Thursday, May 31, 2012

Getting Religion

This is one of those slightly touchy subjects for people. Sadly, people from all ends of the spectrum have some rather heartfelt, and damn near immovable, ideas regarding children and religion from when it should be introduced, if it should, and of course which one.

This isn't a post about that, really.

Instead this is more dealing with what happens when you have two different religions and two very different cultural approaches to it. Now I wasn't exactly raised Christian, but I did join my local Presbyterian church, eventually becoming an elder when I was in junior high/high school. Although it has been some time since I was last at service (It should be noted that nearest Presbyterian church is somewhere in Tokyo), I still consider myself to be Christian and Presbyterian.

Beloved is nominally Buddhist, though she isn't interested in going to the local temples or having a butsudan, a Buddhist altar, in the house.

The both of us decided from day one that while our faiths are different, that shouldn't matter in terms of our marriage and any children we have would be allowed to find their own path. Neither one of us would, therefore, force our children into any religious systems, settings, etc., nor would we teach about our respective faiths until they were old enough to ask about it themselves. As with many things in our marriage and parenting style, the watchwords were compromise and communication in order to lesson the shocks and bumps from two different points of few and cultures and keeping them from wrecking our relationship.

What became very quickly apparent though was that, while this was a great idea, really, Japan and the US have a very different approach to the very concept of religion. There's an old joke about Japan, in runs thus: If you ask the Japanese about their religious beliefs, 78% will claim to be Shinto, 78% will claim to be Buddhist, and 78% will claim to not believe in anything at all. An actual Japanese saying relates that one should be Shinto for birth, Christian for marriage, and Buddhist for death following the customs of going to a Shinto shrine with a new baby, a church for your wedding, and after your death, your relatives will invite a Buddhist temple to help send you to your next life.

In between those times, most Japanese don't consider themselves particularly religious except... Except that there are loads of cultural events that they do that involves various religions. Families will go to shrines and temples for New Year's, the big holiday in Japan. Children will walk to school carrying a charm purchased from a shrine or temple to keep them safe, students who have a test will not think twice about stopping at a Shinto shrine and writing a prayer tablet asking for help in their studies. There are a host of other events from local festivals centered around the local shrines or temples to national holidays where people return back to their hometowns and attend to some religious obligations, all the while claiming that they are not doing this due to belief, but because they are Japanese.

This was the biggest hurdle that I had to get my mind around as a father when these various events started to pop-up. Americans of course are more used to the wall of separation between Church and whatever. THIS is a religious thing so do this because we believe. THAT is not. THIS and THAT shall not mix, doing so would be somehow wrong. The idea of doing something religious not because you are religious, but because you happen to be American is... off somehow.

This is not the same as, say, Christmas being celebrated by people of different faiths, or no faith at all, but more akin to the notion of, for example, a family of American atheists going to Christmas service and receiving Communion because that's what one should do as an American during Christmas time.

But for the Japanese, there's no particular problem with having a full Shinto blessing at the birth of your child and having that child's name recorded as belonging to that shrine, even if you don't happen to believe in Shintoism and have no plans to visit that shrine again.

Things that I would view as a violation of our agreement, for example Beloved making arrangements for the boys to be taken to a local shrine for a blessing, was explained as "This is what we do as Japanese" by Beloved. I admit that the first time, sitting in the shrine while the priest chanted Makoto's name to the kami, I was a bit perturbed. It seemed very much like a baptism and there was a few times when I almost wanted to ask Beloved just what we were doing. The same with Beloved's parents teaching Makoto how to present rice to the household kami at their house (The proper way to do this, by the way, when you're a child is to put the bowl of rice into the tokonoma, bow, fold your hands together, and mumble "Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma").

But getting back to the watchwords, I talked with Beloved instead of charging in like a bull moose with a thorn in his butt. The more we talked, the more it did become apparent that these rituals, which to me seemed very religious, were very much cultural and done more because Beloved wanted her sons to grow up like normal Japanese boys.

The more I thought about it, the more I have come to appreciate the Japanese point of view, it seems a bit healthier than the near obsession that many Americans, again on both sides, place on religion and trying to include it, or restrict it, from their lives. Besides, we also compromised a bit. While I'm still not telling the boys Bible stories or taking them to church, there's nothing that says while they celebrate New Year's with a shrine visit, a week before they celebrated Christmas, American style.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Playing With the Letters

Got a bit of a surprise when I came home, Makoto presented me a flag that he had made after he had come home from school. Japan's NHK E has a program that comes on during the weekends that Makoto is fond of. It's a kid's show of course, but the main thrust of one of the segments is that everything is done with papercrafts. Japan had a long and glorious history of self-made toys. Children would often make them themselves, or have them had made by their grandparents. Nagano, which since olden times was known for its woodworking skills and the quality of its wood from the Kiso Valley, has been working to preserve these old toy traditions. In fact, the nursery school that Makoto attends as a Ojiichan (Grandpa) in residence whose main task, besides to help with the kids, is to make those old toys and teach the young children how to play with them.

Makoto of course has gone hog wild for this whole concept and just enjoys paper craft. Usually our house needs a through cleaning every weekend and I have to spend a great deal of time gathering various paper scraps, cut up newspaper and the like, and getting them ready to go out to the garbage for burnable trash day.

Makoto's very good at creating things, but as with all small boys, he loses interest pretty quickly in playing with them and proceeds to the next project.

Every day after school, Makoto usually bothers Beloved until she finally gives him the ads from the day's newspaper and some tape, he then goes upstairs to chop it up into something. Today he decided to make a flag by rolling a newspaper ad into a tight tube and then tapping a piece of notebook paper to it. It was a typical Makoto craft, but what caught my eye when he gave it to me was that the decoration on the flag, instead of being random scribbles or a face, was parts of the alphabet. Makoto had decided to decorate his flag with some of the letters, capital and lower-case, that he has been learning.

