Six Years Old

Oh my, how ready you were to be six! More ready than I, I’m afraid.

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So much has happened for you this year, kiddo. You graduated 4K in May and preschool a few months later. Which then, of course, thrust us full speed into Kindergarten. Again… you were totally ready. I – as usual – had reservations about the transition. You basically held my hand through it.

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As with most changes, it hasn’t been without its bumps. I’m now on a first-name basis with the school principal, and I exchange regular emails with your Kindergarten teacher. We even gave your school bus driver a little Christmas gift this year because of the – uh – hiccups we’ve had as you’ve learned how to conduct yourself on the school bus.

But this is the magic of you – are you ready?

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Whatever ill-advised decisions you make and whatever frustrations you inspire in the grown-ups around you, we are all still 110% Team Graham. And we can’t help ourselves.

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We’ve talked at length about this with you, so I feel confident that as I write it here – even if you read this as a grown-up – you’ll nod your head in agreement at this being included in your story.

There are things that are not as easy for you as they are for everyone else. It has felt like a very long road to getting a grasp on what these things are – and you, your father and I are all still in the process of figuring all this out. Things that most people take for granted are very real, everyday challenges for you. Interactions with peers. Structured activities. Changes you weren’t expecting.

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Stuff that is so unconsciously secondhand nature for most of us that – when I take stock of how much of your day you either have to a) consciously navigate or b) be met with negative consequences by peers and grown-ups – I am utterly awed at how it is you wake up with such pure energy and joy to face your day each morning. Most of us would just throw our covers back over our heads until someone dragged us out of bed by force.

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Graham, honey – you are my hero. And it’s not just me either. Your dad, your teachers and your principal all see you. And we root for you every day – much in the way that one might root for an underdog sports team. The deck may be stacked against you in certain situations, but when you succeed – we are ALL going crazy in the stands.

I hope you feel the love and support around you, dear boy, because oh you are so very, very loved.

This year hasn’t all been about the challenges though. There has been some downright incredible stuff going on around here!

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This summer, we peaked. (Apparently.) We went to the Wilderness indoor waterpark resort in the Wisconsin Dells, and you have theretofore dubbed that the greatest day of your life. You do add that it’s a record you’re hoping to beat with, say, your wedding day or something like that. But point taken: we had a blast.

You and I also took a teacher in-service day and traveled down to Chicago so you could see the big city. You *loved* it. Every part of it: pigeons to skyscrapers.

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We’re also having fun while I’m between jobs hanging out after school together. You’ve gone so far as to say that, “Mom, when you do get a job, it’ll be a happy day for you, but a sad day for me.” Because ultimately, you’d be going back to after school care. That one stings a little, but I totally and completely get it. So we’re just enjoying every day that we do get to spend together while we can.

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Graham Andrew, you are a joy – plain and simple. As you get older, your dad and I are having so much fun rediscovering and considering the world through your eyes. I couldn’t ask for a better firstborn.

I love you like flowers love sunshine.

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Forever and always,

Your mom

Happy 3rd Birthday, Reid!

Okay, I give. Reid’s birthday was a whole month ago! I blame unemployment for completely turning all routines I once had on their ear. But did you know? My baby boy turned 3 on December 4.

THREE. The baby. Not so much a baby anymore.

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Yes, folks, we celebrated the birth of a brand new threenager.

Proof. We give a slice of cake to a smiling, happy kid. Ready to make his wish and blow out the candles….

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… until literally halfway through the “Happy Birthday” song, when he realizes that everything about this situation does not live up to his expectation. The song ends, Reid pushes his slice of cake halfway across the table and bursts into tears.

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It is going to be a great year! Ha.

No, but seriously. All the lofty, fragile expectations and bold assertions that this year may bring, I’m ready.

To my Reid: you are an enigma. You have got this amazing spirit and fortitude. Quiet ambition. The smallest among us, you work so hard to look and play the part. You never wonder if you’re ready for something, you just assume that you are. Which means your Dad and I have to keep our eyes on you!

