I’m no stranger to traveling and have planned for larger groups, but planning Walt Disney World for a family of nine (in-laws too!) is a whole new level of madness.
Monday. A shattered soap dispenser, another hand closed in a door, and a plant knocked off the mantle. Monday.
Dorothy figured out to get out of her crib last night, which means Ana will learn tomorrow. She climbed out, went to sleep on Teresa’s bed, then nearly fell out of bed if we didn’t catch her. She had found her water bottle and it fell off the bed, which led us to investigate just in time before she would have rolled off. The era of child captivity is over.
I wasn’t going to share my Lenten observance publicly. Most years, it has been something that was work, requiring some change in my life, but admittedly, seldom gave much food for thought.
This year was different and gave me a new perspective on something that I thought I understood already. My Lenten practice this year was to eat as if I had the same food allergies as Olivia, my eldest, who is allergic to animal milk, eggs, most tree nuts, and peanuts.
I didn’t think the practice would be that hard. She’s in second grade. We’ve been dealing with this for a while now. It was amazing how eye-opening this experience has been.
I did horrible at it too. If I was actually allergic to these foods, I would be dead right now. First, we made an early concession. She eats a lot of grains for breakfast (cereal, toast, etc), which are a recipe for me to double my weight in a week, so it was acceptable for me to eat eggs for breakfast.
Then another concession: I’m not in charge of food for the house and Olivia isn’t home for lunch during the school week. Vanessa wasn’t keen and I wasn’t apt to push her to make sure lunches were Olivia-friendly.
Huh, this is already harder than I thought it would be.
Dining out was interesting. With O, we would generally tell her what singular option she could eat, since often there is only one or two, and that’s her meal. I never realized, at least coming from the perspective of having the menu before me, how limiting that really is. Don’t feel like the chicken? Too bad. Don’t like that entrée? Tough, unless you’d rather not eat. Or, if there were other options, they were smaller items that left me hungry.
All in all, I didn’t faithfully follow it. I cheated all the time. Not because I wanted to cheat—I didn’t sneak food one night because I was craving it—but it is so hard to live with food allergies. Did I want to be that guy that grilled the wait staff about what was in each menu item? When I asked someone if it had dairy and they replied “Eh, I don’t think so”, do I push them on it?
I do it for my kid, but we also naturally gravitate to the places we know are safe for the family now. It is one thing to show up somewhere and realize the only thing your kid can eat is the fruit salad and toast when they’re two. It’s harder to get away with that when they’re seven. Before going some place new, we need to check out their menu online, verify if they have allergen information on it (or at least see if their menu even suggests something might meet her needs), then call ahead to verify.
I realized in a fresh and new way how mindful she has to be of food constantly. I vented a bit about it on my daddyblog. To follow this Lenten practice, it wasn’t just keeping sweets out of the house or not buying soda at the store or something relatively isolated. To fully follow it, I would have to transform how I think about food and expand how often I think about it. It radically changed how I think about Olivia and food allergies—this is after growing up in a home with a mom allergic to tomatoes and being co-responsible for Olivia’s food for seven years. I truly thought I understood better.
As the sunsets on Good Friday and Lent 2017, while I’m very eager to eat without thinking about milk, eggs, or nuts, it is going to be a long time until I stop hearing this new voice
This missive from the parents of 12 kids is, all in all, a very interesting roadmap for raising a family, but I reject one particular portion.
We did not have snacks between meals. We always had the four food groups (meat, dairy, grain, fruits and vegetables) and nearly always had dessert of some kind. To this day, our kids are not afraid to try different foods, and have no allergies to foods. They try all kinds of new foods and eat only until they are full. Not one of our kids is even a little bit heavy. They are thin, athletic, and very healthy. With 12 kids, you would think that at least one would have some food allergies or food special needs. (I am not a doctor.)
While I encourage kids to try different foods and provide a balance meal, the insinuation that children with food allergies have them due to improper parenting is wrong. [Read more…] about Food Allergies Aren’t From Bad Parenting
Over the weekend, Olivia went to the hospital. Like her previous hospital admit, she had an asthma attack at home we couldn’t get under control so we went to Dell Children’s Medical Center’s ER. Like last time, she needed to more medicine than we could administer to her at home so she was admitted.
Four of our five kids have been admitted into the hospital—Olivia twice for asthma, Catalina for a tonsillectomy, and the twins for the NICU stay and a second time for RSV. From experience, it never is fun, no matter if it is planned or unplanned. Christmas Eve, though?
Dell Children’s was a place of such generosity.
When we went to the ER, I was optimistic that we wouldn’t be there long and didn’t think to bring any additional clothing for Olivia. After they realized we were going to be there for awhile, they pulled some pajamas—including pants with emoji on them. Olivia pointing and trying to laugh at them through an asthma attack while on a treatment got us through a solid portion of the initial hour-long treatment.
