the art of giving in with insufferable superiority

The room was dimly lit, or at least seemed so. The two daycare bosses sat on one side, we sat on another, with the big boss, the woman who we ventured into the depths of city to meet, sitting off by herself, eyes slightly closed, talking softly, giving us the crazy parent shut down stare.

We were there to discuss how our daughter’s daycare keeps giving her milk, when milk sends her into anaphylcatic reactions. We were there to discuss the letter we sent demanding that the daycare be reorganized, that they start an allergy daycare, that they find us another spot.

And the big boss was clear. The daycare does not need reorganizing and there will be no allergy section. The big group – six teachers supervising 36 toddlers – works just fine. The latest incident was a simple case of staff failure.

Then she proceeded to tell us that they would reorganize the daycare so NK gets a smaller lunch group. She offered us a spot in a special needs daycare because there are more trained staff and smaller groups there. Then she offered us a spot in another daycare, one with smaller groups.

Hmmm, that big group is just dandy, isn’t it?

During the meeting, I was so offended that I had to hold on to the chair so I did not start yelling in English, or run out of the room. I suffered through awkward pause after awkward pause as everyone fell silent in this swirl of mixed messages.

After the meeting, as I secretly changed the baby’s diaper in the corner of the library, with NK smashing peas into the floor nearby, I realized that, actually, they gave us everything we wanted, poisoned by the nasty attitude.

But I will have to rise above my reflected spite and find a way to walk up the hill to daycare again and drop off my little girl, for that new lunch group is a good solution.

But I will not like it.


rage against the (daycare) machine

I have learned over the years that simple competence is nothing to be overrated. You get far by doing the basic things, which always comes as a surprise, at least to me, but then your milk-allergic daughter is served milk at her daycare again, and, well, you understand that simple competence is nothing to be overrated.

After the first episode, almost two months ago now, the daycare administration made all sorts of claims – special table for NK, professional training, a staff member assigned to NK for meals, blah, blah.

Well, it turns out they only meant lunch, not afternoon snack. No staff member assigned to her then. And they posted a new allergy list on the wall – leaving out her egg allergy. Then last week, someone put a glass of cow milk at her place. She picked up the glass and put it to her lips. A teacher stopped her at the last second, but also terrified her.

Luckily for us, E was actually in the building when this happened (what do you think the chances are we would have heard about this otherwise?) She and NK ended up at the hospital all afternoon and evening, as they made sure NK did not drink too much milk. She did not, but was too upset to tell us.

So now what? We have heard next to nothing from the daycare or the city. NK has not gone back, even for morning play. We are trying to get her in private daycare. We are demanding meetings with high ups in the city, demanding that the daycare be reorganized. We are debating whether or not to go to the media, to consult a lawyer.

This all comes down to a stupid plan that left six teachers supervising 36 kids in some big group chaos theory of education. They can’t keep track of anything in that system, much less a stray glass of milk. It is dangerous for all the kids – all for a lack of competence.

empty streets, squeaking doors and tired arms

Some weekends are like this. Cold and gray, with temps dipping below freezing in early October. The stupid teachers at stupid daycare gave your milk-allergic daughter milk again (more on that another day – she is fine, by the way). Then everyone in the family develops flu-like symptoms one by one. And … the baby stops sleeping.

When the baby stops sleeping, I sometimes end up on the streets of Solna, walking with him in my arms so he will not scream and wake up his sister in our tiny little apartment. I did this last weekend up in the country, and that was almost cozy, a sky so full of stars and dark trees talking in the woods. It was a little dramatic the first time the first night in Solna, wandering the empty streets, trying to take some time for my own thoughts.

By the second time last night, however, I just wanted back in my bed. And this is where the doors and keys and lights get complicated.

See, it is really hard to get the keys out of your pocket when you are holding a baby (no sling, because I cannot get him out of it without waking him up). Then the front door squeaks — loudly. Then the lobby is super bright and super warm. Then the apartment front door also squeaks and is hard to close. Then the apartment is pitch black, at least after the super bright lobby.

I think I tried four times last night, all ending with a whimper and the starts of screams and me cursing and looking for my shoes and heading back outside. Then my arms cramped up. And it started to rain, and his little eyes just kept fluttering open and shut, his little brain racing and racing.

Eventually, his mother took him for most of the night. And when I took him early in the morning, he was so focused and calm, fixated on a garlic press for a silent half hour.

As if he was learning something.

no complacency before bureaucracy

The competence of Sweden lulls you into compacency sometimes.  For even when Swedes are flat out incompetent, especially in the bureaucracy, they project this quiet, matter of fact rightness about everything, like they hear you but you are just wrong.  Poor you, though they would never say poor you, just think it in their rightness.

Then the daycare staff gives your milk allergic daughter milk, and you snap out of it and realize that you have to do everything yourself, take nothing for granted (such as the competence of a daycare administration), as if your kid were suddenly in the worst school in the worst school district in, say, rural North Korea (where they probably would not give my daughter milk at daycare, so I apologize dutiful rural North Korean daycare teachers).

So while we hear that the administrators are putting together reports on what happened (but never get a report), E took it upon herself to call all the bosses involved and find out what they have done (barely enough).  And she took it upon herself to march up to the daycare and give the teachers practially one-on-one tutorials on milk allergies, what to do in the event of an anaphylatic shock, and how to use an EpiPen, which our daughter did not have but now does because they fed her cow milk.

