"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

This is Nuts

Today, as I ate my peanut butter sandwich, blissfully free of hives or death by anaphylactic shock, I pondered the conundrum of the peanut and the recent peanut-allergy-related hype.

I realize that my use of the word ‘hype’, a term often used in conjunction with such things as skinny jeans and Gangnam Style dance moves, to describe a serious health concern might offend some people, but I stand by it.  Maybe the nut allergies themselves are not a trend—I’m sure children for decades have been suffering from this hardship—but the amount of attention placed on those afflicted is recent.  Take this example from my teaching career.

In the year 2001, I taught a seventh grader named Andrew.  Andrew was a “normal” kid.  I had no official paperwork on him; he was in no special programs at school; I had not spoken with his parents via phone or meeting.  One day after lunch, Andrew came up to me and mumbled, “Ith hink gotta olden a hut.” 
I said, “What?” 
He said, “I think ig oughta old of an hut.” 
I said, “One more time?” 
He said, “I think I got a hold of a nut.” 
Even when the sounds formed into actual words, I still had trouble comprehending.  Then a lightbulb went on.  “Oh!” I said.  “You mean a peanut?”  He nodded.  “Are you allergic to peanuts?”  Another nod.  “Do you need to go to the clinic?”  More nodding.  I sent him.  The school nurse pumped him full of Benedryl and sent him back to class, where he promptly fell asleep.  And that was that.  No one had told me this kid had a peanut allergy and no one referred to what happened that day as an “incident”.  But these days, things are different.

Last year, in the fall of 2011, I taught five students who had 504 plans (a legal document created for students with a physical or mental impairment that lists classroom needs and accommodations) officially recording their nut allergies.  Paperwork was signed, meetings were held, words of caution were imparted.  Two of these students, I was told, could not even come into contact with a peanut. One girl’s form contained a half-page list of possible symptoms to watch out for and it included, between redness in the cheeks and shortness of breath… (I am not joking here, this is word for word)… a “sense of impending doom”.  Yes.  I signed a legal document during my last year of teaching, promising to—while teaching Language Arts to twenty-six seventh graders in my sixth period class—be on alert for a look of “impending doom” to cross one thirteen-year-old girl’s face, which is a problem since most thirteen-year-old girls wear that expression perpetually anyway.

For those of you not in education, I want to explain this just a tad further.  For those words to appear on that document, a parent had to say them in a meeting with school officials.  School officials had to take them seriously enough to type them into the computer.  A minimum of three adults had to concur in writing that those words belonged on that form.  Now that form follows that girl through every year of school (unless it is later edited or dismissed) and is given to every single one of her teachers, who then become legally responsible for following it.  As a teacher of this student, I was advised not to eat peanuts or peanut products in my classroom before she arrived, despite the fact that peanut butter sandwiches were served every day in the school cafeteria and she never once perished while purchasing her Gatorade in the lunch line.

There were never any incidents with any of those five students.  As far as I know, none of them ever “got a hold of a nut” at school.  However, another student did miss the big state standardized test that year because he had a “food allergy challenge” scheduled for the same day.  The email from his mom regarding this unavoidable conflict included the following:  “[Name] has been allergic to nuts all his life, but recent tests indicate that he may no longer be allergic to some of the tree nuts… We are hoping he can tolerate the pecans in the food challenge, because that will open some doors for him (pecan pies, pralines, etc.).”  This was a very sweet and supportive mom, and it was nice of her to let me know of the absence, but I still find it odd how much random information parents are willing to share with their children's teachers.

Although I find a lot of this ridiculous, with kids I can somewhat understand the paranoia.  I imagine it’s pretty traumatic to watch your small child experience a severe allergic reaction, and I don’t blame parents for wanting to prevent something like that from ever happening again.  (My dog will never be given another rawhide treat after the time I saw him choke on one and had to reach into his throat to pull out the white sticky mass that was lodged there, so I get it.)  In truth, a lot of this documentation is put into place in elementary school when the kids are young and less aware of their health concerns and more likely to eat something they shouldn’t if an adult is not paying attention.  But then the forms go unedited and the next thing you know the kids are in middle school and completely capable of taking care of themselves but still have teachers awkwardly reminding them not to ingest something they haven’t eaten in ten years.

What I don’t understand is when this paranoia carries over to adults.  Every year, my school district held a two-day professional development conference at one of the high schools.  Every teacher was required to attend (though not all did) and presenters from all over the country flocked in to impart their expertise on everything from assessment to vocabulary games.  Beginning in 2004, a bold red text started appearing at the bottom of the email of conference information explaining that a couple of the presenters had severe air-borne peanut allergies and for that reason, they asked everyone not to bring any peanut products into the building during the conference.  ?????  At the sight of that warning, several questions jumped immediately to my mind, the first and foremost of which being How the heck did you people survive this long?  Again those afflicted with this allergy will probably find my words here callous, but I have to believe that this is being blown out of proportion because if an email has to be sent to 2,000 people alerting them of your condition before you can set foot into a public school building, then how are you not a hermit?  How do you go to restaurants and sporting events and parties and (horror of all horrors) the grocery store where aisles and aisles of packaged evil lay in wait to suffocate you?  And how did you get to this conference?  Because the last time I was on an airplane, the nice flight attendant gave every single passenger in that tiny, air-tight cabin a package of peanuts to open and eat and drop on the floor and exhale into the canned air for three and a half hours.

