Autumn! And how to quit your maternity clinic.

I am joyful and revived!  And ready to make more false promises about posting more!  (Really, I want to!  I don’t know why I don’t!)  Funny how getting out of the first trimester and into autumn can change your perspective so drastically!

First trimester sucked.  Summer sucked.  This was the hardest of my three pregnancies by far, definitely one of those events where only when you’re past it do you realize how heavily it affected you.

But we’re past that!  Today’s high is 73 and my body feels generally fine!  I scrubbed my floors this week (I haven’t done that in two years, eep!), cleaned out all of the dust and hair and grime in the washroom (haven’t done that in two years, either, and if you know my hair habits and Japan’s dust habits, well… let’s just say that even my husband noticed and commented on how great the washroom looks), organized the three massive boxes of old clothes in the girls’ closet (thankful for youchien bazaars that will take used clothes to sell so I don’t have to throw them out!!), scrubbed my kitchen (suspected cockroach infestations will change even the most stubborn of cleaning personalities… this place shines like the top of the Chrysler building!), took out ALL of the recycling every day this week (this in the midst of Birthday Bonanza 2014… 8 crazy nights of plastics and papers and cardboards, oh my!), cleaned out the girls’ school and arts and crafts drawers (this was actually hard… I want to keep every drawing pad filled with their work!), and finally went to the stationery store for the envelopes I need to [gulp] finally start my Etsy store (possibly the hardest… this blog is already putting me out there more than I’m comfortable with.  Putting real work out there?  Yikes.).

Is that all?  I think that’s all.  I feel amazing.  I know spring is the time of renewal and all, but autumn far surpasses it in our family.  This is the time of year that I feel most refreshed, the most alive.

A couple things to catch you all up…

1) I literally did nothing this summer.  You didn’t miss much.  I can’t handle Japanese summer on a good day; I honestly think I suffered from reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder being pregnant this year.

2) Cambria is six now!  And one of the teeth I knocked out is finally almost growing back in!!!  We had a birthday party for her last Saturday, and it really showed how much she’s grown even in the past year.  She invited her own friends… her own friends, not my friends’ kids.  My daughter has friends that I didn’t give her, that she made on her own!  It genuinely surprised me to realize that.  At one point I asked the kids, “Who wants to wear the Anna dress?” in English, and Cambria translated it into Japanese for her friends.  Totally showed me up, and I don’t even care because that is amazing.  I knew Cambria would get obscene amounts of toys from other sources, so I’d asked the moms not to buy anything.  My friend Tomoko suggested that the kids handmake gifts, and they all came out amazing.  I’m so thrilled that they did it, as Cambria can keep the origami and beaded gifts into adulthood and have such a wonderful reminder of her time and relationships here in Japan.

3) Madeleine started tennis lessons!  One of my closest friends plays tennis, and when Madeleine heard that she asked if she could play sometime.  Ikko said sure, I’ll take her!  I ended up totally confused and thought that they were just going to play around together for 30 minutes or something, but when I showed up to the courts with Madeleine one Friday evening in September, I realized it was a legit class.  And she/I loved it!  I signed her up immediately and we’ve been going ever since!  I wish everyone in the world could come watch her play… I cannot imagine anything more adorable.  She is definitely a quintessential 3 year old (one of her favorite tennis activities is filling a huge cone with tennis balls and dumping it over her head), but she has fun and her coach is patient.  I’m so happy for her to have something to own, something that is hers.  She wears her tennis racket and thermos over her shoulder as we walk to the school together, and when we get there she kisses and hugs me and goes right in to join the other students for beginning exercises.  Especially given that we’re not sure where we’re going with youchien, I’m so pleased for her, and so proud of her.

4) It’s a boy!  We got official, official confirmation that Baby Taylor is a boy!  I have to be honest, guys… After two girls, I’ve been really afraid of the penis.  (Can I say that?  Sorry mom!)  I mean, what do I do with that??  Anyway.  But we got to see him so well on the ultrasound this time, and against every worry I’d had, it was awesome to see that is my boy!!  (Heaven forbid the kid ever find this blog… Sorry son, it’s exciting.  And I’m gonna see a whole lot more than a grainy black and white ultrasound soon, so…)  Really, really seeing that he’s a boy, feeling him so much more clearly now (I can feel feet!!!), dreaming about what he looks like… It’s getting real.  I’ve been so proud of myself this whole time for not rushing the pregnancy, but the further along we get and the more I experience him, the more anxious I am to hold my precious boy!  Despite my fears about having a boy, it’s actually really cool that even with our third kid, we get something so new!

