Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Makoto and Vampires, and Nekkied Boobs! Oh Myyyy!

Makoto wanted a vampire movie.

I really don't know why. I mean, the kid was playing with the flashcards that I was using for my Halloween lessons and it does have a vampire in it, but just from that one cartoony image, he decides that he needs a scary vampire movie.

What we ended up doing was heading over to the local video store (Yes, they still have them in Japan, but this rents movies, CDs, games, and sells books too) to look for some Halloween films that would be scary enough for a 5-year-old without getting into both-children-are-now-permanently-attached-to-Daddy's-leg kind of scary. Obviously this would take some fine line walking and for the light of me, I couldn't remember a single vampire film that didn't either get way too scary (Fright Night or Lost Boys), too emo (Interview with the Vampire) or just wander into no... just no territory (Twilight). What I thought was just skipping the whole vampire bit and going for Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Now I might be a bit odd, but that cartoon scared the dickens out of me when I was a little boy and I remember any number of nightmares about being chased by the headless horseman.
Yes, THIS gave me nightmares, THIS!

Oddly enough, the bad part of the dreams wasn't the idea that he would cut off my head, but that he would show me what was down his neck.

Alas, even for a country that loves Disney, we couldn't find it. We also couldn't find the original Dracula or Frankenstein (But we could find Young Frankenstein, which for some reason was in the horror section). We did get Nightmare Before Christmas, but Makoto was hankering for a scary movie and kept 'suggesting' various titles (I.e. picking them out at random). It was a constant stream of "How about this?" (Child's Play) "No." "This?" (Friday the 13th Part I) "No." "This one?" (Paranormal Activity) "Oh heck no!" Meanwhile of course Hikaru, having wandered over to the SF section was pointing out the movie he recognized. "Superman! Superman! Superman! Superman!" and trying to fly like the hero.

THIS was his choice
Finally, time growing short, Makoto handed me "Vampires: The Turning" and I didn't know anything about it. So of course we grabbed it, and Superman II and went home. The plan was, ok, I'll check the movie online before showing it too Makoto just in case it was too scary or had anything that wouldn't go over well.

What I read on IMDb wasn't exactly recommending the film as something a 5-year-old would be wise to see. For one thing, it was supposed to be the third film in John Carpenter's Vampires series. I had seen the first film, even read the original book. I liked the first film a lot, it was a good vampire flick, scary, action packed, and very enjoyable... for a college guy. For a young boy... Uh... Well, not only was it a really scary movie, but well... the language leaves a lot to be desired, especially in terms of little boys who mimic everything they hear (Yeah, having Hikaru say "cocksucker" would go over really well with Beloved), and of course I did remember that just about every single female in that movie ends up extremely naked. Sometimes it seems like it you were a woman in that film, your clothes would spontaneously combust just so we could see your bust.

This wasn't something that was looking good.

But hark! Apparently this was the bastard red-headed step-child of the Vampires series and one that John Carpenter had nothing to do with. One it was set in Thailand and featured a different take on things, and two it was mostly a martial arts film. The problem I did have was twofold. One, Makoto was demanding to be allowed to see his scary vampire movie and two, there was this entry in the IMDb:

There is a scene where the Stephanie Chao "a good vampire" bites a willing person that wants to be temporarily turned to save his girlfriend and then has sex with him.
They fall in love and she bites and kisses his neck at the same time repeatedly.
Next scene seconds later: Stephanie Chao is having sex on the man nude (Breasts and nipples) are seen and she is riding him while he is turning into a vampire. Sex, nudity, and graphic sexuality seen.
 This put me in a bit of a bind. Beloved and I have talked about the day that will eventually come when we've got to explain to our sons about the birds and bees. I, personally, plan to take a page from my mother and I'm waiting for them to either ask me where babies come from, or around age 10ish or so, whichever comes first. In the mean time however, what I don't want to do is suggest to either of my sons that their bodies are somehow shameful or dirty. I really dislike that bit about various cultures that we tell children that they need to hide this part of them. It's one thing to explain that it's what we do as it's socially required, but... well... It just doesn't seem right to tell a boy that his penis is dirty so he shouldn't touch it. Or that sex itself is somehow shameful or disgusting and needs to be hidden.

I'm not trying to say I want my sons to be exhibitionists or to go out scoring chicks (Or guys, depending) every night. Indeed, when the time comes my rules are going to be very firm: I would like you to wait until marriage or at least in a long term relationship. Even if you choose not to follow my wishes, you WILL use protection even if I have to buy it for you myself. And if you DO happen to impregnate a girl, you will support her and respect her wishes or else you will learn the truth of the phrase 'I brought you into the world and I can damn well take you out of it'. What I am trying to say however is that I want my sons to have a healthy attitude about sex, their bodies, and their sexuality because I feel that not being ashamed or scared of it makes them far more likely to be knowledgeable and to talk to me about it instead of listening to the grapevine and assuming that, really, if the girl jumps up and down really hard afterwards she won't get pregnant.

That said, at age 5, this isn't the talk we need to have right this minute and I don't plan to get a subscription to some of the more interesting magazines in Japan to provoke that talk.

