Siblings — You Only Have Each Other

Josh and Meg, best frienemies

No one can make Meg laugh like her big brother Josh.  He knows just the thing to say to make her crack up, and Meg can do the same to Josh, too.  Sometimes I believe with my whole heart that they are best friends.  Then, only two minutes later, I’m convinced that they are their own biggest enemies.  Siblings.

When Meg was a newborn, Josh was the one who made her laugh out loud for the first time in her life.  He made faces at her while my mother gave her a bath.  Her giggle was so cute and so husky that he was totally amused and kept doing it again and again.  His sister obliged every single time, and this went on for a very long time that night.

I never noticed any sibling jealousy which I was concerned about when Meg came along.  Josh kissed my tummy when Meg was still inside, and he helped me around the house after her birth by handing me a clean diaper when it was time for a change.

They began to play together in earnest when Meg started walking.  Josh was really into the animated film “Tarzan” at the time, and Meg’s hair growth made her look like Tarzan’s sidekick Turk.  He called her his best friend.

From about age two, Meg began competing with her brother (cue “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from the musical Annie Get Your Gun) — Josh hops up, Meg hops up.  Josh puts a plate on his head, Meg puts a plate on hers.  He laughs, she laughs.  He swims, she swims.  It was all cute and very friendly.

Then Meg became more assertive.  One day, when Josh was at preschool, Meg got into his bag of candies in the family room.

“I eat one,” she said as she sat with her legs crossed and the bag on her lap.

“I eat some,” she continued, as she grabbed a few more pieces out of the bag.

I was busy doing something in the kitchen, but the next moment I looked up, Meg sat with her mouth quite full.

“I leave Joshy some,” she promised, although I found it difficult to believe that she had much self-control.

“I leave Joshy one,” she said, as she pointed her finger up for emphasis.

A minute later, she got up, threw the empty bag in the air, and exclaimed, “All gone!” as she ran away. She was way too cute for me to get mad.

As I suspected, there were some tears and screaming upon his return from preschool later that day.  He still brings it up from time to time.

This love/hate relationship still continues today.  Most of the time, I notice that Josh looking out for his sister, particularly at school.  Being only two grades ahead of his sister, Josh is always filling her in on what’s ahead: “So Mrs. so-and-so is a hard teacher,” or “Don’t go to the school dance.  It’s totally boring.”  Because they have different interests and all, Meg may not always follow his advice (and sometimes, she just wants to spite him).  Nonetheless, I know Meg appreciates Josh, and he his sister.

When they are fighting, I often tell them, “When Daddy and I are gone, you only have each other, so you need to learn to get along!”  Most of the time, they only stare at me for a few seconds then go back to their argument.

My mom and her brothers -- they only had each other after their parents died.

I don’t think they comprehend that statement quite yet, but someday they will.  I pray that the day won’t come too soon like it did for my mother and her brothers when they lost both parents during WWII.  They were only 16, 14, and 10, around the same ages as my kids right now. In spite of their occasional sibling rivalry, I’m glad that Josh and Meg have each other.

I agree wholeheartedly with these words from Psalm 133:1-3 (MSG):

How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!
   It’s like costly anointing oil
      flowing down head and beard,
   Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
      flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
   It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
      flowing down the slopes of Zion.
   Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
      ordains eternal life.

Do your kids get along?  What’s your secret?

Post-partum Recovery and Cultural Customs

My friend Annie was looking forward to having her mother-in-law come out from Hong Kong to help out for a while after the pending birth of the first grandchild in the family.  After Annie, her husband, and the baby came home from the hospital, she was relieved that her mother-in-law took care of everything so that Annie could rest and bond with the baby.  She even made soup for her everyday.

“Family recipe.  Will make you strong soon and you make good milk for our baby.”

Annie appreciated all the help…at least for the first seven days.  When she began to feel strong enough to do some easy housework, her mother-in-law immediately ordered her back to bed.  Annie was barely allowed to lift a finger except to nurse the baby and to go to the bathroom.

