Eliza In The Details

Dear Family,

"Courage, cheerfulness, and a desire to work depends mostly on good nutrition."
-- Jacob Moleschott, The American Kitchen Magazine, Volume 4, 1890

"darling child, don't you know
you're just where I started
let the sun shine on your face
your beginning's just begun"
-- Misty Copeland, Firebird



Which was your favorite part of the "Nutcracker"? "They were ALL my favorite parts!"

Crossing her arms over her chest: "My arms are double-mixed!"

Spotting a cemetery: "There's a place with lots of buried people! Mama, when _I_ die, I don't want them to put dirt and Stuff on top of me."

"I want tap shoes! They're so amazing and glamorous."

I always know that Eliza has put on Way Too Many Clothes (in this instance, three shirts plus a ribbon tied very tightly around her chest) when she walks over and abruptly says something like: "I _can_ breathe!"

I smile, and say: I see my Eliza! Here she comes, up the stairs...my Princess! ...My Flower Butterfly! Eliza grins, brandishing some laundry: "...And socks!"

A name suitable for a band, coined and copyright 2015 by Eliza: "The Hungry Dandelions"

"When I die, I'll be holding my baby doll, a dance dress, and dance shoes. When will I die?"

"I have to poop! When I came downstairs, my butt was sayin': 'Go poop! Go poop!' ....Now I'm done pooping! Now my butt isn't saying anything."

Are you scared, Eliza? Is that why you're yelling? "Yes!" Of what? "Monsters!" What might help you feel better? Would you like the closet light on at bedtime? "That wouldn't help." What _would_ help you feel better? Eliza suddenly smiles: "Presents!"

On another night: Eliza, _what_ do you _want_? What could help you feel better? "A monkey!" A...monkey? Like your stuffed-animal monkey? "No! A REAL one."

Riding in the car, we're hitting every red light: "OH MY GOD it is taking SO LONG!! I can't believe it!"

"No wechtables! ...but I like seaweed, an' seaweed is a wechtable."

"Cinderella is a SUPER nice girl!"

"It would be funny if we didn't have pinkies acuz we ate them all."

Carrying a big, bulky bag: "I can do it - I'm practically an expert!"

Concerning the vacuum cord: "I want to slither it in!"

"I'll get bigger and bigger and BIGGER and by the time I get to next winter, I'll have long hair!"

"I'm a Ballerina Rose Cinderella - but I shoot Ice Powers when I'm not."

Walking outside at night, I talk in hushed tones due to habit. Leaning in to respond to my whispered question, Eliza asks, "Why are we talking so quietly??"

Looking up at the half-moon: "Who cut it?"

Gazing at a picture of toe shoes, a ballet accessory Eliza longs to try despite how painful I've told her they are: "Are those the kind that hurt a LOT? ...oh good! I want _them_!""

Handing me an oozing, juicy mash of raspberry pulp: "Here Mama, this for you! I splitted it in half with my teeth."

"I got a stomach ache from all my eating!"


My daughter has an amazing intellect. You might think I'm just biased 'acuz I'm her mother, but Eliza's intelligence is an actual fact.

Eliza loves her Creative Movement dance class. She loves playing with other kids, and she is Really Aware of Social Cues to a degree that causes my PTSD-suffering jaw to drop. She recently learned how to truly balance on her balance bike. She loves books of all types, especially relating to dance, and she regularly impresses me with her comprehension of stories and plot narratives. The joy she gets from Wearing Fancy Clothing is profound, and I am starting to be able to predict when my daughter will lean over and express admiration (though most often envy) concerning somebody else's hair ribbon, skirt, or shoes. Despite my never having mentioned what a wedding is prior to her bringing up the topic, she now often reminds me: "Mama, remember that when I get married I want to wear your beautiful dress in the attic! I think I'll marry Ila, or maybe Ivy..." (See previously cited reference: Daughters of Feminists http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/song-midis/Daughters_of_Feminists.htm )

Eliza plays with her "babies" all the time, her imaginary friends who often live in her belly but also spend lots of time on the outside. "Butterfly" is her favorite baby (and may possibly be both a boy and a girl). Usually Eliza whispers when she talks to her babies, and she often gets interrupted by her siblings or stops playing when she notices someone nearby. But every so often, when nobody else is around, she allows me into her play - and I try to be as careful as possible, scarcely breathing, because it's such a delicate honor to witness the important work of a three-year-old.

"Now I'm going to play hide and seek with my babies," she says softly to me one day, after donning a tutu, tiara, and extra skirt. Then, turning her back shyly, she suddenly runs away. While she's running, her excitement gets the better of her self consciousness, she reaches up with both arms like she's about to hug someone, and she shouts exuberantly: "Come HERE, Babies!!"


You want your child to be content, not only because it bothers you when she gazes enviously at others and thinks that another child is luckier (or at least better-dressed), but also because she by definition wishes that you (meaning me), the parent, were more forthcoming with gifts of similar-to-the-other-child's jackets, toys, games, hair ribbons, trampolines, whatever.

But Eliza, despite amazing shipments of hand-me-downs (which she adores) from family and friends in two countries, is entirely envious of other people's clothes. She told me recently that she has grown bored with her wardrobe (except she said it like this: "None of my clothes are FANCY anymore!"). Whenever we go out, I'll hear a little whisper at some point, and she'll say, "Mama! Do you see that green headband that girl is wearing? I want one like that!" Or, "Mama, look at that nice dress! I wish I had one like that." Or, "The other girl had a dress that twirled out like _this_ when she span around....Mama, I want one like that!" Eliza is very materialistic, and this obsession is also very pure: she watches no television, she has never seen clothing ads, and she has only watched a couple of Disney movies (both of them viewed recently, well after her love of clothes was firmly established).

