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 wrote on Parenting.com today about my approach to diet during pregnancy
; in a nutshell, so to speak, I'd thought, before becoming pregnant, I'd avoid all of the foods Kaspar's allergic to while baking baby #2. Not only did my first trimester cravings blow that plan out of the water (hello, junk food), but -- now that I'm in my second trimester, or will be tomorrow -- I'm not only feeling far more energetic, and 'normal' in general, including in terms of the foods I'm craving (hello, wholesome healthy stuff), but I've got a game plan for *hopefully* setting new-baby up for an allergy/eczema/reflux-free start. That game plan is the full GAPS diet
. Sans the nuts and wheat, the former of which is allowed on the full diet and the latter of which is allowed (in sourdough form) if no digestive problems are present... but since neither digests super easily for anyone and since both are major allergens in general, I'm just avoiding them. Easy enough. I've read the GAPS book
, which is densely packed with nutritional information; it corroborates with what I've learned over the past three years, and what's been working, overall, for Kaspar. And since we already eat nutrient-rich, real-food fare up in here, I'm only having to tweak a few things to transition into GAPS-ville. The diet basically heals and seals the gut, thus healing immune system-related health woes (of which Americans suffer many, food allergies among them). I'm planning to take Kaspar, and our family, through all of its stages once baby's here and the timing is right, but for now we're starting at the least restrictive, most nutritionally broad place -- the "full" GAPS diet -- as per the recommendation for pregnant women. Anyway, go ahead and read up via my post on Parenting, and on other blogs, like this one
. Then get to your farmer's market and into your kitchen, cuz the best part of this approach to gut-love is that you get to fill your belly with good, nourishing food.
I should mention that there's quite a bit of meat involved in the GAPS diet. I was grooving on a mostly vegan
spurt a while back, which felt light and clean in my body at the time. I think I needed to detox in a major way and sort of reset once our two years of sleep deprivation resolved to some degree, and eating tons of plant matter helped get that work done. (As did an Ayruvedic cleanse I did a short while later. I felt like a whole new person after that. Still do.) But I then found myself drawn toward meat again -- high quality, locally-sourced meat that hasn't suffered
, that is -- and whenever I get acupuncture I'm told I should be eating it regularly. (Something about building my blood.) Pregnancy only increased my desire for it. So, while it may feel like I'm somewhat all over the place on the subject, good meats remain a part of my, and our family's, diet. As far as GAPS is concerned, that's a healthful thing, especially for expecting mamas.
With that in mind, I made a recipe from the GAPS book (linked above) last night, tweaking it a little to my liking. Aaron and I have each made stuffed peppers before, but only vegetarian versions (they make for an attractive, and generally popular, veg dish). Thus, last night's version -- which were definitely not vegetarian -- were quite different than our previous renditions. They meat is flavorful, but dense. I definitely suggest eating these in a bowl with a good amount of the stock they cooked in surrounding them. I chopped mine up a bit in the stock so as to create a kind of soup, and that was delicious. I also suggest adding whatever vegetables you'd like to the meat mixture before stuffing the peppers, and some cumin. If you're eating dairy, throwing some shredded, raw cheddar cheese in with the meat mixture before cooking would also be kind of amazing... In short, these stuffed peppers are filling and tasty, but I could tell -- even at first glance -- the original recipe was written by a doctor, rather than a chef. I'm eagerly awaiting the Nourishing Traditions
cookbook, which is due to arrive at my door any day now; it's recommended by the GAPS people and boasts an index full of mouth-watering recipes. (I peeked at its back pages on Amazon.) Anyway, I've gone ahead and written out my improved (and yummy) stuffed peppers recipe below -- feel free to tweak it further. If you do, let me know what works well!
Click "Read More" below for the recipe!
I was recently interviewed by YourBabyBooty.com
, an amazing website full of empowering information for parents! Check out the video (click here
, or on the image above or below) and share with anyone you know who's hitting up against a wall but knows, deep down, there must be a way through.
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!
