Monday, February 6, 2017

Reflections on Parenting an Adult Child

I grew up the youngest of a three-child family and automatically assumed I would also have three children when I married. But I was blessed with just one son. I had planned to wait a couple of years before giving birth, to give my husband and I time to work on our relationship before embarking on the challenge of parenting. But I got pregnant just four months into our married life, and had to face a milestone for which I was not yet mentally prepared. Life has a way of sweeping us along with the current, often at a speed we are completely unable to control.

I was rather naive when I wed and entered the world of international marriage, and now, thirty-two years later, have a heavy basketful of experiences I carry around in my heart and mind. I'd like to share some of the reflections I've had recently as the parent of an adult 'only child.' 

My son grew up in Japan in an era when seeing a foreign resident in a city the size of Chicago caused people to stare, point their fingers and whisper "Gaijin!" (foreigner) to whomever they were walking with. When my husband and I moved to the suburbs when my son was one and a half, it got much worse, since I was only the fourth westerner to reside in our rural town of 70,000 people. (Now there are over 1200 foreign residents, 30 years later.) I spent a lot of energy as a young mother, feeling defensive and desperate about being an outsider just trying to find her own niche in her new environment. I volunteered at my son's daycare to try to help acclimate the children to a foreign mom. I taught conversational English as much as I could, to try and build (or at least promote) a community of internationally-tolerant citizens, as well as my own group of friends. 

My son was a sensitive child, and the victim of ostracization at times. He had difficulty bonding with children his own age, and tended to prefer shepherding younger playmates who were easy to lead. As a result, I became his best friend and confidante as he was growing up, in addition to my role as parent. In comparison to most people's experiences parenting a young teenage boy, I had it rather easy, since my son didn't rebel or treat me very disrespectfully during that period. This was partly due to my tireless efforts to instill respect for one's parents in my son, which was a natural part of the religious education he received. But at the time it just felt like a normal component of our relationship.

So imagine my surprise when after moving out at 21 and going to America to live and pursue his dreams, we embarked on a ten-year journey of Delayed Rebellion Against The Mom, a period in which parental advice, suggestions and lifestyle choices were no longer welcome or acceptable. Phone or video calls inevitably resulted in our pushing each others' buttons and squabbling over semantics. He kept drawing lines which I was strictly forbidden to cross; becoming independent clearly meant: 'I am no longer obliged to endure your take on the matter!' 

Of course there were times when he asked for prayer or encouragement in facing a difficulty (particularly in the first year abroad), and my skills as a referee were needed in the early stages of his own journey in international marriage (when at the tender age of 25 he secretly married a Thai beauty and didn't tell us about it for two months), but basically I felt like I had gone from feast to famine in relation to my importance as a confidante in my son's life. I was delegated as Head Cheerleader Only (unnecessary commentary automatically rejected).

So the result of ten years living apart has created a sense of caution in the words I choose when speaking with my son, the forced absence of expectation that he will patiently 'hear me out' or value anything I say (beyond "I love you" or "I'm proud of you"), and a redefinition of my role as his mom. Which brings me to the one thing I really wanted to say today, that popped into my head upon waking up this morning and inspired me to write this post in the first place: being the mom of an adult child has its perks. Let me elaborate...

After years of no letters, one-sentence replies to my emailed comments and questions, and a phone call once every two or three months, my son has begun calling me almost once a week. He usually chooses to call during his drive home from closing the entertainment facility he manages in California. The call comes around 8:30pm my time on a Sunday night, which is roughly 3:30am on his Sunday morning. Last night he admitted one of the reasons he calls is to combat the sleepiness that comes while driving so late at night. This admission helped put his calls in perspective, since I was beginning to feel really flattered by all the attention! (lol) 

But the past month or two of relatively regular contact has somewhat shifted our conversation fodder from "major updates regarding work" to more detailed accounts of meetings with bigwigs, admissions of mistakes or goof ups made after promotions, the freedom to ask questions and get legitimate answers, and a nostalgic sense of being his confidante again! (Will lightening strike me for making such a statement, I wonder??) We seldom get angry with each other, and I rarely need to exercise patience or caution, even in my wording! My son feels all grown up. Of course, at the age of 31, he certainly is a grown up! But I assume for most parents, their kids always feel like kids--green around the edges and naturally lacking the wisdom that comes with a LOT more living. So when he exhibits a particularly mature attitude, I take note!

