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“Anpanman!  Anpanman!” We’re in the toy store. My daughter, who clearly wants an “anpanman” is pulling at my hand and rushing towards a row of brightly colored plastic…things.  The trouble is, I’m only vaguely aware of Anpanman in general and not at all with this specific instance of him.

Everything I know about Anpanman: He’s a superhero. His head is a sweet roll stuffed with red bean paste. Japanese children love him. My half-Japanese child loves him.

Where did he come from? Why is he so popular? And, most importantly, how the hell did my kid find out about him? We don’t have any Anpanman toys or puzzles or games. We don’t watch him on TV. So…?



The answer, of course, is pre-school. My daughter attends a pre-school play group three or four days a week. Just as in play groups everywhere, the children sing songs, play games, tumble around on miniaturized, plasticized gym equipment, and generally get tired out enough to give their parents some beloved nap time. They also learn about odd little characters with whom their parents lack any familiarity, apparently.

There are two factors at play here: One, I’m an older parent. I was almost 40 when my daughter was born. Two, I live in Japan, where I lack all the standard childhood referents.

When my daughter is with me, we do things in English. We watch Elmo (after my time, but I get it), Bert and Ernie (they’re animated now?), and we read lots and lots of books (Dr. Seuss seems pretty timeless, thankfully).

The trouble is, my daughter does not spend her time with only me. There’s her mom, of course, and her grandparents. And her teachers. And her classmates. And the really kind old neighbor lady who persists in giving her snacks and sweets.

All these people, as loving and kind as they are, are not from where I’m from. When my daughter looks at me, she sees the odd man out. I find myself playing catch-up, not only to my own culture (seriously, who are all these new characters on “Sesame Street”?), but also to one I only half-comprehend as an outsider.

To be very clear, this is not a language issue. This is a cultural issue. There are dozens and dozens of toys in the toy aisle at the supermarket that occupy a cherished, nostalgic, warm-fuzzy spot in the hearts of Japanese people that I have very little contact with. Until now, I’ve had minimal interest in these things beyond the basic “Oh, that’s nice.”

I mean, imagine your Japanese friend sitting in on a conversation between you and your besties about “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters”? Language is not the issue. Trust me. No, these things are easy to blow past as an adult. After all, if you and your friend are talking about “Scooby-Doo” and someone can’t participate fully, the polite thing is to move on to something else.

Then again, how often do you and your friends sit around talking about 50-year-old cartoons when there are world events, mortgages, spouses, and football to talk about?

Culture is a fluid thing at the best of times. On the one hand, it is ephemeral – a trending fad one moment and completely passe the next. But it’s also very sticky. Elements and pieces of the greater pop cultures in which we’re all raised stay with us far beyond their ostensible shelf life. We remember songs, cartoons, games, and weird little pieces of plastic shaped like our favorite characters.

Seriously, have you seen Anpanman?

This is, in the grand scheme of things, the least of my problems. I have a job, a mortgage, etc. etc. etc. But this is what I worry about. I am afraid that my child, my only child, will grow up alien to me, fluent in a culture that I can only participate in at the surface levels.

I’m afraid that she will prefer this other thing to me and my culture. I am afraid that she will prefer these strange creations to the strange creations of PBS and Children’s Television Workshop, that she will prefer this life – this culture in which she is being raised – to me.

It seems somehow inevitable. After all, this is her home. This is where she will go to school, make friends, grow up, discover who she is, and where she will, eventually, build her own life. And yet, I am desperately hoping that she will find some comfort, maybe even some joy, in being different – that being of both here and elsewhere will cause her to expand her interests and her sense of self to something dramatic and beautiful.

But, in the meantime, she really wants that Anpanman puzzle.

So, what to do about it?  Obviously, the first step is to get up to speed on all things Anpanman. Thank you, Wikipedia and mobile data connections.

The second step is to relax. I knew going into this whole fatherhood thing that there would be an incredible number of things I’d be ignorant about. I knew there would be things I could not help her with, things related to being Japanese that I will never quite get, despite speaking the language. And, I know that cartoon characters are, honestly, the least of my worries. Culture is important, but there is far more for us to bond over than TV and brightly colored bits of plastic.

She is going to be who she is going to be, and forcing her to choose between this culture and that culture, between my interests and her own, is a certain path to failure.

So, I shove my worries back into the deep, dark recesses of my soul and buy the damn puzzle. Then I put my newly acquired knowledge to work so that I can do the puzzle with my kid. I help her put the pieces together, saying the names as we do so.

“This is Shokupanman. This is Baikinman. This is…we’ll have to ask Mommy who this is.”

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent. Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, is more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued so the crisis can be averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

For me, the fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas


Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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