Introducing Mandarin

Ayo’s first introduction to Mandarin was uneventful. I didn’t take him to some toddler class. Oh no, it wasn’t that glamorous. I have come to realize that the best language learning opportunities do not always come in a beautiful school package, tied with a perfect teacher bow. I simply selected two very short YouTube videos: one song about colors and one video on the topic of fruit. After a nap one day a few weeks ago, I asked him if he wanted to learn his friend Micah’s language. “Yeah!” he assured me. So, two year old Ayo was plopped in front of a screen and eagerly watched the two videos after a nap one day. I sat quietly beside him, watching his reactions.

At first, he was riveted and completely silent, clearly intrigued by this foreign language that was neither French nor English. He has definitely heard Chinese before but never been sat down in front of a screen to listen to a third language. It must have felt strange and perplexing: he thought he knew his colors but now it seemed he didn’t at all. Next I knew, Ayo was relying on his eyes. He began to chant the color louder than the Chinese color. “Orange!” he chanted, over the “Chéng sè” [romanized]. At this point, I intervened, telling him that was right, that was Mandarin for “orange”!

Many fond memories of Chinese school came back to me as we watched the fruit video. I am so fond of the Chinese as a people-group, as a culture and with Mandarin as a language. The lively and hospitable culture, the amazing food, the beliefs hidden behind the characters, the history behind the four letter sayings (called 成语 “chéngyǔ”), the coexistence of the artistic and the orderly in each character’s strokes, the melodic of rising and falling tones … just some things that are so beautiful to me. Such are some of the things I am eager to share with our children.

That said, I have to write that I chuckled as we watched the fruit video. This is because I remember how Mandarin taught by a mainland Chinese native was so authentic, and to the Western mind….and at times…umm…rather illogical! Similarly, in “our” fruit clip, we “Follow Jade!” to the market in China and learn the names of a few fruit. Then when we go to review the fruit, Jade asks us which one is the watermelon. A fruit we hadn’t heard of previously at all. I had to giggle as many memories filled my mind of me scratching my head when confronted with typical Chinese language teaching pedagogy.

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Actually, we got lucky because there was at least no Westerner featured in this video. In so many of the language learning material coming out of China, the foreigner (typically Caucasian) is portrayed as clumsy and ignorant. In contrast, China is glorious and perfect and the Chinese character is intelligent and all-knowing. As a language student, you have to simply take this with a grain of salt and realize that most foreign language educators and publishers have never left the country and this is the lens through which they view the 老外 (“lǎowài”), the foreigner. If you are thick skinned enough, you’ll be able to see that it’s hysterical. Government subsidized CCTV[.com] has its own range of free language learning videos, that are absolutely fascinating from a sociological and cultural perspective: white guy trips over his huge nose onto the dinner table. Chinese friend comes to rescue with band-aid. Good entertainment, but the videos are absolutely useless for most Western language learners. The level is often way too high for beginner/intermediate learners and too low for the advanced learner…

This digression leads me to separating our own Chinese language learning material in two categories: those from China and the Western ones that have high-quality producers / publishers. I still view Chinese material as very valuable for our family in understanding Chinese culture and have a nice selection from our past trips. However, I have found that sources like Chinesepod.com or, say, Little Pim DVD that have Western curriculum or directors but use Chinese native speakers are sometimes more accessible and helpful to the learner when coming from a Western context.

Back to our colors and fruit. Ayo watched them both and then wanted to watch them again. Then, in the middle of a video, he told me he was “all done”. I watched him physically relax his shoulders and return to thumb sucking as he was granted one French video. Little to no work was required to understand this one. Fascinating how the brain works.

Most linguists would agree that videos should not be the only method of language input. Ideally, one could learn and practice it with a native speaker. But there you go, that was our real-life first introduction. :)

Constant acts of kindness

I find that the mundane often meets the extraordinary these days.

Date: Friday, March 7, 2014
Time:
11:30am [Read: soon to be collective meltdown time for kiddos.]
Place:
 Our little neighborhood
Situation:
Snow day. Toddler refuses to wear hat, gloves, coat on our walk home from the park. I stop to explain the benefits of wearing warm clothes in front of someone’s home.

Enter an older lady with raspy voice from years of talking. Lady observes toddler from her living room hardly wearing any clothes. Lady runs out to the sidewalk, armed with a blanket for Ayo…

Her: Do you have enough clothes for your child? Please, please take my blanket to keep him warm.
Me: Oh wow, thank you so much!  I actually have a jacket, gloves and hat but getting him to wear them is another story!!
Her: Alright dear, just making sure he was warm…

Date: Monday, March 10, 2014
Time: 10:45am
Place: First: home, then: doc’s office, later: store
Situation: TCKmama hasn’t felt this ill in about five years. Fever, weak, flu-like symptoms, throat feels cut up by shards of glass. Papa is on the other side of the world, on a work trip. Getting to a new doctor is going to be quite the challenge between a wailing, hungry daughter and an active son who is tired of being plopped in front of another YouTube video. Drat! GPS drops us off in front of a fitness center. Finally find road of doc’s office 30 mins late. I call office. Office says they will do all they can to still try and fit me in.

Enter man exiting a bank who watches sick mother run with toddler and teddy bear on hip, infant in stroller and bag around my neck.

Him: Wow, you have your hands full. Where are you trying to go?
Me: 360 South Logan!!!
Him: Let me see.. that way is the 200s block…must be this way. Let’s find it together…here it is, 360 Logan.. good luck!

Enter 50-something female doctor who reads forehead temp and throat swab sample

Her: Dealing with this without your spouse? You must feel terrible. Can we help you arrange a nanny service or something? Here is a prescription for Streptococcus Group A, also known as strep throat. Go to the drive-through pharmacy on Colorado Blvd so you don’t have to unbuckle the kids. And, do you want to feed your daughter now while I play with your son for a bit?

After realizing I would have to wait for prescription, I run to store to pick up a few essential groceries for our really sick toddler friend staying with us at home. Enter Turkish cashier lady.

Her: You look so rough! Can I go through the aisles and help you pick your groceries up?

Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Time: 11:30am. [Read: soon to be collective meltdown time for TCKmama and kiddos.]
Place: Local library
Situation: TCKmama babysits, thus attempts to go to library storytime with Délice in stroller and two toddlers ‘walking’ alongside. Storytime comes to a close. Ayo runs for the steps. Library staff assists in calling him back and playing hide-and-seek with him. He melts down and wants to be in stroller. TCKmama tries to bundle three kids up, lug a huge diaper bag, carry Ayo, push stroller and hold a cute extra munchkin hand.

Enter Mary and Yolanda, two of the sweetest and brightest young library staff you will ever meet.

Them: Can we help you guys out?
[They then proceed to hold a small hand and some belongings and walk with us to the elevator]

Date: Wednesday March 26, 2014
Time: 10:30am [Read: toddler snacks running out. Baby sister more than ready for her first lunch]
Place: Grocery store
Situation: Mama is finished with her groceries. She is just waiting in front of rotisserie chicken for them to be cooked. Wednesday means $3 savings on a delicious freshly cooked chicken… We wait another 20 mins, struggling to entertain ourselves.

Enter a family-man clerk wearing white latex gloves who checks the roasting chicken temperature with a thermometer.

Him: Sorry ma’am, they are going to need another 10 mins.
Me: That’s okay. We can wait… I think! *nervous laugh*
Him: I’m really sorry we weren’t ready in time. Your time is precious in this life phase, that I know. Which chicken would you like me to remove when they are ready? This one is on the house.

Date: Yesterday, Wednesday April 2, 2014
Time: 11:50am. [Read: collective meltdown time for TCKmama and kiddos.]
Place: Grocery store parking area
Situation: Mama weight-lifting her groceries into the car, a heavy carseat and infant within, and strapping in the finger-sucking brother into his carseat. This grocery trip followed our 100 steps of leaving the house with a toddler (minus the potty training element but plus the baby sister)..

Enter a middle-aged gentleman with striking silver hair and one full brown shopping bag.

Him: Hey, can I take your shopping cart back for you? I remember having young kids and always hated leaving them in the car to run the cart back.
Me: Well, it’s this beastly “car cart” that has to be left at the front of the store. It’s okay, I can manage…
Him: It’s really no problem!
Me: [Hears Hallelujah chorus] Oh my goodness, thank you SO MUCH!

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For as physically tiring and hectic this season of life is, I receive so much compassion, support and kindness from people who don’t or barely know us. Think about it, these encounters all took place in the past month. They are just some of the mind-blowing (not so random) acts of kindness I experience on a day to day basis as a young mother in the United States. Such are the stories I will tell Ayo and Délice one day when we no longer live stateside. When discussing friendliness and kindness, I will tell them what a rich American heritage they have.

My hope is that they will one day grasp how contagious, powerful and transformational such acts of kindness are. My hope is that they would learn to slow down and also gift perfect strangers with kindness, simply out of the abundance of their hearts.

Mama thoughts at TWO!

