So, I’ve fallen silent and that’s not good for a blogger. For me, it’s a sure fire sign that things have gone crazy and not in the good way. I had high hopes for this place and for presenting the beautiful Catholic traditions that shape our family’s life. I had Pinterest and Instagram pictures in my head.
And then life happened . . .
I guess I should share with you the reality of our life at present – in all honesty – the good and the bad. Unfortunately, life has been bad – really bad for about two weeks now. I’m stressed, Pilgrim is working hard and trying to keep up, the kids are absolutely crazy. I want to pull the covers over my head at 5 am and pretend the day is over because the kids are screaming already. Some days, they don’t seem to sleep at all. Then, they have under eye bags to rival my own!
Now, before you say, “it’s just a season,” to me, I need to explain. My Russian darlings have a “sensitivity” – a nice way of saying an allergy of a special kind. They are allergic to MILK. All things dairy cause major problems in our house. When I used to hear about milk allergies, I would think of lactose intolerance – upset tummy, constipation, perhaps some vomit involved. I SHOULD BE SO LUCKY!
It would be so much easier if they would just vomit when they have milk. Instead, they have a casein intolerance. What does that mean? Casein is the primary protein in all milk (human, cow, sheep, goat, yak . . . – and yes, I looked up yak milk on the off chance it might be OK). Casein for most people, processes fairly normally. Your body (probably) breaks apart casein into the amino acids your body needs and recombines them just fine. My kids – not so much. They can’t break down casein. Instead, it enters their bloodstream whole and combines with other chemicals to make something new: casomorphin. When I read that I think “queso MORPHINE” and panic. You read that right: for my kids milk is an opiate. YIKES!
When we brought the kids home seven years ago, our eldest had rickets. What’s the solution to such an issue? Give them lots of calcium (read: milk). So that’s what I did – a lot. We had milk with every meal. In the beginning, I gave dessert after every meal in order to insure that they would eat and drink everything given to them. I packed as many quality nutrients into their food as I could. I baked our own breads, learned to mill my own flour, cooked everything from scratch and put tons of cheese and milk into those kids. I love my children and tried my best to give their bodies optimal nutrition in order to compensate for those years in Russia when they didn’t get what they needed.
And for years, I reaped a whirlwind of insanity. We are talking 8 and 9 year olds who scream and throw tantrums worse than what you would expect from a 2 year old. Imagine kids that old pooping because they’re mad, biting, peeing in the corner of their room, doing horrible and highly destructive things for no reason at all. That was life – every day without fail. They would wake up in the morning, be perfectly sweet and cuddly, and then after breakfast, the screaming would begin.
I suffered. I persevered. I tried behavior charts, consequences, isolating them in their rooms until they calmed down, extra time with mom to try and settle them (somebody calls that a “time in” I think instead of a “time out”). I read countless parenting books assuring me that their methods would result in well behaved children. Nothing – and I really mean nothing – worked.
At Mass, I would beg God to make me the mother my children needed since I was so very clearly insufficient and incapable of giving them what they needed. I begged Mary to guide me. I cried – a lot. I felt utterly lost and alone. But I wasn’t.
I had a dear friend whose children have allergies and sensitivities to pretty much anything out there that isn’t made from scratch and some things that are. She quietly suggested that I might want to look into nutritional issues and sensitivities. I thought she was a little nutty. I read a little but mostly said to myself, “surely this is a little over the top.” She quietly and kindly persisted, sharing tidbits of her own experience. Slowly, my mind began to churn.
Then, I had one horrible – really, really, really horrible – day. It was early in Lent 2017. I don’t remember the date, but I do know it was before the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. From 4 am to 9 pm, the children screamed, threw tantrums, and did horrible things – non stop. It was cascading tantrums that fed into each other – all day long. One would start, then the next, and a third would jump in for good measure: 15 hours of pure insanity. Once I finally got the kids into bed and quiet, I stared at a blank wall and enjoyed the peacefulness of that white expanse. It was all the stimulation I could handle. I was utterly spent by the efforts of the day and dumbstruck by how horrible it had been. What did I do wrong? Was I asking too much of them to give them a math worksheet and expect them to complete it in less than 2 hours? Was I being unreasonable to ask 9 year olds to clear the table? What did I give them to eat today? Was there too much sugar? In my head, I started listing the food I had made. And then I noticed something . . .
Like most Catholics who give up meat for more than just Fridays, we added dairy based proteins to the mix to compensate for the lack of meat. There had been a lot of dairy in each meal. Yogurt parfaits for breakfast with a glass of milk, toast (with butter) . . . I could list it all, but it isn’t truly necessary. It got me thinking . . . Could my friend be right? Is there something to all this dairy stuff? Well, I knew one surefire way to find out. I cut out all dairy – 100% cold turkey – the very next day. If there was something to this dairy sensitivity stuff, then I should be able to see some kind of shift or change. Maybe it wouldn’t be a complete solution, but I should be able to see something over a few days without milk products. If not, we’d just go back to the drawing board.
It was like hitting a switch; they were completely different children. 12 hours off of dairy was good. 24 hours was even better. 3 weeks and I knew we’d never go back. We had great success. I was enjoying my children, slowly gaining confidence . . . That was about the moment when I realized God had given me my children and I had been the mother they needed. Because I knew how to cook everything from scratch, dairy free was fairly easy. I was grateful and joyous!
All was good – until the kids figured out that dairy could be used as an excuse for crummy behavior. And that’s been the struggle this past few weeks. We’ve had kids “mad” about things and then drinking milk to “show us.” We’ve had destruction and tantrums again and stupidity of epic proportions. We have holes in walls, destroyed furniture, and it’s pretty much been horrible.
So, I had to take drastic measures. We have a lock on a fridge in the garage with all milk products hidden inside it. Even the baby – yes, the baby – is presently dairy free. Almond milk is fortified sufficiently that a 3 year old can drink it and be fine. If he were younger, I would need to find another way. Pilgrim and I indulge in cheese infrequently and then lock it all up again.
Now for the really hard part: teaching them that even if they chose to take dairy, they CHOSE to do something that made them behave in a way that is wholly unacceptable. They are thus responsible for it all. That’s a tough lesson to teach and get through some very stubborn little heads. Of course, it’s an important lesson too.
Clearly, Pilgrim and I don’t have all the answers here (we have a lock on a fridge people – that’s hardly optimal). How would you teach this lesson? I’m open to all suggestions at this point.