month nine crazy brain.

Four weeks from baby girl’s due date. I have simultaneous impulses to do ALL THE THINGS and do nothing. I can’t win, obviously. This is the last month of pregnancy, and it is always full of anticipation, sadness, anxiety, guilt, impatience, trust, dull thoughts, and those dang battling intuitions to both clean AND lay down all day. I want the time to pass quickly, and I want to savor it all. I want to read all the must-read books, and I want to watch all the must-watch movies, and I want to clean all the must-clean things in this house. I want to be smart and stock the freezer with meals, and I want to eat take out, forever.  I want the baby to come early, and I want the baby to stay put until the calendar is clear. I want to have this baby OUT, and I don’t want to give birth. I want to go into labor, and I don’t want to give birth. I want her to stop kicking my ribs, and I DON’T WANT TO GIVE BIRTH.

Ugh. SO.

I feel as if my attention span in this period virtually nonexistent. I keep wanting to find something to hold my thoughts up in rapture so I don’t have to suffer the boredom of WAITING for the appearance of a baby, but I can’t focus on that book for more than 15 minutes, NONE of the movie previews look appealing, and a nap isn’t even fun anymore. I’m even waking up in the middle of the night bored — like, it’s still dark out? WHY AM I NOT ASLEEP?

This is an internal boredom, mind you, not an external one. Externally, my world is very full, and there are plenty of tasks. There’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s papers to sign, homework to help with, play-dough creations to make, toys to pick up, laundry to fold. There’s a BIG DOG, for goodness sake, who thinks I’ve come to play every time I sit down on the floor to do something, so he prances around me and smacks me in the face with his tail. He drops his bone in my lap. And then it’s school pick-up and snacks and doctor’s appointments and video games and friends. These things, though, are too routine to provide much of a distraction from the waiting.

Another part of this month — or really, all of pregnancy for me — is the pulling inward in order to prep for this big arrival and what a bump-on-a-log that makes me feel like. I am a zero-fun mom when I’m pregnant. Didn’t I already mention the short attention span? That’s not good for listening to little rambling stories. And the aches and pains aren’t good for park-playing, under-dog-giving, or wrestling. “Find daddy” and “when daddy gets home” have become my go-tos. Consequenty, daddy is THE BIG HERO right now. This is good, and quite appropriate, but still hard for me to swallow. More contradictory impulses: I want to retreat and rest for the big event, AND I want to be the super-fun, always-active, mom-and-dad-rolled-into-one parent.

Given that ALL THREE of my babies have been exactly four days past their due dates, I’m not banking any hopes on an early arrival for this little lady. This means I have a full month of this low-grade emotional stress to get through. I will pray it will pass quickly, but I know it won’t. I know I will have every intention of being happy and patient up until the commencement of labor (or in my case, the magical day following a week or two of days that I *thought* were going to be the magical day), but it won’t pan out. I will reach my limit and break down in anger and frustration, wondering, “Why, God? Why hasn’t it happened yet?” And I will cry in my loving husbands arms, as he strokes my hair and looks toward the ceiling, thanking God that this is the last time we will have to deal with pregnancy hormones. Then I will get a wave of fresh perspective and will be able to make it a little longer.

Here we go!

I love Jesus. And this love has led me to a life in Japan.

Today, a few hours from bedtime, a half-day from celebrating the marriage of two very dear friends, weeks from ushering my fourth child into the world, I am tired. I made myself a late afternoon cup of coffee and sat at the table to gather my thoughts before diving into washing a sink-full of dishes, picking up toys, chopping veggies and sauteing meat, vacuuming for overnight guests, finding wedding clothes for five, bathing and bedding the crazies, etc, etc, etc. But all I wanted to do was cry.

This is not what I assumed following Jesus into the unknown would be. I didn’t know it would be mothering my children through cultural and linguistic problems, wearing myself out at a preschool bazaar, serving snacks to hungry mouths, scrubbing the senmenjo floor, laying futon out to bake in the sun. This is not feeding starving orphans, rescuing hurting women, or risking my life to bring Bibles across the border. This is normal. This is hard, and there are parts of it that really suck, but it looks so much like the life everyone else is leading, what do I have to tell me it matters? That it matters when I choose to move past frustration and do one more thing, or take a deep breath and swallow angry words to hug a small body instead.

