Air France et Moi!

Air France selected me, along with a cadre of bloggers, to highlight the multitude of exciting international destinations Air France flies, nonstop!

I feel like an honorary Audrey Tautou meets tour guide!

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At our beloved Tokyo Garden, Rikugien. Photo taken by http://melwillms.com/

A flight can be life-changing. My mother treated me to Paris to celebrate high school graduation, fabulous after the French I’d studied! We flew Air France and I could not have been more struck with the inherent style found in every component of the flight.

Is it possible for Air France to be anything but glamorous over land and sea? French over the intercom, alone! Flight attendants in silk scarves, hair perfectly coiffed! Every moment of sailing insinuates, excites you for your destination.

The travel bug hit me then and it still strikes now! Actually, I did pretty well, flinging myself across the globe to Tokyo, where I reside.

Without further ado, here is my Tokyo, map curtesy of Air France, complete with pins and descriptions of some of my most favorite Tokyo spots! It is just a small smattering, but you shall see life between skyscrapers, cafés hidden in gardens, and art, so much art. View my Tokyo Map

To further celebrate the relationship between Paris and Tokyo, take a peek at this wonderfully sweet documentary! (Okay, more like a few minutes to peer back in time). Remarkable.

Tokyo is not a city to which anyone needs cajoling. It is one of those destinations, much like Paris or Madrid; you just know you’ll love. Tokyo is old. It is modern. It is frighteningly, refreshingly different and yet, the soul of the people, the life of the place just settles in your bones. It’s hard not to be a poet when writing about a home, a port, or a vacation you absolutely love.

Book your own trip-of-a-lifetime to fall in love with Tokyo or any city under the sun;

Air France is here to help.

J’adore Tokyo. Tokyo, aishteru! 

Et merci, Air France!

-Melissa and Kariin Jan 2013 WEB-39

Looking Back on Birth

I never knew I’d write so much on pregnancy and having babies.
I guess I wasn’t one of those girls playing house or stuffing her kid-abdomen

with a pillow, pretending to nurse, none of that, really.

baby  excited k  swingy girl

I never thought I’d move off to Japan and have kids there.
Then again, I never played “wedding”, never thought past being young and scampering around South Florida. The most I daydreamed about was, perhaps, maybe, at some point, taking a ride to New Orleans where I’d live off beignets and dance round the jazz. I’ll pack for two weeks and end up staying years, I thought. Paris also called me, but I was really a lackadaisical poet, floating in the breeze. It would have taken more planning that I knew how.

Yet, here I am, blogging about having cute little babies in Japan.
It’s a whirlwind, it’s glamour, it’s hard work, it’s pay off, it’s tears, and beading bracelets with gold; it’s exposure to the grandest sort of love, daily. It’s finally getting out of those nursing bras.

-Melissa Maternity Jan 2013 WEB-51

Tired, restful, yawny maternity photo by Mel Willms

Here is my part in an amazing tour of what it is like to live abroad, learning another culture, while growing a family. Here is my experience in Japan.

I am so proud of this series, and just very appreciative of Iulia’s work on Best of Baby. Before I became pregnant while living in Japan, the very idea of becoming pregnant, carrying, and later, carrying for a baby in this new place loomed with scary impossibility. It would be madness! How could I possibly even think of having a baby when I couldn’t even communicate with the clerks at the grocery store! I still cannot carry on any real conversation with my neighbors. How could I even think of taking-on another life? I needed intensive language training! Meditation! And yet…

Life goes on, that “biological clock is ticking like this”, (spoken like a gawdy Marisa Tomei). What are you gonna do, wait, wait, terrified, until you go back to America? You could…you could try…or you can just let life unfold. Learn about care in your new country. Get support. Find out what works. And you know you won’t like all of it. You’ll probably make faces at the traditional old wives’ tales. You may mock the selection of maternity clothes. But you make it work. Life and sweetness all happen. You arrive. You age. You make friends who throw you the shower of your dreams, the one you never even thought of a gazillion miles away, actually. You get everything you need.

