Thursday, January 24, 2008

Answer to the Language Question

A couple of people in their comments were asking about what language we use in our family/household.

We use English. Masa and I met in the U.S. and so our first language was English. Well, first spoken language was English. We communicated heavily in body language that first year. . . (insert happy happy sigh of remembered bliss). But I felt then, that as he was studying in the U.S. to improve his English, I should use only English with him.

How I got trapped into using only English? Well, by the time I made my way to Japan after graduating from university his English level had surpassed my Japanese language ability to such an extent that I stupidly let our relationship continue in all English. Why do I say stupidly? Because well, look at me. I live in Japan but I'm not fluent in Japanese! I have a Japanese spouse but have had no conversation partner in Japanese!

Masa just flat out says that it is too "weird" to use Japanese with me and he also gets really easily frustrated with my level of Japanese. I guess it would be something like walking into a session of the Senate and telling all the Senators, "Okay, just for fun, let's all speak like first graders today, Okay?"

Now, when we had our first child we were in the U.S. for the first two months of her life. Then we were in Queensland, Australia for the next two years. Ironically, Reno heard a lot of Japanese during those two years, but not from Masa. My best friend in Australia was a Japanese woman whose husband worked at the same company as my husband. Her husband was also Japanese. While my friend and I spoke a mix of English/Japanese with each other she made a point of speaking only in Japanese to Reno--for which I was very grateful. Especially when we were living in an English speaking country I wanted Reno to hear and learn Japanese as well as English. My friend lived in the apartment across the hall from ours and so Reno actually spent more time per week exposed to her than she did exposed to her own Daddy.

When we moved to Osaka I realized rather quickly, "uh-oh." cause Daddy was still speaking all English with his baby girl who was a toddler by then. But we popped Reno into Japanese day care and hoped for the best scenario that so many people told us would come effortlessly--that she would be bilingual before we knew it.

It is much too long of a story to get into here but no, Reno did not fall into the "she's already talking in complicated sentences--chattering away in Japanese and English alternatively!" category of bi cultural children in Japan. Her first language, her native language is English. She is now fluent in Japanese as well.

Her little sister, Saki, appears to have stronger linguistic gifts/abilities and has been aware of the two languages (Japanese & English) since she was first speaking. Reno didn't quite catch on to the "two languages=one object=two different words=same object" concept until she was in elementary school! Saki has been able to smile sweetly at the Japanese obaasan (old lady)in the park and gurgle "wan wan!" (Japanese noise for a dog barking, a baby word for dog) and then beam back at me and chirp "doggie!"

Of course she has all the advantages that a younger sibling gets. We made mistakes; we have tried to rectify them. For instance, my second child will start elementary school here having already learned all her hiragana and katakana and if I have my way all her ichinensei kanji (first year kanji) as well! Like most of the other Japanese children. With Reno, I didn't know that the ichinensei year (first grade year) is supposed to basically just be a "review and boost their confidence year". So she went in hiragana-less, katakana-clueless and kanji--what the f*@k and her ichinensei year turned into a "stamp all the self-confidence out of this kid" kind of year. We are still recouping from that experience.

And since Saki's birth and Reno's first very difficult years in elementary school Masa now makes an effort to speak to the girls in Japanese. He still tends to use English with them when we are all together as a family, but if I am out of the conversation--say I am in the kitchen or at the computer--he speaks to them in his native language. They will automatically use Japanese with him if I am not present.

Why do I have this "speak in English" effect on my offspring and mate? Well, I have offered to play clueless Jane and have them all speak in Japanese around me (in fact I have begged for them to do this.) but now, not only does Masa feel "weird" speaking to me in Japanese but my kids think it feels "weird" too. I'm the English mama.

