How I Found The Spirit of “DanShaRi” – My New, Favorite Japanese Word

dansharipicMy acupuncturist worked her magic on me but kept muttering over and over about how tense I was compared to my session just two weeks prior.  Finally, after the session I told her that we were about to move to a new apartment in Tokyo, and it was just plain stressful.  Adding to the stress was the fact that this would be our first move without babies.  When we moved into our house six years ago, we had small kids – ages 5 and 8.  We had an entire room in the house stuffed with their toys and books.  Being a writer and writing teacher myself, I get very attached to books.  In addition, my mother, a career kindergarten teacher, calls herself Grandma Book, and when she closed her classroom in the U.S. and moved south, she sent five packing cartons full of children’s books.

But fast forward six years with kids ages 11 and 14, and most of the books and toys had to go.  I spent a lot of time on the floor one weekend in early May just going through a lot of books and remembering them.  Crying. Feeling. Mourning a little, even. Some special books, the ones my kids really remembered and loved, they wanted to save and keep on their shelves, and I certainly allowed that.  In the end we had at least ten trash bags of toys to give away and five suitcases full of books to donate.  In my heart, I knew that other kids would be able to love the books and toys as much as my babies and I had loved them, but letting go of them was tough.

That’s when the acupuncturist, listening to my tale of woe, taught me a new Japanese word.  “Dan-sha-ri” she told me.  “That’s what you’re doing: Dan-Sha-Ri”.

She wrote out the Kanji for me, and it’s really three Kanji put together to make up the very connotative word.

Dan the first Kanji, means to refuse.  People are supposed to refuse to collect more THINGS in their life, or refuse to block the flow of their lives with stuff.  Sha means to throw away things – get rid of unnecessary items in the home.  And Ri means to separate – separate what’s actually valuable from your possessions – your stuff is not your life; you and your memories and the people you love are your life.

When put together, the word DanShaRi means to let go of possessions, but also to free yourself from them; to poetically purge what’s cluttering your life and let go of it gracefully.  The result is intended to be a lighter and free-er person.

Yes, I spent some serious time on the floor stressing and crying over my children’s bygone childhood, but I admit now, three weeks later, that I do feel lighter for the exercise of it.  My children are growing into such fine young adults, that I find I don’t need their baby stuff anymore.  I can carry the memory of their babyhood in my head and in a few photo albums without having to carry the actual, physical trappings of that babyhood – which also means that I can fully enjoy the present.

I am grateful to my acupuncturist at Theracua for treating the whole person a few weeks ago, and not just my joints and muscles.  She made the process of DanShaRi in my life a whole lot less stressful and more of a thankful experience.

Sometimes the connotative, on-the-fly nature of Japanese has just the right word for the situation.

blog matsuri pic

Post Trick or Treat – or “Now What?” with Teens

My son, Bailey, is a young teen, having just turned 13 and in the 8th grade.  He and his friends, however, never ones to miss an opportunity to get free candy, put on costumes and hit the street,  just as they had for years on October 31st.  This time, though, they didn’t have parents or any other supervisors with them.  As I have mentioned before, Tokyo is a relatively safe place.  The biggest danger on Halloween here is getting hit by a car due to the swarms of kids on the streets and the refusal of the police to block off said streets to accommodate said kids.

Since we don’t have daylight savings here in Japan (another topic – don’t get me started) it gets dark by 5 already.  By 5:30 the boys were ready to meet up.  One of Bailey’s friends met him here at the house, and a few more would meet up with them at a nearby spot.  I had attempted to get food into the kids before heading out the door, but the excitement was too high – no one wanted to eat before candy-fest 2012.

I told Bailey that he should be home between 6:45 and 7pm at the latest.  An hour and a half of procuring candy should be enough, I felt.  The phone rang at 6:40 and my heart leaped into my throat.  Of course it was Bailey calling, but not for the reason I expected.  I had a whole speech ready about how he should come home and not be out later and he needed to get some decent food in him…blah, blah blah.

“Mom,” my son said, “We’re done and near the house.  Is it okay if the guys just come over to hang out for a while before they go home?”

This was my mother-dream come true.  Some people might not want a group of smelly, gangly boys in their house, but I can’t think of anything better.  To me, if the boys are in my house where I can see and hear them, then they are automatically not on the street and not getting into trouble.

“Sure,” I said. “I have lots of frozen pizza.  I’ll start heating it up now.”

There was a heartfelt “thanks, Mom” from my son before he severed the connection.

The boys came in, sat in the living room sorting candy, and then occupied the dining room to eat, once I had everything ready.  I put the food on the table and promptly removed myself.  I took a seat by my husband in the living room, and we had our backs to the boys, though with the open layout of the house, they could see us.  The kids ignored us, as we hoped they would, and kept talking.

They had some really funny conversations about girls, some pretty serious ones about soccer and then some talk of school.  When they finished eating, my son directed everyone to bring their plates and cups to the kitchen sink before they all repaired to the computer area to watch some funny videos.  My husband and I snuck back into the kitchen to eat our own dinner.  We were quiet as we listened to the videos the boys watched and then couldn’t help laughing at their hysterical laughter.

The boys were all out of the house before 8:15pm, having only been there about 90 minutes.  They all thanked me politely as they left.

Bailey shut the door on his friends, turned to me and said, “thanks, Mom.  That was great.”

“Bailey,” I told him, “you bring your friends here any time you want.  We’ll always have pizza in the freezer.”

My son is still just a young teen and has a lot of growing up and experimenting to do yet, but I feel that if we can start out this way, with him feeling comfortable bringing his friends around all the time, then we are headed in the right direction.  A lot of pizza and a little luck will hopefully get us through the teen years.

On Parents, Not Parenting

My parents left last night after a ten-day visit.  I was sorry to see them go, but the feelings were much more complex than just missing them.  There was a bit of relief to get my house back; a little sadness for my kids missing their grandparents; and a lot of deep nostalgia for my childhood, even though the visit was nothing like the way I grew up.

Like almost all adult parent-child relationships, mine is fraught with not just emotion, but emotional memory.  I have forty years of remembering my father’s quirky and wonderful habit of wearing cowboy boots with a suit.  When I see those boots, I am reminded of being a child and  young teen and pulling them off of him at the end of his long work-day.  Simply watching him don his shoes and take them off in my wholly Japanese genkan for ten days flooded the emotional memory part of my brain with the smell of rich leather. My mother is the most organized and put together woman on the planet.  She makes me, the consummate planner, feel like a slacker.  So instead of being grateful that she was showered and ready for the day (leaving the shower free for others to use) at 7:30am, at least two hours before we planned to leave, I got annoyed and felt like she was taunting me for being late or lazy,  neither of which is remotely true, nor was she taunting.  But, as a child, I was late and lazy until her lessons started sinking in post-college, so it’s old, outdated emotional memory that her early-ness triggered in me which made me automatically annoyed before I could think to be grateful.  Once I thought it through, of course I was pleased that she had been so prompt and thoughtful, but it took me a moment to remember that I’m no longer seventeen and entitled to that trigger.

Humans learn and grow every day and I’m pleased to report that my parents visit was a great one, full of new sights and adventures, as well as regular family time.  They got to attend the Tokyo Bar Mitzvah of their grandson, and meet all of my friends and the boy’s.  What my husband, the kids and I were able to show them in a concrete way, is that we have a warm and loving community in Tokyo.  While they are sad that their kids live so far away, I think they were gratified to know that we have such a rich, full life here.

What I see happening with my parents as they get older and so do I, is that our neural pathways continue to expand and we continue to learn about each other, with each other.  No one is perfect.  We all slip into old, unwanted and discarded patterns far too easily.  But we continue to make the effort to be together, enjoy each others company and plan future visits.  Emotional memory only extends so far; the future needs its own time to unfold.  Nurturing relationships requires work – all relationships require care and feeding – the good ones, anyway.  It’s worth the work.

My house is very quiet today as I’m in recovery mode and trying to get my proverbial house in order.  Without the quiet times we cannot fully appreciate the noisy times, however, so I am glad for the chance to move forward with my own to-do lists, writing and other tasks that did not get completed in the past week or so since they arrived.  We will see my parents again in December and I’m already looking forward to it.

A Baby No Longer

This is a photo of the Baby of my Heart, as I have always called Bailey, at age one, nearly twelve years ago.  He loved boxes and would squeal with delight if he saw the UPS guy in our driveway.  It never mattered what the boxes contained; the boxes were the fun part.  As you can see, most often Bailey himself ended up in the box.

He has always been a talker, this boy of mine.  He talks through his feelings and ideas, and can give you the play-by-play of every baseball, basketball or soccer game in which he has ever played and scored.  This past week when he was away with a grade-seven trip to Izu, south of Tokyo, the house was wildly quiet.  He has also always been an independent and curious person, eager to explore the world and what it has to offer.  He never went through an attachment phase and he has never minded leaving my side to go to school, to a sleepover, or even sleep-away camp.  He is always happy to come home and holds on tight when he’s here, but leaving is not an issue.

So last night, after the three days away with very little sleeping, he went to bed early.  By 2:30am he was in my room, waking me up.  “I feel funny, Mom,” he said.  Well, it’s really to be expected, I explained.  Just as his body is changing through puberty, so is his brain.  Part of the issue was that when they were away near the beach, they were required to shake out their shoes lest there be a caterpillar in them – the biting type of bugs, and he was concerned that one might have gotten into his stuff that he brought home.  His bag, when he brought it into the house and opened it, exploded in a mass of wet and stink! I assured him that we had already thrown his entire bag into the laundry and there was not a bug in sight.  But then he went into the particulars of the social nuances of the week he had spent.  There was one kid on the trip who was a bully and no one liked him any better on the trip than they did at school.  There was one boy on the trip who is “different” – on the autism spectrum – and Bailey tried his best to include him with varying degrees of success.  He talked to and played card games with girls for the first time.  He was concerned that some of the teasing that occurred on the trip would be carried over back into school.  He feels glad that he has a lot of friends spread out over various social “groups” at school, but gets frustrated that the groups, which he is experiencing for the first time, exist at all.  He keeps asking why everyone can’t just sit together – why does he have to choose which group to sit with at lunch every day?

All of those questions and that information came out in the hour between 2:30 and 3:30am last night.  I didn’t say much – just listened and gave a few minor suggestions. Finally, as his talking slowed, I told him to just go to sleep.  Just stay there and go to sleep.  As he fell asleep and I stroked his hair, I assured him that he was normal. I told him I appreciated that he wanted to talk to me and that I would never say no to a conversation.  If he wanted me in the middle of the night, he should always come to get me – or his dad.  I did assure him that we are good for talking in the middle of the day, also, and at other times when we’re normally supposed to be awake.

The baby in the box is definitively out of the box and out in the real world these days.  In just three months he will be a teenager and I feel like we’re just at the start of the all the changes that are on the horizon.  It is going to be a wild ride, I am certain.  But I do realize that if I can get Bailey to keep talking to me, then we’re most likely going to get through it just fine.  I admire the young man he is becoming as much as I adored that little boy in the box.   Here  we go.

Growing Together – A Hopeful Sign

The following is a post that first appeared on the e-zine, A Hopeful Sign, for which I write monthly.  The site itself inspires me every day with its messages of positive living and the beauty of life.  Please look at it if you get a moment.

For me, the ability to process my life through language is one of my biggest gifts.  I write because it helps me make sense of the world around me.  Please enjoy this attempt to learn and grow as my children learn and grow.

For twelve years, my life has revolved around kids and kid activities. Even though I have usually worked at least part time, my first priority has always been the munchkins.  I’ve been involved with their schools, done charity work with them, had dinner with them almost every night (except book club nights – those are sacred) and fretted over every whim and trifle that has come into their lives.  However, about two weeks ago, I had a glimpse into my future – my kid-free future.

That week my daughter’s school had a few days off for a mid-winter holiday, or as it’s commonly called, a ski break.  I couldn’t get the days off from teaching, so I sent her with a good family friend on a community ski trip.  My son was headed to the Valentine’s Day dance on Friday night.  On Thursday, we got word that since the flu was so rampant in his school, they were cancelling the dance – too many pre-teens in close proximity to each other.  Of course my son was upset, but only for a minute.  He and his friend cooked up the idea of a double date to the movies.  We had discussed it a few days earlier and agreed that if the dance went well with the girl he was taking, that perhaps in a few weeks, he could ask her to the movies in a sort of group date.  After speaking with a few of the other mothers, we had all agreed that the plan was fine.  Well, the dance was not happening and I couldn’t think of a good reason why the group “date” thing would be okay in a few weeks, but not right that minute.  It was one of those parenting moments when it took all of my self-control not to shout, “I’m not ready!”

My husband has spent the balance of this winter working at a client site away from home, so he wasn’t in town at the time.  It was left to me to handle this date thing.  I got home from work at 5pm, and Bailey had to leave for the movies at about 5:30.  He had had a snack and planned to eat something at the theater.  He had some money in his pocket and was prepared to spend it on his own movie ticket as well as the girl’s.

A second or two after I got into the house, Bailey said, “Mom, Star Trek is on.  Can we sit on the couch for a few minutes to watch?”

Certainly I wasn’t going to refuse.  He actually sat right next to me on the couch, his legs touching mine.  Bailey is a snuggly kind of kid (don’t tell him I told you) and he leaned right up against me slouching a little so his head was on my shoulder.  I didn’t dare move a muscle; I just squeezed his leg a little.  I sat there with my son staring at the meaningless flickering images before me, going through all the moments in the past that led us here, to this day, to this moment.  The baby of my heart, as I had called him all his life, was becoming the young man I knew he could be, and he still stopped for a moment to put his head on his mother’s shoulder.

After about fifteen minutes, he jumped up suddenly, proclaiming that he really had to go if he wanted to be there on time.

I jumped into action with him, making sure he had his phone and his wallet in his pocket, and reminding him to come right home after the movie. Tokyo is an amazing city.  Without a moment’s hesitation I could let my twelve-year-old son head out to the movies on his own and wait for him to come back without worrying about his safety.  He promised, kissed me, and threw a vague “love you” over his shoulder in my general direction before zipping off down the street.

And I went back inside the house from my perch on the front stoop.  I shut the door.  I stood there staring at it for a second, and then, without warning, I sat down hard on the floor and burst into tears.

My husband was away on business, my daughter was up skiing, and my son had gone out on a movie date.  It was Friday night and I was home alone with nothing to do.

That’s what I mean about seeing into my future: the kids were busy and I would have to think up something to do all on my own.  There was no one to whom I was responsible for the next three plus hours and my time was my own to fill however I liked.

At first the idea of that much time alone felt scary.  I missed my babies. I missed the running after them, the picking up after them, and even, in a weak moment, bathing them.  I couldn’t help but think of the past few years of nightly homework patrol and activity shuffle.  All of that was eventually going to come to an end and for the first time I could picture that alternate reality.  Those two amazing kids would probably become amazing adults with whom I’d hopefully have a great relationship, but at some point, they would be on their own and I would have a different life.

It took me a few minutes to pick myself up off the floor.  It was cold down there, though, and the kitchen would be warmer.  Then I realized that I could eat the leftovers from the night before all by myself.  In fact, I could make popcorn and eat the whole bag.  Perhaps I could even put on a chick flick and stretch out on the long sofa that I was all mine for a few hours.  Wait a minute!  This wasn’t going to be all bad after all!  A long time ago, a friend once told me that the purpose of an education is so that you’re never bored.  I am almost never bored and I wouldn’t be bored or feel sorry for myself this night either.

When Bailey came home around 9:30, he found me watching the end of an episode of a crime show that I like.  I am always glad to see him, but not often that glad.  It had been a great time by myself, but I was ready to hear about how he didn’t eat much because his arm was occupied around the girl and how he had walked her home (she lives hear our house) first and that he couldn’t wait to do it again soon.  I heard that it was fun with the other friends and that he enjoyed the movie.

Foolishly I had thought that parenting only involved watching the children grow and change on a daily basis.  Before that night, I never thought about the changes in me in response to the growth of the children. But as with every move we’ve made or new job I’ve taken, I will now be aware of the need to be flexible and at times, maybe even reinvent myself.  It’s all part of the journey that my son – and daughter – and I are taking together.

Parenting and Writing

There are definitely days when I feel sorry for my kids.  Having a writer for a mother cannot be easy.  At ages 9 and 12, they have not yet discovered all the places where their lives are exposed for the world to see and on which to make comment.  Not only do I keep a regular blog on which they appear often, but I write monthly for “A Hopeful Sign” which is more of an e-zine devoted to messages of hope, optimism and beauty and they’re often the focus of the stories.  I have written about Bailey in a magazine called Asian Jewish Life and I had a two-page spread a few years ago about both kids and my observations about their Montessori classrooms in the official magazine of the International Montessori Association, Today’s Child.  Sometimes little blurbs about them appear in my academic writing since I test out so many of my pedagogical theories on them first.  When I give speeches, I tell anecdotes about them, and in my classrooms, all of my students invariably know a lot about what the kids are doing.  Admittedly I used them as entree for lessons.

It is my choice to self-disclose in a public way.  Bailey and Sydney, however, have not made this choice – their public mother has made it for them.  Actually, at this point they still like it somewhat.  They feel famous.  I haven’t yet mentioned to them that the venues in which I publish aren’t quite national news and that their fame has a  limited  readership.

Oh, there are a lot of things I don’t discuss, including the kids’ schools, friends, doctors’ appointments – those are strictly tabo0.  As they move into teenage-hood, I imagine the list of “don’ts” will increase by their demand.  I have already heard, “Mom, are you going to write about this?”  I wasn’t sure of the mood or motivation of the question.

But for now, the kids are my best fodder.  They interest me, and it is a challenge and a goal to make their escapades and adventures interesting to potential readers.  As a writer, I’m always looking into real life for interesting ideas in both fiction and non-fiction.  Of course my family is my first go-to for material.  And hopefully, thirty years from now, after years of very expensive therapy, both of my children will be able to talk easily, if not disparagingly, about their mother the writer.

Nobody loves you like I do, Kid.

I Have A Daughter, Too!

Sydney and I had a ball getting her ready for the father-daughter dinner dance this year!

I write so often about Bailey and his issues and antics, that I have woefully neglected my daughter, Sydney, who is just as interesting as her brother, but in a wholly different way.  Since Bailey is away at camp for much of the month, I have had the singular experience of one-on-one time with Sydney.  What I’ve discovered is that she is a really neat kid in her own right.

Sydney is a bundle of contradictions.  In one moment she’s a princess, and in the next moment, she’s scoring a goal on the soccer field.  She likes to cook and bake, but she loves riding her bike just as much.  Some days she wants to sit in my lap and be my baby, and some days she wants to be left to her own independent devices. Sydney is nine years old, and these types of activities are supposed to happen concurrently; she is supposed to be exploring what she likes and what she’s good at.

Recently, I have noticed that she has a particular skill in processing information.  She takes in what I (or anyone for that matter) tells her, thinks about it and then is able to regurgitate what was said with her own brand of understanding.  She can articulate feelings and ideas easily, and she is always aware of the emotions of the people around her.

Of course she can drive me crazy in twenty seconds or less with her constant chatter and utter insistence on being in control of every situation (I wonder where she gets that from…) but that’s the mother-daughter relationship talking.  In the past two weeks, we’ve taken a road-trip, eaten dinner with various

Sydney and her very favorite activity: EATING!

friends, spent time in many places where there were only adults and no one for her to play with, and done many other things that required extreme flexibility.  She has handled all of it with grace and charm.

I’m sure as time goes on, I will be able to tell some more specific stories that illustrate her personality and the particular daughter-based issues that she and I have, but for now, I’ve just been enjoying her and want to share that with you.