Do You Think Your Child Is Safe At School?

You might have heard the buzz about new legislation for stocking epinephrine in schools.  As the mother of two allergic children and one non-allergic child, I am very passionate about this legislation.  You might think it’s because I want to take every precaution to keep my allergic children safe at school.  Nope….not about them at all (for me, anyway).  I want it for my non-allergic child, and you should too.

According to the recent Yahoo News article, States Enact Laws To Stock Epinephrine at Schools, by Lucas L. Johnson II , one quarter of all anaphylactic reactions that occur at school happen to a child with no known allergies.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  Twenty five percent of life threatening reactions in school happen to a child like your non-allergic son or daughter.  I don’t like those odds one bit, considering my non-allergic daughter does not have an epinephrine prescription.  In fact, she is the only one of my children who I know will not have epinephrine accessible to her unless she is with her siblings.  It is for her that I want this life saving medication stocked in her school.

Olivia has been tested for the top 8 food allergens and her results indicated that she is not allergic to any of them.  She has no known food or other allergies up to this point.  I know though, that she could develop an allergy at any time.  I also know that things she has never been tested for could cause a life threatening reaction, such as ant bites, wasp stings, etc.  If Olivia suffers a reaction at school, she will not have access to epinephrine because we live in North Carolina.  North Carolina is neither one of the four states that requires stocking of epinephrine, nor is it one of the 23 others that ALLOWS stocking of epinephrine.

Basically, the children with known food allergies who bring their own prescribed epinephrine to school are the only ones who will receive life saving medication in our state.  Even if another child has epinephrine on site, it will not be used on your child during an unexpected reaction.  Your child would not be treated in order to prevent their death.  They would have to wait for emergency assistance to bring the medication, which could easily arrive too late.  If you don’t care about the stock epinephrine bills because your child doesn’t have a known allergy, you might want to rethink your position.

My daughter who has severe food allergies never leaves home without at least 2 epipens.  She will always have them if she needs them.  This legislation is not for her.  This legislation is for my non-allergic child, and it’s for your non-allergic child.  Do you really want to bank on the chance that help will arrive in time?

Check the map above or this list to see if your state is one of 27 that allows or requires stocking of epinephrine in schools.  If not, the next time you see an opportunity to support legislation for stocking epi, don’t ignore it.  It just might save the life of a child you love, including your own.

I would love to see your thoughts on the issue in the comments below.  Does anyone think epinephrine should NOT be stocked in schools?

NO this, NO that…What CAN you send to school for lunch?

I know that many parents struggle to find school lunch ideas, even without restrictions.  For some, finding themselves in a nut-free school or allergen free classroom is a huge inconvenience.  Although my daughter’s school is not nut or allergen free, I know that many of the other parents make an effort to send in lunches that are safe for her so she can sit with friends without worrying about their food or hands touching her.  For the record, I am not suggesting that everyone should pack allergy free lunches.  I just like to share some of the things we pack in hopes that others might see something they like and can use.  I have been asked many times what I send for lunch and I feel like the options are extensive, despite being dairy, egg, peanut, and tree nut free.  Below is my post from last year with all of the lunchtime details.  I promised to add more to it, so here they are.  I have photographed lunches these first two weeks of preschool so you can see what I send.  Notice that there are two in several of the pictures.  My non-allergic daughter goes to school a few days each week and she eats the same lunch as my allergic daughter.  It’s not “special” food.  It’s just FOOD.

School Lunch:  Keeping it Simple (The original lunch post)

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Turkey rolls, tomatoes, steamed green beans, berries, and popcorn.

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Quinoa salad, turkey rolls, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, fruit smashie pouch, and juice.

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Turkey rolls, steamed green beans, carrots, tomatoes, mixed berries, hummus, crackers, fruit smashie pouch, and juice.

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Nectarine, raisins, and hummus with veggie dippers: green peppers, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, tomatoes.

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Rice cake, turkey rolls, tomatoes, green peppers, and apple slices.

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Turkey rolls, green beans, tomatoes, apples, crackers, and hummus.

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Apples, green beans, red grapes, green olives, somersaults sunflower seed snacks, tomatoes, and turkey.

