I've been so focused, these past several months, on getting through the daily grind that I haven't been feeling particularly creative. It's happened before -- there are certain rhythms to these things, and sometimes life itself just demands a lot of immediate attention -- so I wasn't worried about it; I knew I'd hit an inspired spell (slash hormonal surge?) sooner or later. I always have a running list of projects I plan to tackle, and Operation New Baby is a fun one: I'm coming up on my third trimester now, too, so nesting to the tune of setting up the baby's space -- hanging his hammock
, framing wall art and perhaps even purchasing some kind of rocking chair -- will not be entirely pre-emptive. In fact, setting up shop in this way will be helpful and necessary, and now, at five and a half (thereabouts) months pregnant, I've finally, as of sometime last week, felt newly energized to do so. Or at least to begin... If not with something necessary, exactly, then with something really personal and fun: A blanket for Baby O! (Yep, we've chosen a name, and will tell you the rest of its letters when little man arrives.)
I've made a bunch of baby quilts
over the past year. I still don't really know how to do much with my sewing machine beyond sewing forwards and backwards, though. Quilts are actually doable within these limited parameters, so I think they're kind of my baby gift 'thing,' even if I swear future renditions off whenever I finish my latest one. (I'm not a patient person, so sewing is a weird hobby to have picked up.) But I'm always drawn back to the fun of fabric-pairing and the satisfaction of seeing a little quilt through to its final, finished stage, not to mention gifting it upon a little person
who'll surely keep it for longer than, say, a wipe-warmer.
It was fun to embark on this quilt knowing I'd be gifting it to my own little bundle, who's been kicking up a storm on the daily, thereby making his presence very much known indeed. (Omigosh, I can't wait to meet him.) I had some shiny-ish gingham fabric left over from my last project, and went searching through the free-box outside of Austin's hippest fabric store/sewing school, Stitch Lab
, in search of other great finds to include in my creation, earlier this week. The box can be a goldmine, but is ultimately hit or miss, and I didn't see anything that spoke to me, so I wandered inside... something I usually refrain from doing, knowing I'll likely spend a small fortune before leaving. As it happened, the store currently has upwards of ten bins filled with (generously sized and neatly cut) Quilt Con
leftovers up for grabs, on the cheap-cheap, and I went a little hog wild... without
breaking the bank. It was meant to be.
I love the fabrics I walked out with. I chose the contrasting patters shown above on the left for the back of the quilt, which I sewed into two large panels. The mod guitar print, and green and blue stripes, compliment the gingham for the main front section, with a fun gray/white/red wavy number as a border on opposite ends. (I'd have rocked the border all around, but my quilt was looking more rectangular at that stage than I liked, so I squared it off instead.) I chose the layout as a change of pace from patchwork -- all of my previous quilts have been of the latter variety -- and this ended up working in my innately-impatient favor; sewing together larger rectangles, rather than countless, smaller squares, was WAY faster when it came to assembly, my least favorite part. (Not only because actually sewing is time consuming, but also because so many things can go wrong... it's more stressful than playing with color.) And I don't think the finished product smacks of slackerdom, either. I'm really happy with the results.
Everything came together without a hitch in the sewing process, too; I didn't have to undo any work, and I didn't sew anything face down or anything like that. My bobbin did run out of thread near the end, at which point I called my friend Jenn
-- who'd sold me the machine when she upgraded -- and she walked we through the re-load over the phone. (She's awesome like that.) Then she came over with her two littles later in the day, to hang out and play; I busted out my masterpiece and her
new baby, Big T, modeled it for me, as per the above pic. He approves.
Kaspar and Lil' J make Big T smile. Cute explosion.
So I'm back in the groove, ready to start making our place really truly baby-ready. (Jenn and I even set up a new bouncer I've kept in its box since purchasing, for Big T to break in. Now there's a bouncer in our living room and Baby O's impending arrival is feeling very real.) I should probably get some work done in the remainder of this week -- cuz, yeah, I pretty much spent an entire workday creating this quilt -- but my list is calling to me, and I have big plans
in store. Stay tuned!
How do you like Baby O's blanket? What are some fun projects you did/are doing while in nesting mode? Was five months a magically re-energized point in pregnancy for any of you, too? What are your favorite things to make for new babies?
My friend Nicole interviewed me recently for a piece she's writing for LiveMom Austin
on parenthood-prompted career changes. I thought you might enjoy our raw Q&A, candid and unedited. Give it a read and then share with the class in the comments below: Did you change your work/life arrangements when you became a mom or pop? How so? Was it worth it?Nicole: How old was Kaspar when you decided to do something different, work-wise? Was the decision a long time in coming, or was it precipitated by some event?
Taylor: Kaspar was six months old when I left my position in corporate media – I worked on the web side of magazines – in New York and moved to Texas. Titles were folding right and left and the industry was changing; although my position was secure, I’d never felt completely comfortable placing all of my eggs in one basket. I watched productive, hard-working people get laid off through annual several rounds of 4th quarter “restructuring” while others who were clearly incompetent were promoted. I liked the people I worked for, and among, at the point I left, but I knew that ultimately my job could end at any time for any reason, and since I didn’t have time to cultivate anything else – or much in the way of savings, as NYC is crazy expensive and I shacked up with an artist instead of a finance man – I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on if I were to lose my job. I’d felt unfulfilled by the corporate game for a while, although I played it well. But when I suddenly had a child in the mix, time took on an entirely new meaning for me; I didn’t want a nanny raising my kid. I wanted control of my days, and my destiny.
I’d always been a good writer, but worked with freelancers (from the inside – we often hired them to write our content) and didn’t envy their pitch-for-peanuts way of life (without any corporate perks… which, by the way, are not 'worth it'). I didn’t even attempt writing in the city. On the day before my wedding, at three months knocked up, I’d gotten a massage, in New Hampshire. The woman who gave it to me wasn't much older than I was. She had a community trade school certificate on the wall. She'd just bought a house in the neighboring town. She made her own schedule, she took long walks and ran errands during her lunches. And she didn't have to report back to anyone upon her return. She was smart and at ease, pretense-free. I thought of my fancy college education, the daily subway commute, the senseless layoffs, tallied sick days, professional titles. I thought of the many salesmen (or whomever) who’d confessed to me in taxi cabs on the way to off-site meetings that they dreamed of quitting, becoming teachers “or something… I could move my family into a smaller house, right?” Even my first boss in New York – a six foot, perfectly polished power-playing blonde who never cracked – once told me in a tipsy frenzy that she feared no one loved her, even her kids, and that she in fact despised herself. When I got that massage, and reflected on all of these things, I thought, "What the fuck am I doing? This chick has it all figured out."
I’d followed a certain path (by day, anyway) that sounded impressive when anyone asked, “So what do you do?” but it wasn’t the path for me. In that respect, the decision was a long time coming, but I didn’t know how I was going to go about pursuing something else until Kaspar was born. I spent my maternity leave scoping out other cities (my husband’s work is portable and had been actually unsustainably slow anyway for about six months by then), and I began writing for some of the parenting-related titles I worked for, for free, to accrue some clips. I interviewed at a massage school in the city, but it would have cost 26 grand (plus 1,000 hours) to attend, which didn't make any sense for me, as a new mom working full time. I went back to work – after negotiating my Fridays off – when my mat leave was up, but I already had one foot out the door. We were just barely getting our sea legs as parents, and Kaspar was having severe skin and digestive issues (it took us about another year to really figure out what was going
on with him – he has food allergies – and that year was not an easy one), and he needed me. I think all of these things culminated at a certain point and I knew it was just time to jump. Did you feel that work was part of your identity? If so, did you struggle with your decision to make a career change or the transition which happened afterwards? What helped you manage the transition?
