Thursday, May 31, 2012

Life Would Be So Much Easier if I Was A Better Parent

What I Remembered to Do:

*Leave work in time to prepare food for the pitch-in

*Pack a meal for Stow including his sippy cup, bib, and spoon

*Change the camera battery before putting it into the bag

*Have Pink P and Sky write thank you cards for their teachers since tomorrow is the last day of school

*Bring the new epipen since the old one has expired

*Listen to and respond to all the answering machine messages before leaving the house

*Change Stow's diaper

*Make sure everyone was dressed and ready to leave the house on time

*Take the stroller

*Leave the house early enough so we could park close enough so Ren wouldn't have to walk so far

*Remind Pink P and Sky of the rules for eating out and behaving in crowds

What I Failed to Do:

*Anticipate the sensory overstimulation caused by twenty 3-5 year olds and their families eating, playing, singing, and running within a fairly narrow space

*Take preventative/preparatory steps like muscle compression, therapeutic listening or brushing to help Sky cope

*Realize that Sky was running around and being disruptive due, in large part, to the visual and aural chaos around him

*Employ any of the centering measures Sky has acquired over the last 16 months months of occupational therapy

*Take one step back and realize that my constant frustration and reliance on verbal warnings for him invariably made things worse

*Express my frustration to Sky in a constructive manner

*Relax enough to enjoy even one second of Pink P's preschool picnic and show

Ugh! I'm getting kind of tired of my epic mom fails.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Know that Somehow I Will be Held Personally Responsible for This

Sky got tadpoles.

It was inevitable.

After all, we'd given him a Dagobah Frog Habitat for his birthday (how could we not?) at the end of last year, so it was only a matter of time before the tadpoles.

Sky pulled out the habitat last Sunday and helpfully reminded me that I promised to get a tadpole once the weather turned warm. Since we bought the habitat on super-duper clearance back in June, the mail-in coupon for our free tadpole had expired. By a year. So, this Memorial Day, after a morning at the playground, we went to the pet store and spent $14.38 for two tadpoles, water conditioner, and some fish food. I don't know a thing about animals. But how hard could it be to pick up a couple of tadpoles?

When Ren saw them, he asked two pretty important questions:

"Good lord, how old are those tadpoles?"


"What kind of ginormous frogs will they turn into?"

Why, I'm glad you asked that, Ren. They're bull frog tadpoles. And, now that you mention it, Sweetie, they do seem pretty monstrous.

Still, I kind of wished he hadn't asked those questions in front of Sky, because now Sky is worried that the frogs will not fit in Yoda's cave, or worse, that they will go inside and then have a phenomenal growth spurt that makes it impossible for them to get out ever again. Meanwhile, now I'm going to have nightmares about giant frogs suffocating me in my sleep. *Shiver*.

Anyway, since I knew that somehow these tad-frog-miniature-godzilla wannabees would become my responsibility, I set to work acclimating our new friends to their Dagobah swamp by helping them adjust to the new water temperature and making sure their habitat was neither too sunny nor too cold. As I was obsessing about all of this, Ren kindly reminded me (and by "kindly reminded" I mean, "scoffed") that they're just frogs and to quit worrying already.

Meanwhile, Sky insisted the tadpoles be put in his room on his desk. I'm pretty sure we won't be able to keep his desk a comfortable 75-80 degrees for the tadpoles, but we will be able to keep them generally out of my sight (yay!) AND when they do get large enough to break out of their habitat and suffocate sleeping humans, they are far more likely to go for the closer targets of Sky and Pink P. My mom sense almost always alerts me when one of my kids is in trouble, so surely, in case of bull-frog attack, I would hear the scuffle and jump to the rescue. Yes, the tadpoles belong on Sky's desk. Problem solved.

Only, I'm pretty sure the tadpoles won't make it to frog-hood. This morning I went in to find their plastic container surrounded by "Where's Waldo" books. Those books give me a headache. I can't imagine what they do to tiny tadpole brains. And a couple of hours later, I went in to find that Sky had placed them on top of a light-up ABC toy. Not only was the habitat sitting on the toy totally catawampus, but it was also directly on top of an object that had music playing at full volume while lights flashed vigorously and randomly. I remember reading studies in my undergrad neuropsychology class about how caged rats that were shocked at random developed deadly cancer at a much higher rate than their counterparts who were shocked only when they failed to perform a specific action.

As Sky obediently returned the tadpole habitat to the corner of his desk, water sloshing inside, I tried to explain to him about those doomed rats.

"Buddy, you can't keep changing their environment. You're going to stress them out."

"I thought they'd like disco lights in their cage."

"Maybe, but you can't keep moving them around."


"Because whenever you move the cage, it's like they're having an earthquake and tsunami all at once."


