31 January, 2017

My flexible day

A quick photo on my way to school to pick up our son for his
appointment. They were up to number 7 when I left and onto 9 by the
time we got back. I'm so thankful for an easily accessible doctor.
Oh, and the consult, X-ray, and light splint only cost us
200 yen, or about AU$2.20!
Today's a bit of a crazy day. I had it all planned out, but that got tipped on its head when we realised that our youngest son's "sore thumb" that he incurred on Saturday during warm-up for wrestling, wasn't resolving. So we decided that I should take him to the doctor this morning.

I'd previously had a loose plan of catching up with a friend from the US who was "in town" just for a couple of days, and then having coffee with another friend . . . all before lunch. It turns out the second friend had some medical issues suddenly to deal with herself, so that plan was ditched.

Our son would have rather gone to the doctor after school, but after school was already booked. I'd made "elaborate plans" to go to a high school wrestling dual on the south side of town (about an hour away) and arranged for our younger two to hang out at a friend's house.

So my morning looked like this:

9.35 Left the house to go and "get in line" at the orthopaedic doctor before I collected my son from school. They thought it was quite normal for me to do such a thing, gave me a number and told me to get my son and come back as fast as possible, as was my plan. It was a little risky, but it worked perfectly.

10.05 I was back in the doctor 's waiting room with my son.

Today it's back into usual winter temps, and I've got my
scarf, jacket, gloves and ear muffs on again.
Beautiful sunshine, though!
10.15 In to see the doctor, who diagnosed a ligament strain/tear at the MCP joint (base of thumb) and provided a removable splint to allow healing. This is the end of his wrestling season as it will take several weeks to heal. However the season is over on Saturday anyway, so he's not too disappointed, in fact he's keen to go and support his team mates, which I think is awesome.

10.30 I got home and grabbed my bike, riding to the house of a friend who was holding an "open house" morning tea for our mutual visiting friend. This visiting friend had had to leave suddenly last summer and I hadn't been able to say goodbye in person. It was wonderful to have some "closure" on that.

12.00 Morning tea morphed into lunch as various ladies (mostly associated with CAJ) came and went. We moved to a nearby Japanese restaurant. It was lovely to just sit and catch-up with people I don't see that often.

2.00 Back home again, catching up on some email and other matters before heading off to wrestling for the evening.

3.45 I will leave for wrestling in the team bus (with my husband driving). It will be a fun way to spend the evening, but I will be tired by the time I get home at around 9pm.

It's been good that I don't have a tonne of pressing work at present and could feel free to be a bit flexible with my use of time. I also was able to have a couple of very encouraging exchanges with our youngest son . . . a continuation of the quality time we had on Saturday. So satisfying!

30 January, 2017

A touch of spring

Out and about without all my external winter layers. I felt a
little naked. My hair is a bit haywire today, actually I've not been
happy with it ever since my last haircut. Had a great conversation
with the hairdresser, but she didn't do a super job on the cut.
Maybe it's time for another cut.
The weather today has gone a little spring-like. It's barely been above 10C since Christmas, so today's 14C feels positively warm! I've just been out to get the groceries on my bike without my winter jacket, gloves, scarf, or ear muffs. I even shed a layer on my legs, putting on a knee-length skirt over my leggings instead of long pants.

Wow. I know that temperatures are going to go low again, after all it is only January. But it's worth appreciating nonetheless.

I don't enjoy winter here. Wearing so many layers, and bracing myself every time I have to undress. It actually gets pretty boring, with little flexibility in what I can wear.

I'm thankful that January-February are so busy with wrestling that I don't have time to be too depressed about the chilly weather. I am also thankful that we no longer live in Sapporo. Though inside is much warmer there, winter is much longer and harsher. Living in snow half the year is hard work!

But today truly does illustrate how relative temperatures are, and how our bodies adjust. In a Brisbane winter, 14C would be a cold day! Indeed, in September, here, 14C would be a cold day. Isn't it amazing how we can get used to different conditions.

This is my new "in-between" skirt, that I bought last week.
 It is fleecy on the inside and quite warm, though it's not warm
enough for under 12C, for those temperatures I need two layers all the way to my feet. 
Hence I call it an
"in-between" skirt: between summer and winter.

