Monday, December 27, 2010

Bloo Kangaroo Doll Carrier

I still have a love-hate relationship with my Babyhawk Oh Snap carrier, and am dying to try a Kanga-XT--although the price makes me cringe every time I see it. But I use the Oh Snap every day, and would have lost the use of both arms and maybe severed my backbone by now if not for it. DD definitely recognizes it as an essential part of baby care and has been wanting to wear her own stuffed animals on her back. My scarf does the trick, but these doll carriers by Bloo Kangaroo are totally adorable.
Dear R,

I haven't written one of these in a while, so I thought it was time, especially since you turned two pretty recently.

Slowly, slowly, you are losing your fear of people. You're still not big on walking by yourself when we're out of the house, but you seem to realize that all the neighborhood elderly people cooing at you are actually pretty nice, and will give me a grin and murmur a belated "bye" after the person has walked away.

Compared to other toddlers your age, you're a little slow in the vocab department. But I'm not worried, since you seem to understand every word I say, these days. And you want to know the names for everything: you'll point and ask, "Kore, kore?", which means "this, this" in Japanese. You may not know all your alphabet or colors yet, but you can correctly identify at least six different kinds of dogs (poodles, dachshunds, chihuahuas, shiba dogs, bulldogs, and corgis) and I bet you'd be able to name more, except that some dog names are rather long (king charles cavalier spaniel--whatever).

You definitely know when we're talking about you or, worse, laughing at something awkward that you've done, and you do not like it; I do remember my own parents doing this when I was a kid, and how that made me feel, so I've been trying hard not to even crack a smile if it's ever at your expense--like the other night when you were fidgeting and moving about on your seat while eating dinner and you somehow slipped off the cushion, and the entire bowl of spaghetti flipped over onto your startled face. I'm sorry, baby, but inside I was cracking up.

You like to call yourself "Baby Boo"; so do I. You do not like to be called a "good girl," but I can call you a "good bunny rabbit."

You still LOVE eating, which I'm always amazed and grateful for. Although to be honest, I don't think at this age that toddlers really need that much food. I mean, considering how much you consume and how little you move, you should be an extremely obese insomniac. But you're still pretty little--though my back doesn't think so, and wow am I creaking about like an arthritic old lady these days--and you sleep a decent amount. Your favorite foods are beef, octopus, and clams. Though on Christmas, you had your first taste of chocolate--pieces of candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate--and I'm pretty sure it was a hit, considering the desperate edge in your voice as you kept asking for more.

You thought Christmas was your birthday, part two. This would be a fairly logical conclusion. I mean, grandma, grandpa, and great-grandma came over, there was a fancy dinner (you were pretty excited at the sight of the whole roasted chicken and kept circling around it and wanting to touch it), you got presents, you were once again the focus of everyone's attention. What else would all that fuss be about?

You can now ride your tricycle and put on your socks by yourself. Not at the same time.

And this morning, for the very first time, you PLAYED INDEPENDENTLY. I couldn't believe it. I ran downstairs to grab something, expecting the automatic and unceasing hollering of "mama, mama"...but, nothing. I rushed back up, imagining I'd find you dead on the floor or about to do something particularly forbidden--like dangling Edward the Dog out the living room window--and instead, when I peeked around the corner, you were sitting quietly and calmly, trying to nurse your toy rabbit while stacking blocks at the same time. Multitasking AND independent play. My heart could have burst with pride. I couldn't help noticing how tenderly you cuddled Mr. Bunny in the crook of your arm and gently stroked his back, every so often. Now if only you could be that nice to our dog. You even proudly admitted at lunch today that "Wuta kick Eddie." You felt the need to confess this repeatedly.

But you're really a good girl, R. No, sorry, I meant a good bunny rabbit.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It is exactly 12 am, Christmas Day, in Tokyo...and I'm blogging. I really should be in bed, since R has been doing that annoying waking up earlier and earlier thing that she does every few months, just to keep me jumping. Can't sleep, though, because I'm waiting for a load of laundry to get done. Glamorous, huh. Where is my life? Well, my husband is working, of course. My daughter is sleeping, thank god, because yesterday around this time, she woke up screaming in a way that sent chills down my spine, and when I got to her and finally managed to calm her down, she declared that she was hungry. My parents are in England with my brothers and their families, and we had a Skype session with them earlier this evening, during which R got to meet her cousin M, whose the same age but unfortunately halfway round the world. M was adorable, baby Brit accent and all; my brother was pale and dazed, from the flu--so he claims--but then again he's also had my parents as house guests for the past week; my mom was annoying, as always, and spent most of the conversation comparing R with M (who I have to openly state could possibly be an alien child because she wakes up every morning at 9am--what the hell kind of two-year-old DOES that?), find R lacking due to my substandard parenting abilities, and even managed to throw in my face yet one more time how woefully lacking R's life is (compared to M's) because I don't let her watch television. Apprently, there is something called Pepper Pig that is all the rage amongst UK toddlers and M benefits greatly from an hour viewing of the pig's program every day ("He teaches manners," mom says.)

What have I been doing all day? When not entertaining the toddler, I've been prepping in the kitchen like a crazy woman because it stupidly occurred to me only a few days before that I should probably invite my in-laws over for Christmas dinner, so we can all spend some time together as a family and because I've been mooching meals off of them for months now and it's getting a little embarrassing. It's been a bit of a challenge: last-minute feast-making made from the limited food stuff available in my neighborhood supermarket. We're not exactly living in central Tokyo. It's a pretty small, old area. Hell, my mom calls it a "village," as if we should all be walking around in ski boots or toting hunting spears.

So tomorrow, there's going to be a big-ass chicken roasting in my teeny tiny Japanese oven--dear god, please let the chicken come out alright, preferably cooked on the inside. At least my in-laws should be duly impressed by the mere fact that I'm serving them a whole chicken. It's funny how I used to think of roast chicken as a comforting, easy weekday dinner. But when we were living in the US and I made it for A--who is Japanese, I don't know if I ever mentioned this?--he'd always glance nervously around, as if expecting hidden guests to leap out at any moment and yell "Congratulations on your newly wedded status!" or something equally momentous. So, it's a big deal in Japan. Heck, I was surprised to find whole chickens at the supermarket, since you won't even see bone-in meat on the shelves, on a regular day. I live in a "village," people, get used to it.

I really wanted to bake something warm and spicy for dessert, but I don't want to spend the entire day in the kitchen and I don't know if my oven could handle that big a work-load. It's about the size of a toaster oven, after all, and is used primarily as a microwave.

But aside from the fact that an hour ago, I dropped an entire bowl of shredded cheese on the kitchen floor--total bitch to clean up--and Edward the Dog rushed in to help clean up, except that he mostly just stepped all over the cheese, smearing it everywhere, and making the floor extra sticky with all his licky saliva, so then I had to wash his feet and then wash the floor...uh, where was I going with this sentence? Crap, now I have to go hang up the laundry, and it took me way too long to write this post, and I NEED to be in bed.

Good night and happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

wooden toy cake

Just got my Goods Land catalog in the mail yesterday and saw what would have been the perfect Christmas present for R...except that this toy features cake toppings with magnets in them. While R isn't the type to put non-food things in her mouth, she does love her berries, so I'm going to be my non-self for once--i.e., prudent--and hold off on this one. Ever since R's birthday passed and she had cake not once but twice, every cake she sees is labeled "Happy Wuta Tu Tu" cake and is examined closely and with much enthusiasm. She's also big on pretend and feeding people right now, so I know she would have had a great time with this toy. It even comes with two different magnetic icing choices--chocolate (shown in picture above) and strawberry--so it's a very customizable cake. And at only ¥3,150, the only thing I'm worried about is why it's so cheap and how much lead is hidden in this thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

if I had all the money in the world...

...I'd buy a lot of baby and kid clothes.
Seriously, there is nothing that makes me want to spend money like the stuff targeted at rich parents. Take the brand Oeuf (see the knit berets above; come on, are they not so crazy-cute you want to start typing in all-caps?)--I think I first heard about it when pregnant and searching exhaustively for a crib for R (we finally settled on the IKEA Gulliver Crib and it was totally great and totally one-tenth the price of the Oeuf crib). Then I fell in love with the Oeuf Coverall Hats that were made of this chunky, bright-colored alpaca yarn. They've since been redesigned, for some reason, but are still pretty sweet, in a more understated way. And about once a year, I remember my love of Oeuf's knit dresses and will visit the site, squint at the reduced-price sale items, and then move on.
Not surprisingly, Japan--the Land of Kawaii, itself--has incredibly tempting kids clothing, if you have cash to burn. But who does anymore? No, I take that back: There is this lovely, expensive children's clothing store in Tokyo and their online stuff is constantly sold out. Will try to blog about that shop and more stuff like it in the future. Because I don't know why but my blog never really feels like it's written by someone living in Japan, does it.

