photo courtesy of o5com on Flickr
Tis the season of freshly sharpened pencils and the cherished rush that comes from a brand new box of perfectly sharpened crayons. Children are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the coveted letter from school telling them which teacher they will have this year. Parents are checking off the back-to-school lists as they finish soaking up the last of “all things summer” with the kids. Are you ready for the tapping of autumn on your door and the first day of school?
This time of year fills me with assorted emotions. Why? If you are thinking it is because I love having my children home and enjoy the freedom of long summer days, you would be wrong. If you are thinking it is because my baby girl is headed off to kindergarten in September, you would be wrong again. Let’s clear up that you are not in left field with your guesses because I do love having my children home, I love the freedom of long summer days and I cannot believe my baby girl is starting kindergarten. Among my assorted emotions the unease and dare I say, a bit of anxiety, surrounding the start of another school year is what makes this time daunting.
My August is just like yours but I add in the prep work of sending a child back to school with life threatening food allergies. My oldest son has peanut and tree nut allergies. Are the assorted emotions making a little more sense now? My back-to-school list adds an annual allergist visit, a 504 plan meeting with the school/new teacher/nurse, filling new prescriptions for epi-pens, preparing paperwork and supplies for school, making magnets/contact cards for the students in his class, safe snack bins, sub folder pages…my list could go on as needs change depending on the school year. All of this is necessary to ensure a healthy, happy, educated and prepared start to the school year for my son and the school community that is his second family for 6.5 hours a day for the next 180 days.
My oldest just turned 10 and is going into 4th grade. We are entering our eighth year of back-to-school with his food allergies. We have a system for handling all that goes into a smooth transition for each new school year. We have taught him to advocate for himself and understand his allergies; he reads labels and is involved in his 504 plans. Back-to-school every year, despite all we have in place, puts a pit in my stomach. I have to have blind trust every year that his second family believes his life and well-being are as important as I do. I have to trust that all this preparation means that in the event of an emergency everyone carries out the plan and he will be okay. Let go and trust. If you are a parent reading this you can understand how hard it is to let go and trust because you sent a child off to school, a sleep over camp, or whatever it was for you that you had to let go and trust.
A parent with a child who has food allergies has to trust that…
- the nurse is prepared and has a confidence in handling food allergies.
- school staff feels prepared and educated.
- the teacher is truly on board and “gets it.”
- our child has someone to sit with at lunch because more often than not they are separated at another table. (This is the hardest part for our children….and us.)
- the lunchroom staff are prepared and educated.
- the bus drivers are prepared and educated.
- art supplies are safe.
- the computer labs and iPad carts are safe.
- the other children will respect their allergy.
- other parents will have compassion and understanding.
- our child is safe.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg but gives you some insight as to why my emotions, and so many other parents’ emotions, are assorted and there is unease with the approach of every new school year. None of my emotions or actions is about complicating things, being over protective or any of the other things that have been said to me or behind my back over the years. My emotions and actions do have everything to do with protecting the life of my son.
I hold my breath every time the phone rings during school hours. I know I must sound nervous because the standard response to my hello is always “Hi Mrs. Hurff, your son is fine, I am calling about…..” As soon as I hear he is okay I regroup and breathe again. I trust the schools my children attend. I trust the teachers my son has had. I trust I have done everything possible to ensure his second family is keeping him safe. Even with all that preparation accidents happen, we are all fallible, and other children are not always nice…that is when my child could lose his life and I have no control or way to help at that moment. Blind trust is what I have along with my faith. By the way, the blind trust is not just with school. It is for every play date, every extracurricular activity, every sport, every barbeque…it is a part of our everyday, a part of our lifestyle.
I hope this post has made you think about food allergies in a more personal and included way. If you are not directly affected now, you will be with 1 in 13 children (under the age of 18) having food allergies. That works out to be about 2 children in every classroom. In one way or another anyone who reads this is a part of the village in some way. I am not looking for any sympathy; I want awareness and understanding for those children and families who live this life. I want you to be kind and teach your children to be kind. You can never go wrong choosing kindness.
For more information about food allergies you can visit the Food Allergy & Research Education website at https://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats.
Two free downloadable resources for you to use and share:
|Taralee received a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical/Counseling Psychology and Criminal Justice from Moravian College. She received her Special Education Teacher certification from DeSales University. Taralee is a NJ certified Teacher of the Handicapped, and has been working in the home and school settings for over 15 years. Taralee is currently President of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Regional New Jersey Early Intervention Collaborative, she is serving in her fourth year as a Board member.
Taralee’s most important job is raising her three creative and inquisitive children (ages 9, 7, and 4) in Southern NJ.
Taralee’s book “100 Things To Do Before You Are 10” was published in April 2014.
Please visit her Facebook page or send an e-mail for ordering information.