At her first dance class this past fall, we walked into the studio at the same time as a little girl named Sophia. Sophia was wearing tiny pink ballet shoes on her tiny three-year-old feet, and Eliza took one look and nearly turned green. Sidling up to me, she whispered: "Mama, that girl has dance shoes!" Yes, Eliza, she does, I said. "_I_ want dance shoes!" said my little dance-class-virgin. Oh really? I said noncommittally. They do look like fun! How about we get ready for your first class now? "No, Mama, I want them _now_! Can we go get dance shoes?" Tears were welling up in her eyes. No, we can't go now, I told her. You can try the _class_ now, and see if you even like it!

Turned out she _loved_ dance class. She bounded around the room for an hour, utterly thrilled. I could tell, when I looked at her face, that she was imagining herself leaping and whirling around like a Prima Ballerina. It was also very clear that she hoped to acquire some shoes like Sophia's.

At first, I thought dance shoes would be the extent of it. Of _course_ she wanted dance shoes - this was her first dance class, and proper footwear _is_ important. I took her to the secondhand clothing store and bought her some ballet slippers for $7. She was ecstatic. She told me she loved her dance shoes. She wore her dance shoes every waking moment for over a week. She slept with her dance shoes for many days. She twirled and "span" around the house with her dance shoes on. I was (and remain) convinced that her dance shoes were Worth The Money.

However, next week at dance class, one of the girls was wearing a tutu that Eliza immediately noticed. All week afterward, she told me how she wanted a ballet dress. She asked if she could have one. She asked if I would buy it for her. She asked me over and over and over again. Each time, I repeated how I wasn't planning to buy her any dance attire besides the shoes. I reminded her about all the gorgeous clothes she already owns, and how technically one doesn't need clothes at _all_ in order to dance. (I tried reading her the book about the magic ballet-slippers-necklace, which - the little girl thinks - makes its owner dance beautifully. Until the fateful day when the little girls loses the necklace...and can _still_ dance beautifully! The point was entirely lost on my daughter, who announced at the end of the story: "I wish _I_ had a necklace like that!")

Third dance class: I dropped Eliza off in the studio, and left to get Ben and Jem and Ivy settled in the waiting room. I felt bad for not sitting in the studio, like the other moms were doing, so as soon as I could, I poked my head in to check on Eliza. There was my daughter, happily dancing...until the moment she saw me. Then the smile drained from her face, and she ran over and whispered: "I REALLY want a ballet dress! The OTHER girl has a ballet dress, and I DON'T." She was totally pouting now. "What's THAT on the floor [motioning to a white scarf]? I want to use that, right NOW!" My child was actually whispering viciously, and beginning to stamp her foot, and in another moment, I feared she would lose it entirely. I gazed at my daughter, a rigid puddle of sadness in the corner of the studio while the other kids galloped and leaped and pretended to be flying princesses, and I could barely believe it.

I hissed right back: "Eliza! You have been waiting _all week_ for this class. I moved heaven and earth to get you here, I woke your sister from a nap in order to come, your brothers are sitting in the other room so you can be here, I paid your teacher so you could dance with her, and I am NOT buying you a new dress to wear! You have lots of nice dresses at home, you are wearing a nice dress now, and it is time to dance! It's a DANCE class, not a CLOTHING class."

I thought I made some lucid, if breathless, points. And I immediately left the room, knowing that where Eliza's temper in public is concerned, my presence never _ever_ cools her down more than my leaving the room will. Within five seconds, I could hear Eliza dancing again, playing with the other kids, obviously having a great time. I did not check on her again for the rest of the class (and ever since that day, we have a Dance Class Plan: I will drop you off at the studio, but I won't stay in the room, in order for you to focus on dancing and NOT get distracted by telling me about the clothes you want! On some level, I actually think Eliza is grateful for this plan.)

But anyway - after that third dance class, she could not stop talking about how much she wanted a Dance Dress. She kept asking about it; I kept explaining that I was not going to buy one for her. Finally I said, "Eliza: Uncle Matt gave you six dollars last spring. That isn't enough for a brand new dress, but if you want to bring your six dollars to Mama Goose, we can see what second-hand costumes you can get for that amount of money."

Because I am partly a sucker, and because I was also partly curious to see how far this would go (and whether we could push through to the other side by going shopping), we went that afternoon to Mama Goose, a thrift store that sells gently-used Kid Clothes. Eliza chose a couple of frilly and sparkly numbers that, while not exactly the most beautiful costumes in the world, definitely were Fancy.

However. The dresses were not a tutu, and Mama Goose did not have any tutus that day. "Are you _sure_ you want to get these?" I asked Eliza. "We can wait and see what they have next time, if you want. Once you bring these dresses home, your money will be gone." Eliza said she wanted these dresses - yes, definitely. She paid at the register using the $6 from Uncle Matt.

I should have known that shopping never really solves these sorts of Problems. Once we got home, Eliza quickly developed buyer's remorse. And that is why, if you had been in our kitchen on that rainy October afternoon, you would have witnessed my darling daughter, lying on the floor, real tears welling up once again, inchoate sadness nearly choking her ability to speak. She started sobbing, wearing her new frilly costumes and rolling around on the floor: "Mama, I WANT a dance dress! Those dresses are not a dance dress, and I like them but I want to have one like the girl in my dance class! OTHER people have clothes that I want, and I don't want to have to wait to grow-into the clothes in my closet, and I WANT a dance dress! I want to be BIG, RIGHT NOW!!!!"

It is a crazy thing we humans must do: learn to temper what we desire with what we can actually have. I'm trying to hone my own skills right alongside my three-year-old.


