Perez Halpern - English - September 2019

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September 2019

HOW TO BE A GOOD FRIEND

Taking a Page Out of Jacob’s Book

Each September, about the time we wrap up Jacob’s birthday celebration, school starts up again. Jacob’s a kid who generally likes school, especially because it means everyone returns from summer vacation and camp, and he gets to hang out with his buddies again.

said, “Hey, just so you know, the brownies have peanut butter, so you might not be able to eat them!” He wanted to make sure his friend knew so he didn’t get sick. If he’d eaten even one, the consequences could have been catastrophic. Similarly, Jacob had his friends over for a play date, and he asked for a snack. I gave out M&M’s, asking the kids if they could eat them before handing them off. One of Jacob’s friends wasn’t sure — he’d had M&M’s before, but he didn’t know if he was allowed. I called his mom, and she confirmed that when he’d been younger, they were fine, but now they caused his allergies to flare up.

These days, we no longer bring homemade treats to school for celebrations like birthdays or good participation. Everything has to be clearly labeled for allergens. So instead of making cupcakes, I might send pencils or erasers as gifts for the class. It’s not until you meet a child who has a significant allergy or have a friend who has a significant allergy that you suddenly appreciate why these rules are in place. It’s one of the lessons Jacob has taught me. Some of Jacob’s best friends since preschool have allergies, so he’s hyperaware of the dangers that certain foods pose to them. At his school, there’s an allergy-free table where kids with food allergies sit. They can bring a friend with them, so this is where Jacob eats his lunch every day with two of his closest friends who invite him to come sit with them. To sit there, Jacob’s lunch has to be allergen-free and double- checked by the lunch monitors to make sure it’s safe. Jacob is so dedicated to keeping his friends safe, and it’s pretty sweet to see. He makes it a point to read labels and be mindful of what’s in food. He turned down an extra treat in his lunch — a cookie, no less — because it didn’t have a label, and he wanted to make sure he could sit with his friends at the allergy-free table. Recently, Jacob and Josh made their favorite treat, peanut butter brownies. Jacob’s friends were coming over, and their food restrictions weren’t on my radar at all. But the minute his friend with allergies walked in the door, Jacob ran over to him and

I’ll admit I was an ignorant parent until Jacob’s friends dealt with allergies. I didn’t have friends with them growing up, so I didn’t understand how significant and dangerous they can be. I’m fortunate

that my kid doesn’t suffer from them. Now it’s the norm at our house to collect EpiPens when Jacob’s friends come over, just in case. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use one. We didn’t think about these issues before, but Jacob has become so understanding and diligent when it comes to protecting his friends. Part of being a good friend is caring for and keeping others safe, and I love that he’s so conscious of it. He’s altering his behavior so he can be inclusive and spend time with his friends. I think we could all learn something from Jacob’s gung-ho attitude. As a community, we can and should embrace and take care of the people around us. It’s not about them imposing on us; it’s about us choosing to do what we can to support them.

–Meliha Perez Halp ern

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