Sassy Words

We’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show via the PBS app with the kids. Sometimes, we watch an episode by ourselves without the kids and watch it again all together. The other night, we sat down to watch the finale together.

Vanessa: I was not super impressed by the finale.
MC: I was not super impressed by you watching it without us.

I probably should have checked her tone, but watching a first grader laying it down like that…

Creating A Buffer

I haven’t worked in an office since 2010, but when I did, I would get off at work at 5:30 p.m., jump into the car or head to the bus stop, and have a solid 30 minutes alone in my own thoughts. I could push myself to finish up everything and had a built-in buffer before walking in the door, becoming again “husband” and “father”.

Now, I work in the office off of the dining room. I leave work at 5:30 p.m. By 5:30:01 p.m., I need to be in husband and father mode already. The twins are already each wrapped around a leg yelling at me to show me whatever craft they made that day. The older three are often yelling to get my attention to talk about school or camp or whatever filled their day (or they’re yelling at each other). V is giving me orders on what’s outstanding to get dinner on the table.

In distributed work, one of the often overlooked differences compared to conventional environments is the need to create a buffer between your work time and your home time. Even if we have the discipline to keep the phone in a drawer and the laptop on the dock, allowing us time to mentally leave work before needing to mentally enter back home is hard.

Fairly often, I’ll have a tense conversation in the last few minutes before the end of my day. Another difference from my conventional office life is at the office, everyone is going to get off around the same time so no one brought up a major issue in the last few minutes of the day unless it was critical to be addressed then. When in a remote environment, it may be the end of my day, but a solid portion of the team may still have a few hours left in their day or may have just started it.

I don’t have a magic solution to this problem. I have to try to think harder before I speak or react than usual. No one at home knows what conversation I’m replaying in my mind because it didn’t go as expected or what may have just dropped into my lap on my way out the door that will change the rest of my week. It isn’t their fault and they don’t deserve to be the recipient of my raw feeling.

In addition to thinking harder before speaking, if I can’t get something out of my head, I’ll excuse myself to a paper notebook—specifically not my phone or my laptop—to write out quick notes on what is stuck in my head. “Respond to Joe and ask about the data’s source”. I do this on paper because it gets out of my head, I can leave the physical paper on my keyboard so I can pick it up in the morning, and I can’t get sucked into continuing a conversation or being diverted by another ping that I would see on my phone or computer.

What tactics to you use to help instantly build a wall between your mental state and work when you walk out of your office?

 

My Kingdom for My Kid

Our oldest has a number of food allergies—dairy, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts. They’re legit allergies—we do annual skin tests and blood work. Once we thought she might be up for eggs in baked goods based on the tests, so we did a food challenge.

A food challenge is where you’re advised to bring something made with exactly the allergen being challenged (in our case, muffins made with eggs), they weigh it, then give it to you over a period of time while waiting for a reaction. In short, it’s a few hours of playing Candy Land with your kid, watching them eat pieces after pieces of muffins waiting to see if their bodies flip out.

At the end of the day, no. She’s still allergic to all of that. Allergies often—and they hoped it would—go away by age 5. As we approach age 8, the blood work indicates she is more allergic to nuts than before.

Initially, it was a badge of honor. She got to wear the special allergy bracelet to school, despite an uniform code disallowing jewelry. But, as the year go on, it is no longer a good thing to be different. She’s the weird one in class. She’s the one that just wants to be a kid, yet always has to be mindful of whether that thing will set her off on, at best, a day or so of feeling crummy.

Hell, even when in the hospital for an asthma attack, she wouldn’t go to a Christmas Eve dinner for kids and families in the hospital without her hospital tray of food because she was afraid they wouldn’t have anything for her to eat if she didn’t bring food she knew to be safe. And that was only after asking me multiple times if the hospital understood her allergies.

