Today is the day I begin a bit of soul-searching. Recently I’ve decided that my views on life, while long-standing and deeply rooted, may be in need of an update–my software is outdated. In many ways, this blog is a long time coming. Becoming a mother was a massive change–a change I welcomed with open arms. I am, however, not the first person to do that, or to come to the realization that it is not always the Hallmark commercial we think of as teenagers. I know that women have been dodging their own versions of Nerf darts and flying sippy cups forever. I’ve never been blind to that fact that “no time is a good time” for children and I have never, for one second, forgotten what a blessing my two girls are. I had grand visions of what parenthood would be like. My brain was filled with foggy fabricated photos of children giggling, swinging, dancing, and smiling. These moments, now upon me, are truly magical.
What has always been a part of parenthood for me is scratching. The notion, in its many forms, has been a lingering wall flower. My old views of what life would be like in my grown up world only scratched the surface of the reality of it all. Hence, by blog. When my children were born, they both scratched. So much so, that they had little socks on their fingers to keep from gauging their infant eyes. Eczema was the first little wrinkle in the rocking of my perfectly pictured parenting ship. My oldest daughter spent the first few years of her life slathered, head to toe, in vaseline or Aquaphor and Cortisone. No baby lotion. No sweet-smelling hair like the dolls of my childhood. A disappointment, but bearable. A small adaptation that my day-dreamer mind chalked up to every child being different. Most detergents irritated her. He christening photo album is filled with very red and greasy cheeked pictures. She was a very inquisitive and happy baby, despite her discomfort. When my younger daughter was born, she had the same issue (perhaps a wee bit less sever) but the process was old news, and the doctors orders were so similar, that the lack of baby lotion and powders seemed no biggie.
As they got older, their eczema got a bit more under control (we only slathered after a bath or before bed time or used prescriptions when the flare ups were bad). There was a constant reminder shouted over playtime of “Don’t scratch” or the question of “Do you need cream?” when they couldn’t bear it anymore. When upset or perhaps being disciplined, their go-to “tick”, if you will, is to scratch–just out of habit. When table food and family allergies came into play, we were off to an allergist. To be sure the eczema was a separate issue and not a reaction to a certain food, we had the girls scratch tested (there’s that scratching again). This proved to be a little more than a wrinkle. My daughter, who had been a fantastic eater from birth, was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, mustard, sesame, coconut, and all the oils that go along with it or may be related to this list (not to mention, trees, grass, pollen, pets, rag weed, etc.). That teenage me, with all her pictures of what parenting would be like dove into her software and deleted the PB & J sandwiches she ate every day for lunch growing up. That was not an option. Silly as it was, for a moment, because it was something that was such a given in my childhood, I thought, What will I feed them? The dual epipens I now carry (my youngest was scratch tested too, a year later) are the strict and terrifying reminders of how my perspective needed to drastically change that day. All the fears and anxiety about being a new parent, about the responsibility for little lives was compounded by the notion that I or they could make one wrong decision in their diet and make them violently ill, or my god, kill them. I cleared the allergens from our house and had a little mourning party for my PB & J’s. If I couldn’t kiss my girls’ tiny faces for 6-8 hours after eating something containing nuts, had to quarantine and wash contaminated utensils and plates separately, then eating these few foods (even though it seemed like a lot at the time) was just not worth it. I scratched them off the shopping list.
The shopping list, while you would think was the easiest way to control food intake and menu items, proved to be my arch-enemy for a while. Being an avid cook and baker, I truly enjoyed food shopping and menu planning, deciding on new recipes and dreaming up new uses for new products or ingredients. Now, with the added obstacles of allergens and things like “natural ingredients,” “spices,” and “flavoring” on labels, life had become scary, full of anxiety, and phone calls to companies. Because some of my girls’ allergies are not all in the top 8, some could fall under blanket statements such as natural flavorings, spices, etc. Calling these companies can be frustrating. You call to ask and they can’t tell you everything, because it’s their secret ingredient combination that makes their product what it is, and they don’t want other companies stealing the recipe. Sometimes you can ask if the recipe contains A, B, and C and they may be able to check, but more often than not, they say they’ll find out and take your information–never to call you back. So you scratch those things off your list, with the angry thought that it is ludicrous that you are not allowed to know what exactly it is that you are putting in your body. I remember one day thinking, Natural ingredients, eh? Urine is natural…is that in there?!?!
Which brings me to one of the latest scratch sessions: Baking and cooking from scratch. I came to the realization that, as a society, we want packaged four-minute solutions to age-old, 10-minute problems. Let me explain. A cake mix, for example, takes four minutes or less to mix up. The ingredients COULD be just the basic flour-eggs-sugar-oil base that good old Julia Child or Betty Crocker (or Martha Washington, for that matter) used to make cakes. However, they contain hydrogenated globity goop, preservatives, and other chemicals and fillers harder to pronounce than a new language. Not only are we trying to give our foods quick prep time and a long shelf life, but we are okay with putting chemicals in our already in-trouble bodies. So, after having a hard time finding an allergy-safe cake mix and realizing how many ingredients were unnecessary in the box, I went home, took out the Betty Crocker Cookbook from my wedding shower, and in 10 minutes measured the ingredients for the safest cake I ever made…and felt better than I ever have about a baked good going into my family. So from-scratch meals have taken over the household. And oddly enough, as much of a cook as I thought I was before, it’s made me more aware of ingredients, more conscious and compassionate when cooking for a crowd, and my girls are learning about food in a safe way–so they can cook for themselves and keep themselves safe in the future.
This scratching concept goes beyond the transition from eczema in infancy to food allergies and early childhood. It forces me to dig deeper, beyond the surface of what I thought life, parenting, reality would be in my adult years. I dig deeper and find better solutions to parenting, discipline, recipes, expression, and daily aggravations. While I may stress out at times (I’m human) I learn to take them more and more in stride, because every day needs to count. I look at what I thought the definition of cooking and entertaining was and find that, in my heart I feel better when all food issues (diabetes, celiac, food allergies, vegetarian, religious beliefs) are taken into account when guest are attending my celebration. I want people to feel welcome, safe, and to be comfortable to ask questions regarding their own needs or others. I find that the need to inform people about these obstacles sometimes overwhelms me and I walk away the allergy police–I’m working on that too. All I ask is that the same courtesies I look to offer people in my life are reciprocated. I long for reciprocating and mutually respectful relationships. I have found that in my husband–but he thinks I expect too much from the people around me–perhaps not everyone is as passionate as I am. I think they are, if they just go beyond the surface.