A cold afternoon spent in the play room

It was in the single digits Fahrenheit today, so we had zero interest in even leaving the building today. I spent the morning making pho ga (chicken pho), and in the afternoon after lunch, I took Kaia down to the play room for some change of scenery, as well as to hopefully interact with some other kids who would come. When we first arrived, no one was there. But eventually, four kids and their moms arrived, and then a dad and his young son, who happened to be just one month older than Kaia. We exchanged names and apartment numbers, and then Kaia and Georgie slowly sized each other up. They kept staring at each other from afar and gradually walked and crawled closer to each other. It was clear they wanted to interact, but they were just figuring out the best way to do this. The dad warned me that his son could get a little aggressive, so he kept warning Georgie to be nice and gentle. And then, out of nowhere, as Georgie reached his hand out for Kaia, he whacked her straight on her forehead.

And with that, my Kaia Pookie started wailing and crying, burying her head into my chest and refused to look up.

The dad immediately freaked out, apologized, and thought I was going to get mad, but how could I? I just laughed it off. They’re just babies, I said to him. Don’t worry about it! They don’t know what they’re doing, and the boy is likely just testing his boundaries. After a quick cry and some cuddles, I placed Kaia on the mat next to Georgie, and they eventually started handing toys to each other and playing with trucks together. And it was really sweet to watch them interact, especially after that slightly rough start.

Honestly, though, I really wish Kaia had whacked him back and shown him who’s boss. I can’t have my baby getting picked on when I am not there…

Building a family in an unconventional way

Every couple of weeks, I quickly scroll through parenting groups I belong to on Facebook, and each time, there is inevitably at least one or two posts asking for night nurse requests/references. And because these posts are SO frequent, I have a little blurb about the two night nurses we hired, their contact information, and how we’d recommend them on my phone so I can just copy and paste the same thing (people do not like to use the “search” function in groups on Facebook, apparently). Well, earlier this week, someone direct messaged me on Facebook to ask if I could speak to him about the night nurses and our experiences with them, so I decided to chat with him today.

He introduced himself and his situation as being “different:” he and his partner are in a gay marriage, and they are currently expecting twins, a boy and a girl, through a surrogate. It would be their first children, they have no family nearby, and are looking for support. Initially I thought… None of this sounded that odd to me; I hear situations like this all the time in liberal cities like San Francisco, Boston, and New York. But what was actually different was how they are starting their family: the babies are both biologically theirs. How is that possible? I thought. Well, this man’s sister did IVF to extract her eggs to then fertilize with his partner’s sperm. So while the children did not come from his sperm, they are technically related to him.

That totally blew my mind. And what a selfless person this man’s sister is to go through the headache and volatility that is IVF stimulation and egg retrieval, all so that her brother could have a child that is still blood related to him. WOW.

And to add to that, the surrogate is this man’s best friend, who lives in Oregon. She will be moving in with them two months before the due date to labor and give birth to the babies here in New York. She also plans to pump milk for the babies… and even freeze and ship it to them every week!

As a pumping mama myself, that completely made me in awe of this friend. That’s a really, really good friend! I made sure to spend a few minutes letting this man know that pumping is NOT for the faint of heart, coming from someone who exclusively pumps, so I hope he realizes the sacrifices his friend is making to do this for his children. I also silently hoped he and his partner are compensating her appropriately for that effort. I’d even say in some ways… pumping is more effort and toil than pregnancy and labor!

When uncles interact with their nieces

In the couple of weeks we spent in Melbourne that overlapped with Chris’s brother Ben being in town, it was really sweet to see him interact with Kaia. After some initial drama in scheduling immediate family events, Ben actually cleared his calendar mostly to maximize time with her. I’m sure he also felt guilty that he had missed her first birthday party, so he probably did this to make up for that, in some way. He helped feed her a couple of times and played and read to her. I loved watching them together. Initially, as with anyone else, she took some time warming up to him, but finally when she did, it was as though no time had passed. I enjoyed watching them play peek-a-boo and make faces together. Listening to her sweet, high pitched giggle at things he’d do to entertain her, like jump up and down and do squats, made me feel really happy.

