Calvin is Almost Four Years Old

Posted by Carly Morgan

This boy is almost four years old!

I like to take portraits of the kids near their birthdays but Calvin has hit that oh so fun age of hamming it up and being ridiculous whenever I pull out the camera. Although I love his silly monkey face, I wanted at least a few pictures of Calvin just being Calvin so I pulled a little mom trickery last night and took him out on a date (camera in tow) under the pretense of shopping for his birthday.

He chose to grab dinner at In-N-Out and head to Target, where he skipped over the plates, banners, and balloons that I suggested and went straight for the piñata. I don’t know if it was the bright colors, the friendly face, or the fact that he might be able to smash it to bits soon but he’s crazy about that piñata. Who knows?

We actually had a great time and it reminded me that I should pop out with the kids one at a time more often. We had some good conversations (what is grass made out of?) and we got to chat about the menu he wants for his party (pancakes, spray cheese, ice cream). We even took our time to browse through the toy aisles at Target and he snuck a clearance toy into the basket because I’m a big pushover around birthdays. Plus, his cute face. Hard to argue with this cute face.

Happy almost-birthday to my funny hug monster! May you always be quick to laugh, beautiful boy. Four!!!!!

Food Allergies and the First Grade

Posted by Carly Morgan

“Food allergies and the first grade.” That title sounds like it would be a good children’s book, right? All about how some poor kid is nervous about all the things that could happen at school but then the class bands together and everything turns out all right in the end?

Five more weeks until school starts.

There’s no reason for me to think anything terrible is going to happen with Eva’s allergies at school this year. Unlike our complete meltdown-fail two years ago, we have done this before. Eva made it through a whole year of half-day Kindergarten without a single overnight hospital admission and even though there were a few bumps in the road, we learned a lot and Eva proved to be about 90% reliable in the taking-care-of-herself department.

Plus, now that she’s gotten into a gifted program, she won’t be in a typical public school setting with thirty other kids and one overstretched teacher. She’ll be in a smaller setting with more supervision, more support, etc. We’ve already met everyone and we’re due to have a meeting before school starts and we can get everything in place and I should really calm down.

If it was just school, I think I’d be ok. Been there, done that, minimal medical intervention needed.

But…lunch.

Eva is so excited to have lunch at school. She’s completely zeroed in on school lunchtime as being the highlight of getting older. She draws pictures of fantasy lunch boxes and scours the coupon mailers for foods that look like they’d be good to take to school. And she’s pinky sworn crossed her heart that she won’t sit with anyone eating a PB&J.

Allergy kids eat lunch at school all the time. There are allergy-free tables and signs and hand-washing practices. And Eva will be wearing her Epi-pen and we’ll have the emergency plan in place.

A little boy died from his food allergy on June 28 after a classmate gave him cheese. Or, to be more specific, he either “flicked” it on him, put it down his shirt, or snuck it into his sandwich (depending on which news story you read). The boy died. The other boy got arrested. It’s all very sad. And I shouldn’t read the stories because they don’t help, but I did and these was this one article where a parent defended it all saying that the boys were just playing and it was nobody’s fault. And I just…

Don’t do that. You don’t have to point at this thirteen year old boy who made a terrible mistake and yell, “Murderer!” but don’t make it small because there might be other kids who can hear you. Other parents who also feel better inside if they can shrug and throw up their hands like “hey, what can you do?” as if having food allergies meant that kid was doomed and it was just a matter of time.

There’s lots you can do but the core job you have is to take it seriously. Everything starts there. Even if you don’t know what to do about someone else’s food allergy, if you take it seriously you’ll at least know to ask or err waaaaaaay on the side of caution. And I get it – sometimes kids are punks and they don’t know the difference between funny teasing and not-funny teasing, but I will tell you that Calvin once joked that he was going to “get” Eva with some peanut butter and we Shut. That. S#%@. Down.

If there’s a kid in your world this school year that has a food allergy, have the conversation at home and try to hedge the feelings of frustration if class treats are restricted or hands need to be washed more often. Explain that it isn’t something anyone wants to have and remind your kids that they only have to be careful for a few hours while their classmate has to be careful all the time. Just have the talk, even if it seems silly and obvious, because somewhere there’s a boy who is now due to appear in court because another boy died and I really, really, really wish someone had had that talk with him.

In the meantime, we will prepare ourselves, take precautions, and trust in the kindness of others. And breathe. We’ll breathe.

