Sunday, February 15, 2009

Equal Parts Frustration and Celebration

I decided I needed to take a little break from the reminiscing about last year at this time. I still intend to share more of that experience just not today.

So Harper's school Valentine's party was on Thursday. I missed the winter party because Matt was able to get some time off of work to go, so this was my first classroom party. The kids did an activity that involved writing the letters of their names on hearts, and making a "chart" from the hearts. They also sorted some candy hearts (safe ones, which the teacher had made phone calls to confirm the safety of) and "graphed" them according to color. The last activity was putting their valentines into each other's bags. One other mother had baked cookies. She approached me and said there were no nuts in them, but they do use nuts and peanut butter all the time at home and understood if I didn't want Harper to eat them. Harper happily ate the treats we made and didn't make a stink about the cookies she couldn't have.

Just as I was feeling like things had gone smoothly and we hadn't really had any allergy issues, a different parent brought out one more thing for the children. She'd bought little plastic baskets that looked like conversation hearts and filled them with a valentine, sticker, and actual conversation hearts which were completely unpackaged. I am not sure I have ever seen a "safe" bag or box of conversation hearts - one that did not have a cross-contamination warning on it. It is not a new thing for us to be in a situation where we have to turn down a treat for Harper, but I found this situation particulary upsetting because the teacher had specifically asked, in her communication about the party, that no one bring in any candy with their valentines! She even suggested parents send stickers, temporary tatoos, or pencils if they felt they had to includ something other than a card.

By the time we got home I found myself feeling really angry. Either that parent didn't read the communication from the teacher or read it and just chose to ignore it. All the parents know that there are children dealing with allergies in the classroom. I don't understand why, when specifically asked not to do something, you would go ahead and do it anyway. If this parent desperately wanted to bring something for the children maybe she could have asked the teacher about it? Then at least we might have been able to come up with a safe alternative. I had to take the basket away from Harper and dump out the candy, and the stickers and the valentine that had been surrounded by the candy. I did agree to take the blasket basket home and thorougly scrubbed it before allowing Harper to have it.

When we were dumping the candy out at the party Harper was looking like she might cry and she practically pleaded with me to check if it was safe for her, couldn't I look at the package? Life is not fair, and it is full of disappointments, but I still felt terrible having to take that away from her. We never should have been put in that situation. Grrrr.


On Saturday, Valentine's Day, I took the kids up to see a junior varsity basketball game at a high school near our house. Matt is the site manager for their girls' home games, so he was already there. As I sat with Michael, trying to keep him calm despite the loud music and even louder buzzer, Harper trailed Matt and ended up acting as a ball girl. They even announced her name at halftime as she stood, waving, from the score table. It was pretty cute.

When Matt and Harper came back over to the bleachers after halftime, he told me he was so proud of how Harper handled herself. She did a good job with the basketballs, but she did an even better job when one of the adults offered her a cupcake. At first she politely said no thank you. Then the woman asked her if she liked cupcakes. Harper told the woman that she did like cupcakes, but that she had a peanut allergy and they probably weren't safe for her.

Matt was right there, so there wasn't any real danger of Harper eating an unsafe cupcake, but she did turn it down on her own. It gives me hope that, in time, she will be able to take steps to keep herself safe and I won't have to spend every moment of any public situation feeling like I'm in the middle of some type of code red awareness mode. It gives me hope that she'll be able to be responsible when she's older and we aren't always a step away from her.

And it helped me remember that moments like the ones at her Valentine party, while they are crappy situations, are opportunities for Harper to learn about managing her allergy and to witness how seriously we take it.

Harper was very matter-of-fact about the whole cupcake thing, which is what makes me the most proud of all. It's difficult for her, the peanut allergy thing, and I doubt it will ever get much easier, but she handles it gracefully. I have to remember to do the same.


Heather said...

Harper sounds like she's a real trooper about this. My nephew has a very rare disorder that forces him to eat a very limited diet. He's 18 now, but we've been through all the years of class parties that could go wrong, alternative treats and learning one's own limits. Harper is doing great - and so are you guys!

Anonymous said...

I am also so proud of Harper and her turning down the cupcake on her own - way to go sweetie! I was telling your relatives about the valentine party incident and Harper pleading with you to check to see if the candy was safe and I started tearing up just thinking about her disappointment! It breaks my heart!


Giselle said...

What a big girl! I'm so sorry that the mother didn't pay attention. Food allergies are well known enough in general now that she should know how big of a deal it is. Shame on her. No child should have to throw out a treat bag.

Chris said...

I think it is likely the mom just didn't read the note, but this far into the school year, it really seems inexcusable. Would the teacher have realized, if you weren't there, to take it away from Harper? She really is a little trooper!

I just read Word Nerd, which is a book for ages 9 and above (yes, I like to read children's fiction) that I would suggest. The main character has a peanut allergy; he's twelve, although his mom still treats him like a kid when it comes to the allergy. I am NOT suggesting you are like her in any way. Just thought I'd mention the book.

Erin said...

I *like* to think that those parents just don't understand the seriousness of the peanut issue. That if they read this post, they would be remorseful and act differently next time. But who knows?

Good job, Harper, for turning down the cupcake!

Love that last picture of her.

Mommy Daisy said...

Wow, what a girl. I'm sure that was sad for her not to get a treat at the party, but I know you did the right thing to protect your daughter. I bet it was the cutest thing seeing her be a ball girl at the game then. And she did super standing up for herself about the cupcake. Way to go Harper!

Pam said...

I wonder if the other mother just doesn't understand the seriousness of it. I didn't know about cross contamination till I just read your post. Still, if there's an event at day care I always ask about the allergy thing - I would not want to be the ignoramous that takes something in.
Glad she's taking it on herself now to react - she's one clever girl.

jill said...

that's so rude! Erggh! Sigh. I feel bad, but I'm glad for the other mom that told you she uses peanut butter in the house. I have a friend with peanut allergies and I didnt know it. I gave her peanut butter fudge for Christmas, she never said a word. I heard her say something to someone once and the next year I gave her chocolate fudge and other stuff-- I hadn't made the peanut butter stuff yet, and made sure it wasn't even open, but still, it worried me. This year I didnt do anything because of the baby. Next year I may do something not food related..

Sara said...

Wow, it must be so hard for Harper. But your story about the cupcake shows how good of a job you guys are doing handling something very scary, and how mature she is becoming! And I want to just smack that other mom--I'm sure it was heartbreaking to take that treat bag from Harper. At Ally's day care, we were told at the beginning not to bring in treats with peanut butter, as a standard facility rule. Yet every holiday, there are Reese cups in her bag. WTH? I never even thought about the cross-contamination issue with stickers and stuff.
Out of curiosity, what is the likelihood of Michael being allergic?

Swistle said...

I am embarrassed to say that I didn't know about cross-contamination until I started reading your blog a couple of years ago. I knew peanut allergies were serious, but I would have thought, "Conversation hearts! Perfect! No peanuts in THOSE!"

...Well, although I would have read the label to double-check, because I would have known I didn't know. And also, I wouldn't have sent in ANY food if the teacher said not to. So this whole thing makes me upset for you and Harper.

Astarte said...

I'm so sorry Harper was upset!!!! I hope that woman felt like crap. I don't understand what the deal is with parents feeling like they HAVE to send in sweets to school, anyway. It's not a competition, people.