The Need for Name tags

In a perfect world, we’d all wear name tags, fully monogrammed sweaters and totes, or at least rock our names in the form of namey pendants. I can’t get anyone’s name right. I am floundering in a sea of Kanako, Kotoka, and Kioko, or was it Kayoka. I’m bogged down in name-worry when I hear, “Ohiyo, Melissa San”. And I say, “Ohiyo… you… ko?”


Faces I’m good at. Knowing someone’s personal style, the way they tilt their head, whether they’ve just gotten a hair cut—these are my specialties. But names? In Japan, I am absolutely ridiculous. And then, even if I do know the person’s name, I become so socially nervous about whether I will remember the name, that I create several possibilities of what it may be, and I then forget my (usually correct) starting point. It’s gone, too twisted and turned to know north from west, ue from shita (top from bottom). 

This doesn’t happen with names like Dave or Scott, Amir, Kadesha, or even Pedro Velasquez Jose Domingo Rivera. My time teaching in the largely Guatemalan neighborhood within Lake Worth, Florida, gave me that skill. It’s the Ko, the Ka, the Yu vs Yo, Haru vs Hiro within larger names that flit away, making it difficult to be a friendly adult reciprocating greetings left and right.

(Is it Yumono or Yukamo…Kayuma??? They are endlessly shifting, rearranging themselves before my eyes).


Now it’s not all tough beans; parents at the kids’ school call me “Kariin-Chan no Mama”, equilavalent to the very personal (or not) “Kariin’s Mom”. This is cultural. I have no doubt they can remember Melissa. I am the only foreigner there. I figure, perhaps self-centeredly, that my name may be a respite in the graceful, glittering sea of “Yumi” or “ko, ka, ki” and so on. They have to do something a bit differently with their mouth. Maybe my name is exotic. Maybe I am like the Swedish exchange student who landed in my seventh grade science class. But I shouldn’t be the one with the name tag. All the forty something students should please pen their name, plastered to shirts with a smile. I’ll take whole names, nicknames, and a handy caricature to help me keep it all straight. And please don’t write it in the complicated brushstrokes of Kanji. If I am to learn what to call you, let me do it right.

But without your name tag, I may have to divulge my secret that six months later, I really don’t know your name and could have an anxiety attack if you ask me. Seriously. One can go past the acceptable point of asking for a reminder. I’ve been there, just holding my breath for my more-than-acquaintances to stare me in the eye and squawk, “You really don’t know my name, do you?” At which point, I will try to stifle the rising feel of anxiety-induced throw up, reach in my bag and toss them an adhesive blank name tag and a Sharpie. “Gomen!! I’M SORRY!” I’ll scream as I run out of the room or lurch from the sidewalk into the busy street.

Happy six years to my hub and I landing in Japan. What can I say? I’m lucky I know his name.

the voice in row I


This is not blog worthy. Neither is the fact that a separate blog post (in my head, not yet written or published) starts, “I am learning how to say, “Don’t push me on the train”, and “Today must have been 200 degrees, easily.” Sometimes the gist feels irrelevant. It is more about voice and pushing the words out. Hitting publish, finishing til the end. Not worrying, just enjoying getting out there, like grass on toes.

So when I say I went to the movies today, that is not blog-worthy. Except when I say it was in all Japanese, not even subtitles, that’s something, right? And if I say that I learned some more cultural differences when it comes to movies, that is also relevant. Of course, the fact that showed any signs of life for the whole of FrozenAnna to Yuki no Jou (Anna and the Snow Queen), could be a Japanese thing. It could also be an-it’s-late-afternoon-and-parents-are-schlepped-out-thing. But no singing to the most celebrated, most decorated animated movie, for acting, singing, and writing? No chuckles at Olaf’s adorable goofyness? Hmm. Reminds me of when I guffawed through Sex and the City with my teacher friends from American School in Japan and we were the only hysterical, or even slightly amused ladies in the whole cinema. Every lady there in her own Jimmy Choos was simply stone-faced, blinking sometimes. (I know I can be a bit uptight about bringing in a relaxed feel. Maybe everyone is just talking it in, focusing on new words, sounds and ideas). When Charlotte accidentally sipped her shower water in Mexico and then proceeded to get SOOOO sick? That is funny, ladies, in any language. It is physical comedy, hello. You can laugh.


