Thursday, December 6, 2007

Don't Ask Don't Tell

It's that time of the year again--Christmas and my in house man-in-red (aka Old Saint Nick) worshippers are getting incredibly bright eyed and optimistic. Of course, financially pinched Mom and Dad aren't feeling so jolly.

I think I have Reno seriously doubting the integrity of Santa if not the credibility of his actual existence. She has noted recently that all the gift cards signed "from Santa" were suspiciously enough, written out in my handwriting and I have done nothing but stare back at her like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonder land blowing smoke rings in Alice's face. I haven't made the slightest move to try to debunk her theory.

Plus I came out and announced officially that Santa would be leaving only one gift per child.

Still, hopefully this season, though sparser than previous Christmases will not end up as the disastrous "they ruined my childhood"counseling session I tend to envision in moments of great trepidation and serious maternal fretting.

However, when my mother asked me for gift suggestions this year, my heart just literally thumped. BA BUMP. Suggestions? Gift suggestions? In an economically squeezed holiday season I was instantly thrilled! What we couldn't afford to get the girls, their grandparents could! They could go to Toys R Us and get that Gabrielle action figure doll for Saki! They could even, oh gasp of joy, purchase the High school Musical II DVD for Reno!

Of course, in my spasm of unconcealed elation I momentarily forgot who I would be sending gift ideas to--my mother.

My mother and father told my brother and I that after the age of 21 we were in no way entitled to anything from them--monetary support, lodging, and certainly not presents. Now, about the money and lodging, they meant we weren't going to get either from them, flat out, no room no board no mula. (My husband actually payed my graduate student health insurance for me--and he himself, was a poor international grad student! He still can't believe that my parents refused to even after they knew that he was coming to my rescue.)

About the presents clause though. What they meant by this was we were never, ever after the age of 21 to express desire for anything. Gifts were gifts because they were things that they wanted to gift us with not because they were things that we wanted or needed. So when my brother blew his knee out in Judo and he asked for help to go to a surgeon they told him, "why do you think we have been paying into the welfare system all these years?" The welfare system offered to weld his knee in place. His girlfriend's parents ended up paying for the specialist who was able to restore full movement and range to his knee. I didn't get student health insurance from my folks but I did get a card that announced that they had made a generous donation in my name to a charity.

Now, while the "Don't ask. Don't tell." policy regarding presents annoyed me a bit in my early twenties and still was rather irritating in my thirties. . . once I became a mother it became down right frustrating. Because I have not been allowed to make suggestions we have several duplicates of videos and English language children's books. Thank god that my parents actually do ask me about clothing sizes. But do you know how painful it is when you are an expatriate and you want to give your kids something from your native country/culture but you aren't allowed to ask for it? You want to get them "A Little Princess" which you can't find here anywhere but instead, you have to bite your tongue and gratefully receive another copy of Snow White--which you already own, having bought it over the Internet for a birthday earlier in the year.

So, this year when my mother actually sent a written request for suggestions--oh the searing second of rapture! I enthusiastically wrote out a list. Reno would ecstatically welcome anything at all connected to High School Musical (which interestingly enough doesn't seem to be popular in Japan at all!) and Saki's passion is Dora the Explorer, the Cheetah Girls and still anything to do with Disney princesses. I cautiously gave them the link for the Foreign Buyer's Club from which they could order American board games to be shipped to the girls (to save on shipping costs for them). I enjoyed visions of my kids playing Clue, Life, Cranium. . . .

My mother was very quiet. I heard nothing back for weeks. Then this morning the phone rang. As Saki had just finished vomiting (for the fifth time since she woke up at 5 a.m. crying) into the big bowl and I thought I had a good chance of 15 minutes or so until she needed to vomit again, I picked up.

Mom was calling to let me know that she had decided against going with the suggestion list. She was going to send the girls clothes. Which they need and which we will appreciate I am sure. It's just kind of sad to see my own childhood Christmases replayed like that for me on my own children, "oh. socks. Thank you Mom." (Okay, they aren't going to give them socks--that was for the first generation--me and my brother. The grand kids get actual outfits and they are usually quite cute.) Still, those of you who got woven and stitched things instead of bright shiny, impractical noisy things on Christmas mornings will know the feeling of quiet sadness I am talking about.

So the next part of our conversation really surprised me. "Do you have birds?"

Now, my parents LOVE wild birds. They have probably messed up the migration patterns of numerous species in their part of the U.S. as they have on their property about five different feeders. A local newspaper even came and did a special community focus story on them.

"Uh, in the spring, summer and fall we do. I haven't really seen any since the freezing rain and snow set in."

"Well, your father and I are going to send the girls a winter bird feeder. You can make it with them. "


"Will that be okay?"

I kept trying to respond, really. But I just couldn't stop trying to remember when exactly it was that I last saw a bird outside here. Crows. There must still be crows I thought. I hate crows. And I hate building things. There was a really good reason why I never even considered taking "Shop" class in high school. I even loathe having to put the numbered stickers on the toys that come in the kid's Happy Meals here.

"Oh yes. They like building things. We get lots of birds in the spring."
(I am so good at saying the polite opposite of what I am feeling inside.)

"Well, this bird feeder is a special winter bird feeder. For in the winter. Do you have bird seed there?"

"I've never seen any. Well I have seen bird food for parakeets in pet stores."


"Not that I have ever seen." (that wasn't attached in thin stings to the sides of cuts of meat. . . )

Mother was sounding displeased with my answers. Japan was proving itself to be a useless little country once again. I felt very much like the stupid silly daughter who went and moved to a far away country that didn't even have the decency to try to be more American!

"Well. That's decided then. We will be sending clothing and a bird feeder. "

Before hanging up with her she reminded me to have the girls complete their questionnaires and return them to her. My parents are trying to get to know their grandchildren better so Mom sent a list of questions for Reno and Saki to answer. Interestingly enough while some of the questions are very appropriate, "what is your favorite animal?" others are a bit perplexing, "What is your favorite musical piece to play on the piano?" I mean, they just started taking lessons last Fall. Their musical pieces are all by Yamaha and are called things like "Bunny Rabbit" and "Butterfly."

And instead of "What is your favorite food?" she asks, "What foods are special?" I left it worded just like that to see what the answer would be. Saki frowned, thought hard and answered, "Bananas." When I asked why she said, "because I would like to eat a banana."

Knowing my mother though, I know what she was really saying with that question. "Because you are being raised in a foreign country far away, you are foreign to me. You and I don't eat the same foods or celebrate the same holidays. What strange weird foods do you consider special?" Like my five-year-old is going to get all enthusiastic about describing some seasonal Japanese food to her American Grandmother. Even at the age of five, Saki seems to intuitively know that Japanese Obaachyan isn't the one to talk to about High School Musical and that American Grandma isn't the one that you offer to sing "Santa San RinRin Rin" to. She separates out her American cultural heritage from her Japanese. And my nine-year-old just plain knows that if she answers "omochi" it is going to turn into a kind of at home cultural report so she is more likely to answer "Bananas. Bananas are special." just to get out of the assignment.

Don't Ask. Don't tell.
How I forgot that simple rule for even a second of this Holiday season I don't know.

But I do know that I am going to have a good look at the winter bird feeder kit thing before I put it under the tree for the kids. If it looks like the "Headache of Christmas 2007" I am not going to put it under there. Instead, it is going to arrive tragically broken into tiny pieces--further proof that Japan just isn't up to snuff. That in itself will be a kind of gift for my mother--giving her ammo of any kind is treat. A strange dysfunctional kind of thank you note. Ah, my family--definitely a Don't Ask. Don't tell kind of clan.


illahee said...

big big hugs.

Sarah@mommyinjapan said...

My grandmother was like that. We would get the oddest assortment of gifts from her, each oddly packaged, and I could see my parents roll their eyes as we opened them. We didn't really like the gifts either and they would mysteriously disappear the day after Christmas. Hmmm...

Then suddenly a few years ago we started receiving checks in the mail from her as a Christmas present. I was so shocked. I called my siblings and they all got one, too, but the biggest shock was when I called my Dad and he had received a check, too. Actually he was so surprised that he called his siblings just to make sure that his mom was OK (as in still in her right mind). I don't know what happened but all of a sudden she's turned really generous.

I think because of all of that my parents try to be as normal as possible when is comes to helping us out financially and when it comes to giving presents to their grandchildren. They call all of us each year in November to get a list of things that interest our kids and then they buy accordingly.

I guess that will be your job: to be as normal as possible to make up for your parent's mistakes.

Santa's Banker said...

Well, for me it's not about the stuff I receive from my parents or anyone really, it's all about the joy of being alive and celebrating the lives of others. Tomorrow's not promised to no one, so why waste it worrying about what you got from this person or that person, instead celebrate the moment and cherrish the memories. I love watching the classic holiday movies, you wouldn't find that kind of instant classic quality with High School Musical or any Cheetah Girls Album. This holiday season I took a job promoting some of my family’s favorite classics that have been compiled into a special gift set called: The ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS CLASSICS. It’s a limited edition DVD box which includes: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Frosty the Snowman", and "Santa Clause is Coming to Town". You can get the set anywhere they sell DVDs or at Oh, and it includes a bonus music CD, we play it at my office and it just puts Christmas conviviality into the air. Since, I've been working with them I hear how this was and is the gift that keeps on giving, you can share it with any and everyone.

coarse gold girl said...

Santa's Banker has an excellent point. Just this a.m. turned on Cable (and with my two girls home sick today) all four of us (husband is going in to work late today) sat and watched Miracle on 34th Street. And locally, we actually have all the videos SB mentioned in our Christmas video library.

Christmas is a celebration of what is in our hearts after all. I guess along Sarah's lines of "be as normal as possible" I just needed to sit at the keyboard and vent a bit so that I would be better able to delve into the Christmas cheer with my family!

Thanks everyone!


Sarah said...

I just love your writting style, I can't get over it.

That sounds so frustrating about the situation with your parents, its much better to never be shown the golden carrot than to catch a glimpse and have it be taken out of reach.. (weird metaphor sorry..)

Anyways your girls sound like they will have a great Christmas and good memories because of you! The nice thing about families is that you can learn what does and doesn't work well for you. Im sure your girls will appreciate it when you are asking them what they want for there kids!

Hopefully the bird feeder proves to be fun! Sometimes the most off gifts give the lasting memories. For example, in 5th grade I got a cooking of the world cookbook for kids. I tried to make some south african cake and switched the sugar for salt... opps. Anyways, that was a present I won't forget although I suppose it was my own fault :)

Nay said...

I have the same problem with my grandparents.Year after year, I have gotten a pair of underwear. I can't even given say that they are "cool" underwear. Nope, just your boring old pairs of cotton underwear sold at the Supermarket - and half the time, they don't even fit!! lol... sometimes you just have to laugh. As long as you all have fun, and share many good memories with each other as a family, your girls aren't going to care what they are given from their grandparents. Trust me, I know!!

Lulu said...

I loved this post, I laughed a lot. It made me appreciate my parents...and my grandparents! I got some strange presents from my grandparents when I was little....I am sure that Spring birds in Japan don`t know the difference between american winter bird feeders and spring bird feeders so I am sure it will be a success!!!

I am sure your kids will have a good christmas....They obviously have parents that love them immensely!

Do you have a printer? I know of some sites that have dora coloring for printing and bingo!

Donna said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting a few superficial gifts for Christmas. You aren't talking about mowing people down at the mall to grab the last Bratz doll off the shelf, just a few things that you know your daughters would enjoy and you can't get them in Japan. Do you have a multi-region DVD player? I know DVDs from Japan won't work on a US DVD player unless you have a multi-region one. Is Dora stuff available at the Japanese Nicolodeon website?

I understand this is less of an issue of the availability of Dora and High School Musical stuff and more about expectations. I realize how spoiled I am living in the US where I can order things from around the world, how easy it is for me to order things from Japan and get them within a week.

L. said...

My mother bought my daughter her first Bratz doll, when she was a little too young for it, when I had specifically said we were holding off on Bratz as long as we could. She did it just to piss me off -- her favorite gift to herself.

kaimacat said...

Oh wow! It is at these times of the year that we really let it get to us don't we.

I am feeling frustrated because I have had to do all the shopping for everyone. No surprises for me. DH is a dear and would love to buy me something but he is led by the nose by the shop assistants and always buys something that is so just not me. I wonder sometimes how much of a handle he has on who I am.

I do love reading what you write. I am sure there must be a book in you somewhere. I am usually riveted to the screen with waves of all sorts of emotion going over me by the end.

Love it, Hang in there. Do miss you here in Osaka though. Playgroup is not the same without you.


diva said...

I hope that, however simple, you still have a wonderful Christmas:)

azumarisan said...

If you ever need anything from overseas let me know... :) Even though i'm in Oz we can still get most of what the USA has. :)

It's not the point, i know...but :) Still...anything you need. :)