The $1500 M&M

This is the story of how one M&M cost $1500 and wrecked an entire day.

Several weeks ago, Sean had the day off of school (reason unknown) and it was a beautiful fall day so we got together with a friend for a play date in the park.

Before we left to go to the park, he asked if he could have something from his Halloween candy stash.  I said yes and let him pick out something.

He chose a little package of M&M’s.  I noticed that the package was red, but I figured that someone had pawned off their leftover Valentine candy on unsuspecting little trick-or-treater’s and I did not think much of it.

Sean bit into one of the M&Ms and immediately ran to the sink and began spitting it out.

It was a peanut butter M&M.

Sean is allergic to peanuts.

I was baffled because as soon as he got home from trick-or-treating, I immediately culled through his candy and pulled out all the known peanut products like Snickers, Butterfingers, Reese’s and the blindingly obvious yellow packages of Peanut M&Ms, all of which I set aside for me who is quite happily not allergic to peanuts.

Unbeknownst to me, they now make peanut butter M&Ms and they are in a red package and they look exactly like the regular M&M’s. Except they are not.  This you should know.

I got out my magnifying glass and took a closer look at the package and sure enough “peanut butter” is stamped on the front of the package in itsy bitsy teeny tiny print nearly invisible to 50-year-old eyes.

If we watched TV which advertises the latest in candy packaging fashion, we might have known better.  But we do not.

Sidebar: It would be nice if all peanut-containing candies were packaged in the same blindingly obvious YELLOW (or some other universally agreed upon bright color).

Heretofore when Sean has ingested a peanut bearing product, his reaction has been fairly brief and mild.  Since he hadn’t actually swallowed the M&M I figured that we could rinse his mouth out really well and be on our merry way.  He seemed to be okay so we went on to our play date.

Thirty minutes later I noticed that he wasn’t himself.  He was lethargic and would stop running to lay down on the ground, but not in a playful way.   When he said he felt really tired and queasy, we ended the play date and went home.  By the time I got him home, five minutes later, he was wheezing badly and seemed a little loopy, so we drove straight to the local children’s hospital ER.

They admitted him immediately and gave him an Epi-Pen shot in the thigh. Within seconds, the wheezing stopped and his lungs were clear and he felt better.  It was really just that fast.  It is astonishing how quickly that works.  They put him on an IV drip and administered some other antidotal meds and he spent the next four or five hours drifting in and out of sleep.

The doctor told us that these kinds of allergic reactions can spontaneously reoccur anytime with the next 6-8 hours so we would have to stay in the ER for rest of the day for observation.  And let me tell you this, you have not had a fantastic day until you’ve spent an entire day behind the curtain in a children’s ER room sitting in a hard straight-back chair, listening to the other patients wail and puke while you keep busy mentally flogging yourself for being the worst and most irresponsible parent ever.

The first time we suspected Sean was allergic to peanuts was when he was about two. After I had eaten some peanut butter I kissed him on the cheek and the place where I kissed him turned crimson red, like he had a rash or had been scalded.  And then when he was about three, unbeknownst to me, he had helped himself to a peanut butter cookie at a family get-together.  He came to me very distraught, clawing at his tongue, trying to indicate to me that his mouth and throat were itchy and on fire.

In both cases, after a short time the symptoms subsided, so while it was a little scary, these incidents never seemed life threatening and we wondered if he might eventually outgrow it.  So far, his allergy is mild comparatively — he is fine on airplanes that serve peanuts, he can sit at a table with others who are eating peanut butter, although he doesn’t like it because he hates the smell, and he can eat chicken strips that have been fried in peanut oil.  He just can’t eat peanut products, and luckily, he has no desire.

So I was surprised that this time, the reaction was much much worse.  I knew that I had to get him to the ER.  I’ve since learned that typically, each subsequent exposure will increase in severity.  It will only get worse from here on out.

Before they would allow us to check out of the ER, I had to go to the pharmacy and buy two sets of Epi-Pens, one for home and one for school, which thanks to our cruddy insurance was $300.  And then in Saturday’s mail I saw that the ER had sent me a $1200 “thank you for stopping by” note.  If the geologic law of uniformitarianism is really true, and that which has happened in the past will happen again in the future, I know I have another big fat juicy bill coming in from some invisible medical professional whose face I never saw.

And that is how one M&M cost $1500 and ruined an entire day.

When I put my little boy to bed that night, in his own bed, and I sat beside him in the rocker I’ve sat in for seven years, none of that mattered.  Not one bit.

As I sat there and rocked and watched him drift off to sleep, safe and well, I thought about how I would have sat in a hard straight back chair in the ER for seven days and spent seven times seven times seven times $1500 to have him safe and well.

But I’d rather not.