MAONMlCebBD spells Daddy's Happy
The lessons are starting to stick. Not only am I proud as a father, but as a teacher I've gotten my payoff, my student, without being prompted, has shown that he has learned the lessons I have taught him.

I'm going to save that flag I think, I'm pretty sure I'll be looking at it for a long time with pride.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Thunder Rolls... and Eats

Unsettled weather in Japan right now, we've had a few rather loud thunderstorms the last couple of days. Now as I've previously mentioned, I LOVE thunderstorms. Growing up in Nevada, afternoon thunderstorms were just par for the course during the summer. Sure, you had to clear the pool, keep an eye on the cows (Er, that is you looked at the cows, if they were lying down a storm was probably on its way), and of course there was always the fear of wildfire, but other than that... it was free entertainment. A wild ride in the sky as the lightning would dance and flash and the house shake as the thunder boomed.
How can you not like this?
It was also a chance to get some rain, usually in short downpours that would soak the ground and cause some mini-floods, just to quickly dry up and sink into the parched earth of the Great Basin Desert, but for a place as dry and usually rain free as Nevada, it was interesting.

Beloved hates thunderstorms. The traditional four fears of the Japanese are Thunder, Fire, Earthquakes, and Father. Beloved is not too worried about fire, handles earthquakes with aplomb, has grown more comfortable about her father, and is still scared to death of Thunder. Part of it might come from a Japanese legend about the thunder god. There is an old folk belief that Raijin, the kami of Thunder, eats the belly buttons of children who leave them uncovered, thus are children told to hide their belly buttons when they hear the thunder boom. Chances are this more of a reason to get kids to sleep with at least their stomachs covered instead of outside their blankets, but it makes an interesting tale for this foreigner.

Of course, Makoto has been told about the story and during a thunderstorm he acted scared and kept hiding his tummy with his hands, convinced that the Thunder God was coming to eat such a delicious and cute belly button. The very next storm however and he started enjoying the thunder and lighting with his father, possibly thinking that no self-respecting thunder god would challenge Daddy.
What it looks like now
Beloved of course shrieked.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Toughest Training on the Planet

Baby Blues for Monday, May 28

While the big little guy (Makoto) was sick this weekend, the little, little guy was more or less left to his own devices in terms of entertainment. Or rather, since Beloved was either at the doctor's with Makoto or shopping to pick up needed supplies for a sick kid as well as the usual amounts of food needed to feed her beasts, it was Hikaru and Daddy all weekend long, including nights (We slept in another room to keep Hikaru from catching what Makoto has, getting woken up in case there was another midnight bout, or just playing with the puke bowl). Once again I was fully reminded of just how physically demanding it is to chase after a toddler who wants to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do, no matter what Daddy might think about the subject.

Especially no matter what Daddy might think about being turned into a chair, or a stepladder, or a jungle gym.

It was a somewhat exhausted guy who got up to go back to school and teach and wonder just how the hell does Beloved deal with that every single day?! I should mention of course that this wasn't a mini-dumb Daddy movie in the making, I had not problem cleaning, making Hikaru food to eat (Though from his reaction I apparently didn't mix his milk JUST right), or playing with him. Diapers have been something I mastered a long time ago, and since I'm the guy in charge of vacuuming the house every weekend, the usual clean-up proceeded as usual with Hikaru attempting to ride the vacuum or just sit behind it for that windblown toddler look that he's so fond of.

But it was a long slog with very little down time in terms of getting what I wanted to get done, done. One cannot reason with a toddler the way one can with a slightly older child, a one-year-old works on NOW. I want to do this NOW, Daddy. I want to play with this NOW. I want to eat that NOW and no matter how gifted your tongue might be, there's just no sweet talking them into waiting for a second while I finish up a post or read the paper.

But, still, tired as I was at the end of the day, falling asleep about 5 minutes after Hikaru, I have to admit... it was fun.

I think I'll stick with spending my time with slightly older kids though, my students might roll their eyes at me when I tell them to wait, but they are very unlikely to attempt to try and climb up my pants leg if I refuse to give them a snack.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Want Some Tea?

Less of a daddy post and more of a "God I love Japan" post. I'm a volunteer firefighter. In fact, I think I'm either the only, or one of very, very few, foreign volunteer firefighters in Japan.

Today was a drill day, which means I got to get dressed in my uniform and meet up with my company for a few hours. Today's agenda was pretty simple, hose and pump drill for the first hour, namely making sure that everyone is familiar with how to use the portable pumps should there ever be a fire. The second was a hydrant check. When I originally joined the shouboudan (The volunteer firefighters), the town I lived in had 8 different companies. A few years later my town merged in with the city next to it and the 8 companies were reorganized into 3 and slotted into the city's volunteer brigade. However, that meant that our territory expanded quite a bit and a lot of us don't know where the hydrants are in the expanded areas.

Today we rectified that a bit by sending everyone out on patrol to go to every hydrant and check to make sure the water was good and not too stagnant as well as check the hoses. My section is one of the older parts of the area, right up against the river, close by the local hot springs. On a hot summer day, the 8 of us walked down a tiny road to check the very last fire hydrant on our system, just to startle the heck out of an old lady who (Seeing the firetruck and the volunteers in uniform playing with the hydrant) leaped to the logical conclution that there MUST be a fire somewhere near by.

Informed by the crew chief that, no, we're just checking the hydrants, this elderly woman pauses for a second, looks at all 8, including one American, of us and says, "Oh, would you all like some tea then?"