That’s my argument for why all this peanut allergy hype is nuts.  If Southwest Airlines can still pass out these tiny little allergen grenades on their flights, I’m thinking that pretty much everyone else should be able to walk into a building or take a math class without first announcing to the world that their throat could close up if they eat a Reeces.  

Images from:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Christmas Letter

With a few interesting exceptions, I am not a fan of Christmas letters detailing the ups and downs of the sender’s year.  I have never written one myself.  But, it turns out that I am not the only aspiring writer in the family, and the last thing I would ever want to do is stand in the way of someone else’s desire to share their stories with the world.  So, with that said, I hope you enjoy this holiday letter from Gabby, the tabby cat.

[Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this post belong to Gabby the Cat only and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the blogger herself.]

Greetings From Gabby

Dear Feline Friends and Their Humans,

Greetings!  Meowy Christmas and Happy Mew Year to you all!  I hope this letter finds you and your furry loved ones well.  I know that everyone is busy this time of year ingesting curly ribbon, bathing obsessively, and searching for the warmest spot to nap, but I thought I should catch you up on everything that’s been going on down here in Austin.  We’ve had a big year too!

2012 started out pretty routinely in the Juettner household.  January was cold, necessitating a bit of snuggling for the sake of warmth.  Of course the rules of snuggling must always be followed.  Rule #1: Try to snuggle with someone who will snuggle you back, because it’s more fun that way.  Rule #2: If a consenting snuggle-partner can’t be found, take what you can get. Rule #3: Never ever snuggle with a dog, no matter how warm he looks.

 (<-- Rule #1, in effect)

(Rule #2, in effect -->)


Speaking of dogs, this one is still here, unfortunately.  We were all hoping he was just passing through, but it now looks like the clumsy oaf is here to stay.   I honestly do not know what my humans see in him.  He just keeps getting bigger and BIGGER and despite all the diplomas he brings home I haven’t seen any improvement in manners or grooming.  For a couple of months they came to their senses and started keeping him in a cage, but now he’s out again, draining our water bowl and taking up too much space on the couch.  I just don’t understand why they need him when they already live with four purrfectly good cats.

Equally disgusting.

In February, Gink turned thirteen and we had a small  party/intervention for him.  Now I’m not one to hack up a hairball and tell, but everyone knows Gink has some issues.  So Zora and Toby and I simply suggested that it might be time for him to give up his little “friend”.  Well, talk about the litter hitting the fan!  It did not go well.  That doll is still hanging around the house.  My human washes it once in a while, but I don’t care.  There is not enough soap in the world…

Me in the penthouse
Spring and summer were fairly uneventful.  We got a new kitty condo, so now I’m living the highlife.  And our humans left for a couple of weeks.  I had mixed feelings about it.  On the one paw, they took the dog with them, so that was a plus.  But on the other paw, I had to listen to 14 days of Gink muttering to himself about how he was going to kill the poor girl who came over to give him his medicine.  (Seriously.  The guy has issues.)  Anyway, eventually our humans came back and order was restored.

In August, I kept waiting for our female human to start leaving the house again, like usual, but… she didn’t.  For some reason she’s been hanging around the house a LOT more, demanding attention and sticking her nose in our business.  It’s really been an adjustment for us all.  Zora hasn’t been able to continue her “sofa art” and I don’t have the quiet necessary to pursue my study of string theory.  (My theory is that if the string moves, I must pounce on it.)  But it is nice when she uses her opposable thumbs to open the porch door.
Toby is actually a dog-supporter.
I try not to think about it.

Then last month everyone had a big hissy fit over the election.  At times like these, it's difficult to keep one's opinions to oneself.  I’m all for the legalization of catnip, but once they start talking about equal rights for dogs, that’s when I get fuzzed up.  Our kind know how to handle ourselves in public, which is why we are allowed our freedoms, but those good-for-nothing canines need to be kept on leashes—short ones!  Sorry, I don’t mean to get political.  But some of those ideas being thrown around really poof my tail!

Now it’s December and we’re all getting ready for the holidays.  Zora is hiding in gift bags and Gink is spending "quality time" with his doll by the fire, while visions of belly rubs dance through Toby's head.  (I don't know what's dancing through the dog's head and I don't care.)  My favorite tradition is probably the annual tree of toys.  Every year, my humans set it up and say, "I hope we don't lose any this year..." and that's my cue!  Each night, after they go to bed, I take one toy off the tree and hide it deep under the couch.  Then the next morning, they wonder out loud where it could be.  And the best part is when the finally look under the couch in January and find all the toys I hid for them.  They're always so happy and excited!  Humans can be quite adorable at times.

Well, that’s about it!  2012 is swiftly drawing to a close.  We’ll all be hiding under the bed from New Year's Eve fireworks before you know it!  So keep your litterboxes clean, your food bowls full, and don’t forget to leave some milk out for Santa.  (I’m keeping an eye out for him this year.  I want to ask him if he’ll take the dog.)

Peace and Paws,