Sunday, May 31, 2009

Identity Crisis

Rai, one main change we've seen in you as you power through your second month of life is the awakening of your personality. You have all kinds of moods now and so many ways to communicate your feelings with us. We understand every one of your movements, facial expressions, and grunts.
And, as you develop your personality, you're inevitably working on your individuality. "I'm not just any baby... I'm me!" you're always telling us. Unfortunately, on this path to self-actualization, you've run into a bit of a hurdle. The hurdle is the multitude of cultural and national backgrounds to which you are connected. It has become clear to us that, considering all that mixed blood that's coursing through your veins, you're having a bit of an identity crisis.
Just last week, we found you rifling through that drawer of cute little onesies that make up most of your wardrobe. One moment you were wearing red and white, holding a scarf with a maple leaf on it, as if to proclaim "I am Canadian!". Then, like a teenage girl getting ready for the first dance of the year, you tossed that outfit to the side and stood in front of the mirror wearing another. This time, all red and in your hands, a tiny American flag.
After that, it was a teeny Japanese yukata robe with dragon print. "I feel a strong connection to the land of my conception," you were telling us. Still uncertain, you tore off that yukata and threw on some more red. This time, the red over white flag that represents our motherland Polska could be seen on your chest.
Finally, as if finding a solution to your identity crisis, you threw on a black costume with a bat symbol on the front. "I am Batman!" Or, were you saying, "I'll never know my true identity so I must wear a mask"?
We've got news for you, Rai: one's identity continues to change and grow throughout one's life even when you're an old-timer like your parents. The most important thing is that no matter what identity you take on at one particular period of your life, you maintain the constant threads that are kindness, hard work, a reverence for nature, and love.
And so, we leave you with a quotation from that famous Broadway musical...
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I'm not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die,
Be no more than an alibi?

If It's Good Enough for the Empero, It's Good Enough for Rai

Among that long list of 'famous' spots to see in San Francisco is Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia. We live just two blocks from it. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. To put it more correctly, we live two blocks from a Chinatown.
Like those Chinese restaurant franchises that pop up around the city with names like 'Happy Garden 2' or 'Green Jade Palace 3', Chinatown too, offers sequels that allow the visitor to get a taste of Chinatown without having to venture all the way to the original one in downtown San Francisco. Chinatown 2 stretches for many blocks of Clement Street in the Inner Richmond. Then there's our Chinatown, the third incarnation. It may be a fraction of the size of the other two and offers far less glitz, but what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in authenticity. We don't have red and green lamp posts with golden dragons wound around them. We don't have phone booths with curved and tiled roofs. What we do have are some Chinese community centers, a fencing hall, some martial arts centers, a bakery, and a handful of Chinese restaurants that are packed with local Chinese families nightly.
Just across the street from us is a restaurant that occupies the space once inhabited by the legendary 'Panda', a restaurant known by every Chinese family in the city. The new name is: 'Empero Taste'. Just to make sure that all visitors know that this should not be confused with Emperor's Taste, the owners have added a new sign beside the old one that boldly spells out Empero, minus the 'r', a second time. We figure that Panda's chefs are still chopping bok choi and steaming rice in the kitchen because Empero Taste still keeps those families lining up on weekends.
With Rai in our lives, we have a perpetual excuse to do new things or to even repeat old things and call them new. These days, anything we do can easily be labelled, 'Rai's first this...' or 'Rai's first that...'. So, although we've been longingly glancing over at the red, yellow and green facade of Empero Taste across the street from us for months now, we finally went there for dinner last night. After all, Rai had to have his 'first Chinese restaurant experience' and surely if the food is good enough for the empero, it's good enough for Rai. video
Rai loves to be the life of the party. Only minutes after sitting down, he was up to his usual antics. He grabbed some chopsticks, got up on the table, and starting spinning himself around on the lazy Susan. The entire staff and clientele were powerless against these charms and he soon had everyone gathered around or looking his way. Still uncertain what needs to be done once the audience has been drawn in, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
For us, as the tabletop spun, two choices whirled in front of us: tea or Rai. The choice was easy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Muir Woods Memorial Day

