Panda Mom in Japan

Panda Mom is traveling abroad in Japan right now, so you might not see regular posts from her (er, me) for the next couple of weeks.  I have a few concerts to do, but mostly we’ll be spending time visiting friends and relatives, including my best friend from first grade in Osaka, Yukako. I’m completely jet-lagged as I write this, so please forgive me if I sound incoherent.

First Class trip to Japan!

Oh, can I tell you that we got very fortunate and were bumped up to first class on Delta?  What a blessing and a great way to start our two-week stay in Japan!  The kids, ages 11 and 13, were almost as excited as I was to find our fully-reclining seats in row 6.  I had only admired such seats from behind the curtain all these years, and now I was actually sitting in one of them!  It was a red-eye flight. My kids, ever the optimists, asked me to wake them up for the meals after they took a “little nap.”  As you can imagine, they then promptly went to sleep and missed both of their first class meals.  That’s the downside of those comfy seats in the front of the planes — you might not wake up in time to enjoy the fine china dinner.

We’ve been on the go all day today, taking this train and that while rolling our suitcases along to our destination, the home of our friends Daniel and Yumiko outside Tokyo.  I was reminded of when Josh and Meg were in strollers, and how much work it was for me and David to travel with little ones.  In fact, we just gave up on travels to Japan for many years.  Why go all that way to torture ourselves?  Now, not only are they no longer extra baggage for us to handle but they are actually being very helpful.  In the years past, I would never have considered traveling to Japan with two kids without David.  Now?  They’re keeping me company and handling their own bags.  I am definitely reaping the rewards of the hard work I put into the early years.

If you’re right in the middle of the busy days of babies and toddlers and are struggling just to make it through each day, trust me when I say this: it is just a season.  And it will pass.  Some wonderful days with your kids are ahead.  Who knows — it might even include first-class travels!

Do your kids travel well?  Do you have any traveling horror or success stories?  Please share them with us in the comments below.


A Mom Never Sleeps

In my line of work — I do children’s music — I get to meet lots of sweet kids who like to give me their art work as gifts.  One such precious piece of art was drawn by 4-year old Evan.  He drew a picture of his house for me, depicting everyone in his family in their own rooms.  All of them were peacefully asleep in their own beds.  However, I noticed that he drew one person somewhat resembling a female, definitely not asleep, in the middle of their house.  “That’s my mom,” explained Evan.  “She never sleeps.”

What an astute little boy is Evan!  Yup, a mom never sleeps.  She’s always busy in the kitchen, laundry, or family room busily cooking for everyone, washing their clothes, or picking up after them.  She’s the last person up and the first one awake, so Evan never sees his mom sleeping.  He could have been talking about me.

A few years ago, we had some friends over for dinner.  As they were admiring our comfy leather couch and love seat in our newly redecorated family room, the wife asked me, “So which one is your favorite seat?”  After thinking about it for too long, I realized that I really didn’t have a favorite seat, because I’m never seated.  In fact, I pretty much had not sat down anywhere in about five years!  The last time I sat down on that couch was when we tried it on for size in the furniture showroom.  The only exception was when I occasionally used my bottom to stuff a wayward cushion back into place.

Actually, there were two places where I did sit.  A lot.  One was the driver’s seat of our family swagger wagon, and the other is the office chair at my desk to surf WebMD, find out the train schedule (see my previous post on choo choos), or for the latest baby gadgets.  But relaxing and kicking up my feet to watch TV?  Nope.

One night several years ago, I had just put down both our toddler and the baby to sleep and was busy in the kitchen finishing up for the evening.  I figured I had about twenty minutes before I had to get to bed to face an early morning the next day.  I was busily unloading the dishwasher and doing the Kitchen Dance.  Do you ever do the Kitchen Dance?  I grab a couple of cups from the dishwasher, twirl around to face the cabinet to put them away, twirl back around to grab the clean pot, squat down to put it away in the lower cabinet, do another spin with a roundhouse kick to close the lower cabinet door, leap to the sink to grab some dirty dishes, twirl back to the now-unloaded dishwasher to start loading them again, etc. I’m not a dancer, but I was really on a roll that night as I leaped around the house doing my chores.  I used all of my limbs like an octopus to put things away.  I didn’t realize that I was making a lot of noise opening and closing the cabinets and throwing knives and shoving plates into the dishwasher until my husband came down the stairs.

