Aren’t 4 Year Olds Supposed to Have a Bedtime?

Aren't 4 Year Olds Supposed to Have a Bedtime

One thing that is NOT awesome about all this “engaging with the world” activity is the complete decimation of bedtime.

My boys both stopped napping during the day between age 2 and 3. No amount of effort could make them nap, and believe me, I tried!

To ensure they get enough sleep, we have an alarm that goes off every night at 7:00 p.m. We call it the “bedtime alarm”. When the alarm sounds, Jed shouts “Bedtime alarm!” and the boys go straight to the bath.

After the bath, they go straight to bed, where they are asleep between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m.

Since every morning they wake up at 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. regardless of what time they go to sleep, this makes certain they’re getting at least 11 hours straight per night.

Shortly before tee ball started, Darrel and I had a discussion where we decided that our boys weren’t getting quite  enough sleep, and pushed the bedtime alarm back to 6:45 p.m. We thought a gradual dropping of bath time wouldn’t be as noticeable for the boys, and eventually, we’d have it at 6:30 p.m. with a bedtime of 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., ensuring a nice 12 hour stretch of sleep per night.

And then tee ball.

While tee ball was a wonderful experience, all of the games started at either 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. Since they each lasted an hour, you can imagine that bedtime was trashed.

Some nights, the kids weren’t falling asleep until 10:00 p.m.! After the games ended at 8:00 p.m., we wouldn’t get home until about 8:45 p.m., and then the kids were HUNGRY (even if they ate right before the game).

No matter how fast I am in the kitchen, there’s no way to have food on the table in less than 20 minutes when you make everything from scratch.

Even re-heating leftovers takes more time when two or three separate meals need to be warmed up.

On tee ball nights, there was no way to skip bath time, either. Even at breakneck speed, that takes at least ten minutes for us.

Overall, while I loved tee ball and will do it again next year, I’m not thrilled with the bed time situation.

For over a month, my kiddos earned LOTS of red and white chips. When my kids get tired, they get downright cranky and argumentative. Lack of sleep makes them lose what little self-control kids their age have.

We had more temper tantrums, more fighting, more whining, more time-outs (for both me and the boys!) and more general behavior issues in that time than we had for a long time before that.

Worse, both kids started to fall asleep in the car within minutes. That mades short car rides absolute agony, as neither boy wakes up well from short naps.

After a 10-15 minute nap, both boys wake up in the mood to hate the world. They cry. They whine. They refuse to move. They are NOT HAPPY and they make sure everyone around them knows it!

I’m really just baffled by the whole bedtime thing, actually. Looking around for activities to get the kids involved in, I see so many are evening activities.

While I understand those things are scheduled to accommodate working parents, I’m just left wondering “But what about the children?”

Don’t 3, 4, and 5 year old kids need a bed time?

It brings back memories of my single, “I can operate on my personal circadian rhythm” days when I would go grocery shopping at my “feels normal for me” night-owl times of 1:00 a.m. Even at that hour of the day (night?) I would see small children running around the grocery store.

I always wondered why those little kids weren’t in bed.

Being in Houston, where a lot of the jobs are shift work, I decided that maybe their families kept the same schedule as their shift-working parents, so probably 1:00 a.m. was the equivalent of 1:00 P.m. for their family.

Now, I’m not so sure. It seems like there is a great lack of respect for the sleep needs of small children running around in our country. 

Just as I speculated that a lot of kids are prescribed drugs because of unknown food issues, I now wonder how many kids are considered “problem children” for behavior caused simply by not getting enough sleep!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a pleasant person to be around when I’m bone tired. Why would we expect our children to be any different?

Well, since most of the world has two working parents (or single parents who work two jobs), I know evening activities for kids will continue to be a phenomenon of our time.

We’re all sort of between a rock and a hard place on this one. We want our kids to get enough sleep, but we want them to participate in fun things like tee ball and other groups and activities.

I can’t make any judgements about what other parents do for their kids, but for our part, I’m going to try very hard to strictly avoid activities in the evenings (other than tee ball, which only lasts 6 weeks).

(This also fits right in with one of my tips on making full time work manageable with food allergies, conveniently enough!)

My kids may miss out on some fun things they could be doing at that hour, but I’d rather not miss out on having pleasant, joyful, well-rested children.

For us, sleep is just too important to skip.

Have you noticed this “evening activity for young children” thing, too? How do you handle it? Do you have any great tips for making kids nap?

A Little Lift

A Little Lift

Nine days ago we started a baking soda trial for Zac.

It’s the easiest food trial we have had, in regards to “how will we get him to eat it”. Simple! Just add 1 tsp. to every baked recipe he’s got!

Let me tell you, baking soda is just magic. I had convinced myself that his baked goods were perfectly fine without baking soda. And really, they are  perfectly fine without it.

They’re just so much better with it!

Zac is loving this new addition. I’m not even sure if he realizes he’s in the midst of a food trial, since, once it’s baked in, baking soda is invisible, but he’s scarfing down cakes, pancakes, muffins and cookies like they’re air!

He actually cried on Friday when I told him he’d already eaten all of his cake and I didn’t have more ready.

So far, so good. We had a VERY concerning moment last Thursday when it came to light that my Mom had fed Zac a dinner full of un-trialed ingredients by mistake, but so far he hasn’t shown much in the way of reactions.

He had a VERY rough nights sleep that Thursday night, waking every two hours or so all night long. Since then, he has also had very strange poops; it’s like his body is fighting constipation. Lots of layered output, several straight up constipation poops, and just generally not 100% diapers.

It wasn’t a full-blown reaction, by any means, but it wasn’t baseline, either.

Fortunately, by Sunday his diapers were back to perfect. Whew!

My Mom was absolutely horrified that she had made the mistake she did. I’ll admit that while I was furious at first, I soon concluded that it’s the kind of mistake that anyone could have made. I was even part of the mistake, in a way. She had asked if she could cook carrots in with the roast for Zac, and I said “No. They’ll have to be cooked in a different pan.”

I know we are currently OUT of grass-fed roasts, so there is no way any roast she was making for Zac was safe, and it never occurred to me to ask her about what roast she was planning to make for him!

Just one more reason work is messing with my ability to take care of my kiddos. I’m too tired to think half the time.

Well, the baking soda trial continued, even through the “not-quite-normal” poops. He was absolutely perfect prior to the unfortunate dinner mishap, so we were hoping these small signs were just working the offending food out of his body, and not a reaction to the baking soda.

Right now we plan to take the 3 day break starting tomorrow and resume the trial on Friday. Hopefully by the end of next week, baking soda will be a safe and I can start enjoying fluffy foods, too!

In the meantime, there has been HUGE progress with Zac’s speech. His therapist assures me that any concerns about apraxia are moot. He’s mimicking!

For the last month or so, we can ask him to say a word and 90% of the time he will attempt to repeat it back to us.

Ever since that first 3 word sentence, he is now making new sentences as often as he can. The other day he wandered into the laundry room and came out to report “Mama! More poo poo meow meow!” Which, translated, means, “Mama! The kitties pooped in the litter!”

We’re getting lots of those obscure little sentences these days. My little boy is finally starting to talk. It’s thrilling!

