In Response to the Woman in the Ice Cream Shop

That’s my alternate title to “An Open Letter to the Woman in the Ice Cream Shop”…

It was 2008, my 6 year old son and I were in a Baskin-Robbins, it was his first visit to an ice cream shop – prior to that his peanut, egg, soy and wheat allergies were far too severe to even think about having ice cream from ‘the bins’.  And he was also allergic to dairy, until about 6 months prior.  We were having a delightful time; the woman behind the counter graciously scooped my son ice cream from a brand new bin with a brand new spoon. I didn’t ask for that, but when the woman asked my son if he’d like to try any of the flavors, he told her that he couldn’t because he was allergic to nuts but then gave her a big grin and told her it was his first time getting ice cream out because now he can have dairy.  He told her he was thinking of trying the chocolate soft serve. There must have been something in his eyes that tugged her heart strings, because she asked if we were avoiding the ice cream bins due to cross contamination.  I said we were but he’d be excited to get soft serve. She looked at my sweet little son and told him that if he wanted to tell her which ice cream from the bins he wanted, she’d go and see if there was an untouched one and get his ice cream from that.  I think I almost cried.  People can be so caring – it made my son’s day.  Little gestures go a long way.

We sat down and I watched my son eat his first ice cream cone.  I was pretty excited. He was bouncing through the roof with the happiness that only ice cream can bring.

Then it happened.

A mother and daughter were sitting a few tables away – the daughter was probably a couple years older than my son – 1st or 2nd grader at the most.  She asked her mom why she can’t bring peanut butter sandwiches to school for lunch.  Her mother answered her thusly:  “Because some kid ruined it for everyone by having an allergy and his paranoid parents made the school become peanut free instead of having a peanut-free table.”

I desperately hoped my son didn’t hear them. But of course he did – he hears everything.  I saw his face fall and my heart lurched in my chest.  He’s one of those kids that ‘ruined it for everybody’ but he’d never known an adult to talk about a peanut allergy like that.   Before he could even say a word, I assured him that he did not ruin anything for anyone – his school already had a peanut free policy because he’s not the only one with that allergy.

I wish I had the courage to speak up to that woman – to tell her that parents of small children with food allergies are not ‘paranoid’. They’re ‘terrified’ – absolutely terrified.  Because for most people with peanut allergies, it’s not just a situation where you get some hives or a runny nose and you pop a Benadryl. You can die.   Let me rephrase that.  PEANUTS CAN CAUSE DEATH.  That’s pretty fucking serious.  You don’t really come back from death.  I wanted to scream in that woman’s face that she was completely callous – that she did not know the fear of sending a kindergartner to school in hopes that the teachers understand how serious the situation can be. She did not know what it was like to walk into your child’s classroom and see the teacher giving him a snack that wasn’t provided by ME and her response was “well, I didn’t think it would matter.” I wanted to explain (loudly) that a small child cannot be responsible for knowing about sharing foods or touching something that might have had peanut butter on it…that for young children, having a peanut free policy is the safest option for the child and one that gives parents peace of mind.  I wanted to tell her that no child wants to sit by themselves at the ‘peanut free table’ and feel like an outcast.

I wanted to do a lot of things that involved yelling and screaming – but I didn’t. I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of her daughter, I didn’t want to make a scene in front of my son and I didn’t want to displace my frustration at the whole food-allergy situation that we’d been dealing with for years on her.  My son already felt ‘different’ – having to always bring an alternate snack at birthday parties and celebrations.  Never being able to just eat something without having to check all the ingredients or ask ‘what’s in it’.  To be totally honest, I also didn’t have the courage at the time.

I’m older and wiser these days (well, older anyway). If it happened now, I would have said something – something kind and gentle (hopefully) about how every kid with a peanut allergy wished their school mates could eat that PB&J sandwich and maybe they might be able to have a bite too; and how every parent of those kids wished it as well.   We are not being pushy or helicopter parents when it comes to food allergies and death. We’re doing the best we can.

