Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Which I Hope I Don't Offend Real Allergy Sufferers

What is wrong with my internal WTF? reaction to the following situation:

Ms. A, mom of a sweet 3-year-old kid who has just joined DS's one-morning-a-week co-op preschool class, shows up yesterday and suddenly says "My kid can't have any dairy" after the person whose turn it was to bring the snack for everyone put a piece of cheddar cheese on every kid's plate, then Ms. A's little guy sees it, wants it, and throws a major tantrum that results in Ms. A having to remove him from the preschool building. Once the little guy calms down, Ms. A bring him back and gives him his own snack of prunes and a banana, sitting him in a different room with her apart from all of the other children, who are eating snack together at one large table with their teacher.

Suddenly, a couple of the other parents are asking me, hey, what is going on!? Because I'm the person with the dubious distinction of being 'parent coordinator,' unfortunately. Aw, shit. And because not having all of the kids eat together with their teacher is apparently a big deal for some parents because they are worried that their kid will demand his/her own special snack, and to be able to eat with mom by herself.... actually that sounds like some potential shenanigan my son would try.

So I ask Ms. A, quietly, what her little boy's dietary restrictions are, and can I please let other parents know so when it is their turn to bring snack we won't have this happen again? (The school is already nut and gluten free, FYI). She says "Well, I don't want to force other parents to have to not bring certain foods." (Thinking to myself, ok so she wants the exact opposite of whatever she just said) I said "I hear you, and BTW we have a policy of being completely nut and gluten free already, so what specifically do we also need to avoid?" And she replied, "Last night my husband and I decided to eliminate all cow proteins from our sons' diets. No more cheese, no more dairy, no more non-organic beef because it is causing our sons' constipation. So we're trying a total elimination diet for 2 weeks to see if the constipation improves." (She said as her son gobbled down 4 prunes in 30 seconds... so perhaps hers isn't much of a scientific approach if her goal is to determine whether or not 'cow proteins' are in fact the cause of constipation, I thought to myself, snarkily.)

Suddenly the president of the co-op is chiming in over my shoulder, "Have you had your son tested for allergies?" I didn't know she was standing there. And at least two other parents are listening in. Ms. A said "No, but I've just been thinking lately about how bad anything from a cow is for you, and how humans were really never intended to eat cows and cow proteins, and how one time we went to this camp for the summer and the food was all vegetarian and no one in our family was constipated, and how when I serve only pure organic beef at home everyone is fine..." Then the kids finished their snack and I got pulled away from the conversation to attend to them, while the president continued to speak with Ms. A for a bit, and a few others continued to listen in.

And I realized my immediate reaction was to be pretty judgmental of Ms. A's entire line of reasoning. And I feel a bit bad about it, but not really. Look, for the record, I respect vegetarianism, veganism, pretty much any and all entrenched cultural & religious reasons for restricted diets, and obviously I fully support institutional restrictions of any foods that cause us and/or our children anything from mild oral discomfort to very serious, life-threatening illnesses. But... between you, me, and the internets, something about this scenario doesn't quite fall into this aforementioned "legitimate" category for me. Maybe because the overall tone of how it unfolded just rubbed me the wrong way? I really ought to give her the benefit of the doubt and go along with her pseudo-scientific thinking, right?

Then the president comes up to me and says "I think you should put the word out about it." Normally, I would send out an email, but honestly I am at a loss as to what to say, and how to describe what exact foods parents shouldn't bring from now on? We have a list of recommended snacks, but I have no idea if they'd be ok with Ms. A (and honestly, I'm irritated even thinking about having to find the list again and having to inquire - shouldn't that be Ms. A's burden?). Even though Ms. A said she didn't want to force other parents to comply with her self-imposed restrictions, Ms. A seemed pretty comfortable telling everyone about her family's diet, and I'm sure she would appreciate everyone doing their part to support her parenting choice (who wouldn't?), so maybe she would be ok with an email going out about it?

