FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project

If you haven’t been living in a technology-challenged part of the world, I’m sure you’ve heard of the teal pumpkin project for Halloween. You can find more info on this project with this link from FARE.

This paragraph is taken directly from their website:

This Halloween, FARE is encouraging food allergy families to start a new tradition: painting a pumpkin teal and placing it on your porch as a sign to other families managing food allergies that you have non-food treats available at your home. Your teal pumpkin is also a way to raise awareness in your neighborhood about food allergies!

And that paragraph is followed up by this one:

Purchasing inexpensive non-food treats to hand out is a great way to include all children in trick-or-treating, and we hope that the Teal Pumpkin Project will be a tradition for years to come.

This is my favorite part, so I’m going to repeat it: The Teal Pumpkin Project is a great way to include all children in trick-or-treating.

***

teal pumpkin

Here’s a picture of the teal pumpkin from my front step. Those two orange pumpkins are HUGE. My husband has a tendency to get the biggest ones available, and when sent out to purchase two pumpkins, he succeeded again this year. The teal pumpkin is one I purchased, and it’s a small-ish size pumpkin. The perfect size if you were to ask me. I painted it using craft paint and then sprayed it with two coats of a protective clear covering.  After this photo was taken my husband carved those gargantuan pumpkins, but we left the teal one as is and will tape the announcement about the project above the pumpkin, near the doorbell.

***

As a mom with a son with severe food allergies, what do I love about  FARE’s teal pumpkin project? Well, for one thing, my son might be able to come home from trick-or-treating with something he can enjoy. That would be a first for him. Normally on Halloween he goes door to door for the experience, but can not eat any of the candy. We donate the candy he collects to local charities, or we send it to troops overseas. This year, if others participate in this teal pumpkin project, Youngest may come home with stickers, playdoh, pencils, slinkies, and/or other small trinkets. This is a huge improvement and a great way for him to enjoy Halloween.

I have vivid memories of coming home from trick-or-treating and dumping my bag of goodies. Sorting all the candy into “keep” and “trade” piles. My son doesn’t understand this. He’s never experienced this part of Halloween. Once he comes home, the only candy he can keep are the full size Hershey bars. Those are manufactured on dedicated lines, meaning they have no possibility of cross contamination. We don’t usually get these in our neighborhood. Sometimes there will be small bags of pretzels that he can eat, but as he told me recently, “Halloween is about chocolate, not pretzels.”

When I explained to him the Teal Pumpkin Project, he was happy. Was he as excited as I was? Not really. Maybe that’s because this project isn’t going to change the amount of candy he can have Halloween night. But he is happy. Happy that he will be able to participate and possibly get treats specifically for him. Is it the same as a bag full of candy he can binge on? No. But it’s good. And it’s kind. And it’s helpful. And it’s wonderful. And it’s raising awareness.

And that’s why I’m so very excited. As his mom, I am thrilled. This project is making others aware of what we deal with daily. It’s raising awareness. It’s prompting others to try to please all children on a night when the majority of children will be content and happy and excited. It will allow children such as Youngest to come home from trick-or-treating to find goodies in the bag that are safe.

Thank you FARE! And thank you to everyone participating in this project — especially those who don’t deal with food allergies in their families but are putting out teal pumpkins and safe treats anyway. Thank you!

A is for Allergies

Youngest has a few things that begin with the letter A: asthma, anxiety disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and allergies.

All of his “A” issues are present every day, and all have times when one is more pronounced than the others, but the food allergy issue is constantly on my mind. Simply, having a child with food allergies is a 24/7 issue.

His allergies are environmental — trees and grasses and molds and dust and cats and horses — and to food. He is severely allergic to tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, and cashews) and he tested positive for peanuts. In addition to those allergies, he’s recently had reactions to coconut and palm oil.

When I grocery shop I must read each label every time. Companies can change their products without warning and often do. Many use the same equipment to make a variety of products, some of which contain nuts. Even when I make all of my son’s treats at home, I still am limited as to what type of chocolate chip I can purchase. One safe chocolate chip for us is Enjoy Life brand. I’m lucky that my local grocery store carries this brand because these used to be hard to find and super expensive to order them online.

I’m always thinking about what other people around us may be eating. When friends come over I have to be aware of what snack foods they might bring with them. I need to talk to the parents when Youngest has a play date at a friend’s house. I need to go over his allergies when we have a babysitter. When we’re invited to dinner at a friend’s house, it’s usually easier to decline the invitation than to go through the list of what they can’t serve and what foods can’t be in their kitchen when making the meal. And eating out is tricky. Some restaurants are wonderful and others are not. Cross contamination is always a possible problem.