I did feel that work was a part of my identity. I secured a job in Austin before moving, an administrative position at UT. It was more than a few steps down, in terms of title and responsibilities, than the rung to which I’d quickly risen (mostly by faking it) on the corporate ladder. I’d enjoyed playing the corporate part in that I was competitive and good at it; I didn’t have much regard for rank and could speak confidently to just about anyone (even if I was totally full of shit... looking back I'm sure many people could see this and simply humored me because I was so gung ho) and I liked that I took people by surprise – from my colleagues in New York to my parents, back home. I hadn’t landed in the corporate world in the way most people do. I hadn’t aimed there all my life or anything. I’m heavily tattooed, studied Buddhism in college, worked as a stripper for a few years towards the end college – I am fiercely independent and wanted real money so I could travel and, essentially, have options (I finished school early, too, as I thought I might otherwise not finish at all) – and I had friends in all sorts of interesting places... but I was clearly not following a prescribed course, and I think many people wondered where I’d ‘end up’. Then there I was rocking it in the big city, running with the big dogs. There’s a lot of ambition in New York, which I love, but there’s also a lot of ego wrapped up in that. There certainly was for me at that time, for sure.
At the same time, falling in love and starting a family brought my more authentic desires and dreams forward; I couldn’t ignore them. They’d never remained far below the surface, anyway. And by the time I took that admin job in Austin (which I still have, and which allows me to mostly work from home, allowed me to go to massage school while still collecting a monthly salary, and allowed me the flexibility to help my sick baby when he needed me most, and now, still, to spend every afternoon with him) I had different priorities. I didn’t care about titles anymore, or what people thought; I cared about my lifestyle and my freedom. People I knew couldn’t necessarily understand why I’d ‘throw away’ what I’d accomplished in my early career, but I knew what I was doing. I didn’t throw it all away, either; having worked on the inside gave me the freelance connections to actually work as a writer from the moment I arrived in Austin. (Which has helped enormously in terms of paying the bills and being my own boss over the last two years.)
As far as managing the transition goes, laying the groundwork by getting a part time job in advance of the move, and setting up some regular freelance jobs (contracts jobs that paid me monthly) helped, but it was hard. We’d just barely gotten married and had a baby, we weren’t getting any sleep, we left our friends and our support system and moved thousands of miles away, and we cleaned out our bank accounts doing so, without much of a sense for how we’d really get by once here. It felt like a huge risk in some respects, and I questioned whether I’d done something truly destructive to my family by following through with this crazy idea in the first place. When you were "growing up", did you factor kids into the equation when you decided what lines of work you would pursue?
Not at all. I was a babysitter for years and years and was often asked if I wanted to eventually become a teacher, but I never considered it. I did dream of having a partner, and kids, of my own though. Education and career labels were really prized in my family and the culture I was raised in, however, and relationships were something of an afterthought, at least in terms of ‘planning’ what one wanted to ‘be.’ I’m actually so glad I got pregnant at the relatively young age of 25, because I wasn’t so immersed in an inflexibly successful career (or the expensive lifestyle that accompanies it) that I couldn’t imagine another way to go about living. But there weren’t a lot of models in my world for truly balancing motherhood with a fulfilling way of working. I knew women who worked all the time, and other women who stopped working entirely, when they had kids. It seemed like an either/or decision. But stopping working wasn’t an option for me, so I invented a new way instead. What was harder than you thought and easier than you thought about the transition to leaving the 9-5 world and entering the world o' freelancing? Any advice to others who are contemplating a change?
I had a comparatively easy time of it getting clients and having enough (often more than enough) work. I told myself I’d write for as long as the work was forthcoming, but I wasn’t going to write for free – or pitch – once I got to Austin, and I haven't had to. I can attribute this to an innate ability to identify opportunities before they’re obvious to everyone else, to hustle so that those opportunities become mine, and to perform under inhospitable circumstances. (I spent many nights working for hour-long chunks of time in between attending to my eczema-covered, barely-sleeping baby, in the beginning. Not a lot of fun.) I also would not have been able to do any of these things as well as I do had I not worked on the ‘inside’ – I know how websites and companies work, what editors need and want, and even how to use back-end systems so as to publish my own work (or produce other content, which I’ve done for extra freelance dollars) online. And I know a lot of people who’ve also gone freelance since working for titles that later folded, laid these friends off, or what have you. Like any industry, the kind of freelance writing I do puts me in good company with a small community of people who move around, switch roles, and hook each other up with work as they go. I pay it forward as much as possible, too. Writers and editors are a lovable bunch.
Juggling everything has been harder than I imagined. I have a part time job that I only do sometimes, I do freelance writing, I went to massage school (on the part-time clock) and now have a massage job, and I’m a mom to a three year old, with a baby on the way. I keep a lot of balls in the air. This is logistically challenging, at times, but the biggest challenge has been learning to stay focused and, more importantly, present. I did all
of this so I could love my life, right? If I’m checking my email on my phone, or thinking about a project, or worrying about a paycheck, while also playing with my kid, I’m not doing what I set out to, and the whole thing was pointless to begin with. So I bring myself back to the present moment again and again, enjoying it for all it’s worth.What sacrifices do you feel you have made, if any?
We don’t ever know for sure how much money is coming in. That can be challenging, especially with kid-related costs in the mix. Last year was juicy – I had several easy, high-paying freelance jobs come through, and so did my hubs. But he lost his one really reliable gig last month, and my juicy client cut their budgets this year, by two-thirds. Of course we also just paid taxes, which cleaned out the savings our boom year helped us build. Freelancing requires a stomach for the unpredictable, and an ability to evolve. My husband’s had a harder time of it, actually, and is looking into learning computer programming as a reliable way to pay the bills that will still allow him time to do freelance illustration. Likewise, I pursued massage as a way to make money by showing up and working hard (and then, an important point, physically leaving), and I love my massage job; it provides me with a sense of balance, and, yes, some security.
Honestly, though, the 9 to 5 world’s ‘security’ is unpredictable, too; the main title I’ve been writing for (which was housed among the titles I worked with, full time, while in New York) was bought this week by a competitor, everyone was laid off, and publication is being ceased almost immediately. The entire team of people who’ve been working there -- people I've worked with for several years, and who I respect immensely -- are now out of work. It’s awful, and it happens all the time. This isn’t just a magazine industry thing, either. I think the world of gainful employment has changed since the recent economic crash. Everyone is a free agent now; full time, company-signed employment works well for some people and is perfect for certain times in life, but it’s not fail safe, and even the people playing the game know that’s true. Or they should. What lies ahead for you, career-wise?
I’m going to have this baby and spend this
mat leave focusing on being a mom, instead of launching a new career and plotting a move across the country! My part time job is on a yearly cycle, and its annual lull will come at the perfect time to allow me to take this time off for mothering, without a pay cut. Then I’ll go back to massaging a few days a week, doing the part time work mostly from home, and writing (which I might continue to do throughout new-baby days; we'll see). I think, given the general freelance climate and my own recent urge for expansion, I'm even game for a round of networking and pitching; I'd like to write for some new titles and expand my repertoire.
