My 16-year-old son left for a summer study session this morning, only to message me from the train station thirty minutes later. Oops, it had been cancelled. Now a long day in the oppressing heat and humid hell of Japanese summer stretches long and lazily before us. It is not what we were expecting.
But this has been a long season of not-what-we-were-expecting. Other countries seem to have the pandemic under control. Other countries return to life as normal, but not here in Japan. Life never shut down or locked down to the extreme of other places, but we live long, drawn-out half-lives under continuous states-of-emergency while the Olympics flash on TV. It is not what we were expecting.
We didn’t expect to wake up one day to find school cancelled, and for it to stay that way for months. We didn’t expect to learn the ins and outs of indoor ventilation or the effectiveness of different kinds of masks. We didn’t expect to be separated from our friends and loved ones for so many long, long months while simultaneously being shut-in with our nuclear families while trying to work and study from home.
For me, that became a stream that burst through the cracks of my marriage until the boat was no longer seaworthy. I’d always been what I call a “solitary mom,” since my husband left all of things kids and household to me. Now the kids and the household and the mom are in another building, and all things husband are left to him. It’s not what we were expecting.
I wasn’t expecting to start graduate school; that was a dream I’d given up on, but when programs that required in-person segments changed their policies I saw my chance. I’m one term in. So far, I’m doing better than I was expecting.
I didn’t expect that so many old friends and acquaintances would have such different opinions on something as simple as a mask. We’ve worn them in Asia from before. It isn’t new. It also isn’t hard. These old friends and acquaintances are not the people I was expecting them to be.
I never expected to be relieved to the point of tears when my children were able to get an appointment for a vaccination. In this country, very few children have had that chance yet. I am still nervous and worried that something will go wrong with the supply or the appointment system, and they won’t be able to get their second shots. In efficient Japan, this distrust is also not something one would expect.
The anger is new, too: anger at people’s selfishness and silliness that puts other people in danger, anger at the government for not being more decisive, anger at myself for being powerless. It is new but not really unexpected. The unfairness of the world has always made me angry.
Some days I feel hopeless. I want to see my sister again; I want to meet my niece. I want to hug my friends and go for coffee on a cool autumn evening. I want to feel the breeze on my cheeks uncovered by a mask. I want to wear lipstick. I see pictures of friends and families from countries where these things are now possible, and the deepness of the envy I feel is unexpected and takes my breath away.
Beyond all of this, though, I have discovered that I am so much stronger than I expected. I have held the disappointments and the sadness and the loneliness of two little people along with my own, all of this time. But they have so much more resilience than I expected. We are all so much stronger than we were told. We exceed all expectations.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Melanie Oda.
No, this isn’t a political post, unless you consider that on some level every post written by a woman is a political post whether she intends it to be or not.
This is about the apocalypse, Armageddon-style chaos and anarchy that happened at my house last week. That’s right, y’all. I got sick, Influenza A to be exact.
For anyone who has not yet experienced the unique experience that is being-sick-while-mommying, please stop reading now. Or gird your loins or something because I don’t want your mom calling me and saying my post is the reason she will never have grandchildren.
I realized very quickly that no one else knew the details of our household: where underwear are kept, what time children need to leave for school in the morning, who has pool on what day and what that entails, what time dinner needs to be started to get children to bed on time, etc. I am truly both the lowly servant girl and the CEO of this organization.
Five seconds after the first epiphany, I also realized that no one else is interested in learning and remembering these details. It’s my job to be everything to all people, as far as all other people are concerned. They are “just helping.”
Convenient, that. I never agreed to be both lord and serf of this manor, but because I have been thrust into that role, I am also unable to demand excellence (to be honest I would settle for basic sufficiency) from the people around me. If I do, I’m being ungrateful.
But I don’t seem to receive much gratitude.
All of the physical and mental tasks involved in keeping a house and family going, the mental gymnastics of scheduling around other people’s needs, all of that “woman’s work,” is real labor. When mom is down, other family members realize that, but make no real effort to take any of it on for themselves long term. It isn’t an ignorance issue. Is it an entitlement issue? A laziness issue? Why should I be fielding where-is-the-swimcap phone calls when I am sick in bed?
How do we find ourselves in this position, and what can we do to relieve it? The basic truth is this: my time and labor should be just as valuable as other family members’. I should be able to be sick without the world falling apart.
What happens in your family when mom falls ill? How do others cope?
Fixing boo-boos was easier when they were little. Even the “big” boo-boos; call the ambulance! Go to the emergency room! Call the poison control center!
Those times were scary, and I thought nothing could be worse. But at least I always knew what I should do. I didn’t second guess if taking those actions would make the situation worse.
But as children get bigger, I find their boo-boos can’t be fixed with a kiss or a band-aid, or a trip to the emergency room.
Those are all fixes for the body, but of little use to the heart.
I have been hurt in many ways during my life, but nothing can prepare you for the pain you feel when your child is hurt, intentionally, repeatedly, by a bully.
It hurts that it would happen at all; that anyone would see your sweet little baby as a joke, a nerd, someone worthy of disdain and mistreatment.
It hurts more to know that your child is a target because of you: that you being a foreigner, of a different race, with a different accent has opened your child up to ridicule.
No action I can think of is free from an undesirable reaction, but doing nothing is also not a solution. I don’t want to make it worse, but I can’t see any way to make it better.
Have your children suffered from bullying? What steps have you taken to help them?
Like an increasing number of families in Japan, my children are being raised in a bilingual environment. We started this saga back in the days before the Internet took over the world, and I had to actually buy and read books to fill my mind with anxiety-inducing conflicting opinions. Now I can meet my anxiety quotient with a few clicks each day, much more efficient.
