Every afternoon I cycle through central Stockholm. Every afternoon Stockholm City’s Christmas lights programme makes me all tingly and happy.

I love the way they have gone “all in”, with beautiful LED lighting all along the major streets in the city centre. (Somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 LED lights – the various sources differ on the exact number.)

I love the breadth and variety: glowing red orbs, sheets of light, trees draped in lights, even LED-covered reindeer shapes. It may not be high art but it is heart-warming.

I wish I had the equipment to take some proper pictures of it all. You can see some photos on Stockholmsjul’s Facebook page.

One major theme of this month for Adrian has been “using things”. He understands that certain items have certain uses, and he uses them himself.

Naturally he especially likes using things that he sees us using, too. He likes mimicking us and doing things the way we do them, and helping us.

When I cook porridge in the morning, he tries to help me by grabbing a wooden spoon and trying to stir. When I peel potatoes or chop veggies, he likes “using” our little food compost bin by throwing everything he can reach in that bin, especially the potatoes and veggies. Then I fish them out again. (The bin normally doesn’t have anything particularly icky in there, so it’s easy to rinse off the potatoes again.)

Sometimes when he sees me put something in my mouth, something that he can reach, he helps me by feeding me. He doesn’t do this at the dinner table, but if I pop a cooked bean in my mouth while making dinner, or a grape, he’ll feed me more. And he is good at it: since he’s used to eating with his hands he knows how to hold the grape in his fingers and how to hold his fingers to my mouth to make it easy for me.

In the mornings when I brush my hair he borrows Ingrid’s hairbrush and tries to brush either his own hair or mine.

Other things he clearly does for his own sake, not to help us. He has learned to use the Stokke highchairs, and to some extent the step stool as well, as his personal portable ladders. When stuff is going on in the kitchen, when someone appears to be doing something interesting on the kitchen counter, or when he is simply done eating and is looking for something else to do in the kitchen, he will grab one of the highchairs, push it to where he wants it, and climb up on top. The highchairs work better because he can grab hold of the back for climbing up and especially for climbing down – with the step stool he can’t get down on his own and will whine until someone lifts him down.

He has had a few falls but most of the time he manages it pretty well, even when he crowds in on the step stool while Ingrid is already standing there, or leans far out from the chair to reach something. He also climbs on everything even remotely climbable when he’s at playgroup. When someone stands in his way, he pushes onwards, not with aggression but with determination. He likes Ingrid’s Stokke better than our spare, because it’s got a higher back, so if Ingrid leaves it unattended (when running to the loo in the middle of dinner) or even just stands up to get the milk, he will immediately try to grab her chair and push it away.

This chair trick means that he can now reach all the kitchen counters as well as the top boxes of our “pantry”, so all these need to be kept mostly clear of dangerous or fragile things. Kitchen knives have to be dried and put away rather than left on the drying rack; no open containers of e.g. flour or sugar or cooking oil can be left on the kitchen counters while preparing food. In the pantry we’ve simply moved the boxes around so that the ones he can reach are safe (for both him and the food inside): the topmost boxes now contain baking goods, root vegetables, and nuts and seeds, rather than opened boxes with pasta.

This also means that he can reach the tap. For a while he liked that a great deal, and spent a lot of time turning the tap on, touching the water, poking at it with spoons and so on. He would always turn it on at full blast and get himself thoroughly wet, and everything around him, too.

Adrian likes things with lids and caps, that he can open and close. He can open the Lock’n’Lock boxes we use for snacks and leftover foods. One particular favourite is a little jar of beeswax salve which is satisfyingly heavy and stable, and where the lid fits precisely in place with a click. Whenever I bring it out to rub some salve onto some dry patches on his back, we share it: he puts the lid on and takes it off again and again, and occasionally lets me put my fingers in there.

Another capped favourite is felt-tip pens. He has tried drawing (with felt-tip pens and crayons). But pulling off the caps (and occasionally putting them back on) was even more fun than drawing, so we in order to protect the walls, floors, furniture and clothes, we had to put the pens away and only let him use them under very close supervision. Pencils and crayons were not at all as interesting. At first it was interesting to make marks and dots on a paper but the novelty quickly wore off.

