I find myself completely in awe and utterly dazzled when I meet an angel. Each time I have an unexpected and miraculous encounter with an angelic presence I feel as if I have been gently reminded of a basic truth; that even though we don’t see angels often, they are always there. I find it extraordinarily reassuring to know that angels of all shapes and sizes are walking amongst us and that we are all entitled to their rare and breathtaking visits. I have come to realize that when I really need one, an angel will show up in my life and seldom will it come in the ‘package’ that I expect.
During the initial meeting with our new naturopath, Sonya, it was strongly recommended that I get Michael started on phase one of his ADHD treatment program; removing dairy from his diet. She explained that most children with ADHD cannot digest the protein in dairy and the maldigested partial-proteins can cause significant neurological and gastrointestinal problems. I was so excited to have an action item that I readily agreed to this initial course of treatment without a second thought. Sonya also gave me the name of a book which she referred to as her bible; Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies by Kenneth Bock. Following the meeting I headed straight to the nearest bookstore only to find that they had just sold their last copy. My disappointment was considerable as I was eager to delve headlong into this new biomedical modality and become as informed as possible.
The Universe in its infinite wisdom, however, had other plans for me and I was to find the book the following day when I was shopping with Michael.
I arrived home shortly after the naturopathic appointment brimming with enthusiasm. I swept Michael up into a big hug and told him that I had found a great doctor who was going to help us heal his body. At that point Michael knew there were things going on in his body which were making impulse control very difficult for him. What he did not know, however, was that ADHD was the cause. We were trying to find the best way to both inform him and reassure him that he has a disorder but that he is not sick. I went on to tell Michael that the doctor was quite certain that he is allergic to dairy and that she had recommended removing it from his diet so that he could start to feel better. Michael’s response was; “cool, I’ll do anything as long as I can still have pizza”.
I gently told him that he would not be able to eat pizza anymore because of the cheese. Michael put his foot down and informed me that there was no way he would ever give up pizza. After discovering that pizza was on the chopping block, he quickly ran through the list of all his favourite foods only to discover that they would also become off-limits should he agree to the proposed course of action. I knew that vanilla ice cream was going to be the next sticky point as it runs a very close second to pizza and Michael eats it almost every night after dinner. Even as I proposed the removal of dairy I silently wondered what Michael was going to be left with as his diet at the time consisted mainly of items from that particular food group. Ever since toddlerhood, Michael’s dietary staples have been; chocolate milk, vanilla ice cream, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, pancakes and cereal with milk every morning for breakfast. As he ran through his favourites and I continued to shake my head I could feel his heels dig in a little deeper each time another one was added to the burgeoning list.
It was at that point it occurred to me that the theory of the treatment and the practice of the treatment had the potential to be thoroughly disparate.
I had returned from the naturopath feeling a small glimmer of hope and was so excited to get started that it hadn’t occurred to me to anticipate anything but an easy uphill climb. However, I hadn’t factored in a tenacious, pizza and ice cream-loving seven-year-old boy. It was only day one of the biomedical regime and I was already feeling discouraged. My hope was quickly turning into panic as I flirted briefly with our new existence; fights, resistance, hunger and frustration on both sides. I knew that Michael had to make the dairy decision for himself and that there was no way I could (or would) force him to give up his favourite foods. Thinking quickly, I told him that he could miss school the next morning to go on a field trip to Whole Foods in Oakville to find some dairy alternatives. Fortunately, the lure of a morning off school was enough that Michael was easily hooked.
After his bi-weekly appointment with our chiropractor the next morning we headed off on our ‘Dairy Discovery’. The traffic on the highway was moving at a snail’s pace so I opted for an alternate route. As luck would have it, my new route was moving nicely and had a conveniently located Chapter’s bookstore. I was still itching to get the book Sonya had recommended the night before so I told Michael about it and he consented to a brief stop. As we walked hand-in-hand into Chapters Michael asked me what the book was called. After giving him the title of the book he got quiet for a moment and said to me; “you are buying that book because I have ADHD, right?”
I was not prepared to have this delicate conversation in the middle of a crowded bookstore and my reflex was to casually deflect his question. However, Michael is a very bright and intuitive child who knows things that I simply cannot explain. I felt that to deny the truth he so obviously knew could set him up to be ashamed or afraid of his attention deficit. I didn’t ever want Michael to feel either of these things so I faced his question head-on and confirmed his suspicion. I asked him what he knew of ADHD and his description was surprisingly accurate; “ADHD means you can’t control your body and you get in trouble all the time but it’s not really your fault”.