R's music recs

As I mentioned, R has very specific music needs. She requests songs by name--well, the names she gives them--and she can listen to a song she likes, literally, fifty times. Of course I'm not counting, but if you have a three-minute song on replay for two hours...okay, so math isn't my strong suit, but let's not get into that.

So here are R's favorite songs at the moment:

Aiuta, by GreeeeN

Jump in the Line, by Harry Belafonte

Sleigh Ride, by Harry Connick Jr. (definitely NOT the Andy Williams version--duh, mom)

Shabondama Tonda, not sure who's singing this one (it's a Japanese children's song about bubbles floating up and away, but according to my husband was written by a guy who's little baby had died)

I'm not sure what R's been singing lately. I don't recognize the tune. Apparently, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is so last-month.


This is R's new thing: tea. Has to be chamomile and in the drinking vessel of her choice. I wonder if other toddlers her age are this exacting. If I sing a song that does not agree with her mood, I am promptly silenced. There are certain clothes I wear that she also disapproves of. When we go for a walk, she gives extremely specific directions about which way we should go. Right now, the fabulous red goose-down jacket that grandma and grandpa bought her has fallen out of favor and if she must wear a coat, then it has to be the shoddy black hand-me-down that's so big, she keeps tripping over her own feet cause she can't see them.

This week, though, we had an exciting development: R actually PLAYED at the playground. I mean, she ran around, climbed the various structures, slid down slides, and all that other good stuff. Only thing was that it was pitch-black and we were the only ones out in the freezing cold, scampering about like crazy people.

When I was a kid, I remember reading about a little girl who was allergic to sunlight and her mom had to take her to the playground at night. I thought that was about the saddest thing I'd ever read. Now here I am, twenty years later, living the sad life. But no, it really was not that bad. There is something fun about being out after dark--take Halloween and trick or treating. Sure, winter isn't the best season for it. But having the whole playground to ourselves, R really relaxed and had a ball, screeching in delight, drawing pictures with her hands in the gravelly ground, spinning round and round while looking up at the stars. I have never seen her so at ease outside of the house.

And the great thing about living in Tokyo is that I don't feel nervous going out with R at night and playing with her in a deserted park. It's a densely populated city where most of the residents commute by public transportation, and I'd say the average worker leaves the office at 8 pm, so there are always people on the streets long after darkness falls.

Unfortunately, R seems to think "people" are bad. When we're out walking, she'll say "people" right as she turns to me, arms up, waiting to be whisked out of the slimy reach of...people. And as I just wrote, in Tokyo, there are always people. Lots of people. Hopefully, a good daily dose of this will eventually cure R of her fears.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

As a parent, you are allowed to have an okay day with your child, even a good one. But don't ever have a great day, and never think to yourself "Hey, I can do this"--or you will pay for it. I'm not talking crazy, here.

I foolishly blogged about what a great day R and I had on Monday. Foolish! Despite a happy dinner Monday night to the accompaniment of Sleigh Ride, on constant reply per R's request and which she adorably scrunched up her shoulders in pleasure at hearing for the first time, it's been steadily downhill from there. Also, A will be away this weekend to attend a friend's wedding somewhere outside Tokyo, so I have no weekend to hang in there for.

Teething again, but this time, it was reach-for-the-Motrin-but-yes-I-do-know-about-the-latest-recall-thanks bad. Today, R was so hysterical and clingy that I was sure I heard a shhhhtuck! noise every time I tried to separate her little body from mine.

I do feel that I am being punished, somehow, for having the audacity to not be a maternal woman. I don't have any natural desire to coddle, fawn over, or care for needy creatures. I in fact do not like needy people. Or animals. Which is why it's funny that I ended up with not one but two (or three, if you count my husband) extremely needy people in my home: R and Edward. Edward being the dog. If you are scoffing at that, you've never raised a puppy with severe separation anxiety. Edward came to us at the tender age of two months, and the first month, he wouldn't eat unless I sat on the floor, right next to him. The first three months, he lived in my lap. The first six months, I couldn't take a shower without hearing him screaming and clawing at the shower door the entire time. The first three years (or maybe more?), we couldn't leave him home alone uncrated unless we wanted to return to a thoroughly trashed apartment.

Now R. Sigh. She is such a great little kid. But her fear of everyone who isn't me, her inability to play for even five minutes by herself, her demand that I be her constant entertainment--today, I seriously thought about connecting my head with the Le Creuset casserole pot in order to get some alone-time.

Then just now, while I was rushing around trying to get dinner prepped, I felt eyes boring into the back of my head, turned, and found Edward standing at the entrance to the kitchen looking at me. You have to have a dachshund of your own to understand, but they don't stare at you like normal dogs do. They have a look. It's sort of mournful and condemning, and it makes you worry. I just checked and he's still looking at me. Maybe he needs to poo again.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I know, the following photo (taken with cell phone) quality is awful. It hurts my eyes to look at it up close.

But if you back up, what you'll see is one of those beautiful ginkgo trees I keep mentioning. The photo color is true: the foliage really is that yellow. And if you look carefully, maybe you'll spot R somewhere in the picture.

I had to post this image though because this morning, R and I had the most perfect fall-day walk...with no photos to show for it. We had only two mini meltdowns the entire time out. The weather was almost warm and R walked more than she ever has, too busy wading through the crispy carpet of fallen leaves to ask to be held much. The Japanese maples are starting to get gorgeous. Each tree's changing foliage seems to have a different tint--some are pale gold, others coral pink, and then there are the ones with the standard gradation from green to fiery red to a deep maroon. And R was thrilled with it all--the colors, textures, and sounds. She clutched a huge leaf in her left hand the whole time she was exploring, and would say "rain" whenever a gust of wind had leaves showering down all around us.

This was one of those days I kept wishing I had brought a camera. But for someone who was once a light traveler, I already find there is so much crap to bring along when going out with a toddler (but leave one item out and I guarantee you it will be the one item you need desperately when you are far from home and will somehow result in you having a crying toddler on your hands, no matter what that item is--trust me on this one). So I am loathe to add to the number of things dangling from my arms and shoulders, not to mention that having a camera would mean I'd spend the majority of the walk trying to keep R away from it.

Oh well, this is one of those days I'll just have to do my best to store in my head.

Friday, November 26, 2010

christmas is coming

How do you know winter is almost upon you in Japan? Wham!'s Last Christmas playing in every store, of course. And a big bowl of mandarin oranges on the coffee table.

Except for maybe a two-month queasy and uncertain period when I first arrived in Japan--and mostly the feelings were borne of the realization that my husband would be working 17-hour days for the rest of his apparently short life (you don't work that hard, drink and smoke that much, and sleep that little, and then live to a ripe old age, I fear)--I didn't suffer too much from culture shock. I'm fine with the food, the people, the way of life. Sure, I wish I had a washing machine with a hot-wash option. Yeah, it is freakin' cold inside Japanese homes in the winter (oh, I'm sorry, have I already gone on and on about that?). And yes, secretly I wish my father-in-law would stop serving us summer ayu (fish) because the internal organs are just plain bitter, no matter which way you look at it, and after painstakingly separating the flesh from all those bones with your chopsticks, it just ain't a very filling meal--ayu are itty-bitty things.

But one thing I really enjoy is the enthusiasm for seasonal food (exempting summer ayu) in the Japanese culture. I may dread the encroaching cold, but I get excited at the beginning of fall because I know my in-laws will soon invite us over for their annual matsutake dinner. At the nearby park, lately, you can always find people beneath the huge, brilliant-gold ginkgo trees, gathering up large bags of the smelly fallen fruit, which I've been told have to go through a thoroughly tedious process before one can enjoy the ginkgo nut within. When the nuts are ready to be eaten, they'll be roasted and served unadorned or maybe added to chawan-mushi--a delicate egg custard steamed in a cup with bits of chicken and other good things. The other day, I saw the first packs of overpriced strawberries at a fruit store. Just a bit longer and R can finally have a taste of something she's been asking for for over half a year.

I grew up in Canada, and my family, at any rate, ate whatever we wanted when we wanted it. In Japan, R can point at pictures of strawberries until the cows come home and she's not going to get any until maybe December. Each season, you get a limited choice of fresh fruit and vegetables in your supermarket, and you do get sick of eating the same thing after a while, but everything usually tastes really good and the anticipation makes that first taste particularly exquisite. It's also nice to always have something to look forward to. Right now, I'm loving the huge bags of mandarin oranges available that are not only cheap but thin-skinned, juicy, and sweetly fragrant. For as long as the stores will have them, I'll keep my big green bowl in the living room mounded with mandarins and R can eat her fill. She still loves citrus fruit and can be distracted, while I prepare dinner, with a wedge of lemon, yuzu, or sudachi.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My mom...I think I need a new blog rant category devoted entirely to her. I think everyone should have one, simply entitled "My Mom." It's funny, you'd think after becoming a mother, I'd be inclined to take the "other side." But no, my mom still knows how to piss me off like no one else on earth. My brother hasn't spoken to her in over a year and he's thirty-seven, so I don't think I'm just being a whiny little girl.

It's funny, although she'd die before admitting it, my mom thinks I'm a bitch. Because I AM whenever I talk to her. I'm actually a pretty nice, easygoing person the rest of the time. But the minute mom starts up one of her "conversations," I can practically feel the black Spidey suit oozing down over my face and swallowing me up. Hiss.

That's all for now. Otherwise, this topic would take over the entire blog.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

being less clean

I am loving my decision not to bathe R every day. Trust me, when you've been pleading and reasoning with and then barking at your adorable but willful toddler nonstop since sunrise (e.g., "I know you're teething for...what is it, the 136th time?--but please don't gnaw on my nipple, again"; "Please let's not struggle when I'm trying to change your poopy diaper...ah, poop on my leg; no, sweetie, please don't run away, it's getting scattered...ah, the white carpet"; "What? You want to go for a walk now, when it's 15 minutes before nap time? Then why did you say 'no' the 362 times I asked you previously if you wanted to go for a walk?"; and so on), bath time at the end of a long day is anything but a heartwarming bonding experience. There are lots of protests (when she doesn't want to get in) and water wastage (when she doesn't want to get out), and my 33-year-old back just doesn't have that old pack-mule spring, like it used to. Yesterday I was stupid enough to go out with A and R while wearing heels (yes, yes, I already mentioned the stupid part), R stuck to her "no, daddy" routine the whole night, and I ended up chasing/carrying/dragging R around a very crowded, busy Tokyo neighborhood, dodging bicycles and buses, in heels in case you forgot that part, and my back was killing me all day today.

Ah, there's nothing like having a child to make you start aging triple-time. The first occasion I was ever not carded when buying alcohol was after R came along, and a quick glance in the mirror confirms that was no coincidence. I don't know what's happened to my face. Lately, I've been looking like a Flowers in the Attic version of myself, which shocked me enough to prompt some serious, serious consideration to wearing makeup. I'm too lazy to ever cave and too ignorant to know where to begin, but the desire is out there somewhere.

Anyhow, this new "not bathing my child too often" lifestyle made me realize what a hippy mom I am turning into. Cleaning the house with vinegar. Using a menstrual cup. Lately, I've even decided to give "no poo" (no shampoo) another try. Obviously, the next step is to grow out my armpit hair. Actually, for me, "hippy" and "mom" almost unavoidably go together. (I even learned about menstrual cups from an online mom forum--because after you've had a baby come out of you, I guess you're a little more open about discussing what goes in...?) When I was pregnant with R, I instinctively began seeking out the most natural (i.e., safest) way to live and raise the people in my care--to be honest, I never gave a damn before--and funnily enough, strong soaps and detergents started looking very threatening. I even read, though I don't know if I believe it, that there is good bacteria on your skin that gets lost if you wash too often. Hmmm....

One thing that has always hugely bothered me is the dog. Here I am, trying so hard to keep our floors clean for my baby to crawl on and lick and eat fallen food off of, and the dog comes in after a walk and tracks outdoor grime all over our carpet. I know some people who wipe their pets' feet before they come in. I just can't do that. The amount of bending over (did I mention Edward is a mini dachshund--i.e., stands extremely low to the ground), paw+tummy-wiping, and additional garbage I have to drag down and out of our apartment and over to the garbage pick-up site: My back says no. Do dog shoes sound totally insane? I know there will be the inevitable annoying battle with my daughter, who will want to put on the shoes herself but be unable to, meaning we will be stuck in the entrance hall, trying to leave, for an additional forty minutes. But what is the point of the rest of us so dutifully taking off our shoes at the front door, if the dog doesn't? At least this is Japan, where almost every pooch (except mine) wears clothes, so I doubt we'll get anything but positive attention. In fact, right now, Edward looks pitifully nude when we go out. Maybe the shoes will help redeem his standing amongst the neighborhood canines.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I don't know if I'm being a total wimp, but the current low temperatures do NOT feel like fall, to me. Yesterday, after a bit of time huddling, stiff-limbed, in my frigid apartment, I finally broke down and headed to the nearest shop to stock up on fluffy, warm indoor accessories, and am now moderately more comfortable in my new socks, booties, and fingerless gloves. All I need is a hat that won't make my forehead itchy. If you think this sounds extreme, you haven't lived in a Tokyo apartment before--and no, I'm not talking about those fancy Roppongi high-rise homes. My half-assed theory is that in the olden days, Japanese people had nothing but a paper sliding door between their living room and a blizzard, so who needs things like insulation and central heating?

With the drastic change in the weather, R has started clawing bloody slashes into her suddenly dry skin, and lotion seems to be doing nothing for her, so I've decided to take more drastic actions. I think I'm going to go all hippy-mom and stop bathing her so often. I'll wash her bum every day, of course, but maybe only do a head-to-toe cleaning every other day...or less. I'll let my nose decide.

I've actually already been pretty conservative about cleaning R--not wanting to go overboard with the soap and other chemicals--and have used nothing but extremely diluted Dr. Bronner's baby soap (in a foaming pump bottle) at bath time for the past year. Okay, maybe a little California Baby non-scented conditioner on her hair once a month. She looks--and smells--okay to me. R's not a sweaty kid. Nor an active one. When we're outdoors, she hardly detaches from my body long enough to get very dirty, I think. So that's what we're going to do for now.

I'm further motivated to do this, since R has developed an awful new ritual of bursting into tears, wailing "hug, hug," and trying to climb up my neck at the end of every bath time. Considering it is FREEZING when we get out of the shower, we're both damp and naked, and she's squirming and struggling so hard I can't get any clothes on her or myself, if I can reduce the number of times I must endure this, I'll be warmer and happier for it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

filling in the gaps

Oh man, I'm convinced somebody out there is watching over me because just when I started very gently mulling over the possibility of being able to handle a second kid--BOOM, here come the molars. And the celestial memo to me would be: You can't even handle ONE kid. Okay, it hasn't been awful, so far--I haven't stared longingly at my bottle of Infant Motrin, the way I have sometimes done during past teething episodes, when completely depleted of any inner resources--but the past week hasn't been fun.

Yesterday was probably rock-bottom. There was a lot of poo--both the child and dog variety--that I was forced, beyond the norm, to come in close contact with...I don't really want to talk about it. Today, I still don't feel completely clean.

Teething always leads to mom abuse at the small but sharp-nailed hands of my almost-two-year-old, but A isn't getting off easy, either, poor guy. He's been facing increasingly harsh rejections by R, during their limited time together. Lately, she only says "daddy" in combination with one of two words: "no!" or "work." The other night, during dinner, she looked up suddenly and declared: "Daddy work, grandma bye, grandpa bye." This was pretty soon after my parents left and, yes, A was at work, as he almost always is when R is awake. It was funny and tragic at the same time, and she still says this combo sentence, apropos of nothing, every so often, as if assessing her tribe and finding it somewhat lacking.

I do feel increasingly worried that R needs more of a life than what we have right now. Her dad isn't really around. She sees her Japanese grandparents once a week, but they aren't very demonstrative people--or, at least, they are very careful about not being too pushy--and I think that is the reason R seemed to bond more with my aggressively loving parents in their two weeks here than she has seeing A's parents weekly for the past eight months. We do meet up with a few babies on a regular basis, but they are all much younger than R for some reason, and aren't able to really interact with her yet.

As an English-speaking wife and mother in Japan, I've found the Tokyo Mother's Group and the Married in Japan Yahoo Group to be okay online resources (the latter can be fairly entertaining; there is currently a pretty busy conversation thread going on that began with one of the members sharing that Japanese women consider it bad manners for other women not to wear makeup, which is certainly interesting since I never wear makeup and have possibly been offending women in this country for years), but haven't had great luck meeting up with many of the members in real life, since Tokyo is so huge and we few foreigners are fairly widely dispersed. Also, simply being the mother of a toddler and trying to get together with other mothers with toddlers is a near-impossible feat when you throw in varying nap times, conflicting work/play schedules, tantrums, meltdowns, etc. I also don't live close to where the expat community congregates, but I'm not interested to mingle with that crowd, to be honest, since none of them are here for the long haul.

I recently learned about another group, the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese, that is supposed to be smaller and better organized than the MIJ Yahoo Group, but there is something like a 7,000-yen annual membership fee.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

hazel girls' clothing

Zulily is one of those limited-time sale sites that I'm registered with but have yet to buy stuff from--mostly because the prices, even when 50-percent off, are still more than what I'm willing to fork over for kiddy stuff. If I see something well-made that is going to keep DD warm through the winter, I'd consider it. But I won't splurge on a summery little skirt, no matter how sweet the floral print.

