Posts in Expat Children
Reasons Why Being Illiterate and Mute are Sub-Optimal When Raising A Child

Heyyyyyyy, let's lighten the mood up in here. I'm tired of feeling sorry for myself, and I thought that I could regail you with further tails about how parenting in a language in which you are unable to communicate is really sub-optimal. Are you down with that? Mkay. Good. 

And we're off.

So, you know when you get to that stage in toddler-hood when clothes breathe fire and pants in particular are the scourge of (mini)humankind? Yeah. We're there. Which is fine, I'm down with nakkie time at home, this dispite the fact that my child has yet to make the distinction between diaper and diaper-free, or between the floor and the potty. THough she can throw a mean potty sign with her baby fist. Oh, yes she can.

And also, apropos of something, I'm afriad of cutting my child's nails and they're abnormally long. And scratchy.

Anyway, nakkie baby, free bumming it, enjoying the fresh air, and springtime breezes, and weeeeeeeee, let's touch our bums (in a totally appropriate and non-weird way) with our exceptionally long fingernails, never mind the long red welts all over our backside.

I certainly didn't.

And then I dropped off my kid (diaper clad) at daycare without a thought in the world.

(...time passing...)

And later she came home. I undressed her for her bath. And the welts and scratches were still there. On her bum. It looked like she had met the business end of a cat-o-nine.

SHIZNATTT! Wasn't I just telling the daycare ladies in sing language how tired I was because my GD kid had been getting up at 4:45 am and not napping and I already look a sub-capable parent because I dress in cutoff jean shorts and I don't wear socks and my toe nails are chipped and do not own a designer bag or a floppy hat or potato sack dress like all the competent Japanese mothers omg they probably think I'm a bum spanker and baby miss-treater and I do not have the linguistic ability nor the charades skills to explain that actually, my kid just likes to be naked and her nails are too long.

So, the moral of this story is learn the GD language of the country in which you parent. I singed up for language lessons today. Truth.

 

 

 

Read More
The Internet Ate My Homework and Other Obnoxious Tales of Blogger Woe

So, you know when you take a week off from your blog and then try to make a triumphant return to regularly scheduled posting with a (half-assed) superawesome links post, and even though it was half-assed, there were a few true gems in with the rough, and then you're like, oh, I'm going to be proactive and do this ahead and then schedule it and stuff, and then you take no notice of the error screen in Chrome when you open your laptop and then aren't really that bothered when you realize that the post hasn't gone up yet, and so you decide to delete all your links (even the gems) and clean up your bookmarks only to discover that your post and those gems are now lost forever to the sands of digital time. Arg. And also, eff you, technology.

So, no links for you, internet. No links for you. And there were some good ones, too. LIke images of levitation. And amazing yellow shoes that I love. And pretty, pretty necklaces. Okay, well, here are the necklaces, but only because I like their creator so much. And also, they're pretty.

But anyway, instead, I offer you a glimpse of what I was up to last week. 

IMG_2863

Remember this guy? Well, he was in my house! Eating my carrots! Snuggling my face! And I practically adopted him. Because, CHEEEEEEEKS! OMG.

We were hanging out with him and his Mommy who is really, really wonderful, doing such fun and exciting things like visiting shrines, and playing with mice, and eating noodles, beaching, stroller derbies, and playing wild rumpus time. So, really, no time for blogging. 

IMG_2930


IMG_2987

IMG_3087

IMG_3114

And now, my Mum is here. So prepare for further posts void of insight but full of nonsensical ramblings and second-rate photography. And if that's yoru bag, well, why not send us a vote on the ol' Top Baby Blogs. We'd love us some of that.

 

 

Click To Vote For Us @ Top Baby Blogs Directory!

Read More
Uniforms and Foreignness

Late afternoon, as school lets out, children pour into the streets, lithe and exuberant. They are unburdened by the texts they must read, the exercises that must be completed, and the kana to be memorized, the heavy load carried by their blue and red leather packs will be ignored until after their okashi. 

