Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meltdowns of all kinds

It's a blazing 89F right now and only projected to get hotter over the next few days. The sun is shining and even at night our usual Seattle cool isn't returning. This combo is proving to be a deadly mix when combined with a toddler who is touch-and-go on the early morning sleep. Peanut was awake at 5am this morning after a short-ish night. We had a pretty good morning tho she didn't eat all that much for breakfast, but that's par for the course these days.

By 8:30 am I had packed her up in the car and off we went to participate in a research study at the local children's hospital. Peanut is part of the control group which means that we go in for 3 different visits during the course of the first several years of her life and they have her play games (like peek-a-boo, doing puzzles, naming objects, stacking blocks, etc.), and do various tasks in order to get an assessment of how she's developing (can she figure out how to get the duck out from under a piece of clear plastic with one side open?). Then, similar aged children with plagiocephaly are given the same assessment and the two groups of kids are compared in order to learn more about the causes of plagiocephaly as well as the development of kids with plagiocephaly. Peanut seemed to really enjoy her "assessment" last summer and we were looking forward to more games today. She did really well for almost 2 hours and we were close to wrapping up when the meltdown occurred.

I should have been prepared for it - less sleep than ideal, hungry baby (despite the snacking she'd done all morning), heat, and then just the exhaustion from "playing" and "working" so hard with the doctor. But when the doctor kindly took away the piggy bank and coins that Peanut had been playing with (not before allowing her several chances to play with it and not before offering her a fun alternative) my daughter snapped. She pitched a full-on temper tantrum the likes of which I have never seen. She cried, she crawled on the floor, flailed on the ground, whined and refused any solution I might offer "Do you want me to hold you? Do you want to nurse? Water? Toy?" Everything was no- no- NO! The poor thing was in total meltdown mode and was sweating despite the A/C because she was so worked up. Needless to say we stopped for the day, I finally got her calmed down and we came home ASAP. Our participation was really conditional on her enjoyment of it and clearly the fun was over!

I would say that she is finally, *really* starting to assert her independence and wanted to be very clear that we understood how angry she was that she couldn't play with the piggy bank anymore. I brought her home, fed her a big lunch and put her down for her nap. Would you be surprised if I told you she passed right out?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Over-stimulated much?

I've been wondering if Peanut is over-stimulated. We're having a devil of a time getting her to sleep these days - bedtime and naptime - oy. But that got me thinking about how under-stimulated I was when we were living in Japan. In part it was because we were living in someone else's space with minimal stuff. With everyone pitching in to do all the cleaning, the house work was minimal. Another possible culprit, lack of comprehension in the Japanese language area. Since I couldn't understand much beyond the basics, it made stimulating conversation really, really hard to find. Thank goodness, once again, for the AFWJ ladies. I don't know what I would have done without them. Being able to gab and catch up on pop culture, world politics, books, even national politics (Japanese or American) was a blast. The major problem with not being able to understand all that much is that I couldn't read for pleasure - my number one hobby. But beyond that, I couldn't even read the newspaper or bulletin boards for local events. Well I could sometimes read a sign on a community newsboard, but it might take me 5-10 minutes to decode the thing. It's not the same when we're here in the U.S. I've got dozens of local newspapers, magazines, and websites to check out for upcoming events and community activities. Needless to say, we're not lacking for things to do over here. But all of this activity highlights for me the *inactivity* of living in Japan.

I had this vague sense of ennui while we were living there, but I realize now that I was totally bored out of my noggin most of the time that we were in Japan and I couldn't find a way to put an end to it. Local parks were few and far between. Here I walk 5-20 minutes and I can be at one of easily a dozen parks and 2 different library branches. English-speaking friends were remote (at least an hour by train & bus and that was hard if it was my turn to watch Peanut which generally it is since I'm a SAHM). Japanese friends were hard for me to find. Most people wanted to talk to me about my Japanese language skills and why I was living in Japan. This tends to get boring for me quickly since I've had the same conversation countless times. But to be fair to the questioners and potential friends, it was also some of the safest area of conversation I could have. My Japanese as I've said seems pretty limited. In spite of the exhortations of nearly every Japanese person I've met who says, "Your Japanese is great!" I've also lived there long enough to know that it's a pretty standard response to foreigners speaking Japanese and doesn't really mean anything. It's the polite thing to say.

