How Veganism Affects My Parenting

I’m a vegan. I’m a mom. Sometimes this can make things challenging.

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I believe in being honest and open with my children. I believe in speaking to them as intelligent fellow-humans who can process properly phrased answers to their questions, even if I find answering those questions uncomfortable. However my veganism can complicate this.

How? Animal welfare and food-related questions happen. Heck, in our minivan ALL kinds of questions happen! And I answer those questions but I must try to do so in a truthful, informative way that doesn’t force my vegan views on my children but allows them to make their own informed decisions for themselves. Because the best I can do as a parent is provide my children with unconditional love, honest answers, digestible information, unwavering support, solid structure, clear moral guidance, and an accepting environment that fosters their ability to be autonomous individuals.

You see, I view my veganism to be my personal choice for myself. And just as I do not believe I have the right to alter my children’s bodies because it is not my body therefore not my choice, I feel I cannot in full moral and ethical standing force them to follow my personal lifestyle path (ex: diet, religion, hobbies, sexual orientation, political beliefs, etc.) What is right for me is not right for all, even if I’d love to think it was.

When my daughter initially began asking where certain foods came from she felt conflicted between enjoying meat and feeling sad for the animals. That was a struggle I, myself, had faced for decades. So, I offered her a solution. I told her that if she felt eating meat was the right choice for her, she could eat the meat but say a prayer to the animal saying that she was sorry that it suffered and died but thanking it for filling her belly. Then she’d have to eat her entire animal-based serving so as not to have had the animal die unnecessarily. This worked for her quite well for a while.

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Now, my house is a dietary smorgasbord. My husband is a lacto-pescatarian, my daughter is a dairy-allergic pescatarian, my middle son is a peanut- and dairy-allergic omnivore, and my youngest is technically an omnivore but is naturally more of a lacto-vegetarian as he dislikes the texture of any meat beyond hot dogs and chicken nuggets (and let’s be honest, nothing in nature is the texture of a hot dog or chicken nugget.) Then there’s dairy-allergic, gluten-intolerant vegan me. We’re all doing what’s right for us as individuals.

Some vegans may have a problem with my parenting style. They may claim I am not a vegan because I am not forcing my children and husband to eat a vegan diet all of the time. That judgment is inconsequential to me. Their problem with my parenting is just that: their problem, and not my own.

Veganism is right for me, but it’s not right for everyone (even if I wish it was.) My kids have the right to choose as much as I did. Meanwhile, they’ll learn the deliciousness that veganism can offer through our meals at home.

 

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Summer’s Here: Out-the-Door Organization

Summer is here! Trade backpacks for pool bags, school shoes for sandals. Here’s how you can swap your mudroom door organization from school daze to summer cinch in a snap.

Remember how we transformed the back of a door into an easy exit station for back-to-school (project details here)? Do a few switches to transform those same hooks for the summer season of pools and splash pads, playgrounds and playdates.

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School Daze

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Summer Cinch

Swap backpacks for pool bags. I got these kid-friendly sacks in Target’s deal bins. Each kid has their own, which contains a towel, goggles, flip-flops, a flotation device (if needed), and pool toys with our surname written on them in permanent marker. Bonus: less for me to wrangle as anything in their bag is their responsibility!

Switch the school shoes with bump toe athletic sandals (we love the Osh Kosh brand as they’ve lasted us just as long as the KEEN varieties but at half the cost, especially if you scout deals on Amazon or Zulily.) Toe coverage, sole grip, safe for water, easy on and off, and — as any laundry overloaded parent who’d love to minimize their house exiting routine by even one article of clothing can celebrate — NO SOCKS REQUIRED! From hiking to errands, biking riding to creek splashing, playgrounds to splash pads, these are a win.

Hang your own pool bag where gym shoes once rested, and you’re set! What’s in my pool bag? Sunscreens, bug spray, two towels (because one of my minions inevitably steals mine and gets it inexplicably drenched), lip balm, cheap sunglasses (the only kind I buy since I shred or lose mine by summer’s end and I just can’t handle even the tiniest scratch on a lens), water, and snacks for the kids.

Helpful additions: 1) Adhere one hook per person beside the door for winter coats or spring jackets, as I did. Just use the same damage-free hooks utilized for the rest of the project. 2) Heavy backpack? I swapped my eldest’s backpack hook with a heavy duty option. 3) Hang up the foldable stool using a damage-free hook.

Summer just got a little easier. Go soak it in!

 

The Life of an Allergy Mom: Food Allergies Suck

Food allergies suck. My family of five has a slew of dietary restrictions ranging from veganism to severe food allergy. Do we enjoy ourselves and our meals daily despite our many food limitations? Of course. Food allergies still suck though.

