Kaia’s growing vocabulary and awareness

In the beginning, I was keeping a running list of Kaia’s words, but now, I can’t even keep up anymore. She says new words (and seemingly understands them) almost every single day, and more and more, she is putting words together. She watches me in the kitchen fiddling with things, and she says, “Mummy cooking.” She knows possessives now, so she likes to say “Mummy’s shoes!” or “daddy’s hat!” and “Kaia’s (insert literally everything of hers).” Today, she grabbed Chris’s hat and said “This is Daddy’s hat.” She identifies when I’m brushing or flossing my teeth. She declares when Chris is showering. She also preemptively identifies that we’re going to tell her she can’t do something: “No Rachel!” “No phone!” “No, Kaia!”

What I really love (well, this sentiment has not changed, but it’s just gotten more fun) is when we read together, and I stop before the end of the sentence to let her finish and say the last word or two. It’s really cute. She’s not only remembering but she seems to know the meaning of many of these words, which is really gratifying to watch. She does this with books we haven’t read it months, too. She even surprised me the other day when I was changing her diaper and singing the chorus of “Mouse Loves Big Rice,” a Chinese song, and she started singing along with me. She’s heard this song over and over since she was a newborn, but this was the first time she’d ever shown any affinity or understanding of what I sang. I find it so sweet. Every time something like this happens, I wish I could just have a camera recording the entire moment so I could capture it forever. But alas, it doesn’t always work out. I always try to replicate it subsequently, and of course, my little cheeky baby runs off to her next thing to discover or plow through. And of course, she loves to give me her little cheeky smile, laugh, and then yell out, “Cheeky! Cheeky! Cheeky baby!”

My apple eating young toddler

In June while we were in the mango capital of the world, also known as India, I was extremely dismayed and even embarrassed that my mango loving baby refused to even touch an Indian mango. My thought then, was, how did you so readily and happily eat all those Mexican ataulfo mangoes all these months in New York, yet now, you’re on some odd mango strike and just outright refuse to even look at a mango in the country with the best mangoes on earth?! How is this even possible?

Instead, and as though to insult her dad and me, when on a boat on the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala, one of our servers offered a plate of cut mangoes and apples. And while completely ignoring the mangoes, Pookster turned to the huge slices of apples on the plate, skin and all. At first, I was initially wary of her eating such thick slices, but she seemed to manage them really well and even relish the fact that they were so fat. With each huge bite she took, she chewed and chewed, as though proud of herself and her amazing biting, chewing, and swallowing skills. On the one hand, I felt annoyed she refused the mango in favor of the apple. On the other hand, I was so damn proud of her eating skills. How many kids at her age would be trusted with apple slices that were that thick and fat? If anything, she likely could have handled them that thick earlier, but a) we didn’t really have apples in the house to test this out, and b) I was being a bit risk averse despite having her learn solids through baby-led weaning solely.

Today, she actually prefers fat slices of apple. And she rejects apple slices that are too thin! But alas, her eating habits have proven to be a bit different at home vs. at school. At school pickup today, her teacher let me know that Pookster prefers the slices fat, but cut in half horizontally. Say, what?! The weird toddler selectivity of my silly, cheeky Kaia Pookie.

Cute developments of my Kaia Pookie

Every day, it seems like my Pookster is doing something to surprise us. It’s hard to keep track of all her new words, gestures, and habits given she’s developing so quickly. Some of the things she’s done recently that have made us smile, laugh, or marvel at how much she is learning are briefly noted here:

*When she is very fond of something and wants to keep holding it, but you try to take it away, she immediately starts saying quickly, “Let go! Let go!”

*If you ask her a question, and she doesn’t know the answer, she will immediately say, “Don’t know! Don’t know!” then put her hands up as though “I dunno!”

*When she wants you to finish doing something with her she doesn’t like, like brushing her teeth or putting her hair up in pigtails, she whines, “Come on! Come on!” Other versions of stopping said action also include: “All done! All done!” or “All good! All good!”

*She is singing full lines of her favorite songs, like “Move on back! Move on back!” from “Wheels on the Bus.” She’s actually sung broken parts of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for a while now, but the lines from “Wheels on the Bus” have been new out of her mouth as of late.

