Josh’s Visit with His Best Friend Sam in Texas

711695_10151345662789866_1582439481_nMy son Josh had a great time visiting his best buddy Sam in San Antonio.  Sam’s family left California to move there over two years ago.  This visit was one of our Christmas gifts to Josh, and it was a good one.  When they got together upon our arrival, it was like they’ve never been apart.  In fact, thanks to the internet, they really haven’t left each other at all.

When I was young, a friend’s move out of the area pretty much meant the end of that friendship.  They might write letters for a while, but sooner or later they would eventually become just another Someone I Used to Know.  Because my family moved so often when I was young, there were countless such former friends.

Yukako and my family during our visit in Japan last April

Yukako and my family during our visit in Japan last April

When I left Japan in third grade to move to the States, my best friend Yukako and I swore that we would keep in touch everyday, and for a while we did.  I would send a handwritten letter to her in an envelope adorned with colorful stickers then spend the next few weeks eagerly checking the mail box for a reply letter from her.  I guess international mail took too long for young girls with short attention spans, and soon we drifted apart.  The only reason why we eventually got back in touch was because her parents continued to live in the same house all these years (and still do), and I was able to track her down during my year as an exchange student at a university in Tokyo.  Today, I keep in touch with Yukako more regularly than ever via email.

My daughter Meg, on the other hand, has a friend who recently moved to Austria with his family.  Thanks to social media such as Instagram and YouTube, Meg and her friends have become even better friends with him in the past year.  He’s currently in the States for a visit during the Holidays, and the whole gang is back together creating more fun videos for YouTube.

I often find Josh playing online games in his room with Sam.  Of course, Sam is in Texas and Josh in California.  They have each other on FaceTime as they battle it out on their laptops.  “Hi there!” Sam says to me as I walk by.  “Oh hi, Sam.  How’s it going?”  I can see even through the small screen that Sam has grown taller, just like Josh.

These two boys have been best friends practically since birth.  They were playmates in the church nursery when they were both in diapers, and they were inseparable during Sunday School and VBS each year.  They would have sleepovers and would always get along. Josh was brokenhearted to hear that Sam was moving away.

That’s why it warmed my heart to see them pick up right where they left off as soon as we saw them upon our arrival at our hotel for the weekend.  We went out to dinner with Sam’s entire family whom, of course, I also really enjoy.  He came over to our hotel the next day, then Josh went over to his house for the rest of the trip while I worked.

Do you know what the boys did almost the entire time they were together in the same room?  You guessed it — they played games on the computer, sitting side by side.  The same online games!  The only difference was that they were not FaceTime-ing each other half way across the United States but were sitting next to each other.

Oh well — there’s still nothing like really being there.  And there’s nothing like a great friendship that lasts through time and distance.  I’m so glad for both Josh and Sam that they have each other as they navigate through life.

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

- Proverbs 18:24

* * * *

Do you or your kids have friendships that last through the ages?  How do you stay in touch?

Would You Give Up Your First Class Upgrade Seat to Your Son?

14-year old Josh

14-year old Josh

So, you’re traveling with your 14-year old son on a busy Holiday travel day. The flights are full, but you both have been placed on the upgrade list. Suddenly, one and only one seat opens up in first class. As the adult accompanying this minor, you have to decide: Which of you will get it?

I faced that situation today, and to be perfectly honest, it was not an easy decision to make.

My son is old enough to sit in the plane on his own. By golly, he has been a seasoned traveler since he was two. He knows the drill at security, and he knows the etiquette of flying. He stopped kicking the seat in front of him a while ago.

No, the issue wasn’t whether he could handle being in a cabin — coach or first class — alone. The issue was me. I was torn between my strong desire to sit in first class versus not being a heel of a mom to my teenage son. Selfish or selfless. There’s no middle ground.

I travel quite a bit for my work, so it’s extremely nice to have the rare opportunity to sit in the comfort of the upgraded seat with its premium service. The flight attendants are much kinder up there, and they still serve meals. On fine china!

I was ridden with guilt that I would even consider abandoning my child in economy while luxuriating in my cushy seat in first class, but I was still not ready to give it up too quickly.

Once Josh gets a taste of first class, he’ll never go back! I don’t want to spoil him for life…

His bottom is much smaller than mine. Surely he won’t mind squeezing into the economy seat, would he?

