Climbing up a hill behind a century old pueblo in New Mexico under an inky dark sky, I settled in a chair between my two children. We are silent, gazing at a darkness we’d never seen, punctuated by blazing points of light. I never dreamt a diagnosis of life-threatening food allergies for my son 12 years ago in Pennsylvania would have brought us here today.
Sometimes circumstance chooses you.
In the midst of closing on a new-old house in 2002, we were painting, racing back and forth between the two homes. With my husband at the new house, I went back to give my 10-month-old something to eat. I had grabbed a few jars of baby food at the market, thinking he might like the oatmeal & apple cereal as a treat. Strapped in his high chair, smiling and babbling away, he obediently opened his mouth when I made like an airplane and zoomed the cereal to his mouth.
After a few bites, he stopped his normal movements. His color turned gray. I lived half a mile from the hospital, so I grabbed him and the jar and raced into the emergency room. The nurse took one look and rushed him inside. After doses of adrenaline and a battery of tests and several hours, they handed my son back to me with epinephrine and directed me to see an allergist. I went home in a daze. My son had a life-threatening food allergy to egg. Further testing revealed allergies to wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and barley. He had the same reaction to all of them. He stopped breathing.
What do I do now?
There were no allergies in my family. There also weren’t the products you see lining the market shelves today. Even now, it’s rare to find something he can have. There aren’t many products that encompass all his food allergies. I didn’t know what to do.
His first birthday cake was a two-pound block of cheddar cheese with a single candle in it. Three months after the diagnosis and I was still floundering. My son’s allergist is one of my favorite people. He galvanized me into action with one simple sentence.
Choosing to do nothing is a choice as well.
We decided that while his life would not be the same as others, it would still be extraordinary. I learned everything I could about food allergies, cross-contamination, and to cook differently. And I decided to home educate my son.
Some folks turn to home education because their school system is inadequate. Some choose because their religious beliefs dictate another path. And some choose because it’s the best way to keep their children safe. We fell into the latter category.
After numerous close calls with cross contamination that wasn’t visible to the eye, we chose to embark on a journey I never envisioned. Food allergies became the silver lining for my family, I had never expected. Click To Tweet
School is so much better the second time around.
Much to my surprise, I found that I loved home education. I loved sharing the discovery with my son. I loved being the one that sparked the “aha” moment. In the beginning we covered all the standards covered in traditional schools: he learned his numbers, the alphabet, how to read, how to add and subtract, how to spell.
We fell in love with books together.
Reading room was our favorite activity. I’d spend at least two hours a day reading aloud, small boy seated by my side. “One more chapter,” he’d plead. “We’re just getting to the good part.” Weekly trips to the library fed our voracious appetites. His comprehension and vocabulary soared. It was magical.
We loved the stories we read, but it wasn’t quite so interesting covering every other subject. It wasn’t tactile enough. We needed to get up close and personal.
School Became Discovering Cultures
We took our classroom on the road. After reading about Vikings and the settlement of North America, we headed north to Canada and Nova Scotia. We hiked Cape Breton Island, learned about Alexander Graham Bell at his museum in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. We visited The Gaelic College in Englishtown and learned about Gaelic culture. We stayed in a small cottage on the sea, owned by a man who had left his homeland in Holland to pursue life in a quiet Canadian province.
In Florida, we kayaked with manatees under the watchful eye of a conservationist who taught us the best way to see is to be quiet. We were rewarded with glimpses of docile, lovely sea cows in their natural habitat.
We hiked through wetlands, careful to avoid sleeping alligators sunning themselves on the banks in the tall grasses. Together we learned to be more observant of the world around us.
In New Mexico, we marveled at the idea of a “wild cow.” Though I laughed at my son’s suggestion when we encountered a lone bovine in the mountains of the Gila National Forest, a shaman (medicine man) soon set me to rights as he pointed out what we could touch and what we should avoid walking in the wild.
California introduced us to sweeping extremes. Desert in the south, full of rippled dunes that encroached on the roadway. Sunny groves of citrus and almonds and avocados. We saw firsthand what living in drought conditions meant for families that farmed dry acres. We drove up through clouds to wrap our arms around the famous California redwoods trees, and we were cautioned to watch out for the grizzly bears.
We drove through miles and miles of our nation’s farmland, lulled into a quiet rhythm by seemingly endless acres of corn. The very next day, the sense of calm was shattered as we raced toward Kentucky, ahead of a series of tornados. The skies were black and calm and too quiet. The lines for fuel were long. Every day brought a new aspect of the adventure.
Conversations and Music
Each day on the road, we’d pull out a map and get a general idea of where we were headed. Nothing was set in stone to allow for detours as needed. One of our favorites started with a barbecue billboard and ended eating sandwiches along the river in Ozark, Arkansas on my birthday. The late afternoon sun was warm and we were the only ones in this little town at the river that day. Magical.
The connections and adventures are equally strong in your own town, or the next one over. The idea is to talk more, learn firsthand and spend time together. Creating memories leads to conversation, sometimes even lively discourse. My son and I hold diverse political views. But at the end of the day, we are better for the interaction and the time spent.
And Every day ends the same …
And I’m grateful for that. As the day draws to a close, my son gives me a hug, and an “I love you, Mom.”
I love you too, Buddy.