to begin w/

this is a post in honor of all those other mother/daughter relationships largely spent on skype. you expats & adult-kiddos living away from your ‘rents.

this is a post about the complexity of month-long visits & my need to forgive myself. and learn. and do better, for all of our sakes. trust me, employing only lower-case letters is the least of it.

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where do i even begin when my mom has just left us from a month, a solid month of staying here in our cramped room, sharing tight hugs and morning snuggles with her grandbabies. she is touching-down in vietnam now, perhaps reflecting on our time, perhaps only thinking hanoi and how to count her vietnamese dong i exchanged for her. she’ll take her today-painted coral nails and show up big, show up loved.

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when do we stop being teenagers with more numbers, more candles to lick after singing? when is the time i phase into grace and sweetness, dropping off impatience like dirty laundry? on that visit, the one without my cursewords, the one in which i don’t brandish my sword, i will be so proud; i will want to skip over every surface as if it were the girlscout bridge. the one you move over when you are no longer called a brownie and everybody sings the “make new friends” song again. at that time, during the perfect visit, i will know i am grown and lovely, the kind of woman my daughter will be with me as we loop arms and walk along the boulevard. did i tell you, my mom took me to theChamps-Élysées? yes i graduated hs and there she was, cash in hand, single mother, doing the grand unthinkable.

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on this trip, i tried to repay her…a mere measly token. i bought her musee d’orsay ticket at the gallery here in tokyo. the walls were not staid, not classical white piano keys, but frothy foamy neonic colors as if north miami took part. as if key west was a royal patron. we may have looped arms. or maybe i was my normal aloof, that body language i revert to when i forget how to breathe & just love.

our tickets back then, back when i was a long long-haired sassy teenager, were roundtrip, $600. can you imagine. and the art ticket just this past saturday? 1,600 yen. maybe it is just that. your mother is your mother. i am daughter. i am trying. i am trying. my mom is just amazing, is all, and has been doing it all much longer. even if i buy her cappuccino, i am bound to screw up before she finishes the cup. i forget her water or express loud loud exasperation. i tell ya, i might as well be a fourteen year old with rippling, embarrassing estrogen, and a bad haircut.

but one day, one trip i’ll get more right. and she’s not after much, just love and hugs and no-facades, just the real-deal, enjoy each other, being kind, being some way that makes you savor the day and slurp up your udon which may have gotten so mushy, so lukewarm, but that love…the love that served you didn’t go away.

her love transforms the meager, transforms the scant, the too-salty, the whatever, into what is memorable, into how we remember every crumb, every standing-up un petit déjeuner of un café et un croissant into a Manet or Cassatt.

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this is the woman i want to lead my girl scout troop; this is the mother i want to hold onto and look like as she lands in hanoi and gets her bearings, tightening the knotted sweatjacket sleeves around her waste. she will land, proudly. she will figure out how to get to her hotel. she will sleep and dream of our hugs and of hiking the forest at sunset. she will open the door, bring the wheels onto hanoi’s runway, and will emerge as if she genuinely belongs there, flashing the ultimate-even-though-she-is-tired, there-is-so-much-to-be-grateful-for smiles. my mom is the gentlest, most fun kind of fierce. she is strong in her love.

may her trip be a thousand eiffel towers and a hundred swooping hugs.

 

xoxo love, your daughter.

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My Neighborhood, Be Mine

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Remember Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? On an American TV show on the Public Broadcasting Station, this gentle, vested man would sing a welcome with lines like, ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
どうぞ よろしく おねがいします
Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu
This is one of the important phrases we used when meeting our neighbors in our little neighborhood. It is a gift culture, a culture of quiet-love. We humbly held-out our little baby home-made challahs, braided egg bread, made by my elegant (Japanese) mother-in-law. That was six years ago, around the surrounding homes of our rented home. We moved around the corner, literally 71 steps, one month before our second child was due to make his appearance & hear our words, どうぞ よろしく おねがいします.
“Please be kind to me, as I will be kind to you.”
Show me your neighbourhood around the world
So now, neighbors from abroad, I get to show you my little and lovely Tokyo community.
This is the neatest project, ala The Piri-Piri Lexicon. Each of us bloggers, in showing our ‘hoods, must include the following snapshots:
a playground / play area
a local mode of transport
a typical house/building
a street nearby
a school, nursery or other education facility
a market, supermarket or other shopping outlet
 Here goes! Welcome to my neighborhood in Kami-Nakazato, Tokyo!
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We are at the top, or northern part of Tokyo, Japan. Our prefecture, or ward within Tokyo is called Kita-Ku. It is quite green and peaceful here. When coming back from loud and crowded Shibuya or Shinjuku, say, it is literally a breath of fresh air to step out of the train station and walk up the hill. In the summer, this main street is lined with fluffy crepe myrtle trees. There is a Japanese temple on this same street and when the strung lanterns are lit, it is as if lightening bugs lead me home.
Transport:
When I first moved with my husband, six years ago, from Florida, I was shocked—people here ride bikes on the sidewalk.
Every so often, you’ll spot a serious rider moving with cars on the street, but I quickly learned to share the sidewalk with all those healthy Japanese people, scooting around not in cars, but in sneakers, ringing their bicycle bells.

