So I’m upstairs with Elijah and Natalia and Micah, about to get the kids ready for bed when Petra rushes upstairs. “Dad! Dad! Mom needs you! Black pig is dead and she needs your help.” As I carried Micah outside Petra was telling me how black pig was dead, how black pig was alive but looked dead or maybe dead but looked alive.
I got out to the pen to see Erron carrying the little black lump of expired pork and dropping it into the grass to keep it away from the other pigs. We all spent a bit of time outside checking on the chickens and then went in to put the kids to bed. Once they were in bed I went back out to dispose of the pig. I put on my work gloves, got the lawn tractor and hooked up the cart. I drove over and picked up little black by the back legs and dropped him into the cart. I grabbed the shovel that was sitting nearby and walked over into the pumphouse to get my knife. I was losing daylight and the bugs were coming out so I stepped on the gas and drove out past the old grain barn. I dug a hole about 1 foot wide by 2 feet long and 2 feet deep. It would have been deeper except the bugs were biting and the shovel has a weak handle that would snap if I pried the dirt too hard. With the hole ready I pulled out my knife and gave the pig a once-over. We had noticed that the little guy had a swollen looking scrotum. Initially I thought that maybe as he was a runt they didn’t castrate him, but as the swelling was getting bigger Erron and I figured something may be “off”.
I wasn’t up for a whole slice’n’dice with the bugs descending but I had one cut in mind. I took my blade and stabbed into the pig’s scrotum to be greeted with a squishing and gaseous sound. I first thought that maybe I had stabbed into some of the intestine, maybe little pig had a blockage and the swelling was a hernia. I sliced across the bulge and a white goo came pouring out. Matter-of-factly I pulled the blade up for a sniff, it didn’t seem to smell like pig shit, or look like it either, this was not some kind of intestinal blockage. My guess is that the pig was castrated and harboured a latent infection. Maybe something like Clostridium perfringens, an anaerobic bacteria that causes gas gangrene. Anyways, I slightly lamented that I didn’t have the time to take a scraping into the lab to stain it and look under the microscope, realistically, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. I tossed little pig into the hole and piled on the dirt. I replaced the sod and did a little dance to pack it down then drove off into the sunset.
I envy our kids a bit, this opportunity to learn the real facts about life and death and meat and food, where it all comes from and how it all fits together. I never had any introductions to death until after I turned 18 and it lead to many a night in my early teens worrying if I’d die in the night. In this age of keeping your kids sheltered from “harsh reality” as long as possible they are coming in with open eyes and ears and will have a healthy understanding of life and death thanks to the farm.
Yesterday’s blog post was about a hard day with Elijah, and I hinted that I might explain why he had a bad day. Here’s some backstory, as each story should have. In my youth I ate whatever I felt like eating. I was a big junk food eater, the kind that would bring boxes of candy to a party and when I started drinking coffee in University I would take it with 10 creams and 10 sugars. For me, as James has put it recently, food was fuel. If I found myself in the grocery store I would actually price out which drink would give me the most calories for the least amount of money. Fast forward a few years, I was in grad school, Erron was starting a nursing degree and we were expecting twins. We were poor, and if you think,”Oh yeah, I’ve been poor before”, just let this sink in, we made $6000 that year. We didn’t live off $6000, that would be impossible. We went into debt but pinched every penny we could. I remember going into the store and get the 96c pasta instead of the 98c pasta. We were forced to cook from scratch because processed food is just too expensive.
Move forward a few years. I’m still cheap, we make more money but have more expenses, we still cook from scratch for the most part and we are living in Chicago. We got an autism diagnosis for Elijah which wasn’t a surprise, but still weighed our hearts down heavily. Erron began to research treatments while I generally assumed that there wasn’t much that would be helpful when he was only 3. Erron read about the gluten-free and casein-free diet and asked me to give it a try. I thought it was all hokey nonsense and went into the primary scientific literature to prove it so Erron would drop it. I couldn’t find anything against it, I could find anything supporting it. The time needed to do a proper controlled experiment is years, the time to publish is probably a year or so more than that. All I had available to me was anecdotal evidence of parents who had seen improvements and, more convincingly, a video journal of a college aged kid who has autism and talks about how he feels when on and off the diet.
