“We’re Figuring Out This Whole Parenting-During-a-Pandemic Thing.” A Portland Couple Talks Foster Parenting, Father’s Day Plans, and Spaghetti.
When Antwon and Nate got the call that they were officially going to become foster parents, they had less than 24 hours to prepare. Of course, they’d gone through years of screening, approvals, and paperwork, but it wasn’t until the moment that they met their daughter that it became real. Two-and-a-half years later, the Portland couple admits that while so much has changed, so much has also stayed the same.
We recently spoke with Antwon (a pediatrician) and his husband, Nate (a law student studying for the bar exam), to talk about parenting during pandemic, their Father’s Day plans, and why it’s probably not a good idea to eat spaghetti every night.
How have the past few months been for your family?
Antwon: We’re doing OK. It’s been weird being home pretty much all the time, figuring out this whole parenting during a pandemic thing. We’re a little bit lower in morale with continued social distancing and racial tensions, but we’re using the opportunity to be introspective and productive. I’m trying to increase teaching to the resident doctors how to approach the topic of race with families. I’m also doing some writing around how to talk about race with your kids.
Nate: I’ve been studying for the bar exam at home, so I don’t mind being home and not having plans. Initially we were both a little depressed, not knowing what to do with ourselves, but we figured out a routine that works for us and how to keep our daughter entertained. Every day we go for a little drive and stay in the car just to literally leave the house. So that’s been a fun way to explore a little bit of Portland that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
In addition to parenting during a pandemic, Antwon, you also happen to be a pediatrician during a pandemic!
Antwon: Yes! So the kids have been fine but there’s a lot of panic about parents being sick. We’ve started a new telemedicine system and are doing more virtual visits, which is not ideal but of course there are a lot of positives: It decreases our exposure and their exposure, and it’s a lot more convenient for families.
Can you share a little more about the fostering experience?
Antwon: We started fostering 2.5 years ago, and the process before that took over 3 years. We got certified on a Wednesday and got her on a Thursday less than 24 hours later. I got an email at work, forwarded it to Nate, and we picked her up the next day. With parenting, you don’t know what it’s going to be like until you’re in the trenches.
Nate: I took two weeks off of work, all the vacation I had. There’s no paternity leave, that’s not a thing.
Antwon: I was back to work on Friday. I did use family medical leave to have time off, but that’s unpaid. I also didn’t know what to expect in terms of how attached I would get. I knew I would grow attached, but I didn’t know how much. At the same time, that level of attachment is really necessary for it to work. We have to see her as ours, even though we know that she is not because that’s how we keep her feeling loved and important and valued.
Nate: Connecting with a child you might not be keeping is the risk you take. It’s worth the heartbreak to know that she felt like she had love and dads.
What was the biggest change for you?
Antwon: So many things. We were the classic dual-income-no-kids (DINK) household. We had wine everywhere. A calendar with some (tasteful) nudity in it. We had to get rid of all that! We also didn’t have any kids’ clothes because you don’t know the age of the child that you’re going to get placed with. We quickly learned we needed stuff for a toddler because when we first got her she was 2.5.
And there’s no manual …
Antwon: There was a learning curve for both of us. As a pediatrician, I had some understanding. But you get a human in your house that won’t leave and none of those pediatrician things are on my mind — I’m in panic mode just like any parent. Before I had kids, I thought I could be a great pediatrician and give anecdotal “I’ve heard or I’ve read” advice. But it’s so much nicer to be able to look a parent in the eye and say “I’ve done this too and this is hard. But I know you can do hard things because I have too.” A parent will come to me and say, “My daughter is having a hard time sleeping.” And I can say, “Let me tell you about the sleep problems we’ve had in the last 24 hours in our house!” Being a parent has made me a better pediatrician, and being a pediatrician has made me a more relaxed parent.
What else shifted in your lives when you became parents?
Antwon: When I first met Nate, he lived on discounted noodles with a can of sauce. He’d throw it together hurriedly in a Tupperware and eat it. So we’ve had to slowly evolve that. Like, let’s add a meat, and maybe a sauce that has less sodium, and some spices. So when we became parents, in the beginning we realized we were like two college students trying to feed a five-year-old.
Nate: Antwon doesn’t like anything I cook! Now the first thing I have to think about when I make something is, Will she eat it? Are there crazy vegetables? Does it look like something she won’t find on a children’s menu? So right now, our rundown includes classic spaghetti, stir-fry, or various chicken meals.
Antwon: And end of list …
So the food stuff has been a learning curve too?
Antwon: Yeah it’s hard because I was raised in a family where we all ate the same thing for dinner, so if I’m eating salmon, she’s eating salmon. So it’s changed the way I eat a bit.
Nate: I’d prefer to eat less meat, more vegetarian options. But I realize that’s hard with a child. So I honestly don’t mind having the chicken in the dish that I put the chicken in!
Are cooking and grocery shopping a team effort?
Antwon: When we went from being just two busy people to having family dinner, we learned that we had to be more conscious of planning and being more intentional with grocery shopping. We can’t have spaghetti four meals in a row! Nate loves a good discount and coupon, so he gets on his digital app and will create a list based on what’s on sale. We usually go as a family— she sits in the cart and we walk up and down the aisles.
Nate: She loves going! It’s an outing, it takes time, gets us out of the house. Of course it’s a little more stressful now to go to a place where she touches everything and we have to wear masks … but at the same time, it gets her excited to see the parts that go into the meal. When she sees something on the shelves, it makes her more invested in eating it later.
What does your social circle look like nowadays?
Nate: Before all this, we figured out that parenting was going to be a big social transition. Most of our friends are also DINK gays; some like kids, some don’t. So we created our village and now it looks a little different than it did at the start. We had to figure out who was willing to sit down to brunch with a toddler! Now it’s weird. We Zoom with people to keep in touch, but it’s just not the same as in-person contact.
Antwon: If we are at the park and she sees her friends, she wants to hug them. I told her “You can’t hug right now!” and she started to cry. It’s so hard to explain about distancing.
How are you spending Father’s Day this year?
Antwon: Our daughter will probably “make us breakfast,” which means she’ll destroy our kitchen making questionable food choices, but we’ll eat it with happy hearts. And then we’ll clean for hours.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form