It’s Not Fair!

Siblings, in a moment of peace

Life was relatively peaceful when we only had one child.  It was when we had our second one that our firstborn began to notice something: life is not fair.  No longer could he always get his way (which, I guess, is most people’s definition of “fair”).  He had to ponder a new concept called sharing, and it wasn’t working out too well.

Don’t get me wrong — David and I try to be as fair to our kids as humanly possible.  We try to give both of them the same amount of attention, material goods, and love.  Yet, they cry foul each time.

“Dad, Meg got more than I did!”

“Mom, it’s not fair that Josh gets to go again!”

When it comes to splitting drinks, foods, and treats, we let one of them do the splitting and the other the choosing.  You won’t believe the precision with which they accomplish this.  Not an ounce of extra falls on either side.

The amazing thing is that they both equally believe that I am far more fair with the other child.  “Who gets to have what they want more often?” I ask them.  They immediately point fingers at one another like pistols.  This seems like an utter incongruity, but since I am equally unfair to both of them, I must actually be very fair.  I feel pretty good about this.  My kids don’t really see it that way.

It dawned on me and David one day, though, that we were actually doing them a disservice by making things fair.  The harsh reality is that life is not fair.  The world doesn’t owe us anything, and we will not always get what we want.  No matter how much we try to protest it, someone is always going to be smarter, taller, skinnier, faster, better looking, more talented, or richer than you or me.  By creating a false universe where things are artificially fair, we are not preparing them for real life.

In fact, we should be downright outraged — not because we are getting the short end of the stick but because so many others around the globe are!  While we live in a very wealthy culture and have so much more materially, many people subsist on less than $2 a day.  We should be absolutely furious that kids in third world countries can’t go to school because they have to spend hours everyday transporting drinkable water from the river to their villages.  We ought to be righteously indignant that so many children are being orphaned because HIV and AIDS are wiping out an entire generation of young parents.  No, the world definitely is not fair.

In a few weeks, I am going to travel to the Dominican Republic with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian and relief organization with whom I’ve worked for over 15 years, to personally see World Vision’s work in that country.  And get this: I have chosen to pull Josh out of school for four days so he can travel with me.  Yes, I realize this could potentially damage his 8th grade transcripts and a Tiger Mom would never do this (thus, Panda Mom me), but on the other hand Josh will most likely learn some lessons which he could never learn inside a classroom.  I believe these lessons will last him a lifetime.

While we’re there, we are going to visit Francis, our sponsored 13-year old boy who lives in the Dominican Republic.  He lives with his grandparents and four siblings, which makes me believe that his parents are deceased.  Francis enjoys mathematics and baseball.  We plan to bring some mitts and balls as gifts so Josh and Francis can play catch together.

Is life fair? No. I hope Josh never forgets it.

Josh with our sponsored child Francis whom we will meet soon!

What do you do to nurture fairness in your home?  How do you teach your kids about world poverty?  Share with us below, and click here if you’d like to sponsor other World Vision kids like Francis!

Metamorphosis of a Minivan Mom

The change was so insidious.  It didn’t happen overnight.  Before kids, I had always zipped around town in cool, two-door sedans like my Acura Integra.  Then I had a baby and before I knew it, I had become a minivan mom wearing mommy jeans.  I thought I should explain how this all came down.

My cool Acura Integra looked like this except it was silver

You see, when David and I came home from the maternity ward, we found that the little baby car seat carrier fit snugly into the middle back seat of our sedan, and it was just fine.  Of course, we always wanted to keep an eye on the little guy, so one of us would drive and the other would sit in the back with Josh.  This was all fine until we started going places with our new baby.  Besides the diaper bag, we needed to throw the stroller in the trunk, which quickly filled up with other baby things — portable crib, baby saucer, baby swing, balls, stuffed animals, and an inflatable pool.  You know, just in case.

