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Going back to school can be a challenging time to say the least, and that’s without the added concern of food allergies – should your child be prone to them. Katie Jo (@hellokatiejo) is a full-time working mother of three, who knows all about the added stresses of sending her children with food allergies to school. She explains how education is key to ensuring we provide safe school yards and classrooms for all children, no matter what they can or cannot eat.
Scrolling Pinterest for fun lunch ideas, smiley face snacks, sandwiches cut into cute little shapes…getting a new backpack and filling it with cute erasers and pencils…all the fun things kids and moms look forward to when it comes to going back to school…
But not for me.
My daughter starts preschool the week after labor day, her first go-round in a proper classroom, and while she doesn’t really need pencils and erasers yet, I will be filling up her little backpack with other things…like liquid Benadryl, asthma inhalers and Epi-pen injectors. I’m also not really concerned about how ‘cute’ the snacks are, just so long as they’re safe. But we get really excited when they’re cute too!
My daughter has food allergies. Food allergies severe enough that even the slightest contact can cause a reaction. She’s anaphylactic to more than five items and also carries around the burden of asthma. I’ve been blogging about our struggles and triumphs with both of my allergy-prone kids since day one on my blog, everylittlestory.com.
It’s a constant worry, a daily reminder, that the risk of death for my daughter is high from mundane items like cheese or cookies. Most people don’t have to worry about these things, but for those of us that do, life can be pretty difficult.
She was diagnosed at 5 months of age with both asthma and food allergies. I breastfed her until 14 months of age while modifying my own diet, supplementing during the day with a homemade formula that required expensive ingredients, but was a small price to pay for her safety.
I’m a full-time working mom and she’s been in a daycare setting since she was 12 weeks old. Leaving her in the care of others has always been hard, particularly with the added worries of food allergies and how they’re handled in someone else’s care. We’ve been lucky most of the time, but we’ve been unlucky at others when her caretakers haven’t properly handled the situations, resulting in 911 calls, ambulance rides and hospital stays. “It was just one, tiny bite,” they’d say, or “I didn’t clean up the milk another child spilled on this toy.” And off we’d go, to administer medication and seek emergency treatment.
We’ve been lucky enough over the last few years to have both of our allergy-prone children in the care of people we trust (finally), yet now that we’ve reached the point where my daughter will start attending a public school, my worries are rushing back in like wildfire. Even with people we trust, accidents still happen. Even as her parents, we mess up, forget to read ingredients, and we make mistakes, the worry is always there. But as she approaches this new era of attending public school with a much larger group of children and more opportunities for accidents, we are afraid.
From day one, I’ve supplied all meals to my daughter’s many daycare providers. Our state, like many others, provides assistance to the daycare providers to help with the allotment of foods for the attending children, but not for mine. My children are exempt from the food program because our state doesn’t require that schools and daycare centers provide for children with dietary restrictions. In fact, I have to sign waivers and get doctor clearance in some instances to even supply safe food for my child that caretakers are actually allowed to serve to her.
She may never eat “hot lunch” at school, as there’s no requirements to provide alternatives. When other children bring in birthday snacks, I have to be sure the school has a supply of “safe” treats so she isn’t left out. By some point, I’ll have to teach her how to self-inject her medication because the school will require that she know how and possibly even self-carry it on her person at all times. She may have to sit at designated allergy tables, which could often be alone, and she will have to be trusted to adamantly deny any food offerings from other children, regardless of how innocent they are. My biggest fear is childhood bullying and someone taking advantage of her allergies in an effort to hurt her.
My daughter starting school, even though it’s currently just preschool, is a source of great fear for me as her mother. It’s a whole new arena, a whole new set of people without experience with food allergies. It’s a whole new learning curve for her; new caretakers, friends and classmates. It’s one that often isn’t fully understood until she has a life-threatening reaction in your presence and you see it for yourself. This means the likelihood of her suffering a reaction in her first few months of school is high. It’s knowing that, at some point, she will realize that she’s different from all the others and will eventually feel left out in some way.
So as you’re getting your children ready for school, packing their lunches or handing over lunch money, remember that some of us out there have an added burden of food allergies. Even the simplest of education is key. Your child may not have food allergies, but remember that 5.9 million children under the age of 18 do. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom. Educate yourself and your children to be respectful about food allergies in the same way we teach our children to be respectful and educated about other disabilities.
It is so important for mothers like myself to continue to educate people in an effort to make a safer environment for our children. We all need to fight for our kids to live a happy and healthy life. Let’s send them out into the world with confidence and education about their health concerns. We need to teach them that they are different, but also special and unique, just like everyone else in this world. Let’s also teach them that because they are different, it doesn’t mean that they should be treated as such. We are each unique and we can all live in harmony with education and acceptance.
My daughter is smart and she will thrive, despite her setbacks, and we will carry on, epi-pen and all…
@hellokatiejo is a Food Allergy + Asthma Mama Artist, Photographer ?? Blogger & YouTube Vlogger, mother of two living in North Michigan. For more about Katie & her story, please visit her website: everylittlestory.com