Bummed Out About Food Allergies

I saw a post on a Facebook mom’s group about the new Peter Rabbit movie. Not sure which depressed me more: The news about the movie or the comments in the comment thread.

Some moms were commenting: “It’s just a movie.” “Lots of movies are inappropriate.” “It’s a teachable moment!”

My response to that:

I don’t think the problem is that a food-allergy bullying scene is “inappropriate” per se, but that it plays into misinformation and misconceptions about food allergies. Most people know that a gun does, in fact, kill. (Some moms were comparing food-allergy bullying violence to gun violence.**) But most people seem to also think that all you need is an epipen handy and all your food allergy woes are over, which is, sadly, not true. Sure, it may be a “teachable moment,” but what is there to teach, if the parents themselves have no knowledge or real understanding of food allergies? It’s great that we (this particular mom’s group) live in a well-educated community that teaches children not to bully and about the seriousness of food allergies. I’m more concerned about the communities where food allergies are not understood and misinformation continues to spread.

In addition, this what I’ve been hearing a lot lately when people hear my child has food allergies:

“Oh, that’s why I started giving my kids peanuts right away in the first year of their life! I didn’t want to take any risks, so I just made sure they had peanuts right away!”

Of course, 10 years ago it was the opposite conversation:

“Oh, that’s why I waited til my kids were like 5 before I gave them peanuts!”

The unspoken conclusion of everyone’s self-congratulatory professions, of course, is: “And that’s why my kid doesn’t have allergies!”

Okay, a few things about this:

  1. Horse manure.
  2. You don’t get to claim any credit for the fact your kid does not have allergies, except that your genes paired up nicely with your mate’s.
  3. Whether your kid has allergies or not has nothing to do with what you did or did not eat when you were pregnant or what you did or did not feed her in her first year of life. It just doesn’t, okay? If it was that simple, the food allergy epidemic would already by solved.

People keep latching on to these silly ideas about what does or does not cause allergies, and it’s almost all myth, based on snippets of a larger dialogue. I know a mom whose kid has the exact same allergies as my kid, and guess what? I ate peanut butter when I was pregnant (because meat made me physically ill) and she did not. Another mom: Ate peanuts with her non-food allergic kid; didn’t with the one who is allergic. There is no rhyme or reason to it. And as far as what you feed them in their first year of life? We discovered all of SC1’s allergies before she was a year old, so it wasn’t because we waited too long to introduce them to her diet. If a child is going to be allergic, the child is going to be allergic. Period. End of story. You can feed peanuts all you want in the first year of life and pat yourself on the back for being smarter than everyone else. But guess what? You just got lucky!

[I should mention that I was at a lawyer conference where the speaker ACTUALLY said that that kids were getting food allergies because “helicopter parents are waiting til their kids are 10 to feed them peanuts.” Yes, someone ACTUALLY said this!]

Ultimately, I’m griping, because it’s just such an irritating conversation to have with someone. The implication is always: “You were/are a bad parent. If you had done something different, your kid would not have food allergies.”

Gee….thanks.

This is similar to the guilt people make you feel for having C-sections. Everyone assumes that if you just pushed a little harder, tried a little longer, that you could have given birth naturally. (Also, the term “naturally” is so loaded.) No one ever considers situations, like mine, where there was no other choice. It wasn’t a choice. It was literally the only way out. And it was through no fault of my own. There wasn’t anything different I could have done or could have tried.

Are you finding yourself doubting what I am saying? If so, it just shows how ingrained the storyline of “she should have tried harder” is in our culture.

Same with food allergies. “If only mom had/had not given her child peanuts before the age of ___.”

So, yea. That’s why I am feeling bummed about food allergies tonight. Because the dialogue hasn’t changed much in 10 years. And because moms in my community are disagreeing about whether a food-allergy bullying scene in a kids’ movie is actually a problem or not.

Econ-mom: OMG I FEEL THIS SO MUCH. I haven’t seen Peter Rabbit, but I’m sorry to hear that new movies are still spreading this kind of misinformation. These blame issues are so much the same with autism! There is always a new cause-of-the-week or cure-of-the-week.  Here’s a particularly awful one that made the news a couple weeks ago -“Parents force children to eat bleach to ‘cure’ autism.” And of course many of the “causes” relate to what you did or didn’t do while pregnant or to your parenting style.  In fact just last weekend someone suggested that I withhold food to my younger one until he would eat some of the foods he currently won’t eat. As she put it, that’s what our parents did. (For the record my parents did not do this.)