“What are you doing?” he asked, innocently.

“I’m just finishing up in the kitchen, honey,” I replied breathlessly.  The Kitchen Dance gets your heart rate up.

“Can you keep it down?” requested David.

Oh.  My.  Gosh.  Here I am working my tail off, sacrificing my sleep for the good of the family, and my husband is asking me to KEEP IT DOWN?

Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned.

* * * *

Thanks to Evan’s little drawing, I realized that I was that busy mom…but as much as I hated to admit, my kindness and patience had begun to erode over my busyness.  While trying to be the virtuous Proverbs 31 wife, I was ignoring pretty much all but verse 18: “Her lamp does not go out at night.”  Yikes!

Do you ever do the Kitchen Dance? How are you at balancing duty and kindness? Tell me about it in the comments below!


Song for My Baby

Eternal Treasure CD by Junko available on iTunes.

For my post today, I would like to share with you a song I wrote for our firstborn while I was about 8 months pregnant with him.  As I wrote this song, I was looking at the wonderful baby shower gifts we had received from so many friend overflowing our little apartment.  Then the thought came to me that our most important gift for our child — and subsequently, children — would be the gift of prayer, as it says in Ephesians 3:16 & 17:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

By the time I finished this song, I was weeping…rather uncontrollably.  No, not because I was moved by my own song but with the thought that someday my baby will grow up and spread his wings and fly away.  Today, I’m looking at a young man who is 13 years old who just surpassed me in height.  It won’t be long before he truly is a grown up and leaves us.  However, that won’t ever stop us from continuing to pray for him everyday.

Please click on the title below to start the music player:


(verse 1)
The thank-you cards are in the mail
For the shower yesterday
Tiny clothes are folded up
And neatly put away
The stroller waits so eagerly
For the little one to arrive
Soon a full time job begins
That’ll last past nine to five

When you join our family
We promise from the start
To pray each day while on our knees
That Christ dwells in your heart
That Christ dwells in your heart

(verse 2)
I fear I won’t be good enough
To be called a mom by you
But I will love the best I can
Even in your terrible two’s
And when I’m up more sleepless nights
Than I ever thought I would
Still I’ll always thank the Lord
That you changed our lives for good


They say time goes by too fast
And soon you’ll be full grown
We’ll know we have done our task
When our faith has become your own

When you leave our family
No matter where you are
We’ll still pray for you each day
That Christ dwells in your heart
That Christ dwells in your heart

From Junko’s CD “Eternal Treasure,” words and music by Junko Nishiguchi Cheng, copyright 1999 Everyday Hero Music (ASCAP).  Arranged and produced by John Andrew Schreiner, sax by Greg Vail, guitar by Bob Somma.  Printed with permission, all rights reserved.

Choo-Choos and the Art of Slowing Down

Ding Ding Gates (Photo courtesy iStock Photos)

Like most grownups, I was always in a hurry. There are places to go, people to see, and things to do — don’t we all? Thus, nothing could irritate me more than the railroad crossing gates about a mile from my house. I could have sworn that the city installed a sensor to start flashing at the tracks when I was 200 feet away, and the certainty of this happening increased in direct correlation to how much of a hurry I was in to get to the other side. If I could have hatred toward an inanimate object, then the rail road crossing gate was it.

Then I had a baby boy.

This baby boy grew into a toddler who became fascinated with trains.

He watched all of the “Thomas the Train” episodes on video but still wanted more. We got him toy trains with names like Percy, Thomas, Gordon, and Henry. He rolled these trains on imaginary tracks on our carpeted floor, replaying the episodes he had just watched on the TV screen. He could even imitate the British accent of the narrator of the show, Ringo Starr. “The freight train, oh the freight train,” my toddler would cry as he reenacted one scene where a freight train collides with an engine. Trains became his obsession.

