Sep 272012

Sometimes living on Capitol Hill drives me crazy. There are people everywhere, all the time. Walking the kid and the dog one block to the park in the evening (necessary, because who has a backyard?) means stopping to greet other dogs, sidestepping anti-social dogs, stopping so other kids can pet our dog, giving directions to random tourists, saying hello to neighbors, sidestepping anti-social neighbors, dodging bikes breaking traffic laws, waiting for three directions of traffic lights before crossing the street…. Did I mention the park is one block away?? Sometimes you just want to get to the *$@&# park and home for dinner.

But there is one thing I love about the people of Capitol Hill, and it is that they are not always the same people. Looking around Vera’s schoolyard when I dropped her off this morning, I was struck by the scope of diversity at her school. There’s every possible shade and mix of skin color, but that’s just the beginning. We heard parents speak with accents from Europe and Africa. We saw a kindergarten girl with her hair covered by a scarf, and another being dropped off by two mommies. We saw nannies and yuppie parents and hipster parents and grandparents with canes. There are many kids wealthier than we are, and many who can’t afford the $2 school lunch. I am so grateful that our daughter can grow up surrounded by this smorgasbord of humanity.

One of the enduring things I learned in college psychology is that our brains are hard-wired to divide the world into categories. There will always be an “us” versus “them.” It’s how the brain works. But how you define “us” and “them” — ah, that’s where the question lies. Too much of human history has defaulted to easy categories of tribe, nationality, skin color, religion, or sexuality. Some of the news and images surrounding this election prove those defaults are still alive and kicking.

I want to raise a child with a modern view of “us.” One who sees “us” as her co-workers, her neighbors, her friends — no matter where they fall in all those old group definers. It’s a state of mind and one you could develop anywhere. But I’m sure this crazy neighborhood can only help.

[Image from here. Because can anyone my age think “diverse kids” without looking up old Benetton ads?]

Sep 252012

Vera watering the garden at school.

Vera has been in school for almost a month now. Big transitions like this are always strange — one day your life looks a certain way, and the next day life is entirely different. Vera has been with family at all times for over three years, and suddenly she’s out there living a separate and independent life each day.

Obviously, this has been a transition for all of us. Vera is learning to rely on her own resources without the safety net of family to back her up. I am learning to live with the lack of information, to piece together her activities from the cryptic sentence or two she shares at the end of the day. Luckily, we hit the jackpot with both school and teacher, so it feels reasonably safe sending her out into the great unknown each day.

Starting school is a big deal for any family, but it’s really really big for a stay-at-home mom. You go from having no time at all (at least with my kid; she was never one to entertain herself) to enjoying six hours a day to yourself. I thought this would be revolutionary. This was going to be my chance to whip our sad house into shape, change my health habits, start writing and blogging again, finally tackle my book….

Turns out, not so much. I thought childcare was the main thing holding me back, but in fact my health holds me back even more. I’ve had a small health crash lately, so most of my day is spent resting up to prepare for the hours between school pickup and Vera’s bedtime. I can’t sleep but am too tired to function normally. I’m basically useless. Half the time, I can’t summon the energy to even read. I lie in bed, poke my phone off and on, play ridiculous amounts of mindless games. Hours and hours to the day, and I can’t use any of them. It has been incredibly frustrating and a little depressing.

I pushed myself to exhaustion and beyond for 3 1/2 years, trying to keep going as wife and parent despite my illness. In the grand scheme of things, I know that one month isn’t enough time to recover. I’m trying to go easy on myself. But it’s still frustrating, at the end of the day, to look back and feel I have nothing to show for my existence.

No real point or conclusion to this post. Just wanted to give a little update on the state of things around here. Expect some useful household and baby tips and more travel updates in coming days.

Sep 192012

Vera had a lot of anxiety over starting school this fall. Perfectly natural: she’s shy, she’s only three, and she’s never been away from family before. But we were all awfully stressed in the few weeks before the transition.

