Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Blast from the Past

Today, December 7th, 2011, marks 70 years since Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. And the bombs are still exploding.

It seems like an ordinary bright December day at the Yokota Air Force Base in Tokyo, Japan, but much of the base is closed, and instead of going to work, most everyone is taking advantage of this impromptu holiday, hunkering down in their on-base housing waiting to hear the ka-boom.

Just yesterday a mysterious unexploded ordnance (UXO) was unearthed from a construction site behind the base fitness center, later identified by experts the Yokosuka Naval Station to be a WWII-era bomb.

It’s a strange and timely reminder that the base we occupy used to belong to the Japanese, and hence was a target by Allied bombers. Today, seventy years later, disposal technicians will detonate this ghostly munition, an explosion that will be a haunting echo from the grave of the Pacific campaign.

This freshly unearthed chunk of cold metal is a chilling reminder of the horrors the world faced during WWII and the sacrifices that so many made. For us at Yokota Air Force Base, it’s a forced pause and moment of reflection, as we remember the countless Americans who lost their lives in Pearl Harbor and beyond between the years of 1941-1945.

But it’s also a reminder of how far the Japanese have come, and how far the relationship between the US and Japan has changed, as it’s difficult for me to believe that the very place where I live used to be enemy territory.

Sure, residual traces of hostility and sensitivity still exist in Japan, especially in Hiroshima and Hachioji. Most people can identify Hiroshima as the first city to ever be destroyed by an atomic weapon when US Forces dropped the atomic bomb in 1945. Hachioji, a city in Greater Tokyo with about a half-million residents, was once the gruesome place where captured American airmen were beheaded with Samurai swords. American pilots retaliated, adopting the phrase, “Save one for Hachioji,” meaning that they would reserve one bomb from their scheduled drops to hit Hachioji. Elderly residents of Hachioji are still traumatized by the massive destruction, so much that our planes are forbidden from flying over Hachioji today.

For my generation, it’s hard to imagine a time when our countries were at war, much less to characterize the Japanese people as our “enemies.” From the moment I arrived in Japan, I have felt a warm and welcoming spirit from the Japanese people. To us, Hachioji is the nearest big city for a fun night out, and I’ve never thought twice about going there, nor felt any hostility from the people.

The US took over Yokota Air Force Base after WWII, but many of the jobs on base today are held by Japanese, as our governments work harmoniously together to promote a safe and secure region. During Japan’s triple-crisis of earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown last Spring, the US/Japan relationship showed it’s strength as both countries worked together to provide relief to victims. I think about the friendly Japanese gate guards who scan us in and out of base every day, and Satoru, the cheerful Japanese traffic director whose cartoon-like smile and animated way of twirling his flag has made him so famous around base that he has his own Facebook fan page. Hardly the face of an enemy, right?

Perhaps the biggest lesson in all of this is the hope that the worst of enemies can eventually become friends. I’m sure if you asked any American what they thought about Japs in the early 1940s, their response wouldn’t be very amorous. I’m sure our grandparents had a hard time imagining the potential for our countries to become close allies. My own grandfather was a Naval submariner in the Pacific during WWII, and has many stories about his time over here. His stories are so very different than my own about Japan. So, can this bomb from seventy years ago also point the way to the future, for America’s relationships abroad? I like to think it’s a reminder of the past, but also of what is possible.
My own husband has deployed to the Middle East 4 times. Is it that far-fetched to think that our grandchildren might someday be walking around the Middle East and discover a bomb, or some vestige of today’s conflicts, and be equally perplexed?

On December 7th, the date that will live in infamy, we will never forget the sacrifices of WWII. Several generations later, as rulers and regimes have come and gone, what’s left is a very unlikely friendship and the closest of allies.

