Monday, July 7, 2014

Shayna moves to Vietnam!




On Thursday April 10th, at 3AM, Huyen's cell phone rang. It was Huyen's sister in Hanoi giving us some news you never want to get --  Huyen's mom was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, this was a shock. Huyen's mom is only fifty eight, in great health, and probably the nicest person you'll ever meet. She was having back pain so she went to the doctor who ran some tests and discovered the cancer. After a few more tests they realized it had already spread to her liver. Immediately upon hanging up the phone we decided to move back to Vietnam. Within a month we packed up our lives, rented our apartment and car and moved back to the other side of the world. Huyen and I had always talked about living in Vietnam again for a couple of years so Shayna could learn the language and know her family, but obviously this wasn't the reason we wanted to go back.

We've been in Hanoi for nearly two months now and, most importantly, Huyen's mom is doing pretty well. She's been responding positively to the chemotherapy and, for the most part, is feeling great. She does yoga every morning, cooks every night and smiles every minute of the day.  She's truly a remarkable woman and a great role model for anyone who has to take on a hurdle in life.

Things have been much harder this time around for me. Being here with a kid is a whole new and sometimes terrifying experience. When we first arrived we put Shayna into "the best" day care in the near vicinity of my sister-in-law's house. The place was a prison for children. Literally when we walked in, every child was standing with their back against the wall in near darkness. Shayna though smiled and went right up to some kids to play. After we got the nerve to leave her there for the day (with her cousin Hien who goes there) she apparently had a good time. She was all smiles when we picked her up and we thought that the old idiom was true, "all a kid needs is a cardboard box to play with". You know, since the day care had no toys. But what do you want for $75 a month? The next day reality set in when Shayna freaked out upon going back. My heart broke seeing her so sad and I told Huyen we had to get her into one of the international day cares. Thankfully we found a phenomenal place about thirty minutes away. This meant we had to take Shayna in a taxi to and from the school. The problem with this is that Hanoi traffic is terrifying and we don't have a car seat. In fact, I've only seen one car seat in all my time in Vietnam. After a week of a terrible commute, we decided that we needed to move closer to the school. We found a great place but unfortunately it's not available until this upcoming weekend. So we paid a deposit and decided to suck up the commute (and living in a three bedroom house with nine people) for a month and a half. I'll be honest though, I've nearly gone crazy. Somehow I've become the de-facto babysitter for my sister-in-law's kids. Our bedroom almost always has Shayna, her 4-month-older cousin Hien and her 8-year-old-cousin Viet Hoang in it. The three of them tear it apart every day and her cousins have basically broken all the toys we came here with.

There's a thousand stories to tell so let me just try and give a few highlights:
1. We've been trying to potty train Shayna as kids here don't wear diapers. Needless to say it's been a messy couple of months. On top of that, her cousin Hien has also decided that our bed is a suitable place to go #1.
2. While looking for another day care we heard rave reviews about a former teach in our neighborhood who watches a handful of children during the day. We called the teacher and asked if we could bring Shayna in. She sounded very skeptical but hinted to the fact that if we paid more money than the other kids that she'd be able to watch Shayna too. So the next morning we went to her house and when we walked in we saw two kids playing with an odd looking toy. It turned out to be a dead cockroach. Great teacher!
3. One day I went to the swimming pool with Su, Viet Hoang and a neighbor kid. While taking a break from swimming laps the lifeguard came up to me and said he was impressed I could swim. I'm pretty sure he couldn't. And even if he could, he was piss drunk.
4. I was just on VTV News for playing ultimate frisbee. I'm trying to resurrect my Vietnam soap opera career but so far I haven't had any bites.
5. I can barely recognize Hanoi. In three years the city has doubled in size. There are literally hundreds of new tall buildings. One can only imagine the safety codes these places wouldn't pass in the states. There's a new giant mall called Royal City that we went to the other night. There's an ice rink in the mall which means my dream of one day playing on the Vietnamese Olympic Ice Hockey Team is getting a little closer.
6. I've been playing tennis with the parents of my former private students. These families have been amazing to Huyen and me for years. It's really nice that we've been able to stay in touch with them and they've taken us under their wing once again. Every Monday I play doubles with the fathers and then go to one of their houses after for a huge meal. My favorite part of playing tennis though is that these guys drink beers while playing. They told me it's good for your health to drink while exercising.
7. Yes, we've taken Shayna on a motorbike. We've only done it a couple of times in quiet areas. But she loves it. I'm gonna need to buy a side-car so we can take some road trips!
8. Shayna misses her family back in the states. She's constantly pointing at the computer and saying "Grandma and Pop Pop."
9. Shayna speaks more Vietnamese than me. It's pathetic and everyone lets me know it.
10. I'm trying to convince Huyen to let me invest in a bar in Da Nang. Can someone please send me a copy of Cocktail to get her fired up! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Shayna Goes To Washington!



