Saturday, February 27, 2010

Too Much Togetherness?

Is it possible? I think most of us would say, "Yes, at some point there IS such a thing as too much togetherness." Today we spent all day honoring and remembering Gboy's grandmother who passed away two years ago. There's a Buddhist tradition of doing a kind of memorial service and this was her 2nd annual. Last year it felt very fitting and appropriate. This year is mostly felt exhausting and like a chore that had to be done. Fewer of the extended relatives showed up. And the whole thing seemed sort of... obligatory.

Despite the fact that this day was about his own mother, my father-in-law spent the day (even while his whole family and guests were here) in his bedroom with the door shut watching horse racing. I know this because periodically he would emerge, betting sheet in hand, to use the computer to place another online bet. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law and her husband have been walking around like zombies because they arrived here very late last night and while they would have liked to nap, they couldn't because my father-in-law was in the room they'll be sleeping in for the next couple of days. My mother-in-law spent the day running around like a chicken with her head cut off, refusing all offers of help and trying to do everything herself.

By late this afternoon, Peanut, wound-up from all the excitement of having 7 or 8 of her cousins here to play with her all day, finally melted down from lack of food (too busy to be convinced to eat) and sheer exhaustion. As my husband took her out to the car in an attempt to drive her around in the quiet and comfort of a moving vehicle (a nice safe bet for lulling her to sleep) my father-in-law kept barking, "Why are you crying?! Why are you crying?!" as they walked by. I'm not sure what on earth his purpose was. He doesn't play with or really interact much with my daughter in general. So these barking interrogations tend only to scare her and generally she tells him to "go away" if he talks to her. He certainly didn't plan to offer any assistance or help in calming her down, and in all likelihood he just escalated her anxiety.

*sigh* I'm sure I'm sensitive about all of this because I too am tired (my mother and father-in-law were up for hours last night walking around the house repeatedly slamming doors in anticipation of their daughter's arrival). As a result, Gboy and I didn't manage to get any decent sleep until well after 1am and we're tired too.

It's like so many holidays in the U.S. I guess. Everyone is so excited to get together but it takes so much work and then once you're all crammed together in one small space, suddenly things aren't as ideal as you dreamed they'd be!!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Which I Pick Your Collective Brains....

Have I mentioned that we have a return date set? March 29th we're headed back to Seattle! I'm already working up my list of books to request from the library and what I'm currently interested in are books about parenting and/or children that address the way in which kids learn and grow from say, ages 3 and up.

You see, Peanut is currently attending a 2 year-old class at a nearby preschool and she is loving it. As in, she walks in the door, doesn't look back or wave good-bye unless prompted by the teacher, and excitedly chatters on and on about school all week long until that once a week 1 1/2 hour session rolls around again. She sings the songs she learned there, she shows us how she's learning to use scissors, she tells me about the stories they read, shows me her dance skills, etc.

Up until now, Gboy and I had been taking a wait and see approach. Rather than make any decisions about how or where to enroll or educate Peanut (from preschool through high school) we figured we'd take it one step at a time. We wanted to see how her personality developed and try to find a way to give her the social and intellectual stimulation that suited her. Needless to say, her love of preschool has really forced the issue of education and socialization to the forefront of our minds.

At this point, I'm open to all kinds of possibilities. We aren't sure where we'll be living at any particular point in the future and this makes the decision of a Japanese vs. American or private vs. public school challenging. Thus, it's not so much the specifics that I'm interested in learning about; rather, I'd like to explore all kinds of ways of teaching and raising our kids.

One way of looking at this is to learn more about home schooling, something I'd never given much thought, but seems like an interesting possibility. But I'd also love to hear any and all ideas that you might have regarding books or materials or philosophies that you've read about or used for parenting that have helped to guide your family's mission and have helped you to think about how your children are growing and developing into unique individuals.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stitching for Fun AND Literacy

I'm an occasional cross-stitch-er. When I saw this, I thought it was such a great idea. If you know anyone who is a stitcher looking for a project, this sounds like a fantastic way to demonstrate some flair and to support a great cause.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

You Say Potato, I Say Tomato

I love watching the bilingual learning process unfold. Peanut has this adorable habit lately of calling tomatoes, potatoes. Her pronunciation is perfectly Japanese "poh-tah-to" and it cracks me up every time. If we practice with her "TOmato" in small syllables she says it correctly (in fact until a few weeks ago she correctly said tomato) but as soon as she tries to say the whole word, it now comes out as potato. Fascinating!

And that's her other new word. She looks at the ceiling and says, "fascinating". We have no idea what she's looking at (the air vent?) but she smiles and giggles and says it's fascinating.

Additionally, she's has started to mix, in grammatically correct ways, both English and Japanese. We get identical requests like "apple kudasai" one minute followed by "ringo please" the next. She has also taken to saying things like "Mama is going benkyoh suru-ing" (her "Japanish" word for studying). It's unbelievable to see what she comes up with.