I don’t know what I was expecting when Michael was told about his ADHD but the sky did not fall and he did not crumple into an emotional heap. Instead, he became extraordinarily curious and started asking so many questions I could barely keep up. When I look back on that car trip to Oakville I can recall a feeling from Michael that was an intriguing mix of both relief and excitement. It was almost as if he was relieved to know that someone was finally going to understand that he cannot control his body and excited that he was going to get some help. Michael continued to pepper me with questions and seemed even more excited about our field trip to Whole Foods than he had been before (and it was no longer just about ditching school). It was as if now he finally had something in which to sink his teeth; there was a reason for all his struggles, there was a treatment, there was hope for healing and there was method to our madness.
As we walked into Whole Foods I was hit by a wave of panic. Suddenly the size of the store, the glare of the lights and all the people milling around made me feel overwhelmed and exhausted. The excitement drained from my body like water going down a fast drain and I was left utterly empty. The only thing left inside my body was an uneasy feeling of trepidation. The stakes suddenly felt too high and failure was not an option; I badly needed Michael’s buy-in and cooperation to make the biomedical treatment work. The familiar feeling of drowning hit my chest and I was finding it hard to breathe.
To make matters worse I had painful questions bombarding me from all sides; ‘How am I going to find my way through this puzzling maze of hundreds of brands? How am I ever going to figure out what to feed Michael on this new diet? Am I going to have to cook separate meals for Michael? Do I have the energy to face this? What if we don’t find anything here for Michael to eat? What if he won’t cooperate? What if he doesn’t buy-in and he never heals? What if this is a waste of time and he could already be feeling better on prescription medication? Am I a bad mother for asking him to sacrifice his favourite foods for some wacky treatment? What if I am only in denial and he truly needs to be on medication?’
My last thought in the downward emotional spiral was; ‘this will never work and we should just get to the doctor and get a prescription. This was a bad idea!’
Looking back I can see that those first few seconds in Whole Foods was an all-out anxiety attack. My heart was pounding, my hands were sweaty and I was having trouble breathing. Fortunately, at that very moment I was provided with an angel who had been sent to hold me up, calm my racing heart and help guide me along this next step. His name was Alex and as he approached I thought; ‘this guy isn’t going to be any help, he looks about 12 years old. I’m drowning and they send me a 12-year-old!’ However, he was very good looking and confident so I decided to give him a chance while I looked for someone a little older and with more experience. I briefly explained that Michael had been advised to give up dairy and that he is having a hard time with everything he will lose. Alex looked directly at Michael and said; “no problem buddy, there are tons of things you can eat, where do you want to start?” “Ice cream”, was Michael’s unequivocal and enthusiastic response. They tripped off happily through the store with me bringing up the rear slightly dazed and still trying to catch my breath.
The next 25 minutes was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I went from the depths of despair back up to the heights of hope in a matter of moments. And Michael went from a definite “no” to an excited “yes” with Alex enthusiastically leading the way. It turned out that Alex was one of the most knowledgeable salespeople I had ever encountered and touring from alternative to alternative was great fun, not just for Michael but for me as well. As our shopping basket was filled with new and appealing foods, I could feel Michael starting to shift his perspective. Alex told Michael that his girlfriend can’t eat dairy either and that she got much better after she stopped eating the things that were making her sick. I was amazed when Michael piped up and told Alex that he is not sick but he has ADHD; Alex took this disclosure in stride and we happily moved onto the next food.
We came away from that trip with vanilla bean coconut milk ice cream (sweetened with agave nectar), organic rice milk, rice cheese, coconut butter and some delicious fruit-based creamsicle-style popsicles. We bid goodbye to Alex with a big high five from Michael and a sincere thank you from me. Alex told Michael to come back sometime and tell him what he thinks of all his special new foods and Michael beamed in delighted response.
Behind the wheel of my car and still basking in the glow of my Whole Foods angel I sent a message of thanks out to the Universe. With the miraculous appearance of Alex it only took 25 minutes to shift Michael easily into a dairy-free diet. As I drove, Michael chattered away happily in the back seat about all his new foods and how much he was looking forward to dessert that night. As Michael spoke I felt a wave wash over me. However, it was not the violent one to which I had become so accustomed over the preceding seven days; this one was a gentle wave of gratitude.
As I let the feeling softly wash over me I silently thanked the people who had miraculously come into my life in the seven days since my tsunami had struck and who were helping me keep my head above water. I went on to reflect on the fact that the ground was shifting under my feet and current reality was moving at warp speed but that I was not being asked to go it alone. I took time to notice that the quantum shift and speed of change was simultaneously terrifying and downright liberating. My final thought as I dropped Michael off at school for the afternoon was that we were bravely facing reality, we were not alone and Michael was finally going to have the chance to be just a regular kid.
Watching Michael’s face that night as he happily dove into his second bowl of the new vanilla ice cream was like winning the lottery and my stomach was alive with butterflies. His pure enjoyment was all the encouragement I needed to keep looking forward with the confidence that everything was going to be alright. And if an angel can show up unexpectedly in the aisles of Whole Foods to make the way easier then I will gladly accept that as a powerful sign that we must be on the right track.
And as for the pizza? We’re still working on that one.