In fact, the matriarch did not allow Annie to get out of bed for THIRTY DAYS!  By the end of the second week, she was nearly in tears.  And by the end of the month, she had gotten so weak that she could hardly walk.  And the baby fat around her belly?  Don’t even think about it.

I’m hearing conflicting reports on how common it is in Hong Kong to remain bedridden for 30 days after giving birth, but my husband David agrees that the Chinese custom calls for keeping the baby away from the public until he or she is at least a month old.

Baby Meg with Big Brother Josh

That’s why I had this unfortunate incident at the nearby shopping mall one day when Meg was only about a week old.  Being the second child and a very easy baby, I popped her out in about two hours and was no worse for the wear.  My first born had already done most of the damage anyway.  It was a hot day in August, we were in a small apartment with air conditioning that couldn’t keep up, so we thought we’d go cool off at the mall.  Besides, Josh loved to go on the merry-go-round there just like any other 2-year old.

A couple of Chinese ladies came walking over to our bench where we were enjoying some croissants, peeking into the canopy of the infant car seat which sat upon the dual-purpose stroller.

“The baby – how old?” the older of the two asked me with a smile, in broken English.

“Oh, six days,” I replied, proudly.

Her eyes grew wide.  She then turned to the other woman, said something to her in Chinese, and turned back to me and glared.  They both pointed their fingers at me.  I wasn’t really sure what they were thinking, but they suddenly didn’t look so friendly.

I asked my husband who speaks Cantonese, “What did they say?”

“I’m not sure, because they were speaking Mandarin, but I think they said, ‘Child abuse!’”  I decided to scurry away before they called security on me.

Every culture has its own way of handling childbirth.  In Japan, they let the mom stay in the hospital for a full week even when there are no complications.  As for me, I followed the cultural customs of Kaiser Permanente Medical Hospital in Southern California.  I went into labor with both babies on a Friday morning then came home with a new bundle of joy on a Sunday afternoon.  It was like I went on a weekend retreat each time.  I just came home with a special package afterwards.  If my husband didn’t pull some strings, though, the hospital would have made me leave on Saturday instead of Sunday.  Also, the German nurse told me that I had to pass poop (and show her the proof) before I could leave.  For once, I was happy to be constipated for 48 hours.

My friend Christy, a fitness instructor, shared with us one time that she had decided to go for a jog, pushing her newborn in a baby jogger, three weeks postpartum.  She quickly found out that that’s not a very good idea.  She recommends others now to avoid her same mistake.

I am not sure which culture does it “right,” but it really all depends on mom and baby.  After my experience with mastitis, though, I would just recommend you to take it easier than you think you should.  That’s what I should have done, in hindsight.

How did you handle your postpartum period?  How long did it take you to get your groove back?  Share in the comments below!

Child Labor? My First Boss Was My Parent

Photo courtesy http://demon-cook.blogspot.com/2011/08/yo-tempura.html

My parents owned a Japanese take-out restaurant in Tustin, CA, from the time I was 13 until 16.  They were applying to get a permanent residency visa (aka, green card) during this time.  It shouldn’t have taken them four years, but a lousy immigration attorney ripped them off after two years and several thousand dollars. It took another two years and some more money to finally get their permanent residency status.  They were, fortunately, able to sell the restaurant shortly thereafter.

For four years, their only full-time employees at Red Hill Japanese Deli were me and my sisters.  The pay was lousy, but we didn’t even think about the money.  All we knew was that if we didn’t chip in, we would go bankrupt.  I didn’t really understand what that meant, but it was very, very scary .  At worst, we were told, we would all have to get shipped back to Japan to go live with our relatives.  No way would we want to face that consequence!

I was in charge of making tempura.  I fried carrots, onions, mushroom, zucchini, and shrimp to near perfection.  After about the ten thousandth hour of doing this, I got pretty skilled.  I could make a tiny shrimp look like a prawn by the time I was done covering it just so with my secret-ingredient batter.  And I knew my oils.  Without any kitchen thermometer, I could just feel it when the oil temperature was just right for frying. A little drip of the batter from the tips of my cooking chopsticks would sink for just for a split second then sizzle back up to the surface in a golden blossom.