When I am particularly irritated with my children I will scold them harshly in Japanese. . . maybe that has something to do with their aversion to my speaking in Japanese but the little smart Alec's know that they can back talk in English and no one around us knows what we're/they're saying. So when I bark out, "Mou, shinai de to yutta deshou? Nani o kangaetteru no?" (Hey, I said cut it out. What are you thinking?) they not only get to hear my best guttural mean-Japanese-mommy imitation but they know that everyone around us KNOWS that they are being scolded. Shame can work wonders in a crowded public space.

For Masa's part he has confessed that it is simply too difficult to flip flop languages. He can't talk to me in English and switch to Japanese for the kids and flop back into English for me all at the same dinner table at the same time.

Plus he just honestly HATES helping me with the language. Honestly. If I ask him, "how do you say book case in Japanese?" (for example, you know a common noun? a common household object?) He will often look thoughtful for a second and then look at me and with a completely sincere and focused face say, "we haven't got a word for that in Japanese." Of course I used to call him on it. Now I just sigh and mutter nasty words under my breath and colorful little curses and linguistic hexes--you know, like "May you end up living in an Arabic country, unable to communicate and illiterate."

Although to be fair--he is now working hard with Reno on her fourth grade kanji and kokugo (reading/writing). They write a diary back and forth to each other. He also recently has been supportive of my efforts to learn Japanese by bringing home an English to Japanese, Japanese to English, Japanese to Japanese and English to English electronic dictionary for me. And when I went out and purchased a bunch of kanji software for the DSlite he just commented that it was good that I was getting into studying kanji again.

As of recent, he has even been known to answer specific pointed questions regarding Japanese usage and grammar.

To recap briefly, our home language, our dominant family language is English. When I am with the girls I use only English with them. We watch predominantly English language channels on Cable and I prefer to watch most of our rental DVDs in English. However, Reno and Saki both have a few Japanese anime shows that they watch that are, of course, in Japanese. On weekends they enjoy the dreaded Japanese variety shows (hell for the typical foreigner) with their Daddy. Daddy does try to speak Japanese with them but when we are all together we tend to all use English. While the road to being bilingual has been difficult for my first born, it so far seems to be paved and smooth from my second born. Whether or not this is just inherent in their make ups or a quirk of birth order I can't say for sure. Although I would tend to think it a bit of both.

One thing I have never experienced, that I know other foreign English speaking mothers and fathers here have at times, is neither of my children have ever asked me to NOT speak in English to them in public. In fact, the only language they ever beg me NOT to speak to them in in public is Japanese! Neither of my daughters has ever gone on a language strike, refusing to speak one language or the other.

You know what I am really curious about these days? I wander what kind of guy my Masa is in Japanese. Because I know that my personality changes a bit when I am speaking Japanese versus English. Hard to explain but it's like I turn from one pane of glass to another and look out on the same landscape with the same world view but everything slightly tinged in a different hue. The longer I know him now the curiouser and curiouser I am becoming about what kind of guy he would seem to me were we to communicate only in Japanese with one another.

How about those of you out there who are also involved in an international relationship? What language do you and your significant other communicate in?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

He Who Laughs Last

You know, for the first decade or so of my relationship with Masa I have to fess up to, well, playing word jokes on him. I used to knowingly use English words that I knew were beyond his vocabulary. Mostly my jokes were little sarcastic or ironic commentaries on things that amused me no end and seemed harmless enough. If he had ever paused and said, "hey, does that mean ----?" I would have given him truthful answers.

Well, it looks like I have entered "pay back" territory and honestly, although I'm a little peeved I have to say I'm proud of him! He got me good.

The other day after dinner, Masa looked up from the dinner table and called across to me in the kitchen (which is about two feet away from our dinning room, which is to say, our dinner table, this being Japan and us living in an honest to God typical Japanese house) "Can you get me a toothpick?" Since I looked blankly back at him (being in a bad mood because I had just finished cooking dinner and was now preparing to clean up from dinner) he switched tactics and asked Reno instead. But when he asked her, he used Japanese, "Tsumayouji kashite kudasai."

