Today, with the help of my brain and probably contributed to by my previously diagnosed PTSD, I was reduced to a sobbing mess in front of a school bus full of kids and my own children. I could hear some quiet voice in the back of my head yelling at me to snap out of it, but it seemed to be on the other side of the canyon that was quickly filling with my tears. Frankly, looking back on the events of the morning, I kind of want to kick my own ass, but that is both challenging to accomplish physically AND it wouldn’t solve anything.
Yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from our daughter asking me to please pick her and her brother up from school. As they were boarding the school bus at the end of the day, they saw a student on the bus eating Reese’s Pieces. Knowing that our son’s peanut allergy is off the charts severe, our daughter told the bus driver that they couldn’t ride the bus while someone is eating peanut-products as it wouldn’t be safe for her brother. The driver raised his voice to her and informed her that it is up to each individual bus driver whether to allow eating on the bus or not and told her to take her seat. She said “NO!” and she and her brother got off the bus and walked to the office to call me. My husband wisely chose to pick them up wanting to spare the school from having to deal with me when I was so riled up. We’ve done this dance every year since Kindergarten. Here we are, still in the same school district, but now in our third school still having to fight for the basic safety of our kid. My husband went in to the office and spoke with the secretary who told him no administrator was around but she’d pass along the message. The vice principal called him back shortly thereafter and again later last evening after she spoke with the transportation department. It was better that he handled that. Really. For all of us.
I am somewhat of a bad-ass when it comes to sticking up for the ‘little guy’ who hasn’t yet found his voice. That’s why I was so irritated with myself this morning when I went to stand up for my own son. I told my husband that I would take the kids to school in the morning rather than have them ride the school bus while this food on the bus mess gets sorted out. I also fully intended to wait for the bus to have a conversation with the driver. I had practiced what I was going to say. I had rehearsed various scenarios and dialogues and, in my head, I had made my argument compelling and irrefutable. Instead, as I addressed the bus driver and explained why I wasn’t allowing my children to get on the bus this morning, I found myself sobbing and barely coherent. I tried for the um-teenth time to explain why the bus driver needs to enforce the no-eating-on-the-school-bus policy, but all I could get out was “Do you not get that he could DIE?!?”
We are not new to this affliction, nor to this school district. Our son was diagnosed at the age of two with the blood test. He had his first severe reaction the day after the blood draw and just days before the diagnosis officially came back. He is re-tested every two years now, and each time, his reactions and ‘numbers’ get worse. The allergist has diluted the serum used for scratch testing down to 1/200th of the usual potency and he still ends up with fist-sized welts at the test site. He is not air-borne reactive (knocking on wood and knowing that that could change), but peanut residue on a bus seat would send him in to anaphylactic shock if he were to unknowingly touch it to a cut on his hand or touch it to his face.
I have never been a torches and pitchforks down-with-peanut butter in schools sort of allergy mom. We’ve made our son very aware that he lives in a world where his food allergy is HIS to manage and other people aren’t likely to understand the severity unless they live with it too. Now that he’s in middle school, he’s finally met another kid with severe food allergies. Just this morning, he told me how lucky he feels that his is only to Peanut (o.k., so a few other legumes were added in this last round of testing, but I don’t need to add to his worry over white navy beans or lentils when he’d never volunteer to eat them anyway) since one of his new friends is allergic to all nuts. He has a great attitude!
The problem really boils down to marketing. Allergy medications have been so loudly marketed that when most people hear the term FOOD ALLERGY, they imagine someone coughing or sneezing as they take a bite of the offending food. I have for years referred to our son’s medical condition as Food Anaphylaxis in the hopes that the less educated/understanding general public would ‘get’ the distinction. While I can appreciate the desire to snack on the 10-30 minute bus ride to and from school, I feel like the need to protect your kids from watching mine die in front of them and the need to not let my kid die should be inspiration enough to enforce the no-eating-on-the-bus policy. I’m not being overly dramatic. That really IS what it boils down to. If hundreds of people on an air plane can endure the several hours on international flights forgoing peanuts and peanut products, I’m quite certain these kids can last the short bus ride without them as well.
I already knew I was broken. I seldom see the triggers coming, but when they do, I make a mental note and try to create a strategy for managing better next time. Now pardon me as I mop myself up.