Shared stories on the playground: when your child helps with another child’s daycare transition

A few weekends ago, Chris’s parents and I were at the nearby playground while Kaia was playing. One of Kaia’s old classmates, who was doing temporary backup care a few days a week in her class, showed up with her mom, who I used to have some small talk with during pickups. Her daughter ended up going to another full-time daycare a few blocks away, so we hadn’t seen them since late last year. We chatted while our kids were getting reacquainted with each other and she shared a story that I had no idea about.

Her daughter was transitioning from being at home full-time with their nanny into being at daycare full-time, so her parents wanted to ease her into daycare at three days a week. Her adjustment was really rough: she said that for the first several months, drop-off was constantly torturous, and she and her husband seriously reconsidered whether daycare was a fit for their daughter at this stage in her development. But she did notice that when she’d pick her up and take her home, her daughter kept mentioning Kaia’s name, always while happy and smiling. She didn’t know who Kaia was, but she figured from the live video footage that Kaia must be the classmate that her daughter was always playing with. She shared that Kaia was always leading the way for her daughter, helping and guiding her, and she was the biggest reason that her daughter would be willing to go to school every morning. Every time she’d say Kaia’s name, her daughter’s face would light up and she’d get excited. She’d coax her with, “Remember? Kaia will be at school with you. If you don’t go to school, then you won’t see Kaia.” And this would motivate her to stop crying, get ready, and willingly go out the door each morning to school.

I was so happy to run into them and hear this story. If we hadn’t bumped into each other in the playground, I would never have known this to be true. But it warmed my heart to know that my own sweet baby was making life easier for others to adjust to new environments. I hope my child can be a little leader, one who sets good examples… and hopefully is not the bully.

Clothing preference in toddlers – “Look at my new dress” that I hated five minutes ago

Over a year ago, when my friend told me that her then 2-year-old was expressing strong preferences about clothes she wore to daycare, I was really confused. As a child, I remember I didn’t express clothing preferences to my mom until I was seven years old. So age two seemed very premature to me.

With Kaia in the last few months, she’s definitely expressed affinity to certain pieces of clothing over others. Most of the time, she’s pretty indifferent, but when she has an opinion, she really really has that opinion. For instance, she loves this little knit/crochet cardigan that Chris’s cousin handmade for her. She loves all vests and pull-over dresses. And she especially loves all her dresses; the bigger the fluff and tulle, the better. She’s been gifted at least seven or eight different tutu dresses, so she certainly has no shortage of tulle. She doesn’t seem to understand why she cannot wear the same dress, pants, or shorts multiple days in a row. The concept of being “dirty” has not quite developed in her head just yet.

The funny thing is, sometimes, you just have to put your foot down and make her wear something. There is no way I’m letting her just wear the 10 percent of things she has in her closet that she loves. So, I make her wear certain things despite her tantrums and crying. She needs to wear all of these nice clothes that she’s so privileged to have… before she outgrows all of them. I do NOT like or tolerate waste. And somehow, just somehow, after I manage to get the new dress or sweater on her, she ends up loving it. I put on a new dress for her on Friday, which she refused and said she didn’t want — always a struggle the first time. She even tolerated the matching headband (a total shock since she hasn’t worn a headband in over a year!) and didn’t rip it off. And when she emerged from her bedroom with it, Kaia twirled around in her new blue, yellow, and white dress, and said to Suma, “Look at my new dress! I like it.”

Welp, that’s Pookster the Punkster for you.

