Monday, February 27, 2012

'Moms Gone Wild' or '6 Things I Learned From My Trip To Paris'

Aaaah Paris. {Said with terrible French Accent} Traveling to Paris and/ or France in general has been a life long goal. In my high school, the smart ambitious kids took Latin. The practical kids and the kids looking to get through foreign language without much effort took Spanish. Oh! But the romantics, the theatre kids, they took French. There were only one or two classes of French for every grade level in my school. I took them all. Four years or French, the last of which was AP French, I have always had a love for all things French.

However I was unable to continue my French studies in college because NYU didn't offer classes for 'dabblers' like me. It was immersion or nothing. And like so many other things, my love for all things French got trampled by the commitments of adulthood. In fact, our trip to Morocco in late 2010 was the first time that I had ever traveled to a French speaking nation. And just last week I stepped foot onto the sandy soil of France to finally experience what has been a lifelong dream of travel, food and experience.

My trip to Paris was not intended to be a Valentine's day gift. But in the end it felt like one. My husband dutifully took the reigns of the family so that I could spend our shared money on a flight across the Atlantic with only myself and two girlfriends. And upon arriving home he continued to say that he was glad I went (I even deserved it!) and that managing the family by himself had not been a burden. Keep your heart boxes of chocolates, that is what I want for Valentine's Day!!
Knowing enough French to start a conversation I couldn't possibly keep up with and having studied the basics of French culture, I somewhat knew what to expect. But like any novice international traveler I knew I would encounter unexpected things that surprised and delighted. And I knew that certain things would transcend the descriptions doled out to me in 1994 by a plump Southern public school teacher. So here are a few things I learned on my trip to Paris.

1-Not all Parisians are Rude. Even those friends of mine who traveled to Europe regularly warned me that the Parisians would look down their noses at us Americans. They said 'Be sure not to ask if they spoke English. Try not to be gauche.' However the vast majority of Parisians that we encountered were very nice. Several people stopped and asked if we need help, both in French and in English. Although we rarely, if ever, asked if someone spoke English, many people instantly heard our accent and spoke with us in English. In restaurants many times the wait staff came over and chatted with us or sat at our table to told us some tidbit about themselves or the neighborhood. One lovely place appreciated our vivacity enough to serve us a digestif on the house as a gift. The bottom line lesson? Smiles go a long way in how other folks treat you. Be nice. It is hard to be rude and snobby to someone who is so gracious, thankful and pleasant.

2-French coffee is not the same as Italian coffee. My dear French coworker's eyes rolled into the back of her head when she spoke of the Salon Du Thé. She said 'You must have the café créme and a pain au chocolat.' I was anxious to have French coffee and so, jet lagged and practically bruised from sleeping on the plane I picked up a latte from an Illy stand in the airport. It was amazing!! A dark, rich and perfectly blended cup of bitter espresso and sweet milk. I had high hopes for the trip. But sadly, my travel companions quickly informed me, Illy is Italian coffee. The French coffee I found in most places was not as rich or dark or powerful. Like everything else that I experienced with French food, French coffee is lighter, more subtle and more delicate. The coffee was excellent, it just wasn't what I expected.

3-Just about everything in Paris is slightly smaller, more delicate, more complex and more perfect than anywhere else. From the cobblestone streets, the pain au chocolat, the shoes, the cars, the dresses, the apartments, everything seemed smaller and more perfect. At first I assumed that this perfection was concentrated at the high end shops that were so close to our rented apartment. But as we moved into other neighborhoods the perfection continued to abound. Tiny gelatin aspics. Petite molded chocolates lined up among displays of cocoa nibs. Silk dresses with embroidered edges. Gilded bridges decorated with the locks of lovers. Of course I know, every city has it's industrial parks and squared off affordable apartments. But to me it seemed that Paris offers a culture of perfection. It is beautiful and I am seduced.