In general we haven’t had to child-proof much at all. He is, on the whole, co-operative and sensible. He knows that the knife block is forbidden, and that he is not allowed to touch pots and pans on the stove. He knows the meaning of “no” and of the index finger held up in warning, and listens to them – and confirms his understanding by holding up his own index finger. When he is unsure about whether an object is safe/allowed or not, he looks questioningly at us. Other times he doesn’t, and we take away the forbidden object, and he cries and sounds heart-broken and lies down and rests his head on his floor in dejection.

He points at things a lot and says “tääh” just like Ingrid did at this age, which we again interpret as asking for their names. I have not yet noticed him using any other “word”.

Adrian has started making the sign for “nurse” but he’s redefined it to mean “pick me up”. Now I’m thinking that I should find a new sign for “nurse”, and perhaps try to reintroduce signs for a few other things as well.

One day I thoughtlessly showed him that there are pictures inside my camera and now I can hardly take a photo of him, because as soon as I get the camera he races towards me and starts pulling at it and poking at the screen to see the little pictures of himself.

Among actual toys, his favourites have been stacking cups and his stacking-ring penguin: putting them together and taking apart again. In the last few days he’s also been quite interested in looking at books, especially one with animals.

Eric reports that he likes going out, whether it’s to the supermarket or to preschool to pick up Ingrid. He knows that clothes on means going out, and tries to climb into the stroller. He says hi to the cashiers at Coop that he recognizes, and at other random folk, too, but then turns shy when they respond.

Quite unlike Ingrid, Adrian is apparently not hot-blooded. He willingly lets us dress him and co-operates when it’s time to put his arms in sleeves. He even likes putting on a coat, hat and mittens when going out, and will signal when he is cold by pulling his coat closer. On colder days we’ve started putting two layers on him at home, with a long-sleeved t-shirt over his body, and we’ve switched to a warmer blanket at night. He seems to like both of these. He is not very fond of socks, though, and pulls them off as soon as we put them on, so we don’t usually bother.

His eating and nursing habits are about the same as last month. He now mostly takes a single long nap in the middle of the day, but reverts to two if he’s unwell or has simply slept badly at night.

Adrian may be a master climber but he isn’t particularly close to walking. He can stand without support, and even stand up from sitting without holding on to anything. He is totally uninterested in walking. He can cruise along furniture, maybe even let go to cross the two-step gap between two chairs, but no more. He can walk if I hold both his hands but he can’t see the point and when given the choice he would rather drop on all fours and crawl.

Today we went pre-shopping for sofas. Not buying, not even quite deciding yet, but looking at what is available, roughly what things cost, what the different parameters are. We visited three furniture stores, conveniently located close to each other in Barkarby.

And all the sofas in their showrooms were either in non-colours (black, white, grey, beige) and in red. If you want colour, you get red. I think there were also two sofas in purple, but that’s it.

Oh, of course, if you go digging through all the fabric samples you will find some alternatives, but it is very clear what most people want. And your choice is narrowed down significantly if you want a sofa in, for example, green, as opposed to grey.

I’ve previously noticed that red is also almost always the only colour for leather goods. Any normal shoe brand will have shoes in black and brown, and if they have shoes in other colour, those will be red. Same for gloves and bags.

I found a usable photo of Ingrid for this month after all.

At times it feels like half a full-time job just keeping everybody clothed. The kids’ clothes need to be kept reasonably clean (minor hopeless stains excepted), reasonably whole (almost-invisible holes excepted), about the right size, not too warm and not too cold. As a result there is an almost constant flow of clothes that need buying, name-tagging, washing, hanging, folding, mending, packing, sorting, unpacking.

