Kaia’s first real play date outside of daycare

Yesterday, the three of us met Kaia’s bestie from her class named Jacob and his parents (and their newborn in a sling) and took a trip to the Central Park Zoo together. Jacob’s dad had reached out to Chris, as they usually dropped off the kids together in the morning and had become friendly. We all knew that Kaia and Jacob got along really well and could be seen frequently holding hands and running around class and the multi-purpose room together. While we enjoyed our catch up and seeing the animals together, it was actually a little bittersweet: though the two were close, it seems like a lot of these things have to come to an end, as Jacob and his family would soon be relocating to New Jersey. His parents are under contract with a new house, and with their expanding family, they will need more space. Plus, they’ll also be closer to both sides of their families.

I remember being in pre-school and elementary school and always being sad when a friend moved away and left. You inevitably knew you were never going to see each other again. But I wonder if that even resonates with Kaia and Jacob at their ages. Or who knows: maybe we as parents may loosely keep in touch, and maybe there might actually be future play dates after they move. Only time will tell.

Evolution of closeness amongst friends as we get older

When I was much younger, say during my K-12 years, “close” or “best” friends meant something much different than what they have meant in my 30s. Back in those days, close friends were those who spoke pretty much every single day, ate lunch together at school, and would hang out after school and/or during the weekends. I had a number of tumultuous relationships in my middle/high school days, one of which is with a friend who I still consider a friend today. I still remember one day, I came over to her house to hang out, and it had been a couple months since I had seen her outside of school. And she confronted me about it and said, “Do you think we’re actually still close? We’re not. You never hang out with me anymore.” I said I was there at that moment. That did not seem to help her hurt feelings.

Honestly, I can’t remember the reason we didn’t hang out for a few months. Part of it was I just didn’t make the effort. The other part of it was that during that time, I was in a romantic relationship with some idiot guy who didn’t deserve my time, and I was trying to make that work. And the other part of it was that I felt like she was just being overly difficult, and hanging out with her wasn’t as fun as before. But those are complicated teenage times when we had nothing else in our lives going on — no work, no bills to pay, no children to raise, no life goals to really hit. And thus, “closeness” cannot be defined the same anymore.

At most, I will see a friend once a month if they live in New York City. If they live somewhere else, I’m lucky to see them once a year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t close anymore. Because we are still connected via text, calls/Zoom, and social media, we still are looped into what the other is up to. And when we do spend time together, we catch up and are comfortable as though no time has passed. And that’s really how I’ve gauged what “closeness” means at my current stage/age of life. It felt like that when my friend came on a side work trip to see me today. We spend a lot of time hanging out together, and even though she had to leave at 5:45am to catch her flight back home to San Francisco, we still stayed up late just talking about all kinds of random things. Some of those things were deep and sad, like my brother’s childhood and his passing, plus how that all informs how I want to parent now. Some were more frustrating life stage topics, like how my friend has noticed some of her child-free friends have seen her choice to have children as an inconvenience to them. But other things were just silly nothing-topics, like my peeling nails and skin on my fingertips because I was just too cheap and lazy to go to the salon to remove my gel polish. But regardless what the topic was, it just felt free and open and comfortable.

It takes a lot of time and investment to get to a stage with any person where you have this level of comfort. I’m lucky I can say that I have a small handful of friends where this feeling definitely rings true. Sure, we’ve had our good times and our bad, times when we’ve fundamentally disagreed with things we’ve done to each other or the respective person’s life choices. But at the end of the day, we all still love and respect each other regardless of how much time has passed since we last spoke or were in person together, and that’s ultimately what matters.

Matcha and mochi muffins in the mail

A package came in the mail today with edible goodies from a friend today. My friend let me know it would be arriving early this week and was my belated birthday gift. When I opened the box, I was excited to see the contents: a large bag of roasted matcha powder and a box including half a dozen mochi muffins to bake from Third Culture Bakery in the Bay Area. My mouth immediately started salivating.

I’ve been pretty spoiled in the last year: I’d already traveled to three major tea producing countries of the world: India, Sri Lanka, and Japan. So, I have no shortage of tea that I’ve brought back from all three countries. But this roasted matcha was a little different. I always thought that hojicha was basically the same as roasted matcha, but hojicha can actually be any kind of roasted green tea, whereas this was strictly roasted matcha tea leaves ground up. Even after all my tea travel, tea factory visits, and tastings, I’m still learning new things about tea every day! I’m excited to whisk this up and enjoy.

