Monday, August 30, 2010

Smooth Sailing with Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

August was a good month for me, as far as spreading the word about food allergies. First, I wrote an article for this month’s issue of Cruising World magazine about how we provisioned our sailboat charter the last time we went sailing – in the lovely waters of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines. My article gives tips on how to get your charter company to provision your boat (stock it with food) that accommodates your food allergies. (And it includes my recipe for Easy Salsa-Baked Chicken.) (“Allergy-Free in Paradise,” Cruising World, August 2010 )

I was pleased to see that another article in the issue also dealt with provisioning with food allergies – that one talked a little about the captain’s gluten allergy, and a sidebar discussed charter companies’ suggestions for provisioning. (“Provisioning for Gourmands and Glutenphobes,” Cruising World, Aug. 2010). Knowing that the subject of food allergies has become important enough to merit a prominent theme in a respected sailing magazine says a lot.

The last article I’m linking to today is one I didn’t write. Instead, my son and I were interviewed for an article about food allergies in the Ogden, Utah, newspaper. (“‘I’m Allergic’ The Battle Cry Becoming More Common Among Adults and Children,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, Aug 30, 2010.)


Monday, August 23, 2010

I Wouldn’t Wish Allergies on Anyone

by Kelley Lindberg

Back in January of 2009, Joel Stein wrote an essay for the LA Times proclaiming that food allergies are made up by hysterical parents who crave attention. It caused a lot of controversy, obviously. (“Nut Allergies – A Yuppie Invention,” LA Times, Jan. 9, 2009. )

Understandably bothered by his misinformation, I responded by writing my own article on my blog. My article began with “Dear Joel, I’m glad no one you love has a severe food allergy. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” ("Countering Hysteria," Food Allergy Feast blog, Jan. 19, 2009)

You’ll never guess what happened. A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Stein wrote an essay for Time magazine. Turns out, his one-year-old son has developed nut allergies. Read his new essay here: “A Nut Allergy Skeptic Learns the Hard Way,” Time, Aug. 14, 2010.

In this latest essay, he describes how many people wrote to him after his earlier column, saying they wished he would have a child with food allergies someday. What a hateful thing to wish. Why is it human nature to lash out violently, rather than try to educate and reach a mutual understanding? After all these thousands of years, we’ve got a pretty impressive track record showing that throwing bigger and bigger rocks doesn’t really have the effect we were looking for.

So Joel was throwing rocks, parents of allergic kids were throwing rocks right back at him, and no one made any progress, unless you count progress towards more reactionary and poisonous backlashes on both sides. Gee, I’m underwhelmed with surprise.

I didn’t wish for Mr. Stein to become intimately familiar with a parent’s fear. I DID wish for him to become more informed, more aware, and less inclined to propagate dangerous misinformation. Of course, his career is based on writing amusing, barbed commentary skewering anything he feels like. Being a big fan of the First Amendment, I don’t have a problem with that. My only problem is when writing those opinions might cause a child to be put in a life-threatening situation. We writers sometimes walk a blurry line between informing and harming, and it's important to approach that blurry line with a deep sense of responsibility.

Now, Mr. Stein has written this new essay admitting that his son has developed nut allergies, and that he’s having to eat some crow. That takes a big man to do that. It takes an even bigger man to do that in a national spotlight, like in Time magazine, for example. I’m sure there are plenty of small-minded people out there who are taking some sort of sick satisfaction out of this unfortunate turn of events in the Stein family’s lives. But the fact remains there’s a small child who’s affected here, and that child’s safety – like all of our food-allergic children’s safety – is all that truly matters.

So here’s my response to Mr. Stein’s latest essay:

Dear Joel,

I’m so sorry to hear that your son has developed food allergies. This will add a layer of worry to the already worry-filled job that we call parenting. But fortunately, there are many resources, both online and in your own community, that offer education, nut-free products, school action plans, recipes, and tips for making your child’s experiences with everything from playdates to school to birthday parties to dating (yes, that will be here before you know it!) safe and “normal.”

I’m sorry you’ve had to join the ranks of parents of allergic kids, Joel. But we welcome you to our ranks, too, because here is where you’ll find the information and strength to absorb this new aspect of life into your routines of daily living. We’re all in this together, and we are happy to help.

