Thursday, May 29, 2014

a dose of reality

It wasn't until our daughter went to the ER for the first time for an allergic reaction that I really felt what it was like to be completely helpless as a parent. The fear was paralyzing; I couldn't think straight. I remember racing to the car with my baby in arms completely naked. She didn't even have a diaper on. It never even occurred to me to use the Epipen. The one tool I have to keep my baby safe and I'm afraid of it. How awful is that?

If you don't have food allergies, it's easy to assume they're not a big deal or that sufferers are just being difficult or "special." 

I can say my daughter was not being difficult when, not even a year old, she broke out in hives after eating scrambled eggs. She was not trying to be special when her lips swelled up after mistakenly eating nuts in a sauce at a restaurant or when she ate an energy bar packed with not one but three offenders: almonds, cashews and flax (we didn't know about her allergies at the time).

I've always been casual about health and people's "issues" with diets and food. I tend to not take them seriously, and so even though we carry Epipens and have been through more bottles of Benedryl than I care to admit, I'm still grappling with what it means to have a child with a disability around food. Not only a disability, but one that is potentially deadly. 

Ever since her food allergy diagnosis and we picked up her first Epipens at the pharmacy, there's been this lump of fear in the back of my throat that Amelia will go into anaphylaxis and I will be paralyzed and not know what to do. 

I don't do well with the unknown, the unpredictable or with things I don't understand. Like, why was she able to eat almond butter so many times before and not react? Why did she not react the time my mother mistakenly fed her flax that was lurking in a butter spread? Why did she break out in hives inexplicably after eating strawberries and carrots at school? She is not allergic to those foods.

I've been thinking about Amelia's allergies more this week, because we had our annual visit to the allergist recently and she had to be retested for her known allergies as well as new ones.

They pricked her back over and over and half of the pricks turned into hives. Amelia was screaming and trying to scratch her itchy back. The cashew one was the biggest. Eggs didn't make a hive at all.

So the good news is Amelia can have eggs now. She's grown out of that allergy. But we discovered she has environmental allergies as well: cats, pollen. We were advised to get rid of our cats and then scrub down the bedroom. Get rid of our cats? They are part of our family. But keeping them could increase her risk of developing asthma.

As a parent, we make decisions every day that are subject to second-guessing. Breast feed or not, work or stay at home, organic or not. But these are not life and death decisions. When it comes to your child's health, are you a criminal for being lax? Keep the cats and risk asthma. Go to a restaurant and risk cross contamination. Give her a piece of chocolate that "may contain traces of nuts"?

I want to care for my child, but I also don't want her to live life feeling as though she can't enjoy it. But is the risk worth it? I don't know enough yet to feel as though I have the right answer. I'm still new at this thing called parenting.
What would you do?

Allergy prick test.

In the ER with puffy lips after eating hazelnuts.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A room of their own

Long before the kids' room was a bedroom, it was our den, where we as a young unmarried couple spent countless hours lounging and watching tv. And long, long ago, before the building was divided into condos—when the grand old Victorian house housed just one family and Elm trees lined South Union Street, where there were no cars, but just horses and buggies—we think it was probably a dining room. The dumb-waiter door to the en suite loo suggests it was probably the staff entrance to the kitchens. And the large stain glass windows feature a cornucopia of colorful fruit.

As a den, it was our favorite room in the house, but it took some time and some compromise to turn it into the space we loved. The wall color was the thing. The room has beautiful mahogany woodwork. But there is a lot of it and it is dark. When we bought the apartment in 2008, the walls were painted white and the stark contrast against the wood gave the room an odd cold feeling. It needed color to play off the warmth of the wood. I wanted navy blue. Col wanted teal. We ended up consulting a color therapist. I don't believe that is her true occupational title, but the woman was brilliant and found us a middle point—blue Danube.

So we painted and we decorated. We bought our first sofa together and put it in that room. We made creative used of the old closed-up fireplace by putting our tv there. It was a wonderful sanctuary and we spent more time there than any other room in the house.

