Saturday, June 27, 2009

Of course, it's just stress.

I have, again, been diagnosed with...Stress.

I went into the doctor with abdominal and menstrual complaints. I couldn't decide if I needed a gynecologist for the constant period or a GI for the ensuing stomach issues. I settled on my PCP when I broke out in a rash on top of it all.

And, after taking enough blood to twice collapse my vein (although the phlebotomist was awesome and I didn't even pass out this time) and doing a pelvic ultrasound to examine the female organs (during which I *did* pass out, oddly. Something about drinking too much water on a hot day...) The nurse called with good news.

I'm perfectly healthy.

Which, I guess, explains why I'm so tired and nauseous.

Now what?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dyes Must Die

She's been at it again. My friend, the one who kept prodding me to go gluten free. Whose whisper haunted me until I decided to just do it and prove once and for all, to myself, the doctors and her that it was NOT the gluten. (And of course, it was)

This time it's dye. My youngest has some, well, issues. She's unique. She's wonderful. She's aggravating. At one point we were advised to have her tested for autism. But, since she was cuddly, bubbly, bright and happy to interact when there weren't strangers around, we never followed up on that. Now, she has few if any of the hallmarks. However, some days I can't decide whether I should fall down laughing or curl up and cry at her antics. She's usually doing both. She finds our buttons, and not just pushes but POUNDS on them. And then she pulls them out, just for the sake of doing it again.

The thing is, she doesn't seem to want to be acting up. She gets in a state and can't seem to control herself. And the bigger she gets, the harder it is to help her gain control. It's one thing to pick up a screaming 4 year old and deposit her in her bedroom. It's quite another thing to disentangle a 7 year old who weighs almost half what you do (granted, I'm way too skinny for my own good) from on top of her sister, gently manhandle her down the obstacle course of a hallway and keep her in her bedroom for the duration of a time out. Especially when she realizes that acting like dead weight until she sees a hand hold will definitely slow you down, and might even grant her a 3 minute reprieve. During which she can strip and run screaming through the house "Mommy hates me, Mommy hates me, Mommy hates me!"

(Why does shethink I hate her? Because I'm sitting there, gently prying her hands away, and taking away privileges while I try to get her to the quiet area that she can simmer down in. When the problem is obviously her sister's lack of malleability. She won't give up her share of a treat [at least, not all of it] or abandon her game in the middle without whining or just let Bumblebee win if they're playing against one another. It's what you'd expect in a 4 year old. But she's 7.)

She's not always this way. But when she is, I'm tempted to sell her to the gypsies. Or maybe just run away and join the circus, myself. (Wait, they sell popcorn there, don't they? Nevermind.)

The school called in a counselor when they tired of prying her sobbing arms off of me as I slipped away as quickly as I could, then slunk back to sneak peaks through the window, trying to reassure myself she'd recovered. The counselor seems as baffled as we are. Is it anxiety? PDD? SID? Is there something physical we're missing? Something else entirely? Best not to label, just wait and see. (But stop peaking through windows, its spooking out the kids and some of the parents.)

My friend has patiently listened to my frustrations. At each outburst she covers the same bases. "Now, Penguin has issues with dye...have you thought about that?" "Could it be some sort of food dye?" "Do you think she's reacting to something in her diet? Artificial dyes?"

Like an ostrich, I've stuffed my head in the sand. Reassuring her, and anyone else, that Ms. Bumblebee does not seem to have any issues with food dyes at all. She doesn't get headaches from them. No vomiting. She's my healthy kid.
Except when she has these outbursts. And then, she's still healthy. Just in danger of being disowned.

It's not the food dye. There wasn't much in my house. Occasional fruit "snacks" for only her, some medecines, valentine and Halloween candy. Our staples are dye free (And if you think yours are, check the ingredients on marshmallows, pickles and tooth paste.)

