Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Home from Japan...

Here's the view of Tokyo from our hotel window, our last night in Japan.

In a way, I suppose it was a good thing we didn't know how gruelling our trip home would be. Certainly, the trip to Japan didn't prepare us for how difficult the homeward one would be... However, to be fair, there were absolutely no hitches in plane flights or luggage & none of the many things that could have gone wrong did, so we were really, really lucky!

We were up pretty early Monday morning & had a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant, then finished packing & had some time to lounge & get our last NHK public tv (home of Pythagoras Switch) fix before calling for a cart to take our luggage to the airport shuttle bus station right next door. We got our tickets & were on the shuttle within 10 minutes for the hour-long ride to Narita Airport. It rained on & off & was quite reminiscent of our ride into Tokyo, nearly 3 weeks before. We saw the sights we'd seen on the first bus ride with new eyes...

The bus porter had told us which stop to get off at & we had about an hour until we could check in, so Charlie & Brendan wandered (& finally got Brendan one of those vitamin drinks in little bottles he'd been angling for the whole trip, because it was his last chance :). Check-in, immigration, & security were a breeze- in Japan you don't have to take off your shoes or take the laptop out of the case, so there's so much less fuss, & there were hardly any other people in line with us. There was about an hour before our flight, so we hit a bookstore for last-minute purchases (Brendan has a natural homing instinct for Kamen Rider Den-O books :), for more distraction on the flight. And... we finally ate at a japanese McDonalds :) Yes, the fish sandwiches taste much better there... (naturally!)

When we finally boarded the plane we were ready to go, but Brendan & I soon were in tears, as we saw Japan receding in the window. We really want to go back!! We started out by looking at Kamen Rider books & puzzling out the japanese, then Charlie & I switched places & they played Uno for a while. When I looked up from a puzzle book, maybe 6 hours into the trip (we'd had two meals by then), I noticed Brendan had one of his Kamen Rider action figures out (one with millions of little pieces that fall off...) & was starting into meltdown mode. I decided that it was time to switch back & see if I could get him to sleep a bit (Charlie was glad to have a break :). I convinced him to put everything away & cuddle up with his blanket, & soon he was asleep. He only slept about 3 hours, but by then they were serving breakfast & getting generally ready to land in Chicago. In some ways, the time really flew, but in others, it was very uncomfortable & exhausting. I kept figuring out what time it was in Japan... When we landed it was somewhere around 2 in the morning & Charlie & I had done no more than doze a bit during the flight.

Chicago was the worst part of the whole trip, bar none :( Not only did we have to navigate immigration & then pick up our bags & do customs, having been awake for nearly 24 hours, but Brendan simply could not cope with the noise & the crowds by then. He was in so much distress from OCD anxiety in the immigration line (literally hundreds of people all in the same place) that they noticed, took pity on us, & unhooked the guide line so we could go ahead- no questions asked. We got him through the rest of re-entering the US on pure will-power, but then had to take a train (lugging the bags) to another terminal & go through security all over again. American security: with shoe & laptop removal (& the plush Pochama pokemon he was clutching to his eyes had to go in the plastic bucket & through the xray, too). Everyone was very professional & said not a word to us about our distressed kid, which was a huge relief. I even explained to Brendan that, if anyone asked, I would tell them that he was autistic so that they might understand (he said that was ok), but I never had to do it. We sat just outside security for nearly half an hour, getting him back together & Charlie went for cold drinks while we sat. Then we each took an arm & half-walked, half-propelled him to the gate, found a quiet place to sit, & we parked. Brendan lay down on the bench of seats with Pochama & nearly fell asleep, he was so overwhelmed. Charlie & I took turns hitting the restrooms & getting food. Our next flight wasn't for 3 hours, so we had time to eat & recover. Brendan alternated between doing just fine (regained his sense of humour & everything) & overwhelmed mode at the drop of a hat, but we were able to amuse him with more japanese books & making mazes for the pokemon plushies to navigate, using newspapers, shoes, & bags :)

The plane home was a teesy-tiny one, 3 seats across & acessed from the ground & up the stairs on the plane's door. Brendan was fascinated by this new experience, & then fell asleep before the plane even took off. He woke up about 15 minutes before we landed at our home airport. What a blessing!! Our next-door neighbour, Evelyn, who had dropped us off at the airport was waiting for us there- so nice to see a friendly, familiar face after the day+ we'd just had! The bags were there, too, & we got them to the car somehow & were home in 15 minutes.

Home looked really weird. The wrong proportions, the wrong smells. But it started feeling homey again very soon. We were blasted, of course. Evelyn brought over some yummy dinner & Brendan supplemented it with his favourite "no-chicken" soup from a can (tofu intead of chicken :). I called my mom to let her know we were home ok. Charlie got Brendan into jammies & into bed & he dropped off immediately. We unpacked & I decided against starting laundry that evening (that would have been "baka", as Brendan would say :). My hot shower felt so good I nearly cried. We were home & in one piece, & everything was home with us!

