Thursday, November 3, 2011


On my second international flight in seven days, the passenger next to me asked, "Are you doing yoga?" I laughed, saying, "I'm sorry I just can't sit still- my back hurts and it feels better when I move." He was companionable enough so we chatted and I tried to stiffle my movements. After returning from the trip to attend my grandfather's funeral, the back pain persisted. Two months later I went to see the doctor. He asked, "When did the symptoms start?" Without thinking, I said, "At my grandpa's funeral in May." In response he asked me more about my symptoms and told me in a few days the physical therapy department would call to arrange an appointment. As I drove home I wondered why the doctor couldn't acknowledge my grandfather's death- the comment sat there in the room a moment as if silently willing it away. Was it because of the extra time it might take to say, "I'm sorry for your loss," or a general aversion to anything negative?

Bloom Where You're Planted
Perhaps Americans are more visibly expressive with emotions deemed positive such as surprise, joy, or gratitude, but it seems when something differs from a positive or expected emotion it is ignored or over powered. The immediate response to feeling overwhelmed at having a baby was a huge dose of "happy, happy, joy, joy." My recent grappling with living abroad and the ensuing "bloom where you're planted" remark which sat uncomfortably with me, seemed exacerbated by the lack of acknowledgment of my feelings.

Acknowledgment does not equate with agreement, but with seeing someone where they are. It has opened my eyes to the masks we all wear, whether American or Japanese. The American tendency is to focus on the positive, ignore the negative, and then promptly stomp on any negative with a "be happy" stamp. The Japanese tendency is to neutralize emotions and seek harmony and so they wait patiently, remaining quiet, letting things simply pass. I think I am beginning to prefer the later as it serves as a nonverbal form of acknowledgment.

My Teacher Says
"My teacher said by the time you are ten years old, you should get yourself up in the morning, in Japanese culture. Is that the same in America?" my daughter asked over cinnamon toast and milk tea. "I don't think it is as explicit or talked about in America, but it is a good idea," I responded. The Mule's teacher says a lot of stuff. I think it is part of their social studies curriculum because it is things like, "my teacher says you shouldn't drink sweet drinks on a hot day" or "my teacher says you should wash your face everyday." I rarely disagree with any of these things, but it does surprise me that they are discussed and said at school. These are things I think of that you learn by example or at home.

The Moose, sitting on the steps to put on his shoes, asked, "What do I have after gym?" I consulted his schedule, "Social Studies and Music." "No Art?" he asked. "No Art," I confirmed, "Social Studies and Music." "We do have a lot of stuff to work out," he said. "About your play?" I asked. "Yeah, the play, what shops and stuff we're going to sell," he trailed off. "That is what you do in Social Studies?" I asked. "Yeah," he responded. As he headed off to school, I thought back to my first grade year. I attended Timucuan Elementary. I recollect my teacher telling me to work on my penmanship; drawing lots of clowns- one of which was entered into the student art exhibit showcased at the newly opened Orange Park Mall; and getting lost walking home when I missed the bus. I definitely don't remember working with my classmates to organize a festival, plan a play, or having any kind of music class.

Need for Acknowledgment
Reflecting on the cultural experiences in Japan, I thought again of acknowledgment. Why is acknowledgment important, at least to me? Somedays I need a pat from another, not everyday, but we really don't pull each other along by negating or ignoring feelings. Some people have the gift of both seeing you where you are and helping you shift your perspective. "It is hard sometimes, but at least it will come to an end. If it helps, think about all that you can say you did when it's over. You really embraced the culture here- you learned about being a yochien mama, about shogakko, about everyday life," said my husband. "So, so, so," I think to myself.

At Observation Day, the sensei asked the parents to comment to the children as an audience on their performance and the play. In Japanese fashion he started on one side of the room and went from parent to parent to the otherside, no one was skipped. At my turn, I took the moment to say with my more visible emotional self, "Sagoi! (Wow) You did it all by yourselves- good job!" with a big thumbs up. The children's smiling faces told me that they understood my praise even if it was in English. Everyone likes a little acknowledgment now and again.

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