5) We changed hospitals!!  This is probably the big news, and I’ve been needing to write on it for a while, I just wanted to wait until we got to the new place before I put my hopes in writing.  From the beginning we’d been going to a super ritzy maternity clinic in town.  It was amazingly beautiful, and friends raved about it.  But.  It was not for me, at all, and after 4 months of buildup, we finally quit.  If I was Japanese, it would be awesome.  But I’m not, and the doctors and nurses seemed (willfully?) incapable of recognizing that.  From the beginning they told me that my Japanese friend Ikko had to come with me to every appointment.  After hearing that, I asked at the second appointment if my being a gaijin was going to be a problem.  “Oh, no.  We don’t accept Chinese patients because they complain too much, but you’re okay.”  The doctor, doctor, actually said this to us.  How warm and welcoming.  No pressure.  So of course because I have a ridiculous people-pleasing personality that can’t bear to be anything less than the ideal of the other party, I started stressing.  I was afraid to mention any ailments, for fear I’d be seen as complaining.  I was afraid to try to schedule a consultation with the doctor just to find out how this pregnancy/delivery/postnatal care was going to go (because no one had actually talked to me about any of it).  I lost weight (because yeah, they wrote in ink in my records that I need to not gain any weight for the entire pregnancy).  I lost my hair.  Finally I burst into tears at the clinic after my September appointment.  That particular day, various nurses spent a total 20 minutes talking to Ikko (not me) about how I can’t speak Japanese.  Ever worked your butt off for a year and a half to have someone say in front of you for twenty minutes that you’re unskilled in what you’ve been working your butt off for?  I couldn’t handle it.  Leslie couldn’t handle it, which made me realize that it was actually an issue, as he is the Spock to my Bones, the logic to my emotion.  I cried for three days over how stupid they had made me feel, and how awful I felt after every appointment.  After youchien pickup one day, a friend asked, “Are you okay?” and I burst into tears.  Bless her for taking me to her house on the spot and feeding me coffee and chocolate while I ugly cried, for sharing her Buddhist faith with me (which no Japanese person has ever done with me before), and reminded me that I do have worth.  She called another hospital, but they told her Leslie couldn’t be in the room when I deliver, which is a deal breaker.  Another friend called a different hospital, but they said they don’t accept gaijin.  By this point I was actually considering whether I should/could fly back to the States to have the baby.  (There is absolutely no way I could.)  I started to Google home births, because I was legitimately afraid there was no place I could have the baby here.

[Just an aside… If there’s one thing being American has ingrained in me, at least as far as language, it’s, “This is America, speak English!”  As such, I don’t ever expect a Japanese person to bend as far as speaking English to me.  In fact, I feel badly when they do try to speak it for my benefit.  That said, I certainly didn’t think it was unreasonable to expect the common courtesy of knocking one’s Japanese down a level or two for someone whose first language isn’t Japanese.]

I asked Ikko to come over for a meeting with me and Leslie to try and figure out where to go from here.  I actually practiced with Leslie what I was going to say to Ikko, which I feel totally stupid about now, but I was stressed.  Ikko came over and listened to my spiel, not making a sound while I spoke (which totally unnerved me, Japanese are notorious for their sounds of affirmation while listening), and I was super nervous trying to guess what she was thinking.  And she completely agreed with me.  Guys.  Do you know how much it means to have your crazy pregnant lady hormonal feelings validated?  She completely validated every single feeling I’d had about the clinic.  She told me that she’d felt the same way, but hadn’t wanted to mention it first for fear that it would make it worse for me.  She said she’d talked to her husband about what to do and had already gone to city office to ask for a recommendation.  I just can’t even express my gratitude toward her for all of the work she does for our family.  She called the recommended hospital from my kitchen table, and they said, Of course gaijin are welcome!  Of course dad can be in the room during labor and delivery!  We checked out the hospital website and were so encouraged.  I hadn’t recognized it before, but where my previous clinic’s site boasted their facilities and accolades, the new hospital’s site clearly stated their welcome to gaijin, their classes for families and dads, their flexibility in labor and delivery (verified at my first appointment… I can have this baby standing up if I want)… I totally got my hopes up before we’d even quit the old hospital, and I told myself it was okay because even if this hospital was as bad as the clinic, at least it was way cheaper.  (Cheaper is relative… The clinic would have cost me a whopping $600 out of pocket when all was said and done.  This hospital will likely be free.)

We went to the new hospital this week.  And it was absolutely, 100%, the opposite of the clinic.

Well maybe not 100%… The building is new and looks amazing.

From the start, Ikko was kind enough to stand back and let us see how much we could do on our own, hoping to stem off any tendencies for staff to talk to her over me.  I went up to the desk and aimlessly told them, “Hajimete,” (this is my first time,) while handing them a stack of papers from the old clinic.  And the receptionist started talking, and I looked behind me to get Leslie or Ikko to help, and when she realized I didn’t understand her, she spoke English.  To me.  She didn’t roll her eyes or speak faster Japanese or look around me to get to Ikko, she adjusted her speaking like a normal person and tried to help me understand.  And it all went up from there.  No one made me feel like a burden, no one made me feel like an idiot for not knowing medical terms when thrown at me rapid-fire in Japanese.  They spoke to me in Japanese about 90% of the time, and when there was a word I didn’t understand, they used slower, simpler Japanese.  And sometimes, they threw in an English vocab word.  In short, they were people.  They spoke to me like they were people and like I’m a person.  It was night and day compared to the clinic, and I’ve been on cloud 9 since.  Honestly, if I had to, I could do this at the new hospital without Leslie or Ikko.  It was that amazing.  Even more happily surprising is that the hospital actually asks how you want to labor and deliver, and what other desires you have for your experience.  (I never, never would have expected this from a Japanese hospital.  As a whole, the country is very “doctor is god.)  Want to stand on your head and twerk the baby out?  Be our guest.

And let’s top it all off by having a Tully’s coffee shop (Japan’s answer to Starbucks) that serves pumpkin lattes (which Starbucks decidedly does not serve in Japan).

Try to appreciate the relief that comes when you go from feeling like an incapable idiot who has nowhere to have her baby to being a totally normal person who is welcomed to have her baby in whatever way she pleases.  I just can’t express the burden lifted from my shoulders.

