One Feisty Dame Can Defeat a Dumb Idea

Dear Readers — Sometimes, one person standing up for sanity can make a difference. Here’s a cool lady:

Before retirement, I was a volunteer coordinator. My job was to find volunteers for all non-profit and government agencies in the county. We had a PenPal program which entailed matching about 35 senior citizens with an equal number of 5th grade students in a specific class. We worked with the same teacher for years. Letter-writing was one of the skills children were to learn, and our only personal contact was a school party at the end of the year, where the kids put on a play for their senior pen pals. During the year, they knew only each other’s first names. It was a great program on many levels. Many kids have no elder in their lives, no one to tell them the stories. Many seniors lack purpose, and their monthly letter from the kids was a huge emotional boost.

And then the laws changed.

Each of our pen pals was required to have a background check and a TB test. The background check alone cost $70, and many of our seniors simply couldn’t afford it. I went to our superintendent of schools, who will remain nameless for her protection, and showed her exactly how the program worked. On the spot she called board members for a conference call and we were given permission to continue our program. Action! Sanity!

When I was “room mother” in my children’s classrooms, I made a thousand cupcakes for various reasons. Now, the volunteers are required to bring only purchased snacks in containers sealed at the store. I didn’t poison anybody’s kid, and I know mine weren’t poisoned. How did we let this happen?!

More to the point: How did  they let you retire?! — Lenore

79 Responses

  1. Common sense dictates that police checks should be performed in only instances where an individual who is otherwise known to the community will be left alone with children and in a position of authority over them – particularly if this position involves any form of intimate contact or access to confidential information (i.e. teachers, school nurses, coaches, Guiding/Scouting leaders) but that people never left alone with kids need not have a police check done.

    The problem with relying on police checks – or TB or other medical tests, for that matter – is it creates a false sense of security. Not everything is detected in such screening, and the screens are only good on the day they are done. Conditions can change afterwards. Parents and kids both need to learn to rely on their guts and to make their own choices in favour of safety.

    It is insane to be asking schools and community groups to be performing expensive and time consuming screens when not necessary. It’s also quite offensive to project an assumption of guilt on parents of kids in the school community. What’s next? Will our kids’ lunches randomly be subjected to testing for toxic substances, just in case we might be poisoning our own children?

    What are we coming to?

  2. Just a thought; the prepackaged snack thing may be more due to all the allergy fears going around these days than fear of intentional parental poisoning… homemade snacks don’t come with labels.

    Somebody forgets they used peanut oil, and someone else’s kid keels over.

    Not saying I agree with it; just saying the motivation might not be cyanide.

  3. I don’t mind being careful about peanuts, but I really don’t understand how it became THE prevailing food fear-I’m still hard pressed to know anyone who has one, or who has a child/relative with an allergy. I know that means only maybe 5-600 friends, relatives, aquaintances, but still. Shouldn’t one of them have it if we’re this paranoid? I think I know more people with severe bee/wasp allergies and we haven’t outlawed insects (have we?)

    Please don’t think I begrudge any of the peanut free stuff-I just often wonder if the panic is ramped up a few notches too high sometimes..

    And this lady? RULES MY WORLD> 🙂

  4. When I was in high school my Spanish teacher made a big Paella for the whole class. It would be a shame if she had to stop doing that; it was a really neat experience for a bunch of suburban white kids in the south that had never even seen one before.

    No doubt these days (if she’s still teaching) she’s taking them to El Chico for a taco. :/

  5. TB tests for pen pals? Since when has TB been transmitted by the written word? Back in the early 80s some quintessential idiot publicly expressed a concern that he could catch AIDS if he answered a telemarketing call and the caller was gay. My first thought was that he should be required to spend a day in his local fire department’s dispatch center observing the (lack of) precautions they took against the smoke billowing out of the phones and radios.

  6. My son’s class just completed a cooking project – each kid had to prepare a dish that came from their culture of origin. As far as allergies were concerned, all we had to do was be sure we provided a complete ingredient list.

    My guess is that if there was a child in the class with a serious (life threatening) allergy the project wouldn’t have been run, just in case. But there isn’t, so it was.

  7. I have two children with life threatening food allergies. I am not exaggerating, I have the reaction pictures, ER visits, the countless boxes of Benadryl and fill so many scrips for Epi-pens that it’s frustrating. I understand your frustration. I am a “cupcake queen” at heart. I want to bake for my own kids and struggle to do so. I have one child who is allergic to gluten and eggs, my other child is allergic to eggs, soy, various spices, legumes, peanuts and several tree nuts. I cannot explain how hard it is to keep us safe within our own home. I know others eliminate allergens from their homes, we cannot do so without causing issues for the other child. Cooking in my home is like keeping a kosher kitchen. We have color coordinated plates and cups, seperate cooking utensils and pots, my label machine is my best friend as each food that comes into the home must be labeled as to which is safe for whom. They don’t understand why allergies are on the rise, but they are. Yes, I am sure there are some false positives out there but let me tell you, the allergens that I listed above are not false positives for my children.

    I understand that you want to cook for those children. But think about my kids, who are often left out. Yes, I can provide a safe alternative for my kids and I do. But it’s demoralizing to constantly point out how “different” another child is. It leads to bullying, frustration from a childs view and a parents (ever had a last minute request for Goldfish crackers for a gluten allergic person – there aren’t any quick fixes there, it involves careful planning).

    Yes, I remember my childhood experiences. I remember multiple multi-cultural events that didn’t involve food that still stick in my brain. And I remember a Spanish class that insisted on serving food – I had a near anaphylactic reaction to plantains. I had been allergic to bananas most of my life and I had no idea that plantains were in the same family. So yes, food in school has left a bad taste in my mouth (please pardon the pun).

  8. Ya, the cupcake this is crazy, especially when we now know that so many store-bought foods are very unhealthy for us due to how processed they are. Its not like store bought food and its lovely package (which will soon become trash) is some holy grail of health and safety.

    And of course, good for her for talking some sense into that superintendent. And good for the superintenedent for using her sense and not kowtowing to the fear-ridden public.

  9. I would have a hissy fit if I had to purchase prepackaged snacks and send them to school on potluck day. Prepackaged does not mean allergy free. Nor does it mean safe to eat. Doesn’t take much to poison premade muffins.

    The naan I made for the last potluck was gobbled up by the kids – yeast, sugar, milk, water, salt, olive oil, flour. If I had bought the amount that I had brought in, it would have been close to $50. Instead, I made enough for a good portion of the kids and provided more food than any of the other parents did for pennies! I won’t ever buy anything to bring in. I’d rather make it and just give a list of ingredients. What’s healthier? Fresh an hour or two old or something that might have been sitting there for a couple of days – yes, one parent brought in something from the discount bin. I shudder at that thought…

    This reminds me of that one episode of Malcom in the Middle where Lois brings a big pan of home made brownies to the potluck and some stupid pta lady grabs her container and dumps the entire thing into the garbage. If anyone did that to me, I’d be swearing a blue streak at them.

    As for the elder letters… Good Grief. forcing seniors to pay to be able to write letters to the kids? They aren’t even having any face time until the play! Might as well keep the kids illiterate instead. *growl*

  10. I know two children with peanut allergies in real life. One of them was in my niece’s kindergarten class, the other I knew before the allergy developed. And I don’t know that many people, either.

    What people forget, though, is that ANY allergy can be lifethreatening.

  11. @Jenn. I feel for your children. I can understand how hurt they may be at a school function where they could not eat the foods that other parents brought in. As they get older and can identify for themselves what is safe and what is not it will become less of a problem.

    One of the points in the original post however was not that Parents were bringing in food, but they were bringing homemade food. Your children are just as at risk from store bought cookies as they are from homemade ones. I get the point that with store bought they could read the label and look at ingredients, but often times there is no mystery as to what is in a dish. Unless otherwise stated a cookie almost always has gluten, so one son I think would know not to eat cookies.

    I was not allergic to anything as a child but I was an especially picky little brat and most days when food was brought in I often felt left out because there was nothing I wanted to eat. At some point in time I realized that the being left out was my own fault and although I did not eat the weird looking dishes kids brought in, it did not stop me from having fun at the party.

