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Starting School with a Peanut Allergy

Yesterday, I ordered my daughter's medical alert ID bracelet. I ordered her name engraved on the front of the ID part of the bracelet, and on the back, I ordered the following:
Peanut Allergy
Use EpiPen
Call 911 then
Call Dad: (Londo's cell)

I let her pick out the one she wanted, emphasizing the fact that this was a special bracelet which she would wear to school every day. She picked the one with pink hearts and white beads. It's very pretty, and she says she'll wear it and seems excited about it. But it's also so scary to me.

The Pumpkin will be starting at the Montessori school on August 31st. I am excited about this pre-school for so many reasons. I really think the Montessori method will be a good fit for the Pumpkin, and this school really impressed me with their facilities, their program, their teachers and staff, and well everything.

The only real concern I have, and it is a major one, is that the school is not a nut-free school. The Pumpkin will be in a nut-free room, but kids--those young, messy beasts who don't remember to wash their hands or be careful with things--will be bringing their lunches to school. The kids in classrooms that aren't nut free will be bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars with peanuts, trail mix with peanuts, peanut butter to dip veggies in, peanut butter cookies, and all sorts of things processed in facilities that also have peanuts. These items will be in the school, on other children's hands, on the playground, on the handles of doors, possibly in the rooms for shared activities.

I. Am. Terrified.

I'm trying not to dwell on it, cause it could paralyze me with fear if I let it. I'm trying to acknowledge it and plan for it. So I ordered her medical alert bracelet. We have up-to-date doses of the EpiPen for her school. And I'm going to order a few more things, including these fantastic labels for her lunchbox and bags that will make sure everyone knows that she has a peanut allergy (I found those through the Cool Mom Picks Back to School Guide 2010, which has some other really awesome things! You should check it out!).

However, the biggest thing I've been doing is trying to is teach my daughter the words she needs to ensure her own safety. Part of that is making sure she understands that she is allergic to peanuts, that peanuts can make her really sick, that she needs to ask if there are peanuts in food that people offer her or ask if the food was made in a place that also has peanuts. I've been telling her about it in normal conversation. I've been making special points of it when we are out and about, such as a recent stop at a bakery where we asked careful questions to ensure there were no peanuts there at all so she could have a special baked treat. And I've been using play to mimic what I do and she should do, such as when we were playing with dolls and she had her doll offer my doll some cake and I had my doll ask if it had peanuts or was made in a place that has peanuts (thankfully, it didn't, so my doll could have some apple cake!). I'm doing these things over and over again to drill it into her head.

I know this time of year is tough on all parents. We are all scrambling to get the gear our kids need, help our kids understand the transition to school, getting all the paperwork in, prepare to pack lunches, set up areas of the house for school work and notices, and all those millions of other things we do to get ready for school. And that doesn't even touch on the emotional prep we need to do for ourselves (my baby girl is going to a real pre-school, not just a daycare/pre-school!) and our kids.

I just never thought about all the added worry, prep and gear I would need with an allergic kid. I never considered that sending my child to school could be sending her into a danger zone that could have such severe health consequences. I never knew that I would be fighting back panic attacks at the thought of most kids' favorite lunch sandwich. Oh God. I'm having trouble breathing. That's probably irony.


Jenny said…
Don't worry--you're doing all the right things. My daughter is entering 5th grade and she's doing great.

Teaching them how to handle their allergies themselves by refusing food, etc. is the key to their safety. So great job.

This year we teach our daughter how to self-administer her EpiPen and when to do so. Talk about scary!!!
Melba said…
I just can't imagine how hard this would be! I'm lucky that neither of my kids are showing any signs of allergies or intolerances. Thank goodness.

But I can see why you're worried. Our daycare is completely nut-free, with signs everywhere and reminders in newsletters, etc. But for a whole week I sent Honey Nut Cheerios to daycare for Rosie's breakfast. It was not on purpose of course... and holy did I ever feel like crap when I realized what I had done. One morning I'm pouring it from the box into her little breakfast container and I see the box and it just dawns on me that OMG this has NUTS!!! HONEY NUT CHEERIOS HAS NUTS PEOPLE! Did I ever feel stupid and just plain awful. I knew there was a girl in her class with a severe nut allergy. And here I am being totally careless and sending it off to daycare.

So definitely definitely definitely teach her to never put anything in her mouth from another kid. Because nuts can find their way into a nut free room, from other parents who make mistakes like I did.

I realize this probably made you feel even worse and more scared about it all. Sorry... that's not my intention... just trying to emphasize that your fears are not unjusified or over the top, and you can't be too careful as the mama of a child with allergies!
paola said…
And teach her that if she changes her mind about eating a particular type of food, she can. She doesn't have to eat something just becasue it would not be polite to refuse it now that she has touched it. THAT got me in trouble at age 6, when I had my first 'nut attack' and ended up in hospital.
caramama said…
Jenny - Thank you! I love reading your site, especially about your daughter's successes in navigating the world with food allergies. You give me such hope, and you have helped prepare me in so many ways.

