Revisiting the Terrible Twos

We enter a pizzeria. There sits our new neighbors. The husband is wearing a huge smile and a BSU bronco’s jersey. The wife sticks out her hand and welcomes me to Japan. Looking up at us through lavender glasses is their two-year-old daughter. She immediately talks in a mixture of English and Japanese to her mom, it is apparent we have interrupted her dinner. It is a beautiful bowl of pasta topped with vibrant veggies and shrimp, its delicious smell ascends upwards, involuntarily I breath in slow and deep, quenching an unmet need of late. I know immediately what I am having for dinner. No discussion necessary or invited.

The men order and discuss the beer scene of Hiroshima. The wife, like the husband, is very friendly. With ease she talks about all the reasons why she loves living here. It is strangely comforting to be in the company of these two generous people. I try to listen intently but am distracted by their daughter. She now is singing the theme song of the latest Disney movie, Frozen. “Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!” Her delicate index finger tapping the glass so she can sing it over and over. Her eyes sparkle, voice strong and clear. She is not bothered by anything around her. Every now and again a mouthful of dinner is deposited between singing breaths.

It was very different twenty-four hours ago. We had left a very lively English Mass lead by Filipinos at the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace. We were searching for a restaurant that promised fresh salads and an English menu. It had been a hurried day and I was short on energy. We cross a major familiar street and head down a side street. There were many things about it that make me uneasy. It is very quiet. A man unabashedly watches us walk down the street. Everything is closed. More men are coming out of doorways. They seemed disheveled to me, which is unusual for the Japanese, regardless of statue in life. Rich is chatting away, stopping and looking at his map. I can’t keep from noticing the bags of garbage on the street.   Each has a hole and garbage strewn about. Could that be evidence of rats? That same man starts to walk behind us slowly. Each time I glance backward, he looks me in the eye. Another unusual behavior. A familiar agitation is growing inside me. It starts in my stomach and quickly goes to my tongue foregoing my brain, which is unfortunate. This makes my speech sharp and terse. Understandably, Rich looks hurt and confused. How can his sweet wife become “this” so quickly? The more we talk the bigger the emotion grows impacting my usual demeanor. It also compromises my articulation. I can’t seem to communicate what I need or want. Further complicating everything is being embarrassed by this spectacle.

“Daddy lets GO!!!!” A clear direct communication of need. I now realize what has been happening to me. I am a two year old in Japanese language years. I know enough words to kind of get my needs communicated. And just enough not to. And just enough to spend what feels like hours trying to talk, and still not getting the point across. Rich, on the other hand, is in the baby stage. He knows about ten words and whenever he speaks, everyone thinks it is so cute but no one, including himself, expects the words to do any work. So magically, things work out for him, and around him. This explains why after a day of going and doing I am done. Whereas Rich is ready to go out on the town.

I wish I could have seen my face when I was trying to find out why our room wasn’t getting cleaned. It probably looked just like a two-year-old ready to blow. Eyes big, chin quivering, patience waning. Although they were saying the right words, bowing, English, I could tell I wasn’t getting my way.

I have no memory of the first time I went through the terrible twos. I do have vivid memories of my first stay in Japan. The difference is I was protected the first time. I never was without a chaperone. My host families were very attentive. I had my Japanese/English dictionary with me at all times. This time it’s just me and my brain. At times its like magic, I think something and Japanese comes out and life moves forward. At other times, I try to speak and am stared back at with this blank look, in response my brain freezes, and inertia ensues. Life screeches to a halt. It is at this moment that the now identifiable emotion starts to grow.

It happened again today. I realize on my way down from the lobby that I have forgotten my key at the check-in desk. I have rallied my nerve to go out and don’t want to go up and get my key. So I approach the concierge desk. There are no people around which is good. “Sumimasen, {excuse me} uh, uh I have forgotten- obueta watashi no kagami.” {I hope kagami means key.}  The attendant looks back at me trying to mask his terror that this American actually thinks she is communicating. He says something in English that is totally incomprehensible to me. Now it is me with the look of terror. It would be rude to look irritated, desu ne {Right}? I take a step back and a deep breath and then a giggle forms in my belly. Its just so comically painful. My whole being welcomes this sensation and relaxes. I look this lovely person in the eye and say, “Gomen nasai.” {I am sorry}. I point upward, “Watashi no kagami” {my key}. A light comes on and simultaneously he starts bowing and speaking rapidly, all the while getting on the phone. I can tell he is calling the lobby and they have my key. I feel like I have just done something extraordinarily physical, which is not true at all. The attendant seems as relieved and exhausted as myself. We are now back to the easy stuff. Thank you, bow, thank you, excuse me, bow, bow, sorry for existing, bow, bending lower bow, bow.

I step outside. A cool breeze is blowing, the sun is shining, and I recognize my surroundings. I can’t read a word on the billboards, the traffic lights look wrong to me, and I am the biggest being around, but this is my city. I might be an over grown two year old, but I know that if I keep trying and keep a sense of humor, my communication will get better.

7 thoughts on “Revisiting the Terrible Twos

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! Hang in there, you are doing great….remember the first few months of Bootcamp? This is your new Bootcamp! 😉

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  2. Ang, Your descriptions of the culture and people are so vivid. But I especially love and (relate to) the terrible twos of communication. I often wanted to wear a tag that said I am more intelligent than I sound. Ha. Good on you for embracing the culture, finding a spiritual community, meeting new people, eating new foods and being brave. Jasmine says, “today, I’m putting on my brave pants and doing it!” That is you Ang, you are wearing your brave pants.

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  3. I was so happy to see your blog come up. I tired to put in all the information to join but I had not finished it. Now I am hoping that it just magically did it on its own;) Thinking of you and your huge transition into another culture. Take each day as an adventure. Love and miss you. (I keep waiting to hear your laugh in the hallways…)

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  4. Thank you for sharing you thoughts through this blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing of your adventures. Your writing style is beautiful and so descriptive. It’s not simply a travel journal.

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