I decided a little “play therapy” was in order and went online to look for toy schools. Ended up with a cute school set from Playmobil. (Playmobil’s the greatest!) But my web search for “Playmobil school” also brought up some kids holding giant cones. Huh?

(Seems to be gone from the Playmobil site. Here it is on Amazon.)

Apparently there’s a German tradition called Schultüte, or First Day of School Cones. Big paper cones are filled with toys, sweets, and school supplies to brighten up a child’s first day of school. Traditionally they’re given to a child starting school for the very first time, but the tradition has expanded so that many kids get them every year on the first day.

(image source:

The gifts sounded like a wonderful way to give Vera something to enjoy on her nerve-wracking first day, so I put together a little Schultute of our own. I wrapped a few small gifts — the Playmobil cone kids, some pink sparkly nail polish (she’s wanted this forever but I was holding out for both a nontoxic version and a special occasion), some pink sparkly hair items (you may notice a theme), a giant round lollipop, and some extra-special school supplies (patterned tape! magnets to hang school art! Post-It notes!).

The presentation wasn’t anything fancy. We were staying in a hotel that week, so the cone and decorations were pieced together from whatever I could find at the nearest drugstore. Luckily, CVS had big sheets of poster board in its office supply aisle. I just rolled the paper into a cone, scotch-taped it together, and added some curly ribbon, tissue paper, and Sharpie-d drawings. Here’s the final result (showing Vera’s real name, shhhh):

We brought the cone after school so the gifts wouldn’t be too distracting during the school day. Obviously it cheered her immediately, ha.

But opening the gifts really did send her over the moon. As parents, wouldn’t we do anything to transform our child’s scariest day into one that ends in bliss like this?? Schultute for the win!

(P.S. Don’t know whether they do this every year, but looks like Chasing Fireflies sells pre-made school cones if you like the idea but don’t have the inclination to make your own.)

Sep 172012

Well, I’m back. Seems all I do is talk about leaving and coming back, so let’s just skip it for now, shall we? Photos are much more interesting! Here are a few highlights from the months I was gone.

We celebrated Vera’s third birthday:

Mama had a much-needed solo vacation in Sedona, AZ:

The whole family spent two memorable weeks in Hawaii. (Expect many more details/photos about that!):

Vera spent a lot of time with her sibling Sheltie:

Our walls looked like this for 4 months (and counting). But don’t worry, everyone assures us it’s much worse in person. The garbage bag covers a spot where the ceiling fell in. Thanks, water leak from the condo upstairs!:

Vera further developed her own personal style — best described as pink sparkly fairy princess ballerina — and Mama discovered Instagram (@twowishes):

Biggest and best of all, Vera started public full-day preschool a few weeks ago! Big transition, but it’s a fantastic school, she has a fantastic teacher, and she’s going to love it once she gets past the social anxiety of her first time away from home.

And you, my friends? Any big events in 2012?

Nov 032011

Is there anything cuter than a little kid in an animal costume? When Vera was a baby, she was a chicken for Halloween. It was glorious. Last year, Vera was a bee for Halloween. Again, glorious.

This year? This year I told myself multiple times that I should figure out something for Halloween. Repeatedly visited an Etsy costume that was 80% perfect but couldn’t get over the other 20%. Made a panicked last-minute trip to Target to peruse their selection but couldn’t get over the slim choices (princess? or “sassy” princess?) and icky-cheap fabrics. Finally dug the bee out of storage, crammed it painfully onto our giant child a few days before Halloween, and we went out for sandwiches. She talked excitedly about the bee in coming days, but come Halloween it wasn’t happening.

Red lollipop, comfy sweater. Blurry cell-phone pic.

We tried Plan B, a set of fairy wings I once purchased at H&M on the theory that any well-stocked home should have fairy wings. No go. I couldn’t find the camera, I had nothing as to use as a treat bag. Time was ticking, and we were lucky to even make it out of the house — costume, camera, and treat bag or no.

