family life

I knew it was inevitable: the Darth Vader breathing, the barky cough… Yes, folks: the middle of the night trip to the ER has come upon us once again.

I write this as I lay on the bed with James asleep on my chest, knowing that — at 5:19 a.m. — what I should be doing is falling asleep, but too hyped up to be able to close my eyes. (Although, to be honest, it could be the 10-minute dose of epinephrine I got along with James. The only way I could keep the face mask on him was to hold him to me, practically cheek to cheek, and take in that mist as I sang “Don’t Fence Me In” to him over and over again. Which, come to think of it, might have been the reason he was crying and *not* the medicated mist blowing in his face. After all, Lucy and Will have clearly inherited the my-mommy-is-not-allowed-to-sing-out-loud gene. Who knows how early it starts?)

Happily, medication now inhaled, he seems to be breathing much better. There is not a strider to be heard. (I can assure you I wouldn’t be writing this if the situation were otherwise.) I’m not sure what the doctor will say about staying overnight, but I’m feeling much better about everything right about now as is James, it appears, given how soundly he is sleeping.

With that in mind, I thought I’d jot down a few things for future reference;

1) That thing I was saying to someone earlier today about needing to purge and then repack the diaper bag? That would have been a good thing to do before going to bed. That way I might not be lugging two diaper bags and several stray blankets — “just in case” — around with me right now.

2) Thank goodness for my iPhone! I remember this experience several times over with Lucy and Will. Lying alone in the middle of the night with a sick baby is awful. Having the world be at my fingertips — whether it’s being able to text Kelley and other family re. progress, getting (o.k., fishing for) support (knowing that if I posted anything about where I am right now I would almost immediately be receiving well wishes from friends near and far), or distraction (I have nine whole chapters of story posted and ready for editing, not to mention facebook, twitter, general web surfing, and, oh right, three months’ worth of emails I could start to return)… Well, it certainly helps pass the time and, more importantly, keeps my mind from wandering and worrying. Plus I can be getting all these thoughts out of my head so that I can maybe get some sleep!

3) Be careful what you wish for: I kept saying how much I wanted to spend some major quality time with James on this last day before he goes to daycare. Spending it at Children’s Hospital wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. (Considering something very similar happened with Lucy re. this coming Friday, I would just like to state for the record that, as much as I’d also like some quality time with Will, could we try for a non-medical-related, purely happy thing? I mean, I’m good with a movie, even a trip to mcdonald’s in a pinch. Something that doesn’t involve doctors, nurses, or any type of emergency worker would be more than fine with me.)

4) Pee* when you can. Although I’m not sure I would have done anything differently (having a doctor tell you that, yes, a 4 a.m. trip to the hospital is advised certainly provides you with a level of urgency), a sleeping baby lying on top of me for going on an hour now isn’t exactly doing my bladder any favors.

*apologies to my mother and anyone else offended by the use of this word

5) Wear layers. I am wishing that I’d thought to put on a short sleeve shirt when I left the house as it’s been quite warm in this room during these last few hours. Of course, now I’m happy to have long sleeves as it seems as though the air conditioning just got turned on. Options would be good.

And, last but not least, 6) Trust your instincts. Or, rather, I should say, trust your instincts when they say to call the doctor: When I heard the telltale croup signs at 3 a.m., I was proud of myself for calmly bringing James over to an open window and then bringing him outside for a few minutes. And as, 10 minutes later, (and, yes, at kelley’s much-calmer-than-I-even-though-I-was-doing-quite-well-thank-you-very-much suggestion) I sat on the floor of a steamy bathroom telling myself not to panic because we’d been here before and knew what to look for. Still, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to just check in with the dr. Low (lo?) and behold, she says to take him to the ER because ‘this isn’t something we like to see in babies this age’. And then to have the attending physician say he wants us to stay in the hospital for the whole day and night because croup doesn’t peak until the third night and given how severe the symptoms were in just the first few hours…

Um, well, nice job, jen, on the not panicking. Missing that he was getting worse and not better? Not so much.