29 January, 2017

Parenting in the midst of sport

 Yesterday was another long day of wrestling, with complicated logistics in travel. 

Our youngest son pinning an opponent in a cradle hold:
one arm behind the neck, the other under his knees.
We were all up before the sun came up (before 6am, actually), though I didn't leave until 8am. It turned into a 16-hour day for David and our two oldest boys, including about four hours of travel for them. It might have been three hours less than that, but the school bus had a flat battery when they went to leave and it took some time to sort that out. The wrestlers ended up coming home by train and David, as the driver, waited on-base for a rescue vehicle to get them started again. They ended up arriving back at school at 10pm, within one minute of each other. Testimony to how impressive the Tokyo train system is, even on a Saturday night.

We were split again across two venues, but I felt as though things were better balanced with one parent at each meet. I miss the high school wrestling: it is more exciting and skilful, however I am glad that I could be home at 4pm, not 10pm. The other big thing I am glad about yesterday, is that I had some sterling teachable moments with our youngest son.

Someone asked me the other day if I get my blog posts passed by my sons before I post them. I don't. If I did, I'd never post anything! Not because they wouldn't allow me to post what I write, but there simply isn't time to get them to read all that I write. 

No, my strategy is a bit simpler. They all know the address of my blog and I know they can look it up at any time. Our eldest son, especially, likes to read it. So, I work hard not to post things that I think would embarrass them. Just an extension of the way I try to respect the privacy of my friends and other family members. I assume that they could read anything I put up here and endeavour not to write things that, as far as I can guess, would embarrass them.

So writing about my parenting yesterday is a bit tricky. I'll try a less specific angle.

Being present at our sons' sporting events often presents golden opportunities for speaking into their lives. More so in wrestling than in track and field or cross-country. Mostly because of the type of sport it is and the way competitions are conducted.

You cannot hide on a wrestling mat. It is you and your opponent. You aren't in a group of 100 running a race through the countryside, most of the time out of the view of spectators, you aren't even in a group of eight on a track. In wrestling you are in full view of a bunch of spectators, and there are no teammates to blame if things go wrong out there. It is also very personal. Losing is hard to take.

Additionally, you don't just have one event, you have to do this two, three, or more times in a day. So if you lose, you often have to pick yourself up emotionally and be able to go back onto the mat and do it again. With meets every Saturday for a few Saturdays, you also have little break to pick yourself up again before you have to go back and do another tournament again, often against the same opponents. That can be mentally challenging, especially if you have lost.

So being present as a parent at these things presents a great opportunity to walk beside our boys and help them deal with emotionally charged situations. To help them deal with adversity in an objective-type situation where the rules are clear and help them to find the strength in themselves to go on. When things don't go your way, it is easy to want to quit. I helped a boy not quit yesterday. He came away feeling much better than he did at the start of the day. Stronger as a wrestler, and as a person, I hope. It felt like a parenting triumph.

I vividly remember another tough day when our eldest son was in 8th grade, his second year of wrestling. His last meet of that season was an emotionally tough meet too: http://mmuser.blogspot.jp/2013/02/end-of-another-wrestling-season.html It's great to see how he's grown in the years since then.

I had many conversations with people yesterday, most of them short! Wrestling spectating doesn't lend itself to long, in-depth conversations. However I had two separate deeper conversations with two dads. Both of them appreciating that their middle schoolers are learning life lessons by participating in sport, and in wrestling particularly. All sorts of things can be learnt, for example:
  • life doesn't always reward participation with awards
  • failure happens and how to move on from that
  • how to persevere in difficult circumstances and against all odds
  • respecting other people, even when they beat you
  • having respect for your body's limits
  • discovering that even when you think you can't handle any more, you often can
At last week's meet a friend saw a mum wearing a t-shirt that said, "My son never loses: he either wins or he learns." We loved it. What a great motto for wrestling, indeed a great attitude to take into life in general.

Wrestling is permeating our lives deeply at present, with two meets every Saturday plus this week and last we also have mid-week duals. I'm really glad for these opportunities to walk alongside our guys while they take on these challenges. 

