By Janeen Zumerling
(Note: This is Janeen’s second guest editorial for us. The first was 911 Practice Makes Perfect.”
A few months ago, my son’s teacher pulled me aside at school to discuss an upcoming project: making bread in class, which for most people wouldn’t merit a second thought. The kids were doing it for a special party they were having for the dads the next day. But my son has multiple food allergies. He is allergic to wheat, rye, barley, oat, egg, peanut and tree nut—not a very promising list for a prospective little baker.
I could tell the teacher was a bit nervous to discuss it with me, but I so appreciated that she asked how I wanted to handle it. Clearly, all that communication had paid off—the teacher is truly considerate of my son’s needs.
At first I thought I would just keep him home that day. Then I thought I would just keep him home in the morning while they made the bread. Then I thought/ “Why am I penalizing my son because he has food allergies”? Why should he miss school? Why should he miss out on making bread? This is part of his education: why should he have to forego it?
Not that there wasn’t reason to worry. The last time he ate wheat, every one of his systems was affected. We are very cautious with wheat around him. But we are not a wheat-free house. His older brother eats wheat bread and wheat crackers, although we try to minimize the amount of wheat products that we have in the house as much as we can while still teaching him to be cautious around the many things he is allergic to.
This bread-making process, though, was new territory for us. The one bright side was that the dough was pre-made so there would be no loose wheat flour. That’s really completely outside of my comfort zone. Would he have a reaction if he breathed in the loose flour? I have no idea, although I do know that it scares me enough to not want to test it out. But I decided that we would let him work alongside the others while they made bread and he would work with his own safe bread dough (pre-made by me) on his own safe surface. I would be there to make sure that everything went well, to clean up, to keep wheat away from him, and to man the Epi Pen.
The day came and I packed up all my supplies. I was a nervous wreck and wished I had chosen another option. But my son could not wait to make his bread. As I entered the class room, I found out that all the other children were excited too. The teacher explained to them that even though I’m usually in the class to help everyone, on that day I was there to only help my son because of his allergies. The children all nodded their heads. They had been concerned for how my son was going to be able to make bread. Some of the children didn’t want him to be around the dough because they were afraid he would react to it. We explained that he had his own safe dough and that he would be just fine, but they just had to be careful not to touch him with their dough.
The kids in that class are great! For the most part they really try to protect him as much as they can. They may not completely understand food allergies, but they really watch out for my son and ask questions about what he can and can’t eat or what he can and can’t do.
Each child was to make their bread into a shape of their design. My son’s gluten free, egg free bread was very sticky so our design was very basic and very quick. That’s not the kind of dough you want to play around with very much. We were done in about 3 minutes. That left me plenty of time to scrub down each of the other children’s desks when they had completed their design, pick up rogue pieces of dough that made it on to the floor and to rewash the hands of children that “sort of kind of” washed their hands in the restroom (note to parents: First graders aren’t the best hand washers).
Once I cleaned the room and the children and all of the dough had left the room and had been taken to the cafeteria for baking, I packed up my box of left over gluten free dough and cleaning supplies and headed home, heaving a sigh of relief.
For me it was a stressful day. I was worried my son would have a contact reaction to the wheat dough. I was afraid one of the children would touch him with wheat hands and he would get hives. I was even more afraid that my son would touch a surface that was still contaminated with wheat and put his hands in his mouth and cause an even more severe reaction. Neither of things occurred. My cleaning must have been thorough.
For my son it was a great day. He said it was “The bestest day Mom. I got to do what everyone else did.” For once he wasn’t the food allergy boy. He was just another boy in the class making bread. And no dad was more pleased than my son’s.
Janeen Zumerling has been a Community Leader for WEGO Health since 2007, primarily working in the Asthma and Allergy Community. She can also be found blogging at: www.zumfamily.blogspot.com and www.foodallergycooking.blogspot.com. A former Sales and Marketing Representative, Janeen is currently a stay at home mom and lives in Ohio with her husband and two young sons.