4-Gluten Free is tough, but not impossible. I wasn't gluten free in Paris. I had no intention of being GF in the gluten mecca of the world. But I found that while bread was everywhere, many dishes were easily gluten free. There was little pizza and pasta or wheat based dishes. Breakfast was hard, it was virtually all wheat. But I was able to find hard boiled eggs, nuts and fresh fruits. We did see several sandwich shops and I did stay away. Now that being said...I am not so gluten intolerant that I worry about what thickens a sauce, but overall gluten free (and amazingly rich and delicious) options were many.

5-Coffee and Wine masks the effects of gluten for me. It makes so much sense to me now why I never noticed that I have a problem with gluten! It makes so much sense now that when I started to limit coffee and alcohol from my diet I began to notice my problems with gluten! This is a good discovery none the less. When I was caught in an airport with a choice between a sandwich and a croissant, a cafe creme made that choice less painful.

6-We parents have given up so much. I never did any travel with friends pre-marriage. And I haven't taken a vacation without my children since having them. When I have traveled without the kids, they have been work trips or super quick trips for family obligations. Having 5 days to do nothing but eat and sleep and shop...well...I felt like a kid again. I got quiet time. I got to walk down streets just because they looked interesting to me. I didn't have to look for the quickest way out of the restaurant in the case of a tantrum. I did not have to keep my eyes on the road for fear that some short person would launch themselves into oncoming traffic. Truly, I have forgotten what it was to be just an adult in my personal time. Being a parent has become so overwhelming to who I am. It is great, parenting, but I don't want to lose this time in my life. By the time I get the ability to just 'be an adult' again I will be close to 50. Life is fleeting and obligations are many. Enjoy and appreciate every moment that transcends. Take 5 days to live like a kid again. How many Paris's will I get in my thirties? Who knows. But I am thankful that I at least got one.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What's Wrong With My Kid?: A Letter For Every Parent With A Tough Kid

It was 3:53 PM on Friday afternoon when the call came in.

"Mrs. {COB}, Please come to school and pick up your son, {Thing 1}."

My heart sank. I have memorized the school's phone number and whenever I see it pop up on my phone I get a knot in my stomach. He is four.

I started this blog for a couple reasons. I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to give my kids a shot at being healthier. I wanted to help them develop good habits. But deep down, covered up by better sound bites, was an idea that a better diet might alleviate some of Thing 1's troubling impulsive behavior.

Since he was a baby it seemed like he was just a little left of center. I would see families having a picnic where the baby would stay on the blanket and eat because it was meal time. I would see kids playing games and sticking to the rules of the game. I saw many kids pick up common baby toys like teethers and stacking blocks and instinctively know what to do with them. And I saw kids have tantrums because they wanted something that they could not have.

Thing 1 didn't do any of these things. Setting up a blanket in the park was the best way to make sure that he would never come near it. That was almost an invitation to run as far away as possible. Thing 1 has always struggled to play along in structured play, not liking certain rules, or wanting to hijack the game altogether. My husband and I always joked that Thing 1 didn't play with toys, rather he explored them. A bunch of stacking rings became rings on his fingers, the post of which would become a hammer. A teething ring might be bitten until it burst because he wanted to know exactly how hard you had to bite it until it broke. And tantrums would have been welcomed! Thing 1 would simply shout cruel dissension and continue doing whatever he wanted to do. You were not in charge.

Over the years I have discussed his behavior with the pediatrician. Everything seemed to be age appropriate. We had good times and bad times. Not necessarily in equal proportions. But there were good times! Over these years we have both increased and reduced screen time, increased and reduced outdoor time, given time outs, made sticker charts, tried yelling, tried being firm, taken things away, encouraged rewards, tried redirection, tried Magic 1-2-3. And nothing has consistently worked. He gets bored of sticker charts. Plus he was too impulsive to save up for the big treats that make sticker charts succeed in the end. He couldn't care less that you take away his favorite toy (there are so many others). He can't seem to visualize a reward that isn't in front on him. He is sometimes bothered by the yelling and other times it goes in one ear and out the other. Talking to him calmly and quietly does exactly nothing.

