Sunday, November 20, 2016

Our One Year Old's First Trip to Disneyland

Before taking our one year old, Bailey, to Disneyland, I did A LOT of research. I read every blog post and every forum. Stories of other parents who took their one years old and stories of other parents who said that you should never take your child until they're at least three or even five!

The fact is, if you're considering taking your little one to Disneyland, only you will know if it's right for your child. Our son gets bored when at the zoo, loves stimulation, and is generally very happy. At one, he was already walking for three months, so the most complex part of the trip was his want to walk. While in the parks, he stayed in the stroller but he walked around whenever we were at the hotel.

First of all, even though we're from Southern California and could've just driven down for the day, we decided to stay at The Grand Californian Adventure Hotel for a few nights to make the days as smooth as possible. I couldn't have asked for a better hotel to stay at! It was incredibly convenient to the parks, allowing us to go in and out whenever our son needed to stretch his legs or whenever we wanted a little down time.

Napa Rose
On Sunday, my father and I drove down with my son, and my husband, who was busy at our restaurant for the day, drove down late to meet us. Our first night, we ate at Napa Rose, the hotel's fine dining restaurant. Upon arrival, we waited in the lounge for our table to be ready and we let Bailey walk around. Because we're restaurant owners, he's so comfortable walking around restaurants in general...maybe a little too comfortable! He walked off to each individual table waiting in the lounge, stopped, and waved. What can I say, he's a people person! Being gluten-free (and having a list of many other allergies), I always worry that I will have trouble finding food. My son is gluten-free as well. At Napa Rose, we had absolutely no problem and had a delicious meal. Bailey, who's tastes are ever changing, had gluten-free spaghetti with marinara sauce and cheese. He gobbled it down and enjoyed himself immensely. He also shared some of my dad's short rib and my lamb. When he started to get ancy, Bailey occupied himself by flirting with two women at the table across from us.

On Monday morning, we went to our first (out of three) Character Dining experience at Disney's PCH Grill at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. The hotel is located right across the street from The Grand Californian (about a five minute walk). Bailey has been watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for months now so he recognizes the characters. At the beginning of breakfast, before being seated, we got to take a picture with Mickey Mouse. He was a little unsure about the giant Mickey at first...definitely hesitant! However, once we were seated for breakfast, he started to really warm up to the experience. Pluto came by the table first and he played with Pluto's whiskers a little before going back to eating. His tune suddenly changed drastically once Minnie Mouse arrived at the table. I'm pretty sure it was love at first sight! His entire face lit up and he kept reaching out for her.

Bailey and Minnie Mouse
After that, he was chasing after all the characters, including Stitch (who I personally find a bit scary!), and photo bombing other peoples photos with Daisy Duck! What can I say? He was a bit too quick for us sometimes! On the way out, we stopped by to see Mickey Mouse again and this time, he was having a wonderful time interacting with him. As far as Character Dining experiences go, I'd rate Disney's PCH Grill a 9/10. The food was great and the characters were a lot of fun to interact with. They truly spent as much time as they could at each table, despite being a very busy restaurant. The only reason I can't give this experience a 10/10 is because the next one stole the show for us!

Bailey and Mickey Mouse
After breakfast, we walked to Disneyland and went to the Winnie the Poo ride. This is where it was definitely my mistake. I've never been on it before and went off of recommendations online saying little ones will like it. Bailey was scared of the dark on the ride, as well as the scary noises. I would not recommend this ride at all at this age unless your child isn't phased by these things. Gwith and I kept clapping and saying "Yay!" throughout the ride to try to keep him calm. He never full on cried because of this but he definitely wasn't happy.

After the ride, Bailey fell asleep in his stroller. This is, of course, where having a grandparent along for the trip really comes in handy! My dad watched Bailey while Gwith and I went on the Roger Rabbit ride. It was a 30 minute long wait but we got lucky...when Gwith went to get fast passes for us, he found two that someone else had left. So we ended up getting on the ride straight away. When we got off, Bailey had just woken from his nap and was ready for a snack.

Side Tip: While Disneyland may say that you can't bring food into the park, security has no problem with you bringing in a couple of small snacks. We brought in cheerios and a clementine for Bailey.

