Is There Anything Left to Second-Guess??

September 3, 2010

Dear Family,

“The thing is, it's very dangerous to have a fixed idea. A person with a fixed idea will always find some way of convincing himself in the end that he is right.”

--Atle Selberg, winner of the 1950 Fields Medal in Mathematics.


All in all, I'm not going to bore you with many details of this past week. Suffice to say that whether or not Ben was reacting negatively to a food challenge (or maybe just doing some random detoxification, or perhaps feeling the effects of Mercury in Retrograde), his behavior regression was one I would prefer never to experience again.

Thing is, that's not necessarily an option, so I continue to try to maintain the viewpoint that Mothering is a Noble, Spiritual Path. Also, at times like this morning, I attempt some heavy duty deep breathing. It sometimes helps to remember that my children both have unblemished belly buttons, the earth has not been obliterated by a large-scale nuclear cataclysm, and I have never been forced to sell my body in order to obtain food.

Sometimes, focusing on these truths helps. Today it didn't. See, I had just assured my child That, Gosh Darn It, I will NEVER do Anything For Someone Who Demands Something As Rudely As You Did Just Now, Not EVER. (This came after 45 minutes of whining and moaning from said child, whilst the other (having long since ceased his own whining) stared with wide open eyes, as if to imply: My Goodness! How Strange! I Have Never Seen This Type of Behavior Before, Since I am Such An Angelic Person Who Would Never Think of Being A Pain, and I Just Don't Know _What_ To Make of It.)...

After this fun little diversion of playacting a deadly-calm-yet-hyperventilating Miss Manners, I went outside. And I ran into a lovely mama who was explaining about the maddening challenges faced by her Gifted and Talented offspring, who's so off-the-charts that the schools just can't figure out proper grade placement. I was very nice, because she was very nice. In fact, there was nothing at all un-nice about her. And yet, just below the surface, like a really Un-Nice person, I was entertaining some terrible, uncharitable fantasies, which mostly generally involved people whose children could be characterized as “easy.”.

Isn't that awful? That I didn't even wait to have mean fantasies until I was back in the privacy of my own home??

I never thought I would be this kind of person...



Riding on the “spinning thing” at Taughannock playground last night, Ben said: “This is the BEST ONE! I really like it!!” (Most notable about this statement: Ben was articulating a positive emotion.)

We have a neighbor who has been extremely supportive of Ben's origami business. Thing is, after a while there are only so many origami penguins that a person can use, and she also explained to Ben that she wouldn't be in the market for origami for a while. Besides, she added, her work wasn't going to start for three more weeks, and she wasn't getting paid until September 15th. Several more times, on other days, Ben came over to find out: how many days till payday? He expressed concern, my neighbor told me, every time she told him that it wasn't for a few more weeks yet. Finally, last Thursday, he came right out and said: “But WHAT are you doing about food??”

We just finished two Beverly Cleary books, and in one of them, Henry Huggins is assigned the task of taking out the garbage, which is described in great, stinking detail as one terrible chore. He gets fifteen cents a week for this, and at one point, Henry is despising the garbage-emptying so strongly that he says it's TOTALLY not worth the fifteen cents, and that even if he got paid a thousand, or a MILLION dollars, it would _never_ be worth it. Ben was listening raptly, although I'm not always sure if he's getting the story. But at this point he broke in and said enthusiastically, “I think it _definitely_ would be worth it. _I_ would take out the garbage for a million dollars!”



“I really like steak.”

Giving me a tour of Ben's latest batch of watercolors, Jem explains the artwork: “Dis one's a bird. And dis one's me, but it looks like a bear.”

The other day, Jem went up to Graham's front door and knocked--and then I couldn't hear what he said, but it sure looked like he was emulating his big brother, who goes door to door, hawking his wares. “Jem,” I heard Graham say, “are those _rocks_ from my front path?! I definitely don't think I want to buy any...”

