It’s amazing how much I continue to learn everyday about raising a child with food allergies. It’s a lot like playing Super Mario Bros- just when you think you’ve won the game it’s “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!”
This is Stella’s second week as a first grader. Kindergarten was great- all parents were notified on the first day of school that there was a child with severe food allergies in the class and the classroom was made to be nut free. Children washed their hands after every snack and lunch and we were fortunate enough to have a nurse that Stella was able to sit with every day in the lunchroom who was there to shadow another kindergartener with diabetes.
This year the school strategically placed Stella in the same class as the little girl with diabetes and it gives us great relief knowing there is a nurse present should Stella ever suffer an allergic reaction. I assumed that the other safety guidelines we had last year would be in place as well, but hey, this is my second year at sending my kiddo to a public school and perhaps I was being a bit naive.
I met with the new school nurse before the start of school and we went over Stella’s food allergies, her allergy action plan and talked about the safety guidelines the school had set in place for her in kindergarten. I had just assumed that it would be the same as kindergarten- nut free classroom, washing of hands after eating, notification sent to the parents, and eating lunch with the little girl with diabetes and her nurse.
One might think 1 out of 4 odds is pretty good but not when it comes to your child with life threatening food allergies. Come the first day of school and the only thing that was the same as last year was that Stella was eating lunch with the diabetic nurse.
Stella and I met with the principal, her teacher and the school nurse today after I had written to both her teacher and principal what my concerns were. I asked that the classroom again be made nut-free, kids should wash their hands after eating, and parents should be notified. You know…like last year.
But guess what? They told me that the kindergarteners were not washing their hands last year after they ate, and that it was nearly impossible to take the time to make sure they did. Huh? (Believe me, my head is swirling with the things I should have said in that moment, but at the time I was just too dumbfounded.) Then they pointed out that Stella didn’t have an allergic reaction all last year- so clearly she is ok, and that making kids wash their hands after eating is not only unrealistic in their day but not necessary. I told them Stella was very lucky. VERY. And that some kids can go into anaphylaxis shock by just an allergen touching their skin.
I asked if Stella could have a nut-free classroom like last year. Her teacher was surprised to hear that Stella’s class was nut-free even though her daughter was in the same class!! This was just a very real reminder to me that even though parents are notified doesn’t mean that the message will actually sink in. Holy crap was Stella lucky to not have any allergic reactions last year. I will count my lucky stars twice tonight.
I learned that for snack time the kids are dismissed out into the play area where they eat and then have recess, and that food is not being consumed in the classroom- phew. Backpacks and lunchboxes are kept outside on hooks so food doesn’t actually enter the classroom, which gave me some relief. They explained that it wouldn’t make sense to make her class nut-free if she were going out onto the playground with kids from other classes who could have nuts and food wasn’t being eaten in the classroom anyway. I was disappointed but I get it. But I’m still holding out on the possibility of making the school nut free- you won’t be hearing the end of this!
As far as lunchtime goes, I am thrilled and beyond lucky to have Stella be in the presence of a nurse every day. I wish all food allergy kids could be so lucky. Luckily Stella adores this nurse and the little girl with diabetes so no problem there. What worries me are the other kids who are eating. Have you ever seen a kid eat? Yeah, they’re not the most elegant at keeping food between their lips and off all ten fingers (and shirts and pants). I told them my biggest concern was a kid eating a PB&J sandwich and then going out on the playground and getting peanut butter everywhere they touched. If Stella were to then go down the same slide as them it has the potential to turn into a very dire situation where she would need immediate medical attention.
I suggested that there be a nut ONLY table in the lunchroom. That way those kids could be monitored and made sure to wash their hands or use a wipe after eating. (And just so you know- you can’t use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is not effective in removing peanut residue.) I was happy that the principal took my suggestion and will be making a nut only table in the lunchroom that will be monitored. Victory!
Stella’s teacher will be notifying all the parents about Stella’s food allergies and the principal will be putting it in her newsletter to the school as well (but now I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything). It does make me happy that the word is getting out that there are kids with serious food allergies, and making people informed is what’s going to keep our kids safe.
The other issue I brought up was that this year the kindergarten class at Stella’s school has 5 children with nut allergies, and they’ve made the entire kindergarten nut free. Instead of eating lunch in the cafeteria the kindergarteners will be eating lunch in the kindergarten yard (the principal told me this has nothing to do with the nut allergies- it’s just less chaotic to have them remain in
their quarantined nut-free environment the kindergarten yard.) I wanted to start the dialogue about what was going to happen next year when these kids are in with the rest of the school and they aren’t as lucky as Stella to have a nurse with them. “Maybe we’ll be a nut free school next year” the principal said. To hear her say that as a possibility was music to my ears! And why, why WHY I didn’t then say to her, “Then why not this year?” I will forever kick myself for. But at least it came from her and I wasn’t the one that had to suggest it. It gives me a glimmer of hope.
As my friend and fellow loving and concerned mama reminded me after my meeting, this is just the first meeting. I can now think about the dialogue that took place, write down any questions or concerns and meet with them again. The door is not shut- it is just opening. My princess may be in another castle but I will never stop trying to find her.