It's a White House tradition that when you stop working there, you get to take a photo with whoever you worked for. Since my sister worked for both Obamas, she got to schedule an "exit photo" with each of them. The great thing about an exit photo is that you can bring your family along when you take it. So, a few weeks back the whole August clan headed down to Washington to have our photo taken with the Obamas.

Our first photo was with the President in The Oval Office. Meeting the president was pretty cool but to me, the more surreal thing was being in The Oval Office which we've all seen a thousand times on television and in movies. We spent about five minutes with the President, grilling him on when he's finally gonna close Guantanamo Bay. After we solved that issue, we talked a little bit about the new National Geographic series Nova and of course how wonderful my sister was. Shayna was on her best behavior with the President and was nice and calm during the photo. My favorite things that happened while in the Oval Office were:

1. The president's secretary shaking a box of White House M&M's behind the photographer to get the kid's to smile.

2. My nephew Cole walking up to a bowl of apples and stealing one. The President saw him do it and said, "Take one. That's what they're there for."

3. Leaving The Oval Office and Huyen saying, "I just stood next to the President." I mean, Huyen never imagined visiting America when she was growing up, let alone being at The White House. Seeing the look on her face was by far the best thing that day.

After meeting the President we headed over to the East Wing to meet The First Lady. We waited for her in "the map room" which gave Shayna some time to run around and play. When The First Lady came in, she immediately started to chase Shayna round the room. It was very cute. We then spent about ten minutes with FLOTUS who also had some great things to say about my sister. After our photo (which Shayna was not so good posing for) FLOTUS said goodbye and started to leave. My nephew Cole chased after her and The First Lady picked him up and disappeared down a hallway. After about a minute my niece was told she could join them in the hall where the three of them pet the Obama's new dog Sunny.

The whole experience was obviously a once in a lifetime event. Unfortunately we weren't able to use our cameras when meeting the Obamas so we don't have the photo evidence yet. The official White House photographer who took the pictures should be sending them to us in the next month or two. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

14 Months!

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Yesterday was the first time that Shayna didn't want to hold my hand when walking. Usually, if I'm in the vicinity, Shayna will reach out to me so we can walk hand-in-hand. However, when we left her day care yesterday she pushed away my hand as if to say, "I don't need you anymore, daddy." Unbelievable. Next thing you know she's gonna be able to change her diaper on her own.

Speaking of diapers, Shayna HATES being changed. This kid is like an ant. I swear she can lift eight times her body weight because when I put her down on the changing table she can fend me off and I weigh a heck of a lot more than she does. We're heading back to Vietnam in a couple of months and Huyen's mom has promised that in two weeks there she'll have Shayna potty trained. I'll believe it when I see it.

This month Grandma and Pop-Pop bought Shayna her first pair of shoes. Whenever we put them on her she just knows it's time to walk.  That said, she also likes to kick them off from time to time. Twice this week we've walked into day care and one of her shoes was MIA. The first time I found the shoe in the car and the second time it was in the street. I know one of these days I'll lose a shoe and it'll join the boot and glove I lost last month. Somewhere there's a kid out there with a lot of mismatched clothing. But clothing isn't the only thing we've lost. A few weeks ago we somehow lost our baby carrier. Long story short Shayna was sleeping in it while we were at ShopRite. Then she woke up and wanted to go in the cart. So we put the baby carrier under the cart and forgot about it until we were unloading groceries at home. I drove back to ShopRite and walked through the store, peeking under people's carts to see if the carrier was there. No luck and I'm pretty sure security now has me on some special list for creepy dudes in their store.