My younger sister Reiko was in charge of fried rice.  More rice would end up on the floor than on the industrial-sized grill by the time she got done, but it was tasty.  My older sister Yoko did the sukiyaki and pork cutlet which was fried in a separate fryer at the opposite side of the kitchen from my tempura fryer.  Ne’er shall the two oils be intermixed.

There were times that my parents would leave us at home in the afternoon so we could get some homework done, but then we would get a desperate phone call during the dinner rush.

“Ride your bike here, NOW!” my mom would scream on the other end of the line.  I would hop on my Schwinn 12-speed and race down the hill from my house about 3 miles which would take me at least 20 to 30 minutes.  I would come in huffing through the back door, hauling my bike inside, and would find my mother sitting down and reading a Japanese gossip magazine.

“Sorry, it calmed down.  I made you dinner, though.”

My mom really knows how to cook.  It’s no wonder that my parents chose the restaurant business when searching for a “non-competitive” business with other US residents.  Good thing we three daughters were able to help in the work, too.  We also picked up practical skills along the way.  To this day, I know how to cook rice and make tempura for 100 people (but, unfortunately, not so well for a family of four).

I rode that same bike to a nearby music store so I could start taking piano and songwriting lessons with the money I earned.  I learned to manage my homework load between my other tasks, sitting down and focusing in spite of my environment and using rice bags as my desk.

I used that bike again to ride to the local church where I received love and care from a group of people in the youth group who were very sympathetic to my life situation.  I didn’t even realize that my life was tough, but I sure appreciated their concerns.

I am all for my own children getting all the assistance they need to get good grades and do well in life.  I try to clear out their schedule and give them all the tools they need to achieve success.  But sometimes I wonder if we try too hard to make it too easy for our kids.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to make them suffer…a little bit.

There is still a Japanese restaurant where Red Hill Japanese Deli used to be, although I think it’s a sit-down restaurant now, not just a takeout like ours.  Sometimes I drive by there and look back at those four years of my life and how they made me who I am today.

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

-Romans 8:28

Foreign Language Speakers in Our Midst

Olympics 2012 closing ceremony, photo courtesy dailymail.co.uk

Do you think it’s rude when people converse in a foreign language right in front of you?  Because I’m bilingual, I know what it’s like to be on both sides of this conversation.

We live in a neighborhood where there are a lot of immigrants from numerous countries — China, Taiwan, Korea, Iran, India, Pakistan, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, etc. — and you constantly hear people speaking in different languages.  Although English is the common thread amongst all the residents here in Irvine, CA, a majority of the parents at my kids’ school speak it as a second language.  As I look around the room during a PTA meeting, I can see that most parents are straining to understand what the principal is saying.  I also notice that many of the principal’s jokes fall flat, not because she’s not funny but because the parents just don’t comprehend the words being spoken.  I help out by laughing extra loud for her.

If there is a Japanese parent in the room, I usually try to give them a synopsis of the dialogue at the podium by interpreting what was being said.  I grew up doing this for my own parents during junior high and high school.  It used to be a source of embarrassment to me as a teenager, but now I appreciate having acquired the ability to translate, because it has become a real marketable skill for me today.  But it took years to get to where I am now.

There were a few Japanese girls in my elementary school who were more proficient in English than I was, so when I had just arrived from Japan as a shy third grader, they were my lifeline at P.S. 24 in Bronx, NY.  They helped explain what was going on in the classroom, what my homework was, and why they served fish in the cafeteria on Fridays (for the Catholic students) and matzo bread during passover (for the Jewish friends).

Some insensitive classmates would be offended by us conversing in Japanese in the hallways and would cut in, “Hey, don’t you know we’re in America now?” and act like a clown, which was probably normal for prepubescent boys who secretly had a crush on one of us.  Other sweet friends would try to engage by speaking to us slowly and asking us how to say certain words in Japanese and try to learn from us.  Let’s just say that there was a spectrum of reactions from our classmates in this regard.

