Sunday, January 18, 2015

Two Years!

Blogspot won't allow me to post my video which is probably the internet's subtle way of saying, "Nobody besides your parents wants to watch a ten minute montage of Shayna." However, this blog was initially created for my mother so I won't be deterred. Here's a link to the video. 

If these past two years have taught me anything, it's how precious life is. Twenty one months ago Huyen's mom came to stay with us in New Jersey and help take care of Shayna when she turned three months old. Having her in the states -- her first trip outside of Vietnam -- was an amazing experience. Her mom was so full of life and embraced a world that was completely foreign to her.  The two months she spent with us were truly some of the happiest in our lives. We not only had our wonderful new daughter, but Huyen also got to share her life with her mother. That's something we'll always be thankful for.

In April, when we got the terrible call about Huyen's mom's health, our world was truly rocked. We packed up our lives as quickly as we could and moved back to Vietnam to be with my mother-in-law as she battled Pancreatic Cancer. Her bravery fighting the disease was heroic. She tried every treatment the doctors would allow and never once complained about how unfair it was that she was stricken with this horrendous disease. Despite Pancreatic Cancer being incredibly painful, Dung always had a smile on her face and was able to grit her teeth and find a way to laugh. But some battles can't be won. Sadly, that's a reality that's hard to accept.

It's been a month since Huyen's mom passed and I still find myself shaking my head saying, "She can't really be gone?" It doesn't feel real that someone so full of life couldn't still be with us. People say that every day gets a little easier. I'm not sure how true that is.  Two days ago Huyen called her father and Shayna spoke into the phone in Vietnamese, "Where's grandma?" That made the pain rise up to the surface, knowing she can't fully grasp that her wonderful "ba" is no longer with us. Although her body is gone, my mother-in-law's memory and spirit will last forever. Huyen and I will make sure that Shayna knows just how much her grandmother loved her and can show her the evidence through the pictures and videos on this blog. As you'll see if you can get through the video, you'd be hard pressed to find someone with a more beautiful, innocent smile than my mother-in-law.

Although there's so much to be angry at, I also constantly find myself saying how thankful I am. I'm thankful my mother-in-law embraced me as part of her family.  I'm thankful my family came to Vietnam for my wedding and got to spend time with Dung in her home. I'm thankful my mother-in-law gave Huyen her blessing to move to America. I'm thankful we fought through the challenge of getting Dung a visa to visit America. I'm thankful Dung was brave enough to travel across the world by herself. I'm thankful Dung helped take care of Shayna every single day for two months during the beginning of her life. I'm thankful for every day she was in our home and got to see how we lived our life in America. I'm thankful we were able to pack everything up and move across the world in May. I'm thankful we got to live with my mother-in-law and take her to Halong Bay, somewhere she had never been but wanted to go. I'm thankful she got to spend another seven months with Shayna. I'm thankful that, in the end, she went peacefully and surrounded by her family.

I know this blog entry should be about Shayna but in a way it is. Sometimes in life, we don't take the time to think about each day. I'm as guilty of this as everyone else. When you first have a kid, you take thousands of pictures a week. Then a little less, then a little less...and then you stop bringing the camera with you everywhere you go. To me, we should never forget that each day is a gift and we should treat it as such. Hug the people you love and tell them how you feel about them so that no matter what happens, you'll never have regrets.

For two years we've been blessed to have Shayna in our lives. Every day's been a gift. And that's something we'll never take for granted.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Stitches, Talking, Swimming...

Last night Huyen and I watched the movie BORN AGAIN (from the same writer/director who did ONCE). In the movie there's a father-daughter story line and throughout the film I kept thinking, "What will my relationship be like with Shayna when she's fourteen?". I had this weird warm feeling in my stomach that's hard to put into words. Despite this story line being the minor one in the film, it was the one that touched me the most. It seems so obvious to even say this but Shayna's really changed our lives. Here's the biggest example:

Since graduating college I've been dreaming of having a script of mine made into a film.  I'd sold some stuff over the years but none of them ever came that close to going into production (something very common in Hollywood). Well, after thirteen years of writing, my first film went into production this summer. In August I went to Toronto for three weeks to watch the end of filming. Thirteen years of work to see my dream come true for three weeks. Well, I can't tell you how long those three weeks felt as all I wanted to do each day was Skype with Shayna in the morning and night. I don't regret going away for so long but it was definitely hard. It also made me realize that my life dreams really have changed. Yes, I still want to be a successful screenwriter. But more than that, I want to be a good father.

So here's some things that happened over the past three months:

1. Shayna now speaks Vietnamese. She definitely understands both English and Vietnamese but the only English words she really uses are "Daddy" and "Apple." I'm not sure what I have in common with an apple but I'll take it!

2. Shayna had her first stitches. Long story short, she was at school and fell running. Of course it happened five minutes before I picked her up so when I came to school she was covered in blood. I like to think I'm calm and collected in situations like this and handled it very well. I told Huyen right away we needed to go to the best hospital and have a plastic surgeon do the stitches. So we went to the French-Vietnamese hospital and immediately saw a doctor. Shayna couldn't have the stitches that day because she needed to be knocked out. The doctor who we saw had ENT written on his door. I told Huyen, "This guy isn't a plastic surgeon, he's an ear-nose-throat doctor." But she assured me he said he was. But yeah, he wasn't. Let's just say the stitches aren't as nice as the ones I had as a kid. That said, I think the scar is actually pretty cool and definitely makes her look a little tougher.

3. Shayna's terrible at sharing. Terrible. Two days ago she had a big scratch on her face because she saw another kid playing with her favorite toy and wrestled him for it. Apparently she won but yanked it out of the kid's hands so hard it smacked her in the face.

4. Huyen went to China for two weeks right after I returned from Canada, which meant I got to take care of Shayna while completely jet lagged. The good news is that I had help. Su, Huyen's brother, became our personal chef and dishwasher and really made my life a lot easier.  But of course Shayna got some weird virus the day after Huyen left. Su and I went to the hospital and I'm still not exactly sure what she had since Su's English isn't exactly fantastic. But luckily the day Shayna missed at school for being sick was the day hand-foot-and-mouth disease broke out in her class. Literally every kid got sick except Shayna and one other. For the next week the teachers outnumbered the kids in the classroom.

5. Shayna can count 1-10 in Vietnamese. She can sort of sing "Happy Birthday." And she can kind of catch a beach ball. She's also 50% potty trained.

6. Speaking of the beach, we took a fantastic five day trip to Phu Quoc Island in the south of Vietnam. This place is about to blow up with tourists starting in November. We flew into the brand-spanking-new international airport which was gorgeous but empty. Next month there will be direct flights there from Russia, Cambodia, Singapore and a few other places. Shayna loved the beach and loved the pool. She swims like her mom though. Not good.

Finally, I'd like to say thanks to all the people who reached out to me after the last post regarding Huyen's mom health.  There's been lots of ups and downs since we got here and unfortunately we're currently in a downswing as the cancer has spread to her bones. I've got to say though that Huyen's mom continues to smile every day and keep up a positive attitude. She's truly an amazing person and we're thankful for every day we're getting to spend with her. 

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!

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!

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.