The Diet Diaries' new look

New Home for the Diet Diaries

The Diet Diaries has moved! Please find me now at www.allinawe.wordpress.org 

Why the move? “The Diet Diaries” was becoming a bit of a misnomer as the blog’s content began to shift. While The Diet Diaries focused on my family and food, All in Awe explores subjects I find awesome (like my son and autism), awe-inspiring (like books) and perhaps even awful (like my cooking).

Thank you for reading The Diet Diaries, and I hope you enjoy All in Awe.

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Preschool wisdom

My baby graduated. And I am so proud.

In the weeks leading up to his preschool’s graduation ceremony, he and his classmates worked hard on practicing their speeches. (“Speech” being defined loosely here.) I asked him several times to deliver the speech at home, always hearing:

“Hi, my name is Logan, and when I want to grow up, I want to be Zero.” 

Logan's career ambition
Logan’s career ambition

What?

Zero is the name of video game character that Logan currently loves, a sidekick on MegaMan X (at least, as far as I can tell. I’m not much of a gamer, if you couldn’t tell.) I was baffled as to why Logan gave this as his answer.

Then a thought struck me. “Logan,” I said. “When people talk about what they want to be when they grow up, that’s totally different from what they want to be for Halloween.” 

I explained as carefully as I could about jobs and professions and careers and costumes and trick or treating. Now, I said, what do you think you want to do for a job when you grow up?

“Zero,” he said. 

I felt flustered. You can’t be a video game character! I wanted to scream. “But Zero’s not real,” I said, my voice faltering slightly. “Do you know the difference between real and made-up?”

I stumbled my way through an explanation of the differences between real-life and make-believe, making stellar arguments such as “real-life is real.”  

“And even if he were, he’s a person,” I continued. “You can’t be a specific person when you grow up — you need to pick a job. Not somebody’s name.”

Logan thought about that. I put the dish I was drying down on the counter and waited for his response. When it didn’t come, I continued. “For example, could Sadie grow up to be Miss Amy?” I asked.

“Yes,” Logan immediately said.

I felt like banging my head against a wall. How does he not get this? How do I explain it? 

“No,” I said, trying vainly to keep my voice even. “Miss Amy is her own person. Sadie could grow up and be a teacher LIKE Miss Amy, but she can never BE Miss Amy.”

“But … she’s real.”

Well, at least I understood where he was coming from with this one. 

I persisted a while longer, eventually dropping it as Logan finished his snack and wandered away, off to the living room to his cars or his new favorite book, an encyclopedia of Capcom video game characters. He can’t say he wants to be Zero at graduation, I thought, panicked. Does he really want to be a video game guy? Does he really not understand the difference between reality and fantasy?

I often wonder if — or why — I am so woefully ill-equipped to teach my kids some basic things. I seem to have just two modes: completely illogical and unhelpful (see above, “real-life is real,”) or overly detailed. Questions like, “why is that called an ambulance?” perplex me. I try to hold back from replying that it stems from the Latin root “ambul-,” meaning to walk, because it’s sort of a “walking hospital.” And when Logan asks me, “Why does the Lorax say the smoke is ‘smogulous’?” I lapse into silence, trying to come up with a better response than, “He’s trying to describe the smoke, how it looks and how it feels, so he comes up with an adjective that looks like a noun readers will recognize as something dirty and has the right number of syllables to fit into the meter of his story, which is really a long, narrative poem.”  

Man, teaching college is way easier than teaching preschool.

As we sat in the audience on graduation night, my chest was tight and tears threatened to spill over my cheeks. I was giddy over how cute Logan looked in his cap and gown, devastated he was growing up and would soon be too big to want to cuddle, amazed at how eager he seemed to be for kindergarten, sad that he’d soon no longer be with his fabulous teacher, Miss Amy, and completely proud.

Logan giving his preschool "speech."
Logan giving his awesome preschool “speech.”

“Hi, my name is Logan,” he said confidently into the microphone. “And when I grow up, I want to be a race car driver.”

I exhaled. He did it!

The next boy crossed the stage. “When I grow up, I want to be Rafael,” he announced.

Rafael? A Ninja Turtle?

“Hi, I want to be Queen Elsa when I grow up,” announced a little girl.

“I want to be a pirate when I grow up!”

I couldn’t believe it. Spiderman. A fire truck. A princess. Logan wasn’t so different from his peers after all. 

His teacher spoke about how far the children had all come this year, about how much they’d learned. They’d learned to write, to read, to count. They’d learned about sharing, about emotions. 

At that point, I started bawling. The sheer amount Logan has learned in the past five years humbles me. From age 3 he learned to ride the bus. He’s learned to talk. He’s learned to play. He’s learned to use all those fine muscles in his fingers and exercise the big ones–learned how to master scissors as well as the monkey bars. He’s learned to recognize and empathize with others. He’s learned to eat differently, learned about unfairness and discipline and health. And all the while, he’s learned how to be a wonderful, sweet, funny kid.