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I wish Ms. A would have said something sooner, because it caused a disruption to the class, caused a bit of "drama" amongst the parents, and clearly seemed to make the parent who brought the cheese feel like an a-hole. While Ms. A's son is new to the preschool, her two older children attended there for years, so it is not like she was unfamiliar with the process. When she joined, I made it abundantly clear the multiple ways I and others are always reachable. Granted, I'm sure she didn't expect her son to throw a ginormous tantrum over some cheese... but let's be honest, wasn't it the least bit foreseeable in this context? Anyway, that's all my own problem of feeling irritated and eye-rollish. And I want to be clear, if she had lied and said this were something we needed to have an epi-pen ready to deal with, hush would have been ALL OVER it. I am one of those moms on the playground who has the epi-pen and knows how to use it, and BTW no one in my family is allergic to anything (yet). So maybe I should just be happy she was honest about the situation and the lack of severity.

I'm afraid if I send out an email it will sound all passive-aggressive in my head and I will over-analyze it obsessively. Could you all please tell me honestly what the kind thing to do is? Thank you for listening (I'm annoying myself now just re-reading this.)


Clare said...

OK, I will tell you my situation before I tell you what I think of yours. My first-grade son is allergic to peanuts, and we are a peanut free house. He has epipens at school, and I carry one with us where ever we go. His school is NOT peanut free. They do separate the kids-with-peanut butter sandwiches from the allergic kids at lunch, and parents in his class are good about double checking treats for the whole class. My younger son has not been tested for peanut allergy yet, but I tell people he's allergic (just in case; his father and brother have both reacted to peanuts and been officially "tested.") His daycare is peanut free, so no epipen yet. I will get him tested this summer. Oh, and I am vegetarian (but the my husband and children are not).

All that to set up that I am down with dietary restrictions, voluntary or otherwise. And I think the mom in this case is NUTS (haha pun not intended). First, she sprung it on everyone, including her preschooler. Second, her reasoning is flawed. If she fed him cheese like she feeds him prunes, no wonder he was constipated. Third, people who decide on a whim to cut out gluten, dairy, whatever, make it so much harder for people who really NEED to avoid those products. And that pisses me off.

I would explain to her that she has a couple of options while her kid is at school, because I think it's gotta be all or nothing with the kids there. Everyone needs to eat the same stuff in this particular situation. She could 1) let her kid eat cheese at school, but not at home. 2)ask that the class be dairy free. Cutting out dairy, in addition to nuts and gluten leaves you with fruits and veggies as far as I can tell, which really are the ideal snacks for kids. If she goes with the first option, no note necessary. If she goes with the second, just be matter of fact in the email that there is now a dairy-sensitive child in the class, and snacks have to accommodate that. It sounds as if she's talked to enough parents that you don't need to supply the eye-rolling; they'll be able to do it themselves.

mom2boy said...

This is why I love the internet. Well, it's one reason. In my head, I am JUST LIKE crazy Ms. A. I pull Tate on and off dairy every few months for a few weeks and then I get lazy because he really likes yogurt! There is no rational basis for my behavior, just a gut feeling that dairy cows have a miserable life that my family's dairy consumption contributes to and yeah, dairy in excess causes constipation. (btw, miralax powder is a quicker fix than eliminating dairy altogether but less earthy crunchy save the planet like.) So we currently use almond milk for cereal and smoothies. But I tend to keep my crazy inside the confines of my house when possible, so I've never taken up the issue with his preschool. Especially since I don't think he has an allergy, it's just my own personal preference at the moment and that seems a bit much to place on a group of pre-schoolers most of whom also really like yogurt!

I'm not sure what the email should say either unless you start with an email to Ms. A asking her to look at the snack list and edit it and then you can redistribute it? Or just go the fruit/veggie route Clare suggested. Best of luck with it all parent coordinator. ;)

Anonymous said...