But after reading "The Unhealthy Truth", I resolved to stop spending money on artificial food colorings. I don't want that gunk in my kids, even if it is only the blue that hurts Penguin. I don't want to support the industry that pours chemical concoctions into the bodies and brains of growing kids, but only in the USA. (Many international countries already use natural food dyes in products found in other countries)

So, I sat the kids down and we replaced the occassional cheap fruit snacks with the occasional, not-terribly-expensive Florida's naturals and the not-so-cheap Annie's gummies. Things improved, but of course, it wasn't JUST that we've been dye free. Besides, we did still have melt downs, and occassionally my friend would gently point out correlations. "I did see her eating a popsicle with her class..." "Do you think it's related to that bright blue tongue?" No. No I didn't. Well, I did, but I didn't want to.

And then we had VBS. The kids had a phenomenol time on the "Boomerang Express"; singing, crafting, playing games and earning...starbursts? That's okay. I didn't think twice.

Until Wednesday. We were putting on our shoes, gathering our handpicked canned goods to donate and heading out the door when Bumblebee burst into tears. "Pick me up early!" she entreated.

Huh? The entire day lasted maybe 3 hours. She'd been having so much fun she hadn't been ready to leave all week. "You don't love me! I'm scared. If you loved me, you'd pick me up early!"

This was sounding very familiar. Very after-a-birthday-party-ish. Very I-don't-want-to-go-to-school-ish.
And she'd earned at least 3 starbursts the day before.

During another tantrum that afternoon, I sat down and talked with her. (This isn't easy when a child is screaming that you hate them so they hate you.) I told her that I was worried about the tantrums. And that I noticed that she might be feeling a little more cranky than normal (Fighting fire with fire just gives us both sore throats, so I thought I'd treat her matter of factly, and play down the screaming.) and I wondered if she thought it might have anything to do with what she'd been eating, like the starbursts.

To my surprise, she turned on me and said "NO! I was watching too and guess what? When I eat candy with dye in it you get REALLY REALLY MEAN!!! Even when I don't even tell you that I ate it! You just start hating me for no good reason!"


After the storm had blown out she agreed that "everything and everyone is meaner" after she eats dye. She won't agree that it makes HER more upset. But she did say that she might, maybe, sort of, kind of be willing to give it up. She doesn't like crying.

I'm not certain that it is the dye. Like most parents, I'm tempted to blame the excitement of the day, and the weather, and say she's coming down with something. Food should be fun. I don't want to place unnecessary restrictions.

But, echoes of my friend's voice are haunting me. And *shaking sand from my ostrich feathers* I think it's time to say...It just might be the dye.

A Vegetarian Waivers

I've always been vegetarian.

No, that's not true. My commitment began when I was around 6. I'd just wheedled my vegetarian-leaning mom into buying me a hamburger instead of a fish sandwich at a fast food place. My brother was contentedly staring out the window, munching away. I'd just taken a bite when he asked, wide eyed and innocent, if the field outside was where they kept the cows before "bashing their brains out and chopping them up into hamburgers".

Of course I freaked out.

And when my mom managed to calm me down, and yet assure me that the hamburger I'd begged, bargained and pleaded for was, indeed, derived from a cow, I resolved to go hungry that day. (Well, I ate the fries) And never, ever eat meat again.

When my conscience finally connected chicken and turkey with the critters that run around flapping their wings and pecking the ground, they left my diet as well. And I finally fished fish out in an attempt to feel better. Literature in the 90's claimed that vegetarians had healthier lifestyles than meat eaters. I didn't know why, but I didn't feel good. And I was all to happy to blame meat.

By high school, I needed more than "meat is gross", and I explored all the real reasons for my vegetarian choices. Animal cruelty was one, but it was easily compensated for by free range, organic options that were hitting the market. Certainly my goal wasn't to save a cow, the excessive number that are raised are harming our environment as it is.

The concept that one vegetarian can survive for a lifetime on the land it requires to feed one meat eater for one year really disturbed me. Environmental and political concerns, coupled with the idea that our bodies were not originally designed to digest meat (Our teeth simply sharp enough) strengthened my resolve.