That said, I am glad that, so far, I seem to have learned enough about this mothering thing to realize that the instinct I’m trusting isn’t my ability to diagnose and treat my kid’s illness but instead to know that it’s never a waste of time to make that 3 a.m. phone call to the doctor’s office, even when you think everything is going o.k. I’m really hoping that, as the ER doctor just said, James will ‘impress us’ and not need breathing meds every three or four hours today. If it turns out, however, that he does need that medication, we’re spending the next 24 hours at a world-class children’s hospital. Considering the circumstances, there’s no place I’d rather be.


Several weeks ago, there was a 12-year-old girl who was home sick, alone in the house, when a burglar came through. Actually, she might have been 11, or maybe even 10. I’m not entirely sure given that I heard the story secondhand. What I do specifically remember, however, was that the story wasn’t really about the burglar or even so much about the girl: the main thrust of the story was about the mom. Really: what kind of mother leaves heryouthhome alone during the day? What kind of mother leaves her *sick* kid home alone?

I was reminded of this story this morning as I was dropping the kids off at school. We were later than usual, which meant that I had to drop Lucy off first since her school starts earlier. We were too late for me to be able to pull all the way up to the door since the street was already closed off for the busses. That meant I had to take the right turn that put the doors of the school out of my sight.

Call me overprotective, but I like to see her actually get into the school with my own two eyes. That’s being a ‘good’ mother, right? The problem, though, was that unless I chose to just stop the car in the middle of the street and let her out — as several of the cars in front of me did so apparently that’s a valid choice — I’d have to park the car, bring Will and James out into the cold rain, and walk her to the door. I decided to compromise: since I was able to park the car two cars in from the corner, I left James with Will in the car — completely within my sight, on totally flat ground and with the keys safely in my hands (i.e., not in the car and most certainly not anywhere close to the ignition) — walked Lucy to the corner, and with one eye on the car and one eye on her, watched as she walked to the school and up to the door, and then I turned and went back to the car.

So, well, what’s the verdict now? At 10 Lucy is old enough to walk up and across the crossing-guard-protected street. Hell, at least two of her classmates walk to school on their own, so what’s the problem? My guess is that in the (yes, unlikely) event that something had happened to her on that short little trip, I have no doubt that the story would be about the horrible mother who allowed her daughter to cross the street alone.

Another story, this one with a much sadder outcome: a year or so ago, a young father was killed on cambridge street when, while taking his baby’s carseat out of his car, a drunk driver hit him. That time, at least, the spotlight was on the drunk driver and not on the dad. I do distinctly remember, however, a comment made on one of the local listservs: how irresponsible of the father to not park so that the infant seat was on the sidewalk side of the car. By having to take the seat out of the car into traffic, he had not only put his own life at risk but that of his baby’s as well.

Um, ok, I guess. Except, well, have *you* ever tried to find a parking spot in Boston? Have you ever circled for hours trying to find a legal spot? Have you done it with a tired/hungry/diaper-change-needing screaming baby in the back of the car? And while doing so were you keeping in mind the possibility of a drunk driver coming by at that particular moment? No, probably not.

To be honest, when I left James (in his baby seat and on the traffic side of the street thanks to the one-way nature of that particular road) and Will in the car this morning I wasn’t thinking of all that either. I was, however, thinking that it was rainy and cold and there were way too many frustrated drivers of schoolbusses and SUVs for me to be comfortable, especially since they’d be safely enclosed only several feet away from me. But if something had happened to one of them, well, see above re what the story would be.

I’m not saying I made the right choice. And I’m not saying that there aren’t horrible parents out there putting their children at risk without a second thought. What I *am* saying is that most parents are trying — they’re trying *really* hard — to do right by their kids while also trying to fulfill the other societal roles they have to play.

Which brings me back to the beginning and the mom with the sick kid. I don’t know the family; I don’t know the details. But I can definitely see how a mom who doesn’t have a partner and/or doesn’t have help but who does have a job might just barely be getting through the day. She probably does so with her fingers crossed and her eyes squeezed shut as she prays to whatever god she believes in that there be no burglar or drunk driver or [insert your catastrophe here].