Fast forward several decades to now, in Irvine, where English is a second language to many residents.  One time, I walked into a bathroom at a restaurant where a couple of attractive Asian ladies were talking excitedly with each other in their own language.  After they walked out, I heard a couple of Caucasian ladies say to each other, “Wow, that was rude.  Don’t they realize that there are other people in here who don’t speak their language?” I had to bite my tongue.  Why should someone switch to a language they’re not very proficient at — English — just because you’re in the room? 

Perhaps people are paranoid of others talking about them.  I do see that happening so obviously at nail salons where the gals chatter away in their own language, laughing while glancing at a particular customer.  That, I do agree, is rude.  I do confess that I myself have switched to Japanese while hanging out with my sisters to subtly say something that we don’t want everyone around us to understand (“Over-Botoxed face at 3 o’clock!”).  It’s no different than friends giving signals, speaking in code, or using Pig Latin to try to be covert in their communication.

I am not making any statements here about officially declaring English as the national language or abolishing ESL classes at school.  I would agree with most of you that it is essential to learn English if you want to get ahead in academics and in your career.  I’m just talking about letting people speak in whatever tongue they prefer amongst their own family and friends, even in public.  Just let them be.  That’s what my kids do with all of their friends at school — some in Korean, some in Chinese, others in Japanese, but all of them bilingual students who float between languages just as easily as they float amongst different circles of friends.

Traveling abroad to foreign countries just might give you a little insight.  In fact, you might find yourself quoting with me, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)

Olympic Nationalism and the Maternal Pride

American athletes during the London Olympics opening ceremonyTraveling overseas during the Olympics is an epic adventure all its own.  The moment you step outside US soil, you realize that we are not the only country in the world that matters.  In fact, you soon learn that every country has the same national pride as we do here in the United States

Gold medal gymnast from Japan, Kosei Uchimura

Gold medal gymnast from Japan, Kohei Uchimura. Photo courtesy Asahi News

While I was in Tokyo on this whirlwind tour of Asia, I turned on the TV in the hotel with the hopes of finding out the latest swimming results for athletes like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.  Instead, I heard all about the Team Japan swimmers such as Kosuke Kitajima who performed very impressively during the London Games.  Any mention of the American swimmers was just a side note to the Japanese athletes’ conquests.  When I then tried to watch Team US gymnastics, I could only find stories about the Japanese gymnasts such as gold medalist Kosei Uchimura, and others from Japan who did very well.  Very impressive for a small island nation like Japan, but as for my “own” athletes, I had to go to the internet to get the full story.

Once I landed in Jakarta, I found that most of the television coverage focused, yet again, on their own national athletes, reporting in a language which I did not understand.  So, I looked for English channels and stumbled across BBC news which, understandably, focused their reporting on all British athletes, all the time.

During my trip, I saw a lot more of ping-pong (excuse me — “table tennis”), fencing, soccer, and other somewhat obscure events than I have ever seen in my life, all because there were athletes from Japan, Indonesia, and Great Britain who competed in these sports.  Meanwhile, my facebook feed was streaming all sorts of great news about American athletes who were winning in volleyball, soccer, basketball, and track & field.  I just didn’t get to view any of it on TV.

I think all of this national pride is quite healthy and good, and it’s somewhat like how we moms view the world.  In the sea of faces in a school performance, the only child who matters is our own.  If a school publishes the average score of a state test, all we really care about is how well our own children scored. Let’s face it — no other kid matters to us as much as our own.

Once, during a conference with one of my son’s teachers, she mentioned that he is a good citizen, which made my heart puff with pride.  Then she continued, “All the students in my class this year are good,” which promptly diluted her preceding statement about my child just moments prior, making me wish that she had stopped talking then.  That’s like saying, “American athletes are good, but so are all Olympic athletes — they’re all good!”  While complimenting everyone, it ends up complimenting no one.  We really only care about our own nation and our own offspring, and in many ways that is normal and good.