My ears pricked right up. I even took off my i-pod ear phones. "TSUMA what?"

And this is where my guy shines. He did such a good job on me. He didn't smile, he didn't sneer, he just said, in a distracted tone, "yeah?" and then asked Reno again, "tsumayouji kashite kudasai!" a bit louder as she was simply staring blankly back at him (being a tween and entirely moody and uncooperative even over the simplest things, like getting someone a toothpick).

Now, I studied Japanese three years in college, went on a semester exchange to Japan in 1988 and lived and worked in Yokohama for two and a half years after graduation. In 2000 we moved to Osaka, Japan and we have been here in Japan ever since. My second daughter (Saki) was born here in Japan.

Am I fluent? Hardly. Apparently English language schools, or at least the one for which I taught in Yokohama, want their foreign teachers to speak only English so badly that they threaten to fire you if they find out that you are speaking any Japanese on their premises. The university I worked at in Osaka didn't threaten to fire me for speaking Japanese but since I was teaching English language immersion courses, well, I spoke very little Japanese. I want my daughters to grow up bilingual, so our home/family language is English.

I speak Japanese regularly to sales people. It consists of the following:
Kore wa ikura desu ka? (How much is this?)
Kore onegaishimasu. (This please.)
Arigatougozaimasu. (Thank you.)

Maybe a couple of other words. If I am feeling linguistically extravagant.

They don't do small talk here.

So my Japanese, while I have enrolled in the odd Kumon course here and there and have amassed an extensive library of Japanese language texts and currently study using my daughters DSLite with some excellent kanji software, has not really improved much. In fact, when I was an exchange student, I think my language skills were more advanced in Japanese than they are now. I've not only failed to learn more kanji, I've forgotten kanji that I used to know!

So, when Masa said "tsumayouji" I immediately thought of the two words I do know that sound like that. Tsuma which means "wife" and youji which means "task or thing to do." Now, thinking of "toothpick=wife task" I asked him hotly if indeed the kanji used for tsumayouji was the kanji for "wifely task".

He is so good.

He even acted like he was impressed with my language ability--that I could guess the kanji like that.

So all week long I have been fuming and seething about "stupid dumb worthless sexist language--grrrrrr----dumb Japanese!" However, this evening as I was sulking in the kitchen, I mean, cooking in the kitchen, it occurred to me, "no. . . . . he didn't. ? ? ? ? " So directly after doing the washing up I headed in to the tatami to the computer to look into the Japanese word for "toothpick".

It turns out that the kanji for "tsuma" in "tsumayouji" is the kanji for "claw, nail or talon" and the kanji for "you" is the kanji for "Willow". The remaining kanji, "ji" is for "bough, branch, twig or limb."

I can't wait to give my man a great big hug tonight when he gets home. I am so proud of him. And he kept it up for two days--even working in a lecture to the girls last night on how in the old days, women used to ceremoniously pick their husband's teeth for them as a sign of respect.

And here I was thinking that my man was a purely slap stick toilet humor guy! He got me with a word trick! Oh, will I never stop falling for this guy?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

8 Things Meme

I got tagged for a meme by Cherry Blossom Adventures! I like these things--reminds me of getting writing prompts in writing workshops at uni. I'm such a geek. I also adored essay tests through out high school and college.
So here goes:

8 Things I am Passionate About

1. Humor--especially wit. But anything or anyone who makes me laugh makes me happy to be alive. It is actually one of the few things that amazes me to this day, the fact that my husband Masa is a typical slapstick, toilet humor kind of guy (this humor does not amuse me) and I am more a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead/Monty Python/The Daily Show/David Letterman kind of gal and yet we do find things that make each other laugh and things at which to laugh over together. For the record, no one, and I mean NO ONE on Earth will ever or has ever made me laugh as long, as hard and as whole heartedly (until my soul was about to burst with joy) as my life long best friend from high school and university, the creator of "le poison".

