It’s one of the greatest concerns for couples with international backgrounds and children: How much damage can our very lively offspring cause, mainly to other people’s nerves, when being confined to economy class for 12 hours?
Will we be the most hated people on the plane when we go home for the holidays? Will we go from being among the annoyed, when we ourselves traveled childless, to being the annoying? Or at least the perpetrator’s enabler? Part of the problem instead of part of the solution?
It turned out, we never needed to worry. Our 4-year-old daughter Hana has been a great traveler ever since her age was measured in months rather than years. She can be a challenge on solid ground, but she plays nice above the clouds. She will watch a few cartoons, color a couple of pictures of Elsa and Anna and proudly beam at her in-flight meal, because she overheard the flight attendant referring to it as a “SPECIAL meal” (she won’t eat much, however, since it still tastes very regular).
Then she will sleep for the rest of the trip. Often in positions that make it impossible for her parents to sleep, but that’s the sacrifice we must make for being allowed to fly with a little angel.
No Sleep ‘Til Tokyo
Unfortunately, it’s not the only sacrifice. The sleep our little angel catches on the plane, she won’t need at her destination. Ever. She never loses her jet lag, not even a little bit. On our last trip to her German grandparents’ for Christmas, she was up in the middle of the night, asking: “Daddy?”
“What time is it?”
“It’s three o’clock in the morning.”
“Can we go to the living room and play?”
“No, it’s much too early.”
She waited patiently, until: “Daddy?”
“What time is it now?”
“Ten minutes past three.”
This was repeated in admirably exact 10-minute intervals, until, at 4 o’clock, I gave up and declared my parents’ living room open for playtime. As I did the following night. And the following. And so on.
Meanwhile, at the Mansion
Back in Tokyo, she adjusted easier. To the time, not so much to the place. In her first night back home, Hana suddenly woke up screaming, crying, howling, bawling her eyes out. We were seriously worried. This seemed much worse than the occasional bad dream. This sounded more like a full-blown trauma, or severe physical pain. When she calmed down enough to speak, she sobbed: “I want to be back at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s NICE house!”
Fortunately, she found happiness again not much later and has made up with our not-so-nice house by now. Sometimes, though, she still finds ways to rub it in. Peeking into an office window on the way to preschool, she will ask: “What’s that?”
“That’s a wall calendar.”
“Grandma and Grandpa have a wall calendar too!”
“So do we.”
“Grandma and Grandpa have two of them!”
“So do we.” Alas, it’s just not the same.
Moving On Up
While we have no plans of going back to Germany and moving in with my parents, my wife and I share Hana’s desire for an imminent change in living conditions.
I don’t want to complain about our place in Central Tokyo. It came as a blessing at the time. It found us more than we found it, coming without too many of the creative additional fees that are often attached to rental homes in Japan, and it fit (more or less) everything that we brought over from our old lives.
Now that we have lived a little more, however, we have accumulated additional belongings, and things are getting a bit cramped. For a time, my wife even lifted the ban on purchasing more printed books. She regrets that now.
Before anyone suggests the obvious: No, thank you, we do not want to see our home featured on a certain Netflix clean-up show. We rather move on, literally, saving the face-off with our habitual demons for another time.
Our mind is so set to moving that we just can’t be bothered anymore when our current apartment conspires against us. Whenever something breaks, say a light switch retires or a kitchen cabinet door falls off, we will just say: “Oh, let’s not fix it, let’s just walk away and leave it to the next guys.” It started as a joke, but by now we are at least halfway serious.
The next place shouldn’t be a quick fix, more like a tentatively permanent solution.
We might not stay too tough on the no-more-fixing rule, though. The house hunting is taking its time. At this point in our lives, we are getting picky. The next place shouldn’t be a quick fix, more like a tentatively permanent solution. Not necessarily a place to breathe our final breath in, yet a place to grow significantly older in. For that, we’ll be happy to sacrifice central location for spacious location.
Will Hana be able to wait that long? She can get impatient outside of airplanes. So, until we find our dream home in or around Tokyo, there is always a temporary solution that we can’t completely dismiss: Another intercontinental trip to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s NICE house. Including fun and games, starting at 3 o’clock in the morning.