Bowing Out: The FIFA World Cup Has Eluded Us

Dear Friends,

It is with deep remorse that I bid this thread adieu. As sole blogging-rep for Japan in this, the fabulous Multicultural Kids Blogs, World Cup Project, this is my last. (Not to say I won’t be reading everyone else’s). This is one serious site to gleam from the countries and cultures who are/have competed for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. There is nearly a blog for every country. These are savvy women, and a few men, who live the bicultural/bilingual, sometimes trilingual life. (Lucky me–I am very inspired).

worldcup pic

Japan is out after losing 1-4 to Columbia. So…we’ve been out for three days now and I hadn’t said a word. Not even “boo”. I didn’t mean to be a sore loser, or anything. Honestly, I didn’t even realize that game was being played until I saw dozens of screaming comments on social media while I was riding the train. Can I claim busy mom? Well, anyway, Japan is out. The respectful thing for me to do is bow. Bow goodbye, bow in thanks, bow bow bow. This is very Japanese of me.

You know, not all Japanese bows are so overt or so deep. A bow here can even be a very casual dip of the head. It’s like a 1950s hat tilt. You are acknowledging someone else. Here are some situations for a small, pleasant bow:

1. You see your neighbor and want to wish them a good morning. Bow. 

2. You see the mail-person and feel thankful for his work. Do it. 

3. Gosh, the men collecting garbage are so terrific. Bow. 

4. You think the young woman in the elevator should get off before you. Go, bow. 

5. Another mother has purposely left the daycare gate open for you. Bow.

6. You’re about to tuck into your soba lunch or any food. “Itadaki masu”! and a small bow. 

7. Someone hands you a fork. You need that fork. Boy, you are thankful for the fork. Bow. 

8. Your husband introduces you to a co-worker or new friend. That’ll be one or more bows with some specific Japanese phrases, “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu” coming up!

9. Today was the first day of swimming. You loused up and left the clean and dry, mandatory swim cap hanging in the bathroom. The teacher graciously offers another solution so that your girl can swim. Bows of “I’m sorry, how embarrassing”, mixed with rigorous nods of thanks. Pheew, tomorrow you’ll get that cap in the bag. Gotta cool it with the bows so your neck doesn’t get all crinkly-stiff. 

You get the picture. I find myself bowing to people in cars when they let me cross. I bow to crossing guards, librarians, and police men. I bow to my kids’ daycare teachers. I probably bow to my eyelids while I sleep. It is utterly engrossing. And elegant. It is like a plie or curtesy for your head and neck.


A pic from a recent performance my girl & I attended. Bows are graceful, fluid, & sometime imperceptible, unless you are looking.

Maybe two months ago, I realized my 1 year old guy, was bowing to people! And in the right situations! Well, I’ll be. He has been interacting and communicating with people–teachers, family members, people in the neighborhood for some time now. Usually he’ll bow when saying hello, goodbye, or accepting food or a treat. Maybe this polite mannerism has been going on far longer than I realize even now. Once I finally realized what was going on, his bow was clear as day. He’s probably also fluent in Russian and I just don’t know it.


One of 4 hopeful passport pics to submit for your guy’s Japanese passport. Unusable cuz he’s probably BOWING.

I’m willing to bet my new awesome heart shirt that all Japanese people would exchange bows at the end of a sports game. The winner would of course bow, not to seem stuck-up, but to extend courtesy and respect to a worthy opponent and all the person represents. The one conceding or walking away without the medal would absolutely bow to show respect and deference to the skillful opponent. Unless, of course, he is a sore loser, and we won’t have that, will we.

The thing to do, is bow.

In the most fitting of words,

Sayonara. Mata ne! (Goodbye and see you later, alligator!)


Eggshells and Walking

1. The growing

“Tell me more about sea turtles being born, ” we glide under bright 9 am sunshine. She requests more poetry, more evidence to learn who these turtles are. What are and are not mammals? She did not hatch from an egg. She was fed breastmilk.

We scoot to school, in what first begins as my expression, “We’re off like a flock of seagulls!” No wait. Turtles. We are a flock of turtles, maybe, excited but traveling slowly. “You know,”  I say, “Turtles are perhaps the slowest creatures on earth.” She thinks snakes, maybe, too, but we imitate them & remember their speed. We think fast; we don’t miss a beat, but notice all the puffs of hydrangea, orbs of spring dawning mid-summer.


