I’m happy to report to all of you that my house is still standing. So far, a sinkhole has not appeared in the yard and swallowed all of our possessions. A black cloud does not seem to be following me around and each day the sun continues to rise. Without any of these dire consequences happening, we have officially made it through the first month of having a teenager in the house. You hear the stories of teenage angst and general disrespect towards authority figures brought on by a flood of raging hormones and it worries you as a parent. You ask yourself, “Is my kid going to be that way?” or “What’s my reaction going to be when he asks for a full back tattoo?” My mother used to tell my sister and I that she would move out of the house when I turned 13 and move back in when my sister turned 20. Yes, it was said in jest but when the time comes for your own child to hit the teenage years, you wonder if there was any seriousness to that statement and could it be an option for you should the world-ending scenarios come about.
Kidding aside, I think that teenagers get a bad rap. I think of all of the encounters with teenagers I have had over the past 10 years, be it babysitters, friend’s kids, store clerks or volunteer helpers and none have left me shaking my head and weeping for the future. I do feel though that the teenage years are probably the worst time for a kid to have a food allergy and/or auto-immune response such as Cam’s. Think about it. Kids who are under 10 are still generally under the wing of mom and dad when it comes to their food choices. Elementary schools go above and almost too far beyond when it comes to having allergy tables and regulations on snacks that are brought into classrooms for birthday parties, holidays, etc. This age group’s environment is mostly controlled. Past the teenage years, as an adult, you have had enough life experiences to make educated decisions regarding your food choices and your overall health. Restaurant staff and store workers will listen to you when you ask questions concerning your needs and not just give you a cold shoulder while thinking that you are a know-it-all punk trying to make their life harder. You have gained their respect by aging.
Teenagers are stuck in the middle. They are at the point where they deserve more independence but still need advice to help them navigate their way through every day life. You hope as a parent that they do the right thing but you want to keep your distance. They can be misjudged because of their age and their demographic, as a whole, is often viewed as that of a social pariah. For those on a special diet, this biased view can lead to trepidation and an overall lack of confidence when they need to start a conversation about their condition with an adult or a server that is unaware of their situation. They may lean towards making a bad decision just to avoid a confrontation that would fuel their feeling of inferiority. It can be even worse within their own friend groups. Their allergy or condition makes them feel different even if their friends show empathy. There are things that stick out to them that we, as adults, may not even see. Just this past Saturday, Cam pointed out things to me from his baseball doubleheader that my “untrained eye” didn’t catch. He talked about someone’s hot dog sitting next to his water bottle on the bench, the fruit he couldn’t eat because of the open bag of chips sitting on top of it, and the malt sodas that the other players had between games. It doesn’t bother him to tell his friends about his condition and to educate them rather than feel left out but, like I have said before, he has maturity and a grasp of his situation beyond his years. I think of those teens who may not have his resolve and how it would affect them if they were in the same situation. Would they have the nerve to ask their teammate to move their food away from theirs or be able to put up with the names and whispered comments when they turn down the offered Twizzler or soft pretzels? Some may be fine but others may make a decision that they will regret later just to avoid peer pressure.
Now, I didn’t write this in hopes that everyone who reads it will run out and hug a teenager. I didn’t sit here to devise a way to have my son included in everything for I feel that he needs to experience the small pains of not getting invited to a party and the first heartbreak of having someone make fun of you (I’m sure my wife disagrees with me). Those experiences, while painful in the present, build character for the future. So why did I write this? I did so just to say how proud I am of Cam. He strikes out and gets right back into that batter’s box the next time. He takes rejection and molds it into new avenues of friendships. He inspires me to want to make his future better. He is half of the equation as to why I am one of the luckiest Dads on the planet. The Celiac Disease and how he deals with it is just icing on my Father’s Day cake.