Goldenlicks, for lack of a better title

Today, I had my last elementary classes of the year, yay. It feels like a big accomplishment, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. (Mainly that 45 children is far too many for a foreign language class.)
We closed out the year by selecting and performing fairytale-type stories in groups. The children chose their own groups, and chose between one of five story adoptations, authored by yours truly of course. They practiced for a couple of lessons, and today was the performance (complete with simple props.)
I give you this background because I was surprised when a fight broke out in one of the groups over who would play Mama Bear from Goldilocks (whin co-worker kept referring to the play as Goldenlicks…) I mean, they could have chosen a play without gender specific roles (like The Three Billy Goats Gruff) or one I had done two versions of (The King’s/Queen’s New Clothes,) or they could have revised it to Papa Bear and Uncle Bear; it shouldn’t have been an issue.  But for whatever reason, these boys chose this particular play,  practiced it for a month, and starting crying over it TODAY.
Dealing with the boys and their fragile ego issues consumed me at the time, but now I’m more bothered by something else. 
What about all the girls in that class, who saw two boys literally come to blows and then dissolve into pouty tears for twenty minutes over having to play a fictional female role? This same role that they are born into.  Two teachers jumped in to talk to the boys, but what about the girls? What message does it send to them? Are we giving them any counter-messages to celebrate womanhood?

And what about me? Or you? We, who grew up at a time when people  threw around with abandon terms that equate being a woman with being fickle or silly or nonsensical or weak? How has that effected us? Are we damaged? Or has it, to the contrary, made us strong?



I don’t brag much. Maybe that is part and parcel with having lived in Japan for the past thirteen years. The negative is easier to share here.

But, I have to share, last night my kids made me really proud.

I can’t remember how much I’ve written about the kids’ karate class. Me First started when he was four-and-a-half. And he has hated, let me see if I can figure this right….pretty much every single minute of it.

We started out without putting too much thought into it. A friend was enrolling her child, would we like to come along for the trial lesson? HRH thought it was a good idea; I thought I could use an hour when someone else was in charge, so I went along, even though I wasn’t convinced that teaching my child how to kick and punch was a very good idea. For the Earth. For the rest of mankind.

But karate, at least the Shokutan class we go to, is not mainly about hitting and punching other people at all. The first six months were all sitting up straight, answering when called (without using the Japanese equivalent of “yeah,”) and mastering the tricky art of addressing your sensei in the polite form when he is talking to you in a condescending form. And there was lots of hitting and punching and kicking, at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way, and never at other people.

Me First never wanted to go. I dragged him, kicking and screaming, for two-and-a-half years. He wanted to quit. I wanted to quit. But HRH thought it was good for him.

Easy to say, right? But I was the one taking him every week.

This spring, I won’t gloss over it, I was sick of it. We skipped a lot. I considered forgoing the 1000 yen ($10) deposit on the belt and just never showing up again. We went back to the US for several weeks in the summer, and it was great to have a break.

But when we came back, Me Too said that she wanted to try karate. Suddenly, I caught my second wind. I knew what we were getting into this time, and I could see how a shy little girl could benefit from yelling “Ei!” in class a hundred times every week. I was worried about the tests, but that was six months down the road.

It was a lot easier to overrule Me First’s objections when the other child wanted to go. So we started going regularly again.

In October, there was a test. And Me First wasn’t invited. I mean, this was the obvious result of having missed more than we attended for six months. There was no point in taking the test if he had no chance of passing, right? But Me First was crushed. And he wanted to quit again.


Since then, bar sickness and snow, we have gone every week. Some weeks I’ve had to force him to go. It hasn’t been pretty or fun for either of us.

But last month, Me Too reached a turning point. They were practicing for the test, and each level had to perform their kata for the whole class. (The kata is almost like a kind of dance. A series of kicks, punches, and turns is performed in a particular order.) And Me First couldn’t do it. He goofs around in class, no one was surprised. But he was embarrassed. And he cried.

I talked to the teacher about how we could practice at home. And we have been practicing, though there are many days when he doesn’t want to. (I’ve seen the kata so much I could probably teach it myself now.)

