Saturday, March 22, 2014

PS

The reason I've been blogging so much more prolifically is because I, for the first time in maybe 4 years, have a working laptop that actually can go on my lap. No more botulism batteries for me! 

Hatebait and the Cupcake Wars, or How To Rankle For Fun And Profit

A few weeks back, someone blogged about how much it annoyed her to have to keep celebratory food out of the classroom because of food allergies. It's not a necessarily uncommon sentiment, but it was written in a particularly incendiary way, so HuffPo picked it up. Then it was everywhere. And it worked. Members of the food-allergy community were properly incensed. Responses were crafted, graphics were drawn, a pithy name was given to the faux conflict: The Cupcake Wars. 

Now, my son won't be able to eat any random cupcakes in class. So, by simple fact of demography, I'd be in with the food-allergy folks. And I *was* pissed, but not for the sentiment expressed. 

I was pissed because I knew that none of the responses, no matter how eloquent and heartfelt, would change the writer's mind. Not because of how strongly she holds her beliefs, but because I would bet a large amount of money that she doesn't even believe them at all. And I'm tired of that nonsense. Don't waste my time if you're not even going to be sincere. If you're already relatively anonymous (and I would argue that signing just your name -- even if it's real -- in a country of 313 million is still relatively anonymous), why not tell the truth?

I mean, I know why. Bloggers need the clicks. And they'll prey on the pervasive fear of the unknown (ie: other people! and their scary possible viewpoints! aiee!) to get them.

It's the same with blog posts with perfectly illustrative narratives. Parenting blogs are teeming with them. But you know what hardly ever happens in real life? Perfectly illustrative narratives. Oh, a nameless man at my son's sports practice said something mean! And I had such a comeback! The blogger always happens to be the hero of such parables. And you know? Even if I agree with the basic sentiment, I just don't believe them. If your argument is strong enough, let it stand on its own merits. Don't try to sell me some magical story.

Now, I get it. I'm making this very point on an ostensibly anonymous blog. But I would bet that both readers of this blog know me, and would say, yeah, this sounds just like her. 

Look, I like stories. I tell stories. But if you're going to tell ones that both involve you and aren't true, call them what they are: your own personal fan fiction. Just don't try to James Frey me.

Family Ties

A couple years ago we took A for some swimming lessons. They were a shrieky debacle, but he often asks about his teacher, Mr. Josh. So he was pretty excited when the gym put up headshots of all the staffers, including his favorite aquatics instructor. I hoisted him up to see it and said, "Hey, buddy, it's Mr. Josh!" He just asked, "Where's his mom?" 

This happens pretty often; when he sees an adult, he wonders where his or her parents are, or will say that the person is "sad because he doesn't have his dad with him." It's like he's from another time -- a time before sons and daughters left their families to make lives on their own. Sons and daughters like his mom and dad -- a thousand miles away from their hometown. Something about his perspective is so simple and sweet. Even though I went as far away as I could, as quickly as I could, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the closeness of family, that I didn't wish it was just as he thinks -- that people grow with their families forever. I don't know how my parents felt when I left, but I know karma will come for me soon enough.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tongue twisters

My stupid human trick is that I can flip my tongue all the way over. I don't know how uncommon it is; I do know that the extremely small sample size of people I asked -- my sister and Jeffrey -- can't. Heck, I didn't even know that I could do it myself until I caught myself in the mirror doing it sometime after college. 

Well, turns out, Abbott does it, too. Also unknowingly, until I showed it to him in the mirror. Now he does it every night, looking straight at me. Like a little gang sign to me. He says, "Is this what you and I have together, Mom? We can flip our tongues over?" 

I would never have been able to predict how much this delights me. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

One of A's favorite books is called Not A Box. It's a super fun book about an imaginative little bunny, whose plain cardboard box is anything but a box. It's a space ship, a race car, a mountain, et cetera. We read it all the time. So when I looked in our Question-a-Day book and saw today's question, What would you do with a great big box? I knew I was in for something good.
His answer? "Open it." Completely serious.
I imagine this is what it's like to ask me a question.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our food-allergy journey, part 1

Today for breakfast, Abbott had blackberries and a toaster waffle with almond butter and powdered sugar on top. It was a meal three years in the making.
I'll start at the beginning.

