Monday, December 24, 2007

Blowing in the Wind

We've had some really windy weather here, gusts of 60 miles per hour yesterday. I choose to believe that all the bad has been blown from our house and we're ushering in a new time of goodness and light.

My Buddy's ear is just fine, although still bleeding. We went to a specialist and they couldn't diagnose the problem without a CAT scan. His bones and eardrum are intact, but there is a blob of skin and blood right over his eardrum, making it difficult to see the extent of the damage even with a microscope. His hearing is "perfect" according to the audiologist and he had lots of gunk sucked out of the ear as well. It took two hours, but my relief took longer than that to sink in. Antibiotic drops, less active until the bleeding stops, no water in the ear.

And now we move on to Christmas. We passed the solstice with strange weather, dense fog as the heavy snow pack melted in 50 degree weather, then rain, then freezing winds blowing roofs off houses and dropping trees on cars. Mother Nature showing her stuff. We are hanging our clothes to dry in the basement while we consider our options. We will wait until January to make a decision on the retainer. And we will never, never again buy O'Soy yogurt it contains milk and caused the Little Man to be completely inflamed within an hour of eating it. I failed a parenting test by not reading the package.

I finished my gift sacks yesterday, wrapped all the presents, gathered table gifts and other last minute necessities and we are officially done. All that's left is to pick up the beef tenderloin and other groceries for Christmas dinner. We'll hang the stockings by the fire with care and hope that Santa listened well to the wishes of the kids. It will indeed be strange to have Santa visit us in this house and not to celebrate with extended family, but it will be nice too. We need a little peace and quiet after the past week.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I'm not particularly superstitious. And usually my glass is half full. But lately I'm beginning to wonder about how the planets are aligned and how it is affecting our daily life. There is definitely a bad energy swirling around my family lately. Aside from my oldest child's freak ear injury, my youngest falling through the ice, the strange appearance of food in the child center of the gym, here are some other dark spots:

  • After the freak accident resulting in Buddy's ear injury, we somehow forgot his retainer at our friends' house. We were not exactly focused on teeth when the cause of concern was the ear. She found it, but we put off making the trip to retrieve it as no one wanted to sit in the car for an hour and a half. We didn't have a good, distracting movie. Now it is lost again. Probably thrown out or hidden by a toddler in a special toddler place. It was new.
  • Mark and I decided to get ourselves a Happy Light for Christmas, as we both seem to suffer mood swings with our latitude's lack of sunlight in the winter. Somehow I added two to my Amazon cart and did not discover the error until it had already entered the shipping system. They both arrived yesterday.
  • Our dryer is no longer drying. The hose is not clogged, the drum still spins but it does not heat. It's 15 years old. Planned obsolescence.
  • I seem to have triggered by father's obsessive worry about weather and travel when I called to tell my parents about the big guy's ear injury. My father has called me maybe 5 times in my life, he is very phone-adverse. He's been worse since his hearing got bad in his 70s and Parkinson's has affected his speech. He called yesterday to tell me that they would have ice on Sunday and I should cancel my plan to come out to see my siblings. Two days and 60 miles away, as if I wouldn't have access to the same information.
  • Mark is on duty through Boxing Day. That was the day we were to go out and celebrate Christmas with my family, we won't even be able to see his family until January sometime. The ear specialist only had one appointment to see the bleeding ear at 4 p.m on Boxing Day. My parents live an hour away, we will miss almost the whole day with aunts, uncles and cousins we haven't seen in a year.

    Now, all of this is easily fixed. We'll get a new retainer after the New Year once our FSA is re-filled. We'll use some of the money we were intending to pay down our debt with to buy a new dryer. I'll ship back the redundant Happy Light. My Dad would have started worrying about weather and travel anyway with his far flung off-spring traveling from New York, California and New Mexico to see them. And maybe, just maybe, the nurse practitioner today will say that we don't need to come on Boxing Day to see the doctor, that the ear is healing, that the hearing loss will return and that we should have a Merry Christmas.

