Tuesday, March 1, 2011

William wants a cat.

My Asthma and Allergy Journey is a blog for parents of kids with asthma and allergies, created by Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA) and written by Kathleen Elder, whose son was recently diagnosed with asthma. Follow along as Kathleen, her son William, their family and friends learn more about life with asthma. E-mail your questions, thoughts, stories and words of wisdom to editor@aanma.org to join the conversation.

William wants a cat.

So much, in fact, that he looked around his room the other day at the “favorite things” he spends his allowance on and said, “I have to stop buying so many things.” So now he’s saving his treasure for a cat.  
Not just any cat – Moses. A sweet, peaches-and-cream cat up for adoption at our local pet store. “All I want is Moses” is Will’s regular refrain. But is this a deep-felt desire to share his love and affection with a cat, or is it just something else he wants, like a new toy?  
Complicating things, of course, are his allergies and asthma. The allergy test came back positive: Will’s allergic to cats. How allergic is he – is it severe, something that could cause major asthma symptoms? We don’t know. Even if it’s not severe, could it be overwhelming combined with other allergens at home that are harder to control? (I fully admit I’m not on my hands and knees scrubbing our house on a daily basis, but we do live in a pretty clean house. I know we live with dust mites among the toys, books and furniture. And I could probably freeze the stuffed animals and wash his mattress cover more often...)
So far we’ve put off the final decision. Our agreement with Will: We’ll wait until we have another visit with the allergist (his first with the new allergist). But one day we have to decide – and I’m not sure which side I’m rooting for.
I have a long history with cats. Always loved them. In sixth grade I adopted my first cat, Gwenevere. Then there was Corky, Kingsley and finally – Jake. It’s Jake and the allergies that are vying for top spot on the “cons” list. Jake had a tough life. He was rescued from a fraternity house after he’d endured unknown horrors, and he instantly attached to me. He followed me everywhere, slept on my bed and woke me every morning, meowing and kneading my chest until I woke up. 
When I started dating my husband, Jake made it clear he wasn’t happy. Meowing loudly whenever he was around, Jake made it known – this new guy was not welcome. But one day we learned just how much Jake wasn’t pleased. “Something smells,” I said, sniffing around for the source.  Jake had sprayed my husband’s favorite coat – his favorite non-washable coat. He wasn’t fond of cats before. You can probably guess how he felt after that! 
And now we have a son who loves cats and desperately wants Moses. Our only hope for my husband is that the doctors say Will’s too allergic to have one. And Will’s only hope is that she says it’s okay. But do we really want to wish our son is too allergic to something? What do you do when you have a child whose heart is absolutely set on a pet he can’t have, and a husband who isn’t the biggest fan of the pet his son wants?

Monday, February 14, 2011

I ♥ Our Basement

On this holiday of Cupids and hearts, I have an unusual proclamation: I love our family’s basement. (Wonder if Hallmark makes a card for that…)

Over the years our basement has been a haven. It’s a storage space for zillions of accumulated toys. It’s a toddler-safe playroom, site of countless Nerf gun wars – and an excellent place for children to hang out when Mom is close to losing her mind from the noise and craziness while attempting to make dinner.

But after a while, the carpeting in this much-loved, much-used space was in desperate need of replacement. Will’s asthma moved the project up on the priority list and also made it more daunting as we searched for the perfect carpet replacement.

Everywhere I looked for information about asthma and carpet, carpet removal topped the list of things to do in the home. But just like everything else in life, we had to find a balance. With two school-age boys and a toddler in the house, the idea of installing a hardwood or hard-surface floor (vinyl or tile) was not appealing. Yes, a hardwood floor would be durable and easy to clean, but who wants to roll around on a hard floor when it’s time to wrestle? Or play with blocks on a cold surface?

Low VOCs. When I first walked into the flooring store I thought the sales guy was going to take one look at my list of demands and walk away. First off, we wanted something with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds). (James T. Li, MD, an asthma and allergy specialist with the Mayo Clinic, says “synthetic flooring initially releases gasses known as VOCs that can worsen asthma.”) It had to be easy to clean, and the overall basement-floor scheme had to involve hard-surface flooring in at least some of the rooms. I wanted something that would fit into our budget that was also environmentally friendly. Oh yeah, and it had to be comfy to crawl around on.

Turns out, there are hundreds of options on the market. I was pleasantly surprised to find so many low-VOC options. I learned that low-allergen and Earth-friendly often go hand in hand. Budget-wise – not always. If we went with the hard-surface flooring all over the basement (family room, bathroom, laundry room) we would almost triple the cost when you factored in the cost of an area rug to warm things up. Just not in the cards. Countless trips to the showroom later, after lugging sample after sample home, we found our perfect solution: a low-VOC, easy-to-clean carpet in the play area and a beautiful bamboo floor everywhere else.

Dust trappers. Figuring out flooring options was only half the battle when we realized we had to sort through toys and get them up off the floor (where they would trap dust and allergens). We opted for floor-to-ceiling shelves of large, clear plastic bins with lids for sorting and storing the cars, trains, games, stuffed animals (I think it’s probably time to freeze them once again), blocks and, of course, the Nerf guns. 

I can now honestly say I love our basement. Making dinner is slightly less chaotic and the boys are happy to have their playroom back. No wheezing and sneezing from Will when he plays down there, either. Nerf gun war anyone?

From AANMA’s website: Remove carpeting if possible and replace with vinyl, tile or hardwood flooring. If it’s not possible to remove carpeting, vacuum thoroughly every week with a HEPA-equipped vacuum cleaner.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Me Time: Hot Yoga

It’s 105 degrees in the room where I escape and recharge. Cool by instructor Jim’s standards, but not mine. And yet to me – it’s heaven.

It’s hot yoga. Twenty-six postures, twice each, of absolute “me time.” Dandayamana Janushirasana: standing, head to knee. This is a free zone – no sink full of breakfast dishes, no chauffeuring to doctor’s appointments, school and activities, no constant drone of “Do your homework! Stop tackling your brother!” It’s absolute silence other than the instructor’s directions. Dandayamana Dhanurasana: standing bow. I don’t have to make any decisions here or answer any questions. I just listen. Listen to my thoughts. Listen to my body.

 “Okay, kiddos – everybody up,” Jim calls as he walks into the room. Everyone silently rises and stands in the middle of their mats. “No talking. Drink all you want, but please drink only between the poses.” I love this part: No talking. No awkward chatting with your neighbor, no phone; no whining, screaming, fighting. I savor every minute of dripping sweat, panting breath, silent cursing – and, somehow, peace.

This is where I go so I can be the Mom I want to be for my kids. As the sweat pours down my arms and legs (and I mean really pours), I can feel the tension release and I know my worries are all little things that soon enough will be gone. I lie on my mat, feet together, palms up, eyes open and stare at the ceiling, smiling to myself. I know the room is full of 50 or more other people, but I feel alone and able to clear my mind.

When it’s all over, I feel ready for the sink full of dishes, the dirty faces, the homework and endless doctor appointments. Real life somehow doesn’t feel as much like a pressure cooker after this self-imposed hot chamber. But even more important, I’m relaxed and better able to enjoy my kids. I can see the beautiful smiles underneath the dirt and hear the requests for snuggling up with a book together that hide just beneath the teasing and fighting. I may not be able to travel to Italy, India and Bali, but I can find 90 minutes to get me back to me.