We are expecting to have a baby, due early March in 2012. As usual I had not shared this news with a bigger circle of friends until way later than the first trimester; this time, I had been holding my breath (figuratively) to go beyond 16 weeks because that was when Miroku left us. Now I’m in my 29th week and I feel the baby kicking and moving. That does not guarantee anything, but what’s guarantied in life anyway, right? I am just taking it one day at a time, enjoying this time – most likely the last time that I’ll experience this magical time of having a baby growing inside of me.
This summer, I didn’t do much work. Being a freelance has its share of upsides and downsides, because if you lie in bed, not working, then obviously not much work gets done. In my previous pregnancies I worked in an office, so they paid me whether or not I was being productive. But this time I was determined to put this pregnancy to the top of my list of priorities. I knew in my head and heart that it (lying in bed when I needed it) was the best thing and that is what I should be doing. Even then, sometimes I heard voices in my head saying that I should be doing more – getting work done, write one more blog post, responding to emails, and whatever else I had on my “to-do” list that day, week or month.
So a few weeks ago, I raised this question during the course I had attended. My teacher and mentor Pam had a brilliant insight as usual – she asked me what I was accountable for when I was resting in bed. Was I being accountable for nurturing my baby, or getting the work done? I said “the former”. But then, she pointed out, I didn’t do a good job of silencing the voice, nudging me to get up and get some work done.  It turned out, I was not consciously choosing to rest. It is a subtle distinction but it makes all the difference. If I chose to do something, I am not doing something else at any given time. Sometimes there is an opportunity cost. But choosing to do something over other things means that I am responsible for the consequences of my choice, and dreading over what I am NOT doing because of the choice I have made was not serving me.
The other thing I realized was is that I sometimes expect too much – too much from myself, my abilities, or from life. Maybe sometimes even from other people, like my husband or kids. I sometimes look at my husband and feel like he is a very happy person precisely because he does not expect much from other people. Most of all, he does not expect others to make him happy. For example, when we come home from a trip and when I ask him what the best part of the trip was, his first answer is always “that we came home safe and sound, no one got seriously sick or hurt”. That’s the bottom line and anything beyond that is an icing on a cake.
I remember that after we lost Miroku, all I wanted for and from my other kids was that I’ll see them again the next morning. I secretly prayed (and am still praying) that they’d still be alive when I wake up. And yet, it’s amazing to realize how quickly I forget. I don’t think it’s necessarily negative to have expectations; it can be a driving force and source of motivation. But at the end of the day, I want to be grateful for what I have done rather than regretting about things that I have not done. Being conscious about what I am accountable for will help me with that.

Being the “Younger One”

Our 2nd son is just 16 months younger than our 1st son. Understandably, he often thinks he is “equal” to his older brother. He asks fair questions such as “when can I get to go to kindergarten?”, as his brother graduated preschool and now is now a kindergardener.  To that, my husband says “why don’t you just enjoy being a 3 year old? You have plenty of time to grow up.” But being just 12 months younger than my own brother, I completely understand how our younger son feels. When I was 5, my brother started going to school in Japan. At that time, our parents purchased a desk/chair set for him. After all, he is going to school! But I demanded – literally – that I get the same exact thing, right there and then. To appease me, my parents bought me a set too, except that on the expected delivery day there was some kind of hiccup in order and the chair didn’t arrive at the same time the desk arrived. I remember going outside of the house and waiting for the delivery of my chair. I was probably very determinately thinking “I will not be left behind!”  In my mind, my brother and I were equal – just because he was going to school and I had to wait another year, that didn’t mean I shouldn’t get what he got right now!

So yes, I can relate to our second-born. In fact, his birthday is in November, and it might mean that there is a possibility that he needs to wait even longer to go to school. Recently I learned that the State of California decided that they are going to change the criteria on when kids are allowed to start going to public school. For the school year 2012-2013, it was proposed that you have to turn 5 before November 1, 2012. However, I also learned that the board of the school district we belong to has not yet decided on officially implanting the new rule. So as of early November, we do not know whether or not our younger son will go to the same school with his brother next year. If they do decide to follow what the state has decided, he has to wait not only until September 2012 but one additional year to go to school with his brother. This is, by the way, one of the things that amazes me about this country – it will not happen in Japan that you don’t know whether your child is going to school or not in less than 10 months time. I really hope that he gets to grandfathered in somehow, even if the board decides to implement the changed California law, so that we don’t have to tackle the impossible task of explaining why they changed the rule on him.

“If this is my last night on earth…..”