Not so thrilling is the fact that we now are having to consciously work with him about his tendency to immediately begin screaming and crying when something makes him mad or frustrated.

Prior to having the ability to communicate with words, the only thing he COULD do when upset was to cry. Now, though, he has lots of “big boy words” (as his speech therapist calls them) to use when he needs to communicate.

For the most part, he tries to use words. Except for when he’s angry or frustrated.

Then he reverts.

When he does that I’ll tell him “Zac! Stop that now! You don’t have to cry – use your words to tell us what is wrong!”

Every time, you can actually see the comprehension dawn on him. “Oh, yeah. That’s right. I can ask for what I want!”

And every time, he uses his words and immediately gets a positive response. (He may not get what he wants, but at least he knows we KNOW what he wants and he gets an explanation for why we can’t or won’t do something.)

That is going to take some time. We’ve wanted to stop the immediate screaming/crying fits for a while, but we didn’t know what to tell him to do instead. He had no other means to communicate, really.

Now that he does, we just have to un-learn bad habits and train him to use his big boy words – even when angry.

We’ll get there.

Oh, and another sad sign that my sweet Zac is growing up? Sometime during the last week I was gone to work, he stopped saying “Mama”.

I’m “Mommy” now.

Why that makes me sad, I don’t really know. I just know it makes me very sad.

I liked being Mama.

He stopped saying “Dada” and now says “Daddy” for Darrel, too. I don’t know that it bothers Darrel as much as it bothers me, though.

All in all, Zac is doing pretty great at the moment. Now that warm weather is here, I hope and pray he will continue to do great for a long time.

What’s new with your kiddos? Did you also get sad when they stopped saying “Mama”?

Open Letter to the Thief at American Airlines

An Open Letter to the Thief at American Airlines

Hello Mr. or Ms. Sticky Fingers,

Back on April 3, 2015, I flew home on your airline. When I landed, one of my bags was missing.

I don’t know if that was something you did, or if another of your co-workers was just incompetent. Either way, I was heartbroken.

See, in that bag, I had an external hard drive with ALL the photos and videos of my children from the last 3 years. Because I’ve been so busy taking care of those children, who have chronic health issues, I stupidly hadn’t backed up those precious memories anywhere else.

I cried. I mourned.

Then I reached acceptance, beat myself up emotionally a little for not having backed up my data, and moved on.

A week and a half ago, I received word that American Airlines had found my bag!

Elation! Joy! Happy dancing everywhere I went!

The bag arrived at my house while I was at work, and I couldn’t wait to get home to hug that hard drive.

Sunday I got to look in my bag.

Many of my belongings were there. I was happy to see them.

But do you know what was missing?

YOU know, of course. 

All my computer stuff. 

The little drawstring bag I stored them in was still closed up tight, but my external hard drive, flash drive, computer cable, and other cables were gone.

You went through my bag, opened the drawstring bag, and took my children’s childhoods away from me. 

I’m sure the idea you had is to erase everything off the hard drive and sell it for $20 or so.

With all the outsourcing, downsizing, and general jerkiness all airlines are putting their employees through lately, I can understand the desire to “get back” a little of what you ‘think’ you deserve.

We airline employees have been put through the wringer the last 14 years. I get it.

Oh, you didn’t know that, did you? I’m a fellow airline employee. (Hmm…I’m not sure how you missed it, since my work tools clearly labeled with my airline information were RIGHT NEXT to the drawstring bag you pilfered.) 

Guess you didn’t care that you were stealing from a co-worker.

Guess you didn’t care that you were “getting what you deserve” from someone who had nothing  to do with how your company has messed with you.

Guess you didn’t care about the Ten Commandments (wouldn’t your mother be proud?).

Guess you didn’t care about the LAW.

Guess you didn’t care about anyone but yourself.

If you had taken EVERYTHING in that bag – even the bag itself – but returned that hard drive to me, I would have been ecstatically thrilled. 

It was the only thing I truly cared about. 

Instead, in your heartless greed, you stole the irreplaceable, precious memories of my children’s childhoods. 

I should be kind, compassionate and understanding. I should extend the olive branch. I should offer forgiveness. I’m Christian, after all. That’s kind of what we do.

I hope you’ll forgive me for struggling with that right now.

Right now, I feel that genital herpes aren’t good enough for you. (Except someone as selfish and sociopathic as you would surely spread an STD to some unsuspecting innocent, and I can’t be a part of that.)

I’d like your car to be stolen. (Except then insurance would likely have to pay you, and even then, you might just steal someone else’s car to replace your own, and I can’t be part of that.)

I’d like a large bag you’re stealing from in the future to fall on you and break an obscure bone that will never heal correctly and cause you a lifetime of pain. (Except that workmans comp and disability will pay you money, and I don’t want you to get off easy.)

I’d like you to go to prison. (Except in the big house, you’d probably only learn better ways to be a criminal, and I certainly don’t want someone with your obvious cruelty to get “trained up” to be more dangerous.)

Hmm. Well. Since I can’t come up with a punishment great enough or appropriate enough for you that doesn’t backfire in some way, I guess I just have to suck it up and deal with my loss.

The truth is, though, that I don’t have to wish you any ill will or sully my spirit harboring anger and hate towards you. Whether my brain can envision it or not, you WILL get punished for this somehow. 

I could say “karma will get you”, but that’s not really a Christian concept.

No, Christians believe that you reap what you sow.

You obviously sow seeds of discord and sin with your life.

You get to reap that. Your life must be hell on earth, and that’s exactly what you deserve.

You could repent; feel actual  remorse for the bad choices you’ve made and the pain and heartache that you’ve caused, and be reborn.

I hope you do that. 

It won’t return my children’s memories to me, but it would make it less painful to bear, for me, knowing you’ve been saved and turned your life around to be an agent of God in this world.

Whether you do or don’t, though, the fact remains that while you stole some precious memories from me, I still have the two most amazing, kind, sweet, loving children in the world to savor raising.

This event will be a great teaching tool to my boys about theft, right and wrong, and forgiveness. They’ll never be the kind of person you are now, and they outnumber you two-to-one.

I’m pretty happy with that.

You know, writing this letter to you has helped me work through some of my hurt. Forget all the stuff I said about herpes and stolen cars.

I guess I CAN offer you forgiveness.

To forgive doesn’t mean to forget, though. From now on, every single thing I pack in my suitcases will be labeled prominently with my name and contact information, like a kid going away to their first sleep-away camp.

It probably is a lot harder to hock something labeled so clearly. 

And I will still watch my bags being loaded and unloaded on the plane as often as I am able.

But if I don’t forgive you, that will leave a mark on my soul that will help poison my life. That is something I cannot  allow you to do to me. 

So, you heartless, cruel, sticky-fingered jerk: you’re forgiven. 

You’re not worth hating. 

I’m too busy loving my family and making more memories (saved in at least 3 locations). 

Now get yourself to church and learn what God’s forgiveness feels like. 

And stop stealing!

With Love,
With Regard,
With Friendship,
God’s Peace be With You,

Your Victim

Tips for Managing Full Time Work as a Food Allergy/FPIES Mama

Tips for Managing Full Time Work as a Food Allergy FPIES Mama

One year ago this month I went back to work full time. Prior to that, I was essentially a full-time SAHM.

