My food allergic son John will turn nine Wednesday. I know we all cherish our children’s birthdays, but for me, I especially thank God every year on John’s birthday that he is alive and well, and pretty much like any other 4th grade boy who loves sports, playing guitar and hanging with his friends. I used to dread John’s birthday because I was reminded of all the things he COULDN’T have; pizza, cake, cupcakes, candy and ice cream. But for several years now I am reminded of everything he CAN have, and that his life is by no means living without. John lives as fully as any kid I know, and appreciates every little thing in life (for example, his sincere joy and gratitude from being able to eat a peanut free Vegan Ice Cream cone at Lollapalooza this year…he truly enjoyed that moment for all it was worth). I think sometimes as a parent of kids with food allergies and special needs, I get weighed down by advocating and keeping my kiddos safe and happy. But I’m increasingly letting go and trusting that all will be well. Always vigilant, of course, but trying to infuse way more fun and timeless carelessness into our daily lives and routine. This year, on John’s birthday, I will light a special candle for him and for all the kids out there who perhaps were given the short end of the stick, whether it is with food allergies or with learning disabilities or serious illnesses, EVERY child deserves to feel like they are like any other kid.
Finally, after years of debate and efforts to promote food allergy awareness at my son’s schools, the day has finally come where I feel like we have made TREMENDOUS progress. Today I attended our schools’ Room Parent Meeting, to which our principal got up and addressed the room parents about the seriousness of food allergies, and that new procedures will be in place. For example, our school will celebrate birthdays AND holiday parties in a NON food manner for Kindergarten, First and Second Grades. The third and fourth grades will be up to the discretion of the classroom teacher. Grade level parties will be conducted with NO FOOD (remember my 1st grade Spanish Mercado and Thanksgiving Party stories?). Finally, the district has developed a comprehensive list of Food Allergy Policies and Procedures, as well as specific Food In Classroom guidelines. The link is here and I strongly recommend you forward these documents to your schools and preschools so they can further develop their own safe food allergy best practices. There are also sample letters and tips for you to use. During my principal’s address today, she went out of her way to mention that if any parents in their children’s classrooms have concerns about No Food Parties, or are getting any push back about safe snacks, etc. (ie Dairy Free classrooms, etc) that they should contact her directly. She doesn’t want anyone to feel like they have to defend the policy, and that she will take the time address the seriousness of the food allergy policy. As a “food allergy mama” advocate, I have had more than my fair share of parent push back on food policies I’ve advocated for years (thanks to our rights outlined in John’s 504 Plan). Hearing this come out of my principal’s mouth meant the world to me, because it allows me to not be the “face” or take on the burden any more. I’m truly grateful and excited for these new policies, and hope you can use some of the documents in your own schools.
Have a GREAT beginning of the school year everyone!!!