First name: “Reid”, Middle name: “Ready for Anything”.

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The flipside of not wondering if you’re ready for something is: you assert when something is not for you. Two things you’re not into? Water and Noise. These are your kryptonite right now.

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(Which made the water park vacation in the Wisconsin Dells a WHOLE NOTTA NOPES as far as you were concerned.)

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Only by suiting you up in this ridiculous getup [above] were you able to splash (FEET ONLY, THANKS) with a tenuous smile. The rest of the vacation looked like this.

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This year has been one of mastery and discovery. Toddler skills such as walking and feeding yourself having long been accomplished, you have started to truly enjoy your surroundings and be a buddy to all of us.

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If there was one Big Reveal about you this year, it’s that you are a complete ham. We always pegged your brother for being a comedian, but you hold your own, young one.

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Yet again – you bring balance to that goofy side with a sweet snuggly side.

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You are definitely all about Dad right now. A total Daddy’s boy… many times to my detriment. You’ll be so passionate about Dad doing things for you that if I even attempt to help you, you don’t hesitate to ball up a fist and slug me hard. We’re working on that… Many mornings, you’ll toddle into our bedroom, walk right up to my side of the bed and say, “Mommy! I going to be nice to you today!” It doesn’t always last, but I appreciate the fresh attempt every morning.

You are also still big into your milk. You slam two sippy cups of milk a day – one in the morning, and one before dinner. We’re in the process of cutting you back now, but all year this year, you were not able to function without these daily doses of dairy. When it was time to make a cup, you’d watch us pour a cup of milk and wait patiently on the microwave to ding. You’d yell “Milk’s ready!” and we’d snap on a lid and hand it to you. Once the milk hit your lips, that cup stayed attached to your mouth until you’d completely drained the cup. After it was gone, you’d hold up the cup, shake it a little and yell, “Empty milk!!” then chuck the sippy cup as hard as you could across the room.

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Big things for you this year?

You were cleared of all other allergies except peanuts, of course (oh, and cats). It was a huge thing – for Mommy at least – to be able to allow tree nuts back into the house. It at least doubled our cereal options alone!

No more diapers! You decided you were done with diapers late this summer. As with everything else, once you’d made up your mind that it was behind you, it was. Potty training was fast. You definitely made it easy!

Words, words, words. There is nothing you can’t say. You have a bit of a lisp, which is adorable. And right now you either start most sentences with “Because” or end them with “Though.” We’re not sure why except that you hear us using these words all the time and you think it makes you sound grown up. Examples: “Because I stayed dry last night! Because I didn’t wet my pull-up!” or “I want some milk, though.” Also – if something is big in size, you call it “a bigger”. So if someone calls you a little kid, you retort “No, I’m not. I’m a bigger!” Or if someone is trying to give you a small amount of milk, you’ll say, “I want a bigger!”

Kid, I can’t believe that just over three years ago I had no idea who you were. This strong, solid little boy who hits hard and hugs harder. You have an easy spirit. Also a temper that will burn hot then fizzle because you’d rather just make up and not fight anymore. You are this great balance of love and fury. Energy and joy. I am so honored to be your mom. Happy Birthday, big guy.

Listening

Graham struggles at preschool. It’s maybe one of the biggest pangs of mom-guilt I get – that, because his father and I have two full-time working parent schedules, these kids have been pulling 10-hour days since they were 3 months old. Daycare was fine for G when he was little and all they did was sing songs and play trucks, but ever since he progressed into a class that started having expectations about his ability to follow directions in a series and allow the other kids in his class to participate in an uninterrupted group activity, we have been getting sporadic reports about his ability to cope.