Moral of the story, to any gaijin having doctor problems: Shop around.  And around.  And around.  Almost every gaijin I know has changed doctors during pregnancy.  In my case, because the doctors wouldn’t talk to me, Ikko was the one who went through the hassle of quitting the clinic, but from my outside perspective it seemed relatively painless.  (I mean, she’s still friends with me.)  We had to go in for one more appointment basically just to get my paperwork (and try to explain what Bactrim Suspension [my allergy] is… which is hard when you don’t even know what it is), and then we were free.  A little annoying, but not the end of the world at all.

I’ll try to get a photo post up within the next couple days of various things mentioned here.

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The youchien dilemma

I really, REALLY need to get a post up about my first trimester (can I just say how wonderful it is not to be sick all the time anymore?!), but first…

Something, or someone, really doesn’t want my kids in school.

Let’s review:

  • March 2013: We put Cambria into ichi-ji-hoiku, or part-time-hoikuen.  It’s cheap.  It’s 4 hours twice a week.  She makes new friends and starts to learn some Japanese.
  • April 2013: Ichi-ji-hoiku decides to separate the part-time kids from the full-time kids, resulting in Cambria’s being put in a class made up solely of babies, decidedly not learning Japanese.
  • Summer 2013: Ask friends to recommend youchiens.  Have every single friend refuse to help because they believe it will be way too much of a hassle for me.  (This is actually a legitimate concern… youchien can be pretty time-demanding and stressful, especially if you can’t understand anything.)
  • Fall 2013: Apply for hoikuen, filling out about 5 full pages of paperwork and including letters of recommendation plus tax returns.  Denied.
  • Winter 2014: Apply for hoikuen, filling out another 5 full pages of paperwork and including letters of recommendation plus tax returns.  Denied.
  • Spring 2014: Apply for leftovers hoikuen (after everyone who was accepted has confirmed or denied enrollment), filling out the same 5 full pages of paperwork and including letters of recommendation plus tax returns.  Denied.
  • Spring 2014: Friend tells us last-minute about a youchien her daughter went to.  It’s 30 minutes away one-way, and expensive, but we meet and they let us in after we pay a ¥50,000 ($500) entrance fee.
  • ONE WEEK LATER: City office calls us to offer both girls a spot in hoikuen.  After much deliberation and frustration, we stick with youchien because we already paid a huge entrance fee.

We love this youchien.  Have I written about it since Cambria started?  It’s far, and sometimes their communication is not the best (when we start back up next week the kids are just going for two hours… and no one knows when we switch to 4.5 hour days again), but we love it for our kids.  The only reason we put Cambria in was to develop her Japanese language; for kids, natural interactions are by far the best way to learn a language.  It was a huge bonus that the school seems to share many of our core beliefs about how children learn, giving the kids far more freedom than any other youchien I know of.  Very montessori.

We’ve been weighing the pros and cons as we consider starting Madeleine in the same youchien next year.  As much as it has benefitted Cambria, it would benefit Madeleine ten times more.  We were excited.  Madeleine was excited (she knows that starting youchien means ending daily nap times).

The youchien is closing.

I’m not even kidding.  I can’t make this stuff up.  Communication lines got crossed and people thought that I knew this (see: Summer 2013 bulletpoint), but when a friend asked me on Thursday whether I’d found a youchien for Madeleine, I was completely taken by surprise.

Really, it’s not a gigantic issue.  It’s been our plan to homeschool since before Cambria was born.  Our main goal with hoikuen/youchien was to give Cambria capabilities to increase her quality of life in her time spent in Japan, as she’s old enough to require verbal communication where a younger kid (like Madeleine) might be able to get by without, and thankfully we’ve been able to achieve that.  While Madeleine would certainly benefit from the language exposure as well, she’s had more exposure at a younger age than Cambria did, hopefully giving her a stronger foundation than Cambria had.  I will admit to being a little disappointed, though.  We really liked this youchien, and the community of moms we found there were exactly the kind of women I fit in with naturally.  I love having that built in community whom I see every day without having to plan a get-together.  (My language skills really love this.)

We’ve got a lot of thinking to do.  A decent part of me is relieved… I miss being a stay-at-home-mom.  Technically I still am, but I miss the stay at home part.  I miss the mom part.  And I recognize that having a new baby is going to add a little extra pizzazz to the equation that I really don’t know how to expect.  And I can’t deny my accountant nature… an extra ¥24,000 ($240) a month (plus transportation costs) would be really helpful.

Seriously though.

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Two year anniversary

I just realized that, as of today, we have been back in Japan for exactly two years, and was honestly surprised by the overwhelming positive feelings of accomplishment I felt.

May, June, and well into July were really, really hard for me.  Everyone has ups and downs.  I am almost always up.  I love life.  I love the adventure of life.  But a hundred little things came together exactly at the time I got pregnant (and before I realized it), and I sank into a depression lower than I’ve felt in ten years.  I mentioned in my last post that I called my mom, sobbing, one Sunday morning because I just couldn’t handle anything.  I specifically told her, “I feel like a crazy person.  I feel like I can see depression coming but know that there’s nothing I can do to stop it, and it scares me.”  I felt awful physically as a result of morning sickness and pregnancy fatigue, and I felt awful mentally as a result of homesickness and work fatigue.

Being a missionary is hard, all the time.  Sometimes it’s extremely hard.  So many things we do take infinitely more effort than they ever would at home.  (Quick, tell me where you buy rubbing alcohol in your hometown.  Took you half a second, right?  I’ve lived in Japan for a total three years and still have no idea where to buy rubbing alcohol.)  Every conversation, even the simple ones like “Hey, it’s hot today, huh?”, requires me to translate my English thoughts in to Japanese words.  Sometimes you feel like people back home don’t think of you.  Sometimes you get emails from people who do think of you but not in a nice way.  Sometimes you want to be open and honest with people but worry about it coming back to bite you.  Sometimes you have no idea how to balance daily family maintenance with mission work and feel like a failure for it.  Sometimes you just want to sing a hymn in English.

But then you receive a three page letter out of the blue from someone back home who somehow, despite never having been a missionary on a foreign field, knows all of the struggles you’re facing.  A Japanese friend is baptized and tells you, “I think God sent you to Japan for me.”  You visit an American family and find encouraging scriptures posted throughout their house, reminding you that you’re not alone here.  Someone asks you to study the Bible with her because she saw a unique kind of love in Christians she knew.  People notice and ask you why you treat your kids with respect.  A man shows up to church after his wife dies, and four months later decides that he’s heard enough to commit his life to God.  You reach your two year anniversary and are suddenly hit with clarity that allows you to see how many seeds you’ve planted, despite your hardships and doubts.

Is it hard?  Always.  Are there times when you genuinely consider the option of throwing in the towel and going home after two years?  Honestly, yes.  At the end of the day, is it worth it?  Unequivocally.

Today is an accomplishment.

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Introducing a new series… Pregnancy in Japan!

Really, I should have known.

I should have known when I called my mom’s house phone for the first time EVER, crying because “I’m just so tired.  I’m tired of everything in Japan.  And I tried to buy corn but it’s not in season but I didn’t know that so I planned a meal with corn and then couldn’t find itttttt!”

I should have known when I stopped drinking coffee in the mornings.

I should have known when I wrote a blog draft about everything I’m sick of in Japan.

I should have known when I didn’t want pizza.  At all.  Not even for our weekly family night when I always eat pizza.

I should have known when I invited friends over for dinner and then hoped that my kids would get sick so I could cancel.

Most of you already do know, but for those who aren’t connected on facebook or Instagram

we’re expecting!

It’s suuuuper early days right now.  Despite all the signs I should have read but didn’t, I still am pretty in tune with my bod, so we found out about as early as we could.  Our little one will arrive sometime around the first week of February, here in Japan.  What does this mean?

Time for a new Gaijin Mom series!

I’ve been waiting for this series for months!  Let met just say, Alanis Morissette has nothing on my reproductive system.  When Les and I got married, we planned to have kids about 5 years into marriage.  A year later, despite actively trying not to get pregnant, we were surprised with those two pink lines.  Two years later, same story.  After Madeleine, we decided to take things as they come, for reasons including but not limited to the recognition that kids are amazing, and why wouldn’t we love having more?  Annnnd nothing.  So around the beginning of this year, we decided to actively pursue another child, apparently foolishly assuming that it would take the space of one date night glance at each other.  (Let me tell you how goofy I can be sometimes.  Because we thought we’d get pregnant right away, I allowed myself the liberty of eating whatever I wanted until we conceived, knowing I’d eat better once I was pregnant because I care way more about what I feed my kids than myself.  Six months and ten pounds later, thinking that wasn’t the best idea.)  After spending a fortune on pregnancy tests (because despite my meticulous tracking, my body is a jokester that likes to keep me on my toes) (and I have no patience whatsoever), I got dramatic and threw in the towel.  Suuuuuuuure enough, the next month is when we got those two pink lines!  (And then two more sets, because I didn’t trust my eyes.)

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Today I’m at 6 weeks, 3 days.  Guys.  I am so.sick.  Holy cow.  When I was pregnant with Cambria I had sliiiiiight nausea in the mornings (and when Leslie made tuna sandwiches with sweet relish… every day…), and with Madeleine I had no symptoms whatsoever, other than being pregnant.  I basked in being the only of my friends who had no idea what morning sickness was.  I was completely caught off guard when I realized that I have morning sickness this time.  Guys, all I want to do is fill this entire post with whining about how horribly I feel.  I’m nauseated all the time.  So I don’t want to eat.  So I’m hungry.  Which makes me more nauseated.  Rinse.  Repeat.  The only foods that somewhat consistently don’t make me want to puke are pineapple (thank you, 7-Eleven), arroz con leche (thank you, land of rice aplenty), and Milano cookies (THANK YOU, Sarah Landon, for sending them).

All of my fussing aside, I have so many good people helping me.  Seriously, I was so surprised by how knocked out I would be.  So many friends are thinking of me and helping me completely of their own accord.  Leslie is amazing, he’s helping me so much without so much as a negative look crossing his face.  People are just naturally reaching out to make sure we’re taken care of.

So stay tuned!  I’ll get a post up soon about buying a pregnancy test in Japan (and what stupid question the shop associate is not asking you), and then another on my experience at a fancy shmancy women’s clinic (which apparently doesn’t accept patients of all nationalities due to some stereotypes about how much they complain…).

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I miss New Hampshire on summer mornings

I miss home.  Like home home.

It’s been just the right temperature lately that when I wake up, the house feels and smells like New Hampshire on a summer morning.  Cool, slightly damp air wafts through the open sliding doors, next to which is my basket of Yankee candles, and the scent just permeates.  I wake up looking forward to it, relishing it for the good two hours I have before anyone else wakes.  But it finally got to me.

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We spent six weeks at my parents’ house right before we came to Japan.  I don’t want to live with my parents.  I probably don’t even want to see them every day.  But I’ll forever treasure those six weeks we spent in the vacuum of summer vacation, having finally achieved that mutual adult respect level of parent/child relationship that makes things perfect.  (And I’ll forever sorry/not sorry to Leslie for probably always being a girl who loves going home.)

So that’s what I smell at 5am every day.  Six perfect weeks, the concentrate of an entire wonderful childhood.

I’m not depressed, don’t worry.  I don’t even think I’m homesick in the normal insinuation of the word.  I just miss home in the mornings.

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Get into the groove

Whew!  I say this a lot, but I think we might finally be settling down… again.  [wink]

As of April, Les’ and my classes have cut back to 2 and 1 time a week (respectively), and every weekday Cambria goes to youchien.  What does this mean?  Routine.  That glorious, blessed word.  It’s funny how things turn around as you grow.  After so many years of loving the road life, as it were, I think I’m finally ready to enjoy a little routine for a while.  Our mission partners are about to head out on a furlough, and can I just say: I think I’d be totally okay if we didn’t take one.  Yes, I miss my family.  Yes, I miss Mexican food.  Noooooooo, I do not miss traveling.  (One paragraph in and the stream-of-consciousness writing has already begun.)

Language successes!

1) Over the last couple months, I’ve started understanding kids when they speak to me!  10 points for not being the perceived idiot adult who can’t understand a 5 year old.  Yesterday at youchien, a little boy came up to me and told me that he’d accidentally taken Cambria’s hat home… and I didn’t have to say “wakarimasen (I don’t understand)” once!  #winning

2) I realized yesterday that I’ve started inserting some of Sara into what I say.  That is to say, my expressions are becoming more of who I am than what’s written on my grammar worksheets.  I like to exaggerate and use a little dramatic emphasis when I talk (do you read my blog? hehe), and in the middle of a visit with a friend I suddenly realized that I was doing it in Japanese!  (I’m pretty sure I noticed it because she’s the most reserved, traditional Japanese friend I have, and I suddenly got self conscious about how loud and rowdy my story was getting.)

Golden week!

Golden week is a series of public holidays in Japan.  Pretty much eeeeeveryone gets the vacation, so it’s a big deal.  We took our vacation a week early (hello, cheaper flights) (post on that coming soon), so we spent the holidays cleaning.  And I don’t even feel bad.  Because my mom reads this, I won’t tell you that I had innumerable loads of clean laundry sitting in piles in my living room, unfolded, for weeks.  That room is spotless now.  I got the girls’ room 90% cleaned up, and Leslie cleaned up his half of the bedroom.

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Exercise!

After the third person in Okayama told me how fat I used to be, then the skinniest Japanese person I know misunderstood what someone said and rubbed my tummy asking about my baby, I figured I should probably start exercising.  Again.  I googled something like “how to exercise even though you hate it” or something like that, and worked up a weekly schedule to integrate different routines.  Mondays are running… By which I mean I run up the hill by my house three times, walking around the block in between, and simultaneously vomit and pass out at the end.  GUYS.  If you ever want to see how totally pitiful you are, run up a hill.  Ugggggggggh.  It got minutely better when I realized I probably should eat something before I do it… Now I just want to vomit, not pass out.  (Considering just drinking a glass of juice beforehand… Anyone know if that would be enough sugar to get me through 3 hills+walking?)  Tuesdays are sit-ups and dips.  Wednesdays are yoga.  [sunbeams from heaven]  Thursdays are running again.  Fridays are pushups (again, want to see how pitiful you are?) and squats.  Saturdays are running.  Sundays are tae bo.  Hoooopefully I won’t get bored.  Gotta say, hitting 2,000 steps on my Fitbit before 6am and 8,000 before 10am was pretty sweet.  (Literally… it calorie-bought me a couple spoonfuls of Godiva ice cream for dessert.)

Blogging!

I’m still so bad at this.  I’d love to have a blog that actually keeps people updated with our lives, but it’s still riiiiight out of reach.  Maybe someday.  In the meantime, I’m adding more to my blogging plate… I’ve been invited to contribute some posts to a collaborative blog!  I’m honored that I was thought of, excited to push myself, and terrified of submitting my first post.  I finally settled on a topic that I’ve deemed worthy (a feat in itself), now I just need to write it.  As soon as I get it finished and posted, I’ll link to it here!

Youchien!

Youchien seems to be going pretty well for Cambria!  After so many breaks between our vacation and Golden Week, we’re finally getting back into that routine too.  (Man, did it take me a while to get back into it.)  We’d pulled out the book The Kissing Hand a couple weeks ago, because she’d cried three times when I dropped her off.  (Have I ever mentioned the time I made my mom walk me to my classroom on the first day of 5th grade?  Or every year of camp where I sobbed and begged her not to make me go despite the knowledge that by the end of the week I’d be begging to stay?  Or when I was excitedly accepted into an intensive summer study program and tried to drop out at the last minute?  Or how I still cry to my mom, “Don’t make me go!” every time I leave her house?)  Yesterday as we walked to school I told her I’d kiss her hand before I left, and she totally nonchalantly told me, “You don’t have to.  You can do that at home, not at youchien.”  Then told me I could basically leave her at the gate and she’d get herself ready.  Guys, we’re entering the “she’s growing up and it’s awesome with a touch of scary!” part of life.

I’ve mentioned on facebook Cambria’s “boy-friend,” Naru-kun, with whom she became quick friends.  Over the last couple weeks, I guess she got burned out on playing with him, as she told me, “Naru-kun is still nice, but I don’t want to play with him these days.”  Without making it a big deal, I casually reminded her that it’s totally okay to take space when she needs to, but we need to make sure we’re not being mean to anyone, and like it was the most natural thing in the world, she just reiterated that he’s still her friend, she just doesn’t always want to play with him.  I love how attuned she is to her feelings while maintaining her goodness.  Poor Naru apparently doesn’t quite understand it… His mom told me yesterday that the teacher had noticed Cambria’s cooling off, but that Naru keeps trying to play with her.  Thankfully Cambria had talked to me about it, so I was able to fill his mom in on her feelings and assure her that Cambria has no problem with him.  On the way home I let Cambria know that I’d talked to Naru’s mom, and she burst out, “That’s it!  I think I will play with Naru-kun these days!”  Ahhh, kindergarten socialization.  All of this to say: I love my kid, and think she’s pretty great.  (And she’s way better at balancing relationships than a lot of adults.)

Kiddos!

It seems I’ve been humbled rather frequently as of late, and I’m reflecting on what I’m being taught.  One of those areas has definitely been in child raising.  When Cambria started youchien, I had these grand thoughts of finally spending time with just Madeleine, and the wonders that would do for our relationship and her behavior.  NOT.SO.  Granted, it’s been a busy month, but ohhhhhhh it has not been what I’d hoped it would be.  Out of respect for my kids, I’m not sure I’ll ever get into details on the blog, but suffice it  to say that I’m really being forced to reevaluate my preconceived notions about people different from myself.  That’s one of my favorite things about Madeleine, actually.  She’s so different from me, Leslie, and Cambria, that she has forced me to come outside my decades-formed box of what kids (people) should be (ha!) and consider that there is not always (ever?) one right way to do things.  I love the perspective, the flexibility, the adventure that she teaches me.  It’s hard.  Ohhhhh it’s hard.  But her future and potential are one of the things I look most forward to seeing develop.  I can’t wait to see what she can do with her spirit.  But in the meantime, pray for me as her mom.  Philosophy and theory on her development are great, but when it’s 7pm and she still hasn’t finished the dinner I put on the table because she’s been busy spontaneously jumping up and dancing Gangnam Style and she just spilled her soup again and all I want is to get them in bed so I can just sit down for five seconds and I snap at her and she clenches her teeth and makes a meaner face than any 3 year old should be able to make at me and I just want to manhandle her, it’s hard to remember our ultimate goals outside of the moment.  ;)

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You!

Sometimes I just don’t know what to write.  I get into my head that I shouldn’t post until I have some grand gift to present in my writing.  (I know, I know.)  What are you interested in reading about here?  It would be kind of cool to do a Q&A post every once in a while, so comment with your questions!

Crowded Nakamise Dori

Cultural sensitivity and judging the individual by the whole

A year or so ago, something I posted provoked a comment questioning the racial/cultural/ethnic sensitivity that I was teaching my kids.  The commenter almost immediately sent a private message apologizing for the conjecture, but the comment had already posted, and if there’s one thing that hits me hard, it’s having someone’s first assumption about me be a negative one.

I should be over it.  For the most part I am.  I guess it still rankles sometimes because of what I feel to be absurdity of such a supposition, exacerbated by my own (or, this week, my daughter’s) cultural reminders.

I see my family living as a minority in one of the most homogenous, ethnocentric nations in the world…

I visit Japanese museums documenting our own nation’s history and recognize that no story is strictly black and white…

I see that there are still shops today posting signs that ban non-Japanese from entering…

I listen to my daughter, every day during her first week of school, telling me about the three boys in her class who go out of their way to yell at her and ostracize her because she’s not Japanese…

I hear myself reminding her not to base her opinions of Japanese people on the actions of three young boys, but to look at the hundreds of good people she’s met in the past year and a half…

I feel those hundreds of good people reaching out to lift part of the burden of being completely outside my element, of not even knowing where to look for items/places/resources that I’ve always taken for granted, of not knowing how communicate even when I find them…

…and wonder how anyone could doubt my comprehension of individuals not being defined by the whole of the group.

This is what I’m teaching my kids.

Crowded Nakamise Dori

Discouraged but not down

I’ve alluded to the following on my personal Facebook account enough that multiple people asked what they could pray for.  Before I say anything else: Thank you.  Thank you for being the kind of people whose first question is How can I pray?  I am continually overwhelmed by the sincere goodness of the people surrounding me.

For the sake of discretion, I’ll make a long story very, very short: Last Monday evening, someone with whom I have been very, very close informed me, without any warning signs, that she was breaking fellowship with me, our family, and our church, effective Sunday.

It has been a hard week.

I have never met someone more like me, at the depths of who we are, than this friend.  If you took away the experiences that have shaped us into who we are today, really found the root of our hearts, ours would be the same.  I have never met someone so like me before.  In the past year and a half, she has become my little sister, and I her older, in a very real way.  The love we share is familial.

I’ll be honest, a whole lot of my sadness is personal.  It hurts me, and deeply, exacerbated by the fact that I completely disagree with her reasons for leaving.

I worry for her.  I worry the way I worry for my own sister.  Again, for discretion’s sake, I’ll leave it there.

But while I’m discouraged and extremely saddened in this situation, my mission and my passion for it never faltered, and I wanted you to know that.

God’s hand is amazing.  I have found comfort in so many places.

Literally the day after our friend dropped the news, one of our elders from home posted an article on the topic of leaving (or not) one’s church.

