Friday, August 30, 2013

Candy In School - Prepare for a Tirade!

Originally posted September 2011

Today is my girls' third day of school. As much as I'd love to homeschool - and perhaps I'll return to it someday - the school has shown time and again that they're committed to the kids who go there, and by and large are taking pretty good care of my kids, who in their turn are blossoming socially and intellectually. With one major serious exception: they feed my kids. They feed them junk food. And sometimes a LOT of it, depending on how one defines "a lot." There aren't words in English that I know of that express how deeply I dread Halloween, and even worse, Valentine's Day, with its overload of sugar and yellow and red food colorings and gobs of sugar and dairy.

My older daughter, The Bookworm, has some minor delays, mostly social, as well as some other motor and sensory issues, that are exacerbated by certain foods. It took us a lot of time and work to sort out that fructose was a major culprit, especially high fructose corn syrup. Other major players are artificial colors and flavors, and any quantity of dairy tends to be.... not good. A small amount is usually fine, and if it's in the form of yogurt it's generally fine, but when people throw parties (as they often do in school), they bring cake, cupcakes, cookies, pizza, ice cream, and candy as the major players in the sugar-high game. Dairy: check. Fructose: if it has HFCS, check. And if it's a juice box proffered by a well-meaning parent or teacher as an alternative to Kool-Aid, check. Artificial colors? Well, if it has frosting and/or if it's made in the US, check check check.

Today's the third day of school, and I know the teachers haven't all read my note on the required annual beginning of the year forms that says "PLEASE contact mom BEFORE giving my child ANY food at school," and I know they truly do mean well, so I'm taking deep breaths and relaxing my shoulders from their cringe position. (I just got back from a massage and the therapist made the mistake of asking me why I was so tense and I rattled on for the whole HOUR! LOL) Last year my husband and I went to the Party Store and forked out not-much-money for Chinese-made plastic toys and stickers and pencils and erasers that we otherwise would ever have purchased for any other reason just in order to give Bookworm's teacher something to keep in her room that was NOT a food reward.

So this is, I suppose, one way to introduce part of myself that will no doubt appear over and over as long as I can type here: My name is Deb, and I'm a Foodie. ("Hi, Deb!") I'm a Foodie because I've seen the difference that diet makes in my kids' well-being, mood, and overall demeanor, and I'm not the only one. In the 9-1/2 years The Bookworm has been outside my womb, the things I have learned about diet, and especially about the US food raising and processing systems has FLOORED me. And it's SCARED me. And it's ANGERED me. (Cue Billy Joel's Angry Young Man here - lyrics start just before the 2-minute mark, and yeah, I know I'm probably headed for a stroke if I don't chill out someday, but I'm working on it. :-)) It's the reason I make, from scratch, my kids' lunches for school EVERY DAY.

I could go on for hours about rewards themselves - and I plan to, one of these days - but today I'm firmly reminding myself to stick with the FOOD issue. I know there are plenty of children who don't have the same issues my kids have with the same foods and food-like products out there. And believe me, I mourn (sometimes) for the easy days when I could give my kids candy or juice or cheese without cringing, without even batting an eye - until I remember what it does to them. These things can make them spacy and unfocused. They can make them weepy and combative. They can make busy stimulating situations like parties into nightmares that overload them, especially Bookworm. They can give them epic tummy-aches that take a few hours to evolve into two days of room-clearing flatulence.

What if my child had a severe dairy or nut allergy? Hershey's doesn't make their milk chocolate candy in a nut-free facility, and nut-allergic kids might not know that - this is coming from a trusted teacher, after all. And what if this is the first reaction the child has? Some parents have suggested that I tell the school my children are allergic to these foods - but to be honest, there are problems with that approach as well. First off, I'm a stickler for honesty. I don't know if they are truly "allergic" as we understand the term today. They don't break out in hives or welts or rashes, they don't need epi-pens to keep them breathing. It's possible that the reactions ARE immune responses - and depending on whom you ask, that may or may not make them "allergic" responses. It also may have the unintended effect of making the kids who ARE truly allergic, in an epi-pen or get-the-Benadryl-NOW way, seem as though their allergies are less, almost like watering down the whole allergy pot - and in no way do I want something I say or do or write to put anyone's kid in danger by doing that. That leaves my kids and me in a pretty bleak place, though, a sort of "food limbo," where no, they might not end up in hospital from a red lollipop, but there's a cumulative effect of these things on their systems that's unmistakable, especially to the mom who's known them for many years more than anyone in the school or almost anyone outside our family.

I don't CARE if I'm "that mom," I WILL NOT have my child brought to the office and as a reward for "being good" (aka "holding it together all morning") and given a red lollipop, only to get the "What is WRONG with this child? We REWARDED her and this is how she repays us!" phone call. (To be fair, this hasn't happened since Bookworm was 5YO.) I don't WANT to have to completely reschedule our once-a-month pizza supper the girls have been looking forward to because I found out that one had ice cream and the other pizza in school, which is all the lactose and casein (milk sugar and protein, respectively) that they can have in a WEEK, let alone a DAY, without horrific tummy-aches and behavior issues for a couple days afterward.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I'm not the most, well, diplomatic person IRL. I can easily see me going in to talk with a teacher or principal and ending up ranting and raving like a lunatic when I only meant to ask ever so politely that my kids and junk food not be permitted in the same room, at least without giving me the opportunity to provide them with an alternative other than spending Halloween party time in the library with kids who aren't participating for religious reasons. So I have yet to decide how I'm going to approach this with the school without coming across as the lunatic mother many of them probably already think I am. LOL But it's been on my mind. I was just hoping to have a few days' grace before it entered my mind this school year. :-(

[Addendum: Bookworm is now in middle school, two years later. Candy has already been proffered. And popsicles that she can't eat, on a hot afternoon. Please, PLEASE, for the love of all that is holy, make the madness STOP already! On the bright side, as Monkey begins a new school year in the same grade as at least one highly-food-allergic child, sensible restrictions on food in the classroom are once again in place. *sigh of relief*]

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Please keep it clean. Differences of opinion aren't a problem for me. Rudeness is. Thankyouverymuch. :-)