I’m not saying you have to be part of the village, but maybe when we hear that inevitable next ‘bad mother’ (or father) story we can try to see the anguish in her eyes as well. We can think about the choices she has to make every day and how she prays that she’s making the right ones. And maybe we could not roll our eyes when a co-worker has a sick child or parent or partner to attend to. After all, aren’t we all just trying to get by?

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 4 weeks since James was born. In some ways it’s been easier than I had expected. Lucy and Will have been incredibly helpful and I’ve been able to mostly go with the flow rather than have a lot of, well, expectations of how it would all play out. So, for example, these days the first thing on the morning agenda after getting the kids to school (which, to be honest, Kelley is still handling more often than not) and James fed is to somehow manage to get some more sleep. So far, James has been mostly cooperative as he tends to fall asleep after nursing. That usually brings us to around 10:30 or 11, which is when I get to eat.

Unfortunately, in order to eat it generally means I need to transfer James off of my lap, the options being the car seat, the swing, or the boppy lounger. Depending on which one I choose, I’ve generally got about 10 minutes before he wakes up crying. Although I’m not sure if this is an entirely good thing, with #3, it is a little easier to ignore the crying, at least for a few minutes. During minute one, I have to admit that there is a bit of frustration — and, yes, guilt about the ignoring — on my part. Once I’ve got some food in me, though, I can move on to minutes two and three where I remind myself that I don’t really have anything to do each day other than to take care of James. Since that mostly entails feeding him, letting him sleep and changing his diapers, well, that’s pretty doable. The fact that I can watch tv or read during some of that certainly doesn’t hurt.

Not that it’s always smooth sailing — things are seeming a lot easier as I write this since James is happily sleeping in my lap at the moment. Still, I feel like I have much more realistic ideas about how this all works this time around; it definitely makes a difference.

(And I will be sure to read this myself in a few hours when James is fussing and Lucy and Will are fighting and I am starving because I haven’t eaten a decent meal in an entire day. For now, however, I will happily stay in my state of denial. Um, I mean serenity.)

Had to share this morning’s conversation with Lucy and Will:

As we were getting ready to leave for school, Lucy mentioned that she was sad because her best friend (Lydia) had a new best friend (Hannah), and that even though they were all sitting in the same group at school, it was ending up being not fun at all because Lydia and Hannah always chose each other for partners and not Lucy. Ugh. If there’s anything that I have absolutely no answers for, it’s that.

I also happen to know that there’s pretty much nothing to say to make her feel better. So what I said was: I know how sad it makes you. It’s an awful feeling. And sometimes it has something to do with you, and other times it doesn’t, so the important thing is how you handle it.

Then I found myself telling her how I had this friend who was following, like, 54 of the 52 people following her on Twitter. Who was one of the two she wasn’t following? Yep, me. “But,” I told Lucy, trying to get back to a point that would actually make sense to her, “even though it made me sad, I know she’s still my friend and I’ll just make sure to be the best friend I can be to her anyway.”

It did seem to help a little. And then Will chimed in, saying to Lucy, “Did you tell her? I would just tell her that she’s making me sad. Antonio’s my friend and he doesn’t make me sad.”

Lucy, of course, glared at him. Sympathy, Will. Sympathy, not solutions.

“Antonio will always be my friend,” Will continued, oblivious. “Ezra’s my friend, too.” Ezra, i.e., Lydia’s brother. “Ezra will always be my friend.”

Since this didn’t help things at all, I ended up spending the next several minutes trying to make Lucy feel better. As we were leaving the house, Will, exasperated, just said to me, “Why don’t you just tell her to be happy? Why do you need to say all the other things?”

Lucy, being more Lucy-like, rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just make something happen. If you wanted John McCain to be president, you can’t just go up to Barack Obama and say, You’re not president any more. Things don’t work that way.”

Will looked at Lucy then looked at me. He looked at where Kelley’s car would have been if Kelley hadn’t had to leave for NY an hour before. Even at six, he knew enough to realize there was just too much estrogen involved for him to get any further. “I’m out of this,” he said, holding up his hands and shaking his head. And then he played with his cars.


