Re-Thinking Homemade Valentines

Earlier this week I was reading my Facebook news feed.  I often find articles and opinions posted by my friends of interest, especially those relating to parenting.  One post caught my eye.  A friend was questioning the appropriate response to her son having eaten one of the Wonka Fun Dip Valentines purchased for his school class.

I don’t know a thing about how schools incorporate Valentine’s day today.  Years ago, when I was in elementary school, we decorated boxes to put on our desk and our teacher would allow students to walk about and slip Valentines into student boxes.  Regardless, I was curious to read the comments to this particular parenting crowd-sourcing, if you will. 

The original poster asked whether, as a punishment, her son should have to give homemade Valentines to his peers, rather than the sugary Fun Dip treats.  Responsive comments were many and varied and included noting that his offense was minor and to let it go to agreeing that resorting to homemade Valentines was appropriate if he had previously been warned about trying to sneak some sugar. 

I must be old-fashioned.  Or maybe I’m just old.  I adore homemade Valentines.  Growing up, my Aunt sent our family a homemade Valentine decorated with lace and cherubs each year.  The Valentines were undoubtedly one-of-a-kind.  They also showed her love for us through her efforts, attention to detail, and creativity.

As I grew-up, I wanted to make Valentines like her.  I wanted someone to be wowed by the effort taken.  I wanted someone to appreciate the artistry displayed.  I wanted to show someone I loved them.  As a result, years ago, I began purchasing Valentine stuff in hope they would adorn a Valentine given in love.  This year, those materials were mined and [S] was able to select and place the stickers where she wanted and she was able to use double-sided sticky tape to place the hearts cut from origami paper.

The result?  A Valentine her Father adores. 


A Mother’s Confession

Yesterday continues to haunt me.  It was a day filled with annoyances, irritations and frustrations.  No, there wasn’t a singular event or episode responsible for my sour mood.  But there I was, mad at the world and swinging at anyone who dared to come near.  The casualties?  Those closest to me, of course. 

Fortunately, my Husband was far away.  (No doubt, he will claim he wasn’t far enough away.)  And my daughter is too young to remember her Mother being cross and short-tempered.  (At least, I hope.) 

It started with my Husband leaving us.  He had to go on a business trip.  Yes, I expect that from time to time.  Indeed, I even welcome such travel at times.  But I do not sleep well when we are apart.  To make matters worse, that evening glass of wine that just might allow me to drift into a peaceful slumber is off-limits when he’s out of town.  After all, what if an emergency occurs and I need to drive somewhere.  You understand.  To make matters worse, our daughter has been sleeping soundly through the night, while I lie awake tossing and turning. 

Add to my insomnia that fact my iPhone has decided to die a slow and untimely death.  It was purchased a year and half ago and shows only the Apple logo against a black screen.  Truthfully, sometimes there is a red or white screen and sometimes the logo is obscured by lines of code.  Not a good sign, I know.  My iPhone is my MagicJack–how I call the States without incurring international fees.  It’s also my access to news, weather, Facebook, Whatsapp, and iMessage.  It’s my camera.  It’s my address book.  It’s my e-mail.  It’s my translation services.  It’s my GPS.  It’s my entertainment.  And it is my phone.  Since its demise, I’ve been unable to ring to make a doctor’s appointment, send Happy Valentine’s wishes to friends via text, or call clients.  (We don’t have a home phone; my office phone doesn’t work.  Really.)  Perhaps, worst of all, I’ve learned that my iPhone has become a security blanket of sorts.  I’m nervous driving without it.  After all, what would I do if I were to get into an accident?  Now, that’s academic as I’m without any of the contact numbers I would need to call (e.g., base police, my husband, my insurance company).  Indeed, I don’t even have my Husband’s telephone number memorized.  (Yes, I remember, he’s not on-Island, so what difference does it make, right?) 

Aside from being sleepy, isolated, worried, and unproductive, my mind largely is elsewhere at the moment.  I’m thinking about loved ones who I miss and care for deeply, wishing I could be closer to them, even if just for a moment.  I’m thinking about my clients who are being transferred to attorneys with little experience, as I’m preparing to leave my (volunteer) job by the end of the month.  I’m thinking of our son waiting for us in Korea.  And I’m thinking about where we might be called to next.