Yesterday was "the lost day". We drifted around, doing laundry, sorting through omiyage, putting things away. My body hurt so much I couldn't believe it, probably from hauling heavy bags & sitting on planes for too long (although it didn't feel bad at all when we arrived in Tokyo after the same length trip...). Brendan played AQ, played with his Kamen Rider toys, played games with Charlie, & watched movies. We watched the "Lucario" pokemon movie together, & it even made me cry in japanese... Grammie visited, to see with her own eyes that we were home :) Charlie went into work long enough to pick up an enormous box of mail & forms to be signed. Sigh...

Today we all felt a bit better, although I woke up at 4:15 & never went back to sleep. It was a rainy 4th of July, which, perhaps selfishly, suited us because we had no plans... We started thinking about the rest of the week- making a shopping list for tomorrow, Charlie going through the load of paperwork, he & Brendan taking Japan pictures & prezzies to the neighbours. I found that I couldn't eat when the clock told me to eat & was exhausted by 2:00 pm, so I took a nap. Charlie & Brendan headed out to spend some holiday time with sailing friends & I worked on tidying the house even more & getting caught up for the next few days' activities. I discovered that the newest Kamen Rider Den-O was online so Brendan & I watched it when they got home. This evening, at bedtime, he asked me to read to him (our usual, sometimes gruelling, routine before going to Japan), but I put him off (I was busy tidying upstairs) in the hope that he might fall asleep on his own. I went in after a few minutes & asked him what his favourite parts of the trip were, & he drifted off to sleep while he told me :) I asked Charlie the same question before he, too, went off to bed (although, with the fireworks right now, I can't believe either of them are asleep!!). Here is what they answered:

Brendan says that the best part of Japan was Kyoto, because Tokyo was too "urusai" (noisy), & because, although he enjoyed meeting japanese kids in Mizumaki, he was overwhelmed by their attention. He said he loved visiting all the temples in Kyoto, because the temples helped him to cope with "fleas" (his new term for "tics" :). He said that the calm & quiet, & the purifying wells & prayers all helped him a lot.

Charlie said that he enjoyed visiting the Onsen with Tomoko's family very much, but that his favourite parts of the trip were experiencing a different place, being totally out of our element & our ruts, & really experiencing a different culture. He said the trip to Uji (while we were in Kyoto) felt like our best full day in Japan.

I find myself also dwelling on how amazing it was to be out of our usual routine (for better or for worse) & to see our usual way of living from the outside-in. (I am still having difficulty getting used to people speaking english to me :) We tried so many different things while we were there, some which we would never stretch ourselves to do in regular life, for very good reasons! I was struck by the realisation of how very intense life with Brendan is, & how unrelenting his anxiety can be (& how demanding). And yet, there were times when he was stretched & rose to the occasion beautifully, & I was so heartened by these experiences. It helps me to understand that Brendan is learning & growing, becoming more capable of managing his anxiety everyday. I told Charlie this evening that, no matter what we might do next year for vacation, it will be easier because he's growing & learning. And the next time we go to Japan it'll be easier for the same reason (plus our japanese will be better :). I also find myself more focused on how I want our day to day lives to be, rather than reacting to how it is (because I'm immersed in it). I want to find ways to help Brendan become more considerate of others, even in the face of his own very intense needs. He has mentioned this to me, that he wants to be more thoughtful of others, so I want to find ways to help him. Like Brendan, I really enjoyed visiting the shrines & temples, & I really loved trying to communicate with people in their own language. There were so many beautiful things to see & experience. Another thing that I enjoyed so much about our trip was that there was so much time together as a family. In regular life, we tend to play ping-pong with Brendan, with Charlie at work all day & then coming home to dinner & then giving me a break from the intensity that is "life with Brendan". I take over right before bed time so that Charlie can do paperwork. The he & I sit for a few minutes & reconnect, then he goes to bed & we begin it all again the next day. While we were in Japan we were rarely apart & it felt very natural to do things together- from managing the subways to managing tics. It felt very good. When we weren't under the stress of keeping to schedules & planning our own days, it was really fun to be together, no matter how unevenly things went. I am left feeling really good about our family, & about being the family that we are. Perhaps the best & biggest gift of going to Japan :)

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At 11:40 PM, Blogger kristina said...

That last paragraph was amazing. It sums up the feeling I get when the three of us spend weekends and vacation together---something about being a threesome intricately and intimately involved in all we do together.

Thank you so much for the travelogue----all the details of places and foods and people and moments: It was tremendous. I felt like crying when you were all on the airplane too...... Brendan did fabulous, and what is not harder than those lines through customs on the return back? Chicago airports, not nice!

Welcome home!

At 5:44 PM, Blogger mcewen said...

What an adventurous trip - you put me to shame. Glad you're back safe and sound.
Best wishes

At 4:58 AM, Blogger Sharon said...

So glad you are all home safely. The journey home is always so much harder, I think. Well done to Brendan for dealing with so much so well.
I have really enjoyed reading your trip reports. If I ever get the chance to go to Japan, I'd re-read them first.
I was very moved by this post. Best wishes to you and your lovely family.


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