Truth is, he probably wouldn’t have minded, but he might also remember that his mother threw him under the bus…or, in this case, the plane. I thought of a compromise: he can sit up front for the first half of the flight, then trade places with me. But who will go first? They serve the breakfast during the first half, you know.

I desperately explained our situation to the lady at the gate, but she wouldn’t budge. “We could seat you two together back in economy,” she offered. We both balked at the idea. At least one of us is going to be in first class. But who?

After a few moments of soul searching, I finally decided to do what any good mother would choose to do in this situation:

I gave up the first class seat to Josh.

He seemed a bit apprehensive about sitting by himself but also grateful.

“Mom, are they going to serve breakfast?”

“Of course.” I had gotten him out of bed at 5am, and he was starving by the time we were boarding. He deserved a good breakfast.

“Probably omelettes, and on fine china, Josh.”

The non-budging lady at the gate did allow me to board early with Josh during premium boarding just so that I could make sure he is all settled. I introduced myself and explained the situation to the flight attendant on board, faintly hoping that she would have mercy on me and sneak me in.

“We’ll take good care of him,” she said. “Maybe even introduce him to a nice girl in first class,” she laughed.

I smiled and turned right towards my scrawny seat in economy, only a few rows away from Josh. I had a good view of the back of my son’s head.

“Thanks, mom,” he mouthed while waving at me from his seat. He looked happy.

I could fly first class some other time by myself. For now, I’m going to enjoy making my soon-to-be-grown son appreciate his mother just a little.

And that’s a priceless upgrade in this journey through motherhood.

Merry Christmas from the Panda Mom!


Christmas Greetings from our family to yours!

Thank you, dear friends, for reading my blog about my humble journey in parenting this year.  Blogging has been an adventure itself, and it has been good.  I plan to continue writing and even expand this site even more, so please keep coming back!  Meanwhile, if you would like to read up on our family newsletter, feel free to click on the link below.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all the best to you in the new year!—Junko-Cheng.html?soid=1102372299693&aid=YO8S3WHzpoA.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 NIV

A Song Tribute to Teachers — Everyday Hero

iStock_000013696878_ExtraSmallIn light of the news we’re hearing about the heroic acts done by teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I thought I would share with you this song I wrote several years ago as a tribute to teachers. It’s called “Everyday Hero” from my album “Live in Harmony.”

When I wrote it over 15 years ago, I had no idea that my lyrics, “I came to thank you yesterday, but now the school is gone,” would ring too true in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT.  I only was writing about my own childhood elementary school which closed after years of declining enrollment.  The good news is that this school, Red Hill Elementary School in Tustin, did eventually reopen and is once again bustling with students.  My prayer is that one day, Sandy Hook will also reopen and be thriving again, though perhaps at a different location and in due time.

Thank you, dear teachers, not only at Sandy Hook but also at every school everywhere, for sacrificing your life, both literally and figuratively, everyday for your students.  You are truly heroes.

Click Everyday Hero to listen to the song.

Here are the lyrics:

Everyday Hero

(verse 1)
You were the light that broke the darkness
You helped me find my way
Into a world of books and knowledge
Learning more each day

You gave me hope that’s worth believing
To be all that I could be
I think of you now with a grateful heart
You left your mark on me

Everyday hero and guiding light
Everyday you taught me wrong from right
I thank the Lord above
For your labor of love
Everyday Hero

(verse 2)
Reading and writing was a struggle
Arithmetic was okay
But you were the reason I came back
To the classroom everyday

Standing beside the blackboard
You were telling us once again
How we should treat each other
And why recess had to end

Everyday hero and guiding light
Everyday you taught me wrong from right
I thank the Lord above
For your labor of love
Everyday Hero

I came to thank you yesterday
But now the school is gone
So the best thing I can do
With the gift is pass it on

Everyday hero and guiding light
Everyday you taught me wrong from right
I thank the Lord above
For your labor of love

Everyday hero and guiding light
Everyday you taught me wrong from right
I thank the Lord above
For your labor of love

Your love…
Everyday Hero

Words and music by Junko Nishiguchi Cheng and Cathy Spurr, Copyright 1995 Everyday Hero Music (ASCAP, adm. by Lori Kelly Rights & Licenses CCLI #4189589, printed with permission, all rights reserved

For iTunes download of this song on Junko’s “Live in Harmony” CD, click here.