Kelley Lindberg
Mom of a peanut-allergic kid

Monday, August 16, 2010

Teachers Who Care

by Kelley Lindberg

Did you hear it? The ominous music building up? You know the kind – the discordant, scary instrumental music when the movie hero finds himself thrust into peril?

Sixth grade started today for my son. He’s pretty sure that doomsday music was playing for him.

A lot of kids like school, I tell him. Some even look forward to going back at the end of summer. He shakes his head in dismay. He can’t comprehend anything of the sort. School represents everything he hates – routine, confinement, quiet, uniforms, reasonable bedtimes… What’s to like? He’s a summer boy through and through. Give him lazy days, swimming pools, buddies to hang with, popsicles to indulge in, and a seemingly endless rotation of skateboard t-shirts, and he’s a happy kid. Take them all away and… well, you get the picture.

We met his new teachers last week – he has two, each for a half-day. They had asked to meet with us before school started so that we could talk to them about his (and his friend’s) food allergies, and how to keep the two boys safe in class. The teachers were wonderful. They were very supportive, concerned, and interested, and asked a lot of questions. They seem ready to make any sort of adjustments to their curriculum necessary to prevent the boys from feeling excluded or unsafe this year.

Let me tell you, nothing is more reassuring to a parent than knowing your child’s teachers really and truly care about your kid. The other boy’s mom and I both breathed huge sighs of relief when we walked out of that meeting last week, feeling confident that we could work with these teachers this year and make it a great year.

The week before, I had gone to a different elementary school to help another friend of mine talk to her child’s teachers. That meeting went really well, too. Again, the teachers seemed so willing to learn and accommodate that child’s needs.

From time to time, I hear other parents talk about teachers and principals who are resistant, unpleasant, or even downright hostile when it comes to accommodating a student’s food allergies. That simply astounds me. Often, it doesn’t take much to make an allergic child safe – a table set aside in the lunchroom, a “Peanut-Free Classroom” sign on the door, or some easy substitutions in a class food project. How can an adult whose entire career is based on nurturing and educating children take such a negative stand on protecting a child from a life-threatening food allergy reaction? How can an experienced educator think Tootsie Rolls are more important than a child’s life? I just don’t get it.

Every year, I thank my lucky stars that my son goes to a school where food allergy awareness starts with the principal and permeates the entire school culture. They’ve been so willing to work with us, learn from us, and make adjustments when necessary, and they’re even more than willing to learn from the occasional mistake or oversight.

So while my son may feel like he’s been sent to prison for the crime of enjoying summer too much, I’m happy to know that his “wardens” are keeping his health and safety high on their priority list, and that they’re looking out for him during those hours of the day when I can’t.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blogging Troubles

Hi everyone,

As you may have been able to tell, my blog has been having strange things happen to it over the last week. While I'm chasing those gremlins down, I am going to skip posting this week. But I promise I'll be back next week! (Hopefully I'll have a link to an article I have published in this month's Cruising World magazine by then, too.) See you next Monday!

Monday, August 2, 2010

More Back to School Tips for Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

Now that school is only 2 or 3 weeks away (at least here in Utah), many parents are getting ready to send their little ones off to a scary place – not that school itself is scary, but the food in the classroom and cafeteria can make it seem that way.

About this time every year I post my back-to-school tips. So I’ll repeat them here, in the hopes that they help smooth the way for other parents over the next few weeks. Good luck, and enjoy these remaining few days of summer!

(Remember, there are links to several school-related resources on the Utah Food Allergy Network's website, so be sure to check those out. And two weeks ago I posted my Back-To-School Shopping List, so you might want to look at that, as well.)

1. Volunteer a lot, so the staff knows you and counts on you (not just for allergy issues). If the only time they see you is when there's a food allergy, then you may start feeling like they're whispering "Oh no, here she comes again." But if they see you as a "Gosh, what would we do without her" kind of volunteer, then the occasional food issue will be coming from a great mom who's making a reasonable request.

2. If someone else is already the class mom, or you can't volunteer for that position, tell the teacher you really need to attend all parties and field trips because of the food allergy. The teacher may want to let the other parents know that you'll be selected for all the special events because of the food allergy, so that they don't think the teacher is playing favorites or something.