This was in an email that my dad sent, reflective after having been through similar situations in the past:

“As you kids grew you would get ‘growing pains.’  It is the way that God designed the human body to grow.  As congregations of His church, we will also experience some pain as we grow.”

One of the church bulletins I receive by email had 2 Timothy 4:9-18 on the front page this week:

“Timothy, please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, but the Lord will judge him for what he has done. Be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said.
The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.”

Even Jason Mraz lent a little encouragement in the text my best friend sent this morning:

“I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily.
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make.
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
the tools and gifts we got, yeah, we got a lot at stake.”

And then the countless, countless comments from people who didn’t get nosy or gossipy, but sensed that I really just needed to be reminded that we have an amazing support team behind us.  I love you all.

cambria ready for school

Cambria started youchien!

I’ve shared a decent amount of our dabbling into the kindergarten world in Japan.  We started with part time hoikuen, to warm Cambria up to Japanese.  When that turned out to be a flop, we tried to get her into full-time hoikuen.  Three times.  Forcing Allowing an incredibly generous friend to fill out the hordes of paperwork all three times.  (They say that bureaucracy was invented in the west and perfected in Japan.  I have no doubt of the validity of this.)  Three times we were turned down.  (Hoikuen are primarily for kids of working parents, and the city bases acceptance on a tiered system.  Since our family’s need of a hoikuen was lower than others’, they couldn’t fit Cambria in.)  Finally, after the third time, another friend recommended a youchien that was willing to accept Cambria pretty easily.

I’m not really 100% clear on the differences between hoikuen and youchien.  Leslie worked at a hoikuen in Okayama, and it basically seemed like daycare with occasional lessons.  (Leslie taught English to each class once a week.  I think.  Maybe some classes were twice a week.)  I’ve heard that because the hoikuen kids’ parents work full time, hoikuen helps to teach them age appropriate life lessons, like potty-training.  (Bless their teachers’ hearts.)  Youchien is maybe more like kindergarten, where you’re not so much learning life lessons, but pre-school lessons.  I’ve also heard conflicting things about cost.  I’ve always thought that youchien costs more, but a friend recently suggested to me that hoikuen does.  We pay ¥24000 (roughly $240) a month, plus any extra fees for that month.  Again, because hoikuen kids’ parents work, hoikuen is full day (like, until 5:00 or later), whereas youchien is half day, often even just 2 hours on Wednesdays.

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For a year, every friend I talked to about youchien told me it’s too troublesome, and I shouldn’t try to get Cambria in.  I assume they were referring to the youchien equivalent of a PTA, where moms are apparently pressured into being insanely involved.  One friend actually just became the president of her PTA… by losing a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.  (I am not even kidding when I tell you that Rock, Paper, Scissors is used in grown up situations as a decider.)

While I was pretty irritated that no one would help me with youchien, it turned out to be a blessing in the end, as the youchien we finally ended up with turned out to be different than most, more Montessori-style, with pretty much everyone we’ve talked to (teachers, moms, past students) mentioning the freedom the school encourages.  I know our family’s educational values are very different from typical Japanese values, and this school seems to break the mold and fit just right with what we desire for our kids.  If we’re going to send her to school, I’m pleased with what we’ve found!

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In preparation for her first day, I had to make bags for each different aspect of her day.  We shopped together for material, and finally settled on a Peter Rabbit pattern.  Some friends I spoke to bought their kids’ bags, but a whoooole lotta youchien moms make the bags (kind of as a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses), and I was excited for a new challenge.  While it certainly did take a lot of time, I looooooved having something productive to spend my time on during nap/rest times (read: not eating single double serving cookie dough in front of my computer while browsing Pinterest and watching The Colbert Report).  That sewing machine I got for my birthday has definitely proven itself to be a great investment.  So!  Cambria needed a cup bag, an indoor shoes bag, a book bag, a cloth-covered art supply box, and in a month she’ll need a bag for her gym clothes.  (Again, our youchien proved itself more relaxed than others, as they weren’t insanely strict about size and style.)  I also nametagged everything in hiragana (one of the many writing systems of Japan), including each individual crayon (big shout out to everyone who has sent us good crayons!).  I found hiragana stamps at Yuzawaya that made it way less stressful than the internet had made me believe it would be.  She got a new thermos, cup, and shoes.  Next week I’ll pull out the bento we bought for her in Okayama (that we’ve never used!!), as she starts eating lunch there on Monday!  (Kind of excited to share pictures of that every day!)  The friend who has helped us incredibly along this journey wanted to buy something special for Cambria’s first day (she has become the girls’ Japanese grandmother of sorts), so she gifted her a new Disney princess backpack!

waiting for the train

Her first day was Thursday, and again, our youchien’s style was different than others’, in that there was no big, formal entrance ceremony.  (Thank goodness, ’cause my social anxiety was at a peak when I found out about that.)  The only real downside to the youchien is that it takes at least 30 minutes from our door to the front gate (walking, train, walking again).  We arrived around 9:20 with no real idea as to what we were doing.

school gate

Most hoikuens/youchiens I’ve been to have big glass doors opening up into a courtyard.  We entered the courtyard to a handful of moms just standing there, outside the classroom.  I just assumed we’d walk Cambria into her room, so I took my shoes off and jumped up onto the boardwalk.  I’d not finished the paperwork I had to turn in that day, so I asked the teacher to look at it and let me know what I lacked.  As I filled out the rest, Leslie asked her to take a family picture of us.  Enter the aforementioned social anxiety.  The teacher kind of just stood there for a couple seconds, asked, “Who?”, glanced at the other moms, hesitated some more, then told Leslie she couldn’t because it’s the kids’ first day and she couldn’t be doing something else.  Womp.  Then she grabbed Cambria and the bag I had in my hands and rushed into the room before Leslie had a chance to hug her.

