Life With Josie
My daughter Josie,
I’m beginning this letter to you on this your first birthday (and continuing it throughout your childhood.) I was motivated to create something for you to give you insight into your very early years after reading an album my mom created for me during my first year. I wanted something a little more…personal, I guess.
You were born November 13, 2009, at 11:55 pm. It was Friday the 13th, seriously. I joked that your mom should have held you in six more minutes. You were overdue, and your mom wasn’t exactly sure you were coming when you did. I had worked, come home, and took her to the hospital (Kaiser, Santa Clara). For a long time nothing happened, so I went home to take a shower and have some food (I’d come straight from a long workday). I came back two hours later to find you’d been born. They’d told Mom not to push but she couldn’t help it. You wanted OUT. You were so small, I couldn’t even tell you were on your mom’s shoulder! She was happy to give birth to you, finally. In the last couple of months of her pregnancy, Mom was having a hard time moving and fitting in her clothes.
You stayed in the hospital over the weekend, and we took you home on Sunday the 15th. You were perfect, 9 pounds, 4 ounces—but not for long; you ate all the time. I’d never held a baby so young and I was honestly terrified of hurting you. But I loved you immediately and vowed to take the best care of you. Mom showed me a lot, and so did Granny and a few of my friends who had kids.
That Sunday I raced around town buying everything you needed that you didn’t already have: crib, car seat, and formula. The crib was very hard to build, and when I did, I found it wouldn’t fit in our bedroom doorway! I was too tired to rebuild it by that time, so on your first night we built you a bed out of pillows and the crib mattress. I hated that crib, and so did you for a while. Most of the time you slept with us in our bed, or on the couch with Mom. It wasn’t until you were almost four months old that you started to sleep through the night.
You had a fascination with car keys. If we ever wanted you to stop doing something or to come to us, we just jingled our keys and there you’d be.
Your favorite song to listen to was the music to Word World, a spelling cartoon that came on PBS. You’d also stop whatever you were doing and lock in on the TV whenever the theme song to One Life To Live or General Hospital came on. Eventually you found out about “Abby’s Flying Fairy School”, a segment from Sesame Street. I would pull all those videos up from the Internet now and then for your amusement.
You loved Peek-A-Boo and even learned to do the hiding yourself pretty young.
When I got you your first baby bathtub, you hated it and tried desperately to get out…until we gave you toys to splash in the water. Then you tried desperately to stay in. By about 14 months, you were “brushing your teeth” in the tub during baths. Mom loved to do your hair, but sometimes you hated sitting through it.
Nothing held your attention for very long. You always wanted to get into something else. You were really interested in whatever Mom or I was doing; if we were typing, you wanted to type. If we were brushing our teeth, you wanted to help. You were never more interested in your toys than when you saw somebody else playing with them. I began to realize that you just wanted to help us, so when you could fully walk and control your hands, I started to let you help me do dishes (by passing me the clean ones to put away) laundry (you put clothes in and out of the dryers) grocery shopping (you’d take stuff from the cart and put it onto the counter), etc.
Not really sure what your FIRST word was because you seemed to pick up about 10 in a very short time. “Bye, see you” was one of the first. “Cookie”, because Uncle Moltar/Ricardo gave you a doll that sang a song beginning with “Cookies! Cookies! Cookies and cream…”. “Hi!” came later, as did “ball”. You understood plenty early. We taught you to understand “Pick it up!” and “Put it back” since you were constantly in our things. Mom would also speak to you in Samoan, mostly when frustrated. You knew “Close” for the dishwasher you were constantly in, and “Jump”, although you couldn’t really jump too well.
We didn’t always have contact with other babies, so when you did meet one, you would laugh hysterically and never take your eyes off him or her. Same with dogs and cats.
The day after your first birthday you tried to crawl out of Mom’s bed while she was still sleeping. You wedged between our recliner and the bed and got stuck, with your left leg awkward. But you weren’t in pain, thankfully. I came in the room and found you, just chirping, as if you meant to do that.
You hated the playpen…for the first minute or two. Once you saw that your screaming wasn’t going to get you out, you’d calm down and play for about 15-20 minutes before again demanding your freedom.
