Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Eight Years

Eight years ago my father died. That year, 2009, also seemed to be the start of a lot of loss. In these eight years, I've lost:

  • My father
  • My mother
  • My last living grandmother
  • Two grandfather-in-laws
  • And a grandmother-in-law
  • Two first cousins
  • An aunt
  • And a best friend
This doesn't include the passing of an elder, and friend, from my church recently and a beloved college professor -- both dying this summer.

When you experience grief in all its fury, you think -- or at least I did -- that you understand all there is to know about it, mainly because the first months of grief feel all over the place. Surely I've experienced every emotion, every thought grief could produce. Yet, a dozen funerals later -- and, no doubt, dozens more to go -- I confess I know little about grief, except that it is unpredictable and uncontrollable. 

Grief goes from being a stranger who will not leave you be, forcing weird emotions on a whim, to something you tolerate, hoping he will take the hint. Grief is in one instance an enormous sense of comfort and closeness and the container of deep loss and regret the next. Grief enters as a stranger but settles in to be a constant companion. You get used to his smells and habits and intrusion. Dare I say: Grief becomes a friend.

Eight years seems like a massive amount of time. I've welcomed two daughters my dad never knew. I've lived a lot of life. I'm due for a conversation with my mom, now nearly five years since her death. And for sure I yearn to catch up with my Bethany, nearly three years gone. 

Saying the years out loud stirs me, reminding me of all that has been lost, all the years "without." However, it also means I am one year closer to these losses being redeemed -- eight years closer to all things being made new and right and good. My good buddy grief keeps reminding me of that. And for that, I'm thankful.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Robbed :: Another Fake Emily Youree Strikes

This last Friday, I loaded the girls into the car for a morning of errands: Walgreens, uniform shop, Target. We picked up school prescriptions, a supply or two here and there, and school clothes. I felt accomplished that we'd checked everything off our to-do list by noon. A trip to Chick-fil-A was in order. We went through the drive thru and headed down the road a tiny bit to Trinity Park, where we had a quick picnic -- 15-20 minutes at most. See, we were trying to get to Bryan's office to grab ice cream from an ice cream truck by 1:00 p.m. I'm like mom of the year at this point: Chick-fil-a, spontaneous picnic, and promised ice cream.

I gathered three Chick-fil-A bags, three drinks, my phone, keys, and sunglasses -- plus two children -- and walked to the picnic table maybe 50 feet away. I left all our shopping bags and my purse in a locked car.

Here's the scene: 12:30 p.m. in a park parking lot that is nearly completely full. Numerous people coming and going to the park trails; numerous people coming and going to the Chuy's on the other side of the side street. There are tons of people around.

Shock and the worse sinking sick feeling in my stomach soon greeted me when I saw this shattered window once we were back at the car. Glass everywhere and my purse nowhere to be found. Gone, wallet and all.

The actual temperature was near 100 degrees; the heat index was well over that mark. There I was with two small children baking in the heat, waiting on the police to arrive. Louisa and I cried randomly while Anna Zane held it together.

During my 1-hour wait for the police, one woman stood with me when we first got to the car and watched the girls some while I called 911. Shortly, another man came to offer assistance. And then a family of three repeatedly asked to help, not listening to my "no, we are okays," waiting with me for a half hour, worrying about the kids getting too hot. The dad walked to Chuy's bringing back three large ice water drinks and two popsicles for my cuties. Two teenage boys stopped to ask if we needed help. Another mom and her baby came to check on us too. Three men walking from lunch at Chuy's made sure we were okay before leaving the parking lot.

In one moment, the worst of humanity impacted my life in a dramatic way. In the next several moments -- and throughout the day -- the best of humanity helped me pick up the pieces.

Bryan arrived just after the police. He spent the minutes after my alerting him to this robbery quickly cancelling as many cards and accounts as he could. In my wallet were debit cards and credit cards for our personal accounts and my business accounts. The robbers made quick work at a nearby gas station and Walgreens, spending about $200 total. I hope they enjoyed the $5 cash and $10 gift card I'd just earned at Target.