The other day, someone at my massage job saw me checking online on some comments on an article I wrote. She didn’t know I write, and that I used to run web departments or whatever. She did know that my husband’s been looking for work – i.e. our finances are not always awesome -- and she asked me, upon getting the quick gist that I left one thing to start another, “Was it worth it?” (Climbing down off the ladder…) And, “Will you eventually go back, when your kids are bigger?” I told her it was worth it, and I’ll never go back. Then she paused and said, “I could see you maybe doing this,” gesturing toward the walls around us. “Maybe starting a spa, or a business.” And yeah, I could see myself doing something like that, too, but for now I’m really content to grow what I do by way of natural next steps, rather than another massive overhaul. That had to happen, but hopefully just the one time. How does your experience in changing careers influence how you talk to kids about what they want to be when they "grow up"?
I try not to talk to kids about that, and instead to talk about who they are now, what brings them joy and makes them laugh and live most fully. I meet a lot of different people and one thing I know for sure is that we never ‘arrive’ in the way we think we might. We are all in progress, always, until the end. I don’t want to trick kids into thinking life is to be lived later. Dreams and goals are hugely important; they allow us to see ourselves in places we haven’t yet explored. They allow us to take steps in those directions. But taking steps at all and staying open to new possibilities is what counts. The world opens up in unfathomably perfect ways when we can do that all the time.
Celebrating the Spring Solstice on the morning after the ER. Nothing like a new kazoo to keep it posicore.
We had our second run-in with anaphylaxis a couple of weeks ago, on a Friday night. Kaspar tasted some mustard -- which he'd eaten a few times before without recourse -- with his chicken at dinner, then ventured out to the backyard while Aaron and I finished our meal. The yard is entirely fenced in, and we can see most of it through the sliding glass doors that look out onto our porch; our table sits next to the doors, inside. We've been enjoying Kaspar's recent habit of playing out there after dinner, as it allows us to have a few minutes to actually speak to each other in full sentences while the little man burns off his last bursts of daytime energy before his bath and bedtime routine begin. Kaspar, for his part, has been feeling like quite the independent dude on his solo play-escapes, though he pops up to the porch to tell us things through the doors every three or four minutes when he's out there. I'm sure this makes him feel more secure, and it provides a perfect way for us to keep close track of him while still playing it casual; he
doesn't think we're actively supervising, even though we are. On that Friday, he went down his slide a few times, pushed his Tonka truck around the back of the house (the blind spot -- we can't see him when he runs around there) and then reappeared at the doors, all smiles: "Hi!" I took one look at him, slid open the doors and lifted him onto a chair inside; his upper lip was beginning to swell in the middle, just where it had when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to some lentils
almost exactly two years ago. During that episode, the rest of his mouth had quickly followed suit; my baby tore at his throat with his hands while he struggled to breathe, and Aaron called 911 while I administered an Epi Pen into Kaspar's thigh. This time, Kaspar wasn't having any trouble breathing, but I knew what we were dealing with, and how quickly his condition could -- and most likely would -- change. I grabbed a Benadryl (they're pretty much always within reach at our place, although we rarely have to use them anymore)
, gave it to Kaspar, and then explained to him that his lips were swelling a little bit and that he was probably having an allergic reaction; I told him we might need to go to the hospital, and we might need to use an Epi Pen. I'm not sure if he really even knew what these things meant in practical terms. We talk about food allergies all the time, obviously, and Kaspar's had minor reactions to foods since that terrible ordeal two years ago, but never any facial swelling and never again an Epi Pen. (If his eyes start itching or he gets hives, a Benadryl followed by close monitoring are usually enough to nip it in the bud.) Our allergist told us, during our annual round of testing and appointments last year, to use the Epi immediately if we do see any lip-swelling, but since Kaspar seemed otherwise fine on that recent Friday, Aaron and I decided to give it five minutes post-Benadryl before making a decision: If Kaspar had gotten any worse, we'd have used the Epi pen right away. If he improved, we'd call his pediatrician's after-hours line, get some advice, and continue monitoring. If nothing changed, we decided, we'd call 911 and take it from there. Thankfully, he didn't worsen in that five minutes. But his lip was still swollen. Significantly so. I talked to him calmly about how he was okay, and was going to be okay; I told him I'd be with him every step of the way if we had to go to the hospital. My eyes left his face only to watch the second hand creep around the clock. At the five minute mark, my gaze met Aaron's. I said, "I'm going to call 911." "Do you think we need to?" Aaron said.
(Kaspar's condition was alarming but not entirely foreign to us, and on the spectrum of anaphylaxis-related symptoms, his were pretty mild. That said, anaphylaxis to any degree is not, by definition, 'mild.' No one wants to give a kid an Epi pen injection and spend Friday night in the ER, but we both knew that this was probably exactly what we were about to do.)"Yes, his lip is swollen. People D-I-E from this, Aaron; we have to go by the book.
We can wait on the Epi, but I'm going to call.""Okay, yeah." Aaron said.
"Call.""D-I-E. Die," Kaspar said. We looked at him. (He looked pretty pleased with himself. And swollen-lipped.) Aaron and I talked about this later ("Did you hear him say that? How did he know what that spelled?") but in the moment, we were moving quickly, and we didn't comment. Aaron stayed with Kas while I took my phone into the bedroom and called 911. I explained the situation, and the operator said an ambulance was on the way, and that we'd need to go ahead and use the Epi pen. With the phone on speaker (911 prefers that you don't hang up until in-person help arrives), I held Kaspar on my lap while Aaron gave him the shot. I told him it would hurt, but reassured him that it was going to help him and that the pain wouldn't last for long.
He whimpered for a minute and I hugged him tightly. Then we heard sirens, and, a few moments later, opened the front door. As our neighbors poured out of their houses toward ours, four first-responder firemen surrounded us, got a handle on the situation, and then asked if it would be okay if they came into our home. Two minutes later, an ambulance pulled up and two EMTs joined us there.
Kaspar was still doing well; his throat wasn't closing, but the EMTs told us that reactions sometimes quickly take a turn for the worse half an hour, or more, later, and that we did the right thing by using the Epi pen. They took Kaspar's vitals and asked us questions about what had happened, what foods Kaspar's allergic to, his history with all of this, and so forth. Last time, we'd been rushed into an ambulance and immediately to the ER, lights and sirens blazing. This time, the scene felt like it was under control; I was scared, but not terrified. I was focused. We were all mutlitasking -- I was holding Kaspar and answering questions, Aaron was answering questions and packing a bag, the EMTs were asking questions and taking Kaspar's oxygen levels, collecting the used Epi pen and Benadryl dosage information, and so forth. Kaspar was pointing to the machines the EMTs had brought inside and asking all kinds of questions of his own.We did need to ride in the ambulance (Kaspar thought this was pretty cool), and go to the ER. I rode with Kaspar while Aaron followed in our car, just like last time. I breathed deeply and talked to Kaspar throughout the ride. I focused on staying present, breathing, and nodded "Okay, yes, I understand," when the EMT prepped another epinephrine injection, "Just in case his lips swell any more."
The EMT's were kind, and wonderful with Kaspar, and with us. The hospital staff, too, were all attentive, gentle, and kind. We know so much more now than we did last time, and we were able to provide the pros with the right info, and to explain matter-of-factly that Kaspar'd had mustard before but had reacted only this time. They could tell we know what we're dealing with and that we didn't need the regular spiel, during our visit, on the dangers of food allergies. We didn't need to think about anyone D-I-E-ing. We needed to get Kaspar into a definitely-stable zone, and then get our little boy home. We stayed for several hours -- there's a certain amount of monitoring time required after an Epi pen injection -- and then, after Kaspar was given some oral steroids and we received instructions to give him another Benadryl at 1 a.m. (both of these medications would keep him safe from a rebound reaction overnight, and the steroids would keep him in the clear for 36 hours while the allergen made its way out of his system), we were discharged. Despite being hopped up on, um, six or seven little plastic cups of apple juice, Kaspar fell asleep as soon as he was strapped into his car seat. He slept right through Aaron carrying him from the car to his bed when we got home, and through wetting it twice overnight (apple juice revisited), until morning. I slept beside him, in that awake-sleep moms master when we have newborns, listening throughout the night to the sound of my son's deep, rhythmic breathing.
