The Education of Anaphylaxis.

Last week, the kids and I went to Greenville to visit Not-Crazy-Renee. We make it there a couple times a year to see our former neighbors, and to take their Christmas card pictures. My kids love going up there, but Noah especially was excited about this year because he was really looking forward to visiting with Snakey Butters Buttercup, Loulie’s Pet Python. Noah’s love, nay obsession with snakes being new, we haven’t visited our only Reptile-Owning friends since his glorious realization. So he’s been counting down the days for a month.

As if he and Loulie weren’t already precious together… (this shot from 2017 is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken) …

Loulie-Noah-IMG_1950s

She was waiting in front of their house for us with a Python wrapped around her ankle.

There are a lot of signs pointing to their future romance, but if they could have a double wedding alongside Loulie’s snake and Noah’s future snake, that would just be fantastic.

joshua and sbb IMG_2512I did not get a picture of Loulie with the snake around her leg, but here’s Joshua demonstrating later in the weekend.

We arrived on Wednesday, got settled in, played with Snakey, and chatted as Renee made us delicious, fresh, hot cookies. I may have eaten three. They were gooey, chocolate chip, cashew butter cookies that melted in your mouth.

The cookies had even won a Major Award – Not a Leg Lamp, but close to it – a spray-painted beer bottle that said “Best Side Dish.”

best side dish IMG_2438

I was told, in fact, that according to neighborhood regulations I was somehow supposed to incorporate said beer bottle into their family Christmas photos. I wasn’t so sure about all that. Maybe if the snake was wrapped around the beer bottle? Hm. But the snake looked so much better wrapped around her three-year-old.

Joshua-and-SBB-IMG_7822This would be the Best. Christmas Card. Ever.

Anyway.

We wiled away the afternoon eating cookies and fending off children wanting to eat ALL the cookies.

friends and neighbors IMG_2498

As it came to pass, right around bedtime, Noah came and asked if he could have a cookie. That kid is amazing at causing delays to bedtime, but this one might have been his crowning achievement in life.

I asked the question we’d been asking our children all day. “How many cookies have you already had?”

“Zero.”

Oh – I hadn’t noticed that Noah had been so overwhelmed with his love for Snakey that he’d missed The Cookie Train.

Close to bedtime though it was, I said sure – have a cookie. Why not. We’re on vacation.

As he took his first bite, he started gagging and coughing.

I said “Did you BREATHE the cookie or eat it?”

“I didn’t breathe it, Mom.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

He disappeared for a few minutes (later he admitted that he snuck off to throw the rest of the cookie away because it tasted terrible to him), then came back and sat down beside me, rather disturbed. “I feel like I need to sneeze but I can’t quit coughing.”

That’s weird.

This was the moment I first wondered if he was having an allergic reaction. No one has ever been seriously allergic to something in our family, so I’d never seen it before.

Then his voice started fading, he got hoarse, and gagged a couple times. Then his lips started swelling on one side.

Okay. This is an allergic reaction. He had never had cashews before that I was aware of (he’s a the most unadventurous eater), so I was positive that it was the cashew butter in the cookies.

Pass the Benadryl, please!

I was texting with a Pediatrist friend, Adolfo, at this point, along with another friend, Ashley, whose kid has allergies.

The Benadryl immediately made his lip swelling go down, and Noah kept insisting that he felt fine, his voice was getting better, and he didn’t need to cough anymore.

But he needed to go to the bathroom.

I waited anxiously outside the bathroom door…and when he came out, he was rubbing his eyes, saying they itched. They were bloodshot and swelling.

That, combined with the sudden need to go to the bathroom and accompanying the stomachache constituted enough systems involved in the reaction – he was in for a visit to the ER. Doctor Adolfo declared it. It was time…for The Shot.

dr.-house

I told Ali goodnight and not to worry, and packed her brother off for the ten minute drive to the Children’s ER. He said he was hot when we left the house, but was shaking when we got to the ER. As we went through security and the security guard extra thoroughly scanned Noah with his wand (8 year old boys are a clear and present danger to society), I looked at Noah in the light for the first time in fifteen minutes. His face was now swollen, splotchy, and covered in hives.

anaphylaxis in children IMG_2410

Thankfully, the word “anaphylaxis” gets you a room really quickly at a Children’s emergency room.

The newbie resident came in, checked Noah out, lifted his shirt to find out that Noah was now covered in red swelling hives,

anaphylaxis in children IMG_2418

then announced casually, “Well, I think we’ll observe him for a while, maybe give him some Zyrtec later…”

Dear Newbie. Have you ever had a rotation in a children’s ER before??

OldfashionedRaggedCorydorascatfish-small

UM, NO.

I said in my most humble voice, “All of these hives came on since we got to the hospital. Isn’t there anything we can do for him now?”

anaphylaxis in children IMG_2421

Meanwhile Noah is violently shaking, freezing cold, and itchy all over.

