My nightmares and a public “Thank you, Delta Airlines”

Since my daughter was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 17 months of age, my nightmares have had a recurring theme. In them, she has a severe reaction and we are away from home.  Sometimes the settings are as mundane as playgrounds where children run wild with peanut butter sandwiches. Other times we are isolated, camping in the middle of the woods, or on a boat. Most often, we are on an airplane.

I’m not a comfortable flier to begin with, but when my daughter is with me, the winged tin can takes on all the qualities of a death trap. I don’t fear water evacuation. I fear the peanuts and cashews I see ground into the floor even after I’ve called ahead to warn the airline of a peanut allergy. I tense at the sound of every snack package ripped open because I have no idea what has been brought on board and whether this will be what sends my daughter’s immune system into overdrive.

On July 3rd, 2016, my nightmare came true on Delta flight 304. At 30,000 feet somewhere between Montego Bay, Jamaica and Atlanta, Georgia, my daughter, who sat next to her brother and her Gran in the row ahead of me, turned and said, “I have a hive. I need a Benadryl.”

I handed her one–this is routine for us–and flagged the flight attendant. I identified our group as the peanut allergy and asked we could get up and clean her seat of residue, even though the fasten seatbelt sign was illuminated. The flight attendant offered to take her to the back and help our group of five find another group with whom we could switch seats.  My daughter walked down the aisle and I offered a reassuring smile from my middle seat.

“Where’s the mom? Do you have an Epipen?” Maybe 30 seconds had passed from when she stood. Two or three minutes since she asked for a Benadryl. I grabbed the bag from under the seat and sprang into action. I suppressed my urge to panic or show my fear. My daughter stood in the back galley, looking pale. The backs of her legs were blotchy with hives, an angry wave spreading north and south with a ferocity I’d never seen.

“Do you want to do it?” I asked as I pulled off the cap.

“I’m scared.” Her voice rarely trembled, but this time it did.

“Okay. I’m going to give you a big hug.” I stood behind her and wrapped my 5’2″ frame around her 5′ one. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three.” She tightened her grip. We counted to ten. Several new faces had joined us in between. I have no recollection of who came when or how they got there. Time bends and narrows in an emergency.  Lots went on while I held her. My husband cleaned seats and surfaces, people changed seats, flight attendants procured enough new in the package blankets for us to make a sort of blanket fort to protect her from contact with potential contaminants and two medical professionals, a nurse and a pharmacist, stepped forward to help monitor my daughter’s vitals and the reversal of the allergic reaction.

I owe a huge thank you to amazing flight crew working Delta 304 on July 3. I didn’t get all of your names, but you are all my heroes. Our lives seemed pretty up in the air, but you kept us grounded, especially Rosanna (P.S – I hope your daughter outgrows her allergy and that you never need to use an Epipen on her). To the pharmacist and the nurse, I thank you so much for your calming presence and for helping to ensure we didn’t have to use the second Epipen. The flight crew called ahead and paramedics walked my daughter off the plane when we landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport. They were gentle giants (seriously – I think they were all at least 6′ tall) who gave my daughter the best care possible. You’d expect in an airport the size of Atlanta that everyone would be in a rush, but they spent more time assessing her symptoms than we’ve sometimes experienced during some urgent care visits.

Thanks, Mary, for looking after your grandson and keeping him calm, while your granddaughter needed medical attention. He said later he was scared, but felt better with you beside him.

I also want to thank my fellow passengers on Delta 304. I was worried you’d be mad that our emergency disrupted the drink service and delayed your disembarking from the plane, but as the paramedics escorted us off, many of you offered well wishes and reassuring smiles.  Your kindness gives me hope.

epipen usedWe may never know exactly what triggered this episode. But it has been a reminder that we must maintain our vigilance, even when we can’t see the allergen. We got lucky this time. She didn’t ingest peanuts. We had the Epipens handy. We had a lot of wonderful people willing and able to help. This may not always be the case.  My nightmares continue.