If only I could learn as much.

Feeling: Choked up

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An incredible kid and an incredibly proud mom

 

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What Color is the Sky?

“What color is the sky, guys?”

We are driving to daycare, and to distract Sadie from crying about not being able to finish her toast and to keep Logan focused and off grunting in the gravely, guttural voice he’s taken to (if you’ve seen the movie Monsters, Inc., he’s echoing the Roz character), I throw questions at my kids.

“Pink!”

“Gray!”

Oh, come on, guys, I think. You’re both smarter than that. But as I look skyward, I see that they’re right. As the sun’s early rays pierce the sky, it does glow beautifully pink. A few wispy streaks of gray clouds also paint the scene.

*

Ever since a friend posted this awesome article to Facebook, I’ve been obsessed with idea of color. Apparently, “blue” was the last color word to enter every language on the planet. The ancient Greeks had no word for it—Homer saw his seas as “wine-dark” rather than sky-colored. In fact, in all the descriptions written of the skies in Icelandic sagas, the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, the ancient Hebrew Bible, and Hindu Vedic hymns, nothing suggests that people saw the sky as blue.

Still today, even, the Himba tribe in Namibia has no word for “blue.” When asked what color the sky is, the tribespeople say it has no color.

No color on the North Shore
No color on the North Shore

This morning, my sky has no color. It’s almost hard to tell where my white office wall ends and the white sky in the window starts. There are no clouds, no texture or patterns in the sky—just a flat wall of white.

So why do we say the sky is blue, anyway? I’m aware of why it looks blue, from light waves penetrating the atmosphere—that’s not what I’m asking. I’m curious why we say it’s blue even though it’s just as often white-gray (maybe this is more common in Minnesota). It can glow red or gold. Half the time it’s black. The blue could be a pale shimmer or the blazing shade of blue raspberry snow cones from Dairy Queen. (Another blue oddity: There almost no natural blue foods—even blueberries really aren’t all that blue. No true blue flowers or animals, either.)

But you know “blue” would be the only acceptable answer to this question on a standardized test. We train our kids to think in acceptable ways, not divergent ones.

So where will this leave Logan, and other children who see things differently? Maybe the sky isn’t blue.

And maybe other things are.

BornOnABlueDay
Daniel Tammet’s memoir about being a savant, an Aspie, and a synesthetic

As I read about colors entering language, immediately I thought of the book/blog What Color is Monday? by Carrie Cariello and Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet.* Both Tammet and Cariello’s son have synesthesia, a blending of the senses. They also both have autism. 

In his memoir, Tammet writes poetically about the autism and synesthesia in his world:

“People with Asperger’s do want to make friends but find it very difficult to do so. The keen sense of isolation was something I felt very deeply and was very painful for me.” Numbers, he says, were his friends.

“The number 1, for example, is a brilliant and bright white, like someone shining a flashlight into my eyes. Five is a clap of thunder or the sound of waves crashing against rocks. Thirty-seven is lumpy like porridge, while 89 reminds me of falling snow.”

Usually in autism, we hear about sensory overload—the overwhelming feel of your socks, your shirt tag on your neck, the buzzing fluorescent lights, your coworkers’ clicking keyboards clicks, the screaming phones, the smell of coffee, the smell of microwaved oatmeal all wrestling for your attention. But hyposensitivity can come with autism, too, Logan’s occupational therapist told me, where people with experience too little sensory input. Or maybe they shut it all out, since there is too much to sort through.

So this idea of sensory mixing in autism is intriguing. Synesthesia still isn’t common among people with autism (I don’t think Logan has it), but it is more common here than with the general population. According to prominent autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen’s 2013 study, 4% of the general population has synesthesia while maybe 19% of the autistic population has it.

To Tammet, the word “ladder” is shiny blue; the French word “jardin” is a blurry yellow, the Icelandic word “hnugginn” is white with lots of blue specks. I wonder, what do we miss out on when we can’t see colors all around us? What do we miss when there is only one answer to the question, “What color is the sky?”

*

“I see orange,” I announce to my kids as we drive to daycare again.

“I see it!” squeals Sadie. “And pink!”

“Yellow!” shouts Logan. “I think it’s going to be sunny today!”

Maybe we don’t see the word “blue” in ancient texts not because people didn’t see this color but because they recognized that the sky wasn’t just this one answer. Maybe they saw all colors overhead. Maybe they looked at things with fresher eyes than we do today.

If nines can be blue to some people and Thursday can be purple, maybe the sky can be pink and yellow, too. Imagine how much richer our world would be if we saw and celebrated more colors, more strengths, more divergent thinking.

