When we put Tessa in preschool, there was a child in her class with nut allergies. We were given a list of approved snacks and asked not to send nutty food to school on party days. No big deal. I felt like I had a pretty good grip on what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Being a PB&J lover, Tessa was very disappointed when we found her primary school had switched to a nut-free campus. We struggled. She would cry as I frantically suggested other foods for her lunch box each morning. I grew frustrated…and (here’s my mistake) I shared those frustrations with my Facebook “Friends.” One of my friends misread my frustration (that’s the problem with social media in general), shared my status with the principal, and BOOM. Request for a conference in my email the next morning. I declined. The policy wasn’t the problem after all; Tessa’s reaction was. Surely everyone knew that? Nope.
This caused some kind of label to be put on Tessa. She was getting her lunchbox checked every day. She would cry and fight with me over what I was putting in her lunch box because “they’re going to want to read it!” The issue, I later figured out, was my inclusion of a granola bar that I know was approved at preschool. It had a trace amount warning on it because of the facility where it was made, but it was on the safe snack list because I’d purchased them for Tessa’s class many times before. Because granola bars are the only healthy dessert Tessa will eat, I continued to send them. Each time, Tessa’s granola bar was handled a different way: taking it from her, throwing it away, moving her to another table, making her sit alone, saying, “See? We don’t check this child’s lunch box because his momma knows the rules!”, and my personal favorite: “Can’t your momma read that this has every nut in the world in it?” Um, yes. Yes, I can read. With every morning Tessa cried while I prepared her lunch and tried to convince her to eat in the cafeteria, I became increasingly sad that my daughter couldn’t just be happy at school and enjoy her food. With every afternoon she got off the bus crying about the lunchroom teachers, I became more and more livid.
The issue was that my child hated school and hated lunch, and no one cared. Instead of letting me know what was wrong with Tessa’s lunch, they preferred to make a little girl miserable. I emailed the principal who didn’t realize how it was being handled. She wanted me to call her that weekend. I wanted to shop first. I spent two hours in Wal-Mart and Target planning a Tessa-approved nut-free lunch box menu. Though significantly more expensive, I found everything I needed. I called the principal, who was kind and understanding. It seems that Tessa was saving all her lunch-time anxiety up and giving it to me at home, so no one at school even knew she was upset. We reached the agreement that since I would now be sending food that we both knew was safe, no one would be checking Tessa’s lunchbox. I felt infinitely better.
Even now that it’s over, though, some people won’t let it go. I think through being misunderstood on Facebook, I alienated some people I care about with allergic children. I feel like I should get a billboard that reads I have no problem with allergic children or nut-free policies. I only have a problem with my daughter being shamed and mistreated. What seemed at first like me being stubborn and thinking my daughter’s food preferences are more important than a potentially life-threatening allergy is really a crusade for my daughter to be treated fairly. Don’t like something that I send in her lunchbox? Call me; I packed it. But don’t embarrass her in the lunch room. That’s all I really wanted from my post: a way for Tessa to be left alone. I want all the kids to be safe without anyone being singled out or humiliated because their mom didn’t realize there was a crunch bar in their Lunchable.
I’m really not that heartless. I would never argue Tessa’s and my convenience over another child’s life. People just didn’t know the whole story. And I’m genuinely the type of person that if you’re curious about my concerns, you can ask me. So if all the peanut articles and lists of safe foods that continue (a month later) to end up finding their way to my Facebook wall and email inbox would stop, that’d be great. I’ve got it. And Tessa does too. So let’s move on.