If you’ve read this far, and are interested in doing more to make air travel, school, and life safer for those with life threatening food allergies, please visit Food Allergy Research & Education. They will get a fat check from me this year.

Review: The Fairy Swarm by Suzanne Selfors

I’m a little over two weeks late with my final book for the January Project, but The Fairy Swarm may be my favorite of the bunch.  It took a little longer to finish this book because my 8 year old and I have been reading this together at his bedtime. My 12 year old finished it in an afternoon and I suspect my son finished it long before he and I snuggled up for the last chapter.

The Fairy Swarm is the sixth and (it appears) final book in the excellent “Imaginary Veterinary” series. I really hope it isn’t the last of these characters because I have adored every book in this series, and more importantly, my kids love them too.

In this installment, a swarm of fairies escape the imaginary world and cause lots of trouble in the known world, specifically the town of Buttonville. Ben and Pearl, as assistants to the only Imaginary Veterinarian around, must help capture the fairies before the townspeople become suspicious. When the town’s resident busybody, Mrs. Mulberry calls in an exterminator to rid the town of killer bees, it gets harder and harder for Ben and Pearl to protect the secrets of the imaginary world.  This is a fitting end to the series, although it leaves the door open for my son and I to hope for a special edition follow-up or two. (Please read this Suzanne Selfors.)

The Fairy Swarm delivered on everything I love about this series. The heroes, Pearl and Ben, are both ten years old and they act like real kids. Sometimes, they are smart, sometimes they make bad decisions. Sometimes they are brave, sometimes scared. Sometimes they get their feelings hurt and sometimes, they hurt someone else’s feelings. The emotional landscape of these stories has prompted a lot of conversations in my house. We use moments where the characters feel lonely, clever, angry, patient, scared, bored, curious and so on to discuss times they feel the same way. As a parent, this is huge.

The books also offer terrific insight into friendship. Pearl and Ben come from different backgrounds (Los Angeles resident Ben is visiting his grandfather for the summer; Pearl has never left the town of Buttonville). Neither has lots of friends, but both have good hearts. Pearl often tumbles into action before thinking, whereas Ben tends to think before speaking, but  both learn to appreciate the other’s approach.

Furthermore, Suzanne Selfors is a terrific author. The pacing keeps busy kids wanting to turn the page and the writing is at once clear and vocabulary stretching.

Kids will be motivated to read these stories for the humor and the mythical creatures occupying every page.  Who doesn’t love a good Sasquatch? The titles reveal a primary legendary creature for each book, but many more occupy the pages. Fairies, Dragons, Satyrs, Unicorns, lake monsters and more need veterinary care. The blend of fantasy and real world is charming. Although, thanks to these books, if I ever do run into Big Foot, I know exactly what I’ll need to capture him and turn him into a yoga partner.

I haven’t posted many buy links, but here are links for The Fairy Swarm if you need to buy online, otherwise, beg your local library or independent bookseller to stock it for you.

Amazon

Barnes&Noble

 

Life with food allergies

This morning I flipped on my computer to the discover the latest moment of internet outrage.  The Yahoo/Babble headline screamed “2-Year Old Suspended from Daycare over Cheese Sandwich.” Below the article a lengthy list of comments began with phrases like “When I was a kid, no-one had food allergies….” and “It’s just a sandwich.”

On the one hand, the school rules seem a bit extreme, allowing no outside food. I say this because I’m used to providing outside food for my child. The practice has been one of the easiest ways for me to keep her safe in a world where food can be lethal.

I wish some of the people calling out the absurdity of the policy and wondering why everyone has to suffer for the right of one person could spend a day in the place of a parent with a food allergy.  When my daughter was younger, we had to avoid three groups of allergens. Now, we are down to peanuts and tree nuts. My trips to the grocery store are longer. With produce, I have to consider where and how nuts are stored and if they are likely to contaminate produce one typically doesn’t peel.  I have to read the ingredient lists carefully and decide whether the brand is trustworthy in their description of “processed in a shared facility using good manufacturing practices.”   I wonder what their cart would look like if they did their normal shopping and then at the checkout line were asked to sort out products that cause an anaphylactic reaction.

