One Pink Toothbrush

Welcome to One Pink Toothbrush, where I will be posting moments from my days as a mum and as a wife. Funny moments, messy moments, thoughtful moments, teary moments.... and hopefully using each moment to see what God might be saying.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mothering Across Cultures

Another post in the Mothering series, from a friend who is currently mothering in Japan.

Why did you move to Japan?
When Tom & I got married, God starting speaking to us about being willing to go to another nation, an 'unreached nation' to share the good news of Jesus and to build His church there. God called us more specifically to go to Japan in November 1999 and we eventually moved there in September 2004. At the time we had 2 children, who were aged 3 and 1. Now we have four children, Jess (12) Beth (10) Zanna (6) & Judah (1).

What were your hopes & fears for you and your children before moving to Japan?
We really believed that God was not just calling Tom & I, but calling us as family. We were so excited to be on an adventure with God as a family. We trusted God that if this was His perfect and pleasing will for us, then it was also His will for our kids. To be honest I didn’t have many fears about the children when we first moved to Japan and found moving with young kids a relatively easy transition to make. It has been as they’ve grown older that I’ve had to face challenges such as how to educate them, their friendship challenges and helping them work through feelings of not belonging or fitting in, and the repercussion of that in their lives. In many ways I have to trust God more for my kids now than when we first moved to Japan.

Do your children understand why you moved to Japan?
We have always talked openly with the kids about why we moved to Japan and that we believe this is God’s best for their lives too. We’ve also encouraged open channels of communication with the kids. If they ever felt resentful or unhappy about being in Japan then I wanted them to know that it’s ok to express that openly with us and God. It’s painful when your child feels anger towards you or blames you for their situation in life. We’ve had some challenging conversations with our kids, but actually God has used those conversations to help build stronger relationship between us and between them and God.

How long did it take you to feel 'at home'?
That is a difficult question to answer. The customs, the culture and the language are so different in Japan, that for the first few years I was constantly learning and feeling out of my depth. I would have been lost without the kindness of the Japanese people and their eagerness to help me. We have been here 8 years now and although I can call Japan home, there are still many situations when I’m acutely aware of being the foreigner. There are very few foreigners where we live and so I’m nearly always the only non-Japanese mum in my various communities. Despite a deep desire to belong, I’ve learnt over the years to be content with being a foreigner in this place I call home. 

What is hard about being a mum in a different country?
The thing I’ve missed and still miss the most is being able to hang out with other mums (particularly Christian mums) where I can chat in my own language. Although I have some really wonderful Japanese friends I do feel lonely at times.

It’s also been hard trying to understand the medical system; the doctor-patient relationship and the different vaccinations and medicines. I used to dread the kids being sick as I wouldn’t know which clinic to go to (it seemed like there was one for every body part) or whether I would be able to communicate with the doctor.

However, mums are mums wherever you live in the world so despite difference in language, culture and customs there is always an understanding between each other and instant things to chat about. Not many mums here work after having children ,so there are always plenty of mums to get to know.

What changes have you had to make?
I’ve had to learn to SEW! Help!! For pre-school and for school, the children need endless fabric bags for everything and they are all hand made. Japanese women are very proficient sewers and although not at all proficient, I can now make a very simple shoe bag and napkin to put their lunch box on!

What cultural differences have you had to adapt to?
The approach to bringing up children in Japan is very different to ours. I found myself being judgemental at first. It has challenged us to think carefully about how we bring up our children and whether it is based on Western values or biblical ones. For example when their children are young, Japanese families often sleep all together on futons in the same room. We have always put our kids to sleep in a separate room to us. When they hear this they feel sorry for our kids, they ask if they are safe or lonely. I wonder how they sleep or make love to their husbands with a baby in the bed. Both questions have validity. The bible is very clear about what is important when it comes to marriage and child rearing, but there is a lot left unsaid. Rather than getting caught up talking with Japanese mums about our different ways of doing things, I’m learning to spend time talking about what the Bible says is important. 

What do the children find hard about living in Japan?They don’t like it when strangers call out that they are so cute. They hate it even more if strangers ask to take their photos. They miss playing with other children who speak English and of course they wish they could see their grandparents and cousins more often. They often envy their friends who either have their grandparents living with them or see them a lot.

What do they like about Japan?
In many ways life in Japan is just so normal to them that they don’t think about what they like or don’t like. This is just their life. However they love Japanese rice. They miss it when we visit the UK. Some of them love the insect life here. There are so many and they are so BIG! We have Swallowtail butterflies every year in our little garden. They also love the Onsen; hot baths where everyone from baby to Grandma (of the same sex) soaks naked.