    I had my first (and only) anaphylactic reaction about 2 years ago. It turned out to have been what doctors call Idiopathic Anaphylaxis. That means that I have no allergies I just for no reason when into anaphylaxis. Maybe it was the exact combination of foods I ate, maybe the food combined with an antigen in the air, nobody knows. I could have one again or I could grow old and never have one. For the first year after the attack I was in fear of it happening again, I carried an epi-pen everywhere and every new item I ate came with a bead of sweat on the brow, would this thing be the one that kills me? I have since relaxed. Things will happen, the best I can hope is to be prepared if they do, but I will not limit myself or others based on my issue.

  12. The prepackaged thing gets me. A homemade item that can be made with organic foods, natural ingredients, and less sugar is thrown out while something with green icing, high fructose corn syrup, and more preservatives than ingredients is welcomed into the school. Then we wonder why teachers are having so many problem children and so many kids are on meds to help control them. Yeah, that makes sense.

  13. GREAT JOB!

    I continue to hear people say that change is not possible. Yet people like this woman PROVE our nation is still a democracy.

    But for democracy to work, PEOPLE have to be involved in their community, their government and their lives.

    STAND UP! SPEAK OUT! If you don’t like the law, talk to the people who created it. I speak from experience. I myself have testified before the Texas Legislature. Most of these people don’t read the laws they propose or for which they cast a vote. THEY NEED YOUR INPUT because otherwise they are left to the input of lobbyists who WILL voice their view.

  14. While the pen-pal story makes me sad (although YAY for the ending!), I have to agree with Jenn about the allergy situation. Ever watch a kid go into anaphylactic shock right before your very eyes and then have to be the terrified teacher who jabs an epi-pen into the kid’s thigh? You’ll never get over it. If there are no kids with allergies in your kids’ classes, great, bake away. But it is worth checking. I believe we have a responsibility to our communities. Check. If there is a kid in your kids’ classes with allergies, try to put yourself in the shoes of that parent. Parents of children with life-threatening allergies are the ultimate free-rangers! I know I would want to hermetically seal my kid in their bedroom :-)! Most of these parents brave the elements and send their kids out in the world with a smile and an epi-pen 🙂

    As an aside, we have a wonderful” new parent relief” program at our synagogue where empty-nesters and grandparents volunteer to babysit for new parents who need to get out of the house for a couple of hours. If we had to jump through hoops a wonderful program would be lost. THANK GOD our community is laid back about that stuff.

  15. My son’s preschool also only allows store bought, prepacked snacks. Having worked in the food industry, I know that the health department requires the proper licensing for any place that makes and serves food. If a parent were to bring in home made goodies, the preschool can get fined and the parents who made the goodies must possess the same license that the preschool does.
    Unfortuunately, this is starting to extend over to bake sales and such. Many bake sales in the area require that donated baked goods be store bought or the group selling the items must get the proper license.

  16. You are right “prepackaged does not mean allergy free”, but it does let a parent make an informed decision on whether a food is safe for their allergic child to eat. I used to make homemade treats for my daughter’s class to celebrate her birthday and I would even ask if there were any allergies in the classroom. I always made sure to make treat that was “safe” for the kids with allergies…or so I thought. Since my son was diagnosed in May with a tree nut allergy and now has to carry around an epi pen, our new policy is “if the item doesn’t have a label, he’s not allowed to eat it”. Cross contamination can happen very easily in a kitchen…residues can stay on pans, utensils, counters, etc and that’s all it takes for some to have a reaction. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for sending anyone’s child to the emergency room because I sent in a homemade treat or have it happen to my child.

  17. My kids’ schools have no nut classrooms etc, and I’m ok with that, because we can still send homemade stuff in, just mustn’t have nuts. And some kids with allergies are told by their parents not to eat any food sent in, but that doesn’t affect the other parents. My daughter has also got better at cleaning her face and washing her hands after eating nutella for breakfast, now that she’s thinking about someone else. So I think there are plenty of ways to cope with allergies in the classroom without inconveniencing the whole class and forcing parents to support the processed food industry.

  18. Food allergies is difficult. I understand that we don’t want to make the kids “feel different.” But here’s the thing: They ARE different. They have a life-threatening issue. They need to accept it, embrace it, and be public about it. They need to have safe snacks at school so that no matter WHAT treat is brought in, they can have something, too. Because usually? Those children with serious allergies can’t even eat the pre-packaged foods! Not all pre-approved snacks are followed to the “t.” Not all companies keep their policies the same and may switch to having nuts or gluten or eggs or WHATEVER your child is allergic to. My girlfriend is diabetic and could NEVER have a snack in class. Does that mean that all food should be outlawed from all classes at all times?

    Should we make all school buildings one level? I mean, we don’t want to single out to the children who are in wheelchairs or have physical handicaps that require them to use the elevator, right? Should all classes be taught in sign language so that the small percentage of children who are hearing impaired feel “just like everyone else?”

    I’m not unsympathetic to parents with children who have special needs. I’m NOT. I’m just saying that if your child is different, then they’re DIFFERENT. This is life. Sometimes it’s unfair and sometimes you can’t do what everyone else is doing. But you suck it up and move on.

  19. Two things:
    1) Criminal checks offer a false sense of security and could have the result of eliminating elders with truly interesting stories to tell. Would a 50 year old drug charge eliminate them from the program?

    2) My kid sister grew up in the 90s with a deadly peanut allergy. Before the hysteria, before the safe zones, she survived. She learned to manage and thrive surrounded by potential poisons. She grew to trust her instincts and when she has a reaction she is calm and collected as she does what she has to. She loves that she can now buy granola bars and chocolate. And she missed out on some things for sure. But she also learned early on how to bake her own treats and she’d always make enough to share! She can also, now, identify a reaction immediately. This comes from years of experience.

    Those with allergies must learn to manage. An honesty about an allergy is essential and knowledge that there is nothing to be embarassed about.


    PS. TB through the mail? Really?? Sigh.

  20. Thanks to George Washington Carver, it’s all his fault, we have a massive rise in Peanut based allergies.

    Of course, since my main food source is Peanut Butter, I guess I shouldn’t get to angry.

    But we need to make a choice for our public schools. Are they for the average or the special? The single thing creating the biggest increase in cost with the least increase (and I’d argue decrease) in productivity for our public schools is the inclusion of special needs. How far are we to go to accommodate the few at the expense of the many? When does a special needs child’s right to an education trample on the right of an average child?

    I’m not saying there is an easy answer either. But accommodating the special is as much behind crazy rules in school as anything else.

  21. I know my child is different. They both know they are different. And it is a good thing for them.

    But they have to know they they are different at school, at home, at family get togethers, at restaurants, etc. Sometimes I like to give them a break, kwim? Do you know how many times in a day they hear “Oh wow, what can you eat?” or “Wow, if I couldn’t eat ____, I would just die!” Thanks, my kids are very aware of their own mortality without having it thrown into their face on a daily basis. I especially love when people tell them they know someone was cured by going to their chiro. Nothing like looking at your child and telling them that it’s not a true reality.

    I am so happy to discover this blog because I identify with so many aspects of it. I understand where most of you are coming from because I try to make those good healthy treats at home. Neither of my children eat much in the way of prepackaged treats (minus the Enjoy Life brands which are free of the top-8 allergens). But the reality is, if I am feeding my children correctly at home, they are not going to become suddenly unhealthy if they have prepackaged ice cream cups or fruit treats that are safe for them.

    Better yet, let them eat the lunch that I packed for them with healthy and nutritious treats and skip this need to stuff them at every opportunity because it “makes you feel good.”

  22. Tracey is right. As frustrating as these food allergies must be, the world shouldn’t stop turning because of it. It should be an opportunity to educate the rest of the class. With some planning, an alternative could be prepared by the parent for their allergic child.

    As a similar situation, if one child in the classroom is handicapped, should all the children skip PE or playing on the playground at recess? How about Father/Daughter night? My daughters’ father died when they were 1 and 3. Sure, they might feel a pang of sadness and non-inclusion at Father/Daughter events but it’s no reason to deny everyone else.

  23. Jenn: Your situation does sound very frustrating, and I feel for you. But it doesn’t sound like your kids are helped any by pre-packaged food vs. home baked, unless they are special gluten-free items that most people wouldn’t even know how to find. I assume they can’t eat anything unless it is provided by you. So I still don’t see why baked goods have to be forbidden.

