I apologize for hardly being on the internet at all this past week. Breezy started preschool this past week, so we’ve been busy preparing and getting adjusted. The past several months I have struggled with the decision to send her to public preschool due to her food allergies. Where we live, school districts are divided by counties. We live right on the border of a county that is wonderful about food allergies, but we are 100 yards away from being able to send her there. I was not confident to say the least about our current county’s food allergy regulations (they make getting a 504 plan with food allergies impossible), and I was conflicted if I should homeschool or not. Breezy is an only child, and really craves the company that only another 4 year old can bring. I can play with her all day long, but I’m not 4. And she’ll be the first to tell you, my imagination stinks. I just can’t play Barbies like I used to.
So, in an effort to give my child some proper aged playmates, I set out to find the perfect preschool. Most parents put quality education at the top of their list for necessities. My kid was going to go to whatever school could promise to do their best to keep her alive, and by alive I mean whatever school that had the best food allergy protocol. I called many, many schools in our district, only to be met with a sarcastic sigh (and probably an eye roll) when I tried to explain my daughter’s life threatening food allergies. I went through and marked off a good list of free public programs before I moved on to trying some private ones. One private school in particular stood out for it’s academics, and I was told they were excellent about food allergies. But, I broke the first rule of food allergy parenting: don’t believe what a non-food allergy parent tells you about food allergies. No offense to them, but they don’t live it everyday, so they just don’t get it. It’s like me telling a brain surgeon how to do brain surgery. I barely know where a cerebral cortex is, how am I going to tell him how to do his job?!
I called this highly suggested preschool, and explained our situation. I was as thrilled as you can be about such things when they told me they had several children with food allergies, many of them being peanut allergies. Everyone in the building is trained on anaphylaxis and epinephrine, and they don’t allow children to bring peanuts or peanut products for snack. They did not have lunch, since they were only there for a half day. Sign me up! That was the most progress I had made in this long trek so far, and I was ready to be done. I had already made the decision, in my head, that this is where she was going to go. I made an appointment to take a tour, and, boy, am I glad I did.
We went for our tour a week later, and it looked promising until the end. We got on the subject of field trips. All of their field trips they take are to places within walking distance; the fire department, the library, etc. And then she dropped a bomb. I’m not going to say the name of the place that she said they take the children to very often. Just know that she might as well have said a peanut factory. Alarmed, my husband and I just gave each other the look. You know, that look of “WTF?!” that only your spouse knows what it is? I quickly said, “Um, Breezy has a peanut allergy. She COULD NOT go there.” You could’ve picked my jaw up off the floor when she said, “Oh, well we just wouldn’t let her go.” Cue “WTF?!” face.
I could not get out of there fast enough. We didn’t even have to speak, my husband and I both knew the answer to that place. Not only would my daughter have been excluded, but there were going to be little hands bringing back lots of peanuts and peanut protein covered candies back to school with them, either on their hands or in their pockets. It was false advertising. You can’t claim to be peanut free when you’re going right down the street to get your peanuts. We were back to square one, and I felt defeated.
In one more final effort, I decided to take advice of the only moms I knew would understand; my local No Nuts Moms Group. Honestly, it’s where I should have started, and I could’ve saved myself the headache. They suggested a few that were private, but one public pre-k in particular stood out to me. Maybe it was mother’s intuition, or the fact that the mom that suggested it has a child with far more food allergies than Breezy, and she sends him there. Long story short, it’s been a match made in heaven so far.
As a food allergy mom, my brain is always working 10 steps ahead of everyone else in the room. When we walked into preschool orientation, I quickly spotted the table in the corner with refreshments. There was just some party mix without nuts and veggies with ranch. Breezy knows we always stick to our rule (no label = no eat), so she didn’t even ask even though everyone in the room was partaking. She knows this as her normal, but it’s one of the many things that always bothers me; exclusion, even if its voluntary. Very quickly, they addressed that there are several kids with life-threatening peanut allergies in the two preschool classes, and though the county “legally, can’t force” anyone not to bring peanuts or peanut products, they strongly discourage parents from doing so, and if they do to please let the teachers know. I knew this going into it, but I still felt my heart sink lower in my chest when the words were said out loud. The school has ensured me that anyone that brings nut products are sat as far away from the allergic kids as possible, and are supervised washing their hands afterwards. The next day, Breezy’s teacher called me at home, because she wanted to know all about her allergies. I was ecstatic about her extreme concern in wanting to keep my baby safe. I LOVE her. I want Breezy to have her her whole life, like Corey had Mr. Feeney in Boy Meets World.
It was time for the first day of preschool. I had talked to everyone I needed to. She knew her allergies and not to share food. She had brand new Epi-pens, a medical alert necklace that listed all of her allergies, and allergy alert tags on her backpack lunch box packed with safe food. Her hair was fixed, teeth were brushed, and I had my waterproof mascara on. It was time to go.
The first ever day of school is heart wrenching for any parent. I know this. But this was going to be the first time in her entire life that someone else was going to be in charge of her food, everyone else’s food surrounding her, and what to do in case of an emergency. I was petrified. Breezy ran right in, and barely told me goodbye. She was so excited to start her first day at school. I spent the whole day in tears, not only because my baby was growing up, but because I was terrified that I have to trust her well-being to someone else, and I’ve never had to do that. I had my phone right beside me all day with the ringer on it’s highest volume. I could feel my heart beating out of it’s chest in the moments after her lunch time, praying that no one sent a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and that I would not be getting a phone call that no parent ever wants to get. I have stayed home with her, simply because I have never been able to trust anyone to understand food allergies, and I just left with her strangers. Luckily, everything went beautifully.
We are 4 school days in today. I’ll admit I went into sending Breezy to preschool with a bitter taste in my mouth, but I think I have picked the best place for her. They have been wonderful thus far, in more than just food allergies, and I don’t foresee any problems on the horizon. They are completely understanding. I’m looking forward to watching her learn and grow from preschool, but, because I always have to be thinking 10 steps ahead, I’ll be keeping my phone close by.