Monday, February 8, 2016

Elena’s icy bloody Sunday

January 10th…a day that began with delight but ended bloody. Sound ominous? Let me explain.

Scuttle skating at Kodomo no Kuni Rink
My wife and I had decided we would take the girls out skating this year. Like having a “real” Christmas, I was resolute to provide them some Canadian content by strapping on the blades. So, off we went to Kid’s Country (Kodomo no Kuni) which has an outdoor rink during winter. As mental prep, I told them that I first put on skates at two years old and played ice hockey until junior high school. This left them visibly unimpressed.
Changing tactics, I said if they didn’t moan and complain about the skates, and gave it a real try, we’d “think about” a sugary celebration after the skating was done. That got their positive attention. To my surprise, Elena had remembered some of her previous ice adventures, and took to the idea immediately. Marina was a real gamer and didn’t complain too much once we adjusted the skates to her feet. It was her skating debut.
I coached them all a bit even though I felt my own lack of ice time would affect my authority should I dump it on the ice. Luckily for me, there were about 5,000 people crammed onto the regulation rink’s space, so there was no way to fall over. It was like a mosh pit at a Rage Against The Machine concert.
And yet we managed to have a wonderful afternoon in the sun; it was about ten degrees Celsius out, yet the ice was firm, with Zambonis periodically prowling the surface, thus just a little bit of Canada was magically transferred to Yokohama for the afternoon. The Rising Family™ had some good old-fashioned fun. No budding Kristi Yamaguchis in this lot, though.

Tenacious tooth tale
Lady E. lost a few teeth over the past few years and she currently sports a gap between her two upper front tusks that would make Vanessa Paradis proud. We are taking metal countermeasures for that; namely, braces. But her remaining baby teeth keep popping out—she’s at that stage.

After a wonderful day of skating and then dinner at Kappa Sushi, the kids went to bed. Soon afterward, Elena came out of her bedroom and said that her latest wobbly tooth was hurting. She demonstrated with a probe, visibly in pain. I said she had to choose whether she wanted to wait or to take matters into her own hands. To my surprise, she chose the latter.
She was sniffling and quite agitated, so I knew was time to shift into Dad Mode. She wanted help, and my mission was to take her mind off the pain. So we used ice cubes to numb the gums, and I started in with distracting chatter. Gave her a toothpick and showed my boyhood technique to push and prod, twist and pull the errant tooth, then lift it up by its exposed bottom edge, and gently rip the remaining roots to pull it out. It’s painful. Almost as painful to watch your child in pain.

As her discomfort grew, so did her determination to get it over with. I was proud of her fortitude. I shifted into Barack Obama mode:

Me: “You can do it, E-chan. Say ‘I can do it.”
She repeated “I can do it” several times with genuine conviction. And she eventually pried the tooth out. I was – am – extremely proud of the toughness and guts she showed me.
We packed her gums with Kleenex to stem the bleeding, and she went back to bed, looking slightly satisfied. This ended one rather special Sunday for the Rising Family.

All I am wondering now is when will Elena finally put the tooth under her pillow for the Tooth Fairy to come?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

200th post: without you, I’m nothing

I’d like to revisit the raison d’etre for this blog, which I described right at its birth in February 2007: “This blog is written mostly for my family and close friends in Canada and the US to keep them up to date and bridge the distance”…and so it remains.

The fact is that I also write this blog for myself as a sort of time capsule of the development and life events of the Rising Daughters, and some of the challenges they sometimes face. The words will preserve the reality of rearing rugrats -- the joys and occasional adversity – so they will not fade into memory over time. I love my family very much.  If this chronicle can somehow capture the pride I feel about the way my daughters are blossoming into fine young people to those of you reading it – even just a handful of amigos and relatives – then I am more than satisfied.

When will the Rising Daughters® blog end? I do not know. There will come a time to say sayonara, but I don’t see that on the event horizon just yet. I still enjoy writin’ ‘em, so I hope you still enjoy reading the posts. It’s that simple, and as long as good vibe keeps going, why stop?

But I will never forget that, as the old saying goes, “without you I am nothing."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2015: Picture perfect

I will inaugurate this new year by looking back at 2015. Trolling through the many photos taken last year – and in prior years --  I thought how fortunate I am to be able to show readers how flawless my family is, that is to say:
- The Rising Daughters, from their entry into the world onward, have been little angels who remain well behaved at all times (to this day).
- As sisters, they are courteous to each other and strive every day to become perfect young adults.
- Nobody in this family ever gets exhausted, cranky or sick.
- Our children do not become unreasonable, inconsolable or uncontrollable. They don’t ruin rare moments during precious holidays or trips outside the home.
- As family scribe and photographer, I never ask for too many photos. And if you look at the accumulated trove of photos, it seems I have lots of free time and no job.
- Our familial relations are always without acrimony or difficulties.
- Parenting is easy.