  24. Actually pre-packaged treats have been helpful for my son. We recently had a few birthday experiences where the mom’s sent in safe ice cream cups and fruit treats (egg and gluten free). The healthiest option, probably not.

    Personally I would like to see food treats abolished in school from a health standpoint. As someone who struggled with her weight all her life, I have a family history of diabetes and a child who also struggles with weight. I would much rather see an extra 15 minute recess in honor of the birthday child 🙂

  25. The background checks for pen-pals is just silly.

    As for the food allergies, I think my daughter’s school has a mostly reasonable policy. They are NOT nut-free (thank goodness… my kid eats a peanut butter and jelly table almost every day, plus cashews sometimes for snack, granola bars, etc.). They have a designated table in the lunchroom for kids with allergies (who can bring or buy their lunch) and friends who want to sit with them (must be buying school lunch). They eat snack either outside or at their desk, and everyone brings their own so kids with allergies aren’t served anything that will cause a reaction. They are not allowed to share food, which seems like the most obvious and simplest solution. They are taught to wash their hands after eating.

    We are no longer allowed to send in treats for birthdays (it was taking up too much time, and made class parties too frequent), but they do have occasional celebrations in class. As room parent last year, I asked the teacher about allergies, called the dad of the one girl who had a nut allergy, and asked how he wanted to handle it. He opted to volunteer to bring the snack for that party. The next time, when solicited volunteers to bring a snack, I specifically stated that it had to be nut-free. I found that her parents preferred to just send her with her own snack, which was completely fine with them and her. Even her own sister is allowed to eat peanut products… she just can’t share. The same little girl is allowed to come for playdates in my peanut-butter loving house – I just (obviously) offered something nut-free for snack when she was there. She even ate it off my regular dishes.

    It seems totally reasonable to ME to ask the teacher if there are any allergies in the class and give that information to all parents offering to send a treat into school. Asking my friend with a child with a life-threatening allergy, I found that they do not even expect that much accomodation – they are completely willing to just send something different for their kid.

    Part of the problem, I think, is that we are expected not just to accommodate actual allergies, but in many cases it seems that parents are being told to accommodate POSSIBLE allergies. Don’t give the kid with a nut allergy a peanut butter cookie. *Maybe*, don’t let the other kids in that class have a peanut butter cookie. But the whole school? Whether or not a child with the allergy is even involved? Why?!

    (And yes, I’d be scared to administer an epi pen… but I did have to be told how, when one of my daughter’s friends was dropped off for her birthday party with it. I had been careful that everything I bought to serve was completely safe, and she still ate her own cupcake brought from home. And it was no issue at all.)



  26. You have a point about food in the schools. I don’t particularly appreciate my kids getting crap at school. Teachers these days hand out candy as rewards regularly, something that never happened back in the 60s and 70s when I went to school. I feel that it undermines my attempts at instilling healthy eating habits. When I requested no candy for my kids, the teachers ignored me.

  27. Honestly, asking the elderly to have a TB test to write a letter! This way madness lies….

  28. A lot of people complain about how often there are treats in school, but I have to say, my experience with the 10 year old is that they have fewer incidents of treats in school than they have kids in the class, which is about what I remember. It does annoy me that we can’t send in fruit or something. Most of the time teachers seem to give out non-food treats (great, more tchotchkes, blech), or certificates that can be traded in for skipping a homework…

    As for ‘an extra 15 minutes of recess’ I know things have changed but I suspect there are still kids who probably wouldn’t be all that enthused– when I was a kid, at least, recess was prime bullying time, or ‘organized activity’ which was worse.

    Give it another couple of years, though, and people will be so paranoid about identity theft that we’ll stop celebrating kids birthdays in public and go to name days or something, so other kids and parents can’t find out when their birthdays are.

  29. Love that it’s the packaged foods requirement that’s gotten so much attention, because that absolutely drives me nuts. My kid’s in daycare (2.5 yrs old) and the teachers ask for parents to bring in treats all the time, but of course they have to be packaged, from the store. So on the one hand, we have the health experts telling us that it’s much better to eat fresh food that we prepare ourselves and skip the prepackaged stuff, and then on the other hand, we have the state mandating (yeah, it’s a state rule) that we have to feed our little kids prepackaged food. I even asked one of the teachers if I could bring in some fruit, and she said, “well, we’d rather you not, but if you do, for HEAVEN’s SAKE, don’t cut it up yourself!” (slight exaggeration – the words “for heaven’s sake” did not actually come out of her mouth.) Sheesh. So I try to find the healthiest boxed snacks I can, but what do all of the other parents bring? Cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, popsicles. How do the state regulations, which are supposed to force a healthy diet, end up with this?

  30. Some of my family are allergic to fire ants. For those who have not lived in the South where they are prevalent, they are EVERYWHERE. I watched my husband go into anaphylactic shock and have to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance because he ran the lawn mower over a mound and got stung by a couple of fire ants. I took my own daughter to the hospital after she got into some ants in the backyard. What do we do in those areas? We keep current epipens with us at all times, remind allergic kids to avoid, and deal with the consequences if somebody gets bit. That’s life.

    Some of my kids and my husband are also blind. They’re different. The ones who use a cane scream that they’re different to everybody. People stare. People shy away. People ask questions. Do I stop my 3-year-old from using a cane because of what the other kids on the playground might think, or to protect his feelings? No. That’s life. If I shelter them now, they won’t learn how to deal with the world as blind people, they won’t learn how to be safe blind people, and they won’t learn how to emotionally cope with being different. That’s life.

    Being Free Range, at its heart, is about teaching our children to deal with the real world, so that they grow up to be confident, capable, independent adults. Changing the world around them to accommodate disabilities or allergies does not promote this. It does not teach the child how to live with the allergy or disability, it teaches the child to make the rest of the world live with it. This, to me, as a parent of children with life-threatening allergies and disabilities, goes absolutely against the heart of Free Range parenting.

  31. Three cheers for the doyenne of sanity and for seniors! My husband builds housing for “moderate income” seniors so I know that 70 dollars is huge for them, especially for something ridiculous.

    On the food thing: I only bring cut up fresh fruit, no matter what the occasion. Period. My kids’ teachers think I walk on water.

  32. To the people who have nut-free schools: Has it been demonstrated that there are people in the school who actually have an allergy serious enough to warrant the ban?

    I seem to recall several instances where schools have instituted bans without a single child being seriously allergic (at least to the point where ANY exposure could kill them) to nuts. They were “just in case” type bans.

    I ask because I suspect the whole peanut-hysteria was started by a very few exceptional exposure allergy cases getting a lot of press and then it just snowballed from there to the point where schools are banning it without any good reason.

  33. “I don’t mind being careful about peanuts, but I really don’t understand how it became THE prevailing food fear”

    Because it has become THE prevailing allergy – with over a 100% increase in anaphylactic allergies in a single generation. Doctors don’t know why, but there are a variety of theories, including delayed exposure to nuts, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives…you name it. My daughter has a severe allergy to tree nuts. Her tongue immediately starts burning if she accidentally eats one, and she will swell up and have difficulty breathing if we do not immediately administer Benadryl (or an epi-pen). Nevertheless, I don’t have a problem with homemade snacks in the classroom. She knows to ask if something has nuts and to not eat it if the status is unknown. Nevertheless, her classroom is “nut free.” Kids aren’t allowed to bring snacks with nuts. This is because she is one of THREE children in the room with an anaphylactic reaction to nuts. Now, these are kids with doctor’s nots and epi-pen prescriptions and tested allergies. Three in one class. So I know it’s on the rise, although also on the rise is parents CLAIMING their kids have allergies without actually having them test positive for those allergies or seeing them have any kind of immediate reaction to anything. Playing with children’s diets without concrete evidence that the diet is actually causing anything is all the rage now. But severe nut allergies really are on the rise.

  34. …but kids parent’s DO bring homemade snacks. They were just told not to bring anything with nuts – and are trusted not to.

  35. Lest I sound like a curmudgeon, let me say I do love cupcakes.

    But, why all the focus on food in school? I remember being really bugged by all the requests to me, as a mother, to bring in food for this and that event. This even continued on into high school! My daughter’s homeroom in highschool regularly had ‘bagel breakfasts’ and I remember vividly, more than once, running out at 9pm in the dark, snow, whatever, to get the @!#* bagels.