First time on Dumbo
After Bailey munched on some cheerios, we took him to Mickey's House to meet Mickey Mouse once again. While waiting in line, Bailey enjoyed the cartoon they played on the screen. He was even giggling at parts! He had a wonderful time playing with Mickey Mouse again for the photos. We were all hungry afterwards but lunch was the only meal I did not make reservations for. I wasn't sure what Bailey's schedule would look like during the day and wanted to play lunch by ear. We stopped at Redd Rockett's Pizza Port. I had read online they had gluten-free pizza and gluten-free pasta. Unfortunately, they did not have the pasta. Bailey ended up having his first taste of junk food by eating a slice of my pizza! It's not something I'd normally do but unfortunately, without a reservation in Disneyland, you're not left with much options. He did eat a banana as well. After lunch, we went to Dumbo. While waiting in line for 15 minutes, we occupied Bailey's time by playing with him a lot. I also put him down to stand a few times and walk when the line would move. When we were on Dumbo, he was unsure about the ride but warmed up to it and started clapping part way through. I would definitely recommend Dumbo! I'm guessing if he went on the ride a couple more times, knowing what to expect, he'd really love it. After Dumbo, we went to the Mad Tea Party. Bailey didn't hate it, but he also didn't love it.

We didn't get to go on It's a Small World because it was closed while being refurbished for the holidays. I'm pretty sure he would've loved it because he loves music...but we'll have to try it another time!

Afterwards, we walked around the park and Bailey dosed for another nap. He took a very long nap this time and slept through our dinner at Cafe Orleans! During dinner, I was able to eat their salmon salad and have their french onion soup. I really enjoyed the soup, but out of our meals this trip, Napa Rose was definitely still my favorite.

After dinner, Gwith took my dad on a ride that neither of them had ever been on before and they knew absolutely nothing about...Hyperspace Mountain. That's right. Gwith had no idea it was rollercoaster! While they were on the ride, Bailey woke up from his nap and snacked while we waited. When the two of them got off the ride, they looked like they were in shock...and not feeling very well since they had just eaten dinner! I'm pretty sure that's the last time my dad lets Gwith talk him into a ride! Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and went to the Storyteller Cafe, where Bailey ate dinner and I enjoyed a gluten free brownie for dessert.

The next morning, we went back to the Storyteller Cafe (located at our hotel) for our second Character dining experience with Chip n' Dale! This experience also included Pluto and some giant bear (who again, I personally found scary looking!). Because the characters at this experience aren't as popular, it was by far the least crowded of all three experiences!

I'm honestly not even sure how I can describe this experience. It was nothing short of magical. Bailey fell so in love with the two chipmunks...I'm actually convinced he would've taken them home with us if he could've! When Chip arrived at the table, Bailey was instantly drawn to him, giving him endless cuddles and kisses.

He liked the bear and Pluto as well, but nothing could compare to his affection for Chip and Dale! About ten minutes after Chip left, he came back for more cuddles...and then Dale came over to join! Before we knew it, Bailey was being tickled and cuddled by both of them and was laughing hysterically! He was over the moon by this experience and part of me wants to drive down to Disneyland on a monthly basis just so he can do this breakfast again and again!

As we were leaving the restaurant, Dale came running up to us to wave goodbye to Bailey and give him an "Honorary Disneyland Citizen" button. All in all, this dining experience rates a 10/10 because the characters were incredibly friendly and were able to spend ample time with the tables.

After breakfast, we headed through the hotel's private entrance to the California Adventure park. I've never been to this park before and truthfully, it became a quick favorite! The crowds were minimal and there were plenty of rides to go on with minimal wait times (less than five minutes!). While Bailey took his late morning nap, Gwith and I went on the Grizzly River Run! As a rollercoaster hater and a water ride fanatic, I was in love with this ride. It was a hot day too, so getting splashed with water was definitely very much appreciated! We didn't get soaked the first time on the ride...but Gwith got drenched when we back on in the late afternoon! So it's definitely a gamble!

Bailey didn't end up going on any rides at California Adventure. He was just enjoying strolling around the park...We did take him to meet Toy Story's Woody, which he did enjoy, although it was hitting 90 degrees outside and Bailey was far more interested in holding a cold water bottle than interacting! Who could blame him?

California Adventure
My dad spent a lot of time playing with Bailey (or walking around while Bailey napped), while giving Gwith and I the chance to enjoy a few rides. I'm a huge Little Mermaid fan so I'm not going to lie, I absolutely loved the ride. If it wasn't for the darkness at the beginning and the scene with Ursula, I'm pretty sure Bailey would've liked this ride too because of the music. After Winnie the Poo though, we've decided to wait a couple years for Bailey to go on any rides that get dark...however, I definitely thing he'll be ready for this ride long before he's ready for the Winnie the Poo ride! While Bailey was awake, we walked along the Boardwalk where Gwith and my dad played quite a few games and won Bailey a few stuffed animals. Bailey had fun watching the games being played and just relaxing.