Sadly, we had to pass, but it is just another day in Japan.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The 3 AM Call

So the night before last I got the call that all parents dread; namely "Honey, turn on the light please, he just threw up." Sadly Makoto has come down with the stomach flu that seems to be hitting all the kids around the town. Last night he manged to get on the toilet before he threw up, but we still had one heck of a mess to clean up, and again and again and again today. It's not his fault of course, the poor little guy is sick, the doc actually had him on an IV for a bit to re-hydrate (The joy of stomach flu, kids get it at both ends and since nothing will stay in, that's why its so dangerous for little guys).

It did get me thinking though. Growing up I had Dr. Mom in residence. Not literally a doctor of course, but it got to the point where my mother could call our doctor with the symptoms have him confirm her diagnosis, and then he would phone in the needed prescription for her to pick up. What was amazing is that my mother for a good chunk of the time that my sister and I were visited with the usual childhood afflictions did it all by herself and did it without panicking.

Both kids down with the stomach flu, vomit going everywhere, fevers running well over 100 and it didn't phase her. She dealt with the godawful messes, dispensed medicine, juice, and chicken noodle soup, and did so without seemingly batting an eyelash; even as her children crawled into her bed in the middle of the night to announce "Mommy, I don't feel good... BLERG!"

When Makoto came along, I didn't think I could do the same. I'm usually not a happy camper when awoken in the middle of the night; growing up I was noted for a somewhat weak stomach (Even if I wasn't actually sick, seeing people throwing up would usually get me to), and just... ew... Leaking diapers full of watery, off color, smelly poop... Pajamas, blankets, walls and floors coated in vomit... And all of this in the middle of the night where all I want to do is sleep, not spend a half an hour cleaning a hysteric kid and various items of clothing, bedding, and house.

Plus there was the worry... sick kid. Here's a little guy who looks to Mommy and Daddy to make everything better, who when he's hurt can come crying to one of us and we can make the pain go away almost immediately. But when he's sick... we can't. We can't just make it go away, and in fact we might have to make it worse by forcing him to take his medications (And it should be noted that many a Japanese medicine, especially for kids, are suppositories). So that's stressful, the child who looks to you to make it all better is let down. And yes, it does hurt that you can't wave a magic wand and make it go away, even if you really want to. Add in that nagging voice in the back of every parent's mind, "What if..." What if this isn't just a cold, what if the doctor tells me something is really wrong, what if...

I admit, the first few times Makoto got sick... I wasn't Superdad, I was more super-wreck. Beloved and I both ended up yelling at each other trying to get the little guy changed and cleaned up. Both of us were stressed out and tired. Each new illness found us racing through the streets to the children's all night clinic to make sure that our little guy was ok, just to get that LOOK from the doctor of "It's a cold. He's ok. Go back to bed."

So, yes, the first year or so I marveled at just how unflappable my mother was in handling this and wondered if I would ever get there myself. But you know, as with all things in fatherhood and parenting, it's amazing just how much you can change and pick up and never know about it. Think about it, these kids don't come with instruction manuals and no matter what your background is, it is a far different thing to be faced with YOUR sick child.

So the night before last I got the call that all parents dread; namely "Honey, turn on the light please, he just threw up." Bringing the light up I got to see a lovely puddle of vomit and a crying 4-year-old. I glanced at Beloved, "Stomach flu?" she said. "Stomach flu." I nodded. Beloved just sighed, "I'll get his clothes, please clean him up while I change the bed."

Half an hour later, Makoto was cleaned, changed, with new bedding and settled back down to sleep with a bowl by his head. While we had another call the next night, and a few more during today, the both of us just got on with the jobs at hand, cleaning, changing, shuffling one kid off to the doctor and the other one was kept occupied. Makoto has been calmly dealt with in terms of messes and the dispensing of OS-1, hand holding, and the cleaning of his bowl when it gets a bit full. And all without drama or yelling.

Dr. Dad has passed his residency and hung out his shingle. Still not fond of three am calls, but at least I can deal with them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Life Lessons for my Sons

I'm older than they are, and while I'm not sure I'm wiser, I'm fairly sure that I have more experience in life. So, with that in mind, and with an eye on something that can be updated from time to time, some life lessons for my sons.

  1. It's ok to cry if what happened is sad. Really, I can see the hold back tears if you're just annoyed, but a real man is not ashamed to cry.
  2. If you do something that people tell you not to, like for instance play with the shower handle, don't be annoyed that when said shower sprays you down said people just laugh at you.
  3. Don't be afraid to try new foods, within reason. Peanut butter and pickles? Awesome combination. Trying to cram all of your breakfast into your mouth in one go? Not so good.
  4. Real men ain't afraid to ask help from their mommies when the going gets tough and that t-shirt just will NOT flip right-side out.
  5. Never hesitate to give your brother the headbutt of love. He might appreciate a hug more though and he'd really like it if you waited until he was awake to do so.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Gift for Dear Old Dad

I think that whomever brought over Father's Day to Japan probably left something out when translating it. Now, admittedly, I'm a bit fuzzy on the concept myself. My father died when I was very young and my mother didn't remarry until I was in my teens. For a number of years then, Father's Day was kinda a wash. The stuff made in school was changed a bit for my grandfather and sent off to him, but he lived 5 hours away and I only got to see him a couple times a year. The concept of a day for doing something nice for dad then was something I really didn't get into.

With the arrival of my sons, I thought that maybe I could make up for lost time a bit, or at least Beloved would have some notion of how to treat the day having given things to her own father. Then I learned the truth about the day in Japan and about Beloved. Beloved of course is a remarkable, highly intelligent, competent, and organized woman. She keeps the calendar for the house, both online and paper version. She can tell me when the kids need to do something, when they last did something, and all sorts of facts about them that I don't usually bother keeping up with, like clothing sizes (In my defense, I admit that part of this is the ongoing war between Beloved and I about the geeking out of our boys, so I'm no longer allowed to buy them clothes without prior approval). She has a particular blind-spot however, while she can recall important events like weddings and teaching days, she misses birthdays and gift-giving holidays.

