I've been so focused, these past several months, on getting through the daily grind that I haven't been feeling particularly creative. It's happened before -- there are certain rhythms to these things, and sometimes life itself just demands a lot of immediate attention -- so I wasn't worried about it; I knew I'd hit an inspired spell (slash hormonal surge?) sooner or later. I always have a running list of projects I plan to tackle, and Operation New Baby is a fun one: I'm coming up on my third trimester now, too, so nesting to the tune of setting up the baby's space -- hanging his hammock
, framing wall art and perhaps even purchasing some kind of rocking chair -- will not be entirely pre-emptive. In fact, setting up shop in this way will be helpful and necessary, and now, at five and a half (thereabouts) months pregnant, I've finally, as of sometime last week, felt newly energized to do so. Or at least to begin... If not with something necessary, exactly, then with something really personal and fun: A blanket for Baby O! (Yep, we've chosen a name, and will tell you the rest of its letters when little man arrives.)
I've made a bunch of baby quilts
over the past year. I still don't really know how to do much with my sewing machine beyond sewing forwards and backwards, though. Quilts are actually doable within these limited parameters, so I think they're kind of my baby gift 'thing,' even if I swear future renditions off whenever I finish my latest one. (I'm not a patient person, so sewing is a weird hobby to have picked up.) But I'm always drawn back to the fun of fabric-pairing and the satisfaction of seeing a little quilt through to its final, finished stage, not to mention gifting it upon a little person
who'll surely keep it for longer than, say, a wipe-warmer.
It was fun to embark on this quilt knowing I'd be gifting it to my own little bundle, who's been kicking up a storm on the daily, thereby making his presence very much known indeed. (Omigosh, I can't wait to meet him.) I had some shiny-ish gingham fabric left over from my last project, and went rifling through the free-box outside of Austin's hippest fabric store/sewing school, Stitch Lab
, in search of other great finds to include in my creation, earlier this week. The box can be a goldmine, but is ultimately hit or miss, and I didn't see anything that spoke to me, so I wandered inside... something I usually refrain from doing, knowing I'll likely spend a small fortune before leaving. As it happened, the store currently has upwards of ten bins filled with (generously sized and neatly cut) Quilt Con
leftovers up for grabs, on the cheap-cheap, and I went a little hog wild... without
breaking the bank. It was meant to be.
I love the fabrics I walked out with. I chose the contrasting patters shown above on the left for the back of the quilt, which I sewed into two large panels. The mod guitar print, and green and blue stripes, compliment the gingham for the main front section, with a fun gray/white/red wavy number as a border on opposite ends. (I'd have rocked the border all around, but my quilt was looking more rectangular at that stage than I liked, so I squared it off instead.) I chose the layout as a change of pace from patchwork -- all of my previous quilts have been of the latter variety -- and this ended up working in my innately-impatient favor; sewing together larger rectangles, rather than countless, smaller squares, was WAY faster when it came to assembly, my least favorite part. (Not only because actually sewing is time consuming, but also because so many things can go wrong... it's more stressful than playing with color.) And I don't think the finished product smacks of slackerdom, either. I'm really happy with the results.
Everything came together without a hitch in the sewing process, too; I didn't have to undo any work, and I didn't sew anything face down or anything like that. My bobbin did run out of thread near the end, at which point I called my friend Jenn
-- who'd sold me the machine when she upgraded -- and she walked we through the re-load over the phone. (She's awesome like that.) Then she came over with her two littles later in the day, to hang out and play; I busted out my masterpiece and her
new baby, Big T, modeled it for me, as per the above pic. He approves.
Kaspar and Lil' J make Big T smile. Cute explosion.
So I'm back in the groove, ready to start making our place really truly baby-ready. (Jenn and I even set up a new bouncer I've kept in its box since purchasing, for Big T to break in. Now there's a bouncer in our living room and Baby O's impending arrival is feeling very real.) I should probably get some work done in the remainder of this week -- cuz, yeah, I pretty much spent an entire workday creating this quilt -- but my list is calling to me, and I have big plans
in store. Stay tuned!
