Food

One of the things I find funny about parenthood is how much time I have spent dealing with things that, pre-parenthood, it never crossed my mind would be an issue.

Case in point in our family: food.

I have learned over the years from therapists, social workers, et al, that many kids coming out of foster care have issues with food. The two most common are hoarding and extreme pickiness. The hoarding is relatively straightforward: Many, perhaps most, foster kids experience periods of food scarcity, and being denied food as a form of discipline is also a common experience. So when food is available? Hoard away. The pickiness touches a slightly deeper nerve: It’s a way for the kid to exert control over one tiny area of his or her otherwise very out-of-control life. “I won’t eat that, and you can’t make me.”

In addition to what I learned from the experts, I’ve had plenty of direct experience with both hoarding and control-based pickiness right under our roof, all thanks to Daveon.

(For the record, Mark eats just about anything, and plenty of it. His dislikes are limited to various kinds of vegetables—no surprise there—as well as, oddly enough, pepperoni.)

Daveon’s food trajectory goes something like this:

  • When he moved in, he had food allergies to pretty much everything: beef, dairy, eggs, nuts, and I’m sure many others I am forgetting. He came from a home where he ate lots of stuff out of cans—his passion was Vienna sausages, which I’m almost positive do not technically qualify as food. As far as his tastes went, the more processed, the better.
  • Over the years, as can happen with kids, almost every allergy lifted, except for a tiny reaction to peanuts. So “I can’t eat this” got replaced with “I don’t like this.” This list was unpredictable, ever-changing, but always quite long. Candidates included peanuts and peanut butter, butter, mayo, all fruit except apples, chocolate milk, most cheese, eggs, yogurt and frozen yogurt, pie of any kind, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, any Asian food except Americanized Chinese, sour cream, guacamole, and the list goes on and on. Oh, and any exposed fat/skin on meat or poultry.
  • Whatever food he would eat, he took as tiny a portion as I would let him get away with and call a meal—and I’m sure more than one school lunch ended up mostly in the trash. This was the “control” period. It lifted somewhat when we started high school and got more serious about cross-country. He still didn’t go much for quantity—even at 19, his weight hangs right around 100 pounds—but he definitely expanded in terms of variety, so that’s a good sign.
  • Also over the years, occasional hoarding revealed itself. On the rare times I dared to venture into his room to clean up, I often found packets of spoiled food in dresser drawers, under the bed, etc. Stuff he had “socked away” and then clearly forgotten about. I’m still not sure how he could ignore the smell.
  • Late in high school, Daveon agreed to see a homeopathic/holistic doctor to help with his nasal allergies. After doing some blood work, the doctor announced that the allergies were not, as assumed, really environmental in nature. According to her, they were instead caused by allergies to—wait for it—dairy, eggs, and gluten. So right at the time the kid started eating a broader-based diet, we had to scale it back again, or at least find substitutions. What we learned was: Everything contains wheat or eggs, or both. Luckily we found acceptable substitutes with gluten-free bread and pasta products; soy, rice, and other grain milks (no nut milks, of course); and even a handful of gluten/dairy-free dessert options he likes. We have also learned that a “dairy free” food can contain eggs, so you need to read labels really carefully. And the food pyramid of my childhood is officially dead. (Also officially dead, since the day Daveon left for college: This attempt at a healthier diet. I’m pretty sure he’s back to Vienna sausages on a regular basis.)

Coming from an Italian family, the last thing I ever thought about in relation to kids was food issues—unless the “issue” was, how long till the next meal/snack/treat? Or maybe, what do you mean I can only have four cookies? Further proof that when you venture into having kids on your own, you never can tell.

Next: Dating: Kid Division

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Relentless

A few years ago, one of my alterna-dad friends and I were bemoaning how challenging and difficult this whole exercise of single gay adoptive etc. etc. parenting is. And then one of us—I’d like to take credit, because I think it’s brilliant, but I can’t really remember—said, “You know, it’s not really all that hard. It’s just relentless.”

And that is so, so true. Most of what you do as a parent—the driving, the meal prep, the “how was your day?” recitations—are not difficult. Some are mind-numbingly easy to the point of paralysis (folding laundry, anyone?). That’s not what makes parenthood the single most ridiculous pursuit any sane adult could choose. It’s the endless, repetitive, relentless nature of the work.

When you’re a dad, you’re … a dad. Always, round the clock, at home, at work (or working from home, as some of us are lucky enough to do), at the gym, on vacation with your kids, on vacation without your kids. Dad. It just … is. Even when your kids are safely tucked away at school, and you’re having Friday lunch with a friend, there’s always the possibilityof the phone call that says your kid is in trouble, and could you come pick him up right now.

“I’ll need the rest of this wrapped to go, please.”

(Not that this ever happened to me. OK, yes it did.)

I remember once, toward the end of the first year the kids were here, waking up early on a Saturday on a very cold, gray morning. Looking up at the ceiling, and thinking, “Wow. They are going to be here … every single day … for the rest of my life.”

That was deep.

