Did I Waste My College Degree and Career by Becoming a Mom?

My alma mater, UC Irvine

I have a bachelors of science in Information and Computer Science from UC Irvine.  I don’t work in that field now.  In fact, I had only worked in it for about 8 years when I transitioned to pursue my music.  Since childhood, there was nothing I wanted to do more than music, but I didn’t think that a music degree would help me much in pop.  Besides, I wanted to be a good Asian daughter to my parents, so I got a very practical degree despite the fact that computers was never my passion.

It just took motherhood to realize that I had majored in the wrong field.

Today, I’m a full time mom with a part-time job in music.  I try to perform as often as I can, but a great majority of my time is devoted to being a mom and a housewife.  I have to turn down possible bookings if they interfere with my kids’ schedules, and I have to think long and hard about traveling for my work (which I’m doing this later this week and about which I will surely blog).  So, does this mean that I totally wasted my college education and degree?

Well, maybe…

Being a mom requires a huge variety of skills.  Never before did I wish so much that I had been a Child Development major.  I rarely paid attention to babies and children before I became a mom; I was too busy being a Professional.  My friends who studied Child Psychology and Early Childhood Education had it so much easier than I did as a new mom.  I was practically in tears each night trying to figure out how to put a crying baby down or, later, how to handle a tantrum-throwing toddler.  I was never so tortured by such a tiny human being.

When the kids started reading, I wished that I had studied Literature so I could do a better job introducing our kids to the literary world.  For a long time while we had babies and toddlers, all I ever read were People magazines and the backs of cereal boxes. Not exactly the Classics. (For the record, I am now a voracious reader of real books!)

Once the kids were eating solids and beyond, I wished that I had studied Culinary Arts or Nutrition.  I was making terrible meals which, I’m sure, will continue to haunt me as I my kids march down the road to bad nutritional health.

I have also often wished that I had become a nurse, because there were so many health issues to deal with when kids are young.  Fortunately, we did have one member of our family in the medical field, so I felt a little better here.

But the aforementioned member of the family in the medical field works long hours, so I was the one who often played catch in the front yard with our son.  He also needed to try basketball and baseball at one point, but I knew nothing about these sports.  How I wished that I had majored in Physical Science and Sports Psychology!  As the kids got older and I felt the need to keep them (or at least get them) into shape, I wished that I knew more about Fitness Education.

Everything I did as a mother, it seemed, I had to learn from scratch, scouring the internet and reading up on volumes of books.  So often, I cry out to David, “But I didn’t get a degree in this!”  Now that the kids are in middle school and high school, I wished that I majored in Mathematics, Accounting, Social Sciences, Biology, Physiology, Psychology, and Political Science and had become a certified school teacher.

But I’ll tell you two areas where my major and profession have come in handy:

1.  I set up the LAN network in our house, complete with wireless remote printing from any of our devices.

2.  I sang them lullabies and wrote a song for each of my kids.

And when I start playing the “I could have/should have” game, I recall these words from Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

He has indeed redeemed even this Computer Science major Panda Mom, so I do know that nothing — not even my college education –was a total wast, after all!

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Did you go to college?  How has your major helped you in motherhood (or not)?  Tell me about it!

Letting Our Kids Be Experts

Meg and her friends at the post-makeover photo shoot

Meg’s dream came true yesterday when she hosted a beauty makeover party for her 12th birthday.  She did a make up tutorial and makeover for eight of her friends.  It took over two hours to do every girl and her back ached by the end, but there was nothing she would rather have done for her own birthday party.

Afterwards, we went to their school grounds and did a photo shoot in the setting sun.  All nine preteen girls, giggling and feeling beautiful.  Meg was the beauty guru for the day, and sharing her passion with her friends made her happier than receiving any gifts (not that she minded the presents as well, of course!).

There’s something in all of us that desires to contribute to society, all the better if we are an expert at something.  My very wise friend Norman once told me that he lets his teenage son Brett teach him how to play the guitar even though Norm already knows how, because, for one, Brett had been taking some high-quality lessons and had surpassed his dad in his ability, and also because, as Norm said with fatherly pride, “It’s great to let our kids be experts.”