How do you like Baby O's blanket? What are some fun projects you did/are doing while in nesting mode? Was five months a magically re-energized point in pregnancy for any of you, too? What are your favorite things to make for new babies?
I well remember climbing into bed between crisp, clean sheets that had dried that day on the clothesline, when I was a kid. If New Hampshire’s summer sunshine could be captured in a sensation and a smell, that was it. Texas gifts us with year-round sun hot and bright enough to dry laundry in, as well, but Austin also happens to be – if not officially then certainly by popular vote – the allergy capital of the world. Ragweed, cedar and molds don’t do a thing to me, but my boys – big and small – both suffer from near-constant congestion, stinging eyes and coughs at the hands of these invisible adversaries. I love the idea of a clothesline but think it’s probably best not to wrap my family in fabric that’s been sprayed with allergens all day. Oh well, le sigh. Some things just aren’t meant to be.
Besides a clothesline’s romanticism, I also, of course, am drawn to its eco-friendly appeal. We do a LOT of laundry around here. High-efficiency or not, our washer and dryer are going strong for much of the week, which uses a lot of water and electricity. I’d love to be able to shave some of that usage down. The bad news is that we’re on the cusp of cloth diapering a newborn; while certainly a greener option than using disposable diapers (even the biodegradable ones), I’m not going to kid myself about the resources involved in keeping my baby’s butt clean and dry. And while I might hang his diapers in the sun now and then to really stay on top of stink-patrol (the sun kills smellies), I think I’ll err on the safe side most of the time and use the dryer for daily diaper care. If baby’s skin is anywhere near as sensitive as Kaspar’s, it doesn’t need to be diapered in a day’s worth of pollens, you know?
The good news is I’ve found a natural, easy way to keep baby’s diapers, and our family’s threads, soft, fluffy and free of static, while also reducing drying time by 40%. (That’s gonna add up fast! You're welcome, Earth.). Enter: Tumblewool
Dryer Balls! Made in Clinton, New York, these chemical and fragrance free little miracle-workers won’t harbor bacteria, and can be used for years. Which makes them wallet-friendly, too; just throw ‘em in the dryer, where they’ll roll around, separating laundry and absorbing moisture, and forget about them. Done and done. I think I’m in love. Tumblewool
has generously offered to gift an Alt-Mama reader with a set of dryer balls, as well as a natural felted soap! Bonus! The soap’s felted woolen fibers help to naturally exfoliate the skin while you get squeaky clean, and the wool shrinks as the soap does, prolonging the soap’s life (thereby saving you cash money). Even cooler? When the soap is gone, you can put a new bar into the felt sleeve and start again. (Wool is naturally anti-fungal, so it won’t harbor bacteria.)
Want some? Leave a tip on cloth diapering in the comments below. (Seriously, I only cloth-diapered Kas
for a short while, and mostly at night before he was totally toilet-trained… I feel like a baby in cloth is gonna be a whole different deal?) Or, if you don’t/didn’t use cloth – no judgments – share your tips (or funny failures) on keeping your family’s laundry scene under control.
I’ll randomly select, and announce, a winner next Friday, May 24th. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments form – it won’t be published, or shared with anyone – so I can get in touch with you for your deets, and you can get your Tumblewool on stat.
Good luck, have fun and stay dry!Update: We have a winner!
Susan Alexander/Wilson, you're going home with the Tumblewool goods! Woot! Let's all give a hearty round of applause to Susan. (Clap-clap-clap.) Everyone else, thank you for your awesome tips. I've been putting vinegar in with our laundry for the last week and it's working wonders... How have I never done that before? And I feel far more prepared for our cloth diapering adventures to come. I'll of course let you know how those go. Stay tuned, til then, for more fun giveaways here on Alt-Mama!