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This is typical transportation. You really don’t need a car; Tokyo has one of the most premier train systems in the world, and bikes make marketing and getting around much easier than simply getting around on foot. Battery-assist bikes take moms to the next level, as they can get up the hills with children and groceries, no problem. Plus, the added benefit of a car means super-expensive parking and finding spots for your vehicle. This is a mega-city with millions of people riding a most efficient train system. I hop on that, too. Doing everything but riding in my own car feels pretty green.

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Streets here are narrow and trucks have to get through. Needless to say, garbage trucks, moving trucks, basically all vehicles must be small and able to whip around tiny places. No jeep/truck crossovers here. Our former house just about dropped us out on this narrow street. There was no driveway; there is nothing close to a sidewalk when the actual street may almost be as narrow as an actual sidewalk! When leaving the house, I’d have to slowly sneak my nose, then forehead and eyes outside. Whizzing-by delivery trucks and motorcycles had come very close to clipping me!

When my mom first visited, she was shocked when I directed her down a particular street. She refused to call it a street, as it was more like an alley.

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Normal street/home sightings:  On sunny days, futons hang out of windows to air-out after the futon-owners smack them with special futon-hitters to spank-out any allergens and dust. Sun, of course, has its own anti-everything yucky properties, so airing-out futons is an important part of keeping house in Japan.

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Oh, and you will see lots of your neighbors’ underwear, as most homes do not have dryers. The people of Tokyo practice the art of line-drying. You will always feel a bit closer (or not?) after seeing your neighbor’s red undies…

Apartment buildings are called “mansions” here. Even when teeny.

wpid-imag0184.jpg       wpid-imag0205.jpg Our area is one of the older parts of Tokyo, in terms of physical features, shops, temples, and such, as Kita-ku did not suffer from the fire-campaigns that much of Tokyo, and 65 other cities in Japan experienced. This is an old and special part of Tokyo, for sure.

Flowers! Green! We are lucky to live so near to a renown garden. During their rose festivals and evenings of illumination, busloads of Japanese and international tourists pour in and enjoy the Western garden and traditional Japanese features. Brides clad in silk kimonos take their pictures here.

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See the cute aqua taxi? Just to the left is one of the buses bringing people to the rose garden. In a city where space is at a deluxe premium, being able to take the kids an easy two minutes to a park or garden is so appreciated. Space!!!! Speaking of space, or lack of it, most everyone has container gardens, as opposed to planting anything directly into the ground. Some people even employ strung PET bottles as hanging pots.

Fresh Air n Play:

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We look forward to our rose ice cream at the garden, too, made with petals and rose water!

Of course, there are more parks with playgrounds.

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We also have CHERRY BLOSSOMS in two neighborhood parks! I don’t mean to brag. It is not a fancy neighborhood. Houses are quite modest, plain, and small. However, our parks and gardens are written-up in the top five and top ten lists! Here is a peak at sakura/cherry blossom time:

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One of the local kids’ spots is actually situated under a bridge. In warm months, the city turns on the water so that everyone can enjoy water flowing over rocks. Hot Tokyo summers spent splashing in the shade of cherry trees is just marvelous.

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Looking up, the typical Tokyo neighborhood like mine is a grid of telephone cables and internet cables. Electricity serges overhead.

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FOOOOOOD: Our Tokyo neighborhood has oodles of noodle choices, like ramen, soba, and udon, along with tempura and sushi. My faaaaave, though, is a swankish spot called The White Fox, that is an artful fusion of Japanese and European. The chef is classically trained, comes from Michelin-stared restaurants, & is here, right in my neck of the woods!

Of all the possible places a New Yorker could have set up his pizza shop, he chose our area! NY pizza in Japan?! You should have heard me flip when I first found out. We are in their delivery radius and that, my dears, is a glorious thing. Won’t you be my neighbor now?