Thoughts on the Mass Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Like you, I’ve been shocked and overwhelmed by the events which took place at Newtown, CT this week.  This tragedy touches all of us — parents, especially — in such profound ways.

When my kids were young, I used to have a recurring nightmare that my car would somehow plunge into a lake and that I wouldn’t be able to unbuckle one or both of my kids out of their car seats.  The harder I would try, the more panicked I would get, and I would continue fumbling vainly, all the while trying to hold my breath as the water would seep in.  When I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, I would wake up, gasping for air, so grateful that it was only a dream.  I was very relieved when they grew out of their car seats and learned to buckle and unbuckle on their own.

Parents are supposed to protect their little ones.  They depend on us to take care of them.  I would do anything to protect my children, whether throwing myself in front of a crazed gunman or drinking poison in their stead.  I would demand at least a chance to give my life in exchange for my child’s.  If I could trade places with my child in danger, I would do so without even thinking twice.

That’s why this tragedy so profoundly affects all of us.  These parents couldn’t be there to protect their sons and daughters, as they are supposed to.  They weren’t given the opportunity to trade places with their children.  This is way too painful.

Just picturing the beautiful faces of these helpless children sitting at their desks makes me weep.  I’ve volunteered at my kids’ classrooms.  I’ve been in classrooms full of energetic first graders, eager to learn about life.  All children are so beautiful and so innocent.  They are at school to learn to read and write, to add and subtract.  They’re supposed to be drawing and singing.  They are artists and musicians, every one. I know this, because I taught first grade music at my kids’ school for several years.  I have yet to meet a first grader who wasn’t a full-fledged vocalist.  And for them, the sillier the song, the better.

Although the classroom full of children who lost their earthly lives yesterday are most assuredly in heaven surrounded by angels, their parents are just starting a journey which could only be described as living hell.  Darkness will forever shadow their lives.

Why would a good God allow this to happen?  Is this the product of our freewill?  I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: God is weeping, too.  I know His heart is broken at the complete evil and insanity of this situation.  The Lord loves each and every one of the little students at Sandy Hook Elementary.

May we weep along with these devastated parents and remember them in our prayers.  Keep them in our thoughts in the days and years to come, as they will surely need all the support they can get for a long time.

And, at the risk of sounding too cliche, let us all hold our children close and enjoy their presence once again while we still have the privilege of being called their mommies and daddies.

My Housekeeper Stole From Me…I Think

I hate it when people use their housekeepr as the excuse when they can’t find things.  That’s why I let so much time go by and so many items disappear around my house before I finally reached the reluctant conclusion that my cleaning lady was stealing from me.

To be more precise, it was my housekeeper’s preteen daughter who was the thief, I believe.  On occasion, she would tag along with her mother when school was not in session.  “Annie” was supposed to be helping her mother, but she once watered our fake bamboo plant and ruined our wood floor.  Her efforts at vacuuming and dusting were lacking, so most of the time she sat on the couch and watched TV while her mother cleaned my house.  I tried to make conversation with her, but neither Annie nor her mom spoke much English.

I first noticed that my favorite makeup brush was missing.  They’re not super valuable, but when you’re ready to put on your eyeshadow and the brush is missing, it is a bother.  I just assumed that I left it at the gym the last time I took a shower there and went to the store for another one.

But then I began to notice a few other items disappearing one by one over the course of several months.  It is quite difficult to prove that something is missing, short of taking an inventory of everything I own.  They were just small items that were all “one of many” that inhabit my bathroom drawers, such as the eyeshadow I didn’t often use and bracelets I only occasionally wore.  However, I noticed that I was spending more and more time searching for “that thing I swear I had right here yesterday.”

I tried to keep a better eye on my housekeeper’s activities, but watching this young mother working so diligently made me feel so guilty.  It’s not like things went missing every time she came to clean, so…

Then it dawned on me: this only happens when Annie tags along!

I hated even more to be suspicious of an 11-year old girl, but I couldn’t help it.  I also noticed that she spoke much better English on the phone with her friends than she let on with me.  One time, I even gave her several gift-with-purchase makeup samples, as if to preempt her thievery.  She seemed grateful, but later that week I noticed that my pink lipstick was missing.

I was torn between feeling guilty for falsely accusing someone and being an idiot for letting this happen.  Annie’s mother seemed clueless and adored her daughter.  I must have let this go on for almost two years.

