We are now a month into the new school year. A month past the letters that came home. The reminders that followed them. The signs that littered the hallways of my son’s new school.
“NO PEANUT ZONE” They screamed at me loudly as I walked by, trying to ignore the war conflicting in the back of my mind. I get drug free school zones, but peanut free… come on people!!!
My son is not allergic to peanuts. My ten year old son is, very fortunately, not allergic to anything. At least not that we know of yet. The first time I read the letter sent home to parents urging them to not send in any food that contained peanuts or nut oil of any form, I cringed. Seriously? I thought this was a little over the top. I understand warning parents not to send certain items as a classroom snack, but my son couldn’t even have peanut butter crackers, ants on a log (celery, peanut butter, raisins), a pb&j sandwich, because there was a child, apparently somewhere within the walls of that same school, that was allergic to peanuts. Ridiculous! But, at the same time, I feared the nagging voice inside my mind that warned me that whomever did have this allergy, it was severe enough to deserve letters school wide to be sent home.
The first two days of school my son’s personal snack was a pb&j sandwich. Ooopps, I thought. I caught myself, after the fact, sending him with other peanut containing snacks at random. This was hard. Peanut stuff seemed to be my son’s favorite snack items. Ugh, I was going to have to get creative with snack time….There is still a variety pack of peanut butter crackers sitting in the “snack box” in our pantry.
This morning, as I was scrolling down my Facebook news feed, an article was posted about peanut free schools and whether they were right or not. After all, it is getting a little ridiculous with the rules. No peanut containing items, what’s next?! I didn’t read the article due to it’s link being broken, most likely removed after it gained far more negative attention than the writer was ready for, but the comments proved to be just as interesting.
There were thousands of comments. Some supportive. Some loving. Some, downright ugly. There were two sides to this ball that some writer tossed out into the internet playing field. On one hand, it is simply unfair that my son, who has no allergies, cannot enjoy his favorite items for his PERSONAL school snack. Your child, who is allergic, shouldn’t have his hands on my son’s snack in the first place, allergies aside. If my son happened to be allergic to bees would it be your child’s responsibility to carry an epi-pen around for mine, just in case? No, that would be ridiculous. Well, as a parent of a child that isn’t allergic to peanuts, this is pretty much how I looked at it.
That was until I ran across a comment thread where one person was very verbally voicing the thoughts that almost silently ran through the back of my mind. She sounded so, hateful. Her defense was nearly the best I could have come up with had I been trying to stand the same ground. She voiced that it is YOUR child’s responsibility, not her child’s, to ensure that they stay away from peanuts. All efforts to inform her that some children simply needed to have a droplet of peanut dust float their way to have a severe allergic reaction fell upon closed ears. She wasn’t letting anyone else’s words in, only making sure that her own got out.
I heard all the people trying to explain to her the severity of the situation. I heard all those cries of parents who did have a child with severe peanut allergies. Now, one may wonder why peanut allergies are suddenly becoming much more common among our children… but we’ll leave that question alone for now. The fact is, that they are more common, and more deadly than nearly all other childhood allergies.
There was one thing I wanted to say to this lady, this lady that was standing her ground so strongly for her child’s right to bring the snacks he wanted in to school. There was one thing that I ached to say, but the comment thread was so long, I knew she’d never hear. Even if the comment thread was zilch… she still wouldn’t hear, she wasn’t listening.
I could feel the tears of unjust frustration welling up in this woman’s eyes. Her fight to defend her son’s evening whines that he just wanted to bring in a peanut butter sandwich, it was his favorite. I could feel her sadness as she tried to explain to her son that he cannot bring such a snack to school because some other kid, somewhere in his school, was allergic. I could feel her anger that she must deny her son, because another parent made it all of the parents responsibility to protect a child that wasn’t even their own. I could feel every word she said.
I had said every word that she said. At some point or another, whether to my son, to my husband, even to myself, I muttered each and every word she thought.
This morning, as I read her words fiercely typed onto the screen. As I read the words of those other parents, those parents trying to make their children our responsibility. As I sat here this morning, I realized it was so much more than the comfort of a peanut butter sandwich in the middle of a school day.
I am not teaching my child that it is his responsibility to protect others. I am not teaching him compassion, that he must sacrifice for others, whether he likes it or not. I am not teaching him anything. I am protecting my child from a danger far worse than any severe peanut allergy.
Imagine for a moment that I keep sending my son to school with peanut filled snacks. Of course, not intentionally, simply out of lack of creativity, and to be honest, variety packs of peanut crackers are way cheaper than most other individually wrapped “healthy” snacks. But, imagine I keep sending them at random.
Just as randomly, one day he goes out for recess and makes a new friend on the playground. They laugh and they play, before they know it they are best friends for life, connected with the depth of connection only felt by childhood best friends. The school bell rings and as these two newfound best friends rush to line up with their classes they slap each other a high five. The other child, this child that jumped into my son’s heart like instant best friends do, reaches up and rubs his runny nose with his hand just as all children do. Instantly, he is laying on the ground. His face turns blue. Teachers rush to his side, but it is too late. My son stands there, his hand still stinging from the high five given but a moment before to the boy that lies, dead, at my son’s feet.
By the end of the day the rumors spread through school. Everyone knew what happened to the boy with the severe peanut allergy.
Later that day my son comes home from school with tears pouring down his cheeks. He drops to his knees at my feet and my heart drops out of my chest as I ache for him. He cries to me that he killed his best friend. He aches with a pain of guilt, that no matter how hard I try, I will never erase from his heart. My child, my precious non-peanut allergy child, will never be the same innocent child again.
And it’s all MY fault. I am the parent that purchased those peanut butter crackers. The parent that was rushed and overtired that morning. The parent that rolled her eyes as she hurriedly tossed the crackers into her son’s backpack.
The parent that was so consumed with the unfairness of being forced to protect another parents child, that I had forgotten to protect my very own. The parent… that would never be the same.
I dried my eyes from the pain of the possibility of this situation occurring. I dried my eyes, and then I walked over to our pantry. I took that amazingly cheap, amazingly convenient variety pack of peanut butter crackers out of the “snack box” and tossed them on top of the fridge. Now I have a cheap, convenient after school snack to offer my son, I thought to myself.
My son’s new school is not 100% peanut free, it is simply highly recommended to avoid bringing these items to school as a personal lunch or snack. They do offer a “peanut free zone” table in the cafeteria where peanut allergy students must eat, and those without peanut items are welcome to eat. They have their parent letters and their reminders that they send home. They have their signs hanging on the walls outside of more commonly used areas such as the cafeteria and the library.
If my son’s school wanted to go completely peanut free it would create a stir, I am sure. Yesterday, I would have been shaking my head at the ridiculousness of such shenanigans. Today though, today is so much different. Now I am ready to stand out in the front of the protesters. I am ready to hold the biggest sign. I am ready to stand my ground and fight for a peanut free school zone because…
I have a child to protect too.