Kaia’s development: connecting words to objects, and saying her own name

Out of nowhere this week, Kaia has started yelling out her own name. She will just say “Kaia! Kaia!” over and over again, and so it’s clear she’s fully recognizing that this is her name. She would always look up for the most part if I called out her proper name, Kaia, or even Pookie or Pookster. I wonder if we are confusing her by calling her so many endless nicknames…?

The other cute thing she’s doing is that she’s recognizing animals and sounds, and words to objects. In different books we read, she recognizes the dog named Pal; when I ask her what this is when pointing at the dog, she responds, “woof woof!” and when I point at the cat, she responds, “Meow!” She also knows who Arthur is (one of her favorite books), Bluey, and she even has started pointing at pictures where there’s the beach and shouting out “watty! (her word for “water”). Sometimes, she will speed ahead to her favorite parts of books. It’s been really sweet and endearing to see this level of development.

During play, she’s also started stacking multiple blocks on top of each other, and she seems to understand more nuances of other toys I’ve been picking up for her through our Buy Nothing group. It really is like what Chris said: literally since our nanny quit, her development has truly exploded. I wonder if that’s a sign of something?

Sun exposure and sun protection – what you learn over time

It doesn’t seem to matter whether I put thick layers of SPF 50 or a wide brimmed hat onto my baby: she always seems to tan so easily. Chris insists that she has inherited his melanin (even though she’s nowhere as dark as he is), and so she doesn’t need as much sunblock application as I like to put on. The thing is: even when you put on SPF 50, you are never 100% protected from the sun. An SPF that high protects you from about 97% of UV rays on average, so the sun is still penetrating the other 3%. Plus, the only real way to be protected from the sun is to be covered up with clothes, sunglasses, a hat, or to stay out of the sun completely. Just because you aren’t getting sunburnt does not mean that you are not getting any sun damage.

I want to make sure Pookster understands and practices safe sun exposure as early as possible. I don’t want her to think that tanning is a healthy practice, and I especially do not want her to think that she’s invincible from getting sunburned just because of her skin color. Clouds are not a protection from the sun! People still get tanned and burned on cloudy days! Covering up and applying sunscreen liberally are your best bets to keep sun burns and premature wrinkles and skin damage (and eventually, sun spots and freckles) away! No one ever educated me on this when I was little. I learned all of this on my own — oddly, through magazines like Teen and Seventeen when I was 11.

I was lazy about wearing a wide-brimmed hat up until very, very recently. I’ve always hated wearing a hat in the summer because my head sweats, and I feel even more gross as a result. But then it suddenly hit me last December: why are there are these new freckles and sun spots on my face? Wearing sunscreen and big sunglasses just is not enough as I ignorantly used to think, and these stupid spots are only going to get worse as I approach middle age! So even though I’ve been borderline obsessive about applying and reapplying sunscreen, I’ve finally admitted to myself that this just isn’t enough. As I have gotten older, I have also changed my stances on certain practices… like wearing hats. But I guess this also means I can just start buying more hats to add to my wardrobe. I just hope I don’t lose them like I have lost two before (one in South Africa, and one in India. I mean, I just wasn’t used to looking after a hat!).

Walking progress one month later

It really is amazing to watch a tiny baby develop into an opinionated, assertive little toddler. In just the last month, Kaia has started walking. While she was initially quite robotic and would leave her arms in front of her like a little robot, she’s been getting the hang of balance and has been walking more with her arms at her side now. It’s especially gotten more conspicuous that she’s more at ease walking now during this trip: wandering around the hotel grounds and pool, you can tell that she’s more confident as a tiny human walking around. She’s even proactively tried to walk up the pool stairs several times. Initially, she seemed quite resistant and refused, insisting to crawl and climb up instead. But after some initial coaxing, she finally started walking up, one step at a time, as long as I held her hand. By the end of the trip, while she still needed to hold my hand going up, she was more than willing to do it.

My sweet baby is growing into a cheeky, assertive toddler. It’s still hard to believe that just one year ago, she was just starting to roll over and had these super chubby cheeks and just a little bit of hair on top. Every day, I look at her and think, even though she can be stubborn and difficult and not listen to what I say, she’s still my little miracle baby.