*Part of this was borrowed from my friend Natalie's blog. She also resides at Yokota AFB.*

Monday, September 12, 2011

Never Forget

I remember as a kid my mom telling me she knew exactly where she was and what she was doing the moment she found out JFK had been assassinated. I always thought that was a bit strange...until one very somber day 10 years ago. Now, I can visualize exactly where I was and what I was doing that Tuesday in September when the world forever changed.
On 9-11-01 I had recently (5 days earlier) celebrated my 24th birthday and was in my 3rd year of teaching elementary school. It was my 2nd year as a 1st grade teacher at Spring Garden Elementary, and as I drove to work that morning (speeding I'm sure as I was probably running late as usual) I had the radio on. The DJ said there had been a plane hit the World Trade Center in NYC and he actually kind of laughed about it. At the time, they thought it was a small Cessna type plane and the thought was, "Dude, how do you not see that gigantic building in front of you?" I thought, "man that really sucks" but didn't think more about it (although I do remember the exact spot on Cheek-Sparger Drive where I was when I heard it).
I made it to work, went into my classroom and started my day. That morning the kids had an assembly to attend in the cafeteria. It was unusual to have one first thing in the morning, but seeing as how plays and theater productions basically gave us teachers an hour or so of "free time", none of us complained! As we sat there watching the play with our kids, the principal of the school called the leader teacher of our team over to talk to him quietly. I happened to glance at her face, and she had a very somber look. I knew something was wrong, but had no earthly idea what (or the depth of it) at the time.
Once the play was over and we walked our kids back to our classrooms, she called the 4 of us out in the hall. As the 5 of us stood there, she told us that America was under attack, and so far 2 planes had hit the trade center, and they thought more was going to happen but weren't sure what/when/where. It was a very surreal and scary feeling. She also told us we were not to turn on tvs or radios because we didn't want to scare the kids, but that if parents came to pick their children up, there were allowed to go with no questions asked.
As the day went on, more and more parents started to trickle in and pick up their children. At the time I remember thinking 2 things - 1. Why are they picking their kids up? It isn't like Spring Garden Elementary is a big terrorist target. (As a mommy now, I get it. They weren't afraid of something happening at SGE, but just wanted to feel safe, be with their loved ones, and protect their children in any way they could. I get it now, and would go to the ends of the Earth to protect my child if something threatened to hurt her.) 2. Is this lesson I'm teaching on the sounds the letter C makes really all that important right now, especially if this is it and the end is near?
The first few kids to leave didn't get to me too much, but by that afternoon, over half my class was gone. My room mom, who I was also good friends with, came in and had tears in her eyes. I went outside in the hall with her and begged her to tell me what was going on (we still hadn't had any more info than knowing 2 planes had hit the towers). She hugged me, looked me in the eyes and said, "It's bad Kim. It's so bad. 2 planes hit the towers and they have both collapsed, 1 hit the Pentagon and 1 has crashed in a field. Thousands are feared dead. They don't know if there are more or if other things will be hit or where. I'm scared and it's bad." Well, let's just say my tears started flowing too and I had to get myself back together quick before I walked back in that classroom.
For the last 2 hours of the school day I pretty much just let the kids play puzzles and games. I wasn't in the mindset to teach (and there were only about 7 kids left anyway). Finally, the bell rang and I immediately dismissed the kids and turned on the tv. That's when I saw the pictures. That's when it sank it. That's when I finally cried.
After work that day, I went home and watched the news non-stop for hours (like the rest of America did I'm sure). I talked to friends and made sure they were ok (I didn't personally know anyone in the hit areas, but it was more of an 'are you emotionally ok' thing). I talked to my ex-boyfriend. We'd ended things a few weeks before and hadn't really spoken, but suddenly we both just needed to hear a voice we cared about. (No, we didn't get back together or anything, but we did become friends again). A fellow co-worker offered to let me stay with her if I was afraid to stay alone, since my family lived in Houston and I was living in DFW at the time. (I didn't but thought that was an awfully sweet gesture of her).
I also talked to my mom. I didn't realize it at the time, but my dad (a commercial airline pilot) was scheduled to fly out of NYC that morning. She was worried b/c she hadn't heard from him. Finally she did and it turns out that he did indeed fly that day, but thankfully his flight had taken off before the first plane hit. He was flying to Jamaica and by the time the FAA called to land all planes, they were already out of the country. He did get stuck in Jamaica for a week (boo hoo, right?!?) but he was safe and that was what mattered.
It was a surreal day and the next few weeks felt that way too. It seemed like time sort of stood still for a bit. It was difficult to discuss it with 1st graders in class as they knew what had happened but had a 6 year old's perspective on it all. They asked things like, "why does it keep happening? (They replayed the images of the planes crashing so often kids thought it was more and more planes and didn't realize it was a repeat). Why would someone hate someone else that much? Why did God make someone so evil like the people who did that? Why would someone want to fly a plane into a building and kill themselves too? (You know...I still don't really know how to answer any those why's..)
Time has a way of moving on and life changes, the world still turns, birthdays come and go, bad things still happen, but good things do too. Since 2001, I've bought and sold a house; taught school for 6 more years; started a small embroidery company all my own; been married, divorced and married again; had a baby; moved around the world...the list goes on...
My heart swells with pride at how our country stood united in those dark days after 9-11. My heart aches for those who lost so much that day. I am proud of the men and women who gave their lives to help. I'm proud of those who have fought for freedom since then, including my own Air Force husband.
Time can lessen the despair, the hurt and anguish of that day. Time can also make us forget the pride we all had for our nation we had that day, and that's just something we can never do. One day I'll explain it to my own daughter. Teach her that time marches on, but memories are worth holding on to. May I have the ability to raise her to be the type that steps up to help others in need, and may God Bless America, now and always.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mallory's Splish Splash 2nd Birthday Bash

