Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Last week Reno got a new bicycle. It was delivered on Monday afternoon and stood waiting in the driveway for her return home from school that day.

We practiced riding on it for about two hours that afternoon. I noticed that the frame was a little too high for her. . . but kids grow so fast. Before we have always gotten her the bicycle frame that fit her exactly at the moment we were purchasing and then maybe two months later she was begging for a new, bigger bike!

So this time, Masa went ahead and bought her an adult size frame bike. I wasn't with them when they purchased it. Sure she has to use her toes to balance it standing, but she could just slide off the seat to set her feet firmly on the ground.

Unfortunately on our first test run out with the new bicycle I realized that Reno wasn't doing that--the sliding off the seat for firm footing thing. She was instead desperately pedaling around looking for curbs and rocks and things to balance against when she had to stop the bike. I pointed this out to her but she continued to stop only by finding open curb to balance her toe on.

So when we got home I told her that until she could pass my bicycling test (stopping quickly on a dime, turning around without having to use the entire street space to do so, etc.) she was limited to bicycling only within our neighborhood. No crossing any major roads or bicycling on/along unfamiliar roads. Confining her to the limits of our neighborhood meant that she had access to eight roads--all within a residential area. She protested a bit as now that she is a 4th grader according to her elementary school she is entitled to bicycle within the school zone not just her neighborhood. (1-3rd graders are limited to just their neighborhoods.) Her school is about 20 minutes away from our house by bike and the route crosses two major roads. I was resolute that she would have to practice, get the hang of her new bicycle and pass my test before she could leave the neighborhood.

On Thursday she got hit by a car while bicycling just two blocks from our doorstep.

I had just had the bright idea of taking her along with me on another practice session with the bicycle when I stepped out the door to go get her. She had been cheerfully waving each time she cycled pass our house as she went up and down our street but when I stepped out to intercept her I didn't see her anywhere. Hhhhmmm. . . perhaps she has taken a spin around the block? I thought. So I started off down the street thinking I could check in on Saki who was playing at the neighbor's house three doors down from us. Saki was standing in front of her friend's house pouring water into empty bottles. "Have you seen Reno?" Saki paused, put a hand to her forehead to shade her eyes and squinted at the open road in front of and behind me. "No." Hmmm. . . . I thought and I turned towards the road again intending to walk further down another block to the neighborhood park.

Then I saw Reno, walking rather stiff legged towards me. An unknown woman of about my age was next to her, steering her by the arm. Reno was walking her new bicycle next to her. As I got closer to them, it dawned on me, "she must have crashed on her bicycle!" So in Japanese, as I got closer I called out, "koronda?" (did you fall). Reno didn't say anything, without turning her head she looked sideways at the woman next to her and then back at me. By then I was close enough to realize that she had tears in her eyes and that the trembling lip she was biting was bleeding. The woman immediately bowed deeply towards me and said something about her car hitting Reno and Reno falling down off her bicycle.

At that moment is was as though my mind were run on a gear system and all the chains simply fell off. So information was coming in but wheels were spinning without any progress being made towards processing any of this information.

I stood there swallowing words whole: car, hit, fell. And I seem to remember concentrating on trying to look friendly. I kept reminding myself to smile. I think I apologized to the woman but I still don't know quite what for? For my daughter being in her way?

The woman leaned down and lifted Reno's skirt to show me where she had fallen. The scraped side of the leg wasn't very bad looking but what my mind seized on was the woman's hand--shaking uncontrollably and suddenly "hit her with my car" was processed. My daughter had been hit by a car. The woman was so terrified, Reno was in a kind of state of mild shock. . . and I was standing there practicing my "friendly face".

A quick inspection of Reno revealed that she had scrapes on both legs, her left arm and when I pulled back her bangs a cut on her forehead as well as some scraping along the left side of her nose. She was holding her left wrist but could bend it. Her lip was bleeding and when I had her open her mouth I was shocked to realize that the lower right corner of one of her front teeth was gone. "Reno, where did you hit your head?"

Reno continued to stare straight ahead, her eyes large and watering. She shook her head slightly but said nothing.

"On the road? On your bike? Do you remember hitting your head? Not at all?"

The woman looked anxiously at me so I translated my questions for her into Japanese. While Reno continued to just shake her head ever so slightly to respond negatively to all my questions the woman told me that she had not seen Reno's head strike any thing.

"Hmm. I think I will take her to the hospital just to have a doctor look at her though. It concerns me that her head is bleeding, her tooth is chipped and she has no memory of hitting her head on anything."

The woman nodded.

I don't remember the order of things from that day very well, but sometime in between calling the taxi, collecting Saki from the neighbor's to take her with us, and calling Masa to let him know what was going on the driver left and then came back again. When she came back we looked at Reno's bike (no major damage, just some scrapes on the front basket) and the woman explained where the accident had occurred and how.

Reno came out of a blind exit from the park at the same moment that the woman had just come around a bend in the road and they collided. Thankfully because the driver had just completed a sharp bend in the road she was traveling at a low speed. I'm sure in retrospect that Reno on her bicycle must have seemed like a torpedo coming out of no where. Reno more or less agreed with the woman's version of things although she kept insisting that she had looked both ways before leaving the park. There was no one else present to give an objective report.

Interestingly enough it never occurred to me to look at the driver's car. And although I kept thinking, "if I were in America I would be asking for her insurance company information and taking down her license plate number. " I couldn't get past just thinking about it. Because I don't know how to ask for someone's insurance information and details in Japanese. I was concerned that if I asked for official information I should ask for it correctly.

My daughter gets hit by a car and I turn into a grinning second language idiot.

Just as the taxi pulled up Masa returned my call (I had left a message for him at his office) so I asked the taxi driver to wait and handed the phone over to the driver of the car that had hit Reno. When she handed the cell phone back to me Masa was demanding, "did you ask her to call the police?" It wasn't so much a question as an accusation. I defended myself by saying that mostly I was just concerned with getting Reno to a doctor to be checked out at the moment.

When I asked if I should tell the driver to call the police now he responded that he had already told her to do so and that he would meet us at the hospital later. I hastily exchanged phone numbers with the driver and then sped off in the taxi with the dazed and still shaking Reno and the exuberant Saki who likes taxis. In my mental fog I neglected to give the driver either my or Masa's cell phone number and she also only gave me her home phone number so for the next two hours we could not contact each other. Finally the police contacted us through the hospital.

Reno, thankfully was not seriously injured. No broken bones, no sprains, just scrapes. The most serious injury was to her tooth and on that front we are waiting to see if the tooth's nerve will recover or if she will need a root canal and a cap. In Japan, generally, whenever a driver hits a pedestrian, be they on foot or on a bicycle, the driver is the one who is held at fault. So the driver's insurance is paying all of the medical/dental bills. They even offered to cover the cost of a CT scan if we wanted one done.

So now, in the aftermath of the event as I ride the aftershocks of the initial collision I am left wondering. First, I wonder why I froze at the "if I were in America I would. . . " point of the thought process. I mean, yeah, I'm not in America. So why didn't I just do or say something sensible instead of just standing in the road concentrating on trying to put the driver at her ease? Not that I wish I had jumped all over the woman and run around shrieking or something. I just wish I could have transformed into capable adult not grinning foreigner freak.

And even after 7 years of living here as a wife and mother it is coming as kind of a shock to find myself once again in uncharted, unknown cultural territory. I have no point of reference in accident/collision behavior.

So, if Reno had been hit by a car when riding her bicycle in America:

Would the driver have spent over five hours waiting at the park--first to talk with the police and then to wait for our return from the hospital ER to discuss the matter with us?

Would the driver have called my home to ask how Reno was feeling later that evening?

Would the driver have called my home again the morning after the accident to check on Reno's condition?

Would my daughter's fourth grade teacher have driven over to our house after school to check up on Reno?

Would the police have painstakingly outlined the whole incident in chalk on the street where it occurred? Here is where the car hit the bicycle. Here is where the car came to a complete stop. Here is where the bicycle fell over, in swirls of yellow and white chalk. (I was so thankful when rain the next night washed it all away.)

Would the driver have appeared the next day on our door step with a box of cookies from a high profile bakery?

Would the driver continue to call to get the latest updates on Reno's tooth?

And just like I sat in amazement, my jaw hanging open at the site of Japanese baseball fans politely returning the caught fly balls to the umpire at my first Japanese major league baseball game, here I am now waiting and waiting for the self defense comments to come. But the driver never says any of them. She simply looks distraught and continues to repeat, "I just didn't see her at all and then there she was. " She usually follows this with "I am so sorry."

Why doesn't she scream, "She came out of no where! How was I to avoid her? She was a missile on a bike!"

I ponder all these differences as I chew on a shortbread strawberry cookie from the bakery gift box. I've talked with other foreigners here in Japan who have been involved in traffic accidents. All of them spoke about being unable to choke down the various edible apologies that they were given. Saki, Reno and I had finished half of the gift box of bakery goods on the very day that the driver brought it by. Of course, our accident wasn't as serious as those that others I know have been involved in. No one was seriously injured. As far as I know both Reno's bicycle and the woman's car don't need any repairs. Only the tooth. That one front tooth, which happens to be an adult tooth. It's the only crack left after the collision.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Writer's Therapy or The Workaholic's Wife

I am writing now because if I weren't I would be telling my children all kinds of terrible things about their father that really, a mother shouldn't tell her children. I would be using words to describe him that the children are not allowed to use and actually, shouldn't even hear and hopefully, don't yet know. So I have stomped off into the tatami mat room (which I find soothing and which also conveniently enough houses our computer) to practice my deep breathing stress relief techniques and to try to discover that well of strength that most mothers appear to possess--the one that allows them to project stability and harmony into their children's lives no matter what maternal tempest is brewing inside.

Failing to find such a maternal well of strength, I have at least put some physical distance between my children and their teeth gritting, colorfully cursing, daddy-bashing-Mommy. Which sometimes is the very best thing that I can do for them.

Living with a workaholic is not so difficult. That part I have gotten used to. He isn't here when I am at the 5:30 p.m. moment of mental melt down. He isn't here when Reno is waving her homework in my face asking for help and Saki is sobbing and screaming because I have once again refused to let her have ice cream for dinner. He misses out on their daily blood curdling screaming fights which often evolve into pinching and hitting bouts.

He isn't here to see me delight the girls with a new dance I've invented to one of Shakira's songs off of her CD, "Laundry Service." We dance in a circle, hands joined--the girls are absolutely glowing. He isn't here to watch me play karuta with Saki or watch as I work side by side with Reno teaching her to read and write in English. I don't know if he even knows about the "relaxing baths" that we sometimes take together where we line up all our scented candles along the ofuro turn off all the lights and play Buble on the portable CD player just outside the ofuro.

He has never been present when I have sat at the kitchen table with electronic dictionary on one side and the DS lite Kanji program on the other laboriously looking up kanji/new vocabulary words in order to help Reno with her homework latter that day. He has never watched me try to simultaneously make dinner, appease a screaming four-year-old who can easily scream for over 40 minutes, relentlessly hound a stubborn nine-year-old into doing her homework while ignoring the hairy shedding cat that nips me on the calves angry over the fact that wet cat food persists in not appearing in its bowl on demand. He has failed to witness how our four-year-old can gag at the mere sight of a vegetable not to mention projectile vomit one an amazing distance.

He doesn't know our after school routines, our pre-dinner routine, our after dinner routine, nor our pre-bed routine. He knows they take piano lessons but he doesn't know where or when. He would not be able to pick out their friends if I put them in a line up right in front of him. Asking him to name their friends would be as futile as asking him to tell me the middle names of the last ten First Ladies of the U.S. His chances of picking out the girls' favorite bedtime stories are also basically null and void.

Living with a workaholic is not so difficult. The thing one has to learn to do, has to work at being able to do, is to live with out the workaholic. And I have worked. Of course I had several years of resentment sculpting, following by anger/aggression management and finally I have reached what I see as the "Aum" plateau. I have finally realized that nothing I do, nothing I feel, will in any way affect the hours my husband chooses to work or not to work. The only person over whom I have any power to affect change is myself. And I don't like being angry. I don't like feeling resentful and I was really really scared this spring when I had a full blown panic attack.

So scared that I uttered my first very little and hesitant "Aum" as I lay hooked up to the heart monitor in the local E.R. And I felt a little bit better.

I tried it again at home when 5:30 p.m. hit me on a school night. "Aum." I felt a tiny bit of a ripple, like the kind you get when someone dives into the pool while you are floating on your back being buoyant. I sucked in some more air to make me more buoyant. The next time that Saki started to scream the house down demanding refined sugar for dinner I fixed her with a "look" while I let my mind gently fade to white and I did a quick breathing exercise. Then I smiled and poked her in the stomach and made it into a joke. She was still giggling even when I put the spaghetti dinner that she had been contorted in rage over, right in front of her. She stopped smiling when the green dinner salad appeared to its left but I didn't. Even when she began the loud piercing lament of the green legumes wail--I just "aumed" my way through it.

When I wake up at night now and sense that Masa still hasn't returned home from work--be it 1 a.m, 3 a.m. or 5 a.m. I just breath in and out and sink back down into the rhythm of sleep. I know from experience that waking up and clock staring won't bring him home any faster. I know that waiting up and picking a fight won't change anything--even if I "win" it. I know that getting up to see if he is home doesn't really matter. It is the middle of the night or the early morning. It is time to sleep. My children will be waking in a few hours and they won't be tired or lethargic. They will be hungry. They will prod me and poke me and sing loud "what's for breakfast? I'm huuuuunngerrrrry!" songs into my ear. They will wake me up by wrapping themselves around me, climbing on top of me and demanding that I too get up to be awake with them. Whether or not I know the exact time of my husband's return home doesn't matter. It is late. It occurs while I am sleeping in between my two cubs, getting ready for another day of pouncing and stalking and hunting and rough housing. I can't afford to let the pride down.

But that doesn't stop me from feeling like roaring on occasion. Tonight when I went to answer the phone me pre-Aum self allowed a single thought to flick through my mind, "Oh! It's probably Masa! He's coming home!"

It was Masa. He wasn't coming home. It's a Sunday today and he left for work at 8 a.m. this morning. He called at 9 p.m. The Sunday event that he went in to work for finished hours earlier. No, he was still there doing other things in the office.

"Will you be working through the night again?"

"Um. Looks likely. Yeah."

" Pity."


"Well, tomorrow will be wasted then. You'll just sleep all day."

"Uh. . . actually, I have to work tomorrow."

And I suddenly forgot to breath. Instead I could feel the center of my stomach hardening. The savanna grasses began to wave back and forth in front of me and I startled to slink down, settle each steeled muscle into the wave of grass as I looked for the target. I wanted to kill him.

So I passed the phone over to Reno. "It's your Daddy. He's going to go to work tomorrow, on the National holiday. Say hi cause you won't see him tomorrow!"

And I heard the bitter words clipping out across the space of what had been the lovely end to a lovely day spent playing and laughing together. My eldest daughter dragged her feet, literally as she plodded over to take the phone receiver I waved fiercely at her. "Hi Dad" fell in muted tones as I started to struggle against the pressure of the water. Sinking. Must breathe.

But when I opened my mouth instead of sucking in air to buoy me up I hissed out a few choice words describing the depth of my resentment for a man who chooses to stay at work such long hours that he not only sabotages family holidays he jeopardizes his health and the future of his family. Realizing what I was turning into I scuttled off across the sandy floor to retreat to the tatami room, clawing the sliding paper doors shut behind me.

When I sit down at the computer and the first word is formed I push off from the bottom. I start to paddle my way back up onto the shore and as I start to throw my thoughts into sentences and pull them into paragraphs I begin climbing. I am running along a theme, following an image, riding a simile back up to the plateau where I sit down, cross legged and say, "Aum."

And Reno and Saki sense it. First Reno asks hopefully if I don't want to take a shower with her? Saki appears with a sleepy look and her current bedtime favorite "Pakun" (a book about a little worm who eats his way through the seasonal foods of Japan) hugged to her chest, won't I read "Pakun"? As I lay out the futons and breath in the scents of wet hair and fresh soap still clinging to my daughters soft little forms I think about how lucky I am. The view from up here is startling clear and the fresh plaetau air is filling my lungs.

I don't know when he will be home. I even sometimes have to admit that one night he may not come home. With his health condition, the medications he takes, chronic sleep deprevation and his commute. . . the future could hold any combination of scary outcomes for us. But what I do have is right here, right now, sleeping next to me. On my right is Reno, who still even at the age of 9, insists on holding my hand as she falls asleep. On my left is Saki, who will, throughout the night, continously nuzzle and prod me, happiest when she can lay her bare hand on my stomach. And whereas I felt earlier like roaring, I find to my own amazement that I now feel like purring. And although the worries do not dissapear, I simply greet each one with a level "Aum" and the night gets on with its ritual of restoration and renewal.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Of Guppies and 9 Year Old Girls

Two things are weighing on my mind currently. The first is that my 9 year-old is out on her first long distance foray into the real world with one of her friends. It's not as though they caught the bus to go downtown. They have walked about thirty minutes down the road to a discount candy store. But you know how a maternal mind works. It's a brilliant sunny day out (perfect pervert weather) and they are at a candy store (where would you loiter around looking for helpless little girls if you were a pervert?). When the friend appeared this morning asking if Reno could go to get candy with her I must have looked very forbidding because both girls launched into highly polished speeches on 1. the intended destination, 2. what they would do there, 3. How they would get there (by foot not bicycle as they conceded that perhaps bicycles mightn't be safe) and 4. Their ETR (estimated time of return).

So, after I hung her mobile phone around her neck and secured it by clipping it onto her belt loops as well. . . I waved them off down the road. God I wish I could put homing devices in the kid's molars.

So far I have called her twice. Once to make sure they were on target (still headed to the same location) and now once again to be sure she hasn't forgotten the promised ETR, which she had indeed already forgotten so we have moved it forward by thirty minutes.

If I seem controlling or overprotective, well by Japanese standards I am! One of the kids' favorite T.V. programs is "Hajimette Otsukai" (first time to help MoM) where mothers send off children as young as 5 to go down to the corner store or over to the nearby fish market etc. to buy something and bring it back home. The kids cross busy roads, train tracks, go through tunnels. . . with undercover camera men/women filming the whole escapade of course. One time the program featured two 5 year old boys who took a train all by themselves to another town to go to their former preschool teacher's house to give her a present. And on a day to day basis it is not uncommon for mothers to leave young children home alone while they do the grocery shopping and other neighborhood errands. Latch key kids here can be as young as 6 and no one blinks an eye. (Except for me. I stand around batting them both manically as though someone has poured lemon juice in my eyes.)

In my case, I can not erase the ominous warnings branded on my brain in my early days of motherhood by helpful books like "What to Expect The First Year". There the authors advise you not to leave your baby unattended even to just pop out and check the post because you never know when a fire might break out or an earthquake might hit.

However, as Reno gets older she is starting to chaff at the bit a little and I don't want her to suddenly up and turn into a Harajuku Girl on me in an act of teenage rebellion later so I am trying to learn to stand back a bit and let her get on with this growing up stuff. Safely.

The other issue weighing on my mind at the moment is the reproductive abilities of guppies. Are they like aquatic mice? Little water bunnies? The girls, who deftly went behind my back and wheedled their father into doing this, got two new fish for the ill-fated fish tank. Two guppies: a girl and a boy. Last night at about 11:00 p.m. Reno came down stairs and crept up behind me to announce in a weary yet proud little voice, "Well I have some fantastic news. We have baby fish!" As I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when she made this announcement I spit and replied, "Impossible. You have to get a little breeding side thingy and do all sorts of special things to get fish to reproduce. Must be mildew growing in the tank." She looked crestfallen and retreated upstairs.

As I went up the stairs minutes later I heard the following monologue coming from her room, "oooooohhhh aren't you cute? Don't hide behind the rock!" With a bit of trepidtion I wondered, What? She's talking to mold? My daughter can't tell the difference between slime and a fish? I didn't want that to be true but still just thinking it was wishful thinking.

When I went in and investigated the proud new owner of baby guppies introduced me to the "brood." They are too tiny and dart around so quickly we can't quite get an accurate count. Anywhere between four and six I think.

So now I'm caught up between two fears. The first being that Daddy guppy or Mommy guppy will eat their offspring and thus devastate my two offspring. The second being that the baby guppies will survive and grow up and make more baby guppies. Will I end up having to tie little bags of guppies to go mercilessly throw into the local river?

Who knew. . . so was it a freak of nature or do guppies reproduce at the drop of a hat? Who knew.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Getting Ready for the Onslaught

So. It's that time of the year again already. Summer vacation will soon be upon us.
The push is on.

I called the dentist this morning to get my teeth cleaned this week and next week (here in Japan they like to clean just a couple of teeth at each visit. It has something to do with insurance payments but it is really irksome for foreigners who come from countries where the dentist can clean ALL your teeth in one sitting!). I'll have to get a hair cut maybe next week. Gotta remember to dye my roots then too.

Oh and mustn't forget to organize my sanity and ponder some universal truths in solitude.

It's time to make a list titled "things I can't do with children underfoot" and try to get through them all before the educational institutions of Japan release my offspring for a month.

I remember the good old days (which were right up until the year 1998 when my first daughter was born) when summer vacations were "mine". I owned them. Summer vacation was for three main activities:
1. Sleep
2. Idling away the day light hours doing things like swimming, then laying in the sun to dry, then getting back in the water, then drying out again, then getting back in the water. . .
3. Social drinking (without having to care whether or not it would impair my ability to be my best on the next day--I mean submerging oneself in water and drying out doesn't require that much mental finesse.) The socializing was the real high light of it anyway--staying out late at clubs or at friends' houses, talking and laughing, being carefree and witty.

And now I'm embarrassed. Did my mother at the age of 40 long for her graduate school day summer vacations as well?

Since the year 1998 however, summers have been changing. The biggest change came when my eldest started elementary school here in Japan. And brought home summer homework. A big pile of it. And a daily schedule. On which she was to record the time of day she woke up, her daily activities and the time she went to bed--for every day of summer vacation.

And then there was the knock at the front door from the representative from the local child's association. She gave us a Morning Exercises card. During summer vacation we were supposed to get Reno up and alert and down to the neighborhood park to do rajio taiso (Radio Exercises). Rajio taiso starts at 7 a.m.

So now here I am, just weeks before the start of another summer vacation and I am panicking. Saki will start going to preschool for mornings only from July 17th. That means both she and I get the joy of getting her up in the morning, fed, dressed and wrestled onto the preschool bus only to have her reappear at our doorstep shortly before noon. I get to make lunches!

Why it is that before every school break the preschool goes to half days the week before I don't know. . . just to increase the mounting tension among the mothers?

July 19th will be her last day of preschool. However, for some horrible reason, Reno's summer break doesn't begin until one week later. What makes a pubescent 9 year old angrier and moodier? Try sending her off to school while her younger sister waves at her from the wadding pool out back!

So, I have the girls signed up for swimming lessons (but it'll only be a 5 day course). My husband Masa spontaneously enrolled them yesterday evening. Later when I thanked him he replied, "I didn't want to hear your whining."

Of course, I get to ride the bus to and from swimming lessons with them and I get to sit up in the second floor glass encased viewing area to peer down at them during their lessons. With about 100 other mom's and their toddlers and babies. At least Japanese women don't smoke in such situations. I recall nearly going ballistic when I went to the "video and picture taking day" at the swim club one year. Apparently, the lure of using photography and video equipment was enough to get the Dad's there because on that day I ended up wedged between two men who chain smoked the entire time. And I was about 8 months pregnant with Saki at the time.

I was so surprised the first time I put Reno in swim lessons to learn that I was expected to stay right there at the club and watch every second of the goings on. In the U.S. Mom dropped us off at the YMCA and sped away, rather happily as I recall. . .

Other than the swimming lessons there will be the rajio taiso, the daily schedule, the summer homework and the dreaded summer art/craft project. Although we never have glued together the miniature log cabin that Masa brought home from a business trip to Canada for Reno. . .

If my husband Masa got a summer holiday than it might be different. But this year instead of time off he actually has conferences to go to out of town on most of the weekends in July and August. If I could drive it would be different. I currently don't hold a drivers license anywhere in the world. . . stupid, stupid, series of events lead to this. . . but bottom line is that I can't drive legally here in Japan. So the girls and I are kinda stuck here in our neighborhood.

I love living in the country side but have realized that the biggest thing I have had to give up by moving to the country side in Japan is a regular, convenient bus service. Here the buses come once every hour or so. In the cities in Japan they come every 10 minutes. Plus most of the bus schedules can be obtained in English. Here it is entirely in Japanese and often, the local stops aren't even listed. . . My neighbors,when I first made inquires about the local bus service, laughed politely and explained that they had never used a city bus. Now when I am on the city bus I look around and sure enough, everyone else on there (both of them) appear to be elderly citizens who either never learned to drive an automobile or have had their license/driving privileges revoked. And me. The clueless foreigner who just "forgot" to renew her U.S. drivers license thus letting it expire and then I waited too long to renew it and now am unable to get an international drivers license and . . . well, there I am, sitting on the bus, perched on the edge of my seat, wondering what the next stop will be as I have no clue how to read the kanji displayed in the "next stop" electronic scroll at the head of the bus.

But I have figured out the bus to the pool/recreation point. A bilingual (and literate in Japanese) foreign friend came and visited us here this past January and she decoded the bus to the pool for me. I am sure we will be busing it many times during the hot summer months.

So soon, my day will be taken over by schedules and lists--the antithesis of my summer vacations from way back when. For Saki, summer vacation is still fun. The problem for Mommy these days though is how to keep Saki happy and safe while forcing Reno to sit and study every day for 1-2 hours or more. Saki can already repeat most of the dialog from nearly every Disney animated feature that there is. (I have to stop relying on the DVD player so much.)

Of course, Saki already has her little stash of "homework" activities--drawing, learning her numbers and her alphabet as well as her hiragana (the Japanese phonetic writing system). But it drives her sister crazy because Saki just flat out has FUN when she studies versus the agonizing pain that Reno appears to have to put herself through to do anything school related. So to make herself feel better Reno likes to tell Saki that her handwriting is messy and that her artwork is pathetic.

And then Saki begins to wail. And over the sounds of her little sister's shrieks will come Reno's admonitions of "don't be such a cry baby, looooser." Sometimes she'll toss in a scathing, "nakimushi" which I translate as "crying worm". I don't know what the real translation is but my own translation works for me. In fact, Saki will begin to writhe very much like a worm as her cries of outrage crescendo, breaking over our household.

And I will feel like crawling away and submersing myself in some water and then crawling out onto a nice lawn chair and drying out. But I won't be able to. Instead I'll have to stay with the taunting elder sibling and the crying worm. If I am inspired and have the energy I will choose that moment to whip out a fun summer time activity that all three of us can participate in. If on the other hand I am tired and uninspired I will calendar gaze--counting down the days until containment.

*Language Note: nakimushi translated into proper English is: cry baby. So older sister is just putting little sister down bilingually--the same insult in two languages. Kind of like my mother's famous, "Cease and desist!" from my childhood. I remember when I realized that both words meant the same thing and came up with the flippant teenager come back, "bit repetitive and redundant aren't you Mom?"

**Language Question: Anyone know the kanji for nakimushi? My original translation came about because I associated "naki" with the Japanese verb "naku" to cry. And I associated "mushi" with the Japanese noun "mushi" which is insect/bug. Then I flipped that bug into a worm, cause, well, picturing a worm crying amused me. With kanji though, you can have the same pronunciation as another word but have an entirely differnt meaning/word on your hands. Wondering how close to/ far off the mark I was on this one. . .