Imagine, for a moment, that you see a little girl. There is a substance that will kill her if she gets too close to it, and for the most part, she is good at staying away from it. However, at her school, kids are allowed to celebrate their birthdays with cakes containing this substance. Not only is she not allowed to participate, she is banished to another part of the room so that she is not near it. She is sad and lonely and feels ostracized. Exactly the way no one wants to feel as a kid. She is embarrassed, because she is different. She is frustrated, because she is unable to participate.
First world problems, right?
Now imagine that this is your daughter. It's a different ballgame, now.
I read an essay this week called "Why do your kids' allergies mean that my kid can't have a birthday?" Aside from the headline, which makes me scrunch up my face in distaste, the author goes on to complain that she has to accommodate the requests and allergies in her child's class.
She defaults to the statement up front that "If a child in the same homeroom as my son could go into anaphylactic shock and die due to allergies, I think we have a communal responsibility to keep him or her safe. I would never endanger the life of a child over a peanut butter cookie; that would be ridiculous." However, she goes on to complain about "lesser" allergies that may not kill but could make a child sick. It seems to be all about the opportunity for the parent to bring food to the classroom and less focus on what really makes the kids happy on their birthdays.
Unfortunately, there are too many people who agree with her.
I grew up with peanut and tree nut allergies, but it was much less common when I was growing up, and it there wasn't as much cross-contamination then. If someone told me that the cupcakes didn't have peanuts in them, then I believed it. They didn't segregate me at a separate table or in a different room, and thankfully, I didn't (and don't) have the kind of allergy that requires me to leave the room if there is a peanut in it.
My son, in turn, is allergic to eggs. We have taught him as best as we can to ask the right questions, but at four years old, he is still learning. I am incredibly fortunate to be in a circle of friends and in a community of people who are much more compassionate than the author of the essay complaining that her child can't have a sugar-laden treat in school on his birthday.
In fact, for private birthday parties, my friends think of my son beforehand, and they ask me how they can ensure he can participate. One got him a special chocolate cup filled with frosting (thank heaven he did not eat all of it or he would be bouncing all night long). One went to a special bakery for egg-free cupcakes. Others have asked me to help, which I'm happy to do.
My birthday is right before Christmas, so I never got to celebrate my birthday during school, either. And how about those summer birthdays? Surely they are crying in their milk that they can't have a cupcake with their friends in school.
No, they're not. They're busy hanging out outside and enjoying the childhood elements that don't require a cupcake. And, as it turns out, there are a lot of those.
Birthdays are beautiful things and deserve to be celebrated. Have a cake at home, by all means. Go all out and have a chocolate-peanut-butter-meringue-almond-butter-cashew-pistachio cake topped with buttercream chock-full of dairy and artificial colors. It's your party.
But don't complain because your kid can't have that at school, where they're supposed to be focused on learning. Not to mention that a cupcake doesn't trump a kid's life at any time. Go read a book to the classroom and spend some quality time with your kid and his peers.
Trust me when I tell you that it's much, much harder to be the child who can't have any cake, ever, than the one who can't bring cake to school on his birthday.
The only time cake should come before compassion is in the dictionary.
Kristin Shaw is a freelancer by day, writer by night, a full-time wife of an Austin native, and mother of a mini-Texan. She's proud to be a co-producer of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother show in Austin. You can find her on Twitter (@AustinKVS), her blog, Two Cannoli, and at The Huffington Post.