Dear Pool Mom: Nuts and Cupcakes Are Not a Right

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Dear Pool Mom,

Excuse me for intruding; I’m busy sunning myself here by the shallow end of the pool and couldn’t help but overhear the passionate statements you’ve made for the past 20 minutes about how your son must eat all the time and how he loves nuts and how no one should keep him from eating the nuts he loves so much, no matter where he is, or who’s around.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing you’re also the mom who passionately believes that removing cupcakes from birthday celebrations in school is an infringement on your child’s rights. And, you will loudly beat this drum as long as your kid is in school.

Am I close?

allergies: Dear Pool Mom Nuts and Cupcakes not a right

I’ll respond as gently as I can, recognizing that gentleness sometimes comes across a little too soft, so I likely will match your passion, maybe even surpass it. See, you’ll beat your drum as long as your kid is in school. I get that. But, I’ll be beating my drum even louder and longer. I’ll be beating my drum for the rest of my life.


Because my son has severe food allergies and it’s my job to advocate for his safety. Not only his safety, but for the others in the world that have life-threatening allergies. If I, and others like me, don’t do it, then kids like yours will grow up feeling entitled to their cupcakes or nuts no matter the harm it might do to the person next to them.

I won’t stand for that.

Let’s be honest: this really isn’t about food at all, is it? It’s more about your feeling entitled to something that you feel is a right. Yes? Well, I submit to you that you, Pool Mom, are wrong.

I’m wracking my brain thinking back to birthday celebrations in my elementary school. Not only did we not celebrate with cupcakes, we didn’t even (gasp) celebrate summer birthdays. I only carry a slight scar that my birthday was never celebrated in elementary school. Surprisingly, it had no bearing on whether I became a productive citizen in society.

My son, thankfully, attends a school that has never (in our time there) celebrated birthdays with food. Each day, the child with the birthday is called down over the PA system to the office, where he or she is given a birthday pencil and a Happy Birthday wish from the principal.

Pool Mom, I can almost hear you freaking out at the idea—a pencil? Who would want a pencil? All of the kids I know are thrilled with this set up. They are acknowledged, have a reason to wander the halls to the office, and get something they can use at school. And guess what? I have heard nary a complaint about no cupcakes. Perhaps it’s because they don’t know differently? I would assume if a grown-up in their lives told them how terrible this idea is, they would complain. But, really, children echo what they learn from us, right?

Pool Mom, here’s the deal: it may seem egregious to you, this whole no-cupcakes-in-school, and not-eating-nuts-around-those-allergic thing. But I’m here to tell you something—these allergies (not to mention skyrocketing childhood obesity and diabetes diagnoses) are not going away. They are becoming more common.

So you, my friend, have two options, as far as I can see:

  1. You can model for your child kindness, and what it means to be a caring member of a larger community—which, by the way, will serve him well as he moves on to college and into his career.


  1. You can continue to beat the drum of demanding these “rights” not be violated.

If you make the second choice, let me help you understand something I teach my 8 year-old every opportunity I get: your choices have consequences. Every choice, every time. Whether a good consequence or bad, your choice has a consequence.

If you choose to loudly complain about those who would like to restrict your son’s diet, you’re missing the bigger picture.

Statistically, each year, your son will likely have at least two kids in his classroom with diagnosed severe food allergies. If you choose to teach him to stubbornly hold to his “rights” and eat the nuts he wants to near them, there is a very real possibility his actions at some point could send a child to the hospital (or worse).

Do your “rights” for nuts and cupcakes outweigh the rights of someone else to live? My belief is that they don’t; that there isn’t even a contest as to what is more important. But I wonder if you can even see the issue from this perspective.

I hope so, for the sake of your kid’s classmates and millions of others. I really hope so.


Pool Mom Sunning Herself (Just Behind You)


Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

29 Comments to Dear Pool Mom: Nuts and Cupcakes Are Not a Right

  1. Katie

    I love this post and agree with the points raised. I do need to beat my drum as well which I too beat each and every day of my life for my daughter to have a safe environment with a life threatening latex and cross reactive food allergy (banana, avocado, kiwi and cheatnut).

    I am often finding myself in the position that the “food alternatives” often listed in articles and letters such as this are not safe for my daughter. A pencil with eraser to her is a deadly.

    Why isn’t a certificate and congratulations not enough recognition for a child? Why must we also have cupcakes? Then when there is no more cupcakes must it be replaced with a non food treats such as pencils, stickers, erasers, etc. let’s stop the substitution mindset!