3. Ask the principal if there are other food allergic kids in the same grade, and if they can be assigned to the same teacher. That makes it easier for the allergic parents to trade off field-trip and party chaperone duties, it puts all the kids in the same class so that the classroom can be more allergen-free, and gives you some backup in food issues. (It's nice to NOT be the only one.) Statistically, about one in twenty kids has a food allergy, so chances are good there will be more kids than just your child.

4. Volunteer to shop for all the snacks or food materials for classroom parties or food educational units (like making noodle necklaces or gingerbread houses, etc.). Tell the teacher if she'll collect money donations, you'll go buy all the ingredients. They're usually delighted to get out of having to shop.

5. Make several copies of your Food Allergy Action Plan (available on FAAN’s website) and ask to hang one in the office, the cafeteria kitchen, and the classroom, so that your child's photo and "What to do in case of a reaction" instructions are handy no matter where he is.

6. Practice with your child what he should do if he "feels funny." Role-play and pretend you're the teacher, and have him come up and tell you what's wrong. Often our kids are too shy about asking for help, so have him practice with you, and with the teacher if possible. Not only does that give your child words to use if something happens, but it helps impress upon the teacher how important it is.

7. I get on my principal's staff meeting agenda at the first of the year and give a 5-minute talk about allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen. I also give a presentation to my son's class, and all the teachers and aides he comes into contact with. If you're not comfortable doing this, ask if there are other allergic parents that you can contact. Talk to them about ways to teach the teachers -- maybe another mom would be willing to give the presentation if you make the photocopies. It's easier when there are two of you involved!

8. Remember, In Utah, your child can legally carry his EpiPen. But he probably can't administer it to himself in an emergency, so make sure the teachers and everyone else know where it is and how to use it. My son carries his in his backpack so that it's always in the classroom, and I also fill a second prescription and they keep it in the office. So he has two sets at school. (I also attach a luggage tag with his photo on it to his backpack, so the teacher can find his backpack in a hurry.)

9. If he's going to be having lunch at school, talk to the Lunch Lady and cafeteria monitor. Introduce your child, tell her what your child is allergic to, and let your child know that the Lunch Lady is a friend that will help keep him safe. Then remember the Lunch Lady and the cafeteria monitor on holidays with little thank you cards or gifts to show you appreciate them. Few people do that. But it will help keep your child's food issues fresh in their mind, and they'll get to know him well.

10. Ask about setting up a food table just for allergic kids. All that’s required is a table with a sign that says "Food Allergies Only," and the cafeteria monitors clean it with a separate marked bucket and cloth. Don’t let them make your child eat in a separate room or the principal’s office. He shouldn’t be punished just because he’s allergic to some foods! Ask the principal to mention the allergy table in a newsletter or other information that goes home with kids at the beginning of the year. You may find other kids with allergies expressing an interest in sitting at the table if they know it’s available.

11. Ask the parents of your child’s friends to send safe lunches with them every once in a while, so they can eat with your child. Make it a fun place to be!

12. Most peanut-allergic kids don’t react to the smell of peanut butter in the air, but a few do. If you are worried if your child will react to the air in the cafeteria, ask to take him in for a “practice run.” Sit in the cafeteria for half an hour and see if he reacts. If he doesn’t, cross that worry off your list.

13. Eat lunch with him for the first few days. That will reassure both of you that you can both handle this!

14. Talk to the teacher about which cafeteria door your child should use to avoid peanut butter contact (usually the one furthest from the playground), where to put his lunch bag after lunch, and where his EpiPens will be.

15. Remind your child NOT to throw away his lunch trash. Tell him to bring it home in his lunch bag, so that he can avoid using the trash can. If another kid slam-dunks a half-full milk carton in the trash can, you don’t want your milk-allergic child to get splashed.

16. As I mentioned in the Back-to-School Shopping List post, consider ordering medical alert jewelry to alert teachers and other staff about your child’s allergy. Sometimes, it’s a good visual reminder to the teacher to stop and think about food. (But not always – sometimes you see something so often you stop seeing it, you know what I mean?) Try American Medical ID or Sticky J for some great kids' bracelets, necklaces, and charms.

17. Take some safe treats to school to leave in the teacher's classroom, in case there's a birthday celebration and your child can't eat the cupcakes.

18. Be aware and be prepared, but don't panic! School is going to be a lot of fun, and your child will do just fine. And believe it or not, so will you!