    I’ve been reading this column for some time now. It’s interesting to see how many of the instances of over-control arise in situations that just didn’t come up much in the past, but come up now frequently because of other changes, unrelated to fears and safety concerns, in how many of us live our lives.

    Everything from ‘every birthday must be celebrated in school, and with food’ (when birthdays were not routinely celebrated in school in earlier decades, and, guess what, no one missed it because we had parties, etc. at home) to concerns re walking to school safely not just because of ‘stranger danger’ issues, but really more pressing for most, traffic clogging every intersection.

    My point is that I’m not convinced that most of us have become more anxious and fear driven than people were in the past, but that our lives are so markedly more hectic, and expectations are so much higher for activity, participation, and achievement (for our kids, as well as ourselves), that our kids’ day to day lives just naturally seem to collide with higher risk situations.

    I mean if your life, as a kid, consisted of walking to a school a couple blocks away, coming home and playing outside for an hour or two, eating dinner, maybe doing 30″ of homework, watching a bit of TV with a parent or sibling, and then going to bed, a lot fewer opportunities for danger arose.

    But if your child gets up a 6am for a before school prorgram (foreign language, band, chorus, and must be driven because ‘it’s dark’ and no one else is walking), and then attends classes (most taught by different teachers, and who are they, really?) and goes on another field trip (stranger danger, bathroom issues, can you trust the parent chaperones?), has yet more cupcakes (Hey, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but allergy alert!), comes home (and how is s/he to get home safely with all the traffic and 24/7 scary news reports?), then has to get to piano, soccer, scouts, and/or tutoring (all a distance away, and the streets are filled with early commuters and other parents anyway, so he or she must be driven), gets pizza and a juice box at soccer (allergy alert, not to mention the calories and fat), comes home to two hours (or more) of homework, and, can you blame him/her, escapes into the computer or video games (internet predators, exposure to violence, too early exposure to news and ‘adult content’)–how can his or her young life not actually be riskier, or at least, SEEM more risk filled?

    It’s hard to get off a rollercoaster once you’re on it, but I think if children could talk about these issues (and sometimes they do), many, if not most, of them would beg their parents to let them slow down. A slower life is not, of course, necessarity a safer life, but it sure does feel like it is safer, simply because fewer opportunities for danger are present.

    I realize that this is not a popular sentiment in today’s world, sorry. But if I were a kid today, I’d be a complete wreck. There is no way that the kind of child I was could thrive in the world most kids occupy today.


  36. @Andrew — where I live, all 400-ish public elementary schools (JK through Grade 6) in the district are officially nut- and peanut-free. AFAIK, no one has actually done any research on how many kids in each school, if any, have life-threatening allergies; it’s mostly just-in-case.

    As a person with food allergies myself, I can see both sides of the argument.

    On the one hand, food allergies can indeed be very, very dangerous, and what parent wants to send their child into real and identifiable danger if they don’t have to? Peanut/nut-free lunch tables, a requirement that treats sent to school be nut/peanut-free and/or list all their ingredients, notifying parents and classmates that there’s a seriously allergic child in a particular class, and discouraging kids from sharing and trading food, even banning certain allergens from particular classrooms in which there is a severely allergic child, all seem like reasonable, sensible precautions to take in a setting where there are kids with known allergies, especially when the said kids are little and still need some reminding of what they can and can’t eat safely.

    On the other hand, just as you lock up the toxic cleaning supplies and put the paring knives out of reach when you have a toddler in the house but don’t (at least, most people don’t…) wrap the toddler in bubble wrap and all the furniture in foam-rubber, I don’t think it necessarily makes sense to ban all traces of all allergenic substances from allergic kids’ environment. Because in either case what you’re teaching the child is that everything is safe and there is never any need to be careful, to evaluate a situation, to exercise judgement and caution. For someone with a life-threatening food allergy, those are dangerous lessons. A severe allergy is one of those cases where hyper-vigilance is warranted, where you do have to be very, very careful — at least in that one area of your life. Having your parents, teachers, relatives, and friends look out for you is good; learning to look out for yourself is better.

    If someone is going to be feeding me, I want them to be aware of my allergies; but it’s MY responsibility, not theirs, to ask about ingredients and make sure I don’t eat something that’s bad for me.

    I fully admit, however, that I might feel quite differently about school-wide peanut bans if I had a severely allergic child…

  37. @Sky — that was the policy at my daughter’s daycare, too: by all means bring homemade treats (for Halloween, for Valentine’s Day, for birthdays, etc.) if you want to, but make sure they’re nut- and peanut-free. And they did usually have at least one kid with one of those allergies, so the policy made total sense.

    They held fundraising bake sales a couple of times a year, and for those you could bake whatever you wanted as long as you listed all the ingredients; when it came time to eat the leftovers, if there were any, the teachers and parents ate the things-with-nuts and the kids got the things-without-nuts.


  38. Jenn, I agree about the whole food in school issue. I get so tired of the government screaming at us about our fat kids then feeding them junk at lunch, junk in vending machines, and having junk for every holiday and birthday. Then we are asked not to give any snacks at home because we are making fat kids. I give my child 2 cookies a week and that makes him fat, he eats junk 5 days a week at school and that has no bearing on it.

    How about we clean up school lunches, forget these silly snacks in the classroom, and just learn.

  39. Last term, I had the opportunity to celebrate my daughter´s birthday with her classmates in her classroom. No big deal- until I was warned by her teacher that I was facing five allergic kids. I couldn´t find a birthday cake free from gluten, milk, tree nuts, strawberry and something else I don´t remember right now.
    So I bought a gluten-free sponge cake (no nuts there, the label warned). Then each of the kids had their share, but, as they pointed out, it looked nothing like a birthday cake. So I started to give out a can of whipped cream, a couple of jars of marmelade, some cocoa cream, and plenty of toppings. As the allergic ones were old enough to be aware of the items they should avoid, I thought it safe enough. “Time for cooking, everyone”.
    They loved it, they had two or three helpings, they made a mess of themselves and helped tidying up the classroom afterwards. No anaphylactic shocks, thank goodness, but I was very aware of who had what in their hands, just in case.

  40. I have to re-post a portion of what Solinox said above because I think it is a great summary of the whole allergy issue – please take a(nother) look at what this mom has to say about Free Ranging.

    “Being Free Range, at its heart, is about teaching our children to deal with the real world, so that they grow up to be confident, capable, independent adults. Changing the world around them to accommodate disabilities or allergies does not promote this. It does not teach the child how to live with the allergy or disability, it teaches the child to make the rest of the world live with it. This, to me, as a parent of children with life-threatening allergies and disabilities, goes absolutely against the heart of Free Range parenting.”

    If you believe in raising Free Range kids, I hope that you’ll consider helping them to own and embrace what makes them different, whether it’s wearing glasses, following a gluten-free diet, or stuttering. We are who we are, and we need to teach our kids to live with what they’ve been given in a world that doesn’t always accommodate. Because how can it possibly?

  41. I think the main point on this post, and a previous one about schools requiring background checks for ALL volunteers, is that we can (and should!) fight back. OK, maybe “fight” is too strong of a word, but at least question why?. This year, new to the public school district, I found out our district now requires background checks on ALL volunteers, regardless of capacity. Instead of just rolling over and accepting this, I asked the principal “why” at the volunteer training last night. I seemed to be the only one who had ever asked. She didn’t really know, saying first it was a state law (it’s not) and then a school board policy (it is–they changed it last year from just volunteers with unsupervised access to kids to all volunteers). She seemed surprised I would question this, because you know, who’s against “keeping our kids safer”! But I also mentioned the cost and then she perked up. With school budgets so tight, is this really helping and necessary?

    So, today, I contacted the director of public safety for the district. He frankly, seemed baffled that I would question such a thing and just didn’t seem to understand what my concerns were. He mentioned how it was “safer” for our kids. And that the school board decided last year to implement the checks for all. He also asked me to email him my exact concerns so he could address. Here’s what I sent him:

    “You cited that background checks are being done to “increase safety” for the children and that the decision to extend background checks to ALL volunteers was decided on by the School Board. I would like to see any statistics that were presented to the board about the risk of having criminal background checks for only those in unsupervised contact with children (as was the former policy) vs. having them done for all volunteers. Do you have statistics on the number of parents who have been convicted of crimes against children while at the school as a volunteer? Are there instances where crimes against children in the schools went down when other schools districts implemented this policy? So, generally speaking, what was the argument for extending the background check, assuming it was more detailed than just “the safety of our children.”

