Wow, what a ride this has been. Almost 14 years ago in 2008, my husband and I, who met at WWE and lived together just down the street from the headquarters in Stamford CT for many years, decided to follow our dream and move to Park Slope. Or more specifically, South Slope, just 1 & ½ blocks away from your favorite pediatrician’s office. What a different place it was back then. I remember feeling like we were living on the “fringe” - not quite Park Slope, as it was rapidly evolving and undergoing quite the dramatic shift. To put it in perspective, one day, not too long after we moved, we witnessed a shooting on our street (thankfully no one was hit by the bullet) - and thankfully that did not exemplify the overall safe, beautiful area that was our new home. It was exhilarating, we were both working in the city and loving everything 30-something year olds do when they have nothing to do but live and play hard, which we were really, REALLY good at (especially the “play” part)!
One of my very favorite early memories in PS after becoming first time home owners, after painting the walls of our new apartment for 10 hours straight on our first night, our grumbling bellies walked down 5th avenue in search of sustenance…and no less than 20 steps away we found what would become our new favorite restaurant, Sidecar. And we ordered what would be our favorite local dinner, the ridiculously amazing fried chicken (salivating as I write this - the kale side as well, amazing). And we ate this at 2am, far beyond any restaurant hours where we had come from. We were in LOVE. I remember almost falling off the bench saying, “Your kitchen is still open”??? No, we were not in Kansas, I mean Connecticut, any longer.
And this love affair with Park Slope only grew more intense with every passing day, and grew 100 million fold four years later when we gave birth to our little girl Amaya. Prior to giving birth, as we all need to do, I had selected a pediatrician, one that a friend & neighbor recommended and I figured that would be just fine (knowing absolutely zero about how immensely important this decision is). Skip ahead to post delivery, and the pediatrician on duty at Methodist Hospital walked into the hospital room, and it was love at first sight (sorry, Matteo)!!! He looked at me and my sweet girl with such genuine care and concern, and all I could say was, “So how can you be our doctor”??!!! And at that moment we became one of Dr. Cao’s first patients at South Slope Pediatrics.
The next 4 years were abound of “playground-hopping” (replacing the bar hopping of previous life), lots of dancing to Amy Miles, Hootenanny and Pete Sinjin, swim and ballet at the YMCA, exploring our beautiful park, the Zoo, the Botanical gardens, many brunches at Black Horse, Prospect Bar, Korzo, Piccoli, Sidecar…and more than anything, these memories are full of the amazing friendships that were fostered in Park Slope. What a beautiful tribe of friends we made. And during these years I was so fortunate to develop not only a very special friendship with Matteo and Hai, but also became their “marketing sidekick”, for lack of a better term! I started helping with social media posts & writing this monthly blog, which I’ve now been tasked with for 7+ years. Gulp, sigh, cry.
The one small detail I’ve skipped over is that in November of 2015, I gave birth to our (terrible sleeper, colic, but super adorable and sweetest ever) son Colton…and our small 2-bedroom apartment felt smaller than ever. For the record, “2” was a bit of exaggeration as that second bedroom was truly a glorified closet. I'm certain that many will understand what I mean, and it was a miracle that our toddler fit inside! And we all know that despite their size, children occupy a CONSIDERABLE amount of space. It was quite evident that after 6 months as a family of four we would either need to move out of the city (as our budget would not allow for a larger space in Brooklyn) OR we would lose our minds, which was already starting to happen at a rapid pace. We decided on the former, and in September 2016 we had landed back where both Joe and I grew up, in Westchester County, NY. Back to the ‘burbs. It almost felt forced, as we didn’t have much of a choice (that is, unless again sanity was out the door)!
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I was full-on depressed, crying and missing the special place that we called home for over 8 years EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Our son did not sleep through the night (let alone more than 3 hrs straight), I was home with him, a daughter in preschool part time, husband working in the city. Surely…I loved our beautiful new home, our private yard, and the space! The space….that was the shining light. We visited Park Slope monthly after moving, and then slowly, we found our people here...and the visits to Brooklyn became less and less often. Our son finally learned to sleep, after three very difficult years. We found our community, we found our tribe. While we will never have another South Slope Pediatrics, we will never ever have another Dr. Cao, we do not have anything nearly as awesome as Sidecar’s fried chicken (don’t get me started on the food here), and we cannot go to the world’s best sing-a-longs, we did find and create a new happy life, and one that we’ve learned to embrace over the last few years.
While our son was only 10 months old when we moved, my daughter had just celebrated her 4th birthday prior to leaving Park Slope. She remembers Josephine at Black Horse. She remembers dancing to the fiddle at the farmer’s market. She remembers our picnics and lazy summer afternoons in the park, and endless number of days exploring Prospect Zoo and Lefrak. While we’ve visited since, it has been some time and I can’t wait to return again, sharing memories and reminding them about the MOST AMAZING PEDIATRICIAN’S OFFICE IN THE WORLD, and how lucky we are that our paths crossed that day almost 9 and ½ years ago.
For the record, we have learned to love it here, now going on over 5 years since we left our wonderful apartment in South Slope. We are in a diverse neighborhood, only 25 minutes from Manhattan (and an hour closer to summer visits in Maine)! We can go bike or walk to so many friends' houses. We have smores at night by our firepit. We can close our eyes outside and hear nothing but the wind. We can walk to a pond down the street to go fishing. Our summers are filled with lawn games and playing in our tacky above ground pool. Our kids are deeply involved in sports. We absolutely love our elementary school. We can jump up and down and yell and laugh as loud as we want without worrying about disturbing the neighbors. There is a sense of community here. We have found our new happy place.
So for my final blog, I want to say thank you to Hai & Matteo and the amazing staff at South Slope Pediatrics for this opportunity. You are an extended family, and always will be. My family is so very grateful that Dr. Cao was on duty that night on September 9th of 2012, and we will forever hold you all in our hearts. I can’t wait to see you, and our beautiful Park Slope, again.
Meet Jill Wood, South Slope neighbor and a very dear close friend of Dr. Cao and Matteo. Twelve years ago, they found out that their baby boy, Jonah, was diagnosed with a fatal rare disease, Sanfilippo Syndrome. Dr. Cao was instrumental in his early diagnosis, and as Jill says, this early diagnosis gave Jill and her husband Jeremy a chance to fight for Jonah’s fate. Because the patient population is so small, it is up to Jill and other parents, through grassroots fundraising, to drive and fund research. So this holiday season, we ask that you consider fighting alongside Jill, and that means considering a donation to help fund gene therapy and making it available to the world.
SSP: For those readers who are not yet familiar with your story, can you please tell us about your son Jonah and the rare disease he was born with, and your connection with Dr. Cao?
Unbeknownst to us, Jeremy, and I are carriers of a genetic syndrome called Sanfilippo subtype C. As carriers Jeremy and I both passed down our damaged gene to Jonah. We had no reason to suspect anything amiss at birth and he continued to develop normally. A little on the overactive side, horrible sinus infections and a big head. Nothing uncommon for a one-year-old. On Jonah’s first year well visit we saw Dr. Cao; Dr. Cao made the observation that Jonah’s head circumference was off the chart. He suggested that we get an MRI just to rule out hydrocephaly. We made the appointment and then continued with our lives as nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Sorry, I am going to fast forward 10 months. It is a gorgeous day, I’m feeling in the Holiday spirit, and I really don’t feel like ruining my day by describing what happened. Just one sentence on the diagnosis. Jeremy and I were informed that Jonah had a genetic syndrome, it was terminal and there was no treatment. For the big picture check out my company’s website: https://www.phoenixnestbiotech.com
SSP: When we last spoke to you 2 years ago, Jonah was eleven....so that means he is now a teenager! How is he doing today?
Jonah is a teenager on the outside, but he is still a little guy on the inside. Jeremy often takes Jonah to the playground by our house. Jonah absolutely adores interaction with other children. The playground is the best place for him to interact with other kids. Playing chase or hide and seek doesn’t take a lot of communication or cognitive function.
