Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cupcake Contraband

Despite JoJo's weekend birthday, I didn't want her to miss out on a celebration with her little friends at pre-school. Some cupcakes, treat bags and we're good to go, right?

Not so fast. Many schools are now justifiably sensitive about peanut allergies. So, children are often no longer permitted to bring homemade treats for in-class celebrations. Parents now have to send their kids to school with the store bought, slacker mom variety. This is because the school staff needs to be able to inspect an ingredient list to verify that no peanuts are used in the product. I don't like it but I understand. Grrrrr.

Not the end of the story. I march my eager and proud three-year old JoJo into school on Tuesday. No further than the lobby, a staff member pulled me aside in order to conduct the ingredient interrogation. My store-bought cupcakes did indeed have an ingredient list but because the label was ripped—the cupcakes were a no-go. The reason, you ask? I was told that the missing part of the label could have contained the cupcake factory disclaimer indicating that the product could have been made in a factory where the equipment may have been used to make yet another product that may have contained peanuts. As far as the treat bags…they were closely inspected and while not fully meeting regulatory standards, she let it go because the candy was "probably all right". But I definitely got the "don't-let-it- happen-again-eyeballs".

Folks…I'm all about protecting children. I understand that allergy induced anaphylaxis can kill a child. And I'm sure that the school has received legal advice that it must enforce a rigorous policy where food allergies are concerned. But it's really absurd and even a little sad that the vast majority must miss out on a childhood pleasure on the off and VERY REMOTE CHANCE that one child MIGHT have peanut allergies. Allergies so severe, in fact, that the slightest residue could induce a lethal response. I know, it's a possibility and yes I've heard all of the horror stories. But have we gone a little over-the-edge here, all in an effort to protect our children from every conceivable malady, infliction and Act-of-God?

This isn't just a cupcake issue. It sure seems like our children are missing out on a lot. My son will never know what it's like to just play alone in the front yard. Or spend an entire summer afternoon riding bikes with his friends without the obligatory parental chaperone. When he does ride his bike or scooter, I'm in close proximity and his protection gear rivals that of an NFL linebacker. If I fail to implement the recommended safety guidelines and (gasp) use my own judgment, I'll be subjected to the bony finger of suburban mommy contempt. Yes, I admit it. Whether he or JoJo need all of these safeguards or not, I tote the party line for fear that I may be judged as lax. Or worse. And no mother worth her salt wants any such label.

All of this begs the question: Are things really so much worse, so much more perilous than say, twenty years ago? I'm not sure. I do hazard to guess that our perception of danger has surely increased. And I'm not entirely convinced that our hyper-vigilance has made our children quantifiably safer. Neurotic, perhaps. Over-protected, maybe. But safer…that's a tough call.

As far as JoJo's school party—this mommy scrambled to the nearby store and purchased a regulation, standard issue cupcake replacement. Crisis averted.

This one anyway.

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