Travel

IMG_1048-3

Without a doubt, the opportunity to explore Asia as a family is the most rewarding thing about living here in China. Shenzhen is a perfect jumping off point for this part of the world, and in the almost six months that we’ve been here, we’ve covered a lot of ground and created priceless memories.

But that’s not to say that the going isn’t often tough. Traveling with a two year old can be rough, man. (Hell, just living with one is difficult.) I think back on those peaceful trips that Wifey and I took in the days before we needed a crib in our hotel room, and I’m not sure if what I actually miss most is sleeping, having sex, or being able to eat whatever and whenever I wanted.

Every time we hit a snag – or a toddler hissy fit – Wifey and I take turns reminding each other that we’ll only live once. And we also refer regularly to a quote that she dug up before we left San Diego, from the totally apropos Suitcases & Sippy Cups:

Let’s face it. Traveling with children is hard, sometimes really hard. Kids get sick on the airplane, or have a meltdown in customs, or stay up all night with jet lag. And that’s just the first 24 hours! But, we decided long ago that we wanted to experience all the world has to offer and we wanted to do it with our kids, making lifelong memories along the way. Sure, I can tell you “horror” stories of moments on trips that will go down in family lore. But, I can also list memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything. In fact, if you asked me to list my top ten memories of all time, they would all involve my kids and traveling. So, despite the difficulties we will keep saving our airline miles, making our itineraries, and making family memories.

I concur. Yes, I could write about delayed flights, hellish airport layovers, disastrous meals, and the inappropriate places that we’ve changed diapers (or more recently, the nasty spots where we set up our kid’s travel potty). But instead, I try to focus on the joy of watching my toddler slurp ramen at a noodle bar in Osaka, and the pride I feel when he asks, “Daddy-O, what’s that big Buddha [statue] doing?”

So, even as we desperately attempt to catch up on sleep after our last “vacation,” we find ourselves already working to plan the next one.

Toilet

IMG_0864

It all began with an attempted trip to the bathroom.

“Honey, please stay here and play with your toys while Daddy goes potty.”

“NO! I want to come in!”

“Can you give Daddy some space, buddy? Why don’t you just sit here and race your cars?”

“No! I want to come in with Daddy!!”

“Baby, you’re a big boy. You can play with your toys for a minute. It’s hard to  potty with you staring at me.”

“No no no! I come in with Daddy!”

I give up the fight, and he follows me into the bathroom. And the next thing I know he’s trying to lift up the toilet seat. The one that I’m sitting on.

“Please stop that. You’re making this really difficult.”

“I want to play in the bathroom with Daddy.”

“Listen, dude. I love you, but I can’t poop with you messing around in here. If you don’t stop, I’m going to pick you up and carry you outside.”

“No! No stop it! I want to play in the bathroom!”

“I’m going to count to three…”

“No! Daddy no count to three!”

“One…”

“No!”

“Two…”

“No! No!”

“Three.”

Commence toddler tantrum.

“Ok. That’s it, Dude. You’re outta here.”

I get off the toilet, scoop up the little animal, and deposit him next to his toys in the living room. Returning to the bathroom, I lock the door behind me with a sigh. And then it begins in earnest. He’s immediately crying so hard he can barely breathe, and it sounds like he’s going to gag himself. Even through the door, I can picture the snot and tears rolling down his face.

I pull up my pants, take a deep sigh, and head back into the living room trenches.

Just another morning at home with a two-year-old.

Explorer

IMG_0805

Like most parents, I’m constantly wondering what the world looks like through my child’s eyes. Our Little Dude currently inhabits a particularly exciting environment, and he never knows what kind of adventure is coming his way. He’s taken to inquiring each morning when he wakes up, “Where’s M going today?”

It cracks us up without fail (not least because he refers to himself in the 3rd person). With all of the travel we’re being spoiled by during our year abroad, the kid thinks that every day he’ll be boarding a plane, train, or automobile. Now that we’re city folk again, there are even buses and subways in his daily life. This weekend we’re going to check out Macau, and he’ll get to take the ferry there and back. Let the good times roll.

Sometimes I’m hard on myself for not being a craftier stay-at-home parent. I don’t take on many art projects, bake cookies, or plan a lot of play dates. Our week lacks the organized activities that we engaged in back in San Diego. But our routine is pretty active, and it’s clear that my sidekick is rarely bored by our life in China. Last night as I prepared him for bed, he asked, referring to the park near our apartment building, “Daddy, can we go up the mountain again tomorrow?”