I give you the Elizaisms first, because these give you a taste of how awesome she is. I give you the ballet dress story to illustrate the complexity which characterizes my firstborn daughter's inner life.

But there are additional Challenges, concerning which I provide you Further Description.


Eliza has been Volatile since her whole life. For a long time we attributed this to the fact that she couldn't nurse properly, and therefore couldn't calm herself, and then she couldn't take a bottle - so, in the parlance of Professionals, she couldn't "self soothe". She subsequently had reflux and tongue ties and apparent slight neurological issues, not to mention that she rarely slept more than forty-five consecutive minutes when she was an infant, even at night, which can definitely unhinge even the strongest of upstanding persons, even if they are babies. Starting during Eliza's first year, we (and Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Terry, along with Respite Services provided by Early Intervention) spent as much money as possible on hiring Karen, which allowed Jeff and me to have regular breaks from the exhausting madness. During Eliza's second and third years, Heidi did a whole lot of Eliza-watching, which allowed me to have several days per week of rest even with reduced hours for Karen.

Then Heidi went back to Austria last July, leaving me, for the first time since Eliza's infancy, with full-time Eliza Interaction. Her behavior wasn't excessively volatile over the summer - you might say it was within normal ranges for Eliza, aside from the really truly impossible behavior at bedtimes. But hey - _everyone's_ really truly impossible on an occasional basis, right?

Toward the middle of September, however, right about the start of autumn, Eliza's tantrums, explosiveness, sadness, and intensely whiny behavior began careening violently toward Worse.

I know. I know that right now, if you know me, you are starting to roll your eyes. "Can't you let your child have her own personality without pathologizing it? Can you just shut up about nutrition and mental health, and let your kids have angst without trying to explain away psychology? Can you stop trying to fix your children, and just enjoy them, for crying out loud?!"

I appreciate your concern. I often ask family and friends (not to mention my Very Patient Husband) to offer a bit of perspective. I am very. well. aware. that other people's children can also be irrational, whiny, manipulative, and throw tantrums. I am also aware that kids always let "it all hang out" more with their most familiar caregivers (such as their parents). I also concur that some people have naturally easy-going natures, while others are More Intense, and that pathologizing and diagnosing does not always serve us well. I actually spent the last three months attempting to meet my child where she was at, understand the small stresses she might be experiencing as Large, and glean what enjoyment I could from our days together. I spent three months trying to determine, like deja vu all over again: What's Going On With My Child?

Anyway. At this moment, please humor my continued explanation.


Mornings haven't always been smooth for Eliza, but beginning in September they began to be rougher than usual. Approximately Average Day, Autumn 2015:

Eliza: wakes up, crying and whining. "My legs hurt! My head hurts! I'm tired! I'm hungry! When are we gonna have BREAKFAST?!" She whines while getting dressed. She whines while breakfast is being made. She falls apart into a crying puddle even before breakfast begins, because she is presented with a plate that is the wrong color.

Before she starts actively tantrumming (which precludes any conversation at all), we often have an exchange that goes something like this:

Sara/Jeff: "Eliza, it's meal time!"

Eliza, not looking up from what she's doing: "I don't like it! I don't want to eat."

Sara/Jeff: "Eliza, you haven't even checked to see what we're eating..."

Eliza: "I don't like it. I don't want any."

Sara/Jeff: "Eliza, you said you're hungry! You need to TASTE it before you can say that you don't like it!"

Eliza: "But I _don't_!"

Sara/Jeff: "You _can't_ not like something that you haven't even tried."

Eliza, stomping her foot: "I don't like the TASTE of it! I WON'T eat breakist! I don't like it! I WILL stamp my feet!! I WON'T eat! I WILL SCREAM!!!!!!!!!!"

Which she proceeds to do.

When an outburst reaches the point of tantrum, she is brought to her room, and there she is likely to continue screaming and yelling intensely for a half-hour or more.

Once she finally allows herself to be "talked down" and brought to the table, we often have to repeat the exact same scenario: offer Eliza food, deal with her rude refusal-to-eat in some way, and either find a way to physically insert food into her mouth so that her blood sugar can rise to sufficient levels, or bring her back upstairs to her room to let additional tantrums run their course.

(There is another version of Morning that sometimes plays out, consisting of Eliza being happy and chatty and perky and sweet...until some mysterious, invisible trigger is pulled, at which point she literally falls apart in a matter of seconds, and begins to tantrum and stomp her feet where moments before a Sweet Child had been standing. This is as frustrating as the slow whiny build-up version, but at least this way the behavior is clear: now she's happy...now she most definitely is not.)


If you were subjected to hours of Eliza's whining, you would probably begin to get annoyed. At least, I do. If you further became the target of her screams of rage concerning the meal you had just prepared for her (a tasty one, at that!), you might be tempted to wish (if you weren't Jeff or me) that her parents would come and take her away, or give her a time-out...or at the very least, instill some politeness. I know that I sometimes wish for a fairy godmother to appear, waving a magic wand.

The thing is, absolutely no punishment has any effect on Eliza's tantrums. Time-outs result in screaming. Time-ins (i.e. focused parental love/affection/softly spoken comforting words) result in screaming. I have little wish to know what might happen if we employed corporal punishment. And it's not like she doesn't know how to be charming: every so often, so rarely lately that it's always surprising when it happens, there will come a meal during which Eliza sits happily, eats everything, and says, "Thanks, Mama, for making food!"