Last stop before a minivan -- Toyota 4Runner SUV

When our car began to resemble a trunk show for Toys ‘R Us, we decided we really needed to move up, so we got a Toyota 4Runner.  It’s an SUV.  It’s still cool…enough.  Hey, my husband was still okay being seen in it.  As our baby got bigger and heavier, it was easier on our backs to step up to buckle in the car seat.  Also, when Josh was big enough to face forward during our drives, he got a better view from his seat and fussed a little less. We loved that little SUV, even if it did drive like a pickup truck.

David sold the car he had to a friend and drove my Integra around until I bashed into it with my 4Runner (see my other post about sleep deprivation).  Actually, we got it fixed after that, but the final straw was when David was pulled over by an officer whom we suspect thought that David was an Asian gangster.  The officer stated that the Integra’s windows were tinted too dark, but after realizing that he was talking to a straight-laced physician, the officer gave him a fix-it ticket to remove the tinting and let him go.

When our second baby arrived, it was getting increasing crowded in our Toyota SUV.  Double the car seats, double the baby junk in the trunk.  So that’s when it finally happened: our first minivan.  David decided to sell the Integra and got me a Mazda MPV so he could drive the 4Runner.

And then it happened...a Mazda MPV minivan.

I had to admit — I loved that minivan!  Our kids could actually stand up and play baseball inside that thing.  I could haul two strollers plus all the other baby accoutrements and not feel crowded.  We could even give our babysitter rides home.  No, it’s not exactly sexy but can we agree that no car is more practical for young families than a minivan?

My current mom-mobile: Honda Odyssey

We’ve since moved onward and upward to the Honda Odyssey, probably the best minivans around, even better than any swagger wagons.  Strollers, bikes, furniture, pools — we can throw them all in there!  It’s ideal for carpooling, because you can seat about 100 people.  You almost need a Class B license to drive it.  And the stereo!  I could out-thump any sub-woofers around town.  And I do.

Now, our kids are getting to the ages when some parents consider moving back down towards a sedan or an SUV.  But I love my minivan so much that I think I’ll keep driving it until the day it dies or I die, whichever comes first.

So, are you a minivan parent?  How did you get here and do you intend to stay?  Let me know!

Outdoor Ed: Another Milestone for Parents

Anxious parents seeing off their 6th graders

My daughter left this morning for 6th grade outdoor education in the nearby mountains.  Our house is going to be quiet for a few days, so I thought this would be as good a time as any to introduce our daughter Megumi to you.

Meg is two years younger than Josh, and the two couldn’t be more different from each other.  Besides the fact that she’s a girl and he’s a boy, Meg has always had an independent streak…going back to the day she was born.  While Josh was still having trouble sleeping through the night at age 2 — er, 12 — his sister came home from the hospital asleep and kept sleeping through the night.  And the next night, and the next.  I know you will think that I have total mom amnesia, but I truly never had a sleepless night with my newborn daughter.  It was her toddler brother who continued to torture me in the middle of the night.

Meg’s been doing sleepovers at her friends’ since she was in preschool.  Josh tried a few times, but we inevitably got the 11pm call asking us to pick him up.  He just likes his own bed.  Therefore, outdoor ed two years ago was a form of torture for him.  He tried many times to try to talk his sister out of going on her own outdoor ed trip.  His efforts were futile, and she excitedly did her own packing and bounded onto the bus.

“Bye, mom!” was all she said as she disappeared behind the tinted windows of the coach bus.  Kids these days — they sure travel in style.

I often wonder why life is so hard for my son (and for me) as the reluctant trail blazers.  Firstborns have it difficult that way, you know?  My daughter was born with a very capable personality to begin with, but to have her sibling pave the way for her makes it even easier.  Perhaps life would have been easier for all of us if Meg had been born first.  But then I remember the sovereignty of God and am reminded that His ways are not my ways.

