Signing “more” with her hands for planes at the Cathay Pacific Lounge at Heathrow Airport

If you chat with any parent of a young child, especially of toddler age, they will tell you that parenting is both so adorable and sweet, yet completely and utterly exhausting at the same time. And how could it not be? Toddler age children are learning more and more about the world around them and absorbing it, figuring out what their place is. They get excited by the little things that we adults take for granted. They’re responding to all their different stimuli. While all that is happening, they’re also discovering their emotions and how people or things will respond to them, which could potentially result in tantrums. No parent likes tantrums. But most parents who love their children would agree that moments like the below are what makes parenting during this period so sweet.

We were on a cushy layover at London Heathrow Airport early Sunday morning, so Chris decided that we should spend time at the Cathay Pacific Lounge to shower, rest, and eat before our connecting flight. The Cathay Lounge at Heathrow is particularly gorgeous and comfortable in that it has floor to ceiling windows to give you a full-on view of planes on the runway, coming and going. Kaia is really loving all motor-operated things now. She loves watching cars and trucks on the road, and she really enjoys identifying airplanes. When she sees them, she visibly gets excited and starts saying “airplane! plane! fei ji!” nonstop, and she keeps watching them with her full interest. She stood intently at the corner of the room, looking outside the window and watching the planes constantly coming and going. But when there was a break and no planes came for a while, she kept looking out the window, then up at Chris, signing “more” with the fingertips of both hands tapping each other. I didn’t observe this initially and Chris saw it first, but when he told me about it when I came back from my shower, I couldn’t help but gush and just think it was too adorable. I then subsequently heard Kaia repeatedly say “more? more?” for more planes, and sign it with her hands.

These are some of the best toddler moments, the ones I want to have emblazoned in my mind forever to remember how precious she is.

Identifying one’s belongings

When I went to pick up Pookster from school yesterday, when she saw me through the door window, she immediately came running and gave me a hug. I always love it when she does this and was pretty bummed out the previous two days when she basically just stared at me and continued playing with her toys. I noticed that there was a new boy in the class, and I said hi to him and asked what his name was. When I asked the question, instead of the boy responding, Kaia responded, “Kaia!”

“Pooks! I exclaimed. “I KNOW your name! I was asking about your classmate’s name here!”

The teacher laughed. “Kaia always makes sure everyone knows her name and what belongs to her. She makes a point of it to every single person who comes in!”

She really does do this, and it’s absolutely hilarious and endearing. She loves to tell us at home when food is hers, or when she has her own book or cup. At bedtime, she loves to point at the big blanket and say “mummy blanket,” and insist, insist that I put it on myself after I put her blanket on top of her. She will NOT let me continue reading unless both of us have our blankets on us; Kaia cannot be the only person with a blanket on her!

“Bless you, mummy. Bless you, daddy.”

The “terrific toddler” moments include when your young toddler is learning more and more language and chooses to express sweet sentiments towards you and other loved ones. In the last month or so, Kaia has caught on to the fact that a lot of the people around her say “bless you” after someone sneezes. She seems the most attuned to Chris’s sneezes, likely because he’s an extremely loud sneezer, and less attuned to mine (Chris claims that my sneezes have gotten louder over the years, likely due to his influence, but I am not totally sure that assessment is accurate). Given that, she almost always says “bless you” after Chris sneezes. The other cute thing she sometimes does is at bed time, when it’s just about time for “lights out” after reading together, she will lie down, put her head on her pillow, look at me with big eyes, and say, “Bless you, mummy. Bless you, Daddy. Bless you, Kaia.” And I just become a big puddle of love looking at her, caressing her sweet little smiling face as she’s all snuggled up in her sleep sack and baby blanket. These are the moments I love the most: when she’s being sweet, affectionate, cute, and sentimental, but she’s also expressing more and more of what she learning and absorbing from her surroundings. The toddler years can certainly be stressful and full of angst and helplessness, but these loving moments always keep me grounded. These moments of her being this age will soon pass, and I will still have all these memories, photos, and videos to look back on and remember how amazing she was in this moment of time.

Peanut butter loving Kaia Pookie

Since Kaia was six months old, I’ve been actively trying to expose her to pretty much every nut and seed available to us. Early allergen exposure is really important for babies nowadays given the massive increase in these allergies. In addition, I also just want her to enjoy seeds and nuts. They are so healthy and add so much good flavor and texture to foods. Lucky for us, she immediately embraced all things nutty. She obviously has her favorites: she always seemed to enjoy her oat porridge the most when there was either peanut butter or ground pistachios in them. She’ll happily eat almonds or walnuts, but they seem to be lower on the priority list for her.

