Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Three Heads

We joke that must have three heads each. It is the only explanation we have come up with for all stares we get in Japan.

Seriously, all the stares and open gapes in our direction take some getting used to. When all four of us are together, the looks reach epic proportions.

I can't remember if I have ever mentioned this in previous posts, and if I have, I apologize in advance.  I just don't have the time or energy to plow through all my old posts and see if I have written about this aspect of life in Japan. It seems to me that four years ago, I might have talked about the experience we had being followed around in a park by a woman who apparently was convinced that we had kidnapped our kids. She summoned an official who watched us interact with each other her and vigorously shook his head at her concerns.  

I'm not sure how common adoption is in Japan, but interracial adoption is definitely not the norm. I know our experience is not unheard of.  One of the families we knew in Seattle had an adopted girl from China and a boy adopted from Liberia. They moved to Japan for a job assignment and could not get over how much negative attention they received.

Sophia recently asked me why people stared at her so much while we were riding on the train. I hugged her and told her it was because she was such a pretty girl.  She literally rolled her eyes and then said, "no, I really want to know why." That led to a whole discussion about different cultures and perceptions about race. 

In all fairness, because of our earlier experiences, we knew that this is one aspect of living in Japan that would not be easy. Still, I believe it has opened the door to some important discussions and experiences in our family.  Being a minority in another culture is an eye-opening experience.  Being an anomaly and sticking out like a sore thumb broadens our worldview and puts the shoe on the other foot. It is humbling.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Snow Day

Before Colin left on his day turn to Korea yesterday, he told me that Narita might have snow showers overnight. Colin returned at 11pm reporting no snow, so I thought nothing more of it. At 6 AM, I heard the pitter patter of little feet (very much) awake, followed by excited voices, "Mommy, Daddy, there is snow all over the place! Actually, it is still snowing, come quick!"

Bleary eyed, we dragged ourselves out of bed and peered out the window. Sure enough, there was white stuff, and lots of it. We grabbed a quick breakfast, donned our winter wear and headed outside.

We had so much fun making this gigantic snow man. Sophia named him Mr. Michelin (after the Michelin Man) and Keenan dubbed him Ankie, after a dinosaur. During our compulsory snow ball fight and concentrated building efforts, the locals looked at us like we were more than a little crazy. We didn't care, we had a wonderful day!!!

When we were done with our construction, I ventured out on a five mile run in a veritable winter wonderland. By noon, much of the six plus inches had melted and our snowman, by whatever name he was given, had crashed to the ground. No matter, a great time was had by all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I see that it has been over four months since my last post. Boy how that time flew. Lots of changes for us. Lots..... But really, with our family, is that really such a shock?

Where to start?

After four very long months of compulsory training, Colin is now a Captain and is sporting four stripes!  That has been very good news for us as a family and has allowed us to make some much needed changes.  

After nearly four years of Colin commuting back and forth from Japan, and our family only being together 12 days a month, we decided to take a leap....of faith, or something like it. 

At the end of October, we pulled the kids out of public school. In some respects, it wasn't the easiest decision because we knew it meant giving up the Mandarin Immersion program. Sophia loved it, Keenan was tolerating it, but they were both learning Mandarin and we felt it was important. Yet, it came at a high price, not spending much time together as a family. Something had to change, we felt it. The feeling started out as a low and steady hum, but gradually built to a scream. Could it be, that we were contemplating homeschooling? Yikes!!!

It wasn't that long ago that I thought there wasn't an snowball chance in hell that I would ever consider such drastic measures. Kids need socialization, I'm not patient enough and, forgive me, but despite how very much I love them, how on earth could I spend that much time with our kids without a break?

When Sophia and Keenan were finally both in school full time, the invitation to reclaim my "me time" beckoned. Time for a 5 mile run? Heck, now I had time for a 9 mile run and could play tennis, ride my horse, or go grocery shopping in peace. Despite all those wonderfully free moments, the homeschooling thoughts sprung from a very sure place in my mind, however unbidden they may have been at the time. Finally, I had the courage to utter them aloud to Colin. We went through all the rationalizations why it didn't make sense and eventually got around to the very compelling reasons it made total and utter sense for our family.

So we dipped our toes in the water. In September, we took the kids to Tokyo for two weeks. We had our computers in tow, armed with "Time for Learning" a computer based homeschooling/after school program that the kids had grown to love over the summer and Rosetta Stone for Mandarin. Sophia was not especially enthusiastic about the prospect but Keenan was practically giddy to be out of public school (more on that later, in another post).  

Filled with great apprehension, I came up with an education plan, amended it as needed, and we all got to work. To my great surprise, it worked like a charm. Sure, there were some challenging moments, but, overall, it seemed very natural and had some unanticipated consequences. I had feared that being with the kids full time might drive me nuts. It didn't. I mean, at least not for the most part. I had worried that the kids would be ready to shred each other to bits as they had been at odds since school started. They didn't, in fact, they actually started interacting with a simpatico that I hadn't seen in over a year. Meanwhile, the kids saw more of their Daddy than they had in four years and that was bliss, for everyone. 

