“Thank you for taking us here, Mom,” said my 13-year-old.
It was after an all-day outing at Tokyo DisneySea—we were there from the moment the gates opened until they closed them. It was during the pandemic-era restrictions, though, so DisneySea was only open from 10am until 7pm. Good thing for me, too, because at that time I was solo parenting three boys, ages 13, 11 and 20 months. For a second year in a row, my husband went ahead to his next duty station while the kids and I stayed behind for a few months so that they could finish the school year. With every permanent change of station move, we would pack up our household goods a few months before we left a location so that they could be waiting for us at our next home (or arrive there as soon as possible). So, this meant that we would live with the bare minimum. The year prior, we actually moved into a temporary house for the last three months of the school year. We only kept an old mattress, a playpen, and some cooking ware and utensils, and I bought air mattresses for the two older boys. My mother-in-law lent us a folding table and dining chairs, and my 17-year-old cousin who was living with us at the time also had a few items, including an extra monitor that we used as a TV. I remember thinking, “No big deal. We’re living a “minimalist lifestyle.” The kids will be so busy with school, soccer, lacrosse, and tennis that we’ll barely be home. Plus, while the older boys are in school, I’ll take the baby to the aquarium and parks. We’ll only be home for dinner and bedtime, if that.”
Well, life had other plans for us. After two weeks at our new house, the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. At first, it felt like an extended spring break (we had just returned from a week-long family reunion in Hawaii). Then, the uncertainty and stress started to sink in when day-after-day/week-after-week, we didn’t know when the shutdown was going to be lifted and we were going to resume our normal lives. Making dalgona coffee and watching John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” was fun, but distance learning proved to be difficult with spotty internet connection and lack of privacy for the kids. (I mean, who doesn’t want to hear their baby brother crying in the background of a Zoom class or trying to crawl over to your laptop while you’re working on schoolwork?) It was hard for me to tell my kids that the events they were looking forward to—overnight field trips, games, tournaments, and school dances—were cancelled for the rest of the year. It was even harder for me to tell them that they weren’t going back to the classroom to see their classmates and friends before we moved out of the area. My sixth grader’s reaction was heartbreaking. He cried, “What’s the point of being here? We should have went with Dad! At least we would have been together.” There was no way for us to predict that something like this would happen, though. Still, I felt helpless that I couldn’t make things better or right.
We managed to end our time there on a positive note—having fun as a family working on school projects like making a 3D model of Mission San Jose on Minecraft, trying new dishes (thanks to my cousin’s culinary arts class), practicing some safe meetups with a few friends and family, celebrating my cousin’s high school graduation with a drive-in ceremony which concluded with a drive around a racetrack in my mom’s car (I think this was by far the best graduation ceremony I have ever attended—take that, 2020), saying goodbye with a surprise farewell drive by the younger boys’ classmates and celebrating my sixth-grader turning 12 years old. We then helped my cousin move to Southern California where he would attend college, and, the next day, the three boys and I flew to Japan.
Before and after we arrived in Japan, we asked the boys what they wanted to do during our one year in country. Their answer each time: “Go to Disneyland.” They never wavered with their answer. When spring came, we granted their wish. My husband completed his graduate studies program, so we celebrated with a staycation at Tokyo Disney Resort and took the kids to Tokyo Disneyland. A few weeks later, we took my husband to the airport, and it felt like we were in Groundhog Day. This time, though, our rental house was more furnished (we had couches, a large dining table, and multiple desks!), and the kids attended classes in person. When a COVID-19 outbreak at their school led to a week of distance learning, I feared that they weren’t going to return back to the classroom. (Kids may be resilient, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions and feelings. My kids disliked distance learning with a passion despite having more individual space and privacy.) Luckily, the school was able to contain the situation early, and the kids were able to return back to school.
With all the changes that the kids went through the last few years/months/weeks and the upcoming changes over the next few months, I bought us tickets to visit Tokyo DisneySea during our last week in Japan. The kids had just finished their school year, and I thought it would be a great way to end our time in Japan. If you have never been to Tokyo DisneySea, it has seven themed ports inspired by tales or places from around the world. As we strolled through the park, I said, “Well, Kids, we just traveled the world in one day!” With COVID-19 restrictions, the amount of guests were limited, so we were able to ride all of our favorite rides (some of them were ridden multiple times—the kids loved playing against each other on ‘Toy Story Mania!’), see Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters and snack our way through the park with caramel popcorn and churros. Our day was full of smiles and laughter. As we were walking out of the park, my newly turned 13-year-old said, “Thank you for taking us here, Mom.”
It’s such a simple phrase, and, yet, I’m always taken aback whenever I hear him say it to me. It’s not that he doesn’t ever say it—he actually says it all the time. In that moment, though, it struck a chord. For me, motherhood has been full of doubts as I want to do what is right for my children. Most days, I felt like I was failing as a parent, especially without my better half. So that night, when he said those words to me, I felt like I did something right. I thought, “Yes, Mama, you got this!”