    I read the non food alternatives list for birthdays, Halloween, valentines day and cringe…most aren’t safe for my daughter. How do I fight against what others have agreed are acceptable alternatives for their food allergy child?

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks for your input, Katie.

      I think education is key in this. I’ll join you in beating your drum! Together, we can raise awareness of all of these allergies. Keep on, warrior mama!

      • Jill

        Tiffany I just read your article and while I agree whole heartedly with you about “Pool Mom” I have to disagree with you about diabetes diagnosis. You see I have a 6 year old daughter who was diagnosed 1 year ago with Type 1 diabetes. This diagnosis didn’t come from her eating too many cupcakes, candy or any other sweets. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the insulin making cells in their pancreas and basically destroys it. It has NOTHING to do with what they eat. Too often “diabetes” is classified as one and people aren’t aware that Type 1 has nothing to do with diet and lifestyle. My daughter has never had soda, doesn’t like candy and is overall a very good eater. She know has to check her blood sugar 8-10 times a day and takes at least 4 shots a day to live. So next time you make mention of “diabetes diagnosis” skyrocketing with childhood obesity make sure to distinguish that in fact type 2 is caused by diet and life style and the majority of children with diabetes have type 1 and in no way was it caused by their eating habits.

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks, Meaghan! :-)

  2. Absolutely! I am in the enviable position of living in a community where we have made friends with some truly extraordinary people. The kind of people who show up at neighbourhood night’s out with treats that my kids can eat, the kind who make a special cake for my daughter at her daughter’s birthday party so she can join in the celebration, the kind who offer up labels for my kids to read to make sure they don’t eat anything they shouldn’t. I have been overwhelmed by this outpouring of concern for my children. I never expected it. But these wonderful people saw me making sure I brought substitutes to everything my children attended and took it upon themselves to do it too. I pray for everyone to have such a community around them. For the record, my children’s food sensitivities are not life threatening and I am stunned at such acceptance (it hasn’t always been this way). In the last two years, 2 people in our ‘village’ have been diagnosed with food allergies as well and I go out of my way to accommodate their needs as well. It feels good to be the recipient of and the provider of such kindness.

    • Jessica

      I love love LOVE what you wrote because I could have written it myself (and wish I had!)

      And to the other person who responded about her community, I ask …..Where is this magical place you speak of? A fantasy land of kind, compassionate and inclusive angels… Must be somewhere over the rainbow …..I’d like to move their with my kids…. Before school starts in 12 days………. :)

      • Tiffany

        Jessica–we have a loving, wonderful community. But, if ever we have to move, I’m calling Catherine to find out where she lives ;-).

        Thanks for stopping by!

    • Tiffany

      Catherine, this is great!
      We, too, are surrounded by a community that cares deeply for my son and is very careful about his allergies. I was stunned at the way this woman was ranting, and I’ve heard others who have encountered such attitudes personally. Knowing that this mindset is still out there spurred me on to respond and hopefully encourage others to practice kindness and compassion. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Alayna Wetherhead

    Tiffany this is a GREAT read! So important for families with and without allergies. Thank you!

  4. Jamie

    There’s A very real chance at recess that someone’s going to fall and hit their head and could cause series brain damage. But the reason you don’t want nuts and cupcakes in your school is because you don’t want your kid to feel left out. Not because he and the one other kid in the class could possibly have to be rushed to the hospital. It seeks to amaze me how in this situation you turn the table and tell parents it’s not their right to have cupcakes and penuts. But the truth is it isn’t your right weather you like it or not to tell an intire class of 30 kids that they can’t have NORMAL food because 2 of the kids are allergic.

    • Linda

      Jamie- you have missed the point. A child with severe food allergies can die if they come in contact with allergic foods. It is not about being left out. Compassion and consideration is all that is being asked here. If it were your child I am sure you would feel differently.

    • Mikaela

      Oh Jamie. I can guarantee that it has NOTHING to do with a child being left out and EVERYTHING to do with keeping a child alive. No one is asking all the other kids to go without their beloved peanut butter – eat all you want at home. Eat it for breakfast. Eat it for dinner. A child can go one meal a day without nuts. My son is now in the 5th grade and his 60 other fellow classmates who have had to bear the “burden” of no nuts at school for 6 years now are also the ones who stand up for him. Who protect him on field trips. Who will report others not following the rules. All to keep my son safe. They understand the importance and there is a loyalty there.
      You mentioned kids can potentially fall at recess and seriously hurt themselves. Yes. But aren’t there rules in place to keep your child as safe as possible? Are you saying the school shouldn’t take away your child’s right to walk on top of the monkey bars? This is not a good analogy. Kids can play outside. There are rules to playing outside to keep them safe. Kids can eat at school. There are rules to eating at school to keep them safe.
      And something else. My child’s right to attend public school in an environment that is safe for him is protected by law. And has been long before he was born.
      I am so glad that my child’s school and the other parent’s at my child’s school understand all of this.