Ingrid can now wear the same size for over a year, and some warm clothes from last winter still fit this year. Adrian may be able to wear his current gear for about half a year, probably no longer. How easy it is for adults, especially if you’re OK with ignoring the trendiest fashions! I’m not joking when I say that some of my clothes are 10 years old.

It used to be that all of Ingrid’s clothes could be packed away when she outgrew them, to wait for the next baby. Now I regularly have to throw clothes out. Ingrid doesn’t like trousers and greatly prefers tights and leggings, which don’t always survive long when she wears them when playing outside. She also manages to ruin the sleeves on most tops – somehow especially the white ones (which she likes to wear underneath sleeveless dresses) seem to attract paint and other crafts materials.

My shopping list for children’s clothes never gets down to zero. If it isn’t the next size of bodies for Adrian then it’s new socks for Ingrid, or it’s time to buy snowsuits for the winter, or Ingrid’s outgrown her pyjamas, or they need something presentable for Christmas.

I’m very grateful for the existence of Tradera (the Swedish Ebay equivalent). I used to buy new clothes because I was reasonably sure that I could save them for the next kid. But now Ingrid is definitely past the age when I could buy “inheritable” clothes for her. If I try, one of them (or more likely both) will be unhappy with the clothes. I can force Ingrid to wear a snowsuit that she hates, in the hopes that Adrian might be able to use it later, or I can make her happy with a second-hand pink one for less than half the price.

There hasn’t been much news this month, so I’m going to try and write more generally about some aspects of Ingrid’s personality this time. Specifically, the aspects that stand out and that I notice most, and those that have changed most over the past few years.

When Ingrid was about half a year old, someone described her as “strong, glad and active”. We hadn’t thought to describe or summarize her personality, but when we heard that description, we found it very apt. That is exactly what she was like. And the description remained applicable for years.

Now it really doesn’t fit any more. Strong she remains. But “glad and active” have been replaced by “surly and unimaginative”. Unlike some previous downswings, this has been going on for months, so it doesn’t seem to be a short-term negative phase.

Somehow, somewhere, she has lost the joy of doing things, the desire to be active, to create. Now she wants to be entertained instead, to consume. She used to like so many things: drawing and painting, writing, all sorts of crafts; jigsaw puzzles, singing, word games; helping us cook or bake, pick clothes for Adrian, take photos… Now she thinks everything is boring, and really only likes watching movies, listening to a book, and playing with friends – and any sort of activity where someone else (primarily Eric and/or I) provides the creative energy.

She will reject all suggestions to actually do anything as boring. She does not want to do any of the things that she used to enjoy. And when I do get her to participate in some sort of activity – painting or some sort of crafts – she seems to focus mostly on finishing and barely enjoying the process. She asks me to finish it because she “is tired” or because “you can do it faster mommy”. It’s more about getting it done than having fun. She optimizes for (what in my opinion is) totally the wrong thing.

She has no interest at all in joining us in things we do, whether it’s cooking, baking, emptying the dishwasher, raking leaves in the garden, going to the supermarket, or anything else. She perceives and notices the effort but not the joy of doing things.

She lost her creative drive, her imagination. She hardly ever draws, or sings, or makes up silly word games. And if she does draw it’s the same things as before, and when she does make up silly stuff it is silly stuff she has made up before. When we play games that require fantasy, she always wants to take the passive role. When we play the I spy game, or any other guessing game, she never wants to be the one to guess – she wants the role that doesn’t require any real effort. And if I want us to take turns, she suddenly doesn’t want to play that game any more. Eric and I now make a conscious effort to avoid such unbalanced games and choose ones where both players have to put in equal effort (such as ett skepp kommer lastat and so on). Even so, when it comes to the point where it gets a bit hard, where she needs to exert herself, she’d rather give up.

When we make up stories or pretend something, she wants me to come up with all the ideas. She can even be bored at Junibacken, or a swimming pool, and keeps asking “What shall I do now”.