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Retrospective 1, Summer 1995

Long before I was a Japanese housewife, I was a very angsty twenty-something living alone in Japan (Sorry to those of you who had to endure the letters I wrote home. I kept copies of some of them. Sheesh!). Though it was summer vacation when I first arrived in Kyushu in 1995, and though my fellow JETs in other cities had the summer off, I had to sit at my desk in the Board of Education for eight hours a day for the first four weeks I was in Japan. It was excruciatingly boring. Fortunately, I had ample opportunity to record my first impressions. Here are a couple of them (with all signs of angst removed).


There is a man in my office who looks like he is older than Mt. Fuji. The JET teacher at the Board of Ed before me nicknamed him Origami-san. About every other day, he comes to my desk with a new origami figure and tries to teach me how to do it. It's actually a nice reprieve from the intense boredom of trying to look occupied for eight hours a day. Origami-san doesn't speak a bit of English, so I learn by copying him. Honestly, though, I can't seem to remember how to make anything. He's taught me how to fold cranes twice now. I'm afraid to ask again beause I imagine the Japanese would take my inability to master this simple task as a sure sign of feeble-mindedness.


Today at work, I noticed that it suddenly got really quiet. I looked around only to discover that over half of my coworkers had disappeared. I figured it was a meeting I didn't know about, but just as I was forming this theory, one of my co-workers walked past wearing black combat boots and a fluorescent orange hat. I turned to see another wearing his beige fieldwork outfit when only moments before he'd been in a suit and tie. Finally I asked Sawako, the woman who sits next to me (and, not coincidentally, the only one who speaks English in the entire city hall), where everyone went, and she said:

"Kaji. Do you know kaji?"

I do know kaji. It means fire, as in building fire. So my first thought was that the building was on fire and everyone else was evacuating. As I was thinking this, Sawako, managed to find the word in the dictionary.

"Fire," she said looking up from her dictionary, "or conflagration" (the second one came out with a mess of r and l sounds, so it took a minute for me to compute).

"Same difference," I told her.

Then there was a pregnant pause, as if her two word explanation sufficed. It didn't.

So I asked, "Is there a fire somewhere?"

"Yes," she offered as a tantalizingly unhelpful reply before returning to her work.

I decided to persist. "So are they going to fight a fire?"


"Where is the fire? Don't they have a fire department?"


"Oh," I said. (...while beginning to suspect Sawako's English skills are not all that good).

Moments later, I heard sirens. The section across from mine has a ham radio, and I could hear firefighters talking. I had no idea what they were saying and no one bothered to explain. The guys came back to the office just before lunch and returned to their work as if nothing had happened.

And nobody said anything.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sometimes Repression Really IS the Way to Go

A couple of days after the defense, a friend of mine had a party in my honor (thank you!). She was kind enough to have a piñata for the kids.

A cute unicorn piñata:

I didn't hit the piñata. It was for the kids, after all.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to take out my many years of adviser frustration on it. In my mind, I saw myself mercilessly beating the poor thing to a pulp, inadvertently crushing the goodies inside while tiny pairs of eyes looked on in horror.

I knew I definitely would not be a good paper-mâché-pounding role model.

Fortunately, one of the kids did this:

And somehow, I felt much, much better.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Ph.D. by the Numbers

Number of ....

Years it took to finish: 8
(Average time to degree in my field: 10 years)

Times I Thought I was Finished: 3

Dissertation Revisions: 5

Births: 3

Pounds in Total Birth Weight: 27

Months Spent Breast-feeding While Studying/Writing/Teaching: 36

Times My Dissertation Adviser Told Me to "Quit Worrying about Funding and Just Write My Dissertation": 10 (at least)

Courses Taught: 19

Relocations: 6

Residences: 5

Countries: 2

International Flights with Small Children: 12

Suitcases Carried Back and Forth: 7 (plus 23 boxes when we moved back "for good")

Hospitalizations: 9

Total Days in Hospital: 25

Major Surgeries: 6

Unwanted Diagnoses: 5

Peditricians: 7

And after all that,
The Number of Sane Adults in My Household Today: 0

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Becoming Dr. Seuss

The day before the defense? A combination of euphoria and sheer terror. What if I fail? That's, of course, the biggest fear. But there are others--what will I do with myself once this long ordeal is finally over? What moments in the life of my family have I missed never to regain? Was it worth it?

And the euphoria? To be honest, I can't imagine ever being free of this weight on my shoulders. The weight of years of revising and feeling like I am so close only to have the goal line moved further out of reach. In the final moments of preparation, when I feel like I am probably as ready as I will ever be, I allow the thought of successfully defending to slip into my subconsciousness, and I am briefly giddy. Just briefly.


The consuming thought, as I walked back to the hotel after the defense? "When I woke up, I was not a doctor, but now I am."

It really does seem pretty arbitrary.


After I finished, I called my folks to let them know. Needless to say, they were very excited and their enthusiasm elicited immediate curiosity from Pink P and Sky (who did not make the trip with Ren, Stow, and I back to campus). Pink P wrestled the phone from Grandma first.

Pink P: What happened, Mommy?

Me: I finished my big paper.

Pink P: What did you say?

Me: I said, I finished my big paper.

Pink P: What did you say?

Me: I finished.