We'd been planning to celebrate the spring solstice the following morning; Aaron and I made breakfast and then gave Kaspar his 'Solstice Basket.' I'd gone a little overboard with gifts, and at that moment, I was happy to be able to spoil him. He looked a little worse for the wear -- hair matted, dark circles around his eyes -- and he was a bit lethargic, but he was delighted to set up our solstice centerpiece and blow bubbles around the kitchen. I learned the next day, from a coworker whose 13-year-old nephew has had to self-administer an Epi pen due to a life-threatening dairy allergy, that an anaphylactic reaction (followed by adrenaline and steroid treatment) causes a person to feel pretty gross for several days after it all takes place. This isn't surprising -- any kind of severe shock has got to take a major toll on all of the body's systems -- but it did stop me in my tracks as I reflected on Kaspar's enthusiasm for his usual passions during the day after his ordeal. After our Solstice celebration, Aaron went to his Saturday animation class, and Kaspar and I spent the day together at home. He kicked his soccer ball around, asked me to play music so he could dance, and generally romped at about 80% of his usual romp-capacity. I, on the other hand, felt relieved, but wiped out, physically and emotionally. I played with Kaspar, hugged him a million times, felt grateful that our experience the previous evening had been a relatively tame one compared with our first ER trip, but my mind spun: Kaspar's allergies are supposed to be going away. He's not supposed to be developing new allergies. Do we need to start being wary of all spices? (I'd known mustard is related to sesame, which Kas is super allergic to, but very few people have a cross-reaction between the two.) His reaction had happened so quickly; what if he hadn't come running back to the doors, from behind the house, to say hi? How long would I have gone on with my dinner before calling his name and checking on him?
And then the bigger questions: is he really safe at school every day? We take every precaution, but what if something like this set in while he was on the playground? Are his teachers watching him? How will he go to high school? Will he have to prepare all of his own meals in college? How will he date? How will he travel? What will his life be like?
And the thought I wouldn't let myself think, but that hung overhead like a dark cloud: This is real. This is still serious, it happened again. One mistake and my child could D.I.E.
After a few days, we'd resumed our normal routine, and Kaspar was doing great. My spinning thoughts had also calmed down. We had our annual allergy testing appointment scheduled for the following Wednesday; I'd thought we might hold off to give Kaspar a break, but the previous Friday felt long past, and we went as planned. We did some skin testing, and ran blood tests a few days later. Not surprisingly, Kaspar's mustard skin test yielded a giant red welt. He is highly allergic to mustard now, and one of only a handful of our allergist's patients who is. It was a relief, in a way, to confirm this; now we know to avoid mustard. And while it was unsettling to acknowledge that Kaspar has definitely developed a few new allergies over the past year -- fish and annatto, a natural coloring -- among them, his overall situation is still steadily (in fact, dramatically) improving. On the skin testing day, we learned that he can now safely eat bananas and avocados. Our allergist also reassured us that tons of research is being done on kids' food allergies; they're now epidemic in our society, which has spurred great progress and funding into finding true cures. (I'd asked "How will Kaspar go to college?" aloud, and he said, "There will be a cure by then.") He also reassured us that families who know about their kids' food allergies manage them very effectively; Epi pens are a must, and they're not fun, but they save lives when they need to. What counts is that we have them. Kaspar is going to be okay. I found this deeply reassuring. But the most powerful information our allergist passed on came a few days later, when he called to give us some truly astonishing news: Kaspar's most severe allergies, across the board, have come down by 50% over the past year. Peanut, two years ago, clocked in at a 70 (lentils were at a whopping 90-something); last year peanut had come down to a 40. This year it's at a 21. Other nuts, soy, wheat, eggs and so forth have likewise followed suit. Oats are probably okay to eat -- 'probably' enough that I was given the green light to try them at home. (Haven't done that yet. We're still partying hard over bananas.) Fish was all over the place. We'll need to re-test that to know what's up.
To provide some perspective, the 'safe zone' for a food is a score of 2 or less. We still have a ways to go, and Kaspar still definitely cannot eat those foods he's allergic to. But our allergist told us last year, and this year, that with this many allergies at these levels, he didn't have any expectation we'd see much improvement, and certainly not at this pace. The chances of kids with one or two food allergies growing out of them are pretty good, but this isn't so -- statistically -- for kids like Kaspar. His initial allergy counts were shockingly high, not just to me, but in the eyes of the allergist, who does this day in and day out. They're still up there, but nowhere near where they were. "Keep doing everything you're doing," he told me over the phone.
K, ready for skin testing. Such a trooper.
After the ER, I felt overwhelmed by our situation, which is to say utterly stalled, like we're stalked by a threat that will never let go. Like it happened again, and it wasn't as bad, but it can
happen again, with new foods. The questions spun and spun. How will Kaspar have a normal life? Will he ever be safe? Will he be happy?
Kaspar lives entirely within our orbit right now, and cooking all of his food, making raw milk yogurt, and ensuring nothing crosses his plate that he can't eat is a matter of daily life for me. But as I looked ahead to school trips, summer camps and soccer teams, I realized how disruptive this could all become for him, how his participation in events and activities will always come with questions about what and how he'll eat. And of course there's the question of access to emergency care if it were to become necessary. A friend recently sent me this New York Times Magazine article
about a new food allergy therapy that's shown some promise (our allergist actually does not recommend this at this point; it can cause major side effects like esophagitis -- and definitely anaphylaxis, although that theoretically happens under controlled circumstances -- and results have not been shown to be lasting...); while I was fascinated by the treatment it describes, I was also struck by the description the author offers of her family's own reality, and those of the other families profiled in the piece. She described our reality
. And reading it, I realized -- as much as our lives are pretty calm now, as much as we have our system down -- our reality is extreme. And it's scary. At times, any given moment that we don't see coming, when our kid runs around a corner and his mouth is starting to swell, it's terrifying.
But after our appointment with our allergist, and after his phone call... and even now... I am ecstatic. We do have our system.
And we have our Epi pens for the scary moments we never see coming, but they are rare. We're prepared for them. Kaspar takes his Chinese herbs and drinks his raw milk and his fresh juice and eats a great, ever-expanding diet (who needs fish?) and his allergies are getting better
. Last year
was not a fluke. His numbers are coming down. By a LOT. Defying odds. Surprising all of us. When he was a baby, he was miserable and so were we, and it seemed we'd never find our way out. And now I'm allowing myself to think a thought I haven't quite permitted full formation in my mind, because it seemed impossible, and almost too wonderful to imagine, almost scary to imagine for its radical promise, hovering over my head in these years of mothering: when Kaspar goes to college, it's possible he won't have any food allergies at all. This might not follow him forever. Maybe not for much longer, even. These allergies are going away
. Every single one of them. I finally, firmly believe that they can, and I'm determined to see that they do.
