Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top Five Parenting Fails in Kids' Books*

I have always been a bookworm. I have several family members that like to talk about how young I learned how to read, and my mom loves to tell the story about needing to hide the TV Guide because I was starting to figure out when "specials" were going to be on. As I grew this never changed; in Middle School I was a consistent member of the 20-Plus Book Club (kids who read 20 or more books outside of their assigned reading in the course of a year got special recognition). I carried that love into high school and college as well, places where reading outside of my assignments became a means of stress relief or conversation with others. Since then, reading has been a means for me to escape reality, grow myself personally, continue learning, or read along with friends or family.

The point is - my whole life I have loved to read, so when we found out that we were having children I got incredibly excited to stock our shelves with my childhood favorites and became giddy when I realized I would be discovering all sorts of new books. Both of my kids love sitting on our laps or beside us and getting stories read to them; on an average day - including bedtime - our kids hear at least 5-7 stories read to them. Reading is huge in our home, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

What I wasn't expecting was the perspective I have on these books now that I'm a parent to cloud a bit of the story. Sometimes I have this nagging running commentary in my head and need to bite my tongue because my 3-year-old and 18-month-old haven't really honed their adult wit yet - so it would be completely wasted on them.

Instead... I have decided to share it here. Aren't you lucky?

So in no particular order... and, uh, if you haven't read these books - I'm totally spoiling them. You've been warned.

1. Are You My Mother? Here we have the classic tale of the baby bird who goes off on a search for his mother. In his travels he meets a chicken, a kitten, a dog, a cow, an old car, a plane, a boat, and finally a "SNORT" (excavator). Why, oh why, was this newborn bird left alone in an exposed nest before he was ready to go out on his own? Well, because Mom was completely unprepared for his arrival. Seconds before the baby bird is about to be born, Mom realizes she ain't got no stinkin' entrees!!! Maybe it's just me - but whether you breast or bottle feed, home birth or hospital birth - YOU HAVE THE FOOD READY MAN! It's not like it's a surprise that there's going to be a baby there eating food soon. You have the time to get it ready. So, Mama Bird, maybe next time you're expecting a baby - wrap that egg in some leaves to keep it warm and get your worms ready. Then you're not leaving a newborn in a nest by itself going off wandering looking for you before he's ready to fly. What if that dog was hungry, huh? I'm just saying.

2. We're Going on a Bear Hunt! This entire book is a parenting fail - an example on what not to do on a family outing. Yes, let's bring our children out on a BEAR HUNT as a fun family activity. Anyways... they head out on this questionable expedition and waddle through some swishy grass (yay fun - ticks!), then mud (which, I mean, who didn't love walking through mud as a kid, fine). After the mud is when the parenting gets a bit sticky. Mom and Dad don't have any towels, parkas, boots, or first aid kids and bring their kids through a deep, cold river, then dark woods where they proceed to stumble and trip, then a snowstorm. A SNOW STORM. A BABY AND TWO KIDS WITH NO PARKAS AND NO BOOTS AND NO HATS IN A SNOWSTORM. This after they had already gotten wet from mud and river trudging... bring on the hypothermia, folks. Way to be! Then, when the kids are presumably wet, tired, cold and miserable - they tiptoe into a cave to find themselves face to face with a large, scary bear. This of course means that the parents now have to drag the wet, tired, cold miserable children back through all of the things that made them wet, tired, cold and miserable in the first place back to their house - WHERE THEY LEAVE OPEN THE FRONT DOOR before going back to shut it and hide from the bear in Mom & Dad's bed. The amount of parenting fails that happen in this book are mind-boggling... maybe that's why kids love it so much?

3. Guess How Much I Love You This was on my list, but when a fellow mom gave it a vote on my Facebook blog page I knew I wasn't going crazy. Here this poor little rabbit is just trying to tell his Dad how much he loves him in as big of terms as he knows how. He jumps as high as he can, he reaches as high as he can, he stretches as far as he can, and he imagines as far a distance as he can to express his love. And it's sweet, it's incredibly sweet. Why, oh why, oh why does Big Nutbrown Hare have one-up his kid at every turn? He shows off his biggerness but stretching, jumping, and reaching higher than this poor little bunny can - when really he can just be like "Oh, Little Nutbrown Hare - that is SO SWEET and SO BIG how much you love me!! THANK YOU!!!". The end is what kills me though... Little Nutbrown Hare is all like "Oh, well I love you to the moon!" and then goes to sleep. And even in that moment of sweetness with his little adorable little bunny asleep on his lap, Big Nutbrown Hare can't savor the sweetness. He still has to get in the last word... "I love you to the moon... and back." Maybe you're thinking I should lighten up, it's just a sweet expression of how a parent loves a child. No. You stop that. Show your kid you love them by letting them love you, Big Nutbrown Hare. Let the kid think he's so big. They like that.

