If you follow The Willing Cook on Facebook, you know that the first day of school didn’t go as smoothly as I would have wanted. In fact, a series of events left me ready to pull my son out of school and back home with me. I didn’t, though, take him out of school.
The weeks leading up to the return to school and my allergy son’s first lunch experience away from me, was ridden with anxiety. A few days before school started, I felt a peace about sending him and I was trusting that God would take care of him.
First Day of School
We entered school with smiles on our faces (and maybe a few sleepy eyes), shouldering the weight of school supplies and lunch boxes. I had a lunch room helper meeting that morning, where I addressed the other parents regarding the care to take with food allergies when monitoring and cleaning tables.
Fast forward to lunch time. The older students have 1st lunch and it went rather smoothly as far as the first day of school is concerned. All the helpers were sort of racing around helping and cleaning, but it was fine. I was careful to get all the tables for 1st grade cleaned well since I knew my son was about to come for 2nd lunch.
The younger kids now enter the lunch room and a portion of them have no idea what they are doing. Two-thirds of the 1st graders (and all the full-day kindergartners) had very few lunches away from home. Eight boys were piled around my son. Peanut butter and banana sandwich directly to the left; cheese stick directly to the right.
The teacher walks up and starts to panic. She said, “What should we do? We can’t have all this food around him. You should just take him to the classroom to eat today until we figure something out.” (She was packing up his lunchbox all the while.)
Smelling all the peanuts in the air (literally, I could), I calmly told her to just leave it as it is for now and let’s figure out something better. I did not want to remove him and make a big deal of everything on the first day. His teacher said “ok” and asked the “peanut butter boy” to move further away from my son.
Finally, lunch is over! My son survived his first lunch, but just barely (or at least it would have seemed by the adult reactions). You see, I have always said that it’s not my son that I’m concerned about because he knows not to eat anything that I haven’t sent. My concern is for others that don’t have to constantly think about the dangers of food.
The lunchroom lady and teacher decided that we should bring in an extra table to make it the non-specified, specified food allergy table (of which my son would be its only occupant). She asked someone to bring another table to the lunchroom and explained that peanuts and cheese are everywhere and there are food allergies. The response, “Well, it is school.”
As I was cleaning a nearby table, I heard this remark. This was the blow that I needed to take me down. So much for the confident peace with which I arrived at school. The problem with what he said was that it’s the truth. It is school. It is not a peanut-free school and I have not requested that it become one. I felt the load of emotion fill me because I (bold “I”) was the one sending him into this field of landmines. Nobody else, just me.
The lunchroom lady came to me at this point and asked if I had any suggestions on how to make lunch work better. I had none. In fact, I had nothing to say. I was emotionally unable to speak at this moment. She embraced me and confidently said that we would figure it out. She does not want to hurt my son.
I left….without my son.
After speaking and praying with my supportive sister-in-law and husband, we came up with a few ideas.
- Ask the class to go peanut-free.
- Ask a few select parents to go peanut-free and have those children sit at a separate table with my son.
- Remove him at lunch time and eat with him in the classroom everyday.
- Remove him from school. (This wasn’t really an option, but at the moment, I felt as if it was the only option.)
But at what cost are all of these options? I am and always will be willing to choose inconvenience and alienation over pain, and even death, but are inconvenience and alienation necessary? He’s never had an airborne peanut reaction before, but it could happen.
I returned to school at pick-up and met once again with my son’s teacher. I gave her the options listed above. She didn’t like any of them. She suggested that we make a non-dedicated dedicated peanut-free table in the lunchroom for him and any children that do not eat peanuts. I agreed to this, but said I would return for lunch until I felt comfortable leaving him.
Lunch starts and my son comes back to his spot. I spread out a cloth napkin that is now to accompany him to every lunch to be used as his “tablecloth.” Four boys sit at the table with him and none have peanut butter. The teacher told me that she asked the children who did not like peanut butter and would never have it in their lunch, while my son was not in the room. Lunch turned out great this day and I was feeling more comfortable about leaving my boy in this field of landmines.
The offender from the previous day approached me and apologized for his insensitivity. It was not meant to hurt and was said at a time of heightened stress from it simply being the first day of school. His Christian character that I already knew to be stellar spoke above all the hurt from a single comment. We had a very warm and forgiving reconciliation.
My son asked that I return to lunch one more time just to make sure everything went smoothly. I was happy to oblige. Lunch starts and only two boys sit at the table with my son. I look across the table and there was a gooey PB&J being contentedly consummed. The teacher promptly approached me to address the issue. I told her that it is across the table and let’s just leave it alone. We cannot address every single exception that is going to happen at school. I can’t even address every single exception that may happen at home. I did request another boy sit at the table so that it didn’t seem so isolated and empty.
You see, we are not the kind of people who live in a bubble. The reason for this is simple: we trust that God will do what is ultimately good. Sure, we may not see a life with food allergies as good, just as someone suffering from another ailment may not see it as good. But we TRUST that God is good as are all His ways. Period. Do I ever falter in this faith? Absolutely. Everyday. And He picks me up and we keep on going.
I did not go to lunch with my son on this day. I decided that he has to be independent at some point and I have confidence in his teacher. Besides, my 9 year old daughter graciously gave up her recess to have lunch with her brother. She can be a good protector of him, when she’s not beating him up.
Yesterday, I was at lunch as helper and all seems well. I spoke with my son’s teacher and the lunchroom lady, confirming that all was going smoothly. The four boys at my son’s table were conversing and I didn’t see any PB&J’s.
To many of you that do not have to deal with food allergies, you may wonder what the big deal is. Why a whole post dedicated to this single event? Why the emotional breakdown on my part? One reason: at any moment things can turn tragic. As a mother, I have to try my best to protect my son.
So, through this latest leg of our food allergy journey, I have learned that I need to be on top of things and always be prepared, certainly, but I also need to trust in God’s goodness. And that’s it…until the next day when the boy sitting next to my son brings an ooey-gooey PB&J to school 🙂
How have you experienced school lunch for the first time with your food allergy child? How did you deal with it? I would LOVE any advice, encouragement or feedback on this issue. (You may completely disagree with the decision that we have made putting my son in a lunchroom with possible risk, but it is the decision that we made after careful consideration. I’d appreciate if you’d refrain from any negative comments geared toward this decision.)