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Written by Mama Monday

Blog posts written by mamas on cloth diapering, green living, natural parenting.

Anyone who knows me already knows that my children could never be called “mellow, easy or calm.” In fact, the truth is, they have been the opposite since birth. Both Lauren and Cooper were very colicky for weeks after they were born, only Kate, my middle child, was an easy newborn. But unlike her easy-going infant personality, when Kate got older, she got much hyper, more irritable and more angry. It’s been really, really hard having three kids like this.

In fact, for the past couple of years, we’ve been seeking the help of psychiatrists and child psychologists to help us deal with Kate’s irritability, intense tantrums and defiant behavior. We know we have a history of ADHD in the family but Kate seems off the charts. Some of Kate’s meltdowns have been so severe, I’ve contemplated calling the police. I’m not kidding. She’s been so out of control scratching me, kicking, hitting, biting and screaming that I don’t know what to do. She screams that she “can’t stop” and I believe her. She has absolutely no control over herself when it happens and she feels bad afterward. It’s been heartbreaking and confusing to see her going through this. There is truly nothing worse than being unable to find the cause or the cure for your suffering child. Not all people view a raging child with empathy and sadness but as a mother, I do. I feel it’s my duty as writer to share this so that other parents seeking answers might help their own children.  Here’s what we just figured out:

This past June we were visiting my parents in Florida and the kids were doing great. Their moods were great, they were swimming and eating lots of fruit popsicles that Grandma had bought. As our two week visit came to an end, Kate’s mood got worse and worse. And two days before we left she had one of those “apocalyptic” meltdowns. It went on for an hour. I felt horrible that my niece and my parents had to witness it. When it was finally over, she fell asleep for over two hours. I cannot even tell you how hard it was to deal with that and to have Cooper screaming for me as well. My parents couldn’t comfort him and certainly no one could help Kate.

I had always attributed this kind of meltdown to ADHD and the intense tantrums that go along with it. But this seemed above and beyond and I told my mother it happened on a regular basis. Not daily, maybe not weekly. But sometimes more than once a day and sometimes a lot more than once a week. There was no pattern that I could see between good days and bad days or good weeks and bad weeks. My mother encouraged me to cut out sugar from the kids’ diets to see if that would help. I was skeptical but I thought we’d give it a try anyway. It would be a good idea to give the summer a healthy jump start.

Two weeks later, we were home and the kids had been pretty much sugar free. The only treats the kids could have were fig cookies and 100% fruit juice popsicles. One day, when I was alone with Kate, she was digging through my purse and found a red Tootsie Pop (my personal favorite). Since her siblings weren’t around and there was only one lollipop I told her she could have it. And despite what happened afterward, I’m awfully glad I did. Twenty minutes after finishing her treat, Kate had a severe meltdown over something trivial for over an hour and then fell asleep for two and a half hours. It suddenly clicked. The lollipop. And what had she eaten right before her last meltdown in Florida? Not the fruit popsicles the kids had been eating for most of the week but a second box that we had purchased a few days before we were to leave: the bright red, orange and purple popsicles with nothing in them but dye and sugar. It occurred to me that it might actually be the artificial food coloring and not the sugar that was causing Kate’s extreme behavior. I believe that Red #40 affects her the most.

Photo Credit Michael Buist

Photo Credit Michael Buist

Like I always do in this sort of situation, I began to research food dyes and behavior. I.Was.Floored. I had briefly wondered at one point if food dyes could play a part in our behavioral challenges but I had ruled them out thinking “We don’t feed our kids red, orange and green cereal ever. Sure we have the occasional treats but that’s candy. It’s not every day. We don’t drink soda or Kool aid or any of that stuff.” What I learned was that we don’t need to. Artificial food dyes are even in things like white frosting (red and yellow!) and mac and cheese, vitamins and medications. They even put artificial colors in ADHD medications even though these dyes have been scientifically proven to make ADHD symptoms worse. Unreal. My theory is that Kate’s behavior was unpredictable because at any given moment she could have little to no dye in her system, a medium amount if she had maybe had an OTC pain/fever reducer and handful or two of M & Ms, or a TON if she had eaten more than one brightly colored popsicle.

What really disturbs me is that there is actually science behind this. It’s been proven that food dyes, most especially Red #40, affect most children. But there are some children who have severe reactions. I read blog after blog in which parents shared their own experiences and described the behavior their kids exhibited after eating artificially colored foods. It was like reading about my own life. But more disturbing? Artificial food dyes are illegal in many countries in Europe and what’s more, American food companies have taken the artificial dyes out of the foods they sell in Europe but continue to sell them to us her in the United States. Why? Because it’s cheaper and it’s legal? That’s my guess.

