Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Kids

Hey Kids, it’s dad.
I just thought I’d write you this short letter to let you know how much I love you and care about you. Seeing you grow from babies into these two amazing kids is such a powerful and tremendous experience for me. Being your father is easily one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I thank you for helping make my life feel so wonderful and complete. Each and every day, I am so appreciative that you are my kids.
While I have your attention, though, there are a few…small areas that are on my mind, ones that could use some minor improvements or fine tuning on your parts. Only if you have time, of course. No pressure. And I’m definitely not meaning to sound annoying or like a nag or that I’m angry or frustrated, because who could be angry or frustrated with kids as wonderful as you are…most of the time.
But, it would be great if you could read, discuss these items among each other, and sort things out a bit. Not huge things, mind you, because remember, overall you are amazing and wonderful. Never forget that. I’m just saying that we all have things to work on — look at your dad! If someone took some time to write me a letter like this with things for me to work on it would be much longer. No need to nod your heads so vigorously.
Anyways, if you aren’t too busy laying on the couch watching TV or eating the food that I joyously prepared for you while you also relaxing on the couch, it would be great if you could peruse this letter and consider my suggestions. Only if you have some time. No stress.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but you can each be slightly grumpy in the mornings. Not that I’m being critical! Believe me, I get it — mornings are tough! To state the obvious, no one enjoys having a great sleep in a cozy bed cut short. Having said that, it would make your dad so happy if the second you started interacting with other humans in the real world (namely me), if we could all just be in a good mood. I’m okay with tired, I’m okay with bored and I’m even okay with some well-timed sarcasm, but grumpiness makes me sad. You don’t want a sad dad, do you?
Breakfasts, especially on school days are slow! Hey, I get it — what passes for kids’ TV these days is hilarious and captivating. Some great work is being done on many accounts. And, as we all know, the real issue here is that your dad even allows you to watch TV in the morning on a school day in the first place. What sort of idiot is he (compelling question for a different day)? But look, no one enjoys cold eggs and no one enjoys being yelled at “why aren’t you eating?” and “could you please eat?” and “why won’t you at least take a bite?” while they gape mindlessly at the screen. So, it would be really peachy if you could just find some way to eat breakfast in a more timely fashion.
And I know we all want to look our best, so selecting the perfect combination of clothes as well as meticulously cleaning your teeth and brushing your hair is a top priority. I, for one, should spend more than the three-to-five minutes I spend on these tasks. So, I completely get that some time is needed to be prepared to set a foot out of the house (and exponentially more for two). But, when I’m racing around doing a million things and I see you standing there in front of the bathroom mirror almost literally brushing one hair at a time or ever-so-slowly trying on your third outfit with the toothbrush dangling out of your mouth, I go a bit batty. “There goes good ol’ crazy dad,” you must be thinking as you treat each individual tooth like a precious diamond as you remember the dental hygienist recommending. If you care for my sanity, could you perhaps pick up the pace just a tad?
Easily one of my favourite moments of the day is when I pick you up from school and I get to see your freckled smiling faces once more except for those rare (often) meltdowns in the car. I know you are tired and I know school is exhausting and I also know that it takes a lot of effort to “keep it together” all day when out in the public. But, sweeties, daddy is tired and exhausted too and he’d love nothing more than a quiet “how was your day?” and “what did you learn at school” drive home. Not that I don’t want you to share honestly, but if it could all be done at a lower decibel level with no crying and kicking my car seat or to at least give me a short warning signal so as best to ready myself for the (your) storm, that would mean so much.
Also, at least once every few days, one or the other of you has misplaced a favourite article of clothing or a much-needed lunch bag or some homework your teacher will kill you if you don’t hand in. And somehow, even though I was at work all day and clearly am not to blame (for this), it is all my fault? Now don’t get me wrong — I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining or criticizing you at all. Completely not the point of this letter. You are both amazing! And forgetful from time to time. Again, I’m far from perfect myself, but if you could take more care, watch your things, maybe glue or tape or even staple important things to your body it would help. Daddy is trying to be funny, aside from the not-losing-things-anymore part.
You are each other’s best friends and nothing warms my heart or puts a tear in the corner of my eye then to see you sitting next to each other on the couch reading or on the floor playing a game or being kind to the other for no special reason. If only those moments could last the whole day! But they don’t. Something always comes up that shatters the peace. Now, I wasn’t born yesterday (clearly) and I fully understand you can’t get along all the time with someone you live with, and sometimes a little frustration is warranted, but dad would be gaining many fewer grey hairs each day if you could just get along. This means thinking before your hit, taking a deep breath before you yell and remembering your sister loves you and that your dad may be on the verge of a mental breakdown.
I hope this is going okay so far — you know how much I love you and never want to hurt your feelings, but while we are on the topic of fighting, it makes me tense with frustration when either of you are going out of your way to purposely be difficult. In case you aren’t quite sure what I am referring to, here is the scenario. Your mom or I will be asking for your help around the house or trying to get the family ready to go out and everything is going swimmingly and then, without notice or any obvious reason, one of you decides “hey, let’s just arbitrarily stop listening and following instructions just for laughs”. Not funny, but still adorable, but, to be clear, definitely not funny. And nothing can continue until one of you decides to let it. I’m sure the power and control is delicious and I hope you get to enjoy that when you are parents one day, but for now, make it easy for your dad, pretty please?