Instead of commemorating those who died fighting America's wars we spent our Memorial Day honoring the memory and legacy of someone who fought an important battle on American soil: John Muir. One of the world's great naturalists, Muir is often recognized as the grandfather of the modern environmental movement. His activism led to the conservation efforts that led to the creation of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and other great wilderness areas in the Sierras.
Closer to San Francisco is Muir Woods, an amazing stand of coastal redwoods in a deep, stream-fed canyon carved between steep, wooded hillsides. Named after John Muir, it is a permanent reminder of the environmental conservation he spearheaded during his active life.
This was the kind of memory we wanted to commemorate on this Memorial Day. With the grandparents, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the foothills of beautiful Mt.Tamalpais. Parking along the magnificent Panoramic Highway, we took one of the many incredible trails that leads steeply downhill into the canyon of Muir Woods. video
For the first time, Rai met the giant coastal redwood, the sequoia after which he is named. The majesty of these ancient trees did not escape our boy. He was alert and wide-eyed, looking upwards, tracing the giant red trunks as they reached for the heavens. Redwoods thrive in deep, dark ravines, but today, the sun shone brightly and once in a while, beams of golden light would pierce through the canopy of trees. Rai's face would glow and we could see the wonder in his eyes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rai Takes Himself Out for a Walk

Things were eerily silent in our place at 7a.m. this morning. Usually, Rai will let us know that he's up and ready to eat around 6a.m., but today, nothing but silence. We woke up at the same time and, looking at the clock, smiled content about the apparent change in schedule. An extra hour of sleep -- keep this up, Rai!
The dream scenario came to an abrupt halt as we peeked into his bassinet. Instead of seeing our cute little boy, we saw only a note, scribbled in unpracticed hand: "Gone to Presidio. Will return soon." video
Apparently, word had reached Rai that in the heart of San Francisco, lies one of the nation's great treasures: the Presidio of San Francisco, once a giant Navy base, now one of few urban National Parks in the nation. With the 25th Avenue gate to the Presidio just a couple miles from our door, Rai was anxious to visit his first National Park.
We jumped in the car, heading for the Park. Minutes later, we were speeding through the Arguello Gate. Rai wasn't hard to find. At this time in the morning, he was in the only stroller around. We caught up with him on one of the forest trails. He moved slowly at first, but once he saw us, he had the confidence that comes with safety. Before we knew it, he was speeding down those forest trails. video
We're still not sure how he propelled and steered that stroller, but we do know that he enjoyed the smell of eucalyptus and the varied wildflowers along the trail. The forests of the Presidio are beautiful so we're glad that Rai chose our city's National Park as his first 'sneak out of the house' experience. Rai, we couldn't be more proud. Nice work this morning!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Morning Walk

Saturday morning. An early morning walk in lush Golden Gate Park. Only 2 weeks to go until summer holidays. Things couldn't be better, right?
Wrong. Add little Rai Sequoia into the equation and a perfect morning is even more perfect.
Rai, we've discovered that rolling you around in your stroller is the best way to put you to sleep so when you got a bit fussy after your early morning feeding, we gave your Mom a break and took a walk in the Park. Mom got to sleep. We got to hang out in the Park. A perfect Saturday morning -- even better than cartoons.

Friday, May 22, 2009

1 Month Old Today

Rai, you're one month old today.
When we think 'one month', we can't help but gasp. A month seems so long and to think that one month with you has passed, never to return, is a hard thing to do. On the other hand, it's hard to believe that only one month has passed. With all the time and emotion that we've invested into these first 30 days with you, it often feels like you've been part of our family for many months. Other parents have told us that not only does a baby's birth fracture one's life into a 'before the baby' and 'after that baby' period but that the 'before the baby' era is quickly forgotten, almost as if there never was a time without the baby. That's how we feel now.
To begin your second month, you put on some sagging pants and a baggy hoody as if to warn us that you are truly a Taurus born: an independent spirit, headstrong and self-assured. We'll honor that. Be your own man, Rai. Discover the world on your terms but know that we're here to help you out, even though, now that you're 1 month old, you think you know everything there is to know and that you can do it all on your own.