I’ll stop a minute to be clear: Graham’s teachers are his advocates. They root for him, and take extraordinary measures at times to help him coexist in a classroom of his peers. He has flexibility to do his own thing when the class is doing another and he just doesn’t want to join. I read about the crazy expectations we crazy American parents have for our kids. This doesn’t feel like that. The expectations that Graham’s teachers have for him are not that he be an automaton and have a 9-to-5 desk schedule. It’s that he acknowledge that there is a story time going on for other kids and that he not scream out loud and bang toys around while a teacher is trying to tell a story.

Lately there have been increased reports from school that Graham is struggling again. It tends to go in waves. My latest crazy theory is that bad days happen on the full moon. That one’s not holding water. Obviously. We’ve had pep talks with him. Stern talks with him. Consequences. Brief conferences trading tactics with the teacher.

But today? Today as I was fixing dinner, Graham walked into the kitchen after arriving home from school and looked grief stricken. No drama, just… upset.

I said, “What’s wrong, buddy?” He looked at me. His voice cracked, his eyes filled and he said, “Mom. I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I can’t listen…. I am trying so hard, but I can’t listen. Ms. Peggy is trying to tell me stuff, and I don’t understand what she wants me to do.” And then the tears flowed. He just let loose. All the frustration that had been building up in him all day came out of his tiny little body.

He *has* been trying hard. Andy and I – along with Ms. Peggy – have been creating a ton of different strategies and tactics over the past year. We all get frustrated at times, because G gets so wild. Because he starts telling a story and has trouble in the middle remembering where he was trying to go with it. Because he gets so distracted trying to do a simple task like go to the bathroom or wash his hands or put on his shoes. I half think he’s so skinny because he can’t sit still long enough to finish a meal.

I’m writing this out because I never want to forget today. Today, Graham wasn’t about excuses or drama. Today, Graham set out to do well in school and couldn’t. And that just breaks my heart.

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

I have to write this down, so that I can remember this allergy journey we’ve been on with Reid. Last year about this time, Reid – at 1.5 years old – was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. First with a food reaction, then with a positive skin scratch test.

The Year Follow-Up

This May, we had our year follow-up with the allergist. We got to tell him about the time Reid bit through a Snickers wrapper and sunk his teeth into peanutty-nuggety goodness at Halloween. We chatted about Reid’s wheezes when he runs after his big brother down the sidewalk.

At that appointment, Reid had a blood draw. They submitted it for allergy testing of all tree nuts (which we were explicitly told to avoid last year) and environmental allergens. I’d been giving Reid Zyrtec for what I thought were seasonal allergies (turned out to just be a cold), and dingbat me gave him Zyrtec the night before our appointment, which pre-empted our being able to administer a skin scratch test for all these things.

That whole blood test/skin scratch test nuance becomes important later. Stay with me.

We left the appointment with a new asthma maintenance regimen to follow and made an appointment to follow-up with the allergist in a month to check on his breathing.

The Results are In

A week later, we got the blood test results back: negative for all allergies except for cats. The nurse relayed the message that we could now try tree nuts “safely at home” and that our allergist recommended we stick to individual tree nuts before moving on to mixes. Done and done.

It’s funny the mindset you get into when you’ve been avoiding something for a year as if it were basically poison. It seems almost unbelievable that tree nuts wouldn’t cause some sort of harm.

I know, I’m living the irony – the TORTURE that Facebook is to read sometimes because some folks are so fearstruck by absolutely nothing consequential when there is hard data available that reinforces that whatever it is is completely harmless. I’m now doing that very thing.

In fact, Andy and I did our little happy dance and immediately started to list all the breakfast cereals available to us given these test results. And yet weeks passed while I consciously opted out of opportunities to let Reid try nuts. We’re about to go on a long car ride… Camping really isn’t the time for this… yadda yadda.

Trial and Error

Honey Nut Cheerios was the first thing we tried. Success! He LOVED it. Devoured an entire bowl, in fact. And he didn’t explode! I mentally high-fived his immune system that day and crossed that off my long list of anxieties.

Last Monday, Andy came up to the bathroom where I was getting ready. He held Reid, facing out, in his arms and said, “Mommy… look at this,” then proceeded to lift his shirt which revealed a red rash covering his entire trunk. I blinked a couple of times, but my mind didn’t connect the dots until Andy said, “He just had a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds.”