A life of deep meaning is important to me. Today, I did have that cry at the table. I cried because I knew what I was doing mattered, I just didn’t know how. For now, that is enough. My tiredness is an offering, though it seems much less glamorous than dying in the jungle, breaking down doors, or talking with burning bushes. It is what I need to learn faithfulness, and I can accept that.

Restart.

I suppose if I were to pick a time to start blogging again, now is as good as any.

I have thought of blogging as something different from writing, but really, in this season of small kids, beginning business, life overseas, there will be no writing if it’s not blogging. I journal daily, but that’s something else.

Since last October, life took me away from writing for a while. We went on a road trip through the first year of a dog in the house, quitting school and exploring unschooling, morning sickness, international plane flights without my other half, two months in the states, and a return to Japan and to the national school system. I will give birth to my fourth child in the next two months. Then its Christmas. Then it’s New Year’s. Then we forge ahead into the unknown of building a coffee business in Japan. Seems like a good time to start something else, don’t you think?

But really, writing is not a job for me just yet. Hopefully someday, I will earn this family a little income with my efforts, but so far, it’s all by whim, to unload and process and share. So I can still use it to unwind, to escape the mundane dailies and allow others a little peek into this corner of the world. And I can start it, stop it, let go of it, in times appropriate to my own heart and mind. (It seems I’m giving myself permission.)

Today, I’m writing at the horigotatsu (a table set over a hollowed area for feet), with little legos splayed across the table, and a stack of coloring books. (Will have to do something about those legos in five or six months. Things you forget about having a baby in the house.) My oldest tromped off to school this morning, oh so brave. He’s missed a year, and he’s totally behind, and I don’t care — I just want him to learn whatever he wants while he’s there, and come home to me so I can give him cookies. So my current baby and I will make them for him. My blue-eyed surfer-boy is making a ship out of legos and asking for ice cream every 30 seconds. The dog is trying to lick my face. I am hungry, but can’t fit much in this tummy, so I’ll settle for half a meal of leftovers. It’s overcast, but somehow, I still feel inspired.

Today is as good a day as any.

How do I title a post on normal life?

 

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I’ve been busy writing life, with no time left for writing anything else. I’ve found that even given a good hour or two of quiet and freedom, I can’t decompress or still myself enough for words or phrases to form. I need a good day of quiet, and then I can think creatively. Certainly, at the current phase of life, this is a conundrum.

Bryan was gone for six days, and so the kids and I spent four at home, and two in Tokyo visiting friends. They did AWESOME in the car, though there were persistent requests for the only adult to “watch this!” and “see this!”, which given that I was also the driver, didn’t pan out in favor of the kids. But still, they did great.

ImageAnd so did I, I might say. Still in the throes of morning sickness with BABY NUMBER FOUR (yep, you read that right), I would say making it six days without dad, taking a trip in the middle of it, whilst feeling pukey and having little desire to eat, without anyone dying or being seriously maimed in the process, was a great success.

So yes, another baby will enter our family in the early weeks of December. Though I was surprised to find myself pregnant, I was so excited at the thought of another baby — ooooohhh, squishy cheeks! And gooey smiles! And chubby legs! And no attitude for at least the first year! Going back to babyhood, however, is a daunting thought. It’s why I paused at three and decided I was probably done, though I always dreamed of having a big family. I’ve heard everyone say it: “It only gets easier with four! Three is the worst it gets. At four, the kids start taking care of each other.” But.. WHAT. IF. THEY. ARE. WRONG? So I’m glad God pushed me over the edge and took matters out of my own hands. I’m grateful — I don’t know if I could’ve confidently said, “I’m ready for another one!”

 

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This guy stayed at home while we were in Tokyo, and ALSO did amazingly well. We left on Friday, a friend came to walk and feed him on Saturday, and we didn’t arrive home until Sunday evening. Nothing torn up, nothing messy, nothing out-of-place, just a really big pup ready to bowl us over and nearly kill us with his love when we opened the door. We took him to the park right away, and he ran circles around us for an hour. We’ve been getting pretty good at reading each other, and the other day I surmised that his quaint sitting pose and unfailing gaze meant he wanted to eat one of the pancakes Bryan made for breakfast. I told him he was a crazy dog and moved the plate to the kitchen. He turned to sit in the kitchen and stare at the plate for 20 minutes, occasionally ruffing until he realized I wasn’t going to give in. His mournful eyes in the above picture meant he wanted to go to the park. It was “that time” (dogs are so routine!), and so he had come to my resting perch to stare at me until I got up. When I said “outside?”, he ran to the door and grabbed his ball from the basket, whipping me with his quickly wagging tail. Seriously, he’s the best dog. I’m gonna miss him so much when we are gone this summer.