Park Slope has a reputation for being an inclusive neighborhood. If you see Jeremy and Jonah running around the playground playing tag don’t be too shy to say hi. Inclusion also includes people with physical and mental disabilities. Kids learn best from their parents, get in there and show your child how inclusion works. Feeling accepted in your community makes for a better life and a better place to live.
Jeremy and I are thrilled with how well Jonah is doing, his physical health is stable, and he continues to learn. We are very lucky parents, most 13-year-old children suffering from Sanfilippo syndrome have lost their speech and are beginning to lose their mobility by thirteen. Jonah continues to defy his fate.
SSP: Having joined forces with the Cure Sanfilippo foundation a couple of years back now, how have things progressed in terms of the gene therapy drug you have been proposing?
I had to accept that I could not run both a not for profit, Jonah’s Just Begun (JJB) and my biotech, Phoenix Nest, something had to give. JJB was focused on fundraising for the research to treat Sanfilippo subtypes C and D. My counterparts at the Cure Sanfilippo Foundation focus on raising funds for types A and B. It made perfect sense to join forces with Cure Sanfilippo Foundation. Our gene therapy program, JLK-247 thrives with funding from the Cure Sanfilippo Foundation, made possible by donors like yourself.
As you can imagine the road to creating a treatment for ultra-rare diseases is paved with obstacles. More than I can explain here, perhaps I might write a book one day. One obstacle is the FDA, not in a bad way, I just learned the hard way. I should have presented my proposed route of administration to the FDA before embarking on one very expensive and time-consuming sheep study. The FDA was apprehensive about our Route of Administration (ROA), which was direct injections into the brain. We also doubled up by adding a second ROA, a convection enhanced delivery, i.e., we proposed to add a shunt that would deliver another small dose of vector over the top of the brain. The FDA wanted us to go back and split out the two delivery methods in yet another animal study. Their rationale was that if there was an adverse event (AE) in a child that they’d like to have a better idea of which ROA might have caused the AE. Makes sense. During that time new research had shown that intrathecal lumbar injections would likely get enough vector into the brain to halt the disease. So, we decided to switch things up and go with the less invasive ROA, which makes everyone happier. We’re now in the final stages of testing that route. We also took the opportunity to beef up our vector with new technology. At the end of the day there might just be a silver lining to having to go back and do more studies. Our most recent interaction with the FDA has been very positive.
Phoenix Nest is working with another not for profit organization called the Columbus Foundation, founded by the gene therapy guru, Jude Samulski. The Foundation is brokering a deal to have our vector manufactured at cost, which is saving us millions! The Cure Sanfilippo Foundation created a fundraising campaign to help pay for the manufacturing of JLK-247. If you feel so inclined, you can donate here. https://www.gofundme.com/f/saveconnor
SSP: You have been pioneering the needs of all rare diseases, having spoken in Congress multiple times, raising awareness and the necessity to get federal dollars allocated to research. Where is that conversation today?
Time flies by! I cannot believe all the places I have been drumming up awareness demanding equality for federal dollar allocation to ultra-rare disease research. I am happy to say, it has paid off. We always need more; our next goal is to have our federal government create a rare disease center at the National Institute of Health. If you ever want to join in check out the EveryLife Foundation. One program enacted by our government that is of no cost to taxpayers is the Priority Review Voucher (PRV) program. The vouchers are just a piece of paper, a ticket that you can sell to the highest bidder. JLK-247 meets all the requirements to win one of these tickets all I must do is receive FDA approval for JLK-247. Which I eventually will. The PRV is for companies like Phoenix Nest that are trying to develop drugs for treatments that are not financially viable. I can leverage the PRV program to incentivize a larger pharmaceutical company to help us produce, manufacture, and distribute JLK-247 so that the rest of the world can have the drug. The PRV gives pharmaceutical companies a shortened review period with the FDA by 4 months. I know 4 months doesn’t sound like much but when you’re competing with another company with what you know is to be a block buster drug, those 4 months could get you over the finish line first and give you 7 years of market exclusivity. Ca-Ching.
There are only twenty known patients in the United States with Sanfilippo syndrome type C. No company would have taken this on, when there are thousands of other rare diseases without treatments, with patient populations of up to 2,000 to choose from.
SSP: For those who have not met Jill, she is a fighter like no other. To say she is committed to this cause and fighting day in and day out doesn't do it justice. For those of us who are lucky enough to know you, we all need to ask - where does this strength come from?
Dr. Cao gave us the opportunity to fight Jonah’s fate, Jonah is the only Sanfilippo type C child to have ever been diagnosed asymptomatic. Most children go through a 4-6 yearlong diagnostic odyssey before being diagnosed. By then the disease has caused their child profound brain damage. Jonah was diagnosed as a baby; I saw a window of opportunity to save his life before Sanfilippo ravaged his mind and body. Jonah is thirteen now and the disease has taken a toll on his brain and body, I have accepted what may come. JLK-247 is named after a family with three girls with Sanfilippo type C, this family has impacted me in a way that I cannot have imagined. I think about them all the time (24/7), I can envision the young women that that they could have grown to be if they were to be given the opportunity.
I realize that I could have had three children back-to-back all with this fate. Dr. Cao’s early diagnosis gave Jeremy and I the opportunity to rethink our family plans, next to each other. Jonah is our one and only true love. Could you imagine being told that your 4-, 6-, and 8-year-old girls were all going to die before adulthood? I have a great sense of duty to stop this from continuing to happen to future families. No parent should go through this nightmare.
Our path has inspired numerous of other families to follow the same course and drive the science for treatments of their child’s rare disease. I receive frequent calls and emails. It is very rewarding to hear of their accomplishments. When I feel defeated, I remind myself that I cannot quit, it’s not just for me, it’s for all the other families.
SSP: During the holidays, folks are often pulled into so many directions regarding where to donate. As friends of Jills, we ask that you consider donating to this particularly important cause, which is never given the attention that it so deeply deserves. Jill, how can we help you raise funds?
The Cure Sanfilippo Foundation created a fundraising campaign to help pay for the manufacturing of JLK-247. If you feel so inclined, you can donate here. https://www.gofundme.com/f/saveconnor
Have you been lucky enough to have met our new amazing doctor, Dr. Erik Aurigemma? Who is Dr. Aurigemma you ask? What is he most passionate about? How many pets does he have? Answers to all of these questions and more in this month’s interview. Please join us in welcoming him to our family (and yours) - and learn all about him here (and P.S. - he has 5 pets)!!!!!!
SSP: I understand you were born and raised here in New York! Can you tell us about your experience growing up here and how it shaped and led you to pursue pediatric medicine?
Sure, I grew up in Westchester County and grew up coming into NYC often either for sports, social events, or to visit my brother at NYU. I moved to Flatbush during medical school and relocated to Bay Ridge for residency where I still live now. While growing up, I was active in many sports and went on to coach swimming and rugby. I found excitement guiding children through the learning process of sports and fitness. Pediatric medicine seemed a natural extension where I could help guide them through the development of a healthy lifestyle in all areas.
SSP: Sports is something very near and dear to you, can you tell us more about that and more specifically your interest in sports medicine?
I played many sports growing up. I played soccer from age 4 through college. In high school I played soccer, ice hockey, and began playing rugby as a teenager. Rugby has been the sport I have been most involved in since college, playing for teams in Boston, England, and New York, most recently for Brooklyn Rugby Club (although now I've retired to a sideline medical support role). Being so involved in athletics and also pursuing a career in medicine made it only natural to try and combine the two passions. Athletes are some of the people most invested in their physical and mental wellbeing. I found that as a result, wonderful successes can be achieved when both patients and providers are dedicated to progress. Injury recovery, concussion management, and offseason training care are all small areas of sports medicine that can be used in pediatric practice to keep our student athletes safe and thriving.
SSP: What about pediatric medicine are you most passionate about?
Given my previous answer relating to my dedication to sports, it shouldn't be a surprise that the area of pediatric medicine I am most passionate about relates to physical health. Diet and nutrition counseling as well as exercise planning is an often underappreciated and borderline neglected area in medicine. With the increase in sedentary lifestyles in the youth population and decrease in activity in schools and afterschool programs, it is necessary to seek new strategies to help keep our children active and healthy. Helping my patients find passion in sport and lifelong interest in physical activity is always rewarding.