There's no time like the present to get started, so here goes nothing. I know my last post (well, the last post before the last one :) was about November of last year. So, I'm a bit behind. But since I feel like I might never get caught up, I figured I'd just start now, and work backwards. And maybe forwards when I have a new even to blog about. Confusing, but hey, that's just sort of my life sometimes!
So, Mallory's birthday is August 21st. That falls over Friendship Fest (I'll blog about that next) here at Yokota, so we had her party the weekend before her birthday. This year's theme was "Splish Splash Birthday Bash". We set up several kiddy pools, a slip and slide, a bubble table, a fishing pole game, some squirt guns and a tent with food and drinks and let the kids have fun. They most definitely did!
Ali and Rowan (and her mama) playing in the big pool
The snack table.
I had "water themed" snacks: cheetos=coral, gummy worms=bait, pretzels=driftwood, twizzlers=fishing poles, "seashell" pasta, "captain" crunch, nilla wafers and icing=oysters, fruit loops=life preservers, marshmellows=floaties...you get the idea

The cupcake stand with personalized cupcake decor
Cupcakes, fruit tray, and presents. I'd told our friends they didn't have to bring gifts, but could donate to the Japan earthquake relief fund in Mallory's name if they would like. We got gifts anyway, and some donations too. We have very generous friends!
Some of the parents hanging out under the tent
The Pease Place Possy
Rowan, Ali and Mallory LOVED the big pool!
Ring toss in the pool!
Tristan and Conner playing at the water table
Chillin' in the pool
Kirsten had a whole new use for the slip and slide- a water fountain!

Checking out the slip and slide. Mallory didn't really want to slip or slide, but just wanted to walk up and down and get all wet from the water spraying up.

Snack time!
My little 2 year old- all wet!
Squirt gun wars
Kirsten, Mallory and Rowan having a serious conversation about...something
Mike was telling Mallory she is "2". Mallory was trying to hold up 2 fingers just like Mike.
My little fishie
Dada and Mallory
Cupcake time!
My sweet family
Mallory's birthday banner, and a delicious cupcake (I think that was her favorite part of the party)
After her friends left, Mallory wanted to keep playing in the water.
Hanging out in the tent with the neighbors after the party
After the party, and a nap, Mallory opened a few of her gifts. She was funny and wanted to "read" the cards herself.
She got a cool new guitar from her friend Haley. This qualifies as the loudest gift she received, but she loves it!
A new Mrs Potato Head, also a gift from Haley.
Mrs Potato Head's glasses on my little chubby cheeked girl
I'd made her a party hat to wear at the party, but forgot to put it on her, so I took so pictures of her in it later.
A girl and her doggie
She was tired after the party, so we said she could open 1 gift each day, until the next weekend, when her real birthday was (the 21st). So, the next day when Daddy got home from work the first thing she wanted to do was choose a present to open! So many to pick from!
Again, reading her cards
You can have the paper Dada.