Lord, if I were you, I would have…

Josh and Meg, sibling partners in crime, at my old college in Tokyo

What I do appreciate about both of them is that are good friends, even if they don’t like to admit it.  They were particularly good travel partners during our last trip to Japan.  I’m sure they will continue to share wonderful memories of life together as siblings in their growing-up years at home.

For the next few days, Josh will enjoy being an only child again, as he was the first two years of his life.  My life will be half as hectic, and our house will be half as noisy this week.  I’m sensing another dose of mixed, sentimental feelings which is a constant in parenting, but I must say it is easier to send my second child off to outdoor ed than my first.

Are your kids night-and-day different from one another?  Was everything more difficult for you the first time through each milestone, or is it just me?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

My Former and New Flexible Self

These people are more flexible than I am! (iStock photo)

I used to be so flexible.  I used to be able to do the splits when I was in high school.  I also used to stretch before and after running and could bend sideways, forwards, and backwards farther than any of my cohorts.  Later when I was pregnant, my ligaments became even more loose in preparation for the Big Day when my hips would open sesame to expel a human from within.  Sideways splits were easy as pie in those days.

I thought I would always be limber, but then something happened a few weeks after giving birth.  My ligaments hardened up like concrete! And no, they didn’t go back to the way they were before pregnancy but in whatever position I happened to be sometime between noon and 1pm, 30 days postpartum.  I know this, because I was standing in the kitchen with my feet slightly apart, washing the dishes.  I now walk like a duck.  I can barely touch my toes today, and the floor remains far, far away if I attempt the splits.  When I try to bend sideways, my brain thinks that I’m at 90 degrees while my body stubbornly remains stuck at around 170 degrees.

While waddling around in my ever-stiffening body one day, I realized that becoming a parent has ironically made me more flexible in my heart.  I used to have such rigid expectations about myself, but now I’ve had to let go of them for the sake of our kids.  I also used to have every minute of the day scheduled with my to-do list, but a sick child would completely throw off all of my carefully-laid plans…and I wouldn’t resent it one bit.  I’ve let go of a perfectly organized house for a more realistic, fun home.  I’ve also stopped beating myself up when my kids didn’t meet some milestones, because some things are beyond my control.  Actually, not much in life was ever under my control; it just took motherhood for me to recognize this.

I don’t think I would ever go back to my former, inflexible self.  Back then, things always HAD to be a certain way.  Who wants a perfectly clean home when the kids are all stressed about it?  What child wants every minute of their days planned with activities?  Who cares about doing the splits when there is a sick child who needs you?

I’m writing this today, because Josh missed his baptism this morning due to yet another illness.  He really did have a high fever and looked rather contagious.  In my past life, I would have thrown him in the ice tub, made him get dressed, and fed him Tylenol for breakfast so he could be lucid enough for the 10 minutes at church.  After all, his name was already printed in the bulletin!  Instead, we let him go back to bed and sleep in.  Thankfully, Pastor Tim assured us that there will be another opportunity after he gets well.

Yeah, it would be nice if I could regain some of my physical flexibility from my glory days, but I wouldn’t trade the flexibility I’ve gained as a mother for anything.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go do some stretches on the floor next to the bed where my sick child is sleeping upstairs.

Tell me — are you more or less flexible after becoming a parent, physically or emotionally?  What are some big lessons you’ve learned as a result of having a child?

The Many Hats of a Mom

A busy mom, which is redundant. (photo iStock)

Moms and employment have been in the news a bit lately, so with Mother’s Day approaching I thought I’d throw in my two cents.  I don’t know why people get so touchy about this topic; after all, we moms only work about 100 hours per week for NO PAY!

Before I became a parent, I had no idea how many hats I would one day be wearing.  Here’s just a short list of the jobs I’ve held as the primary household engineer:

1.  Babysitter

Yeah, I know — we are supposed to be parenting, not babysitting.  But you gotta admit — the first few months of your baby’s life is pretty much all about feeding, changing, and rocking, and burping.  Not much interaction happens with your newborn, so you just sit by your baby.  Babysit.  As I mentioned previously, I never did any babysitting in my younger days nor even help out in the church nursery.  I was a major fail at this gig, at least for the first couple of months.