Thanks to the kindness and compassion of our nanny, she took the girls until nearly 9:00 p.m. that night so we could spend . . . wait for it . . . five hours closing and reopening accounts. Not only all those credit cards and bank accounts, but also HSA accounts, replacing insurance cards, and on and on.

By the end of the day Friday, we were wiped, but we were safe, we had lost only $5, and my car will soon be repaired. Everything is JUST fine.

Then the plot thickened on Saturday. While I was running errands, a woman shows up at the house with a purse that is not mine but contains practically all of my non-valuables: zoo membership cards, Carmex, receipts, insurance cards, even a doll dress that belonged to Anna. The purse also contains some info for another woman, whom I presume owns this handbag. She said she saw it on the side of the road, pulled over and picked it up, and brought it to this address. I mean I'd like to believe this, but . . . .

Will this fake Emily Youree who busted out my window, grabbed my purse as his or her own, and used my cards ever be caught? Who knows, but we are trying. The case will hopefully be assigned a detective this week.

Thanks to the strangers who stepped out of their comfort zones to help me. Thanks to a super nice police officer who encouraged me not let this ruin my day. Thanks to Ms. Lisa and all the crew who took such great care of my kids. Thanks to Cathy at Allstate and Victoria at Chase. Thanks to Jesus who knew it all, showing mercy every step of the way. (The rainbow in the sky that evening was a nice touch. Good one, God.)

So, after all of this, I think I deserve a new purse, right? Ahahahahaha.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Anna Zane's Allergy Update

Yes, I realize the world at large will not flock to this blog post, but it serves us well as a means of sharing this update with friends and family who come in contact with Anna Zane on a more regular basis. It's my one-spot stop to explain . . . . We all know the written word is the way I process and best communicate. So here goes.

Long story short: Anna Zane suffered an exposure to sesame at school in May. One fact of that incident is concerning to us: There was no visible trace of sesame anywhere to be seen. Like I said, it is a long story about how she was exposed; for the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the fact she reacted in hefty fashion to an invisible trace of sesame on her finger . . . that landed in her eye. Whiz. Bang. Boom. Swollen eye and cheek and lips. Epi pen, hospital, the whole nine yards.

That landed us in the allergist office. Since the end of May, Anna had a blood test and a skin test. Today, we received the verdict on all of it.

Here's what we discovered:

1. Anna is severely allergic to sesame. This is not news, obviously. She is still bi-phasic anaphylactic. The only new bit of info to come along is her increased sensitivity. Her reaction has moved from "ingestion only" to "contact," meaning she will react in some form or fashion if she touches sesame. This also points to the likelihood of her sensitivity to her allergy increasing every time she has an exposure. We pray to God that she never enters the "air borne" phase of this.

2. Blood work confirmed an "impressive" allergy to mountain cedar. This explains why her eyes swelled and were blood red when visiting family surrounded by freshly chopped mountain cedar. Hello, Zyrtec.

3. To me the next development seemed out of the blue, however, her doctor was not surprised. Tree nuts, specifically Brazil nut, pecans, and walnuts also posted "impressive" results with almonds, cashew, and pistachios coming in at "mild." It appears that she now has cross-reactivity issues with some tree nuts . . . well, varying degrees with tree nuts. What in the world is cross-reactivity? Ah, I'm so glad you asked. First, know that science doesn't know WHY or HOW allergic food reactions first occur . . . like why one person has it and another doesn't . . . or even why sometimes it escalates and sometimes it doesn't . . . . why some grow out of it, etc. But it does know this: In most instances, the antibody created to "fight" when she ingests sesame is coded super specifically: It will only start fighting when it identifies the sesame protein that triggers her allergy. However, in instances of cross-reactivity, that antibody gets a faulty signal. There is something about the protein make-up that is similar to these tree nuts that causes a percentage of those antibodies to think it's sesame, and thus, start to fight. This explains why her tummy hurts, tongues tickles, and ears burn when she eats pecans. So the tricky part is this: Can she continue to eat tree nuts -- even tree nuts she consumed many, many times before (pistachios) -- safely? The reaction to date isn't ANYWHERE close the reaction to sesame. Not only is the reaction not close, but the numbers in the blood work and skin test are no where NEAR her sesame. (For the record, the tree nut spots from the skin test are gone. Her sesame spot on the skin test? Is a hard knot about the size of a half dollar -- red and tender. That's after two rounds of benadryl cream, washing with soap/water, a dose of Zyrtec, and a dose of Benadryl.) The doctor completely recommends avoiding all tree nuts because, as he put it, it's like playing Russian Roulette. Most of the time when she eats nuts, she will likely have a mild reaction because a small percentage of the antibodies think those proteins are sesame and not tree nut. However, there is no way to predict when a larger percentage of those antibodies will get the faulty message . . . . If that happens, it's a full-on anaphylactic reaction.