I've been a little MIA on the blogging scene, both over at Parenting.com
and here on Alt-Mama, since the New Year; you may have guessed from my not-so-subtle hints
that hormonal things are happening which can explain my relative quiet. As in, I'm a little bit pregnant... about seven weeks. Yay! I'm excited, crazy-hungry, a bit nauseated, and tired; between massage brain and baby brain, there hasn't been a lot of writing going on. That being said, good writing (and reading, for y'all) awaits, as I'm going to be back on Parenting's Project Pregnancy blog -- where I documented all things pregnancy #1
back in 2009/2010 -- shortly. And I have fun things planned for Alt-Mama, too. So strap in. It's about to be bump-watch (plus nesting plus all-around prenatal par-tay) time.
Houston, we have a (cute!) heartbeat.
I know I'm letting the secret out 'early,' but I'm okay with this. I actually didn't even know about the twelve week safety zone when I was pregnant with Kaspar; consequently, all of our friends and family knew we were knocked up by, like, four weeks. (As with this pregnancy, I got a positive test very early on.) Only then did someone at work gasp in alarm (pregnancy news spreads quickly) and tell me I could very well miscarry -- she said it just like that -- which sent me into a fit of nail-biting until the end of my first trimester, which, coincidentally, coincided exactly with my wedding day. Now, I know miscarriage is indeed common (20% of pregnancies... that's a lot), and in fact that woman at work who brought me up to speed had experienced a few more than a few miscarriages herself (she has since, through the wonders of modern medicine, delivered a healthy baby boy). But if my Kaspar-fetus survived wedding-planning stress -- which he obviously did -- I know for sure that the experts aren't lying when they say there's nothing one can or can't do to prevent a miscarriage from happening. Either the baby's gonna stick, or it's not. And while I of course feel deeply for mamas who've miscarried or had pregnancy-related difficulties (my own mom struggled with some of this), and I'm well aware it happens to perfectly healthy women all the time, I also try to bear in mind that the stories of multiple-miscarriages others have told me are not my
story. I want to be excited, enjoy this first trimester, and -- above all else -- keep fear and 'what if's' at bay.
I believe every woman should handle early pregnancy, miscarriage, pregnancy-at-large and birth in whatever ways feel right to her. Each mama's stories are different, and our stories are deeply personal. So personally, while I feel a sense of community and empathy with all mamas everywhere, living our different lives and our different stories, I'm choosing to focus on positive stories for the purposes of pregnancy #2. I well remember the excitement of pregnancy, but also a certain tendency toward fearful
pregnancy that pervades our culture, and is also often, if inadvertently, shared and spread among women ourselves. Whether we're scheduling our next 'screening' for some (barely) potential problem, or hearing other mamas tell of days-long, painful labors and emergency C-sections, it's easy to get caught up in an expectation that, at any moment, something might go wrong. Well you know what? It's not my first rodeo. And I know that, of course, something could go wrong. At any moment. It probably won't, but if it does, I can handle it, and I know I'll have the support and love of our family, our friends, and you good readers out there. In the meantime, tell me positive stories
. I promise to tell positive stories, too.
I have a few things I could
be afraid of during this pregnancy. I have a blood clot history
, and therefore am classified as high-risk; I'd like to have a pretty hands-free pregnancy and a home birth -- a safe and wonderful option
for low-risk pregnant women -- but instead I'm working with a wonderful doctor and a doula (TBA), and injecting myself with blood thinners every day. I did that last time, too. Unlike last time, I know what questions to ask and I know what I do and don't want in delivering my baby. As it turns out, I probably won't have to be induced, and I can probably have a natural birth in a hospital setting. So that's cool. The other thing that's nagging at the back of my mind is, obviously, a food allergy and eczema remix. What we went through with Kaspar was really hard for all of us. It took me a while to even consider the possibility of pregnancy again
, knowing that a food-allergic baby #2 is indeed slightly more probable for us than for a family without allergies in the mix. But statistics, (positive) stories from other allergy mamas, and my doctor, have assured me that it's far from guaranteed our second baby will have any allergies at all. Doctors have no idea why, but many families have one kid with countless allergies, and other kids with none. And some studies show that eating nuts during pregnancy prevents food allergies, while other studies show the opposite. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason around this topic yet, and not a lot of knowledge. Even so, I'm going to avoid eating the major allergens during my second and third trimester, and I have an appointment scheduled with Kaspar's TCM doctor to see if there are some herbs I can take to help prevent any allergic issues in my baby. And if this baby does show symptoms similar to baby-Kaspar's, we'll know what we're dealing with, and we will be fine.
Blood thinner injections. Yeehaw.
I am declaring this a Fear-Free Pregnancy
, no matter what happens, and knowing full well that this is life, and sometimes -- in life -- shit goes down. I'm focusing on feeling awesome, and visualizing a happy, healthy me, and a happy, healthy baby. I'm drinking a lot of juice
. And eating a lot of carnitas tacos. I'm dreaming up names. I'm bracing myself for two small kiddos, as my one small kiddo creeps up on turning three. Age two was far from terrible -- we had one week of difficulty
, which was about the extent of it -- and was a piece of cake, I suspect, compared to what's in store. Kaspar is as joyful and animated as ever, but this age is, um, something. Everything that already took twice as long as it did now takes twice as long as that ("Kaspar, please climb into the car... Kaspar, please get into your car seat... Kaspar, please get in the car... Kaspar, please stop pressing the buttons on the door and climb into the car.... Kaspar-get-into-the-car..."), and Kaspar's constant questions reflect new layers of comprehension that often catch me unaware (yesterday: "If you like what
than you should have put a ring on what
?"). He hears everything, feels deeply, and talks and moves continuously. This is a fun stage -- this boy of mine is so loving and funny and sweet, it's amazing -- but I'm pretty much exhausted all the time, and it takes a lot to make me tired. I am excited, though, for the months to come, for baby time, and to watch my baby #1 grow into his role as big brother.
What do you think about the twelve week safety zone, early pregnancy, and first trimester changes? How have your second (or third, etc.) pregnancies differed from your first? Suggestions on great pregnancy books for positive stories? What's essential in a good doula? (We'll be interviewing next week.) Thanks for joining our family on this journey!
At the Austin Children's Museum
Kaspar’s been on winter break what-feels-like-FOREVER up in here; its first half was chockablock full, between a sinus infection (first antibiotics in well over a year for the little guy, and they took care of the infection but brought on some eczema flashbacks… we rocked the probiotics, herbs and coconut oil, though, and took that eczema OUT) and, of course, holiday shenanigans
. Which were super fun. By New Year’s Day, however, Aaron and I realized that our house was in chaos and our kid was going stir-crazy, so we came up with a list of activities to get us through to next Tuesday, when his break ends. So far we’ve hit up the Austin Children’s Museum
and a fish store (it doesn’t take much, thankfully); also in the works are a visit from his Grandmother, some pottery-painting, and perhaps a trip to one of those bouncy-house places… although I’m not exactly eager to head back to the pediatrician just yet, so we may skip that last one (bouncy house place = germ factory, no?).
In the meantime, we’ve had a great start to this new year; I just have a good feeling about 2013. The sinus infection (and preceding general sickness-season
) notwithstanding, we've had some exciting things happen lately, and there's more fun ahead. Here's a sampling:
1. I got a massage job at a swank-but-not-stuffy (more design-forward, fancy-hip, if you know what I mean) spa right downtown, which means I’m always booked when I work, and I’m paid well for my time (not a guarantee in this field, but something that really matters, for obvious reasons). On top of that, the company is extremely employee-friendly; they’re careful not to burn their people out, and provide full benefits, paid vacation time, etc. I’ve taken on three shifts a week, still have my afternoons off to be a mama, and, so far, genuinely like every manager, co-worker and client I’ve crossed paths with. I can still do my writing
work and other part-time job without things getting too crazy (except maybe once or twice a year, but I can handle it!), and I still have full flexibility and control over my schedule. This is exactly what I hoped for, and planned; it’s been an interesting, improvisational journey since leaving the nine-to-five world, but I will never go back! My freedom means too much to me. I’m so glad I took a chance on fate to find it. Hooray for work we love.
