Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Art of Discipline

Now according to those in the know (Though how they know is a different story), there are 4 parents styles that have somewhat different approaches to discipline.

There four rather broad categories for parenting, Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful. The short versions of them are the Balanced ones, the "I say jump, you say how high" ones, the "I'm gonna be your best friend" ones, and finally "We have kids?" ones. Now all parents are a mixture of the styles based off of where they come from and their own parents' approach to raising them.

For Beloved and I, this becomes rather readily apparent when it comes to the raising of the boys. Japanese mothers are, with good reason, rather well known for being tough. If there's a word for their style, it's Authoritarian. This isn't a BAD thing, mind you. While Beloved places very, very high demands on the boys, she also is incredibly supportive of them as well. That said, Japan places a premium on group membership. Schools in Japan are geared to producing members of the group, not individuals. Again, this isn't so much a bad thing, there's a lot to be said for it. While being outside the group can be rough, being inside means you have someone to take care of you when you need it, even if you didn't (I.e. we just got a load of veggies from the neighbors again. We're part of the group and they insist that as the elders in said group, it's their duty to make sure a young family like ours is well supplied).

I tend to wax between Authoritative and Authoritarian, but with a push to make both Makoto and Hikaru independent. I LIKE certain aspects of the Japanese system, yes, but in my heart... I'm still American and still push both boys into trying to rely more on themselves than others and to see themselves as a unique person instead of just another member. Generally I tend to follow a philosophy of "Stick to your guns" (I.e. if you make an issue of something, you must follow through) and "Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, or in other words, pick your battles.

So in a very When East Meets West bit, Beloved and I will clash over just how serious something is, and what we should do about it. Generally, it's usually my call. The four classic fears of Japan being Fire, Thunder, Earthquakes, and Father means Beloved is more than willing to hand things off to me more. Also, teaching junior high has given me, shall we say, a well used teacher voice that gets the boys attention where they tend to try and ignore Mommy for the most part.

But from time to time we do have a cultural loggerheads moment about if we REALLY need to talk with a boy because of failure to wash his hands when he returned home or if it is his choice, or perhaps there will be a discussion about just when a son is expected to start doing chores and the proper payment for thus. Some of said discussions become rather loud, but eventually peace will be restored in the house.

All that said, there was nothing at all confusing about the situation we found ourselves in last Friday. 

Now Tuesday was Beloved's birthday and due to a wide range of issues, we didn't get a chance to celebrate it. My brilliant suggestion was, we have a bit of time on Friday that lacks classes for me to teach and nothing on Saturday, let us go enjoy our favorite Italian restaurant, Beloved liked the idea.

I was a bit surprised then to return home on Friday, ready to just dump my bag and grab family to find Beloved fixing dinner. Why was she making food on the night we were to go out? Well, because Makoto had refused to eat his breakfast, and then didn't help his classmates during the school's cleaning time (Japanese students clean their schools), and finally decided to pull down his pants and flash his female classmates for some reason.

Oh, and he drew on the wall with a crayon.

While there is many, many different parenting styles and of course cultures may have different takes on things, this was pretty slammed dunked. Makoto was not going to be rewarded with pizza, pasta, and heavenly bread and thus we last our night out. But that was life as a parent.

He also lost paper crafts for a week and a weekend of no cartoons just to make sure he got the point, which he did as a lecture from me asking him how he thought everyone felt for missing out on the good food and what he classmates thought finally got through to him.

Some times things are not a massive culture crash...

Or so I thought until in the morning when Beloved asked me why I turned off the cartoons for the weekend...    

Friday, June 29, 2012

Does He Understand?

Hikaru is slowly building up his Japanese vocabulary (His English is limited to "hello" and "yeah" right now). For a kid that seems to have just so much to say, he's been rather slow in getting to it. This is not to say that Hikaru is in anyway stupid, just he's obviously a toddler who works on his own time schedule, no matter what Beloved or Daddy might want.

After all, after a year and a bit of waiting, he took his first step and said his first word on the same day.

But being still more or less pre-vocal in one language and extremely limited in the other (If it's not yummy, a frog, a ball, or where he wants to go, forget it), there's always the question of... does this kid actually understand?

Does he get what Daddy is attempting to tell him? Not that I'm expounding philosophy to my toddler, unless it's the eternal question of "Why aren't you sleeping in YOUR futon instead of on Daddy's back?!", mind you; but things like "Sit down in your chair" or "Say 'thank you'". Even other, more complicated ideas, "I love you" or "Go bug Mommy for food, not try to steal Daddy's breakfast again".

It's a bit of a mystery.

Of course, there are clues... Lately talking of toothbrushes in either language produces a distinct lack of toddler as he runs off to hide somewhere. A command to "Get your brother! Tickle him!" had a minor brother tickle scuffle on the tatami this morning as Hikaru attempted to tickle Makoto awake.

And of course saying "I love you" does get me a hug, so maybe I am being a bit overly sensitive.

Or maybe the very careful blank look Hikaru turns on me when I say "No, this isn't Hikaru's, this is Daddy's food" is just him being smarter than his father in terms of getting more snacks.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Have Children, Will Travel

So my sister-in-law, Beloved's 'youngest'* got hitched last weekend which involved the joys of migrating two small boys down the length of Japan. Or at least half way down the length.

*The Japanese are a big believer in birth ranks, so even a pair of identical twins like my sisters-in-law are thus ranked, even if they were born on the same day and literally minutes after each other.

Now for a bit of complex reasoning we live in the part of rural Japan that hangs around the middle of the main island (I.e. I was assigned here and we just fell in love with the place). Beloved's family however is from the South/Western end of the main island. Beloved's sister of course got married in the city where she works and until recently lived, Osaka, which is about half-way between where we live and where they live.