These days my 11 year old son only has a nut allergy and is very aware of asking about foods. He carries his own epi-pen and feels confident in most of what he eats.  I wish that special ‘first ice cream cone’ day didn’t have that black cloud memory – I only hope he’s forgotten the bad part but remembers the ice cream cone and the wonderful woman behind the counter.

I wrote this in response to an article I read about a similar situation and I was completely FLOORED at all the really cruel comments people left.  One person wrote that ‘in my day, there weren’t all these so-called allergies’.  As if people are making it up – because ya know, it’s fun.  Another person thought it was the 5 year old kid’s problem if he/she died from ingesting peanuts (accompanied by a Darwinian comment).  Really people? Have we sunk to such a low point in society where children dying from anaphlayxis is somehow humorous? I laugh at death and inappropriate things all the time – but I can’t quite muster up a smile for this. 



About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Aversions, Childhood, Children, Cooking, coping mechanisms, Eating, Education, Food, Food Allergies, grieving, Health, Parenting, Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to In Response to the Woman in the Ice Cream Shop

  1. List of X says:

    I don’t have allergies (well, I do, to the sun, but to ask everyone to make this planet a sun-free place would be a little inconsiderate). So I used to laugh about people’s allergies too, until at one point I had to work in school and had to take an epi-pen training – and it really changed the way I look at that.

  2. unfetteredbs says:

    It saddens me that people are so cruel especially to the innocence of childhood.

  3. You know, it is true that a hundred years ago when I was a kid, we didn’t have allergies; some of us just ate peanut butter and jelly and mysteriously died.

    I just wonder whether we diagnose illnesses better these days or whether there are more illnesses to diagnose. (You are the researcher so you can answer my question.)

  4. That’s outrageous. I can’t believe that people would leave comments like that! Sometimes, it has to hit close to home before people learn compassion. My son would die if he didn’t eat peanut butter as it’s one of the few foods he eats! But, he has a classmate with a peanut allergy and he’s careful to remind me that he needs to wash his hands and brush his teeth if he’s had a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast because he wouldn’t want Andrea to get sick. Learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes starts at home. That’s a really sweet story about D’s first ice cream cone!

    • The fact that your son is so conscious about his peanut butter effects as such a young age is quite remarkable. Empathy – that’s all most of us ask for from people – not sympathy, not pity, not apathy….but simply empathy.

      🙂 I rather like that story (except the end, obviously). My heart swells with joy when I think of all the people that went out their way for someone else. One of my favorite memories was going to an upscale restaurant when my son was 4 (for a family party) and there was nothing on the menu he could eat b/c all the pasta was made with egg. The wait person was so sweet and D, of course was flirting with her as a 4 year old will, she went to talk to the chef. He came out – bent down to D’s little kid chair height and asked him if he’d like to have some special pasta without egg and some chicken. He didn’t need to do that at all – yet he took time to come out of the busy kitchen for a little kid – That is what this world needs more of – just compassion and caring. To go the extra mile, you only need to take one step forward.

  5. Oh, yes, as someone who suffers from asthma and allergies – fortunately not life threatening allergies – I love how people who don’t have them act as if they don’t exist. It doesn’t bother them, and they can’t SEE what’s going on, so the person must just be overreacting. Oh yeah. I WISH I was. Example: one lady where I work said “No need to mention your pneumonia Alice, everyone knows you had that.” As if it was a pain I mentioned that I’d been so incredibly ill I missed a month of work, and had to work part time for a month after that because my entire right lung was coated in the stuff. That, oh by the way, it can actually kill you? Yeah. Then later, when I say I have an allergy to cats, same lady says “Aw, just pop a benadryl.” Right. Yeah. Idiot.

