Saturday, 28 February 2009

Killing time at Heathrow Airport.

Checked in at Heathrow Airport on a sunny, warm spring afternoon - heading home to the deep snow of Sapporo.

Lots of tears as usual as I said goodbye to Dad and is so hard to live between two countries. I love them, I love their home...and this time more than ever I am aware that I won't be visiting them here much more. This year again? Next year? I don't think their current life in this house can continue for much longer.

I called Yujiro a lot. He sounds ok...although Okaasan life goes on being confusing: this week she missed the Hula Dance class because although he reminded her at lunchtime AND reminded her 15 minutes before the time she had to leave the house - when a classmate came to pick her she had forgotten about the class and wasn't ready.

So the classmate went on alone and Okaasan missed her social/exercise event.

We have to get her more organised for this kind of thing.

And I am ready to enter the Wonderful World of Okaasan again. I've bought a book called "Contented Dementia", which will hopefully give me some idea how to have conversations and help Okaasan in her confused life.

I will sit on the airplane and read it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

English family doing okay...

Hi folks,

Here I am in an Internet connection center in Stroud, a market town in the Cotswolds near my Dad's house. Surrounded by noisy local teenagers having job-searching advice...

Well, happy to report that the situation with my Dad and step-mum isn't as bad as I thought when I bought the air ticket and rushed over here. Thankfully!

My Dad was out of hospital by the time I got here. His ankle is broken and he is in a cast and uses a walking frame to get around. The hospital
still hasn't done the tests to find out why he fainted 2 weeks ago. British doctors and hospitals move very, very slowly.

My Dad is good basically. But since I saw him last year he has aged a lot. He sleeps much more and as his bed is now in the dining room he often gets up and has a meal...and then goes back to bed!!!

But we've been out a few times for lunch in local restaurants and to the supermarket etc, and I drove them to Worcester to see a ceramics market at the famous Worcester Porcelain Factory.

My step-mum is also ok...sort of. Her main problem is that she loses balance and falls - in the house, in the garden, in we walk slowly and carefully. She too was tired and sleeping a lot.

But before I got here she had organised a Carer to come in from a local agency, so in fact I am not doing all the domestic stuff I thought I would be - a great lady called Del (a Zimbabwean who works as a Carer in the UK) - is doing so many of the domestic things like housework and cooking and help with dressing my step-mum's leg injuries.

Del is going to be living with them for another week. After that they will hopefully arrange for a night time Carer to come in and sleep in the house. If my step mum falls over at the moment there is no way Dad could help her get up.

Like Japan, private agency Carers are expensive. But if you apply with doctor's letters there are ways of getting help through the local council. My parents aren't poor, but 2 weeks of a round-the-clock private Carer is about the limit!

So for now my role here is general support and keeping Dad lively - giving him reasons to get out of bed and get dressed and washed. He is so happy I am here.

I can't help but compare my parents with Okaasan.

She is better physically than they are - she can walk and climb steps and dance. But they are better intellectually than she - none of the terrible memory problems.

The similarities though are that all of them have blind spots about recognising their limitations. My Dad and step-mum use supports to help them with getting to the toilet, and aids for the bath. But my Dad still seems to think he will drive again - even though in the past year he's had 2 bad accidents with the car. Back in Japan Okaasan hasn't accepted yet that she needs support for toilet and memory problems. But she is luckily now accepting help with the shopping and cooking and bath.

I had lunch the other day with 2 friends who are my age: we talked a lot about caring for older relatives. We agreed that in many ways the hardest thing to trying to help people who don't think they need help!

Anyway. I've called Japan a few times. Yujiro says he and Okaasan...and the cat are doing ok. Okaasan went back to Hula Dance class, he has managed to drive the car to the supermarket. So they are managing without me.

It's strange. I would never have taken 2 weeks holiday at this point in life. But in way these 2 weeks here in England ARE acting as a holiday for me. I so need it. I'm doing light caring duties, a lot of eating/dog walking/shopping/chatting...I know when I get back to Japan life will be busy with the moving and work and all my life responsibilities. So now is - unexpectedly - a "down" time.

