Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sewing Without a Cat and Other Struggles

Although I try to keep this blog strongly focused on knitting and sewing, I've been struggling with a few things recently that I wanted to share, from least to most challenging.

#1: Life Without a Cat.

Above is a recent photo of my sweet cat Ronnie (on right), snuggled up with with his best friend Squeaky. But that's not my chair, and that's not my apartment.

A few weeks ago we were devastated to learn in Z's latest round of allergy tests that she had become SEVERELY allergic to cats (after previously testing negative)... which likely explained her constant runny nose and the horrible flare-ups she'd been having in her eczema, which her dermatologist told us were probably related to newly developed environmental allergies, not her existing severe food allergies.

As painful as it was, we had no choice—we sent Ronnie to live with my parents, washed EVERYTHING in the apartment, scrubbed and vacuumed and scrubbed again... the allergist says it will take SIX years to remove all the cat dander completely because it's so sticky, but we have hopefully reduced the allergen load by a big amount.

The good news is, little Z's eczema has improved significantly. She still scratches constantly (waking herself up at night), and still has some patches on her face, arms and legs, and we still have to give her Zyrtec every day and COVER her in layers of ointments and cream twice a day... but for the first time in MONTHS, her face is no longer covered with oozing open sores and a bumpy red rash—probably because she was so fond of hugging Ronnie and rubbing her face against him.

Still, living without a cat is such a bummer. We had already lost one cat when my sweet (but very sickly) little Riley died last year, and it's just WEIRD coming home to an apartment without a cat to greet me and wind around my legs, or sit on the floor next to the sewing table or... you get the idea. (Also: I'll never qualify for the Sewing With Cats Blog Award! Even though I've had to replace my presser foot cable TWICE due to feline destruction!)

Little Z really misses him, so she's been playing a lot with a stuffed kitty doll that she has named "Ronnie." But I have to say he probably doesn't miss her—she was always a little too generous with her affection! And both Ronnie and Squeaky are happier not to be solo cats anymore.

#2: Sending My Food-Allergic Toddler Off to Preschool

So #1 sucks. But #2... is beyond terrifying. Z has life-threatening allergies to sesame, mustard, eggs, tree nuts and cow's milk. Even a small amount of these foods—as we learned the first time she had a tiny bite of hummus and we had to call an ambulance to rush her to the ER—could be extremely dangerous for her. And because sesame and mustard aren't "Top 8" allergens in the U.S. (though they are in Canada and Australia), U.S. food labels aren't required to mention them, and can even include them in vague terms like "spices" or "natural flavorings."

So there aren't ANY restaurants we can safely take her to these days (she's just way too grabby and mobile), and all the constant label-reading and cooking EVERYTHING special and from scratch and calling companies to make sure they don't process sesame or mustard in the same factory as her bread or cereal is a bit exhausting. We bake her special allergen-free cupcakes if she gets invited to a birthday party, and we ALWAYS carry safe snacks for her everywhere.

Since she was born, Z has always been taken care of by family—at first by me, and then when I went back to work, by my mom, and for the past year-and-a-half, by my husband. We've never even hired a babysitter for her, since we don't feel safe trusting an outsider to manage her severe food allergies. The few date nights we get, she's been watched by family members or by generous friends who came to our sesame and nut-free apartment.

Out on the playground, we probably look like so-called "helicopter parents", because we have to constantly be hovering to make sure she doesn't put anything dangerous in her mouth (like a dropped nut, say) or go too near to a child eating hummus or a sesame snack or goldfish crackers.

But as much as I would like to keep her in a magic allergy-free bubble, little Z is old enough that she needs to be around more kids. So we've enrolled her fulltime in a wonderful little preschool near our apartment where she'll get to play, learn, grow and make new friends.

We're meeting with everyone at the school to work out a plan for keeping her safe whenever kids are eating or snacking, for having safe foods available for her for snacktimes—and of course for having an Epi-pen available and everyone trained to use it in case of a reaction.

