Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Mother's broken promise

July 18th, 2012

"Emelina scraped toast corners into a blue enamel pail and ran a sinkful of water. 'I don't think I could stand to let Mason go off to Kindergarten next year if it wasn't for the baby. It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't.'"
--excerpt from Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

From the moment I became pregnant, I made a promise to protect each of my children with every fiber of my being until the day I die. Feeling another human being growing inside of me; I can't explain how that feels, but it changes you. There is a special bond that connects us to our children, a love unlike any other. As a stay at home mom I have devoted my everyday to making sure my children get the best possible life. This includes: feeding them the right foods so they grow, teaching them the right things so they learn, playing with them so they have fun, and always, always keeping them as safe as I possibly can. Just as I promised them I would.

So when you fail to keep that promise you made to your children, it is the worst day of your life. You realize you are vulnerable, you are not Super Woman, and you don't have it all together. You do the best you can, but you will not be able to protect them from everything. It's a hard pill to swallow. Today I had to swallow that pill. After all the stuff we've had to deal with over the last few years you'd think we were done and get some reprieve. We would not be so lucky.

Today started off, just like any other. The kids watching t.v, me hoping to get a few more moments of much needed sleep, willing myself to not get another migraine. Late in the morning I paid some bills, took a shower, and made plans to take my car in for emissions testing after we ate lunch. As always, I asked the kids their preference. Mason asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It had been a while and I happily agreed it was a good idea. A simple and easy lunch as I was determined to get the day started. Realizing Sophie was now three, and could be given peanut butter, I made her one as well. At first she looked at it in the jar and was like, "ew, that's gross. I don't like that." But after cutting it into small star shapes she took her first bite and happily announced, "it's delicious! I like it!" And before I knew it she had devoured the rest, just like that.

A few minutes later she had to go potty and I rushed with her into the bathroom. As she sat there she started coughing and acting funny. "I choke Mommy," she told me. That usually means she's going to throw up. Then she started scratching at her neck and face and rubbing her eyes. I noticed the slight hint of a rash and my concern began to grow. Crap! Could she be allergic? Oh God, I hope not.

Me: "Are you feeling OK, Sweetie?"
Sophie: "I sick. I need to go to doctor."
Me: "You're sick? Like your stomach?" She had eaten three boxes of raisins earlier and I was thinking the horrible poop was on its way.
Sophie: "My heart."
Me: "Your heart?"
Sophie: "My heart," she repeats as she touches her chest.
Me: "Your heart, is it beating fast?"
Sophie: "Yes!" She is clearly upset now.

I try to check her heart, to find out if it is really beating fast; but I can't tell. She is looking kind of pale. I take her off the potty and run to get the phone. I call our pediatricians office, and after a few excruciating moments I talk with a nurse. Sophie is starting to act sleepy at this point and still itching--all over. It is determined that I should skip coming to see them and go straight to the ER, just to be safe. I'm not completely concerned at this point as she is breathing fine, no massive rash showing up all over her body, and no throwing up; she is just irritated and tired. Always erring on the side of caution, I do as I was instructed. I run downstairs to tell Fred what is happening, leave Mason at home with him and make the 10 minute trip up the road to the hospital; thankful we live so close.

Sophie looks like she might be trying to fall asleep. I urge her to stay awake. Despite this, she walks into the ER on her own accord; holding my hand, her baby bear and blankey in tow. And just like all the other times, she seemed to be pretty much fine by the time we enter the lobby. She was asking about stickers and toys as we made our way to the sign-in window. I had just finished filling out the form when I heard Sophie call my name and proceed to puke ALL OVER THE HALLWAY. Nothing was safe; her blankey, baby bear, my purse, our shoes, clothes, and anyone within our vicinity was covered in purple and brown vomit. I stood there trying to calm my daughter down, unsure of anything else to do, while she acted out a scene from the Exorcist. I see a puke pan on the counter and grabbed it just before a nurse came out with a bucket, ushering us out of the waiting room and into the Pediatric Emergency Department. I carried Sophia as fast as I could, listening to her attempts to grasp for air in between moments of vomiting. The next two hours will be the most chaotic, stressful, and horrifying moments of my life.

