Monday, December 29, 2014

The B-Word

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with budgeting.
It's just cute.  And this blog post really needed
something cute to redeem it from the scary B-word.
Enter my cat sitting on my newly delivered Christmas presents.

No, not that one.  In our house we call the word "budget" the B-word.  As you can tell, we have a love-hate relationship with budgeting.  Mostly hate.  As in we hate it so we don't do it.  In my house I pay the bills, we always have enough money, so all is right with the world.  (I know some of you may have to take a moment to pick your jaws up off the floor at the idea of me being in charge of my family's finances rather than Hubby, but that's just how our family works because I hate the job only slightly less than Hubby)

I come from a family of "money" people.  Hubby likes to joke that it wouldn't be a family get together without a discussion about finances.  My whole family follows a budget and gets a weird glee out of investing money.  I, on the other hand, like to stick my fingers in my ears and sing LALALA at the top of my lungs whenever such conversations come up.  I like to save money.  But budgeting?  Yuck.

Until recently.  When I have felt very convicted in my prayer times to concern myself with money.  Not making money, but in being wise with the resources God has given us.  Despite not really being a big New Years Resolution kind of girl, I have decided to make 2015 the year that I put my family on a budget.  Without crying.  Or screaming.  Or hiding under my blankets and hoping it will all just go away.

So I unplugged my ears for just a few seconds over Christmas dinner in time to hear my sister and brother discussing what they use to track their budgets.  They both use a program called You Need A Budget (henceforth to be called YNAB).  I pretended disinterest--didn't want to shock them or anything.  But when I got home, I looked it up online and signed up for a free 34 day trial to see how I liked it.

I admit it was a little confusing at first, but I watched the intro videos to learn the program and set up a very un-exact budget.  How do you guess the amount you should budget for clothes when you have no earthly idea how much you spend on clothes for your family?  Or home repairs?  Or car repairs?  I have always just had a chunk of money automatically transferred to our savings account every paycheck which we use to cover future expenses and repairs.  So the money has always been there, just not with a name or in special budgetary categories.  And I don't keep track.

This style of money management is apparently called a Spending Plan.  We have a "budget" for the essentials, set aside enough money every month to cover annual bills (ie. car insurance) and unexpected expecteds (ie. car repairs, appliance repairs/replacements, medical bills), and whatever's left is either put into long term savings or used for wants.  (I will note that we have a health savings account and a retirement account, but those funds are taken out of Hubby's paychecks so we don't have to think about or budget for them).  So we aren't complete financial losers.  We are what I would affectionately call "middle of the road money managers."  Which has worked for almost 13 years without us ever running into a problem.  But we could do better.  So...

Ya, B-word.  Hmmm....

But I am determined to do this.  Because it's important.  Or so everyone else seems to think.  Yesterday I bought the real deal YNAB program.  I skipped right over the next 30 days of free demo and just bought the whole program, for better or worse.  Because it was on sale.  And I am hoping having that little icon on my phone with a handy dandy App will remind me to enter my purchases and keep our budget up to date.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dear Parents, Friends, Family, Strangers who have never dealt with severe food allergies

Dear Parents, Friends, Family, Strangers who have never dealt with severe food allergies,

I get it.  I get that you think we are overreacting.  That we are being drama queens when it comes to reading food labels, questioning every ingredient you put into your freshly baked cookies, when we have to shun your kid's birthday cupcakes because they contain an ingredient that we have to avoid.

You've never seen or experienced a major allergic reaction, so you don't know, really know, that this is serious.  Let me paint a picture for you of what it may look like when your child, or someone else you love, or even you eat something only to experience an anaphylactic reaction.

Picture this:

You are sitting around the dinner table with your family eating a delicious meal of tilapia, a food that your family has eaten on other occasions.  But this time, instead of your son eating it and going about his merry way, his face starts to turn red.  As you sit there watching him, his lips start to swell.  Then his tongue.  Suddenly he is drooling and has tears running down his face, but he can't actually make crying sounds because he is struggling to breathe.  His throat is starting close off.  You fly, not run because that would be too slow, so you FLY to the medicine cabinet and grab your arsenal of epipens, searching for the one with the most hopeful expiration date (cursing yourself for keeping the old expired ones around "just in case").  You fly back to your son, you tell him this may hurt but to stay perfectly still.  You shove a needle into his thigh and count to 15 and pray.  You pray like mad.  Then your husband whisks your only son away to the emergency room because you are too panicked to be trusted behind the wheel.  Your husband has a second epipen grasped in his hand--just in case.  Just in case the effects of the first epipen wear off before they make it to the ER.  Once in the ER, all you can do is wait.  Wait to see if he is going to go into cardiac arrest. Wait to see if he is going to relapse after the medicine wears off.  Wait to see if he is going to live or die.  This time you are lucky.  The doctors send him home with a week's worth of steroids and a new epipen prescription so you can rearm your epipen arsenal.  Now you are back on high alert as you wait to see if your son is going to wake up in the morning.  Will his last prednisone pill wear off in the middle of the night when you are sleeping?  Will he die before he has a chance to tell you he can't breathe?  You and God have never been so close.  But thankfully, this time, your son wakes up and lives to play another day.