Reading Before 5 Years Old (What Did and Didn’t Work)

Posted by Carly Morgan

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

We have two early readers in the house. Eva, the six year old, is comfortable with chapter books and just finished the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Calvin, the three year old soon to be four, can do Level 4 readers but prefers big picture books with a lot of rhyming. Both of them can read labels in the kitchen, instructions for toys, and the street signs in our neighborhood. Best of all, they can both read for an hour or more by themselves.

One of our big goals with parenting was to raise kids who loved books but our journey to reading was a little crazier than I thought it was going to be. Honestly, I think I complicated the process by buying into all of the chatter about how hard it is to get kids to read and, as a result, buying books and programs designed to make that process easier. I wasted a lot of money and time on things that were not fun and not helpful. I also stumbled into a few super helpful tricks along the way, so I thought I’d give you the hits and misses list.

Stuff that didn’t work:

1 /// Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I’m going to get pushback for this one, I’m sure, because it is the go-to book that was recommended to me by about ten different people. So, you can take my experience with a grain of salt BUT this was the worst of the worst for us. Drills, repetition, and mindless exercises that will do nothing but bore and frustrate both of you. This book also has nothing to do with learning to love books. Blah. I sent it off to the thrift store within two months.

2 /// The BOB Books Series. This was another series that I bought because everyone was using them. Yes, I purchased all of them and no, they don’t work. While not as bad as the book mentioned above, the BOB books aren’t designed to make kids love books so the stories are boring and the skill level felt a little inconsistent. We tried them a few times but never got into them.

3 /// Leap TAG system. This is a really cool system that gives kids the power to read by themselves before they’re ready by using a pen that reads aloud when the kids touch the words. The system incorporates a ton of books and familiar characters (Disney, Suess, etc.) so I had high hopes for it. While it’s a lot of fun, my kids were pretty lazy about using it as a learning tool and ultimately went from mindlessly running the pen across the words without trying to read to reading the books without a pen. So I don’t recommend it as a go-to early reading tool but I would say it’s a pretty fun toy that did get them to enjoy books.

Stuff that did work:

1 /// Alphabet Dice. This was a complete accident. I was at the grocery store and wanted to grab a little something to surprise the kids so I picked up Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game because I thought it was funny. I have no idea how you actually play the game but the dice themselves are the best tool for learning letter sounds and building small words. After practicing phonics, each kid started with “at” and then added the other letters to make rhyming worlds (cat, bat, sat, etc.) which was a great way to get them excited about sounding things out. As their reading skills progressed, we moved into using the dice to spell sight words, rolling the dice and writing words that start with that letter, and so on. We’re still finding ways to use them!

2 /// The Preschool Prep Collection. Another semi-accident here. This was a random Groupon purchase to use up some credit I had from referrals way back when and it became Eva’s favorite DVD set. I thought she was nuts because the production quality is low and it’s repetitive and there’s no story, but she loved these. Then, Calvin loved them even harder. They still ask to watch them. I don’t get it, but these DVDs were huge on teaching them phonic blends and sight words. Plus, they’re super chill so they aren’t annoying to have on in the background or during quiet time if you aren’t opposed to TV.

3 /// Having books absolutely everywhere. Finally, we stuffed books in all the places. Sure, we have bookshelves of books but we also have bins to flip through in the playroom, in their bedrooms, and in the living room. There are magazines in the kitchen to look at while waiting for food, waterproof books for bath time, pocket books in the diaper bag, and car organizers stuffed with books hanging in front of their car seats. (The ones meant for iPads work great for this.) And don’t forget a book light or two if you don’t mind them reading themselves to sleep.

It’s not the end of the world if kids don’t read early, but that extra boost definitely raises the chances that your kid will enjoy school. The way most kids are taught is so book-based that being a little behind in reading or feeling like reading is tiring in itself just adds stress on top of the exhaustion of learning everything else. Yes, Eva found parts of Kindergarten a little redundant, but I’d rather she struggle with boredom than with reading.

Plus, once kids can read on their own they become free to follow their own interests and find information out for themselves. Did you know that babies can taste with their cheeks or that the color in tornadoes is the dirt that the wind picks up? Learned that from my readers.

