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Love Finds a Way


 

Below is the true story of our initial, post-marriage return journey to Japan, to show my in-laws our latest and greatest addition – our first child.


Baby with fruit juice smeared on his mouth

I had just finished graduate school and was near the end of a year of teaching at Creighton University in Omaha. The year following this, our second son would be born at Creighton’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.




But this trip was with our first son. At the time one was enough.


The airline snafus we hit have also become a lifelong theme. No matter where we fly, our flights always go wrong.


Helpful vocab: “Omiyage means souvenirs. Crayon Shinchan is a Japanese TV animation character. Narita is Tokyo’s main international airport, while Haneda is mostly a domestic hub.


 

Love Finds a Way


June 17, 1998


In my Kyushu days, I heard a story about an international couple that first met at a karaoke bar after the girl had been in the country a whole two weeks.


She couldn’t speak a peep of Japanese and the only English the guy could handle was, “Marry me!”


But they sure sang well together. And both got a kick out of communicating with hand gestures. Besides, they felt certain love would find a way.


So they got married. And, sure enough, love did find a way.


Straight to the divorce court.


My Japanese wife and I were perhaps not so naïve, though I have learned never to put limits on my stupidity.


Yet, twenty years ago, whenever someone pointed out that marrying into another culture would challenge my patience, my communication skills, my energy level and the higher reaches of my already-receding hairline, my response was always…


“So? Sounds like every marriage.”


But when the person most opposed to our wedlock (my future mother-in-law) added, “You’ll feel different when the kids come,” I could only answer with this:


“Love will find a way.”


A wiser man and balder, I now know what she meant. For I did feel different when the first child came.


How can one sit and watch a product of your own flesh and blood lap up grape juice from his highchair like a dog and not feel different?


The bad news was that it never got any easier than it was when we had but only one child and he was but a toddler.


For my wife and I to keep straight our two separate identities, cultures, languages, and families has always been a circus trick. To raise a pair of kids caught innocently in between has all too often added up to more than we bargained for.


Maybe if we had planted ourselves squarely in one culture, our lives would have been simpler. We might have never had to battle over things like education, family and food and whether we should spend supper watching Crayon Shinchan or Alf.


Yet we had made a commitment not only to two distant cultures but also two distant grandmothers.


Our first son was born on Father’s Day, 1982. Quite a gift, considering I am easy and would have accepted socks.


The boy was made not in Japan but in Indiana where I was enrolled in graduate school. This to the delight of my own mother, who hoped we would stay forever, and the chagrin of my wife’s mother, who felt she would never see her daughter again.


Let alone the new baby.


Graduate students are notoriously poor and I myself was particularly so. I not only ate the free cheese Ronald Reagan was giving away back then, I used some of it as soap.


But for one year we pinched pennies so hard we made Abe Lincoln yelp. At last, we had enough money for the all-important trip back to Japan, including a bundle spent on a new super-sized suitcase, full of omiyage for my wife’s family.


On the day of our departure, it snowed 20 centimeters in Denver, where we had a connecting flight. After all, it was late May, perhaps still winter there.


We ended up being rerouted through half of the Midwest, oodles of fun when traveling with a one-year old.


Love found a way and we eventually landed for a night in Los Angeles.


Except our suitcase didn’t land with us.


When I complained that our bag contained almost all our worldly possessions, the airline guy stopped clipping his nails long enough to note:


“Gosh. What a shame.”


We never saw the bag nor the omiyage again.


Still, love found a way and twelve hours later we were on a flight for Tokyo, taking with us only the clothes on our backs.


And our son. Who instead of spending the night worrying about lost luggage had spent the time sleeping – like a baby. Now, on board the plane, he wanted to practice his latest skill: walking.


My wife and I figured he’d tire after a few dozen laps around economy class, but we were wrong. To this day, he remains the only baby to have walked across the entire Pacific Ocean.


Along the way he managed to spill tomato juice on the left leg of my wife’s white slacks – her only clothes, remember – and then soil her right leg with a solid product of a different color.


By the time we got to Narita, he was cranky, I was dead on my feet and my wife was too embarrassed to stand. I am surprised immigration even let us in.


Love still had to get us to my mother-in-law’s house. We rode with a wild child to Haneda, hopped another nightmare flight to Kyushu and then took a train for an ugly hour more.


However, when we arrived my wife’s mother showed no care for our fatigue, ruined clothes, lost luggage or the fact that she had opposed our marriage.


She took her first grandson into her arms. Her world stopped.


“What a beautiful baby!”


Of course, she had yet to see him lap up grape juice. But the moral remains.


Sometimes love does find a way. Sometimes it is the only thing that can.


© by Thomas Noah Wood

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