2.  Teacher

Yes, I went to college.  Did it prepare me to be a tutor and, in some cases, a full-fledged teacher?  Nope.  It’s easy enough at first when they’re toddlers and I’m just showing them flash cards of animals, colors, and the periodic table.  It progresses from there to helping them with middle school algebra and Egyptian history.  Did I mention to you that I immigrated to the US in third grade and that I was not fluent in English until sometime in middle school?  How can I help my kids with 5th grade homework when I had never seen the material before?  Cramming for finals in college somewhat prepared me to become the teacher that I am to my kids.

3.  Thespian

I heard again and again that I should be reading to our kids, so I did.  But reading in a monotone would be boring for the child as well as for myself, so I tried my best at being as dramatic as possible: “So MAMA bear said to her cubs, ‘Why, YES!  You may go play outside and [sound effects here] FLY your KITE [gesticulate as if a kite].”  I wished so much that I had studied drama in school rather than my own major, computer science.

4.  Chef

I was so domestically challenged that my husband used to say that the best thing I made for dinner is a reservation.  Then we had kids, and I had to evict the crickets and actually start using our kitchen!  My parents used to own a Japanese restaurant, so I did know a thing or two about cooking…for 50 people or more.  I also was really in charge of one dish at the restaurant: tempura.  Well, our kids couldn’t eat fried food everyday for the rest of their lives, so I had to learn to make a wider variety of dishes.  I also have had to plan ahead and shop wisely so we don’t end up bailing and eating out too often, although I think we still go out far too often.  The main thing is that we’re all still alive and well!

5.  Nurse

I’ve learned to take temperature on a feverish child, catch vomit in a bucket, diagnose diaper rash, administer medicine disguised as a yummy snack, determine by the color of the snot whether the illness warrants a visit to the clinic, keep up on immunization shots, and diagnose the cough as allergies, cold, or TB. I wished so much that I had gone to nursing school but am so thankful for WebMD.  Oh yeah, and my husband!

6.  Other jobs I’ve held as a mom:

  • Seamstress
  • Therapist
  • Personal trainer
  • Financial advisor
  • Event planner
  • Personal shopper
  • Coach
  • Makeup artist
  • Hair stylist
  • Barber
  • Cobbler
  • IT specialist & computer consultant
  • Ghost writer (oops)
  • Librarian
  • Police
  • Attorney
  • Gardener
  • Cleaning lady
  • Theologian
  • Travel agent
  • Chauffer

…and, as they always say, the list goes on.  But my favorite title is this:


Did I forget any other jobs on the list?  Which is your favorite?  Please share with us!

First Day of School

First day of school for this boy and mom

School year begins in April in Japan, so last week in Osaka I saw a lot of parents rushing to attend the Opening Ceremonies at their children’s schools.  Many of the moms don their spring kimono for this momentous occasion.  Walking on the streets lined with cherry blossoms, the view of these ladies took me back in time…not only to historical Japan, but also to my own son’s first day of elementary school.

Josh attended the preschool and kindergarten right on the grounds at the church where I was on staff during that time.  In total, Josh spent four years — very safe, nurturing, and familiar four years — at this wonderful facility.

That’s why it was such a dramatic change when I enrolled him in our neighborhood public school.  Irvine has a great school system so I was not concerned about the quality of education he would be receiving.  It’s just that it was no longer familiar territory.  It was time to step out into the big, bad world.

Mrs. Calkins was a tenderhearted first grade teacher who understood us moms’ apprehension and let us linger just a few extra moments at the classroom door before leaving our children in her care for the day.  It was a cloudy day, and the dark skies reflected what was going on inside my heart as I fought back tears.

My baby…oh, I miss him.

