Posted by contributor, Lisa Robertson
My oldest son was diagnosed with a life threatening peanut allergy when he was about 18 months old. Upon his first bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich his face blew up so round and puffy he morphed from a thin toddler to what resembled a Cabbage Patch Kid with its eyes closed in a matter of seconds. It was terrifying.
After we treated the swelling, my son underwent allergy testing and the results came back with a laundry list of foods he is potentially allergic to, including peanut. The peanut allergy came back at the very highest levels, indicating the need for an EpiPen—a lifesaving auto-injector (shot) that provides a person undergoing severe anaphylaxis with epinephrine (adrenaline). As allergies go, it has been explained to us that while his first reaction may not have been lethal, his later reactions could be.
When you have the first kid in a family and among friends to have a severe food allergy, you immediately become the child’s advocate—having to educate everyone you know on the allergy. You have to explain things like, “no, you cannot have that bowl of peanuts out during the Super Bowl Party because my kid is a toddler and he could grab some… or pick one up on the floor… or one of the other kids may have it on them and then wipe residue on my kid.” It often takes a lot of gentle and not-so-gentle reminders for people to “get it,” and quite frankly, some people never do and think their right to eat peanuts trumps my kid’s right to not end up with an EpiPen stuck in his leg while he is choking to breathe and subsequent trip to the emergency room.
When it is time for our kids to go to school, that’s when the real worry begins. We cannot educate every single parent and in spite of the fact that parents often know their child’s friend has a peanut allergy, they still pack PB&Js because their kid can’t live without them. Sure, I know what you are thinking: “Your kid should sit at a peanut free table.” Ummm, that’s cool. I totally want my kid ostracized to sit with a bunch of kids he isn’t friends with or ever talk to because your kid NEEDS his peanuts. And let’s face it, when your kid has just eaten a PB&J and then plays with my kid on the playground (regardless of where my kid with the allergy eats his lunch), your child inevitably has bits of peanut butter on his hands and clothes that he is then transferring to playground equipment and such, so the whole idea of a peanut-free table is a small band-aid on a gaping wound.
And then comes what really prompted me to write this article, and it is the bullying that now happens to kids because they have a food allergy. Yes. This is something that does happen. A lot. If my kid had a nickel for every time another kid took their PB&J and SHOVED it in my son’s face and said, “What will happen if I do this to you?” or “Do you really have an allergy?” he would already have college paid for. Moreover, this doesn’t just happen with your everyday, run-of-the-mill bullies, his so-called friends cannot control their curiosity and do it… often.
So parent to parent, I say to you this: Please talk to your child about food allergies and help them to understand that a food allergy is not a circus oddity and it is certainly not a joke. When your kid sticks his or her peanut butter sandwich or bag of nuts in my kid’s face, it’s like holding a knife to his throat, and I’m pretty certain you would be unhappy if your child did that. Food allergies KILL children, and until schools comprehend how serious they are and the fact that products containing peanuts (and all nuts for that matter) should be banned from schools all together, kids like mine will have to deal with kids who can’t live without out their precious PB&J or at least keep it to themselves.
My son is fortunate that although his allergy to peanuts tests through the roof, he does not suffer to the extent that many children do. The level of his allergy indicates that even being close to someone eating a PB&J should close his throat (yes, as in stop him from breathing), yet fortunately he does not present to that severity. Many children, are not as lucky as my kid and your kid’s lunch, snacks or taunting could be truly life threatening or even keep a child with a severe allergy from ever attending school, parties, etc.
And just a side note: If you are looking for a nut-free alternative for your child’s lunch, I would highly recommend giving sunflower seed butter a try. My kids eat it regularly and they love it! Plus, it is much healthier than peanut butter because it is lower in calories, total fat and sodium and higher in protein and fiber.