We don't eat much processed or pre-packaged food around here, save -- until recently -- for those genius little organic pureed fruit and veg pouches that can be purchased at pretty much any grocery store nationwide. In fact, every time Kaspar and I go to the grocery store -- until recently, that is -- we make a deal that he keeps his cool while I shop, and, as a reward, he receives a "fruit squeezie" once we hit the baby stuff aisle. I like that these pouches pack a little nutritional punch (fruits, veg and chia seeds? Cool!), so my kid sucks down a dose of nutrients while under the impression he's receiving a treat. I also like that I can easily throw a pouch (or five) into my purse for days out on the town, or even for more far-flung weekend travel
. I like that the packages are BPA-free. But I don't like how much they cost, given how little food is actually in them, and I don't like throwing all those packages (by the handful, once emptied -- post-outing -- from my purse) in the trash. As much as we've relied upon 'fruit squeezies' for bribes and mobile snacking, I've also felt that they're economically and environmentally, well, wasteful. And while I get that convenience sometimes leads to compromise, these downsides have kept me from loving the 'squeezies' as much as Kaspar does -- until now.
Enter: the Little Green Pouch
, a fillable, pourable, re-usable, freezable, dishwasher-safe, BPA-free, totally awesome make-your-own 'fruit squeezie' solution to our family's little wastefulness problem! This pouch has a leak-proof zipper-type opening at the top into which I can pour all manner of fruit/veg/chia seed creations, and a little capped spout -- just like the throwaway pouches -- through which Kaspar can enjoy his nourishing, now-affordable treats. I've been filling these pouches with fresh, homemade juices
, as well as kefir smoothies, and even (lightly cooked, then pureed and cooled) fruit and veg combos like the one pictured below -- that's an apple, spinach and blueberry "squeezie" in the making. The photo at top is Kaspar downing it whilst in the midst of a full-on sinus infection last week... There's no way I'd get a pan-full of spinach anything
into sick Kaspar without cloaking it in treat-dom, but he ingested this mix happily, thanks to the pouch, and, needless to say, benefited immensely from the anti-oxident boost.
I have three or four prepared pouches in the fridge at all times, ready to grab and go, and I keep one in the freezer for longer days. As for weekend or week-long travel, we'll probably still rely upon the store-bought stuff when we run out of homemade, but not wasting packaging and cash when we're kicking around home, and Austin, means I don't mind forking it over (and throwing stuff out) quite so much when convenience really does call our names.
Wanna get in on the 'fruit squeezie' fun? Little Green Pouch has generously offered to gift a four-pack of pouches to a lucky Alt-Mama giveaway winner! It could be you! Leave a comment below and tell me what your favorite juice or smoothie ingredients are. Don't forget to include your email in the required field so I can reach you if you win. (I will never give, sell or lend your email address to anyone.) I'll select -- and announce -- a random winner next Wednesday, January 9. Have fun, and good luck!
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.
Kaspar picked at his food all week, bored with his usual fare. Since his options are limited, I was kind of at a loss. But Aaron came up with a plan: to re-organize some of Kaspar's staple foods into the classic American meal.
A cheeseburger! (Grass fed, with raw milk cheddar, of course.)
Cooling it off.
"More cheeseburger, please!"
Even Peter Pan drives everywhere in Texas.
Think wonderful thoughts.
Kaspar dressed as Peter Pan for Halloween -- his idea. We have a version of the classic book, and he requests it nighty. He didn't really understand Halloween last year
; he rang exactly one doorbell, called it a night, and -- back home -- happily let us trade out his treat for some blueberries. This year, he took notice of decorations around the neighborhood, weeks before the big day arrived, and we've spent many walks since admiring ghosts, giant spiders, and jack-o-lanterns as they appeared on our neighbors porches and lawns.
I'm really into holidays now that I'm a mom. (Also now that there's Pinterest -- follow me!
) And although I was surprised Kaspar had such a definitive answer at the ready when asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween, I shouldn't have been. He knows what's up. Which is why instead of planning to trade him something for his loot this year -- because even a cool toy doesn't make up for having your trick-or-teating stash confiscated, when you're two -- I pre-distributed Kaspar-friendly treats among our neighbors so he could have his cake (so to speak) and eat it, too. It worked like a charm. He just thinks everyone's really into applesauce. I'm not sure this plan will work as well in coming years, but I'll take it a step at a time. Last year he couldn't even eat applesauce, so who knows what lies ahead... (I'm optimistic!