This time, though, I'm tempted. All the pictures in this blog post are of clothes under the brand "Hazel" currently on sale at Zulily and some of the stuff is cute. The sizes range from 2T (two-year-old toddler) to something called 6x.

Unfortunately, I recently had to go on a bit of a shopping spree, getting practical winter wear for R. And being a cheapskate at heart, I'm at my spending limit. But I still wanted to share some of the things currently on sale.

Strangely, I couldn't find a website for Hazel's girls' clothing, although there is a site selling women's clothes that were nowhere as nice.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Tonight, R and I stood inside the front door and must have said good-bye to my parents for a good 15 minutes. I know I was getting sleepy long before the door started closing, millimeter by painful millimeter, my mom's eye glued to the crack, until the very last.

And so ended my mom and dad's two-week stay in Japan. With them gone, and the little poopsky in bed for the night, quiet has once again descended upon our little home. Perhaps there is a pang of loneliness left in my parents' turbulent wake, but equally hard to ignore is, for some weird reason, "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead," currently being sung in my mind with particular jubilant gusto by those little munchkin creatures.

I'm not a total bitch. I admit my iceberg of a heart thawed a degree when I saw how red my mom's eyes were at having to be parted from my daughter. I do feel awed and glad that R is so obviously loved, by both sets of grandparents.

But it's also kinda weird, to me. I once was told by a random woman lining up behind me to use an airplane lavatory, "You love them [your grandkids] more than you ever did your own children." And seeing my own parents in action, I believe it.

What IS it about becoming a grandparent? I guess I'll just have to wait my turn to find out. But to see my rather...composed mother-in-law transform into a warm, smiling, doting person when R is's weird. I mean, until we moved back to Japan recently, R was practically a stranger to my in-laws, except in name. But they obviously love her a lot, and did right from the start. She could be some random child I picked up off the street and then announced was their grandchild. How can they open up their hearts so easily?

I remember my husband's friend, his face a little queasy, remarking about his own dad and little daughter, "He speaks to her in a voice I've never heard before."

Like I said, I'm glad R has so many people who care so deeply for her. But there is also an uneasiness that arises in the face of so much sickening adoration (not your own) for your child. I'm also scared as hell, because my dad has been planning his retirement for some time and lately keeps telling me how he wants to spend MUCH more time with R, getting to know her (i.e., making sure he's in the lead in the favorite-grandparent race, which certainly is an interesting competition to observe, as everyone struggles to maintain that veneer of restraint and warm consideration for each other) as she grows, etc., etc. We're talking "months" of time here.

How does one respond to such determination? My dad, who has devoted his entire life to his job, is soon going to have to redirect all that terrifying energy and focus into other areas--namely my child, from the looks of things. He also just sent a text message from the airport to my phone, expressing his hopes that I will give R the "chance of a christian upbringing." Sigh. I'm going to bed early.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ahhhhgh, so tired. Well, no big revelation there. But this is a fresh, new "my parents have come from out of town and are staying in my little Tokyo apartment for two weeks and are already planning their next trip real soon, and, no, they didn't ask if that would be okay, they just assume they have an open invitation to visit, any time" kind of tired.

It hasn't been awful having them around. In some ways, it's been wonderful. Suddenly, our home is full of loud voices and fresh life. Even that last stretch between R's dinner and bedtime isn't so grueling when there is someone to keep me company. My parents are very energetic, and they are excellent at entertaining R, keeping her laughing and giddy and distracted. But it's more like having two older children suddenly in my care. They are excited to play with R, push her in her new tricycle, sit on the floor with her at the toy store--that sort of thing.

But just an hour ago, while feeding R lunch, I watched my mother slumped in a chair, the very picture of a 14 year old girl stuck at home without anyone decent for company, announcing, "I'm boooored. I can't sit around like this, doing nothing."

I think back on the correspondence between my mom and myself a few weeks back:
Mom: Would you like me to stay an extra week?
Me: I worry that you'll be bored.
Mom: I'm coming to help with Ruka, not for my own entertainment.
Me: .... Of course you're welcome to stay longer, if you like.
People always comment on how youthful my parents are. That's a pretty accurate description. Unfortunately, they also possess the attention span of the extremely youthful. Now combine that with what seems to be the early stages of senility, and maybe you'll understand what I'm dealing with.

My mom has good intentions, I guess. But she is easily frazzled, keeps burning my pots and pans, and makes me repeat myself until I swear I can hear this weird ringing in my soon-to-explode head. My dad...when my brothers and I were kids, if you wanted some adult to dress up as a ridiculous-looking monster and chase you roaring around the room, he was your guy. He was also the one who would slam your fingers in the car door and then laughingly apologize when you screamed. He's mellowed a bit in his old age, but he now does things like leave big knives, dirty tissues, and medication lying around for toddlers to snatch up with curious delight.

Okay, so I have to be more vigilant and do a bit more washing, cleaning, and garbage duty. But they're keeping R occupied while I get dinner ready, and for that I'm willing to forgive any extra work they cause me.

But I do have to cope with a bit of rage-suppression when my dad does things like purposely making R out-of-control hyper right before bedtime (every.single.night he does this, and with a merry chuckle) that it takes me three times as long to calm her down and get her sleepy, once we're in her room.

And when my mom puts on her big-girl lecturing pants, that's when I want to...well, do something violent. It's puzzling that my mom cannot recall a single detail about raising three kids but seems to think she knows much more than I do. R has had a stuffy nose the past three weeks, due to allergies I think--"Do you vacuum her room?" she asks dubiously. "Her coloring has improved since we got here," she tells me with an expectant look (I think this is my cue to...invite her to live with us forever?). "She needs to start watching TV. Otherwise, she won't learn anything." And a huge failure on my part: "She's never eaten ice cream? She should eat ice cream" (this issue is brought up every day, without fail, and discussed in a tone that suggests I'm the type of mother who would make her child a birthday cake constructed completely out of steamed vegetables). Even my dog-raising abilities are not exempt from her scrutiny: "Edward looks miserable. Why is he always lying on the floor, curled in a ball?" The first few times, I tried to explain that he's getting older and doesn't have as much spunk as he used to. Recently, when the issue came up yet again, I asked her if she would prefer that he dance a jig, while juggling doggie biscuits, and she appeared to give the question some careful consideration. Those seem to be the key points in my mom's two-week intensive seminar. And I assure you, she's way more wordy and repetitive when arguing the above topics.

Okay, I think I've said my piece. Mom and dad, may you never discover that I have a blog. Yes, I am a thirty-three-year-old woman.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

what I said to my daughter today...

..."Friends don't poo on friends."

Well, he may be just a little face cloth, but this is Mr. Towel, we're talking about. Technically, he's the closest thing my daughter has to a best friend right now, so she needs to learn to treat him right.

R has been in a mean mood the past few days. I actually thought Edward the Dog's life was at risk a couple of times yesterday. Trying to evoke empathy does not seem to be working. Yelling definitely isn't having any effect. I think the only thing I can do right now is physical removal of object being abused. I'm also trying to introduce the concept of friends and the proper treatment of them. For example, "Friends don't try to kick each other down the stairs."

The situation with Mr. Towel, though, wasn't really due to malicious intent. R has been getting more and more into imaginary play, these days, and one of the things she is keen to reenact is Edward going to the toilet on his pet sheet. I do use them from time to time, and I worry about how this might affect R's future potty training, since she often squats on top of Mr. Towel and then tells me "pee pee" or "poo poo"--well, at least I can say she's partially house-trained. I worry, though, that one day something a little less imaginary is actually going to come in contact with this towel who R always holds, and rubs against her face, and sleeps with. Ugh.

Friday, October 15, 2010

new words

Moh-tutu = oatmeal (Me: You mean "oatmeal"?; R [with a firm nod]: Moh-tutu)
Bah-tutu = bicycle
Moh-dadadada = motorcycle
Boti = coffee

imaginary love

Tonight, R "plucked" mandarin oranges off the page of her book and fed it to me and her various stuffed companions. But she didn't leave Mr. Towel, her lovey, out--apparently, Mr. Towel makes the same eating noises as everyone else (he also needs his teeth flossed and his hair brushed, from time to time).
Poor R, her hand slipped when she was on the playground swing today, and she went flying through the air. I think she landed on her head, since she almost had an epileptic fit when I tried to wash her hair tonight, and had similar reactions every time I went near her head. Just when I was proudly thinking she had completely mastered the big-girl swings.

I really have to get some shots of Tokyo playgrounds. They are sad: dark-chocolate mud ground, gravely concrete, rusting metal, flaking paint, murky sand pits that according to my husband double as litter boxes for the many roaming cats, swarms of mosquitoes due to the stagnant drains that catch the water-fountain runoff. The motif seems to be Seventies Ghetto, and there are no concessions to the below-three crowd. It's such a funny and extreme contrast from the playgrounds in Northern California, where we moved from: where there were always toddler swings, the sand pits were filled with this white satiny stuff you'd ordinarily find on a beach in Aruba, and everything practically glowed with the sheen of newness.

When we first arrived in Japan, R was around 15 months and her first few rounds with the big-kid swings always ended with her slamming spectacularly into the hard, stony ground. I am not a sadistic mother--R was the one who kept insisting we try the swings yet again. She finally learned to hold on tight to the metal chains and to keep her balance on the wide plank-like seats. And, most importantly, she learned to tell me when she'd had enough--versus just letting go mid-swing.

But today reminded me she's still pretty little. Guess we're going to have to go back to more gentle swing pushes, until she gets stronger.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

japanese babywearing

I was really lucky that I discovered babywearing while pregnant because R turned out to be the kind of baby who always wanted to be held, and at 23 months, this inclination has not changed. I was just wondering this morning as I held her throughout our morning walk whether it's possible for a toddler's muscles to atrophy from lack of use. This girl does not like to walk--or, rather, she likes being held by me more than she does walking.

I was really excited when we first moved back to Japan and I noticed what a big babywearing culture exists in Japan, or at least around where I live. It's very common to see a mom on a bike with a toddler in a child seat and a baby strapped to her front or back. And the dads don't seem shy about using wraps and slings, either.

BUT while babies are worn quite a bit, toddlers are not. In Japan, toddlers either walk or sit quietly in strollers--and, yes, they are *always* quiet. I don't know how Japanese parents achieve this. Whippings? Maybe noisy, squirmy toddlers just don't get taken out? Anyhow, the only toddler carrier I've seen around is the Ergo, which I don't like because the baby is quite low down when worn on one's back. It's also not the best carrier for a smaller person, as it's quite big and bulky.

Right now, I'm using a BabyHawk Oh Snap, which I bought used off the forum. The best thing about it is the high back carry--compared to, say, the Ergo or Beco (which I had previously been using and loved, but R grew to hate once she was about 15 months old). Compared to my Beco Butterfly, though, the OS feels pretty bulky, with lots of long straps dangling all over the place. Before I had R, I wouldn't have been caught dead wearing something like this (it looks a lot *neater* in the picture to the right). The problem is that to support a bigger, heavier child, you do need something more structured, hence the name Soft Structured Carrier, which refers to carriers with the belts and buckles.

I definitely wouldn't recommend the Oh Snap for a smaller person, even though I've had petite moms tell me that it works for them. I think it's because I can't get everything tightened up as much as I need it that sometimes my shoulders start aching if I wear R for too long. I never had this problem with my Beco.

The problem is that the toddler carriers out there that I've been told work for smaller women are STUPIDLY expensive. I'm talking US$180 for a used carrier. So then I started looking at Japanese-made carriers. And found some great-looking stuff. Unfortunately, I don't know where or how to begin researching how good these carriers really are, and, more importantly, most of these carriers seem to have a maximum weight limit (for the child) of 10kg. R is just a little over that. But I'm so tempted to get the sling-type carrier pictured at the top of this post. It's just a small X-shaped cloth, and like a baby pouch, it folds up nice and small; many times, I've been caught without a carrier--but needed one desperately--and wished I had something like this, something portable enough to always have on hand. But, unlike a sling or pouch, it has two-shouldered support, so I would assume it's more comfortable.

The other carrier I would have loved is this Japanese SSC called Sun & Beach. It's made for a smaller body frame and is wonderfully compact and light (my friend has one and I've tried it on). It also comes in really cute colors and patterns. But although the kid in the picture to the left looks about the same size as R--maybe even bigger--the website says the carrier is meant for babies up to 10kg. Darn!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

menstrual cups

I think the title is warning enough. There will be references to blood and vaginas. Read or don't read.

I recently started using a menstrual cup and while my experiences haven't been magical or anything, I'm going to keep using mine until...I stop having periods, I guess. And despite the various cons of menstrual cups, I don't understand why they aren't as easily available and well-known as pads or tampons. Well, I guess any time you have the combined topic of menstrual blood and foreign objects being inserted up a vagina, some idiot is going to go "ew." So it's hard to appeal to the masses or introduce something new. But how can you be a woman, have periods, and be squicked out by the idea of blood? And if you feel okay about inserting a tampon, why not a little silicone cup that leaves no lint behind in your vagina?

To be honest, the primary reason I decided to try out a cup is because I have heavy periods and loathe the feeling of pads. I'm the last person to preach about doing one's part to protect the Earth and reducing material waste: I gave up on cloth diapers after about one day of trying it out and was asked by the diaper service lady, "Aren't you ashamed?" I was. But I still returned everything.

I think I remember hearing somewhere that the total amount of blood actually lost during the duration of your period is like three tablespoons. I obviously am nowhere near average, and since using the cup, I FINALLY can sleep through the night without jerking awake to that horrible feeling of blood trickling up, up, up my back. Hopefully, I'm done with blood-stained sheets and panties. Because when I used pads, I *always* leaked, no matter what.

Okay, so that's the boring back story. Now, all about M cups:

  • Depending on how heavy your flow is, you may not need to empty your cup more than every 12 hours.
  • If it's in there correctly, you really can't feel it. I could always feel when I had a tampon inserted.
  • No hot, itchy, soggy pads against your skin. Thank god!
  • You're saving quite a bit of money, since if you take care of your cup, it can last for years.
  • Tiny voice: It's better for the environment.
  • If you have a heavy flow, like me, things can get a bit messy, which can be problematic especially in a public toilet. And on heavy days, I am emptying out the cup more like every four hours (rather than twelve). But I read that once you get the hang of it, there really should be very little mess. I don't know about that, but....
  • Although I haven't had this problem, supposedly some people have trouble with insertion and removal. But heck, I just read this news story (which actually made me, as a mother, break into a cold, sickened sweat) about a five-year-old Peruvian girl who gave birth to a baby. And if that is physiologically possible, then I think most women should be able to handle a tiny cup that could fit in the palm of your hand.
  • If you don't insert the cup correctly, it could leak.
  • You *will* have to face the sight of a cup of (your own) blood, when it comes time to empty the cup. But just like pooping, nobody's asking you to study it in close-up detail. Just do it, you big sissy.

For anyone thinking of trying out a cup, I think the best advice I can give is: choose one based on the size that best fits your inner girl (it's important to estimate how far back your cervix is during your period). There is a huge selection out there, and each cup has its own unique dimensions, capacity, softness, etc. This is a great resource of info.

I don't know about "Happy Periods" (who the HELL came up with that one, and god help her if it was a woman), but mine just got a lot more comfortable. Yay.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Here's a photo randomly added, mostly for color. It's the view from my kitchen and it's my favorite time of day, twilight.

So I took R to a Montessori-based mom+toddler class today called Sesame Club. But this is Japan, so there was a Doraemon figurine in the midst of the natural toy selections, and during drawing time, the teacher was determined to teach poor, neglected R who An Pan Man was (a superhero whose head is a round bread bun, for all you losers who didn't know). "Hora, An Pan Man da yo!" Was there a desperate tinge to sensei's tone, when her doodles of the doughy red guy failed to evoke any reaction in my daughter? Even one of my British friends seems compelled to automatically draw AP Man in the sand for her daughter at the park. And during one of the summer festivals we attended, we witnessed a circle of old ladies in yukata dancing to the An Pan Man song (with taiko accompaniment) over and over. Seriously, it was that and the Sakana Sakana Sakana song on replay the entire night.

Anyhow, all that aside, I'm really glad my MIL found this class for us. This is Tokyo: the baby swimming class we attempted and failed to participate in had 30 moms and babies. Can you imagine the amount of noise and splashing--not to mention peeing--going on? But Sesame Club has the rare rule of keeping class size to a maximum of five kids, and in fact, there's only R and one other little boy in ours. Thank god. So although there was a bit of clinging at first, R actually managed to relax and participate in the class. Total miracle.

I think it will also be good preparation for kindergarten--both in terms of socializing and being exposed to Japanese. I just worry though that R might be confused because she is being taught new ways of saying words she's only recently learned: dog, train, etc.

Which brings us to a concern for many foreign families living overseas: your first language being the minority language. Growing up in Canada, I knew a lot of kids whose parents spoke a different language to them, but who always answered back in English. I worry that this will happen with R. I respect that she's going to grow up and most likely live in Japan forever, but I still want her to keep her options open, and be able to communicate with people on my side of the family: her grandparents, cousins, uncles, etc.

A and I have decided to practice what is known as Minority Language at Home (although we didn't know it even had a name at the time we agreed on it). This means we'll always speak English at home, unless we have Japanese visitors over, of course. The problem is that as she grows older, the percentage of time she spends at home and hears English will get less and less. Also, since A isn't around that much, there aren't many opportunities for R to hear English being spoken interactively. But this is what we'll stick with.

Much harder is for me to speak English to R outside of the house, which is what I've decided to try to do as well. If we're in the company of people who only speak Japanese, of course we won't. But even when it's just R and I, it's so hard not to feel self-conscious. Speaking English in public in Japan will get you a reaction every time. Being a person who HATES HATES HATES being stared at, it's so tempting to switch to Japanese and just melt into the crowd. Before R came along, I even spoke to Edward the dog in Japanese, when we were out on walks. I've had people in front of me on escalators whip their whole bodies around to gape at me, when they overheard me speaking English. I almost caused an accident for a person on a bicycle once.

But one point about encouraging bilingualism in your children, I think, is to never make them feel that one language is better than the other. And never act embarrassed to speak a different language from everyone else, which is a challenge in Japan, where being different--and, worse, being blatant about it--is a bad, bad thing. So although I haven't done a good job until this point, from now onward, I am going to casually and happily speak English to R, no matter the audience or reaction, and we are going to get used to it, gosh darn it.

Sorry, this post was all over the place.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I just read the following on
A recent study in Child Development showed that 2- and 3-year-olds argue with their parents 20 to 25 times an hour.... "Kids this age are realizing that they can assert themselves, and arguing with you is one way they gain confidence," says John Sargent, MD, a child psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. Remember: The world is still a big, mysterious place to your toddler, and he feels pretty powerless in it. Saying no is a normal, healthy way for him to feel as if he has some control.
To be honest, while she is exhausting at times (especially when I'm trying to get the two of us out of the house), R hasn't worked herself up to her full arguing potential yet. I think right now we argue about 10, 15 times an hour. As the Japanese say: Lucky!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dear R,

Although I wrote previously that I've never been big on using baby-talk with you, I do say a word twice when I want to emphasize the importance of something--e.g., "Don't touch poo. It's dirty-dirty." I think this is because I remember someone telling me once that babies find it easier to learn repetitive sounds. And it seems to work with you. Right now, I'm getting a kick out of you saying "budgie budgie" (spicy), with a rather long pause between the budgies for some reason. I guess this is one of those fun-for-only-me things but it just sounds so cute. Also, I realized recently that your pronunciation and the stress you put on incorrect syllables reminds me of Balki on Perfect Strangers. The other day, you touched Edward, who was lying in the sun, and said, "Uhh-t" (hot).

Today, we were out taking a "walk," and we came across a huge collection of kids in the park practicing for Sports Day, which apparently is a big deal in Japanese schools. You were captivated by all the rustling pompoms. I was bemused at how much buzzing activity and effort (by the aproned teachers) was going into the choreography of it all. According to a mom on one Yahoo Group I am a member of, the teachers work really hard on this event and her daughter's teacher burst into tears when he discovered that his students didn't really want to have anything to do with it. A bit pitiful. But also weird.

Uh oh, you're up. Gotta go.

windy day

Ta-da, Shuffled Pink's inaugural pic. I've been aware for a while that my blog, without photos, looks rather bare and lonely, but A has always been rather against publicizing pictures of R and I rarely carry a camera with me when I go out, so I miss taking so many things that catch my eye. Plus, R usually starts screaming to hold the camera, and then I have to go through long negotiations to calm her down and get her focused on something else. I need to get a cell phone with a better camera.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Baby R lexicon

Nuk = milk (as in, breast; I still haven't figured out what to call the bovine stuff)
Bu/bubu = blueberries, poop, car, pool, pretty much anything R feels like
Wuta = R's own name
Doddy = daddy, Mr. Doggie (the latter being R's lovey, who is indeed a dog; however, generic dogs, are either "woof woof" or "Eddie")
Pucker up your lips and say "heesh" = fish
Biyuh = bear
Dah dah = egg, hot (no idea)
Apu = apple
Owinj (accompanied by ASL sign for apple) = orange

The rest of the words in R's current vocabulary, she either pronounces correctly or they're probably not interesting to anyone else but me. The "bubu" confusion has reached a critical state, lately, as R will suddenly say it quite insistently while we're in the bathtub together (I must sit in there with her, no arguments), and I'm honestly not sure if she's asking for blueberries or if she's about to poo in the water--the latter being something I NEVER want to experience firsthand. She gets so furious, though, when I panic and whisk the both of us out of the tub, but I'm not taking any risks.

I can't properly express how weird it is, though, to witness my baby's comprehension and communication-ability levels develop. Maybe it's because I was a dog owner first, but once Edward learned the basic commands as well as a few untaught words, obviously I never expected more. To continue a one-sided conversation for over a year with your own little animal-like creature, and then suddenly have her reveal that she understands you, see her respond, hear her speak back....

I've never really been good at baby talk, and for the most part, have always spoken to R at a normal pace. Today, we were eating lunch with her and I was nattering on by myself as usual. But when I complained offhandedly that she wouldn't be fishing pasta out of her navel if she would only agree to wear a bib, gosh darn it, R suddenly stood up and ran over to where her bib was hanging and held it up to me. Of course the minute I put it on, R promptly tore it off and threw it on the floor, but that's a different story. All through the day, I am encountering situations like this more and more.

Sometimes R will initiate conversations with me, going off about something or other in a stream of babbling, accompanied by contorted facial expressions. It is so fun. I will nod along and she will nod back. Today, we hummed Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in unison; until now, it's been R or me singing it separately. Sometimes, though, R will repeat the same word over and over--"mama," for some reason, needs lots of practice and revisions, it seems--and I won't deny that it drives me mad, especially when she expects me to respond.

The other day, we tried to go out on a family bike ride, A and R on one bike, me on the other. For forty minutes or more, R cried over and over, "Mama," and for forty minutes, I said, "Yes?," with a few "hais, uh huhs, yups, and meows" thrown in for variety. If nothing else, R has a very determined streak. That girl does not give up. I'm really scared what kind of teenager she's going to grow into.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I hate to turn this blog into a self-indulgent bitchfest but...hey, it is my blog, isn't it? God, this weather is killing me. I've heard of people who get depressed from lack of sunlight, but I seem to be experiencing hot-weather withdrawal symptoms. I'm sluggish, depressed, have a headache, and the thought of moving my body hurts. It has been raining endlessly, but that's not what's bothering me. I miss the type of muggy heat that makes your face pink and seeps deliciously into your pores.

Particularly in Japan, there is no escape--even when indoors--from the cold. I don't know what that means. Is every building in this country badly insulated? All I know is that I'm shivering in my living room right now, and in a few more months, I'll be blogging with a scarf and hat on. And now I have to worry about keeping my toddler warm, too, although I think with the baby fat, she's somewhat better equipped than I am for the coming winter.

Today, we put on our wellies and went for a rainy day walk, and R was happily splashing about in the icy puddles long past the time I was ready to go home. Great. Now the spider-monkey child decides she wants to walk--now, when the weather has turned rotten. I need better wellies.

The apricot-colored gingko fruit have just begun to fall from the trees and R decided it would be great fun to pick these up and squash them in her hands. Why are gingko fruit so smelly? Can someone please tell me that?

And now, I have to stop blogging and deal with the ever-elusive, annoying question: What's for dinner?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just discovered SafetySuit. Am liking their song "Find a Way." Great rainy-day song.

Dear R,

You were in the weirdest mood today. I kept feeling your forehead because I was sure you were sick. Maybe it was the stupid drilling going on next door that disturbed your nap. Or the fact that you didn't eat much for lunch, and maybe were hungry. Or the sad gray sky, chilly air, and nonstop rain that was totally getting *me* down, for sure. Anyhow, you wanted nothing but for me to walk around the living room holding you in my arms, while demanding to hear the Black Eyed Peas's "I Gotta Feeling" over and over and over. And over. Unfortunately, I hadn't yet downloaded the Youtube Auto Replay add-on--didn't even know it existed until a second ago. The first time the song ended, I made the mistake of trying to go on to another song, turned around, and was shocked to see your face crumpling. I quickly went back to "I Gotta Feeling," you clapped your hands in approval, but then your bottom lip actually started quivering when the last line of the song played. God.

Anyhow, when my arms were about to give out, I caved and asked you if you wanted blueberries ("bu bu," you call them). The reason I never ask is because, when it comes to blueberries, there is no such thing as enough. Watching you eat blueberries is to see the development of addiction unfold. It's also a major pain in the ass to clean up after, since it gets all over your hands, which you make sure to wipe on as many surfaces as possible. But, yes, the blueberries did the trick, and then I lured you away from the berries with uncooked dried soba (another favorite of yours), cucumber, and roast chicken.

Despite the ominous start to our afternoon, things eventually got quite merry. We sat together on the kitchen floor, using your little stool as a dining table. We slurped (cooked) soba together. I butchered bits and pieces of Benjamin Britten scarcely recalled from my college choir days. We even did numerous rounds of kampai ("cheers" in Japanese), and maybe this is only funny to me but you pronounced it very clearly as "pad thai." Did I mention you ate cucumber?