This fall was interesting because Eliza could often pull herself together _for a time_, particularly if non-family-members were present or if she had something (like her dance class) to look forward to SOON (i.e. in under an hour). But as the weeks dragged on, Eliza seemed less and less able to fend off the inevitable. She might not all-out tantrum if another person was in the house, but she was likely to whine loudly the whole time they were visiting, and begin screaming as soon as they left. She might be able to eat her breakfast without a tantrum if her ballet class was imminent, or if I was not at the breakfast table for some reason or another...but the moment she exited the dance class, or I sat down to eat, her face would crumple into tears, the whining and tantrum-build-up well underway.

Okay, so yeah: in a parallel universe where I didn't sit down to breakfast, or life were totally full of Fantastic Ballet Classes, well then maybe Eliza wouldn't scream - seems logical, right? And if her tantrums were generally shorter, or if she had them only a few times per week, or if they were less intense, or if her behavior was less whiny and intense during the non-tantrumming hours, I could see Accepting Her Where She's At, Developmentally. That's what we tried to do for the first three years of her life: She's just a little extra super sensitive these days! we'd say. She'll grow out of it...right? But this fall, I began to feel that logic splintering. Life _absolutely_ will include _both_ fun and disappointment. And if minor disappointments like Having Downtime, or A Parent's Attention Being Divided causes Eliza to erupt with Many Dramatic, Long-Lasting, Explosions of Outrage Throughout Most Every Day, For Week after Week after Month...well, something is wrong.

That's my opinion. And I'm sticking to it.

All through the past four months, the overall impression has been that Eliza was mostly miserable. There was one Thursday when she told me brightly, "Today I went to dance class EVEN THOUGH I had a headache, an' a throat-ache, an' my knees were REALLY HURTING!"


An Average Autumn Day - Con't:

If we manage to get breakfast into her, Eliza is sometimes herself again, playing for an hour or sometimes a little more. If this happens, she is often abruptly sweet, bubbly, happy, and articulate, hugging me, chatting, playing with the boys, or just entertaining herself with books or toys.

She occasionally goes over to a friend's house, during which time she never, ever tantrums. But as soon as she comes in the door afterward, like clockwork, it begins: "Mama! I HATE what you're making for lunch! I want to eat something else, NOW! I want a smoothie, NOW..." Or she'll just whine: "Mama, can you read? I want you to! Can we go outside? I want to go, right NOW!! If you don't, I'll scream..." (In case you are wondering: no, we absolutely never respond to Eliza's whines or screams by jumping up to do the thing she asks for, nor do we "give in" to demands made while tantrumming - so you are not looking at a case of Inconsistent Parenting here. Over and over, we remind her: "Eliza, nobody likes it when they're spoken-to in a rude way. Please ask that question kindly.") But she understands this anyway, since at the times when she's behaving normally/feeling well, she naturally uses please and thank you and kindness. I don't believe she's tantrumming in order to get something from us, but from a place of Deep Down Not Good Feelings.


One problem (of many) with all of this is that we stopped being able to invite other kids to play here. (And I'm used to this, because for about ten years we never invited kids over due to Ben. But I've been gradually getting fond of socializing again!) Each time we tried having a friend visit during the fall, Eliza collapsed into tantrums loud enough to alert the entire neighborhood, and I had to escort the other child home, embarrassment flushing my cheeks, vowing never to host another playdate. Eliza wouldn't tantrum at another person's house, but she most definitely would if she was in her own, regularly and for over an hour. Eliza was quite sorry about this. She wished that other kids could come over. She vowed not to scream Next Time. But she just wasn't able to contain herself when Mama was near.


Sometimes, if you have the patience of a saint and absolutely no other tasks on your agenda (and if you are additionally someone other than me), you can "talk Eliza down". What this means is that you can keep her whining, yet still talking and communicating, delaying the flat-out screaming portion of the day. You can't postpone the inevitable after a certain point, however: if she's gonna scream, she's gonna scream sooner or later. There will be something Not Quite Right in her world, even if it's the tiniest little thing; her eyes will glaze over with rage and fevered frustration, and all the patience in the world will not now stop Eliza's screams until they have run their course.

It's hard to describe her tantrums, since there is so little actual speaking involved, but really. They're very, very unpleasant. It's screaming and yelling, it's smashing small fists and feet and her head into furniture, it's phrases repeated over and over and over, for a really long time. Even just twenty minutes of full-on tantrum feels Really Long, and the times when it surpasses an hour....really, really suck. These demons possessing our child sometimes remind us of a seizure, or a weather event. There are things we can do to cope with the weather, and compensate when it is especially stormy, but nothing can make it sunny until the sun comes out.

This past fall could in some respects be likened to a 90-day flood.

Which brings me to another point. Our house has approximately 1600 square feet of living space, and you can clearly hear raised voices in any one part of the house when you are in any other part. Which means that if, say, you have a baby who takes two naps per day, and she's sleeping in any one bedroom...there is _nowhere_ in the living area where Eliza can scream bloody murder without waking up the baby. Which makes for a lot of really awful and excruciating logistical choices.

Our house does have a lovely finished basement, containing an apartment rented by a graduate student who is rarely home, and the entryway shares a hallway with our back door. So when Eliza begins to screech at the top of her lungs, putting her in the back hallway allows her to scream in the farthest-away point possible from the upstairs bedrooms. Which really, really, really, really, really sucks, if you know what I mean. It sucks that our child is hurting so much that she screams violently, kicks herself till bruises form, and yells ridiculous things loudly and repetitively for sometimes hours on end. It super sucks when she does this at bedtime, or when people are otherwise trying to sleep. It really REALLY sucks to imagine what Child Protective Services would think if they happened to hear our child (and these days I think they can hear her in Rhode Island) screaming, "Owie! Ow Owie OOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!! [this due to her smashing her own foot repeatedly into the doorframe or the floor.] MAMA!!!!!! I'm HUNGRY!!! I'm HUNGRY!!!! I WON'T EAT! I'm HUNGRY!!! OW OW OW!!!!! Mama! I want Papa!!!! I WON'T EAT!! I'm HUNGRY!!!!! AAAAAIIIIIIEIEEIEIIIEEEE!"

