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My three – almost four – year old started school this September. Son-S is allergic to dairy, eggs, bananas and tree nuts. The school takes his allergies very seriously; at the beginning of the school year we sat down to work out a plan for Son-S. Despite the fact that I made clear that I did not expect the school to ban all of Son-S’s allergens in the classroom, the school had decided to do so. In addition to his allergens there are several other ones in the class. Parents have been asked not to send any foods that contain the following: dairy, eggs, bananas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, flaxseed, kiwi, chicken and bacon.
Part of me wants to run up to the school staff and give everyone a big squeezy hug for taking these allergies so seriously. It really is a crapshoot with schools it seems; some schools are very lax about allergies; sometimes they just don’t seem to get it. So, on the one hand I’m very grateful. On the other hand, I’m not sure this is the way to go. Here’s why I think food bans aren’t necessarily in the everyone’s best interests.
Bans can be Very Limiting
Take for example, my son’s class; the following foods have been banned: dairy, eggs, bananas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, flaxseed, kiwi, chicken and bacon. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It doesn’t leave much except fruits and vegetables and plain bread or crackers. Now I should point out, that this is just a 2 ½ hour program, so we’re just talking about a morning snack here but still, kids can be picky eaters so some families might find this tricky.
Food Bans are Difficult to Enforce
Food Bans are not an easy thing. How does one enforce a food ban? Will someone be checking kids’ snacks? How will anyone know if crackers contain dairy or eggs? How will anyone know if there are ground sesame seeds or flaxseed in bread? Reading labels and avoiding allergens is a challenge even for seasoned allergy parents – I know we’ve made mistakes before. I don’t know if it’s reasonable to expect all parents to be able to do this and there is no real way to enforce it. A reliable food ban is virtually impossible.
They Can Create a False Sense of Security
Food bans can lead to a false sense of security. Since all of the allergens are banned, people let their guards down; they think that they don’t have to worry about food allergies anymore. Wrong. As a parent of an anaphylactic kid, what I think is most important for people to know is how to recognize and treat an anaphylaxis emergency. I think these lose a sense of urgency when allergic foods are banned.
No Anaphylaxis/Allergy Organization Thinks Food Bans are a Good idea
Try to find one Ananphylaxis/Allergy Organization that supports food bans – you won’t be able to (and let me know if you do). I’ve never seen or heard of any organization that suggests or supports food bans. The Anaphylaxis Campaign sums it up nicely:
“Some schools choose to enforce ‘nut bans’, where it is forbidden for any pupil to bring the problem food to school. However, without wishing to undermine the good intentions of any school taking this approach, The Anaphylaxis Campaign believes there are several pitfalls in this approach. It would be impossible to provide an absolute nut-free guarantee so the danger is that allergic children may be led into a false sense of security. There is a strong case for arguing that food-allergic children will gain a better awareness of their allergies, and learn avoidance strategies, if they move in an environment where allergens may turn up unexpectedly.”
See what other organizations have to say:
- Anaphylaxis Canada
- Allergy/Asthma Information Association
- The Ausralasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
- Allergy Safe Communities
- Allergy New Zealand
When Son-S was at Nursery School, they had the same approach – they banned all the allergens. There were at least a few parents who did not like this. I overheard once, and heard ‘through the grapevine’ about others who couldn’t wait for Son-S to ‘graduate’ from nursery school so that food could go back to “the way it was”. It is a really crappy feeling knowing that people can’t wait until your kid is gone so that they don’t have to deal with their allergies anymore.
Recognizing and Treating Anaphylaxis is Key
While prevention and avoidance strategies are very important, being able to recognize and treat an anaphylactic reaction are essential. Anaphylaxis is treatable and deaths are preventable. Nobody can guarantee an “allergen-free” environment therefore we must work to educate our communities so that in the event of an emergency action can be taken and lives can be saved.
I’m afraid of the dark but probably not for reasons that you might think. Sometimes the dark digs down and awakens a fear in me. It is the worst kind of fear, but one that I know very well. Every once in a while, there is a monster that comes out at night at our house. Only once the house is quiet and it’s deep, dark night does this monster rear its head. The monster is croup and around here we know him well.
