Zoo lights with a toddler

Last weekend we hit up the Zoo Lights at Portland’s Oregon Zoo, an attraction that attracts thousands of families every year. It was our first time going, and I’d looked forward to it since we became zoo members in the summer.

Going with a toddler presented its own challenges, though. Peeper hasn’t cultivated the Christmas spirit and wonder yet, and she’s more interested in pushing her stroller than gazing at million-watt displays.

Despite the tears and the frustrations, I’m glad we went, and we’ll for sure go again next year—when Peeper will probably appreciate it more. If you’re still planning a trip to Zoo Lights with your toddler (and the event runs until January 4, so you have plenty of time), here are a few tidbits of advice to make the process a little smoother. Enjoy!

Zoo Lights - Ten Thousand Hour MamaGo early. The zoo’s web site says the festivities don’t start til 5, but most lights are turned on closer to 4. It’ll take you a while to get through the lines anyway, and you’ll want to make it home before your tot has a too-close-to-bedtime meltdown in front of the penguin lights.

Zoo Lights Train - Ten Thousand Hour MamaDo the train first. If you do get train tickets, get in line immediately. The queue soon becomes never-ending, and I wish you all the luck in the world if you try to get a squirmy toddler to be patient in those conditions.

Beware the train. Peeper is extremely sensitive to noise—the blender, the vacuum, even an electric razor. We didn’t scoot past the train quickly enough and when it blasted its choo-choo (no doubt delighting 99% of the other children), Peeper lost it. So if your little isn’t a fan of loud sounds, either, dart past the train as fast as you possibly can.

Reconsider your group plans. We had originally invited a few other families to join us at Zoo Lights, but in retrospect I’m glad they couldn’t make it. Peeper wandered in little circles in the middle of the pathway, and it would have been stressful to shepherd her to what everyone else wanted to see.

Find the Fragile Forest. There’s only so many lights a toddler’s attention span can handle. When you’ve passed that threshold, go to the Fragile Forest. When we went, we saw monkeys, giant fish, turtles and even a huge snake.

Zoo Lights Hot Cocoa - Ten Thousand Hour MamaBundle up. This is a tad obvious, but dress your toddler in lots of layers. Peeper wore fleece leggings beneath her pants and legwarmers; she wore a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater and a coat; and a hat and mittens. She stayed pretty toasty under all that and didn’t even look like Randy from A Christmas Story. Well, not too much, anyway.

Abandon all your expectations. My Facebook and Instagram feeds have been sparkly with friends’ family photos at Zoo Lights. I had my sights set on a Ryan Gregory family picture in the lights tunnel (wouldn’t that make a great Christmas card photo?). Yet when we got there, Peeper was in no mood to tolerate standing still, let alone smiling at a stranger. After a few attempts by a well-meaning gentleman, I gave up. We moved on, and despite not getting any decent photos of all of us together, we were all happier for it.

Of course this last piece of advice could be my parenting advice tattoo (or a bumper sticker that makes me millions!), it holds up especially well with toddlers at Zoo Lights. You don’t really know what they’ll be into and what they’ll completely ignore, so just roll with it.

Did you go to Zoo Lights? Any advice you’d share?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Searching for yetis

“Ye-ti! Ye-ti! Ye-ti! Ye-ti!” Peeper called. She let out a squeal-shriek that was nothing if not abominable. She peeked around trees.

She was searching for a yeti.

Yeti hunt - Ten Thousand Hour Mama Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Still thankful

It seems a little late for a Thanksgiving post, but a) I was feeling under the weather over the holiday and didn’t much feel like writing, and b) gratitude doesn’t have an expiration date.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year because it’s the perfect time to reflect on the everyday blessings that are easy to take for granted in our busy lives. My family takes turn around the dinner table to say what we’re grateful for (usually while wearing a paper napkin on our head—a weird, inexplicable Ryan tradition).

Allow me, then, to pretend I’m wearing a napkin-hat and share a few things I marveled at over the holiday weekend. How—I mean how?—did I get so lucky? I am thankful for:

These photos were taken at Dorris Ranch, one of my favorite places on earth.

These photos were taken at Dorris Ranch, one of my favorite places on earth.

Peeper loved the tractor!

Peeper loved the tractor!

These goofballs. There is absolutely no one else I’d rather spend my days with.

Puddles - Ten Thousand Hour MamaFamily. Half my siblings live on the opposite end of the country and spent Thanksgiving with friends at a cabin in upstate New York, but my younger sister and her hubby braved the holiday traffic from Seattle to stay with my parents.

I didn’t see my relatives often when I grew up, so I especially value the time Peeper gets to spend with her grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Plus, she’s always learning something from Auntie Amy—this time it was the best puddle-stomping techniques.

Grandpa Shempy joins Peeper for craft time.

Grandpa Shempy joins Peeper for craft time.

Abundance. We have more than enough to meet our needs. Our plates are full, our homes warm, our needs met. We have medical care. We are safe. Our water is clean.

Beyond basic necessities, we are surrounded by those who love us. We also have the opportunity to love others. Is there anything better than that?