They are super responsive and understanding, and have managed severe allergies before (though maybe not as many in one child as Z has?!), but I will admit the whole thing is giving me nightmares.

Z, on the other hand, is totally psyched. She had her first two "assimilation" (is it just me, or does that remind you of the Borg?) classes this week and keeps talking about how much she loves school and her teacher.

#3: Etcetera.

So yeah. Add in the complete lack of sleep or free time I've had in the evenings since Z learned to climb out of her crib and we tried to put her in a "big girl" bed... and the tighter-than-tight budget regime we've instituted to make preschool possible (we've completely eliminated takeout or buying lunches out, groceries for each meal must cost less than $2.50/person, no buying books or DVDs or sewing supplies or music, thrift-store clothes only, etc.)...

... and I'm a bit frazzled, to say the least. I'm trying to stay positive, though—I have a wonderful daughter, a loving husband, an amazing family and a cool job and I live in a fabulous city! The school is being great about Z's food allergies and my kitty is in a happy new home.

And there are upsides, of course! For example, our strict budget has led to us trying lots of tasty new recipes—and Z has been loving coming with me to the farmer's market every Saturday to pick out her favorite fruits and veggies. She even helps me cook—last night she mixed up the guacamolĂ© herself and helped me make pizza dough for tonight's dinner, and the other day she tore the kale leaves from the stems to make kale soup.

Thanks for listening! Phew!

34 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing what's going on--sounds like a plateful! I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I'd be really interested to hear how two creative people like you and M. are making the budget regime work.

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    1. Books aren't hard—NYC has a great library. And actually, a freeze on sewing/knitting/art supply purchases is a great excuse to dig into the ridiculous out-of-control stash!

      The hardest part with the budget has been the food—it's tiring to have to cook (or just eat sun butter and jam sandwiches) ALWAYS even after a long day at work... and keeping things to under $2.50/person/meal when we mostly eat organic and live in NYC is hard! We do lots of rice and beans, big batches of chili, tacos, etc.

      ... Oh, and the unexpected expenses we didn't put in the budget. I'm selling a bunch of stuff on eBay now because we had to take Z to a special allergy nutritionist and we we needed to buy Z a medical ID alert bracelet for school.

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  2. Wow, that is a lot of stuff going on. I can only imagine how hard it must be managing all of those allergies. My DD has a few good friends with insane allergies. One has eggs, dairy, fish, nuts, one has dairy and soy, and another has Dairy, eggs, nuts, wheat, fish, shellfish. One of the dairy kids had to go to the ER after touching a slide that a kid who had just eaten yogurt had used. And the little girl with a wheat allergie had to leave school after accidentally touching some play-dough. Do you guys get to use babycakes bakery? I thought they had a lot of allergen free stuff though it is expensive. It can come in handy though when you forget about a party until the last minute.

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    1. It is challenging—so many things that are free of ALMOST all her allergens have at least one problem that makes them too dangerous. Which is why I'm not sure if Babycakes (which I hear is awesome) is safe for Z—they are egg and dairy free, but their website says some of their flours are processed in a shared facility with hazelnuts and almonds. I'm told Divvie's is a good option but haven't tried it yet. We use "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" to make cupcakes for Z, and I have some in the freezer as a backup.

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    2. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World all the time(since we are vegan) they are way better than the cupcakes at Babycakes. I can never have any cupcakes left over to freeze. Maybe I need some willpower. It is awesome that you are being brave enough to Let Z go to preschool. Many of the allergy concerned parents choose my DDs preschool because it is a co-op and the parents are in the school as much as they want to be so their kids get supervised preschool.

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  3. I've been wondering about your quietness. So sorry to hear that there have been additional stressors. FYI, my sister is allergic to MANY things. Tree nuts, sesame, eggs (unless they're cooked beyond belief), all seeds - I'm sure I'm missing something. She's almost 40 and I have to say it is challenging. She still can't go out to dinner without serious stress. I mean, she carries an epi-pen. Point is, she's almost 40 and she's a healthy, happy person who knows how to manage a pretty crappy situation - and to cook a lot of cool things. I'm confident your Z will learn to do the same. I sympathize though. I lived with the stress as a child.

