Category: Discovery and Exploration

the native tongue

Last month, we took our six and a half month old daughter Amelie to meet some relatives who were in town for my cousin’s graduation. My side of the family is Vietnamese, and except for some early cooing from my parents when she was two months old, this was the first time Amelie was surrounded by her Vietnamese relatives, all who baby talked and interacted with her in their native language.
I never learned to speak fluent Vietnamese. As new refugees in this country just after the fall of Saigon, my parents felt incredibly self-conscious speaking English in public because of their perceived heavy accents. Determined that their own children wouldn’t experience the same prejudice they faced, my parents had decided to speak to my brother and me only in English. In retrospect, it has been a great disappointment not to communicate in the native language of my relatives and have the ability to pass it down to my own child.
Amelie loves attention and eagerly allowed herself to be passed around between her great aunts and great uncles. I sat listening to them chat with her, ask her questions and hug her. One of my uncles even pulled out the karaoke machine and sang Vietnamese love songs to her. She cried at the end, possibly because of the high decibels, but perhaps because the serenade was over. I was thrilled with the attention too, taking way too many pictures and video clips. Even though I knew she was too young to understand, I wanted to retain these memories for her, especially the words they spoke, which were full of love and history.
My parents remind me all the time that I could take language lessons. They are convinced the Vietnamese is buried within me, since I still can understand what they say to me—I just can’t generate the words to reply. But I don’t hear Vietnamese on a regular basis anymore. My parents tend to speak in English when we’re on the phone. So when I do hear it, either in passing on the street, or on the car radio, or in a restaurant, I sit transfixed, silencing everything else around me, attempting to translate and understand.
My husband and I have talked for years about taking Vietnamese language classes. My father is getting older and although he has spoken English for over thirty years, I know he feels more comfortable speaking in Vietnamese. I don’t want that kind of language barrier between us. We always found reasons to put these classes off, but this weekend convinced us we needed to make it a priority. Children retain languages best when they are young, and I want us to be prepared when Amelie is able to speak her first words.
I know it will be difficult. This is probably why I’ve been delaying it for so long. But I’d like to believe what my parents say, that my fluency will not be so hard to attain, after years of listening to my family.
Sometimes, I feel the language swelling up in me. Little endearments I remember my parents used to say to me, I now find myself saying to Amelie. Although I cannot literally translate even to myself what I am saying, I hope she can feel the affection in the words, and trust that I mean them.

father’s day hot pants

My 4-year-old son and I recently were shopping on Tea’s website for some new pants and a few tops. He had worn two, giant holes in his only pair of jeans, so when he saw the Sora Denim jeans and the Waves Rider blue hoodie, he shouted, “Those, Mama! I want those, please.” As I was filling our online cart, it hit me—“Yikes, it’s nearly Father’s Day! I need to go shopping for the other man in my life.”

So, with pants on my mind, I browsed to the Bonobos site: www.bonobos.com. If you or a man you love hasn’t experienced Bonobos yet, you should. Founded by two Stanford business school alumni and based in New York City, this company is awesome. They offer a fun assortment of trousers with knock-out names and bold lining, they swear by the fit and comfort, and they extend 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantees. I quickly found some cute corduroys (dubbed “The Cordistans”) and handsome shorts (“Marlins, Long”) that my husband won’t dare wear while mowing the lawn (unlike every other pair of shorts he owns).

It’s pretty hard to beat checking off responsibilities like clothing your family by doing so online. The photography on both the Tea Collection and Bonobos sites is terrific, so you have a solid idea of what you’ll be getting in the mail. The clothes are well-made and attractive, which I just can’t say about the slightly more affordable mass retailers. Finally, I completely trust the companies to exchange anything that doesn’t fit.

How’s that for a happy Father’s Day?

travel advice for road trips with kiddos

What do you get when you combine a car, three children, a cat, a vehicle full of luggage and over 800 miles?

You get a ROAD TRIP!

How does one safely make the journey, while also retaining sanity?

Some of our tried and true tips for surviving a road trip with kiddos:


I’m refraining from posting my thoughts on traveling with pets, as I hope to never do that again … if you need tips, email me and I’ll be happy to share our suggestions individually with you.