I talk about how turtles hatch from shells. We talk reptiles, feathers and scales, how marine biologists will study a mother sea turtle and protect her and her eggs from harm, a little bit PETA and a little bit doula. We speak of their middle of the night hatching,  their hard journey to water, the soft tread of their mini fins through thick sand as they ping themselves over what must be Rocky Mountain hills of sand.

(And I think everything we do is new).

We muse how those babies depend on moonlight and how cars & streetlights & store lights mess them up, confuse and muddle their infantile inner map.

(And I think how many times I’ve been fooled, wincing in floodlights, thinking them the moon).

Not only that, but other animals may want a midnight snack. Wow,  so many odds to beat before they are even born,  then the trek to water, to waves, and survival in black depths.

There are certain impossibilities in moonlight, a growing need for safety. I am back to looking at me. You know, I cannot even read the news. The realities of humanity seem, some nights, all shark and no minnow. Was there always this much famine? This much rape? Floods and disaster? This much need for Light? Yes, it must be that we’ve always needed our Creator and the model of Strength in the arms of a hug.

2. A Delivery Room

I push us from school, home. We loiter outside the barber, the old couple and their pet Red-Ear Slider turtles sitting, trying to claw their way out, standing on each other’s heads. They are funny, eliciting laughter and yelping observations from the kids. I see them as sad, all cooped up in Tupperware. Where is their jungle? Their pond? Their basking rock in freshwater? I know. They are just turtles, but I see them trying trying to get out, wanting to use their shell and test their speed.

We hang up towels, untangle our drippy hair. I learn of my student today. Our Nagisa passed away.

I think of our book about the seahorse and all his friends who hold on to the eggs, to their future babies, some in their mouths.



At the end, we giggle at the absurdity that is Mr. Seahorse, that is the animal kingdom, depending on the animal. Off he lets his babies go, just as soon as they are hatched. They must let go. Kariin looks like she’s heard a joke when Seahorse turns away from his kids. “No way, I wouldn’t be ready yet”. Such a story; to a three year old, it begs for a smirk. It is ludicrous. A long-shot joke to be without one’s parents.

I think of Nagisa’s mother. She was a mother. Now there is sorrow. A life, a house, a schedule ripped from the walls. I don’t understand how nightmares can remain in the day. I teach my group of girls, her friends, this Wednesday and we will all think she is not absent. It will be tough to breathe right. And I am deciding certain things–ways of being, not just what I say. It is Sunday night. What must her mother be doing, wringing out her heart with her hands. What will she do? How do I climb the rope bridge to carry comfort. She must be slumped. Eyes crying, wringing out.

See, there are so many, too many, ways to lose your kid. Too many sadnesses. What I am getting back to is that this life is way too short for timidity. If I am to love my students, love my kids, I must love big. I must not leave room for unspoken, unacted-on things, but move with the discerning warmth of the sun.  It’s time to swim with my kids and let all my senses in. It’s time to speak encouragement and dig up the seeds we let languish in the just-good-enough, crappy field. Put it somewhere needed, somewhere great. I want to hug all her friends, hold tight her mother and invite myself in, pound out what was her life. I can picture her thoughts, her habits like air bubbles. Everytime I leave school and stand under the ginkgo trees, I wonder was this the route she took home. I want to find out everything to bring her back is the thing.


3. Collecting Oneself

It’s time to pick up my kids, to go past where all the schoolgirls are finding out. It’s time to open the hatch on heartfelt things, on tears, stethoscope over heart, fingers on wrist, and life into veins. I have a need to find a planetarium. I teach my girl about galaxies. I am sick of the ills of this world.

I didn’t plan on telling my daughter about death. It was going to be my secret for a long, long while because who can tell their baby…people can get sick and that’s it. That sometimes our prayers are lovely and heard but…the body is weak. I didn’t even want to tell her about the mean queens and witches in her books. We were going to skip pain.

I was going to outlaw these words. But I cannot shield my own face’s emotions. I cannot teach her empathy and the kind of love that hurts when others hurt and loves when others love if she only thinks folks pray for trivial things, for missing earrings and tummies to not ache. This is a world that needs sensitive three-year-olds to look and CARE, to learn prayer without ceasing, to wait on good news! There is shadow because there is light. Quiet is quiet because we know loud. Night time is when we rest with the moon, rest in reflecting the sun.


4. A Chariot

She looks on her sweet nail beds, sees the candlelight flicker from braided Havdalah light. We hold our nails up, to witness light reflecting on our very skin, our cuticles, on our life. And we are commanded, also, to notice shadow. The shadow signifies light, so we are standing in the middle of where we need to be like a giant sun dial. We move together, newborn turtles who trust, still, that light will bathe us and take us towards greater things, to the salty foam of sea.