Melba - Believe it or not, I used to give the Pumpkin Honey Nut Cheerios before we had introduced her to nuts at all. It was after she was 1, because of the honey in it. But it was like you said, it simply did not register that there were nuts in it! We went back to regular Cheerios when we realized it. Then when we suspected the peanut allergy and were worried about other nut allergies, I remembered that we had given it to her before and looked up what was in them. The nut in those is almonds, which tends to be one of the least allergic of the nuts. And thankfully, we now know for sure that she is okay with almonds and can have those. But I know that other kids can't.

Anyway, it's just like you say. It's like we don't even think about some of these things! Having done the same exact thing, I know for sure just what might make it's way into "nut-free" rooms. Yikes!

paola - That's a great point. Today at my daughter's current nut-free school, they are having a "picnic" and letting kids bring in lunches from home. As I left her in her room, I reminded her that she should not eat from anyone else's lunch because it might have been next to peanuts (even if it doesn't have peanuts in it). I hadn't even thought about how some people might consider it rude. I'll have to figure out some good words for her to say when refusing food from others.
Jane Anne said…
You are doing great. The fear is, unfortunately, very natural. Teaching your daughter the right words to say and teaching her to be extremely cautious about food at an early age is the best thing you can do for her. My son is getting ready to go into first grade. I was terrified last year. It went well. And, so many people tell me that he refuses to eat anything if he doesn't know it is safe. He asks time and time again about food. He is overly cautious and it makes everyone (especially me) feel good.
You are doing a great job.
Becoming Mommy said…
I feel your pain, though I think everything will be fine. You've taken steps and if she's showing she understands her allergy then you should be golden.

Sasha gets pineapple and pinecones confused. He thinks he's allergic to pinecones, and so last night he was swollen and red and both medicated and slathered with salve. Preschool is going to be rough on us.
Cloud said…
I'm sending big hugs, because that's all I've got...

You'll get through this, and it will become your new normal. You know you will.
Charisse said…
I can imagine how scary it must be caramama, and I also think you've given it a lot of thought and care. Making the right decision for Pumpkin as a whole child required a lot of bravery from you this time, but I believe that's what you did. And you're setting everything up right for her and her teachers to keep her safe.

But as someone who practically hyperventilated getting ready for the first day of the field-trip preschool that we loved loved loved (without even an allergy in the mix) I absolutely honor the pounding heart. You're doing great.

Mom101 said…
Ugh, I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. My niece was horribly allergic to eggs (although magically she grew out of it by 5) so I am so sensitive to the needs of parents dealing with it. I can't even imagine how stressful it must be.

I can only wish her a speedy recovery...and for right now, I wish her a smart, sensitive preschool teacher and compassionate parents in the classroom. You just may find with both of those things in place it's more manageable than you thought.
caramama said…
@Jane Anne - Thanks so much. Your post about your son making it through Kindergarten was such an inspiration to me! I'm so glad your boy is overly cautious. We are working on that for sure!

@Becoming Mommy - Pineapples and pinecones are definitely confusing! And with all the allergies Sasha has, I really feel for you especially in preschool. We do what we can, though, don't we?

@Cloud - Thanks! I'll take all the hugs I can get! And you are right. This will become our new normal. It will be fine. I'm going to keep telling myself that.

@Charisse - Thank you so much. We are doing our best to set up everything the best we can. That's all we can do for our kids, isn't it? And it's nice to know it's not just me with the peanut allergy practically hyperventilating! It's a normal parent response!

@Liz - Thank you! That's great that your niece grew out of the bad allergy! The allergist said there is a 20% chance she will grow out of it, but we just aren't counting on that. Hoping, but not counting. Thanks for thinking of allergic kids with your back to school guide, and for addressing my concerns in The Motherhood live chat!
mom2boy said…
Sorry I'm late to ready this but I wanted to say congratulations on your daughter's upcoming start at the montessori pre-school! It sounds fantastic and I hope it is a great experience for her!

You've done an amazing job getting all of you as prepared as possible with awareness, practical tools and preparation for an accident but even with the fear you aren't letting it hold your daughter back from going out into the world. Knowing how much we want to keep our children out of harm's way that's something to be proud of! :)
Lisa F said…
good luck with it all. I'm having anxiety attacks about kindergarten. sounds like you are doing all you can, and now you have to let go & trust. we were in a nut free school last year, and the teachers were very good at educating everyone.
Anandi said…
One more thing (and we're about to find this out when we start daycare in a few weeks) - there might not be that issue of "rudeness" when refusing food.

My guess is that in nut-free classrooms and schools, the teachers might be addressing that issue often, about how it's not a good idea to share food, how some kids are allergic, etc.

Good luck! I'm worried about the same thing with dairy-allergic BabyT. So far it's just been hives, but I so don't want the bad reaction to happen in daycare (or ever, really.)
Anonymous said…
Have you seen the Safety Tattoos? They're temporary tattoos that have either emergency contact information (If lost, please call: ...) OR allergy information. I think this would be especially useful on field trips or for birthday parties ect. You can order them on-line at safetytats (I think).

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