Better Ask A Breeder: Plague Edition

I mentioned several angst-ridden posts ago that there are just some things that you can’t possibly be prepared for as a parent. It’s true, and some advice you just don’t internalize. When I had a baby I called my sister any number of times to howl “Why didn’t you tell me about [blank]?!” Her response: “I DID. You just didn’t want to believe me.”

…Fine. Sully the past with your “truth” and “logic.”

Today I’m writing to you from Stomach Plague Central, aka my couch. Christmas was a very subdued affair, as Maggie succumbed to her thrice-yearly round of multi-day terrible illness in the wee hours of December 24. Moira followed suit around 4am on December 25. When presented with their Father Christmas’s sparkling bounty, Moira put her head between her legs and Maggie threw a blanket over her head and lay down on the couch facing the wall.

We have video of this magical childhood moment but I won’t post it. It’s just too pitiful.

They rallied and I set about the tasks of caregiving: a notepad for tracking fever-reducing dosage times, all the spare towels and linens for making up beds, and setting up stacks of clean prefold diapers and buckets at various positions throughout the house to serve as shields and receptacles when necessary.

After almost four years as a parent, this isn’t my first rodeo. This isn’t even the first (or second, or third) time that both kids have been ill at the same time. But it got me thinking: what do I wish I had known the first few times? Here’s what you should have on hand as soon as you start suspecting that a rotten state is about to settle over your abode.

Popsicle molds: if you can find the kind with a straw built into the handle so the juice will drain down and they can drink it, so much the better. Mine were 3GBP at the local supermarket. Maggie refuses to eat solid food when she has a fever. Won’t do it. Isn’t super-psyched about water, either. But she’ll eat popsicles, and making my own ensures that she’s getting lots of good stuff. I make mine with berries (I have dark brown leather couches, so…proceed at your own risk with dark juicy fruits), peeled apples, which I puree and then I thin the mixture with tea. What kind of tea? Next!

Traditional Medicinals Cold Care tea: make and dilute as directed, and if your child is over 12 months old add raw honey while the tea is warm. The tea shouldn’t be HOT, otherwise it kills the antibacterial benefits of the honey, but just warm enough to dissolve the honey into the tea. If your kid will drink it straight, awesome. If they’re like mine, that’s why you have popsicle molds.

Probiotics for all ages: Maggie doesn’t get sick often thanks to a diet of whole, healthy foods and supplemented with probiotics. When she does it’s generally a superbug, which is miserable. If I can get her to take her probiotics, that’s wonderful, and if not I double the amount that I take so hopefully I can avoid being sick at the same time. Thus far, it’s going okay.

Coconut oil: this is a staple at our house, but I use it with a drop of lavender oil for a fever massage or after baths. There are so many baths being taken right now. So many. So much yuck, because having little girls with thick hair is beautiful and also sometimes the WORST and that is all I will say about that. Anyway, a nice post-bath massage offers comforting touch when they really need it and keeps their skin from drying out.

Laundry: at the very beginning of an illness, wash and dry all their pajamas and any towels or sheets waiting to go. Your preparedness will pay off. Trust me. Also, now is not the time to wear anything you really like. 

Any other tips? I’ll check in the girls begin to recover because for now I have to aim them away from my expensive electronics.

Jam On

It started when I was pregnant with Moira.

Nesting takes on so many interesting forms. With Maggie it was decorating. We had permission to paint our rental, and we did the kitchen in brown, the living and dining area in blue with a brown stripe, and Maggie’s nursery in eye-searing orange.

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Told ya.

Anyway, with Moira I was due to deliver not in the fecund blooms of a Hawaiian spring, but in the gray chill of late November in England (actually due mid-month, but who am I, the overdue kangaroo, kidding?) At some point I became convinced that we were going to starve to death in the cold. I can count on two hands the number of supermarkets, shops, and take-away restaurants within walking and short-drive distance, but I couldn’t be moved. Thus began the successful push to get a full stand-alone freezer put in my kitchen to store lots of crock pot meals and frozen batches of baby food.

And still, it was not enough. In my absurdly rotund shape, I drove my family to fruit-stained madness trying to pick berries and we put up jam. This year, with a toddler and infant around, we did 70 full jars of jam, including 20 jars of strawberry syrup because I have not quite mastered pectin.

We gave a lot of it away for Christmas. Merry Survivalmas!

