Sunday, October 30, 2011

I'm becoming 'that mom'

Before I became a parent, I was horrified by people who controlled their child's every move. I knew I'd never be 'that' mom- I would let my kids do as they pleased, be free thinkers, teach them to love life. But then, this dye thing happened and I've become a helicopter mom. For example, recently we were at the doctor's office. This is what went down:

Nurse: Look at those cute kids! I bet they'd like a sticker!
Me: (distracted and busy, because I'm the idiot who brought two children with her to an appointment) Oh, nice!
Nurse: (comes back with her hands full of suckers) Which flavor would you like?
Me: (Oh crap. She said *sucker* not *sticker.* I wave my arms in distress and beg her not to let the boy see them)
Nurse: (Shooting me a look of confusion and bewilderment) Um, ok??

Yes, I'm now the mom who won't let her kids have suckers. No one gives out dye-free lollipops, because they cost eight times as much. I panic at the sight of candy. Halloween might give me an aneurysm. And why do doctors give out candy anyway? Surely there are more families like mine? Or diabetics? Or good old fashioned health nuts?

When the boy sees brightly colored candy, I tell him he can't have it because it makes him sick. He's starting to understand, but no one can resist a bag of Skittles. I try to keep a Trader Joe's sucker in my purse but they don't last long in there (hey, Mama needs a sugar fix now and then!)

At restaurants, a well meaning server will offer mac 'n cheese or orange soda like it's no big deal. My friends and family haven't quite realized how one slip up will have an effect on my life for days. I feel like I'm trying my best to keep my kid healthy and happy; I'm sensing that those close to me and my family think I'm micromanaging.

So, the next time you see a mom get a twitch in her eye when her kid is offered a 'harmless' sucker, don't judge her, *please.*

and this is why we're dye-free:

Since food dye intolerance isn't a widely recognized allergy, I should probably explain why and how we made the choice to be a dye-free family.

About a year ago, my son was having lots of difficulties sleeping through the night. There were lots of changes going on in our family though, so it didn't immediately occur to me that it could have anything to do with his diet. He was used to co-sleeping with us, and he had begun the transition to sleeping in his own bed. He nursed until he was 25 months old, and was gently weaned when I began having contractions (on bed rest, no less) during my pregnancy with my daughter. However, I am positive that he was not ready to stop nursing, and would have benefited from a longer weaning period. We were doing our very best to make it through each day. We would parent him to bed, peacefully and with as much love and attention as was humanly possible, and he'd drift off without a care in the world. He'd wake up a few hours later though, inconsolable. We kept him close to us, and did everything we could not to isolate him when he was so upset. As this went on, there were concerns of an anxiety disorder or emotional disability, but during the day he was what we considered to be a normal two-year-old. Occasionally he'd show signs of being a 'terrible two' but I am so opposed to that terminology that I knew in my gut that something was wrong.

One day I noticed a friend's Facebook status mentioned her son's reaction to dyes in a chocolate muffin. I repeat, a chocolate muffin. Why anyone would try to make chocolate baked goods look better than they already do is beyond me, but the idea that her son would be so sensitive to food coloring was intriguing. I started Googling and didn't find much, so I grilled my friend and asked what happens to her son when the reaction is going on, and she mentioned the same things we were experiencing. I finally had a theory, something to go on.

Eli is an intelligent kid. I love this about him. He is also stubborn and independent. This combination can result in some pretty fantastic face-offs between parent and child. I wouldn't go so far as to say he had/has behavior issues, but on a good day- a non-toxic, clear thinking, awesome day- I still have to try insanely hard to model the type of behavior I expect from him. I have to think out each move, keep him busy, keep him challenged. In other words, he keeps me on my toes. On a bad day, one where I accidentally didn't read a label closely enough... it can feel catastrophic. It feels like a three day meltdown. Our family shuts down.

I learned a good lesson about following my instincts. I've learned this lesson before when he was a baby, nursing more frequently than every 2-3 hours, and several times after that. But this was more involved and required more research and dedication. I could have spanked him and sent him to a time-out when he was 'misbehaving' but I made the choice to love him wholly and unconditionally, in his darkest and most frustrating hours, and I am so relieved. Our lives are so much easier now, knowing what we know. The free-flowing additives in food still piss me off, but since we have answers about our child's health and well-being, I consider my family incredibly lucky.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the beginning

Alright folks, first things first. My name is Ali, and I'm a mom. My kids are 3 and just-shy-of 1, and we're a pretty regular family. My parenting style is probably what you'd call slightly crunchy, but I think in the big picture, we're just like you. I want my kids to be happy and healthy, and love them more than I could ever have imagined. This blog is basically about how I changed my family's eating habits for the better. The catalyst for this 180 was when my son, Eli, had a major (dramatic, scary, emotional, torturous) breakdown after a family wedding, where the colors of honor were orange and blue. This could be a kid's dream come true: blue punch, orange cake, lollipops, M&Ms; all free for the taking! For several days, my sweet boy couldn't sleep, walk, talk, eat, play- we realized right away that there was a problem. I knew of a couple kids who didn't tolerate food dyes, but had never imagined a life without using M&Ms and gummi bears as bribery distraction.

I had a hunch that the food dyes had something to do with Eli's breakdown. He was not a sickly kid- occasional ear infections, but I nursed him until he was 25 months old, and I've considered him ahead of the curve verbally and cognitively. I felt guilty that his discomfort was because I let him run amok through a smorgasbord of dietary poison! These foods were as far from their natural states as possible and he was loving every minute of it.

I was seriously worried that this child was showing signs of ADHD at the age of 2 1/2, and after the blue and orange disaster, my husband and I decided to pull all artificial dyes and colors from his diet. At first, I didn't know where to turn... it seemed like everything in our cupboards was full of red, yellow, and blue.

Are you interested in specifics? I live about 20 miles from Trader Joe's so most of my shopping is done at Meijer (they have a good, affordable Meijer Naturals line.) Anyway, things changed quickly: no more regular microwave popcorn, garlic bread, or hot dogs... No more frozen waffles or cheap syrup, no popcicles or ice cream or brownies or candy! All of these things require forethought and planning and extra energy (and who has that?)

I started buying Simply GoGurt instead of the cheap store brand of yogurt, which contained Red #40 and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS.) We had those all over for awhile, until we'd adjusted more of our eating habits. They were a decent substitute for Popsicles and convenient. I started to notice other chemicals in our foods too- Rold Gold pretzels had a scary list of ingredients compared to a bag of Frito s.

I stopped using cake mixes and baked more bread at home. Cake mix can be convenient but it is full of ridiculous additives that stray from the usual flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. I haven't even tried the organic mixes because I've found such wonderful cake recipes, I'll never go back! (psst: here's an amazing chocolate cupcake recipe...)

So far, we've gotten through Easter, summer, 4th of July, and Eli's 3rd birthday dye free. Halloween and Christmas are coming up- those will be our next challenges (and I have posts planned to tell you about each one of these special days!)