Staying the Course

I am writing this post on my elliptical. As in while I am exercising. I don’t know if it’s going to work but I thought I’d try it because time is so hard to come by these days. I’m making time to exercise, because that is imperative to my mental health, but it’s harder to find time to write.

We shall see. Already my shoulders hurt from holding my arms up this high.

Hmm. Changed my stance a bit and this might be doable. A little ingenuity goes a long way. Of course I can’t work out as hard this way, but if it means I can get a post written it may be worth it…

So, where did we leave off? Oh right. My husband came back from his parents’ house and decided that he wanted to do more research into the diet. After hearing that my daughter expressed discontent over not being allowed the snacks at after care, he no longer believed there was “no harm in trying it,” even for six weeks, because she clearly felt left out and ostracized for not being able to eat what the other kids were eating. This was frustrating for me, not because I didn’t see the validity in his concern, but because it wasn’t until his parents talked to him that he decided he needed to figure things out for himself. Why didn’t he do that three weeks ago when I first brought all this up?

I told him he was welcome to look into it and get back to me. I also told him that I was going to continue as I had been until he made a decision because I knew it might take him a while to figure it all out. Not shockingly, he still hasn’t done any research or read even one article.

I know how this is going to go. He’s just going to sit on it for a few days, stewing, and then he’s finally going to conceded to me and let me have my six weeks, not because he feels any more comfortable with our daughter being the odd kid out, but because he won’t be able to muster the energy to actually find articles to bolster his argument. Sometimes the things that drive me crazy about my husband work in my favor.

In the meantime, I’m getting my ducks in a row, because it’s clear that I need to if I want a snowball’s chance in hell of doing this the right way.

This stuff is hard core. This is not just check labels for Red Dye 40 or “artificial flavors.” This is a total overhaul of our lives. Doing the strict six weeks to really see if our daughter is reacting to this stuff requires getting her new toothpaste (thank god she likes the Fennel flavored Tom’s), new allergy medicine, new hand soap, new shampoo/body wash, new bubble bath, new everything. I’m lucky that I already use very gentle, free and clear laundry detergent to prevent eczema breakouts for my son, so I didn’t have to replace anything there, but pretty much everything else that touches my daughter’s skin had to be replaced. And I already bought a lot of things unscented because perfumey smells make me sick.

Every time I change something I hold my breath, worried about a negative reaction from my daughter. When I had to dump her beloved “medicine” because it was grape flavored, I was sure she’d hate the flavorless tabs that dissolve under her tongue. Luckily she can take them a few times a day (they are homeopathic) so she likes them better now than the Kid’s Claritin she used to beg me to take twenty times a day (my daughter LOVES taking medicine. Is that weird?!) The toothpaste was seriously stressing me out because only the mint flavors, fennel and cinnamon were approved and I knew she’d hate mint. I hate fennel flavor so I couldn’t imagine she’d be into it. Thankfully she loved it, and now she wants to brush her teeth multiple times a day.

Every time a substitution happens seamlessly I think that maybe, just maybe, I can do this. It requires so much forethought, and so much planning, but I’ve been practicing bringing my own food everywhere this summer, so I just have to extend that thinking to birthday parties and other social events where the food is provided and free.

It’s obvious that school and after care are going to be the biggest challenges. I have no idea yet if birthday treats are a regular occurrence at school, or if the teacher passes out candies and treats as prizes. I am really hoping that these won’t be a big problem because the school serves mostly low-income immigrant families and the teachers don’t make nearly as much as they should. I’m hoping there won’t be too much to deal with in the classroom, and at the school, in general because of this. After care is another story.

I hated having to be the parent that came up on the first afternoon and explained that my daughter couldn’t have the food they would be serving. I just hate being the person that makes someone else’s life harder than it was before. And I get that it’s not my fault and I get they should be happy to comply, but I also get it makes things hard and complicated and it’s just one more thing that a bunch of underpaid city employees have to think about while they try to herd 30+ early elementary kids through the afternoon. So while I don’t feel guilty, I do wish I didn’t have to be that parent.

It’s been two weeks and I think things having been going pretty well at after care. I don’t think they’ve given my daughter anything during snack time and I don’t believe they’ve started the cooking units (I’m not sure how I’m going to navigate that shit show). And then on Friday I went to pick up my girl and the woman with the clipboard told me that she gave my daughter a popsicle earlier because it was hot and everyone else was getting one and she felt bad for her.

Now the truth is, my daughter would have flipped her shit if she had not been given a popsicle and she’d have come home so mad about it my husband probably would have put his foot down and given a definitive NO on following the diet away from home. So I was glad the woman had given her the frozen goodie, and I appreciated that she gave her a “white” one in hopes of avoiding dyes. I actually thanked her for doing that, grabbed my daughter and let without thinking much about it. We’ve only been doing the diet for a few weeks and were just phasing out some stuff, so I honestly didn’t think it would be that big of a deal.