Maybe, just maybe, if everyone did that, I wouldn’t be subjected to moans and groans when the flight attendant announces “This will be a peanut free flight” or the hateful looks from another parent when I ask if their child could please keep their peanut butter sandwich on the picnic table rather than smearing the contents all over the slide at the playground. Maybe more people would offer financial support to researching why food allergies are on the rise and what can be done to halt this epidemic. Maybe we could all enjoy a world where food doesn’t kill.

If you wish to make a change, consider a donation to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Wouldn’t it be nice if no child were suspended for a sandwich? And nicer still if no one died from one?

End rant. Stepping off my soap box.

The Hyphenate’s Dilemma

I’ve got a problem.  Actually, I have many, but today let’s consider the Hyphenate’s dilemma.   When I got married many years ago, I chose to hyphenate my name for a number of reasons that are irrelevant to today’s problem.  The result is a lengthy last name, but one that gives me an incredible amount of information about the speaker.  Telemarketers never say it fully or correctly, for example.

I never considered being a hyphenate much of a problem.  The children share part of my last name so at school functions and so on, I am easily identified as being part of the same family unit.  Unless I introduce myself to the faculty first, there is a tendency among teachers and administrators to direct their initial comments to me as “Mrs. Naylor.”  When I hear this, I always look around to see if my Mother-in-Law is in the room.  Within minutes, we are on first name basis and the issue doesn’t pop up again.

Living in the South for the last nine years has made being a hyphenate easy, even with children.  Growing up in the Midwest, adults were always “Mr. Lastname” or “Mrs. Lastname” unless they were family.  A few beloved adult earned the nickname “Mom Lastname” or “Dad Lastname,” but the last name was present.  In the South, I avoided this awkward hyphenate convention through the charm of Southern Gentility.   Adults call me Lyra and children me either as “child’s name’s mom” or “Miss Lyra.”

Frankly, I love being “Miss Lyra.”  It took me less than a month of living in Georgia to fall for the dual layers of familiarity and respect bestowed in this naming convention.   When my children’s friends call me “Miss Lyra,” I become as connected to them as I am with my own family.

I’m on the verge of returning to the Upper Midwest. I fear I’m returning to the form of address I grew up with, one that makes me uncomfortable as a hyphenate and as a person.

So Yankee and Midwestern friends, what do your children’s friends call you?  Am I worrying for naught? Or am I about to start a Southern Rebellion?

 

Why I’m not voting on Tuesday

Yes folks, you heard it here first. On Tuesday, November 6th, I will not be voting in the presidential election. Wow, do you have a loud gasp. The candidates do not want to hear this.  As a white, suburban woman raising children in a swing state, I realize I am a highly coveted voter. The non-stop TV, radio and mail ads remind me how important my vote is. Frequent phone calls from the two major parties beseech me to vote on Tuesday. The truth of the matter is, I will not be going to vote on Tuesday, but my uterus will.

My uterus is a bossy little thing, but I’ve got a lot of respect it. After all, my uterus carried my two healthy children to term.  Our relationship has not always been easy, plagued by painful cramps and a cancer scare. We’re good now.  Except when it comes to politics.

It’s not that my uterus entirely disagrees with my desire to vote for the third-party candidate most closely aligned with my views, but my uterus is scared. My uterus fears that the uterus of the girl who once lived inside its protective walls will not enjoy the same privileges my uterus does in terms of fertility and health care. My uterus remembers how women of previous generations fought for access to control our fertility and for the right to vote.  My uterus shudders at the thought that some gray-haired men think a pregnancy from rape is either impossible or a gift from God.  My uterus wants to know how many children of rape those men have personally adopted. Come to think of it, so do I.

Come Tuesday, my uterus will take charge of my body and march us to the polling place. I’ll show my voter ID, and receive the voting instructions. A worker will lead me to the designated voting booth. But, do us both a favor, don’t look behind the curtain. My uterus will vote for the candidate who respects women.