Last night, the white belts were up first. The children have to sit still and quiet while they wait for their turn. Then the children are called up in groups of three or four. A teacher barks instructions at them, and they are supposed to perform the moves they have been told. This is kind of hard for a kid. Punch three times, last time you yell. (This is called ki-ai. I don’t know how karate circles in English speaking countries explain it, but in Japan ki-ai means putting your all into something, doing it from the heart.) Step forward with your right leg, now do Move A as you step back, repeat it three times. This kind of thing is hard for a five-year-old.

But Me Too did it. She’s done better in class, mind you, but in spite of the shyness and the nerves she must have felt, she answered when they called her name, she walked to the middle of the gym and stood there in front of everyone, and she did a good job. A few minutes after her group went, another white belt burst out in tears; the pressure was more than he could take.

It’s a lot to ask of a kid, and I wondered if it was pushing Me Too too hard. But she rose to the occasion. Hopefully standing up in front of her class and introducing herself won’t seem so hard after this.

A loooonnnnggg (almost ninety minute) wait later, and it was finally Me First’s turn.

And he nailed it.

Proud doesn’t begin to describe how good it felt.

Anticlimaxes, Twists, and Turns

Those of you who have been through something like this probably already know what happened this afternoon. Me First didn’t give the notebook to the teacher. He said he was worried that the other boys would get in trouble.


That’s turning the other cheek and praying for your enemy all in one fell swoop, isn’t it? And this child has hardly ever set foot in a church. How did I do such a good job there? That’s children for you, isn’t it? We spend a good portion of our adult lives re-learning what comes to them naturally.


I had a talk with him, kind of similar to the cheating talk, actually, that when we let children get away with bullying behavior, they never learn that it is wrong. That leads to adult bullies, which leads to a)jail or b)a life without friends or love (I left out the other obvious result, c)a life of wealth and success unachievable by normal means.) We talked a little bit about why people become bullies, that they were bullied themselves or that they never learned aggressive behavior was wrong when they were small. Me Too very accurately pointed out a boy in her class who is on the verge of becoming one. Ouch. (She is right on, too.)

So, I think we had talked him into understanding why he had to tell the teacher.

He had a friend over this afternoon, and they spent a (weirdly) quiet afternoon playing with legos. Really, this kid needs to come over every day! I got so much work done while he was here. As soon as he left, Me Too awoke from her guest-induced lethargy and immediately destroyed the block creation they had been working on. Grrr. Luckily, I had dinner ready to distract them.

Then the phone rang.

I knew who it was before he announced himself. Not too many retirement age men call me. (Jiji prefers to have his wife call and yell at the phone over her shoulder.)

Apparently, someone else has notified the school on Me First’s behalf.

(I don’t know if it was Sparkly Mom or not.)

But, man, that has got things moving. Tomorrow, Me First’s teacher along with a couple of others are going to sit down with him and try to get to the bottom of exactly what is happening. The teacher came to me with the name of another child other than the usual suspects, so I suppose it will all come out. They want me to talk to him tonight and tell him that this will happen and that it’s okay to tell the truth.

It’s kind of easier for me this way, as now the school is in a 申し訳ない (apologetic) position to start with. I guess I need to keep on them to make sure the problem gets addressed properly.

Funny how that turned out.

Mommy’s Dirty Little Secret

Can we be honest? Like brutally.

Sometimes, probably an average of once a day, I wonder how in hell we are gonna survive this, this parenting business. At any given moment, I’m afraid it will all be too much and I will just completely snap. Or my husband will. Or my son will.

This afternoon was so bad. “Bad” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’m not sure there is even a curse word in the English language that can begin to describe how horrible this afternoon was. I mean, this was worse than the “c” word, y’all.

Things kind of went off kilter this morning. Me Too has had white, clay colored poops for the past week. She hasn’t had much of an appetite. Yesterday, she threw up. But our pediatrician isn’t open on Thursdays, so I wanted to take her this morning. I had planned to take her, gotten her dressed in her non-school uniform clothes, the goal being to leave at the same time as Brother and get there and back before it started to rain (it looked like the heavens would pour forth at any moment.)

HRH stopped me. He said she seemed fine. She hadn’t thrown up in 24 hours; she would miss out if she didn’t go to school.