I found then, and now, that there is a lot of information geared towards young children and parents who still have their hair, having not yet ripped it all out in frustration when confronted by relatives or educators who don’t understand bilingualism, or worse, are prejudiced against it.
My kids are now 9 and 11, in 3rd and 6th grade at local Japanese schools. All of their education has been in Japanese. Our home life is basically in English, though the kids speak Japanese with Dad. He just isn’t around as much due to long working hours.
Some friends and I started an English school that focuses on literacy for already bilingual kids. We meet three times a month on Saturday. This is their only “formal” English training. Everything else has been left to me.
Which is every bit as hard as it sounds.
I thought I would share with you today my top tips for raising bilingual kids without losing your sanity. Please bear in mind that mine are 9 and 11 years old. I would love to hear top tips for teenagers, so please share your ideas on the comments!
1) Input input input. I have an unwritten rule that all media in the house should be in the minority language. (In our case, that’s English.) But we all know how much kids love rules…so I make sure to have a plethora of attractive English options, while keeping the Japanese options limited to network TV.
2) Encourage siblings to speak the minority language to each other. I know that this one is hard. Siblings have their own relationship with each other separate from their parents, and we don’t want to be up in there and intruding. Some things like school or homework, is just be easier to discussed in the majority language and I try not to get too worried about that.
Having games, puzzles, something they can do together that uses the minority language is one way to encourage them to use it with each other without having to get in their face about it. “Operation,” for example, is funnier in English. Mad Libs or other word puzzles are great! They keep talking about it, in the same language, for quite a while afterwards.
3)Read- We all know that reading to your children is important, but perhaps even more so for bilingual children. Even when you think your kids should be reading to themselves, keep reading to them. This will help emphasize good grammar structure (sometimes strange patterns can get kind of fossilized within a family.) Also through reading you can expose your children to situations they would ‘t normally have a chance to encounter, and all the vocabulary that comes with that.
4) Identify vocabulary holes. Bilingual people often have greater vocabulary in one language about a particular topic than the other. My children probably don’t know words like “ladle” or “whisk” in Japanese because they aren’t exposed to those terms outside of the home. Conversely, there are lots of words related to school life that they will not learn in English unless I make an effort to imagine where those holes will be and prevent them. I find often that when talking to each other, they fill that space with the Japanese word This phenomenon is called code-switching.
5)Don’t panic over code switching. According to most experts, code switching isn’t really a problem; But as a parent, it can be disconcerting! Personally, I repeat what the child has said with the correct English term, if there is one. I don’t usually make them repeat it in English or point out they have said something incorrect.
6) Use background music. I find that if the background music is in English, pretty soon everyone is speaking English!
7) Routine is your friend. Getting the children to do their English reading and writing was a huge battle in the beginning, but we built it into their morning routine. There are some days when we don’t get to it, and even more when not as much gets done as I would like, but because we have a routine in place and an expectation that it will get done, it’s easier to get back on track and stay there.
8) Keep a sense of humor. Raising kids is hard work, full stop. Adding another language to the mix adds another layer of difficulty. But it also adds another layer of cute mistakes and funny memories. Just now I asked my son to come back by a decent hour, and he exploded that he would come home an hour early. Um, that was “decent hour,” not “descent hour,” which is not even a thing.
Do you have any tips to add? Any insight into bilingual teens? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
It started out innocently enough. Perhaps because she was the younger child, the second grandchild, her Japanese family just didn’t seem as interested in her as in her older brother.
I thought perhaps since they only had sons, or that my mother-in-law only had brothers, they were not sure how to interact with a small girl.
I suggested things that she liked to do, bring over toys she likes to play with so they could interact. (This resulted in my brother-in-law developing an iron-beads addiction, but had no impact on the grandparents at all.)
Then there were subtle things: talking over her, not listening, not answering when she asked a question. Some people are just like that to children, I thought, though I knew in my heart they hung on every word my son said.
“She is talking, too, let’s listen!” I try to draw attention to her.
Then they joined in the cacophony of voices around us, “Girls don’t sit like that. Girls complain too much.”
“It isn’t only girls,” I try to laugh it off.
We would go their house, and they would put out only one cookie, even though there were two children. “We didn’t think that she would want one.”
I make the children share, or I go to the store for another ice cream or bottle of juice.
She received only half the amount of money at New Years for otoshidama (a cash gift given to children from relatives,) and was specifically told it was because she was a girl. “You must have heard wrong,” said my husband.
When we went home, I made the children pool the money and split it evenly.
Then this year on Children’s Day, we arrived at the in-laws house to find a beautifully wrapped present.
My heart sank because I knew. I knew that now she would know; that I couldn’t cover it up this time. There was no misunderstanding. This wasn’t a snack brought home on a whim, or an envelope that looked the same on the outside but was different within. This was a gift that had been searched for, lovingly wrapped, put in a place of honor for all to see on a day to honor our children.
But it wasn’t for her.
I saw her eyes dazzle in excitement, dart in confusion, then steel over with resignation. Her big, brown eight-year-old eyes.
She didn’t say anything, she didn’t cry at the injustice, until we were at home.
“Why is he more important than me?” she asked.
The simple truth is that they are both important. The sad truth is that there are people out there who refuse to acknowledge that, who treat these two children that I love equally with all of my heart in a very unequal way.
I wish sometimes they weren’t so close to home.
I can see that it is damaging to have that dynamic in our extended family, against the backdrop of a world that is unkind to women (to put it lightly.)
In the moment, I decide against explaining to my little girl that the cards, in many ways, are stacked against her. Instead I hold her close and tell her that all children are important, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong.
Have your children experienced instances of sexism? How do you talk about it at home?
This is an original article by World Mom, Melanie Oda.