I do recall showing my mom some figure skating moves at the ice rink in New York when I was in the fourth grade.  Initially, my parents simply didn’t want me and my sisters to be wall-huggers at the rink, so they signed us up for group lessons.  Well, I really took to skating.  I advanced from level to level, until one day when she was picking me up, I was able to show off some jumps and spins as she watched nervously from the side.  “Wow, you’ve gotten good,” exclaimed my mother as she asked me how to do those moves. You’d think I had just won the gold at the winter Olympics!

My son, like many boys, really got into Legos as a youngster.  At first I was giving him directions, but he quickly moved on to more and more difficult pieces until he was working on some humongous space craft with about a million pieces.  Whoever designs them must be completely nuts, but somehow the pieces all came together in his capable 10-year old hands.  “Mom, so you put this thing here and snap it that way.  Oh, and can you help me find this piece?  I’ll show you where it goes.”  I usually found an excuse to slither out of there soon thereafter, but David could have worked with his son all night.  Honestly, I was not all that interested in Legos, but I liked being his pupil.  I know it made Josh feel proud.

The beauty guru at work

So back to Meg.  She has spent the latter half of her 12 long years studying beauty — hair, nails, and makeup — to where she is a bona fide guru today.  Thanks to YouTube, she has watched tons of videos by other beauty experts, and she has been practicing filming herself giving tutorials on our video camera set up on a tripod in her room.  Her first segment is going to be “Putting on Perfect Playground Makeup for Middle School.”  Move over, Michelle Phan!

She has invested most of her birthday and Christmas moneys in beauty supplies: shadows, cheeks, mascara, lipstick, pencils, etc.  She enjoys putting them on herself to the extent that her own face is a canvas upon which she practices her art.  She usually takes them off before leaving the house.  I love letting her apply shadows on my eyes.  “Mom, your eyelids are so loose and wiggle with my brush,” she complains as she compares her taut skin to my middle-aged one.  I’m trying to help her learn to work with all types of customers, of which she shall have many in the very near future.

My "After," thanks to Meg

Don’t we all need to feel we contribute to society?  I even have a task assigned to our dog, Sushi: clean-up patrol.  Whenever we drop something while cooking, he hurries over for his duty.

Do your kids have some expertise they share with you and the society?  Let me know!

Birthday Parties and Priceless Gifts

Meg and her friends at last year's birthday party. Not too pricey!

Meg has a birthday coming up, so we’re gearing up for yet another party with a gaggle of preteen girls…and preparing to open up our home and our wallets once again for the celebration.

Have you noticed that it can get really expensive to put on birthday parties?  Whatever happened to the days of cake and ice cream and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey followed by opening presents? The whole thing used to be over in about an hour. These days, it’s a major production which takes so much time and involve so many guests that the birthday child can’t make it through the party without a complete meltdown.

I hate to admit it, but it’s almost as expensive to get invited to others’ birthday parties.  You can’t just buy any old gifts, and you certainly can’t — gasp! — bring a homemade present.  Kids have their own registry at Target and Toys ‘R Us, for goodness’ sake.  You really have to count the cost of your child getting too popular.

“Mom, I made a new friend today!”

“Oh yeah?  When is his/her birthday?”


“You already have two good friends with September birthdays.  You have to space them apart.  Drop this one and go find someone with a March birthday.”

Of course, it’s understandable to go all out on the baby’s first birthday.  Bring on the caterers, professional entertainers, and the dance floor.  You deserve it.  Your kid will probably nap right through it, but honestly — it’s all about the parents’ mile stone!  You might want to read up on my past blog post about hiring costumed entertainers as a precaution, but really, go have fun.

If you’re planning a birthday party, you could choose to have it at your home to save money.  However, you still have to watch you wallet, because you could start going crazy with the caterer and entertainment, and before you know it, you’ve blown your budget.  And don’t forget the goody bags for your guests.  I’m not sure who ever came up with the tradition of stuffing goody bags with pencils, stickers, and candies, but we began to accumulate so much of those items that I began to “re-gift” them in our own goody bags at our parties.  I’m pretty sure that other moms did that too, because I swear I saw the exact same items bounce back and forth at several birthday parties in our neighborhood.

