Friday, May 20, 2011


I just woke up. It's 5:45pm. Yesterday I went to sleep around 6pm. Pretty soon my sleep schedule will sort itself out, I'm hoping. I'm not sure what time it is in Japan, but I'm not the kind of guy that keeps referring to two clocks during times of jetlag. I don't care what time it's *SUPPOSED* to be. I look at the clock on the wall in California, and know only what time it *IS*.

I'm alone at home with my cat, Macho. He disappeared at some point early on during my ten day absence, much to the dismay of the 12 year old down the street who was tasked with keeping him fed for six dollars a day. He came back last night around midnight, though, and I let him in and went back to sleep.

Japan was a good time, ruined completely by the presence of my mother.

My father in law has stomach cancer, and underwent an operation to have his entire stomach removed. This was a while ago, not during our visit or anything. He now has part of his upper intestine playing the role of stomach, which means he can't eat a whole lot. He's lot a lot of weight. I *think* he's done with radiation therapy, but it's not really a casual dinner conversation thing, and is buried among the layers of Japanese etiquette on top of all that. I'm not sure my wife even knows the exact standing, and I'm pretty sure even *his* wife is being kept out in the dark. He doesn't want everyone doom and glooming, and would rather just put on a happy face when we visit.

We respect that.

The Japanese have a word for enduring something in silence: Gaman. If you're feeling rundown, or tasked with something you feel is impossible, you just put your head down and do your best. In English we think of this as 'having a stiff upper lip', or just sucking it up and doing what we can. For Masaru (my father in law), this means swallowing the fact that he may very well be dying of stomach cancer, and trying to show my parents a good time. We all understand this, in silence, and appreciate all the... perseverance... going on behind the curtain.

All of these concepts are completely foreign to my mother, who complained endlessly about the trip there, and all of the activities undertaken while there. She, to me, sums up everything that foreigners probably expect Americans to behave like in any given situation. I remember chatting on Skype with a friend of my wife's who is Canadian, and at some point during the conversation she told me she was surprised how nice I was; when Satomi told her she was dating an American, she thought I would turn out to be an asshole. Thanks!

We had ten days in Japan, and my mother made it clear before even boarding the plane that she would need "at least two days to recover from jetlag, maybe three" and to not plan anything for those days. I won't get into the day by day breakdown of everything, but suffice to say there were two day long excursions, one to an owl park, and one to miyajima's famous tori, all of which required of my mother that she "sit in the car while I drive, and then get out and enjoy yourself".

My mother is not an evil person. I know evil people, and she isn't one of them. She doesn't *try* to be an asshole, it just usually turns out that way. She has this tendency to latch onto people that she's never met and immediately pounce upon them, hammering them from all sides with a barrage of conversation options they're completely uninterested in having. She usually begins with a throwaway compliment on some itme they're wearing, then she asks them their name. This is not because she wants to know it; within seconds it will be forgotten, this is so she can tell them *her* name "I'm DIANNE, hun", which is the beginning of the avalanche. God forbid you are asian, as you will soon learn my own entire life story, and that of my wife, and the names and ages of our two children, and oh my god when will it stop i'm walking away now, good luck with that.

Nothing can deter her. Nothing will make her pause or hesitate. From "I'm DIANNE, hun", the only thing you can do is walk away and hope you aren't called into the conversation, or kill yourself on the spot.


She's over excitable. She overreaches regularly. She pounces (I believe I've used that word already). If you're in front of her in line, you will need to be prepared to explain every purchase in your cart to her in detail, but not because she's interested in what YOU'RE buying, but so that she can eventually turn the conversation back towards her cart, and from there it goes on to how she has a Japanese stepdaughter named Satomi, and two grandkids blah blah blah blah blah.

This trip has filled her ammunition supply, and she will soon be spraying every intimate detail to complete strangers just as soon as humanly possible.

The one glaring detail she will gloss over, though, is how she completely blew it, and is now and forever cut from my team.