The migration of the family unit has undergone a number of stages. During the delightful engagement/early marriage but pre-kid, getting down there was more or less managed via Japan's wonderful rail system. Whatever you may have heard about Japanese trains, the reality is better. While taking the Shinkansen is a pain in the wallet, you can't really fault it. It's fast, (usually) comfortable, and (generally) convenient. Door to door from the middle of Japan to the tail end of the main island took about 6 hours or so, depending on the station layovers and excepting the ride on Shinano, it's generally been a comfortable way to travel. You can eat, read, sleep, and not have to worry about traffic jams or (normally) the weather. And of course, it always arrives on time (Seriously, if the train is more than a minute late, it makes the national news).

Then we had Makoto. The problem with small babies is they tend to operate on their own schedule and like all new parents, Beloved and I were rather apprehensive about travel with a very young baby. The first trip Makoto took to see his Japanese grandparents was made via plane, which of course had its own ups and downs.

Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.

The problem with flying Japan is just that, well, it sucks unless you happen to be living in one of the bigger cities with a nicer airport. Japan is LOADED with airports thanks to political monies being shoveled into the rural airports to get people to vote LDP, but a lot of them don't actually lead anywhere. Getting around by flying, we found, was a bit aggravating, expensive, and (Thanks to me being more than lightly scared of heights), a bit stressful when I found myself in another prop-plane.

Pretty much after the first trip down, we decided to train it back, which worked until Makoto started to be capable of self-movement, that's when problem two arrived. As anyone with a small kid knows, when they want to move, they want to move and they ain't gonna listen to any piddling excuse about how the train is standing room only and it is physically impossible to let them crawl around. Restrained child makes for cranky child and boy does Makoto have a fine set of lungs to let everyone know about this.

So we stopped training and started driving. Now via Shinkansen, the trip takes 6 hours. Via car on Japan's expressway system the drive takes about 14 hours, give or take. Yes, it's a very long drive, but with small kids and the mounds of luggage that kids generate (How two small boys need more in terms of luggage space than their father I have no idea), it's been worth it. While also expensive, the drive allows us to stop at Japan's many rest and service areas to eat, relax, and turn kids loose to run.

In fact, we've done the trip so many times that we have a list of preferred service areas to stop at where the food is good, the places spacious enough to have free range toddlers, the coffee is Starbucks, and the hand towels are oh-so-fluffy!

Going down to the grandparents has also evolved into its own ritual designed to get us up and going in the middle of the night when the traffic is down and hopefully past the bad area before any traffic jams occur while coming up is now being done in two stages as sadly, Daddy is no longer a college age guy who can pull  all-nighters.

But in going down, well, that's pretty settled. I return home, pack, and eat my mac-n-cheese (My treat to myself for the drive) and attempt to crash while Beloved takes the kids out to the local onsen for a bath and to let Daddy sleep! Sometime around 11pm to 12am, I awake and slowly manage to stir up kids, wife, and get everyone and everything shoved off into the Noah and off onto the road of adventure by 1 to 2am. 

Of course, at the start everyone is awake and excited and the kids will be singing in the back until we hit the T +30min mark by which time they will have settled back down to sleep. Beloved, who once again will promise that she will stay awake with me the drive down and keep me company, will join them shortly after. I of course just smile, sip my coffee, and drive on into the night.

But getting back to the wedding, this time we went by train due to the trip being paid for by people other than ourselves and a rather large lack of parking in the area (And to be honest, I was NOT looking forward to being forced to drive through the middle of Osaka). Once again, I fell in love with Japanese trains, the speed, the ability to kick back and relax a bit and care not about idiot drivers, traffic jams, or the like. With Hikaru sound asleep on my lap and Makoto curled up next to Beloved, it was a peaceful trip.

Now if we could just cut down on that luggage issue... maybe we'd have to re-look at this train idea when we can convince Hikaru to sit still.    

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One Does Not Simply Walk into Mordor!

Or does one?

In the endless battle over the geeking of the the sons; a hit, a noble hit has been scored.

See, Beloved's youngest sister is getting married, kinda. Japanese weddings are a bit different from their counterparts in the West. They mean nothing, legally. In Japan, a marriage happens when a bride and groom wander down to the local city office and fill out various forms, once they've been accepted, you're hitched. Any ceremony that you want to have is besides the matter and can be dealt with at any time.

So Beloved'd sister and her husband got married back in March, but they're going to have their ceremony this weekend. Said ceremony is going to be Western style and Makoto gets to be the ring-bearer. 

Now this came from Beloved's and mine's wedding. We were married in the States as Beloved wanted to show her family what a real Western wedding entails (Japanese ideas for it are... interesting. The groom's friends and the groom dressing like AKB48 and dancing in front of the bride and guest was a fun highlight of a wedding I went to). While I lacked any young male relatives, my cousin had a daughter just the right age for being the flower girl and she charmed the socks off of Beloved's family.

Sadly, while Beloved's nice is a bit too young for flower girl duty, Makoto is the perfect age for being a ring-bearer. Makoto of course is excited as can be because he's going to be able to be in the wedding. There is just one slight problem, what's a ring-bearer?

To side track a bit, when I was about Makoto's age, I too was to be a ring-bearer at my uncle's wedding. I also was more than slightly confused at what the job entailed and made the leap that it wasn't a ring-bearer, but a ring-bear was what I was going to be. My plan was to hang out in the bushes in the backyard and leap out at the guests, growling at them. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that the job entailed nothing of the sort and that I would be given the job of carrying a silk pillow, not scaring people. 