One day, as we were speeding to get to somewhere on the other side of the train tracks, sure enough the red lights started to flash and the gates began to lower. “Oh man,” I sighed impatiently as I slammed on the brakes.

“Ding ding gates!” squealed my little passenger in the back seat.

I turned around to see a toddler excitedly kicking his feet and clapping his hands. “Choo-choo, Mommy! Choo-choo!” he cried as he peered out his window to see a train approaching.

Whoosh! The Amtrak train whizzed by, creating a rhythmic sound as the wheels tumbled over the tracks.

Da-dan, dadan. Da-dan, dadan…

My son’s eyes grew wide and his chin hit the car seat. When the train passed and the lights stopped flashing, he let out a cheer as if he had just seen the greatest show on earth. “Yaay, mommy! Choo-choo twain!” The opening of the gates jarred us back to reality, and I stepped on the pedal to roll over the tracks to get to our destination.

How did I time that so well? I patted myself on the back.

From that moment on, I was a changed mom. No longer were the flashing gates an inconvenience. Rather, they became a delight. Nay — an obsession. I HAD to time my driving to catch the commuter train’s passing, for my baby’s sake.

I checked the train schedule online to time my crossing just right. I slowed down or sped up to reach the gates, preferably at the front of the line. I learned to ignore honking cars irritated by my erratic driving skills. I chose to drive routes far out of the way just so that I could go over the train tracks. Anything for my child!

And if we were successful in catching the flashing gates coming down right in front of us, I no longer felt bothered but cheered along with my son. “Yesss–Jackpot! Ding ding gates!”

* * * *

Anyone else have an experience where your child helped to completely change your attitude about something? Did your child help slow you down like mine did to me? Let’s share stories in the comments below!

Baby Names and How to Pick Them (or Not)

I love this photo of my friend Emily who is expecting any day now (Photo courtesy of Naomi Salazar)

As soon as we found out the gender of our baby, we began that one quest which all parents must go through sooner or later — picking out a name. It was not an easy task, but we wanted to make sure that we didn’t have to put down “Baby Cheng, name TBD” on his birth certificate.

At first, we thought about a name that would work in all three of our combined cultures: American, Japanese, and Chinese.  There are a few names which could work in my own home country (Japan) and the States — Ken, for example — or in both Hong Kong and here, such as Winsome, Samson and other two-syllable names, but it quickly proved too difficult to span all three cultures.  We decided to simply settle for a name which could be pronounceable by most of our Asian relatives.

Here are some Anglo names that Asians would mangle:

  • Harold (R’s and L’s are way too difficult)
  • Theodore (TH’s are impossible for most Asians to pronounce)
  • Jeffrey (F’s are hard, and add R to the mix — nope)
  • David (Yeah, my relatives can’t pronounce my own husband’s name correctly.  V’s automatically turn into B’s)

Here are some Japanese names that wouldn’t work too well in this country:

  • Taro (R’s are always pronounced like L’s, so the proper Japanese pronunciation would be more like Talo; however, in Japan for some reason they always write it with an R.  Go figure)
  • Ryo (No, it’s not “rye-oh.”  It’s more like the “kyo” of Tokyo but with an L-ish sound in front)
  • Tatsuya (That’s my cousin’s name, and we’ve found that most Americans have a hard time with the “ts” sound)

And on it goes.  Of course, we wanted to give our son a name with a great meaning — Scriptural, symbolic, and life-giving.  I think that a name has the potential of making or breaking a person.  I also realize that people have the freedom to legally change their names at some point in their lives, so they’re not stuck with them forever.  However, I wanted to give our child the best possible start in his life, so we finally settled on this one:


According to one website about baby names, Joshua means “God saves” and is the Hebrew form of the name for Jesus.  How cool is that? Joshua was also Moses’ right-hand man who actually got to go into the Promise Land with his buddy Caleb, unlike his boss Moses. And look — there are no L’s, R’s, Th’s, V’s, nor any other problematic syllables and vowels.

