Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tooth # 5, food glorious food and the early stages of crawling

Our child seems to be going for some sort of record-breaking performance in the tooth department! Today I spotted tooth # 5! Nope, not “a tooth about to erupt” but a tooth that has already broken through his gums and has already been put to good use on a wide array of teething devices. Surprisingly, this tooth was preceded only by a rare midnight feeding last night and of course copious amounts of drool.

We’ve got Keenan up to 2 solid food meals a day and he’s really enjoying it. I mentioned a while back that I wasn’t sure if his early teeth would indicate an early need for solids. Well I’m pretty sure the two go together in this case. Especially since he’s barely cutting back on his breast-feeding need/interest. We’ve been taking the recommended route of introducing solids one at a time and 4 to 7 days apart to ensure there’s no allergic reaction and so far so good. I’m making all of Keenan’s baby food and freezing it in small batches with great success. So far Keenan loves his veggies more than fruits and his grains include rice, quinoa and oats. He eats quinoa or oats or a mixture of the two which I grind into flour and then cook to make a gruel (yes Tom, the boy loves his gruel as much as you do!) for a mid morning meal. I mix that with one or two fruits such as banana, apple or persimmon. He eats about a half a cup of that followed by a two boobies and then he literally passes out for a few hours. Then in the evening he has rice with one or two veggies like yaki imo (roasted sweet potato), kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) or avocado (I know it’s really a fruit but he doesn’t like it with breakfast!). In between he snacks on rice crackers, which are a blast because they stick to his face and hands when he drools on them! And yesterday I bought spinach and kabocha bite sized biscuits, which he really loves, and are getting him to understand what chewing is all about. Once he hits the 7-month mark we’ll work on expanding his horizons in the food department. We’re holding back on the juice or water except for a very rare treat and even then we dilute the juice with 50% water. The problem is he likes the taste way too much so he’s not happy to only have a wee bit and when we give him more he pukes it up. Here’s something interesting though…if he has a bit of juice with water and then I breast feed him he still pukes but he only pukes up the water and juice not the breast milk. Freaky.

As if getting new teeth and having a good appetite isn’t good enough Mr. Progress is getting better at “pre-crawling” every day. He’s on his hands and knees for longer periods of time now and he really gets into bouncing in that position. When he really gets into it he laughs like crazy and then falls on his face and then laughs some more. So the very near future holds the task of keeping things up high, doing away with cables and a visit to the baby store for all the safety stuff to keep his curious little hands out of cupboards, drawers, heaters and plugs. Oh joy!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Close encounters of the illegal alien baby kind

2 aliens...the one with the ears is finally legal
This is a “venting” post. The grammar will suck and the tenses might be senseless but I will feel much better by the time you read it.

The last 2 days have been stressful in ways I couldn’t even dream up in my worst nightmares. It started on Sunday evening when I was filling out the forms for travel insurance for Keenan and myself. Sean is covered thru his employer for our trip to Canada in a few weeks but Keenan and I are not. No big problem as it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to get travel insurance here. The one thing that worried me was the extensive list of exceptions on the application so I saved the filling out of these forms for a quiet evening so I could sit down and read the “fine print”. There are many interesting things you come across when reading print translated from Japanese into English. Most are absolutely abhorrent errors in grammar that are so ridiculous I often feel like someone must be videotaping my reaction in secret because no well meaning person would actually write…”insured members will be except from coverage due to any unforeseen calamity”. One sentence in the fine print that went something like “we will not be responsible for arranging travel visa’s for you or your children” fuelled a nasty feeling I’ve had about Keenan’s residency status since he was born.

Let’s go back more than half a year to the point in time when I was still pregnant and getting together the mountain of paperwork we had to fill out for Keenan once he was born. We got his Canadian passport and citizenship applications. Got all the details together for applying for his Japanese Alien registration card. Checked out the procedures for registering his birth at City Hall and Sean’s office was going to take care of signing him up for health insurance. We consulted the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, the Canadian consular designate in Sapporo, Sean’s office and the City Hall here in Obihiro and all said that was all we needed to do. Shortly after Keenan was born we filled everything out and all seemed hunky dory.