From that experience, I could understand why my son would be slightly confused as to just what it is was that he will be doing so when he asked... Well, a good father would probably have sat his son down and explained just what would happen. But while I might be a good father, I'm also a geek Daddy and ring-bearer... That has a bit of a different meaning for me, which lead to the following exchange:

Me: We're gonna ride the train this weekend.
Makoto: Why?
Me: We going to go to your aunt's wedding, remember? You're going to be the ring bearer!
Makoto: ... What do I have to do, Daddy?
Me: Well... You've got to put the ring on a gold chain, then after walking into Mordor, find a volcano and toss it in, ok?
Makoto: *Thinking for a bit* Ok Daddy!
This would be the best wedding clothes
Now in my own defense, I will say that Makoto stands at about 100 cm (3.25ft) which is just about the right height for a Hobbit and, while I'm sure he's going to be looking snazzy in his shirt, tie, and dress shoes; I personally think that a cloak from Lothl√≥rien would look even better!

Beloved of course took a somewhat dimmer view and I have been informed that if Makoto throws the weddings rings it will be MY fault!

Makoto of course has taken the whole thing in stride and is rather excited. Of course, now he keeps asking me just where we're going to find a volcano and if, perhaps, one could be packed in the suitcase just to make sure we have it.

I have scored in the geek wars. And we don't have to walk to the wedding either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fighting Fires

Literally, kinda.

Last night after the kids were (finally) asleep and while I was giving thoughts to lights out myself, and while a typhoon was doing its level best to either blow the house down or at least drown it, my smartphone got a Gmail alert from the city.

A quick read and I was out of the futon and into the closet shucking off my PJs and getting into a t-shirt and my uniform.

A minute or so later, while I could hear the truck sirens approaching, the firehouse just down the street set off its "Call" siren, asking for the members of its company to come. Two second later the city radio went off calling in 3 different companies, including my own. By that time, I had fully dressed and was just waiting to hear if I was being called out and Beloved had crawled out of bed due to the noise and lights.

Once I heard my company, it was a very quick "I love you, be well" and a fleeting kiss as I grabbed my helmet, stomped into my boots, and ran out into the pouring rain (Typhoon, remember?) to drive like crazy to the location and then run around a bit until I found my company.

Thankfully, it was a false alarm, while we had gotten suited, tooled, and hooked up, the actual firefighters did a quick check and noted an extreme lack of fire in that general location. It took them about an hour to make this check, with all of us standing in the middle of a typhoon downpour, but given the house owner came to thank us for turning out and he was a very old man, I didn't mind too much.

I did pass on the suggestion of an after party though, 11:20 pm is a bit late when one has to be up at 5 to go teach.

Still, it was a waterlogged Dad who came back to the house to find Beloved waiting to make sure I was alright an hour after I left. It was also a very tired Daddy who went back to his futon after getting out of his uniform and boots to see the most welcome site for any fireman, volunteer or not, his family safely asleep.

And I felt that way too, until Makoto decided to kick me out of my futon sometime around 4:30 in the morning. Fires I can fight, four-year-olds...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dad Rules

Still feeling a little silly after Father's Day, getting a full night's sleep with just one attempted invasion (Both boys were more or less dead due to a day at the park) will do that. So, in honor of being silly...

Dad Rules:

  1. The amount of time needed to get kids ready and out the door is inversely proportional to how badly you want to go. If you're not all that interested in shoe shopping, they will be ready in record time.
  2. Kids come out knowing how to be cute, they can't help themselves. 
  3. Kid tummies make great instruments for making a wide range of interesting noises.
  4. You can never, ever read too much.
  5. You can however read the same book way too many times.
  6. Never trust a smiling child's promise, unless the fulfillment of said promise will happen within the next 2 minutes.
  7. If you want to keep a secret from your wife, don't tell your 4-year-old. Of course, they will proceed to tell Mommy that she needs to keep the secret from herself as well before he tells her.
  8. Babies do not acknowledge the meaning of the word "Wait!"
  9. You give them technology, they hand you back an expensive paper holder.
  10. You might have married her first, but you will always lose the battle over who gets Mommy's attention. See Rule 2.
  11. As a father you will find that one must reach back to your boyhood when gross things that made your mom squeal were great. Not only do they allow you to impress your sons, but they will also allow you to deal with the insides of loaded diapers without batting an eyelash.
  12. There is nothing like answering your child's question. Now if someone can find me an answer to "Are you Daddy-Thomas-Makoto-Mommy-Hikaru-Anpanman-cookies?" I'd be grateful.
  13. Unless they are sleeping, quiet is the enemy. That just means they are up to something. Actually, even when they are sleeping, if they are quiet, they are up to something.
  14. Rubber Duckie is actually quite catchy. 
  15. You will find yourself becoming an expert on the engines of Thomas, the members of the Disney character list, and other things or else you will find yourself being taken to task by a four-year-old the first time you get it wrong.
  16. It's amazing just how a day at the park can become the best experience in your child's young life, even if the day was spent trailing a toddler.
  17. Speaking thereof, there is NO ONE as serious as a toddler pointing out his or her favorite kind of toy, repeatedly. 
  18. The best times are the times that you are there, even if all you're doing is sitting and being an unconquered peak for two giggling boys to attempt. 
  19. It's best to always look down, it keeps you from having to look down and see what you put your feet into this time.
  20. If you speak fast enough, you can sell just about anything as educational to your wife.
  21. One should always make sure to sneak out with your sons to enjoy something forbidden by Mommy, like ice cream, at least once or twice a year. Of course, a real man then takes one for the team and lets her scold him instead of the children.
  22. Taking care of your children makes you appreciate your wife all that much more.
  23. You have the wisdom of the ages, they have micro-engines fueled by anything they can eat... guess who wins?
  24. Daddy is Superman to his sons, better act like it.
  25. You'll find that there is no better reward than a hug from a child... and an offer to chew on the all important blanket.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

State of the Father

“He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
— Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

No, I'm not claiming to be the President of the United States, nor am I egotistical enough to claim that my rantings and ramblings have importance approaching on the State of the Union address, but on the day for fathers, it seems somehow appropriate to make a few remarks about fatherhood and just what it means to me.