The Pa’akai We Bring at Clark Theater – the good, the bad, and the ugly with a toddler

This late morning, after her swim class, Kaia was whisked off to the Clark Studio Theater at the Lincoln Center for her second-ever theater performance, The Pa’akai We Bring. Since she enjoyed her first theater performance just over a year ago that was very immersive and catered towards babies and young toddlers, I thought she’d enjoy another theater performance targeted at littles. Unfortunately, as soon as we entered the theater and I saw the regular tiered seating of chairs, I knew it was going to be hell. Because this theater performance definitely had a target audience of slightly older kids, probably elementary school age-plus, as opposed to babies and toddlers in Kaia’s age range. The description on the Lincoln Center site did not specify that, unfortunately. What 2-year-old child was going to sit still for an entire 60-minute theater performance? As soon as we walked in and I saw on the floor in front of the stage, Kaia immediately ran up onto the stage area and started jumping up and down. An assistant had to gently let me know that we weren’t allowed on the “stage” area. We were also supposed to meet my friends with their 1.5-plus-year-old, plus Kaia’s bestie who had recently moved to New Jersey and her mom.

My friends’ kid was quiet and sat almost the whole time. Kaia… did not. She sat quietly and watched whenever all the guitars and ukeleles came out, plus when the four performers sang in chorus. Other than that, she kept crying and yelling that she didn’t want to sit down, wanted to go home, and wanted to see her friend Jacob (who was sitting further back in the seating area). I had to take her out of the theater twice to get her to calm down and not ruin the performance for the others. At least she wasn’t the only kid crying or screaming; a number of parents were coming in and out to calm their own babies and toddlers. Needless to say, this was a bit hellish for me and I was waiting for the performance to be over. I’m sad to say that because the performers were very good — they sang well, and I liked the story line about introducing the cultural importance of salt in Hawaii. Kaia just couldn’t deal with the speaking scenes. Now, if only they had just played their string instruments the entire time and sang for 60 minutes straight, then maybe my rambunctious toddler would have sat still and watched…

You try to expose your child to culture and the arts at a young age, and this is how they repay you… with tantrums, as well as “Don’t ‘shhh’ me!” when you “shhh” them during the show…

Suma and Topa, coming then going

It’s been a fun several weeks with Suma and Topa visiting. Kaia has loved having extra affectionate family close by every day, especially being able to have extra people to hug, kiss, pick her up, and play hide-and-seek with. Though she is surely becoming a little person with her distinct desires and opinions, she has loved having all the extra attention of her paternal grandparents. She has back and forth conversations with them and shows them things she can do that will “impress” them. I love watching Kaia shriek with delight and giggle endlessly when she successfully finds Topa during their repeat games of hide-and-seek. We’ve also found new cognitive abilities of Kaia during this visit, such as the fact that she’s actually able to understand when we ask her to fake an emotion, whether it’s laughing or crying. Then, she wants each of us to fake cry and asks us, one by one, to cry. It’s the cutest and most hilarious thing. Before these moments over the last couple of days, I wasn’t even sure her brain at this stage had developed enough to understand that, but clearly it has.

In addition to enjoying watching them all interact, it’s also been fun to spend time with Chris’s parents. I always tell my friends and anyone who will listen how lucky and fortunate I am to have a good relationship with my in-laws. They always appreciate the littlest things I do and are always thanking me and expressing gratitude. It’s taken a lot of adjusting to be used to it and accept it, but I do appreciate that they appreciate me.

Here’s something small and funny that happened in the last day: I was organizing some things in our bedroom (they sleep in our bed when they visit, and we sleep on the sofa bed in our living room), and I noticed that the tissue box was empty. So, I promptly replaced it with a new one from our closet. When they returned home for the day, Chris’s dad noticed it had been replaced, and he came up to me and thanked me for replacing the tissue box. I laughed and said that was silly — no need to thank me; I just wish he had told me it was empty sooner so that I could’ve replaced it earlier, as I had no idea it was all done. He said it really wasn’t a big deal; since he had been under the weather, he had just been collecting extra napkins from restaurants they’d been to and been using those!! It was completely ridiculous: replacing the tissue box or toilet paper is just a normal, household maintenance thing to do, guests or no guests. And it would be particularly embarrassing for me, as a host, to not replace tissue boxes for guests and instead expect them to use externally sourced tissues! His dad had expressed worry that he didn’t want to “deplete our supplies,” but I said that was completely crazy; these things were bought to be used!

