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.