We have a two year old! We once marveled at our infant boy’s mini features, wondering who he would become. Today, we already have glimpses of who this little boy is becoming and the journey is truly a lot of fun…

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Perfectly renamed “happy activist” by a gracious family member, two year old Ayodelé is strong-willed and persistent yet carefree, enthusiastic, fun-loving and utterly hysterical, observant and caring, snuggly yet independent, rambunctious and high-energy, adventurous and doesn’t feel much pain, yet he is a cautious little boy…

He is tall and lean like his papa, grins just like maman and looks very much like his eldest maternal cousin “Zozos”. He has a frighteningly great memory, very good comprehension of French and English used in daily life but jumbles them all up when he feeds them back, thinking that surely, everyone must understand both cognates. At two, his speech is not terribly clear to the uninitiated and his sentence structures aren’t all that complex, but he makes himself perfectly understood within the confines of our home. He is the kind of kid who will repeat a word 50 times with persistence until you figure out what he means. He loves his maman and loves to cook and taste all ingredients used. He loves to eat, loves his extended family and loves most women who are given the name “tata” (auntie). He also is fond of his play kitchen, toy cars, small containers with marbles inside or real pots and pans with frozen veggies therein. He is weary of most men besides his papi, his uncle TJ and his papa.
Go figure.

Some days, it is perfectly clear that Ayo is still a toddler and on others, he seems like such a little boy, who needs a rock in his pocket, wants to be thrown on the couch or have dirt under his fingernails and the right music played in the car. Two years old feels like a significant milestone around which time we start to wonder how to get him to stop sucking his fingers, how to teach him to dress himself, how to get him excited about the potty. I wouldn’t say that Ayo is an over-achiever, yet as his cognitive abilities increase, including thirst for things like colors, numbers, letters, song lyrics or more descriptive vocabulary, I feel he is at last about ready to learn a third language with some level of intentionality. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to language learning, I certainly believe in windows of opportunity. I do think Ayo is approaching a really good window of opportunity where his French and English foundations won’t be so compromised and yet before a new language feels funny to the ear and on the tongue. For where our family is at in life, Mandarin seems to make the most sense as a third language. So just last night, we were starting to think of ways to bring the gift of Chinese culture (a huge part and parcel of language learning) into our home: not the easiest challenge given our relatively monolingual geographical context, but not impossible either. Of course, that starts with me returning to language study, which has been on the back-burner given our new life with a toddler and a newborn. In this pursuit, I checked out several books on multilingualism from the library. Some great books that I have already read, which seem more relevant now than with an infant Ayo, and new ones that specifically guide parents in navigating the specificities of cultivating more than two languages. The critical difference between bi- and multilingualism is of course that you have to provide enough input in not only two but three (or more) languages to truly enable acquisition. We’ll take it easy and see how Ayo takes to it. As I am on the subject, there is a really interesting book that has just been published surrounding trilingualism, recently promoted on Multilingual Living‘s website: Language Strategies for Trilingual Families: Parents’ Perspective. Do let me know if any of you have read this. (If not and you are curious about it, you can win a copy here!)

We are also just starting to face terrifying decisions surrounding school and education, made even more complex by a questionable American public school system but appreciation for diversity and then there is our desire to further nurture multilingualism without going broke. Then, there is the question of his peers, which you of course can’t choose. Not to sound like a mama bear, but yesterday he tripped and fell as he was helping papa take the rubbish out. A couple of kids cycling past mocked him when he cried. Few things will make a mother more sad than to hear her child is laughed at by other kids. And yet, we must must must allow him to become autonomous and grow up to face people in life who won’t have his best intentions in mind. As his mother, I do know Ayo is growing up, but yet I believe he still strongly craves our parental nurturing and protection. On an encouraging note, Ayo is slowly able to move beyond behavioral instructions (“we don’t throw our food”) to more character building and reasoning (“we want to be good stewards of our food, so we do not throw food”). Of course, we know that character is first and foremost modeled by us. Also modeled by us, how do we show Ayo how to love and care for people around him?

Back to our constantly picketing happy activist… as Ayo’s parents, we want to cherish his fantastic persistence, independence and strong will rather than just crush these gifts. As a family, we want to learn how to harness and cultivate them. Parenting this child can be such a challenge on a daily basis and I repeatedly fail at stewarding his gifts. But by God’s grace, papa and I won’t give up. We absolutely love who Ayo is, we are excited to watch him grow into a caring big brother and love when we get glimmers into who he was created to be.

So many thoughts at two.

The iconic American cookie

I was driving the hubs to the airport the other day when I noticed this hotel shuttle with a gargantuan chocolate chip cookie on the side…

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The branding person inside me had a brief argument with my cross-cultural inner person. Why on earth would an aspirational hotel chain affiliated with Hilton, feature a child’s snack on the side of their airport shuttle? And then, my cross-cultural inner voice had to agree with the hubs’ expertise in the matter. He wasn’t renamed “uncle cookie” by his niece for nothing! Turns out, the sweet fresh chocolate chip cookie, is one of those iconic indulgences that most walks of life and socio-economic classes in America can identify with. Ideally, the fresh cookie is enjoyed with a large glass of cold milk. Maybe even leaving a mustache on your lips in signs of appreciation. That reminds me of a friend’s new American husband who was offered a glass of wine as an apéritif in Switzerland. He declined, asking for a cold glass of milk instead, which definitely didn’t go down too well. Never do that.

Back to our decadent fresh cookies with chocolate spilling out of them – this being apparently a key component to their appeal. (Uncle cookie never goes for the hard, pre-packaged kind…no memories of granny in those packages.) There must be something nostalgic about them that wakes up the child in grown adults. Maybe this comfort food awakens memories of grandma’s kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I too, like a good batch of cookies at select times, I just think it is hysterical when grown men eat them at the most formal of occasions: at a business meeting, at a movie, or after a working lunch. I have been so perplexed by this sight that I have googled all sorts of things around the American chocolate chip cookie over the past few days.

If you have traveled across the US on United Airlines business class (lucky you!), you might have noticed that the perk is one large warm chocolate chip cookie. The first time I saw a load of men in suits munching on their hot cookies in business class, while working on excel spreadsheets, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I am not sure I will ever get used to this, let alone hearing a grown man ask for a large glass of milk to accompany his baked good. This is the case in any setting, but in business class, it is really a peculiar sight from my cultural lens. Have you ever thought about how funny that is? Perhaps it is only funny given my cultural context. Maybe an individual from another cultural background would giggle at macarons or fine chocolates to accompany an espresso or something.

Anyway, just a light-hearted post today.
Happy Thursday all. Almost the weekend. :-)

Guitar in the park

It was about 3:30pm when we arrived at the park.  We had so much fun there yesterday that we had to come back for more. The intense mountain sun again soaked through to our skin as we slowly made our way to the playground. I pushed Délice in a stroller with one hand and held a bag of sandbox toys in the other. I occasionally called for Ayo not to run too far away from maman. He was thoroughly enjoying the freedom of meandering and shouted with sheer glee as he made a new discovery: a new rock or a big stick. After the buzz of the weekend, the park was still and peaceful, with runners and dog owners silently whizzing past us. Between the unrestrained toddler squeals and his mother beckoning him to come back as he ran for the cars on a nearby street, we definitely made our presence known.

As we reached the playground area, catchy music drowned out our noise pollution and quickly caught our attention. A man in his late thirties sat alone on a bench, playing a mini guitar, singing as he strummed in a striking male Edith Piaf voice. It took me about two seconds to realize that he was singing in impeccable French. I decided to park our stroller in his vicinity and let Ayo play there with the sand toys so we could enjoy his music. It was such a beautiful picture. About 20 children swung on swings, raced down slides and ran around the park on this warm day to gorgeous French vintage music. My mind imagined the scene immortalized in a black and white photo but yet the weather was too beautiful to let it linger in black and white. I snapped a quick photo of my own to record the moment. Mine was a little less idyllic. It was one of Ayo dumping sand upon himself. I couldn’t keep snapping because I didn’t want to be so obvious that I was actually trying to take a photo of guitar-man.

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Ayo eventually made his way to a slide and I told him to move away from the bottom of the slide so that other kids could come down: “Il faut que tu bouges de là, sinon tu vas te faire écraser par les plus grands, poussin! ” That is when I heard a young girl say: “Qu’est-ce que vous avez dit?” By her use of French, it was pretty clear to me that her daddy was the one playing guitar for the glorious benefit of all the rest of us.

It didn’t take long for her father to overhear me yelling across the playground to Ayo in his native language. Guitar-man eventually walked over to Ayo, who had his eyes on that ‘toddler-size guitar’. “Vous êtes française?” he asked me as I burped Délice over my shoulder. Am I French. Shoot – how hate that question! I muttered my ‘yes but no but yes’ answer. In his confusion, he turned to Ayo and had a mini conversation in French. He asked him if he liked the music. Ayo nodded. Guitar-man asked if he should play another song. Ayo nodded and squealed and clapped. And he asked him a few more questions, which resulted in timid responses yet perfect comprehension from my almost 23 month old.

Given the minority language feelings I shared in one recent blog post, my heart jumped for joy to be able to witness this little exchange. Here we were, in the middle of America and Ayo thought absolutely nothing of it, that he understood and could respond to a random Frenchman talking to him in the park.

Times like these remind me why we are on this multilingual journey.
Times like these remind me that the effort is not in vain.

—-

This post was written for this month’s Raising Multilingual Children Blogging Carnival, organized by thepiripirilexicon.com.


'Raising multilingual children' blogging carnival

This month’s carnival is hosted by Olga Mecking over at The European Mama. Head over there to read fascinating blog posts written by a wide range of multilingual parents on the theme of ‘Multilingual Stories and Anecdotes’!

 

Chatty blog “reduction”

Struggling to find the time to do the many things that I love.

One of those many things is to journal. A few days ago, I started using the voice function on my phone to journal in the car at red lights. Too many thoughts that I don’t want to see vanish. Another of those things is blogging. So many topics to blog about, so little time. One late night, I wrote a long chatty “one month alone” update blog in my drafts but sadly, somehow when I went back to it this morning, I found it blank. Sigh.