Wonder what's in this one.
A new Elmo coloring book and crayons. Very much a hit! She LOVES Elmo!

She also got a Baby Tickle Me Elmo. She was a bit scared of him at first, but warmed right up and was excited.
Talking to and tickling Elmo

Elmo laughs when you tickle his toes. She was trying to get Elmo to eat her own toes- ha!

She had a great birthday and is a very happy, healthy, friendly 2 year old little girl. We feel blessed to have her in our lives, and to have so many great friends to help celebrate her birthday with us. Thanks to each of you, and Happy Birthday Mallory!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy Birthday #2 Mally-Moo!

Oh wow! "Behind" doesn't even begin to describe this blog and I swear, one day soon, I WILL catch up. But, tonight, while it is still fresh on my mind, I just had to write a birthday letter to my baby girl, who isn't so much a baby anymore as a sweet little girl.
It's hard to believe that 2 years have already gone by since Mallory Isabella Cochran entered this world. I remember the exact moment she was born like it was yesterday, and I know I always will. The moment they laid her on my chest I felt a flood of emotion and the purest form of love- like I've never, ever felt before. I knew at that moment that I had just been given the biggest blessing and gift of my entire life. Here it is, 2 years later, and that sweet gift just gets sweeter by the day. Seriously.
I LOVE babies and there is nothing like holding a newborn in your arms (our neighbors here just had a baby 3 weeks ago, so I've been freshly reminded of that newborn sweetness). I thought that was the best stage. Then she reached the smiling at you stage- that seemed the best. Then she could sit up and coo at you- loved that. Then crawling, getting teeth, making messes and cute faces while eating solid food, walking, talking- each one seemed like "the best" milestone. Each stage and milestone add so much to her amazing personality and I each one just adds to my joy of being Mallory's mother. Watching her grow and change every day just brings a smile to my face.
I know that 2 year olds come with challenges (I've already picked her flailing self
up off the floor of the post office and hauled her out like a football) but man, does it come with lots of fun too! I love having "conversations" with her and understanding things she says. Just last night she held her sippy cup up to my coke can and said "Cheers Mommy!" and then followed it up with "Kumpai!" (Japanese for cheers- I have NO IDEA she knew that)!! I love watching her play and playing with her. Solving a wooden puzzle, having a tea party, cooking pretend food or even watching an episode of Sesame Street have never been this much fun before! I love seeing how excited she gets to go to school and see her friends, or go swimming in our backyard pool or play with Mavie dog. I love how she wants to help me do everything these days- feed the dog, sweep the floor, take out the trash- she's always trying to help and is so sweet natured.
She has grown up and changed so much in these past 2 years and I just love being her Mama. I'll admit I got a little bit teary eyed when I put her to bed last night, the last night before she turned 2, because she is growing up and changing right before our eyes. But, I reminded myself that watching her grow and change is the most amazing thing ever.
I pray that as she grows, she becomes the amazing woman I know she was born to be. I pray that she becomes a Godly woman, who respects herself and others. I pray that she sees not only her beauty outside, but inside herself as well. I pray that she is intelligent and uses her brain and skills to help others in need, and knows to put others before herself. I pray that she will become a Godly woman who gets just what she deserves out of life, and makes the most of every moment.
Being a mama can be tough, and demanding, and tiring and draining, but it is so worth it. There is never a moment so bad that a hug, kiss and a "I wuv you mama" from her sloppy little chocolate pudding coated mouth can't fix. Mallory, thank you for making the last 2 years of my life the best 2 years ever. Happy Birthday baby girl. I love you to the moon and back and all around the sun- more than you will ever know!

Mallory @ 1 day old
Mallory @ 6 months old
Mallory @ 1 year oldMallory @18 months old Mallory @ 2 years old
Growing and changing into such a beautiful little girl. I love you with all my heart Mallory!!