Where am I? (Surviving Seasons of Change)

Posted by Carly Morgan

I don’t like roller coasters very much (even the Disney ones!) and my absolute least favorite are the roller coasters that are dark enough that you can’t see where you’re going. I can appreciate the fact that they’re supposed to be fun and it’s all safe and someone else is taking care of the details, but when I’m on them I’m just bracing for that crash the whole time. The loss of control is not fun for me.

This is kind of like that. Nothing bad is happening, which is great because the last time there was a little radio silence on the blog I came back with “hey, who wants to talk about baby brain surgery?” so let’s not do that again. No, everything is actually really good. School is wrapping up for Miss Eva, the baby is getting used to his new helmet, Calvin is Calvin, and we get the keys to our new house in a couple of days. After the eleven apartments that have made up my adult years, this is the first time that the whole kit and caboodle will be ours because even in our current house we don’t have access to the basement and we have to check in if we want to change anything. Now we can paint and paper and lay down flooring and update plumbing and buy appliances. So in the next two weeks we’re painting and papering and laying down new flooring and updating our plumbing and installing our new appliances.

It’s great. It’s seriously fantastic.

It’s just…

Do you know what I mean when I say that even good changes make me uneasy? I really like “the known” and three months ago I knew that this summer would have us living here in the house, running around the city with a non-helmet-wearing-baby, and getting both older kids ready to start a new year at the local schools. Now it’s all new and the plans are different and it’s great but I’m doing that roller coaster thing where I’m having fun really but any time the cars want to come to a stop in a nice well-lit area that would be peachy keen, jellybean.

Anyway, it’s going to be so good. Soon. I miss you, random silent Internet friends! I hope your Spring is wrapping up nicely!

Our Baby Has Sagittal Synostosis

Posted by Carly Morgan

There’s not…I don’t even…

Sagittal synostosis is the most common form of craniosynostosis. Craniosynostosis is a birth defect in which one or more of the sutures in a baby’s skull fuses prematurely. As the brain grows, the skull becomes misshapen (deformed) and can cause pain and neurological damage.

I guess that’s the way I need to start. When you talk about it like that, it sounds totally calm and reasonable. This is a problem. This is the name of the problem. This is what happens if you don’t fix the problem.

In a few days, a team of surgeons is going to take Felix, sedate him, and cut into his head to remove large pieces of his skull. But I can’t think about it like that or I start to feel hysterical and that doesn’t help anyone.

Unemotional list of facts:

/// The sagittal suture is the line that runs down the middle of your skull from the front to the back. It’s supposed to stay open through adolescence to allow the skull to grow as a person gets older.

/// There is a large soft spot for most infants at the front of the sagittal suture where other sutures in the skull meet.

/// When the sagittal suture is fused, the skull cannot grow to accommodate the brain. It will temporarily stretch the bones of the skull to make room which forces the skull to grow long and narrow. The baby’s head doesn’t get any wider, but the forehead and back of the head become more pronounced. This unusual shape is usually the way a baby is first diagnosed.

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/// Felix has a completely fused sagittal suture and his front soft spot has almost completely disappeared.

/// If untreated, the deformity of the skull becomes more pronounced and neurological problems are possible as the brain continues to grow. Pain is also possible/probable as the skull stretches against the fused suture.

/// The only way to correct sagittal synostosis is surgery. There is no alternative therapy such as only using a helmet. One approach to surgery is to do a cranial vault reconstruction in which the bones of the skull are removed and remodeled. The other approach is to do an endoscopic strip craniectomy in which surgeons remove the strip of bone containing the fused suture, along with other small pieces of bone in the skull. Helmet therapy is used following surgery to encourage the skull to grow normally as it heals. The strip craniectomy is considered a minimally invasive surgery compared to the full cranial reconstruction as it doesn’t take as long, has smaller incisions, and is less likely to result in problems with blood loss during the procedure.

/// Felix is just young enough to be eligible for the strip craniectomy. He is scheduled to have that surgery this week after he is fitted with a helmet. If everything goes according to plan, he will have the surgery, spend a few days in the hospital, come home with what could be considered a very large soft spot, and wear a helmet for the next year as his head heals. After that he shouldn’t have any problems.

You know, we’ve had our fair share of child medical drama considering we’ve only been parents for six years and one month. The funny thing is that instead of spending a lot of time thinking, “Why can’t we have just had healthy kids?” I spend a lot of time thinking, “It could be so much worse. At least it isn’t something they can’t treat. At least we have good insurance. At least we live in a big city with a great pediatric hospital.”