For me, this was the perfect storm.  Patience?  Ha.  Kindness?  Not so much.  Love?  Not so sure.  After asking [S] not to touch my computer, I told her not to touch my computer.  And then I reprimanded her for, again, touching my computer.  The computer that was trying perform a factory reset on my iPhone.  Yes, she started crying.  Then she started screaming.  Having no patience and feeling exasperated, I thought the unthinkable:  You don’t have enough love or patience to be a Mother.  Minutes later, after arguing with my Husband about whether he was listening to me, I had a similar thought:  You don’t have enough love or patience to be a Partner. 

In that moment I understood why people walk away from it all.  They don’t think they are good enough, strong enough, kind enough, loving enough, patient enough, understanding enough to be what they have to be or to do what they have to do.  They think walking away is easier.  And maybe it is. 

Personally, I was horrified by my feelings.  But as certain as I am that I love my family, I am equally certain that I questioned whether I’m able to be the wife and mother my husband and daughter need and deserve.  Being able to articulate my feelings made me understand that I’m far from the first mother or spouse who has wondered about her adequacy to fill the venerated family roles of comforter and caregiver or questioned her ability to be her best self at all times.  Still reeling from the emotions of yesterday, this morning I considered what I need to make me the best partner and mother I can be.  It when then I realized, a working iPhone would be a good starting point. 

Not Enough: The 36-Hour Transition

The going to sleep process started at 6 p.m.  We aim to have [S] in bed by no later than 7 p.m.  While few exceptions are permitted, we bend the nightly routine when friends or family visit.  The past two weeks have been filled with good food, cooked at home or eaten out in town, necessitating a later than usual bedtime for our daughter.  The result?  A sleepy child, which is no big deal.  Really.

With our houseguests having left Saturday morning, tonight was the first night we were back on track for a 7 p.m. bedtime.  It did not go as planned.  In fact, the scene that ensued reminded me of her bedtime routine nine months ago.  Hysterical crying.  Screaming.  Holding on to a leg.  As I attempted to soothe her, I listened to her demands and grimaced.  I want Daddy.  Where is Daddy?  I’ll go to Daddy. 

Approximately 12 hours ago, Russell left for the airport, needing to travel for work.  We knew the transition would be difficult, but I didn’t know it would be like this.  No doubt seasoned parents will smile knowingly, feeling just a bit smug.  Transitioning from a four-to-one adult-to-child ratio to a one-to-one adult-to-child ratio takes time.  Indeed, after [S] repeatedly asked for her Father, she started asking for her Auntie and Uncle, in no particular order.  It seemed anyone other than me would suffice. 

I’m not offended.  The past two weeks have allowed our daughter to pick and choose who held her hand, who carried her, who helped her in the bathroom, and who put her to bed.  And her Auntie and Uncle did a lot of the heavy lifting.  Literally.  But now that our house has returned to normalcy, [S] will have to adjust accordingly. 

While I wish Russell didn’t have to travel today, I am thankful he altered his travel plans to give us 24 hours of family time post-houseguest departure.  I have no doubt that within a few days [S] will have reverted to her pre-family-visit self.  In the meantime I’m hopeful I can summon the patience of three additional adults.

An Act of Love.

fullsizerender336Since [S]’s birth, I have watched both with fascination and gratitude as family and close friends have bestowed on her their time, attention, and affection.  As a result she’s received plenty of playtime, warm hugs, and an abundance of cuddles.  She’s also been the recipient of thoughtful and generous gifts, including classic children’s books (think Dr. Suess’ The Lorax and A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh) and an educational activity table that teaches the alphabet, numbers, directions, music, and animals. 

This week, a friend of ours gifted [S] a kitchen play set, consisting of a sink and an oven.  Unlike many–if not most–of the play kitchen sets, this one wasn’t made of bulky plastic.  And it wasn’t pink.  This kitchen set was made entirely from recycled and/or recyclable materials.  Various-sized cardboard boxes were used as foundation; black plastic bags were used to cover stove burners and dials; Gatorade bottle caps were repurposed as knobs; and, white paper was used as a finish.  The kitchen set was personalized with a “[S]’s Kitchen” embellishment on the oven and came with its own muffin tin (a rusting no-longer used tin, painted a kid-friendly red). 

[S] washing dishes.
The woman who created these gifts did so without my knowledge or input.  Indeed, one day, when everyone was recuperating quietly at home, she texted a photo of the set and asked if it would be okay to stop by.  I was rendered speechless.  Literally.  I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and amazed by her ingenuity and creativity.  “I left it white so [S] can paint it whatever color she wants,” she explained.  “When you leave Okinawa, you can just take it apart and recycle the pieces,” she continued.  “I thought you might want it for her to play with because everyone’s been sick,” she finished. 

