I think it was early October when a friend told me that his company was hiring work-from-home writers. And when he explained that everything happened online (the application process, interviews, and all the work), I thought I had nothing to lose.
And here we are! I’ve been a regular work from home mom (or work-at-home-mom, or WAHM) for about three months now. In the beginning, there was a lot to learn on the job front and even more to learn on the home front. It was a bit of a learning curve (it still is). And there were days when I felt like I was a failure at all of it—as a wife, a mom, and a freelance employee.
But I kept at it because I realized how much I needed this. More than the added income (which is wonderful), I needed to remember that there were other things I could do apart from being someone’s partner and mom. And that’s worth all the late nights where my boys are sleeping and I’m typing away on my computer.
I still believe that I am where I should be—at home with Max. I love how flexible this gig is. Working from home has it’s challenges, but for us, it’s pretty ideal. Max’s growing independence is a gift and I don’t want to waste it. And I’m fortunate to have a husband who truly believes that we’re equals. I’m young and I’m still really eager to learn new things. So we’re going to keep on going. ❤️
I don’t want to sugar coat our trip. Looking back at the photos, it would be easy to paint a picture-perfect family vacation. But there were times when it was so hard that I wanted to join Max in his tantrum and cry. Mikey is the epitome of patience and flexibility when it comes to dealing with Max, but I know that he had some tough times with him too.
We were kind of baffled at this new clingy and fussy toddler that we were dealing with. He either wanted to breastfeed or to be allowed to run amok. A part of me thought that maybe this was a new phase Max was entering. Maybe it was a preview of the terrible twos that people kept telling us about. But looking back, I think it was a mixture of Max being frustrated because he couldn’t communicate what he wanted, the horrible weather, over-stimulation because of all the screen time, teething, and also still recuperating from his sudden sickness a few days before the trip.
It would be easy to regret the timing of the trip (“maybe if we waited until he was older, it would’ve been easier“), especially nowadays when we can meaningfully reason with Max. We could regret it, but we honestly don’t. As silly as it sounds, all the hard stuff is ultimately eclipsed by the sheer fun that we had together. Experiencing the world in new ways as a family is such a privilege. We are beyond grateful.
It took me a while to finish this series, but I think (like always) the timing makes perfect sense. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to include this last tidbit: a few nights ago, Max saw his Papa’s iPad wallpaper (a photo of Max and I watching rays at the Osaka Aquarium) and he said: “rey! Pan!” (Ray! Japan!). We were so amazed! He remembers and even if he can’t fully articulate it, I know that he learned and grew so much because of this trip. And so did we.
Our fifth day in Osaka was probably the toughest day, Max-wise. It started off pretty slow, we had a late breakfast in Shinshaibashi before taking a long(-ish) train ride to Kyoto. Max was still pretty clingy on the train and he wanted the breastfeed the whole way. At that point, I just let him because he was easier to manage and we knew we had to reserve our energy for the day ahead.
The train ride was pretty spectacular though. It made the trip to Kyoto worth it. We got to see a another side of the Kansai region. We passed by an area that was just houses and sprawling hills. It seemed more provincial than Osaka. By the time we got to Kyoto Station, Mikey was hungry. So we stopped at the first comfortable restaurant we saw. It turned out to be a restaurant that specialized in tempura. It was really good, but based on the price, it was definitely a tourist trap. Unfortunately, when you’re travelling with a toddler, sometimes you really have to cave and pay extra for comfort.
After lunch, we walked to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was so HOT. Max had rosy cheeks the whole time because it was hot. Walking towards the temple was fun for Max because there were pigeons everywhere and he kept chasing after them. When we got to the shrine, there was a lady lying on the floor almost passing out because of the heat. Max had a blast at the temple though. The floor was made up of stones and Max loves stones. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to walk up the steps and see the famous troii gates because we had a stroller and the coin locker was so far away. Mikey and I were already sweating like crazy.
After an hour or so, we decided to head back to Osaka. We figured we’d come back and see more of Kyoto when Max is older (and hopefully when it’s cooler). We decided to take the rest of the day to finish up all the shopping we wanted to do. We wanted to hit a book store, a supermarket, and Don Quixote (a giant discount store).