And thus concludes my quiet time — I hear the car being parked just outside the house, and I know the crazies are about the descend upon my tranquil space. I love them, I love them, I love them. :)

 

The hard part of sharing.

After nine months of living in Japan, I had become slightly more accustomed to what it meant to be a hostess in my new culture. It wasn’t entirely different from what I was used to in America, but one of the missing elements was clear communication with those I was serving — how do I give them cues that I’m reaching my time limit? Is it okay for me to leave the room to put Jones down for a nap? How do I properly excuse myself? What cues will they give when they are getting ready to leave? If I don’t ask them to leave, WILL THEY STAY FOREVER? (Sometimes it certainly felt that way, when a tired and jumbled brain simply demanded a nap.)

This time, however, it wasn’t language or culture that was stressing me out. Instead, it was the good ole’, hard-learned childhood skill of SHARING. Though it had been pounded into me from preschool on, I just didn’t want to do it. That’s right: I didn’t want to share my stuff with my friends.

I had just made chocolate chip cookie dough a few days before, with those precious few chocolate chips, and the bowl of dough was sitting in my fridge, beckoning to me. I knew Jesus wanted me to bake those cookies for my friends, but I didn’t want to. Didn’t He know how much I was giving up to live in a culture not my own? Why do I also have to give up the chocolate chips I just opened in a care package? These cookies would be my therapy for the coming days.  And the coffee beans, too? The ones sent monthly by friends? These were two of the four coveted C’s I carried close to my heart, along with cereal and cheese. It sounds silly, but I assure you, it wasn’t. God wanted me to offer these very simple, normal things to my two friends sitting in my living room, laughing with my one-year-old boy, and enjoying the chance to catch up with one another. Only they had ceased to become simple and normal to me, and were instead precious, coveted, and MINE.

I remember praying as I ground the beans, asking Jesus to open my heart and my hands so that I could freely give to those around me anything He might ask me to give. I imagine that many of us have a romantic notion of that ‘thing’ being something much bigger than coffee beans — like maybe our car, or a big check, or a year of our lives. But Jesus knows what we keep close to our hearts, what we’ve decided is ours alone and simply cannot be given away. I filled the carafe with water and recalled the message of Jesus in Luke, that if I love those who love me, to what credit is that? Anyone could do the same. Similarly, if I gave what was easily given, there was nothing special in it. Anyone can freely share something of little value to them. Its the things we don’t want to share that Jesus cares about. And although the coffee beans and chocolate chips had very little value in and of themselves, they had become spiritually significant because I held them in high regard at the time, as reminders of home and a way of life that I was no longer living.

I baked some cookies (probably the bare minimum) and served coffee with a smile, and my friends and I passed the afternoon away. I’m sure they had no idea what inner turmoil I had faced while turning on the oven. I made the decision to share my things, but not lightly and certainly not happily.  I felt resentful that God would call me to give up time with my mom, the language I understood, the fellowship and comforts of home, AND my chocolate chips. It was just too much. But as much as I cherished the four C’s, I also cherished a free and gentle heart, as well as an open home, so I was committed to giving whatever I had, no matter how I felt about it on the inside.

There were years of instances just like this one — times where God was asking me to give up my naptime, my privacy, my special food items, my treasured books, my husband’s time, my ideas of a comfortable living space, my convenience, you name it. I honestly felt like each time, the tightly-bound grip of my heart loosened just slightly with my choice to give, even though it really was the last thing I wanted to do. And then, just like that, it was gone. One day, a guest asked for coffee, and I didn’t think twice before I made it. I remember handing him the steaming mug, and walking back to the kitchen in private shock that there was no mental anguish over whether or not to grind the beans.

I’m not saying I will never struggle with handing my treasures over to God for His own purposes, nor do I say this lightly. There was one instance in which I had to excuse myself to cry in the bathroom after I’d walked in on an American house guest enjoying the last bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. (!!) I’m not proud of these gut reactions, but somehow, with enough decision and practice, my heart has come to a place of freedom and peace where it’s no longer a burden to share even my most precious things with others. And sometimes, it’s even a delight.  Time enough has passed for me to see the ways in which God will provide for me, ways that are new and unexpected, so there is no room for the cavernous anxieties of the past.