Enough people (including myself) wrote about Steve Jobs and his passing, but this is my favorite episode of his life;

From “9 things you didn’t know about the life of Steve Jobs”, this one is with the title of “The wife he leaves behind”. It says:

For all of his single-minded dedication to the company he built from the ground up, Jobs actually skipped a meeting to take Laurene on their first date: “I was in the parking lot with the key in the car, and I thought to myself, ‘If this is my last night on earth, would I rather spend it at a business meeting or with this woman?’ I ran across the parking lot, asked her if she’d have dinner with me. She said yes, we walked into town and we’ve been together ever since.”

They met in 1990 and got married in1991 at Yosemite National Park by a Zen Buddhist monk. I can’t imagine what Laurene must be going through in these past few weeks – losing a life partner for over 20 years. As much as she was proud and supportive of the work Steve Jobs have done, I wonder there were days or nights where she wished he would have been with her and their children.  In the end, what matters is whether you found joy in your life, and whether you shared that with someone you love. His story about this love can be an inspiration for people who say they want to find someone to love, but make other things more important than taking the time, and chance, in finding out if the person next to is the one to love.

After the quake

It’s been almost a month since the 4th biggest earthquake on the record hit my home country Japan. Many of us who live outside of Japan spent these past several weeks in emotional turmoil. I still remember when my friend in San Jose called me at 10:00pm that night telling me about the earthquake. I saw my brother’s facebook message, asking me to try and contact my parents. I tried calling their cell phones, leaving voicemail message and text messages. It wasn’t until the next morning that I finally talked to my mother, and eventfully with my father. While I couldn’t reach them, I chose to believe that they had gotten stuck somewhere when they were trying to get home due to the transportation system in Japan halting for the earthquake. In the meantime, I learned that things were getting worse by minute – a big tsunami hit after the earthquake, and then the problems with the nuclear plants occurred. From what I read on twitter feeds and various media outlets, small earthquakes kept occurring and things were far from over. It was the end of the world as we knew it. (By the way, my husband who was editing this post commented on this sentence “a little dramatic, don’t you think?” but I disagree. I think something has shifted that day and we are yet to see its full effect.)

During the first few days after the main earthquake, what I saw and heard constantly was (apart from the devastation of this disaster) that non-Japanese people applauding how calm and caring Japanese people were in the face of these difficulties. There was no looting or violence which one would expect should a similar thing happen in other places. One of my Japanese friends wrote in his blog that when this particular aspect of the disaster was discussed in the ESL class, someone asked why there was no looting or violence in cases like this in Japan. This was a pivotal point for me to realize that this is one of the main reasons why I want my children to have the experience of living in Japan. I want them to know our way, not like foreigners seeing us from outside, but want them to live there and breathe our philosophy – or what being a Japanese person means in situations like this.

I know that what is happening right now is tragic and there is so much political and historical discussions around what we should do about the nuclear plant or our dependency on it, and that the government’s and TEPCO’s response to the situation leaves a lot to be desired. Also, Japan’s cultural nature to conform to group values vice putting individual values first has its downside – being different is not always welcomed or accepted, and we feel strong pressure from people in the group to be just like them. People criticize lack of strong leadership on the government’s side, but it is very challenging to be a leader in our country because you are not meant to be different or stand out, and also supporting leaders is not our strongest qualities (they go hand in hand; who wants to take charge when all they get is criticism?) I’ve been thinking how to show my children the best of both worlds. How can my son learn the have a healthy balance between doing what’s best for the team, and putting himself first so he can live his life as he sees fit? I  want him to contribute and be a member of a society, and I want him to stand out and speak up as he desires. It will be a long learning experience for all of the cross-cultural couples like us.  One thing I’m determined to continue as long as I can is to tell them “I love you” every night when I tuck them in bed. Also, I will have my sons call each other by their names even though that’s now what we do in Japan – usually younger brother calls older one “Oni-chan” (older brother) and not by name.  I have my own theory about what this might do to my kids. Whether calling each other by name and not by their roles does what I think it would, only time will tell. In the meantime, I continue to be the best “me” I can be and live fully. As we have all seen, you’ll never know what tomorrow brings.

Hajime’s Story

Last weekend I assisted the Remembrance course. It had special meaning to me because of the participants I personally enrolled. One such participant, Hajime, is 18 years old and has ALS disease. We raised enough money for him and his mother, and I was pleased to see them both on Friday evening at the Indigo Village which was where the course took place.  Even though I trusted that this course will “help” Hajime, I did not know what kind of expectations he or his family had coming in, nor how exactly it could help him. I maintained a poker face while they were settling in their seats before the course begun, but to be honest, I was terrified.