Four years and 9 months ago, the doctor brought forth a new kid, conceived (most likely) in Tokyo and dedicated to the ideal that he should drive his parents nuts. 

Er... Sorry.

Any case, almost 5 years ago I was presented with a son, Makoto. Needless to say that generated a feeling somewhat akin to the repeated application of a 2x4 to the back of my skull. I still remember holding Makoto for the very first time and seeing him busy looking around, obviously interested in this new place and... not feeling love.


It might be true that mothers are hardwired into being attached to their babies, but I had to work at it. Don't get me wrong, I was very much interested in the baby I now had, but I want to say that it took me about three months or so to hit the stage where I would willing throw myself under a bus if it meant saving him. I think that was a major shock to the system because I wanted to love my son. I wanted to be a father. I never really had one after all. Dad died when I was quite young as I mentioned before and I missed all those things that various Hollywood movies, novels, or friends noted about their dads. I wanted to experience them, if from the other end.

More than that, I looked forward to teaching and guiding my son has he grew up, I thought that it should be fairly simple, not to mention somewhat fun...

I can hear you snickering right now.

Instead, I had a baby. even worse, the hospital let us out of there without a bloody instruction manual! Very rude, how was one to deal with an infant who didn't respond to anything beyond hunger? How can any sane man make sense of these bottles and formula, and kids clothing that seems to have been designed by someone heavily into bondage, given all the snaps that needed to be fastened? Lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of time with wife that didn't involve a baby getting into everything, or becoming not only the center of conversation, but the only topic thereof!

And don't get me started on the 'surprises' we'd find in the diapers.

I don't know when it changed, really. But slowly I did change from man who has a son to Daddy. My worldview changed along with it from concerns about teaching and whatnot to concerns about children. I cannot tell you when it happened, but I can tell you when I noticed it. 

We were flying back to the US, it would be Makoto's first (and so far only) trip back to the land that spawned me (Please don't hold that against the US) at around 10 months. Over the Pacific, with Beloved and Makoto sleeping, I was busy reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel, Thud!. The plot of the novel isn't that important, but there was a scene where the main character returns home to find that his house has been invaded by people intent on harming him and his family, and even worse, one of them had made it up to the nursery where his young son slept. During this scene, the main character feels that he is climbing endless stairs, trying to get to his screaming son all the while screaming "I'LLKILLYOU!"

Now I had read the book before and enjoyed it a lot, this time it made my blood run cold. I could picture the scene in my mind, only it was Makoto who was screaming and I was the one in panic and more than willing to do anything to keep my son, my son safe.

That was when I knew that I was Daddy.

I've noted since then that the closest that I will ever come to knowing how Superman feels is the look I see in my sons' eyes. To them, I can do anything and know no fear.

They do not know, yet, just how much fear I feel for them, and how willing I am to throw myself into my fears just to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.

Loaded diapers and everything.

The state of the father is good, and on this day when I wasn't presented with breakfast, a choice of meals, or anything beyond a pass to the local park so Beloved can get her children out of her hair... I ended up with the best gift of all, my sons.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sleep Wars Episode II: Attack of the Toddler

Previously on Sleep Wars I talked about the joys of co-sleeping in Japan and how a thunderstorm can make life entertaining. At the end, I claimed I had won the battle... Fool, thy name is Daddy for the toddler has come on the attack.

Hikaru has decided that he no longer likes his futon, or Beloved's futon. No, instead for the last few nights he has taken to falling asleep on my futon, usually after the aforementioned round of attempting to steal my reading light, or sitting on my back.

It's hot, I sleep shirtless in the Japanese summer heat and usually read on my stomach. Hikaru of course thinks "Horsey!"

Now, sleeping with your son isn't that bad, really. For all the brat compacted into his small frame, Hikaru is cute and he is one of my sons. But... well, both my sons take after their mother.

Yeah, kinda like this...
Beloved, as I have mentioned, is a wonderful woman... who masses about half of what I do and is a good half foot shorter. And yet, somehow, whenever we share bed space (Or even when we don't), she somehow manages to migrate during the night and forces her larger husband off his futon, or crowds him into a small little sliver of the bed. This is not a woman who sleeps quietly.

BOTH Makoto and Hikaru do the same. Makoto will spend a good chunk of the night moving from his futon to mine, and then pushing me up against the wall. Adding Hikaru to the mixture just means there is NO escape, it now comes in two different directions.

The new sleeping tactic in the Sleep Wars is to attempt to stay awake long enough for Hikaru to get into a deep enough sleep that it becomes possible to move him back to Beloved's futon and then hope he STAYS there, or at least his nightly migrations perter out somewhere around the door and not across the room where I am. This does have some downsides, namely that it can take a long time for Hikaru to go to sleep and in the meantime, I get to be a horse to a happy, bouncing toddler while trying to read.

But it does have it's upside as well, like looking over to find Makoto sound asleep with his head off his futon, Hikaru asleep with his head on Makoto's legs, and Beloved sound asleep with her arms above her head and one knee sticking straight up and all three sawing enough "wood" that if it had been actual timber, we would have our winter fuel supply met for the next two years.

I would have taken a picture, except that I want to keep being able to sleep with my family and not outside.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ofuro-do, The Way of the Bath

Learn the Ways of the Bath
Now, anyone who knows anything about Japan knows that baths and bathing are a big deal here. Shinto, the native religion of Japan, is big on the idea of cleanliness and the Japanese have been bathing for longer than Europeans have. Heck, this is the nation that regularly goes on vacation just to take a bath!