Like Father, Like Son

We're not sure if she planned it that way, but your Auntie Jen Louie gave you an outfit that matches your Dad's perfectly. At Galileo High, your Dad is known as the teacher who's made wearing a tie with a t-shirt the latest fashion trend. Thanks to Auntie JLo, you are now a follower of this trend. We're peas in a pod. We know our fashion cycles, son. Our keen fashion sense will not go unnoticed. One day soon, some designer will come knocking on our door.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At the Market

Kids love grocery stores so we thought that it was time Rai visit his first one. There's a Safeway just 4 blocks down towards the beach, but that's not the kind of grocery store we had in mind for Rai's first experience. In fact, I don't think we've ever even been in that Safeway. Instead, we rolled into the Park and quickly got lost in the maze of dirt trails that criss-cross this, the more natural and wild end of Golden Gate Park.
Trying to maintain a southerly direction, we finally heard the traffic on Lincoln Boulevard, and emerged into the Sunset District. Soon, we were at Other Avenues, our kind of grocery store; a tiny local market, fully organic, worker-owned and operated. San Francisco has dozens if not hundreds of these types of local markets, and this is one of the things we love most about The City.
Rai agreed. He quickly loaded up his stroller with a bunch of kale, some chollard greens, spinach, and more. Like us, he can't get enough of those leafy greens!
We bought just enough to fill but not over weigh every compartment of Rai's stroller and pointed ourselves in the direction of the Park where another very different set of trails awaited us for our return journey. This is the life.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Admirers, Near and Far

Rai, you continue to amass an admiring and generous following.
In the past few days, another flurry of packages arrived for you from near and far. The exotic locations from which gifts have been sent include cosmopolitan Toronto, open-minded Netherlands, pleasant Pleasanton, and, once again, bustling Yokohama. Thank you family and friends for continuing to think about us, support us and for equipping Rai with the best of clothing and learning materials!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Already a Deep Thinker

In an effort to keep this as honest an account of parenthood as possible, we bring you this story.
A few weeks ago, when Rai first became more expressive and nimble, we were constantly entertained by the facility with which he used his facial muscles and the versatility of his facial expressions. His face became the palette upon which he painted scores of moods, both subtle and obvious.
One expression in particular, amused us most. It was the expression of deep thought: his face would take on a very deliberate, ponderous expression. "Wow, look! He's in such deep thought!" we would remark, excited. While maintaining this contemplative expression he would often add to it by bringing his hands to his face. He was The Thinker reborn! Surely this was the very moment Rodin was trying to capture in his famous piece of art. video
The strange thing was, however, that he often followed his deep thought posturing with an expression that seemed to say "I'm guilty and maybe a bit ashamed, yet so satisfied." What could this possibly mean?
Our question was soon answered and our fascination with his 'thinker' look was short lived as our ears and noses were promptly rewarded with the results of his deliberation; a plethora of sounds and aromas. As it turns out, Rai certainly was in deep thought. In deep thought over his bowel movements, that is.
For every cause there is an effect, so for every feed there must be diaper change. The included video showcases Rai in one of his 'thinking moments' and the photos illustrate one of the great joys of parenthood! Rai can now bottle-feed himself (with the help of his blankie) and today, after almost a full day hiatus, he gave us the mother of all soiled diapers. Non-parents or those with sensitive eyes, shield them now.

