The Road to Discovering Our Toddler’s Food Allergy.

Our child entered into toddlerhood as a full blown foodie. Do they all? Maybe. What I do know, as mother to my one, is that she began eating solid foods with a voracious appetite and without any obvious issues. She was all over avocados, peas, and pears by 10 months, downing cucumber/avocado sushi rolls at age one, and eating grilled chicken off of the drumstick at 17 months.

Yep, it was smooth sailing once we moved into solid foods.

Then came the first rash, which appeared on her upper right thigh at 18 months. We racked our brains. Was it a new food she ate or soap we bathed her with? She’d had shellfish, meats, fruits, and veggies before this, so we weren’t confident that it was food related. Google told me that rashes appear in children of her age for both specific and unexplained reasons. The bumps were raised and small, but not filled with fluid or red. Dr. Sears said if the child seemed happy and not bothered, then all should be okay and that the rash would eventually, after a matter of weeks, go away on its own. Which it did, eventually. Maybe the Aquaphor or anti-fungal cream accelerated the process, maybe not.

About 5 months later, a new rash developed. This one was on her face – on her cheeks, primarily. At first, just a few spots were scattered across each cheek. It was January 2017, which was a cool and wet month in San Diego. Perhaps the weather had triggered it, we reasoned. But then there was the day we dropped her at Grandma’s for a few hours so that we could go to brunch. When we returned to her, the spots had grown more red and it seemed that there were more. At that point came a question that we, as parents, frequently began asking aloud: “What did she eat?” On that particular day, Grandma had made a brunch spread of her own – eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, and juice. It was hard to know what the catalyst in making the rash worse might have been.

We went with strawberries or apple juice as the likely culprit. And so we eliminated both and began experimenting with coconut oil, Aquaphor, and anti-fungal cream to reduce the flare up. It seemed to work. Sort of. At her two year pediatrician visit, it was a topic of discussion that didn’t lead to much concern since the rash had largely faded by that time. We couldn’t think of any newly introduced foods that might be triggers, aside from the ones we were avoiding, so an allergy test wasn’t recommended. There may have been other factors at play. When symptoms resurfaced noticeably a couple of months later, the pediatrician had some new ideas on what the cause might be.

With the nature and appearance of the rash on her face, the pediatrician prescribed a steroid-free eczema medication. We gave it a try. There was not an overwhelming improvement. In fact, small bumps began to appear on her upper cheekbone and even closer to her forehead. The pediatrician then began to suspect impetigo. We tried a prescribed antibiotic cream for that. Again, with minimal improvement.

It didn’t click for us until a night when her father made a fried rice for dinner. Shortly after the meal, her spots became redder and more pronounced. It was then that we knew the trigger, though we weren’t sure why what started out as a food that she frequently ate and enjoyed without issue had become such a problem: Egg.

The following months brought a series of changes for us. We truly came to realize just how many everyday food items can include egg, or “may be processed in a facility with egg.” So on came a newly adopted process of pausing to read ingredients more carefully on packages, making smarter eating choices, and asking more questions in restaurants.

When we began our own research on this suspected allergy, we learned that egg related allergies are one of the most common for toddlers. The odds that she’ll outgrow her symptoms by adolescence is promising. She’s fortunate to only exhibit the most common symptom – the skin rash – vs. stomach cramping, congestion, vomiting, or anaphylactic shock.

At her 2 year pediatric check up, we shared our findings with the doctor. As the rash is localized primarily to the face when it occurs, the pediatrician advised that the allergic reaction was topical in nature – ie. egg products touching hands and then touching face and mouth – vs. something that could readily be detected with a blood analysis allergy test or skin test. While these tests were still offered for the purpose of ruling other things out/ peace of mind, we were told that they weren’t likely to generate results based on what we’d described.

So we move forward. We think of breakfast options that don’t involve her former staple. We make sure the pasta we make doesn’t contain egg. We make cookies and muffins with egg substitutes. We ask whether that birthday cake made by a friend’s mom contains egg. We bring options with us always, just in case.

We have started to allow small portions of food containing egg into her diet (pasta, the occasional “normal” cookie, etc). We gauge the severity of the skin reaction that does or does not ensue after consumption. And then we wait a while before we offer another meal containing that ingredient. Hopefully, we will be able to incorporate egg more freely with time. For now, I’m thankful that my daughter understands her situation and is such a great sport about it (thanks, Daniel Tiger for that peach allergy episode!).

Bye – bye, [insert your term for pacifier here].

When pregnant, I signed up for the Babies R Us Registry at the local store. I was treated to their reusable goodie bag which came with a cloth bib, a bottle, and the binky/nuk/pacifier that would, in part, define the first 24+ months of my child’s life.