But that’s what I mean when I say that Chris’s parents are always so appreciative and thankful, even for the smallest (and seemingly most ridiculous) things. They are truly good humans, always trying to do the right thing. It’s refreshing to be around; Chris and his brother have no idea how good they have it. They are leaving us for the next legs of their trip, heading to Malaga, Spain, then Verona, Italy, before heading back home to Melbourne. So we had to explain to Kaia before her nap that Suma and Topa were leaving, and she’d see them in a few months. She kind of/sort of understood they were leaving, as she kept insisting on hugs from them. But then, when she woke up from her nap, she acted as though nothing had happened or changed.

I’m always sad when they leave, especially now that Kaia is here. Because I know that a lot of time will pass before they are all able to enjoy each other again. But I suppose distance can make the heart grow fonder.

The incorrect things our toddler says that warm my heart

A year ago, when Kaia started saying fruit names correctly (from “bluey” to “blueberry,” from “manga” to “mango”), I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that her incorrect names for these fruits and vegetables would be a distant memory. It was just too adorable, and while I want her to mature and progress, I just had moments of sadness and wistfulness at the incorrect names. Now that she’s moving into full, complex sentences, I have the same feeling now, but for the sentence structures.

In the last few months, she loves to say to me when I come back from the gym, “Hi, Mummy-Dear! Did you have a good gym?” But this morning, she greeted me with, “Did you have a good workout?” I thought it was really sweet and cute, but I got sad that she didn’t say “have a good gym?” She did, though, ask Chris’s parents when they came back from Texas, “Did you have a good Texas?” which I still love. Whenever they leave the room she’s in, she says, “Are you going to Texas?”

Kaia is slowly but surely showing signs of potty training readiness, but she still isn’t quite there. She still doesn’t know how to pull her pants up and down fully and needs help. Sometimes, when she gets frustrated, I gently ask her, “Can you pull your pants down? Take your time.” And sometimes, when she doesn’t want to do it, she smiles and responds, “I want mummy pull your pants down.” She doesn’t mean she wants ME to pull my pants down, but she wants me to help HER pull her pants down. And when she said this today, I just grabbed her and squeezed her. Sometimes, I really just can’t get over her cuteness and sweetness.

“I love you SO MUCH, Pookie Pie!” I exclaimed, holding her close.

When she has to go to bed or out for her swimming class, she loves to make her rounds, giving each of us hugs and kisses, sometimes multiple times and circles, before saying “bye bye” to everyone. I just love how affectionate she is and hope she never stops being this cuddly.

Mother’s Day 2024 at home

Mother’s Day is one of those heavily commercialized holidays in the U.S. that businesses absolutely love. They love that people are willing to shell out extra money on things like overpriced (and over salted and buttered) meals, hand bags, flowers, and jewelry on the one day of the year they need to at least show that they care (even if they don’t) about their mothers. So in the weeks preceding Mother’s Day, you will constantly see ads everywhere outside and online for Mother’s Day sales and specials. If you don’t know Mother’s Day is approaching, then you truly must be living in a cave.

I’ve never liked all that hoopla because my general thought was always: mothers and fathers don’t need a day of appreciation; they need a lifetime of appreciation, expressed in small and large ways constantly. If Mother’s Day is the only day you choose to express appreciation for your mother (or the mother of your children), you probably deserve to die a slow and painful death.

Chris’s parents arrived on a very delayed flight back from San Antonio this morning, so I decided to prepare brunch at home for all of us. I made asparagus, goat cheese, and bacon frittata, vegan caesar salad with chopped walnuts and crispy chickpeas, and vegan chocolate chunk banana bread sweetened just with ripe bananas and ground dates. Chris fried some thick cut bacon from Paulus Farm Market that we picked up in Pennsylvania last weekend, and then toasted some thick slices of olive bread from Il Fornaretto Bakery. It was a tasty meal.

