Every so often, particularly during back-to-school season, we see a flurry of blog posts and articles about food allergies. They typically concern one of two things:
1) “Please don’t bring [this thing that my child is deathly allergic to] to school, I’m begging you!” or;
2) “Whatever, I don’t care if your kid dies.”
My son has a pretty severe tree nut allergy. Guess which category this post falls into?
Yes, this is a free country. And yes, you have the “right” to feed your kid peanut butter (and tree nuts and eggs and cat hair and dust, if your kid likes to eat cat hair and dust) all the time, just as these kids have the right to live and you have the right to be an asshole. But is there anything more infuriating than someone whining about their “freedom” and “rights” in an attempt to explain why they should be allowed to flagrantly endanger another person’s life?
I don’t know if my son will die if he eats a tree nut (he can eat peanut butter since peanuts are a legume!), but I do know that his reaction won’t be good. A few months ago he accidentally ate one and the dreaded allergic reaction kicked in. He vomited and his throat closed up and my wife and I shit our pants and called the doctor. He was OK but we were warned that the next time would be worse.
As relieved as I was at that moment, a lifetime of annoying, paranoiac vigilance flashed before my eyes. Visions of a lifetime of stressful, hyper-aware, super-annoying, high-maintenance attentiveness to every treat at every birthday party he attends, and to every ingredient in every meal we order when we’re out to dinner, and constant pre-sleepover phone calls and pre-school year teacher chats, bombarded my brain. My shoulders slumped at the mere thought of it. They still do.
Vigilance, compassion needed
And yet that vigilance is exactly what I want. I pray to Jeebus that my life is inconvenienced with that constant double-checking because if it is, it means my son is still alive. I want to be that overbearing, high-maintenance parent because so long as I have that role, it means he’s still around to need me in it. That he hasn’t yet been felled by an errant almond in some generous, innocent little schoolmate’s amicably offered candy bar.
Even if you think the parents of kids with food allergies screwed up by not exposing the child to potential allergens at an early age, so as to prevent or reduce their kid’s susceptibility, that ship has sailed. It is not incumbent upon you to step in and try to “help” the kid prepare for the real world and gamble with his health by refusing to eliminate the allergens from your kid’s meals. Nor is it OK to “teach them a lesson” or punish them for “screwing up” by refusing to eliminate the allergens from your kid’s meals. I mean, listen to yourself. Are you insane?
I get it. I am always looking for shortcuts, especially when it comes to parenting. But ignoring a school’s regulations or belittling a child for something he can’t control, or endangering a child because you don’t want to deal with taking an extra 90 seconds to make lunch or because “it’s not my responsibility” to care for someone else’s kids or because “THIS IS AMERICA!” is not a hack. It’s hateful.
Food allergies require special treatment
Yes, parents of kids with severe food allergies are seeking special treatment for their children, if you consider offering a modicum of consideration for the well-being of other people in your community by having to delay your child’s peanut butter consumption until later in the day so that a classmate doesn’t lose oxygen to his brain and die to be “special treatment.”
I agree it’s not your responsibility to care for someone else’s kids, but doing your best to make sure someone still has their kids around to parent is simply the right thing to do, inconvenience be damned. It’s actually the bare minimum. We live in a civilized society, and there are some basic steps we need to take to maintain that. One of them is doing our best not to kill each other.
For the love of Pete, people, it’s just peanut butter. I can’t live without beer but I can handle not having it for a few hours until I get home! Can’t you?
A version of this first appeared on Dad and Buried.
Thank you so much for this article Mike, I hope it gets widely shared. This is our reality too and so infuriating when often the incomprehension/disbelief/minimization comes from the parents of your child’s friends! We are currently undergoing oral immunotherapy treatment (oit) for our son partly because you can’t count on others to help in the avoidance dance. More should be written up about it. I’m happy to discuss for personal/journalistic interest.
Thank you Mike so much for this article, I hope it gets widely shared! This is our reality at the beginning of the school year (and throughout the year too.) It is particularly infuriating when often the resistance/disbelief/incomprehension/minimization comes from the parents of your child’s friends! Partly because you can’t count on others to help in the avoidance dance, our son is doing an oral immunotherapy treatment (oit.) Not enough has been written about it. I’m happy to discuss if you have any personal/journalistic interest in it.