Swim diapers and their purpose

When you have a baby and you’d like to get her in the pool and ocean, you likely are debating what kind of swim diaper to have for her. There are two main types of swim diapers: single use, disposable, and reusable cloth ones that you just wash after each use. Contrary to what some may assume, swim diapers do NOT soak up or hold urine; if a baby pees while in a pool, the urine basically just gets into the water. A swim diaper’s main purpose is to hold poop. But, if you do recognize that your baby has pooped while in a swim diaper in the pool, it would be best practice for you to take your baby out IMMEDIATELY and get her cleaned up and changed. No one wants to know they are swimming in a pool with baby poop somewhere. Be nice to your fellow swimmers/pool attendees.

We’ve been getting Kaia acquainted with the pool and ocean water for about the last year. She’s mainly been in our building’s pool, but we’ve also had her go to the beach with us and pools at hotels where we’ve stayed during our trips. We thought we had been clear this whole time, never experiencing her pooping in a pool before… until I got her ready for her bath tonight after some pool time at the resort pool, and when I pulled down her diaper to put her into the bath, a big ball of brown poop plopped out.

Welp, I guess our streak of no poop in the pool has officially ended!

Isla Mujeres and riding on a golf buggy

Today, we took a day trip to Isla Mujeres, which is about 13 kilometers from Cancun. It’s a popular destination for locals for day trips, as well as Mexican and international tourists as a place to stay overnight or on vacation given the tranquil, clear waters and the fun island vibe. The island is small, but too big to walk all around it, so we rented a golf buggy to tour the island for the day. I wasn’t totally sure how we would get around when we got there. Chris left us at the ferry station to go find the best deal on a golf buggy, and when he returned, he pulled up in one.

The last time I was on a golf buggy was in 2017, when we were in Hamilton Island for Chris’s cousin’s wedding. Then, I didn’t have to worry about a baby or a stroller, as it was just the two of us. With Kaia, being on a golf buggy would definitely be a bit different. We had left the baby carrier to strap on me in the car back at the ferry station parking lot, so I knew I’d have to hold her tightly while on the golf buggy. In the beginning, she whined a bit being held down, but when she realized we were moving and going up and down bumps, she calmed down and started to enjoy the ride. All I have to say is: it’s a good thing she’s 1.5 years old and more sturdy now. I’m not totally sure how I would have felt if we had done a trip like this a year ago without the baby carrier to strap her into!

A generous and friendly samaritan on the road from Chichen Itza

Today, we crossed the state border from Quintana Roo and entered Yucatan, the state of Mexico famous for the Yucatecan Mayan archeological site Chichen Itza. Once upon a time when Chichen Itza was fully open to the public, you could climb the very steep stairs up the main Temple of Kulkulcan. Unfortunately, we learned from our guide that since 2006, the temple steps have permanently closed, and no one is allowed to go up. A sad event led to this closure: an 80-year old woman climbed up the steep steps, only to fall all the way down during her descent. There’s definitely a sense of vertigo on steps that steep, and given how high it was, and the vibrations and echoes you hear in the complex…. her fall would have been quite brutal, not just for her, but for literally everyone else there who could hear the fall.

Initially, I was a little disappointed to hear that we couldn’t climb up. The first time I visited Mexico City, I went to visit the famous Teotihuacan Aztec site, and I remember climbing up the steep steps of the temples there. I had a lot of vertigo climbing down the steps and remember thinking how much more challenging it would be if I had to carry something (or someone!) down with me. But it was really enjoyable to have that experience of being at the top and envisioning what it would have been like to be a part of this ancient civilization from so long ago. Given we had Kaia with us, plus our stroller, I didn’t really care much about this after I thought about it. It just would have been a lot more nerve racking and scary in our case with a baby, or we’d just have to go up and down one at a time while the other stayed on the ground with her.

