Crazy, It's a Birthday! and the Rain of Chronic Disease

Dear Family,

“...One minute you're waiting for the sky to fall
Next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all...”

--Bruce Cockburn, _Lovers in a Dangerous Time_

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The woman behind the register at Michael's was bowled over by the cuteness of my children. Whether or not they will be so cute is always a crapshoot, but today they really were solemn and adorable, handing over money (gift from Grandma and Grandpa) to purchase packages of Magic Grow Pills. These expand into Foam Things that, in our house, become more valuable than currency. “How old are your boys?” the lady asked. And then, “I wish I could go back! ...Isn't this a good age?”

There was a long pause, as my thoughts concerning the swirling craziness of deeply sick children settled back into the mundanity of this moment. I looked at the boys, lost in their experience of sweet, uncomplicated, consumerist joy. I am nothing if not an honest person. So I answered honestly: “...Well...maybe on _some_ days.”

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So crazy. Ben turned seven on Monday. This year, he was _thrilled_ to anticipate a birthday, just couldn't wait for it. Definitely didn't want anyone to say “Happy Birthday” to him. And definitely _definitely_ didn't want anyone to sing (in solidarity, Jem said he'd leave the room if anyone did happen to foget and burst into song). Ben's face rash relented a bit on Monday, after weeks of varying levels of pain. Mercifully, some of his anxiety let up, too.

Life is kind of a blur sometimes. My son, who is oddly starting to feel like my baby again after all these years, wraps his arms around me again for Real, Live Hugs.

My little, little boy – seven years old! What a lot you've been through in the past year, and what a lot is still to come... Thank god you still possess naivete behind those bright blue eyes, and that you have a bit of amnesia which is such a blessing in the case of trauma, and that you're still so young--even once you're all healed up, you'll have a long time yet to be a kid.

Ben was thrilled with the flip book that Jeff lovingly crafted for him; thrilled with a couple of other presents that came his way; thrilled for a couple of select guests to pay attention to him on the anniversary of the day he was born. We had a duck for lunch, and a pork roast for dinner, and watching my baby EAT solid meals was a birthday gift for me. Pulling it all together was the gift I gave to him.

This January 10th, the house was permeated by more hopefulness than there's been in about seven years--countered by the presence of many sobering revelations. I am tentatively, tremulously, watching my baby grow up again.

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Bennerisms:

“...This book's called, 'How the Dinosaurs Say They Love You.' It's really funny, 'cause they _can't_!”

After discussing the very-far-in-the-future fate of the universe, the potential end of Everything As We Know It, and what it would mean to be immortal, Ben concludes: “So it's not good to live forever - but it's good to live for a very long time.”

Receives an envelope with $10 from grandma and grandpa on his birthday. First, a quick scan: “Is it mine _really_?!” Then, another look: ”First I thought it was one dollar, then I thought it was two, then I thought it was a LOT!”

Ben REALLY likes his birthday, because it's a "Really really really special day that doesn't happen very often."

Ben wonders how long we've been on “The Diet.” Nine months, I say--but the thing is, you only started actually eating about three months ago. Ben barely skips a beat before calculating, “I've only been eating for one-third of the time!”

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Jemmerisms:

One of the cutest mental images from last week is Jem, cleaning up. He decides that he wants to clean the Whole Thing, and spends a solid forty minutes putting away _everything._ It is a new activity, fascinating and fun, and he wishes there was more once he's finished. I am just so thrilled to see his busy blond head, to watch a child of mine experiencing the deep pleasure that comes with Organization.

This clean-up-scene cuteness can only be eclipsed by the vision of Jem wearing his new, strap-on skis. Shuffling down the path, bundled to the max, he is a little yellow abominable snowman. “Here I come!!” he keeps shouting. “Skiin', skiin', skiin'!!”

After sledding down the hill, he looks back behind us: “We made wiggle tracks!”

Arriving at our friends' house before dinner: “I smell goodness!”

After a traumatic, hour-long nosebleed, Jem is sniffly as he sits down to dinner. “I don't want any of these [pointing to his tears] _eyes drops_--these things...an' I don't want more blood to come out.” Then, dinner is served. Excellent! He notices that “Turkey actually does make it better!”

Jem was thrilled after a Toy Rotation (I bring down hidden toys from the loft, in exchange for putting away some toys they're currently totally bored with): “Here comes this DIGGER! It will _dig up you_! DIG...DIG...DIG...”

