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Rated: E · Book · Personal · #2116848
The misadventures of a full-time working/ housekeeping parent! Quill nominee.
The Wife & The Kid, age 2.

So that's the Wife and the Kid in the photo. Not the Better Wife -- that's me. Or at least who I'm forced to be, and try to keep being, most of the time. I've never blogged before, and never felt inclined to do so. Before I got married, I was too busy gaming. *Computer* World of Warcraft demands a great deal of your time, devotion, and sanity, especially if you're in an end-game raiding guild. After I got married, I was too busy being married. It turns out that being a husband, a father, a homemaker, and a professional rent-maker is even more demanding than being a guildmaster! Now who could have imagined that? Well, certainly not me. *Sob*

When I started this blog a few months ago, I had kind of reached a boiling point. I was stressed out juggling all my commitments and responsibilities, and had hit the Mariana Trench in my career. I'm still mired in the deeps, and during this period I needed something else in my life to haul me out. It turned out that poverty is not conducive to creating a healthy and supportive home environment.

To add to my depressing financial straits, Lynx's (the Kid) health started deteriorating. From one epileptic fit a month, he started suffering up to three times, sometimes within a single day. Numerous hospital visits and specialist consultations ensued, forcing me to take unpaid leave from a minimum wage job that paid me less than half of what I made as a fresh graduate -- twenty years ago. Silent blame from the Wife began to seep out through resentful tones and then blatant accusations. In this era of 'empowered females', somehow men are expected to earn more and do more at home as well. Ironic, isn't it?

What I'm going through is similar to what many women go through every day, and only a tiny fraction of what my mother and the working women of her generation endured. But one thing I am denied which most women enjoy is a group of confidantes they can open up to. Most men I know aren't comfortable talking about, or listening to another guy talk about their emotions and struggles. Maybe it's an ego thing, or machismo speaking. Maybe I need to grow out my hair and a pair of boobs, slap on some makeup before a guy would at least pretend to listen and commiserate.

Anyway that's when the blog started, and I started pouring out bits and pieces of my frustrations and elations into the nether of digital space. Cloud9 is there was one of my first few readers, and I enjoyed chatting with her through blog comments tremendously. She's helped me so much by providing perspective and sharing her own stories and experiences with her own family and children.

That's what this is -- a little space where I occasionally come in and rant or share odd, interesting, or exciting events in my never-mundane life. A space I hope will attract a few others to come in sometimes, look around and share some words. Enjoy sharing my life with me!

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September 13, 2018 at 11:34am
September 13, 2018 at 11:34am
I received a scathing review for a piece I was quite proud of not long ago. Essentially the review highlighted every figurative and ambiguous aspect I had carefully woven in, and complained about the lack of clarity. Since that came from the judge of a contest, I don't have any expectations of doing well in it now. I simply reminded myself that everyone was entitled to their own opinion, and that no matter how hard I try, my work couldn't possibly touch everyone the way I intend it to. And sometimes, getting feedback to that effect helps point out the areas that do need to be improved. That's the whole point of reviewing and getting reviewed, right?

However, it wasn't so much that I got a negative review that bothered me, but how it was presented. No one likes being told 'I don't like what you did here.' Yet we do find ourselves in situations where we have to say something to that effect to someone -- perhaps someone is talking too loudly or creating a commotion in a public place, or 'stole' your parking spot just as you were aligning yourself to reverse in. How we give that message is important -- it could lead to conflict, and generally spoil someone else's day, or it could be a great exercise in kindness and personal growth.

As much as I reminded myself not to act that way, I found myself giving a not-too-positive review myself today upon receiving a review request. The chapter I reviewed had a mix of positive and negative features, and somehow the negative ones stuck out more. A lot of effort had obviously gone into its crafting, but the effect was unfortunately not commensurate with the investment. It reminded me a lot of what I had done with my first novel full of purple prose I'm ashamed to show others now. While I tried to sound positive, I was only all too aware that there was only a smidgeon of genuine, enthusiastic praise mixed in; most of the review pointed out areas that needed work and while it offered some suggestions, on the whole I felt it lacked more positivity. But I was in a hurry and I just sent it out anyway.

A while later, I discovered that the writer was actually writing in his second language after visiting his portfolio and reading his bio. Considering that, what he had done was actually far more remarkable than I had given him credit for. Contrite, I emailed him and apologised for not being more positive in my review and encouraged him to keep writing and improving. He replied and was very kind to me, despite my earlier insensitivity.

