Osaka: Day 4 (Tuesday)

A few weeks before our trip, I kept tweaking our itinerary and budget. As I revised my excel sheet for the nth time, it became clear to me that the largest “experience” expense we would have would be Universal Studios Japan (USJ). Max would get in for free, but our ticket would’ve been Y7,900 each (Php 3,814.00 or USD 72.00 each).

Two weeks before our trip, I was ready to forgo USJ. It felt selfish to go because it was just for me. The only attraction I was really excited about was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Mikey was barely a fan (he finished the first three books and refers to the fourth book as the boring one with the intrams) and Max had no idea who Harry Potter was.

When I told Mikey that I thought we should remove it from our itinerary, he disagreed. He knew that I was a huge fan and that I really wanted to go for a long time. He said that it would be a waste not to go and that we didn’t know when we would be back. Dramatically, he said: “why are we even going to Osaka if you won’t be able to see Hogwarts?” I appreciated his heart, but I wasn’t convinced, so he spent a few days trying to change my mind.

I knew Osaka would be pretty hot and I couldn’t imagine dragging Mikey and Max to an amusement park just so I could geek out. Thankfully, we talked to our friends who visited Osaka earlier this year (HI RAM AND DARM!) and they changed my mind. They said that they absolutely LOVED USJ and spent the whole day there. And more importantly, they said that Max would love it too! They told us that there was a Minions and Sesame Street area. And while Max wasn’t exactly a huge fan of either, I knew he would definitely have something to do there! So, I changed my mind and USJ was back on our must-do list!

Our friends also told us that USJ is usually packed from Friday-Monday, so we decided to go on Tuesday. We were also told to try to get to the park before it opened. Since it was summer, the park was scheduled to open at 7:30 AM that day.

One way to keep sane while traveling with a toddler is to learn to manage your expectations. For me, that meant not letting myself get excited (it made letting go easier if Max didn’t cooperate). But I couldn’t help it. I WAS SO EXCITED. I was so excited that I was up at 5:00 AM. I hurried through my bath and bought breakfast while Mikey and Max slept soundly in bed. I think I returned to the room at around 6:00 AM and just in time for Max to wake up.

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Sleepy heads at 5AM.

We were on the train by 7:00 AM and we arrived at Universal City Station a few minutes past 8:00 AM. When we arrived, the line for tickets wasn’t too long. I got our tickets after a few minutes. The park didn’t seem so crowded, but it was much bigger than I expected! Max didn’t mind sitting in his stroller while we figured out where we were in the park. Mikey and I were looking through our maps trying to figure out how to get the Hogwarts when a USJ employee approached us and asked us if we needed help. I asked him if we needed a timed entry ticket to get into Harry Potter (our friends said that this might be needed) and he said that the park wasn’t crowded that day so we could just walk in. Hooray!

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It was so hot, but I didn’t really notice yet. I was so excited! We walked across the park and got to the huge replica of the shark from Jaws. We were a little confused at first because the map said that we should have hit Harry Potter before Jaws. Right next to Jaws, there were three huge stones and path way surrounded by trees. Mikey asked me if there are three stones in any of the Harry Potter books. Honestly, I didn’t think there were, but there was nowhere else to go so we decided to take our chances. After a few minutes, I knew we were heading to the right direction because I could hear the Harry Potter music. Before we even hit the main entrance, I spotted a blue Ford Anglia! YUP! We were definitely at the right place!

We walked through the huge gates and we were magically transported to Hogsmeade! The first thing I saw was the Hogwarts Express and then all the little shops. I wanted to go in each shop and explore, but Max wasn’t having any of it. He sat in his stroller for too long and he wanted to explore too. So we let Max down and Mikey chased after him while I took the stroller and looked around. It was amazing! I felt like I stepped into the movies. It was pretty hot and Mikey was thirsty, so I offered to get him a Butterbeer. I was standing in a really long line when I noticed a lady waving at me on the other side of the stall (it was as big as a trailer). They had just opened up another window to take orders. I was so excited! I ran to her before anyone noticed and I ordered my Butterbeer. In my excitement, I pointed to a silver medieval beer mug. She asked me to make sure: “premium?”, she said. I didn’t know what that meant, but I nodded and said “yes! One Butterbeer please!” When I got to the cashier she asked for almost Y4,000.00 (Php 1,933.00 or USD 37.00) and I was so shocked. Then it dawned on me that this is what my friends warned me about. They said that you could get Butterbeer in a paper cup, in a plastic mug, or in a premium metal mug that was really expensive. I remember telling them that I would totally go for the paper cup.

I walked back to Mikey in shame. I told him what happened and he laughed. He said that that explains the text message he got from Citibank alerting him that I had just purchased something for Y3,900++. Mikey drank the Butterbeer in our expensive cup (which now sits proudly on our shelf) and I took over chasing Max around. Max was wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt that I got for him last Christmas and he was going up and down a low cobblestone stage where the house banners were showcased. I couldn’t believe I was at Hogwarts with my little boy.

I looked around the different shops. It was kind of clear that neither of us would get to try any of the rides because the lines were at least 45-minutes long. But we were lucky enough to do the walking tour of Hogwarts. Max didn’t really like it because it was dark, so he hugged me almost the entire time. Mikey encouraged me to pick out a souvenir from one of the shops, but everything was so expensive and I was still feeling guilty about the whole Butterbeer mistake. It was getting hotter and hotter, so I suggested that we check out other (hopefully air conditioned) attractions.

We decided to head to Universal Wonderland which had all sorts of toddler friendly activities. The first area was the Hello Kitty one. As we were walking by, Max saw a twirling cupcake ride and he really wanted to go on it. We asked the attendants and they said that Max could go on the ride and there was barely even a line! Max was really excited when we were choosing a cupcake to ride in and he was really excited when we got in, but as soon as Mikey and I sat down with him, all he wanted to do was breastfeed! So he was under my shirt the whole time! I think he thought the ride would be longer because he kind of cried when we were walking away.

