Tuesday, April 8, 2014

One of Those Mornings

Someone woke up at 3 and threw up every fifteen minutes for exactly three hours until the exact moment my alarm when off. Then she stopped and hasn't done it since.

Someone else pottied on the floor. The usual suspect was wearing a diaper and didn't seem to have a large enough window of opportunity to pull it off,*** so maybe it wasn't a someone, but a something....But what?

Another someone had a meltdown due to a missing toy car which made it very difficult for him to think about getting on the school bus.

No one had a calm, cool and collected morning--I mean, it was ugly. But, what really got me this morning was this:

It turns out that this is one of those mornings when I discover I've left not one, but three lunch boxes at work and am forced to walk from my car to my office holding Pink's old Hello Kitty lunch box at my side.

Look at her. She's clearly mocking me.

***I know I should just let my pun do it's magic without point it out, but I just can't. Do you like my pun?!?!

Monday, April 7, 2014

What to Do if Your Husband Vacuums too Much and Other Useless Metaphors (My Messy Beautiful)

The first year of our marriage, we fought about vacuuming. Ren would often come home from work around midnight and jump straight into his cleaning routine. It didn't matter that his daughter and mother were sound asleep in the other room or that I had the futon spread out and was snuggled deep under the covers trying to catch up on one American TV program or another. He had to clean. I'm pretty sure I was the only newlywed in the history of the universe to complain about her spouse doing too much housework. But it annoyed me, and I hadn't yet come to appreciate how having a kid with asthma and allergies alters your cleaning habits.

I don't remember a lot from that first year other than the arguments about vacuuming, trying to figure out how to parent a less-than-willing Japanese tween, and struggling to make sense of what Ren's 75 year-old mother was telling me to do. I also distinctly remember wanting to give up on the marriage. Lying awake each night on that mat on the floor, wrapped in the warm smell of the tatami, with the lullabies of the cicadas in my ears, I felt alien...uncomfortable in my new skin.

At the time, a good friend of mine said, "It took you two years to decide to marry him. You need to  give it at least that long to figure out if you want to separate." Looking back now, her advice seems pretty arbitrary. Useless, perhaps. But at the time, it made perfect sense. So, I stayed, and we figured out how to communicate over and beyond, below and enmeshed.

When you are from two entirely different countries, speak two very different languages, and are the products of two completely different generations, you learn you have to work hard to meet in the middle. You also learn that life together comes with its fair share of of missed connections. Those early years, married to Ren and living in Japan, I discovered that, a lot of the time, marriage is just about pulling yourself up out of the futon each morning and trying again.


Last weekend, we spent the night in Chicago. By the second day, Ren's back hurt so bad, he didn't want to walk. So we decided that he would drop the older kids and I off at Water Tower Place while he and the baby found a quieter, more peaceful (and cheaper) place to park. Since we only have one cell phone, the plan was to meet on the side street next to Water Tower in an hour.

Or, at least, that was my plan as I thought I'd conveyed it to Ren before we parted. Ren, apparently, had a different plan.

Our meeting time came and went. Pink P (6) and Sky (9) found the cutting, cold wind difficult to bear, so we walked back and forth between our meeting place and a space just inside the door overlooking the spot where I expected Ren to appear at any moment. Over and over again, I ventured out into the cold with two miserable kids only to find the street empty and to feel the uneasy knot in my stomach getting bigger and bigger.

Where was he?

Having a kid with Aspergers means you can never let on that you are worried. Or scared. Or upset. Thing is, keeping your cool gets harder when you have a 9 year-old standing next to you outlining in great detail all of the possible ways things might have gone wrong. Sky was sure Ren had forgotten us. Pink was too tired to take another step. Both kids were hungry and tired of carrying their stuff.

When Ren didn't show up on the side of the building, we checked the back and then the other side. We walked three blocks away from Michigan Avenue, toward the lake, thinking he was most likely to have parked somewhere over there. Round and round we went. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. Forty minutes.

Where WAS he?

Just as I was about to give up and try to find a hotel for the night, just as I made one last sweep around the back of the building, Ren pulled up.

And he was mad.

"Where were you?!" he demanded. "Why weren't you where you said you'd be?!!"

Thing is, I was exactly where I said I'd be. (I mean, really, what sense would it make for me to go anywhere else, especially when it's 30 degrees outside?). But I could tell that didn't matter. He hadn't heard me. He'd been too distracted by the city traffic and his thoughts about places to wait for us. The whole time I was searching for him on the sides and back of the building, he was just around the corner in front. For forty minutes, we completely missed each other. And the whole time we were only about 100 feet apart.