Here is a nearby open-all-night soba and tempura shop, a few strides from the train station. How about that poster?! This is a poster for a cool kind of fight/musical set in Tokyo!

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There are tea and coffee shops, too, from Starbucks to mom & pop shops. My visiting mother & I spent a relaxing morning in this neighborhood tea shop, Orange Pekoe.

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Nursery school life:

Both of my children are at a hoikuen, a public nursery school, supported in part by the government. In Japan, teachers are nationally certified and wonderful. Have you read Bringing Up Bebe, an American expat’s look at raising kids in Paris? The author toutes the creche, the Japanese nursery school system. Japanese hoikuens and yochiens also boast many of the same benefits and features! The kids’ meals are also wonderful. Being a foreigner and choosing to place your child in the local school system is such a fantastic decision. The school becomes the heart of your community & you are connected–voila!

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Here is a snapshot of our guy in his classroom, while his sister is underneath, enjoying a summer festival day in yukata, or a kind of summer kimono.

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As for markets & grocery shopping, there is a main walking street. Think old-time tofu shop (making several varieties), produce stands, bakeries, and three or so fish shops (duh, right! This is Japan).

Here is a picture of some tentacled goods:

tacos

See this post for more on octopus on the table!

Thanks so much for dropping by.

Always lots happening–the challenge is sitting down to give words to all the fun and change.

Wishing you the very-ery best,

Melibelle xoxoxo

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Poetical Neighborhetical

Later on, I will be sharing a post in part of the Show Me Your Neighbourhood series, started by The Piri-Piri Lexicon, the amazing blogger, learned in linguistics and part of a 4-language family living in Germany. I will be posting a more linear post, but here is a more poetic ode first.

Show me your neighbourhood around the world

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My neighborhood is tufts of snow, heavy hanging dandelion before they blow away,

sakura spring

chartered busloads of visitors eager for momiji, the palette of maple printed on pointed leaves.

My neighborhood is cicadas buzzing, students holding long staffs in hand for kendo practice after school,

and long kimono pants at graduation.

The steam of sticky rice pounded under a mallet or paddle.

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My neighborhood is a shizukana matcha–

a quiet area with neighbors smiling down from bikes and all of the glass removed fro would-be windshields as everyone goes on foot or skinny bike tires.

Here we know every cat, every garden and owner face-to-face.

This is a hammock in the trees, an onset set in the mega-city. It is running into the woman who helps me mail my packages overseas, still unsure how to address my domestic letters.

My neighborhood is Kita-ku, north Kaminakazato, started as a mystery, a strange address that might as well have been stationed in a shroud of clouds.

After six years, it is still mystery, but mine. It is every window, every doorframe.

Each celebration the pride of a temple. It is where I become a mom and brought home my two little birds.

It is dog walks and where to land the best pastry.

It is all of us growing right here, in these ways.


			

Can’t Believe the Candles

Now that I’m thirty-five, I can’t believe my parents were ever this young, rather, this young and parenting. Cuz I remember when my mom was thirty-five, (and what I remember as perfect) but i feel so young and not quite there yet.

I have the stroller and bike in drive, heels and my work. I’ve got my stellar storytimes, my teaching tricks, tuck-ins that leave them wanting more, but I am so still hunting for every lost thing. I’m up for all-nighters like I’m twenty, but now see dappled sunspots and use creaky knees.

Is this thirty-five?
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Seems like thirty-five is cement. Whatever you put it gets stuck, nailed in habit. For a wicked long time. For forever as long as there is street. My scary habits are hardening as we speak, as if my birthday cake accompanied a cement mixer and the need for rich clay face masks every night following dinner.

 

Who I am, my daily love speak, my political discussions that become sarcasm, my nicknames and loud, no-way-that’s-indoor-voice banter. It’s all there on the hard drive, and barely seems pliable enough to tweak. Thirty-five is a year that gets good, but is sheer reflection of momentum and habit, it seems.

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Thirty-five is “Oh, snap”, my toned, perpetually ready for a bikini body won’t form itself. It is “Will I ever choose to play the violin again”? It is what will I show for today and this week, everything I pour in and drink up. A squashing of grapes, cup raised.

It is the season of examining the habits and what I think of before bed. Who do I want to be at thirty-six or do I dare say, forty?

My marriage, the habits of thought. My taste in clothing and perfume and color, remembering which scent sticks to me and lingers, remembering which bottle makes my husband sneeze. Where I once learned which style of eggs I preferred, now I have the quick tricks to use with kids and guests. It has all been formed and now I practice expression, how each feeling is executed, the smile as I blow out the candle.

