Q. My 2-year-old son has asthma which we treat with albuterol nebulizers and steroids, but we still must keep his triggers to a minimum.
This is hard to do. My father and mother (a nurse) smoke, they have a dog and we celebrate every holiday at their house as our family is large and they have the biggest place.
However I ask them to cooperate, they make no effort to keep their cigarette smoke -- or their dog -- away from my son. They say they will try to be better but then they smoke anyway. I'm afraid this leaves us with only one option: My son and my husband will have to stay home and miss our family holiday celebrations.
A. You definitely should spend the holidays with your family, but first you have to decide what family you're talking about.
When you were growing up, your family meant your mother and father and their sibs and your sibs but now your family is made up of you and your husband and your son. Your place is at home with them.
It will be hard to give up those good times with your folks, but don't blame them for making you stay home, don't beg them to change and don't have a pity party either. You're a grown-up and you have to solve your problems in a grown-up way.
Simply tell your parents that you can't spend the holidays with them any more because the doctor says you must keep your son away from smoke and dogs. This flat statement may even be enough to make them change their ways, particularly if you also take your mom with you the next time you go to the pediatrician.
She'll get an update on asthma. When your mother went to nursing school, most doctors thought it was a reaction to psychological stress; now they know better. Laughter, anger or tears can trigger some attacks, but most of them are brought on by cold air or a cold drink; by an allergy or a sensitivity to a food, a dye or an inhalant or by air pollution -- particularly cigarette smoke.
You can't protect your son from all of these triggers, but you must do what you can for as long as his asthma lasts.
If your parents promise to smoke outside -- and you really think they would -- you might try your son at one last party. Kennel the dog first and vacuum the house thoroughly. There may be some dog dander embedded in the rugs and circulating through the air ducts of the heating system, but an electrostatic bag or a HEPA bag in the vacuum can trap these tiny particles quite well.
If these changes are too much for your parents -- or not enough for your son -- there are acceptable compromises: Many restaurants not only have special menus for special holidays, they also have private dining rooms that could accommodate the whole family. If everyone shares the cost, it might be affordable. Or perhaps you could talk your parents into bringing the tribe to your cozy, smoke-free house for a dessert buffet after some of those holiday celebrations. You may not have enough chairs, but the more agile can stand up for their cake and coffee.
Whatever you do, keep in close touch with your parents and your sibs during the rest of the year, but see them on your turf or on neutral turf, so your son can spend time with them too. The more they see him, the more they will love him and the more they will try to respond to his needs.
To learn more about those needs, pass around a copy of "Keys to Parenting the Asthmatic Child" (Barron's, $5.95), by Gerald L. Klein and Vicki Timerman. It might even bring your parents around.
Questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.