Three years later, we had our first child and needed a room for her. Our only choice was to transform the den into a nursery. It was hard at first to give that up to a being who we had not even met yet.

In a somewhat noncommittal fashion, we decided to keep the blue walls and most everything else the way it was. I'm glad we did that. Those walls and that room tell a story—about the early years of our relationship, marriage and starting a family together. 

Soon after Amelia was born, I remember hanging up alphabet cards on the wall with little clothespins. I had purchased them earlier that day—my first outing alone after I had given birth. My mom had stayed home with the baby and then held her as she watched me attach cards one by one over the crib, transforming our den into a baby room.

There's something magic about that room that seems to welcome and adapt to each phase of our life. 

Some nights when Amelia was a small baby and I spent hours holding her in the darkness of that room, I sensed there were others in there with me. Spirits from families past watching over us. I would imagine dinner parties in the old dining room—liveliness, laughter and candlelight with the butler standing so still and upright in the corner.

Sometimes the presence would spook me and I'd rush to switch on the light. I still get chills thinking about it now, though I haven't sensed the spirits in a long time. Perhaps they observed long enough to feel comfortable letting us live in this dwelling and they decided to let us be. 

Now we are a family of four and the room is shared between toddler and baby. We added a dresser, we tidied things up. Amelia's toddler bed now takes the place under the fireplace mantle. But we didn't change much else and I'm glad about that.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take some photos and submit them to a design website that I like. They featured the photos a couple of days ago in their user-submitted column. People started commenting on the page and I was surprised at how touched people were by the space—and the color. 

I feel as though I can't take much credit. It is not a consciously designed room, it just adapts little by little to the needs of our family. It is a room that lives and breathes, right along with those who inhabit it. Perhaps the spirits are still there, somewhere in the walls, making accommodations to our silent requests. Then quietly taking note of our moments, significant and otherwise, writing them down with forever ink onto the long parchment scroll that tells this building's history. It is magic, and I feel so lucky to be a part of the story.

Our old den:

Friday, May 16, 2014

He smiles

I breath a sigh of relief. It's 11:32 on a Friday night. Col is out with some friends and I'm in bed with little A. Milly is asleep in her own bed. For once. All of the lights in the house are off. 

Up until this week, we've been leaving a light on in our bedroom, knowing there'd be numerous nighttime wakings and diaper changes. Knowing that I'd want to SEE--not just hear--the little guy breathing next to me.

So much changes in a month--and even from day to day. I'm feeling more confident. The baby is more confident. He knows more. We sleep with the lights out now. If little guy so much as stirs I simply roll over, shove a tit in his mouth and fall back asleep. 

He's started smiling at me too. And at his big sissy. I think they will be great friends. That is my hope at least.

Before Angus was born many people warned me that having two kids was harder than one kid x2. I never really understood what that meant. I still don't, and I'm not seeing this unfold. At least not yet. Am I being naive? Are we still in a honeymoon phase? If so, I want to cherish this, because it's pretty frickin' great.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The way we are now

I woke up this past Monday morning thinking "yesterday was one of the best days ever." It was Mother's Day and we had spent the day together as a family on a mini road trip down route 7.

We stopped for pastries at Vergennes Laundry--something I've been wanting to do for months--and then headed to Middlebury, where I had attended college a few years back. There was a new shop I wanted to check out and I thought it would be fun to explore campus. 

We did neither. The shop was closed for the holiday and we never made it up the hill to the campus. Instead we had a picnic by the waterfall in town and then got side-tracked by the Morgan Horse Farm right outside of town, where there were 6 or 7 new baby foals vying for our attention on such a lovely, sunny spring day.

The kids were on their best behavior too, Angus slept the whole time and Amelia was a complete peach, playing frisbee with her papa and laughing uncontrollably and wanting to say hello to every single horse at the farm.

It was almost 3 by the time we headed home, way past nap time. We were treading on dangerous territory. But there were no meltdowns. Just two zonked out kids for the 50 minute drive home. 