[S] has played with the set every day since she received it.  The first day, she bent down and peered at the closed oven door.  “Where’s the light, Momma?,” she asked.  Then, she was baking cookies.  The next day, as I started washing dishes, she moved the kitchen set across from our kitchen.  “Look Momma, I’m washing dishes,” she delighted.  This evening, after a long day of work, I prepared [S] a peanut butter and jam sandwich for dinner.  After eating, she went straight to her refrigerator (the cabinet under the sink).  “Here Momma,” she said handing me an imaginary item.  “It’s a sandwich.”

I am equally entertained and intrigued witnessing [S] at play in her new kitchen.  Using a burp cloth as a dish towel, [S] casually threw it over her shoulder when she was finished, imitating me.  “I do that,” I said, laughing aloud.  My inner voice cautioned me, remember this.  As caregivers are aware, my affectations, habits, and mannerisms are being passed down to a new generation, just as are my attitude, outlook, and actions.  

To that end, I am proud that [S] is grateful for–and delighted by–her new environmentally-neutral kitchen set, for I am as well. 

The Necessity of Back-Up Child Care

With the U.S. presidential election around the corner, candidates are showcasing how their policies will benefit working parents.  Child care is at the center of most discussions, with proposals for paid parental leave also heavily analyzed.

Today, I received a text from [S]’s child care provider.  I had to read it twice before I could trust myself to process her brief message.  Her brother had been in an accident this morning and had passed away; she would be taking emergency leave for a month, leaving tomorrow.  In the midst of her grief, she needlessly apologized profusely for the short notice, but had spoken with the powers-that-be who informed her that [S] should be able to be cared for by Child Development Centers (CDC) on-base.

Immediately, I responded, writing all of the things that one says during those times when words seem wholly inadequate.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  You and your family are in our prayers.  Let me know if we can do anything for you.  To be certain, I mean–and meant–each word written.  But I understand that my words likely will do little, if anything at all, to lessen today’s grief and tomorrow’s sorrow.

After I considered the fragility of life and the immense amount of work in front of her to leave for the United States in less than 24-hours, I turned to thinking about myself.  She cares for [S] on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.  I have a standing attorney meeting on Tuesdays, which, while useful to attend, is not imperative that I do so.  But what to do about Wednesday?  On Wednesdays, I drop off [S] and head to work for the day.  This Wednesday, in addition to regular work, I have clients–and witnesses–scheduled to execute estate planning documents.  It is not something that can be easily rescheduled given the time, space, and bodies needed.  And it was then I understood the dilemma facing working parents on a regular basis.

What does one do when their child isn’t feeling well or the regular child care provider is ill?  I nearly began to panic.  I work one day a week at the office and to miss that day is, well, undesirable.  I called the CDC.  I called the Child, Youth, Teen Program office.  And then I called again, with little movement.

Of course, dropping off your child at day care is one thing.  Wondering what kind of care he or she will receive is another.  While questions as to whether [S] will adjust, be confused, be well-cared for, etc., are to be expected from a parent, they also are thoughtful and have merit given such an abrupt change of circumstances.

I’m thankful that my current circumstances allow great flexibility with respect to when and where I work.  But I also realize that, unfortunately, such flexibility remains a privilege, out of reach for many.

Sleeping, Standing Up

FullSizeRender(241)A few weeks ago, we decided it was time for [S] to graduate to a big girl bed.  Yes, she is still in diapers.  Yes, she still wakes during the night and cries out for a parent to rescue her.  Yes, she still fits in her mini-crib.  But the issue became one of safety.  [S] purposefully placed her legs in between the crib slats and, sometimes, her thighs became stuck–a painful experience for us both.

I spent most of my waking hours yesterday frustrated.  Nothing was getting done.  Not my work.  Not the laundry.  Not a thing.  That afternoon, I started washing the bedding we purchased over the weekend for [S]’s big girl bed–a regular twin bed.  While some children transition from a crib to a small railed bed, we didn’t think the cost was worth the benefit.  Before I knew what I was doing, I began moving her crib and than started moving the twin box spring and mattress from the back bedroom into her room.

The excitement was palpable.  [S] began directing where I should place the box spring.  She did the same with the mattress.  She helped me put the sheets on the bed.  And then gleefully jumped on the mattress in approval.