The only thing I really had to answer with was a hunch that things weren’t all well. Even if it was just stress, if it is enough to turn your poop funny colors then you would do well to fuck preschool for one day and stay home.

So I sent her to school. And worried about her all day. Dr. Google was not very helpful in the worry department, nor was his assistant, Nurse Facebook. I decided to take her to the doctor after school, even though that meant also taking Brother. In the freezing rain. Up hill. Twenty minutes.

Of course he protested. There is hardly one single, solitary thing that happens in this house that he does not protest or make into a scene worthy of a daytime drama. He howled and growled and carried on. Until we got to the red light, where Sister realized she had forgotten her mittens (which she loves now after all that wailing before,) at which point the ceaseless crying baton was passed to her.


The doctor prescribed her some probiotic something something and some tummy medicine, with instructions to come back in four days if the poo doesn’t turn brown.

As is our habit, I offered to take the kids out for a treat afterwards. In spite of the whiny build up, they had been quite well behaved in the doctor’s office. Me Too wants to go. Me First wants to go home. This turns into arguing, then umbrella bashing, then tears, then blood curdling shouts of “I hate yous” and “I wish you’d never been borns,” until at some point I think I had an out of body experience and watched from above as my eight-year-old bashed the pharmacy window with his Jusco pea-green umbrella. Luckily it appears that pharmacy windows in Japan are constructed to withstand this kind of abuse. (The pharmacists were professional enough to ignore it.)

What was I supposed to do?

This was no longer a teachable moment. This was survival mode.

And then two hours later, these same two children are very happily playing lemonade stand in the bathtub with yogurt cartons.

Meanwhile, I’m feeling faint and wanting to glug wine straight from the bottle (over the kitchen sink, of course) but I can’t find the goddamn corkscrew.

Maybe it’s different for those well-manicured Pinterest moms, I don’t know. But most days I wonder how on earth we are gonna make it without me losing my mind or snapping and hurting somebody.

I have no idea how I kept my temper today. Maybe I knew that losing my temper was too dangerous. If they manage to do my head in like this, me who loves them better than anything in the world, how on earth are they going to make it safely to adulthood?

But shhh.

We aren’t supposed to talk about things like this.

Either that or the rest of the world is perfect. In which case my poor little kidlets are even more screwed than I thought they were.


After Flu Fest Twenty-thirteen, things are starting to get back to normal in the Hamakko household. Me Too went back to preschool on Monday. I had wanted to keep her home an extra day, but HRH got wind of my sinister plan and insisted she go, even though she was still coughing a lot. I told the teacher she shouldn’t participate in PE or run around. When I went to pick her up she seemed happy enough, but as soon as we got home she started whining and carrying on, a sure sign that she was tired.

By Tuesday, the cough was much better so I told Teach she could go back to all the usual school activities. That afternoon, she was very tired again and her nose was running a lot, Brother had a weird dry cough thing going on, so I let both kids stay home from karate.

Low and behold, apparently that was a stupid decision, as HRH told me numerous times in a louder-than-necessary voice with lots of sighing and teeth-sucking for emphasis.

I figured he would react that way, and I hadn’t planned to to offer the information, but he asked me point blank, so I bit the bullet and chopped down the cherry tree. But I just gave him that annoying, overly-cheerful “Hai, hai” his mom taught me to say. “Then do whatever the fuck you want,” were her instructions. (I’m paraphrasing from the Japanese, of course.)

But, you know, I wipe the snot, I clean up the puke, I deal with the 104 degree fevers and doctor’s visits and all the rest of it, so I feel entitled to make the decisions about this kind of stuff.

I don’t think it’s (just) HRH being a jerk; it’s part of Japanese culture. Not the jerky bit, but the expectation that unless you are unconscious in the ICU then you WILL show up for work, you WILL go to school, you WILL do (fill in the blank with societal expectation here), your health, happiness, family, and eternal soul be damned.

Needless to say HamakkoMommy don’t think like that.

There’s been a lot in the news about “corporal punishment” in sports. It started with some high school in Osaka, where the captain of the baseball team killed himself after enduring numerous beatings from his coach. Today there was an article about the female Olympic judo team registering complaints against their coach for, get this, slapping them on the face and beating them with wooden swords.