I never leave home without his epi-pen.

***

School is a hard place for a child with food allergies. Youngest is in 3rd grade. Public school. I have to put my trust and faith into the school staff since he’s with them from 7:30 in the morning until 2:45 in the afternoon.

No big deal, you think.

The school knows what they’re doing, you’d say.

His teacher has dealt with food allergies in other years, you imagine.

What you think, say, and imagine might be — could be — true. But….

It is a big deal. Food allergies can be deadly.

They don’t always know what they’re doing. I have learned this the hard way.

His teacher may have dealt with allergies in prior years, but were those allergies as severe as my son’s, and did she handle them well? I simply do not know the answers to these questions.

And it’s not just my son’s classroom teacher that needs to know how to handle food allergies. Here’s a list of all the people that need to know, because they come in contact with my son — and other children with food allergies — either daily or weekly:

The classroom teacher.

The classroom aide.

The other teachers and aides in his grade since they often switch classrooms and join together for group activities and assemblies.

The school nurse.

The substitute for the school nurse when she is on vacation or out sick.

The office staff and office volunteers.

The principal, assistant principal, and the administrative interns.

The PE teachers.

The art teachers.

The music teachers.

The guidance counselors.

The librarian and her aide and all the weekly volunteers who come in to shelve books.

The computer/resource teacher and her assistant.

The teacher cadets and student teachers.

The substitute teachers.

The cafeteria workers.

The custodians.

The parent liaison and other parent volunteers.

The bus drivers.

And last but not least: the other children and their parents. 

That’s a lot of people. A lot of people who do not know everything there is to know about food allergies and cross contamination and hidden ingredients and what happens when you don’t wash your hands after eating and how the books and desks and doorknobs and computer keyboards and shared supplies in each classroom are touched by all the children after snack and lunch.

And I can say with complete confidence that most of these people don’t fully grasp that if my son eats an almond, or a walnut, or other tree nut, he could die.

Almond = death. Walnut = death. Pecan = death. DEATH. Not an itch or a rash or a quick trip to the pediatrician. Not a day off of school while he recovers from an upset tummy. If my son eats a tree nut, it could result in DEATH.

Food allergies are serious. Life or death serious. My son’s food allergies are not a joke. I am not exaggerating the severity of these allergies. Yet that’s exactly how many people view food allergies. It’s not until they know of someone who is rushed to the ER that they come to understand the severity of food allergies. Or maybe they only become aware of the seriousness of food allergies after they hear about it on the news or from their Facebook feed.

Here are two tragedies:

A teen girl at a rice crispy treat not knowing it was made with peanut butter.

A college boy shared a cookie with a friend while home for the weekend.

***

School should be a safe place, and Youngest loves school, but there are problems in regards to his allergies. When there is a classroom party where food is brought in for the kids to snack on, a form has been completed, signed, reviewed by the nurse and filed at the school office informing the room mom and teacher that I must be notified of all classroom parties so that I can confirm all the snacks and craft supplies are acceptable and safe to have in the classroom. This is our fourth year dealing with food allergies at this school and, unfortunately, this process has only gone smoothly one year. It’s too early to say if this year will be a good one or not. Only time will tell. (Back when my now 21 year old son was in elementary school, he had a food intolerance to both peanuts and soy, and the process back then was to fill out a similar form but to expect no accommodations. The most they’d do was to have my son sit alone on the side of the room while the others did the craft or ate the snack. I expected in all these years an improvement, but have not found it to be a significant improvement.)

Here’s how it should work, and how the powers-that-be think it works: The teacher notifies the room mom of the party date and about the allergy. The room mom then contacts me to tell me a party is planned and to give me a list of what items they’d like to have at the party (crafts and food). If there are other children with allergies in the classroom, I’ll confer with those parents to make sure all our children will be safe. I then let the room mom know what crafts and food items on their list are safe and which are not. Then I either purchase or make the safe snacks (because many can not be purchased, and my kitchen is a safe zone). Other parents contribute bottled water or juice boxes, paper products, craft supplies, games, and decorations.