So last Tuesday or Wednesday, we started letting NK eat at daycare again.  And all is well.  There is a specific teacher assigned to sit with her, and her seat is clearly marked out.  NK got a little sad when the teachers stopped letting her pour her own milk at snack time (she never pours the wrong milk, they poured the wrong milk) but they found a compromise.

Now we have to balance our desire to educate and move on with the righteous drive to find out what the hell happened and why, and report all of it to whoever we need to report it to and hope those people don’t just sit silently and think, Poor you.

milk allergy vs. lactose intolerance

A milk allergy is not lactose intolerance.  This is confusing, which is fine for the average person, but not fine for my daughter’s daycare, where they posted a note saying she was lactose intolerant, gave her lactose-free milk and put her in the hospital last week.

Put simply, a milk allergy is an immune system problem, and lactose intolerance is a digestive problem.   The milk allergy is much more serious, affects 2-4 percent of all infants, with potentially severe consequences.  It means avoiding all milk proteins, even small amounts of stuff like “casein” that gets dropped into the most random products.   It definitely means avoiding lactose-free products.  Lactose has nothing to do with milk protein.

Most of the kids outgrow the allergy, though I have been finding some articles that say it happens later than first thought.

So I should not be worried that she still has the allergy at the age of three.  But I should be worried that it could last until she is 16.

I happen to be lactose intolerant, mildly.  This means I can eat dairy but might pay the price later of a stomach ache.  It comes in handy now because Daddy also does not eat cheese, which NK really likes.  “Only Mamma!”

In the United States, there was a new labeling law passed in 2006, which requires all possible allergens to be listed in bold.  This is great.  They do not do this in Sweden yet so I have had to learn all the sneaky Swedish names for milk protein.  And Swedes love their milk protein, putting it seemingly into twice as many foods as the US.  On the flip side, the allergy care we get here is 20 times better than what we got in the US.

the cover up is almost always worse than the crime

We are still reeling from a glass of milk that our daughter drank at her daycare.  She is back to normal, that happened the next day.   She says she is mad, but she was also happy to go this morning, her first since last Thursday.

But her parents are not so calm and cool.  We remain in a swirl of meetings and revelations about how our milk allergic daughter got milk, why no one called an ambulance and why they still can’t tell us what happened.

Oh, and we learned that she also drank milk last year.  But no one told us.  Even after she coughed until she threw up.

The daycare administration is earnestly sorry, and assures us over and over, that it will not happen again.

Then, after a 90 minute meeting, this morning we walk into the dining room, and there is a note on the wall listing the dietary restrictions of all the children.

NK – No egg, no soy, no lactose.

What!?!?  Lactose intolerance is not the same as milk allergy.  This note is why they claim “everyone knew” about NK’s allergy, even though they never had a meeting, never passed on anything from her teachers last year (who apparently covered up the other glass of milk, anyway).  And this note is why someone poured her lactose free milk and told her to drink it.

Fine.  Huge mistake.  We can accept that.

But what is it still doing on the wall five days later?  They claim all this extensive work has been done, and they do not read the damn note on the wall?

And so we are left in a bad spot.  NK loves daycare, there are no kids her age not in daycare in Stockholm, and this daycare has a wonderful chef on site who cooks our allergic daughter great food.  Most of the private daycares seem to get food shipped in from caterers, and that will not work for us.

Plus we have the misfortune of living in the Stockholm area during a baby boom.  You just don’t get a new spot in the daycare of your choice in Solna (we tried to get in a parent cooperative, but no space).  And who is to say that another municipal daycare will be better?  Why should we trust anything the city of Solna does?

How far do we take this?   To the police?  To the politicians?  To the newspapers?

And how do we rebuild our trust at the same time?  Because it is likely NK will have to go to this daycare at least for the fall, and we can not transmit fear and anger to her.

a drink of milk, a trip to the emergency room

Our daughter ended up in the emergency room yesterday … because she drank half a glass of milk.  See, she has severe milk and egg allergies.  They shape her daily life – what she eats, what she can not eat, what we eat that she can not eat, and so on.  I never write about it because it has become so normal, so safe.

More than safe, it seemed boring.  What do you say?  We took it so seriously that NK never even got near milk before she started daycare.  Sweden is an allergy hotbed, and NK goes (for free) to a special allergy doctor (even in our socialized medical system!).

The milk allergy was tough when we moved from America because Swedes love their milk, really love it, dump it in almost everything.  Now the egg allergy is harder because you don’t know what they put into food in restaurants and there are not great egg replacements here, one area where Sweden really lags behind America.  We love the restaurants that give you ingredient lists – the fast food ones are the best, actually – and curse places that do not serve one single thing she can eat.

But her allergies are not boring anymore.  Not now.  Not now that we have seen what happens when she drinks a lot of milk (she only got drops before), the wheezing and swelling and shock and crying.  The doctors fixed her right up, nothing like a huge shot of cortisone to knock down swelling and jump start her into a hyper run around the examination room.

For a hot, panicked hour yesterday, as I half-ran to the hospital, carrying her little brother in a sling and pushing a stroller, I knew that she drank milk, and E and the doctors did not.  And my phone was dead.  Now, I knew they knew that this was an allergic reaction.  I knew the doctors were good.  But still, I was helpless and hot and lost on a big road in ugly industrial Sweden, and, well, the imagination gets vivid right then, and not in a good way.

And now we feel less safe, a little scared.  We will make changes, demand changes from others.  We will evaluate many things,  trying to make her safe but not panic her.