With the close of Shabbat, the tips of our little nails, there is the next day and the need to sleep, too.

I pack up for Monday students, the diapers, shirts, and sheets for my little kids to sleep on at school.

I wonder what will keep me from chewing my nails. What is to keep me from letting the light in. Perhaps nothing.

It is like how that time I hatched chicks in my classroom; our hands turning eggs, holding them to the lamp.

Which one will change, which one has passed, unfertilized. Later, the smell of eggs warming in their incubator, wet chicks using their toothed, pecking beak. It would be terrifying if you couldn’t already imagine them fluffy, walking around cheeping.

Today my baby boy drank cow’s milk and I went to bed with eggshells in the sink.


World Cup: How Do You Say, “GO! FIGHT! WIN!”

Today’s FIFA World Cup post, in friendship with Multicultural Kids Blogs, is brought to you by the letter “L”, for language.


worldcup pic

Language, my friends, bridges gaps, repairs seams, & cheers on friends as they make their mark on the world.

Language colors the words to a song. Your language tells where you were born, tells people to stop and go.

Your language is the music box to your soul. (I swear, I really AM this cheesy. I could write for Hallmark with my eyes closed). It’s what Queen Ursula was after. In it are all the nuances that make you YOU. Dialect, accent, tone. The history of 1st words you ever learned.

Today I sat observing a Japanese class at a nearby language school in Tokyo. (I’ll be starting there soon, so language and my desperate need is showing up in what I’m writing, of late). I was taken aback when the sensei led me in; what a raucous party. It was part MTV Spring Break and part United Nations. They were making jokes with the teacher, answering questions, practicing one-on-one, but with loud laughter running all over the walls. Fun, fine. Normal. Until I realized, rather learned, that not one of them speaks English. They are from Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Mexico, …it is their new language, this Japanese, that is the only option, and also the route to knowing these warm people, these new friends.

It hit me–learning this language is for a broader picture. It is deciding to go “all in” within your community, to lay down roots and not just flail. Not stay suspended in our own abilities and our own bubble. We need community. We need to grow our voice. Sometimes that looks like cheering.

So, dear ones. In honor of Language, in honor of Japan playing Greece, Thursday 7 pm, here is a little Japanese primer.


On the window of a bistro I passed today

Pronunciation cheat sheet:

*When you see an “i”, pronounce it with a Spanish “i”, or “ee”.

* When you see an “e”, pronounce it like “cafe”. (So “sake”, the alcohol, is pronounced “sakai”, like “cafe”.


Of course, the above sign says, “GO!”, but it is so common to hear this word:

GANBATTE! がんばって–Translated, “Do your best! Go for it!” (And a whole host of like directives)

You see this with GANBATTE KUDASAI! , the addition of “please”, for a more polite feel.

So someone will encourage another with a hearty, “ganbatte kudasai!” and the recipient will reply, “Gambattemasu!” (I will do my best!)

Or if it is a team effort, everyone will chant, “GANBATTEMASHOU!” (like “ganbahteemashow“. We will do it!!!)

For “Don’t give up,” try, “AKIRAMENAIDE.”

OMEDETOU! おめでとうございます。–Translates to, “Congratulations!”

To be more polite, you’d add, “Gozaimasu” for “Omedetou gozaimasu!”

Maybe you already know “KONICHIWA”? Good afternoon, but also spoken at the first time you see someone that day.


Phrases and Idioms:

“What a small world!”, like if your friend knows someone you know, say, “SEKAI WA SEMAI”, literally “The world is narrow”.

“Let’s watch the soccer game tonight!” translates to, “Kon’ya wa terebi de sakka (socccer) minyo yo.”


Here is a pretty goofy/cute video with more Japanese sports vocabulary. Only the names of sports, actually.

Here is a fantastic primer of Japan National facts in the form of a fun video! You’ll learn some facts & hear Japanese language.


Also, a word to the wise, keep your eyes on Keisuke Honda. The whole world is watching #4.


In other recent developments, my daughter has now relinquished her Samurai Blue shirt. “Not girly enough”, she surmised.

I’ll try a little cutting and tailoring to perhaps better fit her temperment. Maybe I’ll have that ready by the next World Cup. In lieu of the shirt, I guess we’ll know her or her team by her voice, by her sweet & strong cheer.