Immediately, there were 4 people in the room all doing something. Orders were being yelled, Sophie was crying, and then screaming, and then puking some more. The doctor ordered a shot of epinephrine, Benadryl, and a steroid. She confirmed Sophie's throat was closing and pointed out the now massive rash that covered her chin and throat. I felt the tears well up. I was doing my best to stay calm as things were being done but not exactly explained. I knew they were all there to help. The nurses struggled to get in the IV. Sophia was scared and her body, fighting off the allergy, were all causing her veins to constrict. They tried twice in one hand and then twice in the other before finally getting it in. Sophie's screams were more than my emotionally fragile state could handle. It was a sound a mother should never have to hear. Having to endure the fear and pain my daughter was experiencing, the room suddenly became like a sauna and I felt faint. I should have eaten lunch. I knew my vaso vagel was kicking in. It was the stress, the worry, and a lack of blood sugar in my body. In the midst of all this chaos, a nurse found the time to grab me a sandwich, juice, and a chair. I sat there holding Sophie's hand, unable to hold back my tears; the guilt overwhelming. I was the one who agreed to the peanut butter. I was the one who decided it was OK for Sophie to have. I was the one who fed it to her. How could I not feel guilty? I gave my child, my sweet, innocent little girl, food that ended up being almost fatal.

I've had many trips to the ER with both my children, and have always managed to remain calm and never cried. It must have been the knowledge that my daughter was experiencing full-blown anaphylaxis, or perhaps it was the knowledge of my best friend, who having gone into anaphylactic shock after eating a piece of candy, died from her peanut allergy in this very hospital almost 13 years ago to the date. She was only 20 years old. Possibly it was both, along with my guilt, that shook me to my core. The tears flowed and I tried to fight them back. I tried so hard to not show Sophie I was scared; to be that rock, that calm I know she so desperately needed in that moment. Holding her precious little hand in mine, all I could say through my sobs was, "I am so sorry, sweetie. I am so sorry." I kept repeating it, in between kisses, hoping she might turn to me and tell me it was OK; that she wasn't mad at me and that I was still a good Mom. She never did. She just kept screaming. It went on for at least and hour and a half. By the time she had finally calmed down, showing signs of the medicine kicking in and her health improving, it was mid afternoon and we were both exhausted.

As she slept on me, my thoughts drifted back to my friend. I wondered if this was what she went through in the moments before she left this world. How scared she must have been, the pain she must have felt. The tears welled up again and I quickly brushed them away; willing myself to think of anything else. Sophia slept on me for about 45 minutes, until Fred and Mason arrived. By 3:30pm she was feeling better. The doctor came by for a quick check. Sophie's vitals were normal, no more air restriction and the rash was gone; however, she needed to stay one more hour for observation to make sure her reaction didn't flare up again. By 4:30pm we were all restless and ready to go home. At this point, Sophie was playing with Mason and even laughing. It was like she was a whole new child. She had her spunk, her attitude, and her smile back. I even allowed myself to smile. Four hours after we arrived, she was finally discharged and we could all go home.

Within 24 hours of the whole ordeal, I sat down and wrote story you just ready above; my emotions still raw, but I knew I needed to get it out. In the days that followed I did the best I could to show a brave face while inside I was falling apart. When I could no longer keep it together, I hid in the pantry and sobbed. Terrified, overwhelmed, and feeling all alone I struggled with thoughts of where to start. When it came down to it I really knew nothing about food allergies. Then I remembered that I really wasn't alone, and reached out to those I knew with kids who suffered from food allergies. I have spent the last week immersing myself in websites, blogs and online support groups learning as much as I can about peanut allergies. I want to be as informed as possible, so I could then educate my daughter, our family, and our friends. This is our first and foremost line of defense. We cannot effectively protect her if we do not know how. As it turns out, I was right; I knew nothing.