There you have it. We are still processing and making changes to school, home, and play -- digesting this information. But, I think it is safe to say we are saying adios, tree nuts. Now our dates nights will consist of humus for an appetizer, sushi for a main course, and pecan praline for dessert. ;-)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Say It with Me: No More Sesame in the Cafeteria

:: UPDATE :: I'm super thrilled to report the FWISD Nutrition Services department has responded so kindly and so thoroughly to our concerns! Sesame is going to be removed from her school's elementary cafeteria not only next year, but this year too! I cannot even tell you what a huge relief this is. I am mostly stunned they responded so quickly, kindly, and thoroughly -- certainly not what we are used to. My only regret is I did not contact the director sooner. I did meet with a dietician from Nutrition Services back in September. At that meeting, she recommended I contact the director around the first of the year when they begin the process of creating next year's menu. Thus, that's what I did because she did not think any changes would be made to this year's menu. 

From my recent talks with the director and assistant director at Nutrition Services, I have even made more contacts with a couple of other departments that can help with establishing food allergy protocol and standardization throughout FWISD. YAY!

Those who know me best know the biggest hurdle we've faced with the transition to kindergarten has been food allergy management for Anna. Oh, I could go on and on -- and I probably will at some point -- about the surprises I encountered, i.e. the lack of pre-existing food allergy protocol at one of the finest elementary schools in the state.

But that's not the point of this post. It is the pressing matter at hand, and I need your help.


At the beginning of this school year, I met with a dietician about Anna's anaphylactic food allergy to sesame. She very graciously and very thoroughly helped me scour through the ENTIRE lunch menu for any sesame ingredients. As you likely know (or don't know), sesame can be a tricky ingredient as it is part of bread crumbs, tahini, hummus, sauces, granola, trail mixes, packaged rices, and dressings. Upon inspection of the current menu, we discovered the three Asian dishes served on three Thursdays of the month (chicken teriyaki, beef and rice, and orange chicken) contained a sauce made with sesame oil.

Here's the deal: Anna's allergy to sesame is severe, scoring a 4 out of 6, and is deemed bi-phasic anaphylactic, meaning she will have an immediate anaphylactic allergic reaction upon ingesting the sesame and will then again have a second anaphylactic reaction 3-4 hours after the initial encounter with the allergen. This type of reaction makes her at greater risk for death. Certainly, we take her food allergy very seriously. So you can see the alarm and concern we felt when we realized her allergen was being served three times per month to elementary students who have zero idea about clean hands and friends with food allergies. Anna Zane herself is cognizant of her food allergy, but even at five and six years old cannot be expected to posses the discernment and maturity to fully protect herself from exposure at school.

As she began kindergarten this year, we not only had to tackle the normal transitions of starting elementary school, but also had to navigate managing a food allergy at school. We met with the school nurse multiple times; her teacher; and the principal. 

