Jade

Heisler Park, Heisler Park Laguna Beach, Sea Glass, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos

Heisler Park – Laguna Beach

Here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m starting to work on this month (Sea Glass Hearts)
and hope to finish in the next eight weeks!

On Saturday afternoon, my Realtor and/or fan girl, Tally, sent me a text message to remind me about the concert at Joe’s. I knew I needed to go. But I spent hours after, convinced it was one of my dumbest ideas yet. I’ve had so many. It’s getting harder and harder to track them. The thing about me is that I know myself well. I knew that if I replied and told her I’d be there, I would – even if I tortured myself all day, filling my day with anxiety and worry. So I replied, five minutes after I read it. “I’ll be there,” I said.

When I was a little girl, I moved from foster home to foster home – never staying anywhere very long. My story isn’t all the unique. There’s almost a half a million just like me, all over this vast country. My belongings were stuffed into a black trash bag each time I moved. I carried it from house to house – until I was five that is. I got my own luggage then, when one foster mom, who had to disrupt the placement because she got cancer, bought me a duffel bag set. I guess she felt bad. I don’t know. I lived with her for nine months. I liked her. I called her mom. She was the first one I called mom. I never called anyone mom, ever again. Not even the woman who adopted me at 16. Most of what I came into foster care with had disappeared over time – except two things. When I entered care, I had a necklace on – it was a little too much for my three-year-old self. I also had a letter, if you can call it that, that my mom had stuffed into my purse. I didn’t know about the letter until I was much older. But I wore the necklace the day my Mom told me to sit on a bench in Heisler Park, near a cliff over looking the Pacific. She said she wanted to buy us ice cream. She never came back. I barely remember her face. She walked away – her hair, blond and wavy, reached her waist. When I was older, I saw a photo of Stevie Nicks circa 1977, in a scrapbook, in one of my foster parent’s homes. I asked, “Who is this lady?”

“That,” my foster mom said, “is the great Stevie Nicks. She’s a singer. One of the best to ever live,” she said.

I replied, barely audible, “Oh. Maybe she’s my mom.” As far as I could tell, she was as close a person had ever come to looking like her. The day she left me in the park, she wore a long flowing white dress, with a lace duster. Most of the time even still, even though I know now what she looks like, I still picture her blond, tangly curls and her white flowy clothes, as she left, instead of her face. Since that’s the last thing I saw, I guess the trauma of it all has kept that memory burned into my consciousness.

When my mom told me we were going to the park, I could not have been more excited. As always, I lived for the adventures we went on, especially after we were homeless. I mean, I didn’t know we were homeless. I just loved camping. We slept in the canyons and near the beach, moving when necessary. I loved sleeping in the campgrounds in Orange County – with their oak trees and sycamores. Their branches created cool shapes in the soft orange glow of the campground lights. When we had to leave a campground, we would sleep near the rich people beaches and then find our way back to another campsite. The day I bought my house in the hills above Laguna, just blocks from the park bench where she abandoned me, I thought I’d finally arrived. Maybe I did? The problem was, I didn’t have any real sense of victory though I’d hoped and prayed it would feel that way.

When we left Trabuco Canyon, we were in Dwayne’s car. He was her boyfriend. At least one that had been around for a little longer than the others. There were lots of them. I’d never forgotten his first name – though my trauma prevented me from even remembering my mom’s full name. Dwayne drove us down the winding canyon roads to Laguna, with the windows down and classic rock blaring. When we sat down on the bench, I had a small bag with me. I called it my purse. She said, as she got up, “You hold that purse tight and don’t let go, okay?” That wouldn’t be a problem because I carried it with me everywhere I went. I was eventually picked up by the police and taken to the social services agency in the city of Orange, I didn’t know what they’d found in there. They kept it with my file until I was old enough to really talk with my caseworkers. What they’d found didn’t help me understand. It didn’t help me grasp why she’d left me there. I didn’t know my story. I didn’t know from her scribbled and cryptic words, why. I didn’t know who she was or where she came from. What I knew for sure? She may not have ever been in her right mind. Her words were jumbled nonsense. I know her first name, Willow. But beyond that and her tangled mess of curls and flowing dress, I don’t know her story – or mine.