    • Tiffany

      Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for stopping by. I can guarantee you that when I wrote this post, the furthest thing from my mind was my son being left out. It has definitely happened, but I (and my community) work really hard to make sure it doesn’t happen often (as I would assume you would do if you were in the same situation).

      I think you may be missing the point of my post. My point is about how important it is for us as parents to help our children understand what it means to be aware, kind, and compassionate to others–especially those with disabilities who do not have the capability to experience life in the way that (as you infer) “normal” kids can. I am not calling for a peanut-free school. I am not taking your rights away–but you should be aware that I would ask you not to eat a particular food while you’re with my son, because it absolutely could take his ultimate rights away. So YES, I am talking specifically about the safety of our children. Did you know 30,000 people end up in the ER each year from a food allergic reaction? That’s one person every three minutes going to the hospital because of a life-threatening reaction.

      It’s a very real issue and I don’t think it’s going to go away. I hope you can find it in your heart to understand that.

    • Roo Ciambriello

      I will simply never understand comments like these. Tiffany’s not saying don’t have cupcakes and peanuts ever. Go crazy… at nights… on the weekends… at breakfast… at home.

      Don’t you worry, Jamie. My daughters, Tiffany’s son, and plenty of other food allergy kids will experience the feeling of “being left out.” Our concern – and thankfully, the concern of other empathetic parents everywhere – is that they’re kept safe.

  5. Julie

    In my opinion, aside from the death part, I don’t want my kid left out; especially not at a young age. They is when she is developing her self-esteem and self-worth. I can’t imagine the mental/emotion toll of always being left-out. Do I really want her to feel like a cupcake has more value than her safety? Absolutely not! At a young age, I want to build her up. I want her to know that she is important and that she matters way more than one particular type of cupcake. She has her entire life ahead of her to be told she’s different or can’t have this or do this. What’s the harm in taking an extra 5 minutes to give it some thought and keep it safe & inclusive among friends? Back to the article, no, we didn’t really have a big celebration in school either. We were allowed to be the line-leader that day & we got to go first to the restroom & maybe pick a book. Can we not keep school focused on education & less on cupcakes???

  6. Anne

    I find this article condescending and it implies that those of us who don’t have children with food allergies have absolutely no idea how to behave and that we believe bringing certain foods to school is a right/entitlement…seriously? Any parent, like the “Pool Mom” who says “…no one should keep him from eating the nuts he loves so much, no matter where he is, or who’s around…” is not parenting or looking out of their child, it’s simply an annoying, selfish person. I’ve never thought that since my kids don’t have food allergies they should be allowed to eat whatever they want, whenever they want and at any location. This is just basic parenting.

    As far as the birthday pencil, I think that’s a good idea. I’ve always worked full time and sometimes trying to coordinate treats/snacks is challenging.

    Maybe life in the Chicago suburbs is different than where I live, but I’ve never heard parents make such harsh or bold comments similar to “Pool Mom”

    • Tiffany


      You’re the type of person I’d love to have as a friend, because clearly you get it. We have been really lucky to have some fantastic adults who, like you, are aware and compassionate. Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating the passion and the words I heard from Pool Mom. And, too, this is still a prevailing mindset–you wouldn’t believe the stories I’ve heard from others. So, I am passionate in my response and direct my response to those who really don’t understand and believe that our loved ones (who never chose to be born with life threatening allergies) are not out to inconvenience them.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Kim Taylor

    Great article! And yes, Anne – you are exactly the kind of person we all hope the parents of the other children in our kids’ classes will be! And most of them are. But, sadly, all of us with children with food allergies HAVE certainly encountered people like the “pool mom” described here.

  8. Trista

    Goodness, I feel for you and your community. My son does not have food allergies, but I enjoy reading through Roo’s Scratch or Sniff posts just to educate myself on the kids that will inevitably be in my son’s schools, church classes and playground. My little sister had a best friend who had severe allergies. For one of my sister’s birthday parties, I remember my mom had to buy a particular type of pizza and a particular type of ice cream so that the friend would be safe.

    All that aside, I find it so hard to believe that schools allow birthday celebrations for kids. I went to a small, private elementary school as a child. I grew up and had class with the same 12 kids from preschool through sixth grade, and I cannot remember a time when my mom brought cupcakes to the class to celebrate my birthday. It surprises me even more that public schools would allow this. What a great waste of the school day.