At the risk of feeling like I’m piling another one on my list of complaints, nothing puts a damper on a perfectly nice evening than a long, drawn-out bedtime. We all know that staying up is fun and five more minutes never really hurt anyone even when five really meant ten or fifteen (sounds like a prison sentence, doesn’t it?). And you raise some well-thought out and semi-articulate questions such as “Why are you being so mean?”, ”Why do you guys get to stay up so late?” and “You just want us to go to sleep so you can spend time without us.” We’ve done so much with and for you all day, so it would be amazing if you could hop upstairs like the cute little bunnies you are and go to bed. All of this ideally would happen without you having to be tucked in, kissed good night, had your water bottle filled up, your nighttime music changed, your pillow fluffed again and again and again till somehow, it’s morning already.
And at the end of yet another day, your mom and I flop down next to each other on the couch, utterly spent and we look back on the day that was. I hope you know how much we love you and wish you could somehow grow up a little more slowly as the teenage years and all of that excitement (wheee!) is just around the corner. Sure there is some frustration and some tears and some arguing from time to time and sure you two could be easier on each other and on us and sure you could cut back on the crying and yelling and hitting but never forget how amazing you are and that I still love you tremendously.
Your dad, Tommy

Friday, January 6, 2017

How to Survive Making Breakfasts and Lunches for Your Family

I oversee the food for my family of four.
I plan, I shop, I cook, I feed, I pack. And then I eat.
It’s a full-time job.
And of all of the meals and snacks and “I’m hungry”s and “feed me, now!”s I get, the morning shift is the toughest. It holds a special place in my heart; the left ventricle.
So many mouths to feed, so little time, so many small tasks, so asleep still.
Each day looks like the straw that broke the camel’s back, and yet, with one eye open at best, I come through in flying colours and I look spectacular flying in colour.
Not only do I get all of those breakfasts and lunches cooked, but I am good at it. Surprisingly good, if you are one of my critics.
How did I prepare for this challenge?
Well, years of working on a line in a restaurant and teaching school have given me the organization and preparation skills I needed to excel. And I shouldn’t forget all the hours directly observing my parents navigate similar waters.
In one sense becoming the dude making the food was the role I was born to play. In another, infinitely more accurate sense, it was an extra in a poorly-funded B film.
So, if you are a parent and have been tasked with providing nourishment (and not solely the metaphysical variety) for your partner and your offspring, then read on. If you are not a parent, but plan to become one and are interested in one aspect of how your life will irrevocably change, read on. If you are not a parent and don’t intentionally plan on ever becoming one, but enjoy a good laugh at other’s expenses (namely me), then you too should read on.
Here is how to prepare breakfasts and lunches for a family in the morning while maintaining your sanity or at least not losing too much of it.
The Calm before the Storm: How to be Ready Before the Morning Arrives.
1) Preparation! I can’t stress this enough (due to time constraints), but being prepared is key in the same was an actual key is key to opening a locked door. You must be ready at the drop of a hat to make any meal at any time. (Note: ban all hats.) To get prepared, start by drawing a picture of a cute squirrel. Now tear that paper up. You don’t have time for that crap! You must be on your game at all times. You must operate like a chess grandmaster — multiple moves ahead and an unhealthy obsession with trapping the king.
2) Seriousness! This job you have signed up for (always read the small print) is 24–7 365 days a year. There are no vacations or sick days or time off for good behaviour. You must be ready to jump up in the middle of deep sleep and perfectly boil an egg or butter some bread or butter an egg if your kids are weird. The toaster is always plugged in. The kettle always a click away from starting to boil. This is not the time to develop a sense of humour and give the wrong person the wrong container of cut up fruit or leave crusts on a sandwich because you think you are funny.
3) Plan! Each Sunday morning, sit down and plan to the most infinitesimal detail exactly what each human you are legally required to feed will require for substance. Then laugh for a while, giddy with the power, before allotting some extra rations. You plan because there can be no surprises! Not on your watch; not next to your watch; the inclusion of a watch at this point is a distraction you don’t have time for. Every possible meal-time request must be anticipated and shopped for. Your ability to know what they want before they ask for it will be called “eerie” and “woah” and “stop reading my diary”.
4) Knowledge! Get to know your family, both as actual humans and as robots, just in case. Sure, you knew them before, but for you to prepare their food, you must be as one with them. Study them. Follow them around at a distance with the binoculars and night vision goggles you requested as presents. Document their each and every move, strength and weakness, and emotional and physical responses to various stimuli. Only then can you properly feed them.
5) Preferences! In a perfect world, each person would eat the same thing and be the opposite of picky. In a perfect world I’d also be taller, have a darker complexion and speak with a deliciously hard-to-place accent. Take notes on each person’s food likes and dislikes no matter how asinine, perplexing or hilarious they may seem. Debate throwing those notes away and having some fun, before remembering that you can be replaced. If it helps, think of yourself as a highly-flammable scarecrow surrounded by crows who possess the knowledge and skill to use lighters — worked for me!
