I Could Get Used to This Life

I could get used to this life.

I wake up without an alarm, the room still dark and cool.  My daughter is lying on the floor next to our bed, her waist-long hair splayed out around her head like a dark brown halo.  She has taken to laying out the green and blue patchwork blankets on our bedroom carpet at 7:30pm every night, grabbing her favorite fluffy pillow, and camping out there until I turn off the light and lay on our futon mattress.  I should usher her upstairs to the bunk bed that she and her brother share, but there is something comforting about hearing her deep breaths as she nods off to sleep at night.

I could get used to this life.

I softly walk to the kitchen, take out a cup of cold-brewed Deathwish Coffee (yes, that is actually the name of it), and sip it quietly as I start preparing breakfast for the crew.  Sliced cucumbers and aspargus topped with wasabi sauce, cut up turkey slices, half a banana, and a handful of nuts for me–apple slices or fresh red grapes with peanut butter and jelly toast for the kids laid out on matching pink and blue plastic plates.  Like clockwork, as soon as I am done cutting and arranging said food for the little girl and boy, I hear Shogun jabbering away to himself in the bedroom, which is my cue to head up the two flights of stairs and rescue him from the wooden bunk.

I could get used to this life.

I peek my head into the room he and his sister share, and he is already sitting up in the lower bed, handmade patchwork blanket in hand, a big toothy smile on his face.  “Good Morning!” he jabbers, arms suddenly outstretched to me as I make my way to his bed.  I lift Shogun over the bunk bed barriers, and holding his tiny hand, we make our way down the 14 stairs, counting them one by one.

I could get used to this life.

I let go of Shogun’s hand as soon has his feet hit the living room carpet, and he ambles over to the Paw Patrol pillow situated in the middle of the room.  Sitting on the soft cushion, my little guy remarks to me, “Shi-shi.  Shi-shi.  Poop.”  It’s his cue to tell me, “Hey, mom, diaper!  Change me!”, and so I follow suit.  By this time big sister is awoken because of the noise outside, and she staggers out of the bedroom, hair disheveled and eyes bleary.  Misha sits next to her brother, gives him a big hug, and in an almost inaudible voice, she whispers, “Good Morning, Shogunnie.  I love you.”

I could get used to this life.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are days when this scenario is more “Come-on-stop-crying-go-brush-your-teeth-before-we’re-late” than the picturesque scene I just described.  But more often than not, the morning routine is calm.  It’s (dare I say) relaxing.  It is different than the normally hectic actions that occurred during the regular school year when I was attempting to get Misha into her uniform, grab a pop-tart for Shogun to eat in the car, and getting my iPad and bag together–all at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong again.  I love my job, I adore my students, and I find inexplicable joy dialoguing with them about literature, writing, and all things books.  But truth be told, I love the simplicity of being a mother.  It’s a bit oxymoronic to say being a mother is simple, but maybe it’s because this summer break is a time when I don’t have to be “on” that I’m finding all the normally stressful duties of the day aren’t as crazily maginified.  Teaching is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting professions, as one is constantly walking around a classroom, drumming up excitement for subjects as enticing as grammar (that was sarcastic, by the way), and rarely finding a spare minute to sit down to drink water and eat a snack.  It’s no wonder that teachers are often times just as excited as the students for vacation days.  By the end of my work day, after meeting with students about papers, lecturing on Edgar Allen Poe and making copies of upcoming assignments for my ninth graders, I was ready to head home, put my feet up on the coffee table, and zone out to “Full House”.  But there was always Misha’s homework to go over, the dinner that needed to be cooked, and the laundry that should be washed.  I rarely got time to take a breath in between school and home duties, and towards the end of this last month, I was starting to feel delinquent in my role as a mother.  I spent hours planning lessons on short stories, grading essays on Thoreau, and designing new curriculum maps for the incoming freshmen.  But when did I have the time to sit with my son and do an alphabet puzzle with him?  When did I have the time to play restaurant with my daughter?