Truth be told, as the kids have gotten older, some of the relentless nature of the deal has let up. I do a ton less driving as they have grown more independent—and after Mark finally got his license, I barely drive at all. Even for things like meals, a lot of summer and weekend dinners are based on the principle, “You guys make it work.” Good thing they know how to cook.

And of course, if all goes well, they won’t be “here” here (as in, under this roof) for all that much longer. But they will always be “here” here—in some portion of my brain, my heart, my hope chest, my anxiety chest—until one of us keels over. Which I tell them needs to be me first, because it would be too sad for me to live without them.

In a way, I feel grateful for relentless. It means that the norm for us is the boring, repetitive stuff of daily life, and the actual crises—which we’ve had as well—are few. By comparison, relentless doesn’t look so bad.

Next: Food

Public Apology

Yesterday’s post contained some content that appeared to accuse certain folks of insensitivity toward my role as a single parent. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people in question have been among our family’s strongest supporters, and the boys (and I, for that matter) wouldn’t have turned out half as well as we have without their involvement. I am deeply embarrassed and apologize strongly for my attempt at humor. The content has been removed from the site.

East Coast

For most of our time together, the “East Coast” was sort of a mythical place to my kids. Having a father who is the California expatriate, there was something magical about stepping off a plane and being surrounded by the entire balance of the immediate Sadusky family: four sets of aunts and uncles, a gaggle of eight cousins, and, in the center of it all, the one-and-only Grandma Connie. Even after 10 years of hearing from, talking to, and visiting, the “East Coast” has its own special place in the boys’ hearts.

Making this connection wasn’t exactly a piece of cake. In the middle-class, Mid-Atlantic, mostly-very-Catholic world of my blood family, the reality of me adopting two boys, of a different race, as a single gay man, did not exactly follow anyone’s script. And in my middle-class, Mid-Atlantic, mostly-very-Catholic blood family, folks are not exactly shy about letting you know when they disapprove of your off-script choices. Loudly.

Given that, I consider it a blessing (if not a minor miracle) that over time everyone has stepped up and embraced the kids both physically and emotionally in ways that have been wonderful to behold.

My father was actually the first one to extend a welcome, and our first trip back East, about a year after the boys moved in, was to see him solo. Given that my parents were married and living in the same house, this would have required some FBI-level logistics. Unfortunately, Dad solved that problem conclusively by passing away about two weeks before our trip.

Mark, on hearing the news: “Awww, I wanted to meet him.”

It took about another year before my mother made her first overture towards my new family, and gradually the rest of the pack followed suit. Since that time, we have made the trek back east at least once yearly. All four sisters and their families roughly within an hour of my mother—who is still in the house where we all grew up—so it is fairly easy to plant ourselves somewhere central and make visits to most or all of the homes. We usually try to time the trips to some occasion: We were either there or just missed both my youngest niece and nephew’s births in August, and we hit a couple of eighth grade graduations a couple of Junes ago. Although we usually travel in the summer, one year we made an exception and flew out on New Year’s Eve to celebrate Daveon’s early January birthday with the East Coast family—at his request. It was his only winter birthday with snow. (As it turns out, a couple of years later, we made a flight right around the same time to attend my grandmother’s funeral—a slightly less joyful January visit.)

Unfortunately, by the time we started our East Coast visits, the boys missed not only my dad, but also several of the “grand old ladies” of the family, including Aunt Bett, Aunt Phine, and Cousin Betty. (I grew up around a lot of Italian women. The men all died young, which may be why the women seemed so generally cheerful.) The boys did get to meet my grandmother, Mom Mom, before she passed at age 100. They have, as cousins/nephews will, formed different types and levels of bonds with the various aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom they stay in more or less regular contact with through the wonder of Facebook.

As a sign of the connection, on our last trip to the East Coast, each kid spent time there separately. Daveon went first by himself while Mark was finishing school, and after Mark and I joined him, Daveon and I took off for a few days to look at Northeast colleges. It was quite an accomplishment that kids who came into a family as preadolescents not knowing “Who is my parent?” would within a few years—as teens, even—willingly and eagerly look forward to spending solo time with the extended family.  I am glad that “East Coast” is available as a resource for them, and hope they and their cousins maintain close bonds as they become the next generation of adults.

Next: Hard Parts: Harm

Welcome

Every family has a story. Very few have one like ours.

My name is Joe. I am single gay man, and for just about 12 years, I’ve had the great good fortune to be dad to Daveon, now 18, and Mark, now 16. Our decade+ together has been … wow … has it been.

Magic Life: Our First Dozen Years is a collection of stories: part memoir, part lessons learned. It includes everything from our first trip back east to meet dad’s family, to our strange but ongoing relationship with the Queen of England, to dad’s through-the-looking-glass experience of being a gay parent in a straight world. Along the way it touches on topics of race, single parenthood, sexuality, and issues particular to adoptive families, peppered with a few observations that apply to parenting in general.

Magic Life presents a balanced portrait of both our successes and challenges—with honest discussions of pains, struggles, and major mistakes. The tone overall is light and conversational, with many splashes of humor. In other words, an accurate reflection of life in our home.

I’m happy to share life with Daveon and Mark with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I (usually) do!