The most challenging aspect of managing Anna Zane's safety is the presence of sesame, her allergen, being served in the cafeteria three times per month. As you can quickly deduce, this raises her risk of exposure significantly. After realizing FWISD would not remove the sauce for the 2016 - 2017 school year, we had to make a plan to keep Anna Zane safe at school. These steps are:
  • I take off from work most Thursdays to remove Anna Zane from the school during her lunch time. We travel to a nearby restaurant (which is challenging for a 10:30 lunch time) or eat a picnic in the park if weather permits. 
  • On days I cannot take off from work, her teacher makes sure that Anna Zane does not sit by anyone who purchases a lunch from the cafeteria and that she sits on the end of the table away from a walking path so that no lunch could accidentally spill on her. This, of course, puts her teacher in a tough spot because she now becomes patrol for Anna Zane's safety, adding extra work for her that should not be hers.
Thus, I reached out to the director of nutrition services, making two requests:
  1. That this sesame sauce used in these three Asian dishes be completely removed from the menu and replaced with an Asian sauce that does not contain sesame in any form. There are numerous sesame-free options.
  2. That the nutrition services department be vigilant in not introducing anymore sesame-laden foods into the menu.
Although studies are just emerging about sesame allergies in this country, they are finding that sesame food allergies produce some of the most severe reactions and do not appear to be an allergy that one outgrows. It is also one of the fastest growing food allergy diagnoses in this country, ranking in the top 10 most common. However, the FDA only requires notification of allergens for the top 8.

Here are some quick reads about this allergy:
So, will you say it with me: No more sesame in the cafeteria? If you feel so inclined, would you consider emailing the director of the FWISD nutrition services (http://www.fwisd.org/domain/162) asking him to replace the sesame sauce with a sesame-free option for the 2017 - 2018 school year?

Anna Zane thanks you! (Oh, and I REALLY do too.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Anna-isms #11

In only a few days, my Anna turns six. While you may not need that to sink it, I sure do. Anna felt something when she turned five; it was a milestone. The last 12 months have certainly been filled with milestones: kindergarten, loose teeth, sight words, reading, counting to 100, and tying shoe strings. But there's something about six that feels big to me. It's full on elementary student . . . reading and spelling . . . and asking tough questions. It's a turning of a page when I'm not quite ready to finish the first chapter.

Where is her story at these days?

  • Reading at a mid-semester first grade level, which is blowing my mind.
  • Always trying one bite of a new food, making me proud, proud, proud.
  • Struggling with jealousy . . . of sister, of friends, of toys.
  • Showing responsibility by taking her plate and utensils to the sink without being asked.
  • Soaking up any chance she gets to craft or color; she's a stunning artist.
  • Completing simple addition/subtraction in her HEAD! Amazed!
  • Still eager for snuggles and hugs and kisses and for me to "scratch her feet."
  • Eating cheese whenever she can.
  • Wondering about slavery and why people are mean.
  • Wishing mom would let her ride her bike down the street by herself (isn't happening any time soon, thank you)
  • Hoping for an American Girl doll for her birthday.

And what is she saying these days?
  • Mom, you're not young at all. I'm only sort of young because I'm five and three quarters.
  • "Your hair is multi-colored," referencing the bright white hair multiplying exponentially in my head.
  • Hoooooolllllddddd meeeee.
  • Mom, Louisa is [fill in the blank].
  • Can I read this one? Please?
  • I'm going to be a baker when I grow up.
  • Can I have some cheese?
  • Ladies and gentleman, Anna Zane Youree, the dancer!
  • Are we still in Texas?
She recently celebrated 100 days of kindergarten. After I recovered from the idea of having to craft to create a 100-day t-shirt for school, we brainstormed a shimmering shirt (thanks to the help of Facebook friends). I wrote the slogan; she glued more than 100 jewels on the front, back, and sleeves of her t-shirt. I mean, why stop at 100 . . . 

It is only by God's grace that she is blooming as well as she is. I'm mostly paralyzed and silent when I think of what beauty He is crafting in her. 

Happy -- almost -- sixth birthday, Anna Zane!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Thankful for the Pain of a Missing Mother on My Birthday

You always think of your mama on your birthday.

It's an assertion I never considered fully until this year. Without conscience thought, I assert that most everyone, if not everyone, thinks about their beginnings, particularly their mother, on their birthday. It makes sense, right?

On the day you were born, your mind flies through favorite birthdays, bad memories surrounding birthdays, and ultimately, to the woman who made that birthday possible. You rehash your birth story, wonder about the details. There is truly only one person on the planet who knows those intimate secrets and feelings about the day you were born -- your mother.

