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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why Do We Shut Our Minds?

I am not one of those people who can think of the right thing to say at the time when I could say it. It's only later that I come to see the underlying issues and what I should have said. Take this week. We have been providing experience and support for a parent with a child with a life-threatening tree-nut allergy and a school district that is ignoring the precautions necessary to keep this child safe. (We do not have children with such an allergy, but know others who do.)

I mentioned the school situation at a completely unrelated gathering last night and an older man snapped, "Peanut allergies are fake. It's all about helicopter parenting. They need to make up something, so they have an excuse to hover."

I thought of the child, an athletic kid, and his parents, panicked because their school's principal is trying to deny them access to the school during the day, although already in the 18 days of school so far, this child's life has been put at risk three times because the school is not following appropriate allergy protocol.

I said, "Do you know anyone with a child who has a peanut allergy?"

He said no.

I said, "I do, and I know that they have had to race their child to the ER and the child has nearly died. Children have died of a peanut allergy."

He shook his head, his face furious, and repeated his attack.

Another woman, his age, leaped in. She had just explained that she has known him since first grade. "I work with someone with a child with a peanut allergy. They have had to race to the ER when the child encounters peanuts. Just inhaling the dust can throw this child into anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is no joke."

I said, "You're throat closes up, your eyes swell up, you can't breath. You have maybe fifteen minutes to get it under control."

"But at school," this other woman said, "a teacher made the child put her snack into a basket that also contained a peanut butter sandwich. You better bet that mom is at that school insisting that this child be safe."

"Well, then," said the man as he walked away from us, "if they have such a severe disability, they should go to a special school and not impose on all the rest of the kids."

Later, I explained to him that scientists were starting to think that allergies like this may come from not having the right germs in our innards, and that the rise in Caesareans might be in back of it as well, causing a lack of appropriate flora in the gut of infants delivered via a vaginal delivery might be a cause.

Again, he insisted that these children be sent to special schools and not be in with the rest of them.

I sat around the fire next to another guy who came to realize was this man's life partner.  By things he and the woman said, I realized the thoughtless man was about 59. I'm fairly certain he has no children. Later that night, I had my imaginary conversation when I should have been falling asleep.

Do you know anything about peanut allergies or anaphylaxis? (He would again answer no.)

Do you know anyone with a peanut allergy or with a child with a nut allergy? (He would again answer no.)

Do you have a child with a disability? (No.)

So, why are you passionately attacking someone about something you know nothing? It says a lot more about you than it does about them or their parenting or the reality of your accusations.

And given the complicated disabilities that people have today, do you really think we could have a school for, say, those who have peanut allergies, and one for those with wheat allergies, and one for those allergic to tree nuts? One for those with autism but not anxiety? Ones for those with anxiety but not ADHD? Ones for those this far along the spectrum but not that far?

How can you, who are a member of a harassed minority, have so little empathy for children with such a struggle in the world?

And then, as in the Buddhist story, I laid the man down and went to sleep.

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