Several readers have asked after Blue, a kind and thoughtful inquiry much appreciated by our family. As those who have sent loved ones to college know, communication can be spotty at times, as a result of making new friends, learning new things, and work-study hours. If I could ask Blue one question it would be to describe The Art of Resolving Social Conflict with Waterfowl class. It sounds–um–intriguing. I wonder if it has a practical component.
We are thrilled to hear he’s continuing to develop socially and is learning new manners, including how to share. (Yes, as an only child for so long, Blue wasn’t exposed to the concept of sharing often. We worry that [S] will struggle with sharing as well, especially now that Blue is gone. Just wait until [S] goes to college, eh?)
Letting go is hard. But knowing he’s growing, adapting and thriving at college is heartwarming. We are grateful for the loving community–including instructors and RAs–at Baldwyn College for ensuring he stays on the right track.
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Dear Mom, Dad, and Sister [S],
Sorry I haven’t written sooner, but it has been kind of crazy here at Baldwyn College, Ft. Lauderdale Campus. College has been everything I hoped it would be and more. It is a large sprawling campus by the water and the weather is wonderful. My new dorm is great and very comfortable. I love most of my new roommates, with the exception of two small touchy ones. They have this hissy attitude whenever I try to make friends, but I don’t see them much as we are on opposite day/night schedules.
I am taking some awesome classes and doing quite well in Advanced Spherical Retrieval Systems, Horizontal Meditation Theory, The Art of Resolving Social Conflict with Waterfowl, and Interpretive Communication Skills for Humans.
I also got a fantastic medical internship which I attend three days a week and get to go on awesome car rides. I have made many great acquaintances so far, adopted some new social skills, and developed some good habits about sharing. It is also allowing me to recognize that small furry hissing things are friends, not food.
I am an impassioned advocate of reducing the amount of stuff we as a society purchase, use, and collect. I write often about down-sizing and jettisoning possessions no longer used, needed or wanted. My reasons are many and include being environmentally responsible and reaping the benefits of unencumbered personal space. Be that as it may, I know that belongings–those that are used often and relied upon frequently–provide great comfort. Indeed, how I long for a proper bath mat and a paper towel holder. It’s been nearly two months since our creature comforts were stacked and packed. While we’ve lived without such items without issue, we’ve also missed how they enrich our lives. It will be delightful to see selected pieces of cherished artwork warming our walls once again. It will be soothing to reclaim [S]’s bedtime routine with the use of a rocking chair. And it will be a relief to cook with the proper sized pans and pots.
After some fits and starts, the owner of the lawn mower we purchased offered to deliver it to our home. Given the size of our vehicle, we were thankful. He and his son used to own a lawn mowing business, quite lucrative on Island. After they carried the mower to the back patio and money was exchanged, he asked whether I had seen the spiders on Island yet. No, I replied slowly. “I respect what they do, but they are huge,” he said, placing his two hands together to show a monster-sized spider. “My son used to find them all the time when he was mowing lawns. But they have a purpose. They move pretty quickly and they are inside.” I suppose if I hadn’t seen one that large, I would have believed his words to be hyperbole. But on our way to the exchange one evening, I looked up and saw a giant spider. I screamed. And ran. That was my reaction when I thought it was dead. Russell later reassured me that it had been alive. The lawn mower owner continued, “What’s worse are the brown centipedes that are venomous.” As if this conversation couldn’t get any worse, his parting words were, “We have cockroaches too and we’re clean.”
I can only imagine how I must have looked to him. Pale, for certain. He had no idea that he was speaking to someone who suffers from full-on panic attacks when it comes to large (or small) insects of any variety. Indeed, I’ve been chastised not to scream when I see ants in the laundry room. But I have an elevated fear of spiders, venomous centipedes and cockroaches. Indeed, I’ve seen the aftermath of a centipede bite–it’s quite alarming. Quick moving spiders as large as two hands might make me faint. No, it’s not funny. It’s not cute. It’s a phobia. And it’s difficult to manage when you’re living in the tropics. Trust me, I know.
As I sit here drinking a beer to help me relax, my eyes darting round the room in search of anything lurking in the corners or hiding in plain sight, I know that sleep will be fleeting this evening and likely for the next month, if not longer. Despite my irrational and innate fear, I know that I will be [S]’s protector and defender against such things in the event Russell is unavailable, worsening my anxiety. The $80 USD lawn mower has now cost me sleep, security and piece of mind. Perhaps I should have paid him the full asking price.
I’ve spent my entire adult life living in leased properties or condominiums–a fact that I’ve never given much thought, until now. No one prepared us for meeting with the housing inspector (or, the housing inspector’s agent, as the case may be). When she arrived, she began handing me pieces of paper in rapid succession–checklists for furniture, useful telephone numbers, instructions on placing a maintenance request. But during our hour-long meeting, she also provided information on lawn maintenance standards and trash and recycling collection. Useful information, to be certain.
Our yard is larger than a postage-stamp and features a sloping front lawn, for which we are responsible to maintain. For you city-dwellers, that is suburban speak for being required to mow the lawn and trim the bushes. But she continued, handing me a sheet detailing lawn standards–grass cannot exceed three inches in height, no vegetable gardens, no dead leaves, etc. We are living on base at a military installation, no surprise that there are rules and regulations. To the contrary, I would be disappointed if there weren’t. Perhaps it’s the attorney in me–or the type A personality–but I find comfort in rules. Indeed, they ensure that one knows what is expected, as well as the consequences for failing to abide by such rules, eliminating the need for guess work. Next, she directed my attention to the bottom of the sheet, “Yard inspection is every Friday.” I started panicking. There’s a weekly test, I thought to myself.
Moving on, she began handing me three sheets of paper explaining the garbage and recycling collection requirements. All items–garbage, plastics, metals, paper, glass–to be collected must be placed in clear plastic bags. Recycled items must be separated and cleaned; no lids and no labels. “If you don’t do as it says, the items will not be picked up and will be left on the sidewalk for correction.” In other words, if you throw out something that should be recycled or recycle garbage, you will have to fix it before the refuse is taken. Yes, we know people who have been dinged for leaving caps on bottles. But those aren’t the only rules–the rules take up two pages. (As an aside, it would be helpful if all base businesses used clear bags for purchases. As it is, non-clear bags can be recycled, but may not be reused for garbage or recycling, requiring us to purchase clear bags. Wasteful.)
As a civilian, I find it strangely curious to have to follow so many rules when it comes to our home. But considering I’m now referred to as a “dependent” (no, not even with a capital d), perhaps I should adjust my thinking. (I understand–and applaud–the need for stringent recycling rules; Japan is an island nation and has worked hard to fight the depletion of its natural resources.) After a lot of angst and time spent ensuring things were just so, our first collection of garbage and recyclables were taken without issue. After finding empty bins, I felt I had passed another bar exam. And despite never having lived in a dwelling where I had a lawn to tend, I arranged for a lawn service to mow and trim our property. We’ve since purchased a lawnmower on Bookoo.
I suppose I will continue to be anxious about living within the rules–at least until this way of life becomes second nature. Although I’m not certain that will ever be the case.
We moved into our home a week ago today. Each day that has passed seems like a week. That’s my brain playing tricks on me, aided by lack of sleep and high cortisol levels. Since moving in we have spent an inordinate amount of time shopping in an attempt to transform our house into a home. As it is with any island, goods on island are hit or miss and mining the second-hand market is a must. Fortunately, Bookoo is as popular as Craigslist and most anything can be found if you spend enough time looking; and, the 100 ¥ stores are reputed to be treasure troves.
First up on our list were rugs. Our home has concrete flooring covered by laminate wood. In other words, the floor is hard and cold. Oddly, the laminate wood boasts actual grooves within the faux grain, making it easy to clean the floors with the grain, but impossible in any other direction. The buyer of the flooring should be required to live with it for a month. We brought our small rug from San Diego, but have four more rooms to cover. Our pickings were slim. There is a Turkish man who sell rugs on base, but his prices are high; there is a base furniture store whose prices are reasonable, but the rugs are thin; there are a few rugs on Bookoo, but they don’t match our needs or style; and, there is a guy in town who sells oriental rugs, but, as we learned the hard way, stores in town are closed on Sunday morning.
We ended up with two reasonably priced, thin, rugs, which were delivered yesterday for a nominal fee.
Then we shopped for food. Of course we shopped at the commissary to stock our kitchen with the basics–sriracha, mayonnaise, mustard, bread, etc. But for protein and produce, we passed on the sickly looking provisions on base, opting to shop in town. As my Mother oftentimes reminds me, each choice has its pros and cons–and I wasn’t as ready to shop in town as I thought. Indeed, we learned it takes more than familiarity with the JPY to USD conversation rates and Google translate to shop in town.
We were looking for pasteurized and homogenized whole milk for [S]. As we came upon the milk section, gleaned from various renderings of cows, we were at a loss at to what container contained what type of milk. Russell used Google translate to ask a helper, but there was a cultural disconnect between what we wanted and what was available. The store helpers kept asking if we were going to boil the milk, which we were not. Needless to say, we left the store without milk, opting to purchase it on base. (Turns out, according to a Japanese speaker, the milk pictured is non-homogenized with lots of iron and calcium.)
Even with everyday items, shopping is unique. Russell kept looking at labels, regardless of the fact he was unable to read or understand what was written. And I second-guessed every item I purchased. Chicken tenders looked like chicken tenders, but were they really, I wondered. Fortunately, scanning labels using Google translate provided us with reaffirmation of the basic food information–yes, that package contained chicken.