Needless to say, I realize that things could be better the next time around. I'm not sure what kinds of things I'll do differently upon our return to Japan in the end of December - I'm open to suggestions. But in the meantime, I realize that keeping up with my Japanese studies would be really useful in order to further my goal of making more Japanese friends over there. Now if only I could find the time!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer projects

Every time I get a few moments in front of the computer, I can't remember a darn thing I was going to tell you all. For instance, right now all I can think about is why my Yahoo homepage was showing me that the current temperature is 93F. It's not anywhere near that warm here right now (sorry to all my friends in Japan but it's a lovely and cool 66F right now). And why is that I can't think uniformly in metric or non-metric systems? In the U.S. I can only think of the temperature as Fahrenheit and when in Japan I can only assess in Celsius. It's maddening to me! I simply can't do the conversion easily so I don't bother. Anyone have a shortcut for approximating the conversion? When I lived in Australia I used to do something like "double the Celsius temp and add 32" - could that be close?

What else? We've been doing our best to catch up with old friends but it's not always that easy. It's especially hard if you have to account for travelling on a ferry with a small child. We tried to go visit a friend over on the other peninsula on Saturday and we went by ferry. But we were late for the ferry we had intended to catch meaning we had to wait in the parking lot for nearly 45 minutes. Luckily, Peanut is getting really good at entertaining herself in the car (esp. if she doesn't need to be in her car seat) so even though we could get out and walk around she was actually just as happy to sit in the car and play peek-a-boo with us. But all told, we spent over 2 hours getting from our place to our friend's house and by the time we got there, we had about 2 hours to visit and grab some dinner before we needed to return.

Recently, Peanut and I also had a chance to meet up with Sunny and her adorable son Bean. She has my eternal gratitude for introducing me to a new and delicious cupcake joint. I am still luxuriating in the ability to have cupcakes and American style sweets whenever I want them!

I've also got about 30 books checked out from the library. I went crazy when I kept finding books (in English!) that I want to read. I'll let you know if I find anything good. Lately nothing terribly interesting. I also decided to get a few books about baking. I'm determined to learn more about baking this summer. When we're back in Japan this winter/spring, I want to know how to work with what I've got. Not sure how well this project will pan out (I'm a great one for starting and not completing projects), but it's produced one tasty yellow cake already. I should have taken a picture! Next time.

As for unfinished projects, I started a counted cross-stitch project for Peanut before her arrival. I couldn't finish it before she was born (1) because I ran out of time (2) we didn't know if we had a he or a she and therefore didn't have the name to stitch onto the wall-hanging. I'm hoping to maybe get it finished this summer! Wish me luck....

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hormones'll make you crazy

Thanks for all the kind words. Naturally, things are getting better. Well, Peanut is still sleeping like crap. She's teething, snotting etc. and then there were the fireworks that some twit set off two nights ago at like 11:30 pm when she had just finally settled down for what seemed like some decent sleep. But hey - that's what makes life fun right? Living on the edge with less sleep than I'd like - it's a reminder that I'm lucky to have a wonderful daughter.

But Gboy has been really helpful the past couple of days AND I'm starting to suspect that my short temper and overall intolerance and crankiness is fueled by PMS. I've nearly forgotten what it feels like (it's been over two years since I had it). I'm normally an incredibly patient person and not likely to yell or get angry at all, but for the last few days....look out! At this very moment, Gboy is downstairs trying to convince Peanut that she really *does* want to nap today and that 20 minutes in the car isn't sufficient and he's been at it for the last 30 minutes or so. I gave up after 20 minutes myself so he's already outdone me and I'm incredibly grateful both for the reprieve in the moment and if he gets her to sleep I'll be even more grateful!

The other thing I gained was some perspective. It looks like the library I'd been hoping to work for won't have the money to hire me back as a substitute in the near future. That's the cost of a recession I suppose. This just means that I'll be doing full-time childcare for Peanut for a while as Gboy works on his business idea. If we can get that afloat, then we'd be happy campers. What this also means is lots of computer time for him. The fact that I found him playing computer games a few times doesn't mean that he's not working, it just means that I happened to see him playing some games some of the time. And haven't we all chatted it up with a co-worker or blogged from work or browsed the internet from work? Okay - I have! I'm not an irresponsible employee, but I have certainly had personal conversations at work and browsed the internet when there was nothing else to do.