I started out doing parties at our home, then I got tired of the cleanup afterwards.  The blue cake icing smeared on our beige carpet on Josh’s third birthday was the last straw.  David and I decided to take our parties elsewhere.

Meg, stuck in a maze at Chuck E. Cheese during her brother's birthday party

So, we began to frequent places such as Chuck E. Cheese, bowling alleys, and amusement parks.  Stores such as Color Me Mine (paint your own ceramics) or Justice clothing shops even offer hosted birthday parties.  They have event coordinators on staff to take care of everything, so we just show up like one of the guests and go home with a boatload of presents.  The only major factor is the cost, but it certainly is nice to have someone else put on a party for you.

Our kids are getting older now and are starting to appreciate more intimate parties at our home or a restaurant with a few good friends.  We started a tradition last year where everyone around the table shares something that they really appreciated about our birthday child.  I make sure I have the video camera rolling during this time.  Yes, our kids still like getting birthday gifts, but I think these words of affirmation are priceless, treasured long after the party is over and the goody bags all dispensed.

And we hope and pray that both of our kids will come to truly appreciate the most important gift of all — God sending His only Son, Jesus, to this world for our salvation — and that these birthday parties we do for them and the gifts we bring would give them a glimpse of the everlasting celebration we’ll someday enjoy together.

What are some of the most memorable birthday parties you’ve done for your kids?  Let us know here!



Asian Pride and Our Heavenly Citizenship

Meg and her friends from camp last week

“Do you like being an Asian, Meg?” I asked my preteen daughter as we enjoyed Japanese-style hot pot dish shabu shabu at a hip restaurant in town. All of the workers are Asian — Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or some sort of a mix — although they probably all primarily speak English. More importantly, they are attractive young men and women wearing stylish jeans and t-shirts with the restaurant’s equally stylish logo. The decor is decidedly Euro-modern sleek, and so is the background music.

Meg replied with complete certitude, “Oh yeah,” as if to say, “Why, everyone knows that it’s really cool to be Asian these days!”

What a difference one generation makes.

When I was Meg’s age, I was not exactly proud of my ethnic heritage. I spent many hours in front of the mirror wishing that my eyes were bigger and rounder, my nose pointier, my legs longer, and my skin whiter. Basically, I wished that I had been my best friend in 6th grade, Judy — a gorgeous California blond. She was tall, beautiful, athletic, and popular. She had equally athletic and attractive parents and brothers, and they had fun conversations in English at her home which was bright and cheery, a gathering place for all the kids in the neighborhood. Even their golden retrievers were beautiful.

I spent a lot of time at Judy’s home after school and only went home, reluctantly, when it was time for dinner — rice, soy sauce, fish and vegetables. We were scolded if we didn’t speak in Japanese at home. Parental respect was in high order, and we had to take off our dirty shoes at the front door. We rarely had friends over.

Maybe my inferiority complex began when I was a third grader in New York, where we had arrived from Japan during the previous summer. A blond classmate named Erik was on the swing at the playground one day when I walked by with another girl, also a recent transplant from Japan.

“Japs,” he said, then he spat at us.

Unfortunately for him, his spit came right back at his shirt, more dramatically so because his swinging moved him right into it. He continued on with some tirade, but neither my friend nor I could understand English.

Erik was also the one who, the following summer at the local community pool, forced me and another friend into the boy’s bathroom. After he cornered us, he crossed his arms and leaned back on the concrete wall. He then made a demand.

“Do the wee-wee dance.”

Perhaps he was curious about that playground ditty which goes, “All the girls in France do the wee-wee dance…” We had no idea what the wee-wee dance was, of course, but the absurdity of such a request from a fellow 10-year old classmate made us burst into uncontrollable laughter. That’s when some other guys walked into the men’s room, and my friend and I used the opportunity to slip out, laughing and giggling.

He was never rude to us during school in our classroom, but he was a different boy outside of it. He probably had issues at home, but in my preteen mind, he was picking on me because I was Asian, and I deserved it.