You get the “big picture” right? The Rising Family is spotless, without conventional everyday problems or irrational behavior. Of course we are! The images in this blog always tell the real story…

With tongue firmly removed from cheek, allow me to add a bit of color to the photos that follow to offer some true semblance of what transpired in the year 2015. It was, overall, a good year for the Rising Family.

January means Hello KittyLand, officially known as Sanrio Pureland. As has become a tradition, we celebrate Elena’s birthday with Hello Kitty. We are assaulted by color and sound, and keep coming back for more.

We fight the February blues with ersatz Hawaiian warmth at the Hawaiians Spa, in Iwaki Prefecture north of Tokyo.

March: We visited LEGOLAND Discovery Center in the Odaiba area of Tokyo. It was quite the organized tour o’ fun. Here, I’ve captured E. & M. before they got into a squabble over the last few “takoyaki” fried octopus balls after a day in the hallowed LEGOLAND.

Tokyo Disneyland in April to celebrate a birthday. T-shirts come out. I need write nothing else, no?

Japan’s social order astounds me even after living here 19 years. My amateur sociological musings aside, the oldest daughter reminded me what genuine enthusiasm is. Here she is part of the cheering squad at her school’s sports day.

July: Marina had more fun at her school’s summer festival this year than last. Perhaps because she is a sophomore?

August = trip to Hiroshima, Miyajima fireworks (outstanding) and Shimonoseki was hot, happy and mostly hilarious. An unforgettable family vacation!

A fan’s late September last view of the ballpark this season. Hiroshima Carp versus the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. One last whiff of the grass. In the MLB, the Blue Jays gave me some serious joy, albeit half a world away.

Heavy workload in October forced pre-sunrise train departures on my commute. I just like this picture.

Getting away from it all by going under. Under pressure to have fun at 50 feet with Mikhail Parronovich, dive buddy extraordinaire.

Staycation over the holidays. Cheating a bit here (it is technically January), but we went to Tokyo Tower on New Year’s day. It did not disappoint.

Hello, 2016. Full speed ahead!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fleeting Season’s Greeting

Christmas Day here on this side of the world. Merry Christmas to all our friends and family.

My girls start early every day. Especially Christmas Day.

Elena had a half-day at school, so we waited to open our gifts. Marina and I spent the morning outside playing a zany “chase game” with her variable rules, and basking in the sun. It was unseasonably warm, which was most welcome.

Elena made it home in record time. No loitering. We had a great Skype call with Canada Grampa, then ripped into the gifts. But Lady E. and M. showed great patience and laughed a lot between the punches.
Not much more to say except we are grateful for the day.
Peace, joy and a Joyeux Noel to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

PR or not to PR, that WAS the question

Last week I became a permanent resident of Japan. I received the official approval notice via a 5” by 8” card in the mail. The card said go to the local immigration office to be become a more firmly rooted foreign resident of good ‘ol Nippon. So I did.
I applied for this new residency status last September after I found out that it confers more legal rights in family matters, reduces the visa renewal rigmarole, and makes it easier to get credit from banks. The paperwork for this wasn’t much more arduous than the visa forms I have filled out so far to renew my current visa. To qualify, I had the requisite ten-plus years of residency; no run-ins with the law more questionable than a traffic ticket for driving down a one-way street; and I pay my taxes. So why did it take me this long to do it?

Permanent resident status (PR, or eijuken in Japanese) does NOT mean I am becoming a Japanese citizen. On the other hand, it is official government acknowledgement that I am not considered to be in Japan temporarily. A certain mental limbo has plagued me for years and heretofore prevented me from taking the psychological leap from temporary guest worker/spouse of a Japanese national status to something more stable.

Now I am one of about 677,000 permanent residents here. That’s part of the 2.12 million foreigners in Japan among the total population of 127 million (in 2014).

Many of my peers raised eyebrows in the past when I explained my reluctance to commit to the permanency implied by PR status. Obviously, I was OK with living, working and raising kids in Japan given my many years in country. Nevertheless, I could tell they perceived this unwillingness to commit to the PR option as somehow looking a gift horse in the mouth. A wee bit of Hamlet syndrome. Or just plain irrational. Fact is I couldn’t commit to the “permanency” of the idea. It contained a ring of finality that I couldn’t admit. Having kids and responsibilities eventually changed my thinking. The illusion of autonomy and liberty was overcome by reality. After all, I am lucky and grateful to have a terrific wife and kids, and a good job and livelihood.

We continue to witness massive refugee migrations due to the civil war in Syria and in other troubled regions around the world. Millions of people are giving up everything they have for a chance to live and work in safe, peaceful and prosperous countries such as Japan. 

So rational choice trumped my years of trivial soul searching. Hamlet has left the building…maybe.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Rearviewmirror: Autumn recap

To paraphrase Papa Hemingway, I always expect to be slightly sad in the fall. Leaves drop from the trees and the brisk late afternoon air bites harder. Having swallowed my witches’ elixir of denial, though, the Rising Family rages against this cooler weather. That means I force them to prolong the warmth as long as possible. With that in mind, indulge me in visual recap of the fall’s activities.

