Revisiting The Black Spot

The Year was 2013.

I was experiencing, for the first time in my life, the harrowing realities of having a two and a half year old male creature.

He was fantastically adorable.

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Which did not make up for the fact that he was two and a half and therefore made me fear for his life continuously.

Lest you’ve never had a two and a half year old male of your own, here’s the short version: they’re fast enough to do whatever they want and stupid enough to do whatever they think of.

He wasn’t the type to take dangerous risks. In that, I was lucky. But he was the type to, every now and then when I was resting in my fortune that he wasn’t SO bad, do something completely and terrifyingly unexpected.

Such was the case with The Black Spot.

I had taken my two children, one being the ultra-responsible six year old girl and the other being the grab bag of surprises two and a half year old boy, to the downtown library. The downtown library is a giant place of wonder and excitement and history. Books of history. Newspaper microfiche filled with history. An entire extra multi-story building of history. And also floors covered in history.

We were in the entrance plaza, where there’s a semi-circle of low steps that lead from the front door to the desks. Those steps are well-traveled steps, and they definitely looked the part that day. It’s a constant movement of people walking through, tracking all of the outside world in and depositing it on those steps before truly entering the library.

And I still haven’t figured out what I did to cause the Creator to smite me so, but this black spot caught Noah’s eye that fateful day in 2013.

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I saw him take a second glance at it and I sadly did not think fast enough to compute all of the parallel realities in which this crucial second could take me. Ultimately, I was counting on my son’s relative calm to guide me through this potential storm.

But. Within .0483 seconds, he turned to that Choose-Your-Own-Adventure page that ends in “…and all the characters died. The End”

He stooped down and my precious lovely child LICKED THE FREAKING BLACK SPOT.

I saw his tongue go out and immediately started praying.

No Dear God No Dear God Please No Dear God No No No Please Don’t Let It Be…

I leaned over and checked. It was.

The black spot was now a moist black spot.

And my life and surely his were now over.

I was the failure of a mother who’d allowed her gorgeous toddler to lick the shoe sole botulism coating on a piece of year-old used chewing gum.

And he would surely start seizing at any moment.

I momentarily pondered washing his mouth out with Purell. Or perhaps a bar of soap. How about foaming hand soap in the bathroom? Maybe just dunk his head in the toilet. It couldn’t make it worse.

But deep down, I knew it was too late. I could visualize those wriggling black-spot germs burrowing into his tongue. I lived out the rest of that day in fear, watching him for any sign of instant demise.

But somehow, that was 2013 and this is 2017 and he’s still a healthy, gorgeous boy – and one that has the tiniest bit more sense than that black spot tasting two and a half year old.

For the first time since The Incident, I braved the downtown public library again with my children in tow. It wasn’t that the library had done anything to me, per say, but the Mommy Guilt that would scream at me from The Black Spot – I wasn’t sure I could bear up under it.

As we drove slowly to The Place of My Failure, I told my children the story of The Black Spot.

Ali remembered it, but Noah did not. He was fascinated by the tale of this unknown toddler – he couldn’t fathom ever being a Spot Licker.

We walked into the lobby and to the parcel of flooring that I knew I’d never forget. Both kids were eagerly chanting “Where’s the black spot? Where is it?”

We found the stair and there was indeed on its surface a slightly lighter spot – perhaps the same one, but probably not. After all, black spots come and go, but memories of licking them stay forever.

Noah proudly posed with his history.

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And the Oreo shrapnel around his mouth really added to the believability that he had, at one time, licked that.

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And all I could do in that moment is what every Mom in the universe has done before me. Sigh and silently hope that he, one day, has a child just like himself.

Pour Some Sugar on Me! No Wait – Don’t.

As mentioned previously, I’m doing monthly goals and challenges this year. On my list of potential experiments, I’ve had two in particular that I simultaneously dreaded and really wanted to try.

Giving up sugar, and giving up gluten.

It took 90 days to work up the courage to try one or the other, and I chose sugar, even though I usually think very snobbish thoughts about people who would be so moronic as to give up The Ultimate Fruit of Life. Daily chocolate is often what keeps me from losing my Ever Lovin’ Mommy Mind, and I have at least a little bit of it on a daily basis.

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I wanted to experiment with this both for weight and health – Dysautonomia is a very annoying disease that loves to make you give up everything you love (carbonation, caffeine, chocolate) and force you to take on all sorts of unsavory behaviors* (running, drinking insane amounts of water, lots of sleep) to keep it in line. So OF COURSE, a low-or-no sugar diet is highly recommended.

*The only benefit Dysautonomia offers is the edict of a very high sodium intake – it helps keep you from blacking out as much.

Additionally, I’ve been trying to lose weight this year (using Lose It! again) and stalled out in January after losing an impressive four whole pounds, despite counting calories and exercising every day. So what could it hurt to see what a month without sugar would do.

WHAT COULD IT HURT? EVERYTHING.

That was week one. I hated myself. I hated everyone. I hated life. I wanted sugar. I needed sugar. And I couldn’t eat literally anything because literally everything contains added sugar.