Which came back to the problem... This movie had a sex scene, with naked boobies. And Makoto wanted to watch it. I didn't want to just say no because I didn't want him to take away the lesson of shame, etc. But on the other hand... I didn't want to start this up right now. And there was the violence factor as well, I don't want him exposed to too much of it (Something that finally dawned on me while watching The Dark Knight on TV one night. After the Joker's 'magic trick' it occurred to me that my sons really shouldn't be watching this yet).

There was one compromise I could see to allow Makoto to see his scary vampire film and to make sure things didn't get into areas either violent or sexual that I didn't want him to deal with yet. I would watch the movie with him, remote in hand. I figured it if started getting a bit too much... we'll skip.

Besides, as I said to Beloved, if he does get a boobie shot, at least it's an Asian boob and nothing he hasn't seen before... which prompted Beloved to smack me.

So we settled down, got ready to watch the third instillation of the Vampires series... Makoto's scary vampire movie picked out of the horror section at the video store next to such thrillers as Paranormal Activity and Ring.





We're talking Mystery Science Theater fodder here. We're saying beyond b-grade. We're saying a lead actor whose acting range was pretty much a constant expression of "fierce determination" (Or possible constipation  it's hard to say which). We're talking about a plot that makes less than no sense, actions that make even less sense than that, and vampires that mostly just wander around to smile and show off their teeth and contacts.
Yeah... I very quickly forgot worrying about Makoto being frightened about the vampires or the so-called martial arts or dirt bike chases and instead just proceeded to make fun of how gut achingly bad this movie was. Even Makoto could sense that something was off and was giggling through most of it.

And yes, when we did get to the sex scene, it too was so bad that I don't think Makoto even noticed, especially on fast forward. Beloved even wandered over to toss me a look that said plainly "This was what we were worried about?!"

So, I protected my sons against the dangers of violence and sexuality until they are old enough to handle them better... I think though that at least Makoto can handle bad movies, especially if Daddy is near by to help with the MST'ing.

There's just one thing to say to that:

Push the button, Frank!

Monday, October 29, 2012

This is Halloween!

Japan has imported a few holidays. Mother's Day and Father's Day more or less survive with how they are celebrated elsewhere (Though as I have written, Father's Day seems to have become a sneaky way for moms to get an extra day off). Valentine's Day and Christmas have been changed quite a bit as various aspects of Japanese businesses have latched on to them for use to promote their products, chocolate for Valentine's Day and the hotel and fried chicken industry for Christmas (More on that in December), which leads to a bit of a struggle on my part because I want my sons to know the holidays for what they actually are and not think of KFC when Christmas rolls around.

But then there's Halloween, my favorite holiday.

And one that hasn't, quite, figured out what to do with itself.

It's not from lack of trying mind you, if anything the elements are already there. Japan loves a good scare. Japan abounds with monsters and ghosts a plenty, it has no issue with the idea of dressing up in costume, and it does have a sweet tooth, if not as sweet as Americans. It even has a holiday season akin to Halloween, O-Bon when the spirits of the dead return and bring with them ghosts and goblins. That could be Japan's problem actually, everything that Halloween is can be found in native Japanese holidays and customs at other times of year. But the idea of Halloween has been growing, pushed on not so much by a Japanese company looking to sell something, but due to hordes of Americans who have been teaching in Japan on the JET Programme and other related endeavors.

As part of the notion of internationalization and culture sharing, just about every AET, American or not, has had to conduct some kind of Halloween lesson or party over here. With varying degrees of enthusiasm no doubt, but they have been done and slowly, it's been growing. 8 years ago and you couldn't find anything Halloween related, now even the local grocery store stocks some themed candy. 8 years ago and I had to send to the US for my costume, this year I was flabbergasted at the display over at local store that included actual make-up kits and costumes that were not Christmas related (One of my fondest memories was helping at a Halloween event my first year in Japan just to see kids dressed up as Santa Claus). It's not the Halloween stores at home, or even Wal*Mart, but it's getting bigger.

That said, we still do not have the concept of trick-or-treating over here yet, at least not a general one ala the US. So what is a Halloween loving parent to do to help his sons get this most wonderful of holidays?

It's a start!
Simple, if the Mohammed won't wander over to the mountain, the mountain is going to continue as if it was still in the US, with some slight changes. Which means that I spent most of October getting the house ready for Halloween, building a mini (by that I mean 4 tombstones) graveyards and trying to find various Halloween decorations, much to the pleasure of the boys. It means hanging a Happy Halloween banner in the living room along with a paper jack-o-lantern (Causing Hikaru to spend most of October going around saying "Happy Halloween! Jack-o-lantern!" over and over again).

Scooping pumpkins
It means 45 minute trips to find orange pumpkins for carving instead of the small green ones for eating that Japan sells. It means getting costumes from America for the boys, renting some movies, and carving 5 different jack-o-lanterns (3 for the home, two for the various schools). And of course it means finding a way for my sons to experience the ultimate (For a kid) in Halloween, trick-or-treating.

Happy Halloween in Shiojiri
Unfortunately, that meant going to Happy Halloween in Shiojiri, probably the largest Halloween event in Japan, and one that grew out of a Halloween party put on by an AET some time ago. It's also somewhat of a madhouse. You have thousands of people crammed into a little area with various events, some of which are even related to Halloween, going on and in the middle of it, trick-or-treating. But, I have two sons, one dressed as a pirate, one dressed as a cute little skeleton, and myself... the overly large gaijin dressed in a very scary skull mask... surely... we could get through this.