He has burned out every caregiver we have ever employed. DH and I are exhausted by it. And every doctor, friend, family member and teacher has all sworn that he seems bright and perfectly normal, albeit feisty. Some felt that I was blowing things out of proportion. And I kept looking at other kids. Other kids looked like kids: children growing and developing. And then I looked at my kid, a whirlwind of motion and intelligence, of willfulness and dissent. All the while with a sad soft look in his hazel eyes, like he was trying to make sense of all the chaos around him. Everyone else's children looked so organized, while my Thing 1 looked so disorganized.

When Thing 2 was born, DH and I marveled how he was so normal!! We would talk to him too sternly and he would cry. Thing 1 has NEVER done that. We gave him a learning table. Thing 2 happily played with the gadgets and buttons. Thing 1 had taken the legs off the table and pried the batteries out of the back. Thing 2 watched and learned and stayed close to us. Thing 1 always seemed to be head first into everything, running into traffic...

When I arrived at Thing 1's school last Friday afternoon, I wasn't sure what to expect. In the last 6 weeks I have gotten troubling phone calls from his teacher 2-3 days a week. His behavior is defiant. He likes to take attention away from the teacher. He is not responding to their redirection attempts. But he is not overly aggressive. He isn't angry when he does these things. He has lots of friends and taking control of the class seems to be delighting him. The school had said that some of his behavior, while age appropriate, has happened too frequently. Some of his behaviors have upset his classmates. Some of his behaviors are inappropriate for a school setting, even if they are age appropriate. Perhaps his behavior is age appropriate for a child who still spends his day at home.

They then suggested that we seek the aid of an expert.

As a parent, nothing can describe the feeling you get when your child's school asks you to take your child to a psychologist for evaluation. Nothing can prepare you for that moment when your closet fears that your child might be different are publicly validated by an expert in child education. And no amount of "It's the schools fault' or 'he will grow out of this' will help.

As a mother I feel crestfallen. I feel vulnerable. I feel like a failure. I keep searching for the right way to phrase things so that he will understand and start following rules. I continue to search for the right punishment that will motivate without damaging him. I continue to look for the right reward that will keep him going until a task is done. Yet my child feels like a Rubik's cube. I don't understand how he got this way and I don't know how to sort him out. He simply is who he is.

So please, every parent out there, when you see a child tantruming in public, don't assume that you would know how to fix the situation. If you see a parent lose it in public, don't assume that the parent doesn't have love for their child. Don't automatically assume that the parent fed their kid crap, didn't set boundaries or kept them up past bedtime. Not all tough kids are the result of bad parenting. There is so much we don't know about the parent-child interactions we witness. Does the child have sensory issues? Is he under developed in certain behaviors during this one phase in his life? Or is it more complex, has everyone in his life overlooked a diagnosis like ADHD because the child is bright and does have friends? Is he a kid who has fallen through the cracks? Is he too young for a certain diagnosis? Given all this, is it fair to pass judgement on the other kids at your child's school? Can you really know what's best for any child that lives outside of your own home?

But also parents, take only your fair share of the credit for your child's good behavior. Your good parenting most certainly shapes your child, but some kids are easier to shape than others. Some kids simply are harder to parent, they require more vigilance and effort. Perhaps, in parenting, the ends do not define the means.

So parents, stick together, offer encouragement. Don't talk behind anyone's back. And if you have a tough kid, hang in there. It has got to get better.

Monday, February 6, 2012

'Should I Give Up Wheat?' or 'The Depressing Agony Over My Much Beloved Wheat'

It has been nearly 2 years when I first questioned whether I had a problem with wheat. I was then wrapping up a family vacation replete with bagels and muffins and (Oh! crime of crimes) Goldfish crackers. By the end of the vacation I was feeling sluggish, tired and over all yucky. But it wasn't eating real junk foods, which I'd blamed in previous years, so it stood out more. If it wasn't such easily blamed fast food and pizza making me sick then it had to be some other seemingly innocuous food.

