Sow. Cultivate. Bloom.

An online journal of an uprooted life.

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

1000 Paper Cranes and Counting…

In early April I found out my Mom has breast cancer. In May I started a 1000 paper crane project as a way to feel like I was doing something since I am so far away. I didn’t know if it would be possible to make it to the 1000 mark before she finished chemo but lo and behold, we’ve surpassed 1000. We are almost to the 1400 mark.

So, let me tell you a little story.

The day after I found out my Mom has cancer, my oldest childhood friend emailed me. She was simply emailing to check in and see what I’ve been doing and how life is now that I’m an expat. The timing was so odd. Since then we’ve exchanged many an email. I told her of my fears, my struggles and of my triumphs. Sometime during our email correspondence I mentioned the 1000 paper crane project and asked if she’d want to contribute. The next email indicated she’d made 103 and that they were on their way to my Mom.

Fast forward a couple weeks and she emailed again. Little did I know, that around the time I’d first told her about my idea, she had sent a letter to our old neighborhood in Japan where we both grew up. She detailed to me, in words and pictures, how the old neighborhood had gotten together and rallied to fold 580 cranes for Mom. Even just writing about this now, I am tearing up. The last time my family and I saw our neighbors was 23 years ago when we left Japan. They included pictures of our old house, neighborhood and a picture of the women who had folded the cranes and or my childhood friend’s parents folding, too.

To say I was taken aback is an understatement. I cried with awe, gratitude and disbelief. I still tear up.

The women wrote a letter and here is what it said:

Dear Mrs. S,
We learned about your illness from M and that you have been going through the chemo therapy treatment. From thousands of miles away from you in Japan,in Iwakuni, we folded these cranes for you with our hearts, wishing you fast recovery. As we folded these cranes, we–your neighbors from Sakuragaoka–cherished so many good memories with you and your family when our children were still small.

Please don’t give up and take the best out of the treatment, we very much wishing you a full recovery.

Your neighbors of Sakuragaoka

If this isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is. I still cry when I read the letter and look at the pictures. I never expected such an outpouring and here it is. The full credit must go to the class I had the privilege to teach for 2 years in a row. Last school year I simply shared a passion of mine, origami, and they let me make it into literacy, math and art lessons. I hung their 1000 paper cranes at the Sadako statue in Seattle with great pride and a tear in my eye last summer. If not for them, I might not have had the eureka moment to try to pay it forward to my Mom.


Coming to terms…

with my faux expat life has taken a long while. To be exact, it has been 11 months. Eleven months of a roller coaster mostly stuck on the free fall part of the track. That stomach in the mouth feeling got to be a sick to my stomach feeling instead of adrenaline. It turned to quite literal gut wrenching homesickness (I’ve been taking the generic for Zantac for months!) and I truly never thought I’d get over it.

But here I am. (Mostly) Over it. I’ve come out the wringer with some serious reflections I hope that I can hold on to when I am thrust back into the overly busy los Estados Unidos. Part of the reason I decided to uproot my life is that I often felt that teaching was my life. “No sorry I can’t come out tonight, it’s a school night.” “No sorry, I have to cancel, I’m just too exhausted.” “No sorry, I can’t come to brunch, I need to grade papers.” The list goes on…

A lot of my exhaustion from working 10-12 hour days were dragged it out into 14-16 hour days in my mind or with my teacher friends. I wasn’t healthy. I was depressed, demoralized, exhausted and often quite literally sick.

The hope was that coming to a different environment would yield less of the negative side effects of having chosen teaching as my profession/Life. Well, I was wrong. Hilariously wrong. Culture shock had me burrowing into myself for much of the last 9 out of 11 months (one of those 9 of which was spent back home) and all I could fall back on was all those unhealthy habits I’d built up. No amount of teeth gnashing made me feel like teaching wasn’t my Life.

And I’m not quite sure what happened in the last 2 months but all of a sudden things have clicked. Teaching is no longer my Life. Oh sure, my partner would disagree, but I can solemnly swear on a Bible that a lot has changed for the better. I actually leave work at work and I don’t mean just on the weekends. I mean when I leave that school building at 3:30 or 4:00 each day…I’ve been able to just leave it. This realization is nothing short of a small miracle.

Here’s the thing I think I am starting to realize that without pacing guides, (sometimes) without curriculum guides, curriculum cops and/or really any major demands on me—I was taking this teaching thing WAY too seriously. Like so what if I bombed a lesson? So what if I am so tired that we spent 20 minutes playing Heads Up, Seven Up or Coseeki? SO WHAT?! The kids aren’t going to implode, my career isn’t going to be over, they aren’t going to bomb some test (which we really don’t do here), I’m not some horribly uninformed educator not using the latest best practices, I’m not behind, I’m not ahead and I’m not a shitty teacher because I wasn’t totally planned. And frankly, I think I am a far better teacher than before.


Yup that’s right, I’ve begun to actually (in a very tiny way) start to ENJOY my career. Oh sure I still struggle with trying to be a faux perfectionist but I think I’ve hit on something that I wasn’t allowing myself back home. Here, when I leave, I leave it. I go walk on the beach, I watch the sunset, I go swim laps at the pool, I Skype with friends back home, I go out dancing, to listen to music and even have some adult beverages every now and then. All ON A SCHOOL NIGHT.

Why have I started to enjoy my career a tad more? “Simple.” I’ve finally begun to enjoy Life. I do things on a school night. I don’t come home so stupidly exhausted that I literally can’t think of doing anything other than eating chocolate on the couch.

Yes, things are different…oh so different. I am still expected to do good teaching but how I do it is up to me. If I want to do an art project, we do an art project. I still use curriculum and do curriculum planning. I still meet with colleagues and am constantly working to improve and change and grow. And I still have very bad days.

But I am not living in a go go go world anymore. Maybe its the tropical breezes and temperatures or the beautiful sunsets but I’m learning a VERY valuable lesson here. I don’t want the busy disease. I had it bad when I lived in the States. So badly that I gave up valuable time with myself and the ones I love. But we did it to each other, me and my loved ones. Wanna hang out….2 weeks from now? How silly! My colleagues/friends here…we just call each other up and say “Wanna hang out? Now? Sure!” And I like that. In fact, I love it. I don’t feel so wound up in a go go go ball. I am more willing to just say yes to right now.

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