As hard as it is to have five kids 7 and under, as hard as it is to have two-year-old twins, the most painful part of fatherhood for me so far is seeing O struggle with this. A classmate’s birthday is this weekend, so there is a pizza party at school for him tomorrow. This is great! It’s such a sweet thing for his family to bring pizza and ice cream for the class. Everyone can celebrate—it isn’t excluding any of the kids who can’t attend a party over the weekend. I’m happy they’re doing something for the class. But, O can’t eat any of it.

I’m tired too. Yes, I could enquire about where they’re getting it, if from the one place in town we know has a dairy-free cheese option, could they add on a pizza that she could eat, or where are they getting the ice cream from. If Amy’s Ice Cream, they have ices that are dairy-free, etc, etc. Pipe dream, it would be from the all-vegan Sweet Ritual, which is the ice cream version of Vanessa’s Que Bueno Bakery. But I’m tired. And O needs to accept that life sucks and sometimes she just can’t have what everyone else is having. I have to pick my battles.

What I wouldn’t give to take this burden off of her. I mean, it’s stupid on one hand. Children are literally being blown up—or seeing their parents blown up—in Syria right now. She lives in a beautiful house in a picturesque neighborhood in a city where the biggest issues are traffic and if the State will override the city’s ban against plastic bags. On the other hand, I am more and more aware that this is an ever-present thing on her mind.

She’s 7. She should be able just to eat pizza with her classmates. Or eat at a holiday dinner in a hospital. Or be able to eat ice cream without care. Enjoy tacos, or pizza, or eating anywhere without needing to call a manager, explain specifics, reiterate those specifics—grilled in butter does violate a dairy allergy—and hope the cook and manager understood each other (this is why we stick to the places we know). But alas, she’s telling me at bedtime, teary-eyed, again, that she doesn’t understand why her body hates her.

So yes, in the end, I just want her to feel normal. I want her to be able to be able to walk into a situation and not have to play through her mind how to handle it with her allergies. I want to take away her self-doubt, her feelings of isolation, and her realization that she will never fit into her peer group.

There isn’t a damn thing I can do that does anything more than mitigate things a tad. And that’s the hardest thing of fatherhood so far.

“I hate you, Daddy!”

Editor’s Note: I started this post two years ago, but never finished it.

On the eve of Father’s Day (granted, a made up celebration only to serve as a complement to Mother’s Day, equally as invented), while putting MC to sleep, she told me she hated me.

My offense was telling her to go to bed and she’s a stubborn three-year-old.

One weakness of fatherhood is we are all biased. We all have had some experience of fatherhood already that leaves us with baggage as we search for fatherhood with our own kids. Some of us lacked a father figure at home at all, others of us had flawed fathers dealing with their own demons, perhaps still others had picture perfect fathers and struggle to meet that expectation.

I was not hurt by her saying that. As harsh as this sounds, I know she is a senseless child who doesn’t know nor means what she says, at least today.

Fast forwarding two years from then until now, MC doesn’t say she hates me often anymore. Now, she says that I hate her when I stand my ground on something she doesn’t want to do.

I fear it isn’t just a phase. I fear she’ll think any attempt to advise her is originated out of hate, not love. Of all of the difficult moments of fatherhood, those moments are the ones that dig at me the most now. Oh how I wish she’d call me names instead of thinking I hate her. She’s only five, so there’s time, but what are the teenage years going to be like?

Never mind, don’t answer that.

Everything Has A Place

At La Casa de Kraft, it is quite an operation. Between food allergies, particular preferences, and the twins’ nutritional needs, we have five different kinds of milk in the fridge at this moment. We can stuff the fridge full on Monday morning and have it nearly empty by Sunday afternoon.

One thing that V did to bring order to the chaos was to give a place for everything and make sure everything has a place. It is one thing to create a system like this for just the two of us, but with some of the kids able to get things out of the fridge, in-laws, and simply the chaos, we needed a bit more.

Armed with some plastic bins and a label maker, chaos has been brought to order.

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Top of the list, back of the bin.