She was less than 48 hours old when we first gave it a try. I was layed up for 6 days at the hospital as the result of a drawn out labor that ultimately ended in a c-section, a botched epidural that lead to a spinal fluid leak, and two blood patch procedures to try to correct what the attendee administering my epidural had unwittingly caused (that is worthy of another blog post entirely). I was exhausted. Baby daddy was exhausted. My milk production wasn’t keeping up with my happy, healthy, seemingly orally fixated newborn’s appetite. I had tucked said pacifier into my hospital bag as I was preparing for the big day, though I hadn’t given great thought to using it. I was more concerned with how I was going to breastfeed 100% and not use formula and all of these other perfect plan ideals that went out the window once the reality of motherhood and its imperfections set in.

She took to it right away, that little MAM pacifier with the cute bunny rabbit embossed on the mouthpiece. We tried to keep its use in the hospital discreet, as most of the nurses – and lactation consultants most definitely – did not condone it. We were reassured when one of our pediatricians came to visit, noted her voracious appetite and near continuous rooting and basically told us that it was “okay” to use a pacifier on occasion if we needed a suckling break! Consider that the permission slip that we’d fall back to until February 2017! Well, maybe not quite that long, but that’s when we finally curbed her addiction.

I’m not sure which one of us helped foster the nuk dependency most. I suppose all 3 of us drove the frequency of its use at different times. Crying in the car? Have a nuk. Crying at bedtime? Where’s that binky? Looking to self – soothe? Gimme that pacifier!

As I look back through photos of my child on my phone, social media, and the laborious photo books created on Shutterfly, seeing the series of pacifiers we went through brings mixed feelings. Nostalgia, memories of frustration, memories of the younger version of my child, and ultimately relief to know we’ve moved past that particular chapter.

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The beginning of the end of the pacifier began long before the true end came to be. It started at Grandma’s house, like many things seemed to (first steps being one!). As my daughter began to speak a broader vocabulary, Grandma just couldn’t stand the slobbery, incomprehensible speech that resulted when the little one spoke with the nuk in her mouth. So the nuk became banned in her presence. Our tot knew Grandma was law about this, and before long she would thrust the pacifier into mom or dad’s hands upon getting to Grandma’s house.

With us parents, the pattern didn’t change so quickly. Being on opposite schedules with her, we just weren’t really on the same page about giving it up. I’d get her from Grandma’s and not offer or bring up the pacifier unless the situation “warranted” it. But her father was the one waking up with her and on duty to pluck it from her waking mouth and endure a potential tantrum.

Some days went more smoothly than others. As pacifiers became worn or lost, we didn’t replace them. We attempted to stay on target with only offering them at nap or bedtime. I bought Bye Bye Binky by Maria van Lieshout  (find it here: http://a.co/6t4gkXW ) as an empowering read to share with her, in hopes that we’d be done with the bink by her second birthday. We overshot that by a few weeks.

What ultimately happened wasn’t what I preferred, but certainly put a sense of finality to them. One morning the tantrum about handing over the pacifier went on a tad too long and passed her father’s threshold of patience. He threw the remaining pacifiers in the trash. She was devastated, but it passed after a handful of rough days. The rough moments were mostly at times of sleepiness or realizing the absence of it.

We are now over 10 months pacifier free. Talk is lighthearted with my child as we look at old pictures of her with it in her mouth, attached to her clothes by a clip . She now fully embraces the big kid logic behind giving it up. She knows she doesn’t need it anymore.

Given the trials and tribulations of introducing the pacifier and eventually having to kick the habit, one might wonder whether I’d go the pacifier route with a subsequent child. Truth be told, I probably would. But I’d definitely approach the  duration and frequency of its use differently.

Catalina Getaway with Toddler

The distance and nature of my travels may have changed since becoming a parent in 2015, but the wanderlust that consumes me is as present as ever. Our daughter turned 2 earlier this year, so the days of free flying have come to an end. This has me not only using my Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa card at every opportunity to earn more points, but also giving further consideration to the fun to be had that is within a few hours of our home.  Keeping the budget in mind for our family of 3 as well as other factors in the world of toddlerdum (short attention span, potential to kick the backs of seats on airplanes, tantrums, etc), a nearby escape that could be reached within a few hours by car (or boat, as in this case!) sounded like a good plan for a much needed 60 hour getaway.

I had been to Catalina once before, in 2009, when the 4-day Carnival cruise ship made an afternoon stop there before heading to Ensenada. I spent less than a handful of hours in the town, riding a rented bicycle around with my friend before we tired of it and returned to our ship. But times were different then! No kids, we were single, and I was more into social scenes and less staying in one spot being mellow.