About 45 minutes later, at her grandparents’ house, my daughter had the most epic meltdown I have seen in months. She totally lost her shit. But it was strange because she wasn’t being aggressive–she wasn’t trying to hit, kick or bite me–it was quite literally as if she didn’t have any control over how she acted. She even said, “I don’t like feeling like this!” She was genuinely trying to talk with me about a possible solution to the problem that had set her off, she just couldn’t manage it. She was really upset that it was all going down the way it was, and my heart broke for her to see her so out of control. I immediately thought of the popsicle and wondered if it was the cause. I know correlation does not equal causation, but I think it’s interesting that her first big blow up happened hours after she at some cheap popsicle. I’m glad I’m keeping a detailed food and behavior journal so I can track when episodes like this happen.

And I will admit that I feel more determined now than ever to stick to this diet for at least six weeks, to see if these additives really do cause my daughter to feel angry and out of control. Watching her struggle to be the person she wanted to be, and not understanding why she couldn’t do it, was a real turning point for me. I am more committed than ever to keep her diet clean, and to work with her to develop the social/emotional skills she needs to be more in control when her big feelings make it hard.

I spent the weekend putting together a “treat bag” to give to both her teacher and the after care program, with any special food item I could imagine them giving the kids. I’ll still be packing her her own snack, but I hope having a few other special goodies on hand will help them to stick to the restrictions even during special circumstances. I’m drafting letters to send to both the teacher and the after care program. I hate being that parent, but it looks like I’m going to have to be.

{Hey yo! I just wrote 1500 words on my elliptical!}

18 Comments

  1. Way to keep it up. This diet sounds surprisingly promising to me. As with most things, this beginning phase is going to be the most difficult as you learn strategies to accommodate the changes but it will get easier.

    I’m sorry about your husband’s approach. It really sounds like he doesn’t have the energy to tackle these issues and I’m guessing that living with you he has learned that you have a “seemingly” boundless supply (to be honest, I’m pretty certain I would be a slacker if I lived with you). My question is does he think this is seriously important? Does he feel the same way about your daughter’s behavioral issues as you do? Because, if he does, then is lack of support is pretty unfair. If not, it comes from a difference of opinion.

    1. I think that before we started he believed they were as big of a deal as I did, or at least close to it. But in the last three weeks since things have improved, I think he’s fine with how things are now, and he believes we don’t have to follow the diet strictly for them to stay this way. I THINK that is where he is right now. I think if things went back to the way they were for a week he’d be on the bandwagon in a heartbeat, because he was just as miserable as I was, even though he spent way less time with her and did not receive the brunt of her aggression.

      He hasn’t brought up not following the diet at home again since the Big Talk, so I’m just moving forward without bringing it up either. And I’m sure that is how things will progress, with neither of us saying anything, until it’s been six weeks and we’re at a place where we can talk next steps.

  2. I think you have enough (not conclusive, but good proof of concept) evidence to continue the experiment based on your own observations on her behavior. I think a food/behavior chart is a great idea—write down any deviations from plan that you can discern & what her behavior seemed like. Maybe some additives are worse than others? maybe it is one or two things specifically that she reacts to? or maybe it has to be perfect.
    I am really impressed that she is perceptive enough at her age to note that she feels different and out of control and doesn’t like the feeling—I think you can use that to help her understand what the diet is for & get HER on board—not that a 5 year old should bear that responsibility, but I definitely see kids 3-5 with food allergies being very discerning—asking what’s in that, saying no even when they are told there are no allergens because they are wary. If/when you decide to do the diet longer term, I would tell her its Ok to tell friends/random adults she has “allergies” if she doesn’t want to get into “behavior” as a reason she can’t eat things. Even my 3 year old gets that some kids have allergies & can’t eat certain things.
    Good for you for reseraching this, trying it—even without family support, and just generally doing everything you can to help your daughter no matter how tough or inconvenient.

    1. I agree with this comment entirely. I think things sound super promising! I’m really impressed by your determination and Isa’s ability to understand how she’s feeling. I was feeling very upbeat reading this post!

      1. I’m definitely feeling better about things. There was a HUGE hump to get over as far as feeling like I could do this, when every trip to Whole Foods took an hour because I had to look up which brand of whatever I needed to get I could buy. Now I know which pancake mix is okay, which cheese crackers I can buy, which milk is approved, and it all feels much more manageable. Also, I’m so enjoying being with my daughter, and learning what an amazing kid she is when she’s not feeling horrible all the time. That is worth all this effort, 100 times over.