Unexpected friends meetup during work travel

Since the COVID pandemic, work travel has been pretty sparse for me. I only did one work trip last year, which was in mid February for the same annual company kickoff as this year, and also in Denver. The pros of coming to these big, 400+ person company events is that in-person time that I never get while being remote. I like these events because I get that face time with my colleagues, and I do miss the daily social interaction a lot. But it’s also challenging because this is socializing on steroids in a very confined space for a finite number of days, so you really have to pack in all that socializing before you have to pack up and leave again — to go home and be in front of your home computer all day long as a remote employee. It would be nice if we had more outdoor time, or time to socialize and be outside and actually experiencing the city we were in. Instead, we have to stay inside in windowless conference and presentation rooms. But I guess this is work, after all. We didn’t come for sight-seeing, unfortunately.

But I still made a point to get outside every day this week, even if it was just to walk around the block. And I happened to have a friend from San Francisco here for work, as well, so we met up at my favorite milk tea place in downtown Denver (Milk Tea People, yay!) before our company welcome dinner this evening. I haven’t seen this friend in almost a year and a half. Kaia was only about eight months old then, and my friend was pregnant and due to give birth in just a few months back then. Now, we both have older baby/toddler aged kids, and we spent most of our time talking about our kids, raising them, our relationships with our parents, death and estate planning, and family in general. The conversation felt serious and in some ways kind of sad, like we’re now slowly but surely approaching middle aged and realizing that life is just going by. But in some ways, it felt kind of comforting to have this conversation in person, face to face. We don’t see each other that often, but when we do, it always feels comfortable, like we can just be ourselves and say whatever annoying or stupid things are on our mind, and it’s all okay. No judgment. No worries. No fuss. We just are who we are, and that’s okay. That’s the benefit of having a friend for a long, long time; I’m 38 now, and she’s turning 37 later this year. That means we would have been friends for over 25 years at this point. I’m lucky to have friends still in my life this long who I can just say what I think to, and they just accept me as I am.

What is also funny about meeting up with this friend: whenever I see her, it looks like as time goes by and as we get older, she looks more and more like her mother. And when I look at photos of us together, I realize I am looking more and more like my dad’s sister, my aunt, who I really do not like and have not spoken to since my 2016 wedding, but the resemblance is undoubtedly there whether I want it there or not. I guess that’s what time does to you: we are all aging, even my sweet Kaia Pookie is aging, but in a much cuter way.

Oh, and it also helps that she likes and appreciates really good milk tea, as Milk Tea People is a standout amongst ALL milk tea places I’ve visited around the world. The care these people put into their tea, from hand whisking the Uji matcha to making all their lavender, orange blossom, and fruit syrups from scratch and in-house every day, is incredible. None of my colleagues I asked wanted to come here with me, as they all said they weren’t really into milk tea, or this place was too far of a walk from our hotel….

75 vs. 75

Last night, I had dinner at a Georgian restaurant with my 9th grade English teacher, who I’ve kept in touch with since I graduated from high school. When I look back at my childhood, I realize that I am very fortunate to have developed positive, lasting relationships with a couple of my teachers, who were always positive role models for me. They were people who always genuinely cared and showed interest in me, not just as a student, but as a person. My former teacher and now friend was in town visiting from San Francisco, and so we got together for dinner to catch up, as I hadn’t seen her since the last time I was back home last August.

Every time I see her, I am reminded of all the “what could be” situations with my parents. She and my dad are the same age — they are both 75. Yet somehow, my dad leaves this drab, mundane life where he literally does the same boring things every day that do not give him any joy. He eats the same foods, spends time on YouTube and the internet, and grumbles about prices going up, inflation, politics, and the works. He has no friends to socialize with, nor does he seem to care. He has zero curiosity about the world. He’s not really learning anything new or doing anything new. He has no desire to go anywhere or see anything different. He doesn’t even have the desire to come to New York to visit me, his only living child. And my mom, though she would want to travel, is held back because of my dad. She feels like she has to take care of him, as though he’s another child under her wing.

My former teacher and friend, on the other hand, lives the most fruitful, fun, and colorful life: she takes dance classes two days a week. She regularly does arts and crafts (scrapbooking, textiles, and painting), takes a watercoloring class, and has lots of friends who she is constantly meeting up with and traveling to visit. She is always “busy” in a positive way; she aims to be happy and fill her life with people and things and activities that bring her joy and spark her passion. She makes the most of her life, and she doesn’t let the fact that she’s 75 years old stop her. For her, age is a number, not an excuse to do or not do certain activities.

