Memo to Odessa: 42 Months

So we sort of skipped like 7 months of memos. Odessa, if we're already this lazy with a second child, I'm not really sure what we'd do with a third one. Despite your promises that you'd "feed the baby and read to the baby and put the baby to sleep" but "not change the baby's diaper," I'm not convinced you really want to be a middle sister. Although you do seem to love the idea of being both a big sister ANDDDD a little sister.

In any case, this post is about you, not an imaginary third baby. There's nothing imagined about you. You're a solid, confident, commandeering little person. How someone so small talks so much and is so stubborn and yet heart-melting at the same time, with alternately frowny fishy hands-on-hippy attitude that instantly flashes into contagious giggles. You have this distinctive voice and laugh and cadence to your speech that is uniquely Odessa. Like you smoke cigars at night after we read to you. Croaky, throaty, Lauren Bacall if she were a 3 year old Marvin with sass. And you are not shy about laughing at your own jokes and playing in your own world.

You've taken over the guest room. Your wooden blocks and Duplo farmhouse bricks are everywhere. But you can seriously build. Doll beds, bird houses, crocodiles, trains, bridges, people, even a zipline. The imagination is Trumptastic. You tell these amazing stories about what everything is and what it does and who lives where and what they do there. I so enjoy that it's your world and I'm just living in it.

You definitely didn't get any architectural skills from me. When I'm upstairs "helping," you really just want me to watch you build build and watch you nae nae. Which thrills me because building stuff gives me panic attacks. Like I just don't come up with things in configurations. I put a square block on another square block and then hives break out. #sonotanengineer 

However, I may have passed other traits onto you. Bossy isn't the right word, but it's true you make your opinions known, sharply and unequivocally. "Don't touch that, it's mine" is your first reaction, threat level red, to any strangers, large or small, who get too close to something you're fond of. But as soon as we remind you, "Hey Odessa, you can share x with X," you're completely magnanimous like of course you're going to share, it's the greatest thing to share, who said you don't share! And your evil staredown transforms into a sharing is caring helper smile. You're like the T. Rex from Jurassic World. Adapting and clever with short little arms.

You had to wait forever to go back to pre-school, a good 3 weeks after Emmy started 1st grade. Those weeks = torture. You couldn't wait to get back to classes, if only to play by yourself with the ponies. I've watched you a couple times out in the wild. I have seen you talk earnestly and convincingly to a gang of three boys who then turned around and decided to do something else at the playground. Your teachers are the best, they did an awesome job with Emmy, and it seems every student that comes out of that school is a great little bon bon, well socialized and just a happy camper.

But one thing your dad and I can't quite figure out is why all the teachers are so vague in describing what you do and what you're like all day. They have always told us the same things about you and Emmy. "She's wonderful. She's such a good girl. She's a delight. She's a joy." It's like a Jedi mind trick. I swear they are purposefully broad and general because they know we are Silicon Valley parents and if they give us too much detail about our kids, we will spiral out of control. Specifics are like the gateway drug. Tell a tiger parent an observation about his/her 3 year old and suffer a lifetime of addiction and rehab in the form of probing questions, Kumon worksheets, and more assessments. The demands never cease! Hence the "Your daughter is great. She's doing great. Her? Great!"

Heaven forbid anyone recycle a single scrap of your art. Even if it's on scratch paper and you haven't seen it for months. If those crafts float anywhere near a bin in your line of sight--you will protest #artlivesmatter. We can only trash that stuff at night and even then, we know it's at our own risk.

You're majorly into smartphone photography. If only I looked good when someone 3 feet tall shot up at me, I'd have so many awesome portraits. Who doesn't love looking like a giant with a double chin? But hey, you're already better at taking pictures than Daddy so I can't complain. We joke that a photo of me with you and Emmy that I didn't take myself is like a blue diamond. 

Speaking of blue diamonds. Blue is your favorite color. You love to pretend you're a dog and Emmy's a cat. You give the best kisses and hugs. You have a grumpy streak. I see so much of who I think I would be as a kid in you and so much of who your dad is in your sister. Genetics is bananas. (Are? Plural or singular?) I love your wily ways and how you use Dubsmash as a verb, as in "Let's Dubsmash that Mommy." Indeed, we have a lot of fun ahead of us lil Odessa.

Love you my darling,

Mama and Papa

PS You pretty much only go by Odessa now. You don't seem to like Dessy. "I don't like Dessy. I'm Odessa."


Saigon to Silicon Valley

ICYMI ("In Case You Missed It" for those of you who don't speak socialmediese): 

Thought I'd post the series we aired on NBC Bay Area in April and May.

