Thursday, August 7, 2008

August 7th, 2008

7:00 a.m.

I wake up because Reno has set an alarm clock--on a summer break morning! The real offense is that it is going off NOW. I had intended to sleep until 8:00 a.m. when I need to wake up Masa. Damn. I get up off of Saki's futon and gingerly step over Reno who is sleeping blissfully through the assortment of wild bird songs (alarm clock). I look over at Saki who is sleeping on my futon. I got shoved off of it at about 5 a.m. when she decided (as is her habit these days) that she wanted to use me as a human pillow.

I don't enjoy being used as a human pillow, especially when it involves being rhythmically kicked and kneaded.

I decide to give up on sleep and head downstairs to brew some coffee to make iced coffee. It is already quite hot inside the house and the Japanese summer sun is shinning down in samurai ferocity. Today the predicted high is 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees F). Which shouldn't be such a hardship for a girl raised in California but it's the 66% humidity index that does me in.

Today is trash collection day so I need to wake up and get the trash to the trash collection point by 8 a.m. anyway.

We are by the way, completely thumbing our nose at the traditional natsu yasumi taiso regime. We have not even "thought" about getting up at 6 a.m. and down to the local neighborhood park to line up and perform early morning stretches and exercises to the nation wide broadcast summer taiso program.

Saki comes down the stairs about 5 minutes after me and sidles up to the computer where I am checking my e-mail and reading the U.S. news. She doesn't say anything but looks meaningfully at me.

"Good morning! What would you like for breakfast?"

Saki nods her head.

"Banana with sprinkles?"

"Yes. And milk. In a baby cup."

I go chop up a banana, sprinkle it liberally with the trans fat free cake decoration sprinkles that my sister-in-law sent from the States and fill a Playtex toddler cup with milk.

Saki will be 6 this October but still insists on the "baby cup." Mostly so that she can break the eating/drinking rule of "stay at the table" and wander the house drinking milk/apple juice/water/tea to her heart's content and my consternation.

When Reno awakes and descends the stairs I take her breakfast order. While I am frying up her bacon and scrambled eggs I help myself to a bowl of kabochya, tofu miso shiru. I offer her some and she predictably refuses it--she hates Japanese pumpkin (kabochya). She also hates Japanese style breakfast which has always puzzled me as I love it. Grilled fish, Japanese pickles, natto, rice and miso shiru is my favorite breakfast. But since I am the only one in the family who will eat it I usually only get it on vacations when we stay at Japanese style inns (ryokan).

Masa simply doesn't eat breakfast, unless it is served at 11:30 a.m.

While I am standing in the kitchen doing the dishes (which involves, emptying the drying rack of last night's dishes, washing up the morning's dishes and then setting them in the drying rack--like most Japanese households, we have no dish washer) I mentally flip through today's dinner options.

Shyogayaki pork with a nice chilled shredded cabbage, cucumber and tomato salad and some fresh shishito. Wiping a bead of sweat from my nose, before it drops on its own onto the dishes I'm cleaning, I decide to add chilled tofu to the menu. Today is going to be just too damn hot. Rice of course, for the girls and Masa. . . and miso shiru with. . . daikon and wakame in it.

I look at the time on the gas heater on the wall (gas stove, gas heated hot water) and realize that it is nearly 9:00 a.m. If I want to beat the trash collection guys (who actually hop off the truck and manually dump garbage bags into the back of a truck that to my eyes doesn't appear to have any trash compacting abilities) I had better get the trash taken out.

Outside it is HOT. Not as hot as inside though. And although we do have two air conditioning units, they are Japanese wall mounted ones, that work just fine as long as you stand directly underneath them and don't move a muscle, they will keep you rather refreshed. The furnace effect inside is more because of our cats. We live in a rented house and the screens aren't normal. They pull down out of the window frames. . . hence, if our cats tear the window screen I can't fix it. I have searched all over and I can't find out how or where to fix screens like ours that have been damaged. The first summer here the cats damaged all but four of the screens (out of 10 or so). So now, unless I bother to drag out the cat cage and stuff the felines in, we stay indoors with the windows closed all year long.

Every morning I vow to set up the cat cage and stuff them in. Then the heat sets in and I lose all desire to drag out and assemble anything. Plus they just look at me accusingly when they are in the cage.

