Stick It

I usually get along with my MIL, but that doesn’t make for very interesting blogging, so let me just enlighten the world in regards to a weird thing she said the other day. I’m still trying to figure it out.

For the past month or so, both of my children have been absolutely obsessed with Lego Hero Factory. I have no opinion on this matter, apart from being thankful that they are fighting less over the TV, and getting sick of hearing millions of tiny little tidbits abut the various heroes for hours and hours every day.

In true Tiger Mom fashion, I bought the children several books about the heroes. The chapter books are actually pretty interesting, though they are a little too difficult for the kids so I have to go back and summarize everything that happened. Multiple times. When I really wish they would just go to sleep already.

I also bought them a sticker book. It’s one of those kinds where the pages of silhouettes of the item and you find the correct sticker and add it on. This is, of course, quite easy for Me First, who is nine, and not difficult for Me Too, either. Me First has been filling in the stickers, and then going back and reading the descriptions. These are well written, with vivid descriptions and full of vocabulary he doesn’t usually come across. It’s been a great exercise for him (and a good reminder to me to try to use different kinds of words to give my kids more exposure to the richness of the English language beyond “clean your room” and “because I said so, that’s why.”)

He took this obsession book with him when we went to the in-laws over the weekend, and MIL just went on and on about how it was too easy for him, and why would I waste money on something like that, isn’t it boring, etc.

I just cannot fathom why she would say those things. The sticker bit may have been easy, but she had no way of knowing how difficult the reading was, being unable to read English herself. And he was obviously enjoying himself, rearranging the stickers and making up stories as he went along. He was even more or less quiet, which is always a plus.

I just don’t get it.

She (and HRH) have made several comments in the past when one of the children did something they thought was “too childish.” So what? If it’s fun, and not bothering anyone, why does it matter? What’s with the push to do things they deem age-appropriate? And who gave them the power to decide that, anyway?

Recently, Me Too doesn’t want to go to the park with HRH because he makes her play baseball, or soccer, or some other organized game when she just really wants to collect acorns and then perhaps roll in the mud.

We went to the beach last week to dig clams, and HRH insisted they go straight to the water and get to work when both children were more interested in trying to run across the sand and throwing seaweed at each other. Why battle with them over that?

The funniest part of the beach adventure was that, after about an hour of clam digging, he said they could each take three clams home. How arbitrary is that? Why three? And then he thought I was actually going to prepare them for consumption. 24 hours of soaking and sand spitting, then steaming them, all for six clams total?

“This is Houston. Come back to Earth.”

Locked Out

When we finally found Me Too, I went to unlock the door and realized that in desperation she had crammed a bamboo stick into the keyhole. Of course, it had broken off and got stuck.

Great.

I did eventually manage to use the pokey end of Me First’s compass to pry it out, but it took awhile. We didn’t get into the house until the wrong side of 4:30.

Me Too was exhausted by this time, and I could feel a migraine coming on. So she skipped karate class. Me First would have skipped, too, if HRH hadn’t shown up just as things were calming down.

Of course he thought Me Too should have been forced to go to karate anyway. Of course he thought I was over reacting. Waiting on your door step for 2 freaking hours and then being locked out for another? No big deal, he says. Of course I wonder, again, how it is that I am married to such a man and living in such a country where things like this are “no big deal.”

I’d had a weird encounter earlier in the day at Costco. I got to talking to one of the people who worked there. He told me he was from Senegal, and then went into a diatribe about how screwed up Japanese society is.

“These people have everything, so much stuff. But they don’t have kids. What is life without kids?” he said to me. It was an other-side-of-the-looking glass moment. I’d grown up hearing about the poor kids in Africa who don’t have anything, and here was one of them feeling sorry for me because I only have two children.

This surreal conversation with HRH brought the other conversation fresh to my mind. Our priorities just seem to be drifting further apart. The way we experience the world around us is totally different. I’ve been around a bit more so I can understand the denial, the defensiveness he feels when I tell him that the school is wrong to leave little children wandering about like that. I want HIM to be the one who takes these concerns to the school because he will be listened to. I’ll be dismissed out of hand as an outsider with crazy ideas. I’ll get the “this is Japan” line. I can deal with that bullshit outside of my home, but I can’t have my concerns minimized and made light of inside and still hold things together.