The last straw was when Meg’s brightly colored sponge curlers went missing.  We often curled up her wet hair at night so she could wake up to a cascade of curls in the morning. Meg was upset. Earlier that day, I noticed that Annie had scurried off to the car before her mom announced, “Finished!” as usual, signaling my time to pay her.  Did that rascal tuck those curlers inside her jacket?

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I made a phone call to fire my housekeeper.  Annie answered, as she often did on behalf of her non-English speaking mother.

“I have a question for you, Annie: are you taking stuff from me?”

“What? Me? No,” she replied, completely shocked and hurt, overwhelming me with guilt once again.  Before I could change my mind, I continued.

“Please tell your mom that I don’t need her to come clean our house anymore.”

I just left it at that.  I wanted to leave room for Annie’s innocence, just in case I was wrong.  She had some issues to work out with her mom and with God, but I sort of wanted to stay out of it and let her deal with it.

I felt so violated that I tried for over two years to clean the house myself, until my disgust at a messy house won over my reluctance to hire another housekeeper.  My current cleaning lady has been great.

I just hope that I did the right thing.  What would you have done?

Pain and the Art of Parenting

“Pain is my friend,” I whisper to myself, loud enough to be heard by my physical therapist Clare.  She has been working weekly on loosening up my shoulder which had become stiff and painful as a result of a fall this past summer.  The official diagnosis: frozen shoulder.   Thus, my weekly appointments with Clare.

“It’s only pain,” I repeat, mantra-like.  It hurts like heck when Clare works on my shoulder, because it has become very, very stiff.  It was a gradual stiffening, but when I could no longer undo my bra behind my back, I knew I had to go get help.  Ironically, the only way to loosen up my painfully stiff shoulder is by pushing and pulling through pain.

“You should be our poster child for pain management,” laughs Clare.  What I’ve learned from this wonderful PT is that pain is not necessarily a bad thing.  All my life, I thought pain was bad.  If it hurts, then stop doing it!  However, in this case we have to stretch beyond the pain to break up the adhesion which has gripped my left shoulder like a giant claw.

My weekly sessions with Clare remind me a little bit of giving birth.  Sure, it hurt like crazy when I was in labor.  It felt like my body was being torn in two from the inside out. But, in due time, I was rewarded with a beautiful baby.  A new life began, but only because I worked through that pain and pushed and pushed.  Okay, it helped to have a little epidural, but still…

I pop a few ibuprofen pills before I start driving to my appointments, because I know what’s coming.  The pain killers help take the edge off, even just a little.  I also take them 20 minutes prior to my own daily rehab sessions at home when I stretch and pull my shoulder using this pulley I ordered online.  “Pain is my friend,” I tell myself.  “pain is good,” I repeat as I do my prescribed exercises.  The pain always makes me sweat.

While I’ve been going through this whole frozen shoulder thing, my kids have also been going through various painful issues of their own — grades, stress, homework, friends, bullies, etc.  You know, the typical adolescent drama.  I try to listen, and I try even harder to bite my tongue.  The last thing they want is a lecture from me, although I really want to go lecture the teacher or the mean friend or, truth be told, the parents of these meanies.  “You grow from your pain,” I finally say to my kids.  It’s true, although my kids don’t really want to hear it.  I don’t want them to withdraw from life in order to avoid pain.  I want them to emerge on the other side a whole lot stronger and more flexible.

“The length of recovery truly depends on the motivation level of the patient,” Clare tells me.  “And you are one motivated girl!”  Heck yeah — I don’t want to be stiff the rest of my life.  I want to get back in the game!  I hear about some frozen shoulder patients, usually very old and not very motivated, refusing to work through the pain.  So they get stiffer and stiffer, until they can hardly comb their hair.

Sure, my kids could run away from their problems and withdraw, but I doubt that they would want to live their lives that way.  No one can work through their own pain but themselves.  I am here to help and guide, not to solve, because ultimately they have to live their own lives.

“Wow, you’re back to 165 degrees,” Clare declares while measuring my attempt at raising my arm straight up.  I’m almost thawed and nearing 180 degrees, and next week will be my final PT session.

My kids are making progress too.  They seem to be a little stronger and a little more grown up since this school year began.  It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been good.

It’s only pain.  Pain is our friend.  Pain is good.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18