Author: Momo Chang

Momo Chang is a freelance writer and mom of a two year-old.

my son’s first real haircut

baby's first haircutIt took me nearly 2 1/2 years after my son was born to give him his first haircut. All along, I had cut his bangs a little, but never the back of his hair. For months, my mom had been telling me to cut his hair. Most of the time, people thought he was a girl. And, his hair was kind of wispy, not super thick. But I still saw it as my son’s precious baby hair, and it took me a long time to prepare myself to cut it.

My mom kept emphasizing that it’s good to cut hair, so that it stimulates the scalp (or something like that) and new hair will grow back thicker and stronger. Everytime we visited my grandma, she would lament after looking at his hair and say, it’s so thin. None of those reasons were good enough to me, though. I know in some cultures (including mine, Chinese), it is common to shave a baby’s head either at one month or 6 months or so, regardless of whether the baby’s a boy or girl. That way, the hair will grow back stronger.

The real reason I was motivated to cut his hair is similar to why I usually cut my hair (also rarely these days) — for a change. My son had just entered a two-week phase of being extremely whiny, demanding and tantrumy. Miraculously, he’s never gone through his “terrible twos,” at least how I imagined it, yet. But all of a sudden, in that two week span, it was really, really difficult communicating with him, and even just being around him for the entire day. I was frustrated. I wanted my child back!

I didn’t so much blame the hair, but talked to my mom about his behavior. She mentioned again that perhaps I should cut his hair; it might change his energy and give him better “qi.” There was a thought I could go with. After all, perhaps his long sideburns tickling his face (he was always pushing his hair away), his long locks rubbing his neck in the middle of summer, and his bangs were all just too much for him and added to his irritableness. I could buy that. And at that point, I was desperate for a change! It wouldn’t hurt, I thought. I had been preparing for this day for months, it seemed.

First, I looked up all the kid salons in the area. They sounded fun and great but quickly decided that I wanted to be the one to give him his first haircut. The next step was gathering all the gear (scissors, comb, spray bottle, mirror, popsicles and his favorite video).

I looked to YouTube for guidance and found an excellent video of a mom cutting her son’s hair. I followed her steps almost to the tee. Except instead of a lollipop (my son has never had candy before), I made popsicles, to make sure he’d sit still for what I expected to be a long and tedious process. Turns out I didn’t even need popsicles. My son dutifully sat for a full 30 minutes with his eyes glued to my computer screen, which was playing one of his favorite videos, Planet B-Boy. Before I put in the DVD, though, I showed him the youtube video and told him what was going on. Then i asked if he would like me to cut his hair too. He nodded enthusiastically. That was a good sign.

That made my job fairly easy. My partner documented the whole thing on video. I first put the back of his hair in a ponytail and then snipped it off. (That’s going in the scrapbook that I have yet to start on). After that, it was very easy.

I wondered what he would think, seeing himself in the mirror afterwards. He looked like a little boy now, bigger than a baby or toddler. I gave him the mirror and he just looked, and kind of gave a smile.  Then I think he forgot about it all and just started playing (as I cleaned up a mess of hair on the floor, chair, etc).

But i will say this: I believe the haircut did change his qi. He seemed a lot more pleasant overall, totally left the tantrumy phase, was just happier. And I was happier being able to see his lovely face, seeing him grow up. He looked different, for sure. It was definitely a big milestone, one that took me months to get ready for! I’ve given him one trim since then, and now he will see pics of people getting haircuts and tell me that “mama” gives him haircuts.

fun with play dough

Play Dough Sea Monster. Creative Commons photo by Tim Pierce.

One thing I love about being a mom, I admit, is all the fun stuff I get to do with my son. I am one of those parents that likes to play with all the kids’ toys, likes to go to the zoo, kids’ museums, and so on. Part of it is probably because growing up, we didn’t really have the same types of toys and places to go to; certainly, I didn’t play with things like drums or even a lot of play dough. (I had a lot of dolls to play with, mostly hand me downs or toys I shared with my older sister).

One activity that I love and find super therapeutic is making and playing with homemade playdough.  I found this online recipe through a friend and have been making batched since my son was around 1 year old.

When I say therapeutic, I do mean it.  The squishy material is soothing for harried souls, and that includes adults and children.  People often say that babies and tots have it easy; everything is done for them, they can sleep whenever they want, they have no worries, etc.  But I think children actually go through a lot, from small to big changes that they are not in control of.  So for whatever it’s worth, some play dough,  I think, is relaxing for the child too.

Our play dough play has changed over time. Before, we’d just make balls of colored dough. Then we would “cook” stuff like pretzels, bread, hot dogs (which is funny, because he’s never had a hot dog), etc. Then my son really got into statues, so I would make Buddha (is that sacrilegious?), lucky cats, dogs, and other figures from play dough. Nowadays I give him a muffin pan and he makes muffins, cupcakes or mooncakes. We don’t even have the plastic gear that kids often use with play dough, like the noodle maker and cookie cutters or things like that, though I should invest in some.

The options are endless, really. When we have our adult friends over, I usually give them some dough to see what they end up making; it’s actually an interesting experiment to see what people come up with, and how creative they get! It really brings out the inner child in all of us, I think, and is a soothing activity, to boot.

What are some other simple and fun activities that you do with your child at home?

*image source: Tim Pierce*

more hot weather goodies

a papayaI recently posted some homemade popsicle recipes, but here are some more things you can make at home.

Sometimes when we are short on time, and it’s a really, really hot day, we just freeze some fruit in a container. I cut grapes in half and freeze them. I used to eat grapes like these growing up and my son also loves them. We also freeze small watermelon chunks. (Just make sure they are small enough — and you can thaw them out a little before giving them to your kid — to avoid choking hazards).

Another idea is just to freeze some juice. Lately my son has been asking for bing-bing (his short phrase for ice cream) all the time, so we try to think of cold things that are not ice cream. One time we just put a little bit of juice in a cup and put it in the freezer, and then gave it to him with a spoon. It entertained him for a good 15-20 minutes. None of these treats are great in terms of nutrition, since it seems to take longer to eat frozen vs. regular fruit, but it is fun on a hot day.

We’ve also been making a lot of smoothies. Smoothies are easy because you can basically put anything in them, including greens. If your kid is like mine and picks out the teeniest piece of green onion from his noodles, fried rice, etc., then this is a good way to get to green leafy vegetables in his diet. We followed a smoothie recipe that includes apples, bananas, grapes, yogurt and spinach and you can’t really taste the spinach at all! (There are many “green smoothie” recipes online).

But my favorite smoothie of all is papaya milk smoothie, or papaya milk. I drank a lot of this growing up, especially during the summers in Taiwan. It’s a very popular drink, very easy to make at home, and yummy.

1 cut up papaya (cut in half, scoop out seeds with spoon, and scoop out the “meat” inside)

¼ cup sugar water (heat up 1 cup water and sprinkle a generous amount of sugar in it; stir until sugar melts, then cool. You can save the rest for later use.)

1 cup ice

1 cup milk (I use whole milk)

Put everything in a blender and drink right away.

My son and I both like this drink a lot. You can prepare the papaya ahead of time if you want, by scooping out the meat and putting it in a container in the fridge. We buy the papayas in Chinatown or other Asian supermarkets because they are usually cheaper there (and according to the Environmental Working Group, papayas are among the fruits and veggies considered “consistently clean,” or low/lacking in pesticides).

My son doesn’t eat papaya by itself, I think because it has a pretty strong, distinct smell (I used to think it smelled like feet). But with milk and some sugar, it tastes divine. Did anyone else grow up drinking papaya milk? What are some other hot weather recipes?

homemade popsicles

Summer’s in full swing, and we’re enjoying every minute of the nice weather. Besides taking our munchkin to the local pool/lake/beach when we can, here’s a cool, cheap and easy way to deal with the heat. One of our faves is making popsicles! A big hit with kids and adults alike.

There are probably a ton of recipes out there, but this is one I came up with that my son likes that doesn’t contain a lot of sugar. Popsicles are very forgiving so you don’t really need exact measurements; just taste to see if it’s to your liking.


– diced or pureed fresh fruits (peaches, mangoes, strawberries*) or substitute pureed frozen fruit

– yogurt (we use whole milk yogurt)

– juice (we use pear or apple juice)

– a little bit of honey

Put ingredients — roughly 1/3 fruit, 1/3 yogurt, and 1/3 juice, plus a little bit of honey — in popsicle container (I use the KidCo popsicle container because the portions are just right for toddlers and it makes eight individual popsicles, plus it is safer plastic), stir (we use a chopstick), and stick in the freezer for a few hours. Voila! To take the popsicles out, run some room temperature water over the container and gently twist them out.

*I noticed that even the sweetest strawberries taste sour when frozen, so you’ll need to add a little bit more honey and juice than the other fruits.

Another easy one is using watermelon juice, which is pretty sweet to begin with. I just add a tad of honey, and no yogurt or other juice. It’s also a good recipe for kids who don’t eat dairy or yogurt.

Please post your own recipes in the comments section! I’m always looking for more ideas, especially yummy fruits to work with. Let me know!

skype is the hype — or is it?

Ooooh, we recently downloaded Skype. My parents and uncles have been using Skype for years now, but to me it was just this weird chat thing.

Now that we have a son, I realized how convenient and fun it is to be able to see our relatives and for them to see our son. We have family all over the country, and all over the world, from Washington to Virginia to Germany. Since we’re all so scattered, it’s a nice way for them to see our son — sort of a day to day window into our lives here.

I recently read a funny and insightful essay by Peggy Orenstein about Skype. She concludes that Skype isn’t for her and her family, and that she prefers the old school way of communicating — well, recent old school ways like emailing photos.

I’m not great about sending photos. By the time I mail or email them, they are months old. So Skype is really growing on me. Plus, our relatives don’t really get to see what our son is really like and what he sounds like. Since our son’s talking a lot more now, it’s fun to see him communicate with his family members from afar. He’s even talked to relatives he’s never met before, or those he’s only met once when he was a baby, and now repeats their names as if they are his best friends.