<insert gauzy b/w flashback sequence, with obligatory bangs to make me look younger>

When he was four months old, Abbott got a little pink rash on his cheek. I can pinpoint the month because Jeffrey's parents were visiting, and I immediately blamed them, with their commercial cleansers and scents (we'd been using soap nuts and no fabric softeners for years). But they cleaned up, and it still got steadily worse until it spread to his chin and his skin basically started to disintegrate. It wasn't every day, but it was a lot of them.


February, 2011. The skin seemed to bother us more than it bothered him. Buddy.

Our pediatrician was hesitant to put him on topical steroids, so we switched to another one in the practice who had no such hesitation.
As we were trying to get the skin condition under control, we noticed that he was also having gastrointestinal problems and getting skinnier and skinnier. I cut dairy and soy out of my diet, and tried cutting other things out, too, but it was like fixing an old pipe -- tighten one connection and another one would spring a leak. It took weeks for everything I tried eliminating to clear from my system, and I was impatient. That was a bad combination for sussing out the problems.

So at about 8 months, our pediatrician referred us to a pediatric allergist. He tested positive for milk and tree nut allergies, both of which I suspected. So began our journey of extreme care and heightened anxiety. I read and asked questions voraciously, and cried just as much, wondering if I should quit my job to stay home with him. It wasn't realistic, but I tortured myself with the guilt of it anyway, wondering if he would die at day care because he and another kid mouthed the same toy. For the first year, we were able to keep him home with a nanny, but then we put him in a center. We packed all his food every night, and he was eating an extremely limited diet. Looking back, I can see that it wasn't the best, but it was the only thing we felt comfortable with. 

That place worked out well until I came to pick him up one day after about five months to find the left side of his face red and puffy -- and no one noticed until I got there. I dosed him with Benadryl and yanked him from the center. We looked and looked for a place that understood his allergies (no one seems to know what tree nuts are) and finally found a place we loved. The director's daughter has peanut allergies, and when he mentioned "tree nuts vs. ground nuts" on my walkthrough, I was sold.

That year at his allergy appointment, he tested negative for tree nuts but positive for milk and additionally positive for eggs (I thought he might). Since he had already tested positive for tree nuts, we stayed away from them. One night the next year I made some shrimp, which he loved and enthusiastically and happily downed. About 20 minutes later he had huge welts and was vomiting, so we stayed away from that, too. To this day I can't eat shrimp; just thinking about it reminds me of how heartbreaking it was for him to enjoy it so much and then have a terrible reaction.  

We settled into a routine that was never quite comfortable: Check every label, curse the companies (it seemed like all of them) that combine production lines with allergens; make the vast majority of your food yourself; bring food everywhere you go; keep treats at school so he doesn't get crackers when other kids get cake; inform people when you can; be grateful as heck for vegans, without whom we wouldn't have so many great dairy- and egg-free options; read up and worry, worry, worry. Road trips -- hell, any trips out of the house -- were a challenge, because we didn't know what we'd be able to eat, where. So they involved weeks of research and plotting. Thank goodness for Chipotle.
Then last May, at 2 1/2, we had a breakthrough. We did a baked milk food challenge (baked egg we'd discovered was OK before he tested positive for it) -- a square of regular cornbread at the allergist's office. Jeffrey and I were both nervous as hell to knowingly give him something that we had gone to great lengths to keep him away from, but we had to be calm in front of Abbott. He needed to eat the cornbread so that we could see the results, and he wasn't going to if he sniffed any nerves from us. So he ate, and we and the medical staff watched him carefully for hours. 

He passed. A couple weeks later he ate a hot dog, complete with bun, at a festival. If he saw me crying that day, he didn't let on. And damn if I don't get a little teary every time he's able to eat something out -- just like a normal kid would. 

For a year we've been eating baked milk and egg -- Goldfish and Goldfish knockoffs, homemade Cheddar Bay Biscuits, cookies, muffins, cakes. I still introduce each new thing very carefully, with at least 4 hours of time afterward to watch him for reactions. We still bring our own cupcakes to parties, since many frostings have unbaked milk in them, and we still order dairy-free pizza since that's not quite baked enough (but again, thank goodness for the vegans!). We've home-tested the toaster waffles and pancakes they serve at school, which he now asks for all the time. 

