Love is a Mother

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

After we decided to move to Tokyo but before we all did, I went by myself to find us a home. I started by looking at playgrounds and parks.

Arisugawa Park is a lovely place, named for a Japanese prince. It has a flowing stream that starts at the top of a hill and ends at the bottom with a fishing pond. Its wonderful playground had many barefoot children playing in the clean dirt and on an assortment of equipment.

I observed two mothers and their young boys.

One mother looked Japanese and the other American. Their sons were playing on the swings. The boys were trying to go as high as possible. After a few minutes of building momentum, the Japanese boy flung himself from the swing. His mother saw this yet seemed unconcerned but the American mom interrupted the conversation, ran to her own child, and began scolding him. “Don’t you dare do what he is doing! You will hurt yourself.”

She returned to her friend. They resumed chatting and the two boys resumed swinging. As the Japanese boy would fly from the swing the American boy would look at his mother pleadingly. Twice more she interrupted her conversation to remind her son of what harm might come to him if he were to attempt a similar stunt.

Her behavior was beginning to annoy her Japanese girlfriend.

Then something amazing happened.

The Japanese boy went flying farther than ever before. He landed on a tree root and fell forward. He cut his chin on the trunk.

He began to bleed and cry.

The American mom immediately started to run, but her Japanese friend grabbed her by the arm and pulled her behind a bush. The Japanese mom watched her son intently through the leaves. As the boy looked around frantically, it was clear that he had no idea where his mother was hiding. The crying lasted but twenty seconds and the bleeding perhaps another thirty. Soon he composed himself, wiped the blood from his chin, and returned to the swing. While he still would jump from it, he now seemed to be more interested in precision than distance.

Breaking free, the American mom ran to her son. Waving her finger, she said, “See. That is what can happen to you.”

The American boy stopped swinging altogether. Then he began crying.

The Japanese mom wanted to continue their conversation, yet her American friend was too upset.

I made a point of walking past them on the way out of the park. I overheard the American woman say, “But I love my son too much.”

If you believe that loving someone and protecting them from all harm are the same thing, then you can love someone too much.

Party Time

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Have you ever held a party and had your first guest show up 45 minutes late? Did you have feelings of rejection and doubt? Perhaps nobody would come? Perhaps nobody likes you? Perhaps nobody ever did and they just got tired of being polite?

In some cultures, the feelings of others are more important than one’s own convenience.

John was a recent college graduate who was a member of my trading group when we moved from New York to Tokyo in 1992. The real estate market had recently crashed and with the housing budget provided by our employer, John was able to rent a three-bedroom apartment in Roppongi, the most desirable part of the city. Most Japanese “salarymen” could never aspire to live in such a place, even at the peak of their careers.

John decided to have a house warming party for himself.

He printed glossy invitations and handed them to everyone in the office. We were mostly Westerners and mostly male so, to balance the mix, he gave one to every beautiful young woman he ran across in Tokyo.

At 7:30 the doorbell rang. Fifty beautiful young women crowded the street in front of his apartment.

For more than an hour, John was the only male at his party and everyone felt a bit creepy, especially John. The women elected their best English speaker, “So, what is the deal? Is this party just all of us… and you?” John tried to explain that he’d invited lots of guys, but the ladies didn’t understand.

When the first male guest arrived after 9 PM he was greeted with a good deal of attention from the young women. By midnight, the sexes were fairly even and the party started to warm up. But John wasn’t having much fun because the females were shunning him.

In retrospect, John’s best tactic might have been to have a female friend play the role of host and for John to come to his own party at precisely 7:30. The women who arrived with him would not have viewed John not as creepy but rather as one of the rarest of all creatures: A Western male who was considerate of the feelings of others.

 

 

 

Arrive at the stated time. If you are the only one then you are either considerate or Japanese or both.

Mourning a Best Friend

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

The first time I saw my dad cry was when Tallulah died. She was named after Tallulah Bankhead, the actress, because of their similarity of voice and propensity to drink from inappropriate vessels.[1]

Just as the best therapy following a miscarriage or stillbirth is to work on a replacement, my folks went downtown immediately and picked up Pookie.

My sister and I loved Pookie. She had only one neurosis. While she was indifferent to cars, she hated motorcycles and whenever she would catch up with one, she would try to puncture its back tire with her teeth.

We buried her in the backyard. This time I cried.

Then there was Charlie Brown, as dumb as a coconut and if you knocked on the top of the head he sounded like one. It is ironic that we gave CB to some astrophysicists who moved to Colorado; you’d think they would want be around smarties.

Tramp walked into our lives from the woods in the back. He played dumb and he fooled us for a season. Minutes after you would walk away he’d be tangled in the rope around the tree. I caught him out one day by watching from inside the house instead of going to his rescue. After twenty minutes of pitiable whining and yelping he stopped abruptly and unwound himself. He spent the afternoon playing at the end of his tether. One day Tramp returned to the woods and we never saw him again. We probably weren’t smart enough for him. He should have been the one to go to Colorado.

My wife doesn’t feel the way I do about dogs. She will tell you that she likes your dog, but she is just being polite. She doesn’t mean that she will like your dog if you give it to her. You’ve got to walk them or they crap in the house. They don’t last forever so they eventually crap out on you completely.

Once we all went to see My Dog Skip, a wonderful movie about a young boy whose emotional life was rescued by a dog. At the end our sons and I were crying. Eve’s arms were crossed and her head was shaking, “We’re not getting a dog. We’re not getting a dog.”

I’m sorry that my sons never had a dog. Dogs love life and are genetically engineered to be your friend. They aren’t as durable as you so they are likely to kick off before you do.

 

You can learn a lot about living and dying from a dog.[2]


[1] Ms. Bankhead famously drank champagne from her slipper at the Ritz hotel in London.

[2] Thorton Wilder said it better, “Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday.”