But instead this is how it worked the first couple years: I find the notice for a party in my son’s backpack (or on the monthly class calendar that doesn’t get sent home until half way into the month, if I’m lucky enough to receive one). I contact the room mom informing her of my son’s allergies and the steps needed to ensure his safety. The room mom gets defensive, thinking that I’m telling her what to do or calling her stupid. Then she’ll tell me not to bring any food since another mom has already volunteered to get a large bag of pretzels and it’s too late to switch (and she’s heard that pretzels are safe for kids with peanut allergies). Then I have to try to explain that some pretzels are made on the same equipment as pretzels with peanut butter. And then I need to explain that his most severe allergies are to tree nuts and it’s not as simple as just looking for the words “peanut free” on the front label of snacks. Some granola bars use almond flour or crushed walnuts. Gluten free snacks are often loaded with tree nut ingredients. After a not-so-great conversation with this woman, I then contact the teacher, bringing the teacher up to date on what’s happening and what needs to change.  The teacher then has to step in to make sure the room mom and her list of volunteers understand the food allergy issues. No one ends up happy, and I spend the entire classroom party double checking everything the other parents have sent in.

True story: At the classroom party when Youngest was in first grade, they had pretzels made with peanut butter, pre-packaged snacks (made on equipment shared with tree nuts), and apple slices (which were on the allergy list at that point due to an allergic reaction my son had with them). Youngest was only able to enjoy the water bottles at that classroom party. And I spent the two hours closely monitoring who touched what and wiping surfaces and instructing hands to be washed.

***

You want to know what it feels like to put my son on a bus in the morning, knowing he’s going to come in contact with all these people? It feels like I’m setting him up for failure. It feels like I’m feeding him to the lions. It feels like I’m playing Russian roulette by sending off my fragile child to a place where anything can happen. It is terrifying and scary.

It’s well and fine that the doctor and I have filled out forms and have supplied epi-pens to the school nurse and to the teacher. It’s helpful that the teacher is aware of his allergies. It’s comforting that the cafeteria has been informed and keeps a photo of my son with a list of his allergies taped to a wall.

But….

Anything can happen. At any time.