I love that she understands and speaks both languages without hesitation now. When we first arrived here in Japan at the end of December, she seemed hesitant to speak any Japanese to anyone other than her father. I attributed this in part to her shyness and also the fact that many people here were attempting to speak English to her (despite their own English skills limitations). I thought this might have created some confusion for Peanut. After all, she tends to catch on quickly that if she's asked a question in English she can answer it in English and vice versa.

Needless to say, not hearing the question in Japanese, why should Peanut answer it in Japanese? But this seemed to fluster my in-laws who couldn't understand why she wouldn't speak to them in Japanese. Gboy and I kept telling the in-laws that they could use Japanese as Peanut is perfectly able to comprehend them, but it took a good month or so before the adults finally started to speak to Peanut in regular Japanese - just like they would when speaking to their other grandchildren. I'm awfully glad that they did because her Japanese vocabulary is now growing exponentially and everyone here is so excited to see it and they reinforce her learning because they want to see more. It's amazing how the adults are often the slowest learners!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

And Now for Something...Meatier

I've spent the last 24+ hours trying to put a less than stellar (one might say "traumatizing") OB appointment behind me. I mentally drafted and re-drafted the post that would describe how unpleasant it was and the more I thought about it, the more it frustrated me. I don't want to come off as melodramatic or anti-Japan. And so, I've chalked up most of my frustration with the appointment to cultural differences.

When I was in graduate school (the first time when I was studying public affairs and policy as opposed to the second time when I was studying library and information science - I know. Two degrees?? What was I thinking. But whatever..) I took a few public health classes that I really enjoyed. In one of the classes we spent some time talking about successful public health campaigns and especially, how to reach "under-served" populations. From the perspective of the USA, one under-served population as you might imagine, is those people who are non-English speakers. Having been on the other side of the Dr.'s desk, so to speak, I now understand why. I mean, I got it conceptually, while I was in school. And I thought that improving the "cultural competence" of medical staff sounded logical.

But now I see how vital cultural competence truly is; it's not just a buzzword or politically correct token effort. Because if I didn't have a husband willing to go with me to these appointments, I would just stop going to see the doctor here in Japan. The frustration I experience, the embarrassment, the confusion - none of it feels worth it during a pregnancy that I feel is routine. Naturally, I'm no doctor and could be wrong about my own condition or that of the baby, but I'm telling you, even with husband to take me, I don't want to go back. I don't feel any sense of understanding or compassion or accommodation from the staff of a fairly large and modern hospital system. Instead, I get what I can only assume is the routine treatment and I'm just supposed to go with it. Accept that this is "how things are done here" and that's it. I understand that the situation might be a little different if we'd chosen a hospital or clinic in a more urban area, but as I said, this one is pretty modern and I figured it wouldn't really matter since in the 2nd trimester you mostly get weighed, have an ultrasound and call it good. I didn't expect that they'd want to see me every 3 weeks, nor did I expect things to get as "invasive" as they've gotten.

But I've decided it's just not worth it to dwell on it. Instead, I'll take from this experience only the parts I want to remember and I'll just do my best to block out the rest. So..... Turns out they think I'm a little iron-deficient (just barely below the cut-off for "regular" standards here) and I'm taking this as a sign. A sign I tell you. I am MEANT to have the Big America "New York" burger at McDonald's. I missed the Texas burger, but I won't be missing the beef in the New York burger you can bet on that! And that California burger looks yummy too. This might also explain why I was overjoyed to sample the Sasebo burger the other day. You can't imagine anything like this if you think of American fast food joints. The bun was perfectly toasted, the lettuce was crispy, the sauce wasn't too skimpy or overly sloppy, the egg was fabulous...I could go on, but instead, I'm going to call it another day and get some rest. Yesterday was draining and the baby and I surely need some more rest.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Book Club Origins

I've offered to host a single event for a meetup group that is generally about socializing and meeting new women in the Kansai area and I've agreed to do a book club style meeting. Essentially, we're doing a one-time book group meeting. If things go well, I'd like to try to do it again in the future, but given my travel schedule I'm not entirely possible when or how that would work. Still, I'm having so much fun planning for this one, that I'm seriously thinking it might be time to start my own group in Seattle as well.

In that vein, I'm really looking for suggestions about how to run a successful group. I've seen some tips from "professionals" but what I'm more interested in is how a particular group works and if the members are generally happy with the dynamic? For example, do your book group members all get to vote on a title that they'd like to read? Is that democratic approach working for your group or does it stymie things? Also, are there differing expectations about how much time the group will spend on socializing and chit chat vs. book discussion? I suppose you could try to make that clear with your group during the initial meeting, but is there an ebb and flow to membership that is to be expected during the first few months as people work out whether or not the group is a good fit for them?

I'm dying to get back to some book chat with real people and the local public libraries in Seattle have monthly book groups, but I wonder if that approach, or even advertising through say, leads to a really transient group of readers. And maybe that's not a bad thing (I'm making an assumption here that a more regular group of readers makes people more comfortable with engaging in dialogue with one another).

Please feel free to share your experiences! I'd love to hear if you were part of a terrible book group and what made it terrible. Likewise, I'd love to hear about successful groups! Any thoughts are appreciated!

Cross-posted on: Everything's Better With Books