Monday, June 30, 2008

Relaxing at the Arts Festival

The Utah Arts Festival was this past weekend in Salt Lake City. On Saturday I went by myself, because I was speaking on a panel about the “writerly life” sponsored by the SLCC Community Writing Center. But Sunday was even more fun, because that’s when I took my son.

My son and I love to go to arts festival – we wander through the booths, looking at paintings, photography, pottery, and sculptures. We laugh at the funny things we see (and the funny people). We hit the Maui Wowi stand for an icy fruit smoothie. We listen to music. We pick out the things we’d buy if we were rich, like that really cool inlaid wood coffee table that was in three curvy triangular sections that could be pulled out into separate tables. Yeah, definitely that. And maybe that glass vase in shades of gold and turquoise. And the earrings with the silver doodads for me. And for my son, the garden sculpture made from an old army helmet that looked like a little creature driving a tank.

We stopped to listen to a guy playing a Chapman Stick – a stringed instrument that kind of combines both a guitar and a bass. We wandered through the children’s art yard, even though my son is getting a tad too big for the activities. He still liked playing the large variety of musical instruments from around the world that were set out for kids to try – especially the Chinese gong, which he whacked with great zeal. OK, I admit it. I tried it, too. I had never banged a real gong before, and really, that’s something you should definitely do before you die, right?

So we had a great time, just the two of us. (Dad’s on a business trip, so he missed out.)

At arts festivals like this, food is always ubiquitous. There are lots of food stands with culinary choices ranging from Thai food to Navajo tacos, pizza to crepes, Greek souvlaki to grilled corn on the cob. Usually, those food booths are clustered in just one area, which makes it easy to avoid. But for some reason, those cinnamon-roasted almond stands get scattered throughout the fair. They smell wonderful, but they always make me nervous when I walk by them.

This year, I noticed a nonprofit group was raising money by selling PB&J sandwiches and cold milk for $2. They had a booth in the food area, but they also hit upon an even more enterprising idea – they had a guy pulling a little wagon through the festival, selling the sandwiches from his wagon.

As marketing goes, it’s a great idea. Get the kid food out to where the kids are melting down. What’s more brilliant than that? When my son’s blood sugar drops, he gets really whiney and argumentative. If we’re out somewhere and it’s been too long since he ate, I’ve found that a quick soda (even though I’m not a big soda fan) is a great antidote to his downward-spirally attitude. He becomes a new kid almost instantly. So bringing PB&Js out to the masses is a great idea. I bet it saved a lot of temper tantrums this weekend.

But it still made me a little nervous to see that wagon driving around the booths. On the other hand, it only made me a LITTLE nervous. That’s when I realized how much my son is growing up. A few years ago, the sight of that wagon would have sent my heart pounding. But he’s old enough now, he’s not going to pick up a half-eaten sandwich off the ground and put it in his mouth. He’s not going to handle everything he sees. Of course, he did still pick up that gong mallet and strike a mighty blow with it. And who knows who handled that mallet before him?

But I realized that as he gets older, I’ve become much more relaxed in environments like the Arts Festival. I stay prepared, with his medicine and wet wipes handy. And I point out things like the roasted almond stand so that he’s aware of his environment and can take precautions. But it’s so nice to feel like we’re both watching out for him together, instead of me watching out for him, and him hell-bent on turning my hair gray.

So if you’re a parent of a toddler with allergies, take heart. It really does get easier as he gets older.

Of course, when he becomes a teenager, I’ll probably take that statement back. For a lot of reasons. But I’m not going to think about that just yet, okay?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Children’s Menus Are My Friends

I don’t want my baby to grow up. And not just for the normal reasons, like hormones, teenage angst, driver’s license agonies, and dating.

No, my concern is much bigger: I don’t want him to stop ordering off the children’s menu.

Yep, that’s right. I’m that shallow.

I like that he’s still 9 and still content with mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and burgers. That makes me happy—and not just because it only costs $5 (although that is certainly a nice bonus). My main problem is that once he starts ordering off the adult menu, it’s going to be a lot harder controlling the cross-contamination with nuts.

After all these years of navigating kids’ menus, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with where we can eat and what he can order. And the chance of cross-contamination is minimal – when they dump frozen nuggets onto a plate and microwave it, there’s a lot less chance that they will somehow mix with the walnut-vinaigrette dressing on the adult salad.

But now that he’s getting older and more adventurous in his eating habits (“Look, Mom, they have grilled shrimp!”), the possibility of his food coming into contact with nuts will begin to go up dramatically.

When he was really little, the only foods he ate were Cheerios, grapes, and chicken nuggets. Every night for a whole week in Hawaii when he was 2, I cooked chicken nuggets in the hotel microwave, cut them up, put them in a baggie, and took them with us to restaurants. He was happy with his baggie of chicken, and his dad and I dined on lovely restaurant fare in peace.