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  4. I should also say that the first sign of her allergies was severe eczema. And she's dreadfully allergic to ALL animals (except fish). She's also asthmatic. Does Z have asthma?

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    1. Z doesn't have asthma, but my husband does. And you're right—they're often a big trifecta: allergies, eczema and asthma. I hope she doesn't get asthma!

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  5. I'll just pipe in with I've been there (the super tight budget). I'm a regular reader and was happy to see you show up my blog reader tonight. You are facing some serious challenges with your child's allergies. I hope that things get better. We've been on a suuupppper tight budget for a year and things are better. I do miss the flex of being tired and ordering take out. I try to keep soup or pasta sauce in the freezer for those times. We're at the point now where I don't need to count every flipping penny. But I still remember. Hang in there and try to keep finding the positives. You have a beautiful little girl. Enjoy her!

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    1. We totally do that soup/pasta sauce in the freezer thing too! Lots of chilis as well... big batches of beans... etc.

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  6. Wow, you really do have a full plate, even if its colored with wonderful items as well. Just remember to breathe and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    I had to find a home for my kitty when I was pregnant. I put in hard wood floors, started taking steroids, additional inhalers, and used multiple hepa-filter contraptions. My eyes still scaled and I had to come to terms with giving my 4-legged kitty away. Hugs to you during all of your challenges!

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    1. aw... you know how it is, then. hugs to you too!

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  7. Wow, that is really difficult. My little girl has severe peanut and tree nut allergies, as well as egg and milk allergies, which are not as severe. She's also allergic to avocados, bananas, and some other fruits. She has some infantile anorexia as well, so that makes eating a constant struggle. We just hope they'll grow out of some of the allergies. Even if they don't, it seems like kids are so adaptable and resilient. We love them anyway, and maybe even more, because of the challenges!

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    1. Oh Brittany, I feel for you—it's so hard when your kid has more unusual allergies that no one is familiar with (I'm guessing people are surprised by the bananas, etc. when you try to explain). And you're so right—I just hug her that much more tightly!

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing! Sorry to hear you had to let the kitty go (there is something really special about being greeted by a feline friend) but it sounds like it will make a world of difference for Z. It must be very difficult to manage all of Z's allergies but it sounds like the preschool is stellar! Sending all my hugs your way!!!

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    1. thank you so much Debi! it means a lot!

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  9. I am thinking of you and partly I can understand you: I am allergic to all shellfish and I know what a bummer that may be...

    Good luck and sorry to hear that you had to let your kitty go!
    Hugs..

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  10. Alas, living without a kitty is a bit like living in a badly-kept motel - anonymous and dull :-(. At least it's good you get to visit still, and not to worry. But if it's any consolation, remember that allergies function by the load concept. Maybe not getting riled up by the lost furry beast will mean that Z's other allergies get better, and you won't have to worry so much about her at school.

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    1. Alas, the load concept is more for environmental allergies, I think—I don't know if it will affect her food allergies. But they tell me she may outgrown her egg and dairy allergies (though sadly unlikely to outgrow her sesame, mustard or nut allergies).

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  11. Ugh, that's such a bummer about all baby Z's allergies. I have a friend whose son has a lot of life-threatening allergies too - and a lot of them are weird, not just peanuts or whatever - and he pretty much eats the same thing every day because his food is so limited. Now that he's a little older - he tries to sneak in the fridge to eat that stuff when she's asleep. He doesn't understand how dangerous it is, so she has to lock the fridge and pantry. A total nightmare. I can't even imagine how scary it must be to send your daughter off and just trust that her day care is going to be as careful as you are about what she puts in her mouth. You're very brave, because I don't think I could ever do it!!

