My Halloween Decorations and Why I Paid Full Retail

My first ever Halloween decoration

I just went out and bought a whole bunch of Halloween decorations for our front yard.

Why now, you say?

If you’re asking why, on October 30, would I go to Target and pay full retail when we all know that come November 1, all Halloween products will go on sale, well, it’s because I needed some Halloween decorations NOW.  Selections were already slim at the store, and I just couldn’t wait, because Halloween is, um, tomorrow.

If this doesn't scare you, I don't know what will...

Why didn’t I buy these things on November 1 a year ago, you say?  I know — I’m asking the same question.

If you’re asking why, now that our kids are 12 and 14 and have pretty much figured out that Santa is not real and that tooth fairies pay more for molars, would I be decorating our front yard with Halloween trinkets as if they were still 2 and 4, well…that’s more complicated.

This is the first time in years that I’m actually going to be home on October 31.  Each year, I seemed to be singing for children at some Halloween- or Harvest-event or another, and I was always busy leading up to the performance.  I thought a bowl of candy and a functioning porch light was enough to get Halloween rolling. Thanks, honey, for taking the kids around our neighborhood.

I know Halloween has lost much of its luster for our kids.  It used to be the most wonderful night of the year (next to Christmas, of course), and we planned for weeks on their costumes.  Every year, we obliged and ended up spending way too much for a store-bought costumes that are made cheaply and which every other kid on the block also had:  Ariel, Woody, Cinderella, train conductor, Harry Potter, Jasmine, astronaut, mermaid — we’ve done them all.

This year, my 12-year old daughter is dressing up as a makeup artist.  What a stretch.  The only “costume” I had to order this year was a makeup brush belt, mail ordered for only $19.99 from  Actually, she was a hit at last week’s Halloween party at youth group and won Best Costume.

Josh, my 14-year old, is not sure yet what he is going to dress up as.  He’s into the British TV show Dr. Who right now, so he might try that route.  Just put on dad’s sport coat.  Whatever it is, he better decide soon, because his voice is about to change and I think you are disqualified as a trick-or-treater once you start sounding like a man.  This is probably his last opportunity.

This baby sings "Thriller" next to our fog machine.

So maybe that’s why I got all the Halloween decorations.  Maybe I know that childhood is nearing the end at our home, and I’m trying to slow down that process.  I’m hanging onto whatever childhood is left and trying to make up for lost time — you know, the times I was out working on Halloween night instead of walking around the neighborhood with my own children.

I’m hanging onto the notion that I’ll be able to use the same Halloween decorations again next year.  I’ll also go back to Target and catch a few more items on sale on November 1.  But then I’ll probably get tempted to purchase the cute Christmas decorations, ignoring the full retail price tag just because I’ll want to hang onto the magic of Christmas this year.

Ah, motherhood.

Lessons From Parents of Homecoming Queen and Princess

Our friends (from left) Karyn, Lizzy, Emily, and Tim

Last Friday night, David and I got to celebrate a major life event with our friends Tim and Karyn.  Their twin daughters, Emily and Lizzy, were named princesses on their high school homecoming court.  While that would be an honor for any high school senior, this family doubled the fun and claimed two of the four precious spots on the court.  If that weren’t exciting enough, Lizzy was crowned the homecoming queen!

We are all happy for Lizzy and Emily.  All the cameras turned to the beautiful four young ladies in the middle of the footbal field on this very special night.  That’s a huge accomplishment!  But we are just as ecstatic for Tim and Karyn.  They are wonderful parents, and they should be proud of the great job they’ve done raising up these two lovely girls. They also have a son who is equally accomplished and who is off to college and another totally fun and talented younger daughter who happens to be the same age as our son Joshua.

We’ve shared life together with this family since our kids were toddlers and younger.  That’s when Tim became the associate pastor at our church.  We connected right away, mostly due to the friends we already had in common, but we enjoyed their company so much that we decided to join up as a small group.  With a handful of other young families of our church, we spent the next ten-plus years sharing our lives together.

With four children, theirs was one of the biggest families in our small group, if not within our church and, possibly, in Irvine.  It was always borderline chaos at their home, but there was also always a sense of peace and love in their house, too.  How they managed to raise up four athletic, intelligent, and talented children so successfully in their home, I will never fully know.  My guess, though, is that they did a lot of things right as parents.

Okay, so they have a head start because Karyn is a clinical psychologist.  I love talking to Karyn, because she always has so much wisdom.  Tim, being a pastor, also has a heart of gold.  Both of them poured their lives into these kids and encouraged each to pursue their talents and passion.  Yes, it was crazy driving hither and yon to get their kids to their various activities, but somehow they managed, and managed well.

Obviously, they weren’t simply going through the motions.  They were present in each of their kids’ lives, and that’s the key to their connectedness.  In that kind of a home environment, children can’t help but thrive. All four of their kids embrace life fully, and it has been a joy to watch them all grow.