    • Some people are such ass wipes. I love the ones that have to tell you that they are ‘never sick’ – well good for you… we all wish we had that – but reality is that some people get sick and some get REALLY sick…

      I’d say cough all over her desk and computer and say “get a wipe” –

  6. I related to this post a lot. I am sorry for how your son was treated. My son has type 1 diabetes. The ignorance of people is unbelievable. The comments can be just rude. I had a woman that I didn’t know say to me,’ why did you let him eat so much candy? ‘ I explained to her that his pancreas does not work. It wasn’t a choice. I also informed her to shut her face if she didn’t know what she was talking about. It is frustrating!

    • ugh – I am truly shocked at what people feel they have the right to say to perfect strangers.

      I’d like to hope that the woman (the one with the daughter) would not have said what she said if she know a kid with a peanut allergy was within hearing range…

      And the good part is that for any one negative experience we’ve had – we’ve had 20 positive ones.

      Your son is lucky to have you as his advocate – she should ‘shut her face’ until she educated herself…

  7. Twindaddy says:

    Sadly, there are all sorts of insensitive and intolerant people out there. It’s quite astonishing how coldhearted some people can be.

  8. One of my best friends at primary school was allergic to peanuts and to egg. I don’t know if she still is as she went to a different high school and we lost touch. I have to say we didn’t have separate tables or anything and I did take peanut butter sandwiches to school and also snickers bars (back in the day when they were called marathon bars) because this was the 80’s and people weren’t aware of the problems. (We all ate out of our own lunch boxes and kept our food to ourselves, not out of any obvious concern for her allergies but because we were 6 or 7, and hungry and wanted to eat our own lunch.) I do remember her not being able to have cake at birthday parties and things, which was really quite sucky.

    The other thing I remember about this was that we ate at the classroom tables as well, as my primary school didn’t have a dedicated dining hall. If that’s the policy at most schools, then it makes sense for there to be a no peanut butter policy, as you can’t guarantee that every table will be properly wiped down after the meal to ensure there isn’t anything left behind that can cause the severe reaction of death to the pupils. I guess the problem is ignorance about what it’s like to live with an allergy of this nature.

    • When my son was younger – they ate at the tables in their classroom. Even though he had a multitude of food allergies – it was only peanuts that we were warned about that could have a really deadly outcome. So that’s what we concentrated on. We never asked any of the schools to outlaw nuts – we asked if we could provide our own snacks and if we could keep special snacks for him there in case there was a birthday celebration. And that worked well – but most schools that we worked with had a policy that if just one kid had a peanut allergy – then no nuts at the school. I think it’s just easier all around. And we had a couple of deaths at different daycares/schools around that time and I think it really cemented the the idea that this was not really something to take lightly.

      We were lucky – he out grew all his allergies but peanuts – but you are right – it’s ignorance or lack of education/experience about it that makes the difference.

  9. I’m with VJ. This pissed me off. My daughter had a kid with a peanut allergy in her class and it’s nothing to joke about. The other parents were respectful, I’m happy to report.

    Seeing someone being kind or unkind to your kid is the deepest cut or the greatest elation you’ll ever feel. It’s biological.

    I always think of the perfect bon mot about two weeks after the fact.

    • My biggest fear for a bit was that someone would think it was funny to sneak a peanut in his food at lunch b/c I’d read a story where that happened – but then that fear faded b/c in school, most people are one ‘high alert’ – and I wasn’t super rude about it. When my son had an egg allergy, and his teacher offered to not color eggs with the class I said that wouldn’t be fair and we kept D home that day and did a project. I think being flexible and realistic goes a long way towards keeping the peace. Now that he’s older – it’s not so worrisome as it was –

      We all need instant ‘bon mot’ –

  10. That made me so angry! The minor inconvenience to them of not being able to eat peanuts in school is nothing compared the huge inconvenience of your son having to avoid them all day every day of his life! And what a terrible selfish attitude she taught her daughter. I got tears in my eyes too at the thought of his special ice-cream moment being spoiled, hopefully he accepted your reassurance. And also I know that feeling you have (or that I think you have anyway!), of feeling that you somehow let your son down by not saying something to that woman at the time; as parents we all have those moments where we wish we had gone in to bat for our kids, but hey, who knows, if you had said something, she might have lashed back and said something even more hurtful which would have totally ruined the ice-cream day.

