Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Skeptics

Dear Skeptics of all things allergic and sensitive,

I get it. I really do. I once was you. Irritated that I had to pack a nut-free snack and lunch. Feeling like the whole movement is one big overreaction. How in the world could this many kids have so many food-related issues?

And then.

Then, our family was subjected to 1.5 years of nonstop screaming, meltdowns, constant diarrhea and, generally, the most challenging behavior I have ever witnessed firsthand in a child. Behavior that affected every corner of our family, our marriage and our life.

We eliminated dairy. And nuts. And preservatives, dyes and sugars.

We had behavioral evaluations done. We read books. We scoured the internet. We asked friends for wisdom. We cried and despaired of ever seeing change.

Ultimately, we had him tested for leaky gut and food sensitivities and allergies.

The result? On top of what we'd already taken out, we nixed gluten, coconut, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, apricots, cucumbers, celery, corn, grapes and eggs.

And yes, if you are wondering if it's hard to create food for a ravenous food-loving child with none of the above ingredients, you would be right. It is of great irony to me that my child who loves food the most and eats more food than even I can consume has the most restrictive diet.

People questioned the severity of it. Food sensitivities are controversial, they said. Get more opinions. It's probably just his personality and he'll be fine when he's no longer a toddler.

They might be right.

BUT.

We were willing to try anything to see change. To come up for air from what felt like an impossible lifestyle.

A month into the drastic diet change, after weeks of even more intense behavior as these foods left his body, things shifted. He was calmer. His meltdowns were shorter. His happy lasted longer. His speech dramatically improved. He started to learn strategies to self-calm. His bowel movements radically improved. His trigger wasn't as quick.

And our family began to take a deep breath. Maybe, just maybe, we could have good days. Days that didn't find me with earplugs in and tears running down my face by the time my husband got home. Days where my youngest child wasn't in physical danger from his older brother's rage. Days where my oldest son wanted to spend time with his brother.

And we did. We had lots of them.

But here's the thing.

People don't always get the food insensitivity thing. Or the allergy thing. We have school and parties and Sunday School at church. When we get flyers home saying "Superbowl party with fun snacks!" I cringe. Maybe we'll skip that church day. He won't be able to eat one thing on that table. And he will feel, as always, left out. Or, knowing him, he'll covertly sneak some of it and we'll have a big setback.  Birthday party invitations are basically unwelcome. People offer to bring us dinner? Sure, but here's a list of 1000 things you can't cook for us, so have fun. (And add in the soy allergy for my youngest and it's really a big party around here.) Seriously. Soy is in everything.

Two weeks ago, there was a new teacher in my son's Sunday School classroom. He wears a tag every week that says "Allergies! Only give food from his bag!" This teacher didn't read the tag. She didn't look for his snacks. She handed him microwave popcorn slathered in butter. (And, probably preservatives, let's be honest.) She gave him goldfish crackers. (Gluten, dairy, corn and sugar.) And that child was happy. Man.

And then she noticed the tag. And panicked.

The nursery director came to find us. Is he going to be sick? Is he going to be ok? We're so sorry.

Yes, we sighed. He won't need to go to the hospital. He's not anaphylactic. BUT.

Since that day, 9 days ago, our life has been on pause. Our child went from happy and his version of calm to completely unhinged within 12 hours of consuming that food. And it hasn't let up.

Meltdowns, violence, screaming, defiance. And every corner of our life revolves around trying to keep him regulated. Again.

8 months of hard work undone by a 5 minute snack.

So, please.

If someone tells you not to give a kid something, please listen. My son doesn't have a medical reaction. Many kids do. Many kids can actually end up hospitalized or dead if exposed to something. We are grateful he isn't one.

Believe me, we are not trying to make your lives more difficult. Everything we do, every decision we make in our lives revolves around making sure we have access to the right foods. Road trips, parties, church. We leave with lunches and snacks packed everywhere we go. There is no safe restaurant. The decision to put him on this diet affects all of us every day.

