Sunday, February 20, 2011

Parenting and Holland

Like most people, I had a vague idea of what sort of parent I hoped to be.  I formed an image in my mind of our family, of how I would handle different situations.
When I got pregnant sooner than anticipated, I knew that those images were changing, just by virtue of the situation.  I continued to form ideas, but I kept them vague.  General.
I quickly learned that the only way to parent my wayward babies with my wavering health was to take things as they came, without judgment.

I like the Holland metaphor.
Some days, I feel as if I've embarked on a journey.  I embraced the excitement.  I packed a small bag of just the essentials (patience, respect, and creativity) and set out.  I said "I'm going to Italy!"  I was so excited, I only glanced at the guidebooks.  I didn't bother to learn the language, I just accepted that I'd learn as I went.

I climbed on the train and looked out the window.  I saw tulips.  I bought quaint little clogs.  I gushed over the waterfront and windmills. I explored the shops, learning to speak Dutch through immersion.  But somewhere along the way, as I contact friends to tell them of my experiences in "Italy", I started to suspect that it wasn't Italy.  It's only in retrospect that I was given a label for the things I've observed, experienced.
And it's not Italy.
Maybe it's vacation.  It's a voyage, an adventure.  But there's no gelato, or Venice, Rome, Florence.  And there's no Colosseum hiding around the bend .
And in retrospect, I see that the times I traversed flooding railway tracks were not necessarily "normal" inconveniences.  But at the time, they were a problem...and I simply pressed through the best I could.  I've reassessed my expectations of this adventure.  But, I'm no longer certain it's Italy. 

I'm not sure if the labels I find will ever work.  After all, I still had the time of my life, and there's no going back.  No matter what I do, there will be no Colosseum, no Italian vineyards to explore.  Even if I were to miraculously manage a transfer, I'd be comparing the two visits and wondering what I was missing from the trip I first embarked on. 

I didn't really realize that there was anything all that out of the ordinary until I started hearing others gush about their Italian vacations and realized that my experience, while valid and wonderful, just doesn't quite compare.  It doesn't mean I don't enjoy my journey.  I do.  But this is where a label comes in handy.
When I complain about the pea soup, or mention the coffee hour, if I knew I was in Holland a lightbulb would go on.  But if I'm talking of Italy, the image just doesn't jive with the pasta and gelato they experienced. When I talk about the quaint cottages I stayed at, and they recall brick vineyards...well, it's hard to relate. 

We didn't all visit Italy.  I was in Holland, but I don't know the word for it, even though I learned to communicate with the people I met. 

Just like this fictional vacation; I'm raising my kids with limited labels.  I have a few...I know Penguin's a trichotillomaniac with ADD tendencies and Bumblebee...well; I know there is a label for her.  But I still don't know what it is, or if it's worth pursuing.

And then there's the food. 

The food is kind of like that elusive Colosseum.  I had a vague idea of my plans, an image of what I wanted to see.  I keep thinking it's just around the corner.  And then I remember I'm not in Italy.  And there is no Colosseum here.  But there are beautiful flowers, lovely people, and amazing views.  I'll always wonder about that Colosseum.  But I wouldn't trade these views for the Roman Empire. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sometimes it really is just stress

At the beginning of the school year, we noticed something really...odd...about Penguin's appearance.
Her eyes.  There was something...different.  The lashes were disappearing.
She admitted to pulling them out during a tense part of a book she was reading.  She agreed to stop, and began wearing gloves to bed to help herself remember not to pluck.
Then there were no eyelashes left.  And her eyebrows started to disappear.
That's when she said she needed help.  She was stressed out abuot school.  She was stressed out about her sister (who insists on living life as intensely as she can).  She was embarrassed about her vanishing hair.
I called the doctor, and then the school to find someone to talk to her.
I was assured that it was a parenting issue, and that I should handle it at home. 
I looked it up online and found that, undoubtedly, she had developed something called "trichotillomania", or the compulsive desire to pull out her own hair.  She described the urges just the way the websites do.  It's essentially a cross between OCD and a nervous habit.  When she's bored or stressed out, she develops an overwhelming urge to remove hair.  If she doesn't comply, she has a panic attack.  I repeatedly tell her she's not in any trouble at all, but I'd like her to try and wait just a little longer before giving in.  (Preferably forever, but I *think* that will come in time) 
Eventually we managed to get in to see a psychologist.  She was very nice, very reassuring, but she says she can't help.
Although the Mayo Clinic does indicate that imbalances of dopamine and seratonin (which, interestingly enough, can also effect migraines) can play a part in trichotillomania, she disagrees.  It's stress.  We just need to destress her life.  Which I'm happy to do, and reluctant to try meds even if they are indicated.