With two years as a SAHM and one year as a working Mama, I can now see how each situation changes my parenting in general, and how each influences my ability to cope with food allergies, food intolerances, FPIES, and our other myriad food issues.

The short of it?

Being a working mom stinks.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to spark another SAHM/Working Mom debate. This conclusion is not brought about by how work affects my parenting abilities, but solely because of how difficult it is to manage my children’s food issues while also working full time. 

When your children have extreme food issues, paying attention to what they eat and how they behave as a result is imperative. There’s just no way to avoid the simple truth: if you aren’t there, face to face with your child, you can’t do that.

Even with my excellent childcare (my parents and husband), reports about what the kids ate and how they are acting are just that: reports. Subtle signs, nuances, and my own ability to form a gut-instinct “feel” for what my children are going through are missed by only hearing about things via verbal reports.

That makes it very hard to determine whether one of my kids is having a reaction, and if so, what they are reacting to. It takes a greater amount of thought, energy, and detective work to get to the bottom of things now than when I’m there to observe every bit of their lives 24/7.

My parents and my husband are all extremely  good at taking care of my kids. I would be lost without them.

As good as they are, though, they aren’t me.

I’m not claiming I care about my children more or take care of them better. The simple fact is that since the very beginning, I’ve been the “point man” for learning about my kiddos food issues. I’ve probably read millions  of words on these subjects. As much as I try to tell my family everything they need to know about FPIES, MSPI, IgE allergies, Fructose Malabsorption, Salicylate Sensitivity, and Histamine Intolerance, I cannot possibly tell them every single scrap of information I have learned.

Consequently, there are times when things happen that I would have immediately known what/why/how (or avoided the situation entirely) but my parents or Darrel didn’t have a clue. Not because they don’t care or are poor caretakers, but simply because I know more than them.

That’s a fairly common situation, I’ve seen. In most families, one parent/family member takes on the role of primary caregiver/advocate, filling in the other family members as they go.

It made sense for me to take on that role in the beginning, since I was at home full time and Darrel was working. Going back to work, though, means our primary caregiver/advocate is “out of pocket” for the daily nitty-gritty.

That is stressful for me. I don’t like knowing something happened when I’m at work that I could have prevented if I were there, or if I’d thought to tell that little, tiny factoid to my parents or Darrel.

The good news is that all of my kiddos caretakers love them enormously and are as dedicated and diligent as they can be. So even with those small lapses in knowledge-sharing, we haven’t had too many issues.

The stress from this arises solely because as the Mommy, I never want my kids to experience even the slightest bit of unpleasantness, discomfort, or pain. So the occasional “oops” moment just kills me to hear about when I’m thousands of miles away, helpless to do anything for my children.

On a more practical level, the logistics of managing food allergies, the continuing TED (Total Elimination Diet), and our daily lives while working are complicated and overwhelming at times.

The amount of cooking required to keep my family fed well is far greater than that of typical modern Americans. Even now, when we are finally able to have occasional meals where we all eat the same thing, I can easily spend 5-6 hours per day prepping food in the kitchen.

When I am gone frequently for work, that means that I must “cook ahead” as often as I can for both my food at work and for food for the kids when I’m gone.

When I was a SAHM, all this cooking was certainly work, but I still had down time in which to relax and enjoy my family. With working, down time is harder to come by. To paraphrase an old adage, all work and no play makes Mama a little cranky!

From these last few years I have decided that if your child has food allergies, FPIES, or food intolerances, the maintenance and care of your children will be much easier to bear if one parent can stay at home full time.

Learning to live this life, and actually living it, is essentially a full time job all by itself.

However, as the food allergy life is incredibly expensive, I’m well aware that may not be an option for many food allergy families (like ours).

For those families for whom having a SAH parent is not an option, here the best 8 pieces of advice I have for how to make life possible when managing severe food allergies and full time work:

  1. Don’t have a single “point man”. Decide from the beginning that both parents, or all primary caregivers, will engage in message boards, read the literature, and attend all doctors appointments. Spread the knowledge around!
  2. Keep good records. Having a way to officially track everything your child eats and their behavior in a written format makes it easier to have the child transition from one caretaker to another while still keeping them safe, and allows you to continue food trials. Read more about record keeping here.
  3. Embrace freezer cooking. Plan for 1-3 days at home per month where you cook non-stop all day and prep meals for easy serving later on. You don’t have to eat only freezer meals, but having at least ten meals ready to go in the freezer will be a welcome stress reliever and schedule-saver on days when you simply don’t have time to cook.
  4. Be flexible. While you may want to trial a certain food at a certain time, the overall schedule of the family and work schedules may mean that food is too risky to trial at that time. Be willing to adjust your trial schedule based on the whole families needs. This is hard, because it feels like you are not putting your kiddos needs first, and no mother ever wants to feel that way. However, this is actually putting your child first; making sure you have the proper time and resources to engage in a trial is the best thing for your child. The last thing you want is a reaction when you are not able to be there for them.
  5. Hire a house cleaner if you can. Having someone else take care of dusting, mopping, bathroom cleaning, and even laundry could be an absolute life-saver for working food allergy moms. It’s not always in the budget, but if you can afford it, it is well worth it. (I’ve only been able to hire a house cleaner twice in the last three years, but both times I wished I could afford them to come by every month!)
  6. Outsource. You may not be able to hire a house cleaner, but you can certainly check on for items you use regularly and set their purchase up on auto-delivery. Ten items purchased that way means you don’t have to remember to buy them at the grocery store! Ask friends and neighbors for help; if there is something that won’t take much effort on your part but they’re willing to do something that will be a huge time-suck for you in exchange, make the deal! Any way you can get help from someone or automate something in your life will be a huge blessing.
  7. Eliminate extracurriculars. While we all love for our kids – and sometimes ourselves – to enjoy activities outside the home, removing as many of those outside demands is necessary to keep food allergy lives afloat. Jed loved tee ball, and so did the rest of the family, but I promise you those 6 weeks were a LOT harder for us as a family than the time before and after. If tee ball was a year round activity, I would have to seriously consider quitting it.
  8. Remember to STOP on occasion. Working full time, managing complicated food needs and medical issues, and maintaining the rest of life (bill paying, house keeping, other kiddos needs, spouses needs, etc.) is a ton of work; it could easily run anyone down. While I do encourage you to eliminate any non-essential extracurriculars, taking a day or two per month to do something fun and relaxing with your family will help remind you exactly why you are doing all that crazy hard work. Go play at the park for an afternoon. Fly kites. Head to a museum on a discount day. Decide to stay home and have a camp out in the back yard. Find something fun and frivolous you can afford to do as a whole family and do it. We all need occasional fun, and it’s important to help your family feel as normal as possible.

I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting, but those are some of the things we’ve been doing (or wish we had done) to help make working ‘work’ for us. Since we need my income to buy our expensive foods, I don’t foresee being a SAHM again for many, many years…if ever.

The last thing I want to do while working so hard for my family is to lose my mind – or my family – in the process.

