God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.Â ~Maya Angelou
The possibility of hope, as well as symbols of rainbows is everywhere I turn these days. This past week alone, I received a fantastic Craft Box carrying the theme of Rainbows. I have seen adorable Rainbow Cupcakes, gorgeous photos my Facebook Friends have taken of Rainbows, Rainbow Jewelry, Rainbow flags, the word Rainbow written across pages. What on earth is the Universe screaming out to me right now? I have only a one- word answer to that question – HOPE.
The past six weeks of adjusting my family of seven to a completely new way of life has been challenging to say the least. Though I thought I prepared fully for such a big move from the Midwest, a place Iâ€™ve lived my entire life, to the West Coast for my new life, I realized how mistaken I was. One can never prepare fully for leaving behind everything and everyone you know, just to follow what is inside your heart. Moving towns, let alone across the country with five young children, Iâ€™ve learned, isnâ€™t for the faint of heart. It is like having your first child; for as hard as you thought being a new parent was, itâ€™s 1000 times harder. I was prepared for the logistics of the move. But I wasnâ€™t prepared for all the other stuff, like completely starting from scratch when it came to my son’s food allergies in school.
Food allergy awareness and policy in schools is pretty much non-existent here, or at least where I live in SoCal. Coming from a school district where I worked hard to make positive and healthy changes for kids with food allergies, I was stunned by the lack of protection for kids here. I was stunned by the amount of food, treats and parties being offered to kids in the elementary and middle school. I was even more stunned that my sonâ€™s new allergist said heâ€™s only helped about 4 food allergy families with drafting a Section 504 Plan to accommodate FA children in their schools. Treats are often distributed, and the FA child sits the celebration out, repeatedly. I know, because this has happened to John three times already, and heâ€™s only been in this new school six weeks.
Even beyond the inclusion/exclusion issue, there is the whole safety issue of having a child around food that he/she could inadvertently eat or put to their mouth and have a potentially life-threatening reaction. I have used a great 504 Plan for several years now that specifically requests I am notified every time treats are brought into the classroom, so a. I can send in an alternate treat, and b. to make sure whatever IS brought in is Dairy and Nut Free. I was never notified in advance, which obviously is a huge problem for many reasons.
Itâ€™s very simple, classrooms should be safe havens for all children, and every child deserves to feel included and safe in their classrooms, regardless of age or disability. Food allergies are a disability NOT A CHOICE, and itâ€™s time more schools take ownership of this fact and develop policies and procedures to reflect their commitment to keeping ALL children safe. There are too many gaping holes, gray areas, and room for error and potential for miscommunication going on here as well as schools across the country. As I said to my sonâ€™s new allergist, thereâ€™s a â€śperfect stormâ€ť brewingâ€¦.something catastrophic can and will happen if these schools donâ€™t pull in the reigns and develop guidelines for these kids. And they will be held liable, especially if that FA child has a 504 Plan.
Iâ€™ve never considered myself an extremist, only a mom who cares not only about my childâ€™s health and well being at school, but ALL children at school. Nothing saddens me more than a child feeling alone, withdrawn, left out and anxious. No one deserves this, and kids with food allergies deserve better than that. They deserve the same respect and courtesy as any other kid. Again, this is a basic life lesson that everyone can learn fromâ€¦love and take care of one another. Look out for one another. And respect each other. I donâ€™t want food bans; I just want policy and written clarification about whatâ€™s acceptable and whatâ€™s not. I want to know that my 504 Plan will be honored and followed to the letter. Itâ€™s time for these schools to step up.
Going back to my original comment of hope. I have GREAT hope for whatâ€™s ahead and believe all these rainbows Iâ€™ve been seeing is a reminder to not get too discouraged and give up, and to remember that at the end of the day, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and what they know. Maya Angelou famously said, â€śWhen you know better, you do betterâ€ť. Educate, teach, inspire and help spread the word about how to keep our FA safe, included and HAPPY.
Finally, an amazing example of HOPE: My sonâ€™s previous school in IL throws a huge 4th Grade Farewell party at the end of the school year, a right of passage for these kids going into 5th grade and middle school. The party is complete with a DJ, Bouncy House, and of course, food. This year, the food committee went out of their way to bring in fun, kid friendly food that EVERYONE could enjoy. No one was left out, regardless of their dietary needs. How amazing is that? My friend sent me photos of kids eating hot dogs, chips and cotton candy, but vendors and products were checked and double checked. It was beautiful, and brought me to tears as I showed John the photos of all his old friends eating food that he would have been able to eat too. He was really happy for them, and thought it was really cool that these moms cared enough to think of kids like him. It blew me away, to be honest, because that kind of compassion and care for accommodating all the kids is nothing short of spectacular. And itâ€™s a reminder that, as Iâ€™ve always said, â€śAnything is Possibleâ€ť. A HUGE thank you to all those amazing parents in IL, and everywhere, for keeping that message of hope alive, and for taking such good care of our children. And never, ever give up hope.