Trick or treat!
So much cuteness.
Happy (and emergency-free) Halloweening complete, I put Kaspar to bed on Wednesday night and settled down on the couch to watch a scary movie with Aaron. Almost as soon as we sat down, however, we heard Kaspar cough a few times, so I went to his room to check on him. It's been a tough pollen season around here -- tougher than usual, even, and Austin's always bad -- and we've had to give Kaspar nebulizer treatments every other week or so this fall, in addition to utilizing Ayurvedic and TCM prevention methods. (They've worked, too, but when the asthma's really under way, we have no choice but to rock the alburteral. Aaron's been taking his inhaler, too... and I think he only needed it once when we lived in New York.)
Kaspar's breathing sounded fine, but he had a fever of 101.4. Over the next five or six hours, he had two extreme coughing episodes, two nebulizer treatments, two vomiting episodes and, needless to say, got very little sleep. We debated whether to bring him to the ER, and were pretty confused by his symptoms (some of which were side effects from the nebulizer itself...), but we made it through the night without having to go. I brought him in to the pediatrician the next day and confirmed my budding suspicion that Kaspar had a bad case of croup. He's had it once before, but it previously only featured one coughing episode, and we didn't have asthma on our minds at the time, so we hadn't hopped him up on other meds and complicated things. I also brought him to our local, amazing TCM doctor on Thursday afternoon, and she checked him out and modified his herbal prescription to address his asthma. (As for the croup, she administered some gentle acupressure and advised us to lay low and ride it out.)
Feeling better already at Texas College for Traditional Chinese Medicine
It's been a few days, and while Kas is still a little sick, he's feeling MUCH better. Phew. And he keeps asking to have Halloween again. So cute.
In other news, I'm five days in to a ten day Ayruvedic cleanse, led by an amazing practitioner here in Austin, Ivy Ingram. (If you're local, go see her
. She's great.) In addition to certain dietary restrictions, breathing exercises and other, um, cleansing protocol (there's an enema coming up that I'm not exactly thrilled for... but hey, if the sages say jump...), I'm supposed to be laying low, too, and getting lots of rest. I've realized, one the one hand, that when I can
go to bed by 10 pm, I don't. As in never. Even when strongly encouraged to do so as part of a structured cleanse, and even when I'm following all of the other protocol to a T, I don't go to bed at 10 pm. I know it would benefit me enormously. I know that two and a half years of hardcore sleep deprivation
took it's toll, and that I signed up for this cleanse as a way to mark the wonderful shift Kaspar's made in recent months (Wednesday night notwithstanding) -- wherein he sleeps soundly, through the night, every night -- and to re-boot my own system in the wake of the sleep dep marathon. But still, I can't bring myself to go to bed at 10 pm, even a few nights a week. I'm working on it.
The other thing I'm realizing is that sometimes life stuff -- like kiddos with croup, and sleepless nights -- simply comes up, and our intentions for self-care get back-burnered. Rest wasn't in the cards on Wednesday night, or on Thursday, really, but I did scale things back a bit on Friday -- when Kaspar returned to school -- to give myself a chance to catch my breath. And I stuck with the other cleanse protocol throughout. I initially signed up for this cleanse on an impulse. I'd planned to take a long weekend away, alone, sometime this fall, to sleep and to process and to disengage for a bit. But I signed up for this cleanse instead, when I received an email about it. Already sold on Ayurveda as a profoundly powerful system of medicine, I sensed that the cleanse will ultimately be more grounding, and more beneficial, than checking out of my life for a few days would have been. (I might still go ahead and do that, though.) Remaining engaged with the many things I have going and, meanwhile, going through the cleansing process is more challenging, but it's also more relevant to my life right now, and it's exactly what I needed.
Anyway, here's to Halloween, to healthy kids, to clean starts and to November. My birthday month. (The big 2-8 is just a few weeks away, y'all. I'm ready!)