The next area we went to was Snoopy Land. There was another ride there and Max really wanted to try, but he was too short to go on the ride. It would’ve been heart breaking, but he quickly forgot about it because there was an indoor play area. And hallelujah, it was air conditioned! We let him run around for a while. There was a small playground and replica of Charlie Brown’s house. He was so happy! After an hour or so in Snoopy Land, we took him to Sesame Street world. That’s where Max really went wild! It was like Kidzooona on steroids. There was a huge ball pit with a slide where giant Bert and Ernie were taking a bath, there was an area where kids could throw around giant balloons, there was a building area with large foam pieces that you could put together, and a sort of jungle gym area made out of rope and foam where you could climb and crawl. Max was so happy and it really tired him out because he didn’t even want to get out of his stroller to meet Elmo on our way to lunch.

We walked across the park to have lunch at a pizza parlor. It was so hot, so we didn’t really stop to check things out. Mikey and I had pizza and Max happily ate his risotto balls while watching a video. After lunch, we were thinking of exploring Minion Land with Max, but it was so hot. And even though Max seemed ok, Mikey and I were melting. It was getting difficult with Max because he wanted to run after the confetti on the floor and we would’ve totally let him, except the sun was so unforgiving and we were worried that he might get a sun burn. We walked around to try to find a shaded area, and we eventually spent some time in the carnival area. Mikey then played one of the ball tossing games and won a large Snoopy stuffed toy on his first try. But after that, it became clear that we were just killing time and that it might make more sense to leave USJ.

I was okay with leaving USJ after spending the morning and the afternoon there. Except, I really wanted to visit Hogsmeade one more time before leaving. When we got there, Max and Mikey had some ice cream. After that, Max wanted to breastfeed, so I actually breastfed him while he was sitting on his stroller. He eventually fell asleep and that was the perfect time for me to go around one more time by myself while Mikey took a break and looked after Max. I went around the different shops and returned to Mikey several times to let him know that I couldn’t find anything. I toyed with the idea of getting a wand (it was just a little bit more expensive than the Butterbeer), but I thought it would just spend most of its time in a drawer. I thought about getting Max a shirt, but it was so expensive and he would grow out of it so quickly. I tried getting Mikey a shirt, but they didn’t have anything in his size. I settled on the cheapest shirt in the shop—a red Hogwarts Express shirt with a 9 ¾ logo on it. I recently Marie Kondo’ed my closet and I remembered that I didn’t have any red shirts left. We need red outfits for certain Chinese occasions (i.e. birthdays and new year). I was so glad that I finally had a red shirt that I would actually enjoy wearing (I’m wearing it as I type this right now!).

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He wasn’t sick, but it was so hot that I put a KoolFever patch on him while he slept.

With Max soundly asleep in his stroller, I said my last goodbyes to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with my best friend by my side. He gave me a moment to take it all in again and we even walk towards Hogwarts so that we could take one last photo together. I can’t believe I almost talked myself out of experiencing all of that.

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Max was still asleep when we were exiting the park and it turned out to be the right decision because a Minion water parade was just about to start as we walked out and we knew that if Max woke up, he would want to join the fun and his parents were already pooped (and didn’t have extra clothes). The train station was nice and almost empty on our way out. We decided that we would go back to the hotel to freshen up and re-group.

Walking back to our hotel in Shinshaibashi, I saw a small restaurant in one of the side roads that looked interesting. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the day’s activities, but even after a full lunch, I was famished. So, we had another full rice meal at the restaurant. Mikey had ramen, I had a beef rice bowl, and Max had gyoza.

After eating, we walked back to our hotel and Max was happy to be reunited with all of his toys (most of them from those egg vending machines all over Osaka) while Mikey was comfortably lounging in bed. When I realized that they would be that way for a while, I decided to make most out of the day (and my energy) and try to find the Daiso near our hotel. I shopped for about an hour when Mikey said that they were ready to go again. I walked back to the hotel with my shopping bags (it turns out, the Daiso was located in the street behind our hotel—again, we love our hotel’s location!) and we headed for another shopping excursion—this time to the nearby department store: Tokyu Hands. We spent about an hour and a half there picking out all sorts of things. Mikey went nuts with their Hario coffee equipment, and I bought a bunch of stickers, make-up, and cooling pillow cases. Max was pretty cooperative for the first thirty minutes or so. He watched a little bit of Monsters Inc. and then some ABC Kids TV on YouTube. When Max got tired of the iPad, Mikey and I took turns running around with Max.

We weren’t sure where we were going to have dinner, but we figured we’d find a restaurant on our way home. Walking back, we saw a restaurant that caught Mikey’s eye. It was called Enzo and the sign on the store was a familiar giant black bear logo. Mikey recognized the bear and thought that it was the same restaurant as the yakiniku place he wanted to try in Dohtoburi. When we went inside, the place was still pretty empty, but we were welcomed by very nice waiters. They led us to a private room upstairs and they were very nice to Max. Honestly, I don’t know very much about meats. In Manila, when Mikey tells me that we’re eating really good meat, I can’t really tell the difference. But I could definitely tell this time. The meat was so light and flavorful at the same time. It was perfectly marbled—the fat wasn’t concentrated in just one area so it wasn’t overwhelming. So each bite was perfect. It was the best meat I’ve ever had. Mikey says it was the meal of his life. And Max really liked it too. In fact, I had to order an extra bowl of rice because he ate most of mine!

We walked back to the hotel with happy hearts and full stomachs. We had to fight the sadness that came with the realization that we were already halfway through this trip. We still had three days left but we already missed Osaka.

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Osaka: Day 3 (Monday)

On Monday, Day 3, our Thing of the Day was going to be our visit to Nara Park in Nara Prefecture, where wild deer mill about. The deer are famous for being polite, bowing to curious and happy humans who feed them the deer cookies you can purchase at every corner of the park. But we also read some reports that said that they were aggressive and rude, acting very spoiled and entitled to those deer cookies, to the point that they would literally bite the hands that fed them. 

We wanted to find out. And we thought Max might have a blast.

We started off the day by having breakfast outside our hotel room for the first time. We chose McDonald’s (yes, we are those kind of tourists)—Char and Max had a boring old Sausage McMuffin with Egg, and I had a strange burger-muffin hybrid with a kind of spicy-garlicky sauce. It was excellent. Their orange juice was excellent, too—Char later admitted that that was what she was curious about in McDonald’s, more than the food.

