A Mom Interview

Uh, the interview’s with me…no one famous ūüėČ Mrs. Mayhem over at one of my favorite blogs, Mothering Mayhem, recently tagged me for this interview, so here goes…

What experience has most shaped you, and why?

For better or worse, I would say growing up as an immigrant. I’m too conscious of the person I could have been, had I been born an American to Americans. It took me a long time to feel I belonged anywhere. Also, the early burden of¬†adult responsibility to help my family, stress and my parents’ extreme devotion to me made me feel resentful many times and I¬†longed to be freed. When I finally “escaped” to Japan at age 30¬†I¬†felt both exhilarated and guilty.¬†I focused¬†on myself and for a long time considered family, children, etc.¬†to be a burden. I had my first and only baby at 35, which¬†is not that old, but the relatively late start has impacted the life I have now.¬†While I am very happy with my family life¬†now, I sometimes wonder if I would have had more children had I been ready sooner.¬† Also, I wish it is easier to be grateful to my parents. They have given me so much, so selflessly, but I sometimes¬†still struggle in my relationship with them today.

The flip side is, of course, that these early experiences have given me strengths as well: an open-mindedness to different people and cultures; resiliency and resourcefulness to carve my own path; strong decision making ability and independence. And because we have gone through so much together, my parents taught me about the unbreakable ties of family and about the unconditional love between parent and child, brother and sister, and even wife and husband. I see my blessings clearly now in the wonderful family I am so grateful to have.

If you had a whole day with no commitments, what would you do?

Oh, I’ve already tried this with my failed “staycation”! Alright, next time I’ll try to do it right: I’d¬†have lunch out with either my husband or a girlfriend, read a book, go to a bookstore, watch a movie in the theater.¬†Whatever it is, I would make a point of being outside of my house.

What food or drink could you never give up?

Pad Thai and sweet tea ūüôā

If you could travel anywhere, where would that be and why?

There are so many places I’d like to visit, but if I can choose only¬†one it’d be China. It’s a country that’s so huge in so many ways, and simply for personal reasons I feel the need to go: it is my ancestral country and my parents’ birth country. I know so, so little of their history. I’d like to see where my parents grew up, where they went to school. As they’re aging I’m beginning to feel a kind of emptiness that I have lived so long without taking an interest in their lives…we are so close and yet our lives and histories are so far apart.

Who do you have a crush on?

¬†Oh, Fred, of course, my little 6 year old…he makes me melt!

If you were leader of your country, what would you do?

Where would I start? I’d focus on policies and programs that allow families to have the right start: healthcare, nutrition, education. I can afford to invest in my own child’s future so he can contribute as an adult, but so many other parents cannot.

Give me one easy savoury recipe that doesn’t include cheese.

 Pork loin, dijon mustard, apricot preserves and rosemary leaves + Braeburn apples brushed with the same sauce.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

A pediatrician… This was my one career goal from age 10 – 17. I taught myself¬†anatomy with a children’s book and then¬†volunteered at the hospital as soon as I was old enough to. In high school I took the science track and landed straight C’s in chemistry. Still this didn’t deter me, until I started hearing stories about how in medical school you have to work on cadavers. Slowly,¬†by the time I finished high school, I had let go of my dream.

Looking back, medicine would not have been a good fit for me seeing how I hate the sight of blood, long work hours, stress and lack of sleep!

If you could spend just one day in someone else’s body, who would it be?

Either my husband or my mother…my husband because I want to know what it’s like to be a man, and to be married to me (so I can be a better wife), my mother because we’ve spent our whole lives (well, my whole life) not understanding one another well. I think there is so much to her that I don’t know and that I could never fully understand or appreciate unless I could see things from her eyes.

Which woman writer ‚Äď living or dead ‚Äď do you most admire and why?

There are so many great women who have had the courage to share their words…but I will choose Maya Angelou, because of what she went through and what she overcame to find and share her voice. She had been mute for 5 years as a result of some incidents following her rape (at age 8), but she overcame this and more to share her life story.

What character trait inspires you the most?

A combination of compassion and drive, because it takes this to change the world. I admire so much the people who have it.

What is your favorite kind of music?

I love Japanese koto – harp music. I have a hard time relaxing and the tranquil sounds of the koto take me away from wherever I am.


