Acting As If

One of the stages I really like in toddlerdom is the acting out of life scenarios. I don’t even remember when this started. Maybe before Miss Red was one and she would mimic talking on the phone? I don’t know, those memories have slipped away.

But since she turned two those situations have been more elaborate, starting with independent play and having her “guys,” or Fischer Price toys, march about.

Dr. Red is in.

She started to remember trips to the doctor’s office and would reenact those scenes with her toy doctor kit, always giving us shots and listening to our hearts. One of our treasured heirlooms is her paternal great-grandfather’s stethoscope. We let her play with it, and she loves listening to our “beat hearts.”

"You need a shot, dada."

There was much to-do about her haircut on Sunday, and she spent the remainder of the day talking about her hair cut, the “hair cutting store,” and reenacting getting her haircut. She slung a purse over her shoulder and dragged a small chair around, insisting that she was cutting hair. She scraped at CH’s head with a toy spatula, finishing when her mind decided she was done, announcing that “she had to go to work.”

The afternoon also consisted of us playing “rest time.” She brought out her blankets, laid them on the floor, and had us rest while she quietly walked around, telling us she was the teacher. CH actually nodded off a few times until she announced that rest was all done.

I think what I love the most about these moments is that it’s seeing her life lived on the outside. As adults we learn to keep our thoughts inside and probably relive our day’s scenarios in our minds one million times. But watching Miss Red replaying the big moments in her life – again and again and again – is like dreaming while awake.

– MD

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Baby’s First Haircut

Miss Red isn’t a baby, but even with her approaching three, we still hadn’t cut her hair. It was one of those things that I couldn’t emotionally handle, even as CH combed through tangles each morning as we chased her around with a wide-toothed comb. But it had reached a critical mass, and we were able to pile it on top of her head, very Lucille Ball-esque.

Miss Red, channeling Lucille Ball

So last week I made an appointment for her to get her first haircut with Alice at Cha Cha. Now, before you get all “wha – you took her to that hipster place for her first cut?!” Yes, yes I did. Alice is amazing and loves cutting curly hair and I predicted I would be a sobbing mess and knew that Alice would be able to handle that. And it’s half of a normal haircut.

I borrowed a fancy camera and planned to document each snip, for posterity’s sake. I planned on catching her lovely hair and saving it for, I don’t know, the next Rapture.

Per Alice’s recommendation, we also brought along the iPod for distraction. I packed lollipops. We talked about it over the weekend and driving there she was so excited, “We going to the hair-cutting store, mama!” and “Is the lady nice?”

Once we got to Cha Cha she was shy. Alice put on the special booster seat, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. So Miss Red sat in my lap, with the cape wrapped around me. I fired up the iPod and Alice snipped away. The cut took all of 15 minutes and CH missed it since he was on his way home from Quaker meeting.

It wasn’t until the very end I remembered the camera. I also forgot to cry. I grabbed a small chunk of hair that was stuck to the cape and put it in an envelope. I snapped a quick picture, with dry eyes.

Miss Red, post haircut

– MD

A Few of My Favorite Things

And here we are, the end, for now, of my recounts of Japan. I wanted to end with some of my favorite moments of our time there.

1. Time, Sweet, Time

As I’ve written, my job has been more than intense lately, and the weight of whether or not I’ll have this job – my favorite so far – weighs heavily on me, well, almost constantly. But being away from everything and unplugging from the constant chatter of the online world, which I love, was so needed. My favorite moment was a ton of moments, where I forgot the day, had nothing to do but spend time with my lovely little family. No cooking, no cleaning, no email, nothing. But time.

MD and Miss Red

2. Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

So Miss Red has red hair. Not so common in America, but in Japan it was like seeing a dinosaur. Everywhere we went, and I do mean everywhere, people would smile, comment, and say “kawaii,” cute in Japanese. Older women would reach out and touch her hair, and even thought we didn’t speak the language, we could understand that there was a love of her hair. So much so that Miss Red started to get a little skeeved by it. Understandably so.