McDonald’s was just a few meters up the road from Apple Store Shinsaibashi, so we decided to drop by since it was only 5 minutes to opening. When we got to the door, they asked us to choose one of two queues: shopping, or Genius Bar. We queued up on the shorter shopping line. I planned on zipping in and checking out the second floor, picking out an Apple Watch band, paying for it, processing my tax refund, and heading on out of there. What happened instead was one of the greatest moments of my life:

I love applause, and I love Apple, and from what I know, Apple Store employees only applaud first entrants whenever it was for a launch of a new product. But there we were, basking it in, on a random Monday in Osaka. It was surreal, and I’m so happy I got to share it with Max, and that Char got to record it. 

After nabbing my 42mm black Sport Loop, it was off to the deer.

We took the train and arrived at Nara station at around 11, and we decided to head to the park before having lunch. At the information center, when we asked for directions to the park (it’s supposed to be a 5 minute from the station), they warned us that it was going to be very hot, and that we should drink water. They were right—it was crazy hot. I had Max on in my hipseat carrier, and I held an umbrella over us. Poor Char had her hands full with the stroller so she didn’t use an umbrella. It was just ridiculously hot. Thankfully, the shade of the trees from the park were only a few minutes away.

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One of the first things we saw on our way to the park was this road sign.

The first deer we saw seemed so majestic: the deer was seated a short distance from the fence, beyond the reach of regular humans. It was a magical moment—I mean, how often do you see wild dear just hanging out a few meters away from you? But it was also short-lived: a few more steps and suddenly deer was everywhere. And so were the little stalls that sold the cookies. Char quickly bought us a set of cookies, and Max and I tried to feed a few. Whenever we did, it was such a thrill for Max. We kept walking and feeding deer who were just hanging out on the sidewalk, surrounded by tourists. 

Char had to follow us and keep pushing the stroller, so she didn’t get to feed any of them. Max enjoyed feeding them, but we couldn’t get them to bow. Honestly, it was probably because it we were also very tense. I was worried that these wild animals would suddenly just pounce on Max, or pounce on Char, or pounce on the stroller, or pounce on me. So we just tried to feed as many as we could. When the cookies ran out, we decided to head back to the station to figure out where we could have lunch.

 

Nara station is connected to a kind-of strip-type mall, with food places galore showing off “classic Kyoto specialties”. We chose a place that advertised a really good-looking set meal that included unagi, which is what I ended up ordering. It was excellent, but I forgot that unagi was only my favorite thing as a child, and not as an adult. Char had salmon and lean tuna sushi, which were just sublime. For dessert we found a place that offered matcha (green tea) soft serve. Char and I generally don’t like matcha (it tastes like leaves), but to me, this one was great. We each had a milk/vanilla and matcha twirl on a cone. Japanese soft serve is the best in the world. (Char still didn’t like it though, and wished she just got plain milk/vanilla flavored soft serve.)

After lunch, we went to Daiso, the JPY100 store, and we took a quick shopping trip. There are also Daiso and Japan Home stores here in Manila, but it was just so exciting to be in a Daiso in Japan! They had things we would have a hard time finding here: wooden fridge magnets, a hose that made water transfer from aquariums so much easier, and even a straw tool that made it easy to make two-layer dessert drinks! Needless to say, we freaked out. (Char more than I.)

At around 2PM we decided to try and feed the deer again. We kept the stroller and our shopping bags in a coin locker (JPY500 for 24 hours!) so that Char would have her hands free to feed the deer. On the intensely hot walk back to the park, we saw a family off to the side—a man and his young son rubbing sunblock all over his wife. It was like taking a peek at our silly future.

When we got to where the deer were, all of three of us got to try feeding them, and we got them to bow too. Max was just delighted. Our nerves were a little calmer so we fed them a little more actively, but then that also led us to encounters with more aggressive deer. One of them, after being fed twice, tried to search for more cookies on my person, and ended up biting the strap of my hipseat carrier (that Max was on!). It was fun, but freaky. Max loved it. Also the part where they bit it smelled like poop.

 

We walked deeper into the lovely Nara park where some families having picnics, and the deer were just grazing around, ambivalent to the non-wild human creatures hanging out around them. It was nice to have some fresh air and delight in the beautiful non-consumerist touristy part of the Kansai region.

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Afterwards, of course, we decided to dive straight into consumerism all over again. Our next stop was back in Osaka, to Denden Town—Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara, and the hub of otaku culture in the prefecture.

We arrived in the area at around 4PM, and one of the first things I saw was a wrestling-focused store, proudly proclaiming they had products that featured WWE’s Asuka. I geeked out at the paraphernalia (a RING of HONOR Championship replica!) and large selection of DVDs, and I wanted to buy a shirt or two, but unfortunately they had nothing that fit me.

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We then went to have a quick snack at a hybrid legitimate-restaurant-and-heat-your-own-food-yourself-shop, and then after few minutes of confused navigating, we found what had come for: JOSHIN Denden Town Kids Land! I went nuts. Kids Land is a 5-story toy store. The first floor featured character toys, Lego, and puzzles; the second featured plastic models (Gundam, etc.); the third was called “Tamiya Corner”; the fourth featured model vehicles and weapons; and the fifth featured train and railroad models. We were so excited to take Max to the train floors, but honestly, I was more excited for myself. Unfortunately, we found out that the train and railroad models were those for serious hobbyists, and the locomotives were insanely detailed replicas—not toys at all. We ended up getting Max a car wash set, and I bought some Star Wars and Dragon Ball “Figure Rise” plastic models that were on sale.

 

At about 7PM, we checked out a few more giant Joshin stores (cosmetics, home appliances, and electronics), but there wasn’t much to them besides being giant awesome Joshin stores—there wasn’t really anything else for us to shop for. We knew that there was more to Denden Town, but we were pretty tired and hungry by then, and we figured we had had our fill of the place with our huge shopping bags in tow. Max was also getting a little fussy. We decided to get some dinner and then head back to the hotel. We chose to have dinner in Yoshinoya, which served fast-food Japanese cuisine. Yoshinoya stores can also be found in Manila, and, frankly, they’re not very good. But our friends told us that Yoshinoya was excellent in Japan, and it was comfort food to them. 

Char had a gyudon (beef on rice in a bowl, topped with egg), and I had a gyudon topped with curry sauce. Max had some of Char’s food while watching YouTube videos on an iPad. I must say that our friends were right. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about their curry sauce.