This week, she’s mastered actually saying “peanut butter.” I gave her a piece of toast spread with peanut butter. She ate all the surfaces with the peanut butter, then asked for more peanut butter on the “naked” parts of the bread. “More peanut butta?” she said, with a hopeful look on her face. So, I decided to humor her and spread some peanut butter on those parts. Then, she pointed at the jar and motioned to have it. I took a pea-sized amount of peanut butter, put it on my finger, and she immediately went to lick it off. She then let out a little giggle, asked “more?” and then got some more.

Kaia Pookie is a peanut butter baby, and even better: she’s a Teddie peanut butter baby.

Terrible Twos vs. Terrific Twos

I saw a post on Instagram about parenting (that’s pretty much most of my targeted posts now) littles that made me stop for a moment. It talked about how everyone always talks about the “Terrible Twos,” but people rarely stop to think about all the great things about toddlers when they reach this general stage. Kaia is now 22 months old, so while she’s not yet 2 officially, she certainly is a curious, independence seeking young toddler who wants to do her own thing. The post went on and discussed all the great things about this stage of development, like the fact that they can walk, run, and climb; they can speak a little so can actually communicate with you a bit; they are extremely responsive, they can listen to things you say and take action; they can be sweet and affectionate, and they are still in the ‘happy-to-cuddle’ stage.

I’ve thought a lot about that this year. While I could certainly do without a lot of the toddler tantrums that Pookster has had (and to be fair, in the grand scheme of everything I hear about this age range, my baby really is nowhere close to being extreme Terrible Twos toddler at all), I’ve really loved this year of development. I’ve loved hearing her say first words or phrases for the first time, even annoying ones like “come on!” when she wants me to get her out of the stroller/high chair faster. I’ve loved hearing her finishing sentences in books. I’ve really enjoyed the journey of watching her grow confident in walking and now running. I love hearing her surprise me with songs she has learned and remembered that I’ve sung to her ages ago, both in English and Chinese, plus new ones she learns at school and through our Amazon Alexa. I love when she asks to hug or kiss me, or when she remembers the Chinese word for some food I’ve given her before. I love it when I watch her figure out how to play with a toy correctly, or identify a new object with the right name, and also when she discovers how to do things like open pill bottles and drawers (dangerous, but still good progress for her development….). I love it when I’m giving her a bath, and when it’s time to lift her feet for a scrub, she lifts the right foot when I tell her to lift it, and then she giggles and smiles while exclaiming, “toesies!” I always tell her, and have been telling her since she was a newborn: “Mama loves your toesies! Pookie’s toesies! I want to EAT Pook’s toesies!” I love the way she smells and sleeps. I still love how she sleeps on her stomach with her tiny butt sticking up in the air. This time will pass, though. It is bittersweet.

I love my sweet cheeky young toddler baby. She really is just so lovable, and I hope I can always have this much love in my heart for her. I hope she will always love me and see me as a safe space, even as she grows, matures, and decides she doesn’t always want to run to me when she sees me at pickup.

Fall festivities with a young toddler in western Massachusetts

I have always loved fall foliage. The sad thing, though, about growing up in California is that in that region of the United States, fall foliage or the gradual but vibrant color change of leaves, is pretty much nonexistent. When I was young, I was never educated as to why the leaves change color in parts of the U.S. like the northeast, so I thought that maybe, just maybe all this leaf peeping fascination was just made up.

Well, I moved to the northeast for college in August 2004, so autumn 2004 was my very first time being immersed in these beautiful shades of orange, red, yellow, gold, and deep purple. I probably spent more time than I should have stressing over midterms and other school work related tasks, but I did remember the fun of stepping and crunching over fall leaves and throwing them all in the air. It was like being a little kid all over again, just for the first time with this type of experience. When I first came out to the northeast, I thought about all the seasonal festivities kids (and, well, adults) get to have: the autumn leaf peeping and crunching, the apple orchards and cider donuts, the hay rides, the pumpkin carving. It’s not that most of those things cannot be done in other parts of the U.S. It’s more that with the crisp autumn air and temperatures, it seems like a more perfect fit here, where you get a real fall/autumn.