You see, croup has caused us more than our fair share of worry. What is normally a harmless childhood illness has sent us to the hospital more times than I can count. It has resulted in a 911 call and an ambulance at our house – also more times than I can count. And one summer night, it almost took the life of my little ray of sunshine, Son-F; that monster did it’s best to steal every last breath from him. To this day – more than two years later – every siren I hear, every ambulance and fire truck we pass by on the street, reminds me of that night.
The signs are very subtle. Mr. Family Nature and I just know when it’s coming. It’s hard to describe, it’s the way he breathes, the slightest hoarseness to his voice and just a feeling that we get when we know it’s going to be a long night. It’s virtually impossible for a doctor to detect during the day but despite how subtle the symptoms, to us they are unmistakable. We know.
On those nights when we know it’s coming, we do our best to prepare and then we wait. We have our tools and tricks to keep the monster at bay. If we think it’s going to be a particularly bad night we lay out clothes, pack a hospital bag and make sure the phone is close by so that if we need to, we can be out the door quickly. They we go to bed. We fall asleep with difficulty, as we listen for every little peep in the night.
Someone stirs, I am jolted awake. A cough gives me butterflies. I hear that croupy, barky, stridor sound and my stomach lurches. I struggle to keep calm. I have to tell myself to breathe deeply; to relax my muscles; to stop clenching my teeth. We do everything we can to fight the monster and we pray for morning. I am never so happy to see sunlight. Once the morning comes, the monster is gone until next time, when he comes again in the night.
Sometimes I feel like I spend a great deal of my time apologizing and making excuses. I apologize to various people for things like not returning phone calls, not answering emails, not filing my taxes on time, not getting errands done when I should, not spending enough time with my kids, etc. The list goes on. Then I make excuses: the kids, the family, a busy life; they’re all variations on the same theme; I’m a busy mum with four kids.
I was talking to another mum of four one day and she said, “It’s really busy. Stuff just doesn’t get done, and it’s important stuff.” I know exactly what she means. I have a lot of balls in the air and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
You know how once you become a parent, you feel like it’s impossible to describe it to a non-parent? I feel the same way about siblings – how wonderful and amazing is it to have more than one child and to see the interaction and love between siblings – there’s no way I could explain it to someone and do it justice. I also feel the same way about having a big family. It’s really quite different than having one or two kids. Managing all the different stages, the emotions and the needs of everyone, it’s not that easy to explain. I don’t really expect most people to understand.
Yet at the same time, I find myself trying to explain to people why I have let them down, why I haven’t gotten back to them sooner, or why I’m behind on something. Trying to justify my time to people. “I’m sorry I didn’t reply to your email, I’ve just been so busy!” sounds lame at best. “We just started at a new school, I had a migraine yesterday, Mr. Family Nature is so busy at work right now, the kids are sick” and more. I have a tonne of excuses and they’re all true but I hate the idea of ‘blaming’ my kids and/or family for everything — for what I think people perceive as my failings.
At times when I’m on the computer trying to answer those emails, I’m feeling guilty because I’m not hanging out with the kids. When I’m hanging out with the kids I’m thinking about the laundry and housework that needs to be done. When I’m on the phone I’m shushing the kids. When I’m doing the housework I’m thinking about all the other things I’m not doing.
Am I making my life sound miserable? Reading this one might think that I don’t like my life – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I love my life! I’m doing what I always wanted to do. Is it busy and hectic? Absolutely. Do I have any regrets? No way.
I willingly admit that I need to work on being more organized and managing my time better. Perhaps I also need to work on managing other people’s expectations.
My baby will be 2 next month. I was thinking recently how the end is in sight to diapers, breastfeeding and co-sleeping (although, given the chance our almost-eight-year old would still *love* to sleep with us, and sneaks in when he can; so I don’t really expect co-sleeping to come to an end soon, but it will change when the baby starts going to sleep with one of her brothers).
With my fourth and last c-section, I had a tubal ligation. I have been pondering the fact that I can’t have any more children for the last two years. Mr. Family Nature and I thought that we’d have more than four kids (ahem, that was before we had kids, but anyway). After our third was born, while I was still lying on the operating table being sewn up, the OB leaned over the curtain and said to me, “I strongly advise against future pregnancies”. I was heartbroken. We decided to have one more baby anyway.