WHAT TO BRING:

  • CELL PHONE CHARGER! Too often I make the organizational mistake of packing this in my luggage that I don’t have easy access to. Huge bummer when you have a cell phone with a dead battery!
  • Bottle brush (We love this kind) — makes cleaning out sippy cups a BREEZE when you’re on the go with no access to a dishwasher.
  • Boxed milk that requires no refrigeration (We love this kind) — if your kiddos can’t live without milk, this reduces the need for a cooler in the car!
  • Ziploc bags of all sizes — perfect for trash bags (when you need to contain smelly trash, or to ensure that random french fries from the last drive-thru lunch stay put instead of all over the car).
  • Diapers that your little one has outgrown — maybe a strange tip, but they make for a really fun game of hot potato without fear of breaking or hurting anyone!
  • Dryer sheets to place underneath carseats — another strange tip, but it helps keep the car smelling … well … spring fresh!
  • Ziploc Big Bags (we LOVE THESE!) — pack one in your overnight bag for dirty clothes. The size holds your entire family’s dirty laundry AND zips shut to keep the odor-ifious-ness contained.
  • Travel size of Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo. This works for bathtime, sink-cleaning laundry if needed, washing out sippy cups, etc.
  • Nightlight. Nothing is worse than an unfamiliar bedroom (whether hotel or with family) than a dark bedroom.

If you are staying in a hotel or with friends along your way, pack what EVERY member of the family needs into ONE bag.

  • change of clothes for the next morning
  • pjs
  • swimsuits
  • toiletries
  • Ziploc big bag

When you arrive at your first night’s destination, it is so nice to only have to remove ONE bag for the night instead of pulling all sorts of random bags into the lobby, WITH your tired and cranky kiddos.

If you are staying at a hotel, ask the front desk attendant when you check in to allow you to raid their continental breakfast room/fridge for some milk cartons (put them on ice with your bucket) and boxed cereal.

Throw in some fruit, and you’ve got your own bedside breakfast ready in the morning without forcing you to get dressed and wrangle the littles into clothes first thing.

IN-CAR ENTERTAINMENT:

Use a small cookie sheet that magically transforms into a lap desk. The benefits to this are numerous:

  • Magnets STICK!
  • Colors are contained within the outer lip
  • Snacks are easily kept at bay (imagine goldfish flying all over the car when you hit a bump?)
  • They easily slide underneath the seats for storage

We find our trips go the best when I’ve pulled aside some toys several weeks prior to our trip, so that the toys become “new” to them.

The dollar bin at Target, or your local dollar store also makes for great “new toys” for in the car. Don’t go overboard, but pick up some cheap things and your kids will be thrilled!

We also intentionally swap out toys every 30-45 minutes … even if they’re not “done” playing with them. Instead of waiting until frustration levels are high and they’re beyond playing with the toys, refresh their scenery and swap out on a regular basis.

Ziploc or grocery-store bag each GROUPING of toys. Explain to your kids that they need to keep all like items together and you’ll all save yourself some much needed energy.

If you have room between carseats, throw in a plastic crate (like THIS) — the crate will serve numerous purposes along the way. (For the kids to keep their juiceboxes, snacks, toys in their reach, etc.)

Pack each kiddo a backpack of their own special things. Include in their backpack their OWN bag of colors, kid-friendly scissors and … a roll of tape. No joke here … that roll of tape can keep them busy for H.O.U.R.S!

Create a BINGO game of sorts (afix it to their cookie sheet lap tray for ease). Identify several things that the kids will be likely to see along your journey and let them color in the squares when they spot each one.

Create a “map” of your journey with your starting location, your final destination and pinpoint several landmarks or locations along the way. Provide stickers just for this map and help your children identify and understand a bit more the process of the journey. It cuts down a bit on the “Are we there yet?” question.

EACH AND EVERY TIME you stop for gas or potty breaks, clean out the car. Take the extra 5 minutes to throw away that trash!

ANOTHER MUST? Designate the pouches on the back of the seats for the kids’ shoes and socks. If they have special blankies or lovies, also use those pouches for those items. Instead of having to search high and low for these things when they are rapidly needed, form a habit of always placing them in those pouches.

DVD Players. I canNOT stress this enough. Each child gets their own DVD player AND headphones. Saves from fighting over which movie to play, whose player is louder, etc.

