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!"


Sheri said...

Happy New Year!
I wish you and your family all the best next year!
My dh gave me an ipod for my birthday a while back and I looove it-it sure made doing osoji alot easier!;P
Totally agree about the privacy to listen to your own songs without your kids listening-my kid was singing 'a little bag of cocaine' after listening to some music with me, at 5 I just don't want to explain what that means! :)

coarse gold girl said...

I know. I know. When my then four-year-old and then eight-year-old sang "Love in an Elevator" to me in unison. . . ah, the parental anxiety/guilt. That was from my husband's insistence on playing Arrow Smith on family trips in the car. . . .


Christelle said...

Yeah 2008- Year of the Rat, how 'bout that! I totally agree with your new take on making resolutions. I remember many a New Year's Even in adolescence (which there was spellcheck on these things), me writing out lists of how I resolved to change myself and be a better person (which actually meant, fit in with others more- something I'm now glad I was never successful at doing). I still do the same "save money", "keep my house cleaner" resolutions. But my ultimate life resolution is to always be trying to open my mind more, to learn and to grow (which includes learning to save money better and growing into a woman who can keep her house in some semblance of order).

My favourite part of this post however was: "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." If I think back to my preteen days, I know I am in for some bitter medicine from Doctor Karma big time.

Sarah@mommyinjapan said...

I always love your writing but this is your best post yet.

Happy New Year!

kaimacat said...

Oh I am so with you here and I love your new approach to resolutions. I am going to take a leaf out of your book especially in relation to food. Just one question, HOW? This has been bothering me for some time...
Happy New Year and all best wishes

coarse gold girl said...


Disclaimer: This isn't an answer to your question. I'm asking myself the same question. Still.
But--there's a nice book called, "When you Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair" that I like by Geneen Roth. She also wrote "Breaking Free from Emotional Eating". She writes with a sense of humor that I appreciate and has some interesting ideas about food and one's relationship to it. Reading her is helping me "consider" the question.