My friend Nicole interviewed me recently for a piece she's writing for LiveMom Austin
on parenthood-prompted career changes. I thought you might enjoy our raw Q&A, candid and unedited. Give it a read and then share with the class in the comments below: Did you change your work/life arrangements when you became a mom or pop? How so? Was it worth it?Nicole: How old was Kaspar when you decided to do something different, work-wise? Was the decision a long time in coming, or was it precipitated by some event?
Taylor: Kaspar was six months old when I left my position in corporate media – I worked on the web side of magazines – in New York and moved to Texas. Titles were folding right and left and the industry was changing; although my position was secure, I’d never felt completely comfortable placing all of my eggs in one basket. I watched productive, hard-working people get laid off through annual several rounds of 4th quarter “restructuring” while others who were clearly incompetent were promoted. I liked the people I worked for, and among, at the point I left, but I knew that ultimately my job could end at any time for any reason, and since I didn’t have time to cultivate anything else – or much in the way of savings, as NYC is crazy expensive and I shacked up with an artist instead of a finance man – I wouldn’t have anything to fall back on if I were to lose my job. I’d felt unfulfilled by the corporate game for a while, although I played it well. But when I suddenly had a child in the mix, time took on an entirely new meaning for me; I didn’t want a nanny raising my kid. I wanted control of my days, and my destiny.
I’d always been a good writer, but worked with freelancers (from the inside – we often hired them to write our content) and didn’t envy their pitch-for-peanuts way of life (without any corporate perks… which, by the way, are not 'worth it'). I didn’t even attempt writing in the city. On the day before my wedding, at three months knocked up, I’d gotten a massage, in New Hampshire. The woman who gave it to me wasn't much older than I was. She had a community trade school certificate on the wall. She'd just bought a house in the neighboring town. She made her own schedule, she took long walks and ran errands during her lunches. And she didn't have to report back to anyone upon her return. She was smart and at ease, pretense-free. I thought of my fancy college education, the daily subway commute, the senseless layoffs, tallied sick days, professional titles. I thought of the many salesmen (or whomever) who’d confessed to me in taxi cabs on the way to off-site meetings that they dreamed of quitting, becoming teachers “or something… I could move my family into a smaller house, right?” Even my first boss in New York – a six foot, perfectly polished power-playing blonde who never cracked – once told me in a tipsy frenzy that she feared no one loved her, even her kids, and that she in fact despised herself. When I got that massage, and reflected on all of these things, I thought, "What the fuck am I doing? This chick has it all figured out."
I’d followed a certain path (by day, anyway) that sounded impressive when anyone asked, “So what do you do?” but it wasn’t the path for me. In that respect, the decision was a long time coming, but I didn’t know how I was going to go about pursuing something else until Kaspar was born. I spent my maternity leave scoping out other cities (my husband’s work is portable and had been actually unsustainably slow anyway for about six months by then), and I began writing for some of the parenting-related titles I worked for, for free, to accrue some clips. I interviewed at a massage school in the city, but it would have cost 26 grand (plus 1,000 hours) to attend, which didn't make any sense for me, as a new mom working full time. I went back to work – after negotiating my Fridays off – when my mat leave was up, but I already had one foot out the door. We were just barely getting our sea legs as parents, and Kaspar was having severe skin and digestive issues (it took us about another year to really figure out what was going
on with him – he has food allergies – and that year was not an easy one), and he needed me. I think all of these things culminated at a certain point and I knew it was just time to jump. Did you feel that work was part of your identity? If so, did you struggle with your decision to make a career change or the transition which happened afterwards? What helped you manage the transition?