In the letter, she wrote, in one long run-on sentence, the sea is carrying me away i tried to stay above the surface for her but the current is carrying me away she needs you more than she needs me. And then, here she is my mermaid child I have to return now. Who knows what in the actual hell she meant. She scribbled numbers on the back of the note. I always dreamed as a pre-teen, once they’d handed over her letter to me – as if it wasn’t mine in the first place, that maybe I’d find some meaning in the numbers. But all these years later, based on everything else I’ve uncovered in the intervening years, there’s no meaning to them. There is one other thing she wrote on the back of the note, I’m still certain it is a piece of the puzzle that will make sense someday. She wrote one word, and then underlined it many times, creating creases in the paper. The creases made reading her note on the front side, harder. The word? Jade. Now that I’m here, in the place that birthed both of us, I hope to understand.

As for the other thing I was left with – my necklace – it’s a small piece of turquoise sea glass – with a small mother of pearl dangling alongside it. I’ve lived in some rough places over the years. But I hung on to that necklace like it was a part of my own body – like one of my arms or legs. When I was 12, I got kicked out of a foster home for beating up my foster sister. She’d tried to take the necklace from me. It didn’t matter to my foster parents. They didn’t care that it was all I had of her. They sent me back to social services like I was a shirt you’d return because it doesn’t fit. I don’t wear the necklace much anymore. But it’s always with me. It will never not be with me.

As I got dressed for Joe’s, I thought long and hard about the necklace. I stared at myself in my full length mirror. My brown hair is piled on my head with curly wisps of unruly locks falling all around my face, emboldened to be wilder than usual, in the humidity of a Carolina summer. The easy choice would be to slip it into my purse, where I usually kept it – when it didn’t fit the moment. But today felt dangerous, in an entirely enticing way. I have an entire family in this beach side town. And not a damn one of them tried to find me. Chew on that for a minute. The scrappy twelve year old in me, that beat up the sweet church kid when she tried to steal her necklace, is the one that raised an eyebrow, grabbed that necklace off the dresser, and put it on. I knew, in that moment, there’d be no turning back.

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Joe’s was quite the scene. Situated at the end of the boardwalk, it sat in a mostly residential part of the town which explains, in part, why it may not have been frequented by the tourists – who probably stuck to the section of town that was easy walking distance from the handful of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts that lined the strip along the boardwalk – all leading to the fishing pier. The pier, as I’d discovered on my first very long walk, jutted out into the Atlantic in, what I am certain is a taunting and enticing way, for the hurricane season. Yet, it still stands – defying Mother Nature in a way I can respect.

When I was two houses down from Joe’s, I stopped. The Beach Music floated up above the crashing waves. When I did my research about Seaside – which as an author is way more fun than writing – I learned a lot about the Beach Music culture of the Carolinas. When you grow up in the coarse sand of Newport and Huntington Beach, in the 80s and 90s, beach music is U2, Jesus Jones, and Depeche Mode. Or basically anything that’s playing on “The World Famous KROQ.” When I finally traced my origins back to the strip of barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, I learned everything I could, including how drastically different beach culture here can be from the only home I’d ever known. Beach music, as I’d soon learn, was deeply rooted in R&B. This blew my mind. As the music wafted up into the air, along with the intoxicating scent of what I imagine is mouth watering local seafood, I needed a second to gather myself.