I'll finish with some additional, gratuitous cuteness:
How was your Halloween? If you have kids with special dietary needs or food allergies, how do you handle the candy sitch?
We ventured to Yellow Springs, Ohio this past weekend. Aaron has family in Dayton and its surrounding areas, and his sister's starting her first year at Antioch College
, so we went to give her a proper send-off and to see some folks we haven't visited since Kaspar was just eight weeks old. As it turned out -- and you'd never guess this from the surrounding towns leading in to Yellow Springs -- the town itself (with only 4,000 perma-residents) is a little hippie-slash-hipster oasis of awesome coffee, great restaurants, super-cute houses and community-oriented spirit the likes of which one rarely encounters between the coasts. We were smitten.
We play a hypothetical "we could live here" game almost compulsively when traveling; Asheville
certainly came under consideration, and Concord, New Hampshire even got a few tentative votes this past August. (Two days in, however, after I'd run into a classmate from middle school who told me I 'looked different' without blue hair, I changed my tune and told Aaron I can never move back to the place I grew up in... but it is a really nice place for those of you who might be scoping.) We're both mostly-freelance at this point -- though Aaron might also take up with an animation company in the coming year -- so we're actually semi-serious in considering relocation possibilities. Despite its very-small-town shortcomings (I'm assuming they exist), we were pleasantly drawn in by Yellow Springs' uber-liberal, and surprisingly international, flare.
Indy movie theater in the center of downtown? Check.
The town has a cool history. Besides being comedian Dave Chapelle's childhood home (and an off-the-beaten-path weekend spot for celebs who prefer low-profile hangouts to the Hamptons), Yellow Springs was founded by about a hundred aspiring utopians back in 1825. Many Quakers also took up residence there, and it was one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad; some of the town's historical homes still feature their original hiding spots that helped deliver American slaves to freedom. In keeping with its activist roots, the town was also a civil rights and anti-war hotspot during the 1960s.
We stayed at the Springs Motel
just outside of town. It was clean, campy and cheap, and included a mini-fridge, which is a necessity when traveling with Kaspar; the first order of business, wherever we go, is to stock up on non-allergenic edibles for him. We were lucky to stay in a house when we hit up New York City this past summer; some friends who live right around the corner from our old place gave us the keys and told us to make ourselves at home. A few things had changed but our intimate familiarity (born of walking everywhere too close for the train) with the lay of the land -- combined with a full working kitchen -- made keeping Kaspar well fed during our stay extra easy. In Ohio this past weekend, it was a bit of a different story. We stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts of Dayton and couldn't find one piece of organic produce. (I was astounded, which Aaron found amusing.) We did find some "fruit squeezies," yogurt, frosted flakes, some organic hot dogs (score-- Kaspar's fave, and free of wheat fillers) and some Kraft string cheese (cringe) -- because hey, artificial hormone-laden dairy products pale in comparison to the crazy that is a hungry travel-weary toddler; I'd suspected Kaspar's diet would not exactly be 'balanced' while we were away, so I'd made juice the morning we left and determined to suck it up and feed him what we could find when we arrived. As a nice surprise, though, when we visited with Aaron's grandmother (see Josephine, pictured here
), she directed us to the apple trees she'd planted decades ago, in her backyard. Our boy tried his hand at apple-picking for the first time ever, and piled up a serious stash. Thus, we were ready for motel mealtimes, which at the very least included some non-toxic fruit.
Yellow Springs = pro-boobies.
Luckily for us, Yellow Springs' restauranteurs were more than happy to help our kiddo (and us) to delicious, satisfying fare. The guy at The Spirited Goat
coffee shop gave us a steaming mug of hot water to heat Kaspar's hot dogs in for a two-hot-dog breakfast on our first morning in town... Which was promptly followed by some brown rice, steamed broccoli and a buffalo burger (cooked, unadulterated, in its own pan) at The Sunrise Cafe
; Aaron and I had a rockin' breakfast there, too, and returned for dinner the next night (also excellent). I always take it as a good sign when a town's population of restaurants is disproportionately large, and each of our choices in Yellow Springs brought with it friendly, knowledgeable waitstaff, local, organic yummies and a personal, family-friendly vibe.