About half a year ago, you went from gobbling down everything to systematically cutting everything vegetable out of your diet. But in the past week, you've voluntarily eaten cucumber, broccoli, and green beans. For some reason, spinach, lettuce, and asparagus are still not acceptable. But who cares about those?! Until now, I'd been this close to convincing myself edamame had some sort of veg affinity because of its color. Thank god those days of self-delusion can perhaps draw to a close.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The temperature in Tokyo very suddenly plummeted, and this strange cool afternoon has me feeling down. Anyone who's experienced summer in Japan would probably look at me incredulously, but I love the heat. Yes, I too have moments when I feel overly sweaty and ill-tempered, but most of the time, I'm happy and invigorated when the temperature is up. You know when you see those lizards lying plastered against boulders, soaking up the sun? That always looks so good to me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sigh. This morning was--sigh.

After seeing how much R enjoyed swimming this summer, I thought she'd love taking a mom+baby swim class. Do I not know my own daughter yet?

I actually went out over the weekend and bought a new swimsuit because the only one I own is a string bikini and my friend, who already attends the class, assured me that all the other Japanese moms wore things that had the equivalent coverage of wearing a tank top and biking shorts--"sort of like a wrestling suit," she said. Japanese ladies are pretty careful about not revealing too much skin. I couldn't quite bring myself to buy the wrestling suit, but I did get a more modest two-piece, and after much prep work, phone calls, etc., had us ready for our trial class. The school required that both mom and babe wear swim caps, and I was totally stressing over this, since R most days won't even tolerate having a baby hair clip touching her head. Funny thing about that. We didn't even get close to the water, let alone attempt to put on swim caps.

The moment we entered the pool area, R started panicking, crying louder and louder, and then hitting me, as if to say, "Why the hell did you bring me here? What, did you think I'd enjoy this?!" Sigh.

By the time I got us back into our clothes, R was pretty much inconsolable, and sobbed all through my explanations and apologies to the front desk, as I sheepishly asked for a refund on the trial-lesson fee and swim caps. Sigh.

When we got home, R had fully recovered and, as if to taunt me, spent the rest of the morning blowing water bubbles into her cup. "See," my mom said over Skype, "she wants to swim." I looked at R and she gave me her trademark naughty scrunchfaced smile. Sigh.

It's funny. Strangers always comment what a good, quiet little girl R is because when we're out, she's usually glued to my chest or standing frozen with her eyes downturned, if by some miracle, she actually agrees to be let down. You look at those active toddlers squealing and tearing through the supermarket and always feel sorry for those kids' moms. But having a "cautious," "sensitive"--not "shy," don't ever call them that, apparently--child can be hard in its own way.

The life R and I live sometimes feels very isolated. She is so easily distressed (and she's not quiet about her distress, let me tell you): crowds, new people, not-so-new people, any place with a front desk that can be mistaken for a dentist clinic. Even the playgrounds and parks I take her to every day--I can never be sure she will actually climb down from my arms, walk, play. Her dependence on me is immense, somethings feeling more heavy than I can bear. Even at home, she might suddenly grow insecure and do that climbing-up-my-neck thing that she does, when she cannot find the comfort she desperately needs.

I am really all she has--though A sees her on the weekends--and sometimes I wonder if that is partly to blame. A friend who's from India but lives abroad told me that when she went home for the summer, her son was surrounded by so many family members that he really came out of his shell. I think kids need that loud, in-your-face reassurance, that there is not just one but many people who will protect them and keep them safe.

I've heard from other moms with children like R that it's simply a personality thing. This is R's nature, for now. She might change in a year or two, she might not. I am learning to accept this. I try not to wish that she'd walk sometimes, instead of always insisting I carry her everywhere. Thank god she's still fairly small and portable. And every day I get stronger.

At least I never have to worry about her running into a busy road of traffic or walking off with a stranger. I passed the toddler leash I'd been given on to a friend, whose active daughter did almost get hit by a car, right in front of my eyes. That was terrifying. This same friend also admits she finds it exhausting always running after her daughter. Perhaps there's no such thing as a sane compromise when it comes to children.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dear R,

This week was...hellish. You--that's right, you--put your mom through the ringer. It started with the sudden earlier-morning wakings. Went from a decent-ish 7:30am to a totally unacceptable 5am, Miss. I'm dreading what time you're going to be crying out for me tomorrow, which is why I REALLY should be in bed by now.

Although I love hot weather, 36'F doesn't make struggling with an unhappy toddler comfortable. I tried to leave the house with you about six times this morning, and was pretty drenched with sweat by the time we actually stepped out the front door. Lovely way to start an outing.

I have to confess: I all-out bellowed at you yesterday and I think I've managed to horrify the neighbors. It had been a very, very long day, sweetheart, and you really did everything possible to drive me insane. I held out until the very end, just before bedtime, when you were trying to shriek the house down and then attempted to tear the curtains off the railings. That was, for some reason, the last straw for me and I really shouted quite loudly at you. Can I just say that you were not impressed or intimidated in the least? But this morning when we bumped into the lady next door, she gave me a decidedly nervous half-glance. Or maybe I just looked as crazed as I felt, after all I'd gone through to get you out of the house.

But then late this afternoon, it was like the sun breaking through a thick grey sky and you suddenly lightened up, after days of tiny fury. And then you opened your mouth really big in my direction--kinda like you did the day before when you repeatedly tried to bite a hole in my face, zombie style, while I held you helplessly in my arms and tried to walk home--and started pointing at your gum, which upon close inspection turned out to be quite red and shredded-looking. Ah. Teething.

Teething. Even the most clueless new parent is prepared for certain things, but for some reason, nobody mentions how insane a child can become when teething. I guess it is different for each person. Some lucky bastards have kids who chortle through all twenty coming through, I suppose. Not me. Not you.

The first time I experienced teething was when you were six months old. You stopped being happy for an entire month. That was hard.

Truly, every time you are inexplicably mean or miserable, it is always teething. Sometimes I think I loathe those adorable little pearly chiclets--the source of all our woeful times. And you still have a ways to go. Argh, why does a person need so many teeth.

But on a lighter note, once you started returning to your normal self, you soon had me laughing again. You have a new thing that you do: Whenever you spot something small and brown, you scream, "Ew, a bwa" (translation: Ew, a bug). I'm pretty sure you're imitating me. But it is a poor imitation. The way you screech and whinny--I'm not that hysterical when I see an insect. I'm not.

You also are something of a physical comedian. When you're being silly, sometimes you'll pause, stare off into space for just the right amount of time, and then whip your head around to give me a naughty look--I wish I could capture it on the video camera.

You are becoming increasingly sweet and caring with your favorite stuffed animal--Mr. Doggy--as well, asking me to give him hugs and kisses, to massage his paws, and today offering him your lunch. Well, you love Mr. Towel, too, but it's hard to massage a towel and brush its teeth. Also, I don't think Mr. Towel likes eggs.

I hope you feel better tomorrow, R, mostly for my own sake. What a mean mom I am, huh? I'm really sorry I shouted at you yesterday. I doubt it will be the last time, though. You still have something like nine more teeth to go. Ugh.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our first night and day back, after being away two weeks for summer vacation, has been a bit of a trial by fire. The minute we stepped off the plane, into the tunneled walkway, we were seared by the intense Tokyo heat. Let's not even bother complaining about the long, tedious trip from Narita, with the baby who refuses to nap on planes in tow. Walking back to the apartment from the station, my heart sank as the sound of cicadas blared from the trees (I'd hoped they'd all be dead by the time I returned) and their whitened corpses littered the ground around us. The horrible thing about dying cicadas is that if you walk too close to the fallen ones, they can suddenly spring back to life, and somehow their dying wish always seems to be to get tangled in my hair, while they claw and scream. During the elevator ride up to our floor, a cloud of mosquitoes went after me with a vengeance and my skin, which had finally started to heal, is now peppered with fresh red bumps.

The next day, let's see, what did we have? Mud-throwing tantrum while at the playground far from home? Check. Crazy bleeding nose from finger up nose that coated R's entire face, both of my hands and arms, and all our clothing, of course. Check. Toilet tank going wonky and me trying to explain the situation in bad Japanese to apartment management? Check. Pee on the carpet? Check. Poop on the floor (actually, it just barely landed on the edge of the toilet seat, which I treated as a huge triumph, because it means R actually told me correctly that she needed to use the toilet and about two seconds earlier would have possibly gotten her stuff in the right place, yay)? Check.

