As a follow up to last month’s article about Managing Food Allergy Bullies I received many requests to write more about our experience with other parents who have bullied me and/or my husband about our son’s food allergies. It isn’t easy to manage the fears that come with sending our children off to school and then to add other parents and their issues really can push us to our limits of civility!
It was a very difficult time when our now 16 year old son, Morgan, was in kindergarten and first grade. The elementary school had never had a child with food allergies as severe as Morgan’s. And he was the first student to receive a 504 Plan for his food allergies. I had been friends with a group of three other women prior to Morgan starting elementary school who had heard me talking about Morgan’s food allergies around the neighborhood at birthday parties and soccer practices. Two of these women had children Morgan’s age, and they experienced firsthand the changes in the curriculum that had to occur in kindergarten to keep Morgan safe. And boy did they have an opinion about it!
On one occasion, the kindergarten classroom had a ‘restaurant’ for parents to come in during lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had always been the menu item. Instead of this item, cheese sandwiches were served. I heard about it from one Mom who told me that pb&j sandwiches sure did taste better! I realized later that I expected my friends to understand my child’s food allergies and to provide support. In the end, that was too high of an expectation.
Another Mom told me that she hoped her daughter wouldn’t be in Morgan’s classroom the next year because she was tired of all the changes in regard to food. That really hurt my feelings. Sadly, things only got worse with these parents; however the school principal and teachers were very supportive and followed Morgan’s 504 Plan which required an allergen free classroom. The school staff was responsible to keep Morgan safe and that’s what was most important to me.
My friendship with these Moms deteriorated. I couldn’t seem to find the right words to express my upset with them, and therefore stayed silent and distant. The school continued to follow Morgan’s 504 Plan and kept him safe in his allergen free zones in the classrooms and lunchroom. They also made sure Morgan was emotionally supported as well. A few years later, the top blew off the situation.
One Mom announced at a PTO meeting that she was done following “all the no peanuts rules” and was bringing peanut butter cookies to Field Day for all the students. However a parent whose son was in our Cub Scout Den spoke up that she wasn’t willing to support that and children with peanut allergies deserve to be safe. I was so proud of this Mom! And it felt so good for someone to stand up for Morgan and for ALL the kids with peanut allergies especially when her children didn’t have any. For some reason, my former friends thought that my son was the only one with food allergies. I always got the sense that they thought we had manufactured his allergies for him to get more attention.
I spoke to the principal of the school after that PTO fiasco and learned that she had been dealing with this Mom for years with multiple issues around food. There had been demands that her son needed protein in the form of a Snickers bar in the classroom for a snack. Thankfully, the principal had stated that a different form of protein would be necessary. There had been threats by the Mom to bring in peanut butter cookies to a party because that’s what she wanted to bring. The principal told me that she said, “then the cookies will be immediately removed from the classroom and sent home.” I am so grateful that the principal had such a backbone, and that she stood up for Morgan’s safety.
My husband, Bob, got to experience an upsetting situation after we received a phone call from the principal one day when Morgan was in 5th grade. We learned that another Cub Scout from our Den decided to sit in the peanut-free zone at school eating a Butterfinger bar. When Morgan couldn’t get the child to move, he went to the principal to help him. The boy was promptly removed from the table and his father was called. The principal also called us immediately to let us know what transpired at school and that the boy had been suspended from school for a day. Since my husband knew this father very well through Cub Scouts, he called him to discuss the situation. The father was irate that Bob would call, and then this Dad decided to come over to our house to yell some more and state that his son would never do what he was accused of. Thankfully, Bob is a patient man and just let this Dad vent before saying that he didn’t appreciate what his son had done and Bob realized this Dad was in complete denial that his son had done anything wrong! Thankfully this never occurred again.
During all these issues, I continued to work with my school and school district to further education and awareness of food allergies. Once Morgan was in 4th grade, the school district added food allergy awareness training to its accreditation model; in 5th grade, Colorado passed a law allowing him to self-carry his EpiPen and the school district started a Food Allergy Task Force to create guidelines to keep children with severe food allergies safe in school. I focused all of my energies on these activities, and kept the school staff focused on my son’s safety. These parents got to throw tantrums and nasty words around, but fewer and fewer people listened to them. Their bark (and their bite!) didn’t arouse any sympathy as more and more children with food allergies came into classrooms.
We have lived in our home for almost 19 years and Morgan has gone to kindergarten on to high school with the same group of kids. We refused to move away or pull him out of school. Instead, we worked within the system which certainly wasn’t easy every day! He’s friends with all the kids whose parents gave us such a hard time, and at least one of the boys is in several classes with Morgan this year. No longer do the parents say anything to me about allergen-free classrooms or allergen-free zones. As my husband says, “Time heals all wounds, and wounds all heels!”