Rai Vs. The Ocean: Round Two

Not too long ago, we tried to take you on a form of spirit quest. We took you to the Ocean hoping that we could awaken your connection to the ocean, to nature. We all know how that turned out, don't we, Rai? What we called a spirit quest, you called nap time.
Yesterday, we tried again. It was an abnormally hot, Spring day in San Francisco. We joined the thousands who come out to Ocean Beach on days like this. This time, we harnessed you into your super fancy Bob Revolution stroller (thanks Grandpa Bob) as if strapping you into some rocket ship and rolled downhill towards Sutro Heights Park.
A week ago, slinging you to my chest had put you to sleep so maybe speeding downhill in the stroller, then off road across the lawns of the park would keep you alert enough to appreciate the sunset over the great Pacific. We were determined: this time we would succeed in convincing you of the grandeur of nature!
Alas, success comes in many forms. Our only success this day was to lull you to sleep once more. Although you didn't have the spiritual experience we had hoped for, we did have one of our own. At one of the many incredible lookouts along the clifftop Land's End trail, a crowd stood silently around a man with bagpipes. As the sun slowly settled into the horizon, the piper played a haunting melody, moving all listeners almost to tears (well, me at least). Rai, however, had a slightly different opinion of the musical accompaniment to the end of this day. "I'm trying to sleep!" you cried. A challenge did you say? We'll keep trying these spirit quests, you keep trying to sleep through them. Who will win?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Changing So (Too) Quickly

Rai, you're changing too fast! Just when we get used to you in one form, one stage, you morph into a recognizable but surprisingly different version of yourself. The cause of all these changes is quite obvious: you're eating like there's no tomorrow!
Your appetite is so demanding that your Mom can hardly keep up. An hour or more breastfeeding is quite normal, but that never satisfies. These days, you always follow that hour up with another 2 or more ounces of pumped milk from a bottle. And if Mom can't keep up with the pump, you're not satisfied until you get some formula, sometimes in excess of 2 or 3 ounces!
Gluttony is the word of the week and all we can hope is that you're fueling some short-term growth spurt. We're waiting for you to slow down because we know that that is the only way we'll get to enjoy you in one of your forms for more than just a day or two. It's already tough to look back on photos from just 2 weeks ago and know that we'll never have you in that exact shape and size ever again.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rai Enters His Roaring 20s!

As you enter your 'roaring 20s' (you are now 20 days old) we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for you to try on a very special gift sent to you by your great-grandmother Jewell.
When we first opened the package from your great-grandmother with this thing inside, we didn't know what to make of it. It resembled a doiley-type cup coaster yet it wasn't flat and it was addressed specifically to you. Upon a more thorough investigation, we were able to conclude that, in fact, it was something to be worn on the head. With it's lacy, embroidered tendencies and flowering ear covers, it is certainly more on the feminine side, but hey, this is San Francisco.
As baptism and Victorian banquets are not on your list of engagements for the coming weeks, we weren't sure that an opportunity for you to don your new headpiece would come about. However, taking another look at the lacy thing the other day, I finally realized that it's basically what is called a flapper hat, the kind that was very popular in the 1920s. Hmm... 1920s, you're turning 20 days old; this was all a little too serendipitous!
So, on your 20-day birthday, we put the flapper hat on you. While you explored your feminine side, we had the chance to take some great photos of you. One photo was of you with a lady that could very well have been your mother, with matching flapper hat, had you been born in the '20s. One thing quickly lead to another and there you were on the arm of an old-school football player with helmet very closely matching your headgear. Finally, as you spun your head, I had visions of chainmail armor cascading down your neck which lead to the photo of you with the knight from Indiana Jones. You have chosen wisely, Rai.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that Rai often looks wise beyond his years. He can sustain a deep, ponderous look for many a minute and uses those wrinkles around his eyes to portray the illusion of wisdom quite well. All in all, those characteristics combined with his diminutive stature make him resemble quite closely one of the great sages of our era: Yoda. There is no try; there is only do or not do.
Hopefully, when you turn 20 years old, we can pull the doiley-like flapper hat out once again. It may not fit, but at least we can all laugh at the photos we have of you from this day. One of the best aspects of this period in your young life is that we can pretty much put any outfit on you and laugh at your complete oblivion of what is being done to you! At 20 years old, I hope you find the humor in this as we have. Happy 20 days, son!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Mother's Day already? I mean, it feels like I was just born a couple weeks ago and here we are at Mother's Day. I had no time to prepare, no time to make a crafty card, no time to think of how to thank Mom for the wonderful gift she's given me.
Those are some of the thoughts that went through Rai's head this morning. Or, was that Maciej's head. Both men in this home felt a bit taken aback by the abrupt arrival of Mother's Day. Things have been busy these past 2.5 weeks and we just didn't have time to prepare.
All we can say is that we have overwhelming gratitude for the gift of the Mom in our lives. Ashe did an incredible job in the hospital and is now the most patient and loving mother. Rai (and Maciej) are so lucky to have Ashies in our lives. All our love to you, Mom.
To celebrate, we went out for a quick lunch between feedings today. While Ashe ate a 'raw' burrito from Judahlicious, Maciej had a 'real' burrito from Beach Burrito next door. We went up to Grand View Park and the Grandparents came by. A great Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Freedom and Opportunity

