We may not be doing everything right, but I am pretty sure we are doing some things right.

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What do you see when you look at this photo?

I see a mom (me) who had a long and stressful day at work yesterday and was too tired to cook.

I see three kids I would call (though I shouldn’t, because I know you’re not supposed to label your kids) “extremely picky eaters.” Especially if I tipped the bag and revealed the two barely eaten burgers because…well, I don’t actually have any clue why, but apparently last night’s Shake Shack burgers were in some teeny, tiny, infinitesimal and unidentifiable way, “different.”
I see a mom (again, me) who lets her kids eat French Fries for dinner sometimes. A mom who didn’t even order a third source of protein because she knew Miss S wouldn’t eat it. And a mom who didn’t even try to convince any of her children to add a vegetable.
I see a parent (or two) for whom nutritious eating is unfortunately ranked pretty low on her list of priorities.
I see a fast food chain (@Shake Shack) that follows good food allergy practices and is a place we feel safe eating out with our highly nut-allergic child.
I see the rotten bananas I haven’t thrown away because we keep thinking we’ll make banana bread, and then we don’t.
I see our messy apartment that I swear was clean yesterday, or five minutes ago. It’s all the same. It will be messy again in no time, so why bother keeping track?
In case you ARE keeping track, you might have realized that I see, in that picture, several ways in which I am falling short of my parenting goals.
And I see, in that paper bag, all the guilt and shame and frustration I feel due to what I have deemed my greatest failing as a parent: the fact that our children do not have a healthy and well-rounded diet because we do not prioritize one.

But that’s not all I see. Because this bag tells two stories: the more blatant, obvious, surface-level one that I fed my children Shake Shack last night and all that entails (including, perhaps, the assumption that I feed them Shake Shack often…which is not exactly untrue even if there’s hardly enough evidence here to support that conclusion) and another, far less obvious one about who these kids we are raising really are.

Spoiler Alert: they aren’t what they eat.

Because this bag also tells the story of my three kids who, as we were leaving the restaurant, said, “Mom, can we buy a burger for the homeless man outside and then give it to him?”

So you see, this bag is simultaneously a source of my greatest self-criticism and my greatest pride as a parent.

It’s true, we need to work on their nutrition. And please know that I do am not pretending that what they put in their bodies is trivial. But their hearts? That’s what really matters to me. And these hearts? These not-yet-six-year-old hearts are very full. So full of love and kindness that it’s overflowing. And they are looking for a place to send that love, and they are not only willing, but eagerto send it out into the world for strangers.

And that’s why I pick my battles. I cave about food ALL. THE. TIME. But the messages about love and kindness and generosity? I don’t ever get tired of teaching them that. And it never ceases to amaze me how much we grownups have to learn from them.

The homeless man had moved on by the time we got outside with his burger. But wouldn’t you know that this trio was ready to wander around the UES looking for the next person in need. It didn’t matter that it was nearly their bedtime. It didn’t matter that they’d put in a full (I’m talking ten hour) day at school and after school programs. It didn’t matter that it was freezing, and they were tired, and we’d missed the bus so we’d already walked a mile to get where we were. And you know what else didn’t matter? For those few minutes while my children led with love? How tired and stressed and sick this mama felt.

She was fairly easy to find. One of our three has been keeping a catalogue of the men and women in our neighborhood as we pass them on our way to and from school each day. We knew exactly where to look because our kids, our quiet, don’t-look-you-in-the-eye kids, may not say much, but they see everything. And everyone.
Anyone who has ever met our kids knows they don’t like talking to strangers. In fact, they’re often not too keen on talking to people they recognize. But they didn’t need to speak to this woman last night to let her know they cared.
It’s true what they say, you know: actions speak louder than words. Their actions spoke loudly last night. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the message they were delivering.

So this greasy paper bag on our messy kitchen counter? It’s a reminder that we may not be doing everything right, but I am pretty sure we are doing some things right. And I am pretty sure you are too.

Making Memories

This year, instead of toys or games or clothes, I opted to give Henry, Jack and Sophie each an experience for Christmas. Our apartment is overrun with art supplies, pony beads, Paw Patrol figures, and PJ Mask figurines. I am constantly picking up markers, stepping on pony beads, or trying to find the missing puzzle piece for one of our seven thousand puzzles. Don’t get me wrong. Henry, Jack, and Sophie are lucky to have all of these wonderful toys, and I am grateful for a closetful of project to do, costumes to try on, or games to play on these frigid winter weekends. We have some favorite family games like Kids on Stage, Disney Candyland, Zingo, and any of the five memory games we have acquired. We could spend ALL day building with Magna Tiles and Legos. And their brand new Paw Patrol Lookout and PJ Mask Headquarters (Thanks, Nana!) have led to countless hours (yes, hours!) of fun.

But my favorite weekend activities are our weekend adventures.

