Watching Cells Divide

Time flies when you’ve reproduced. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and formulate a new blog entry, and in truth this one has taken a lot longer than I would have liked. I suppose it’s to be expected when between feeding, burping and cleaning the baby I struggle to find time to even feed, burp and clean myself. Still, as busy and crazy as it has been so far, I am enjoying my new role as a mother.

Noah is just about 6 weeks old now, and it’s hard to believe that as klutzy as I am, he’s still all in one piece. Actually, he seems pretty healthy and content, and is growing ridiculously fast. Sometimes I just sit and stare at him, and from one moment to the next he looks like an entirely different kid. Watching cells divide is nothing like watching a pot of coffee brew. There is something new every day, and I almost want him to slow down, but I’m happy he’s doing so well.

If my current life was a television show, I think it would be called “I Can’t Believe They Just Let Me Do That”. In a world where I am forbidden to carry an orange across the Canadian border into the US it is pretty amazing that I’ve been allowed to make another human being without having to fill out an application form or get some sort of pre-approval. The same goes for giving our son his name. Sometimes when I say his name out loud I can’t believe we had the right to name him at all. It sort of makes me feel like I am Adam in the Garden of Eden naming all the animals for God. But naming a person is not just like naming the neighborhood cat, or the little teddy that lives in Noah’s crib, because Roger the cat and Neddy the Teddy are never going to come back to us one day and complain that they think their name stinks. Our son’s name will consciously follow him everywhere throughout his life. It will likely to be the first word he’ll recognize and learn to spell. He’ll hear his name every day when they take attendance in school. People will ask him if he’s Jewish or make unfunny jokes about boats and floods. All that aside, what matters is that he likes it, and as much as I feel like we chose the right name, it will be years before I know for sure what he really thinks. Matt figures that he at least has two choices to pick from. His middle name is Kai (海), which in Japanese means ocean. As we live by the sea and this was the year of the great Japanese tsunami, it seemed a fitting choice. Everyone likes it and we are happy we could give him a name that meant something significant to where he was born.

Thus far, both his given names have been well received here, which is a relief because ‘Noah’ is actually the name of a Toyota mini-van model in Japan. Most Japanese people are not acquainted with the bible story about the old man who packed up all the animals into a big boat that he built in his backyard. I wasn’t sure if people were going to think we were car enthusiasts or if we were just plain stupid. Lucky for us it turns out they think the name sounds cool.

If you’ve read through my Made in Japan series, you know that being pregnant in Japan has been an interesting social adventure for us, and having an actual baby here looks just as promising. There are very few foreigners living in our town, and so you can imagine that there are next to no foreign looking babies around. Taking Noah out of the house anywhere is like hanging out with Brad Pitt. People instantly are drawn to him and will cross traffic, or come running up to us in the mall, just to see his face. As an ice breaker they almost always ask how old he is, then they move into a commentary on his high nose, long legs and other unJapanese features, and finally finish off with as many kawaii’s (the word for ‘cute’) as you can fit into a single breath. This of course is the reaction of complete strangers. The reaction of friends or students is usually less composed and is accompanied by screams of excitement, repeated jumping up and down and lots of flash photography. Like I said, Brad Pitt.

Going beyond just the surface reactions to our new bundle of babe, there are a few other noteworthy points to acknowledge. In Japan, it is customary for the mother to leave her home a month or so before the birth to go and live with her parents. She’ll stay there for some time after the baby is born too. This is a great system which ensures that the new mom gets the rest, food and help she needs. People often showed a lot of concern when I told them my parents were only going to be here for a couple weeks after the baby was born, so much so that I started to stretch the truth about random visitors we are expecting over the next couple of months. A younger cousin of mine who is backpacking in South East Asia might be stopping off in Japan on his way back to Canada, but the way I’ve sold it to my colleagues and neighbors is that he is coming to help assist with the baby. He’ll probably only change a diaper here or there, but more importantly, the idea of another family member around puts everyone else a little more at ease.

Another interesting custom observed by new moms is the practice of not taking the baby out of the house for at least one month after the birth. I lasted about 2 days at home before my mom and dad were pushing us to go for walks in the neighborhood with the stroller and at about 3 weeks old we were driving all the way to Miyazaki city to arrange Noah’s residential visa. Strangers would ask how old the baby was and when I answered they looked as if they were about to have a heart attack. More than one old woman asked me if I was ok, and it was hard to tell if they were referring to my general health or my mental stability. After all, what sort of crazy woman takes her baby out in a stroller at 3 weeks old!?

My neighbors love Noah to bits and are always thrilled to see him, and even better, hold him. They have been so helpful, bringing me food almost every day. In the beginning I tried to repay their favors with small return gifts, because that’s the general practice here in Japan, but I soon realized how futile it was to try and keep up with their generosity. Just when I thought to myself that I had successfully done my reciprocating duty, there would be a knock at the door and it would be one of my neighbors with cookies, or a loaf of bread, or a box of tea. Sometimes the same people would come twice in one day. Honestly, I couldn’t eat the stuff fast enough. Eventually I stopped trying to give back every time and just tried to graciously receive. It has really touched me to know that people here look out for their neighbor’s as diligently as they have looked after me and I have a new respect for Japan all over again.

While the first few weeks back home from the hospital was definitely a challenge, life is finding balance again. The days are shaping up to be slightly more predictable, with Noah falling into his own self-made schedule that his dad and I willfully tumble into as well. Funnily enough, if our apartment was an ark, he would definitely hold the title of ‘captain’…currently one of my favorite nick names for him is Master and Commander. The lad runs a tight ship. In about 2 weeks I’ll be heading back to work, and that of course will be an entirely different sort of challenge. For now I am doing my best to enjoy every moment with my son, watching him smile, watching him grow and watching him watch me back. You might not believe me, but it never gets old.