Let's go back a step and cover her hobbies. There's sleeping, knitting, and taking naps. Did you see how two of the three involve sleep? My own wife cooks and cleans and does all the housework. I lend a hand when needed, but she's pretty adamant that I have my role (go to work and earn money) and she has her own. My mother sleeps, knits, and in between those she takes naps. Oh! And she complains about my father working all the time. Earning money.

blah blah blah, all is going swimmingly in Japan. She's harrasing women in the yarn store there, over-exuberantly bowing to EVERYONE on the street, and trying to carry on the conversations she's used to having with every hourly employee she crosses paths with (nevermind the fact they don't speak English, and she knows three japanese words). On top of the fact she's pointing directly at every little girl or boy she sees in a school uniform and OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH SOOOOOO BEAUTIFULLLLLLLLL!!!!-ing at the top of her lungs. She's also trying to hug and kiss every relative, and Japanese don't even really hug or kiss their own kids.

yadda yadda yadda, after every event, when it's 'just us Americans' again, she literally collapses in the car, and demands a nap. This is all too much for her! She's so exhausted!

The entire trip has primarily been 'a celebration of Dianne', but in her own tiny little mind, it's just been too much. Every event has been aimed at her. From the owl park and miyajima (two places she specifically requested to visit), to dinners at each of the relatives own houses, because she wanted to meet them all. My wife's older sister is up on the schedule today, but mom is tired from shopping at the yarn store (again) today. She's literally groaning in the car, and saying she doesn't think she can do it. I tell her (somewhat sternly) that she needs to get her shit together and suck it up. Haruka will be expecting her to do beading, because every single time we bring up the word "Haruka" mom explodes into some big thing on how she wants to bead with her.

Mom decides she would rather take a nap. Satomi and I exchange glances, drop mom off at the hotel, and all hell breaks loose. We come to find that Haruka had left school early that day, which required special permission from the principal. Yukie and Keiichi (the mother and father) also came home early to prepare. Working overtime every day in Japan is generally the norm, and for them to home home at a normal hour is unheard of. They do all of this in silence, as they want to put on a happy face to entertain my mother. Then she phones in a nap, and just cancels outright.

Dear Mom,

I hope that nap was worth it, because you're cut from the team.


Your son

They all keep their happy faces on, but you can tell they really don't get the excuses we're giving for my mother. Excuses have to be made of course, because just saying she's a selfish slob that would rather sleep than do some beading with your daughter would put them on the spot of having to react to that news. Where's the Gaman? Where's the part where you suck it up for others? So what if you're tired, Masaru has stomach cancer, you don't see him phoning in bullshit because he's sleepy from being driven around all day. Kids are cancelling all kinds of club activities and telling their friends they have family business to attend to, but you don't see them phoning in any bullshit.

Next day she expects to go see the other sister's family like nothing happened. We told her that you don't really get to pick and choose. If she were to go see Tomoe's family after ditching Yukie's, that wouldn't really fly. I don't think she even really understood that. Family aside, we had some other visit lined up with friend's of my wife that we can't flake on. I don't know if she wanted to cancel that or not, but before she had a chance we told her that she was going like it or not.

That went well, and I think my mom made the mistake of thinking my wife didn't want to stab her at that point. At no point during the day did my mom apologize for Yukie's. At no point was there any sense of "I fucked up".

I'm beat, and I'm not sure if I'm getting the full gist of the emotion out there in this little text box. There's a whole sense of sacrifice that the Japanese will endure on so many levels to put on a happy face when the time calls for it that I've grasped well enough in my time there to know when it's happening, and to try my best to pull off as well when it's expected of me.

I don't expect people to grasp it on the Japanese level, but I expect adults to behave as adults when it's expected of them, and my mother excels at being a petulant child instead. She steamrolls over people in conversations, and generally doesn't give a shit about anyone but herself. One example that keeps coming to mind was an exchange we had after eating chinese one night. She kept bowing to the waitress and saying ARIGATOU!! ARIGATOU!!

I told her the waitress was not Japanese. In fact, the Japanese and Chinese generally hate one another. She looked at me as said "oh I don't care". I told her that wasn't the point. The point was that the waitress probably cared, to which she told me "I don't care if she cares".