    Since this was implemented, what percent of potential volunteers, district-wide, have failed to pass?

    What is the cost of each background check to the school district, both in hard costs to the agencies doing the checks and in hours processing them by the district employees? How much did the district’s budget increase for this line item once the extension was implemented?

    What is the policy on how often background checks will be required? That wasn’t specified in the FAQ.

    As I said on the phone, I’m not against criminal background checks for any volunteers with unsupervised access to the children, or for those who aren’t parents. I just would like to understand how requiring a criminal background check on all volunteers (even those just doing photocopying, or working a booth at the carnival) directly results in our children being “safer.” I also want to understand, in this era of squeaky tight school budgets and “never enough” volunteers, the impact this is having on both the bottom line and the volunteer ranks.

    Also, if there is a Board member who I should speak to specifically on this also, I would be glad to do so.”

    Do I think this will change anything anytime soon? No. But maybe if we start questioning it, each of us, in our own districts and communities, the “conventional wisdom” of across-the-board background checks = safe kids will be chipped away at. Maybe if we start asking for stats or the real reason behind decisions, those decisions won’t be made unless there are good, solid, fact-based data backing up the initiative.

    So, I guess I”m asking that all of you reading the blog and frustrated with things you see happen, contact people in authority and see what you can do! Bravo to the woman in the post who called the superintendent! Bravo to the superintendent who called the Board! Bravo to the Board who let common sense reign. And warm wishes to all those students and seniors whose lives are enriched because of their pen pal relationships.

  42. This is an interesting discussion.

    I see a lot of people here discussing specific cases they have known (“I have a friend whose daughter has a peanut allergy and they do this…”), but it’s important to remember that every allergy is different and what works for one person’s allergy might be very dangerous for another person’s allergy and that every *child* is different and has different capabilities in terms of how well they can handle their own allergy. There are some very mature and trustworthy four year olds, and some very flighty and silly seven year olds — what works for one child might be very dangerous for another until they’ve reached that point of maturity.

    And that’s really the point of school and of Free-Range parenting — we give kids a safe environment to learn in first and then extend them freedoms as they become mature enough to handle it. Yes, we let the 9-year-old walk home on his own, but not the 6-year-old. We do put fences between the busy road and the playground for smaller kids, but not necessarily for the older kids. So, while the attitude of “they’re different and they need to get used to the real world” is perhaps fine for *older* allergic children, it is really asking an awful lot (and *risking* an awful lot) to ask of younger children. And with food allergies, it is so very easy to make a mistake, and the consequences are often so certain and so incredibly dire that there is very little room for error. Unlike many other situations in which a parent can go Free-Range, food allergies – by their very nature — do require more caution, and often more caution than the non-allergic ever really comprehend.

    “Just in case” blanket bans are usually more about a school’s liability than about the students’ actual needs, and they probably do cause unnecessary inconvenience. But when there is a allergic child in a class (or school) and specific, tailored measures are being taken to protect that child, it is a completely different situation. Each allergy is different; each allergic situation must be looked at on individual basis in order to provide that child with a safe environment in which to learn to manage their own allergy before they go out into the wide world. And that is exactly what school and Free-Range parenting is about.

  43. Wanted to add that the reason I posted such a loooooooooooooooooooong comment above, including the email to the Safety director, was that if anyone wants to use any of it for their own emails for similiar situations, please feel free.

  44. As someone who was involved in the food industry for many, many years, AirborneVet’s response is probably the closest to the actual reasoning for pre-packaged foods. The conditions in which food is prepared are more of a concern than allergy reactions.

  45. I like how my daughter’s preschool handled it a few years back, and her kindergarten the following year. They sent home permission slips for kids to eat home baked foods at the start of the year. I gather all the parents returned them, and so they could do cooking in class, have events where families brought food, and yes, homemade snacks for birthdays.

  46. I can understand the frustration of those who cannot bring homemade food to school. I have a son with several life-threatening food allergies — egg, peanut and tree nut being the most serious. He almost died from eating and promptly throwing up one tree nut. It was a pretty scary incident and one that made me A LOT more careful about what food goes into his mouth.

    Anyway, re the home-baked treats, please see the following post from Dr. Robert Wood, a well-known allergist who has a peanut allergy himself:

    As you can see, even if you eat homemade food from people you know and trust, you can STILL have mistakes. Those who don’t deal with food allergies everyday don’t (and aren’t expected to) take the same precautions in their kitchens that those of us with food allergies do.

    My son just started kindergarten this year. The instruction I gave the teacher was “NO HOME BAKED GOODS” for my son. (He always has his own treat in his backpack so we are prepared.) Well, last week a parent brought in some homemade cookies and SWORE they knew all about cooking for food allergies, yada, yada, yada. So for some unknown reason, the teacher let my son eat one. He took one bite and immediately felt sick. Turns out the cookies had egg in them and the teacher forgot about that allergy. So my son ended up sick and having to come home for the rest of the day. If he had eaten any more of the cookie, he would have had to go to the hospital in an ambulance. If the mistake had been made with a peanut or tree nut, the outcome would have been much worse.

    While it might seem fine to have those kids with allergies bring a safe snack — and they do — for special occasions, it can really weigh on the kid when it happens over and over again. In our class, we have 25 kids who bring a treat for birthdays AND a kid brings a group snack every Friday too. So that is at least 50 times when my son and one other child in his class cannot share the snack if it is homemade.

    That might not seem like such a big deal. But imagine if someone brought in a little toy or trinket for the class 50 times during the year and they left out the same two kids every time. How many parents would volunteer to have their kid be one of those two kids? Kids want to be like everyone else and it hurts when they are consistently left out.

    I know it is hard to understand these issues if you’re not living them everyday.

  47. @Carol, by your logic, any school I send my children to should ban all movies, all basketball games, all games of catch, handwriting, trips to the library, storytelling with picture books held up by the teacher, and anything else that could exclude them. Is that right? Does that really make sense?

  48. Incidentally, there are various theories why allergies and autoimmune disorders are on the rise. This article touches on several of them:

    The reasons covered:
    1) Genetic Predisposition
    2) Severe Virus Infections
    3) Parasites
    4) Excessive Cleanliness
    5) Vaccination
    6) Ubiquitous Presence Of Some Foods
    7) Technological Developments
    8) Contamination By Environmental Pollutants
    9) Electro-Magnetic Pollution
    10) Stress
    11) Diet

    Check out the article, very comprehensive in covering many theories.

  49. Hmmm, looks like number eight was code for cool smiley…

  50. “Carol, by your logic, any school I send my children to should ban all movies, all basketball games, all games of catch, handwriting, trips to the library, storytelling with picture books held up by the teacher, and anything else that could exclude them. Is that right? Does that really make sense?”

    Huh? I don’t understand your argument. I was just trying to explain why a school might want to have a policy that not only keeps everyone safe but also tries to include kids as much as possible.

    In our classroom, we don’t BAN homemade treats. I just tell the teacher that my son can’t have them. For parents who care about whether kids are included or not, they try to bring treats that everyone can share. Obviously, you’re not one of those parents.

  51. Carol, here is what you said in your previous post, which I was referring to:

    “‘So that is at least 50 times when my son and one other child in his class cannot share the snack if it is homemade. That might not seem like such a big deal. But imagine if someone brought in a little toy or trinket for the class 50 times during the year and they left out the same two kids every time. How many parents would volunteer to have their kid be one of those two kids? Kids want to be like everyone else and it hurts when they are consistently left out. ”

    By that logic, I should expect that any school my children attend ban all of the activities I mentioned, lest my poor blind children feel left out. Or I should insist that they ban outdoor recess, lest my allergic children feel left out or be put in danger. Does that make sense? I would never even have contemplated such accommodations myself, but this is the argument you are making for your allergic children. Do you see how it sounds when you put it in another situation? Do you see why I don’t understand your position? My children will feel left out every single day of the rest of their lives, I’m sure. My job is to teach them to be strong and competent AS BLIND PEOPLE, different as they are, not to teach other people to be more sensitive to my children.