Usually, our weekend adventures look like this: Me (or me and Will) dragging the kids around on the subway and bus, traveling in a (rather unforgettable) pack, and racing around until we get too tired or hungry and have to go home. Where we (the grownups) collapse on the couch. Henry, Jack, and Sophie look forward to the weekend all week. “Is it a weekend day?” they used to ask each morning. Now that they have a better sense of time, they say things like, “What fun things are we going to do this weekend?” and “How come we get to do all this cool stuff on the weekends?” Last weekend we hit up Barnes and Noble, Shake Shack, the New York Public Library, MOMA, and a nut-free ice cream parlor (more on that in a later post).

So rarely, however, are these adventures a one-on-one affair. Usually the child-to-grown-up ratio is three to one or three to two. And as much as I love (truly) bouncing around the burrough of Manhattan with three four-year-olds in tow, I cherish the very rare moments when we are adventuring in a one-to-one ratio. Just me and one of favorite little people.

So this year, for Christmas, I decided to make more of those memories.

Choosing what to do with each of them was a big part of the fun. Sophie was somewhat easy. When Will saw the Black Friday sale on “Frozen” tickets, it was a done deal. Giving Sophie the chance to see Elsa on stage at her first Broadway musical was a no brainer. The only hard part was picking the seats.

It seemed fitting that Henry, still obsessed with dogs, would get a chance to go to the Westminster Dog Show. (Side note: how lucky are we to live in NYC where all of this stuff happens?!?) Jack was a little trickier. It was important to me that each experience felt personal to the child but also not something that the other two would really regret missing out on. They all love PJ Mask and Paw Patrol, so there was no way I could take just one to something like that. And as far as I could tell, they don’t have “cat shows.” (Although I did just discover “Cat Cafes” and there is (of course) one in downtown NYC…another weekend adventure to plan)! Jack loves cats, he loves tigers, he loves sports, he loves drawing…I got stuck on the tigers thing a little bit. That lead me to the circus. I know they don’t have tigers at the Big Apple Circus anymore, but then I started thinking about all the things they DID have. A quick peak at a Cirque de Soleil performance with Jack rendered him a perfect candidate for Big Apple Circusing. He was mesmerized by the trapeze artists and the jugglers (Daddy can juggle too!), so we had our event.

Jack was the first to open his gift from me. I had gotten the kids ornaments to commemorate the experience 1) because even though they don’t need more stuff, not having anything to open on Christmas seemed like a bit of a bummer and 2) because that way, every year when we decorate the tree, we can remember our adventures from Christmas 2018.img_1168

It was hard to explain that his gift was a trip to the circus, and he was a little skeptical of the fact that we would be going without Henry, Sophie, or…gasp!…Daddy. Since we haven’t seen a circus yet, I think it was hard for him to imagine how much fun it  would be. Don’t worry, as the days and weeks have gone by, Jack’s excitement has mounted, and he can’t wait to see the circus!

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Henry was next, and he was almost as excited about the Dalmatian ornament as he was about the prospect of going to the dog show. “Are they going to have every type of dog in the world there?” Pretty much, buddy, pretty much. He’s excited to don his new doggie sweatshirt (thanks, Aunt Lizzie!) for our trip to the Westminster Dog Show. Waiting until February 7 is an excellent lesson in patience!

Sophie was last to open her gift, but the first to experience it. It didn’t take long for her to figure out we were “going to ‘Frozen'” once she opened her Elsa ornament. img_1171It took quite a bit longer for her to wrap her head around what that meant. Sophie has been pretty discerning about the difference between characters in movies and books and people who dress up as the characters in real life. Ask me about our trip to see the “Easter Bunny” last year. “That’s not a bunny. That’s a man in a suit!” she said. Elsa and Anna are a little more convincing, but there were still a lot of questions about who these people were, if they were the “real” Elsa and Anna, how they could be the real Elsa and Anna if they lived in Arendelle and were cartoons, etc., etc., etc.

The buildup to “Frozen” was intense. Sophie asked every day for a week, “Is TODAY the day we’re going to ‘Frozen?'” She wore her Elsa costume nonstop. She couldn’t sleep. Like I said, INTENSE. The day of, after hemming Sophie’s Elsa costume by hand (I don’t recommend this!), we hit the Q train and headed towards Times Square.

Of course, we stopped for some selfies along the way.

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And some nut-free snacks. Sour Patch Kids and Cheez-Its. Now that’s what I call lunch.

And when we arrived in Times Square (which Sophie affectionately refers to as “Town Square” every so often), Sophie was in awe. “What is this place?!” she asked. “It is soooo cool.” The screens, the lights, the people…and even some leftover New Year’s Eve confetti littering the streets. She was eager to get right to the theater even though we had some time to wait.

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I let Sophie choose a souvenir, and surprise, surprise, she went for an Elsa doll.

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When the doors opened, we grabbed a booster, found our way to our seats, opened up our Sour Patch Kids, and waited for the magic to begin.