It was then off to the train and back “home” to our hotel. When we got home, Max immediately fell asleep and didn’t even give us a chance to bathe him and brush his teeth. Char curled up and watched Twilight on Netflix—it’s still one of the things I don’t really understand about her. It’s like the universe’s way of compensating for her amazing-ness. I decided to assemble my Super Saiyan Son Goku model on the hotel room floor. Assembly took about an hour, and the succeeding photo shoot and social media posting took about 30 more minutes. 

By 12:45AM, I was falling asleep, with happiness in my tummy, thinking about Son Goku, Denden Town shopping, my dorky Twilight-loving wife, and my son squealing in delight as he fed those entitled deer.

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Since we visited Nara, Max is always points out deers in books and videos. He’ll say “dee!” (deer) and “kiki” (cookies). He loves watching his deer feeding videos over and over again. ❤

Osaka: Day 2 (Sunday)

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Good morning hair!

Mikey woke up early this time. He was energized from the massage (and antihistamines) from the night before. He left me and Max to grab us some breakfast from Family Mart. We decided to take Sunday slow. In our original itinerary, we planned on going to Den-den Town, Osaka’s tech and toy hub. But we decided to stay in Shinshaibashi and explore the area.

We took our time in the hotel that morning. We had our FamilyMart egg salad sandwich, prosciutto di parma (!), cheese, and baked rice breakfast. I enjoyed two cups of coffee from the 2ndfloor.

The first thing we needed to do that day was to visit the Pixar exhibit. We promised Max the night before that we would do it first thing. When we got to Daimaru, there was a bunch of people heading towards the exhibit. We didn’t think it would be a crowded thing since it wasn’t too crowded the night before. But we forgot that it was a Sunday and that most families with young children would probably visit on a Sunday.

The exhibit was on the 14thfloor. The elevator to the 14thlooked like it was going to be crowded, so we decided to take the one to the 13thand take the escalator up. While waiting, a lady from the concierge led everyone to take this same elevator instead. When we were inside waiting for the doors to close, the lady bowed apologetically, and stayed bowed until the the doors closed.

When we got to the 13th floor, they roped off a path heading towards the escalator to the 14th, to the ticket booth, the stroller parking area, and then finally the exhibit. We were so excited for Max. The exhibit was pretty cool! There were “life-sized” exhibits of all of his favorite Pixar movies. And just like Max’s Pixar obsession, the exhibit started with Toy Story. They made a huge replica of the Woody’s Roundhouse record player, Buzz Lightyear on RC, and a standee of Bonnie holding all of Andy’s old toys.

Very quickly, the whole draw of the place dawned on to us. There were lines for each exhibit and the whole point of the place was to take photos with them. That meant that you had very little time to explore the exhibit up close. My curious toddler did not understand this at all. He was finally seeing all of his favorite things in this huge scale and he wasn’t allowed to linger and play. On top of that, we had to wait in line for most of them to even get up close. Towards the end, we had said “no” and “wait” and “later” so many times that he was so frustrated. We actually left the exhibit with Max crying hysterically because he couldn’t play with Sulley and Mike Wazowski. It was kind of heartbreaking. Mikey carried him like a sack of rice to the gift shop and tried to distract him with the toys. He picked out a few things, but he was still in a bad mood.

He wanted to breastfeed his troubles away (and he was also teething—two lower front teeth were erupting), but it was hard. Eventually, I told Mikey that I thought we should have lunch in the hotel. So, Mikey went shopping in the food grocery in the basement while I breastfed Max in the bathroom (I did this a lot during our trip). We walked back to our hotel and when we got there, Max fell asleep right away. Mikey and I had a picnic and ate our take-out on the bed while Max slept. Mikey got a steak/beef bento box, gyoza, fired rice, and sushi for lunch. It was excellent.

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Since Max was sleeping, I decided to go out on my own to explore Shinshaibashi. I ended up spending all of my time (a little under an hour) in the first drug store I saw. Japan has really great skin care products, make-up, and seemingly random items for various ailments, so I loved exploring their drug stores. I was on the third (out of four) floor when Mikey messaged me to tell me that Max was awake and having lunch. I knew that it meant that I had to go soon, so I rushed through the last two floors and walked back to the hotel with my spoils.

We didn’t spent too much time in the hotel, we went out again to explore Shinshaibashi. It was kind of crazy. We took turns with Max whenever one of us wanted to explore a store. We went to Three Coins, the Disney Store, and I got to go to another GU (this one was bigger). Mikey got to spend some time in a tech and toy store, but he decided to hold off on his purchases until Den-den Town.

When Max was getting too nuts-o (I don’t think he understood why we kept stopping, he was just sitting in his stroller and got very bored), we took refuge at a Milky café. I had pasta, Mikey had pancakes, and Max had ice cream. Mikey also ordered an ice cream, but Max thought it was his again so he ate most of it. After Milky, we decided to just keep walking so that Max wouldn’t get annoyed. We just took note of stores that we wanted to hit at a better time. I guess this was the beauty of staying so close to Shinshaibashi. It would be easy to come back again.

We kept walking down the shopping lane and then eventually, we hit open air again. I looked up and gasped because right in front of us was the Glico Man sign. We had made it to Dohtonbori without knowing it! We didn’t realize that Shinshaibasi was connected to Dohtonbori.

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Dontonbori is a street full of food (restaurants and street food). Mikey got an order of grilled king crab legs from the famous Kani Doraku (the restaurant/take-out place with the giant mechanical crab on the sign) and Max ate a lot of it again. We spent some time (and money) letting Max run around in two arcades we saw along the way. We decide that it wasn’t really the best day to eat in Dontonbori since it was Sunday and there were a lot of people. Max was also still pretty cranky.

 

So we walked back to our hotel. We took another route and we got back in less than 10 minutes! We were seriously loving our hotel’s location. Max and I settled in while Mikey went out to get us dinner. He hit up a few places and came home with tokayaki, okonomiyaki, a huge butter garlic crilled oyster, fried oysters, rice, and drinks and dessert from Family Mart. Our room smelled like food, but it was an excellent dinner.

It wasn’t the easiest day with Max, but we felt like we got to know the lay of the land. I was starting to doubt how much we would be able to do on this trip since Max was having an extra fussy day, but without really trying, we just stumbled onto one of the spots we really wanted to hit. The universe was schooling me and my inner planner. She was saying: chill and let the magic find you.

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(Sometimes the Universe sounds like Mikey.)