But you know who is hit the hardest?

My 3 year old. Who cannot have ice cream and cookies. Who can't go to chick-fil-a or to birthday parties or enjoy the same snack as his buddies at church. Who constantly asks for food he cannot have and has to deal with disappointment.

When you don't listen and don't take it seriously, he is the one hurt the most. As difficult as the last 8 days have been for us, I can only imagine what his little body must feel like to be reacting like this.

So, dear skeptics, please believe us. Believe us when we tell you our kids can't have sugar or eggs or gluten. Don't quote an article that says the gluten thing is overblown or tell me I should have given him nuts at 6 months old. It's not helpful and it doesn't change the fact that these things affect him much more than they do most other children we know.

We don't know why. But we know they do. That should be enough.

Sincerely,

Recovering Skeptic Whose Son Needs You to Trust Her

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

All You Need Is Love?

It's Valentine's Day.

And just like last year and the year before and well, pretty much every year that I can remember, I couldn't actually care less. That's not because I don't have an amazing husband and a lot of love in my life. It's just because I've come to believe that a lot of little, wonderful moments of doing life together goes a lot further for me than a fancy dinner and chocolates. Not that a fancy dinner and chocolates aren't welcome - but at this stage of life, we take dates when we can get them. And we've already got a fun one planned for Friday that has nothing to do with the holiday.

Valentine's Day is a day when we are meant to celebrate love by buying little trinkets and spiderman valentines and saying "I love you." (Which means that I, as a parent, spend time buying, filling out and making sure said little gifts get sent to the right places so my children can still participate in a holiday I don't care a whit about. I'm not yet so cruel as to force on them my own level of grumpiness about it.)

Like Christmas and Easter, we have learned to express love through gift-giving in our culture. And like with those holidays, sometimes the gifts are meaningful and other times they are just "stuff." Some people love the holiday and the exchanges and others would gladly skip it since it leaves them feeling empty or disappointed.

Some, like me, just don't care.

People like to toss around the phrase "all you need is love." I don't know if the phrase predates the famous song or if the song introduced the now-famous phrase. But I read it and hear it all the time.

It never sits well.

I've had a lot of love in my life. I grew up in a stable family. I married into a family that has made it clear they love me. I got married almost 14 years ago and love my husband more today than on the day we said "I do." I have three boys who express their love for me in countless ways. I have friends who speak truth and make me laugh.

Love is beautiful.

But, at least in earthly form, it's not everything.

In adoption circles, you hear about it a lot. "Those kids just need love and once they are in a "stable" family, they will be fine." Yes, they obviously need love just like every kid out there needs love. They are human. But they need a lot more. For my kids, they need me to be the kind of person who recognizes the importance of their culture, the reality of racism and the challenges of a multiracial family. Who takes research and listening and humility seriously and is willing to risk failure. They need me to care about their hair and learn how to do it correctly. They need me to speak well and often of their birthparents so that they feel the freedom to explore their own history when they are older. They need to be able to tell me they love their skin color and ask why mine is different without me panicking and shutting down the conversation. They need us to make choices so that they are in schools and churches and neighborhoods where they are not the only black children and so that there are authorities in their lives who look like them. They need us to recognize there is trauma in adoption - that even though we brought them home as infants, there is loss in their life, loss that love can seep into but not obliterate. That the identity questions with which they will struggle as black adopted children with white parents are no small thing.

I truly wish all we needed was "love". That I could fill up my heart with all the feelings and emotions and joys that are associated with it and be whole. But the way love is sold to us is so often lacking. It is shallow. It is impatient. It is all about what we get out of it and rarely about what we are meant to give in its name. God's love is the opposite. It is bigger and stronger and more sacrificial than anything we've ever seen. And it calls us to love in response. Not in small and frivolous ways, not just in words, but in action, in hope, in sacrifice.

