“Fighting for Your Kid” Really Just Means Trying Again

During my first year of teaching kindergarten, a more experienced teacher kindly said to me, “Sometimes being a good teacher just means showing up again the next day.”

I never forgot that.

Sometimes being a good mother just means showing up again the next day. Trying again the next day.

Every teacher struggles tremendously during the first years. I had a student with some serious emotional challenges that I really was not equipped to handle. I went home and sobbed to my husband that I wasn’t going back, he couldn’t make me, and I was going to work at Walmart. Somehow I managed to go back to school the next day, and the next day, and the next day. I wasn’t the best teacher for that boy who was struggling, but we struggled together. I remember trying to approach him from a different angle the next day: I kneeled down, at his eye level, and very gently painted his hands with an empty paintbrush. He looked me in the eyes. Everything was not smooth sailing after that, but it was a start. I was an emotional wreck sometimes, and I could have done a thousand things better and differently, but I did the best that I could at the time.

And I tried again the next day.

And the next day.

Now that I am in the belly of the beast of motherhood, I recall that lesson I learned from that wise teacher and that hurting child. Being a good mother means showing up and trying again the next day.

My Mom is Just Okay

My Mom is Just Okay

We have some really bad days around here. I don’t subscribe to the “rainbows and unicorns” mentality. Adoption is not easy. Sometimes it’s not even pretty. Or nice. And saying that doesn’t disrespect my child. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being honest about these feelings gives my child respect, because I respect him enough to give his feelings room to just… be.

And having twins is not easy. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Or nice. And having a child with special needs is … well, gut-wrenchingly painfully invisibly hard. It keeps a mother awake at night, going over every single thing she did wrong. Beating herself in the chest for the ways she wasn’t patient enough or sympathetic enough or just ENOUGH. Or that she hasn’t researched enough, dug deep enough, learned enough.

I have had to come to terms with the fact that I absolutely cannot be ENOUGH for any of my children. Maybe if they were all perfect singletons with no special needs. Maybe if their human and flawed mother didn’t have migraines, or anxiety…. just imagine how much better she could do. But, this blog isn’t called “Okayest Mom” for nothing. I’m okay, and I know it, and that has to be ENOUGH. I’m getting there.

All of that emotional vomit is just to say: I try again the next day. That is what makes a me a good mother.

There are meltdowns and problems so serious here that it makes me feel like giving up, for real. (I don’t mean to vague-post, but I need to protect the confidentially of my children and their medical privacy, of course.) But what does “giving up” mean, exactly, when you’re a mother? That I wouldn’t get out of bed and feed them? That I would walk to the mailbox and keep on walking? That I would drop them off at their grandma’s house and not come back? Believe me, thoughts like these have crossed my mind. (And if they haven’t crossed your mind, too, maybe you don’t have the challenges we have in this house. You can’t know, and I can’t know, unless we move in with each other.)

But I haven’t. I haven’t given up. I try again the next day, no matter how tired or how completely empty my tank is.

I have heard myself, and other mothers too, say with our Mama Bear passion that we would fight for our children. There have been times that I have fought hard for my children – for county services, medical attention, and even respect. Any mother knows that Mama Bear feeling. We have all been there and done that. Mother to mother, we know that we have all fought for our children in times of crisis.

But I have realized that “fighting for my child” sometimes means just showing up again the next day. It’s the constant, mundane, day-to-day stuff. It’s the meltdowns. It’s the challenges. It’s the invisible problems. It’s the days when you want to give up. It’s trying again.

That is fighting for your child.

 

 

Our School and Pharmacy Are Trying to Poison My Kid with Food Dye AND I NEED TO YELL ABOUT IT IN ALL CAPS

You think I’m kidding? Or maybe you think I’m overreacting? Maybe I need to film my child’s reaction to food dyes, so you can see for yourself.

He came home from school with THIS.

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A gingerbread house made with love, care, pride, and lots and lots of Red Dye #40. He acted like a different child all night – tic-like behaviors, shouting out random words like “MAC AND CHEESE” in his brothers’ faces until they cried, falling out of chairs, uncontrolled fidgeting, crying for no reason, and telling everyone who had regular voices to “stop talking so loud” when he was the one doing the shouting. He ended up wearing his Harbor Freight man-size headphones to the dinner table, in between choking on food and falling out of his chair some more. That is not my kid.

His school pretty much gave him food poisoning. Or set fire to all his little neurons or whatever.

