Photo courtesy of Jake Bellucci
As far as I know, it’s now absolutely the norm for children to celebrate their birthday by taking cakes or biscuits into school for all their class-mates. We never had this when I was at primary school back in 1903 but it seems to be the done thing these days. As one of the senior members of staff at our school said in a ‘meet the teacher’ class meeting today, ‘it’s absolutely fine to bring cakes in. Children love to celebrate birthdays with cakes, as do I!’ A ripple of laughter went round the class but my heart felt heavy. She talked about being sensitive to children with allergies and to ensure there are no nuts. She asked that parents give a list of ingredients to the teacher for other parents to look through if needs be.
But she doesn’t have to look into my young son’s eyes.
She doesn’t notice the light shine in his eyes as his friends sing Happy Birthday and he spots a tray full of deliciousness: chocolate, sprinkles, icing, sweets, cake, glorious cake and then how that light goes out again when he’s told it’s not for him. That he’s different to all the other children. Another thing I assume everyone is attributing to the fact he has Down Syndrome.
Our gorgeous young four-year old son has food intolerances just like his mother, just like one of his siblings and just like his Aunt. The list of foods he needs to avoid is awkward: gluten, dairy & soya & egg. Birthday parties aren’t a problem at all. With warning I can rustle up cakes that look absolutely
extraordinary amazing. Nothing I can supply the teacher to have on hand that’s semi-individually wrapped ‘in case a parent brings in birthday cake’ is going to be a patch on what he has to watch the other children having. Of the long-life options that can live in a drawer and we whisked out with no notice, we’re looking at something like this:
‘Don’t worry,’ his teacher assured me. ‘We’re used to this, we’ll just make sure the children take the cake home rather than eat it in the classroom.’
In the first five days of ‘big school’ there were three birthdays, one of which was the assistant teacher’s. On these three days, when I went to pick him up I found him sitting on a bench with all the other children and his teacher, who had a tray full of gorgeous looking cupcakes on her lap. In one corner there was a little pack of these very plain biscuits for our sweet boy.
So now he’s different because he can’t eat ANYTHING his friends bring into school to share. I know he’s not the only one and I know children learn and accept but to look at my tiny boy, who’s already different because he has Down Syndrome, in this new setting, which is already a huge emotional milestone (ok, for me) and immediately see him in this ‘situation,’ hurt like crazy.
If anyone has a solution to this I’m all ears, because I find it utterly heart breaking.
I know it’s only me in his class that feels this way and I know it’s only parents of children in this situation, but I would so love for schools to just say no to anything and if they must, go for fresh fruit. I know there are trillions of parents who get stressed about the whole taking birthday cakes in plus it would be in line with the national move towards healthy eating too. They’d certainly be doing them a favour. You can still go mad and have fun if you want to. I don’t know if it’s just our kids but all six of their eyes would go as wide as saucers for any of these…and if they didn’t – at least they’d be turning it down because they didn’t want it, rather than because someone’s told them they can’t have it, even though everyone else in their class can…
The trouble is, birthdays usually end up in clumps. 30 kids + teachers + teaching assistants and you end up with very cake heavy periods, which to our boy and other children who have food allergies or intolerances = you are different, you can’t have.
Is it worth changing the whole birthday cake policy for one child in the classroom? We’re back to the Cost:Benefit ratio…I think it is. Even if it wasn’t my child in this situation, I would still think it is. Or is it just a life lesson our kids with food intolerances just need to learn? The trouble is you see, it’s not really about the cake itself but how the cake makes them feel. I remember feelings counting a huge amount when I was a child.
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