birthday cake blues

The moment my 2nd grader opened the car door and climbed inside, I could tell something had gone wrong.

“What is it, honey? What happened?”

“Oh, mom,” he cried. “It was David’s* birthday. And he brought a cake.”

He clutched his face in his hands and shook his head. His body was convulsing now as the tears started to fall. It was as if the emotion had been piling up inside as he stood in the pick-up line, and only after he was safe in the presence of Mom could it come pouring out like a flood.

“He’s my very best friend. And he brought a cake,” he cried, as he fidgeted with a pre-packaged Rice Krispie Treat in its bright blue wrapper.

I keep a stash of Rice Krispies in his teacher’s desk drawer in cases like these. Because my son’s allergy to peanuts is so severe, his teacher can substitute one of the packaged treats if someone brings in a snack that might not be safe for him to eat.

The parents of the other kids in my son’s class are so thoughtful. They go out of their way on many occasions to bring a treat that doesn’t contain peanuts or nuts. They have learned to read labels. They check for foods that aren’t made in a plant with peanuts. And in the midst of the morning rush to pack lunches, they often choose peanut-free foods for their kids, just so they can sit at a special table with my 8-year-old.

But they can’t possibly remember, or even know, that it’s really not safe for him to eat something made in a bakery. And even if they did think of it, we can’t expect them NOT to bring their child’s favorite snack for his or her own birthday!

So, it’s just the reality in our home that the special days at school when the kids get to break 15 minutes early to celebrate someone’s birthday are some of the hardest days for my son. He gets tired of eating his Rice Krispie Treats while he watches the other kids bite into a big slice of cake with the thick icing on top.

He couldn’t comprehend that his “best friend” would bring a treat he couldn’t eat. But I know as a mom, this little boy’s mom had absolutely no idea my son would be so upset by it. (And I would never write this post if any of the other 2nd grade parents knew I had a blog.)

“Why, Mom? Why do I have to have this stupid allergy?” he cried. “Why??”

We talk about the things we have learned from it:

The allergy helps us all remember that some kids are born with legs that don’t work properly. They can’t run.

Some kids are blind. They can’t even see.

Some kids have autism. Some have epilepsy. Some have other diseases that severely limit their abilities. Some have challenges we can’t even begin to imagine.

Some kids feel the pain every day of being the only kid of their race in the classroom. They feel different. And left out.

Not that any of these things make his struggle hurt less. But it helps to remember.

And it reminds us every day that only God can protect him. Only God can see the stray peanuts that might fall into a box of cereal. Only God knows if another child was playing at the park with peanut butter on his hands. We have to trust Him for our son’s protection. Not only from peanuts, but lots and lots of other things.

“Did you cry in class?”

“I wanted to,” he said. “But I tried to pretend like it was OK. Like it didn’t matter.”

He ripped open the Rice Krispie Treat and tore off a big chunk.

It seems way too early in his life to learn to pretend like it doesn’t hurt. Like it doesn’t matter.

We moms have all been there. It hurts more to see our child hurt than it ever did to go through it ourselves. So, I write this post, not to make anyone feel guilty about peanuts. But just as a window into simple things that sometimes turn into difficult days in our home.

What is it for you? Have you had a similar experience with your kids?

And by the way, we made a HUGE chocolate cake with chocolate icing that evening. And we’ve been enjoying it for several days.

24 Responses

  1. Oh Emily! I feel so bad for your boy! It must be very hard for him. Hard for you, too. I can’t remeber specifics right now, but I am sure if I asked my kids, they would remind me of a time when they were hurt beyond explanation, but then I would just be sad all over again. I really hope that all of this hype regarding peanut allergies becomes reality. Your little man may never be able to eat a spoonful of peanut butter, but he may be able to eat that cake!:) Lynn

  2. Hey Emily… it's hard to watch our kids hurt. My son (also grade 2) is a super sensitive kid who's feelings get hurt when kids are being kids & don't want to play with him at recess… you forget how cruel kids &/or life can be sometimes… we don't have the allergies to deal with tho… that's a whole other thing… wow… what insight the kids have too… just from being kids… glad you made a big cake for him!Laurel

  3. That is a whole lot of hurt for a little one. I guess I haven’t ever really put any thought into what it is like to have peanut allergies. I’m glad you were able to make a cake for him!Have a great week and thanks for sharing with us!Jen

  4. Lynn, Thanks! =] I told him about the research they are doing to find a cure for peanut allergies. It would be so cool if that became available for all kids. Sometimes it makes me cry to think he will never get to enjoy my favorite all-time treat, a Reeses peanut butter cup!Laurel, our kids are so much alike! It’s kind of weird! My oldest is so sensitive, too, but it makes him so special! He is always thinking of others.Hi Jenny, thanks for coming by. Would love to know how you found me! =] I had never given peanut allergies a second thought either until my son was diagnosed. It’s good for our family to learn about it in this way…. helps us grow in compassion.Hi Gina, I would love for you to share this story with others. Thanks!