I admit, they were very cute!
What became apparent very quickly was that we were causing a rather quixotic reaction in people, depending on who they saw first. If it was the boys, "KAWAIIIIIII" (Cute!) was the reaction. If it was me, "KOWAI!" (Scary!) so we went along trying to find our candy stations with shouts of "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" "Kawaii" "Kowai" echoing around us. It actually got to be a bit of a problem as a number of people tried to make off with Hikaru (Being the overly cute one) and I had a bunch of people who assumed that I was so scary, I must be part of the staff and were following me around to see when I would be handing out candy, or doing something entertaining, myself.

Actually, the bad part was that I could do nothing. I have no qualms, even when not on the clock, of adding in a good scare, but Hikaru was jittery enough and I didn't want him freaking out at a scary Daddy so... All I could do was stand there and just look spooky.

Given that I caused a few kids to cry, that was apparently enough.

But we did have a good time and much candy was gotten. Even better from the boys' point-of-view, we went out for ramen afterwards, while still in costume and all without Mommy (Which means they got to rub it in when they got home that Mommy missed out on delicious ramen).
The loot
It might not quite be the same as home, and this Wednesday all we will do is light our jack-o-lanterns as I have class and trick-or-treating is done, but... I think it's a start. After all, Makoto is already planning for what he wants to be for next year and having demonstrated carving pumpkins to some friends, they want to start carving next year too. Slowly, ever so slowly, we're bringing in Halloween, properly.

Everybody scream!
Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Stereotypical Writer's Block Blog Post

Yeah, I'm going there.

What's annoying is that there's so many things I can write about, but I want to wait on. Halloween is coming up and the boys and I have been busy with many related projects, but... given that Halloween Japan isn't the same as Halloween America and we'll be finishing up via our trick or treat'ing on Saturday... I wanted to wait a bit.

Then there's the bit about my kanji studies, the torture of working on these damn squiggly lines because after 8 years in Japan, I'm tried of having a literacy rate that is below Makoto (Who is currently teaching himself how to read Japanese). To that end I've gone the Remembering the Kanji method, which I admit so far so good, even though I am more than slightly confused as to just how and why a mouth with a shellfish equals a pop song, but since Beloved is also confused, that makes me feel better. I could rant on that for a wee bit, but... Well, it hasn't even been a week, surely I should make some more progress before stating anything.

I wanted to talk about school lunches and the differences between American grub and Japanese grub... But, I need to get a picture of Japanese grub and my students eat too quickly for that to happen.

We've been to the park again, and of course Thanksgiving is going to come with my first attempt at cooking a traditional turkey dinner for my in-laws, but that too should wait until we get more done.

Add in the boys have actually been behaving themselves and... well... we're busy, but it's the kind that doesn't lead to anything, we're just waiting right now.

So I sit and stare at a blank page and wonder just what to write, given that I've been tossed off my schedule by being busy to work towards these various goals.

Kinda funny, really, Fall is the busy season for us with birthdays, holidays, last minute travel, and getting ready for winter and yet while we're busy filling up the days, hours, minutes, and seconds of our lives it hasn't been with anything to talk about.

So, for those still reading this, I ask that you bear with me and expect a much longer post tomorrow or the day after when the boys and I come back from our Halloween treats.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When Lady Mondegreen Sings

For those of you who don't know what a mondegreen is, may I suggest a quick look at Wiki? Now I am notorious when it comes to mondegreens, probably as a result of my hearing. For the longest time I thought that song "Reach Out, I'll Be There" by The Tremeloes was actually "Oliver" and I was always confused as to just why Oliver needed to be reached out to, or if he was reaching, but either way...

And let's not get into the time when I informed my wife that the refrain to a SMAP song was sake bananas.

But a mere adult cannot hope to possibly match the masters of mondegreens, children. Given limited vocabulary and thus a small problem with anticipating the correct words and, well, the results can be rather humorous.

Take for example my two sons. Hikaru loves to sing, what we mostly sing are Thomas (Engine Roll Call) or the Japanese version of Country Road. Makoto's song list is of course slightly longer, but not exactly correct. Last night when coming out of the bath, a naked and dripping Hikaru launched into Engine Roll Call that sounded more like:

They 2 They 4 They 6 They 8
Na na na na na having fweght
Red blue brown
Na na na na na na na
Na na na na play
na na na na na na na
Na na na na na na
Thomas Thomas Thomas
Thomas he's cheek one
Toby Toby Toby Toby

They 2 They 4 They 6 They 8
Na na na na na having fweght
Red blue brown
Na na na na na na na
Na na na na play
na na na na na na na
Na na na na na na
Thomas Thomas Thomas

Which isn't bad for a two year old, but hearing his beloved song mangled so brought out a naked and dripping Makoto who belted out:

They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight
Hunting trucks and hauling weight
Red and green and brown and blue
They're the Really Use Crew
All with different moles to play
Round Tinder Sheds or far away
Down the hills and round the fence
Thomas and his friends

Thomas, he's the cheeky one
James is pain but lots of fun
Percy pulls the rails on time
Gordon hunkers down the line
Emily really knows her stuff
Henry huffs and huffs and puffs
Edward wants to help and share
Toby, well let's say he's square

