Thursday, October 10, 2013

How You Say It: An Update on Crazy Peanut Lady

Remember the crazy peanut lady? (Let's call her Grumps.) If you read Chasing Roots regularly, you surely recall the woman to whom I refer; it's difficult to "un-see" the mental image of an angry mother driving up to her daughter's elementary school, taking a bite out of a peanut butter sandwich, and then throwing the sandwich at the front door of the school...all to protest the school's policy which, in an effort to protect children with severe peanut and tree nut allergies, prevented her daughter from bringing a peanut butter sandwich in her lunchbox.

Quite a few people commented on that post here on the blog, on Facebook, or to me in person, and a couple of the comments brought to light a related issue I hadn't before thought of and that deserves a little attention.

Grumps provided us with a perfect example of someone on one side of this conflict losing their cool. But during a meeting at her son's elementary school, a friend of mine witnessed someone on the other side of the argument do exactly the same thing.

The parent of a peanut-allergic child walked into this meeting, flew off the handle seemingly unprovoked, and demanded that the school, principal, teachers, and parents eliminate peanuts from their lives to protect her child. Now I understand this woman's fear, but by commanding others to make significant changes (the school did not have a peanut-free policy in place) without showing even an ounce of respect for them or their children, she hurt all of us - our individual efforts and our collective cause - who work tirelessly to make schools safer for kids with allergies.

Not surprisingly, this woman's demands were met with anger and frustration and an almost across-the-board refusal to comply...and I can't say I blame the parents for their reactions.

But then a second mother of a peanut-allergic child spoke. In a calm voice, she explained the challenges she and her family faced with regards to the child's allergies and then graciously asked for help from the other adults in keeping her child safe at school.

Not surprisingly, this woman's requests were met with overwhelming support and led to a discussion about how the school could navigate this trickier-by-the-day issue.

Food allergies in children shouldn't lead to fighting among parents. If anything, the dramatic increase in the number of diagnosed and the severity of food allergies in children - by definition an epidemic - should lead to parents banding together to fight against food allergies themselves.

Our collective goals should include keeping kids with food allergies safe, and they should also include raising money to fund treatment research (because for many food allergies there remains no treatment other than strict avoidance) and prevention research (we still don't know why the number of kids with food allergies has increased so rapidly during the last 20 years), raising awareness, improving education, and encouraging compassion toward and support for the cause.

We can get there. I know we can. But it'll take changes in behavior on both sides of this sticky fence.

Skip the demands and the yelling, and whatever you do, don't vandalize the school. Come to the table with an open mind and a gracious heart. Speak firmly but kindly. Say "please" and "thank you". Be flexible and understanding. Stand up for your children, but do so in a way that 20 years from now, when they ask you about that day, they'll be proud of you.

And for those of you following the crazy peanut lady saga...

Grumps attended the most recent school board meeting and pitched an (as described to me) epic fit. In front of many of the parents of the school's peanut-allergic kids, Grumps continued to argue that her daughter's picky eating habits should trump the safety of the kids with peanuts allergies. She actually said, repeatedly, "it's not that I don't care, it's just that it's not fair that my daughter can't eat whatever she wants". I'm going to climb up on that soapbox one more time and respond with a quick, "really?! 'It's not fair!' is the best argument you can come up with?! Life isn't fair, lady...even my four-year-old knows that." (Back down again.)

Though Grumps tried to appeal the school-wide policy, the school board stood their ground, stating that their "life and death" decision was final.

No comments:

Post a Comment