article

04.06.09

Sandwiches That Kill

Our children are now taught that a classmate might die right in front of them if they bring PB&J for lunch. Where were these kids when we were in school?

Our children are now taught that a classmate might die right in front of them if they bring PB&J for lunch. Where were these kids when we were in school? Plus, read other “Bad Mommy” stories by Laura Bennett.

A Massachusetts school district recently evacuated a school bus of ten-year-old passengers after a stray peanut was found on the floor. Not an unclaimed backpack that could contain a bomb, not a mysterious white powdered substance—a peanut.

Once your child enters the greater world of pre-K education, he is suddenly introduced to the concept that a classmate might die right in front of them if they bring PB&J for lunch. Bear in mind that I am not an anaphylaxis denier. I fully acknowledge that there are a percentage of children for whom nut allergies are a serious, life-threatening situation. But I have to wonder; where were these kids when I was growing up? Did they just fall dead under the cafeteria table, swept up with the dropped spaghetti? What is causing the rise of the killer peanut?

What better way to have a child strapped to you for life than to have a life-threatening allergy? It’s a kind of Munchausen’s by Peanut.

There are parents with legitimate concerns, but I also believe there are a few people needlessly involved in the peanut panic. Here in New York City, the land of Alpha Parenting, every now and then I encounter a parent who is determined to have a child who is special in some way—any way—that keeps them dependent. What better way to have a child strapped to you for life than to have a life-threatening allergy? It’s a kind of Munchausen’s by Peanut.

Even children not found to be allergic are forced by their parents to be aware of the proposed risk to their lives. I once got a phone call from a classmate’s mother because my son had brought some cookies to school to share with his class.

“Your son’s cookies caused a serious problem. Blakely is not allowed to eat homemade treats. I have given him strict instructions only to eat packaged foods so that he can read the label and check for nuts.”

I didn’t bother to tell her that the cookies were made from purchased dough and there was a label somewhere in the bottom of my garbage can. I’m not trying to kill your kid with my homemade store-bought cookies, but I decided to take it seriously. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize Blakely was allergic to nuts.”

“He carries an EpiPen.”

I needed some clarification. “He carries an EpiPen because he has been tested and found to be allergic?”

“Well no, but nut allergies are life-threatening and can develop at any time.” Now that sounded nuts. I have no problem refraining from dipping into the Skippy if it is going to save the life of a child, but now I have to take prophylactic measures against allergies that don’t exist?

Ghost allergies? Ironically, science shows that exposure to peanuts in school-age children actually reduces the risk of allergies. Avoiding nuts out of fear becomes some kind of a self-fulfilling snack-time prophecy.

As if raising healthy children isn’t time-consuming enough, how do these moms find the time or energy to deal with crises that don’t even exist? Once we get them vaccinated, checked up, lice-free, eyes de-pinked, teeth straightened and the occasional broken bone reset, who has time for any more medical drama?

And why do these hyper-vigilant parents single out nuts? If the peanut is such a threat to the general population that parents demand schools be “peanut-free zones,” why not insist on shrimp-free schools? While there are 3.3 million people allergic to nuts, 6.9 million are at risk from treacherous crustaceans. Lightning causes 100 deaths per year, a number similar to the deaths caused from all food allergies combined. Should children be required to wear little helmets with lightning rods affixed to them? Now that would be special.

Apparently adults need to be special now, too. Peanut hysteria seems to be part of a wave of new serious conditions that either went unnamed or unacknowledged when I was growing up. Conditions like lactose intolerance, formerly known as burping and farting; restless leg syndrome, formerly known as get up and take a walk; or the granddaddy of all illnesses that didn’t previously exist, chronic fatigue syndrome, formerly known as motherhood.

Laura Bennett was trained as an architect but has since established her career as a fashion designer by becoming a finalist on Season 3 of Bravo's Project Runway. Bennett lives amid complete chaos in New York City with her husband and six children, Cleo, 20, Peik, 13, Truman, 10, Pierson, 6, Larson, 5, and Finn, 2.