Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Promising Future

I just got back from spending a week with a group of 5th and 6th graders at camp. My husband and I created and led a conference around Dr. Seuss's The Lorax. For the past 11 years, I have been working almost exclusively with high school youth, so this was a big change. And I have to admit, I was nervous about my food allergies. I wasn't sure if the younger kids could safely live with me.

For seven days, we did everything together. We sang songs, planted trees, played games, worked in the camp's garden, swam, had sustainability talks, created our own worship service, attended other groups' worships, had campfires, made up-cycled sculpture, all slept in the same building, and ate our meals together.

The kids were fantastic.

They arrived on Sunday afternoon. Just before dinner, we had a brief discussion with them about my food allergies.

We told them that we would have two tables at every meal, and would be posting the camp menu ahead of time. There are both peanut butter and soy butter available at every lunch and dinner as an option for the kids that don't want the main dish. We told them that they may eat the peanut butter if they want to, but they will need to not sit at my table, and follow up by washing their hands, brushing their teeth, and not touching me for several hours.

They totally got it. All of the kids nodded, said they dealt with this at school all the time, and said it wasn't a big deal.

All week, they were excellent. Even the kids that didn't sit at my table chose soy butter over peanut butter for safety. They were actively keeping an eye out for other things containing nuts. They took initiative and asked kitchen staff what was in things and reported back to me whether or not the food was safe without being asked. On the night almonds did appear in the green beans, they elected not to even bring that dish to the table. None of them ever complained that they couldn't have something. They were happy enough with substitutes and other choices. And they wanted their community to be safe.

Those kids gave me hope. They get it so much better than adults usually do. Not only are we learning more about allergies and immune disorders, coming up with new treatments, and maybe cures, but there is a generation coming up that is empathetic and inclusive. If they continue to grow in this direction, the world will be a less frightening place in the future.

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