I did feel that work was a part of my identity. I secured a job in Austin before moving, an administrative position at UT. It was more than a few steps down, in terms of title and responsibilities, than the rung to which I’d quickly risen (mostly by faking it) on the corporate ladder. I’d enjoyed playing the corporate part in that I was competitive and good at it; I didn’t have much regard for rank and could speak confidently to just about anyone (even if I was totally full of shit... looking back I'm sure many people could see this and simply humored me because I was so gung ho) and I liked that I took people by surprise – from my colleagues in New York to my parents, back home. I hadn’t landed in the corporate world in the way most people do. I hadn’t aimed there all my life or anything. I’m heavily tattooed, studied Buddhism in college, worked as a stripper for a few years towards the end college – I am fiercely independent and wanted real money so I could travel and, essentially, have options (I finished school early, too, as I thought I might otherwise not finish at all) – and I had friends in all sorts of interesting places... but I was clearly not following a prescribed course, and I think many people wondered where I’d ‘end up’. Then there I was rocking it in the big city, running with the big dogs. There’s a lot of ambition in New York, which I love, but there’s also a lot of ego wrapped up in that. There certainly was for me at that time, for sure.
At the same time, falling in love and starting a family brought my more authentic desires and dreams forward; I couldn’t ignore them. They’d never remained far below the surface, anyway. And by the time I took that admin job in Austin (which I still have, and which allows me to mostly work from home, allowed me to go to massage school while still collecting a monthly salary, and allowed me the flexibility to help my sick baby when he needed me most, and now, still, to spend every afternoon with him) I had different priorities. I didn’t care about titles anymore, or what people thought; I cared about my lifestyle and my freedom. People I knew couldn’t necessarily understand why I’d ‘throw away’ what I’d accomplished in my early career, but I knew what I was doing. I didn’t throw it all away, either; having worked on the inside gave me the freelance connections to actually work as a writer from the moment I arrived in Austin. (Which has helped enormously in terms of paying the bills and being my own boss over the last two years.)
As far as managing the transition goes, laying the groundwork by getting a part time job in advance of the move, and setting up some regular freelance jobs (contracts jobs that paid me monthly) helped, but it was hard. We’d just barely gotten married and had a baby, we weren’t getting any sleep, we left our friends and our support system and moved thousands of miles away, and we cleaned out our bank accounts doing so, without much of a sense for how we’d really get by once here. It felt like a huge risk in some respects, and I questioned whether I’d done something truly destructive to my family by following through with this crazy idea in the first place. When you were "growing up", did you factor kids into the equation when you decided what lines of work you would pursue?
Not at all. I was a babysitter for years and years and was often asked if I wanted to eventually become a teacher, but I never considered it. I did dream of having a partner, and kids, of my own though. Education and career labels were really prized in my family and the culture I was raised in, however, and relationships were something of an afterthought, at least in terms of ‘planning’ what one wanted to ‘be.’ I’m actually so glad I got pregnant at the relatively young age of 25, because I wasn’t so immersed in an inflexibly successful career (or the expensive lifestyle that accompanies it) that I couldn’t imagine another way to go about living. But there weren’t a lot of models in my world for truly balancing motherhood with a fulfilling way of working. I knew women who worked all the time, and other women who stopped working entirely, when they had kids. It seemed like an either/or decision. But stopping working wasn’t an option for me, so I invented a new way instead. What was harder than you thought and easier than you thought about the transition to leaving the 9-5 world and entering the world o' freelancing? Any advice to others who are contemplating a change?
I had a comparatively easy time of it getting clients and having enough (often more than enough) work. I told myself I’d write for as long as the work was forthcoming, but I wasn’t going to write for free – or pitch – once I got to Austin, and I haven't had to. I can attribute this to an innate ability to identify opportunities before they’re obvious to everyone else, to hustle so that those opportunities become mine, and to perform under inhospitable circumstances. (I spent many nights working for hour-long chunks of time in between attending to my eczema-covered, barely-sleeping baby, in the beginning. Not a lot of fun.) I also would not have been able to do any of these things as well as I do had I not worked on the ‘inside’ – I know how websites and companies work, what editors need and want, and even how to use back-end systems so as to publish my own work (or produce other content, which I’ve done for extra freelance dollars) online. And I know a lot of people who’ve also gone freelance since working for titles that later folded, laid these friends off, or what have you. Like any industry, the kind of freelance writing I do puts me in good company with a small community of people who move around, switch roles, and hook each other up with work as they go. I pay it forward as much as possible, too. Writers and editors are a lovable bunch.