Kate’s behavior is not perfect. She still has ADHD. But her mood swings and irritability have decreased significantly and she now reacts much more typically to small triggers that used to cause huge tantrums. When tantrums do happen, they don’t last nearly as long. I’ll leave you with my two biggest reactions on the subject:

1) Phew! I’m glad we figured that out!

2) How in the world is this stuff legal in the United States?

 

How do you feel about giving your kids artificially colored foods? Do they react? Do you?

 

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As I sit typing this, I am on Lookout Mountain, in Tennessee. We’re visiting my husband’s family and we’re staying in his grandmother’s cottage which is in a very rural area. There are no other houses to speak of and no traffic going by. None. There is also no Wifi and no television. What there is plenty of: trees, grass, farm animals and insects. There are rocks to turn over, crayfish to catch and fairy houses to be made of stones and mud-mortar.

At home in Boulder, Colorado, we are right in the middle of the suburbs. We have a good sized backyard for being in town and a park a couple of blocks away but at 3, 6, and 8 years old, it’s not safe for the kids to be out and about exploring on their own without an adult. The backyard gets boring. Did I mention I have to actually be inside cooking and cleaning a lot of the time so I can’t be taking them on outdoor adventures all them time. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? My kids don’t have the chance to do much exploring on their own, without me, my husband or a caregiver of some sort breathing down their neck. Don’t step in that puddle! You can’t pick those flowers. Stay away from that part of the creek–you could fall in and get wet and then you’ll cry to me about it! Don’t poke your sister with that stick! 

This summer has been a challenging one to say the least. With not enough to do and without the structure of the school-year schedule, the kids have been fighting a ton. I don’t remember fighting that frequently with my sister growing up and my husband didn’t fight with his brothers this much. Did we fight? Yes. But it was different.

Both my husband and I grew up in rural areas—he grew up here in Tennessee and I grew up in Vermont. We both had access to streams, woods and areas without a lot of other folks and speeding cars driven by texting drivers. We had more freedom. I remember playing in the woods behind our house when I was younger than Kate, at age six, is now. My mother was not constantly nagging at me and rather than being mischievous and sneaking away because mom was not watching, I poked around and climbed and wandered…but never too far. My own sense of judgement kicked in and my own sense of self-preservation. My kids rarely get the chance to to use their own judgement in those kind of circumstances. And it’s too bad.

Another interesting thing that happens when you give kids a little Lord of the Flies-style freedom is this: without an adult around to micromanage every interaction they have, they have to strategize, problem solve and work together. How are we going to cross that swampy area on the way to the stream? Can we climb on that fallen log to get there? The things I was doing as kid weren’t dangerous and my parents had been with us many times to the stream and the woods. They knew there were no serious hazards. The water was shallow enough in the stream that we could wade up to our shins but the risk of drowning or getting swept away…not even possible. But could we fall in the mud? Get a scratch from poking around in thorny bushes or come home with poison ivy? Yes, and heck, we might have even broken a wrist or arm if we fell off that fallen log. I don’t think of myself as the type of parent who feels the need to protect my kids from learning experiences and challenges that might involve a little discomfort, but more often than not, when I see an avoidable incident about to happen, my Mommy Mouth opens up and before I can stop myself, I find myself cautioning, nagging, reminding and scolding.

Without the safety of a grown-up chaperone kids act differently. We’ve all seen how a child who falls in front of a parent is much more likely to cry than one who thinks mom or dad isn’t around to help. My kids also seem to fight less. A natural hierarchy develops. I’ve seen this happen when I let Kate and Lauren walk Clover (the dog) around the block. Stuck in the house or even the backyard, they squabble. Let them out in the big wide world, even if it’s not too far from home, and suddenly Kate will listen to Lauren. She looks to her sister as someone who can keep her safe and Lauren feels the responsibility to do so. They also offer comfort to each other if the other gets hurt–something they also don’t seem to do when I am around to dry the tears. They are no longer working against each other, they are working together. My girls know there are real dangers out in the world; strange people who snatch children, other dogs who might not be safe and cars that drive too fast and yet, because they are young, they still make foolish decisions, like riding their bikes onto the street right in front of  a parked car. I wish they had a safer place to practice being independent. Kids have been out in the world alone, making decisions for themselves, for centuries and they are capable of critical thinking, problem solving and team work much earlier than we give them credit for.