I just thought it was ironic.  After all these years of pulling out MY hair (figuratively speaking) while working with doctors to slowly discover that in truth..,it's not "just stress" that makes me miserable; sometimes...well, sometimes it really IS just stress.
Trichotillomania just happens to be one of those times.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hardest Holiday

When it comes to food related treats...Valentines day just might take the chocolate cake.
It's second only to Halloween in candy filled delights, from the dum-dums taped to classroom valentines to the red heart shaped boxes lining grocery and drug store shelves to the scrumptious recipes for sinful chocolate dipped strawberries or swirled fudgy brownies that abound in my email inbox.
The ubiquitous conversation hearts are practically as iconic as candy corn.  And twice as fun, since you get to make up silly poems on your school desk before enjoying them.
And since it's not a "big" seems like everyone likes to go overboard.  And feels justified in passing out "just a little candy" because it's February.  What's the harm in having a little fun for a small holiday?
Nothing.  There's nothing wrong with it.  And actually, the gluten free/casein free crowd might enjoy a variety of mainstream Valentine treats...since most of the confections are simply sugar...spun in various forms and molded into a variety of shapes.  Artificially flavored and dyed pretty petroleum based colors, they aren't good for you.  But they aren't damaging intestines the way gluten might.  Or doubling you over the way casein might.
Even the chocolate dipped strawberries can be made safe.

However, when you're 8; and you can't eat artificial dyes without really going nuts, the holiday is hard.
Today there was a GREAT party with cake, strawberries and whipped cream (That Bumblebee could eat!) and then the party became "The worst ever" because the valentines were passed out.
Unfortunately, I've grown complacent.  The kids both had the flu all last week (The scary form of the flu...that had us in for chest x rays and contemplating antibiotics because that fever just wouldn't break), we're on a budget, it's a Hallmark holiday and so I didn't do much in the way of preparing.  Bad plan.
Most of Bumblebees valentines this year included something colorful and edible.  I'm proud of her for choosing not to enjoy them.  I'm sad that she was grumpy and felt left out.  The gluten free kid could eat the candy.  The nut allergy kids could eat the candy.  There were other kids who chose not to eat the candy (kids like I used to be...who just don't like suckers and chewy artificial goop) but Bumblebee felt like she was the only one who **couldn't** eat the candy.
She told me she could've and I wouldn't have known the difference.
I agreed.
But she didn't because she doesn't like how it makes her feel. 
"I want one of my candies" she told me, "And I'm going to choose to eat one unless you can give me a good reason not to!"
I opened my mouth.
"Ten good reasons!" She amended.
When I said that artificial food colors are banned from kids' food in Europe she asked why Americans let kids eat them.  Penguin interrupted with "Because they're dumb."
"Why do you have to be smart, then?" Bumblebee grouched at me.  (I corrected them both with the information that most of our society is simply uninformed.  Not dumb.) 
I started to falter around 8.  She grinned, then giggled.  Gave an exaggerated sigh at 10.

And then she enjoyed a bit of pudding cake.  (My experiment du was a success, although I thought this first incarnation might be a bit too rich)
Some will probably wonder why on earth I'm leaving something like this up to her.  Why is it such a stress?
The answer is simple.  Food dye reactions are mostly behavioral and fall in the neurological and 'intolerance' spectrum.  That means that there isn't a lot of medical backing, or reassurance.  It means she doesn't have a quantifiable reaction.  It also means that we might take calculated risks.

When it comes to true allergies, there is no gray area.  You either need to avoid the allergen, or you don't.  Penguin has distinctly debilitating (but not life threatening) reactions to gluten and dairy.  And blue dye.  There is no acceptable risk for her.  There isn't an "Ugh, oops...oh well."  If she is exposed she misses at least 24 hours...more like 48.  And she seems to feel 'bleck' for longer. If a person with an anaphylactic dairy allergy eats something with a touch of butter on it; they can stop breathing or go into cardiac arrest.  There's no room for a learning curve or experimentation. 
But Bumblebee's intolerance is in the gray zone.  If there's a way to avoid the dye, we do.  If she were to need an antibiotic that was colored, though, we could muddle through.  Calling it an "allergy" without following through with total avoidance lessens the view of allergies in general and creates a false sense of security.
So why do I leave such an important decision up to her?  Because it is her body.  And ultimately, it's her choice.  She can cheat on this "diet".  I wouldn't know the difference; except that she was exceptionally more difficult than usual.
It has to be her choice to be healthier, happier.  I'll support it one hundred percent, and if she makes good choices I'll provide safe, appropriate, and FUN alternatives.  If she chooses poorly, I won't be nearly as supportive through the recoop time.  I won't punish her, but I won't provide (expensive) alternate treats.  And I won't go to bat for her if she's going to waffle around.  It's not fair to the kids who can't cheat, who can't even take a calculated risk.  And it isn't fair to her to have rules that bend and change to fit the day's requirements.  Only she knows the best choices for herself.  So at this point, I'm letting it be harder and telling her I disapprove of her eating them but not forbidding it.  Mean, but hopefully it will strengthen her resolve in the long run. 