I kept coming back to wheat for two reasons. First off leading up to that vacation, I had greatly reduced my wheat intake as a result of being on Weight Watchers. Bread is alot of unnecessary points for a girl on a 'budget'. But I also kept coming back to wheat because one of my oldest and dearest friends had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease. BUT, curiously enough her diagnosis came with the distinction of celiac tests with negative results. And how a doctor could diagnose a patient with a disease when all the tests came back negative was crazy to me. But giving up gluten made her feel better. Her whole experience sent me onto to Google for reading material, all of which was fresh in my mind as I coped with my bloated bubbling stomach that summer.

Upon returning home I limited wheat and concluded that my sensitivity was very slight. As long as I didn't eat pasta on the same day as a sandwich or toast, I felt okay.

Months passed and I didn't worry too much about it. I didn't think of it too often. A few times I'd have a bit too much and then I would scale back. I was nervous about identifying myself as gluten intolerant. Celiac and it's related disorders have become a bit of a fad these days. Diagnosis of celiac disease are up significantly in recent years. Many think that is because modern wheat has been overly bred and now is much harder to digest. Perhaps it is that we Americans eat more wheat now than we ever did. And of course when we notice so many people with IBS, Crohn's disease and other digestive ailments all feeling better after eliminating gluten it is easy to recommend this course of treatment for others. Physicians are more aware of celiac disease and its symptoms these days. And giving up gluten seems to work much more effectively than many of the drugs on the market.

Now don't get me wrong, if you have celiac disease, then your diagnosis isn't a fad. But I can be a bit hystrionic at times. And with me and my mild tummy aches, I didn't consider myself sick enough to get swept up in the gluten free craze. And in my opinion, most gluten free products are overly processed and many contain gums and stabilizers I wasn't willing to feed to my family. I mean what is the point of giving up gluten if you are going to swap it with a bunch of stuff you don't need? I figured I would just eat less stuff containing wheat.

However last Monday I started singing a different tune. I packed a salad with croutons and a piece of bread with homemade herbed cream cheese for lunch. But I was so hungry that before I ate my lunch, I nabbed a tiny sandwich from the available catering in my office. Once I ate my home packed lunch, the combination was awful. I felt sick and bloated for nearly an hour and a half. Later in the afternoon one small oatmeal cookie made me feel the same for another half an hour. I decided that maybe my situation was getting worse and required elimination.

But simply deciding to eliminate wheat isn't an easy thing to jump into. After all, if I was stranded on a desert island and could only bring one food (and don't consider this a nutritional challenge), it would probably be bread and butter. But not just any bread and butter-a fresh, but not hot, baguette with just under room temperature butter that spreads easily and can make a nice layer upon the bread. Not to mention that I have a trip to Paris coming up in a couple of weeks!! Paris is only the mecca of all things white flour, baguettes, croissants! Argh! Why on earth am I doing this! Wheat is a food of love for me. It is also a trigger food, one I can over eat, and one that talks to me. I can refuse chocolate, candies and other treats, but cake and especially a cookie gives my brain's pleasure center a one-two-punch. The thought of never having that again is...difficult. Food is personal. Food can be emotional. Food is cultural. It is so much more than nutrition.

I finally decided that I would give up wheat completely for at least two weeks. After the first two weeks I would try certain wheat/ gluten items like bread or my homemade pizza crust. I could then get a clearer picture of what I can tolerate and what I cannot.

Here I am almost a week wheat free and I do actually feel better. My tummy is less bubbly and squirmy. Even my brain seems more clear. And...err...some other problems that I don't really want to post on the internet have disappeared too. Overall I feel better. Best of all my wheat cravings have gone away. Also gone is my desire to overeat. Could that have possibly have been related to eating gluten?

But the best part was putting on my skinny jeans this morning and not feeling too bloated to zip them up. I have a ways to go before I can really say that those jeans fit, but a start is good.

Do you have any recommendations for me? Any helpful hints about living gluten free? I am all ears!