Last year at my daughter Annabel’s pre-K orientation, a dad asked if kids would be allowed to have peanut butter in their lunches. I watched a mom in front of me stiffen as the teachers replied, “We’re asking you not to. We have a child in one of the pre-K classes with a severe nut allergy.”
As the dad made a face, the mom in front of me stood up. “My daughter is in the Tuesday/Thursday class, and she has the nut allergy. Even peanut dust could kill her. She’s only 4. Please, I’m begging you, don’t send peanut butter to school. It’s only two and a half hours. Please.”
She sat back down, and the dad said, “My child is in the Monday/Wednesday/Friday class, does that mean I can send peanut butter?”
I will never forget the look on that mom’s face.
I see similar conversations play out again and again. Scared moms and dads beg their fellow parents to leave the peanut butter at home, while other parents refuse, saying, “It’s my right to feed my child what I want — your child’s health is not more important.” As if the risk of hunger-induced crankiness is the same as the risk of death.
Of course, there are a lot of airborne food allergies, and it isn’t realistic to ban everything. But I just don’t understand the parent who, upon hearing about an allergy in his or her child’s class, continues to send the allergen to school. Why would you willingly risk a child’s life? Why would you risk your child being the reason a classmate gets sick or dies?
My kids don’t have allergies, but my daughter is a picky enough eater that her packed lunch is exactly the same every single day. If there were a kid in her class with a milk or strawberry allergy, though, we’d figure out some new foods to put in her lunch box. There are thousands of options at all different price points for dairy-free, nut-free, and allergen-free snacks (and protein alternatives) just on Pinterest. And — she could still eat yogurt and strawberries at home!
Last week, Annabel came home and told me about the peanut-free table at her elementary school. “I can sit at it, because I don’t have peanut butter!” When I explained to her that the table was started for kids who are allergic to peanuts, she asked, “Why does anyone bring peanuts, then?” When I told her it’s because some parents still want their kids to eat peanut butter, she was appalled. “But grown-ups are supposed to keep kids safe!”
And there’s the rub. Kids should know that the adults in their schools will keep them safe. I shouldn’t have to worry that you’ll speed through a crosswalk while we’re in it (because your child has the right to be on time to school just like mine, right?), and another mom shouldn’t have to worry that your child might accidentally kill hers at lunch. What has happened to empathy? What has happened to our village?
A sandwich is not more important than a child’s life. It’s just not.