But this post is all over the place…Happy reading, I’m sure.

Panic

Yesterday, I went to pick the kids up from after care at school. (I had been in a PTA meeting all afternoon.)

And they told me Me Too wasn’t there.

Where to even start? I was horrified. I was mortified. I was livid.

I trust these people with my children. It seems to me the very least they could do was ensure the children were where they were supposed to be.

Me First and I ran home, and thank god she was there on the landing. The poor little lamb had been waiting there for almost TWO HOURS.

There just are no words. The whole thing was beyond awful.

What’s for dinner

I’ve mentioned before about my loathing for green beans. I do feel kind of guilty that my kids have hardly ever eaten them because a) I hate them b)they’re expensive in Japan and c)I hate them. So when I saw this recipe on Japanese TV for “caramel black sesame pork,” I decided to give it a try.

Originally, it called for snap peas. But there weren’t any at the store, so I went with the suggested replacement. There weren’t any fresh green beans, so I used frozen.

I also didn’t write the recipe down, but I remembered the main points. These were 1)butter and 2)sugar.

Just a reminder not to believe everything you hear about how healthy Japanese cuisine is!

The first step was to make a kind of caramel sauce from the butter and sugar, but I was in a hurry so…I melted the butter, stirred in some sugar, then added the pork. After that had pretty much cooked through, I added the still frozen beans and onions. At some point I put in some cooking sake. Then when it all looked done, a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce and some crushed black sesame.

All of the green bean haters managed to eat it (cut up and served on rice for the children.) Of course, since I didn’t really measure anything I may never be able to produce it again. But I think as long as you get the butter and sugar, you’ll probably be okay.

Psychodrama

So the little sh!t is in Me First’s class again this year. Even worse, they are in the same han, or group, and he’s up in Brother’s face all day long. He has been waiting downstairs every morning for my kids to come down, and walking to school with them.

I’ll admit a part of me was hoping this meant they were becoming friends. The two of them have been separated into a different class from the other boys in their posse, after all, so it wasn’t totally unreasonable that I-kun would latch onto Me First and actually not be an ass for, at least like half a day or something.

But this morning I overheard him telling Brother to run off and hide from Sister.

I performed an appropriate crazy-haired-gaijin-in-pajamas-screaming-bloody-murder scene from the landing, of course. But really, picking on a 1st grade girl is just beyond the border of what is even remotely acceptable in my universe.

So I-kun has a meet-the-lord moment coming next school day. I already have beginning of the school year parent-teacher conferences coming up soon. Whether to show up with the Emmet from Back to the Future hair or not is still under consideration.

In other troubling news, apparently Me First wrote someone a hate letter. Fortunately, he had enough sense not to sign it.

The recipient of this letter is the boy who, for the second term of second grade, used Me First as a punching bag. He also, sadly, seems to be a kid in need of special Ed type help that he isn’t getting. He asks inappropriate questions in class, refuses to sit down, etc., which results in the whole class losing their recess, things like that. He is mean to his classmates and hits them and kicks them, not seeming to understand that they are in pain or that his actions lead to his being disliked by, basically, everyone.

He also cries tender tears when he has to share something, or let someone else take turns being the leader. He really doesn’t seem to understand that everyone else should also have a turn. But then he bounces back in about .5 seconds, and starts punching people again.

Me First said he cried when he read the hate letter. And he feels bad about writing it and wants to apologize. But another kid who apologized for writing something mean on his desk got punched in the face for his trouble, so he was nervous about admitting he was the writer.

And then he got to the part where he told me that this incident happened three weeks ago.

So…. if it had been yesterday, I would have called the teacher and had Me First apologize. As it is? Part of me thinks having felt guilty about this for the past three weeks may be enough. I talked to Me Too about why he wrote the letter (he was angry because of something the other boy had said,) and how it made him feel when he saw how hurt the other kid was by it (bad.) Being mean to others doesn’t make our own pain go away. Usually, it just makes us feel worse.

For now, I’ve left it at that.

But… It really would have been nice to get through at least the first month of school without this kind of psychodrama.

Gaijin Stalker

I haven’t really written anything about Me Too starting school yet… I guess we’re still trying to figure our way around it. Most days she walks in the morning with her brother. If he’s being a punk ass (he’s nine, this happens at random, unpredictable intervals,) and I can manage to get ready in time, then I walk with her.