So, to use a cooking term, here is the essence of that blog post in a 20 minute “reduction”. No, really. I just started my stop watch. :-)
Truth be told, I love a good reduction. Usually, by boiling, you reduce your mixture, thus also intensify the flavors…

Délice is seven weeks young and Ayo 23 months. That means that I have been handling the two on my own during the week for one whole month now. Someone recently asked me how it is going with two under two. I had to respond this way: It is both harder and easier than I thought. It is lonelier and yet busier than I had imagined. It’s way more fun and way more mundane than I had thought it would be. It is more thankless yet so full of snuggles and hysterical laughing. Finally, it is more of a wonderful challenge and a more frustrating than I had thought it would be. For example, last week, I realized it had taken me a full two hours to get out the door. You remember the children’s book “Everyone Poops”? Well, the more accurate title for our life phase would be its sequel: “Everyone has Pooped AGAIN!”. I counted nine poops between two kiddos one day. Sometimes it feels like these are the only thing I am doing: changing diapers, clothes and feeding. It’s a lot. Both for me and for TM – even if I am the primary care-giver during the week. We have not fully figured out a good balance between kiddos, time for us and time for each of us yet…but that will come in time. Still, mentally and emotionally, I think I am in a fairly good place.

I am in the thick of the tension of not being sure I actually enjoy being at home full-time and yet trying to be diligent in the task before me, knowing full well that I am giving to these two munchkins what only a parent could give linguistically, nutritionally, educationally, spiritually etc. This is the hardest and most mundane job I have ever had. Give me a board room jam-packed of Chinese architects to present to in that urban design firm in Shanghai. Give me the volatile French boss who wanted me to decide if he should buy a company that evening based on my report. This job now is simply harder. Yet, I am the luckiest mother in the world not to have missed out on a single moment of my babies’ lives for the past almost two years. Surely, that is worth a short-term sacrifice?

The reason I feel in an okay place mentally and emotionally is not only because I am slowly getting the hang of things with two under two (namely learning to endure the inefficiencies of small humans) and easing back into running, but because a few life-giving opportunities seem to be cropping up. It’s often feast or famine like that in my life. First, there are good reasons to believe that I will be starting a sizable translation project this week. Translation is what you might call my “Starbucks job”. Nothing too exciting but pulling shots is sometimes more therapeutic than the repetitive task of getting a toddler to wear a jacket. Secondly, a company I had contacted five years ago (!!) would like me to host a cross-cultural training seminar for soon-to-be-expats. To put this into context, if I had to pin one down, I think this would be one of my dream jobs. I just had to say yes! Sure, these are “only” side gigs, but truly solid opportunities I am really excited for. I honestly don’t have the time for much more than this. Actually, I do have a couple of night feedings during which time I can research opportunities for the future. Nothing I am comfortable sharing yet as I am still in the dreaming phase. Still, it is SO life-giving to think about life after diapers. Will that be in the birth world, in the cross-cultural marketing world, in the speech and language pathology world? Only time will tell..

I also still have one personal branding client. Sometimes, I regret having kept any work at all as I feel guilty for not exceeding my clients’ expectations but as I am learning about mothers of small children, they just make time out of not much at all. They sleep less. They prioritize more. To be blunt, whether they are working at home or going into an office, they work their ass off. I pray to God that I will remember to encourage that frazzled mother in the grocery store for her freaking amazing work when I am older and not just tell them to “enjoy the moment for they pass by so fast”.

So,  I see I went over my time by seven minutes. More thoughts later…

Sweet moments

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It’s going to be a good morning!

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Not safe or recommended but practical!
You’d never know that we are headed out the door.

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Papa on duty!

Here is how I found them when I arrived back home:

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Discovery of the car at the grocery store.
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Just some fun moments captured by my phone camera recently.

 

 

Cold days…

It was cold last week. We’re talking frigid. For several consecutive days, my weather app read -25c / -13F. We’ve never experienced such a cold snap in this city, but thankfully, we were prepared for it. You see, we did have one totally depressing cold day the week before. We were completely house-bound and actually a little tired of playing kitchen! It was such a lonely, boring, cooped up day, that I gladly gave up one Friday evening to scour every interesting toddler blog or YouTube video I could find in that three hour period in search of new activities to keep us busy. A few new ideas and a small amazon.com order of inexpensive supplies kept us sane in the afternoons last week. We still try to get out most mornings or else I find someone climbing the walls. Clearly, only so many crafts can keep little boys busy! Here are five simple activities we did together to stay sane during the horrid temps…

1. Playing with letter magnets on the fridge.
Sorting by color, putting them back into the box, making patterns and of course flicking them all off the fridge. End of activity.

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2. Watching water beads grow.
Selecting colors and a couple dozen beads to put into the water, trying to grab them from the water, squishing them, bouncing them, playing with them in bowls and measuring cups, playing ‘search-in-the-bath’ with them and of course dumping them all out for mama to pick up. End of activity.

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More ideas for next time we play with the squishy beads here on Pinterest. Super fun.

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3. Good old-fashioned coloring.
We graduated from boring wax crayons to [washable!] marker pens. We played matching the caps, colored on paper, tried to color in between the lines in a coloring book and of course, in a moment of panic, frantically knocked all the markers down and started throwing them. End of activity.

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4. Playing grocery store with Bruno, le-nounours-teddy-bear, in the role of the cashier.
We chose objects to purchase, selected a card to pay with, bagged the purchased items up and of course, started throwing all the play fruit and veggies and all of mama’s real credit cards. End of activity.

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5. Baking.
This activity became an old classic when I found out that it could take us up to an hour and a half to bake the simplest of cookies. And with a toddler strapped to the chair! Pictured here is Ayo baking lemon shortbread cookies to have something to use cookie cutters to make fun shapes with. We mix, we measure out and taste all the ingredients and eventually get high on brown sugar and of course start to ruin recipe proportions and the capacity to eat dinner. End of activity.

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BONUS – One activity I hope we can do together one day, but didn’t have the courage to supplies for is this edible glow bath water. Doesn’t that look fun? But this one is only useful for the dark. And thankfully, papa is home most evenings to play with the kids anyway.

What are your favorite indoor activities for toddlers? We are thankfully back to park and playground weather this week, but we may need some ideas in our toolbox for the future…

You ate your what?!

I ate my placenta. And based on the squeamish reactions I have received since sharing that nifty piece of information, I thought I should write a little more about the practice of placentophagy and my own experience with it.

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Alright, so, eating your own placenta to promote postpartum recovery (placentophagy) might not exactly be a mainstream idea yet, but it isn’t a new one at all. Throughout the ages and around the world, many women have consumed the afterbirth, that has nurtured and sustained the life of their babe in-utero. Today, more and more women choose to ingest their own placenta, known to be jam-packed with helpful nutrients, vitamins and hormones. Many report increased energy, better milk supply, less postpartum depression, decreased postpartum bleeding and faster healing of scar tissues (check out this video here). While some women don’t mind it sautéed or in a smoothie to preserve the original qualities of the nutrients, the most popular way to eat it in the West is by dehydrating it and turning it into little capsules so you don’t have to deal with the taste (find out how it is done, here). You can even add herbal supplements to the dehydrated, ground placenta if desired or consume as is, which is what I did.

Did I just lose you? In all honesty, it felt a tiny bit “crunchy” for me after my first birth too. However, after digging into the practice a bit more, I knew it was an obvious item to add to my second birth “bucket list”. I was so curious to see what all the buzz was about (at least in the birth center and home-birth worlds). Based on my research, it was my hope that nature’s free medicine might help decrease those night sweats that had me waking to change my PJs more often than feed my newborn last time. I was dying to know if the oxytocin left in the afterbirth would give me a closer bond with my daughter than in the first days after Ayo’s birth, when I felt rather estranged. I was also eager to compare my postpartum energy levels with the recovery from my previous birth.

So, a couple days after Délice was born, our kind neighbor helped us drive the placenta-on-ice to the Placenta Lady. She did all the dirty work for us. I do understand you can encapsulate your own but, this isn’t exactly the type of leftovers the hubs wanted to find in our blender. ;-) Two days later, we were given a little jar of capsules and a few instructions on how and when and when not to take the powerful tonifier. I would have loved to share my experience of taking the pills the first days postpartum but according to Chinese Medicine, counter-indications included not taking the pills when you have any acute illness (think: mastitis, flu, cold..).  Well, by day 3, our whole house (minus Délice, thank God!) got sick for 2-4 days. Bam! That meant that I was only taking the capsules from day 4 onwards. Of course, for best results, you are meant to take the majority of the pills within your first ten days postpartum. So much for my placenta experiment.

In the end, the most tangible effect from placenta ingestion I can attest to, was a moderate decrease in those hormonal night sweats and a noticeable increase in milk production. In my case, the latter was not a good thing as Délice was already struggling with my ridiculous over-supply to start off with. In fact, the magic milk enhancing placenta capsules may have indirectly contributed to an extremely fussy baby (gassy and puking up everywhere) as well as two horrible bouts of mastitis in those first weeks, which meant suspending placenta pills completely during that time.