Needless to say my sons were very early on introduced to the concept of bathing. Daily bathing actually, much to the shock of my mother (Not to mention all the English baby books who swore up and down that newborns should NOT be bathed every day). However, Japan does things differently, and there is no Japanese who doesn't really love the bath, my sons included.

While many dad blogs talk about the problems of getting the kid into the bath, my problem has always been getting them OUT of the bath. They like it there and neither Makoto nor Hikaru are usually in any particular hurry to leave.

In a way, I don't blame them as Japan also has another concept about bathing, namely skinship, the building of a family bond by bathing together. Traditionally, children bath with their parents until quite a bit older, mid to late elementary school. Some families even continue it until the onset of puberty. The idea of course is one, saving bathwater, you don't need to keep re-heating the tub over and over again for 4 or 5 people. The second however is that family bond, a chance for parents and children to be together in a warm, relaxing environment... totally nakkied.

I admit, it was a LOT more comfortable when both boys were pre-walking, vocal stage. Sitting the the water, cuddling a just washed, somewhat sleepy, baby close to me and relaxing as the hot water removed the stress from the day. Now-a-days the bath tends to be slightly nosier with both Makoto and Hikaru playing in the bath, giggling at fart bubbles (Always amusing to boys), splashing water everywhere, and of course singing and dancing along to the waterproof CD player.

There is more to it of course. The Japanese also have a saying, hadaka no tsukiai, naked friendships, the idea being that the bath is the great leveler in Japan. No matter if you're the big boss or a lowly gaijin, everyone is the same naked. Thankfully I was aware of this notion before I came to Japan for the first time, or else my future-father-in-law's request that he wanted to take a bath with me might have been somewhat of a shock.

Still, this is one part of Japanese culture that I have come to enjoy, even though usually it's Beloved who gives the baths around here (I admit, I'm still stuck on my American ways of a morning shower to wake me up, but I do take baths from time to time). Actually I enjoyed it enough to insist on the largest tub made by Toto in Japan, just so that I can fit my long legs into the damn thing and still have more than enough room to fit in two boys who want to practice spitting water.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Packing Kids Around

Today was Monday, I should have been in school except that we had a sports meet on Saturday so make-up day off. Being that was the case, I got to do something I had wanted to do for a bit, namely take Makoto to nursery school.

Makoto changed schools in April (The start of the Japanese school year) to one in our neck of the woods, which saves us a lot on gas (5 minutes driving vs a half an hour). The thing is, drop off time for the school is 8:30, my first period class starts at 8:35 in the next city over so I'm never able to drop my son off at school. However, today was a regular school day for Makoto, and a day off for Daddy.

With that in mind, and it being a beautiful day in June, I decided to give my son a treat and walk him down and give Beloved a break and pack Hikaru down with me.

Now, we've gone through 4 different kid carriers (5 if you count the stroller that neither son liked or has really used). Two of them are Japanese made, two are American (Well, they were bought in the US). The Japanese ones are fairly good, I would guess. See, the problem is that one is actually the carrier that Beloved used when she was a baby. It's a traditional Japanese style back sling, meant to tie around a woman. It used to be that this was how women carried around their infants. And I admit, while lacking just about all the features a modern carrier comes with, the damn thing seemed to work fine for both Makoto and Hikaru when they were small. Beloved's mother would, when visiting, just very quickly sling them on her back and take off with nary a thought. Since it was an open sling, they rested directly against her back and they seemed to like it.

Makoto, the only way to be on Mommy's back
The other Japanese carrier was one we bought after Makoto was born. A three in one (It's supposed to be a sling/front/back carrier (We've only used the back) and this is the one Beloved swears by, or at, depending. Warm, snugly, easy to stow and haul with us, it, like it's older cousin, isn't exactly bad...

It's just that they were made for skinny Japanese women. I can't even buckle the second one (Partly due to fat, partly just have too broad of shoulders).  The few times I did use that carrier, well, pain. Lots of it as I had to literally hold it to keep Makoto on my back. He didn't really enjoy it either.

Now when Makoto was born my mother decided to be nice (Since she didn't know of Japan's long history of wearing babies as a fashion item) and sent us a front Snugli. Now this one was big enough to work well with an overly large American... As long as you didn't want to actually do anything with your hands or wear your kid for a long time.

Which was kind of a problem since at the time I had started taking Makoto for walks around the town to give Beloved a break. The problem with the front loader as I quickly found out is that there is NO back support on that bloody thing and after about 15 minutes of wearing it, it started to hurt, a lot.

Even worse, with Makoto facing out, there was also no way to check on him and no way to actually do anything but walk as getting close enough to use my hands on something meant that Makoto was close enough to use HIS.

Something else was needed. Something with support, safety, and the ability to take it where it hurt because I like to hike and by God am I gonna drag my sons out with me.

Enter a trip to REI when we went back to the States for a visit with Makoto and Kelty Kids.

We managed to get our hands on a FC 3 child carrier. It's BIG. It's meant to go backpacking with (In fact, it's size is its only drawback, I've hoofed that thing literally around Japan and when not in use, it does take up a lot of space). That said, it's great. Wonderful back support, sun shades and rain covers. Enough space for extra clothing, diapers, lunches, whatnot (Daddy IS a pack mule after all), and best of all...

1 Kid + 1 Pack = sleep

I have gone around with one son or the other sound sleep on my back, which I can check with the built in mirror. It never fails, nor does the appearance of the pack fail to excite the kid who is getting carried. Makoto as a toddler (He rode in it up to age 3 and a half) would jump for joy when he saw it and Hikaru is the same.