Here's your typical newborn's face

It wasn’t official until we actually got a glimpse of our baby’s face at birth (although I’m not sure what purpose this serves, because if we all named our babies based upon our first sightings, they would all be named Yoda), we proudly put down “Joshua” on the birth certificate.  We love that name, and at least so far, he’s satisfied with it too.

What we didn’t expect was that a million other parents also loved that name for their own son in the US that same year.  It was one of the top names for boys that year and for about five years to follow.  Everywhere I go, I still hear mothers calling, “Joshua!  You get back here right now!”  Just in my son’s small kindergarten class, there were “Joshua C,” “Tall Joshua,” and “Joshua L.” And here we thought we were so original…

How did you come to select your child’s name?  Is it a one-of-a-kind unique name or so popular that you hear it everywhere like we do?  Please share in the comments below!


To Have or Not To Have

Many parents love to swap stories about parenthood –  the gorier the better.  Like a good fish tale, it grows bigger each time.  This is all good and fun, unless the listener is a non-parent, in which case we end up with the unintended consequence of making them swear off parenthood, possibly forever.  Such was the case for me and David.

As newlyweds, we were blissfully enjoying our new life together.  We were grownups, at last!  No longer under the yoke of our parents’ rules, we found much joy in establishing our own home.  The thin-walled, overpriced apartment on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood was all we could afford at the time, but it was our little castle.  We were soon involved in the young marrieds group at Hollywood Presbyterian Church and enjoying the company of other like-minded folk.

Hollywood Presbyterian Church, photo courtesy of Mark Roberts, who led our young marrieds group. We met some great friends there.

Then, one by one, the couples began having babies.  Soon, their tall tales followed.

“Man, our baby girl kept us up all night long!  We haven’t slept a wink in days, maybe weeks.”

“Our boy showered me with pee while changing his diaper and ruined my dry clean-only outfit!”

“We just don’t have a life anymore!”

“Well, you think that’s bad.  My baby did…” and the stories went on.  All the while, they were giddy with parental bliss and were actually enjoying being tortured by their little offspring.  We didn’t get it.

We have a perfectly good life and a great marriage.  Why would we want to ruin it by having children?

We didn’t intend to swear off ever having children; we just wanted to hold it off for as long as possible.  After all, I didn’t exactly grow up dreaming of becoming a mom someday like many of my friends did.  We both had careers to pursue, and nothing was going to stop us.

After several years into our marriage, friends and family began to hint.  They weren’t as covert as some in-laws who give you a baby outfit for your first Christmas gift, but they did start asking very subtly…

“So, when are you going to start a family?” they pried.

“When we feel good and ready,” I protested.  I wanted a child to feel wanted and welcomed at our home.  I wanted us to feel ready to become parents.  Perfectly ready.  The trouble was, we never could quite gauge what “ready” felt like, so we instead kept procrastinating and enjoying our extended honeymoon period.

“It came down to obedience and submission to God,” explained my friend Lisa one day as she rubbed her belly which had grown large with her second child.  She also had had an exciting career and a good marriage to Mike, a school teacher.  Going down to one teacher’s income was a tough decision.  The scars from her own childhood also weighed heavily on her heart.  They were married even longer than we had been before they finally made the decision to start a family — and it was a very conscious choice.  Today, they are the parents of three beautiful children, and they have no regrets.

Although she never challenged me directly, Lisa’s act of obedience made a big impact on me.  Besides, even David was starting to feel the biological clock ticking.  Ready or not, here we go!

Now we are blessed with two great kids, and I can’t imagine life without them.  Our lives are more fulfilled than ever, but it dawned on me that we’re doing exactly what everyone else was doing to us at one time: talking about the woes of parenthood to anyone within earshot.  I’m even devoting a whole blog about the subject!

If you’re being scared silly about parenting because of my stories, please forgive me.  And trust me on this: there’s probably nothing better on earth than the blessings of becoming parents.  You’ll love being a mom or dad someday as much as we do!