Though the context of my story has been overseas living, I don’t pretend to believe that it is a necessary catalyst for this kind of growth in others. Jesus brought me here because it was where I needed to go, so He could do His best work in me. But He also wants to do this work in YOU, in your unique context and circumstances. Say ‘yes’, even when it’s hard.. even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

A day in the life…

Eight months ago, we started unschooling. Our routines instantly loosened without the ever-impending loom of school clock, and bedtimes and meal times became suggestions rather than the rule. Since our decision coincided with Japanese summer (August), it felt normal to ditch the clock and eat shaved ice for lunch, swim until 7p, and stay up late looking at stars or playing around in the dirt. But then as Jones’s peers began tromping off to school again, I wondered what this would mean for us: should we go back to the clock? Should we live as if school still existed, or as if it didn’t? I started asking a lot of questions about the “norms” of everyday routines and life with children. We started rethinking food choices, chores, how kids learn, sleep, self-regulation, emotions… everything. We edged a little closer to the ‘radical’ side of unschooling.

Even still, it wasn’t until we unleashed the freedom of gaming, TV, and movies in our home that I became more comfortable with calling our family ‘radical unschoolers’. Then I started learning and questioning MORE. Why do we have rules? What are they for? What is the difference between rules and principles? How can I best guide my children? How can I help them live from the heart, and not from a fear of getting in trouble? How can I nurture their interests and curiosities, even if they don’t match mine and I don’t understand them? How do I not get ‘in the way’ of their development, but rather, come alongside them?

Fast forward to now: we are radical unschoolers, and are more and more comfortable with the thought. This fits us well. Quite well, in fact. But in the midst of my questioning, I feel as if I’ve had to throw out most of my previous assumptions in order to start fresh and build a home life that truly reflects our values, desires, and respective interests. Currently, I am trying to understand how to do that. What is the purpose of routine? And how loosely or strictly can one define ‘routine’? What about meals and sitting down together? Right now, this is a snippet of what our homelife looks like — a peek into this crazy, cross-cultural, radical unschooling family.. for this season:

  • We all wake up… whenever. But usually Bryan is up first, takes Iggy on a walk, and ‘puts on the kettle’ for coffee. It’s a toss up whether Harper, Ezra, or myself will walk down the stairs next, though I’m currently taking steps toward making that person ME. (I like having a little quiet before they come down.) The dog attacks us in his big, goofy, friendly way. Bryan makes coffee, and we drink together or seperately, depending on the day. Sometimes I read my Bible. Sometimes I watch Peppa Pig with Harper and Ezra. Sometimes they take turns with the iPad, or color, or talk with us at the table. They typically have a small snack or a banana, because I don’t cook until my coffee is finished. Jones comes down last, just as I’m getting ready for the day. Bryan leaves, or cooks breakfast, depending on the day. Or I cook breakfast. I tell the kids it’s ready, and they come when they find a stopping point in whatever they are doing.
  • After breakfast, I typically do some sort of ‘clean up’ thing, which Harper always wants to help with. We wash dishes, start the laundry, vacuum. Then I feel as if I spend hours in 10-minute increments, going between child and activity and question and my own interests — I play kitchen with one, fold a blanket that’s on the ground, look up a question on google, discuss said question, play Mario for 3 rounds, help dissolve an iPad squabble, follow one kid outside, decide to go to nearby park, call in to other kids, fill up a water bottle, remember the laundry and throw it in the drier, go to park, give one kid an underdog, watch the other kid on the slide, play tag with the one who wants to play tag and say, “Please wait” to the one who wants to go home to get the soccer ball, go home to get the soccer ball, see forgotten water bottle and take it back to park, play a made-up game which only one kid wants to play, answer a text message on my iPhone, look up the book title I wanted to find, get called into a *new* game, convince one kid to leave when they other two decide they want to go home, promise to read a book to one kid in 15 minutes after helping another kid ride on the scooter, etc, etc, etc. This can be quite exhausting, balancing the interests and personalities of these kiddos.
  • We eat something. Sometimes I just set out a variety of snacky foods, and they eat as they want. Popcorn, carrot sticks, cookies, apple slices with peanut butter, edamame, crackers, cucumbers, grapes, cheese cubes, etc. After at least Harper and I have eaten, we sit on the couch for an afternoon movie and rest — the boys either join us or play upstairs. Sometimes Harper and I both take a snooze, sometimes I read next to her while she watches, sometimes we both watch. I’ll pause the movie and make myself a cup of coffee when I feel the need. During this time, I take a break from answering the beck-and-call of the boys, unless they really need me. I say, “When the movie’s over, I will be happy to (look that up, help you, play with you, etc).” If they want to be with me, they can come be with us in the living room, so they know I’m physically available — but a movie gives some sort of timeline to them that they understand. They know what it’s like to be involved in a plot and not want to stop, so they are pretty understanding of my desire to stay put while the movie is on, even if I’m reading instead of watching it. I LIKE THIS BREAK. And I also like that my almost-three-year-old, who is pretty chatty all day, usually just snuggles quietly with me.
  • After the “movie rest” is more of the morning time: 10-minute increments of giving myself to the beings in the house, dog included. Even Iggy won’t let me off the hook and puts his nose on my cheek or sits on my book (!) if I ignore him too long.
  • Evening consists of daddy coming home, usually some Zelda for the boys in the family, and cooking dinner. Harper chops bits of vegetables with her special kid knife, sets the table, and keeps sneaky boy hands from stealing food before dinner time. (She is scarier than I am!) We eat and play “The Animal game,” where you must describe an animal, and everyone guesses who you are. Harper is always, ALWAYS a dolphin. Ezra has been coming out with Mario characters lately, and Jones has surprised us with his strange animal knowledge (usually acquired from either Phineas & Ferb or Curious George). By far, Bryan’s are the best — the animal game is not where my parenting most shines. Sometimes we take baths and showers after dinner, sometimes before. Right now, the boys are exercising their freedom to wait as long as possible between ‘cleanings’. I imagine this won’t change for some time. ;)
  • Harper and Ezzy go to bed around the same time, and we read books and cuddle. Jones stays up later, getting some one-on-one time. We usually head upstairs together, and he does whatever in his room until sleep overcomes him, and I read, or talk with Bryan, or we watch something on the laptop in bed.

Mama-san Volleyball

When I was five, I signed up for my first sports camp. Basketball was “the thing” in my small hometown, and my dad’s Rotary club was putting on a tournament for all the little people around. We formed teams and played short games. Now, as a mother of a seven-year-old, four-year-old, and almost three-year-old, I can hardly imagine a bunch of five-to-eight-year-olds dribbling the ball and lobbing it at the hoop without complete chaos. I admire those Rotary men. The only thing I remember from that time is scoring a basket for the other team, and everyone cheering. Who cares?! She’s five, and it went in the hoop! Hooray!

Thus began my love affair with sports. Growing up, they were my life — I went to school so I could go to practice, and I spent long hours each summer attending various camps in hopes of improving my skills. Basketball was always my favorite. Then I added softball. In junior high, I dabbled in volleyball, but with my runner’s physique, the cross country coach was always dogging me to join his team. Eventually, I did just that and ended up finding the most success in that sport, as well as track and field. I loved how it felt to work hard, make goals, and find relief with the made basket or finish line. But when I graduated, I wasn’t sure how this love affair could continue.

At university, I played intramural sports and ran occasionally, but there were also a hundred other things I wanted to do. I was in the midst of untangling the big mess of who-I-was, and sports didn’t have much of a place in that. I started forgoing running in order to spend time brooding and typing in the corner of the coffee shop, and by my second year, my new friends just COULD NOT BELIEVE that I used to be the female equivalent of the high school jock. YOU? But all you want to do is sit around, drink coffee, and write! I had become the poet, the dreamer, and I lost most connection with the side of myself that enjoyed the challenge and commraderie of sports.