The best reactions however have not been from my sons whom I get to carry around comfortably, but from the Japanese around me who have never seen a pack like this. I have been asked by random people just where they could get something like that as well, how comfortable is it, etc.

And thus it proved today, walking into the school with Makoto holding my hand and Hikaru ridding on my back. After a few exchanges about names, and pleased to meet yous and the like, I left Makoto at the school and started to head back up the hill to home just to hear a whispered "Did you see that pack? That's so cool. Where did he get it?" 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Where Do They Come Up With This Stuff?

Makoto, on what he and Hikaru (Who is three years younger than him) were doing while in "Mommy's tummy":
Oh, playing hide and go seek and peek-a-boo, you know. And eating ice cream, and swimming, and sleeping!"

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Quiet Times

I know that my sons might disagree with this, I'm pretty cure they rank the trip to Tokyo Disneyland as their all time favorite Daddy moment (Daddy drove, carried, pushed, and payed for it all after all), but I'm finding that my best memories with my sons are the quiet times.

By quiet I don't mean they are quiet, these boys talk in their sleep after all, but that they are moments that you wouldn't think of as being all that important. We haven't gone anywhere special, except maybe a park. It's not a birthday or a celebration of anything, it's just daily activities but...

It's sitting with my sons and reading a book.

It's working out in the backyard and looking up to see Makoto attempting to copy me by putting on his winter gloves to mimic the work gloves I have on while gardening.

It's having Hikaru sitting on my lap in the morning stealing my breakfast, again.

It's attempting to write a blog entry and being startled by Makoto with a drawing of Daddy that he just did.

It's Hikaru singing to me while I fold the laundry.

It's giving hugs good bye and high fives before walking out the door for the day.

It's all of that. Fatherhood happens in the quiet times, the bits and pieces of your child's life when he or she just shares themselves with you for no other special reason except that YOU happen to be that person they call Daddy.

The might remember the big stuff later on, the games, the parties, the celebrations, the trip to Tokyo Disneyland, but I think I will always remember my boys for the quiet times when I get reminded just how lucky I actually am to be called Daddy.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Life Lessons for My Sons #2

  1. There's nothing wrong with spinning around in circles just for fun. You might want to stop before you get so dizzy that you bump into the wall a few times though.
  2. If you attract the attention of a girl and she chases you, you're on your own dude. Hiding behind Daddy isn't going to work, he knows better.
  3. Take pride in your accomplishments; while no one likes a braggart, there's nothing wrong with announcing how you just pooped to everyone in the house.
  4. Never assume Daddy is going to back you up when you're up against your mother and the topic is the changing of clothes, the taking of baths, or the washing of faces. Daddy prefers not being kicked out of the bedroom. 
  5. Always offer a helping hand, even if all you can do is carry part of the towel and not the whole of one.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oh the Farmer in the Dale...

Well, kinda. Actually we're on a hill.

One of the best things about life in rural Japan is the fresh veggies. One of the most aggravating things about life in rural Japan is what to do with all the fresh veggies.

Since the merger of our little town into the larger city, more and more houses keep going up but we're still primarily a farming community. There's still large chunks of area within the town that are nothing but rice fields, apple orchards, and watermelon patches (Our area is known for growing the best watermelons in Japan and I would claim the best in the world as well). Given that many residents are part time farmers, putting in man hours on those watermelons, apples, and rice after their work (Or if retired, just farming), many houses keep a garden as well. Some of them are quite large, like our neighbors' whose veggie patch is actually larger than the plot our house sits on (There's a reason for that if you want to take the time to find out why), others are a bit more modest. Our own attempt at veggies is actually just two cherry tomato plants that are currently going crazy in their pot in the backyard (They were needed, we go through cherry tomatoes the way Sherman went through Georgia). During the summer and into the fall harvest months, Nagano abounds with fresh fruits and veggies.

For example, from about July on till the snow flies, Beloved doesn't even bother with produce shopping at the local supermarket but heads to the various veggie stations/farmer's markets that dot the area where she can pick up quite a bit at a cheap rate (Japan does not farm efficiently, the cost of fresh produce is rather high with a zucchini being over 100 yen in the supermarket but 50 yen at the farmer's market). They taste better and there's less worry about food contamination due to the ongoing disaster up at Fukushima Dai-ichi.

Our main problem however is with friends being, well, Japanese. They know that we have two small boys, they know that we don't have a lot of land for a garden of our own, and with two small boys we don't have time to tend it. They also know that while I am good with computers, I tend to kill anything living that I have been put in charge of unless I have close supervision.

But mainly they know that with the above, we're the perfect dumping ground for extras. Which isn't bad, fresh salads right out of the field, cucumbers, corn, watermelons, potatoes, cabbages, apples, what's not to like? Until someone brings us about 20 cucumbers, and a whole watermelon for 4 people, a box full of potatoes, two crates of apples, a Chinese cabbage bigger than Hikaru, and enough corn to stock a movie theater with popcorn if we dried it...
This thing was grown with Unholy Miracle Grow
In other words, we end up with enough fruits and veggies for a year or more within the space of a week. Thankfully we have devised a solution, we simply ship everything we cannot eat down to Beloved's family. They live in a fishing town. Lots of fish, little veggies, and they're expensive. Right now I estimate we're feeding about half of Beloved's family's neighborhood and supplying them with Nagano veggies.

Which isn't bad... until the thank you gifts of fish start coming back up...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Small Son Swam and Swum! Swim, Son, Swim!

Admittedly not much of a post, but there you are. Makoto finished his first swim class today by doing a butterfly stroke in the pool. This being Japan, he was presented with a fancy certificate to note that he had completed this milestone.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reading and the Kids

I am a bibliophile. I devour books like crazy. As I am so fond of relating, when I came to Japan I brought with me 25 books that I meant to use to tide me over until I could return to the US and reconnect with the rest of my library. I now have well over 200 books and about 300 or so waiting for me in the US to get back to them and eventually ship over.

