Friday, September 28, 2007

My Child Can't Have This So Neither Can Yours

When I was in elementary school, I had a classmate who had an ulcer. I think this is somewhat rare at that age, but nonetheless, she had an ulcer. Because she had an ulcer, she couldn't eat a lot of the foods that all of the rest of us ate daily.

Her mother did not come to school with a lawyer and demand that since Emma couldn't eat these things, none of us should be able to eat these things, either.

Her mother just made sure that Emma's lunch contained 'safe' foods for that ulcer, and since Emma's mom did not consider that the job of the school, she packed a lunch for Emma daily. The cafeteria served a plate lunch, "take it or leave it" style, which is as it should be, as all homes should be, too, and occasionally it was something Emma could eat, but most often it was not. Either way, Emma's mother understood that her child's food intake was her responsibility, not the school's.

Sure, sometimes Emma would look at our chocolate cupcakes and little Chesty potato chip sacks and brush a tear from her eye, but the fact was that Emma was the only kid in the school with an ulcer and even little kids can understand that one person's problem doesn't necessarily have to mean that every person had to be deprived of something.

Each of Emma's teachers made sure the Room Mothers knew about the ulcer, so when it was Birthday Time, there were both chocolate and white cupcakes from which to choose. We all understood that Emma got a white cupcake each time, but really, it was no big deal because no big deal was made of it.

I went to school with Emma for 13 years, from kindergarten through senior year, and her ulcer eventually went away, right around the time some of the rest of us started developing one ourselves. She told me once that when that ulcer was first diagnosed, down in first grade, her mother sat her down and gave her the speech about how much of life seemed unfair, and that Emma was going to have to spend a lot of her childhood watching other kids eat potato chips and cupcakes and chocolate and dill pickles and pizza and Cokes and orange juice in front of her, while she ate bland foods and drank only white milk, and had a white cupcake with no icing at birthday parties while the rest of the kids tore into the decorated cake. Emma told us she hated it, but even at age six she knew it would have been both selfish and ridiculous if her family had requested that the entire school and the whole neighborhood change its menus just for her. Back then, children were encouraged to NOT be selfish. Requiring that the school and all her friends' houses empty themselves of all things Emma couldn't have would have been the height of selfishness.

I agree.

Now, an ulcer is not an allergy, and it is very true that many allergies are life-threatening these days. I have no idea what has changed so much over the generations, but something certainly has, and some of the theories are quite interesting, but that is neither here nor there.

I still maintain, however, that it is the person with the problem who has to do most of the adjusting to it. If that means sitting to the side in the cafeteria, bringing a home-packed lunch daily instead of eating cafeteria food, or even eating lunch in a separate room, perhaps with a friend or two, then so be it. Life is hard sometimes. But that is no reason to make life hard for everyone else, too.

Emma and her mom understood this concept. Everybody understood this concept back then. Why do so many families come marching to school nowadays insisting that since their child can't have/eat/touch/be/read whatever, none of the other children should get to, either?

Some people will die if they so much as breathe in a room where a child who ate a peanut butter cracker two days ago walked through. We can't dictate what a person eats or touches in his/her own home. The world is not going to clear a path for a person with allergies to pass through. I have friends whose children have to wear masks in school. The other children are curious but not cruel, because no big deal has ever been made of it. There is another child in that class who must wear latex gloves at all times, and another child who had to be put in the other classroom because of his latex allergy.

I have a friend who is a special ed teacher, one of the best. She is allergic to dog dander, and will go into anaphylactic shock if she is near a dog, esp. a shaggy one, for even a moment. She teaches in a mixed sped classroom, and a few years ago, one of her students came to class with a large service dog. I'm all for service dogs; I think they're wonderful, but my friend almost died with that dog in her room. She tried wearing a mask, but the parents of the deaf child in her room threatened to file suit because with the mask, their child could not read the teacher's lips. It was a Catch 22 for the teacher, because the child needed the dog, but the dog came near to killing the teacher, and the teacher couldn't accommodate her allergy because the hearing-impaired child's needs prohibited that. This teacher was the best in the system, so none of the parents would even hear of moving their child to another teacher's program. Shockingly, none of the parents seemed concerned about the teacher's allergy; they were interested only in the rights and needs of their own child.

My friend took the year off, to try and get her breath and to hope the service dog would be gone the next fall. It was the only alternative she could think of that didn't involve a lawsuit from a parent.

Please, service dog people, don't start screaming at me; I think your dog is fantastic and I'm sincerely glad you have him. It's just that many people are allergic to dog dander, and I'm one of them.

When I know I'm going to be around a dog, I've got pills to pop, but I can't take them all the time because I'm taking a pretty large pill cocktail daily and they interact badly with some of them.

What is the point of this post? I don't know. It's bound to infuriate somebody out there somewhere and I'm really tired of fending off attacks from people who don't read well and who are so thin-skinned they see disdain where none was intended. I think it's because I saw Emma at Bob Evans tonight and she was eating plain vanilla ice cream, and suddenly the whole elementary cafeteria flashed through my mind, with all of us kids' lunches spread out on the long table and Emma with her white bread and peanut butter and plain vanilla ice cream with the rough wooden spoon that always put splinters on our tongues: the only kid who couldn't participate in the cookie trading that always went on. Was it fair for us to eat cookies when she couldn't? Yes, it was.

We could and she couldn't. That's how life is sometimes. The sooner we all learn that and adjust our thinking to it, the better off we'll all be.

Would any of you care to sign my petition to remove all dogs from a five-mile radius of my home, because I'm allergic and might die if one wanders onto my front porch? Because it's sooo not fair that you can have one and I can't.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 8:54 PM | |


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