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I choose to live my life differently from the way many people I know do. And I’m totally and completely ok with that. What I do makes me happy, and it’s best for my family. I’m protective of them because I absolutely adore my husband and kids. That phrase where you’d walk through fire for someone? Until I had my family, I always just shrugged it off, but I can tell you fire wouldn’t stop me from getting to my family.
I would do anything for them. And I would do anything to keep them happy and healthy. And smiling.
When Mister Man struggled in kindergarten due to issues with his autism, I quit my job so that I could stay home and keep a more regular schedule to make his life easier. And it definitely made a difference. It wasn’t easy to walk away from my career and the perks that came with it, but it was the right thing to do for my son, and I don’t look back.
Quitting my job was a significant loss of income for our family, but the good news is that we were ready and able to handle it. I was lucky that when I was younger and worked hard, I saved most of the money I made. And with just one full time income, we made change and adjustments. Though I always loved cooking, we went out to eat even less often. Instead, I made sure we could stretch our money by cooking meals from scratch – which has the added benefit of being healthier than processed foods or foods we eat in restaurants.
This past weekend, we were running everywhere, and Mister Man and my husband ate out breakfast, lunch, and dinner because I wasn’t home in the early part of the day due to Little Miss’s gymnastics meet, and we celebrated Little Miss’s half birthday at our favorite local Mexican restaurant per her request. When I tallied the money my husband chose to spend, it floored me (and yes, chose – we have plenty of food in our house for breakfast and lunch!). Just for the two of them, those three meals cost $67. Thinking about how much it would cost for all four of us to eat out regularly and how much I’m saving by cooking at home.
Related to Mister Man’s autism, eating out has another negative effect on him. When he has all the additives and dyes – especially from sugary drinks we don’t have at home – the change in his behavior is remarkable. His impulse control is reduced significantly when he eats things he shouldn’t, and it isn’t just the typical sugar high you see in other kids. Because we do so often eat at home, I forget how much of an impact it has until he eats something I haven’t cooked.
The ways something simple like cooking more meals at home actually protects my family surprises me. I did it because I enjoy it and I had the time since I was home more often. I didn’t think specifically about how much it would protect my family’s finances. I didn’t think then about how it would protect our health in the long term. I didn’t think about how it protects Mister Man’s ability to maximize his strengths. And yet that’s where I stand.
That’s why last night I found a way to whip up a quick dinner that I knew they’d enjoy that includes their favorite foods in a healthy way in the short time I had between dropping Little Miss at gymnastics practice after school and running Mister Man to his basketball game less than an hour later. The smiles on their faces when they heard we were having skillet tamales and smelled the yumminess as they walked in the door starving after their sports was worth every moment.
I discovered my love of cooking out of luck. My mom doesn’t like food and truly sees it as fuel alone. Growing up, we ate food, but I never learned to cook from her. I figured it out after I’d graduated college, but this is a skill I want to teach the wee ones now so they grow up loving and appreciating food and cooking rather than resenting it as a chore.
The good news is that it seems to be working. Mister Man is a pro at making spaghetti and meatballs from scratch. Little Miss loves cutting up foods to help in the prep, and they know and can identify so many more whole foods than I could at their ages. Teaching these skills now will help them when they’re (one day a long, long time from now) out on their own. It may be hard for me to watch them do it “wrong” or make a mess, but how else will they learn?
They will know how to cook for themselves. And hopefully they’ll want to do it and will enjoy it. I’ll cross my fingers that the pennies and dollars they’re able to save by cooking for themselves will be ones they’ll save and spend wisely – for the most part. Everyone needs a little fun! I hope that teaching them to enjoy and appreciate whole foods while, yes, indulging in treats so they aren’t seen as a forbidden fruit, means they’ll stay healthier and not suffer from some of the preventable illnesses that my relatives do as they grow older.
Besides, how can you not love and want to protect a face like this when it is so adorably cute?
Of course I’m doing to do anything I can for the wee ones – which is why even after we ate out for Little Miss’s half birthday, we still came home to enjoy our traditional half birthday cupcakes. Chocolate. With chocolate chips. And no frosting, per the request of Little Miss.
As they’re growing older (she’s officially 9 and a half as of Sunday – HOW did that happen?), I look around more and more for creative ways to protect them. I can’t strap them into their rear facing car seats anymore or hold their hands every time we cross the street. In my searches, I came across this great site by Protective Life that has a huge learning center with tons of great ways to protect my family far beyond the little things I’m already doing. Because now that I’m counting, I’m a little closer to the date when planning for their college educations becomes less theoretical and more reality.
At least I’m not completely jumping into the unknown without some sort of survival plan.