All best,



Being International, Some Signs

Here are some of the signs, or recorded proof that I am often out of my element, or struggling to make myself understood. Raising kids in Japan is not always the easiest, but it is good. Our kids know lots about travel, accents, longing, and belonging. Maybe much of this is true if you are international, expat, bicultural, or multilingual. Gimme your thoughts!


1. Your three-year-old suddenly loves using the word “boobies” with what she has deemed, “a French accent”. She also experiments with a clean British accent, at which point she lifts her chin and calls out, “Mother”–

2. She has understood the International Date Line for years.

3. Your son’s day care teacher uses a translate app to log his day, penning, “This is shit” to tell me about diarrhoea.

4. Only one person (a girl’s mom you tutor) calls your home phone. Because everyone else has learned it is useless to call.

5. All the day care parents think you have the most fashionable kids ever because on vacations and in care packages, there is Target, otherwise known as The Best Place in America, barring family and spiritual community.

6. You once called out, “Poor kid!” to a baby and his mother when you really wanted to say, “Wow, so cute.” (Your husband then scuttled you off at the next stop).

7. You sing each word to every Muzak song played at the grocery store, with a sophisticated air, as if to say, “I may be slightly illiterate here, but I know my American songs, you guys.” (Sometimes “you guys” is substituted for a more pizzazzy word, like “b—–s” or “jerks”).

8. You still stop to take pictures of daily occurrences like this man who is apparently a one-man recycling truck. wpid-wp-1403063711292.jpeg

9. You cannot ask anything or explain anything, but your smile lines sure get lots of use. They are now deep, deep grooves.

You can’t fake joy, you don’t want to just “get through the day”. I figure it best to start with a smile. I can always learn Japanese…right??

Here’s lookin’ at you,



Upholstery, Kids, & Me


Don’t you just love vintage anything?

From the Acceptance Speech to the Swearing in. 

They said it couldn’t be done.

They said you’re kidding yourself.
They said, “No way, José“.
Find another chair, that we couldn’t handle it. Mashed potatoes and nuggets, mashed carrots, nori, and cabbage soup would all land in the chair’s weave. Well we proved them wrong. As wrong as an infomercial dousing gasoline on a white rug, followed by peanut butter and red paint, then poop.

They said it could never come out, that we are fooling ourselves and we should or can only ever have smooth, wipeable plastic. We proved them wrong today. I proved I was not a mad woman for stubbornly choosing the more top of the line dining room chairs–the upholstered chairs.

I should be in a full-on red track suit for this, the infomercial of my life.

See, during the blessing over the wine this past Shabbat, I spilled and practically threw my wine stem in the air. The next millisecond rained juice, the full cup, and glass. Shards and shards of glass, as if I’d smashed three glasses. Glass all over, purple spreading liquid all over my beautiful chair. The non-childproof one with the non-chair-cover hiding it.

We must like to be vulnerable. I must like emotional roller coasters.

But anyway, it came out!!
Next stop, I help sell Magic Bullets or Rainbow vacs. I sell mugs to people who hate hot drinks. I’ll go door to door with encyclopedias and the soap and muscle, not to mention, miracle, we used to get all the purple out.  I’ve got this.


Don’t worry, we’ll screw the legs back on.


Japan’s Game & Father’s Day: Win Win

Here I am, teaming up with Multicultural Kid Blogs in our multifaceted, culture-rich look at The FIFA World Cup. I feel a bit like a blogger interning at Sports Illustrated for Kids! Very fun to have a turn, as I am our featured blogger for Japan. (No pressure…um) 😉

worldcup pic

It’s game day for the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan plays Cote d’Ivoir today, Sunday the 15th, also Father’s Day. We’ve gotten a bit serious about how we will watch, see exhibit a, b, c, and d.

We will be hosting a little block party of sorts, watching with a wonderful family who are French and Japanese. This unique combo of Father’s Day and the 2014 FIFA World Cup call for some interesting snacks, non? The house will ring with French and Japanese mixing in with English, squeeles of kids running around, while the FIFA World Cup commentators do their thing.

Japan’s team is often referred to as Samurai Blue.

Japan team

Japan knows how to be fierce as well as cute.


Back to the party. What to eat? Well, if I were really looking to be in WC party mode, I would arrange all the Japanese faves–from sushi to cold somen (noodles) to okonamiyaki (a kind of street pancake with loads of cabbage, egg, pickled ginger, and smoked tuna flakes on top. Many of the foods Japan is know for are seafoods, like the ubiquitous sushi, sashimi, smoked squids and a variety of fish cooked in a variety of ways. We are an island in the Pacific, after all. Actually, the technical word is an archipelago, a string of islands from snowy Sapporo, nearest Russia, to the white sand, tropical Okinawa.


