Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Vol. 1 – Kids + Travel

First of all, thank you to everyone for submitting such thoughtful, hilarious, entertaining, ______(insert other descriptive words) questions. I have a feeling this will be a long post, so let’s jump right in:

KIDS

From Lisa: How long were you married before you had kids?

Less than two years. I was surprised to get a positive test result a few weeks before our first anniversary but it definitely made sense – I was EXHAUSTED all the time. This means I was 7 months pregnant when I defended my Master’s thesis – and my due date was 2 days after the end of a research contract – so there was not much buffer between graduate school and motherhood!

From Katie: Curious how you decided to have 2 children and what your favorite parts of having a girl and boy are?

Honestly, two kids felt like all my body and mind could handle. Before actually having children, I was convinced I would have four. This was my family structure growing up (2 sisters + 1 brother). But then I ended up with an unexpected C-section, an especially challenging second pregnancy (which also required a C-section), and was unable to nurse. Both kids had colic and reflux, and motherhood took a huge toll on me mentally and physically. Also, because I have a “thin uterine lining” and a whole lot of scar tissue, a VBAC would be out of the question; plus, because of said scar tissue, the risks associated with additional C-sections weren’t inconsequential either.

Favourite parts of having my girl: watching her grow up and become more of a friend. I love thrifting with her and sharing an interest in things like Harry Potter trivia and listening to music when we’re driving somewhere solo. (And I have to admit I 100% loved all the pretty dresses when she was little. It might sound cliché, but dressing a toddler girl was so. much. fun.)

Favorite parts of having my boy? That he’s sensitive to those around him and tends to have excellent emotional IQ. I love how dirty he gets playing outside – he’s very enthusiastic about whatever he’s doing and that shows in worn knees on all his pants and scuffed sneakers. He’s an “all in” sort of kid. I love his voice – it’s truly the sweetest – and our hushed conversations at bedtime. I also appreciate what a deep thinker he is; he can go from climbing trees to discussing huge existential topics in the span of just a few minutes.

From Suzanne: Did you always know you wanted kids? Was it always two?

Yes, I knew I wanted children and always envisioned a family of 4. This didn’t happen; see above!

Also from Suzanne: How did you choose your kids’ names?

John entered my life loving the name Abigail. I didn’t have any strong attachment to specific names (though as a teenager I thought Mackenzie for a girl was the cat’s meow). If Abby had been a boy, she would have been Elijah – Eli for short. We briefly discussed: Charlotte, Catalina, and Violet. But, really, it was Abigail all along.

Here John and I butt heads – he thinks he suggested Levi, and I’m pretty sure it was me. Either way, I firmly believe it’s the best boy name EVER. One thing I know for certain: I read a book by Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) when I was newly pregnant with Levi. She wrote about one of her sons named Levi being involved in a farming accident; when I read that story I immediately 1) loved the name Levi and 2) “knew” something was about to happen in my life. A few days later we had our routine 20-week ultrasound and the next few months were an intense blur of appointments. We didn’t find out the gender, but I felt in the core of my being it was going to be a boy. Fun fact: because Eli had been our “boy” name for Abby, for the first few weeks after Levi was born, I kept calling him Eli.

As for middle names, those are more personal. Abby’s middle name – Isabella – is a play on her grandmother’s name. It is also a nod to her Portuguese heritage. Levi’s middle name – Indiana – comes from John’s love of the Indiana Jones movies. People assume it is related to Indiana the American state; nope – it’s because of action movies. (To put this in more context, John and I walked down the aisle at our wedding to the Imperial March -Darth Vader’s theme song. At our rehearsal, my Mom heard it for the first time and said: This is a joke, right? That’s not actually the song you’re walking out to? It was not a joke, but I did put an asterisk by the song title in our program that read: By special request of the groom.)

From Sarah: How do you strengthen your kids’ faith while they are in public school (presumably)?