Your crawling style was…different. You’d push off with your right leg and crawl on your left, almost half-walking. You didn’t step on our own until about 11 months—just happened out of nowhere. Then we caught you in the kitchen practicing, literally. By your first birthday you could walk pretty much anytime you wanted, but you were still wobbly and fell a lot.
One of our favorite activities after your first birthday was brushing our teeth together. You loved “helping” me brush mine—whenever you saw me doing it, you’d immediately come over and raise your arms to be picked up. I started giving you “toothpaste smiles” and you tried unsuccessfully to return them.
By the summer of 2011, your mom and I had split up and were sharing custody of you. You’d generally stay with me Thursday through Saturday, Sunday, or Monday morning, depending on stuff. I’m telling you, by now my family was as in love with you as they could get. You were running around all over the place. You loved swings and would stay on them for hours if I let you. I took you to the park almost every day I had you, and by the time you were two you could climb with the best of them.
I made a point to get you at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. I’d take you to one of three places: a local park (which we had to do less and less because you were obsessed with the woodchips), the Playtown at the mall, or the McDonald’s PlayPlace. You could easily climb up to the top of the PlayPlace, but it was a while before you would slide back down. Once I took you to the Gymboree; you loved the free play but did not enjoy sitting for storytime with the other kids. In fact you tried hard to get to the toys sitting behind the instructor.
By now I could tell you, like me, had to be in the mood to deal with people. Even then it had to be a certain type of person.
Toward Christmas you were old and well-behaved enough to take you to some parties with my friends. My friends Joanna and Jennifer especially loved you and almost never left your side when they saw you. Wherever we went, no matter how many of your toys I brought for you, you instantly gravitated toward what was in their apartment/house.
You always tried to take something with you from wherever you went, whether it was home or someone’s house. It got to the point where I would feel sad if I didn’t leave you with something when I dropped you off to your mom. By January, I made sure you always took something with you—toys, a book, a balloon, something—back to your mom’s.
Like your dad, you loved the USA. You had your own American flag you’d carry for days at a time, and you’d say “U-SA!” whenever we saw one in public. I taught you to salute it and eventually you did so on your own. In February 2012 I taught you “God Bless America” and we sung it together. I was afraid your mom would think I was trying to downplay your Samoan heritage but I wasn’t.
Other songs you sang were DJ Earworm’s United State of Pop annual mashups; you would sing and dance to 2010 and mimic what you saw in the video (which I loved). You called it “I”, because the first line was “I…know a place…”. 2011 was called World go Boom; you called it “Boom Boom” and would make me play it up to five times in a row. By then you were two and able to sing along with it very well.
We also got you a tea set, and you’d fix us tea. If you wanted me to play with you you’d order “Daddy, SIT DOWN!” Some of your other common phrases around this time:
“Daddy, turn that light on!”
“Daddy, Donalds? (you wanted to play at McDonald's)”
You didn't say anything to me without "Daddy" before it, even if we were the only two people around.
As time went on you got more and more obsessed with airplanes. I bought you about 12 Matchbox airplanes and you played with them all the time. You also had two larger ones that played songs and made sounds, plus a helicopter. You watched airplanes all the time on YouTube and if you saw one outside, you’d stop everything to follow it. In October ’12, I took you to see the Blue Angels in San Francisco. You didn’t hush about it for days. Also in September/October, you were introduced to the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons…and from then on you’d watch as many as 10 “Coyote” videos a day if not more.
This was good because if I needed to shower or use the bathroom, you'd plant in front of the computer and not move. I'd tell you "Daddy has to shower. Watch Coyote and stay right there.” You did it every time. Not long after, you discovered “Gangnam Style”, a huge dance video fad of ’12, and the show Dancing With The Stars. You'd dance your little butt off, sometimes with me, sometimes with our cousin Lando.