Cheese!

But one day while exploring a woman approached us and made the mime of taking a picture. We thought she meant of Miss Red, but she then handed her camera to her companion, stopped down and posed with Miss Red. I tried to capture it myself. Miss Red, CH and I were in shock, and afterward Miss Red clung to our legs. Understandably so. But those memories of the sing-song “kawaii” still rings in my ears. I mean, the girl does have some amazing hair.

3. Swimming

Miss Red took swimming lessons this winter and let me say that it was one of the more stressful things I’ve done as a parent. For a 30-minute class, it was about two hours or wrangling, with getting us both ready, driving there, getting both of us into the water, showering afterwards and driving home. And she hated it. Like cried for 2/3 of each class and I was the one who mostly went with her. We’ll wait until she’s older for additional lessons, but we were excited to head to the hotel pool in Japan.  We didn’t go every day, but as a family we went and CH and I each took her individually and it was so fun. That might seem obvious, but as someone who had to wrestle a slick-as-a-seal toddler in the water, it was so nice to see her, albeit timidly, enjoy herself, and our family, too.

Water baby

4. Castle

One day we took the monorail to Shurijo Castle Park, a complete replica of an castle that was bombed in World War II. It was a long and winding walk to the entrance and Miss Red insisted on walking every. single. step. And she did it. Up and down and all around. I loved seeing her confidently explore and absorb everything as if it were just another day.

Walking the path to Shurijo Castle

5. Smile

One morning at breakfast Miss Red made friends with another toddler. They didn’t share the same language, but played for a few minutes, racing back and forth to the large picture-windows over-looking the water. In those five minutes she picked up a cultural cue that many Japanese women use, which is to cover their mouths when smiling or laughing. Japanese women even used to blacken their teeth, a practice stopped a long time ago.

Smile!

We had an amazing opportunity to go to Japan and I’ll be eternally grateful for the experiences and time together. It gave us reprieve from life, and we hope, sparked a travel bug for Miss Red. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and look forward to our family’s next adventures. I wonder where we’ll head next?

Happy Travelers

– MD

A Smile and a Bow Go a Long Way

When we booked tickets for our trip to Okinawa, it would be the first time I traveled to a country where I didn’t speak the language or was with someone who did. In previous instances CH and I could cobble together enough words or traveled to places with a similar enough alphabet that we managed.

Gum

My main concern? How I would find a bathroom. I’m kind of skeeved out by public restrooms in general, and the thought of being somewhere and not even knowing how to ask for one was beyond me. And Miss Red is “potty training,” so the thought of managing her on a toilet that I didn’t even know how to ask for made me sweat a little. Thanks to Kyle for passing along some of my fears and questions to a friend of his, who sent me two awesome and lengthy emails with some basic phrases and a general course of what to do while in Naha.

I don't think I need to read Japanese to understand what this poster offers.

CH also decided that he was going to teach himself Japanese. He had been to Japan, to Sendai in fact, about 15 years ago with his family, and Grandma had been a number of times, so there were a few Japanese phrase books around Grandma’s house and Miss Red even has a set of Kanji magnetic letters on our refrigerator.

Barber

He selected the Pimsleur method, one he had had success with when learning French. And that, folks, is one of the many reasons I love CH, in addition to the great skill that you can ask him what was happening in pretty much any year, and he knows something of importance. To keep himself occupied on the treadmill he’ll run through Vice Presidents. Backwards.

Mind the gap.

It worked. He ended up being decent enough to know more than some basic phrases. Along with Grandma, we were actually OK during much of our travels. Having CH’s cousin there to translate the first two days was also amazing, and many people in Japan know a small amount of English. But knowing sumimasen (excuse me, or sorry) and arigato (thank you) helped tremendously. I also learned that a smile and a bow go a long way. When in doubt, I would repeat “sumimasen” and bow. When someone did something nice, I would bow and repeat “arigato.” And people were friendly and understanding.

