If you knew Chase, you’d probably notice his walk. Elbows up, arms pumping, his feet moving swiftly—almost a jog—to get him where he’s going. For Chase, it’s like life is the baseball diamond or soccer field and he’s perpetually heading out from the dugout or sidelines, ready for action. There’s an eagerness to him, a hurriedness, in a way—like he doesn’t want to miss out on one minute of any experience or opportunity. Even if he’s just going from his fifth-grade classroom to the playground.
You’d probably also notice how engaging he is. He draws you into conversations, “Hey, did you see that catch I made out in centerfield?” or “Do you guys want some fries and chicken nuggets?” or “Are those blue eyelashes?” He has the gift of chitchat and enjoys talking about everything from social media crazies to Kevin Hart in Captain Underpants to the design of bowling balls or how to become an umpire. Some kids shy away from conversations with adults—maybe too boring, too embarrassing. Not Chase. The guy loves to talk. With adults, kids, friends, acquaintances—you name it.
If you knew Chase, you’d also know that he always greets you with a smile. Always. After a rush to school in the morning or after a Wiffle ball has landed on his cheek, leaving him with a bloody nose and a mini circular imprint. Or even after his team has lost in the semi-finals of a tournament. With Chase, you get a warm grin and the sense that he’s genuinely glad to see you, whether you bump into him in the parking lot or meet him for an afternoon in the park.
He doesn’t shy away from challenges, either. He never lets discouragement or defeat hang on too long; his next time at the plate after a strikeout, his mind is focused, determined. He’s already forgotten about his last at-bat and is ready to deliver for his team. Facing a tall, intimidating pitcher who’s two years older? No problem. Chase hits a line drive off him. And while he’s got a brother who’s three years younger, whom he likes to pick on and antagonize (just like any big brother) he has a kind, protective heart for other younger ones. He’s the guy who delivers a pep talk to my 8-year-old after a tough time on the mound. He’s also the first one to try to inject some wisdom and levity into a home run derby after a screaming match erupts and a plastic bat flies over a questionable boundary and an alleged dinger.
If you knew Chase, there’d be other things you’d see, too. Like the fact that he sits alone in the school cafeteria, at a trapezoid-shaped table that’s pushed up against the wall in the back corner. A container of brand-name wipes sits atop it, one that his mom has fought tooth and nail to get—including obtaining a doctor’s written note—because this particular brand actually kills the proteins in foods that can spread contaminants, rather than just moving them around the table as some generic wipes do. If you looked up from that table, you’d see the sign, in bold, construction paper block letters: EGG DAIRY ALL NUTS FREE. You might also notice the ever-present black fanny pack with the Epi-Pen that accompanies him wherever he goes.
You see, Chase has life-threatening food allergies. Foods THREATEN HIS LIFE. So he carries his lunch bag to the cafeteria each day—rather than tossing it in the giant lunch bucket that other students use—and drops it off at his table. Most days he sits by himself. Sometimes a friend will join him, with a lunch that has been packed with care, with Chase-safe foods, so he can have some company. Or he walks over to another table with the rest of his classmates and stands there to chat for just a minute. When you ask what he’s doing he says, “I’m talking ‘cause I don’t have anyone to sit with today.”
If you knew Chase, most likely you’d know his mom, too. At six feet tall with blonde hair, she’s striking because of her height, but what would really make an impression is her laugh. Hearty, robust, full of fun; when she laughs, you want to keep laughing with her. She’s a nurse by profession and a master of creativity, teaching art to several classes (not just her boys’) or baking Pinterest-worthy cupcakes and cakes that Chase can enjoy.
But you also might notice the way she scouts out a room with keen perception, taking mental notes of any food remnants that may be lingering. Or you might know that she calls ahead to grocery stores in different states to make sure they carry certain brands of foods before their family flies to a baseball tournament. Or that in the grocery store she reads every single label, every single time, just in case some ingredients have changed.
While other kids devour Big Macs and fries from McDonald’s McTeacher night, Chase settles for a Coke. He doesn’t go in to Starbucks anymore because the milk in the air makes his eyes water. He doesn’t attend team parties in restaurants. He goes to Mariners games only on peanut-free nights.
But what you never hear from Chase?
If you knew Chase, you’d probably grow to love him. And you’d do anything you could to help keep him safe. You’d come to understand that it’s not just for his mom and dad to figure out, but for those around him, too. Whether he’s at school, baseball practice, a movie theater or bowling alley, you’d want to do what you could to protect him. And you’d want him to feel included, not excluded, so you’d start to rethink the way you do things. You’d learn to think differently about cheddar cheese popcorn, the milk in your latte or a beloved Reese’s. You’d learn to wash your hands a little more.
In a little over two months, Chase will leave behind the familiarity of the trapezoid-shaped table topped with brand-name wipes to embark on his middle-school journey. His mom will not only equip him with twenty rolls of Scotch tape and a couple dozen red ballpoint pens in a backpack that weighs the equivalent of ten bricks, but she’ll also send him off with a new plan—one that she’ll work on tirelessly with the school counselor and principal to ensure his safety in a new cafeteria (with a new name: commons), and in a new environment.
But if you knew Chase, I bet you’d see him set off on that adventure ready to take on whatever’s in store, just like it’s a baseball diamond or a soccer field.
And that he’d greet you with a smile.
Because that’s just what he does.