Been absolutely crazed lately — three major work projects (6-month; 1-year; and 2-year projects) culminating during the same three week period that also had the Gala (last weekend) and Jess’ shower (this weekend). Oh, and everyone getting sick, etc., etc. I say that all just so everyone knows that yes, I owe everyone emails or calls on just about everything — and I owe a resolution to that last post. (Sorry to leave you hanging.)

So, the big update: Will’s not allergic to peanuts. He still can’t have other kinds of nuts — I’m particularly concerned about almonds — but PB&J sandwiches have come back to the household. Of course, in the last two weeks he’s visited the dentist (he might need to have a crown — have you ever heard of a 6-year-old with a crown?), the eye doctor (he needs glasses), the neurologist (the tics just keep on coming), and the walk-in clinic at his pediatrician’s twice, thanks to his croup coming back (a week after Lucy’s came and went). So, well, yes we need to get him back to the allergist, but the poor kid hears the word ‘appointment’ and practically has a panic attack. We need to call, but he needs a break.

At 8 a.m. this morning, with our 2 tablespoons of peanut butter in hand, Kelley, Will and I presented ourselves at the Children’s Hospital Allergy department so that Will could do his Food Challenge.

What’s a ‘food challenge,’ you might ask? Well, it’s when you take the thing that you’ve spent over a year avoiding due to its potential to cause the death of your child and, yes, you feed it to him.

Now, of course, the reason you do this at the hospital is so that, should that worst-case scenario seem imminent, there are presumably enough qualified medical personnel on hand to bring him back to life. Still, as he sat there, looking suspiciously at the nurse who’d just given him the spoonful of peanut butter and telling her that he wasn’t supposed to eat it, I had to use every bone in my body to resist telling him to drop it and run.

“It’s o.k., Will,” I said instead. “That’s why we’re here. To have you eat peanut butter.”

Since that night a year ago November we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what caused him to have such a ‘sudden and severe’ (the clinical terms, apparently) reaction on the side of the highway. There was no x-ray taken in the emergency room so no one was able to tell whether the top of his throat was closed (which would indicate anaphylaxis, i.e., what happens when you eat something you’re severely allergic to), the bottom of his throat was closed (which would indicate a severe case of croup or, alternatively, an asthma attack), or, simply, if he’d swallowed something and was choking on it.

The fact that he’d been asleep for three hours prior to suddenly waking up coughing pointed away from the choking idea, whereas the fact that his inhaler only seemed to make things worse made it seem like asthma wasn’t a factor either. In nearly a third of fatal anaphylactic shock cases, we were told, the case is never determined. Since Kelley had eaten a bag of nuts in the car two hours before the reaction occurred, however, it sounded like that could be the culprit.

When something like this happens, of course, the heavy artillery comes out. We carry EpiPens wherever we go. We read labels for hidden dangers. We know the doctor’s office phone number better than the phone numbers of most of our family. We also go to the doctor on a nearly monthly basis, whether for asthma check-ups or further allergy tests.

Over the past year Will has had skin tests to see what he might be allergic to. (Just about everything, apparently, although some things more severely than others.) With the peanut test being inconclusive, he had a second test (negative), and then a full-on blood test (negative). With food alergies, though, as anyone who has dealt with one knows, two negatives don’t necessarily make a negative. In order to be completely sure, you need to actually eat the food.

To be honest, I was less nervous about it I thought I’d be. Considering that, as we were in the height of the aftermath I wanted to just go and sit in the parking lot of the Emergency Room and have him eat a PB&J sandwich so that we could know once and for all, well, it was kind of nice to know that for once I seemed to be in synch with the world of science. It was kind of like getting the EpiPens — a calming of the nerves, so to speak.

And, after sitting there this morning for three hours in the safety of the nurses and doctors who work at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, I was feeling all good and proud of myself that we’d made it through. He ate one spoonful of peanut butter, and then another. No swelling, no hives, no death. Thank you, God.

So I wasn’t at all prepared for the nurse to tell us as part of our discharge, “As you know, the reaction can take place up to 24 hours after exposure.”

Um, come again? “24 hours?” No. Suffice it to say that I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that at all. Even me, who worries about everything in the world, thought that all I needed to be concerned about was the 6-7 hours after he ate it. After all, that was the time period everyone seemed concerned with when they were trying to figure out what could have cause him to nearly stop breathing that night.

