May 25, 2017


The Overly Honest Baby Book: Uncensored Memories from Baby’s First Year. By Dawn Dais. Seal Press. $15.

When Your Child Has Food Allergies: A Parent’s Guide to Managing It All—From the Everyday to the Extreme. By Mireille Schwartz. AMACOM. $17.95.

     Possibly the funniest baby’s-first-year book you will find anywhere, and almost certainly the snarkiest, Dawn Dais’ The Overly Honest Baby Book turns pretty much all the sweetness and light of first-year-memories books toward the sour and dark side. It all starts with the typical note from parents to child about the “wonders” of the first year, with Dais explaining that the book is “full of laughter, poop, cursing, and crying.” It is full of modern-family realities, too. Conception, for example, may involve mom and dad and possibly a fertility doctor; or mom and mom and a sperm bank; or dad and dad and a surrogate; or mom alone with “possible biological father #1” and “possible biological father #2” and an adoption agency. There are plenty of fill-in-the-blanks spaces for all the options. There is also a line to enter “the form of failed contraception that brought you into the world,” and a “joys of pregnancy” page where parents can fill in “the week Mommy official started to waddle,” “the week Mommy officially could no longer tie her shoes,” and much more. For birth itself, there are places to fill in “how long Mommy was in labor (in days)” and “the number of people Mommy kicked in the face.” Later, there are spaces for “the first person you spit up on” and “the first person you peed on.” There are spots for photos, too, for instance of “some of the visitors you soiled.” And there are checklists, including “Ways We Almost Killed You,” which could include “allowed the dog to lick inside your mouth” and “used 14 baby products that were later recalled.” There is a poop page to note “most poopy diapers in one day,” “most onesies soiled in one day,” and other statistics. There are places to write in “the first food you threw across the room” and to specify “The Most Disgusting Things You Put in Your Mouth” – you can check off and then fill in the specific type of “excrement,” “bodily fluid,” “regurgitated food,” “dirt clod” and more. Holidays are here, too, with places for photos of “you horrified with Santa,” “you crying in your first Halloween costume,” and so on. This all builds, eventually, to baby’s first birthday party, where parents can rate “how horrified you were when everyone started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you” on a scale from 1 (“mildly confused”) to 10 (“for the rest of your life you will have nightmares about a large chanting group of giants coming at you with a plate of fire”). Any parent who does not find this book funny and does not want to give it to a new parent or soon-to-be-parent just doesn’t have the sort of sense of humor needed to bring up a child while keeping at least a few parental brain cells intact. That parent should probably hold onto The Overly Honest Baby Book for himself or herself, to use with the next baby.

     Well, fun is fun, and babies are fun at least some of the time, but there is also plenty of seriousness involved in child-rearing. And as welcome as humorous books on the topic are, serious ones are an absolute must, especially when it comes to health matters. When Your Child Has Food Allergies is a (+++) book of strictly limited focus and for a strictly limited intended audience – although parents who are in that audience will deeply appreciate the been-there-done-that approach of Mireille Schwartz, who herself has a potentially life-threatening allergy (to fish) and has a daughter who also has a food allergy (to nuts). Schwartz starts with the basics of food allergies, how they are diagnosed, and what treatments are available, but that is only “What You Need to Know,” the first part of this book. It is the other three parts that really matter here: “Ways You Can Offer Support,” “How Your Child Can Live Fully and Safely,” and “Ways You Can Protect Your Child.” Schwartz defines “child” very broadly, to include all ages from birth onward – even teenagers, for example, need close supervision. “Teaching friends about epinephrine auto-injectors and showing them how to properly inject epinephrine if there is an allergic reaction is commonplace now,” writes Schwartz, perhaps a bit too optimistically, adding, “Encourage your teen to ask those closest to him or her to practice, practice, practice.” Schwartz recommends staying in smartphone touch with teens who are on dates, lists various apps that can help because they “are cool enough to motivate your teen,” and warns parents to “teach your teen to plan ahead if he or she, ahem, plans on action! …Their dates need to have been vigilant and conscious of their food choices that day, have washed their hands and face, have thoroughly brushed their teeth and flossed.” Schwartz is aware, at least on the surface, that these precision recommendations are at odds with the way teens’ minds work – she briefly mentions research showing the differences between the brains of teenagers and those of adults – but she nevertheless insists that parents must approach matters with this degree of supervisory intensity and unending concern. It is hard to argue with how well-meaning Schwartz is, or how experienced she is with extremely severe food allergies. But she gives short shrift to those allergies that are less than dire – so her book may unnecessarily frighten parents (and children) whose circumstances are not life-threatening. Furthermore, When Your Child Has Food Allergies completely ignores recent recommendations relating, in particular, to peanut allergies, which state that early and careful exposure under medical supervision can mitigate or even prevent severe allergic reactions later in childhood. Instead, she falls back on the zero-tolerance approach under any and all circumstances, for any and all children and families. Schwartz clearly wants children with extremely serious food allergies to be able to live lives that are as safe and happy as possible – an unexceptionable and worthy goal. But her advocacy frequently has the net effect of telling parents to turn their lives and those of their children into a 100% focus on food allergies and their possibly horrific consequences, 100% of the time. For instance, Schwartz has this to say about gift suggestions: “If you have an avid reader in your home, children’s books about food allergies also make great gifts at any time of the year.” That can be a perfect recipe for turning kids off to reading: not even in books, not even in leisure time, should kids be the slightest bit focused on anything other than serious health concerns, according to Schwartz. Parents whose children have anything less than life-threatening food allergies should be very careful not to let Schwartz’s recommendations, based on extreme concern about extreme circumstances, suck all the joy as well as all the potential allergens out of their children’s lives.

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