We were determined to get just…one…more…camping trip in. Frequented a camping spot in Chiba prefecture for the second year, and again it was nearly deserted. Rained the first day which dampened our enthusiasm, but we caught some rays on the bookend Sunday as revenge. Here’s the Norman Rockwell family pose before the showers started.

Late October was Marina’s school sports day. I still enjoy watching the first-year kids wander around in amazement as generations of family members snap photos of it all. Marina and her second-year brethren are tranquil veterans of the sports day spectacles. Still fun to watch kindergarden kidz go through their paces.
Lady E. hung out with her old classmate. Too cool for me already, she does her best Sean Penn versus the paparazzi.
Capped off the month with the girls doing their own ad hoc “Hallowe’en dance,” which was followed by an in-house trick or treat.

Busy dads “MP” and I got a weekend away for some long-anticipated scuba diving in Kushimoto, Wakayama prefecture. Topside, the sea surface was cold and angry; at 50 feet under, warm and languid. It was essentially a 48-hour beer commercial.

This is just us goofing around at a Cocos restaurant stop. Fine dining! 

Next stop…Christmas
I caved in this year and consented to setting up the Christmas tree earlier than I ever have before. Here’s a teaser shot.

Monday, November 23, 2015

More on M: wacky, wily, and wiser

Now that she’s got five more years under her belt, we decided to revisit Marina for a catch-up conversation on life and love, the war between the sexes, and the color pink. These days she prefers to go by “M.”, like James Bond’s boss. Watch her careen into a room wearing a pale pink long-sleeve pullover with Flower Girls! emblazoned in aqua and yellow on the front, and you can see why she commands attention. To start the interview, she bounded to her seat and chirped: “fire away.” Needless to say, she seems far more mature than our previous rendezvous and explains how the past few years forced her to grow up.
What's been your most fearless move so far?
I dropped from monkey bars at a jungle gym with my eyes closed. Elena was preening because she had navigated the jungle gym monkey bars two at a time. Time for me to step up my game, I thought. So I just went for it, but I got stuck midway through; my upper body strength isn’t as much as an eight-year-old. I am just hanging there, but I refused to ask for my dad’s help. I just let go of the bars and it was a hard-ass landing. Didn’t cry, though. Wouldn’t give them the pleasure of that.
Embarrassing habits?
I have a squirrel-like tendency to hide my prized possessions and forget where they are. Occasionally I pick my nose and eat it.

What are three things that make you unlike any other kid at your school?
I know how to use a knife and fork. I sort of know the meaning of recent Disney movie songs. And I have eaten Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli—imported food, my’ caviar.

Who are you wearing these days?
Princess Purikyua apparel. I’m also into denim skirts of late, and partial to short-sleeves since summer even up to now although we’re on the cusp of winter. My beliefs and consumer choices show I am actually a child of summer.

What's your favorite ice cream/comfort food?
Love those Cocos restaurant desserts with strawberries. Mikan oranges. Bananas. And man oh man those cranberry bagels for breakfast. Mixed veggies? Blech. Carrots and broccoli? Double blech.

Who is more fun to play with, boys or girls?
Boys are gross. I learned that the first couple of weeks at school. Girls are simpler to deal with. Boys always organize too much and it takes the fun out of having fun. Plus, they only have to wear pants (not skirts). They have it easier, so I don’t like them. And I think it's important for girls to hang with other girls and learn from each other. It’s still a boys’ world.
Are you more of a guys' girl or a girls' girl?
Look, I don’t apologize for my love of hairbands and clips, Hello Kitty and Doraemon, or that I like pink, blue and orange—in that order. Colors aren’t political unless we make ‘em that way. This whole boy-versus-girl thing is so 20th Century power struggle-y. Get over it.

What's your average day like?
Get on the school bus. We have to do a morning run as soon as we get off the bus, unless it’s raining. It’s like the military.
Then we all throat-gargle with water and visit the toilet to wash our hands. Then make stuff out of paper, paint, or sing songs. Sometimes we make origami; I don’t like that, but tow the line. School lunches (only once a week) are OK but there are too many healthy foods like vegetables. I use my cute bit to negotiate lots of sweets out of dad on weekends.

What are you reading lately?
Barbie: What Shall I be?, Nickelodeon Story Time Collection, anything involving SpongeBob Squarepants. Truth be told, my dad reads ‘em all to me, but he is my favorite audioplayer.

Favorite quip about modern life?
Stop and smell the orange juice.
Tell use a joke (true story)
Setup is that Elena asks Marina the following quiz:
Q: (Elena) What goes up your leg but goes down your bum?
A: (Marina) Jellyfish!  Ouch.
The real answer was “playground slide.”
We didn’t get the joke either but that is the essence of M.: she’s adorable but is taking her own path, and in that way it means the joke is on us.