What I got out of this whole experience was how much our actions impact others. For writers especially, reviews can be either very uplifting or hurtful. We want our work to be well-received, to make the kind of impact we hope for. Even if it falls short of the mark, we do want to be let down gently -- at least for most of us, I think. When we 'assert our superiority' by simply pointing out the flaws in others (and their works) and expressing our dissatisfaction, thereby demonstrating how high our own standards are and how far short of our mark the reviewed item is, I think that the effect could ripple negatively. Somewhere in the back of my mind when I was writing my unkind review, I was thinking to myself 'this isn't anywhere near as scathing as the one I got, and all my criticisms are valid anyway'. The negativity I received from that review somehow spilled over into my review, and it could have kept going on and on. Conversely, if we choose to be kind all the time, regardless of how we were treated first or in return, I believe we pass it forward. My resolution now is to make it a habit to choose kindness and tact over brutal honesty, perhaps even when the latter is asked for. When it comes to writing, being harsh (even if on point) is unlikely to produce improvement, I don't think.

And my questions for today's blog are: How have you treated someone else in a way you regretted afterwards? What has happened to you before that spoiled your entire day (or week)?
September 9, 2018 at 11:39pm
September 9, 2018 at 11:39pm
Shift work is tough. After about three weeks of going to and coming back from work at all hours, and basically disrupting any semblance of order that two decades of doing a normal seven-to-fiveish job have accustomed me to, I respect the hell out of the raft loads of people who do it. Service staff in the food & beverage, hospitality, medical care industries, just to name a few off the top of my head. Even when I was pulling night guard duty patrols in the army, or sentry duty shifts as an expedition guide, it was completely different -- or maybe those were just too long ago, when I was much younger and could take much more of anything. I've got a six-day stretch starting tomorrow, and I find myself having to remind myself I went through much worse in the army just to preserve my mental health.

As I think I already mentioned in my previous entry, the actual work isn't really that taxing -- it's very much like what I do at home on a daily basis, except instead of serving my family, I'm serving dozens of other families, and I've got to learn my way around a much larger kitchen. I'm learning some nifty skills such as how to bend down while keeping a tray balanced, the proper way to open and pour a bottle of wine etc. But otherwise it's pretty much doing the same 'household chores' over and over again. It only further convinces me that that ALL homemakers should be paid for what they do!

What I hate the most is missing all the time I used to be able to spend with my family -- evenings, entire weekends, and public holidays. Now my off days are at the mercy of an unsympathetic manager who cares nothing about work-life balance, only about balancing his labor needs for each day. There's absolutely no guarantee that I'll be able to spend even a weekend day once a week with my kid, since Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest. I really, really, really hate that.

Searching for positives has awakened me to what I value most above everything else in my life right now -- my family, specifically spending time with them. It makes me cherish every moment I get to spend with them even more. I took Lynx swimming again yesterday -- the last weekend day I have with him this month sadly. It was great. I make sure we never rush from place to place, but take time to stop and -- spot snails and smell the ixoras.

That's right. It's been rainy lately, which means the snails are coming up from the ground more often. We have some strange kind of fruit tree I cannot identify in the shared yard downstairs, as well as several flower bushes. We love looking for snails on the underside of leaves, and trying to find every single one of them, as we pass by on the way to the car. Lynx loves red and simply can't help plucking off a single stalk of ixora from one of the plentiful clusters. I haven't taught him how to pull out the stem yet -- sometimes you can extract a tiny drop of nectar to lick up if you do it just right. But looking forward to moments like these, no matter how brief, are all I have now to keep me going, when entire lazy days together are no longer possible. They'll have to be enough.

And my questions for today's blog are: What are the little things you enjoy doing with your family, or for yourself? What do you find yourself looking forward to at the end of a long work week?
September 4, 2018 at 11:00am
September 4, 2018 at 11:00am
It's been difficult writing this blog lately. Life seems to be throwing all sorts of upheavals, trauma, and tragedies at me ever since we moved here to Okinawa. We haven't even been here three years, and already I've had enough for three lifetimes. Throughout the first two years, we've had to grapple with Lynx's poor constitution and frequent epileptic attacks. Barely four months in, my grandma who raised me through a difficult adolescence passed away. A scheming and ambitious colleague contrived to lose me my job (she succeeded, only for karma to bite her when she suffered a stroke a few months later). My aunt lost her fight with cancer, and my uncle succumbed to Parkinson's not long after (ostensibly, although I suspect grief had a lot to do with it). Then just two months ago, I had the luck to be stricken by some rare case of blood infection and nearly died. Less than two weeks after I pushed myself to return to work, I was fired.

So while I was still going back to the hospital daily for my shots, I also had to start looking for another job. No school I knew was hiring so I turned to other industries; I was desperate since we needed both incomes to support the family. Only the hotels and resorts on the island were hiring, and so after almost twenty years I ended my career as a teacher and became a waiter.