4. "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" This one sneaks the bad parenting in on you... there's an assumption that the trick-or-treating is supervised (lots of parents stand on the sidewalk while their kids go to the door) and that the party at Violet's has parents hanging out in the corners. But then there's Linus and Sally alone in a pumpkin patch in the dark with scary dogs (OK... just Snoopy) on the loose. Ok, ok... maybe there's a parent off to the side keeping an eye on things and letting Linus have his imaginative moments hoping for a Great Pumpkin to appear in this the most sincere of pumpkin patches. Fine. But then Lucy has an alarm set for 4:00 AM to go and fetch Linus out of the patch, where he has been laying all night long wrapped in nothing but a worn-out security blanket and a pair of shorts. ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT. Why was this not stopped at 9:00 PM? Why was this child allowed to sleep out in a pumpkin patch in 40-degree weather? WHERE WERE THE PARENTS I ASK YOU?? WHERE???

5. "When a Dragon Moves In" This is a newer story about a little boy who builds a sand castle during his beach vacation and a dragon moves in. The dragon, it becomes obvious, is an imagined dragon who is both awesome and mischief causing - protecting the little boy from beach bullies, sticking his fingers in the brownies, spraying sand all over his older sister. After the latter happens, the parents put an end to the "dragon business", the boy destroys the castle, and builds another one the next day. So... why did the parents fail? They brought their kid to the beach, let him play in the sand, and disciplined him when he taunted his sister. Seems fine to me! But... what I didn't mention is that all along the way the parents do nothing to encourage this kid's imagining of a dragon. I mean... a DRAGON!! DUDE!! It's a DRAGON! They don't play along AT ALL! They correct his dragon's roar to tell him it's the roar of the ocean, they disregard his insistence that a seagull's feather actually belongs to a dragon, and do nothing to encourage his creativity. Isn't that part of our JOB as parents? I can't tell you how many times I've been "scared" of a dinosaur stalking me in my kitchen while I cook, have pet a series of "tiny horsies", and made sure that my kids have gotten their various other imaginary pets returned to them that have been placed in my hands. Get out of yourself guys and just play along for heaven's sake! Let the kid dream (without spraying sand on his sister, of course)!

Look, don't get me wrong - there's a suspension of disbelief that I generally allow when I read stories to my kids. I don't ruin their experience by poo-pooing on the parents and I certainly get excited at the parts that I think they'd find exciting. I let myself drift back to the times of a small child sitting in my room or on my mom's lap or my grandmother's kitchen table with books and remember what that was like - and I try to provide that to my kids.

But... someday... when they're old enough... I'll let them have a laugh at the parenting faux-pas in their favorites too.


*These are only books that I've read. I'm sure that there are others out there - and I would LOVE to hear them so leave a comment!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Reality of Being an Allergy Parent

A little over two years ago, Will had a bite of peanut butter toast that would change our parenting with him for what likely will be the rest of his life. In that moment, we became the parents of a food allergy kid and the most common and comforting of foods would become the most dangerous.

You don't know what you don't know. And you don't know what everyone else doesn't know until you suddenly become in the know. And it's amazing how that perspective of knowledge versus lack of knowledge and lack of understanding changes you into someone you never thought you would be.

This fall has brought Will into the world of what I will call the official preschooler. He's in a one-day-per-week cooperative preschool, he goes to a playgroup once a week while I go to my moms' group, and he has speech therapy twice a week where he interacts with other kids as well. He's getting invitations to birthday parties for friends, we go to parks and playdates, we go out to dinner and lunch and he has opinions and wants and desires and an imagination that he can clearly express.

His bright blue eyes and his wide, gapped-tooth grin and giggle melt my heart and his small, giant hugs could comfort the largest beast. The deep expression on his face when he takes his quiet time, snuggling his Monkey close to his face is just so peaceful I could watch him sit like that for hours.

I understand I'm biased... but my son really is an amazing kid.

As his parents, we live in a scary reality where a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a playdate or dripped maple walnut ice cream on a park bench can put our son's life at risk. We've been told to continue to give him the one nut that's been safe, and every time he coughs after he's had some I worry his body is rejecting that too. When we're out, everything gets wiped down at a table before we eat just incase someone came before us that had something with an allergen or brought their own food that may contaminate our son's meal.

You don't know what you don't know until you have to know. And wish you didn't have to know.