SSP: What do you find yourself doing when you don’t have your doctor hat on?
When I don't have my doctor hat on I can often be found at home. I live in Bay Ridge with my wife, Lindsey, our three dogs Lady, Riise, and Toto, and our cat Salvatore (And our fish, Fred!). My wife and I bought our house in 2019 and have made a hobby out of slowly completing home renovation projects. I might be painting, tiling a floor, or helping my wife restore a piece of furniture. We are making progress turning our house into a home, little by little. If I am not out for a run or bike ride, my sedentary time is spent playing video games. I play a variety of games but enjoy story-rich games the best.
SSP: What are your thoughts on what this upcoming year will look like for our children, now that the vaccine is available?
I think this year is bound to be a more hopeful one than last year. With the vaccine now available for the 5-11 age group, we are being given more freedom to see our friends and families, enjoy the holiday season together safely, and take stock of how blessed we are to be in good health. Every step forward in this process brings us a bit closer to carefree enjoyment of our activities once again.
SSP: As we head into winter and colder temperatures, what's your best advice about how we keep our kids active?
Keeping active throughout a New York City winter is always a challenge. As it gets colder outside, my best advice when doing those activities that require you to be outside is, "Bundle up!" A facemask, hat, and scarf keep bicycling/running/scooting around Brooklyn an option on most winter days. You can also investigate options for indoor activities. There are fitness centers here in Brooklyn (like Matchpoint) that offer indoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and basketball courts. There are also a ton of internet personalities happy to guide you through a workout with your yoga mat, stationary bike, or weights you have at home. Some of my favorite exercise days are those that require no equipment at all! Body weight fitness, boxing, and martial arts workouts can be found online that require only a screen and some free space. For those more inclined for in person classes, Brooklyn has many boxing gyms, crossfit locations, yoga studios, and martial arts venues that offer classes for children (and adults!)
SSP: Any other words you would like to share with our families?
I am very excited to be a part of the South Slope Pediatrics community. My fellow staff members have been extremely welcoming and helpful as I made the transition into the new practice. I am also so pleased to have been welcomed so heartily by parents and patients alike. I'm excited to come to work each day and can't wait to continue growing here at SSP.
We are incredibly honored and thrilled to have a new doctor join our team at SSP. In this month's interview, we'll be introduced to Dr. Kaeya Choksey, an avid traveler and someone who loves to cook, dance and ride her Peleton when she is not doing what she is most passionate about, and that is taking care of our families. Learn more about her journey here and please give her a warm welcome if you see her at the practice!
SSP: Welcome to the SSP team! We are so very excited to have you join and want to know ALL about you! Can you please tell us about your journey here, and what ultimately led to your decision to join SSP?
I am very excited to join the SSP team as well! Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in Long Island, NY and went to college in Philadelphia. I then journeyed to the beautiful island of Grenada where I completed my first two years of medical school at St George’s University School of Medicine. I, then, moved to Brooklyn and immediately fell in love with it! I did my pediatrics residency at NYP Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and lived in Park Slope for 3 years. Funny enough, my apartment during residency was 3 blocks away from the SSP office, so I had walked by it many times! Once I finished my residency, I moved to Jersey City and worked at a pediatric outpatient practice in Clifton, NJ for two years. I am so grateful for all the knowledge I gained and the wonderful people I met along the way during my time there. I came across a new opportunity at this wonderful practice, and I had to hear more about it! When I got to know the SSP team, their values and what they believe in, I knew it would be a great fit for me. I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity to work at SSP and to take care of the Brooklyn community!
SSP: Is there something specific to pediatric medicine that you are most passionate about? What is it and why?
I think what I love the most about pediatrics is seeing my patients grow, forming relationships with families and being there for them through the journey. Having a healthy lifestyle is something that has become very important to me. I try to stay active daily - whether it is by doing a dance workout, getting on my peloton or going to the gym. I have personally seen both the physical and mental benefits one can gain from having a healthy lifestyle and I want to try to instill that mindset in my patients as well. I love that I have the opportunity to guide families and patients into doing something positive for their physical and mental well being.
SSP: What was your inspiration to become a pediatrician? Did someone in particular inspire you?
Since I was young, I've loved working with children. When I decided to go into medicine, I fell in love with pediatrics! I always wanted to be able to help people in some way and wanted to be able to make a difference in the community.
There are a few people that inspired me to become a doctor. My grandfather was a physician in the Indian army and as children, we would always hear stories from our father about his experience. Growing up, I also looked up to my older sister, who is a Pediatric ER doctor now, as one of my role models. I was lucky enough to have someone who went through the same journey to guide me and support me through mine. I am very thankful we had parents as well who pushed us to achieve our goals but also wanted us to go into a career that made us happy.
SSP: When you aren't helping children and their families, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? What are your passions?
When I am not at work, there are many things I enjoy doing. I love dancing, traveling to new places (fun fact- I think I just hit 30+ countries this year), cooking, spinning on my Peloton, and spending time with family and friends!
SSP: What is your favorite country that you've visited, and why?
I can’t say I have one favorite specific country or place I’ve visited because there are a bunch! If I had to pick one of my favorite places I’ve been to, I would say Iceland. The stunning scenery and natural landscapes of the country were breathtakingly beautiful.
SSP: What else would you like our families to know about you?
As I had mentioned earlier, staying active has always been important to me. Since I was young, one of my passions has always been dance. Growing up, I trained in an Indian classical dance style called Kathak for 10 years and I was part of my high school dance repertoire company where we trained in various different styles of dance including Jazz, Hip Hop, Flamenco and Modern. I was able to continue my passion for dance during college as well where I took part in two of the competitive dance teams - the South Asian fusion girls dance team and the Bhangra team (traditional folk dance originating from Punjab, India). We were able to travel all around the US competing against other university dance teams and it was an amazing experience I will never forget. I still love dancing to this day and try to continue my passion for it whether it is doing a performance for a wedding, going to a dance workshop or creating my own choreography!
In addition to receiving a great education, my dance training has instilled a lot of values that make me the individual I am today. I love being a pediatrician but I also think it is very important to have an outlet outside of your profession in order to maintain a good work-life balance. Dance has also helped me stay in tune with my Indian heritage and culture. My parents moved from India to the US in the 1980s for a better opportunity for themselves and their future family. It was very important to them while we were growing up that we did not lose our Indian heritage. We love celebrating all of our holidays, traditions, eating Indian food and dressing up in Indian attire. I am always curious to learn about new and different cultures as well which is why I love traveling to new countries and places. Meeting new people and learning all about their different traditions and customs is fascinating!
Lastly, I am really looking forward to forming new relationships with the SSP community and cannot wait to take care of all of my new patients.
In a year when many parents are feeling like we need to make up for (at least a partially) lost year, many of us wonder how we can best support our children at home and complement what they are learning in school. We spoke to Kathryn Goldstein, a preschool teacher with 20 years of experience in Westchester County, about how we can help build confidence and help them grow through both emotional and educational support. As she stresses, these are all concerns that parents face on a daily basis since life as we used to know it changed dramatically, and we need to remind ourselves that we are not alone.
SSP: How do we best help our kids adapt to the realities of an uncertain school year ahead?
Life is about change and being adaptable and flexible, and I’ve been trying to embrace that concept when talking to my kids about new and different expectations throughout the year. It takes practice to learn these things and as the second year of covid school regulations begins we ask our kids to adapt again. We can remind them of all the ways they’ve learned new things, changed their routines, and point out their successes along the way! Small wins like learning how to use new technology, getting to know their classmates and teachers in new ways (and in their home environments) can spark new conversations that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have happened. I might also point out that while they learned from home, they also got opportunities to be good neighbors and help others who might need it. Daily walks and taking the time to slow down are also some perks of the new routines the children were asked to learn. Our lifestyles have encouraged busyness and it’s been a good lesson to learn for us all about how to slow it down and see what’s actually important to you.
SSP: Many kids (and parents) are experiencing stress around their academic development, thinking they didn't learn as much as they should have last year and feel behind. How can parents help acknowledge and address this (and ultimately be OK with academic imperfection)?
