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.

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