Seems pretty simple and straightforward; hot dogs, chips, apples and drinks. My son’s camp planned a fun lunch cookout today for the kids. They get to eat hot dogs and hang with their friends on the beach. But for my son John, and like many other food allergic kids, it is never that simple.
I got the flyer about the cookout sent home in my son’s backpack yesterday, and already my soon to be 7 year old started worrying about it. “Is it safe for me? Can I eat with everyone else tomorrow?” I answered my usual, “I don’t know, I’ll have to call the director to find out. But I am sure we can work something out, so don’t worry about it, OK?”. I always try to downplay my reaction to these sorts of things so I don’t sound like the food police or some kind of mommy alarmist. But John persisted. “When are you going to find out? Can you call him today?” I said I would try, but thought his director might be gone for the day. “I’ll follow up in the morning”, I finally answered.
Fast forward to this morning. John brought it up right after breakfast. “Did you call?” was the first question out of his mouth. ” No John, I will talk to him this morning. They are probably not there yet.” I assured him, again, that I would make a backup lunch for him just in case, and talk to the director at drop off. I could tell this issue¬†left him unsettled. Once we got to camp I asked the director to check the ingredients of the buns to make sure there were no milk products in it (I knew the brand of hot dogs was OK) and to call me. So that was it, and I waited for his call later in the morning.
I heard from him a short time later and was informed there were, in fact milk products in the buns they bought. The offered to just let John eat plain hot dogs with no bun. No way, I thought. There’s no fun in eating a plain hot dog without a bun, especially when you’re at the beach with all your friends. I picked up a pack of safe hot dog buns and dropped them off before lunch. I am hoping my little guy had a nice, uneventful cookout after all.
One more note on camp dining; it IS different than eating in a lunchroom. Less supervised, no “peanut free” zones and everything in general is more relaxed than in a school atmosphere. What I didn’t realize is how exclusionary it can be for kids with allergies. This whole summer I thought my son was eating in a safe, designated area of the camp shelter with picnic tables and such. But John just let me know that he eats alone every day with his camp counselor on a bench, outside the shelter where the other kids are eating. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. I asked why, because this whole time I thought he sat with the other kids at a cleaned table. John told me a lot of kids bring peanut butter to camp, and that he felt safer eating elsewhere. He never brought this up to me before, and it really pains me to know he never mentioned anything. It is yet another reminder that food allergies can be very isolating.¬†
After this camp season is over I am going to discuss¬†food allergy management policies and control procedures at our local park district. I think there needs to be some consensus on how to handle lunchtime at camps, and field trips. I think overall our park district has done a great job, but they could benefit from some clearer guidelines at parks, etc. It is my hope that next summer, no child with an allergy ever has to eat alone on a bench.