Pink P: What did you say?


Pink P: What did you say?

Me: Put Sky on the phone.

(brief pause)

Sky: Hi, Mom.


Sky (totally unimpressed and slightly exasperated--imagine him sighing sarcastically like a tween with major attitude):
I know. You're a doctor.


Months earlier, I tried to explain why I was so busy:

Me: Mommy's writing a big paper and when I'm done, I'll be a doctor.

Sky (obviously impressed): You're going to be a DOCTOR?!?!

Me: Yup. But, not like Dr. Lee who helps you when you are sick. I'll be a doctor who teaches people and doesn't give them shots.

Sky (after pausing thoughtfully): So, you mean like Dr. Seuss.

Um, yeah, I guess I do.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

T-minus a very few days until the dissertation defense, so I didn't feel much like celebrating Mother's Day. Plus, as I am sure you remember, sometimes our expectations for minor holidays differ considerably, so I wasn't expecting much. (I wrote about the challenge of celebrating holidays in multicultural families here and here).

Ren kinda met my expectations with this:

Can't read it? I'll give you a hint, it says "Happy Mother's Day" in both Japanese and bad English, and it does it using pictographs representing Japanese sounds. Do you see it now?

On the positive side (because you should always focus on the positives, right?), he spent some time coming up with this and then drawing the pictures. On the less positive side, he was too cheap to go out and get a card. He was even too cheap to use a clean sheet of paper. This one has the outline of my dissertation on the other side of it. (Though, now that I think of it, maybe it's totally appropriate).

Sky made this for me at school:

I suppose this one kind of speaks for itself...

Happy Mother's Day to all of you whether you currently find yourself being a mom or not.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Mommy Tsunami

Tap, tap, tap


Tap, tap,tap


"Umm, hello?"

Tap, tap,tap


"Is this thing still on?"

So, yeah, I'm back. Kind of. Got that other writing thing (a.k.a. my dissertation) done and waiting for, well, you know, my defense. So not totally back, but close. My apologies for the dead air time. I'll try to make it up to you somehow (though I doubt it will be with today's blog--turns out weeks and weeks of non-stop dissertation revising lead to stilted writing--who knew?).


During my month absence, I made a significant and important decision. Sky should not get his face painted ever again. Ever. I know, it seems all innocent and harmless to have a face painting booth at the local spring festival. Sure, tons of kids lined up for it, and it was free (And you know I'm a sucker for a bargain). But face painting must be one of the rings of hell in the Sky-verse.

No one suggested he get his face painted. He just really wanted to do it. He waited patiently for at least 45 minutes. And, as he got closer and closer to the front of the line, he started to get nervous. What should he get on his face? This was a monumental decision, not without a large amount of stress. When it was finally his turn, he'd narrowed his choices to deer or insect. Have you ever seen a face painting booth with either of those options? No? Me, neither. Thing is, the lady doing the painting didn't have pictures to choose from, so there was no end to the possibilities. This resulted in considerable negotiation between Sky and the woman at the booth.

In the end, they settled on a bumble bee, and the woman drew a very happy-looking, if not misshapen, bee on his cheek. By the time we finished, Ren and Stow had been waiting in the car for at least 20 minutes, but Sky couldn't hurry for fear that an errant breeze might mess up the picture.

And here's the rub, once something is painted on Sky's face, he can't move. In his mind, a thousand possible face-paint assailants lurk in every corner. So, it took us another 20 minutes to get to the car. And a good five minutes for him to climb into his seat. Thing is, the whole reason we were at that spring festival was so Sky could participate in the 5K. And anyone knows that a 5K through the woods the day after it rains is bound to leave a 7 year-old covered with mud. Why wouldn't it?

Most of the rest of Sky's body was in desperate need of a bath. So, when we got home, we attempted to wash everything but the bumble bee.

It didn't go well.

There was anxiety.

Followed by screaming.

And then crying.

And then the lamenting of his very existence.

I tried not to get it wet, but I'm pretty sure that woman painted on his face with water colors. There was no keeping the bee on his cheek. But, still, I tried.

I got the blow dryer and stretched the cord across the bathroom right to the tub so I could blow dry the picture on his cheek. Much to my dismay, this seemed to work. For about a minute. Then I knew I had to change tactics. So, I promised to buy him tattoos to replace that "stupid, ol' bee." And I suggested there was really only one way to make things right -- a bug tsunami.**

See Sky is fascinated by how the world looks to bugs. He can't walk past a puddle without studying it for possible signs of bugs on surfboards, or fishing. So, I totally played to his strength. As soon as I made the suggestion, he was sold.

(Notice the tears?)

(After the first wave -- Resignation.)

(After the second wave -- Defiance!)

No more bee, no more anxiety, and no more sudden breakdowns for the bee whose time on this earth was cut way too short. By a Mommy tsunami.

**Disclaimer: Tsunami aren't funny. At all. But they're totally fascinating to a kid who's obsessed with how the world works, especially to a kid who knows a thing or two about them after living in Japan.