2. Did you see Alt-Mama (plus Aaron!) on Apartment Therapy
yesterday? Woot! I love that website… or empire of websites, rather. Good stuff.
3. Kaspar’s moving on up to preschool-proper -- at his current Montessori school but with a new class and new teachers -- in a few weeks. Then he’s turning three
in February. This is all kind of blowing my mind. I wrote a sappy, but wholly earnest note to his teacher before the holiday break, telling her how we weren’t sure he’d even be okay (as in, safe) in a classroom environment: now we are certain he’ll thrive in the world, and not just in terms of safety. This past year and a half has been amazing for him; his allergy stuff has gone from a pretty debilitating situation to a very manageable one
, and he has blossomed as a confident, kind, funny, smart, joy-filled little person. Preschool
, y’all. It’s happening. Whoa.
4. Speaking of turning three, and improved allergy stuff, we’re coming up on our next round of allergy testing for Kas. I am hoping to get some very good news in February and to add some new foods to Kaspar’s plate – maybe some legumes? Avocado? Who knows?? Please send good juju for lower allergy counts across the board; I am really hoping hard on this end that we'll see last year's trend
continue and that Kaspar's world will become just a little bit tastier (and a little less scary).
5. I’m feeling primed to take on some major organizational projects around here. Our closets have somehow filled with boxes and we don’t know exactly what’s in them. I’ll find out, and keep you posted. We’re also finally hanging our art, and I’ve been pinning up a storm
for a few months now, so have a host of home-improvements in mind for near-future execution. (Anyone know anything about indoor plants? Or hammocks? Hit me up.) Our home is our sanctuary, after all, and although it might be kind of messy right now -- housecleaning and school vacations simply do not mix – we have a vision for this little abode, and 2013 is our year.
6. There’s another very exciting something happening right now (way more exciting than home improvements, even) that I can’t tell you about just yet. But stay tuned! Other than Aaron, my mom and my best friend, you readers will be the first to know. ;-)
How's your 2013 so far? Any resolutions, inspirations, or plans? Tell all (or hint at surprises) in the comments below!
Keepin' it real on the resolutions front, and wishing you worlds of wonderful in 2013.
Kaspar happily piled a bowl-full of veggies onto the pizza... and then ate them ALL.
While I always dreamed Kaspar would one day eat chocolate chip cookies (Alt-Mama style, of course, i.e. super healthy and super delicious), Aaron's big food goal for our very-food-allergic little man has been a slice of pizza. I think it's a guy thing. It seemed appropriate enough, though; Kas hails from Brooklyn, after all. Guy thing and Brooklyn roots aside, however, Pizza seemed a long way off, for a while, given that Kaspar was severely allergic to dairy, tomatoes, and
wheat. But as his allergies have slowly improved
-- thanks to a certain alchemy of TCM, Ayurveda and time -- the pizza thing seemed increasingly possible, especially over this past year.
Kaspar can now eat tomatoes and cheese, but wheat is still out of the picture, as far as we know. He was still highly allergic to it last time we tested; this was confirmed last Thanksgiving, too, when a wayward stuffing crumb gave him a swollen face, and gave me a good scare. We avoid wheat and gluten along with all nuts, and Kaspar's various other off-limits foods, and we're planning to run tests again this February, when he turns three, to find out if things have continued to change for him. If wheat were suddenly okay (it happens), that would obviously make daily life a lot easier for our family. In the meantime, we're all about rocking our "something"
in style. And I found a way to feed my kiddo chocolate chip cookies
, thanks (heartfelt) to Namaste Foods' Perfect Flour Blend
. Thanks to the brand's pizza crust mix
, which is free of wheat, gluten, and anything else that might aggravate Kaspar's system, Aaron has found a way to feed him pizza. Boom! There's no stoppin' us now.
We don't make a big deal about Kaspar's dinners usually being different from ours, because that's just the way things are for him. When we first found out about his allergies, I thought I'd try to prepare food we could all eat, all the time, so he'd feel included. But aside from quickly realizing this would be impossible, it also struck me that it might be unwise. His sense of normalcy is created in our home; in the interest of his developing an ability to self-advocate, and self-regulate for his own safety, I've chosen instead to prepare separate meals. We all eat together, and mealtime is a pleasurable experience in our home, but Aaron and I often eat things Kaspar can't. Like, every day. As Kaspar's fruit and vegetable options have expanded, I'm able to prepare sides we can all share, and this has been a good opportunity to talk about foods, where they come from, what they taste like (sweet, sour, etc.), and whether we each respectively enjoy those tastes. Allergies are sometimes part of the conversation (Kas might ask what we're eating and if it's okay for him -- which is exactly the mechanism I intended to put in place, so he wouldn't make dangerous assumptions around that question), but mostly we all just chow down on, and enjoy, our respective dinners and mutual company. When Kaspar's at school, or when we're traveling or visiting friends, he knows that he can't just eat what everyone else is eating... but he also knows I'm on top of it, thinking two steps ahead, and will reliably produce something he can eat, and will enjoy.
That being said, the opportunity to cook an entire meal together, and eat it together, is rare for us, and it was a gift we all savored during a recent family pizza night. We talked it up with Kaspar first, explaining all of the steps involved in making pizza: mixing and pre-bakign the dough, layering our toppings on the crust, baking it again, and then eating it -- all of us! He asked, "It's okay for me?" and we said "Yep! It sure is. This pizza is safe for you. We checked."
Kaspar was, of course, as excited for the journey as he was for the destination. As with making juice
-- or even pancakes
-- together, I noticed his (methodical) involvement led directly to his enthusiastic consumption of the food we'd prepared. (FWIW, I've noticed this trick works well with adults, too...) I'd filled a bowl with vegetables for him to put on top of the crust, including chopped tomatoes, kale and broccoli, and he munched on them intermittently (raw!) as he placed them on the pizza, and then of course devoured his slices, veggies and all, once the finished product came out of the oven. Score!
SO good. Even for regular wheat-eaters.
