With the changing of the seasons and the long-awaited warmer weather, our family’s daily activities have shifted and we are back into a fun and familiar Spring pattern. On the weekends, we work in the yard, enjoying the fresh air and striving to recreate the landscape enjoyed by the bare feet seen on many lawn care commercials. The kids are doing their best to stay focused in school, knowing that there is a mere seven weeks left before three months of swimming, ice cream and no homework. In the evenings, softball and baseball practices consume a good portion of the week, giving us a chance to meet new teammates and to reconnect with families who we have grown to become friends with over the course of past seasons. After a practice this past week, we had the opportunity to rekindle another activity experienced every baseball season; meeting up at the post-game hangout. You can tell that this is a beloved activity since we didn’t even wait until the season started to meet for the first time this year. Call it a post-practice get together. It’s a chance to sit down and speak with people who we like but haven’t seen for a few months (outside of mandatory school activities that forced us to venture out into the snow and cold). All of the kids, team players and younger siblings, get to hang out in a non-classroom setting and build a camaraderie that will carry through the next four months. The parents get to sit back, enjoy a beverage of their choice and partake in adult conversation that was limited during the winter. It is a time that is missed during the off-season.
Our team’s hangout of choice is the local Buffalo Wild Wings, affectionately called BWs (B-Dubs). We have had success, as a family, eating at BWs since Cam was diagnosed with Celiac. Our branch has a gluten free menu and they have a dedicated fryer for the traditional, non-breaded wings so we don’t have to worry about cross-contamination. It was one of Cam’s favorite restaurants before he was diagnosed so I think that he likes the fact that he can still go there and eat the same thing that he did when he was on a “normal” diet. More importantly, it is a place outside of our home where he feels “comfortable” eating. Unfortunately, these places are few and far between. On this particular night, our practice ended at 8:00. It was a limited team practice so there was only four or five adults and six players in our party. We figured that given the later time and the small number in our group (usually we have more than double this amount), getting a table wasn’t going to be too difficult. Our assumption did not take into account that the local hockey team’s first playoff game was on and the middle school baseball and softball games ended about the same time as our practice. Our wait was 40 minutes. During this time, Cam hung out with his teammates and our party grew in number thanks to chance meetings with other families and friends who were also there. It seemed as if everyone had the same idea.
Once we were seated (parents at one table, kids at another), the waitress came around and matched up which parent was with which teenager and responsible for the large amounts of food that they would be ordering. I took this time to speak with our server about Cam’s limitations and the need for his wing order to be prepared using the dedicated fryer. From our past visits, we have grown to know several of the staff at this BWs location and most are familiar with his dietary challenges. I had not seen this particular waitress before but she was very understanding of Cam’s needs and said that she would speak with her manager to confirm that they were able to abide by our request. Given our track record of gluten free success with this BWs, I was surprised when the manager came out to my table. She wanted to let me know that due to the demands of the evening crowd, they could not keep a dedicated fryer open and there was a risk of cross-contamination with our order. I called Cam over to the table where he spoke with the manager face to face. From her mannerisms, I could tell that the manager was very apologetic with Cam and understanding of his situation. I did not not hear any more of the conversation but Cam gave me the nod, letting me know that he was fine with whatever was said.
Even though our order could not be fulfilled, I viewed the evening as a success, filled with encouraging signs of change. My confidence and respect for our local hangout grew immensely that night. Our server listened to my request, was able to process the importance of it and took the actions that she needed to when not understanding if they would be able to fill our order. On a night where her restaurant was packed with consumers, the manager took the time to come to our table and explain the situation. She was open with both myself and, more importantly, with Cam. She didn’t have to tell us that the fryer was cross-contaminated. She could have just viewed me as another customer and ignored my request for the sake of gaining my dollar. By compassionately doing the right thing, she saved Cam a night of pain and discomfort. By acting as she did, she earned my return business and hopefully the business of others in a community seeking gluten free answers.
BWs, though, was not the only source of encouragement for me that evening. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how proud I was of my son. When I started this blog and my involvement in the gluten free community, I told Cam that I would stop doing what I do at any time if it made him uncomfortable. Here I am, speaking in an open forum about his health issues and symptoms that many may consider embarrassing. I remind him on a weekly basis that this offer to discontinue my advocacy is always on the table. But on that night, at a loud and overcrowded sports bar no less, I witnessed what I deem to be the next step in this process. Cam has accepted his condition and is starting to become his own advocate. He’ll officially be a teenager in three weeks but his understanding and grasp of his situation shows maturity beyond his years. Here he was, standing and speaking with the manager (a complete stranger to him) and talking about how their food preparation affects his health. If I would have needed to speak with a stranger at the age of 12 about my health and the possible “fall-out” from a poor choice, I would have been mortified. But there he was, keeping eye contact during the entire conversation and advocating his lifestyle. And the surprises for me didn’t stop there. After giving me the aforementioned nod, he went back to sit with his friends. I watched as they fulfilled their curiosity and asked him about his conversation with the manager. As if he was talking about the latest video game or an awesome play on SportsCenter, he told them about it. His mannerisms switched from having a very “adult” conversation to talking nonchalantly about his Celiac with his buddies in the blink of an eye.
As I’m sure all parents do, I still view Cam as the small bundle of joy that we brought home on Mother’s Day thirteen years ago. We bend over backwards to protect our children for we still see them as our babies, helpless and needing our encouragement to learn and strive. When these roles change, and your child becomes a teacher, you can’t help but to feel a strong sense of pride tinged with a touch of melancholy. Gaining his partnership in advocating his cause is paired with losing the feeling that my son is still a helpless baby boy. With this loss, though, comes a feeling of accomplishment and confidence. I know that his condition is not a source of embarrassment or cause of alienation among his peer groups. I have seen that he can responsibly handle a challenging situation and understand the ramifications of his choices. He would tell you that he’s just happy that he can still go to BWs with his buddies but I’m encouraged by his openness and similar desire to make his lifestyle easier in the years to come. It is for his own good and I know now that he realizes that.