    But it does seem like our house needs an air and light change, we need to alter the energy field or something.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Even More Kid Dangers

Buddy has no eardrum.

The doctor's words were "There is no membrane. It's just gone." Not a good sign, really. We had a lot of hope upon first inspection when she saw just a "flap of debris." But after clearing out all the blood and wax, the debris turned out to be the membrane that blocks the outer ear from the middle ear.

So, we are on a path we haven't walked down before. Other paths haven't seemed this hard, maybe because have a good understanding of food allergies and asthma. We've been in the ER for croup, asthma attacks and anaphylaxis. Oh, and for the usual accidental overdose, fractures and sprains. Ear trauma is uncharted territory for us. And so close to the brain.

After the Little Man fell through thin ice, he caught an unrelated bug that involved vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Through a miracle of goodwill and timing, a friend was able to pick my Girl Scout up for the Christmas party and take my oldest along for boys club. I happily sent them off at 8:30 a.m. and worried only about my still sleeping little guy who was sick. There was a fleeting worry about sending Buddy out with only Christmas party supplies, one epipen for the two of them, three huge frozen pizzas, gifts for their secret sisters and brothers and bags in case they got car sick. Mostly I was worried that I had not included snow pants for boys club and Buddy would get all wet. Then the Little Man woke with the runs and I spent time cleaning him up, doing normal mom things in the aftermath of a mess.

The little man and I had one quiet hour together working at the sewing machine, making gift bags in lieu of disposable wrapping paper for Christmas. He ate breakfast, chattered incessantly about Santa and presents and where his siblings were. I sewed around and despite of him.

Then the phone rang. My wonderful friend Kim of and was in a panic on the phone. I have a strange, calm response to other people's panic. I could hear my oldest screaming in the background, so my response was doubled. Thankfully doubled. A bag of sticks carved and groomed into wands had been brought to the boys club Christmas party. One of them had been shoved so forcefully into Buddy's ear as to be broken in half. Screaming his head off in shock and pain, he wouldn't let anyone peer in beyond his bloody hair.

Now, I know my children and this one has a very low tolerance for pain. My other two are more like me in that regard. My oldest takes after one of my siblings. So, it was difficult for another mom to judge the extent of his pain, but I made my way out the door. Unfortunately, we live 50 minutes away on a good day with good traffic. Unfairly, I called Mark from the car and asked him to Google sticks and ears. I called my friends every ten minutes or so and for the first 40, my big boy was still screaming. I hit every train and light on the way, making it almost an hour trip. He was calm, but in pain, when I got there and looked in to see that the blood was coming from deep inside the ear canal. Not gushing, but a slow, steady drip.

Girl Scouts being almost over and having the location of an ER and an Urgent Care facility, I set to making a decision. We waited for Little Missy and then for the one epipen among us to be returned after she forgot it at Girl Scouts. I left the house with a not-quite potty trained child with diarrhea and not a single diaper on me. Friends supplied those. Friends returned the epipen. Mark helped me decide to call our regular doctor first. We hit the road.

Our regular doctor couldn't fit us in until 5:30, more than 4 hours after we got home. She squeezed us in between appointments, probably cutting into her dinner. I put a diaper to Buddy's ear to collect the blood, set him up with Harry Potter, tended to the flu ridden little Man and asked my girl for more help than is fair to an 8 year old. She read to him, played games online, brought her big brother drinks and took care to keep me calm in the midst of chaos.

Dr. Wu saw us in the waiting room and was visibly relieved over which boy was in trouble. She shooed us into an empty room and peered in. She scraped out the blood, looked with her scope and thought it was OK, just a flap of debris that needed to be flushed out so she could get a better look. She ran out to take acupuncture needles from someone, asked her nurse to prepare an irrigation solution and got tied up for an hour. I called home and set the wheels in motion to tell everyone there was no damage to the ear drum. We were moved to a room across the hall. My boy read his Harry Potter and I worked on a mitten, because my first response to stress is to start a new project.