    As another example, one of my 9-year-olds is currently losing more vision due to suspected retinal detachments and tears. Because of this, in order to protect her remaining vision until the deterioration stops, we’ve had to tell her she can’t jump on the trampoline with her friends and siblings, and we’ve had to tell her she can’t ride any rough roller coasters when we go to Disney in a couple of weeks. Is she upset? You bet! Does she feel left out? Absolutely! Is it worth telling my other children they can’t do those things either, just so she doesn’t feel left out? Never. That would not do her any service, any more than letting her believe she will grow up sighted instead of being honest and admitting she likely will continue to lose vision all her life.

    In your last post, you jump to the same conclusion it seems every parent of allergic children I’ve met online does. Oh, I’m just heartless, aren’t I? I don’t care about anybody! I don’t care about accommodating kids. You know what? I accommodate almost every day. Between our friends, I don’t think there’s anything I could make that everybody could eat! On my kids’ birthdays, I make special allergen-free mini cakes for the allergic guests. I plan our dinner parties to make sure everybody has something to eat (and cook up extras at the last minute if I’ve forgotten somebody!). I do this just like I narrate movies for my husband, remind my son to use his cane going downstairs, or make every possible effort to eliminate fire ants from my home when in Texas. That’s what family and friends do. But I don’t expect drive-through ATMs to have braille labels (what is THAT about???), or classrooms to only listen to audiobooks instead of watching movies…just like even my friends don’t expect (or even ask) me to cook special food for them. There’s a difference between personal compassion and expecting the world to change for you (or your children).

    Just like not every kid is going to be top of the class when they go to get a job, not every office or business is going to be allergen free when they grow up. Leading them to expect otherwise, I still feel, is doing them a disservice.

  52. @Mommymitzi: I don’t know if you saw my post on my daughter’s school getting an invasive security system, but in our case the Head of School was very opposed — and tried to fight — but the insurance company wouldn’t renew the policy unless the school complied. The reason I know this is because as soon as I learned about it I spoke to her from a free range perspective. Alas…

    @Jan, I like the list esp 8 & 6. But in the stone ages when I went to school we never had snacks so I despise them in today’s school context. Oh wait, I went to a *nursery school* where the *snack* was saltines and room temperature milk. Talk about a disincentive to eat…

  53. Hey Alison! I went to ‘nursery school’ too. You must be ancient like me. Our snack was OJ and graham crackers.

  54. Wow, solinox, you sound like Mother Theresa with your care and compassion for all God’s creatures. Except for kids with allergies at school I guess.

    I am not expecting the world to change for my kid. There are no bans or rules about what people can bring for shared snack — though I wish there were. What the heck does bringing in treats for birthdays have to do with school anyway? I thought that was why we had birthday parties for friends and families — from which you are quite free to exclude my allergic kid. And I’ll be very happy not to bring him to your house.

    But my kid HAS to go to school everyday. So bringing in a yummy treat 50 times a year that two kids can’t share doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to do. Sure you CAN do it — but it isn’t very nice and kinda defeats the whole purpose of “sharing” a treat, doesn’t it? I guess next time I bring in a treat for school, I’ll just bring in 23 toys for 25 kids and let the teacher work it out. Because it’s no big deal, right?

  55. @solinox, I realise you addressed this to Carol, but if I could add my thoughts…

    I can see your point, but I think there are a couple of key things that make all the difference.

    The first is that, with food allergies, it’s usually less about banning people from doing things they want to do than it is about making simple substitutions that allow everyone to be included. For instance, when you choose a party-food that all the children can eat, you are including everyone without banning the party or party-food. A substitution is a simple and reasonable step to take and, in that respect, is actually quite different from the example of simply banning everyone from playing ball games (without alternative) because one child is blind.

    And the second way it differs is in the scope of the consequences. A blind child who is left out of a ball game is simply that: left out (and I’m not dismissing the distress that causes in any way). But an allergic child who is left out in a room full of kids eating his allergen is potentially in a great deal of danger even if he doesn’t eat the food (danger from residue on hands, desks, doorknobs, dust in the air, etc). Or, in a worst case scenario, a child who doesn’t fully grasp the danger (particularly a small child) may become so fed up with being alienated in these situations that he takes risks and eats the food anyway, which could easily put him in serious, life-threatening danger. The risks and consequences for allergic kids when their danger foods are around are much more dire than for a blind child who is left out of story-time or a ball game.

    I see the point you are trying to make, but I do think the situations are really quite different.

  56. There’s a difference between informing the teacher of your child’s allergies, and informing the other parents, and being pleasantly surprised when they accommodate…and mandating that accommodation, or banning the activity altogether. That’s what bothers me. Like I said, I don’t disagree with being nice and making accommodations. But I don’t like being told that I have to, nor do I think it’s appropriate for me to tell other people that they have to make accommodations for my children.

    As for the life threatening part, it’s there for my child who is allergic to fire ants. It’s also there now for my child who is allergic to the cold. But I never considered keeping them inside all the time. When they have a reaction, we treat it. We protect as best we can…and then we send them out into the world. I would not feel comfortable asking other people to change their plans to accommodate my children.

    What is it about this that bothers me so much? Is it the “me first” feeling I get from it? Or is it the feeling of demanding, instead of asking, that kind of attitude that seems to come across in these conversations (I’ve been through this many times in other forums)?

    My DH, who just found out this was going on (again…he’s “listened in” on other conversations about food allergy accommodations), had this to add: “Every other child in the room is going to know that it was your child’s fault that they don’t get snacks anymore. They will resent them for it, and your child will know it.” Something to consider, maybe. Kids aren’t nice. They were downright abusive to my husband in school, physically and emotionally. Which singles your child out more, sending them with their own private snack to eat quietly during the celebration…or changing the entire celebration for your child?

  57. @solinox I agree with you about the “me first” feeling — it is distasteful. And, like you, I have also seen it all over other discussions on forums and blogs.

    The trouble is, it’s so darned hard to tell which way it’s flowing. Is it from the allergic community, insisting that people make substitutions to accommodating their allergies? Or is it from the non-allergic community, insisting that they don’t have to change anything if they don’t want to, even if it puts someone else is serious danger? Both sides are doing the “me first” thing.

    This world runs on compromise, and runs best with a bit of compassion thrown in. When one side or the other makes reasonable requests, it makes sense to go along with them in as much as is possible. For the non-allergic community to request to be able to still, for instance, have parties and party-food is reasonable. For the allergic community to request that substitutions be made so the party and the food are safe for everyone is also reasonable. Everyone wins. Everyone learns lessons on compromise and compassion.

    To insist that one side (*either* side) gets it all their way and the other side has to just lump it… well, that doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

  58. solinox: The reason for Braille-labelled keyboards on drive-through ATMs is simply that it makes no economic sense to have two separate production lines for two different keyboards. Also, passengers in the back seat can use them.

  59. I have mixed feelings about the allergy thing regarding snacks at schools. Most of the preschools around here are peanut/tree-nut free. Most of the elementary schools just have peanut/tree-nut free rules for classroom snacks but you can bring whatever you want for lunch. The severely allergic kids can sit at a peanut/tree-nut free table if they (or their parents) want. I think that’s a good compromise.

    Another poster said she thought the peanut allergies were rare and didnt’ know anyone. I know about 2 dozen kids with peanut/nut allergies (I have 3 kids and am very active in sports/school/whatever plus I’m a preschool teacher so I see lots of kids). There are 3 peanut allergy kids in my son’s 2nd grade classroom and 1 in my 4 year old’s preschool room. Some are very mild but some are severe. One time a child in my son’s class got the epipen and was rushed to the hospital during lunch. Did he eat anything? No. He was simply walking to his peanut free table and on the way his dragged his hand along the edge of another table… which had peanut butter smeared on it from a child who ate his lunch 30 minutes earlier. He didn’t realize it, touched his mouth/nose and within minutes was having a severe allergic reaction. Yes – that severity is rare but it’s out there.

    I would love to make cupcakes or other snacks for school events and I know >I< would be very careful to make sure they were truly peanut/tree-nut free. However, not everyone is that careful (we see many examples of stupidity on this list all the time!). If I were in my friends' shoes, the one with very allergic kids, I'd vote for the pre-packaged stuff, too.

  60. Oh, what I would have given to have a “nut” free table in my school cafeteria : P

  61. I have no allergies, nor does anyone in my family. I do have a dear friend with Celiac Sprue, who can eat no gluten. The few times I’ve cooked for her–when we’ve both been feeling daring–have been terrifying.