And so when summer break began two weeks ago, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Literally, as soon as I left campus for the last time for the 2016-2017 school year, I let out a huge exhale that mirrored that of my son attempting to blow out candles on his birthday cake (and side note:  he will be two next month!).  Teaching was done.  Now I could focus totally on mothering.

I know I need more balance between work and home, and sadly, the amount of time I spend doing school stuff outside of the campus has drastically decreased throughout the years.  Despite this change, there has secretly been a little inkling of fear in my spirit that was causing me to look down on my own parenting skills.  What was this fear?  It was a fear of being alone with my children because in my perfectionistic mind, I imagined my mothering skills to be less than up to par.  Although I knew that every parent has her own opinions on how to best raise her child, I always felt uncomfortable in my label as “mom”.  I wasn’t one of those snuggly-types of mothers who always wanted hugs and kisses from their child, nor was I a stern-type who showed no emotion at all.  My mother was known as the disciplinarian, and while I do enforce rules, I rarely yell like my mom, and my daughter and son have never gotten a spanking.  I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what my “style” of parenting was, and since I didn’t know that piece of information, I constantly felt on guard.  Were other people watching me with my children and secretly critiquing the fact that I let my toddler eat ice cream for a snack?  Were other people whispering behind my back because my daughter’s long hair was tangled and not in perfect pigtail braids?

But then I realized that God has blessed me with children for a reason–not to validate my own parenting skills because in the end, He is their true Heavenly Father.  It is my role as a mother to lift my daughter and son up to God each and every morning, bless them with prayers every night before they go to bed, and raise them to seek after Jesus with their whole hearts and bear His light to the world.  In Titus 2:4, the scripture states that mothers are designed to love their husbands and their children–and “loving” another is more than merely making breakfast every morning for the kids or making sure they have clean clothes.  “Loving” another ascertains that a person is emotionally and spiritually there for another, and that individual would also show the same reverence she has for Jesus to another person.  This got me thinking:  Do I love my children the same way I love Jesus?  And vice versa?  How do I show love to my daughter and son?  Do I do the same to God?

When I do actions for my children out of love–cutting their PBJ into cute shapes, gifting them with tiny toys from Target–is it out of compliance to someone else’s expectations or because I WANT to do said actions due to my love for them?  Folding Shogun’s clothes and changing his diaper throughout the day may take on a tiring feel, yet even though those actions are not my favorite, I do it because I WANT to.  I love him and am thus willing to sacrifice sleep or my own desires to bless him.

I think that is the main reason why I am loving this summer so far.  All of the morning routine actions, all of the time I’m getting to spend with my children, are because I WANT to.  I see Jesus in their shinning faces, and no matter how stinky Shogun’s poop is or how much Misha will whine for a cookie, I WANT to be around them.  I am their mother.  I am the person Jesus placed in their lives to grow them into loving children of God.

I still have another twenty-two days with my little girl and little guy before I head back to school.  Twenty-two days to enjoy the early summer mornings, hot afternoons, and calm nights with them before my first teacher meeting.

I still have twenty-two more days to embrace the role of mother, to grow in my knowledge that God will guide me in parenting, and that by loving my kids, I am also showing my love for Jesus.

I could get used to this life.

Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.

At our last English department meeting for this school year, there was a feeling of jubilation in the air as we quickly went through the nitty-gritty administrative details (Don’t forget to turn in keys!  Don’t forget to update your curriculum map!) and chit-chatted about our upcoming summer plans (No summer school!  I get to stay home with the kiddos!).  Eventually we educators got caught into discussing the popularity of graduations, and how preschool and kindergarten ceremonies are now A THING where toddlers parade across stage in construction paper hats to accept certificates of early education merit.  The discussion then turned to whether or not these types of ceremonies are really warranted, and not just for the toddler set.  Why do high schools celebrate the ending of a school year?  Aren’t there more important life events one could throw confetti for?

This past Saturday, one hundred or so of our school’s seniors took part in such a celebration.  They marched across the Blaisdell Concert Hall stage, smiles as wide as the ocean, enthusiastically shook hands with the president of the school as they grabbed their diplomas, and pumped their arms in a victory call.

WE DID IT.  WE DID IT.  YES, WE DID IT.

Seeing these rudy-faced young adults eager to enter life after uniformed class schedules and curfews made me quite excited for them (I’m not embarrassed to admit my eyes welled up with tears of joy), but the questions about the uniqueness and practicality of celebrating graduations still remain.

Why celebrate the ending of a school year when there are still so many more challenging life events yet to come?  Should we as a society award praise to a child who has attended four years of English, science, and math classes (all required, mind you), and emerged from the tests and homework being able to analyze Shakespeare and compute biochemical equations?

Why do parents, family, and friends shed tears of joy when seeing their loved ones parade across stage wearing a black cap and gown, when in truth, said students still have the rest of their lives to fully experience?

Is it really so impressive that students basically followed our society’s rigorous educational rules (i.e. spending hours listening to lectures and even more hours studying in hopes of getting the “A” that will propel them to a good college) and survived it all?  Are we merely celebrating the fact that they were pushed by us adults to do something which was PROBABLY not what the teenagers actually wanted to be doing anyway?

Initially, I agreed with the majority of the educators in the room in response to these questions.   YES!  Life hasn’t really begun for these students.  Lets not delude them into thinking that high school IS IT.  There’s attending college.  There’s finding a job.  There’s working at a job.  There’s dating (UGH).  There’s getting married.  There’s (possibly) having children.  Life has so much more to offer after the cap and gown ceremony!

But then I realized what my high school years were like.

Midway through my sophomore year, I felt the pull of inadequacy tugging on my spirit when I saw classmates acing tests that I received all red marks on.  I struggled through understanding Japanese characters, and no matter how many flashcards I made, the brushstrokes for kanjis never took to my brain.  After one incident when I had to give an oral presentation in history class but stood there in front of my peers, eyes bulging with fear because I didn’t remember what to say, I realized that I still had two more years of being just “mediocre” in my studies. It was a sobering realization that I would not be the valedictorian, salutatorian, or even in the top 10 percent of my graduating class.  I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is meant to be great at everything–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

Ironically, I spent a lot of my breaks completing homework so I could have free time when I got home to practice my oboe.  I thought that since I couldn’t excel in academics, I could at least have SOME talent in music.  Even carving out for myself that chunk of rehearsal time at home, however, didn’t leave me feeling any more relaxed or confident in my musical abilities.  Instead, the more times I played the same run in the Saint-Saens concerto or practiced my chromatic scale, the more my weaknesses were exposed.  And then I got the awful case of the “shoulds”:  I “should” practice at least 2 hours a day to get better.  I “should” play “Metamorphosis” in this manner so that the judges would like it.  I “should” make the first chair of the symphony, otherwise no one will think I’m great at anything.  It was a lot of “shoulds”, and in the end, those “shoulds” left me feeling even more inadequate in my capabilities.  I had to learn that the limitations and expectations I placed on myself could be either helpful (yes, set goals!) or harmful (no, don’t place unnecessary stress on yourself!)–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

In the midst of trying to attain somewhat decent grades and medals in music recitals, I was also highly influenced by my long-legged, tanned, surfer-like female classmates who seemed to exude the sexual appeal that guys at school desired.  I realized that looking the role of a “popular” girl meant that I would have to turn from the person God made me to be into another creature, and maybe once that transformation occurred, I would find acceptance and inclusion.  I, being only 5’1″, Japanese, and inept at water sports, was aesthetically the complete opposite of what I deemed to be the “perfect girl”, but that did not stop me from trying to transform myself to a surfer chic.  As a result, I used self-tanning lotion to make myself darker, flooded my closets with thin-strapped tanks, and bought a pair of reef slippers that didn’t fit me well, but who cared, because all the “popular” girls had them.  Still, my short legs did not compare to the taller Caucasian gals’, and my stick straight hair did not flow in the wind like theirs.  I secretly desired to have the attention those “popular” girls had, because the smiles from boys, the look of envy from other girls, the carefree attitude they encompassed were what I was missing.  One night, I distinctly remember laying on my bed, eyes opened to the Heavens, hypothesizing that only IF I had the perfect exterior, THEN I would feel special and THEN I’d be internally happy.  The fact is that Jesus made each one of us perfect in His sight–sadly, I didn’t realize this during my time as a teenager, but what it means to have self-acceptance (or lack thereof) reared its’ head during my high school years.

So as we teachers talked about the absurdity of graduation, my knee-jerk reaction of “Yeah, that’s right!!!  Life hasn’t started yet!!!” changed to one of “No.  Wait a minute.  High school is HELLA hard.”  In what other time in one’s life will a person have to learn pretty challenging lessons (how to accept oneself, how to set goals), all the while battling teenage insecurities and (gulp) hormones?  What other time besides during high school will students realize that there IS a big world out there beyond the walls of the classroom, and taking that first step to the unknown is tremendously intimidating?  Even more nerve wracking is that they are doing it all as 18 year olds without any previous experience living on their own in the “real world.”

And don’t forget about all the other “stuff” that high schoolers are dealing with that we teachers don’t see:  parent relationships disintegrating, strife between siblings, sports injuries that can knock a kid out for months on end, friendships changing as social circles collide, and teenage hormones running a muck.  It’s almost like these high schoolers are back in the terrible twos stage where toddlers are asserting their independence and personality, except these young adults have pimples, don’t speak in gibberish, and can drive.

Clearly, graduation is a time of celebration.

We are celebrating a monumental time of inner growth and development.

We are celebrating that many students had to endure much emotional and spiritual learning beyond the academic rigor of papers and tests.

We are celebrating how high schoolers are taking that next step to fulfill the call God has upon their lives.

While typing out this post, I’m reminded of all the graduating seniors I saw parade across the stage this past weekend to accept their diplomas.  Some looked enthralled, while others seemed relieved.  Either way, there was satisfaction in the fact that God was there with each one.  He had knit every single student in his mother’s womb, thoughtfully cultivated that individual with His Holy Spirit, and amazingly, we in the crowd were able to see His handiwork there on stage.  Matthew 28:20 urges believers to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”, and that is exactly what this graduating group of 2017 are doing.  They are taking a spiritual (and literal) step from the life they’ve known and are seeking to do God’s will in their lives.

My high school experiences were rough, to say the least, yet those times of trial were made all the sweeter when I stepped on the stage at Blaisdell some 18 years ago and received my diploma.  Yes, it was merely a piece of paper that stated I had accumulated the required amount of credits to graduate, but having that certificate in hand meant more than grades.  It showed that I was a fighter, that I was a survivor.  It demonstrated that I could push myself through great mental, emotional, and physical strife, and by God’s grace emerge on the other side ready to do His will.

So celebrate, class of 2017.  Celebrate your achievements, your failures, and the path God is leading you on.  Celebrate.  Celebrate.

 

I Did NOTHING. And I Liked It.

I did nothing.

NOTHING.

And it was glorious.

Since Monday was Memorial Day and the whole Takao clan had a three-day weekend, I initially had grand plans of trekking to Waikiki Saturday night to explore the latest Japanese food court, traversing the crowd at Ala Moana Beach to view the floating lantern presentation, or braving the shopping crowds to see what kind of deals I could get for the kids.

I wanted to do something.  SOMETHING!!!  I didn’t want my children to think to themselves, “Wow, this is boring at home.  Wow, everyone else is going out.  Wow, mommy isn’t fun at all.”

Crazy thoughts, I know.  After much hemming and hawing, I then came to this realization:  rather than schlep an overly talkative six year old and almost-2 year old in their car seats around town, my hubby, kids, and I would instead do the following.

  1.  Wake up WHENEVER we wanted, which was late for our family but still early enough so that the sun was only starting to rise over the mountains
  2. Leisurely lay around the living room sipping coffee (for the hubby and I, not the kids, ha ha) watching, “Paw Patrol” or some other cartoon.
  3. Read a book or two with Shogun while Misha drew extravagant pictures of her friends.
  4. Got ready to go to the gym.
  5. Went to the gym where Misha did BJJ, I got to work on some powerlifting movements, Kyle free rolled or played around with the weights, and Shogun sat in on some of the kiddie conditioning classes.
  6. Food.  Food.  Food.
  7. Nap.  Nap.  Nap.
  8. Woke up from said nap, played cars with Shogun or drew with Misha.
  9. Went out for dinner.
  10. Got back home, laid on the living room carpet with the kids and watched a movie until it was time to go to sleep.

Not a whole lot of excitement.  Granted, we did go out of the house a bit, which is no easy task when one child still needs help in and out of the car and the other child chatters incessantly, always wanting to play a game or look at daddy’s phone.  Despite our frequent excursions, however, there were not a whole lot of (what many folks would label) “educationally stimulating” activities for the kids.  I didn’t hand make play-doh for the little ones using glue, food coloring, and contact solution, nor did we make pancakes into the shape of Mickey Mouse and decorate the breakfast with freshly cut strawberries and whipped cream (something my grandmother did with me).  All our family did was take a break.  It was a break from the daily grind.  It was a time to just be free to do “whatever” and not worry about the productivity of the day.  It was glorious.

We could let be be.

Let be be.

That above line, “Let be be,” is taken from “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”, a lovely Modernist poem by Wallace Stevens.  The basic premise of the writing is to not care what others perceive you as, but instead live life to the fullest and enjoy all the joy and happiness it has to offer.  Upon first reading this piece of literature, I would marvel at how a person COULD merely BE and find fulfillment in that manner.  What did it mean to just sit and not be DOING something?  How could an individual function knowing that she was just taking up space and not contributing to society?

It was this kind of thinking that infiltrated my mind at a young age:  I wasn’t valuable, profitable, or worthwhile if I wasn’t producing something grand.  Being able to sit and rest was akin to slothfulness, and who wants to be known as a person who is lazy?!  Surely, not I!  And so my obsession with continually doing something, whether it be wiping down the counters with Colorx wipes, prepping food for the next day’s lunches, folding laundry, or engaging in some kind of activity similar to those listed above, took over my existence and eventually made me crazy.  It literally drove my so batty that I my heart would jump when I saw Misha drop a cookie crumb on the carpet or if Kyle didn’t wipe up the splotch of toothpaste in the sing.  I was on a stain with cleaner in hand, and pretty soon even my toddler would try “being like mommy” and dusting the sofa with a wet wipe.

My home needed to be spotless.  A clean home meant a happy home.  A happy home meant I was thriving as a mother and wife.  Being an excellent spouse and parent meant I was doing SOMETHING right, when in reality I felt extremely insecure in my capabilities in both realms.  I constantly questioned my parenting and wife skills–why couldn’t I be a “DIY” type of mom who made her children organic PB and J’s cut into shapes of animals?  Why couldn’t I prepare a deliciously homemade vegan dinner–nut cheeses, bean burgers, and hummus from freshly ground beans–for my husband?

And so I thought keeping myself busy, active, and always DOING meant that I was winning in life.  At least if I couldn’t be the model mother and wife, if I at least LOOKED like I was, that was enough, right?  Right?!

No, it wasn’t.  All I ended up doing was obsessing over every flaw I found–I went through the drive-thru to pick up Wendy’s fries for my daughter, there were cobwebs accumulating in the corners of my living room–and soon made myself sick with condemnation.  But then I was reminded of Romans 8:1:  “For there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”

Humph.

Jesus was the only perfect person to ever walk the Earth.  Why then was I going mentally, emotionally, and physically insane trying to live up to an expectation (i.e. perfect mother, perfect wife) that I could never fully achieve?  Why try to push away the feelings of guilt and inadequacy by submerging myself in activities that would dilute those feelings (i.e. compulsive exercising and calorie restriction)?  Why equate my worth with what I produced and did, versus looking at my value as a blessed child of the Lord?

In the end, I had to make peace with the fact that just being ME was enough–and since I am a flawed person who is only redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, no amount of DOING will make be a “better” person.  I just needed to let be be.

And so that was what our family did this weekend.  We just “be” (or for you grammatical Nazis out there, we just “were”).  And you know what?  I liked it.  I liked relaxing with my family.  I liked not feeling like I had to vacuum all the hair off the floor or scrub the tub until it was shinning.  I liked that the memories Shogun and Misha will have are the times we read books or sang silly songs together, and that their perceptions of me will not be of a mom that was a fanatical duster and dish washer who couldn’t sit still.

Let be be.

Let be be.

 

 

The List Begins

It would be easy to make a laundry list of all the reasons why I developed anorexia.

First, I was (and still am to an extent) a perfectionist. I remember revising English essays once, twice, no five times before turning them in.  And even then, the papers still weren’t “good enough.”  Appearance wise my clothes had to be JUST SO, and if my hair was up in a ponytail there could be no stray whisps dangling about.  Even just thinking about how many times I’d redo my bun or re-iron my skirts makes my head sore.

Second, I had a very loving mother and father, but they had high expectations for their one and only daughter. Thankfully my parents never pressured me to get all A’s in high school, a feat that was near impossible considering I went to a highly competitive institution that churned out engineers and scientists who eventually worked for NASA (true story).  But what my parents didn’t say I HAD to do academically (get all A’s), they instead had expectations for me to excel in some other area, namely music. I played the oboe since the seventh grade, and while I was first chair in the state’s youth symphony, deep down I didn’t think I was that great. But darn those expectations.  I nonetheless felt the pressure to live up to the title of “talented musician” and constantly worried what mom and dad would say if I ended up failing in music.

Those two huge reasons coupled with OCD tendencies (as a 8 year old it took me 10 minutes to leave the house because I had to make sure the towels were all in line on the bathroom rack before I left) created a perfect storm for the one event that triggered my anorexia:  my mother finding out she had stage 3 ovarian cancer and given a month or so to live.

As a teenager about to embark on her senior year of high school, this news was numbing. I remember my dad and I were in California when we got the news–I was at an oboe camp where I was embarrassing myself by butchering the most beautiful Vaughn Williams concertos because, well, I was a nervous 17 year old who was having to perform in front of a room filled with professional musicians. Yeah, nothing like a bit of squeaking and cracking of notes to break whatever self-confidence I had left. So when my aunt telephoned the lodge my dad and I were staying at, saying that mom was going to emergency surgery the following day, my first thought was of relief because obviously, we had to go back to Hawaii to be with mom. All I knew was that I wouldn’t have to get up in front of those judges and oboists and make more of a fool of myself again. My next thought then turned to the future.  Would my mother be alive to see me graduate?  Or get married?  Have a child?

It was at that moment, when the fear of uncertainty and loss hit, that tears started to roll down my chin, and a deep sob from within my stomach emerged as a mournful cry. My dad, a frowned expression on his face, glanced at me and said the words years later he apologized for uttering:

Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

But I needed to. I needed the tears to wet my cheeks, for my eyes to be red and to curl up in a ball on the bed. I later learned in therapy that the grieving process is necessary for individuals to cope with traumatic life events, and my dad telling me NOT to cry basically symbolized that showing emotion of any kind was a weakness, and that I had to maintain that “perfect” persona that was already eating away at my inner self.

At the time I didn’t realize all of this insight. Instead I wiped my nose, took a deep breath, and didn’t share another tear until two years later when I returned home from college weighing 88 pounds and on the verge of dying myself.