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The longer I’ve been a parent, the more skeptical I become of the concept of preschool. I think it is telling that the very best preschools look remarkably like a home, in fact they look remarkably like my home. What do I feel is missing from my home that I would hope for from a preschool? Well, a room full of happy, laughing children. Friendship. Fellowship. That’s it in a nutshell, really.

And so, with this lofty goal in mind I’ve been going preschool hunting for our youngest daughter, who has her feet in the worlds of both a neurotypical child, who can express herself verbally and is giggly and funny and loves people and an autistic child, who requires direct, simple communication and guidance to focus her attention on the task at hand.

I didn’t really expect my search for a preschool to end up being a search for compassion and human decency, but that’s what it becomes for the parent of a differently abled child. In fact, I’d recommend borrowing a child like mine if you don’t actually have one, because this will be the quickest way to establish a true picture of the heart and soul of a preschool, which is the staff. Do you want a preschool that embraces and encourages children of all abilities? No? Well, consider your neurotypical child at his or her worst, crankiest, and least lovable. Now what kind of preschool do you want?

I had very high hopes for a preschool in our area that billed itself as offering a “progressive, contemplative education.” It claimed to “celebrate diversity,” and pledged “allegiance to {ourselves}, to the soul inside {us} that is in everything: one person under peace, true to {ourselves} and others, treating people the way {we} want to be treated, and bringing love to Earth through the celebration of life.” Awesome.

I took Faith for a visit on Tuesday and I could tell it wasn’t going to work although she did pretty well–just a feeling. It was kind of like they were acting the part of what they thought wholesome people should be like. Except they weren’t actually wholesome. Wearing Birkenstocks, eating barley and nutritional yeast, and reading stories about fairies doesn’t make you a decent person as it turns out.

The conversation in which they reject our daughter for their school (their words are actual quotes, mine are what I wish I’d said):

Them: Well, we discussed it with the teacher and she said she didn’t feel she would be able to teach in the way she wanted to teach if she were to accept your daughter.

Me: Yes, of course that’s fine. I believe there’s a section in the Americans with Disabilities Act that specifically says that not wanting to accept differently abled people is perfectly appropriate and it’s not necessary to do anything that might inconvenience yourself to accommodate them.

Them: I’m glad you’re so understanding about it!

Me: It’s not easy to choose to discriminate against a learning disabled child; I certainly don’t want to make this any more difficult for you!

Them: Well, even though we don’t want your daughter to attend the school, we want to extend an invitation to you and your family to attend some of the family events and social activities we have coming up–the Harvest Festival is next month.

Me: I think that would be extraordinarily awkward. But do let me know if you have any activities planned to celebrate Diversity Day or anything like that. We’d be glad to show up so you could show other parents the kind of diversity that’s not popular or trendy and that you don’t really want around.

Next up: a nearby Montessori school. I’ll hopefully be updating this post with more revelations about what “being kind, loving and respectful to ourselves, others, and all living things” really means.

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OtterMama gets asked a lot about our family’s somewhat “eccentric” diet. As much as possible, we strive to be gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, soy-free, corn-free, yeast-free and sugar-free. Fortunately, we have an abundant supply of grass growing in the yard, although, being vegetarians, we have to carefully screen out the bugs. Note to PETA..are insect eggs vegan? If only we were ruminants, how simple life would be! No, being unable to convert cellulose to glucose, our family must rely on a fair amount of conventional food.

Some people, including those with Celiac’s Disease, which is an autoimmune disorder linked to gluten malabsorbtion in the gut, are interested in learning about our diet because they are hoping to add to their recipe repertoire, and some people, like my mother-in-law, just want to avoid any situations that might result in less than daily visits by her grandchildren.

I will be posting a future blog article on reasons for and how to go about converting children to a gluten-free or at least gluten-diminished diet, but for now I will just list many of the foods we use and recommend.

Supplemental digestive enzymes (Houston Neutraceuticals is one source) and probiotics can dramatically increase the amount of nutrients your body gets from the food you eat, especially critical if your lawn grass is not vitamin-enriched!

We supplement any nutrients we may be deficient in (calcium, A, B, D, E, and K.) Antioxidants like C and E also help the body absorb nutrients.

No meat, fish or eggs means we do a lot of rice, beans, vegetables and some fruit. We try not to overdo the fruit. Anything too sweet leads to yeast overgrowth, which we don’t like to discuss in polite company.

We avoid processed soy for several reasons.  (http://www.utne.com/2007-07-01/Science-Technology/The-Dark-Side-of-Soy.aspx)

Here’s a list of foods we buy and/or prepare:

  • coconut milk whenever possible (medium chain fatty acids and natural yeast fighters). Turtle Mountain makes this and you can find it alongside the soymilk in major grocery stores. I heat up coconut milk to evaporate some of the liquid, let it cool then add some live cultures (you can use a spoonful of live culture coconut mik–again Turtle Mountain sells this) and make my own “yogurt.” Bonus if you use real coconut water from a young green coconut.
  • hemp milk, rice milk, almond milk (the hemp milk is high in omega 3’s, which are supposed to promote brain health
  • Arrowhead Mills gluten-free baking mix (this has corn, so if you have a corn allergy, it won’t work), used to make pancakes (I mix in nutritious stuff I have like pumpkin, butternut squash, bananas, flaxseed meal) or I make pancake mix from scratch with rice flour, potato starch, baking powder, salt and a little xanthan gum
  • I use the above pancake mix to make cookies too (sorghum flour is also very good if you can find it)
  • strawberry smoothies with any nutritious food I have in the house thrown in  such as hemp milk, strawberries, dairy-free acidophilus powder, rice protein, hemp protein, bananas, sprouts (I grow these at home), almond or peanut butter, carrots, romaine lettuce, spinach, sunflower seeds, canned pumpkin, etc.
  • potatoes, cooked with onions and olive oil, sprinkled with salt
  • frozen or homemade french fries
  • sunflower seed burgers (bought from health food store)
  • banana millet bread by Sami’s bakery with peanut butter
  • lentil soup
  • grains like millet, amaranth, quinoa, brown rice and wild rice
  • brown rice and vegetables sauteed in olive oil
  • canned vegetarian refried beans mixed with cooked onions, black beans, black olives and salsa
  • cut up apples, carrots, all kinds of raw and cooked vegetables and fruit
  • unsweetened apple sauce
  • Bush’s canned chickpeas (other brands aren’t as good)
  • hummus (homemade or store bought, check the ingredients)
  • rice cakes (whole grain brown rice)
  • gluten-free pasta by the buttload (you have to try a couple different brands to see which ones you think are edible)
  • unsweetened rice crispies
  • cream of rice (brown rice if possible)
  • flaxseed meal (more omega 3s)
  • flaxseed oil, hemp oil
  • agave nectar (low glycemic index, so it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels as dramatically as other forms of sugar)
  • GoodLife foods, like their packaged cookies, are the best-tasting, least allergenic I have found

Please post with any of your favorite gf-foods and nutritional advice… OtterMama-In-Laws want to know!

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