I understand that each body reacts very differently to placenta pills. So, if you were wondering what to expect after consuming a placenta, you’d have to carry out your own experiment. All I can say is that, minus those few sick days with a family tummy bug and with the bouts of mastitis, yes, I absolutely felt physically and emotionally healthy in first two weeks following Délice’s birth. I was out of breath, but literally up and running by day 2. But how much can you attribute to the pills and how much to the subsequent birth factor? It’s hard to know exactly. Délice’s was an unmedicated, second birth without any laceration. Recovery was understandably really quick. The first days were also much less stressful this time. During Ayo’s first days of life, I wasn’t sure I liked being a slave to the incessant breastfeeding of this helpless being, to the night wakings, to the projectile vomit and explosive poop – blah! I was more prepared for the drill this time. Also, yes, I felt tired in those first two weeks following Christmas Day, but it is hard to know how much is sickness and racing-after-toddler-induced, how much was the fact that I was/am up in the night with a newborn. And would I have been more fatigued without the pills? Difficult to know with certainty. All that to say, I don’t regret eating my placenta but I sadly cannot offer a very conclusive report based on my personal circumstances.

I am fully aware this is a terrible anti-climax at the end of this blog entry, which has been the main reason I wrote it days ago but never posted it. What can I say – sometimes you can’t tie everything up in a cute package with a pretty bow. ;-) I’d love to hear your thoughts on placenta consumption or any of your first hand experiences with the practice!

Home alone..with TWO!

Mamie has returned to France. The futon is folded back up and her trademark post-visit “secret card” has already been collected from the letterbox. Tragically, paternity leave is now over as well. As if that were not enough seclusion, said pater has deemed our house unsuitable to work in now that air fills the lungs of TWO expressive children. As it stands, it remains unclear whether we kicked him out or he left us on his own volition.

bathingtwoNo one is gathering up stray burp cloths, helping bathe a child (see photo, right) or neatly organizing kitchen cupboards. I hear no more work calls. No one is asking for a coffee. Instead, unrestrained squeals of delight and tears of uncaught falls fill our home. I hear Ayo repeating “maman? maman? MAAAAman?” until I answer. Délice is crying for mamaaan-waaah until I pick her up. Gosh, even Thomas the Train is cheerfully proclaiming “Brendham Docks, I am on my way!” in a loop until I turn ‘him’ away from the wall he ran into while Ayo fell off the chair. I pick raisins off jeans, sweep granola from the floor, berate Ayo for throwing banana at the wall and wipe almond butter off magnets. I should clarify: I did all those things before Délice joined our family. But now, such things get done while feeding both kids, all in assessing which poopy diaper is more threatening. For the record, it’s always the newborn’s. So, I lay Délice down, continue to respond to Ayo’s constant jabber and prop my daughter’s head up, hoping she won’t puke her meal up while I grab a wipe, while I speak a quick text message to my phone: “Its bak 2 realty”..I mean “back to reality”. No hands left to type and even Siri can’t keep up with the pace. It’s just me and the chilluns now.

I knew Monday, January 13th would come fast. I dreaded it, yet couldn’t wait to see what it would be like all at the same time. We all kissed papa goodbye at least twice at a ridiculously early hour of the morning (considering I am up all night) and I took a deep breath as I watched the garage door close. You see, after two half days of initiation last week, yesterday was my first full day all on my own with two kids. I’ll admit that I feel a little ridiculous making a big deal of it, especially knowing that at least two mama friends with four kids read this blog. Still, I think I might like to look back on these beginning days and remember what life was like to learn to juggle a 22 month old and a 3 week old…

Our very first outing was a trip to the post office to mail some books we sold on Half.com, in order to make room in the house for a second baby. That turned out to be a brave first outing because the line was longer than a seven year itch. It’s no wonder the US Post Office is going out of business! After changing both children’s diapers, I pre-tied my Moby wrap at home, lugged Délice in a carseat and a diaper bag and bribed Ayo to follow us to the car with his lion-face backpack filled with toys and snacks. At the post office, Délice in the wrap, I got Ayo & backpack out of his carseat. He bolted towards busy Broadway street as I grabbed our packages. I ran after him, catching him by his hood, squishing Délice’s head with my packages. We joined the back of the line and by the time about three people were behind us, Ayo had pooped his pants again. This sort of threw off my afternoon of errands since I now needed to go to a store where I could find a changing table. There was plenty of time to muster up a plan since we had entered the twilight zone of the post office. Ayo lost it by the time we reached the counter. He giggled and ran for the door and to everyone’s dismay, I plopped my packages on the counter and I ran after him to save his life. This time, supporting Délice’s head. If only the people buying our books online from the comfort of their plush armchairs and frolicking out to collect their mail could see what it took to get those packages in the post! We wrapped up at the post office and Ayo eagerly said “Bye byesh” to everyone and blew kisses on our way out. I stuffed our children back into their carseats and instantaneously coveted my parents’ era of being able to nurse at the wheel and keep small babies in wraps instead of in clumsy, clunky carseats.

From there, we went to the grocery store. I heaved Ayo into the cart after Délice was stuffed back into the Moby wrap. I lifted him back out when we reached the bathroom. He shook his head and said “non, non, non” before realizing a diaper change wasn’t a negotiable. I changed him, considered changing Délice and opted against it when I saw Ayo crawling on the bathroom floor. I quickly washed hands and lifted him back onto the cart as I tried to remember if we actually needed anything from the store. Milk! Yes, we need milk! I headed to the dairy section and aimed for the center of the aisle as my toddler’s hands tend to dangle in hopes of grabbing all colorful bottles. A pregnant woman stopped me to ask me about my Moby wrap. Several grannies just ‘had to see the newborn’. And one woman asked me what it was like going out with two young kids so close in age, as she has another on the way as well. “I have no idea! This is our first trip outside the house!”. We laughed.

Okay, that was enough laughing, I really needed to race home to avoid missing precious naptime for Ayo and *sigh* for Délice’s next feeding. Quick, quick to the checkout… And then I heard Ayo say “Maman?” and mouth the fish sound. Yes son, of COURSE we were going to make one last stop at the aquarium next to the store’s entrance. He squealed with delight and waved “BYE BYESH” to all cashiers with both arms, generously blowing them all huge kisses. The aquarium was a precious haven of peace in the middle of our storm. This moment was as special for mama as it was for Ayo. In that moment, it was like nothing had changed. We always stopped there and checked out all the fish. “Maman? Piti!” he said as he pointed to the smaller fish. “That’s right, Ayo, there are little ones and big ones too. Look behind that rock, do you see that one?” We stood there looking for the hidden orange fish, the pretty tiger striped one and the ugly grey bottom-feeder. We stopped there until we had seen and counted them all.

pandtI could carry on with all the details of these past two full days on my own with Ayo and Délice. On how they fit into one stroller (see photo) or are getting along. But I think you get the picture. The past 48hrs have been busy, chaotic and full with some added logistics and laundry. And I predict this season will be even fuller, more taxing, more fun, more dull, more lonely and more lively than the one before. At the same time, I never expected to find such special moments like the one in front of the aquarium to delight in my son, like I get to experience in the middle of the night with my daughter. I can’t wait to find more of these moments as I choose to truly stop and see beauty in the midst of our new chaos.

Nine days postpartum…

Toddler naptime stream of consciousness, nine days into it…
Trying this without using the “delete” key.

Getting too old for these nighttime feedings. I love stroking Délice’s cheeks. Oh my goodness gracious, she smells like heaven. Nice not to feel so stressed about it all this time around. Rather, stressed she is growing before our eyes. Quick, quick, take it in before it fades away. It took me all of three days to decide Délice cannot be our last one. TM agreed by day five. What is wrong with us? This is madness. How will I ever feed both? Entertain Ayo and not miss out on Délice’s each move? Whole house sick with tummy bug sucks big time. Ayo is hardly ever sick. How could that have happened?  Cartoons allowed in our house, what’s happened to our parenting? Ayo’s first big bro moment, cuddling Délice whilst watching a show: “Caillou fait des pizzas.” A French show seems more acceptable, right? At least he is learning something, right? He’s speaking less French already. Mama can’t just be dedicated to teaching him French all day anymore. So sad. So happy. So thankful for those who are caring for him. And us. Surrounded by unbelievably loving friends, family and church. Tired. Winded. How will I cope when TM goes back to work and Mamie is back home? This is like a diaper factory between her and him. She poops. He poops. She poops again. Tiring. Then I feel great and attack machine loads of spit up and breastmilk laden towels. And then I get tired. Herbal baths are divine. All postpartum mamas should be allowed to enjoy the herbal bath I had at the birth center after Délice was born. That was my first moment I got to stare into her face all on my own. So special. SO special. Candles, babe snuggles and bath – like I said, divine. Then the vernix absorbed into her skin. Skin-to-skin, skin. Then, I took the memory home: stockings to pour herbs into and a bathtub to pour herbal stocking into. A bath to shut everyone else out. Just me and my squishy belly that no one wants to touch anymore. I do! Me and my leaky breasts. Thankful for great supply. Quick feedings. But leaking faucets are hard to repair. Time. It’s all about time. Back to the bath – me and my memories alive behind my closed eyes. It was a birth beyond my wildest expectations. Birth is addictive. An unpredictable roller coaster. My hopes this time: to feel the intensity of the pain the whole time, not to push the sensations away. To experience the ring of fire. Ouch…why did I want that? To try other coping mechanisms rather than just squatting to push a babe out for 10 hours. Sling, shower, toilet, stair lunges, birth ball, tub… To enjoy pink champagne in celebration of this new little girl. To try the birthing tub. Check check check. Beyond my wildest expectations: midwife Laura attending Délice’s birth. A waterbirth! A Christmas Day birth! A delicious vernixy babe. No laceration at all. Say what?! Second baby bliss. A birth attended by my mama and my sis a.k.a. “midwife in training”and doula par excellence. Best labor backrubs ever. Most calming presence ever.

And… toddler naptime is over. Just like that.

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And then there were four…

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What a very Merry Christmas indeed!