On our way there, Chris missed the sign that would have expedited our drive to Chichen Itza, so while we added some time to our trip there, we reduced the cost of the trip, as there are road tolls, and they are quite steep (and apply both to and from). On our way back, though, we miscalculated how much cash in pesos we had in my wallet. When we got to the toll booth, I was a little bit worried because when I counted the cash, we had approximately 20 pesos (just over $1 USD) less than what the toll sign said (the toll was 385 pesos; we had about 365). When Chris told the toll booth worker that this was all we had in cash, she told us to move the car to the side of the road; she was not going to let us through. I tried to ask if we could use credit card, but they didn’t accept them, nor did they accept U.S. dollars. After about five minutes of waiting, another worker came up to us to ask if we had U.S. dollars. We didn’t realize this at the time, but they weren’t going to accept them. They were going to ask if ANOTHER car had change for the U.S. dollars in pesos. We didn’t realize what was happening until another car gestured towards us, paid a toll, and sped away, and the worker explained that we could go through and didn’t have to give them any cash at all. So…. THAT RANDOM CAR was so kind and generous and ended up paying our entire toll (that’s about $21.94 USD), not just the tiny $1 amount we didn’t have! They must have taken pity on us because they saw our baby in the backseat. We didn’t even get a chance to thank them for their generosity and altruism given they had already driven off so quickly. All they gave us was a small smile, no words, before speeding off.

It’s easy to forget with all the horrible news, the Reddit rants, the parent group complaints about spouses, parents, in-laws, friends, and nannies, but friendly, generous, kind, selfless people are all over the world. These are people who do a lot for others, even complete strangers, and expect absolutely nothing in return… not even a thanks. It’s in moments like these when I am reminded of that, and it’s a reminder to me to also pay it forward to others.

Beaches, babies, and sand in your butt

Today was our first full day in Cancun. After a long day of delays and a rescheduled flight yesterday, it was nice to be able to finally be at the hotel and be out and about at our destination. In the afternoon, we went to Isla Blanca, a beach that’s a bit out of the main hotel zone of Cancun, so that we could experience a slightly more “locals” experience of the beach, as well as fewer people. But when we got there, we realized that the car was not going to make it on the fully sandy roads. So we ended up parking it and walking a bit to reach the actual beach.

While the beach did have a bit of the dreaded sargassum, the invasive seaweed that has been overtaking beaches in Caribbean and especially in Quintana Roo/around the Gulf of Mexico (thanks to human-created climate change – what joy!), the water was extremely clear and warm; it was shallow for quite a long ways out, and there were barely any waves. This made it easy to take Kaia out in the water without any fear, especially given she got so upset while at the beach in Byron Bay after that big wave went over us in December. After some time in the water, we sat together on the sand and built a sand castle. Okay, well, when I say we built a sand castle, what I really mean is… I tried to build one (complete with a moat! A proper castle needs a moat!), and she kept trying to topple it. We did our usual routine. And given I wanted us to be close to the waves for a water source for the moat, what was unknown to me at the time was that… each time a wave washed into our area, it also gradually swept more and more sand into swimsuit, and thus into my butt.

The car rental company warned Chris (given that we are in Cancun) to not get excessive sand in the car, so I got a little paranoid when I realized how much sand got stuck in my suit, plus literally in every possible crevice of Kaia. It was as though every single time I lifted her arm or moved a diaper flap or wiped another tiny roll in her neck that I was uncovering more and more sand. And each time I patted myself off of sand, more and more sand kept falling off me! Chris even tried to snap photos of my trying to take out these massive clumps of sand from my butt!

Anyway, we had to do quite a big clean out of sand not only directly from our bodies, but also from the seats in the car and the floor, which took quite a bit of time. It was in these moments that it suddenly hit me: now I completely understand why parents of young children travel to resorts and stay on the resorts. On resort properties, cleanup like this is easy, there are sprays and showers everywhere for you to easily hose off, and you never have to worry about things like getting too much sand in your rental car and potentially getting fined. This was annoying, but I still think it was worth going to a local beach and having that experience together.