I’ve been picking her up in the afternoon. The kids only finish at the same time one day a week, and the other kids from our neighborhood are in the other first grade class. Plus the American in me still thinks it batshit crazy to have gaggles of giggling 6year olds walking home by themselves.

Today, for the first time, Me Too was walking with a friend when she came out of the school gates. I crossed the street with them, then told her I would meet her at home. I don’t want to cramp her style, after all. But she gave me a panicked look, and said it would be okay if I followed them. So I did.

That’s me, gaijin stalker.

The Power of Bacon

I haven’t done a recipe for a while, but this was easy (score!) and the kids ate it without any gag noises (extra point!) so I thought I would share.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’m constantly struggling to find something green that my children will eat in amounts visible by the naked human eye. Broccoli, cucumbers, and iceberg lettuce dripping in sesame dressing go down well, but sometimes the adult palate needs something…. different. I’m not a huge fan of broccoli myself (shhhh, that’s mommy’s dirty little secret,) but my kids will eat it. One way only, steamed in MY microwave on 600watts at 4 minutes 10 seconds. Certainly no less, and god forbid you should leave it in longer or not throw the water out straight away.

Part of the lack of green options, I’ll blame on Japan. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, kids here are programmed to hate green peppers and celery. It’s on every kid’s sh!t list. Never mind that they liked it fine before they started preschool, now they have been thoroughly brainwashed to hate them both.

Part of it is my husband’s fault. He won’t eat zucchini or Brussels sprouts. Both are expensive here and not regularly available, so that isn’t a huge problem, but when I do find them I have to break out my mental scale and weight the pros of eating something different for a change vs listening to my husband sigh and sulk over his dinner.

Did I mention I’m not a fan of broccoli but manage to eat it almost every damn day without sulking over my din din?

Yeah.

Anyhoo.

Of course, it is also partly my fault because I have a PTSD relationship with green beans. Snap beans, string beans, they all send me into a fetal position, hugging my knees and rocking on the floor.

Oh, do I need to explain that? We grew them by the bushel growing up, changed into our “poor kid clothes,” and sold them on the side of the road. I presume that is enough of an explanation.

Basically, the other things available here are spinach, asparagus, and cabbage. Japanese cuisine, in general, does veggies really well. But asparagus is a challenge. I mean, it looks like a spear (good!) but tastes like wood (not so good.) My kids hate it.

But Me Too loves bacon, and Me First loves cheese.

So, being the evil genius that I am, I put all those together. I sautéed the asparagus on olive oil with bacon (bear in mind that Japanese bacon is thicker cut than the North American variety, but I think that would work, too.) Then in the final seconds I added some tomatoes (cut higgledy piggledy, cause that’s how I roll,) and added some grated Parmesan and salt.

The whole thing took about two minutes. Of course it took ten times as long to convince the little “foodies” to taste it, but in the end they ate it. Brother even admitted that it didn’t taste like puke.

Ah, the power of bacon!

By Any Measure

The door frame in the living room is marked with lines, some in pencil, some in ink (one I think is actually a booger,) measuring the children’s growth. When I walk by it, I can see how big they have gotten, compared to how small they used to be.

Physical growth is easy to measure. It sneaks up on you when shoes no longer fit and pants are too short, but that is easily remedied. You can google growth charts and weight charts and height/weight charts and even height prediction charts if you want to make sure your child’s physical growth is on par with his peers.

But spiritual growth and mental growth are more difficult to measure. There’s no scale in the bathroom or marks on the wall. I suppose we could count holes in the wall, but anyway….

Today was just one of those days when Me First surprised me.

Today was the last day of third grade. Halle-freakin’-lujah, we finally get a vacation with no homework! I was going through his backpack, the endless worksheets and tests and standardized test assessment (that he really should have given me when he brought it home instead of stuffing it inside a “robot-can” box,) and I found a letter from his teacher.

I won’t quote it here, but the gist was the teacher felt guilty about not being able to help Me First more when things with the other boys weren’t going well. (Which is, basically, like all the time.) Teach went on to say that in spite of that, and in spite of how hard it must have been, Me First was always kind to his classmates. And that shows strength of spirit, and that impressed him very much.

I don’t think I could get up every day and do what Me First has had to do. I just hope it gets better.