This is a major lifestyle change for us and I would be lying if I said it was going to be easy. I now carry an Epi Pen with me wherever we go, another one stays at our house, while yet two more are slated for my parents home, and Sophie's preschool. We have been advised to avoid not only peanuts, but also tree nuts until we can get her tested by an allergist. My biggest fear is not that we can no longer have peanut butter. Yes, it sucks. I love me some PB&J and Mason's favorite was PB and Fluff. However, its not like we ate them on a daily basis. Quite the contrary. PB was almost like a treat in the house, something we only ate every so often. Mac n Cheese, Chicken Nuggets, and such are more of a staple in our house. Besides, I don't like foods with nuts it them anyway. I've never been a huge fan, so that part is not a big deal. At least for me. Fred, well he likes himself some nuts (I mean he lives with us right?). Seriously though, he loves nuts. Still, we rarely have a can of nuts, or a bag of peanuts in our house. Again, a non issue. Done. No nuts. We're over it. Move on. Except that's not all of it. What terrifies me the most are all those foods out there with the hidden danger. The ones that have possibly been exposed or might have traces of peanuts in them. Foods that would never have crossed my mind as being life threatening to my child. It is astounding the number of foods we have eaten on a regular basis that have "manufactured in a facility,"or "manufactured on equipment" that also process peanuts written in the nutrition section. Something I never noticed, or rather never even attempted to look for because there wasn't a need. These are all now on the don't even think about it, no seriously just forget you even knew this food existed list. No more chocolate chip pancakes; no more M&M's with our popcorn on movie nights; no more going out for ice cream or frozen yogurt; no more Twix for me, Snickers for Fred, or any candy bar for that matter (I can Halloween is going to be a hurdle); no more running up the road to Harvest Bread Co. for their delicious homemade breads and rolls; no more cake or cupcakes from the bakery (birthday parties are going to be a bitch); no more cookies from the snack bar, or treats from the sample booth; and good lord, going to a restaurant now puts me in a panic. And when I think of how the kids get excited for haircuts just so they can get their packaged cookies from Ms. Holly it breaks my heart, because they can't have that anymore. The threat of cross-contamintion on any single food is extremely real and down right terrifying. Even those who mean well and try to make nut-free cookies, treats, or other foods for my child could potentially be putting her life at risk if they didn't properly wash their equipment, hands, utensils, and surrounding area. How can this not be a parent's worst nightmare?

Right now we are waiting for her appointment with the Allergist to arrive and crossing my fingers we have no more allergic reactions between now and then (and well never again. But I figured that was a given). In the days and weeks to come I am hoping to have the answers to my questions and at least some of my fear subsided before Sophia starts school in the fall. At least I have the small comfort of knowing her preschool is a nut-free facility and that allergy notices are posted in the classroom as well as the kitchen. Yet still, I freeze in fear at the thought of her not being under my supervision, or rather at the mercy of others, for three hours every day. As if I wasn't already the neurotic, paranoid Mom about ticks and Lyme Disease, a peanut allergy HAD to be thrown in the mix. How am I going to get through this? How am I going to not freak out and worry every second of the day that she is not in my presence? I was so excited and ready for her to go off to school, to spend that time away from me, and now I can't find the strength to let her go. Does it get easier? Will I always worry? Am I going to become that Helicopter Mom my husband warns me I am turning into? Will I die of a heart attack, or ulcer from worry before she comes close to ever having a reaction again?

I suppose the answers to those questions will come in time. For now, I am going to pour myself a glass of wine, sit down with my favorite TV show, and will myself to relax. If only for a few fleeting moments. Stay tuned for more posts about this peanut allergy as we navigate our way through this challenging diagnosis.
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Monday, July 23, 2012


Sophia picked a set of Princess paper dolls from her earning bag this morning. As she sat there picking out outfits and accessories she turned to me and proudly announced, "Don't they look stylish?" Mason then came over to check out her work. "You always make them look stylish," he tells her with a smile.