For many people, the first time they see the ocean is one of the most memorable milestones in their lives. This is especially true for prairie boys like myself who spent most of their lives about as far from both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans as anyone on this world could get. I've always meant to check Winnipeg's distance from the ocean and compare that distance to that of other land-locked places like somewhere in central Russia, Africa, or the Amazon.
Although I saw the Atlantic as a child as my family made the trip from Africa through Europe, and to Canada, this memory is faint or lost altogether. For this reason, then, I consider my 'first time seeing the ocean' coming much later in my life.
It was May of my twenty-second year and I had just driven out to the incredible California coast just north of the city of Santa Cruz. My brother and I were visiting our aunt, uncle and cousins as one final trip together before I flew off to Tokyo for my work term abroad. Our cousin, Maya, drove us to the coast to show us a favorite beach of her's: Hole-in-the-Wall Beach, accessed from a 'secret' dirt road just off Coastal Highway 1, down a tricky ravine, and through a hole in the cliff.
We timed the tide, watching the waves come in an out and, just as the water receded for just a brief moment, we ran through the opening in the rock and emerged on a beautiful stretch of golden sand -- a beach completely enclosed by steep cliffs. The sky was blue, the sand orange, and the Pacific waters a deep green and white as the waves crashed in.
I will never forget that moment and the hour or more that followed. Bart and I, exhilarated by this, our first time seeing the ocean, tore off our shirts and pants and ran for the water. We dove into the massive waves and let them roll and carry us back to shore. Maya watched and laughed as we kept diving in for more -- she had grown up with the ocean.
Many factors had come together that day to give me a feeling of freedom and possibility like I'd never experienced before. I had finished university just a few months before, I was days away from flying into Japan where experiences that I had dreamed of and prepared for for months awaited me, and here in front of me was the limitless ocean, the only natural landscape that could capture all those feelings inside of me. Freedom.
We've been back to Hole-in-the-Wall Beach many, many times since but not a single time have I gone swimming in the ocean. I've thought about it a couple of times, dipped my feet in, and ran away, paralyzed by the icy waters. The strange thing is that icy waters are not at all part of my first memory on this beach. There's nothing like that first time at the ocean's edge.
Rai, now it's your turn. Just the other day we took you out for a walk to show you the Pacific Ocean for the first time. As we walked out the door, you were wide awake, alert and wriggling wildly inside the sling on my chest. By the time we made it to Sutro Heights Park, and to it's amazing lookout over the coast, you were deep in slumber. I uncovered your face and pointed west. You blinked a couple times, then settled back into deep sleep. The importance of this moment was lost on you, but I'll keep trying.
Sometimes it is said that one of the challenges of having children is the loss of personal freedom that comes with it. Looking out at the Pacific, holding you close to my chest, I thought about this. Since you have joined us, I have felt many things but a loss of freedom is not one of them. To the contrary, I've felt a growth in freedom. Suddenly, my list of priorities has become much shorter. Things that once seemed important or urgent no longer do. My life has been simplified and with this comes a renewed sense of freedom.
Gazing out at the sun over the distant horizon, my wish is that although you will grow up just a few blocks from the ocean, that you will one day still be able to share in that exhilaration that I experienced when I was 22 years old. Never take this amazing treasure for granted. As your Mom always says, she could not imagine living away from the ocean. It is a part of her. Now, it is a part of the three of us.