Yes, both children attend public school and faith is a big part of our lives! I’m no expert – and every situation is unique – but here are a few thoughts from my experience:

We encourage our kids to ask questions. The Bible mentions talking about spiritual things when you wake up and when you go to bed and we end up doing this most days, often in the form of open discussions. We answer questions as we’re able, but also admit we don’t have it all figured out! A few years ago I read the following (paraphrased): Wrestling with God is a full-contact sport; as in, if you’re asking questions and working through things, you’re in contact with Him. I’d rather them feel secure in asking questions – even if they’re hard/unanswerable – over becoming apathetic! (To quote C.S. Lewis: Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.)

We support our kids when they engage with others. One child in particular is very open about their faith. They emerged from a day camp recently and literally the first words out of their mouth were: “Do you know So-and-So doesn’t believe in God? But we sat together at lunch, and he said it would be okay if I talked to him about God. So I did. And he shared his lunch with me.” I was gobsmacked. How did this come up in casual conversation? And how are you so confident at (insert young age) that you broached this topic over Cheetos and apple slices? About this same interaction, the child said: “He doesn’t believe in God, but he knows about Him. And everyone has to make their own choice about believing, don’t they?

We openly discuss where beliefs diverge. Specific religious beliefs of any kind are not championed in our local public school, but perhaps because we’ve been so open with our kids, they realize and are curious about those around them. For example, we discussed Ramadan one year when a friend reached the age where they were fasting during the day. We’ve talked about the difference between atheists and agnostics. We never try to pretend that everyone believes the same things. This comes up in conversations about language, too. Both kids have mentioned people using the Lord’s name in vain at school and we discuss how/why others might use these terms so differently from us. We can be sensitive to it (and not participate in it/prefer no one used this language), while realizing there are inherent differences in other people’s spiritual beliefs.

We raise our kids in light of certain truths we adhere to, but they are going to have to make their own choices. I love a point I heard once that God doesn’t have any grandchildren – as in, we each make independent decisions. My deepest desire is for my kids to have a personal relationship with Jesus because I believe in sin and His redemptive sacrifice. I think their response to this question is of infinite importance. But our kids are independent individuals and I recognize they will have to make their own faith choices. We are trying to equip them to think critically, we are offering them regular exposure to faith-centric activities and discussions, and we live out our own faith journey in front of them – the rest is between them and God.

Also from Sarah: How do you limit screen time for your kids?

Um. We kinda don’t? They have no set time limits. There is no way they “earn” screen time. There is no quota for the week. We try to naturally limit things – between extracurriculars and school, there are a lot of hours they can’t be on screens. For the most part, this approach works. Many days they watch nothing, but there have certainly been plenty of Saturdays where they watch 6+ hours. Nothing catastrophic has happened yet.

From NGS: What are your top five picture books?

You’re kidding, right? FIVE picture books. You want me to stop at FIVE? This is clearly an impossible question (I’ve got a whole post about picture books and favourite ones here). I’m going “cheat” and do this in two categories.

My top five favourite sentimental books:

Top five picture books from the last few years?:

And since you asked (wait, you didn’t ask?) here are five books my kids might list:

I feel like I’m reading an Oscar acceptance speech and the music is playing and I still have a dozen people I want to mention…

TRAVEL

From Lisa: What is the best trip you and John have taken?

Paris, 2019. Full stop. We talk about this trip constantly. It was the experience of a lifetime. Perfect weather. Amazing food. Sitting on the lawn at Trocadéro with a bottle of wine watching the sun go down and the Eiffel Tower light up is one of the best experiences of my entire life. It was my first time visiting Paris and it was everything I had hoped for and more.

Also from Lisa: What is the best trip you’ve taken with kids?

We haven’t done many “big” trips with kids (aside from 3 weeks in Denmark when Abby was a toddler). Thus both by process of elimination – and because it truly was an incredible experience – I’d have to say our trek to South Carolina last May. The weather was great; plus, my sister and her family are pure fun. Seriously. There was so much laughter on that trip. Bless.

Denmark, 2012
En route to South Carolina, 2022

From San: If you could move anywhere (for a while), where would you want to live?

Somewhere warm. Not hot, just temperate. In an ideal world, I’d leave Canada from December 26th to May 1st.

If it was for year-round living, somewhere in Scandinavia.