But looking back, I wasn't "well". I just hid it well.

I later dabbled with various dietary measures, noting that on days I didn't have time to eat I felt great. With the IBS diagnosis, I went vegan on a doctor's advice. I dabbled in macrobiotics. I've since read up on paleo diets, blood type diets and the Specific Carb Diet, not to mention several versions of the Candida diet.

I've come to the conclusion that there is no one diet that fits everyone. Many facets of cure-all dietary approaches are similar, but address different causes for symptoms. I don't believe that humans were originally designed to eat meat. But in the grand scheme of things, we've been doing it for much longer than we've been eating gluten grains.

I've also come to the conclusion that I can't survive on rice, eggs, applesauce and a few well cooked veggies. Especially when I flare and those well cooked veggies don't settle down and get digested. I don't know that animal foods will help, but since I'm trying to put my trust in G-d, I've turned to prayer for an answer. And it occurred to me that if I AM going to use meat, I should do it kosher, to the best of my ability.

The fact that any food that is truly kosher for passover is also corn free is a bonus.

I also can't bring myself to consume red meat. No bashed up cows for me :-) But Chicken Soup is the Jewish; I'll take solace in the thought that Mary probably cooked up something similar for her son. What was good enough for Him can't be too bad for me. Can it?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In which the world becomes a better place...

I swear, the way to a mom's heart is through her kids.
Yesterday brought Penguin's elementary school years to a close. Of course there were tears. (I was a bit surprised, even a few boys were hauling tissues around.) But what touched me most wasn't the slideshow, or the farewell song, or the little "graduation ceremony".

Yesterday morning a PTA mom approached me with a box of popsicles and asked me to double check it. They were, indeed, free from artficial dyes, dairy and gluten. She was happy and went to give Penguin her treat (which made me happy, of course) and after school, Penguin catapulted herself towards me with eyes shining and said "Mommy, Mommy, I got a popsicle! They brought me a popsicle with everyone else! And it was my favorite flavor! It was soooo good!"

She went on to tell about the popsicle party, but what stood out in the story was how safe, and included she felt. That's when my eyes welled up with tears. I hugged her tight.

She's a good kid, and she's good about dealing with her allergies. But it's hard to be different, and she vents that at home sometimes. Earlier this week she was pleasantly surprised to find a safe sorbet on the 5th grade ice cream table, and her girl scout leader thoughtfully provided safe treats for the last meeting of the year. But it was this last touch, a popsicle that looked like everyone else's and was provided with everyone else's without much ado that really made her day.

Things are changing. Yay!!!!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


They say we live in the land of the free. But I'm not so sure that our society truly embraces the ideals of freedom.

Sure, we promote free speech. When it suits our purposes, we flaunt it.

But there's more to freedom than simple speech. For every action we take, there is a result for better or worse. And nothing highlights this more than recent headlines.

In Australia, a young couple has been imprisoned because of their parenting choice. There appears to be no evidence that they were abusive or literally neglectful of their young daughter. They simply chose to treat her eczema with homeopathic remedies. Which might have worked. Unfortunately, this time it didn't. She developed secondary infections, and eventually succumbed, after the couple sought treatment in a hospital setting.

Of course, I'm appalled that the child suffered. I'm mortified that something like eczema was the cause of death. But, even more, I'm concerned that there are people who condemn these parents as "bad" simply because they made a choice. They did NOT expect the choice to cost them their daughter. They, like most of us, wanted what was best for her and if their experience with western medicine was anything like ours has been, they were probably frustrated with the "system" and sought their own answers.

While I believe that life should be valued, and respected, I also don't think that when a life is lost it automatically means someone has failed. There is a fine line for us to walk as protectors of the innocents. While authorities should certainly intervene to protect children who are too young and helpless to protect themselves from abuse or true neglect, they also need to respect a parent's decisions when it comes to their children.