I truly think that's the best thing about California Adventure. It's much easier to relax and walk around without feeling claustrophobic or overwhelmed by crowds. Not too mention, the rides are great!

Gwith and I decided to go on the Radiator Springs Racers, which had an hour long wait, but also offers a Single Rider line with no wait. We went in the single rider line and managed to be put in the same car (just different rows). I had a lot of fun on this ride and told Gwith that as far as the drops were concerned, this was probably the max I could take! We also went on Soarin' (which we did at Disneyworld on on our honeymoon), and loved it.

For lunch, we headed back to the hotel and ate at Storyteller Cafe. Afterwards, Bailey walked around the hotel lobby and walkway outside the restaurant. He had a lot of fun waving at all of the people walking around and exploring the grounds! I already was pleased with the convenience of this hotel to the parks, but this solidified it. It was a great way to break up the day and let Bailey safely roam!

When we returned to the park, we went on a couple more rides and in the future, we definitely plan to take Bailey on Flik's Flyers and Heimlich's Chew Chew Train. We went on Heimlich's Chew Chew Train during the evening and while as adults, it's probably the most boring ride you could ever imagine, I believe it would be a great first ride for little ones. There is nothing scary (or one could argue, interesting) about this ride and it stays outdoors.

For dinner, we went to the Carthay Circle Restaurant, which was nice and fairly accommodating for my allergies, however, the meal I received was pretty simple once all of my dietary issues were taken into account. Napa Rose still wins by a landslide! That being said though, Disneyland and California Adventure are very accommodating for allergies and no matter what, you will find something you can eat.

Us at Goofy's Kitchen
On Wednesday morning, before heading back home, we went to our final character dining experience at Goofy's Kitchen, located at the Disneyland Hotel. To be honest, unless Bailey becomes a big Goofy fan when he's older, I would never go to this experience again. It was incredibly crowded and the characters weren't friendly. They breezed by each table for a quick photo and hardly any interaction at all. While the Chip n' Dale experience was uniquely personal because of the lack of crowds, I could easily compare this crowd to that at Mickey's PCH Grill breakfast. Both were crowded yet the Mickey breakfast was far more engaging. The food at this buffet was lacking as well. All in all, I was not impressed by this experience and we will not be going back.

For us, taking Bailey on this trip was a fantastic experience and definitely worth it! This time around, I'd say the rides were more for Gwith and I but the character dining experiences were a big win for all of us! That said, you are really the only one who can judge if this trip is right for your little one. If you can, I'd definitely recommend taking a grandparent along as a helping hand!

In summary, here's my ranking of character dining experiences and restaurants in general:

  1. Napa Rose at Grand Californian Adventure Hotel: great food & very accommodating; fine dining but still kid friendly.
  2. Storyteller Cafe at Grand California Adventure Hotel: If your little one doesn't care which character he/she is meeting, this is the friendliest and most personal experience you'll receive. The breakfast food was good as well. We also dined here for dinner and lunch and enjoyed all of our meals.
  3. PCH Grill at Paradise Pier Hotel: The breakfast buffet was wonderful and the characters were very friendly and personable.
  4. Cafe Orleans at Disneyland Theme Park: the food was decent (although I prefer Blue Bayou if you can get a reservation!)
  5. Carthay Circle Restaurant at California Adventure Theme Park: the design of the restaurant is an experience all in it's own and the food is enjoyable, as well as the drinks. This restaurant is definitely the least kid friendly of all the ones we visited. There was a definite vibe from some customers that they weren't happy a baby was in the restaurant, even though Bailey is very well behaved and this restaurant is located in a kid friendly theme park!
  6. Goofy's Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel: Honestly, I didn't even want to list this here because it's such a vast difference from the other five restaurants I listed. This was not an enjoyable character dining experience at all and the food was lackluster.

I hope this post helped in your decision about taking your little one to Disneyland for the first time! Remember to just relax and go with the flow! That will always make the experience a blast no matter what!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Our 5 Year Wedding Anniversary and Aroha's 2 Year Anniversary!