Every single child experienced the “covid slide”. It’s expected and understood that children will not be where they might have been academically if we had not experienced a school shutdown. Emotionally and socially the children have been through so much and the lags in those areas of development continue to be evident and much more concerning in my opinion. Having a strong emotional and social curriculum, will set the children up for academic success.
I think it's also important that we take this word "perfection" out of our conversation, and focusing less on worrying about your child being on his or her grade level but thinking that they may have missed certain things, or will be behind on certain things - and these are areas that we can focus on as teachers and parents...and work on together to improve. We are a team.
SSP: If our child is experiencing more stress and anxiety, do you recommend approaching the teachers, and what do you suggest is the best way to go about this?
A lot of kids are definitely experiencing heightened stress and anxiety. I like to utilize the schools support staff such as social workers, guidance counselors and Assistant Principals, as well as classroom teachers, to help ease a child’s anxiety. The teachers and administrators will work with the families at home to build a “bridge” to connect the coping skills that the kids are being taught in school and carry them over into the child’s home.
SSP: This year will require additional emotional support for many of us. Do you recommend regular check-ins? How do we encourage our children to share and be open with us about their school experience?
I think it’s so important to normalize how the children are feeling. Families, teachers, and friends can all provide ways to ground us and reassure us when we’re feeling confused, lonely, worried or isolated. However, If a child is feeling especially anxious or depressed, perhaps seeking outside help such as a therapist can also be an avenue to explore for additional support and guidance. As always, you as the parent are the best advocate for your child.
To encourage your child to share how they’re feeling pick a time when your child is relaxed and calm (usually not right after school - maybe before bedtime) to ask them specific questions about their feelings, instead of more open ended questions which might be more difficult for them to answer. Questions such as, “Who did you sit with at lunch?“ or "Who did you play with on the swings today?“ Rather than a more general “How was school?” are easier for them to answer. Framing questions in a positive way is another way to encourage the child to share. Instead of asking if anyone was mean to them today, or who wasn’t listening at circle time, you can ask, “Who was a kind friend to you today?“ or “Who were you kind towards, and how did you show your kindness?”
SSP: What is your advice for supporting learning at home and instilling the desire to learn, specifically for those in preK and elementary years?
Motivation has been a big concern for parents. The younger children in pre-K and the early elementary grades might not be learning in the traditional sense - inconsistently being in the classroom, and with masks - but the bulk of their learning is still through play which can obviously take place anywhere and in any form. From a game of tag outside or riding a bike (developing their gross motor skills) to art projects and baking inside (honing fine motor skills through different art mediums and using math, science and reading to bake a cake…) there are many ways to keep a young child engaged and learning. Look for those “teachable moments”- you’ve been teaching your child without even realizing it!
SSP: This past year has been grueling for parents. As a teacher and mother of 2, do you have any other words of encouragement for families?
I’ve relied on my friends for support throughout this whole pandemic and continue to do so. A quick text to say thinking of you (or even to vent) has been so helpful. My friends have inspired me to exercise in a different way than I was, showed me how to utilize the time I had more effectively, and encouraged me through it all with their kindness and honesty. This helped ease my own anxiety so much on those especially trying days. It really does take a village. Reach out to those people you trust and can rely on for support!
In celebration of South Slope Pediatrics 9 year anniversary, we have interviewed Dr. Hai Cao and Matteo Trisolini to talk about the inception of their practice, how they’ve arrived to where they are today, and hear about where they are going. Happy Birthday SSP!!!
The full video transcript can be found here:
Jen: Hi, everybody, this is Jen Valu. I help South Slope Pediatrics with their social media and blogs. Thank you so much for joining us today. In celebration of SSP’s nine year anniversary, we are interviewing Dr. Hai Cao and Matteo Trisolini to talk about the inception of their practice and how they've arrived to where they are today.
Hi, Hai and Matteo, it's so great to see you.
Matteo: Hi, Jen. Thank you for having us.
Jen: Before we continue, I just want to say congratulations on reaching this anniversary of nine years, even that much more amazing after the grueling year that we've all just been through. I know I can speak for everybody when we say we are so thankful for all that you do day in and day out, and continue to do for our families. And as one review on Facebook perfectly states, “100% recommend. Genuine care and love is guaranteed in the service that your child will receive here”. I just think that so accurately sums up what we get at South Slope Pediatrics.
Matteo: Oh, thank you, Jen, thank you for writing that review. I'm kidding. Thank you. That's very humbling.
Jen: And so now to the questions. So take us back to nine years ago, what led you, an accomplished photographer, and Dr. Cao to open up the practice? You want to go first?
Dr. Cao: To start, honestly, I had a great job working at Methodist. And you know, the only thing that was missing was really a little bit of autonomy, and the lack of consistency of relationships. Which, if any of you guys know about my past, it's really about coming from a small town of 9,000 In northern Indiana. Growing up there is a big part of who I am, and a big part of how I approach life and my professional career. And some, a lot of that was missing. So after we had our daughter, we really wanted to maybe institute some changes in our own lives and have some more autonomy and cultivate some of those relationships, which I find really rewarding. In the way that we practice, you get more than one shot, but you get a shot, really, to only prove yourself once. And I truly believe that the way to practice medicine is really to have relationships with people. So that you're accountable for your, for your folks. And those folks are accountable for you. And as a side note, we really felt like a lot of our folks really pulled through, and were super accountable for us in the past year and a half, which has not been particularly easy.
Matteo: It's true. That's true. As far as me, Jen, I used to be a photographer, a professional photographer, and then we had Isabella. And I had decided I'm gonna stay home with Isabella while you continue working. So I was home with her. And by 7pm, I was at the door with the baby ready to be given to Dr. Cao so that he could enjoy. Right? So I stayed home for the first I believe 15 to 18 months. But it was an amazing journey. And still is, of course, we're still in it. But I felt at one point that I had completely lost myself. You know, I didn't remember who I was anymore. I didn't have time for myself. Sleep when the baby sleeps. That's such a lie. That ain't gonna happen, you know. So anyway, I had already paused my career at that point. But around the 15 month mark, I felt that I needed to do something for myself. And so I told my husband, I said, “Well, I'm thinking about going back to work. But I don't want to be in the front line anymore. I don't want to be a photographer anymore. Maybe I'll go back and do some production work, right”? Because I didn't want Isabella to be raised honestly, in an environment where my ego was going to be so big that there was no space for anything else if I wanted to make it in that industry. And then at that point, my husband said, “Well, I feel that I want to open my own practice, but if I don't do it now I will never do it”. So I had had my business for a long time already. I knew how to put together a business. So I had no clue about health care. But there we go. And do you want to tell her the story of how we found the location on Fifth Avenue?
Matteo: That was my daughter. The reason why you heard that voice is because she found that location. She did. We didn't. I was with Isabella, still at home while he was still working. And we were trying to figure out plans to put it all together. In one day, I took her to the park like everybody else does. And she started playing with twins, twin brothers, younger than she was. And she basically took one of their toys. And when it was time to return the toy, I returned the toy and apologized. So I introduced myself and we started chatting, and she asked me what I did. And I don't know why, but I volunteer that with my husband, we want to open a medical practice. And she said to me, “Uh, well, I have the place for you”. And I said, “Yes, sure you do”. A week later, we're visiting the place. And two weeks later, we're signing a contract. And that's how it happened. Yeah. Unbelievable. It's so Park Slope, isn't it? It's very Brooklyn.
Jen: Love it. So from the very beginning, you had a clear idea as to what your mission and your vision would be for SSP. Can you tell us about what your mission is and why it's so important to you?