I bought a ticket and dropped my work to rush here this time. But now isn't the emergency I thought it was. It will be one day soon. Maybe another day this year...or next year.

Anyway. I will enjoy my escape from Japan life for now.
I fly back to Japan on Friday night and start work again on Monday (Hi to everyone out at NHK in Shin-Sapporo!).

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Japanese Okaasan and Me...and ethics.

I am trying to get ready to go to England...but...

I am trying to upload some of Tokiko's translated Blog onto this site.

It's hard to do. If you go to "View my complete profile" just under the picture of me, you will see there are TWO blogs, and one of them is Okaasan and Me (Japanese).

That's the best I can do at the moment.
The dates are strange. And I don't have time to upload all the postings. But slowly I will try and do it. Sometime!
I know many Japanese friends and students are reading this and I hope the Japanese will help you.

Blog Ethics

Someone commented that putting the blog into Japanese would be embarrassing for Yujiro...or Okaasan.

It made me think a lot about what I am doing here.

But, I don't think JUST putting it into Japanese should make any difference. Of course it makes it accessible to more people. But there is no difference between what I feel is ok to say in English and what is ok in Japanese.

I do not write anything here I would not say (and DO say!) to friends I meet. I feel a blog is just an electronic form of that.To maybe a wider group of people. But still it is acceptable to say what I say.

Of course, this blog is not just about me...but about Yujiro and Okaasan. They don't know I am writing it. But I truely believe I am not embarrassing them by writing it.

Many old people have problems controlling when they go to the toilet (actually I do myself too and I'm under 50!), many couples have problems with their love life when under stress and many families have disagreements over money.

These kind of topics are not really that shocking are they?

I write this blog with love for the people in it. Okaasan drives me up the wall many many times...Yujiro can be frustrating...but they are very good people and I don't believe I am embarrassing them by writing here.

I leave my Japanese family to go off to England tomorrow. They seem well. Last night we had pizza and salad (Okaasan loves pizza!) and watched silly videos on a TV program. Yujiro will care for Okaasan and the cat while I am gone. Ken will take care of my community center students. I am needed across in England.

There is no computer in my Dad's house and an Internet cafe is 10 km away. But I'll try to blog maybe. Thankyou EVERYONE for all your messages of support!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Going to England

My dad and step-mum last summer.

I've got my airticket and I'm going to the UK on Monday.
I'll be away 2/16 to 2/28.
Luckily Yujiro's leg is getting better enough that he can bend it now and maybe he could drive late next week and reach the supermarket etc. Or friends can help with shopping.
Luckily too I found one teacher who can take over all my community center classes - it is so much easier to give all the text books and student info to one person.

So. Off to the UK. Strange feeling.
I didn't tell my step-mum or Dad yet, because the people that my step-mum is staying with have a big family funeral today and apart from my step-mum they have a house full of their OWN relatives!
I'll call them tomorrow.

There is no computer at my Dad's house, and anyway...what happens there is hardly "Okaasan and me"!! so I guess I won't blog much in the next 2 weeks.

Okaasan sems fine at the moment. I hope she and Yujiro cope. And I hope the cat allows Yujiro to inject him!

AND: Tokiko - who is a wonderful woman - has translated many of these Blog entries into Japanese, and they've been double checked by another wonderful woman called Yukie.
If I have time this weekend, I'll try to upload some of the Japanese....
this Blog is about to go bilingual.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

It never rains, but it...


I just had a phone call from my step-cousin.

A few days ago my Dad collapsed at home. He broke his ankle. He was taken to hospital.
There is still snow round my parents house, and my step-mum tends to fall down unexpectedly at home - so SHE is living with someone in the village etc etc

They don't know why Dad collapsed. He has diabetes, but maybe some other reason.

And my step-aunt , who does so much of the caring for them, SHE is away until the end of the month.

I spoke to my step mum and she said she'd get in a carer to help her at home.

