New Mama Musings

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Solving the Puzzle

As followers of this blog and/or followers of my life know, Henry has slept like shit since the day he was born. Never sleeping more than a few hours at a stretch, crying out, talking in his sleep, thrashing, clawing at his stomach, climbing on top of me, asking multiple times for drinks of water. Awful.

I had hoped that two years ago after I discovered he was gluten-intolerant and removed gluten from his diet his sleep would improve, but it never did. I even took dairy out at the same time, but after nothing changed I added it back in.

I wasn't sure what else to do, and in the back of my mind I wondered if this was just how Henry was wired. Maybe he simply needed more reassurance at night than other kids. If I would just hang in there, maybe eventually he'd sleep through the night.

But at the beginning of this year, when Henry was almost three-and-a-half, I decided to have him tested for food intolerances again. He'd had the IgG test done about two years prior but I'd read that the test wasn't very reliable until the subject was older than two years old.

The IgG test looks for food sensitivities or intolerances -- reactions that show up more slowly and in less obvious ways than an IgE reaction like a peanut allergy that can be immediately life-threatening.

This time dairy showed up again, practically off the charts -- as did eggs. (I had the same test done on myself with the same results.) I'd been eating a LOT of eggs, and although Henry had stopped eating them scrambled when I made them for breakfast I was putting them raw into our morning smoothie. They were also in the gluten-free rolls and cookies we got from a local bakery. And I had been making rolls out of egg whites and cream cheese.

So on February first I cut eggs and dairy out of our diet. I hit a few stumbling blocks as I discovered dairy in things I hadn't thought to check at first -- like the probiotic powder I put in Henry's daily water bottle.

Within the first week I noticed a positive difference in Henry's sleep. He started to sleep through the night for the first time in his three-and-a-half years. No more yelling, "No no no!" and getting agitated in his sleep. No more clawing at himself. It was amazing.

Henry's skin had also been a problem since he was a baby. He'd had patches of eczema that went away some time after we went gluten-free, and he continued to have what looked like goosebumps all over his body. And in the past year or so he started to get really dry patches on his torso.

I took him to a mainstream allergist shortly after we had the IgG test done (but before we got the results) and his advice was to lube Henry up with lots of cream before bed every night, and if that didn't help, to come back and get some steroid cream.

Henry would never have let me put lotion of any kind on him, and I was not about to slather him with steroids.

The allergist, not surprisingly, scoffed when I mentioned the IgG test. (It's controversial in mainstream medicine...but then so are most of the things I've come to believe about health.) He said it looked for raised levels of antibodies against certain foods, but since the body sees all food as an invader and creates antibodies against everything we eat, the test was worthless. I acknowledged that it wasn't perfect -- there were often false negatives, for instance -- but I thought it was a good starting point.

And now Henry's skin was clearing up within a matter of days, with no lotion and (thank God) no steroid cream. What makes me sad is that the nurse in the allergist's office said her daughter's skin looked exactly like Henry's, and because of where she works she'd probably never look into food sensitivities as a cause.

It's been almost three months since I took Henry off eggs and dairy, and while things aren't perfect, they are MUCH improved. He still has some interrupted sleep, and although his skin is a lot better he continues to have some goosebump-like patches. I'm looking into a pattern of possible reactions with other foods and also giving Henry some supplements to make up for years of nutrition compromised by a messed-up gut.

Our journey isn't over, but it's incredible to me that I've solved one piece of the puzzle after we all suffered at night for so long.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Always With the Questions

Henry has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, as I suppose nearly all young children do. He's moved past the "Why?" stage for the most part, thank God. At times I felt like I was being "why"-ed to death:

Why do we have to take the books back to the library?

Because we only get to borrow them for a little while and then we have to return them.


So other kids get a chance to check them out.


Because the library is for everyone who lives around here and not just us.

Why?'re killin' me here, kid.

I thought that was the most challenging stage, that when he moved on to actual questions of substance I'd be home free. Definitive questions call for definitive answers, right?

So now Henry asks things like:

Why don't people call the belly button "The Tube to Nowhere"?

What happens when we die?

Can a man marry another man?

How does the baby get in the mommy's tummy?

What is Down syndrome?

Where does the sky start?

The most frustrating part is that he rarely accepts "I don't know" as an answer. He seems to think I know, or should know, everything. And when I try to explain that no one can know everything he falls back on that old standby, "Why?"

(At other times, though, he says to me, "How did you know that?" like he can't comprehend someone having such a vast scope of knowledge.)

What's interesting to me, beyond the intelligence of Henry's questions, is how he immediately applies the knowledge he acquires. For instance, he recently asked what the word "firm" meant and when I explained it, he said, "My trains are firm." (Okay, that particular definition may need some tweaking.)

He also play-acts new concepts, as when he learned about the way the American Indians were pushed out by white settlers and the role rail transportation played in this. Now he tells me, "Mommy, you're an American Indian hunting buffalo and I'm building a track." And I'm supposed to say, "I'm sad that you're bringing trains through the land I live and hunt on."

Of course he doesn't quite get it; he says that he'll move me to another area and I can hunt there (I'm not about to explain that level of cruelty to him yet). But I can practically see the gears turning in his little brain as new concepts are learned and assimilated.

Watching this progression in Henry is making me even more confident in my desire to unschool him. For those unfamiliar with this term, it means letting children decide their own education. Kids learn about whatever interests them.

I'm simply astounded by what Henry knows already at the age of three. A lot of it is fed by his love of trains, as evidenced by the previous anecdote. He can tell you how steam engines work (coal fuels the fire that heats the water in the boiler that makes steam that drives the pistons that push the rods that turn the wheels), what a lighthouse is for, what the different kinds of bridges are, what kinds of engines are in use today, how the first transcontinental tracks were laid in America and on and on.

I'm learning right along with him and facilitating his education by helping him find library books, following train tracks on Google maps and looking up information online when necessary (because no one can know everything). I'm also hoping to take him to a train museum and maybe on a real train ride this summer.

It's exciting to be around someone who is excited to learn, who doesn't see education as something you get at school (nine months out of the year, on weekdays, between the hours of eight-thirty and three). Education is just part of life.

Isn't that the way it should be?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

Lately Henry and I have been listening to Paul Simon's Graceland nonstop. Yesterday while "I Know What I Know" was playing Henry asked, "Is he saying 'money' or 'Mommy'?"

"There's something about you that really reminds me of Mommy."

Love it.