This guy must have some cajones; those gals could wrestle an alligator with their bare hands and leave the gator crying for mercy.

I’m glad the complaints are coming forward. Let’s get rid of this “the group at all costs” mentality. Winning isn’t so important that you beat girls with sticks, or beat a kid until you complete break him mentally, or (let’s just let it all out) fly freaking planes into boats on suicide missions.

I’m being flippant, because that’s what I do, but it’s scary. My kids are gonna be in that world in a few years, where they have club sports at school and coaches and teachers that parents aren’t able to keep a close eye on. Would they be able to come to me if they were being abused like that? Would anyone stand up for them?

Maybe that’s part of what I’m trying to do: to teach them that they are important, and how they feel physically important, that nothing is worse sacrificing your body for.

Today was a half day for Sister, and a shortish day for Brother, too. Both kids seem much better than yesterday, so we went to swimming. I feel like I haven’t had a chance to sit down once since I woke up at 6, okay okay 6:15, this morning.

Normalcy. Or something like that.

Curveballs and Lemonade

You know those lines you always hear when you are down? “When life throws you a cureveball, make lemonade!”

Or something like that.

Anyway, we’re having a kind of lemonball week around here.

Me Too woke up early on Sunday morning, saying she felt sick to her stomach. Then a few minutes later


accompanied by fever.

This isn’t a good combination. And what’s with the getting sick on a Sunday, when I can’t take them to the pediatrician?

Japanese emergency care kind of lacks….urgency. She wasn’t sick enough to call an ambulance, which we know from an unfortunate head-splitting (literally) experience in the past will arrive without a destination. I know that is totally mind blowing, so I’ll repeat it again. When the ambulance gets to your house and loads up your kid, they have no idea where they will take him and sit in the parking lot for ten long minutes calling around to various hospitals.

A hospital in each municipality in Yokohama is designated as an emergency hospital for weekends, but only from 9-4. That’s right, hospitals do not accept patients 24/7; you cannot just rock up to the ER. There is one after-hours facility that is open from 6-midnight. So since Me Too was suddenly ill between the hours of midnight and 9am, we were in a tough spot.

I’ve dealt with dehydration before, unfortunately. Both kids have had ER visits and subsequent IVs from tummy bugs, probably because the Rotavirus vaccine was not available here until about three months ago.


It was a very hard morning. Poor Me Too was so sick and so miserable. I kept spoon feeding her fluid every few minutes, but it seemed like she was losing more than I could put in. After about six hours of this and me wondering how much more she could take, begging HRH to call the urgent care place and tell them we were coming, I began frantically scrounging around in our very unorganized medicine menagerie when I found a single dose of anti-nausea medicine.


We made it through to the next day. She was still vomiting occasionally, but not as frequently as before. I took her to the pediatrician’s office first thing, where they gave her a suppository. (I must pause here to admire the professional technique. Whenever I have to do this, it’s like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah all over again: wailing, screaming, gnashing of teeth, et al.) I expected to be put in the Chamber of Shame, that separate room where the people with rashes and other suspicious symptoms go. (Unlike in the US, where there are several rooms for patients and the doctor comes to you, in Japan there is one room with the doctor in it. And then there is the Chamber of Shame.) But the chamber was occupied. In fact, ever space that could be cordoned off was occupied. We ended up behind a little curtain in a space filled with boxes.

But I could hear what was happening in the examination room.

Infuruenza desu ne.

Over and over and over again.

And thus was our fate, too.

Me Too has the flu. Apparently no one else with Type A Influenza was throwing up, but after a loooonnnnggg Q-tip was shoved up her nose, there was no denying it.

The first day or two she was a poor little lamb, to be sure. So feverish. So needy. So desperate and sad, I thought my heart might break. And she’s been all over me like tight pants at a football game. (American football, that is.) She wanted to be held. She was afraid when I left the room. She cried when I left her at night, which I never do for long since we sleep together (it’s the norm in Japan,) but sometimes a girl’s gotta pee!

(I reckon I’ll probably catch it, too. I’ve been snotted on and coughed on and thrown up on. I caught Me Too licking the ice scoop from the freezer so god only knows what other strange places the virus is lurking.)

