There is a fine line when writing about your children. Some stories belong to our children and don't necessarily need to be shared with the whole wide world.
Lately, I have wondered exactly how to approach telling the story of Jules. Maybe someday she'll find all this quite an invasion of her privacy, and to the future Jules reading this: I'm writing about this because I think it's important for our family. This story is not just your story. It's the story of us and you and your sisters facing this together.
Jules has always been a spicy kid. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew a girl like Jules.
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
I would say that fits Julianne's personality (and looks) exactly.
Through various parenting techniques, we've managed to keep her more on the good and spicy side, rather than the opposite. We breathed a sigh of relief when she turned four, hoping that this would be the age that she would grow out of some toddler behaviors.
Rather than grow out of toddler behaviors, she seemed to regress into them. Except now she's older, stronger, smarter and has a much larger vocabulary.
I'm sure that having a new baby added to the family mix didn't help matters when it came to Jules, but her reactions in the last six months have been more severe than moderate, and her personality has become less sweet and spicy and more difficult.
At first, it was just the uncontrollable temper tantrums. She would scream and kick and cry for hours. So in June, we took Jules off red dye #40. There's a fair amount of research (here's just one link) that indicates red dye has a negative effect on children's behavior, and admittedly, we saw an instant improvement in her temper tantrums. We thought that maybe we had found a solution to the over-emotional behavior.
But the improvement was short lived. Over the course of the last two months, Jules' anger level has skyrocketed. Not just a little bit of anger.
A lot of anger.
The kind of anger you might see with kids who have gone through a traumatic event, except that we can't identify what kind of traumatic event she could have gone through (and believe me, I have asked her all the important questions that could be asked).
The kind of anger that has Jules telling us she hates us. Every day. Has her saying no. To every request. Has her punching, kicking, biting, screaming, throwing things. Last Tuesday she got irritated with me as she was taking a bath, so she emptied out the bathtub in a fit of rage. "You are a stupid woman," she screamed. Having grown weary of the "It's not okay to call names" line, I said instead, "I think you meant to say 'Happy Anniversary, Mama.'"
I tell her she can hate us. We still love her.
I tell her she can't call names. It's unkind.
Obviously, we're doing more than just talking to her about her behavior, but even the great techniques of Positive Discipline haven't made a huge difference in Jules.
Day after day, my loving daughter is vanishing before my eyes.
I met with a child psychologist a couple weeks ago, and 90 minutes later I felt no better than when I had gone in. I'm all for counseling, but I'm pretty sure that "well, good luck with that," isn't a helpful option. The counselor's assessment was that Jules just hadn't grown out of the Terrible Twos. And maybe it was my fault for downplaying Jules' behavior. Either way, I felt like my concerns weren't taken seriously.
We are exhausted and disheartened and unsure of what is going on.
Last week, we met with a naturopath who did take our concerns seriously, including one particular erratic behavior that Jules just recently started doing. We explained what was going on, and when I said, "I've been reading all these parenting books, but I just feel hopeless."
He said, "It's not a parenting thing. You know that, right? It's something else. It's chemical."
I feel sure that there is something happening beyond my parenting abilities. I just wish I knew what it was. And even knowing that there is something doesn't actually make me feel that much better.
On the doctor's advice, we are having Jules go dairy/gluten free. It's a big leap. It feels overwhelming, and I haven't really let myself cry about it, although now as I type it out, I'm feeling pretty weepy. Fortunately, we live near Portland where DF/GF stuff is easily accessible. In fact, we don't even have to go into Portland for that kind of food. There are specialty stores just down the road.
Unfortunately, we don't know that it will work (even though there is a ton of research out there that proves gluten affects mood).
And unfortunately, we're still dealing with one angry kid who breaks our hearts every day. It's hard to take her places anymore. Hard to be in the car with her. We can't have cousins sleep over anymore. Can't get through a family meal without serious incident. In short, it's just plain hard to be around her.
Jason and I are responding to the situation in much different ways, which in turn has been tough on our relationship.
I'm trying to be optimistic because I have to believe that our sweet girl isn't gone forever. I would consider the atmosphere of our household fairly toxic right now, and even though all my prayers for patience are not going unanswered, I can't imagine much more of this.
On Monday, Jules is having some bloodwork done, and maybe the results will give us some direction. We're meeting with the naturopath twice a week for the next few weeks, and maybe that will help too. Maybe the DF/GF diet will help.
This much is true: Something happened to our sweet girl, and I will do whatever it takes to get her back.