ER IMG_2423

Resident was clearly offended at me questioning his Medical Qualifications.

tenor-20

Doc Casual mumbled something and left the room.

anaphylaxis in children IMG_2419

A few minutes later he was back, this time with his “supervisor” (aren’t they called Attendings? It felt very factory-like for him to introduce me to his supervisor), who immediately said “Actually, this kid needs an injection of epinephrine. Then we will need to observe him for four hours to make sure he doesn’t need more.”

SizzlingDarlingConey-size_restricted

That’s better.

A few minutes after the shot, he quit shaking. And started talking. His EpiHappiness was off the charts. He spent the next three hours jabbering continuously as his hives faded slowly, starting around his injection site and radiating outward.

anaphylaxis in children IMG_2425

“I can’t believe I get to stay up so late. Thanks for bringing me to the ER. Look at these superheroes on the wall! Thanks for staying with me. This is a fun TV show! I don’t think I like Cashews. That shot wasn’t so bad! Once Ali got a shot she didn’t even feel. I can’t believe a cookie sent me to the emergency room! Not everyone can say that, huh??”

Finally I said, “So is the emergency room fun?”

“Well I’m getting to drink GATORADE and eat GOLDFISH and watch TV and play IPAD WAAAAAY after my bedtime so yeah I’d say this is really really fun!!!”

Of course, he finally got sleepy about half an hour before it was our turn to be sent home. He fell asleep at 1:15am.

er IMG_2432

At 1:45am, the original resident came in and told us we could go home. I roused Noah and he returned to his EpiHappyChattiness.

“Thanks for taking me to the ER, mom. Thanks for staying with me, Mom. And hey – I’m really glad I didn’t eat a cookie until bedtime because that way I got to play with my friends until it was time for them to go to bed!”

Definitely his best bedtime stall ever.

His swelling took a couple days to go down fully, and he and I spent a day walking around Greenville as complete zombies.

And of course, Noah also made sure to spend lots of time with his Personal Emotional Support Therapy Snake to help recover from his adventures. 
noah and snake IMG_2440

So, I get it. You would think that five children playing with a Python for three days would be the danger.

snake in the kitchen IMG_2672

But no – Snakey Butters Buttercup was the perfect hostess. In this story, it was the Gourmet, Prize-Winning Cookies that were the real predator.

Epilogue: We’re doing all the things now – toting EpiPens, prepping for allergy testing, reading labels…all the things. And as Noah sees it, this is the Best News Ever because it means that he can continue being a picky eater. Chicken fingers and fries it is – from here to forever. 

On The Consideration of Being a Pet Owner.

You know how kids go through that stubborn phase where they will absolutely not try anything you want them to, for no other reason than because you want them to?

“Seriously, son. You will LOVE this dessert, made with all the things you love – chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, and more chocolate.”

“NO. I WILL NOT TRY IT.”

Whatever kid. I’m not going to shove sugar down your throat. 

And then, a month later, completely out of the blue and in no way related to any recent opportunities, the kid says “You know what I’d really love right now? A s’more. Mom when can we get s’mores? Can we have a s’more now? Hey do you think you could go to the store and get the ingredients for s’mores? I’m super craving a s’more.”

And you’re all like WHAT THE WHAT YOU ILLOGICAL BEING I TRIED TO OFFER YOU ONE OF THOSE A MONTH AGO AND YOU ACTED LIKE I WAS GIVING YOU MONKEY BRAINS SERVED ON AN ARMADILLO HALF SHELL.

That’s exactly how it went down with Noah, and I, and snakes.

I guess most of you don’t revere snakes on the level with s’mores, but we all know that I do. I’ve long held a great fascination and bordering-on-obsession with the species. And last year, we found snakes on almost every hike we went on – it was The Year of The Snake. Multiple times I was able to identify the snakes with 100% certainty so that I could pick them up and hold them, and I let the other children we hiked with hold them as well, and in some cases experience the delight of allowing said snake to wrap around their arm (all while I kept tight hold on the head.)

But my kids? No way. They wanted to have nothing to do with it. They didn’t scream and run away but they were NOT going to be touching, observing closely, or  experiencing a snake’s immensely cuddly qualities.

Fast forward a year. We haven’t seen hardly any snakes on hikes. And so it makes perfect sense that this year, Noah would decide, entirely unprovoked and without any experience whatsoever, that he
a.) Loved snakes,
b.) Desperately wanted to hold a snake (and regularly got irritable when I couldn’t locate said snake on a hike,) and
c.) Wanted his very own pet snake. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

WHAT. THE. WHAT.

Why do children have to be so freaking weird.

But because of my own personal love for snakes, my enthusiasm over having someone to share my feelings with trumped my frustration and his craptasmic timing.