Minority language feelings

It’s got to be mind-boggling for any parent to watch the process of language acquisition unfold. As a linguist, I can’t tell you how much fun it is to experience Ayo picking up language at such an unprecedented rate this month. At 21 months, he is mimicking, babbling enthusiastically, using words we didn’t know he knew (watch out for those private conversations, guys!) and even starting to realize that something like a sour yellow fruit can have two qualifiers. Up until this point, there has been a distinct preference for just one noun, usually based on frequency of use or ease of pronunciation. (“Eau” being easier to say than “water” and “bye bye!” easier than “au revoir” for example). Indeed, in our home, the acidic fruit can be called a “citronor a “lemon”.

Last week, while chomping on a slice, Ayo said something like: “Mamao! Teeto” and since these days you snooze you lose, as I failed to respond with ‘that’s right, it’s a citron’, so he pressingly yelled for “papaaaa!?”. Papa responded with: “you got it, that’s a lemon!” In response, Ayo declared “neeymo!” and then wanted to hear the other qualifier again: “Mamao?”. Me: “Oui, c’est un citron!” He said something like: “Teeto! Neeymo!”. Super interesting.

At this point, Ayo understands French and English incredibly well. Almost equally well. French comes out plenty of the time. Yet, he is using many more English words than I had ever imagined possible. And this, despite me communicating with him more or less nine really long hours each day solely in French. Whaaa?! Sure, on a head level, I knew he would develop a preference for English eventually by us living in the US. After all, we’re surrounded by English every single day! But, I guess I had assumed that until he is in school, influenced by peers speaking a given language, he’d show some small preference for French spoken the majority of the day. But alas, our current socio-linguistic reality is that I really am his only real source of French input at this point in time. We’re hopeful this will change one day…

While his English language development is wonderful to watch, the speed by which he absorbs it does at times remind me just how lonely and uphill this battle as a champion of the minority language can be. I never knew I would feel quite this way. Have you ever felt this way, minority language parents?

In all this, I cannot allow myself to get discouraged if when I say “jus de pomme” approximately 3600 times and he gets it in English after papa says it all of four times. Instead, I have to continuously remind myself how much minority language teaching is not so much about today. It is a journey of faith that this is a free gift they will use and build on tomorrow. In another season. And in the meantime, I truly am having so much fun on this journey, watching it all come together…

 

Twice Blessed

Woah, as of today, I am considered full-term! 37 weeks is certainly not when we hope to have a baby, but today is the earliest our birth center can welcome laboring mamas. Wait… laboring mamas? Are we really about to go through this again?

This pregnancy has really flown by at a staggering pace and this little 37 week milestone reminds me of all the things I would love to do before we become a family of four (did I just write that? Crazy!). This colossal event will inevitably take place sometime, anytime now, within the next five weeks.

We’ll eventually need to set up a crib, finish Christmas shopping and I’d like to make Ayo’s room a little more fun and “big brotherlike”. Come to think of it, we should really think of filling out outstanding medical forms and perhaps freeze a couple postpartum meals. All the same, I wish to be at a place of peace and rest if these things can’t get done in time. Truly, all babe will initially require is mama, diapers and a car seat, right?

Despite all the other little irritating items gnawing on my tired brain at the end of the day, a much bigger question is at the top of my mind anyway: How on earth will we manage two kids under 21 months and preserve our couple’s sanity?

That question unveils many more:
Will we ever have time as just lovers ever again?
How can we not just survive the chaos but thrive as a family of four?
Will I ever shower again?
Will I ever sleep again?
Does a growing family imply a sedentary lifestyle?
How will we ever travel again?
Will I ever have a real career again outside of motherhood (the hardest career ever)?

Based on decent Amazon reviews, I recently borrowed the book Twice Blessed – Everything you need to know about having a second child – preparing yourself, your marriage, and your firstborn for a new family of four by Joan Leonard from our local library. It was one of the few books I found that spoke about changes to expect in your family and couple, not just how to help your first child to adjust to having a sibling. It talks about how the year following the birth of the second child is statistically the most stressful year in a marriage. Leonard states that a firstborn may transform a couple’s carefree life, but the second places huge strain on both partners. For her, adding a third or fourth is ‘just’ a continuation (multiplication, I’d think!) of the balancing act learned from having two.

While I am enjoying reading the book, mainly thankful for its brutal honesty and occasional survival tips, I find that I have to constantly remind myself that people have gone before us on this journey and have not only survived but thrived and have chosen to have more children! Sadly, in the same way that not-so-thoughtful-strangers offloaded their birthing trauma when I was about to give birth last time, several individuals now warn me about the apparent misery we are about to embark on – especially with two children so close in age. Two in diapers. Two unable to dress themselves. Two little beings completely unaware of danger…

In these final weeks of pregnancy, I really question the benefit of listening to those comments. (Duh, of course two munchkins will keep us busy!) Instead, I want to choose to approach this new phase with anticipation, delight and gratefulness and listen to the encouragement of those who have been in our shoes before. I choose to see this as the perfect, intended time for our family to grow. To be forever thankful that we will soon be twice blessed, especially, when I once thought that we might never be able to have kids.

Instead of the obvious, dreaded questions, that will eventually sort themselves out, I want to ask ourselves deeper, more important questions:
What lessons will this new little one teach us?
What are the huge benefits of having two so close in age?
What new relational doors will be open as a result of having another child?
How will our second child transform us and our family’s values?
How can this little one strengthen rather than weaken our marriage?
How will we intentionally choose to enjoy this transition, despite all its challenges?
How will we steward this precious new gift of life?
How will our second babe enrich our lives? I know this addition will do that, including for Ayo, who will soon have the immense privilege of becoming an older brother!

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Surprise!

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Awesome surprise breakfast baby shower this past Saturday.
Feeling so loved and blessed by this really special group of gals.

 

Fun times…

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Just a few random photos from our travels (France + UK). The final pic is of Ayo and his second cousins in the UK.
Ayo is 20 months old, mama is 34 weeks pregnant.

Tia Camp

Well, girls, I am pretty sure I am the luckiest pregnant mama out there. My sister-in-law, a.k.a. “Tia”, recently declared she would be taking Ayo one day a fortnight in the weeks leading up to the birth of our sweet baby #2. It was really difficult for me to accept her offer, knowing that she has two of her own Energizer bunnies aged three and under. Adding mine to her brood felt like such an exhausting load. So much to handle at once. When one child runs to the right and the other to the left, in which direction do you run? How do you put three of those to bed come naptime? Tia persisted, bringing her idea up again, in front of Tall Mountain this time over dinner one night: “Ayo IS coming to Tia Camp, the question isn’t if but when. So, which day would you prefer Tia Camp to be on?” And with all eyes on me, I gratefully accepted her generous present to care for our active 19 month old in this tiring stage of pregnancy. The offer meant time to finish a coffee whilst it is still warm, to go to the toilet unaccompanied or to hang up laundry without it being pulled down three times. Such things have slowly become luxuries in this these very full younger kid years.

I chose my first Tia Camp day to be held on the day prior to our current trip to France. On those pre-trip days, you’ll usually find me cleaning out the fridge, washing a final load of diapers, purchasing trip snacks or racing to finalize packing. That said, to take full advantage of a day of rest, I tried really hard to finish most of these things in advance. It would have been wasteful to spend such a gift just on cleaning, don’t you think? So, instead, I did things in life that are close to impossible with a toddler…

I first pulled into the parking lot of a recreation center where I listened to a National Public Radio (NPR) report all the way to the end on the effects of video games. Honestly, I couldn’t give a damn what the report was about. I was going to listen until the end. Then, I walked extra slooowly to the fitness center to go for a swim. How rare to be on the same pace as the grannies in the Aquagym class held in the next lane over! Speaking of swimming, I now remember why I dislike swimming so much. I too love the weightlessness women rave about during pregnancy, but I will always ALWAYS spend that evening itching from head to toe no matter how much I rinse, wash, lather on the lotion, oils and creams. For some odd reason, this debilitating itch only happens during pregnancy. Still, the swim was so peaceful whilst it lasted. From the pool, I drove to a quiet new-mother’s-center-meets-baby-boutique expecting to ask for directions to a fun coffee shop. Somehow we ended up talking about the manager’s births!? I tell you, a growing belly brings out the best stories, you guys. She had had a Cesarean section initiated by her epidural / pitocin combo followed by a hospital breech presentation VBAC, followed by an unmedicated homebirth. The whole gamut! “Oh, you were looking for a coffee shop, right? Well, if you want great coffee, there is a really fun place that pairs chocolate with wine, tea, coffee right around corner!” she said. I swear she was forewarned I was having a day of pampering… Exercising, discussing birth, eating chocolate, reading and sipping coffee..I mean, talk about my dream day come true!

Meanwhile, this is how the kids were spending this cold day:

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It was at a place called The Chocolate Therapist that I sat down and began to journal about our next baby. For some reason, even remembering I am pregnant has been hard to do in this season. Thanks to Tia Camp, I was able to sit there with a warm coffee and a bite of chocolate and try to wrap my mind around life with a new baby. Who is this child? What will this child be named? I pondered. I was drawn to a passage from the Bible, in Romans 8, that totally came to life when I read it, as if it was written for our second born. Tears clouded my view. It was a total out of body type of experience similar to one I had pre Ayo’s birth, where the words came to life as if intended to be individual perfumes enveloping our infant. I looked for the bathroom to continue weeping as I boldly asked God what these things meant for our child: “freedom”, “life and peace”, “He knew them before they were born”, “expectancy like a woman in labor”, “hope we have been given” and more phrases I have yet to process… I spent the rest of the day unable to focus, with these concepts reeling around in my head. Leaving the café, I prayed for whatever these things should mean for our kiddo. That is when a song came on in the car repeating each of these concepts as if it had been planned for me to hear at that time. As a tear clouded my vision, I was prodded and poked from all the somersaults going on in my womb. “That’s right, those words are for you ” I laughed. So, I pulled over at a park to let this special moment sink in. Nothing else that I did that day was at all important in comparison. I had had the best Tia Camp day possible. I picked Ayo up, who was busy “playing” with his cousins (or was that a toy he was throwing at them? I can’t remember), forever grateful for this priceless gift of rest and time alone amidst such a tiring season of life.

