My six year old son with multiple severe, anaphylactic food allergies climbed on a school bus and went on a field trip without me this week, and we both survived to tell the tale.
I’m still getting used to letting go when I hug him goodbye on regular school mornings, so dropping him off for a field trip felt even more awkward and emotional because, well–the What if’s? were loud that day.
For me, that is. Not for him. The kid was crazy excited.
I can’t blame him. He had never been on a school bus before, and he knew he would get to go on a bug hunt and pet a snake in real life at the science center that day. What first grade boy wouldn’t be excited?
But while other moms were slipping Lunchables into backpacks, slathering kids with sunscreen, and sending them out the door with a simple “See you later, sweetie!” I caught myself worrying whether I had done enough to prepare EJ for surviving two hours at a local science center without me dogging his every step.
A few weeks before that morning I asked EJ if he even wanted to go on the field trip, secretly wondering if he would feel too nervous about something so new.
“Oh, yes–I really want to go. It’s going to be so fun. And Mom, can you make a homemade Lunchables for my lunch that day? And put an Oreo in it too? ‘Cause kids take Lunchables with treats in them to school on field trip days.”
How did he even know that?
After assuring him I would pack him a homemade Lunchable, I double checked to make sure he felt comfortable and confident going on the trip without me. One simple “Oh, yes. I feel just fine about it,” and we moved on to reviewing all.the.rules and a reminder that God would be with him even when his dad and I could not be.
Years ago, back before we even know EJ had severe food allergies, Joshua 1:9 etched its way into my heart as his life verse: “Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord God is with you wherever you go” (NLT). God knew even all those years ago I would need courage to let my boy go live his own life–and EJ would need the assurance that God would be with him when I was not. So instead of keeping the kid home and assuring him he wasn’t missing out on anything anyway, I decided to listen to face everything and rise instead of forget everything and run.
It’s easy to run away from the tough stuff; harder to stand face to face with something scary. Lord knows I’ve done my share of running over the years. I’ve made decisions out of cowardice, and I’m sure you have too. But I don’t want to train EJ to make decisions based on what’s easy. I don’t want him to miss out on life because he lives his a little bit differently. I want to be courageous so he can be courageous too. If I had kept him home that day, it would have taught EJ life is too risky, he’s too different, and safety is what matters most.
Hear me: safety matters. Of course I did my due diligence: I talked to his teacher and confirmed she would carry his epinephrine along with them that day. We discussed when and where and how of food (none on the bus; morning snack at school as usual; sack lunches outside after they return). She knows his symptoms backwards and forwards and reviewed what to do in case of an emergency. Before he left for school that day, he slung his allergy ID necklace around his neck as usual, and I made sure his hand wipes were stocked and stowed in his lunchbox just like every day, and we went over washing hands and not sharing food and speaking up for himself if he felt anything funny at all one last time. In short–we covered everything in our power to prepare EJ for the first step toward managing his allergies independently.
That’s ultimately what I want him to do: manage his allergies, not let allergies manage him. A long time ago I had to make a choice whether I would worry my way through his life, hiding him away from danger in hopes of keeping him safe, or face each new day with courage, determined to let him live every blessed moment of his life to its fullest. Existing in the confines of home and missing out on a chance to see the wider world and discover all sorts of beauty out there isn’t really living at all, and so, by God’s grace and with his help–we are putting one foot in front of the other and walking into new territory, believing God is with us every step of the way.
As I packed EJ’s homemade Lunchables the morning of the field trip, I realized my job is exactly that: to give him the things he needs to be able to eat lunch safely away from me, not just on field trip days, but always. It is more than my heart can bear sometimes because he’s only six years old, for crying out loud. But someday, someday, he will be all grown up and in charge of his own choices, and my job is to empower him to do that. I need to make him lunch-able. That sort of thing is only ever homemade.
Here’s the big news: I wasn’t worried about him. I wondered how things were going, of course, because I’m a normal mom who misses her kids while they’re gone. (Yes, I had to distract myself all day so wonder didn’t turn into worry.) But my nerves didn’t overwhelm my heart. I had peace, and as soon as EJ set foot in the car, I had joy too because there we was, healthy and whole–and happy. For the first time in his life, he said, “Mom! Guess what?! I made friends.” (And guess what? One of them even has food allergies too!) What if fear had convinced me to keep him home that day?
This allergy mom life isn’t easy. Allergy kid life isn’t easy either. It presents a new, big challenge every time we overcome the smaller one that came before it. But gracious me, God is so good. He uses all the tough stuff to grow us and stretch us and prove he is true to his word. If we never went anywhere, we wouldn’t need courage, would we? And we wouldn’t need the promise that God would be with us wherever we go.
So until EJ grows up and moves on to a life lived outside of the confines of our house, I’ll keep doing everything I can to make him lunch-able, believing God will be right there with both of us every step of the way.