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.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Back in Japan

It feels good to be back in Japan. We were away for almost four years, but, for me, it feels like I never left. As I type, the view from every window in our new apartment reveals white fogged skies and a steady downpour of rain. What a departure from our temporary life in California, where almost every day you were guaranteed the most gorgeous blue skies and mild weather. Just a few days ago, we were eating outdoors in short sleeves. One rather hellish 10-hour plane ride+2-hour train ride+1-hour taxi ride later, we emerged on the other side of the world, regretting that we'd decided to ship over our winter clothing (which could take as long as two months to arrive).

As much as I hate to admit it, the hardest part of the move was R. The packing up, the unpacking, the jetlag, moving countries, setting up our new home--everything would have been fairly straightforward if not for the fact that we also had a very cranky, insecure, tired toddler to care for.

A's parents have been wonderful. They are so in love with R and have been a great help watching her in the afternoons, while A and I rush about trying to get things we need for the apartment. Much to my astonishment, R was almost immediately at ease with them, despite the fact that they are virtually strangers to her. This unfriendly little thing who I have to fight not to apologize for, when strangers coo at her and receive nothing but what I term "dead eyes" in return, almost immediately began holding her arms up to signal that grandpa must hold her and barely gave A and me a glance when we left her behind with her grandparents. She'll also wolf down things they feed her that she won't for me. Can you hear me scratching my head?

After almost a week, R is starting to relax a little in her new home. I've found it really important to give her lots of eye contact, cuddling, and uninterrupted one-on-one time. The first few days, I didn't do a good job with that, simply because I was cross-eyed with exhaustion from a combination of jetlag and the flight--as I expected, based on past experiences, R refused to sleep and I spent hours carrying her up and down the narrow aisles, rocking her in the back of the plane, pretty much getting in everyone's way--and R still not sleeping well after we were back on solid ground.

She still fights sleep a little, I think because she's afraid to be left alone in an unfamiliar place. I'm impatient to decorate a little, and transform her new bedroom into a cheerful, inviting space. But unfortunately, basic necessities like new cupboards, garbage bins, and so on take precedence. And now that we're back in a city where the principle mode of transportation is the train, it's so much harder to go out with R to buy things. Right this minute, I'm worrying over the ten-minute walk from the grocery store to our home in the heavy rain, while juggling R, an umbrella, and shopping bags full of the basic kitchen provisions we still need.

Funnily enough, we're back in Shakijikoen, the same neighborhood we were in before we left. In fact, from the kitchen window, there is a clear view of our old apartment, close enough that I can see a little black and white cat seated at the living room window of one of the units, gazing out into the gray watery day. Everything feels familiar in a warm, intimate way and I'm glad we returned here. One less new thing to figure out.