This evening, both kids had a karate test. For Me Too, it isn’t such a huge deal (she doesn’t goof off in class, unlike a certain someone else,) but Me First is at a higher level and to pass, he has to work hard. And he has worked hard. We have worked hard. Two of his friends from babyhood are in the same karate school, and it was almost surreal today to see the three of them, now at the higher level of the school, moving through their kata and kumite so confidently. I mean, this is the same boy who peed on the floor at the first karate class; that is the same boy who puked from nerves at the first test.

Afterward, we all went out to dinner. My friend, N, was saying it was so nice to see the kids just relaxing, laughing, and having a good time. And it WAS nice. Then Me First turns around, and asks his friend’s mom how things are going at work…. It was just such a grown-up thing to say, like an adult conversation, that we all started to laugh.

Of course, I’m the only one who knew he really wanted to ask her about the giant meat locker (she works at the grocery store.)

But by any measure, he’s grown a lot. If I had a doorframe in my heart, I’d make a mark there today.

But I would use a pen, not a booger.

Friendly

Me First has a knack for making friends wherever he goes, but even he was surprised when he made friends with this dolphin.

He’s always loved sea mammals, so I guess it’s good that the feeling is mutual.

This little guy kept swimming back, coming nose-to-nose with Me First, and nodding his head until the kids started nodding, too.

Kind of makes you wonder which creature is on display…

He started whistling something, and the children started squealing back, but they couldn’t keep the high pitch up very long, and in a few short minutes it sounded kind of like the munchkin zombie apocalypse.

Fun times.

When the bully is a mom

Something has been going on in my life, and I haven’t been writing about it. I don’t think I realized what it was, or maybe I didn’t want to acknowledge it.

But I’ll say it now.

Another mom at my kids’ school is a bully, and I am one of her targets.

I’m as surprised at that as you. I mean, as HRH says, I am just way too obvious a target. It’s almost anticlimactic to bully the lone gaijin mom. (By the way, when I become a superhero that will be my name, The Lone Gaijin.)

It’s been going on for three or four months now, I guess. It started with the planning of the Wakarekai(graduation party, but the pain-in-the-ass factor is akin a sweet sixteen for a New Orleans debutante,) for Me Too’s preschool. All of the moms get divided into committees. The committees have a leader. But our leader was no match for the Alpha Mom B!tch Corps.

I should have seen it coming from the way they acted at the first meeting, wasting everyone else’s time, shooting down other people’s ideas, talking badly about teachers, etc. It was pretty shocking at the time. I butted heads with them, very politely, for though I may be made of steel, I am not the It Girl of Confrontation. And they shot me down. No one stood with me, so it was a both-engines-on-fire, smoke-streaming, Too Gun kind of shootdown.

And then somehow, I ended up bring assigned to the same subcommittee as The Alpha Moms. Slowly, and before I realized it, they were asking me to do A LOT. A lot more than anyone else. I noticed the other day how Alpha Mom A viciously snapped at one of her minions when she put glue in the wrong place.

Like, yikes.

But while they were just making my life hard, I could live with it. When they told me I would have to go decorate a room and leave Me Too alone in the auditorium during lunch, while every. other. kid. would eat with their mom, I said “No.” And somehow, they made me feel like I was being unreasonable.

I cried in the bathroom for a little while. This may not be the most effective way of dealing with a problem, mind you, but don’t knock it until you try it.

Of course they had the upper hand. They were using their native language, “Japanese culture,” blah blah blah.

And then after this awful meeting, I went to the grocery store. And I saw that they were all having lunch, without me. I said hello to them, as those of us who are not inherently evil to the core are prone to do when seeing someone we know. Minion waved. The other two ignored me.

And it was like a breath of fresh air. Because suddenly, I could see that this wasn’t about me.

On the actual Wakare Kai day, as luck would have it, both kids got sick in the morning and puked all over me.

Score.

We didn’t go.

But in a weird way, I’m kind of glad it happened. Because when I saw those mean moms having lunch without me, I felt insignificant and worthless. In that same moment, I realized that all of these yucky feelings I was having were the same kinds of things Me First has been feeling at school. That unsureness that something was really happening, the dread to face them every day, the fear of making it worse by complaining.

I get it.

So I guess in a way, these mean moms gave me something really valuable.

They can still go eff themselves in hell, though.

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