From Tobia: What is the furthest you traveled from home?

Sydney, Australia – literally the other side of the world. While it wasn’t as memorable as Paris, it was another great trip. And it changed the trajectory of our lives as an impromptu meeting while there launched John on a new career path.

With Abby’s “Chickie” in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Fun fact: I wasn’t on an airplane until my last year of university. My parents didn’t have much money when I was growing up, and aside from a few road trips down to South Carolina, I basically never left a 4-5 hour radius of my childhood home until I was almost 20.


Okay – that wraps up the first round of questions. I’ll be back tomorrow with Vol. 2 which is a more eclectic mix (favourite fruit! minimalism! how I’d use three wishes! irrational fears! desert island foods!).

Also, if you have more Ask Me (Almost) Anything questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or via my nifty Google form.

Your turn. What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken? The furthest you’ve traveled from home? If you have children, how did you settle on names – and was it a consensus or compromise?

37 thoughts on “Ask Me (Almost) Anything: Vol. 1 – Kids + Travel”

  1. I loved all the questions and the answers. A fun look at different aspects of life. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Scuffy the Tugboat! That was a book that I read in childhood and I found it and read it when my kids were small. I can’t say it was a favourite, but it sure makes me nostalgic.
    Your trip to Paris looks incredible! I have never been there.
    I enjoy these posts so much. I think when November is over and it’s not such a busy “blog month” I am going to do one of my own *must figure out how to use forms*

    1. It was so nostalgic for me because of the relation to my grandfather (who I never met), and because I only got to read it when I visited my grandmother. I can still see the lime green room where she had her floor-to-ceiling bookcase that included Scuffy.
      Paris is such a great destination (especially when the weather is nice). It’s very walkable, tons of history, great food.
      If I can figure out the forms, you can too! Feel free to e-mail me if you get stuck/have questions 🙂

  3. I’m a little bit shocked that I LOVE picture books, especially when my daughter was little, and the only one on your list that I know is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I do love that you have a favorite tugboat book…my favorite book for awhile when I was a kid was Little Toot. I loved it so much that when we were gifted a puppy when I was 5 or 6, I wanted to name her Little Toot. Thankfully my older brother intervened, and her name was Samantha. MUCH better.

    Paris is indeed perfection. I think if I could live anywhere in the world, it would be the French countryside, close enough to a train station that I could pop in to Paris for the day any time I wanted. I’d have an old farm house, updated with good pipes and electricity.

    1. I think Little Toot would be a HILARIOUS name for a puppy.
      I was living vicariously through your Paris posts; such happy memories. I’m almost scared to go back because the first visit was literally practically perfect in every way. But there is just a magic about that city (and, to me, cities in general!)…

  4. The thing that stood out to me the most in this post is The Imperial March for your wedding- that is AWESOME! I love that you guys did that, and I love the asterisk in the program. It feels like a great way to start off a marriage- like “this is going to be fun!”

    1. Ha. There used to be a VERY famous song played each Saturday night for the national broadcasting of the hockey game and someone we knew had that theme song played at their wedding; I think they might have also done an asterisk?
      It was very fun and a great talking point all these years later.

    1. I’ve never been to Kauai, but knew someone who visited once. They were to be there for something like 8 days but after a few days decided to move heaven and earth to rearrange flights and childcare so they could double the length of their stay. They just LOVED Hawaii (and it is quite a trek to get there!).

  5. Ha ha! I knew limiting you to five picture books would be tough! That’s why I asked. I knew if a book ended up on your list, it would be a hit. I’m definitely marking these books down as ideas for gifts when people have babies.

    1. It WAS rough (I’ll send you my therapy bill), but I neatly circumvented your limit. There are just so many great children’s books out there!!

