The company I work for, Automattic, has an annual all-hands meetup with a tradition of sharing a 3-4 minute “flash talk” about any topic you wish at all. It took me awhile to get the video, but in 2016, I did mine on the intersection of having a child with food allergies in school.
Howdy everyone! I’m Brandon Kraft and the lead of the Earth team, one of the Jetpack Happiness teams. I have five daughters – Olivia, Catalina, Teresa, Ana, and Dorothy, ages 7, 5, 3, and 22-month twins. When Olivia was eight months old, we gave her formula for the first time—my wife had breastfed prior. She took the whole bottle like a champ, chugged it. After about five minutes though, her happiness subsided and she threw it all up. She broke out into hives and started swelling up. We called the pediatrician who told us to give her a good dose of Benedryl, get her into the car, go through 5 p.m. Friday traffic in Austin to Dell Children’s Hospital and if she stops breathing on the way, call 911 and tell them these things. Oh yeah, and keep her awake even though you just gave her half a bottle of Benedryl. Now, that’s pretty damn scary. It was the scariest moment of my life up to that point. Now, it ended up being that she was just allergic. She was allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and strawberries–which was fine. We could figure it out pretty well at home.
But then she started school. She’s in second grade now, small school 15-20 kids in her class. That means 15-20 birthday parties, which are fine. It also means 15-20 days where they have some special treats in the classroom. It also means that every holiday, there’s a party in the classroom. It also means that every time there is a competition for the most PTA participation, the most spirit, the most canned food brought in, there is a pizza or ice cream party as a reward. Now, you tend not to notice how much in American society we rely on food for incentives until your kid can no longer eat that food.
A kid just wants to feel included. We all just want to feel included. No one want to be excluded from the group. So during the classroom pizza party, she doesn’t like to be the kid every single time that has to eat the weird vegan cheese pizza on the other side of the room. She doesn’t want to be the kid that when everyone else is having an ice cream party and no one happened to tell us it was happening so we couldn’t bring something for her, she eats the emergency Oreos that her teacher keep in the drawer because she knows she can eats them. It’s not the same.
Olivia last year, we asked her what she wanted for Christmas. All my little girl wanted was a chocolate bar, a candy bar. I didn’t really realize it, but she had never had one. As all of the kids ate their Halloween candy the days after Trick or Treating, she just wanted a piece of chocolate. It broke my heart. Now, props to Automattic and the type of people we hire, Jackie Dana who is a former Automattician heard about it and send her a few vegan chocolate bars as “Mrs. Claus”.
Now, many other parents try. I’ve lost count of how many times parents come up to me at a party saying “Oh don’t worry. Olivia can eat this. It is gluten-free.” Now, if you have Celiac disease or are gluten intolerant or have food alleries, you know that gluten-free and a dairy allergy are completely unrelated. I appreciate the gesture, but totally unrelated.
Now, I don’t want to be a killjoy. If you’re a parent with kids in school or somehow in some way involved with something that gives food as an incentive, all that I ask is that every so often you make sure one of those times, the kids in the class can all eat what that incentive in or maybe we think of something we can use besides food as an incentive. Thank you.