Sure, your dad may have been there, along with other family and friends, but he doesn't know the ins and outs and pains and thrills like the woman who pushed you to that first breath. There's something sacred and intimate about the connection mother and child create when the work and fruit of labor climax.

It's something you take for granted until she's gone. At least, that's my story.

With the onset of motherhood and its evolution through the years, I become increasingly more interested in the details of my own birth . . . how my mother handled the newborn years . . . how she recovered from birth . . . about her memories after she birthed her last baby. I didn't think to ask these questions, and I don't remember many of the stories she told because I was young and dumb and didn't understand what she was trying to tell me.

So today on the day of my birth, a tinge of loneliness fills my heart. The other main player in this day 36 years ago isn't here on this earth. I can't ask my questions. No one else knows the answers. It's a layer of grief you don't imagine until it's here.

Yet in one breath I inhale sorrow, today I also exhale gratitude. Thankful for the pain of a missing mother on my birthday -- the unanswered questions, the longing for her, the desire for a different story. Why? Because it makes me a better mother to my two darling girls.

No doubt the birthdays to come will bring more and more thoughts about their birthmothers. While my story and their stories are not identical -- and I will not pretend they are -- there is camaraderie in loss. When birthdays bear heaps of beauty and fun along with sadness and loneliness, I will, at least in some way, know what they mean, what they feel. I can empathize with the unanswered questions, the longing for her, the desire for a different story.

The three of us have all lost mothers. I am thankful God gave us each other.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

To the Fake Emily Youree in Georgia

Dear Fake Emily Youree in Georgia:

You are on my mind today. Since I learned of your existence and actions this morning, I can't honestly stop thinking about you.

I know what you were doing yesterday, but I'm curious about what you are doing today.

Here is what I, the real Emily Youree, have been doing today:

The story actually started last night when we realized someone withdrew 72 percent of the funds from our checking account. My husband spent nearly an hour on the phone getting information, learning about our next steps. This morning, he was at our local bank branch before the doors opened, spending two hours there. I also visited the branch for about 30 minutes earlier this afternoon. We've closed accounts, filed reports, spoken with law enforcements, created credit monitoring, submitted formal complaints, grocery shopped, and made breakfast and lunch for our family.

But what about you? What do you do the day after you steal? Rob from someone you don't know?

My gut reaction is to be angry, very angry with you, at you. And I am mad. At you, the bank teller, and manager in Canton, Georgia who somehow thought it wasn't suspicious at all for a woman "from Fort Worth, Texas" to show up in Canton and ask to withdraw a few thousand dollars.

I digress.

While I am angry, I am mostly sad and hurt.

Sad because I know what bad feels like. No matter how much stuff you buy or pay off . . . no matter the thrill of the high that comes with outsmarting another . . . no matter how you can rationalize your choices and actions . . . bad still ultimately feels bad. What were your hopes and dreams? What choices led you to today? Is this what you envisioned when you were a little girl? Are you proud of yourself? How did your heart get to a point where it is okay with hurting other people? I'm sad you are living life with such a heavy burden to drag around.

I pray that you feel guilty today, that your purchases don't live up to your expectations. Why? Because the presence of guilt means soft spots still live in your heart.

I am hurt because you are a woman -- part of my tribe. It stings when another woman, maybe even another mother, deliberately wrongs you.

You have my bank account number, a fake driver's license that resembles my own, and a fake credit card with my name, but you are not me. You do not have the love of a man who oozes with humility, loyalty, integrity, and a stellar sense of humor. You do not have the privilege of raising two of the most precious people on this planet. You do not have my friends, my church family, my neighbors, my family. You do not have a business that challenges you, inspires you, and motivates you. You do not have a conscience at rest thanks to redemption.

You may have a new handbag or television or a basket full of goodies from Wal-Mart, but please let me be the one to tell you: The money you stole from me yesterday does not, did not determine my value. Money doesn't provide worth; things do not bring security; addictions don't save you; fraud only makes you fake.

So, to the fake Emily Youree in Georgia, you may wish to be me, but I certainly never want to be you. I've put the pretending and pain behind me; I hope you do the same.