Any Ring is Commitment, Even One Made of Fire…

Published in the beautiful Kyoto Journal, this is my piece on life on the Ring of Fire–perhaps apt to share as we’ve just moved through a pretty decent string of typhoons and some recent tremors.

…I was not prepared for the bevy of personal emergency toilets, or non-cook rice or spools and spools of floor-to-ceiling plastic sheeting for who knew what. Eight years later, I have a giant suitcase and half-a-closet of earthquake stuff. Because being prepared means I can breathe. It’s just what you do in an earthquake zone. It’s not about being Type-A anymore. It’s just what we do to be safe, maybe all we can do…

Please view the PDF of this piece, Ring of Fire, in its entirety because Kyoto Journal makes it look so polished and professional! Everyone should have the joy of seeing what this journal does with their words.

To buy the entire issue, click here.

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Your 500 yen, roughly $5.00 goes to support the beauty and quality of work Kyoto Journal is known for.

I do hope you read my piece and many others!

Please let me know what you think! This was a piece I was passionate about writing and continues to be a touchstone to many wonderful prayers and conversations.

May we not be terribly shaken. May we be firm like Mt. Zion.

Love always to the people of Tohoku,

Melissa

 

 

 

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In Our House, Birthdays Last All Year

In our house, birthdays last a month. They have to. They’re too much to get done, too much to fill! (See? I already sound hyper and quite juvenile).

In the space of one day, what can you cram without too much pressure for some perfect day, the stuff dreams wish they were made of? You’ve got to be able to play it cool, let the cards dribble in, the sweet notes on social media sit in a virtual pile. You’ve got to have time to paint your nails, go out in heels maybe, and also plop on the couch with ice cream and some form of yoga pants. You just can’t do it in one day. You need the husband date, the kid time, the family time, the me time, the real life, everything that still has to get done time, like for instance, work and have the kids eat.

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Nope, we in my family prefer the slow crawl, the luxury of time plus a bit of delayed gratification. If a friend or co-worker hands me a card or a wrapped gift ahead of my birthday, that card or that wrapped gift is sitting on my desk, waiting for the day, and practically the minute I was born. You can’t rush this stuff!

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I may sound spoiled, but it’s just that I get the enormity of life and the miracle that each of us was born! It’s not just cake and ice cream; I get really deep. None of us had to happen. The fact that we are each alive is grace, is a miracle, is some magnificent power! Each of us is more than incredible, a distillation of family, and at least a small reflection of God. To be given life and be loved? There’s too much to celebrate.

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Anyway, my sister and mom are both known to send multiple birthday cards–there are so many flavors of card out there. They’ll want to express humor in a silly card (please please let me receive one of those talking cards with the funny voices!!!) and something way more sappy and heartfelt in another. My sis is known for sending our Grandpa multiple, multiple cards at which he would crack up. She must have spent $50 on cards and postage each year.

So as I continue to enjoy the day of my birth two, going on three days after the fact, wondering how else to celebrate, I’m realizing one thing: for as much as I love birthdays and want to lift up a person in the air, raise them up on a chair like at a Jewish wedding or Bat Mitzvah, I’m coming to terms with how sucky I am as the giver when stuff has to get in the mail. Really really. By the time my friend’s son graduates kindergarten, or maybe veterinary school, I may find a way to mail his “congratulations you were born” card.

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People give me the “Oh, don’t worry! You were pregnant” and “puhhlease, you kind of just had a baby” line, kind of like validating my parking fine, but really? I’m a birthday louse.

Admittedly, it is harder, much harder to get cute cards and get them out when you’re living across the globe from your kin as I am. There is no Target, no Walgreens with aisles of cards for every occasion and relationship, even your dog. Japan does cards much differently.

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Add to that the fact that we cannot plunk outgoing mail in our own mailbox. No, instead we must get our bodies and our young children out of the house in the sweat or in the torrential downpours, speak a foreign language, weigh the envelope, pay for postage, and try to do all of this a good two weeks before our loved one’s big day. This is of course after we’ve whipped up a homemade (crappy) card or gone on another train to go find a card at a far away card shop.

This is my life. This is why I send out telepathic sticky notes for Mother’s Day and Grandparent’s Day. This is why Hallmark isn’t making any money off of my smoke signals. I’m a birthday-fraud and I’m sorry, dears.

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I do solemnly pledge to get my act together and find the ways to my post office in time. While we continue to inhabit this earth, in this lifetime. I do swear.

And the funny thing is I’m already in the future! I am one day ahead of most of my friends and family! One day may just not be enough. But hey, I’ll make due.

I’ll put my thankfulness to good work and make it happen for others. Time to turn over that rumpled, thirty-seven-year-old (omg) leaf.

 

Can We Pay For Your Cab?

Today the grossest parenting thing happened, like ever. It couldn’t have gotten too much grosser. I am in the entry to the house, now, having stripped my kids and thrown them in the shower. I did contemplate cutting off their clothes, all of our clothes with scissors, but instead, I have them soaking for forty-five years in the washer. Shoes, too, and my fancy new baby carrier. 

If I could walk you through a slow-mo reel played in reverse, that would be best.

I’ll try.

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We have just been let out of the cab. A little distracted, I couldn’t pay attention in time to direct him to just outside of our house. Instead, we are getting out of the cab like a people in the throes of bad drugs. Or people more than dabbling in crack cocaine. We are covered in vomit. Covered. I hold their school bags and three umbrellas. I also have my two-month-old in a carrier. The big kids, five and three-year-old, they are the culprits. They are sick.