Juggling everything has been harder than I imagined. I have a part time job that I only do sometimes, I do freelance writing, I went to massage school (on the part-time clock) and now have a massage job, and I’m a mom to a three year old, with a baby on the way. I keep a lot of balls in the air. This is logistically challenging, at times, but the biggest challenge has been learning to stay focused and, more importantly, present. I did all
of this so I could love my life, right? If I’m checking my email on my phone, or thinking about a project, or worrying about a paycheck, while also playing with my kid, I’m not doing what I set out to, and the whole thing was pointless to begin with. So I bring myself back to the present moment again and again, enjoying it for all it’s worth.What sacrifices do you feel you have made, if any?
We don’t ever know for sure how much money is coming in. That can be challenging, especially with kid-related costs in the mix. Last year was juicy – I had several easy, high-paying freelance jobs come through, and so did my hubs. But he lost his one really reliable gig last month, and my juicy client cut their budgets this year, by two-thirds. Of course we also just paid taxes, which cleaned out the savings our boom year helped us build. Freelancing requires a stomach for the unpredictable, and an ability to evolve. My husband’s had a harder time of it, actually, and is looking into learning computer programming as a reliable way to pay the bills that will still allow him time to do freelance illustration. Likewise, I pursued massage as a way to make money by showing up and working hard (and then, an important point, physically leaving), and I love my massage job; it provides me with a sense of balance, and, yes, some security.
Honestly, though, the 9 to 5 world’s ‘security’ is unpredictable, too; the main title I’ve been writing for (which was housed among the titles I worked with, full time, while in New York) was bought this week by a competitor, everyone was laid off, and publication is being ceased almost immediately. The entire team of people who’ve been working there -- people I've worked with for several years, and who I respect immensely -- are now out of work. It’s awful, and it happens all the time. This isn’t just a magazine industry thing, either. I think the world of gainful employment has changed since the recent economic crash. Everyone is a free agent now; full time, company-signed employment works well for some people and is perfect for certain times in life, but it’s not fail safe, and even the people playing the game know that’s true. Or they should. What lies ahead for you, career-wise?
I’m going to have this baby and spend this
mat leave focusing on being a mom, instead of launching a new career and plotting a move across the country! My part time job is on a yearly cycle, and its annual lull will come at the perfect time to allow me to take this time off for mothering, without a pay cut. Then I’ll go back to massaging a few days a week, doing the part time work mostly from home, and writing (which I might continue to do throughout new-baby days; we'll see). I think, given the general freelance climate and my own recent urge for expansion, I'm even game for a round of networking and pitching; I'd like to write for some new titles and expand my repertoire.
The other day, someone at my massage job saw me checking online on some comments on an article I wrote. She didn’t know I write, and that I used to run web departments or whatever. She did know that my husband’s been looking for work – i.e. our finances are not always awesome -- and she asked me, upon getting the quick gist that I left one thing to start another, “Was it worth it?” (Climbing down off the ladder…) And, “Will you eventually go back, when your kids are bigger?” I told her it was worth it, and I’ll never go back. Then she paused and said, “I could see you maybe doing this,” gesturing toward the walls around us. “Maybe starting a spa, or a business.” And yeah, I could see myself doing something like that, too, but for now I’m really content to grow what I do by way of natural next steps, rather than another massive overhaul. That had to happen, but hopefully just the one time. How does your experience in changing careers influence how you talk to kids about what they want to be when they "grow up"?
I try not to talk to kids about that, and instead to talk about who they are now, what brings them joy and makes them laugh and live most fully. I meet a lot of different people and one thing I know for sure is that we never ‘arrive’ in the way we think we might. We are all in progress, always, until the end. I don’t want to trick kids into thinking life is to be lived later. Dreams and goals are hugely important; they allow us to see ourselves in places we haven’t yet explored. They allow us to take steps in those directions. But taking steps at all and staying open to new possibilities is what counts. The world opens up in unfathomably perfect ways when we can do that all the time.