2. My Friends--need to have good senses of humor and sharp intellects (which enable them to be extremely witty) as well as wide hearts and accepting minds. This in turn earns them fierce loyalty and devotion, even boarding on outdoing the devotion of a faithful lab or golden retriever.

3. Music--is emotion that you can hear and dance to.

4. Finger Printing--oh you unwitting fools. Now I know how grass root campaigns get started and how small groups of people can become determined enough to actually bring about changes in the larger arenas of their lives. I don't appreciate Japan treating me as a potential criminal/terrorist/human germ sponge. In fact, I passionately dislike this new policy of finger printing and photographing every foreigner coming into Japan, be they the first time tourist or the seventy-year-old permanent resident.

5. AFWJ--the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese. Yes, the organization's name is a bit long and sounds sort of. . . remarkably like a Japanese group name, simplistic, direct in its naming but doesn't exactly leave one marveling at the beauty of the English language does it? In the early years of living in Japan as a wife and mother I once lamented to a fellow foreign wife, "I have no nakama. No group." and she laughed out loud, slapped me on the back and said, "but you do, you do. You are in AFWJ. We are your nakama." At the time it was a kind of break through for me. There I was still at some level wishing and yearning to be brought into Japanese society and treated as a member of it. Ha. Ha ha. Up until that minute I hadn't wanted to admit that maybe my life would not be remembered by a large number of the Japanese people in my community. Perhaps it would only be remembered by the Japanese students whom I taught, the neighbors with whom I had daily contact, the rare Japanese acquaintance turned friend. . . picturing your funeral attended by mostly obligatory visitors is not a fun day dream. But here I was a member of this fantastic group, able to forge and maintain friendships with some truly stellar and fantastic women and I wasn't "counting" them as "real" because they weren't Japanese. Ha. Ha ha. (It's all in the rhythm there, if you do it in the right rhythm you get that ironic laugh, if not, I probably seem like an idiot to you.)

Now, well into my life here in Japan, AFWJ has been an integral part of my life here. Contacts, advice, help in the form of verbal advice, a willing ear, laughter and practical things like a box of maternity clothes in MY SIZE during pregnancy. The benefits of belonging to this group never cease but only seem to increase as my involvement with this organization grows and deepens.

6. The written word--a perfectly formed sentence can make me swoon. A cleverly phrased insight leaves me exhilarated. I am, first and foremost, a word nerd. God, I even enjoy simply reading the dictionary!

7. Nature--Oh I was dying when we lived in the concrete jungle of Osaka. Never did I upon waking gaze up into the smog filled skies and bless the lord for letting me live another day. The day that I got excited and mistook some incredibly disgusting and honestly physical revolting insects in the local rice field for poly wogs. . . oh my. I bent down and eagerly scooped up a half dozen of them in the palm of my hand. That is when I realized that they looked like tiny pill bugs but flatter, sharper and with many, many more ever moving, never at rest disgusting little legs. I wanted to vomit. It was something like reaching out to pet a kitten and instead discovering that you're caressing the dying, hairless body of a skinned baby rabbit. It was really gross, but I don't know what the hell those repulsive little insects were so I can't give a picture of them.

In contrast--Oh the rapture of life in Northern Japan, smack in the inaka (country side). I do wake up every morning and feel flushed with gratitude to live amongst the marvel and beauty of clear skies, green grass, towering pine trees. The lakes and rivers are so clear I can stare at the fish meters and meters below. In the course of a typical spring walk I can see a snake, a few hawks, some Japanese cranes, fish, cray fish, poly wogs, frogs, turtles, and an abundance of wild birds whose calls I now recognize but whose names I still do not know. Damn! It is evening snowing tonight for the sixth day in a row and I LOVE shoveling the snow! I get to live in a snow globe! How lucky is that!

I grew up just below Yosemite National Park in California and my parents idea of summer vacations were to take us to every National Park in America that they could drive us to. I might have sat in some of those nature talks, wearing dark sunglasses, being a snide teenager, but I ended up IN LOVE with the natural world. Sky scrapers? Who needs them. They block my view of the sky.

8. Animals--Okay. I wanted desperately to be a veterinarian, until I found out that I would need math and chemistry to get into veterinary school. I worked at a local vets during high school and loved it. I even got to assist and watch surgeries and autopsies and never once felt anything but fascination with the proceedings. I even watched when my own beloved lab/golden retriever mix had an operation and was delighted to discover that my loyal companion was golden outside and pink inside! Even her organs were cute. My dog was so cool. She was remarkable--inside and out! My current animal obsession is our small feisty--you-can-live-or die-for-all-I- care-just-feed-me Russian Blue cat. I love the fact that she is willing to use me as a live hot water bottle to warm herself during winter nights. But I also have an inordinate amount of affection for my big fat gold fish. Out of 21 festival gold fish, only this one survived. And it just keeps getting bigger and bigger every day. And I was infatuated with a praying mantis that was living in the bush by our mailbox this spring.

Bottom line, I am so passionate about animals (extending to many insects with the exception of SPIDERS) I nearly crash on my bicycle whenever I spot a hawk circling or gliding overhead because--well they just flat out mesmerize me. Nature is such a show off--sunsets and hamsters that snuggle in little piles. Hard to beat.

8 Things I want to do before I die:

1. Travel all over Europe

2. Look back at my daughters' teenage years and think "they survived and so did I" (yes, I like to worry in advance, my eldest is only 9 now.)

3. Become fluent enough in Japanese to be able to follow the nightly news

4. Become functionally literate in Japanese

5. Get a Japanese Drivers License

6. Swim with dolphins

7. Publish a creative non-fiction essay and get paid money for it.

8. Go skiing here in Japan

8 Things I often Say

1. For the love of God (I like to be dramatic when I plead with the kids to listen to me)

2. Number one (this when listing reasons to the girls, usually reasons why they can't do or have something)

3. Just calm down (to the kids, to myself, you know, to whoever needs to hear it.)

4. Don't you dare (to Happy our cat when she is poised to sharpen her claws on the wall)

5. I swear to God (I like to be dramatic when I threaten the kids)

6. Just a second (usually said every three minutes or so when I am at the computer and the girls are asking for something or trying to get me to let them get on the computer.)

7. Uh-huh. (what I say every other three minutes or so when I am at the computer and the girls are asking for something or trying to get me to let them get on the computer. I am such a one task person. Multi-tasking hurts my head.)

8. Stop shrieking. (my youngest has a fondness for shrieking over speaking)

8 Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over

1. TubThumping I Get Knocked Down

2. Fast Car- Tracy Chapman

3. Hand-Jewel

4. Vaseline-Stone Temple Pilots

5. Everything-Michael Buble

6. Accidentally in Love--Counting Crows

7. Dani California--Red Hot Chili Peppers

8. Why Don't You and I--featuring Chad Kroeger (on the CD Santana Shaman)

8 Books I Have Recently Read (or am reading. . . I seem to be forever trying to read and never getting to. . . )

1. "We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver

2. "Spontaneous Healing" by Andrew Weil, M.D.

3. "Because I Said So" 33 mothers write about children, sex, men, aging,faith, race & themselves. Edited by Camille Peri & Kate Moses

4. "Mothers Who Think" Tales of Real-life Parenthood, Edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses

5."Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver (Author), Camille Kingsolver (Author), Steven L. Hopp (Author).

6. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" by J. K. Rowling

7. "Kids are Worth It!" Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline, by Barbara Coloroso

8. "When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair" by Geneen Roth

And unfortunately, I haven't really got anyone I can tag for this. . . those I know of who enjoy doing memes have already done this one or been tagged to do this one. . . so I will leave it open as an invitation to any of the lurkers reading here--here's your chance to step in with the perfect introduction, do the 8 Things Meme! Just be sure to leave a comment directing me to your responses. Or if anyone else out there that I know and have pegged as a none meme type blogger is indeed NOT a non meme type of blogger--douzo (by all means)!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's all good news!

