Looking back on Christmas 2014, I realize that the moments that are burned into my memory are the small, daily life type. I don’t think there has been a more dreamed and schemed about event than the reuniting of the Housley family in Japan. Rich and I never spoke of the great risk we were taking. If you have lived any time at all you know that the most fun events seem to be the least planned. Those that require planning seem to unravel. I don’t know how we escaped.
The boys walking through the arrival terminal was pretty exciting. Rich had put on our computer their two flights. So at any time he knew where their planes were and how long until landing. The Idaho Housleys missed their connecting flight, but to their delight it meant they joined their brother, Greg on his. I now know how my parents felt as they watched for me on my return thirty plus years ago. I remember seeing them through the glass. Now I was on the other side, ready to burst, waiting to see my own children. Calling adult males children is not accurate except it conveys the maternal intensity that I still struggle to rein in. And then Greg, Will, and Jack walked down the stairs and through the terminal. So tall, so not Japanese, so travel worn. The doors open and there amongst the culturally reserved we greet each other American style. Emotions burst out of me like water through a cracked hose. Will hung on tight until he could feel I was back contained again. I felt physically small being hugged by my sons. I haven’t felt small since I got here.
I had forgotten that five take more managing than two. It’s easy to coordinate when there are just the two of you. With five you have to make sure everyone is in the loop. Talking. Laughing. Commenting. It comes rushing back- the messiness of family life. Acutely aware of the condition the boys are in- sick of sitting, wanting to eat but not really hungry, needing a shower-our first stop is a great ramen shop. I smile at the looks on their faces-disbelief. The recognition that you are in a place diametrically opposite to all you have ever known. Once fed, we walk home. It takes thirty minutes. We knew this would be good. It gives you a chance to get your bearings and exercise. As we walk the river to our apartment, we are a parade. Joyful, noisy, gesturing, colorful and obstructing the normal foot/bicycle traffic of the neighborhood.
I had to become commando mom. A quick introduction to our bath room and how to manage it. We double team any son getting comfortable on the couch. Although their bodies felt it was night time, it was noon and we were headed downtown. No time for jetlag. So before they knew it, another walk through the neighborhood, and we were on the Amstram headed downtown. It was in this tram that our mass is so evident. The taller boys bang their heads on the hand holders. We are like a wall of humanness blocking all around us. I can only guess what the natives are thinking. Their polite expressionless faces give no hint. As it lurches to a stop I bump the lady next to me. I say excuse me in Japanese and she pounces at the chance to ask. Where are you from? Are these all your sons? When I tell her I live here and they are visiting for Christmas. Her face lights up and says, “Sugoi desu ne!” Isn’t that wonderful!
My Japanese friends really want to meet the boys. Rie san is the first to do so. As we come walking up from the underground station, I see her on the corner. Her face conveys her surprise at the group. She is so shy she immediately turns to me, scarf over her mouth. She is quivering and can’t make eye contact. After quick introductions, she joins us walking down Hondori street, the shopping district. The boys are enthralled with their surroundings and don’t really notice. This pattern will happen again and again with my friends. So shy they can barely speak and just speak Japanese to me. They will say, “I am not used to being around so many Americans.”
The first night I lie in bed too excited to sleep. I hear a noise. It is unusual for my upstairs neighbor to be vacuuming so late at night. Then it hits me, what I am hearing is snoring! I savor the sound of three tired young men getting their zzzzz’s. Jack is on the couch, Willy in the dining room on an air mattress, Greg in the office on a futon. We do not have enough floor space to walk around. Will was very patient about being disturbed first thing every morning as I tried to get to the coffee maker. There was no lounging about. Bedding had to be folded and put away just so the rooms could be functional. In the spare room, the futon and the backpacks took up every bit of space. Everyone seemed aware of the precariousness of such close quarters. There was no bickering or cajoling. We got along.
Christmas memories. Opening my mom’s care package of her cherished goodies-peanut brittle, peppernuts, fudge and rocka. Walking home from Midnight Mass. Greg being Santa. The boys flying their mini helicopters around the apartment. Willy and I cooking tempura dinner for the family and using the light saber chopsticks. The boys in their flannel pajamas. The five of us nestled in our nine by nine foot living room watching Casablanca. Not wanting to go to bed because it meant another day together is over.
Rich and I have found there is a need to balance the going and doing with down time. The boys comment how much energy it takes not knowing the language. Our apartment is little enough that hanging around too long isn’t an option either. One day we visit the Mitaki Temple. Attached to it is a hike through a bamboo forest and you get to the top of a hill to see the bay. A perfect activity for people needing a break from the city and apartment. Hiroshima felt normal to be hiking with the boys.
Time flies. Before we know it, the boys are walking through that airport the other direction. Our apartment feels baggy, misshapen, like stretched out sweatpants. The snow begins to fall; beautiful, big flakes making the outside beautiful and cold. Reflecting our own emotional state. Glad our sons have lives to return to, but so sad they no longer are in ours. It will take time for our life to get its shape back. The boys left their mark.