Most importantly, though, their faith is real.  They have a genuine and honest faith in God that underscores everything in their lives.  This is not a perfect family made up of perfect people; rather, they are real people living out true faith, trusting in a good and loving God.  Life is not neat and tidy and explained away in simple theology, but there is nonetheless true love and peace that permeates their sometimes chaotic and messy lives. I love that about this family!

I’ve learned a lot just by observing them.  How wonderful it is to see their lives now bearing such wonderful fruit.  I could go on about how I hope my kids will enjoy great accomplishments half as exciting as theirs or wish that my family would be as connected as theirs.  But for now, I’m just going to leave it at this:

Well done, Tim and Karyn!  Well done.

My Son’s Changing Voice

My marching band trumpet player son Joshua

My baby boy’s voice is about to change.  Actually, he’s not a baby anymore.  He’s 14 years old, and he’s at least 2 or 3 inches taller than me now.  He wears size 9 shoes — not toddler size 9, but men’s — and is starting to have a few pimples here and there.  His voice has slowly been sliding down the scale for the past few months.

But nothing defines puberty like a male’s changing voice that suddenly drops from soprano to baritone in a matter of hours.

He is straddling that fine line between childhood and adulthood right now, and I am standing right beside him…on the childhood side.  I keep looking back at the little boy he used to be.  I especially recall the newborn I held in my arms for the first time.  Boy, did he ever have a piercing cry!  He sounded more like a meowing cat.  I remember wondering, even back then, what Joshua’s talking voice was going to sound like.  The voice I imagined on that day was a sweet toddler’s high-pitched voice; I certainly never imagined my baby talking like a dude!

Indeed, Josh did have a sweet voice.  His tenderheartedness was apparent in the way he intoned every word.  And with his toddler voice, he called me Mama.  That was his personal choice for the various options one has to call his or her own mother.  “But MAMA,” he would protest, when I would ask him to put away his toys.  It is hard to harbor anger towards a little boy who calls me Mama.

I found out early on that Josh has his Private Voice and his Public Voice.  His Public Voice was always half an octave lower than his Private one, which he only used at home.  “Oh hey, Kai,” he would say to his friend in the kindergarten playground or “I’ll have the burger with fries,” he would order at a restaurant, suddenly dropping the pitch to sound like he’s much older, maybe a second grader.  I didn’t know where that voice was coming from, but I figured that it was a way for my son to separate from me, his mama, and to find his own voice…in more ways than one.

And now, he’s losing his Private Voice altogether, and we are going to be left only with his Public Voice, lowered not just a few pitches but a full octave and a half.  And that tells me that he is going to individuate and become independent of his parents and, in essence, become a young man. I’m not sure if I’m ready to walk to the other side of the man/child imaginary line quite yet.

That’s probably why I refuse to erase Joshua’s outgoing voice mail message on his cell phone.  “This is Joshua.  Leave me a message,” he recorded in his best 5th grader voice a few cell phone upgrades ago.  He used his Public Voice, but he still sounds like a cute little boy.  This cannot be the same child who is about to embark on a journey to adulthood.

But whether I like it or not, he will soon fully step over the line, grow an over-sized Adam’s apple and, after a period of wild fluctuations in tone and cracks at the most inopportune (and hilarious) moments, develop a completely deep tone.  After all the dust settles, my Josh will have his Adult Voice, and I’ll have no option but to join him on the other side of the line.  I will probably get so used to this new voice eventually that I wouldn’t be able to imagine what it was like when he didn’t sound like that.

He’ll be a grownup.  I’ll have to let him go.  And I’ll be reminded once again that I only get to mother a little boy entrusted in my care by God for a short period in my life.  And I will be grateful once again for that privilege.

Still, I hope that Josh will always call me by my official name in whatever voice he may have in the future:



My All American Multiethnic Family

“So, how does it feel to be half Chinese and half Japanese?” I asked my kids one day.  My husband David is from Hong Kong, and I’m from Osaka.  Though our kids look generically Asian, they are of mixed heritage.  Chinese and Japanese cultures are quite distinct and different from one another.  I wondered what it’s like for our kids to grow up in such a multiethnic home.

“I feel more half Japanese,” answered one child.

“I am AMERICAN,” chimed the other.

I can’t remember which child gave me which answer, but the fact is that while both of them feel slightly more familiar with the Japanese culture with me as their mom, they mostly identify themselves as simply American.  David and I celebrate that concept wholeheartedly.