Matteo: Can I take it? It's my jam. So first of all, when we opened the business, we just opened the business, we got so busy trying to get the ball rolling and trying to make a living without getting paid for six to eight months, right? I don't remember anymore. We didn't have a vision. We didn't take the step to write it and to talk about it. But we knew that what Dr. Cao said before about relationships was going to be exactly what we were looking for. Small town doctor with more personal care. I wanted the patients to feel like they were coming to us to visit the extended family and that the waiting area was their extended leaving room. It was not until 2015. We opened the office in 2012. It wasn't until 2015 that I stumbled into reading some books. And I stumbled into Delivering Happiness by the late Tony Hsieh. That book is fantastic. I recommend it to everybody… It opened my mind to new possibilities. It was only at that point that I felt that we needed to write our mission. And so South Slope Pediatrics mission is to change the way that healthcare is experienced by everyone involved. Patients, team members, third party vendors, you know, vaccine reps, and also to give back to the community. So that's our big vision. I liked it. When I train new trainees, new employees, I'd like to tell them, this is the big dream that we have, that we live up here in the clouds. But in order to get from down here, where we do all we do, we send the emails and we schedule appointments, and we see patients on earth to get all the way to heaven. We have other steps, we have daily goals that we specify. And that each time that we achieve those goals we get closer to achieving the bigger idea of the bigger dream.
Dr. Cao: The whole trend in the past 10 to 15 years is that private practices are closing up and selling to privately run equity firms and hospitals and you know, it's fine because they have different resources. We really tried to stave that off. And you know, we're still doctors, primary care doctors. Pediatricians are still getting paid what were being paid 15 to 20 years ago, while salaries otherwise are skyrocketing. So we're getting the same contract pay that we were getting in 2000 or 2010. And Matteo has done wonderfully by making that work by being able to provide for our employees and doctors, and giving that five star service. So much of this is what he built up as far as company culture, how we approach it, how all of our folks approach it. And, you know, whether we're making a personal connection by talking about a vacation, or talking about a family loss or a job loss. That's what our folks are doing, making those connections and making sure that you're not being treated as purely a transaction.
Matteo: See, Jen, I'm obsessed about the difference between transaction and experience. Anybody, anybody can give a transaction to anyone, whether it's a customer, a patient, or team member, or anybody else you interact with, right? A transaction, basically, it's something that you do for them, to satisfy them, right. So you need a school form. I give you the school form, and the transaction ends. At the very end of the transaction, when that desire or goal has been satisfied, that's the end of it. So we're all able to do that. But what I am obsessed about is going from giving a pure transaction to actually giving an experience. And what's missing to go from here to there is that personal emotional connection, that relationship, so that you can trust that I will take you to the end of the transaction, but I won't leave you there. I will still be there to help you out. So in order to get to go from a pure transaction, to delivering an experience, creating the experience for the customer, for the patient, for the team member, you have to just simply connect at a human level to build that relationship. Dr. Coao does it in the room very well. He's just not gonna give you a prescription or tell you, you know, we're going to give these vaccines today, it's much more than that. What happens in the room, when we send out a school form, it's much more than a school form. It's - I got you because you are part of my family. So I tell everyone on our team to think about our patients or anyone we interact with, even your own team member, you know, your teammates, to help them how you would help your best friend or your mother. What would you not do if your best friend called you and said, I need this school form today? Can you help me? Would you say no to your best friend? Would you not go above and beyond for your best benefit for your mother?
Jen: I think from my standpoint and everyone else, it's your authenticity, both of you, and everyone that works at SSP. You bring your authentic selves to work, and you only hire the best of the best.So you've done a tremendous job at building up a team.
So what were those first years, like when you did when you first opened? And what were your biggest learnings coming out of those years?
Matteo: My biggest learning is that once you think you got it, you don't got it. I mean, that changes are always coming. And embracing change is more important than trying to survive the day, you kind of have to look into the future a little bit and try to figure out what changes are coming and how to embrace it to make everybody else also understand how important that is. That's it at least for me.
Dr. Cao: I think if we knew ithen what we know now, I think we would have been a little trepidatious stepping into it. It was good that we were kind of blissfully ignorant and just, were, you know, hopeful and optimistic. That was just gonna work out and that I mean, on some level, your outlook really, really plays into how things work out. And I think that, you know, we decided that there was no way that this wasn't going to work out. And we just made it happen. We made lots and lots of sacrifices, and I saw my bank account go down to, like, three digits at some point. And that was not easy. But after years and years of saving, we made it work.
Matteo: Yeah, I actually remember, at the very beginning, we thought, we just need to put our heads down and work, just be ourselves. Don't even look at what anybody else is doing. And every time there was something that wasn't going very well, we just told each other, just put your head down, be you and do what you know what to do. Period. Our way. And that really helped us a lot, not to be distracted.
Jen: So we talked a little bit before, about the amazing team that you have, and the incredible company culture that you've cultivated and you nurture day in day out. I understand you have a video that you have created, if you'd like to share that out.
Matteo: Before we do, I want to speak and I think I speak for Dr. Cao as well that our team is amazing. And we love everyone on the team. And we got so lucky to stumble into these people. In order to achieve what we do - honestly, you have to have the right people and we got lucky. We got lucky because we're not hiring professionals. But you know, with some help from other sources and some education, we have been so lucky. I mean, Taima, we know how amazing she is and how everybody, all patients love her. But she's not the only one, everybody on the team. So I put together a little slideshow. Just to show you what kind of people we are, what we do, and you'll see not not just that we work all the time... but that's not all we do. And in order for us to deliver that sort of experience that we can create for our patients, we also must for ourselves as well because that's important. We work behind the scenes doing other things that most of the time have nothing to do with health care. And you will see in the video at one point, there's a little short video about us doing an improv class. Alright, so if you guys are ready, I'm gonna play it. Let's go.
Jen: Love it. So real quick, before we wrap up today. Just want to say, we've been through a very challenging year...it's been tough. But looking into the future coming out of that, what are your plans for the practice and what do you want our dear SSP families to know?
Dr. Cao: For us, we're always going to take great responsibility and accountability in taking care of our colleagues. We take great accountability and responsibility for taking care of the kids in our practice and their families, you know, it's been a real ride. We've been with people through sickness and illness, of course with your kids. We've had to say goodbye to a lot of folks, because that's Brooklyn, you know, you come in and you leave. And \we understand that. We've said goodbye to kids, with burials and funerals, we've said goodbye to spouses and adult illness and sickness and loss this past year, a lot. But that's part of the journey, and we feel privileged to be part of your journey through it. And we are accountable for being there for you moving forward. I think we try to carry that same spirit with the decisions that we make as far as the business, which really is just the 11 to 13 of us, will always be in the best benefit of taking care of the families that have become our community, and who so many showed up for us in this pandemic. So we're very grateful.
Matteo: And I just want to add that it is true that the SSP community made our team, but also the SSP families are very special ones. And I don't want to say just because it's our business, but because it's true, you know, families refer to themselves as SSP families. We really didn't start that trend. They did. So they created the community. And during the pandemic, you know, we have to hold, for example, some of the in-person classes. So I want our community to know that there are plans of going back to that or reviving all of that. Part two of our mission is to give back to the community. And that's one of the ways that we do it. So right now we're doing the classes virtually, but we can't wait to go back in person and do it. We can't wait to go back into the schools and help out. We can't wait to partner again physically with the Ali Forney center, so that their kids also can be helped. There's a lot of things that unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we have to slow down and we just can't wait to get back on that horse again.
Jen: Well, thank you both for your time today, from all the families of South Slope Pediatrics, thank you. Thank you, and thank you, You are the best of the best. Happy anniversary!
We are so super thankful that in celebration of Father’s Day & Pride Month, to have had a very dear and close friend of Matteo & Dr. Cao, author Garon Wade, speak to us about his recently published memoir, "You'll Always Be White To Me".
If you're looking to be inspired, to understand and realize the true power of love and its possibilities, please take a moment to listen to the powerful words Garon shares with SSP as he talks about his adventurous life, his book, and his incredible adoption journey - addressing racism, homophobia and personal heartache, all told with his most uplifting, raw and emotional voice.
The full interview transcript can be found here:
SSP: Hi everybody, this is Jen from the SSP team. I help SSP with their blog and social media. We are so super excited and thankful that in celebration of Father’s Day & Pride Month, to have a very dear and close friend of Matteo & Dr. Cao, Garon Wade here today to speak with us. Garon just recently published his memoir, “You'll Always Be White To Me”, which deals with issues such as adoption, racism, homophobia, and personal heartache. And as one reader says, “It's an authentic example of how to take control of your life and be your own champion!”. Another reader shares, “Garon leads us through a lifetime of adventure, relationships and lessons in gratitude. His memoir shows us that with love, it is possible to save lives, heal heartache, make a home across the world, fulfill our dreams, and create a family of our own design. Engaging story told with the cadence and charm of a natural storyteller”. Thank you again for joining us here today. We'd love to ask you questions about your book, and dive a bit further into your adoption experience.