I have just allowed him to keep the change–as if 1,000 yen (ten dollars) is enough to absolve this, enough to rid his cab of what has gone on. Like it’s a steam vacc or a sage smudge stick to clean out the negative space. What I really think he should do is pull any valuables from the glove box and drive it into a river. Try to stay under the radar of being called on insurance fraud.

The automatic door waits for me. I am embarrassed and horrified, but I’m stifling a laugh like a crazy woman because it really couldn’t have been worse. And the setup, too–he started with white seat covers, with knit doilies fashioned for passengers’ heads. Grimmace. No, my 1,000 yen is hardly enough to do anything to fix this. It can buy him a beer.

“Get me out”, my boy says. He is also deeply horrified. It is hard to pick out a spot on his person that doesn’t look like a bucket of sick, the poor boy. At just three and a half, this is the first time he has lost his lunch in public, and only the second time he has ever thrown up. Now he is caked with it. My daughter, too. We look like we’ve come out of something bad. Bad bad. Something like war or a horror movie hospital ward. I’m glad none of my neighbors are out.

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“I look like I’m laughing; I’m not.” I try to convey how sorry I am, what bad fortune as we walk towards our driveway, but oh, this is one for the books. I cannot wait to tell their dad.

I strip off their clothes. I think about that poor cabbie and how he will never again, perhaps, stop for any family with a child. Especially not when it is mid-day and he is asked to pick up a family from a school, as this very obviously implies that someone is going home ill. I don’t know what miracle there is for the cab, what product can make this okay. He may do the noble thing and drive it into a river. Or pour bleach over all of it, do I don’t know what before the evening crowd needs rides out for drinks. My kids have soiled his baby. See, here in Japan, cabbies own their own cabs. They take pristine care, always shined, always waxed, hence the white gloves and white seats. Not his. Not anymore.

Now that I have the kids washing in the shower, I call their father. I am giddy when he picks up. “You know that part in Stand By Me? The part with the pies?”

Silence, and then, “No.”

“Oh, yes. It was bad. First J- and then K-. They were seat-belted in. Seatbelted in when they threw up and then he did it again and then she looked and started, too. And it was both of them again and again.”

I feel a small thrill of holding him mesmerized by the sheer grossness of our ride. Normally I tell such boring stories, but this one? This really is one for the books. Legendary. This is when, if not before, I win some badge.

I cannot even tell him about the details. It is way too bad. The state of the driver’s seatbelts is just too bad to get into detail about. I know I shall have to find him one day Oprah or some Japanese talk show. I will have to give him a check for the equivalent of five grand in Japanese yen.

I do tell my husband that as we walked up to the door of our house, my daughter looked at her stunned, shell-shocked and puke-covered brother, assessing, “You look like you stepped into one hundred cakes. One hundred stinky cakes”.

Poor kids. Poor driver. Poor washing machine. I stand stronger for having survived all the mothering it took to arrive.

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Observations and Love at the Kitchen Sink

She is washing her hands in the kitchen sink after clearing her dishes and filling her bowl with water. The scent of mint dish soap feels extra summery, extra clean after another hot day. Her vacation burn/tan has peeled, giving way to new skin across the bridge of her narrow nose and the high apples of her cheeks. She smiles and looks up.

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“I just love watching you do things like pick dead leaves off of the plant.” What a funny thing to say. She makes it sound like poetry. Just ten minutes prior, I had to pluck off sad, withered leaves that utterly broke, became mushy when I put and left them out on the veranda. She was curious about what flowers they would have grown and how beautiful they would have become. Now, she recounts that she loved watching me deal with the dead houseplant.

“And I love watching you when I tell you there’s a big bug on you. To see what you will do.”

Can you believe that? Like anyone who pushes buttons, she wants the reaction, loves the effect.

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But isn’t this love, I think? To want to simply be with the one we love. To watch them, whether they’re swatting a fly or pouring maple syrup. Even through day-to-day annoyances, we are locked in at the eyes, keyed in at the heart.

Life can be exhausting. I’m thinking specifically of the kind of exhaustion with two big kids and one infant. Diapers. Dishes. Today both kids stayed home from school. We’ve had fevers and potty-training. Science and art activities. Everyone is phenomenal at pushing each other’s buttons, especially the kids to each other. I chose to step into their shared shower just to play ref, therapist, and bruiser. We work at de-escalating a lot. Getting back to forgiveness and the tenderness of kids who know how to be in love. They are infatuated with baby now. If only I would let them sit perched on the edge of wherever their baby sis is laying, look with her at whatever has caught her infant-eyes.

Family is getting back to remembering that this is a person you love. Deeply. Wholeheartedly, without malice. This is true for a good marriage, or maintaining any good friendship. What did you first love? What continues to draw you to this person?

And here she said it. Even through the summer heat, the prickles of her wanting more independence and sometimes acting annoyed, she just wants to watch me. To throw whatever at me (a bug, a hug, another invitation to read a favorite book, a whiny whine) and see how I respond. Because she loves me.

We leave the sink and she volleys, “Mom! There’s a giant roach.” Just to see me squirm. To see me fight back with a gleam. We hold onto each other’s eyes. We see each other. The dishes aren’t so overwhelming and the next button I allow to be pushed may not seem as big. I’m on a sort of display, but she knows how to watch, intently, with her heart. She knows how to wear it on her sleeve.

We take each other’s hand and walk upstairs.