March 23, 2007

Ottawa Invades!

Parents and Younger Brother Visit Hiroshima in March

Nothing like the birth of their first grandchild to lure my folks to Hiroshima for a vacation! It was a given that my folks would eventually venture from the Great White North to the Land of the Rising Sun. I've been living in Japan for well over ten years now but it took the birth of our beloved little rugrat to finally attract my mom and brother to Japan. Added bonus: it was Stephen's first trip outside North America. The fear of sushi and other bizarre raw foods, crowds, bullet trains, and an indecipherable language spoken by a comparatively undemonstrative people were all overcome by an undeniable urge to see Lady E.

Grandparents have inherent visiting rights with their grandkids--even if the grandchild lives thousands of miles away. Their first visit with their granddaughter turned out as you might expect: a wonderful - occasionally comical - week of many events packed together as we roamed the countryside wreaking gajin havoc and then spending evenings with the star of the show...Elena! The flavor of the time I spent with my family is best described as a nice sake spiced up with a twist of Ottawa lime.

From March 9-17 the four of us (wife and baby wisely stayed at home) enthusiastically roamed around the local tourist sites, with yours truly as erstwhile driver, guide, interpreter and forager of palatable food. It was interesting to have come full-circle, in that my 'rents were now semi-dependent on me, rather than the other way around. (Some karmic payback for all the innumerable things they did for me when I was a little kid?) Logistics were expedited by a Mazda MPV - a crimson red people mover - that I borrowed from a generous friend to cart them around. Our practical little 660cc supermini keicar clearly wasn't up to the job, even if we mounted my brother on the hood (he's a rather tall 17-year old monster now). So, for five glorious days during their visit, I reveled in our sarcastic-verging-on-caustic conversations, reminisces of trips taken together in the past, and absorbing the World According to Gail and Richard. Déjà vu all over again. It was just plain splendid.

We also had two visits with my wife's family, both very successful. Given that my in-laws spoke but a few choice words of English and my folks gamely mangled the pronunciation of their survival–level nihongo (Japanese), it was up to Naomi and me to facilitate any dialogue and exchange of gifts to locate a social valley that could traverse the Cultural Himalayas. (Yikes--what a convoluted metaphor.)

But that extra duty can offer an element of control. Let me give an example. My mother-in-law is a gifted artist and she gave my folks a beautiful painting of the Miyajima shrine that she had made as a remembrance of their trip. When the in-laws came to see my folks off at the train station the day they were returning to Canada, my mom mentioned how lovely the picture was and jokingly directed me to tell my mother-in-law that she loved the Kintaikyo bridge area and would she paint that too? Ha ha. I could already see Naomi's mom dutifully trudging off to Iwakuni to paint it in response to the 'joke' so we averted the problem through selective interpretation. It's an underappreciated art form in the realm of cultural differences. Overall, though, everyone put their best foot forward and the vibe was decidedly positive.

It's difficult to sum up so many events in a few words, so I'll simply note a few key words and provide you, dear reader, with the hyperlinks if you're interested in seeing what my family saw: Mitaki Temple, Miyajima, A-Bomb Dome and Peace Park, Kintaikyo Bridge, Kurashiki, a Japanese tea ceremony kindly performed by my wonderful Japanese teacher (Mrs. H.), Kousanji Temple and the Hill of Hope and the Yamato Museum. Google ahoy!
Thanks to my parents and brother for coming, to my family in Japan for their understanding, to my friends for supporting us so much, and to the Mazda MPV for not crashing. I know my family had an unforgettable visit. So did I.

March 19, 2007

New Parents: He Said/She Said

She said: I feel like a cow.

He said: I feel like an ATM.

-Dad, Mom and Stephen are visiting now, so I will regale you with The Tales of the 'Rents next time.

-I found out tonight that Lady E. really gets into Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child, but isn't so partial to Foxy Lady. Go figure.

March 4, 2007

Three Anecdotes

Hi ya'll! Three anecdotes from this week.

Number One
Naomi and Elena are back home full time with me at our apartment! Our mini nuclear family unit is now together again. It's been an eventful week, as all three of us have had to get used to our new living conditions. Naomi has been such a trooper: the Ultimate New Mom. The days and, yes, the long nights, of her doing everything in her power to make things comfortable and pleasant for our daughter have been a revelation of her inner strength. The lithium also helps us cope (again-a joke). This brings me to some slightly rambling late night musings I knocked out the other night at about 0500 when I couldn't go back to sleep after rocking a sleep-averse Elena for a few hours in the still of the night.

Number Two: Sleep Deprivation Blues, Part I
Wailing, squirming tiny acrobat
my little ice cream maker.
Her neck weak and rotating; prompts my wife’s whimper.

Black hole to our energy,
from which we feel joy to give willingly. Our true happiness-
your tiny grins appear, and nothing else matters
from little grimaces bubble up huge bellows of "feed me, now, man!"
Ignored at your own peril.

Sleep-dep ain't gettin' us down, no sir,
but is wearing on the enamel
of sanity.

Baby books say it's temporary,
my dulled senses say it's...zzzzzz....months and months to go.
Mind knows its both.

Sleep-dep blues/molasses in your spirit.
Like waiting for school term to end, knowing summer vacation is coming.
Honest, visceral, delightful first months of infant mayhem.

Number Three: The Snuggly Bellybutton Fart Story
As a new dad, I have honed a few quasi-Vaudevillian techniques to try to distract my little one while she is wailing at 100 decibels for her bottle or for me to change her diaper. One is to furtively stick my nose into her belly button and snort to tickle her belly, with the bonus in wintertime of having the chilly end of my nose shocking her slightly and knocking her concentration off whatever it was that had been annoying her. It's the cunning 'snuggly bellybutton' tactic and it usually works. But our cute little sprog got wise to the ruse and took her revenge.

I was flying solo for a few hours with Elena (or, as I occasionally call her, H.R.H. Lady 'E') the other day, when Naomi was out running errands. Well, as a two-month old infant, she has some bowel control issues, and after some small heart-tugging sobs I thought that maybe she had soiled her diaper. So I attempted the 'snuggly-bellybutton' maneuver to calm her down. Before I could get her nappy off, she blew a stomach deflating, eyebrow-singeing fart of such noxious odor that I
1) recoiled in abject terror and
2) knew immediately that she possessed the family pedigree of cranking out pant-splitters at inopportune times.
And wasn't she looking at me with a little infant smirk of triumph? And relief. Also utter and overwhelming satisfaction.
The score is now Elena 1, Dad 0.
Of course, I now exercise more caution when employing the 'snuggly bellybutton' move.