  6. Best trip is such a tough one… which makes me feel very lucky, to have so many that are coming to mind! I think the one that I’d chose ultimately is the last trip my husband and I took pre-kids – we did London, Bruges, and Amsterdam and it was so fun to be back in Europe being a little older, wiser, and with more spending money than I had when I studied abroad in London in college. I can’t believe that was 13 years ago now!! I really want to go back, and am already telling my kids they definitely should study abroad in college only so I can visit them 🙂 (and for their own experience of course!!). Others that stand out are the first trip we took “after” (LOL) covid – husband and I went to Scottsdale Arizona and I literally just sat at the pool in silence for 3 days – after a year of my 3 kids being home doing virtual learning and also 2 parents working from home, it was amazing. Our family trip to New England this past summer was also so fun, definitely my favorite family trip so far!

    Kids names – it really was pretty easy because there were so little that we could agree on. My oldest is Annie (Anne) – truly don’t even know how we chose it other than I wanted something easy to spell and pronounce and classic. Middle is Lucas and my only regret there is that it’s obviously a super popular name (which I did know!) but my son has 3 really close friends who are all either Luke or Lucas so it does get confusing!! Youngest is Charles (and would have been Jane as a girl) and that is ALSO very popular but he actually doesn’t have any Charlie friends so that’s nice so far. Middle names are all family names – Elizabeth, Gregory, and Paul!

    1. We only got to do one trip pre-kids (a work trip for me to Florida, but we were able to tack about a week on before the conference), so I have to admit as much as I LOVE travelling with John, it is a lot of work to prep for it. My parents usually watch the kids, and I really want to minimize the impact, so all the food prep, arrangements with school/extracurriculars etc, is pretty exhausting. It’s always been worth it (we haven’t done that many trips since kids: NYC x2, Australia, Paris, Dominican Republic – I feel like I’m missing one?), but I’m excited for a day when both kids are old enough we don’t have to think through excessive childcare requirements.
      Sitting in quiet after COVID lockdowns sounds like the best vacation ever!!!
      Love your names! Easy to spell and pronounce were key for me, too. Though twice in a medical setting they’ve called Levi, Lev-ee. And I’m like: haven’t you ever owned a pair of blue jeans?!

  7. Great questions and great answers! Ahhh, the Paris pictures. Makes me sad/ nostalgic for the family trip we were supposed to have there in March 2020 but never did. Then again, our Plan B trip to Ireland and Rome ended up being fabulous, too. I get a little anxious thinking about travels, because I feel like we are running out of time!! Ethan will start high school next year. And with activities, varying school schedules, high school sports seasons (that “can’t be missed” for things like a vacation), I feel like we are just running so short on time to travel with our kids!! And it freaks me out, because I just want to go everywhere with them! Oh well…. I suppose on the bright side, we already know we’ll never go “everywhere”, because the world is ginormous. So I guess we’ll just fit in what we can and cherish the memories we do make. 🙂

    1. Just letting you know, your boys growing up doesn’t have to be the end of family travel 😉 (as you yourself know, because you do travel with your parents and I still do the same — see epic summer trip with my parents and sister + family!). It’s possible and your kids have been well groomed to enjoy family vacations!

    2. One of my sisters and her family were supposed to go to Paris in 2020. Sigh, indeed.
      Rome sounds great and John and I are considering a trip there in 2023?!
      I agree with San – you can definitely still travel with the boys for many years to come, even when they’ve flown the nest, so to speak.
      I can’t always decide if I find it exciting that there are too many places to visit in a lifetime, or depressing. I keep hearing about new places I want to visit and, well, it’s not all going to happen (or, I guess it’s highly unlikely; there are a few people who have literally visited every country on Earth, I think)…

  8. It was so fun to read your answers! I met Phil later in life so much of my travel was before i met him. The best trips were my 3 trips to Paris that I took by myself! I love that city dearly and found it so easy to navigate. I’d love to take Phil back there. Our best trip together was our honeymoon in Maui. We were there for 9 days and alternated days on the beach/snorkeling with a day of adventure (hiking, visiting haleakala, etc). The best trip w/ kids was probably our first FL trip with Paul when he was 13 months. The weather was gorgeous and we loved hanging at the pool/going to the beach.