I love that Japan is so safe that the kids can play freely in the streets and the parks.

What have you learnt from living in a different country? 
That God loves the nations He has made. He really does love every people of the world and He really loves the Japanese. I’ve learnt that Jesus is the ultimate cross-cultural church planter. He went before us and I’ve learnt that there is nothing that I’m going through that He doesn’t understand. Every time I’ve poured out my heart to God about any challenge I’ve had about living and being a mother and church planter in Japan He has said exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes what He has said is challenging to hear, but it strengthens my faith and enables me to keep pressing on. He is faithful to all His promises.

I’ve had to learn to depend more on others and God for help for many things. I’ve had to learn to be ok with making mistakes and getting it wrong. With cross-cultural church planting there is always so much potential for misunderstanding and mis-communication. I’ve had to learn to humble myself and be willing to understand things from another’s point of view and to say sorry a lot. I often have to apologise to the kids too when they turn up to school without something they need because I’ve misunderstood a letter.  

I am constantly amazed by our kids and how naturally they switch from the Japanese language and culture to English language and culture. I have sometimes questioned our decision to send them to Japanese school fearing they might feel alienated, but despite challenges they have flourished and are a blessing to their Japanese friends. As a mother, the desire to protect my children from pain and difficulties is strong. At times I’ve been aware of the huge impact that following God’s will, has had on their lives. Yet they seem to fly over these hurdles and their lives are a testimony that God’s plan for them (not mine) is the best.  

Do you think your children have missed out anything by living there?
Yes and no. Yes there are definitely things they have missed out on. Right now Jess & Beth have only one other female Christian friend around their age. I think about the vibrant youth works that I’ve seen in the UK and think about what they’re missing. However we have linked up with a church in another part of Japan that has a vibrant kids’ ministry and our church kids have been able to join their summer/spring camps. It is a journey of faith and I have to keep remembering that my kids belong to Jesus and to trust Him for them.

I said no because we do hang on to Jesus’ promise that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19v29

What have they gained by living there?
They have gained so much by growing up in Japan, despite some very real loses. I’m confident that they’ll look back on their childhood and feel blessed. They are bilingual. They are culturally and socially sensitive kids, who can travel round the world with ease. They’ve also had the blessing of growing up in a very safe country where children stay children for longer. I’m very thankful for that.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Eating Your Feelings

Dinner time; What a minefield it can be...

Even getting to that moment where I call them all to the table, can be quite an adventure. There's the after school snack, which has to quench their immediate hunger, while not filling them up too much, so they still eat their actual dinner. There's the food preparation, which involves me not being in the room they are in. And my very absence from that room causes all sorts of disasters to happen. A similar reaction to when I am on the phone.  There's the daily attempt to make the right amount of pasta to fill up these hollow boys. There's also the balancing of when the husband said he'd be home and when he actually gets home. There's the tired child who can't eat after a certain time frame, because he turns into a slightly whinier zombie version of himself. There's usually a  hungry baby splashing around in the dishwasher at this point of the day. Then there is the sheer monotony of cooking similar foods, at the same time, every single day.

And that's the pre dinner fun. Once they have all got themselves to the table, there's the usual need for wees, the spilling of water, and there appears to be a tired zombie leaning on his brother, with glazed eyes. There's at least three voices trying to be heard, taking this moment to share something about their day. There's the loud 'I don't like it, before it is even tasted' comment. And when they are finally all sitting down, and I start to serve the now cold plates of food, the husband's key turns in the door and they all excitedly get up to greet him, usually knocking over the replenished drink and the zombie on their way, creating tears and mayhem. Sigh.

So occasionally, I try to adapt dinner in order to add a slice of variety. Or in order to save my sanity from yet another day in Pasta&Cheese land. This dinner was labelled 'How do you feel today?' They had to choose the dinner that summed up their day. As usual, they were encouraged to be selfless and let their brothers go first, with the knowledge that the tomato sauce could be adapted if needed.

One of my boys took the slightly sad dinner and talked about how hard his day had been.
I think the sad face actually sitting in front of them, enabled the other boys to listen well, and show empathy to him. (Empathy isn't always a natural characteristic in this house; it is one that needs training). We simply thanked God for the food He had provided, and one of the boys prayed for his brother. One of the other boys had got frustrated at school, so with my prompting, he took the angry face and we listened to him and prayed for him too.