When the doctor returned to irrigate, she took the hair clip out of her own hair to pull back my rock star boy's hair and get to work. The more she irrigated, the more gunk came out. Buddy peered into the tub. I sat down with nausea. The she got to some more serious looking and said "The membrane is gone. It's just gone." The light she had seen before was just reflecting off all the blood. He has nothing protecting his ear from the outer world. He can still hear, which confounds me, but it is muffled by the blood now. We need to keep it clean and dry, he need to be inactive to stop the bleeding so the membrane can heal itself.

I've taped gauze over his ear. I've purchased waterproof tape and plugs that cover the ear canal without going into it for protection during a shower. He is grateful for his hair covering the gauze. I'm terrified of his hair carrying bacteria and infecting the ear. He's on the dreaded antibiotic to protect against a infection leading to hearing loss, and a huge dose of probiotics to protect against his usual response to antibiotics, getting every cold and minor illness for the next month. It's been a good two years since he's been on an antibiotic.

But how does one keep a 9 year old from being active? He's read probably 200 pages of the LAST Harry Potter book today. Only 80 left. I re-dressed his ear this morning and by this evening, it was soaked in blood. Another inactive day tomorrow. I'll need to run out and get more movies. He didn't want to watch TV all day today.

He has no hearing loss yet. The membrane can't heal until it stops bleeding. I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping our string of bad luck will end now. And I'm hoping not to end up with an irrational fear of sticks much like my irrational fear of the ice. This week has done nothing but justify my irrational fears. What this week has done is restore my faith in humanity. Without friends and family working together, I don't know where I'd be.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More kid dangers

We woke to light snow on Saturday morning, but not more than an inch. It was a scheduled work day at the forest preserve where we volunteer. We took two cars because not everyone was up at the same time. It was such a beautiful morning, cold and it had the feel of impending snow. I got there with the sleepy-head boys a few hours into the work and six or seven brush piles had been lit. My daughter already had several sparks land on her coat, revealing the fluffy insides of outerwear.

We've been to several burns now and enjoy it every time. There is something really magical about a burn in the snow, how hot the fire gets and the crackling sound of the logs and brush. The kids breakfasted on marshmallows and had a good time. Then they wandered off through the wetland area and played nicely while the adults chatted by the fire.

I put Mark in charge of monitoring the kids around the ice. It's one of my areas of unreasonable fear, mostly borne from personal experience. Growing up we had access to a fantastic sledding hill on a neighbor's property. We had a large toboggan to seat all four of us and sometimes my father. The hill was treacherous with a dip in the middle, woods on either side and random trees throughout the tracks we made. At the bottom of the hill was a little pond the neighbors maintained as a skating pond. It was great winter fun. Several times, however, we sledded or tobogganed right into not-quite frozen pond. I have painful memories of going home cold and wet, dangerously cold and wet. Dangerously crying in the cold and wet. I remember how hard it is to keep your hands and feet warm months after dunking them in freezing water on a freezing day.

So, I didn't want to ruin the kids fun if it indeed was not a dangerous situation. And I didn't want to know too much about the ice. Mark checked and asked them to move to another location, which they did. Half an hour later the little man was crying in pain and the older two were saying "We didn't know that was ice." So much for homeschooling, right? More likely they were trying to cover up their guilt over the little guy's predicament. Mark brought him to the fire as we assessed the situation. His little boots were filled with water, his mittens completely soaked even after I wrung them out. I removed his soaked socks, Mark held him closer to the fire to warm a bit. Then we put my coat on him - upside down with his legs through the sleeves at the suggestion of another volunteer and took him to the car. Not a graceful exit, but a necessary one.

In the meantime, because you can't have just one tragic, frightening event happen while being a parent of three kids, my oldest snuggled up to another fire and managed to melt the seat of his snow pants. He didn't burn them, we don't think. He claims to have not sat in the fire, but we weren't really paying attention to him with a potentially hypothermic almost four year old in our arms.