In July ’12, I believe, we went to the fair with my friend Tiffany ("Aunt Tiffie" to you) and her 10-year-old daughter Jadyn, whom you also worshipped. We won two goldfish in the ball toss game, and kept them. You named them Oscar and Lola. I rushed and got us a tank and all the necessities needed for their care (after interviewing everyone I knew; had forgotten everything I knew about fish care in the 20 years since I’d last had one). Soon we got two more fish, who you named Lenny and Angie. All but Oscar passed away within days.
So, not wanting Oscar to be lonely, we went to Petco, where I told you we were getting Lola and Angie “back from the doctor”. You seemed to buy it at first, but in time you began referencing “other Lola”, as the new Lola was a bit smaller than the first one. We did not replace Lenny due to the tank size, but Granny—not aware of the recommended tank space limitations we had—purchased an algae eater whom you named “Shark the Dolphin”. You loved those fish and took active part in helping feed them and clean out their tank. With the latter, you really were helpful, even at under three years old. (We eventually won a fourth fish, Bart, at another fair and obtained a bigger tank.)
Toilet training results were mixed. You had a toy potty chair which was mostly ineffective; I believe you successfully used it maybe five times before outgrowing it. Once we put you on the real toilet, it wasn’t long when you used it every time—to go #2. Getting you to go #1 in there was a challenge. After getting tired of your wet Pull-Up training pants, I decided on sitting you on the pot after everything you drank. Though you still weren’t always taking yourself to the toilet, you understood what to do when you got there and made all present applaud you when you went successfully.
During these times, you began to show what a caring person you were shaping up to be. Whether it was offering some of your food, to making sure Daddy was OK if he hurt himself, or genuinely apologizing if you made a mistake, there were times your sweetness and kindness nearly moved me to tears. Of course, you still looked out for you: you always preferred sleeping with Daddy rather than your own bed, and would even climb into mine during the night when I slept. I’d just wake up with you knocked out next to me.
By the time you turned four-and-a-half, you weighed 86 pounds and stood four feet tall, bigger than many eight-year-olds. I had difficulty lifting you; no one else in the family dared try, and I had to monitor your playing with smaller kids very carefully because you couldn't understand that you could really hurt them. Behavior-wise, you didn't backtalk, but you did whine a lot when told to do something you didn't want to do or refused something you wanted. Your main problem was trying to make other kids do what you wanted, regardless of what they wanted to do or were already doing.
For example, one of the parks we frequented had a slide that must have been 20 feet tall. You didn't fear it at all but most other kids did. and even when they were willing to play anything else with you, you couldn't get past them not wanting to slide. In fact you would often let any slight disappointment ruin your whole playtime. It drove me nuts. But you were very social and would often go right up to kids and ask them to play with you (sometimes before they barely even got on the playground; you'd weird them out a little when you came on too strong too fast.)
As 2013 turned into 2014, you were introduced to the Super Mario Bros. by our cousin Gaelan. We had a Nintendo Wii so one day I surprised you with Super Paper Mario. You fell in love with it and would play it every day. Initially I did most of the playing because you weren't good at offing the bad guys. In time though, you improved at that enough to complete some levels on your own before you were even four-and-a-half!
More games we'd play included the "Daddy Went To Work" game. This started out between you and Granny when you were about two; she'd be sitting you and you'd ask for Daddy. She's say "Daddy went to work to get you milk and diapers." You'd repeat my name three or four times then say another relative's name. Eventually the entire family was featured in the game, each member getting you something different (Auntie Flo getting you combs and brushes, for example.) When you named a non-relative, I'd playfully attack you and we'd start over.
The back-and-forth game evolved into me throwing things in the air when you passed by me. You laughed like mad, even moreso when these items hit me in the head.
You got your first real bike in early 2014, a pink (expensive) Hello Kitty model that you rode around often. You were so proud of this bike and told anyone who'd listen about it. It was around that time I began my first true effort in teaching you to read. You knew all your letters and had for some time, making it easier. I'd teach you to sound out the letters; you weren't great but you held your own. We practiced "all" words like tall, ball, etc. as well as "it" words, "at" words, "and" words, and more. I used your toy blocks to help, motivating you by promising to read a "crazy" word like uxwphadrt if you got all your answers right.