I’m there, in lime green Tokyo, wearing my Samurai Blue with my family and all of Japan. (PS We lost tonight).

We are in the midst of warm, humid rainy season, so one could get pretty excited stocking up on icy-cold drinks and snacks for these games. A Japanese snack or lunch table can include popular sodas like Calpis or a household lemon drink, CC Lemon. In humid June heat, mugicha is the usual summer drink. Cha means tea, mugi is barley; so this is refreshing, non-caffeinated barley tea. Babies, kids, adults– everyone grows up barley tea.

We went all out to bridge the French component with… so much cheese. So much. cheese. Also smoked salmon, capers, and lots of nibbles.

Seeing as our Japan/Cote d’Ivoir game falls on Father’s Day, we are doing a nice brunch of waffles in our waffle iron. Hot, fluffy waffles and a nice cool spoonful of whipped cream are spot-on. Also, our friends will bring a lovely quiche.

With our screen and projector on loan, piles of prints from Multicultural Kids Blog’s World Cup activity pack, everything is in place. Very exciting! ($6.95 bought me a whole download of awesomely relevant sheets from mapping the teams of the world to tracking the score and uniforms of today’s game!!) I will post some of the kiddos’ great work later this week.

Here is the activity pack link, pre-k to grade 4. Truly great!


Did you read my last World Cup post? Here ya go!

Will post more later. So many pics.
Go Samurai Blue!!


I could throw up right now. I am at a definitive crossroads, the kind where you make a choice.

Growing up, I usually veered for not making a choice. You know, when you sit in indecision waiting for others to make the decisions which affect you. I would wait til the very last moment, when hopefully circumstances had mopped me into a corner & then I would need rescuing or I would choose to walk across the floor with my heavy army boots, fishnets, & that purple velvet skirt I made (when I wasn’t in flowy skirts & sandals). I’d then scuff up the floor and be angry with myself. Or maybe I’d just be relieved I never had to really make the decision. I remember relief when I could choose two ice cream flavors. I never did select a favorite color growing up.

Imagine how many crossroads in the route of a snail?

Imagine how many crossroads in the route of a snail? (KT’s artwork)

Anyway, my crossroads is this. I am at the point where I am so emotionally stretched and drained from not knowing the Japanese language. Yesterday, I sat in a teeny wooden chair at my daughter’s school for a special parent/teacher meeting where we watched videos of our awesome kids, listened to some new rules and news, and then shared our own challenges with our child at home. This means I sat for a very long time not knowing what was being said, trying to be okay with that, boosting myself up at moments, thinking of how cool my girl is for being so awesome at Japanese when she is all English at home, etc. I tried to be okay with sensing what parents were saying, being keyed-in by the spirit. Thing is, riding the way of unspoken, indirect communication only gets me so far. Sitting without a voice, brushing off my total need to understand and be understood (for gosh sakes, I’m a great parent & a real teacher! How can I NOT know what the heck is going on??) is wearing. In between moms sharing, my legs and butt got awkward and uncomfortable. My smile wavered. My hair continued to frizz in the warm room, the heavy air of rain accumulating inside.

That isn’t a crossroads; that is just a situation. Yes. And how I respond will color the conditions going forward. I either become more sullen, more emotional. I can choose to fight back, choose to grow my voice, meaning my Japanese voice. Not my too small, always apologising, “gomenasying” voice that is almost a whisper. It is too polite, even for this culture. I can choose to grow a backbone, in this case a foundation in Japanese to hold me up, to buoy my insides, especially when they are drowning in overwhelm. I have to learn to stop bowing and just stand up.

So my next move is acting on the need for change instead of retreating and going back to my comfortable corner to think and brood. I will be all action, not just resolution. I guess, right? Cuz I need my voice. I need me to be strong and feeling tough. It will require giving up some parts of my writing (in English) life. I hope I can be okay with that for the sacrifice of my future voice, for next year’s parent/teacher events and everyday, scheduled, & unplanned meetings when I can either grow small or go big.

Many many deep breaths are required.


Maybe I’m afraid if I make the move, there won’t be any water? Well done, Mr. Silverstein. Poor Melissa.

Please don’t think I’ll stay here in this place of anxiety or emotion. I will use it for motivation. I will give it over to G-d. I won’t be alone with it.

Like any snail, I’ll find my “footing”. I guess. I mean, I better, right?

Love you,