    2. It’s funny that you mentioned other kids who are very discerning even at this age, and that your son realizes other kids can’t eat some foods. My daughter does not seem to be that way. She is so in her own world, I think she misses a huge portion of what goes on around her. But hopefully, with coaching from me, she can get to that place.

      It just took us 5 minutes to do her homework, and she finished most of it alone while I was putting her brother to bed. That is a miracle in and of itself! I so hope these improvements become are new normal.

      And as for researching this and doing it, well, I honestly don’t feel like I had any choice. We had reached the point of no return and something had to change. I’m just so thankful that this seems to be working. I think one of the reasons I was scared to try it was that if it didn’t work I had no plan B. And that is a scary place to be.

  3. There are so many little tidbits that I connected with, but in a totally different way. I was diagnosed with T1 when I was 2, so all through school there was stuff I couldn’t eat, or things I had to eat when no one else got to have a snack. It was what I needed to do because of diabetes, so while I can relate to the “not being able to eat what everyone else is”, I can’t relate to the being upset about it. I guess it’s because I didn’t have a choice, one was never presented to me. I don’t know what my parents did/said to my teachers, but I never once was offered something I wasn’t supposed to have at a time I wasn’t supposed to eat. So, I think those letters and conversations need to happen. Whether the care providers agree with what you’re doing or not, you are the parent.

    I also think it’s a good sign that Isa recognized that she was acting in a way that she didn’t want to. Hopefully that will be a way for her to understand WHY she’s not getting to eat the snacks the other kids are eating.

    1. I’m hoping she will be able to make that connection too. So far when I’ve talked about how this will make us feel better (we are BOTH changing the way we eat because we BOTH want to have better control of our big feelings), she thinks I’m talking purely physical and mentions that her cough/cold is better. I’m not quite sure how to get her to make the connection to her emotional state, but I think eventually she’ll get there.

      1. In the moment after her Popsicle meltdown, in the calm after the storm is the time to talk emotions. How does your body feel? How do your hands feel, how do your legs feel? Can you think a little better. We have s drawn a life size child and put it up and after a meltdown go to the drawing and mark what felt funny. Belly, head, legs, and hands are huge. It helps them put a name on te feeling and with a visual.

  4. SO glad you are keeping track of food and behavior! Impressed by what you are achieving and that you will be able to show Daddy and grands the chart afterwards so they see the relationships.
    Great that you saw the impact of the popsicle, maybe you can ask the brand involved in that instance and tell the teacher how helpful it was for you to get this information and how much you appreciated her telling you.
    Allergies covers so much and can really inspire cooperation, even without providing an epi-pen and note about which hospital she should go to in the event of a major episode That generally will terrify care providers/teachers/other parents into cooperative behaviors… “This is the rule and failure to follow it could result ….”
    AND JOY that you can now exercise & write to us! Celebration at my end. THANK YOU.

    1. I will definitely be asking for the brand of the popsicle so I can see what is in it. I need to keep track of all that stuff now.

      And yes–working out and writing! The ultimate hour!

  5. G has a bag of goodies kept in the office for when treats are brought in that she’s not allowed to have. It’s things she likes so she is more than happy to have that instead of what is being given to the rest of the class. Plus she gets to run to the office all different and special to get them herself. It has never been an issue for her.

    1. Is there a reason the bag is kept in the office and not the classroom? I’m just wondering if I should leave the bag in the office, because I was assuming the classroom would be the place to keep it.

      I’m glad to hear that this hasn’t been an issue for your daughter. I honestly don’t think it will be for mine either, not once she gets used to it. But right now it still seems to cause her some annoyance.

  6. As a teacher, would you be annoyed with a parent like you? I’m somewhat distressed that you feel so bad about this because I think you are making reasonable requests, but I have to trust your perspective as a teacher! I’d be soo angry if the teacher gave my child the Popsicle. You handled it with so much grace.

    1. I would not be annoyed with a parent like me, but in middle school the kids are way more able to uphold these food restrictions themselves. I think some of the time I don’t even hear about them. When my kids bring food in for parties, I’ve had one kid bring her own stuff because she knew she wouldn’t be able to eat what the other kids brought. But as a Kindergarten teacher that would be on the teacher way more. If you do let the kids bring birthday treats, you’d have to email me before every one, or make me a list of the birthdays so I could be prepared. You’d have to think ahead for every party or every special event required food. Planning ahead is not my strong suit, so I think it would really stress me out to have to remember that for a kid. I wouldn’t be annoyed at the kid but it would cause me stress for sure. And I hate to do that to someone else.

  7. It’s so kind of you to be considerate of the impact on your daughter’s teacher. Good for you for sticking to this – it is all sounding so, so promising. And working out and writing? Freaking superstar.

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