My eldest child is a dairy intolerant pescatarian. My husband is simply a pescatarian, who probably shouldn’t eat dairy but he does anyway because: cheese! My middle child is dairy allergic and has a severe Epi-pen requiring peanut allergy. I am a dairy allergic and gluten intolerant vegan (who is also allergic to pesticides, weed killers, latex, and raw potato… yep, that’s a thing.) Fortunately, our youngest has outgrown his infant egg allergy and now only has skin sensitivity to many soaps and lotions. We are dietary divas. I never envisioned this as my life. But here we are.

Every nutrition label thoroughly scanned, an Epi-pen in every bag, safe stand-in treats available at school in case of class parties or birthday goodies, sorting through holiday candy before the kids mistakenly ingest foe, navigating social gatherings and invitations with an eye for safety and inclusion without burdening, reviewing menus before entering a restaurant, always bringing snacks and meals when we travel. Life with food allergies requires research, forethought, and planning. It’s not an impulse game.

Due to my middle son’s severe peanut allergy, I perceive peanuts and peanut products as rattlesnakes… they may be benign or they may kill us, but there’s no telling which it’ll be. The general public, though, does not share my perspective.

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I can’t read recipes or posts regarding food that mention peanut butter without having a visceral reaction. It is no longer food… it is a lethal substance. To others,, though, peanuts are as wholesomely American as apple pie under 4th of July fireworks. I am, in turn, a bothersome inconvenience. A menace to quick brown bag lunches and trail mix everywhere.

This weekend at the zoo, we were standing watching the sea lions when mama protection mode took over me. A young girl walked up from behind us nibbling a sadwich and siddled herself directly beside my middle son. There they stood watching the graceful animals twirl and glide through the blue water. Her sticky hands beside his on the tank glass, entranced. Cute scene, right?

Then, before I registered what I was smelling, I — on forceful instinct — hurriedly shuffled my children out of the exhibit. My heart raced, my mind and body laser focused on remaining outwardly calm but achieving a quick escape.

Only as we reached the safety of the sidewalk did my mind settle enough so that I could recognize the offending scent: peanut butter.

I just bolted out of a zoo exhibit because I smelled a condiment? In no other life journey is this normal, unless you’re an allergy mom like me.

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I don’t ask “why me?” because why NOT me? Why should it be someone else? But I do really dislike food allergies. I loathe having to special order, to carefully research products before buying, fearing a common food item I once enjoyed, and others thinking segregating my child is the ethical move. It’s safer and more convenient, but is it kind?

I also loathe not having a solution that doesn’t irritate/burden others. I loathe having to make requests to keep my child safe or being seen as “that allergy mom.” I feel sad hearing that my child had to sit away from others due to food allergies. I am happy that my children are resilient.

Despite it all, I love my life. I am grateful. I love my children, idiosyncrasies, gifts, allergies, and all. Allergies are just a part of things for us.

This is life as an allergy mom.

Circling Back at the End of the Day: Family Connection Routine

Evenings are rough. At the of a long day, everyone’s harried and tired, yet the to-do list is unyielding. But we’ve found a way to circle back and connect before day’s end, and it’s so simple. It only takes 5 minutes.

Each evening, after I shower, I call down to the kids to turn off the TV,  clean up the playroom, and pick books. This has been our routine for years. Recently, after a 4AM epiphany, I added another step to the the nightly pattern.

I grabbed my favorite circle blanket, placed it on the playroom floor, and asked everyone to take a seat. We began a new evening ritual that is now so treasured that my 6-year-old races to fetch the circle blanket each night in happy anticipation.

IMG_20180124_060204_232All three kids sit on the circle blanket but, really, only the 6-year-old, 4-year-old, and I participate (the 2-year-old bobs in and out and acts as enforcer when someone speaks out of turn.) I begin by asking who wants to go first. Sometimes I am volunteered, sometimes someone in particular is raring to speak. One at a time, we list the following items without explanation or interruption before we move on to the next speaker:

1. Three things we didn’t like about our day,

2. Three things we did like about our day,

3. One thing we would’ve done differently that day,

4. One thing we’re looking forward to tomorrow.

Some days the kids have three good things but only one bad thing to note. Some days the good things are hard to come by, but together we recall even the minute intricacies — like a yummy lunch or a nice breeze or a smile from a friend — to flesh out our positive trio.

Very often, I’ve found, that the kids are surprised by one another’s lists. They often don’t realize the impact of their actions and words on another’s day, but this activity is helping shed light on their affect on others.

The other night, my middle son listed his sister not including him on the playground as one of his three dislikes du jour. His sister looked offended and scoffed. I reminded her that we don’t interrupt during circle time. Then, during my daughter’s review, she noted that the one thing she would’ve done differently that day was include her brother on the playground. They’re getting it!!