--After three years of an almost entirely non-violent existence, during which Jem has never even seen a video or computer game featuring a gun, let alone an actual one, I can now attest that fascination with firearms is NOT exclusively a cultural construct. Jem is obsessed with guns. EVERYTHING has the potential to be re-purposed, including avocado on a fingertip. He tried making a bow and arrow (“I like it to be heavy. I wanna use METAL!”), but soon went back to guns. He shoots rubber bands. He says, “I've got a GUN! ARRRHGHGH!” He makes “picyu, picyu, picyu!” sound effects. He somehow knows that there are “buttons” on the front of them, so his building block “gun” (2:1 rectangle, Waldorf-approved velvety-soft-finish, solid maple) has an imaginary one, too.

--I'm not making a big deal about this, since I know it will probably pass. But like any concerned parent, I make sure to tell him that Even Pretend Guns Don't Get Pointed at People. And I observantly try to figure out: does Jem know that guns can hurt and kill? How graphic should my warnings be? I found out the other day, when Jem explained to me, matter-of-factly: “A real gun would DIE you. A pretend gun _wouldn't_ die you.”

--Question: how on earth does he know this??

Last night, walking to FROG to pick up our eggs, Jem was impressed by the darkness. (He's gotten used to our long summer days, which are rapidly shortening.) He pointed up to the sky and asked, “What are those lights up there?” And suddenly I knew--now I'd get to share this crazy primordial moment with my son: Those are Stars, Jem, I told him. “I not want to go see them, because there's FIRE up there,” Jem informed me. They're _super_ far away, I told him, so you don't have to worry. Silence for a moment. “How many stars are they?” Lots and lots, I said. Millions! Billions! Trillions! SUPER lots!! “WOW!” Jem said, in this very grown-up, understanding sort of way, and then giggled at such a funny story, made up by his crazy mama, about large numbers of floating fires up in the sky.


In the News:

Ecovillage was recently featured in the Huffington Post:…

I had no idea that I reside in a real, live commune...


Two really nice things about watching movies with Jeff:

--He turns down the volume on the loud parts, even though he would rather not.
--He always sits on the couch over to one side, so that someone else can sit in the Perfectly Centered Spot.


We watched “Adventureland” this week, which was great, visually fun (an amusement park!! Totally retro! Lots of Color!), and full of Quirky Characters who weren't concerned with food allergies in the least. Recommended by me if you're in the mood for a Romantic Fluffball Upper-Intellectual-Feeling Comedy.


Two weeks ago, Ben got a paper airplane stuck in a tree. I was about to abandon it, since it was an entirely wind-free day, the airplane was up _very_ high, and the tree was way too big to shake. But then I thought, If I could just hit it with something, I'd knock it loose. So I found this large, unidentified nut-type projectile on the ground and launched it toward the airplane.

I missed, totally, by about ten feet. Ben and Jem tittered. And you know what? It was suddenly very clear to me that I was NOT leaving until I'd retrieved the damn thing.

About ten minutes (and countless throws) later, I _finally_, by sheer luck, knocked the airplane down. “That took a looooong time,” Ben commented.

In the afternoon, I sent out an e-mail: “As of today, I have decided to do what it takes to cease 'throwing like a girl.' I want to be able to throw accurately and far! Are you, or is someone you know, skilled at instructing an absolute beginner?? Thanks for considering, --Sarabeth”

Last Sunday, my neighbor gave me my first forty-five-minute practice session. I was totally, comically _nervous_, but by the end I was throwing just a little bit better than before.

My arm ached for four days, but you gotta start somewhere.


In case you would like a succinct, well-written explanation of the theory behind the GAPS diet, here's a good, short article (written by the doctor in San Francisco with whom we consulted in June):…

Also: I want to create a comprehensive GAPS Frequently Asked Questions list. This way, I can direct curious folks to refer to a tidy chart, rather than my untidy short-term memory-recall system.

And this is where I'd appreciate your help, dear Readers of This Letter:

Pretend (if you aren't already) that you're _really_ skeptical of this diet, and its efficacy at treating Autism Spectrum Disorder, Celiac, Crohn's, ADHD, Depression, etc. Can you send me any questions or criticisms you might have? I'd like to hear the concerns that might stand in the way of someone even believing that GAPS is a good idea.

Thanks in advance!