She screamed for an hour or more nearly every day this past fall.


I will say it again: these tantrums are freaking SYMPTOMS. Okay? It is not normal for a child to be sad for most of her waking hours, and for some of her sleeping ones, too (more on that later). It is definitely not normal for a child to scream like this, daily, for months on end.


Patterns noted during Eliza's Autumnal "flare":

Most likely to trigger her tantrums: mealtimes, bedtimes, coming home, being hungry, seeing me.
Most likely to postpone tantrums till later: being out and about, specifically without me, and having other people around.


An Average Autumn Day, Further Con't.:

Okay, wait, we're not done visualizing Eliza's Daily Challenges, though you might also be able to imagine, at this point, how - after a morning and noon spent wrangling Eliza - I'm not always excited about the approach of dinner time.

If we're lucky, the afternoon will allow for an hour or two of respite, during which Eliza can be occupied with something. But once she gets hungry again, the entire dysfunctional cascade of whining ("I don't LIKE that snack! I'm hungry! If you don't give me smoothie NOW, I'll SCREAM!!") will often be repeated...followed by dinnertime, and an often-godawful bedtime "routine".

I've spent much of this fall in an adrenaline-fueled haze, trying to make sure that Ivy sleeps (if she sleeps well in the day, it's more likely that she'll sleep well in the night), that I am prepared to handle Eliza's violent outbursts and whiny days, that I "balance" the needs of other family members aside from Eliza, that I Take Great Joy In The Good Times, When They Occur, and that I have any strength left to remind myself that I Am Not a Terrible Parent.

It is really, really hard to do this latter task when your child screams like my child does. At least, it is for me. When Eliza looks at me with her flashing eyes, suddenly filled will rage and hate and frustration, and sends a poorly-aimed kick in my general direction...well, I will just say that sometimes it is all I can do to safely remove her from my general vicinity rather than chucking her through the window. It often feels like somebody is punching me in the gut, at these times. If anybody I knew had a spouse who behaves the way Eliza does, I would advise: Divorce This Person!!

But Eliza is a child. And there _is_ my sweet child buried under her awful behavior, and I see glimpses of it nearly every day. I can't give up on her! I don't want to divorce her! I just want her to get better, and feel better, and spend a _lot_ less time whining and screaming.


In September, we finally had to stop giving Eliza naps - even though I'm sure she could benefit from them - because she was screaming for an hour every day just prior to falling asleep. Even after the discontinuation of naptime, evening provided her with a chance to scream for sometimes an hour before bed if her demons were busy - but at least there was only one bedtime per day instead of two.

Starting also in September, she began having "confusional events" that frequently woke her up in the night (sometimes many times), whining or crying or screeching (a confusional event is not-quite-a-night-terror) - and at these times she doesn't let us hug her or cuddle her except very briefly, and instead she screams and kicks rigidly, and won't answer questions or talk, but hates it if we leave the room. These night-wakings are exceptionally maddening and exhausting. Sometimes, she wakes up complaining of pain in her knees or her head, and is unable to fall back to sleep even though she wants to.


Most people have no idea what Eliza can be like at home, and when I tell them, they don't believe me. Why should they? At the moments when my PTSD is flaring, my nostrils are practically smoking, and I'm describing Eliza's explosive behavior/screaming from the night before, the other person is watching my giggling, chatty daughter...who is wearing three dresses, eight headbands plus bows in her hair, and is by all appearances a smiling, laughing, socializing, Normal little girl. It is nearly impossible to imagine this girl sitting on the basement floor, screaming and kicking the concrete for an hour while repeating "I'm HUNGRY! I WON'T EAT! I DON'T NEED TO PEE!!" approximately 37,000 times.

Even Ben gets annoyed. "People really don't understand about Eliza," he observed two weeks ago. "They think, 'oh, yeah, she screams a little...' But really she screams a TON! And I want people to KNOW how bad it is, so that they understand!!"

As Ben spoke, I remembered a few days prior: standing in a neighbor's kitchen, trying (hours later) to recover my poise following a truly horrific bedtime tantrum, watching our three-year-olds cavort and play. "Sarabeth," my friend said, referring to the Behavior Issues I was attempting to detail for her, "I have to say, I just don't see it!"

I told Ben that I knew exactly and totally what he meant.


Last month, I took Eliza (and Ivy too, but she napped during the whole thing) to see the Ithaca Ballet recital. Eliza LOVED loved loved it. She talked about it constantly for a week before, when it was over she wished it had lasted longer, and then she suggested we go for a walk on the Commons after since she wasn't ready to go home. During the hours before the show, I could tell that Eliza had been working hard to hold in her tantrums. She actually appeared fatigued by the effort, and did a lot of laying around on the floor, whining and saying she was tired.

But as I say: she loved the show, and sat attentively...and then it was like she'd totally shot her wad. We walked out of the theatre and she stomped the ground, and was mopey and morose, and _everything_ was "bad". She couldn't even talk about the dancing we'd just seen, despite how much she'd loved it. She was whining and Whining and WHINING...until she finally collapsed on the sidewalk in tears and whines and frustration, and I had to carry her to the car along with Ivy, and stuff her into her carseat, and she screamed until Ivy did, and then they both sobbed all the way up the hill. Eliza's sobs were screeches, though, high pitched drills-in-the-ears.