Photographer Mark Villarreal traveled with my family and me to Eugene, Oregon and his incredible videography and editing helped us tell the story of how we were sponsored to the United States. The generosity of the Ware family, Holt International Children's Services, and many others we may never get to thank in person allowed us to get our footing in a new country, and begin new lives in the greatest country in the world.

Let me know what you think in the comments section. And if you're an immigrant--share some of your story too! 

From Saigon to SV Part 1

From Saigon to SV Part 2

From Saigon to SV Part 3

This is the "From Saigon to SV" slideshow and preview report. This one actually aired first--as a preview with a little bit from each of the series.





Thank you Mayor Maya Sanchez, for leaving a comment on my website to the 1.5 year old blog post I wrote entitled "Miscarriages."

Not only did I read your comment with amazement and curiosity and a heightened sense of how small the world is, I re-read that post about my fourth miscarriage and remembered so many of the feelings that I completely forgot. Probably a good thing I'm not a person who dwells. That was a pretty sad time.

Thank you for inspiring me to respond to your comment on my blog -- nearly 4 months since my last post. I have been ridiculously not proficient and lame. One thing investigative reporting absolutely kills is my blogbido--any desire to be open with the public. Everything is held thisclose to the vest and all my bandwidth is pretty much used up thinking about my stories and juggling long term projects about bad people who do bad things. It's the complete opposite of what inspired this blog -- the wonderment of new life and babies and sharing the experience of parenthood with the world. But twatever, I'll get over it and figure out a way to jot down my thoughts without getting fired. I hope. I mean yeezus, people are getting fired for everything these days.

But really Maya, wow. The comment was so thorough and detailed and candid...and out of nowhere. Like here's me, doo da doo, just put the girls to bed and checking my blog stats for the first time in weeks and suddenly I'm knee deep in this really intense comment from a fellow USF Don saying, "I remember thinking you were a doll but why the heck did you get so lucky in the game of life?! Now don't get me wrong, I never wished you ill, you were nothing but kind... It was just one of those situations where you just knew you'd never have as "perfect" a life as Vicky."

Snapalappa-dingdong!? (Pronounced SNAP-uh-lap-uh-ding-dong)

First, I was kind? That's a relief. Because I mostly don't use that adjective to describe myself. Like ever. 

Second, "As perfect a life as Vicky?"

You thought in college I was going to have some perfect kind of life? You saw me eating my snacks in class with God knows what kind of outfit on with my sunny yellow back pack and thought that to yourself? It's just so crazy but awesome but mind blowing all at once. Like in 2015, someone can easily randomly find me, scroll through my blog, and write me a very personal note that makes me stop in my tracks. Plus anyone who says they're trolling me is just funny. 

A few things went through my mind. 

Yes, I have a freaking crazy fortunate life. Fa realz. Like if I complain in any serious manner, you can shut me down. Immediately. Too many things have gone right in my life. Starting with my parents' decision to get on a boat and come to this country, followed by the incredible kindness of strangers who helped us start our lives here, followed by a host of positive turns including my education, the mentors who took me under their wings, the family I married into, and the gift of two curious, hilarious, pure-hearted daughters. The list is, as you know, ridiculously long. 

But I appreciate so much what you wrote. Not because it's a back patting, but because I also want to remind people THE INTERNET IS NOT REAL. It is CURATED. Especially the social media stuff. People share what makes them look their Sunday best. They paint better than real pictures of their lives. They humblebrag the bejesus out of their accomplishments. There would be a lot less misery and envy if people had any clue how lame some other people really are. I'm thinking of 17 millennials at this moment who look uh-meezing online. In real life? Shallow, fragile, self-centered ninnies.

It's exactly why I wanted to write an unvarnished blog with insights and vulnerabilities and to talk about some of the really crappy things we go through. Like miscarriages. We are bound by our humanity, and to be human is to feel a range of emotions, including sadness and hopelessness and self-pity and jealous rage. Ahem.

I binge-watched some Real Housewives of Orange County on a recent flight cross country--thank you Virgin America for the unexpected free upgrade to business class it was UH-meezing--and one of the housewives says during the show open "No one's life is perfect, but mine is pretty close" and I thought to myself, I'm not a gazillionaire with no worries in the world and $10K gold sinks but I can dolphinitely relate. 

So I'm writing to say you saw something or predicted something way back in our good ole days at USF that is mostly very true. That I'm beyond grateful for. And that I try not to curate. I try to reveal what I can about the frustrations of working in a back-stabbing, highly competitive industry that's not really woman-friendly beyond a certain age. I try not to sugar coat the boring and repetitive parts of parenthood. I try to expose all the less than perfect parts of my life and all of our lives because that's our common ground. That's how we get through things. I've been through plenty of financial ups and downs and family dramas and personal screw ups and whenever it's my story to tell, I try to tell it. 