When we arrive back in Boulder, guess what I am going to do? I’m going to look at houses outside of town, on more land, where we could get a goat and some chickens and who knows what else. I’ve seen how good this increased room to spread their wings is for the children and for my husband and for me. Less TV time, more outside and maybe even a little less together time would be good for all us.

Did you have more or less freedom to roam than your kids do today?

 

 

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Let me start this post off by saying that I am not a fitness buff, an exercise guru nor anyone remotely qualified to give fitness advice If you are pregnant or just had a baby, please don’t try this until your doctor has said it is safe for you. The best I can do is to share with you my own experience with the body I walk around in. I have had three full-term pregnancies, three c-sections and even before motherhood, I had chronic back pain. I don’t know why. It’s just how it is and in fact, I’ve seen pictures of myself as a five year old in ballet class back in 1979 and guess what? I couldn’t do a backbend (they call them “bridges” these days) even then. I was the only little girl in the class whose back wasn’t flexible simply because I was young.

While surfing the web few months ago, I came across an article called “The 10 Worst Exercises.” I was surprised that “crunches” were on the list. The author suggested trying the plank instead and to work up to holding the position for one minute. I immediately got onto the floor an planked, using the stopwatch app on my phone to time myself. I was shaking after about 45 seconds but I held the position for a full two minutes. (I attribute this almost entirely to stubbornness rather than core strength).

The concept of planking makes sense to me. The muscles surrounding the core and spine are being strengthened in a straight position. Crunches cause the spine to bend at an unnatural angle and over-strengthen the ab muscles on the front of the body but not the muscles on the back, like the erector spinae. Weaker muscles on the back side of the body and stronger muscles on the front side are going to affect posture negatively by pulling the spine forward. It makes sense to strengthen both sides of the core at once, in the position you want them to be strongest, straight.  (Did I mention that I was a massage therapist for a few years in my past life?)

After about four weeks of doing the plank nightly for between one to two minutes per night (sometimes with the weight of a toddler or small dog added by chance) I noticed my lower back felt better and that I could sit on the floor with my legs straight out in front me and keep my back straight at the same time. I have never, ever been able to do this before. I could also sit cross-legged on the floor and keep my back straight which has always been uncomfortable for me. Being able to sit up straight without feeling like I am constantly fighting gravity and my unfortunate tendency to slouch, has made sitting on the floor much more pleasant!

The picture posted is me…doing Low Plank. There are plenty of variations that you can find online—such as lifting a leg for 12 repetitions, then lifting the other leg for 12 repetitions. You can try lifting one arm, then the other, then one leg and one arm at the same time. You can try the upper plank, lower plank and even a brutal five or eight minute workout which involves all kinds of different leg and arm movements and planking for an entire five (or eight minutes). I can’t do the entire five minute workout all at once yet…I turn into a quivering, panting, grunting mess about halfway through and then collapse on the floor. Doesn’t that sound fun? It’s a good goal to work towards, easy to do at home and I really did see improvement in how my body feels. I don’t have six-pack abs and I never will. The plank isn’t about getting them either—at least not for me.

Try the plank and time yourself every day for a week and see how much progress you make—and then share it here. Parents need strong backs with the bending, lifting, hoisting, lugging, pushing, pulling, and cradling that we do.

P.S. Just after I discovered The Plank, I had the serendipitous pleasure of meeting Gabi Ury on the top of Eldora Mountain while snowboarding this past winter. She is the 16 year old who just blew away the world record for planking by a woman.

Steamboat 2013

If I’m guilty about hoarding anything, it’s definitely sentimental and special things related to my three children : artwork they’ve done, locks of hair, a teeny tiny plaid shirt that looks small enough for a doll that Cooper wore about twice, and the turtle Robeez that all three kids wore between 3 and 6 months. I even kept the x-ray of Kate’s broken arm and the purple cast that already looks so tiny.

As the kids get older, the more I realize my memory is not as wonderful as I hoped it would be. As I was experiencing their newbornness, the perfect, chubby and smiley six months old stage and then their toddler years when their true personalities started becoming apparent, I was so sure I would never, ever forget even the smallest details about their babyhood. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of them and dozens of videos–and I don’t regret a single one. I hope to look through them with my grandchildren some day.

One of my favorite ways of preserving memories about the kids is writing down funny things they’ve said.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Kate: Mommy, I want a baby mouse. Can I get a fish? How about a hamster?? Please!
Cooper: How about a hotdog?

Cooper (at three) , fondly ruffling the hair of his two year old cousin Kevin: “Kevin, you my sister. Kevin is my sister.”