I guess that's about it. The day is in fact only half over, though, so there could be more in store for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dear R,

It has definitely been too long since my last real update. You are 19 months old now, and seem to have made up your mind to test out the "terrible twos" a little early. You're not (that) terrible. But you get angry a lot these days about things that don't make sense to me. Like when you've been straining against the harness in your stroller, and we finally get home, and I take you out, and you pitch a huge fit and try to climb right back into the seat. Or when you're all sweaty and I try to change you into something cooler and you hurl yourself backward onto the floor, screeching. You're getting more violent these days, baby. Lots of clawing and hitting. Today you came after me with Edward's hairbrush because I tried to stop you from cracking the dog's spine with it.

I must admit the majority of our battles seem to be over Edward. Poor beloved, tormented Edward. You adore him and all the abuse is coming from an originally good place. You want to hug him, but it always turns into an awful choking headlock. You try to approach him to pet him, he runs away in terror, you grab his tail and punish him for trying to spurn your affections. You want to nurture him, but end up doing things like trying to brush his teeth with a metal spatula. I really am doing everything I can to protect him, but the furry fool insists on following you around a lot (you're really low to the ground and often have something edible dangling from your fingertips). But of course you don't understand why I'm coming between you and your best friend, and often all hell breaks loose in typical frustrated-toddler fashion.

If I hold Edward in my lap though (so that he can't escape), you are very tender and gentle when you cuddle your face against his neck. Your grandma bought you a book about a little girl and her dog and you ask me to read it to you multiple times a day, and each time, you are inspired to reenact the scenes in the book (throwing a ball with Edward, who unfortunately has never been into balls; sharing tea and cookies, goddamn book; kisses and hugs, which Edward does his best to survive). Even if you're in the middle of a massive tantrum, if I tell you that it's time to say good-night to Edward and go down to your room, you somehow pull yourself together, toddle over to him, and very carefully pat his back. I'm also fairly certain Edward's name was one of your first words, even if it did come out extremely garbled and still sounds kind of like "Eh-eee" (Eddy). And sometimes, the two of you even succeed in playing together, much to my amazement.

What else? You're still very much into smells: fresh herbs, citrus zest, even my morning coffee. Just the other day, you were happily walking about the room sniffing a peppercorn.

You're not so afraid when we go out anymore, though you will freak out randomly and start climbing up my leg. You love meowing but are scared of cats. You look eight months pregnant after you've eaten a meal--the sight of that bulging little tummy is terrifying. You like dancing on top of the coffee table. Although you've never eaten these things in your life, you will start signing "more" (which you use to say that you want something) when you see pictures or even just drawings of cookies, ice cream, and chocolate. Why?! How do you even know they're edible?

The other night, I was marveling at how much time we spend together, how thoroughly I know you and how you are starting to know me. It's shocking to think that two people can be so physically and emotionally close--and yet, one day, you will begin the process of distancing yourself from me. I suddenly understand things, like mothers who can't cut the apron strings. I don't want to be one of those moms. But I think I can appreciate how hard it must be to be needed this much and then not needed at all. I used to dream all the time that I could breathe underwater, but taking that first breath was always so hard, going against everything my body knew. That's how it must be, to watch your child grow up. We are still a long ways off until then, but I don't think you can be a parent and not look down the road, with both joy and dread.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear R,

I think you are psychically connected to my Blogger account because every time I pull up the New Post page, you abruptly wake up from your nap with an angry yell. So much time has passed in your concentrated little life, and I haven't recorded it. I actually don't feel too bad though because I've been savoring our days together. Although we have our rough patches, especially as you get more and more opinionated, while still not actually being able to vocalize said opinions--most of the time, I'm really enjoying this stage of your toddlerhood. You're still so much a baby in my eyes, and I feel a bit sad whenever I think about you getting older and more independent. I don't even want to think about the inevitability of being hated, once you hit your teens. Is there any way to avoid that? Every time I talk to your Nana--my mom--and consider my attitude toward her, I totally freak out, imagining myself at the receiving end of all that impatience and...

And there it is: Your angry waking yell. Time to stop.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

ETSY share: Naoko Stoop

Every time I go into R's sad, bare room, I get all fired up to transform it for my little girl, who still cries every day and clings to me and obviously isn't a happy tot. Yesterday, I got her a funny little red and white toadstool stool, which surprisingly she figured out right away and started trying to squat down upon in that totally awkward and adorable toddler way. I've bought some plants, which help, and yesterday I bought two pictures from self-taught illustrator Naoko Stoop on Etsy.

The minute I saw the pictures, I knew I wanted some for R's room. They are sweet and whimsical, but for some reason also evoke a touch of melancholy that remind me of Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.

I chose pictures from a collection of Stoop's that features a little girl in a red coat and hat accompanied on her adventures by a bunny pal. I'm hoping the bright spots of color will liven up R's rather dark room (only one wee little window), though I've also been debating on whether to attempt some wall decals.

I like the visible wood grain that shows through in many of the pictures. And although it was merely a coincidence that I chose something by a Japanese (albeit Brooklyn-based) artist, the recognizably Japanese features in the various pictures appeal to me: the seasonal quality of each piece, the shape of the rabbit, the daintily dotted foliage.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I really want to add pictures to my blog posts--there are so many little things I see each day in passing that make me look twice or make me laugh or that I just want to share with others, like black Q-tips at the conbini (Japanese convenience store), "See the dirt clearly!" I've been snapping pictures with my temporary cell phone but I have no idea where our USB port is.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So, life in Tokyo. It's like All laundry detergent's "small and mighty" line: compact packaging, highly concentrated. In this city, everything crowds in claustrophobically close: the buildings, the people, the street traffic, the sounds. Luckily, our apartment takes up the top two floors of the building, so we have a fairly open view of the surrounding area--but when I go to bed at night, through my window, I can see what my neighbor in the building next door is cooking for dinner (yesterday, it was stir-fried vegetables). When you walk the narrow streets, your life is pretty much in constant peril, as you dodge the two-way flow of bicycles, motorbikes, cars, and buses squeezing so close, I wouldn't even have to stretch to graze their sides with my fingertips. And in Tokyo, everything is "on" at high volume: music blasting, lights glaring, store clerks hollering their welcomes and announcements of what's on sale "for a limited time!!!", every thing performing to capture your attention...except that you never know where to rest your eyes. Even my washer/dryer combo machine, though impressively quiet, plays a song so loudly when the clothes are done that I can hear the frantic tune while in the shower.

But of course this is just a single facet of life in the city. I'd move on to the positives...but the baby has woken up. And she's mad.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I have to take back what I wrote before. R is not quite there yet, in terms of settling in. In fact, I thought at first she was simply tired from the flight and so on, but I think the source of a lot of her recent tantrums and meltdowns (and, yes, there have been many) has actually been the move itself.

I've moved so many times, it never occurred to me that it can be a distressing experience for others. In fact, I was surprised to read that moving homes is considered a traumatic experience, second only to losing a loved one. And to a baby, who has only known one home her entire life, having everything change abruptly, without any warning--well, it was stupid of me not to think that she might become scared and upset.

Another huge change in R's life is that her dad isn't going to be around much anymore. A and I knew this was coming, but there's really been no way to prepare R for the fact that in Japan, her dad's work life is his whole life, and, she and I, we're just...well, leftover bits, I'm afraid.

In California, A used to come home, on average, around 11pm. We both had a good laugh over that, in the beginning. The first time it happened, I scrambled off the couch in shock and asked what he was doing home so early. Then we got used to the luxury, and took for granted the fact that A was able to wake up a bit earlier in the mornings to spend an hour with R.

Well, yesterday night, I think I heard A come in around 4am. And this morning, I don't blame him that he jumped off the couch about five minutes before he had to rush out the front door again. I understood and sympathized. But R held out her arms for her dad and cried when he wouldn't hold her because he had to get dressed, and then she stood at the door sobbing for a long time after he left. It was so painful to watch, the look of sheer hurt on her tear-stained face. She pretty much stayed mad and upset the rest of the morning until nap time and then refused to sleep.

I know she'll eventually get used to our new home, the new neighborhood, the new language, the new people, and even the absence of her father. But I feel anxious about that last one. How will she feel as she gets older? Will she resent her dad for never being around (or always sleeping when he is)? Will she be like the typical Japanese teenage girl who pretty much loathes her father and has a terrible relationship with him?

I remember one Japanese mom telling me that her husband worked so much that one Saturday morning, her son woke up to find his dad in the kitchen and started crying because he didn't know who this strange person was. He had forgotten his father. This is a pretty common story in this country.

But seeing the way R cried today for her dad, it made me realize that no matter how hard I try to make up for A's absence, it will never be enough. She needs her dad, just as much as her mom. The way I see it, in the wild, a young creature dependent on just one adult for security is in a very tenuous position. To a baby, I think the more adults surrounding him or her, the safer she feels. I wonder if I should encourage A's parents to spend more time with us during the weekdays. As hard as it is sometimes to relax when one's in-laws are around, for R's sake, I might just have to suck it up and deal with it.