The birthday party circuit is in full swing in second and third grades this year. We try to take the kids to as many parties as possible, but with Max this always takes a little extra preparation. We have to call ahead and talk to the parents (at this point it’s often just to remind them) about his dairy allergy and just double check the menu and make sure they are OK with him bringing something different as well as the usual query about an appropriate gift.
This weekend Max somehow ended up with three invites for the same day. The one he really wants to go to is of course the one at the pizza buffet party place. He’s been hearing about Playtime Pizza for years, but somehow we have always managed to have something else to do when one of those invites came along – until now. The buffet filled with dairy products just seemed harder to cope with than the typical boxes of pizzas or hot dogs. I imagine cheese and sour cream and milk residue getting everywhere.
To add an extra layer of difficulty to this, the party place is a good 20 minute drive from our house, and the parents of the birthday boy, who live around the corner from our house, offered to drive. Max read this ride offer on the invitation and seemed to fixate on going with them and on this being the party he negotiates by himself.
I hate the concept of helicopter parenting and we make conscious efforts not to do it even with Max’s special diet needs. I see often on other food allergy blogs, better safe than sorry and safety first. While the idea that you can never be too safe is attractive, I don’t think it’s true. I do think there is a harm in hovering. He is going to grow up and have to manage his health issues himself, and he needs some space now to start trying. Still it’s a balance between that and being reckless. I will admit my devotion to this principle was rattled after watching him have an anaphylactic reaction to a burger with no visible cheese or dairy on it this summer. See Our Journey.
In this case, we negotiated a compromise. We told him we would be OK with his sans-parent plan if the birthday boy’s mom, who we know fairly well, was OK with it (she very graciously was) and if Max agreed to skip the buffet and go for a drink and a bag of chips and a treat from home instead. I pointed out to him that this might be awkward, and he might have to endure some questions or teasing.
He said as long as he had games he was good and he could handle the other. Bonus: one of his friends who moved away this summer is expected at the party. This alone, he said, was worth the trip to him.
Then I said we still have to make sure the other mom is comfortable with using your epipens just in case. He quickly corrected me. “No we only have to make sure she’s OK with me having them. I can use them myself.”
Oh goodness. I know I have to let him start taking over his own care. He is one of the most responsible third graders out there. If his school had hall monitors, he would be the captain of them, I’m sure. I totally trust him. He is way more careful about what he eats than any adult helping him. When we tell him something is OK, he often asks if we are sure. He has been known to double check labels on anything that looks different than usual, and just last month that diligence saved him a reaction, I am equally sure.
Plus, we have been working on this letting go thing for years. When the nurses in the hospital would ask me how he was when he was having frequent headaches, I always tried to insist he answer for himself. I want him to be comfortable telling them how he is especially when he has pain. I do believe he gets better care this way too. In the emergency room a couple of years ago, I was quite frustrated that we had come back a couple of times with issues after a shunt revision. Max was suffering with what turned out to be migraine-type headaches, but we didn’t know if it was the shunt or something else at the time. The neurosurgeon came in, and started talking at me. I directed him to the gurney where Max was curled up holding his forehead. Max told him that it just hurt a lot. The neurosurgeon looked him in the eye and told him they were going to fix that. Then they bumped fists. The surgeon totally followed through on that, admitted him on the spot, despite the surprise of the emergency room doctors who thought the surgeon would surely send him home after the scans and lumbar puncture checked out. The surgeon actually told them they didn’t understand the complexity. I do not think I could have gotten that kind of determination out of the doctor if Max hadn’t spoken up.
I know if he starts to not feel well or have an allergic reaction at the party, that he will be be comfortable letting the grown-ups around him know, not that I expect that to happen. But still. This process of letting him take over is kind of hard on a mama’s nerves even if it feels entirely necessary and right.