Digging out

Despite our flu shots, that vicious virus found our family last week. Only Henry was spared, thanks to an early dose of medication. I’m not naming the medication because it cost a fortune, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to provide free advertising on top of it.

Eleanor got sick Wednesday afternoon, and Greg and I followed on Saturday. We traded off parenting duties for the remainder of the weekend (A three-day weekend at that — fun!) based on who was not vomiting. Fever? Muscle aches? Sore throat? Onward. Only the person prostrate on the bathroom floor was excused.

Eleanor watched an amount of television that I’m not comfortable documenting. It was PBS, if that counts for anything. PBS as in “Dinosaur Train,” not “Downton Abbey,” though I’m sure she would love the attire. Greg and I jockeyed for space on the couch, huddled under a blanket that should probably now be burned. Henry toddled from room to room calling out “thank you” and wondering why we had all become so boring. Henry has yet to figure out the context for “thank you” and so uses it whenever the mood strikes. Abe was all over the couch-snuggling situation. Best weekend he’s had in years.

It’s times like this when it’s hard not having family nearby. Both kids were still potentially contagious when Greg and I started to get sick, so I’m not sure I could have even called in family. It was definitely too much to ask our friends to watch our petri dish children. I’m bad at asking for help anyway. We did have several friends kindly check in on us, just before the vultures started circling.

Much as I would rather not be sick, I still take some comforts from our miserable weekend, though Greg looked at me as though I were crazy when I suggested such a thing. Maybe I’m finally kicking that 34-year pessimistic streak!

The flu is temporary (I hope). We’ve been through worse. And all of that worrying I do all of the time, about finishing that article and buying that birthday present for the weekend party and sending that email, all of that stuff can wait. Somehow the world keeps going. The little stuff can wait while I attend to the big stuff. Sometimes I need a reminder of which is which.

Sick of this place

We need to talk about allergies. When I talk about allergies with my family members who live up north, they give me ponderous looks. I get it. Allergies are something you have during May and June, and you take a bit of medication and get on with life.

Allergies in the South are life-altering. After a few years of living in Texas, I developed an allergy to cedar (Which is actually ashe juniper, not the beautiful Christmas tree that comes to mind.). From December through February, I spend much of my time indoors, even if we are having one of those blue-sky 65-degree January days, the type of days that inspire people to move here. If I venture out, my eyes become itchy and swollen, and I spend half the night awake, unable to breath through my stuffed sinuses. I have other allergies as well, but cedar is the most crippling.

At age two, Eleanor developed this cough that would show up every few weeks and then disappear after she spent a day or two resting on the couch. It seemed like a cold. Trips to the doctor always led to the diagnosis of a cold. Except she kept getting it. She was missing several days of preschool each month. Finally, when she was 4, the cough became so bad that she was having trouble breathing. This time, the doctor found that she had allergy-induced asthma. I was so relieved to have an explanation that I didn’t care what the cause was. We spent a year trying to figure out when she needed allergy medication.

Last summer, I decided that we needed to get this allergy thing completely figured out, to conquer it if we could. Eleanor had an allergy blood test. The doctor said that with this information, we would know when to have her on allergy meds and when to keep her off of them. Her test showed allergies to three things, including mold. We have mold here year-round. When I try to skip her medication for even a day or two, the cough comes back, and then we have to use a nebulizer. For those not familiar with the nebulizer, it is a noisy machine that hooks up to a breathing mask that the poor kid has to wear for 10 minutes while vapor is pumped out. Every parent who lives in Austin knows what a nebulizer is because about half of the kids here use them.

I also got an allergy test for myself. I had a skin test. A nurse put scratches all over my back with bits of pollen in them. Some of the tests couldn’t be done with scratches, only with injections. So I had 21 injections (So many needles!) of pollen into my arms. Then we sat around and waited for all of the scratches and injections to become swollen and itchy, and then the nurse measured the welts. If you’re thinking that this was the highlight of my summer, you would be right. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just have a blood test like Eleanor, it’s because the skin test is more accurate and most doctors require it before treatment. I was allergic to about 40 of the 51 things in the test. I have decided to stick with my over-the-counter medication for the most part.

I did get sublingual drops for my cedar allergy. I squeeze some drops of cedar pollen under my tongue every day and hold them there for two minutes. After three to five years, this is supposed to acclimate my body to cedar so that it quits overreacting. Alternatively, I could have gone in for weekly injections for the next year or two and had the same result. This is what people do to live in Texas. Yes, we are crazy here.

While all of this testing was going on, we discovered that Henry was allergic to eggs. We’ve been doing fine working around that, although he is starting to get pretty ornery when I make brownies and don’t share. But the food allergy makes it likely that he will have pollen allergies as well.

The point of all of this sharing is to ask: Should we be living here? And I don’t mean the collective “we,” though that is also a valid question in a land of droughts and scorpions. I know that we will have allergies wherever we go, but in places that freeze during the winter, we would have a reprieve. I hate that my child has to take medication every single day to live here. Greg can work from other cities, as can I, and I wonder whether our kids will resent us someday for their childhoods full of Allegra and Flonase. Oh, and please no talk of neti pots or honey or air filters. Don’t you think I tried that before I let someone give me 21 shots in the arm?


Whew! I don’t want to say that these past 16 days together at home were too many for our family, but I was hopping this morning. I nearly shooed the daughter and husband out the door. There was plenty of fun — ice skating, movies, visits with friends — but by Saturday, I had run out of ideas. I didn’t even want to go to the library, people. That is serious.

We’ve been making New Year’s resolutions around here. Eleanor apparently wants to learn to play the piano. And I plan to only accept jobs that pay me what I am worth. (“Who’s going to take care of the children?” Greg asked.) Correction: I plan to only accept writing/editing jobs that pay me what I am worth.

When I began freelancing, I felt that I needed some writing clips to prove myself. I wasn’t giving stuff away, but I wasn’t willing to haggle over pay either. Now I have plenty of clips, not to mention two degrees in journalism. And still I find myself writing for outlets that pay me less than I made at my first reporting job when I was 19. Because I really want to work, and if I can work for recognized newspapers and magazines, all the better. Unfortunately, those outlets know that everyone wants to write for them, and so they keep cutting their pay. I’ve seen cuts of 50 percent in the past year. When I see other writers posting bylines from these places, I become suspicious. How are they earning a living? Marketing job on the side? Sudden inheritance from a reclusive great-aunt?

We’re supposed to accept these unlivable wages because we’re getting exposure. I cannot eat exposure. Nor can my children, though I am working on a proposal to fix that. I am hoping that our local grocery store will give me free food in exchange for my writing nice tweets about it.

I have found a few jobs via this exposure, but I have found far more jobs via my friends and former colleagues.

If I can’t single-handedly solve the problem (and I can’t), at least I can quit contributing to it. That probably means doing less journalism and more marketing because journalism has a problem paying its bills. I love you journalism, but you need to pull yourself together. In my fantasy world, all of us writers would boycott these outlets and the public would finally realize the value of our work and be willing to pay a fair amount for it. I can dream.

So my work this year might be less prominent and elicit fewer responses. I’m trading exposure for dignity.