It's with this in mind that Makoto's first Christmas present from Daddy was a set of books. Actually every Christmas has been books. Oh I do get toys and DVDs, yes, but there will always be a book waiting for both boys. Even going on trips, if I can find them, I bring home books for my sons. Makoto has been read to nightly by me from about age one and a half (We had to wait a bit to drive home the point that one is not supposed to EAT the book, especially if Daddy is reading it) and Hikaru from birth given that Daddy is in charge of hauling the wet, nekkid kids out of the tub from where they were bathing with Beloved, and getting them dressed and ready for bed. Our usual nightly routine has been a bit of TV (Star Trek usually) while dressing and settling down Hikaru, and then to the books as soon as Makoto finishes dressing himself and works out what he wants to read.

Beloved and I, working on this whole 'Make the kids bilingual' bit have a system worked out. I refuse to read anything in Japanese, she refuses to read anything in English. In terms of timing then, Japanese books are read during the day when Beloved has a few moments and the boys want something read, but bedtime stories are Daddy's providence.

Thanks to and a few trips to Tokyo, we actually have a fairly good collection of English children's books. Makoto's reading tastes change rapidly. He doesn't like long stories or stories with multiple chapters (Thomas being the sole exception) and even if he says he wants Winnie-the-Pooh, I know it's just going to be for two or three nights before he gets bored and starts demanding the good Dr. Seuss again. Hikaru has also gotten into reading, though we are still very much on the literal taste for reading phase. His favorite book is the classic "Goodnight Moon", which he brings to me any time I sit down at the table if food is not ON the table (Food being more important than reading of course).

I admit that sometimes I get bored with the kids books. The classics not withstanding, some of the books are just terrible. The Thomas series (The ones that have been re-written to match the TV show, not the original Railway Series) for example bores me to tears, the same with the Scooby Doo reader Makoto got from his aunt last year. While I will read them every so often when Makoto asks, there has been any number of nights where I've refused and told Makoto to get another book, any other book. The classics though... I admit, some of them invoke memories for me, either reading them myself or having them read to me. Many I hadn't really read before, but find them entertaining and of course they bring out the best part of all. Sitting in my chair when the day is done and both my sons next to me as I read them a story before bed, what other dad moment could be better than that?

I know I have joked about trying to geek out my kids, but I really do hope that they will continue to have a love of books. Given that they have two shelves full of books and are thrilled when I bring home more, I think it's working. Soon they'll have a large collection too... and will probably annoy their wives or mates just as much as I have annoyed Beloved in attempting to find space to store them all.  

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Like Sons, Like Aunt?

My sister is an, let's just say interesting, person. Now don't get me wrong her, time (and distance) has made me appreciate all the more my younger sister. While true that we spent the better part of 17 years or so at each others throats, the both of us have mellowed enough to admit that we not only are fond of each other, but might actually like each other.

Admittedly, being over 2,000 miles apart and only seeing each other once in a blue moon and even then only for a few days at most might have something to do with that.

But my younger sister has grown into a charming woman whose artistic skills I stand in awe of. She literally cannot touch anything without somehow making it artistic. She taught herself how to play piano by ear and is far braver than I in terms of exploring the wild (Or at least weirdly interesting) side of the world. I might have her slightly beat in terms of shear distance from our home, but she has had far more varied experiences than I. All that said, my sister does have some rather entertaining habits that I grew up with. One, she is the farthest possible thing from a morning person. Getting her out of bed took a major operation. Indeed, I recall one summer where my cousins and I resorted to placing frozen hot dogs in her ear in an attempt to wake her up so that we could all go somewhere. And getting her out of bed was just the start, she had this amazing talent to be able to sleep anywhere, any-when.

Then there is the matter of her security blanket. She slept with it until at least college and by the time she had gotten there, that blanket had been reduced to hunks of yarn kept safely in a pillowcase. As a child however, she was incapable of sleeping without her bankie, as a number of nights with screams and howls raising the roof until it was found proved.

And finally though, she has a cast iron throat. One of my fondest memories of my sister is her at age three with our great-grandfather sitting her at the bar in our grandparents' and feeding her cocktail sauce that he was spicing up until she said it was right. I have memories of her chugging Tabasco sauce straight from the bottle. A cooking mistake on my part once had me gasping for breath and my mouth under the tap (I learned the hard way that one cannot substitute crushed red peppers for red bell peppers) was reported by her to be "Slightly hot".

I don't know what this woman's stomach is made out of, but I'm almost fairly certain that given she participates in Thai pepper eating contests that we could probably use it as shielding up at Fukushima.

Now my sister has met one of her nephews once. We brought Makoto over when he was 8 months old. She has talked to him on the phone some times of course, and being a good aunt, she always remembers to send something over for the holidays and birthdays. She hasn't met Hikaru at all. And yet... Somehow, some way, this woman has shaped my sons in her image.

Makoto, as it has been mentioned, is NOT a morning person. He reminds me strongly of my sister from how me must be dragged kicking and screaming from his bed to the bad mood he has when he is woken up. Hikaru of course is a morning person, but seems to have gotten my sister's ability to sleep wherever suits him whenever he feels like it. Like my sister, Hikaru is also attached to his blanket. He refuses to go anywhere without it and God help us should it not be in the bed when we try to put him there.

Blanket washing day is a trial for Beloved, not only does Hikaru stalk around the house in a tantrum because she cannot produce the blanket when he demands it, but when it finally dries, it doesn't smell right and that makes him madder.

But it's the food that really brings forth memories of my sister, especially Hikaru and spicy foods.

