Birthday Party for…Mom!

20130110-145956.jpgRecently, I had a birthday party. For a change, it was for…myself!

When was the last time you had a birthday party for yourself, Mom? I’m not talking about the mile stone birthdays, like your 25th, 50th, or 75th to which you invite everyone you’ve ever met in your life to celebrate the fact that you’re still breathing. No, I’m talking about an ordinary, run-of-the-mill birthday like mine was recently.

I don’t think I’ve had a birthday party for myself since I was a kid. I’m pretty sure it was an after-school event with some snacks, cake, and games like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, not like today’s major productions which I’ve already blogged about. In any case, I wouldn’t even know how I could get anyone to come to my birthday party, because, you know, everyone’s busy planning parties for their own kids. Good thing my birthday happened to land on a Friday this time, because our church small group meets regularly at our home on Friday nights. We’re talking built-in audience. My husband worked in cahoots with one of our members to make certain that someone brought a cake. Actually, there were two, and one of them had my name on it!

Sure, my husband and kids always take me out to dinner for my birthday each year, notifying the server discreetly to ensure that a bunch of off-pitch workers would come out of the kitchen at some point in the evening to sing something like this:

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday, happy birthday

Happy birthday to you

The song, as with the on-the-house dessert, would be quite generic, though very much appreciated. And, according to the single candle on said desserts, I’m perpetually a one-year old.

But at my recent celebration, the cake specifically said, “Happy Birthday Junko,” courtesy of my friend Sandi. We still couldn’t fit all the candles to represent my age on that cake, as big as it was, so we went for “symbolic,” though more than one candle, for sure. And, all my friends sang to me this very personalized birthday song:

Happy birthday, to you

Happy birthday, to you

Happy birthday, dear JUNKO [dramatic pause here]

Happy birthday to you! [and some bluesy "...and many moooore"]

Oh, how delightful! I felt so special, and my friends and family made me feel so important.

And then I got it — that’s why kids love birthday parties!

Every child deserves a birthday party. I don’t think it’s a narcissistic thing at all to have people celebrate the very day on which you were born. It’s a very basic desire in life, and we parents love to shower our own kids with parties and gifts. Unfortunately, not all kids around the world have families who can afford to throw birthday parties, and my heart breaks for them.

That’s why I love the humanitarian organization World Vision. You see, every year, World Vision throws a gigantic birthday party for every child they work with. Many areas do monthly parties for all children born that month. These kids all feel cherished and loved, just like I did at my own party.

World Vision sends us birthday cards to fill out and to return so that they can forward to our sponsored children (we have four) a birthday greeting from us each year. I just love hearing about the big parties they throw each year! You can learn about them by clicking on this link here. You can also watch a short video explaining what they do. And, if you feel so moved, you can give a small donation to help these children in impoverished areas receive a gift at the next birthday party.

(And, by the way, I don’t receive any kick-backs from World Vision for telling you about this. I just so believe in what they do that I had to tell you about it!)

So, what do you say? Shall we celebrate your birthday this year, Mom? Join me and let’s do it.

Happy Birthday to YOU!

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

Happy Father’s Day, David!

I would like to wish a happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there but especially to my husband and the father of our children, David.  Our kids would agree: He is the best dad in the world!  He plays with them, works hard to provide for them, teaches them, laughs with them, and best of all, loves them unconditionally.  I wouldn’t be half the mom I am without him!

David with our kids when they were about 2 and 4

With his favorite daughter Megumi.

Dr. Dave with his favorite patient, Joshua.

Thank you, David, for giving our kids glimpses of our Heavenly Father.

Happy Father’s Day, Dear!

Meeting our Sponsored World Vision Child Francis

On Wednesday this week, we had the opportunity to meet and spend a little time with our sponsored child Francis in the rural area of the Dominican Republic.  It was an unforgettable day for me, but this experience made a huge impression in Josh.  I’ll have more thoughts to blog on later, but here are some photos of our experience:


Josh and his new friend Francis, 13 years-old

The grandparents raise 9 grankids in this dilapidated home. World Vision is going to build them a new home.The grandparents are raising 9 grandkids ranging from 2 years to 16 in this dilapidated home.  World Vision is going to build them a new home.

We brought Francis some baseballs and a mitt. He's got arm!

We were so pleased to make one child's day with a few gifts! But our best gift will be to support him monthly until he graduates school.


It’s Not Fair!

Siblings, in a moment of peace

Life was relatively peaceful when we only had one child.  It was when we had our second one that our firstborn began to notice something: life is not fair.  No longer could he always get his way (which, I guess, is most people’s definition of “fair”).  He had to ponder a new concept called sharing, and it wasn’t working out too well.

Don’t get me wrong — David and I try to be as fair to our kids as humanly possible.  We try to give both of them the same amount of attention, material goods, and love.  Yet, they cry foul each time.

“Dad, Meg got more than I did!”

“Mom, it’s not fair that Josh gets to go again!”

When it comes to splitting drinks, foods, and treats, we let one of them do the splitting and the other the choosing.  You won’t believe the precision with which they accomplish this.  Not an ounce of extra falls on either side.

The amazing thing is that they both equally believe that I am far more fair with the other child.  “Who gets to have what they want more often?” I ask them.  They immediately point fingers at one another like pistols.  This seems like an utter incongruity, but since I am equally unfair to both of them, I must actually be very fair.  I feel pretty good about this.  My kids don’t really see it that way.