Quick update on the news fast. So far, in the year of 2008--nothing bad has happened. No one has hurt anyone else, for money, in anger, to make a political statement or to turn a buck. All parents that I have been in association with love their children and are trying their best to raise them as best they can. As far as I know there is no other nationality lurking in the shadows here in my neighborhood or even prefecture, waiting for the chance to blow me up. No one has attempted to break into my house and strangle me in my sleep.

But guess what? Turns out that I am so addicted to the news. It took two days to train myself not to even attempt to click on the various news sites that I have bookmarked on my computer. I really need to make a folder for them. Then there was the hurdle of training myself not to cheat by looking at the bits and pieces pulled from the news that Yahoo! puts up on their main page.

I have been indulging in researching the weather instead. I have always been a big fan of the weather channel anyway. But recently I am looking at the 15 day forecast. Tonight we might get more snow from midnight through morning. By afternoon the skies should be clear again. And I know the current weather conditions of every town I have ever lived in in America. That is sooooo useful, I know, I know. But it doesn't stress me out at all like say, being able to tell you what CNN led with tonight.

Last year I spent a lot of time quoting from the Bernstein Bears book "Fear of Strangers" in an effort to reassure my daughters over the unlikelihood that they would be the child that some bad man grabs and takes away forever. Admittedly, it is not only my news addiction that has made them nervous. The schools tell them about every incident of violence against a child perpetrated in this prefecture--in an attempt to make them "aware" of their surroundings and "prepared" to scream and yell out and escape from any weirdo that should try to get them. Then there is my preference for T.V. shows like Bones, CSI, and well, Bones and CSI. But then CSI has the three different ones, Miami, Las Vegas and New York so it is like three shows all about people doing bad to one another and how to catch them after they've done the bad.

But back to the Bernstein Bears, in that particular book Mama Bear tells Sister Bear that bad people are like bad apples: you can't tell that they are bad from the outside. But also, like apples there are only one or two in every barrel. I.e., most strangers are not potentially your murderer.

Living without daily doses of what the bad apples are up to has helped me refocus on the fact that I live in a community of many, many good apples. My neighbors are good apples. The girls' friends and their families are good apples.

Whew. It is amazingly relieving to be reminded of this.

And we went up into the mountains to an outdoor onsen. There is nothing better than sitting up to your neck in hot steaming water with big fluffy flakes of snow falling on your face. In fact, sitting in that onsen, watching Saki show us how she can do "the crawl" (although technically you're not supposed to actually swim in an onsen, but hardly anyone else was there) while Reno was timing how long it took snow balls to melt in the onsen (technically you're not supposed to put snow in the onsens but. . .) looking out over the snow coated mountains while Masa kept telling anyone of us that would listen "It looks just like a sumi-e!" I was completely happy to be here in Japan with my family greeting the new year. I felt--positive.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"R" is for "Resolutions"

With New Year's Eve over and 2008 officially on the calander I'm behind in the holiday dance of greetings--as usual. No 2007 Christmas cards have gone out and in lieu of them the pile of 2008 New Years cards that I bought to address and send out to family and friends sits forlornly somewhere in my house waiting to surprise me come mid summer when I shift things about and "discover" them sitting there long forgotten.

Maybe when I am old and officially whimsical (boarding on being a kook) I will start to send out all the old new years cards that never got mailed out on time. I'll send people 1998 Year of the Tiger post cards on which I will simply chat about my latest visit to the doctor's. On the 2002 Year of the Horse post cards I'll moan about how my children never bother to call home anymore. If I am still living in Japan when I officially become a "character" and if I am sending these eccentric recycled new years post cards out to my Japanese descendants (gasp, imagine, I may one day have Japanese grandchildren!) they will be greeted with muffled exasperation and embarrassment, "ara. . .matta? obaachyan wa nani o kangaette no?" (what? Again? What is Grandmother thinking?)

But, bottom line, there will be no waste and like the toys from the island of misfit toys my pile of chronologically incorrect correspondence will finally settle into homes.

Of course I still have a window of opportunity here. I reckon that if I get the New Years cards sent out by the end of the week I should be okay. 2008 is the year of the Rat (imagine that!) and I have a cute little pile of post cards on which rodents cheerfully proclaim the opening of the New Year.

I like this year already because for some unfathomable reason nothing tickles me quite like saying, "The year of the rat, imagine that!" in my best pre-school story time voice. Honestly, it amuses me.

(You can see that I am practicing for my future as an old foreign crackpot.)

It's a long term resolution: to grow old and interesting.

Which brings me to the holiday dance step of today--New Years resolutions. In my teens they were always inspired by publications like "Seventeen Magazine" and dealt with profound aspects of life like losing 5 pounds or changing my handwriting so that it would look more elegantly loopy and less pathetically scrawly. In my twenties and thirties losing weight still usually topped the list but thanks to publications like "Mademoiselle" and "Elle" I added in things like vowing to remember to do my kegels daily, and I got more specific about the physical resolutions. I wasn't just going to lose 5 pounds, I was going to tone my thighs.

While there are a ton of habits that I would like to form and a HEAP of habits that I would like to break this year I feel a bit more mountain top than that. Mountain top meaning that at the age of 40 for the first time I honestly am not looking outside for influence on how I should change myself. I mean, it's still lovely to get ideas for change but I don't feel the need to look at what society/magazines/T.V. or other pop culture institutions are holding up as standards. Yes, Julia Roberts looks amazing at the age of 40 and Oprah has not only lost all her weight but she has spiritual stability. And you can read any parenting book and realize early on in the intro that I indeed could be a MUCH better mother.

I guess it is really more of a change in approach than anything else. My resolutions used to be goal orientated but this year I am aiming for things less tangible.

It was at my daughters' final piano lesson of 2007 when I decided to chuck out the idea of creating a concise list of goals for 2008. Saki always has her lesson first, so while the teacher was busy trying to convince Saki that indeed yes, she did want to play the piano and yes, indeed, playing the piano is fun I was sitting at the table with Reno playing my just-an-ignorant-foreign-mother-who-doesn't-understand-what-her-five-year-old-is-saying card. Saki was of course frequently peppering her conversations with the teacher with the following phrases, "iyada." (an expression of disgust/dislike) and her number one favorite phrase during piano lessons, "mo owari?" (are we finished yet?).

Seated at the table with me was Reno in all her tween glory striking a uniquely apathetic yet antagonistic stance. Her dialogue, conducted all in English so that I was sure to understand it all and the teacher wouldn't went something like:

"Oh great. These (colored pens found on the table) don't work. Don't you have better ones? (because all good mothers should carry with them a set of color ink pens and only stupid ones wouldn't, or so her tone implied.) Didn't Saki bring some? (again, because a good mother always makes sure that her youngest daughter also packs around a set of color ink pens.)

Next came her big finish--the ice cold delivery of the one word, "Whatever." (I HATE the way she perfectly mimics my tone and attitude when she belligerently says this. How did my mother refrain from slapping my little preteen face on a daily basis?)

Of course she was really frustrated with me because I was refusing to speak back to her. I was remaining silent and only gesturing answers at her because of the "Two Rules." Rule Number One is that "we do not talk in English in front of others who can not understand English". Rule #1 doesn't apply when we are out in public spaces like department stores or at the beach or in a restaurant but it does apply when we are in the company of someone who does not speak English--like the piano teacher. Rule Number Two is: "We sit quietly at the table during our sister's piano lesson."

