We are on a train, my son and I. He is sitting on my lap facing me. There is not much space on the seat, and he is a chunky 2.5-year-old. He hits my nose with his forehead, not intentionally, but with enough force that it hurts.
“Sit still,” the words shoot out of my mouth, unnecessarily stern. He pouts and looks me in the eye and says several times:
“Mummy, don’t [be] cross.” He looks so serious. He just wants to play and have fun. He doesn’t like cross mummy.
“Okay,” I say, and force a smile.
We’re on our way to our International playgroup. We live in Japan. I am British, my husband is Japanese. Our son is both of those things and neither. Mixed race. The fastest growing demographic. The hope for the future, perhaps.
Seeking out other families like us, other mothers like myself, has been a struggle for me. We go most weeks to a group of other English speaking moms and their little kids. There have been times when this group has been fraught with stress and disconnection for me. The group seemed splintered along nationality/ethnic lines, and there was no easy place for me to fit in.
Add in all the weird mom stuff – all the stuff about cloth diapering or not, breast versus bottle, baby-led versus whatever it is the rest of us do, the endless competition about whose kid was developing faster and better – and finding other moms to connect with seemed an impossible task. It all left me drained at a time when I didn’t have any energy to spare. Why do we do that to ourselves?
The journey to get to the playgroup takes the best part of an hour even though it’s located in the same city we live in. The bus and train rides are so stressful some days that I barely make it there in one piece. I’m tired before I we’ve even started.
There are days when cross mummy seems to come so easily. One minor foot out of place from my son and cross mummy explodes, reducing him to tears. I don’t like cross mummy either.
Today, as the world reels under recent political events, I feel a new sense of how important it is to parent in a way that will bring more light into our dark world. I want to parent peacefully, by connection, respectfully, mindfully, and with love.
It has been a year. The UK chose Brexit. The world is still reeling from the news that the US has chosen Trump. Even before that, people kept dying, a long list of UK celebs. Then there was Alan Rickman, Bowie, and Prince. The news of Leonard Cohen’s death has been added to the list.
It’s almost like they knew it was time to get off the planet. On my Facebook feed, people were asking for a rewrite on 2016 before it had even got properly going. But it kept going, and more people kept dying, and now it feels like the hope of a future where tolerance, openness, and togetherness are the values we live by has died as well.
When we arrive at playgroup, there are three Americans and a Canadian in the room already. Two Japanese moms arrive a bit later. No one mentions the election results. Maybe they’d already talked about it by the time we arrive. Many of the moms here today are new to the group. The atmosphere feels nice. I can’t talk for everyone, but for me, the group feels easier than it felt a year ago.
A couple of the moms say they’ve read my article about my struggle to be happy as a mom. I was nervous to share it, but they say nice things, how they have felt the same way. We start to approach something like real, open communication, about stuff that actually matters. Motherhood is hard, and we all need support. I leave feeling a bit lighter today.
On our way home, we get on a train and I try to find an empty seat. A man in his 40s or early 50s sits next to an empty seat, which is occupied by a bag. I hover, expecting him to move the bag. When he doesn’t, I make eye contact and ask for the seat. He tells me someone has gone to the bathroom. The look in his eye makes me want to punch him. I think he’s lying.
In the 10 minutes we’re on the train, no one emerges to claim the seat. I try to say how my son is small and it’s dangerous for him to stand on the train. The man just looks at me. He’s an arsehole, no two ways about it. Working on my best sarcastic tone, I say, “I understand. Wa ka ri ma shi ta.”
We move further down the train, my son is whining, saying he needs a seat. I say loudly, in English, “I know you need a seat. But people in this country are so rude.” A woman gets up and gestures for us to sit. I don’t know if she understood my words, but she got my meaning.
As we sit down I’m still fuming. I wish I’d told that man to go f**k himself. I don’t know how to say that in Japanese. Then I realize people watch so many American movies that everyone knows that word. English would’ve worked.
Then I remember the Martin Luther King quote I posted on Facebook this morning. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
So I squeeze my son, pulling him closer into my lap, and say, “I love you.” He turns his head to look at me, smiles, and says, “I love you, too.”