Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ordained Domestic House Goddess My Ass

So. I woke up this morning (5:30 a.m.), popped in a load of wash, wandered to the kitchen, started the coffee, and began making the kids' breakfast. Quesedillas--modified to only tortillas and cheese as I can't get my hands on any chile peppers here bouts. Breakfast served, I went back into the kitchen to make some wholegrain blueberry muffins (hoping some will survive the weekend for breakfasts during the week) and continued periodically extracting wet laundry and hanging it up while stuffing yet more dirty laundry into the machine.

Masa was busy sleeping.

After load number three I took a quick trip throughout the house and successfully found enough hidden dirty socks, shorts, and shirts wadded up and pushed under furniture etc. to do yet another load of laundry.

Masa by now had awoken and was at the computer checking his email. And the New York Yankees' baseball scores.

Why is there so much dirty laundry in my house? I do laundry EVERY SINGLE day and still I have these horrid days of 4-5 loads of laundry to do. Of course on Saturday I have all the weekly school things (P.E. uniforms, bags, etc.) to wash. Sigh.

My kids are only enthusiastic about pouring the washing liquid into the machine and after that they loose absolutely all interest in having anything to do with the laundry.

At 9:30 a.m. I decided to take a shower and get ready for driving school.

When I left Masa was still at the computer, working away as only a workaholic on a Saturday can.

I made it to my 10:10 appointment for practical driving practice and the instructor today told me the exact opposite of the instructor I had on Thursday on several issues. Issue number one: where one's hands should go on the steering wheel when making a turn. Issue number two: how fast one is allowed to drive on the on-site driving course. I had fun speeding around on Thursday. Today's guy had me driving slower than a tortoise on top of which has been placed a 500kilogram weight.

How that sort of driving is supposed to prepare me for the real world is beyond me, unless he's thinking I'm gonna move back to Osaka: city of the everlasting traffic jam. The fact that he was treating me like a moron didn't go over so well with me either. I'm 42 and I drove from the age of 16-31 in the U.S. I am not a first time driver. He kept telling me in this god-awful condescending know-it-all-tone that "you are a first time driver in Japan so you have MUCH to learn."

I did a good job of not showing my irritation with Yoda at all though. I'm focused on one thing and one thing only--getting my drivers license. I'll put up with nearly anything for that!

On the way back home, I stopped off to do some shopping for lunch. Got home, made somen with sliced up cucumbers and ham on top. Chilled tofu with natto (mixed with a crushed umeboshi) on top. Added some thinly sliced shiso leaves on top of the natto tofu. Then I started to make dinner.

Masa ate lunch and then got ready to go out on a jog. Although a delightful variety program on T.V. caught his attention and delayed him by an hour.

Dinner was (will be, we haven't eaten yet) zucchini & mushroom spaghetti with a mixed green salad and some garlic bread.

Then I sorted all the pet bottles, cans, and glass bottles for recycling. That done, and Masa back from his jog, I asked him if he'd run it to the recycle center. He sighed. Deeply.

How many bags were there? Had I loaded them in the car yet? etc. etc.

This man works insane hours during the week. That is true. This man has Rheumatoid arthritis--also true. But this full-time working mother of two little girls and one workaholic husband wanted to strangle him like Homer does Bart. And then fling him around a bit for good measure.

While I stood in front of the sofa looking down at him he asked again, "Did you put the bags in the car yet?" For the love of God.

After he left with the recycling stuff (which I lugged out to the car) I headed off to the supermarket again to pick up yet more groceries as I had an idea for lunch tomorrow. Back from the store, I began making black bean vegetable soup. To go with tomorrow's beef fajitas at lunch time.

In between all the cooking I was still dealing with stages of laundry and doing a hell of a lot of dishes. We have no dishwasher so it is all by hand.

Looking around now what is left to be done is: (1) serve up dinner (still waiting for Masa to return, he decided to drop in the office after the recycle center. However, Reno begged him to take her with him so she could study in the University's library, so that's my guarantee that he will actually return for dinner--the daughter hostage.) (2) Force the young one (Saki) into the bath and evaluate her health condition carefully. She's been sneezing and coughing all day, but I've been too busy to pause longer than to confirm that she has no temperature. (3) Fold a huge pile of laundry and put it away. (4) Vacuum the entire house (5) pick up upstairs (6) Study for Driving school (7) Grade 22 essays (8) Grade 22 quizzes.

Not a chance in hell that more than two or three things on that list is going to get done.

And I forgot to put "dinner clean up" on there.