* * *
With a little bit of planning, alot of patience and some organization, you can make your summer road trips bearable! I’m sure there are SO many more travel tips. Share your favorites!

when mama’s sick

A few days ago I came down with a night fever. My body was achy, throat soar and i justed wanted to crawl into bed. I finally gave into the extra-strength Tylenol, which definitely helped me sleep well. I knew that I couldn’t just call in sick to work the next day — my work is being home with my child. I seriously needed good sleep to have enough energy the next day.

I realized the next day that there are ways to take care of a child while you’re sick. Specifically, ow key things you can do without walking miles (literally) or exhausting yourself. Living in a metropolitan area, we are usually on the go, everyday — unless one of us gets sick. Here are some things we did:

– Played on the bed. My son likes playing with stuffed animals now, especially bears and dogs, and he will talk to them, have them talk to each other (with my help), and feed them. And i can lay down on the bed the whole time. yay!

– Played at home. We found stuff to do around the house — no chores of course, though I was so tempted to do some. I kept reminding myself that I was sick and should just take it easy. We played with all his toys, took out some toys he hadn’t seen in a while, and read a bunch of books he hadn’t read in a while.

– Gave my son some homemade popsicles — this is one way he’ll sit still for a loooong time at the dining table. Gives me a moment to just sit and eat and relax.

– Took him on his tricycle around our building. He rode his tricycle (I helped push him along) up and down the hallways and to the little courtyard, where he played with rocks in the rock garden. Completely walled off garden so no need to run after him.

– Watched videos. I am not opposed to him watching videos in moderation, as long as it’s appropriate and educational.

I was also thinking of home remedies for myself. I always thought eating pineapples was good to ward off a cold, but also heard it’s not good to eat when you’re sick. What’s the verdict? I tried to drink lots of water. I also ate some honey (yum, good excuse, huh?) and gargled with warm salt water for the sore throat. I really don’t know if the honey and salt water work, but they do make my throat feel a ton better.

One thing my mom told me is, moms cannot get sick, because everything will fall apart, and it’s difficult to take care of children when you’re sick. Plus, it just takes so much longer to get better because it’s hard to take it easy when you’re running after a toddler, plus doing chores, cooking and so on.

Anything you like to do when you just want an “easy” day with your tot? Any home remedies when you’re sick or not feeling well?

an evening promenade

When the weather turns warm and the skies keep their light until late, our family’s thoughts turn to the evening stroll. And while it is lovely to walk around our block and greet our elderly neighbors on the corner taking in the firefly show or to stop and swing for a spell in the park, I have begun to realize that I am looking for a little more interaction or a truer sense of community from our evening summertime walks.

At least once a week since summer landed in North Carolina, we pack a picnic supper and head for the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University. After spreading out our checkered tablecloth on a spot of the South Lawn in the shadow of one of the great magnolia trees, the adults proceed to dine upon the salads, fresh bread, and couscous that I packed. My children and their friends humor us by eating a stray bite of chicken or melon as they run by chasing each other, kicking balls perilously close to the reflecting pool, and rolling down the hills toward other picnicking families.
After we all accept the illusion that the children have had a full supper, we have to make The Rounds. Even my two year old daughter knows the route that we take through the gardens after supper. First stop: the pond at the base of the formal gardens to check on the koi and to hope that the bullfrog will make an appearance. Next we are off to the iron bridge to admire the bride who is having her photograph made in the dreamy, dusky light. By the now the children are tiring as they trudge up the grassy hill towards the ultimate pay off-the duck pond where, if we are very lucky, the great blue heron will take off over the water with its wings almost grazing the glassy surface.
These evenings spent at the gardens are more than a meal; they become a communal event. Not only do we usually arrange to meet friends to share our supper, but we often serendipitously run into old friends, former coworkers, or “that woman from the coffee shop who is always so pleasant.” Out on the great lawn, there are generations of families eating together and laughing and kicking around the soccer ball. Older girls are holding the hands of their little cousins who are struggling to walk on their chubby little legs. There are people from all walks of life and from many different cultures in the gardens in the evening, and we are all there for same reason: to enjoy life with the people that we love and in a natural surrounding that is serene yet full of life and grace.
My husband calls these outings our evening promenade, and we are not alone in these events. Around the world, people celebrate life by meeting on the steps of a church, strolling around the village plaza, or walking down a wall on the edge of the sea. From North Carolina to a village in Mexico to a bustling European capital, we are all looking for that connection to each other and making an event out of celebrating the gentle close of another day through our evening promenade.

learning german

Everyone has their odd little quirks as a parent, the things that you want your children to be interested in because, if you are honest with yourself, you are into them.  Some of us sign our kids up for art classes so that they can learn the joy of expressing themselves through wild finger painting.  Other parents whisk their children off to mandolin lessons because they always wanted to be bluegrass musicians.