When Cooper was a baby with a particularly stinky diaper, Lauren cried indignantly, “He smells like the chin-hair of an unwashed goat!”

Lauren to Kate during an argument: “Why don’t you get on your broom and fly away??”

When I told Kate it was picture day at school she went upstairs and put on her bikini. When I told her that she couldn’t wear it she told me she would prefer to be home-schooled.

Kate was sure a limousine would drive her kindergarten class to the field trip.

Lauren: “Sometimes when I’m asleep I forget about my eyebrows.” ???

Kate at four, while sitting on Santa’s lap: “Lauren has been crabbing and sassing.”

I have to keep a file on my computer open or a notebook handy to jot these treasures down quickly. They leave my brain very shortly after entering so getting them in writing fast is key. And as much as I love and cherish our photos of the kids and seeing their scratchy drawings, these quotes will be giving us belly laughs for years to come!

 

How do you preserve the precious and hysterical moments of your little ones? And What are some of your little one’s cutest quotes?

 

The kids and I recently took a trip to Florida to visit family. My husband made the trip from Denver to Orlando with us and stayed for the first week we were there. The kids and I stayed almost a week longer since we didn’t have any camps or big events to rush home for. Flying with multiple children (or even one, depending of the temperament of said child!) is always a daunting task. I was thankful that my husband would be along to help on the over three hour direct flight.

Since Cooper is now three, he needs his own ticket. Though I miss the days buying one less ticket, I absolutely love not having a big, sweating, squirmy baby on my lap. There are few things as difficult as trying to cram yourself under the seat in front of you to retrieve food, toys, pacifiers, spit up cloths or clean diapers with a toddler on your lap. The last flight I took with Cooper was a disaster…so bad that if his tantrum had happened while we were still waiting to take off, I’m pretty sure we would have been escorted off the plane. His ears were hurting, which I could tell by how he held them and screamed, but also, he just wanted off. He wanted to jump, to run, and get off mommy’s lap. That made two of us. So this time, I decided we’d bring his car seat on the plane instead of checking it with our bags.

Because I needed a way to get the car seat through the airport and onto the plane, not only with the help of my husband, but also without his help on the way back, I looked at the various options on the market to roll it through the airport. Most of the options I found online looked complicated and I wasn’t sure if they would require more concentration to take on and off the car seat than I felt I would be able to manage quickly and efficiently while simultaneously micromanaging three children or they were made specifically for a certain brand of car seat. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money so I decided to try a little MacGyver Mommy experiment.

The next time I was at Target, I picked up a two pack of bungee cords…and they were on clearance for three dollars and change. Perfect. I got them home and packed my rolling carry on size suitcase with a quilt while I conducted my experiment. I put the back of the car seat flat against the front of the suitcase and threaded one of the bungee cords through the hole that would hold a seat belt when strapping the car seat in forward facing. I pulled the cords though and then crossed them over each other behind the suitcase in an X before pulling them up and hooking them onto the soft handle. Then I took the second cord and wrapped it around the top part of the car seat and looped it around and made an X with that bungee cord before hooking both ends on to the extendable handle. When I tilted the suitcase back to roll it behind me, the bottom of the car seat didn’t hit the floor. 20140727_161019_resized_1

The next step was to see if I could not only pull the seat and the suitcase with my bungee cord contraption, but Cooper as well. I strapped him in his car seat, and tested it. With his extra weight, I realized I needed to make the bungee cords even tighter. A pull here and a pull there and voila, I could easily drag the suitcase, the car seat and a strapped in Cooper through the airport. And I could wear my backpack/diaper bag/carry-on on my back.

On the day we were actually flying, my homemade contraption worked perfectly. I wasn’t sure if it would fit rolling down the aisle of the plane (ideal) or if I would have to disassemble it just before we boarded and have my husband carry it above the heads of the other passengers (not at all ideal). I am happy to say, it was tight, but we were able to roll it between the aisles and all the way to our seats. This was going to be a key part in the level of ease or difficulty I would have on our return to Denver without Daddy. Phew!

If you are planning a trip with your baby, be sure to read my past blogs: Packing the Perfect Cloth Diaper Bag and Traveling with Cloth: Mission Accomplished.

 

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If you intend to travel with a car seat for your infant or toddler, make sure it is labeled by the manufacturer as “certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.” It should be on a sticker on the side of the car seat. You can see the sticker on our car seat in the picture on the left.

Do you bring a car seat on the plane? And if so, how? It’s not easy!

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