It’s hard to observe these interactions and not wonder what it could have been like to watch Ed interact with Kaia. While Ed was awkward around adults, he really loved babies and young children. He was really kind and warm when interacting with young children. Who knows — in another life, maybe he could have been an early childhood educator or worked at a toddler educational center or something related. When colleagues and church acquaintances had kids, he’d always give them little gifts and candy. And knowing how much he inundated me with gifts, I know he would have spared little expense to spoil Kaia thoroughly, whether it was with the latest and coolest age-appropriate toy or the most fashionable clothes. Ed always had really good taste in clothing, and he always thought a lot about gifts before he purchased and gifted them.

I don’t know when Kaia will finally understand people who have died and the fact that life will always end in death. But I try to occasionally share anecdotes about her Uncle Ed to her, and eventually, I’ll show her photos of Ed and try to have her “know” him as much as she can. Every now and then when I look at her face, I see Ed in her, and I hope that wherever he is, he is finally at peace with himself and the world. I still miss him and think about him every day, and with Kaia Pookie in my physical life now and him not anymore, sometimes my heart really aches, wishing what could have been.

A teary departure

This morning, we left Melbourne for LA. Chris’s dad took us to the airport, and because the car seat takes so much space in the backseat of the vehicle, Chris’s mom stayed behind. As Chris’s mom hugged and kissed Kaia goodbye, I could already feel myself feeling sad, but what triggered tears was when Chris’s dad did his usual prayer to wish us well on our travels and return back to the U.S., and finally New York. Why does he always have to do that? I don’t even know what about that prayer gets me, but every time, I’m always in this emotional state, wondering, “why do you always have to be so damn loving and kind.. ALL THE TIME?” And then, like I’ve never done before, I was crying on most of the ride to the airport, sitting in the front passenger seat alongside Chris’s dad driving. He is super uncomfortable with any sentimentality or emotion, so he just kept bringing up the most random topics to keep some semblance of a conversation going. Chris told me where the box of tissue was in the front. And that was kind of it.

Now that Kaia is here, more things are triggering to me than ever before. Even just watching how Chris’s parents interact with her, I am reminded of how my parents were not like that with me or Ed when we were little, and how they still aren’t like that with Kaia in the short time they had together last August. It made me really sad to see how much Kaia enjoyed their time together and how it was all coming to an end at that very moment. Doesn’t every good parent want the best people to surround their children?

Anyway, we never talked about it. Chris is just like his dad, emotionally removed and keeps everything to himself. No one wants to hear why anyone cries or feels anything in his family. People just do what they do and feel what they feel and move on. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s what contributes to Chris’s mom always seeming a little dissatisfied with her life in general. She seemingly has everything anyone could ask for: a solid education and a pretty good career, a loving husband, a beautiful home, plenty of money, endless travel, two grown, self-sufficient sons, and now a grandchild. She seems to be lacking deeper emotional connections to the people she is supposed to be closest to. Because what is life without deep, meaningful relationships?

When your brother-in-law whines, and you roll your eyes at his privilege

Because Chris’s brother was scheduled to fly back to Sydney tonight, Chris’s parents suggested that we have one last meal out together as a family of six for lunch today. They proposed a trendy modern Indian spot in Melbourne’s CBD that they had visited before and enjoyed called Daughter-in-Law. I thought it sounded really good from the menu, so I said it would be a fun last meal together. Chris’s brother, on the other hand, did not agree.

“I don’t WANT to eat out again!” Chris’s brother whined this morning. “There’s too much food! Eating out is SO BAD for you! I just want to eat at HOME! ALL we have been doing is constantly eating unhealthy food the last several days, and I don’t want to do it anymore! I am NOT going!”

I couldn’t believe it. There I was, sitting at Chris’s parents’ dining table in their lounge with my nipples connected to my breast pump, pumping milk for my baby while my husband’s 37-year-old younger brother was whining like a baby himself.