Osaka: Day 1 (Saturday)

IMG_FBDDDF1172E3-1I woke up early on Saturday. I was excited and ready to explore. I was jealous of Mikey’s late night escapade and I wanted to go on an adventure. Mikey and Max were still sound asleep, so I took the opportunity to explore a bit. I went to 7-11 to pick us up some breakfast and I visited the coffee machine on the 2ndfloor of our hotel. By the time I got back, Max was awake and Mikey was still tucked in.

We had our konbini breakfast on the floor and got ready. We were supposed to head to Kaiyukan (Osaka Aquarium) that day and if time and energy permitted, the Osaka Castle.

The commute to the aquarium was about 30-40 minutes. We took the MRT and we were supposed to take a 10 minute walk to the aquarium, but it took longer because it started to rain and we only had one umbrella. I ran to the nearest konbini and picked up two umbrellas displayed in front. I didn’t look at the price (I mean, how expensive could umbrellas be?) and ran to the register because Max got fussy on the stroller whenever we had long stops. When the man rang it up, the two umbrellas cost me almost 4,000 yen (almost Php 2,000.00 or around USD 36.00). I was flabbergasted, but I didn’t have enough Japanese in me to cancel the transaction. Mikey just laughed at me.

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Made it to Osakako Station! ❤

From afar, it looked like the Aquarium was packed. There was a long line, but I quickly learned that in Osaka, long lines don’t mean slow lines (like they do over here). Everyone is always working and moving. I got the tickets pretty quickly and we folded up our stroller and left it at the receiving area.

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The exteriors of the aquarium. Max was screaming “ish!” when he saw this. 

There’s really only one route through the aquarium, so you basically follow the crowd. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t the best idea to visit the aquarium on a Saturday (it was packed), but the great thing about it was that it was never disorderly. And even if there were so many people, Max had a blast! He saw clownfishes, rays, sharks, whale sharks, dolphins, seals, penguins, and crabs. It was everything he saw in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, live!

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My mesmerised little boy. ❤

The weeks leading up to our Japan trip, it was Finding Mamo (Nemo) fever in our home. We would watch Finding Mamo and Dory once (even twice) a day! He would get really excited when Dory explored the different exhibits in the Marine Life Institute. I would ask him, “do you want to go to an aquarium?” And he would always nod. Then I would say “we’ll go to one in Japan!” And he would smile and say “Pan!” After weeks of doing this with him, it finally came true.

Max would sit by the windows of the exhibits, press his face (and squish his nose) on the glass window, and watch the fish swim by. He screamed “kark!” and “ray!” and “ish!”. He kept screaming “Momma!” and “Papa!” also to make sure we were seeing what he was seeing. Seeing him light up like that was pretty amazing…it was life changing. Or maybe it’s life affirming? I can’t describe it eloquently. It was like being gobbled up a huge joyful cloud. It was also pretty amazing that this squealing, joyful child was the same kid we brought to the ER just a few days back. I was beyond grateful.

Before heading out, Max picked out a stuffed whale shark from the gift shop and I got him a small clownfish pin which he wore on his bib during our trip.

We walked to the mall next to the aquarium to get some lunch. The place was packed, so we ended up eating at an eat-all-you-can do-it-yourself kushikatsu restaurant. Max had some rice with miso soup and A LOT of cheese. He also had one cup of soft serve ice cream.

Side note: Oh my goodness, the soft serve ice cream in Japan is so amazing. We had it multiple times every day. It was so, so good.

After lunch, we put him on his stroller and 5 minutes later, he was knocked out. It helped that he was on his last day of the decongestant, but it gave me and Mikey some time to do a little shopping. There was a Daiso and a large drug store, so I got to pick up some really cool things. Mikey got to check out the Lego store at Legoland (which was connected to the mall).

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We always feel like winners when he falls asleep in his stroller. 

We got off a different MRT station on our way back to the hotel. That’s when we realized how great our hotel was. We were right next to an amazing shopping district. We also saw a sign that said that, Daimaru, the mall near our hotel had a Pixar exhibit. We knew Max would love it, so we were definitely going. On top of all of that, we realized that our hotel was ONE minute away from Ichiran, a popular ramen joint that came highly recommended among our friends.

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Shinshaibashi is love.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we walked back to Shinshaibashi to look around. We also visited the street parallel to Shinshaibashi which housed a lot of big stores like Nike and Apple. I also had my first taste of GU, Uniqlo’s even more affordable sister company.

We decided to have dinner at Ichiran and the timing was perfect. There’s usually a long line and you have to wait a while to be seated, but we came before the dinner rush. Our friends describe Ichiran as introverted ramen because you eat on a boxed-in table and your ramen is served to you through a small curtained window. It reminded me of those tables we used to have in our University Library. We sat on these stools that were bolted on to the floor (but we could twirl around in them).  Unfortunately, Max didn’t have a seat for himself, but he was surprisingly content with sitting in his stroller and watching ABC Kids TV on the iPad.

In Ichiran, you can customize different aspects of your ramen, like the richness of your broth, spiciness level, or the firmness of your noodles. I couldn’t be too adventurous because I was sharing with Max, so I just ordered the ramen the way they recommended us to have it. I also ordered extra rice for Max. I have to say, it was excellent ramen. Ramen isn’t my favorite thing, but the broth was just so flavorful and the pork was so soft. Max enjoyed it too. I would twirl around in my seat and feed him a spoonful of rice and ramen broth. He ate a lot that night!

After dinner, we checked out Uniqlo and then we went to the mall for the Pixar exhibit. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the exhibit was closed. So, we told Max that we would go first thing the next day. We got to look around the Pixar gift shop though! And Max got a couple of Pixar themed mystery toy eggs from the vendo machines.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a random fast food joint and got ice cream. When we got back to the hotel, Max fell asleep without much effort and Mikey went out to get a massage. I took a hot bath and put on my PJs. The only English channel on TV was CNN, and I wasn’t in the mood for news, so I browsed through Netflix. There were so many more shows and movies in Netflix Japan compared to the Netflix we had at home. But being the lame-o that I am, I settled on Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Hehehe. I have all of them in Blu-ray at home, but who takes out discs to watch movies anymore?

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Mikey made friends with the women who gave him his massage. 

