Sitting around the sticky table of a local frozen custard shop are my daughters and husband, each of them with a mountain of gooey dessert: piles of custard under clouds of whipped cream and rivers of fudge. My younger daughter, aged 5, is grinning ear-to-ear. I’m snapping pictures like the mother of a baby trying solid food for the first time. At one point, I step outside to breathe the fresh air of a world restored.
For the ten months prior to today, my little girl has been on a path to discovery, she and her team of doctors searching for the food protein that’s causing the strange patches of white blood cells in her esophagus, the patches that were keeping her from swallowing well. For ten months, she’s been avoiding a list of common allergens — dairy, soy, egg, nuts, and wheat — and undergoing tests to see if the culprit could be found. Earlier today, we got the news that only one food was left to be added, since all the others had seemed to cause her no ill. Adding that last food — dairy — means that she can eat out at any restaurant she liked. It means that, for the first time in ten months, we can travel without worrying about her food.
We leave the frozen custard shop and embark immediately on a road trip. We feed her everything she’s been missing: restaurant pancakes with butter and syrup, cheese popcorn, candy bars, pizza, string cheese and yogurt. For the first time in nearly a year, I don’t carry a big insulated bag full of food for her. We rejoice, but under the rejoicing is the knowledge that this is just another food trial. It’s both a first meal and a last — this is the last food trial, and everyone expects it to be a failure.
Many years ago, before I had children, I joined the staff of a large nonprofit organization as what I thought would be a relatively insignificant cog in a mighty machine. Instead, I was surprised when my new boss put me in charge of a committee to plan a big redesign of the organization’s enormous web site. I’d never sat on a committee or even attended a committee meeting before, but my boss said it wasn’t hard. I trusted her.
What followed were were months of meetings and planning sessions. We interviewed vendors, discussed budgets, and were deliberate in our choices. We began the nearly inconceivable task of moving tens of thousands of pages of content from one system into another, page by page, which took hundreds and hundreds of hours. For the unappreciated staff members who were responsible for their departments’ pages, I threw “parties” in our training room and fed them cookies while answering their technical questions. During that time, I went home each night to my first baby, who was born in the early stages of the project’s conception and who turned one just before the new site launched.
The launch was an unmitigated disaster.
The staff was thrilled to have it complete, but we had missed a major consideration. Though we had been thorough amongst ourselves, the organization for which we dozens of staff members worked was a professional association. Our members used this web site for their work — for reference, for activism and advocacy, and for their own teaching tools. They were our most important stakeholders — and we hadn’t asked them a thing about the site before it launched, a fact which they — appropriately — did not take well. After an onslaught of angry emails, the director of the organization flew several board members and a dozen other influential general members to our office on a Saturday. I kissed my baby girl and my husband goodbye and went into the office.
I was 28 years old. I had never met a member of this organization before. I had never been to a board meeting. Continue Reading…
When my daughters were little — five and two, perhaps — and past the age of napping, I sometimes found myself desperate for any way at all that I could get even a little bit of mid-day sleep. I cleared the lunch plates of their detritus of blueberries, macaroni, and blobs of yogurt, feeling the lethargy settle on me and press my eyelids down even as I heard the first gleefully-shouted requests to go to the park. No way, I thought. No park. I can’t even imagine it. The coats alone…no.
In this, I’m sure I was no different than millions of other at-home moms who begin their day at 5am and race through it until they collapse, bleary-eyed, into their beds at night. These other mothers almost certainly have their own strategies for recharging mid-day; I have friends who used anything from “quiet time in your room” to a walk toward the nearest coffeeshop. I tried some of these things but nothing really worked. If I insisted they stay in their rooms, the constant squealing, questions about “how much longer?” and requests for snacks kept my frustration at a low boil — not very restorative. If we went to the park or out in search of an afternoon treat, I was worn down further by the process of getting everyone ready and out the door and of keeping my squirmy running toddler out of the street.
The house was quiet last Friday night after an evening of happy chaos. My children tucked into bed, I faced the kitchen with resolute attention.
On the stove, a nearly-empty pot of lentil stew was developing a crust. Next to it, the picked-clean brownie pan shone with spray-grease, and a cutting board with the shreds of peeled carrot and the ends of a cucumber was topped with my best chopping knife, visibly dirty. The sink was empty, but clean dishes dripped on a towel on the counter above my humming, hardworking dishwasher. Every measuring cup and spoon in the house awaited me.
I put on some quiet music and hatched a plan. First, set the oven to pre-heat. Get the next set of ingredients ready before you tackle the pots on the stove. Make some tea.
Every moment saved is vital to a mission of importance. I learned this in the years I followed this same set of late-night tactics to feed my family under a set of ridiculous dietary restrictions. In the evenings, I often made snacks, planned the next night’s meal or the next morning’s breakfast. I tried to clean my kitchen every night too, so that even I could start fresh the next morning.
It didn’t change my daughter’s diagnosis if I stayed on top of meal planning and dishes, but it contributed in a different way. When I didn’t do these things, I woke to a set of daunting tasks that kept me from pursuing the bigger issues of my daughter’s health care. If the day started with me unprepared, I played catch-up and my family absorbed that energy, too. Giving my family some sense of normality in what seemed like totally abnormal circumstances meant more work for me, but the results were worth it. As we dealt with a new set of daily routines and limited access to our previous life, whatever I could do to lengthen the fuses of my family had value.
I had to feed my family through that crisis. And now, I’m trying to feed my larger family through what’s to come. Continue Reading…
I was watching tv with my family over dinner on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week when the phone rang. The caller ID told me that it was the children’s hospital where my daughter spent years being treated for issues stemming from a congenital heart defect (even though not all of her doctors realized it). We’d not had a call from that hospital in over a year.
“Hello, is this the parent of Samara Lewis?” someone asked.
I walked several rooms away from my family and answered, “Yes, who is this?”
“Thank you ma’am, this is the gastroenterology practice at [hospital name]. We’re just calling to discuss the socioeconomic impact of Samara’s treatment for eosinophilic esophagitis. Do you have time for a quick survey?”
I paused. I paused for so long that the woman asked if I was still there. I paused long enough to talk myself through the waves of anger, heartache, and indignance that crashed over me as I pondered the audacity of that question. I paused long enough to think about how I’d like to answer that question. Continue Reading…