The Remembrance Course takes place a few times a year in San Diego. What happens during this course is that participants take turns to get up to stand in front of the class and introduce themselves by sharing – they talk about what they want to get out from this course, what challenges they are facing, and how they would like their lives to be different. Instructors guide the person in the spotlight, and everyone in the room, both participants and assistants help to take part in this process. Everyone’s turn looks different as there is no cookie-cutter format for each person to get what he or she is there to get.

Hajime was the last one to go on Saturday. Most participants had not been informed about his illness until that point. When it was finally his turn and the instructor told the group about it, I felt like I could hear what is going on in their heads.  We talked about ALS and his fear and sorrow. We discussed how trying not to feel pain or sadness also limits the extent you feel joy and happiness, because you can’t take just “good” parts in life – it’s a package. If you try to numb yourself so you won’t feel seemingly negative feelings, you also won’t get those feelings at the other end of the spectrum. Also, we helped him see that it is his responsibility to keep the friends whom he can express his honest emotions with.

After that, we were instructed to tell Hajime what we had learned from him – not from a place of feeling sorry for him, because that would not help him in moving forward, but from a place of love and gratitude. We each took turns to tell him how courageous he was for being there, how caring he was towards his mother and how bright his smile was and how much his presence in the course encouraged them. His mother was the last one to share, and she told him what a tremendous gift he has been to her and the entire family, and how much she love him. As a mother, I couldn’t help but feel for her. The thought of losing a child is one of the fears all parents may have to deal and live with, even if there was no obvious reason to fear.  This possibility becoming a reality because of a specific reason likes this – it is something a mother should not have to go through. During this course, Hajime and his mother learned that it is okay and safe to express those feelings of fear and sadness, even to each other. They learned how not to take the responsibility of making the other person happy, and that way, they can feel safe to be upset or sad in front of the other person and be comfortable with all of those emotions. I believe that lesson was the real gift. I would love to build such relationship with my two sons when they are older.

After the course, I had a chance to talk more with Hajime. He had a very different facial expression than when I first saw him on Friday. His eyes were twinkling with excitement. He was so happy to feel everyone’s love, and he shared with us what his plans are for his future; returning to assist the course in April, graduating high school, going on to his dream school in San Francisco, assisting this course for teens…. He couldn’t stop talking about the course and said that more people should know about this course. I was relieved that the course had such a positive impact on him – and more than that, I learned to take a chance in inviting someone if I think that this is beneficial for him or her, despite the fear of rejection, or the possibility of this experience turning out not so great. As Susan Jeffer said, feel the fear and do it anyway, because the possible outcome is just too great not to give it a chance. The next Remembrance course is from April 29th through May 1st and you can enroll here.

Meaningful Life

This year I have made so many good friends whom I initially met on Twitter or Facebook. There is a particular group of friends I’ve been close with this past 6 months, and they threw me a party in San Diego after I returned from my book tour in Japan.

Later that evening, I learned that one of my friends in the group, Hozue’s 17-year-old son, Hajime has ALS disease (also known as Lou Gehrig disease). He was diagnosed with this disease in fall this year, and he has already started having some difficulties with his speech. It is said that it’s one of the most difficult diseases one could have, because you will lose all of the muscle in your body over time while your consciousness is still intact. When my friend told us about it, I started to think about how I could help her and her son.

The answer came immediately; Enroll her son to the Remembrance course. It’s a weekend course which takes place at the Indigo Village in San Diego, and the next course is from January 21st through 23rd, 2011. I spoke with my mentor Susie Walton and Pamela Dunn, and they both agreed that the course will offer him a space to express his feelings as well as help him gain some tools to face his fears. I then talked to Hozue about this idea, and she spoke with her husband and her son – they agreed to move forward.

This is where I ask you for your support. I want to raise the course fee of $425 so her family can enroll Hajime for the Remembrance course. If you want to contribute, there are two ways to do so;

1.    Check
Write a check payable to “Indigo Village Educational Foundation”. Write “for Hajime Miyasaka’s course fee” on memo space and send it to
Etsuko Tsukagoshi, 3142 Midway Drive B212 San Diego CA 92110

2.    On-line via Indigo Village Educational Foundation
For this option, the donation amount is set for $25, $50, $100 etc. but you can use your credit card to donate. Since there is no space to indicate that this is for Hajime Miyasaka, send me an email after you have donated this way (my email is etsuko@mypeacefulfamily.com)

Indigo Village Educational Foundation is a non-profit organization,  so your contribution will be tax deductible. I’ll be responsible for compiling the excel sheet to keep track of who has donated how much, so we can make sure that all of the donations will go towards Hajime’s course fee. Since the course will start on January 21st, if you could send the donation in by January 15, 2011, I would greatly appreciate it.