What are your best tips for managing the demands of food allergies, food intolerances, FPIES, or other complicated food/medical issues while working full time?

Can a Dinosaur Play Tee Ball?

Can a Dinosaur Play Tee Ball

After the Ladies Prayer Retreat in March, I signed Jed up to play tee ball. He’s been doing so wonderfully with martial arts, but I wanted to see him participate in some sort of group activity. What says “all boy” more than hitting a ball with a bat, right?

I found out what equipment he would need, and excitedly went out to buy it for him.  After picking out a bat, a helmet, and deciding Darrel would need to pick out the glove thanks to the fact that I know NOTHING about baseball, I went ahead and bought a tee and some balls.

Jed didn’t need the tee and balls to play on the team, but I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some practice in before he showed up the first day.

Back in high school, Darrel played baseball, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for him to go spend some “male bonding time” with Jed.

Jed was beside himself with excitement that day!

Zac was pretty excited, too. That child just loves balls.

When we got home, I got to listen to two hours of repeated “Can I go play with my new bat now, Mommy?” nagging until Darrel got home. When he walked through the front door, he didn’t even get to say ‘hello’ before Jed was literally leaping on him, begging to go outside to play.

I was feeling pretty pleased with the whole situation.

That night, both boys (and Daddy) had a great time practicing with the bat. I just knew tee ball was going to be a roaring success!

Honestly, it actually was a roaring success. I just hadn’t factored in the fact that the kids involved are – wait for it – LITTLE kids. 

Sometimes during the games, Jed would be fielding and would spontaneously drop his glove to pretend to be a dinosaur. Well, that’s just fun, right? So other kids would stop fielding and start playing dinosaur, too!

Not exactly paying attention and playing ball. 

Another time, Jed apparently saw a kitty cat walk near the field, and spent half the game completely lost in thought about where the kitty went, where it lived, if it had food, and asking everyone if they saw the kitty cat, too.

It wasn’t just Jed, either. Other kids would randomly decide they didn’t want to bat, and no amount of begging or bribing by their parents could convince them to do so.

Kids used the chain link “cage” as a climbing wall, ran in circles while fielding, started wrestling matches while waiting to bat, and any other number of amusing diversions from actual tee ball.

Even when they were actively playing, it was farcical! Once they got the idea that, after the batter has hit the ball, they’re supposed to catch it, our team went after that ball with gusto.

Never-mind that another kid got to it first; three other kids would tackle that kid trying to get the ball!

Jed's Tee ball Season

The best one for me, though, was during Jed’s second-to-last game, when suddenly Jed screamed out from near the pitchers mound “I have to go pee-pee!”

At the top of his voice. 

Every person sitting in the bleachers (all 40 or so of them) laughed out loud.

Jed came running across the field toward me and tried to climb the fence. It took me and two coaches to convince him to run back to the gate to leave the field.

We hurriedly went to the bathroom, and on his way back, he decided to cap off the experience for everyone by shouting “OK! I’m back! I went pee-pee!”

Thank goodness everyone in charge seemed to understand 4-6 year old kids. The entire experience was very low-key and well suited to the age. 

All the games were one hour long. They didn’t keep score; each team just batted until all players had gone to bat, then switched off repeatedly until the hour was over. The coaches were great about redirecting the kids to pay attention to the game, but didn’t get at all frustrated at the frequent dinosaur roaring, wrestling, and ‘laying on the ground to watch the clouds’ that happened.

I’m told this is NOT typical once the kids reach 7 and move up to regular teams. Apparently, our area takes kids baseball games VERY seriously.

I’m not looking forward to that. 

I am, however, looking very forward to next years tee ball season! 

Not only was watching the kids play absolutely hysterical and adorable, but I just fell in love with the other kids on our team. They were sweet and friendly, and warmed my heart with how inclusive they were of Jed.

Even better, at one of the later games of the season, Darrel started chatting with a fellow team mom about photography, since they are both photographers. He quickly called me over to join in on their conversation, though, because he’d discovered we might have something in common.

Turns out, her son has – I couldn’t believe it – an IgE to dairy, histamine intolerance, and MCAD!

We were talking so intently during that game that several times Jed left his position and ran over to tell me I needed to watch him.

Even better, she has a younger daughter who is exactly 4 days older than Zac, and those two kids LOVED playing with each other.

Why, yes, I do really want to become friends with this family. Having people to hang out with who understand exactly what you’re dealing with would be a blessing beyond belief! 

On that note, I have to say food wasn’t really an issue with tee ball. 

The kids brought or bought snacks, of course, but I discovered that Jed is growing wonderfully aware of his food needs. Whenever offered a snack, he would ask “Mommy? Can I have that?” And when I said “No, I’m sorry, baby.” he would matter-of-factly inform the offering child that “I have allergies.”

It actually turned into a little discussion with the kids on two occasions. They looked confused when he said that, so I asked them “Do you know what allergies are?”

Some of them said yes, others said no, so I was able to teach them a little about food allergies. A few of the kids had allergies of their own, actually, which helped a lot. One couldn’t eat eggs, the boy I mentioned earlier can’t have milk or many other things, another can’t have peanuts, and all of them informed me (much to my amusement) that they are allergic to pollen.

I’m sure running around in the spring on a baseball field helped with their seasonal pollen allergies quite a bit!

All in all, it was a great experience. Jed loved playing, had great respect for his Coach, enjoyed being around the other kids, and one day, when we didn’t get the message that practice had been cancelled and showed up anyway, he actually cried because he couldn’t play ball. 

Zac had the hardest time of all of us, in fact. That little sweetheart is a natural ball player, and he really, really, REALLY wanted to go play ball with his brother! It took over half of the season before he stopped trying to dash on to the field or crying because we held him behind the fence.

Fortunately, next year he will be old enough to play.

I can’t wait to see both my boys pretending to be dinosaurs on the baseball diamond.

Has your kiddo ever played tee ball? Was it just as amusing as our experience?

Wearing Braces as an Adult

Wearing Braces as an Adult

When I was a pre-teen, I had some funky crooked teeth. As a result they yanked some teeth out of my head and I wore braces for over two years.

My orthodontist at the time was, to put it bluntly, a jerk. Aside from the many times he wounded me during my appointments, he also greatly dropped the ball when my braces came off.

Normally, orthodontists are very quick to get the retainer to the patient as quickly as possible: same day or next day, if possible.

Mine didn’t give me my retainer until 3 weeks after the braces were removed. 

In 3 weeks, my teeth had shifted out of position, so when I put that retainer in my mouth, guess what happened?

It hurt. 

A lot. 

I was 14 years old, and logic says that if something hurts, don’t do it!

No amount of adult reasoning and begging by my parents could convince me to wear that retainer. The sucker hurt, it could be removed, ergo, it was not going in my mouth.

Right now I want to slap that short-sighted 14 year old version of myself upside the head.

Tuesday morning I went to the orthodontist and walked out with a mouth full of braces. 

Not only did that stubborn teenager cost me almost $7,000 and an additional year of wearing braces, but she set me up to have to spend a year listening to my parents say “I told you so!”

I don’t know which one stings more: the “I told you so’s” or the pain in my mouth right now.

Really. Just want to slap her. 