But. I think I need to go back and help. It's all a mess.

If Yujiro can drive our car/friends can help him shop - he can cook and care for Okasan. And the cat. He can bend his leg now. Maybe he can drive a short distance.

I'm going to try and find a substitute teacher and try and get back to England.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Uneasy truce

I'm trying. I really am.

I came home from work very tired yesterday. Sitting at dinner was ok, I just sat there and ate, joined in the conversation occasionally. My brain was already in bed really.

Okaasan had been to the Snow Festival and was feeling perky. Dinner was Oden (a kind of fish paste stew), so there was nothing for her to complain about.

Some of my students (Hi to everyone at Shin-Sapporo!) suggest that maybe the fish problem is because Okaasan is from a different part of Japan and she is used to different kinds of fish. Hmm..I hadn't actually thought of that. Worth a thought I guess, but I still just think she is being fussy and rude to the people who bought the fish and cooked it.

Today was a public holiday in Japan - we told Okaasan to fend for herself for lunch, and we went out early to see TWO movies with friends and have lunch, and then to the book store so I could spend almost two hours attempting to choose books for the new classes from April. I hate doing this job. It's so hard to find textbooks for older adults. Every year this gives me a headache.

I finally finished at 6 pm and we rushed home via the supermarket to pick up food for tomorrow's lunch. Having an Okaasan is like having a pet - you have to get home at a regular time for feeding!

We couldn't face cooking, or eating much actually after a late lunch with friends. So we took Okaasan to kaiten sushi. She enjoys that. Near our new home in Minami Hiragishi is one of the popular sushi places ....I guess we'll be there a lot.

I'm managing to keep up a polite front now. But I hope she doesn't complain about the fish in front of me anytime soon - I might say something nasty.

Poor Yujiro - caught between two women.

One of our movies today was Mamma Mia. It's my 4th time to see it now, and I still cry in the scene between the mother and daughter getting dressed for the wedding. My mother died more than 10 years ago, and I never wanted a white wedding at all - know...all those Mother/Daughter emotions run deep in all of us!

Meanwhile...HIS mamma is alive and kicking...and giving me a whole range of emotions!
Not all of them postive.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Vindictive and Petty...and that's just me!


Angry and vindictive and petty. That's me.

Probably most of my students think I am a sweet, funny, kind person - actually I am not.

Yesterday I took out OUR trash. Didn't go near Okaasan's front door to do greetings or collect trash.
He didn't ask me directly if I had gone, so I didn't have to lie.
I went to work feeling a little guilty - in case she was stretched out on the floor of her apartment needing help and wondering where we were. But not so guilty... One missed trash collection isn't a problem.

During the day he and I chatted by phone: the lunchtime fish had been acceptable, but "old". He told me not to be angry and that there is a Japanese proverb: "Don't be angry with kids because you were a kid once, and don't be angry with old people because you will BE old one day".
"She helped me a lot for years when I was a kid, now it's my turn to help her."

Yes. Well. She HAD to help him. He was her baby. He is choosing to help her. His older brother isn't helping. He could have done the same. But he is a good person, so he is choosing to help. If she doesn't understand that: she is a selfish, ridiculous woman.

I can be angry with kids and old people.
I'll feel the anger on his behalf. And probably increase my cancer risk.

I know now (again) why was right not to have kids. I don't have a forgiving nature. If you are rude or stupid I have no patience for you. A few years ago I taught at a high school and hated it: all the stupid, teenage behaviour...the forgotten homework/the little crushes/the not-wanting-to-look-too-smart-in-front-of-peers - AGHHH!!!!! Such a waste of energy.

Anyway. Yesterday, while I stewed in my vindictive juice, Okaasan went out on her own for the first time in 10 days: she went to the Snow Festival in the sunshine and had a great time! That's good. I'm glad she is up and walking and connecting with outside life again.

I didn't have to see her last night at dinner though because I came home at 8 pm.
And this morning I didn't collect her trash again.