I always think that my parents could benefit to be around someone like this friend. If they were just a fraction of her, they’d be so much happier and more fulfilled. You’d never guess seeing or listening to her that she’s in the same age range as my parents. She is vibrant, full of life and zeal. It’s unfortunate that I can’t get my parents to see life in a more positive way like she does.

Omakase night out and reflections on how amazing NYC is

I took my friend out for a much belated birthday celebration at a Japanese restaurant in Chelsea this evening. We sat at the counter for our 17-course omakase meal. As much as I love spending time with my Kaia Pookie and keeping her in a routine, it was nice to go out and get a little dressed up, and not have to worry about maneuvering a stroller up and down the subway stairs or into a narrow restaurant.

While at the restaurant, we sat next to a couple that was celebrating the wife’s birthday. We made some small talk and talked about Japan, California, food, and how we all got to New York City. They had previously spent the last eight years living in Japan, half the time in Tokyo and half the time in western Japan. Six of those years were spent teaching English. Though they are both from California originally, they decided to move out to New York after leaving Japan for job opportunities. They talked about how easy and affordable it was in Japan, no matter where they went, to get fresh, tasty, and affordable sushi, and how this is pretty much never the case here in the U.S. and how much they missed it.

I suppose when you live in a place for a long time, there’s always going to be things you will miss about it once you leave. It made me think about living here in New York, and what I would miss once we eventually leave this city. I think out of all the things I’d miss most, it would most definitely be the sheer diversity and variety of people here (which means, the craziest variety of food available!!); based on where I’ve traveled and what I’ve read and heard, I really do not think there’s a more diverse city in the entire world where you could probably be exposed to people from all ends of the earth in one single place. Queens itself is the most diverse place on earth, and that’s just ONE part of New York City! I will always have Queens pride and be proud of the fact that I spent my first four years in New York living in Queens. I’m even getting excited about going back to the specific area, Elmhurst, again this Friday to meet with friends for lunch. I feel like it’s always a mini adventure here in every neighborhood, and I’ve already been here for 15+ years.

Music class with little friends

Kaia had two more class credits to use up before the summer was up with Little Maestros music class. I wouldn’t have found this task so annoying if it weren’t for the fact that Little Maestros primarily has classes on weekdays. Only during the summer for about 2.5 months do they have two options for a Saturday class, but both sessions, at 10am and 11am, are on the East Side of Central Park by 79th Street, so it’s not the most convenient area for us to get to. Granted, it takes about 25 minutes to walk through the park to get there, but when you’re pushing a stroller, sometimes as you’d imagine, it can be a bit longer.

So I thought it would be fun to consolidate and do one music class session there, and use the second class credit with my friends and their daughter, who is about 8 months younger than Kaia and recently celebrated her birthday. So this was kind of like her belated birthday “experience” gift. We could make it into a music class/day at the park/lunch outing, and so we ended up doing that.

It was really cute seeing Kaia in the music class today. It’s one of the only music classes she’s attended where she could walk, so of course, she was running around everywhere, whether it was up to the performers while they were singing, around other families (with far less mobile babies), and even out of the class area to the walking path, where other park goers were just wandering around. Of course, she knew she was being cheeky and giggling every time I ran after her. When she was running around, I realized looking around at the class (it was actually quite a large group, and in most cases, couples came with their baby or babies, and even friends and grandparents came) that she was probably one of the older children there because she was the only one who was running around. Most of the other babies looked so young that they were unlikely to even be crawling yet.

But what I found the funniest and cutest about the time Kaia had with my friend’s 1-year old today was that I told Kaia that she had to share her Little Maestros instruments with her friend. And as soon as Kaia saw the friend take one of the instruments, she immediately started taking all the other toys and shoving them into the box, then put the box behind her back away from the friend. Kaia then put her hands over the box, as though to shield it from anyone else touching it. And I insisted to Kaia that she had to take turns and that the toys were for both of them today, not just her. Eventually, she was okay with “turn taking,” but it took a little coaxing for her to ease up her grip on the toys that she wasn’t even playing much with. Talk about toddler possessiveness!

Even though Kaia will always be my baby and I will always look at her like she’s a baby, today’s class made me realize even more exactly how much she has grown and matured. She really is a true toddler now and not really a baby anymore. She’s also expressing herself more and more and asserting her wants, likes, and dislikes constantly, and I’m just trying to keep up with all of it and not let her turn into an entitled brat. With the “turn taking” today, I cannot even imagine what she’d be like with a little sibling!!