He Speaks

AD and I think it is important for Sean to learn how to stand up and speak in front of others with confidence so that he might grow into a man who can influence others for good, so that he will have the tools to articulate his ideas, dreams and visions with clarity and confidence.  No matter where his life’s journey leads, we think this is a valuable life skill that requires practice more than anything else, and that it’s never too soon to start.

Since Sean was about three, we have had what we call Family Fun Night or what non-geek families would likely term as misery.  We start off by reading a Bible story, then we talk about it a little bit and then we take about 15 minutes for each person to draw a picture of what they got out of the story, what they thought the story was about or whatever they found in the story that inspired their artistic spirit in some way.  Then each person has to present their work to the others.  And by presenting, I mean you are required to stand up in front of the group, identify yourself and then talk about your work.  (You should know, being a guest in our home requires you to participate in FFN.)  I have gathered these tiny works of art into a collection and it has been fun to look back upon them and see Sean’s artistic and conceptual growth.  And I have to say, when I look at his art, I am awed; I have a glimmer of clarity about what Jesus meant when he said that we are to be like little children.

Having said all that, we are always looking for opportunities for Sean to practice speaking in front of groups larger than our small tribe or other friendly folk who might be at our house.  So the other day I arranged for him to read Snowmen at Night to the kindergarten class at his former school.  We had him practice a few times, coached him to make eye contact and to speak slowly, loudly and with expression.  And he did a great job. So if you are looking for a speaker, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with his agent.

As we were driving to take him back to his school, we passed a nursing home.  On a whim, AD whipped into the parking lot.  “Let’s go in here and see if they need a reader!” he said.  “I’ll bet they would love to have a little boy read to them!”  So we did and they did and Sean did.  The activities director was delighted to see us and gathered up a few of the residents in the dining hall to hear Sean read.  He stood in front of the small group, told them his name, the book he was going to read and who wrote it.  Then he sat down and began reading the book with joyful expression, taking care to show the pictures.  And those who were not borderline comatose were thrilled.  And those who were comatose, well, I know they were thrilled in their hearts even though they could not express it.

At one point, one gentleman got into a coughing fit and I became slightly alarmed and concerned that he was going to code out right there in the dining room and what a bummer it would be if on your first public speaking engagement someone DIED.  But Sean did not miss a beat and kept reading.  When he finished he thanked them for their attention.  They clapped and said what a good boy he was and my heart swelled with humility that God would bless stupid old me with such a marvelous little boy.  Grace is the only explanation for that.

When we left the nursing home, Sean was enjoying the speaker’s high.  He had done well and people liked him and he was energized by the experience. “I’d like to do that again!” he said.

We returned Sean to school about two hours beyond tardy so I checked him into the office.  The office lady asked me if he had a doctor’s appointment and for a split second I was tempted to lie and say yes so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the impending disapproval, but Sean was standing right there, so I told her the truth:  He had a speaking engagement.  “Well, you know he’ll be marked tardy, don’t you?” she said.  And I said, “Oh. I see. You think I care.”  No I didn’t say that because how snotty would that be?  No, I said I did not really care about tardy marks, I only care that he is learning and that we felt what he was doing today in the community was important.  In retrospect, ‘yes ma’am’ would have been sufficient.

I understand the school’s view that punctual attendance is important, but important things are also learned outside of the classroom.

So Big, So Small

As I was getting ready to walk Sean to school today, I looked in the bathroom mirror to see him standing behind me, dressed and ready to go.  I was surprised to see that he had on the clothes that I had laid out for him.  Usually, he will wear anything BUT the clothes I lay out.  We are in that stage.

I noticed that he had his shirt on backwards, as usual.  It’s not his fault.  He is genetically predisposed.  Nine times out of ten I’ll put my shirt on backwards too, which in and of itself is amazing given the 50/50 odds.  Wearing a shirt backwards is not too bothersome, unless you are coming out of a dressing room and you don’t notice it until you are in the food court in the mall.  Not that that’s ever happened to me. No, I’m just saying it could.  I also noticed that his hair was a crazy mess, also genetic, and he looked a little bit like a cross between an elf and Howdy Doody.  The sum of those parts made me smile.

Along with the backwards shirt, the pants he had on were ridiculously small — so small, that he couldn’t fasten the snap.  I am pretty sure that it was just earlier in the week that I had cinched up the adjustable waist band in these pants as far as it would go and rolled up the cuffs.  Apparently children really DO grow overnight.

I would have liked for him to change into pants that fit, but once you have your shoes on, changing pants is a terrific chore, and he could not be persuaded.  So I let out the adjustable waistband as far as it would go and through the force of will and magic, I managed to snap his pants.  If worse comes to worse today and the pants won’t stay snapped, he’ll just have to wear his shirt out.  Which I freely admit, I’ve done myself a time or two in recent years.