Point to order

Most restaurants have menus with photos of the meal on them, so we could see what we wanted and point to the waiter. Signs we were able to understand, and we only really got lost once, when CH realized that maps are positioned differently than how we read them. And since I never even attempt to read maps, I let it go.

My favorite sign. I walked by it two separate days to work up the nerve to pantomime if I could purchase it and didn't have the guts.

And finding bathrooms? They were clearly marked everywhere we went with the standard image of a male or female icon or listed “toilet.” Were they clean? My friends, they were some of the cleanest, albeit tiniest spaces I have ever seen. Some seats were heated (!) and had helpful buttons such as “courtesy noise,” which sounded like flushing.

The most awesome thing ever. This holds your baby so you can use the bathroom.

Monday’s post? Cultural differences. I mean, there are differences even within a city, but I’ll recap the ones that we found most interesting.

– MD

Toddlers and Japanese Weddings

Now onto the reason for our travels: to attend a wedding. To recap, we headed to Okinawa for a family wedding. You can read more of the background here.

My dates for the wedding, Miss Red and CH

A few family members were in the wedding and needed to get to the hotel earlier to get outfitted into kimonos and have their hair done. It took hours, and according to them, was very difficult to eat and breathe.

The back of a kimono.

For the wedding itself there was an emcee and a translator. Pretty much everything was said in Japanese first, followed by the English translation. The wedding was amazing – it started with a beautiful dance of the bride and groom, in traditional Okinawan clothing, and his wife’s sisters, along to Okinawan music. It was quite something.

In traditional clothing, with marriage certificate

My own wedding was a low-key affair. CH and I paid for a majority of it, so cost was a huge factor and it was bare bones: no flowers, no favors, no open bar, etc. What was also another fun contrast was attending Megan’s wedding the weekend we were back, whacked out of our brains by jet lag. Her awesome party, at the local VFW, was so fun in the Madison East-side way and was a perfect welcome home.

The lovely couple, after outfit change

What followed was really quite fun. Every culture has it’s unique elements of celebration, and this was no different. While there wasn’t a DJ coaxing people onto a dance floor, the bride’s friends and a few co-workers performed to a pop song, dancing and lip synching. Family members danced, again in traditional Okinawan dress, to music, inviting the new family members up. People gave speeches.

Performance by friends and co-workers

The food was also great. Large platters of sushi, sashimi, Western food and everything in between was placed on large lazy Susan’s in the center of the table.

You’ll have to excuse the poor quality of the photos. The room was crowded, I have a simple point and shoot, and at some point during the ceremony, Miss Red, who was acting out the worse she ever has in her life, turned into this:

Asleep in my lap

Out cold, impervious to the speeches and applause, she slept on my lap for a majority of the ceremony and reception. We weren’t able to attend the party directly afterward and headed back to the hotel, where she did wake up and we took her to the pool.

But my favorite part of the wedding? When the families read letters to one another. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand Japanese and needed to wait for the English translation. We could tell from the emotion what was being conveyed. And that’s what a wedding is about.

Sharing letters

Some interesting tidbits:

  • The ceremony and reception were just that. Ceremonial. There, people get married at a court house and it’s a low-key affair, with really office people as witnesses. So the bride and groom had been married in December, but weren’t considered “married” until the ceremony. It was at that point that they started wearing wedding rings.
  • Another neat part considered traditional was the combining of the waters. In the past couples would bring water from their own villages, combine them, then drink from the same cup.
  • Part of the receiving line was signing in and handing money envelopes. We had a card from the states, so that stood out. You also sign your name, and since we can’t write Kanji, they kindly turned the page sideways for us to write in English.
  • At the end of the reception, the bride and groom stood and posed for photos with people.
  • During the ceremony the emcee would announce when it was a good time to take photos. People would flood the areas and do just that.

Next up? How we navigated Japanese.