Eating dinner out: how it’s different with a baby/toddler

My friend suggested going out to eat next Friday night, but I told her that I wouldn’t be able to go out (or, at least, not that far) because Chris already had tentative plans to go out to eat with his friends, and so I’d need to be with Pookster. She responded that she could still come over, and suggested we could still eat out and just take Kaia with us.

While that sounds like an easy solution… it’s not as easy as a non-parent would think. Kaia really shouldn’t stay out too late given her age, and to keep her on schedule (and away from crankiness), we need to keep her bedtime at around 7-7:30. So that means we would need to eat early, closer to 5-5:30pm when she typically eats, and ease her into her sleepy time before then. A lot of people think parents are just being inflexible with schedules, but schedules are what babies and toddlers need to thrive. They need a schedule and a level of predictability in a world of chaos. It keeps them grounded, and it prevents things like tantrums, hunger, and over-tiredness, which then results in baby mood swings.

What’s likely going to happen is that we’ll probably get takeout somewhere. I’ll pick Kaia up a bit early from daycare, and we’ll eat at home and hang out until she has to go to bed. It’s much easier to hang out with friends with baby in tow during the day as opposed to dinner time for this reason. It’s a temporary adjustment given the stage of life we’re currently in now. But as with all stages, it has its time and is temporary, so I’m happy with it because I know it will pass.

When you have no parents and no family

Today, we went to Industry City to meet up with a couple we met at a food/beer event about two years ago. Every subsequent time I see them, I learn a little more about the childhood of the woman in the couple, who seems like she’s had… quite an ordeal through her life. Her mom abandoned her at birth. Her dad abandoned her twice, once when she was years old, and again when she was about 15 years old. She was primarily raised by her grandmother, but even then, the relationship was restrained and not very loving. So she’s never really had any real “family” experience or felt like she belonged anywhere. In fact, she didn’t really come to understand what “family” even meant until she married her now husband about 11 years ago. That was really the beginning of when she started feeling like she had family.

It’s such a strange thought to think about not having any family or place of belonging at all, especially given that Mother’s Day is tomorrow. Many of us have parents who we have great, strained, or tumultuous relationships with, but regardless of the status or depth of the relationship, the relationship still exists… or existed. In this friend’s case, she has no one to call her parents or to refer to when she discusses where she came from. And it seems like such a painful, lonely thought. But she’s done quite well for herself and wants to do so much good in her life. She’s active in her neighborhood and serves on her community board. She’s done development and strategy work to improve the lives of children in under-served communities across the U.S. and developing countries. She does freelance writing to shed light on her own personal experiences and how they can affect the world. Every time I talk to her, I realize how complex and multi-faceted she is, and how a lot of us can learn so much from her life experiences… of being rejected by the two people who brought her into this world, but not letting that run or ruin her life.

My friend’s 40th: a private room full of parents of young kids

Tonight, Chris and I rented a Zipcar for a 1.5 hour drive out to Long Island for my friend’s 40th birthday. Luckily for us, a good friend of mine agreed to babysit Kaia for the evening, and she even commuted all the way from Staten Island and agreed to stay the night given how far away home would be for her. I told my friend that there was no way in hell we were going to back out despite the distance and the fact we couldn’t get there via public transit easily; we really needed to get out of the house without the baby, and I needed to socialize with other adults… even if all of those other adults just wanted to talk about their kids.

My friend warned me ahead of time that pretty much all the other parents coming would be there because they are the parents of her kids’ friends. So I kind of braced myself and waited for the kids conversations to come. But I was pleasantly surprised when I had some pretty good one on one conversations with a few of the party attendees, ranging from not just babies and nannies and daycare, but also traveling, relocating, comparing different cities, and of course, my favorite topic — food and restaurants. When we were all seated at the tables for dinner, the conversation ended up becoming more about kids and child-rearing in general, but given how all these friends know each other, I wasn’t really bothered by it since I expected it. Plus, sometimes, it is funny to hear about these random “child terrorist” stories and laugh about them every now and then.

In general, I’m more open to the idea of making friends with parents because their kids get along with my kid. It’s important to be able to trust the parents of the kids that your child is going to spend time with, especially if they end up spending time in their homes when you aren’t around eventually. I’m just not necessarily expecting any of these people to become my best friend forever. I don’t want to be the way my mom was with me and pretty much never trust anyone and constantly assume the absolute worst of all other parents. But the only way to begin trusting anyone is to spend some time with them.