Feeling: Vibrant

Finally, a blue-sky day
Finally, a blue-sky day

*I had not read this book yet, so I checked it out from the library and took it to read at a nearby coffee shop—awesomely called Blue Monday.

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Dropping the Diet

No, we are not quitting our diet. But I will soon be dropping “diet” as the title of this blog.

When I began this blog almost two years ago, I wanted to chronicle our journey of learning how to eat free of gluten, casein, grains, soy, sugar, fruit, processed foods, legumes, etc, etc. I wanted to track our progress on two fronts: our adaptation to the diet and its impact on Logan’s autism.

Lately, however, I find myself drifting away from that idea of tracking progress into other areas (literature, culture). This is partly because I’m interested in those things and partly because we might simply have no more “progress” to report.

Did the diet work to recover Logan from autism? I thought at this point, I would have a solid answer to that question. But I don’t.

On one hand, Logan still clearly faces challenges with understanding social rules and following directions. He still has an IEP claiming ASD; I’m certain if we went through a formal diagnosis process again, he’d still be labeled as on the spectrum.

But on the other hand, we no longer have all-out scream fests every morning and night. Little things and changes no longer throw him off. Logan tries to engage others and almost always wants to be social. He has zero problems communicating. All of these make me so proud of him, and diagnosis or not, he has a very bright future ahead.

It’s clear to me–and hopefully to readers who have followed our story–diet has played a huge part in this.

Our family will continue to follow the principles of the Body Ecology and the GAPS diets, avoiding processed foods and adding probiotic foods. And I will continue to write this blog, but with a shifted scope. While The Diet Diaries focused on my family and food, All in Awe will explore subjects I find awesome (like my son), awe-inspiring (like books) and perhaps even awful (like my cooking).

Thank you for reading The Diet Diaries, and welcome to All in Awe.

AllInAwe

A shelfie of Logan

The Boy Who Loved Math and the Mom who Loved Books

boy-who-loved-mathHappy Belated World Book Day, everyone (it was last Thursday). Fittingly, on that day, my kids came home with armfuls of new books, their latest shipments from those Scholastic school fliers. When I was in elementary school, book orders were my favorite thing–so I decided when I had kids that Logan and Sadie would get to pick out a book every time they brought one home. (This has proven to be a costly decision, as Logan brings home book orders from daycare and preschool.)

Logan dumped his new books on the kitchen counter: the Transformers Addition & Subtraction Workbook he’d picked, which I’m sure he picked less for the math and more for the 1980s cartoon robots his dad has been watching again, and a book I’d picked from the flier–The Boy Who Loved Math.

I hate math. But it seems to come so naturally for Logan. I started to page through the book, and by page 3, I was hooked.

“Mama loved Paul to infinity. Paul loved Mama to ∞, too!”

Logan’s favorite number is infinity.

I continued to read and was struck by how many similarities there were between Logan and the book’s subject, a young boy named Paul Erdȍs*. Paul would grow up to be a famous mathematician who wanted to work on math problems “19 hours a day.” But as a boy, Erdȍs hated rules, couldn’t sit still, and “didn’t fit into the world in a regular way.”

I paused. Was this a kid’s book about autism?

The 2013 book is by Deborah Heiligman, and it never uses the label “autism.” Of course, it couldn’t — Erdȍs was never diagnosed as autistic. He was born in 1910, roughly two decades before autism had been researched and defined; Erdȍs would have been in his 30s before people outside of scientific circles were really aware of it (it could be argued people do not understand autism widely enough even today–it is a happy coincidence that World Book Day falls within Autism Awareness Month.)

Shelfie for World Book Day
Shelfie for World Book Day

But plenty of speculation exists that Erdȍs very likely fell somewhere on the spectrum. In Heilgman’s book, we read about Erdȍs  as a young boy calculating the number of seconds a person had been alive, and we see him as a young man unable to butter bread. This would seem to be a strong argument for autism.

Though it happens by necessity, I think the book’s lack of label is its strength. Other entertaining books about kids on the spectrum are out there, perhaps most notably The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I admit I haven’t read many of them, but what I have seen tends to be aimed more toward middle-school kids, and they’re almost all subtitled “an autism story” or something similar. Without the subtitle, Heiligman’s book and its subject, Paul, aren’t marked as “different.” His life is unusual, of course, but young readers accept those peculiarities in the way that everyone is different–Susie has freckles, Bobby is super tall, Mayson likes books and Braydon likes soccer.

On the other hand, while books with a clear purpose of advocating for autism acceptance are important, they have the drawback that young readers have to first take note of a marked difference. All kids know everyone is different, but now they are aware that some people are different. Even if there is acceptance, the difference is there, too.

So this is why I enjoy The Boy Who Loved Math so much. It speaks to my son with a character he can relate to, and it subtly reminds us all that differences–not necessarily differences–should be celebrated. 