The rest of the week has been spent meeting with the housing inspector and maintenance workers to fix minor issues. The workers are Japanese and through a mixture of pointing, demonstrating, and nodding, we were able to communicate what needed to be fixed. The more complex issues regarding our dryer vent and hose required a phone call to a supervisor who spoke with me and then translated to the on-site supervisor.
Before moving in, we were assured that no excavation work was scheduled to be completed around our home. While I can’t be certain what type of work is being undertaken, our days are filled watching workmen come and go and listening to jack hammering.
At the end of the day, we have no complaints. We are together. We are healthy. And we are on an adventure of a lifetime.
The other evening, Russell left to collect a grill generously given to us by a neighbor leaving the Island. As I was cooking dinner, I looked out of the front window and saw my first rainbow cloud. Later that night, I found our first creature, a curly tailed gecko, running throughout our spare bedroom. Russell–with the help of a dustpan–ushered the creature out of our house.
It’s almost been a month and a half since I last walked Blue–and I can feel it. I am a walker. I walk on treadmills, streets, sidewalks, and beaches. And I walk to grocery stores, shopping centers, banks, and post offices, so long as time, distance, logistics and weather permit. Walking, I am able to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. And I’m able to see scenes I’d likely otherwise miss.
Since we moved into our new home, [S] and I have been waking and walking. It’s been beneficial, allowing me to find my way around our neighborhood and take in the sights. But it’s been a struggle physically. It’s hot and humid, yes. But the real issue is that when Blue left, I stopped walking. Pre-[S], I easily could walk a 10 to 12 minute mile. Now, well, er, ugh. I could blame my slow time on pushing a stroller or the gently sloping sidewalks. But excuses will do me no good. The good news is that my walking partner is a constant reminder of one reason why I need to get back on track.
I have a dirty little secret. At times, when my Husband is at work and [S] has gone down for a nap, I fantasize about an alternative life. No, my fantasy is not about being younger, sexier, or wealthier. Rather, in my fantasy, I am gainfully employed outside of the home. I set an alarm to wake, dress in professional office attire, and commute to an office. In that world, I spend 7.5 hours undertaking meaningful projects, attempting to resolve problems big and small, and engaging in collegial conversations with colleagues. To be certain, I am well aware that such a job will require more than attending catered lunch meetings and participating in high-level conference calls. It likely will require working long hours on occasion, for which I’m up to the task. And I expect the job will require navigating the dangerous waters of office gamesmanship, at which I am sufficiently adept. Clearly, I’m ready to work. Indeed, I fantasize about my fake job so much that I can almost taste the watered-down office coffee and feel the chill of the too-cold air conditioning on my shoulders. Brrrrr.
My fantasy world makes sense. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic–and my siblings–and (excluding babysitting jobs) I’ve worked since I was 15 years old. No, for better or worse, my teenage years weren’t spent waiting tables, working at a fast food joint, or lifeguarding. Rather, those formative years were spent working in offices, entering data, answering telephones, making copies, sending facsimilies, filing documents, and, yes, cleaning coffee pots. (For those concerned that child labor laws were violated, these jobs were obtained in partnership with my high school and I received both pay and credit in my positions.) As an adult, I spent years logging the hours and servicing clients on-demand, allowing me to experience the perks of a successful career. Even after I left big firm life, I continued to work. But this time, I did so on my terms. I owned the business and I hustled the work. That was, until our daughter was born.
Once [S] arrived, my attention focused almost exclusively on our family. I worked, but found that my priorities had shifted, as was to be expected. And upon learning that we would be stationed in Japan, I was reassured that our time there was to be spent raising our child and supporting my Husband. Surprising to those who know me well, no doubt. Indeed, once upon a not too distant past, I believed that raising children meant supervising nannies and that maintaining a home meant hiring helpers.
Why then do I fantasize about returning to the workforce? It’s a question I wrestle with often. Perhaps it’s because at an office, my days would be filled speaking with adults about adult things–politics, world news, the economy. Perhaps it’s because I long to wear clothing that isn’t covered with smears of peanut butter, cream cheese, or yogurt. Perhaps it’s because I want to have time to myself without being stalked by a 15 month old with outstretched arms wanting to be held. Perhaps it’s because I am mourning my past self. Or perhaps it’s because I need affirmation of my worth.
I’m old enough to know that the grass isn’t always greener. And I’m wise enough to know how fortunate I am to be in a position to stay home with our daughter. But that knowledge does little to simplify questions regarding motherhood, identity and self-worth plaguing me.
These are the days parents live for. [S] is exploring. She’s toddling. She’s communicating. She’s growing. She’s affectionate. She’s loving. She’s absorbing the world around her. When I look at a job posting of interest, I pause and then move on. I can’t do it. At least not now. I’m not willing to trade the moments of wonder I see from her eyes. I’m not willing to leave her care in the hands of another when I am able and present.
Today, as I was contemplating these issues, [S] walked towards me, grabbed my leg and rested her head on my lap. In that moment, I was reminded of my identity and was reassured of my worth–at least for a bit.