So many people, now you included, Maya, have written me emails or posted comments that just show me how small our world is and that at every turn, there is generally goodness in your fellow human being. Thank you for your incredibly well-written and kind note. You moved me and you re-energized the part of my soul that started this blogging exercise in the first place. When we can relate and connect and share, we learn and grow and feel less alone. 

Congratulations on your success and more importantly, on finding happiness. May it be deep and sustaining.

That's my wish for everyone. Except millennials. May you rot in your pools of smug ignorance. 


Memo to Emmy: 72 Months


You're 6! Six. Whole. Years. Old.

Old enough to finally lose your first tooth. With the help of extremely passive aggressive wiggling by Daddy. He initially claimed you wiggled it out yourself with the floss. I came to find out later he actually "helped" by "holding your hand" which was "holding the floss" which means too many quotation marks to actually keep track of.

The Tooth Fairy was very generous. $5 and a My Little Pony plastic figure. And she even let you keep the bloody tooth. Nguyen Nguyen situation.

Your other bottom baby tooth has stubbornly remained in your mouth, shark-like as the permanent tooth has already grown up behind it, wiggly but resolute in not coming out. Every night your dad has a showcase showdown with that tooth and it keeps winning. Probably my fault. At least half a dozen of my baby teeth had to be pulled out by Dr. To when I was a kid. Either they were genetically stubborn like everything else in my DNA, or my parents just had him pull a few out every couple months when we were down in San Jose shopping for Vietnamese food. Never underestimate how much Vietnamese parents love convenience!

At this ripe age, your EQ is off the charts. I know a lot of millennials and management-types who should take a crash course in Emerson-self awareness. Much like you always knew not to repeat bad language, you are intuitive about your friends' feelings, your sister's moods, and the emotions of people around you. 

You're naturally easygoing, curious, and just incredibly pleasant. Rarely do you lose it, and usually if you do, it's because you can't finish something or your sister is on your last nerve. You can do anything. As long as you're properly prepared. You don't like a sudden change or abrupt transition. In short, you are just like Daddy. Except I can still swoop you up and carry you around like a monkey with really long legs.

Your reading comprehension is pretty off the hook. Every night I read a few pages of a Ramona book to you and you read a few pages of an Ivy and Bean book to me. You're picking up some triple digit adding and subtracting and carrying the 1 type math skills thanks to Daddy. I mean, how do math teachers teach complex concepts? I can barely explain how to count backwards to subtract. 

I get to volunteer pretty regularly in your kindergarten class. It's fun to see you speak with confidence in front of the class. You're not the tender chicken nugget you were in preschool and I relish seeing you develop some savvy around your peers. 

You've had to deal with some mean girl stuff already. That's really crazy. But you innately know how to be your own person. You told me the difference between "good ignoring" and "bad ignoring," a concept you came up with yourself. 

You: Bad ignoring is when you ignore people and they're trying to tell you about their family. Good ignoring is when you ignore people if they're not being nice.

My mommy heart soars when you tell me stuff like that. The world is so mean and harsh sometimes and I want to protect you from everything but I know that's impossible and it would weaken you if I did. So when you spout little truths like that, it gives me consolation that you're going to make it, even without me holding your hand every step of the way. As much as I want to be there at the junior high dance holding your hand, or at senior prom, or in your college dorm. Who me? I'm Emmy's mom.

"What happens to a cup when it's been caught by the police? It gets handcupped!"

"What kind of house does a tree live in? A tree house!"

Emmy original jokes. Do you get your knack for laughs from me or your dad? I don't know. He came up with:

"Did you hear the story about the cookie? Eh, nevermind it's crummy." You told me that with perfect comic timing.

You are a terrific big sister. You can cheer up Odessa and stop one of her legendary crying fits in .7 seconds. At first I thought you were being uncharacteristically mean when you went up and starting mimicking her crying. But just as I was telling you not to do that to her, you said, "Mommy I'm making her stop crying," and you turned back to her and sure enough, Odessa started laughing at your wailing face and then she started making screeching noises and howling noises and laughing hysterically when you copied those too. You hacked her tantrum!

Aside from having to ask you a question 17 times because you're in your own La La world sometimes, you're a pretty flawless kid. How that blessing happened is unclear. Oh, maybe because we also have Odessa. Not so easy peasy.

Happy 6th birthday almost a month late. I want to smush you back down and stunt your growth but you won't drink my coffee so I will have to count the few days left that I remain taller than you. I am thankful every day that you're my daughter. Here's to at least 100 more birthdays!

Love you Em Em 


We Investigate: Daily Show Edition

Somehow the folks at The Daily Show heard about our latest investigation on the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program. Here's our original report:

Here's Jon Stewart's version. His had a couple more f-bombs. Scroll ahead to 6:25 if you want to see our part.