Garon: Thank you so much for having me. It's so nice to meet you.
SSP: So what prompted you to write the book?
Garon: You know, it's sort of taken many phases. I would say in my 20s, a lot of people suggested that I write my story, because I grew up in a very different way. I felt like I was too young, you know, who wants a memoir, by someone in their 20s. So for so many years, I just kind of forgot about it honestly. And I know I tried to accomplish things in my career and in terms of adopting my children. And about the time that Colin Kaepernick became every headline in the United States, I started to sort of think about what it means to be a brown or black guy raised by white parents. Because the one thing that shocked me the most out of all the coverage about him was that almost nowhere has anyone mentioned that he has white parents. And I thought it's such an interesting and different perspective, when you're raised by white parents, but you're living your life as a brown and black person. It really is like an entirely different experience. And so I started to think about, you know, that side of my story. And that's sort of where the beginnings of it happened. I had my husband always saying you need to write your memoir, you need to remember, and I was like, dude, I'm so busy. We have kids, and we have careers and all this stuff. So actually, in 2020, we flew to South Africa, and we completed a four year adoption of our son Emmanuel. And when we arrived back from South Africa in March, we of course landed in a pandemic. And I was off from work. And I was sitting at home with my kids. And again, my husband came to me and he said, Garon, if you don't write this memoir now, you will never write this memoir. So I said, I hate it when he's right. You know? I did, I sat down. And once I started it, just there it was, it was like 10 hours a day for three months.
SSP: Wow. It's like the gift of time that you would never have had otherwise. Something positive that came out of the pandemic for you.
Garon: Yeah, exactly.
SSP: So this book narrates an incredible journey, through racism, growing up brown while LGBT, losing your mother at a young age, adopting your children and finding love. What did you discover about yourself as you were writing the book?
Garon: That's a great question. I think I realized how therapeutic it was, without ever intending for it to be that. You have the chance to really sit down and go through your life and go through 10 plus countries, things and people and places, people I lost. I think in the regular stream of life, you don't have that time to really think about it at length. And as I was writing it, I revisited so many great things and hard things. And I realized how cathartic it was, in a way, to just to just write about it to get it out for myself. I mean, no one else was there, just me and a computer, but I just put it all out on paper and it felt really amazing.
SSP: In the book several times you seemed like you were in the right place, just at the right time. And people seem to open up doors for you in your next chapter. One example, being Donovan at the DC tower. In other instances, life is very rough. And several times you were discriminated against, because of what you look like. And what's your take on how life works - now that you've been able to reflect on all of this?
Garon: Well, how life works. I just think we're all here for such a short time. And we don't really know what paths our lives are going to take. I'm not a person that is religious, and I don't believe in destiny, but I do believe in the sort of cause and effect of the here and now. I'm just where you happen to be on a given day and the people that you are interacting with. And, you know, it's just that that sort of truth that if you just are kind to people, and you interact in an authentic way with people that you're around, and treat people well, you just honestly never know who's going to be your friend or who's going to open a door, or who's going to remember you for something that you never would have thought you'd be remembered for. That's how I choose to live my life. That's how I try to live my life. And I think in certain instances, it has opened doors that I just can't even imagine would be opened. Especially having lived in situations that were difficult in my life. I think a lot of it, you see both sides, you realize that life is a lot of hardship, a lot of great stuff, and just always trying to navigate through it right.
SSP: So in the book, your own white American grandma tells you that she loves you, but she made racist remarks about brown skinned people and the Asian community in front of you and while talking to you. What was it like for you to grow up dealing with this? And how did you overcome it? Or are you still working on overcoming it?
Garon: I'm good. You know what I mean, for me in my life I’m good. I think, as a young boy, it was hard. And I think when you're growing up in a family where you don't look like other people, my parents were really all love, you know, and those people, people who have read the book, or will read it tomorrow, realize how I have this beautiful family. But when it came down to leaving Africa, or Europe or the Middle East and traveling to their small home in South Louisiana, to my grandparents house, it was - it was different. I mean, they absolutely loved me, but they were also absolutely racist. And so I think, for me in writing the memoir, the exploration there for the reader is like, how do you juggle those two things? How do you balance being a grandparent who loves your brown grandchildren, and yet, who is absolutely racist? And that was kind of the fascinating part of all that to me, as I reflected. How did these two worlds come together? I just hope it gets better. For the next generation. I hope this conversation is not a question that someone sitting in your position will ask in another generation, I hope it's just not. There's a lot of work to be done.
SSP: Yes, absolutely. And speaking of your grandma, she herself went on an amazing journey of self discovery while dealing with you being true to yourself, and building your own family. Right? Digging deep inside yourself, what do you believe was the event that changed everything in your grandma's perception of things?
Garon: Strangely enough, I think it was us adopting our son, our first son, Matteo, who was adopted from the Maryland DC area. You know, it's sort of a classic thing that people can find it within themselves to discriminate against a couple. But when faced with discrimination against a child, it's it's a harder thing, you know, and once we had Matteo, I think she just saw us as a family. She didn't quite get it, she didn't really understand it, but she fell in love with the baby, and that opened the door to us having a relationship as an adult and it is strange to me, of course, because I don't see the world through that lens. But you can imagine a woman that had grown up in Texas and Louisiana after the Great Depression, never having seen black and brown people in her immediate circle. Never having been friends with gay people. I think this was an entirely different world for her.
SSP: You have such a sense of compassion and understanding for those that have different viewpoints and it's refreshing. You don't carry anger in your voice. I don't sense anything like that.
Garon: I think when you live around the world as I did, what you see is that people are people are people, they want the same things, you know, on a very basic level they want access to resources, they want safety for their children, they want to access to health care for their families, they want to be able to just live a life that allows them to pursue endeavors. And at a relatively reasonable level, they're just trying to live right to make it. And whether I was in the Middle East, or at the bottom of Africa, or in Europe, or wherever, I mean, I think that you see racism, you see prejudice and all forms towards women, towards gay people, towards people with disabilities in the United States, towards the Native American population, you know, this list goes on and on. And I don't harbor anger because I feel like I just wanted to change and I think specifically in my family, we made changes. That's the point of the book, change - it's possible, it may be rough and love can be very complicated. Possible. I think when we turn our backs to each other, and just say, I'm not talking to you anymore, to some degree, nothing ever gets solved, you know?
SSP: So who do you think should read your book?
Garon: Well, you know, as soon as I read it, and as soon as I saw it for the first time, and I was kind of like, looking at it, I was thinking... Where's this gonna go? You know, and I guess I feel like no book is for everybody. That's just the truth. There's not a single book in the world that everybody should read. That's not a fact. But I think for this book, I really feel people who enjoy global adventures, who want to go to 15 plus countries, and dive into those cultures. And that's a reader who will love it. I also think that anybody that enjoys stories about family - whether it's a dysfunctional family, of which there's plenty in here, or you know, the aspects of a loving family. I'm a huge fan of films and books about dysfunctional families. Like "The Family Stone" or anything Baumbach produced, like "The Squid and the Whale" or "Margot at the Wedding". I'm such a fan, because I think those complicated dynamics are true in all of our lives. Like every family has something, you know. And so if you enjoy family stories that are interesting and difficult, I think this could be a great book.
SSP: Moving on to the next part here, and celebration of pride and Father's Day, we'd love to learn more about your adoption journey, which you spoke a little bit about. How would you describe it? And were there obstacles you faced that you think are more unique to the LGBT experience?