Before I open my eyes, Tally’s voice reaches me. In spite of her loud appearance, her voice and deep Carolina drawl are about as soothing as a voice can be – as if she speaks in songs and poetry. I adore it – but promise myself not to let her know she’s my new best friend. “There you are! I started to worry you’d changed your mind,” she said, as she rushes to my side, looping her arm through mine. Like the day I’d met her in person for the first time, she is wearing bright, almost fluorescent colors and jewelry that might as well have been bigger than her head. She is a tiny little thing. Which I suppose makes her presence, bright clothing, and huge jewelry, particularly charming. Or jarring. One of those. “You look divine,” she says. “You could charm the dew right off the honeysuckle.” I stifle my laugh until she says, “Don’t try to pretend you didn’t just mentally write that in your little author notebook. I know that’ll show up someday in a novel. I’m downright full of this bullshit. I’ll warn you before I throw one out that I really want you to remember though,” she says, as she steers me to Joe’s, as if I have no say in the matter.

She pulls me along until we reach what might as well be her throne high atop the Tally Court – a rickety outdoor couch – surrounded by a group of her courtiers. She introduces me, as she motions for me to have a seat with a sway of her arm, “This – this my friends – is a true celebrity right here. This is Allison Whiting! Can you believe it? In Seaside!” I don’t even bother stifling a laugh this time. Tally pats my hand, like I’m a pet. “Just ignore her, she doesn’t quite understand who she is,” she says. Truer words have never been uttered about me.

A chorus of welcomes and nice to meet yous, meet me as I smile my best fake smile. It’s the one I use when I sign books for hours on end and when the talk shows act interested in my latest book – even though they really don’t care a wit about a single thing I write. “Thank you for the warm welcome. So what should I order? Tell me all the things about the food and drinks,” I say, hoping to quickly distract from the embarrassing introduction.

“Easy,” a man, with a bushy grey beard and the reddest cheeks I’ve ever seen, says, “Shrimp burger. Get the shrimp burger. It’s an Eastern Carolina tradition,” he says, to the agreement of the rest of the crew.

“Well shrimp burger it is,” I say.

Tally whispers in my ear, “They don’t come to us. You have to go to the bar to order. They don’t take cards, by the way. Cash only.”

“Well that’s quaint,” I say.

“I’ll try not to be insulted by that,” Tally says, winking. “Go get you some food and an adult beverage and come on back. By the way, as soon as I find your neighbors, I’ll make the intro.”

“Thanks,” I say, with a thumbs up, as the heat rises in my face. If there were more lights on around here, I’d probably be red as a beet. Honestly, I might as well be on fire, as the anxiety takes over. I walk across the bar, packed with people, keeping an eye out for my grandparents as I go. I’m certain I’ll know them when I see them. The first photo I’d found of them on the Internet, from a local charity event, is old – twenty years, at least. But I have another, from the Seaside fishing tournament, maybe ten years after that. That one gets me a little closer to what they probably look like now. I’ve studied both photos for hours upon hours, hoping to find myself in them and preparing for the day I show up on their doorstep.

When I finally get through the wait at the bar, I sit at a newly opened barstool and wait for the bartender to maker her way to me. I take in the place, watching everyone. If there was a job description for writers – people-watching would be a requirement. I’m instantly overwhelmed at the thought that people in this room could be related to me.

When I turned 16, my last set of foster parents, adopted me. The Russell family will always have my deepest gratitude. I love them dearly. Mama Russell – what I still call her to do this day – never tried for one second to convince me to give up my dreams of finding my family. Nor did she make me try to fit into theirs – as if I’d somehow forget I likely had an entire family out there somewhere. She seemed to understand this need in me. She never pressured me. I will always love her, even though I’ve never been able to call her, “Mom,” as I’m sure she’s always wished. I expect, if I should ever get free from the trauma that is my childhood and marry – it will be Bo Russell that walks me down the aisle – with Mama Russell there in the front row. They were good to me. They are the best kind of people God makes, if God exists, that is.

Perhaps unfortunately, blood and the ties that bind us, are stronger. My foster care agency used to say that family is more than blood. It is. It truly is. But maybe only those who are left alone in the world, without clear ties to their past, understand how desperately we long for connection to those who share our DNA. In the midst of my introspection, in this noisy bar, someone taps me on the shoulder. I look to my right, in the direction of the tap. The guy next to me is pointing toward the bartender – who I now realize is standing in front of me, staring at me like I’ve got two heads.