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Jeff's reading a really great graphic novel that I think he highly recommends: “The Watchman” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen

Additionally, Ben and I are about to finish “By the Shores of Silver Lake.” It's amazing--these kids WORKED! And they did it because they had to, and as far as I can tell, Ma and Pa didn't feel guilty at all, except about not being able to send the kids to school and church all the time. This points to another reason to lay off the personal parental guilt trips.

Jem enjoyed “Museum ABC,” from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Somehow, The Met seems to be able to produce intellectually highbrow children's books that are actually fun to read.

On a very dreary, frigid afternoon, the boys and I liked looking at this book about Far Distant Lands, illustrated by photos taken from a chartered helicopter: “Earth from Above,” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

I dislike most kids' books featuring animals--they either moralize, or are anthropomorphous to an enormously bizarre degree, or are just plain weird. But “Goose's Story,” by Cari Best, doesn't do that. It's about a goose with one leg, and it's sweetly, beautifully fun.

Jem has memorized the ingeniously-designed “One Boy,” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, which has windows between the pages.

“Roller Coaster,” by Marla Frazee, is a super short, really well-drawn, nicely interactive book on a compelling topic for small thrill-seekers.

I am, in a very Luddite sort of way, so thrilled that Ben has known how to tell time on an analog clock for two years and yet still gets stymied by digital ones. Both boys were interested in this detailed investigation of timepieces: “Inside a Clock,” by Claire Seymour.

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I'm always coming up with advice for people who don't want any at all, and I bite my tongue and attempt to keep my big mouth closed. As several siblings have told me nicely, Not Everyone Wants To Hear About Health and Nutrition and Gut Dysbiosis All The Time. But lately more people _do_ want my opinion. And since you subscribe to my weekly updates, _you_ obviously know what you're in for...

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Some Ruminations/Opinions about Childhood, Parenting, and Health in the Year 2011.

I know, I sound like a conspiracy theorist. But I can't help saying it over and over, because it's TRUE: children are sick, and getting sicker. And it _is_ worse now than when I was little, it's worse than even ten years ago, and I'm hard pressed to come up with a list of kids who are NOT suffering from gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune issues, hyperactivity/anxiety/depression/behavioral and learning disabilities, etc. etc. etc. How many healthy kids do you know??

Some people say, “Oh, there are just more diagnoses now!” or, “ADHD is just another word for normal kids who need to play outside more.” I find that unschoolers are prone to believing, as I used to, that the problems facing youth today have much more to do with compulsory schooling and labeling than any actual sickness.

But where are all the adults today who “failed to get labeled” twenty years ago? How can you explain away the challenges faced by a kid who can't even sit still to concentrate on the things she WANTS to accomplish? How is it possible that all of a sudden, _everyone_ you know is allergic or intolerant to something? I keep coming back to my new belief: that there's an epidemic of “chronic disease,” and it's right here, affecting a sizable number of the current generation, Right Now. In school classrooms, in some places, things are literally and nearly unmanageable. When you've got three kids “on the spectrum,” plus another handful with ADHD, plus some more who don't have a diagnosis but are just off the walls--and that's not even counting the obese and asthmatic and otherwise-immune-compromised children!...well, you just can't even PRETEND that things are okay anymore within the Halls of Learning.

The breakdown that happens in the classroom, as somebody (John Holt??) once said, is only a mirror of whatever is happening in the rest of society. Outside in the Real World, here in our Unschool...well, I just don't buy it anymore. I don't believe that raising happy kids is all about parenting skills, and that cultivating our kids' freedom will necessarily solve their health issues. I mean, freedom and caring parents are _great,_ but kids should be a whole lot more resilient than that! I don't believe that humans evolved needing the involved “parenting” that our kids' mental/physical health currently requires. How on earth can a species continue to dominate the world if so many adults have to devote so much energy to caretaking their sick youngsters??

“Normal” is a dangerous term in theory, and even more dangerous to apply. But it is useful when one can be wholistic, using basic analysis simply to recognize: the number of hyper, distracted, learning impaired, anxious, depressed kids is not some figment of a crazy child psychologist's imagination.

