You Gotta Sing, or It Will Burn

So we’ve lived here in Tokyo for almost a year… hasn’t it been a year yet? Sometimes it feels like a lifetime. I guess I’m in a contrary mood, grumping about this inconvenience or that, although, to be sure, we don’t have it so bad. Food, shelter, chocolate; we have all the neccessities of life here. And now, to add to our luxuries, we have a toaster to boot. We did without a toaster for ten months and now we have one. A salvage item from another family relocating back to the States. And now, we no longer have to sing for our toast.

Up to this time, we toasted the bread slices in the little oven grill under the gas burners built into our tiny kitchen countertop… and if you didn’t sing while those bread slices were toasting, it was inevitable that during the hurly-burly of morning scamperings, you would forget the bread was in there and before you knew it, your breakfast was toast. Carbonized toast, that no amount of butter or jam could possibly save. The singing reminded you, and anyone else who had the misfortune to be listening, that you were attempting to make toast and you didn’t want to forget what you were dong.

Now, when we open up our pathetically small loaves of presliced-six-slices-to-a-bag-no-heel bread and pop one of those slices into our toaster, it actually reappears a decent shade of brown instead of black as volcanic soil. And we don’t have to put up with someone’s butchered version of a Broadway musical number… “I’m sing’in for my toast, Just sing’in for my toast, ‘Cause carbonized bread ain’t what I love the most…” There are worse ones, believe me. Although it was sort of nice hearing any kind of singing in the morning.

So convenient, those toasters. Now, I suppose I can more easily put up with the other inconveniences… no central heating, no car, no shoes in my size, biking in the rain and frequently intense wind, sleeping on the floor and, the most heart-breaking inconvenience of all… never being able to find decent cheese. Mmmm… cheese. I miss my cheese. Guess it’s getting late. Time to curl up on the floor in a little furry ball and go to sleep. Next year is the Year of the Rat. Maybe then we’ll get some decent cheese.

The Spider vs. The Earthquake

If I were to ask anyone, “Which do you consider to be more dangerous, a spider or an earthquake?” they would most probably answer, “An earthquake.” Then they would avoid any further conversation with me because only a loopy person would ask such a silly question.

Yesterday, my ten-year old daughter, (the bug-loving, future herpetologist), found a dead spider. (I believe it was the one I had previously dispatched of with a fly swatter.) She came waltzing into the kitchen with the spider carefully tied onto the end of a thin string. “It’s a dead Jumping Spider!” she happily announces. Even though it is dead and all curled up, she can still indentify one of her beloved arachnids.

Later, as I head upstairs, I see her on a chair in her big sister’s room, the string in her hand, reaching up to the top of the door frame. “What are you up to?” I ask. She explains that she is doing something fun with the spider. Hmm. Fun for her; maybe not so fun for her sister. Still, practical jokes are an old family tradition, so I let her be.

Later, sister Laura gets home and heads up to her room. We hear a shriek and Elsa giggles triumphantly. Big sister pummels little sister who is still laughing, but she is forced to remove her offending critter from the doorway. It later appears inside her sister’s computer. Another pounding. This time the spider has to go.

Spiders are anathema to my fifteen year old. Even if the spider is the size of an ant, the reaction is always the same; revulsion, fear and an inability to deal with this unspeakable danger. She simply cannot abide spiders.

About an hour after the spider incident, an earthquake struck. The house shivered and rolled a bit and then it stopped. “Earthquakes are fun,” muses Laura. “I like to sit on my bed and feel them rolling me around.” I’m thinking, “Um, earthquakes are much more dangerous than spiders,” but I know it’s useless to point out such an obvious thing to a teen who is terrified off her tuffet whenever she sees eight legs.

Like daughter, like mother

It is embarrassing to write this, but honesty is more important than dignity…I suppose. After ranting at my ten-year old for leaping out of a tree and onto a wall and doing her Humpty-Dumpty impersonation, I went and did the same sort of fool-hardy thing. I guess the tree doesn’t fall far from the apple.
On Friday, since there was no school (and thus plenty of time to get into trouble), youngest daughter, exuberant dog and reluctant mom biked over to meet eager friend at playground. Bjorn (the dog) and I sat and barked (I sat, he barked) while the two pals clambered about, finding a very satisfactory place to sit high in the branches of a wisteria bush.
“You have to come up here mommy!” says the little monkey. After declining politely several times in a very mature and adult manner, daughter finally climbs down and urges me once more. “It’s beautiful up there. You’ll like it. I’ll even hold Bjorn for you.”
“Fine,” I think, “I’ll climb up and she’ll stop pestering me. The other two adults sitting in the park won’t mind.”
So up I go. It feels so easy and natural to climb and the view from the top is rather nice. But then, I start to think, perhaps a grown-up perching up here is a bit odd. Better get down before one of those responsible citizens with a large katakana “Patrol” sign on their bike basket comes by and scolds me. So I choose the fast way down; hanging from my long arms and dropping to the ground. I do not look down before I drop. The ground is farther away than I had reckoned. My knees do their best to absorb the shock, but my back tells me that I am, after all, forty-four and should not be dropping from the trees.
The only other woman in the park sees me. She smiles and tells me I look like a monkey. Well, I feel like one too now, thanks so much. I go home to lie flat on my back and do my old-lady back-strengthening exercises. From now on, no more dropping out of the trees. Only very young and green fruit can take the hard landing.

If She Would Just Stop Falling out of the Trees

So I am biking home from the women’s clinic, slowly, against the wind, with my throbbing kidneys, when I get the phone call. It’s hard to answer the phone while biking, I think, there’s enough going on without having to flip open the phone and field a call.

My kidneys are not happy. They have been trying to deal with this bladder infection that has plagued me for two weeks. My temperature scoreboard rises and falls as the kidney team falls in the mud and then struggles onward. I push along towards home with my antibiotics stowed in my purse and my phone ringing in my front basket.

Okay, what is it? I answer the phone while pedaling, bumping over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Eldest daughter, Laura, is calling me.
“Elsa fell out of a tree at school,” she says.

“Oh, great.” I think, “How are we going to get her to the hospital with no car?” Maybe I was supposed to think, “The poor dear…” But this mom is dealing with too much right now. “If she’s gone and hurt herself,” I fume, “I’ll break her skinny arm.” No, of course, I wouldn’t but I just don’t want her to have any more accidents. She’s already been in a cast and on crutches several times. Once she was dancing on rollerblades, once someone stepped on her hand. She fell out of a tree before, at the beach with grandma and pa. She fell on her head that time and couldn’t walk for a few hours; but that didn’t knock any sense in to her apparently.

“Actually, I jumped out of the tree,” explains Elsa, after she has been dropped off at our house by one of our kind car-endowed friends.
“I was trying to jump onto the top of the wall from the branch, and I slipped.” Of course, she slipped, she’s not a cat.

I am sorely chagrinned. I thought I had trained her better. Whenever we climb trees together, I go over the rules: always have at least one solid handhold and one solid fooothold; never trust a dead branch; branches are strongest near the trunk; when jumping out of a tree, hang and drop or make sure you land on level solid ground. I don’t climb trees as often as she wants me too, because usually, there are too many people around, and you know what they are going to think of a 44-year-old sitting up in the branches. Someone that old in a tree is obviously out of her tree.

“You shouldn’t worry about what people think of you,” she counsels wisely. “You should just be yourself…and you’re still kind of a kid.” OK, but do I want grown-ups to know that?

My mom climbed trees well into her forties; we went for walks in the woods and we climbed trees. When Grandma Gilmore was a little girl, she fell out of a tree onto her head; almost bit her tongue in half. Of course, she was hanging from her knees on the bottom branch when she fell. When her tongue healed up, she went back to climbing trees. She is the shortest in her family of 13 siblings and calls herself “the low point.” Maybe she had to climb trees to get a bit of height. Climbing trees gives you a new perspective on life; it sure did a lot for Zaccheus.

“Are you still mad at me?” Elsa asks sweetly from the couch where she is icing her sore knee. “I forgive you,” I say, “but no more tree climbing unless I am with you.” I don’t want her dropping from the trees like a piece of ripe fruit if I’m not there to catch her. Besides, I need a good excuse to go climbing again.

Golden Blues

If someone had asked me, eight months ago, if I would enjoy having a companion whose idea of fun was to hunker down in a field, chewing on a piece of cow poop, waiting with a twinkle in his eye for the chase and the scolding to begin, I would have slapped them with a large dead fish (the kind dogs love to roll in) and said, “Are you crazy?”

So why am I, on this Tuesday morning, April 17th in the year 2007, racing around in a field surrounded by curious neighbors, trying to catch a mischievous Golden Retriever as he dashes about scooping up mouthfuls of dung, daring me to try to come and pry it out of his mouth? “If only I had a lasso… or a gun,” I muse grimly. I am supposed to be in bed recovering from a bladder infection. But the dog has no sympathy or understanding of my discomfort. He is just pleased as punch that he escaped into the field just as the girls were leaving for school, and has no intention of cutting his romp short.

I pretend that I am leaving on a walk without him. He doesn’t buy it. Shaking the snack bag doesn’t help either. The smell of victory poop in his maw is too strong. He’s staying in the field. I want to just leave him there, but I’m sure someone would complain. Dogs can’t run free. Being in the middle of Tokyo has its disadvantages. So I step gingerly over the barbed wire that is supposed to remind people that the field is off-limits, and I attempt to corral the manure-drunk mongrel and convince him that I have his best interests in mind.

Bjorn, who is named after the Norwegian word for “bear,” is interested in racing about in berserker mode. Perhaps he somehow knows about the berserkers, clad in bearskins, madly rushing into battle, hungry for danger and action. When berserker warrior were stuck on ships, they would sometimes beg to be let loose at some landfall so that they could gallumph about smashing things. My furry berserker does seem to have a daily desperate need to chew on things. He races past my legs, a bit of dung-mingled straw hanging out of the side of his mouth, like a dangling cigarette. I suppose he thinks he looks cool, like an adolescent trying a smoke on for size. He passes close enough to me that I think I might catch him, then pauses in a corner of the field every once in a while to laugh at me while sticking his tongue out disrespectfully. He is only pretending to pant; we both know that he’s gloating.

Finally realizing that my arms are too short to grab him in the midst of one of his wild but calculated orbits, he dares to race by even closer. The loop of leash in my hand snaps out far enough to sting his backside and I holler for the umpteenth time, “Sit!” He finally gets it. I am mad and it’s the end of play time. Grabbing his collar, I smack his furry back and give him a two-finger snap on the nose, which he hates. I am blowing hard with anger and frustration. I do not want to take him on a walk, but I know he needs one. So off we go to the quiet roads and trails of Tama Cemetery. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? Could be, though, that it just makes you insane.