Part of it is no doubt cultural as she doesn't want to seem forward about asking for things (Being selfish is a bad trait in Japan), and part of it is because Beloved has no wish to be reminded that the years are advancing so why should she remember when anyone else was born?

The other problem is Japan itself. Father's Day seems to be Mother's Day Part II. Instead of seeing fathers being celebrated and given a day to relax and enjoy themselves, that date in June will usually see fathers dragging their offspring out to do something fun for the family at their wive's insistence. So moms get a break, dads have to work more, not less. Now I'm sure that given Japan's notorious workweek where fathers do not get a chance to see their child too much, many of them are happy to have a day to spend with their children, but I still feel that perhaps something has gotten lost here somewhere seeing dads loaded down with equipment for a picnic or sports and with kids strapped onto their backs, or in strollers, or running around them at various parks while mothers stroll along.

Now for the first couple of years, I didn't expect much. I mean, the boys being too young to understand Father's Day, it was enough to see them grow and develop. But this year, well, Makoto started to get the idea that there was a Mommy's Day and that meant we had to do something nice for Mommy (He wrote a card himself for her, he also attempted to convince her that what she REALLY wanted was some Kamen Rider Fourze switches) so that got me thinking, what would I like for Father's Day?

Now please note that this is MY list, not a "This is what to get your dad/guy for father's day". I'm sure there are actual fathers out there who would love something golf related, just because I belong to the club of "Golf is a good walk spoiled" doesn't mean everyone else is.

1. Books, and time to read them.
You see these? They need to be filled.
 I love me my books. I love my Kindle. I'd love to have even MORE books to add to my list. There's a reason why I insisted on so many bookshelves for my office, they need to be filled. The empty space is a tragedy after all. Even better would be some time just to read for a bit, currently even time I attempt to read outside of bedtime (Which has its own problems), I end up with one or two boys in my lap demanding that I read them one of their books (Or in Hikaru's case, that he be allowed to eat mine).

2. Movies, and some time to watch them.
I've heard this is awesome...
So I've heard that this Avengers movie is great and a must see. Sadly, it doesn't come out in Japan until August. That's actually not a BAD thing as I'm behind on a number of the sources for it... pretty much the only thing I have seen in Iron Man 1. There's a whole host of films I'd like to rent and see. The problem being that I have to fight to get access to the TV (Beloved is a Japanese TV junkie and the boys of course want to watch Thomas/Cars/Anpanman), and some of them, like Game of Thrones, is not exactly family fare (I so do not want to have to have a conversation with Makoto that starts with "When a mommy and a daddy, who happen to be brother and sister, love each other very much...).

3. A date with my beloved wife.
You see this butt? I'd like to date the woman attached to it again.
It's been a while. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my sons to death, but it has been quite some time since my wife and I enjoyed a dinner together that wasn't punctuated with "Daddy! You know Lightning McQueen? He's very fast!" or Hikaru's attempts to steal more food. While it's Father's Day, I think I'd like to drop the title of daddy for a few and just be a husband again, it'd help remind me how I ended up as daddy in the first place.

4. A tie.
Really, who WOULDN'T want one of these?
No, really. I have to wear the damn things to school and look all teacher'ish and stuff, but I want my kind of tie. Get me something Goofy. Get me something Geeky. Get me something that I can wear and snicker that I might be the only one getting the joke.

5. Something from the boys.
Kid art makes dads gooy inside too!
Makoto wrote a Mother's Day card, his first this year. Hikaru's idea of a gift would probably be some of his own food. But... and it might be slightly unmanly of me to mention, one of my most treasured possessions is a bit of Father's Day artwork from Makoto that he made me two years ago. Daddies get all gooy inside too when presented with something from their offspring.

6. Something for the boys.
Let's go have some fun.
Maybe I have been in Japan too long, but... I'm kinda hoping for another year pass to a local national park where I can take my sons for the day and have a guys' day out. I get a chance to play with my sons, Beloved gets a break, and the boys can run around like the young monkeys they are without constantly getting called back to get their hands, mouths, faces, etc. cleaned. But I wouldn't say no to orders to go take them fishing, or to a zoo, or places like that.

I'll even carry the kids and all the supplies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Music Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage Boys

Now this one I must admit comes from both of the boys' parents. Beloved spent her formative years playing the piano and of course Japanese schools emphasize music as an irreplaceable part of the curriculum and I (Unable to play anything, tone deaf, and whose singing has been banned under the Geneva Convention as being a crime against humanity) of course love to listen to music of all different styles and origins. So since their birth, both of the boys have listened to music and they love it. Makoto engages in making up his own songs and sings along to a number of his favorites and Hikaru dances, to everything, including the microwave chime and the little ditty that plays when the bath is ready.

And honestly, I'm mostly ok with this. Sure, I can't dance/sing/play, but, excepting my very real fear that my eldest is destined to be a member of one of Johnny's boy bands like SMAP or Arashi in the future, I like how both my children seem to be musically gifted. Research seems to point to the fact that those with an afinity for music do better in school and of course there is just the relaxing nature of music, to be able to plug in your earphones and relax (Or be excited by as the case may be).

Now, coming from two different cultures has produced some rather interesting musical clashes between East and West. I brought a set of 200 Kids Songs on CD with the classics (McDonald and his farm) and Beloved insisted on a Japanese CD talking about how rabbits are delicious. I taught my eldest about why one should hold on to your meatball when eating spaghetti, and Beloved has taught Makoto about Tanuki and their big balls (It should be noted that Beloved usually complains about how English kids songs deal with such topics as underwear, but at least we don't have a song singing about how well endowed an animal is). Disney songs are usually a mini-war in and of itself as the House of Mouse produces songs in both English and Japanese. I personally feel that there is something profoundly wrong with listening to the Mickey Mouse Club March in Japanese and usually grumble that the refrain is NOT "Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Mickey, Mickey, Mickey Mouse (I admit I'm losing that battle as Makoto's school is fond of Disney and plays them in Japanese constantly and no matter how many times I play 'It's a Small World' in English, Makoto still sings it in Japanese). But for the most part, we tend to match up with kids songs. Sesame Street for Anpanman for example. Both boys seem to be fine with this musical mash-up and bop along equally to 'C is for Cookies' and 'The Anpanman March'.