I am not sure if it is a conspiracy to get me to rest, but, the next morning, we flew to France where Mamie declared she was hosting a Mamie Camp. Did I ever tell you I am the luckiest pregnant mama out there?

Flying alone w/ 19 month Ayo

This cozy Sunday afternoon found me catching up on Pam’s witty blog about air travel with a toddler over here. I beckoned Tall Mountain to come over and read her hysterical post, perfectly capturing the fidgety “lap child” concept when in fact, the miniature travel companion wants nothing to do with the aforementioned lap. You know, when they all of a sudden outgrow the darling swaddle and become unpredictable part human / part animal beings with zero social etiquette, tickling fellow passengers, grabbing your neighbor’s wine or shaming them with loud “uh ohhhs” as they drop a napkin. I shudder at the thought that I write from experience.

Our 4.5hr flight to NYC was our hardest yet. In fact, flight #24 with Ayo was wilder than any of our previous international flights. We hadn’t even settled into our seats as I noticed our 19 month-old tickling an elderly man’s balding hair and then pointing “uh oh, uh ohhhhh!” as a larger male passenger stretched, causing his seat to creek. By this age, even his soft leather slippers designed for a cute caterpillar crawl have morphed into little lace-up weapons with black rubber soles ready to bruise nearby flesh. Thankfully, TM and I were able to tag-team, providing Ayo an extra lap to climb on and an extra pair of hands to walk up and down the narrow aisle with. Of course, this was one of the few aircrafts that was designed pre-babies! Can you believe that some airplanes still do not have any changing tables on board? Thankfully,  à deux, we were able to tackle the unhappy tot and wing a decent lap change. Or so we thought. As we were landing and the restless cub was reigned in thanks to a dripping snack, I could have sworn my water broke. Looking down, there was no mistake, it was Ayo leaking approximately 10oz / 300ml of warm liquid out the side of a diaper leg. Wow. As usual, he fell asleep peacefully as soon as we spotted our rental car.

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I returned from New York alone. Major correction, I traveled without TM, but with Ayo and a 30 week baby bump..and a heavy roller carry on, Ayo wheeled in a carseat and a spilling out diaper bag…oh, and an ergo carrier hanging off my waist. As he dropped me off at JFK, my sweet hubs gave me a pep talk: “Babe, I am really worried about you. You’re exhausted, have a lot of luggage as well as Ayo. I want you to go straight to the check-in and tell them that you have a window seat on a fully booked flight. Tell them that you are very pregnant and have an active toddler and are flying at bedtime and that if you can’t change seats, it could be a total disaster for the whole plane.” I began visualizing the worst case scenario, after a week of limited rest, as I sensed tears flood my eyes. Still, I didn’t want to make TM worry we wouldn’t be okay. After all, you can survive most anything for a half a day, right? I plucked up all the courage left in my weary body to wave goodbye with a smile as he whispered: “hun, you ask your Father what you need, each step of the way”. I needed to hear that. From then on, I was able to release my fear of what might happen on flight #25 and trust in the countless ways I have seen God provide for us over the years. Why would today be any different?

The Sri Lankan check-in assistant, who could have been my dad’s age, asked me if I had any luggage to check. I was clearly at the limit of what any one able-bodied human should carry aboard. Knowing that a checked suitcase costs $25 on these domestic flights, I declined. To my surprise, he told me not to worry about the cost. And if anyone had a problem with that, that they should come to him. I smiled as a tear slid down my cheek and then proceeded to hand him my heavy bag. At security, the TSA agent took one look at us as he saw two filled water bottles and 10oz of milk go through the x-ray and whisked us through. With all the extra time on our hands, we ran up and down the terminal for almost three hours, burning off energy. Perhaps the gate agent who saw us and had compassion on us. Again, a man about the age of my own dad quietly handed me an aisle seat with extra legroom and told me not to tell anyone about it since the upgrade should cost $50. I felt so cared for. I chuckled as we three took a seat next to two marketing colleagues, to their initial dismay. We of course took off 30 minutes late. That meant that Ayo had eaten all of the gazillion snacks I had brought before we even took off, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. The business lady next to me from a branding agency in NYC, raised an eyebrow and said: “wow, and you’re having another one?”, clearly nervous at our diminishing snack pile. Finally, 2 hours and 20 minutes in the air, Ayo passed out, his legs straddled around my cramped pregnant belly. I breathed a sigh of relief, ran my fingers through his fine angel hair and smiled at the gift of his life (and a sleeping baby!). In the remaining flight time, I managed to go to the [minuscule] bathroom without him waking up (imagine the logistics of this for one minute), I reached with my toes for the now cold lamb sandwich in a bag that I had been dying to eat for about three hours and dove into a conversation with my curious neighbor about branding, China, NYC all in shifting the heavy sleeping toddler away from his squashed, kicking sibling. At 2am East Coast time, Ayo and I were at long last in our own beds, sleeping peacefully and feeling fully provided for by a Father who desires to care for us if we simply ask Him.

This just happened…

Hi there,

We just returned home by airplane and our tube of SunnyBaby SPF 30 squeezed out into our suitcase. I am wondering how best to wash the lotion out of our garments and remove the stains it is leaving. Any ideas would be really appreciated!

Thanks,
Me
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Good Morning,

Thank you for taking your time to contact us. What we recommend using to remove sunscreen is a castille soap or a dish soap with a grease cutting agent. We use castille soap to clean everything we use to make our sunscreen. Make a mixture of water and soap apply to the spot and dab, this should remove the stain.

It sounds like you lost a bit of sunscreen too, I would be more than happy to send you a new tube free of charge. If you could please provide me with your mailing information.

Nikole H.
Goddess Garden Organics

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photo-61Inside the next day DHL package: stainless steel water bottle, 9 product samples and a new tube of suncreen!

 

 

 

East Hampton: a maid’s embrace & survival parenting

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 12.03.38 PMAfter filming all week in NYC, the production team moved to East Hampton for the weekend: a wealthy coastal village located on the peninsula east of New York. Ayo and I drove out there with the guys, eager to discover a new part of the country. To Ayo’s delight, we joined the team on their first mission to film private helicopters coming in from NYC for the weekend. (This could be your life too for $3000 per person per ride!) Our weekend in the Hamptons was low-key because we were at the mercy of the production schedule as to when we could catch a ride from our housing to the village center. Where we stayed didn’t have the activities New York had on offer for this last part of our Ayomoon, but the contrast between extremely busy New York and the relaxed pace of the surrounding trees swaying in unison by the seaside was enjoyable too in its own way. We collected acorns and watched (chased!) squirrels around the house and then walked to the private harbor plastered with “access for boat owners only!” signs. We definitely own at least one toy boat, so we figured that should count. Later in the day and after all the stones on the beach had been thrown into the ocean, we got a ride into the village center and eventually found a playground.

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At the playground, I got chatting with a sweet-spirited Hispanic lady, who was a house-keeper for wealthy vacation home owners in the village. Her two-year old son Jorge played with Ayo as we chatted about her life in the Hamptons. Even as a house-keeper, she has a nanny to care for little Jorge as it made more sense to her financially. Wow! We chatted for a while and then got back to playing with our respective sons. Ayo ran around the grassy field as I rested for one moment on one of the swings, still keeping an eye on him. Then, all of a sudden, a siren directly above us made the loudest, most alarming noise I have heard in my life. I was told later that because there aren’t enough paid emergency personnel, the siren alerts volunteers to run to the scene of an accident or a burning house according to the number of blows. Here the boys were, making a documentary about the pursuit of silence and my child was about to go deaf in the same village from the loudest sound I had heard in my 33 years of life on earth. The reason I share this detail is because the kind Hispanic woman, swept Jorge into her arms and ran to collect Ayo as well, gently cupping her hands over Ayo and Jorge’s ears, their other ear smothered into her cheeks. Both boys looked pale, as if they had seen a ghost, but remained still, cuddled in her embrace until I could get to them. The alarm still sounded above the jungle gym as I reached my son. I could feel the sound vibrating throughout Ayo’s ribcage. After thanking the lady, our ears ringing, we all quickly decided to leave the area. Besides being shocked that the siren could be placed near young children playing, I was left completely touched by this lady’s first reaction: to fetch and protect my child. In my experience, this sort of gut reaction is so rare for our independent Western culture, where we first look out for ourselves. For our own. For us. Sadly, I don’t think I would have ever thought to grab a stranger’s kid in the same swoop as mine in such a situation. We walked away, shaken up by the jarring experience (Ayo) and challenged (mama) by this beautiful sense of motherhood being synonymous with community, of a world bigger than one’s one.

