Weekend Postscript

I suppose this is not so much a regular post as it is a message. We’re leaving for Japan in less than 48 hours and I’m calmly trying to pack, buy last minute gifts for family and friends, clean the house, and get ready to host a dinner party this evening (you’re free to question my judgment about the dinner party scheduling…). I should have access to the internet during these two weeks but if I’m spotty (writing and reading), it’ll be because the connection’s slow or Max has beaten me to the laptop or I’m off visiting with someone.

This also seems like a good time to say thanks to all of you, something that’s been on my mind alot lately but I haven’t expressed. I’ve written in the past about how hard it was for me to muster up the courage to write, and then to share my writing. I’m not someone who sticks to anything more than a week but, four-ish months later, I’m still writing regularly, and I really owe this to your support and encouragement which have given me so much energy to keep going week after week.

A big thing I hadn’t expected is how I’d start growing through the process of blogging. The introspection needed to write and then the comments you have all given have made me think more deeply than I have in years. They’ve then spurred me to start conversations with my husband and close friends which then propelled me to make some changes in my life. For one thing, I’ve started exercising again. And another, I’ve tried to understand my limits and to forgive myself more. In fact, after I come back from Japan, I’m giving myself a two-week vacation. My trip to Japan will be a mixed business and personal trip, but it will likely not be restful. Afterwards, I’m going to allow myself a big chunk of time off to just do whatever I please. I couldn’t have done this a year ago. 

Yesterday, I was an emotional mess because my one and only baby had finished kindergarten. I honestly felt like something was insanely wrong with me because I couldn’t stop crying. But from your comments and similar blog posts and emails I knew that I was hardly alone. Insane, maybe, but definitely not alone! 😉

And finally, I am so grateful for your response to my Tuesday post about shame and keeping quiet. I continued to feel uneasy after I posted it but each time I find myself embarrassed I go back to your comments. It’s a hard thing to get used to, this openness. But I think I did suffer more than I needed to growing up because I was (kept?) silent. I’ve often wondered about the link between depression and suicide and creativity, and found it eerie how so many writers have experienced depression. I understand much better now why – because, as my friend Alexandra said, “Depression is the voice unheard.” Opening our voices is how we try to heal.

By complete coincidence, two days after I posted about this, Wellesley College released an article about the link between authenticity and honesty and depression and self-esteem in girls.

Thank you, again, for your friendship.

Have a wonderful, fun, and restful weekend! Mata ne (see you), as they say in Japan. I will send postcards 🙂

Where Do Clouds Go…(saying good bye to kindergarten, and another year…)

As of 12:31 p.m. today, Fred, in his words, “becomes a first grader.”

This morning, right as Max was turning on the car engine to drive Fred to school, I ran out of the house yelling, “Wait for me!” and climbed into the front seat, confusing Fred. “Uh, are we still doing kiss and go [the car drop-off lane at school]?” he asked. “Why are you both coming?”

It’s bad enough that I cry at graduations of people I don’t even know. (Having worked at a university for a number of years, I’ve attended my share of commencements.) If I feel this way on the last day of kindergarten for my son, I’m not sure how I can handle his high school or college graduation in the future.

It was only late August that Fred and his fellow kindergarteners were still wearing those huge yellow cards around their necks on their way to school so that teachers and staff could easily identify and help them when they arrived. I remember the day when Fred wanted to buy lunch, and I attached a note to his shirt with a paper clip so as to make sure his teacher would know. And I remember how I would park the car and walk him to his classroom on the days we were late. Months later, I would drive and try to decide quickly, should I take him or just drop him off? And then, one day, I simply dropped him off without a second thought, and knew that he’d make it to his class alright without a personal escort.

I remember how, last summer before kindergarten, he could barely recognize most sight words. In fact, a year before that, when we moved here from Japan, he couldn’t even utter a single sentence in English. Yesterday he brought home a large packet of the work he had done this spring, along with his workbooks and journal. While he reads and writes at home, I hadn’t realized the extent of the work that he had done in school. “Here is my poetry journal,” he proudly showed me. We leafed through every page together, and he read to me the poems he had written as well as the ones he glued inside. In response to a question about where clouds go, he had written the following (spelling corrected):

Maybe you go to the other side of the hill.

Or you float to the sky.