It’s usually the parents that don’t get it.  Such as that classroom party when every item brought in was off limits. And some of those parents were angry that the daily classroom snack they were instructed to send in could not have any peanuts or tree nuts in the ingredients. They were angry. Excuse me, but how do they think I feel? I’m angry that it’s a struggle to get everyone to understand the severity of food allergies. Not just classroom parents and school staff, but family members and neighbors and birthday party hosts and camp counselors and babysitters and EVERYONE. I’m angry that it’s always such a struggle. I’m angry that there are children that died because they ate a food they were allergic to.  I’m angry this could happen to my child. I’m angry that I can’t trust other parents to understand and help. I’m angry that even those that do want to understand and help, may not know how to do so correctly. They may make cookies for my son and think all is well, and their intent is lovely, but they don’t really know how to read the labels clearly. They don’t know that brand name chocolate chips could have traces of nuts in them. They don’t know that even if I graciously accept their home-baked goodies, I will not feed them to my son. I’m angry that I have to be so diligent with everything my son puts into his mouth and with the products we purchase for his hair and body. Soaps and shampoos and hair gels and even household cleaners have oils and ingredients derived from foods my son is allergic to. I’m angry that even my husband has to be reminded of the severity of our son’s food allergies. Since he doesn’t deal with it throughout the day (he leaves before breakfast and returns home after dinner time), it’s easy for him to forget — to slack off and impulsively offer to take Youngest out for a treat. Finding a place we can go for a safe treat is not easy and demands research and planning and my husband doesn’t always remember this. And he sometimes forgets to take the epi-pen with him. I’m angry that I can’t control everything in my son’s environment.

~~~~~~

It was end of summer, August 2011, when I made magic cookie bars for my oldest son as he was going off to his first year at college. These cookies have lots of yummy ingredients including chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts. Even though the recipe called for nuts, I didn’t always include them. Because these were my oldest son’s favorite cookie, if he was in the mood for nuts I’d toss some on. If not, I’d add more chocolate chips. My youngest son, 5 1/2 at the time, was a super picky eater. SUPER PICKY. By his own choice he had never had a magic cookie bar. During that time in August of 2011, as I was making the cookies for my oldest son to take with him to his freshman dorm, I tossed on a few teaspoons of crushed walnuts.  Just a small amount.

Turns out this was the one time my picky 5 1/2 year old decided to try a magic cookie bar. I knew how picky he was and how he had an issue with certain textures, so I gave him a very small piece that I cut off from a larger square, and he promptly put part of that small piece into his mouth. He immediately spit it out and tossed what was left onto a napkin. Yuck, he declared. I was not surprised by his reaction. He’s picky. I didn’t think anything of it at first.

But then, in less than a minute, he said his tongue felt funny and tingly. He ran to the bathroom saying he felt sick and he told me his mouth felt weird. His face got red. And he got itchy. And he started wheezing and coughing. The coughing quickly got worse and worse to where he couldn’t get air in or out and could not stop coughing. And then he started vomiting but his mouth was swelling and he couldn’t breath and there was no vomit coming out.

He had only touched part of the cookie to his mouth then spit it out. He didn’t chew or swallow any of the cookie. It had only touched his mouth. What amounted to a minuscule piece of a walnut sitting in his mouth for a second or two set off an allergic reaction that scared the crap out of us.

We didn’t have an epi-pen at the time. Up until that time we didn’t know we needed one. Youngest had been tested for environmental allergies and we knew he was very allergic to trees and grasses and horses. We had no idea he had food allergies. On that day we were lucky that over the counter medicines and his rescue inhaler helped him to breath again.

A week later his allergist did another skin test to determine if it truly was the walnut that set off the allergic reaction. They didn’t want to assume. Usually they wait 15 minutes after doing the pricks. After only 1 – 2 minutes his allergy to nuts was evident. He has since had blood tests to confirm these results.

~~

I never want him to experience anaphylaxis ever again. Obviously.

So I’m vigilant. I worry. I ask a million questions and read labels. I don’t trust people. Nothing can be taken for granted. Nothing can be assumed.

But yet I have to trust. I choose to send my child out into the world — into our public school — to learn and to socialize and to be part of our community.

And each time I send him off, I worry. My worry might be reduced if all those adults and children were to be more aware. I know they’ll never truly understand — not until and only if a severe food allergy becomes part of their life will they really understand — but oh how I wish they’d become more aware.

room to spare

So the girl is moved in. The process was incredibly efficient. This big old university really knows what they are doing! It’s almost as if someone took notes about what works and what doesn’t work, and they planned it out using everything from that first column. The only tears I shed were small ones, and mostly due to how well run the move in process was. (I’m going to email the organizer and let them know what an amazing job they all did.)

You know what makes sending my only girl off to college easier? Texting. I haven’t counted, but I’d say in the past 36 hours since she’s been on her own, we’ve texted over a dozen times. She’s good about responding to my questions (such as “are you eating well?”) as well as sending her own texts with photos of what she’s done to decorate her dorm room. I’m beyond thrilled that she willingly includes me in her excitement. I know for a fact that she texts her friends as often as she breathes (okay, okay… that’s a slight exaggeration). I’m just so happy she includes me in her frequent contact list.

