Columnist Eats Words
Last year, humour writer Joel Stein scoffed at the rise in food allergies among kids as “a yuppie invention” of over-zealous parents. In a column for the Los Angeles Times, Stein began:
“Your kid doesn't have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special. Your kid also spends recess running and screaming, ‘No! Stop! Don't rub my head with peanut butter!’ "
Well, Stein is now eating those words. In a column in the August 9 issue of Time magazine, the writer fesses up to a change of heart – after his own toddler had an anaphylactic reaction to mixed nuts. “The column was not the first thing that came to mind after my 1-year-old son Laszlo started sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and, finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Childrens Hospital emergency room.”
He discusses how a blood test shows his child is very allergic to pistachios and cashews, and reasonably allergic to other nuts and seeds. The writer also describes his son as “totally pissed at his father,” as if the youngster falls into the same category as the parents who wrote Stein angry e-mails following the “yuppie invention” column.
Stein, whose new Time column unfortunately isn’t online, meets with a friend who’s child has food allergies. While the yuppie column left her upset, she’s truly sorry to hear of Stein’s son’s reaction. He “is not the one I wanted to get a food allergy,” she deadpans.
The humour writer concludes that: “The more I understand of other people’s difficulties, the less funny they are.” Now that we’re glad to hear. – Gwen Smith, Claire Gagné
Okay back to my thoughts. Its really really hard when society mocks, dismisses or minimizes a disease that is life threatening to your child, or assumes that you are "going overboard". Apparently Joel Stein was one of those scoffers. We have dealt with scoffers, or eye-rollers in church, our family and our friends (even doctors!) --the very people you would expect to support you. I understand a little where it comes from as there are lots of people that claim to have allergies that were diagnosed by naturopaths, or self diagnose and its a far cry from being anaphylactic which is deadly. It really undermines a true allergy, making it so much more difficult for us to find validity. But in general, as Mr. Stein pointed out, until you truly understand the disease of food allergies--until its your own child--its easy to dismiss or assume wrongly.
Now the sad part is that Mr. Stein's justice comes at a very high price--the safety of his son. And that is not happy for anyone--not even the millions of parents of allergic children. Actually, its probably us who feel the most badly for his child--happy that Mr. Stein has seen the error of his pompous and hurtful words, but sad that his child is in danger. I can hope that Mr. Stein can undo the public damage he did by belittling food allergies publicly and now become an advocate.
In a recent Allergy article that I read, I got sick to my stomach when I read about the high statistics of bullying done to food-allergic children. Not only were the children being made fun of, but THREATENED by other kids with the allergen. For example, the other children were taunting one peanut allergic child that they were going to rub peanut butter all over the drinking fountain... or at recess will chase allergic children while holding their allergen. I had to think how scary this would be for a child. Mickey KNOWS how dangerous a banana can be to him. He knows that it will make his lips and airway swell, he KNOWS he could die... so if child was chasing him with one and threatening to force-feed him or smear it on him, it would be terrifying, not to mention dangerous. And we all know that bullying can be self-esteem eroding and have life-long emotional effects.
The sad thing is that most non-allergic children don't understand how serious food allergies are and get their notions from their parents.
This is a plea from a mama-- please please teach your children to respect all children and to be understanding of those with special needs.
Now I know that there is the other extreme where the food allergy parent can be frustrating--demanding that EVERYONE know all the ins and outs of her child's food allergy. Yes it is frustrating when people think that lactose-intolerant and milk allergy are the same, yes it is frustrating when people assume that milk allergy is only avoiding milk and not the bazillion foods that contain milk protein (chicken nuggets, broth, toothpaste, almost EVERY bread, roll, or bun and almost every prepared food), BUT we cannot expect the regular public to deeply think about which foods our child can and cannot have.
I regularly encourage new allergy parents not to become demanding in their expectations of other's knowledge (unless they are watching your children) just as we cannot know all the details of other diseases such as different types of cancer, autism, heart issues..etc.
So if Mr. Stein were to happen upon this blog, I would want to say this to him: