No Mom is an Island

photo courtesy

I got to spend a couple of hours this morning speaking and singing to a group of young moms and their kids.  It was the weekly MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting at a church in San Clemente, CA, and I had a blast sharing some of my Panda Mom Confessions blogs and singing some of my songs for moms and kids. It was a wonderful morning.

I was especially pleased to see that the ladies shared my quirky sense of humor.  I normally don’t get to sit with my readers as you read my blog like I do with David (“Oh, come on, honey — tell me that line was funny!  Okay, I’ll change it…”), so aside from the comments I get, I really don’t know what your reaction are to my writing.  I certainly hope that you’ll find some of my stuff funny (because — let’s face it — there’s a lot to laugh about in parenting), but it was nice to get an immediate feedback.  Actually, sometimes the moms were really in stitches, which pleased me to no end.  I think my nursing nightmare post and the one about my own parents went over especially well.  Thank you, ladies!

While mingling with these young moms, I was struck by the sisterhood in the room.  It’s a smallish group — maybe 20 moms — compared to some MOPS groups I’ve sung at with over 100 ladies, but I could tell that these women share life together.  Their children are friends with one another, and the moms really look out for each other.  It sure seemed like they’ve been through thick and thin together.

I wished that I had belonged to a group like this MOPS when I was a new mom.  They were probably around nearby, but I just wasn’t aware of them.  I was so used to forging my own path up until that point in my life that I didn’t even bother looking.  I’m pretty independent, and I pull myself up by my own bra straps.  Oh, that’s not how the saying goes?  Well, you know what I mean.  I was an island, all alone, and I was really struggling.

I did have a small group of friends who had babies at around the same time as I did.  I already told you about them – they all had girls.  And girls reach milestones a lot sooner than most boys, particularly mine.  Let’s just say I didn’t exactly lean into this group for support, but that was my own shortfall.

If I had known that MOPS groups are everywhere, I probably would have tried them out initially just so that I would have 2 1/2 hours of uninterrupted (unless there’s a meltdown in the nursery) time to converse with other moms about many topics — not just baby-related — while we all stood around rocking our invisible babies in our arms. I would have also come for the most delicious breakfast potluck around with all the cheesy, oozy, egg-y casseroles you can imagine.

But then I would have found support from the other ladies going through early motherhood and would have learned that I’m not the only one going through whatever trials and tribulations I’d be experiencing that week.  I would have learned that I’m not a complete and utter failure as a mom — other moms are failing too, so I’m not all alone in this!  I would have learned from mentor moms who had walked through this period in life and came out the other side…and lived to tell.  I would have been inspired by speakers and teachers at each meeting.  Who knows — perhaps I could have been a better mom if I had experienced a group like this 10 years ago.

So, I encourage you moms out there — whether Tiger or Panda — to search for moms support groups like MOPS.  I’m sure you’ll benefit from these fellow sojourners, but you just might also be a blessing to others as well.

Are you a part of a group?  How do have you found them to be helpful?

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Babies in Restaurants and Other Mistakes We Made

Baby Josh and me in his rare moment of slumber

I was going to post about putting down sleeping babies in public places, but then it got me thinking about a related topic — the lethal mix of babies and restaurants — so here I go.

Before David and I became parents, we used to go out to eat all the time. He used to joke that the best thing I made for dinner was…a reservation. So when we had our first baby, we thought we could continue our tradition without skipping a beat. Boy, were we in for a surprise!

Many parents wheel their newborns in their strollers into a restaurant and enjoy a night out while their little angel quietly sleeps. Naturally, I thought we’d try it too. But no — God in His infinite wisdom chose to give us a baby who would begin fussing late in the afternoon and continue crying until midnight. In hindsight, he was probably colicky, but at the time I was under the romantic notion that we had a normal baby. Somehow, I thought that he would magically stop crying when we stepped into the presence of a maitre de.

We figured out quickly how wrong we were, and within minutes after sitting down, one of us would have to step outside to calm down a fussy baby. We didn’t want to become like one of “those” parents we used to balk at. Thus, our date nights became very lonely occasions where one of us would sit at the table and gulp down the food while the other would walk around outside rocking a crying baby. The food would inevitably get cold for the one who works the first shift. More than once during the hand-off outside, the staff assumed that we had left and cleared off our table, throwing away our precious dinner.

When the baby turned into a walking toddler, that’s when the battle really began. I don’t know about other toddlers, but my son was constantly in motion. The high chair, even with a seat belt, was only good for about 90 seconds. Soon, he’d find a way to wiggle out and hit the ground running. We gravitated towards restaurants with round table cloths that reached the floor, because then it doubled as a playpen. We would use our legs to corral him under the table so we could just spend a few minutes dining together.

“How was your day, honey?”

“Oh, pretty good. Whoa–what is he putting in his mouth now? Gross!”

Then one of us would dive down to grab him out of the restaurant while the other would continue a lonely meal.