– MD

p.s. Have these posts been helpful? Are there any questions I can answer? Are you patiently waiting for me to go back to musings and less recounting?

Underwater Adventures

Last week I had you glued to your screen with a recap of how our wee family survived nearly a full day of travel on three hours of sleep. Riveting, I know.

Before I continue with what we did while in Naha, Okinawa, I want to add another item of importance when traveling with children: pack clothes in a carry-on for yourself. Why? Because kids puke and poop, and when you’re wrangling them in small spaces, it sometimes gets on you. While I didn’t get sprayed during this adventure, I’ve heard plenty a story of someone who had to sit with a pee-puke-poop stained shirt or pants for six hours. So, pack changes of clothing for your youngster and yourself.

What did we do with a 2.5-year-old in Okinawa? Fortunately, we had our cousin’s family as hosts the first two days, and they graciously ferried us around.

Our first adventure was heading to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Our hosts rented two cars and we set out for the northern part of the island.

Let's go see fish!

A note on traveling with a car seat. Miss Red has the proper car seat at home, but we weren’t sure what would fit in Japanese cars and needed something we could throw into taxis as needed, so we purchased a booster seat intended for older children. I know that this isn’t exactly safe, but we wanted some type of added safety, and considering we saw kids riding on laps in the front seat, I think we were OK. And it worked perfectly, since we took taxis almost daily – we literally threw it in, buckled her up, and off we went.

The drive took about an hour and a half and was a nice way to check out the scenery. Everything was so lush along the roads – flowers, flowers and more flowers. And an awesome sign of a warthog crossing, but I never got it on my camera.

The aquarium was wonderful. Miss Red loved seeing the fish and happily walked around the second largest aquarium in the world.

Under the sea

I finally started to relax and feel like I was on vacation.

We dodged mobs of school kids in matching uniforms, fighting to take pictures of the enormous tanks. Here was also the first time I really wish I understood some Japanese, so I could understand descriptions of the fish.

All you need to know about how sharks are born.

With the drive, lunch and the aquarium visit, we were wiped, and opted to head back and rest before dinner. Miss Red and Grandma konked out. I stared out the window.

Long day. Two bags and daddy's hand as head rest.

How did we get through the day? Juice boxes and animal crackers. Letting her walk everywhere and explore. Effectively tiring her out. She never woke up from the car ride and slept until about 4:30 the next morning.

Stay tuned for more adventures in travel…

– MD

Sick Day

The first time my daughter was sick, at a few months old, I called my mom and cried. I had no idea how to care for this tiny baby who was so miserable. And then I had to go to work.

Before I had a child I thought that if your child had a sick day, it was a nice day off for you, too. Little did I know that most sick days are preceded by sleepless nights, changing sheets multiple times in the night and rinsing out puke from hair and ears. And that’s just you.

Two and a half years into parenting, we have somewhat figured out the sick routine. My husband and I generally split the day, one of us heading into work in the morning, then a switch off at lunchtime. It gives us each a chance to be at the office but take turns watching our daughter.

Our daughter caught the bug going around daycare and is home today. Instead of us splitting the day, I will take the entire day with her. With my late nights and impending travel for work, it’s only fair that I stay home with her so my husband doesn’t have to take more time off. I will still be connected to work all day, writing and editing, answering calls and emails, and when my husband gets home, head to a work function until late tonight.

It’s frustrating when we realize that we need to shuffle our work schedules. But I am quickly reminded of how lucky we are to have flexible jobs, the ability to check in from home, the sick time to be with our daughter, and most importantly, a healthy child. It helps to balance the whining, inconsolable crying and general aversion to anything. That, and a little TV to help me write this for five minutes while answering work emails.

I remember sick days when I was younger. It meant watching The Price is Right on the couch, under piles of blankets, snoozing through the day and not being tired enough at night for a good night’s sleep. When sick, all I could focus on was wanting to feel better. Then, once I was well, forgot that my body worked and got better. Really, we are all magic.