Garon: So no, I don't think that any obstacles that we faced were because we were a gay couple. I think that we arrived at a very specific time in 2012...I spent some time in the United States, you know, where equality was being legislated essentially. And I, we lived in DC, and at the time, DC had very equal rules, you know - laws around gay couples adopting and straight couples adopting. So for us? No, I think it was the same as if a straight couple adopted in terms of South Africa. My husband and I are the first gay married couple from the United States that were able to adopt from South Africa. We didn't really know what to expect, you know, but I had lived there. And I had sort of followed the culture over many years in the country. South Africa had marriage equality, a while before the United States did. So to some degree, I had a good amount of faith that this would be a great thing, and possibly we would face very little obstacles. And it was, it was great. Actually, in South Africa, the crazy thing is, the four of us would be walking around town, and have these African men in the mall or in a market screaming things like “You guys are power dads” or “We love your family!” And you know, it was fascinating. Like that doesn't ever happen in America. We were like, these guys are really showing us a lot of love here. Yeah, so I think we were lucky to come at a time when this was all possible. When you ask that question, I think of the many gay men and women who are older than me, who meet our family and say, I would have loved to have a kid, you know, but it just wasn't possible for so long in this country and in many countries it is still true. And really, my heart goes out to them, you know, because I know how that feels. I mean, I have wanted to be a parent since I was a kid. So to know that I actually arrived at a time when that was possible... It just means a lot to me.
SSP: So the adoption process wasn't as challenging as you might have thought. Was your experience different from what your expectations were going in?
Garon: Well, in DC... and this is remarkable. After we did all our paperwork inside with an adoption agency, we had a three week adoption. We got our son in three weeks, which I've still never heard anybody experience in that timeframe. On the flip side, for our second son, it took four years, four years due to the South African government to some degree not being as efficient as it could have been. And maybe the process is not being as streamlined as possible. But, so, yes, those four years really did a number on us. And I hope that for parents that are out there thinking about it, beyond the trials and tribulations I guess of adoption - it's hard,... emotionally to hold on to that hope for four years and not know what's going to come through. But as I always say that we had a great first adoption, so I have nothing to complain about. I'm sure there's many families who had a rough first adoption.
SSP: Again, your positivity is amazing. We all need to learn a little from you. So there continues to be this lingering issue of a culture, you know, permeated in the belief that children need the complimentary distinct roles of mother and fathers. Why do you think this way of thinking still exists? And why is there still the strong opposition to gay adoption that lingers in the United States?
Garon: Well, to me, I've never understood it. I mean, I've always said, If I was straight, I feel like I would be the biggest proponent of gay people. Because I don't understand the discrimination factor. I mean, in terms of a family, I think we all know people who are raised by their grandparents, or their grandparents and their mother, or their father and his parents, there's so many combinations. But somehow, when we get to sexuality, it's like, that's what people are thinking of, which also is so surprising to me. I always say when I meet a straight couple, I'm not like - Hey, nice to meet you. And I'm not thinking about them having sex. I'm thinking about who they are as people. One thing I will say on a more serious note is like with our kids, we try to buy books for them where they are exposed to children and people that they otherwise would not be exposed to, so that they are seeing a different way of life. We have to read for 25 minutes every night. And they complain sometimes, but we still make them. So we all sit around together, and we read for 25 minutes. And I think that's so important. I do wonder how many straight families have their kids reading books about gay families? Or how many white parents are showing their kids books about black families? Or how many families like mine are teaching their kids about the Native American culture and communities around the country? And about disabilities as well. I feel like if we all tried to do a bit more of that we would all be so much more exposed. But honestly, I think the truth is, when you ask, why has this continued to perpetuate, for so long? It's because of exposure. People are so locked into their communities, and have very little visibility out there so you don't need to form a different opinion. It’s sort of self perpetuating unless you make an act of change.
SSP: Absolutely. We do the same in our house. And it's so important that it starts when they're babies, when they're small. What else needs to change? So we can open up the process to more loving homes of gay parents - to make it a little bit easier?
Garon: While I while I'm very supportive of the kind of paperwork processes that it takes to adopt the first time - because anyone that's been through it, you know, there's FBI checks, there's local state, police checks, there's professional references, personal references, I mean, the list goes on and on. One thing I think could really help the system is if they figured out a database for families that have already adopted and then being cleared and documented so that when they go to do it a second time, they're not starting over. That, to me, is the biggest failing that I see in that route. Because, you know, many families that adopt do go and adopt again. But the second time, they're starting as if they never did it, and you're going through all these checks. And meanwhile children are sitting in orphanages in foster care, just waiting for a family. You can cut that time out, and accelerate all of this in a responsible way, and yet, a faster way.
SSP: And do you have any additional words of encouragement? You've already offered so much, but anything else to say to those LGBT couples who are looking to adopt? Anything else you'd like to tell them?
Garon: Yeah. It's hard, but it's so rewarding too. You can't even imagine the love that it brings to your home and to your life. And when it gets tough, when you're going through the paperwork, and they're asking for more and more documents, or when the wait gets really long, you know, just remember that on the other side of that, the kid is going to change your life in a huge way. And you are going to change their life in a huge way. To some degree, there is this. I've heard it many times. In the adoption community, there's this kind of idea where anyone that says an adopted kid is lucky - that's, you know, frowned upon, discouraged, etc. I understand where it comes from. But as I think I can speak well, on this topic, given that I am an adopted kid, and an adoptive parent. I think it goes both ways. You know, you're lucky to find each other. Because those players in that situation matter hugely. And I think I'll probably get a lot of pushback for this, honestly. But I think as a kid who was adopted and a parent, and as a person who has adopted twice, both domestically and internationally, it's absolutely both sides of that story who are really lucky to have each other. I certainly feel that I feel so lucky to have been adopted. I was left on the steps of a hospital during a war in Sri Lanka, and who knows what would have happened to me. And on the flip side, my son sat in an orphanage for two and a half years. And I'm so happy that he ended up in our home. So yeah, if you feel like you can do it, and you want to do it, go for it. Go for it...it will change your life.
SSP: Thank you so much. Beautiful words. And I just want to ask one last question here. Before we end the interview, how are you celebrating Pride as a family? Are you guys doing anything special?
Garon: I wish I could say absolutely, but here's the thing - we live in a very gay friendly city in Lauderdale. And I feel like to some degree there's celebration throughout the year at different times, like even Halloween here is like Pride in a way. When you go to the gay beach, its flags everywhere. I probably should be more intentional about it. I haven't given a lot of thought to it. I have a lot of great friends who are doing giant parties, or they're traveling to serve, you know, to other Prides- we kind of do it throughout the year. Honestly, we don't wait for this one moment. It’s more about books. We have a book called Families and it's about all sorts of different families and includes gay dads and lesbian mothers, and just everything - grandparents, kind of what we were just talking about. And I read that to my kids at night and we talk about it. And for us, Pride isn't just a once a year thing, we try to wrap it into everything. I'm excited though. I just feel a little different this year with not having access to travel everywhere. I love the Vice President Kamala Harris at Pride in DC the other day, I love seeing that and President Joe Biden posting something about pride in the gay community. I mean, you know, after four years it was so nice to see. So nice to have the government back in everyone's corner.
SSP: Yes!. Again this is Garon Wade and his book is “You'll Always Be White To Me”, available now on Amazon. We'll also share the link on our social page. Again, thank you Garon!
Garon: Thank you so much. Those are excellent questions. I seriously really appreciate it. I've been doing a press circuit. And so it's just interesting to see what different interviewers ask. And these are, these are excellent questions. Thank you so much.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to have Dr. Katiusca Acosta as your pediatrician. You know she is super thorough, friendly, and an amazing doctor overall...but do you know she loves to do Zumba (and no, unfortunately we don’t have a video of this, but maybe next time)! She has a wide variety of interests and is passionate about many issues that drive her as a pediatrician every single day… and ultimately pushing her to make a positive impact in so many lives.
SSP: Our SSP families would love to learn more about you, as you have made such a positive impact in so many of their lives. Can you tell us about where you grew up, and what led you to becoming a pediatrician?
I was born in the beautiful Caribbean Island of the Dominican Republic. I lived on the island until I was 10 years old. Then we immigrated to the United States, to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
It all started in senior year of High School, I completed an internship at a local hospital and realized that not only were women underrepresented in medicine, but most importantly women of color. I was often used to translate difficult diagnoses to Spanish-speaking patients.