But I'm thinking. . . . I actually know several women with RA who can wash dishes. And actually, they all work outside the home too. So, would it be so out of hand to ask Masa to perhaps, perchance, do the washing up after dinner tonight?

And as soon as I have a drivers license, I am gonna start spending money on hiring someone to come in and do some cleaning to help out. Screw Masa's attitude that I am a woman, endowed with ovaries and ordained to do all domestic chores and duties.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Driving School

So, jittery, nervous, constantly feeling a little anxious as I force myself through the nicotine withdrawals, and my more serious psychological dependency on cigarettes, I decided that the thing to do was: enroll myself in Japanese Driving School.

So I rushed right out and handed over the largest sum of money I have ever literally "handed over" in my life. The next 9 months of traffic and automobile safety and rules of the road lectures--delivered all in Japanese--is the most expensive thing I have ever bought for myself. I'm trying NOT to think about what kind of private vacation (to Guam! to Hawaii!) the same amount of money could have gotten me.

I need a license though. Living in the countryside of Japan, and snow country at that, without a license has been. . . not easy. Walking and bicycling in the rain and the snow and having to turn down invitations places because "I can't drive" has been character eroding. A 42 year old grown woman who can't jump in the car to go fetch a sick and feverish child from school?

And bringing home a sick and feverish child from school in a snow storm or downpour hasn't been fun. It's a nice 30 minute walk from our house to the elementary school.

I can, of course, drive. I just don't have a license to drive. And no, I haven't got an American license or an international license because. . .

REALLY wish I had a good reason to start telling you about here.

I don't have a good reason; I have a pathetic one. I just never mailed in my renewal for my U.S. drivers license and thus, rendered myself license less. Now that my kids are in elementary school I can't afford the three months in the US I'd need to get and drive on an American license in order to be eligible for an international license and thus eligible to switch over to a Japanese license after taking a really short written test in English and of course the practical driving test.

NOPE. Not me. I now have to take the lengthily, ponderous, famous for trickily worded questions, written test all in Japanese. And of course the practical driving test.

I'm not at all worried about the practical driving test as you can see. I'm a whole lot more concerned about the 800 or so KANJI I will have to learn and memorize in order to pass the written test.

Thinking about it makes me want to smoke.

Friday, August 28, 2009

16 Days In

I am a non-smoker. I have been a non-smoker for a total of 16 days now. I am no longer smoking two packs a day, as I was sixteen days ago.

Why did I quit?

Because I took my girls home to see their American grandparents--my Mom and Dad. My Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew that I smoked, so I had no choice but to go cold turkey. Plus the no smoking policy on international flights pretty much promotes smokers going cold turkey anyway.

Korean Air lines in-flight videos on the way there and the jet lag once we got there distracted me from the withdrawal symptoms and it all seemed almost too easy.

Then I stepped off the plane in Japan this past Monday--back home again. I lined up in a long que for FOREIGNERS whilst my husband and daughters skipped through one of the lines for JAPANESE. I dug out my iPod from my purse to entertain myself for the nearly hour wait I had in line. I was finger printed and photographed. My only subversive act was to refuse to smile (which, being Japanese, they probably appreciated) and I refused to talk (which, again, being Japanese they probably appreciated). But still, I am a smiley talkative American, so it was subversive behavior for ME.

So. Now, suddenly, sixteen days into being a non-smoker I am dying for a ciggy. Or maybe just one PACK.

However, second-hand smoke is not good for children, nor is it acceptable role modeling to be seen smoking by ones children. Therefore, I will NOT take up smoking again.

I just wish I could get my hands on some Xanax.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Thin Divide

First, I think it is so funny now that in the top left hand corner of my blog it says "cutest blog" or something like that. I just got tired of the layout design that I had here on blogger and wanted something different. So, if you are reading because you expect "cute" go ahead and click right out. Feeling very philosophical this a.m. . . .perhaps it is a weird reaction to my children's incessant bickering from the moment they awoke this a.m. Retreat into the inner mind in a desperate attempt to escape the reality of "I told you to stop pinching your sister. If I have to tell you once more I am going to pinch YOU hard!" When they make me say crazy things like that. . . So. On to broodings that I have retreated into:

You hear about Japanese men who have taken off their company armor. Left the tie on the desk, spurned their prestigious meishi, and walked away into the country side to grow organic produce, or into the mountains to open a guest inn. Maybe they have even dared to leave Japan and live outside the embryonic yolk of Japanese society. Dared to allow themselves, their dreams, their aspirations, their desires for and of life to hatch on foreign shores.

The men who act on their dreams are amazing, unique and rare. Men who dream the same or similar dreams are not though. It seems to be part and parcel of life in the hamster maze of Japanese life style and workplace. Hard working hamsters enjoy the pathos of dreaming about what kind of life they could have or would like to have--it acts as a kind of catharsis to overcome the reality of the life that they do have. Catharsis is a good thing when it purges the feelings that cause distress.

When it becomes an enabler to a life that violates the individual it is hard to continue rushing to the theater, you can only take so many tragedies in stride before even comedies cease to ease the soul.

My husband has never had any "live-a-more-natural,-relaxed-life-in-the-country-side" kind of dreams. Although for a while, he did talk about returning to his hometown in the South of Japan, opening his own cram school, and living a more relaxed paced life. (I just nodded and listened, thinking, "running your own business, and a cram school at that--would be anything BUT a slower paced life style.") At the time, I think he just really wanted to exit the world in which he was working--with people always above him that he had to answer to and obey. You know, he just basically wanted to be his own boss.

Now, because of Masa's illness, we don't talk about retirement dreams, or dreams of what life without kids underfoot will mean for us as a couple. I wish we could get the future back, but at present, we just deal with the present and maybe the future 3-5 years from now.

The dreams that Masa talks about now are how he will change his work schedule--get home earlier in time to help the girls with their homework. He talks about getting up early and being able to drive the girls to school in bad weather and get to work on time (8:30 a.m.)

Last semester, he would get to work at about 8:50 a.m. so I could just make my 9 a.m. class and mornings were always hurried and chaotic.

In order to actually change his schedule, he would have to endure at least a month of jet lag like fatigue (which coupled with his RA symptoms would make life nearly unbearable.) He would somehow have to accept that during that adjustment period some things at work just would not get done, or at least, not done on time. He would have to be able to look ahead into the future, where a more regular sleep schedule and lifestyle would give him the energy to catch up, to keep up with the hectic pace of work. But when you are in the grips of jet lag--think SEVERE case of jet lag, where if you stop talking, even if your eyes are open you quickly fall into a deep sleep, being able to think ahead seems to become nearly impossible for him.

And of course, during that first month, he would have to bear up under incredible censure at work from those above him, even from those below him, who still working till 1 or 2 a.m. at night would resent him leaving work any earlier than them.

The rewards that Japanese workplaces shower upon those workers who are willing to sacrifice everything for the company are hard to wean yourself of: indulgence, respect, status.

Actual change is discouraged, despite what ever legislature is passed. Laws passed to eliminate the inhuman hours of overtime employees were putting in simply resulted in employees putting in insane overtime without pay. Paper trails of overwork are actively discouraged.

But dreaming about change, about living life to enjoy and experience it rather than to withstand it seem to be encouraged in Japanese culture. There is something about dreaming that seems endemic to Japanese workers. The work life and schedule is so demanding and unforgiving and combine that with a drive to achieve and a workaholic personality--men like Masa really struggle. I really admire those individuals in Japan that do actually work towards realizing their dreams of a life where they work to live, not live to work. Whether that means that they get out of the rat race entirely (opening an inn in the country side, working out of the home, farming, etc.) or whether it means that they are able to set boundaries between their work life and their home/private life and succeed in prioritizing the later.

I spent years thinking that Masa would wake up and realize that he was pouring his life away. Then I decided that while I couldn't change his approach to work/life, I could change mine. And there is a fine line there for a couple. I crossed the line and separated my life and the girls' lives entirely from his.

When I first decided to live for myself and stop waiting up nights for him, stop suffering from disappointment when he would invariable choose work or sleep over us on the weekends and holidays, I thought I could model the example of a friend of mine at the time. She lived life energetically and enthusiastically. She and her children would go to the zoo, camping, swimming, take trips to Okinawa, and back to her home country. She enrolled them in all kinds of lessons and programs and ran her house perfectly while working full-time as a translator out of her home. Her husband was basically not present most of the time, but when he could he joined them and they had some good family times (honestly, maybe only a hand full of weekends out of the year). He saw her working hard for their family, both domestically and in the work place and I think appreciate it and therefore, her. So when he did join them, she was honestly happy and he genuinely enjoyed his time with his family.

While I succeeded in taking charge of the kids and my own life--we had our schedules, our outings, our rituals--I did not succeed in living life energetically or enthusiastically. My husband was not invited into our lives in anyway.

