Christmas specials in July annoy me. In my small corner of the world, the gray skies and the chill in the air hang around for a duration of at least six months. There are only a couple of months out of the year when it gets “hot”, with the definition of “hot” being above 85 degrees with an elevated level of humidity. These are my favorite times. This is my summer. So, when I’m flipping the channels and for the entire month of July one station is showing Christmas specials, I tend to feel that someone is encroaching on my turf. Isn’t it bad enough that the stores are going to start putting up decorations in two months? Yes, I can (and do) choose to not watch these specials but even seeing the show names on my channel guide gives me anything but joy.
Now, I’m not a Scrooge. I believe in joy but I find my joy in different things (especially during the summer). Joy can be a noun meaning a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Joy can also be a verb synonymous with the word “rejoice”. People cry tears of joy. You can find joy in the little things of life. Some people even find joy in July Christmas specials. In short, joy is everywhere. So a week ago, when joy presented itself in a surprising and unexpected fashion, it truly was something that I couldn’t wait to share with everyone.
Cam’s trip to gluten-free camp is coming up this weekend (four days and counting from when I type this). Things such as a rolling duffle bag, portable fan, sunscreen and bug spray have now taken residence on the floor of my dining room in preparation for his journey to North Carolina. For the past month, you could see his excitement building as his time to stay at Camp Kanata drew closer. But behind the exuberance, there was something else. I attributed it to a bit of fear and rightfully so. He’s going to be nine hours from home and is, initially, not going to know anyone there. He’ll have no “real-time” contact with his family or his friends. He has every right to feel a little nervous. That wasn’t it though. Through conversation and based, unfortunately, on past experiences, we found out that Cam was worried about eating. It’s become ingrained in his mind that “eating out” carries much more risk of cross-contamination and elevates his chances of being “glutened”. And with this trip, he is facing six days of eating outside of the comfort zone of his home. Three meals a day. 17 meals in all. He is going to be taking part in day-long activities which will cause his body to demand sustenance. And it worries him. We have taught him how to be so cautious when it comes to his celiac disease and now that caution was filling the space where anticipation should be.
As a parent, seeing this and knowing of this is heartbreaking. But we also knew that, as his parents, it was our role to provide him with confidence any way that we could. It was our mission to remove his doubt. So, we did just that. And again, all it took was an e-mail (isn’t it funny how so many of these stories come from a simple form of communication). I had been in contact with the wonderful people at Camp Kanata when I arranged for his camp journey three months ago. I decided to send them another e-mail, asking about the menu for the gluten-free week and what Cam was to expect. The plan was to remove some mystery from the week to allow him to again think about the fun experiences that he was going to have. The results were so much more. Three days later, Cam received a letter through the good, old-fashioned United States Postal Service. We opened it together and inside was a menu showing the entire week’s worth of items that he would be eating at camp. Every meal, every day. Under each meal, it was specifically designated which portion would be substituted using gluten-free items and ingredients. And the menu couldn’t be more perfect for a 13 year old boy. It was as if we asked him what his favorite foods were and we wrote his responses down In the form of a menu. North Carolina BBQ, hamburgers, McBreakfast (sausage patties and English muffins), pizza, tacos, doughnuts, hot dogs, chicken tenders. If he liked it, it was on there. And then we got to Friday evening; a full Thanksgiving style meal with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry and pumpkin pie. It was when he read this, and a few seconds after his mind had put everything together, that an expression of pure, unrelenting joy came to his face. The guard that so many teenagers put up to hide their true emotions was dropped and a childlike happiness, that isn’t “cool” to express any more, returned for a command performance. HIs weight had been lifted. He could again see the fun in what was to come. HIs every day worry just took a back seat for the week.
They say that joy is many things. It is love and it is family. It is found in strength and it is something that you can choose. For me, joy is best defined as contagious and, on that day, it spread through all of us. Presenting itself in forms as simple as that menu and as awesome as that beaming smile on my child’s face, joy settled in to our home for the night and the rest of life’s worries were set aside and temporarily forgotten.