Monday, September 26, 2011

The Dairy Queen Abdicates Her Throne

My daughter Eva is a fairly adventurous eater. She has always been willing to try things like salmon, edamame, gyros, and curry, usually with a shrug and a pronouncement like, "Yummy!" This is convenient for me, but I suppose not unheard-of amongst preschoolers.

Slightly more unusual, though, is her outstanding attachment to cheese. It's often one of the first things I hear her tell people about herself, and even one way she categorizes people ("Daddy and Daniel DON'T like cheese, but Mommy and Eva DO like cheese"). She has the uncanny ability to sense when I'm about to grate some cheese, and before I've even closed the deli drawer I can hear her running from the other end of the house to see what she can mooch from among the dinner ingredients. She's willing to eat feta straight from the brick, and when I built our container garden the summer before last, she insisted that she wanted to use one of the plots to grow cheese. It's not surprising, then, that she also enjoys sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and just plain old milk by the glass.

A few weeks ago, we took Eva to the allergist. There were a lot of reasons we finally went, including congestion that coincided with ragweed season, her history of breaking out in spots after taking penicillin, and her daily complaints of stomachaches (and okay, let's be real here, mostly it's that we've already met our deductible this year). They tested her for dozens of things, and when it was all over I saw the doctor make only 2 marks on his paper. Some kind of outdoor mold, and... cow's milk. I gasped a little when he said it, and looked quickly at Eva to gauge her reaction, as if at 3 she could really grasp the ramifications of such a pronouncement.

The doctor explained that this meant no milk, cheese, yogurt, or any processed food containing cow's milk of any kind for one month, at which time we could check in with her symptoms and consider gradually adding back limited exposure to some cooked milk products. Eva continued playing in the exam room, but seemed to be slightly more interested in our conversation now. I started kicking myself for promising to get her ice cream if she did a good job at the allergist. As we walked to the car, I explained that we'd have to find some other treat, and Eva was pouting and yelling as she stomped, "I. Am. Not. All. er. gic. To. MILK!"

We went to the store to buy some soy milk and to look for a treat, only to find out that there is pretty much milk in EVERYTHING. I was a little overwhelmed when our first half-dozen label reads turned up milk in the allergy warning section. I also felt like THAT MOM the next day at her school, asking that my child be given special treatment in the breakfast menu department. Eva seemed a little bummed out that first day, but the idea of having her own special milk in a pretty container perked her up a little.

The thing about this whole story, though, is the way Eva adjusted in a heartbeat. She pouted in the parking lot, let out a disappointed groan in the grocery store when she learned chocolate is now out, and then woke up the next day a new kid. Bam! No more asking for cheese, no hard feelings when other people get ice cream, no trying to sneak things or push limits. Nothing. Now, before eating any food she asks in a deadpan voice, "Does this have any milk, dairy, mold, or cheese in it?" despite my reassurance that milk, dairy, and cheese all mean the same thing and that mold is not really a food allergy. This morning she corrected me when I sleepily poured cow's milk on her cereal. She is becoming a connoisseur of milk alternatives, and claims that soy milk tastes like marshmallows while some brands of almond milk taste "like icky."

This is not the first time Eva has reacted this way. She practically emerged from the womb sucking her thumb, and as soon as she had hair she began using her other hand to engage in the simultaneous hair-twirl/thumb suck maneuver. When her hair started falling out Kyle and I launched a full-out intervention, with lectures, restrictive hairstyles, continuous daytime parental nagging, and nighttime mitten-wearing. We didn't even attempt to address the thumb-sucking, we just wanted her to stop pulling out her hair. And it was a terrible, losing battle that left all three of us frustrated.

Until this summer, when we went to the dentist. He took one look at her mouth and said, "I see we have a thumb-sucker here." That dentist explained ONE time that she needed to stop doing that, because it would keep her teeth from working properly and make her look less pretty in the long run. That night I found her digging through her sock drawer, looking for something to put over her thumb to stop her from sucking it at night. She wore the socks on her hands for about a month, but I honestly never saw her suck her thumb again after the first day or two. It was Kyle and I who suggested she stop wearing the socks at night, so thoroughly did she stop both the thumb sucking and the hair-twirling that day. Completely cold turkey.

And this is one of the most amazing things about my daughter; that she is able to use her stubborn will of steel to just let things go at the drop of a hat, even when that thing is something that is such a part of her that it's practically a defining characteristic. More than anyone I know, when she decides she's going to do something she just does it. I am both awed and scared to death by this quality, and what she may be capable of in ten years.

Mostly though, I'm just impressed. The other night she and I were driving back from a road trip to Columbia, and I was listening to an old Sarah McLaughlin live album. Before it even came on I realized that this will be my song to her. She is already learning the words.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things Unlikely to Happen at My House (That Have Nonetheless Happened Recently)

Either we are evolving as a family, or there is a whole lot of crazy going on around here. A sampling of some unusual occurrences at our house this fall:

1. Allergy medicine for dogs
We love our dogs. They are surely a part of our family, and we take seriously our promise to love them and feed them and generally keep them healthy and happy. We even took them to doggie school back when they were young and we had no children. However... we are not the kind of pet owners who buy our dogs Halloween costumes (or clothing of any kind, for that matter). We do not make our own dog food or bake them cakes for their birthday or take them in for fancy grooming. We have lots of friends who do these things, and we fully support their right to do so, but we are just no-frills dog owners. Until recently, when poor Barney's fall allergies became so bad that we noticed him spending most of his days sneezing, scratching himself, biting his toes, and losing hair in big clumps.

And so we did some online research about the relative benefits/risks of giving dogs Claritin and Benadryl, talked to our vet, and eventually settled on Benadryl. I knew we'd gone over the edge when my grocery list included, "Kyle and Barney's Benadryl." Unfortunately for Barney, the benefit seems minimal, at best.

