How I Survived the U.S. Embassy Waiting Room with a Preschooler—Screen-free

What's in Mommy's bag of tricks?

No electronic devices allowed. These four words may cause a parent to panic at the anticipation of a long wait, especially inside a government office such as the U.S. Embassy, which is not a place you'd associate with preschool-age-appropriate fun. But a trip to the embassy is sometimes a necessary inconvenience for families with travel plans or, like us, families with a young and adorable American  citizen who needed to be recognized as such. The night before our CRBA (or Consular Reporting of Birth Abroad) appointment at the embassy, my worried husband asked me, "Are iPads allowed?" Sorry, Honey, we're just going to have to be resourceful.

Even if we weren't required to line up with the majority of the people who were there to apply for a U.S. non-immigrant visa, it still took us three hours, from waiting for the doors to open (we got there early in order to be one of the first in line) to waiting for our documents to be processed (which took relatively quickly, but it seemed like other families were not so lucky. Need to get some official business done with a preschooler (and an infant) in tow? Here's how to play the waiting game, screen- and gadget-free.

10 Links I Shared with Friends (#13)



    And one more thing:

    Check out this YouTube channel: Storyteller MNL. Voice artist Gutch Guttierez reads stories by Filipino authors, both in English and in Filipino when available. 

    Family Fun Field Trip: A Strawberry-Picking Side Trip for the Baguio-bound

    An unexpected family obligation a few weeks ago led to an unexpected milestone: Ella and her papa's first father-daughter trip. Although they only stayed overnight, they managed to fill their short trip with memorable experiences, not the least of which was strawberry picking at La Trinidad, Benguet. I'm so glad they made the time for the side trip! (This was before we read Stefen Chow's Medium article about father-toddler adventures that's been going around. Read it for inspiring insight!)

    Papa W rarely takes photos so I'm impressed and touched that he remembered to take a few for my sake. Since I didn't come along, I can't fully narrate so I'll let the pictures do the talking. Their stories and photos were enough to get me excited enough to share this with you. Read on also for tot schooling tips to go with your trip!

    We Said Yes to Play for 29 Days—Here's What I Learned From the Experience

    Last January, I chanced upon the wonderful Capture Play Instagram challenge from supermom Allie of No Time for Flash Cards. I've tried—and failed at—photo-a-day challenges before, but this one was different because it focused on one thing I love and believe in: playing with my kids.

    We tried to complete all the prompts for February for our own #29daysofplay experience. Though towards the end we skipped a few days—not because we didn't play but because we were too busy playing to catch it on camera. The rules were simple: just say yes. Yes to walks, yes to books, yes to being loud, yes to being quiet, yes to imaginary bad guys, yes to unearthing long-forgotten toys from dusty shelves, and yes to making toys out of household objects I happened to have on hand.

    I loved this challenge because it gave me an excuse to take photos of my kids, but also because it taught me a few things about playtime:

    1) Playing is Learning.
    I've heard and used this expression before but, after doing the challenge, it really became real for me. While playtime can be noisy, chaotic, messy, and a sensory overload, I'm thankful for the times this month when I was able to participate in playtime as an observer. This happened mostly with my six-month-old son, but remarkably also with my tornado of a three-year-old. I am grateful for the times when I was able to watch little fingers flexing, stretching, and curling in response to a stimulus, eyes turned upward in thought, pauses before decisions were made, or bodies pushed to their limits, one millimeter closer to achieving a gross-motor goal. It was almost as if their entire bodies were expressing a thought that was being processed—the nerd in me liked to imagine neurons firing, synapses connecting, brain architecture changing. When my daughter finishes a seemingly pointless task of creation or exploration (a rock being balanced on a toe, a tower built from mealtime table materials) and tells me, "I've worked so hard, Mommy," I don't doubt it.

    A Book Without Words for a Story Time Full of Words

    I Don't Like to Eat is a wordless book from Adarna House. It's meant for older kids (6+) but my preschooler likes it, as she so proudly announced a few nights ago. I actually bought it last year but, understandably, toddler E wasn't ready for some of the illustrations (Marcus Nada's drawings are not your typical cutesy picture book fare) and the ideas of the story:

    A boy refuses to eat healthy fruits and vegetables, choosing to eat only junk food. He eats so much that a junk food monster bursts out—Alien-style—from his tummy! (Parental guidance advised.)

    Found: A Dinosaur Sticker Activity Book—and a Fun-for-Free Activity to Go with It

    Child-led learning has brought us to dinosaur town, which seems to be an essential phase of childhood. What is it about these reptilian giants that kids find so alluring and irresistible? The funny-sounding names? Their strange and varied forms? This is the kind of conversations we're having at home these days:
    "Mom, this is a monto-saurus"
    "A brontosaurus?"
    "No, a monto-saurus. It's a dinosaur mixed with a cat and a leaf."
    It is often challenging not to laugh, but let's just go with it, okay?

    I, too, was a bit of a dinosaur nut as a kid because of Land Before Time and those collectible sticker books that were all the rage when I was growing up (showing my age here; raise your hand if you remember these). Now I happily get to pass on my limited knowledge to E. It's not in-depth, but I can tell a stegosaurus from a triceratops. So when I spotted the two (super) sticker activity books, pictured above, at National Bookstore, I was happy to feed her interest.

    10 Links I Shared with Friends (#12)




    And one more thing:
    Our fear of messing up should give way to the only real danger there is: that of never trying.
    the school of life

    The One Act That Made a Difference (and the One Act That Undid It)

    I can think of at least 15 things (three involving paint) I'd rather be doing with my morning than renewing my driver's license, especially at this tiny satellite branch with a confusing system, bad lighting (resulting in the ugliest possible photographic representation of oneself), and limited seating.

    Walking in, I saw the disorganized lines and crossed arms and I felt irritated. As I was trying to find someone to ask, I stepped on someone's foot and got an earful, though I was quick to apologize. My heel's victim angrily directed me to walk over to the guard at the mall's entrance (not the office's entrance, go figure) and get a number. Forty-nine. Already feeling defeated, I stood next to a row of seats where a line had been formed. It was going to be a bad morning. 

    But then something happened.