Your meltdowns by now were largely a thing of the past, but you would whine...and whine...and whine...whenever it was time to leave anywhere. Mostly if you were due for a nap, but sometimes not. I would get so mad when we spent hours somewhere and you still protested when it was time to go. Unless I warned you in advance explicitly what would happen if you gave me any trouble, getting you to leave anywhere you were playing—no matter how long you'd been there—was a chore.
There was one day in May 2014 you'd been at the park digging sand for 90 minutes; when I told you it was time to move to the playground and exercise, you flipped out as if I'd beat you. This was the first time I ever spanked you in public and I wound up taking you to your Granny's house. I was too furious to even be around you. Having a meltdown when it was time to leave was bad enough but having one when I wasn't even taking you home yet set me off.
It was hard to stay mad at you for very long. You were just too sweet. But I was HOT the rest of that night and you knew you'd messed up bad. After that, unless you were tired and couldn't help yourself, you never protested leaving again.
An example of your heart and sweetness came when you were three. We were heading home; I don't remember if it had rained or if sprinklers had gone off but in any event, snails were about. You saw two of them spread out on a wall about three feet apart (which is about three miles for snails.) You asked me if you could move one so the other could have a friend. I was moved beyond words that such a young one could be so sweet and thoughtful.
Of course you'd undo that thoughtfulness by refusing to share your toys with kids at the park the next day...oh, well.
Around that time, Angie (one of your fish) died. You weren't there at the time, so I had to break it to you days later. You understood as well as I could hope for.
My good friends Nate, Juan and Dave often got their combined five kids (all around your age give or take 18-24 months) together for playdates, and we started to join them more and more. Nate's daughter Sophia was your favorite. You two first met on New Year's Eve 2011-12 at Juan's house. Somebody introduced you two. You both walked to each other, not saying a word, and hugged—laughing the whole time. Neither one of you released and eventually you laughed and staggered until you both fell over. I'll never forget it as long as I live. For months, every girl you met who fit Sophia's physical description, you'd call them "Sophia".
The older you got, the more you wanted to help. Whether it was squeegeing the windshield, dropping library books in the return slot, cooking, feeding the fish, sorting my baseball cards, producing my Drunk Jon cartoons, whatever I did, you wanted to help. Most of the time I obliged and you'd be happy. On occasion I would do something you could not help with such as fix the toilet or top off auto fluids, and you'd be disappointed until I found some activity we could both do together.
From the time you could speak onward, I read to you 2-3 stories every night, only skipping when I was too tired or you were being punished. These books were mostly Disney Me-Reader books, Clifford, Thomas, or whatever animal books I could get my hands on. Until you learned all your numbers and letters, ABC/123 books were mixed in as well. You did not take to stuffed animals until you were about three. Your favorites were "Baby Bunny", a flamingo I bought for you at Discovery Kingdom, and a peacock (known as Penelopeacock) I bought at Toys R Us after you'd expressed your desire for one.
(August 27, 2014 update) Doing your hair was a challenge I could never master. From the moment you entered the world your hair was thick and lustrous; you were clearly your mother's daughter in that regard. Before long, it was down past your shoulders—when wet, anyway. When dry and unstyled, it poofed up into a giant ball almost matching the rest of you in size. Early on, Daddy gave the task of combing/styling your hair a shot. That didn't last long. Auntie Flo regularly took on the challenge; later Granny did as well.
On August 19, 2014, you began transitional kindergarten at George Miner Elementary in San Jose. Since this school let out at 1:30 pm, picking you up was a challenge, but we found a way to make it work. You were always happy when Daddy came to get you, and quite proud of your artwork and "Mustang Merits", awarded by your teacher Mrs. Cussary for good behavior. Early on, you really didn't want to talk about school—which was surprising since you went on and on about everything else. You'd give us bits and pieces about your day, but not much else, even though you were clearly enjoying yourself.
(May 31, 2015 update) As I write this, you are about two weeks from finishing transitional kindergarten and a few days past your first field trip. It was to Children's Discovery Museum (or as you called it, the Purple Museum, which I'd taken you to myself twice before.) You really had your personality established now. Very sweet, very, very silly, very sensitive, afraid of little besides the alleged "spiders" in the bathroom at your school.