By the way, it turns out that some of the things our proverbial parents did worked for some kids and traumatized other kids. Making improvements to how we raise children (based on science and/or applying some basic human rights to children such as “hey, maybe don’t starve them”) doesn’t have to invalidate our own upbringings or those of previous generations. We just learn more, and we can and should use that knowledge. Here is a nice article that summarizes the current best practices for helping picky eaters/kids with sensory issues to expand their diets.

 

**This post was posted today before Moms on 11 heard or know about the horrific school shooting in Florida. Neither Law-mom nor Econ-mom meant to be in anyway insensitive to today’s current events in mentioning gun violence or in posting about food allergies in lieu of this terrible event. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the victims’ families and all families who have been harmed by gun violence.

More On “Having it All” But Not “Doing It All”

I forgot to write about a important underlying premise of my post about why one cannot “do it all” – career and parent and house-keep. I mean, you “can,” but you’re not going to excel in one or more areas. You are not going to succeed as Julia Child (cooking), Martha Stewart (decorating), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (working), and Mary Poppins (parenting). While the reason – lack of time – may seem fairly obvious, a more interesting question might be: Why do women feel the need to “do it all?”

Maybe it is just me, and this is not a cultural phenomenon. But I don’t think so. I have had to learn that I don’t need to be Julia, Martha, Ruth,and Mary. I don’t expect non-lawyers to draft and edit a solid appellate brief. So, why would anyone expect me to perfectly frost a 3-layer cake? Or look like Heidi Klum? (I probably should have also inserted Heidi above, because there is also an expectation that women look like Sex Goddesses while cooking, decorating, working, and parenting, too.)

The author and blogger, Jen Hatmaker, wrote about these expectations in her book, “For the Love,” in her opening essay, “Worst Beam Ever.” Read her full passage here. Favorite portion of the passage: “…[She] completes one million domestic chores that multiply like gremlins…” while doing everything else (working, caretaking) and still feels like a failure.

As I keep reading her “Worst Beam Ever” essay, I am realizing that Jen already wrote this post and the aforementioned one, as well. I read her book about one and a half years ago. Maybe it’s taken me all this time to fully digest it. Regardless, I agree with her 100%. And I remember now, when I read it the first time, mentally going through my own “on the beam” and “off the beam” checklist. My “on the beam” activities are pretty much all my “have tos” — working and parenting. I have tried adding singing and exercising onto my beam this fall, and it’s been really challenging. Some days/weeks, it feels like too much. But I also believe both activities to be nourishing and life-sustaining. For too many years – and I mean years – I had no outlets to keep myself in balance. Anyway, since I can barely even keep singing and exercising on my beam — two things I actually like and want to do — here are some things that I keep with absolute certainty off of it: Classroom parent? Off the beam. PTO? Off the beam. Homework? Off the beam. (If they can’t do it on their own, then it shouldn’t be assigned.) Baking? Off the beam.

By giving myself permission to “off the beam” those activities which do not fit my lifestyle or personality, I have found greater amounts of “inner peace.” (I use quotes, because it sounds so hokey.) And if you haven’t tried it, yet, I suggest you do!

Econ-mom’s response:  Law-mom, I can tell you it is NOT just you!  I also catch myself in these double comparisons – compared to work-at-home-moms, I fall short. They do everything with and for their kids. Story time at the library, play dates at the park, home-cooked all-organic meals and snacks. Not to mention that if their child needs therapy they never have to say to the therapist, “well, I’m only available after 5,” and get a raised eyebrow in return.  And compared to my fellow grad-students, I fall short. They’re in the office until 8 pm every night, getting stellar teaching evaluations and cranking out polished papers.