I’m afraid I’m going to have a lot to live up to when we get home to California. And he’s going to have to get used to his car seat again.

A toddler walks into a bar…

As I continue to stumble my way through basic Chinese lessons twice-weekly, I’m constantly amazed by the feats of linguistic prowess that Little Dude is displaying at home. Kids his age seriously are sponges, and as my small sidekick grows more confident about expressing himself verbally, nothing is more fun than watching him develop a sense of humor.

The other evening, he was playing with his toy kitchen as I began preparing dinner nearby. He placed a piece of plastic pizza in his pretend microwave and stated, “Micah cooking for Daddy. Micah make pizza in the microwave!”

“You mean the Micahwave?” I asked him, repeating one of my favorite puns.

He smiled, padded over to me, and pointed to the real microwave, where I was defrosting vegetables. “Daddy cooking too,” he said. “That one is a Daddywave!”

Wifey and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. We couldn’t believe it – 2 years and 2 months old, and he’s already cracking jokes. This kid is going places. When he’s not driving me totally crazy, he really is a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

Patience

IMG_9944 (1)This week scored a couple of big wins in my book. Not only did I finally track down a pool that I can actually swim laps in, but believe it or not, it’s housed in the same facility as the best bar I’ve seen in Shenzhen. No joke – my gym pass also gets me 10% off of legit cocktails and the most interesting wine list in our immediate vicinity. (I won’t deny that this helped swayed me when confronted by the rather exorbitant membership fee.) I figure, if I swim enough and drink enough this year, it’s definitely worth the price of entry.

A good workout – followed by a nice dry martini later in the evening – always helps me balance out. But this valuable new find came at a time when I have a lot of extra steam to blow off. When we set out on this crazy adventure, we knew that many challenges would come along with it. As we approach the two-month-mark, though, I’m realizing that I’ve thrown myself right onto the flames. And I’ve gotta say, it’s getting hot in here.

You see, if there’s one thing above all others that I’m determined to take away from this journey, it is patience, a virtue that I’ve always known myself to be lacking. It’s mission critical for both parents and travelers alike, so I guess I was hoping that new surroundings would make it easier to pick up some new skills. Silly me.

Rather than cooling down, over the course of the day I feel myself slowly igniting. Each toddler tantrum pushes me close to breaking, and every cultural snafu makes my ears steam. In response, I’m trying to train myself to laugh more often at my own foibles – or at least push through the frustration. So, when I showed up at my new fitness club for my first swim, only to find that the electricity was out, I didn’t let it stop me. Instead, I changed into my bathing suit by the light of my iPhone.

Despite the daily struggle, I still believe that patience is an achievable goal. To get there, I guess I just need to be more patient.

Praise

Each day, while I’m out and about with Little Dude, I receive a number of totally undeserved compliments from strangers. Not that I necessarily mind the attention, but I do heed the social ramifications. When was last time you saw a stay-at-home Mom receive heaping praise from fellow supermarket shoppers, simply for making it to the check-out line with her toddler?

The subject has come up more and more frequently as of late, and an article that a friend of mine posted on Facebook this morning inspired me to sit down and put some thoughts in order. Somewhat provocatively titled, “My Husband: Five Reasons Why I Am Not Lucky To Have Him,” argues that it is by choice, rather than luck, that many of our generation have managed to alter our household roles.

I’ll raise a glass to that. I choose to spend my days with my child and to encourage my wife to continue her career (in which she utterly excels). She, in turn, takes pride in setting an example as a working mother, as well as in my decision to raise our son. Of course it would be lovely if we could all stay home together, but for practical reasons that’s not really an option. However, we have chosen our roles, and taken them upon ourselves willingly.

At the end of the day, I do give luck some credit. It brought Wifey and I to the same place at the same time, so that we could choose to spend the rest of our lives together.

 

Dawn

In the final hour of blackness, before the shutters of our bedroom are illuminated pale blue by summer’s early dawn, we’re awoken by an unmistakable cry.

“DaddEEEEEEE! MommEEEEEE!!”

Shit, I think. And for once, I was sleeping so well. I hear weeping through the wall, and the sound of my own heartbeat, now racing. We pray that he will fall back asleep unassisted. But we should be so lucky.