Who knows how long she’s stood there. Her hair is bright purple and her arms are covered with tattoos. She’s wearing the shortest skirt I have ever seen and her shirt is cut way too low. She’s not subtle. I notice in a flash, as I size her up, that she has a scar on her wrist and what looks like a burn mark just above it. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“Well what do you want?” she asks, apparently annoyed.

“I’ll take a shrimp burger and bourbon on the rocks,” I say.

“What side, hon?”

“Oh. I don’t know. What do you have?” I ask, what I think is a seemingly innocent question.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No, dude,” I say. “What was your first guess?” I ask, my famous attitude making its first appearance, since I arrived in North Carolina.

She raises her right eyebrow. From the looks of her, I’d guess her and I could go a couple of rounds out back. She’s probably fought off some meth heads and abusive boyfriends in her day. In other words, she’s just like me – but you can’t see my tats or scars. “I like you,” she says. “We’ve got slaw, fries, or our world famous mac and cheese. We’ve got a partial menu at night in the summer. Makes things easier on Joe. What can I get you?”

“I’ll take the mac and cheese,” I say.

“Good call. Can I get your name for your order?”

“Sure. It’s Ellison. Ellison Whiting.”

She stops mid-reach, before taking the twenty-dollar bill I’ve handed her. “Ellison, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting. We have a bunch of Ellisons down here. They’re everywhere. Kind of like sand fleas. Sadly, my mama is an Ellison.”

“I’m from Orange County, California,” I say. She raises that eyebrow at me again. She’s skeptical. I like her.

“Well wherever the hell you’re from, welcome. I’ll have your drink in a minute and someone will bring your food to your table. I saw you come in with Tally.”

“Thanks,” I say. I fully notice as I do, the gentlemen next to me, though he’s picking at the label on his beer bottle, he’s been watching me the whole time. From my peripheral vision, he smiles. He’s been following my every move. I turn to face him. “Appreciate the tap,” I say. I was just remembering all of the things I need at the grocery store,” I say – hand out stretched. He takes my hand.

“Ryan,” he says, extending his hand out to meet mine. “California, eh? What are you doing out here?”

I don’t detect even the slightest of accents – which I’ve so far heard from most everyone I’ve met the last few days. “Nice to meet you, Ryan. And, yep -California. Most recently Napa. But I spent most of my life in Southern California.”

“I lived there for big chunks of my life. San Diego. Great town.”

“It is. Friendly city – compared to the rest of SoCal anyway. What were you doing out there?”

“Marine Corps and Navy. Navy parents – Marines for me. Spent my enlistment at Pendleton.”

“Gotcha. Are you originally from Seaside? Or close by?” I ask, taking a second to study his weathered face. His trucker’s ball cap sits over a mess of unruly blond hair. It’s long enough that you’d never guess he’s ex-military. I bet you one thousand actual bucks that he surfs and has a half-pipe in his backyard.

“I’m from a little of everywhere,” he says, looking back to his bottle and peeling at it a little more. “Like I said. I was a military brat. We lived all over. But my most formative years were California and Hawaii. Hawaii will probably always be home.”

“Nice. Not a bad place to be from,” I say.

“True story. I’ve called Seaside my permanent home for the last ten years or so, though.”

“Do you like it here?”

“I do. I own a little place up the boardwalk. Plus, I can surf, hike the mountains within a five-hour drive, fish, or backpack in the middle of nowhere here on the coastal plain. It’s an outdoor man’s paradise, if you ask me. Plus, they don’t care if you put up a – gone fishing or surfing sign – on your door.”

“Sounds like my kind of place.”

“What brings you to our little perfect slice of the Southern Outer Banks?” He turns to face me. He smiles for the first time – deep dimples instantly make him endearing. His eyes are deep brown. I’m suddenly reminded of how much I love a man with brown eyes.