Plus I have to admit that adjusting to full time childcare with no Japanese classes or calligraphy classes or "me" time right now has been bumpy. We'll work it out. In fact, Gboy has suggested that I might take some time for myself to work on a few other ideas for R&R (and maybe even income) if I were to say, write a book. I adore him because of his confidence in me. He thinks I can totally write a kick-ass book despite the fact that I've never taken a writing class, don't write except to blog, and really don't even have an idea for a book. Still, the "me" time would be nice.

Oh, and I'll add that the hormones made me crazy upset last night when I got an email from a friend, I'll call her A.Z., who said she wouldn't be seeing me this morning despite our plans to meet up with a 3rd mutual friend. A.Z. had forgotten what day our brunch was scheduled for and made plans for this morning. This is the same friend who spaced on our going-away party last October. I'm starting to think that maybe we were good friends when we worked together a few years ago but that she's moved on and I'm the only one sticking with this friendship (these aren't the only 2 examples of situations like this from the last year or two). Seems like I make all the effort to invite and coordinate and she finally agrees on a date to join us and then forgets/doesn't show/comes really late/leaves really early etc. Last night this hit my last nerve and was making me feel really bad for myself. I'm trying to be a grown-up about the whole thing and just move on. If she wants to spend time with me, she'll contact me and if not, it's just time to accept it and move on. Theoretically I'm okay with that, but last night, the hormones were really strong and it really upset me. But you know what? Knowing it's the hormones makes me feel a whole lot better. I'm not crazy, just hormonal.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I'm fried. My brain is fried. My body is tired. My toddler is kicking my ass. Lately, she's been existing on MAYbe 9 hours of sleep at night (occasionally 8 or 8 1/2 like last night) followed up with a 1 1/2 hour nap if I'm lucky - today it was all of 45 minutes. I generally operate best with about 8 hours of sleep at night myself and since I need an hour or two after she goes to bed to get the laundry done, dishes washed, etc. I'm not getting anywhere near enough for myself. And then she has the energy of the Energizer bunny all day long. And Gboy must be celebrating his return to the U.S. or something because he's spending many hours on the computer playing games (I suspect some work is happening but not much right now). Needless to say, I'm feeling tired and cranky and out sorts. As I've mentioned before, our return to our house has been bumpy and I'm still trying to get things sorted and organized and rearranged and I'd love the help but honestly I'm tired of asking and while I haven't asked many times, I don't want to start telling/ordering him to do things because then I'm the mom of TWO people and that's freaking exhausting. And I get that the whole return to normalcy may be bumpy for him and that this is how he's working his way back into life here. The fact that this is so out of the ordinary for him tells me that something has changed but only temporarily. So for now, I'm trying to enjoy the 60 minutes of freedom that I have while Gboy kindly offered to take Peanut to the park to give me a break (at least he realizes I'm pulling a LOT of weight these days and it's wearing me down!).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Playing with (in) Japanese

In an ongoing effort to maintain Peanut's access to all things bilingual (or as many things as possible) I'm searching for (1) a babysitter who sits Japanese for those rare occasions when Gboy and I can get away for a "date" (2) bilingual or at least Japanese play dates & partners. When we were living in Japan, Peanut heard English from me and also whenever Gboy and I speak to each other we use English. Thus, while we didn't have English play dates per se (although there were one or two AFWJ outings with some older bilingual kids) she had a fair amount of exposure to English despite the fact that we lived in Japanese household (with my in-laws) and community. I realized upon our return that the amount of exposure she'd have to Japanese wouldn't be equivalent here in the U.S. And now the shoe's on the other foot, so to speak, I can appreciate how truly valuable it is to have friends, resources and opportunities to learn a parent's language. Naturally it would be easy for me to just sit back and let her learn English here, but if I don't do something to ensure that she gets some Japanese playtime and friends here, Gboy (like most men I suppose) probably won't take the initiative and that would make me sad.

As I noted in my last post, Peanut is referring to me as "Okaasan" and it seems to be one of the few new Japanese words that she's started using reliably and frequently now that we're back in the U.S. She's getting really good at repeating my husband and she has also mastered her pronunciation of "ichigo" (strawberry) rather than referring to it as "akuchi" (we have no idea how that got so garbled in her mind). Clearly it's not as though her entire use of Japanese has fallen by the wayside, but I really want to be able to support her access to both languages.

