Earlier this month, the food allergy community was buzzing about a news story regarding a young teen in Boy Scouts that reportedly experienced anaphylaxis while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Thankfully the young man is said to have now recovered from the incident thanks to some fast thinking scouts and scout leaders that quickly administered epinephrine and called for help from local emergency and medical professionals. I am so grateful the young man is okay!
To be honest, I generally try to avoid news stories spun to invoke fear, not because I want to stick my head in the sand but because fear can hold an individual hostage if they let it. For some reason, this story felt different and it struck a chord with me for several reasons:
- I am the proud mom of a Boy Scout.
- We have repeatedly hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Fear was not the headline. Being prepared in all situations to affect positive outcomes was.
My son is quickly approaching sixteen and was diagnosed with multiple food allergies around age one. For years we struggled as a family to keep him safe until he was old enough to also advocate for himself. As time progressed, my son was outgrowing the “bubble” of home and began moving on to preschool, public school, and extra curricular activities.
He joined Cub Scouts in elementary school. It was a huge adjustment getting used to scout dinners, gatherings, and campouts. Fortunately, my husband volunteered to be involved as a Scout leader and was able to be at many meetings and campouts. This allowed him to teach my son not to avoid challenges, but how to navigate them with vigilance, safe food, and access to emergency medication. Then my son “graduated” Cub Scouts and would soon be moving up to Boy Scouts.
As a mom, I had to re-evaluate what worked for my tween son and my family and, for us, that meant giving him the freedom to live a normal kid life…all while taking proper precautions to keep him safe. I’d be lying if it was as easy for me to accept as it was to write that sentence. It is still a daily battle between my heart and my head to realize that I can do my best to teach my son how to be cautious and vigilant with his food allergies, but I cannot control everything. Spoiler alert…none of us can.
With the arrival of middle school, my son transitioned to Boy Scouts. This transition was a whole new ballgame. We are talking monthly multi-day campouts anywhere from one to five hours away where the boys cook their own food, pitch their own tents, and go on hiking and boating expeditions. Can you say comfort zone obliterated?
My husband continued to volunteer with scouts, but served more in an administrative role than shadowing my son’s every move. One of the amazing side benefits of being a Boy Scout is that you begin to take on a greater level of independence and responsibility for yourself and others. After all, that is a big part of growing up.
Look at me calmly spouting sage wisdom about independence and growing up. Don’t let the cavalier tone fool you. Any food allergy/asthma wisdom I gain is usually hard earned because of a challenge I and my son went head to head with and came out of on the other side.
In this case, that challenge looked like sending my son on a seven hour canoe trip down the Guadalupe River where he would not be right next door to the emergency services of a hospital and would be relying on MREs (meals ready to eat). It looked like sending my son to summer camp nine hours away to a remote scout camp in west Texas and a week long summer camp for at least the next four years. It meant hours of preparation in terms of medical forms, safe snacks, meal recon, and more.
I was neither stoic or ignorant about these challenges, but with each I came a step closer to accepting the slow realization that these situations are the exact things I’ve worked years to prepare him for. I can’t walk by his side forever and slay every dragon in his path. I have to lead by example, teach him the best I can, and then trust him to safely make his own way. His own way isn’t always perfect, but that is okay too because it keeps complacency at bay and often turns mistakes into valuable life lessons.
Because of the lessons we both learned with his newfound independence through Scouts, we felt empowered to seek out hiking adventures in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Did my hiking bag weigh a few extra pounds because I loaded every epinephrine device we own in it? You betcha. Did we pack the inhaler and several cases of safe snacks? You know it. Did I perhaps lose a little sleep thinking about how things would work if there was a reaction on the trail despite our best efforts? The circles under my eyes frequently answered that question.
But you know what? We planned the best we could and we did it. Not just one hike but several. And we’ve done it again many more times since.
We do not think ourselves impervious to disaster by any means, but we do know that if we stop summoning our wit and bravery when adventures comes knocking, we are not living life but are simply tolerating it.