I think that one of the most damaging aspects of Ben's and now Eliza's tantrums is this: I never, ever, not-even-once have been able to comfort my child successfully during these storms. Before I had kids, I'd always imagined that when they got hurt, I would reach out my arms, and they would melt into my motherly body for comfort. I'd imagined stroking my sad child's hair, and kissing him or her, and offering a soothing stroke or compassionate cuddle. Yet never, ever, not-even-once did Ben (nor now will Eliza) accept my physical affection in moments of Intensity or pain. It never crossed my not-yet-a-mother-mind, way back when, that not only would my children be un-comforted by my presence, but that they'd actually behave much better if I wasn't around.

And in fact, when my children flip out and can't be comforted by me, it's hard not to feel like a Big Fat Failure.


I notice how Eliza's worst moments, very much like Ben's did, center around food, and picky eating, and possibly blood sugar fluctuations.

When she's in Whiny Mode, Eliza will say sullenly, "I like hurting myself! I hate eating! I _like_ screaming and I want to hurt your ears!" When she's herself again, she'll be contrite: "I'm not gonna scream," she'll say. "I'm _not_ gonna! I'm just gonna _eat_ when it's time!" And she really, really doesn't want to scream, and of course she wants to eat - I do believe this is true. One morning, in a rare moment of lucidity before she slipped into whining-cum-tantrum, she told me: "My screaming is too much for me to hold!"

I actually think that Eliza has incredible control and restraint, and yet her feelings are often even bigger than her three-year-old brain can bear - which is the part that really scares _me_. (Yes, kids generally "grow out" of tantrums, even ones as violent as these - but if the physiological cause of the feelings are not addressed...well, there are all sorts of possibilities for how the child, or young adult, or grown up will learn to compensate for such a challenging Mental Health Load: depression, increased psychological problems, low self-esteem, learning and eating disorders, intimacy problems, a life of crime, self-harm, addiction...)

Yes, I know it's silly to Project my fears into the future - I'm just _saying_.


By early November, things were getting really, really, horribly exhausting, especially because Eliza's tantrums were happening at many random times during every day, while her night-wakings were continuing multiple times every night. Combined with Jem and Ben's regular needs, plus Ivy's "normal" infant night-waking...suffice to say there was no rest for the weary.

One early November night, Eliza woke up every single hour, yelling every time. Just screaming. No communication, apart from "OW!!!" and "I don't LIKE IT!!!", lots of kicking, and always: much louder screams if we left the room, but still-loud screams if we stayed in. Each time she woke up, Jeff or I would start out cool, do our best to deal with her until she fell back asleep again...and at the eleven o'clock wake-up, I really thought I _was_ cool and able-to-deal...until I got furious.

I told her: "You have GOT to be quiet! Shut UP!!" And yes, I was well aware of her lack of cognition, but goddamit, she was about to wake up the entire neighborhood.

No response from Eliza, apart from more yells, and "I don't LIKE IT!" every time I said anything. Then she began kicking the wall.

I swore as softly as I could, and brought her flailing, screaming body downstairs to the bathroom. It was an effort to put a couple more feet of distance between her and her sleeping siblings. I felt like throwing her across the room, so I set her down a bit too firmly on the bathroom floor, hissed that I was about to do something I would regret if I didn't leave, and then I left. "Smooth," I told Jeff. "I have just completely lost it at our daughter who is probably having a bad dream!" I felt like crying. Eliza was still screaming in the bathroom.

After more than half an hour of screaming, we finally got her back into bed - I still can't remember how - and proceeded to try to fall asleep ourselves.

But there were still many more hours left in that night. Which meant that there were many more times when we were going to be woken up. And as noted many times previously, there is no place in our house where you can not-hear a screaming Eliza, which meant that Jeff and I couldn't even spell each other - every time one of us got woken up, the other did, too.

After falling asleep and being woken by her angry screams three separate times, I begin to get really, really angry at the entire world. My head was pulsing, throbbing; her screams were beginning to rip apart sections of my brain from within, possibly mashing portions of my frontal lobes against my skull. It was impossible to be "rational," because rationality had ceased to exist.

At the point when Eliza woke up for the fourth time and started screeching, Ivy woke up, too. Eliza went back to sleep eventually, but Ivy did not. She ended up doing the inconsolable infant thing - not nursing, not cuddling, nothing could make her stop yelling. This happens occasionally. But. Her crying. Went. For. Nearly. Two FUCKING HOURS!! At which point Eliza woke up howling _again_.

It was at this juncture that Jeff and I both succumbed to the torture. I lay in bed moaning, fevered, and Jeff went into Eliza's room. He told her to Go Back To Sleep, but he didn't say it nicely. I leaped out of bed and stomped after him, and echoed his command. I flipped on Eliza's closet light while she yelled, and back in our bedroom, Ivy was in the pack'n'play, also still yelling. There was nearly no input coming into what was left of my brain apart from the screams of my children. I stomped back and picked up Ivy. I thought: I never want to sleep in the same room with a baby ever again. I looked at her red, screwed-up face, and hissed, "Go the fuck to sleep!" While I am not proud of having used expletives to address my eight-month-old, it made perfect sense at the time.

Jeff turned on all the lights everywhere, and tried to figure out how to fold up the pack'n'play to get it out our bedroom door, but it was past 3am, and such things cannot be figured out at these times. Jeff looked like he was moving in slow motion, almost like he was drunk, and I tried to make a joke and laugh about it but my face felt paralyzed, my lips unable to function. I might never laugh again.

I brought the howling Ivy into the office, and called over my shoulder to Jeff, begging him to go downstairs, to hide on the couch and rest so that he would be able to get up and function the next morning. (This morning? Today? Tomorrow?? Whatever.) "Save yourself," I said glibly, dramatically, as if such a thing were even possible, "I'll stay here with Ivy."