I wasn’t convinced, but I would let Erron try.
The GFCF diet is VERY hard at first. You need to eliminate all milk products and wheat products from your diet. Think about it. Not just avoiding milk and cheese and bread, but every single thing that has milk, or casein, or sodium caseinate, or milk products, or lactose, or wheat, (or rye, oats or barley as the fields are almost always contaminated with wheat). You can’t eat out, you have to read every label of every food you buy and generally can’t even trust the stuff you find in a your friends’ pantry. We had to get special soy milk, special noodles, special bread, get rid of just about every processed food because they are so formulated that they usually have one, the other or both.
I figure we’d give it a month, maybe… 2 weeks in we were putting the kids to bed. Petra needed her hugs and kisses and story and time sitting by her and Elijah was the kid who would just lie there and fall asleep. After putting Petra to bed, turning off the lights and stepping out to close the door Elijah called out to me, ”Daddy? I want a hug too.” My son who barely spoke, who wouldn’t look you in the eyes or respond to your voice just asked me for a hug. I was a BELIEVER. (even just writing this brings a couple tears back to my eyes remembering the feeling)
We kept up the diet, not just for Elijah, but for all of us. A 3-year old can’t tell the difference between my glass of milk and his glass of soy milk. If he is thirsty he just drinks, if he is hungry he eats what he finds, special diet or not. He started to make steady progress and I felt such great pride in what he was accomplishing. One day when Erron, her Mom and the kids went to the Museum of Science and Industry they had Kool-Aid slushies and the next day Elijah was back to screaming and biting and generally uncontrollable behavior. We decided that we needed to cut out artificial colors too. One more thing to label read… great.
Over time we have gone from just reading labels to avoid certain ingredients to a general trend in eating better food. Knowing that Elijah has sensitivities that modulate his behaviour has helped me to justify spending more money on organic food as a general rule is that the ingredient list is shorter and I don’t need to worry about artificial crap being added to make the food more shelf stable, addictive, pleasantly colored or whatever the hell they think they’re doing. Don’t get me wrong, I resisted eating organic because I didn’t believe the price justified the benefits. I didn’t really care for myself about pesticides, herbicides, non-genetically modified foods or the other mainstream organic arguments. It was easier to control what additives were in our food, but my payscale in Chicago made what we could eat organically quite limited.
Moving to Saskatoon I got a nice increase in pay, and with it came the ability to spend more on food. Today we are part of an organic co-op and most of the fruits, vegetables, grains, milk products (we’ve re-introduced cheese for everyone except Elijah as all veggie cheese is a poor imitation) and even some of our meat is organic. I believe that the food we eat is better, despite the added cost, and the availability of organic goods in supermarkets makes it so much easier to make that choice.
So where are we now? Oh yes, the bad day. Generally when we have to be away from home for a day or two we try our best to control our diet, but sometimes having food in your belly is necessary despite what other garbage might be in it. We definitely know when we slip up. When Elijah sneaks a hotdog bun from the girls’ empty plate or a chunk of blasted cheese. A day or so later he regresses, he bites, he screams, he might even wet his pants. This is not the boy we see day to day, this is the boy we had before the GFCF/color-free/organic diet. This weekend we were out of town for a funeral and being with family and at the service meant eating the food we were provided. Elijah had a few instances I know about where he ate something he shouldn’t. There were probably more that I didn’t know about too. It wasn’t a surprise that Monday was a bad day. It is hard to blame a kid for his behavior when you know it has more to do with how vigilant you were in making sure he eats right than him wanting to be “naughty”.
