As a parent, I sometimes get the feeling that Cam isn’t as upset about being a Celiac as he is feeling like he is the only person who is a Celiac. Obviously, he knows that he’s not the only kid out there who has to go through what he does but I think he is having issues with being the only one in his peer group. This is purely hypothetical on my part. He could be just fine with everything and I could be conjuring up visions of a pre-teen, angst-filled, emotional battlefield going on inside his mind. After all, I am a parent and part of my job is to over-analyze his thoughts and actions and bug him about something that could be nothing. We all do that, right? I do see him being the only person in his school (not just his grade or classes but the whole building) who has CD. I do see him watch commercials on TV depicting college students texting each other about going out for nuggets and witness his reactionary disdain for that fast food company. No one else in our immediate or extended family has a confirmed diagnosis of having this genetic-based disease. Shortly after our entrance into this new lifestyle, he had a heart-felt conversation with my wife and I, asking us “why him”. Of course we could give him no answers but we could see that he feels alone.
No one wants to be alone. We crave companionship and love the thought of coming home to a full house. We all want to be a part of something. As a family, we’re hoping to find some connections at the local GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group) meeting tomorrow night but even then, I think that Cam will still feel a little isolated. And that’s where we, as parents, come in. We need to find ways to keep him involved and to keep him from not becoming a 13-year old, hormone-infused powder keg whenever the time comes to eat a meal. We’ve found solutions to eating at home and deal with what the restaurants have given us to work with. We know there are camps and groups and all kinds of other ways to show him that he’s not on an island. But we also need to challenge ourselves to be more creative. And that’s why yesterday was awesome.
One of my best friends lives and breathes NASCAR. Yesterday marked his annual “holiday” with the running of the Daytona 500. We had picked up a small NASCAR Lego figure for him and was going to present this, along with a cold beverage, as our gift to him on his big day. Before going to his house, I turned on the pre-race coverage to learn a little bit more about the event so I could engage him in conversation and not come off as too much of an idiot. While I was watching, Cam was on our other couch with his full attention turned towards his iPod. He had no interest at all. When I saw this, I don’t know why I did what I did but I think that my parental instincts, to care and nurture of our children, kicked in. I Google’d “NASCAR Celiac”. I was curious. What better way to connect with a 12 year old boy than through sports. Granted, his favorite sports to watch are basketball and college football but this was still a huge, televised event. The results brought up Parker Kligerman.
Parker is a 23 year old rookie in the NASCAR Cup Series. He’s from Connecticut, started in the 41st position for the race yesterday and is a Celiac. Parker speaks openly about his gluten-intolerance, answering questions about how difficult it can be finding the right thing to eat while travelling from track to track every week. When I told Cam about Parker, his first response was an excited “Really?”. We read more about him on-line and found the number 30 car on the television so we could keep an eye on him during the race. As some of you know, the race ended up being delayed for six and a half hours but that did not cause Cam’s excitement to wane. When the race resumed, he watched for Parker’s name in the standings at the top of the screen; groaning when he dropped, giving a little fist pump when he moved up. The race was about half over when Cam looked at us and said, “I’m actually enjoying this. I normally don’t like NASCAR but I now have someone to root for.” That someone was like him.
Now, you may think that this is where the awesome ends with this story but it gets even better. As I’ve mentioned, I have taken to Twitter to become an advocate for the Celiac and Gluten-Free lifestyle. Wanting to share this cool moment with the person who had caused it, I found Parker’s racing team Twitter page and sent the following tweet. What I didn’t expect was what I received in return.
An almost immediate response. Parker was still racing and his team had taken the time to acknowledge us with a “Thank You”. I showed this tweet to Cam and his eyes lit up. BAM! Parker Kligerman, you and your social media team, nailed it. You are an athlete, you were in a huge event and you sending a personal tweet acknowledging my son made his day. Here was someone that he could cheer for. Here was someone, on a very public level, who could relate to what he is going through. Here was someone that didn’t make him feel so alone anymore. So to Parker Kligerman, someone that I honestly did not know existed when I woke up yesterday morning, I give you a huge thank you in return. Your day may not have ended as you wanted to (Parker was caught up in a seven car crash in the last 10 laps of the race) but you became a winner in our house.