Ketchup.
Crackers.
Chocolate.
Pasta.
Cadbury Mini Eggs.
Salad Dressing.
Candied Pecans.
Chick Fil A Chicken Strips.
Cream Cheese Icing.

It was enraging.

The first week consisted of me picking up something to eat, reading the label, then yelling and throwing it down. In order to not feel like a failure, I allowed myself half a box on my tracking sheet for “no sweets” and a whole box for “zero sugar.” I got a few half boxes that first week as I learned to snack on nothing but peanut butter and eat nothing but nothing.

It didn’t help that the children kept offering me parts of their food and snacks as they always do, only for me to have to answer every time, “I’m not eating sugar, remember?”

“Oh yeah…why.”

Chris can testify to my anger issues that week – they were intense. He encouraged me to maybe just cut back on sugar – surely zero grams was an impossible goal. (I think he just wanted his state of familial happiness back.)

The vortex of that hellish time in my life happened on the first Saturday morning of April. I was prepping Noah’s breakfast that I daily make lovingly by hand (frozen Eggo pancakes) and took my usual Mommy tax of two pieces of the most buttered bits of pancake, as I do every morning.

As I put the bite in my mouth, it occurred to me.

Holy crap.

These pancakes probably have…sugar.

I pulled out the box and indeed. They had the worst offender. High Fructose Corn Syrup.

I looked skyward and yelled out “I CAN’T EVEN HAVE MOMMY TAX!??!?!?!?!”

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I was tormented. Angry. Feeling as if this assignment was ridiculous and idiotic and a fool’s errand and here I was finding out at the end of the week that I’d accidentally been poisoning my body with the exact thing I’d been fighting and hadn’t even APPRECIATED that I was eating The Nectar of Life.

But the cliché is true. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to start to make your way back up.

Slowly, I began to crawl myself out of my angry, unsweetened hole.

I developed routines of things I could eat – and enjoy – that did not have added sugar. My tastes began to change, and things that used to not taste sweet at all now tasted delectable.

And I began to feel better, lose inches, and finally even lose a couple pounds.

I had told myself at the beginning of the month that I’d have blackout dates during this process – Easter weekend (who can pack two kid’s Easter baskets and have zero grams of sugar? That’s unnecessary cruelty) and our beach trip. But when Easter weekend arrived, I experienced the oddest feeling of great trepidation at the thought of allowing sugar re-entry.

We were invited to an Easter party Saturday morning, where there were my favorite type of dessert – Oreo truffles. With white chocolate on the outside, even. For the first hour, I just thought about the fact that I WOULD have one before I left. I finally picked one up and stared at it. I literally felt scared. What would my body do with this foreign object? Did I really want to open this door back up? Would all my feelings come flooding back at me?

Finally, I bit.

The sugar flowed over my tongue like a drop of water in the desert. It nearly tingled. I savored the moment, only daring to have one. It was delicious, it gave me a total headache and made me feel dizzy, but it did not send me into a sugaraholic bender. I could do this.

That night, as Chris and I packed Easter baskets, I allowed myself just a couple pieces of candy. I couldn’t believe I was more afraid of overdoing it than I was eager to allow myself to binge during a pre-planned blackout date. But here I was. I, Rachel Callahan, artisan chocolate connoisseur and rewarder-of-self-with-sugary-treats, was SCARED OF SUGAR.

As the weeks went on, I became less and less interested in sugar. I didn’t lust after it, think about it, or even want it.

And I noticed something else, too: I didn’t particularly care about any food.

I ate when I needed to eat, I didn’t eat as much, and I didn’t spend time thinking about food and obsessing over my next meal.

Once, I was even irritated when Chris wanted to go out to lunch – why waste all that time on something as inconsequential as food? I could just eat a little cheese here…

And so, it seems, at least for me, that sugar was THE addicting quality of food. It was the thing I craved, the thing that drove me back to eating more, and the thing that kept me from losing weight. And, for what it’s worth, one of the things that made me feel bad. The lack of sugar has certainly not cured my daily battle with Dysautonomia, but I have had more good days this month.

FullSizeRender 74It’s that last column there…the yellow-out dates are Easter and the Beach. Even though they were pre-planned days, I couldn’t bring myself to eat ACTUAL sweets while we were at the beach. I am abhorrent.

I haven’t decided what is to be the permanent status of my relationship with sugar. It’s complicated. I cannot possibly imagine parting ways forever, but I do want to have some space from it for longer than a month, so I have semi-committed to continuing our trial separation for 90 days. I still get half boxes some days, and that’s okay. It’s not like I’m truly living the Zero Gram Life – I’m pretty sure that is unattainable unless you never go out to eat and never eat anything that wasn’t made from scratch. But the sheer amount of sugar I’ve not eaten in April – especially from the kid’s Easter baskets which are mysteriously way more full than they would usually be at this point – is pretty substantial.

And I don’t hate it. Not anymore.

Even when, just this morning, Noah offered me a Fruit Loop.

“I don’t eat sugar right now, remember?”

“Oh yeah…” (he put the Fruit Loop back and picked up another color) “But surely you can have this one.”

“Nope.”

“You’re not even eating green sugar???”

