Monday, November 19, 2012

Our New Normal

Three weeks ago today, life in our house changed. It started with this:IMG_1807

The allergist lovingly called it a “caterpillar.” The sweet little “caterpillar” was dipped in allergens, then pressed in to the skin on my son’s back. Immediately, he started begging me to wipe it off. He cried and said, “It itches! It itches! Get if off!” I knew by just looking at his back that my son was allergic to something… and pretty severely too.100_2754

I distracted him as best as I could, but even his favorite gadget (my phone) couldn’t keep his hands from trying to wander to his back so he could get a swipe at the itch. The doctor came in the room, studied the welts, then broke the bad news. Jackson is allergic to ragweed, walnut trees, oak trees, and wheat.

This means my son has a gluten allergy; he is allergic to wheat in his food.

Once the doctor said all this, I tried to listen well. Really, I tried. But tears pricked my eyes as I tried to take in what this means for him and our family. The doctor was one of the best I’ve been around in a while; his manner was caring and incredibly informative. He was willing to talk WAY more than I was willing! He knew the news was rocking my world, and I had fears of what to feed Jackson for dinner just 2 hours later. The doctor gently led me through breaking down what I was already planning for dinner, and gave me peace.  I left his office armed with pages of information on what ingredients are no longer safe for my little guy, and called my husband to break the news. The very next call was to my friend Gina (who had already assumed the news when I texted as Jackson was begging me to wipe his back), and she quickly talked me through a few things.

Once I got home, panic set in. I looked at my pantry and saw this:100_2761

And I realized everything needed to GO. Or at least be scrutinized before it was declared safe and re-shelved. Dan didn’t quite understand my panic, and we had a little stress over that the next few days. I had to keep reminding myself that Jackson has an allergy that is NOT life-threatening. He’s been eating wheat since he was weaned, and has been fine. But I also knew that if I wanted him to start feeling better and his behavior to change, every “unsafe” meal would count against us from here on out.

So I spent hours cleaning out the pantry and separating it in to Safe and Unsafe piles. Armed with a Sharpie marker, I drew big black Xs on every item, or big black check marks.100_2768

And then, I started on the refrigerator.100_2766

By the time it was all over, I had three trash bags to throw out the next morning. And lest you think I was wasteful, please know I had a bunch of expired food that needed to go anyway. The items that weren’t safe and hadn’t expired were put aside for a food pantry.IMG_1815

After three hours, I had a safe pantry and a safe fridge, and felt a little more relief. But I had no idea what to feed Jackson for breakfast in the morning, so I scooted myself out to the local high-end grocery store and spent an hour and a half going up and down their organic food aisle. (The more expensive aisle I never venture down because I never needed to until now!)IMG_1813

Over the next few days, I was bombarded with well-meaning people who were really just trying to help. I posted our news on Facebook, and ended up finding out so many of my friends have gluten allergies as well. They gave me tips upon tips upon TIPS, and I started buckling under the weight of it all. I got to the point where I really only trusted 3 people’s opinions, and the rest I just saved in a document to sort through later.

The people I loved the best? Those are the ones who took the time to personally connect with me. Not just shoot me an email full of 800 website links, but the people who walked through the grocery store with me and the woman who came over on Halloween night because she knew I’d be spazzing out on such a big holiday after only knowing about this gluten allergy for less than 48 hours. (AND she brought us gluten-free food!) What a beautiful, glorious example for me on how to love other people when they are going through upheaval. I was shown first-hand what is helpful and what is not. (Please, Jesus, help me remember this lesson!)

There were some shining moments in the midst of this madness. One was on Halloween night, when a teenager came to Trick-or-Treat and asked for canned goods instead of candy. I gave him an entire wagon load full of items I cleaned out of the pantry just two nights prior. I was ecstatic that my bad news had a silver lining. Another shining moment was when I finally caved and had a deep heart-to-heart with Dan about my fears and worries over this news. We were able to meet at a place of humility and forgiveness, and came out united for our kids and each other.

I also had another friend who showed me great empathy when her daughter’s birthday party was approaching. She threw up the red flag for me (I wasn’t connecting the dots very well) and helped nudge me into the mindset of thinking through the lens of a food allergy child attending a birthday party. I’m grateful she was thinking when I wasn’t.

The other shining moment has been ongoing for the last three weeks. I have been amazed at my sweet boy’s ability to adapt to this new lifestyle, and he has handled it beautifully. The only time he felt a little dismayed was when we talked about that birthday party I mentioned in the last paragraph. I asked if he wanted to eat one of the homemade Lunchables we’ve been making for his lunches lately, or if he wanted pizza. He chose Lunchables. But when I explained the other kids were going to have pizza and I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel left out, he changed his mind. His sweet voice said, “I want pizza. I want to join in.” (Hearing “join in” broke my heart, because I knew this allergy meant he would sometimes not be able to “join in.”) So we brought our own gluten free frozen pizza, and the party venue people baked it for us.