(And yes, I’m acting as if this was another person who did this to me instead of myself, because I am SO different from the person I was we may as well be strangers. I’m not shirking responsibility. I know I did this to myself.)

Anyway, one might wonder why I would put braces on my teeth and a huge hole in our finances when I’ve been quite clear that we are broke.  I mean, aren’t braces a cosmetic, vanity thing?

Sometimes they are  frivolous. But sometimes they’re necessary.

My latest dentist appointment showed a sudden, severe recession in my gums; bad enough that the dentist suggested I see a periodontist about grafting.

Only, he suggested I first see an orthodontist to straighten my teeth. Apparently my teeth have shifted quite a bit in the last 23 years, and will continue to shift.

That shifting is causing my teeth to put extra pressure on my gums. Since they are continuing to shift, if I go get some grafting to fix my gums now, in another 10-20 years I will likely have to go get grafting done again.


So I was advised to straighten my teeth, WEAR MY RETAINER, and get my gums grafted after the braces come off. 

Since I’m no longer a short-sighted, pain-avoiding kid, I agreed to the treatment and Darrel and I shuffled money and reduced our debt payoff to afford the payments.

Let me tell you, I think I flat out gave myself a memory block when I was younger. I don’t remember braces being terribly painful. But let me tell you: braces freaking HURT!

Unfortunately, I can’t take anything for the pain, since even though he has reduced the amount, Zac is still nursing.

If ever there was something to encourage me to wean him, it’s the idea that I could pop some ibuprofen right now. 

Even worse, my diet is already extemely limited – and the braces are limiting it even further. Trying to find soft foods to eat means some of my favorite meals are off the list for now.

For this week at work I’ve brought only soup, mashed potatoes, quinoa cookies (baked the minimum amount of time so they don’t get firm) and hard-boiled eggs to eat.

On the plus side, I may end up losing that last 3 pounds I’ve been wanting to shake!

The boys are fascinated by my braces. They keep grabbing my lips, pulling my mouth open and running their fingers over the brackets. 

Zac, especially, doesn’t seem to know what to make of them. It’s kind of funny, actually.

Anyway, all I can say is that if you have a teen who recently got their braces off and doesn’t want to wear their retainer, send them over to this post.

I’m a walking example of how short-sighted, stubborn teenage willfulness can bite you in the butt down the road.

Now please excuse me while I go try to sleep so I can avoid some pain for a while. 

Did you ever wear braces? How long did it take to get your retainer?

FPIES Awareness (Still) Matters

FPIES Awareness Still Matters

Since the entire reason I started this blog is because my son, Zac, has FPIES, my next statement may come as a bit of a shock to you, dear readers.

I’m kind of tired of talking about FPIES. 

For almost a year, I’ve been less and less active on the FPIES message boards. Sometimes, when I’m on there, I feel as if I’m living in a real-life version of “Groundhog Day” (minus the slapstick humor of a charming Bill Murray).

Yes, your child can react to anything. Yes, that means sand, dirt, trees, flowers, board books, paper, crayons, markers, pens, soap, SNOW. No, the doctors don’t know everything. Yes, the doctors can actually make your child sick because they don’t know everything. No, family and friends will not understand. Yes, you will have to cook almost everything from scratch. Yes, most processed foods are serious dangers to your child. Yes, you will have to change your life completely. 

And NO! I am absolutely NOT making fun of these parents and these questions. This is life-saving, vital information for new FPIES parents to know and ask about, and I don’t begrudge them a moment of their confusion and “FPIES 101″ education. 

It’s just that for me, for us, for my family…we’re sort of past those early days of absolute gut-wrenching terror and uncertainty. Spending so much time on the boards, fielding those questions repeatedly, became somewhat painful and draining for me.

I felt torn between wanting so badly to help every new mom and dad who showed up with frantic desperation in their questions, and my family’s need to ‘move on’ with life and progress to some sort of normal. 

Honestly, I don’t think I’m alone in this. In my nearly three years in the FPIES world, I can think of many FPIES families who have simply dropped off the message boards over time. Some because their child outgrew FPIES, and some because, while still dealing with FPIES daily, now had it under control enough that they didn’t need to spend hours, days and weeks poring over every post…and they had the need to regain some sense of normalcy in their lives.

Though it is incredibly important, at first, it just really isn’t “normal” to spend hours a day on a message board discussing yours and other kids poop and vomit. 

The only reason I was feeling so conflicted over my personal conundrum is that, well, I write this blog. I’ve established myself somewhat as a “voice” in the FPIES world; how rotten is it that I’m kind of tired of talking about FPIES?

Partly because of my crazy work schedule this last 12 months, and partly because of my “worn out by FPIES” feelings, I’ve even been missing important events in the FPIES world. Last year I barely eked out a post for Global FPIES Day, and this year I managed to completely miss National FPIES Day (May 4th).

I’d honestly decided to just write a quick little “Oh, yeah, by the way, totally missed this, but…” post, linking to other FPIES Awareness posts I’ve written for a belated National FPIES Day post.

But then I decided to pop over to one of the FPIES boards to see what was “up”, and saw a neat compilation someone made of FPIES parents blogs, Facebook pages, and other “shares”. Most of them I knew about, but there were a few new additions to the blogroll.

I clicked over to read some of the ones I’d never seen before.

And one of them just ripped my guts out. 

By the 6th post of her story, I felt that old passion being re-ignited in me. 

The situation with FPIES is obscenely ridiculous. There is NO excuse for parents to be forced to go through the confusion and fear that FPIES parents almost always have to go through. NO excuse. 

You see, in her story, she and her pediatrician both believed her son had FPIES – from the beginning! But the pediatric GI’s disagreed, and put her precious baby through some extremely intensive and invasive tests before deciding that maybe she was right.

Even now, almost three years after my son was diagnosed, and with so many more doctors being fully aware of what FPIES is and how it presents, this sweet family was left with confusion and fear for far longer than they should have.

As a group, we’ve come so far in three years.

Reading her story, I’m reminded that we still have so much farther to go.

Fortunately for new FPIES parents, there is TONS more information on FPIES available online than there was back in the summer of 2012.

It’s just baffling to me, though, that even with all that information available, a child who was presenting with all the classic symptoms of an acute FPIES reaction could still be denied a proper diagnosis for weeks.

Baffling, and infuriating. 

Look, let’s be real here: the internet existed 6 years ago. It was thriving, and extremely helpful to parents with unusual medical situations.

But 6 years ago there was nothing  on FPIES online.

Three years ago, when we got our diagnosis, I found exactly three FPIES blogs and only three medical references to FPIES when I did my initial searching (hence, the reason I started writing). 

THREE YEARS AGO there was almost nothing available on FPIES to help a frightened mother out. The membership numbers in the FPIES boards was high, but not that high. A few hundred, if I remember correctly. 

Today, there are PAGES of results from a Google search for FPIES! The FPIES boards membership numbers have skyrocketed – over 2,000 in one group alone! 

And still, doctors don’t/won’t/can’t help parents, and children are still misdiagnosed.

Obviously, more children are being born with FPIES than ever before in history, and obviously, the efforts of dedicated awareness-raisers the last three years has done heaps of good.