*She is able to look at both photos and pictures of objects and things and name them without any prompting or assistance. She can also identify a handful of people, including her favorite Suma, Chris’s mom.

*She’s figured out how to open our kitchen cabinets — from the top. Yep. The time has finally come. Chris had to set up the magnet children locks on one, but I’d imagine in a short time, we may need to install them on *all* the kitchen cabinets.

*She knows how to twist open regular (not child-locked) pill containers. This totally freaked me out.

My baby is officially 21 months old today – not really a baby anymore, but regardless, she will always be my baby. How time flies. I’m so freaking lucky to have her and all her sweet cheekiness.

Kaia’s stubbornness and cuteness wrapped into one action: holding hands

I am clearly biased, but I think my sweet Kaia Pookie is incredibly cute. She is so cute that sometimes, I just want to squish her little face and eat it. I still have no idea where the idea of “eating” someone or something cute came from, but alas, I use it when it comes to Pookster. I can’t help it; she is just super adorable. She doesn’t have her same fat rolls or chubbiness that I always admired from over a year ago, but sometimes, I still stare at her in wonderment and cannot really believe she is here with us. She is my sweet miracle baby, my bundle of joy that is growing and developing endlessly. She has lots of strong opinions and can be incredibly cheeky. She especially hates holding hands. She gets SO mad when you try to hold her hand while walking outside. It’s like she’s saying, let me be independent! Leave me alone! I will go where I want to go! The exception to this is when there’s a lot of strange, new people around, or when she wants help going up and down the stairs.

Oddly, though, since our Virginia trip last week, she randomly does want to hold hands. She will demand that her hand be held after getting out of her high chair at home post-meal time. She even wants her hand held while she’s in her stroller. She will either demand, “hold my hand!” or “hold me hand!” and then look up at us expectantly. I love these little moments so much because I know that sooner than we think, they will all be gone forever and just a distant memory. So I am still maniacally trying to capture all the moments as often as possible without totally running out of Google Cloud storage space.

Kaia counts in English and Chinese

As much as I can hope and dream about it, it’s very unlikely that Kaia will ever be fully bilingual in English and Mandarin Chinese. I probably speak Mandarin Chinese at barely a 5-6 year old level, if even that, and as I’m teaching her Chinese, I’m learning and re-learning Mandarin Chinese through helpful YouTube videos and even on Udemy. She’s mastered a lot of fruit, like how to say grapes or cherries in Chinese. She knows what I am saying when I tell her to watch, look, or listen. And recently, I’ve been trying to reinforce how to count from 1-10 in Chinese because she’s been learning that in school for English. So far, it looks like during their daily morning circle time, they are sticking to counting from just 1-10 in English now. So I tried to mirror this for her in Chinese.

Kaia easily counts from 1-10 in English. She’s been doing this for the last two months. Sometimes, she randomly will skip one or two numbers in the sequence when distracted, but she knows how to say all of them. I recently started adding in Chinese, and while she’d look at me contemplatively, I knew she was absorbing what I was saying just based on her thoughtful facial expression. This week, she’s counted up to ten, though it’s clear she’s a bit shyer around this: her voice is much softer as she says the numbers in sequence in Chinese, and as she gets to ten, her voice is almost a whisper. But when she finally did it, I couldn’t believe how proud I felt; I could tell she was feeling victorious as well! She had this big smile on her face and started bobbing her head back and forth. She loves to seek our approval, but I hope to instill in her a sense of pride for her own accomplishments and that many times, that can and should be enough.

Kaia’s love for lychees

I first introduced Kaia to lychees sometime in the autumn of last year, but there was a huge gap when she had no exposure to them until this summer. We bought them from a fruit vendor on the street in upper Manhattan, and then she totally got hooked on them. I got them once more in Chinatown, and since then, she randomly asks if we have lychees to eat (most of the time, we don’t, unfortunately).

When we were in Richmond, we went into a Vietnamese supermarket and found some at a reasonable price, so we bought a 2.2lb bag of them to eat back at the hotel. Given we had no high chair and no proper kitchen/dining setup, we’d undress her so she’d only wear her diaper, wash and peel the lychees in the hotel bathroom sink, then give them to her in pieces. She was always in heaven, constantly asking, “More? More?”