So on this sick day where I’m not sick, I will do my best to not focus on what needs to get done, but on the magic that is happening right now.

–        MD

Frazzle Rock

I’ve been working a lot of hours lately. That’s relative, since I’m not a physician or splitting the atom, but it has been a lot. I’m rounding into month five at my new job and I love it. Love, love, love it. I feel very fortunate to have found a place I will happily hang my hat. Thank you, Universe.

But part of my new job is occasionally, those occasions being now, traveling around our fair state. I’ve been putting serious miles on our car, drinking Diet Dr. Pepper and listening to the various Wisconsin Public Radio stations. This has meant more than a few nights away from my family. My husband has graciously taken on the added duties of solo-parenting, a task he never grumbles about.

Wisconsin!

In fact, let me take a moment to thank him over the internet for being such a great dad and partner. He doesn’t mind taking on more parenting because he sees that I’m happier, which makes our whole family happier and he’s happy for me and our family. But thanks nonetheless, because doing double duty even with our lovely toddler is well, doing double duty while I’m driving hundreds of miles every week and arriving for 6 a.m. production calls. And he’s really cute, too!

How has this changed our lives? Thankfully, our toddler hasn’t noticed a difference. She started going to daycare full-time, but it’s so awesome and fun I think she’s happier going five days a week.

But I’m starting to feel the difference. I’m more frazzled. Fridays at home with her meant a lot of activities, but those activities often included meeting friends for coffee or lunch at a child-friendly location, versus trying to schedule lunches or coffee a month in advance, or as I embarrassingly did this weekend, miss a coffee date with dear RBVH because I fell asleep on the couch. Ouch.

I’m happier, but the new job has also meant a few cancelled vacations and missed parties. There was a square dance I missed, a few planned getaways and other events as they’ve emerged.

I even missed an annual trip to northern Wisconsin, but was able to attend a great clothing swap last night, filled with lovely women, hosted by a fantastic woman. We laughed and ate her homemade ricotta on pumpkin muffins and chocolate-drizzled biscotti. We sorted through clothing and offered suggestions to others of new outfits. I got to see EKR in person versus via Twitter. We had a really nice time.

One exchange stuck with me for the rest of the night and today. One woman, showing me a dress shirt, asked how I needed to dress for work. “I need to dress nicely,” I replied. [Side note: dressing “nicely” in the Midwest comes in various forms, but overall, I need to look professional. Even if I’m in jeans, it needs to be classy.] She handed me a shirt that didn’t fit, and then asked “who else here works in an office?” and looking around, we realized that only one other woman worked at an office. The other women in attendance all worked – some as full-time moms, childcare providers, at the local food coop and a variety of other locations – but I was possibly the only person there who worked in an office, full time, and needed to dress in a traditional office way.

It made me melancholy for the rest of the night.

Over dinner my husband asked about the swap and I shared my feelings with him. Again, as if I almost had to convince myself, I said “I don’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom, right?” And I don’t. I didn’t want to before I had a baby, while I was pregnant or even after I had Lil’ Miss Red. I love working. I’m good at it, too. I love meeting people and working with situations and words and creating. I absolutely know that this is part of parenting, but maybe I’m just not wired that way.

But I used to have extra time with my daughter, where she recently started to call it a “mama day.” And while I loved the time with her, I can look back and say how exhausting it was. By the time my husband came home on Friday nights I felt zapped. Done. Over. I usually left the house to run a few errands (what becomes “free time” once you have children) to re-set. I honestly don’t know how full-time parents manage to engage their children so creatively. I think our childcare provider was crafted by Greek Gods, she with her imagination, patience and resourcefulness. I had to plan each fun activity with my daughter. My creativity tends to emerge in my work. My time with her was focused and while I didn’t develop fun art projects for her to explore, I did, and still do, give her (mostly) undivided attention as much as possible, in the form of reading books, playing cars, or dancing.