I have to walk about four blocks hauling the trash. Today I see a tear in one bag and do my best to hold it far away from me. We have a steel bowl like thing in our sink that is for "nama gomi" which roughly translates as "raw garbage." Into which goes fish bones, left over eggs, fish heads, tofu, vegetable peelings, fish guts, chicken skin and fat, etc. Living in Northern Japan it isn't so disgusting most of the time--but in the months of July and August here, in the summer heat of our area it is DISGUSTING. I empty it frequently and double bag the contents that I empty out of it before I put them in the trash but MY GOD DO THEY REEK.

I even bought some handy "orange oil" spray to hose them down with but it just smells like oranges in a rotting heap of food.

I manage to get to the trash collection point without any disgusting-gomi-juices getting on me and I unlatch the metal cage door (we have 2 threats to the trash: crows (the biggest threat) and bears, who I have never seen and hopefully never will see in our neighborhood.) and deposit my family's garbage among the garbage of our neighbor's. I carefully shove the metal door up as I slide the bolt across it to close it. The first year here I didn't know that trick and I scrapped about two inches of flesh off of a finger one morning. "Gaijin certainly do have blood curdling beast like yells don't they?" was probably said casually over many a breakfast table in the neighborhood that morning.

Heading home I hope that my torn garbage bag doesn't rip further and spill. I was on garbage duty the past two weeks and luckily nothing like that ever happened on my watch. I just passed off the tongs, the dust pan, the broom and other "minder of the trash" things to my neighbor last night. If my bag rips open she's the one who will have to clean it up. I like her so I hope it doesn't rip. Plus, there are nearly always tell tale signs of whose garbage is whose and I'd hate to have her start looking at me with ". . .and I suppose you honestly couldn't spare the extra 200 yen to buy the heavy duty garbage bags? The one's that don't rip like wet tissue?"eyes of accusation. . .

I open the door intending to wake up Masa straight off, it's 9 a.m. so he's overslept already by about an hour, but I find him downstairs mumbling good morning to the girls, who are fighting with each other over something significant like space on the sofa. I suggest to my bickering brood that perhaps they should get outside and start filling the pool.

Masa is out the door and off to work long before the bickering brood has settled the sofa dispute much less begun to take any action towards filling their pool. I finish up the breakfast dishes and start on the laundry. First I have to bring in all the laundry off the line from yesterday and fold it and put it away. Then I have to start hanging up the load of wet clothing and towels that I did this morning. Half way through taking in the first load of clothing to fold and put away I realize that I am dripping with sweat. No, not figuratively, literally. I swipe a hand towel out of the fresh laundry and drape it around my neck and swab my face off with it. It's 10 a.m.

I finish off the pot of iced coffee that I made earlier. I was up until about 2 a.m. as Reno has dedicated every bone in her body to staying up as late as possible during summer vacation and last night Masa came home about 10:00 p.m. He usually gets in later, anywhere between 11:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., but after seeing the results of Reno's 5th grade kanji test on Monday evening he has been trying to get home earlier in order to help her with homework.

Just after he came through the door I put his dinner on the table. His last blood test showed that he is dangerously close to becoming officially diabetic so he is being force fed healthy fare. Last night was grilled fish, a side dish of long onions with fish flakes, soy sauce and sesame oil dressing, grated daikon, the kabochya and tofu miso that Reno spurned this a.m. and rice. I keep intending to switch him over to brown rice but the girls protest it so vigorously that I'm beginning to think I'll have to buy a second rice cooker--one for the simple carb crowd and one for the health conscious procreaters of the simple carb addicts.

Although Masa kept begging me to go on up and sleep with Saki (who BLESS her little soul collapsed and passed out at about 10:45) the American in me wouldn't succumb. I was going to stay up later than my 10-year-old even if it killed me. Masa and Reno worked on math and kanji at the kitchen table till about midnight when I did finally fall asleep on the floor downstairs. I woke up at 1:00 a.m. and enjoyed some adult only time with my husband before going up to bed at about 1:40 a.m.

Japan's work practices seem diametrically opposed to family life and specifically, they seem designed to extinguish any "adult time" that couples might have after having children. Take my two chores this a.m.: the laundry and the trash. The trash is supposed to officially be out by 8 a.m. Without clothing driers (most Japanese household still don't have a clothes dryer) the Japanese housewife needs to get up early and get her washing done in order to get the clothes out on the line to dry before the MIND MELTING heat of the day sets in.

I, by the way, am about 2-3 hours behind all good housewives. A good housewife has the laundry done and out by say 6:30 a.m. so that she can focus on making her husband a bento and creating a six dish breakfast for her children. I cheerfully offer my kids toast and hard boiled eggs and bananas and Masa doesn't take a bento to work with him. I always feel victorious when I succeed in hanging out the laundry without fainting from sun stroke.

But you can see that basically a Japanese housewife's daily chores demand that she be an early riser. Work practices demand that husbands work late or if not working in the office that they go out drinking (the social/business drinking that is part and parcel of the Japanese workplace/way of doing business). Either way they come home far later than their European or American counterparts.

I used to not wait up for Masa and it meant that we had nearly no time together, alone, as adults. When we were both awake and together it was always in the role of mother and father. Rediscovering time with my husband as just him and me has been so rewarding that I am sporting a permanent living dead sort of appearance.

Besides, if I didn't stay up to see him in the evenings two things would happen. A) he'd revert to an all ramen diet thus hastening the onset of diabetes. B) I'd end up living in a world where my conversations would be dominated by themes appealing to only 10 and 5 year-olds.

I have a few local friends but no one that can pop in for a visit on the spur of the moment and no one that I can just call up to chat. The local friends I do have are like me, juggling a career and child care and that basically makes owning a phone nearly purposeless. Unless you find a friend who stays up past 10 p.m. and wants to talk late at night when the kids are asleep.

Part of the reason I can't really have decent phone conversations is that even if I get the kids out the room, that doesn't mean that they can't hear what I am saying. So there again, all the conversations I can have while they are awake are child censored ones. Our house has four bedrooms and pick one, any one, and you can hear whatever is going on anywhere else in the house. When I escape with the cordless out the front door it invariably ends with two children frantically calling out "Mommy! Okaasan! LAURA!" until I am found.

At noon I make tuna fish sandwiches for the girls. Reno's has cucumber mixed in: Saki's only has tuna and mayonnaise. I hope she thanks me when she accepts her Oscar. The child can look ill, peeked, swoon and if need be, vomit on command. She can also detect even the most finely diced and concealed piece of vegetable--any vegetable--in her food. If it wasn't for vegetable fruit juice mixes she would be a complete anti-vegetarian.

I have to skip any lunch today as I am off for a CT scan at the local Red Cross hospital (my mother naively asked, "Are all the doctor's American? Do they all speak English?" isn't that cute?). My doctor is trying to discover why I have been running a low grade fever since February. I keep looking at her and cheerfully suggesting, "Stress?" But so far she isn't buying it. She's shoved a camera down my throat (I tried violently to vomit it up for the duration of the procedure but failed) to check out my stomach, ordered lung x-rays and a multitude of blood tests. All the tests have come back negative so far--I am one healthy, low grade fever sporting poser. At least that is how all these tests make me feel--no answers except, "you're a poser."

After today's CT scan maybe I should fess up to my chronic sleep deprivation. Actually, the real reason she is so test happy is my recent weight loss. I have lost 24 kilos in less than 5 months. But, honestly, the reason, as I told her, is STRESS. I stopped eating, because I had no appetite due to STRESS.

Anyway. I haven't lost anymore weight since I saw her a month ago. Maybe that will settle her down some. She's threatening me with a camera up the bum next. I am so excited to be 24 kilos lighter than I was in February/March but to escape the camera up the bum test I have even consumed several Snickers this week.

And so, at 1:35 I cheerful wrap up my blog post and head off to the hospital. I already pity all the other patients as I have to take my incredibly LOUD and ACTIVE offspring with me. I pray to God that while I am in the CT scan machine they don't burst into surgery in process, knock any frail elderly people down or drive patients waiting in the cardiology department to have, well, a heart attack.

Speaking of which, I better go hunt down their DS games and soft ware. The irritating noises and tunes of the software will drive people near them batty, but the games themselves will keep my two stationary at least.