    Paul’s name is very special. He is named after my dad, and also Phil’s late brother Paul. Phil’s parents lost their first son, Paul when he was 21 months. He hit his head at daycare and died at the hospital shortly thereafter. It’s such a tragic thing, I can’t even imagine experiencing that. When we were thinking about names, Paul was a name Phil and I both liked. We asked his mom how she felt about it and said we could use it as a middle name if it would be too painful to have another Paul. But she loved the idea. His middle name is Donald which was Phil’s dad’s name. So his name has great significance. Will’s name doesn’t have as much meaning. It was the only boy name we could agree on. But I have 5 nephews and there are sooo many boys on Phil’s side of the family and we wanted to avoid using a name that is already in use. It took awhile to settle on Will. But his middle name is Otto which was Phil’s maternal grandpa’s middle name.

    The furthest I’ve traveled from home was also Australia! I studied abroad there during my junior year of college.

    1. I wonder what Paul would think of Paris? Do you think he’d find it was charming/wonderful as you did?
      Maui sounds wonderful.

      I am so sorry to hear about the tragic loss of Phil’s brother; what a heartbreaking experience. I’m so glad you were able to honour his memory in your own Paul.

  9. I love the AMA posts – so many exciting things to learn about everyone. Thanks so much for sharing the answers. I don’t have kids, but I always had a boy and girl name picked out in my head (no idea if Jon would have agreed, but anyway)… my question is, why didn’t you name Levi Elijah, when you found out you were having a boy? Did you change your mind about the name in the meantime or what was the reason? (Simply curious.)
    I love how you describe the relationship with your kids, btw. Isn’t it great that since you stopped at two kids, you got a boy and a girl? (My sister definitely feels that way. )

    Your trip to Paris does sound perfect. I am glad you had such a great time there. The farthest I’ve traveled is probably Hawaii (if you mean from my place of birth – because now it’s only a 5 hour flight away).

    1. The name Elijah almost felt like it had already been used in a way, since that was our go-to for Pregnancy #1?

      When I found out I was pregnant with Baby #2, we did discuss Elijah as a boy name immediately, but I’d also come across A LOT of Eli’s in the intervening 3 years (it was a hugely popular name for a while), and I ended up not really wanting to use that name anymore. And I’m so glad we didn’t because I adore the name Levi. I love how broadly applicable our kids names seem; like either one could do just about anything in life and their name would fit? Abby and Levi sound very professional (doctor, lawyer, nurse, professor) but also artistic (actor/actress, photographer, painter, athlete). This obviously isn’t a prerequisite for choosing names, but I’m really glad that the names we did opt for seem…neutral (yet awesome!).

      They call it the million-dollar family and I do really appreciate having one of each. It feels very complete and exactly how our family unit was meant to be.

  10. “Ten Little Fingers” is a favorite for us too. It was my Husband who first saw it in a bookstore and brought it home. I remember he was so excited to show it to me when he brought it home because there was an Asian baby on the cover and that kind of things wasn’t as common when our first child was born, and he thought that was really awesome, since we have half Asian babies.
    I love that picture of baby Abby asleep in the carrier at the museum. When my kids were babies, I would take them to the museum all the time in a carrier and I felt so proud of myself for doing grown up things with a baby in tow.
    Such a thoughtful approach to faith/religion and children! My Husband is Catholic, but I’m not much of anything, but the family goes to Mass, and I go along. I remember before we got married, our priest said that having a spiritual foundation was important, and we weren’t necessarily raising our kids to be Catholic specifically, but rather giving them basis on which to grow or from which to diverge to other beliefs. You have to start somewhere, was his philosophy. I thought that was a very open and honest way to think of it.
    The farthest I’ve been from home is probably Taiwan. Maybe Japan – not sure which one is further.

    1. Ten Little Fingers is such a delightful book with lots of racial diversity – I think it would be the perfect baby shower book; it’s also such a happy, sweet message and I used to love kissing my kids on the nose when we finished the last page! And the illustrations are so sweet and calming.
      Mem Fox has some other great ones for young readers, too.