They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight
Hunting trucks and hauling weight
Red and green and brown and blue
They're the Really Use Crew
All with different moles to play
Round Tinder Sheds or far away
Down the hills and round the fence
Thomas and his friends

Which, again, ain't that bad for a 5 year old, except that he did get a few words wrong and when challenged I had to sing:

They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight
Shunting trucks and hauling freight
Red and green and brown and blue
They're the Really Useful Crew
All with different roles to play
Round Tidmouth Sheds or far away
Down the hills and round the bends
Thomas and his friends

Thomas, he's the cheeky one
James is vain but lots of fun
Percy pulls the mail on time
Gordon thunders down the line
Emily really knows her stuff
Henry toots and huffs and puffs
Edward wants to help and share
Toby, well let's say he's square

They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight
Shunting trucks and hauling freight
Red and green and brown and blue
They're the Really Useful Crew
All with different roles to play
Round Tidmouth Sheds or far away
Down the hills and round the bends
Thomas and his friends

Which of course brought out a dripping and naked Beloved to congratulate me on learning the words to Thomas the Tank Engine so well.

Bathroom singing at its finest folks!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dog Bites Man

Is of course not a story. Man bites dog is.

So how about Toddler Bites Brother?

That's the headline for the week at my house and with all news that fit to stop the presses it arrived with a yell, or rather a shriek.

It all started with the usual command to clean up the room. And as with the usual command to clean up the toys, this was promptly ignored by both boys. Hikaru of course because at age 2 he'll clean up... for about two seconds and then wander off to play. And Makoto who starts thinking of new and interesting excuses as to why he didn't clean. It also started a bit of a cycle. Makoto and Hikaru would start playing, I'd tell them to clean up. Makoto would then use that as an excuse for stealing the toy that Hikaru had to "clean" (I.e. he was going to play with it now), thus sending Hikaru running down the hall to my office in tears with Makoto hot on his heels. There of course I'd comfort Hikaru and tell the both of them to GO CLEAN! Which they would, for about two seconds, and then the cycle would reset itself.

After about 6 rounds of this however Makoto suddenly screamed. And I mean screamed. It was loud enough to bring me out of my office at a dead run and sent Beloved into a minor panic. With the crying, I assumed it was Hikaru and thus was somewhat surprised to find Hikaru bolting into the playhouse and Makoto on the floor in tears. Asking what happened, Makoto finally managed to choke out that Hikaru bit him on the knee (Actually, it was more his lower thigh, but...).

Hikaru got introduced to the concept of time out, he was also told to apologize to his big brother after Beloved took over comforting Makoto and took a long to find a rather large bite mark that needed a band-aid.

What was somewhat more worrisome was the story that Makoto told us of how it wasn't a tussle, Hikaru went after Makoto with his mouth open. I wasn't aware that I was raising Jaws, but this isn't the first time we've had problems with a biting kid. Hikaru has taken to using his mouth when it comes to his fights over toys at  nursery school as well, nothing serious of course, just standard toddler, but still...

That said, we might have a chance at getting through to him that this isn't going to work. Apparently time out and the fact that Daddy put him there (And put him back into it) made an impression.

Or so Beloved thinks from the fact that during his bath, Hikaru kept saying "Time out! Time out" and tried to stand in the corner of the bathtub.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Feeling My Age

So tomorrow I turn 34. Oyaji-hood (Oyaji being Japanese for old man with old fart feel) comes closer with each year. And, admittedly  I feel my years more as I spend time trying to case down two hyperactive boys who seemingly are powered by micro-perpetual motion machines.

Seriously, how can a two year old run that fast for that long? Shouldn't he stop sometime? And the 5 year old? He never stops, even when he's asleep!

But, yes, I know it's not quite mid-thirties, but it's close enough. And after next year? Well then I'll be closer to reaching my next decade than starting it. A middle age, out of it, uncool, over weight, uninteresting dad am I.

If I may borrow a phrase from some dear friends, screw that, sideways, with the rotating cactus.

I think, if anything, the lesson I can take from my grandparents was that one really is as old as you act. This isn't to say that my grandfather was a childish man, far from it, but until shortly before his death, he just never stopped going out and doing things. And yeah, I admit that chasing after young boys is tiring, that I look forward to the notion of taking a breather more than before, but it's also... new. If being 34 means that I've seen the world around me (My area of it at least) many times, having two boys who are in the exploring stage means I get to experience it all again for the first time. I've been camping up the ying-yang, it's new for the boys and their excitement is now mine. I already know about the solar system, they don't and they are excited to learn about it (Well, Makoto is. I'm not too sure Hikaru has actually noticed the heavens yet).

I mean, sure, I long since passed the obsession I had with trains... until I had boys who are now interested in them and while I may grumble a bit about it, I don't mind going to watch them with them and experience the joys of rail watching again. I might get tired, but I end up feeling young.

But it's more than that. Yeah, I'm approaching the mid-point of my life and while it seems that I should be frustrated with the dreams that haven't happen and will never happen, those roads not taken as Robert Frost labeled them, I'm not. Instead... I want to see what happens next with my sons, my wife, my family. This could be, perhaps, because I didn't have my own father growing up so I have no real pattern to follow or to see in regards to fatherhood from toddlerhood to teenage years, but I don't think so. Instead, well, let me relate an essay in the book I Should Have Seen it Coming When the Rabbit Died by Teresa Bloomingdale.

I'm fairly sure the book was given to my mother as a babyshower gift and as was my wont, I read it a few times when growing up (This isn't unusual, for me. I read everything, including the backs of cereal boxes). It was pretty much a forerunner of this blog, a humorous take on parenthood (Motherhood in her case). Any case, the final chapter was called "Growing Old Along With Me, the Best is Yet to Be". In a bit of a change from the humor, the author related that while she was growing up at each milestone of her life when she proclaimed that this, THIS, was the peak of her life, her father would always reply "Just wait, it gets better". She related how she graduated from college, how proud she was and yet her father said wait, it gets better. She fell in love and got married, but just wait. She had the joy of being a new mother, holding her first son in her arms, but again her father said that it would get better.

The final bit was her at the wedding of her eldest son, watching this man whom she bore grow from a child to a man strong and proud who found a wonderful woman and who was now going to marry. She said silently to her departed father, if I recall correctly, "Oh Dad, you were right. This truly is the best. And I swear I heard him answer from up above, "That's what you think sweetheart!" Amazing, all this and heaven too!"

I am not at that point yet, but every day something new happens and while I might not always remember to appreciate it, I do. Tomorrow I turn 34, and in those 34 years I have lost my father, grown, graduated from college with a MA, moved halfway around the world, met the most wonderful woman on the planet, become a teacher, built a house, and have two beautiful little boys who are now on life's journeys of their own.

I ain't slowing down and getting old, I's just starting!

The best is yet to be and I can't wait to see what it will be.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

I'm always rather amazed at the excuses that Makoto comes up with as to why he didn't do something that he was told to do. I don't mean the silly stuff like the Dalek ate my worksheet or things like that (Though he does come up with them from time to time), but I mean the more logical ones. Makoto is a rather logical little kid and his excuses are somewhat plausible... for a given value of plausible. After all, we are talking about a 5-year-old here so you have to accept a few things regarding his worldview. But to give you an example, take yesterday and the Battle over the Legos.

Yesterday was a busy day for me as Saturday I didn't manage to clean as we went hat hunting for Daddy's birthday (We didn't find one), snack hunting for the Halloween party (We found that), and our usual weekend shopping trip. That left Sunday for the weekly run of the vacuum cleaner as well as my planned assault on the bathroom.

It being October, it's soon going to be way too cold to think about scrubbing it down, rinsing with cold water, and then having the window open to let it dry.

During vacuuming though, the boys are not allowed to play with toys, the issue being that Daddy wants to get this done and not have to pick up yet another mess that was made while waiting. I admit, it's a trial for two small boys as for about a half an hour they can't play either upstairs or downstairs with their toys until I clear the room. So it was after the vacuum was finally put away that Makoto came to me to ask if I would PLEASE make him another Lego car.

No, said I. Daddy must clean the bathroom. Besides, here's the book, you can follow the directions.

Then came logical excuse number 1.

"But I can't find the parts, Daddy."

Then, said I, dump out the bucket to find them. BUT! If you do, you have to clean them up again, ok? I am not going to clean them up again, ok?

See, previous Lego cars have been a begging child who claims that he can't follow the directions (Which he can, he's proven that with the Duplo set), followed by promises that if Daddy builds it he would indeed clean up the Legos, and have always ended up with me sitting on the floor scooping Legos back into the bucket while Makoto is downstairs watching TV. No, this time I would not do so.

Promise made, Legos dumped and I attacked the bathroom with the power of Scrubbing Bubbles! Or was in the middle of it when, "Daddy! I can't find..."

Yup, Makoto was back. To make a long story short, I ended up, yet again, on the floor building another Lego car for him because he couldn't find the pieces (Though amazingly, once I told him what to look for, he had no problem finding them quickly). I admit that I shouldn't have given into him, but... well... as Beloved notes, I tend to turn back into a 10-year-old boy myself when allowed to play with Legos so...

But then the problem was the cleanup. Makoto swore that, yes, he WOULD clean up, but first Mommy was calling for the boys to come down for lunch.

And then he wanted to take a nap.

And then, well, Daddy had to leave for drill with the firefighters, but he promised, he promised that he would have them cleaned up by the time I came home. Thus when I left the after-party I called Beloved to find out that, no, the Legos hadn't been touched at all and instead all 20,000 of them were still scattered over the floor in his room. This called for a fatherly ultimatum, i.e. "Tell Makoto that if the Legos are not picked up by the time Daddy gets home, Daddy is going to take every Lego he can find and Makoto won't see them again till he's 22!"

Now it normally takes me a half an hour to walk from the firehouse to my house, depending on traffic, train, and how drunk I am. This time I decided to be slightly nice and dawdle a bit. That and I wanted to practice marching as I was getting teased about how big gaijin take big steps. But in any case, it took me closer to 40 minutes to finally arrive at the house to a hysterical 5-year-old in tears and snot.

No, the Legos were not picked up.

Sending Makoto upstairs to await his doom Beloved told me, trying to stop laughing, that Makoto had been coming up with excuse after excuse trying to get her on his side. His hands were too small to clean up all the Legos. Hikaru wasn't helping him (By which he meant that Hikaru hadn't done all of the work himself). He couldn't finish cleaning because Hikaru had taken some of the Legos.