Here I am at work last Sunday. This bump is big for its age, I think, and I'm feeling some movement, but not tons yet. I hung out with a midwife friend the afternoon after I took this photo and she had her doppler in her car, so I reclined in the front seat and we listened to baby turn somersaults as his heart beat away, steady and strong. I can't wait until the all-night dance parties begin. I asked when that would be and my friend answered, "Soon, soon."
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.
“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” -Roger Ebert
I'm feeling all glowy and happy and barefoot and pregnant.
Something exciting happened today. Those of you with dehydrators at home will be thoroughly unimpressed, but for those of us without (and I'll admit I'm now tempted to buy one, but I am in clearing-out mode, damnit, and already have far too many kitchen contraptions), this is pretty rad.
I made fruit leather. Myself. And so can you. All you need is fruit, and an oven. And if you're kitchen contraption-equipped, a handheld immersion blender makes for a nice accessory to this project.
Here's what you do:
1. Pick your fruit. As in literally, or as in choose and purchase some. Texas happens to offer precious little in the pick-your-own department; we go hog-wild when we travel Northeast or Northwest in the summer months, picking buckets of blueberries, strawberries and blackberries and then eating ourselves sick because we can't possibly bring them home. But right now, for about five minutes, it's strawberry season here in Tejas. We plan to go picking this coming Saturday, but in the meantime I bought five pints of beautiful, organic, fresh-picked berries at the farmer's market this past weekend. Why so many? Because we eat a lot of berries around here. And I had big, fancy plans for this batch.
2. Chop your berries (two pints is a good starting point, but you could certainly work with more) into small pieces and place in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until your mixture's simmering and looking a bit soupy. Stir here and there for another five to ten minutes, pressing occasionally on the berries with a slotted spoon (or any spoon) to help release the juices. You want these to simmer gently but not to burn, so use your best judgment and turn the heat down if necessary. This step made my kitchen smell exactly the way I remember my childhood home smelling when my mom made strawberry jam. Divine.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for a little while. Pre-heat your oven to 175 degrees Fehrenheit, and line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. (I keep it real and non-toxic with this stuff
4. If you have a handheld immersion blender, go ahead and immersion-blend your berry mixture so it's nice and smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, mash your mixture with whatever you can -- a food mill, a small seive, or a potato-masher, fork, or whatever.
5. Pour your berry mixture onto the parchment paper and spread it out so it's uniformly about 1/4 inch thick. If you've filled the parchment and have some mixture left over in the pan, save it in the fridge and make a second batch when the first batch is done. Or line another baking sheet and have at it right away.
6. Put your pan into the oven and let it do its thing. Briefly opening the oven now and then will actually help keep the temperature where you'll want it -- mimicking a real dehydrator -- but I honestly didn't check mine very often at all. You'll want to check on yours after three hours at first. Poke it with a finger. If your finger breaks the thin film that's formed on the fruit leather's surface, and it's still gooey in there, keep it going in the oven for a while longer. Ovens vary, so it could be five or six hours before your leather isn't gooey inside anymore. Just make sure it doesn't burn.
7. When it's finished dehydrating and has the appearance and texture of, well, fruit leather, remove your pan from the oven. After allowing the leather to cool, cut it into strips with kitchen scissors (parchment still on), roll them up (parchment side out) and secure them with twine, rubber bands, scotch tape -- anything you have handy. The leather will keep in an airtight container for a good month, but I guarantee it won't be around that long. Kaspar, as you can see, loved this naturally-sweet, nutritious snack; had I allowed it, he'd have devoured the entire batch this very afternoon. Between the two of us, it'll be gone by tomorrow. (If Aaron wants to try some, he'd better get in there, and fast.)
And that's it. Bam! Fruit leather. Cheaper than the store-bought stuff, for sure, especially if you pick your own buckets full of berries at a local farm. I'm going to try making different flavors now that we've made a successful batch. Mango, maybe? Let me know what fruits you try!