We do have the usual generational battle over who gets to control the CD player in the car and request the songs to be played. The wise parents usually let the kids win on this one for short trips. Longer trips might see Beloved vetoing the backseat suggestion of the Cars Soundtrack for a little bit of Kobukuro and during vacations when Daddy is driving more than an hour or so, he notes that, yes, Thomas has been requested, but you WILL listen to this odd mix of The Beatles, Queen, and Weird Al and you WILL like it or else Daddy is going to drive off a cliff.

But all in all, this is a family that enjoys listening to music all the time and does so together...

Except for one small problem.

Actually it's not small. A group of 64 members is not small. The boys, like just about the rest of Japan, have become rabid AKB48 fans. Somehow Hikaru, at age one and just starting to talk, knows their music and will RUN to the TV to listen to them when they come on and dance. Not even food will get him away from it until the song is done. Makoto, who knows more about Thomas than the lineup of the group, sings their songs at the top of his lungs. In the beginning, not knowing what I did, I got them a copy of one of their CDs, it has now become the most requested CD from the backseat, with the aforementioned singing and dancing.

Neither Beloved nor I am all that fond of AKB48, we don't care about how they want us, need us, or love us. We have no idea what a Big Brother Collection is and quite honestly I don't wanna know either. They're the group in Japan right now so of course they are everywhere, but why does a group, designed to appeal to adult male geeks, fascinate young boys?

What makes it worse is that not only can we use their music to calm the boys down, but it gets stuck in your head and it doesn't get out! I had thought I would have at least a decade before I would be shown for being a fuddyduddy, unhip, uncool, oyagi, stick-in-the-mud, doesn't get it, not with it, middle aged, dad. I mean, I accepted that it would happen, after all, I seem to recall some words being exchanged with my parents over my notion of good music and their inability to escape the 60's and 70's and enjoy the good stuff that I listened to. I thought I could at least claim some music coolness for a bit by knowing 'Great Big Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts' and other songs sure to tickle little boys. But... no. At a tender age, my sons have already labeled me as someone who is out of touch with the listening choices of a younger generation.

At least we still have 'C is for Cookie', and, for now, I guess it will have to be good enough for me. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Geek vs Norm, the Battle for the Sons

Yes, I am a geek. Quite, actually.

I have my street cred, I've edited Wiki, I have three different Starfleet uniforms, my office has a collection of Gundams and Neon Genesis Evangelion figures. During the evenings after their baths, my infant sons were treated to episodes of original Trek.

Makoto tells people that when Mr. Spock has a beard, that means he's a bad Spock.

After an afternoon of chopping wood for next winter and bringing the ax back to storage, I couldn't help but put a fatherly arm around my eldest's shoulder and tell him that Daddy didn't want to be an English teacher, no, he wanted to be... A LUMBERJACK!

I am a geek, and as many fathers can attest to, there is something deep within the male psyche calls to us, it speaks to us about our children, specifically our sons. A wise man once noted that, for a guy, the ONLY other man we not only can stand to see beat us, but whom we want to, need to, see beat us is our son(s). The drive of fatherhood is rather focused on the job of preparing these small, wonderful, dependent, little people to grow, change, and eventually best us in our own game to such an extent, they no longer need us.

And I am a geek which means that my game is a bit... well, geeky. That wouldn't be so much of a problem I think if Beloved happened to be a geek to.

Sadly, Beloved is many, many things, a geek is not one of them. She shuns Star Trek, couldn't tell you the difference between Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk, hates that I like to wander around Akihabara when I'm in Tokyo, derides the fact that her husband likes to read comics and manga, and of course cannot fix a computer if her life depended on it.

Mothers, like fathers, want to impress their interest on their children.

Thus I admit that Makoto and Hikaru have had a rather... split... upbringing. The fighting between Beloved and I is rather subtle. I load Star Trek into the DVD player, she changes the channel to J-Pop music. I teach my sons the best of Monty Python, she responds with classic Japanese fairy tales. I treat my sons out to looking at an annular eclipse...

Ok, I won that one, you couldn't beat that one.

She however vetoes my notion of mini-Starfleet shirts and instead buys everything our sons will wear to her tastes.

The battle has been wagged back and forth since the birth of Makoto, adding Hikaru to the mixture had just made it worse as now it's three boys against one woman, but determined she is. Strong in the ways of the Force and all that. Her main weapon of choice is the fact that she controls the kitchen.

I want it know that I love to cook and I am a damn good one, but I admit that she's better and she has time to cook whereas I'm busy running from class to class.

But a geek has a certain, shall we say, food intake. When one thinks geek, sad to say, green salads does not come into play. Barley tea is not the geek drink of  choice on a hot day and no geek would really consider natto more than anything other than an abomination.

So while I might get in some TV viewing... she has won on the food. It's rather sad to see a four-year-old demand more green salad for dinner and declare that broccoli is his favorite food.

On the other hand though... that same son DID try to use the Vulcan nerve pinch on his mother in order to escape the brushing of the teeth... Perhaps there is hope after all.


Monday, May 21, 2012


Well, it wasn't total, it was the annular and where we were, we missed the ring of fire by just a bit. But it was awesome. Even better, while I couldn't be with my sons during the height of it (Had to get to school a bit early so I could see it instead of being in my car), I did drag Makoto out of bed early to take a look while it was starting.

