I homeschool because . . . I don’t want my daughter to die! I know, I know you’re thinking, “Whoa that’s over the top! Exaggerated! Raw! Emotional! Scary!” But severe allergies are a threat to many children, not just mine. And they can be life-threatening. Homeschooling is just one practical way to keep a child safe from food allergies.
Our oldest daughter was diagnosed with 9 food allergies by the age of 2. By the time we decided to homeschool, she had 15 diagnosed food allergies, and today, she has 31 diagnosed food allergies. If you’re interested, you can read about her diagnosis and what happened before her diagnosis. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here for you to finish.
We always figured we would send her to a private Montessori school, not only because we always appreciated the child-led philosophy, but also because Montessori classrooms allow for a more tailored environment. This would allow us creative flexibility when planning for a safe learning environment.
Homeschooling to Keep My Child Safe from Food Allergies
In first grade, our daughter, “Pig”, was in a private Montessori school, but she wasn’t thriving for completely unrelated reasons. During our search for a new school, we visited our base public school, two charters, and two lottery based schools (one private, the other public). They all told us the same thing: “yes, of course, we can keep her safe” or “she can sit in the peanut free table” or “we all receive first aid training.”
After our initial screening of any school, we would meet with the higher-level administration with some questions, such as:
- Are you be willing to order arts and crafts supplies that would be safe?
- Are you be willing to allow me to help with finding safe alternatives or at least allow me to read through ingredient lists?
- Will all of her teachers agree to keep her classroom safe from her allergens in their supplies?
- Will you enforce hand washing post meals?
- Will my daughter be able to self-carry an epi-pen and also have an extra on hand for the teacher?
- Will all teachers learn how to administer an epinephrine injector? (This request went beyond the regular first aid education – I needed to make sure that our plan would be followed, and the epinephrine injector administered per our allergy action plan.)
In addition to these questions, I always made it a point to visit these schools during the most important time of the day . . . lunch! We needed to see how the children were shuffled from their class to the lunch room and the ways that teachers or aids cared for the children in those special “allergy friendly” tables.
Let me tell you what we saw did not make us feel safe. There really was no protocol — nothing special was being done to keep these children safe after they ate. Sure, they ate at a table that was maybe partially safer for them, but what about after the meals? Contact allergic reactions are a real thing. And for my daughter it could mean constant illness, asthma and eczema flares, and the potential of a full-blown reaction should she ingest any particles.
You’re probably thinking: Oh please, don’t exaggerate! How would she ingest a particle by contact? (It’s such a simple, but very real, mistake!)
Let me give you an example. Your child ate his mushy banana and licked his fingers clean. He then plays a game of catch with my daughter. Once they’re done and part ways, my daughter decides to wiggle her loose tooth. Bam! There it is — she just ingested an allergen particle without intentionally doing so.
That’s all it would take for my daughter’s health to spin out of control. We would never be able to figure out why she had a reaction or to what food. Being a Food Allergy Parent requires rock solid detective skills!
So, now, you’re thinking: “oh, you can get a 504 Plan? Sweet, so what’s the problem”? The problem is that life isn’t always so smooth and easy. People are set in their ways, and for the most part, don’t like “change” unless it’s their idea.
Changing the mind of a teacher that has her lesson plans solid and has already purchased her items, IS NOT EASY. We received pushback, snarky comments, and major attitude. And, this was just in the initial visiting phase! Can you imagine what would have happened during the school year?
So, it’s always up to us to be extra friendly, extra flexible, extra vigilant, extra everything, just so that we could be accommodated. Oh, and don’t forget that every grade has more than one teacher, and every year we would have to deal with starting over with all of the teachers.
Have you ever tried to:
- Explain to someone that the soap they use in the bathroom could cause major eczema and bloody hands?
- Explain to someone that their most favorite craft paint is made with egg shells or egg cartons will most certainly cause a reaction?
- Explain that the milk in their coffee could cause a reaction by a simple kiss on the cheek? Or, even worse, the teacher stumbles, spilling some coffee on my daughter’s desk, which she simply wipes off with a regular napkin?
It is exhausting! Who can keep up? We just wanted our daughter to get an education and stay healthy at the same time. Is that too much to ask? It’s exhausting having to think up every possible way that she could get exposed and have a reaction. Living a food allergic life is not for the faint of heart! I’ve even lost family members due to her allergies.
Can you imagine someone thinking that I’m simply trying to “control” what my child eats? That’s ridiculous! When regular kids go to birthday parties, they run like wild children and play. Do you want to know what my daughter does?
She has to:
- Eat before/after or eat a pre-packaged snack
- Answer questions from “friends” as to why her snack is different
- Ask her friends to wash their hands before they can play together
- Control her sadness when her “friend” declines her request to keep her safe.
Trust me when I tell you, this is not how I ever envisioned her enjoying festivities!
So, I’ll fast forward a bit. We FOUND a school! We all absolutely loved it, except that it was an hour away from our house. She was only starting 2nd grade, and she would have to wake up by 5 am so we could get there on time. It was too much for all of us.
During our frustration, I blurted out to my husband “You know what, I’ll just homeschool the kids!” It was one of those moments when your mouth moves faster than your brain.
My husband looked at me like I had eight heads and said, “you’d really do that?!”
I just froze! I had no idea what homeschooling even meant. I never knew anyone that homeschooled. We came from an area where homeschooling wasn’t ‘a thing’, so public or private schools were the only options I knew about. My response was “Um, huh? What? Maybe. I don’t know.”
After we both had a solid laugh, I hit Google and started researching how to homeschool in our state. Several days later, I was armed and ready. Papa Warrior and I sat down, looked through all of the information I had gathered, and we decided that we would at least give it a try.
I’ll tell you this, homeschooling our kids has been a freeing experience! It freed us from the bullying, hassle, stress, and explanations of her food allergies, as well as her decline in health every other week. Homeschooling has been an amazing roller coaster! We have loved every minute of it – well, maybe not every single minute. Let’s be real.
Look, homeschooling is just like parenting — it has its good days and its bad days. But, it really allowed us to remove some of that baggage of constant stress and awareness that we always carry around with us. It has enabled us to keep our child safe from food allergies.
Our daughter’s health has always been a challenge, and I can’t imagine how we would’ve survived her elementary years in a school environment, not to mention her upcoming middle school years.
Homeschooling has allowed us to focus on her education and passions. If she attended a conventional school, her allergies would’ve been the focus of every conversation, event, and activity. Instead, my daughter gets to be a kid! She can be known for who she is, and while her food allergies are a part of her, they most certainly do not define her.
If you are on the fence about homeschooling because food allergies are an issue for you, feel free to reach out to me! I’d love to help you through the process…I promise it’s not as scary as it sounds . . . at least on most days! And it’s totally worth it to keep your child safe from food allergies, too!
Jessica Baez is a wife and mom to three amazing Food Allergy Warriors! Without much notice, they had no choice but to head dive into the food allergy world without a lifeboat. In the past 9 years, they have failed and succeeded more times than they can count. Jessica always says that she homeschools her kids, but in reality, her kids are teaching her how to live and navigate this crazy world! Learn more about their story at The Food Allergy Warriors.
This article is part of the I Homeschool Because . . . series. Click here to read other articles in this series, download the free eBook, You Can Do It, Too: 25 homeschool families share their stories, and enter a giveaway from Kiwi Crate valued at more than $200.