 

*For any math nerds reading this: My Erdȍs number is likely 746. It’s safe to say that as a writer, I’ve never worked with anyone who’s worked with anyone who’s worked with anyone who worked with the famous mathematician.

My "shelf" portrait
My “shelf” portrait
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Awareness or Acceptance–What About Adaptation?

The high-pitched EEEE-eeee-EEEE-eeee behind me is soft and low and pulsing, stabbing at the already-aching back of my skull—right where my hairline meets my neck. I’m standing at the counter, trying to figure out why the hell my recipe calls for “2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons” of gelatin. Is it because I’m supposed to use them in different parts of the recipe? Do I use 2 tablespoons in one bowl, mix in the rest later? I believe this jello is trying to trick me.

EEE-eeee-EEEE-eeeee  EEEE-eeee-EEEE-eeee

I need to heat, but not boil my 4 cups of juice, which I have thanks to my juicer that now needs to be scrubbed clean … and crap, the juice is boiling. Is it ruined? Did the recipe really mean don’t boil? I sigh and figure it doesn’t matter anyway, because I don’t have any more strawberries to make juice out of.

EEE-eeee-EEEE-eeeee  EEEE-eeee-EEEE-eeee

“Logan! Please stop making that noise!” I snap. “Why on earth are you doing that?”

“Because I like to,” Logan replies.

Logan
Logan’s mega-watt grin

Instantly I feel ashamed. I know these noises make him happy. I know I don’t snap at my daughter when she caterwauls mangled lyrics to the theme song from “Sofia the First.” Her off-key noises make her just as happy as Logan’s squeaky ones make him. Really, there shouldn’t be any differences in who gets to squeak and who gets to sing.

But that noise, especially as I frantically blow on my juice to get it to stop boiling—there’s no getting around it: It’s irritating.

So even though I know better, I try to press on. “Why do you like to?” I ask Logan. “Why are those noises fun?”

“I don’t know…” he says, drifting into thought, or emotion, or defensive silence. I feel bad. Asking him that is like asking me to articulate why I like the color red. And I’m 34 – well aware of the fact that some things, like preferences and love and Bigfoot, the origins of the universe and autism, can’t be explained.

I know I should let the noises go. Especially this month, as April is Autism Awareness Month. Or Autism Acceptance Month. Or Action Month. Sometimes, even as the parent of an autistic child, I’m not sure what to say because April can seem like Annoying Semantics Month as much as anything else.

Autism Awareness was started to promote inclusion and quality of life for everyone on the spectrum. Sounds good. But soon a backlash to that movement started, called Autism Acceptance Month. This side argues that the idea of “awareness” is harmful to the autism community because autism isn’t something we should mourn but should celebrate.  

Then, there’s yet another side that argues “acceptance” is much too passive—it indicates there’s no cause, no cure, no hope. “Action” and a solution are what we need! (Of course, this offends “acceptance” advocates because people on the spectrum are not broken and do not need “fixing.”)

Whew. I often feel caught in the middle of a political storm, even in the middle of my kitchen*. Do I accept Logan as he is or try to tone down his shrieking laughter so it doesn’t hurt everyone’s ears? Do I spend two hours fretting over sugar-free, dye-free gelatin so he can eat the same/not same snack as the other kids at daycare tomorrow? Or is that too much action and not enough awareness?

Juice Jello
Laughing at mom’s gelatin attempt (note the pretty picture behind the dish). Actually, while it didn’t really get super-solid like real Jello, it tasted pretty good (with no sugar or honey!)

Awareness—acceptance—argh. Perhaps a better goal might be adaptation, on everyone’s part. I’m aware of my son’s many, many strengths and boundless love. But I’m also aware of society-at-large and its wariness of the “weird.” And while I accept my son and celebrate the different outlook he offers, I also accept that not everyone else will. The fact is Logan will have to learn to adapt. He’ll have to learn to not meltdown in school if he can’t use the first urinal in the bathroom. He’ll have to learn he can’t make the EEE-eeee-EEEE-eeeee  EEEE-eeee-EEEE-eeee noise during group time at school.

Hopefully I can learn to adapt by allowing him to do it at the kitchen counter, jello headache or not.

And hopefully society can adapt, too, and learn to appreciate behavioral diversity. Hopefully enough people will realize there’s no real difference between singing, shrieking, squeaking—they’re all ways our kids express themselves. One way of communication shouldn’t be “right” while the others are “wrong.” Hopefully we can all adapt our expectations for how people are to behave and how they are to communicate and allow for a broader range of variations.

I’m not saying Logan or anyone should give up personality. But if Logan can adapt in minor ways to reach out to society, to learn to squeak at home and not at school the same way all kids learn to rough-house on the playground and not in church, and if society can adapt in minor ways to reach out to him and realize that some people find joy and comfort in different noises, that would be progress to me. Call it awareness, call it acceptance, call it action—in April or year-round—the words don’t matter as much as a tangible approach to understanding on all sides. So I slide my whole-food jello mess into the fridge, smile at my son, and hope for the best.