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Tomatoes, red grapes, frozen peas*, frosted mini wheats, raspberries, sweet potato sticks, Triscuits, and hummus.

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Hummus, crackers, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, kalamata olives, cucumbers, blueberries, and carrots.

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Fruit smashie pouch, honeydew, strawberries, mini banana muffins*, kidney beans, carrots, green beans.

A few notes:

*1) I pack the frozen peas straight from the freezer.  I don’t thaw at all.  If I pack the night before, they thaw by lunch time.  If I pack the morning of, my girls eat them frozen.  They actually love them frozen as much as thawed, if not more.

*2) I made a double batch of mini vegan banana muffins before school started and popped them in the freezer (wrapped in sets of 4).  I take out a pack of 4 the night before I want to pack them and put them in the fridge.  They are thawed by morning.

3)  You will notice I pack a lot of hummus.  I have learned to include a spoon because no matter how many dippers I give, the fingers will end up in the hummus by the end if there is no spoon.

If your kids really love their nut butter sandwiches, fear not.  There is an option even if your school is nut free.  We are big fans of WOW Butter.  It is school safe and has the texture of real peanut butter.  The flavor is great too.  There are a lot of alternatives on the market, but after trying many of them, this is our favorite.

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If you peel back the label, there are even little sticker labels to put on the sandwich wrapper so you can be sure it won’t be mistaken for peanut butter.

*All views expressed in this blog are my own…until I change my mind, at least 😉

Empty Tear Ducts, Full Promises

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Today is Elena’s last first day of preschool and Olivia’s first first day of preschool.  It’s a big day.  This is different from the past two years when Elena went off to school for a few reasons.

This is the first time I have sent a non-allergic child to preschool.  It’s incredibly different.  When she got out of the car, I didn’t feel panic that it might be the last time I see her.  I didn’t worry about what the other children in her class might bring in or might have eaten for breakfast.  I know that, even if things don’t go perfectly for her today, Olivia will be safe.  That’s not to say it’s easy to let her go or that I don’t have any concerns for her.  I really hope she has fun, and makes friends, and makes it to the potty every single time.  If not, though, I know she will have another chance.

With all of the recent news of children losing their lives to food allergies lately, this year was the toughest for me.  Last night I was restless.  I have always promised Elena I would keep her safe, but this year that’s not enough.  I have a few more promises I need to make.  Elena, I promise not to let you see my fear as I drive you to school this morning.  I promise to get all of my tears out when you’re not around, so you don’t have to wonder what might be causing them.  I promise I will be strong and brave and I will not let my fears prevent you from living.

When every bite of food your child takes could take her life, it is terrifying to know she will be eating when you’re not around.  Even though I have checked and packaged all of her food myself, I won’t be able to breathe easy until I see her face at pick up.  I will smile and try not to hug her too tightly.  I will act like it was a normal day.  I will pretend like I enjoyed my break while the girls were at school.  Mostly, I will say a prayer of thanks that she is back under my watch.

I have many prayers of thanks for this day.  I thank God that Elena doesn’t seem crippled with the fears that are eating me alive.  I thank God for the brave parents,  like Natalie Giorgi’s mom and dad, who use their own loss to bring light to the subject and make all of our children safer.  I thank God for the wonderful and loving teachers and director at Elena’s school who “get it”.  I thank God that He gave me such a wonderful partner to navigate these challenges with.  My husband is strong when I’m weak and he is able to help me avoid making emotional decisions against my better judgement.  Finally, I thank God for the strength to let her go and live that life He gave her.

Since I was up all night getting my tears and fears out anyway, I put together this video.  Get a tissue.  You have been warned…

Here are a few helpful resources if you’re sending your child to school this year with Anaphylactic Food Allergies…

Get Schooled In Anaphylaxis

FARE Food Allergy Action Plan

Top 8 Food Allergies (and how to eat around them)

Lunch Ideas (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free)

We rocked out the night before school started to Kyle Dine‘s CD’s.  They’re really fantastic for getting the kids thinking and asking questions.  I also like sharing these songs with our non-allergic friends.