Possibly related to this – she suddenly cannot or doesn’t like to make decisions any more. She wants us to choose clothes for her in the morning, to choose a plate and cup for her, to say what sweet she should have after dinner, to choose the book to read at night. But when we do choose she usually rejects our choice anyway, which gets pretty tiresome after a while. We now generally refuse to make the decisions for her, or if I do decide, I will not let her override it. Otherwise we are back to the usual routine – us contributing positive, creative energy and her either consuming it, or overriding it with rejection or negative comments.

I wonder how much of this is specific to Ingrid, and how much applies to most five-year-olds. I don’t know any other five-year-olds well enough to know.

I wonder how this came about. I wonder if it is a phase, whether she will outgrow it or whether we need to somehow help her out of it. (How do you teach someone to enjoy doing things?)

I also wonder if this is all somehow related to her being clever but not wise. She is ahead of her peers in cleverness (reading and writing and game strategy and planning ahead) but lacks wisdom and common sense. Has she in her cleverness “seen through” the “game”, decided that you “win” by getting the most done with the least effort?

This was my day yesterday. A reasonably typical day for us, except for the content of my work. Normally I would spend most of my day on a larger feature but on Fridays we focus on fixing bugs. Compare and contrast this to last year’s post.

5:30 Nurse Adrian, semi-awake. Check his nappy (we use disposables at night) and of course it has leaked again and there is a big wet patch on his pyjamas. Rouse myself enough to strip off his wet pyjamas and nappy and put on a clean nappy. Can’t be bothered to go downstairs for dry pyjamas so I take him in under my blanket. Both quickly fall asleep again.
6:30 Woken by Adrian who is now clearly awake for the day. We nurse.
6:40 Get up and go downstairs with Adrian so we don’t wake the others. Change Adrian into his cloth nappy and put some clothes on him. Groggily potter around and cuddle with Adrian. Bring toys for him to the bathroom.
7:00 Take a shower while Adrian plays on the bathroom floor.
7:10 Pack my lunch for the day. Brush breadcrumbs from around the edges of the kitchen floor. Get the porridge going. (2 dl mixed grains, mostly oats; half a finely diced apple; 4.5 dl water; a chunk of butter.)
7:20 Go upstairs. Pull up the blackout blinds so that Eric and Ingrid can start waking. Get dressed.
7:25 Go downstairs. Take the porridge from the stove. Set the table for myself, Adrian and Ingrid, who will all be eating the porridge.
7:30 Eat breakfast. Help Adrian eat by loading the spoon for him. Adrian is not very interested in breakfast and would rather nurse some more, and pick with the groceries in our temporary pantry.
7:45 Brush teeth. Notice that I have a few minutes to spare before I have to leave so I photograph our newly painted bird feeder and our Halloween pumpkin which is still looking pretty fresh. Put on my coat and hat and gloves.
7:50 Leave for work.
8:00 Get to the train station, arriving at the platform just as the train rolls in. Get on the train. Read the most recent issue of the Economist.
8:10 The train stops at a red light just before Karlberg. The driver announces that due to a fracture in a rail, there is a queue of trains in to Stockholm Central and we will be going slowly. I continue reading.
8:30 Finally reach Stockholm C, 15 minutes late. Unlock bike, cycle to the office just off Östermalms torg.
8:45 At my desk. Check our support inbox, archive yesterday’s email conversations with customers.
Email our server host about problems with our outgoing mail (which is getting blocked as spam by one major US internet provider) and ask them to get their mail server removed from the blacklist.
Notice that the nightly regression tests have come up red with an error message that we have sporadically seen before; set the regression tests to run again. (They come up green 20 minutes later.)
9:00 Continue where I left off on Thursday: working on our tool which analyses our application’s translation files for unused translation strings. Improve the parallel processing code in the tool; fix some bugs in it; go through the results and remove unused translation strings.
11:11 Note that it is 11-11-11 11:11. Text message arrives from Eric, saying the same.