It's revolutionized our lives and eased a lot of fears, but the spectre of his tree nut allergies has always hung over us. Those are the severe anaphylactic reactions we read about -- the tragically young deaths. Even though he hadn't tested positive for that allergy since that very first time, we religiously stayed away, at our allergist's urging. I'd asked her about  studies about desensitizing allergies -- whatever was getting press that month. She looked me in the eyes and said, "that has resulted in dead babies. Dead. Babies." That was the end of that. 

We also knew the numbers, that a majority of children outgrow dairy and egg allergies, while a majority of people never outgrow tree nut and peanut allergies. We knew that we were in for a lifetime of worry.

But this week we went in for his third annual allergy exam. After consecutive negative tree nut tests, she tested for two specific ones -- almond and cashew. Both came up clean. I came prepared to ask for a clinical food challenge for tree nuts, but before I could, she told us to just give him tree nuts. At home. With our hands. He's not allergic to tree nuts, she said. Just like that. For a day, I walked around incredulous, untrusting. But this morning I casually pulled both of our downstairs EpiPen Jrs. out of their holders and served him the waffle with almond butter. I watched him eat, then watched the clock as 4 hours ticked by extremely slowly. Nothing.

I'm not quite ready to declare that I feel comfortable with him eating all tree nuts. I'm still blocking out 4-hour chunks in which I can try him on different nut products. I'm still waiting for a shoe to drop (whichever one, doesn't matter). But I never expected to serve him almond butter on purpose. It's huge. 
As I write this, I'm keenly aware of those who deal with far worse allergies, who have struggled more, who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out to them. Food allergies have always been part of my family, but I never understood them until they came into my home. It's made me ever more understanding. I am, and will always be, a strong ally.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Scenes from the dinner table

A's teacher mentioned today that he talks a lot now, but still goes silent if he doesn't think he knows the answer to a question. So I broached the topic with him.

Me: Hey, buddy, what do you think would happen if you answered a question wrong?
A: I would go to jail?
Me: No, buddy, you wouldn't go to jail.
A: Yes I would! I would go to jail!


Damn, that shit starts early.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Nothing gold can stay

I didn't know who Kim Novak was when she rolled up on the Oscars stage last weekend; Hitchcock is generally too scary for my tastes. But I of course recognized the look -- the extensive plastic surgery, the cartoonish face. And as always, I judged her. Why do beautiful people get plastic surgery, I thought. They're already so beautiful; to age gracefully would be much more beautiful than what seems inevitable under the knife. Why must they be so vain? I would never get plastic surgery.

There was some history there for me. I'd never been a pretty child; I knew it. But people always told me I was smart. And I thought that that somehow was more important and more meaningful than physical beauty. It made me more special than the pretty people. Of course, that was my defense. I really wanted to be pretty.

But this week, as people alternately mocked and defended Kim Novak, I realized: We're actually a lot alike. That's not to say that I think I'm as smart as Kim Novak (or any other person who feels the need to get plastic surgery) was beautiful. It's to say that we all have gifts in the truest sense of the term: We did absolutely nothing to deserve them. Genetics handed us these things -- musical talent, athletic ability, intellectual ability, physical beauty. As much as we identify with these traits, it's just fortune. Sure, we choose whether we use and develop them (if we have those opportunities), but we have no say in any of it. And they diminish without our control; cells break down in our skin, in our muscles, in our brains. For years I've felt my mind diminishing. Words don't come as quickly as they used to, and when they do, they're just close to what I want. I work with words every day, and I'm losing the verbal precision I once enjoyed. 

But here's the big difference between me and the Kim Novaks of the world: My vanity has never been tested. There's no surgery that promises to take 10 years off my brain. If something like that existed, who knows what I would choose. What would I risk for the promise of more intelligence? My luck is that I won't have to carry that decision around on my face for the rest of my life.

It's funny to me how much we value the things we have no control over. Little of it has to do with character, and all of it fades. But there are things we can control; the kindness, the understanding, the forgiveness we offer -- the capacity for these things does not diminish as we grow older. If anything, they grow with us. I never valued these when I was younger. But I'm glad to see the error of my ways.