We are a dye-free and preservative-free house. We try to follow the Feingold Diet, which is also often called “The ADHD Diet.” My son does not have ADHD, not even a little bit, but I learned that this diet often helps children with emotional regulation, motor control, and a large list of problems – many of which described challenges we may or may not have. I started to pay attention. I started keeping a food and behavior log for him. I started learning as much as I could about the Feingold Diet. I started learning exactly what dyes and preservatives are made from – petroleum – and why that is so bad for some children. I noticed patterns: all hell broke loose after fast food, liquid ibuprofen, popsicles, cupcakes, and more.

(And don’t you dare try to blame it on the sugar. I cook from scratch with sugar plenty and it does not instigate these reactions in my child. We have pumpkin pie with SUGAR every Sunday, and I make cookies with white beans AND SUGAR, and brownies with black beans or dates and cocoa AND SUGAR. We drink homemade hot chocolate made with cocoa and SUGAR. We make SUGAR cookies with vegetable dye frosting. Don’t tell me it’s the sugar.)

Dye. Preservatives.

We have always taken food pretty seriously. I don’t post about it much here on this blog, because I hate “food porn”. It’s pretentious, which is exactly the opposite of the “okayest” mentality. But the truth that I hide from you dear readers is that I LOVE to cook, and we LOVE food. My husband was raised by a foreign-born mother, on a Mediterranean-type menu (chicken, fish, yogurt, fruit), while I was raised by Southerners on the (homemade) fried food and (homemade) vegetables-cooked-to-mush and lots of cheese and (homemade) carbs. I slowly changed my cooking to his tastes, and our children all naturally took to his tastes. We don’t eat out at restaurants – because twins. Because money. And when the migraines and anxiety and pressure of special needs and multiples makes cooking hard, simple things like scrambled eggs or plain yogurt are way easier than going out to get food anyway.

So I thought that this diet would be “preaching to the choir”. Turns out, I still had a lot to learn about the way dyes and preservatives are hidden in everything from the skin of our oranges to the packaging in our cereal. Even a conscientious “cooker” like myself was shocked at all the ways I had let my kids down. I mean, if your child is misbehaving because of you – the mother – poisoning him with something that is basically gasoline, and then you discipline him for that…? I mean, come on!!!

Before he came home from school with his Little House of Poison, I had spent the day with a migraine and twin potty-training boys who most decidedly didn’t have migraines, but did have plenty of energy. They were, nonetheless, sick enough to need a doctor’s appointment. The doctor recommended fever reducers, decongestant, and antihistamines at night. I was relieved that they didn’t need antibiotics – that fresh hell full of pink dye and artificial flavorings. Our pharmacy is in the same building as the doctor, which, for a mother of twins, is basically nirvana. I threatened them with my Batman Mom Voice to stay still while I perused the over-the-counter meds. Guess what? Every single Tylenol, Motrin, Sudafed, and Benadryl was dyed and flavored. Every single one. In a pharmacy. I walked out with nothing. If I have to halve and crush an adult-sized plain Tylenol in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle and mix it with juice, so be it.

I raced home from the pharmacy in time to greet my oldest son as he got off the bus. In his hand was the Little Gingerbread House That Could. That could leave a swath of destruction in its wake. I knew our entire night would be hellish, just from one glimpse of that house of horrors. I knew that it didn’t matter that I had a migraine, or that the twins were sick. The real horror movie would be this cute little house.

Sadly, I was right.

And just the day before, one of my son’s support teachers had given him packaged cookies and pretzels. Before lunch. Not ten minutes after, he was in the nurse’s office complaining of a headache. His homeroom teacher (who works so very hard, looks out for my boy, and is definitely on our team) told me that she knows it “isn’t like him to complain or to get headaches,” and she’s right. I took him some dye-free Motrin (which is why I had none in the house for the twins today), and they sent him back to class. He didn’t eat his lunch that day, because he said he was full from the cookies. Then we end up with a child getting off the bus who hasn’t had any protein since breakfast and probably has low blood sugar, AND has been given who knows what by a person of authority. Guess what? That night was hell too.

WTF did she give him?! And without my permission?

I could spend a loooooong time explaining all the things here that I have learned, but, dear readers, Google is your friend. I’m sure if you’re interested you will continue the research on your own. I don’t want to misquote facts and rewrite the wheel or whatever.

However, let me just scream in all caps for a little while. I’ve never done this before, so you can take it, right?