I was surprised by how sad I felt about Josh entering first grade.  I should have been rejoicing!  After all, I had spent the previous 6 years counting down the days until I regained my freedom.  I couldn’t wait for Josh to start school!  But then the memories came rushing back.  Oh, the fun walks we had together, just the two of us at the park and at the mall!  And all those trains we chased!  I pictured his sweet face looking up at me in the bassinet when he was only a few weeks old, and how much I enjoyed cuddling with him during nap time when he was a toddler.  I realized that I wasn’t quite ready to let go of my son just yet.  I wished I could turn back the hands of time, just a little.

After I left school, I went to run some errands, and that’s when I ran into a friend.  At the time, he was still a newlywed and not yet a parent.  I’ll call him James.  Not aware of my fragile emotional state, he waved hello and casually asked, “How’s it going?”

“My son started first grade today,” I said, trying to sound normal, which I was not.

James, being a young man, responded in a way that any non-parent in his situation would:

“Oh, that’s good.  Um, congratulations?  Well, see ya,” and away he went, leaving only me to deal with this awful conversation that just ensued.

Good?  That’s good?  I’ve lost my baby, my world is falling apart, and you think I should be congratulated?  What type of a heartless soul are you?

No longer able to contain my tears, I ran back to my car for a good, long cry.

Later, I reflected on my little conversation with James, and it dawned on me that I must have said twice as many insensitive things to people who are parents.  You just can’t understand the heart of a parent until you become one yourself.  I felt mortified as I recalled some of the unthoughtful and stupid words I had said.  Oh, if I could only go back to apologize to all those moms and dads for the dumb things I said!

Tomorrow night, we are attending the orientation night at the high school where he’ll be attending starting this fall.  And in four years from now, we’ll be looking at colleges.

I can’t imagine what a wreck I’m going to be when that day comes around.

How did you feel when you sent your child off to first day of school?  Any college parents out there who could give us some words of wisdom?  Please feel free to do so in the comments below!



Bike Ride and Why I’m Not a Tiger Mom

Me and my buddy Josh

Today, I proved once again that I am not a Tiger Mom and why.

“I’m going on a bike ride with my friends,” declared our 14-year old son Joshua. He hasn’t ridden his bike in well over a year.

“Where are you riding to?”

“The beach.  We’re going to have lunch there and ride back.”

Irvine is somewhat near the coast, but it’s not exactly a beach town.  I figured it’s at least eight miles away.

“You sure you can get there?  Oh and by the way, you have Japanese school at 1:30.”

“Can’t I miss it, mom?  Pleeeease?”

Because we had already missed two Saturday Japanese classes due to our trip to Japan, I wasn’t going to allow him to miss another class.  We came up with a compromise: he could ride down to the beach for his lunch, but I would pick him up and the bike at one o’clock and take him to class.  Josh begrudgingly agreed.

Even going one direction, I had a feeling that this was going to be quite a challenge for him.  He rarely rides his bike, which we bought for him 3 years ago.  He has grown at least 6 inches since then.  He and I are currently the same height, so I suggested he ride my bike instead of his so he could stretch out his legs all the way, but he resisted.

A jet-lagged teenager going on a 2-hour ride on a bicycle too small for him.  Now, this is going to be interesting.  I could have forbidden him from doing this, but I figured it’s not worth the fight.  What’s the worst that could happen?  He’ll be tired, sore, and hungry, but he’ll probably live through it.  I decided that he can learn his own lesson and asked David to pump the tires and raise the seat as much as he could.

Shortly before this Tour de Irvine began, I received a phone call from the mother of one of his friends who was also riding.  I’ll cal this friend “Lisa” and her Asian immigrant mom “Susan.”

“Hello, Junko?  This is Susan.  I hear our kids are riding their bikes to the beach.  I’m afraid Lisa is going to have a hard time, because she never rides her bike.”

That makes two of us.

“I’m trying to tell her not to go, but she refuses to listen.  Can you try to talk to Josh about not going so she won’t go either?”

I told her I’d try and hung up.

“Josh, do you really want to go?  You do realize it’s a long ride, right?”  Yes, and yes.

“Okay, suit yourself.  Have fun.”

Thanks to cell phones, I was able to track down the cyclists somewhere on the bike trail between Irvine and Newport Beach at 1pm.  Actually, they were still in Irvine.  They had a late start because Lisa’s bike broke down and she had to go home to get another one.  Sure enough, they were already tired and hungry, and they wolfed down the McDonald’s snacks I’d purchased just in case.  When they learned from me that they were only about halfway to the beach, Josh’s friends decided to turn around and head home.

As Josh and I drove off to Japanese school, he told me, “Lisa and her mom had a 45-minute argument about not going on this bike ride.”

45 minutes?  That’s almost as long as the duration of their actual bike ride!  Lisa and her mom are now angry at each other, and she was not looking forward to coming home to “I told you so.”

A real Tiger Mom would probably have forbidden this bike ride without a discussion.  As a Panda Mom, I figured that my relationship with my son is more important than winning an argument.  Sure, if it was something really life-threatening, I would have refused.  But in this case, it was much better for Josh to learn his own lesson and for me to remain a Panda.

And Josh and I are still close.

What would you have done in this case?  Did I do the right thing?  Please share in the comments below.


Visiting My Old Home

My former elementary school

I went to visit my former hometown of Fujiidera in Osaka on Tuesday with my family.  We even got to spend time with Yukako, my best friend from third grade.

This isn’t the first time I came back here, but once again I was struck by this thought: everything is so much smaller than I remember!  Just as I wrote in my memoir, From the Land of the Rising Sun — A Journey to Acceptance, Identity & Belonging,

“The house had shrunk! I could have sworn it was so much bigger. Maybe it shrank in the heat each summer, I thought, like wool sweaters do when laundered in hot water.

Front entrance to my old home

I was also shocked to see that the highway running in front of our house was now a quiet two-lane road. I always thought we lived on a major thoroughfare. I could still hear the huge cars and monster trucks that rumbled by. When I crossed the street at the corner signal, I had to toddle with all my might to make it before the light turned red.

Why is everything so much smaller?

Then it dawned on me. I was looking at exactly the same house on exactly the same road. I had grown bigger!”

When I was young, my family moved every couple of years.  By the time I was Josh’s age today, I must have lived in at least 6 or 7 houses.  In contrast, our kids have lived in one home.  With every move, I had to adjust to a new school, find new friends, and, in one instance, learn a whole new language.  My childhood was unsettling, although I didn’t realize it then.

Although Fujiidera is not technically my “home town” because I didn’t really have one, it is the last place I lived in Japan before moving to the States, so it carries the most vivid memories of my childhood.  It is also the place I achingly longed to go back to after our move to our high-rise apartment in New York:

“I used to stare out the window at the red bricks covering the building next to ours and wish so much that I were seeing sprawling rice fields instead. If I closed my eyes and imagined hard enough, I could almost hear my friend Yukako stopping by my house with her own kite calling out, ‘Asobimasho! Come out and play!’”

I saw adorable little children excitedly coming home from the first day of school, holding hands with their moms dressed in their finest kimonos for the opening ceremonies.  School year starts in April in Japan.  I found myself searching in the group of students for someone who looks like me from my own childhood — a chubby girl with bucked teeth and a friendly smile, a girl whose world came crashing down with her father’s pronouncement, “We’re moving to America.”

Green tea flavor of everyone's favorite snack. My gut feeling tells me that you'll like it!

If I had found that girl in the crowd of kids at Fujiidera Elementary, I would have told her that it is all going to be all right.  You’ll grow taller soon so your thighs will quit rubbing against each other.  You’ll wear braces and your teeth will be straight one day.  You will eventually learn English and, if you can believe it, the Japanese you speak now will have faded but for your mother who will badger you to always speak it at home so you won’t lose it.  You won’t like her for it at first, but someday you’ll learn to appreciate it.

