Rainbows, Hope and Maya Angelou

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.  ~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 I’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, I’ve learned, isn’t for the faint of heart. It is like having your first child; for as hard as you thought being a new parent was, it’s 1000 times harder. I was prepared for the logistics of the move. But I wasn’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 son’s new allergist said he’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 he’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.

It’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 it’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 son’s new allergist, there’s a “perfect storm” brewing….something catastrophic can and will happen if these schools don’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.

I’ve never considered myself an extremist, only a mom who cares not only about my child’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 from…love and take care of one another. Look out for one another. And respect each other. I don’t want food bans; I just want policy and written clarification about what’s acceptable and what’s not. I want to know that my 504 Plan will be honored and followed to the letter. It’s time for these schools to step up.

Going back to my original comment of hope. I have GREAT hope for what’s ahead and believe all these rainbows I’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, “When you know better, you do better”. 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 son’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 it’s a reminder that, as I’ve always said, “Anything is Possible”. 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.

31 Responses

  1. Wow! I am so touched by this. You are so right! There’s always hope. I’m so sorry this has become so difficult for you and your family. So Cal is lucky to have you. Your voice needs to be heard. It’s like building a sand castle and when someone crashes it you are so devastated, but then you realize you have the tools to make another one. You can make it happen again. I have the same compassion for no child being left out. Together we can make it happen. I’m sending a hug your way ( ) and admire your strength and courage. Truly inspirational. Thank you Kelly

  2. I am sorry to read about Johns experience in California. The SoCal culture is a unique one. As much as I love it and crave to return, it can be a bit more self-centered than other places. Gearing up to the same level as Illinois schools is possible …. you will do it … I know you will! School Districts in that region are actually very in tune to things like only sending pre-packaged birthday treats or none at all for health reasons. You can investigate the policies of Districts near you… Look at LA’s policies on store bought foods, Corona-Norcos policies on, I believe this is correct, NO birthday treats and time limits on class parties (2 parties @ 30min each). My experience as a CA educator is that school admin likes to please the parents and keep it easy on the teachers. You will probably get quicker results in CA vs the mid-west in terms of school admin. But neighbors? That’s all dependent on where you live. Take your kids to the tide pools in Little Corona and have a restful weekend – you all deserve it!

  3. Kelly, I’m so sorry you are having such a difficult time with the new school. Keep fighting the good fight! Your words are, indeed, words to live by: “educate, teach, inspire & help spread the word to keep FA safe, included & HAPPY.” Remember, when old man winter rolls into town here, you won’t have to deal with it! :). Good luck!

  4. Amen sister! I live in SoCal and am working to better the schools for my kids. Our administrator told me she basically only knows what we tell them about our kids in regards to food allergies. She can’t fully understand because she doesn’t live what we live everyday with our kids. She has been very understanding and helpful in keeping my daughter safe. Unfortunately this happens individually at each school site and is not district wide. Other parents I know in our district struggle a great deal with administrators. We are the trailblazers here and I have often wondered why the Midwest and east coast schools have more success with policy change.

  5. Hi Kelly,

    I am so sorry to hear about the difficulty you are having in SoCal. My family is there…I grew up there, and it is so very different from the days when I was growing up with beautiful orange groves surrounding where we lived. You are an inspiration, and if change is going to happen I know you will be the one leading the way. I am sorry to hear about John’s experience at his new school. No child should be excluded. I have heard that there is not as much support in SoCal when it comes to accommodating food allergies as we have here in Illinois. Even though my daughter will be off to college before I move back to SoCal, I know I will miss the wonderful food allergy community we have here in Illinois. It is like no other and I hope SoCal will build just as wonderful of a community there. Thank you for “starting all over again” with your food allergy awareness campaign…you will be helping many families! All my best to you and your family. 🙂

  6. Kelly, if there is anyone who can take on such a seemingly huge “project,” it would be you! (On a personal note, I made an across-the-country move about 10 years ago when I was pregnant with kiddo number one. The first year absolutely sucked. I missed my friend and my community desperately. My new city eventually became home — with friends and community to boot. Still, I have vowed never to make such a move again. I couldn’t bear to go through such upheaval.) (So give yourself a year at least to settle in!)