My middle son and my daughter have both come to me separately saying how much they appreciate circle time. And, you know what? I do too. I can voice my missteps of the day (ex: yelling when I wish I hadn’t, not cheering up someone I wish I had, messing up a recipe, etc.) so that they know I make mistakes and feel remorse too. I also get to hear about their days and they hear about mine. We all get a glimpse at how one another processes the day’s events and what one another values, as well as finds particularly hurtful. We learn about each other’s triumphs and hurdles. It’s enlightening, connecting, healing, bonding. And it only takes 5 minutes.

Then, after we’ve completed our sharing, we return to our old routine: story time as usual. Each child hands me his or her selected book then sits in my lap while I read it. Sometimes only one child sits on my legs, other times I’m balancing all three. Either way, my heart — like my lap — is full.

Maybe this circle time routine would work for you. Give it a whirl for a week and let me know how it goes. Worst case, you waste five minutes. Best case, your bonds grow stronger. That’s a gamble worth taking in my book!

School Daze: Morning Prep

School mornings… as pleasant as a hemorrhoid, no? Early start, grumpy kids (and parents), little time, lots to do, start times, and tantrums (from kids and parents.) Fun!

Though our mornings aren’t scenes of fairytale bliss, and far from serene, they are streamlined. They are organized. How? One word: preparation.

I wake up ahead of everyone to heat breakfasts, pop lunches into backpacks, and begin my day so that by the time my crew shuffles downstairs, the rhythm is already in motion. My first-thing-in-the-morning task load isn’t too great though because I prepare everything I can ahead of time.

Lunches and snacks? Made at the beginning of the week. I simply grab a container stack, the water bottle, and place it in the lunchbox.

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Outfits? Laid out for the school week on Sunday evening based on the weather forecast and week’s schedule. The day’s outfit hung in the bathroom, so there are no clothing battles in the too-early morning.

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Each outfit bundle contains a top, bottom, socks, and underwear

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A week of outfits

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The next day’s outfits

Breakfasts? Prepared and plated the night before. I just heat and place them on the table while my caffeine brews.

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Mama’s caffeine? Set up the night before and ready to brew.

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Mama’s tea

Basically, when I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of hitting “play” as opposed to scrambling to piece it all together while attempting to ready myself and my minions for the day. (That’s a feat in and of itself.)

We all could use a leg up in the morning. Why not give yourself one with a little prepping?

 

School Daze: Out-the-Door Organization

As requested, I am starting a little series about my school year organization and preparation tips. Let me begin with the most exhausting portion of the school day: getting out the door.

Now, let me preface this by clarifying that I am not a professional organizer or even a neat freak. I have three young close-in-age kids and a clutter-prone husband who often works from home. I aim for livable neatness (as in, “heathens live here but someone among us is trying to be neat.”)

Sure, I have donation boxes waiting for months to be offloaded. I have paper piles and a cluttered basement. BUT I know how to organize to get multiple mini-humans (and myself) out the door early every day. So, here are my tips on organizing to get out that door in the AM.

If you’re like us, you exit via your garage door as opposed to your front door. This makes the mudroom the primary portal. Getting everyone in their shoes with their backpacks out one door can seem akin to wrangling cats into a rabbit hole.

We have a primary shoe basket in the kitchen just beyond the mudroom where we keep daily use shoes. I used to keep school shoes in there too, but that lead to “I can’t find my shoes!” And “Why can’t I wear my pool sandals on the pumpkin patch field trip?” drama. So that habit needed adjusting.

Solution: backpack and school shoe central:

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Out-the-door Organization

Using damage-free Command hooks, I hung the kids’ backpacks and shoes (soles out) on the coat closet door. I added a cheap folding step stool to aid my shrimpy first grader in reaching her top-tier items. Then, I adhered her teacher’s reminders just beside the door.

And there we go. No hunting for shoes. No missing backpacks. No school debris strewn across our kitchen.

Easy peasy!

Next up: morning prep.

Snapshots of SAHM Life

Being a stay-at-home mom is draining and priceless, stressful and fun-filled, chaotic and routine. It’s overwhelming and unglamorous, messy and lonely, but it’s all I ever wanted… to spend my days raising my children and experiencing their days, their fleeting childhoods. To be there.

Still, days as a stay-at-home mom often involve lots of this.

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Caffeination on the go

A bit of this.

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Multi-tasking (with now-cold caffeine)

Too much of this.

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Toy mayhem

And always this.

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The insurmountable and ever-present, Mt. Laundry

Your days may also involve this.

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Grocery shopping and babywearing

Some of this.

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Nursing

And a bit of this.

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Playdate fun

Then, of course, there’s this.

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Mid-errand tantrums

This.

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Bizarre mishaps

A lot of this.

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In-cart public meltdown and sibling brawl

And, what day would be complete without a touch of this?

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Self-dressing drama

After all of that, you get this.

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Quirky cuddles

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Family time

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Simple fun times

Because you’re there for it all, you also get to witness this.