Thanks again, Mrs. Mayhem, for sending these questions my way. And now I am supposed to tag some other bloggers, and add my own question to the mix. So my question is,

Which book or books have inspired or touched you the most?

I’d love to pass these interview questions to the following bloggers, and learn more about you!

Alexandra at Good Day, Regular People
Jane at Aging Mommy
Justine at Here Where I Have Landed

Kate at Watercoloring on the Table

(sorry, I can’t seem to get rid of that extra space between Justine and Kate)

Never too late

The two biggest fears I had growing up were (not counting things like natural disasters, child predators, death, starvation, fires (etc.) which to me are givens):

  • childbirth
  • swimming

Obviously, I had mastered my first fear, a fear so strong that I delayed pregnancy for as long as I could. And then, as my luck would have it, I would end up laboring 29 hours in a hospital surrounded by rice paddies in a foreign country, almost 7000 miles from my mother who, due to health problems that year, could not travel to see us. But having gone through what I did, I felt like I could conquer the L&D world: let me birth 2, 3, 4 more babies, I thought. I can do it! The fact that that opportunity never came is beside the point (another post for another time, perhaps); my whole mindset and attitude changed because of my one Olympic accomplishment.

Fear of the water, of swimming, is something that has plagued me since I was 7. When I entered the 2nd grade my elementary school had moved into a brand new building, equipped with a large heated indoor pool. Swimming classes were part of the curriculum and I was the class’s worst student. I hated putting my face in the water. I refused to lift my feet off the pool floor. When other kids were diving, I was still going nowhere on my kick board. I began forging sick notes to the teacher every few weeks, but she caught on and shook her head at me in exasperation once, saying to me “I don’t believe you.” Yes, I was lying…not because I had no interest in learning, but because I was scared. I wish that as a teacher she could have seen that.

Not being a swimmer means being on the sidelines alot, especially during the summers. There is little motivation to accept beach invitations or to hang out at the pool. I try to avoid boats, canoes,¬†rafts¬†and ships in case I’m ever in a Titanic situation. It is even harder when you marry someone whom¬†I like to call a “water person.” There is a camp of people who say they could live in the water, and Max is one of them.¬†He comes from generations of water people and by 9¬†was competing with adults¬†in swim competitions. He even named his two sons after the ocean. We honeymooned in Maui and now that we are back in the US, every weekend is beach¬†or water park weekend, especially now that I have also¬†birthed a mini water person.

And I have to admit, watching people in water makes me want to get out there myself, except I have these stubborn legs¬†and feet¬†that refuse to let go of their grip on the ground. I look at swimmers’ freedom and carefreeness with envy. How wonderful it must feel to glide through water with a light body, rather than with a rapidly beating heart and images of the Titanic being flooded (see how much that movie impacted me…). How liberating it must be to view the ocean as an oasis rather than a whirlpool waiting to swallow you.

We had an early dinner last night and walked over to the new aquatic center near our house. Max and Fred were so used to my not accompanying them that they were making plans to go, just the two of them. And then I piped in, “I’m going too.”

Though I didn’t plan on doing anything except to help supervise Fred in the water, for some reason yesterday I decided to place my head back in the water and simply lift my feet off the pool floor…and let my body just be. And it floated. It wasn’t an anvil. It didn’t sink. And so I did it, again, and again,¬†competing with Fred and crying to Max, “Look at me! Look at me! Did you see me?” I beamed,¬†seeing my husband’s face light up and hearing his applause, as if I were 5 again. Then after about a half hour of floating and trying to swim on my back, I pushed myself a little further. This time I held my¬† breath and went in face down…again and again.

I’ll admit, I don’t like the roaring in my ears under water, nor do I feel completely confident holding my breath in an environment that does not yet feel like home. But yesterday my fear had taken a backseat. Not only did my body feel lighter, but so did my mind. At last I felt liberated, liberated from fear. After 41 years, maybe I too can become a water person.

“Fun” is not an F word

One of the funniest essays I have read comes from Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate. In it she describes a list of F words central to her Chinese immigrant family, and among them is the word “fun.” It’s funny to me because she’d might as well be describing my own life.

A combination of personality, culture and circumstances led my mother to raise me into¬†believing that FUN is an evil temptation, a privilege to be enjoyed only after all dues have been paid, and then only in moderate doses. It’s the human equivalent to ice cream or supermarket cupcakes with blue frosting. Take a bite but only after you have eaten all your vegetables, meat, fish, grain and dairy and done your jumping jacks.

As a sheltered teenager my main indulgences were Seventeen magazine,¬†General Hospital and Duran Duran (anything). Boys and kissing (or more) came in the form of visions and took place just inside my head. But I wasn’t allowed to enjoy these things until after all the homework was done and after my room and/or the house was cleaned. On weeknights it was just work. On weekends by the time all the “important” things were done the sun had already set, and my sheltered life precluded any noctural adventures unless they took place inside a television set. I remember getting caught with my Seventeen magazine inside my biology textbook on a Saturday afternoon and listening quietly to Dr. Ruth on the radio past 9 p.m. on Sundays (what I would do with all that information I learned I had no idea).¬†I just consider myself lucky that my boyfriends were all invisible.

I don’t know if there is any connection, but as an adult I then spent nearly a decade in what has to be one of the most un-fun societies in the world (Japan). The Japanese bring workaholic to a completely new level. Stay-at-home mothers hand make their children’s book bags and smocks and make animal- and flower-shaped food for their children’s lunches. Businessmen stay in the office¬†until the last train, usually around midnight.

So where does that leave me, on my first ever staycation? I’m going on Day 11 and I am having alot of trouble having fun. Call it poor planning, or the wrong attitude, but I feel I’ve wasted nearly my whole staycation. I’ve checked my work email (and done work) at least 4 or 5 times. I’m doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom. I’m standing in line at the bank and the grocery store. I’m fighting with customer service reps about an erroneous charge on my credit card bill. I’m sitting in traffic doing drop off and pick up at Fred’s camp. Doesn’t sound too different from a regular day in the life of me during the slow part of my work season.

But I did manage to do a few things this past week-and-a-half that I haven’t made a consistent habit of doing:

  • Used the dishwasher (heavenly!)
  • Got a massage
  • Went¬†to the movies

In fact, yesterday¬†– with three days left in my staycation –¬†is when I decided to put together a list of my top grown-up indulgences, and they include (in no particular order):

  • nice smelling bath and relaxation products
  • good tea
  • chocolate and wine
  • movies
  • books

I’m going to fill our home with these things, and up until my shopping trip yesterday I already had half this list. So with two hours to spare before picking Fred up, I drove to our nearest shopping mall and did a mini-shopping spree at Bath and Body Works. With their special promotions and coupons I was able to stock up enough to start a mini at-home spa on less than $40, and I stocked up on great teas and chocolates at the nearby gourmet store’s summer inventory sale. We’ve been¬†bathing on¬†Lever soap bars since 2008, because you can get these packs of 16 at Costco for under $8. But there comes a time when you need to splurge on $12 fruity shower creme since nothing is more expensive than insanity. Just ask my husband. (He is telling me, “Go! Go shop! Please!”)

So I say, what the fun – I’m going to do it!

What do you do for fun? What are your indulgences?

A Mini-Travel Memoir of Japan

I’ve been back a week now, physically; mentally I’ve still got a little ways to go. ūüėČ

Japan was wonderful: hectic, stressful, exhausting.¬†I realize how much, after two years in beautiful and quiet North Carolina, I’ve missed the big city. We could walk to the supermarket, enjoy streets bustling with people, take a commuter train to the museum, a temple, a night club (though not that we did). On the downside, there were days when Max and I did not get home from meeting clients until midnight, days when we had to commute 2 hours each way to get to a work destination. I had to coordinate childcare and drop-off and pick-up schedules with Max and my in-laws. On Father’s Day we needed to call in all the troops: my friend Kathryn and her husband to take Fred from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and my in-laws to take Fred from 5:00-11:00 p.m. Such is life in Japan, where Father’s Day and Sundays do not take precedence over work. We could not live like this long term, which is why we were hungry to relocate to the US. But, for 2 weeks, it felt good to meet our clients face-to-face and to experience the bustle and purpose of an energized life.

And I understood during this trip that there is no longer any point in trying to narrow down a home to one. I inhabit both America and Japan, maybe not physically all the time but always in my heart. I missed Japan because it is where my life transformed into what I have now. I revisited old shopping malls and walked down old streets with an internal camera to the days when Fred waddled beside or ahead of me, his bottom bunchy and big with his diaper, his little legs and feet pat-patting the ground with the delicacy of a newly confident toddler. On the¬†day these memories came at me full blast I was alone; Max was working and Fred wanted to spend the day with his grandparents. I shopped at our favorite mall alone, stroller-free¬†for the first time, and ate at my favorite organic restaurant in peace for the first time. Every time I saw a toddler I saw Fred in my flashbacks as a new mother. Did I ever think that the next time I’d visit this mall that I would come back with only my memories?

The rest I will tell in pictures. I’ll admit that, miraculously, I had turned off my blogging brain during this trip. Not looking for blogging material, I regret that I didn’t take enough pictures. But here are a few:

This is where we – the 3 of us! – stayed. It’s what the Japanese call a “monthly mansion” (apartment). It’s designed for (single) business travelers but the 3 of us squeezed into this mini studio because it was the only option we had within walking distance of Max’s parents. Hotels in Japan charge per person rather than per room, and the closest hotel is about a half hour away. Kathryn opened her American-size home to us and we stayed with her and her family one night.

Jet lag + cramped quarters + work = 1 nasty fight between Max and me the second night we were there.¬†We’ve learned, the hard way, that these fights can simply be filed away under “duress/both equally at fault.”

Giant billboards in Tokyo during the World Cup.

A typical commute home. This photo was taken at around 10:30 p.m. one Thursday night inside the train. That’s my head at the bottom of the picture. (Yes, at 10:30 I really ought to be in bed or in front of my t.v., not commuting on a train!) Believe it or not, this wasn’t even a particularly bad ride; I’ve experienced many others where I felt my bones were about to rip apart, or where I was pressed up against strange men more closely than I have ever been pressed against my own husband. Blech!

In a city as crowded as Tokyo (the station hub Shinjuku is the busiest in the world, with over 3.6 million passengers passing through its 200 exits each day), order is critical. Trains are scheduled to the minute and passengers politely line up to board. The above sign is part of a great campaign to promote train etiquette. If only they had this in New York!

(Top photo): A sign inside the train station announcing the “Women Only” passenger car. Train “gropers” (chikan) are notorious on crowded Tokyo trains, as social misfits have no other way to release their sexual urges other than to anonymously molest women on crowded trains. Men have been known to assemble via the internet and they prey on women who look unlikely to fight back. In my 8 years in Japan, I have been lucky to not have encountered a chikan. Also true is that some women who do not get groped then have a complex, wondering, “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t anyone want to touch me?” Ahem. No thank you.

(Bottom photo): A group of OL’s (“Office Ladies”) on their lunch break. These are women workers hired to do clerical work. The difference between American secretaries and Japanese OL’s, though, is that the OL position is inherently sexist and dead-end. Not only do they do menial tasks, they are required to pour tea for and otherwise serve the (usually) male managers and clients. They are also the only employees required to wear uniforms.

When I first arrived in Japan in 1999 I had stayed in a women’s college dormitory. I was held to the same rules as the 18 and 19 year-old students, meaning I had to adhere to a daily 9:00 p.m. curfew. I was allowed to stay out until 10:00 provided that I filled out paperwork 3 days in advance and received all the required signature stamps from the senior dorm staff. (A colleague finally rescued me by inviting me to share her apartment.) If only blogging existed then!

All this to say, I’m lucky to be an American woman.

A beautiful, serene temple tucked away in the center of bustling and ultra-modern Tokyo. I love the bottom picture of a businessman taking a quiet lunch break in the temple.

Noticeably missing are family pictures. We came home with no photos of Fred’s grandparents! We were able to celebrate Max’s father’s 85th birthday the day before we left, and we went to a stunning restaurant located in the middle of¬†a traditional Japanese garden. As is our way in Japan, though, we were constantly rushing,¬†and Max had brought the camera but left the battery still recharging in the apartment. Such was our time in Japan. We keep thinking, next trip we’ll be more relaxed…next trip we’ll do it right.

Back, Slowly

I’m back, though just barely ūüėČ We had a fun and exhausting trip and Fred has somehow decided over the last couple of weeks that he needs just 2-7 hours of sleep a day…If my blog were a t.v. sitcom this is the part where I would air a rerun or one of those compilation episodes. So luckily for me one of my posts is up at the blog Laugh Out Loud today. I wrote this one in February before most people knew I had a blog. Please join me at LOL and I hope you enjoy the post. I can’t wait to start reading and writing and connecting again. Happy 4th of July!