I want to preface this post by saying that there are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak. (You’ll see why I chose to use that disturbing expression in a few minutes!) I believe there are many ways to make school and school lunch a safe environment. What may be right for us, may not feel right or be feasible for you. So this is one way but not the only way.
Our school does not have a nut-free cafeteria. They have a nut-free table in the cafeteria. The problem for us is that table isn’t even the littlest bit safe. The children who eat nut-free lunches still have cheese sandwiches on wheat bread or frosted cupcakes that only an egg could make so fluffy and moist. But my boys are allergic to these foods so where in the cafeteria is safe for them?
We decided that they would sit at yet another table with just the two of them. When we got to lunch and they realized that no one else was sitting with them, they looked at me as though I was Judas, in the midst of some grand betrayal. I could see that they felt like I didn’t trust them. They told me they knew everything about their allergies and promised they wouldn’t eat any food if it dropped on the table or the floor. I wanted to show them that I did indeed trust them (insert your parent’s voice saying, “We trust you. It’s your friends we don’t trust.”) so I let them sit at the nut-free table with any of their friends with nut-free lunches and all of their other potentially deadly allergens…
On one condition: I was there. Every lunch. Every day.
And so I go to school lunch every day. With Gino’s exquisitely sensitive immune system and history of severe reactions, I feel better about being there and frankly, so do the teachers. It was not an easy decision though. I walk a fine line. And the boys have drawn me an even finer one. Upon request of Gino, I must walk around and help all the kids in his class. I prepare my boys’ lunches, opening water bottles and unscrewing impossibly tight lids. Then I move on, contaminating myself with other children’s yogurts and milks and muffins, always keeping my boys and their table neighbors within my sightline. I am a spy.
We have dealt with spilled milk that traveled uncomfortably quickly and close to Gino’s lunch, a short-lived food fight, and an episode of hives around a mouth to which we had no known trigger. So for me and for now, going to school lunch seems to work. I have been able to ward off some potential problems but I have also been able to overhear some pretty cute conversation about food allergies. I’ll share one.
During the first few weeks of school, the kids were talking, getting to know each other. Milo told his friends that he is allergic to egg, soy and nuts. Gino said simply that he is allergic to “too much.” The other children began to chime in, all wanting to be included in the allergy talk. One of the boys told the others that his mom is allergic to milk and he is allergic to dog. Another boy stated that he can only eat a “little milk” and one of the boys is allergic to cats. Cats. Milo suddenly flashed a smile that stretched across his face. That same smile you get when you think of the next funny thing you want to say but someone else is still talking. So when there was a nanosecond of silence, he blurted out “I’m not allergic to cats so I guess I could eat one if I wanted to!” The table erupted in laughter and the conversation deteriorated from there with each child listing (louder and louder) what they would eat if they weren’t allergic to it. I’ll let you imagine what 5 kindergarten boys could think of… I’m just going to say that if I would have been eating, I’d have lost my appetite.