My exquisite darling.

Needless to say, this voice-junkie-mama was just thrilled when my girl started in with her song, “Ari no Mama De”/Let it Go in the stirring Japanese rendition. It’s what she’d anticipated. It is her glory song, her war cry and beautiful-life-chant. I’ll bet my little mixed caramel/shoyu tub of popcorn that kids everywhere, in theatres around the globe just belt it. I’ll bet their mothers even sing along. Here? In our theatre in Tokyo’s busy Ikebukuro, the patrons were silent. Not even whispers, which is good, because smiles can even make noise. But not my girl. I think this is either that mark of a spirited girl or the spirited American in her. I hope she always finds her voice amid cultural mores and ways that are not often questioned. I hope she wonders, takes roles of leadership, and grows.


an artist from our art fest this past weekend.

In the meanwhile, I am thrilled that Disney has worked with singers and actors in far-flung places to get a wide offering of languages available to such young girls as my own. I love that she can exercise each of her languages, each tongue, in dramatic snow-covered-mountain scenes and coronations. In this way, there are no limitations. She is both the Japanese Elsa and English-speaking snow queen when she sings. Yay for translated movies; they are our bicultural.

When it came time to leave, no one got up. It was just credits. No side animation. No feature but black screen for white text. But get this–no one budged. No one left in a savvy hurry to the restrooms or exit line to get out before a rush. When I tried, I was met with a kind of no. We we trapped; no one else we was moving and we would block them..from viewing credits. The whole theatre sat there while I thought about the entire cast of movie-goers getting up together. Rushing the ladies bathroom, clogging the singular elevator. While Sound Grip guys rolled by and Lighting Team members lit up the screen in attendance, I felt minutes roll by, the black of the theatre making my skin crawl with claustrophobic excitement. The families on my right and left appeared dutiful in their resolve to…sit silently.

In my affairs with Japan, it is always a balancing of who is more graceful, who is wiser with what seems common-sensical. Usually, Japan wins out. Japan is royal in this, putting others together, cohesive til the end. No shifting gears but staying put, poised, while I chew popcorn. Loudly, probably. Allowing my child to sing (softly). Some days it is okay to hear your own voice. This is when you can say, “That voice you hear? It’s mine.”


Sunday Morning & the Lovely


If you’re going to be woken by an enchantingly loud three & a half year old any Sunday morning, let it be

to her rosy speech hollering down two flights. Let those words melt you in their sweet lilt, the loudest partial whisper ever, “Mom! Can I use the ssss-prray!!

We just love Kariin’s current sssssp…eech. A whole slew of words that start with “s” are sss…paced out so that she can finish the s before moving on. Otherwise, her dear friend, Smith’s name is…Fif. Yes, Fif. Fif. It is hilarious. Part of me is absolutely content letting her rock these sounds when other parts of her language are so well-developed. I mean, the girl’s bilingual. She regularly uses words like “version”, “although”, “characters”, “absolutely” (with terrific emphasis on the word), “hardly”, “consequence”, “communicate”, “decision”, “massive”, I could go on. So it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we let her go on with “Fif”, “fay” (for spray), or “feshal” (can you guess?) except that our totally casual, amateur speech therapy also proves hilarious and yes, useful.


She can almost tackle and land any of these s words if she says the S, then pauses, and WHISPERS the rest. S…mith (in a very, could-be-creepy, a little bit fast and powerful whisper), S…pray, S…ports. Those endings are spoken with zealous command. She is working at it. I just wish she’d use the word, “S…panish” all the time. Wait, the best is sparkle. It comes out “farkle”. “Can I have another farkle, please”? Or, “Mommy, her shirt is so farkly!”

See, in Japanese, each letter, if you will, is attached to a vowel sound. It is not “sushi” like we think of it, but “soo” (one letter) with “she” (one letter). The adopted word, “spoon”, is written and pronounced “soopoon” in Japanese, because there are no single consonant/no vowel letters, if you get my “doerifuto” (drift).

Oh, excellent book to enjoy: SPOON, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Scott Magoon (also a super fun name to read aloud). I should go through our bookshelves for my comedic titles, thanks to K’s “soo..peech”.

