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Children in Japan

So the other day I had kid duty. Christine had to go into the city for a hair appointment – she had earlier tried a place more conveniently located near our house but encountered an unfortunate communications and/or incompetence issue wherein her hair may have turned "old lady" blue. So she insisted on going to a place that understands English ("BLOND not BLUE"). Since I would be in the city already, we arranged to meet and do the kid handoff. We met, did a little shopping and then Christine took off while I headed home. I thought I saw her do a little jig and skip down the street but perhaps that was just my imagination.

Walking towards the station, Grace started panicking, "Where Mommy go?" she asked over and over, apparently sensing I was a little past the tips of my skis in my ability to negotiate crowds, staircases and trains while keeping track of her and her three month old sister. I reassured her of my competence by buying ice cream. We stopped at a small shop, sat down and I took a breath while Grace dug in. After a few moments Grace jabbered something – which I interpreted as a request for another bite. She shook off my efforts, looked up at me with wild eyes and screamed "Shi Shi!" – ("potty" - bilingual already!). As I considered the possible consequences and started to panic, I looked around and noticed there was a restroom right next to us. YES! We dashed in, I placed Sofia on the cold marble counter and Grace did her thing. Just as I was complimenting myself for snatching victory from the jaws of certain defeat, Sofia started up. By the time Grace was back to her ice cream, Sofia is screaming bloody murder.

It was at that point that I realized I was being punished for all the bad things I have thought and said about crying kids and their irresponsible parents. I was in a quandary. Sofia would not stop and neither would Grace budge from her feast. After about 6 hours (I timed it), I was able to drag Grace away, pay the bill for 4 spoonfuls of ice cream ($2/bite) and beat a hasty retreat outside. But outside wasn't much of a refuge either since we were in the middle of one of the busiest shopping districts in Tokyo and Sofia was showing no sign of letting up. As people walked by and wondered whether I was a child molester, Grace stared at me with accusing eyes ("I TOLD you not to send Mommy away!").

Finally, after 6 more hours, I managed to quiet Sofia (I think she just gave up out of exhaustion). With her mounted in a front pack and me looking like a dorky creature straight out of a Dr. Seuss picture book, I put Grace in the stroller and we negotiated the stairs and escalators onto the train platform. Stairs and escalators with a stroller?? Tokyo is not a kid-friendly city and if I adhered to accepted norms of child safety I would still be trying to get home right now. When or if I am lucky enough to find an escalator, I happily push the stroller and child onto it, relieved that I at least don't have to pick up the kid and contraption and haul them up myself. Americans would shudder at all the child safety rules I have broken.

Once on the platform (of the busiest train line in Tokyo of course), I managed to push the three of us onto the train. I tried to ignore all the businessmen as they struggled to find standing room around us. Two kids, a stroller and a very harried daddy on a train in downtown Tokyo during the week – that is a sight even I have never seen. The next train was much less crowded and I was able to sit down with Grace and the stroller next to me. Several old ladies boarded the train, sat opposite us and skeptically began scrutinizing my retinue. By this time, Sofia had woken up and realized that she hadn't finished her earlier litany of complaints so she begins to rev up. The train pulls out of the station and, as I am trying to ignore the stares from the blue hair group while attending to Sofia, Grace cries out clear as a bell, "Help!" I look up and she is halfway out of the stroller, hanging onto a handle bar as the stroller is trying to roll away in the opposite direction. An old lady runs up to her, grabs the stroller and locks the wheels in 2 seconds flat. Then she comes over to me, grabs a sock that had nearly worked its way off Sofia, yanks it back on, turns around, sits down and resumes her earlier examination of me. I mumble my thanks and recall the blissful days of bachelorhood.

The rest of the trip proceeds normally (accepting that crying babies and a little girl continuously asking for her mommy is par for the course). Once home, I put Sofia in bed and give Grace a cookie and a Disney movie as a reward (if there is a hero in this story it is her). Then I go weigh myself - I've been dieting and was curious how much this excursion cost me. Turns out the answer is 4 pounds. 3 weeks to lose the first 5 and 2 hours to lose 4 more. That's one weight-loss book waiting to be written.