Feeling: Adaptable

*But bitter schisms in the world of autism are nothing new. All the way back in the 1960s, experts argued over whether the root of autism was medical or psychoanalytical — even farther back, its two forefathers from the 1930s, Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, disagreed whether they were even describing the same syndrome.

Autism + Feminism = Ought-ism

There are likely a dozen things I ought to be doing right now.

It’s Easter evening, so we have the usual weekend dishes to clean, plus company-came-over dishes, too. Logan dislocated his elbow. Sadie has an ear infection. The dog has an ear infection. There are bathrooms to clean, bags to pack for school this week.

On overwhelming days like these, especially when Logan still seems to be struggling at daycare and preschool to get back into his pre-milk experiment stride, I can’t help focusing on all the things I‘m doing wrong, all the things I ought to do. Comments like “Super Mom!” that my well-meaning and supportive friends and family post after my blogs make me snort. I am not Super Mom. Truthfully, I don’t even think I’m Good Mom. I’m overly impatient and irritable, and often I worry that I’m actually more Bad Mom.

Because I ought to be a stay-at-home mom.

I ought to learn how to cook from scratch.

I ought to insist on sticking closer to the BED diet, with proper food combining.

I ought to cut out the small amounts of sugar that have crept back in our diet, the fruit and the honey.

And yet, while worrying about being Bad Mom, I also worry about being Bad Feminist, as if these two ideals are somehow mutually exclusive.

I ought to be more career-minded.

I ought to write more than once a week.

I ought to read more journals.

I ought to publish more.

There are so many “ought-tos” it’s hard to keep up. In fact, I believe I’ll diagnosis myself with “ought-ism.” I’ll let others judge if I’m low- or high-functioning.

While I have actually been referring to myself as a bad feminist for a long time, I need to of course acknowledge Roxane Gay’s 2014 book, Bad Feminist, which a friend gave me recently. While Gay half-jokingly ponders if she can still be a feminist if she shaves her legs, I wonder if I can still be a feminist because I don’t shave my legs—I simply don’t have time between scrubbing toilets, scrubbing dishes, scrubbing faces, and various other things that seem decidedly domestic and therefore anti-feminist.

Not surprisingly, this is one of the only photos of me cooking.
Not surprisingly, this is just about the only photo of me cooking.

The label of feminist is hard. Gay admits she used to shun the label, and I used to, too. Lots of women do (including, unfortunately, some of the country’s most powerful career women). We get the idea that we should avoid the F-word from this mythology that feminists hate men, hate sex, hate babies and all things domestic. Gay quotes Yahoo! CEO Melissa Mayer as saying she’s not a feminist because she doesn’t have “the militant drive and the sort of chip on the shoulder that comes with that.”

On the other hand, Gay points to articles in The Atlantic asserting that “Real feminists earn a living,” and that until women are firmly in the workplace, feminism will fail (Wurtzel, 2012). The small portion of women who choose to leave their positions to stay at home are often blasted.

You see my dilemma, then, and why Good Mom and Good Feminist do often seem mutually exclusive.

Case in point: Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,”* from a few years back:

“I told [a colleague] how difficult I was finding it to be away from my son when he clearly needed me. Then I said, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”

She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women. 

Slaughter mentions that, ironically, she was once a face of feminism, telling scores of young college women that they could have it all.  But, as her children grew, she says she grew “increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.”

While Slaughter clearly still believes in women’s equality and power, she never returns to using the F-word throughout the rest of her incredibly lengthy (but incredibly interesting!) article. It appears that along with her career, she has let go of the label of feminist because, as she says, women simply can’t have it all.

Gay scoffs at all of this. Feminism never promised women they could have it all, she argues. You can still be a feminist even if you don’t “have it all.” Even if you like pink and purses and yes, even pornography. All feminists want is to not “be treated like shit,” she says, quoting a 1996’s DIY Feminism.

*

A cousin of mine—whom I respect—seemed to take offense a few months ago when I blogged about how impossible it was to work, cook healthy food and be an attentive mom, not to mention taking Logan to the therapy. She completely plans on “having it all.” Of course, she has no kids yet.

She might be able to pull it off better than I. But I think it depends on a person’s definition of “healthy” meals and how they’re prepared (spaghetti with meat sauce and a lettuce salad is a perfectly quick and healthy meal to some. But for us, the noodles have gluten, the sauce has sugar, and lettuce offers very little nutrients.) And I hate to play the special needs card, but that does add to the stress.