Aaron and I devoured our slices, too; the flavorful crust, which contained Italian herbs, was the perfect chewy (but not gluey -- a common gluten-free fail) consistency. Topped with all of those vegetables and melted raw cow's milk
mozarella and cheddar cheeses, we all felt like we were eating something decadent. We'd prepared the entire bag of crust mix, but even with a cookie-sheet sized pizza, Aaron and I had to deliberately hold ourselves back from eating the remaining few slices after dinner. (Or for breakfast the next morning.) We sent them to school with Kaspar, in his lunch box, instead. When I picked him up, his teacher said he'd "had his own little pizza party at lunch", (boy was psyched!) and that he'd told her all about making the meal with us the night before, getting right down to the details. *Broccoli, baby.*
I love Namaste Foods
. I really do. Not only do they make foods that taste delicious (seriously, friends LOVE our chocolate chip cookies), but they really go the distance on the allergen-free front. Their products are all gluten-free, and, unlike most other brands that produce gluten-free products, they're also free of the top eight allergens, produced in a 100% dedicated allergen-free facility, and they produce mixes that are made of the kind of stuff I actually want to feed my kid. I usually advise parents with food-allergic or celiac kids to avoid the overpriced, highly-processed products marketed to those folks, and instead make their own food at home, as we do... It's simpler, less expensive, and WAY healthier. No contest. But Namaste Foods? They're different. They're all about the whole grain, whole foods love. And, when I inquired with them about whether they have any knowledge of where the rice in their rice flours is sourced from, due to recent, alarming reports on high arsenic levels in rice
products, they got right back to me; not only do they know where their rice comes from, they test ALL of the rice flours used in their products to ensure they contain no arsenic at all. That's what I call going the extra mile; the arsenic thing was just one more threat in a world of threats for people with food allergies (who tend to eat a lot of rice, as other grain options can be limited... they certainly are for Kaspar). Namaste Foods caters to this population, and I appreciate that they pay attention to what matters, on the large and small scale, so food-allergic people can worry less, and eat more. Because, of course, we love our food-allergic family and friends, do we not? It's nice to know when a brand has their backs. And it's extra nice when that brand makes food we can all share together, and enjoy, in good health. (FWIW, it's also extra-extra nice, as a mom of a food-allergic kid, to have a few 'convenience' foods in my back pocket -- or, you know, my pantry -- so that I don't have to cook two meals, from scratch, every time our family eats... Namaste Foods gives me a free pass on those nights I feel like slacking.)
So guess what. It's giveaway time. Namaste Foods has generously offered to send one of you a reusable tote bag containing 3 Namaste Foods products, a copy of their Simple Pleasures
cookbook, a copy of Living Without
magazine, and assorted recipe cards. Here, have a look:
Want to win? Simply leave a comment below (don't forget to include your email address -- it won't be displayed online, and I won't sell or give it to anyone else) and tell me one way you and your family enjoy mealtime together. And feel free to participate even if no one in your family is food-allergic. Trust me-- these products really are yummy and wholesome for everyone! I'll randomly choose a winner next Wednesday, December 12, so let's get this party started. Good luck!
I sometimes go for months (okay, maybe weeks) without thinking much at all about Kaspar's food allergies. Considering that we spent his entire babyhood desperately trying to decipher his situation, and sufferings its affects, this is saying a lot. Although we did decipher his situation to the extent possible -- and we've made incredible progress in addressing it
, and easing his symptoms so we all suffer less -- our lives are still very much affected by his allergies; Kaspar's diet remains quite limited, by any normal person's standards (no wheat, gluten, eggs, soy, nuts, sesame, annatto, etc. etc.), and the possibility that one of these items might somehow make its way into him remains a looming threat. I make all of Kaspar's food at home, and he brings his own food everywhere he goes. And we work hard to ensure this never means he's left behind. He can go to school, and we can travel together as a family. (Cooking can be a challenge, in transit, but we improvise
.) As for Kaspar's school, his teachers are up to speed, equipped with Epi pens, and part of our team. In the event of an emergency, everyone knows what to do. And everyone in Kaspar's life is working to prevent any such emergency from happening. This is threat management: doing what it takes to keep the little dude safe, and rockin' it so life is fun, instead of scary. Life is supposed to be fun.
Still, the world is full of wild cards, and while I try to focus (in everyday life, and on this blog) on the victories, with threat management comes some fear, and tough, personal mommy stuff. I think there's probably value in writing about that, too. Full disclosure and all. When we travel, for example, we encounter cooperative airlines -- and passengers -- and... uncooperative airlines... and passengers. Kaspar does not, as of yet, react to nuts in his proximity (as opposed to ingesting them, which would definitely elicit a life-threatening reaction), but we don't want to put this to the test while hurtling through the air at however many hundreds of miles per hour, however many hundreds of feet above the ground. So I always let the airlines know we have a child with a nut (all nuts) allergy before we fly. Delta goes so far as to refrain from serving nuts on their flights, and even to ask -- over the loudspeaker -- that passengers don't eat any nut snacks they may have carried aboard. Other airlines (American Airlines) simply shrug, and tell us we're on our own. I then have to tell the people around us -- right in front of Kaspar, of course -- that my son has a life-threatening nut allergy, and ask that they don't eat any nuts during the flight. Do some of these people resent that I'm 'telling them what to do'? Yes. Do some people whine about it? Yes. Do I care? I care that Kaspar has to overhear all of this, but... I don't care enough not to ask, because I care more (more than I do about my own self-image, inconveniencing others in a minor way, and more, even, than repeating something kind of scary in front of my son) about keeping him safe. And, on the upside, I guess it's good for him to watch and learn, so he can keep himself safe, too. I try to model my tone, my approach -- everything -- in a way that will serve him when he takes all of this on, himself. (In fact, he did hold his hand up to deflect the offer of a graham cracker from a buddy the other day, saying, "I can't eat that. Thank you, though." It filled me with hope.) Deep down, I hope and hope and hope he won't have to take it on. I hope these allergies will all go away. And I focus on the victories
This has been on my mind this week because we've been dealt a hand of wild cards right at home in recent days, too. It's been a tough reminder that... others aren't always as careful as we are. That this fear I feel is real and that the threat is, too. The first situation, if you will, occurred after a Buddhist discussion meeting that I offered our living room up for. We have a nice space for these types of things in our living room, and, if they happen there, I can definitely attend, and so can Kaspar (I let him stay up past his bedtime for these things. They're fun). Someone left a jacket behind after the last meeting, however, and it sat around our house for a few days before landing in our laundry pile. I emptied its pockets -- as I do all pockets -- before putting it in the washer, only to discover loose walnuts in them. I then discovered several on our living room rug. Walnuts, again, are a serious danger for Kaspar. I don't think he'd eat one if he found it, but who knows? And I don't want him picking one up and then touching his mouth... you get the idea. I know everyone in attendance has been told about the allergy sitch and asked not to bring any nuts into our home. I'm sure this was an unintentional slip-up, but that doesn't change the fact that it put our kid in harm's way.
Likewise, a very close friend came over for a playdate a couple of days ago, and pulled out a peanut butter snack for her daughter mid-way through. She paused and said she'd thought about it but decided since only her daughter would eat the snack, it should be okay, right? I hesitated, and confessed that we do indeed, occasionally, eat nuts in our home ('we' being Aaron and me), but we are super crazy careful about washing our hands immediately afterward. Peanut butter is sticky, and kids are messy people.... I wasn't feeling very okay about peanut butter snacks on the loose, but her daughter had already seen the thing. I asked that my friend wash her daughter's hands after eating, and said I'd also wipe the area down when she was finished. (Then did.) My friend watched her daughter closely, and washed her hands as I'd requested. She's a really, really good friend, and I know she meant no harm. But, she said she'd thought about it. Why did that snack make the cut? It shouldn't have. I didn't want to make my friend uncomfortable, or emphasize -- again, in front of Kaspar -- that an innocent-looking snack another child was chowing down on could actually kill him, so I left it at risk-management. But part of me felt... unnerved. I know this is not second nature for most people, but we rely on others to take care, around Kaspar, to ensure his safety. Every time someone doesn't, I get an awful feeling.