All of which I admit were pretty good, logical, and somewhat plausible excuses. Going upstairs, still in uniform, I find Makoto still crying, a Lego bucket almost 3/4 full, and a pile of Legos still on the floor. Now this is a difficult moment as a father. On one hand, I want to impress on Makoto that he should have started this earlier. He had 6 hours to get them cleaned up, 6 hours that he did nothing. On the other, I don't want to scare him and he did get most of them up. On the gripping hand though... I admit that I was trying really hard not to laugh at him standing there dribbling snot and tears and choking out one excuse after another about why they hadn't been picked up and could Daddy please help him. It probably means I'm a terrible father, but... Yes, I admit he looked hilarious.

And, finally, I admit that I didn't really have the heart to deny my sons what was one of my favorite toys growing up. I still have fond memories of building Lego robots with my best friend and until the day we moved out of the house when I was in my mid-teens, we were still finding Legos that had been lost.

So I ended up telling Makoto that I was going downstairs to change out of my uniform and that he needed to get everything up as best he could until I returned. And they were, mostly, and I helped him with the last few handfuls of the small stuff. He did come up with one really good excuse about the whole mess, because apparently the reason why he didn't get them cleaned up was because he was trying to figure out how to build another one for Hikaru so they wouldn't fight. A sigh from Beloved told me that, no, he and Hikaru had been fighting non-stop, but I have to admit, that was a pretty good excuse.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Explaining When the Towers, and the Bombs, Fell

So last month was the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It passed without much notice by my students. To be fair of course, it did happen in another country and happened when they were two. Like my sons, they have no memory of anytime when the towers were up.

This week my third year students also finished a unit entitled "A Mother's Lullaby", which takes place in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Given that I was silly enough to open my mouth and suggest a challenge to my teaching partner, I ended up presenting the American takes on the bombings to a class full of Japanese junior high school kids, in English.

Awkward it was, yes, but I want to think it was an important lesson. In my speech I noted that my family is both the beginning, and ending, of World War II. My step-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The sub he was on was damaged and he was trapped on board for three days before he was rescued. On the other end, Beloved's grandfather was a survivor of Hiroshima. He had taken his family, including Jiji, to shelter in a cave outside of the city. While they were protected from the bombing, he went into it afterwards to help and find out information. There he was caught in the Black Rain.

Like most Americans, my family fought in WWII, and like most Japanese, Beloved's family was also involved. All of this history did make it a bit delicate when Beloved and I started to date. I remember her telling me just how scared she was when I brought her to my grandparents' house for the first time as my grandfather was a WWII Navy vet (Just for the record, my grandfather adored her, thought she was a wonderful woman, a great addition to the family, and (probably why he liked her so much) just so much fun to tease the hell out of). I, on the other hand, was more than a bit nervous to meet her family given the above.

That was before I found out that her family not only had no qualms about having an American son-in-law, but proceeded to do their level best to make sure this happened.

But all of it does mean that my sons have it, in a way, both coming and going and one day we will have to explain to them the stories of their family, both sides. It's something that I have been thinking about since I went ahead and conducted a lesson about Hiroshima for my students.

How do I approach this? What can I say to them to help them understand when the times comes? And when is that time?

I think that last part is gonna be the really tricky one. Beloved took me to the Peace Museum at Hiroshima once. Once, and she has made it clear that due to the memories that it invokes, she will not be taking me back a second time. If my family comes over, I get to play tour guide, she'll wait for us on Miyajima while snacking on oysters. In Beloved's opinion, there will be just one final trip to the Peace Park and Ground Zero, and that is when we take our children to it so she can explain about their great-grandfather and what happened to him and how this is a part of their history.

I feel that we should also, in the same year, make the trip to Hawai'i and Pearl Harbor to explain about their set-grandfather's father and about both their blood great-grandfathers and why their father's country dropped the bomb on their mother's. Hopefully we can impress upon them that their very existence shows that hatred can be overcome and nations can be at peace.


Maybe I can also come up with a way to explain 9/11 to them and why there is still hate in the world.

And, maybe, I can also state that there will never be another Hiroshima, or Pearl Harbor, or 9/11.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why Doesn't This Kid Sleep?! A Timeline of a Father With a Singing Toddler

To fully understand the events of which I am about to report, it is necessary to know that Monday was a. a holiday in Japan and thus one where I didn't have school and neither did my sons. And b. a park day, given that the random twitching and threats of defenestration towards our sons from Beloved had reached dangerous levels, suggesting that a day off for her was desperately needed. The result was of course two dead kids. Hikaru barely made it out of the park gate before conking out and Makoto went 15 minutes before Lord Morpheus claimed him as well. The both of them slept for no more than 45 minutes (That's the great thing about the park, the drive home is long enough to get in a nice nap), and after waking, they spent a good chunk of the evening chasing each other around like loons.

Beloved and I felt that, yes, they had a busy, eventful day full of play and an evening full of the same. Their napping time was limited, much shorter than the hour and a half that Hikaru normally takes, and thus both children should go to sleep pretty quickly this night.

Yeah, right...