That was easy.

Now I realize that soon he’s not going to be satisfied with a hot dog from the children’s menu when he knows there’s a sirloin steak on the very next page. I guess I knew that this time would come eventually. It was too much to ask that he would go off to college with a box of baggies and a Costco bag of nuggets.

Last night, we went to a barbeque place for dinner, and I asked the server about the barbeque sauce, the meat, and all the places where nuts might be lurking. My son loves barbequed meat, so I knew I had to be prepared for him to tackle the adult side of the menu.

Then what does he do? Orders a bowl of mac and cheese.

Maybe I’ve got another year or two before my baby grows up, after all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hidden Allergens in Unexpected Places

Last week, our Davis County Chapter of UFAN had our monthly meeting. As usually happens, our discussion bounced from topic to topic like a 6-year-old on a Skittles overdose. We tossed around ideas for dealing with nursery and preschool teachers who just can’t seem to grasp the concept of keeping unsafe snacks out of the reach of toddlers. We talked about how some parents of classmates will always forget and send in peanut butter no matter how many times they’re reminded. Then we talked about the unexpected places we’ve found food allergens.

I’ve been dealing with my son’s peanut and tree nut allergies for eight years now, but I still learn new things to worry about. The new danger I learned about at last week’s meeting? Top soil. Apparently, nut manufacturers have to do something with all those nut shells, so they grind them and mix them into top soil, potting soil, or even some fertilizers. I guess I never thought about what happens to all those shells. I’m all for recycling and conservation, but the thought of ground-up nut shells under my son’s feet makes me more than a little worried.

Here are some other unexpected places where our support group’s members have found food allergens, especially nuts, milk, and eggs:

• Body lotions, creams, and moisturizers
• Exfoliants
• Shampoos and conditioners
• Soap
• Shaving creams
• Makeup
• Nail polish fast-dry
• Household cleaners
• Toothpaste
• Dentist office toothpaste and polishes
• Vaccinations and shots (many are egg-based)
• Bird seed
• The sand in sand & water tables (often uses crushed nut shells)
• Livestock bedding
• Beanbags (including some beanbag chairs, hacky sacks, etc.)
• Ant traps and mousetraps
• Potpourris
• Scented candles

I found a similar, but even more comprehensive list, on the website for F.A.I.T.H., an Alabama-based food allergy group.

After you’ve lived with food allergies for a while, reading ingredients labels on grocery items becomes second nature. But Wednesday’s meeting reminded me that I have to remember to read labels on everything my son comes into contact with, not just the things he eats.

Monday, June 9, 2008

At Long Last, Summer!

Ah, summer! School ended on the last day of May, so we’re officially one week into our summer break now. Is there any time of year more full of anticipation than the beginning of summer? Endless weeks of sunshine and adventure stretches before us like an untracked beach. And after a long, snowy winter and this cold, dreary spring, summer’s arrival is as welcome as a long-lost friend.

I know a lot of parents are already counting the days until school starts again, but I’m not one of them. Maybe it’s because my husband and I only have one kid, but I don’t dread having him home. In fact, I relish it! To hear other moms talk, perhaps I’m an aberration, but I actually enjoy spending time with my son the Whirlwind. He’s always finding ways to make me laugh.

We share a love of adventure, a sense of humor, and a hunger for new experiences, and summer is full of all of these. So I try to arrange my writing jobs so that I can spend as much time playing with him as possible.

We’re already had our first adventure of the summer – a trip to our family cabin on a lake in Wisconsin. (We just got back this morning at 2:00 am, in fact.) Although the weather was cool and cloudy, we still had plenty of fun visiting relatives and friends, fishing, hiking in the woods, and passing the evenings with puzzles, videos, and card games while watching sunsets over the water.

Now we’re back home and spending a few days with one of the Whirlwind’s cousins. Next up – a weekend in Colorado to visit more friends. Then it’s a couple of months of swim lessons, skateboarding, camping, field trips to museums and nature parks around the area, concerts, swimming, arts festivals, another cousin visit … and that’s just the stuff we know about. I’m sure there will also be birthday parties and picnics, sleepovers and movies, cookouts and fireworks.

It’s busy, but it’s all the stuff the makes life joyous instead of drudgery. I’ve got my bag packed with sunblock, water bottles, EpiPens, a camera, and a notebook, so I’m ready to make the most of these fleeting summer weeks. All too soon, August will be ending, that school bell will be ringing, and we’ll be thinking, “Where did the summer go?”

But I refuse to think about that now. At this moment, summer’s here, I’m wiggling my toes in the sunshine, the Whirlwind is splashing in the pool with his cousin, and life is so very, very good.