I know, son. It makes no sense.

Just The Four Of Us.

This past weekend we tried something new.

We prefer doing what we know works – we’re not the type to be like “hey let’s try this new big thing with our kids! I bet they’re old enough to not make it miserable!” No. We wait until we are solidly sure that they are absolutely more than old enough to do whatever new thing is out there.

And that’s how we found ourselves, for the first time, at the beach – just the four of us.

We prefer traveling in a herd. With family or friends…more adults staying in our vacation abode than just us. When toddlers need naps and babies scream and everybody needs food all the time, the more adults the better. But now we have a 6 and 10 year old. They fix their own food. They entertain themselves on car trips. Life is easy. Clearly we waited too long for this step.

Chris’ Aunt and Uncle (who live at the beach) have a new rental condo in Gulf Shores that we were excited to visit. It’s a one bedroom, but had bunks in the hallway for the kids. All of our beach trips the last few years have been off-beach to save on money (traveling in herds = more bedrooms = more money), but since this is a one bedroom, it was totally affordable and made us realize how much we missed being RIGHT THERE. The walk was easy (no football-field-sized boardwalk or blocks of neighborhood), we sat on the balcony and listened to the waves at night, and everything was just lovely.

We like lovely.

We tromped out to the beach the first day, and Ali immediately ran to the water to enjoy the waves. Noah, on the other hand, was perfectly content to dig holes and bury his father.

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In fact, it became clear fairly quickly that he had decided he disliked the ocean.

Scared, he said.

This was as close as he’d get.

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And this was not okay.

No, no, no.

We have two more beach trips this summer with other people and the kid MUST like the ocean. It’s a Callahan rule.

Chris and I agreed that Immersion Therapy was in order. Which was correct because we both received honorary Psychiatry degrees upon procreation.

So we told both kids we were going out past the waves as a family. We were ALL going, EVERYONE would be safe, and there would be NO complaining.

We were ankle deep when Noah started panicking.

Chris picked him up and carried him, assuring him it was FINE, we were completely in CONTROL of the situation. The waves were perfectly tame.

God chose this moment to teach the lesson that parents are not always correct, and sent The Mother Wave at us. I mean seriously – we did not see another wave like it all weekend but it just HAD TO COME at that exact moment.

It knocked Ali off her feet. It knocked me off my feet. It knocked Chris-holding-Noah off his feet – partially because a thrashing panicking child is quite a bit unhelpful for balance. Furthermore, it immediately stripped Chris and I both of our sunglasses, and we all came up gargling and screaming.

But The Mother Wave showed no mercy. She decisively carried both pairs of sunglasses to Ariel, where she is thrilled with our tandem fish hula hoops, or whatever she’s using them for.

After a good bit of walking up and down the beach hopefully staring at the waves (while Noah quickly retreated to his sand holes), Chris walked across the street to buy us both new, much cheaper sunglasses (the general store across the street became an instantly important perk to our vacation.)

While he was gone, I talked Noah up.

“We’re going to try again. You must not be afraid of the ocean. We won’t make you go far. But we’re all going out.”

He continued to be an Ocean Denier.

I pulled out my phone. I googled up four years of my own blog posts.

“Look. Here you are enjoying the ocean when you were 5. And look at you under the water and laughing when you were 4! And when you were 3, you were happy to fall into the waves!!”

“Oh…wow…”

I felt my words had finally had impact. A near-adult six year old could not be more of a wuss than his 3 year old self. Right?

Chris returned with a pair of glasses and a strap for each of us – we would not be losing our sun protection during anymore forays into Forced Child Fun.

And we set out again. Not far – but far enough. And I am here to testify: it might cost a false start and the loss of two pairs of sunglasses, but Immersion Therapy works.

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For the rest of the day, Noah jumped waves and squealed with glee, getting deeper and deeper into the ocean after each jump.

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He told everyone that it was the most fun he’d ever had. And even gave it a rousing “Best Day Ever!!” by the end.

That night, after dinner with Uncle Leo and Aunt Kitty (okay we totally hung out with them a lot so I guess we still prefer being with other people on vacation after all),

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we stepped out onto the beach for a beautiful sunset walk, again remembering how nice it is to be RIGHT THERE on the beach.

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After the initial “What?? A Walk??”, the kids became quick fans.

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Noah even rewarded me with a surprised “Wow mom! This walk is a lot more un-boring than I thought it would be!!”

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It’s amazing how right parents can be. About all the things.

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…Maybe one day he’ll just believe me the first time I say something.

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Highly doubtful, though.

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After a good long walk,

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We ran back to our room and settled everyone down.

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And then started all over the next day.

Sand holes and all.

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Except this time, Noah remembered how fun the ocean was and didn’t bury his head in the sand.

Can’t say the same for the rest of his body, though.

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Shameless plug: Kitty and Leo’s condo truly is delightful and low-maintenance and an inexpensive family beach weekend and right across the street from a restaurant, an ice cream parlor, and an emergency grocery store that sells surprisingly nice sunglasses. I get absolutely nothing for plugging it, but I do recommend it if you’re looking for that kind of thing. You can see it here.