When Cam was diagnosed, he was already four weeks into his 7th grade year. As you may remember, middle school lunches were the social hour. You were too old to have any recesses so you were “contained” to the building. You were constantly switching classes so the chances that you got to see all of your friends consisted of two minutes at the lockers or during the 20 minutes that you had to eat lunch. Not a long time at all but during that ⅓ of an hour the groups formed and, if you were lucky, you were included with your friends and could leave the stresses of an upcoming science test behind for just a few minutes.
I was introduced to the concept of allergy tables when my kids were in elementary school. Coming from the ‘70s, I initially found this concept to be shocking and almost borderline cruel. “No, Susie, you’re no different than any of the other girls. Now, go sit three tables away with kids you don’t know but who are like you.” In my day, that peanut butter cookie was put on every tray, next to every other item that you were supposed to eat. We all turned out o.k., right? Having a child with Celiac’s put a different spin on my thinking.
Now, in middle school, the kids are responsible enough to not have designated allergy tables where they have to sit. This doesn’t mean that Cam still doesn’t feel left out at times. He packs every day and that can be both cumbersome and wearing on all parties involved. From my wife making his lunch every morning to him not getting to through the line with his buddies to get that piece of pizza, changes have been made.
But what about changes to the lunch system in the school?. We have found it disturbing how undereducated the workers at our cafeteria were towards a Celiac student. Nuts and dairy are easy, gluten…uhh, what’s that? When Cam was first diagnosed, my wife went to his middle school to speak with a cafeteria worker about his condition and what alternative choices could be offered on a daily basis. When told about Cam being a Celiac, the worker replied to my wife, “Well tomorrow, we’re having spaghetti so he’ll be ok”. Wow. Needless to say, our confidence in any type of food being served to our son at the school reached a minimal level. The school system is required by law to have alternatives for “allergy” students but this includes choices such as salads that are prepackaged with croutons. Again, a big no-no. In their defense, the system does offer fruits along with the “safe” salads but what 12 year old boy is going to be full or nutritionally satisfied with a banana?
Times will change. New products will be introduced in the school systems in the years to come. While these products will be too late for my son to enjoy, education of cafeteria workers and lunch program coordinators is something that can be done for him and for others with his condition. Our schools are part of a leading, standard-bearing system in our state. It would be nice to see them take the lead in this educational process. We’ll help them as we can.