Once we got to the car - and we walked fast through the woods, we wrapped him in another warm layer of a beach blanket and I got him home within five or ten minutes. Now he was wet and sandy and miserable, but not crying any more. I marveled over his resilience.

He's OK, but his boots did not dry enough by the next day to go sledding after we received our new six inch layer of snow. And when we've been outside his hands and feet have been cold. I'm making him new mittens from old wool sweaters I've felted. As long as we have a supply of dry mittens to exchange for the wet snowy ones, we should be OK. And Buddy now has the most colorful butt in snow pant land! I covered most of it in patches, but had to resort to duct tape when it wasn't enough. Little Missy turned her coat the other way out, but I saved a white patch to cut out snowflake designs to patch her coat.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to be an advocate

Today, as most days, I went to my health club, Lifetime Fitness nearby in Burr Ridge. Actually, it's about 15 minutes away, there are a couple health clubs closer to me. I thought long and hard about which health club to join, my primary concern was my children. I needed a place that would grow with them, so a kids' place with only preschool toys was out. And I needed a place that would be safe for them.

The staff at Lifetime really seemed to understand food allergies. Every staff member is trained, they said. And we haven't had a problem for four years. We avoid party type activities where food is involved. But for camps and classes, they ask about allergies and specifically buy food that fits every child's parameters. Food is not allowed anywhere in the building except the party rooms and the cafe. Parents have always snuck food onto the pool deck (indoors and out) and into the locker room (yuck), but ever since the little man has been old enough to understand his allergies, I haven't been too concerned.

Today I only had the older two with me. They happily ran off into the Child Center, the staff said the play tubes and basketball court would be open in 15 minutes. I came back two hours later to find Little Missy in tears and unable to talk. My oldest told me that they had been keeping themselves alone in the back because the staff had been eating from a jar of nuts. My kids were literally standing there, crying, holding their hands in fists at their sides, afraid to do anything. My daughter had been suspicious of what the workers were eating and had gone up to read the label. She got as far as Mixed Nuts before running in terror. I got their shoes and escorted them out, asking one of the workers about the incident. She told me how sorry she was, but that it was their dinner. I tried to ascertain her level of understanding concerning food allergies and anaphylactic shock, but couldn't really see straight because of my anger and fear.

I intended to speak with the manager on the way out, my girl was still crying, however. Luckily, I saw the general manager, not the manager on duty, in one of the rooms and demanded to see him. After several deep breaths, I managed to convey my concern over the food in the child center without too much, too much. I pointed to my children way down the hall and said they they were two of my three highly allergic children and the reason they were crying was because the people I was paying to take care of them were putting them in danger. The general manager agreed there should be no food in the child center, that the staff is supposed to eat their meals in the break room and that he understood my concern. He promised to take care of the situation right then and have the child center manager call me tomorrow. We'll see.

Parents of food allergic children are often seen as fanatical. We don't want to eat your food, people! It is precisely the people who think we are crazy that we have to be fanatical about. From family members who can't be bothered to get out the reading glasses for the label, from friends who can never remember which food exactly can kill your child, to the disbelieving acquaintance who thinks just a little bit won't hurt. I've had other moms ask me how I can protect their child's right to have a peanut butter sandwich when my kid is near, heard grumblings on field trips or open gyms about how difficult it is to cut up cheese instead of making a PB&J, had people say "Oh, does that mean no Snickers?" I've had people in all seriousness tell me that my children will never be able to avoid peanuts and tree nuts for the rest of their lives. What do these people believe the alternative to be? I know what it is and it's not something I'm prepared for.

The last time my oldest reacted to peanut butter it was after he ran into a room, around a table with an open faced peanut butter sandwich on it, and out again. He was in the room for less than a minute and his entire face swelled up. Imagine if he had been in the room for longer. Imagine if he had eaten it. Yes, I protect my kids from this. I ask people to wash their hands after eating nuts, and have had people believe this to be rude or silly. Even a doctor! Which just goes to show you that those who should have the knowledge don't always use it.