Now, Makoto had been a bit confused as to just what he was going to be looking at, not to I blame him. At age 4, understanding orbital mechanics is a bit difficult, but he enjoyed seeing the Sun with a bite out of it. Beloved reports that he was planning to take the solar filter to school to show to his teacher.

It was an awesome thing to share with my eldest son (I'm afraid that the youngest didn't care and was more interested in seeing if the solar filter was edible). I remember being woken very early one winter morn by my mother to see a total lunar eclipse. I've always been fascinated by the sky, the stars and the planets, and it's great to spread it around.

With any luck, I can haul my kids to a planetarium and have them like it too. And then I can get more astronaut ice cream without getting yelled at.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sharing is Caring

I'm fairly positive this doesn't happen in a household with mixed children (I.e. boys and girls). I mean, my sister and I are very close in age, but I don't recall us fighting over our respective toys when young. I didn't have much interest in Barbies (excepting what one could do to said Barbie by way of annoying one's younger sister), and my sister didn't hanker for my He-Man or Transformers.

The boys however... Well, at first I thought the 3 years difference might shield us from the worse of the problems. Obviously while a baby, Hikaru wouldn't be interested in/able to play with Makoto's toys and Makoto wouldn't be interested in baby toys. Little did I know that Makoto would spend a great deal of Hikaru's first year taking whatever toy, be it rattle or a small ball, away from Hikaru and Hikaru would start getting into Thomas the Tank Engine like his older brother.

Makoto is a collector of all things Thomas. We eat with a Thomas fork and spoon, we drink out of a Thomas cup, we have a Thomas backpack, we watch Thomas DVDs in English and Japanese, we wake early on Sundays to watch Thomas on TV, we go on trips with our Thomas thermos, and when our nursery school goes on a field trip, Beloved has to pack a Thomas bento for him. The kid also has a number of different engines and enough of the wooden tracks to stretch from one side of the house to the other.

This was the set up two years ago, it's a lot larger now
 And now Hikaru is starting to get into the act. He's not building railroads yet, but he loves to play with the engines, especially the magnets that allows an engine to connect to and pull the various cars/tenders and the like. Part of this is no doubt genetic as I've yet to run into any Japanese male that did NOT have a love affair with trains sometime in their life.

It should be noted that some Japanese men never lose it, every weekend can find hordes of guys hanging out by railroad tracks in various places all over Japan to take a picture of a particular train as it goes by and some train otaku have make it their life's mission to ride every single line in Japan.

But back to Thomas. Hikaru also loves watching Thomas on TV, happily pointing to Thomas on the screen while holding Makoto's Thomas toy, which of course brings howls of outrage from Makoto because that's HIS Thomas toy and HE wanted to play with it.  Pretty much life is a daily fight over who gets to play with what engine at any given point in time.

Now, wise father that I am, my mantra to Makoto has always been "If you don't want your brother to play with your toys, don't bring them downstairs!" To me, it makes sense. Hikaru hasn't mastered stairs yet so we keep a baby gate at the bottom to keep him from ascending Mt. Staircase. This leaves Makoto the whole of the upstairs area (Minus my office) to play with. His toys are supposed to stay up there and he can play with them in peace without having to worry about Hikaru playing with HIS toys. Hikaru's toys are supposed to stay downstairs and Makoto should respect that those are Hikaru's toys and not take them either.

Sadly, the boys lack their father's training in logic and common sense. So instead, Makoto keeps taking Hikaru's toys, sometimes bringing them upstairs, and then brings down loads of Thomas stuff, which Hikaru is delighted to see, and steals away from Makoto. So of course the day is punctuated with yells of "Hikaru! I had James first! YOU can have Gordon!" or crying from Hikaru because Makoto just liberated Thomas from his younger brother.

The wise father states his mantra, and of course also tells his eldest son, apple of my eye, pride of his father, "You need to learn to share, Makoto. Sharing's a good thing and if you're not playing with it right that moment, share! It's what big boys do, share things with others."

I've come to regurgitate those words.

To sidetrack a bit, meals at the house have been a running battle on two different fronts. The Makoto front is getting him to eat, period. It's not that the kid isn't hungry, the kid would just rather watch TV, talk, play, do anything but take less than an hour to consume his food. The Hikaru front is keeping said kid from eating everything. Now, when Makoto was small, he was a kid who LIKED the babyfood Beloved made for him. It took us until he was almost three to really start eating the dinner the rest of us were eating. He didn't mind getting the soft rice or mushed fruits, he liked them.

Hikaru however, as soon as he found that there was more to the world of food than Mommy's boobs has not accepted this notion of babyfood. Even when he had no teeth he would pitch a fit over not being allowed to eat the pizza the rest of us were enjoying, or only given a taste of Alfredo sauce. So meals with Hikaru involve running battles with Hikaru refusing to eat the mini onigiri that Beloved made him and instead demanding rice directly from his parents' dishes, along with anything else that we are eating. In his mind, anything placed in his cup could not possibly be the same thing as what we're eating and what we eat must taste better.

The running part comes from Hikaru wanting the sample food from everyone, so all meal long he will circle the table, asking for bits of this or that; punctuated with grins, smiles, cuddles, headbutts (For some reason Hikaru thinks a headbutt means 'I love you', he's going to be a guy's guy when he grows up), or failing all of that to move his target, outright theft. Lately however he has decided that if perhaps he shared some of his food, we would be more willing to share some of ours. However, Hikaru's idea of sharing is NOT to offer something from his cup, no, that would be too easy, too nice. His idea of sharing is to take some of the food, put it in his mouth and chew it for a bit, THEN offer it to someone, usually me.

He also doesn't take no for an answer and given that we eat Japanese style at a low table on the flood, he has easy access to me, my face, and mouth.