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So after Jamathon 2012, I started looking at other things to can. I settled on stocks. There’s a lot of good free-range (like, actually free range, not American free range) meat here, and utilizing the whole bird (or beef bones) seems like an excellent way to incorporate more nutrients into our diet. Maggie’s going through that “I only eat beige food” phase that seems to set in during the winter months of comfort-eating, but she will eat soup so plying her with homemade bone broth seemed wise. Alas, I need a pressure canner to safely preserve low-acidity broth, so I started looking at advanced food preservation websites.

Food preservation research is going to get you two types of sites: survivalists and the thoroughly religious, which seem to have some overlap. This is kind of a scary rabbit hole to fall down. Straight-up survivalists prepare for the worst; the religious survivalists prepare for the worst because of the End Times. The VERY short version is that if God tests the population before the faithful are raptured, times are gonna get rough and people are going to need stockpiles of cash, water, and well-preserved food before Jesus comes a-callin’.

It is likely a testament to my upbringing in a very conservative Baptist church that my first reaction to End Times preparedness was “Oh, okay. That makes sense” and not “Close this window and go back to Pinterest right now; you are not among your people.” But you can still learn from people with whom you disagree, which is a wonderful life lesson at any age, especially since now I know how to pressure-can bacon. Rapture pig for all!

Ahem. Where was I? Yes, food. So in addition to a pressure canner, I also asked for a food dehydrator. I seriously DO NOT need as much jam and syrup as we have, and my haul includes tons of single-serving baggies for smoothies and baking. Homemade fruit leather and dried fruit for travel and lunches seem like the next logical step and OH WOW okay, I see how you start with a few jars of strawberry jam and end up on discussion boards where people say things like “These tubs are good for 4-5 year storage, but you should REALLY be looking at tubs that can store safely up to 20 years.”

You’ll all come visit me in my shack in the mountains, won’t you? Thanks. I’ll have jam for you.

Abused and Reused

Warning: stomach-turning grossness

Hey, remember when I got really, really sick in Dublin? And not even in a fun “Drink Guinness and take home a cheery harp player” way? Oh, I do. I remembered the story well enough to retell it at a party on Saturday–a cookie exchange, no less.

Related: are there social skills classes for adults without a diagnosis? Asking for a friend.

Anyway, the consensus was basically this: “What is WRONG with you?! Why didn’t you throw the bag away?” And it’s because I’m cheap! Why do you think I spend so much of my life rinsing, washing, folding, and fluffing cloth diapers? They aren’t THAT cute; there are disposables that are just as darling and that get delivered to your house. No. Nothing is cute enough to offset toddler crap. It’s because the idea of disposables, in my mind, is like actually pooping on money and then throwing it away. Much like the idea of throwing away my wetbag (which I still have, THANK YOU VERY MUCH) in Ireland, that concept scalds my frugal Yankee soul.

I had a similar reaction when a friend of ours, in the midst of potty training, threw away her son’s befouled underwear when he had an accident in public. This happened twice, and both times I was aghast. Just…throw it away? You can do that? I don’t think I could do that.

Obviously, I need to start watching “Hoarders” again so I can muster the strength to toss. When you’ve seriously considered bagging your child’s $2 H&M underwear to take home and wash, and then you have to actually wash and sterilize your washing machine (did you know you could do that? You can!) afterward, you have a problem. We have a system, so all clothing gets thoroughly pre-washed before it actually goes into the machine, but…yeah.

WHY AM I EVEN TELLING YOU THIS?

Right. Who else has a totally irrational money thing? Mine is, obviously, children’s clothing and accessories. Several times a year I am shocked anew as I see the prices of wee baby clothes and feel the shoddy quality. I’ll tell you this, too–I’ve bought clothes for my nephew and for my two daughters and niece, and boys’ clothing holds up WORLDS better than girls’. Clothes my nephew wore are going strong four babies later, and onesies I had for Maggie are falling apart around Moira’s snuggly frame. Anyway, I like to dress my girls in cute outfits and Maggie has serious, serious opinions about how she looks. I want to get every nickel out of clothes as I can when Maggie’s approved articles list hovers in the single-digits.

This means I’m the lunatic buying Shout in double-refill-packs at the store, looking on Pinterest to see how to get hard-to-treat stains out of clothes, and bellowing at my poor husband like a Downeast fishwife, my poor husband who is just trying to get through his day without bloodshed at the lint trap, to stain-treat every! Single! Article! that comes through WHY DO YOU HATE MONEY.