The piano teacher had now resorted to reading Saki stories which she furnished with impromptu piano accompaniment in a bid to show Saki once and for all just how fun playing the piano can be!

So Reno said loudly and combatively, "Can you tell the teacher to stop reading those stupid books to her?" and when I replied with a cut throat gesture across my vocal chords meaning, "shut up!" she sighed dramatically, rolled her eyes at me and then proceeded to lay down on the floor behind the teacher's chair!

So I sat at the table wondering which would look worse to the piano teacher, me struggling with my nearly 10-year-old child in an attempt to haul her up off the floor, or the sight of that nearly 10-year-old child herself, spread out on the floor behind the teacher's chair. Next I mulled over what the chances were that the teacher might not notice the sulky tween laying on the floor behind her. . . when miraculously said sulky tween hefted herself up off the floor and came back to the table. This time she leaned across and whispered to me,
"Today at school our teacher told us that the lady who cleans the school died last night."

I broke rules number 1 and 2 simultaneously by saying, "Really? How?"

"I don't know. Suddenly. Everyone was very surprised."

"Oh. How old was she?"

Reno looked at me intently. She usually doesn't know specifics so I was a bit taken aback when she answered quickly, "She was 60. In March she was going to stop her job and start having fun."

But. . . she died on December 27th, two months and three days before retirement. I wondered for the rest of the evening what kind of an impact that cleaning lady's death was having. Did she have children? Did she have a husband? Did she manage to have some fun in the 60 years leading up to her death?

What was on her list of things to do after retiring that now she wouldn't be able to do?

And it was at that precise moment that I decided to toss the idea of making a list of resolutions for this year. What I want to do, I decided, is to change my perspective, shift the angle, change the filters, and above all, find some balance. I don't mean find a spot on which to perch my fat ass, sit back and watch life going on around me. I mean I want to get up, shift things around, figure out how far I can go to the right without falling, how far I can go to the left without wiping out. I want a center of balance from which I can experiment. Put simply, at the age of 40 I've already learned how to fall. I want to take on the big slopes, ski the moguls of life, maybe try a jump or two.

Of course all of that is incredibly abstract, but on a more practical level, instead of resolving to lose a certain number of kilos, I want to change the way I approach eating/hunger/nutrition/cooking. I want to change my relationship to food.

Instead of resolving to study Japanese for a set amount of time each day, I resolve to re-engage with Japanese culture and language. I've been floating along in a bubble of English and I need to get out, get wet, get misunderstood and be misunderstood but communicate!

Instead of resolving to walk/swim/dance a set number of times each week/month I resolve to find out what I am passionate about and do it.

I got an i-pod from Masa this Christmas so I have already reconnected to a passion--music. They'll have to pry my iPod buds from my dead little ears! I can once again listen to 9 Inch Nails without worrying over what kind of efffect songs like, "Closer" are having on my children! The first song I downloaded from iTunes was "Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down) " and in this year of the Rat I can't stop be bopping around the house.

Speaking of rats, I've always liked them. I may have been one of the only sixth grade girls in America who begged her parents for not a hamster, not a gerbil, not even a Guinea pig but for a rat. Rats are clean and smart. If you put a rat on newspaper they will eventually die of ink poisoning because they will lick their coats over and over to get any ink off that gets on them. A pet rat will sit happily on your shoulder or snuggle contentedly in the cuff of your shirt. I got a rat--whom I named Raspberry and who had alarmingly huge balls, being a male rat. I had aimed to get a female so I wasn't overly thrilled by his male endowments, but he was clever and he kept as tidy as he could although unfortunately dependent on the twelve-year-old me to clean his cage.

So, in 2008 let the girl who wanted a rat come back. Before teen magazines befuddled my mind. Before Mademoiselle ever compared me to my Hollywood contemporaries. Before I spent too much time inside my own head. I mean, 2008 has got to be a delightful year, it is after all, "The year of the Rat, imagine that!"