WHY DOES MY PHARMACY HAVE NO DYE-FREE IBUPROFEN OR DYE-FREE ACETAMINOPHEN? THE PHARMACY IS DOING ACTUAL HARM TO MY CHILD.

WHY DOES THE SCHOOL CONTINUE TO GIVE MY CHILD FOOD WHEN I HAVE SIGNED EVERYTHING I NEED TO SIGN TO FORBID IT?

WHY IN THE BLEEP IS THERE SO MUCH FOOD IN SCHOOLS ANYWAY?! FOOD SHOULD NOT BE USED AS REWARDS AND BAIT! AND THEN TEACHERS PUNISH THEIR STUDENTS FOR MISBEHAVING AFTER THEY THEMSELVES HAVE PUT THE STUPID M&M’S IN THEIR INNOCENT MOUTHS?!

I COULD HAVE PROVIDED NATURAL VERSIONS OF ANYTHING THEY NEEDED FOR THAT STUPID GINGERBREAD HOUSE!!!

THE VERY INSTITUTIONS THAT I TRUST THE MOST WITH MY SON’S CARE – MEDICAL AND EDUCATIONAL – ARE UNDERMINING MY EFFORTS TO HELP MY CHILD BE HEALTHY AND IN CONTROL OF HIS OWN BODY.

THE SCHOOL GIVES HIM THE CRAP AND THEN I HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE FALLOUT AT HOME. IT IS NOT FAIR TO MY OTHER CHILDREN, MY HUSBAND, OR ME. MOST OF ALL, IT IS NOT FAIR TO MY SON, WHO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHY HE IS ACTING LIKE THIS, AND FURTHERMORE, REALLY REALLY DOESN’T WANT TO ACT LIKE THIS.

I HATE MAKING MORE WORK FOR THE TEACHERS – ESPECIALLY SINCE I WAS A TEACHER MYSELF – BUT IF THEY WOULD STOP USING FOOD TO TRAIN OUR CHILDREN, THIS WOULDN’T BE AN ISSUE OR ANY EXTRA WORK AT ALL.

I HAVE PROVIDED MY SON’S SCHOOL WITH ALTERNATIVE SNACKS FOR HIM FOR ALMOST EVERY CONCEIVABLE FUTURE OCCASION, AND I HATE THEM FOR ALLOWING SO MUCH JUNK THROUGH THEIR DOORS THAT *HE* FEELS WEIRD AND OSTRACIZED SIMPLY BY EATING WELL AND OBEYING HIS MOM.

WHY DOES THE EUROPEAN UNION TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY AND OUR COUNTRY DOESN’T SEEM TO NOTICE ANY OF THE RESEARCH?! ARE ONLY EUROPEAN CHILDREN WORTHY OF HEALTH AND GOOD BEHAVIOR?

WHY ARE DOCTORS NOT ENCOURAGING (REQUIRING!) PARENTS TO TRY DIET CHANGES BEFORE MORE EXTREME MEASURES?

MY SON IS A GOOD KID WHO DOESN’T NEED TO BE BRIBED WITH TREATS TO BEHAVE OR PARTICIPATE.

ACTUALLY, *ALL* CHILDREN ARE “GOOD KIDS” AND *NO* CHILD NEEDS TO BE BRIBED WITH FOOD. THEY ARE NOT DOGS. NOT DOGS!!! FOOD IS FOR NOURISHMENT.

GET AWAY FROM MY KID’S MOUTH WITH THAT SH!T.

AND, last but not least, I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU OTHER MOMS TO CHANGE YOUR DIETS. Your family, your kids, your menu, and your grocery list are all personal to you, and I don’t claim to know what is best for anyone besides my own family. Even in my own house, I have one child who reacts to dyes severely, one child who seems like he might be benefiting from the changes, and one child who is exactly the same all the freaking time. So, no, dear readers, you can rest easy that I am not judging anyone. Every mother has the right to do what she deems best for her own family. I respect you. Now if only we could get the school to respect ME AND MY KID.

Looks like I have a lot of emails to write and a lot of visits to make.

 

***

Mr. Okayest said “This is your most yell-y post yet.”

***

For more information:

Die, Food Dye!

The Feingold Diet

Feingold Research

The All-Natural Mom of Four

The famous 2007 Lancet Study and the impact of it

 

 

 

Kindergarten These Days. Sheesh.

Much has changed since I left teaching ten years ago. Now my oldest son is in kindergarten and I have switched teams.

No nap? Yeah, I knew that.

No snack? No, definitely didn’t know that. Not cool.

