Sunday, April 22, 2018

Paying for Peanuts

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

Good Sunday evening. 

In last week's health news, the children & I had dental appointments Wednesday. I am the only one who was not required to schedule a follow-up appointment. Yes, yes. Henry has cavities that will be dealt with as soon as school ends. Thankfully he still has all his baby teeth, & so the goal is to improve his dental hygiene habits before his permanent teeth make an appearance. 

Reagan does not have cavities, but she has an extra baby tooth that has to come out. I've made an appointment for Reagan's tooth extraction, which means I also made an appointment with my mom to take Henry off my hands while I coach Reagan (& her potentially wonky blood sugar) through her procedure. Based on his behavior in the dentist's office while I was detained during my teeth-cleaning, his presence during a tooth extraction would be a terrible idea.

I'm going to do something a little different this evening. I am going to attempt to show you the world through my eyes, & I will tell you why I've decided to do this. On Wednesday afternoon (after the dentist, mind you), the children & I arrived home. I lugged all of our bags inside the house. I fed the dog. I cleaned out the lunch boxes. I sat down with the school folders to see what was new in Pre-K & first grade & what, if any, homework Reagan needed to attend to before we headed back out for Bible class that evening. The good news was Reagan did not have any homework. The bad news was there is to be a Field Day at the conclusion of the school year. 

Field Day is not inherently evil, obviously. I am all for the kids getting out of their classroom & getting some exercise. My complaint, which I did voice publicly, is that I, as Reagan's mother, am to send money I am told will cover the cost of Field Day water activities, Field Day food that will be provided, & a Field Day T-shirt. No big deal, right? Maybe. Perhaps. I invite you to keep reading. 

I want you to imagine for a moment you have a child who suffers from a peanut allergy. In the back of your mind (or sometimes at the forefront of your mind), you worry your child will eat a peanut or a peanut product. You've told your child's teacher she cannot eat peanuts, & your child knows not to eat peanuts, but still you worry. You don't want the allergy dominating your child's life; you don't want to draw attention to it, yet you have to worry about it, you have to advocate for your child because the consequences of eating peanuts can potentially be deadly for your child. 

You kiss your child goodbye every morning & watch her walk into her classroom to begin her day. You pray no one brings peanuts. You pray a peanut-related situation does not arise. You pray she goes about her day & there is no reason for her to be singled out because of her unfortunate peanut allergy. 

Inevitably, peanuts are brought to school. You understand that not everyone is allergic to peanuts, & the other kids enjoy eating peanuts, but still your concern is for your child, both her physical well-being as well as her emotional state, surrounded as she is by kids who can eat peanuts. 

Often a well-intentioned parent brings a box filled with peanuts for the kids to enjoy in the morning. It seems at least once a week a parent brings peanuts for all the kids to eat in celebration of someone's birthday. Every Friday in the cafeteria the kids all enjoy peanuts as a special treat once they've finished their lunch. When your child reaches an educational milestone, the school rewards her with peanuts. It becomes increasingly difficult to explain to your child that peanuts are detrimental to her health when at every turn she is handed peanuts for all manner of reasons — to celebrate a birthday, to celebrate meeting her reading goal, or just because it is Friday. Each time peanuts are introduced, each time your child watches all the other children consume copious amounts of peanuts, you again have a hard conversation with her about how her body is different. 

After a long day at work, you come home with your children hoping to relax for five minutes before preparing for the next school day. You open your daughter's folder & read that Field Day cannot simply be Field Day; it will also be Peanut Day. There will be peanuts provided, & you're asked to contribute money to help pay for the peanuts. Your contribution will also fund water-related activities. You will have to navigate the peanuts once again, & you will have to further isolate your child because she wears extremely expensive medical equipment related to her peanut allergy, & that equipment needs to stay dry. You can remove the equipment, but this further complicates the food issue. 

Imagine something common is toxic to your child. You have navigated the issue repeatedly throughout the school year as well-meaning people constantly thrust the forbidden fruit in your child's face, each instance another reminder to her that she is different, each instance another invitation for a curious child to ask her about her odd eating habits. Imagine you are asked to contribute funds to pay for the toxic peanuts, the very peanuts you will inevitably have to pry from your child's hands. 

Maybe this isn't a perfect analogy. It is the best way I can think of to try to explain to others what my day to day life is like. Please don't tell me to relax. You don't relax with Diabetes. Reagan is a responsible young lady, but she is seven. She is already asked to do & withstand & understand more than most adults can handle. I hope you are never able to empathize with me & my family; Type 1 Diabetes is brutal & I would not wish it on anyone. 

I do ask that you attempt to understand my frustration over what is, to most people, seemingly a small matter. What I have discovered since Reagan began school is that there is a "small matter" almost every day it seems; you see a birthday cake, a coke party for accomplished readers, donuts brought in the morning, Popsicle Friday, & a form asking for money for Field Day food; I see peanuts, peanuts, peanuts, peanuts, peanuts

One month after Reagan was diagnosed with Diabetes, she vomited in our kitchen late one night. She did not have a stomach virus; she was in DKA. Click here for an explanation of this serious complication of Diabetes. I only knew how dire the situation was because I was in contact with the mother of another diabetic who told me about the warning signs of DKA. We rushed Reagan to the ER for the second time in four weeks & spent some more time in the PICU. After the DKA incident, I realized how serious Diabetes is & how vigilant one must be — I, as her mother — must be in order to keep her healthy, out of the hospital, & well, alive

We are in year five of life with Diabetes. Over the years I am sure I've made some enemies. I am sure some people think I am crazy. I have been told, both directly & via looks of disdain flashed in the hallway at school, that I upset people when I voiced my irritation over the details of Field Day.

First, let me say I much prefer you just tell me I upset you. In my former (& future) life as an adjunct instructor with the local community college, I taught young men who spent years in jail for armed robbery &/or drug charges, so looks of disdain don't really register with me. Tell me I upset you; I'll write you an essay explaining my original position & attempt to address your feelings of rancor. You can tell me how hard you're working to put Field Day together, & I will tell you how hard I will work to make sure my daughter does not feel like a Cyborg-freak who wears the equivalent of one of her vital organs on the outside of her body. Field Day will end; you will go home & sleep soundly. Perhaps you'll be irritated with Reagan's crazy mom, but otherwise you'll rest peacefully. My life & my daughter's life will still be peanuts, peanuts, peanuts, all day, every day. 

Diabetes hardens you in some ways. The other moms of diabetics I have come to know over these last five years are absolute warriors when it comes to advocating for their afflicted child(ren). Diabetes is such an individual disease; no one knows a diabetic child like that child's mother, & I am so thankful we have a pediatric endocrinologist who listens to me as much as I listen to her. I have had nurses defer to me when it comes to certain aspects of Reagan's care. I have learned things I wish I never, ever needed to learn, but with that knowledge — & with the nights I am up three or four times to check her sugar because she's dangerously high or dangerously low, & with the the tears I've dried because she could not have a cupcake — I have, I think, earned a little wiggle room when it comes to how widely I cast the protective net around my daughter.

I am simply weary of the circus that at times is elementary school; it is not easily navigable by someone allergic to, well, peanuts. It is all about perspective, as is so often the case in life. I felt compelled today to attempt to show you life from my perspective. It is fine if you still think I am crazy; to quote J. D. Salinger, Mothers are all slightly insane


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