It dawned on to me how different things were now that we had a toddler. I looked back on our day and I thought of how we would’ve done it if it were just me and Mikey. We definitely would’ve made it to the Osaka Castle and Museum. We would’ve explored more of the shopping district. I could’ve enjoyed my ramen more. All of that was true. But there wasn’t even a hint of sayangI’m so glad that we got to take trips before Max. But all the challenges that come with travelling with a toddler is worth it when you see your kid experience the world in new ways. Love can be so illogical sometimes.

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What a wonderful world.

Osaka: Prep and Day 0

Osaka Prep

About three months ago, we decided to splurge and take our first international trip since Max was born. As soon as we bought the tickets and booked the hotel, we were SO excited. We even made a countdown poster that Squish and I would tick off every morning when we woke up. We were heading to Osaka, Japan! (Max would say “‘Pan!” every time we marked the poster).

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Our countdown poster. 

Japan has a special place in our hearts because we initially intended to go before we were going to seriously try for a baby (initially scheduled during the second half of 2016). But we were advised by many to get off birth control 6 months before trying to give your body time to recalibrate. My first birth control free month was December 2015 and I found out I was pregnant by January 7, 2016. We were shocked and so happy, but we knew that Japan would have to be shelved.

But now that Max was a little older and has gone on two domestic airplane trips, it was the perfect time to un-shelve Japan. We chose Osaka because we were worried that Tokyo would be too fast-paced for the newbie parents and toddler. It seemed like there was more than enough in Osaka (and the nearby Nara and Kyoto) to fill our week.

We decided early on that this trip wouldn’t be Max-centric. Soon, the little boy will have words to clearly express his preferences and we’ll have to seriously take them into consideration. We completely took advantage of his one- to two-word sentence limit. Hahaha.

Unsurprisingly though, the initial drafts of the itinerary I drew up included many activities that Max would enjoy as much as we would. I guess this is one of the benefits of having really childish parents. (It makes me wonder about how equipped we would be to handle teenaged Max, but that’s for future Char to worry about.)

For two months, I watched every vlog, read every article, downloaded every possible helpful app, made estimates on excel sheets, and bothered way too many friends (Hello, Darm, Ram, and Ronna!) for advice.

Our final itinerary looked nothing like the itineraries I used to plan. I used to pack in as much as I could each day, but we needed to consider Max, his attention span, and his energy management needs. Our formula was to have one scheduled “must-do” activity for the day and a list of suggested activities. But basically, we left a lot of room for flexibility and exploring and rest. It didn’t make sense to pack in as many activities at the expense of our enjoyment and sanity.

We chose a centrally located hotel that was, admittedly, pricier than many of the other options. We used to scrimp on accommodations, but since we’re travelling to a new place with Max, I told Mikey that it would make sense to get a hotel that (1) had an English-speaking staff (so they could easily help out in case of an emergency) and (2) was located near many of the things we wanted to see (so that if Max needed to rest in the hotel, one of us could easily explore without being too far away). Mikey agreed and we booked 7 nights at Hotel the Flag Shinshaibashi. It was probably the best decision we made for the trip, but more on this later on.

We were busting with excitement for weeks and that all came crashing down a few days before were scheduled to leave. We were scheduled to leave on a Friday, and the Monday of that week, Max got his first-ever fever. At it’s highest, he hit 39.9. We even missed the wedding because we were waiting for results in the emergency room. The fever lasted for about a day, and the day after his fever broke (Wednesday), he developed a rash. His pediatrician believes that it was Roseola. And even if the rash looked bothersome (it wasn’t though), it was a great sign because that meant he was OK. I only allowed myself to start thinking of Japan when his pediatrician gave us the go-signal Wednesday night. And because we had been so focused on Max’s health, Thursday was all about last minute errands for the trip. When we finally got Max to sleep Thursday night, Mikey and I shared a quiet squeal: we were going to Japan! Ok, it was Mikey squealing because I was still on edge about everything. I was half expecting Max’s fever to come back and having to give up the trip altogether.

Day 0 (Friday)

Our flight was at 3:30 PM, so we needed to be at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Terminal 3) by 12 noon at the earliest. But we were ready to go by 10 AM. My mom lent us her car and driver to take us to the airport, so we had help in loading and unloading our bags. Max wasn’t completely himself yet. He was on his 4th(out of 5) day of the decongestant, so he was still a little clingy and fussy. And because we allowed him unlimited screen time when he was sick, he had a lot of pent up energy to spare.

I’m never relaxed on travel day. I can only relax after immigration. So, I made Mikey skip all the yummy restaurants you can only access before immigration. I made all of us go straight through immigration after we got our boarding passes. We ended up eating so-so food for lunch. There was a National Bookstore inside and we found him a Finding Dory busy book on sale. We thought it would be perfect for the plane. On our way to the gate, we found a small play area so we let him go wild until it was our turn to get on the plane.

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Spot Dory’s Dad and Paw Patrol. 

Looking back, I think the plane ride would’ve been perfect, but the flight was delayed and we spent an extra 45 minutes taxiing. So, even though Max fell asleep as soon as we got on the plane, he woke up halfway through the ride and there was a period of boredom/fussiness. Thankfully, the flight wasn’t full and the man sharing our row moved to another row at the beginning of the flight. Max ended up having a seat all to himself and he watched a few videos while seated. But he really wanted to run up and down the aisle, so we placated him by taking him to the bathroom and letting him push all the buttons in there. At some point, he fell asleep again and when we woke him up, we were in Osaka.

We landed at the Kansai International Airport passed 8:00 PM Osaka time (about 1 hour ahead of Manila). Mikey put him in his front facing carrier so that we could get through immigration, get our bags, our sim card for internet, and an MRT card. We got through everything pretty well, we even had dinner at a small fast food Udon restaurant. Max only acted up when we finally got to the train. When we got to the train, he wanted to breastfeed right away. I read that breastfeeding isn’t normally done in public in Japan, so I resisted. I offered him videos and I tried distracting him with the view (but it was dark). Eventually, I caved, and it was calm again. The walk to our hotel seemed long that night, but it’s probably because we had no idea where we would end up.

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Only Squish looks fresh and camera ready. 