Ivy screamed. Jeff didn't answer, just stomped around in the bedroom, wrestling with the pack'n'play, poking and prodding it to not much effect. Eliza was still howling in her room. "Can we just leave the pack'n'play where it is?" I asked.

Jeff had evidently picked the thing up and was shoving it, whole, at the bedroom doorway. "I guess we can't," he said darkly. I held Ivy. Ivy howled. I couldn't remember what the Baby Sleep Plan said to do at moments such as these, so I lay down on the half-size couch with her. Now, Ivy was screaming on my chest. Eliza was screaming in her room.

Jeff continued a sort of sparring dance with the pack'n'play, until there was a THUMP and I suddenly saw it coming into view sideways through the office doorway, fully assembled. Through my hazy vision, I could see Jeff trying to put the sheets back on the mattress. Eliza was yelling. Ivy was yelling. It was colder in the office, so I stomped to our room to get more clothes for Ivy to wear. When I came back in, Jeff had finished making the bed, so I shut off the light. But at that moment, my fury - at the whole entire world, remember? Not to mention my fucking orthodontic appliance that was currently wiring my jaw shut (by morning I would have bitten through the strap that kept it attached, but I hadn't quite done it at this point), at any god who would send me So Many Screaming Children to deal with in one lifetime - overcame any further attempts at sanity.

Holding Ivy in my left arm, I took aim with my right. My intention was to throw the standing lamp across the room and break it into a thousand billion pieces. Instead, I ended up smashing my hand into the post of the lamp, and sending a few pencils and a glasses-case flying across the room. I put Ivy down (gently, all things considered), she kept yelling, and I went downstairs with a sleeping bag and lay on the couch with the bag lumped up on top of my face. *I am So. God. Damn. Mad. Being woken up can break a person! I am broken!! This is a horrible, terrible, no-good nightmare of a night!!! I will never, ever feel human again. Now Jeff and I will BOTH be wrecked tomorrow...* My brain was a wide-awake whirl of utterly incomprehensibly violent thoughts, of rage and humiliation and frustration and exhaustion. Mostly exhaustion. Mostly the insane and total over-utilization of all of my Coping Hormones, nearly every last shred of dignity, and definitely all of whatever patience I used to possess.

Finally, Ivy stopped yelling. Eliza mercifully left her door closed, so that when she woke up once more, prior to the arrival of the "morning" when normal humans actually wake up, at least the sound was muffled.

"Next morning," Ivy woke up smiling and bouncy as ever. Eliza was whining and beginning her tantrum by the time breakfast began, but had no memory of any nightmares, nor of me bringing her downstairs and coming close to tossing her into the next county, nor of Jeff/me yelling at her in the night.


All day after the aforementioned night, I walked around in a haze. Felt battered and exhausted. Not very sharp. Dealt with whiny and screaming daughter when necessary, while trying not to picture The Path Ahead. Toward the late afternoon, while cooking dinner and discussing some topic with some child, I suddenly heard some beautiful, calming music. Seemed a bit loud for the piano, since Ben was using the headphones, but hey - it was nice for him to be listening to such calming music, right? I wondered which pre-programmed instrument he was playing. It sounded so nice, and familiar, too...but I just couldn't place it.

Right then I walked by my phone, which beeped to announce the arrival of a Voicemail. That's funny - I hadn't heard it ring. And it was Jeff. Hmmm - better check and see what he...HEY! That calming music was the special ringtone denoting calls from my husband! Oh my god, my brain is toast...

I quickly called Jeff back, but my call went to voicemail. I guessed he must have figured out the answer to whatever his question was.

But - at the exact moment when I called him back, this is what happened downtown: Jeff walked by a person getting out of a taxi cab, and when Peter Gabriel started playing - actually, Jeff's Special Ringtone for when I call him - Jeff thought to himself, "Gosh, it's funny how that cab driver is listening to my favorite Peter Gabriel tune!"

Which is why my call went to his voicemail.

The third and final phone call that afternoon was placed by Jeff and picked-up by me, at which point we chose to laugh rather than cry because even though we're pretty much equally toast, it's good to know when there's somebody else in the entire world who understands.


The other pieces of Eliza's pathology is that in September, the intensifying behavioral symptoms were accompanied by an uptick in a bunch of "physical" symptoms as well. She had a minor rash around her mouth last winter, which went away over the summer - but in September it got worse again, gradually becoming red and painful, until by November it extended up to her nose and down to her chin. Additional symptoms included:

-- knee pains
-- eye pain
-- feeling tired at all hours of morning/noon/evening
-- headaches
-- blood sugar issues (behavior much worse when hungry)
-- Intermittent/occasional nausea/vomiting with no known contagious or other cause
-- Stomach pains
-- Not gaining much weight
-- Uncoordinated large motor movements (despite her love of dancing, she falls down an awful lot)
-- Often complains that she's "a little bit dizzy"

Ben's, Jem's, and Eliza's symptoms, disparate as they are, have these four things in common:

-- are cyclical, and arrive in clusters (rarely just one symptom at a time)
-- are worse in fall/winter/spring
-- symptom cycles are accompanied by loss of appetite/picky eating
-- symptom cycles are accompanied by The Lip Rash From Hell


Depending on whether ones schedule is entirely clear, it can be possible to connect with even the most explosive, obnoxious child on some level. One can meet her where she's at, and let her express her feelings, and find some way be "glad" that one is there, in the moment, being with another human who is in pain, rather than leaving her to fend for herself in a Hostile World. One can attempt to spot the lovely and fun parts amid the muck and Loud Noises.

