Sunday, December 17, 2017

I give up on Okinawa

When we first got to here I was very driven, writing things on the calendar for every weekend -- a new beach, a new park, something -- kind of a bucket list mentality without having written down a real bucket list. I had been fed a steady diet of "you need to do this!" and "you need to do that!" by everyone who'd ever been here, from the time I announced we had orders. It was nice for awhile, but a little exhausting. So much to see and do, so little time! I wanted to hit up all the good beaches. Then while we were stuck inside one weekend after another either due to typhoon conditions or restricted liberty status due to events outside our control, summer abruptly turned to fall, then to winter (winter mostly characterized by temperatures of around 60 and lots of rain). My checklist got squashed after I cancelled Okuma resort for the second time. My expectations plummeted from way up there to waaaay down here.

And you know what? It's been a good thing. I'm back to appreciating the little things and not getting all worked up over plans that don't work out. I'm enjoying this lull before we have to gear up for the move back to the States. We're having a low-key holiday season over here. The biggest plans we have for the next two weeks are a viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (whenever a certain child stops being difficult and starts being deserving of such an outing), and a visit to the third biggest aquarium in the world. 

In the meantime I'm content. I love this little neighborhood we live in where the kids have the freedom and space to run and bike all over the place. I enjoy taking a walk at sunset with a couple of the kids, letting Annie buy herself a smoothie at the Shoppette. I look forward to our dinners out every Saturday, and now that we've finally found a babysitter, Tim and I will be getting out by ourselves soon. We won't even need to go far! We can walk over to American Village and eat somewhere that we wouldn't with all our picky kids in tow.

It took throwing up my hands and "giving up on Okinawa" to make me come back to the realization that we are simple people. We are happiest and most grateful when we're in our own little bubble, wherever that happens to be, just enjoying one another.

We take a lot of pictures and I don't blog a whole lot anymore, so here's a photo dump from the last month or two. (Also to serve as proof I have more kids than just Joey.)
Coach Dad 
The best we could manage on Thanksgiving Day
Tim is so uncomfortable here, it cracks me up. Western style seating for us, please!
Delaney has gotten involved with the Okinawan American Animal Rescue Society here, and just loves it. She has signed up for every event she can, and has a nice collection of t-shirts she'll eventually grow into. She also got herself a dog-sitting job for a week this Christmas with a cute Boston named Sushi. She is going to be in heaven. I have to say, I am looking forward to seeing this girl with a dog of her own.
My favorite decorations are the origami Christmas trees the girls made. 
A street on Camp Lester

Friday, December 15, 2017

Joey is TWO!

I just love this little face.

Our Joe turned two yesterday, and birthdays at this age are the best. The kids all counted down the days almost as eagerly as they count down to Christmas, because they couldn't wait to sing 'happy birthday' to their baby brother and lavish him with gifts and extra love.
We began the day by seeing the Big 3 off to school and heading to the naval hospital for his well visit. Joey is a hale and hearty 25.4 pounds and 33 inches tall. He's sitting just under the 20th percentile for his age. He stood on the scale and put his feet against the wall to be measured, no problem. After chatting with the doctor about what a bad sleeper and picky eater he is, he trotted out the door after her when she offered him stickers. No shots were due so it was an easy appointment.

Back home I got the house in order, made lunch and let him play outside before his nap. He happily pushed around his handmedown Strider Bike friends gave us a few days ago, and the scooter that he's commandeered from Timmy (both of which he's still too small and uncoordinated to use, but no matter). During his nap I baked his cake and blew up a bunch of balloons. When he woke up cranky as usual, I brought him downstairs and he saw those balloons and forgot all about being cranky. First he batted them around every which way, then tried putting them in the cabinets and in the kitchen sink.

Annie and Timmy came home, Tim got home from work early, I picked Delaney up from school where she'd stayed for board game club, and then came back home. When the breakfast casserole stubbornly refused to be done, and Tim and Timmy were going to have to leave for basketball soon, we were left with no other choice -- dessert before dinner!
It was everybody's lucky day. Here is the link to the video of Joey as we sing happy birthday to him. Maybe one of these days Blogger will make it easier to embed videos, but not today. I loved watching his expression as it changed from one of bewilderment to enjoyment.
He ate nearly all his cake and ice cream, and unlike last year, was a very polite young man with his fork. Once we were done with that it was time for presents. It was a bit chaotic, but once the dust settled Joey had some nice new things from us and his grandparents, including a toy truck, motorcycle pajamas, some clothes, books and a Plasma Car. He's got quite the collection of wheeled things now!

At two he seems to be changing at warp speed. I felt like even just driving away from his checkup he was talking even more than he'd been going in. He says short phrases and sentences now, like "Baby crying", "kids school," "Annie meanie", and "Mama, (where) are you?" Whenever I sing he says, "Mama, sop!"
He loves his outside time, and the weather here is beautiful this time of year so we're outside every day. After lunch and before nap I sit out back and watch him play and sometimes follow as he wanders around the grassy area behind our houses. I know my favorite memories are going to end up being those times. Then once the other kids get home from school, he can't wait for Annie to take him to the "gound" (playground). He needs lots of time outside. He turns into a little monster without it.

He really enjoys his baths too, and has one just about every day, many times on request. Every time he poops and doesn't like me wiping him a whole lot, he says, "Bah! Bah!" Sometimes it is easier to just plunk him in the bath than to wipe him completely clean.
He nurses just once a day, right before I put him to bed. As part of our bedtime routine I read him a story and then let him make his rounds giving out goodnight kisses. He goes down easily by 7:30, usually with a little car, truck or train in each hand. Sometimes he sleeps through the night, but more often than not he wakes up once or twice and needs to be resettled. We had a few really bad nights this month that made me desperate enough to reach out the Young Living rep on Oki and order him a weighted blanket from Etsy. Still waiting on the blanket, and my meeting with the busy Young Living rep isn't until the 20th. When I'm not having the really bad nights I don't mind waiting forever, but when he's waking up four, five or six + times in a night, I feel like I wait forever for anything that might give me relief.

He might drive me crazy sometimes, but I sure do love this little man.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Two Advents ago

Two years ago when I was writing down Joey's birth story, this is where I began it at first -- a full 24 hours before his arrival. But when I started to write it it all just felt too ponderous and long, and I didn't think anyone would hang in to the end if I started it that far back. If I had decided to write his birth story in two parts, part one would have begun at Mass the day before.

I was at 40 + 4 and  I was in a horrible mood. With the first three kids, I had not even come within three days of my due date, so this pregnancy should have been long over as far as I was concerned. I was exhausted, encumbered by my enormous belly which made getting dressed, sleeping, and everything in between difficult. Tim's mom sat in the pew with us for the last time. She had been staying with us since Thanksgiving and she'd be flying back home the next morning. I don't even know if I could adequately convey in words how unbearable it was the last week of carrying Joe. I was embarrassed even to go out in public with this big round belly preceding me everywhere and making people's eyes bug out of their heads. I had recently left the post office and a Marine walking toward me said, "Woah!" I didn't even want to be at church today. I wanted to stay at home and hide, and just throw myself the biggest pity party.

During the petitions, one of the prayers was for expectant mothers. There were only about 20 people in that tiny chapel altogether, so it was obvious they were all praying for me. It was all about me, ha ha. My eyeballs sprang a tiny leak. When the offertory hymn played, I don't remember what it was, but I remember how it hit me square in the feels -- a solemn sounding advent song about waiting and longing. It was getting to be too much. My eyeballs leaked faster, and I quickly soaked a couple of tissues. My face started to grow hot and I realized that I was about to have a full on ugly cry, and once it's coming there's no stopping it. I had to get out of there fast. Rather than rush out alone, I grabbed Timmy so I could pretend it was his bathroom emergency that was propelling me to the back of the chapel. I kept my head down and looked behind me several times to make sure he was following.

I was out in the fresh air and home free, my face crumpling and the snot and tears running. Then I rounded the corner of the building to go to the rear entrance where the bathrooms and sitting room were, and came face to face with someone I knew -- another mom of four on her way back with one of her littles. Looking into her shocked and concerned face I said, "This isn't as bad as it looks!"

She went with me to the back room and there was another mom back there with her kids too. I talked, they listened, they gave me more tissues, they told their own stories, we laughed, I blew my nose a thousand times, and my tears stopped. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. I hadn't even known how much energy I had put into bottling up my feelings, and it was such a relief to let it out.

I don't know why such a rough morning turned out to be one of my most cherished memories, but it's what popped into my mind when a member of my bible study shared that she just learned that she's pregnant and thrilled that she'll be spending the rest of Advent pregnant. My sister Grace is due in January, and I wonder if she ever finds herself feeling a little overcome as she sits in the pew hearing those songs and waiting for her own baby boy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Joey: 23 Months

Very early this morning I looked at the clock when I heard Joey whimpering, and thought, It's been four hours. Great! Yep, things have gotten that bad, and our almost-two-year-old is sleeping worse than he did as an infant. I don't know why. No new molars, no big changes, only one very short-lived sickness .. I am stumped as to why we're having these issues. He has no trouble falling asleep when I lay him down around 7, but for about the past week starting at 11 he wakes up as often as once or even twice an hour. I go in there, tell him to go back to sleep and cover him up with his blankie. And he does .. but then a while later he's up again. The closer we get to morning, the worse it gets. Our "Mr. Clock" worked well for the girls with early rising, but it's since gotten old and can not be relied upon to always be yellow or blue at the right times. Then I read yesterday while Googling about toddler sleep, that most nightlights inhibit the production of melatonin. The "soothing" colors of blue and green are the main culprits. Once I read that, I banished Mr. Clock to the spare room, which is just a way to delay throwing it away. I'm so bummed because I'd planned on getting Joey a different kind of clock from Amazon that was newer and better, but I think it's blue at night too. Now I don't know what to do.
I started saving most of Timmy's things around the time I started thinking maybe there'd be another baby, so starting around 2T. I'm so glad I did because I love seeing my favorite things of Timmy's a second time -- like this Superman shirt. He also has a green airplane shirt that is so soft and has three-quarter sleeves which are the best! and so hard to find.
During the day he's pretty much his normal self, although he does tire out more quickly since his nighttime sleep has taken a turn for the worse. He's talking more and more, and starting to put words together too. His word choice in some situations makes us laugh. One time he was begging to go outside, and really getting upset because he was being ignored. "'Side .. 'side .. 'side!" he called, starting to cry. At last Annie said, "OK, Joey, I'll take you outside." "Fine!" he said, instantly done crying.
Once I told Timmy to go upstairs and take a bath, but he was trying to procrastinate. Joey wanted a bath with him so he went up the stairs and called down, "Mee (that's how he says Timmy -- that or just "ee")! Baf! Now!"

He accuses all of us at different times of being mean. "Mean Annie!" "Mama.. mean."
This is the green airplane shirt! And the yucky teeth are from cookies 'n cream ice cream.
At any given time if he's upset and I ask him what the matter is, he says, "Aaaa-niie.." We have a running joke that it's always Annie to blame when Joe's upset, and then I come after Annie threatening her with punishments. "What should we do, Joe? Throw her out?" But at the same time he loves Annie and is most excited to see her when they get home from school.
He still runs like a drunk pigeon, and I love it.

He's started letting me read him books instead of just impatiently flipping back and forth through the pages, and wanting to talk about the pictures.
He's figured out doorknobs.:( Darn it. Must buy doorknob covers and hope those keep him fooled for a good long time.

His current favorite toys are his "ga-go" (motorcycle) and his "dus" (bus). For some strange reason he can pronounce the "b" sound in every other word besides bus. We're giving him a plasma car for his birthday, and I can't wait. We're going to tell him it's a "ga-go".
He wasn't much help looking for sea glass, but he had a blast picking up rocks and shells and throwing them in the water.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October and my best-laid plans

From time to time, Tim will say something about how he can't wait to get back to the good old US of A, and one of the kids will chime in agreeing. And then I will lecture them all, hands on hips, "Soon enough, we will be back in eastern North Carolina where there's one beach to go to, and we love it; and there will be one place to shop and one park and one place we like to eat sushi. And we'll love it. We can enjoy that familiarity for the rest of our lives. We get one shot at living here and making the most of it. One. (Says the woman who cried to her mom on the phone about having to come here.) When do you think the Marine Corps is going to send us to another country, to experience another culture, and see things we would never get to see otherwise? Never again, probably. This is it. And we've got 5 months left." (At that Tim's eyes light up. 5 months -- yay! Everyone else stopped listening to me long ago.)

I can get why Tim's in a hurry to leave, with his 10 hour days at a job he doesn't like. I will be happy to get back to the east coast too, but I know what lies between here and there: selling cars, pulling the kids out of school before the end of third quarter, organizing, packing, and living out of suitcases, and saying goodbyes. I don't even want to think about it.

Why the kids can't like being here for a few months, I'll never know. They are just along for the ride -- they don't have to work or figure out where or what to eat on any given day. But in an effort to make sure these naysayers can at least one day look back and appreciate being here, I try to put at least one or two new things to see or do together on the calendar. There are so many things I want to do with them here, and so little time.

October was going to be the best month yet. Then we got typhoons on two back-to-back weekends, forcing us to spend our Saturdays hunkered down inside. I had to cancel my long-anticipated weekend at Okuma with friends. I won't lie. My attitude stunk. But I rescheduled Okuma, and in the wake of the storms the weather has cooled and it has never been more beautiful. Life always has its ups or downs. I always wish I was a little better at coping when life interferes with my plans. Maybe one day.

We had a wonderful Halloween/ All Hallow's Eve, that began (for Joey and me) with a rosary on the beach with my bible study group this morning and ended with trick-or-treating.
Our neighborhood had crowds the likes of which people said they'd never seen. Everyone ran out of candy in no time. The three big kids ran off on their own, and came back with surprisingly little for how many houses they must have been to. I'd be suspicious of that, but we did see them running by from time to time, and I know they were too busy to be digging into their stash early. Tim and I walked around with our little Yoda, who was so cute and excited after his first few confusing minutes. I get candy? But I don't get to eat it now? We have to keep going? There were some scary houses, but the only time he got scared was when he saw a grownup in a costume. I couldn't get him to say "trick or treat", but he did say, "'Kyou!" (Thank you)

I have a feeling November is going to fly.

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.