The third incident happened yesterday. Another good friend, whose child also has food allergies, was making a snack for Kaspar's class, and thoughtfully asked if Kaspar would be able to partake. (He brings his own snack, otherwise.) She was making wheat and gluten-free pumpkin muffins. "But they have almond milk in them," she added. I said nope, almonds are nuts, and Kaspar's allergic, but thank you for thinking of him. Thing is, Kaspar's classroom is nut free. I waited a long time, and debated whether it was appropriate, before asking that they take this measure (another local Montessori school is entirely nut-free, school-wide, which I think is brilliant), and they were happy to comply when I did ask
. It just limits the likelihood of a 9-1-1 call, which is in everyone's best interest. But a parent who knows this, and who has a kid with food allergies herself, planned to put almond milk in a snack. I don't know how much of a risk this would pose to Kas if he didn't eat the muffins, but I didn't really want to find out via a wayward crumb, or whatever. Since I know the mom, I called her later and explained, and she was totally understanding. She had coconut milk on hand and made the muffins with that. And I told Kaspar's teacher today, in brief, about the mix-up, and asked her to emphasize when explaining the nut-free thing to new parents in the class that this includes nut milks and butters. Kaspar's teacher understood, as well, and all of these situations resolved without incident, but... three in one week was just... a lot. A lot of reminders.
I don't want to be overprotective; it's not in my nature, as a person or a parent. I remember handing a pretzel to a puppy-eyed kid at a party once -- before I had a kid of my own -- and, when his mom sprinted across the room and pried it from his mouth, I totally judged her. "Parents these days." Now I'm
that mom, and I get it. I so, so get it. My dad, within ten minutes of being in the same room as Kaspar last summer, handed him a "nut crisp" chip. Granted, my dad has dementia, but he's in the early stages and had just been told not to feed Kaspar anything. It was, again, a reminder. We -- Aaron and me -- are responsible for risk-management, and that means riding the shit out of our message sometimes. That means being diligent and, sometimes, being annoying to people. During that same visit, my mom was offended when I asked her, every time she left the house with Kaspar (she was awesomely on board for kiddo watch, which allowed me to get some work done... I love my mom), if she had the Epi pens. What she may not know is that most -- by far-- of kids' allergic reactions, to known allergens, occur when the children are with secondary caregivers. Grandparents definitely included. Double-checking with my mom wasn't a personal affront. It was a vocalization of what I do in my head, now as a habit, before I leave the house with Kaspar myself. Do I have the Epi pens? Check? Good to go. Let's never have to use them again. Not
assuming someone else has that habit in place means a bad situation won't turn rapidly worse if we do. This is my job.
Besides the reminders, I've also been thinking about this because we are moving seriously in the direction of bringing another baby into our family. I've been bouncing back and forth (not as decided as I thought
) between adoption and pregnancy like a ping pong ball on lady hormones. Aaron respects that we're talking about my body as far as pregnancy is concerned, and he knows I'm pretty traumatized by Kaspar's first year (plus), so he's really open to either option and has left it up to me. He prefers pregnancy, though. Adoption takes a while -- years, sometimes -- and is pretty (very) expensive, but we're starting the process, to account for the taking a while part. We're getting in touch with some agencies, filling out forms and seeing where the path leads. Getting the ball rolling. But I'm also feeling more open to another pregnancy. There's definitely a higher likelihood of allergies for kid #2, since Kaspar has so many. But, there are also lots of families with only one food-allergic kid, out of two or three or four. I would avoid certain foods during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, to try and tip the scales in our favor. And if our second child had eczema, reflux, and allergic reactions like baby-Kaspar did, we'd know what to do. We've done it before. We're doing it. It would be a bummer, but it wouldn't be a crisis, as it was the first time around.
When I think about certain parts of Kaspar's babyhood
-- swollen faces, vomit, begging for answers from our pediatrician and being told he was probably fine, peeling his hands from his skin as he clamored to scratch (and scratch and scratch), I get short of breath, even now. I want to go back and help my baby. The thought of being there again with another terrifies me, and that made me feel certain I couldn't take the risk. But I've researched, and reached out to other moms who have kids with multiple, severe food allergies, and I've been encouraged. Many siblings -- most siblings -- of those kids don't have them. And while I've wondered if even considering another child is irresponsible to this first, who needs me to be vigilant and to manage the risks, these moms are clearly very much 'there' for their children, and they've given me confidence. They've also provided another kind of reminder: although everyone is different, we are not the only parents who've lived through the kind of babyhood Kaspar had, and who continue to manage the risks, to approach strangers on airplanes and ask them not to eat their snacks. We are not the only parents who've felt this particular brand of fear when others don't care, or don't remember, to be careful. And these other parents, these other families, are also living well (nod to Heidi from Living Well With Food Allergies
-- thank you, so much, for your email). As far as adoption versus pregnancy goes, we're going to start the adoption process, and, if a child hasn't been matched with us by next fall (when I'm going to opt in to health insurance through my work), I'll go ahead and get my IUD removed, and we'll let destiny decide. We definitely won't leave a baby hanging if we get matched up, or knocked up, along the way. Either way, I know our family will grow however it should, and that we will be exactly the parents our next child needs, just as we have been -- and are -- for Kaspar. (When we first found out about his countless allergies, landed in the ER, and hit the bottom of what would be a steep learning curve, friends told me how lucky he is to have me as a mom. I felt I was failing him and didn't believe them. I cried, "I don't want this problem. I don't want us to have this problem." Now, these days, I understand and believe what they said.)
The fear of losing one's child is something all parents, I'm guessing, face on at least an abstract level. For me, the ease with which something very bad could happen has been the hardest part of this whole thing. Harder than the eczema, harder than the sleep deprivation. I don't want to walk around afraid the piano will fall. That's not how I want to live. That it could
fall,at the drop of a peanut (or an egg, or some bread...), threw me for a loop, for a while. But all of us are susceptible to things that could
happen. And sometimes, things do. Some parents have faced the possibility of losing their children even more intimately than I have; I know a mom whose son survived cancer, at four. (Not surprisingly, she's one of the coolest, most 'aware' people I've met.) Many mothers in war-torn, or poverty-stricken countries are powerless to protect their children from violence, disease, hunger. Our world is messy. Motherhood is messy. It is filled with beauty but its depths of love are endless, and we are, consequently, vulnerable, right along with -- and in direct proportion to -- our children. All people are vulnerable, but all people are also strong. We have endless depths of strength, too: this is our birthright. As Aaron reminds me when I worry Kaspar will feel isolated, or fret about the threats, "Everyone has something." This is our something. This is real life. And I accept it. I -- we -- will continue rocking it, and having fun. Risks, reminders, wild cards and all.
I love you, little boy, with my entire being.
Sunday morning, 6:15 AM = Hot Wheels races
Aaron and I finally got iPhones last week. I also recently lost patience with my Dell laptop -- it was wasting endless amounts of my limited work time "thinking" about stopped scripts (whatever those are) -- and bought myself a new MacBook Pro. So I guess I'm a full-fledged Apple person now. Aaron -- and some of my nerd friends -- are far more excited about this than I am, but I'm definitely pleased with both upgrades. I certainly appreciate having an awesome computer, given how much I use one. And I'm getting the hang of the phone. There are a few things that are different about it (I'm actually almost confused by how user-friendly it is) but what's most different, and has been most helpful thus far, isn't an app or another fancy feature. It's a simple setting that can ostensibly be changed, although I don't ever plan to change it.
My old phone constantly updated me when I received emails; my iPhone, on the other hand, waits for me to ask, and then takes a moment before telling me what's new in my inbox. I guess this setting preserves battery power or some-such because the phone isn't continually refreshing its signal and updating this information on its own. It turns out that it also preserves my relationship with the present moment. This sounds a little cliche already, and we've all heard (and espoused) the value of 'unplugging', but actually doing so (even in tiny increments) can be revealing in showing us just how plugged-in -- and potentially checked out -- we really are.
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