There is no cure for ALS disease. I won’t pretend that the Remembrance course will prevent his disease from progressing. Our life is ending one day at a time – that is true for everyone on this planet. But Hajime is only 17, and his life will be cut shorter than he or his family members have ever imagined. I trust my mentors, course instructors and my intuition that the Remembrance Course will give him the tools to deal with what remains of his short, yet meaningful life.

Birthday Resolutions

This past Wednesday was my birthday. Since I put a list of birthday resolutions I made last year here, I decided to follow up on how it turned out as well as writing new ones.

birthday-cupcake<Last year’s Birthday Resolutions>
1.    Fully graduate from my current day job
2.    Complete Evolution Series Instructor Training
3.    Live my ideal day at least 3 days a week
4.    Meet with Chris Guillebeau in person
5.    Create more music, including learning to play guitar
6.    Learn to cook better & more often
7.    Learn to meditate

I accomplished #1, #2 and #4. Chris and I have since become friends. Through him,  I  have expanded my circle of good friends. I met Leslie in person when we went to Japan this past March, and I’ve been working with Masa on a project together after meeting with him on twitter. I am grateful about these “en”, or 縁 (a Japanese word meaning “chance meeting”).

As for other items, it’s a work in progress – I didn’t make the time to play guitar – I became pregnant in October of 2009, and I made getting enough sleep a priority. I remember telling my friend Henry that I am too tired to stay up and learn the chords, and he jokingly told me that he understands – “having a bun in the oven does that to you”. My youngest son, Miroku was here on Monday, December 7th, leaving delicate foot prints in our hearts. He left us that day.  Come to think of it, I haven’t touched my guitar or piano since then. His story can be found here and here. Maybe it’s time to start playing piano again.

Learn to meditate and learn to cook – I’m working on it too. I have to admit that after leaving my full time job, making the time to cook became more challenging, which was surprising to me. Working from home has its own challenges. Being able to set your own schedule is definitely one of the advantages but it could also be a disadvantage if you are not highly disciplined. Charlie Gilkey dispelled the myth about having more time when you work for yourself when he said that “Don’t think that work/life balance issue will disappear when you become independent and start working for yourself.” I have now experienced it first hand. In a way, the line between work and play blurred. On one hand I “get to” do this for living now, and it doesn’t feel like work when I write a blog post or chatting on twitter or being on a Skype call, and because of that, I tend to do that any time of the day. However, I have realized that I need to balance that with the family time, couple time and time for myself. I suppose that it’s a challenge that self employed people all face and I will be better at creating more balance as I continue this path.

So what are the new birthday resolutions?

1. Publish books
2. Create more balance in daily life
3. Practice yoga and meditation on most days
4. Be fully location independent in my business
5. Express myself more fully and freely to the world

I know some of it might sound vague…#2 and #5 are more like the state of mind I want to keep working on. #1 & #4 are related to my business, #1 is also a way of doing #5. This past year I learned how much I put myself in a box with self-imposed rules, and how much I filter my thoughts and not say things that come to my mind. As an adult, having a filter is a necessary social skill, but in my case it could be limiting myself and get in my way of how I relate to other people. It seems to be limiting my intuition also. I’m hoping doing #3 will help me with that.

OK, your turn! What are your resolutions?

What is the Best Way to Thank Parents?

My parents recently did something very nice for us. I wouldn’t go into details here thank-youbut I’m very grateful about it. I’ve been wondering what I can do for them, besides sending a thank you card, to express my appreciation. Generally speaking, my parents and I have a really good relationship and even though we go through the usual ebbs and flows like many parent and child do, we still communicate regularly, we love each other, and also as important, we like each other – a lot.

Of course, they are my parents. They raised me to the person that I am today, and while some of the growing was almost entirely up to me after I left home, the values that they taught me helped to establish a solid foundation from which I took off to explore the world. Yesterday I was talking to someone I just met, she’s from Iran who grew up in London, and she now lives in the United States. Even though we just met, we quickly connected and discovered our life experiences were somewhat similar. At some point I shared with her my religious/spiritual view of the world. She then told me that I am very fortunate that I have been all over the world – I grew up in Japan for the most part until I was 23, but I’ve then lived in Europe and in the United States and have been to many other places. I agreed with her, I am truly blessed to have the life that I do, and for that I am forever grateful to my parents. Even though we Japanese are known to show deep respect to our parents, I am sure that this sense of gratitude for those who raised us is universal.