But today my kids couldn't speak up for themselves, couldn't ask these people in a position of authority over them to page me, to get them to a safe place. The staff they have trusted for four years to keep them safe was now threatening them. They are only 8 and 9 years old and they were being put in a horrible position. I'm just grateful they did see what the staff was eating. What if they hadn't known? What if then the staffer had high-fived them on the basketball court and then they had rubbed their eyes or put their fingers in their mouths? What if they had been babies needing to be picked up? No, it probably wouldn't have killed them the way that ingesting peanuts would, but they would have needed medical intervention. The epipen was up front at the check-in, but would they have known to use it? Or how to use it?

So, I can't sleep because I can't keep my kids safe. If I had the space, I'd buy a treadmill and some weights and give up my steam room. If I had the money, I'd hire a babysitter in the afternoons. But I don't. And that doesn't leave me good options if Lifetime can't make me feel confident in their training and policies. Food allergies are a disability and are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. There are handicapped parking spots out front, they must make accommodations for my kids' allergies. The problem is that all the policies and training in the world are only as good as those implementing it. There has been a lot of staff turnover in the child center over the past six months. Even if the law protects us, I have to have a comfort level with the protection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


There's a great, short video on the Internet that I'd like to share. I received it in an email from a yahoo group I'm on for home schooling Roots&Shoots leaders. I started watching it to make sure it was something my kids would want or need to see, and was riveted. It will take 2o minutes to watch and much thinking time afterwards. Find it at

I thought I was pretty good about not buying things, about donating unused things, buying used whenever possible, not creating so much waste. After watching the video, I realized just how wrong I am. We just bought a new computer monitor, for example. And new socks for the girls in the house. Individual chip bags, juice pouches for car lunches, small yogurts and new LED Christmas lights. Yikes. The video puts the whole consuming society a natural resource perspective.

Then I started gathering up headless toys, plastic things for a snow globe project. It's fun to put army guys or spare cootie legs in a snow globe. Expect the unexpected. I went through toy bins I had just been through a couple of months ago when I donated a huge bag to Goodwill. We have so much surplus, it astounded me. We made some good snow globes from some of this surplus, used jars from the basement and from other people's kitchens, and glitter left over from another project. It was a recycling kind of project, but we can't litter the world with snow globes!

Even those of us who think about these things have a long way to go. My kids had no idea about planned obsolescence, I'm glad they have a little understanding of it now. I hope it stays with them.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Get out there

If anyone were to ask me for my best homeschooling advice, it would be to get out there. Get out in the woods, in a field, meadow or prairie, a bog, down by a creek or on the lakefront. Get out of the house, away from noise, away from structured time, play structures, classes, activities, and mind sets of what should be or needs to be done. Lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Don't let weather, time constraints, to-do lists, team sports or reluctant participants stop you from getting out on a regular basis. Put it on the calendar, a no excuses date with the outside world, the natural environment. Or do what I did and form a scheduled activity, thereby committing myself other families to get out there. Your children will thank you - although maybe not out loud. You will thank you.

It's amazing what a little open space can do for you and for your children. Today we had 14 children aged 4 to 14 out in the woods, burning a brush pile we had made earlier in the year at a forest preserve. Don't get me wrong, in real life these are iPod-wearing, nintendo-playing, dvd-watching children. They all have the benefit of being homeschooled, so they are used to being in mixed company. They also have the ability to get together a couple of Fridays a month to get out there and enjoy themselves.

They worked together sawing logs, lopping off branches, tending the fire. They packed snow around logs that were too thick to burn in the time allotted. They roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Then they sauntered off to play in the snow. The had a snowball fight, made snow forts and a snow men. Left to their own devices, with no input and no direction, they climbed fallen branches, made snow forts out of brush, followed deer and rabbit tracks and had a great time together.

