The 9-year-old towhead leaned into his airplane window watching the scurry of baggage handlers below. His mom sat in the middle as I approached and asked if the aisle seat was available.
She quickly nodded yes with a smile, and then asked me an unexpected question: “Excuse me, my son has a severe peanut allergy. Are you planning to eat nuts on the flight?” I assured her I wasn’t and sat beside her, asking her to tell me more about her son.
She explained that the airline had promised to serve no nuts on the flight. They also allowed her to board early and wipe down their seats, recommending they travel on the 6 a.m. flight because the planes are thoroughly cleaned every night. Her purse was packed with four EpiPens as each works for 10 minutes and the airline could arrange an emergency landing in 30 minutes if needed.
The legwork for this mother-son tandem to book the trip was staggering. The boy’s health is precarious in any new environment – so much so the ice hockey tournament he was traveling to play in arguably posed less risk than the danger from potential exposure to peanuts.
Despite his family’s best efforts, frightening reactions have resulted in nine harrowing trips to the hospital, including five by ambulance.
She said her life was forever changed the first time he was in anaphylactic shock. The emergency room physician was starting to perform a tracheotomy just as he took a breath. This picture of her son with a blue face comes to her unbidden in her sleep.
Her son is lucky to be alive. Each day they work to protect his precious life, all the while trying to provide him with as normal a childhood as possible.
Hence, the trip to the ice hockey tournament. Hockey is this fellow’s passion, evidenced by the way his face lit up when I asked which position he played. “Forward,” he replied with a grin.
And so they live. Forward.
This mom is cementing a value into her son that all parents are privileged to teach our kids (although most of us have less challenging circumstances): Obstacles can be overcome.
I thought it was just an aisle seat on an early morning flight. It ended up being a front-row seat to a family’s mastery at balance and courage.