Regarding her tremendous amount of items she packed to bring to college that I was so worried about: Not a problem. Once the bins and things were moved to the car, it became clear quickly that I worried for no reason. We had room to spare. Not much, but enough to make traveling safe and easy. This is to say I could see out all the windows and none of the doors had to be forced shut. And… we didn’t need the car-top carrier!

And then we moved it all into the dorm. Or, I should say, the wonderful volunteers moved it all into her dorm room. I carried nothing other than my purse and her water bottle. It was crazy wonderful! Some of the volunteers actually said, “Is that all?” And the room is so great. Is it perfect? No, it took a while to arrange it in such a way that there was room for all the furniture and still room to open the door and move around. But when I compare her room to her older brother’s dorm rooms, well, my oh my it is spacious and light and modern!

And the closet. Or, I should say, CLOSETS. Two closets! One for each occupant. INSANE! Again, I’m comparing it to my son’s room that was a triple and had a small closet for all three boys to share. That closet could barely hold a dozen hangers. And did I mention: one small closet for 3 boys??????? I still don’t know how the boys did it. But my daughter, she has a floor to ceiling closet space all for herself! They utilized the ceiling height by adding a hard-to-reach-but-I-don’t-care-because-it’s-a-very-useful-space-that-would-have-gone-to-waste-so-I-purchased-a-step-stool-for-her-and-now-she-can-store-lots-of-stuff-there space above the main clothes hanging area.  While I was making her bed, she unloaded the bins of clothes and the suitcase. All those clothes I thought were too many? Well, they fit … with room to spare. So maybe she didn’t bring too many. Or maybe she did bring extra, but it’s hard to tell because the closet is so spacious. Either way, she has room to spare in her closet.

When her roommate and her family arrived about an hour after we did, the dad walked into the room and said something like, “It’s so small” and I laughed and laughed. And then I told him about the super small closet my son had to deal with … in a room smaller than the room we were standing in … which was a triple. Maybe he still felt this room was small, and maybe that had something to do with the fact that his daughter brought SO MUCH STUFF (way more than we brought) that took two cars to deliver to college, but it didn’t matter. Our girls were moved in and they had room for all their stuff, and we then left and they got busy decorating their room and then attending functions for the freshmen class.

And now it has begun. She is a freshman at college. And I am home without my two oldest children. And all is well.

They are off to a great year. My daughter has room in her closet. She has a wonderful space to live in and a university that is excited for her to be there. She will do well.

I now have room to spare in my house as well. Her room is empty of all the things that make it “lived in” and even though it was hard at first to walk in that dark room and see it neat and tidy and empty, I’m okay with it now. She’s where she needs to be. I miss her like crazy, but I’m so happy for her.

laugh with me, won’t you

Everyone, all together now: HA!  HA HA HA HA HA!

Some of you are laughing with me, and I’m sure some are laughing at me. Both are justified reactions to what I’m about to tell you.

Remember back in May when I posted about sending my daughter off to college and how I was going to pack smarter and lighter and all that? Well now it’s time to actually move her to campus and I have realized there are two factors I forgot about when it comes to her packing to move to the dorm.

  1. She’s a girl.
  2. She has my DNA.

Because she’s a girl she is taking many more clothes and tons more shoes than my son took. She likes to have options of what to wear each day, and she likes to dress up, and she likes clothes. I gathered all the items I determined she needed on campus, sticking to my belief that less is more, but slowly the pile grew. It grew and it grew and it grew. One bin for shoes and boots. One for sweaters and tops. A large suitcase for jeans, blouses, scarves, skirts, and dresses. And the bin I had for personal care items, such as tissues, shampoo, toothpaste, and similar items? Well, now we have that bin full, as well as a second bin, and another bag that hopefully will fit into the suitcase, since the bins are full and my car will not fit another one. I have measured the car and the bins and other items, and have determined we may just barely fit everything inside, with just enough room to see out the back window. We may not, and therefore the car-top carrier that I swore was not necessary might be necessary.

And you remember how I wrote about sending my son off three years ago for his first year on campus, and I sent him with everything one might possibly need while living away from home? I gave him extras of every size of battery. He had tools and so many other little things that I thought might come in handy, though many didn’t see the light of day. Well, it turns out that the “better to be safe than sorry” and planning ahead for every scenario packing mentality runs in my daughter’s veins as well. Just when I think we are done packing, she’ll add one more thing. And then another. And then a quick trip to the store for one last item. Why? Because she says she might need it. It might come in handy. You never know.

One thing I do know, no matter how great my plan was to send her with only the necessary items I had determined she needed, she had her own ideas. So much for my packing light theory! Time to consider the car-top carrier and hope she has enough closet space in her dorm room.

Our autism

This post is inspired by the recent post from Four Plus an Angel.

***

youngest

This is our autism.

Waking everyday to an excited eight year old asking me, “Do you remember in the movie when they….?”

Reading the same book for bedtime for days and weeks and – lately – months.

Pretending to be interested in his latest obsession, while silently hoping it doesn’t last four years like the last one.

Taking two hours to calm him down after he was disappointed about something that was scheduled to happen but got cancelled.

