Texas winters confuse my Northeastern sense of seasons -- we basically jump from 80 degrees one day to 60 the next, for several months between the winter holidays and sometime in April, before the real heat
kicks back in -- but spring is nonetheless unmistakable. Friends shared photos on Facebook of a snowy Brooklyn sunrise this morning while we stepped outside into a gentle, misting Texas rain. I adore rainy days and am usually disappointed by their brevity here in Austin, but today's rain picked up and found its steady rhythm right up until the time Kaspar came home from school. Then, the birds began singing, the breezes smelled of watered earth, and we headed outside for a walk, to hunt for the many signs of spring.
Kaspar, like all kids, loves seasonal activities; reading books about the seasons, talking about what distinguishes them, and making time to experience their changes together helps him to connect with his environment, and to expand his understanding of his world (not to mention his vocabulary). Now three years old, he has the motor skills and attention span for more complex activities -- like origami or fairy-house construction (see below) -- and he's still filled with wonder at this planet's every detail. Spring is a particularly magical time of natural regeneration and growth, and celebrating the season as a family reminds us adults, too, of the wonder that's all around us, just outside our door, and within our homes and hearts. Read on for ten ways we're celebrating springtime with our preschooler; I hope you and your kids have fun with these ideas, and expand upon them. Please feel free to share other ways you've found to celebrate spring, too, in the comments!
Kaspar discovered a "Daddy snail and baby snail" while searching for signs of spring.
1. Take a walk in the woods (or just around your neighborhood) and search for signs of spring:
Spring can be found through all five of our senses. The sounds of birds singing; the feeling of warm breezes or cold mud on our skin; the smell of thawing (or just-rained-on) earth, the taste of seasonal produce and the sight of daffodils, earthworms and budding trees all speak to us of springtime. Walking without a physical destination or a time commitment, but instead with the express purpose of paying attention to one's senses and surroundings, helps kids cultivate mindful awareness in the here and now, which is oh-so-enjoyable at this time of year. 2. Do some spring cleaning:
I've been clearing out my closets
(and bringing in the house-cleaning pros) for a couple of months now, and have been enjoying every inch of my less-cluttered, spic n' span space. There's really something to be said for getting rid of what you don't need, on a physical level, but also on mental and emotional levels, as well. All three mark important -- and easily-shafted, when things get busy, so it's all the more important to make a point of prioritizing them -- practices for parents... and all people, really. You'll find, in this practice, those shoes you haven't worn in two years, but also the secret to sanity. As it happens, kids love to clean, too. But let's be honest; they're not always all that effective at it. Don't let that stop you from cleaning house as a family; giving kids real jobs to do
provides them with a sense of independence, accomplishment and capability that's worth so much more than properly-folded laundry. Expand upon the definition of 'real jobs', too; Kaspar held a car wash in our driveway last week, and proceeded to "clean" all of his Hot Wheels cars for over an hour. Materials? One container, some water, two wash cloths and a few toys. Cost? Zero dollars. One hour of outdoor, TV-free, self-directed entertainment? Priceless.
3. Celebrate the solstice:
Last year, we celebrated Easter
, because I missed the solstice entirely and Easter was a (totally successful) backup plan. But this year, we're on our game! The solstice is officially March 21st, but we're going to do our thing on the 23rd, since the latter date is a Saturday. We're planning a picnic with friends complete with some outdoor playtime, and perhaps with a bit watercolor painting thrown in. At home, we'll plant some flowers in our backyard (our zinnias
ended up thriving last year -- they got HUGE -- and they needed exceptionally little care), read some springtime books -- here's a good one
for kiddos about the equinox itself, with lots of ideas for ways to celebrate, and here's another lovely one
about a little boy's anticipation and enjoyment of spring -- and start a few new family traditions: making a springtime altar and having a treat hunt around the house are definitely happening. 4. Grow and bloom:
This idea comes from the book I Love Dirt!
, a wonderful resource for outdoor-oriented activities with kids. It's pretty simple, but preschool-aged kids love it; younger toddlers will, too. When talking/learning/exploring on the topic of plants growing from the earth, suggest to your kids -- and believe me, if you DO this, they will too -- that you and they act like new blades of grass, or new flowers. Crouch low to the ground, and then grow! Bloom! Slowly stand up and stretch toward the sky. Then do it all again. This will bring out your kids' inner yogis
(who, trust me, aren't very hidden at all), and get their physical-activity endorphins pumping. 5. Start a garden:
Whether you're re-potting a few countertop-container herbs, starting vegetable seedlings that'll eventually move outside, or putting a whole bunch of stuff in the ground itself, gardening is a wonderful way to get kids working with their hands and connecting with their food.