Or you draw on the hill.

Or you could change into a crayon.

Or you could change into markers.

When the wind blows, the clouds changes into different shapes.

I started to cry, and I couldn’t stop. “Why are you crying, mommy?” Fred had asked, bewildered. Max told him, “Because she is happy.”

He had done so much growing when I wasn’t looking, when I couldn’t see him.

How do I describe this ache I have in my heart today, one that encompasses pride and joy and excitement and anticipation and intense love and sadness and fear and mourning? Fred saying good bye to kindergarten is a visual for me to see the rest of his life: him as a teenager, him as a man. Why do I fear losing him, when I know I’ll always be his mother?

I remember the day, nearly seven years ago, when my hand shook holding the thin plastic stick in the bathroom. As the blue rushed into pink and confirmed what I had suspected, I broke into tears. It was only a small part joy and a major part panic. I knew my life had changed, forever, in that instant.

And I remember, for a long time six years ago, how I had counted the months and the days and the minutes. I wanted to fast forward life during a time when time didn’t seem to be moving at all. I wanted to sleep. I wanted a child who could express his needs verbally. I wanted a child who didn’t need me as his personal mode of transportation. I wanted a child who could feed himself. I wanted more freedom and I wanted my child to grow up.

And growing up he is and has been doing, this whole time. How I now want time to stand still, or to even go back. How I want to hold Fred again as a baby, to nourish him from my own body and to have that quiet time together, just the two of us. How I want to listen to his babble and to imagine all the funny and curious things he is trying to say to me. How I want to carry him and show him the world from the safe distance of my arms. How I want to sleep right next to him, and soothe him when he wakes up, no matter how many times it takes.

Back in those days, it had been just the two of us…the two of us in our own private world, a world in which time seemed to stand absolutely still.



It’s That Time of Year Again…

Summer time is our family visits time. For many people, it’s the winter holidays. But because our work peak season falls over Thanksgiving and the new year holidays and because Fred has now started school, we’re unable to do any traveling until the summer.

In a little over a week we will take our annual trip to Japan to visit Max’s family and celebrate my father-in-law’s 85th birthday. In August we’ll head up the east coast to visit my parents and celebrate my dad’s 72nd birthday.

The annual conversations about visiting our parents are always brought up reluctantly. Usually it’s Max who initiates in January or so with, “So, when should we go to Japan? And what about your parents?” As my in-laws are elderly, it is pretty much out of the question to ask them to fly 17 hours to see us. My parents are closer and a little younger and, while my father hates traveling, my mother has made a couple of trips down to see us since we moved here. However, they too are in their 70s and it is better for us to do the traveling.

I hate that the first thing that comes to my mind when planning these trips is the expenses, rather than the anticipation of seeing our families again for the first time in a year. Traveling to Japan typically involves not only plane tickets but also living accommodations (because there is not enough space at my in-laws for the three of us), daily meals out (because my in-laws are too elderly to cook for 5 on a daily basis, especially in a kitchen the size of my bedroom closet), and several hundred dollars worth of presents that we are obliged to bring with us. I know, I shouldn’t be complaining about money so much but we are also in that critical stage of our lives where we need to save for retirement and college.

Not visiting is not really a choice we have, as long as we can swing it financially. We relocated to the U.S. at a time when our in-laws expected us to be close by to care for them in their old age. When Max told his mother about our plans to move, she cried for weeks and called him “cold hearted.” In the end we moved because we felt we needed to raise Fred in the U.S. (and because I simply could no longer live there myself). Do we think of ourselves and our children first, or do we think of our parents? I had forgotten that my parents, too, were in the exact same position decades ago, when they made the decision to leave their parents and home country for the U.S. “What did you do? How did you tell them? ” I had asked my mother. She said, “Your grandfather was very sad…he cried…but he understood. He knew we needed to do what was best for us.” And so, too, my in-laws eventually understood and supported us.

Next year Max and I will celebrate our 10 year anniversary. I’d always wanted to revisit Europe, and I know that this is the one place my mother wants to see, for the first time in her life. I toyed with the idea of taking my mom to Europe with us next year, only to realize that with the mere mention I had already raised her hopes and expectations. I tried to tell her a few times that we hadn’t yet decided if we could actually swing a trip to Europe, and then remembered an essay that a 30 year-old student of mine wrote recently. He talked about how his father was suddenly diagnosed with and died from cancer, and how he had failed to fulfill his promise to his father to take him to this golf course in Japan that he had always wanted to visit. He said he had promised to take him years ago, but year after year found a reason – work, kids – to push it off. I don’t want to do this. My mother has sacrificed so much for me, and I want her to see Europe. I have almost 30 more years to earn money. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 10, maybe even 20 years to spend with my mother.

But if we go to Europe, what do we do about Japan? Making two international trips in one year would be out of the question. But my father-in-law will be 86 next year, and his health is fair. Each year we wonder if it will be his last.

I don’t have the answers right now. We’re in the sandwich generation, worrying about our aging parents while we struggle to build a solid foundation for ourselves and our children. The one thing that really came through as I was thinking about this post, though, is how fortunate we are to even have this dilemma in the first place: all 4 of our parents are alive…Fred knows all his grandparents. My maternal grandparents died before I was born, and I never did see my paternal grandparents again after we moved to the U.S. when I was 3. My parents couldn’t afford international travel when they were younger, so they were unable to fly back even when their parents passed away. 

For now, I will count our blessings and find a way to make things work.

Free to be Happy

Max and Fred, our first week in the U.S. two years ago

A childhood trauma had hardwired my brain to fear and expect loss. Though the experience is long behind me, a couple of years ago I began to realize that I was not completely free of its grip. 

My happiest moment was July 4, 2008, when we moved to the U.S. after having spent 8 years overseas. Of course, I was also happy the day I married Max and the day I gave birth to Fred. Somehow, though, moving home had a different momentous feeling…perhaps because I wasn’t gaining something as much as I was reclaiming something that had felt lost. Yes, I had made the choice to experience Japan but, after a few years, I had desperately wanted to come back. The U.S., for all of its problems, is the place that felt most intimate to me, the place where all my dreams of “happily ever after” took place. And so that ability to return, with a husband who was willing to sacrifice his home for mine, is something I will never take for granted.

But as grateful as I was to finally have “everything” that I had wanted, I never felt truly happy and at peace…because I couldn’t allow myself to. For the first three years of our marriage (until Fred was born), I had feared constantly the day I would lose Max. And now that I am a parent, I fear the unspeakable. My anxiety over having the rug pulled out from under me, of losing everything that I have worked and waited for, made me go through life waiting for something to happen rather than savoring what was right in front of me. I remember sitting at a cafe the first week we were in North Carolina, looking out the window into a sea of green that I had thirsted for after almost a decade in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, and I started to cry. This is where I wanted to be, and yet I feared being punished for being too happy. 

A few weeks ago I wrote about my frustrations being on auto pilot, of not feeling motivated to get through the daily obligations of life. Your supportive comments led me to a deep self-reflection and further conversations with Max and a close friend, all of which led me to the following conclusion: Time will pass regardless of how I spend it, and so I’d might as well spend it happily. I know this sounds trite and cliched to most people, and yet for me it was never at all obvious. I had known no other way to live except with anxiety and in fear of loss, and to let go of that need to prepare for the worst is easier said than done.

But this time, I feel that I have done it – that is, I am determined to try and change. Because I have hit rock bottom, and I am sick and tired of worrying. I see Fred growing right in front of me and growing with so much joy, and I’d hate to look back and realize that half that time I was worrying about things that may or may not happen instead of relishing the little boy who was becoming a man right before my eyes.

So this weekend I began shifting my attitude. On Friday Max and I took the morning off to chaperone a field trip at Fred’s school and then enjoyed an outdoor cafe afterward instead of returning to work. On Saturday, I finally mustered enough positive energy to clean out the boxes from our family room/office, to make way for a brighter and happier space. I also tried a new citrus body scrub and painted my toenails. Small, trivial indulgences to most people that I have rarely allowed for myself.

And then the other evening, in the rarest of rare moments, I invited Fred to come along on a bike ride with me. We rode along together through our neighborhood, up and down hills, laughing and taking in the sights of our beautiful small town. As I pumped my legs to make it up the hills, I felt the new will that told my body to keep pushing despite how hard it felt, and when the bike glided down, I decided to let my body go – not thinking about going too fast or falling or crashing – and to just enjoy the ride…light, effortless, and free.