My parents worked harder than you can imagine in order to keep me safe. Sometimes the things they did were over the top, other times they got it just right… like when they shipped me off to science camp. Now, when reading this post, it’s important to understand that I was the only person in my elementary school with a fatal food allergy.
In fact, until my parents and I joined the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), now called Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) I was the only kid I knew in my same situation.
So, being the first and only child with a fatal food allergy at my elementary school meant that my parents needed to pave the way for others, and protect me at any cost.
This is how they did it.
It started in kindergarten. At this point, I hadn’t really built my network of friends. So it’s interesting thinking back to how things happened.
Before the first day, my parents spoke with the district nurse to figure out what to do. The plan they came up with is detailed below.
And the first thing they did before my first day of kindergarten was talk to the parents of my peers.
This was to inform them of the severity of my allergy, and to offer to pack snacks for their kids. These snacks would be healthy alternatives to junk food, and “safe snacks” for me. The parents were all on board, and that is exactly how my first year of school began.
Each child was given a wet wipe (that my parents supplied) as they walked into class. This was to make sure that no cross contamination occurred between the time they ate their potentially nut-filled breakfast and the start of class.
Every single kindergarten child had to then open their lunch box for inspection. Anything with nuts or peanut butter was thrown out or replaced with a safe snack packed by my mom. If that doesn’t make a kid hate you, I don’t know what will.
But surprisingly enough, I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by incredible kids. They didn’t hate me. And if they did, they didn’t let it show.
At some point that year, a member of the local newspaper came to write a story on me. Maybe that’s where I got my first interest in journalism.
And for the rest of the year, not a single kindergartener could bring any snacks containing peanuts or nuts.
This is when the phrase, “It takes a village” became truer than ever.
First grade is the year that the entire student body discovered who I was. First grade is when everyone sat together for lunch. That means that unlike in kindergarten, when it was only my class affected by my allergies, in first grade not a single student in the entire student body could have food at lunch or snack time containing peanuts or nuts.
In first and second grade I started to really make friends, and become closer with the kids in my cul de sac. That meant that I had security against bullying. And as shocking as it might sound, I held a little popularity among my peers.
And this continued on until the fourth grade or so, when only the kids eating during my lunchtime couldn’t bring food containing peanuts or nuts. It continued until the sixth grade.
Sixth grade is when a little more confidence was instilled in my peers… and in myself. In sixth grade my teachers and lunch aides created an “Ariella safe” lunch table. Everyone could eat whatever they desired, except for those sitting at my table. The kids at my table still couldn’t eat anything with peanuts or nuts in it.
I guess this was to prepare for Jr. High School – where anything goes (food wise).
And believe it or not, my table was almost always full. By this time I had made wonderful friends, some I still keep in touch with today. One of them helped me remember all of this so I could write it down for you to read.
But these precautions didn’t mean other daily endeavors to protect me were overlooked.
Everywhere I went, no matter what, I had to wear my fanny pack containing my epipens. I’ve always known how to administer it to myself, and as soon as I made friends my mom hosted “epipen parties” where each person would learn how to inject an epipen into an orange. Just in case something happened and I couldn’t do it myself.
And birthday parties were a headache too. When everyone else got to eat ice cream cakes and cookies, my mom supplied the party parents with oreos for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved oreos (and still do). But as a kid, you want to be like everyone else. My allergies were always a constant reminder that I wasn’t.