Christmas: Home sweet home

Christmas is possibly my family’s favorite time of the year. This year was extra special since it was Milo’s first time celebrating with the family back at home.

Our second flight with Milo now as a toddler was a little more tiring. He wasn’t fussy, but he was curious and restless. As a result, his naps were cut short and there was a lot of climbing over us, entertaining, and restraining. At some point, he couldn’t resist and had to rub the smooth round object in front of him. You should have seen his face when the, ahem, shiny bald man turned around. He kindly joked, “So it’s you who’s kicking my seat.” Gulp. Luckily the flight was nonstop.

Milo instantly fell in love with his Tata Cookie. For the first few minutes, he didn’t even want me to hold him, which is unheard of right now during this demanding mommy-only stage. Too bad he couldn’t get her name right and settled on “CA CA” (Vietnamese for poop), and when I do say her name, he signs for food. And Milo already loves Ba’s cooking.

It was sweet to watch Milo play with the toys we grew up with, like our play kitchen set. He loved being pushed around in a toy car, knocking over Yohan’s blocks and yelling “ka-boo”, and “rowing” on the rocking horse. Let me explain and demonstrate: At school, they sing “Row, row, row your boat” in a makeshift boat, so he asks to “wo” on anything that rocks.

Milo’s non-stop babble and 20-word vocabulary provided a lot background noise and amusement. My mom kept saying it reminded her of someone… 🙂 The best discovery was the echo in my parents’ bathroom. We could hear him yelling in it from all over the house. My dad decided the bathtub was an easy way to babysit.

Ong babysits Milo in the bathtub

Christmas with the Bui’s is…loud. We may be a generation older now, but it’s not obvious which table is the kids’ table. The big cousins will always, always heckle. Milo was a little overwhelmed by all the yelling during the annual White Elephant gift exchange. And my family makes the most of a party. It was Christmas lunch, but what do you know…by the time the movie ended, it was dinner. Ben and I are always amazed how my mom can whip out meal after meal.

The cousins

The cousins representation, more than half this time! You’ll notice we’re missing (putting Milo to bed).

The biggest treat of the trip was going to NYC kid-free! My parents and Chippy, who kindly decided at the last-minute to stay back, took care of Milo and Yohan for two days. This was our first night with both of us away from him. Milo is entertaining but also a handful and, like I said, very attached to me. We were very anxious to see how he’d do. They told us not to call, but texting doesn’t count, right? It was more for my sake because, no surprise, they did great. They took the kids out on multiple excursions (only one was aborted as both were falling asleep within minutes in the car), my mom was able to cradle Milo (a position only reserved for me), and Chippy just kept relaying to my mom as she fed Milo, “MORE, MORE.” My mom said the hardest time for him was in the morning, when he really missed me.

Meanwhile, we spent 30 hours hanging out with our cool city cousins. We decided they are living the Friends’ life. Their Central Perk coffee shop is An Choi, a hip Vietnamese restaurant and bar in LES opened by two of my cousins (who are brothers). One lives literally right across the street, and can watch over the restaurant by webcam. The other, who architected and built furniture for the restaurant’s narrow space, has his latest project, Plant-in City, on display in a gallery down one block. Just across the Williamsburg Bridge is Brooklyn, where yet another cousin has a spacious, corner 3-bedroom apartment. She and her husband LOVE to cook; they have their own Vietnamese restaurant, Bep, and host family dinners.

We did a little sight-seeing on our own and visited the 9-11 memorial. Despite the line and multiple security checks, it was worth seeing the elegant and somber pools. But we spent most of our wandering in the city indoors because it was cold! We didn’t dare go to Times Square on NYE; instead, we chilled with our cousins and their friends (fashion tip: black is back). Our taxi driver that evening was so upset to leave Manhattan that he hit almost 90mph crossing the bridge into Brooklyn. On New Year’s Day, we convinced them to go for a run across the Williamsburg Bridge, which was a great way to admire the Hudson, all the bridges, and the city skyline.

We ate very well. The famous Diner in Brooklyn known for their grass-fed burgers totally belongs in Portland. Even Ben, normally not a soup guy, liked the hot pot restaurant. And dim sum with the cousins was just like old times, except we ordered as much as we wanted and didn’t fight over food. Thank goodness we picked up banh mi from An Choi for the road. On our way out, just as soon as we got onto the bridge, we noticed a flat tire. After driving on it for another few miles to get to the nearest gas station, it was ruined. Since nothing is opened on New Year’s Day, we had to drive home on the spare. It took forever to get back to DC going no more than 60mph! After the epic drive, it was so nice to come to the kids tucked away in bed and another home-cooked meal (cha ca!) from my mom.

We’re really happy Milo got to spend so much time with the family. He clearly remembers them. Chippy gave the whole family photo magnets for Christmas, and you can watch in this video how Milo knows Ba, Ong, and Yohan:

I’d like to give a shout out to my mom and dad. As a kid, you depended and demanded on your parents as you pleased. As a teen, you thought you became independent. As a parent, you know you never thanked your own parents enough. If I can raise Milo and give him crazy holidays, meals to look forward to, endless chats and bonding around the table, then I’ve given him the “home” my parents are still giving to me. Thank you, Ba and Ong!


Chippy has more photos here:



  1. Very sweet! Looks like such fun with so many people around the holidays. I know what you mean about not thanking your parents enough – the feeling totally changes once we become parents ourselves and realize how much work it is! Great pics of everyone.

  2. I agree on realizing how awesome your parents are even more when you have your own kids. Sounds like a totally fun vacation all around! (except that flat tire… bummer!)

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