A few of my friends messaged to wish me a happy Mother’s Day and asked what I did. I told them I made brunch for the family, including Chris’s parents. And some responded, “You’re not supposed to be cooking on Mother’s Day! Leave that to Chris!”

He insisted he made the bacon and bread. He definitely did not make the bread. But my response here is: I love cooking, and thus cooking makes me happy. Plus, I’m a control freak, so honestly I’m not sure I would want Chris making me a frittata. Some things, if you want them to happen, you really just need to do yourself.

As for what Pookster did for me for Mother’s Day? She prepared a Happy Mother’s Day sign for me with her hand print on it in green paint at school. And at 6:30 this morning, I had an abrupt awakening when she decided to jump on top of my stomach while I was half asleep. Yes, it WAS a happy Mother’s Day from her!

Suma, Topa, and Kaia fun times

I love watching Chris’s parents interact with Kaia. I love that they adore her so much and enjoy actively spending time interacting with her, whether that’s in person or via video calls. It’s the type of grandparent interaction I always hoped she would have. After our last trip to Melbourne, Kaia’s memory has been quite strong in remembering her Suma, Topa, and Shushu (Chris’s brother). She always mentions them and calls them out whenever she sees photos or videos of them. She also has associations with them, such as remembering that Suma played piano with her when she saw a piano in her Habbi Habbi book. In the same vein, it also annoys me (at least, when I actively think about it) how uninvolved my parents are with her. They have actively refused video calls. The one time we went to visit, they barely interacted with Kaia directly and had to be forced to hold her. It was embarrassing to witness. Yet somehow, they insist how much they love her and how she’s the most important thing to them (really). Kaia has zero memory or association with either of her maternal grandparents. While I think that’s sad and pathetic, there’s not much I can do about it.

Last weekend while we were traveling in Pennsylvania, Chris kept on trying to get Kaia to engage with sights on the streets and roads we were walking and driving on. He’d say things to Kaia, like, “What color is the car?” or “What animal is that?” And oftentimes, before Kaia had a chance to look or respond, Topa would eagerly respond with the correct answer. I found this absolutely hilarious. It was almost as though Chris were the adult, and Topa and Kaia were the pupils learning in class; Topa had reverted from a 70-year-old grown man to a 2-year-old toddler in just seconds! So eventually, Chris got frustrated with his dad constantly answering, so he yelled out, “What are you, 2?! The questions are for Hoji, not you!!”

Was Topa trying to help Kaia? Of course he was. But he wasn’t giving her enough time to respond, and sometimes, you have to give kids the time and space to grow, otherwise they won’t grow and mature. There’s always a fine line between helping your children and hindering their growth. And the line is always very different and grey depending on the situation. It’s something as parents you have to consciously and constantly navigate.

New shoes, no interest — yet again

Tonight, Chris had a consulting call around the time of our dinner, so while he went into the second bedroom to take the call while Pookster and I were eating, Kaia did her usual thing of getting upset that Daddy was closing the door on her and leaving us and started whining. I tried to distract her with things like crunchy roasted chickpeas and kiwi. It all worked for a while… until it was time to clean up, and she immediately made a beeline to the second bedroom to be reunited with Daddy.

I tried to lure her with a new pair of shoes I had saved for her during a big Stride Rite sale last year in her next shoe size. She’s been showing more interest (and opinion…) in what she wears, so I thought she’d get excited by new sneakers.

“Kaia!” I called. “Want to see your new shoes?”

It was like dog ears went up when you looked at her face and how she immediately turned to me and smiled.

“Yeah!” she responded immediately, and then I told her to come with me into our bedroom so she could look. She came running.

I let her open the box to unveil the new blue, turquoise, magenta, silver, and white velcro sneakers. She held them up and turned them around on all sides to admire them. I asked her if she liked them, to which she responded with a curt, “No!” with a high pitch at the end. I asked her if she wanted to put them on, and she got annoyed, “No, no, no, NO!” I tried to put a shoe on her foot, and she started yelling.