All in all, Ayo did pretty well adjusting to the new surroundings with the exception of the sleep situation: new bed, new bedtime, new room. The reality of skipped or ultra short naps all week long, didn’t help our cause. I spent both evenings rocking him, singing to him, laying beside him, trying to get him to sleep for 2-3 hours. It was really miserable. I longed to enjoy a short evening chat with the hubs after his long day but ended up falling asleep completely exhausted, brimming with anger at how my evenings were a complete wash. The anger wasn’t towards Ayo, because we brought him into this situation in the first place, but rather because I felt forced to parent in a way that goes against everything we have worked so hard to achieve. When I think about it, I think this sort of “survival parenting” is the hardest part of travel at this stage for me. Ayo ate whatever, whenever, slept whenever, wherever (usually in our bed – meaning I woke up to uterus kicks, Ayo tickling me, him leaping into my jugular or bonking my head – not my thing) and whined for whatever, knowing in that short time, mama had become a softy for the sake of general sanity. It was definitely time for us to get back into our routine.

Museum day with a twist

Ayo and I ventured over to Brooklyn today, since the guys started their day filming someone on that side of town. We were happy to join them on their car ride to save us a bus trip. This Ayomoon day #4 started chilly and wet, so it seemed like the perfect museum day. We were dropped off on a street corner and made our way quite easily to the NY Transit Museum. Naturally, as I spotted the museum, Ayo decided it was an ideal time for a snooze. All those missed daytime naps (at best catnaps on mama) are giving all of us terribly restless nights of sleep. This childhood sleep concept is the most counter-intuitive thing to me: sleep truly begets sleep! So, having temporarily lost my little observant buddy, I had the choice of going into the museum and reading up on all the little facts that Ayo wouldn’t ever let me read, or resting my already sore legs at a coffee-shop. I chose the latter as I too was feeling the strain of today. My phone battery was strangely low, so I couldn’t do anything but sip my coffee, listen to conversations around me and enjoy not having to talk or run after a small human.

When Ayo awoke from his short nap, we went back to the museum location. The Transit Museum is in fact a repurposed, decommissioned but still functioning subway station with a selection of train cars throughout the years that you can [safely] walk in and out of. Someone working there told me that in Nov/Dec a few of the cars are let out of the station for Christmas shopping tours! We ran inside every train car we could before discovering the upper floor featuring NY buses throughout the years. To his delight, Ayo finally got to “drive a bus”. I think the museum will be even more fun in a few years when we all have the luxury of reading the tidbits (or reaching the brake pedal). However, by then, he won’t go free of charge! So, with darting eyes, I tried to take in the signage (fonts, wording, sizes, colors) changing over the years and what the turn-styles looked like back then…one of them said “5 cents to exit”. By this time, Ayo was melting down. He cried and cried until he found a manky banana in my backpack. I knew ribs were touching his back when he was happy to eat the peel as well.

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From the museum, old banana in belly, I felt like we might have just enough time to jump inside the ball-pit inside the Thursday special pay-as-you-wish Children’s Museum of the Arts back in Soho (before making our way back to the bus terminal to head back to our accommodation). We trekked back to Manhattan on foot and by subway, only to discover that this museum had closed down over a year ago. Well, thanks, Google!

The huge silver lining in all this was that on our way, we stumbled upon a bakery in front of which a couple was taking photos. We always do that when we find an awesome bakery! :-) It turns out, we had found Dominique Ansel’s bakery, also known for his invention of the famous Cronut! Haha! We didn’t get one (according to their website, those $12 pastries are only guaranteed to those who manage to line up prior to 6am, and even then, limited to two per person) but instead enjoyed a gourmet bakery lunch date together. Ayo licked his chops when trying the homemade butternut squash soup. I tested out their other signature pastry: the DKA (Dominque’s Kouign Amann – the chef’s take on the Breton cake). Then, we shared a lychee-coconut pavlova. It was all a little overpriced but really worth the experience. Wearing his bright orange bib with matching bright orange butternut squash on his lips, Ayo unabashedly sat on my lap enjoying the good food. We had chosen the empty table in the center of the sun-room, surrounded by late twenty or thirty year old singles wearing bright lipstick and chatting with their chic friends wearing designer clothes. Perfect!

High Line and Central Park

Following more of a “down day” yesterday spent visiting with a family friend in New Jersey, walking around the area and chasing squirrels at a local park, Ayo and I made it back into the big city today. It felt like a good day to discover two outdoor parks since rain wasn’t forecast. Based on friends’ recommendations and interesting reviews online, I was really excited about Central Park (specifically the toy boats on Conservatory Water, the south end carousel and Heckscher Playground) and the High Line: a one mile elevated linear park built on an old railroad track.

Truth be told, Central Park is ginormous, High Line Park is long and walks to and from the subway can be pretty exhausting… so I sadly scratched the toy boats off our list. They were too far into on the other side of Central Park. I knew I could only handle so much walking with all the added weight. I mean, if you add Ayo’s 23lbs + pregnancy’s 18lbs + my backpack’s 5 or so, I was carrying 46lbs / 21kilos on my person. That is like Easyjet’s checked baggage allowance right there…only it’s not checked luggage at all. You are wearing that luggage and walking for a good part of eight hours!

We still went to Heckscher Playground on the south end of Central Park (that is Ayo attempting to climb up the slide in the photo below). It’s a pretty fun park with tunnels, a maze-type thing and hills and indents in the ground, surrounded by rocks to climb on. After playing became dull and we had run after every squirrel and bird in our vicinity, we watched horses and buggies – clucking together to the sound of their trot and then I told Ayo I wanted to tell him a special story. The story was about this boy who told this girl he was crazy about her “on a rock like that one over there”, right here in Central Park. The boy wanted to tell the girl he wanted to move all the way to France from far far away to get to know her better. At the end, I told the sweet boy I was carrying that that boy was papa. I got an emphatic head nod when I asked the boy sucking his fingers if he understood this story.

The carousel was sadly closed until noon and we were both getting peckish, so we found some hot food and decided to eat it next to a homeless man at Starbucks. I am not sure why I was first tempted to choose a free table further back in the coffee shop. Was it because he was smelly? Because he might want some of our food? Or because he might want to talk? I don’t know. Regardless, that clearly isn’t the type of person I want to be, or model for my son. So, we plonked ourselves right next to him and chatted with him the whole time over lunch before he fell asleep (the homeless man, not Ayo). From there, we moved on towards the subway that would take us closest to High Line Park.

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He fell asleep (Ayo, not the homeless man!) just after the surge of excitement that came with the train’s approach. This is why I took a seat on some hipster looking wooden bleachers on the High Line once we made it there. I took the peaceful moment in fully as I gawked at the fabulous architectural feat of this park as well as the surrounding buildings. When I was working for the urban design firm in China, this what our renderings always looked like on the screen. Only, this masterpiece was for real: a path with a garden either side in the sky, art-deco benches to sit on, a shallow horizontal mini waterfall or wooden sun loungers, a window to view the traffic below on a busy street. Beautiful.

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By the time Ayo finished his mini nap and thus ripped me out of my dreamy thoughts, we had become extras on the set of a fashion documentary film for the Sundance channel. And of course, Ayo didn’t think it was a problem to race down the bleachers and make a cameo appearance behind the red-headed lady telling the producer what she was wearing and how popular she is on social media. We were on the move, folks!

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We only stopped long enough to watch the diggers working on what looked like another parking lot alongside the current one that had cars parked four levels high on elevators (like this). Oh, and to collect rocks, attempt to pick the flowers, watch the boats and helicopters. We loved the view onto the Statue of Liberty (closed for business these days anyway), the incredible cappuccino along the trail (or squeezy snack pouch depending on who you ask) and the cool window onto 10th avenue (the “urban theater”) where we could safely view the city.

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There are plenty more details along the way and stunning views I couldn’t capture because I was too busy running after this little guy to stop and snap. But you get the point. It was another tiring but fantastic day in our Ayomoon comprised mainly of walking (running?) around, eavesdropping on foreigners speaking so many different languages, loving this lively city and even more so, every moment of the immense blessing it is to be called this darling boy’s mama.

NYC Chinatown and CMoM

It turned out really helpful for us to fly into New York with one whole family day to figure out public transportation before Ayo and I were left to explore the City our own. We decided to use the day to do some grocery shopping for the week in the morning and to visit Chinatown post naptime using the New Jersey bus system from our house, then the subway from the bus terminal and our feet thereafter…

Chinatown was so fun – we ordered bubble tea in Mandarin and later cheap dumplings with pork and chives, watched marinated ducks being hung and fish scaled under the shadow of the imposing Chinese flag. The sights, the market smells, the “watch, bag, dvd?!” sounds and even the speckled marble building façades looked like they were straight out of the Middle Kindgom. In Chinatown, the McDonalds signage is written in Chinese characters and Starbucks is nestled inside a traditional Chinese building, just like in Shanghai’s Yuyuan gardens and bazaar. We hated them for abusing tradition in China and love them for it stateside: go figure!

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What was far less enjoyable was … our commute! As compact and minimal as we had kept things, we found it such a hassle to heave our stroller, diaper bag, kid and coats through the subway turn-styles and up so many flights of stairs… especially when realizing we had just gone the wrong way. After being yelled at for not knowing to stow the stroller below the bus or missing our train because we were busy lifting gear up and down staircases, we decided to reassess the equipment I would use for my solo time with Ayo. It was simply not doable being this pregnant (3rd tri, yo!) and lifting what we both did yesterday. Many locals may have strollers, but come to think of it, you see most of them above ground. So, pictured below is the result of our extreme stream-lining: an ergo baby carrier and a backpack of essentials (diapers, wipes, bib, snacks, water, cash, phone). It worked surprisingly well on either side of Ayo’s almost 29 week squished ‘sibling-in-progress’.