I often think of something LHW said to me three winters ago when she was hosting a swap. I was pregnant and looking for post-baby wear. We were talking about my (now previous) job and my question as to whether or not I’d ever want to stay home.

“M, it’s different for you, you have a career,” she said. “And whatever you decide, it’s the best decision for your family. Even if you change your mind.”

So while I’m happier at work, I am frazzled and sometimes tears are involved. Tears for no more Fridays at home, tears for long work days, tears for the new and exciting demands placed on me, tears when I think about the state of the laundry, tears that I now forget things, like minor to-dos, notes and coffee dates.

It is what it is and it’s wonderful. Even if I change my mind.

–       MD

Mondays and Fridays

I am incredibly fortunate to have a part time schedule that allows me to be at home with my daughter on Mondays and Fridays.  In a way, I’m almost embarrassed to admit it – I KNOW how lucky I am to have this time and the means to take it.  I will never take it for granted.

We save up errands for Mondays and Fridays – I do the grocery shopping and get in a couple of runs with the jogging stroller.  I clean, vacuum, do laundry.  I try to get my daughter caught up on sleep after three long days at daycare.  I remain in complete awe of single parents and families with both parents working full time.  

As it is with kids, some days are rough, other days are easier. Some days I am so focused on what needs to be done that I lose sight of my main purpose of being home – namely, quality time with my daughter.  

And other days, things just click.  

We dance in our jammies.

 

We stack blocks.

 

We watch them as they fall.

 

After a leisurely morning, we go to the zoo and ride the carousel.

We take a ride on the Zoo train.

 

We check out the meerkats.

I am incredibly lucky to have these days with my daughter.  In the years to come, when I am old and gray and my baby has grown up, I won’t remember if I got the shopping done, if I fit in a good run, or if the house was vacuumed.

What I will remember, what I will never forget, is the feel of her hand on my knee as we chugged along the track in the fall sunshine.

– ALW

The Dating Scene

I’ve  commented to friends that if I ever needed to enter the dating world again I would need to be sandblasted with diamonds. But that’s another story. I digress.

I’m finishing a weekend of solo parenting. For those of you who are single parents, or stay-at-home-moms or -dads, I applaud you. I always have, but it needs to be said again: “Bravo/a.”

How does one entertain a toddler without regular backup? Play dates.

Once you have a child play dates become more common, and in some cases, more desired that nights on the town with your beloved. Meeting for coffee when wee ones are little nubbins in car seats helps stave off loneliness and encourages basic hygiene. Later, as babies start to crawl, it’s fun to take them to others’ homes for them to chew on someone elses’ toys and again, get out of the house. In the first year play dates are more about the adult in the equation – sharing adult time where you can talk about anxieties, hopes and everything in between.

And now that I have a full-fledged toddler, each minute is about how to tire her out. I’m not an over-scheduler, but think of how to get her active and entertained so that she goes down for her afternoon nap and sleeps through the night. A surefire way to get this done is through play dates.

I’m fortunate that three other women were pregnant at the same time I was. We started by meeting for tea, newly pregnant and burping into warm cups. As we got bigger we shared ideas. And we overlapped on maternity leave, meeting weekly. Since then, we still meet monthly for Birthday Club, our toddlers born six weeks apart and two of them on the same day. Each month we take a photo of the four kids, smiling as they wiggle and waggle.

Birthday Buddies, Year 1!

Birthday Buddies, Year 2!

So on this weekend I did what I knew I could to tire out said toddler and keep us entertained: I scheduled three play dates, one for each day I was home alone. Lovely mamas and their children came over and we also went out to meet a little friend. We walked, talked, the kids stared and stole from one another. Tears were shed from minor spills and injustices, but kisses were blown and little hugs shared when they parted ways. For one or two hours, I was happy and content, and so was my two-year-old partner.

Frankly, it’s the best dating scene I’ve ever been a part of.

– MD

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