The staff, as always, were some of the nicest folks around. I couldn’t really complain that we only ended up with three hours of sleep. 😴
Up on the floor, I was surprised when a representative from Dell’s Child Life Department visited. Their office basically tries to make the hospital as kid-friendly as possible. She told me that Austin Police Department’s Blue Santa program would be stopping by in a few minutes to drop off a gift and asked if I would be okay if local media filmed it. After saying they really didn’t need to do that, I signed the media release.
Olivia is a good kid. She handles all of her medical things pretty well. She doesn’t complain much and makes the best of almost any situation. She was labeled their “happy wheezer” since she was in better spirits than most kids in her medical condition.
Even with her cheery default, her reaction to the assistant police chief entering the room with a stuffed bunny was great to see—true surprise. I didn’t give away why Child Life came to talk to me.
Added on, the Jennifer Wilks Foundation had a holiday dinner in the family room outside of Olivia’s unit that they graciously invited us to and gave us both a surprise gift. Beyond generous.
I know how lucky we are. The twins were only in the NICU for 11 days. Olivia only has asthma and severe food allergies. We were in the NICU next to triplets that were in there nearing 90 days. Jennifer, of the Jennifer Wilks Foundation, was in the hospital for over 400 days. We are lucky compared to too many.
That said, I forget how much Olivia has to deal with compared to most kids. We were invited to the holiday dinner, but Olivia didn’t want to go unless we could bring her hospital food tray. It took me a little time until I got out of her why—she was afraid that 1. she wouldn’t be able to eat what they had because of her allergies and more importantly 2. if they didn’t know how the food was made and gave us incorrect information, then she would react to it and I wouldn’t have her allergy medicine with me.
Seeing how excited she was to still go to the dinner nevertheless, to get a toy from Blue Santa, to have Jennifer Wilks Foundation visit, my heart was full.
We didn’t need the charity. Olivia had plenty of toys under the tree back at home. As Olivia herself said, it meant much to her to know that people were thinking about the kids in the hospital and to me, to see how it brighten her day, it was the best gift I could have received this Christmas. I’m so full of gratitude toward the community and feel the duty to contribute ourselves.
Over the last few months, I’ve let plenty of negativity in and seeing the selfless good from the community was a very welcomed and needed breath of fresh air.
In the end, Olivia was able to escape on Christmas Eve night and we were able to wake up together on Christmas morning. While the visit was short, my gratitude toward Dell Hospital, the Austin Police Department, those that donated to Blue Santa, and the Jennifer Wilks Foundation and their volunteers and donors will extend for a long time to come.
In the final days before Christmas, I found myself in Target on a late-night hunt for a few last presents for the kiddos. It has been a long time since I’ve been in the toy section of any store, much less alone in one without any kids.
The last few times I’ve been in the toys section, it has been with kids. My experience generally goes like this:
Me: Oh, the kids will enjoy going through the toy aisle. It’ll be something fun during this boring errand.
Turns into aisle.
Kids: Wow! Can we get this!? Stop stop, I want to play with this toy-in-a-box for five solid minutes. Dad, can you ask Grandma to get this for me? I’ve never seen this toy in my life and now it is all I can talk about.
Twins: Yelling at me until I give them a ball larger than they are.
Kids: Continuing. Isn’t this what we bought for John for his birthday? This toy makes really really loud annoying noises! I’m going to press all of the buttons. Let me run away from you to around the corner while my sister runs the opposite way. How about we yell too!
Me: … We have to leave right now.
Turns out of aisle.
I have well-behaved kids, I thought. I thought they were well-behaved kids. Something about the toy aisle makes them go savage.
This night was different. I was alone. My primary objective was to find this Password Journal—the latest in kid cartoon advertising fodder, a journal that only unlocks to your voice! Keep your pesky brother out of your journal! We already had one, but Target had it cheaper and, in theory, in stock. (Spoiler Alert: Look at the picture. They did not).
But alas, I can’t return empty-handed, so down each aisle I went in case one was hidden in the wrong place.1 As I went down each aisle, an internal monologue started:
Huh, that’s pretty cool. Let me check it out.
I wouldn’t expect that to make that sound. Let me try it again.
The kids would probably like this, but I don’t want to buy it for them. I wonder if Grandma would find it interesting.
Ya know, that kid in Teresa’s class would probably like this. Oh, oh, Olivia’s classmate got that for his birthday!
I was reverting back! After all these years, I could kill more time than I care to admit in the toy section of Target—as long as there were no kids in sight.
- I used to hide toys that I wished I could have on random shelves in the toy section. I was sure my parents would change their minds and I would prove to myself how clever I am. I don’t think it ever worked. ↩