    And I'm so sorry you had to rehome your cats :( The same friend had to rehome her dogs for the same reasons. It's such a bummer, but at least their new home is where you can still interact with them - it's not like you had to take them to a shelter.

    Good luck with everything! I put myself on a pretty tight budget a couple of months ago - for paying down credit card debt - and after I got over the initial "man this sucks I want to buy everything" it actually got a little fun to see how much money I could save :)

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    1. Scary is right! Z is getting to the point where the gate that keeps her out of the kitchen may not be enough soon, so fridge locks may be in my future. Whenever she sees anyone else eating something different than her she says "Want to eat THAT!"... so more and more, we eat the same food she does.

      I agree on the budget... I do feel really pleased with myself when I see how much we've saved just by avoiding takeout and purchased lunches and expensive groceries for three weeks... it's like, $500 or something.

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  12. Oh my goodness, this is a lot to bear! Kitty heartbreak and constant worry of your child, it can really get to be too much.
    I have gone through so many of these challenges with my own allergies and people just don't know what it is to overhaul an entire family's lifestyle until you have to go through it. I just can't imagine how much harder it is with a little one who doesn't really understand why she can't have the things she loves.
    You are so good at keeping a positive attitude, and it's true that there are bonuses like saving money when you don't buy prepared foods or go to restaurants. Just be sure to take good care of yourself, too, while you're taking care of everyone else!

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  13. Oh no! I'm sorry to hear about Z's cat allergies. I'm very very allergic to my cat too, but I couldn't bear to give up Bean. In fact I was so allergic that my doctor (who teaches at Columbia) asked if she could use my allergy test as an example in her classes. Moving Ronnie was probably the wisest decision, but for me I'm constantly washing bedsheets, not picking up Bean, and have invested in a steam cleaner.

    And I totally hear you about the budget! I cook and bring lunch to work everyday, and use mint.com religiously. So far it's helped tons.. this is an expensive city!

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  14. I lurk here a lot, but I just had to chime in on this post.. My son has some semi-severe allergies, as well as some mild-but-crazy-ones (chicken! kids parties are impossible!), but he also has SEVERE eczema. He was hospitalised for a week as an infant because we couldn't get it under control ourselves. He is almost eight now, and we still have all the steroid creams and clothes-ruining moisturising ointments. What I really wanted to say though was about bathing.. We tried a whole heap of soap-free cleansers with him, because soap made his skin worse, but he ended up being allergic to those too. The only thing what worked was an oat-based one, but it was crazy expensive.. so on doctor's suggestions we put a handful of minute-oats in the toe-end of cheap ankle stockings, tie it in a knot, and chuck that in the bath instead. Its been all we've bathed him with for the past 7 years. We still have to moisturise him like crazy, and the bathtub has to be thoroughly rinsed after he's been in it because it gets slippery from the oat-water, but his skin is a million times softer and no longer splits if you so much as look at it, he doesn't complain of being itchy so often, and he still gets clean. If Z is not allergic to oats, you may find that it helps soothe her eczema too.

    And :( about the kitties. Mine passed away last year.. My clothes have never been so lint-free, but my house feels so empty.

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    1. Oh, what a great idea! I did buy some oatmeal bath to try for her—but I will try the minute-oats as well!

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  15. My daughter had a zillion dangerous allergies too. I can't even remember all of them. Eggs, dairy, corn (which is in everything), wheat, all legumes including soy and peanuts, all squashes and melons (including cucumber), bananas, chocolate, shellfish, beef, etc. my other daughter had a different list including tree nuts (but not peanuts) so we had two jellies to avoid x-contamination, a jar of pb, a jar of cashew butter, etc. we did send her off to preschool, and on drop off play dates, and she survived. I wrote a letter to all the parents in her preschool class each year, listing a couple of simple things she could eat (plain rice cakes, baby carrots) and asking them not to give her any other foods without calling me first. I also taught her to say no to any other food, or to ask to call me first. We had some mishaps and trips to the hospital, but it let her have a normal school experience. By first grade she had outgrown some of them, and she could read most labels for herself. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm sure you're really nervous, but it will work out. And, we found a babysitter for her who was vegan and used to reading all labels meticulously!