    • Vanessa, that’s how I felt – and I very much doubt that I could have articulated in a way that would have done anything to ‘educate’ but rather to ‘rage’ – which helps no one (and I’d be carrying that embarrassing guilt around).

      I do think he was good with it because he knew other kids with allergies – if he’d been the only one, that would have been much more difficult to deflect.

      Someone remarked, Elyse, I believe, that at first she was miffed at the rule at her child’s school until she understood how deadly it can be and decided the inconvenience of not having PB far out weighted the ramifications of having to live with yourself if your PB&J killed one of your friends/school mates. That is what opened my eyes about being sensitive to allergies.

      Thank you for reading. I always love your POV.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      This upset me as well: the bitter poison this woman was passing on to her daughter. That girl was probably more damaged by that remark than your son, Ruuts, because we all already know he’s one tough nut-free cookie.

  11. Paul says:

    This post is eye opening for me.I’m lucky and haven’t had any life threatening allergies. I’ve never heard what life is like for someone with serious/life threatening allergies. Thank you for sharing this RtMR. It has sensitized me to the issues.

  12. Elyse says:

    Much of it comes down to education. I was annoyed when I couldn’t give my son a PB&J sammich for his lunch at first. Until I learned. I think allergies to most people equals a rash, a stuffy nose. Not anaphylaxis. Not death. When I learned the potential consequences I was happy to comply. And I quickly figured that for my son, it was important too. Imagine at a minimumthe trauma of having a friend die in front of you from a bite of PB&J or from a food that had been cooked in peanut oil or whatever would be a little more traumatic than denying him the sandwich.

    BTW, when my nephew (now 47) was in elementary school, a little girl in class who had seemed fine, suddenly threw up. She was taken home from school and she died (of what I don’ t know). The 3rd graders — the whole class of them — became terrified of throwing up, and hysterical at the idea of nausea and vomiting. Because that meant to them that they were gonna die, just like the little girl. Other people’s health problems can have serious psychological impacts on kids.

    People are getting stupider.and much less caring. Less willing to help each other and do what needs to be done. It is depressing.

    • Elyse – thank you for speaking from the other end – I think it’s important to have all different respectful Point’s of View. And I agree – it is about education. Before I had a kid, I would not have thought about food allergies at all –

      That is a CRAZY story about the little girl – and I can totally understand why that whole class was traumatized. I’d have been if I was in that class. Especially if no one talked to me afterwards.

      People are getting completely righteous about things for which they have not experienced but want to lay down the law or be judgmental.

      As with most things – a little education and compassion go a long way!

  13. Robin says:

    Oh wow, I so hear you. My 9 son has a peanut allergy as well, and there is so much anxiety people just do not get. For parents and for the child. I follow all the nut allergy sites but try not to get too deep into the comments because people are so infuriating and just do not get it. I wrote a post a few months ago about our experiences and thankfully received so much positive feedback from people — I try not to write about it often because the whole thing gets me down– but I should more often. Have been thinking a lot lately about the labeling in particular. Anyway, thanks for your story. And also the info that your son is self-carrying– we need to work on that soon!

    • I feel for you – and I too am surprised at the mean things people can say – but I’ve never had anyone troll my posts with mean comments – for which I’m thankful.

      We had a brief period where he was able to eat peanuts (he was so excited b/c it was right around Halloween) and we did a food challenge (which was torture for him – 3 hours of eating small amounts of PB – poor kid was gagging by the end of it)…but then about 3 months later, his body totally rejected peanuts. We were lucky – he just broke out in hives all over his body (including his eyes! AAAHHH) and an antihistamine did the trick.