Now we’re back to Monday, the day before yesterday and after reading the “fine print” I asked Sean to confirm with his office whether Keenan needed a visa or not. I was going to call Immigration in Sapporo and triple check with them. Calling the Sapporo Immigration office can be a seriously frustrating exercise as they are supposed to have someone that speaks English on staff but I think their name might be Suzuki Snufalupogus. In other words that person is rumored to exist but nobody who speaks English has ever actually spoken to them. It’s really unsettling speaking to someone with broken English about immigration issues since we live either a 5 or 3 hour drive from the nearest immigration office. You could get all the way out there and realize that you don’t have all the forms or ID you need because the person you were dealing with on the phone gave you the wrong info or didn’t know how to say it in English. So on Monday morning after Keenan went down for a nap I called Sapporo Immigration and prepared my self for a hen pecking conversation of broken English and my even more broken Japanese. To my complete and utter surprise I got Snufalupogus on the phone. Next and in no uncertain terms he informed me that Keenan needed a visa and should have had one 30 days after he was born and now he is an illegal alien and we have broken Japanese immigration laws and by the way, why did you do this? OH MY GOD. I can’t tell you how those words sharpened my defenses to a razor’s edge. Shit! What’s going to happen next? Will we be deported? Will they call the police? Wait. Did I give this guy my name? Say where we lived? I did say Sean was on the JET program and we know the only other JET couple that had a baby on Hokkaido in the last year and they’ve already returned home. It wouldn’t be too hard to find us. Now into problem solving mode…“I’m so sorry we made such a big mistake, can you please help me fix it?” So it turns out we would need to get to the Immigration office sooner rather than later with our passports and alien registration cards (which all 3 of us have), Keenan’s shyusshyoo shomei sho (a copy of Keenan’s birth certificate which is a whole other nightmare I’ll save for another post), Sean’s zaishoku shomei sho (proof of his employment), my Mother’s book and a letter explaining why we didn’t get Keenan a visa within 30 days of his birth. I was told he couldn’t guarantee the situation would be resolved in one visit and that Keenan’s visa application would need to be reviewed by some big wig on up high because we would be applying under “special circumstances”. Good Mxxxxxxxxxing grief. At least two full day trips to Sapporo and there’s already snow in the mountains and it would be 10 to 12 hours of driving a day depending on Keenan’s mood and actually he would be totally and understandably a nightmare if we strapped him into his car seat for that long. “Ok, thank you very much for your help. We’ll see you soon. Bye-bye”. To the sounds of Keenan cooing himself awake I collected my thoughts and devised my plan. Call Sean and compare notes, email Eiko and ask if she can call Sapporo and confirm everything I’ve just been told and check if we can do this in Kushiro (only 3 hours away) then get all the paperwork together. (Typed by Sean while I got up to eat my breakfast…FART FART FARTY FART!! ...Isn’t he so lovely?!) By the end of day Eiko had called Sapporo and confirmed all the stuff we needed and found out that we could get this done in Kushiro. Sean’s classes on Tuesday ended at 11:45 am and Eiko offered to come with us so we decided we’d head to Kushiro in the afternoon.

On Tuesday I got up early, had a shower, drove Sean to work, did the banking downtown, bought Keenan a new Shinada because I couldn’t resist it and I needed a bit of retail therapy and then we headed to City Hall to get a copy of Keenan’s birth certificate. I was a little fed up with the whole “lack of any clear system” to get our child properly registered in this country so I took an “I don’t speak or understand any Japanese” position. I don’t really speak or understand much anyways but I was feeling extra stubborn and wanted these folks to work for their supper as they were part of the reason we were scrambling to get this stuff done. Did I mention I felt like I was getting my period for the first time in 13 months?! So I finally got 2 copies of Keenan’s birth certificate (1 for immigration and 1 just in case we need it when we’re traveling-I had to lie to get the friggin’ second copy), drove home to Eiko waiting, packed up our stuff, picked up Sean and then the 4 of us were off to Kushiro. Five minutes into the drive Keenan starts screaming because we’ve had such a whirlwind morning I hadn’t had a chance to feed him for a few hours. So 10 minutes later we pull into the Dai Ichi in Satsunai. I nurse Keenan in the parking lot while Sean and Eiko get some bento, beverages and eats for the drive. Twenty-five minutes later were on the road again. We arrive at the Kushiro Immigration office around 3 pm and Eiko explains our story to the lone Immigration Officer. He knew our details before we walked in the door as the Sapporo office called him the day before. So it turns out this fellow is the #1 boss and the other lowly guys were away taking care of some other sort of immigration business. He was a really lovely man with kind eyes, a grey beard and a “I have 6 grandkids and I’m 5 years away from retiring” kind of way. I finished filling out the paperwork by 3:15 and our applications were faxed to some unknown locale for approval by some other high up folks (remember we made ourselves a “special circumstances” case by not getting Keenan’s visa within 30 days). Within minutes we’re told Keenan has been granted a visa and that it’s over in the time it takes to read this sentence.

And now? Now I really can’t wait to get our 3 butts on that plane to Canada.

If you are having a child in Japan here’s some important immigration tips…

-Deal directly with the immigration office for your region to make sure you have all the applications you need before your child is born
-If you have a bad feeling about something follow your intuition and if you get the run-a-round here call or email the passport/citizenship department in your home country
-Be aware that the deadlines to apply for a gaijin card, passport, citizenship and visa make absolutely no sense (e.g.: the visa application must be made within 30 days of birth but you can’t apply for a visa without a passport and it took us 60 days to get Keenan’s Canadian passport)
-Every child born in Japan to non-Japanese parents needs a visa and a re-entry permit if you plan on leaving and returning to Japan
-Always read the fine print

Thursday, November 16, 2006

First ocean visit 2m tsunami warning tooth #3 tooth #4 5cm of snow 6 gazillion tons of concrete 8.1 quake a Whooper Swan wedgie & a call from the BBC

The above are the highlights of our life from the last 3 days. I like singing it to the 12 days of Christmas tune.

