As I am so sure many women say, coming back to work after maternity leave, I was a different person. I was powering through on minimal sleep, spending my commute thinking about my baby being left at daycare, and I was seeing my students as someone’s son or daughter for the first time. It was both exhausting and beautiful to see the world, and my days as a teacher, from my new perspective of being a mom.
On our first school trip of the year, we were going to the same farm I had gone to with years of previous classes. We would take a hayride to pick pumpkins, attempt to get through the corn maze, and have a nice picnic lunch. It was a sweet, family-owned farm, and the students always had a great day. This time, however, I was seeing the trip through Mom Eyes. And not just any mom. Allergy Mom Eyes.
You see, my firstborn had multiple food allergies, as far as we can tell, since day one. Colic, rashes, sleeplessness, stomach upset, hives - we had been through the rollercoaster of symptoms that demand detective work to figure out what food is the culprit. We had seen numerous doctors, kept food journals, done elimination diets, searched and created recipes that would fit our child’s needs, and bit by bit we were figuring it out. Within our house, we had created a super safe space in which our baby could thrive.
But, children go places. And I was quickly becoming horrified at how food is just…everywhere. Friends wanted playdates with a pit-stop for fast food. Parades were a rainstorm of candy. Family wanted us to join in traditional meals for holidays. Trick or treating. The ice cream truck that would come singing down the road. Birthday party pizza and cake. Our house was under control, but as soon as we’d open that door, I felt like there was danger around every turn.
On this particular field trip to the pumpkin farm, I didn’t have any students with allergies. But I was thinking about my sweet baby, and what field trips would be like for him as he got older. The farm always gave our students complimentary cider donuts. They were passed out to applause and there were no ingredient lists in sight. All of us teachers always went into their farm store and bought some candies as a treat, as well. The students were always delighted with the surprise, and there was a certain bond among the munching and little “yums” and sticky fingers.
What would it be like for my child to be in first grade and be here on a class trip? To be left out of that kinship? To hear everyone else delight in the treats that couldn’t pass his lips? To be wary of everyone’s sticky fingers and whatever they touched? It was heartbreaking to think that he wouldn’t be a part of those kinds of treasured food experiences. Would his teachers be able to see that situation through his eyes, or would they simply skip over him when passing out donuts?
When we wrote the book Ben and the Amazing Animal Adventure/Benjamín y la aventura increíble de animales, we had field trips in mind because they are such a beautiful part of a child’s school experience, but often on a trip not every little detail is planned and approved in advance. For many reasons, that beautiful experience might cause anxiety because a student might not be able to participate or they may be unknowingly placed in an uncomfortable situation.
When writing the book, we researched some zoos to see what kind of foods they allowed children to feed their animals. It was very interesting to find out that some zoos fed their giraffes ice cream cones – something I never would’ve imagined, since ice cream cones don’t grow on the trees of Africa! I was horrified that there was one zoo that allowed peanuts to be fed to their animals – imagining peanut bits on fences and peanut shells on the ground made my skin crawl with worry. My kids would never be going there!
We wanted Ben’s story to be a gentle reminder – not an anaphylactic emergency situation – but the everyday type of occurrence that can cause big feelings in our little friends. All those “everyday” situations add up: the daily worries, the comments from friends about what they can or cannot eat, the comparisons in the cafeteria about different lunches, the teacher making a tally chart of “favorite foods”, the coach who surprises the team with some munchkins. Those “everyday” situations occur, well, every single day for a kid with food allergies. We feel that there isn’t enough awareness around that aspect of living with food allergies and thought Ben’s story could show the compassion and sensitivity that is needed more than ever as the number of children with food allergies grows.
I learned to see food celebrations and traditions from a different perspective once I had a family with food allergies, and we are hoping that sharing Ben’s perspective with the community will help others to see things from a food allergy point of view as well.
In order to promote this conversation and reflection, we have included discussion questions and suggestions for both parents and educators in our book. We hope Ben’s story and the resources we have included will help guide your journey to making any kid like Ben have a little less to worry about.
About the Author
By: Sarah Szamreta Tang
Sarah began her career as an elementary Bilingual (Spanish) and ESL teacher, although she is now a full-time Mama. She enjoys spending her time hiking and biking in the mountains of New Jersey with her husband and two boys. Sarah also reflects on managing a household of numerous allergies and dietary restrictions on Instagram @fakeit.tillya.bakeit and creates Bilingual educator resources that are available on Teachers Pay Teachers in her store “Eager to Learn English.”
Ben and the Amazing Animal Adventure/Benjamín y la aventura increíble de animales is a story about a young boy’s field trip to a zoo. Once there, he realizes that his food allergies prevent him from participating in one of the activities. Ben needs to think about what to do so he is safe and can still enjoy his zoo experience. https://bit.ly/OurFriendBen3 #OurFriendBen