By Jamie Perillo, LPC
My little ran over to the gate where I was waiting to pick her up from school. She waved good-bye to her friends yelling, “See you tomorrow!” and handed her buddy, who was waiting for his mom, a freshly picked dandelion. She appeared happy, but as I buckled her into her seat her smile faded. “How was your day?” I asked.” “Good mama,” she said, but something didn’t seem good.
Driving home, I said, “Tell me what happened today.” This is when my little babe fell to pieces. “I didn’t get a Peep! The teacher said she’d check to see if they had dairy and she forgot.” “But you can have Peeps,” I blurted out defensively. “I know, but they didn’t give me one.” My heart sank. “How did you feel when that happened, I asked” “Really sad,” replied my little. Later I’d find out it was a birthday celebration for a favorite friend in school. My heart double sank.
Perhaps to many it’s only one marshmallow Peep. For me, it meant my child was once again not included because of food. This is our first school year and yet the number of times my child had to miss out – or I am running to stores at 8pm and 8am looking for snacks to match a surprise “treat” someone is bringing in that day is more than I anticipated. Today, it seemed more than my usually bright and cheery preschooler could handle.
Children with food allergies, intolerances, and autoimmune issues like Celiac Disease are often left out, feeling different, alone, or anxious. My child has an intolerance, which is less severe and not life threatening as opposed to a food allergy, yet she still misses out and sometimes feels excluded. It’s hard for kids to understand their bodies are unique and made differently than their friends.
In this particular instance, my child could’ve had the group snack that day instead of their own, but it’s not always the case. In this situation part of the issue was an oversight; the teacher forgot to go back and check ingredients or text me and my little didn’t speak up.
As someone who works with families with food allergies, one of the most common complaints I hear is frustration with others lack of education and understanding. It is also the one thing many kids say would help their overall mental and emotional well-being. Kids with food allergies want their teachers, friends, coaches, and community to be properly educated on food allergies. Knowledge is power and in the food allergy world it’s safety and inclusion.