Somebody please tell me why we can’t take peanut butter to school, but sending a highly infectious kid is totally fine?
I get why we introduce policies in schools, and I totally understand the ‘no peanut’ rule. Just so we’re clear this isn’t an attack on any existing policies or the policy makers. This is a plea to the common sense that I think falls through the cracks of harried daily parenting.
We don’t buy anything except peanut-free foods if I know for fact it’s going in Baby Girl’s snack. We simply don’t take any chances. Yes, part of me still marvels at the differences in schools between my childhood and hers now, but I also have friends with severe allergies, and I know, respect, and understand how they can be terrifying.
An episode where there is exposure to an allergen (peanuts, let's say) for someone with severe allergies is downright traumatic not just for them, but for the whole family.
There are days taken off work, potential hospital stays — the whole family unit is thrown into living with the fear of what just happened, the pressure of the chronicity of the condition, and the potential for it to happen all over again. The ‘what if’s themselves can be devastating.
And that’s why we have that no-peanut policy in place. To protect the children who do have allergies; stop gifts or shared snacks with allergens making their way into homes where a sibling may have a severe allergy; to protect the families that have to jump into crisis mode at any given moment at the best of times; and to ensure that classrooms are happier and have lower risk factors looming at snack time and any time for that matter.
That policy also protects kids who don’t know if they have allergies, because on the off-chance that an allergen is introduced for the first time at school, the results could be disastrous. And nobody wants that call.
That’s why we don’t risk exposure.
If it doesn’t have that ‘no-peanut’ symbol on it, or swears up and down that it’s nut free, and it’s not a piece of fruit wearing nothing but a sticker, it simply doesn’t make it into the lunch bag. Case closed.
That makes sense. Right?
Well, my kid this year — has had bronchitis, pneumonia, impetigo, and ‘hand, foot and mouth’ and I’m not counting colds and stomach flus.
And I get it. Kids get sick. But we don’t need to be avid supporters of viral incubation and gladly supply our kids as hosts. There’s a difference.
Being an active parent in my community means that I have actually seen firsthand kids dropped off for school and programs and even at playgrounds and parties who are clearly infectious.
Not ‘oh it’s a sniffle’ infectious. But ‘glassy-eyed-red-cheeked-coated-tongue-green-snot-congested-listless-cranky-crying’ sick. If you had a kid with allergies that would be like seeing the Planters Peanuts guy show up with bags of free samples. It would be a red flag. Alarms would sound. People would spontaneously combust. The No-Peanut Police would come out of the woodwork and asses would be kicked.
But all I can do is stand there staring at the neon green gob slide slowly down this little kid’s lip as he sets his droopy feverish eyes on my child, coughs juicily into his hand, and then plants a big hug and kiss on her.
And there’s more than just that one kid. There are about 6 of them and some of the parents anecdotally mention that there’s ‘something going around’ and then feebly amend their goodbyes to soft requests to call them if their ‘little sickie’ need to be picked up earlier.
Wait. What? You know your kid is sick and they’re staying?
Another parent is clearly frustrated and prying a snotty, weeping, smaller version of themselves off their leg. “I’m going to be late for my meeting,” he says but is drowned out by an ardent “But I don’t feeeeeeeeeeeeel well….”
I look helplessly at the staff and they meet my eyes knowingly and respond with resigned, empathetic shrugs. One of them rolls their eyes and mouths the word ‘disinfectant’ at me jokingly.
I laugh uneasily. Am I overreacting?
There are no alarms. No authoritarian disinfection protocols, no pointing fingers, no mass hysteria. But there are also no policies to help get the sick kids get better faster, the healthy kids stay healthy, or to protect their families. No one is sent home. There is not. One. Peep.
For the next few days I am bracing myself for the first telltale symptoms on my kid, and battling the fear of knowing that I will inevitably get sick too.
And I will, because I didn’t win the genetic lottery when it came to immune systems, and at this point I’m starting to think, neither did my kid. It’s the same story every time. She gets sick. She stays home. I have to take time off to care for her and work into the wee hours of the morning to juggle everything. She goes back to school. I get sick, and the ridiculous, cycle continues.
And I get it. No one wants to have their kid be sick. Because I’ve been that parent who’s late to the important meeting and oh my god do I understand how it can also be super tempting to preserve our own sanity, work schedules, and give that client pitch and I’ve thought “maybe just maybe it’s ok if she goes to school. I’m pretty sure she’s not contagious. Pretty sure…”
But to me that’s like being pretty sure there’s no peanuts in that granola mix.
And as much as I feel like I can’t afford to take another day off, and as stressful as rescheduling that meeting or taking the sick day is, ‘pretty sure’ is just not worth taking the risk that someone might get seriously sick.
Because a sniffle and low energy and fatigue could just be a case of ‘I don’t want to go to school-itis’ or it could be the equivalent of taking a peanut butter sandwich to school.
And I just couldn’t live with myself if I ended up hurting someone by risking their exposure. Whether that exposure is to a trace of peanuts, or my sick kid.
Do you think parents should be more sensitive to keeping their sick kids home from school? Do you ever feel torn between going to work and staying home to care for you kid? Let's talk about it.
Read more about daycare germs here and let Dr. Kim Foster teach you the difference between colds and flus, and how to treat them.
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