Having food allergies causes you to grow up faster than your peers. Your parents teach you to advocate for yourself and speak up from a young age. It’s hard as a food allergy parent to become comfortable with letting go. Dropping your child off for a day at school brings so many unknowns, you don’t know what battle you’ll be facing when you arrive at dismissal.
Let’s rewind to middle school. It’s a tough time for a lot of kids. You’re figuring out where you fit in, friendships are changing, and high school is looming just around the corner.
I had the added bonus of a required class that involved cooking. I didn’t want to be the only kid in my tiny grade very noticeably absent from this mandatory course, and really, I thought, how bad could it be?
I was threatened with an F not once, but twice because of my allergies. The first time was for refusing to close my eyes for thirty minutes while we blindly tasted foods. My teacher very publicly argued that telling me the ingredients would not only ruin it for me, but for the rest of the class as well. I so clearly remember standing in the middle of the kitchen with eighteen other students staring at me while the teacher said I was holding up the class and just needed to suck it up and participate. In all her years of teaching, she’d never had something as “simple” as food allergies stop her from doing this lesson.
Once the initial shock wore off, I gathered my stuff and left. I wasn’t one to generally give into food allergy peer pressure, but with a teacher fighting me as a student, I marched myself down the hall to hang out with my BFF the school nurse. I still felt too young to speak up against a teacher, and was very lucky that I had a strong and supportive team backing me. The school nurse and my mom both spoke to the teacher, explaining that I should never be forced into doing an activity involving food. Thank goodness for a 504 plan.
A week or so later, my teacher announced it was time to bake pecan pies in our nut aware school, staring right at me while she said it. Knowing I was clearly being targeted at this point, I called my mom. I had never seen my school nurse so angry. Our school was deemed nut aware, and my teacher thought the rules did not apply to her. Let's just say we didn't bake pecan pies that year.
While it was frustrating and upsetting to have a teacher not understand my allergies, the thing that hurt my middle school self the most was being called out in front of my peers. I went to school with the same 100 kids since kindergarten, so they all knew about my allergies, but getting called out by a teacher in front of the class put me in a light that I did not want to be in. Impressionable tweens saw an adult, a teacher, belittling food allergies and bullying me. Very publicly. That was the part that couldn't be changed or taken back.
I could see how uncomfortable my classmates looked while my teacher spoke to me. And in that moment, I cared more about my peers' reactions than the actual allergic reaction itself. I had no idea what they were thinking of me or my allergies, but I did not like being the center of attention. Of course I did not choose to have food allergies, just like I didn't choose to "ruin" the curriculum.
I was lucky in middle school and am to this day that I have such a strong food allergy support system. It took some rationalizing from my parents and that amazing school nurse to understand I didn't do anything wrong here, and I wasn't ruining anything for anyone. We could find a new assignment, and quite frankly, baking pecan pie or blindly tasting food wasn't a necessary skill to learn.
But for a class that had a focus on nutrition, health, food, and community, you would think the opportunity to discuss food allergies and kindness would have been welcomed with open arms.