Last night, Russell and I checked on her until we went to bed.   Our primary concern was that she would roll off of the bed onto the floor.  While she started out with her head on her pillow, she managed to turn around, resting her legs on her pillow.  Then I found her in a child’s pose in the middle of the mattress.  Right before I dozed off, Russell suggested I peek in [S]’s room.  Her feet were on the floor and she was bent over with her torso and head on the mattress–sleeping.

Early this morning, Russell checked on [S] and found her sleeping on the floor next to her bed.  He returned her to bed and went back to sleep.  Despite her active sleeping, [S] never woke last night.

My fingers are crossed that this the beginning of our new normal.

Oh No. Oh My. Oh Dear.

FullSizeRender(240)It’s not nice to post unflattering photos of your child online.  Fortunately, [S] is photogenic.  Unfortunately, she is also two.  But this scene had little to do with her age.  To the contrary, we had just returned from seeing her PA at the Naval Hospital.  Last week I learned that a girl at day care had contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious virus.  The symptoms?  An angry rash of blistered skin on the hands and feet and around or in the mouth.  As I collected [S] from day care that week, the provider mentioned that [S] had a bad diaper rash.  At home, I became alarmed.  It didn’t look like any diaper rash I’ve seen.

This week, small bumps began appearing on her arms, hands and feet, leading us to her appointment today.  My reliance on Dr. Google was well placed on this occasion–[S] has a mild case of the disease.  Our fingers are crossed it stays that way.

But the disease has nothing to do with the reason [S] is crying in the photo.  Ah, yes–there is the matter of the two bite marks on her forearm, one next to the other.  Those occurred in day care earlier today, courtesy of a one and a half year old.  Counting the two bites today, this is the third bite [S] has received from that toddler.  What is one to do?  It happens.  And when it does, it happens quickly.  Trust me.

While [S] will tell anyone who will listen who bit her, that is not why she is upset.  She is upset because after a long day that included being prodded and poked by a health care professional and being bit by a playmate, there was no milk in the house.  And when her Mother offered diluted juice–a rare treat–as a substitute, her Mother quickly learned that there was no juice in the house either.  In the end, [S] settled for water and dark chocolate pretzels, which speaks volumes about someone’s priorities.

After [S]’s snack and a brief visit with our four-legged friend next door, we headed to the commissary to replenish our supply of milk, juice, applesauce, bananas, tofu, and dark chocolate.  Needless to say, her tears are long gone and I now know for certain what I have long suspected:  chocolate makes everything better.

A Great Day.

<b>Daikon no Hana</b> | Okinawa | Pinterest

Today was spectacular.  No, it wasn’t a fireworks and jumping for joy kind of a day.  Rather, it was one of those unexpected perfect days that comes every so often in life.  There is no doubt that getting to the gym this morning helped to jump start the day.  Earlier in the week I declared that after two weeks of non-stop running around we were going to stay home for the weekend.  Russell agreed with my plan wholeheartedly.  But by the end of the week my plan had changed, albeit slightly.

Perhaps it was cabin fever from the past rainy days.  Or maybe it was just a craving for something different.  But I thought it would be a good idea to go out to lunch.  At first, I suggested the food court at the mall.  Inexpensive.  Convenient.  Known.  But then I started looking for a new dining experience.  And we found it:  Daikon no Hana.  Daikon no Hana is an Okinawan buffet style restaurant.

From back left to right: goya champeru, white fish, goya tempura, fried chicken, nori rice, eggplant tempura, roasted veg, salad, and a bowl of curry.

As we drove north towards Camp Courtney, we found the large restaurant across the street from an A&W.  Daikon no Hana opens at 11:30 a.m.; we arrived at 11:50 a.m.  The place was packed.  We were promptly seated in the back of the restaurant, by ourselves.  Russell was the only Caucasian at the restaurant and, for a brief moment, I wondered if that was the reason we had been seated out of the way.  As the back room quickly became filled with Japanese diners, it was clear that was the not the case.

From back left to right: bowl of unknown food, spaghetti, fried chicken, tofu, corn, pickled goya, roasted veg, salad, marinated veg.

The buffet offered anything one could want.  Ramen.  Soba.  Curry.  Rice with seaweed.  Fried goya (bitter mellon).  Salad.  Tofu.  Pickled goya.  Fried chicken.  Salad.  Roasted veg.  Fish.  And a few items we were unable to identify.