So, my son has a dairy allergy (no other allergies, thankfully) and he goes to daycare where kids are fed milk, cheese and many other dairy-containing things at breakfast, snack and lunch time. I send him a home-packed lunch and the teachers have learned what he can have at snack time. I agree with the previous poster that the mom is a bit nuts - I mean, peanut allergies cause kids throats to swell up and they can die. Dairy allergies typically cause intestinal reactions that, while not fun at all and they should be avoided, are usually not immediately life-threatening. And CERTAINLY not in her kids case where it sounds like there isn't an allergy (my kid poops blood when he has dairy - as most kids I've heard of with dairy allergies/intolerances do). If you ask that all dairy-containing snacks be eliminated you really are restricting most everything that kids like except fruit and veggies. It just doesn't seem right to me. I think the mom needs to manage her kids expectations and certainly not separate him from the group which can't have helped. I don't know that I have any specific advice, I just don't think dairy should be removed and women like this make light of kids with real allergies and it makes me angry.

blue said...

No food allergies in our home, so I can't speak to that personally. We do, however, have a child in a nut free school. I also have several family members who maintain very rigid, self-imposed dietary restrictions for various reasons (one being constipation problems).

I'm just gonna come right out and say it because it's late and I'm tired and I like you Hush. That woman is wacked if she thinks it's appropriate to march into school talking about strict, suddenly imposed dietary restrictions (so sudden that it sounds like she almost forgot about them for a moment), then throw her child into a frenzy, and then state that she doesn't expect any special treatment. It really seems passive aggressive to me. I, for one, would not send an email only because it really is her job to stand up and give you a list if she expect any attention to be given to the matter. Call me insensitive, but isn't that our job as parents, to be our own child's advocate and not have others expected to put the mysterious puzzle pieces together for us?

End rant here.

Claudia said...

Ok, I'm going to sound like a total ass, but the issues that have been brought up in the last three posts make me SO GLAD I don't live in the U.S. Just to remind you, I am American. I live in Denmark.
Denmark by no means is perfect. it can't hold a candle to many awesome things the states have. Of course there are preschools with certain focuses here. Of course there are nannies who yell, and mothers who gossip. Of course there are kids with allergies, or mothers who inconvenience people and put their children on the spot. But holy fuck, the rest of us don't run around like it suddenly became our problem. I know it doesn't sound like it, but I'm not criticizing you, hush. I'm criticizing a society that has to bend to everyone's crazy, and be respectful of their wackanoodle opinions. I hope I am showing that I agree with you, hush.
Here, you'd get a cold silence, or a curt one-sentence cut-off. The message being, 'mind your own business, take care of your own shit, and if there's a problem that needs addressing, take it to the person who's in charge of that.'
Sure, it's a repressive culture that doesn't allow personal expression that might be slightly wackanoodle. I miss that a lot. But not when they try to make me a part of their cult.

Totally not helpful. I didn't even give a suggestion of what the kind thing to do is. I would say that she'll need to inform us in good time if the snack needs to be within this or that confine. Done and done.

Sorry, I seem to be in a mood right now. I should delete all this, but I'll let it stand and take your comments for having voiced my wackanoodle opinion.

blue said...

@Claudia, you go girl. Seems reasonable that you'd be able to voice your strong opinion in Hushville, a place where we keep it real, right?

hush said...

Thank you everyone who shared their thoughts - and especially for keeping it REAL!!!! Glad to know I am not the only one out there in the world who can see the crazy/dumb in this, even if I'm the only one in Podunkville who can!!

