Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Joey: 22 Months

Our Joe.. When he's good he's very, very good. When he's bad he stomps his feet, he snarls, he growls, he throws things, he hits, he glowers and shrieks. Just this morning I had to put up his wooden train set because he was swinging a couple of the tracks at Timmy's head. He exhausts himself trying to compel us to do his bidding. He's waiting for us to realize that he's really the boss of this house, and once that happens everything will be so much easier.
As of the last couple weeks we are down to one nursing session, the one right before bed. I'm thinking I'm going to have to wean him completely by March. That way when we can leave him with Tim's parents when go to Quantico for a few days this spring. (Deep breaths) These are big steps for me. Even after months of preparing my heart, I will probably not be ready -- either for the weaning or for the trip. But time marches on.
When the Big Three are getting ready to head out the door to school, Joey asks for his backpack, and I put our little old Paw Patrol backpack on his shoulders. He loves walk around with it on and feel like one of the big kids. He makes sure I put water in it too. I tell him to get on the "bus" which is one of the couches.
When he and I are getting ready to go somewhere and I'm getting my things together, he always says, "Keys!" I am so glad I have this little man to remind me I need my keys. I say, "What would I do without you, Joe?"
Always take a water bottle when you go down the rollerslide.😆 Also take something to put under your bum because yoweee!
When I'm getting to the bottom of my cereal bowl, he demands that I give it to him so he can slurp down the remains. He thinks cereal-flavored milk is the yummiest.
His face in this picture -- I die!
The one big bummer of this last month is that he woke up more nights than he didn't -- usually just once or twice a night but three or more times definitely happened too, on at least one occasion. As soon as one of us goes in there he flops back down onto the mattress and just wants to be covered back up and told to go back to sleep. Last night he didn't even wake up once, and I don't know why it can't be this way every night. Of the four he is taking the longest by far to become a consistently solid sleeper. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Oodomari Beach and My Best-Laid Plans

Once there was a time when we might have gotten in the car to just go exploring, see where we end up. The journey was just as much fun as the destination, and the destination didn't matter as long as we were together. If we got lost it was an adventure! We could be spontaneous and know that whatever happened, we'd be laughing about it later.

Those days are long gone.

Now I do exhaustive research, reading reviews and comparing the pros and cons of every type of place we might want to go. With four kids and very limited time to spend together due to Tim's demanding work and travel schedule here in Okinawa, I plan our outings with surgical precision. We must know where to go, how long we need to get there, what are we going to eat, how long are we going to stay, and on and on and on. We are only here until the end of March and Tim spends most of his time working. I feel so much pressure to make our Saturdays count.

I've been wanting to go to Oodomari Beach for at least three weeks now, but either weather or Tim's schedule prevented us. I selected it for its beauty, the fact that it's off the beaten path (where we live in central Okinawa is so built-up and populated), for being a good beginner place to snorkel for the kids, and seemingly toddler-friendly too. (Some snorkel spots have way too many slippery rocks and coral.) When the forecast showed sunny and 80s for Saturday (it's starting to cool off -- hooray for fall) I was so excited. And I know Tim must really love me because he had just gotten back from a work trip at 9 the night before after the 36-hour trip back from Yuma, AZ; and didn't complain about getting his jet-lagged butt up and out early on Saturday, and driving an hour to this beach.

The drive to Ikei Island went exactly as I expected. 35 kilometers that took almost an hour as we crossed the island west to east and then passed through a couple of outer islands on the way to Ikei. We saw spectacular views off the bridges that connected them. Once on Ikei Island we followed a narrow, meandering country road, and then Google Maps informed us we'd reached our destination. To our left was a driveway that went down a hill, signs all in Japanese, and some tubes and life jackets hanging up. We guessed that was it and drove in. A little older lady appeared and collected 500 yen for parking. Then she pointed us in the direction of a trail that led down to the beach. I had been expecting to be charged 500Y per adult and 300Y per kid over 3 for admission, so this was a nice surprise. I should have known better.
One of the two shisas guarding the bridge to Ikei Island; almost everything here is guarded by two shisas. One has its mouth open to scare evil spirits away, and one has a closed mouth to keep good spirits in.
A man who spoke no English except for a few words, directed us down the trail and to the left, toward a table with a canopy. But as I looked closer I saw that the table cost 2000Y to rent and I declined because we had our little beach tent and we're used to picnics in the sand. We went back and forth a few times about where we should set up, the language barrier being an issue, but at last we began to get situated and put on our sunblock. I don't know why the man was so concerned about where we were to set up -- there wasn't another soul in sight. But then he left us and went back to raking the sand. Tim mentioned later that he might have been trying to get us to set up further back under the trees where we would have more shade. He saw how pale we all were and was just trying to be helpful.
Timmy was the first in the water with his brand new snorkel set purchased for this day, but the man approached us and gestured to indicate that was not allowed. What followed was a painfully long conversation between him and Tim in which neither of them could understand the other, and Tim kept repeating everything he thought the man was saying. It was the same thing every time. After about the 10th go round I laughed at Tim and he became indignant saying, "I'm just making sure I understand! Do you understand?" I said I did. Then I strode toward the water and called Timmy out. "Timmy! You can't snorkel in that water without a life jacket but if you go to the other side of that rope you can." He was like, "OK!" and he shot off. But that was a no-go, the man said. At length we were made to understand that the other side of the rope was owned by someone else and that would cost a separate admission charge of 500Y per adult and 300Y per kid over 3. A-ha. Life jackets could be rented at the beach on our side of the rope for 500Y apiece, which I did not want to pay.
Tim and I discussed it and I told the kids that we'd stay where we were and they could just use the goggles like they were used to doing. These snorkel goggles were way nicer than the goggles they were used to anyway. The girls pouted in the tent for a minute or two, but it wasn't long before everyone was in the water holding their breath and eyeballing everything beneath the surface. There wasn't too much to see as it turned out, and the water was not as crystal clear as the reviews had led me to expect. The water was so salty nobody could sink if they tried, there's no telling why the life jacket was necessary, but those were the rules and I don't make the rules. Tim thinks the life jackets were mandated because of the 10 foot drop-off that was maybe just 20 feet from the shore.
Once we were alone I had kind of a meltdown. I said to Tim tearfully, "This is not what I planned. Do you know how many reviews and recommendations I read? Do you know how many beaches I compared? I did everything I could to make sure this was the perfect day!"
Tim said, "Look around. It's beautiful here. Everybody's happy. This is the perfect day." I had to admit he was right. But I feel like the meltdown was something I needed to get out of my system, and once that was done I could relax and just go with it. An unexpected gift was when the kids starting bringing me pieces of sea glass and I began a beautiful little collection that is sitting on my dresser right now. That sea glass makes me smile every time I see it. The man brought us a couple of inner tubes to use, and I enjoyed floating around on one of them for awhile. Nobody capsized me but I know they all thought about it. The kids made temporary pets of the many tiny hermit crabs they found. All was right in the world.
Later on we shared this story with a friend down the street, and how none of it was what I had expected or planned for. "That's what Okinawa is," she mused. "You make plans.." "And they go out the window?" I offered. Well, that and things change. Someone might tell you about something and then it's different from the last time they were there, that kind of thing.

So our experience there might have been unique to us. We might decide to come back expecting to find lots of sea glass and hermit crabs, and it will be all different.
One time while we were all looking down at the sand, the girls mistook one of my toes for a really unusual piece of sea glass. Pedicures here are the best.
As the day went on, we noticed several people, mostly Okinawans, being corrected for going to the wrong side of the rope. If you paid admission on one side of the rope you were not allowed to even walk along the sand on the other. It was definitely mollifying for me to know that even locals were having trouble understanding where they were allowed to go. Also, after observing for awhile, Tim and I had to wonder if there would have been any advantage to having paid admission at the neighboring beach -- besides being able to snorkel without a life vest. As far as we could tell there was no difference between the beach on one side of the rope and on the other. Our kids would have only spent so much time snorkeling, and the rest of the time doing what they were doing now -- looking for creatures and sea glass, and just playing in the water. 
There are plenty of beaches where we can snorkel with or without a life jacket, but this beach and this day will always be a special memory to me. It was such a balm for my soul after a long and exhausting week, just getting to sit and soak in the beauty of the landscape and watch our joyful kids at play. I am so glad we went. 

It's doubtful that I'll be changing my planning and researching ways. I do have to be pretty intentional about how we're going to spend our time lest we let it all get away from us while we putz around inside the confines of Camp Lester and our concrete house. But I may need to relax just a little bit and learn to expect that it's not all going to go my way. It might even end up being better.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Grace's Wedding

Back in May we went to Cincinnati for Grace's wedding, and I'm so excited to have pictures to share. Grace was a stunning bride and our cousin Olivia did an amazing job as photographer. I don't know how Grace is going to decide which ones to hang up. All of them?
Grace and Joey
It was a very rainy afternoon during the picture-taking window, which was really funny after the fact. In response to someone's comment about the rain being romantic, Olivia said, "I assure you, there was nothing romantic about me and Joey in that gazebo." They were in there during a torrential downpour with sideways rain. I was probably feeding Elise junk food in the back of Grace's car and praying it would pass. It was raining a little in this picture, but amazingly enough we don't look wet.
The handsomest little ringbearer, Damien
I love this SO much.
Fact: Grace and Anna picked out all the flowers by hand, most of them at Trader Joe's. We put all the bouquets, corsages and boutineers together in Anna's dining room. I say "we," but all I really did was trim off leaves because I have no florist skills. She had THE most beautiful flowers of any wedding I've ever seen, in my humble opinion. I love the way all those colors pop against the gray.
You'd never guess we were sisters, right?
The original seven of us -- plus Elise
Grace, Joey, Lotus, Elise and .. baby boy due in January makes 5!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Joey: 21 Months

For the first time ever, just a few mornings ago, I woke up to the sound of Joey laughing instead of crying. I was immediately confused and disoriented. What time is it? What's going on? I looked at the clock and it said 6:23. It was light in the room. Morning. Now I heard two voices, Timmy's and Joey's, and they both sounded like they were having fun. I went into their room and saw Joey out of his crib and the two of them playing. Okay! A little while later when I was remarking on how strange it was to hear Joey happy first thing in the morning, Timmy said, "He woke up good and I got him out before he got mad." And that is all fine by me as long as it takes place after 6.

This brothers' room-sharing success story is another sign of a partnership I see starting between the two of them. Neither of them had much use for the other until recently. Timmy was too young to take care of any of Joey's needs, and Joey was too much of a baby to be a buddy to Timmy. But now that Timmy has proven himself able to help Joey do things he can't, and Joey can now amuse Timmy as they play silly games together, we're seeing the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.
Another new development is that Joey, at long last, has adopted a lovey. I figured the window for loveys had passed, but as of the last few weeks every time he goes to sleep he does so while clutching "Car", a little blue Ford GT. Cuddly, right? It's about 6 inches long so it's not as easy to lose as a regular Hot Wheel would be. It used to be Delaney's, but after he dropped it one two many times and the doors stopped closing the right way, she gave it to him.
It never gets old hearing everything he says in his baby voice.There are a lot of motorcycles here in Okinawa, and Joey loves them all. He points them out and calls excitedly, "Gagoo! Gagoo!" The kids love getting him to say their favorite words, like 'poop' and 'butt'. He says the former like "put" except with p at the end, and the latter like "bet." It's hilarious and cute. And isn't it great the vocabulary we're helping him build? He's also starting to add some phrases in. For example, we'll go around the house looking for Car, and when we find it he says, "Eh you ah!"

He still loves his Elmo, and since we still don't have our TV I let him watch it on my Kindle a couple times a day. It's so nice for getting him out of my hair. He yells out the parts that he knows and sings along with the song. Annie got him a little stuffed Elmo at the Exchange.
We were at one of the sushi restaurants at American Village. The table they put us in is a little different than what we're used to. We have to take off our shoes, climb up some steps and then sit down on the floor with our feet going down into an opening in the floor. They provide these lovely boosters for the babies, but when the booster isn't strapped to a chair, you see what happens.
I've started taking him to "lap sit story time" at the library for babies up to two years old. He is at the perfect age for it. He loves the songs and the big stuffed puppy that goes around giving hugs. I love how laid back it is --- the babies can wander around and that I don't have to try to make him sit still and "behave". I used to try taking Timmy to a story time when he was that age, and they were very strict about kids not being allowed to move around or make a lot of noise. I had to take him out for breaks and what's the point of that? It's supposed to be for the toddlers, not for us. We're going there tomorrow morning, as a matter of fact.
There's a page in The Little Blue Truck where the toad character is smiling all big and toothy and showing his muscles because he's going to help; and Joey looked up at the page to me, smiling the same way. He is so cute and funny.

Last night after his bath I was holding him as I pulled pajama pants out of the drawer and selected just a random shirt to go with them. He said, "One. One," and reached toward the drawer as I was carrying him away. I went back to the drawer, and sure enough he wanted to pick a different shirt. Already?
This is our bedtime routine as of right now: At around 7, I tell him it's time to get ready to go night-night and bring him upstairs to put on his pajamas. Or if he's having a bath, I put on his pajamas afterward and tell him it's time to get ready for bed. Once he's in pajamas I take him back downstairs so he can make his rounds and give out his "mas" -- kisses. Once he's given everyone a "ma", I take him back up to his and Timmy's room and turn out the light. He always likes to take a look at the ferris wheel out the window, and I say, "Goodnight, beautiful ferris wheel." Then I nurse him and I say prayers and lay him down. He likes for me to kiss each of his hands. He holds up one and then the other. Then we blow kisses to each other as I leave.

I know I said I love watching him grow and change, but right now I kind of just want to freeze time. Is there a way to do that?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Our Temporary Home

I have very mixed feelings about our tour in Okinawa being only seven months long. Seven lousy months. Every time it comes up and I am bemoaning the limited time we have here, Tim reminds me it's never to late for him to call the monitor again. He always wants to find a way to fix the things that make me upset, and I appreciate that but it isn't always possible. I wouldn't want him to call the monitor and tell him he doesn't want command in Cherry Point after all, and pass up an opportunity he's worked for his whole career. I want us to go there, I love eastern North Carolina, and I'm really, really proud of what he's accomplished so far and will accomplish as commanding officer of his unit. I'm overjoyed we'll be able to make it to the family beach vacation in Topsail in June, and that both our families will be a day's drive away again. I want that and I want this. I can't have it all, but I keep forgetting that.

So I'm going to attempt to get it all out of my system the reasons I (so far) love it here and wish I could stay. Once it is all down here in words and pictures, I get to keep it forever.

A neighbor in Parris Island who had just come from Okinawa told me that it took her a year of hating it before she finally got used to being there and then started to love it. I'd heard that a bunch of other times too. The expression is "You go to Okinawa kicking and screaming and you leave kicking and screaming." I'd heard it takes anywhere from six months to a year to finally feel like you're home here. Knowing there was a good chance we'd only be there a year, I told myself I don't have the luxury of time to spend hating this place. I had to skip straight to the honeymoon!

The reality is we don't even get a year because the commanders' course is in April. Seven months is all we get. Seven. Months. So I'm going to sit here and just list all the things that I like or love about being here. Maybe once I've done that I can stop complaining about having to move so soon, and just start looking forward to North Carolina. That probably makes zero sense, but here goes.

1) House and its location.

If we're going to have a condensed Okinawa tour, there's one huge thing that worked out in our favor, and that's housing. Ordinarily, people move here and live on base and get no other choice. But with so many base houses being renovated, many people are being told to go out in town. The rental market has been inundated and people spend a month or more living in a hotel while they try to find a place to live. Getting the house locked on right away freed us up to just start living here.

When my friend down the street first described Camp Lester and the houses here, it didn't sound all that great. I didn't and still don't know what "tier two" housing is, and why it is not being offered to people; you have to know to ask for it. But I figured if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us, so Tim asked for it at the housing brief and we got offered two houses here.

Like a typical Okinawa house, this house has zero curb appeal. Picture a concrete bunker and you've got our house. But inside it is perfect! It has the exact amount of space we need, no more no less. No huge, huge expanse of living spaces that we're trying to fill with random furniture like on PI. Plenty of natural light pours in throughout the day through a handful of windows. It's an open floor plan, which is very conducive to our family. The kitchen is way bigger than most kitchens here, with ample counter space and more storage than we know what to do with (that is, until our slow shipment arrives).
One of our resident lizards
Speaking of storage -- we have so much upstairs and downstairs. The bedroom closets even have cabinets above them. There's a huge storage space behind the stairs too. In our last house, we had all this space, but no places to put anything away besides the closets! It was so strange. There are certain times of the year when you could really use some hiding places if you know what I mean, and that house had none. This house has lots.

There are two small full bathrooms upstairs, and small bathrooms with itty-bitty sinks are a cinch to keep clean. We also have four bedrooms upstairs. The girls and the boys each share one, and the fourth is a spare.

Besides the house itself, I'm really happy with the neighborhood. For one thing we already knew one family before moving in, and they have introduced us to several more. Our next-door neighbors have all approached us to introduce themselves. Timmy, ever the sociable one, has already made friends with the boys in the surrounding houses. There are plenty of places to play, and the neighborhood is quiet and safe. It's just like Parris Island in that regard, and that's why as a stay-at-home mom with young kids I prefer living on base over the other options, however nice and affordable they may be. I like being part of a community, not just a nice neighborhood. As introverted as I am, I still hate to feel isolated and alone among people who can't be bothered to wave as they walk or drive by. That was how it was living off base in North Carolina, and I won't soon forget it.
Across the road from Camp Lester and in walking distance (as long as it's not the middle of an August day) is Starbucks and Blue Seal Ice Cream. Behind that is Sunset Beach, aptly named because the first night we went there, we saw people lined up along a wall watching the sun go down. The portion of the water that swimmers are allowed in has netting all around it to keep out the jellyfish, and the water is so calm it's hard to believe it's the ocean. It's just like being in a big shallow pool. American Village is about a block away from that. We've walked around there a few times and gotten dinner. At night it is all lit up, colorful and flashing like a mini Las Vegas strip. There's a ferris wheel that the kids can see out their bedroom windows, and a fireworks show on any given weekend night. This place is what first got me thinking that the way people have always described Okinawa to me is very misleading. I remember our first next door neighbors on PI telling me about what a "simple life" it was there with no distractions. I said, "Simpler than here?" She was emphatic that yes, Okinawa has even less to offer than Parris Island, Beaufort and the surrounding area. There were the beaches and some hiking trails and that was about it. Well, maybe a lot has changed since she was there about 8 or 10 years ago, because this place is very built-up and touristy just from the little I've seen with my own eyes. We came from the simple life. This is not the simple life. But I'm OK with that because it's been a fun change of scenery.
This was right outside of Starbucks the same night.
Tim has a 15-minute drive to work in the morning and about a 30-minute one on the way home. (It's a small island, but traffic is heavy.) Unfortunately he works long hours and will be traveling a lot too.