      I do want to be clear: I believe there are spiritual truths, and I believe our response to these truths is of infinite importance as it relates to eternity. I do not think that all religions lead to the same conclusion. We teach our kids that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. But we cannot force them to believe this; it is my heart’s deepest desire they arrive at the same conclusions that I have, but I am open and transparent, while encourgaging activities and discussions that deepen their faith. Understanding the scope of other belief systems – and aiming to relate and love others with different opinions and worldviews – is an important aspect of any faith journey. Christianity doesn’t/shouldn’t happen in a vacuum!

  11. love reading these to get to know you more. i kind of wanted more than 2 kids as I just the baby stage, but after a lot of thinking, I’ve decided that we are complete as a family.
    favorite trip? i’d say Tanzania 2011 with friends. I went to safari for the first time, climbed Kilimanjaro (hardest physical endevor), and ended finding one of my best friends on the trip. that’s probably also the most remote place I’ve travelled to.

    1. Wow! John worked in Tanzania, and it looks…beautiful!
      Hiking Kilimanjaro sounds intense – but so satisfying. What an accomplishment!

  12. We have a bit in common, it seems. I handed in my PhD thesis while I was four months pregnant. I was so nervous because in our department, of the two candidates who handed in just before me, one had to do a major rewrite, and the other had to go back and do more lab work. Since I couldn’t do more labwork while pregnant (and possibly wouldn’t want to while breastfeeding) and doing a major rewrite with a newborn sounds impossible as well, I was very, very relieved when the examiners came back with a pass, no changes.

    I’m also one of 4, with 2 sisters and a brother and thought I wanted four kids, but when I was pregnant with my third I decided I just couldn’t do it again.

    Your trip to Paris looks and sounds amazing! Paris is very beautiful. We have had a lot of wonderful trips, usually with the family but one that really sticks out is a trip my parents took us on to South Africa. It was all my siblings, partners and kids … so twenty of us. We took over a whole tour, and it was awesome. The scenery, the animals and spending time with the family in such a wonderful place was truly epic.

    1. Wow! Any trip involving 20 people would likely be extremely memorable. It must have required a LOT of planning, but also – how fun to share so many exciting and novel memories with the people you love most.

      I remember the external examiner on my defense – who was subtly trying to convince me to start a PhD in his program – asked me: So, what’s next for you? I just pointed down at my very large belly and said: I think this? Ironically enough, in my current role as project manager, one of the external partners on the project is this same examiner who was on my defence committee 12 years ago.

  13. That was so fun to read! Great questions and better answers!
    For the names for our kids we had a list of names we each gave numbers to from 1-10 and the highest number was the winner. Was fairly obvious in both cases. We did not tell anyone the name ahead of time.
    The best trip I took with my husband was 2 weeks on Crete where we traveled all around the island and stayed in a different place every other day.
    The best trip with the kids was a road trip down the California coast and then on Route 66 through Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley followed by a close second by a vacation on Kauai (also the farthest away).

    1. We didn’t tell anyone our names before delivery, either. We never knew for sure if it was a boy/girl.
      Two weeks in Crete – that sounds like near-perfection when I look outside this morning into a dark, freezing cold void that is November in Canada…
      That California road trip sounds epic and like something my husband would love to do (I’m sure I would, too, but I’m not quite as enthused by roadtrips as he is…)

    1. There is a bit of irony since there is a woman nursing in the background and I totally failed on that front – so this picture always makes me laugh a bit (that wasn’t planned, just a funny coincidence)!

  14. Abby has ALWAYS been one of my top girl names, if I were to ever have kids. I just love the name so much! And yes, I think Levi is a great boy name, too. Not that you need my approval, haha, but you guys definitely named your kids well. 🙂

    The best trip I’ve ever taken was probably my trip to Niagara Falls this year. It was one of those trips where I felt really confident and happy, and my mom and I had the best time. The furthest I’ve been away from home was Ireland!

    1. Thanks for the approval! I appreciate it nonetheless 🙂

      Niagara Falls is beautiful; a few people told me it was over-rated, but we loved our time there.

  15. This is so fun. Thank you for being so open about answering all those questions. I enjoyed how you named the kids. I also found it really interesting how you approach your kid’s raising in faith.
    And all the travel story.so fun…

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