It dawned on me and David one day, though, that we were actually doing them a disservice by making things fair.  The harsh reality is that life is not fair.  The world doesn’t owe us anything, and we will not always get what we want.  No matter how much we try to protest it, someone is always going to be smarter, taller, skinnier, faster, better looking, more talented, or richer than you or me.  By creating a false universe where things are artificially fair, we are not preparing them for real life.

In fact, we should be downright outraged — not because we are getting the short end of the stick but because so many others around the globe are!  While we live in a very wealthy culture and have so much more materially, many people subsist on less than $2 a day.  We should be absolutely furious that kids in third world countries can’t go to school because they have to spend hours everyday transporting drinkable water from the river to their villages.  We ought to be righteously indignant that so many children are being orphaned because HIV and AIDS are wiping out an entire generation of young parents.  No, the world definitely is not fair.

In a few weeks, I am going to travel to the Dominican Republic with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian and relief organization with whom I’ve worked for over 15 years, to personally see World Vision’s work in that country.  And get this: I have chosen to pull Josh out of school for four days so he can travel with me.  Yes, I realize this could potentially damage his 8th grade transcripts and a Tiger Mom would never do this (thus, Panda Mom me), but on the other hand Josh will most likely learn some lessons which he could never learn inside a classroom.  I believe these lessons will last him a lifetime.

While we’re there, we are going to visit Francis, our sponsored 13-year old boy who lives in the Dominican Republic.  He lives with his grandparents and four siblings, which makes me believe that his parents are deceased.  Francis enjoys mathematics and baseball.  We plan to bring some mitts and balls as gifts so Josh and Francis can play catch together.

Is life fair? No. I hope Josh never forgets it.

Josh with our sponsored child Francis whom we will meet soon!

What do you do to nurture fairness in your home?  How do you teach your kids about world poverty?  Share with us below, and click here if you’d like to sponsor other World Vision kids like Francis!

Visiting My Old Home

My former elementary school

I went to visit my former hometown of Fujiidera in Osaka on Tuesday with my family.  We even got to spend time with Yukako, my best friend from third grade.

This isn’t the first time I came back here, but once again I was struck by this thought: everything is so much smaller than I remember!  Just as I wrote in my memoir, From the Land of the Rising Sun — A Journey to Acceptance, Identity & Belonging,

“The house had shrunk! I could have sworn it was so much bigger. Maybe it shrank in the heat each summer, I thought, like wool sweaters do when laundered in hot water.

Front entrance to my old home

I was also shocked to see that the highway running in front of our house was now a quiet two-lane road. I always thought we lived on a major thoroughfare. I could still hear the huge cars and monster trucks that rumbled by. When I crossed the street at the corner signal, I had to toddle with all my might to make it before the light turned red.

Why is everything so much smaller?

Then it dawned on me. I was looking at exactly the same house on exactly the same road. I had grown bigger!”

When I was young, my family moved every couple of years.  By the time I was Josh’s age today, I must have lived in at least 6 or 7 houses.  In contrast, our kids have lived in one home.  With every move, I had to adjust to a new school, find new friends, and, in one instance, learn a whole new language.  My childhood was unsettling, although I didn’t realize it then.

Although Fujiidera is not technically my “home town” because I didn’t really have one, it is the last place I lived in Japan before moving to the States, so it carries the most vivid memories of my childhood.  It is also the place I achingly longed to go back to after our move to our high-rise apartment in New York:

“I used to stare out the window at the red bricks covering the building next to ours and wish so much that I were seeing sprawling rice fields instead. If I closed my eyes and imagined hard enough, I could almost hear my friend Yukako stopping by my house with her own kite calling out, ‘Asobimasho! Come out and play!’”

I saw adorable little children excitedly coming home from the first day of school, holding hands with their moms dressed in their finest kimonos for the opening ceremonies.  School year starts in April in Japan.  I found myself searching in the group of students for someone who looks like me from my own childhood — a chubby girl with bucked teeth and a friendly smile, a girl whose world came crashing down with her father’s pronouncement, “We’re moving to America.”

Green tea flavor of everyone's favorite snack. My gut feeling tells me that you'll like it!

If I had found that girl in the crowd of kids at Fujiidera Elementary, I would have told her that it is all going to be all right.  You’ll grow taller soon so your thighs will quit rubbing against each other.  You’ll wear braces and your teeth will be straight one day.  You will eventually learn English and, if you can believe it, the Japanese you speak now will have faded but for your mother who will badger you to always speak it at home so you won’t lose it.  You won’t like her for it at first, but someday you’ll learn to appreciate it.

As for your best friend Yukako, you will reunite with her someday and will spend a day together in the spring of 2012.  You’ll continue to make music you love so much and will come back to Japan to share songs you’ve written…in English!  You’ll marry a wonderful husband, have two great kids, and they will be with you on your visit back to Fujiidera.

Most importantly, you will meet a God who already loves you more than you know.  You will someday be introduced to Jesus, who will be your Lord and Savior.

And in Him, you will finally find Home.

In front of a Korean barbecue restaurant where we had lunch with Yukako and her son.

What is one thing you would tell your own childhood self if you had the opportunity?  Please share it with us in the comments below!

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.