Occasionally we did hire a babysitter, but you know how it goes — you need to pay for a sitter AND pay for dinner at a restaurant, doubling the cost of going out. It just wasn’t worth it, and we threw in our towels. Let’s just not bother going out for a while.

Thus began our domestic family life, which lasted about 18 to 24 months after each child was born. We only went out for very special occasions or when we got a private banquet room at Chinese restaurants. Look at all the places you can hide — now go, kids!

So, that was how we handled the “Kids at Restaurants” dilemma — by letting go for a season. What are your experiences at diners? Were you one of the fortunate ones who could schlep a baby around everywhere because they were so good? What do you think of parents who bring misbehaving children to fine restaurants?

The Mozart Effect and Its Resulting Effect on Tiger Moms

We’ve all heard of the studies about the so-called Mozart Effect — a temporary increase in intelligence experienced after listening to a piano sonata written by the famed composer — which was first reported by researchers at UC Irvine, my alma mater, in the late 1990′s.  A Tiger Mom just can’t ignore such findings.  My baby is going to be a genius, for only $19.98 plus tax!  I jumped on the bandwagon along with every other mom and got my very own copy of “Baby Einstein” DVD.

This video was the first of its kind, showing toys such as blocks, toy trains, and stuffed animals being rearranged veeery slowly by The Hand while the greatest hits by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven played in the background.  My baby sat engrossed by the images on the screen for an amazing half an hour, giving me a much needed rest on the couch as I kicked up my feet.  I can still picture the little train going around in circles while Bach’s Goldberg Variations played and…well, then my memory sort of goes blank.  You see, something about that video just always lulled me to sleep, and I couldn’t help but drift off until the credits.

The study has since been debunked by further research, but that didn’t stop the creators of “Baby Einstein” from making a whole lot of money until Disney took over the cottage industry which followed.  Did I waste my money?  Well, I can tell you several things that were very positive about the video:

  1. The kids sat still for most of the duration of the video, giving me a little break.
  2. I got a nice nap every time we watched it
  3. I saw some fun-looking toys on the video which I then went out and bought, spending even more money.
  4. They still recognize those classic songs whenever they hear it, though they don’t always know the titles nor the composers.  I have the same problem with songs I hear at the gym while working out.

It’s been over a decade since we sat down and watched that classical music video.  I think I would have discovered by now whether our children are indeed geniuses.  In all modesty, I can tell you that my children are well-adjusted, sweet, and nice kids.  But geniuses?  I’m afraid not.  Oh well — this reformed Panda Mom now believes that a high IQ is so overrated.

They do appreciate music and can sing on pitch, for which I am very grateful. I occasionally even bribe them with $25 Target gift cards to sing background on my recordings. They both play the piano, and Josh and Meg play trumpet and viola, respectively and respectably. It certainly didn’t hurt for them to watch classical music videos for babies, but I’m not sure how much it helped.

If you’re watching your wallet, my advice is this: save your money for their college tuition or future therapy sessions instead.  Listen to classical music together if you like it, but be sure to add a little jazz and Gospel too.

I do know one thing for sure: whenever I hear the classical songs that were on the video, like Goldberg Variations and Minuet in D, I immediately start yawning.  It’s like narcolepsy — I could just fall asleep right there if I don’t exit the store right away.

Did you introduce your kids to classical music early on?  How did the experiment work out for you?

It all started with the Apgar scores

I wasn’t always a Panda Mom.

Anyone who knew me before I became a mom would definitely have predicted that I would one day be your quintessential Tiger Mom.  Most of my school-era friends would attest to the fact that I was driven.  I was a perfectionist.  I got good grades and ran for student government.  I then went off to college and worked hard for my degree.  Then I worked hard in my career, plotting towards my goals.  I wore panty hose and dry clean-only clothes.  I actually began and completed many tasks.  In fact, I followed my to-do list which I made in the morning, and I crossed everything off by night time.   I demanded a lot of myself, and I suppose I demanded a lot from others as well.

My husband is also accomplished in his career and has worked hard most of his life to achieve his goals.   He was a valedictorian at his high school.  In college, he was so single-minded in his academics that his dorm mates called him a “study animal.”  He is as much of a perfectionist as I am, perhaps even more so.

This is why we would have expected our firstborn to receive perfect 10s on his Apgar scores, both at 1 minute and 5 minutes.  After all, David and I both scored high in most standardized tests, so why not our baby?  I pictured nurses and doctors all holding up signs with a big “10″ written on them and rejoicing with us as I effortlessly popped this baby out.  I fully planned to mention his high Apgar scores on his college applications alongside his SAT and GPA; I was sure that there was some sort of a correlation between your Apgars and your credit scores.

I had a very smooth pregnancy and was healthy and glowing for 9 months.  There was no reason to think that this newborn would be anything but…perfect.