Talking to him daily —  for the gazillionth time — about how the world doesn’t know about his schedules and expectations and how he has to expect not everything will work out as he has scheduled them to happen. Knowing this talk is pointless.

Allowing him time to straighten the play money and pieces and cards in the board game every two minutes. Knowing he will follow the board game rules exactly. Or, knowing he will institute new rules that benefit him if the original rules are making him lose, and we all must then follow these new rules that he just made up. Or else.

Taking a week to prepare him for a dentist visit, calling ahead to prep the hygienist (every six months), then preparing myself in case he again grabs the dental tools out of his mouth and screams his high pitched death scream.

Serving him the same three foods over and over and over, and giving up trying to get him to eat anything new.

Bribing him with a game or treat before a haircut. And giving the hair stylist a long list of what not to do (using electric clippers, expecting him to sit still, worrying about the hair being even, offering a lollipop if he’s good — he’s going to get one just for sitting in the chair).

Having his sister talk to him and soothe him while I cut his fingernails and toenails. And promising him I’m really not cutting his fingers or toes off even though he’s crying as though that is exactly what I am doing to him.

Asking his older siblings to be patient with him when he barges into their rooms without knocking, even though I had just told him to knock first, as I do each time he goes up to their rooms.

Putting him to bed at the same time each night because if he goes to bed later than normal he can’t fall asleep when the house is too dark and there are weird noises outside.

Describing fireworks to him as he cuddles with me in his bed with his noise-reducing earmuffs on. And promising him that the neighbors won’t be setting off fireworks every day or too late in the night. Then crossing my fingers that I’m right.

Allowing him to check my weather app only twice a day, instead of every 15 minutes, like he wants to do. Then listening to an hour long weather report which includes the pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, temperature fluctuations, precipitation forecast with probability, the color of the rain expected (on our map red is BAD … pink is WORSE), and his prediction of whether or not a tornado might happen.

Spending time almost every day explaining that we won’t be having a tornado today, and what precautions we have in place in case there is a tornado warning. (He’s only lived through one warning in his life, yet worries about this happening every day since.)

Making sure the “bad weather bag” is always placed near the basement door, and that it has all the necessary items in it: book, stuffed animal, electronic game (fully charged), and noise-reducing earmuffs.

Explaining to his teachers that he must be at the front of the line when they go from one activity to the next, so that he doesn’t wander off like he did twice last year. And, yes, he says he’ll never do it again, but he may, because he has, even after saying he won’t.

Explaining to him the dangers of hiding in a storm drain, after he told me he thought it would be fun to do that.

Not laughing when he describes what people look like. Peach skin. Circle face.

Not crying when he still doesn’t know his classmates’ names, at the end-of-year party.

Taking two weeks to help him get over the sadness of the school year ending, then waiting a month and taking a few weeks to get him prepared for summer to end and to start of the next school year.

Knowing whatever I say will be deemed a rule or law or true, because what you say has meaning and is real and if I say I’ll be there in five minutes I can’t take six or twelve because that is wrong and not what I said.

Understanding that when he hits his fingers this way or that, or taps his elbows in a pattern — right, then left, then right and then left again — it’s not because he’s nervous or worried (though that may be true) but mostly because it calms him down and gives him a sense of peace and control.

Fake smiling without saying anything when friends and family say, “but he doesn’t look like he has autism.”

Cringing when friends and family — and doctors — say, “I’m so sorry” when they are told he has autism.

Thankful he is a most original, thoughtful, kind, funny, inquisitive, wonderful, smart, lucky boy. And knowing I will do everything I can to make sure he is happy and has all he needs to learn and grow, and to be safe.

Loving him and adoring every bit of him each day.

Knowing I wouldn’t change him even if I could.

Isn’t he home?

My mother-in-law and I have always had a rocky relationship. Sometimes those rocks are the size of boulders. Other times they are merely pebbles. Most times just those little annoying “painful to walk on but once you’re off them you’re fine” rough rocks.

She’s not a fan of telephones and still believes rates are cheapest on Sundays. Also, she firmly believes “no news is good news” and doesn’t see the reason for a phone call if you don’t have anything to say. If you can’t answer her favorite question, “What’s new?” with something specific, why bother calling?

Though my husband knows the time of day and actual day of the call do not matter at all in terms of cost, he still only calls his mom on Sunday afternoons, because she believes it matters. We’ve told her it doesn’t. Her other son (the one who supplied her with a cell phone to use for calling her sons) also told her the day and time of her calls do not matter. Her calling plan includes unlimited calls. They’ve also told her the location of the call does not matter. Whether she dials her son who is five miles down the road, or my husband, her other son, who is five hours away, the cost per minute is the same.  Yet she still firmly believes calls to my husband must be on a Sunday, and must not last long, because they are long distance calls.

We’ve given up explaining this all to her. I’ve given up explaining to my husband that he doesn’t have to abide by her “only call on Sunday” philosophy. I have given up encouraging him to pick up the phone on a Thursday night, or Tuesday morning, and call his mother. He doesn’t do this, not because he also believes in the old time calling hours schedule, but because he believes it will upset her, thinking he’s spending too much money just to tell her there is nothing new.