“Research,” I say, trying to sound mysterious, but realizing after I say it, I just sound lame.

“What kind of research?” he asks.

“Book research,” pleasantly surprised that he’s the second person tonight that doesn’t know who I am.

“You’re a writer?”

“I am. I write fiction. I have a book to write – so here I am.”

“If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know. I own the inn on the opposite end of the strip. I’m right on the water. You can’t miss us. I run a small diner from the ground floor. It’s a good place to write – with views of the shoals and the wild horses. Stop by sometime. I’ll save you a table. When you write the great American novel, I’ll put a placard with your name on it,” he says. I find the fact that he has no idea who I am, endearing. He continues, “Like I said, let me know if I can help with anything,” he says, as the bartender slides my drink down the bar – from the opposite end. She’s a cheeky thing. I reach out and catch it before it collides with the Old Fashioned my bar-neighbor is nursing.

“Good catch, babe,” she says.

“Well thanks. What was your name by the way?”

“Jade,” she says. “Jade Willis.” I choke as a I take a sip.

 “You alright?” she asks.

“Yep. I’m just terribly awkward. Beautiful drink,” I say to her. Though just a bourbon on the rocks, she’s twisted a candied orange peel and if my nose doesn’t betray me, I’m guessing she rimmed the glass with orange, too.

“Thanks. Enjoy. We’ll have the shrimp burger out to you in just a bit,” she says, quickly turning her attention to another customer.

“Well, Ryan – I should probably return to Tally and her buddies or I will never live it down. Thank you for the offer about writing at your place. I just might do that – especially if you have some good local atmosphere for me to soak in.”

“Oh that we do. It was nice to meet you, Ellison.” he says as I stand to my feet. I stumble a little – as if I had more than a few drinks. It’s not the first sip of my drink. It’s the realization that I’ve just met a woman named Jade, in a little bar, in my hometown – a place I’ve never known or seen before. Ryan reaches out to steady me.

“You okay?” he asks.

“I’m good. Thanks. I just got up too fast,” I say. “Thanks again,” I say, as I quickly make my way out of the packed bar, toward Tally. I’ve opened the door now. I can’t turn back. Either I’m leaving this place with answers or I’ll die trying.

Purchase print, here.

Positive Coping Skills for Kids

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I’ve missed a couple of “Wellness Wednesday” opportunities so I wanted to share a few more strategies or positive coping skills for kids – that may be useful to you as a parent – particularly if you have a child who may be struggling behaviorally or emotionally. I shared about dietary changes & kids, here.

Here is what helped us . . .

Essential Oils

I bought my foster son this essential oil necklace. I thought the “Superman” symbol was fitting. He loved it! As I mentioned in my previous post, I engaged him in the decision making process about what he would take with him to school.

I showed him his options and he picked this {my first choice too}. I also let him try out different essential oils so he could pick the ones he liked most. While I had a blend with Peace & Calming in it, he was not a fan at all. While he switched it up sometimes, he usually wanted lavender, lemon, and sweet orange or  lavender and lemon. He used to say that his friends would ask to smell his necklace sometimes. 🙂

This is the brand we used most consistently. You can read more about my essential oil journey, here.

We also diffused essential oils at night. My foster son’s favorite blend for sleep was lavender and Texas Cedarwood. We rarely missed a night – especially through the spring and summer months of 2018 as he adjusted to being away from one of his siblings.

Breathing & Mindfulness

This book gives kids great visual images to help them understand how to take it slow, breathe deep, and to be mindful about what’s happening inside of them, emotionally. This was a huge help to my foster son during first grade. I am grateful his teacher was working with him on these things.

Use of these techniques at school resulted in us using them at home. Because he loved to laugh and joke – we eventually joked about it at home – when he needed a reminder that he needed to slllloooowww down when he was getting anxious or bouncing off the walls.