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It’s hard to describe how amazing it was to experience this show with Sophie. Our seats (in the balcony) were not great. We were pretty far away. Things were a little obscured by the railing in front. And it didn’t matter at all. Not one bit. Sophie sat, mesmerized, craning her neck every now and then, leaning over to whisper a question or two when the songs varied slightly from the movie, in total awe of the entire thing. She could have cared less where our seats were. Sophie’s camp counselors once described the way she listens to stories. “It’s like she is IN the book. She leans in, barely blinks, and is clearly rapt by every word we read.” That’s what it was like at “Frozen.” The woman sitting next to us told me at intermission, “I forgot she was there, she was so quiet!” She connects emotionally with the characters. Grabbing my arm when Anna and Kristoff begin to fall off the bridge. Bursting into (quiet) tears when Anna freezes solid at the end. Even though she knows Elsa’s love will unfreeze her eventually. Watching Sophie watch “Frozen” was the perfect Christmas gift for me too. Sharing one of my greatest loves (musical theater) with my children is such a special experience.

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Sophie’s first Broadway show. I know they say children don’t really store memories long term until they are seven or so, but I know I will never forget the experience. And I hope that we’ll keep remembering it together, through this blog post, through the photos I took, the souvenirs we came home with, and then every Christmas season, when we hang that ornament on the tree and say, “Remember when…”

 

 

It Wasn’t Perfect, But It Was Pretty Darn Cute.

The negotiations started weeks ago. One of our children needed ZERO encouragement to don a pretty outfit and perform in front of family and friends (I’ll let you decide which one). One of our children was pretty adamant about NOT participating in the wedding festivities. And one of our children fell somewhere in the middle: willing to fulfill his duties as flower boy, sort of excited about the outfit, but not quite as enthusiastic as the first.

Two participatory flower children would be a step up from the last family wedding they played a part in, but really, we were aiming for three. Their traditional Vietnamese wedding outfits (ao dais) has been custom made, and considering the flower child holdout was the godchild of the groom, getting him (or her) down the aisle felt like a high priority.

The negotiation went something like this:

Me: What if I gave you some Hershey kisses if you do your job at the wedding?

Child: 500 Hershey kisses!

Me: That’s too many.

Child: 100!

Me: How about 20?

Child: Woah. Ok! Twenty’s a lot!”

The math teacher in me cringed a bit at her offspring’s poor number sense, but the mother in me was thrilled to be emerging victorious (if bribing your child with twenty Hershey kisses can be considered a victory) from this negotiation.

The rehearsal did not go very well. Despite the promise of a score of Hershey kisses, two-thirds of our crew followed through with their flower child obligations, and one barely made it down the aisle with a lot of (literal) hand-holding from Mom. This was not the plan.

Considerations for alternative scenarios commenced immediately, and we spent the next twenty-two hours preparing ourselves for Plan B: three flower children and one Mom or Plan C: two flower children.

And then, at 1:30pm yesterday, without any mention of Hershey kisses, our holdout asked to suit up. Nevermind that it was a little too early to get dressed. Nevermind that there was a pretty big chance the ao dai would get wrinkled or stained before the ceremony. This kid wanted to get in his wedding outfit, and we were not going to stop him.

Two and a half hours later, they did what they had been asked to do. Quite literally. They threw the petals on the walkway (our efforts to distinguish between “throwing” and “sprinkling” came a bit late in the game) and went (RAN) to find Daddy at the end of the aisle. And while there may have been some Hershey kisses involved (only five!), those were really just a reward for a job well done.

I am so proud of my three little people for being so brave and for doing their job so well (which included sitting quietly–if not inconspicuously–throughout the ceremony). It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn cute.

And what a special, special day it was celebrating Uncle Andrew and Aunt Evelynn. We are so glad they got to be a part of it.

Dance Like No One Is Watching

This girl. She dances like no one is watching, she sings like no one is listening (although I think she secretly hopes we all are), and she carries joy in her heart and spreads it wherever she goes.

After several blissful nights of uninterrupted sleep, and just hours before our road trip to VA to visit the cousins, her coughing began. In the grand scheme of things, last night’s breathing battles were pretty minimal. No albuterol needed (until 5AM this morning, that is), no trip to the hospital, no oxygen mask. But a sleepless night is a sleepless night, and a persistent and wheezy cough for a kid with asthma is always a bit unsettling.

Still, this girl jumped out of bed at 5AM, a smile on her face and only one concern: “If I go to Noah and Lily’s and I’m sick there, I will give Noah and Lily my germs.”

I am inspired by her concern for others, her ability to choose joy in the face of her frustrations, and her incredible zest for life.

Her latest catch phrase is, “This is going to be SO great.” This adventure, this Magna-Tile house, this waffle, you name it. Whatever it is, it’s going to be SO great. Especially if Sophie has anything to do with it. We are t-minus two hours from the cousins’ house, albuterol and inhaler in hand, and I can already tell: it’s going to be SO great.