Bubbles - Ten Thousand Hour Mama IMG_6367Growth. Now that I’m a mama, I get to see the world through Peeper’s eyes. She finds joy in everything—sprinting around her grandparents’ house, feeding Grandpa Shempy’s fish, picking up sticks, hugging Finn and chasing bubbles, to name a few. I, then, get to delight in the these things even more because of her toddler enthusiasm.

The world can feel depressing and cold, especially if you spend much time listening to the news. We could all use more wonder.

Toddler smiles - Ten Thousand Hour MamaI hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too! What are you grateful for?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Our favorite kids’ books: Singable stories

We sat cross-legged in a circle on the classroom’s thin-carpeted floor. I leaned forward toward Mrs. Weineger, my kindergarten teacher, and her spot in front of us eager 5-year-olds. I could barely contain myself in the moments before she opened the book.

Instead of simply reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, she sang it. Later, she posted pictures of the colorful animals around the room, and we incorporated the song into our sing-alongs.

I think of Mrs. Weineger—her wide smile, the crinkly skin behind her large glasses, her fluffy orange hair (which, incidentally, made her look a lot like the teacher in Eric Carle’s book)—every time I sing this book to Peeper.

Our little bookworm loves it, and no surprise there: It combines two of her favorite things, books and song.

Here are a few of our other favorite singable stories. Clear your throat and make sure the windows are closed—you’ll want to sing these books over and over! Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Family reunion

I recently took my first trip without Peeper. After 16 months of spending every day together, I headed up to Seattle for a business trip. It was a short jaunt—I was gone only one night—but, as I wrote earlier, I worried how she and I would handle the separation.

It felt good to be busy. Between meetings and visiting my sister and brother-in-law, I didn’t have much time to dwell on how much I missed Peeper. When I had a few minutes of down time, I walked around and stumbled across the adorable Once Upon a Time toy store in Queen Anne and of course bought her a little present.

That night, though, as I sat in the quiet hotel room, loneliness threatened to swallow me. The spacious room with its two queen beds, sitting room and kitchen that seemed so luxurious in the day felt yawning and empty in the dark.

The next morning, we videochatted. Seeing Peeper’s smiles filled up the hollow space inside me. Peeper kept peering over the top of the computer on her end, looking for me.

Ten Thousand Hour MamaAs I drove home later that day, I imagined our ecstatic reunion—like the tearful homecomings you see at the airport or veterans seeing their loved ones after coming back from war. (I know, I have a very healthy imagination.) Impatient, I cursed 5pm traffic and watched the clock, predicting what Peeper would be up to at that moment. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sound effects and belly laughs: Remembering Car Talk’s Tom Magliozzi

Saturday mornings when I was growing up, 10am was a sacred time in our house. Every week, my dad turned the radio to our local public radio station. And on the hour, our home—or, if we were out and about, the Shempmobile (my dad’s peeling paint minivan)—was filled with the boisterous belly laughs of Click and Clack, the brothers behind the call-in show Car Talk.

I didn’t know anything about carburetors or timing belts or spark plugs (and, ah, still don’t). But the hosts’ mischievous sense of fun and the joy they so clearly found in the show was contagious. I found myself giggling along with Click and Clack as they helped (and poked fun at) the drivers trying to figure out what was wrong with their rides.

My favorite parts, of course, were when the brothers asked callers to mimic the noise their car was making. Their attempts to replicate the kathunk-crunch or wheeeeewheeeewheee or pathudpathud sound effects cracked me up every time.

Better yet was the way Click and Clack’s commentary made my dad laugh. An especially hilarious moment would leave him with tears streaming into his beard; once or twice a show, he’d end up in a coughing fit from laughing so hard.

Tom Magliozzi, the elder of the brothers, died on Monday. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but an interview I heard yesterday with Car Talk’s executive producer said that he still laughed at jokes, even near the end.

NPR has been rerunning old shows for a while now, and I imagine they’ll continue to do so despite Tom’s death. But this week, I’ll miss his unapologetic passion for cars and helping people. He and his brother, Ray, brightened my childhood.

In his honor, I’ll be making car sound effects as I vrroooom around town. Rest well, Tom.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Travel without my toddler

Today I’m headed up to Seattle for a brief business trip—without Peeper. I’ve never been away from her for a night, and now that she’s almost 16 months old, I bit the bullet and scheduled this overdue outing.

I don’t know how it’ll go. I’ve been imagining two scenarios:

1. I take an uninterrupted bath, order room service, lounge around the hotel room in a cushy robe and watch cable.

2. I cry uncontrollably, Skype with my husband so I can see Peeper sleep on the baby monitor and go to my meetings with puffy eyes and an emotional hangover.

Thanks to some strange timing, today’s trip is a trial run. My sisters, brother and I are converging on Santa Fe for an unprecedented siblings weekend, so I’ll be spending three days away from her then, too.

I’m already feeling the guilt at leaving her, and I’m still at home. This’ll be hard—but hopefully rewarding, recharging and fun, too.

Wish us all luck.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments