Monday, February 19, 2018

Yokohama Chinatown and the One-Legged Pigeons You Meet There

One of my favorite things about living the military life in a foreign country is the random holidays that we get which are not celebrated by our host nation. We don’t always fully take advantage of them, but any kind of venture - even a trip to Costco - is sure to be much less crowded than a weekend or a Japanese holiday.

On Saturday, I asked June if she would like to go on a date - anywhere she wanted! I told her we could take the train to a nearby mall, walk to a pastry shop, drive to a Daiso, or pretty much anything she desired. She chose to walk to Taco Bell (which is about two blocks from our house and is the solitary restaurant on base) and eat burritos. After much coaxing, she consented to also go to the library and get books. June is so funny to me and so, so pleasant. As I was tucking her in, I put my cheek on hers and softly told her how much fun I had had with her on our date. She gently held my head and said “Taco Bell was awesome. The food was amazing.” It wasn’t. But she is.

Anyways, during that library trip I got a travel guide for Tokyo with kids. It’s a bit dated, but it served us well for Monday! It outlines several day trips and we chose to go to Yokohama Bay and catch a shuttle boat to Yamashita  Park and the stroll around Chinatown for a bit.

We decided to drive to Yokohama, which is a bit more expensive when you factor in tolls and parking, but so much less of the “crazy Americans with four tiny kids on absolutely silent trains.”

The shuttle was fun and cheap! It seems that 6 years old is the age of financial significance here in Japan as many places we go seem to view our entire offspring as monetarily negligible. It’s wonderful - we are truly getting our moneys worth, unlike most Japanese people who only have one or two children. They just don’t know the value of a good bargain, I guess ;)

It was a fun little boat ride, always nice to be out in the “real, live ocean” as Ivy calls it. June had her salty sea air experience, and then decided to Roomba herself around the cabin, much to the disgust of our fellow passengers. Japanese people are much more invested in the limitation of germs and grossness from the floor spreading around. Which is totally awesome. But little things like your kid standing up on the seat of the train can cause gasps of horror or even a mild scolding and the dreaded X armsđź™…‍♀️= - absolutely a thing that has been done to me many times.

Anyways, we disembarked and headed to Yamashita Park (which you should not pronounce Ya-ma-she-ta or you will get mocked by your husband because it is Ya-mash-ta). But it wasn’t much to see so don’t trouble yourself with the pronunciation. We hadn’t walked far before I could see the large red gate in the traditional style looming high over the walkway. Incense and the warm scent of steamed buns and fried bread greeted us and we were in Chinatown.

It was just beautiful - cool and sunny, not too crowded, but just enough to feel energized. We stopped to take come pictures in front of a lion, which Ivy was quick to point out was not a REAL lion, much to William's disappointment. The kids noticed a small park behind the statue and before we knew it, Ivy was swinging, June was sitting in the dirt, and William was chasing pigeons. It was probably my favorite moment of the day. 

William was chasing pigeons, which is what he was born to do - random violence just for the sake of itself - when an old man started to gently scold him. When I walked over, I could hear that the man was saying "Injad, injad." I realized he was telling William that the bird he was currently pursuing was hurt - missing a foot to be exact.  I explained this to William, and he examined the bird with morbid curiosity before moving on to a more worthy opponent. A while later, Ivy approached the man and he shared a handful of breadcrumbs with her to feed the birds. He was so sweet and good - the kind of person I love my kids to meet and the kind I hope to be when I am old. 

I fed Ruby under a lovely pavilion and watched Ivy, June, and William feed the birds gleefully. In that moment, I felt sorry for anyone who wasn't me. For all the hard work that comes with having so many small ones and living in a foreign country, there are so many moments of joy. 

We all got to pick a treat from the 7/11 before heading back to our car. 

Some days I love it here. Some days I would give my right arm for a Chick fil a drive-thru and the ability to talk to my sisters in at least the same general time zone. It's always going to be a experience that gives as it takes, but I am hoping we will end up in the black. Days like today go a long way to that end. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Aikawa Park

I have been wanting to blog again but it is a difficult task. I have four children now, the oldest of which just started kindergarten. That's come crazy math and crazy times at the Bangerter house. I want to start this again. But there are no guarantees about how consistent I will be. I am complete rubbish as a person. 

When we moved here, I joined a group that holds monthly events. Americans living on post work with Japanese nationals to plan great local outings. Americans and Japanese families attend and you get to learn about culture while having fun and exploring new places. What an awesome idea, right?

Our latest event was at Aikawa Park, about a 45 minute drive into the mountains. It was a beautiful, clear day. 

William loved being able to run ahead of me down the path (which incidentally ended up being the wrong way and resulted in an arduous uphill backtrack.) 
We found all sorts of fun places...

We found this giant, dead beetle which was thoroughly investigated by William and declared to be "cweepy."

While we went about our important work, Luke took Ivy and June to this cool little studio. 

Each child had their own little pottery wheel where they made their own plate or bowl. 

They had a great time and June wept real tears when she learned that they couldn't bring their dishes home just yet. 

We then headed to a large field where we set up a picnic with our group. 

There was a large wading pool of which my kids took full advantage. Any time I'm like "Nah, they probably won't need swimming suits for this outing!" they definitely need them. Not pictured: William picking up the shoes of a small Japanese child and throwing them in the water for no discernible reason. Kids, right?

Also nearby - these bouncing, bubble-like structures that look so fun. It takes most of my willpower not to join in. 

We absolutely loved this park. It wasn't very crowded and it was so green and lush up in the mountains. Between the fun activity, water, and bouncy...whatever those things are, we were already planning a trip back before we left the parking lot. 

As for our current life, it's pretty low key. 

Ivy is 5 and loving kindergarten. She has lots of friends in her class and makes more every day. 

June is 4 and just so cute. She likes to do crafts at home with me and awaits Ivy's return daily. 

William is two. He loves construction vehicles, riding his little scooter, and being a little stinker that somehow we all love to death. 

Ruby is 3.75 months. She has recently discovered her hands. She is happy and sweet. Ivy's love for her hasn't waned a bit. She's a trickier than our other babies in a few ways - spitting up, late late nights - but we will probably keep her. 

As always, Japan is wonderful and you are missing out. Come visit us and I can promise you a baby to cuddle (who will definitely throw up on you) and all sorts of great quirkiness and natural beauty. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ruby's Birth

This is the account of Ruby's birth that I wrote a week ago, at the hospital on the day she was born: 

It all began on Monday, June 5th. I woke up to minor, consistent contractions that continued for an hour or so before petering out. When they began, I was completely dual minded. On the one hand, who wants contractions that don’t lead to a baby? On the other, my mom wasn’t going to arrive for another 10 days and I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone with an early delivery. I made pancakes for the kids, sent Luke off to work, and then plopped down on my rocker recliner and pouted. Then I started having strong, inconsistent contractions. Timing them just made me angry, so I stopped. “Stop trying to make labor a thing, Marlee,” I told myself, “It’s not happening.”

By all accounts, Monday should have been a miserable day of minor pain and major sucking-it-up, but my friend, Polly, came to the rescue. Armed with double strollers, we walked for a bit together – not so much to induce labor as to just get some of my angry energy out and talk about birth. Anyone who is full term knows these inclinations well. I had a few more strong contractions, but again, inconsistent and short-lived. When we returned to my house, she insisted that I lay down and rest, which I did and took a much-needed nap. I woke up with no more signs of labor, but with a renewed lease on life. That had been false labor, we concluded. Productive, probably, but it was gone and it was for the best. I needed to think of the timing, after all. It simply wouldn’t do to have a baby two weeks early. I wasn’t ready and it wasn’t the plan.

My beloved husband came home after a day of many inquisitive texts and calls. He knew that I was exhausted and totally done with being a functioning human after a day of involuntarily working out my abs and making and abandoning plans. He did a family night lesson with the kids where he talked to them about how the new baby was coming soon and they needed to be extra good helpers and listeners. Ivy was all about that, while June was only prompted to help and listen when she was promised a stovetop s'more as recompense. He explained to Ivy and June that when the baby came, they would stay with grandma or, in the event that the baby came early, they would spend the day and night at their friends’ Grant and Laurel’s house. Ivy was thrilled with either contingency. I soaked in the bath for a while before laying in bed. I felt all day like a heavily pregnant barn cat, moving from place to place, irritable and edgy, never satisfied or comfortable. Luke and I tried to watch a movie but I couldn’t sit still and I went back to bed. At around 10:30, the contractions started up again and I tried to sleep through them. By 11, I was back downstairs with my contraction counting app and miserably inputting data that I was certain would lead nowhere. I kept telling myself that I was two weeks before my due date. I kept reminding myself of those nights I used to stay up tracking contractions when I was pregnant with William, only to wake up the next morning, phone in hand, no labor in sight.

I called Kristen and talked to her until I couldn’t talk comfortably through the contractions. They hurt, but were they real? I called Polly and the nurse at the naval hospital where I would be delivering. They both said the same thing – “GO.” So Polly came over to sleep on my couch at 2 in the morning (I did mention that she's the best, right?) and I hastily packed a bag and roused Luke. As we drove, I talked to my mom and tracked contractions. With each one, I could feel a deeper pain and I felt confident that I had made the right call. Then about 15 minutes away from the hospital, the contractions rapidly slowed down, but their intensity increased. I was so confused and frustrated. When we arrived, at around 3:15, and they began to monitor me, it took at least 10 minutes for a contraction to even occur and register. I was in so much pain during each one, but this wasn’t what active labor looked like to me. After 20 minutes, they checked to see how much progress I had made. I wouldn’t have been surprised with a “sorry, you aren’t dilated much and you haven’t had many contractions, so you need to go home/walk around/go cry in your car.” I was ready to do at least one of those things. But surprisingly, the nurse said I was at a 5 or 6, and she would check with the doctor, but she was fairly certain they would admit me. I was shocked on both counts – to be that dilated and that I wouldn’t get admitted right away. I focused my energy on breathing through the contractions, which were still only 10-15 minutes apart. They hurt like the dickens, but I was curious about what the doctor would say. About 20 minutes later, he checked me and said that I was at an 8 and probably wouldn’t be able to get an epidural.

I had had so many surprises up to this point, it almost didn’t register, but I was absolutely exhausted and asked for the anesthesiologist to be called. Literally, called at his house, since he wasn’t currently on the premises. Luckily, he lives on the naval base, so there was at least a chance he would make it. As they walked me to the delivery room, it finally hit me that I was really going to have this baby today. A full 11 days before her due date. As I was powering my way through contractions, getting an IV and signing papers, the epidural man came. I love that man.

The last part of labor was considerably more calm and I could finally realize how tired I was. But no time for that! I felt the gentle pop of my water breaking and it was time to push. Two hours after we arrived at the hospital, she was born. Her first cry was short lived as they placed her on my chest. She was so purple, but soon turned into a rosy pink that every nurse and doctor has noted.

I will forever be indebted to my friend, Stephanie, for taking the kids with very little notice and even less preparation on my part. I had every intention of gathering up clothes, favorite toys, snacks...and none of that happened. She makes taking care of two five-year-olds, two three-year-olds, and an almost two-year old look easy, and we all know it is NOT. She is my hero. 

As I contemplate the events of today, I am just filled with gratitude. For a healthy baby, amazing labor and delivery, friends who love my children when I am unable to, and all the events that lead me to this ridiculous moment. She is already so loved by so many. 


And now, a week later, we are adjusting to a new little baby in the house. Ivy, who asks me for the baby every 10 minutes, comes up with new pet names for her daily - today is was "Sweet Bun," "Flower Sugar" and "Lovey Girl." June, who wants to hold her about every 1.5 days, is more temperate with her affection, but I can tell she will be an intensely loyal big sister. William will walk up and demand that I give him the baby, only to shove her away a second later. He has been very soft and nice to her, though, and doesn't seem to be feeling the pangs of jealousy that I worried would befall him. 

My friend, Rachele, took these beautiful pictures for me. She was so patient with my wiggly, ever-starving baby and I will treasure these pictures forever. 

My mom arrived today and I am so excited to have her here to love my FOUR children. Life is so good. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Our Crazy Trip to the States

Like many adventures, mine started with a crazy idea. An idea that, on its head, didn’t seem so crazy but the more you thought about it, the more impossible it became. I decided to take advantage of the military flight “Space A” stand-by option and come back to the states with my three (and a half) kids. Several months ago, I was so overwhelmed at the thought of taking a 12 hour flight to Japan and here I was considering doing a round-trip alone.

Well, like all impulsive decisions, it was a great idea. After getting the necessary paperwork, we decided to try for the end of January and hope for a return flight at the end of February.  It’s been insanely difficult and soul-stretching and mind-bending. It’s been so fun and rewarding and deeply gratifying. I know that as time sifts out all the kinda bad but not traumatizing memories, it will all have been worth it.
June looking the part of a seasoned traveler. 

Even trying to keep things pretty minimal, it just requires a lot to travel with three kids.

My flight out was about 9 hours long and the girls slept soundly for the majority of it. William was in and out and cranky as can be during those transitions. I like him, but he’s the worst. I discovered some great tricks for keeping mean little 20 month old boys entertained:

1.       Hex bugs
2.       Play dough
3.       Tiny plastic animals
4.       Animal flashcards
5.       Mini flashlight

Sweet Ivy and...lovely June.

He took a good little nap right off the gate.

Ivy and June measuring all the things with some tiny measuring tape...

...then we settled in for the long haul. All the apps and shows. 

One of the huge lessons I learned with all the traveling we’ve been doing is to really just embrace who your child is. June is a TV addict and Ivy needs to change activities frequently. So for this leg of the journey, I am letting June watch her favorite movie on the Kindle for the third time and before she fell asleep, Ivy was working on her 5th or 6th activity. If you have a wildcard (like William) who doesn’t seem to stay content for long, I would suggest bringing many small things in small bags within a big Ziploc bag (no books or big toys). Unless they actually like shows or apps. In which case: that. 

Seriously, though, navigating and maneuvering through the airport is 20 times as bad as a plane ride. 

Our flight out was pretty ideal in many ways – we got on the plane, which wasn’t full, and settled into our seats at the very back and after a few hours, my girls fell asleep for the night. William was next to me in his infant carseat, which he felt was offensive considering he upgraded months ago. It was wonderful for naps, though, and I was so glad to have it.

Getting off the plane was rough. June wasn’t ready to join the land of the living and was only persuaded when I assured her that the stroller would be right there as soon as we got off the plane. Which it wasn’t. A long walk to the international baggage claim later, we got our stroller and our two huge bags and booster seats and everyone was happier (except for me, since I had to push everything, but I was at least happy to not be scraping June off the floor every few paces when her sense of hopelessness bubbled back up to the surface.)

Customs, done. Immigrations, done. FINALLY we were ready to leave. It was so fun – we ran into some friends from college who were also trying to Space-A to the states, so we hung out with Dasha and her girls while her husband got their car and we waited for Grandma and Grandpa. I wish I had gotten a picture, but it made the whole thing much more enjoyable.

Then we embarked on the next leg of our journey – my mom and dad drove us to their house in Deer Park about 5 hours away and we enjoyed the hellish effects of a 16 hour time change. For about 5 days, my kids woke up at 2 AM, regardless of their bedtime. The second week was much more fun for all of us.
Here's a picture our fun night parties. Luckily we had lots of fun distractions from our plane ride.

 We had fun outings to Spokane, saw good friends, made good food, and played in the snow. 

Ivy and June subtly asking for the attention of their funnest uncle.

Ivy loving every second of being outside.

June, who kept grabbing the snow with her ungloved hands and freaking out, warming up, and then doing it again. 

William unequivocally hating the snow. 

Hating it, that is, until Aunt Marielle made it into ice cream. 

After two weeks in Deer Park, we flew to Salt Lake and were picked up by Luke’s parents. His mom is known to my girls as their “hot chocolate grandma” because of her hot chocolate maker and liberal nature when it comes to using it.

Utah was a whirlwind of fun and exhaustion.

The good:
Seeing so many friends and all the family in the area! I feel so blessed that so many people made time for us. I would have liked two or three more visits with everyone, but I suppose it’s always good to leave wanting more. I was also able to attend my niece’s bridal shower and endowment session at the temple. She is getting married this weekend! I wish we could be there, but this was the next best thing. During one of our play dates, Ivy played outside and got about 20 small burrs all up in her hair. Maybe that should go in the "not good" category, but they came out without too much trouble (just about an entire bottle of baby oil). 
The disheartening discovery.

The aftermath. 

Mikelle drove up and stayed with us for a week! It was so wonderful and ridiculous to have 6 babies under 5 but we had fun. Lots of adventures tempered with even more loungey down time and This is Us binge-watching.

Twin love! 

More snow watching with cousins.

William feeding his sucker to the taxidermied animals at the Bean Museum.

And of course a stop at the creamery for lunch was in order. Though June preferred to save her appetite for the ice cream and poked all her fries into her cheeseburger instead.

Natalie was so great to host family gatherings and watching kids and she has become insanely good at lettering. Her kids were so pleasant and accommodating. It brings me little pangs of sadness that we don’t all live right down the street from each other.

AMERICA! I got little thrills driving down the wide, spread-out streets and just knowing what everything was. I could buy things without that awkward moment where a cashier probably asked me if I want a bag and I just look at them cluelessly and smile like the dumb American I am and they smile because they work in retail and that’s how you keep yourself from strangling someone. None of that!

FOOD! Oh my gosh, I love food. I like Japanese food, but I have been eating in America for much longer and my preferences still lean heavily (haha) in that direction. We had Chick fil A, CafĂ© Rio, Zupa’s, and a few other favorites a few times and now I’m very satisfied and happy to come home and start cooking again.

SHOPPING! Guys, do you have a Target nearby? Get in your car, drive there, and just give that store a hug for me. I went the morning we left for Seattle to get a few things for the plane and ended up with so many perfect, adorable, totally great things from their dollar and Easter section. And their kids clothes? And their fun snacks? I didn’t even look at home dĂ©cor because it would have just made me sad.

The not good:
All three kids got some gross virus with lasted way too long and ended with an ear infection for Ivy. I don’t think she’s ever been so miserable.

Just…travel. And doing it alone. And doing everything alone. But even that has some silver lining. I’m going to launch into a bit of a preachy moment, so be prepared. It was so insanely hard, but it was totally doable and the only reason not to do it was the insane hardness. Which means that I was the only reason – the limits of what I perceived I could do. I could tell you 20 times off the top of my head where things were just impossibly difficult, but now I know I can do it. 

Would I do it again? Mmmmmm. Ask me later. All I know now is that it's great to be home and I can do hard things.