That line is so thin that it is hard to even perceive at first. It is a fragile thin line of communication, of caring, and showing appreciation for each other and finally of feeling appreciation for each other that once crossed surprises you. On the other side, you see that while it was a thin divide, it is very deep, stretching down into areas that you can barely make out, decipher, see. And so I feel on my knees, on my side of the divide and pitied myself, pitied my children and cursed my husband. In my eyes, it was his culture, his country, his lack of effort or caring that unleashed the earthquake in our relationship that ended in this fault line, in this open crevice to the sight of a part of my soul that I had never wanted to confront. At the bottom of that crevice, if I strained hard enough to see, was me: a bitter woman who saw herself as wronged. A woman who was outraged at the life she found herself forced to live. A woman who resented her husband, his job, even the money that he brought home from work. A woman who lacked the capacity to feel even an ounce of empathy for her husband. There was only one figure in the drama of her life--which had of course turned into a monologue--starring her.

How I managed to rewrite the script to include a cast--that requires more brooding than I have time to invest this morning. And this is all kind of navel gazing stuff anyway. Anyone other than my very own navel probably isn't all that keen on following the story to its conclusion. So for now, I shall scuttle away and take my navel off to the kitchen. Where I will try to appease the restless (and feisty) offspring with calming F-O-O-D. Or what a normal mother would call "lunch".

Sunday, January 11, 2009

It's a year early but. . .

All I want for Christmas is MY OWN COMPUTER!

The kids are all over this one now. Reno uses it for homework assignments (researching things like the nutritional value of watermelons and the names of all the prefectures in Japan) and Saki knows her way around nearly every single game site--in English and Japanese.

Then, there's Masa who logs on for hours, working out of the home on the weekends.

When's a girl to blog?

Oh, and our DVD player broke,and since one can watch DVDs on this computer, that is exactly where Reno and Saki are watching them these days.

I may be forced to become an early riser, just to get a chance at the computer!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

And How I Actually Celebrated

Just to put everyone's mind at ease--there was no flaming bon fire with crazy woman dancing around it.

That was how I would have seen the year off in the second conditional world (the realm in which events and situations are unrealistic/imaginary/have little to no chance of ever occurring).

Like everyone else, I live in the real world, so I saw 2008 out the door in a real way. With Christmas behind us, I had all the American holiday traditions over with--the stockings, the Christmas tree and decorations, the Christmas Day phone calls to friends and family, the Turkey dinner. . .so as the 31st drew near it was time to switch modes: Japanese New Year.

This year we stayed up in Northern Japan. Masa's hometown is down in Kyushu, but we didn't travel home for the New Year holidays this year. We decided to stay and celebrate here. In Japan, New Years goes hand in hand with "Osoji" which is like American Spring Cleaning. Everyone scrubs, scours, declutters, organizes, shines and polishes in preparation for the coming of the New Year. Our house is full of toys, broken fans, radios, umbrellas, old pots and pans, bags of recyclables that never made it out on recycle collection days. . . my mother would probably run to a therapist's office desperate to find out "where she went wrong" in bringing me up is she saw the sty that we are currently residing in.

I thought a bit about calling it a "back lash" to being raised in a perfectly dusted, highly organized, model home environment . . . I mean, the whole "back lash" theory works successfully to explain my Freshman year at college. I entered University having never done. . . anything but study and go to Church and listen to my sage parents' advice. The spring I finished my Freshman year, I was on academic probation and nearly got expelled. But I was much more "experienced" than when I entered all clean and shiny that Fall.

While I mulled over the idea of unloading the state of my house on my parents' I had to admit that while I might have run wild when I was 18 for the first time in my life because I had no boundaries for the first time. . . I don't think it's an excuse that will float for failing to dust, declutter, organize, or regularly clean my abode. I toyed with the idea of throwing my hands up in the air and pleading the "I have small kids who are like hyperactive tornadoes and destroy any sense of order I try to create" line of defense. . . but then again, they are my kids. If they are messy it is not their fault. I obviously haven't modeled good habits for them and if they have far too many toys. . . well, who gave them all to them?

Plus, truth be told, I am a bit of a pack rat. I like to keep things, just in case. Of course, I never use them as I can never find them (maps, information packets, manuals, pictures, books I intend to read, things I think I might be able to recycle for various uses); more sinister is the fact that when I do re-discover them years later, I still look at them and think, "Oh! Here it is! It really is a useful/nice/interesting thing. Better keep it." and throw it back into the tumultuous heaving mass of ever moving, elusive "stuff" that covers and coats every inch of my house.

My youngest takes after me. Her favorite activity is to find a bag/back pack/suitcase/box and fill it with "treasures". Then she relocates the treasures to another area of the house. Recently I have discovered that she is stashing treasures (yards of twine, small picture books, photos, costume jewelry, coins, marbles, crayons) in my drawers and bookshelves. Right now her mind is still keen and sharp (not dulled by a Freshman year like the one I had) and she actually has high recall in remembering where she has tucked various valuables and prized possessions away. When ever we are looking for something, we all ask Saki. "Saki honey, have you seen Daddy's keys? Do you know where Mommy's cell phone is?"

Her sister on the other hand, has lousy recall and absolutely no design behind where she leaves things. My theory is that she has inherited the "put it in the most convenient spot" gene from her father. Which doesn't mean, the most logical spot, or the place where you would make it a habit to stow a certain item. It means, drop the object in the closest proximity to wherever you are at the moment so that you don't have to move out of your way to put it away. It still pains me whenever I hear, "Mom, have you seen my nano-pod?" I've had a special basket on the counter for the nano-pod since the day she got it. I find that nano-pod in various places throughout the house and deposit it in that basket. She never even checks the basket--she never puts it in there, so why would it be there?

But today--we have all tackled this heap we call home. Masa and Reno have been working on the upstairs rooms--Reno's and Saki's. Tomorrow I will tackle the bedroom where we all sleep. Saki uses it as a play room when her friends are over, due to the fact that her and Reno's room have been unendurable for months now. Reno sat on the clear storage bin that I use for my clothing and splintered the plastic lid into a zillion pieces. Saki's toys and old phones and faxes that she and her friends use when they play "house" or "school" are scattered all over. I'm guilty too. There are about 20 ear plugs scattered on the floor near the futons. The first day I used ear plugs at night was the first night I slept for longer than one hour uninterrupted. My kids talk, laugh, scream and shriek in their sleep. Masa comes home and stays up late watching Japanese T.V. programs, on which people tend to talk, laugh, scream and shriek. The earplugs get me a few hours of sleep every night, but I really have to come up with a better system than scattering them around the futon. . .

I'm home, off of work now, till April so I will be confronting different household chores and tasks every day. I intend to even clean the windows, inside and out. Reorganize the kitchen, scrub the exhaust fan, de-mold the washing machine, clean all the drains, wax the wood floors, tame the heaps of bills/statements and other paper menace that teeters in piles on the kitchen counter. I also intend to ruthlessly throw out anything I have not used in over 6 months. Mostly.

So, osoji, we have a handle on.

The other parts of New Years here is the T.V. fest on New Year's Eve. We watched a little of NHK's Red and White program--a music program where two teams compete (I think it is men vs. women?). But we centered in on a program where 5 comedians try to make it through a day without laughing. When they laugh guys in black body suits come running out and paddle them on the behind. It is a lot of physical slap stick humor, but I have to admit to liking it. Very typical Japanese humor. Like putting a big cup of hot coffee on someones back when they are laying down and then watching them try to get up without spilling it--and laughing hysterically when they scald themselves. The comic wrestling show before this one was also classic. A guy and a girl (I think she was a professional wrestler, he was just a comedian) swinging watermelons on ropes around and smashing each other in the head with them. I kept waiting for the guy to get seriously injured.

Just before midnight I brought out some champagne for Masa and I and filled the girls champagne flutes with ginger ale. Saki excelled at clinking glasses together. Masa coached both girls on how to offer the appropriate New Year's greetings in Japanese and then we greeted each other, formally bowing to one another. (This is a good example of one of those moments when I find myself floating out of body, looking down in a perplexed manner saying, "no really. Really? This is my life?" Never imagined my family would be bowing at one another at 12:00 a.m. on New Years Day!)

This morning we all woke up late and while Masa and I were still upstairs I heard Reno and Saki arguing downstairs about what to watch on T.V. My heart grew three sizes when I heard Reno say, "Okay. Then let's try to find a program that we BOTH want to watch." (I've been despairing that they ever listen to me at all recently, and she was modeling my daily suggestion that I make a million times when they are home on vacation together.)

When Masa and I came downstairs, I started making this year's ozoni (a clear soy sauce dashi broth soup with chicken, carrots, shiitake, diakon, spinach and mochi in it). Once that was ready we all sat down together to welcome in 2009 over a traditional Japanese New Year's breakfast--the ozoni. Then Masa called his mother and we all bowed over the phone as we offered New Years Greetings to aunts, uncles, cousins, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-laws, nephews and nieces.

So. I did burn a batch of mochi later in the morning, when I got side tracked doing something outside of the kitchen and forgot that I had three mochis grilling on the stove. But that's it. I swear. Nothing else went up in flames.

Happy New Year! May 2009 be filled with good fortune, good friends, family and laughter.