So the kids’ school, an international school in Kampala, has after-school clubs.
They’re very handy to give Mom or Dad a bit of extra time to finish one chore or another before kid pick-up and that 45-minute drive home through the (ugh) Kampala traffic.
Yes, the clubs are life-savers. Not.
Take the baking club. My daughter Liz was there one day when she heard that “Yes, today, boys and girls, we’re going to make peanut butter cookies.”
Liz has an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts. Can’t eat them or she could, without treatment, die. The club teacher – a Ugandan – had it all under control, though. “So everyone with a peanut allergy,” she said, “can go to the other side of the classroom. And everyone else, let’s bake!”
We later expressed our concern to the principal who happened to be a Canadian and well aware of the life-threatening allergies some kids have. When he heard what happened, he just about fell off his chair in a sort of anaphylactic shock of his own.
And he then proceeded to make sure this otherwise with-it school knuckled down and dealt with such ignorance.
Which is all to say that Lynne Glover, mother of six-year-old Elodie, recently written up in the Hamilton Spectator because of little Elodie’s dairy and egg allergies, has a point. Schools need to be sensitized to it all.
Then again, any Ol’ Dad can kill his own daughter.
We’re on the long (ugh) drive home and all the kids want is a little treat – ‘please, please Daddy, can we stop in the store?’ – and Liz wants a chocolate bar, and we look at the ingredients closely and there are no peanuts, and we buy it and the wrapper comes off.
Dad gives Liz several pieces, because she asks, and Liz, in fact, has for a long time been very astute in literally sniffing out what has even a small amount of peanuts, and so she eats up.
But then she’s dizzy and her throat feels funny and she says she feels tired too and it’s all the classic symptoms and Dad imagines the awfulness of it, that his daughter is going to die right in front of him, that he has, in fact, killed his own girl, and no, GOD THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING! and Liz JUST STAY AWAKE! and everything is now literally spinning for Dad even while he’s behind the wheel.
Mom, the doctor in the family, is out of country and Dad burns it home, gets another doc, a family friend and neighbour, to help. And after a while it looks like it’s not all that serious after all, just a mysterious scare, and maybe not even related to peanuts at all.
But the memory of it.
So while schools need to take reasonable steps, families of anaphylactic kids also need to take their own responsibility. And even then, you can only work with the cards you’re dealt with. Things still might happen. Chocolate will inevitably be eaten.
Of course this word, responsibility, has fallen out of vogue in our None of this is My Responsibility Times.
But come to Africa where the issue isn’t just school sensitization, it’s that there may or may not be a clinic or hospital close enough, or the traffic (ugh) might keep you from it, or you may very well get to a hospital in time, but there’s no expertise to give much help.
What do you do?
You live your life. As a family you do what you can in your power, and then you live. You don’t let the rest of the world, like the school board, live your family’s life. And you don’t expect the rest of the world to revolve around your family. You act in a way that’s, here’s that word again, responsible.
For our family, if we felt Liz’s allergy really put her life in that much daily danger at school, we’d home-school. Plenty of families in plenty of countries do for all sorts of reasons, and studies show, more often than not, homeschooled kids aren’t anyone’s fools.
In this, school boards can play a supportive role.
The other option in the above case – to remove milk and all its calcium for hundreds of kids in Elodie’s school – is, to quote My Doctor Bride at tonight’s dinner table, “a serious health issue.”
It’s a matter of balance.