-Melissa Maternity Jan 2013 WEB-55

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So you write and you blab and you live, wanting to boost the other women you see, pregnant, trying, or wondering, scared if they should really let themselves be so far away from their mothers, far away from the system of care they’ve always known and readied, steadied themselves for. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes you cry and cry and eventually contribute to a book on raw postpartum experiences. Sometimes, though, like all the hard things, you learn how tough the skin on an egg really is. You learn to let the tough hits flake off of you somehow, too. You are fragile, but my, you are won-over with grace and a deep satisfaction. This is growth. These are the moments for which crazy-loud dance parties with the kids were created.

This is what it is to split and move and multiply cells and have to deliver all that pressure. This is the stuff of growing a family, the making and shaking of love.

I love this series and all the ways we learn it’s okay. It is the thrill of surprise, the joy of life, unknown, unfurling.

All gorgeous photos taken by my friend, Mel Willms

Why I’m Here

You know what? A lot a lot is going on.

I’ll be sharing that soon.

Grief and missing someone magnificent is a huge, complex, powerful thing.

It is not an isolated event called death, but all the leading-up and after moments.

The days, months, years. The encapsulated video segments, the golden, gilded, truthful memories.

I’m here. Our family together is so good.

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Paranoia Over My Girl’s Clothing

Not that I dress my daughter in Armani or Gucci,
Not that she is layered with pinafores,
curls fastidiously spun like Shirley Temple’s,
Me starching and pressing and doing all that work
to adorn an angel.

But

When I see another little girl
standing by the slide when we walk into the school’s
playground
and she is there
in same exact shirt from our Auntie R:
long sleeves, faint blue stripes, pink rosette at the neck,
waist accentuated gleefully with ruffle,
I am bit with the suspicion of a viper
and I cannot hold my tongue that maybe
my girl left it here, at school,
and I maybe never marked her name,
and so it is over now.

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A visit & walk-through a Tokyo tunnel on the way to Ikebukuro

Because
you see, the shirt is from Target, in America,
near Herndon, I know the street,
and there is no Target here,
in mega-city Tokyo
and I know the style of clothing
that ranges here
and this is partly why teachers and mothers notice my kids’ clothing–
it is not from here.

This is part of why, yesterday, on another slide,
a boy called me strange. “Hen okaason“.
If I am weird, stand-out, stick-up,
at least my kids should wear nice clothes,
the short and tanks and shoes of another nation,
the faraway stamps that find us like kisses, airmail
from the aunts and uncles who support our different, the ways we adapt and
stay just plain kids and mom and dad who like American shoes, an American bra,
and peanut butter candy.

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bought by you-know-who at Disney Sea, Tokyo

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The prince & princess laser-cut in nori for Hinamatsuri/Doll’s Day

Target is now exotic and it is the aunties
who’ve made my kids stick-out
with colors that are different, less sedate,
less print, little text, if at all.

And so now
I am consigned to pilfer my girl’s hamper,
mine and my husband’s too,
searching heartbeat raised for that spiral-rosette
and ruffle waist.

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Because more than likely,
the little girl I saw,
the one whose name I do not know,
does not have an aunt in America,
does not know Target
or the lengths me and the aunties go
to show up and then let go.

Look! I am not new at this: A similar accusing post from nearly two years back!

I would make a great spy with all the overthinking I do.

A Perfect Freezing

I am back, now two days, from my monumental first trip back to the US without kids, in years. It was all to be with my Grandpa, and it was obviously, phenomenally, worth it.

It was a perfect freezing, though the two and a half weeks were surprisingly mild. Only the last day held snow, but just a light dusting. When I saw what was falling, I ran out and found many itty teeny stars just like this.

