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Life After Japan

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The author of "Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me" tells us how life has changed since becoming a mother.

frustrated looking woman

Lisa Cook: Eleven years ago, I married a wonderful man, one who loved traveling and adventures. Not wanting to be perceived as one who preferred the comforts of home to a good adventure, I said "yes" to giving it all up and moving to Japan, where my husband had been offered a teaching position. With no job of my own waiting for me, and only six days of marriage under my belt, I boarded a plane for Nagoya, Japan, a place that apparently had preserved the era and mindset of the 1950s.

Like boot camp for J.A.P.s, I began to embark on a journey of domesticity that did not include a training manual or support group for the humiliation and ruined manicures I would face. Now -- 11 years, two children, the same husband, and a business later -- I confidently forge ahead with domestic tasks that confounded me all those years ago, knowing that I don't have to do them all perfectly all of the time in order to qualify as a successful "homemaker." Here's a quick take on domesticity then and now:

Laundry
Then: archaic do-it-yourself laundry box (does not qualify as a "machine"), dryer was a clothesline and clothespins, level of humiliation on a scale of 1-10 was an 11. I wish I had a picture of the first bra I ever washed. It looked like something out of a Tim Burton film.

Now: Kenmore Elite HE's red front-loaders, bells/lights/knobs, 11 different washing options. Now my husband and I fight over who gets to do the laundry. I am a tad resentful when he beats me to it. I love them almost as much as my children, and keeping them happy is a full-time job.

Cooking
Then: gas burner/grill unit that would fit neatly in my diaper bag. For the first three months, I did not cook a single meal due to shock and the fact that fish were alive and swimming at the market, and I did not want the responsibility of being the one who determined their demise. I was not able to cook Thanksgiving turkey due to the tiny grill "drawer"; had to settle for Thanksgiving chicken tenders.

Now: five gas burners, oven, and broiler constantly going, boiling bottles, making baby food, breakfast, lunch, dinner for three people. Some weeks: perfectly planned menus on fridge. Some weeks: cereal, scrambled eggs, grilled cheese -- all prepared by my husband when I need "time off."

Transportation

Then: buses, subways, trains, combinations of all three. Frighteningly prompt, a train called for 12:23 is exactly that, not the same as a train at 12:19 or 12:26. A lot of running to make the 12:23 for a seat instead of having to stand in the more popular 12:26.

Now: car, car, car; traffic, traffic, traffic. Swim team, soccer practice, playdates, field trips, markets, Target, to and from school, work, any family outing. Sometimes I actually wish for a train.

Shopping

Then: Try to imagine shopping in Japan: every ride at Disneyland was a store, every person in Los Angeles had a birthday on the same day, each person decided to go for free, everyone was on speed, and Disneyland were three times the size, that would be a bit like shopping in Japan.

Now: If Target doesn't carry it, I don't need it.

Cleaning

Then: Anything related to bathrooms became my husband's responsibility the day we got married. The kitchen was so tiny that cleaning it took five minutes with a coffee break.

Now: I play "let's see how much I can get done while the baby is on the Gymini." The most I've been able to do in one session is: wash dishes in the sink, one load of clothes in the washer, the other in the dryer, feed cats and clean cat box, fold and put away baby's laundry, and clean the bathroom mirrors and sinks. Ta-da!

Click here for the chance to win a copy of Lisa's new memoir, which hit bookstores this week. Contest ends October 28.


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