From the accounts I've read, this child was fed, clothed and loved. She was receiving alternate care. Yes she was still suffering. But her parents suffered alongside of her. And who's to say that Western medicine would have definitively fared better? There may be more to the story that a jury heard and acted on, but the public response that condemns these parents as "bad" simply because they are left grieving leads me to believe that we, as a society, do not value freedom as much as we claim to.

Parents are human. Everyone is human. The people running the court systems are only human, for crying out loud. How can they expect any more from their clientele? We all make mistakes and some of those mistakes prove to have greater consequences than others. But if they're made in good faith, they're still honest mistakes. The more harshly we hold people accountable for their mistakes, the more distrust people will have of authority in general. And the less likely they are to admit mistakes before they prove fatal.

The Australian couple has stirred up the vaccination debate in some circles. Is failure to vaccinate equivalent to abuse? Neglect? Or educated choice? Why should parents have to worry that not only are they making the "wrong" choice, but that they will go to jail or lose their children if something happens? Vaccines are a calculated risk. That knowledge doesn't help when your child is the sacrifice.

For me, it brings to mind the many "alternate" choices families make every day. Breast or bottle, formula or milk, alternative or cows? What to feed your children, and when. What they wear, what they watch, when they are permitted to stay home or in the car alone. We each make difficult parenting decisions every day, some of them heftier than others. Some are more wrought with emotion.

No one knows my kids like I do. I don't know other people's children the way that they can. I don't presume I can parent better than anyone. But, I know I am the one best situated to take care of my own kids. And I support everyone else's rights to best take care of their own long as they don't interfere with my right to parent mine.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

That Mom

I always dreamed of being "That Mom". The one who was on the ball, all together, the one who was there for everything.
The one who was the back up, fall upon mom.
The one with cookies, or brownies, or muffins fresh from the oven.

And then reality struck. When I did volunteer, I ended up ditching them for the ER or a doctors visit. I find myself running late half the time for digestive issues, and I'm always ready to run when my stomach informs me of it's disinclination towards my last meal. (Please note that food allergies/intolerances are not the only thing I struggle with personally, there are definitely MORE digestive conditions going on than simple allergies. People with allergies feel fine when they eat safe food.)

Discovering food allergies allows us a certain freedom. It's certainly much less of a struggle when there are days when I know what good is. It's amazing to see my daughter blossom now that offending foods are out of her diet, it feels so refreshing to be able to send her to a friend's house and know that there's only a slight chance she'll come home sick. As long as I send food, of course.

But the darker side of food allergies (and other health conditions) brought a heightened awareness of what we, as a society, are eating. Reading ingredient list after ingredient list, and having to shake my head at Penguin time and time again sends chills down my spine. If it weren't for the allergies I wouldn't really think about these additives and preservatives. I've always tended towards "healthy" foods, but, when it came to "fun", is fun. I didn't worry about it, too much.

Now, I see party after party at the school and it just doesn't settle right with me. I see hundreds of pounds of sugar coursing through those tiny developing veins, and then the questionable additives, the Genetically Modified Organisms, and the bright neon colors that stain tongues, teeth and fingers. I feel sad, not because we're left out, but because society has placed a value on food. And that value is in the sharing of what we all agree is junk. Superfluous candy, cupcakes and ice cream complete our lives.

No wonder there's a tendency towards obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

As I look at the list of class parties for the next week, and shudder at the amount of kitchen duty (and cash) it means for us, as I smile under the questioning look of other mothers and field questions about our diets, as I am accidentally cc'd in the mass brownie e-mail, I discover something else.

I've become "THAT mom". Not the one I wanted to be, for sure, but certainly distinct. I'm the seventies era granola, free love, tree hugging hippy food tofu mom. (Except for the tofu part...there's corn in that, too.) People who haven't tried our treats assume them to be the tasteless grapenut-concoction from after-school special nightmares sequences. They shudder and truly feel sorry for our pizza deprived, ice cream deficient home. I'm "That Mom". (The one you don't want in charge of snacks for the brownies meeting.)

And I'm proud of it. (Well, all except the part about Brownies.)