Recently I've been delighted to discover things about my son I never knew. Last night he told me about receiving a warning from his supervisor. He mentioned that he believes such feedback is a good opportunity to make improvements so that he can become more flawless in his job. Such an upbeat and positive attitude coming out of my son's mouth felt like winning an award! I am not directly responsible for his optimism at all; this was purely an expression of his own work ethic, but being allowed to hear it from the horse's mouth felt like such an honor! 

I'm sure our relationship will continue to change and grow as time marches on. I hope to record my discoveries in future posts as well. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Diffusing Stress -- Another Name for Escaping Reality? Part Two

In Part One, I talked about how hard my husband works physically. He experiences a kind of stress that comes with using your body too much; fatigue to the max! In order to cope with such a lifestyle, he relies on alcohol each evening; if he weren't allowed to 'drink to unwind,' he would probably blow a gasket and refuse to work ever again! That being said, in the past his drink of choice was beer. He'd buy a large can of it at a vending machine in our neighborhood, and drink it with some "tsumami" (a snack suitable to eat with alcohol) that he'd prepare himself, depending on what he felt like eating that day.

The result of such a lifestyle was a lot of tummy fat accumulating around his midriff, and an elevated uric acid level in his blood checkup results. He was already struggling with high blood pressure at one point, and began paying attention to his diet in earnest. He ate thinly-sliced raw onion faithfully each day, along with "katsuo tataki" (raw bonita fish briefly charcoal grilled and immediately soaked in ice water, then sliced), both noted to reduce the fat globules within the blood. And he cut out beer, drinking "shochu" instead, a clear liquor made from potatoes or other vegetables or grains. Within six  months he had cleaned out all fat in his blood and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol levels considerably. He continues to stick to "shochu" as his main alcohol each evening, occasionally drinking a bottle of wine during dinner over a few days.

Now he comes home from a hard day at work, and immediately sets up his evening drink and snacks to unwind. I give him an hour to 90 mins, before expecting we begin eating supper together.

In recent months he has developed a new coping mechanism to diffuse stress--going to the mountains by car for a day at an "onsen" (hot spring). He drives out early in the morning, arrives, soaks in the bath, has a hearty lunch with alcohol, takes a nap for three hours or so, takes another soak in the hot spring before beginning the drive home. On the way he always finds some restaurant that serves something he wants to eat that evening, enjoys his meal, then slowly drives home. If he gets sleepy mid-way, he simply pulls over and takes another nap. He usually arrives home by 12:30 or 1 am. He's refreshed from his day away from thinking about work and all the chores needing to be done at home, and psychologically 'recharged' to face more gradual fatigue build up yet again.

I, on the other hand, do not feel the need to leave my home in order to diffuse stress. I have my fair share of stress, partly physical (due to being obese and my joints gradually protesting in pain at having to support my weight), but more of a mental and emotional nature, from the difficulty of living in a foreign land and having to adapt to a culture the complete opposite of America's! There is also an undeniable stress that comes with marrying a person from another country and culture; ah, the challenges of international marriage!! (Okay, don't get me started!!)

For me, the very best way to diffuse stress is to completely escape my world altogether. I do this by watching Korean dramas and TV shows. We don't own TVs in our home, so I rely on my computer and a number of free online sites that sub K-dramas in English for the many foreign fans of K-dramaland. The (world-wide) foreign fans like to write their opinions online about what happens in each episode, and have discussions together, which is fun to read and join in on. I am totally hooked on this method of escaping the stress that comes with my life; I tend to be a pretty responsible person regarding the workplace and my volunteer duties in the community and at church. But I can completely forget EVERYthing during a Korean drama episode (which usually runs a little over an hour straight with the commercials cut out). It is as refreshing to me as my hubby's "shochu" after work. It renews me like his soaks in a hot spring! So I have to be careful to factor in what MUST be done before heading out to a class, etc, before turning on the computer. Otherwise I could easily get myself in a pickle, time-wise!

Yes, I sometimes wonder if this stress-diffusing method is healthy or not. After all, I feel like I am escaping reality for hours at a time, and is this really healthy, spiritually?? I'm still thinking it all through. Amazingly enough, my pastor's sermons lately seem to be directed to me personally, as they touch on how to live a God-directed lifestyle. As I chew it over, I'll probably write about this topic again in the future; stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Diffusing Stress -- Another Name for Escaping Reality? Part One

My husband is a really hard worker.  When I first knew him, he was a professional bicycle racer, away for four days in a row at races all over the country for two weeks every month, frequently accepting sudden offers to race as a substitute, or act as a pacemaker (leading the nine racers around the track for the initial four laps, breaking the wind for them) in addition to his usual race load. He never complained. He was a very strong athlete, with great endurance.

After marriage, he continued to race full-time, while planning and preparing a bicycle shop he would then run simultaneously while still racing, for many years. He never took a day off. You think I'm kidding, right? No, he NEVER took a regular day off. Sometimes he would schedule a vacation and fly to France to visit close friends by himself, and occasionally our family would drive up to the mountains for a one-night stay just to take a fast break before diving back into a crazy schedule again. But if he was home, he was usually in the bike shop. So I got used to being married to a workaholic, and ended up taking my son with me to go to church, visit family in the states and Japan, and ended up playing with him (and raising him) the most between the two of us.

Even after retiring from racing, my husband worked nonstop in our shop, never taking a day off, for many years. I don't remember the exact time when he finally allowed himself to take a weekly holiday, but I'd guess it was in his late forties. My son was already in high school by then.

Our shop suffered along with all the other small businesses in Japan after the 'bubble economy' burst in the early 1990's. So my husband began juggling a variety of part-time jobs and has continued doing so ever since. He got his "large vehicles" driver's license and worked as a long-distance freight truck driver for a time. He also worked the night shift at a delivery company, loading and unloading heavy boxes from delivery trucks till he couldn't feel the tips of his fingers anymore. Fearing for his health, he'd search for something else and changed employers. He spent ten years coaching university bicycle racers while developing their club activities. Many jobs were thankless and even payless, as employers made big promises that fell through AFTER the hard work had been done. It was very frustrating watching my hard-working hubby suffer for our sake.

Currently, he does maintenance work at a retirement facility/nursing home part-time, while juggling another job in the bicycle department of a home center (is this expression used in the states these days? It means a really large hardware/housewares store mixed with a nursery/gardening department). He is their star salesman, and can fix absolutely ANYthing broken on a customer's bike! After joining the home center's staff, he got the nickname "Kami-sama" (God) because the bike dept. revenue increased 30% and his reputation had no rival. He's happiest working in that environment, needless to say!

Despite there being laws against such practice, he is often scheduled by the retirement facility to work a day shift, followed by a night shift, or a night shift followed by a day shift, or the absolute worst: a day shift--night shift--day shift combo that really saps him of all energy. Because he is working two different part-time jobs, he tends to over schedule himself anyway, leading to severe exhaustion, more and more common after he entered his sixties.

I've explained all that to lead in to the theme of this post, which is Stress Diffusion. Before coming to Japan in 1982, I hadn't heard much about stress or the need to diffuse it, either. But it's a big deal in Japan! And perhaps you can guess why, if my husband is any kind of representative example. People tend to overwork themselves here in this country. At least before the economy collapsed (as I referred to previously), working really hard for your employer was fairly standard practice; people in my husband's generation are all relatively stoic, hard workers. Thus, having more than your fair share of stress is also a given. I'll expound on that in Part Two.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Getting Back in the Saddle Again

Initially I began this blog as a therapeutic tool to process my turbulent feelings during my father's battle with Alzheimer's, and his death that followed. After the "need" for catharsis passed, I found a new hobby (watching Korean dramas) and haven't posted anything much in years.

My mom is 93 and we speak on the phone every other Saturday night. She is 'allergic' to the Internet, so she hasn't ever looked up this blog herself, but I've sent her printouts of my writings in the past and she is a very enthusiastic supporter. In fact, these days she keeps nagging me to write a book on all my experiences living in a foreign country. It feels a bit overwhelming at this point to revive many  memories that have fallen by the wayside, or have become buried too deeply to recall. Yet, I'd like to fulfil this wish of my mum's, knowing that her belief in my ability to articulate my experiences has largely motivated our extensive written correspondence through the years, as well as provided me the courage to keep journal entries during certain significant periods of my life. In fact, whenever I happen to find an old journal and read through it, I am transported to that event and period in my life as surely as if I rode in a time machine! The written word is indeed a powerful medium!

The concept of "writing a book" is daunting to begin with, so I thought I should just begin blogging again instead. I do have moments of thoughtful contemplation; I simply lost the habit of jotting them down. Because it has been ages since I even took a look at the Blogger Dashboard, I was quite surprised to see some people still check my blog from time to time. For all those kind souls, I apologise for my silence, and hope to get back in the saddle again here on out.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

And a Year and a Half Later Still...

Just wanted to document a recent change in my journey through Menopause.

Ever since I fell to my knees on concrete (not once, but twice, and only six weeks apart), injuring my knees so badly that I have since learned to live with daily pain, I had been locked in a narrow, stifling box of hopelessness. I gave up aqua-walking, afraid to strain my knee joints further, and 'life without exercise' had paralyzed my motivation to change. I was simply trying to cope with physically feeling twenty years older than 55, trapped in an endless losing battle.

But an embarrassing event occurred recently at a restaurant that proved to become the catalyst for change within my heart and mind. When relaying the incident to a friend on Facebook, as I relived the humiliation and thought back with longing to more active days at the pool, our chat evolved into a mutual plea for a "silent partner" to help each of us lose weight and change our current physical situations. We made a pact to pray for each other, and report our progress whenever we could. Her interest in seeing me overcome my despair, and my desire to help her through some of her difficulties has given each of us the hope to change, and has been the encouragement we both needed to snap out of the funk each of us found herself in.

That was three weeks ago. I have been to the pool four times so far; I am starting off slowly, but I already feel a change within me. It's exciting to gradually take control over my situation again. I am not sure if menopause is officially over, but the end is in sight, anyway. I'll try to keep you posted.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Eight Months Later...

When things on the Internet change, it sometimes sets people back a bit. I get used to one way of doing something and when a shift happens to change that routine, I don't always realize how I've been affected.

A good example is this blog.

I joined Facebook and began connecting with old friends I thought I'd lost forever, or making new friends I spend a lot of energy and time talking with now, and what was lost was my need to have this place to express myself. I stopped having something to say here, because I'd said it all to someone in Facebook already!

And Google changed, too. The way I used to get into "Blogger" was by clicking on a certain symbol on the Google homepage interface that no longer exists. So without realizing it, I stopped dropping into the blogger dashboard to check on blogs I was following and nearly the entire year has sped by unnoticed. I'm still not sure how to get to "Dashboard" from the Google homepage.

Are there still people out there who check my blog to see if I wrote something new? I doubt it. I never developed much of a following to begin with. Only five people were ever willing to admit they followed it. I mostly used this blog to work through my feelings of loss while my dad went through Alzheimer's and then passed away, now three full years ago. I guess that truth be told, that was the main purpose of beginning the blog in the first place.

I don't want to close up the blog, because I like having this place in cyber space to call my own. But I also know I will not be coming back regularly to talk to all of you, so please accept my apology ahead of time. It will seem like I don't care anymore. I do, but I am busy caring elsewhere; that's all!

Thank you for checking in on me. May all of you flourish wherever you are planted!


Monday, April 25, 2011

Julie and Julia

I just finished watching the movie, Julie and Julia. I am a big fan of Meryl Streep's work, and I wanted to see her rendition of Julia's unique way of speaking, sort of slurred and throaty. I didn't know it was a Nora Ephron film till I saw the opening credits. This gave me a sense of "yes" in my choice of titles, because I've loved many of the films she has written or directed. My instincts were correct. It was a wonderful film, entwining two true stories: how Julia Child became a French chef and wrote her famous book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and about a woman named Julie who decided to take a year to go through that book, cooking up the 524 recipes, and blogging about her experiences.

My exposure to Julia Child has been limited yet typical, I think. I grew up seeing her show on PBS once in a while and had the prejudiced impression she was a lush, like a kitchen drinker. She was the brunt of many a joke and comedic skit, and imitated (often cruelly) by a large number of professional comedians on TV. I didn't take her too seriously, as a result, and I certainly didn't feel much respect for her craft or lifework. I went into viewing this film with more respect for Meryl Streep than the character she was to embrace on screen, something I am ashamed to admit, now, after watching the story.

I loved the movie. I loved Meryl's performance; she made me love Julia. If this representation of Julia is accurate, I would have loved Julia (had I known her personally) and I would have tried cooking French cuisine when I was younger, hands down. (Although, I have to admit it baffles me she was a smoker. Aren't smokers supposed to have killed their taste buds or something? This is my only criticism of the woman.) Her enthusiasm for life, and loving food, people, Paris, and challenges must have influenced nearly everyone she met.

I am greatly tempted to go out and buy her book, at long last, even though I have nearly completely given up cooking myself at this point in my life. If menopause ever finishes, I might even want to start cooking again, to be able to enjoy all those really seemingly delicious recipes the actors got to eat in that movie. I really, truly hope their ecstasy wasn't acting but simply the reflection of really delicious dishes, I could also cook for my husband (a diehard fan of all things French) at home.

Further, the blogging part of the movie gave me a kick in the butt about expressing myself on this blog as well, which I haven't been very interested in doing for the past year or more. I would have to say the movie inspired me to speak up. Yes, it was an inspirational film, no question.

If you haven't seen it yet (although I doubt anyone else out there is as behind in their movie-viewing as I am), promise me you will. It really is worth it. Viva la France! Viva la Julia! Viva Nora Ephron films!