Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Elimination Diet




I plan out my days in the notes app on my phone, and March 11th was a doozy. All four kids had dental appointments, and there were errands to be run. I volunteered in my daughter's careers class, took the boys to and from two soccer practices and attended both their parent teacher conferences, with an assortment of to-dos crammed into the margins.

When I finally fell asleep that night it was late and I was exhausted, leaving dishes in the sink piled by kids who had fended for themselves while I was too occupied to feed them.

And then the next day, one by one, all our commitments fell like dominoes.

My daughter's prom was the first thing to be cancelled, and then school. Church was indefinitely delayed, as were sports. My son's school play was postponed. Playdates, parties, plans with friends, gone.

In succession, it was like I was watching every commitment run down my calendar as though written in fresh marker on a white board, then hosed down by a global pandemic.

Well look at that, I thought, we've begun an elimination diet.

Years ago, when my daughter first exhibited signs of attention deficit, her pediatrician suggested we try an elimination diet. Sometimes behavioral issues in children, she explained, can be triggered by a reaction to certain foods.

Because there was no telling which foods - wheat, dairy, soy, artificial dyes - she advised that we remove all of them from her plate for several weeks, then reintroduce categories one by one and monitor how she reacts. If she was calm, for instance, when eggs were eliminated but became hyperactive when fed them again, we would have uncovered our culprit.

A few years later, I heard the term "elimination diet" again when Whole 30 became popular. I had a few health-conscious friends on the diet and was fascinated by their ability to subsist for an entire month on seafood and a mysterious substance called ghee. ("But you can eat potatoes!" they would tell me, as though this was a flavor of Ben & Jerrys. "But not nightshades," which I pretended to understand before going home to nervously Google "nightshade.")

Now, in the days of quarantine, the concept of elimination diet has once again entered my mind.

Just like my attention-deficient daughter without any sugar or artificial dyes in her system, I too began behaving differently when commitments were removed from my calendar. I have been calmer. More present. Experiencing each moment rather than anxiously anticipating the next.

Since our family began sheltering in place, we have sat down together every night for dinner, something we can rarely pull off lately amid the juggling of work, activities and spring sports. What will it feel like, I wonder, when we re-introduce soccer and baseball into our diet? How we react?

My teenage daughter, who is never without plans on Friday and Saturday nights, can now be found spending weekends in her younger brother's room, laughing over a video they made together, or listening patiently to detailed explanations of his latest conquest on Fortnite.

My younger daughter, who relies on special education teachers to shepherd her through middle school now just has me and the kitchen table.  As we have struggled together to try and navigate through her classes, I've been rewarded with small moments of joy, discovering abilities in her I didn't realize she had.

We're more rested these days. Our mornings are no longer rushed. We're not eating out or spending money on things that are unnecessary.

Of course we have also been confronted with the awful reality of pandemic and anguish of economic uncertainty. There have been real fears, and there have been tears. But in the midst of it we also uncovered an unprecedented opportunity to to reconfigure what matters most. And what doesn't really matter at all.

I can't wait until my house is once again filled with friends from the neighborhood. I miss going to church and sending my kids to school, and dream about sitting in the bleachers to watch my boys play baseball. But when all of that resumes, when the mask and gloves come off and my calendar begins to reach it's previous capacity, I worry that if we go back to the same life we lived before, a critical opportunity will have been lost.

So for now we stay home and keep washing our hands, trying to scrub away anything that could threaten the safety and balance of being inside.

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