But yesterday, Sister started sitting up a bit. By the afternoon, we were playing with her stuffed animals.

Today she still has a fever of around 38, which is much better than the 40C she had on Monday, so she wants to play.

And she is getting bored.

She’s so sad to see Me First leave for school in the morning. Her face lights up when he comes home in the afternoon. But he has been so completely obsessed with these robotic legos things he got (finally, several days late) for his birthday that he has not given her any attention at all in the past two days.

I’m the oldest, too, so I can understand where he is coming from, but….I need a break, too, and he is the only other human being I have seen for several days. Oh sure, my husband has been home late at night, apparently. I see his dirty laundry, I find his dirty dishes. I don’t know if he’s been busy at work or is avoiding the flu germs, and I’ve had my hands so full of sickness that I haven’t had a chance to ask. Or care, if I can be honest.

This morning, Brother was all in a tizzy that one of his caterpillars was gone.


This made me pause. I mean, there’s that stupid dojo fish, and then there’re are the beetle larvae (I don’t think I’ve written about that yet,) but I wasn’t aware that we were also the proud owners of caterpillars.

Come to find out, he meant those things that cover tractor wheels. He needed two to complete his horrible all-consuming Lego project, but could only find one.

He searched and searched until he was almost late for school. I promised I would keep an eye out for them, and I did. (I’m surprised I remembered, too.) But I didn’t find anything.

When he came home, we looked some more. Hither. Thither. Yon. Even over yonder, for good measure. But nada.

Then tonight as I was putting the kids to bed, I noticed Me Too looking secretively into her “treasure box.” She was only opening the lid slightly, hiding whatever was inside. I peeked a few minutes later, and sure enough there was the missing caterpillar.

I can’t say I blame her. She must have been feeling so jealous. She wants to play, too, but those parts are way too difficult for her. (Hell, they’re too hard for me!) I talked to Brother about how Sister must be feeling, but I don’t think he can grasp it. When you’re the oldest, there is always someone in your face, in your way, wanting to play, wanting to imitate, wanting to be.

The funny thing about being a parent of more than one is how you slowly come to see how the other side must have felt. How left out the younger child must have felt; how aggravated and put upon the older one was. You get to come full circle, in a way that is both heartwarming at times, but more often than not cringe-worthy.

I worry that my kids, being different genders, will not play together and be close companions much longer. I wish there was a way for my son to see that he should cherish this time with his sister. She won’t think he hung the moon forever. But I think I remember my mom trying to tell me the same thing as a child, and utterly failing to understand it until too many years, and far too many miles, had passed.

The Riddlers

I’m not not writing on purpose….Me Too is out for winter vacation and seems to be spending most of her time sabotaging the little bits of housework I manage to get done. She smashed two candy canes this morning, which were a god awful sticky mess that stuck all over the broom, which I tried to clean, until I gave up. Meh, it’s cold inside. Perhaps the yummy bits will freeze and fall off.

Me First brought home two pairs of swim shorts from pool yesterday. (I know I haven’t written about him starting swimming lessons yet, I’ll get to it. Maybe?) I had to take the extra pair back to the pool, which is a fifteen minute bike ride away against the ocean breeze, which is freezing, so it is what Dr. Suess would call a freezy freeze breeze that makes sneezy nose sneeze and knees in tights freeze when freezy breeze blows. It doesn’t feel too cold, though, when you have 18 kg of 5-year-old bundled up in blankets and mittens (which she keeps calling “muffins,”) and scarfs and coats until she is twice her normal weight,whining “I wanted a pink ooonnneee!” (Pink what? Better not to ask, I guess.)


The kids have been making up some Christmas riddles, which I thought I would share. Mostly because they are bad.

Q: What kind of bathtub does Santa have?”
A: A Santa-shaped one.

Polite laughter on my part.

I responded with

Q: What does Santa fill his bathtub with?
A: The rain, dear.

Polite laughter on their part. Tough crowd.

Next kid riddle was

Q: What kind of toilet paper does Santa use?
Me: I dunno, wrapping paper?
A: No, Santa shaped paper!

My contribution:
Q: Where does Santa’s poop come out of?
A: His butt ho ho hole!

Hilarious laughter.

That’s one for the ages, I’m sure.

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