So we looked around at areas where Kaia could get big bunches of leaves and throw them everywhere. We found it at Mason Square today, which is in front of where the first game of basketball was played here in Springfield in 1891. The leaves were not quite crunchy because of the on and off rain, but at least they were bright and golden. We showed Kaia how to grab a bunch and throw them, and being a toddler, she was quite excited and tried to throw some herself. With each throw of leaves and each leaf that fell on her head, she let out her sweet little giggle of wonder and delight. And of course, I tried to document this with as many photos and videos as I could get. I even dressed her in an autumn leaf/flower top in anticipation of capturing these moments. It was sweet to watch her embrace this and throw the leaves here and there. Her fascination with the leaves (and of course, trying to put one in her mouth) was heartwarming to watch. She’s learning about all different seasonal parts of our world, one look and touch at a time.

Throwing fall/autumn leaves with Pookster

I took today off from work so that we could take a long weekend and drive up to Springfield, Massachusetts, for some autumn festivities, which included visits to an apple orchard, a farm with a pumpkin patch and farm animals, museums, and outdoor walks. We took Kaia to see some farm animals once again, and this time at Fletcher Family Farm, she enjoyed seeing the baby cows and getting closer to them than she got to the goats at the last farm during our Richmond, Virginia, trip. She waved and said hi over and over to all of them, going to each of them and waving hi. Even when they moved closer to her, she didn’t flinch as much, and she genuinely seemed to be observing them carefully and inspecting them.

We also Kaia look at all the fall mums decorating the pumpkin patch and on display for sale, and also the pumpkins. Fletcher Farm is really well set up: although the hay rides and kids’ activities are only on the weekends, they have plenty of photo ops for children that are cute, with pumpkins, a barn door, and the like. While every northeast family probably takes their kids to these types of places at least once, they probably also want to ensure they get some cute photos with all these things. Sometimes, it can work, and other times, it results in the kids getting mad at being told what to do and where to go and ultimately end up in tears (both happened to us with Pookster in a very short span of time, as hilarious as it was).

The apple orchard I chose was closed this season for “Pick Your Own” unfortunately, but we still picked up some delicious spiced apple cider donuts and local jams. And in the light rain, Chris drove us up to an apple tree that had fruit on it, and I took Kaia out and carried her so she could see apples on the trees. She initially seemed confused, but when I told her they were apples, she got really wide-eyed and excited, constantly touching the apples, and then proceeded to even knock one of the apples off the tree!

I love seeing fruits and vegetables growing, but seeing the joy and excitement on a little toddler’s face like my Pookster makes the experience even more worth it. Every day, I want her to learn and be exposed to something new. We can be jaded as adults by things like “pick your own,” but I do think it teaches kids about where food comes from. It’s not just from your fridge or the grocery store. There is labor, love, and effort that goes into all this.

“Mummy blanket!”

People talk about the “terrible 2s” when toddler tantrums and demands get a bit out of control. The toddler tantrum period actually starts much earlier than age 2 as we’ve seen; they started earlier this year, probably around the time that Kaia was about 14-15 months old. The reason these tantrums happen is that babies at this stage are becoming more aware of their surroundings, as well as their own feelings and desires, and when those things don’t always align with what the adults in their lives want, this can result in inner turmoil for the child… hence the tantrum. While these moments can certainly be exhausting and infuriating, I have always remembered in these moments to try really, really hard not to react, especially angrily, and to be as calm as possible. I am also grounded by the sweet moments that I have with Pookster, like this one that happened tonight.

Once we got ready for story time before bed, I asked Kaia to choose some books as always that she wanted to read together. She happily complied as always, grabbing a handful of books and dragging them onto the bed. She also asked for her baby blanket, which I gave her. She’s really enjoyed sleeping with her blanket in the last few months, likely because she’s had a blanket during nap time at daycare, so she’s used to having it. But when I gave her the baby blanket, she paused and then started crying and yelling, “No! No, no, no!” I got so confused. I gave her the blanket she asked for. What was making her upset?

I took the blanket away. She yelled “No!” again and grabbed it back. And then, she pointed at the big blanket folded at the foot of the bed that I leave for myself when it gets a bit chilly at night during story time when I’m with her. She yelled, “Mummy blanket! Mummy blanket!” And then it finally dawned on me: she wanted not only for her to have her baby blanket, but for her mummy to also have a big blanket. So I asked, “Do you want mummy to use a blanket, too?” and she nodded her head vigorously in response, continuing to point at the big blanket. Even though it was a bit warm, I decided to appease her and wrap the blanket around my legs. “Are you happy now that mummy has her blanket, too?” I asked her. She smiled ear to ear while pointing at my blanket: “Mummy blanket!” And then, she pointed at her own blanket I put on top of her, saying, “Kaia blanket!”