    I’m a tidy chef, but suddenly I have to become obsessive, fearing the slightest crumb on my counter, in my butter dish, or so on. I’m a good label reader, but as she reminds me, gluten a) hides in things that you wouldn’t think to read the label and b) isn’t always marked obviously. I love to cook and the few times I’ve been able to cook for her without making her sick give me great joy.

    I see both sides of the allergy issue and am glad that I don’t have to be on guard for my own family, but I do want to remind the home-bakers to just please be careful and thoughtful. Even when you don’t intentionally add any banned items, some egg white might be lurking in a packaged ingredient, some peanut butter might be in the jam jar from the last time you made sandwiches–and some unforeseen and unfortunate reactions might occur. I’m not saying they should be forbidden, but just a reminder.

  62. Yay to our cool retired lady! That’s it! That’s what must be done! And lots of credit to the sensible superintendent–amazing. I was on two school boards and unplanned conference calls amongst board members and superintenents are not that common, believe me! Thanks also to Sam Caldwell for championing the fight–and at the moment, we must fight to let our children BE children without adult interference at every single gosh darn level.

  63. I don’t know all the answers. My sons and I are learning to navigate this world day by day and sometimes, minute by minute.

    We have days like last Monday when we were hit by severe flooding (yes, I’m in the Atlanta area) where I couldn’t pick him up from school because our street was flooded and impassable. After frantic pleading on Facebook, a friend of a friend was able to pick him up. But I had to call the school and send him home with his Epi pens, Benadryl and thankfully some safe treats we have in the class in case of parties. Why? Because the person who picked him up was a nurse who has Celiac (gluten intolerance) but didn’t deal with the egg side of the allergy. Thankfully she was able to get him home safely to us, but we weren’t sure at the time if the roads near us were able to be traveled due to rising flood waters.

    That night, we spent the night in a hotel (we didn’t have issues with flooding, but with the way our house sits we had insane amts of water rushing down our hill and didn’t want to find out in the middle of the night that it’s safety was compromised). So while I had my emergency kit with food, we still needed a real meal. That left us eating at a restaurant we had never been to before. Sure, they have a menu for Celiac and they have a basic top- 8 allergen menu, but they don’t have all the spice ingredients or legume cross-contamination. We navigated it but it was scary.

    Yes, it’s a fact of life. We have to deal with this on a daily basis. I do it with humor, been blessed with a lot of people who understand (though may not get it) and each experience is a new one for us. So if I came across as having all the answers, I don’t. I wish I did.

  64. I’m a little late jumping in on this conversation, but I would sincerely like your opinion on this. My son is in a kindergarten class with another child who has *airborn* sensitivities to one or more of the following: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and legumes. They have two snacks during their full-day program. The school is asking the families of non-allergic children to provide 42 pre-packaged snacks on the first of each month from a laundry-list of pre-approved foods. The list runs the gamut from fresh fruits and vegetables to pop-tarts (!).

    While I am sympathetic to the desire to keep the kindergarten classroom “clean”, I want to know if I am unreasonable in feeling like I (and other parents in the class) should be trusted to send in safe snacks from the approved list on a daily basis so that I know (a) what my son is eating everyday, (b) I’m able to offer him truly fresh fruits and vegetables and (c) I’m not subsidizing other kids whose parents may only be sending in a box or two of graham crackers.

  65. Solinox–
    Just wanted to say that I think you sound like a wonderful mom and wife and that your family should feel blessed for having such a terrific mom preparing them for what’s got to be a “difficult” life in some respects (by their being blind, and then allergies on top of that!). You inspire me.

  66. Carolyn, I can’t answer the question you posed as I really don’t know. However, I would be questioning the fact that they need 2 snacks every school day. Assuming they eat breakfast right before school starts and then have a lunch in there – that sounds a little excessive to me. Of course, maybe they have a diabetic in the class and don’t want to single that child out for an extra snack. From being home with my kids all day I can tell you they very rarely eat four times before 3pm.

  67. Studies are showing–at a steadily increasing rate–that it’s underexposure and overprotectionism that might be exacerbating some of the less lethal peanut allergies. These are just two examples:

    And the famous Christakis mass hysteria article–

    Click to access BMJ_081213_Nuts.pdf

    And, of course, it’s worth pointing out that an extremely, extremely small number of children die from accidental exposure to nuts. About the same number, in fact, who are kidnapped and killed by strangers. I know a nurse who spreads peanut butter on mildly allergic kids’ arms to demonstrate to their crazy mommies and the little bundles of worry that they’ve created that in most cases, just inhaling the smell won’t kill them.

    I think we have the internet to blame for a lot of this. A few decades ago, when kids with the milder form of nut allergy ate a nut and got an upset stomach or had a mild airway restriction, mothers and doctors might have attributed it to asthma or overindulgence. If the underexposure theory is right, they probably got over it as they got older and built a tolerance. Now, whenever something goes wrong, there it is, beckoning, calling to you–Google, I mean. Suddenly you’re reading a million messageboard postings about peanut allergies, and every one of them is creating an echo chamber of terror and sheer information overload. Combine that with competitive mommying–‘I do so much more to protect my child’s health than you do to protect your child’s health, and let’s see who can be more extreme going forward’–and you have a recipe for no birthday treats in class, ever again, and these ridiculous nut-free schools.

    I’d like to note, before I get yelled at, that none of this applies to people whose children have serious nut allergies.

  68. @ Strawberry: I think under other circumstances, your suggestion for compromise would be quite reasonable. Even in my situation, wherein my son has egg and milk allergies but his response has only ever been to throw up instead of analphylaxis, I think what you suggest is reasonable (I usually just supply the teacher with some snacks from time to time and if a kid brings in cupcakes, my son will have one of the packaged snacks instead).

    However, in the “me first” debate, I think the parents of children who will DIE from exposure should get precedence. It’s merely an inconvenience for the other parents, but losing a child (or even for that matter dealing with a scary situation and hospitalization) goes beyond “inconvenience.” I would prefer to make homemade stuff because it’s cheaper and likely more healthful, but I am willing to run to the store if it means that nobody dies as a result. One side wants to preserve their family and children’s health, the other wants to preserve their status quo. When discussing compromise, the severity of the consequences for both sides needs to be considered and weighted accordingly.

  69. I am on the Board of Director’s for my kids’ preschool. We addressed the nut allergy thing last year for the first time, when we had 2 children with nut allergies, one egg allergy, and one soy allergy. One of the nut allergies and the egg allergy were both so severe that they would need an epi-pen for contact exposure– they didn’t have to ingest it, just touch it.

    We decided that we should make the school tree-nut free for good, since the allergy is so potentially serious and because delayed exposure to nuts means that those allergies are just being discovered at age 2-5.

    Now 9 months after the big policy change, we have a young lady who is on a simple-carbohydrates only diet. She can eat fruit, veggies, nuts, and raw milk products, and honey. That’s it.

    I know it’s a pain to make these exceptions and regulations for the kids, but I think that first school experiences are hard enough on the kids and the parents without fear of a hospital visit. I think it’s worth it to find a way to ease them in before the homework and worksheets of elementary school kick in.

    Now the kid who couldn’t have any liquids, well… no, we didn’t ban liquids, but we DID have special “drinks” for him at snack time.

  70. @Carol–I agree (see my longish comment, above): the food thing at elementary schools seems way overdone. It’s not necessary, no one would miss the snacks if they were gone, most kids don’t need the extra calories and fat, and without the near weekly (or more often?) indulgences in the snacking, parents of kids with serious allergies could relax a bit. One less thing to worry about.

    How did grammar school become to complicated? Who does this benefit? Not the kids, that’s for sure.


    Reading these comments gives me a major headache and makes me want a cuppycake, now!

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  72. @Alison, you have my complete agreement and, believe me, you don’t have to convince me. My elder daughter has a severe allergy to eggs, my younger daughter has no less than 12 food allergies, some of them extremely life-threatening. I would like *nothing* more than to be able to ban all her allergens, to have everyone else cooperate (either out of compassion or compulsion), just to have other people simply understand that what terrifies me is not paranoia, but the reality that eating — just *eating* — has the potential to be what kills her, any day of the week. And she has to eat. I loved the comment above that said that allergy parents are the ulitmate Free Range Parents — it’s absolutely true. I allow my child to take more risks (and be in more real danger) every time we try a new restaurant than most Free Range parents do in a year.