Have I mentioned that Hikaru is not only strong, but stubborn as a mule and refuses to give up?

Thus the other day at dinner, Hikaru managed to force a bit of half chewed bacon into my mouth and then grinned happily. This prompted Makoto to comment, "Aren't you happy, Daddy? Hikaru's being a big boy! He's sharing!"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Let's go shopping!

I hate clothes shopping. With a passion. Yes, I'm a guy, but that isn't it. I'm sure it's more being a geek than guy. After all, put me in a bookstore and I can kill hours gleefully going from stack to stack. I usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming from tech stores.

But... clothes... Blech. But it needed to be done. A year of dieting has knocked me down from 230 pounds to 180 and the clothes, they just do not fit anymore.

Actually it was more to the point where if I undid my belt, I better have a hand on my pants less they do a good imitation of the Drop Zone.

So before going to the supermarket, Beloved, the kids, and I wandered over to UNIQLO, which is a rather popular Japanese casual clothing store. Cheap prices, pretty good clothing, and they'll recycle old stuff from their brand if you want. I honestly don't have much of a beef with them except that the last time I went I was getting bigger, not smaller, and had gone beyond what they had sizes for (They market to skinny Japanese, not sumo wrestlers, or fat Americans).

This time the added challenge was two kids, one of which thinks stores are just fantastic places to run around in, and the other one who's starting to feel the same way. The end result was a kind of odd dance.

The steps were reach for pants that might fit, hook leg around escaping toddler, bring under ladder. Search for better size, stop 4-year-old from jumping from stepladder, twirl with two pairs of jeans with their legs arching around while attempting to not step on toddler now playing under feet. Grab belt and use it to lasso 4-year-old who is making another break for the bra section (And wonder for the nth time about why a 4-year-old is that interested in bras). Finally, toss clothing into basket, kids at Beloved, and storm off into the changing room.

Just to hear "Hi Daddy!" and look over my shoulder with my pants around my ankles to see Makoto peeking his head in from underneath the curtain.

There is something to be said about this whole Internet shopping idea.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sleep Wars

Yeah, I know, a dad complaining about kids and sleep. How cliche can ya get?

Ah my friend, have you heard about child sleeping arrangements in Japan? See, whereas there's a new fangled co-sleeping movement in the US (Which with all things parenting has started up its own war), Japan has traditionally co-slept. Cribs are actually a bit of a newer idea for the Japanese. It makes sense of course, in small Japanese houses where rooms tend to be multi-functional, having a dedicated room JUST for the baby is silly, add in the room a crib takes and...

So at the old, two room house, we started co-sleeping. That is, I'd be on my futon in one room, and Beloved and Makoto would be on her futon in the other. When Hikaru arrived, we moved Makoto to my futon, and eventually to his own next to mine. I have to admit, there are some nice advantages to the arrangement. When the boys viewed Mommy as a lunch, nursing at night was a simple affair of Beloved rolling over a bit, opening the front of her pajamas, popping out a boob and dozing as one of the boys got his midnight snack. Given we were (and still are) on Japanese style futons on the floor, we didn't have any worries about falling, climbing the bars, or getting heads stuck anywhere. And there is (usually) an advantage in cranky kids. When Makoto has a nightmare, or Hikaru suddenly decides he's been abandoned and we hear the midnight wail, instead of having to get up and stumble down the hall towards the source of the cries; a halfway awake "Hey, kiddo, it's ok, Daddy's here" and a pat usually settles them back down to the arms of Lord Morpheus.

There's some disadvantages of course. Two kids in the bed makes it a bit hard to have more, shall we say, adult conversations and activities with the Beloved and we're reduced to waiting with baited breath for them to nod off before sneaking out, assuming we don't fall asleep first.

Having to pre-plan does take some of the fun out of it.

And of course should there be any kind of nighttime release from either end of a kid, well it can get messy and not just on said kid's bed. The first night Makoto had stomach flu ended up with me having a lack of pajamas and bedding as well as him. And a lovely smell that took forever to get rid of. There's also the issue of length. Traditionally, you'd find kids co-sleeping with their parents in Japan well into, if not through, elementary school. Beloved tells me that it wasn't until she was in 2nd or 3rd grade that she decided to move out of her parents' bedroom into her own room at night. Now that we have our own house, we're all sleeping in the same room, which is a bit daunting to think of doing this for the next 7 to 10 years or so.

But all-in-all, I don't have a problem with the co-sleeping and most of the time I'm an advocate for it. Except recently.

We have a problem, his name is Hikaru. Makoto, the eldest, was a kid who bowed to pressure and just conformed to his parents' sleep schedule. If we went to bed at 9:30, that's when he went to bed. We might want a book before bed, but for the most part he was willing to settle down and start getting those Zzzz's (Makoto's sleeping issues are not liking mid-day naps, an inability to get up that doesn't involve a tow cable, and a cranky disposition 3-out-of-5-times when he does wake up). Hikaru however is a baby on his own timetable, damn what his parents' want. When he wants to sleep, he sleeps, even if it's on the floor in the middle of the toys he was just playing with.

Let sleeping babies lie.
 Now, if allowed to sleep himself out, he awakes (early) with a sunny disposition and a willingness to tackle whatever is going on for the day (Usually Daddy's yogurt). Awaken him early and, well, it's like disturbing Godzilla's slumber (And given we're in Japan, ends up about the same way). It's the getting him to sleep in the first place. If he doesn't want to sleep, he won't. And we're on futons, on the floor. There is NO way of caging the beast. Even that wouldn't be a problem except that Daddy enjoys reading before sleeping. In fact, Daddy can't sleep if he doesn't get to chew through at least a few pages of his book before lights out.