I'm also praying for the strength to carry on. Yesterday was exhausting. This afternoon I napped for 1 ½ hrs, and I'm glad for that. It's only three more weeks and it will all be over. There'll be mixed emotions then too, I know!

27 January, 2017

A nation of naps

In Japan, napping in the office is common and culturally accepted. And in fact, it is often seen as a subtle sign of diligence: You must be working yourself to exhaustion. From here:New York Times article 
Indeed, sleeping on the train at any time of day or night is acceptable, no one blinks an eye. I took this photo last Friday mid-morning. The Art Director for the magazine I manage works as a full-time teacher at a private girls high school He frequently works past midnight on the magazine and I asked him how he copes. He says it's not uncommon for him (or other teachers) to nap at their desks at school. Nor it is frowned upon, as the article I've cited above says.
A 2015 government study found that 39.5 percent of Japanese adults slept less than six hours a night.
So it's not surprising that they are napping whenever they can. Indeed it seems to be a nation of chronic exhaustion! 

I've just spent time with two friends doing English-Japanese language exchange, though in my tired state we ended up talking in English more today, and a lot of our conversation was about culture, not language. 

They asked me why Western-style schools don't have very much homework. Then qualified that the question was more about vacation homework.

I replied that our kids do indeed have lots of homework, just only during term-time. I asked them back, "Why do Japanese kids have homework through their longer holidays?" They didn't have an answer for me.

It really is very culturally related. Australians value their holiday time. People look forward to long holidays, talk about them, plan them, etc. A two-week holiday is quite common, but almost completely unheard of here in Japan. So giving kids a long holiday doesn't even enter their minds as something that you would do, I suspect.

I try to think about culture as things that are different, not "we're right and you're wrong" kind-of mentality. But I wonder in this case, how good this chronic exhaustion is for children, and indeed, for the whole nation.

26 January, 2017

A coffee date?

Today, by some miracle or other, I had nothing on my calendar and the jobs I had on my to-do list were not sufficient to take up the whole day. I say it is a miracle because recently this end of the month has been crazily busy, plus, we're in the middle of the wrestling season . . . !

Recently I've found myself longing for time with people, then, in various ways, being disappointed. Last night, when pondering today's schedule-hole, I hankered after a good friend to have coffee with but realised that probably I needed time out alone rather than with friends, given that this day is surrounded by a lot of busyness and people. 

It's back to that old longing for people to meet my needs and "raging" when they don't, or when they're taken away from me, or not available to me when I think I need them.

I've also been reading a book that we received at Christmas: Awe: Why it matters for everything we thing, say, and do by Paul Tripp. The author is telling me things I already know, and have known for a long time, but saying them in a way that makes them fresh and opens my eyes to what's truly going on. 

Our problem is not that the 'good life' has passed us by, that people have failed us, or that life has been hard. All these things have happened to us because we live in a broken world. And if our contentment rests on life being easy, comfortable, and pleasurable, we'll have no contentment this side of eternity. p105
I realised that, though I longed for friends to spend time with and have deep conversations with, what I really needed to do today was spend time with God.

Phew. Not just our usual Bible reading and prayer time before breakfast, or my reading-through-the-Bible time after breakfast. But something more like a coffee-date with Jesus. Now that sounds kind of cute and cliche-like to me, but I'm serious. I decided to get out of the house and spend some time at a coffee shop "with Jesus". Now it is weird because he is always with me and I don't need to go anywhere to meet him, but the same is with a marriage. Sometimes you need to get away from your daily routine to spend time together at a special place.

I guess another name for it would be the currently popular "spiritual retreat". I've shied away from such a concept, not sure why. Maybe it is the extroverted part of me that wonders what I'd do with a lengthy period of time of "nothing". Maybe it is the non-conformist part of me that says I don't want to do something because it's popular.

Now what I actually did, didn't look at all freaky. I took this as an opportunity for a longer ride, found a coffee shop using Google about 6km away, and took my book and my Bible. I read a chapter or so of my book, slowly. It sprang me into some spontaneous Bible study (word studies, actually, looking up various phrases related to God's love and faithfulness). I prayed a little, journaled a little, wrote out some relevant Bible verses. I drank coffee, water (always lots of water), and at lunch-time moved across the road to a cheaper place to have a bite for lunch, where I continued to search God's word for his promises to me.

I've come away with a plan for next time I'm moving into the realm of feeling angry about being lonely or people letting me down. It might mean another coffee date or mini-retreat, it might just mean going back for a moment and remembering all those promises God's given about his love being sufficient for me at all times.

Recognising that the feelings that are happening at times like this aren't because of people, or lack of people, they are because I live in an damaged world and my soul is thirsting for God (Ps. 143:6) but I'm not going to the right place to get that thirst satisfied.

25 January, 2017

Weighty issues in Japan

Last September I found this article  in Japan Times about weight issues of women in Japan, especially foreign women. It was based around a survey of over 500 foreign women in Japan. 70% in their 30s and 40s.
Half the women responded that their confidence in how they look has worsened since coming to Japan and that “living in Japan has been a major contributing factor to this situation.”
I really am a bit of a dag (Aussie for tending
to be unfashionable), preferring the function
and comfortable (and affordable) over
 the fashionable. But I do love this hoodie.
I've written about this before periodically as I've tried to buy clothes here in Japan. For example here where I compared two hoodies that I own that both fit me but were bought in different countries. And here in a post called Short legs, when I proved that my legs are short for Australia, but generally perfect for Japan. 

I'm pleased that I'm often mistaken for a Japanese person from behind. My hair colour and height are about right, it's only when people see my face that they realise. It's nice to be able to "hide" a little, I know that not everyone has that and the toll of sticking out can be draining.

Japanese women are generally petite and the clothes for sale match that. Yesterday I did a bit of clothes shopping, especially looking for some warm tracksuit pants that weren't too daggy for wearing to wrestling meets (especially for our trip to Korea). Usually I find that even though my height is right, my legs and waist are too thick here in Japan. But yesterday it was very odd, I found a few pants that fitted me well in the legs, but were enormous around the top. I've got no idea what's going on in fashion, obviously! By the way, I didn't find any pants I was happy with, I did get three winter skirts.

But back to the article,
When asked to respond to a number of statements to reflect their experiences and opinions, 85 percent agreed that Japanese media tends to promote the idea that “skinny is healthy”, and that heavier/curvier women are rarely seen. When they are, it is normally in a comedic or derogatory context.
Indeed, that has been my experience. I went to Curves for a number of years and have also had a baby here and the idea of what is a normal body size seems to be very small, not just in the fashion industry, but in the fitness and medical sector too. 

When I was pregnant, it was my second child, so I knew pretty much what to expect. I'd been putting on weight steadily, but not excessively, however the Japanese nurses scolded me a few times. Suggesting that I was eating fruit and drinking juice! I just ignored them and listened to my body. It's interesting that the article says that the percentage of low-birth-weight babies (under 2.5kg) has risen steeply in Japan in the last 30 years and that a major factor is pregnant women dieting.

CAJ staff have a compulsory health check at the start of each school year. It is a common thing in Japanese companies here. Many of our foreign staff get scolded about their waist sizes, even some of those who would seem slim by Western standards. 

Back to the article. A lack of choice of clothing on the racks in Japan can have implications for foreigners who don't fit the mold. I don't really like shopping for clothes here. Knowing that I am not overweight, it goes against the grain to have to buy clothes that are marked L or LL or even larger. That being said, I think perhaps that there is more accommodation for larger women here than there used to be, but still, the sizing is hard to swallow.
The narrow range of clothing sizes and lack of choice for larger or curvier women was cited as an issue by more than 80 percent of respondents, and many offered comments on their frustration with this problem. While ordering online has helped the situation, the narrow range of sizes makes even foreign women who were small in their home countries feel decidedly outsized in Japan.               
I tend to buy up on clothes when we're in Australia and only buy things in Japan if necessary. CAJ's Thrift Shop is also a place where I get a few things (but not many). That has worked as a strategy quite well. 

I don't think my self-esteem is damaged (at least not because of weight or size issues), perhaps because I haven't had to put up with unsolicited comments about my body or weight from people I know in Japan, unlike 75% of people in the article. For that I am thankful.

24 January, 2017

Too much transparency?

Today I'm on the lower end of the natural swing back towards normality that happens after a high like we had on Saturday. It is, unfortunately, matched with a slight lull in my work. I say unfortunately, because I find lows easier to deal with when I have plenty of interesting work on hand to apply myself to.

I'm also struggling with any ideas to apply to a blog post here. But I have saved up a few links to articles that I thought might be interesting to those who come and visit here.

This one: Are we complaining too much?, by a former missionary to Taiwan is a good one. It's back on that old theme of mine, about honesty and transparency, especially for missionaries.

Here's a small sample:
Are we [missionaries] complaining too much? No, I think not, at least not yet. And here’s why I think we have a ways to go before we get there.
For too long, the church has put missionaries on precariously high pedestals, and because of the continued pressures to raise funds and promote ministries, missionaries can find themselves taking part in the pedestal building, as well. It will take a while for us, with repeated reminders, to dismantle the platforms.
Living overseas can be very difficult, and we need more, not less, authenticity so that others who are struggling won’t have to say, “I must be the only one.” Transparent sharing also helps future missionaries have realistic expectations so that they can better prepare for future challenges and fend off disappointment.
I also like some other points made towards the end of the article:
  • we need to be careful with our authenticity (i.e. who we share what with),
  • we should avoid claiming to represent everyone else, everyone has a different story and is at a different part of their story, and
  • we need to watch our attitudes: it's easy to move from transparency to grumbling and complaining.
But possibly the best point is that we need to be be careful not to think that one small insight into a story is the whole story. Most stories are just a window in time. It's worth hanging around to hear what the rest of the story will sound like, how it will end.

Dare I add a wrestling illustration in here? It's easy to take a short-term view of wrestling, but that almost always is unsatisfying. It is only when you take a longer-term view that you get a bigger, and often better story. Our eldest son said the other day, "It isn't all about winning." Indeed, there is a much bigger picture to doing sport than that.

Similarly in mission. It isn't all about this discouragement or that triumph. It is easy to get caught up in the trees and lose sight of the forest.

Ultimately we are to give God the glory due his name. Ps 29:2 puts it plainly.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness (NIV).
New International Reader's Version says:
Praise the Lord for the glory that belongs to him.
    Worship the Lord because of his beauty and holiness.
King James Version, which, unusually, I quite like:
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; 
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The Message is a bit different, as usual:
In awe before the glory,
    in awe before God’s visible power.
Stand at attention!
    Dress your best to honor him!
That, is the big picture. So, if we're aiming for transparency, it is not to get pity, it is not to point out other people's faults, or the system's faults. It is to show up how flawed we are, this world is, and ultimately how much greater God is. It is to show how incredible it is that he uses such flawed, weak people as us to achieve his purposes in this broken world.

23 January, 2017

Reflecting on a busy couple of days

I'm taking some time between errands to reflect on Friday and Saturday. 

Friday started out fairly normally. I took the trains across town to our mission headquarters to continue working on improving the content of our OMF Japan website.

I got back to our neck of the woods at 3.30 and stopped on the way home from the station to buy some onigiri (rice ball) and inarizushi (sweet rice ball stuffed in a fried tofu skin) for wrestling the next day. 

After I arrived home I had an hour to prepare dinner for later (bacon and corn soup into the slow cooker) and get to a meeting at school about the Seniors' trip to Thailand in March. Only one boy was home at that point, so I chatted to him about his day too. 

I ended up not learning much at the meeting because David has been on this trip a couple of times before, but I guess I'm glad I went anyway. Then I rushed home and put the finishing touches on the soup by the time our eldest arrived at six after training and we quickly ate. Somewhere in there I fitted a shower in too, knowing it was going to be a late night!

The finale at the talent show, with all 53 seniors on stage.
We left at 6.30 for the 7pm Senior Talent Show, an annual fundraising event put on by the seniors. It is pretty much always excellent and a "talked about" event for many days/weeks/years afterwards. Our family still reminisces about certain acts in previous years. But this was also a "culminating event" (as one American-Japanese friend put it). One of the "lasts" in our son's high school career. 

It was indeed an enjoyable evening. When you know most of the performers, that makes it even better. I particularly enjoyed a parody on the famous Japanese Algorithm March.

But the evening was late. We didn't get home until 10, and faced an early-ish start the next day for another long day of wrestling. Additionally I was feeling the pressure of another magazine issue just about ready to go to the printer, but with a design team needing my eye to go over it one more time. I managed to read though 20 pages on my phone during the 2 1/2 hrs on the train on Friday, but still had 20 pages to go. So I printed out the rest, thinking I might look at it during quiet moments at wrestling the next day. While I was doing that, another wrestling mum messaged me, asking advice about getting to the on-US-base meet the next day. We ended up agreeing that her van could follow me in our full van. 

Then to bed. But it was hard to relax and late before I finally dropped off. Then I woke an hour earlier than my alarm, as I often do on wrestling mornings. David was up before 5.30 and that was enough to disturb me. He was driving the high school team. I ended up running late, though, but we still arrived with plenty of time to spare. 

And then it was continuous wrestling from about 9 till after 5. With 13 schools, each with up to 13 wrestlers, it was quite a crowd and we were really squished into the bleachers. The wrestlers came, mostly from US bases, from across Japan and Korea. Some slept the night in the gym! The meet is an annual event and is aptly named The Beast! It really is a precursor to the big three-day final meet in Korea next month (called the Far East Wrestling Tournament), because almost all the same schools are there and it's the only time that happens before that. Hence this is a very important because it is a place to see almost all the contending wrestlers. 

Our son had his two hardest bouts first and came through with wins, which was encouraging. But you never know what's going to happen, so that keeps things on edge the whole day!

This was in the middle of our son's hardest bout, the guy
he's wrestling ended up the silver medal winner. It is
the same guy he's wrestled several times in the last two
seasons, and all of them have been hard. This move is
called a "leg lace" and looks like a "crocodile roll", the
goal is to roll your opponent over and over. Everytime
their shoulders are "exposed" to the mats the one in control
gets two points. This is how Callum lost three times to the
Far East champion last year. It is painful to be
on the receiving end of.
Not to mention that we were getting periodic news from and about our other wrestler who was battling things out at another meet, in another school. He didn't have the day he'd hoped for, but thankfully we were able to talk to him to help him through his disappointment. 

Can you guess how I went with reading through the magazine proofs? Maybe I should have found a quieter place, but I could barely muster the intense concentration needed to read at this level of mistake-finding for longer than a few sentences. Actually there really wasn't anywhere else to go. Outside was blustery and cold and the venue we were in was just a gym, not much else. Eventually I gave up and reluctantly messaged my design team telling them I wouldn't get to this until the next day. 

Four of the five CAJ mums that were there supporting our wrestlers!
At that point things were heating up at the meet as we headed into semis then finals. What was disappointing was the number of guys in our team who didn't wrestle as well as we would have liked, that hurts. It's not just our boy we enjoy watching, we barrack for all of the team members and seeing them sell themselves short is sad. 

We had a good number of parents there too, being one of the closer meets to CAJ. That made for an even more enjoyable day. Especially for us mums.

The trophy and medal.
But our son made it through all his matches all without loss and I could hardly believe it when he won that last match, making him "Beast of the East champion" for his weight category. 

It seems a bit of a dream that he is succeeding like this this year. After weathering disappointments over and over in previous years, it's taking some digesting. I'm so happy for him, he's worked hard for a long time. Make no mistake, this is a tough sport. I think the hardest is mentally. In training he is regularly pushed to the point of being overwhelmed. So this success makes me emotional. 

But wait, there was more. After all the medals were given out there was one thing left on the awards table, a large trophy. We assumed it was a team award, but had been specifically pre-warned by the home team's coach to be ready for a surprise. Our son was named Outstanding Wrestler of the meet, an award voted on by the coaches. There were so many very good wrestlers there that I find this award coming to our boy quite amazing. 

But oh so proud!

And it means I'm looking forward to our trip to Korea, even more.