When I picked you up from class, the first place I took you was to the bathroom so we wouldn't have any emergencies or accidents while on the road. You came up with this spider fear out of the blue, and I couldn't get you to use that particular school bathroom again.
All year long, you'd made plans for a picnic you wanted to have with your family, and one with your friends, and your birthday party for November. In fact, any and every toy, game, etc. you were interested in: "Daddy, will you get that for my birthday?" If I wrote down everything you asked for, the list would have numbered 150. Not kidding.
I wanted to do your picnics, but logistics proved difficult, especially for your friends who lived in three different cities and stayed pretty busy themselves. You enjoyed spending time with my friends' kids and I tried to make playdates happen when I could, but every weekend wasn't possible.
By this time, Soleil (Juan's daughter) was your favorite friend, even though you two ended up arguing whenever you played. You'd bug and bug me about playing with her every weekend. Then I finally got you two together four out of six weekends.
You also obsessed over Jadyn, who was eight years older than you. Didn't matter—you worshipped her and gushed with excitement whenever she was nearby. I was able to get you together about three times a year—she was 13 when you were five, yet didn't mind spending time with you in spite of the age gap. She knew how much it meant to you.
We had so many silly little routines. Including but not limited to...
The "You're Still Here?" game. I'd bend down to kiss you goodnight in bed, you'd wrap your arms around my neck as I moved back up. I'd say "You're still here?" You'd say "Yes" and we'd do it all over again...and again...and again.
The "OOO, That's A Clean Tooths!" game. You'd brush your teeth and to prove it to me, find me and open your mouth a mile wide. I'd smell your breath and exclaim the line, in the style of the "Wow! That's a low price!" TV ads of...some electronics store.
The "Wet My Arm" game. You took loads of toys in the tub, including a pitcher. As I cleaned you in the tub, you'd pour water on my arm with the pitcher. I'd say, "Josie...do you know who poured water on Daddy's arm?" and you'd blame anyone except yourself and I'd pretend to chew that person out.
The "Dry Josie Off" game. I'd pull you out of the tub and say, "Now...I'll just grab a towel to dry Josie off with and—" At that time you'd race out of the bathroom naked and "hide".
The "Have You Seen Josie" game. You'd stand directly behind me and I'd go around the house, asking others if they'd seen you. As I turned and rotated, so did you, trying your hardest to keep up with Daddy's quick movements.
The "Jump On My Dad" game. I often played baseball with you and other kids at our local parks. Whenever one of you hit the ball off my body I'd collapse, no matter where it hit or how hard. You'd immediately jump on me and urge the other kids to follow suit.
More developments around this time: In April you lost your first tooth, a bottom one. It had been loose for a while; one night you went to bed at Granny's and I stayed up to decompress. Around midnight, you staggered out of bed and said "My tooth came out". There was a little blood and you were clearly scared, but I took care of you and soon you were excited about the Tooth Fairy money to come. Two or three weeks later, that tooth's neighbor fell out at your mom's.
As a Mario fan, I felt it was time to teach you about earning "coins" rather than me just buying whatever you wanted. I'd come up with tasks for you to do or goals for you to reach to earn coins (usually 3-5 non-quarter coins per task). You were also rewarded for being helpful and showing good behavior. In time, you saved up $10 and bought...a stuffed animal to add to your three dozen other stuffed animals.
One night in May 2015, I also tried to teach you what to do in a BIG emergency, such as an earthquake or fire. But the way I worded it made it sound like Dad might die and you needed to save yourself...which freaked you out. You cried HARD for about 20 minutes and revealed you'd had a nightmare about Daddy and Granny being trapped in a fire, which broke our hearts.
(September 21, 2015 update) Your love of the water only grew with time, so despite my own personal dislike of it, I knew I had to begin taking you swimming. Sometimes we'd go with "Aunt Tiffie" and Jadyn to the beach—Ocean or Stinson—and other times I'd take you to a public pool or we'd swim at Uncle Steve's complex pool. You'd ask about swimming in the pool at Granny's, but I refused to allow you in there because of the vulgar neighbors who also used it; I wanted you nowhere near those cretin.