Thanks to our many trips to Japan and their growing interests in anime and J-pop, the kids feel like they know my culture somewhat better than David’s.  Nonetheless, Japanese is a foreign language to them.  I tried to teach them my mother tongue by taking them to a Japanese school once a week for many years, but they got bored with the language lessons.  “When can we quit?” became their mantra. Finally, at the end of school last year, I let them “graduate.”  I couldn’t very well force a high schooler to continue with something he despised, and Meg certainly wasn’t going to keep attending if her big brother wasn’t.  Besides, they really weren’t learning a whole lot, and David got tired of spending money on classes they neither enjoyed nor benefited from.

They did learn a lot about many Japanese traditions at the school, however, as the teacher worked her lessons around every conceivable holiday on the Japanese calendar.  They also got a good peek into the culture just by learning about the language itself.  The way we phrase sentences and use honorific words explain much about the Japanese society:  We defer to those above us in societal hierarchy, we do everything in our power to save face, and we never directly say “no.”

While I worked hard to lose my Japanese accent, I worked even harder to think and to behave more American — to try to speak my mind, to be honest with my no’s, and to be assertive when I needed to be.  My husband David might argue that I’ve gone too far in my efforts, but I think I now operate at a pretty healthy level in this country.

I’m sure David wishes that our kids would learn Cantonese, a language also steeped in its own cultural traditions.  To me, two people calmly having a Cantonese conversation sounds like they are bickering.  In fact, there is no mincing of words in Chinese, and they tell it like it is.  It took this Japanese girl some time to get used to the straightforwardness of most Chinese folks.  But then I began to actually appreciate that they are so real, because I know exactly where they’re coming from.  There’s no guesswork involved, like when I deal with Japanese folks.  It’s actually much more refreshing!

When David and I announced our engagement many years ago, both of our parents had to overcome major obstacles to accept the other culture.  We tried to explain that the war ended half a century ago, but memories linger, and it is nearly impossible to turn around the big ship of cultural preconceptions.  Kudos to both sets of families for eventually accepting us and delighting in our mixed-blood children.

I’m glad for our kids that they don’t have to overcome these difficult cultural barriers.  They are a product of my Japanese and David’s Chinese heritages, but they’re operating just fine in this modern society as distinctly American children.  My hope is that they each take away the best of both my and David’s backgrounds and make something even better out of their lives.

That, after all, would be the ultimate American dream.

Growth Chart and Why We Could Never Move Out of This House

Photo courtesy

On the inside of our master closet is a wall which has become our kids’ growth chart.  Over the years, I occasionally had our kids stand right up against that wall so I could mark their height along with the date.  Unfortunately, I made the markings directly onto the wall instead of taping up a roll of paper and putting marks on it.

We will never be able to move out of this house.

I wasn’t thinking through the ramifications of my actions when I first began marking our kids’ height on this wall.  It was just amusing to see how fast they grow.

“Wow, Joshy, you’re already 3 feet tall!” I said to our little boy one night after bath.  Within a few weeks, it seemed, he was an inch taller.

Younger sister Meg, never one to be outdone, scrambled over to be measured against her brother.  She tried to get up on her tippy toes to catch up to him.   In no time, she did.

Then there was that growth spurt during 2nd grade.  And 5th.  And this past summer.

I marked my own height on that wall, far above our children’s, thinking that it would be an eternity before they caught up with me.  Well, eternity must already be here, because both of them caught up, then surpassed, their mother.  It won’t be long before they catch up to my husband.

Each time I measure our kids, I tell myself that I better transfer this information somewhere else less permanent, but I always get busy chasing them off to bed or breaking up a fight.  In any case, a second-generation copy of the growth chart just wouldn’t be the same.  The original markings on the wall were made when the kids were actually that small.  I’m resigned to take the wall with me to the nursing home some day.  Or to my grave.

This wall contains precious information to a mother.  We moms have certain treasures that no one else but our kids’ pediatricians care about, like their height, weight, and growth rate.  Also precious to us are hand and foot imprints on various art projects from preschool, kindergarten, and first grade.  They were so tiny and cute back then.  Today, their gigantic, clumsy feet are anything but cute.  Their imprints would only be a source of interest to future archeologists digging in this area.

In the Bible, the people of Israel frequently built monuments to commemorate their God-led triumphs and victories.  These altars were known as Ebenezers.  Usually, they piled some rocks they found in the area.  It wasn’t the value of the material used that made their monument special but what it commemorates that really mattered.

For me, this little wall inside our closet is my Ebenezer.  I fed and watered our little children as they grew and grew, and this wall commemorates the small triumphs we experienced with each measurement.  It isn’t pretty, and it’s way too permanent for my taste, but it is a genuine chart marking the progress on my little kids’ lives.  So, this is why I could never leave this wall behind.

However, if you are a mom of young children today, let me give you an advice before it’s too late: Put up some paper on the wall first and make that your growth chart.  A rolled up butcher paper is far more portable than a wall.

And you can take that to your grave!

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What’s your Ebenezer — a journal or a photo album?  Tell me how you commemorate your trials and triumphs of motherhood in the comments here.