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Thirty-five may be the best year yet. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a little bit terrifying, or at least, exhilarating.

Noise and Fear vs Song

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I am a worrywart, I fear. More like a sensitive dear one with an outdated notion that there is truth to the ideals found in the “It’s a Small World Ride”, and this is almost all we need.

My kindergarten was collaged with Franciscan Nuns singing John Lennon’s “Imagine”, while we may or may not have recited, “I Pledge Allegiance…” We constructed Japanese kites big as boats and watched a mama horse give birth to her foal. I love drum circles and Nag Champa incense. I love Coconut Grove in the 90s. I love my sweet, naive belief that in simpler times, one could travel the world without incident, that two single girls could backpack through Morocco or Nigeria, dock twin camels in Marrakesh and dream of being more than a flight attendant or secretary. Picture the world in late-afternoon poolside sun of vintage Conde Nast travel posters, a good ol Tom Collins, war nowhere on the radar. This is what I want—just drifting on limoncello and catamarans through the isles of Greece. Might as well as earplugs in. You see, I am a romantic, a rapturous Stevie Nicks-meets-beatnik in a CNBC world. Not even nostalgia and marketing can deny that there are tides of war, waves of unrest and the tunneling of political change. Whole maps have been changed. Whole people groups wiped out or desired as such. I could weep over this. And I do. It is increasingly hard to hide.
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All of my sadness over nightly or late-breaking news is what usually drives me to pitch my tent under a rock. And it is quite easy to be unaware, barring Facebook notifications from friends. Damn, I do not want to see the rolling news of the terror of childbrides. I do not want to admit that Nigeria’s Boko Haram has taken more little boys to shove blades and guns in their smooth hands. To make them do their killing. I want to scream, “Stop posting children being burried alive!” My heart cannot take it. What can I do?? It is just me and my puny little blog about my rosy-cheeked sweet kids and our freaking snails! Being keyed-in, being aware is scary stuff. I just want to have pretty nails and believe that our G-d has truly got the Whole World in His Hands.

I admit it, most days I would much rather look up mothering memoirs or wavy-hair hairstyles. I’d rather watch four year olds crumping than learn of the next disaster. It is this sadness that would like to devour me, make me cry hours on end, and worry hopelessly for my young children who are simply learning to share. I would rather bathe in the ideology that all kids learn to love, buy into the priority of Thoreau, or simply feed them ice cream. Don’t show me toddlers being trained in Gaza to kill Jews.

This is the rub of reality on our bedtime songs. Sometimes a real news feed interrupts the sprinkles and Peter Pan singing. Sometimes the boys aren’t found alive and nothing is alright. Sometimes a Rabbi is shot down on the way to synagogue in northern Miami; sometimes the sing-along is the Mourners Kaddish. Sometimes I remember that my prayers can meet and mingle with others. Sometimes my heart takes to the sky.

And life always goes on, triumphs in song. In the peace of a next soothing shower, in the physical reality of sunshine the very next day. In the blessing that each life means something immense and no kindness is a waste. That my little multi-generation snails have another broad leaf of cabbage to ravage. That there is meat on our bones.
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All this movement under roof. Over floorboards, in and out, closing doors. (My little one has even given himself this job. He gets so mad when we are not yet finished in the cupboard. He simply wants to shut the door!)

There are signs of life–silent expressions that melt my heart like a pat of softened butter and syrup, colliding; explosions of laughter, riotous tickling and sweet conversation ascending like prayers. Their feet, soft, their hearts, sound. I get the awesome job of moving with gratitude and instilling love. Forgiveness. Passion. Poetry. The words that last on a tree; the good fruit, a young man and strong woman. The flower fades and moves away, but seeds carry the genes of forever. It is G-d’s word that will stay.
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This is how we champion. We don’t look away, but cling to truth. Hold on. Speak promises loud enough to remind the deep, the small, whimpering faith that gets caught on sharp things.

We are going nowhere He ain’t.

All the cliches come skipping back and I suddenly sing new songs. Suddenly world winds of ideas come for how I can perhaps, maybe, oh I sure hope to, inspire change and freedom for families and women and itty gorgeous imperiled children that are so far away, and yet only a flight or two. Everything is in reach when your heart wants to touch, when it decides and remembers that eyes open doesn’t only mean fear, but a decision to look and think, choose anger, choose power, choose standing up for the glory of life, the glory of children who could have their own songs growing up.