Back at home Col and Amelia stopped at a lemonade stand on their walk to pick up burritos for our dinner. Angus and I just lounged on the sofa for a bit. It really was a perfect day, not extravagant or outrageous by any means, but it was exactly what I wanted or needed.

I was explaining to Col that visiting Middlebury always brings with it a certain amount of anxiety. I go there and I see the buildings and remember the memories. I had a good time there and I have no regrets, but I was wild and also a college kid. I look back at the me in my late teens and twenties and cringe just a little bit. I want that girl to grow up. I want the people I was trying to impress or prove something to to see that this girl has grown up. I've changed so much. 

Just as that girl could not related to who I  today, I have a hard time relating to her. To her, excitement was making out with an Italian supermodel on a dance floor somewhere in Paris. Now? I just want a picnic with my family. 

And I got it. Such a lucky lady.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

little language

Amelia's first real words were banana and butterfly. When she was less than a year old, she would say "na-NA-na-na" and "BUTT-eee" with great enthusiasm. And we as parents delighted in the fact that we could understand what she was saying. That we could now start communicating together.

Now just a little more than a year later, it's incredible to me how much of a communicator our little one is.

The other day, when we were looking at the magnets on the refrigerator, she asked, "where did the hippopotamus go?" First of all, hippopotamus?? Yes, she knows what one is and she can say it, all five syllables and all. But secondly, out of 20 animal magnets, she knew that one was missing. And that it was the hippo. These days, I can't claim to have such great observational skills.

Amelia has also come to understand adverbs and uses them freely and correctly. "I want to hold Angus," she says and then adds after a little pause as though to illustrate her new skill, "AFTER he's done eating."

So yes, we are communicating very well with this little toddler, who not too long ago was a little meatloaf in my arms. But there are still quirky little things she says that just make me chuckle and I know I will regret it if I don't write some of them down. Here:

- She has a funny accent (we don't know where it came from). For some words, such as tent, it's decidedly southern "TAY-ent" and other times it sounds like she's straight from the Northeast Kingdom (she's not, though she has ties there). Her mother does not say, for example, "I CAY-n't!!" or "Right THEY-ehr!" But she does.

- She says "tock" for "top" whenever she sings "rock-a-bye baby on the tree-tock"

- The other day when she was going to the loo, she told me, "I need to hold my penis down. Like Bart." Bart is a friend at school. Imagine my reaction and the conversation that ensued. With lots of "whys" from the little one. 

- She says "why." A lot. And she likes to draw it out when she says it. "Whaa-AH-yee?" Classic.

- My favorite: she always adds "right there" when we asks what something is. And she says it with her NEK accent: "What's that right THEY-ehr?"

Thursday, May 01, 2014

another day

Listen, it feels good to be saying this, but I read my last post and have to chuckle. A friend of mine made a remark recently that these times of transition are short-lived. And you know what? She was right. At least when it comes to toddlers.

After my daughter rejected me and made me feel like a failure as a parent, I made of point of spending some alone time with her and just reassuring her. I've been trying to give her hugs whenever she's having a tantrum or meltdown or whenever she seems to need it.

The hugs are as much for her as they are for me.

And then all of the sudden, a few days ago, she whimpered, "I don't want Papa, I want Mummy! Mummy and Angus!" I didn't even try to hide my excitement at that remark. To realize that she hadn't rejected me forever, that she still needs her Mummy. And it only took a few hugs and a couple of days to get here.

These days we are all wearing our emotions on our sleeves. Loud and clear. She is a toddler, I am hormonal, and Papa, well, he's just tired. It's a roller coaster of emotions all around. The upside of this of course is that with every low point, there is a high point.

And silly little distractions can help us forget why we were upset in the first place. 

I'm not trying to belittle the huge transition we're all working through or saying we're over the hump or that Amelia has completely accepted her new lot in life. That will take time. But it's just good to rememeber during those dire moments that dire is not forever and in many cases is very short-lived.

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