Nice? me? no way.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Thank and TV.

We called her at 6.
She didn't want any dinner.

We broke out into small dances of joy: ordered up pizza. Opened beers and enjoyed our favorite TV program American Idol.

I am so, so glad not to have to be polite to this woman again today.
Tomorrow I am working all day.
Tuesday I work and get home at 6 pm
Maybe by then I can paint a smile back on my face and not think pure murder.

Searching for the perfect fish.

Sapporo Snow Festival weekend - and it is snowing and snowing.

Last night we went out for dinner with a big group of foreign visitors, who I'd brought together via two travel websites I am involved in. 15 people from 7? different countries. It was a fun, drunken night in the snow.

At lunchtime Yujiro had told Okaasan that we were out for dinner and that she should order in food. But then he forgot to telephone her at 6 pm to remind again her...and she forgot what he'd said of she sat at home waiting for us to call her that dinner was ready...I'm sure she didn't starve because she has lots of bits and pieces around...but it was a slip up.

Today we persuaded her to get dressed and come out in the car to go to a shopping mall and have lunch. She's been in and around home for 9 days now. Her leg is ok for walking on, but is still painful when she steps too hard or quickly. She refuses to go to the doctor.

I cleared 25 cm of snow off the car and dug it out and we drive to a new shopping mall that has a Hawaiian dance shop. In March Okaasan's dance group have an event in a local hotel (Yujiro called the dance teacher to check the exact details, because Okaasan kept saying it was "next week").

Anyway. We get to the shopping mall and end up in the soba restaurant having noodles. At the end of the meal Okaasan tells me it didn't taste so good.

We walk round some shops with her.

Then we take her downstairs to the food. While Yujiro goes off round the supermarket to shop..I hover round the specialist fish counters with Okaasan and try to get her to decide on some delicious fish for dinner.

I tell her straight: "Recently, you criticise a lot of the fish we buy and cook. So why don't you choose the fish for tonight. Then it will be delicious."

We go round and round the counters. Half an hour. She peers at stuff. Samples the free offers they are handing out. Drifts and peers some more. Buys nothing.

"None of it looks any good".

So. I suggest we go to Ni-Jo Ichiba. It's the city fish market where all the tourists buy fish and all the big fish companies have shops.

We drive there. I sit in the car controlling my anger. Yujiro and Okaasan drift round THAT market. After 40 minutes I telephone Yujiro on our cell phones and say: enough is enough. She'll eat what we serve and lump it. I would like to go home and have some kind of Sunday. With what's left of it.

On the way home we stop off at a local, fairly good supermarket and I go in and buy the most expensive piece of herring I can find.

I am pretty angry with this woman. I know she has memory problems etc etc. But this is ridiculous. If you don't like what is served and you don't act on TWO opportunities to buy better. Then you are stupid. It's not memory. It's rude ungratefulness.

She doesn't deserve us.

He's trying hard. I'm trying hard.
I'm feeling pretty murderous actually.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Like mother, like son?

One of the interesting things about living up close and personal with your in-law is that you see the person who made your other half what he is.

I guess we all take after one of our parents more than the other - in this family it's Yujiro and Okaasan. I never met father because he died 3 years before Yujiro and I got together, but from all I hear he was a serious, hard-working, married-to-the-business kind of guy who didn't like music at home. An accountant who ended up as Vice-President of a company. Yujiro's older brother is a nice guy, but pretty conventional. Work, drink whiskey, work some more...

My opinionated, funny, egotistical, open-hearted guy - well...he came from Okaasan for sure.

She laughs a lot. She giggles. She loves a funny story. She's interested in foreign countries and people. She's determined. She doesn't stand on ceremony too much. She calls it as she sees it. She thinks she knows best. She makes sweeping judgements.

When she first came to Sapporo we took her winter boot shopping. She walked up and down in the store testing the boots and at my suggestion: she jumped a few times and laughed. Not many 78 year old Japanese ladies JUMP in shoe shops!

The downside is her insistence that she knows best. Particularly with food, what is good/bad, how it should be cooked.

He is getting so stressed by it. She told us: "I eat everything!". But she doesn't. She really doesn't. About 3 times a week now she is turning her nose up at something. "Hmm, this fish isn't good...this fish is too old, this fish tastes with no head isn't good...I don't eat this vegetable raw...this sauce is strange..." this list goes on...and on...

I come home or get e mail from him, she didn't like something he cooked again. And told him so. It looks like we'll have to buy much more fish from department stores rather than supermarkets. Go up market a bit. Spend more.

It annoys me. If someone is shopping for you and cooking, I think a bit of gratitude and keeping your opinions positive is in order. I hardly cook at the moment, maybe once or twice a week - so her comments are not about MY cooking. But he is hurting...

Funny in a way though - he's often done the same to me and it's been the source of some of our fights as a couple. Not about cooking much, but about how to do things. He thinks he knows best and can't understand why I don't want his helpful advice.

I am pig headed and believe that at 40 plus years old I can open a packet of food the way I want. Without someone saying:" no! no! do it like this!"

So, although I am sorry for him feeling Okaasan's criticism - a part of me is also thinking: "Ha! see how YOU like it!"

I am an evil woman.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Got a bath...and a house!

Here we are - we got a BIG bath...and a house in Minami Hiragishi! Yeah! We hope to move in April. Tonight we told Okaasan and showed her pictures...and what did she notice in "her" room? The tokonoma - flower arrangement/seasonal display place that traditional Japanese rooms have! AND - she's feeling much better and managed to walk into our apartment for dinner tonight. So. Good news all round.

I'm still standing...but not eating.

Okaasan is making progress, getting to her feet from the carpet better. Standing and moving around the apartment. We're not sure if she can get into the bath yet because the bathside is about hip height.

She is generally brighter and more her old self.

I suggested to Yujiro that we take dinner IN to her apartment yesterday. I thought maybe some family time with conversation and food would be a lift for her, as opposed to our constant short little checking visits.

So at 6 pm we put all the nabe/table-top stew materials in a pot and bag and took them to her place. She found the table under the mountain of papers and we set up dinner in front of the TV.

"Ahh, but I don't really want to eat...I had a food delivery at lunchtime...I'm not so hungry!"

Oh can't be helped! Our mistake really, he hadn't clearly checked with her that she wanted to actually eat dinner. So, we sat and ate. She sat next to us and chatted a bit and we all companionably stared at the Tv for a while.

Then we took all the dirty bowls, chopsticks, pots and food pacakging back to OUR apartment.
She didn't eat. But maybe it was a good thing to do, a little energising event. She's been inside her apartment now for 4 days.

Luckily now there is snow falling in Sapporo...finally. So the ice sheets are getting covered up and hopefully she'll be able to go out later this week. Her knee still looks swollen to me. But she and he don't seem to think that's a problem. And we know Okaasan's feelings about doctors!

So today. My day off.

This morning the accountant is coming to look at my books and tell me if I actually made a small profit on my English school this year.
And then we are off to see THREE houses that Yujiro found.
We have to give an answer on "our" house today. I kind of just want to decide THAT house and stop the search. There will always be "better" places, but I'd like to move to the next stage of planning and enjoying the place we already found.

Sitting in the bath last night, with my knees on the same level as my ears, I thought about the BIG, new bath in "our" house...ahhhh....nice! And it would be SO nice for Okaasan.

I like our home here - I like the little pocket garden with its cherry tree and gardening neighbors, I like the view of the Japanese-style house across the street, I like the location...but...but..I will find more things to like in another house I am sure.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

"Our" house - chance again?

Just like a teenage love drama - the Minami Hiragishi house comes back into our lives again.
And we are all of a dither.

Sunday's estate agent called back yesterday to say: "The yellow house owner says 'No' to a cat, and in fact this owner has already said 'No' to about 30 people...they seem to want only doctors and lawyers in these houses!"