Last weekend, while Shayna was napping, Huyen and I looked through photo albums of our Vietnam motorbike trip and our vacations to Myanmar and Thailand. It's a little weird to look at photos of yourself pre-kid and realize how much life has changed. Someone once said (I can't remember if it was a friend or in a movie or in a book) that you never realize how selfish you are until you have kids. I'm not sure "selfish" is the right word (maybe self-centered) but you definitely don't realize how much you only think about yourself until you've got a little one. But hey, nobody's complaining. In fact, we kept saying while looking at the picture, "I can't wait to take Shayna here."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

We have a walker!

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This was the first really challenging month in fatherhood. Shayna has entered a tantrum phase and, well, it's not a lot of fun. If she doesn't get what she wants (or often for no reason at all) she'll throw herself backwards and cry like the world is coming to an end. As with all parenting information, there's two schools of thought on what to do when this happens. Our pediatrician believes that you need to ignore the kid and it'll break the habit. Others believe you need to try and get the kid over the tantrum since they're frustrated that they can't properly communicate what's wrong. I fall somewhere in the middle. At first, we ignored Shayna's tantrums and she would snap out of them pretty quickly. However, there's been a few where she gets herself so worked up it's no longer an act. Her crying turns into the most intense sniveling I've ever heard and she inevitably has snot all over her face and hair. This is generally when I break. If not then, it's when she bangs her head on the ground. We have wooden floors so the noise is like a kick to my stomach every time it happens. The doctor says that the kids won't do it if it actually hurts them. But every time she does it I picture her college dreams going from Harvard to, well, a school that doesn't require you to know how to spell Harvard.

Shayna's day care has canceled school a few times this past month which means I've had her to myself during the day. Don't get me wrong, I love having Shayna all to myself but when she throws a tantrum I wish to god I could have a nanny delivered to my door in thirty minutes or less.

The other day I picked up Shayna from school and one of her classmates was having a terrible tantrum. The teacher said she had been crying nonstop for an hour. I'm clearly a terrible person because I started to smile when she said this. It's nice to know Shayna's not the only one.

Now all that said, when Shayna's not busy being a head banger, it's been tons of fun. A week ago I showed up at school and Shayna immediately stood up and walked to me. It was awesome. Even more awesome is that I got to see her walk before Huyen!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

1 Year!



As I put together this video, I just couldn't stop smiling. And well, that's basically how it's been for the past 365 days. Sure, Huyen and I haven't been to a movie in a year (despite that being my industry). Sure, we've gone out to dinner on our own once in the last year. Sure, our bedroom has become a nursery. Sure our living room has become a playroom. Sure, I've been peed on...and pooped on. Sure, I've been awoken in the middle of the night too many times to count. Sure, my life feels like I'm constantly packing and unpacking diaper bags. Sure, I've been to the pediatrician and hospital more times in twelve months than I've gone to the doctor in twelve years. Sure, I've become that annoying person who only posts things on Facebook about their kids. Sure, Huyen and I have had little arguments about who-knows-what baby things. Sure, I've been that parent who brings their infant on a flight. Sure, I've....

Well, you get the point. But those things are so trivial when all it takes is one smile from Shayna to make me feel like my heart has never truly melted before. The other night Shayna learned a new trick. She started teasing us with food. She would offer up a Cheerio and then pull it back as soon as we went to eat it (a small sample is in the video). Every time she giggled and laughed like she was the funniest person in the world. We literally let her tease us for about thirty minutes and it never felt old.

Every day I feel so lucky to have my girls in my life. Huyen is such an incredible wife and mother that it makes me strive to be the best husband and father I can be. When I watch this video (which I've done way too many times already) it makes me really conscious of how special each and every day is. Kids change so quickly, that you have to take a moment to appreciate each stage they're in. And I'm not talking about the "crawling stage" or "walking stage". I'm talking about the minute stages that fall in between there. The "oh my god she just went on her tip-toes for a quarter of a second" stage or the "she just made a farting sound with her lips" stage. Or the "she learned how to turn the TV on stage" or the "I'm gonna throw myself on the floor until you let me play with ___" stage.

One of the reasons I take so many pictures and videos is because it  forces me pay more attention to the little things. I used to say that I blogged in Vietnam because it made me find something special each day. And the same is true now. If I can take one picture of Shayna each day it means I'm finding something special. And well, I can honestly say I've found something special every day for the last 365.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Eleven Months

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to use this blog post as an opportunity to list a bunch of the things I'm thankful for:

I'm thankful for Huyen. Besides being an amazing wife and mother (and sugar momma), she's an incredible daughter-in-law to my parents and granddaughter to my Nanny. Every day I count my lucky stars for meeting someone so intelligent, kind, nurturing and supportive. Knowing that Shayna has 50% of Huyen's genes is a more than comforting feeling.