That pretty much sums it up right there.

My job back in the states is to find a house to purchase before my wife comes back home with the kids (and her mom, and possibly one of our nephews) in tow. My mother probably thinks everyone is over it, or that it wasn't a big deal in the first place. I mean, it wasn't a big deal to her, so how could it be to anyone else?

There are times in families where cuts are made, but it's usually in-laws that get the axe. I suppose in this case it's the same. My wife has cut off my mother, and I generally see myself as standing on the same side of the line as Satomi. This last incident certainly isn't the only one, but it illustrates all the various ones before it pretty well. When she asks why we don't visit, or won't let her visit us, I'll tell her I don't care. When she tells me she cares, I'll simply tell her that I don't care she cares.

Good luck with that. I hope that nap was awesome.



Anonymous said...


(Arrgh, she sounds like a nightmare.)

Azryu said...

I feel some of the same things when I am with my family, quite a bit. I constantly feel the need to apologize to food service people, waitresses, or basically anyone else we come in contact with.

Just the other day my grandmother was getting all uppity about the waitress not refilling her soda immediately following it's consumption. We also didn't see much of her during our meal, and that was also an issue for her.

That girl, our waitress, was waiting on more than half of the restaurant, very apparently spread thin. This didn't matter though, she intended on insulting the waitress by leaving a single penny under the plate as a tip.

So when she got up to leave, I made way towards the waitress, being mindful not to make my movement known to my grandmother. I told the waitress she was doing well considering she is doing the work of five people, and that I hoped the rest of the day went better. I gave her a ten from my wallet and raced to catch up w/ my grandmother.

I can't stand it when people get so emotional and loose sight of all rational thought. You can be mad at the business for not getting another person scheduled or brought in, but you can't take it out on the employee, trying their best to do everything at once.

Rich said...

reading back over that, i have to apologize for the whole avalanche of my own coming out.

Blogging for me is catharsis, and wow you all just got a dose.

To any that can relate: I feel your pain. To any that can't: sorry you had to endure that... I just needed to let it out.


Tesh said...

Oog. I'll just never understand some people. Good luck with her, Ixo.

Jesse said...

Hang in there. I went through some problems with my mom about 8 years ago, but she has mellowed considerably in that time. We will probably never be best friends, but on the occasions we do get together things are smoother now. Sometimes a little space and some time are the best solution. If I can offer some advice from experience, try to avoid any direct confrontation. Things tend to get said and done in the heat of the moment that can be regrettable. Good luck house shopping.

Cap'n John said...

I'm a firm believer that you write your Blog for yourself, not for your readers, and this post illustrates that perfectly.

"I don't care that she cares" pretty much sums it all up.

I bet you're feeling a lot better having got this load off your chest :)

JThelen said...

I'm in the bucket of 'Never had to deal with this', but you get muchos sympathy points for putting up with that, Ixo. Do what ya gotta do, and don't look back unless you have to.

Dwism said...

Having a little brother who has spend 3 of the last 4 years living in Japan, and having been over to visit him myself, I get a feeling I am getting the gist of most of what you are saying (especially after having talked to him over the phone, after our parents visited him). I guess what I am trying to say is, us northern Europeans have those moms too... and... I get where you are coming from.

Mordiceius said...

Wow, just reading that made me want to turn into a big ball of rage.

Random Poster said...

I read that and it made me go hug my mom >.<

I feel for you man, my brother in laws mom was a bit much to, right after my nephew was born he had to have surgery on his abdomen. My brother in law was there, got a phone call from his mom who cursed him out for not going to work that day (he works for her).

Syl said...

Hmmm, what a read. Well I guess everyone's expected to see your mom as a baddie now, but truthfully I mostly see two extremes clashing in your story and it can't be easy to stand on either side. I wouldn't choose to be on either.

Kensai said...

Ah, parents. One of the few things in life we don't get to choose.

PeterM said...

this is fantastic sir.. I think your mom and my mom could be great friends... My mom does just enough to piss off my wife, not intentionally, at least I don't think so. My mom is along the lines of talk first, think about what you said second

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