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Now I’m no snow expert, but I didn’t know they came in tiny fractals, perfect snowflake specimens! They were flakes begging for the trifold science boards and black construction paper, as if I could have glued them like sticky spider webbing. In my head, though, they last.

I balanced one flake on my pinky nail and I wanted to run in to show my mom, but it melted at such a rate. That is why there are pictures. And memories stuck on the boards of our brain. My sweet time is hopelessly, perfectly stuck and frozen in time and space.

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I know the smell of my Grandpa’s cologned cheek, have the laugh and smooth hug of my Grandmother, so happy to see me as soon as she wakes. I’ve got my Grandpa wrapped by the fire, his shoulders covered in the inky blue textured throw.

Every salad, every place setting. I loved helping. Simply knowing where each dish goes. I baked bread in my Grandpa’s loaf pans, carried up bottles and bottles of wine and Champagne. Every morning was glorious and each evening, a sturdy ball.

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It is the frozen conglomeration of each moment, stuck in the flake, though, on the morning of the single snowy day, that makes it easy to take all the moments with me. Snow accumulates, you see. It clumps. Inside on my boots, inside the lining of my pockets when I shove my hands inside. It seeps into bone and breath and inside the gallery of my phone and now with me in Tokyo, where I am breathlessly over oceans, home.

Here, Away, & Words For It

So, you know, I am off in America, spending time with my Grandparents in PA. My Grandfather is doing a remarkable job as he ages with cancer. My husband back at our home in Tokyo, is parenting on his own. I am here, representing my whole Japan clan. It is a good trip, filled with every kind of salad & ice cream. I’m thinking that all the green will cancel-out the heavy cream…

Here, in Allentown, everything has a name, described in particulars, in depth, and with smart words. We do not just chase cat tails and obtuse words like “stuff”. Here, we ask questions. Here, you are allowed, prompted, no—expected, to think.

Welcome to my Grandparents’ home. Sit down, here, have some wine. There is going to be talking. Here, grab some Gouda. We have time before dinner at 6:30.

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How it worked growing up is that if you didn’t know a word, you’d look it up in a fat college dictionary. You could surely be corrected, but it’s good for toughening-up. If you don’t know something, you ask questions. Move forward. You converse. It’s nice. It’s called human. It’s called knowing where to put a spoon and where to place the fork.

Every article of interest, worthwhile, is read aloud in a solid voice or shared in summation without hesitation. Thinking creatures must breathe. We don’t have to flit. I think of my Grandfather directing plays, rooted on stage, name ironed-on back of chair.

Here, words are used well. We all stand upright, not stifling thought. “Speak your mind, young lady, and stop apologizing”! I’m still learning this, my education with paperbacks, tall spines, supple mouth. I learn to undo the constant sorrying. “Tell me, my dear darling, tell me what you are reading, where you’ve been, how things are, conditions, numbers, how it feels to not be in your normal bed. Tell me, do you like the stars?”

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I keep asking questions. Tell me of 60 Minutes, of real estate in Israel. Tell me of recipes, Borscht she could not replicate, dinner parties of yore. Tell me, dear Grandparents, of yellowed letters, spouses also cousins; tell me of colleagues, theatre departments, libraries, and the recycling cans.

Tell me over black coffee that you love having me here, even though I continue, in traces, to want to sponge the remainders of soups and cappuccino when I should simply fill and fill the dishwasher, and that’s it. “Stop with the washing”!

Read me, sing me your voice during youngest/only kid, NYC culture during wartime bonds, stock market swings, pressing records, traipsing around Europe, in love, picnic sweaters.

Tell me of concern, of love, when your best friend died or when your daughter ran off. Tell me over the perfect pie crust, how hard your father worked, how fine a runner, all the ambition balled up, and stretched in a girlish Great-Grandmother. Teach me of history. Of geography, recollection.