I'm thankful for Shayna. Since the day she was born, our lives have changed for the better.   Don't get me wrong, I loved life before being a parent. However, since she entered our life I can feel my heart beating differently. Every smile she gives us, every time she learns something new, every mumbled word, every time she falls asleep in my arms is a perfect moment.

I'm thankful for my family. At Thanksgiving my mom cooked a feast for thirty family members. This is the norm for all the major holidays. Although the meals are usually chaotic with kids running around screaming and people talking/arguing politics, it's nice to know that my family always enjoys coming together. My parents are incredibly supportive of everything we do. And my brother and sister-in-law and cousins have given us so much stuff for Shayna (clothing, toys, etc.) that we've gotten to the point where we need to store things at my parents' house. A couple of weeks ago I went to my Uncle Barry and Aunt Donna's house and filled my car up with wood for our fireplace that my uncle chopped. I then went on a hike with my uncle and cousin Dana (after beating both of them in pool!). It's little things like that that remind me how special family is.

I'm thankful for my Vietnamese family. I truly miss my in-laws every day. Yesterday I was gushing about how amazing it was to have my mother-in-law staying in our small apartment for two months and how I wanted her to stay longer. I'm pretty sure nobody else I know would ever say that about their mother-in-law. Huyen's family have treated me as one of their own from Day 1...okay, maybe Day 1,001. We're going back to Vietnam for a couple weeks next May and I'm counting down the days until I'm sleeping at my in-laws on a wood-plank bed.

I'm thankful for my friends from home, my friends from college, my friends from LA and my friends from Vietnam. I can honestly say that I have friends all around the world. One of the sad truths in life is that as you get older and have a family, you start seeing your friends less and less. However, that doesn't mean your friendship means less. In fact, when you find the time to see one another, you're always reminded how truly special friendship is.

I'm posting this a day late which means we're one day closer to Shayna's first birthday. I find myself asking the same question every month, how is it possible time has gone by so quickly?!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Double Digits!

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Before having a kid, I must have heard a hundred times that babies usually say "Da-da" before they say "Ma-ma." Well, nobody told Shayna that. This kid says, "Ma-ma" about a thousand times a day. When I walk her to school: "Ma-ma." When I pick her up from school: "Ma-ma." When I feed her: "Ma-ma." When I change her diaper: "Ma-ma." When I bring her to the park: "Ma-ma." Yeah, you get the picture.

About a month ago one of Shayna's teachers told me that she says "Da-da" whenever I come to pick her up and stand behind the soundproof windows. I was skeptical of this and thought that she was probably saying, "Ba-ba" which is her second favorite thing to mumble. For the record, "ba" is grandma in Vietnamese.

Yesterday I had a parent teacher conference with Shayna's head teacher and she also told me she says, "Da-da" all the time. I asked her if she was sure or if it was perhaps "ba-ba". She looked at me and said, "Uh, yeah, I think it's ba-ba."

All that said, Shayna did say "Da-da" one time. It happened a few weeks ago in Central Park. I had Shayna in the baby carrier and we sat together on a tire swing. As we started to swing she looked at me and, clear as day, said, "Da-da." IT WAS AWESOME! Even more awesome is that we got picture of the exact moment. And yes, those pictures are included in the montage.

Some firsts this month:
1. Shayna is standing while holding onto stuff. This also means she's falling when not holding onto stuff well enough.
2. Shayna has officially claimed the refrigerator as her own. You can open the fridge for a second without her crawling 6MPH toward it.
3. Shayna has started to only like non-baby food. She's not into the pureed stuff anymore. She wants texture and things she can hold. Her Asian side is coming out because she apparently loves rice.
4. Shayna celebrated her first Halloween. Unfortunately she was sick on the actual holiday and missed her day care's parade. We took her out at night for about fifteen minutes (just so Huyen and I could get some candy) and then dressed her up again a few days later so we could get more pictures.

It's unreal that Shayna is already ten months old. Unreal. Can someone please tell me how to slow down time!