It was our second Mother’s Day Out parent orientation for Gene, but our first since getting his food allergy diagnosis. He was 18 months old and I was beyond excited that our ball of energy was going to be at school for a few hours each week. The teachers had all of the parents (myself and my husband included) circled around the room as they explained the proper procedures for dropping off and picking up, what items were expected to be brought each day, and suggested items for snacks and lunches. One of the teachers announced that there was a student with severe food allergies in the class and no nuts or nut products would be allowed in the room for safety precautions. My heart fluttered inside, as I knew she was speaking about my baby boy.
Next came a curveball that I was not expecting, nor was I prepared for. Another parent spoke up and shared that her daughter had a dairy intolerance and could not drink milk. Instead of regular cow’s milk, she drank almond milk. The mother then asked the teacher if this would be okay. The teacher directed her gaze towards me and said, “I don’t know. Is this okay? Can she bring almond milk?”
In utter shock, I looked at my husband, looked back out at the circle of eyes glaring at me, and stuttered, “Sure…that’s fine”.
Some of you may not be catching on here, but if you have any teaching experience or any natural mama bear instincts, you know that it is not okay to point out specific students (or their parents) concerning things that make them “different”. It doesn’t matter if it is ADHD, depression, family issues, food allergies, etc. These are things that simply should not be discussed in an “all eyes on me” setting.
A few minutes later, the orientation was done and we rushed out to the parking lot to head home. I immediately became irate and a tad irrational.
“How dare the teacher!”
“How could the mother not know that an almond is a type of nut?”
“The world is not safe for our son. He’s staying home. Forever!” (not really).
If you know me, you know that 1) I’m a teensy bit hot-headed and quick-tempered and 2) I love my son more than anything, but momma also enjoys some “me time”. I knew that I had given my answer out of panic, and once I calmed down, I decided that I needed to send an email to Gene’s future teachers (and the director) letting them know that almond milk would not be okay.
If you’re not familiar with allergies, here’s why: drooly, slobbery, germy, grimy toddlers. Huh? Let me explain. Let’s say that a toddler drinks almond milk at snack time. Said toddler then goes to play with blocks afterwards and puts some (or all) of the blocks in her mouth. The toddler with a nut allergy is also playing with blocks and also puts some blocks in his mouth. Is it possible that the two toddlers ended up having the same block in their mouths? You betcha. Is it possible to have an allergic reaction second-hand or from indirect exposure? You betcha. I’m not very far down the allergy-brick road here, but I am going to say that I think the toddler years are one of the hardest phases to go through with allergies. Anything and everything is put into their little mouths and there’s nothing you can do to change that fact.
I am confident that the teacher did not put me on the spot with ill-intentions, and I know she did not have any malice towards me or my son. Rather, she probably hadn’t experienced food allergies before, or at least not to this degree. She probably thought that the mother had brought up an excellent question and it needed to be answered before the first day of school (which I completely agree with). I only wish she would have said something along the lines of, “I’m not sure. Let me speak to the parents, get a definite answer, and get back to you”.
So, as a teacher, do your best to always remain professional. Most allergy parents are eager to share information about their child’s needs and how others can make them feel safe and included. If you’re not familiar with food allergies, reach out privately. Trust me, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about food allergies. Ask the parent if they would like to speak with the other parents or if their child would like to speak to his classmates. If they do, great! Your job is done. If they’d rather not, make sure you educate these people yourself. Just please, do not put these parents and students on the spot unexpectedly.
As a classmate’s parent, be sensitive. I know it’s not ideal to have your child eat a “SunButter & jelly sandwich” instead of the classic they’re used to, but it’s not ideal for us to have to worry if our child is going to be rushed to the hospital because you made your child’s lunch with peanut butter. As parents, we have enough safety concerns for our kids: Will there be a shooter on campus today? Are their classmates vaccinated or not? Is there going to be a bus accident? Don’t give us another reason to worry. We’re all on the same team, so please switch your ingredients.
As an allergy parent, be patient. Many of the teachers, students, and parents that you deal with will have little or no experience with food allergies. Teach, educate, and inform these people the best that you can. Provide handouts with food alternatives or make a fact sheet of simple “Do’s & Don’t’s” or “Did You Know?” Have these ready to share at orientation or ask the teacher to email them to the parents before the first day of school if there isn’t an orientation. Waiting until the first day of school is too late.
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”