We brought some back with us when we returned to New York today, and we finished them off after dinner this evening. I’ve been teaching her how to say different food-related phrases in Chinese. So while she gets excited and wants to reach for the lychee shells and pits, I repeatedly tell her in Chinese “Bu chi! Bu chi! (don’t eat!). Now, after I peel a lychee, she points at the pits and shells and says gleefully, “bu chi! bu chi!”

Happy 44th birthday, Ed

Dear Ed,

Happy birthday. Today, you would have turned 44 years old. Today if you were alive, I would have made fun of you and called you old for being in your mid 40s. Unfortunately, dumb jokes about age and getting old and white-haired cannot happen since you aren’t here anymore. It’s still strange to me to think that you died 10 years ago. Ten years passed slowly, yet quickly all at the same time. Ten years ago, the thought of bearing children seemed quite far away, but today, Kaia is over 20 months old, thriving and growing right in front of my eyes. Sometimes when I look at her, I become very sad, knowing that the two of you will never meet. And I wonder what kind of relationship you would have had with her, how you would have spoiled her with endless clothes, accessories, and toys, how you would have played with her and read books to her and enjoyed each other’s company.

While it is pointless to think about what could never be, I still think about it quite often. I think about what life would be like if you were still here. I think it goes without saying that if you were still here, our parents would still not get along with you; hell, it’s not like our parents get along beautifully with me, nor did they ever. Their lives were stressed when you were here; their lives are still full of stress, but for reasons I am completely unaware of. I don’t really know if they would have more or less stress with you still here. That is unclear to me since everything for them is always miserable.

This year, I also thought about all my AFSP fundraising efforts in memory of you and if it really meant anything. This is the tenth year that I’ve participated in AFSP’s Out of the Darkness walk and fundraising for it in your honor. As the years have passed, the funds I’ve been able to raise have dwindled, and I can’t really blame people. People are always supportive of a cause when it’s brand new and freshly painful to the person fundraising. But after a while, it gets tiring and old. I do have a number of very loyal and generous donors who have tirelessly given money every single year since the beginning, but I am wondering now if I am asking for too much by continuing this. I work remotely and have been for the last 3 years, and so I haven’t had enough face time with colleagues to really hustle donations the way I used to at my previous two companies. I’m wondering what all of this is actually worth? But I’ll continue it anyway. I hope this is helping SOMEONE out there.

Or maybe I’m just speaking this way because I’m tired. I’m trying to find some meaning in all of this, and I’m not sure it’s identifiable. All I know is: I miss you, and I hate that you aren’t here anymore. I hate that you cannot meet Kaia and that Kaia will never know you. I will dread the day when I finally have to explain to her how you died. I will not enjoy explaining to her what suicide is and why people “do” it. I would also love it if no one could relate to losing a loved one to suicide. But that is a big, big request in a difficult world where we live.

I’m not feeling super optimistic right now, more just exhausted, also because I’ve been sick for about four weeks now, and just feeling like I need a break from life in general. I saw a glimpse of you in my dreams the other night, and for a split second, I actually thought it was real, that you were real again. But it was all gone when I woke up coughing.

I hope you will send me positive vibes from wherever you are. I love you and miss you. Hope you are thinking of us fondly.



Kaia sleeps with books, not stuffed animal friends

Kaia has never really had any affinity to any stuffed animal. While she used to enjoy peekaboo with her elephant lovey that we named Shungu, and she occasionally grabs her elephant Babar and plays with his different sensory parts, she doesn’t seem to have an attachment to any stuffed animal. She’s never dragged a specific stuffed animal from one room to another or used one to sleep with. Once, I even wondered if it was abnormal for her to NOT have an attachment to a stuffed animal and even went down the Google rabbit hole of checking (it’s not a bad thing; in fact, over 50% of children don’t have attachments to any objects).