To say these last five years have been a journey would be a tremendous understatement.  Never in my life have I had a time that has been filled with so much love, change, determination, stress and joy. Today, it is five years since I married the love of my life, Gwithyen Thomas. In the years since, we moved states (well, he moved countries first!), started a business (Aroha's two year anniversary is next Saturday, September 10th!), started a family, and all around grew as people and as a couple. Throughout our most stressful times, I never once forget the vows I made that day. I vowed that through the good times and the bad, I would keep falling deeper and deeper in love with him. And even if somedays I feel like a basket case from our daily stresses or I'm going crazy from the same ridiculously silly jokes he loves to tell time and time again, I never stop falling more in love with him. The most beautiful thing about a marriage is that you never stop learning about each other because every day, something new happens that continues to affect how you think, how you act, how you feel, and who you are.

This week, I have had the pleasure of re-watching footage from our engagement interview. I edited it into short clips to release to family and friends and it has been a wonderful trip down memory lane, bringing me back to the very beginning of our beautiful romance. When we named our restaurant Aroha, we named it in honor of not only our love for two beloved family members who passed away, but also because no word could better describe us as a couple. Today, I'm excited to share with you the long distance love story that inspired our restaurant. Enjoy the clips below!

As for our restaurant's two year anniversary, please start making your reservations now for an evening of wining and dining, complete with wine and canap├ęs on our front patio from 4pm-6pm and a Chef's Table during our dinner service. Gwith has been excitedly working on our fall menu and is planning to showcase a dish or two from it in his Anniversary Chef's Table, giving you the first chance to taste one of his new upcoming dishes!

We look forward to seeing you there and celebrating with you!

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I'm a Helmet Baby Mom!

It was ten weeks ago when we found out our little boy would have to be fitted for a helmet. In the months of physical therapy leading up to that decision, I kept thinking to myself, "His head will round out. He won't need a helmet. He'll be fine." Then the day came that his physical therapist said he should be evaluated. We waited a couple of weeks to first visit with his doctor. We were shocked when his doctor exclaimed something alongs the lines of, "Oh my god! Have you had him fitted for a helmet yet? His head shape is not right. This will not fix itself."

Monkey & Peas Photography
Bailey a week before his helmet fitting (Photo by Monkey & Peas Photography)
Devastated, I looked up photos of babies with helmets and sat in despair. I didn't want my baby wearing one of those. What would other people think? Would they think there was something wrong with him? Would they think that I did something wrong with him? That I somehow did something to him that caused him to wear a giant band around his head? My fears of being looked at like I was a bad mom were quickly flooding in.

Then came time for his appointment. We walked into the office, nervous about the events that were going to unfold. During his free evaluation, we kept being reminded about how imperfect his face was. How is eyes weren't symmetrical, how one ear was much farther back, how his head was protruding in various spots. On the drive home, my husband had to stop for a box of tissues because I couldn't stop crying. I don't think there's anything worse on this planet then hearing someone tell you how wrong your baby is.

His next appointment, I went with a brave face. I realized this had to happen and there was no choice. The appointment, however, nearly destroyed me. I had made my peace (as much as I could at the time!) with him wearing the helmet. However, when being measured for it, they had to take pictures of his head. To do this, they took a breathable netted fabric and pulled it over his head. The trauma of seeing his face like that still sends chills up and down my spine. He of course, wasn't bothered by it at all. He didn't care. He was his usual happy-go-lucky self, smiling away.

The day we arrived for him to be fitted, I sat in the car on the drive, mourning our cuddle times that would be undoubtably affected by his new helmet. I was sad over the pictures I'd have of him with a helmet on his head, not looking at all like himself. I was worried over if he would be bothered by wearing the helmet on his head. I sat there, fingers crossed that he wouldn't need to wear it too long. My husband, who was equally nervous but far more collected then me, tried to reassure me and calm my fears.

At the offices for his helmet fitting
When we arrived, we sat down in the room, waiting for them to bring the helmet in. My husband put Bailey into a toy car in the room and started riding him around. Bailey was so happy and having a wonderful time. After about five minutes, the woman came in with his helmet. She was a very nice lady, not at all like the other, more critical, people we had met on previous visits. As she fitted the helmet onto Bailey, I realized that nothing could ever take away my baby's adorableness and happiness. He was still the exact same baby I've always known and loved. Truthfully, I had built it up to be far worse than it is. He didn't even notice it was there as he climbed over my husband's lap and head dived onto the floor. He let out a cry, as his head hit the ground, almost as if he expected it to hurt. I say this because that was the last time he head dived with his helmet on and cried! The helmet has definitely had a wonderful bonus of protecting him while he learns new skills!

