You know that feeling when a passion of yours is shared by your offspring because of your influence? When you learn that his or her life is significantly better, nay – richer, because you’ve sagely imparted your wisdom and they have actually cared when you’ve spoken?
Yeah, me neither. Except for the time when my son used a Darth Vader reference as a comeback to being teased about having asthma. That, my friends, was a bona fide parenting win.
You see, I’ve loved Darth Vader – the super-villain from the Star Wars movies – since I was a little girl. He’s tall, has a mask to help him breathe – which adds to his mystery, and always looks chic in his black ensembles. I’ve had the pleasure of watching my son become a major Star Wars fan, and as obsessed with Luke Skywalker’s father as I am. We buy anything that has his image, from candy dispensers to toothbrushes, because all I’d spend my money on otherwise are bills and saving for my family’s future, and where’s the fun in that?
So, yes, I’ve encouraged this obsession with Darth Vader, and do firmly see it as the greatest legacy I could leave my son. So when he constructively used something he’s inherited from me, I felt the way parents do when their small children apply a curse word in the correct context: beyond proud.
This is how it went down.
My son, who's now 10, has a number of food allergies, and as often happens, also has asthma. No big deal - it's very common, and we're super proactive about managing it. For example, every year I send him to school with updated asthma and allergy plans, he has fresh medication that's been put together and properly labelled in a kit by our amazing pharmacist, and we speak to any new teachers about it. We're all set.
But being an "asthma and allergy kid" has a side to it that parents might not foresee: other kids. We discovered a few years ago that asthma and allergies can have a little stigma attached to it. The food allergies always get lots of questions like, "how can you eat bread if you're allergic to eggs?" And there have been a few times when my son's been chased with a peanut butter sandwich or boiled egg, because another child wanted to see what would happen.
Asthma's a little different. Kids who don't have asthma usually don't understand the triggers - for my son, it's a cold and hayfever - so all they see is their classmate struggling for breath and needing an inhaler. Most kids are fascinated more than anything. I remember one of the first times I sent my son to school with a brand new puffer that he could give to himself throughout the day, and it came home empty.
I asked him, "Why is this puffer empty? Did you need it a lot?"
"No," he admitted. "Some of the boys wanted to see what the 'smoke' looked like." So they had spent recess taking turns dispensing it into the air.
Now that was a parenting fail.
Then there have been times when kids have accused my son of 'using' asthma as an excuse for "getting out of things". For example, certain dusty activities at camp or horse-riding. I remember once, he needed his puffer before a football game because he was recovering from a cold, and a teammate laughed at him and said, "That won't help because you're just unfit”.
We learnt that the key was understanding. If my son understood what was happening to him, he could explain it to others. So I got a doctor to explain it to him properly with diagrams, I showed him his asthma action plan, and gave him some words from Asthma Australia that he could use in future:
"Asthma is a lung condition. You have sensitive airways in your lungs which react to triggers like dust or a cold, so you have a ‘flare-up’. The muscles around the airway squeeze tight so the airways swell up and become small and that makes it harder to breathe."
So, with this fantastic parenting behind him, what did my son reply when a classmate said to him soon after that "only weak people have asthma"?
"Darth Vader has asthma and I do too."
Darth Vader, greatest supervillain of all time, scary-heavy-breather who uses The Force against anyone who dares question him.
I had to hand it to my son - it was certainly one way to normalise (or even just explain) asthma to other kids.
And it was certainly another way to impress his mum.
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