So, yes, today my husband might come home with flowers because it is Valentine's Day. He will give me a kiss and ask how the day was and my little ones will giggle. He'll scoop them up and hold them close and kiss their curls and hug my oldest. He loves them and those actions are still powerful and good.

But I'm grateful that love is so much more than what we settle for so much of the time. That it is, in the immortal words of the old school DC Talk song, "a verb." It's action and sacrifice and challenge and choices, its sometimes choosing someone else's good over our own, all rolled into relationship and held together by God.

Let's celebrate that today. And tomorrow. And every day that we are fortunate enough to have people are in our lives. Let's do it in real and honest and challenging and beautiful ways.

Because if we could really see and live love in all its depth, poured out in service to those around us, the way it was taught to us by a sacrificial God who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine, maybe the world really would be a better place.

Maybe that kind of love really would be all we need.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fall Down Tree

Every Sunday morning our family unceremoniously and rather chaotically piles into our minivan to head to church. Snacks packed (because when you have kids with allergies and sensitivities, sunday school goldfish could derail your whole week), lunches packed (because, let's be honest, with three growing boys, it's a long time from breakfast through church and Sunday School and that fifteen minute ride home is much more peaceful with mouths chomping) and a sense of having accomplished the impossible, getting all five of us out the door by 8 am, permeates the atmosphere.

No matter how we enter that car, I know now that something is about to change for our family. We are about to encounter "Fall Down Tree."

Just after we started coming to this church, we came across it. A huge tree, roots upended, laying right by the side of the road in someone's front yard. Somehow, this tree has become the focal point of our ride. It is cause for speculation, pontification and flat-out aesthetic awe.

How did it fall? Why don't the people who live there clean it up? How old might it be? Can we knock on their door and ask to play with it?

All these questions and more are answered in serious and silly fashion. (Maybe Joshie bonked it with his bike! Maybe Nate pushed it over with his strong arms! Maybe God blew on it and, poof, it fell over!)

But however it has happened, the conversation always ends with a chant. My youngest laughing and pumping his arms in the air as the middle and oldest chant "Fall down tree! Fall down tree! Fall down tree!" Dissolving in giggles at the end, we often enter church with lighter hearts and goofier outlooks.

Friends, this is a powerful thing.

You see, Sunday mornings have traditionally been calamitous. Screaming, crying, multiple changes of clothes, arguments. Usually this has culminated in two very exhausted parents who spend the greater part of the church service trying to remember why we even attempted to come to church in the first place. Too exhausted and defeated to even attempt to open our souls to what God may have for us that morning. Just grateful on some level that childcare is provided, we  would fight to stay awake during the sermon and then trudge back home again.

But now we have "Fall Down Tree." This strange and unexpected beacon of distraction and hope. No matter what mood everyone is in when we enter that car, as we turn that bend and "Fall Down Tree" comes into view, there is a shift in that minivan.

And entering church in its aftermath is a whole different world. Laughter has helped us shake off any early morning tomfoolery. Chanting has helped us loosen up our rigid need (ok, MY rigid need) to be early for church and the ensuing stress when someone has caused us to be late. Again. The camaraderie of three boys rejoicing together, united in spirit for even 5 minutes, gives everyone the chance to take a deep breath. To enter church with thanksgiving. To walk in with a posture that invites rest and redemption and joy.

Some day I am certain that that family will clean up the tree. We will turn the bend and as the chanting begins to rev up, the car will fall silent. There will be disappointment and mourning and the end to what is, at least for now, a tradition. Possibly we will pull some deep lesson out of its disappearance.

For now, though, I am relying on "Fall Down Tree." Because right now it is a tangible, beautiful reminder that any day can be reset. Any hard moment can suddenly turn into one of laughter and joy and lasting family memories. That giggles and silliness can be powerful preparation for inviting God to do His work of healing in our souls.

I know that one day, a long time from now when this tree is a distant memory, we will look back and tell the boys about it, about this tree that brought hope and life back into Sundays for our family.

Maybe God did blow it over for us, after all.