I should teach her the word “sporadic” next. Could be a hoot. Could be Fectacular or s…pectacular. Could be that she’ll “fred” her winds and take to the s…ky.

Love & farkely whispers,




Snap, a New Sound to Growing


Just like that, my son has stopped nursing. Rather, I stopped nursing him. I explained it in a kind of firm, empassioned mumble.

You are big, you eat so much food, even love cow milk, you are ready, my son, to stop nursing. You are so big.

And hearing it, I believed. Hearing it out loud, growing firmer as his bedtime came, I knew it all to be true. He did it, did so well getting to this point and even letting me hug him in between his cries.

And now, it is past any bedtime. I am absolved, hanging in the rafters of my daughter’s third floor room. I am restless while I should be asleep.

Her belly bare, sheets and legs twisted in the opening lines of some ballet movement. She fed him with a spoon tonight. What did I do? Videod. Relished the sweet sibling hood that makes it so three and one year old can understand each other fairly completely.



Will he remember me looking very poured out? Tired? Or a yelping disappointment stuck in the wheels of his only two teeth on the bottom days? May we always help him move from frustration to strength and joy. I say kindness, sweeping laughter is the adhesive to all these frames and concrete moments. I say I will recall his sweet tummy growing rounder, a little puppy, how two minutes of nursing would give him two empowered hours like a mythic booster shot. I will not recall the ever-engorgement, a fever, hurting nipple pulls or teeth marks, when he couldn’t get a clear shot due to my clothes. When his teeth coming in made him uncharacteristically harsh. I will remember my baby’s love. The simply beauty that I could provide exactly his need. Mother and child fit together perfectly.

And just like that, he will grow more rapidly. I will shift. Emotions. Hormones. The speed in which it takes to link my sugary lips to spot some extra skin spilling over my jeans. Just like that, I will gather new tricks up my sleeve to comfort and quell.

Just like that, we realize we are ready.

Language School


We kids speak in the cadence of youth,
Tap our pens with the carefree malaise and melodic beat, “ka ki ku ke ko.”
From the cheap, single pane door of virtual-tin, come patterns that mark each of our homes, our mothers, or mother-tongues.

Each of them is after something. Each of us have moved away.

And as I fly down the six flights to relax on our break, I hear the Chinese come through my heels, feel the Uzbek-language with Akobir’s loud start and Tomas’ French rounded r’s, more like w’s. Each of us has our own linguistic impediment to learning this new thing–this potential. Each of us with our accents and humor. Some moments it is all a bit silly. And yet, I’m in awe. It’s like the very first day of Space Camp.



I inhale my Starbucks Mexican wrap and think on the tricky fun that is Chang Li’s Spanish accent. We are all tricky and complex, indeed. We people who leave countries and neighborhoods and our own dialectical soundtracks to lay new tracks, join new packs here. I study with high hopes.

Before He’s Nine and Three Quarters

I’d better get my act together & share pictures of our boy’s 1st birthday hoopla, before he is bar-mitzvah or riding without training wheels or me. Let’s recount baby gifts before it’s all college essays and razors, huh? wpid-wp-1404825490133.jpeg wpid-wp-1404825492660.jpeg We had us a birthday party at our same nearby park that we had K’s 1 year old fête in. So many family milestones have been marked there, including every spring season of petals and cherry blossom parties. I’ve danced there on the main stage to the beat of taikos and bells. I’ve squirreled baskets of succulents at the garden festivals, weaved my way through joggers while very pregnant. I’ve worried around the main children’s playground, not seeing my girl for a whole minute. It is where both kids have swung on their first swings and slid down their first slides, hair lifting from their very first bout of plastic slide induced static electricity. Only fitting that we’d have the first of a lifetime of birthdays there, at the castle playground, blowing out a candle near the elephant slide. wpid-wp-1404825488919.jpeg wpid-wp-1404825489371.jpeg One of the most special parts of Jude’s party was that our dear friends would be present, having just flown in, over the ocean, and in and out of weeks to get to us. They brought plenty of love, hugs, and treats. They were a festival with wings, even making Mexican-spiced beef, gorgeous sangrias, and hefty bowls of the very best salsa.  As if that weren’t enough, they brought enough candy to stuff Willy Wonka! Did I mention that to include these friends, we had to scoot the celebration day back quite a bit, but no matter—that brought it to Cinco de Mayo, hence the everything-Mexican/latinny/delish. And, I sure had my mind made up to make us a pinata (not that I ever had before!) wpid-wp-1404825489039.jpeg wpid-wp-1404825489693.jpeg Add to the calendar, the fact that in Japan, May 5th is also Children’s Day/Boy’s Day, called Kodomo no Hi. See My MKB article!! here, for Multicultural Kids Blogs. Wheew. We were flying! Birthday cake! Japanese treats & subtle odes to Children’s Day! Pinata craziness! Salsa! Coronas…We had a blast and a half. We had us a one year old Jude. wpid-wp-1404825489376.jpeg