I began to pour over articles, Trip Advisor reviews, and drew on the input of friends who had recently visited the island. The idea of taking the fam there quickly grew on me. The sealing of the deal was learning that Catalina Express offered a free round trip fare from any of their ports (Dana Point, San Pedro, or Long Beach) to either Avalon or Two Harbors in Catalina, as long as the departure occurred on your actual birthday (visit https://www.catalinaexpress.com/birthday_promo.html for details on that!). This made for a Monday-Wednesday trip for us, but that was alright by me — a reason to spend a little more time away from work.

I spent loads of time searching for the “best” place to stay that would meet our needs. And revised more than once the list of what those actual “needs” were. I wanted easy, relaxing, and proximate, I decided. I had very much considered going with a deal I found on Living Social for an apartment type rental that was a further distance from the port and a good deal with kitchen etc, but ended up talking myself out of it after reading enough reviews (thin walls, up a big hill, dated, etc etc). I think if I were minding the budget a bit more vs. the “It’s my birthday, F-it” attitude I had instead adopted, I may very well have went that route and just packed our collapsible wagon to transport items to the location with less strain. So, on the relaxing front, I knew I wanted a place that had a tranquil space, yet was proximate to the town and water, and had some “perks.” There is literally only one hotel in Avalon with a pool to the best of my knowledge, and that is the Holiday Inn, which turned out to be a great distance from the center of town. I threw financial caution to the wind and ended up booking our stay at Pavilion (details about this fantastic place can be found here: https://www.catalinachamber.com/visit/pavilion-hotel/) after reading nothing but accolades from those who had stayed and envy from those who had chosen elsewhere and later saw the glory that it is in person.

We opted to leave from Dana Point due to its proximity to San Diego compared to the other ports. Parking was around $13 a day in a secured lot at Dana Point Port. We arrived about 1 hour and 15 minutes before the ferry’s departure with an advance reservation, which was enough time to wait in line to get our tickets, then have one of us drive the car to the overnight lot, and then walk to the terminal with our luggage. Pretty easy overall. My understanding is that the ferry that leaves from Dana Point is a little smaller than the ones that leave from the other ports, so if you experience seasickness or think you might, keep this in mind and get some dramamine. I did not, and I spent the 1 hour and 15 minute ride staring at the horizon out the window while sipping my mimosa (yes, there are alcoholic beverages and snacks like chips on board). My toddler didn’t show any signs of nausea, thankfully, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Having not been to the island as a staying guest, we were a little confused on where we were headed and exactly who to give our luggage to when we arrived (we had read that the transport of it to the hotel would be covered). This was resolved pretty quickly by asking a port staff. We were directed to a luggage drop window where we told the gentleman our hotel and he tagged our luggage for delivery. Unfortunately, coolers cannot be transported to the hotel. Or at least that’s what we were told, and then later told could be done for a fee. So we walked to our hotel with the stroller and pulling the cooler just before 11AM, which was 4 hours in advance of check in. As it turns out, Pavilion is only about a 4 minute walk from the port just following the sidewalk as it curves around the cove. We arrived so that we could request to check our cooler. We were more than pleased to be told that our room was already available. We were on the second floor in a Premiere Double room. There are no lifts at this hotel, which is also a common trend on this island. I am not a fan of elevators, so this wasn’t an issue, aside from carrying up the stroller and cooler. Our luggage arrived as we checked in and was carried to our room.

The room was adequate in size, it was well cleaned, and the beds were comfy. The sink vanity area offered space for us to prepare our food and drinks. Yep, that’s right. There is a mini fridge in the room but no microwave, so for convenience and cost effectiveness, we prepared a few meals in our room on a single burner that my fiance purchased for about $10.

The hotel has a lovely garden at its center with lounge chairs and tables. It’s a perfect setting to enjoy a book, conversation, coffee, or wine and cheese. 

Pavilion also has a library, which is a relaxing place lounge and socialize. We loved the daily wine social hour that took place here,  which offered alternating selections of red and white wines, lemonade, cheeses, and crustini. Breakfast is also served daily here. I was more than satisfied with the array of cereals, fruits, breads, mini frittata, and breakfast meats. There is an espresso machine on site and drinks are made to order. Fruit infused water is available at all times of day, which I loved.

The location was a huge win with my daughter. She was so content to take her  sand toys from Dollar Tree right onto the sand in front of the hotel and spend the afternoon. The weather was mid 60s when we were there, so no play in the water for us but the proximity to the hotel made it easy to run back to the room to change, get snacks, etc as needed. 

We spent a good deal of our time close to our hotel, but we did rent a golf cart for an hour on our second day. Toddler seats are available at no extra charge. Completely worth it! It was a great way to see more of what that side of the island had to offer and make note of the distance to different places. It would have been a pretty hefty hike to the island’s higher scenic points without one. We also did some pier fishing, which worked out better for us on the pier at the ferry terminal. Our daughter loved fishing with her Frozen pole and caught more than one girabaldi on it, thanks to an online tip about using frozen peas for bait.