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Of course, sometimes, Mommy and Daddy need a little space. That counts for the fridge too. It might be the unlabeled space….image

While not every single space is labeled, everything has a place. It is amazing how quickly things fall apart when we stop following the system for even a day. What ways do y’all bring order to chaos?

A Chocolate Bar

My oldest is allergic to a lot of different things. In addition to various environmental triggers, she is allergic to milk and all dairy products, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts, as well as anything that has any of those items in it.

We’ve known she’s been allergic to this litany since she was eight months old. We’ve had blood tests done annually. Skin tests at least as often. Tried a food challenge of a muffin baked with an egg once. She’s not any less allergic now and we’re over a year past the magic age of five that her allergist hoped would see her outgrow them.

She handles it well. She likes to wear her medical alert bracelet, a fun kid food allergy one. She rolls with the extra doctor appointments and blood tests. She gets through birthday parties and school.

School has been hard—obviously we make her lunch everyday, we try to send her with homemade vegan baked goods on days they’re celebrating a birthday or to a birthday party. Everything is rewarded with a pizza party. Thankfully, there is one place in town that has a vegan cheese option, but she’s still the kid with the different pizza

People do try—the mom at school who runs the ice cream sales started stocking a frozen fruit option, so she can join in with her classmates who buy a treat the couple times a month they do it.

But, we forget sometimes. And sometimes, she just is tired of being different. Oreo’s are an easy-to-find O-friendly sweet, but it isn’t cake. It isn’t what the other kids eat. She very, very rarely complains about it though.

Tonight, we asked the girls what they would want as their Santa gift. O is old enough that she knows Santa as a game—she is a St. Nicholas helper now. MC asked for a princess this-or-that. T asked for a bike. Normal kid stuff.

O asked for a chocolate bar.

“I never really get to eat a chocolate bar”, she said. Vegan chocolate bars aren’t cheap and so we’ve bought, perhaps, one for her once. It’s easier and more cost-efficient to find the one kind of chocolate chips at the store that she can eat and make cookies out of them, or something like that.

But, all that said, she’s been given candy bars for Halloween that she had to surrender. Her friends and sisters can eat candy bars, Hershey kisses, and anything else without the slightest care. Her thought when someone offers her something sweet is to ask what is in it, and almost every time, decline.

I asked her if she wanted one with almonds or not. Almonds—despite being a tree nut—is one thing she can eat. She didn’t care. She said she could pick out the almonds if she didn’t like them.

I feel like we’re in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and our home on Christmas will be like Charlie’s. All of the excitement in the house will be watching a kid eat a single piece of candy.

It breaks my heart that all my little girl wants for Christmas is a piece of chocolate. 💔 🎄🍫

Sisterly Care

I was hanging out yesterday with the four youngest kiddos while V took O to a birthday party. First, crawling twins are incredibly “fun” to keep up with and try to prevent them from toppling over everything they pull themselves up on.

MC, our four-year old, is not always the most attentive child. I love her to tears, but I wouldn’t peg her as the “Daddy’s Little Helper” type. She marches to her own beat.

She yelled at me “The baby has something in her mouth!”

I wasn’t sure what she said at first.

“She’s biting something!”

Before I had a chance to get to the baby, MC had ran over, stuck her finger in her mouth, and fished out the little piece of a wicker chair that had flaked off.

I am so proud of her. She realized how dangerous it was for one of her baby sisters to be eating something unknown, got my attention, and went into action to resolve it. At the end of the day, the little piece wouldn’t have caused any harm, I don’t think, but who knows what it could have been.

Later on, she realized the twins were quite interested in the little collection of Cheerios and other foodstuffs they had thrown off their trays earlier at lunch. Totally unprompted she says “They shouldn’t try to eat those. They’re old. I’m going to sweep.” She went to the closet, pulled out a toy broom and a dust pan, then cleaned up the floor around the table.

No deep reflection on this besides I’m really proud of MC. She really wants to take care of her sisters.

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