Traveling with delayed and rebooked flights and a young toddler

We were told by many other parents that we shouldn’t be concerned that Kaia learned to walk at 16.5 months and not earlier. “You should enjoy it! You will be so tired chasing her while running around! Be happy that she can be contained for a bit longer!” Chris kept on calling her “defective” and asking her when she was going to walk, half joking. Honestly, while I was a little concerned and didn’t push back on the early intervention suggestion by the doctor at her 16-month checkup, I did know that once she became more mobile, I’d get more exhausted more quickly while traveling.

And that is definitely right. After having our first connecting flight from JFK to Miami delayed, which would have resulted in our connecting flight to Cancun being missed, I had to get in line to get our second flight rebooked. We spent some unplanned time at the AA lounge in Miami and ended up arriving in Cancun several hours after our original scheduled arrival time, so Wednesday was completely gone. We ended up eating at a sports bar restaurant at the resort before going to bed. But while at the lounge, Kaia kept wanting to wander everywhere, all the time. She was walking into people transiting in busy hallways, through people’s luggage. I had to keep running up to her and grabbing her to prevent someone from tripping over her or her knocking over someone else’s belongings. Luckily for the most part, people were quite amused and thought she was just the cutest. We got endless compliments about how cute and pretty she is, plus how sweet she is walking.

Of course, she looks precious and sweet when she’s wandering around like a tiny robot, unsure of what to do with her arms, so she usually has them sticking out in front of her. But then, when you try to hold her hand to walk the way you want her to walk, or you pick her up when she’s determined to keep going where she wants, she flips out and throws a toddler tantrum. And then, I have to to do *that mom thing* and hold her in football hold under one arm, otherwise she will squirm her way out of my grip and fall and hurt herself.

Parents always judge each other. They give endless crap and judgment to parents who use leashes, saying it’s inhumane, and babies aren’t dogs. But honestly, when I first heard of parents doing this and making these purchases on Amazon, I had little judgment. In fact, I thought it was kind of hilarious and quite safe, a solution to all of parents’ worst worries with their rambunctious little ones, discovering that they could “go” where they wanted whenever they wanted… if they wanted. What would you rather happen: a parent leash their unwieldy, stubborn child at the wrist, or the child running loose and getting hit by a bike or car?

Packing with toddler, and no longer pumping

The last few times we packed for trips, it was quite the doozy. There was packing for the three of us, but then there were also things like packing all of Kaia’s bottles, bottle cleaning supplies; her diaper bag; diapers and wipes; my pump and pump parts in its own bag; a separate bag just to store breast milk. It was alway a little stressful, especially when I’d wonder if I’d forgotten something. In the end, I never did, but in general, the more there is to pack, and the more bags you have, the more stressful it can be.

This time is the first time since Kaia was born that I don’t have to worry about packing bottles, pump or pump parts, or a separate bag to store breast milk; I’m FREE of all of that! So while Chris initially suggested we check a bag, he also suggested that I first pack everything to see how much stuff we actually needed, then to see if the checked luggage was even necessary. Miraculously, I somehow got everything to fit into one carry-on roller bag, plus my backpack. But I am still getting a little paranoid, wondering if there is something I may have totally overlooked…? This is what happens to your brain when you are so used to having so many items and at least one checked bag every time you travel on a plane with a baby.

Trip research for this week

In the last week, I finally started doing some deeper research on what we should see and eat while in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The last few months have dragged a bit, so I didn’t have a lot of motivation to plan and research where to eat and what to see. I totally get why so many parents of young children just go to all-inclusive resorts: it takes all the thinking and planning out of a vacation, which can also be a source of stress in itself. And when you have a young baby or toddler, they tend to take up a lot of your energy and free time. It can be all consuming.

But we’re not really resort people, though, so while we will enjoy the amenities of a resort, the lounges, or the breakfast buffets, we tend to get bored staying at one place all day long. I don’t remember a time when I’ve ever just sat by a pool or at the beach and read… Except when I was at Santa Barbara’s Ritz Carlton for President’s Club, and that was because I was by myself, and I had no motivation to leave the resort unless it was a pre-arranged trip.

I’m looking forward to exploring Yucatecan cuisine, in addition to the local cuisine of Quintana Roo. Most people don’t realize that Mexican cuisine is quite complex and diverse, and it’s not just tacos and quesadillas in this country… though those are very delicious things.