Okay, she didn’t consent. I shouldn’t push it. So I put the shoe back in the box (as she threw the second shoe) and let the shoes be, separate from Pookster.

So, my new theory is that she likes the idea of new shoes, new dresses, new clothes… but when it actually comes to putting them on the first time, it seems like it’s still going to be a struggle.

Okay, I can deal with this, sort of.

Kaia “stocks up” on vegetables at So Kong Dong in Fort Lee, NJ

Kaia is almost 2.5 years old, and knock on wood, she still enjoys her vegetables. She does not enjoy ALL vegetables (does any human?) and definitely has her favorites and her lesser liked and touched ones. She has strong preferences about vegetables being cooked (she hasn’t eaten any cucumber since before turning one and still refuses any type of salad) and does not like thick sauces on any vegetable (or protein, for that matter). And she also seems to know when she hasn’t had enough of them.

While at So Kong Dong in Fort Lee yesterday, as soon as our server brought an array of delicious banchan to our table, Kaia’s eyes immediately stopped on the little plate of lightly dressed and blanched sesame studded broccoli. She asked for it immediately and proceeded to eat two plates of it all by herself. It was almost as though she was “making up” for not having much veggies during our Pennsylvania long weekend trip. I’ve read that some toddlers actually do this subconsciously, but a lot of my colleagues and friends who also have toddler-age children (who hate vegetables) would beg to differ here.

Some of my colleagues, who occasionally watch my private Instagram stories, have jokingly accused me of “mom-shaming” by posting videos of my toddler happily and voraciously eating massive amounts of Chinese greens while they can barely get their kids to eat a single bite of any vegetable. All I have to say is: I’ve reinforced vegetables (and foods) of all shapes, colors, and sizes since her first bite of solid food when she was six months old; I have been really intentional about not sending her the message that vegetables are gross or lesser than her carbs or protein. I’m just doing my best as a parent. I can just hope that peer pressure doesn’t eventually take over and have her suddenly go on a vegetable strike or decide she hates vegetables.

Kaia and her doll Abbi

For Christmas last year, Chris’s cousin Rob and his wife Abbi gifted Kaia her first doll: a brown-skinned cotton doll with a removable yellow dress with flowers, plus matching yellow shoes and pigtails also tied in yellow. Back then, I was touched by the doll: Kaia had a near-replica dress that I’d purchased for her in Kochi last summer in a mustard yellow color that could make the doll a mini-me to Kaia. We asked Chris’s parents to bring back the doll this visit so that Kaia could be reunited with her and “build a relationship” with her first and new doll Abbi. While Kaia has enjoyed getting acquainted with Abbi the last few days, she was not necessarily amused by the matching outfits of this morning.

For school today, I dressed Kaia in the mustard yellow dress. She marveled over her “new dress” and seemed to enjoy it once I zipped her up. But when I presented Abbi to her and told her that she was matching with Abbi with the same dresses, Kaia was immediately dismayed and started whining. “Take off Abbi dress! TAKE OFF ABBI DRESS!” Kaia demanded, whining nonstop. She tried to remove the dress on her own, but other than undoing the velcro in the back, she was unable to. So I helped her remove Abbi’s dress, and she proceeded to run around holding Abbi naked, just in her white underwear.

When Chris came back from his morning swim, I told him how Kaia didn’t want the two of them to match. He proceeded to put the dress back on Abbi, which Kaia seemed nonchalant about… until I announced that I wanted to take a photo of Kaia and Abbi together in their matching dresses. Kaia got very upset and started crying, yelling, “I don’t wanna take picture with her! I DON’T WANNA!”

I snapped some photos of Kaia and Abbi, anyway, and eventually Chris whisked Kaia off to school (not with Abbi, but with Peter Rabbit to comfort her). I later shared the picture privately on my Instagram Stories and tagged the actual Abbi. Abbi responded and said, “That’s not how I thought things would go in my head. Nothing ever works with kids!”