I am the daughter. I am the sister. I am a type A personality. I am a highly sensitive person. I am married. I am a mother. I am an expat. I am a Japanese housewife in training. I am Roman Catholic. I am a friend. I am American. I am an Idahodian. I am a teacher.
I have always scoffed at the idea of “losing yourself”. I relished my roles as they surfaced. Wife, new mom, stay at home mom, mom of boys, working mom, kindergarten teacher, fourth grade teacher. As a mother, I thrived using my education to create an environment for my sons to flourish. What was best for them always in the forefront. I tackled teaching children in the same way. Giving a hundred percent to my vocation.
Then we moved to Japan. As we flew over the Pacific Ocean those labels broke off and stayed in Idaho. Unbeknownst to me, part of the lightness I felt was the absence of those roles. Maybe that is why it was so hard to navigate around here, I was floating. My only responsibility (only expectation) was to survive. Considering I am in a country that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet, that was a tall order. I was an innocent child again. Wide eyed and awed by the normal ordinary every day events. I marveled in the grocery store, and risked public transportation. Slowly I gained confidence and friends but did not lose the giddiness.
It all started to change with one innocent question from a dear friend back home. He said it half joking. “What do you Do all day?” At the time I laughed and made fun of my schedule. But looking back now I think that question took hold somewhere inside and went to work. Before I knew it, I was the president of the Hiroshima International Women’s club (HIWC) and leading two English conversation classes.
When my sons came for Christmas it was so much fun. There was lightness. When they came in the summer it was not the same. I blamed the heat. (It is oppressive!) and the occasion. We participated in the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima. But as I write this, I know now what the difference was. At Christmas time I was me showing my boys our new life. This summer I was Mom; Responsible for their basic needs, their happiness, their experience. Ignorant of the change in mindset, but feeling the difference, I put my shoulder to the grindstone and worked harder at providing them have a good time.
We flew back to Idaho together. Still ignorant, the strings that had been severed, reattach as I landed. A new one grew: Back from Japan.
I truly love to dehydrate fruit. It brings an unexplainable bliss. The fruit from beginning to end speaks to me. The smell, the color, the texture, peeling it, cutting it, placing it on the trays, and packing it reflect the essence of life. As I work I think of the people who enjoy this treat. Memories of my teaching partner, the boys on the ski slope, my grandmother, and many others wash over me as I work.
Driving out to Williamson Orchard to get the fruit is food for my soul. Idaho’ s biomes are so different than Japan’s, but just as breathtaking. As we pass fields, it brings back memories of growing up on the farm. Joy blooms inside at the sight of fields and harvest. Although at the time I didn’t realize it, growing up on the farm created my bond with the Earth. It’s seasons, its elements, its cycles feed me.
So during this harvest time of my own, I start having an annoying medical issue. Inflamed varicose veins. It should have been my first clue that I needed to stop and listen. Understandably all my roles were activated. Taking sons to college, dealing with house and home issues after a year’s absence, visiting friends were all things I wanted to do and needed to do.
Typically in Japan, daily happenings fall into my lap. I don’t initiate much. We get a weird bill and I venture out to pay it. My Japanese friends initiate all get togethers. Rich and I go places but we know that we have no idea what is really going to happen. The expectations on everyone’s account are very low.
In Idaho it is very different. Assumptions and expectations are there. This is normal. What I didn’t realize until now is the influence. How they color my experience. And so, still unaware of all of this, on October second, with my parents in tow, we return to Japan.
In Japan your elders are very important. In Japanese, respect is concretely expressed by the words you use. You speak different words for different groups of people. When you speak to your elders you use very respectful, proper Japanese. That’s how important they are. We hear countless stories of Japanese who come back to Japan solely to take care of their parents. They leave everything. So when word got out that my parents were here to visit, my inbox was packed with invitations.
A good teacher is a good planner. You see what the needs are, the resources, and the possibilities. You create experiences where they all meet in the middle. Magic happens; Worlds open up, deepens, vision changes. It doesn’t just exist in the classroom. It can occur anywhere. It happened in my apartment. My brain started planning. Every night I would try to sleep but it would be organizing, scheduling, predicting how to do the next day. The fruit of that was wonderful. My parents had a grand time. We shared experiences that we both have been waiting for over thirty years. My parents fell in love with Japan just as I have. They met our wonderful friends, ate the food, slept on a futon, and visited the land.
And then they went home.
Days passed. Ho hum. The weather remained unseasonably warm. The oppression was still there. I gave myself a few days just to hang. Then got back out on my walking path along the river. Ugg. It not only took considerable effort to get out of my apartment but even more to lift my feet. Weird. I would watch the birds but no joy did it bring. Hmmm. “What the hell is wrong with you!” a disgusted voice would shout inside my head followed the listing of blessings. It didn’t help. Usually something will trigger me and I can’t NOT write about it. Nothing. Friends came and went, activities happened, weeks passed. No joy bloomed, no urge to write. I knew there was something wrong when Halloween came and I just went through the motions.
Then one day I heard, “we get so used to doing what is expected and not what brings us joy, we end up doing things we don’t want to ”. THAT’S IT! (I hope you can hear Lucy’s voice and Charlie Brown rolling off his stool.) The advice was to make small changes. To bring joy in whatever you are doing. Hmmmm. I gingerly text a committee member of the HIWC Thanksgiving luncheon. “Is there any way we could get music for the day?”
The hat metaphor doesn’t work for me. No, roles are more complex than that. Whatever they are I am working to get rid of their interference. The other day my husband said, “Stop teaching me.” I thought I was talking. Reflecting back, I realize now that this summer I was doing not being. It is virtuous to show hospitality. But I was doing and thinking so much about others’ well being that I wasn’t fully present in all those wonderful moments. That is why I couldn’t write about them.
Living in Japan has made the invisible become visible. First was cultural bias. Now it is the biases inside myself.