There is no doubt that we will be making future family trips to Catalina to take in more of its breathtaking beauty and simplicity. I look forward to returning to embrace all that the island has to offer, whether it be camping and hiking, cruising in a submarine, or cascading through the trees while ziplining!

Bath Time for Bear and How it Finally Went Down. 

Bear was gifted to me nearly 4 years before my daughter entered into the world. He sat on the bed during most of this time, largely untouched. When my daughter was still quite small, about 7 months or so, I offered him to her as a comfort object.

At the time they became acquainted, he was still a vibrant tan shade with a velvety shag fur and wore a bright red bow. He was life-size at that point. I recall, as if it were yesterday, my child lifting him up with both hands to position him against her body in a hug. 

They became fast friends. They took pictures together on their many adventures. While he wasn’t on the first flight she took, he accompanied her on each travel adventure to follow. They napped together by day and slept entwined at night. He often joined her for meals (eventually adorned in his very own bib). Bear came to playgrounds, doctors appointments, local eateries, friends homes, and along on nearly every errand that our Izzie joined us for. 

Bear started to lose the velvet texture to his fur. His left eye got a cataract-like scuff after a hard press into my friend’s living room wall. His bow became crumpled and a darker shade of red from the caked in grime of daily living. He was no longer the bright color of clean sand. But still she adored him above all other toys that preceded him and those that came to follow.

Getting Bear out of Izzie’s grip is challenging, even 17 months after their courtship began. He’s had some quick extractions from her arms during nap time in effort to brighten him up and get some germs off. It’s rare that he’ll make it through a full air dry on the clothes line before it’s discovered that he’s gone. 

The last go around, I really debated on my cleaning options for him. He’s precious cargo (obviously), and taking the wrong action could alter the shape, fluff, and overall appearance of our 6th family member (after the cats, of course). I’d generally used a damp washcloth with diluted Dr. Bronners baby soap for the freshen ups in the past, which worked okay but didn’t make him sparkling clean. I read through blog upon blog trying to figure out if he could safely be machine washed, as his tag that may have contained cleaning instructions had long since warn away. I was close–so close as in pillow case in hand and load of towels ready to go–to putting him in the washing machine, but just couldn’t. Because What If? What if there were those beads in his feet and butt like that one article said, which cannot be submerged in water? What if his head lost its shape? What if an eye or limb fell off? What if she just KNEW because he smelled different and was heartbroken at the change?

So, I went conservative. 

During naptime, I extracted Bear from my child’s clutches and tackled the situation at the kitchen sink with organic soap, a washcloth, and a basin of water. I carefully surface washed his entire body, being careful not to oversaturate any given body part. It was a gloomy and cool day, so I decided to take a chance on tumbling Bear in the dryer on low heat, enclosed in the safety of a pillowcase. 

Izzie woke from her nap about 15 minutes in. Bear’s absence was the first thing she noticed. I explained that he had a bath and was drying off. She was having none of it, so there was no way I was disclosing that he was in the dryer in the restraint of a cloth sack. At my daughter’s strong urging, I went to retrieve Bear so that we could finish drying him together. 

I grabbed the blow dryer from the cabinet and we took turns aiming the low heat toward our dear friend, occasionally stopping to fluff his fur with a soft brush. 

Involving my daughter in the care of her most beloved friend helped to quell her fears for his safety when the need for clean is present. This was a much needed milestone of sorts, because it’s going to happen again and again, for as long as he’s going everywhere that she goes, day in and out. Which he will most definitely continue to do. 

Keeping the little one entertained when on the go: what’s in your bag?

Toddlers are busy bodies, without question, and have short attention spans to boot. When on the go, it’s best to have some go-to supplies on hand. These can help stave the boredom that can ensue when accompanying their adult counterparts on errands and long drives.

 So what’s in your bag? 

For my tot approaching age 2, I have found the following to be useful for road trips, waiting at restaurants  (or wherever), airplanes, and general outings away from home:

  • A balloon – deflated and ready to use. Think of this as a compact ball to go. 
  • Crayons and paper or coloring book. Target’s dollar bins often have mini coloring books complete with a four pack of crayons and stickers.
  • Wind up toys are great. If you have multiple, challenge your child to keep them all wound up at the same time!
  • A tablet or cell phone, if that’s in your book of acceptability for the kiddo. Might I suggest downloading games or shows that can be watched/accessed offline? It’s helpful when you’re traveling through areas of poor cell signal. 
  • A couple of favorite books to thumb through.
  • Matchbox cars or similar. 
  • A small tote to carry a few small toys in. 
  • Snacks! String cheese, raisins, Cuties, Goldfish crackers, and Plum Organic fruit/veggie pouches tend to be a big hit and easy to transport. For a fun snack transport, try the GoStak!

Got more ideas in your parental tool kit? Please share! I welcome input and feedback.