We found a book store and a supermarket in a complex near our hotel. Bookstores in Osaka are a lot more quiet and library-like than bookstores over here. Max is used to being allowed to run around in our local bookstores here. But over there, everyone is so quiet. He actually got shh’ed by a salesperson. But I’m glad we went because we found the perfect books! ❤ We left with Polar Bear’s Underwear by tupera tupera and Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake. We love that we found English books by Japanese authors! They’re so cute and the humor is reminiscent of all the manga I used to read as a tween.
After the bookstore, Max was getting really, really fussy. He was sleepy and when we finally found a place to breastfeed him, he fell asleep right away. When he fell asleep, I tried to put him in a carrier so that we could go on with our shopping. 10 minutes into the grocery store and he started freaking out. He was still super sleepy, but he couldn’t breastfeed himself back to sleep because he was strapped in. It was kind of a nightmare at first. I struggled to unstrap him and then I let him latch while walking around. It was uncomfortable for the both of us. Finally, he hit his limit and had the meltdown of the century. He just kept crying and screaming and we couldn’t console him in any way. And bonus: he was trying out this new high pitch scream that seemed one million times louder in calm and quiet Osaka. We took turns taking him outside. Eventually, he relented and we breastfed while I sat on the sidewalk. I was spent.
We decided to go back to the hotel to drop stuff off before heading to Don Quixote. After decompressing and cooling down for a bit in our room, we were off again. We went to Don Quixote and Max spent most of the time in his stroller watching shows/movies/YouTube clips on the iPad (we seriously abused screen time on this trip). Mikey and I took turns with him so that we could explore each floor. By the time we reached the top floor, our shopping basket was full and Max was ready to run around again. So, we let him.
We walked around Dontonbori for a bit, but Max was reaching crazypants level again, so we decided to have dinner at the hotel. On our walk back to the hotel though, we witnessed something pretty amazing. While we were waiting for the stop sign to turn red, a huge group of go-karters dressed up like Mario Kart characters came down the street. It was so cool! We waved at them and they waved back and even smiled for a photo. Most of the Japanese people we met so far were very meek and polite. It was great to witness firsthand the famously quirky side of Japan.
When we got to the hotel, Mikey left right away to buy our dinner. I specifically requested for Sushi, but it turns out that not a lot of restaurants do take out in Japan. So Mikey ended up getting sushi from Family Mart and a bunch of other things. It turned out pretty well and we were tired from the day so it was nice to be able to relax at the hotel.
Max is 2 today! Everyone keeps warning us about the terrible twos (or says that the terrible twos seem to have come earlier for Max). Max certainly has his moments. And oh boy have we had our share of tantrums. But he’s becoming such a great kid. He’s so funny, curious, brave, and sweet. (Now if we could only get him to stop breastfeeding…)
It’s funny, because I majored in Human Development Psychology and I worked in a great pre-school for over 2 years, so I have this idea of how Max was supposed to be at each age. He continues to defy my expectations. Every time I take stock, he’s always surpassed my expectations—and not because he’s advanced or anything like that (although Mikey will say otherwise), but because his strengths are so…different.
Max isn’t really interested in shapes, letters, and colors yet. My mom mentioned more than once that his second cousins are shapes, letters, and colors Einsteins. Max, on the other hand, has only two favorite shapes: kul (circle, which he loves to draw and point out) and diamonds (which he makes with his fingers, just like in twinkle twinkle little star). But he’s not really interested in the other shapes. To Max, all letters are A, B or E.Sometimes we can get an M and an X out of him. And everything is the color boo (blue).
His, uh, unique development comes in the form of empathy. Specifically, empathy towards his animated friends. 😅 Max cries whenever there’s a sad scene in the movies/shows. Here’s a list of all of Max’s tearjerking experiences:
The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke and then it happened again. Max is able to understand enough of the story and empathize with the characters.
It’s so fascinating when it happens, he starts tearing up and then he calls for me. He snuggles up and hugs me and then he looks away for a while. Sometimes he’ll break free from the hug, point at the TV, and say “bibi” (baby) while crying. I ask him why he’s crying, and I ask him if he’s sad or if it’s because the baby is wawa. And he’ll nod. I’ll try to reassure him that it will be OK. And he goes back to watching.
I’m sure that letters, shapes, and colors will come in time. For now, we love our two year old oddball.
P.S. I need to finish my Osaka series, gah! Work + Max getting sick’s slowed me down a bit but I’m determined to finish because I don’t want to forget.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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 konbinito 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.
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.
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
-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
-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!