Maybe it was the pants, or maybe it was my own uneven hormones, but as we trotted to school, something about him just seemed bigger today than yesterday.  Or it could be that since he makes me run the whole half mile to school carrying his backpack, I was a little light headed and my perception was skewed.

Usually I walk him into the school and to his classroom but today I decided that I would stop at the edge of the school yard and let him take it from there.  I handed off his backpack and told him I’d see him later.  He took off running towards the school, stopped abruptly and turned to blow me a kiss and then ran the rest of the way into the building without looking back.

I stood there at the top of the hill, watching him run towards the school, taking note of the too-small pants, the too-big backpack, his copper hair bouncing and sparkling in the morning sun.  I watched him as he disappeared into the sea of children flowing into the school and suddenly he didn’t look so big anymore.  He looked small, really small, three-year-old small. And three-year-old’s have no business walking into a big school by themselves.

How did he go from being so big to so small on the half-mile walk to school?  How does that happen?

I sighed and shook my head in disbelief.  Or maybe I was shaking off something else.

I turned and headed home so that I wouldn’t act on the urge to go get him and take him home with me.

Living In A Model Home

Whenever I go into a model home, I always imagine that I could live in a clean, pristine and perfectly accessorized house if I just tried hard enough, if I could just get these other people who live in my house to buy into my dream.   But the fact of the matter is, no one lives in a model home.  And that’s why the cabinets aren’t beat up.

The cabinets in our house are beat up.  There are stains on the carpet.  The wallpaper in the bathroom is starting to peel in one place.  The baseboards look like we host a roller derby in our home. There is place along the stairs where the paint is chipped.  A tile in the bathroom is cracked. The list is endless.

When we had this house built ten years ago, we had some very specific things in mind that we wanted.  AD wanted a place for our exercise equipment and I wanted a place to do my art and we both wanted a work space in the garage.   So we built a house to suit our desires and moved in. For a year or so, we lived in a constant state of intoxication fueled by new carpet vapors and nick-free cabinetry.

So the other day as I was cleaning and lamenting the toll that life that has taken on our cabinets and baseboards, I started thinking about how our life in this house has changed; how my art studio is now an exercise room and the exercise room is now a nursery little boy’s room.  The work space in the garage is now an overflow toy/sports equipment storage space.  And my den is now a playroom and my breakfast room is now a perpetual school room.

I used to live in house with an art studio, pristine carpets and perfect cabinets.  And now I don’t.

I used to have a big empty spot in my heart. And now I don’t.


Clean Up In The Center Aisle

I will share this story with you now so that I might dispel any notion you may have that I am perfect, so that you might feel better about your own short comings. Or maybe I just need to confess.

If there is a single struggle that defines my life (and oh if only it were just ONE) it is the constant inner-battle between wanting and not wanting stuff.  Within the space of two seconds I can swing between feeling sickened and burdened by the sheer volume of my stuff to wanting more of it.

So then, the other day I was at Wal-Mart and I was not in a fine mood.  I was just sort of feeling mad at everything for no particular reason.  My cart was all wobbly and really annoying and that was making me mad.  I didn’t like the way my jacket fit and that made me mad.  People were in my way and that was making me mad.  They didn’t have the two things I specifically went to the store to get and that made me mad.  Like Little Critter, I was just so mad. I probably had those two little squiggly vertical lines above my head that you see in cartoons.

But mostly what was making me mad was that everything just seemed really expensive and that was energizing the Want Team.  The Want Team are a bunch of bullies really. They taunt me and poke their bony fingers into my tender self-esteem.  And they are a pack of liars too.  Meanwhile the Not Want Team was off snoozing somewhere.  Like some sort of bulimic shopper, I put stuff in my cart only to talk myself out of it and take it out two aisles later.   Which then made me feel resentful and sorry for myself, and you guessed it, mad.  (Sorry Wal-Mart employees for the Rubber Maid containers, lemon zester and Christmas placemats you found in with the women’s socks.)

Weary of the battle, I gave up and decided to head towards the checkout with my coffee and few other things and head home. As I headed down the big center aisle toward the front, I looked up from my dark cloud to see a young woman pushing a cart towards me.  In the seat of the cart was a little girl.  An older woman walked alongside her, perhaps her mother.  The woman pushing the cart was radiantly happy.  She was enjoying her little girl and chatting happily with her mother.  She was not taking stuff in and out of her cart like a crazy lady, stuff that would ultimately rot away or be eaten by moths.  She was not mad.  She was not mad at all.  She was a picture of  joy.

As I passed her I tried not to stare at her Prednisone-puffed face or the tell-tale dew rag she wore on her bald head.

I wanted to cry.  Not so much for her, but for me, for my sorry state of being.

I offered up a prayer for her as she passed, a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing that she was to me, for being the slap in the face that I needed in just that moment.  I prayed that God would look upon her with favor and restore her completely.