I’ve had so many people ask me why we got Jackson tested. That is a long story, but I’ll try to keep it short. Mostly, Jackson has just been a little more difficult for us to handle. He is NOT a bad kid; please hear me on that! I know he has a good heart, and that’s why his problems with acting out and being impulsive were so frustrating. I knew that he knew better, and he was frustrated that we couldn’t understand him and that we kept punishing him. Looking back over the past few years, I see peaks and valleys full of parenting books, behavioral classes, endless Time Outs, and anger and frustration for all of us. Things crystallized this past year especially.

Around this time last year, I was interviewing for my job. I remember thinking, “It’s a little earlier than I was planning to go back to work, but it’ll be good for me to earn money so I can pay for Jackson to go to school more than one day a week. He needs the interaction and stimulation, because I’m just not enough for him anymore.” And I got the job and he started school three days a week, but those problems didn’t go away. They got a little worse. He acted out at school, got in trouble (not lots, but often enough), and it just didn’t feel like things had been solved. But we plugged through life, and I kept telling myself it would get better when he started Kindergarten. Again, it didn’t. It’s not that things turned horribly wrong, but Kindergarten wasn’t the stabilizer I was hoping for. I had been talking with two separate friends of mine who are counselors, and the question of his diet came up, as well as testing for ADD. My friend Gina had been talking with me about food allergies for a while, and had sent me doctors’ names back on July 1, so it was definitely in the back of my mind. When things just kept escalating in October (Jackson had gotten on yellow and red at school a few times), I realized I didn’t want to wait to find out if they were going to get worse. So I took him to the allergist… and now you know the rest.

As for how he’s doing, I’ll say this: removing gluten from Jackson’s diet hasn’t given us a brand new child. He is still impulsive. He is still giddy and zealous and passionate. He is still Jackson. But now he has a better chance at controlling his impulses. He hasn’t turned into an angelic child but in just a few weeks, he has been able to think more clearly and communicate better with us. We can reason with him more easily. When a temper tantrum starts to launch, I’ve even been able to short circuit it and get him to disengage. And if the tantrum still ignites, there is less force behind it and he comes out of it quicker than he did before.

As for me, I am relieved to know there is a piece of the puzzle that fits into place. Allergy testing isn’t the key that unlocks every door to my son’s personality, but it helps to know I can stop blaming myself for being a bad parent. [Please don’t use that as a reason to leave me a comment and say I’m not a bad parent! I know I’m not, but some days I felt like it was my fault for not being able to change my family’s reality.] Having an answer to at least one of my parenting questions provides an incredible amount of peace.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas Cards

Sending Christmas cards is truly one of the highlights of the holiday season for me. Getting mail on regular days throughout the year has always been one of my favorite things, so Christmas takes a  favorite thing and doubles it.

Each November, I start planning what Christmas card I’m going to send to our family and friends. I’m one of those people who actually enjoys receiving Christmas newsletters, but I also really enjoy receiving family photos. For our family, I combine the best of both and make up a short Top Ten List of highlights from our year, then add family pictures.

I scour websites and usually land on a Shutterfly design – mostly because all my photos are stored there anyway, but also because they have great quality and lots of flexible designs in their holiday cards. In my world, “flexible designs” means there are more options that just one photo on the page. Since I hate narrowing down an entire year to one specific photo, I use a collage for our card. It’s like having a photo buffet for Christmas!

Since both my parents and my brother have died, I sort of inherited Mom’s Christmas card list. I keep in touch with my brother’s friends (and parents of his friends parents too!), my Mom’s extended family, and people my family knew when I was still in diapers. My Christmas card list is easily over 100 recipients, but this year I’m really bummed about that. Remember that computer crash I had in February? It turns out I lost a majority of my contacts and, therefore, a majority of my Christmas card list. That really really stinks. It means this year, I’m hoping my Christmas card recipients mail me a card FIRST, and that they include their return address on it so I can rebuild my list. If you are a regular on my list, now you know why you won’t be getting a card early this year. But the good news is opening my mailbox in December will be extra exciting for me this year!

And I have a little good news for you too. Shutterfly has some great offers right now (like 40% off your order!), so check it out here. Have I ever mentioned the gift we give to Dan’s parents every year? We put together a photo album with that year’s pictures. It’s great to hang out at their house and pick up one of the past year’s books and flip through our family’s memories. If you click on that link, you’ll see Shutterfly’s photo books are on sale right now too!