And clearly, there is still a NEED for awareness raising! 

No parent should have to watch their child having an FPIES reaction and spend weeks – or months – with no answers, confusing diagnoses, while terrified to feed their child any food.

So while, yes, my family and I NEED to seek some normalcy in our lives, and yes, we are past those early days of “new diagnosis fear and confusion” by far, I find myself rededicated to the truth that FPIES Awareness (still) Matters.

We may be past those early days, but I still remember – with crystal clarity – exactly how I felt from July 17, 2012 through the end of that year. Those early months of our FPIES lives were the most excruciatingly horrifying days of my life.

I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. 

FPIES Awareness matters. 

Help spread the word. 

Here are some links you might want to share. National FPIES Day may be over, but we can spread the word year round.

 The FPIES Foundation

International FPIES Association

Jack’s Soy Reaction (video)

I Still Have FPIES Eyes

We Were Robbed

Grocery Shopping With Food Allergies

Walking in a Play Area (video)

Ladies Prayer Retreat: Finding the Outside World Again

Ladies Prayer Retreat Finding the Outside World Again

With all this updating going on, I’ve been mostly talking about Zac. Jed, however, has not been idle this whole time! He’s had lots of stuff going on in his life. Most of it, though, has to do with leaving the confines of our home, so it’s a good time to flesh out the Ladies Prayer Retreat (as I promised to do over a month ago).

Shortly after Zac was diagnosed with FPIES, I asked someone at church that I thought would know who I needed to talk to about the children’s programs during Sunday School and church hours. Obviously, with the boys food issues, we were going to have to come up with some solution for how to keep them safe.

This person never gave me any answers about who to talk with. Instead, they went into a dismissive diatribe about how “I shouldn’t expect them (the church) to stop giving the kids food” and told me “don’t you worry; we’ll keep them (my kids) from getting into anything they shouldn’t.”

As Zac was already starting to crawl and get into things under our own watchful eyes, Jed was a mischievous 2 year old getting into EVERYTHING, and I’d recently observed my baby nearly die and spend a week in the hospital, you can imagine my reaction to her words.

When I told Darrel, his response was simple and concise: “Well, that’s it for us for church. We can’t go any more.”

And we didn’t.

We have only been to church twice at Easter and once at Christmas since then, and all three times I was a nervous wreck. How on earth would we keep the kids safe when our church is BIG into food and that  was the attitude the people there had?

Every visit just solidified our need to avoid going to church.

But here’s the thing: I missed church. I never wanted our lives to be so cloistered and small.

From the beginning, I wanted my kids to go to church. I’d visualized Sunday School, summer camps when they are older, extracurricular activities like Boy Scouts and martial arts, maybe even public schools if homeschooling didn’t seem the right fit.

Instead, we’ve been shut-ins, essentially, for the last two and a half years.

I can control things at home. I can keep the boys safe at home.

But at what cost?

It’s been draining me, this necessary self-imposed isolation.

Every year, our church has a Ladies Prayer Retreat. Every year that I’ve gone, I’ve been spiritually “re-filled” by the end of the session and very glad I went.

I haven’t gone the last two and a half years. I wasn’t about to waste any hard-earned frozen breastmilk on something that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

This year, Darrel encouraged me to go. He knows it’s good for me. After some back-and-forth, I signed up.

The Retreat was held back in the first part of March. Sessions started Friday night, as usual, and I was happy to see so many faces I knew and hadn’t seen in so long. Sure, it was annoying to sit down to dinner with everyone and have to eat food I brought for myself instead of the buffet everyone else was enjoying, but I’m pretty used to that by now. Since nearly everyone there knew our situation, none of the retreat ladies batted an eye at my home-cooked meal.

Saturday we continued our session, and that’s where things got a little off-kilter for me.

Check-out at the hotel was at 11:00 a.m. I’d requested a microwave for my room to heat up my food. Lunch was scheduled for noon. So in the morning, I called and asked if it would be possible to check-out at 12:30 p.m. instead, so I’d have time to run back to the room and heat up my food for lunch.

The hotel agreed, and I headed down to the convention room.

When we broke for lunch, I ran back to the room to heat my food and gather my bags. Only the room key didn’t work.

I hiked the substantial distance to the front desk to get the key re-set, and hiked back to the room again. By the time I’d done all that hiking, heated my food, gathered my bags and headed back to join everyone for lunch, it was 12:30 p.m. and every seat in the eating area was occupied.

I felt frustrated. Unlike in previous years, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired or spiritually filled as we neared the closing session, and that made me feel down. Then my special dietary needs put me in a situation where I was going to have to scarf down my food instead of leisurely noshing and enjoying the conversation with some very lovely ladies.

And now, even though the facility knew how many people were expected to eat in the room, there wasn’t a chair for me.

I went back to the empty session room and ate my food alone.

Feeling bummed and frustrated slowly grew to sadness and anger.

I don’t expect the world to stop turning because my family has problems. I don’t expect every person in every place we go to completely change their ways of doing things to accomodate us. I don’t expect  special treatment.

But I’d sure LIKE it if someone, somewhere, gave a damn enough about me and my children to TRY to make us feel included!

I’d sure like it if I didn’t feel like there was no place in the world that we could go without being on edge and nervous about our safety.

That’s no way to live.

And we’ve been living that way for years.

By the time the room started filling up with women again, I was not in a good mental place. Sitting in the front row with no one in front of me to see, I started silently crying.

Quiet as I was, within a minute, there were three women wrapping their arms around me, hugging me, holding me, comforting me. It made me cry harder.

These women are so compassionate, so kind…and even with people like that  around, still  there is no way to accommodate my children?

Talk about feeling hopeless.

When I started voicing that thought, though, they shut me down right away.

“You got some bad input from someone two years ago. That is NOT the way most of us feel!” Then they told me who I needed to talk to about keeping the kids safe at church.

A small flutter of hope started to bloom in my heart. Could they be right? They COULD be right…right?

I pulled myself together enough to not be a spectacle, and nervously approached one of the ladies they’d told me to speak with.

Do you know what this wonderful woman said to me when I said I’d really like to bring the kids to church, but that I hadn’t because I didn’t know how to keep them safe and hoped she might help me figure out how to do so?

“Of course! We would love to have you come back, and we’ll do anything we have to do to keep those boys safe.”

Yes, I sobbed again and grabbed her in a gigantic bear hug.

Then she started in with the questions. What can they drink? Would it be better to just put all snacks away? What do they need to know? What do reactions look like?

I mentioned something about bringing snacks for their Sunday School class, since she said it’s never more than ten kiddos in there, and her eyes lit up. “That’s a great idea! I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the kids to eat healthier, and I know what you feed your kids is incredibly healthy. That would help all  the children! If you want, you could give me recipes and I could make them.”

Then she said the thing that made me start sobbing again. “Part of what we want to teach the kids is how to reach out to people and show compassion and understanding. They need to learn to walk in someone else’s shoes, and this age group isn’t too young to learn that lesson. Your boys will be a great way to show them how to do that.”

Could a Food Allergy Mama’s heart possibly melt any more at that sentiment? I think not.

