Parents fear it; kids revere it: The seventh- grade field trip. My son’s was hardly a day at the zoo. We’re talking a three-day, coed spring excursion—to Montreal, 500 miles away from our Canadian home. When trip registration rolled around last fall, I was beset by maternal anxieties: Who will chaperone? Will boys and girls be separated? But as the HIV positive mom of a positive 12-year-old who hasn’t disclosed to anyone at school, I worried most about meds. Could he take them without anyone finding out? I know firsthand how hard that can be.
Disclosure is a big step for anyone, especially a kid, and it shouldn’t happen accidentally—like when a pal searches for toothpaste in his dop kit. But I knew how much the journey meant to my social, adventurous, asymptomatic son: He loves to travel and had heard about past trip high jinks since grade five. So, trying to keep an open mind, I attended parent info night. I already knew that the school required a permission form for medications but was prepared to violate that rule and hide them. As I watched slides of kids laughing, playing and, above all, bonding, I wiped tears from my cheeks: I had to find a way to let him go. Then the promo said, “Rooms with private bath.” He could secretly take his meds in the washroom without getting busted.
But would he take them on schedule? He said he would, but I had to be sure, so I rehearsed him at home, in “Mom’s six-week adherence trial.” (The experiment would end, coincidentally, the date of the first nonrefundable deposit.) I had to remind him only once. He responded by asking, “Have you taken your meds, Mom?” I admitted I hadn’t. When I officially said yes to the trip, he was ecstatic.
I thought it was all a done deal, but a month before his departure—while we were shopping for a new suitcase—he said, “Mom, I don’t want to hide my meds.” He didn’t want to be dishonest. I was glad to hear that my son had a conscience. I told him that sometimes I had had to take my meds on the sly and that I could relate. “No, you can’t, Mom,” he replied. “You have never been an HIV positive 12-year old.” He had me there—I was diagnosed at 30. Nonetheless, I explained that sometimes HIV demands discretion. That lesson would be a hard blow both to my son’s youthful idealism and to my own values as a mom—but, much as it pained me, I insisted he hide. He tossed his braided locks and huffed a “fine then.” All I could do was hope for the best.
The trip was a huge success. The kids spotted 10 whales on a boat trip and ate crepes and maple sugar until they were sick. I saw pictures of him modeling cool new shades and a huge smile. True, he hadn’t taken all his meds. He said that on some hurried mornings—with the next-in-line banging on the door—he had to choose between taking his meds and brushing his teeth (his CD4 count and viral load are OK).
Someday, I hope he can feel free to tell his friends he has HIV, but for now, he has no idea how much there is in the world that could hurt him. Indeed, after he got back, I opened his backpack and found something left from a family camping trip that could have gotten us both in big trouble: a Swiss army knife.