Lessons Learned – It’s Not Selfish to Fulfill Your Own Needs

As a writer, I spend part of every day alone.  Writing is simply not a group activity. When I’m back in the U.S. with my family, I spend all of every day with various family members or friends.  Writing doesn’t happen often. While I wouldn’t trade the special time I get with everyone, my alone-time is pretty much non-existent.

In 1955, Anne Morrow-Lindbergh, wife of the famous flyer, but force-majeur in her own right, published the book Gift from the Sea. In it, she contends that women in particular need to rejuvenate themselves.  Women put so much into other people that they need time for simple replenishment so that they continue to be able to give to others.  In other parts of the book, she advocates for turning off the radio and listening to the people and natural sounds around you.  She takes the reader through the stages of a woman’s life and points out the things about which women have to be cognizant in their lives.  She talks about the child-rearing years and then the retirement years – all in one book. Her son writes a moving afterward about his mother, her ideas and her accomplishments.  All of the things she discusses in the book are just as relevant today, in 2011, as they were then, more than 55 years ago.

The reason this is important is that women should not feel selfish for asking for what they need.  I need the time alone every day – be it an hour before everyone else gets up, or leaving the group to go to bed early.  I am much more functional this way.  I have known this for a long time, but it has seemed selfish to ask my friends and family, for whom I’ve traveled great distances, or who have traveled great distances for me, for some time away – alone.  Well, that’s over.  I am sure that in the long run, the visits will all turn out better if I have my time to proverbially replenish myself every day – at least most days.

In reality will I be able to do this?  I have no idea.  But I am going to try.  There are five months until summer.  When summer arrives, I will be spending long weeks in the company of others.  I am really going to try to put my plan into practice.  It will make the time all that much better for everyone involved.  Good luck to me.

Beyond my own personal goals, though, I wish I could encourage all women to think long and hard about what would make even one aspect of their lives easier – and then ask for it.  It’s not selfish.  It makes you a fuller, better person to be aware of yourself and then do what needs to be done to fulfill those needs.

Lecture over.  Go have a wonderful weekend.

This is not a post about Thanksgiving

Though today is technically Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., as I indicated on Tuesday, it is a non-issue in Japan.  Therefore, to keep my brain off of the thoughts of all of my American friends and family members getting together to eat traditional foods, laugh at each others’ jokes, argue about each others’ politics and watch too much football, I am going to write a short list about the things that I love about Japan.

The things I love about Japan:

  1. The impeccable service – white glove service everywhere from a four-star hotel to a taxi cab to a garbage man.
  2. The scrumptious food – everything from noodle bowls to sushi to authentic French cuisine is made to impossibly high standards
  3. The cordial people – any time you ask a clerk in any store where something is located, he or she will not just tell you, but take you there.  Japanese people are unfailingly polite.
  4. The cleanliness – you could eat off the street in most places.  Enough said.
  5. The authentic food – you can get the best French food, the best Italian food, the best Chinese food – all the chefs study in the places whose food they cook.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
  6. The impossible contradictions – a travel writer once called Japan a “2000-year-old woman in a miniskirt.”  That’s the  type of contradiction that allows a centuries-old shrine to remain intact next to a 30-story building.
  7. The crazy system of addresses and streets – okay, I don’t love it, but now that I understand it after 3 years, I can at least appreciate it.  It really is wacky!
  8. The beautiful food – plates are never brought to a table without a stunning presentation.  I constantly have an urge to photograph my food – even just some things in the grocery store are lovely!
  9. Japan post – it’s not expensive and if they say it’s going to get there, then it gets there!
  10. The gasoline filling stations – it’s right out of 1975 Americana, down to the uniformed men hurrying out to help you pull the car to the right spot before they fill your car for you.

So there’s my list of ten things I love about living in Japan.  Writing such a list assuages some of the guilt I feel for not being with my family today and some of the longing I have to be there.  It reminds me that I live in a beautiful country and have wonderful friends and relationships here, personal and professional.  It reminds me that I am happy and thankful to be so.

Ok, so it’s a little bit about Thanksgiving, but only in the sense of giving thanks.  What a country!

Gender, Inclusion and Lessons Learned

I admit it – I went to the meeting simply in support of my friend.  But then, as the speaker really got going, I realized not only was I interested in the topic for my own sake, but I was learning a heck of a lot in a really short amount of time.

Joel Baum is the Educational Director of Gender Spectrum, an organization out of the Bay Area of California.  The organization focuses on educating and supporting people with the goal of gender sensitivity and inclusion of all children.  He gave his presentation to the parents at The Montessori School of Tokyo (MST) ahead of the presentation he would be making about gender issues to the children the following morning, having already spent time in workshops with the faculty of the school the day before.

As he promised, Joel came at the problem from an attitude of inclusion.  A former educator himself, he believes that all children, no matter their race, religion, gender or any other variable, should feel safe in school.  It seems like a logical assumption, right?  Well, according to him, it’s not.  According to the data he presented, culled from schools across the United States, 88% of transgender children feel unsafe in school.  Not only that, but what staggered me is the fact that most of these children know that their teachers or other staff members at school will not intervene if sexual or gender-related epithets are thrown around by bullies.

The language Joel used was accessible to all of us – and he used a sort of imagery to help us understand the issues.  He discussed a slot machine.  Normally, with a slot machine, one pulls the lever and the three wheels begin spinning.  They stop, and the goal is to have three matching fruits.

In this case, in lieu of fruit, there are manifestations of gender.  The first wheel is the physical manifestation – what exactly does someone have between his or her legs?  The second wheel is the cultural presentation of gender – does the person look outwardly like the gender society expects?  And the third is identity – how a person feels inside – the “I AM A….” statement that most people could answer definitively.  For most people, the three line up.  For example, take me.  I have female genitalia, I wear skirts, and I know with every fiber of my being that I am a girl.  What’s interesting is the idea of things like female genitalia, only wearing jeans and sneakers with short hair, but feeling definitely like a girl.  We’d label that person as a tomboy and there would be little, if any, stigma associated.  The same in reverse – male genitalia, pink pants and shoes, but feeling like a male – would be labeled as a sissy.  Or worse – much worse.

At this point in the talk, Joel pointed out the difference between gender identity and sexuality.  “There’s a difference,” he said, “between who you know yourself to be and who you think is hot.”

After explaining all of these terms, giving statistics, and treating us to a moving video of testimonials from gender-variant children, Joel came full circle to his point.

He reminded us that he would be speaking with our children the following day.  He told us a bit about how he would approach each of the different age groups at the school and said that generally when he does this type of thing, the kids just accept ideas, turn them over in their heads, and move on.  Adults have more problems with the ideas than kids, he finds.  He was very comforting, however.  He reminded us, that as parents, we don’t have to have all the answers at our fingertips.  It’s okay to say that we don’t know something and we should find it out together with our children.

His goal with the kids would be to give them language and permission to explore the idea of gender, and not to see it as necessarily binary – all male or all female.  He wanted our kids to have open lines of communication – with each other, with their teachers, and most importantly, with us as their parents.

As a reader, you must be wondering why the school even held this seminar or what business is afoot in our community.

The fact is that MST is a small community – there are just under 150 children between the ages of 3 and 12 who attend school.  And there is now a child at school who has gender variant syndrome.  It was her parents, people whom I am proud to call my friends, who arranged the whole opportunity for the school.   These parents are fearless protectors of their child, as we all hope we could be in the face of adversity.  Theirs is a tough journey ahead with this issue.  But I know that they are strong people who stand up to issues and meet them head-on.

My kudos also go to the administration of MST.  They’ve handled the situation with grace and done what they could to facilitate safety and ease for this child.  The headmaster is first to admit – as he did on Tuesday night – that sometimes ignoring a problem is worse than loudly denying it.  Saying nothing can be its own problem.  He says that he wanted to believe that at his school, everyone is accepted for who they are and feels safe therein.  It just was not true.  In this case in particular, the issue had to be faced and discussed, not merely presumed to be accepted.  I know it took the parents a lot of time and tears to get that acknowledgement from the school.  But I also know that the headmaster, Pete, is as good as they come, with only the best interests of “his” kids at heart.

I am so proud to be part of this community.  I am certain that my children are getting a world-class academic education.  They are exposed to cultures, thoughts, and ideas that they might never meet anywhere else.  And now this.  The language that Joel used with the parents and then with the kids is language that we can apply to all sorts of social issues, from race and religion, to sexual preference and beyond.  This school is a place where the entire community takes part in learning.  This is a caring and generous community of families from across the globe.

Boy am I lucky. Boy are we lucky.