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Sour and Sweet

When I was younger, I was blissfully unaware of being bullied for my food allergies. My parents took the brunt of the bullying as they tried to protect me from the adults who lacked compassion or education. My public school initially did not want me to enroll. My first day camp even forbid me from coming back, stating that no staff member would give me an Epi-pen even if I was "dying on the floor." There were bullies all around, I was just sheltered from them.

When I was entering Kindergarten, there was a town meeting discussing the impact this food allergic five year old would have on the community. People stood up and publicly talked about how this child, because of her food allergies, would have a negative impact on their children's learning, and their school as a whole. Thanks to the passionate advocacy from my Kindergarten teacher, principal, and school nurse, I was able to enroll in school. I didn't even know this meeting happened until after I graduated from the school district.

Food allergy parents work twice as hard to make their child feel normal and included. I think that's why it hits them so hard the first time the kid is singled out or made fun of for their food allergies.

There have been a lot of situations over the years where I gave someone the benefit of the doubt. I told myself that they thought they were being funny and just didn't understand. But sometimes kids are just mean, and you can see it, and there is no excuse.

One time I specifically remember was in 8th grade. A girl in school decided that she didn't want me to sit at the lunch table. Her big idea was to wait until I was about to sit down, and then crumble a peanut butter cookie all over the table. And she did just that. I froze. I never dealt with someone maliciously using my food allergies against me.

I was lucky I didn't have a stronger allergic reaction, and frankly so was she. I started to feel the hives on my face, and didn't even know how to react to the situation that just unfolded. Luckily, I had some excellent friends, who yelled at her for the severity of her actions and got up to leave. The entire table, except for her, got up and moved with me to a lunch table outside.

Because of the seriousness of that situation and my age at the time, I was not able to deal with that food allergy bullying on my own. It took the school nurse, the principal, and all of our parents before an apology was given.

Then there are other situations that aren't crystal clear. Some moments can be viewed as bullying or not, depending how you, as the individual, perceive them. I'm the type of person who likes to laugh things off, so if I can, I likely will go that route.

One of the funnier food allergy memories I have is from my senior year in high school. We had a tradition that when you got into college, your friends bought you cupcakes from the local bakery with the name of your school written on them. With my ever changing list of allergies, nobody was sure if I could eat cupcakes. I walked into my Italian classroom, a close knit group of six students, and they had taped printed out pictures of paper cupcakes to a paper plate to make them stand up. My very own "congratulations." My classmates and teacher looked at me with slight hesitation, unsure how I would take it.

I never laughed so hard. It turned out they also got me some pre-packaged candy they knew was safe, but did not want me to miss out on the cupcake experience.

Some people would have viewed that as insensitive or hurtful, and everyone has the right to react in their own way. But to me, I was so appreciative of them trying to figure out a way to include me in the tradition. I was thrilled that my inability to have the cupcake didn't prevent the experience from happening. I got to do my college cupcake photoshoot for Facebook, just like everyone else, because of some creative kids.

There are days now where I still feel verbally bullied about my food allergies, most of the time by people much older than I am. While I still try to explain, it often ends in frustration, as there are some people who refuse to understand. On those days, I try to remember all the sweet things that people have done for me over the years to make me feel included despite my allergies.

After all these years, those paper cupcakes are still some of the sweetest I've ever had.

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