This topic also came up in the 7-year-postdoc blog post when Radhika said:

We (myself included) admire the obsessively dedicated. At work we hail the person for whom science and teaching is above all else, who forgets to eat and drink while working feverously on getting the right answer, who is always there to have dinner and discussion with eager undergrads. At home we admire the parent who sacrificed everything for the sake of a better life for their children, even at great personal expense. The best scientists. The best parents. Anything less is not giving it your best.

And then I had an even more depressing epiphany. That in such a world I was destined to suck at both.”

This is exactly why I wanted to work on this blog, despite not having much time to devote to it.  Instead of the superstar moms and superstar academics being my role models, I wanted to have more examples of people who do more than one thing to look to as I forged this path.  Frankly, I didn’t have many examples. Probably because those of us trying to juggle work/school and young kids just don’t have time to be spouting off about it on the internet. And I’m not saying I want to be a role model per se, just a data point. Just one person out there showing anyone out there who wants to attempt this craziness that, “Yes, it’s OK to half-a** some mom stuff AND half-a** some school stuff.”  And your kids will still love you and you will still (probably) get a job when you finally finish school.

And Law-mom, I’m with you on the singing and exercise! OK, I don’t sing (even my kids are already telling me to stop, haha.) But I started going to jazzercize twice a week, and sometimes I feel guilty about taking that time, but it has helped me feel SO much better. That being said, I have vowed to never preach self-care without acknowledging that sometimes it is almost impossible.  There was a period in my life where I’d read an article about self-care, and I wanted to crawl through the internet and grab the author by the shoulders and scream, “Why don’t you take my kids for TWO DAYS so I can SLEEP and then talk to me about self-care?” But if you have any ability to do something for yourself, it absolutely pays for itself in terms of increased energy and patience!

Law-mom: EM, I loved everything about your response and agree with all of it! Thank you! (I especially appreciated wanting to crawl through the internet….That happened to me after I read a blog (while post-partum) by a running pregnant woman who basically said: “If you don’t run while you are pregnant, you are a lazy slob who deserves the horrible body you are stuck with after you gain 55 pounds and swell to the point of bursting.” But I guess that is a blog post – or a therapy session – for another day. Ha!)

This Thanksgiving, I am Thankful for My Village

How many people does it take to get to get two kids to school, to tutoring, and back home on a regular work day? Four. It takes four people: Their mom (myself) and three neighbors who helped me out on Monday before and after school. Thank you, friends! I also need to thank my aunt who came to “Special Someone Day” at my children’s school on Friday. (That is another blog post about the incompatibility of school schedules and demands and work schedules and demands.)

The struggle is real, as they say. So is the guilt. “What if ALL women worked?” I ask myself, daily.** Then what? What would happen to the PTOs? The church youth group run by faithful volunteers? Who could help me out in a pinch like yesterday when my train was running 15 minutes late? A 15 minute delay may not sound like a lot of time, but it is when it takes you 15 minutes to walk home from the train in order to jump in the car to drive another 15 minutes to pick up your child on time from tutoring. It’s also a huge delay when you are then supposed to drive another 15 minutes back to get to a 20 minute parent-teacher conference on time. (That was some awesome scheduling on my part. #mentalload.)

The world needs caretakers. It is an undervalued role in our society, which usually falls on the backs of women. I am very grateful for the caretakers in my community, who make it possible for me to work and, therefore, live in the same community with them. It is a privilege to know and live among them. They are a blessing to our family and our community as a whole.

I loved Econ-mom’s comment in our last post that the only way she “does it all” is by living in abject filth. The only way I “do it all” is with the help of my friends and family. Thank you to my village! This Thanksgiving, I give effusive thanks for your support.

 

**If all men and women had to work, maybe there would be a change in how we structure the school calendar.

Mom on 11, Exhibit A: The Mom Who Wants to Make Every Second With Her Kids Count

In a series of blog posts, we will be exploring what it means to be a “Mom on 11.”  In addition to creating our own content, we will frequently link to articles that inspire – or terrify – us.

The winner of this week’s “Mom on 11 Award” goes to this blogger. The linked blog post was sent to Law-Mom by one of her dearest friends. This, however, was her reaction to it:

“O.M.G. I have to spend every single second with my kids! I have to plan big and small things! I have to afford vacation! But I can’t afford vacation if I don’t work. But if I work, I can’t spend every single second with my kids! And, [bleep!] I am never in any pictures! They will have zero memories of their mom….”

