie is difficult to wrap your brain around. It can be crazy-making.

There is no real such thing as a mild food allergy because reactions change. So, allergists train us to tell anyone who cares for our children that they could die -- not get sick, but die -- should they eat the wrong foods. It is because no one will be as vigilant as we are and they need the fear of God instilled in them to keep unsafe foods from the kids. It's probably why we, the parents of allergic children, come off as a little crazy and militant. We have to be. For example, a friend once told me her nut-allergic daughter's Sunday school teacher handed over a cookie and said: "It's OK, it's just a pecan sandie.''

Maria's school held new parent orientation the week before last. I attended and was able to explain the basics of Maria's allergy, which was diagnosed when she was 19-months-old. I asked the parents to remind the children not to share food with her. The class is not nut-free and even nut-free products made on the same equipment as peanuts and tree nuts are off-limits. I also volunteered to always bring safe cupcakes to birthday parties. My spiel was met with curiosity and compassion and I don't think anyone saw me as a wacko.

The why of this post: School just started across the country. If there is a kid with a food allergy in your child's classroom, talk to your child about it and please remember to treat the parents with understanding. They're not trying to mess with the menu for fun. And even if they are a little wacked, remember it is because they adore their child as much as you do yours.


Photo credit: jeeto.com
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