IF I am lucky, Hikaru will be sleepy after his bath and bedtime story and will stay in Beloved's futon with his blanket and thus with a kiss goodnight, I can relax and enjoy my book. If I'm unluckly... I will look up to find Hikaru's face grinning at me like the rising full moon over my reading light and my supposed "quiet time" becomes punctuated with "GO TO SLEEP!" and wrestling matches over my book, light, phone, pillow, glasses, or older brother's bedtime items (A book, a rotating stuffed animal, and his Mickey Mouse ears from Tokyo Disneyland), and with random grabs and stuffs from Beloved trying to get the kid into bed and settled down. Which works for about a minute before Hikaru crawls out and tries again, with giggles.

Last night took the cake with a 45 minute marathon between Hikaru who wouldn't go to sleep and who kept  trying to get to Daddy's toys, Makoto who was wide awake because his younger brother was walking back and forth (with occasional attempts at toy/book theft) just next to his head, and the thunderstorm.

I like thunder, the boys like thunder, Beloved is terrified of it.

So, thunder booms. Wife eep's. I attempt to be the good husband and hold her. Get complaints/giggles from Makoto because I have to lean over him and his futon to get to Beloved. Hikaru sees his chance and runs towards the now undefended smartphone/book/light. More giggles from the kid in the middle. I yell "GO TO SLEEP!" and shove one son under his blanket and the other one back to his bed. Board re-sets, and the thunder rolls again.

Like I said, 45 minutes until the most welcome sound in the world is heard, the nightly concert of my boys' snoring... With Hikaru completely out of Mommy's futon, sound asleep upside down on the floor.

Oh well, just cover him with a blanket and call this battle of the Sleep Wars won. Besides, I still haven't gotten past the starting page of my book.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Now I Know my ABCs...

Part of the problem of raising bi-lingual and bi-cultural kids is that, well, chances are one of the cultures is just not helping. I mean, I can reasonably be sure that my sons will learn the kana and (God help them) kanji from teachers in school. I'm fairly sure that they will be drilled, asked to write, and tested on their usage from now until they manage to graduate.

However English... Well, I'm an English teacher in a public Japanese junior high school so I'm less than enthused about waiting until junior high for my sons to learn how to read and write a language that they have been speaking since they started speaking.

So the big adventure right now is teaching the 4-year-old how to write the alphabet in the hopes that this will lead into reading. Now me, the guy with the degrees in education and English plus 8 years teaching experience, I kinda figured we'd ease into this. Make it fun, make it colorful, make it interesting for a young boy so he doesn't get scared off on it. No pressure, no ridiculous goals, just three pages in a workbook a day, gone through twice to get it drilled in.

Oh, and bribery in the form of chocolate and ice cream if done for a month (Beloved of course does NOT LIKE THIS).

And, for the most part, he's good. The past Mother's Day had Makoto writing his first card to Mommy (Daddy just provided the spelling) by himself, which he not only bragged about for the next two days, but sent his mother into tears.

What I didn't count on was that, between classes and chores, I would be a bit busy at times, and Hikaru.

Thus the following:

Round 1
Me: Did you do your three pages yet?

Makoto: Not yet, Daddy. I'll do them now.

Me: Ok! I'll check them in a few.

I wander upstairs to get some work of my own done for lessons until...

Beloved: HELP!

Me: Now what?

Come downstairs to find that Makoto went to the toilet (An event loudly announced since 4-year-old boys are justifiably proud of this) and Hikaru decided that, gosh, that red crayon looks just delicious... So now I must spend a few minutes with my fingers in the youngest's mouth trying to get chewed crayon out of it. Meanwhile of course Hikaru is trying his best to escape because crayons are YUMMY!

Spend a few minutes "reminding" Makoto about not leaving crayons down, hand him the remaining half of said crayon, and tell him that he needs to get his pages done; go back upstairs.

Round 2
Beloved: HELP!

Downstairs to find the Beloved tearing the living room apart, the other part of the crayon is missing, pages still not done. So I join in the tearing apart, meanwhile grilling the eldest (He's already developed that 'cool prisoner under the lamplight' look).

Me: Makoto, where's the crayon?

Makoto: I don't know.

Me: Well, where did you put it?

Makoto: I don't remember.

Me: Did you finish your pages?

Makoto: No...

Me: *sighs* Ok, go take your bath and go to bed.

Few minutes later I get collared by the Boss and informed that, well, the remaining half of the crayon was stolen and eaten by the wandering bottomless pit. We did eventually 'find' the crayon... the next day... and let me tell you that red marbled poop is... interesting to say the very least.

But at least Makoto eventually made it through the pages and is now up to 'M'.

So you get some kids...

This is what happens when I get bored and read some of the other fatherhood blogs out there. Thoughts like, "Hey, I could that" start perking up.

So to flesh out the cast of characters that will, if this continues, be gracing these pages. I'm an English teacher in Japan, I'm also a father of two. These two events are somewhat unrelated as I wasn't supposed to stay in Japan, really. I was supposed to head back to the US where I can understand the language a bit better and there's no worries about just what it is that I've been tricked into eating THIS time.

But, well, you get a guy... and then you bring in the Beloved wife who after spending time in the US moved back to Japan to be with her husband, and 9 months later you end up with a bouncing baby boy. Three years down the line and you have TWO bouncing baby boys (And believe you me, with sons, I mean BOUNCE. Flubber, they must be made of flubber!) and a decision about where is the best place for You, the Beloved, Makoto, and Hikaru staring you in the face.

Thus why almost 8 years later, I am not only still in Japan, but have put down enough roots to keep me from blowing over in the next typhoon or falling over during the next earthquake.

So that's what this blog is about, because while reading all those daddy blogs, I didn't run into many of them who talked about the trials, joys, adventures, mis-adventures, disasters, and other things of interest that come from raising half-American, half-Japanese boys in Japan.