From the moment the helmet was put on his head, I felt relieved. Knowing that my fears were unfounded was a wonderful feeling. He was happy, he was still adorable, and even though I read stories that I wouldn't be able to cuddle him, I could still cuddle him as much as I always have.

A week after Bailey got his helmet!
It's been five and a half weeks since he first got his helmet and he is doing wonderfully. The weeks have zoomed by and he should only be wearing it for another month and a half at the most. Since he got the helmet, I've found that the majority of people actually know exactly what it is! On occasion, I have had to explain it to people, but it feels good to know I'm able to inform more people about what a baby helmet is for.

The first couple of days while Bailey adjusted to the helmet, he sweat like crazy and woke up back and forth throughout the night from some minor discomfort. For any other helmet baby mom's out there, just know that this did not last long! After the first week, he began sleeping through the night and has been sleeping from 8pm-8am most days. Of course, every baby's sleeping pattern is different, but rest assured, the helmet will not affect your baby's chances of sleeping through the night!

Bailey cuddling up to me during playtime

I'm not going to lie, I am looking forward to Bailey having his helmet removed. Not for any of the reasons I feared. However, the helmet sometimes tips into his eyes and I have to readjust constantly and feeding him his bottle can be quite a pain as the helmet is constantly the point I've started just removing the helmet for those 10 minutes to make it easier on myself! I look forward to pulling clothes over his head without the extra step of taking the helmet off and putting it back on.

I know first hand how terrifying the process of getting your baby a helmet can be. The fear of judgement... But lets face it, as a new parent, it's easy to worry that people will judge your every move. The fear of thinking someone will tell you that you did something wrong is very real. But rest assured, while plenty of people judge about feeding jarred food vs. homemade food, breast feeding vs. bottle feeding, watching TV with your baby vs. keeping the TV always off, etc, very few people (if any!) are judging over the helmet. It's purpose is to help your baby's head shape correct itself. It may be purely cosmetic, but a irregular head shape can affect various things in their future, all the way down to wearing a pair of sunglasses one day!

If you are reading this because your baby will soon be wearing a helmet, I hope this helped you! Please know that there are other people with the same fears and worries as you. That we all get stressed over the idea of our baby wearing a helmet. However, just as my baby is okay, so will yours. And the good news is, you'll be just fine too.

Bailey happily wearing his helmet while he plays.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Aftermath (I Will No Longer Be a Victim)

I decided to write my last blog (read "The Untold Story of a Choice That Revealed Everything") with the knowledge that it would end all contact for me with those family members. Funny enough, all my blog did was talk about my true experiences and my personal feelings. But I knew. I knew that while they were okay with expressing their own feelings and their own versions constantly, that they wouldn't accept that my version was finally put out there. Interestingly, they then decided to end their relationship with my sister as well, who, while supported my decision to do what I needed to do for myself, wasn't even sure she shared the same sentiments as me, and who I made no mention of in my previous post.

family is those who love and support you
My amazing family.
Maybe they wonder why I released it publicly? I can answer that very simply: every time our families have ever had a private conversation, we've been victimized and bullied. I wasn't going to stand for that anymore.

The best way to help yourself overcome a bully is to get support from others and to not live in the shadows.

That is why I decided to handle the situation the way I handled it. I refuse to be verbally attacked once again. I refuse to hear them voice their opinions while they never listen to me voice mine. I refuse to listen while they insult my family and myself. This was the only way my voice would ever be heard.

GeekNation San Diego Comic Con launch party
With my husband at San Diego
Comic Con for my former job.
I've never taken an opportunity like this one before. When my former boss bullied me and forced me to work 100 hour work weeks, which resulted in the carpal tunnel I now live with every day, I left my job, feeling guilty and apologetic. This boss constantly told me how weak I was, and I believed him. I let him demolish me every day as he tried to tear me away from my family. He would spend his days belittling my work ethic and telling me I was immature for wanting a weekend off, even after working 16 hour days for two weeks straight (all while he refused to pay me overtime). He would also tell me not to speak to my husband about my stresses, and make scathing comments about my other family members behind their back. At the time though, I couldn't stand up. I couldn't say to him, "This is wrong." He tried to break apart my family and constantly criticized how close we were, and yet, I couldn't defend them. And that made me feel terrible. I've lived with the guilt of that for some time. Never standing tall and never saying, "I've had enough." I let him bully me until I was too weak to believe in myself and those I care so deeply about.

