Saturday, February 26, 2011

Friends of Gold

A very dear friend of mine was just here for a 10 day visit. I am incredibly lucky. I am fortunate to have a friend whom I have known since childhood (any by childhood I mean birth since our parents lived on the same block). 36 years is a long friendship - more than many people ever have the pleasure of experiencing.

Some things I discovered while she was here:
  • We truly do have the kind of friendship that allows us to pick up as though no time has passed despite the fact that in the past 18 years we have rarely spent more than 2 hours together at any one time and often we were only able to manage that every couple of years.
  • She and I have very similar values despite the fact that our lifestyles are vastly different.
  • I learned about how to make maple syrup. (She helps tap trees for the sap and has actually boiled it all down into the tasty syrup final product. How cool is that?)
  • Having a friend who isn't a mom is incredibly refreshing. I love having mom friends. I *need* to have mom friends with whom I can share a lot of the challenges and joys of parenting, but I also need someone outside of all that. I need someone else in my life who has the free time to pursue other interests. Someone who can tell me all about the intricacies of jump roping as a sport for example!
  • It was fascinating to do some reminiscing . It's pretty amazing how much of what I remember doesn't entirely correspond to what she remembers about our time in high school. It's also a little scary when I think of all the things that I've already forgotten. She remembers her project for our government class. I remember a few projects from that class but haven't the slightest idea what it is that I worked on; I have the sense that it was incredibly boring. How sad!
  • I loved reconnecting with her on a totally new level and in a different context too. We both love to read and while we have some different interests, we do have overlapping interests as well. But our reading tastes vary enough that we find we can recommend interesting and new books to one another. Awesome! Also, she spent some time in Central America a few years ago. She primarily lived in Costa Rica but she traveled quite a bit to neighboring countries while she was trying to learn Spanish. It was fascinating to finally have the time to talk to her about her experience there. Especially in light of my time living in Japan now. Of all my friends from high school, she is the one best able to understand what it's like for me to live overseas and in another culture.
I truly loved having her visit and was unbelievably sad when she left. She had made it very clear that she was here to reconnect with me and to spend time with my family, not because she had any particular desire to visit Japan. I'm very lucky that she went out of her way to visit me. And I'm trying to appreciate her visit for the uniqueness of having her here, but I can't separate the fact that I'm generally lonely too. Her stay here just reinforced for me how important it is that I find more ways to connect with other women here - whether they are yochien moms or expatriate friends of mine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oh Peko-chan!

How happy you have made me little Peko-chan! I'd never had these tasty cakes before. I was reminded of Twinkies. The cake is soft like a twinkie, but the custard is way tastier in my opinion. Think vanilla cream or pudding. I was in heaven. *sigh*

I love to make discoveries that make me feel as though living in Japan isn't always about giving things up. Yes, there are trade-offs. I can't find a cupcake here to save my life. But now I know that there is Peko-chan! Maybe that's not such a bad trade.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Out of Sight...

Lone-ly: unhappy as a result of being without the companionship of others.

I woke up two nights ago and had what I can only describe as a mild panic attack as I thought about all the preparations for Peanut's yochien (preschool). Her school has a uniform, multiple bags and sacks and packages for everything from crayons to tissues to notes from the teacher. I did my best to look through the guide from the school, but reading Japanese is still incredibly difficult for me and it could take me hours to translate the whole thing. As a result, I felt about 1/4 prepared for all the things we'd need to know and do. (Check for lice every morning and make a note for the teacher, fill up her water bottle, ensure that tissues are in the skirt pocket, etc.) The more I thought about all of this, the more overwhelmed I became.

Initially this preschool/yochien idea sounded ideal! She'd go off to school from 9:00 until 2:30 every day. Perfect! For a child who loves activities and needs a great deal of stimulation and interaction from other adults and kids, this seemed like a great solution. I didn't understand at the time we were first considering it, that this is more like a co-op preschool which relies heavily on the work and participation of the stay-at-home mothers who take their kids to this school (Japan is lagging behind in the women's liberation front and the glass ceiling sounds more like steel to me - the end result being a LOT of college educated women staying at home with the kids rather than working because there's nowhere for them TO work).

Anyway the more I lay there in the dark thinking about how much time and work would go into this effort the more frustrated I became. How would I ever get to see my friends in Japan? And if I don't get to see them more than once every couple of weeks, how will we build on our friendships. And this is important because once I'm out of sight, I'm out of mind.

It's pretty common for ex-patriates to experience this phenomenon I gather. Once you leave a place, the friends that you leave behind get on with their lives (and their other friendships) and don't remember to e-mail you or write you regularly. This leaves you out of the loop. For me, since I'm in Japan for part of the year, and the U.S. for part of the year, I'm always out of the loop somewhere. I think it's starting to get to me. I was suddenly not just overwhelmed by the thought of my child starting preschool, but with the thought that I don't have any friends to commiserate with and those that I do have seem to be out of touch. Most of my U.S. friends have been out of touch since we left over a month ago. True, I'll be back in just 4 1/2 more months, and maybe that's what they're waiting for - my return. But in the meantime, it can be incredibly lonely.