  7. Kelly, I wish you luck here in SoCal. I am a new FA mom who teaches in the local So Cal schools. It will be a challenge to protect my daughter. I never knew I could get a 504 plan for allergies. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Beautifully said!! Best post ever! I am even choking up over it….it is so painful to watch your child be excluded and feel left out of parties, playgroups, etc… It isn’t fair and something that should never happen.Thank you for all your amazing dedication and fabulous recipes. Because of you, my son does not ever have to miss having a cupcake or cookie with his friends. I usually try to provide the cupcakes/treats for events or at least pack one with him and no one every knows they are free of dairy and eggs. Thank you and blessings to you and your family! 🙂

  9. I can only imagine the herculean challenge of moving your family cross country. I am in awe of your accomplishment!

    California as a whole is in the dark ages when in comes to managing food allergies. I’ve been in the thick of it for years in southern CA. Our schools need to stop treating safety and inclusion as a “favor” instead of a right guaranteed by Section 504. The other side of that coin is that parents must know their rights and must not be afraid to exercise them. I recently filed a complaint against our school with the Office for Civil Rights, and won. I believe change is going to come from schools being held legally accountable. As a food allergy support group leader, I encourage parents to use OCR to enforce the compliance of their children’s plans. If enough of us do that, change will happen.

  10. I believe that there are no accidents in life and that you are meant to make a difference in your new community for not only John, but for other FA children. I am confident that you will accomplish this with grace; bringing everyone together.

  11. I loved this post, Kelly! You would think that California, of all places, would be “hip” to FA in schools. Keep moving forward and blaze those trails there, as you did here in Il. You rock!

  12. Keep watching for rainbows Kelly, and we’ll all keep fighting and educating until the schools and administrators finally get it. It will happen, I know it.
    How proud of John you must be, that he so unselfishly is happy for his old friends having a party when he has been going through being excluded at his school. It just shows how kind, caring and wonderful our FA kids are!

  13. So sorry you are being challenged with your son’s allergies again after finding a modicum of relief. One thing to bear in mind is that schools in California are under assault. Money is scarce for everything and even though allergies are life threatening and the priorities may to seem a little skewed, many school districts and schools are fighting just to keep guns out of their schools. There is no fault here – with the schools, the rules and the administrations, we’re going through difficult time in the education arena.
    I have always had a severe egg allergy. My mom taught me I was a little different because I couldn’t eat regular treats. But she always provided me with a treat that I could eat at school or would have a treat for me when I got home if the party/function was unexpected. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but keep fighting the good fight being the first line of defense for your son. There are school districts and administrators that do listen, just don’t relent.

  14. I looked for my comment – was disappointed not to see it. Did I say something out of line?

  15. If Michelle Obama is on such a crusade to stop childhood obesity and promote healthier eating for our children, can we not pass some sort of legislation country wide to cut back on the amount of “treats” and “junk” that is handed out in our public classrooms daily! It seems this problem is in every elem school in every state. I don’t remember having so many class parties and food when I was in elem school. Could we start a petition to send to our educators to limit the amount of junk given out in our public schools? I would think the teachers would want this to. I takes away time from teaching, have to clean up, and the sugar doesn’t help with concentration afterwards either.

  16. Melissa, listen to yourself! Do you really want the government to legislate everything including what we eat and what is available? We are already held hostage by by the FDA, genetic engineering and countless food additives. We have to take care of ourselves!! We look after our own families just like Kelly encourages us to do by making others aware of the issues of food allergies. We taught our own children within the framework of our family about nutrition and what is good to put in their bodies. We taught our children just because someone offers you something to eat or it’s available it doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Teach your children to be self aware and responsible for their own bodies as soon as they can walk and talk and listen regardless if they have allergies or not..

  17. Kelly-I love your blog & your recipes etc.. Thank you so much!!

    I agree with setting up policies to get all the unhealthy treats out of schools.
    I believe it is ridiculous to celebrate each child’s birthday and every holiday with a bunch of unhealthy food. Obesity, diabetes, ADHD, Food Allergies are all on the rise. Making some laws accross the board on foods coming into our schools would not be a bad thing. I don’t want teachers handing my kids candy for good behavior. I teach my kids to eat healthy and they know that junk food makes them feel bad, but they aren’t going to turn it down unless they have to. They don’t want to be different or singled out. I’m sure/hope as they get older that will change, but while they are in elementary school they need a little help. Also, so many people don’t understand food allergies. They don’t get that A food allergen can be in anything. If there were some basic policies set up based on food allergies, obesity, ADHD, etc then I think it would make it easier on all of us accross the country fighting to keep our children safe & healthy at school.

  18. Hi! Thank you so much for posting this. One would think that SoCal would be on top of food allergy policies, if not ahead of the curve. That is surprising to me. I first found your blog a couple of weeks ago when we found out that my youngest who is 16months old, might be allergic to peanuts. Turns out he is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg whites and dairy on top of having a skin condition called dermatographism (so it’s often hard to tell what he is reacting to). After getting the results today your blog was the first I came to and your post really helped me get my head around what we are about to go through. Thank you so much, and good luck with your son’s school and allergist. Hopefully you will be able to shed some light at the school about the harm and hurt such lack of action can cause.