11:30 Break for lunch. Go upstairs to our shared kitchen, heat up the packed lunch, eat. (Jasmine rice, vegetables in satay sauce, blueberry muffin baked by Ingrid and Eric.) Chat to colleagues while eating.
12:00 Back at my desk. Fridays are bug report days which means I am free to choose which bugs or minor improvements I want to work on. I decide to improve a feature in our test runs module (which will update test runs with any changes that have been made to the test cases it contains).
12:45 The code works but the user interface is not updating as expected. Take a break, spend some time answering customer support emails.
13:00 Investigate why the user interface is not refreshing. Discover weird caching code. Fix it so the cache is invalidated when appropriate.
13:30 Remove some unrelated code that I noticed during that work, and remembered it is no longer needed. (We used to validate VAT numbers entered by our customers against a web service provided by some EU agency, but the web service is so unreliable we’ve been forced to give up on this.)
13:45 Fix a bug: a link from our login page needs to be updated because the URLs in our public web site will change as of the next release.
14:00 Fix a bug: on certain pages, the navigation menu does not remember its state. The reason turns out to be a different ClientIdMode setting on those pages.
14:45 Talk to colleagues about some planned changes to our public web site.
15:00 Fix a bug: a particular value in a special field is not sorted correctly in the charts in our application.
15:15 Fix a bug: a certain user setting should be saved in the database instead of cookie, to match the behaviour of other related user settings. Notice that the code could do with some refactoring first. Refactor.
15:40 Start working on the actual bug.
15:55 Pack up and leave.
16:00 Cycle to Stockholm C.
16:10 At station.
16:13 Train leaves.
16:25 Train arrives in Spånga.
16:35 At home. Ingrid is playing with a friend and in their game I immediately get the role of grandmother. Luckily I am not expected to do much more than talk a bit. Adrian throws himself at me. Go upstairs to get changed. We nurse. A quick trip to the basement to fetch my winter coat – the weather has turned cold almost overnight.
17:00 Eric starts making pancakes. Dinner will be half an hour earlier than usual (17:30 instead of 18:00) because Ingrid’s friend E tires earlier than Ingrid and will be going home just after 18:00. Adrian and I hang around in the kitchen. I can’t do anything productive because Adrian won’t let go of me.
17:15 Adrian looks very hungry so I put him in his highchair and give him a pancake.
17:20 The girls come to the kitchen asking for pancakes. We set the table, get out all the accessories, and start eating the pancakes just about as quickly as Eric can make them. I alternate between eating and serving more pancakes to the children. Adrian squirms out of his highchair and comes to sit in my lap.
17:45 The girls are done eating. I continue. Adrian also decides to eat some more.
18:00 All done. Start cleaning up the kitchen while Eric finishes eating.
18:15 Friend E’s father J arrives. They and Ingrid hunt for E’s clothes – for some reason she and most of Ingrid’s other friends change into Ingrid’s clothes when they’re here. They go home.
18:30 Continue cleaning up and other minor household tasks.
18:40 Adrian looks ready to go to bed. Change him into disposable nappy and pyjamas. Brush his teeth. Take him upstairs.
18:55 Nurse.
19:05 Adrian tosses and turns and sits up and lies down and does his best to wind down.
19:15 Adrian falls asleep and so do I.
19:45 Wake. Get downstairs. Check email.
19:55 Play Ludo with Ingrid.
20:20 Ingrid is getting too tired to sit still and focus on the game so we pack up. Eric prepares Ingrid for bed while I read some blog posts.
20:30 Go upstairs with Ingrid. Read a story. Sit by her bed and read blogs while she goes to sleep. She has difficulty falling asleep so this takes quite a bit longer than usual.
21:15 Go downstairs. Talk to Eric.
21:25 Work on a Christmas felt applique/embroidery project.
22:40 Adrian wakes and “calls” for me. Quickly brush teeth. Go upstairs. Nurse. Fall asleep.

Junibacken: playing and climbing opportunities for kids of all sizes.

Adrian is well over a year old, and it’s been a long time since I last tested dairy products other than butter (since spring, actually). I thought I’d try and see how his milk protein allergy is doing. Perhaps I can go back to a more varied diet?

