The Japanese Ladies’ Lesson

When I look out of my kitchen window I can see the back of Miho’s house. For a long time after she was gone, when evening’s darkness would settle over the neighborhood and the timed lights would turn on in the empty home, I would imagine she was still inside clearing the supper dishes. I did the same thing for weeks when the school bus would come in the morning to pick up the children who live nearby. As was my daily habit, I would gaze out the same window absentmindedly searching for Tetsu and Haru’s faces among the little ones. Then with sadness, I would remember that they had returned to their native country.

The then 10-year-old twins had grown rapidly through the years as our neighbors. But their father’s U.S. work assignment was finished, and it was time for the family to go back to the country where the boys had been born, where their extended family would surely be anxiously awaiting their arrival, and where their years in America would become a memory of a season past.

Their home in Japan, a nation over 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, greatly contrasted the lifestyle they had experienced in Ohio. I would learn much from Miho during the time we were able to spend together, despite our busy schedules. Language was a barrier in the beginning, but that barrier was bridged by the kindred spirit that we shared. Miho was not my first Japanese friend though. It was Kyoko, whom I originally met in an exercise class at the YMCA, who paved the way for me to understand how courageous the Japanese families who live among us, up and down I-75 are. The women are especially brave, because while their men find identity and professional camaraderie in their workplace, the ladies must find their own purpose in a country that is so foreign to their own.

Their children also have to learn to assimilate into a school setting with a language and customs dissimilar to what they’ve known. Yet it is often said that children are more adaptable than adults when it comes to change. Still, that’s not always the case, as I’ve heard stories about little ones crying themselves to sleep at night, overwhelmed by change.

As for the sense of loss and displacement that children and adults can both experience when they are thrust into a different environment, we commonly refer to this condition as homesickness. Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, who is a University of Alabama associate professor sees this phenomenon in college freshmen. According to a post on www.hercampus.com, “Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment…people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home – [your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with our new way of life.”

Yet, Kyoko and Miho shared a common trait that enabled them to find friends, and rewarding outlets and activities, while in the United States. They both sought diligently to master the English language, even though this can be a daunting challenge. By personality, they were also extremely friendly, willing to try new challenges and social situations, and accepting of others. I miss both of these dear ladies, but they left me with an important lesson about being aware of the transplanted individuals in our communities, not only the Japanese, but others who might be struggling with feelings of isolation.

Unfortunately, in recent history, due to terrorism, senseless mass shootings in general, and the Opioid crisis, we have become suspicious of anyone we don’t know. Sadly, now this distrust is even within our churches. There is legitimate cause for this fear, and we need to use wisdom and keep ourselves and our children as safe as possible.

But at the end of the day, we can’t let fear dictate our daily interactions with those who live, work, or worship among us. We need to reach out with hospitality and acceptance, and fight fear with faith. After all, this is America, “the home of the free and the land of the brave.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Ohio APME and Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

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The Grandness of Grandparenting

The other day I saw a newer SUV with the bumper sticker, “Dog Grandma.” I was surprised that someone would announce their identity as the proud grandparent of a canine to the world. Yet most people are passionate about something and when it comes to grandchildren, even four-legged ones, this is a frequently discussed topic among boomers [born between 1946-1964] and beyond. Generations X [born 1965-1976] also comprise a significant segment of those who have raised children and are now becoming proud grandparents. For proof of bragging rights, take a few minutes and randomly scroll through your social media accounts to see the countless posts and photos about grandkids.

For instance, as soon as I opened Facebook the other day, the first post I saw was one of those too-cute-not-to-read stories and it was written by my Facebook friend, Terry Pontius. Terry is a retired Ohio United Methodist pastor, who titled his post, “The joy of being a Grandpa.” Here’s the story: “Today our 5th Grader Grandsons, Jack and Luke, invited Grandpa and Grandma to their school lunch. I crammed my knees under the kid-high table and wedged onto the small, round seat. Halfway through lunch I commented to Luke, “What if I get stuck here? I’ll have to eat cafeteria food the rest of my life!”

Luke smiled and replied, “They have really good pizza on Fridays!”

Terry’s experience gave me a good chuckle, because as the late TV host, Art Linkletter, used to say, “Kids do say the darndest things.” The truth is even though I am definitely in the grandparent age demographic, I don’t have any stories of my own to tell or photos to post, because I’m not a grandmother. When I was a young mother, I assumed that someday I would be a grandma, but life doesn’t always turn out like we assume.  Although most relatives and friends my age, former school classmates, and older work acquaintances have entered this second stage of enjoying children that are the offspring of their own children. Their faces almost beam in an otherworldly sort of way when they affectionately share tales of their grandkids.

Also, if  you ask someone you meet if they have any grandchildren, be prepared for them to just happen to have a few, which will turn into a couple of dozen photos on their cellphone. The love a grandparent displays for the young ones who are of their bloodline can be almost comical. Have you ever seen a big burly-looking older man gently holding the tiny hand of his grandchild? After all, a grandkid can reduce the gruffest male to a doting puddle of emotions.

Since I’m not a grandparent, there were a few years when I was envious of others who were. I had to emotionally work my way through that, because as human beings we have to adjust to whatever life brings. Of course, I still could be some day, but truthfully I’ve come to realize there are a variety of distressing situations that grandparents can encounter.

First, some individuals, through no fault of their own, don’t have the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren. Whether due to a broken family tie, geographical distance, or another unfortunate scenario, a grandparent either has no relationship or a very limited one. I have listened to the lament and grief not seeing grandchildren can cause. There are even court proceedings revolving around grandparents’ rights.

Secondly, there are self-sacrificing folks who have custody of their grandchildren, and their ranks are growing due to our country’s opioid crisis. “Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures,” reports the PBS News hour in a Feb. 16, 2016 article by Alejandra Cancino. (AP) I admire these noble people who have given up their expectations for a peaceful empty nest or quiet retirement, and have opened their hearts and homes to their displaced grandchildren. They are everywhere, and they are a reminder of what the word “family” truly means.

When it comes to grandparenting, it’s been enough for me to live vicariously through other folks’ grandchildren, especially on social media. I enjoy seeing your grandkids eat their first piece of birthday cake, play with their dolls or trucks, or to read the funny stories they come up. So grandparents, please keep posting!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. She is a two-time Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor who has been featured on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in the near future. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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