So, I'm sure you have heard about the evils of artificial coloring in foods. And I agree with it all. Artificial food coloring, especially red 40, can have a crack-like effect on children with ADHD, and perhaps most children.
We don't allow Max to have any foods in the house with artificial coloring because the resulting effect is one wild child who has no control over his behavior. And toddlers already have trouble with behavior control.
No Fruity Pebbles, no M&Ms, no hard candy, no fruit snacks (except Annie's - this company's products do not have artificial anything in them). It can be extremely frustrating for my son and me when he begs for Star Wars fruit snacks or Scooby Doo fruit snacks in the store and we can't allow him to eat them. It angers me that these food companies advertise a child's favorite movie or TV cartoon character on their packaging ,and yet, put damaging ingredients in their products. Grrr...come on, they could use beet and other juices, instead. If they cared.
Anyway, we will let him have artificial coloring at birthday parties and holidays because we don't ever want him to be the odd child out at school or a party, the only child eating an apple or some other boring fruit while the other kids get to eat brightly colored sugar and circus candy.
So, when we went to a birthday party a couple of weekends ago, I expected food coloring in the birthday cake icing. It is pretty much inevitable in a child's birthday cake. But, what I saw was nothing like I had expected.
There on the table were the cutest Elmo cupcakes you've ever seen. So adorable! But, they were red. And I'm not talking a little bit red. The entire cupcake was red. Red 40 everywhere. The icing on top was red. Then, on top of the icing, was a picture of Elmo's face made with red icing. The cake part of the cupcake was even dyed red. RED. Fine for most kids, but not my kid.
When I saw the cupcakes, the look on my face was like I'd just seen a cougar in my bathroom. Total fear.
I walked over to a nearby table and whispered to my husband, "The cupcakes are red. The entire thing. Even the cake part. Rrrreeeeeeddd." Now, my husband looked like he had just seen a cougar in our bathroom.
So, we got our things together - we wanted to be prepared in case all chaos broke loose and we had to leave the party early, which we are used to doing. The effect of sugar and red dye 40 are pretty much immediate in Max.
Sure enough, after cupcake eating time, the other children stood around and watched the birthday boy open his presents while our child did a cracked-out version of the Super Bowl Shuffle in the middle of the room.
He was yelling. He was dancing. He was laughing uncontrollably. He kept running out of the room at top speed, laughing while one of us chased him down.
We looked at each other and nodded. It was time to go. Party over.
The good thing about all of this is that I have learned over time my child's limits. Because of his sensory issues, I know he can't be in loud places for longer than 30 minutes before he begins to break down. I know he can't have artificial food coloring. I know he lashes out with aggression if someone, like another child, yells at him or if Harry cries. I know to automatically cut the tags out of his shirts. I know to keep him distracted, calm, and talking about anything if I want to keep him from throwing a tantrum in public. I know that I have to stay calm and not get overly excited or overly angry about anything if I want him to remain balanced.
I know that when he is tired, it ain't gonna be pretty.
Of course, he doesn't need red dye 40 to be hyperactive. Monday afternoon when I picked him up from preschool, I peeked in the window before going in - and while all the other children in his class were sitting in their chairs eating their lunches, my son was on the floor under the table pulling on people's legs.
That's my boy!
And although his hyperactivity can be exhausting, there is something special about Max that no one can deny. He has more enthusiasm and passion for everyday life than I have ever seen in any child or adult. Everything makes him over the top excited. I made popcorn one night last week after he had night terrors and couldn't go back to sleep, and he said, "Oh Mommy! Popcorn makes me so happy! Yaaaayyyy! I love you, Mommy!" And he gave me a big hug. I never want that enthusiasm to be extinguished.
So, if it takes many, many challenging and exhausting days for me, then that's okay. If his enthusiasm has to go hand-in-hand with his hyperacitivity and overstimulation, then I can handle it. I never want that smile, that over-the-top enthusiasm, to leave. I will do anything to keep him feeling happy and cozy. Anything. And if that means making popcorn in the middle of the night, then heat up the oil and put the lid on the pot! We are making popcorn!
But, we'll keep the red 40 out of it. I don't need my son running naked through the streets, screaming at the top of his lungs just yet. He can wait until after a long night of drinking gin in college - like his dad did.
On second thought, I never want him to know that story.
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