Seeing the hotel for the first time was like seeing an oasis in the dessert. We were sweaty and tired from the trip and in desperate need of comfort. The fancy faux wooden hotel doors opened automatically (sideways!) and we were welcomed by the staff on the 2ndfloor lobby. The hotel was fancier than we imagined. There was a quaint library, a nice coffee machine (free! FREE COFFEE 24/7!), a fireplace surrounded by leather chairs and couches, and an ornamental giant stone that Max freaked out over (“stone” is one of his words).

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This is the library. E house a nice selection of kids’ books. 

Our room was small, but not in the claustrophobic kind of way (at least not on the first night)—it was very cozy. The bed was so inviting. I was worried about the beds in Japan because most rooms for two only offered a double bed. Our hotel had what they called an extra large double bed and it was very comfortable. Max fell asleep pretty quickly, and Mikey took a stroll to the nearest konbini to get us some water and pick up a snack. I unpacked, took a hot shower (Shiseido amenities!), put on PJs, and got into bed with Max. We were in Japan. We survived our first international flight and our first MRT ride. Now I was squealing. What a day. We made it.

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See, I was really excited. I had all sorts of paraphernalia made for the trip. Hahaha. I love our matching passport holders–mine and Max’s, I mean. Mikey’s (the brown one) is so annoying.

Monday Night Fever

Max had his first fever two weeks ago. The timing wasn’t ideal (is it ever?). He got the fever the night before the wedding of one of our best friends, and we were slated to leave for Japan in a few days. Things didn’t go quite as planned, but we learned a lot from it. Here’s what happened:

Monday

Mikey and Max left to run a few errands so that I could finish chores at home. Earlier that day, I thought Max felt a bit hot, but when I checked his temperature, it was still normal. He tends to run a bit warmer when he’s teething and he had two teeth erupting and it looked pretty painful. So, I wasn’t too worried. When Max got home, I gave him a hug and I knew that something was off. He was warmer than he’s ever been. I took his temperature and he was a toasty 38.6. He had a fever. His first fever.

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After checking his temperature, I gave him a dose of paracetamol and he fell asleep. When he woke up, he asked to watch a movie. He woke up cooler. His temp was down to the 37s and he had an appetite. He ate chicken nuggets while watching, and after a while, he seemed like he was his old self again. I read online that a lukewarm bath helps, so I insisted on giving him a bath even if he was crying like crazy. Looking back, I should have just let it go. By the time it was bed time, his temp was back up to the 38s. I gave him another dose of paracetamol before he fell asleep and I hoped for the best.

Tuesday

At midnight, Max’s temperature would fluctuate between 37.8 and 38.5, based on our in-ear thermometer. We started to doubt the thermometer’s accuracy, so Mikey went out to look for a drugstore that was open that hour, that had forehead/infrared thermometers available. He found one at arrived home at about 1:30 AM.

At around 4 AM, Max was still pretty warm. It was like paracetamol didn’t work. He woke up and asked to watch “karks” (sharks), so we were up with him. I was worried because his temperature seemed to be rising and the paracetamol wasn’t controlling it anymore. We dressed up so that we could go to Urgent Care, but he fell asleep again after a while. He woke up at 8 AM and this time he was very, very hot. His temperature was at 39.9 and he was a different baby. He didn’t want to leave bed and he wanted to breastfeed all the time. He was crying a lot, and when we got to the car, and he started breastfeeding and sleeping again.

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We were in a daze. We had to be in Tagaytay by 3 PM that day, but we were so worried about Max. When we got to Urgent Care, they escorted us directly to the Emergency Room because they had pediatricians there, and because it was the Dengue/Dengvaxia Express Center (imagine our silent panic when we saw this). When we got there, they gave Max a sponge bath, more paracetamol, and they put something in his diaper to collect his urine. Because his fever was less than 24 hours, they advised against a blood test because it’s not likely to show anything. His fever finally started going down, and by the time we were discharged (around 2 PM), he was fever-less. It took a while for us to be discharged because we had to wait for the urine analysis (which came out normal). At this point, we knew we couldn’t attend the wedding anymore. We made arrangements for our friends to cover for us.

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Finally fever-free in the ER.

After the ER, we went to our pediatrician’s reliever (our regular pediatrician was out of the country) for good measure and she examined Max. She said his ears and throat seemed slightly red and maybe the fever was just the body’s way of fighting a virus. We told her that we were hoping to leave for Japan on Friday, so on top of the paracetamol, she prescribed a decongestant and to help fight off the impending cold and to let him rest more soundly. She told us that if he wasn’t better by Thursday, we could run a blood test then to see if it was anything more than a run-of-the-mill virus.

We arrived at home at around 3 PM and we were in a daze. I was relieved that Max’s fever had gone, but I was heartbroken that I missed the wedding of one of my best friends. There are many things that I’ve given up as a parent, but this one really stung (it still does). But the heartache went hand-in-hand with gratitude for the improvement we were seeing with Max.

We gave Max another dose of paracetamol and his first dose of the decongestant. He napped right after and we kept checking his temperature. Sometime during his nap (at around 5 PM), I noticed that the surface of the bed around him was soaking wet. I got really worried, but when I touched him, he finally felt normal again. We took his temperature and it was finally back down to 36.8. We checked again because we thought the thermometer was acting up. We ended up using three thermometers and they all read the same. When we finally accepted that 36.8 was really his temperature, Mikey and I cried. It was like we were breathing for the first time in almost 24 hours. We gave him two more doses of paracetamol (at 4 hour intervals) and we let him sleep that night without waking him for another dose.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I was up every hour feeling his forehead and checking his temperature. The fever never came back.

Wednesday

The first thing we did that day was to check his temperature. He didn’t have a fever anymore, but he was still clingy and he wanted to breastfeed all the time. We basically gave in to everything he wanted: ice cream, screen time, and unlimited breastfeeding. He wasn’t back to his normal self yet, but he didn’t have a fever and he had bursts of energy where he seemed like his old self again. We wore out our new thermometer that day. We checked his temperature every 30 minutes.

At some point, I noticed that he developed rashes in his chest and tummy area. He didn’t seem to be bothered by them. This is when we thought that he might have actually had Roseola. The pediatrician called us again that night to check up on Max and we told her that he was fever free since yesterday afternoon, but he had developed a rash. She confirmed that it was most likely Roseola and that the rash’s appearance is actually a good sign because it means that he’s already well. She also assured us that it was unlikely that it was dengue because his fever wasn’t persistent. She ended the phone call with: “have fun on your trip”. I finally allowed myself to be excited about Japan again.