I do love writing and working. I enjoy providing for my family. Growing up, I had never considered that “providing” for a family doesn’t have to be defined in financial terms. However, my understanding of “providing” is shifting. I love being with my kids, I love having a clean house, and I at least wish I loved cooking (I’m working on it.) These things ought to count as significant provisions, too. They oughtn’t disqualify me as a feminist.

Unfortunately, with my economic situation, this is all really a moot issue anyway, since I do not belong to the 1% of women who can afford to leave the workforce. So I guess I’ll remain stuck in limbo, between Good and Bad, Feminist and Mom, trying to balance all the “oughts” that come with career, motherhood and autism. I ought to try and do it all, but that’s probably not possible.

If I’ve learned anything from autism and feminism, it’s that really, only two “oughts” matter: I ought to love my son and I ought to love myself.

Feeling: Pressured

My kids "helping" me at my writing desk.
The kids “helping” me at my writing desk.
Spaghetti (4)

Spaghetti and Small Victories

After our raw milk experiment, we’ve been back to more frequent outbursts, defiance and aggression as the casein works its way out of Logan’s system. I alternate between feeling angry at myself for trying something I knew was too soon, frustrated once again for remembering how to be patient with Logan, how to handle the sudden wails and flappings, and most of all deflated for the thought that we came so close—did we ruin it?

Spaghetti (2)
Small success: Without the sauce, Logan liked his zucchini “noodles”

Will we get back to where we once were, with a long chain of positive, upbeat days (albeit with challenges, but definitely reasonable ones), or did we, in our eagerness to push too much,  wreck the delicate microbe balance in Logan’s gut beyond repair? It does seem a little drastic to think chances of repair are completely gone … but there’s always that niggling of the five-year window of opportunity, before the cement dries.

Small victories are definitely needed these days, and one I’m grateful for is simply that Logan isn’t constantly asking for milk. During our two-week experiment, he asked for it constantly—I was so sure we’d have a disaster on our hands when we took it away (again). But Logan hasn’t mentioned milk once. It’s either out of sight, out of mind, or he somehow realized the milk was upsetting his body in some way, too.

Another small victory came in the kitchen last week, when I successfully made cauliflower rice and zucchini-noodle spaghetti (and all in the same day, no less!).

I began my monster day cooking at 4 a.m., desperately hoping the whirling food processor didn’t wake anyone upstairs. It reminded me of a late night in high school when a friend and I smuggled her parent’s blender into her basement and tried to muffle the noise with couch cushion as we blended ice cubes, vodka and strawberries.  How times have changed.

Like that time, everyone remained asleep, and I was able to chop my onion and garlic in peace (or as much peace that can possibly come with cutting onions and eyes ablaze). I followed the directions meticulously, and the “rice” actually turned out beautifully.

Cauliflower Rice
“Rice,” from cauliflower, onions and garlic

It was perfect to send to daycare for Chinese food and chopsticks day.

Later that day, around 4 p.m., I decided to try another new recipe for zucchini noodles and spaghetti sauce. I may as well use up the rest of the onion I’d cut, I figured—plus , I’m just so sick of our steak, chicken, fish rotation that I’m willing to try anything, despite my absolute loathing of  cooking.

I began with meatballs, ignoring the squishy texture of raw meat while I smooshed in the mint, onions, garlic and oregano that I’d chopped. I felt very proud of myself.

With my chest thrust, it was time to tackle the sauce and noodles. But then, Jason came home, and took over—which was probably a good thing, so I could quit while I was ahead. Three cooking victories in one day would probably require more luck than I’m allotted.

Tomatoes aren’t allowed on the Body Ecology Diet, but I decided to overrule here, because A) the tomatoes we used were organic, B) Logan probably wouldn’t like it, anyway, and only eat a bite or two, and C) I’m so sick of plain steak, chicken and fish I could die.

 

Our first "spaghetti" meal in two years!
Our first “spaghetti” meal in two years!

It, too, was delicious. The kids weren’t crazy about it, but I suspect that’s because it was a little spicy – I suspect if we made it again without the serrano pepper the recipe called for, they’d be more receptive.

Despite this small victory, I’m still reminded of how f*king hard this diet and lifestyle is. It takes taking a day off work and cooking six hours for these two healthy meals. It very likely took Jason coming in to help with the trickiest part to pull off a stellar dish. As much as I hate steak, chicken and fish, there’s a reason why we fall into that rut. New dishes require patience and time, neither of which I have. Routine may be boring, but it is easy.

Feeling: Vexed

Raw milk ice cream

A Raw Truth

With the possible exception of my brother, I used to drink more milk than anyone I knew. And I don’t know if that’s exactly why, but my fingernails have always been fabulous.

And by that I mean exceptionally strong. They always looked plain and woeful, of course, unpainted with ungroomed cuticles, but my nails were so tough, it was hard to clip them. I’d have to muster all the hand strength I could to squeeze the clippers through one. In fact, I remember one time when I was around fourth or fifth grade, my mom almost couldn’t clip my nails because they were so tough.