I have found myself wondering from time to time, if we would have had another baby if circumstances had been different; if I’d had the natural births that I had wanted so badly to have. I’m not sure of the answer. We are quite content with our family of six; to us it seems perfect, but still….
When the baby was around a year old I started thinking about another baby because that was the age the other kids were when I started thinking about the next baby. I asked my husband if he would have another if we could and he said, “Woman! Are you crazy? We can barely handle the four we have now!” This in a loving, joking (but not quite joking) kind of way. Yes, yes, of course; our lives are pretty busy with four but I guess I was mourning a little the fact that there would not be any more babies in our house. Still, I told my husband that if we could, I’d have another in a second – and I absolutely would have at the time. The next day my husband said to me, “You know what? I’d do it in a second too.” I guess we’re both suckers for babies.
At the end of last week I was thinking that I was late. You know, late. Truth be told, I don’t really keep track of my cycle like I used to now that we don’t have to worry about birth control anymore. So I just figured that I had my dates wrong and tried to push it to the back of my mind. It kept nagging me though. And then I was thinking about how I hadn’t been feeling quite right for a couple of days. I told myself that I was being ridiculous! I had a tubal ligation, for crying out loud! So I searched the internet for tubal ligation effectiveness, looking for reassurance. Depending on what you read, the failure rate is as high as 2%. What‽ TWO percent‽ (I realize that even 2% is very low, but I was feeling very irrational at the time). And then I started feeling sicker … and sicker. OMG, what if I’m pregnant‽
Then I basically started freaking out. OMG, I don’t want to be pregnant! I cannot have another c-section! I cannot have another baby! I’ve given away all my baby stuff! How in the world will we manage‽
Then came the guilt. OMG, what if I am pregnant? Of course I would want the baby! Of course I would love the baby! Of course the baby would be the biggest, best, surprise I’ve ever had! *sigh* Have I mentioned before that motherhood makes you crazy?
Sooo anyway … I’m not pregnant.
My husband and I sat down with friends, I had a nice big glass of wine and we laughed over how silly I was.
And I thought about how four is perfect. I wouldn’t change things, even if I could.
Hello faithful readers. I’m still here. Back to school, a new school and the usual busy-ness of our lives have kept me from my blog.
I have a few half-written posts: why I don’t believe in food bans, my kids’ new school and our mini vacation are all in the works.
Getting back into the swing of things has been slow this year, I’m not sure why. I do like back to school though. A little bit of routine is a good thing for us, I think. Not that I don’t like summer mind you. I hear a lot of parents complaining about summer but I like hanging out with the kids. I love the lazy days of summer. I love not having to be anywhere at a certain time. But school is good too. It gets us all up, out of bed and dressed early and I generally feel much more productive during the school year.
So lately it’s been back to school: allergy forms, other school forms, teacher meetings, getting everyone settled, making lunches, organizing back-packs, water bottles – the usual things. It’s also been sleepless nights with a very out-of-sorts toddler and the ins and outs of a new school.
I’m not complaining, I’m just sayin’. This is the way things have been lately. We’re all adjusting and doing well. I could do with a bit more sleep though … I should probably start a post on that too.
Stay tuned friends, I’m still here and there’s more to come.
Last winter, my 7 year old, grade 2 son came home from school one day to report that he’d had an “attention”.
“A what?” I asked.
“An attention” he said.
“Do you mean detention?” I asked.
Yes, detention, that was it. He went on to tell me that he had to spend an entire recess, 15 minutes, inside. Oh my, what could my 7 year old angel have done to deserve detention? As it turns out, absolutely nothing.
Here’s the story: the school administration had been having trouble with a handful of grade 7 boys who were throwing snowballs. I guess this had been an ongoing problem and as a last resort, they decided to punish the entire school. The school’s population is somewhere around 550 and I’d guess there were 60 or 70 kindergarten kids who were not included in the school-wide punishment. Every other child in the school – from grade 1 to grade 8 – had detention that day; they had to stay inside for afternoon recess. Oh, and that’s not all: all students had to sit at their desks, with their heads down and all the lights turned off. For fifteen minutes. “How did you eat your snack?” I asked my son. “With my head down on my desk, turned to the side,” was his answer.
What. The. Frack.
This is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.