The hives came shortly after. We gave Reid the Benadryl, per his allergy action plan, then watched him for signs of any sort of distress. None came, so we called the allergist’s office when it opened and followed their instructions.  Reid now fully medicated, he watched Despicable Me, and I googled error rates of food allergy blood tests (15-20% chance you’ll react to the actual food when you get a blood test negative, by the way).

We already had a follow-up with the allergist for Reid’s asthma regimen, so we tacked on “tree nut re-testing” onto the agenda for that visit. Good times.

Back to the Allergist

Reid had his allergist’s appointment today, and I’m more confused than ever. Reid doesn’t have an almond allergy. 

We tested him six ways from Sunday:

  • Skin scratch test for all tree nut allergens: negative
  • Crushed up almond, scratched on the skin: negative
  • Gave him an almond to eat: negative
  • Gave him five almonds to eat: managed to choke one down before refusing to eat any more because almonds are gross and ENOUGH WITH THE ALMONDS ALREADY YOU CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!
  • Crushed up remaining uneaten almonds into vanilla ice cream: negative (and DELICIOUS)

A half hour after the contaminated ice cream treat, Reid’s doctor told me with certainty that Reid isn’t allergic to almonds – or other tree nuts for that matter. We scoured the cereal’s ingredient panel for other possible reactive items, but cinnamon was all we could come up with. Reid eats cinnamon toast and other cinnamon-y things, so… nope.

My prevailing guess is that peanut in some form or another was accidentally introduced to the cereal. It can happen. I’ve seen how it can happen. We in the food industry try so SO very hard to make absolutely no mistakes where food safety is concerned , but it takes one guy not reading a label. Or a label not being where it should. R&D running a test for a new peanut cereal on that line and it not getting sanitized properly. I thank God that Reid’s allergy isn’t life-threatening. I can’t imagine what life would be like for us if it was.

4K Graduation

Oh my big boy. Graham had his 4K (school district preschool) and Preschool (daycare class) graduations this week. It’s a little  cliché to say it, but I really can’t believe how time has flown.

The picture below shows Graham on his first (L) and last (R) days of 4K. I see these pics on Facebook, and I’m always amazed at how the kids have grown. I almost didn’t snap a ‘last day’ shot because I didn’t think Graham had grown that much.

First Last Day 4K

Oh, you know, only like 6 INCHES.

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First up was Preschool graduation. These are the kids who go to daycare together. (Their futures are so bright, they have to wear shades!) At this ceremony we got to see them participate in their circle time routine. What day is it, what will tomorrow be and what was yesterday. How to spell their names in English and Spanish. Those sorts of things. They told a collaborative story about the three little pigs. Totally awesome.

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Next up was 4K graduation at a local park pavilion. The 4K program took place in the same daycare building that he’s normally in, but in a different classroom. Additional kids are bussed in from the district, and the teacher is employed through the district as well.

Our teacher was Mr. Joel.

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God bless, Mr. Joel. It was so awesome to have a male influence for Graham. He’s had 100% female teachers thus far, and I think it was so cool to have the male approach to corralling a room full of preschoolers. Graham would come home with baseball analogies (Mr. Joel is a coach) and told us one time that the reason we wear gloves in winter is because our fingers will get frostbite and fall off. So great.

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These are Graham’s buddies. He really has made great friends in the time that we’ve been in Wisconsin. One of these kids will be at the same school as Graham, and two of them will be joining him in the same after-school care program, so they won’t be saying goodbye just yet. :)

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School has been a journey for Graham – and will continue to be – but he deserves to wear that smile. This child has been in school since he was 12 weeks old, and since his first day he’s had to shift between a mom-and-dad-run house and a teacher-run classroom. There’s a lot of learning and acclimating to be done, and he has totally rocked it. Way to go, buddy. We are so proud of you!