When you eloquently speak, teach me again, infinitum, about meeting your wife, of your commute–Long Island to PA, while I sit, post-Pilates, spine to tummy lounging on your Mid-Century couch reupholstered four times. I will hold onto my wine stem and not break the beat with an ill-timed sip. I will wash it later, by hand, while you dry.

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I feel encompassed by care, flocked by rhododendron, aloes and jade, cactuses rioting in blooms, and that gargantuan amaryllis, a bit ostentatious if you are not accustomed to flowers or beauty or red in sunlight-stream. We talk over making the lamb–relationships take more than words, but motions in line with those words. Action is the crux, it seems.

It will be a whole lifetime of actions blooming even now, even here, in me, with me.

The continuance we need: long sips and shawls, cookies and cheese, crackers, cold chicken, & trips to the gym; seeing his misty blue eyes and wanting him to see we see him. Oh, emptying dishwashers we fill up again. A movie on pause. Plans to rest and discover tomorrow-errands and that which we could not fit into today. My, how you adore snowflakes made by my girl. Tomorrow we can do anything like feel stronger. We can catch a parade.

It will take many strong Herculean tries and a triple-dozen or so hugs. It will take a great many words to say just who you are beyond me.

It’s Just a Vagina, Tell Me the Word!

Yes, I know–the title. It has the word “vagina” in it. It’s just that I just walked in from the neighborhood doctor and the pharmacist and no one could tell me the word in Japanese for “vagina”. Not my girl’s school nurse, either, who offered the word, “oshiko“. Isn’t that “pee” or where one urinates from? What if a mom has to treat her little girl’s body for a possible yeast infection, not bladder? No one knew the word–not five professionals, in total.
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My daughter did her best, suggesting “o chingching“, but that’s the word she learned at her Japanese preschool for “penis”. I’m glad I know that much. Imagine learning later that I said my daughter’s penis hurt? Jeez Louise.

It makes me wonder if people feel embarrassed saying it here. Is it taboo? I mean, I wasn’t asking for a sexual word in the context of sex. I asked as a parent for my girl. I asked the pharmacist who in turn, brought out her two sempais, or older “classmen”, her respected seniors. There they were, three female pharmacists, turning heads side-to-side, thinking, wondering, “mutsukashii“, how difficult.

I circled the area on a drawing of a person. I used my daughter’s name and said the Japanese I knew. I am also very good at pantomime. Life becomes a big cherade game when living overseas. Words not known become elaborate pantomimes. Yes, I literally grabbed myself. I said in Japanese, that there are different parts of the body, yes? I pointed and named, “atama (head), ashi (leg),…ba-ja-ii-na (you guessed it)”. No clue.

Finally, the eldest pharmacist wrote out an elaborate kanji (Chinese character) to name it.  Or maybe there was big confusion and she wrote out the malady. Seems to me, there is either a) no such word to name the very important body part b) people are too prude, or just too “feminine” to say it.

Am I being weird? See, this is why, at Eckerd Drugstore in the States, I want to buy five Vagisil creams, when I remember, that is. I’ve got nothing in the cabinets.

I haven’t even been able to properly find out the anatomical word in Japanese. Do I really want to wait until a proper emergency comes up to have to pantomime an issue to some dude at my local drugstore in northern Tokyo?

I’m not without technology; I have looked-up the word on Google Translate. It’s just this fear that Google has not supplied the appropriate word. Who wants to sound crass and uneducated when needing to help their little girl or their own body?

That is all for now.

PS I hate to have to switch pharmacies. I thought we were finally used to each other by now.

PSS My amazing Mom-in-Law came through. No shame in the game.

You neighbors of mine in Japan, here is your abridged dictionary, focusing on “gina”, as my pipsqueek daughter says:

vajina wa ちつ(膣)chi-tu .

labia wa 陰唇(いんしん)inshi-n  desu.
Also it is “mutsukashii”/difficult, because there are different ways to read the kanji. So yeah…we’ll all just point.

ちょっと、むつかしい はつおん ですから。

Love & good humor,

Mel