Today Elijah was back to normal. I was at work and got a phone call from him, he had pressed Erron to call me in my office and when I said hello he started telling me 100 things about his day (a little too fast and jumbled for me to follow it all), but it was probably the longest phone conversation we’ve ever had. He continues to amaze me, and I will continue to do right by him, and I have become a believer in eating well because I’ve seen it work for him, and me. (Almost forgot to tell you that my bodily response to eating poorly over the weekend was both stinky and runny… what happened to my belly of steel?)
Today was a hard day. If you’re unaware, our 5 year old son Elijah is autistic. Some days it is mild (he talks, he plays, he reads, he’s happy…), some days it is not. Today it was definitely not. This morning started with getting cereal for Elijah. Elijah got his corn flakes and wanted to pour his own milk, I let him do it and while the cereal was a bit submerged it wasn’t a big deal. A couple minutes later Natalia came for her cereal, I got it ready but ran out of milk so I took Elijah’s bowl to pour some over and he had a fit about me taking it. I had to step out to get ready and when I came back Natalia was crying and holding her bowl in her lap to protect it and Elijah was screaming. Great… just what I needed a few minutes before we head out for therapy. I was hoping this wasn’t an indication of the session we were about to have, tough luck for me.
The drive was pretty standard, we got into town on time and halfway across the parking lot Elijah asked me to race him. We got into the waiting room, he kicked off his shoes and went straight for the castle set with gold and black knights. He played out the good black knights defending the castle from the bad golden knights when David, his occupational therapist, came over to get us.
We walked over to the gym, a big room with swings and giant pillows, a whiteboard and bean bags. All sorts of things that we use to help Elijah take direction, engage with people, deal with disappointment, satisfy his sensory seeking behavior and more. On the table was a pinwheel that I’d never seen before and Elijah went right up to it. He asked David if they could play with the pinwheel and David showed him how to make it spin. Elijah gave it a try, David gave it a try, and then David decided to make this a task dealing with following directions by seeing if Elijah could blow while David held the pinwheel and counted to 3.
To pick any word for this other than terrible would be hard to do. Elijah wanted to do it his way, to grab the pinwheel and take his turn blowing in short puffs however he wanted. David wanted to get the task done within the boundaries he had set out. They had to stick together, David would hold it, Elijah would blow. It was a power struggle with Elijah writhing on the floor while David held one or both of his hands. I sat and watched as Elijah bit David’s hands to try and break free, and at a couple points where he did have a free hand he would try to strike David by swinging out his straightened arm at David’s head.
I knew what David was doing, I knew that I could just tell Elijah to sit and start counting down from 5 and he would do it. The point wasn’t to make Elijah sit and blow the pinwheel. The point was to get him to decide to do it. David also could have let go, made a concession on the task, picked something else to do, but he wanted to get Elijah to decide for himself to cooperate.
It was agonizing.
For 35 minutes this played out. Elijah would struggle, he would come down, David would hold him tight (as the pressure helps to calm him) and then he would ask if Elijah was ready to sit and blow the pinwheel. Elijah would try to grab it, or get away, or who knows what and the power struggle would continue. We only have 45 minute sessions, I began to worry what would happen if we didn’t get some resolution before time ran out. Then, for no other reason than Elijah had tired of the struggle he sat down and let David hold the pinwheel while he blew. They did it a few times trying to get Elijah to do one long blow instead of many quick puffs. It was a relief when the next 5 minutes were spent with Elijah in the cocoon swing, an enveloping lycra-ish swing that wraps around him and lets him feel snug and secure.
David and I talked about what had just happened. He wanted to make sure I was okay with what happened, I let him know I totally understood the point of the exercise and apologized if Elijah had hurt him. He said it was no problem as he could have stopped at any time.