6) Memorize! You must be keenly aware of where everything is in your refrigerator, pantry and freezer. And I mean everything. Every grain, ounce and gram must be accounted for. Then forget everything you learned and memorize it again. And again, until you want to scream. Then scream. You, and you alone, are the master of this kitchen and only you can perform the tasks you perform. This is important — by no means can anyone else possess the knowledge of what is actually in all of those unlabeled Tupperware containers in the freezer.
7) Arrange! Despite what others tell you, this is your kitchen, unless you are at their house and then it is their kitchen. Don’t argue this point. When at home alone, take out all plates and bowls and utensils and spend some quality time together — hugging and issuing compliments is encouraged. Rank your pots and pans in order of size and likeability. Make sure the more frequently used foodstuffs are easy to reach as you don’t want to embarrassingly pull anything (“you tore your calf doing what?”). Arrange the plates and bowls in such a way that would make your mother proud if such stuff did, which it doesn’t.
The Storm: The Morning is Here.
8) Confidence! Like an elite athlete or Hollywood star, a certain amount of self-esteem is needed to perform this task. I aim for somewhere between off-the-charts and insufferable. You must believe your own hype or else you have no chance and may very well be eaten alive (to this date, that hasn’t happened, but why take the risk?) Enter the kitchen boldly. Own the room. Remember, you are the straw that stirs the drink; the flame that ignites the fire; the chicken and the egg. Bwaaach.
9) Focus! You don’t have time for distractions! It doesn’t matter how bad a sleep you got or how many nearly-debilitating allergies you are dealing with. Around every corner is a trap that may try to throw you off your game (your phone, the TV, your collection of hilarious wigs) — ignore them all! You must make the food for your family. You don’t have time for niceties and clean shirts and proper grammar. You definitely don’t have time for spilled milk or burned toast or scalding your hand. You must maintain singular focus on your task at hand or else you will fail. You will not fail.
10) The Set-up! It is highly important to wake up early to have the kitchen to yourself. This will give you time to visualize success while enjoying some “me time” which should entail a high-fibre homemade muffin and some r/jokes. Then, as if flipping a switch (by all means, flip an actual switch if that helps), you jump to action and boil some water. Why? Maybe you are preheating Thermoses, or making some tea or obsessively boiling water for the access to free steam. As the clock strikes the exact time (and not a moment sooner) the kids must be woken up, quickly pull out the ingredients that are needed for the battle ahead before racing upstairs to wake/scare/dump water on the kids.
11) The Dance! You are a dancer! Once the kids are awake and out of their rooms, the dance begins as you waltz, jive, two-step and crunk your way from the freezer to the microwave to the pantry to the stove to the kids to the cutting board and on and on for the next 45–60 minutes without pausing to think, dry your brow, contemplate life with bigger bushier brows or eat. The TV is on and your kids sit there gaping, stationary and mostly asleep while you sashay and bellydance around the kitchen putting on an incredible show that goes entirely unnoticed.
12) The Race! One kid likes toasted English muffins (not too crispy!), the other likes a cheese omelette (not too brown!), the first kid wants juice (not too much!), the other wants juice too (a little more than her sister!). You nod and grunt (as a nod to your cave people ancestors) and continue to race to the large freezer to desperately locate some lunches for the others that they won’t stick their tongues out at. Your arm and hand and half your upper body descend deep into your freezer as you dig around blindly as if a small child selecting an exciting prize with the only difference being that freezer-burnt macaroni and cheese or something that may be meatloaf is the prize.
13) Doing the Wave! You race back to the stove and toaster, get their breakfasts, literally throw their food at them and begin to frantically and quite demonically microwave leftovers. As the time counts down on the microwave and before you must leave for work, you are cutting up fruit, wishfully placing raw veggies in small containers and bribing them (and killing a small part of yourself) with small packages of cookies or fruit gummies. Plead with them to eat faster! Exhort them to finish their lunches this time or at least tell you if they hate the food. Drop to your knees and beg them to clean up their dishes. Make plans to hire a personal chef when you win the lottery.
14) The Home Stretch! The clock has hit 7:30am. It is ‘bout to get real. Cram random items into the blender for smoothies and delicately constructing your partner’s breakfast while taking some joy in debating whether to actually hide some jalapeno slices in her eggwich just for giggles. Wolf down your own breakfast (time spent observing actual wolves eating helps with accuracy) as well as signing agendas and fieldtrip notices and spelling tests and checking math homework and literally pushing the kids out the door. Any and all face washing or tooth and hair brushing are optional.
15) Congratulations! Like a star of a sports team, bask in the adulations which are completely of the silent and imaginary variety. Raise your tired arms above your head like a victorious general home from the war. Give some over-the-top fist pumps followed by some animalistic roars. Allow yourself to be overcome with emotions for once again succeeding in conquering this momentous challenging task. You are valuable, you are needed and you, and only you, made breakfast and lunch for your family. Allow a small tear to drop down your cheek. And then another and another like it is raining. Stop playing with tap water, it’s time to go to work.