Don't let people mentally abuse and bully you. Surround yourself with those who truly care.
Surround yourself with the people who
love you.
When you're mentally bullied, you constantly expose yourself until there's nothing left.

It's a long process that sometimes isn't even obvious to the person being bullied, until it's too late. But the fact is, it's every bit as dangerous as being abused physically. Some days, whether the abuse was from my former boss or my former relatives, I would find it hard to get out of bed. They all made me feel worthless, despite how many other people in my life care about me.

Over the years, I was constantly reminded of how unimportant I was to these people. Every time I heard that my grandparents would take an hour and twenty minute drive to Malibu regularly for a charity, or a four hour drive to Las Vegas, it drove a dagger through my heart. Why was it that anytime my family invited them to visit they would constantly complain about how long the hour and fifteen minute long drive was to visit us? And then if they did visit, they'd only be able to stay a couple of hours around lunchtime before claiming they had to head back before the traffic got bad? Yet, their last visit up this way, when we were given no notice and already had lunch plans (so therefore couldn't see them), they made sure to stay for dinner with a friend, only minutes from our house, and told us such after they returned home. Had we known they could stay in the valley past 3 PM, we would've made sure to see them after our lunch plans were done.

In some ways, I just got used to being treated as a granddaughter they felt obligated to see. However, as a new mother, I realized that I never wanted my son to grow up feeling the same way. The last time my grandparents visited, my grandfather turned to my mom, while standing in front of me, and said, "It was special having grandchildren. But there's nothing special about having a great-grandchild."

Nothing special.

True love between grandfather and grandson
The bond between my son and his
amazing grandparents is what every child
should have. (Pictured: My father and my son)
How on Earth could he possibly say that? My son means absolutely everything to me and to hear my grandfather, who I diluted myself into thinking loved me, say that my child was "nothing special", absolutely killed me.

Already, they had tried to take a piece of my incredibly special relationship with my husband away from me. I will never let them touch my relationship with my son. Never.

For once in my life, I finally decided to say, "Enough." I finally decided that I wouldn't let others affect my emotional stability or the emotional stability of those I care about. I've done it for far too long and I'm done with it now.

Stand up for yourself. Believe in yourself.

Whether it's a boss, family, "friends", or some random acquaintance, don't let them demolish who you are. You are worth so much more than that.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Untold Story of a Choice That Revealed Everything

It was less than 5 years ago that I was sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out who to invite to my small wedding. There were people who I knew had to be there. My best friend who lived in Virginia at the time was one of them. I hadn't seen her since 5th grade but we emailed almost weekly (or monthly as our lives got busier) ever since. Some family members like my grandparents were an obvious certainty. Then came the time to cut the list. 
Who did I want to be there? Who did I think would care to be there?
engagement photo before wedding guest dramaAs I sat there, I thought back to the previous 17 years of my life since my family had moved to Colorado. Which family members had I talked to? Which family members had constantly tried to remain in contact with me? The answer? Almost none of them. It suddenly dawned on me that in 17 years, not one of them had even walked in our front door. Yet in the early years after moving, my family would always visit California to visit them. The reverse That never happened. In large part, that's why my family stopped visiting as I grew up. They felt the effort was never being made on the other end. Happy birthday phone calls and cards never existed nor did just an occasional chat to check in.
At the age of 3, you don't choose who's in your life. They choose you and by the time you're old enough to make your own decisions, it's nearly impossible that you'll think about these people as more than a name.

moving from California to Colorado at the age of three
So when I sat down and contemplated who to invite, I created a category in my mind for relatives closest on the family tree that I wish I had gotten to know. These were the people I'd seen occasionally when my family would visit. This cutoff led me to not invite a family member and his wife that I had only remembered briefly meeting twice. There was nothing malicious about my decision. I honestly didn't see why this person would even care to be at my wedding. They had never contacted me why would it matter now?

Looking back, I sometimes wish I didn't even invite some of the family members from this side of the family that I had, at the time, wished to get to know. There's one I'm still glad I invited. Throughout her preteen and teenage years, she'd message me to chat and constantly talk about wanting to visit. I'm sure she had no idea, but this meant so much to me. In a world where I thought the majority of my relatives didn't care, she was the only one who was constantly trying to reach out. I still wish I'd get a chance to know her, but sadly, it seems unlikely now.