Fast forward to last March, 7 years of marriage and 3 kids in, when I am at a party (nomikai) with all the mom’s from my oldest’s kindergarten (youchien) class. My table was chatting about all manner of things, and somehow sports came up. These Japanese mothers were also quite surprised by my past, and my friend Ayumi mentioned that she currently played on a volleyball team. “You should come! You are tall, so I bet you’ll be good.” Ha! I thought about it for a while, and though I really didn’t have much experience in volleyball beyond junior high, I decided that I wanted to try it out. Mama-san-baare (Mom’s Volley) in Shizuoka has seven leagues, based on the talent and success of the teams throughout the year’s four tournaments. Each league has 30-some teams, and you can move up or down, depending on your record. You also practice, have a coach, and discuss how to improve gameplay with one another. Members ages are usually anywhere between mid-20s and late-60s, and teams are based on the area in which you live.

The first practice was a bit of a shock, as I realized that most of these women had played volleyball all through high school and were quite good. Our team was in the first league, which also made me nervous. But oh, what fun it was to play! To do something with my body, and work at controlling, strengthening, and improving! I had no idea how much I had missed sports during my hiatus, but my joy and desire to grow quickly informed me. I started watching volleyball videos and waited eagerly each week for Friday night practice. I wanted to be challenged through an area in which I could see actual improvement, real steps forward, unlike my most recent undertakings. Parenting, for instance, is a slow-as-molasses, living-through-the-long-haul type of work. And in language learning, which is only slightly measurable, most of your growth happens behind the scenes, in places of your brain that you can’t see and touch. So spiking a volleyball began to have real meaning and excitement for me. I hit it! And it was either IN, or OUT. There was no wondering in the back of my mind, “But did I *really* hit the ball?” It just WAS.

So now? I’m completely hooked. The women on my team have become my good friends over the past year, and I’ve also had an entertaining and enlightening look into the Japanese sports world. As a bonus, I freak everyone out when I show up to tournaments as the only foreigner (aside from the occasional Malaysian). Sometimes I joke that they must think my team flew me in for the event. After few years, though, I hope I’ll become a fixture in the city’s mama-volleyball world, and perhaps when I’m in my fifties, I won’t be such a shocking sight anymore.

Tissues, bowing, grocery trips, toilets.

I’m now into my seventh year of overseas living, and most things about the Japanese culture and way of life have stopped shocking me. Now, they simply just ARE. I’m used to them, and many things that would’ve never crossed my mind before have become second nature. I’m adapting. And in the process, there is much I’ve not opened up for the viewing of others, simply because I’ve forgotten the ‘normal’ western experience. So… I’ve been musing lately about how my little dailies are inherently different from those of my western counterparts. For example:

-I bow. All the time. I bow when the car stops so I can cross the street. I bow when I say thank you. I bow when the cashier hands me my change. I bow when I get on the bus, and when my neighbors pass our house. I bow in greeting and in departure. It’s just so very normal now.

-Instead of napkins, we have a box of cheap tissues we keep at the table. I don’t miss napkins at all.

-I use a convection oven/microwave instead of a big oven/stovetop. And I’ve had numerous turkeys in that thing.

-I bathe with my children. As in naked, together, in the bath. I love it, and some of our best conversations happen in there. (Also, I never have the common, western-mom problem of, “I can’t find time to shower!”) When I mention to my Japanese friends that this is not common in Western culture, many of them remark on how their children always open up their hearts and share their stories in the bath. “When do they talk to each other?”

-Someone from our family is at the grocery store almost every day. We usually fill up a small basket and spend around 2000 yen.
-Our toilet has its own room, and I can’t imagine it any other way. It seems so strange when we visit the states to pee and shower and do my makeup in the very same room. How do I keep the baby from playing with the toilet bowl? Where do I go when someone needs to use the toilet, but I’m getting ready? Honestly, the hygenic side of it all has won me over.

-Also related to the toilet, we have a bidet and heated toilet seat (as do most Japanese households), and I LOVE it. If I ever move from here, I will buy and ship a Japanese toilet seat ahead of me.

-We have rocks for a yard. Big ones that you can climb on, and little ones all around. I forget what it’s like to take a walk and smell fresh grass clippings. I miss that.

-I use Japanese every day, and because of this, my English vocabulary has shrunk. Mainly, I have trouble coming up with those vocabulary words I used to be proud of knowing and using. And sometimes it’s not even big, smart-sounding words — it’s colloquial, everyday words that I just don’t remember because no one around me is using them.

-Though we have a bed, I looooooooove sleeping on futon. Not the American “foo-tawn”, but a mattress on tatami, with a big, heavy comforter on top. I always sleep insanely well. Maybe it’s the subconsious understanding that I won’t fall to the floor?