“The Christmas season is meant for indulging — that’s what people do!” I insisted. “You don’t eat like this all year long. Do you even hear how whiny and over privileged you sound, protesting eating out at a nice restaurant with your family with your parents paying the bill??!! I asked him. Some people would absolutely love to be able to dine out as regularly as he did. Not everyone has the bank account to fund dining out. Not everyone has parents who have provided such a comfortable life for them to come to expect… YES, EXPECT.

First, it was their parents almost allowing Chris’s brother to use one of their two cars for an hour-long gym session just minutes away and foregoing an entire fun day out in wine country. And now today, it’s Chris’s brother’s whining about how he refuses to have one last meal out together, on his parents’ dime, at a nice restaurant. And if I had to count everything in between, I wouldn’t have enough face-palm emojis to thoroughly depict how ridiculous and spoiled he was acting. And the thing was: Chris’s parents, while unhappy with this response, didn’t seem to think this was spoiled behavior at all. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would have been like if that were ME with my own parents.

In the end, though, he ended up going. And in the end, he enjoyed it and even posted photos about how good the food was on Instagram. Of course.

Shrimp curry: made selflessly with love

Today, we went to Chris’s mom’s sister’s home for lunch to see her, her husband, their sons, and their son’s wife, plus their corgi. Going to their home is a bit of a good and an annoying thing: it’s good because they usually make delicious food and have a beautiful backyard with lots of fruits, vegetables and flowers growing; it’s annoying because the sister and husband can be a bit too stiff and formal, and it’s always dark in their home. Chris likes to complain that his parents don’t keep the shades open when he’s home and that he needs natural light; well, at this house, the shades ALWAYS seem to be completely drawn regardless of how sunny or grey it may be outside. On top of that, if we want to call my parents’ house or Chris’s parents’ house full of clutter, this house is on the opposite end of the spectrum: there is pretty much nothing hanging on any wall; no adornments are on any tables, countertops, or surfaces; literally nothing that resembles anything decorative, even a single picture frame, has ever, ever been up when I have come to visit. Sometimes, I wonder if this family is on the run from whatever the Australian equivalent of the CIA is and wants to escape at a moment’s notice, and perhaps that’s why their home is so bare bones. If you walked in, you’d think this was some rental property where nomads came and went, not where a real family lived their day-to-day lives.

The one thing that struck me about this visit, though, other than the delicious food overall, was the shrimp curry that the dad made. The curry was absolutely delicious; it was a deep, dark, brownish-red color, spicy, well seasoned, and so, so good, especially with the appams that he made. The shrimp was a bit overcooked and rubbery, though, which seemed uncharacteristic of Chris’s uncle, who was a very particular cook and relished different techniques and being very precise. I remarked to Chris’s aunt how good the shrimp curry was, and she said she was happy I liked it: her husband was actually allergic to shrimp and could not eat it, but he insisted on making it for special occasions because both their sons loved it so much. Because he was allergic, he could never taste test or try the shrimp himself, but he always hoped for the best.

I was really touched when I heard this. Chris’s aunt and uncle are of my parents’ generation. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine my dad doing this same thing for Ed or me. If he couldn’t eat it himself or didn’t care for something, there’s really no way he’d ever make it for us. But I suppose this is how Chris’s uncle shows his love through actions for his sons.

When baby’s first word comes

Kaia is almost 11 months old, and so I figured at some point soon, she’d start attempting to say real words. I know she knows a lot of what we say just based on her reactions and facial expressions. She knows our tones, like when we don’t want her to touch certain things or go to certain areas of the apartment. When she goes into a room she knows she’s not supposed to enter, she will give a cheeky little smile and look back at us, then make a “run” for it by giggling and crawling as quickly as possible into the room. When I say her name or “Kaia Pookie,” she always looks up at me. When I say “no,” she will hesitate and try to continue what she was doing, even though she can tell I am going to carry her away in another minute. In the last week, though, it really has sounded from her frequent and louder babble that she is truly trying to say real words. I was secretly hoping her first word would be Chinese. So it wasn’t a surprise when today, for the first time, she actually waved at our nanny when she was leaving for the day, and she repeated “buh buh” multiple times while waving her hand up and down. A few hours later, I was changing her diaper and handed her one to hold onto while I was taking off her dirty one, and I said, “I’m changing your diaper now. Can you give me the clean diaper?” And she looked up at me with a huge grin on her face and said, “Dai—paa! Dai-paa!”