Source: Gardening Adventures with Alexis
6. Install a bird feeder
: By which I mean, hang one up on a branch outside your house. (Or, if you don't have branches, from your fire escape or whatever!) This doesn't have to be expensive; you can make a bird-feeding craft
, or go for something more permanent (hummingbird feeders are cool), but be sure to involve your preschooler in every step of this project. They'll love it, from start to finish. And, if you build it, they will come -- birds, squirrels, and all manner of endlessly-fascinating wildlife to watch for weeks and months to come. 7. Make origami butterflies:
Kaspar's Montessori class recently learned about -- and made -- origami for an entire week, and the kids loved
it. They learned to make frogs and butterflies; you can find lots of kid-friendly origami instructions
online. We attended an art opening/open house event at Kaspar's school and admired all of the folded-paper butterflies
, which decorated his classroom's windows: a wonderful, colorful decorating idea for crafty preschool-aged kiddos in the mood for spring.
8. Visit a nursery, and/or your local botanical gardens
: Prompted by my recent (vertical) nesting
instinct, our family headed over to a local nursery last week, and returned home with two new houseplants. One is now hanging in our kitchen, and the other's a floor-plant in the living room. Before we left, however, we explored the heck out of the place, which boasted a balmy green house, a koi pond, a funky little cafe, and plants everywhere
. (Obviously, right?) It felt like some kind of car-free, super-green alternate universe to me, anyway, not to mention Kaspar, who was out of his mind with happiness, high on fresh oxygen and free to roam without recourse... within eyesight and earshot, of course. We were there for well over an hour, and although -- after multiple reminders that it was time to leave -- we finally carried a kicking-and-screaming Kaspar back to our car (THREE years old, y'all, is a bit of a challenge at times), it was time well spent. Little man slept like a baby that night, and has been asking to go back ever since. We certainly will, but we might revisit our local botanical gardens
first. We've been before, but not since last spring, and rumor has it the place is about to be filled in beautiful blooms.
At our local nursery. (Kaspar carried that flamingo around the whole time.)
9. Jump in puddles:
This is another simple one, but it's not overrated. Kids love, love, love puddle-jumping, as we've all noticed. It's pretty fun for grown-ups, too. It really doesn't rain very frequently here, so when it does, I insist on going outside immediately and running around like a lunatic. Kaspar can never quite believe his luck, and jumps right into the action. Best rain-play follow-up activity? Get out of those wet clothes and into a warm bath, kiddo and all. 10. Build a fairy house:
while you're out in the woods, the garden, or your backyard, why not build a house for some springtime fairies
? It's like fort-building, only in miniature: your kids will re-imagine sticks, moss, wildflowers, rocks and other natural materials into walls, beds, roofs and chimneys. This is fun on one's own (watch kiddo concentrate) or as a collaborative project among friends or siblings, and it's a great way to spend a weekend morning outdoors.
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!
Kaspar officially moved up to the Children's House at his Montessori school today. Off and running. There goes my baby.
(He actually overshot his new entrance and headed toward his old classroom just after I took this photo... he's a little confused, but excited. I'm an unexpectedly emotional mess.)
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!
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.
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?
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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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.
This summer has been nothing compared to last year's record-long stretch of 100+ degrees days, but it's still officially August in Texas (and today was officially 104 degrees at 4:30 PM, or so said my car). Which basically means it's hotter than hell outside, which you may or may not know if you actually live here, because chances are you're indoors for most of the day rockin' the non-stop AC. It's a basic instinct, for sure, to move inside when the weather gets hostile, but it's not a great plan with a toddler. Not for season-long stretches, anyway. As much as I appreciate indoor climate control, the New Englander (and, frankly, the World Citizen) in me is also a little uncomfortable with the unsustainable nature of the Texan A/C habit (and its cousin, the car-transport fix); I rebel by turning ours off, opening our windows, and heading outside with el kiddo in the morning hours. I'm okay with being a little warm in the summer time! And I like the backdrop of outside sounds -- cicadas, wind-blown trees, birdsong -- to flow into our days and home.
Last year, the weather really did hit a too-hot spot, and we had cabin fever, for real. This year, the heat is bearable until about 11, when the sun beats down oppressively and it only makes sense (safety first) to head in for a light lunch and a long siesta (with the windows, unfortunately, closed). But before then, I make a point to run the boy around in the fresh (if sticky-hot) air, because littles are meant to run, swing and splash; I refuse to let mine stare at screens all day long. Last year, this meant he was literally drawing on our walls. This year, I know the enemy -- Texas heat -- and I've learned a few tricks for outsmarting it. My motto is I ain't afraid. Read on for our summer survival basics, toddler-style.
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Remember how, despite my thumb of doom, I decided to take some baby steps toward gardening
this year? Well, I'm proud to report that baby steps have
been taken! And while I'd love to report that the results look something like this
, I'm going to opt for honesty instead, show you where things really stand, and sharing one or two takeaways that will ideally lead us right into next year's hearty harvest.