Don’t get me wrong: I understand where this woman is coming from. Yes, our children’s childhoods are short, and it is a beautiful thing to savor every moment of them – as best we can. But, this idea that we have to do all and be all for our kids is pressure, people! pressure!

“I must [the very word itself gives me high blood pressure] make every single [there is no room for error] summer count.”

Econ-mom, can we talk about how feasible this is for working moms?

I have been wanting to say this for a long time: I personally find it cruel that we tell our daughters that they can be and do anything they want in life, but, once they become mothers, they need to hang up all their degrees and focus their entire being and psyche on their children. It is also cruel that we set up institutional roadblocks that make working outside the home nearly impossible for some people. (More on that later.)

For the record, I do pretty much focus my entire being and psyche on my children. In fact, I largely work for my children. I work, because we need my income to pay the bills and any of the “extras” considered necessary and proper by today’s middle-class standards. And by extras, I mean things like gymnastics lessons and private tutoring. Not vacation or a dream kitchen. (We will be discussing and exploring more about the economics of parenting in future blog posts.)

So, with that premise out of the way: How does a working mom “make every single summer count” and work?

Well?

Honestly, it cannot be done. You can do your best, but you will not be able to.

At this point, you can hyperventilate into a paper bag, like I did briefly after reading that blog. Or, you can just accept reality and pat yourself on the back for packing the kids’ lunches today and move on.

But that blog post illustrates the sort of pressure on parents that “Mom on 11” culture creates.

Do you agree?

Econ-Mom’s response:

Oh my gosh, I have so much to say about this.  First, Law-mom, be glad that you are at least earning money for your family!  Throughout the past six years that I have been in graduate school, I have rarely brought home more money than we spent on child care.  (I know it’s an investment, yadda yadda, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty when I’m writing those daycare checks!)

Second, I’m going to coin a term for this particular form of guilt – how about Extreme Savoring Syndrome (ESS) – for shorthand. I have felt the pressure of ESS often.  For example the old lady at the park who says, “I remember when my kids were that age! Treasure these moments!”  I mean, I get where these people (including the mom blogger you linked to) are coming from.  ALL of life is ephemeral, but for many reasons that transience is right in your face when you have young children.  Just when you get used to your little one saying “break-stist” instead of breakfast, he stops saying it.  And don’t even get me started on those families you only see once a year!  Their kids are completely different every time you see them and you’re like “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!”  So, I get it.  BUT… it is guilt-inducing! It used to be that anytime I worked on a weekend this little voice in my head would be going “They’re only young for such a short time… “

Nowadays ESS doesn’t rear its ugly head for me as often as it used to.  But I used to worry about this a lot, and I finally started telling myself “you know what?  If you spend 16 waking hours per day with your kids instead of 8 waking hours per day, you’ll still miss their chubby little cheeks when they’re grown. But at least this way you will (hopefully!) have a career that you love in addition to some lovely grown-up offspring.”   Or as my dad says, “You can’t bottle it up, that’s for sure.”

Finally, I would like to add that, like many things, ESS can be especially difficult for special needs moms.  We’re not only trying to strike a balance between therapy sessions and letting our kids be kids, but we also often go through extremely rough patches with our children.  Many autistic children have major sleep problems and frequent intense melt-downs, which are emotionally draining for any parent or caregiver.  As special needs parents we also have to go through a period where we adjust our expectations for how we thought our child’s life was going to go (and trust me, if you thought you went into parenthood with “zero expectations” you would likely be surprised by how many subconscious expectations you had when forced to confront them).  We love our kids so fiercely, and there are always sweet and happy moments scattered through the darkest times, but frankly there are some times in my children’s lives that I did not savor.

In conclusion, I have no idea how to make each summer count!  Courtney, to respond to your point about vacation, trust me that is not the answer.  We went on a “vacation” to attend our family reunion this summer, and guess what?  I spent the whole time dealing with a bored 3-year-old and feeling extremely irritated that we bought four plane tickets just for me to not be able to talk to anybody! I think my official answer will be “when it’s really hot out let your kids eat a popsicle” and leave it at that.