But then it happened.  He came out all blue!  Deduct one point.  The staff whisked away my just-delivered bundle and began working on him.  I heard the doctor slapping him around and saying, “Come on, come on, breathe!”   Deduct one point.  A few seconds later, I heard the sweet sound of this baby’s very first cry, but it took a few seconds too long.  Deduct another point.  The judges took away yet another point on some technicality, and the final score at the first minute was only a six.

Of course at that point, I did not care one iota about the darn Apgar score; I just wanted this kid to get some oxygen in his brain so that he could someday learn to walk, talk, and eventually live a normal and productive life here on earth.  At the moment, I could care less what college he went to or that he ever became the student body president.  All I cared was that this poor little thing would simply be…normal.

(This was the first sign that maybe, just maybe, I was letting go of some ridiculous standards I had set for my offspring.)

A few minutes later, the doctor determined that his Apgar scores had gone up to an eight.  Eight?  Well, that’s a very respectable and solid B!  As he handed us this sweet little bundle, he said, “We were worried there for the first couple of minutes, but I think he’s going to be just fine.  He’s beautiful.”

The doctor was right — he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and I was completely overwhelmed by love for this child.  It was immediate, and I knew it was permanent.  Nothing was going to change that — no, not even low Apgar scores, SATs, nor credit scores.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love…”  Since becoming a parent, I have gotten a much clearer picture of what that means.  It also opened my eyes to the fact that I did a whole lot of striving in my life in an effort to please God, when in fact He was already completely pleased with me, with or without my accomplishments.  I was similarly head over heels in love with this little baby who simply existed, accomplishing nothing (except a whole lot of pee and poop).  Could it be true that God actually loves me this much, too?  Maybe more?  Yup.

On that day, this mother who once resembled a tiger slowly began the slow process of morphing into a panda.

And it all began with the Apgar scores…

The Bilingual Dilemma

“Mommy, why didn’t you teach us Japanese when we were younger?”

“Yeah, why didn’t you talk to us in Japanese when we were babies so we could learn to speak it like my friends at school whose moms are Japanese?”

 Why didn’t I, indeed?  I am certain that if I had spoken to our kids exclusively in Japanese as babies, they would have become native speakers of the language by now.  It wouldn’t be a foreign language to them, which is how they view Japanese in spite of the fact that they’ve been enrolled in Japanese school once a week since they were each in kindergarten.  The word they know the best? “Shizukani! Be quiet!” the term they most often hear from their Japanese teacher during their 90-minute weekly class.

We do have friends who spoke their native language exclusively to their babies, which requires some diligence and patience, as these kids often become late talkers.  Gulp – who would wish that on their baby?  But from what I understand, eventually they do open their mouths and start speaking…in their mother’s native tongue!  They also pick up English just by being immersed in it, and the end result is a bilingual baby.  In fact, we know one couple who spoke two different languages, and they did this experiment on their child with the amazing result: their child is trilingual!

I’m ashamed to admit that our children also could have been trilingual, as David speaks Cantonese and I speak Japanese.  However, we both emigrated from our respective countries when we were fairly young – 8 years old – so that English has really become our primary language, particularly around our household.  It just would be odd for me to be talking to our babies in halting Japanese.  But perhaps I should have, anyway.  Babies wouldn’t know that I was speaking in baby Japanese.  Now the window of opportunity has passed, and they will forever lead their doomed life speaking in only one tongue, English, all because their mother failed.  Big time.

I must admit that life was crazy when we had two very young children at our home, and we were simply trying to make it day by day.  Yes, we were in survival mode!  If I could fit in a shower and some sleep between all the diaper changes, I was good.  Are the kids breathing?  Check.  Are they clean?  Check.  Are they fed?  Yes.  The last thing I needed was the added stress of trying to talk to my babies in my no-longer-native language.  In addition, the thought of having a slow speaker was scary enough.  Even this Panda Mom has a little tiger left in her.  All of my friends’ babies were reaching their mile stones at a much faster rate than our child – sleeping through the night, rolling over, crawling, sitting up, walking, etc.  I couldn’t imagine delaying our kids in this major milestone, one of the most basic skills that a human could possess: speaking.  No way!

All that amounted to our kids now blaming us for not raising them with multilingual skills.  I do take solace in the fact that a) I learned English late, yet I now sound like a native, and b) I know quite a few Caucasians who decided to learn Japanese later in life and have succeeded.  Many of our missionary friends, for example, now speak much better Japanese than even I do, and they didn’t get started until college or even later!  Therefore, I reason, if my kids eventually want to become native Japanese or Cantonese speakers, they can become missionaries and go live in Tokyo or Hong Kong and learn the language themselves.

They do speak English quite well, sometimes too well now that they are entering their teenage years.  We’re just pleased that they are basically well-adjusted young people who can communicate and express themselves just fine.

I’m obviously not a Tiger Mom.  I’m just glad they were eventually potty trained, and now I get enough sleep at night.  That’s good enough for this Panda!