Aaron's sister, Sylvia, gave us a tour of her dorm at Antioch College; its lush campus closed briefly a few years ago, but the college has re-opened, paying its first few waves of students' tuitions for them (free college?? WHAT? Had we died and gone to Sweden?) and kicking things off with a bang. Its buildings are being completely re-renovated, and Sylvia's dorm was suh-weet. Also, entirely forward-thinking as far as renovations go, complete with solar panelling across the entire roofline, filtered-water fountains with little tickers telling passers-by how many plastic bottles their usage has saved, and various other green features that promise to make a big impact. The town, too, boasted lots of bike racks (very much in use), public recycling receptacles, and -- as the dude at The Spiritied Goat told me -- a public water supply that, by popular demand, is completely flouride-free. This level of broad municipally-encouraged environmental responsibility definitely reminded me of Asheville; I hope these small-scale experiments in city-wide greening (not just greenwashing) will provide working examples for bigger cities to follow. (I recently wrote about
Toronto's extremely advanced city-wide composting system; my friend who turned me on to it -- who recently relocated from NYC herself -- noted that Toronto is far greener in general than American cities are.)
Anyway, Aaron's aunt borrowed a tricycle from a friend, and we walked up and down the paved bike path running through town (and, evidently, all the way to the next town over, Xenia) as Kaspar got the gist of pedaling. We also hit up the playground at the local elementary school just after the end of the school day; Kaspar hung out in the sandbox and we chatted with a mom who relocated, with her family, to Yellow Springs from Las Vegas several years ago. (She was also originally from New Hampshire.) We wandered around the neighborhoods a bit, too, drooling over several stucco houses and noticing a certain art deco architectural bent. For such a small town, there were a lot of people out and about, both downtown and in their front yards, which mixed one of the pros of metropolitan living (people, and the energy they give a place) with the sleepy, safe feeling only a small town can offer. Paired with vibrant fall foliage, it was no wonder Yellow Springs is a popular place. I was shamelessly, every bit a tourist, but felt welcomed, and very much at home.
Whether we'll actually move to Yellow Springs remains to be seen. I'm not sure how I feel about the size, and about all that conservative dull-i-tude in surrounding Ohio. Our list of potential home bases is long and our preferences are varied; returning to our Brooklyn digs this past summer reminded us of all that we adore about big-city living, but we didn't feel called to return to it, exactly. San Francisco and Vancouver are both on our radar. (Aaron also loves LA, but I'm not so sure.) Asheville was fun but ultimately felt kind of gimmicky and been-there-done-that, as a small college town and all. I love the idea of Santa Fe, but so far it's only an idea. I also like the idea of going very rural -- of a barn home, or a yurt. And we've done some collective, far-flung daydreaming of Buenos Aires. (No idea how that would be on the food allergy front, but hey -- a step at a time.)
All told, we're in Austin right now, and actually, it's just right for our current collection of work-life puzzle pieces; I was semi-worried for both myself and Aaron, before returning to New York, that we'd both feel leaving there had been a mistake, and I was relieved when neither of us did. But I was completely shocked when Aaron said he was glad I'd had the foresight to suggest we move to Austin when we did. (He loved living in New York.) We get to have a house and a yard here, but we haven't gone straight-up suburban. Our friends are diverse and interesting and cool, and very real; they hail from all over and they aren't all parents themselves. The ones that are parents are also great people, and we're able to do the family thing without feeling boxed in. I've lived in small towns before (and even small cities) and it's hard to fall into multiple categories in them, or to grow up and change (because yes, my hair is different now than it was in 7th grade); I loved that New York allowed me to simply be myself, in my many manifestations. Austin allows for this, too. (Or maybe I just don't feel the need, these days, for some kind of outward approval.) Austin's been good to our family, for sure. We're here for now, and it's home. We like to travel and we like to play our what-if game. And if work and weather eventually lead us elsewhere (I adore Seattle's rain), we have a list of "we could live here's" to guide us well.