[S] behaved perfectly.  She sat on my lap and dined on roasted sweet potato, pineapple, chicken and curry.  She enjoyed the curry so much that she cried out, “Yum, yum. yum.”  And she ate most of my curry as well.  Dessert was various cookies, custard, and fruit.  We left satisfied.  And happy.  It was a great find and I left feeling more connected to Okinawa’s culture.

Upon leaving the restaurant, Russell continued driving north without explaining why.  A few kilometers later, he pulled into the parking lot of Petits Four, a French bakery we have passed several times.  “I thought we should take a look,” he said.

IMG_5050(1)We walked out with a bag of pastries and baked treats, including various flavored macarons, black sesame encrusted cookies, short bread treats and meringues.  Perhaps blasphemous to some, the baked goods here rival those found in Parisian patisseries.

FullSizeRender(234)How did our day end?  Even better than it started.  We took [S] to the base pool located a stone’s throw from our home.  She splashed and played in the small wading pool for an hour, daring to put her face in the water several times.  We met new people and we spoke with neighbors.

After her bath, [S] tucked into tuna fish on toast points with abandon.  And then went to sleep.  Today was one of my favorite days on Island.  It was relaxing.  It was unexpected.  It was simply delightful.


Cause for A New Blog?

Araha Beach Photo1Every now and then, I notice a trend and contemplate whether it warrants beginning a new blog.  For example, when we traveled to mainland Japan, there was thought of starting a blog entitled, “Things Strangers Give to Our Daughter.”  And with good reason.  During our trip to Tokyo, [S] received two origami swans and one origami sailboat; a 20 pesos note (from a runner from Mexico); a free slice of tiramisu from a worker at a restaurant; and, cookies (from a group of men from Ireland).  Another potential blog title is, “Strangers Who Take Photos With Our Daughter.”  At first it seemed odd to have strangers ask to take photos with [S], but now all of us–including [S]–are used to it.  [S] doesn’t mind and it brings joy to those asking.

Recently, I’ve thought about starting a photo blog entitled, “Photos of Me Holding My Daughter at Beaches in Japan.”  I’ve written before about [S]’s reluctance to get into the water.  That was last year.  This year, it seems we are starting anew with [S] refusing to walk on the beach or willingly enter the water.  With the weather getting warmer and beaches becoming one of only a handful of places to cool off, I want [S] to embrace water, be it stream, pool, or ocean.  Early Saturday morning, we headed to Araha Beach.  The small public beach is free and stunning.  The water gave a bit of relief to the early morning heat, but was warm enough for young children not to feel chilled.  [S], tightly holding on to one parent or the other, watched the activity around her with interest.  But she refused to stand in the ocean, crying when her feet touched the water.

Fortunately, this week [S]’s Grandmother will be visiting us, giving us a reason to spend a couple of days at Okuma, a beach resort south of Cape Hedo, Okinawa’s northernmost point.  There will be nothing to do other than play in the sand and surf.  Alternatively, you might find I’ve started a new blog.

Thank You, Mom.

IMG_1293 (2)Dear Mom,

You taught me the basics.  From you, I learned how to walk, skip, hop, run, and sprint.  From you, I learned the alphabet and how to to read, write and speak.  From you, I learned how to listen, when to speak, when to stay silent and when to yell.

You taught me how to be civilized.  From you, I learned how to be respectful of others, kind to all, and thoughtful of those in my life.  From you, I learned the importance of being principled, honest, and forthcoming.  From you, I learned that every action has a consequence and that I do make a difference–for the better or for the worse.  From you, I learned to mind my manners, as well as my tongue.

You taught me how to be aware.  From you, I learned to love reading.  From you, I learned the importance of being informed of current events.  From you, I learned that complex political issues aren’t always that complex.

You taught me how to love.  From you, I learned the importance of being loyal and consistent.  From you, I learned the importance of being there and available.  From you, I learned the importance of speaking up when it is easier to remain silent.  From you, I learned the importance of being truthful when the time is right.  From you, I learned that shared family meals can be a safe-haven to discuss the day and prepare for tomorrow.  From you, I learned that listening–truly listening–is pure love.  From you, I learned how to comfort others.  From you, I learned how to turn the other cheek and see the best in others.  From you, I learned the magical powers of a hug and the healing powers of a kiss.

Most importantly, from you, I learned how to be a partner to my Husband and a Mother to my daughter.

Thank you, Mom.