Today I had to admit defeat and that after being washed eight times with various stain techniques, one dress is not coming back. That dress? $6. But it was a HANNA ANDERSSON DRESS, from the outlet, and those things last forever if you take care of them. That was ONE OF MY KEEPER-FOREVERERS (so not a word but go with it).

Wetbags. Underwear. Cloth diapers. Outlet dresses. And you know, Tom makes a nice living. We take vacations; he often encourages me not to buy off-brand generic coffee. We can deal with a lost dress or two. But I don’t want to, and you can’t make me.

Now excuse me, but I have to sterilize my washing machine.

Able

“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet

I’ve spent some time in the archives looking at what I’ve written about Maggie and I’ve come to a conclusion: it’s time for me to apologize.

The fear that I’ve experienced is based in stereotypes. It’s the fear of the “other,” the same fear that I’ve claimed was my greatest: that the world treats people badly when they perceive that person as “other.” And I worried about functioning in the world–passing– and getting her to talk to me like “any other child” would do, and the “plan” and the diagnosis and all of that, because those were the things that would make her less “other.”

Shame on me.

Maggie’s three years old, and she is not scary. What she can do is yet to be written; what she is capable of is unbound by my neurotypical experience. The last thing we want her to do is to conform to what the world wants her to be at the expense of her own unique, important voice. So I’ve spent this weekend learning about ableism and about self-advocacy: “Nothing about us without us.” Such important, important topics.

We are evolving and learning; those past posts are staying up to reflect how far we’ve come. We are clumsy and we stumble, but we are getting there as a family. And I am sorry for ever, even unwittingly or without realizing I was doing so, disparaging the person my daughter will be with my own fear.

And you know what? I don’t think I’ll write any more serious posts until after January 1. Time to take requests. It has to be a funny topic, dammit, like the mouse from two years ago. I need uppers to get through my own blog these days. What do you want to hear about?

Star of Wonder

She snores, she hogs covers (or won’t let me put them on at all). Her bed is full of poky toys. But last night I decided to sleep in Maggie’s bed all the same, because I could. Because I still can tonight. Because she’s there and I needed a hug from someone small. Because after yesterday’s news in Connecticut, which literally put me on the floor as I read the headline pop up from the Washington Post app, I needed to hear the miracle of her breathing as she slept, untroubled.

Because I needed to see, in repose, this star of wonder.

By whatever tricks of chance and fate exist, for at least one more night, she is ours to hold. And for that, we are so grateful.

Guide us to thy perfect light.

Breather

…PHEW. Okay, let’s open up a window in here. I fear I’ve sucked the air out of the room.

Based on some of the very concerned (and very much appreciated) emails I’ve received, I wanted to reassure you that I really am, most days, just dandy. Life is good. And more importantly, Maggie and Moira really have no idea what’s going on.

Oh, my oblivious little buttons. Moira, even at this moment, is trying to eat breakfast while wearing a pumpkin Halloween bucket on her head and Maggie has on a Santa elf hat. Bless their little hearts. Maggie just knows that she has a ton of new adult buddies that totally want to play with her and do all the stuff she likes to do! How fun! Moira is happy, as always, to have a new audience upon which to bestow her slightly damp affection. We are full-tilt into the holidays; to make up for a stressful autumn I’ve gone total Pinterest Mom on fun crafts and a daily special activity to do for December. It’s a hoot, especially because Maggie, ever hopeful, reads every note on the advent calendar as “Watch a special Christmas movie?”

Bless. No. 

I think my fears, while illustrated in their darkest moment, are normal for any parent. If you’re doing the job even half-assed, you’re worried about whether you’re up to the task and how the money will work out and whether you can get them to independent adulthood without warping them.

Actually, I’m not worried about that last part. My children may well end up warped, but by God they’re going to be creatively warped.

 And finally, I want to reassure you that even after a night of 2am fretting, my days often look a bit like this:

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And a little bit like this:

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But mostly like this:

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Yes. That’s the good stuff. And the good stuff makes up the majority of our lives. As my grandmother says of her children, “Am I not blessed?”

What more can you really hope to have? 

Leap

And the verdict on the car is…

…nothing!

We decided to pass on the friend’s minivan; there’s nothing technically wrong with our car, other than the fact that it is cramped and wee and getting Moira in and out of her car seat has left a semi-permanent welt on the back of my head. Waiting a year will allow us to save a little more, check our options, and see what we really want.

And can I be honest, here? Let’s be real.