I felt this profound sense of pride in his ability to compliment his sister without being prompted. And that is why I love these two so much. Their genuine devotion for one another makes me so proud and always puts a smile on my face. Don't get me wrong, they fight like cats and dogs just like any normal siblings; but they also hold a deep love and caring for each other. This love is shown to us when Mason falls off his bike and Sophie jumps off hers, running to his aide and making sure he is alright. When either child is sick the other is so concerned they lay by their side while they sleep. When Sophie is upset, for any number of reasons, Mason quickly rushes to give her hugs and kisses, and reassurance it will be OK. The most recent example: our trip to the ER (which will be explained in a later post). While on the phone with Fred, Mason was in the background yelling that he wanted to talk to Sophie, to make sure she was feeling better. This special relationship they share, while it can be taught, is one they were just born with. From infancy, Mason was the only one who could calm Sophie down when she was really upset. We would try all we could until finally giving in and asking, "Mason, can you sing ABC's to her?" He would happily do so each and every time, and sure enough Sophie would calm right down. We really hit the jackpot with our kids. I say this because I only recently realized that not all siblings act this way, whether they care for one another or not. For instance: We were at a party talking with friends about our kids, and we mentioned the things Mason and Sophie do for one another when they are hurt. Our friend, who has three kids, responded that his kids didn't do that. They care for each other and get along great, but they were not the ones to rush to each others side in order to make sure they were OK. Really? Not all siblings do that? It was then that I began to feel real lucky with the family we created. So now, when I come across moments like this, ones that show the true meaning of unconditional love and family, my heart bursts open and I can't help but point out its greatness.

As I turned around, catching Mason's eye, a smile spread across my lips and I said to him, "That was such a nice compliment you gave to your sister. I really love that." The smile and look of pride on his face was the best gift in the world.

Thank you for these two wonderful souls, as they were definitely meant to be siblings.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Passport to Summer

In 2010 the kids and I had a Summer full of adventures, which I chronicled on this blog. It was one of the more fun Summers I can remember. Partly intentional, as we planned weekly play dates with friends, while others were purely spur of the moment ideas. I hoped to continue those adventures the following year with no such luck. Some friends moved, others went back to work, and every time I tried to get a group together it never panned out. So, I was faced with a decision. Let the kids be bored at home all Summer, or bite the bullet and do the things we wanted all on our own. We ended up doing less stuff, just me and the kids. It wasn't ideal, but we made do. At the end of the year, I bravely took the kids to the Zoo on my own for the very first time. I hate DC, especially when driving, and have never been in the city by myself. It wasn't as bad as I feared, but it was kind of lonely. Trips like this are better when shared. The kids never seemed to know the difference, but as Summer came to an end I swore I would do better.

Unfortunately, it seems that this year we are facing the same situation of doing all our "Adventures" just the three of us. I won't lie, I'm stressing about the whole thing. The kids are older, more demanding, and easily bored. I have a smaller budget, less patience, and an extreme lack of inspiration. I think the hardest part is finding the motivation when it's just me and the kids. They behave better when they have friends to play with and my stress level goes way down in the presence of a fellow Mom. If you are a parent you are nodding your head and saying to yourself, "True Dat."

The motivation factor has a lot to do with fear. I'm not afraid of my kids, I'm afraid of how things turn out when it's just the three of us. Them running rampant because they are bored, me yelling because they won't listen, and all of us miserable. It's just not fun. In these moments I lack control and therefore confidence in myself as an effective parent. As a result, I struggle with the motivation to do things with them. So as I mentioned before, when you add in friends I find I am better able to hold myself accountable for the plans we make. When I run solo I need to dig deep and get creative. Make my own motivation. This Summer I was determined to keep us busy in order to avoid the usual routine and resulting outcome. I only needed a spark of inspiration to get me going.

We get the Sunday Post for the coupons but I have found that I enjoy reading through it while sipping my morning cup of coffee. One Sunday I found myself perusing the Arts section and discovered their Summer Preview with a full list of kids events. I felt like I hit the jackpot and circled certain events I thought the kids would possibly enjoy. I added those to the already ongoing list of things we do every year; trip to the Zoo, Free Summer Movies at local theaters, visit to the fountains, and of course the neighborhood pool. This gave me a little more confidence heading into the Summer months. From here, I decided to finally put together a project I've been wanting to do for awhile.