Meanwhile, Penguin's homemade valentines came out adorable.  She cut key shapes out of cardstock, wrote little sayings on them (which I'm not supposed to read or share) and then attached them to little heart shaped keychains.  Bumblebee taped markers to fuzzy poster valentines.  Fun, cute but not "over the top" since she doesn't like to stand out too much. 

And on the brighter side, Penguin had an awesome Valentine's day in Middle school.  Her friends gave out cutesy cards.  And since she's still recovering from the flu...she doesn't really care about the limited candy making it's way around.  She's just tickled that there was a lollipop that's safe for her.  :-)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I love it when dinner goes surprisingly well. 
Tonight's plan was to finally make that tuna noodle casserole Penguin was too sick for last night.  (Friday is casserole night; and this week it was going to be Thursday because of rehearsal but everyone got sick.) 
This is a meal that will feed Mr Violets, myself and Penguin.  Bumblebee will eat the noodles with a bit of cheese, if I save the noodles before assembling.  Sometimes.  Other times she makes faces at the dinner table and licks her veggies until her toast is ready.  Yes, she's a bit old for that kind of behavior.  But since it's an improvement and we can see the visual struggle she goes through not to throw a full out's a compromise we live with.  Most of the time.
Anyways.  Back to my story. 
I started with the onion.  Chopped it up and started carmelizing it on the stove.  (I'm not very good at this part...I usually charcoalize bits and soften bits and brown bits.  But I didn't do too bad tonight.)  Then I rinsed out the spinach.  Then I discovered we were out of peas, so I decided that tonight's experiment would be to add peppers. 
Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, and since the kids both have an exceptionally nasty case of the flu vitamin C sounds like a good plan. 
The water was boiling by now, so I opened the cupboard to pull out the pasta. 
I found spice cake mix for making lunch 'muffins'. 
I found spaghetti. 
I found the Trader Joe's brand rice spaghetti my husband bought by accident and Bumblebee didn't like because it's thinner than Tinkyada and doesn't hold up to overcooking as well. 
I found an extra bottle of grapeseed oil, the mint tea bag I keep up there as protection against food moths and a mysterious curly ribbon. 
Then I remembered telling myself to write "TJ--corkscrew pasta" on the list last time I made pasta.  Before I got distracted by having to play referee and Mr Violet's arrival home. 
Double drat. 
I looked at the softening onions, the casserole dish with spinach and bell peppers and the boiling water.  I furrowed my brow.  I looked at the spaghetti in my hand and thought "But, spaghetti and tuna just sounds...gross.  It's...wrong." 
Then Penguin called out, and I answered. 
"Mommy, if it's not too much trouble, could I have rice and beans for dinner?  I think there's leftovers.  And then you and Bumblebee can have mac and cheese I guess."  (This is a big sacrifice.  Penguin hates when the rest of us have mac and cheese because she can't eat it.  But she's sick, she knows her sister is sick and she wanted to do something nice for her.) 
I looked at the casserole dish again, and let the wheels in my brain turn, vaguely a recipe for savory noodle kugel I once read about.  I assessed my options...and made the spaghetti.  We weren't going to eat it as spaghetti anyways.  Well, I might.  The kids and my husband will continue to hem and haw and choose cereal if we're out of Tinkyada.  (Ironically, they prefer the TJ corkscrews, though.) 
Then I cubed up teensy tiny cubes of cheese.  I didn't feel like grating it. 
I beat 2 eggs.  I probably could have beaten 3, but I was just experimenting at that point.  I really didn't want tuna with spaghetti, I didn't want beans with all those veggies tonight, and I did want a protein. 
I mixed it all together.  Added a ladle full of veggie broth.  Stuffed it in the oven and let it bake for half an hour while I refreshed water bottles, redosed everyone on medecine and started Penguin's leftover rice and beans on the back burner. 