I haven't gotten the lay of the land here by any stretch, but I'm comfortable finding my way to the commissary (five to 15 minutes away depending on the lights), the library, the pool and school. I know enough to get me by, but I have to push myself to venture beyond that. It makes me nervous, but it can be really rewarding. I took Timmy to a fish market across the island a couple weekends ago, and it was only about a 22-minute drive, but it felt so far away. When we got there I had no idea what to get -- we just guessed and pointed to things, and it was all delicious, the stuff we ate there and the stuff we took home for later. We even sampled squid jerky and squid ink. We both gave them a thumbs up.
Timmy was feeling very smug because he had picked out our lunch himself. Also because of this: As I was paying for our meal, I did the math wrong and gave the lady way too much yen (of course I did). She laughed and gave it back, I laughed too, and then she handed me my change, a 500Y coin. Timmy held out his hands for it and without thinking, I just dropped it in his palm. A minute later I realized I'd just handed him basically $5! Keep the change, you filthy animal! So he got to keep that one and I learned my lesson. But every time I'm paying in yen he holds out his hands next to me, hoping I'm distracted enough to just drop the change in. He's bound to get lucky at some point. One more reason I like using credit cards.
Today we drove to the big mall a few miles away. We'd had other, more outdoorsy plans for the first part of the day, but changed them because rain was threatening. Tim missed a turn and Google Maps rerouted us down this hilly, windy, very narrow two-way road.. And I'll tell you, every time I think I'm finally accustomed to being on different sides of the car, this happens. I'm on the side of the car that I used to drive on but feeling completely out of control, like we're about to careen off the edge or hit a telephone pole. It's terrifying. Tim, very amused at my discomfort said, "It's a real Okinawa experience!" I said, "I'm closing my eyes, let me know when it's over." I think I drove down the same road on the way to fish market awhile ago, but it's a completely different experience in the driver's seat.

2) School.

I've always heard people sing the praises of the DoD schools here. After just one week here I don't know enough to form an opinion on this school in particular, but their teachers made a good first impression on me and the kids seem pretty happy so far.
Joey waits eagerly for them to get home and yells, "Annie! Annie!"
Annie's finally lost one of her top two baby teeth! Both girls have lost teeth since we've moved here, and we're finding the Tooth Fairy to be very fickle, sometimes leaving 1000Y for a single tooth, and other times forgetting to come at all.
Their school is about a five-minute drive away depending on traffic, and that alone makes me happy. They spend about 20 to 30 minutes on the bus round trip, and they walk to and from the bus stop which is about a quarter-mile away at the entrance to our neighborhood. In Parris Island, they went to a school that was 25 minutes away by car, but a 45-minute bus ride each way. I really hated that the kids spent so much time getting to and from school, and their days were so long. This was something I really worried about as we prepared to move here. How far away from school would we be, what time would they need to be up, how long would it take to get there? I am very grateful for how it's turned out to be -- it's an answer to many fervent prayers.

3) Nothing in the air or on the ground trying to bite me or sting me.

The heat and humidity are as bad as Parris Island, maybe even worse. But I can handle some sweating because at least I know I'm not getting bitten to pieces by mosquitoes or sand fleas every time I go outside even for a minute. I can also wear sandals and flipflops without looking down all the time watching for fire ants. Anyone who lives in the South knows what I'm talking about.

We go walking and running at night and come back with only an occasional mosquito bite. It's amazing. The ants are all over the place, even inside the house, but they are harmless and I don't care.

We've enjoyed a few meals outside since we've gotten here. Amazing.

Once the weather starts cooling down a bit, I'm afraid Tim really will have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.