So we began by visiting our local quirky pet shop that specializes in reptiles, the only place in Birmingham where you can walk in without an appointment or a plan and end up with a large snake wrapped around your neck in ten minute’s time.

python on neck IMG_0908python on neck IMG_0910

When we arrived, the rickety screen door was open, and sitting a foot from the entryway was a teenage girl with a very obese skink on her shoulder. A giant tortoise was free-roaming one room over – the room that held the collectible toys. Yes, this was where we wanted to be.

We were there for an hour. In that hour, Noah held four different snakes, was fully educated on all sorts of things about pet snakes and snakes in the wild, and fell head over heels. As I watched his eyes, I saw them gain an amount of LoveLight that I’d never witnessed before in my son.

snake IMG_0688

A week later, after Noah having talked about his experience incessantly for said week, we took Chris back with us. This was the kind of decision that needed to be Father-Approved WAY in advance. Because I love snakes. Noah loves snakes. Ali likes snakes enough to say that she’s fine with Noah having one as a pet as long as it doesn’t keep her friends from wanting to come over. But what about Chris? He’s never really been on the snakey bandwagon. One could only hope that our obsession somehow softened the scaly blow for him.

We started out by asking to see The Big Snake – we’d heard of it on our last visit, but his cage was being cleaned on our last visit, so we couldn’t lay eyes on him.

As an aside, my own obsession with snakes started 21 years ago with a massive snake – a snake as big around as a large child. I met this snake when I was in Cyprus. He was in a rickety cage with a screen door latch and a crack in the opening. The whole thing looked like he could huff and puff and blow it right over any old time he wanted to. The thrill of seeing such a magnificent, gigantic creature so close to me and so able to squeeze me to death was oddly addictive. Perhaps I’m a Reptile-Specific Adrenaline Junkie.

So walking into a closet in Birmingham with no lightbulb (“The snake got in a fit and knocked the lights out the other day”) to see a snake the width of a telephone pole was right up my alley. We turned on our cell phone flashlights to see the cage at the back of the closet – or rather, the cage that was the entire back wall of the closet. Sure enough, he was delightfully huge. When inquired as to what he ate, they said “Oh, you know. Rabbits or Gerbils.”

…which explained the small furry animal section in the back of the pet shop. What a brilliant recycling program.

Then we went to the baby Ball Pythons, which is the kind that Noah wants. The employee handing him to Noah said that this particular snake was the only one that hadn’t eaten that day, so don’t worry if he was a little nippy.

(Noah: “I wanna be bitten by a snake!!”)

(Seriously. What happened to my son.)

As we held him, I inquired as to how many snakes the salesman personally owned.

“Oh I have 53 in my bedroom alone.”

“Umm…exactly why does one need 53 snakes in ones bedroom??”

“Because I’m working up to having 3,000. Because then I’ll have enough to breed them and make $150,000-200,000 a year. That’s what I’m going to do when I retire from here.”

I was then distracted entirely by the practicalities and the math involved here…

3,000 snakes means 3,000 mice a week. Except that he told Noah when you’re raising breeding snakes, you feed them every 5 days. So that’s 3,000 mice every five days. How do you keep up with who has had their mouse? Don’t you spend all day every day putting mice in tanks? And how do you possibly get that many mice? Is there a bulk mouse superstore somewhere that I don’t know about? Does CostCo have a Mouse Room in the back? Or is a mouse delivery service? Can you get 3,000 mice via Prime Shipping? That would be a fun overturned truck to see.

Now.

As for the explanation as to why one would do so well breeding Ball Pythons….

Ball Pythons are really popular right now – the most popular pet snake. They’re docile, they’re easy, they don’t grow too big (2-5 feet at full size), and breeders are creating some really wild and wacky colored and patterned Ball Pythons by breeding them with albinos and playing with genetic mutations. While a plain old Ball Python can be $50, a Morph can be $6,000 or more.

If you want to see all these bizarre creatures (there are ones that look like rotten bananas, ones that look like orange sherbet, ones that look like calico cats…), I recommend browsing the Morph Market. Careful – it might take the rest of your evening. They are FASCINATING. (At least to me.)

The thing is, though, I just have a bad feeling about the market for Ball Python morphs. What if it tanks like the Beanie Baby market? What do you do with 3,000 Ball Pythons in your bedroom alone at that point? I mean sure, it really makes for an interesting bullet point on your online dating profile, but…

Back to The Pet Shop.

rachel with snake IMG_0916snake kisses IMG_0920

We moved on to a “teenage” Ball Python, to experience how they feel once they’re nearly full-size. This was the one I insisted Chris get his feet wet with. And I don’t mean by peeing on them in complete fear, but he might have come close.

teenage ball python IMG_0875

Actually he handled it all very well and said he was open with having such a creature live in our house.