After I sent off the invites, it was only a matter of days until the outrage began. I received the first email from my uncle (probably in my entire lifetime), telling me that I was an inconsiderate person and that I was lying about only inviting relatives I had been in contact with. He then called out the names of two relatives that were invited that he presumed I didn't speak to. Funny enough, these more "distant" relatives in his eyes, had visited multiple times in the recent years and emailed us back and forth. But looking back, maybe I was being a hypocrite. Not for inviting these "distant" relatives, but for inviting my uncle in the first place. After all, how much had I seen him either? A few more times I suppose then the relative that didn't make the cut off, but not by much. 
How much had he ever tried to get to know me when I was a child? Not at all. For some reason at the time though, it somehow seemed important to me to get to know my uncle.
Ironically, through this battle amongst the family, the only person who never spoke out was the uninvited relative. He was going on a cruise during my wedding and I hope he had a blast. I'd much rather that he be somewhere enjoying himself than at the wedding of a stranger. Sending him an invite would have only made it seem like I wanted a gift... And why should I get one from someone I don't know? I shouldn't.

Family guest list drama continued throughout our wedding

It's five years later and the drama this unraveled still looms in the air. Every year for my anniversary, I try to no end to make it special because my grandparents and my uncles took away a piece of my wedding day that I'll never get back. They made the memory a tainted one. I'm sure some of them may even be smiling knowing that. "She deserves it." "It was her choice." But it wasn't. It was never my choice to be dumped by my family when I moved states at 3 years old. It was never my choice to not hear from any of you. It was never my choice to be ignored because of whatever underlying issues that were within the family.

About half a year after my wedding, I visited my grandparents, who were still angry about my decision. As I tried to explain how I was feeling, my grandmother interrupted me saying that she should never have walked down the aisle at my wedding. In a moment of rage, I responded with profanity that I rarely use and stormed out of the house in tears. It was so special to me to have my grandparents walk down the aisle at my wedding, and to know that it wasn't special to her, was as big of an insult as when my other already deceased grandmother told me at 12 that she wouldn't love me anymore if I married out of the family religion.
Once again, I was being told that this love wasn't unconditional.
Why was it my responsibility to have relationships with family members that never wanted one with me? Why was no one mad at them? Why was I always the villain? These questions pour through my head almost daily as I try to wrap my head around the most obvious answer. That they never truly loved me wholeheartedly.

After about a year passed, I decided to see my grandparents again. When I was 14, I chose to cut my other grandmother out of my life for the pain she caused me. I did not want to do it again. As we began to make amends, or so it seemed, I tried to move on. My husband and I began to do our best to go to family functions, such as my grandmother's birthday party and my grandparents anniversary party.

vacation to Europe
Then in the Spring of 2014, while on an early anniversary vacation with my husband in Europe, I received an incredibly hurtful email from a cousin of mine telling me that I was "self centered", that my husband was "fake and rude", and that I was "unwelcome into [her] life and the family as a whole." Somehow I was being yelled at for the conversation I had with my grandmother two years before. I was being told how much I hurt our grandmother and that if we all wanted to be a family again, I needed to apologize to everyone. Apologize for responding to a very hurtful remark that I never received an apology for either. The real question though is, when were we a family in the first place?

In my eyes, family is about being supportive and understanding. It's about communication, mutual love and respect. Family is not about ignoring people and attacking them for their own decisions, especially when you've never been a part of their lives in the first place.

The saddest part to me through all of this is that there is still a cousin or two of mine that I wish I could get to know. They've never responded to the drama but at the same time, I know it's a hard place for them to be in. And I respect that fully.

At the end of the day, all I can do is let this experience be in the past. It taught me what family truly means and what I want and who I want in my life, my husband's life, and my son's life.
Surround yourself with the people who always cared about you, effortlessly and unconditionally.
The other people are merely names that will eventually fade away as they distance themselves further and further. Don't let one stranger's opinion affect how you see yourself and don't second guess your gut feelings and your choices. You made them for a reason and the truth is, people will show their true colors over time.

family is love not blood

I'm grateful that my son is growing up with already more support and love from here to New Zealand than I ever had. Already, he has grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins who speak to him almost every day, even if it's a Skype call from across the ocean. He couldn't have asked for a better family unit and I will continue to do my best to surround him with those who I know truly care.