Well, the only thing I can say is I'm definitely going to write a book about this. It'll probably have the title of this blog post, and hopefully I'll be able to share my experiences and provide some encouragement to many others who get retrenched or lose their jobs for one reason or other and find themselves in similarly dire straits, or worse.

Let me get some of the bad off the chest and out of the way first. Being on your feet for hours and basically doing all the kinds of things I do at home every day for my family isn't anywhere near the worst part of it. The managers are next to hopeless, but I kind of expected that anyway. Seriously in all my years of work (thirty years if you consider the fact that I started at twelve years of age), I've only had one decent manager (my first English head of department who mentored me). Everyone else plain sucked; some were just evil and mean. I'm going to give one example from two days ago here -- while folding napkins with another waitress (which is the only time we might get to sit down provided there are no customers around), I decided to take the opportunity to get to know my colleagues. The supervisor came along and said, "Do we need two people folding napkins? Why doesn't one of you go wipe the walls? We've got an inspection coming sometime next month. And I do not want to hear people chatting while working!"

Wow. But if you've been in the army like me (I know some of you have), this sort of treatment's nothing new. After all, sergeants get paid to yell at you and make you do all kinds of s*** all the time, right? No. The worst thing is the late hours and working weekends. By the time I get home between 1-1:30 a.m., Lynx is asleep and doesn't feel the kiss I give him first thing I do. I see him for ten minutes in the morning when I drive him to school, still snoozing in his tiny school uniform, and that's it. Once a week is all I get to hang out all day with him, to go to the pool and swim or visit the zoo. That makes me cry.

The good thing is, I actually get paid more as a waiter than at the non-profit school I was formerly at. That job paid me less than half what I got as a fresh grad, but I just told myself, "Do it for the kids. Somebody's gonna teach them, and their last English teacher thought a semi-colon was some part of the body." *RollEyes* Now I'm just going through this for my kid; I'm done with other people's kids. I'm done with places that care more about profits than the people making them those profits.

I wish I could wash my hands off just like that -- declare that I'm done and that's it. No. I have a family to feed, and a mortgage to pay off like most everybody else. Lynx is finally learning to share without making a fuss -- the other day, he gave half of the trains he was playing with to a girl he didn't know, who was simply watching him wistfully. He's learning to correct himself without melting down, laughing at his own mistakes and going, "Boo-boo!" There's so much more I know he'll learn, maybe not always as quickly or smoothly as we'd prefer, but my real job is making sure that he does -- that he grows up being loved, and becoming a kind and considerate human being who wants to help others and give back to the world that nurtured him. To make that happen, I'll go through ANY s***.

And my questions for today's blog are: What keeps you going through the worst stretches of life? What do you consider to be your most important purpose in life?
August 18, 2018 at 11:44pm
August 18, 2018 at 11:44pm
Whew. After over two weeks of constant bickering, screaming, and crying, I finally have peace in the house again. The grandparents and cousin have gone back to the mainland, and the crazy is over for now.

It puzzles me why Lynx and Rito can't get along, since they can get along with other children. I know they're both the only child in the family and used to getting their own way, but Lynx's other cousin Nalo as well as his best friend in Okinawa A-kun are also the only child, and they've never fought as much or as fiercely as these two. The Wife tells me Rito suffers from insecurity issues, and if that's true, I suppose that would have some bearing on the situation. It can't be easy being apart from your own parents for so long, staying in another kid's house watching him with ALL his toys, getting ALL the attention and pampering he wants, while you only have one soft toy to hug when you need some physical affection.

More obviously and concerningly, Rito suffers from a weight problem. He's not quite obese yet despite the rolls of fat around his middle, still keeping within a healthy BMI at 30kg spread over 130cm. However he loves to eat and can't control himself, as in even when he's full, he wants to keep eating if his favourite food is still on the table. Twice during his stay here, I've witnessed him stuff himself so full and then run off to play, only to throw up everything later from over-exertion... He eats more than I do, and I'm a full-grown adult. One dinner, we were passing round the fried chicken, and he had already wolfed down four pieces before the plate got to me!

In contrast, Lynx hardly ever eats. So what happens is that Grandma keeps piling his plate with his favourite food and then coaxes him to eat, and when he does she encourages him to eat more. But when Rito stuffs down his fourth spring roll and sixth piece of chicken, eyes the remaining pieces on the table and asks about dessert, both grandparents tell him no. This makes him pout, and I guess from his point-of-view, what he sees is grandparents doting preferentially on one grandchild getting him to eat more, while stopping him from doing what he loves. So when he is asked to give in later when they both fight over the same toy because he is older, he gets really upset and throws tantrums Lynx would be proud of.