I’d ask him, lightheartedly, “Do you need to go to your Zen {a word he used first} place?” He’d usually laugh, smile, or simply respond, “YES!” That was usually enough of a break in a challenging moment, that I could then remind him of his coping strategies. Eventually he got to a point where he’d just tell me, “I need to go to my Zen place.” And I’d ask what would you like to do – reminding him of some of the things that relaxed him.

When a child is melting down – or catches himself/herself on the way there – it’s so important to give them some of the power back as they think about how to cope with whatever has presented.

Now . . . there will obviously be those times when you have to intervene and your child no longer has choices {i.e., now you’re in time out}. But, my biggest goal with my foster son was to give him some power and choices – within the confines of our rules and safety, of course.

He’d lost all of that in his life. He felt he had no power. And no choices. Giving him the ability to make choices was powerful and contributed to drastic, positive changes in our home.

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Find these, here.

Reminder/Affirmation Cards

My foster son struggled in school. It was rough. And while 2nd grade was significantly harder than 1st, one of the strategies that helped him in 1st grade and early in 2nd grade, was to provide him with visual reminders of some of the coping strategies that helped him collect his thoughts. Think lunchbox note but bigger . . .

As an example, we used laminated index cards with:

A Bible verse

Breathing reminders

Encouraging sayings

Reminders to pray

Reminders to go to his “Zen” place

In 1st grade he was allowed to keep the card on his desk which made a huge difference. He had the ability to see it there all of the time. It went a long way to helping him stay on track or find ways to get back on track.

Behavior Chart/Rewards

My foster son was very competitive with himself and the “color” system at school, while not a favorite of some teachers, was a huge motivator for him. I created a chart – similar to this one:

We used clothespins to move up or down the chart. If he woke up in the morning, on blue, due to getting through this nighttime routine on the best behavior, he got a “jewel” for his “jewel jar.”

We used these blue stones and put them in a cup – labeled as “__________’s Jewel Jar.” When he filled the cup with jewels, he could pick out a prize.

 

He loved having multiple visual reminders of how he was doing. His cup was on the counter so he could see it. His chart was on a cabinet in full view. There wasn’t any confusion for him – about what he was working toward and how he was doing. I know children who are responsive to consequences. That didn’t work for my kiddo. I had to approach everything from a direction of positivity. We had to talk about wins more than losses.

The more I focused on successes and good choices, the better things got. I know this may not work for every child. But with my foster son’s history and background – it was a huge deal.

While the spring/early summer of 2018 had been rough, by the time we got into a routine midway through the summer, there were multiple days in a row his clothespin didn’t move much from blue/green. When his behavior was increasingly getting more and more positive, I increased the stakes. Getting the prizes took a little more time and his “jewel jar” was changed into a small vase.

Note on color/behavior charts: I made a decision not to move him to yellow or red for a bad day at school, unless his behavior had been particularly egregious. He knew that even if he’d had a rough day at school, he would get a fresh start at home. This was important for him.

On days when he found himself in the yellow or red area – we would work on ways to get back to green/blue – employing the other coping strategies that we worked on at other times.

Routines

My son lived and breathed by routine. It wasn’t just that I kept up our routine – it’s that he craved that routine and would remind me, when we slipped up, of where we’d gone off track.

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This was what his room looked like after bath time. 🙂

The difference between my son when we followed our nightly/morning patterns and when we didn’t, was tremendous. He knew what to expect and when to expect it. He knew that if he got out of his bath on time, he’d have time to play with this trucks & cars {his favorite toys} before we read & prayed. He knew that if he got off track – he’d lose that. He knew that when the timer {he often set it himself} went off after dinner, it was time to go upstairs and take a bath/get ready for bed. Setting expectations {hello, even we need a little expectation management in our lives} and following routines was enormously helpful {even when I didn’t feel like it}.

These are just a few of the things we worked on, so they became habits, to help my foster son learn positive coping skills.

What are some of the strategies you have used, in your home?

