Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The traveling child

So, this year has been fraught with a new anxiety for me.  My eldest has become quite the outgoing, social butterfly this year.  Now that he's in junior high, he has the opportunity to join extracurricular activities.  And join, he did.  He has groups that meet three or four afternoons per week and has his lunchtime booked four days a week (with plans to start a chess club on the open day).  I'm exhausted just contemplating his schedule!  But, this is all him - he took the lead to join all of these groups.  Our only conditions were that he keeps up with his homework and chore obligations and we couldn't be expected to swing paying for a lot of extra outings.

Two of the groups he participates in are Math Counts and Knowledge Bowl.  His Knowledge Bowl team made it to regionals - a two day, overnight excursion, and his Math Counts team had a day trip to for regionals.  Math Counts has made it into the state competition, which is a two day trip (with a flight and an overnight stay).  All of this travel away from me has tossed us into uncharted territory.  My son has never spent much time away from us, and we have pretty much avoided going out to restaurants for the past four years, since my diagnosis.  So, now we're faced with the situation of him having to fend for himself meal-wise on these trips.  J has always been very good at reading labels and checking foods to ensure they were safe for him to eat and, so far as I've been able to discern, he's asymptomatic if he does eat something he shouldn't.  This makes it relatively easy for him to go on these trips, although not without some major planning and legwork on my part.

His first trip was only an afternoon, so we treated it like any other school day and I packed his lunch and a snack for him to bring along.  The team was being treated to pizza and soda for lunch, so he asked that I pack him a pizza (whew, thank goodness for extra crusts in the freezer!), and he had soda with the group.

The next trip was trickier - the group took the 2 hour drive up, stopping at an A&W for lunch.  Then they had some competitions before checking into their hotel and getting dinner at another restaurant.  The second day's plan was complimentary breakfast at the hotel, then competitions, lunch at the college cafeteria, more competitions and then stopping at a grocery store with a deli for dinner on the drive home.  So, what did I do?  Well, I started by looking up restaurants' online menus to see if there was anything remotely safe for J.  A&W - no.  Nothing but the drinks.  For dinner, they weren't sure where they'd go, so I checked for restaurants around the hotel to see what was available - a Wendy's and a Chili's.  I checked their menus and made lists for J to bring along so he'd know what was safe for him.  For breakfast, I contacted the hotel to see if there might be anything suitable for him on their breakfast menu.  Thankfully, I got a very helpful and prompt reply from the manager stating that he had spoken with the kitchen manager and here was a list of safe items for my son.  He also gave me the name of the cook who would be there that morning so J could contact him directly for help.  The college cafeteria was equally helpful, even asking what my son's favorite foods were so they could be prepared for him!

With all that leg work out of the way, I felt better.  I coached J on his responsibility to be aware and to check with the cooks to make sure things were going to be safe and to thank them all for their help on his behalf.  I printed up a few wallet cards in case he wanted to give them to the cooks to better describe what foods he cannot have.  On the day of, I packed him a lunch to eat at A&W, packed some other snacks/emergency foods just in case (some fruit, bars, couple slices of bread, peanut butter, trail mix), and some cash for dining out.

My husband, our two other boys and myself drove up to see J compete the afternoon of the second day.  They were just getting back from lunch, which, J informed me did not wind up being at the cafeteria - instead they went to the Pita Pit.  He said he was good about talking to the folks there, had them change their gloves, clean the counter, and he ordered a salad with grilled meat (after making sure the grill was not used to heat the pitas or anything else that would cross-contaminate).  Yay, J!  I was so proud of him!  It sounded like he did just what he should have and did great.  I must admit that although he is very responsible and understanding about the foods he can/cannot have, he is rather absentminded sometimes.  Pair that with the fact that he's still so young (two years younger than his class peers), and I still worry.

After the competition, they found that they weren't going on so they headed home early, negating the need for dinner on the road.  Other than a short worry that he'd been contaminated by something (a dash to the bathroom shortly after lunch; however, he concluded that it was likely from the soda he'd drank at three of the four meals.  Uh, yeah, that was probably it - we RARELY have soda at home.), the whole trip went very well.  My take-away from it was to prepare, prepare and then have a contingency plan.  With them changing plans and going out to eat for lunch, J would not have had money to buy anything at the store had they stopped for dinner.  He wouldn't have starved, as I'd packed him the extra snacks, but he wouldn't have been happy to have a peanut butter sandwich when everyone else was buying something.  So, next time, I'll send him with a little more cash than anticipated.

His upcoming trip is going to be trickier yet, as it involves a flight.  I'm still trying to work out the details on that one.  I haven't had luck contacting the teacher that is taking the kids, to discuss the food issue.  Their plan is to stay at the teacher's aunt's house, so she'll be providing meals.  However, without prior confirmation, I don't think I'll trust that that will work.  So, I'm trying to figure out quick and easy meal ideas that J can pack in his carry on that will pass the TSA inspection and not require refrigeration or heating.  So far, I've picked up a can of Hormel Dinty Moore Beef Stew that I'm hoping will work (and he can heat it up at the host's house).  I'll also pack some bread and peanut butter, bars, fruit and hoping to make some crackers and beef jerky as well.

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