So here's my plan: I am not going to send out any emails. I am not even going to say anything to anyone about it. I am basically going to pretend it never happened, and just stick to the letter of the preschool's policy: "Parents may bring any snack that is nut-free and gluten-free." Period, end of story. If Ms. A's kid throws more food tantrums in the future I will leave it to the teacher and/or his mother to handle it, because it is not my problem. If Ms. A says anything to me on this issue, I will inform her of school policy - full stop. We have only 4 months left at this school, then summer break, then DS will start Montessori. That means I will only have to deal with the stupidpodunk-ness for 14 more mornings, maybe even fewer if people get sick... Thanks again, all!!!!

paola said...

You haven't offended this food allergy sufferer! In fact this post only shows your concern for real sufferers. Should people who suffer confirmed life threatening allergies/intolerances like gluten intolerance and fatal nut (like me) and peanut allergies be put in the same category as someone who has difficulty pooping? Well no.

Having said that, I don't know what I would do in your situation. Part of me agrees with what you plan to do, another part of me tends to think there is no harm in revising the list to exclude dairy. But that is more because I hate confrontaion and wouldn't want to get into a fight with someone over something that may potentially get out of hand,

Cloud said...

I think your BS meter is going off, and that is why this is annoying you. Two things made MY BS meter go off- the bit about humans not being "meant" to eat cow proteins and the bit about non-organic beef. First of all- which is it? I would be really, really surprised if there was a significant difference in the proteins between organic and non-organic beef. I totally buy a difference in the composition of the fat and things like vitamins and other small molecule nutrients. In fact, it has been shown that grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3s than corn fed beef. But the proteins? Maybe some small differences in which there is more of one protein and less of another- but I'd be floored if it was enough of a difference that our bodies could tell the difference.

On the issue of us not being meant to eat cow proteins, all I can say is "WTF?" We are clearly predators- we have eyes facing front not to the sides. We have sharp teeth for tearing meat. And cows were domesticated from a wild animal that we were probably eating for centuries. Now, dairy is another matter. Some populations never started using dairy much, and they have a higher incidence of people who stop expressing lactase, but that doesn't apply to the entire human population. I can see that there might be differences in how well we process the milk proteins, too, but again- that says nothing about what humans in general were "meant" to eat. So her whole argument there strikes me as muddled, at best.

As for the constipation- I'd look at the bananas in addition to the cheese. They are known "binders", which is why we eat them when we're trying to get over upset stomachs. Petunia has occasional trouble with constipation, and it is almost always too much banana in her diet that does it.

But you asked what we'd do in your shoes. I'd send Ms. A an email and ask her which she'd prefer: (1) the snacks list stays as it is, and she can send in snacks for her son- but he eats them with the rest of the kids, so that it doesn't seem quite so special to all the other kids. None of her concerns should lead to problems with trace exposure. (2) SHE modifies the snack list and sends it back to you, and you'll ask the other parents to work off the new list during her trial period. At the end of the trial period, if she decides to stay dairy-free, you can revisit it and work out a plan.

I guess my thinking is that if she wants to complicate her life with pseudoscientific nonsense, let her. But why should she get to complicate everyone else's life, too? SO I'd look for the way to accommodate her that has minimal impact on the rest of you.

Now, if her son had an actual dairy allergy, I'd be much more willing to add some complication to my life. But a vague suspicion about constipation and a bunch of new-agey mumbo-jumbo? Nah. Make her do the work.

Zenmoo said...

I haven't got anything to add - just I like your plan Hush and @Claudia - I LOVE the word 'wackanoodle'

Caryn said...

Allergies are serious stuff, so if she says her son has allergies when he really doesn't, then that can cause a huge uproar that doesn't need to be there. Fair or not, it almost sounded like she enjoyed the drama.

hush said...

UPDATE: I think I have found a workable solution here, that is, to continue not to let anyone make this issue my problem.

So, the President called me yesterday when she realized I hadn't sent out any emails to the class. I replied, "Ms. A has not requested any accommodations for her son so there is nothing for me to report." Then the President asked me if I would be ok with her calling up the snack parents for the next 2 weeks and just asking them to leave out the cheese sticks. I said "Sure, that's entirely up to you."