As soon as I understood that we were all okay and allowed my anger to dissipate, I realized those forty minutes we spent around the corner from each other could serve as a good metaphor for our marriage. When life gets hard--like it has been lately with a move, a third back surgery followed by a trip to Mayo and then the realization that Ren will probably never regain full mobility, along with the constant joys and sorrows that seem to accompany life with kids on the spectrum--I have to remind myself to actively communicate with my husband. I also have to keep telling myself that when all else fails, sometimes the most important thing I can do is pull myself out of the futon and keep on moving forward.

This essay is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Let's Take This Show on the Road

Last week, I bought five tickets to take the Moe family to Japan this summer. I'm going for work, and I really want them to tag along. Stow has never been, Pink P doesn't really remember it, and Sky needs to brush up on his elementary-school boy Japanese. Plus, Ren's mom isn't getting any younger, and the kids hardly remember their cousins.

The last time we were there, Sky was five, Pink P was two, and there was this moment when I was weaving my way through Ikebukuro Station (the second busiest train station in the world with nearly 3 million visitors every single day) with Sky tripping along behind me and Pink sitting in her stroller singing some silly song at the top of her lungs, and I thought, "Next year they'll be 6 and 3, and this will be a lot easier."


Hahahahahahahahahaha ha ha ha!

Sometimes I crack. my. self. UP!

I mean, we all know how things turned out. A few months after that trip, we learned we were expecting Stow, Sky got diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and Pink developed serious asthma. A couple of months after that, Ren's back went south for good. Then I defended my dissertation and we moved again. In other words, the next year was definitely NOT easier. In fact, it was much, much harder.

Before the extra kid and the various diagnoses and the bad back, we were on the move a lot. Sky and Pink logged thousands of airline miles, visited all sorts of places, and lived in one of the biggest cities on earth. We spent a year in a 150 sq. ft. apartment commuting to preschool on bike and spending our weekends wandering all over the back alleys and side streets of Tokyo in search of the new, the exciting, and the bound-to-keep-the-kids-entertained-ing. But the year between our last family trip to Japan and my dissertation defense was the hardest year of our lives. It stopped us in our tracks and forced us to rethink everything we thought we knew. All of it.

It has taken us awhile to figure out how to move on from there. We've had a lot of fits and starts (you know, like the three back surgeries and all the weird stuff with Stow's health; not to mention the trip to Mayo to see if maybe Ren had some kind of rare nerve disease--he doesn't), but after learning that Ren is just going to have to live with the bad back, we decided it's time to get going again. Smaller this time.

Step one: An overnight trip to Chicago during spring break.

I'll be honest. I didn't want to go. I wasn't sure Ren would be able to get around. I didn't know how we would handle all the food restrictions and allergies. I was sure the boys would be overstimulated by all the sensory input and spin away in a thousand different directions. I could imagine a million different ways things could go wrong. Plus, I desperately needed to make up for lost sleep and lost grading/class prepping time after a stressful week at Mayo. But I'd promised the kids we'd take them to a hotel with a pool during their spring break, and since I hadn't kept that promise during the summer (because we moved) or around the time of their birthdays (back surgery #3), I didn't have the heart to cancel on them again.

By the time we were all in the car and on our way to the city, it was already clear we had to simplify our schedule. So, instead of trying to go to Legoland and swim in the hotel pool, we went straight to the pool with a promise to visit the Lego store the next day when we went to American Girl Place (a stop I'd promised for Pink). And instead of trying to make it through dinner at our favorite restaurant, we opted to stock up on bentos from Mitsuwa and eat as many meals away from crowds as possible. The following day, instead of trying to see every exhibit in the museum, we limited our visit to three hours and got the kids out before they were too hungry or too tired to behave like human beings. By slowing down and focusing our efforts on just a few stops, we managed to have fun and avoid several (though not all) meltdowns.

At the end of our 32 hours in the city, Sky summed up the best and worst of our trip:

The Good

Rainforest Cafe with new friends
Seeing tall buildings
Lego store
Staying in a hotel
The hotel pool
Watching TV in a hotel
The museum

The Bad

Lots of noise
Expensive parking (he may have heard me complain a couple of times)
Losing Daddy

The positive certainly outweighed the negative, despite the unfortunate incident where we waited for 40 minutes in 34 degree temperature because Daddy didn't pick us up at the pre-arranged meeting spot and instead waited for us a just around the busy corner where we didn't think to look (which is somehow a metaphor for our marriage, though I'm not sure how exactly).

Are we ready for Japan this summer? I have no idea. But I'm pretty sure we can't just sit at home and worry about how things will go.