We headed to a street party thrown by neighborhood merchants. Between parking spot and party, we passed a house where a lady was holding a giant bowl of candy. Walked up, Vera managed a version of “trick or treat”, and she was given a red lollipop for her efforts. Vera loves lollipops more than anything, and red is her favorite color. We went to the street party, and though Vera was too young for most of the activities, she stood patiently in line for an agonizingly long time and came away with a red balloon. Her second favorite thing in the world, after red lollipops. At that point, her evening was complete. We gave up on Halloween and went out to dinner.

Parents put so much time, money and effort into making sure kids have “perfect” — and perfectly photogenic — holidays. Certain traditions must be observed, certain photo opportunities created. Tradition is a beautiful thing to pass on to our children, but how often do parents force things out of some adult idea of a perfect childhood holiday rather than celebrate whatever the child actually enjoys? (How many toddler-with-Santa pictures involve smiles, and how many just show a terrified toddler?) I totally fell into that trap this Halloween, literally trying to force a costume that didn’t fit onto my poor child as she cried. And it turns out Vera didn’t need the costume, the door-to-door, or the huge bag of candy to have a perfect Halloween. For Vera, a perfect Halloween was a red lollipop and a red balloon.

Our daughter went as herself this Halloween. And it was glorious.

Jun 012011


Vera in Central Park

But wait, you say … doesn’t this “Vera” look an awful lot like your existing child? The one who is definitely not named Vera?

Yeah, about that….

When I first started to blog about the baby, I worried for one nanosecond about the privacy issues of using her real name on this blog. I don’t generally get worked up about slight First World dangers, and it’s not like this blog has a zillion readers. But as time passes, I’m discovering more and more that online content lives forever. Luckily it’s tremendously hard to Google anyone with an Asian last name, but I don’t want to doom our girl to future embarrassment based on Mama’s blog.

I kind of hate it when blogs use nicknames instead of names (“Mr. T” is entirely a Weddingbee-based habit), so a pseudonym it is. Of course my immediate thought was to re-name her something that I considered but couldn’t use in real life. And that means “Vera.”

Vera has the old-time-but-modern vibe that’s popular these days, is easy to spell and pronounce, is an in-joke for Firefly fans, and calls to mind one of my favorite 30-something actresses, Vera Farmiga. Better still, the reason we couldn’t use it in real life makes it perfect for the Internet — hey future stalkers, good luck Googling “Vera Wang.”

(Plus, the word nerd in me loves choosing a fake name that means “truth” in Latin.)

In theory I’ll go back and change her name in older posts, but in practice I rarely finish non-essentials like that. Sorry if the changeover is extra-confusing for a while!

Other bloggers, do you use real names on your blog? If you have children, or might someday, would you use your child’s real name?

May 192011

As a child, I was the stereotypical athletically-challenged nerd. The one picked last for teams, who dropped every ball thrown my way and “ran” a 15-minute mile. My parents encouraged me to play Little League softball when I was ten, and it was a failure of epic proportions. I’m not sure I ever got a hit.

Luckily, our daughter shows early signs of inheriting her father’s athletic gifts. She is bold and strong and energetic and throws and kicks and jumps and runs and dances with the best of them. She falls down often — she’s 2, it happens — and pops back up to hit the ground running once again. But even if she turns out a klutz like Mama, and despite my own traumatic history with team sports, I will do everything in my power to encourage her in athletics.

Why? I want our girl to know her own power. Not the “power” young, beautiful women sometimes hold in swaying the desires of men, but actual physical and mental I-can-do-it-myself power. I hope the knowledge of her strength will help her withstand bullies and not fall for any boy who pays her a little attention. I want her to have a relationship with her body separate from whatever society tells her is attractive. I want her to have the experience of practicing something until she improves, and also the experience of losing with grace.

And of course I plan to live vicariously by seeing her succeed where I have failed. And then, when she’s famous, benefit from her millions of dollars in endorsement deals. Why else does anyone force activities on their children?

Have you pre-selected any activities to push on your children?