It was beyond sweet. My heart was so warmed. She wanted both of us to be warm and snuggly under a blanket. My sweet baby never fails to surprise me with her tenderness and affection in the moments I never suspect.

Sunday Fundays: getting your young toddler to nap, and the game of “spot the spotted lanternfly!”

After a productive lunch where she ate an adult-sized portion of steamed beets and roasted broccoli, Kaia got pushed out on a stroller on an aimless joy ride uptown in an attempt to fall asleep (and for mummy to increase her step count). About 15 minutes into this stroll, she easily conked out, and I had the pleasure of listening to The Daily (NY Times) podcast all the way up to 86th Street and back down. When we finally did reach back home, she insisted over and over again that she wanted to go on the swings. I asked her if she was really sure she wanted to go on the swings (as of late, she seems to hate the swings. Chris says it’s definitely because she doesn’t like the the feeling of being trapped or confined in one position), and she kept whining that she did. So I brought her down to Riverside Park, where she cried and pushed as I tried to put her on a swing. I took her out, and then we started our stroll along the walking path along Riverside Park overlooking the Hudson.

The entire Riverside Park is swarming with my most hated insect at the moment, the spotted lantern fly. Every time I see those stupid spotted little red and grey wings, all I want to do is smash them. And given Kaia seems to love identifying them and saying “lantern fly” in her sing-songy tune, I decided to make a game of our little walk: while I pushed her stroller as she walked alongside me, I told her to point out any lantern fly she saw crawling along the ground, and then mummy would immediately go and smush it! We need to kill all the lantern flies in our path, I explained to her, because these lantern flies are an invasive species: they will overtake not only all our vineyards and farms, but they will freaking overtake all of New York City if we let them! And we cannot allow this to happen! So we went along the path, where Kaia’s keen eyesight identified over 50 lantern flies that I happily smashed. Every single time I smushed yet another one, she’d scream and giggle endlessly, then yell, “All dead! All dead!” She’d continue to find more and more, and then I’d smush and smush them. She truly could not get enough of this game.

A number of other parents with young children passed us as we played this game, and a lot of the parents knew what we were doing. One parent gave me an agreeable nod, then started laughing as we smashed and smashed more. Yes, that’s right, friends: we all have to do our part to ensure that New York City will NOT be taken over by these awful pests!

How diaper changing has evolved in public New York City bathrooms in Kaia’s 21 months of diapering

Once upon a time when Kaia was around four months old, we started going out around the city regularly with her. What we quickly found out, or rather, were reminded of, was the fact that most businesses in the city are not at all friendly to mothers and babies in that a changing table in the restroom is nearly unheard of. What this ends up meaning is that I end up having to take out Kaia’s changing pad, lay it out on a gross New York City bathroom floor, and change her on it (once we got home, I’d throw the changing pad into the washing machine). Then, since she wasn’t yet crawling, I just had to hope, hope, hope that she wouldn’t roll over or try to touch the dirty floor. I’d swat her fingers away when she’d try to get her hands on the floor. At around six months, she started rolling. This is when I had to prevent her from rolling OFF the mat while changing. It just kept evolving: at around 8.5 months, she started crawling, and I’d have to sing to her and get her to do anything to stay on the mat. Occasionally, I’d fail, but that would just mean that I’d not only need to wash my hands after a diaper change, but also hers.

Diaper changing has gotten easier, though, since she has started walking. Now, she seems a lot more cooperative during outdoor changes. She’s always keenly observing whatever dark, miserable bathroom we are in. And as soon as I tell her we’re all done, she immediately gets on her feet and starts wandering around while I wash up (Pookster now walking means I never have to worry about her rubbing her hands all over a gross floor again!). The cutest thing that always happens is when I sit down to pee, and she is so weirded out by the tight quarters we are in that she immediately walks back to me, places both her hands on my knees or the tops of my thighs, and starts moaning as though she’s scared. In other words, she has to remain close to me to feel safe and protected. I find it absolutely adorable and endearing, and I always coax her and tell her that she’s safe; we’re just in the bathroom so we can both pee and clean up, and we’ll be outside soon where there’s more light and space. It’s a strange thing to enjoy, but I do enjoy these short, sweet moments when we’re together and close, and she’s feeling vulnerable. I love my sweet baby.