 

They all carry the same backpacks. Red for girls. Blue for boys. Subtle differences can be spotted, if you look closely: this one is a pinker shade of red; this cheaply constructed, ignoble in it’s vinyl exterior; this one crafted of the finest leather, whispering of luxury expense, and doting grandparents. But they’re essentially all the same. Same shape. Same size. Same. Same. Same.

 

I asked my friend, a mother to a gaggle of Japanese-born foreigners, if the backpacks were a requirement, a uniform of sorts. “Not really,” she replied. “But what if they wanted, like, a Thomas The Tank Engine school bag, or something? What about individuality? What about personal expression? What about fostering a sense of uniqueness,” I challenged. “You just wouldn't do that. It’s not really done. And anyway, my kids are all blond. I wouldn’t want my them to stand out more than they already do.”

 

Japan is a nation of ingroups and outgroups. Its a place where belonging, and conforming are more important than in any other country which I have ever visited. Japanese wear uniforms their whole lives. At birth, babies are dressed alike, in a kimono provided by the hospital. They enter kindergarten with white shirts and blue shorts, knee socks and blazers. By high school they’re in mao suits or plaid skirts, all sporting the same hair cut --straight black hair, bangs, low pigtails. By adult hood the uniform is less obvious, no less important. Spiky orange hair, fussed over endlessly, and flashy suits for too-cool-for-school young men who hope to emulate red-light district pimps. Sensible dark suits, sensible blue shirts, sensible striped ties for salary men. Perfectly quaffed housewives, in perfectly matched skirts and twinsets, LV bags on the crock of their arms. Young women in the same floral romper, the same pot-pie hat, the same chambray shirt.  Belonging is important. Sameness evokes acceptance.

 

Stella is just starting to notice difference, I mean, for what I can deduce based on gestures and the odd utterance of ammmm!!! (cat). Last week at breakfast, she was mesmerized by a group of caucasian children pictured in a German magazine. She kept pointing to her hair and then stroking her own, as if to say, “Look! they’re like me.”

 

I don’t know when, exactly, children start to become aware of ingroups and outgroups, of difference, of race, of cultural vairances. I don’t know, really, if my child feels left out, if somehow she is, already, at the tender age of one-and-a-half, having a minority experience, longing for role-models who look “like her”, feeling the prick of isolation and exclusion, or if her heart aches, even if only slightly, for feeling different. I have no wise words to offer here, no thoughtful conclusions. I just wonder, and hope that she feels good. (Wise words and thoughtful conclusions would be greatly appreciated from you, though).

 

If she wants one, though, I’ll probably buy her a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack. 

 

 

Read More
Christmas Preparations In Japan

Getting ready for Christmas in Japan means baking ginger molasses cookies that look nothing like actual ginger molasses cookies because instead of using molasses you used what you presume to be some crazy kind of rice syrup but you can't really be sure because in Japan you're functionally illiterate. 

IMG_9779

IMG_9781

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Dividersblog loopdeloop

Wanna make my Christmas week? How 'bout a vote for us on Top Baby Blogs?

 

Click To Vote For Us @ Top Baby Blogs Directory!

Read More
Why Me? Why Now?

I spent much of my first and second winter bundled and be-toqued, perched upon a toboggan transformed by my father into the ultimate cold-weather baby chariot. A chassis set atop the toboggan, lined with foam padding and sleeping bags became the mobile nest from which I was introduced to the Canadian outdoors. Pulled by my dad on cross-country skis, we glided through Eastern Ontario woods, or skated down the frozen Rideau Canal.

 

My daughter, on the other hand, has spent much of her first and second year nursing in airport lounges or wandering up and down the aisles of a Boeing 777, as we make yet another Pacific crossing. She knows nothing of skates, or skis, or four-foot snow drifts. 

 

IMG_0622

 

My childhood was perfectly ordinary. Perfectly Canadian. Outhouses, mosquitoes, and springtime sugar shacks populate my memories. There were never-ending car trips up and down the length of Ontario in the backseat of a beat up station wagon. And summers on Georgian Bay where I learned to paddle a canoe, build a camp fire, and whittle the perfect bannock stick. It was the stuff of an Atwoodian short story, with, perhaps, a bit less pathos and certainly much less poetry.