Our Heavenly Father is so up for providing for every part of us. He blesses us with food, filling our physical hunger and He also blesses us with a place to talk about how we feel, filling a different kind of hunger. A hunger to be heard and understood and cared for. And of course we are only able to talk to Him about how we are feeling, because he fed our ultimate hunger, our ultimate need - forgiveness, when He died on the cross. We need to remember to come to Him with all our daily needs. I'm quick to tell others how I feel, before coming to God with it all. But He is constantly ready to hear just how I feel and He really does care about the answer; whether it comes with a cross face, a sad face, a grateful face or ketchup all over the place.

"He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever." Psalm 136v25
"He remembered us in our low estate. His love endures forever." Psalm 136 v23

(With my focus not on the ketchup, my youngest boy adapted his dinner, and said "I felt sick today, and I had bogeys". So glad he shared).

I may even suggest to the husband that I need to talk more about how I feel, and see how I can arrange some chocolate and wine on a plate...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Mothering Mum

Earlier this year, I did a blog series on 'Mothering'; interviewing mums at their various stages of life and various stages of mothering. Some of those posts have taken a while to be added to the series. Here is one of them, from a friend of mine, who is caring for her own mother.

I'm not my Mum's mother, I want to hold her in high regard, respect her and protect her dignity. However, I do feel that some of the true mothering skills given to me by God, are probably used to their full when I’m caring for her.
I’ve developed skills, while caring for mum. Skills like compassion, listening, physical touch, warmth, giving time, being patient, meeting basic needs, advocating, encouragement, repeating things over and over again. All these things I'm meant to do with my own kids too. However, I'm more careful to exercise them with mum, and more acutely aware of them.  I recently had a job interview and one of my daughters helped me prepare. She spontaneously listed some of my strengths and abilities. “These are all the things I see in you in the way you are with nana”, she said.
This encouraged me greatly as it hasn't always been that way. My mum was finally diagnosed with Vascular Dementia with Alzheimer’s maybe two years ago. This has affected her memory and not her character which is a blessing. For the past four years, she has suffered with Lymphoma requiring Chemotherapy and frequent hospital visits. Just over a year ago, mum suffered a stroke leaving her with a dense right sided weakness and complete paralysis of her right arm. Where she used to be fully mobile, she is now confined to a chair/wheelchair and needs help transferring and with all her basic needs. 
The dementia diagnosis was difficult. We all knew it and she feared it. She got so upset that I had taken her to the memory clinic. She got very angry with me, asking if I thought she was mad, and if she was going to get locked away. It was a distressing time. I remember having to be straight with her. I talked to her about the effects on her brain which in no way reflected who she was or how we all felt about her. She needed constant reassurance.  During this time and the previous few years, she would ring me frequently. She was always apologetic and needing reassurance about tablets which she couldn't remember taking, or fears about missing hospital appointments or anxiety when she had lost something. A lot of the 'care' was done over the phone and was very repetitive - she would often ring minutes later forgetting she had called and we would have the same conversation, like ground hog day!

Surprisingly I often felt/feel very patient during these episodes but recognise that I didn't years beforehand. When I was in my teens/early twenties I recall getting very frustrated with mum when she couldn't remember things - I felt she wasn't in my world. Looking back I know that the Dementia was affecting mum. When I was a child, I recall watching a documentary with mum about Alzheimer's and she alluded to the fact she had fears this would happen to her as there were already memory problems.
I remember a poignant time when my dad became seriously ill with cancer and was admitted to hospital. Mum collapsed. I was staying to look after her overnight and found her unconscious in the bathroom, which was frightening. I was in my twenties and remember being acutely aware of the feeling that I had no-one to care for me. She needed caring for too now. It was a shocking time and I felt full of grief. It was like I was losing two parents.  There have been periods of grief all along, like longing for a grandparent to be there for my kids, potentially losing the family home and longing for emotional and practical support that just hasn't been there. The most recent sense of grief has been seeing my mother unable to walk anymore and adjusting to the fact she now needs everything doing for her. 

That's been hard. 

God showed me probably a year ago two things that were to change those longstanding feelings. One day, I was acutely aware of God having very large wings and I felt them covering me. I felt this represented a mother's love; He was meeting this need.  It made me feel secure. I was reminded of Psalm 91; hiding in the shadow of His wings and was also reminded of a time with one of my little girls. We saw a mother duck protecting her young ; we counted 14 little emerging ducklings which had been hiding under her wings. I felt God ask, "how big do you think my wings are in comparison to this little duck?" This was enormously comforting.
Serving my mum has at times taken up a lot of time.  My kids have found it hard when they've not had my full attention, particularly when I was paying regular hospital visits to mum several times a week.  My husband and I would 'tag team' it.  As soon as he got in from work I would leave.  We had quite a long period of time where we did not have a meal altogether.  I had to advocate for my mum when she did not get the best treatment and be a voice for her when she did not want to be put in a nursing home. We got the kids praying but sometimes I just wanted it all to stop. Ministry work took a back burner and I found myself saying 'no' to more. But at the same time, wondering if it was wrong spending so much time with mum, instead of serving church.