Knowing this calling schedule, I try not to answer the phone on Sundays. It’s not because I don’t want to speak with my mother-in-law, even though that is true — I don’t really want to speak to my MIL — but because of her typical response when I do answer the phone. Allow me to explain.

One evening this week she called. I know … CRAZY! A call not a Sunday! But she was worried about our upcoming visit — weeks from now — and needed to rehash all the travel details that she heard from my husband just a day or two prior. Anyhoo…. Here’s the exact exchange:

Phone: RING!

Me: Hello?

MIL: Isn’t he home from work yet?

 

Sigh. This has been going on for years. Decades even. If I do answer the phone when she calls (because I forget to check caller ID), she never replies with the typical telephone conversation responses. Never. And for some reason she assumes my husband isn’t home if I answer the call.

Being the good wife that I am, and showing respect for my MIL, I never reply to this ridiculous question with anything rude or sarcastic. But oh how I’ve been tempted to. So below are a few examples of what I’d like to say in response to “Isn’t he home?” or “Isn’t he home from work yet?” or “So he’s not there?” or whatever format of the same stupid question she has used in the past.

  • Yes he is, and I’ve been good this week, so he allowed me to answer the phone today!
  • Yes, he’s in the other room, and he instructed me to answer the phone before getting him his slippers and a martini.
  • No, he’s not home, but I took a chance to answer the phone, even though I know it’s wrong of me to do so…. Please don’t tell on me!
  • Yes, he’s home. And he just taught me how to use this funny little buzzing device! Did I do it right?

Please feel free to include your suggestions in the comments section. I’d love to have more ideas bouncing around my head the next time she calls!

ready… set…

Three years ago at this point I was deep into making lists, packing, repacking, planning, purchasing, organizing, and making more lists, all in preparation to send my first born off to college in August. I did my job well. Maybe too well. He had everything he would ever need. Screwdriver? Yup. Flashlight? Of course! Extra batteries? Yes, multiple packages in various sizes, obviously. During that freshman year, when someone on his dorm floor needed anything, my son would be the one they’d go to, knowing somewhere in the boxes under his bed would be the sought out item. I was ridiculously proud of how well prepared he was.

Late the next summer, days before he was to return to the campus for his second year, we were sorting out the boxes that had sat pretty much untouched all summer. To my surprise, he wasn’t interested in bringing back with him most of these essential, necessary, well-thought-out items. Turns out space is at a premium in these dorm rooms, and the flashlight was only used once during the first year. Many of the items were never used at all.  He ended up with lots of extra batteries. And most of the other items that spent weeks on my packing list the year prior were deemed completely unnecessary and useless.

Okay, so maybe this hurt my pride a little bit. Just a tiny bit. But after another year and even less taken back to campus for his third year, I realized I’d need to change how I packed for my daughter, who will be going off to her freshman year this August.

She’ll get a flashlight with fresh batteries, I believe this is important to have, but as for the other items, not nearly as many as my son took with him three years ago.

***

I had lunch with a friend earlier this week, and in preparation for sending off her oldest to college she asked me what I’d suggest packing, so here is the list of what I now declare to be the necessary items to send off with a college freshman:

  • A high quality mattress encasement. The vinyl kind that zippers closed to cover the whole mattress. You really don’t want any part of that possibly well-used mattress exposed near your precious baby’s body. And this mattress protector helps with allergies and dust mites as well. Worth every penny. Put it on in August and don’t touch it until moving out day in May.
  • On top of the protected mattress, we put a foam egg crate mattress topper. There are many kinds to choose from and range in price from $10 to well over $60. I really like the two-inch thick memory foam kind. These are great because the dorm bed is used for more than just sleeping, so it has to be ultra comfy. (Now you stop that thinking right now! I’m talking about eating, socializing, studying, playing guitar, relaxing, and other activities that are not comfortable to do on the uncomfortable standard issue office chair. Some dorm rooms might be big enough to have a small sofa or extra lounge chair, but none of the ones my son stayed in were big enough, so the bed had to do double and triple duty.)
  • A comfy padded mattress cover. It’s a good idea to remove this mattress cover and wash it at least once a semester. I suggest taking it home at Thanksgiving break, winter break, and spring break to wash it at home.
  • Two sets of twin XL sheets. Not the cheapo kind. Those don’t do well with the wear and tear (read: not washed as often as they should be, and when they are washed, it’s either in an over-loaded machine and/or a machine that doesn’t know what a gentle cycle is), and therefore need to be burned discarded and replaced during winter break.
  • One light blanket and/or a comforter.
  • A body pillow or a king size pillow, plus a standard size pillow. Again, think comfort. The dorm walls are most likely cinder block, so leaning up against them to study or chat will be uncomfortable. A couple pillows to prop up against will be very useful. The body pillow can act like a headboard because it’s the same width as a twin mattress.