2. Regular free time
This fall Eva went off to half-day Preschool and Daniel to full-day kindergarten. I put in a request to teach an extra class, and entertained a potential part-time therapy job, but neither of those things worked out. So now I have two mornings per week to be at home, by myself, cleaning or grocery shopping or exercising in quiet. I am able to have coffee with Madeline, or to get through Walmart in under an hour. It truly is an introvert's dream. It also gives me time for the not-so-unlikely inevitability of volunteering for the PTA (or PTC, as it's called here) at Daniel's school.

3. Daniel kicking the soccer ball. A lot.
I love Daniel dearly, but he's not exactly a focused, competitive athlete. He spent most of last year's soccer game-time standing in one place on the field, looking at the clouds or the grass. Sometimes he would saunter around the field behind the pack of kids, bobbing his head around as he moved. At one point, we tried to motivate him by offering him a piece of candy for every time he touched the ball. This backfired, though, when he kicked the ball once and then immediately turned around to run over and claim his prize.

So imagine our surprise when, this year, he's suddenly willing to run all over the place, actually trying to kick the ball. I'd estimate that he's made contact with the ball dozens of times within the first two games of the season. He's still shy about kicking toward the goal, and still should probably be the last choice for goalie, but I'll happily spend 6 of my Saturday mornings watching this. It sure beats paying $15 for him to pick clover all season.

4. Running for relaxation
About 18 months ago, I started running for exercise. This is unlikely in itself, but Kyle (whose running during college swim practices made him the object of jokes) started running too, and just to top off the unbelievability, we're both still doing it. Now the problem in our house tends to be that we're each trying to run in the afternoons, after school and before dinner. That's a narrow window, and as we're both able to run farther and longer it's just hard to find time for both of us.

This week I identified a perfect hour-long gap (during the aforementioned free mornings) between volunteering at Daniel's school and Eva's pick-up time. There's a nice bike path around the public schools, and I've been using it to run. Yesterday, as I put on my headphones and started trotting along, there was a perfect cool breeze and one nice puffy cloud in an otherwise blue sky. I ran past kids at recess who waved at me, two moms who cheered for me, and a senior citizen loudly singing to the music on her headphones as she walked. I found myself smiling, beaming even, as I jogged. If someone had told me two years ago that I'd be running around town, grinning like a weirdo about it, I'd have never believed it.

5. Kyle singing
Last year I sang in our church's Christmas Cantata. Practices for this year's performance started last night, and on the way to church I chided Kyle about joining in this time around. He shook his head when I brought it up, but then after the meal really did make his way upstairs for practice.

Who knows what will happen next around here?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Just Call Me Lois Lane

This weekend is formal recruitment weekend for sororities at the university in our town. For most normal 30-something Kirksville couples with kids, this means nothing. But in our house, the second weekend of September is always chaos. As the Recruitment Advisor for Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, I spend Thursday through Monday galavanting around town with a herd of nervous college women. Most nights I am not home until after midnight, and in the mornings I am usually engaged in some kind of excessive-grooming-while-frantically-texting kind of activity. By lunchtime I'm back out the door in my matching outfit. Yeah, that's right; I said matching outfit.

For Kyle this means he gets to step around boxes of centerpieces, tablecloths, sweaters, and other party planning materials for most of August, then gradually help move those boxes to my car over the course of recruitment weekend. In exchange for getting our guestroom/study back, he is asked to help protect a delivery of 10 dozen flowers from our kids for three days (while they "perk up" in preparation for use on Saturday). He agrees to be a special kind of single parent for five days; the kind who has an anxious, overtired, coffee-swilling debutante breezing through the house from time to time.

Some years, this does not go so well. Like the year Kyle and both the kids got a stomach bug in the middle of our preference party, and I ended up having to explain to the dry cleaner why there were vomit stains on my formal. Or when Kyle put his back out and crying infant Daniel had to hang out in an alley behind a banquet hall with Aunt Madeline.

This year, though, I must admit that things have gone remarkably well. I was able to sleep in until 8:00 this morning (a feat in our house). The house is clean, the laundry is done. Children are well-fed and rested. They went off to church on time and in appropriate clothes this morning. Yesterday, without being asked, Kyle retrieved all the empty food containers and boxes and aprons I'd left in the car when I'd returned home at 3am, washed and put away or disposed of everything. This weekend he has listened to me discuss my frustration with Panhellenic Coucil, my reflections on the decorations and venue for Open party, and a full oral dissertation on whether it would be more tragic to have more people than we can seat and feed at Invite or too few people to set us up to make quota.

One thing I love about the advising position I have is that I get to help in lots of practical ways that people don't always see. I enjoy thinking about little details, and keeping things running behind the scenes so that everything goes smoothly for the people who are in the spotlight. Many of the ladies in the organization have no idea how much work I do, but there are always those who do and who remember to recognize that and say thank you. I never, then, come out feeling unappreciated.

Kyle, though, probably deserves an honorary membership for all he's done over the years to support Alpha Gam recruitment. He has brought babies to me to nurse between parties, has managed mealtimes and bathtimes solo, made coffee and kept children quiet. He has hauled things and solved computer problems and put off going jogging and had some lonely nights at home, all after working a full week of his own. I'm certain that he's never gotten a thank-you note or an advisor appreciation gift. It's also pretty clear to anyone who knows us that things like matching outfits and party planning, cardigan crises and bid signing are about the last things in the universe Kyle would be interested in. But he never makes jokes, never accuses me of being petty, and never questions my priorities as I run off in my matching t-shirt.

And I think to myself, "So THIS is what it's like to be with Superman..."