Were you afraid of having kids?  Or were you always looking forward to becoming a mom or dad?  Do you find yourself complaining about parenting? Please comment below!



Boy, Girl, or Zoo Animals

A girl’s life is all I had ever known. I have two sisters and zero brothers. When we were growing up in Japan, our dad was never around. He was usually overseas, either in South Africa or the US, working hard and preparing to immigrate the rest of his family here.

Growing up, on the rare occasion when I daydreamed about becoming a mom, I could only picture myself with a baby girl. After all, most dolls are female — not that I played with them very often either, because I was quite a tomboy — except for Ken, whom my sisters and I stripped down one day to discover that he was exactly the same, anatomically speaking, to Barbie and to us girls. We had heard rumors that boys were supposed to be somewhat different than girls, but how were we to know? We had no point of reference.

When I was a teenager, my parents sat me down for their one and only Birds and Bees lecture.

“Boys are different,” they intoned, very seriously. They then cleared their throats.

“They are like animals.”

This imaginative 15-year old’s mind went wild. All sorts of zoo animals began popping up in my head: giraffes, lion, bears, elephants…

Animals? What does that mean?

As I matured into adulthood and became acquainted with bachelors, I somewhat began to understand what my parents were referring to. I noticed that most single guys are like bears with furniture, but that didn’t stop me from marrying one. Taming a wild beast is one of the main duties of a new bride. (For the record, David was actually quite tame — more like a panda than a wild boar!).

For the first couple of months after finding out that I was expecting, I continued to imagine myself holding a baby girl. I think I even began referring to the baby as a “she” while it was still a zygote. This was an automatic response.

One day at the ultrasound, the technician found an extra part between the baby’s legs and declared the shocking truth: it’s a boy! My mind spun around 180 degrees. A boy? What will we do with a boy? For a moment, it was devastating news. You would have thought that I was just told that there is a tiger living inside my womb. It was totally unexpected. I looked over helplessly at David.

He had a happy look on his face. “I’m already thinking about playing tennis and golf together,” he beamed. And then I realized that it was all going to be okay.

Indeed, we had a little tiger born into our family, a boy born during the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese zodiac. He is everything I could never have imagined, but that’s only because my intellectual capacity was so narrow. Being a parent to a boy has opened up a whole new world to me, my sisters, my parents, and to David’s family as well.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Amen, indeed!

Once we got used to life with a baby boy, we had to go through the same shock again when we found out that our second child was going to be girl, but that’s another blog on another day.

Were you surprised with your baby’s gender? Did you ever wish you had the opposite? Tell me about it here in the comments below!

Milestones and How to Ignore Them

This baby is almost as cute as Josh was at 6 months

The baby books all have them — milestone charts.  Smiling at 5 weeks, rolling over at 2 months, sitting up at 4 months, crawling at 6 months, and walking by one year.  As I pored the pages, the Tiger Mom in me reared her ugly head: “Your baby will beat them all,” she purred, “if you’re a decent mom.”  All our friends’ babies were meeting or beating all the milestones by weeks, sometimes months, so why wouldn’t ours?

As I already mentioned in one of my previous posts, my son didn’t exactly start off his life on a high note.  His Apgar scores were woefully low.  That should have been the first clue that maybe this baby isn’t quite as high-achieving as we had projected.

While my friends were rejoicing that their babies (most of them girls) were sleeping through the night at three weeks, I was still bleary-eyed and completely sleep-deprived with our 2-month old.  When their babies began smiling at me at 4 weeks, I went home and tried to teach my baby how to smile. “Look at mama.  Cheese!”  It only made him cry.

I then overheard my fellow moms lamenting that their babies were “already” flipping over on the changing table.  “Can’t look away anymore, not even for a second,” they sighed while (unsuccessfully) suppressing their pride at their child’s precociousness.  After pretending to care, I went home and kept shoving Josh on the floor to see if he would flip over, too.  Much to my disappointment, he just lay there until he eventually fell asleep.  Why can’t you be like your friends? 