It started on Tuesday. I was breastfeeding Keenan and well, he bit me. He’s bitten me before but he’s only had teeth on the bottom so it felt totally different. Teeth on the bottom AND top work together to produce a whole new type of sensation! So, I stuck my finger in his mouth and lo and behold his top right, front tooth had pushed through his gums overnight. That explains the excessive drool and disruption in his rock solid sleep patterns.

Then yesterday I drove Sean to his high school in Taiki. It’s about an hour drive away and he only had one class so I figured I’d take Keenan down to the river to see the spawning salmon and then we’d pick up Sean and take Keenan for his first visit to the ocean. Keenan whinged or screamed for the whole time we were at the river. When I held him he wanted to be in his stroller, when he was in his stroller he wanted to be held. So I gave up and I took him back to the car to nurse him. Then we picked up Sean and some lunch and headed out to the ocean. Hokkaido has some of the most rugged yet breathtakingly beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen. The area we went to had steep, high cliffs that ran out to a short beach. A serious effort has been made to restore the ocean side forest that once existed along this stretch but when you look down the cliff face your view is obscured by what seem to be giant sized concrete jacks stacked in triangular columns, which run parallel to the cliff as far as the eye can see. Two rows of them ensure the huge waves break far enough away from the cliff to minimize erosion. First of all it’s an awful eyesore and secondly nobody lives out there. I can’t imagine that the ocean is eating away at the island at such an alarming rate that they must invest millions and millions of yen to pepper the entire coast. So Keenan’s first look at the ocean was not so pretty and actually he wasn’t really awake for much of it seeing how he was nursing or napping the whole time. While I was nursing him and Sean was out taking photos I was sitting there with my eyes closed while I listened to the waves crash into the beach. I could swear that somewhere off in the distance I could hear Canada geese (the sound of Canada geese carrying on as they fly in formation is on my top 10 things I miss about Canada). I just assumed I was getting pretrip nostalgia for all things “home” and then I opened my eyes and saw a very distinct “V” flying towards me. What the frick? As they got closer I realized they were Whooper Swans. Whooper Swans have marked the end of fall and the beginning of winter each year we’ve been here. Seeing those beautiful creatures fly up the coast and over me filled me with sadness about our stay here coming to a close. Shortly after that Sean reappeared and we headed for home. I spent the evening tidying up the apartment and surfing the net. The phone rang around 9 and it was Pat. Very odd for us to get a call from Canada in the evening so I knew something was up. It turns out there had just been an 8.1 earthquake just off the Kuril islands north east of us and there apparently was a 2 meter tsunami warning issued. Hmm, very interest. This was all over CNN, CBC and CTV back home but not much about it had hit the airwaves here. Maybe that’s why the beaches are stacked with miles of concrete! I sent out the standard “we’re ok” email I send out to family and friends after every earthquake that makes it to international news and called my mom. We checked to make sure none of our friends were living along the NE coast and then we checked the BBC an hour or two later to see if anything came of the tsunami. There was this thing at the bottom of the update that said something like…Do you live on Hokkaido? Did you feel the quake? We didn’t feel a thing but we live on Hokkaido so I figured I met half the criteria to warrant my comments! So, I filled out the online form and in about 2 minutes I received a reply back asking me if it was ok if the BBC called me to talk about our “experience”. How novel! Sure I’ll answer your questions! We live in the middle of the island, 5 hours away from the affected coast and are in no danger what so ever but I’d love to chat with someone from the BBC! Sure enough the nice lady called, we chatted and that was about it. Then we watched the Soprano’s, ate some Doritos’s and went to bed.

Then this morning we wake up to our first snow to fall on the city this winter. Remember what I said about the swans? I’m pretty sure they brought the winter with them from Siberia. Keeping with the white theme this morning also saw the arrival of tooth #4. This time it was the left one on the top and in front. We’re well on our way to having a little beaver baby! How Canadian and just in time for Christmas!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dear ( Iamjustcheckingtoseeifurereadingthis...),

We can celebrate good times a lot sooner than you think my friend as we're COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS! That's right! We land in Ottawa on Dec 14 and we leave on Jan 13. We'll be in the Soo for a good chunk of time in the middle but we definately intend on making at least a day trip to Montreal.

By the way, not only do I read your blog on a regular basis but I also know how to spell (Iamjustcheckingtoseeifurreadingthis)!

Love you and we'll be seeing the 3 of you soon!

PS-Put that paddle in the water a few times for me before the lakes freeze up. Can't wait to learn the ropes of family kayaking with you guys.