I did a double take and looked at her huge smiling face. Did she just say “diaper”??!! She proceeded to repeat it at least 5 or 6 times after that, and I thought, how hilarious: my baby’s first word is “DIAPER”?!

When baby becomes more communicative

Kaia is getting more expressive and communicative by day. Granted, we could tell from when she was very young when she was happy vs. sad, hungry vs. tired. But now, we can tell even more. I always know when she is coming — the sound of her hands eagerly slapping the hardwood floor as she is crawling towards me, usually in the kitchen or bedroom, always makes me feel happy. I can usually tell her mood depending on how quickly she is crawling and smacking her hands on the floor: when she is slowly slapping the floor, she is cautious and a bit pensive; when she is a little woman on a mission, she slaps the floor quickly and forcefully as she charges forward, usually while babbling away at the same time (and usually trying to go after something she knows I want her to stay away from, like the bug glue trap..). When she wants to be held, she signals that by staring up with eager, happy, or puppy eyes, and then raises her arms towards you, hoping you will oblige.

Usually when that happens, I am pumping. So yeah, pumping still sucks and takes up a lot of my life. Even though I pump only four times a day now vs. 7 in the beginning, I’m connected to a pump for an hour each time, so that’s four hours every single day; that’s like a part-time job in itself. And most of the time because there’s always so much to do, I have to multi-task. But I can’t multi-task by pumping and holding her. So I always feel a little sad when I cannot indulge her while pumping by picking her up. It’s another limitation that is annoying. And this week, I’m also not supposed to be picking her up since I got the steroid shot in my right wrist, so when I do pick her up, the weight has to be in my left arm/hand. So I always end up being a bit of a let down to her, as she probably sits there with her arms reaching out, wondering why mommy is not picking her up…?!

I just love being able to see her be more communicative. And at some point, when she does start walking sometime soon, I know I will miss the happy sound of her eager, purposeful hands slapping and smacking the hardwood floor while crawling on her little missions.

Baby talk

I can’t believe my baby is almost 10 months old. She’s crawling faster and faster and trying to pull up to stand. And her babble is sounding more and more like she’s trying to say real words. What has been really cute is her daily crawl to where I’ve put her books on our TV stand. She goes over there, pulls out all her books, and tries to flip the pages of the more sturdy board books. For the Ditty Bird Chinese nursery rhymes book, she knows where on the page to press the button to play the song, though she does not quite understand that she needs to remove her finger to let the song play… and instead, keeps rubbing the button, causing the song to start from the beginning again and again. 😀

Babies create their own fusion of sounds and “words,” and so when she starts going towards the books, she starts babbling away “bahh bahh bahh,” making me wonder if she is trying to say “book.” How cute it would be if “book” is to be her first word!

9-month appointment

I took Kaia for her 9-month wellness checkup, and everything is looking pretty good: she’s developing well, has little divots on her bottom front gums, indicating she may have some teeth in the next month, and she’s growing like a little weed: now, she’s jumped up to the 44th percentile for weight (from 25th percentile at her six-month checkup), is at the 88th percentile for length/height (though I do think the medical assistant didn’t straighten out her legs enough to properly measure it, but whatever), and 84th percentile for head circumference. She’s also developing stranger danger more: she was not happy to see the nurse practitioner and was even more unhappy with her handling her and giving her the first dose of her flu shot. But luckily, she cried a lot less at this appointment than in June and calmed down as soon as I picked her up. With all the solids she’s eating, it will be interesting to see where she is at in terms of her weight and height at her 1-year appointment. My baby is happy, healthy, and growing. I felt so proud leaving the doctor’s office today for her.