  5. My kids don’t have food allergies but I have many friends that do. I really try to acomodate when I can. It is a really hard thing to do sometimes when you are not used to it! Sounds like you have a great strategy in place to help him deal with the the inevitable days like this.Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting!I also have another blogging friend with a son just older than yours with a severe peanut allergy. Here’s the post if you’re interested:

  6. There is a boy in my son’s kindergarten class that has a very severe nut allergy. I am not sure what it is like in the States but here in Canada, our schools are all either “nut aware” or “nut free”. However, one day, I wasn’t thinking (must not have had my coffee yet) and I sent a yummy piece of fudge with nuts in it to school. Well did I ever hear about it – from my son – when he got home. What was I thinking??!! The treat of course was taken away and thrown in the garbage. I also got a phone call from the teacher – a polite reminder call. I felt like such an idiot. I try very much to make sure that the things I send are nut-free. This little boy came to my son’s birthday party and I had a chat with his mom ahead of time. Ironically, the cake I made was fine but the pizza we ordered was not.

  7. Emily- thanks for you comment, and YES, it is situations like this that just break your heart! BUT, it does get better. My son is now 9 and it feels so much better these days. We still have the birthday parties to contend with, but he is to the point that he would rather just have some ice cream or nothing at all if we don’t have ice cream to take with us.Getting people to understand about the bakery is hard. We make a lot of cakes at home too.Hang in there! I’m now a fan 🙂

  8. I wonder if it's tougher because you are the first generation of moms & kids having to go through this? You're having to educate the rest of us on what works and what doesn't.Btw – I have to confess: I might be the mom hosting clandestine PB&J lunches at our house if our school ever enacts an official ban on them. I can't imagine what my picky eater will eat every day if it comes to that… but then again, I know who to call for ideas. : )

  9. The same thing happened to my son last year. It broke my heart. He was invited to a birthday party, the parents knew all about his allergies… and yet brought out a cake and had nothing to give him as a substitute. I felt guilty for not asking ahead of time (how stupid of me to think that the parents would have something for him to eat while everyone else enjoyed the delicious birthday cake) and absolutely useless to protecting my son from the sadness he felt.

  10. It is amazing how people can be so self-involved. My second grader is one of 9 children in his class with a life-threatening food allergy or intolerance. These children have been kept together since last year. The teachers have made sure the issue is discussed at ‘Meet the Teacher Night’ and sends reminders throughout the year. Several of us (allergy moms) have sent letters home with students explaining the basics and asking for their cooperation. Yet there are moms who still have to bake or buy brownies/cookies/cake/doughnuts and bring them in unannounced. This leaves out almost half the class!!! Our room mother is an allergy mom and they just work around her!! I just keep sending in my safe snacks and when it is his birthday, I provide a non-food treat like a goody bag of fun items from Oriental Trading so EVERYONE gets the same thing. I can only hope that my actions will speak for themselves and these moms will get the message. I pray they never have a family member diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy, which can happen at any age.Hang in there.

  11. Hi there! I found your blog through Allergy MOMs newsletter – the birthday cake blues were a weekly event one month last year at our preschool – which was advertised as NUT FREE! Cookies with M&Ms must have been on sale at Jewel for a month because they kept appearing in my son's class! I know the moms who sent them would never have done so had they seen my three year old crying because he had to eat cheese and crackers (no one called to let me know the cookies were there) – they would not intentionally hurt him. Fortunately this year the school decided to stick to the policy and they send treats back to parents if they are labeled with nut warnings. It seems preschools are starting to "get it," so maybe public schools can get onboard soon enough. Did you see IL House passed legislation to make food allergies more of a priority in public schools by June 2010?I'm bookmarking your blog now – thanks for sharing so candidly!

  12. So many of us (and our children) have lived this, read this, but I always appreciate reading it again. My son is 6. Sometimes it he doesn’t mind the packaged substitutes, other days he does. And hides it. There is another child with Celiac in his class this year and that has made him much more upbeat about substitutes at partys. No one wants to be the “only one.”

  13. I read about “birthday cake blues” on I have been trying to contain my tears while reading your article and posts from others. My son is 2.5 and he is allergic to peanuts/treenuts/dairy/soy and eggs. He is starting preschool in september and I dread the day this happens to him and I know it will. It breaks my heart now when I tell him he cant have something I am eating like pizza and he asks if he could smell since he cant eat it. I’m going to bake him cupcakes when I get home tonight. Anyway, thanks for the story!

  14. I ended up on your site from my google alert for “peanut allergy”. This story made me tear up -verything from his feelings to you making a wonderful chocolate cake at home. I have come home on numerous occasions to make goodies because my son missed out. My son is going to be starting kindergarten this next year. We are waiting on a call back from the Principal to set up a meeting. The school has nothing in place. I am bookmarking your blog and I look forward to checking out more of it later.

  15. Maybe you’ve already done this in the past (if so can you point me in that direction?) but maybe one topic you can write about is “The Uninformeds’ Guide to Peanut Allergies”. For the rest of us that don’t personally have to deal with it but may encounter other kids that do. Maybe a way to read labels, etc.? Anything would help the rest of us understand a little bit better.

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