Women of color are less likely to obtain a college education and thus pursue higher education. Factors such us low income, lack of mentors to keep them motivated as they are growing, and lack of support from families and/or becoming pregnant at a very young age can all influence a young woman’s decision to attend college and pursue higher education after college.
Being a mentor or becoming someone that young children of color can look up to and relate to fueled my desire to become a doctor, specifically a pediatrician.
SSP: Who would you say are your biggest inspirations and mentors?
My parents, because they were able to raise three women and give them excellent education with minimal wage jobs. My mother was a teacher in the Dominican Republic. My father was a police officer.
Once in the United States, they had to give up their respective careers to put food on the table for my sisters and me. They took minimum wage jobs and worked in factories to provide for us. They always encouraged us to do our best in school and pursue a college education. They wanted us to have all the opportunities that they couldn’t have.
SSP: I understand you are very passionate about fitness, what is it that you enjoy and how does that influence you as a doctor?
I enjoy running, high intensity interval training and Zumba as a means to stay fit.
I try to motivate kids and young adults through my own experiences with health and fitness, especially those that are struggling with obesity. Due to the COVID -19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of obese children due to inactivity and confinement to their homes. During the child or teen’s wellness visit, I usually discuss how making small changes, such as drinking more water- can make a big difference. I ask parents to involve the entire family in making changes in their daily eating habits.
A daily afternoon walk or trip to the park, even during the winter - to ride a bike or simply walk can have a great impact, not only physically but mentally.
SSP: You are also a volunteer for Physicians for Human Rights - can you tell us about the organization, and how you are involved?
I completed a training throughout the pandemic to help migrant children gain refugee status in the US by means of a physical exam and documenting any potential signs of physical abuse. It’s important that children that are being persecuted or abused in their countries get a second chance at leading a better life. Equally important is reuniting families and children that have been separated through unfortunate circumstances.
I have the training but have not completed any cases yet due to COVID -19.
SSP: What do you think is the most rewarding thing about being a pediatrician at SSP?
Just the daily interactions with the children, no matter how terrible your day is going, the children lift your spirit with their innocence and warm smiles. One hectic morning, I was involved in a minor car accident on my way to work. I was late and feeling so anxious after the incident. I had to see my first patient, a 4YO girl, and just coming into the room to her bright smile and her fun, cheerful personality made my day!
“Amaya, where are you”??? I yell, after searching for our 8 year old daughter in every nook and cranny of our house. “I’m in the garaaagggeee”!!!! I hear her scream back. I go out to see what she is up to, and of course she is digging through our recycling and collecting boxes upon boxes and other interesting papers and trash in her little arms. This is an almost daily occurrence in this household, and while my OCD self shudders at the thought of bringing garbage back INTO the house, I know she is about to spend hours creating the most random and unique objects and her imagination is soaring. “Mom, this box is going to be a volleyball court and this old string is going to be made into the net”! “Mom, I’m going to make a milk carton out of this piece of this colorful paper I found”! It’s endless. I see old cereal and shoe boxes, she sees an indoor miniature golf course and a giraffe mailbox.
In celebration of earth day and nurturing our children’s beautiful and innovative minds, I’m going to share some of her creations, along with links and how-tos so you can try something similar at home!
1) Miniature Golf Course
What you will need - these are suggestions, you really can use almost anything:
2) Candy Squishy (this is an Amaya original and a much more simple project)
What you will need:
What you will need:
4) Giraffe Mailbox (another Amaya original)
What you will need :
Before you start putting this together, make sure when putting together the giraffe both boxes have openings with lids facing bottom. Cut a rectangular hole towards the back of the larger shoe box (this is where the "mail" will go). Cut sides towards the front of small top box cover (this is so the giraffe can open its mouth)!
And to continue the fun, you can leave your child surprise notes or letters inside for them to find!
5) Egg Carton Collection Box (for jewelry or anything your little one likes to collect)!
What you will need:
If you want to add flowers made from another egg crate, check this link out!
6) Fidget Spinner
What you will need :
Here's a video tutorial as it explains the best and you can pause along the way.
6) Origami Milk Carton
What you need :
This is also too complicated to list the steps, check out this how-to video.
park slope Mother-daughter duo launches mask CHAIN business during covid: interview with kathryn mora
During this past year, parents have struggled with how to manage the extra time at home with children, trying to find more productive and fun ways to keep kids engaged. Meet Kathryn Mora, who basically nailed it, and did what many of us dream of doing. She is a Park Slope mom who launched a beaded mask chain business with her 12 year old daughter and CEO, Layla. Kathryn was able to spend precious time creating a business with her girl, who in her words is the “real brains behind the company”! A truly inspiring story for us all.
SSP: What inspired you to launch Mora Mora?
Like many this year, we have been working to adapt to our new reality of keeping our children engaged and off screens. Between schooling online and the normal screen time struggle, craft-time became a huge part of our day to break them away from those screens. One of the projects we worked on was making mask chains just for ourselves. Friends and family saw what we’d created and wanted them too. It became a really special time, especially for me and my 12-year-old daughter Layla – who it’s getting harder and harder to find activities she is eager to do with me…those tween years are coming on hard!
Requests for our mask chains started to expand beyond our immediate circles, so we decided to start selling them. For Layla this was especially a fun prospect because not only does she love beading, but she really loves the idea of having a business, so before we knew it - Mora Mora was launched.
SSP: What makes your product so unique?
Finding ways to involve and engage tweens and teens these days beyond Tik Tok is a real struggle. When you support Mora Mora – you’re not only making your masking easier and more stylish, but you are supporting the creativity of a child and her drive to learn about what it means to run a business. As well as supporting a young woman learning to be empowered by her own vision and dreams.
SSP: Can you please tell me more about your CEO, Layla?
Layla is a twelve-year old firecracker, and the real brains behind the company. I am solely her guide. When you give her a task to accomplish – she will take it beyond the finish line.
But I’ll let Layla tell you a bit more about herself: “I love the Harry Potter series, doing art, writing and acting. I also aspire to be a lawyer because I love to debate and defend.”
SSP: How are the different designs determined and how are they made?
There is a lot of trial and error when we make our mask chains. We spend a lot of time beginning chains and then undoing them until we get something we love. Mostly we start by laying out a color palette. Then we play around with the pattern. We also think about how the colors and patterns will match with different masks. We started a collaboration with my friend and owner of LuluLuvs who makes gorgeous handmade hair accessories for kids with Liberty fabrics. She has been making face masks also with the same beautiful Liberty materials. Layla and I have been creating mask chains that match the different patterns and colors.
Our line of chains for kids is also a big driver in some of our designs. We want to find fun combinations for kids that will encourage them to properly mask. Masking for children is not easy. Making sure those masks stay clean and don’t get lost is a real motivator in the designs we make with children in mind.
SSP: Being that you just launched this past month, what are your plans for this year & will you be expanding your product line?
It looks like we will be wearing masks for a while longer even with the roll out of vaccines. So, we will keep making mask chains! But all our chains can be used as eyeglass chains, necklaces and wrap bracelets.
Layla has been layering them and using them as necklaces. Upon request, we can also add eyeglasses/sunglasses loops to any chain so they are very versatile!
We create new chains all the time and our creativity and interest haven’t run out. We just bought some beads in fun bright colors for the Spring and Summer. One great thing about living in New York is the access to the amazing bead stores in the garment district. Many of these New York treasures have shut down over the past year but we are happy to be able to support the ones that are still around. We also have a friend who is scouting out and buying beads for us in the Southwest, so we are really excited to create some fun designs from those.
SSP: It’s wonderful to see something creative and beautiful come out of this pandemic. What would your words of advice be to other creatives and entrepreneurs, who are considering starting a small business at this time?
I think it’s a great time to start a small business. The whole world is going through a sort of reset, and I think everyone has learned to step back and slow down this year. Now is the time to really explore all those creative ideas and passions that have always been put on the backburner because life has been so busy. Start small and start simple, but start!
Another word from Layla: “Just create beautiful things and have fun!”
SSP: Where can we purchase Mora Mora chains and do you have a social account we can follow to see more?
You can purchase chains from our Instagram account @moramoranyc or online at www.shoplululuvs.com. More styles are created and added regularly.