Little Madeleine Stowe having a Dances with Wolves moment under the trees

wpid-imag4854.jpg wpid-wp-1404825492229.jpeg I love making celebrations because my inner color-obsessions come through loud and clear. Thing is, I am surely BFF with Joy or OH JOY designs. Thanks to our fiathful, amazing, generous besties who flew in from South Florida, so did all the party gear. As if they weren’t already paying overage fees, they added to the candy, aqua and green napkins, lanterns, party pitchers, hats, and more of the items you see in the pictures. I could wallpaper my walls in this OH JOY confetti print paper napkins. Really, I could paper my LIFE in them–a uniform of printed pants, skirt, silk panels on a cardi, preppy leads for our stinky dogs, you name it. I pretty much don’t have a favorite color, but more of a grouping I call “sunset”. It is more of a melange, a melting sorbet-sicle. wpid-wp-1404831241962.jpeg wpid-wp-1404825493925.jpeg See all this loot? We treasure the people. My seventeen-year old little sister was also situated with us here at her new life abroad. She is co-party planner and definitely the more organized one. I swear she could run a large scale catering business on the side, eyes closed. How awesome for us to look back and see she was there. When we splatted open my pinata and I could have cried from the breaking of something I worked hard making (yes, nursing moms with suddenly one year olds can be emotional), we invited all the park kids to come join us. We had so much candy! We knew they would have so much fun, knowing that for most of these Japanese kids, ours would be their first ever pinata. Viva Cinco de Mayo! The parents were enamored; we could have asked them anything, shared deep secrets; generosity and candy is magnetic. Explosions of candy=joy. period. wpid-wp-1404831215196.jpeg The kids and parents came hesitantly at first, but then they were running! Viva our little boy! Long live the community we feel strengthened by as we raise our children. Thanks be to the L-rd for giving us such a family and situating us among friends, salsa, & the best party foods. Perhaps the fact that I haven’t shared anyt of the party pics perhaps means I was saving them close to my heart. It just so happens that weaning is in full effect. My little boy is roving, looking for comfort and nourishment apart from me. His is a sturdy frame. It is all perfect and terribly sweet, each memory of his babyhood, a Sweetart or mini Tootsie Roll flinging out.

Steel Yourself

Everyday city girls clunk,

Cling shoes, press against handles to stop.


We fling upwards, up beams bred of metal or wood.

Up speed, uptempo, double time until

Herbal tea brews knots in the wood

We sway, singing

city songs. 

Door opening & closing, we chickies move with and against the throng. 


We know how to move in the wind, know how to dance up escalators.

If only I’d turn on some pedometer,

I’d see energy in numeric form,

understand why I chomp so much bread.


Energy functions upstairs,

Through corridors and packed cloakrooms, B1 basements with friends. 

We bemoan walking when it is the function of our legs.


I am a city grid, lit by all the places I’ve fled, urban brooks where even poetry can live.

There are pockets of love, communities in lit windows, rafters splintering, made solid by laughter.

(And she shows you where to look amid the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning

    from Suzanne, by Leonard Cohen)

There is the strained passage of home and away, the perfect peace of together, shared fruit, chipped tooth, and the resisting of decay. There is stored energy and combustion, the gathering of tension.  The mounting decision to stop nursing. 

I am on my way home, through tunnel. Down stations of stairs. Corridors, never ending, twisting. I am digging new ways to get you. I am coming, my loves.