Before we started this experiment, we told the kids that this would be a family decision and everyone's opinion would be given equal merit. If there was even one dissenting family member, then we would go on as before and the kids would stay at their school. By the end of the two weeks, we were all convinced it was worth giving homeschooling more than a trial run. Perhaps most surprising to me (not to mention her) was that Sophia ended up being the most enthusiastic of our bunch, bar none. At the end of the trial, she firmly announced that she did not want to go back to school, not even for a day.  

At the time, Colin and I were reassured but were not quite ready to pull the plug on public school just yet.  He still needed to finish training and we definitely needed to figure out the logistics.  

In the end, we decided to still live in Arizona but to get an apartment in Narita and commute to Japan with Colin. He would double up his work days so that we only had to fly back and forth between the  U.S. and Japan six times a year.  Our incredible neighbors offered to look after Marz when we were away, we moved Mambo to a stable where we knew he would be well loved when we were not home and we found a small apartment in Japan that cost more than our mortgage. It's true, the devil is sometimes in the details, but such is life.

We pulled the kids out of school at the end of October, before we all returned to Japan. During the first trip in September, we had already nearly maxed out the days the kids could miss from school for the entire year, so it was really now or never. I truly didn't relish a threatening letter regarding truancy from the school board.  Fortunately, for us, the state of Arizona makes it exceptionally easy to home school, very few strings attached.

With no small amount of trepidation, I completed the withdrawal paperwork and our affidavit of intent to home school and handed everything in. We were officially on our own. Fear and liberation, all rolled into one.

Fast forward to the January 23rd (in Japan anyway, still the 22nd in the U.S. as I write this).  No regrets so far. Our apartment is set up, small, but cozy. There are the ever present earthquakes, fortunately, they have been small so far. Meanwhile, the kids are thriving. As of two weeks ago, Sophia completed the second grade and moved on to third. Keenan is wrapping up the first grade and keeps asking me when he can finally work on the second grade level. So far, the biggest challenge has been slowing them down. They are like two little sponges that long to soak up everything in their path or periphery. Sure, there are some moments of raised voices and gnashing of teeth (mostly mine or Colin's), but, by and by, it has been pretty good. Well, really, better than good.   

And oh, how the travel bug has bitten them in the butt.  Their travel wish list is long: Vietnam, China, Hawaii, Paris, Italy, just to name a few. We tell them, "all in good time, can we just get used to living in Japan first and enjoy our time when we are back in Arizona?" Still, we recognize that homeschooling has opened the world to us. And truth be told, my wanderlust is ready to go. We can travel places in off times, when everyone else is in school and the rates are cheaper. Since we travel standby, that flexibility is a huge plus.  I find myself looking up information on places I had never really thought of visiting: Thailand, Malaysia, maybe Bali?  Sophia can't wait until she turns eight, we promised her we would take her to Paris so can she can see the real Eiffel Tower (not the one in Vegas-which she recently saw when we went took them to the Titanic and Monet exhibits in early December) and we can look at more Monet and real Van Gough paintings in person.  Keenan can't wait to see Van Goughs and Picassos. Kind of a strange kid, that urge never struck me until I was well into in my 30s.

This blog will continue, however sporadic my posts may be. But I also intend to start a new one, the Travelling Homeschoolers or Life Unintended (or something like that). Link will follow as soon as I get it up and running.  Hard to say exactly where this is all heading. Just happy that we are together more frequently while we are still figuring out just where it is we are going. Like many before me, I have learned that the one constant in life is change. And boy, have we had a lot of it! Somehow, I doubt that trend is going to change (pun intended) any time soon. As one of my instructors in the police academy used to say, (one of my favorite sayings that I have since drilled into our kids) "improvise, adapt, and overcome." Guess that pretty much sums it up.

***This may be our link, but it has the .jp at the end, so we might wait until we return to the states to officially launch the new blog.  In the meantime, here is what I have so far, but nothing new posted as of yet:

My favorite room in our-less than 600 squre foot apartment- is the traditional Tatami room. It is warm and cozy and REALLY wasn't intended for sleeping.  But when you are cramming four people into small square footage and said small apartment is doubling as a school, adapation occurs. Thus, the Tatami room has become the kids bedroom and school space.  The living room and kitchen are adjoining through sliding doors so it ensures easy monitoring of school activities, or the early identification of an errant student who just may have slipped off with the iPad and is now playing Angry Birds.  Not mentioning any names but if someone happened to guess a name that starts with the letter 'K', that someone just well might be on the right track.

Did I mention that it is quite chilly in Japan in January? Great solution, family huddle, cuddle, blankets and a nice reading of Nancy Drew.