8:40 pm: The chime rings summoning me from my office to fish two wet kids out of the tub. Both kids come racing out the door trailing water to jump on their PJ-clad father, soaking him and demanding hugs, repeatedly. After a quick drying off the nightly books were read (Trick or Treat for Makoto and 10 Fat Turkeys for Hikaru, who would launch into a round of giggling every time he heard "Gobble Gobble Wibble Wobble"), the water gotten, the blanket taken, and both boys deposited into their respective futons. Ni-night, sleep well, love you and a kiss good night...

9:00 pm: Beloved comes in from the end of her bath, kisses the boys good night and the lights are off except for my reading light. While Beloved rolls over, I go back to Middle Earth, the pass of Cirith Ungol, and the choice of Master Samwise. I expect to hear the nightly noises of snoring from both sons shortly.

9:10 pm: Hikaru launches the night by jumping over Beloved onto his brother while yelling "Gobble gobble!" Both boys break out into a bad case of the giggles while I curse those ten fat turkeys and mutter threats of revenge involving stuffing. Beloved grabs Hikaru, shoves him back into the futon, I hook Makoto into his, and try again to get them to sleep.

9:15 pm: Makoto rolls over and starts to 'read' his book. "Trick or treat? Trick or treat! Give me something good to eat!" which prompts more "Gobble! Gobble!" from Hikaru, who wanders around to Makoto, trailing his blanket. Beloved grabs Hikaru, mummy wraps him in the blanket and puts him back on the futon. Makoto finds Daddy growling at him, gives up and starts to bury himself into his blanket, off to the Land of Nod. The battle is over.

9:20 pm: The battle is NOT over as a series of thumps announces Hikaru has worked his way free of his blanket and wanders over to Daddy's futon to try and read over his shoulder about how Pippin, Gandalf, and Shadowfax ride to Minas Tirith. Daddy yells at him to GO TO BED! Hikaru goes back to his futon, managing to hit the wall on his way.

9:30 pm: Hikaru starts singing "Engine Roll Call" from Thomas the Tank Engine (Not that he's actually singing mark you, it's more him going "Na na na na" with engine names). Beloved rolls onto her side, determined to ignore the toddler in the hopes that he will go to sleep out of boredom if nothing else.

9:45 pm: The impact of a small body traveling at high speed jolts me awake from where I was nodding over Pipping swearing his service to the Lord Steward Denethor. Hikaru grins at me from where he has wedged himself in between the wall and my body and giggles as I tell him to go to sleep.

10:00 pm. Thinking that, at last, he is asleep, I raise my head up from my book just to see Hikaru grinning at me. "Gobble gobble!" he says.

10:05 pm: Hikaru has taken to walking back and forth at the feet of the futons while his brother snores and his mother is still busy ignoring him. Daddy tries to do the same, going back to Lord of the Rings. When that doesn't work, he tells him to go to sleep. More giggles.

10:10 pm: Being ignored, Hikaru switches to going back to his futon and kicking the walls. The thumps sound rather like taiko drums. Obviously this kid has talents we had not previously discovered, all well and good except at 10 o'clock at night!

10:15 pm: Back to singing. I look at Makoto, who is sound asleep and snoring, and at Beloved who is also asleep, or at least pretending to be so as to not have to acknowledge the toddler as being her son. I wish I could join her.

10:20: Now Hikaru has gone from singing to singing and drumming his feet on the bedroom wall. I start wondering what possessed me to bring him back from the park. I mean, I could have left him there, I'm sure some kind family would have adopted him (Being so cute after all), or... failing that, a tribe of monkeys! Yes, he'd fit in well with a monkey tribe.

10:25 pm: Five minutes of silence, dare I hope? "Gobble!"

I dared, I hoped, it was dashed.

10:30 pm: Daddy is about ready to just give up and shut off the light in the hopes that the still singing toddler will take the bloody hint. But hark! What was that? A yawn?! Yes! Yes it was! With one final "Gobble!" Hikaru  grabs his blanket, turns over with a thump into the wall, and starts to finally settle down.

10:32 pm: The snores, the very loud snores, signal that Hikaru has finally gone to sleep. Beloved rouses herself up long enough to make sure he's on his futon and is covered with his blanket. "Well," I say to her, "At least we know that a 45 minute nap will fully recharge him."

In his sleep, Hikaru is still saying "Gobble, gobble" and giggling. I'm gonna shoot those damn turkeys.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Looking Cool for Your Family

Yeah... I'm a geek. My fashion sense, was at one time at least, black boots, black jeans, a black t-shirt that was either anime or computer related, and topped off with a black trench coat.

Then I got married.

Beloved does not appreciate geek fashion to say the very least and I've found it is easier to agree to slight modifications over the years instead of arguing about it. The black trench got left behind in Nevada (Although I have gained a brown Driza-Bone). The black jeans have been traded in for blue ones, the black boots are now brown and closer looking to moccasins instead of combat. While I've kept the black t-shirts, they've changed into slightly less geeky designs, Suntory Whisky for example.

I have kept the black sunglasses though.

Again, it was easier than enduring a number of complaints from Beloved, not to mention that clothes shopping usually comes every few years in my case and usually when everyone else is getting things. It's much better to go along with one's wife than having to watch her sulk in the store and refuse to get into the car with you if you don't put that pair of black jeans back where you found them.

Compromise is the name of the game for a good marriage, no?

That's what I thought at least until Beloved unveiled her big plan to change me into Johnny Depp, and it all started with my beard.