My brain keeps doing that now and it actually does help a little. I didn’t know what craniosynostosis was last week but we happen to live about ten minutes away from a team that handles this condition so often they actually run a craniosynostosis clinic that serves five states. If we’d waited an extra month or two to take him to a specialist, he wouldn’t have had the option for the more minimally invasive surgery. We’re really very lucky.

And then I think about him actually having surgery. I try to imagine exactly how they’re going to get him away from us to take him in for the procedure. Before we had the appointment with the specialist, I told Kyle surgery wasn’t an option unless it was the only option because I’d be damned if someone was going to hurt his fuzzy head. It’s the only option. We can’t even explain it to him. He’s going to wake up disoriented and bandaged and he won’t even know why we took him in to have them do that to him.

I swing back and forth from feeling stupid for being all screamy about something that is considered a minimally invasive surgery and feeling like what the hell kind of mother am I that I’m going to intentionally drive him to a place where people want to cut into his head.

Also, this is completely stupid, but I feel like this is my fault. It’s a birth defect. I made the damn skull. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m the 3D printer that gave him the skull that decided to stop growing about seventeen and a half years too early. What the hell kind of mom gives a baby the kind of skull that doesn’t even grow?

You know the doctor told me at his two month appointment and at his four month appointment that she thought there was something wrong with his head. She used the word disfigured and then told me he was still kind of cute despite it so I left the appointment and called her names when I talked to my friends and started looking for a new pediatrician because sometimes heads are just funny looking and Felix is the cutest baby in the world. It wasn’t until she really annoyed me by harping on his “ugly” head at a check for an ear infection that I even agreed to see a specialist just to shut her up.

I should have seen it. I spend about 22 hours a day with his head. How did I not see it?

People have asked how to help and what they can do and I don’t even know what to tell them because I don’t know what to do. In the days that we found out about his surgery, we went under contract for a new house because there’s only so much sitting around and worrying that parents can do and at least we have something to talk about now that isn’t us telling each other he’s going to be fine even though neither one of us really has any more power over that than the other.

I will say that I’ve learned that “how are you doing” and “how are you doing today” are different questions. The first one has no other answer besides notsogood because our kid is having surgery this week, but the second one leaves space to say “I’m having a rough time and don’t feel like talking” or “I’m stressed and need to vent” or “I’m excited about the house” or “I’m relieved that we have a plan in place for the baby” or “I’m at Target and they have the cutest stuff in the dollar section” and there’s an understanding that whatever I just said is temporary and could easily morph into something else in the next ten minutes.

Got a care package and some $5 Starbucks e-cards, and lots of text messages. All nice, even if I haven’t responded to you. Can’t do visits right now and will probably screen calls because I don’t like talking mid-crisis much. I like finished stories with solid endings. As in, “the baby had surgery and everything went great so they sent us home after a few days and now he’s just recovering.” That’s a better time to chat.

I’m worried about my husband because this super stressful thing is happening with his kid but he seems a lot more even keel than I am right now. I’m hoping he’s not just doing that to level me out.

How does a person have a minor procedure on their skull? Next to the brain?

The doctors seemed really smart. From what I’ve read, this is like a 3 or 4 out of 10 surgery for them as far as difficulty goes. Super minor.

Why on earth do the co-pays on helmets cost so much? We can make it work but only because we’re blessed in many ways. Are poor people just not given the option to do the less invasive surgery if they can’t afford the next 12 months of helmet therapy?

I’m kissing the top of his head so much these days that I think I’m actually rubbing the hair off. I guess that’s one less thing they’ll have to worry about in prep.

I’m in a couple of online support groups for kids who have craniosynostosis and so many of those kids have larger issues and other complications. We’re very lucky.

Apparently I get to authentically use the #craniomom hashtag just like I get to use #allergymom, #asthmamom, #eczemamom, #cerclagemom, #preemiemom, and maybe #giftedmom or #IEPmom. It’s like reverse girl scout badges. First you get the label and then you go through the challenge to earn it, picking up unexpected friends in the meantime because you’re bonded in the sisterhood of “this totally sucks, I didn’t sign up for this, what am I even doing?”

Wow. This post is really fractured. Unlike my son’s skull right now, haha.

I swear I’m holding it together, you guys. Kyle could probably use some more Starbucks though. I hear his wife is in serious danger of freaking out and running her five month old football-style straight outta the hospital as soon as they produce the teeny hospital gown. We’ll see…

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