I came across the idea of the Summer Passport while reading blogs about scrapbooking. I thought it was brilliant. Each child has a passport for the Summer and just like a real passport, you need, and want, to go places in order to fill it with as many different stamps as you can. Just as you would get a stamp for going to different countries, the kids get stamps for the different events that we plan, places we visit, and adventures we have. Seriously fun right? So as with all my creative endeavors, I took the general idea and made it my own.

First, I created the cover of the passport. I stuck with the color blue of traditional passports but made it a more Summer hue. I searched for ways other people and places designed their passports. I was amazed at the popularity. Libraries, Schools, Botanical Gardens, Summer Camps, Museums, the list goes on. They were all using this passport concept. I settled on a simple design which Mason pointed out looks a bit like Captain America's shield (which he loved). I was going to make the passport look authentic, similar to the real thing, but after Fred's reaction to the Driver's Licenses I made the kids (they were too close to the real deal and he was worried I might be infringing on federal laws) I decided against it. I had my design printed out on 5x7 photo paper at Costco and folded it in half. This makes my passport 5x3.5 inches.
Next I made their ID pages. I made a little area for their picture and listed their name, age, hometown, and a brief summary of their current likes. This was more for memory keeping purposes so I could compare to future years. I then created a little blurb describing the purpose of the passport. I got this idea from reading through my own.
For the inner pages I repeated the design on the front and then changed the opacity to like 35%, created four blocks for the stamps, added page numbers, and the words Summer Adventures.
I included pages with pockets so the kids could keep souvenirs of their adventures such as, ticket stubs, postcards, brochures, maps, photos, drawings, crafts, notes, etc. I figured out where I wanted each page and then printed those 5x7 according to the set up and glued them back to back. For example, I have 8 stamp pages so I printed the ID page and stamp page eight on the same paper and folded in half. Likewise, I printed pages two and seven together, three and six together, and four and five together. Once they were all glued together and folded, I opened it to the middle and stapled them in place.

They came out better than I thought and the kids absolutely love them. I figured I could use this as a way to hold myself accountable for fun this Summer. If I want the kids to have full passports by the end of the August then I have to stick to the plan and face my fears of venturing out with them on my own. Besides, I know Mason at least will constantly ask about his stamps, wanting to get more in his passport.
Here is a shot of our current stamps. This only includes the month of June. I haven't gotten around to stamping July yet. I just searched my stamp supply for images that closely represented each adventure. I included the date and a description of what we did. The kids get so excited to find a new stamp in their passport. Now I just need the weather to hold out so we can continue the fun. Crossing my fingers we get a full passport by August 27th.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Maybe she's born with it

A few weeks ago we spent an entire day with friends. It was not exactly planned, and turned out to be one of the more productive and fun weekends we've had in a while.

It started with a phone call. My friends husband needed to talk to mine. Which in and of itself does not sound like anything special, but it was out of the norm for him to call our house and speak to Fred directly. You see, the wives (me and my friend) are the ones who are friends. And when I say friends, I don't mean the neighbor you hit it off with when you first moved in, or the fellow PTA mom, not even your sorority sister from college. I'm talking about the friend you've known since you were 2 years old. The one who lived across the street your entire childhood. The friend you did everything with, your best friend in the entire world, until you had a horrible falling out in college. The friend who after 8 years of not talking, took the first step to reconciliation at your 10 year High School reunion. The friend with whom you now share a connection as if it never ended. With whom, much like the Phoenix, you have a friendship that was reborn from the ashes; foundation repaired, slightly renovated, and fully restored.

Wow! That crudely summed up 31 years in about 2 seconds. But you get the point. I've known this woman for a really long time. Practically my entire life. We are the friends, our husbands are just along for the ride. So to have them contacting each other, conspiring projects together, was an oddity.