I always envisioned that I'd help to enroll her in Japanese language preschool, summer camps, etc., but that was back when I envisioned that our/her entire life would be lived out here in the U.S. This is one of the reasons for which I'm so grateful that we had the chance to live in Japan; I think I have an entirely new appreciation of how difficult it is to balance out the exposure to two languages. It wasn't easy for me to accept that she was hearing and learning more Japanese than English when we lived in Japan. That may sound awful but it's the reality of my experience and although I'm ashamed to admit it, I think I learned something truly valuable from the experience. Children are malleable and flexible and can learn at an astonishing rate meaning Peanut is already learning tons of English now that we're in the U.S. but that doesn't mean that I can sit back and relax and just hope that her Japanese language exposure from her father is sufficient. I wouldn't do the same if the situation was reversed - I'd be looking for English story hours, play dates, etc. And that's exactly what I intend to do here, only now it will be Japanese language opportunities that I am seeking.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Okaasan, okaasan, wherefore art thou?

At about the same time we returned to our house in Seattle, I noticed Peanut referring to me as (and occasionally addressing me as) "Okaasan." I find this interesting because I've never referred to myself as anything other than "Mama" and most of Gboy's relatives in Japan did the same. Gboy was probably the only person that she heard refer to me as Okaasan and that was maybe 50% of the time, the other 50% of the time he uses Mama when talking about me. And yet here we are with Peanut using Okaasan quite often when talking about me to Gboy or when she's by herself in her crib for example.

What I find most conflicting about this is that it was hard enough for me to adjust to being "Mama" in the first place. The whole idea of being someone's mother, especially since we had to wait for a while to have her in our lives making it almost unreal when she finally was, seemed foreign to me. Add to that the idea that I think of "Okaasan" as Gboy's mother since that's what the whole family calls her, and we have a strange mix. I don't think of myself as Okaasan at all. Peanut may as well be calling me Fred. I tried to explain this to my husband and he was really surprised to hear this. I reminded him that while the name "Okaasan" means something quite familiar and perhaps comfortable to him (having grown up with it all his life) it's unfamiliar to me. Furthermore, there's something frustrating about having someone else (or some other culture) dictate the terms of part of my relationship with my daughter which is sort of how this whole thing feels.

I'm able to see that there's something sweet about the fact that she's attached to me such that she'll call me both Mama and Okaasan to see which will get her the results she wants - i.e. me. I'm also able to see that this is just one of many of the interesting situations we're bound to run into in a bilingual/bicultural family. And for that I'm grateful; I'm grateful that Peanut has been exposed to both languages so much that she has a broad vocabulary of both English and Japanese already.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coming out of the fog....

I'll be back with a more thoughtful post in the next few days. For now, I'm wondering, should I tell you about:
  • The fat lip Peanut got when she was running around the airport in Itami and fell down
  • Our fleeting but lovely meeting with Kim and her daughter in the Narita airport (Why oh why did we have to have such a short layover this time around when we usually get stuck there for 8 hours!)
  • "New in Town" - the movie I watched on the plane and loved if for no reason other than that it was in English and joked about cold winters and lots of snow - struck me as incredibly funny
  • Salami, lamb, feta cheese and the lovely foods I've been rediscovering here in the U.S.
  • Connecting with old friends in Seattle
  • Missing new Osaka friends
  • Visits to half a dozen parks to see which might be Peanut's favorites
  • Recovering from jet lag in what feels like record time
  • Having to clean the house much more than I anticipated (wishful thinking had me convinced our bachelor friend would have hired a housekeeper before he left)
  • Talking to my family on the telephone and reveling in our proximity
  • Today's visit to the zoo - who knew goats would inspire my daughter to cry when separated from them?
  • How much I hate packing and unpacking and moving in general (okay we didn't exactly move but it sort of feels like it)
  • American television - I don't even care what I watch - I'm loving it!!
  • My library is amazing and I have about 25 books checked out that I'm trying to read as fast as I can - just finished this escapist bit
  • My cake baking project for the summer - I've got The Cake Bible and plan to use it!
  • Amazing blue skies and perfect temperatures with no humidity

The view and weather two days after our return.