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  16. I found it quite hard to send Lila to preschool, even though she doesn't have any allergies.. I miss the special little world we sort of shared for a few years, but it's been really really good for her to get out and be with other kids.

    Totally hear you about the budget restrictions, too... I kind of don't mind *too* much being poor, there's "being poor" and "being impoverished" if you know what I mean..

    Hope everything looks up!

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  17. My grandson was extremely allergic to peanuts when he was a toddler but thankfully he out grew the allergy by age six. I hope your daughter outgrows hers. It's so scary.

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  18. Oh Mikhaela, my heart hurt so much for you when I read that you had to give up your fur baby...I mean, it hurt too when I read about your actual baby, but I don't have a child yet, so I have a little harder of a time empathizing with the allergy situation. I'm sorry to hear that things have been so difficult with all the things on your plate. I hope preschool is a positive (and safe) experience for Z, and that things settle down some soon!

    You can still have an honorary Sewing With Cats award! Really, I think there should be an even bigger one for Sewing With Small Children...

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  19. I wish I could give you a big hug right now, you're dealing with so much! I hear you about the tight budget. My oldest is starting a Waldorf school soon and we're going to have to tighten our figurative belts to be able to swing it. Add in that we don't eat any grains or legumes (those cheap meal fillers!) and I'm not sure how I'm going to feed everyone. I'm slowly building up cheap resources for food, like pastured beef heart for $1.30/lb instead of the usual cuts of meat.

    Best of luck for you!

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  20. Hi! I don't usually comment but this post resonated so to speak. I have life threatening food allergies too, to some fruits, almost all kinds of cheese and other random foods. Cheese is nowhere as crippling an allergy as nuts or corn but it's difficult to avoid in processed food and restaurants (I live in France) and I can't it something that has been prepared by someone who touched my allergens before... I had also severe asthma and eczema as a child. the eczema drastically improved with age (and I agree with the oatmeal suggestion, I also had an oatmeal bathpowder which was nice)... for the food allergies, I think the situation will improved with her age, only because once she is conscient about it it will be much less stressfull for you. My food allergies became life threatening at an older age than your daughter's, but I was still young and very aware of the danger, so I was cautious with food, and explained my condition to others, and carried my medications and epi pen with me at all times and knew how to use it myself and instruct others how to. I think kids are much more carefull than you'd think, and by explaining her, she will eventually understand... and allergies do change with age... I was allergic to cow milk for a while and it subsided but as I grow I can eat less and less raw fruits... Anyway, I wish you the best of luck! your daughter is adorable... maybe being in touch with other allergic adults and parents of allergic kids can help? none of my parents have food allergies but they managed to keep me safe!

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  21. Darling! I'm sending you hugs - I think you could use a couple right now. Everything will work out, and if you need to lean on us for a little while, that's okay - that's what we are here for.

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  22. You've probably had a million people mention this, but the July New England Journal of Medicine had some interesting study results about eliminating egg allergies in children by giving them micro doses of egg white powder (in a hospital setting). I'm not sure if this is feasible for your family, considering how US healthcare works, but since you're in NY (which seems to have some awesome medical options) it may be worth seeing if any of the allergy specialists you are dealing with know of any similar studies going on in your area.

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  23. This is a lot to deal with! Gaaaaah, parenting! It can be so hard! I'm glad your kitty had a nice place to move to, and I hope Z will really thrive in her new school. As she gets older, and understands her limitations better, hopefully her allergies will get easier to deal with. Frankly, toddlers are difficult to keep safe under the easiest of circumstances (like the diving out of the crib, a really not-fun stage in most toddlers' lives!). I'm hoping these transitions go as smoothly as possible.

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