Tips for Eliminating Foods That May Worsen Behavioral Issues in Kids

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If you have a child that struggles with ADHD or other complex diagnoses – particularly if they experienced trauma at any point, it can feel very lonely. Not only is it isolating because people do not understand and lack compassion, but the medical profession sometimes seems to work at cross purposes. I sometimes wonder if medicine these days actually wants healed and whole patients . . . but that’s another story.

As a parent, I think you know in your gut what works and doesn’t work. Or, you may be partially {or completely} uncomfortable with the solutions being presented to you when they miss, or even ignore, who our children are as individuals. We are whole persons. Our wellness isn’t just a medical diagnosis.

While there may be a number of things that work for your family, there are a few things that helped my foster son – particularly with hyperactivity and anxiety. There was a drastic difference in his hyperactivity, acting out, and in his ability to self-regulate after we {he was an active partner in making these changes} made changes to his diet.

I wanted to share some of those things with you for today’s Wellness Wednesday post. This week I wanted to talk about dietary changes. Next week, I’ll cover some additional helps we put into place.

Here are my tips for eliminating foods that may worsen behavioral issues in kids.

This is hard, yo – particularly for foster parents out there who may have a child enter your home that has food insecurity issues or is accustomed to junk food {also very inexpensive and easy to get a hold of for families struggling with poverty}.

But, the differences between my foster son when we worked hard on our diet and when I was not disciplined, was tremendous. Notice that I said when I was not disciplined.

“Some of the studies are difficult or imperfect in that they don’t always tease out specific chemicals in isolation,” he says. “But there is this body of literature that does suggest that food colorings are not as benign as people have been led to believe.”

– Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York

Remove artificial colors completely. If you absolutely cannot fathom removing all artificial colors, I would definitely recommend eliminating red dye 40. I know what you’re thinking – it’s too time consuming. It is at first – especially if you work outside the home or are a single parent as I was. But once you’ve done your research on alternatives and spend time reading labels, you generally know what products to avoid and what products are dye free. Secondly, you will sometimes feel like a jerk parent when you have to continually say “no” to those junk food favorites.

But when you see the differences in your child, it is worth the work to find alternatives. If your child is old enough, talk to them about the changes and ask for their help in finding foods in the store that they would like, that are also dye free. My foster son became a mini expert in dye free foods. And while we had our moments when he wanted those regular Doritos, he did a good job because he was engaged in the decision making process, as often as our schedule allowed for it.

Find foods that you can be less restrictive with & give your child freedom to eat when he/she wants to. I know that might not sit right with a lot of parents. But I honestly believe it helps. And while my foster son also had food insecurity issues, I think there was something empowering for him – knowing that while there were some things he couldn’t eat, he wasn’t restricted in every little thing. He felt some sense of independence and control when the changes were very new for him.

I found foods that were protein rich, higher in fiber, or fruit – that were in his own “snack baskets” in the refrigerator or pantry. Generally speaking, I didn’t restrict the food in those baskets – including before dinner. Again, I know that may not work in your home. But if you have a child that is constantly burning energy due to hyperactivity {mine was}, and/or has food insecurity issues, is it really going to hurt? My kiddo’s appetite for dinner wasn’t dented from his healthy snacking after school. Like not even a little.

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Slightly off topic – if you are a foster parent and your child has major food insecurity issues, consider choosing one type of food that you allow your child to keep bedside as comfort. We chose granola/fiber type bars {be aware of sugar content}. He had one snack before bed {usually string cheese while we read} and then a fiber bar was left on this bedside table.

Providing him a sense of control about what he could eat, made a huge difference once I removed certain things from this diet. His baskets had fruit {strawberries & blueberries were his favorite}, string cheese, Mini Babybel cheese {he really loved these!}, no-sugar apple sauce, no-dye crackers, etc. No dye fruit leathers, fruit snacks, etc., are much more common now.

Here are a few examples of kiddo-friendly “junk” food, which also helps with the transition:




You can even find dye free cake mixes, frostings, and sprinkles now. There are candy companies that exist specifically to eliminate chemical junk in candy. Watkins sells a line of food coloring made with vegetables and spices. The alternatives are out there!