As I sat there on the couch listening to one side of the conversation, pretending to be engrossed on the website on my computer screen, I became more and more curious. What in the world were they talking about? Something involving coming to our house and using Fred's welder. Will we be home tomorrow? The kids could play and the girls catch up. Before I knew it my Sunday morning was already planned for me and I only heard snippets of what that would entail. It turns out, my friends husband brews his own beer. This I already knew. However, he needed to make a new stand for his burner and wanted to borrow Fred's skills and welder in order to do it. Fred, of course, jumped at the chance to play with fire and help out a friend. As I watched him explain the design to me, I could see that familiar smile creep upon his lips. They were going to have way too much fun doing this.

Fast forward, it's Sunday morning, kids bummed there is no Grandma Sunday, but super stoked friends are coming over to play. As the boys disappear into the garage, our kids play restaurant and draw pictures while my friend and I discuss the latest in our lives. She offered to help her cousin with the programs for their upcoming wedding and she had no idea where to start. She was hoping I could help since I am such a creative, crafty guru. A few minutes later I am pulling up Pinterest and seriously getting into designing these programs. We all break for lunch, enjoying our traditional Sunday Potbelly sandwiches and shakes. The boys are done and now discussing how you brew beer. Next thing I know, it was agreed we would all head over to their house to brew beer on the newly created burner. So we clean up lunch, pack up our stuff, and hop in the car.

The kids never missed a beat, returning right to play as soon as we arrive. The boys quickly head off to brew the beer and I sit down at the computer. My friend and I deep in creative discussion about the wedding program. She never had to ask. I love to create! I could sit at a computer designing things in photoshop all day. I was happily in my element, working till it was done and dinner time arrived. As I said, we spent an entire day with friends. While we enjoyed our dinner in the dinning room, the kids quickly scarfed down theirs before returning to play. It was nice to have adult conversation and not be interrupted by screaming kids. It was then, mid bliss, that I realized it had been awhile since we heard any noise from the children. In my house, this usually means they are up to no good. As I mentioned this out loud, Fred went up to the bedrooms to check on them. He returned carrying Sophia, her arms and legs spread out as if she was terrified to let anyone touch them.

"She was on the top bunk," Fred explains. Our first reaction was, how did she even get up there? She knew she wasn't allowed on the top bunk because previously in the day it was discovered she could not get herself down and screaming for me to help her. Then we discovered that was not the worst of it. Fred shows her hands and feet to us. They are messily painted a dark blue. "I boot-iful," Sophie exclaims. That's when it hits us. The realization of what was going on upstairs. Why the silence. My friends face drops. "They were painting their nails on the top bunk? On the brand new comforter I just bought?!" Fred and I exchanged knowing looks. Someone's about to be in trouble.

Her husband returns from upstairs, comforter in hand, blue nail polish, clear as day, smack dab in the middle. I cringe. Then he places the small bottle of Bon Bons dark blue nail polish on the counter. I freeze. Eyes wide, fixated on the nail polish, wondering if anyone recognizes that bottle, because I do. It was one of the favors from Sophie's birthday party. Oh, snap! I'm the one in trouble. I felt so guilty having supplied the contraband that ruined a brand new comforter.

Sophie, however, spent the next 24 hours refusing to use her fingers afraid to mess up her pretty nails even though we assured they were dry. And over the next two weeks she kept showing off her nails and telling anyone and everyone she was beautiful. I admit she does look cute in the polish, and they were perfect for 4th of July. What we can't figure out is where does she get this love for all things girly? I'm talking makeup, nail polish, skirts and tutus, etc. I am not a real girly girl. I hardly every wear skirts or dresses. I haven't had a manicure or pedicure in over a year, and maybe once a year (Halloween) paint my own nails. I don't wear makeup, unless Fred and I have a date, or I'm attending a special occasion. Both of which rarely happen. Don't get me wrong, I like to dress up and look beautiful. It's just not a part of my daily life/routine. So we can't figure it out. We know she doesn't get it from me. The only thing we can think of is this; she is a girl, and girls are born with it.
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