I went to the store for groceries, but left with what I really needed — a cleansed perspective.

Chalk one up for the Not Want Team who rallied from behind — thanks to the lady in the dew rag.

The School Vibe

For the last six years, the only question in terms of Sean’s education has been which private school he would attend.

Homeschooling has always been an option we’ve entertained; it’s always on the table.  Public school was never an option.  And now for some reason, at this point, I sort of feel like I should apologize for that sentiment or at least insert a feeble “not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  But I’m not going to because that sort of thing makes me weary of late.

So, for the past two years we have done all due diligence in finding the right private school for our one and only son.  We did all the research that any prudent person would do when making an important decision, not to mention a substantial investment.  We researched, we made spreadsheets, we talked to other parents.  We visited, we visited and we visited some more until we narrowed the list down to three schools.

But ultimately none of those three schools seemed right.  All are excellent, highly rated, well-established schools staffed by professional educators.  Their stats are great and the kids we chatted with on campus were impressive. Nary a red flag to be seen.  People who send their kids to those schools LOVE those schools and can’t say enough good things about them.  Those are all good things, things that make for good marketing materials.  But I tend to operate on intuition.  And after all the visits, I never got that vibe – that undeniable voice that whispers in your ear, “You are in the right place. This is it.”

In our area, private school tuition runs about $10,000 a year, give or take, and for ten grand, I need to have that vibe.  The ten grand isn’t for the education — it’s for the vibe.

Well, the summer kind of slipped past and before we knew it, it was the middle of August.  It was two weeks before school started and we still didn’t have our child enrolled in school anywhere.  And so because we couldn’t make a decision, the decision was made for us. We enrolled Sean in public school.  The one school we had not considered, not researched, not visited — was the right school.  God likes to rip up my plans into itty bitty pieces and throw them in the air like confetti.

We are six weeks into the school year and we could not be happier. We love walking to school, we love our teacher, we love the routine.

I’ve definitely got the vibe that at least for now, for this school year, this is the right place.

Crossing Over

I am a Walmart shopper, this I freely admit.

I did not start out being a Walmart shopper, it just sorta happened to me, sort of in the same way I got pregnant — I have no idea when it happened,  I didn’t plan for it to happen, it just did. One day I wasn’t and then one day I was.  And I still kind of can’t believe it.

Prior to having a child, I had never been in a Walmart that I can recall.  I was a boutique grocery store shopper. I did not buy my t-shirts at the same place I bought hamburger.  I liked the little grocery stores that stock 37 kinds of mustard.

But then I had a child and I no longer needed cranberry sherry mustard. I needed preemie diapers and formula that cost $25 a can.  And as though divinely orchestrated, just before Sean was born a super-Walmart sprang up a short distance from my house.

I understand that some people have issues with Walmart and I even see their point of view.  However, I needed cheap diapers and formula and hamburger all in one stop and there they were, so what was I to do?  My economic ideals are not all that sturdy when it comes to cheap baby formula.

So then, that is my Walmart back story.  It does not relate to anything hereafter other than to say that I have a history with Walmart.

All that to say, not too long ago I was at Walmart, not buying exotic mustard, unless you think French’s is exotic, and as I was strolling down the big wide center aisle, my cart automatically turned into the baby department where I have been a regular for many years.  For almost seven years, that has been my zone – diapers, formula, little socks, adorable little rompers, play clothes, lavender baby shampoo, crib toys, the occasional lullaby CD and other first-time-mom impulse purchases.

Now perhaps you are wondering how I managed to stay in the baby department for six years and I’ll tell you:  Walmart caters to a big baby.  Sean is a string bean of a boy and when he was five, he could wear 2T. Although, admittedly when it came to long pants, a 2T on a tall 5-year-old  makes for a Steve Urkel fashion statement.  But then, we are Walmart shoppers, so obviously fashion is not a huge concern for us.

As it were on that day, I stood there in the baby zone, in the middle of all that luscious nougat baby stuff with my six-year-old who comes up to my shoulder and I realized I was in the wrong place.  The baby zone was no longer my zone.  I glanced across the aisle, towards my new zone, the boy zone with all those big not-adorable clothes, and I dropped my chin to my chest and wept silently. No I didn’t weep, because for Pete’s sake, it is just clothes, but I was sort of stunned.  The thought of crossing over to the other side rocked my boat just a little.  I could see from clear across the aisle that there were no cute little socks or luscious anything over there, just big boy stuff, and I knew that I wasn’t going to like the new zone.

And I don’t like the new zone.  Unlike the baby zone, there is nothing impulse-purchase worthy to be had. One t-shirt is the same as the next.

As a mother, this sixth year has been one of many changes, firsts and milestones.  Most mothers wistfully remember the day they sent their baby off to 1st grade.  I remember the day I had to cross over the aisle in Walmart.