We drove home, and Elijah told me he had good news and bad news. The good news is that he got to blow the pinwheel, the bad news is that he bit David. Elijah knows what he did wasn’t right, and he bites about a twentieth of how much he used to a year or so ago, but when he is very frustrated, and even confined, he just does what seems natural to get out of the situation. I took the day off of work as we haven’t had a day with Erron and I both home to tidy up in a over a week and we paid some extra attention to Elijah to make sure this rough day turned out better. By the evening he seemed mostly his normal self again, and tomorrow… tomorrow I might write why we had the bad day we had.
This is the first post of many, as the summer blog challenge works it’s way into full swing I am sure there will be good entries, bad entries, and random piles of garbage barely resembling entries, but that is the future and this is the present. Easiest thing to write would probably be an entry about the weekend, so let’s start with Friday. James, Janine and Nathan arrived on Wednesday and spent Thursday with family (and I went to work) so Friday could be considered the first “real” day of the Andersonia Long-Weekend Extravaganza. We headed out to Blackstrap Provincial Park, currently the closest beach to the lake we can see from our second floor windows. While there is a boat launch 1 km from out house you can’t swim there, and the beach being built at the little village 4km away isn’t done yet, so to the park (10km away) we went. The last time the Andersons went to the beach was in June, and while the day was warm enough the water was still quite cool and neither I, nor the kids, wanted to get more than knee deep into the water. What a difference 6ish weeks makes as the water was cool, but pleasant, if somewhat weedy. Natalia and James and Nathan spent a bunch of time digging and playing in the sand while Elijah and Petra and I first waded out, then swam out into the deeper water. Elijah and I almost made it out to the buoys (maybe 3 or 4 m away). He started to tire and needed to hang onto me, but since I couldn’t touch the bottom it wasn’t really very easy to support him, even with his lifejacket on. We swam back and decided that we would try again another day. We also played a fun game of 3-2-1-blastoff where I would toss him into the air and he would splash into the water getting completely submerged for a few seconds. It was lots of fun and he kept coming back for more. As it was a Friday it wasn’t as busy as I am sure it was for Saturday to Monday which was nice. When we went to play on the playground there were only 2 other little kids playing there and our kids could play on the equipment they wanted.
Well, Erron is out getting her picture ID done and the baby just woke up, so let’s call that a natural end to the post.
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on…
In a matter of hours, days or weeks Erron and I will welcome into our family another baby. Our family of five will become six. Four little ones at home, outnumbered by a factor of two when we are both home, and possibly a 4:1 onslaught when it comes time for one of us to take all the kids to get groceries or some other trip out of the house. Wow… this is a different place than I imagined myself 10 yeas ago. When I was imagining a family in my youth I figured there would be 2 kids, one always seemed wrong, like having one child with no siblings wasn’t giving them what they needed, the ability to be a brother or sister. So it was 2 that I imagined, because really, who has the time or energy or need for more? How naive I was, when Katie left our lives there was such a hole left in my heart that the hope for our family became not a house of one or two kids, but many. I find that my family is the most fulfilling thing in my life. If I won the lottery (if I played the lottery) I would like nothing better than to stay home with Erron and the kids. Some people couldn’t imagine such a thing, they would need some job, some thing, to take them away and give them space, but not me. There is such joy in playing with the kids, in helping them draw, play a game, read a story. Yes, there is strife when kids are sassy, uncooperative, selfish, moody… the list goes on. But every moment is useful, helping the kids find who they are and mold who they will become can only happen when forces are in opposition, when they learn that thinking for themselves is an essential life skill, just like learning that they need to cooperate and share and be polite.
New baby, how I look forward to your arrival. I haven’t had the time to anticipate you the way I did with Elijah and Petra, or with Natalia. Work keeps me busy, the kids keep me busy, the house keep me busy, and I am not so sure of where the time you need will come from, but I know it is there. I will find time and make time for you, just as I have for your brother and sisters. As much as I may be unhappy about it when the time comes, I do look forward to swaddling you around at 2 AM to help you fall asleep, because it will be a time for just you and I when the rest of the world melts away.
Come soon, little one, I can’t wait to meet you.