Note: this post is sponsored by Shutterfly, but that doesn’t change my opinion! I’ve always loved storing my photos there (for free!), buying their photo books, printing my images, and creating greeting cards on their website.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October 2012 Review

Personally, it was a pretty rough month for me. October is usually rough because it has so many memories attached to it (death dates, birth dates, etc.), but this month was extra hard. The month started with a hard week, and then I ended the week trying to be positive and think the next week would be better. Only it was a little worse. The following week, I went for positive again. Nope… didn’t work again. The whole month was spent like that, and it ended with an event that rocked my world. I’ll post about that later. For now, here are the little details that filled our month.

My church has a class called Body Life, which I took when we first started attending there. Now that I’m a staff member, I wanted to take a refresher. The class is awesome, with topics like conflict resolution, protecting church unity, forgiveness, and boundaries. This was a photo I took at class #4, with all of my classmates on stage in the Auditorium.IMG_1609

I guess you could say October was a “colorful” month. Both kids had disciplinary actions at school and were moved from “green” on to “yellow” (and Jackson even moved to red at one point). Boo.IMG_1619

The kids had fall break, and I am lucky enough to know some great teens who hung out with my kids while I worked. Nicole and Bo are family favorites, and we spent a few extra days with them (even when I wasn’t working) because they are really great kids and fun to be around.IMG_1632

This is the closest I will ever get to the musical group ABBA. To celebrate one friend’s 40th birthday, her husband sent the girls off in a chauffeured car. We went to an ABBA cover band concert. I laughed my tail off when we walked in the place and realized we were – BY FAR – the youngest people there. It wasn’t quite the rocking concert I planned on, but it was lots of fun.100_2594

We made the annual trip to the pumpkin patch with our best friends, then headed to one family’s house for a great meal and time to hang out._MDS1150

Also on fall break, we met friends at a local park to play. The girls really enjoyed making fairy houses at the base of nearby trees too.IMG_1652

Last month, we had the failed teeth pulling event. I’m happy to report with a little bit of laughing gas, this month’s tooth-pulling was successful! There was still screaming, but WAY less than the first time. Yay!IMG_1674

Thanks to Groupon, Dan and I had a date night out at the shooting range. I’ve denied my Southern roots for a while and haven’t shot a gun in a long time. I forgot how fun – and nerve-wracking! – it can be.IMG_1682

My church hosted a big event for all the kids in 3rd through 5th grade. It’s called Frenzy. We have a photo booth, and the adults have just as much fun as the kids. Here are the photos of me and two of my awesome coworkers.2012-10-12 ESK, Kathy Ziha, Mary Prestemon photo booth

Another pumpkin patch, this time with Nicole (see above)._MDS1224

At the end of church’s Body Life class, attendees are invited to mark the moment by writing a prayer on rocks. It’s beautiful to see all the tenderness, sadness, hope and joy in these prayers.IMG_1737

I got to have lunch a few different times with my kids at school._MDS1442

The kids had their annual Living Water lemonade stand. They sold drinks, bracelets, and cupcakes. They made over $30!_MDS1650

My church is building an extension, which  means the property is going to have major changes. One of them is the baptism pond will be demolished and relocated. I wanted to relish the memories I made at that pond, so I spent a few moments at the pond one day before work started. It was a beautiful moment and so nice to relive those memories with my Father.IMG_1748

October means thousands of leaves falling from the trees in our yard. Jackson and Katie helped Dan one day, and Katie ended up making a maze in the leaves. I love her creativity!_MDS1685

I don’t work on Mondays, and the past few months I have settled into a nice rhythm on those days. I consider Mondays my recovery days, and I use them to replenish my soul. This photo shows the way I spent one of those October Mondays: I opened the windows (one of those gorgeous fall days), snuggled in to our LoveSac, propped up my feet, and let the breeze blow over me as I watched the trees and our St. Louis Cardinals flag sway in the breeze. It soothed my soul to its core.IMG_1776

Dan and I had a date at the end of October, when we got to see the musical Les Miserables. This was the third time we have seen it, and I have never been able to make it through without a large amount of tears. So many of the themes in the musical remind me of my brother and my dad, and watching it again makes me miss them with a deep ache. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it!IMG_1798

October ended with two big firsts in our kids’ lives. Jackson’s had his first sleepover (Grandma and out of town relatives don’t count, so this was truly his first!). He spent the night at his cousin Adam’s house, and they had a blast. They went to nearby Purina Farms to play, go on a hayride, and decorate pumpkins.IMG_0117

Katie was pretty bummed to miss the sleepover at Adam’s, but she missed it for a good reason. We had a girls’ night out and went to her first concert: TobyMac! We had such a fantastic time dancing and singing to the music. I loved watching her face when she saw the arena full of people to watch her favorite singer. She said, “I didn’t know that many people like TobyMac and Jamie Grace!” She was shocked to see that many people in one place. I am so blessed to share those memories with her!100_2733


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