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Proud parenting moments

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Proof of your hard work shining through

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Love between your children

And this.

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Hard-won skills blossoming

And it’s all worth it. All of it.

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Swimming After Undertow

At the beach, my 5-year-old daughter, 3-year-old son, and husband entered the sea for a swim. The ocean was tame, neither harsh nor placid. Still, swimming near the lifeguards, the children wearing flotation vests… the three were cautious.

My littlest and I played in the sand, nursed, and watched passing sign-towing airplanes as the rest of our little family reveled in the sea. Then my daughter came running towards me. Blood dripping from her mouth, tears from her eyes. Shocked, I ran towards her.

“I hit the bottom!” She sobbed. My husband and son lumbered up the beach in a daze. Their hair matted and splattered with sand. “A big wave broke farther out than usual. We all got taken down. We’re ok though.” My husband explained.

I put a towel to my daughter’s lip; nothing but a quick-healing scrape. My son was unharmed. “I’m sorry that happened,” I told her, “we all get undertowed at some point, but do you know what’s most important?” She shook her head, now calmed after her tumble. “The most important thing is that you get back in.” “Noooo!” She protested. I needed a different angle.

“You’re going to kindergarten. When you tell your new friends about how you got bowled over by a wave and hit the bottom of the ocean, what would be a more rockstar ending: ‘I didn’t go back in because I was too scared’ or ‘I went right back in because I’m not afraid’?” She smiled. “I should go back in.” She said. Then her eyes widened and her eyebrows tilted, “What if I get pulled under again?” “You likely won’t,” I reassured her, “but if you do, Daddy will be right there with you. You’ll swim right in front of the lifeguards like you did last time. You’ll be safe.”

A few minutes later, into the sea she went. She exited victorious, smiling, and proud. That’s my girl!

 

It’s Genetic

Genes, they’re mysterious, powerful, and decisive. Eye color, hair texture, shoe size… they dictate so much about us. Apparently, the affinity for wearing a bucket on your face is also a genetic factor.

#2 on left in 2014, #3 on right yesterday

#2 on left in 2014, #3 on right yesterday

To Dive or Swim?

“Congratulations,” the pediatrician said to #3 during his 1-year well-check, “you’re a toddler now!” And with that, I am now in a weird state of mourning, confusion, and relief.

#3 just had his first birthday and, being the delayed processor that I am, I am only now emotionally experiencing the life event. I am only now coming to terms with this possibly being my last baby.

No more heavenly calm of a newborn asleep on my shoulder, no more hourly nighttime feedings, no more infant coos, no more labor and delivery recoveries, no more baby cuddles, no more diaper explosions, no more tiny footsie pajamas. There is so much that would rest sadly and happily in the past.

As I process my mixed emotions I begin to wonder if we should have another. In no way does my body yearn to become pregnant again. In no way do I look at an expectant mom or new baby and palpably yearn to be in that life season. For the first time in 7 years, I am not craving a baby. But yet I fear letting go of this life stage.

Will I regret it later if we don’t try one last time? Will I regret it if we do? Would the extra addition prove to be just too much?  We’re already testing all of our limits with 3 under 5. Still, as ridiculous of a reason as it may be, having a baby would keep us in this life stage longer.

My children will keep growing, moving further into their own lives and away from me. They will develop and mature, they will identify as individuals instead of as my children. I know that having one more baby wouldn’t halt that eventuality, but it would prolong my stay in this harried, exhausting, yet wonderful time… the glory days of my maternal career.

Then I think of how much easier things are with #1 and #2, being past the infant neediness and the toddler self-endangerment phases. Potty-training is done, strollers are gone, self-sufficiency is increasing. They can communicate their needs clearly. They understand social expectations (though they don’t always meet them.) They can play in a room independently without risk of grave injury or damage. They squabble and tantrum, but they are increasingly independent. It’d be nice to have the demands of very young childhood behind us for convenience’s sake.

With a 1-year-old, 3-year-old, and nearly-5-year-old, I feel as if my head is just surfacing above a rough swell. It’s beautiful beneath the waves, simultaneously tranquil and perilous, but I can only hold my breath so long before I must rise for air. Once I see the world above the sea and breathe freely, can and should I dip down again knowing my submersion will only be temporary? Knowing that the surface I see now would be entirely different the next time I reemerge? Will the sea be too rough next time? But if I don’t dive soon, I’ll lose my chance for good. Will I mourn my missed opportunity?

I know I have months before I could even begin trying (thank you, breastfeeding for delaying that cyclical annoyance!) and I wouldn’t even want to start for a while (I survived 2 under 2 once… once was enough.) Still, as a planner, I want to know. I don’t feel ready now, but will I later? Will life simply make the choice for us one way or another? Who knows?

In the meantime, I’ll just tread water and enjoy the view.