Whirlwind farewell aside, Cambria seemed to have a great time.  In fact, when we came to pick her up, she hid against her teacher for an embarrassingly long time before I scolded her to hurry up and get her shoes on.  We followed the example of the other parents and let the kids play around in the courtyard for about 30 minutes after school, during which one mom was brave enough to approach me and say hello… in English even!  Guys, if you see someone standing awkwardly by herself, say hi.  The awkwardness melted right off and made me feel so much better about being there.  Two other moms joined in, and we enjoyed a decent introductory conversation, including a good two minutes of their raving about how Leslie looks like Tom Cruise and is so handsome.  Score!

cambria ready for school

While Cambria was at youchien, Leslie, Madeleine and I were able to enjoy some 2 on 1 time for the first time in pretty much ever.  At first Madeleine was sad, saying, “I miss Cambria because God gave her to me, and she’s my best friend.”  Sweet girl.  We’re really hoping that having alone time with us will help her out… Girlfriend has a huge personality that commands attention, but sometimes I feel like the first year and a half of her life were spent on the back burner while we moved here, there, and everywhere.  We grabbed donuts and drinks at Mister Donut, then looked around Seiyu (a store owned by Wal Mart), dangerously discovering that Reese’s actually does exist in Japan.  After browsing and exercising self control for a half hour, we went to a nearby playground and let Madeleine loose for a while.

playing with madeleine

After we picked Cambria up, we went to one of her favorite restaurants, a small tonkatsu place.  Cambria’s starting school also coincides with Leslie’s and my slowing down with our own schooling.  Up until now our schedules have been all over the place, so we’re really looking forward to having some stability for the first time in four years.  The past few weeks have been busy with productivity, and we’re ready for this new chapter!

sara and girls at youchien

Note: Pretty much any good picture you see on here was taken by Leslie.  Seenks Beeb!

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Sakura 2014

Spring is here!  First things first: We didn’t get the flu this year!  Woohoo!  We are so relieved by the warmer weather.  Madeleine especially is a ball of energy, and seriously needs time outside the house every day.

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With a little boost on the first step, she’s learning to climb this tree!

Cambria has some big news… She lost her first tooth!  She got the first one out on her own, and then let me pull out the second a day later!  I’m so proud of her.  What a big girl she’s becoming!

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In lieu of the Tooth Fairy, we had Cambria put her tooth under her pillow, and while she slept we replaced it with ¥500 (I know, I know, but I was just so proud) and a sparkly note suggesting a fun family activity.  Her first tooth garnered a trip to the “roller slide playground,” the girls’ favorite playground that we hadn’t been to all winter.

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The second tooth brought a trip to a McDonald’s play place!  Sounds small, but we’d never been and I knew they’d love it.  I did too!

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Next… it’s cherry blossom season!  I always end up feeling like I missed the season, but Leslie has been ensuring that we experience it this year.  The girls are so cute… “I WUB chewwy bossoms!”

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This has to be the most joyful time in Japan.  Everyone goes out as often as they can during the 1-2 weeks that the blossoms are here.  Companies actually send out rookie employees early in the morning with a blue sheet to secure a spot for the post-work hanami (flower viewing picnic).

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We went to a local park with some friends for hanami.  This is one of those situations in which small cultural differences create an undercurrent of tension within me.  (It’s small, and silly, but constant.)  Japanese are very particular about dirt (see: different shoes/slippers for different areas of the house).  When I go on a picnic, I accept that dirt will probably get in my sandwich, and as long as someone’s not actually stepping on my food, I don’t really care.  At a Japanese picnic, you take your shoes off before you step on the blanket/sheet, and make sure that every last bit of dirt is scrubbed from your hands before you partake.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes me totally stress over picnics!

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Last week we popped down to Ueno, one of the more popular hanami locations in Tokyo, as the blossoms were just starting to pop out.  (I took a couple pictures, but iCloud confuses the mess out of me and I can’t figure out where they are.)  This Monday, I walked from my class in Ochanomizu to Kitanomaru Park (北の丸公園) to meet the family at the festival there.  We walked along the moat of the imperial palace under a canopy of sakura.  Beautiful.  And packed.

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Yesterday morning, we left the house around 8:15 and travelled up to Gongendō Park (権現堂公園) in Satte. It.was.gorgeous.  So many sakura, contrasted with a field of vibrant yellow rapeseed.  We spent the entire day there, and I didn’t see a single white person.  So very, very Japanese.  The path below the sakura was lined with stalls selling various and sundry delicious Japanese festival foods.  We started with shaved ice (かき氷), then grabbed fried chicken, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and grilled sweet potatoes for lunch.  As we left, Leslie and the girls shared takoyaki (dough balls stuffed with octopus bits).  I knew Cambria liked octopus, but Madeleine surprised me in eating a bunch herself!

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We are completely worn out, but all in all, a pretty good sakura season.

I’ve mentioned before that my husband is a photographer.  I know I’ve got some amazing iPhone camera skills, but I highly, highly recommend your checking out his website.  He updates multiple times a week, and will be posting a slew of photos from this season over the next while.  Check him out at Les Taylor Photo, or on Facebook!