We had a number of fun times in the summer of 2015. I began having you take walks as exercise, up to one mile per day. You were constantly hungry and would eat every hour if we let you—no way I'd allow you everything you wanted, although on occasion we'd have special treats and dinners IF you helped me cook them. Most of the time you were delighted to do so, even if you always wanted to sample the batter/mix/food coloring/etc. well before our meal was ready.
Uncle Juan invited us over a lot; as I said, you two argued a lot. But your arguments would end as quickly as they began and you were always sad to see each other go. Earlier in the year you'd met a girl named Skyler at First Park in Benicia, and for three straight Saturdays you two played and played and played. Then one Saturday we skipped the park, and we never saw Skyler on another Saturday or any other day again.
One night you got yourself sick by eating a cookie without washing your hands after cleaning the fishtank with me. You immediately fell ill with diarrhea and vomiting; I had to take you to the ER the next afternoon. You were fine in no time, but you'd thrown up on your stuffed turtle.
I washed it by hand, and when you asked why I didn't use the machine I told you—the machine might have been too rough for Turtle to bounce around in without getting damaged. The thought of Turtle being damaged and possibly thrown away reduced you to serious tears and once again we had to console you and reassure you Turtle wasn't going anywhere as long as you wanted him.
GOD you loved those animals, which struck me considering how little you cared about them until you were about 3½-4. Monkey was your favorite this summer; you dressed him up in doll clothes and gave him a little bed and everything. Rarely did you leave the house without at least one animal...once you tried to drag six out at once (I allowed four).
You said so much funny stuff this summer (not all of it intentional) that I had to devote a section to it on my website. You could turn ANYTHING into a game, even something mundane as carrying an empty water bottle—no problem, just roll it atop the chain-link fence and see how long it'll roll. At times I'd get frustrated because you wanted to be silly ALL the time, just like your dad. But again, I could never stay mad at you for long...which made it hard to punish you when you needed it. Eventually I had to, however.
You started true kindergarten in mid-August—not long afterward, you lost both top front teeth just as your permanent bottoms grew in.
I would pick you up from school on Fridays (and some Wednesdays) and take you on Mondays. Once I was walking you from the car to the bathroom before class. I swear, no fewer than 10 random (to me) people made a point of telling you hi. "Is there anyone at this school who DOESN'T know you?" I wondered aloud.
(12/31/2019 update) I haven't written in the past four years because you've gotten old enough to remember everything on your own without my help. But there's still a few things I want to mention. You really developed your personality in 2016, solidifying your love of video games and animals. We lost one of your brand new toy turtles at the park one day and you cried, but we soon replaced it and got a bonus one as well.
You also mastered riding your bike around this time after many lessons. And you never fell even once! Which was fortunate because finding decent-fitting pads and helmets for you wasn't easy.
I tried very hard to find friends for you because you always wanted to play with other kids. Most of my efforts failed, but I did secure you one playmate from our complex, Jawan, throughout 2017. You and Soleil used to argue a lot but around 2017 you were both much more mature and really became strong friends. We took a road trip to Las Vegas in early 2017 to visit Uncle Nell and his family; you and Abby really tightened up during the three days we spent there. These days you were really into art and well ahead of most of your classmates in reading and writing.
Hoping to make you new friends and new memories, I signed you up for Girl Scouts in early 2017. I wasn't sure how it'd work out since you got into a feud with a girl from another troop on that very day I signed you up. But you did very well with your troopmates, even though being in Scouts didn't make you new full-time friends as I'd hoped.
We had your 8th birthday party on 11/11/2017 at a bowling alley in San Pablo. This was a few months after I finally admitted to you that Santa did not exist. You took that news far better than I expected you to.
In late 2017 or early 2018 you discovered Roblox and it changed everything. You no longer wanted to play outside as much, and were usually okay with hours in front of the computer screen. I had to work to limit your time and get you to do other things, like play with the Construx I'd bought you. You stopped wanting to paint with your granny, didn't draw as much, didn't watch as much TV unless it was the YouTube channel. Basically, in 2018 your whole world became video games.