And again I’m not sure if this is why, but six months ago, I stopped drinking milk – and over the past few months, my fingernails have shriveled to shadows. They practically chip when striking the bed sheets and they fold and flop instead of drumming on a desk, and they’re streaked with brittle, white cracks.

*

The lack of calcium is the first thing people ask about when they learn we don’t drink milk, and I more or less shrugged it off. We eat high amounts of spinach, which has calcium, and Logan drinks Quinoa Milk, which still has 30 percent of daily calcium. Plus—where do other mammals get their calcium? We’re the only species that drinks milk past weaning, and surely we can’t be that different in our nutrient needs.

My nails, though, are frankly freaking me out.

From a small farmer, we received some raw milk—meaning unpasteurized—and decided to try it. We knew from the last time we’d reintroduced dairy that it most definitely affected his system, but with a calcium deficit now on my mind, I thought raw milk might be different. Pasteurizing milk kills bacteria, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes, which are all good for the body; the enzymes help digest lactose, and the good bacteria help our guts thrive. American farms started pasteurizing milk in the 1920s to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, which work their way into milk from unhealthy cows. And thanks to the mass production approach to agriculture, we have plenty of that. When the quantity over quality is emphasized, a lot of strain is put on the cows to produce as much as possible. This makes them susceptible to infection. To counteract this, they’re given antibiotics (which get passed through to us in the milk we drink). It’d be simpler and healthier to just care for the cows, but we have a lot of people’s thirst to quench and lots of money to churn out. So we pasteurize, and anything—bad or beneficial—that could be in the milk becomes dead.

When I lived in Spain for a few months during college, I remember being surprised the milk wasn’t pasteurized. Some of the other kids in my study abroad group refused to drink it. But coming from the Midwest, I was a huge milk drinker and didn’t think I could possibly go without it. So I drank the unpasteurized milk (gallons of it), and it was delicious. And it never made me sick.

So we had plenty of reasons to try this unpasteurized milk this time around. And none of us got sick from it, either.

And nothing changed with Logan’s digestion. He didn’t complain of stomach cramps or get diarrhea, the way he probably would have if he were lactose intolerant. So at first, we breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that his body was handling the dairy.

He began asking for cow’s milk constantly and tried convincing his daycare teachers he could now have cow’s milk again (we hadn’t told them they could give him any, because the milk they serve is of course pasteurized). He gulped down his glass at dinner as soon as he got it and asked for more. Worried about what suddenly going from zero to sixty ounces in a day would do to his system, we had to limit him to just two small glasses with meals, plus ice cream that we made from it after dinner. But still, it didn’t look like the milk was bothering his body at all.

Then I realized Logan hadn’t been earning a rock star badge at school lately. (His teachers at daycare hand out rock star badges to kids modeling good manners, sharing, following directions, etc. They can lose their badges, too, and even though it’s just a silly laminated piece of paper, the kids all hate to lose their rock star status.)

Then I realized it had been about a week and a half – exactly three days since introducing milk and every day since.

On Wednesday I picked up the kids from daycare, and thanks to the nice weather, the kids were all outside. I spied Logan playing at the top of the climber. A little girl was walking along the part he was on and teetered in her boots as she tried to pass him, bumping him slightly on the back. Logan whirled around and shoved her.

“Hey! Logan pushed me!” she cried.

I know why he did it – he felt a bump and assumed he was being targeted, so he lashed out. But, I told him as we drove home, that’s no excuse.  

A few days later, his preschool teachers confirmed it for me. Though they weren’t aware of any changes to his diet, they’d noticed much more aggression in the past couple weeks. When Jason and I heard that, we locked eyes and both said, “Milk.”

I hate that we have to again take milk away from him, and ice cream, too. I hate messing with his body this way—I wish we’d never reintroduced milk, raw or not. While the lactose didn’t upset his system, the casein still most definitely did. I suppose a little good did come out of our experiment: further confirmation that biomedical interventions do have a big impact.

Feeling: Wistful

Homemade ice cream from raw milk

Like Son, Like Father

I think about this story often.

One night as my husband and I—well before becoming parents—were watching the nightly news, a story came on about a motorcycle accident that left the driver pinned under a big car. His chances of surviving didn’t look good.

A few onlookers saw the accident and rushed to help. They tried to lift the car off the man, but of course, they couldn’t. He remained trapped. More onlookers rushed to help. More and more people hurried to help, straining to lift the heavy vehicle off the man. Finally enough strangers joined in where the small crowd actually did lift the car—and slowly, laboriously, they inched their way up the pavement. The man’s shoulders emerged, then his midsection, until finally his legs were free. He would live!

I practically had tears rushing down my face. “Those strangers banded together to save that man’s life!” I exclaimed. But Jason, sitting on the couch next to me, looked annoyed.

“Those people are idiots,” he declared. “They didn’t need to wait so long until all those people came over to lift and move the car. Instead of the first five people all trying to move the car, just the four men should have lifted it while the woman knelt down on the ground and pulled the man out. They really only needed to muscle the car up a few inches—not haul it six feet down the road.”

I was speechless. Only Jason could criticize humans in crisis trying to save their fellow man for inefficiency.

Jason and Logan’s idea of “going to bed” usually means wrestling and doing math flash cards on the computer.

 

When Logan was diagnosed with autism, Jason intimated that he likely had autism, too. I scoffed. Jason, a social impairment disorder? Most people know him as the life of the party; he has tons of friends, and he’s loud, witty, sarcastic and incredibly brash. If autism were truly genetic, passed down from one parent, it seemed to me that I’d be a more likely candidate. After all, I’m the shy one, intimidated by most people and nervous about starting conversations. And I’m the one with sensory issues—too much noise, or too many kinds of noise happening at once, makes me panic. Sometimes if there’s too much noise, I feel as though I can’t see inches past my face.

And, as I’ve written about here, I also can’t stand the squishy textures of raw meat and eggs.

But even with these sensory quirks and social failings, I’m positive I’d never receive a diagnosis. Autism is more than having a few quirks.

So of course I scoffed at Jason’s notion that Logan’s autism came from him. I admit he has a freaky ability to calculate numbers in his head, and he’ll fixate on certain things, like playing the same song on repeat 30 times, but again, autism is so much bigger than that.

Of course, Logan's first favorite toy was a computer.
Of course, Logan’s first favorite toy was a computer.

Then again, he often doesn’t show awareness of other people. When we drive anywhere (without the kids), it’s usually in silence. I remember asking him once about his childhood, and he answered, then left it at that. No, “and what about you?” to keep the conversation going. I remember being stunned at how rude that was, how self-centered. He protested it just simply didn’t occur to him to ask.

That was years ago—but it sprang up in my mind as if it happened yesterday while I read Raising Cubby by John Elder Robison last week. Robison is an author with Asperger’s, and he writes about his son, who will also eventually be diagnosed with autism. In one chapter, he writes about picking Cubby up from school and driving in silence. “Being Aspergerian,” Robison writes, “it did not occur to me to say, ‘Hi Jack, how was school?’”

Could Jason be right? Could he be labeled on the spectrum?

I thought of Jason several other times as I read Robison’s book. Especially when he writes, “At that time, I still saw Asperger’s as a disability. I had yet to embrace it or connect it to my successes, and it certainly was not a source of pride.”

As the mother of someone with autism, I like to think that I’m open-minded enough not to view it as a disability, either. Yet when I read that, for the first time it struck me that a successful businessman could have autism. I instantly felt ashamed—not only for any assumptions I might have had about how Logan will fare when he grows up but also for my assumptions about my husband’s success. A large part of why I frowned when he speculated about being on the spectrum came from the fact that he’s had a prosperous career.

Of course, it is possible to be autistic and successful. Intellectually, I understand that and had even said it myself a dozen times.  But I realized thanks to Robison that I didn’t truly feel it, emotionally.

Raising Cubby made me wonder if Jason was right about being on the spectrum; moreover, it also made me wonder if he wasn’t successful in spite of autism but rather because of autism. 

Best buds at 2 months old

 

One of Jason’s more impressive feats has been passing many college courses and his PMP certification without taking the actual classes. He’d just lock himself in our home office for a couple days, study intently, and pass every test he took. He brings this same obsession, this all-consuming mindset for a few weeks, to work as a project manager.

As another example of his single-mindedness, when we decided it was time to move, Jason started to research. But not just typical research. In essence, he moved out to the living room couch and did not sleep in the bedroom for almost a year, staying up every night to search for houses online. I don’t doubt that he categorized every single house on the market in the entire Twin Cities metro area.

He then researched the housing market to such an extent that we were able to buy a new house even while going through a short sale. By the end, he was explaining things to our real estate agent.

We are in our lovely house today because of Jason; I suppose it’s possible we’re here because Jason is on the spectrum. His single-mindedness and lack of awareness of others suggest he could be; his drastic swings in mood might, too—he’s almost always either grumpy (home-mode) or hyper (social-mode). Just like the smallest thing (like a detour) could set Logan into end-of-the-world meltdown, the slightest offense to Jason causes him to launch into all-out tirades. Admittedly, life at home is often difficult on both fronts.

Would having an official diagnosis for Jason change anything? Probably not. But it might be interesting to see if the old saying is true: Like father, like son. Or, in our case, like son, like father.

Feeling: More Open

Jason and Logan, about 3 months old
Jason and Logan, a few weeks old