My daughter Eva is a fairly adventurous eater. She has always been willing to try things like salmon, edamame, gyros, and curry, usually with a shrug and a pronouncement like, "Yummy!" This is convenient for me, but I suppose not unheard-of amongst preschoolers.
Slightly more unusual, though, is her outstanding attachment to cheese. It's often one of the first things I hear her tell people about herself, and even one way she categorizes people ("Daddy and Daniel DON'T like cheese, but Mommy and Eva DO like cheese"). She has the uncanny ability to sense when I'm about to grate some cheese, and before I've even closed the deli drawer I can hear her running from the other end of the house to see what she can mooch from among the dinner ingredients. She's willing to eat feta straight from the brick, and when I built our container garden the summer before last, she insisted that she wanted to use one of the plots to grow cheese. It's not surprising, then, that she also enjoys sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and just plain old milk by the glass.
A few weeks ago, we took Eva to the allergist. There were a lot of reasons we finally went, including congestion that coincided with ragweed season, her history of breaking out in spots after taking penicillin, and her daily complaints of stomachaches (and okay, let's be real here, mostly it's that we've already met our deductible this year). They tested her for dozens of things, and when it was all over I saw the doctor make only 2 marks on his paper. Some kind of outdoor mold, and... cow's milk. I gasped a little when he said it, and looked quickly at Eva to gauge her reaction, as if at 3 she could really grasp the ramifications of such a pronouncement.
The doctor explained that this meant no milk, cheese, yogurt, or any processed food containing cow's milk of any kind for one month, at which time we could check in with her symptoms and consider gradually adding back limited exposure to some cooked milk products. Eva continued playing in the exam room, but seemed to be slightly more interested in our conversation now. I started kicking myself for promising to get her ice cream if she did a good job at the allergist. As we walked to the car, I explained that we'd have to find some other treat, and Eva was pouting and yelling as she stomped, "I. Am. Not. All. er. gic. To. MILK!"
We went to the store to buy some soy milk and to look for a treat, only to find out that there is pretty much milk in EVERYTHING. I was a little overwhelmed when our first half-dozen label reads turned up milk in the allergy warning section. I also felt like THAT MOM the next day at her school, asking that my child be given special treatment in the breakfast menu department. Eva seemed a little bummed out that first day, but the idea of having her own special milk in a pretty container perked her up a little.
The thing about this whole story, though, is the way Eva adjusted in a heartbeat. She pouted in the parking lot, let out a disappointed groan in the grocery store when she learned chocolate is now out, and then woke up the next day a new kid. Bam! No more asking for cheese, no hard feelings when other people get ice cream, no trying to sneak things or push limits. Nothing. Now, before eating any food she asks in a deadpan voice, "Does this have any milk, dairy, mold, or cheese in it?" despite my reassurance that milk, dairy, and cheese all mean the same thing and that mold is not really a food allergy. This morning she corrected me when I sleepily poured cow's milk on her cereal. She is becoming a connoisseur of milk alternatives, and claims that soy milk tastes like marshmallows while some brands of almond milk taste "like icky."
This is not the first time Eva has reacted this way. She practically emerged from the womb sucking her thumb, and as soon as she had hair she began using her other hand to engage in the simultaneous hair-twirl/thumb suck maneuver. When her hair started falling out Kyle and I launched a full-out intervention, with lectures, restrictive hairstyles, continuous daytime parental nagging, and nighttime mitten-wearing. We didn't even attempt to address the thumb-sucking, we just wanted her to stop pulling out her hair. And it was a terrible, losing battle that left all three of us frustrated.
Until this summer, when we went to the dentist. He took one look at her mouth and said, "I see we have a thumb-sucker here." That dentist explained ONE time that she needed to stop doing that, because it would keep her teeth from working properly and make her look less pretty in the long run. That night I found her digging through her sock drawer, looking for something to put over her thumb to stop her from sucking it at night. She wore the socks on her hands for about a month, but I honestly never saw her suck her thumb again after the first day or two. It was Kyle and I who suggested she stop wearing the socks at night, so thoroughly did she stop both the thumb sucking and the hair-twirling that day. Completely cold turkey.
And this is one of the most amazing things about my daughter; that she is able to use her stubborn will of steel to just let things go at the drop of a hat, even when that thing is something that is such a part of her that it's practically a defining characteristic. More than anyone I know, when she decides she's going to do something she just does it. I am both awed and scared to death by this quality, and what she may be capable of in ten years.
Mostly though, I'm just impressed. The other night she and I were driving back from a road trip to Columbia, and I was listening to an old Sarah McLaughlin live album. Before it even came on I realized that this will be my song to her. She is already learning the words.