I came home from the prayer retreat as buoyant as a helium balloon, and excitedly told Darrel what had happened. I could tell he was trying not to get his hopes up, but he was pleased with the news and we decided to go to church the very next day.

That night I made a double batch of blueberry muffins for Jed and the other kids, and Sunday morning we made a batch of Zac’s banana muffins for him.

This is very new for me; as I said, we’ve been shut ins for so long, I really wasn’t prepared to teach other people how to care for my kids. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about “letting them go”, so to speak. They’ve been under my watchful care for so long, and even with the best of intentions, caring for my kids is complicated.

So, with the Sunday School teachers all on board, we agreed that for a while I will stay with them in class, helping the teachers teach, assisting with the other kids, and figuring out what they need to know to keep my kids safe.

As soon as I feel like they’ve got a handle on keeping the boys safe, I’m heading back into Sunday School classes for myself and regular Church services.

I’m sorry that I took that one persons words and assumed they were speaking for the entire church, but in my defense, I was a little shell-shocked when that exchange happened. Darrel and I were sort of “walking wounded” two and a half years ago, and any hint of anything less than full support sent us running.

Last Sunday, I actually entertained the thought that it would sure be nice to get the boys settled in to class and leave to go to my own class.

I think I might be ready to stretch the leash that far sometime soon.

The other amazing thing that happened at the Ladies Prayer Retreat came about from some small talk one evening. There are two amazing sisters at our church who have been 100% supportive of us from Day 1, and, coincidentally, both have children right around my kiddos age.

One mentioned casually that she had signed her son up for tee ball. Since he’s 6 months younger than Jed, I knew Jed was finally old enough for this activity. (I tried to sign him up last year but he was too young.)

She shared the information on how to sign Jed up, and by Monday morning, he was!

I know I’ve mentioned Jed’s tee ball activities, but this is how it came about. Coming home from the Ladies Prayer Retreat was enough to keep my head spinning! So much NEW stuff to add to our world!

Our newfound engagement with the world hasn’t been effortless or painless, but it’s been worthwhile in so many ways. As I tell more Jed stories, I’ll go into more detail about the good and bad of engaging with the world with severe food allergies/intolerances.

I really am sorry that we’ve missed out on so much life these last few years, but honestly, I don’t think I could have handled it back then. I’m just grateful that these beautiful women blessed us with love and support on the weekend of the retreat, and gave me the hope that we could, finally, find safety outside our own four walls.

Was it hard for you to engage with the world after your kids were diagnosed? What helped you make the leap?

My Almost 3 Year Old is Weaning

My Almost 3 Year Old Is Weaning

“If the kid is old enough to ask for it, they’re too old to be nursing.”

“Look, I’m all for breast feeding, but it’s just creepy when the kid isn’t a baby any more.”

“That’s just…wrong!”

We’ve all heard those comments about extended breast feeding. In America today, breast feeding a child past 12 months is generally considered skeevy and obscene.

People are entitled to believe what they want…even when they’re wrong. The WHO recommends breast feeding for three years, because mothers milk is so powerful and healthy for our children.

In my case, even with the WHO recommendation, I don’t know that I would have continued to nurse Zac until his third birthday – had I not had to.

However, FPIES meant he had no other source of food. He didn’t get his first safe food until he was 17 months old, and he reacted to every formula we ever tried on him.

For my son, breast feeding for as long as possible was, quite literally, a matter of life or death.

From the beginning, I said that I would nurse Zac as long as he needed it. The goal with Zac was always “Zac-led weaning”, though I’d hoped to make it til at least his 3rd birthday.

Normal people would look at me askance when I told them the plan; they’d ask things like “but what if he still wants to nurse when he’s 5?”

“Then I will still nurse him when he’s 5.” I would reply.

People not in our odd situation just didn’t understand. Not only did my son desperately need my breast milk to stay alive for far longer than typical babies do, but he can tolerate no pain medication (thus far).

Nursing is the only pain relief he has.

If he still needs to comfort nurse because he is hurting, as his mother, I can’t bring myself to take that away from him.

While I would happily nurse Zac for many more years, I’ve been dealing with the growing realization the last two months that my precious Zac is slowly weaning.

Ever since I returned to work, I exclusively pump on enough days of the month to get an idea of how my supply is doing. Of course, the pump isn’t nearly as efficient as the child is, so I don’t ever say “Oh, I’m making X amount of milk per day” based on my pumping output. But it gives me a general idea.

When I started pumping at work last year, I easily got 3-4 ounces every 4 hours. By last fall, I was getting 3 ounces every 6 hours. By January, it was 2 ounces every 8 hours.

Starting around the beginning of March, I only got 1 ounce every 12 hours.

The last two times I’ve gone to work, I’ve only come home with 2 ounces total milk after 4 DAYS.

Like I said, though, the pump doesn’t fully indicate supply. I haven’t been stressing over the reduction. After all, he IS almost 3 years old. A reduction in supply is probably expected and fairly normal.

And he is still nursing.


The sad signs of weaning aren’t from my reduced pumping output. The sad signs of weaning are from my son.

Thanks to the lost bag and the ensuing iPhone debacle, I lost ALL my nursing records for Zac since June 2013. Even without seeing those records, though, I know that he suddenly stopped nursing as often towards the end of February/beginning of March.

Prior to that he nursed every 2 hours throughout the day and at least twice during the night. Yes, my two and a half year old son was still nursing at almost a newborn schedule. Thank you, FPIES.

Suddenly he was occasionally sleeping through the night with no nursings, and would skip one or two nursings throughout the day.

By a month ago, he was down to nursing only 4-5 times during the day. Last week, he was nursing only once or twice during the day.

Even more sad for me is that occasionally he would finish nursing at bedtime, and instead of falling asleep as usual, would ask for a bottle of goat milk. 

He started telling me that sometimes he didn’t get enough when he nursed.


This is sad for me. Most people probably won’t understand this, but I LOVE nursing. I loved nursing Jed and I love nursing Zac. The majority of my 30’s has been spent either pregnant or nursing. It’s become normal for me. Beyond that, though, I love the comfort and bonding I have with my sons when I nurse.

Since Zac is the last child I will likely ever have, when he weans completely, that’s the end of nursing for me. The thought of that makes me feel a little heartbroken.

On a more practical level, though, it’s been messing with my weight, which is giving me anxiety that I wouldn’t have imagined. Without the calorie burning effects of breast feeding, my body wants to pack on some pounds.

My whole adult life, I was fat. Obese. Going on the TED for Zac caused a drastic 63 pound weight loss for me, which has held steady for almost two and a half years.

Until two months ago, when I suddenly packed on 8 pounds seemingly overnight.

My size 4’s didn’t fit any more. I had to go up to my size 6’s.

My previously obese self would have raised a lip in disgust at some Skinny-Mini freaking out over an 8 pound/single dress size weight gain. I know exactly what I would have thought: “What on earth is she complaining about? She doesn’t know what fat is!”

Except, I DO know what fat is for me. And I remember how my obesity snuck up on me. I didn’t get fat overnight. I got fat 5 pounds at a time.

So that 8 pounds officially freaked me out.