I ended up with a meal that fed 3; just as planned.  It just didn't feed the 3 that I expected it to feed.  And Bumblebee wasn't nearly as thrilled with my concoction as Penguin tends to enjoy regular casserole. 

So it's a definite make again meal.  Maybe next time I'll even try it with an extra egg or two and no cheese.  But, I like the cheese.  It added extra pockets of creamy flavor.  It wasn't a 5 star meal.  It wouldn't earn any acclaim. 
But it was tasty and free of corn, gluten, nuts and dye.  What more can one ask for in a meal?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Once upon a time, I was a vegetarian.  A strict vegetarian. 
I didn't eat red meat, or "white meat", or poultry or fish.  I even swore off eggs and honey and dairy products for a time, in honor of "a cruelty free lifestyle". 
I wasn't judgemental of others choices, or at least...I didn't mean to be.  I thought I accepted them and that any of our teasing was in good natured fun.  But I was proud of my choices, and my ability to wield my choice proudly.  I looked forward to passing this dietary discretion on to my children.  The whole "we choose what we eat, we choose what impact we make on the world, and we choose respect through nutrients" thing that I hadn't completely worked out in my still-maturing mind was important to me; and at one time I identified my conscientious eating as a vegetarian lifestyle. 
I may not have always had an ideal vegetarian lifestyle, and I now realize that pasta roni meals simply aren't nearly as environmentally sound as a few conscientiously harvested scrambled eggs with locally grown veggies.  But I tried. 
Although I still think that cruelty free eating is important, and I'm still on an ethical eating kick...I'm no longer focused on flesh free food.  I'm too busy avoiding gluten, and corn derivatives, and a myriad of other dangers.  When you're corn derivative free...well, your options are remarkably confined.  Add in gluten and dairy to the restrictions and your available proteins are left at...eggs.  Beans.  Nuts.  Throw in digestive disorders...and you start to rethink the whole ethical eating idea. 
As I've stated before, my personal tipping of the scales came when I paused and asked myself "What would Jesus have eaten?"  (I'm not trying to be all high and mighty there, my religious beliefs are certainly convoluted and confusing...but I hang steadfastly to the belief that for me, personally, they are right.  Just as yours are right for you.)  And the answer came to me, quietly but assuredly "Mary made Chicken soup.  'Jewish pennicilin'"  (Again, no offense intended to those websurfers who manage to stumble onto this post from some random web search.)  And so, I sought out safe chicken. 
This has left my family reeling.  I began raising my kids with the "it's better to avoid flesh foods; but we all make our own decisions and we WILL respect others choices" mantra.  They told people they were vegetarian, making their own choices.  And then...then I dropped a landslide as I began sliding into a carnivorous world.  (No, I'm still not eating red meat.  And I'm still keeping it kosher style to the best of my ability.  My half jewish husband isn't very helpful.  His household wasn't kosher.) 
I'm still in the "You choose what you believe" mind set for my kids though; whether we are discussing Santa Clause, the religion they most closely identify with or what to eat for dinner. 
"Meat is bad," my youngest tells me, "You shouldn't eat dead things.  I think it makes them sad.  Would you want someone to eat YOU?" 
And then she glares at me reproachfully.  I try to simply remind her that there is a circle of life on the planet.  And that some animals do get eaten.  Even the Bible condones it, to a degree.  The main thing is to eat anything you choose to eat respectfully.  To choose healthy produce, and whole grains and protein sources. 
She munches on her cheese crackers and continues to glare. 
But my husband, being who he is, purchased bacon.  It's not kosher by any stretch of the imagination.  (except maybe St. Paul) and it's probably not terribly healthy.  Although the bacon purchased is nitrite free. 
He offered some to the kids.  Who eventually accepted. 
I'm not complaining, mind you.  As said...I'm still in the "everyone chooses what to believe" mindset.  And everyone makes their own peace with their choices, so it's fine if the kids want to eat bacon.  I doubt it would be safe for me, even if I could justify consuming pig.  They eat bacon, and I'll even prepare it for them. 
But what boggles my mind is last night's exchange. 
Bumblebee not only wanted bacon...but she didn't want to let Daddy cook it. 
Mommy's bacon is better. 
Now how on earth did an ex vegetarian who still can't bring herself to consume meat from a 4 legged animal ever become the "better" bacon cooker? 
I always say the hardest thing about cooking for food allergies is not getting to taste things to see how they're coming along. 
But apparently, my easy-cheating style of cooking has produced not just an edible bacon...but one that my picky daughter prefers over my (also picky) bacon eating husband's.