This is my son's story.  I am the mom of a son with life-threatening food allergies.  This is the reality of my life:

Every day I am on alert.  Every. Single. Day.  No food can be trusted without a full accounting for its contents.   
Every grocery store visit sees me armed for battle.  Can we eat this food?  Let me read the ingredients to make sure it doesn't contain something that can kill my child. 
Every party and potluck is a parental nightmare of ensuring my child can find food he can eat--and yes, I do allow my child to rush to the front of the line so he can find food that he can eat before it's all gone.  I don't care if it's rude.  Or if you question my parenting skills.  I do what I must to keep my child alive. 
Every meal out requires to waiter to make special trips to the kitchen to question the chef about ingredient lists.   
Every birthday party took on new meaning as my son had to forgo the birthday cake with its "kill me now" eggs.  "Mommy, why can't I be normal like the rest of the kids?"   
Family recipes had to be thrown away or reworked.  I had to learn how to cook and bake in a previously unheard of way.  My cookbook shelf filled up with new options that sounded more like what not to eat than actual recipes--The Egg-Free, Peanut-Free, Dairy-Free, Nut-Free, Fish-Free cookbook.  Delicious.

I just want you to know that when we say that our child can't eat something, or we can't eat something, it's not because we don't like your food.  Or you.  It's that we really can't eat it.  Not even a little taste.  Not even just this once.  Not even if you put just the tiniest little bit of something in your wonderful cookies.  It only takes a minute amount.  One bite.  One time.  One exposure that sends us to the ER fighting for life.

You don't have to "get it."  You don't even have to believe me when I say that my child is allergic to this or that.  Or that I can't eat your seafood dish because the last time I ate salmon, it required benadryl and prednisone and shocked my heart enough to give me an irregular heartbeat for three months.

All I ask is that you honor me or my kid with respect for our situation.  That you say okay without rolling your eyes when I ask you to keep your child and his peanut butter sandwich away from my child.  When I ask what is in your home cooking.  When I request to read the packaging on every unknown food.  When we say no thank you.

And when accidents happen, like last night, that you understand my fear and trepidation.  Because once again we found ourselves at a potluck.  This time it was just desserts.  I knew better, but I didn't think.  I let my son go through the line alone.  I didn't check his plate.  I didn't even think about the peanuts and tree nuts because he outgrew his egg allergy two years ago.  So cookies are fine.  Until my girls informed me that David had a cookie just like mine.  My peanut butter cookie with a hershey's kisses on top.

I nearly died.  Right there on the floor.  My heart broke into a million pieces as my eyes scanned the room.  "Please don't die.  Please don't die." was the chant running through my mind.  Where is David?  Where is David??  WHERE IS DAVID???!!!!  Finally I saw him.  I ran to his side.  Did you eat this cookie?!  "Mom, I took a bite and realized it was peanut butter so I spit it out."  Oh, Lord.  My mind was racing--I have an epipen.  I have a phone to call 9-1-1.  There are two doctors in this room right now if I need them.  The allergist told us that David probably had outgrown his peanut allergy (an as of yet untested miracle if true).  So it's probably okay.  But on my sweet goodness!!!  What if the allergist was WRONG????  What if David is still allergic to peanuts????

He lived.  Not even a hive.  Nothing.  Thank God.

This is my life.  This will probably always be my life.  One day David will grow up and move out and be in charge of his own food allergies and his own life.  But I will never stop praying and reading labels and cooking in such a way that is David-friendly.

If you take only one thing away from this letter, let it be this:  We're not making shit up about food allergies to get attention.  It's real.  And mistakes kill.  "Just this once" can turn into being front page news--I've read about two guys who died in the past 6 weeks.

You don't have to "get it" but please respect it.

Lisa--Mom of a child who is allergic to tree-nuts, fish and mangoes and outgrew his allergies to peanuts, eggs, milk and soy.  Who is allergic to shellfish and fish herself.