I turned around 20 minutes into an hour-and-a-half trip to turn around and retrieve a forgotten Epi-pen. I've had to stop a little girl waving a peanut butter sandwich around a train at an amusement park from sitting near our family - to the exasperated reaction from her grandmother and an annoyed but sort of understanding reaction from her mom. I've had to ask another mom not to put her breakfast that included huge, exposed walnuts down in front of him. I've had to research and explain label reading to the other moms in our preschool cooperative. I've spent a good chunk of time texting with another mom to make sure that the birthday party he'll be attending at their house will be safe (and screened the pizza place they'll be ordering from too). I've had to ask a friend to double check the ingredients to the stuffing she'd be serving at her house for dinner when we came just to make sure it wasn't cross-contaminated with anything that might pose a danger. I debated whether or not to leave a change of clothes in the basement to change into after going out to dinner with friends just incase we got suspect nuts on our clothing during the meal.

And that... that's just in the last week.

And our little guy *only* has two allergies. There are people who have far more that have far more dietary concerns and social situations to watch out for. There are kids whose parents MUST carry around a "safe snack" back to birthday parties and outings to amusement parks because their allergies are so extensive that bringing their own foods are the only way they can guarantee their child's safety. We have friends whose son has milk allergies so severe that he's "allergic to the whole cow" - he cannot have beef either - among other food allergies both with him and other family members as well. Another friend has a daughter whose food allergies made her so food averse as a baby that it has taken years for them to get her to try new foods because she trusts none of them.

There's a reality that you have to live in as an allergy parent that is hard for those who don't live it themselves to really grasp. I say this as a person who attempted to empathize and understand what it was like to live with allergy concerns for years... you just don't know what you don't know until you have to know.

You don't know that exposure to an allergen can cause an immediate extreme reaction that Benedryl won't help.

You don't know an immediate extreme reaction needs an Epi-pen hit within seconds.

You don't know that a hit with an Epi-pen requires that 911 be called immediately and that a trip to the hospital in an ambulance is a requirement.

You don't know that even after an Epi-pen hit, an ambulance ride, and treatment in emergency/acute care that your child could still have what's called a biphasic reaction later on... when you least expect it... including in their sleep. You don't know that this reaction could cause the cycle to start all over again.

Until you live with the reality of a potentially anaphylactic reaction causing food allergy, you may intellectually understand the ramifications of exposure to an allergen... but you don't really feel what those ramifications can mean.

If I tell you that my son could die with exposure to peanuts or certain treenuts... I'm not exaggerating.

Yes, I have his Epi-pen. Yes, we know how to use it and we have a crash plan in the event of exposure. And yes - I am fully aware of how annoying I sound when I start asking questions about ingredients in what you're eating or how psychotic I seem when I dive at your kid when they come at mine with a peanut butter chocolate chip granola bar.

I didn't know what I didn't know until I wondered if I was going to be seconds away from an anaphylactic reaction in a house with no Epi-pen, no Benedryl, and no idea how to help my 17-month-old son make his eyes stop watering or the hives go away. I didn't know what I didn't know until I sat in an allergist's office and watched the bumps of a skin-prick test rise up on my baby's back.

I had a new perspective on what hope is when I sat on the phone with the same allergist and went over the results of my son's blood test last spring and asked for translations of the numbers he was reading off to me... and was told that his numbers were "low enough" to indicate that he will very likely be eligible for an in-office food challenge in a few years if they stay this low.

To think that there's a chance that what most of the world considers normal could kill my son... and that maybe, just maybe the world could be normal for him someday too. Hope.

When Will was 9 months old, he had a severe case of croup. It was bad enough that while on the phone at midnight with our pediatrician to find out what to do, she heard his barking cough and told us we shouldn't bring him to the ER ourselves - we needed an ambulance to help us to keep the carseat propped up safely to keep his airways open.

Sitting in the back of the ambulance with my baby boy, watching the headlights of my husband's car behind us, staring at the face of this helpless, sad little one clinging to his taggie blanket with his giant blue eyes... it was the hardest experience I've ever had as a parent so far.

I never want to sit in the back of an ambulance worrying about my child's breathing again.

And now he has gotten to the age that we have to train him how to protect himself too. We have to remind him every time we go anywhere that he can't share snacks with other kids and that he can only have things that safe people tell him that he can eat. He has basic knowledge of how to work an Epi-pen and has helped me show people how to use it.

It is our job to help him understand the seriousness of his allergies.We had to tell our 3-and-a-half-year-old that peanuts and treenuts could make him sick. Really really sick. So sick that he would go to the hospital in an ambulance and he could possibly die. It is a hard thing to try to explain to a toddler on the verge of kidhood, but it's one of the most important things that we need to have him understand.

That's the reality of being an allergy parent.


For more information on food allerges and how you can be a support to those in your life that have them, please check out FARE's website.

Also, this Halloween consider taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project and help make the night fun for everyone.