 

  IMG_7334

 

My daughter, too, is Canadian, but her upbringing thus far, has been vastly different from mine. Her youth, all 18 months of it, has been the stuff Therouxian travelogue: never-ending jet lag, three continents and three languages. Stella frolics on the grounds of Shinto shrines. She bows when she meets other kids. Stella has never been in a canoe. She has yet to be introduced to the delights of bacon with maple syrup. Rather, Stella chows down on sushi and soba noodles, and wields a fondue fork with deftness and skill. 

 

  IMG_8104

 

In many ways, though, my daughter's experience is very Canadian. She's the child of an immigrant--her father proudly received Canadian citizenship in 2007. She is, in her Japanese-Swiss-Canadian self, the embodiment of multiculturalism, and will, one day, know more than I could ever hope to learn about culture and identity.

 

  IMG_8512

 

I'm tasked with raising my third-culture-kid to be Canadian when much of her life has been spent outside her passport country. Standing outside of the typical Canadian parenting arena, I have distance (several thousand kilometers thereof) and thus perspective on the theories, practices, trials, and joys of raising a Canadian kid. While I am united with my Canadian peers by universal parenting struggles (notably #zombiemomism, monumental messes, and impending toilet training {oh help mah gawd halp}), I also face unique challenges: raising a trilingual child; navigating the myriad and sundry parenting questions that emerge from this tri-cultural tapestry; and figuring out a way to teach my kid that there's more to Canada than the Edmonton Oilers and maple syrup on bacon. I look at parenting through a different lens. Whether it be a new take on weaning a toddler, a recent internet co-sleeping controversy, or the joy that I have found in Asia's instance on letting children be children, I see things differently than the typical Canadian parent.

 

IMG_0975

 

And that, dear internet, is why I'm submitting this entry in hopes of becoming Today's Parent's next blogger. Wish me luck!

 

For three of my favourite posts, please see here, wherein I discuss one of the parenting lessons I’ve learned in Asia. And here, where I reveal that acceptance and tolerance of difference is much harder in practice than it is in theory, and here where I show you what traveling with a toddler is really like.

 

Read More
Moving To Japan With Kids: Buy All The Things

 So, you’re moving to Japan with kids, and your first thought is STUFF. Where will I get children’s Tylenol? What about clothing for my kid? Baby food? Can I find it there? Or will I be slaving over bubbling pots of mush for the duration of my child’s babyhood? And diapers! And toys! And WINE! WHAT ABOUT THE WINE? Or will I have to switch to sake???!?!?

 

Well, the good news is, you’ll be able to find wine. It’ll be a million times more expensive, but you can get it. So, there’s that.

 

When I was pregnant, I was obsessed with baby paraphernalia, specifically WESTERN baby paraphernalia and the procurement thereof. Now, one might argue (Hi Mr. Chef!) that I took this obsession to an unhealthy degree of hysteria, but I was newly pregnant and in a new and strange country, and pregnancy crazysauce etc. so, we can all cut me a bit of slack. 

 

The truth of the matter is that kids really don't NEED as much stuff as we think they do, and  for the most part, Japanese kid stuff is fine. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however, notably clothing (in my opinion) and medicine. I find that Japanese kids’ clothing is not exactly to my taste, and what I do find in Japan that I like is super expensive, so I buy most things in the US on trips home. 

 

My basic advice when it comes to finding kids stuff is just accept that good enough is good enough. If you’re worried about BPA-free bottles, well, they may not have Dr. Brown’s bottles, but you can find a Japanese brand of glass bottle, and that’s good enough. 

 

Oh, one point to take note of, just FYI: Japanese cribs (and crib mattresses) are 10 CM shorter than American ones. And European cribs are a whole different size entirely. So buy both your crib and your crib mattress in the same country. I learned this the hard way. But let’s not talk about THAT whole episode. 

 

Medicine

OTC Medicine is another thing that I like to buy at home. Not that I doubt the quality of medicines in Japan - I’m sure it’s fine. Rather, I don’t read Japanese and so, rather than doing any guess work, I prefer the peace of mind of knowing that I’m giving my daughter accurate doses of Tylenol or whatever I might be giving her at 3 AM. So, I stockpile all sorts of baby meds on visits home and hand carry them into Japan. Which I kind of feel is a bit illegal, but I’m not sure, and ssshhhhh, don’t tell anyone.

 

Food

Okay, so one worry people talk to me about when they’re moving to Japan with kids is food. Will I be able to get the American baby food I’m used to in Japan. My answer: not easily. I haven’t found powered rice or oat cereal here. Gourmet purees of organic blueberries, beets and purple carrots are a no go. There is jarred baby food, but it’s often a mix of several different ingredients, and again, I don’t read Japanese, so I did’t use it. I made all my own babyfood. Now, you CAN order American baby food online (I’ll list some useful sites below), but it’s expensive.

 

Toys

You won’t find all the toys that you’re used to here, but you’ll find some. There are Toys R Us and Babies R Us outlets here that carry many American products (priced at a premium, sorry to say.) The one thing is that many electronic toys do their bleeps and bops in Japanese. So may not understand what your kids toys are jabbering on about, but it does present an interesting  opportunity for language acquisition. There’s also a wonderful chain of toy stores called Bournelund which carries beautiful wooden and educational toys. So, if you’re moving to Japan, your kids won’t be at a loss for things to play with.

 

Diapers

 I use cloth diapers. I think I’ll write a separate post about this, but on the occasion that I have used regular diapers, I can tell you they’re fine. Pampers is the main brand here. There’s also a Japanese brand called Goons which I think is totally hilarious, but that is neither here nor there. Though the one difference to be aware of is that in Japan they tend to start pull-up style diapers really early. Like 9-months-old early. I strongly feel that this style of diapers is super annoying because have you ever tried to get these things on a flailing infant in prone position? Impossible. Which I found out the hard way when I bought a pack and was like ARRRGGHATE! But WASTE NOT WANT NOT! SO MUST USE WHOLE PACKAGE BUT HAAATTTEEE! 

 

Organics / Fragrance Fee / Natural Healthy Hippy Fairy Dust

These types of things are harder to find in Japan. You won’t necessarily find organic produce in every grocery store, and if you do, selections are really limited. HOWEVER, there are organic and / healthfood shops popping up as the hippy fairy dust lifestyle gains in popularity. Ashley at Surviving in Japan has several good posts on where to find hippy natural fairy dust in Japan.

The reality is, though, that these things ARE much harder to find in Japan. You just need to accept that organic fragrance free diapers may not be in your future. But your kid's butt will probably not fall off because of it. So if you’re moving to Japan with kids, and are like I NEED ORGANIC GOLDFISH CRACKERS, you’re just gonna have to chill.

 

Online Shopping 

Okay...now, if you have your heart set on those organic goldfish crackers, you probably can find them online. Actually, you can find most things that you (think you) really really really  need online. Here are a few helpful resources.

 

  • Amazon Japan - You can shop in English, and you can find many American products here. 
  • Foreign Buyers Club - A good resource for American items. Most in bulk.
  • The Flying Pig - Order from Costco online. They have a lot of things you’ll find in America, but not everything. 
  • Rakutan - Like a cross between Amazon / and Etsy. You can find everything from pie dishes to French cheese to beautiful Spanish Baby Dresses
  • iHerb - A great place for supplements and hippy fairy dust. English. Ships to Japan. 
  • Vitacost - Another purveyor of Natural Hippy Fairy Dust that ships to Japan.
  • Loopist - Cloth diapers in Japan. In Japanese, but just fire up Google Chrome, and you'll be good to go. 
  • Etsy - I didn’t think of this when I was pregnant, but you can find SO MUCH on Etsy. From diaper covers, to onsies, to sleeping sacks, to wetbags, and cute hats and mitts and all sorts of wonderful handmade goodness. If you’re moving to Japan with kids, you’ll need to get acquainted with Etsy.

 

There it is. A poorly constructed and quickly slapped together piece of mumbo jumbo about finding baby stuff in Japan.  If you have any questions about shopping for baby goods, please leave a comment. I know everything there is to know about shopping for baby gear. Truth. 

 

Read More
Moving To Japan With Kids Part I

I received a couple of emails recently from people asking questing about moving to Japan with kids, which is, lets be honest here, both incredibly flattering (blogs pay dividends in ego strokes) and entirely laughable (I’m no Japan expert, I mean I know about six words in Japanese and one of them is pee-pee.)

Still, I thought that I may have stumbled on a nugget SEO traffic potential here: a series of posts about moving to Japan with kids. Ergo, I present to you the first in my series entitled So You’re Thinking of Moving To Japan With Kids (creative!)

I’ll cover a lot of things here - some informative, some based on my opinions, but all snappy and entertaining.*

But for my first post, my general opinions and feelings about life in Japan with kids. 

 

*oh gawd. I may have just painted myself into the worlds worst bloggy corner by committing to this mini project. 

And so, with that, AWAY WE GO!

 

So, you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids. Your brain is swirling with questions. You’re wondering about housing, and schooling, language learning, adjusting, and transitioning, and Oh MAH GAWD will we be able to find goldfish crackers in Japan!?!?! (Doubtful). 

But before we get into the details, here are my impressions about wee ones in Japan. Take them under advisement (if you want) if you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids.

My overall impression: Japan is a great place for kids, but arguably, a less great place for mothers. Japan is extraordinarily child-friendly: it’s safe, it’s clean, and especially compared to it’s Asian neighbors, it’s pretty pollution-free. The demands on mothers, however, are significantly higher here, with strongly entrenched traditional gender roles and week social networks. If you’re thinking about moving to Japan with kids, you probably don’t have to worry too much about your children, for it is a lovely place for kids to grow up.

 

The Basics

Japan is really very safe. Crime rates are very low, and fears of "stranger danger" just don’t seem as prevalent here. I regularly see kindergartners walking and playing outside without adult supervision, and virtually all first graders make the trip to and from school alone. 

The environment is also relatively clean. In comparison to most other Asian countries, the levels of air pollution and smog are low here. The food system is safe; arguably safer than that of the US, and problems of food contamination that plague other Asian countries just don’t seem to happen here, (all fears of radiation contamination aside, that is. But still, on the scale of food dangers, this is not a big one, really.)

 

Child Friendly

Japanese people seem to love kids and are tolerant of all their annoying little foibles. Children are welcomed in most restaurants, and most people don’t seem to mind (or at least are too polite to say anything) if the kids act out. Kid free zones are not a thing here, there's no need for them. Everyone excepts that kids cry, make messes, and are sometimes a bit annoying. And it's no big deal.

Foreign children, especially babies, will garner a lot of attention. People will want to play peek-a-boo (or enai enai ba!), pat your kid’s cheek, or shake their hand. I willingly accept this and my daughter LOVES the attention. If that kind of thing would freak you or your kid out, sorry to say, but there's almost no escaping it. 

Japan is also pretty baby-friendly. Subways are easily accessible by stroller and have well maintained elevators. It’s pretty easy to find a clean place to change a baby’s diaper (subway bathrooms are surprisingly clean) or nurse an infant (there are wonderful nursing rooms in most department stores).

 

Recreation

There are lovely parks in Japan and some great playgrounds. Each neighborhood seems to have it’s own little play area, some better than others. The bigger parks have great features such as hand washing stations to clean up after playing.

There are also wonderful libraries that, in bigger cities, have English language books. And drop-in play centers that are free and full of fun toys and other kids.

 

Demands on the Mother

For the mother, however, things are more difficult. Most women do not work outside the home, and their husbands work long hours, leaving virtually all the child care and house work to the woman. It is pretty typical for the husband to leave for work early in the morning and not return until 9 PM. Every day. Oh, and many also work on Saturdays.

If you're a mother thinking of moving to Japan with kids and working while you're here, it may be a bit difficult to find anything beyond teaching English, that is unless you have strong Japanese language skills.

The Japanese school system requires a great deal of participation from the mother, with sport days and concerts and PTA involvement all being virtually mandatory. In addition, there are frequent holidays and half-days which can leave working mothers scrambling for child care. 

 

Lack of Support Network

Outside the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka where there are thriving expat communities, it may be difficult for a foreign mother to make friends in Japan. Japanese people are fairly reserved. Invitations to someone’s home for coffee are rare, so are neighborly chats. It is pretty easy to feel isolated and alone, especially when the husband is working such long hours. Learning Japanese is really important for getting along and thriving in Japan. 

Domestic helpers, quite common in other Asian cities, are not typical here in Japan. Just FYI.

 

Conclusion

Japan, like any country, has positive points and negative ones. Personally, I really appreciate the child-friendly life here. It’s reassuring to know that food and water are safe and that air pollution isn’t (such) a big problem. And so, while it’s not always easy, I’m honestly happy that my daughter was born here.

 

So, if you’re thinking of moving to Japan with kids, it’s a pretty good place to be. 

 

Read More
Crafts for Expat Children

An expat childhood has many wonderful advantages: diverse cultural experiences; an ingrown understanding of this wide and wonderful planet; the possibilities of multilingualism; opportunities to learn about flexibility and emotional resilience, for example. But one major drawback is distance, physical and emotional, from one’s extended family. 

How then, can we as parents of expat children cultivate a sense of familial closeness when we are oceans apart from grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts and all manner of wonderful people?

By crafting, obviously. Therefore: crafts for expat children. (Or any kind of children, really. This is an equal oppertuntity blog, not limited only to expat children.)*

Okay. So. First, a confession. I am terrible at art. I kind of hate craft projects. But I have a little girl. And the internet insists that I become some sort of crafting superhero, because without a degree paper maché, you can’t qualify for a parenting blog. Just so we're all aware of the facts, people.

But, I saw this idea on Paul et Paula (itself a wonderful international kids’ blog), and I thought to myself. TOTALLY DOABLE! Henceforth, I give you BABY’S BOOK OF SIGNIFICANT RELATIONSHIPS...da..da.daaaaaa! {I could not come up with a better title. Please deal.}

 

What I did:

I gathered up a bunch of supplies: washi tape, stickers, markers, a photo book, and had some pictures developed.

  IMG_7759

I made a pretty title page with Stella’s name on it. (You do not understand the level of anxiety I had when making this. Like...”omg, this looks stupid. I’m trying to make a starburst of stickers. It looks more like a sick dog. GAH I THINK I SPELLED MY DAUGHTER’s NAME WRONG. Oh okay. It’s fine. Carry on.” Now you understand why I hate crafts.)

  IMG_7764

Then I stuck in pictures of people and places which are important to us. Grandparents, aunts, uncles-in-common-law (we have 2); godparents; beloved granties; cousins; honorary aunties, cats, dogs, Swiss mountains, Canadian lakes, Japanese cherry blossoms etc. etc. etc.) I threw around some washi tape, because. Well. I donno. It looks pretty. And then handed it over to the baby and we were all very happy. 

IMG_7766

Stella can look at the pictures and be reminded of those who are closest in our hearts (if not in geography). We sit together and name people and things we see. We talk about who the people are, and I narrate memories in hopes that it helps her recall all of the fun visits we've had with our lovelies. 

IMG_7768

She loves this book. She brings it to me to look at and then corrects my pointing when it is not vigorous enough. It also keeps her busy for many minutes. And I am happy about that, too. 

----

*Oh, pooper scoopers. You caught me. I'm trying to SEO the hell out of the phrase, "Expat Children". *cough, cough...douch bag...cough.*

Read More