It's so easy for us to stay home to "get work done." Or to fill our schedules with all the wonderful activities and classes our Chicago homeschooling community provides. But what our kids really need is to reconnect with the natural environment, with their own imaginations and creativity, with themselves and with each other. This morning, getting my three out of the house and into the cold was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. After all, getting out means four snow pants, 8 boots, 8 gloves or mittens (matching not necessary), 4 hats, 4 coats and someone who has to pee as soon as all this is put on. But I had a date, written on my calendar, with 9 other children, 3 great moms and 2 wonderful and accommodating volunteer stewards of the Forest Preserve, so off we went. And then it turned out to be the only thing I wanted to do today.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Snow Dance

When we got to the sledding hill yesterday, we were greeted by a sign that read "No Sledding." It had a lengthy explanation of the dangers of the terrain, the fact that trees and fences were in the way and that someone could get hurt.

Our town is pretty flat, so we have to drive to a neighboring town's park for what suffices as a hill. It's not really much of a hill, but it works. And it's worked for years. Everyone comes here to sled.

So, we ignored the sign. There was already another family sledding and we decided to believe the sign indicated another section of this small slope, which indeed had fencing and many evenly spaced trees. It was damp and cold, with lake effect snow falling and swirling around. Cloudy and sunny at times, a perfect sledding day. The snow was not packed down when we got there, but we worked at it enough that by the time we left and other families arrived, the hill was a good sled.

The other moms looked askance at us, one ventured to ask if we had school today. I told her we homeschool and this was recess. She laughed and left it alone. Really, they should have been pleased that my 85 pound kid was packing down the snow for them! After a while, a village worker came and tinkered with the sign. I got that creepy feeling you get when choosing to violate a rule. He spent a long time on the sign, but never approached us and then drove off. As we were leaving, we read the sign again and it had been changed to "Sled at Your Own Risk." We had another discussion about the sign, about unenforceable rules and how grown ups can sometimes change their minds.

Later in the day, after a trip to the library for story time and to reload our reading materials, the entire family turned out for Parent Observation Day at the little guy's dance class. We had forgotten about Parent Observation Day for my oldest boy's class the day before and can't make it to my daughter's tonight, so we came out in force for this one. While he was clearly distracted by the parents in the room, and especially his parents, sister and brother, my youngest child show his love of dance, of his teacher and the whole world in his movements. You can see him below in the mirror.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snowy Day

It snowed nicely last night. The weather information all day had been full of the impending snow, so it felt good for it to finally arrive. It started just as I dashed out of the house to take my oldest boy to his dance class. When I got home, Mark had arrived, so he sent my daughter out to come with me for a haircut. By the time we got to Fantastic Sam's, it was snowing in earnest. And me in my crocs.

We ran a bunch of errands and Little Missy listened to the book Everything on a Waffle on her mp3 player while I had my Chinese tuina (I think it means torture) massage on my ankle. Then we picked up the dancer, had dinner and the kids played in the snow until 9 o'clock. The first real snow of the season is always special. They were the only kids playing in it on the block.

Here's what I'm grateful for in this snow:
  • The timing. It started snowing on Tuesday night, not Monday night. Or, worse, Tuesday morning when we have to leave really early on our hour long trek into the city for Girl Scouts.
  • Accurate weather predictions. My kids are tired of threatened storms that never come. My father obsesses about the weather while it is predicted, during the storm and the immediate aftermath. Accurate predictions, in a way, justify his worry.
  • Our neighbor found a plow guy. And they didn't come until after Mark was already up! We share a driveway and don't have much space to put the snow. It's an extravagance, but easier on our backs. And it was a nice surprise this morning.
  • Homeschooling. I am so happy my kids don't have to trudge down to school, hurrying not to be late and not enjoying the delight of the first snow. As soon as the Little Man is up and breakfasted, we plan to head to the sledding hill for some fun.

We have a nice three or four inch coating and are supposed to get a bit more in lake effect this morning. It's warm enough to be good sledding snow, I sure hope so.