My wife looked at me yesterday and said, “you need to write again”. Granted, I have been busy and I have not put out a post in a few weeks so I agreed and told her that I would get around to it. It was when she asked me again tonight, this time with more of a sarcastic tone, if I ever planned on doing another blog post that I knew that I better get on it. It wasn’t as if I was suffering from writer’s block or experiencing a lack of topics to talk about. Time just has not been on my side. So, with my wife’s sage wisdom as motivation, I decided to carve out a couple of minutes, sit down and write about one of my favorite topics; my son and another way that he conquered the gluten-free obstacles put in front of him.
Literally, and figuratively, I’m no Boy Scout. For some reason or another, I never became a part of the Scouts program growing up. In all honesty, I don’t remember many of my peers growing up being in the Scouts. Maybe there wasn’t a strong interest where I lived, maybe I was just young and didn’t pay attention. It wasn’t because of lack of Scouting experience in my family. My dad was a scout. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Cam spent three years as a scout; two as a Webelo and one as a boy scout. It was a great experience for him. Gaining firsthand experience about camping, having a group to be part of, setting a plan to achieve badges and accomplishment; all traits that have helped him since his Scouting days. Another takeaway that has proven useful to Cam since that time is the Scout motto: Be Prepared. Even with my lack of scouting experience, I am one who firmly believes in preparation and due diligence. To me, it makes everything easier. It makes me feel as if I have a jump on a situation, a step ahead of things if you will, and gives me the confidence needed to achieve whatever I put my mind to. Being prepared for a challenge is the best way to face one, a fact that Cam recently found out on his school trip to DC.
Yes, the trip that we had been planning and gearing our attention towards for months had finally arrived. It was a four day trip with his 8th grade to Washington, eight hours each way on a bus, rooming with three other students, and no parents allowed. The trip was well chaperoned, with everyone from the principal to the orchestra teacher being there to watch the kids but as a parent of a pre-pubescent teenager, you still had a tinge of worry. For my wife and I (and for Cam I suppose), our worries were also focused elsewhere. You see, the food itineraries were already set. Three evenings, the kids would be eating somewhere in a mall food court. The fourth evening, the group was headed to a buffet style restaurant. All scream “red alert” when it comes to providing a gluten-free, safe option for Cam to eat. He was going to be away from us for 96 hours, had we prepared him enough for the challenge? Any failure in doing so would result in a “gluten” episode away from home or, worse yet, on a bus bathroom with 1/5 of the entire 8th grade class within close proximity. Talk about social-suicide. We were concerned.
Cam’s principal was nothing short of awesome in the weeks leading up to the trip. We had location itineraries as to where they would be going. He sat down with us, as a family, and eased our concerns. Cam would be allowed to bring his own food in cases where he could not find a suitable option. The principal arranged for his room to have a refrigerator in it so Cam could keep his drinks and his gluten-free lunchmeat cold. He even offered to arrange for a chaperone to go with Cam to safe restaurants on evenings where the food court lacked a safe choice. Again, he went above and beyond to help ease our worries. But, until more restaurants and service locations are regulated, we still had our concerns.
Aside from the arrangements with the principal, we mapped out restaurant choices in proximity of the malls and where he would be during his long days of touring monuments, museums, etc. We may have taken it over the top when we agreed to buy him an iPhone, just so he could have access to apps such as Find Me Gluten Free and phone numbers for restaurants (I still think he suckered us there), but it helped bring a certain level of calm to his mother and I. After days (months) of planning, we all felt pretty good. He had his cooler, his bag of food, his itinerary and where he was going to eat depending on this schedule. He was set and ready to go at it on his own. Despite it all, we still had our concerns.
Those concerns grew when, despite having a new phone, Cam decided that conversations with his parents was not high on his priority list. Yes, I managed to get a “doing fine” text and after some prodding, I did convince him to call home late one night. I know, at some point you have to let him grow up and be on his own, but this being the first time that he has had to be responsible for all of his meals, I had my worries. In looking back, should I have been as worried as I was? Of course not. I should have relied on my faith that we had prepared, as a family, for not only this week but for choices that Cam will have to make throughout his life. And that Friday morning, as Cam devoured his homemade breakfast of two eggs and four sausages, he told us of his adventures. He talked about everything that he got to see (a visit to FBI headquarters being a highlight) and the fun he had with this roommates. We didn’t talk too much about his food but from what he did say, combined with what I have since heard from his principal, Cam was the ambassador of his gluten-free lifestyle. Their group changed itineraries one day and decided to eat at a food truck (not safe) but Cam was prepared, pulling a “just-in-case” sandwich that he had made and packed that morning instead of buying something he was unsure of. Instead of eating buffet style before an eight hour bus ride home, he picked from his packed “safe” foods to avoid an embarrassing “episode” on the bus. His principal says that he was in complete control, telling others when they were and when they were not needed, and teaching them, as a staff, how they can better prepare and provide for future kids making this trip with special diets.
And as he talked between bites of breakfast, it was then that I realized that my boy has grown up. We all say “they are growing up so fast” when we talk about our kids, but sitting right there in front of me was the living proof of that statement. He was teaching others, adults and kids. His roommates respected the snacks that they brought to the room because of what he had told them. He faced the obstacles of eating outside of the safe environment of his home for an entire week, without mom or dad as a crutch, and handled it with a maturity beyond his thirteen years. It’s bittersweet. He’s becoming an independent young man who will be off to college in five short years. Not here for me to get up in the morning, not here for us to watch sports together, not here for me to hug every day. I know that day is coming. As his dad, no matter how much planning I do, I’m not sure that it’s something that I will ever be prepared for.