Please post in the comments if you have resources that helped you with the task of sending your allergic children off to school.  Most of the best resources I have found in this journey have come from other mothers.

Preschoolers: They put the AW in FAAW

I had the honor of speaking to the delightful children at Elena’s preschool yesterday for food allergy awareness week.  The kids were excited and energetic and they participated in every aspect of the presentation.  What a blessing to be able to interact with this age group.  By this I mean, thank goodness they were not middle schoolers.

These kids were so smart and fun.  One of them even got my goat when I asked who knew what hives are.  He answered confidently, “They are where bees live.”  Talk about smart.  I had to concede that he was indeed correct, but there is at least one more meaning to the word.  I also loved it when one kiddo told me he was allergic to all yucky food.  Well played, little one.

We began by talking about what allergies are and what kinds of things people can be allergic to.  The kids came up with quite a list, including cats, dogs, pollen, bees, grass, poison ivy, smoke, and of course, germs.  We talked about what can happen if someone eats a food they are allergic to, which of course spurred a discussion about not eating dogs and cats if you are allergic.  Seriously, if you haven’t ever held audience with a group of preschoolers, you are missing out on something special.

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Two of our favorite food allergy books…and my toes. Oops.

We read ‘Cody The Allergic Cow’, which opened up to conversation about medical alert bracelets and Epipens, both of which Cody has.  The book is absolutely perfect for this age group and there are others in the series, which I will be getting my hands on soon.

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We use the Ergo pouch for carrying Epipens and Benedryl. This is Elena’s customizable AllerMates Bracelet.

One thing I found interesting was the kids response to the idea of talking about allergies with their allergic friends.  When I held up the bracelet, they were very interested.  I asked what they could do if they saw a bracelet like this on a friend.  Should they maybe ask their friend about it?  Both groups I spoke to said, “NOOOOOOO”.  I’m not sure if they thought it would be rude or unkind, but the initial response was that they should not talk about it.  I let them know it was OK to talk about it and that they should always ask questions if they are wondering about a food allergy.  I asked the children who had announced they have allergies if they would mind their friends asking questions and, of course, they said they would not mind.  What better way to learn how to help out your friends than to ask them what is safe and unsafe for them?  I hope that giving them  “permission” to talk about it will open up the doors for better understanding.  Although, I must say, these kids were pretty well informed already.

Next we played a little game of, find the hidden allergen.  The allergens I chose were not so well hidden, but keep in mind the age group.  I held up groups of three foods and the kids identified each food.  The sweet potato and rice cakes gave them the most trouble.  Then I asked them, which of these foods is hiding milk/nuts/wheat/etc.  They did really well with this and it was fun to see them so engaged.

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Find the hidden milk.

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Find the hidden wheat.

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Find the hidden tree nuts. (yeah, ok. Not so hidden. I told you it was easy.)

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Find the hidden peanuts. (I called this peanut butter and covered up the label because I knew they would be familiar. With an older group, I would have just used it to find the hidden soy.)

Since all of the allergies in the school are within the top 8, I was able to do a little taste test.  We talked about safe alternatives to common foods.  Just because your friend can’t eat your “bread”, does not mean they can’t eat any “bread”.  I showed them a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and told them they are made with food allergies in mind to be safe for people with certain allergies.  Then they each tasted a few and I asked them if they tasted the same as the ones they are used to eating or different.  Most said the same and a few said different, but they all wanted more.

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Half a bag for the kids to share and half a bag for the presenter. Sounds fair to me.

I left them with a mission for the day.  Each of their teachers got a stack of helping hands.  I challenged each student to earn a helping hand by doing something to help keep their classroom safe for friends with food allergies.  Together, we came up with this list of things they could do…

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-Wash hands after eating.

-Keep food in food areas.

-Clean up food areas after eating.

-Never share food.

-Do not touch other people’s food.

and my favorite…

-Don’t feed your friend something they’re allergic to.

Kudos kiddos!

I hope they all earned their helping hands.  I enjoyed the talks so much and the enthusiasm of these wonderful students is infectious.  A great big thank you to CIC Preschool for letting me share this important information with them and for keeping our children safe every single day.