Online lunch money payments? Holy crap, is this “The Jetsons”?! The future rocks!

Fifteen minute recess? Not acceptable at all. The future can kiss my a$$.

Homework?! That’s hilarious.

No peanut butter sandwiches? Whoops.

Snow days? I want to stab myself with a fork.

This Kindergarten Teacher is Now a Kindergarten Mom – Who Wants to Apologize

wpid-wp-1441391990182.jpegAs I send my first child off to kindergarten, I want to apologize to the parents of my all kindergarten students. I taught for five years before I had children. Being a parent is NOT a prerequisite to teaching. Not ever. I was a darn good teacher without children. However, now that I am a kindergarten parent myself, I would like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t truly understand everything. I sympathized, but I didn’t empathize.

I would like to go back and teach my childless teaching self a few things. Here we go.

It really hurts. It hurts because that child has been with me for 24 hours a day for five and half years… and now I have to let him go AWAY FROM ME FOR THE ENTIRE DAY?! My teacher self wasn’t patient enough with the sappy parents and the maudlin first days of school.

I still see that child as a baby. You, the teacher, will see him as an independent person, with habits and a personality and a learning style. To me, he is still the person whom I dress in jammies and snuggle when sick.

It’s really freaking scary. It’s scary for so many reasons. I have been there for every single injury, every single success, every single wrongdoing, and every single snub. Now what? All these things will still happen, but I WILL NEVER KNOW?

It’s really freaking scary because of the way time is bending all wrong since he was born. “The days are long but the years are short.” Becoming a mother five years ago has altered my sense of time. It feels like an eternity ago, and the blink of an eye. It’s confusing and gut-wrenching.

It’s really freaking scary because I don’t know you. No offense, but you.are.a.stranger. I never fully grasped that fact when I was a teacher. My son and I met you for like thirty seconds. He doesn’t trust people easily, and now his every need depends on you. His physical safety. His emotional health. His cognitive gains. His ability to wash his hands of those school germs… (Will you help him keep his hands off his face?)

It’s really freaking scary because you don’t know my child. You don’t know what to do when he has a meltdown, or all the ways he can’t express himself, or all the amazing things he knows and doesn’t know. You don’t know that he can’t open his string cheese at lunch, and you don’t know what scares him.

I completely understand – with my brain anyway – that you will know my child like the back of your hand within a week or two. I did, with all of my students. But, I understand – with my heart – that you will never know him like I do. You will never snuggle him in the black armchair. You will never have to force him to brush his teeth. You will never wash his beautiful skin in the bathtub. You will never watch his face of pure joy when he jumps in the ocean.

He’s mine.

If you love him a fraction as much as I do, then I love you, and that is what my mother self wants my old teacher self to know.

20 Things Kindergarten Teachers Want You to Know

1) Yes, the brand name scissors are better.
2) Yes, we really can tell everything we need to know in the five minutes we spend with your child at registration.
3) Yes, we really freaking love your kid.
4) It is a much more physically demanding job than any other grade. We get sweaty. We perform on stage. We clean up accidents.
5) We wear “teacher sacks” ( frumpy dresses) so we can move around easily and not get too sweaty on the boiling hot playground.
6) Calling in sick is harder than just going to work sick.
7) Getting lice is not a sin. Not taking care of lice properly IS a sin.
8) If we always wear our hair in a bun, there is a good chance a student has given us lice in the past.
9) If you have a girl: PONYTAILS, people! PONYTAILS!
10) No other profession seems to be as bad for your health as caring for small children.
11) I am not getting this sick all the time because I don’t wash my hands enough. What am I supposed to do when your kid sneezes on my head while I am trying his shoe? Wear a Michael Jackson mask?
12) For the love of all that is holy, VELCRO! Velcro, people, okay?!
13) For the love of all that is holy, ELASTIC WAIST PANTS! Elastic, people!!!
14) We don’t eat lunch for the first two weeks of school when we are painstakingly training small people how to get a tray, push it along the line, choose their food, find a seat, open their food, and eat their food. We shove a granola bar in our mouth and get back to work.
15) All of us have fed kids from our own pockets. Some of us might have even clothed a child or two.
16) Many of us have been threatened.
17) We are supposed to buy insurance. Teacher insurance. Against lawsuits!
18) It’s harder for us to choose our own baby’s name.
19) We only believe half of what we hear about you, and we hope you only believe half of what you hear about us.
20) Name brand Crayola crayons. Always.