During this time I read James 1v27 which impacted and changed my thinking.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I felt it was time to ‘put my religion into practice’.  In serving my mum, I was doing God's will and exercising His love for her. This has genuinely helped me feel joyful about having the privilege of being able to serve her at this stage of her life. I help her mainly emotionally with reassurance, with her medical needs and practically with housework.
My husband, kids and I are determined to help her enjoy herself by taking her out in the wheelchair for day trips. She enjoys these days even though she's often forgotten them the next day. But we all remember them and I believe this strengthens our family and increases the bond between us and her. Although this whole scenario isn't what I would have planned in my head (easy to romanticise what family should be/look like), I know this is a precious time and don't want to miss out on God's blessing on us and on her through it all. I have learnt a lot through my mum who has shown strength in so many ways during these seasons. She has a wicked sense of humour. My husband trying to manoeuvre her into the car, can be hilarious. She often ends up giggling so much we are unable to sit her up. She is so determined always to appreciate the little things in life that could just pass her by. She's amazing.
My relationship with my mum is tender and precious. Whilst I'm not responsible for all my mum's needs, I am put here by God to help meet some of them. It grows in love more and more all the time (both ways).  She says I light up her day and I say to her that I love her and love spending time with her. I'm grateful for this as we once were not able to communicate so well in that way. It's a blessing to be her daughter and I thank God for her input into my life.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Mocha Moments

There was a moment last week, where the 'other pink toothbrush', had decided to start the day early. Maybe she wanted to check out the sun rise. Maybe she wanted some mummy time. Maybe she thought that I simply sleep too much. So she was up early, which meant she was a little grumpy as the morning wore on. Grumpy babies aren't always easy for us mums. A lot of the time, she just potters around while the four blue ones entertain her. But on this day, she wasn't pottering, she was sticking. Sticking like a grumpy, pink magnet on my hip for the whole morning, needing constant carrying.

Morning times in this household don't always ooze with calm and ease. Sometimes I'm organised and I do the lunches the night before, but the other four days of the school week, I don't. I wish I did. I wish I was that mum. We all know a version of her; 'The organised mum'. She's a wonder to behold. She's dressed in clean clothes, with washed hair. She probably got up early to pray and no doubt she's wearing matching underwear. She always knows if there is bread in the bread bin and fruit in the fruit bowl. 'Time' and 'Patience' are her best friends. I do love her. I'm happy not to be her however. I have other gifts and I'll roll with them. And I can wash my hair another day.

After the constant reminder of "teeth, shoes, jumper, teeth, shoes, jumper", I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally bundled out of the front door. I knew that my grumpy little red head would rest her eyes as we walked to school. And therefore I had a plan. I would drop the blue ones off to their various classrooms, and then I would pop over to The Hub; (a community cafe next door to the school), and I would drink a Cherry Mocha. Mmm... And as she slept for an hour, I would breathe, and think and write in my prayer journal, and take the time to connect with God. That is what I needed after my busy morning.

So we walked to school; they swung on branches, ran ahead, dragged on the buggy, hid behind the same wall that they hide behind every single day. They stopped to talk to a cat. I shouted out to avoid the dog poo. They shoved their brothers, which made them laugh. They shoved their brothers, which made them cry. They were all dropped off and I headed to The Hub. The pink bundle was still and quiet, so I ordered my Mocha, sat down and got my notebook out and breathed.
But then she looked at me, spat her dummy out, arched her back and carried on her grumpiness. Grrrrrr!!!! She had not followed the plan. And now I couldn't talk to God with my free, spare hour. As grumpy as I was starting to feel, I knew I had a window. I knew I had a ham sandwich in my bag, and therefore I had about three minutes to breath, think and write as she ate it. Not quite the planned hour, but I wrote in my journal and I felt God remind me that the 'hour planned' wasn't my real life, and that He had plenty of time for me, all the time, right in the middle of my real life. 
He reminded me that He had been there, ready to listen in the dark, cold hours of the morning. He had been there on the crazy that is the school run, and He was with me now. But the 'now' bit, the quiet bit, wasn't necessarily the bit where I needed His presence the most. I needed to come to Him when they couldn't find their shoes, when they couldn't find their teeth (it's another story) and when the pink one needed carrying. I need Him to carry me, right in the middle of it all, as well as enjoy Him in the Mocha moments. 

"...And Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age".
Matthew 28v20