This morning was hard. It was a bit of a sucker punch.
Recently, I signed up for a parent/toddler class. It is a just-for-fun class that included Art, Music and Gym activities. Some classes they offer are for specific age groups, such as 0-6 months or 15-18 months, so that all of the kids are all similar ages and the activities are geared towards that age of development. They also offer multiple age classes (for 4 years old and under) so that siblings close in age and their parent can all attend together. I signed up for the multiple age class so that I could attend with both my 1 & 2 year-old. One of our kiddos has multiple severe food allergies. I emailed before the class started to let them know what Neal (1) was allergic to and the severity. I knew there was a “snack time” involved so I also offered to donate a variety of snacks for the whole class that were safe for him. This is the first time I had enrolled in something like this since Dash was diagnosed so I had no idea what the protocol was and I hoped I had taken the appropriate steps. A couple days later, I received an email from the teacher saying that the email was forwarded to each of the other teachers in the class so they were all aware, and she also asked if I would mind talking about his allergies to the other parents during introductions on the first day of class so that they could understand. I was grateful for her response and said I definitely would.
The first class went off without incident. During introductions, I explained about his multiple food allergies and the severity of them, especially in regards to peanuts & tree nuts. There were 4 other Moms all with young kiddos in the class and they could not have been more understanding. One said she would make absolute certain that her twins did not have peanut butter the morning of class even though it was normally a part of their usual breakfast routine to avoid any residue that could be left on their hands or clothes. The other Moms all agreed and were so sweet. The crackers I provided were served for snack time and the kids loved them. It was a great morning of class and a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; it felt like we had conquered new territory in this allergy journey. After class, the teacher said that starting with the next class, before snack time, the parents would leave the class for a parent discussion in another room. Then, while we were gone, the kids would have their snack and then walk down the hall to the gym with the assistant teachers.
For my oldest son (2 yrs), I thought it was great and I knew he would have a blast in the gym playing with the other kids. But, I got a pit in my stomach regarding my youngest (1 yr) for two reasons. One, during the most likely time that he would have a reaction – snack time – I wouldn’t be there. Snack time is the time he would be sitting at the table where many peanut-containing snacks have been eating throughout the day by the multiple classes, and his hands would be in his mouth. Two, snack time would then be immediately followed by all of the kids walking down the hall to the gym to play in there. So, in the event he did have a reaction, the teachers may not know the signs (which was evident when I talked to them) or catch them in time because of all of the commotion. Now, keep in mind, he is ONE; he can’t tell someone that his mouth is itchy, his throat is feeling tight or his heart is racing.
The night before the next class, I couldn’t fall asleep thinking about how I was going to handle the situation. But, before falling asleep, I was confident in my plan to talk to the head teacher at the beginning of class. We all arrived at class and I was feeling confident with my plan and like I was about to, once again, conquer another new territory in our journey of figuring out this severe allergy stuff. We walked down the hall towards the classroom door and paused to take off our coats. The head teacher, Kari*, stepped into the hall to greet us. We said our Hellos and then I brought up my concerns. I explained why I wasn’t comfortable separately with the timing of them having snack without me and then immediately heading to the gym and the likelihood of a reaction. I asked if during the few minutes of snack time he could hang in the parent room and then once snack was over, he could rejoin the rest of the kiddos in the gym.
When I had played this conversation in my head the night before and that morning on the way to class, I expected a “Great idea!” or “Of course!”. Never in a million years would I have guessed what she said. She looked at me square in the eye and said with a condescending look and tone, “I reeeeeeallly think he is too old to spend any time in the parent room. If he were a baaaaby, it would be one thing, but he is too old.” I was dumbfounded. Speechless. It was a sucker punch to the gut. She was trying to tell me that I was “baby-ing” my ONE YEAR OLD who will go into analphylactic shock from the smallest amount of unintentional peanut trace (and other allergies). This is a teacher. A child advocate. Someone whose JOB it is to teach and safeguard our children. I was so taken back, that I considered maybe she forgot the email communication and conversations on the first day of class, as well my explanation just a minute earlier which all explained the severity of his allergies. I think a part of me blacked out from the shock so I don’t remember my exact words but it was something to the tune of “no….It’s because of the timing of the separation and the heightened risk of a reaction which is then immediately followed by gym time where the kids are running around so less likely for it to be caught right away”. She just looked at me and said, “yes, I know…but he is just too young to not be able to separate from you….”. This teacher was shaming me for being a hover parent over my ONE year old with severe food allergies who was in an environment that was full of those allergens. My shock turned to anger and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. This was my fear. Our fear. My husband and I worry constantly that when Neal reaches grade school, he will have a teacher who is ignorant of the severity, and that ignorance would turn to negligence. But, we thought we had 4 years to prepare ourselves, and here I was already with a teacher who was trying to shame me for taking a minor extra precaution so that my son could safely participate and just be a kid.