  9. Andrea

    Tiffany 1
    Pool Mom 0

    Thank you for an eloquent and eye-opening post. You are a perfect ambassador for the food-allergy community – passionate, articulate and willing to take a stand. (I especially admire your cool-headed response to detractors. This is, after all, a very emotional topic.)

    Our family is lucky to have not run into a lot of Pool Moms yet, but I know they’re out there. Keep beating your drum, Ms. Self. Eventually our chorus will be too loud to ignore.

  10. In our community Pool Mom is in the minority but there is always a backlash when it comes to a “no-nut” policy discussion at some schools in our community and I think it is because of a lack of education about nut and tree nut allergies. Early in the school year I mentioned, to a mom whom I only knew casually but whose daughter sat at my granddaughter’s table at school, the fact that my granddaughter was allergic to nuts. She said she was aware but that her daughter did bring nuts for snack and she washed her hands with sanitizer after eating them. Now this is first grade where children are not as aware of contaminated spaces like door knobs etc. The mom also said she hoped my granddaughter would grow out of her allergy which was clearly a lack of understanding on her part. I dropped the discussion because I saw that she did not have a clue as to the severity of anaphylactic allergies. Education and caring about others’ safety is the only way this situation will get better for kids who are allergic but there will always be a “Pool Mom” unfortunately.

    • Tiffany Self

      Lorette, thanks for stopping by. Yes, you’re right…there will always be a “Pool Mom.” But, I’m hoping by spreading awareness, educating and advocating, that we together can make a big difference in the lives of kiddos who have food allergies. We won’t see a complete change in this generation, but maybe in the next! If we work together, we can do it. Thank you for your support.

  11. JAMIE

    I am even more grateful to the mom of the child (deathly) allergic to peanuts that attended school with my twins. ESPECIALLY now after reading your article & all these posts! The mom I had the pleasure of attending class parties with, gave us the names of 3 local bakers & bakeries that she had established relationships with & knew that with 100% certainty they were a peanut free kitchen. She printed a list out for each parent with a letter explaining her son’s very DEATHLY allergy. The list included all sorts of things that we COULD pack in our kids lunches. All the things we COULD use instead of peanut butter (in his case, we could let our kids eat sunflower seed butter instead, & we loved it!) She gave us a list of the things her older kids used to enjoy eating (before her youngest w/the allegry was born) & what they substitue now instead. It is all about how you go about these things, people. Kindness & respect! You ARE putting restrictions on kids without allergies because of your child. Understandably justified, considering the circumstances, however, our “allergy-mom”, the one I was honored to know, did everything she could to NOT beat on her drum & scream, or throw a fit. She EDUCATED us, gave us OPTIONS, & POSITIVES & new & interesting foods to look forward to trying in our kids lunch boxes. She gave us restrictions, but gave us the MOST THOROUGH list of brand names & specific foods (including little pictures of the product to look for at the stores!) She gave us directions & phone numbers to the “safe cupcake” bakery & the baker with the SAFE birthday treats so that ALL the children could enjoy the 15 minute class birthday celebrations at the end of ‘their’ day! the day that ALL little kids look forward to all year! Those elementary school Christmas parties, & Thanksgiving “Feasts” & Valentine’s Day parties, ypu know we ALL looked forward to those all school year when we were kids!! Come on people, I mean, I get it! I fight for a good friend’s son who is allergic to all nuts, but BEATING DRUMS?? (War drums?!?) We are parents, not people on a war path. Most of our kids were blessed to be able to eat without consequences. I am truly sorry your child was not. BUT, it is not our responsibility to educate ourselves about your child’s allergies. It just isn’t. That is YOUR job. If your child has special needs, then it is YOUR job to educate all the parents in contact with your child. Give us friendly options, respectfully educate us, and speak to us from your heart. Thank us for the extra time it will take us to figure out what to put in the grocery cart & in their lunch boxes at 5:45 in the morning, thank us for spending the extra money we have to spend on these more expensive meal substitutions. Your job as their mom should be to set an example. Kindness & Respect, it should go both ways. Frankly, sometimes, allergy-mom’s I have met since then, have a tendency to, through your (understandable) frustration, you come across as, well, bossy & inconsiderate. Your child’s allergies DO put a burden on busy parents, especially us that lean on the quick peanut butter & jelly sandwich we can throw in a lunch box in 1.5 minutes! You are trying to dictate to us what we are allowed to feed our own children. It is a touchy subject for all involved. I’m blessed that my 1st experience with an allergy-mom taught me to hear her heart, educated me on what was & what wasn’t okay to send to school, and gave us options so that all kids could feel special & enjoy yummy treats during class parties. I hope both sides of this issue will all stop “beating drums” & follow in her footsteps. The “allergy-mom” I learned from got zero complaints, several hugs, and some very careful & compassionate parents for her efforts. I hope you all do too! God Bless you & your precious children & keep them safe!! ♡

    • Tiffany Self

      Hi Jamie, thanks for stopping by.