“In 1964, when the physicist Richard Feynman presented what would become a renowned series of lectures at Cornell University, he observed that it was a natural condition of scientists to be biased or prejudiced toward their beliefs. That bias, Feynman said, would ultimately make no difference, 'because if your bias is wrong a perpetual accumulation of experiments will perpetually annoy you until they cannot be disregarded any longer.'...”

“'Forming hypotheses is one of the most precious faculties of the human mind and is necessary for the development of science. Sometimes, however, hypotheses grow like weeds and lead to confusion instead of clarification. Then one has to clear the field, so that the operational concepts can grow and function. Concepts should relate as directly as possible to observation and measurements, and be distorted as little as possible by explanatory measurements.' --Max Kleiber”

“...the dominant approach over the past fifty years toward understanding the chronic diseases of civilization has been to assume that they are only coincidentally related, that each disease has its unique causal factors associated with the Western diet and lifestyle, although dietary fat, saturated fat, serum cholesterol, and excess weight invariably remain prime suspects.”

--”Good Calories, Bad Calories,” by Gary Taubes (pp 82-83, 136, 138-139)

I know, Athena, you're sick of my obsession. But I cannot get over exactly how much dietary second-guessing is going on in my head these days, and currently I want everyone I know to read Taubes' book and tell me in detail what they think of it.

The book is _dense_. It's got over a hundred pages of (dense) footnotes. And Taubes is compelling enough that I'm beginning to question even theories that once (like, last week) seemed the most rock-solid of all:

--Restricting your calories and/or lowering your fat intake and/or exercising are effective means to lose weight. (And the corollary: overweight and obese people, on average, consume more calories and exercise less than their lean peers.)
--A calorie from quinoa is the same as a calorie from beef, thermodynamically speaking, and these calories are utilized in our bodies in the same way.
--Eating your fresh vegetables is one of the single most important ways to stay healthy.
--Animal (specifically saturated) fat is harmful, and leads to clogged arteries and heart disease and cancer, among many other ills.
--Excessive sodium intake causes high blood pressure.
--High cholesterol is bad.
--Fiber is important for good health.
--Lowering ones consumption of animal foods is a healthy goal.
--Grains are a valuable part of the human diet.
–........[many, many more “common-sense” observations].......

It's almost impossible to mention this book without trying to summarize the science, which, I'm now realizing, is a Really Bad trap to fall into, if you happen to be an amateur science/nutrition/lifestyle writer.

But as I read this book--and this simple activity is boggling my mind and dropping my jaw--I'm learning about research I never heard of before, and interpretations that are different than any I've encountered, and I wonder: _what if those above-mentioned bullet points are NOT TRUE??_ I'm not saying they aren't true. I'm just saying (even if you only agree with one or two bullet points to begin with): _Consider the possibility_.

Because here's the thing: from a purely selfish, anecdotal standpoint, if my very short list of bullets were full of truisms, and fiber and vegetables and good carbs and good fats and no meat was the answer, my little family would be a shining example of good health right now, because we've had the "healthiest" diet according to these theories for YEARS.

This is the biggest reason I'm turning into such a heretic.

I just know that there's a lot of the Food story that we're missing, even to someone like me who thought that simply shopping at food co-ops is a counterculture ideal. I can't help but think this, as I reevaluate everything I ever thought I knew about diet. I look around and realize that I know almost NO ONE, even in such an enlightened place as Ithaca where so many people care about their health, and do their exercise, and reduce their exposure to toxics, etc., who is TRULY healthy. I don't mean this in a derogatory way at ALL--just that everyone I know suffers from some combination of autoimmune issues, depression, asthma, overweight, ADHD, hormonal imbalance, neurological issues, gastrointestinal complaints, food allergies/intolerance, heart disease/vascular problems in general diabetes, etc. etc. etc.

Now I'm interested in an idea that is very new to me: examining symptoms and situations that we think are causal (i.e. overeating causes weight gain, or eating vegetables makes you healthy, or saturated fat leads to heart attacks) and considering: What if there are entirely different causes? What if _both_ facts are actually _effects_??

And so, Athena, this is a long-winded explanation of how come I'm unable to stop asking: WHY is this? Are we really so helpless to get ourselves out of the human mess we're in?? Maybe, but I'm hoping that is one of the truisms to add to my list of assumptions...