As for your best friend Yukako, you will reunite with her someday and will spend a day together in the spring of 2012.  You’ll continue to make music you love so much and will come back to Japan to share songs you’ve written…in English!  You’ll marry a wonderful husband, have two great kids, and they will be with you on your visit back to Fujiidera.

Most importantly, you will meet a God who already loves you more than you know.  You will someday be introduced to Jesus, who will be your Lord and Savior.

And in Him, you will finally find Home.

In front of a Korean barbecue restaurant where we had lunch with Yukako and her son.

What is one thing you would tell your own childhood self if you had the opportunity?  Please share it with us in the comments below!

Once a Mom, Always a Mom

My parents, happy in paradise...I mean, Hawaii.

My parents moved to Honolulu to retire about 5 years ago after finally relinquishing their Japanese citizenship to the US. Today, while traveling in Tokyo, I received an email written in Japanese from her with the subject “Please Be Cautious.” The body of the email went like this: “North Korea is testing its nuclear missiles between April 12 and 13. I think you’re flying back to LA during that time. Please be careful.”

A part of me is glad that I still have a mother who cares about me like no one else ever will. However, another part of me can’t stop laughing at the lunacy of her caution. What, pray tell, should I do to prepare myself in case of a nuclear missile launch? In particular, if they actually do shoot a nuclear missile towards the very aircraft in which I sit, what could I possible do to escape my certain demise? Run into the lavatory? Duck under my seat? Notify the Authority? There are times when we all have to face our final destiny, and no mother can stop that. Certainly not by email from Hawaii.

This is the same mother who tried to grab my hand while crossing the streets of Honolulu during our last visit. No, she wasn’t trying to steady herself; rather, she was trying to protect me from cars whizzing by Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. She’s nearly 80 years old, so I can’t imagine her providing me with much protection, in spite of the fact that she is still in great health.

Many of my friends ask why, when their only grandchildren reside in California, would my parents move to Hawaii. Wouldn’t they want to be involved in their grandkids’ lives? How could they only see them, at most, twice a year on vacation in Honolulu?

The truth is, my mother cares too much, and she almost smothered all of us when my kids were young. She couldn’t stand watching me learn by mistake in parenting, and she couldn’t stand to see me or my kids experience pain. So, in her most loving and caring way, she chose to remove herself physically from us to create a geographical distance between us because she could not separate from us emotionally. Where would be the most sacrificial place to live in retirement? The paradise known as Hawaii. My dad was not going to refuse.

My mother's latest project

It’s turned out to be the best decision for them ever. They are enjoying their golden years strolling the beaches of Waikiki and playing frisbee together at Kapiolani Park. (Actually, I think frisbee is great exercise — jumping, reaching, throwing, catching…) My mother picked up oil painting at the ripe old age of 72 and has been churning out amazing works of art on a regular basis. My dad, who has always been a learning junkie, has signed up for unlimited classes at the local Apple store and has become quite an expert. I think he secretly hopes to someday work at the Apple Genius Bar so he can help out old people.

They bought their plots at a cemetery on Diamond Head, and every now and then they pack a picnic lunch to go sit under the tree canopying their future resting place. “We went to go visit our grave today,” she reports. “You should join us sometime. I’ll make some rice balls and your favorite teriyaki chicken for lunch.” I really don’t care to go visit my parents’ grave any sooner than I have to, but one of these days I’ll go humor them.

So, here we are in Tokyo visiting my parent’s homeland, and my mom is sending me directives by email. I just let her know that I appreciate her concerns and leave it at that. As much as I tell myself I won’t be doing the same when my own kids are grown, I just have a feeling that I’ll be sending similar emails to them in a few decades.

After all, once a mom, I’ll always be a mom.

Do you have any stories of your own parents still trying to parent you? Let me know in the comments below!

Tsunami Survivor — The Nakagawa’s

Mr. and Mrs. Nakagawa and their 6-year old son

On Wednesday, I was able to visit a tsunami-affected city in Japan to meet some folks who are still struggling to rebuild their lives.  Thanks to the many kind volunteers and humanitarian aid, though, they have hope that things will get better.  I would like to introduce you to one such family today.

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Mr. Nakagawa moved back from big-city Sendai to the quiet seaside hometown of Ishinomaki 15 years ago to take on his aging parents’ business of manufacturing anko, a sweet paste used in many Japanese confectioneries.  He married his beautiful bride and together became parents to an energetic little boy.

On March 11, 2011, Mr. Nakagawa was just driving back from a delivery in Sendai when he felt the toll road beneath his car begin to shake violently.  He pulled over on an overpass when the waters began to rise.  He began to fear for his life.  Never much of a cell phone user, he could not call home to check on his wife and son — not that it would have done much good, as all cell communication was cut off.  He spent a cold, worrisome night in his car alone with water lapping at his feet.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Nakagawa was just assessing the damage from the earthquake and was picking up the pieces of broken pottery upstairs when she heard a loud roar outside.  She came downstairs to check on her boy who was playing with his toys when she looked outside through the sliding glass doors on the front of her house.  A river of ocean water mixed with oil, dirt, and debris was suddenly gushing down her street about 6 feet high.  When mangled cars and water burst through her front door like an unwelcome guest, she grabbed her son with a scream and ran back up the stairs as fast as she could.

“The noise was incredible,” she recalled.  “It sounded like a jet plane, and the house shook like crazy.”  They huddled upstairs for what seemed like an eternity, then came down to a mangled mess of what used to be their first floor.  Where is my husband? She had no way of knowing.  Snow began to fall the next day, and this mother and son hunkered down in freezing cold weather for three days.

Early the next day, Mr. Nakagawa tried to drive towards home as far as he could on the buckled highway then tried to enter his neighborhood on foot but was turned back either by impassable roads or by emergency patrol officers.  On the third day, he was finally able to reach his own home, now waist-high in mud.

“I heard his voice calling for us outside and realized that he was alive.  My son was so happy to be reunited with his dad,” Mrs. Nakagawa recalled, tearfully.  Although their house was ruined, at least they still had each other.

They spent the rest of the spring and summer in various emergency shelters and gymnasiums until they were finally assigned a temporary housing unit in August.  Fortunately, it is just a few minutes’ walk from their house which is now being completely redone, thanks to volunteers from many parts of the world.

Mr. and Mrs. Nakagawa, Dean Bengtson and me

Pastor Dean Bengtson took on this family as one of his relief efforts and helps coordinate volunteers to work on the home, starting with removing all the mud and debris from the first floor.  Dean’s 20-year old son Joshua has become buddies with the little boy who almost lost his father.  “Is there going to be a tsunami again,” he clings with every aftershock.  At least when he’s playing with big Josh, this boy is without a care in the world.

Mr. Nakagawa’s parents lost their factory with the tsunami.  It washed away into the ocean.  The parents retired, but their son is more wistful when asked what he’s going to do for work now.

Remnants of the Nakagawa's family business sit in ruins

He is a bit of a musician and had a business on the side repairing guitar amps.  He also taught graphic design at one point.  He is a survivor, so he will probably find something to do.  For now, he is so grateful for the help he’s received from volunteers and for the donations from World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse that he has helped host several outdoor concerts in the open field adjacent to his house where members of the Franklin Graham band and gospel singer Alfie Silas have performed.  When Pastor Dean opens a church nearby this summer, the Nakagawa’s just might be there to check it out…

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

- Matthew 25:45

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And now, on a completely different note:

Seen at a vending machine. I didn't know "vitamin" was a verb.