    But the truth is that other people don’t understand that — they don’t believe it, they don’t get it, they don’t comprehend it. And they can’t possibly comprehend it until they’ve lived it. Until you’ve lived it, it will never occur to you that an egg allergy means you can’t stop at the gas station and just pick up a sandwich when you’re hungry (mayonnaise), you can’t eat the free bread at restaurants (brushed with egg for shine), you can’t have hamburgers or spaghetti with meatballs (egg to bind) or chicken nuggets or fish sticks (egg in the breading) or even the fries that were cooked in the same oil, that you have to forgo the jelly beans (contain egg protein), and you have to be wary of coffee (sometimes clarified through eggshells), and you have to be careful careful careful of every vaccination and medication because they are so often made with egg. They don’t get that residues left on desks and doorknobs and lightswitches are the hidden danger. It’s a mindset, constantly thinking of everything this way, and who could possibly be in that mindset unless they’ve lived it. And I know you know this.

    But because they just don’t get it, then we look totally unreasonable when we make the kind of requests that we really — in our hearts — want to make. And that gets everyone’s backs up and then no progress can be made… if you’re that allergic, why don’t you just homeschool?… if you’re that allergic, you should go somewhere else!… So when I said that both sides should compromise, it was that one side has to compromise because someone could die if they don’t, and the other side has to compromise in order to keep the first side cooperative. I honestly believe that in the struggle between what is Safe and what is Practical, we have to go for practical in order to get some way down the road to what is safe.

    And I do think we can reach safety through compromise, and the key is substitution instead of banning. It’s easier to rush to the safe refuge of banning — it’s comforting, it’s… safer. But substitutions are just better PR — people are more willing to cooperate, to sympathise, if they still get their party food. The give-and-take feels good, it’s nice — even though what they’re taking is, as you say, their status quo and what you’re giving is that chance that it might still all go wrong and your kid will die. *sigh* Believe me, I get it.

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  74. The last time I had a reaction by eating peanuts was late 1990’s. I’ve landed in the ER around 6 or 7 times since then because touching something with peanuts. (Co-worker grabbed my arm while eating peanuts, I caught an elderly family member who stumbled and she had been eating peanuts, scooped up a kid’s lunch kit he dropped and handed it to him.)

    Growing up Mom was at every class party. She would make my plate (we sat at our desks and the Moms brought the treats around). She would run inference with the Mom that thought I had to have one of everything on my plate to be fair. (I think she was trying to make a point because her stuff always had peanuts). After the food part of our party was done, Mom would go to Sis’s party.

    The only times my parents hit the roof with schools were
    1. PK I was forced by teachers to make a peanut butter pinecone birdfeeder because my Mom’s hysteria was stupid. (They didn’t believe I would react by touch)

    2. I was chased around the elementary cafeteria by school bully and smeared with peanutbutter. They refused to call Mom because “It can’t really make you sick” Then called her because I grabbed the nurse’s desk and just screamed till they called her.

    3. In HS I bought popcorn at a home football game. We had been told that the use of peanut oil in district food prep areas was forbidden, and I asked the vendor if the oil was peanut oil. I was told it was safe. Vendor lost the contract because of disobeying policy and lying to me.

    Note this happened Late Saturday. We spent Sat night/Sunday Morning in the ER. I went to school on Monday. During class I started reacting again. Sub refused to allow me to leave. I left anyways and went to the nurse. Turns out that the meds had worn off before my body had eliminated the peanut oil. (Meds repress the reaction only they don’t get rid of the allergen in your body) I needed a follow up treatment. My parents were not angry at the sub or the principals who had chased me down to the clinic – because they got that this sounded strange.

    To me schools are the perfect place for people like me to learn to deal with our allergy.

    1. If child can react by touch – class room should be free of allergen.

    2. Child should be allowed to move away from people at lunch, who are eating allergen. (Even if they don’t react by touch – because when you associate smell with pain it can really turn your stomach)

    3. All school food prep areas should be free of the big deadly allergies to avoid cross contamination.

    4. Threats like – I’m going to make you eat/smear allergen on you should be treated just like threats to bring a gun/knife/poison to school.

    5. Attempts to make someone eat allergen, hiding allergen in food, smear allergen on person should be treated as attempted murder. (I have had this happen several times. I will press charges if it ever happens again)

    I worry that a child is going to die in peanut free school because someone doesn’t believe a child is reacting. Peanut proteins are in things like laundry detergent and fabric softener. If the rinse cycle doesn’t get rid of all traces someone can have a reaction. I had this happen when I was house sitting for my Aunt and reacted to the residue in the bed sheets.

    I can see kids trading jackets or borrowing a jacket/hoody and the allergic child reacting to residue in the fabric. Then no-one believing the child till the symptoms were serious/life threatening. I always ere on the side that says the kid knows his/her body and let the parents/medical people make the call.

    (I teach in a very poor area. The laundries in some of our kids apartment complexes are decrepit. Not unusual to hear from kids that they are completely broken and no-one could do laundry)

  75. @kherbert–Thanks for this informative post. I like how frankly you have described your struggles with your conditon, and the inane and dangerous ways others have made it harder, wtihout blame or hyperbole. Good luck!

  76. This is my first time visiting this website A trusted friend told me how much she enjoys reading the blogs here. It just really blows my mind how other mom’s simply do not understand the serious of food allergies. A kid can die, it is as simple as that. Just thank all the Gods and Goddess that the 5-600 people you know do not have a loved one with a sever food allergy. Walk around in another mom’s shoe for the day- carry an epi pin every where you go, read every single label of food that someone offers to your child, read every food label at the grocery store, ask the waitress are there are any peanuts used in or around the food you order. And be really glad you never had to rush your child to the emergency room with the thoughts in your head, please do not let his throat close!” Then have it be a year before you pay off the deductible on your insurance. When looking for preschools my number one question was, “are you peanut free?” Most preschools took this question very seriously and thankfully we had a variety to choose from. Even though I would love to bake his birthday cake from scratch for his in school party I am all for the rule of only store bought treats. Once again a kid can die. Do you really want that on your conscience? I have no clue as to why this generation of kids has such a sever outbreak of peanut allergies, I wish I did. The fact of the matter it is very real!

  77. Just a bit of a warning. Almost every bakery I’ve been in lately has a sign up that says “We can not guarantee that products are nut/peanut free” but their labels do not have the same information.

    Growing up homemade from people my parents knew and trusted where much more safe than any store bought treats. (Due to my Mom’s career in Medical research a large number of their friends were in the medical field. So that did skew things because a) they were aware b) they were scientists and baked with the same precision they tested blood.)

    As for why more now and why more in US. Stories from my family history show a progression. Several people remember my grandfather complaining that peanuts gave him “heartburn”. My father said they made him feel ill and short of breath.

    My mom’s side has a history of contact and atopic exzima (SP). I have both + peanut allergy. (Having atopic is considered a red flag for peanut allergy now).

    Why the US – we roast more than other countries. Across Africa for example peanuts were historically boiled not roasted. There is speculation that the roasting alters the protein enough to trigger the reaction.

  78. I spoke with a school nurse regarding the prepackaged foods, and I think a big part of that ruling is that the nurse can determine carbs for children who are diabetic. It is also important for determining ingredients when a child has a food allergy or sensitivity. Facilities that are licensed to provide food are at least graded and should uphold some sort of minimum standard for cleanliness, although this doesn’t guarantee that foods will be safe for the people eating them.
    I have three children with MULTIPLE food sensitivities. Food sensitivities aren’t the same as food allergies–my children can eat tiny amounts of the foods to which they are sensitive and appear just fine but will later experience severe abdominal pain that usually takes about three miserable days and two sleepless nights to completely go away.
    I’d like to encourage all of the people who are eager to do something special for their children’s classes to perhaps think outside of the box. When my daughter turned 8, I went to her classroom and told them stories while drawing pictures on the board. I gave all of the kids in the class drawing paper so they could participate too. It was a blast for all of us.
    Children with special dietary needs are different, and they are usually reminded of that at every public meal. That includes EVERY birthday party, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. Kids can have a lot of fun without food. It just takes a little bit of imagination, but it can mean the world to a child who is on a special diet.
    I wrote an article about ideas for providing safe treats for children with special needs if anyone is interested:

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