Books for 7 to 9 yr olds

Some time back, a friend asked if I could recommend some books for a seven-year old boy.  I’m asked variations on this somewhat frequently so I finally decided to sit down and write out a list.  For this post, I’ll focus on series. I’m sure there will be more to come and these recommendations are in no particular order.  Most will appeal to both boys and girls, but not every child will enjoy each series below equally.

1. The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne – I have yet to meet a child who rejected this series in its entirety. There are nearly 50 books in the series so it can keep readers busy for a while.  Jack and Annie are siblings who find a magic tree house in the woods near their house.  The characters open a book they find in the house, say “I wish we could go there,” and are transported to the desired location. Before they can go home, they have to solve a puzzle and help either a person or animal. I like the message behind these books, even if as an adult reader, the writing style is a bit repetitive.  For kids just beginning with chapter books, the series offers mild thrills and the chance to learn about the structure of narrative – without even realizing it.

2. A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy – Three relatable kids, Josh, Dink and Ruth Rose solve mysteries in and around the town of Green Lawn.  My daughter and I loved the friendship presented in the books.  Sometimes the kids get mad with each other, but they find ways to resolve their differences in a peaceful way.  There are enough clues to help readers solve the mystery. Each book comes with a map and readers can use that to help solve the mystery too.  It’s nice to see map skills in use.  Also, I like the way the three kids teach each other.  If one uses a harder vocabulary word, or casually mentions a tougher physics or natural world concept, a second character will be a bit confused so the first speaker explains him or herself, or they will talk about what they learned in school and compare notes on what they each remembered.  Ron Roy has two other series – Calendar Mysteries geared toward the same age range and Capital Mysteries geared toward more confident readers.

3. Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton – These rodents both know how to spin a good yarn and get human kids excited about geography, science and the newspaper industry. Heavy illustrations support the text, giving it the feel of a graphic novel, but these are chapter books. My daughter prefers the Thea Sisters series, but the Geronimo Stilton is equally good, if not better. Also, there are a lot of bad puns and literally cheesy dialogue.  The phrases “Moldy mozzarella” and “Fabumous” have become household favorites.

4. Bad Kitty Series by Nick Bruel – For earlier readers, pick up wacky alphabet book Bad Kitty which runs through the alphabet four times and serves as an origin story for our anti-heroine. I love the series for featuring a not so lovable feline who gets her comeuppance in a humours way.  Again, there is a bit of a graphic novel feel, and the heavy illustrations make this a good step into chapter books. The author “breaks the wall” so to speak, inviting the reader to become the anonymous narrator who talks to Bad Kitty. Also clever, asides by Uncle Murray to explain more advanced concepts and the glossary.  Some readers may be put off by the “bad” language. Uncle Murray often refers to “that stupid cat” but  the reader is asked to laugh along with and at the bad examples they see on the page.  Bad Kitty for President is one of the best explanation of politics I’ve seen.

I’ll stop here for now.  What series or individual books do you recommend?  My daughter is always looking for new reads and my son is a few years away from needing some other suggestions.

Explaining Politics to Kids

My daughter is eight and my son is four and both are interested in the idea of electing a president.  I remember elections being, exciting when I was little, but also a little scary and very, very confusing.  Even a lot of adults struggle with the Electoral College, PACs and more. And this is why I am a huge fan of Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty for President.  {sorry there is no picture – my new computer is cranky about keyboard shortcuts}

Bad Kitty books have a hybrid comic book/chapter book vibe and are perfect for the 7-12 set, but even my son likes them.  In this brilliant addition to the Bad Kitty’s adventures, our anti-heroine decides to run for president of the neighborhood cat council.  Over the course of the book, the cats have a caucus, kiss babies, debate, run advertising, gather endorsements and cast ballots.  Although feline issues differ from ours, the cats divide themselves into two political parties, one representing the right side of the street and one for the left side and engage in a political battle royale that illustrates how the national government in D.C. is supposed to work.  Better yet, the Bruel also teaches kids how politics actually functions.

So go ahead, read, laugh and be enlightened.