First of all, I held off on actually planting anything for quite some time; on the one hand, I thought our compost would turn into magnificent, fertile soil and, when it did, that this would be my cue it was planting time. On the other hand, I'm very busy and have a tendency to start projects without finishing them (one of this blog's purposes, and one it accomplishes well, is to motivate me to finish the projects I start... Because finishing things, of course, is highly satisfying). It became pretty clear, however, that compost takes some time to break down, and -- meanwhile -- Texas heats up more quickly than most of America's other states, so, sometime back in May, I realized real gardeners had already been at it for several months (a few friends were already picking veggies), and I couldn't keep putting it off. I needed to get on with gardening, if I planned to plant things at all.
I'd been planning, of course -- albeit vaguely -- to plant things for some time, and had primed Kaspar for the shared endeavor; we'd been reading books about gardens
, and talking extensively about where food comes from. In fact, I found a children's gardening book for myself
, as well, which broke the process down nicely and made it more approachable than books for adults on the subject seemed to; soil temperatures and crop cycles remain a bit out of reach for me at present. We spent our Mother's Day at the local organic gardening store, and while I was almost talked in to creating a square foot in-ground garden, while there, Aaron reminded me that I'm a novice with a lot of my plate already, and encouraged me to stick with my vague container-gardening plan. I was advised, by a staffer, on some easy-to-grow beginner veggie options, purchased a few packets of seeds and some soil, and set about planting -- with Kaspar's assistance -- shortly thereafter
. Then, we waited.
Seeing sprouts emerge was quite exciting. Although I had high hopes -- and showed off our pots of dirt to friends when they dropped by for lunch, or whatever -- I, deep down, half expected nothing to happen. I watered the dirt diligently, and Kaspar sang songs to the pots, and we waited some more; then, lo and behold, little sprouts pushed through the soil in one pot after the next. Some of our seeds had clearly moved, with their waterings, from where I'd dropped them into the soil -- rather than appearing in neat little rows, they came up in clusters -- and not all of those I'd planted turned into little plants, but we did see green things, and that was super cool. I was fairly certain, at that point, that we were off and running, and would be picking our mini-cukes and pickling peppers by now.
So are we picking and pickling? Well, no. Worst news first: the spinach plants died as the little sprouts they sprouted as (they grew most sparsely out of all of the plants in our small collection in the first place. I have no idea what I did wrong). All four cucumber seeds turned into little plants, which I pruned down to one, as instructed. That plant is still alive, and it's even flowered a bit, but it seems... stunted; it's remained the same size for weeks on end. If it has created any cucumbers, they're too small to be perceived by the naked eye. Same story for the pepper plant, as per the photo at top. It's alive, but doesn't seem to want to grow taller. I'm not sure what the deal is. But I do have one hunch. Read on.
See these Butterfly Zinnias, at left and right? Yeah, I know, they don't look like Zinnias (where are the flowers?), but they are. Anyway, on the left here, you can see the Zinnias in a pot. And on the right? That's one Zinnia seed-turned-plant that I stuck, on a whim and on the same day I planted the others, into the soil abutting our back-stoop steps. I haven't 'cared' for it at all since, and it's grown eight inches tall, head and shoulders above its potted siblings. Its leaves are broad and thick. I bet it'll even make a flower. (Eventually.)
... Which got me thinking (here comes the hunch) that maybe an in-ground garden is
the way to go. Maybe these plants need root-space to roam in, underground, and perhaps they'll grow taller with it. Next year, our compost will be ready for action, and I plan to make an actual in-ground garden, perhaps several square-feet large, to sow some seeds in. This has definitely not been a failed experiment, but I've learned (or have a hunch) that when it comes to growing stuff, one should ideally let the earth do her thing in the way she knows best. (Although I'm also very intrigued by innovative, resource-efficient ideas like this one
This season certainly ain't over. Who knows? I might report back, come October, that we're picking hoards of produce from our pots. I'll certainly keep caring for the plants, and watching what happens. Kaspar enjoys taking care of our garden, too -- gardening really is an awesome activity for kids of every size -- and he hasn't expressed any disappointment around my big sell ("Let's grow vegetables!") not panning out. Maybe he's too busy being impressed with his my-size tree, which is growing along merrily in the middle of our lawn.
I didn't plant that. It was a gift from his grandmother.
Do any of you expert gardeners have another hunch about why my plants are alive, but not really growing? Am I on the right track? And for those of you who were hoping to see bushels of beautiful, home-grown organic goods, I'll refer you out to this super-gardener mama
and this one
. (Our family, luckily, will continue to get our goods in our weekly CSA box
until I get the hang of this home-grown thing).
Update! (The very next day...)
| || |
<----- (Check it). Our little potted Zinnias have produced a flower! We've named it "Patience, Grasshopper."