  • Large plastic containers. Most dorm beds can be raised up, leaving tons of room under the bed. This space under the bed is prime real estate! It’s a great place to keep some large bins that can store the blanket or comforter (they may not want both to start with, but it’s good to have for when the weather gets cooler), extra clothes, tissues, school supplies (paper, pens, highlighters), shoes and boots, etc. And from experience, I can tell you that moving in and moving out will be much easier by using these large bins, rather than lots of smaller boxes and bags. I suggest using at least two of the super large ones, for those big bulky items such as a comforter, boots, winter coat, etc., and then a few of the colorful clear ones for everyday items so that it’s easy to find what the student is looking for without searching each bin. When all the dorm items are stored over the summer (in a basement or closet or corner of the student’s childhood bedroom), these bins will be the perfect place to keep everything until it’s time to go back to campus.
  • The laundry basket can be placed under the raised bed as well, leaving more floor space in the dorm room and space in the closet. When it comes to laundry baskets, a tall sturdy one with comfortable handles is my favorite for the college student to use. Because it’s tall, it doesn’t take up as much floor space. Sturdy is important especially if it’s hanging out under the bed. You don’t want it falling over and the clothes being eaten by dust bunnies. And comfortable handles are a must. Sometimes the laundry facilities are just across the hall. Other times they are in the basement of the next building, accessible only by walking across the courtyard and down two flights of steps. For my son’s first semester he used super cheap mesh laundry baskets which were HORRIBLE because they would fall over if you put dirty jeans in them, and the handles were fine if it was empty, but add a load of clothes and those handles felt like they would cut your fingers off. So a sturdy laundry basket (or baskets … 2 come in very handy if the student doesn’t do laundry the minute the hamper is full, or prefers to separate the darks and lights) are also super helpful during moving in (folded clothes ready to be put into drawers) and moving out day (dirty clothes waiting for the more convenient washing machine at home). Here’s a pic of one of my favorite ones that works so well for my son (the picture is deceiving… it’s much taller than it looks):

 

laundry basket

*Hint (AKA, proof of my OCD tendencies):  I took one of these tall sturdy laundry baskets and put the blanket folded on the bottom, then the washed and folded sheets, then the mattress pad, then the rolled up foam, then the zippered encasement. When we got to the dorm room, I started with this basket and made the bed quickly while my son brought in the next few loads of items. Having everything in order of placement on the bed made it quick and easy, which is key when working in limited space and with so much else to do during moving in day.

Okay, back to the list!

  • Clothing. Obviously, but the key to packing the clothing for a student’s first year at college is not to bring too much. They don’t need everything they own nor everything they’ll wear for the whole year. Just enough for that one season/semester. Oh, and extra underwear, because laundry isn’t always done as often as it is when living at home.
  • (Edited to add this…. Can’t believe I forgot about towels!) I suggest two bath towels and a lot of washcloths. Also two hand towels. The other suggestion regarding towels is to get a color that washes well with the regular clothes. The student is not going to do a separate load of laundry just for towels, so nothing that needs bleach, and not a color that will run and ruin the clothes (no red!). For my oldest, I purchased brown towels. I know, not pretty or anything special, but they could be washed with anything and be fine.
  • If you don’t care about the environment, a decent sized stack of paper plates and bowls (mostly plates). If you do care, two microwave-safe plates and one bowl. My college boy says it doesn’t matter what they look like, they just have to be microwave-safe. I like a large Corelle dish for college dorm rooms, because they are hard to break and not expensive. Plates are obviously great for serving pizza or take-out, microwaved meals, etc. It’s also important to have at least one large bowl (I love Corelle’s 28 ounce soup/cereal bowl), for cereal, ice cream, stew or soup from a can, etc. Also, toss in a few extra forks and spoons that you may have, purchase cheap ones that you wouldn’t mind tossing after a few years, or get these beauties: reusable sporks made out of plastic or titanium!
  • Tissues. It seems like most students get a cold the first month or so into the new school year, especially when living in a dorm with dozens or hundreds of other kids, and with the recirculated air, and all that. When they start sneezing and feel poorly they’ll miss being home and being taken care of, and they really don’t want to have to get on a bus to go to the local store to purchase a box of tissues. Get a 3-pack or more.
  • A small plastic bin (the one that is about the size of a shoe box) filled with the over-the-counter medicines the student uses when they are sick or have allergies or headaches or paper cuts. Again, they won’t want to bother with using public transportation when not feeling well, and when you’re sick, you want to feel better ASAP. I suggest a pain reliever, decongestant, allergy pills, eye drops (if they tend to get allergies), cough drops, and a few bandages. P.S. If they don’t have a convenient place to keep their medical insurance card, this might be a good place to store it.
  • A tall fan. The standing tower kind that has a slim profile. Most dorms have heat and air conditioning (if they have air conditioning) that come on from certain dates until other specified dates, and there is no way to turn it off or change the set temperature. Many times the dorms are stuffy and over-heated.
  • A laptop.

And that’s it. Bedding. Clothing. Eating. Storage. Medicines. Tissues. Fan. Laptop. It may sound like a lot, but it’s not.

As for the big shared stuff, once roommate selections are given out, the two students will then decide who will bring a mini-fridge and maybe if they want a rug (good idea) or other common shared items.

Also, it’s important to know that most colleges have Family Weekend early in the fall. This is the perfect time to deliver more items that the student forgot or found they needed. That weekend is also a great time to take home anything they realized might have been packed in error.

Oh, and one more necessary item: A large box of tissues for the parent’s car ride home.