Thursday

We were still in a kind of daze. The three days took a physical and emotional toll on us. But I was grateful for Max’s speedy recovery and that it wasn’t anything more serious. But I did make notes of what I learned from the whole experience:

  1. Don’t be afraid of fevers. The (reliever) pediatrician told us that a fever is actually the body’s way of fighting a virus. The body actually heats up to make it inhospitable for the virus. So, the next time this happens, I hope we won’t be as panicked.
  2. Apart from paracetamol (and ibuprofen, but we didn’t get to use that), there are other things you can do to keep your temperature down. The ER told us to use a damp cloth and wipe his forehead, neck, armpits, and groin. You don’t actually need to bathe the entire body. We also used essential oils (Healthy Monsters PH’s “Ouchie Hot”) on his back and the soles of his feet (a mix of pachouli, peppermint, tea tree, and lemon grass) every four hours. I don’t know how helpful the essential oils were, but I’d like to think it helped since the fever was gone in 24 hours.
  3. Invest in a good no-contact thermometer. We had an ear thermometer and one for the armpit, but they kept giving us different readings. Max also really hated the armpit one. I kept flashbacking to all those times I was in a baby store and saw all the wonderful no-contact thermometers that are readily available, and that’s what prompted Mikey to leave in the middle of the night. The last thing you want to worry about is if your thermometer is really reliable.
  4. Hydration is important. Just like with diarrhea, dehydration during a fever would cause more serious problems. The doctor advised us to just let him drink whatever he wants, as long as he’s drinking. So I kept offering Max water, juice, milk, and Chuckie.
  5. Don’t stress about the other things you normally stress about, like weaning, his diet, and screen time. He was already so uncomfortable (and we were very tired), so whatever kept him happy at the moment, we would give in to.

By Thursday night, Mikey and I were breathing easy. As soon as we put Max to bed, we had a mini date in the living room. We ate leftovers and watched two episodes of The Office before going to sleep.

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Parenthood is cray, yo.

Friday

We made our 3:30 PM flight and landed in Japan at around 8:30 PM. But Japan deserves whole other entry (or three).

Mashed Potacos

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Feeding Max used to be really stressful for me. There were a few weeks earlier this year where he refused to eat anything. (The culprits: two front teeth and two molars erupting at the same time, and a cold.) To be honest though, I think I took it harder than Max did (I definitely cried more than him). He was actually fine, he just didn’t want to eat. After a week of barely eating anything, he bounced back and ate normally again. After that, I was even more stressed during meal times. I realized that part of the problem was because I never really learned how to feed myself. Before getting pregnant, eating was just another thing I had to get off of my list. If I could survive all day on cups of coffee (which I often did), I would. I like food, but it was never a priority.

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One of the first times we attempted to go out with Squish was so that I could get coffee.

Mikey is the opposite. Eating wasn’t just something he had to do, it was the main event of his days. He took time to savor the food at meals, he wasn’t just getting through it like I was. I would often finish my meals quickly and it usually took him twice as long to finish. “Dishonest” food offended him, while it didn’t really matter to me (as long as the price was right).

I started seeing our contrast more clearly when Squish started solids. I would try to power through each meal, getting him to eat as much as he could. I wouldn’t even be able to think of eating my own food until I was done with the task at hand. On the other hand, Mikey would take forever to feed Max. He would eat his own meal while feeding the baby. And for some reason, Max always got really, really messy when his Papa was in charge of feeding him. It used to drive me a little nuts, until I realized that Max was gaining so much from these long meals with his Papa.

Because Mikey savored all his food, it would make Max really curious and he would ask to taste it. There were times when he would completely ignore all the food I prepared for him and would eat off of Mikey’s plate. Whenever it seemed like I was enjoying my food, Max would always ask to taste. He’s never outright rejected food just because it was new or different.

Slowly, I started taking it easy. I read that unless your toddler’s doctor prescribes a dietary plan for medical reasons, you shouldn’t judge how much they eat on a day to day basis. If your child doesn’t eat as much today, a healthy child will likely make up for it in the coming days. And I see that with Max. If all he has is a few bites of his breakfast, he makes up for it at lunch or dinner. Also, after reading Pamela Duckerman’s Briniging Up Bebe, I learned to appreciate the way the French sees mealtimes with kids—they aren’t forced to eat a lot or to finish a certain amount of food, but they are highly encouraged to try a little bit of everything that’s served. I realized that more than the calories gained at each meal, these early mealtime experiences actually shape their attitude towards eating and food. And I really want Max to enjoy food as much as his Papa does.

Taking it easy also means that I’m less stressed about meal prep and I take more chances. While we’re trying to slowly transition away from making food just for Max (we want him to start eating the food we eat), it’s still easier for me when I know I have something ready for him for lunch (because I don’t really eat lunch if I have breakfast). This strange transitionary period led to the creation of Mashed Potacos!

One night, we were having tacos and quesadillas for dinner. We finished dinner pretty early, so I decided to make Max some food for the next day. When I opened our refrigerator, I realized that we had a lot of potatoes. I figured I’d make him some mashed potatoes since I still had leftover grated cheese from dinner. When I was putting everything into the blender, I realized that I also had some leftover taco meat, so I threw that in for fun. And voila! Mashed Potacos was born!

This is what I used:

-three medium/small potatoes (the ones we have here are baseball ball sized ones)
-1/2 stick unsalted butter
-milk/all-purpose cream
-grated cheese
-2 small tetra packs of Cheez Whiz (the new mild variant)
-1 small bowl (about three tablespoons) of taco meat (ground beef cooked with taco seasoning)

This is what I did:

-peel and slice potatoes in quarters
-put potatoes in boiling water and cook for 20 minutes
-drain potatoes
-layer a few potatoes, some of the butter, some of the grated cheese, Cheez Whiz, and taco meat in the blender (saves you from having to mix it if you put in one ingredient at a time)
-blend until you get the thickness that you like. If it’s too thick add a little milk/all-purpose cream to make it smoother.

I don’t season it with salt and pepper anymore because the meat is heavily seasoned and the cheese and Cheez Whiz adds the saltiness it needs. It actually comes out mildly spicy, but Max really likes it (and so does Mikey, hahaha). I can’t wait to see what happy kitchen accidents we’ll come up with next!

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Happy eating! ❤