But the thing is, my schedule is not open and lovely and serene. Every day, all day, I am also either caring for an infant, making food/cleaning up the kitchen, trying to pay attention to two older kids, and every so often trying to leave the house. It's not that these tasks are inherently unpleasant, but almost everything is made unpleasant when somebody is screaming, and multi-tasking during one of Eliza's tantrums is kind of like...well, I don't know what to say: it's just really horrible. On many days this fall, I barely enjoyed my child OR my life. There's not much difference between having chronic depression and being chronically screamed-at.

When things don't Work Well for an extended period of time, several things can happen. First of all, you might make the legitimate choice to stop doing something like homeschooling your kid, simply because it sucks so much to be around her. Alternatively, you might choose to stick it out, "getting used" to things being bad, until you start thinking that Bad is actually normal. There's an additional and equally damaging possibility: you internalize the idea that if you don't like it when things are Bad (since that's actually normal; see #2), something is wrong with YOU.

My preference continues to be Option #4: Get My Child Better.


Various lists reference the DSM in order to come up with risk factors for so-called Oppositional Defiant Disorder or "ODD", the "diagnosis" that probably most accurately reflects Eliza's behavioral symptoms. In the interest of extreme clarity, it must be noted that Eliza has only the middle factor of risk:

ODD Risk Factors:

• Familial discord
• Dysfunctional home life
• Exposure to violence
• History of mental illness within the family
• Exposure to substance abuse
• Inconsistent parenting (inconsistent discipline, inconsistent interaction, etc.)
• Abuse / neglect


I probably sound like a broken record, but I'll say it again because I think it's true: a diagnosis is rarely useful in our current medical paradigm if you're trying to address the cause rather than the symptoms.


You can try to convince me that the lip rash is not connected with my kids' varying behavioral symptoms tantrums/anxiety/ODD/ADD/OCD...and that these psychological issues are just "normal" "developmental" "Phases", somehow separate from the other "physical" issues noted above...and that Eliza's worsening tantrums fall into that category of "normal"....but you will not be successful. The intensity of all three of our older children's symptoms, coupled with the amazing contrast and (relative) calm when things subside for a week or a month (usually in summer, with less-pronounced but occasional respites at other times) only to re-erupt later, is marked. I joke about my conspiracy theory concerning an infection from hell - possibly chronic herpes/LYME/strep/staph/toxic mold illness - that is Not Being Nice to my family, but I am not really joking at all. I am sure that infection plays a major role in what's going on.

Because come on! We don't even eat gluten for gods' sakes, and most people now know that removing gluten from your diet can pretty much cure anything. And while I am not the world's most amazing mother, I am certainly not the worst - and all of our children have food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over their heads, and loving parents who do their very best to create a Loving Family Environment. Yet instead of having reached a nice, sustainable plateau of Health upon which we can finally rest for a little while, it feels like we are playing whack a mole on a merry go round, battling various symptoms and stressors pretty much constantly, with occasional, blessed moments of respite and loveliness.


Reading through this lengthy update, you may at this point be wondering: what are you [meaning us] going to do about this?!

When the autumn began, it was logical to wait and see, and not jump to the conclusion that Eliza has a Personality Disorder (not that defining such a problem provides a clear path forward in any case, as noted already), but by November, it was obvious that Waiting and Seeing was not an effective treatment plan. And despite the fact that numerous specialists and her doctor have always found that Eliza is "normal" during physical examinations, at least some of these professionals have been honest about the limitations of current medical diagnostics/treatment in the realm of chronic disease.

I still hugely believe that diet is the most important element over which we have control. Our family continues to eat super-nutrient-dense meals, but I'm feeling like Re-set is in order, some sort of New Years' Modified GAPS Cleanse of Particularly Gut-Healing Foods and probiotics. We'll see how that goes.

If the state of NY weren't so ass-backwards when it comes to medical testing, Eliza's pediatrician is willing to order tests as per William Walsh. (Except...oops!! Plasma zinc and whole blood histamine tests might be _dangerous things_ for us consumers to have access to...good thing NY State stays on top of such matters, along with banning the sale of raw milk! :( ) Our pediatrician is quite supportive, actually, and agrees that she would rather not use medication to address Eliza's various symptoms. As it is, in mid-November I began cobbling together a Walsh-type protocol as best as I could, experimenting with some of the supplements that have made such a difference to Ben and me (and possibly Jem - the jury is still out, as we attempt to keep Lip Rash Outbreaks under control this season).

It has not been a miracle, but after three weeks of supplements, there was a day - first time that I could remember, November 24th to be exact - when there was no tantrum. On that day, Eliza also said "okay!" in response to a request from either Jeff or me - can't remember what we asked her to do, but the amazing thing was that she _didn't_ whine or stamp her feet. Also, the night-terrors subsided, her morning waking-up got a little bit more mellow, and her complaints about major knee pain and headaches diminished. Even this small reprieve felt like a tornado, monsoon, hurricane, and earthquake was subsiding all at once. I had my daughter back! At least sometimes. How awesome, a daughter instead of an electrical storm!

But the tantrums have not gone away; they've simply shifted a bit. We will see what the New Year brings.

If we had a couple thousand dollars just sitting around, gathering dust (do they _really_ need to charge $1300 for a single appointment? Wouldn't, say $500 be enough??), I would take Eliza to the Mensah Clinic, where Walsh-trained physicians could evaluate her, and then - in theory - there would be _somebody in addition to me_ putting their Thinking toward to puzzle of my child's health.


I won't give up until I can't go on...but this mama is Feeling The Effects, I tell you what! Healthy children - is this too much to ask?!