It’s not about the car.

This frustration, irritability, overreaction to a perfectly lovely and functional vehicle that I’m actually grateful to have? It’s an outlet. An easy target. A convenient distraction. It’s so much easier to sit down and research cars and spend an hour here and there on Edmund’s, spending money in my head that I don’t actually want to spend, simply because it is an easy way to ignore the fact that for the last four months, we have been overwhelmed. have been overwhelmed. And I’m not proud of any of this.

We know, now, after umpteen million appointments (and several more to go) that Maggie is almost certainly on the autism spectrum, which is news and yet not news. We’ve known for a long time that something was different–a very long time. Getting a diagnosis, as I’ve told everyone who will listen and surely some people who are very, very bored by the topic, is the key! A silver key that will unlock a room, wherein therapists and doctors and a plan are waiting. I have been surface smiles and cheerful, so glad–just so goddamn glad!–that we were finally going to know. There’s going to be a plan! A plan, I tell you!

Then three things happened.

One: Moira had surgery in the midst of this silver-shiny spate of denial. Two: one of my dearest friends–the one who encouraged us to have Maggie evaluated in the first place–found out that her daughter (younger than Moira) would need to be tested for cystic fibrosis as a possible cause for her failure to grow properly. (Spoiler: the test was negative, but we didn’t know it then.) And three: Tom’s friend asked us for a list of baby product recommendations.

So innocent, that last, no? Just a recommendation for carriers and maybe some swaddling blankets. But it broke me. I cracked. As I started writing the recommendation email I started hysterically laughing. Actual, ugly hysteria. And I wrote, and fortunately, deleted, the following (though I did post it to G+): “Autism. Holes in major organs. Cystic fibrosis. I hate to be a downer to new parents, but holy shit. There’s nothing I can tell you that will really prepare you for what life is going to throw at you. There isn’t a swaddling blanket in the world that can make any of this okay.”

And isn’t that the truth. The pattern on that lovingly chosen swaddling blanket for Moira? Bloodied from the recovery room. The darling little tam hat I picked out for my friend’s daughter in Scotland? Gonna look real cute in the waiting room at her umpteenth doctor’s appointment for a disease that would all but guarantee her parents will outlive her. And what about that plan, eh? That plan that a diagnosis–upon which we are still waiting–would give us? What did it really matter? It could work. It could not work. And what would “Work” look like? What if we could never have a back-and-forth conversation with our daughter? What if we went bankrupt–literally, actually bankrupt–trying? Haha! Go ahead! Pick your nursery colors! Think about that car seat pattern instead! Spend hours researching new cars and obsess over the things you can control, because it’s all going to fall apart on you in the end! I laughed until my throat was raw and I wanted to throw up, and spent the rest of nap time in the hottest shower I’ve ever taken.

Clearly, this was a grim time.

It’s better now. The test came back negative–no cystic fibrosis. The bloodstains washed out, and Moira’s scar is fading. Maggie is wonderful and will always be wonderful. And I’m trying not to bore people with my shiny-silver denial, because I know I’m not fooling anyone. I’ve caught a glimpse of myself a few times in the mirror this year and I can see the strain–eyes puffy and threaded red from insomnia, knots in the side of my face from where I clench my jaw without realizing it, shoulders sinking and only kept afloat by emails and texts from the three or four people with whom I’d entrust with the information that I’m about to be eaten alive by the panic rat. Don’t take it personally if I’ve shut you out of that information; that list of confidantes doesn’t always even include my husband, although we’ve had a few knock-down hash-outs trying to find our way. We’re better than before; dented, bruised in a few spots, but better. We are being tested in fire and being made stronger; that can’t come without occasionally feeling like you’re burning alive.

Having a child is such a leap of faith; it’s the ultimate act of optimism. It’s a promise to yourself that you think the future will be bright enough, worthy enough, of this pure and unblemished soul that you’ve endeavored to bring up in the world. And it’s a hopeful thing to think about yourself: that you’re also worthy and will be capable of being the parent that child deserves. Along this year of tragedy and ugly surprises and gut-punches I’m figuring out how to get that faith back and reclaim that optimism and hope for the future. We are getting there. I’m getting there. The silver-shiny denial is being slowly eroded and replaced by titanium. We’re actually, truly on the road to feeling worthy and okay again.

And maybe, just maybe, if we last and persevere and, kicking and screaming, find our way? Next year we’ll treat ourselves to something literally shiny.