By now I don’t miss milk products much, but it does complicate cooking, and eating out is a serious challenge. I’m glad if I find one milk-free meat-free option on the menu, and often have to ask the kitchen to skip the sauce, give me boiled potatoes instead of mashed potatoes etc. I’ve been eating a lot of sushi and pizza without cheese. (Which is a pretty poor alternative to real pizza.)

What I know and don’t know

I know that there are two types of milk protein allergy. One is a true allergy, “IgE-mediated”, with a fast reaction and more classical allergy symtoms – hives, itching, vomiting. The other is an intolerance, still an immunological reaction but “non-IgE-mediated”, with a delayed reaction and more gastrointestinal symtoms – reflux, abdominal pain, abnormal stools. All signs point towards Adrian having the latter. (Which is great, because this non-IgE-mediated version is much more likely to disappear, and much less likely to widen to cross-reactions to other allergens.)

I also know that non-IgE-mediated CMPI often disappears on its own in kids and around 90% are allergy-free by age three. But I realized I have no idea how it actually disappears. Does it happen fast or gradually over many months? Do the kids tolerate larger and larger amounts, or do their symptoms just become weaker? Do the symptoms change? – because obviously Adrian’s gastrointestinal system is much more mature now than a year ago.

I now also know that there are four main types of protein in milk that kids can be allergic to. I’ve learned from the internet that they may react to one or several of those, and there’s no real correlation between the different types. But I have no idea which one(s) Adrian might react to.

How to test?

When we first tested for CMPI we did an eliminiation/challenge test. I ate no dairy products for three weeks, and then ate normal amounts of milk again for one day. The result was unequivocal.

But I’m not so sure that this would be the right thing to test now. I could do a challenge, but if Adrian reacts, all it would tell me is that he reacts if I consume a lot of milk. But I don’t necessarily need or want to consume a lot of milk. If I can put parmesan on my pasta and cheese on my pizza every now and again, I’d be pretty happy.

So the alternative is to try with just a little bit. But that might also not be the right thing to test. Adrian might react, but not so much that it would be a clear signal. He might not scream with pain like he used to, just feel slightly sick and fuss a bit more than usual. We may just interpret that as ordinary fussing and I’d continue with milk, making him live with constant low-level stomach pain (for example) which I obviously don’t want.

Can I? Can’t I? Confusion.

A couple of weeks ago I had pizza for lunch. That seemed to go well. Then a cheese sandwich. That seemed to go less well – he slept like crap. Another week or so later I tried grilled cheese sandwiches, and he didn’t seem to react.

Around the same time we had him tested for milk protein allergy (skin prick test) and the test was a clear negative. Great, we thought, finally a clear answer! Let’s go!

So I ate home-made pizza on Saturday and pasta with feta cheese on Sunday. Adrian slept like crap again last night, and was crazy all day today. Hyperactive, racing around, unable to concentrate on anything, throwing things; grabs for food and then refuses to eat it; grabs for breast and then pushes it away… “crazy” is the best way I can describe it. What’s up?

Facts: a skin test is useless for this

What’s up is that the doctor needs to go back to school, it seems. I went back to the internet to learn more and immediately found out that skin prick tests are worthless in the case of non-IgE-mediated CMPI. They do not detect that type of reaction, they only work for IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy.

The internet was less helpful in coming up with a plan for testing to see whether Adrian’s outgrown his CMPI. So it’s back to our own homebrew method, slow and steady. I will try a bit, wait a few days, try the same again and wait again. If everything is OK, I try with the next type of dairy product.

Right now it looks like I can consume small amounts of cheese that has been strongly heated. Cheese straight from the fridge is not OK. Next I should probably test whey products that contain no casein (the protein in cheese) to see if Adrian also reacts to the other milk proteins.

Useful resources:
Food Allergy and Food Intolerance on Patient.co.uk
The diagnosis and management of cow milk protein intolerance in the primary care setting on PubMed – only an abstract is provided but a search for the exact title will likely turn up some unofficial copies of the article.