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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On the Eve of Kindergarten

My mother spoke the best advice she ever gave me on the night before I started kindergarten. The room was dark; my covers were up. I can only assume I had been put to bed, and then called back to her. I was crying because I didn't want to go to kindergarten; I was scared.

She said, "Don't cry about tomorrow until it gets here. And if, when you get to class and realize your teacher is as mean as your mama, then you can cry." She was, of course, joking. But I have thought about that many times during my life. Don't cry about what might happen or if something will be scary . . . because, well, it may never actually happen. Yet, when the worst does come, it is okay to mourn it. Oh, and a little humor goes a long way.

Here I am again on the eve of kindergarten.

I may or may not be crying (that is code for "I'm crying"). I cannot, though, think of this new season without remembering my mother's words. So, while I am sad about the realities Anna will soon encounter, grieving the loss of those many days at home, and wondering how in the world we are going to adjust to this new routine, in a weird twist of fate, I miss my mom tonight.

If only she were here -- happy and healthy -- to celebrate this milestone in her namesake's life. Anna will own kindergarten, and love every social minute of it. I can't wait to cheer her along.

Mrs. Cook did not turn out to be as mean as my mother. She was a delight, filling my first year of school with many happy and fun memories. I know Anna Zane's teacher will do the same.

But what gives me comfort is knowing that tonight I want my mom, no matter how cool Mrs. Cook was. I know Anna will always find home in me, even if her teacher has a jar of lollipops on her desk.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Finally Five

It's been an eternity in the making -- if you ask Anna Zane. To me, it feels like only a flutter and here she is: Five years old.

She's fantasized about five for months, assuming it means ears pierced and pets welcomed. This morning she reported on her growth in height and strength . . . just over night.

We've visited kindergarten roundup. We've played with friends "alone" in the backyard. (Why am I saying "we"? Please. It is all her.) Gone to the restroom without an adult. Said adios to tonsils and adenoids in a braver, tougher fashion than I could ever muster. Learned to use the brakes on her bike. Planted vegetables. Trimmed bushes with real clippers. Stopped napping. And all of this while yet four. What will happen during year five??????

I'm proud of her. She is a free spirit, loves to create, has a knack for math, competes with the best of them, is a fiercely loyal friend, loves her family deeply, dreams of being big, and is certain she and her sister are twins. My life is more meaningful, more vibrant, just more because of her.

I've shared this poem before, but I couldn't stop thinking about it today. For my eldest daughter, with all my love:

17 Again

Three tiny stanzas to turn into three
Famous words. Your 10 fingers and toes
Take hold of my one heart.

Until 18, I have you. Until 99, I’ll miss 
You. Two eyes, two ears—we share it all.
Millions of curls to adore.

I love you. love you. I love you. I love
You. My little sunshine, redeemed again.
Two. Seventeen. Eleven.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Far as the Curse Is Found

Confession: I like Once Upon a Time, the television show (well, except for that Peter Pan season). It's like a fairytale soap opera. The way the writers twist the stories of well-known characters always entertains me. Each season -- or every few episodes, I should say -- some sort of curse is enacted or a powerful spell cast that puts the heroes in peril. So campy at times, but so great for a break from my mothering, working, managing, cleaning, cooking life.

When I think about curses, I associate them with fantasy -- a fairytale, a witch's story, a voodoo religion. Or I think about humor and slang sayings: Curse it. Don't curse. I'm cursed for life.

However, because I am a Christian and believe the Bible to be a true story, I must then believe a curse, THE curse is real. We may not live in Storybrooke, but we do live with, live under a hefty curse.

I've never felt the weight of this curse -- God allowing sin to takes its full effect -- more than I have this year. I am suspicious that every January I will say the same. Each year that passes exposes me to more and more of its effects. The cumulative nature of the ire and ick makes life boggy and treacherous.

Unlike the curses of television, this curse is real and more horrible than imaginable. It doesn't go away with time or self-soothing or vacations. I can't escape the curse. You can't escape the curse.

Although I have already buried too many people at this point in my life, the death of my dear, dear friend last year rocked my world. I felt the loss in so many ways. Loss. Lost. Gone. A deep cavern without a bottom. The loss of Bethany feels like a nightmare. I feel the weight of the curse of death and all its ramifications.

This sin-stained curse is not a scary scene in a movie or an antagonist in a book. This is not the Evil Queen or Darth or Voldemort. It's death alive and well in our souls, minds, bodies. Death of the dying sort and death of corrupting sort and death of the molding variety. This curse is death both now and later.

It shows itself in a three young kids yearning for their mother for the rest of their lives.
Mothers burying children too soon.
Tumors in our brains, ovaries, breasts, and colons.
Viruses ravaging our body for 24 hours or 24 years.
Disease wrecking our nervous system.
Men addicted to pornogrophy.
Women beaten and bruised by lovers.
Hang nails and splinters.
Food allergies and noses that will never stop running.
Boys who shoot their fathers with a gun.
House fires that take lives and homes.
People who use words as weapons.
People who use religion as weapons.
Men who force sex upon women.
Wives and husbands who cheat.
Kids that disobey and tell lies.
Dry skin and oily hair and bad vision and varicose veins.
Kidnapped children.
People who kidnap children.
Girls who form cliques and gossip and exclude and isolate.
Single parents working two jobs.
Religious persecution.
Orphans who cannot find a forever family.
Stomach and bowels that refuse to function properly.
Diabetes that silently destroys a body.
Curved spines and aching joints
Walkers. canes. wheelchairs. knives. guns. alarm systems.
Drugs and alcohol worshipped as gods.

And these are just the people I know . . . er, a small sampling of the people I know.

The curse is found far and wide. Even if you don't believe in it, you can't escape it. But both like and so very unlike Once Upon a Time, there can be a happy ending. There can be some relief, some respite, some hope that this curse does not have the last laugh. This is not the end of the story. We have not reached "The End" quite yet.

I have sang with gumption this recent Christmas season: No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. We know the curse lives far and wide and deep, yet Jesus Christ "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). By enduring the full, complete brunt of the curse, Jesus can offer us hope in the midst of sorrow -- beauty for ashes. This hope points to a time when wrongs will be thoroughly right, death will play its last act, and redemption will be in full bloom. 

So, in my grief, my loneliness, my sadness, I know His living grace and love runs farther still, far as the curse is found . . . no matter what shape it takes.