Then he and Yujiro talked some more. This company too has "our" house on its books. He asked us what kind of price we WOULD pay for it. We told him...he called the owner...for 15 minutes Yujiro and I pretended we were interested in washing tea cups and checking weather reports on TV...and then the agent called back...

The Minami Hiragishi house could be ours! For a new, lower price! And an April 1st move. And the cat is ok. AND we could have the key in March if we want to measure things and move some stuff in!

Eeeeekk! Good news at last? We hope!

We asked to have until Wednesday to decide. But....
Yujiro is doing a final search on the Internet for houses and there is one maybe nearer my school that is a possible, we may go see today...but... the Minami-Hiragshi house has been "our" house in conversation since we first saw it.

Fingers crossed please!

Okaasan of course doesn't know about all of this.
Her leg is still painful. But she can slowly get up and down from the carpet. She gets to the toilet and bathroom and she gets to the front door to pay the food delivery man. Last night she even talked about going to hula dancing on Wednesday, although I think that would be in car.

Yujiro's leg is also getting a bit better. The doctor said he should start gentle bending practice at home.

The cat's legs are as wobbly as ever. He looked over his shoulder at the dried food bag yesterday - lost his balance and fell over.

My legs are great. One of my charm points really. I got them from my mother!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Recovery and freedom!

Sunday here was an incredibly cold day.

Okaasan stayed indoors massaging her knee and watching TV. She managed to get up and down from the carpet and reach the bathroom ok.

Yujiro made her breakfast. I took it into her on a tray...but she said: "Oh, didn't I say I don't want to eat?"
Grrrr!!! She didn't actually. So I just left it on her kitchen counter. This is a basic problem about cooking for someone/having someone cook for you - your wants and what you get sometimes don't match. And there are confused feelings all round.

Anyway. We then got out and escaped.

Went home hunting. We spent 4 hours seeing houses with an agent. Saw 2 nice old houses - but not suitable because of location and/or bathroom. It's like peering back into Sapporo history a little to see inside 20-25 year old homes with the style of woodwork etc
We also explored a new area, two stations down from my school - Sumikawa. Actually a good area with nicer homes and more space between the buildings. There is also a shopping/dining area near the subway station.

We saw a NEW cheap-build house. Kind of a yellow cube house. Absolutely goregous inside with all mod cons. Near the station and the library and care center (!!!!). It was just out of our "home" price range, but we'd save on things like heating bills and I expect a few private students would come to the house, although Sumikawa has a lot of local foreigners living there already.
Probably the owner has a "No pets" rule...the agent will check. Even though our old cat couldn't stand on his two back legs to scratch anything now...I can imagine the owner won't relent.Our current house has a "no pets" rule too, but I managed to appeal to the owner's human side with an appeal letter that a friend translated for me - and our cat is actually written into our current contract as an ammendment!

The house was wonderful. I would SO want to live there! I can really imagine Okaasan happy in that warm, bright, convenient home near shops etc
But I am guessing it'll be impossible - unless our dear cat dies. That'll be soon, but who knows when exactly.
Home hunting is like teenage dating - you get your hopes all raised on a new love, and then dashed again for some reason. I should try to protect my emotions from heartache...

We checked on Okaasan late afternoon. She agreed to eat ordered in udon noodles again. Meanwhile we went out to dinner with the Hong Kong woman who is staying at my English School. It was very relaxing to just go out and eat and drink like that, minus our Okaasan. We have to remember who we are...

This morning he goes to hospital to have his leg checked.
I go to work.
Okaasan will massage her leg and hopefully stay indoors.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Okaasan returns...we hope!

This morning she is looking MUCH better! Much more her usual strong voice, smiling self.

Such a relief. The curled up on the carpet, moaning and crying Okaasan was awful.

We woke up and went straight in to see her. She'd moved from last night's sleeping place and was under the bedding instead, she'd obviously got up and walked to the bathroom and changed her pajamas. And got back again safely.
She was sitting up in the bedding watching TV.
And she wants breakfast!

Thank goodness.