It seems almost implausible to say this now, but before I became a parent, I don’t recall seeing children throw tantrums.
Before we adopted our son at age 3, I had envisioned myself evolving into a combo career woman-Earth mother, one who would bring my child on all kinds of adventures, from gardening to hiking to a pile of pillows and books, where he would hang out while I worked on a project.
Our child had other ideas. We experienced daily and sometimes hourly tantrums. Anything could set them off—generally a variation of the word “no,” a request he didn’t like or an unpleasant outcome (a pile of blocks falling over). Soon he’d be yelling, swinging his arms and legs, throwing objects, knocking things down … it went on and on … and on.
The time we spent in that state sometimes added up to four hours a day. For a new, full-time mom, these bouts felt like forever.
We tried therapy after therapy, attended seminars and conferences, and read stacks of books. We picked up and implemented lots of great parenting tips. We heard how adoption can unsettle young brains and what neuroscience tells us about calming them.
Sometimes a change or a new strategy would appear to make a positive difference … and then we’d be right back to where we started. After years of this, we finally tried some medications—the last thing we wanted to do. Again, we’d think we had hit on a solution … and then we’d crash into the same old, same old.
Then, seven years into parenthood, we hit a new level of mayhem.
It was 2015, and I went back to work full-time. Jon continued to work nearly full-time but gradually adopted the role of primary parent, providing most school pickups and drop-offs, and spending more time at home.
This transition enabled me to get to work early and/or stay late as I learned my new job and traveled to various work sites.
Our family life muddled along as usual, and then summer hit. What a summer it was. It is hard to describe the level of challenge our family experienced. In short, our son’s tantrums and rages escalated to what even we would describe as unimaginable.
Jon and I tried every parenting tool and strategy we had heard of, read about or could dream up in an effort to bring calm to our home. But no matter what we did, our son’s rages were enormous, persistent and alarmingly regular.
Plus, our son was 10—no longer a small child. Tantrums meant things were broken, and sometimes we got hurt.
One day, Jon took him on a Costco shopping run. I think it was a Friday afternoon, and people were handing out samples. My guys tried some, finished their shopping and came home. By the end of the day, our son was having what I call “the mother of all tantrums.” We probably chalked it up to overstimulation. Nothing new, really, but it was notably enormous and long-lasting.
We survived and got up to live another day. Same old, same old. But worse.
That same weekend, we went to a party at our friends’ home. There were the usual backyard barbecue offerings—things like burgers and brats, buns, chips and watermelon.
And a beautiful cake. My friend had engineered a “Creamsicle” cake—orange Jell-O and white cake mix—like those Creamsicle pops we used to eat as kids, bright orange coating over creamy vanilla ice cream. I’d never seen such a thing in a cake, and of course it was delicious.
Later that evening, again, our son kicked off “the mother of all tantrums.”
And that’s when it hit me: Jon had mentioned after their Friday shop that they had sampled cheese balls. You know the ones: basically knock-off Cheetos—crunchy corn puff spheres coated with blaze-orange cheese powder.
Orange cheese balls. Orange Creamsicle cake.
It was as if God said to Himself, “She can’t seem to connect inputs with outputs, so let’s make it crystal clear. Let’s put the problem in color.”
A Weekend of Orange.
When I looked online at ingredient lists, here’s what I found for orange Jell-O:
INGREDIENTS: SUGAR, GELATIN, ADIPIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE AND SODIUM CITRATE (CONTROL ACIDITY), FUMARIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), YELLOW 6, RED 40, BHA (PRESERVATIVE).
Then I found the cheese balls. Guess what they included? YELLOW 6 and RED 40. (For the record, the balls Costco features online in 2019 do not include RED 40.)
It was my “Eureka!” moment. How many other things had we been feeding our son that included these dyes?
My new question was: If we cut these colorings out of his diet, would his behavior—and our life—improve?
Meanwhile, just for fun, take a look at the processed foods in your pantry, fridge and freezer. You might find artificial food colors in some surprising places.
Today’s spoonful of sugar: A delicious (and relatively nutritious) orange dessert for autumn or anytime — Pumpkin Bars!