  19. Kelly,

    Fabulous Blog and work that you do! Hang tough, you have some challenges, but you have the support of an entire country’s worth of “food allergy Mamas” behind you!

    We’ve been in So. Cal for two weeks visiting family and attending the FAAN conference this last Sat. I had expected CA, my home state (I now live in NV) to be very food allergy savvy and was shocked by the San Diego Zoo restaurants and Knotts Berry farm using nut oils? Major family style attractions in the dark ages??? My husband keeps urging us to move to CA to be closer to family, but the last week has been disappointing regarding the local culture’s awareness.

    Hang in there! You are blessing to California!

  20. Kelly-
    I totally agree with you…our kids deserve to be protected and safe…while gettin an education. It’s not about when the next snack or cupcake will be served…it’s the right to a safe learning environment for every child. I too, am considering a school change next year and it has me a basket case. I toured a school last week that showed me their cafeteria and the “peanut free” table…no one was sitting there. I asked if my child would be sitting there alone or were others encouraged to sit there too. Of course I was told that table always has children sitting together. It so happened to be lunch time at the end of my visit, so I asked if me and my younger 2 kids could eat lunch. (observe…lol) and guess what…one child sat there ALONE…in a cafeteria filled with other children. My heart sank. Of course when the principal joined me she said how “uncommon” that was.
    Anyway, best wishes to you and your family…keep looking for rainbows and remain hopeful…YOU brought about those positive changes in your kids’ former school, I’m sure of it! And I know you will fight for change wherever it is needed!

  21. I can only imagine how hard it must be to have worked hard for positive changes in your previous district only to move and feel like you are back to square one. We have completed two years at our elementary school and, since there is no school policy re: food allergies (and it seems resistance to having one) I am reinventing the wheel each year. While we have had supportive teachers both years and the classrooms themselves have been safe zones – schoolwide events have been a different story. Last school year, my child sat ALONE at the nut free table for at least a few months until another child who does not have food allergies but has a sibling with food allergies began to sit there as well. At the beginning of this past year when many other students asked their parents to pack safe lunches so they could sit with my child – the lunchroom moderator chased the kids away until many of the kids stopped even trying to sit there. Even worse, when I brought this to the administrator’s attention I was basically asked which was more important to me, her safety or social needs as if I was unreasonable to expect that they meet BOTH needs. Still much work to be done!

  22. Kelly,
    I found out my son was allergic to dairy, egg and nuts when he was 6 months old, and was totally overwhelmed with how I was going to prep food for him as he began to eat a wider variety of things. He just had another allergy test at one year, and we’ve added sesame seeds to the list as well. I can’t tell you what an encouragement it is to have your website available. I made your chocolate banana cupcakes for his birthday cake, and have made so many of your other recipes for myself and my husband while I was nursing and had to stay off all the same things as him. Thank you for all the work you do. It makes my son’s life so much easier and more delicious!

  23. Pingback: Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Grade 8 Graduation Cupcakes! | The Food Allergy Chronicles

  24. I hope things are looking up a bit for you these days and again, So. Cal is lucky to have you in their midst. You’ll bring your wonderful energy and insight to your community. It’s just tough to the be the pioneer in an area that one would think is enlightened.

    Since you live in So.Cal, you simply must read about this fabulous gluten free, nut free, dairy free, soy free and egg free bakery that was tasty!!! Sensitive Sweets is in Fountain Valley and I had to blog about it since I bought my kid’s first bakery birthday cake there while visiting family! http://www.gratefulfoodie.com/my-dream-came-true/

  25. Hi Kelly! I posted a comment last night but I see it never made it on so I’ll try again :). I am a pediatrician and a mother of a child with severe peanut and tree nut allergies. I live about 30 minutes north of where you have settled and wanted to say “Welcome to California” and also empathize with the challenges you are facing dealing with the school districts out here — I can completely relate. I sent you an email last night so I hope you receive that as well. Thank you for all you do for the food allergy community and welcome to the west coast! xo sheila

  26. Can you tell me more info on the FA 504 plan. Why should I get one for my allergic child and how do I go about it? Thanks!

  27. Pingback: Food Allergy Mama Comes to Saddleback Church Food Allergy Support Group | Orange County Saddleback Church Parents of Kids with Food Allergies Support Group

  28. Hello Lisita,

    Section 504 applies to any school that receives federal money (i.e., all public schools and many private schools), and applies to a variety of health conditions, including a life-threatening food allergy. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights lists allergy is an example of a hidden disability for the purpose of Section 504, and also further explains how a food allergy, for many children, would be considered a disability under 504.

    Mariel from http://originalcialis.com/