Okay, let’s start with snow. Guess what? We live in Canada. It snows in Canada. Snow is all around us. Kids like snow. Kids touch snow. Kids play with snow. Is it really reasonable for us to ask kids to be completely surrounded by snow and not touch it – ever?
School-wide punishment … seriously? I guess the idea is that other students will put pressure on the kids who are throwing snow, because they don’t want another school-wide detention. But this doesn’t really make sense to me. How is it relevant to punish a grade 1 student because of a grade 7 student’s actions? Is a grade 1 student going to influence a grade 7? Come on, where is the logic here?
If the principal decided one day to take away a teacher’s afternoon break – as a form of discipline for poor performance no less – that principal would have the teacher’s union and the Ministry of Labour knocking on her door before recess was over; it would never be allowed. Why then, would anyone think that this is okay for a kid? There is a reason that breaks are required by law and kids deserve these breaks just as much as adults do – maybe even more! There is much research about kids and recess, kids and physical activity, and how these relate to kids and education. I think it’s been well established that kids need recess, even in cold weather. Taking away recess as a punishment should not be allowed. Period.
I also have to wonder about this business of kids eating their snacks with their heads down on their desks. Try it. Go ahead, sit at your dining room table with your head down and try to eat dinner; ridiculous, isn’t it? The idea that kids would be forced to do this preposterous. It’s downright barbaric.
Not surprisingly, I was not the only parent who was outraged by this detention. It was a hot topic at the parent council meeting a couple of days later. The principal defended her decision. “You know what? It worked!” she told all of us.
GRRR! I hate the ‘it worked!’ argument. So what if it worked? People my age are probably old enough to remember corporal punishment in schools. At our school we called it ‘the strap’ and everyone knew exactly what it was. I’ll bet people used to say that the strap worked, but we know now that this kind of punishment is not okay. I’d also bet that expelling students for throwing snow balls would ‘work’ too (because eventually, everyone would be expelled!) How about the dunce cap? Well hey, I think that would work. It is a good idea? Absolutely not. So I reject out-of-hand the ‘it worked’ defense.
After a lengthy discussion the principal stood by her actions that day. She did eventually admit that she probably wouldn’t use this particular punishment again. I don’t think though, that she won’t use it because she believes that it is wrong; I just think too many parents complained. It’s hardly a victory. Who knows what other barbaric, preposterous punishment ideas the principal has up her sleeve. Good thing we won’t be around to find out.
When I was a teenager I used to work with a woman, MK. She was an older woman, maybe in her fifties. She was nice enough and did her job just fine, but everyone thought she was a little crazy. If MK was standing talking to you, she’d be swaying back and forth. She was forgetful, absentminded and she just never seemed like she was all there, if you know what I mean.
When my first was born, I was a basket-case. The first time we ever went for a drive with the baby in the car, I was out of my mind in the front seat; I was in an absolute panic. What if he needed me? What if he started crying on the highway? What if he got hungry? What if the 20 minute drive was too long for him? I felt like I was going mad.
When we were visiting people I could not bear to be in a different room than the baby and I actually got sick of other people wanting to hold him. I wanted to hold him – all the time.
The next time I saw my midwife I told her that I thought I was losing my mind. I asked her when these feelings of anxiety and panic over my baby would go away. She paused for a moment and said, “Never.”
Well, I’m not nearly as anxious as I used to be. By the time my second was born, I was okay when other people were holding the baby and I didn’t feel so much like I was in a panicked state all the time. My third and fourth were the same, but still … I catch myself standing, talking to a mum in the schoolyard, swaying (even when I’m not holding a baby). I am also forgetful, absentminded and I often feel … like I’m not all there, if you know what I mean.
This morning I got a phone call that set me off. My oldest son has been offered a spot in a new alternative school opening in our city (my three school aged kids were all on the waiting list). Back in the spring, when I found out that we didn’t get in, that we were on the waiting list, I was completely devastated. So today, when I got off the phone, after learning that my oldest got in and the other two had been bumped to the very top of the waiting list for their grades, I melted into a sobbing heap. I mean real tears. Over a school, people. Every time I thought about the school today I had to fight off tears.
It’s true, this school was really important to me for a lot of reasons, which I’ll write about soon. But still, I never used to be like this – this emotional, this frantic.
Am I really crazy? No, I don’t think so. And I no longer think that that MK was crazy either; I just think she was a mum.