The thing I don’t like about Skype is that it’s another activity where we end up sitting in front of the computer, staring at the screen. We try to limit our son’s screen time because he is only two. Still, I’m finding it’s a nice way of connecting to family members.

At first, I think our son was a little weirded out by the whole thing — you know, seeing his grandparents on the computer, though they’re not actually here. After Skyping he’d seem all cranky and out of sorts. Now, he will ask to see his grandparents and uncles and cousins. And dogs. He loves my sister’s and parents’ dogs and will ask to see them too.

In the end though, I’m not really afraid of us spending too much time on Skype. Our tot can only sit still for so long, especially if it’s just staring at a person’s face. Doesn’t matter even if that person is his beloved wai po (maternal grandma). He’s so used to seeing stuff on the computer that has a lot more motions, music and colors.

And it is a little awkward sometimes, just sitting and staring at each other. Actually, most of the time we’re not even looking at each other. Skypers, it seems, are usually looking down or at some other point, but not directly into the camera.

Usually within a few minutes of chatting, my son’s ready to say bye and will jump off my lap to practice his dance moves.

when mama’s sick

A few days ago I came down with a night fever. My body was achy, throat soar and i justed wanted to crawl into bed. I finally gave into the extra-strength Tylenol, which definitely helped me sleep well. I knew that I couldn’t just call in sick to work the next day — my work is being home with my child. I seriously needed good sleep to have enough energy the next day.

I realized the next day that there are ways to take care of a child while you’re sick. Specifically, ow key things you can do without walking miles (literally) or exhausting yourself. Living in a metropolitan area, we are usually on the go, everyday — unless one of us gets sick. Here are some things we did:

– Played on the bed. My son likes playing with stuffed animals now, especially bears and dogs, and he will talk to them, have them talk to each other (with my help), and feed them. And i can lay down on the bed the whole time. yay!

– Played at home. We found stuff to do around the house — no chores of course, though I was so tempted to do some. I kept reminding myself that I was sick and should just take it easy. We played with all his toys, took out some toys he hadn’t seen in a while, and read a bunch of books he hadn’t read in a while.

– Gave my son some homemade popsicles — this is one way he’ll sit still for a loooong time at the dining table. Gives me a moment to just sit and eat and relax.

– Took him on his tricycle around our building. He rode his tricycle (I helped push him along) up and down the hallways and to the little courtyard, where he played with rocks in the rock garden. Completely walled off garden so no need to run after him.

– Watched videos. I am not opposed to him watching videos in moderation, as long as it’s appropriate and educational.

I was also thinking of home remedies for myself. I always thought eating pineapples was good to ward off a cold, but also heard it’s not good to eat when you’re sick. What’s the verdict? I tried to drink lots of water. I also ate some honey (yum, good excuse, huh?) and gargled with warm salt water for the sore throat. I really don’t know if the honey and salt water work, but they do make my throat feel a ton better.

One thing my mom told me is, moms cannot get sick, because everything will fall apart, and it’s difficult to take care of children when you’re sick. Plus, it just takes so much longer to get better because it’s hard to take it easy when you’re running after a toddler, plus doing chores, cooking and so on.

Anything you like to do when you just want an “easy” day with your tot? Any home remedies when you’re sick or not feeling well?

learning mandarin

Since my son was born — he’s now two — I’ve been speaking Mandarin to him. My partner speaks Vietnamese to him. I never really thought much about whether to speak to him in English or Chinese; I knew I was going to speak to him in Chinese, my first language.
Once he was born, though, I found myself looking for the right words to say to a newborn! My English is much better than my Mandarin, so it’s sometimes hard to stick to speaking in just Mandarin with him. Through raising him, I’m learning about my own limitations with Mandarin, and surprisingly, learning about my strengths and how quickly things come back. These old school phrases that I must have learned as a child just seemed to come out of nowhere! And Since he’s started to pick up more words, I realized how important it is to keep the language going!
One of the things I’m learning is that, like any aspect of parenting, it’s so important to surround yourself with a community of like-minded folks, or people in similar situations. When we have our friends over, who happen to know Chinese or Vietnamese, we ask them to speak to him in those languages. When my parents visit, of course, he will have a sudden explosion of Chinese words. It’s really amazing.
We’ve also been going to the local branch of our library. We’ve been checking out DVDs of “Follow Jade!” and music videos in Vietnamese. My son definitely likes the Jade videos (who he calls “Auntie Jade”) and though it’s bilingual and targeted towards an English-speaking audience, he still picks up new vocabulary from the segments. The library, especially in these tough times, is such a great resource in more than one way. I’ve also checked out multiple books on raising a bilingual child, and those have been helpful too.
I’m wondering if there are other parents out there raising their kids with multiple languages, and how that is going. Are people considering bilingual or even full immersion preschools to keep the language going? What are some other resources out there for parents raising bilingual/multilingual children?
Momo is a freelance writer and mom of a two year-old.