Have, eat your cake at home

My winter advice that parents, not Santa, were the best bearers of expensive gifts chaffed a few sensitive thighs. Those folks might want to cross their legs.

A parent in the Iowa City Community School District passed along a note from the district that outlines changes to the district’s policy on classroom snacks and other celebrations. In short, parents should keep their homemade goodies or anything that has ever been near a peanut at home, per the Wellness policy.

Accompanying this notice was lively commentary about the “nanny state,” and how parents should be prepared to take on their “personal responsibilities.” Presumably the latter was an admonishment toward parents unfortunate enough to bring such fragile offspring into the world. It ended with a single phrase, in all capitals: LET THEM EAT CAKE.

I read the note with interest and then read it again. I blinked a few times, before placing my finger on the text and slowly parsing every word. Quite a few readers misinterpreted my satire on public breastfeeding, and I didn’t want to be caught in the same trap.

school treatsDespite espousing a risky position of endangering children for the sake of a party, the writer offered no evidence of intended sarcasm.

I should point out that I’m extremely blessed. I have three healthy children with no apparent food allergies. If the middle daughter ever outgrows her picky ways, I’ll be able to write that sentence with more certainty.

In my past life, when I had the luxury of working from home, I was also quite the cupcake cake baker. My creations have graced elementary classrooms, Girl Scout meetings and the like. I enjoyed showing them off, delighted in the comments from the children and generally felt I was doing something, if not necessarily good for the kids, then at least nice. It was a treat, a break in the routine. No harm, no foul, right?

There was never a time, at least to my knowledge, when a child couldn’t partake in the festivities due to a food allergy. I also made a point of asking about specific allergies before bringing the treats.

But I have since had an opportunity to listen as teachers described the extra hassle (and reduced classroom instruction time) such celebrations bring. I’ve also heard parents of children with food allergies describe the intense routines they must abide by in order to keep their children safe. Finally, I’ve watched friends with tight budgets make necessary sacrifices so their children wouldn’t be overtly marked with a stain of poverty.

I won’t proclaim that I regret my past actions. Like most parents, my intentions were good; my understanding was lacking. I wanted to lift the classroom up, offer something fun and unusual, and never considered my actions could have the opposite effect.

It doesn’t take long for children to learn their family’s place on the socio-economic scale. It doesn’t take much for a child to feel isolated or left out, and having a sound biological reason for the separation isn’t much comfort.

Instead of attacking a school district interested in seeing to the comfort and safety of all of its charges, we should applaud its efforts and vow to establish healthier public traditions.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on August 8, 2015.