Snacks in our refrigerator and pantry were in these baskets:

I heart them.

Finally, I also cut out as much sugar as I could. I didn’t worry too much about sugar from natural sources. Nor did I eliminate it totally. But I did my best to eliminate as much refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup as much as possible.

Cereal – I tried to stick to 7 grams of sugar {or less}. We would sometimes have pancakes and waffles, but used maple syrup – which has a lower glycemic index. My primary goal was for his breakfasts to be as high in protein as possible. I didn’t always win that battle. But, it was the goal.

As a single mom, I did aim for convenience in this area. We had breakfast bowls, breakfast sandwiches with eggs & cheese, high protein shakes, and protein bars. But being that he was always hungry – he usually ate at home and then took something in the car with him. His “car snack” was usually fruit, the shake, or a protein bar if he didn’t have those at breakfast.

Between making the dietary changes and giving my son back some of the control he’d lost in life and in the diet changes, it made for a more peaceful home. But more importantly, my foster son felt more in control of his emotions, actions, and choices.

Ultimately, it will take some experimenting to make it work best for you. But if you haven’t considered adjusting your child’s diet as you search for answers about what to do to help them – it’s worth a shot. Not only is it worth an attempt if you’re at your wit’s end, but ultimately, no one is more focused on your child’s wellness as you are. Your doctor isn’t likely to make suggestions about changing your child’s diet. They probably don’t for you either. It doesn’t mean that our diet can’t impact our emotional well being as well as our physical health. As I said earlier, we are whole persons – what we put into our body absolutely can impact our emotional and mental well being. It doesn’t just pack on the pounds when we eat unhealthy {we don’t dispute this fact, do we?}. Food is what our bodies use to function. Giving our bodies the best possible foods can only help . . .

Additional note: I wanted to eliminate gluten too {I have been gluten free since 2009}. I had a sense it might help him. But that was a bridge too far between our schedule, life as a single mom, and the drastic nature of that change. However, if you have a little more time to work with, I highly recommend Gluten Free on a Shoestring! She has a wealth of information and incredible gluten free recipes she’s developed since her son was diagnosed with Celiac disease. She even has a recipe for gluten free “Twix bars.” To read about one family’s experience with a gluten free diet and ADHD, read this article.

Hurricane Florence Through My Eyes

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On Tuesday, September 11th, I evacuated with my mom, dog, and kiddo after a mandatory evacuation order was released, for my county. We spent just over a week away from home, due to the dangerous road conditions and flooding.

We have had quite the eleven days. My beautiful eastern/coastal NC has been deeply marred by this hurricane and the flooding that followed. I know people who have lost everything – some homes, some businesses. I have neighbors, who have an entire floor of their home they’ve lost due to the intensity of rain (30 inches in my city).

It wasn’t just the event itself but the evacuation. My (foster) son had a hard time – any kid would. But his was a little more intense as his fear of losing our home and me was very real after what he’s gone through the last couple of years. I feared what would happen if we lost our home.

I’ve returned home now to the potential that there’s unseen water damage in my home as the smell of mold has intensified in the last couple of days.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be volunteering at my church. The needs of others are so great. We have poor families, migrant workers, and so many elderly folks that have nothing to help them and nowhere to go. But Florence didn’t discriminate. And it doesn’t matter what your situation, when you lose everything.

The needs are great. And there is a great deal I want to say about this entire experience. There were funny things about our “Evacuation Vacation” as we’ve all been calling them. I want to share some of the experiences we’ve had along the way. So I plan to write a few posts to cover what this experience has been like. I just need a little time to figure out what’s happening with my house.

This isn’t my first hurricane. But it is my first evacuation – mandatory at that. And obviously the first time I’ve had to decide what to do in a storm – with a child. This has been an emotional and exhausting experience all around.

I hope I’ll feel up to sharing more, soon. In the meantime, prayers for my beautiful Eastern Carolina would be appreciated.