Backpacks

We had figured out what bus number to take, where it might pick us up or drop us off (turns out, asking the driver only results in partial truths), vaguely how the subway works and how to transport my offspring. The realization made for such an easy day today. The only unchecked item remaining was to savor time with Ayo. Thus we could fully take in the underground train ride (probably his favorite thing to do at present) and then share a morning coffee, where his cuteness was rewarded with a free pastry. We enjoyed chatting with each new person who sat across from us and later, did some nanny watching (okay, investigating). Let’s just say that I would seriously consider a “nanny cam” after watching several with earbuds in ears, newborns with bottles balanced on their face or toddlers shushed so they can continue chatting on the phone. Yeah. Anyway, from the coffeeshop that Ayo raced out onto the busy street to the “watch out! catch him!” voices behind me, I walked a further 13 blocks to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMoM) where we planted ourselves for a day of playing with blocks and balls, feeding dragons letters or sliding down tongues. I truly loved watching him discover.. and run freely in a safe area. He cried when he was given a ladybug stamp on his hand so we could return after lunch, frantically shaking his head and saying his new cute nasal “non non non” with scrunched up eyebrows and outstretched lips. He didn’t like the stamp on his hand. It was clearly exhausting to skip a nap and run around playing all day. After lunch, we returned to discover the rest of the museum floors after a quick bite to eat. There we played for another hour before Ayo was tripping over his shoes, the stairs (see one instance pictured in front of the 3D building exhibit below) and small objects. It was time to make it back home under the pouring rain. This worked in my favor as he slept the whole 50 minute bus ride home. A lovely first solo day featuring soaking wet feet, a sore back but so many special mama-son memories.

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When less is more…

Last week, I returned our ill-functioning blender we had bought over two years ago. Tall Mountain put it on my “to do list” and I shuddered thinking of the battle that lie before me to get it exchanged. Kicking and screaming, I unwillingly took one for the family. Apologetically, I explained that this blender had been bought ehem, ehem, several years ago and ‘was there anything they could do to help us out?’.

“Sure, would you like in-store credit or your money back on your card?” replied the red head twenty-something-year-old before me in a chipper voice as she continued to converse lightly with her colleague about a prank she had played on a room-mate.

“Um, oh! Well.. um… sure! I’d love the cash back on our credit card if that is possible!?? I don’t know if that will work because I used a -20% coupon to purchase the item.” I felt a rush of blood reach my face, giving away my sense of guilt and shame.

“Oh, yeah, sure, we can print you out another coupon to use on your next purchase if you’d like! Is there anything else we can do for you?” she responded as she proceeded to refund $80 back to our card.

“Um, no no, that’ll be it. Thanks so much!” I quickly responded out of fear she might change her mind. Ayo in arm, we darted out of there feeling like we had just robbed a Swiss bank or something: grateful for the money but guilty for having committed a crime.

customer-satisfactionIf you are from the United States, this return scenario probably won’t strike you as out of the ordinary. If you purchase something you don’t like, you can take it back, right? No questions asked except perhaps a polite: “was there anything wrong/you didn’t like about the product?”. Oftentimes you can even return an item without a receipt (at stores like Target). Sometimes even years later as my brother-in-law recounted upon experiencing customers returning shoes with holes in them or weathered camping gear ten years later to his outdoor gear store REI. This, my friends, is how we got a brand-new cooking pan replacement three years later because the Teflon coating was wearing thin. A new sports bra when the Velcro strap felt weak. Or, how I was able to replace a coffee thermos for my parents a year later to a different superstore branch, without even having the receipt. Truly, the basic knowledge that you won’t have to fight to return an item, makes you buy more. It’s pretty awesome.

In contrast, I remember my poor British mum facing a small interrogation when trying to return a recently purchased French kettle in the box, with her receipt in hand, because the product had designed the power cable to be positioned in the front of the kettle. She was sent home, tail between her legs, chastised for having chosen it in the first place and refused help because she returned it after 15 days and not the 14 legal days (ironically 15 days means 14. Don’t ask.). I’ve endured this trauma many times myself, facing the mean lady at the desk drilling an imaginary hole into my head, accusingly asking mais pourquoi vous ne le voulez plus? (but why don’t you want it any longer?).

If you are from Europe (minus perhaps the more Anglo-saxon UK), you’ll not see this as strange. My mother incorrectly returned the item after the 14 legal days. And besides, she should have looked at the product carefully to see that the cord was going to get wet every time she made herself a cuppa. Sure, there are of course exceptions to this rule (say at places like IKEA), but in general, returning a product is incontestably a much bigger deal in Europe.

Now, before you get all enthralled about the customer being king in the US and angry about France’s meager attempt at customer service, I have to point out something TM and I have noticed as a result. Maybe you have noticed this too. Purchases are taken so much more lightly in the States. You buy a ton because, heck, it is cheap, replaceable, returnable, refundable. This leads to fast-consumerism and the never-ending hunger for more: materialism. It strangely leaves me quite unsatisfied…

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In contrast, you can bet that almost every item you’ll purchase in Europe will be well-researched and purchased with forethought and intention, because it ain’t gonna be cheap and probably won’t be brought back to the store. At least not without surviving a small battle of Verdun.

It is interesting to watch this play out so vividly in our current world of “baby”. An average US mother-to-be has no qualms about registering for or purchasing scores of inexpensive clothes, toys, baby gear in case she might need it for baby. In contrast, quite a few of my friends in Europe dress their kids in just a few but outrageously expensive, beautiful, quality clothes with just a few select, but ridiculously expensive toys, needing only one but one grossly overpriced stroller. Neither of these observations are meant as unfair criticism and there are plenty of people on either side of the Atlantic who stray from these stereotypes. I just thought it is fascinating how much a retail model (yes, and price, promotion, availability, choice..) can dictate our purchasing behavior. And, for me, having experienced both of these models, I feel challenged to purchase with intention and not just buy more because I can.

Shopping spree image courtesy of intenseindividuals.com

NYC with a toddler?

I love big cities. I love how alive they are, how endless the culinary, cultural, interpersonal experiences can be, how outrageous personalities and clothing are acceptable, how beautiful architecture and urban design truly can be…

If our upcoming trip to New York City wasn’t to involve my pregnant self and a toddler, I’d be perfectly content looking up a few things to do and stumbling upon the rest. This time, though, we’re tag-alongs for part of papa’s two week film shoot and half expecting to be dropped off and fending for ourselves in “The City” for ten full days. Wait, am I out of my mind?! My decision to go along swayed several times before realizing that no matter how hard a trip with a needy, ego-centric (but adorable) munchkin in a big city might be, it will hardly get easier with two in tow. At least, not in my foreseeable future. So, we’re going to go along for the wild ride. I am treating it as the Ayo-moon I had described in a previous blog: a special and rare week of just enjoying my one and only child before baby number two shakes his world up. I’m getting excited at this prospect and for a change of scenery, but this sort of trip requires a lot of advanced planning, especially given these facts:

-Toddler attention spans are short. They tend to view drawn-out [dining, cultural, artistic] experiences (all things that I love) as overrated.
-Strollers and big city public transportation aren’t always the best of friends.
-Autumn East Coast weather can be unpredictable.
-Ayo is still a bit of a wreck without a midday nap.
-Mama in her third trimester is likely to be carrying around the aforementioned train-wreck of a napless toddler, stroller and bag of toddler essentials if aforementioned toddler is not granted a suitable nap time and place…

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For these reasons, we’ve been researching dozens of engaging activities around the city for mother and son along with open hours, inclement weather alternatives (i.e. indoor+outdoor), stroller access points and parks to walk in during naptime. I found quite a few options: free things, cheap things, 100 things to do in NYC with your kids before they grow up, best playgrounds in NYC

I have been trying to nail down 8-10 solid “major” or several hour activities (museums, zoos…) and a dozen “minor” ones (best carousels, best storytime in the city, bakery pitstops) in the hopes that we will really both enjoy our time. We can always change up our plans, but my experience is that it is better to have a plan rather than none at all. Here are some fun major activities I found online so far that I think that Ayo will really enjoy. Bonus: many of them are free for kids under two years old! We have yet to sort out where we we eat, sleep during the day (most likely in a stroller), how to get to these places and how to get back to our New York accommodation / to the airport / and then back home on our own.

New York Transit Museum: (We are in the stage of utter fascination of trains, planes and big automobiles)
Children’s Museum of Art: Museum with a huge ball-pit, an area just for kids to create, paint. Bonus: Toddlers aren’t free but it is pay-as-you-wish day on Thursday. (Only in the USA!)
Pier 25 Playground: A giant playground jutting onto the Hudson River, with magnificent cityscape, giant climbing structures, sandboxes, sprinklers
High Line Park: An elevated park that allows kids to see the craziness of the city below. Looking at the events page, it looks like on Wednesdays chefs help kids design their own snacks
Children’s Museum of Manhattan: Special area for kids under 4 years old featuring a giant dragon who eats letters, a deli and a fire truck
Central Park: Looks like the toy boats, rowboats and massive playground still has summer (long) hours until the end of October! Looking forward to the changing leaves, outdoor music, the zoo where you can ride camels, watch sea lions being fed..
Manhattan’s Chinatown: Come on, I have to take Ayo back to his roots! So excited about this one. We had such a fun Asian day in Los Angeles last year, we could definitely do with another!

Have you been to NYC with a young child? What else do you think we should definitely check out during our stay?
Of course, as much as I love watching my toddler have the time of his life, I hope I can find some really exciting things to do for mama too (such as MoMA, delicious snack stops like this one, café people watching..). So, grown-up friendly must-sees are well-appreciated too.

Image courtesy of Rachel at Redmag on Flickr