Read my follow up story: "The Aftermath (I Will No Longer Be a Victim)"

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Rollercoaster of Confidence

It's hard to believe that it's been two years since we began putting together our plans and searching for the location for our very first restaurant, Aroha. Ever since that moment, we have learned a lot. About customer service, about management, about life in general. To say it's been easy would be a lie. Some days, I close my eyes and imagine what life would be like if we had never chosen this path. But honestly, as tough as it is, I could never wish for anything different than what I have. Somedays, I feel like I could crumble under all of the pressure but in the end I know, these experiences are only making me stronger.

Gwith and I in 2014 after signing the lease for Aroha
It's hard owning something that you care so deeply about, especially when you have the occasional diner who never gives you a chance. When we designed our restaurant, we wanted to create an intimate and romantic environment that would make our customers feel welcome every day. We had a limited amount of space in the building and we did our best to accomplish our goals. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crushed every time I read an occasional review saying our interior looks like a cheap Denny's. Our interior was incredibly costly from our standpoint and we've tried our hardest to make it beautiful. I guess, for me, the hardest part is knowing that I came up with the design. On slow days, I can't help but blame myself thinking that I should've done something differently. That maybe, even as we're constantly growing, I'm the reason we're not packed every minute.

Aroha Interior at night
I know. It's silly. Especially when realizing that other times, customers walk in and compare our interior to sitting inside a magical jewel box. I guess at the end of the day, you just can't please every one. It's crazy how for every 100 great reviews, even seeing one bad one, can be crushing. When we run an ad on Facebook to try to increase our customer base and one person takes to it to say "I was unimpressed", they don't realize the potential effect that their response could be having on not just our business, but our family and our livelihood. I know. As an adult and a business owner, it should just be understood that this is life. People criticize and judge and it's our job to be strong enough to not let it affect us and our mindset. But why should the feeling of being knocked down just be understood? Can't people be supportive? My whole life I've dealt with people who just try to bring you down. From extended family members, to teachers, to bosses, and I just can't for the life of me understand why people need to destroy others to make themselves feel more important. When did people learn to have such a negative mindset?

Yesterday, I heard a story about a family friend's daughter who is beginning to have the same struggles at my former high school as I did. She was out sick for a few days before finals and was badgered by two teachers for being absent. She's a smart girl with straight A's but she's losing her confidence because these teachers feel the need to bring her down. When I went through these same experiences, I chose to drop out (read my blog, Confessions from a High School Drop-Out). No longer did I feel smart, confident, or capable. I lost all hope in my abilities and it's a struggle I deal with every day. It's nine years later and no matter how many things I accomplish, I still live with this shadow over my head. A shadow that I'm constantly trying to leave behind. But every once in a while when I think it's gone, it looms over me again. Sometimes, I wish I could go back to those days and tell these teachers that what they're doing is wrong. People are so focused on teaching children not to bully, but what about adults? I was never physically beaten up in school but I can't even begin to count the amount of times I've been mentally beaten by various adults in my life. From being told by relatives that I'm a "selfish bitch" and "not welcome in the family" for the decision to not invite someone to my small wedding who by all accounts was a stranger to me (read my blog, The Untold Story of a Choice that Revealed Everything), to being told by my Grandmother when I was 12 years old that if I married out of my religion, she would no longer love me, to being told by a school teacher that I would never amount to anything in life because I had health problems, and to being told by a boss that I wasn't working hard enough even after working 90 to 100 hour weeks.

Our wedding in my childhood backyard

I will never understand why people just can't be supportive. When I think that this is the world my son is going to grow up in, all I can hope is that I can do my best to surround him with people that care for him and teach him what's right and wrong. I want him to know more than anything that he is a strong, confident, and capable person that can accomplish anything. What worries me is knowing that my parents taught me this every day too...but at the end of the day, there were too many other people out there letting me know how much of a failure I was in there eyes.

Our son Bailey and I
So please, to anyone who's reading this blog, don't let this be you. Today (and everyday), remember to tell people, whether it's the bagger at the grocery store, an employee of yours, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, your boss, or just someone you casually strike up a conversation with, that they're doing a wonderful job... And before you criticize someone for not working hard enough or not satisfying your expectations, think about the effect that you're creating on their life and their mental mindset. Maybe there's another way to help them without knocking them down. Maybe all they need is to have a someone, even a stranger, make them smile, because maybe too many have already made them cry.

When I have a customer who tells me how much they love their experience at the restaurant and how welcome they feel, it helps get me through the hardest of days. Each time I feel like giving up, I hear these customers and it rejuvenates me to keep on trying. It's this mindset that helps me, my husband, and our employees continue to strive to provide the best service possible.

Thank you all for reading.

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.