Selfish, you say?  You bet I am.  My children are the most important kids in the whole world!  But I AM my children’s only mother, and I dare say that it is a good selfishness on my part.  Maybe there still is a little Tiger left in this Panda mom, after all.  Let’s hope that you’re as completely passionate, devoted, and biased about your own children as I am about my own.

Aren’t you?

Jetlag and Thoughts on Motherhood

I got the best of both worlds -- mommy by day, rock star by night!

I returned safely from my whirlwind tour of Japan and Indonesia last night to a husband, two kids, and a dog who all were very happy to see me.  There is, truly, nothing like home.  I’ve been up since 4am, though.  It’s always harder to adjust to eastward travel, but it’s as good time as any to catch up on my blogging!

When I first became pregnant with Josh almost 15 years ago, I thought that my life was over.  I was facing 18 years to life, and I knew that I would always have to look after this helpless offspring who, at the time, could do nothing — not even eat and poop — without my assistance.  I had enjoyed a busy career in music, traveling the world and meeting all sorts of interesting people.  Yet, I knew that it was time to kiss my life as I knew it good bye and kiss the cheeks of my newborn baby.

I mourned that death of me at the time, pretty much going into labor kicking and screaming, not wanting to let go of my wonderful life.  I mean, I thought I had it pretty good, and I enjoyed my freedom more than anything.  I did not want to be tied down to domestic life.

For a while after we became parents, I still tried to fight it.  I wasn’t willing to give up my life as I knew it, and I tried hiring nannies and sitters to try to prolong the freedom I had had.  Eventually, though, it became obvious that I was not yielding myself to this new role in life called motherhood.  That’s when I let go.  And then it became wonderful.

In fact, life got even better, much more fulfilling and richer than ever before.  How did I even think that my previous life was so worth holding onto?  Once I dove into motherhood with everything I had, my life became much more…what shall I say? — centered.  To be sure, others may be very well-centered even without having children, but for me, motherhood brought everything into light and my life finally made sense.  Yeah.  Much more centered.

Fast forward 14 years, and I’m finally crawling out of the mommy fog and reentering life again.  Things don’t look exactly the same, and I’m no longer chasing unrealistic dreams and expectations nor running away from demons on my shoulders.  Yes, I had my issues back then.  Anyway, in the past year, it has felt like I’m slowly getting my life back, and it feels good.  In so many ways, my music ministry and career look so much better than ever before.  Ironically, though, I don’t care as much about it; I can honestly take it or leave it.  Boy, is that ever freeing!

As I sang at and taught workshops at this children’s ministries conference in Jakarta with other speakers from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and other parts of the US, I noticed that many of us have children about the same ages as mine — preteen to young teens — which made me think that perhaps my parenting journey is not all that unique.  For a while — maybe 10, 12 years — we (especially moms) need to let go of our own selves and focus on raising our kids at home.  Ten years used to sound like a very long time for me back then, but now, in perspective, it is just a blink of an eye.  Then, just at the right time according to God’s infinite wisdom, we get back out there and continue with our lives and leave a lasting mark on humanity, both by raising children who are, hopefully, well-adjusted and contributors to society themselves, and also by doing whatever God made us to do here on earth.

So, if you are stuck in the mires of life that is raising young children and you feel like you will never wear dry clean-only clothes and/or high heels again, fear not!  You will get out there again, in due time.  And then you will realize how much more fulfilling life is and that you wouldn’t trade all the sleepless nights and poopy diapers for anything.

No, I wouldn’t trade my life as a mommy for anything.  Would you?

Singing at New Hope Yokohama. Some of the young parents there told me they heard me long time ago when they were kids. Oh boy, I've been at this a long time!

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Panda Mom is traveling again!  First stop is Japan. Here’s a billboard I saw just as I came out of customs at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo: Upon checking in at the hotel, I saw this courtesy notice in the … Continue reading