My deep dark longing for my children is for them to learn German.  Oh, I know that there are more “useful” second languages for an American child to learn—Spanish may be more practical on a day to day basis and Chinese may serve them better in the emerging economic world, but I love German.  German is often dismissed as a guttural, ugly tongue, but I think it is a charming language of its own.  I like the order of its grammar, its odd tendency to throw any and all verbs to the end of a sentence, and the mile long nouns that make beautiful sense once you decode them.

To this end, I have been speaking to my children and reading to them in a decidedly non-native accent for years now.  My children will humor me by sprinkling their speech with German nouns—Käse, Trinkflasche, Schuhe.  Still I think my older child views our German conversations (if you can call it that when only one person does the talking) as an oddity, as a silly pretend language.  I can still remember the day when, as an 18 month old, he heard another mother admonishing her son on the playground in German. My son stopped playing, cocked his head, and you could read on his face—“They speak our code, too!”

Fast forward another 18 months, numerous Feuerwehr books, and some amusing German DVDs, and my son started attending his first little German language class.  We are interlopers at this class—most of the other children have at least one “actual” German parent, and many will be returning home to Germany once their parents’ tenure in North Carolina is through.  My son seems to enjoy these orderly classes—he sings the little welcome song as he pushes his fire trucks around our living room, and he proudly displays the Eisbär that he made that week, but I’m not naïve enough to think that he is truly gaining in fluency.  What I hope that he is getting from his classes is what I enjoy about taking him there—forging connections with people.  I love listening to the German mamas talk about their children or what they will be doing for the holidays.  I love answering their precisely phrased English questions with my own freewheeling German.  I like being the “odd man out,” and I want my son to experience that feeling and to welcome it and hopefully someday to seek out that same sensation in other cultures and with other languages and with other people.

tips for bringing your toddler to a restaurant

During the first year of our daughter Zoe’s life we made many attempts to enjoy a meal out with her. We found that lunches tended to be a bigger success than dinners because she would get so tired at night and since she wasn’t really eating too many solids at this time she would generally be cranky. We would then spend the entire meal passing her back and forth and taking turns eating while the other one of us walked around the restaurant with her trying to entertain her until we had settled the bill and could finally leave. Hardly an enjoyable experience!

As she got older and started to eat more herself we found that Zoe started to really enjoy eating out and now actually gets excited when we tell her we’re going to a restaurant. Now, at 20 months Zoe is a regular restaurant patron and as long as we go when she’s hungry and bring some stickers or crayons she’s happy to sit through the entire meal. Since we live in New York City and hardly ever eat out mid-week because my husband gets home too late we love that we can now enjoy weekend dinners out without paying a sitter. Also we really enjoy Zoe’s company in restaurants and we feel that eating out is an important thing for her to get used to. Here are some tips that we have learned for taking a toddler to a restaurant:

1) We no longer bring any food for Zoe. We have found that she prefers to eat something different than what she’d usually have –so the bread in the restaurant is more appealing to her than her snack trap filled with bunny crackers or o’s.
2) We try not to make walking around the restaurant even an option –we find this only encourages her to want to get up and walk whenever we go out. Of course if she’s really fussy or the meal is taking a long time we will take a walk with her but for the most part we try to encourage her to sit and it usually works.
3) We’ve found that if we are very enthusiastic about the fact that we’ll be eating in a restaurant she is excited for it and more likely to sit and eat quietly.
4) I try to stash away special toys and other distracters that she doesn’t usually get to play with so that they are exciting to her when we pull them out in a restaurant. Stickers, sticker books, different types of “neat” art projects such as those pens that draw with water, new books with flaps or textures or pop-ups have all been good distracters for us.
5) Finally, eat out often! I think this is the most important thing for getting your toddler used to eating in a restaurant.