I am researching everything I can think of. How can we get our kids, and ourselves, healthy? And I am coming up short for every treatment besides diet. Whole, unprocessed, home made foods are the only tool we've currently got that can meet the complexity of Chronic Disease/Total System Breakdown with an equally complex assortment of nutrients we've evolved to need. We can't get these nutrients in a pill, because we barely have even a bleary idea of what they are. And we can't get them from processed foods, even “organic” processed foods made with “evaporated cane juice” and “wheat flour,” sold in packages featuring happy, smiling kids.

Forget about my incessant babbling about GAPS for a minute, and just think about the idea of Good Food, and what this means. What do we feed ourselves? What do we feed our kids? How much do we believe the experts, who have told us what kids “crave,” and how crappy diets are “normal,” and how “Everybody is different.” Also, what about this old favorite: “Everything in Moderation.” Really? Is it truly normal to eat crappy food?? Can more than a generation grow up without seeing consequences? Are factory-produced, refined and processed foods really okay In Moderation?? Is it normal to eat foods on a daily basis that our great-great-great-grandparents would never have consumed even once in their lifetimes?

It's gotten to this crazy place where we're almost encouraged to discount the role of human nutrition (except to pay lip service by believing outrageous claims on the packages of processed food) because, after all, there's always Joe Schmo who eats McDonalds all the time, and is perfectly healthy! Along with his kids, Janey and Johnny, who eat like crap and aren't ever sick!!

How crazy is this?? Does it make any sense, to fail to care for our bodies just because, in some rare cases, this abuse might not lead to visible consequences?? I'm learning, by polite inquiry, that even if Joe and Janey and Johnny don't have what _I_ have, there's a very good chance that they're sick in some other way. And this is why I don't think we're in a normal situation, here at the beginning of 2011, with our large contingent of super- and semi-sick kids. In other animal populations, sick and diseased creatures do not stick around to reproduce for very long.

So yeah, diet. I have this hunch that many people don't believe that good food alone can cause enough healing to get their kids (or themselves) functional. It sounds so unbelievable, that even a really sick body could muster up the reserves to heal _itself_. Or, the correllary, that a healthy body _includes_ a healthy brain, and that even the exceptional complexity of a kid presenting with multiple disabilities/anxiety/autism/etc. can actually resolve _itself_, with good nutrition, and without any of the currently popular treatment therapies, or counseling sessions, etc.

But especially with the mounting problem of kids with “mental health” diagnoses (currently something like one in five kids), I don't see any better option than diet. Doctors and therapists are severely out of their league--many of them went to medical school/training programs without studying nutrition, and are in the same boat as we are, when facing an explosion of gapingly broad health issues. Many current treatments seem like tiny fingers in the metaphorical Swiss-Cheese dyke full of holes. As my friend puts it: did our kids' prehistoric peers truly suffer from a deficiency of Paxil??

Yes, our environment is polluted. Yes, our kids are exposed to industrial chemicals of unprecedented toxicity. But these facts don't convince me that diet is in any way less important. Sure, let's clean up the crap. But in the meanwhile, don't we need healthier bodies than ever before??

I know, this is just my belief, that diet can be our personal salvation. There are lots of reasons to doubt that good health, and a healthy diet specifically, can heal ourselves and our kids. But it takes _more_ faith on my part--not less--to believe that any other treatments hold more hope. I keep reminding myself of an unschooly concept that I've been preaching for years: that if kids are healthy, they will function "properly," and "learn" and "progress", without structured classes or exercises, _without coercion_. And if, on a chronic and longterm basis, they really AREN'T functional, happy, healthy, and developing, it's quite likely that they're physically sick. And if our kids are sick, doesn't diet make the most sense in terms of long-term treatment??

It sure is tricky, to recognize when someone needs help without slapping useless labels on the problem. But really trusting my intuition means knowing (at least most of the time, excluding motherly meltdown sessions!) that my kid is not lacking intelligence, or OT services, or acting out because he's "manipulative." It's gotten so there are so many sick kids, and maybe we're all so used to seeing them everywhere, that it's hard to trust that THRIVING is the natural state of things.

Eating underlies every conceivable aspect of the human condition. Maybe its ubiquity makes it easier to forget. Is there any disease that _wouldn't_ benefit from eating healthy food?? We all need to eat--so what have we got to lose?

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Okay, I'm off my soapbox now, and I'll even hold off on my article recommendations for this week. :) Would love to hear what you think, on this topic or any other...

Love,
Sarabeth