Curry and Rice, Japan's national dish
To sidetrack a bit, let me tell you about curry, specifically, curry and rice. While many would think that Japan's national dish would be sushi, those of us over here know better, it's curry. Brought over to Japan during the Meiji Era by the British Royal Navy, it is THE comfort food of choice. Every Japanese boy knows his mother's curry. Every child in Japan learns how to cook curry and the variations in the dish goes from house to house as each mother (Or father for that matter) has their own special way of cooking it. There's TV programs about it (Seriously), there's news stories about different kinds or styles of curry one can find. Curry is even bought as a souvenir from various areas of Japan.

And of course Curry Bread is one of those traps that all new gaijin fall for when they arrive in Japan.

But curry is excellent. I've eaten it from one end of Japan to the other and loved it. It's one of those safe dishes that, when you don't feel like experimenting, or just in a hurry and all you want is something good, curry me.

But it IS spicy. Kind of. There are curry places that serve REALLY spicy curry. One place makes a special 119 curry (119 by the way is the Japanese version of 911) that is so spicy that the cook dons a gas mask to get 'er done. Most Japanese curry however isn't all that particularly spicy. While I don't have my sister's tolerance for spicy foods (Chile being the exception), I can handle the curry with no problems. Children however cannot.

Most Japanese kids start off eating kid's curry, which is this pale yellow (As opposed to red) concoction that is about as spicy as mac and cheese. Bland would be an understatement. So it was with Makoto. It took him a few years to accept his mother's excellent curry (I stand firmly by my statement that Beloved makes the best curry in Japan). Hikaru however... takes after his aunt. His first encounter with curry involved him stealing a spoon and dipping it into my dish. Before we could stop him, he put it right into his mouth at just over a year old.

He didn't cry, he didn't fuss, instead he went right back for more. Every curry night since then has been a repeat of this, he loved curry, the spicier, the better.

These kids don't take after their father, they take after their aunt!            

Friday, June 1, 2012

Irony, Thy Name is Mess

It's a bit... painful... to admit this. Time was when I had a certain, shall we say, aggressive indifference to keeping the house clean. It started from childhood where my room would get to the point that paths among the toys had to be pushed through the knee-deep clutter to allow me to reach my bed and dresser. Cleaning my room was a day long event, from sun up to sun down, that would usually see me finding half-eaten snacks and about five or six books that I was in the middle of reading, but had lost in the heaps. My carpet was vacuumed maybe two or three times a year at best.

Said indifference wasn't just confined to my bedroom. Much to my mother's despair, the household chores would remain undone with heaps of toys, garbage, papers, and whatnot left in the living room, trailing down the hallway, crudding up the bathroom, and choking the kitchen (The table itself was so piled up on to the point that only one person at a time was able to eat in the one cleared space).

Our backyard was a dense jungle of uncut grass and long forgotten toys mixed in with dog droppings and various other odds and ends that were dragged in by myself or my sister while playing.

Now, I'm not trying to suggest that my mother was somehow lazy, but being a single mother and working full time AND trying to raise us full time meant that my sister and I were, after a suitable age, were more or less left to our own devices between school's end and her coming home. Add in the need for cooking after that, actually eating and the cleaning of the food prep areas in the kitchen and she just didn't have a lot of time to clean herself and thus relied on her children to try and maintain order in the house.

My sister and I just had... other priorities. After school TV, or playing with friends, or just about anything that didn't involve cleaning (And believe you, me, we were champs when it came to finding some kind of excuse). So cleaning was a matter of waiting till Mom blew a fuse and issued some kind of ULTIMATUM that would get us up and going (The worst was the dreaded sight of Mom heading towards one of our rooms with a box of trash bags in hand. If we didn't start cleaning on our own post haste we would very quickly see things being tossed into the garbage with no thought to if we wanted it or not).

Sadly, what has been said about how the habits formed in childhood keep going into adulthood proved somewhat true for me. As a college student, the cleaning of my apartment happened rarely. Admittedly, I was a full time student and worked full time, but once again I found more interesting things to do than clean. Moving to cleanliness obsessed Japan didn't alter matters much. The old house wasn't exactly kept clean regularly. I had a tendency to just leave things to pile up and around my desk and Beloved was usually too busy with the boys to really attend to any DEEP cleaning.

The floors were cleaned up, but the lack of storage in the old house and our multiplying possessions, especially in terms of children's toys, meant that we had more piles of stuff stacked in multiple areas in the old house.

I wish I could say the dust bunnies were this cute...
Our new house however... It's new, I would like to keep it that way. We finally have more storage than stuff for once, meaning we CAN put things away (Though I admit my desk is still somewhat overwhelmed with papers and teaching materials), and I am trying very hard to show my sons that men not only CAN clean, but should, regularly. Without even really talking about it, Beloved and I have divided up the household chores. She keeps the kitchen spic and span, I do the vacuuming and dusting on the weekends. She does the laundry, I fold it. I clean the bathtub, she cleans the toilet. It works for the most part and the house has managed to stay without the rampant dust-bunnies that inhabited our old house.

See, I'd like to get this mess cleaned up. The boys however...
But the boys truly are their father's sons. Makoto and Hikaru have a rather grand indifference to cleaning. Hikaru of course get excused because of his age, but Makoto... who is supposed to clean up his toys... Every weekend is now a bit of a battle to pick up wandering Thomas engines and bits of papercrafts. Various baby toys must also be fished out from under wherever Hikaru stuffed them. Meanwhile, Daddy must thunder around the house trying to get Makoto to stop playing with the toys and clean them, just to hear him come up with a good excuse as to why he needs to take a break ("I gotta go to the toilet, Daddy").

Somewhere, far away in America, my mother is laughing at me as she finally gets her revenge!