I struggled to lose weight for years; now that I finally am at a size and shape I’m content with, I don’t want to lose it.

I’ve managed to lose 5 of those unwanted pounds, but I’m still 3 pounds heavier than I’d like.

Three pounds.

Its sounds like nothing. But it makes my clothes fit juuusst  tight enough to be mildly uncomfortable.

I’ll keep working at it, and if I can’t lose that three pounds, I will accept it. (I’ll do everything I can to keep from gaining MORE, though!)

On the plus side of weight (ha ha), Zac is steadily holding at almost 31 pounds now! That’s the heaviest he’s ever been, so any concerns I might have had about weaning are clearly unjustified.

Breast feeding or not, my son seems to finally be able to hold his own. We’ve obviously, blessedly, reached the point where Zac can stay alive without nursing.

And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Did you do extended breast feeding? Were you heartbroken or relieved when your child finally weaned?

Poker Chip Parenting

Poker Chip Parenting

Back in February I flew with an amazing Flight Attendant. The two days I spent with her were refreshing, largely due to her obvious joy in her children and grandchildren.

Her three kids are grown and excelling in everything they do. They’re a close knit family; she even had a broken nail from playing basketball with her grandson. Every story she shared made me impressed and inspired.

On our last flight together, I expressed my admiration for her mothering skills and asked what she had done when her kids were little to encourage them to mind her, be responsible, and do chores – with a good attitude.

Honestly, I expected some sort of “oh, I don’t know…they’re just really good kids” sort of answer.

Again, though, she surprised and enchanted me.

She sat up a little straighter and got a gleam in her eye as she explained the system she used for her kids that helped her teach them to strive for excellence.

And the whole thing revolved around poker chips. 

To say I was excited would be an understatement! Darrel and I have been trying different combinations of chore charts, rewards, and payments for Jed, and while none have been complete failures, none have worked as well as we’d hoped, either.

Part of the problem is my work schedule. Being gone so often, the kids stay with my parents quite a bit. They expect the kids to help with different chores than we expect, and the payment method was always too complicated to keep straight between houses. Consequently, the adults kept dropping the ball.

Since consistency is key to so much of child-raising, this was proving to be the biggest problem in our efforts to guide Jed in respect to chores and demeanor.

The system my dear co-worker described to me is INCREDIBLY simple, and therefore would be easy to implement regardless of who was in charge that day or what house the kids were at. 

Darrel was intrigued, as well, so we bought some cheap poker chips and gave it a try.

We’ve been using this system for two months now, and it works beautifully!

Here is all you need to do this for your kids:

  • Blue, red, and white poker chips
  • Small pint sized mason jars (or equivalent) to store the earned chips
  • Something the kids can “buy” with their earned chips

The Supplies

I’ve mentioned before that my kids watch entirely too much TV, thanks to the many hours I have to spend in the kitchen.

They’re finally getting old enough that they can help me in the kitchen and do simple crafts without much supervision, which is lovely. It also means I can rely less on the TV to entertain them.

Unfortunately, they’ve grown accustomed to watching their favorite movies and shows.

So the thing our kids can “buy” with their earned chips is screen time, whether a TV show, playing a computer game, or playing an app on one of our phones. 

I strongly suggest using screen time as the motivator for your kids. It automatically reduces the amount of screen time the kids can get, since they can only earn a maximum amount of screen time per day.

However, anything your kiddos LOVE but never seem to get enough of would probably work just as well.

Now that you’ve got all your supplies, here is how it works:

The kids earn one chip per day based on their behavior. For us that means doing expected chores willingly and without reminding or nagging, using self-control by playing nicely with siblings, not throwing tantrums, using manners when speaking to people, and having a good spirit, such as showing a willingness to help, respect in disagreements, and General Pleasantness. (More about this later.)

They must use their chips to buy whatever privilege is being used as currency in the home (screen time for us).

– Blue chips are earned by excellent behavior. No child is perfect, of course, but a blue chip day is one in which there were no disciplinary actions taken. Gentle reminding and immediate positive responses are examples of the worst a blue chip day will see.

You can allocate your own value to each chip, of course. For us, a blue chip is worth 90 minutes of screen time. That’s enough for one average kids movie, or 4 Netflix TV episodes (no commercials).

– Red chips are earned for fairly good, but somewhat naughty behavior. A red chip day might involve one or two time outs, or having to do the “if you don’t straighten up right this minute we are leaving the park and not coming back” threat, or having to repeat yourself several times to get a chore done. Overall the child behaved well, but there were some moments of ‘not good’ thrown in.

A red chip is worth 30 minutes of screen time.

– A white chip is earned on those days when you question your decision to become a parent. The kiddos misbehave all day, fight amongst themselves, show no cooperation, respect, or pleasantness at all. We all hate white chip days, am I right?

White chips earn nothing. Nada. Not one tiny second of screen time.

At the end of each day, the child is awarded the appropriate chip. I usually use that moment to explain why they got the chip they did, and I’m usually pretty detailed. 

“Jed,” I might say, “you earned a blue chip today! I really appreciated how you came and unloaded the dishwasher the first time I asked you to, and you played very nicely with Zac all day long.”

The Earnings

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. I said I’d talk more about the behavior expected to earn their chips, because you were probably thinking what thought when I first heard this. “Gee, this sounds great, but very vague. How can the kids do what is expected of them when the criteria is so broad?” Right?

Let me tell you, our kids are much more observant and aware than we give them credit for! Both my kids were able to catch on within a day or two of using this system, to the point where, if they earn a red chip, I can say, “Sweetie, you got a red chip today. Can you think of the reason why you got a red chip instead of a blue chip?”…and they can generally tell me what behavior they did that was out of line – AND what they might do next time to correct it!

Sometimes I even ask Jed which color chip HE thinks he has earned that day, to test his honesty and awareness. 

Funnily enough, he’s usually harder on himself than I am! He regularly assigns himself a red chip on days when I’m about to award a blue chip, or a white chip on red chip days. Sometimes I give him the chip I planned to, but sometimes he reminds me of things that happened in the morning that I had forgotten all about, and I give him the chip he thinks he earned.

While it is important to remember to consistently award chips for good behavior, it’s also just as important to remember to TAKE chips for their treats! I’ve noticed that when Jed’s jar gets more “full” of chips to spend (aka the parents are dropping the ball), he seems to earn a lot more red and white chips.

When he realizes he’s about to lose all screen time if he runs out, he suddenly makes sure to earn blue chips!

Stockpiling chips is not effective for some kids, apparently. 

Now, is this going to make our children become perfect angels overnight? No. Nothing will do that! 

But for my kids, it managed to finally get the point across that they are expected to – consistently – behave well. Giving them tangible evidence of how well they behaved and how they are expected to behave has helped enormously in making my boys more evenly “good” throughout the weeks.

I’m most looking forward to the day my genius co-worker told me about. I asked her “When did you stop using the chips?” She said that eventually, gradually, her kids just behaved well 90% of the time all on their own and the chip system faded out of use.

Having kids who behave well all on their own? Priceless. 

Poker chips are cheap; what they’re gaining my family is worth a million times their cost.

Have you also struggled with a suitable chore/reward chart for your kids? Do you think this method might work for you?