Monday, October 1, 2007

I'll Keep My Own Bag of Troubles, Thanks

My very good friend Shari once told me about an old Jewish proverb – something about how if we could all put our troubles in a bag and set it on a table, and then pick up someone else’s bag, we’d choose our own again.

Funny how often I think about that.

When my son was 4, we’d already known about his peanut/nut allergy for a couple of years. I was having him retested to see if – against the odds – he’d outgrown it. With kindergarten looming (okay, so it was still a year and a half away – I like to get a head-start on my worrying), I was feeling sorry for myself, wondering why my son had to be cursed with a food allergy that would make normal school lunches anything but normal. How would I keep other kids from rubbing their PB&Js in his hair? What would I do if the teacher insisted all the students make ladybugs out of walnut shells? What if my son got tired of salami sandwiches? O, woe is me!!!

A little over the top, I admit.

To get his blood drawn for the allergy test, we went to a nearby hospital. It happens to be a renowned children’s hospital, with the expertise and facilities that draw young patients from across the western U.S.

As we walked down the hall looking for the out-patient lab, we began passing some of those patients and their parents. There were children in wheelchairs, their bodies crumpled and contorted. There were children on gurneys, hooked up to machines that made sure their hearts kept beating or their lungs kept filling with air. There were children with bright smiles and missing limbs, and others with body parts intact, but a glazed-over look to their eyes that belied other damage.

Meanwhile, my 4-year-old whirlwind was running down the hall, shouting excitedly about the primary-colored mechanical water sculpture in the next lobby. As I tried to keep him from clambering into the fountain or hopping across the benches, I felt like I should be apologizing to all the other parents. This was a place for terribly sick children, I thought to myself. My child wasn’t sick – he just had food allergies!

And just like that, my perspective reset itself. All my self-pity was transformed into a sense of shame, and my own bushel-bag of burdens began to look snack-sized.

What had I been whining about? My kid could run, laugh, climb, and get into a thousand varieties of trouble – all before breakfast! So what if I have to be extra careful about the breakfast he comes into contact with? So what if I have to carry an EpiPen? I and my son have the very good fortune to be living in an age when we have EpiPens, knowledgeable doctors, and an amazing variety of safe foods to choose from.

A few minutes later, my son was asking the nurse a dozen questions about drawing blood, and he watched, fascinated, as she drew his. His sharp little mind was so busy figuring out how the needle and tube worked that he forgot to cry. All the way out the door, he chattered about how the next time I needed blood drawn, he could do it for me.

As we stepped out into the sunshine, I tucked my bag of troubles into my pocket. It felt familiar and – while not quite comfortable – a lot lighter.

Now, whenever someone new says, “Oh, dealing with his allergies must be terrible!” I try to imagine what might be lurking inside their bag of troubles. Then I shake my head, smile, and say, “As challenges go, I’ll keep this one, thanks.”

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