But we knew quite early on that she loved her books. She loves, loves reading, and now she loves repeating words and naming what things are in the books we read together. She goes through phases where certain books are her favorites, and she demands we read the same book over and over again. She will drag the book from one room to another as though it’s an animal friend. Currently, her favorite book is called Penguin and Pinecone, which is the story of how a penguin found a “friend” in a pine cone, but realized that they couldn’t grow and live in the same place because they needed different environments in which to thrive. Penguins need to be in cold areas, whereas pine cones need to be in the forest to thrive. But despite that, they always love and remember each other and their fun times together. The hilarious thing is that Kaia doesn’t seem to care about the penguin as you might assume; she is especially fixated on the pine cone. The last few nights, she has refused to let go of the book when we’re done reading it (you know, for the fifth time), and she ends up falling asleep either holding it or on top of it. I eventually have to sneak into the room after she’s fallen asleep to take it away. One night this week, she woke up after an hour to discover that the book was no longer with her, and she started crying, yelling, “Pine cone! Pine cone!”, until I returned the book to her side. She then immediately calmed down and went back to sleep.

Child development is so peculiar and fascinating. It’s been sweet and endearing to watch my baby grow into this very curious, thoughtful, cheeky toddler.

Kaia’s bilingual comprehension: on the up and up

At school on the weekdays during morning circle time, Kaia’s class goes through a few routines, such as counting from 1-10, colors, shapes, days of the week, and body stretches/identification of body parts. The majority of the language used in class, unsurprisingly, is in English, but the teachers do work on introducing American Sign Language as well as a few words here and there in Spanish. I noticed that once Kaia started daycare in May that her affinity for Chinese songs had started to decline, so I’ve been a bit more deliberate about trying to continue her exposure to those songs at bedtime. In addition, I also try to do things like count in Chinese and discuss colors in Chinese, as well.

It’s hard to know sometimes what she understands and what she doesn’t given she’s still quite young. She’s increasingly verbal every single day. My Pookster is a total sponge, constantly studying what you’re saying, doing, and even how your lips are moving when you speak. Last night, we were counting in English and I transitioned to counting in Chinese and let her know I would count in Chinese. I asked if she could practice counting in Chinese. She initially looked at me thoughtfully, then climbed off the bed and made a beeline to the bookshelf. She immediately grabbed the Chinese counting/food book we have and handed it to me and demanded, “Read!”

That made me so, so happy. My baby does understand what I’m saying, and she also knows the difference between Chinese and English. Every day, I feel so excited and proud by her development. At the same time, it makes me feel a little sad that she’s growing so rapidly. Sometimes, I still have moments when I just want to bottle her up and freeze time to make a note of exactly how adorable, sweet, curious, and intelligent she is.

Turning to TCM in an attempt to cure myself

Today marks four weeks of being sick. To be clear, I no longer am experiencing fevers, body aches, congestion/stuffy nose, but I am still suffering from a lingering cough, which still results in the occasional violent coughing fit that then leads to running to a toilet to either vomit up phlegm or what I had previously eaten. I still get choked up and my voice changes, or my breath is weird, so my voice sometimes sounds strange. Sometimes, it seems benign, like I literally just threw up my Theraflu that was honey-lemon flavored or my black tea. Other times, I have vomited up my entire dinner of chicken, rice, and soup. Regardless, it is never pleasant, and I usually feel like my eyeballs are about to burst from the sheer force of the vomiting. Because, as you probably are aware, food is meant to leave your body in one way and one way, only. When it comes out the way it came in, it’s generally not great for you.

So my mom got worried that I’d been coughing this long, so she insisted that she send some Chinese herbs for me to prepare a cough/lung tonic for myself. She sent this along with some dresses and gifts for Kaia. And I took a look at the herbs she sent and discussed instructions on how to prepare them over the phone. Then, I started referencing my Cantonese cookbook and some TCM websites for other “moistening the lungs” tonics I could make. On Sunday, I started brewing the tonics. At this point, I figure I have nothing to lose, and if nothing at all, these will still serve to hydrate me. Unlike some people, I do believe in some aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as it’s clear that most of the western medicine I have taken to date for my illness has done absolutely nada to help me. The ENT doctor can go ahead and tell me to take Prilosec or Pepcid or Tums or whatever, but nothing actually feels like it’s moving the needle for me and getting me on a real road to recovery. Maybe my body does need a cleanse, and these herbs will actually help me get across the finish line to full recovery? We shall see.