Anything you’re interested in hearing about life in Japan? Or anywhere away from your home culture?

coffee hugs

ImageToday, I needed a hug. So I headed to my favorite shop in town, despite the 20-minute drive, and ordered the double-shot cappuccino. The milk was perfectly steamed and poured well, and I breathed a sigh of relief with my first sip. When did I reach this level of coffee snobbery? Where I will order orange juice over restaurant coffee any day, when I know that their beans are shipped in and brewed in a commercial Bunn maker? After continuing to deepen our understanding of what constitutes properly-made espresso and coffee, I no longer wonder anymore why many people say they can’t drink coffee for the bitterness, or need to laden it with cream and sugar — in fact, I don’t know how I downed all those bad cups in college, either! When aptly roasted, freshly ground beans are brewed with time and temperature in mind,  the resulting cup is usually mild, fruity, and soooooooo delicious. Every bean is different — some cherry, some caramel, some whiskey — and our tongues are slowly learning to recognize the natural flavors present.

If you have hated coffee til this day, I want you to know: it’s not supposed to taste like that! Find a shop in your area that roasts their own, boasts the regions of their product, and uses various pour-over methods. Give it a try. Your mornings will thank you for years to come.

Another update.

This post is in relation to the others I’ve written on unlimited screen time here and here.

It’s almost 6p, and I’ve just made myself a cup of coffee. Daddy is sick in bed — it’s been a long day, and it’s probably going to be a long evening. The rice is cooking, but dinner won’t be finished for another hour. Banana peels, magnets, colored pencils, and baby dolls litter the table top, and all our spare blankets and pillows are in a pile on the floor. The boys are alternately wrestling, fighting, and yelling, “You’re a cheater!”  Harper is playing the piano and singing her own song. All (minus myself) are shirtless.

And I am reveling in my new-found freedom, because I don’t have to say “no” all the time anymore. And I’m not fighting meaningless battles over screens anymore. And I’m not sitting antsy in the chair, waiting for my kids to choose something “smart” or “educational” anymore.

Instead, we are having fun! We are more connected and peaceful than when we started, and still learning so much. Admittedly, it was a loooong month of screens all day, every day — I waited, anxiously chewing my nails, wondering whether I was ruining my kids or setting us free. I worried that this wouldn’t work and my kids would become addicted to screens. I worried that others would think poorly of our family. I worried that my kids would become zombies, unable to carry on a conversation, losing friends, and hating the park. I wondered if or when that magical moment would happen: that moment when screens would become just another thing for the kids, like toys and books and stuffed animals. I didn’t know that mostly I was waiting for that moment for myself, because once I stopped worrying so much about how the kids were choosing to spend their time, they stopped holding so tightly onto screens and started seeking other activities. I now see what a load of poppy-cock all of my fears were. And I also have come to see so much value in the very activities I borderline hated just a month ago. As it is, I couldn’t imagine going a day without playing Mario with Ezra, or helping Jones solve that clue in that mystery app, or watching Shaun the Sheep with Harper.

This week has really been the turn-around week. Jones asked me to take him to a skate park, has been practicing making soup, and is still full of questions about the earth and how things work within nature. He asked to join a swim team and has waited excitedly for the bus twice a week, surprising me with his responsibility and maturity. Ezra’s kind and compassionate heart has returned, as all this time spent together discussing, playing, and listening to one another has really filled his bucket. He is constantly hugging us, kissing us, and telling us he loves us, which he seemed to have grown out of for a while. He has spent a lot of time this past week tracing pictures from his favorite books with me and has come with me on walks each time I have offered. Harper, again, is the least affected by this change and will grow up with this kind of choice. She has spent the month doing what she usually does, moving from one activity to another, some including screens and some not.

The kicker has been this: I used to use screens to get a break from my kids, and now I’ve stopped trying to find breaks and started diving into doing things together — screens or not. I think the kids are responding less to unlimited screen time, and more to my attention and presence. It has been great fun to join them in the things they are excited about.

It hasn’t all been roses and sunshine — we have one iPad, and three kids, all of whom have distinct ideas about how and when they want to play. There have been fights, and I’m not sure how to handle them, but I am sure that relationships and love should be the centerpieces of our discussions. We don’t have any rules, just principles to live by, and it’s proving to be a time-consuming, yet rewarding way to parent.