Finally, Noah really wanted to hold the larger Python he’d held last time – one that gets bigger than his Ball Python ever would. 

large python IMG_0905large python IMG_0893

The first thing the snake did was wrap around Noah’s neck and give it a little love squeeze. Noah’s reaction – one of a calm statement – “Ouch. He’s squeezing my neck.” and quiet “yeah.” when I asked if he wanted him moved – sealed the deal for me. This kid was ready for ownership.

He doesn’t have one yet – we’re making him wait until a little closer to his birthday to make sure the obsession sticks. But we’ve pretty much decided. Even though we’re a staunch no-pet family, snakes are easier than fish. You only have to feed them once a week (which we’ve practice with Not-Crazy-Renee’s snake), and if you leave home for vacation, you just leave them and they’re perfectly happy to be left alone to digest last week’s mouse. They don’t shed (except for their skin, that is), they don’t pee on furniture, you don’t have to let them outside, and they cuddle really well.

But for now, it seems like True Love.


noah mom snake IMG_0886

Ali just needs reassurance that it won’t keep her friends away.

When The Intersection Rule Failed Us.

In our hiking club, we really only have one rule. (Aside from the obvious rules like don’t pick up snakes but CERTAINLY don’t scare them away because Miss Rachel will definitely want to see them and photograph them and maybe pick them up if she’s mostly sure they’re not venomous.)

The one rule is this: Stop at every intersection.

This rule is a rule because it is a regular occurrence for the kids (especially the older ones but sometimes the younger ones) to run ahead of the adults, who can sometimes be dragging a toddler behind them or on their back or hanging off their legs like a monkey.

On the particular hike for which this post was recorded, I was taking on the responsibility (and fun) of being hiking buddies with Elsa, my favorite first cousin once removed. (Please don’t tell my other first cousins once removed. This is between us.)

…As an aside, I googled and now understand very well what the difference is between a second cousin, first cousin once removed, third cousin, and second cousin once removed. Would you like me to explain it?

(I know you would. It’s fascinating and makes so much sense.)

It all depends on what level you’re on with reference to each other. The same level means that you share a grandparent, great grandparent, etc. A level apart means that my grandmother is your great grandmother. Following so far? So, first, second, and third cousins are all on the same level. First cousins share a grandparent. Second cousins share a great-grandparent. Third cousins share a great-great grandparent.

(Fun Fact: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are third cousins: their shared great-great-grandmother is Queen Victoria, who incidentally was married to her first cousin, Prince Albert. Because the British are weirder than Alabamians.)

Removed cousins are on different levels. First cousins once removed happen when person A’s grandparent is person B’s great-grandparent. So another way to look at it is you are first cousins once removed with your cousin’s children. You’d be first cousins twice removed with your cousin’s grandchildren. Got it?

…So back to Elsa, who is my favorite of all of my cousin’s children.

Elsa is four, and she’s just starting to grasp hiking expectations, rules, and standards. So she asked me, “Aunt Rachel, (because “First Cousin Once Removed Rachel” is pretty long for a four year old), what is an insterstection?”

I explained carefully that an intersection is anytime you can go more than one way on a trail. If you have to choose directions, it’s an intersection. And it’s very, very important that you always wait at every intersection for the adults, because if you chose the wrong way, and we assumed you chose the right way, you’d be lost, and it would be hard to find you.

She silently pondered my words, an unspoken gravity resting between us of what it would be like to be four and lost in the woods.

We plodded ahead, perhaps a tenth of a mile behind the big kids. As we came up a hill, we saw the big kids all piled in a semi-circle at an intersection. It was a “T” intersection, with a bench sitting opposite of the T. A teenage couple was sitting on the bench, and it appeared that they were having a silent standoff with our kids.

Then the teenage couple stood up, walked toward us, laughing slightly, politely said hi to us, and took off down the trail.

As we reached the children, they were all coughing, waving hands in front of their faces, gagging, and complaining in general about what was the worst skunky smelling cigars they’d ever smelled.

Yeah. That is not a fog of cigar smoke you’re standing in, children.

Our Stop-At-The-Intersection rule had…

– Forced the children to stand in a thick cloud of pot smoke,

– Created an awkward staring/social interaction, because the poor high teenagers had no idea why 10 children had just crowded around them in a semicircle.

(They’re probably still puzzling about that. I bet every time they get high they’re all like “yo, man, remember that one time, when all those kids surrounded us like they were the freakin’ Marine Corps or something?” “Yeah man. That was….weird.”)

– Totally killed their buzz.

Were the children better tempered for the rest of the hike?

Chill, might one say?

Perhaps.

180726 Ruffner to the Crusher IMG_0731 SMALL

So maybe The Intersection Rule didn’t fail us after all.

(Then again, twenty minutes later, Noah did get exceptionally hangry and demanding as to why I hadn’t brought SNACKS on the hike, so the dreaded munchies may not have been worth it.)