Then the President sent an email to Ms. A and cc'd me on it asking how the elimination diet was going, and asking for any feedback Ms. A might have for the Board for it's next meeting because snack policy would be on the agenda. Ms. A sent the following email reply:

"Thanks for checking in President. Sorry I didn't see your email sooner, obviously too late to talk to the snack person now. I really hate to ask everyone to change their snacks just for Son, so I think I'll just leave it up to the individual. I've seen a huge improvement since we have taken out all cow products (dairy, milk-bi-products, & beef). So we will definitely be continuing with that. It would be great if part of the snack could be dairy free (like fruit), and then I can substitute crackers or something if I need to. If people are baking items butter can almost always be replaced with the same amount of oil, IF people are willing. If not that is fine too, I would just need to know if the items had butter or milk.
At this point he's not eating anything labeled with milk products, but if it was packaged in a place that also processes milk products that is okay.
Hope this helps a bit, please let me know if you have more questions."

There you have it. Eye-roll-fest.

caramama said...

I'm glad it seems to have been worked out, and you didn't have to make it your problem!

First I want to say that when you are at the start of dealing with elimination of a food, it's easy to forget. I mean, it's a total change of lifestyle, and that takes time. So if she was at the start of the elimination, it's not surprising that she didn't think about the snack in advance. I'd cut her some slack there.

Next, one of the most amazing things I've found in daycares and preschools is that kids are much more understanding of food allergies than we give them credit for. At this point, my daughter is so used to not eating the cupcakes that other parents bring in for birthdays and such or the candy that is passed around at holidays, that it's really not a big deal. There are no tantrums, and all the other kids totally understand why the Pumpkin is eating a different snack. Just today, we were at a birthday party to which we brought our own cupcakes, and anyone who was curious asked why, and we explained the peanut allergy.

Once you explain to kids why someone has to have different considerations, they totally get it. Not only that, they learn that they need to help accommodate others who have differences. I've just been so amazed at how all the kids totally get it and even watch out for each other. They know my girl can't have certain things, and they help make sure that she's safe. It's awesome.

Finally, at the Pumpkin's current school, she brings in a lunch I pack every day. But the school provides a morning snack and an afternoon snack. The morning snack is always a fruit or veggie, so she can have that. But it was too hard to figure out if the crackers or whatever they were having in the afternoon was safe, so I just pack her an afternoon snack too. All the kids understand that she has a food allergy, therefore needs to eat a different snack. And honestly? Once it's explained (and as long as no adult is making a huge deal of it), the kids adjust and I think it's GOOD for them to learn to accommodate others.

Having said all that, I personally think the best solution is not to change the food list since it's not a true allergy, but to have the mom send in a snack or at least a supplement for her child. The child can still eat at the table with the other kids, since I don't think the cross-contamination would be a huge deal in this case (I think). If the kids ask why that child gets a different snack, it's an easy answer: He has a sensitivity to dairy. It hurts his stomach if he eats it.

And there is my 2 hundred cents, hopefully not too late. :-)

NK said...

I haven't read all the comments, so I"m not sure if I'll be repeating others. And I can't say what other ppl should or should not do, I tend to have too strong opinions :) But I'll tell you what I would do. I would let my kid eat at school with everyone else (its already nut and gluten free). And I'll tell you why. We eat organic everything at home. But when we go out to our friends houses and out socializing we eat what we're served. Because we love people we spend time with and we choose places we go. And I would never be arrogant to ask everyone around me to cater to my every whim. Unless it was life-threatening.

Anonymous said...

First time reader here, found the story interesting. There is one huge point Ms. A is missing: pure organic beef has nothing but cow proteins in it! Raising cattle on organic food doesn't transform them into another species. This point alone shows how ridiculous and non-logical her reasoning is. If they can tolerate organic beef well, then the issue is not cow proteins or anything, I am sorry to say the issue is more in their head.