Nothing compares to the granddaddy of all baby milestones, however: walking.  It is a huge accomplishment, and I was genuinely happy for moms whose kids began running marathons at 9 months.  However, when the 12-month mark passed with my son still happily crawling around on the floor without even a hint of furniture scooting (gasp!), I was starting to wonder if I’d failed as a mom.

My pediatrician assured me that, because our son was born two weeks ahead of his due date (and that was the last time he was ahead of any schedule), he would be a few weeks behind all of his peers in most milestones.  In fact, we should start considering his due date as day zero on these milestones rather than the actual date of his birth.  Well, that was somewhat liberating — he hadn’t quite finished baking yet when he was born!

I was ready to ditch the baby books, because the milestone tables were stressing me out.  Although adjusting his official starting point alleviated some of the anxiety, it still didn’t remove all of my frustrations nor did it speed up my baby’s progress.  He just took his own sweet time reaching those milestones.

Then one day, I got it: love him just for being Josh!  I finally felt free when I began accepting my son exactly for who he is.  Don’t just ignore the milestones — love him in spite of it! For the record, he did eventually learn to smile, and he does that quite often now as a very friendly middle schooler.  Today, he can flip over just fine, and better yet, he began walking at around 14 months and hasn’t stopped since.

I’ve since had to resist comparing our children to other kids in so many ways — potty training, talking, reading, writing, adding, multiplying, etc.  Really, it never stops.  My mother is still trying to compare me to her friends’ daughters!

As a reformed Panda Mom, I’ve made it my goal to try to nurture the great things about my kids instead of imposing my opinion of who they should be.  It’s not easy, though, and I’m constantly pounding down that Tiger Mom from catching me off-guard.

Are you a Tiger Mom or a Panda Mom?  Do you have exceptional kids, and what do you do about that?  Tell us here in the comments!

He Used to Be Somebody’s Baby

And to think...this guy used to be in diapers

Once I became a mom, I began to look at people differently.  It dawned on me one day – hey, everyone used to be a small, helpless baby at one time!  This had a profound effect on how I viewed, in particular, two sets of people: hunks and criminals.

Like most normal women, I used to look at good looking guys and swoon (that is, before I met David, of course!).  I wondered what it’s like to be such a chick magnet and what type of cologne he used.  Is he a model?  Does he have a girlfriend?  Does he work out?

However, after I became a mother, I began to look at such hunks much more maternally.  I wondered how cute he must have looked as a little baby in diapers. Was he colicky like my son, or was he an easy baby?  Did he start walking early?  At what age was he potty-trained?  I bet he was extremely handsome even as an infant.  Well, my baby is beautiful, so I wonder if he will some day look as good as that male model for Abercrombie & Fitch.  Oh mister, you really need to put some more clothes on or you’ll catch a cold!  How could your mom let you pose like that? Oy.

And then there are the criminals.  Back in my childless days, I would see a mugshot on the news and not give it much thought beyond “too bad this person made a bad choice and is paying for his own consequences.”

Now that I am a mother, however, no mug shot goes by me anymore without my heart breaking for his mother.  Again, I would be reminded that he used to be someone’s baby who needed diaper changes and feedings around the clock.  I bet the mom received gifts and flowers from family and friends when she gave birth to him, just as I did.  I’m certain that the mom had hopes and dreams for this guy, just as I do for my own son… hopes that he might one day become the President of the United States, a lawyer, and/or a champion bowler.  When did this guy start veering off course?  What could the mom have done differently to keep this from happening?  I better do everything right in raising my baby or I might see my his mug shot someday on the news.  What if I am one day the recipient of that 3am phone call from the county jail?  Yikes!

I am working hard right now to help our kids make the right choices as they grow up, but I can’t always control what choices they’ll make eventually in life.  Perhaps they’ll make some good ones and some bad.  Of course, I pray that they’ll mostly make good choices and will spare themselves from going down the road to destruction.

Whether they one day appear on the cover of a magazine or on the “wanted” poster, I do know one thing for sure: I will always be my kids’ mommy.

And I will never, ever stop loving them.