Lynx is naturally active, and on Okinawa's sunny beaches and playground-filled locales, he gets plenty of exercise outdoors. Rito lives up north in Morioka, where it snows and is tolerably warm only one month of the year tops. A forty-five minute walk to school every day keeps him in decent shape, but he doesn't get many playgrounds and jungle gyms. So even though he should be far more accomplished physically than someone three years younger (and Lynx is no natural athlete, but thankfully he's no klutz either), he finds himself getting showed up all the time. Lynx climbs better, seems more fearless, and is physically stronger for his weight, which is only natural considering their different environments. But this can be cause for resentment as well.

Every day when I go pick up Lynx from school, Rito tags along. Part of the reason is that I bring them both to a park to play for about an hour before going back for dinner. There are enough parks and playgrounds within a five-minute drive around to bring them to a different one every single day. Their favourite game is Escape-The-Monster, where I play the titular part and mock-chase them around. I also make sure they get plenty of climbing, hanging, and balancing. Naturally I'm proud that Lynx can do the monkey bars all the way to the end by himself, and am training him to land from almost twice his height. Rito is too heavy to swing to the next bar without someone holding him up by the armpits, although I know that with practice he'll develop the strength to do it.

When climbing rock walls (the tallest ones are about two meters tall with safety nets below), Lynx has been taught frequently by me to use his legs and shift his weight around. If he ever gets to a point where he feels stuck, I never pluck him off the wall. Instead, I simply tell him to change his foothold and find a different route. On one of these walls, I find myself encouraging Rito to climb to the top which joins up to a plank way leading to a slide. Halfway up where the gap between holds was perhaps 10cm wider, he stopped.

"What's wrong? You can reach the holds, right?" I asked.

"I'm scared," he replied, tearing up and starting to climb down.

On the way home in the car, Rito became a complete pest. We started talking about what they wanted to do after dinner, and Lynx said he wanted to play with Shaun the Sheep.

"Well, you'll have to ask Rito nicely because it's his toy."

He did, but Rito replied, "Shaun needs to rest tonight, so you can't play with him."

Lynx was disappointed, but I managed to distract him from dwelling on it and getting upset by getting him to sing along to a familiar song on the radio. However Rito could not stop harping on it. He kept tapping Lynx on the shoulder from the backseat, and needling, "You can't play with Shaun, okay?" Over the five-minute drive, he must have repeated this about a dozen times. When he did this again as we were leaving the car to go home, I finally blew my top.

"Stop reminding him of that. Lynx has already forgotten all about Shaun and is just happily singing his songs now, why must you keep bringing this up?" I scolded him fiercely. I've never scolded him before, no matter how bratty he was because I don't like disciplining other people's children (unless they pay me for it -- hey, I'm a teacher!). His face paled visibly and tears brimmed in his eyes. I was too fed up to care.

The thing is that being older doesn't necessarily make you stronger, wiser, or better. You certainly have more time to become that, but without the necessary experiences and practice, age doesn't actually make much of a difference, even though our expectations are different. Rito is bigger and more articulate than Lynx. However he is no better than Lynx at sharing or managing his emotions simply because he never had to. He's worse at physical sports because he doesn't get enough exposure and practice at them. Yet as adults we keep expecting him to be better simply because he's older. Perhaps we should reexamine our expectations and the unreasonable pressure we place on children to behave a certain way or perform to a certain standard when we've done little in the way of scaffolding?

And my questions for today's blog are: Have you ever lost your cool with someone else's kid? Do you find yourself comparing children, even when you know the comparison isn't fair?
August 5, 2018 at 5:43am
August 5, 2018 at 5:43am
Lynx's grandparents and cousin Rito are here to visit, and naturally it's been chaos. It began wonderfully the first evening with presents.

"Look -- it's Sarge! Sally! Smokey! And Red!" Lynx excitedly tore off the plastic wrappings and waved them in my face. "Arigatou! Rito ga daisuki!" (Thank you! I love you, Rito!)

The best was a padded Spiderman costume that Lynx ran around in the entire evening fighting crime. He proudly wore it to the store as well, despite Halloween being more than two months away. Alas, pulling on a superhero costume doesn't change what's beneath, and the next day we had two super villains on our hands.

Day One was like:
"I want the watermelon ball."
"You have one of your own. This one's mine."
"But I want it."
"Well, you can't have it, cos it's mine."
Cue wailing and trying to kick holes into the floor.

Day Two was like:
"I want to ride the Stryder."
"Well, you can't cos I'm riding it now."
"It's my Stryder."
"No, it was originally mine but I gave it to you, but I want it back now."
Cue indignant blocking of the hallway and mini-Spiderman crying and chasing after the green Goblin Stryder.

And Day Three was like:
"I want Shaun the Sheep."
"Okay. I'll put him between us while we watch the movie."
"He's sitting too close to you."
"Don't pull him or he'll break!"
"Then let him sit closer to me!"
Cue tugging and kicking at each other's legs while 2D Shaun grins and shrugs on the screen.

Grandma's default response would be to persuade Rito, older by about three years, to give in to his younger cousin. However, being an only child, he is not in the habit of sharing or giving in to someone else. "Why should I have to share? He doesn't share!"

When I get home from work, I would be greeted by crying and arguing... Well, I take the opportunity to train Lynx to ask nicely, and to accept that he can't always get what he wants.
*Loud, irritating, unbelievably unending crying*
"Lynx, do you want the watermelon ball/ Stryder/ Shaun the Sheep?"
*Still crying, but quieter, and nodding*
"Okay, do you want me to help?"
*More nodding*
"First, you have to calm down and come give me a hug. Then I'll help you."
*Stops crying and comes over to hug me*
"Okay, if you want something, you have to ask nicely. Not scream and cry and kick. Nobody likes that. Let's go ask nicely, okay?"
"Rito, may I have the watermelon ball/ Stryder/ Shaun the Sheep, please? Go on, ask him nicely."
*repeats after me*
"Okay, but only for ten minutes!"
"Look, Rito will let you have it for ten minutes, but you must make sure to give it back, okay? Can you do that?"
"All right, what do you say when someone shares something with you?"
"Thank you."

I wish Lynx would learn to ask nicely by himself, but until he does I'll just have to keep modelling the process for him. It's honestly the last thing I want to be doing right now, but Lynx needs it. He's an only child too, and needs to learn better social skills than he has now. Too often, I'm tempted to go down the 'he should be acting this way at his age already' for one or both of them, just allow myself to get fed up and wash my hands off whatever new quarrel they're in. And God, do they keep finding new things to fight over. It's practically one minute of peace and laughing, followed by ten minutes of yelling and crying. I wonder if I was that way with my siblings when I was young as well? I guess only my Mom would remember.

And my questions for today's blog are: How do things go when relatives come to stay with you? Do you look forward to or dread relatives coming to visit?
July 22, 2018 at 7:52am
July 22, 2018 at 7:52am
Muruku Beach is a tiny stretch of sand, northward-facing and sheltered from the long-rollers of the Pacific by the weathered cliffs of the headland next to it. The luxurious Hamahiga Hotel overlooks it above hundreds of rickety steps, where I am sure the views from its infinity pool are spectacular. The view down by the 'private' beach suits me just fine.

Weeks into the popular summer months when average hotels charge over $400 per person per night and still enjoy close to full occupancy rates, all because of Okinawa's famed beaches and vast expanses of clear turquoise waters, Muruku Beach found only five families trampling its shores. Few people know about its existence, even the locals. Most people believe it to be the hotel's private beach, which is a rumour I am happy to perpetuate. It allows me to enjoy a rare summer luxury -- a beautiful beach unthronged by crowds of tourists despoiling its tranquility.

On this day, a handful of snorkelers and a rainbow-coloured unicorn are in the water before Lynx and I charge in. The great thing about swimming in the sea is that you don't actually have to do anything to have fun. Simply bracing ourselves against the next wave coming in, bobbing up and down, and trying not to get your face splashed gave us more than enough thrills. When a poisonous jellyfish attacked the unicorn-float rider and gave her two long red lashes across her thigh, we decided to seek safer thrills out of the water.

"Why aren't those snorkelers getting out?" I asked my wife.

"They're hunting for the jellyfish. It's a menace to all the swimmers here."

The little girl who was probably about seven or eight had red eyes from crying and a towel draped over her injured thigh. When they finally caught the culprit, they brought it to her in a poled net. I'm no marine expert, but the head-sized creature looked humongous. The girl was encouraged to touch the safe parts by a seasoned marine staff, who identified the stinger. Lynx refused to even go near it, and the little girl could not be persuaded to come into contact with it again, despite her mother's tentative demonstration.

Ocean creatures 1, Mankind 0.

We decided to pick on easier, less dangerous opponents. The beach crawled with hundreds of hermit crabs in their colourful shells of all shapes and sizes. Lynx used them for target practice with his water gun, determinedly shooting them with jets of seawater. I must have refilled the gun about a dozen times before I suggested that we capture them instead. Lynx was terrified of touching them, however, so he became the spotter. Every time he found one, he would run over and call for me to grab it and toss it into the small red bucket he held. After about thirty or forty captures, he finally decided to try catch one himself.

"Just grab it quickly and throw it in," I told him.

He was very careful not to let the legs touch him, although once of twice he let go with a yelp when he felt them crawl over his fingers.

"Try it again. They won't hurt you."

And he did. I became the spotter for the next seventy or eighty captures, and after scouring the entire beach we returned with a bucket filled almost to the brim. The crabs crawled over one another to reach the rim and fall out from the side, and Lynx looked at their efforts with equal parts fascination and horror. After we proudly showed them off to the Wife, who was napping under an outcrop of limestone that provided good shade, we tipped the bucket and let them all go.

What a sight it was! Over a hundred colourful shells, almost a thousand scuttling legs, a tiny army of creatures marching home across the sand. Does that count as a win for us? For me, a big resounding yes. Lynx conquered his fear of creepy-crawly legs and took down dozens of the 'enemy' all by himself!

Ocean creatures 1, Mankind 1. Parity restored.

And my questions for today's blog are: What do you do at the beach? How do you feel about hermit crabs and letting them crawl on you?
July 20, 2018 at 9:54pm
July 20, 2018 at 9:54pm
I'm still getting used to saying 'Lynx is four now'. Suddenly he doesn't seem quite as tall for his age as before. His cutesy fragmented speech while his younger classmates reel off rapidly in complete sentences makes me feel more painfully self-conscious. His garbled songs where he simply mumbles until a word he knows pops up and he just roars that out loud still entertain, but every time I aimlessly surf Youtube it seems I come across more precocious three-year olds singing in perfect pitch and complete songs for the camera...

Technology has indeed made the world smaller; now if only it'll stop trying to make us all feel smaller as well.

While it's nothing shout-worthy, I do love Lynx's interest and 'skill' at doing jigsaw puzzles. He has about five of them, four of Pixar's Cars or vehicles and one of animals, and he focuses for up to half an hour at a time to get each one done. Since he's completed each one so many times, he has already memorised where each exact piece goes and what it is a part of. "That's Sarge! Cruz! Francesco! Over here!" When he insists that I help him or we do one together, I have a system I always use being somewhat on the OCD spectrum. I prefer to flip over all the pieces so that each faces up, and I always start with the sides and corners then work inwards. Lynx cares nothing about being systematic or efficient, however. He simply grabs whichever piece is closest, or specifically searches for pieces matching the part of the puzzle he is working on at the moment and goes somewhat haphazardly.

Two days ago, I brought back a matching game of word and picture tiles. Lynx took to it immediately. We read each letter out loud, the whole word and then looked for the matching picture tile. This morning we did it the other way round -- we picked a picture tile, then I spelled out the letters and got him to look for the word tile. He loves putting the tiles together in symmetric columns. Back in Singapore, kids start learning how to read and spell starting from three. Here in Japan, they don't start until six although some parents teach them earlier. Despite being an educator, I honestly have no idea which way is supposed to be better.

At a failed flea market attempt by the school to raise funds, I managed to walk away with a huge C-130 Hercules transport toy plane. It has a removable top and serves as a container, and Lynx at once stuffed it full of his favourite cars. It has two ramp doors that open and close, detachable windows, propellers, and tail parts. Lynx spends all his time lugging around this monster that's almost as tall as he is, dismantling it into component parts and putting everything together again. "It's so fun!" he exclaims.

Unlike my wife who filmed it and put it up on Instagram right away, I won't be putting this up. I will simply be there by the side, watching and glowing inside.

And my questions for today's blog are: What is the largest jigsaw puzzle you remember doing? What method do you use for jigsaw puzzles?
July 13, 2018 at 6:07am
July 13, 2018 at 6:07am
Lynx turned four on Tuesday. He still speaks like he just turned three, but I actually quite adore that about him. So he's no child prodigy, and he won't be having his own Youtube channel with thousands of subscribers, but he will grow up faster than I am ready for. Soon he will be speaking eloquently instead of in garbled fragments half the time, or mangling the lyrics to every Disney song. And then I will wonder where that little gibberish-spouting hugaboo of mine went.

He did accomplish something I take a tiny amount of pride in on Saturday, when we went to the pool. Instead of flailing about in panic when he can't stand on the bottom and still keep his mouth above the water, he finally learnt how to do the survival hop. I'm sure you all know this crucial pool skill. Basically you hold your breath when going underwater and bounce yourself off the floor, breathing when you break the surface. The last time we took his height, Lynx was just shy of 1.2 meters -- a pretty common pool depth. That means that if he keeps his feet flat on the floor, the water will just about cover his head.

Now I have no intention of ever leaving his side or taking my eyes off him for more than a couple of seconds, but I revel in the newfound confidence and freedom he has to explore the pool. Previously he would cling onto me and only paddle within arm's reach; now he dares to venture away. In fact, we played a lot of pool tag that day and chased each other all over, faces dipping below and above the water. Boing boing!

His birthday present from his doting grandparents was an Aquaplay set, which he spent about an hour on the past two days. But what delighted him more was the box the toy came in. Like a cat, he curled up in it, peeked out from the gaps, and kept calling out to us, "Papa! Where am I? I'm hiding! Hee hee."

When I answered him distractedly with "I don't know. Papa's busy...", he shook and slid the box over, then called out even more loudly and insistently. Only when I unboxed him to a loud burst of giggles did I manage to satisfy him... for all of ten seconds, before he repeated the vanishing act.

And my questions for today's blog are: What is an important 'survival' skill you or your child picked up at a tender age? What do you do with big cardboard boxes??
July 2, 2018 at 10:11am
July 2, 2018 at 10:11am
I once had the unfortunate experience of going airborne in a typhoon. No, I didn't end up in Oz, and the only thing I squished under my bicycle was my sore butt after flying all of five meters. That was ten years ago up north in Ishinomaki, a few years before the tsunami hit my town and wiped out too many I knew and cared about. I still remember how my first typhoon looked, and certainly what it felt like. The same winds that lifted me off the ground, bicycle and all, sent the rain scattering sideways instead of down at the ground. I had seen rain slant before, but go completely sideways? Never, and I'll never forget that sight.

The Pacific Ocean brews up some 33-35 typhoons a year, with about a half to a full dozen of them actually making landfall. Okinawa island sends out typhoon warnings at an average of 3-5 a year. This last exceptional month alone has seen three. Every one of them so far that I've experienced here has skirted by, bringing little more than some heavy deluge and cheer to the islanders at the prospect of a work day off. Until yesterday.

It was expected to hit in the afternoon, and perhaps it did, Located as we were in the middle of the island, the only things that hit us all day were brooding clouds and a dead calm. The winds unleashed their fury in the evening, with gusts that rattled the windows and howled into every crevice. The Wife couldn't sleep on account of the din. Too bad she wasn't the one teaching at a school. This morning with the storm showing no signs of abating, she had to drive off to work at the hotel while Lynx and I enjoyed an extra day off.

Ah, three-day weekends are the best, aren't they? (Well, four-days would trump them) I actually had time in a long while to browse through WDC contests, and mull over them for a bit. The weather was touch and go the whole day, with patches of calm slapped onto a grey day of sudden gusts and downpours that came and went in minutes. Lynx and I went out for noodles, shopped for groceries and otherwise just chilled at home. Of course, chilling in his fashion means becoming a little typhoon himself and wrecking everything in his path, while I pottered around after him clearing up the debris.

I don't mind this much at all. His current craze is zooming around all over the place on his 'inherited' strider (a bicycle with no pedals) and tricycle. This doesn't worry me so much, since he has a pretty good sense of balance and has more than enough experience with falls to take another one. However there is one spot -- the entrance to my study/storage room (not so much a room as a tiny cordoned off area) has a string curtain hanging from a flimsy bar. More than once Lynx has gotten himself entangled in the strings, and sent the bar crashing down to narrowly miss his head. He is also unable to extricate himself, and I worry that if I'm not on hand to assist he would only pull at them in frustration and accidentally strangle himself. My stern warnings not to cycle there unless the curtain is tied to the side only meets with pouts and even more determination to do the exact opposite. Maybe the best way about this is simply to let the bar hit him? The Wife has always been more about decorative eye candy than practicality, and is loathe to remove the string curtain...

And my questions for today's blog are: What natural disasters have you encountered before, or face on a regular basis? What disasters waiting to happen do you dread?
June 26, 2018 at 9:49pm
June 26, 2018 at 9:49pm
I have been poor pretty much my entire life. When I got married, we didn't have a wedding party or a honeymoon partly due to that, and also because I'm not a fan of parties or celebrations in general. I never celebrate birthdays, or New Year, or Christmas -- zilch, nada, nothing at all. Occasionally I can be persuaded to participate in one, but maybe I carry bad luck with me because they often end badly. When we flew to Paris two years ago on my wife's savings (her earnings go towards whatever luxuries she wishes to indulge in, while mine go towards the mortgage, household expenses, and all bills), we were robbed under the Eiffel Tower ten minutes before the countdown began... see what I mean about me and celebrations not getting along?

Things got worse, much worse, after I arrived in Okinawa. I suddenly found myself making less than half of what I made as a fresh graduate, since I am now working for a non-profit organization/school that is in the red by $5000 every month. We found ourselves having to scrimp, and even so we had to dig into my wife's savings... (mine are locked up in savings bonds that mature in another 10 years). An adolescence spent sleeping on the streets prepared me well for a life of hardship but I feel guilty and frustrated that my family has to suffer along with me, especially Lynx, since he is completely innocent. (You might say my wife had some idea what she was signing up for when she said, 'I do.')

Poverty can bring out the worst in people, evidenced by the multitude of crimes committed by the poor and desperate. It can also bring out the best.

Our enforced frugality means that we can rarely buy toys or bring Lynx to expensive theme parks or do the kinds of things most parents around us do for their kids. If you are religious, you could help me thank God or whichever divine power watches and tinkers from above for the roomful of hand-me-down toys he got from his 7-year old cousin. All of his clothes, except his inordinately expensive school uniforms, were first stretched out by the same said cousin. We're supremely grateful for my sister-in-law's generosity, and that she gave birth to a boy, thus saving Lynx from wearing frilly pink undies and dresses (nothing wrong with that, but it might mess with his mind a bit?). His grandparents dote on him, and often buy him toys we would never be able to afford, such as a train set! (how do those things cost so much?) or a huge yellow box on wheels full of classic Legos. The only times we bought him toys were from the second-hand stores and sometimes from the dollar store. I remember when we first moved here and he had no toys at all, I spent hours scrounging through 77th Street (local used goods chain-store) and army flea markets for metal die-cast Tomica toy vehicles that went for 50c each.

We bought a $20 annual pass to the zoo five minutes from our house, and it's Lynx's favorite place in the world. We go at least once a month, and sometimes when he can't sleep, we'd drive up to the gates where a host of colorful animal statues adorn the entrance archway. He'd name all the animals excitedly, look sadly at the darkened premises, and say, "Animals sleeping." And then I'd coax him to let me drive him home and sleep as well. There are all kinds of activities within the zoo that incur extra cost such as food for the animals during feeding times ($3-5 for a cup of carrots, or fish food -- rip-off if you ask me), elephant and pony rides ($5-10 for a single round within a tiny paddock...), bumper cars, a train coaster (no rolls!), a couple of carousels, and during the summer months bouncy castles that cost $5 for 5 minutes! We can't afford any of them, but Lynx always gets excited when he sees vehicles of any sort, or slides, so I have a special route through the premises that detours around all those said distractions.

What I do let him enjoy on occasion though is the local game center/arcade in the huge mall nearby. We never spend a single cent. There is a play corner with a train set that can usually keep him happy and occupied for a good half hour, sometimes more. And then we will happily run about from ride to ride, including all the first-person shooter booths like Jurassic World, or Transformers, and all the racing simulations. We would watch the video intros and pretend we are actually playing the game or taking the ride. For the racing sims, I have to adjust the seat so that he can just about reach the foot pedals with his toes. Then I'd shout out directions, "Turn right! Hard left! Go go go, faster! Yay, you made it!" The 'hockey rink' game (I don't know what it's called but it involves using paddles to try to knock a sliding puck into the opponent's goal) is the best. We play it without the puck. Instead we use one of the paddles, which slides just as well as the puck with the added benefit that it won't disappear into the goal and thus end the game, and knock that around until we tire ourselves out from laughing and screaming.

I don't know if Lynx understands or realizes that we're poor. We tell him that we don't have money to buy him toys when we chance by a toy aisle by accident (I hate that they sell toy cars in the supermarkets here grrr), but we never say that it's because we're poor. Perhaps he gets it on some level, because whenever he gets to choose a snack or treat, such as yesterday when he had a bruised and swollen lip after falling off some climbing bars at school, he never gets greedy. His grandma loves that most about him, because in the same situation his cousin always ends up with a basket full of stuff. Lynx, on the other hand, will only pick one -- usually his favorite grape jelly shaped like a cartoon character that costs 73c. If he comes across something else he likes or I suggest another option, such as chocolate chip cookies, he always puts back one of them automatically, even when I am perfectly willing to splurge on both. The best thing is, he never fails to share that single treat he has (yes, he's past that selfish phase finally, and loves sharing everything now), even if it means he gets less of whatever little he already has. That, I love about him.

And my questions for today's blog are: What penny-pinching habits do you have? What quality/trait/habit has your lifestyle imbued in you or your family members that you love?

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