Still reeling from the fact that they were sending us back into the non-medically-trained-staff world of our daily lives, I almost missed the part where she said, “And we’d like him to eat 2 tablespoons of peanut butter each day for the next three days. Oh, and you shouldn’t do it before sending him off to school because you want to be in a position where you can watch him for the signs for at least half an hour afterwards. Be sure to have the EpiPen with you at all times. Bye, now.”

O.k. So maybe she wasn’t quite that flip. Actually, she was kind of great — both throughout the morning and at the end of it, taking the time to deal with my sudden inability to leave the protected womb of that hospital room and answering all my questions with confidence and reassurance. Still, I am now sitting here on my couch, TV off as I listen for him to suddenly wake up coughing like on that night a year and a half ago.

I look at the list of the symptoms we’re supposed to be watching for:

* Anxiety

His or mine?

* Itchy Skin

The kid has the driest skin ever. I’ve never known his skin not to be itchy.

* Throat Tightness

For a year I’ve been asking him if his throat is o.k. The more I do, the more anxious he gets. (Which means that I have no idea if the bullet point #1 anxiety, should it occur, is anaphylaxis-related or mommy-induced.)

* Hives

No way in hell he’s getting a bath until this testing period is over. I don’t care if he’s so dirty that he looks like Pigpen. I am simply not capable of thinking clearly enough to make the distinction between hives caused by his dry skin reacting to the bath and hives caused by peanut butter. I pick the free pass on that one.

* Facial and/or Lip Swelling

I guarantee you that if you look at your kid to see if his lips are swollen (and therefore indicating that a potentially fatal reaction is about to occur) you will see a set of lips that are swollen. And, by the way, allowing him to have a Pixie Stik as a treat after dinner is a very bad idea. Sour/sugary abrasive dusty candy does not a non-swollen set of lips make.

* Vomiting/Diarrhea

* Stomach Cramps

Well, yes. These are kind of obvious. But when you’ve spent the last month trying to avoid getting the stomach bug that various friends and family members are getting, how the hell are you supposed to know if it’s just a case of bad timing?

* Coughing

* Sneezing

He has a cold. ‘Nuff said.

There are a few more items on the ‘Watch For’ list, “fainting” and “loss of consciousness” among them. I figure that if those happen, I’m pretty clear on the need to dial 911. Then again, he’s now asleep in bed. Kind of hard to determine whether someone’s lost consciousness when they’re already out cold.

The rule of thumb, apparently, is that if two ‘systems’ are affected simultaneously — i.e., if he’s vomiting at the same time he’s got hives — then it’s an anaphylactic reaction. Although he’s coughed throughout the day, sneezed quite a bit, and been itching his skin for hours (“But it’s just normal itching, Mommy”), I’m fairly certain he isn’t experiencing anaphylaxis. Yet. And I am desperately trying to believe the words that our asthma case manager said to me the week after this happened — despite the dark, despite the highway driving, despite the fact that you’d heard him cough on countless occasions before: “You knew.”

We knew that the cough was different that time. We knew something was wrong enough that we pulled off onto the side of the highway. We knew something was wrong enough that we called an ambulance to meet us on the Mass Pike at midnight on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving.

On the Monday morning after this all happened, we sent Will to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t even a full 48 hours later, and at that point, no one had indicated that this could have been an allergic reaction. At that point, no one had yet mentioned that he was about this close to dying that night. At that point, I hadn’t yet had my near-nervous breakdown in the parking lot of his school when I left him in that room and realized that one of these days, I could be saying good-bye to him for the last time.

He didn’t die on that day, though, nor did he have a reaction of any kind that anyone can remember. So tonight, as I am sitting here and straining to hear any signs of distress, I will cling to that. He’s eaten peanut butter without any reaction. He’s had test upon test to bring us to this point. And, according to the discharge paperwork, he ‘was able to complete this challenge,’ which means that, according to all that is known, he ‘has likely outgrown the food allergy.’

But oh, how these next four days are going to suck.

A few weeks ago, a terrible thing happened: we gave Will a stack of books before checking for dead flies.