In solidarity, we rise together, sandy eyed both. Speech represents wakefulness. Noiselessly, step by step and hand in hand, we make our way across the house, determined to deter morning’s inevitable arrival.

One light switch is turned to its minimum setting, and in the murky darkness, a diaper is quietly changed. Pajamas are reapplied. Then, tiny arms cling to each of us in turn, as we eagerly collect our hard-earned gratuity.

We trace our footsteps back to bed. Heads hit pillows, accompanied by sighs of relief. Thank God, it’s still dark out. We can go back to sleep. 

Or can we? Having been disturbed once, the pre-dawn quietude seems too good to be true. Although two sets of eyelids have eased gratefully closed, four ears remain peeled for whimpers.

The smallest sound causes anxiety. Is that him?? No, just something outside… I reach for sleep, and feel it approaching, only to be pushed away again by the noises of the house. This pattern is repeated endlessly until finally, peace draws me in, and I embrace it.

“MommEEEEEE!!! DaddEEEEE!!!”

There’s no denying it this time; it’s light outside. And so begins our Sunday morning.

Mama

IMG_6888.JPGMother’s Day is coming up this weekend, and Little Dude and I are determined to make it a special one for Wifey. Not only is she totally our favorite person – and also, “Mama” is the little guy’s current favorite word – but she happens to have a pretty grueling travel schedule these days. So we haven’t seen that much of her the past couple of weeks.

Absence does make the heart grow fonder, especially when said heart is both exceedingly large and belonging to a very small person. Truly, it warms me to know that he misses his mother as much as I do. But it can be a real bummer to be rudely woken before 6:00, sandy-eyed, only to stumble across the house to pick up my son and listen to him call out – despairingly – “Mama?”

Let’s be honest here – mommies are the stuff of legend. And even in the sociological experiment that my household has become, with gender roles utterly reversed, this holds up as true. I may be the one to collect him from his crib most mornings, feed him most of his meals, and kiss his scrapes and bruises. But there’s nobody quite as special as Mama.

Time-capsule

IMG_5279.JPGEvery time I take Little Dude to the Pediatrician – most recently last week for his 18-month checkup – I return home with a print-out of his measurements. I open up his baby book, search for the right page, and inevitably mutter to myself, “well shit, I haven’t written a word in here in months.”

Rather than letting the guilt eat away at me, though, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m simply not really what one would call a short-form writer. Instead, I’ve decided to play to my strengths, and to make up for being a total slacker in the baby book department by occasionally writing rather lengthy letters to my son.

When I print out each letter, fold it, and place it inside the baby book, it becomes a time capsule of sorts. I can’t help but wonder, who is it, exactly, that will someday be reading this? Writing to a future version of my little boy has become a fascinating writing exercise. After all, as I tell of our life together – peppered with bits of my own inner happenings – I’m not really sure of my audience. It certainly won’t be the one-and-a-half year-old whom I currently know so well who reads the words that I write today. Will he be in elementary school, when he takes an interest in his baby book? Or will he be a teenager? For all I know, he won’t read a word until he’s a father himself.

Perhaps, the most interested party will end up being none other than a doddering, old, white-haired me. But I guess that’s the kind of the point with a time capsule. I’m documenting the present, for one never truly knows what the future will bring.

 

 

Vocab

IMG_6963.JPGLittle Dude is 18 months old this week, and his language retention has officially reached sponge-like proportions. Not only does he now parrot everything that we say, but each day a few new words stick. Yesterday, the catch of the day happened to be, “I love you.” (Yes, seriously.) And today, even before noon, he added “flip-flops,” and “bar” to his vocabulary. (He’s using the latter as if preceded by “granola,” rather than “dive,” or so at least I hope.)

Recently, I documented a list of the words that he’s mastered so far. Given the amount of time that my sidekick spends by my side, I can’t help but wonder what it says about me. (Then again, he often says da, instead of “yes” – thanks to his grandmother – so he’ll be linguistically well-rounded.)

  • Daddy
  • Doggie
  • Car
  • Pizza
  • Pasta
  • Blueberries
  • Apple
  • Thank you
  • No
  • Yes (“ya!”)
  • Da
  • Happy
  • Hi
  • Bye bye
  • Baby
  • Agua
  • Coffee
  • Achoo!

Luckily, as you see, there are no curse words on the list – at least not yet. But it’s probably time to start watching my fucking language.