      We had him start carrying it in a small backpack when he was about 9 or 10 – but we still bring one too and he has one at school b/c, well, he’s 11 and can be forget full 🙂

      I looked into the epipens that speak the directions to the user – I would have loved that – but insurance doesn’t cover them and they’re several hundred dollars (which makes me so angry – for something life and death like that).

      I know – it is infuriating – and it’s because it’s not part of their world, but their tune would change if it was. All we can do is be vigilant with our kids and keep spreading the word.

      Thanks for reading!!

      • Robin says:

        interesting, thanks for that information about the new epi- is that the Aqui-V? Or something like that. I have a note to myself to go to the allergist and ask about that because my son is going to have a hard time too. It’s good to know about the insurance aspect…it figures…My son is one that would lose his head if it wasn’t attached, so I was hoping to find something small…anyway, good to find other moms to talk to about this stuff. If you want to check out our story mine’s called Much More than a Sneeze…

        • Yes! I will be very interested in reading your story. Thank you for coming – and I love exchanging ideas, stories and just having someone that can relate to it all.

          My kid is like that too -but he’s surprisingly good about his backpack.

          Yes, the Aqui-V or something similar. Maybe they will change policy and insurance will cover them. We buy our epipens in bulk 🙂 and even with insurance – it ain’t cheap…but it’s worth it.

  14. El Guapo says:

    One of my sister’s has that same allergy, as well as seeds. I only remember it being terrified a few times, but it was terrifying.
    Hope that woman’s daughter grew up to be more like your son, from what you’ve described of him.

  15. JackieP says:

    You know, I don’t think people think sometimes. And it’s so much easier to be cruel and stupid online than IRL. But then again, I’ve met some really stupid people. I’m sorry you and your son had to hear that and I’m even more sorry that someone made comments somewhere like they did. Karma is a bitch and she will be knocking on someones door. Soon I hope.

    • 🙂
      I agree with everything you said, Jackie – people seem to like being cruel online.

      I’m sorry my son had to hear that too – no one wants to think they’re causing problems that they cannot control. Luckily he was really too young to internalize it too much – if he’d been older, he might have carried it around more (like me, obviously).

  16. Amy Reese says:

    Oh Denise, I’m so sorry this woman exists and that you’re son had to hear that!!!! That’s horrible! I wish I would have been there. I’d love to get in her face for you! I’m wondering if people are becoming more insensitive all around. Some of the things I’ve been hearing lately make me wonder. People are so judgey…they think they have all the right answers. Really they don’t know jack!

    • 🙂 I would have loved to see you ‘unleashed’ – I can understand people’s frustrations with all the special diets – but some things are as they are b/c that’s the way they are not because of a lifestyle or dietary choice (which is important to respect but no one would expect a school to stop having meat because some one is vegetarian).

      I don’t know if they’re more insensitive or just feel more free to say what ever they want in a public and anonymous forum.

      Luckily I’ve matured since then!

      Yes – so judgy and cruel.

  17. Carrie Rubin says:

    What that woman said was horrible, insensitive, and inaccurate. Despite my penchant for avoiding conflict, I, too, would’ve been tempted to say something to her. I would have tried to present it from a clinical standpoint, and hopefully that would’ve sunk in with her. It probably wouldn’t though. Some people only hear what they want to hear. Food allergies have increased in incidence, and as you know, they can have serious consequences. Good for you for being so vigilant with your boy. I can’t imagine the fear you must feel when sending him to another child’s house or away on a camping trip.

  18. The Waiting says:

    I am often taken aback by how cruel some people can get in the food allergy debates (and I use the word “debate” for lack of better terms because they do, indeed, exist.) And really? Is your kid’s “right” to a PB&J sandwich really more important than the safety of other kids? Ugh, now I’M getting riled up!

    • I know! I try to think that if you haven’t had to experience the situation, you might just be a callous bastard. But really, it’s not as if PB&J (which I love) is the only option out there. I think people are just annoyed that one person’s allergy dictates policy – but it’s more about dying than trying to control the schools.

      GET RILED UP!!

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