Fast forward to today. Now, we live in a town which is heavily Asian but is mainly multi-cultural. Our kids now differentiate friends by hair color — yellow (blonde), black, brown, red — instead of skin color. Anime, toys, music, and wonderful Asian eateries surround us everyday, and our kids are proud to be a part of a culture that introduced Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Top Ramen, and Jeremy Lin. I’m also noticing now, at middle age, my Oriental skin is holding up better than those of my Caucasian cohorts.

It took me several decades of self-loathing and growing to become utterly okay with myself, which I am now. I also take to heart the verse in Philippians 3 which says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I’m just happy for Meg that she has a head start in being okay in her own Asian skin today.

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How do you help your preteen/teens gain confidence in themselves? Let me know!


Then When and How of Potty Training

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com

“Why, you still haven’t potty trained him yet? We trained you by the time you were 12 months,” I heard my mother brag more than once during her many visits with her first grandchild.  Each time she made that comment, my potty-training age got younger and younger in her memory as I gained another gray hair.  I was sure that she would soon be telling me that I was born potty trained.

I suppose cloth diapers back then were motivation enough to get your baby potty trained as soon as possible.  Diaper rashes occurred more readily, and the mothers got tired of washing dirty cloth diapers.  “It sent up a pungent smell every time I ironed them,” my mother used to tell me.  Why in the world would you bother ironing diapers? Talk about an overachiever.

Me, I thanked the Lord every time I opened up a brand new package of disposable diapers.  It always smelled fresh — no pungent smells here — and all I had to do was to wrap it around my baby’s buns and seal it closed.  Voila!  Clean baby.

Occasionally, I did feel guilty about the fact that diapers went into landfills.  I couldn’t very well recycle them, for goodness’ sake!  More than once, my baby would pee right on the clean, fresh diaper in the process of changing.  “Really?  Now?” I would lament.  Then I would stand there for about three minutes debating with myself: Well, it’s not THAT wet…no, he’s going to get a diaper rash…an extra layer of Desitin might help…oh, come on, have a heart, mother…and so it went.  When I did have to go through three diapers in about 10 minutes, I kept reminding myself that some people throw trucks and refrigerators into landfills, so what’s an extra diaper or two?

You’ve got to admit that putting off potty training has its advantages, though.  It’s great that we don’t have to sprint to public bathrooms on short notice.  I opted for the convenience of the diaper with my first child for as long as I could.  He had almost outgrown the largest diaper size before I began thinking about potty training — or Depends — and only because our preschool director sat us down for a heart-to-heart.

“Mrs. Cheng,” she said sternly.  “Your son is now over 3 years old.  He’s ready.”  I knew he wouldn’t be allowed into first grade unless he was potty trained, so we picked a holiday weekend, Memorial Day, to get ‘er done.

The preschool director suggested the all-or-nothing approach, so we started by going commando.  She thought that pull-ups only reinforced old habits so we bypassed using them except at night.  Good thing we have wood floors, because, sure enough, halfway through the morning he started to tinkle.  “Uh-oh…” he said, as he stood in a small puddle on our wood floor.  We spent the rest of the morning on the grass in our backyard.  He only had one more accident, and that was it.  “Mommy, I have to go,” he said the next time he had the urge.  What sweet music to my ears!

The real test was #2.  Surprisingly, he didn’t have an accident with that one.  After lunch, I sat him down on the little training toilet, and there he went.  That was it.  He returned to preschool on Tuesday as a changed, underwear-toting young man.  Yeah, I guess he was ready to be potty trained.  More than ready.

Could have I trained him sooner?  In hindsight, probably yes.  I wouldn’t recommend waiting until past 3 years of age for everyone (“trucks and fridges, trucks and fridges…”), but at least for my boy it was so surprisingly easy to go through the process.  Incidentally, I kept the pull-ups on him at night for another 6 months or so until I realized that I kept pulling it off dry in the morning only to reuse it again the next night.  I figured I might as well use underwear and wash them daily!

What was your potty training experience like with your babies?  Tell me here on the comments below!