      A couple of thoughts in response to your comment:

      1. Unfortunately, with some, the only way we can get our point through is by matching strong words with strong words. I would guess that in your life you’ve experienced this, too? Maybe when a little bit perturbed as I was after encountering Pool Mom?

      2. Here’s the deal: I don’t require anything of anyone. We pack all of our own food and don’t ask for any accommodation from our friends or family. My son sits by kids at school who eat peanut butter sandwiches. He knows how to be aware and to advocate for himself, as well as how to make sure he stays safe. And if he is unsafe or having a reaction, he knows what to do. What we *do* hope for is some kindness and awareness…and that comes in the form of a different kind of response to guidelines put in place. Believe me, I completely understand how hard it is to come up with alternatives to a PBJ sandwich. I live in that world on a daily basis. Which is why I absolutely do not put any requirements on anyone. However, if there are guidelines in place (like if there are no cupcakes allowed at school), I do feel like it would be nice to not hear too much complaining about it.

      Our friends and family know us. And because they’ve watched us struggle and learn and have seen my son in the throes of a reaction (or the aftermath of one), they are generously protective of his safety. I don’t ask anything of them – we adapt to any situation – and 9 times out of 10 the accommodation they make for us is solely of their own initiative, and is met with a great amount of gratitude on our end. I’m sorry if my post perturbed you and made you think that we are a demanding family, because we are not. It’s just hard to hear people talk about their rights so strongly and loudly knowing that if those “rights” were held strictly in my son’s presence, he could die. And it’s clear they either don’t understand this, or they don’t care.

  12. Bree

    I completely agree that cupcakes and nuts are not a right, I don’t care that even at my kid’s private school we are required to pack nut free lunches, I have no problem with the no food for birthday celebrations rule, at our school the kid brings in something fun for the class, a new book, a game, and the birthday child gets to play first or be the teacher’s reading assistant. I understand that some children’s allergies are life-threatening and I am more than willing to do whatever is necessary to not send your child into anaphylactic shock. However, I have personally encountered the pool mom’s version of allergy mom. My son attended preschool with a sweet little girl, A, whose mother said she had severe allergies to wheat, dairy, nuts, and eggs, and this mother demanded that her child remain at least fifty feet from those items at all times, some moms grumbled but everyone obliged as far as I know. For my third child my mom friends threw me a mother-daughter baby shower and this mother and her daughter were invited, extra money and time was spent accommodating A’s allergies, the mother and child RSVP’d yes and then did not show up or offer any apology or explanation for their absence. Fast forward two years and my son happens to be invited to A’s cousin’s birthday where I see A about to put a peanut butter granola bar into her mouth, I stop her and call for the mother who smiles and says “oh, we were just ruling out possible allergies for her behavior problems, she can eat that stuff now”. WTF! I have been to lunch, once, with another mother who told a waiter that her son was allergic to a whole list of things and then told me that he wasn’t really allergic, “he just doesn’t like them but the waiters will only make accommodations if you say it’s an allergy”. Again, WTF?! If someone tells me that their child has an allergy I will believe them and accommodate them but having had a number of these kinds of experiences I will also raise an eyebrow and quietly wonder if their kid really might die or if they are just another entitled jerk, they exist on both sides of the equation. These are both examples of liars so I will include a last example of my sister-in-law whose son is actually severely allergic to peanuts, I have seen it, it is horrible and I would never wish that on any child or parent, and we happily keep our kids 100% peanut free around him. This same woman was not so accommodating when she planned a laser tag birthday for her son knowing my own son would not be able to attend because of his seizures, he has epilepsy, she suggested we just come for cake afterwards because this was “the only thing her son wanted for his birthday”. So I reiterate, jerks on both sides.

    • Tiffany Self

      Bree – unfortunately, I have to agree with you. Jerks on both sides. I’m so sorry your son was left out of the birthday party. I can guarantee if it had been my son’s party, I would have changed the location in a heartbeat. My whole desire out of writing posts like this one are to help start a conversation on all sides of the issue to make sure we all have our eyes open to the needs of others. Excluding kids because of physical disabilities is a rotten way to live. Thanks for stopping by.

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