Archive for March, 2011

This world belongs to all of us, and we belong to the world.

Friday, March 25th, 2011

I wrote (with a lot of help) an article about homeschoolers who suffer from severe allergies for the current issue of Secular Homeschooling Magazine. It’s a subject I feel strongly about, as I make pretty clear in the essay. That’s why it’s one of the free-to-read articles. I wanted the word out about this.

Suffering from allergies so ferocious that the wrong ingredient can kill you is a frightening way to live. All the more so when you don’t have to ingest that ingredient to be attacked by it. Just breathe deeply — and then enjoy the soothing stab of an EpiPen, so you can keep breathing.

It’s frightening. Frustrating. Oh, and isolating.

I learned that when my husband was assaulted by a slew of adult-onset allergies about a decade ago. It was shocking how many of our nearest and dearest refused to do what it took to keep my husband safe. Especially when it came to peanuts.

These weren’t parents of toddlers. Or toddlers themselves. These were adults. Grownups who hadn’t seemed to care much one way or the other about peanuts before my husband’s crisis — but after it, they seemed to have unearthed some little-known amendment of the constitution guaranteeing their right to life, liberty, and nut-intensive appetizers.

I didn’t understand it. This was, quite literally, family. The ones who were supposed to be there for us, as we were for them. This was a fairly trivial sacrifice to ask of them, wasn’t it?

Either they had some addiction that hadn’t been apparent before, or they just didn’t understand. I think it was the latter.

And we felt guilty. We were the problem children, after all, the ones with the special needs. We apologized for our presence, for the trouble we’d caused.

We were the weird ones, ruining the fun for the normal people.

I bought into this mindset for a while. And then, finally, I got angry.

How was this our fault, exactly? What had happened to us could happen to anyone.

We were still members of the group. We worked, paid taxes, and fulfilled our end of the social contract. If our needs were too hard for other people to cope with, too bad. We had to cope with them 24/7 or somebody would die. Coworkers, family and friends could grow up, suck it up, and deal with real life.

Because that’s what this is about. Real life is the fact that for reasons doctors and scientists haven’t yet figured out, food allergies are becoming more common. We can be born with them, or they can attack in middle age. We can grow out of them or grow into them.

That’s the world we live in.

As the disabled community has been pointing out for a really long time, those lucky enough to be fully functional should stop considering themselves “normal” and start remembering what they really are: the temporarily able-bodied.

And those who can eat and breathe without thinking twice about it should remember that they just happen to be currently omnivorous.

I say all this because of a recent case in which a family is being pressured to homeschool their peanut-allergic child:

The other parents at the school in question deeply resent having to go to the trouble of accommodating this child, since it’s not as if it’s their problem.

Except it is, actually. This kind of allergy is part of the world we live in. And people who suffer from such allergies? Also part of the world we live in.

They didn’t stop being full-fledged human beings when they stopped being part of the omnivore-abled majority.

I will admit right now that if this were my kid, I’d probably homeschool. Because I tend toward homeschooling anyway.

But what happened to a government of, by, and for the people? All the people?

This child has a right to a public education. She’s a citizen of this country.

More than that — she’s a human being. And she’s not being treated like one.

We have got to stop treating the needs of our fellow human beings as optional. Or only acceptable provided they’re not too much of a pain in our collective arse.

I want to ask a few questions of the people who think the parents in question should be compelled to homeschool.

Even if you’re a homeschooler, would you want to homeschool solely because other parents told you that you and your kid are just too much of a bother, and the larger community wants nothing to do with you until and unless you’re acceptably able-bodied? Or acceptably disabled? (We’ll build you a ramp if we have to, but don’t make us do anything that looks too much like work.)

Are you willing to admit that you’re saying that the problem of one member of a community shouldn’t have any impact on the rest of that community?

If that’s the case: what does “community” mean?

Do you want your children growing up believing that once people have annoying health needs, we shouldn’t have to see them or deal with them? (Hint: these are your children we’re talking about. You know — the people who’ll be making the decisions about your body when you’re not up to the job any more.)

We’re talking about a public school. Are you only a member of “the public” if you’re in an acceptable state of health?

My husband’s allergies were just as bad as those of the child in this article. Instead of being able to ask his coworkers to literally work around these allergies, should he have been able to qualify for permanent disability? He’s paid taxes since he started working at the age of 16. Should he and his fellow taxpayers now be responsible for keeping him home, since his being out in public is such a pain? Would you be willing to pay for that?

If you are, should he be compelled to accept that check, though he’d prefer to be as independent as possible for as long as he can?

What about another coworker of his? She doesn’t have food allergies. Or any other physical difficulty that I know of. She does have an angry and dangerous ex-husband, though. There have been times when the office has had to be under lockdown because of this, which certainly impacts everyone. And that’s not fair, is it? They’re not the ones who married the guy. Why should they have to deal with him?

Um — because? Because she didn’t stop being a citizen of the world when she started being threatened? Because on a certain level we all have to deal with everyone’s problems, because we’re all impacted by them?

If you want to be sure that no one tries CPR or even calls an ambulance when you keel over in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, wear a sign to that effect. I’d prefer to live in the world that feels a certain responsibility to all its citizens. The ugly ones and the weird ones and the ones whose health issues are such a drag.

If you’d prefer to live on some other planet — please go find one. And take all those allegedly perfect people with you. Including the parents at that school. They annoy me, and I don’t want to have to live with them.