Now, in most households, you wouldn’t expect this to be something you’d need to do. Will, however, is petrified by (of?) flies. Over the fall, our house seemed to be invaded by big, fat flies, making their presence known. Every night before bed we did a fly check and kill; God forbid you went anywhere without a fly swatter within range. Even now, I quake as I realize I have no idea where one is. I still shiver at the memory of the bloodcurdling scream from when that slight buzz was heard.

So, now that you know the history, it might not surprise you that, on that fateful night, when Will turned his head to the stack of books that has become in his mind one of the things that makes all the world right, the sight of a dead fly on Fizz the Fire Truck’s book binding shook him to his core. Since that night, we’ve had to inspect each book before putting it on the bed. He refuses to go near the trash can where the dead fly was disposed of. And, each night since then, I’ve had to come up with the three things he can think about so he won’t be scared.

Despite all this, I had no idea what the root of the fear actually was. This conversation from earlier this evening shed some light on the subject. It started with the requisite, “Mommy, are there any dead flies on the books?”

“There aren’t any dead flies on the books,” I answered, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice. “Besides,” I said, “they’re dead. They can’t do anything to you.”

After looking at me for a good, long moment, Will said, “But what if they turn into zombies?”

“They won’t turn into zombies,” I answered, silently cursing Fahad and Antonio, the two boys in his class that keep talking about zombies and beasties. “That doesn’t happen.”

Undeterred, Will said, “But dead people do.”

“Do what?” I asked, not sure where he was going with this.

“Turn into zombies,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “That doesn’t happen either.” (Being the Buffy fan that I am, I did knock on wood.)

“What about baby Jesus?” he asked, taking things down an entirely different road.

“What do you mean baby Jesus?” I said, trying to hide my surprise. I mean, I know this kid has a lot of things running through his head, but this isn’t exactly something I would have come up with, even with my own overactive imagination.

Solemnly, he said, “Baby Jesus came back to life.”

And here’s where you need a little background. Over the Christmas vacation, we had quite a conversation on our way to NYC, during which the subject of Baby Jesus came up. (One of these days, I’ll try to get that conversation down as well. It was a good one. Trust me.) Needless to say, there was some talk about that third day.

Ummm… “Baby Jesus is different. He was very special. When he came back to life it was good; he watches over people. He didn’t turn into a zombie.”

“Don’t say that word,” Will said.

“Zombie?” I foolishly repeated.


“O.k., o.k.” Dumb mommy. That’s, like, one of the first things you’re supposed to learn in Mommy School. I must have missed that class. “Pretend I didn’t say it.”

“I don’t want to talk about this any more,” he said. “What else should I think about? And don’t say anything about the thing happening tomorrow.”

Almost making the same mistake again, I said, “You mean-”


Sigh. Right. “Then think about Jasper, Sour Patch Kids Watermelon, and opening the presents from your birthday party.”

“What else?”

Ugh. More than three things? “I can’t think of anything else. After that, just count to 1500.”

“I can’t count to 1500. I don’t know anything past 9 billion.”

Oh, my God. Do not laugh. Do not even crack a smile. That might have been the only lesson I did learn, but at least I’ve got that one down. “1500 is less than 9 billion.”

He looked at me suspiciously. I saw my opening. “Good night, Will. I love you.”

“Me too, Mommy. Good night.”

I finally posted the pictures from Milliepalooza (i.e., Camilla’s 30th birthday celebration) to Flickr and Facebook. I’m pretty sure that, even if you don’t have a Flickr account you can just click on the photo to the right and you’ll be able to see all 115 of ’em. (I’m limited to 60 on Facebook. It’s probably better that they make me narrow it down — the ones there are the best, but there are still some more good ones on Flickr.)

I’m trying to clean out the memory card of my digital camera before Jaime and Dan’s wedding — I have a feeling I’ll be taking a picture or two. I still have about a billion photos to post (o.k., only about 1500) before my card is down to 0, but that’s a bit unlikely considering getting these up took the entire day. I’m aiming to get up the pictures from NYC up this week, too. If I accomplish that, I’ll be a happy camper.

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