For most of my life I didn't wear one. Oh, sure, I started shaving, but just never really wore a beard. Part of it was that I couldn't get past the "It feels like all of my face is itching!" phase, and part of it was Beloved. She claimed she didn't like beards. When I'd get lazy and let the whiskers grow she'd start kvetching about sandpaper in uncomfortable places. But with my last visit back stateside, I decided what the hell, I would grow a beard. I mean, I could always shave it off if I didn't like it.

Besides, it was summer and I didn't want to have to shave. After about a week and a half of not, I was getting pretty hairy about the face and Beloved was starting up her usual complaints. That's when I suggested that, yes, I could keep it, but I would style it, you know, shape the thing so I was less caveman style.

THAT is a beard!
What I wanted was Benjamin Sisko style (See? Geek!). I've always thought that Avery Brooks in the last years of Deep Space Nine just looked awesome and the beard was definitely a part of it. I wasn't willing to shave my head, but I could go for the beard. Beloved however wasn't happy with the results. Her compromise was beard OK, but George Michael please.

Yeah, no
Which left me slightly confused as good 'ol George, when he played for the closing ceremony for the London Olympics, had a full beard like the one I just shaved off. But, no, said Beloved, what she meant was George Michael from around 1998, when he had this Fu Manchu thing going with strip of a soul patch/goatee. She even got me a beard trimmer for our anniversary to pull this off. The result was, well, my mother-in-law burst out laughing when she saw it.

Obviously I was not George Michael.

Back to Google went Beloved to discover the perfect model. Which turned out to be Johnny Depp. Which of course my first reaction was, "You want me to look like Captain Jack Sparrow?!" Alas, no, she's not into the dangleies, but the actor. I admit that, yes, the beard does look good on me for the most part and I've enjoyed having it, but there was more to come.
Not this

First was the suggestion that I get myself a hat, a fedora to be precise, that was a no, no thank you.

Then came the glasses. My reading glasses were well over 5 years old and as of late I had been having some issues with seeing blurry patches after long bouts of computer use or reading. A bit concerned, I took myself to the optometrist for an eye exam. Sadly she returned a diagnosis that was horrible in the extreme; namely, I'm just getting old.

She did say however that, yes, my glasses probably needed an upgrade. Besides, the frames on the old pair were bent in the extreme after Hikaru got a hold of them one night.

Thus was the next part of Beloved's plan unleashed. Beloved was coming along with me to make sure that I, in her words, 'picked out something cool'. Because, yes, her plan is indeed to change me into Johnny Depp. Something, in fact, that she is rather proud of having a number of other mothers come up to her during Makoto's Sports Day to talk about how her husband now looks like Johnny Depp and how unfair it is because they married a Japanese guy who will never look like Johnny Depp no matter how hard they try.

Well, there was one mother who's rather a fan of The Matrix who wants me to show up in black boots, black jeans, black shirt, black trench, and my black sunglasses to pick up Makoto one day. At least someone wants me to geekout!

This of course raised some howls of protest from me. I mean, I mean... I mean... I. AM. A. GEEK! I am not Johnny Depp and the only real Johnny Depp thing I could possibly see me ever pull off would be Jack Sparrow. "But," said Beloved, "don't you want to look cool? I want you to look cool for me and you said you'd do anything to make me happy, right?"

I admit that I did, but...

"And," she continued, "You want your sons to have a cool father, right?"

Now wait a minute here....

"And they want a cool Daddy, right?"

To which Makoto and Hikaru, who are now being written out of my will, responded with "Yes!"

Out numbered, I said I would consider it.

In the end, we compromised. Yes, Beloved (And a very enthusiastic Makoto) picked out the frames for my glasses, but I did have veto power and I insisted that the damn things be black.

And, yes, I have to admit, I don't look half bad in them. But I will remember this, and I will remember Beloved saying how changing a partner is a great way to have fun.

I think I'm gonna get myself the Victoria's Secret catalog and have some 'fun' myself.

Either that, or Beloved's next Christmas present will be a t-shirt, in black, proclaiming that she loves her geek. Hey, I can compromise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

These Colors Don't Run

I'm afraid that it's a short post today, everyone's caught a minor cold.

Well, everyone but me has caught I minor cold; I feel like I've been smashed by a giant hammer.

Any case, Makoto, since his Sports Day has taken to coloring flags. The kids at his school had colored all the flags of the world for the event and Makoto liked it so much, this has been his new evening project.

First we did the big one, the Stars and Stripes. Excepting having a minor difficulty with the concept of alternating red and white stripes, he didn't do too badly.
Next we jumped the Atlantic to color the flag of the United Kingdom. The Union Jack proved a wee bit tricky, but in the end it was well done and sure to make my fellow teacher, who's from London, smile when he sees it.

The next bit however was a bit tricky. Originally Makoto asked me for help coloring the flag of South Korea (By help I mean Daddy is the one to find the coloring pages online and print them out and also tell Makoto what is what color), which lead to the following exchange yesterday in Japanese:

Makoto: Mommy, what colors are the Korean flag?

Beloved: Blue, white, red, and black.

Makoto: I can't find my black crayon... What flag is red, white, and blue like America's?

Beloved: France

Makoto: (In English) Daddy, I want to color the France flag tomorrow, ok?!

Tomorrow, since he still has some red crayon left, we're tackling the flag of Japan.