After pondering the original question (“What can I do to show my appreciation?”) for a while, I tried to put myself in their shoes. After all, I now have my own kids. I will do everything I can to raise them so they can be self-reliant, confident and happy adults and find what they love to do in life. When they grow up and had a similar idea of thanking us and asked us how they could express their appreciation towards us, what would I say?

I’d probably tell them, “It was my pleasure”. Would I want them to do anything for us? Probably not, except that they keep us in their lives and spend time together, call us when they need help and let us know when they are happy. If they are blessed with their own kids, pass on whatever life lessons they learned. I think that’s probably what all parents need and want. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake – right? Would you share what you’d do or have done to show them that you are grateful for all that they have done for you, especially that “icing” part? I need some ideas!

What Have You Done With Your Life?

About a week ago, I listened to Danielle LaPorte speak during a business forum hosted by Pam Slim and i_did_itChris Guillebeau. I just loved her talk, especially the part where she said “YOU ARE THE ONLY YOU”. I’ve been writing this blog about a year now, and even though I’ve gotten a lot better, I still feel much freer in writing in English than in Japanese despite the fact that English is not my first language. This is a bit of a problem as I am writing a book right now in Japanese and am about to put myself out there even further, to a much bigger audience than I’ve been until this point.

Danielle said that “Often times, people need permission to be themselves”. It might be especially true in Japanese culture. Growing up, I definitely got the messages  like “it is important to fit in”, “you might not be liked if you stand out, or talk about your own accomplishments, as you’ll be seen as bragging”. All along, people are told to put their heads down, be ordinary, don’t stand out, and fit in. You are not expected nor supposed to express how great you are. No way. Only in the 3rd or 4th year of college, people start asking questions like “what are you actually good at?” and “what have you done with your life?”, so the college students can prepare themselves for “the life after college”. That’s when people are told to come out of their shells and start taking a look at their achievements, and telling the world how they really are different from the rest. As if, it was not so before that point. I think it’s a bit of a shock to some people. It was for me, for sure. I think it’s much too late to ask them to start being a self-marketer. The traditional “be ordinary, don’t stand out, be modest and humble until the time you have to apply for your first job” part of our culture does not quite serve us.

I graduated Tokyo University, which is considered the most prestigious university in Japan. For a long time I had this ambivalent feeling about my college education. A part of me felt like I didn’t do as much as others had to do to achieve that goal. It wasn’t that I didn’t have to study really hard; I did, for a good 7 months after I came back from Germany, and a big part of that was definitely luck. Nevertheless, I always felt awkward to talk about it and when I did, I felt like apologizing, as if I wanted to make sure that people still liked me even if I was that “lucky” or “smart” or “different”, or whatever. Definitely I had that “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down” mentality. Talk about low self-esteem!

Not anymore. I want to empower Japanese people, young and old, to be proud of what they do and what they have done with their life. I want them to want to talk about it with joy, not with fear. I want us to celebrate other people’s successes, not hate them for being “better than us”. How do I do that? Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see”. I stop hiding and be my own person, and be proud of all that I have done with my life. I want you to do the same. If you have something you accomplished but felt like not telling anyone for some reason, acknowledge yourself first that you did well. Then tell someone about it! Let’s make it easier for the next generations.

Letting Go

Last week when I was in St.Louis, my mentor Pam took me to this place called “Black Madonna Shrine”. It img_0658was a sacred place to honor all mothers. We walked around a bit and found a place to perform a little ceremony for Miroku (you can read more about Miroku here). Pam blessed Miroku’s picture – she took it in her palms and said that he will never be forgotten, but at the same time, we are letting him go. I placed the picture on a stone surface behind this statue called “life memorial” and put some leaves to cover it.

Today I received a package containing a beautiful silver pendant. On one side it has tiny hands and feet prints, and on the back, it said “Miroku 12/07/2009”. It took me a few seconds to remember who sent this gift, but then I came back to me; this company Juilian & Co, based in Coronado, CA has this service for those who had lost their babies, and I vaguely remembered filling out the form which was in a folder I received at the hospital on the day he died.

It is truly a special gift. I was also happy that looking at those tiny hands & feet and his name on the back did not make me feel sad. It was a celebration of life and a beautiful reminder that he was there. As I write this, I hear my husband’s and our two sons’ voices in the other room, happily singing ABCs. I tell myself, I am blessed, and I can feel that even more deeply now because of Miroku. He will be with us always and in all ways.