Living With Kids: Janet Weston

By Gabrielle.

This is the tour that almost never happened because TWINS! Janet’s boys have hit the terrible twos, and so her Living With Kids tour nearly turned into a Barely Surviving These Busy Busy Little Boys situation! You’ll giggle at the characters to whom she likens them, and I hope you’ll also love how she describes mommy-dating. Hilarious and true.

Oh! And did I mention she’s an expat in Tokyo? There’s a lot of interesting information in this one, and I really think you’re going to love Janet. And so, here she is!

Konnichiwa! Hajimemashite, yoroshiku onegaishimasu! I’m Janet, a mother of two beautiful twin boys. Together with my husband, we’ve been living in Tokyo for the past two years.

I am a former architect turned full-time stay-at-home mom. Last summer, I turned 40 but was too busy chasing after my kids to give it much thought or emotion. I am Korean by ethnicity, but born and raised in New York. My husband is British and grew up in London. He moved with his company to NYC, where we met, and now we are based in Tokyo.

My sons, C and M, are two-and-a-half years old and are bundles of energy. I speak American English to them while my husband speaks The Queen’s English to them; and although they spend much more time with me than my husband, they speak American English with a British accent.

My two boys are like the Three Stooges: just the two of them creating a huge mess of three. The boys are always running, never walking, and frequently full-on body slamming into each other unintentionally. Blood is usually involved, and a big bump on each head and/or bruises somewhere is a constant.

Vehicles of any shape or form are their main obsession. I never thought two year olds could learn complex vehicle names and I never thought I would ever have to learn so much about cars, tow trucks, buses, trains, excavators, bulldozers, motorcycles, boats, planes, etc. either. They also love books, and have amassed quite a large collection, mainly because I get tired of re-reading the same ones over and over again.

Amazingly, they have memorized a lot of them verbatim, so one would think they know how to read. And their most favorite toy in the world is the one the other brother is playing with.

We live in central Tokyo in a neighborhood called Nakameguro. Prior to our move, my husband’s boss was Japanese and recommended this area to us because he thought it would suit my husband. He was spot-on. This is not a typical expat requested location, but it is on the tourist map for various reasons including the restaurants, bars, unique boutique shops, and most of all the Cherry Blossoms!

A narrow river runs through Nakameguro and it is lined with Sakura trees. Each spring, from late March to early April, the ephemeral pink blooms from the cherry trees bring out large crowds throughout Japan. Droves of locals and tourists come out to Nakameguro and take a stroll along the river to enjoy this amazing and beautiful spectacle. Pink sparkling wine and beer are the beverages of choice and sausages, kebabs, roasted sweet potatoes, and yakisoba are just a few of the many different foods sold during this time in temporary stalls.

We like that this area is more of a mix of Japanese locals and international residents. It is very family-friendly in the day, and at night, shuttered restaurants and bars open for dinner and late night drinks for workers coming home from their jobs. It is not uncommon to see young children out and about with one or both parents enjoying dinner out until about 9:00 or 10:00 pm.

Tokyo, in general, seems fit for night owls versus early risers, as businesses typically do not open until 10:00 am, and restaurants and cafes do not open until 11:30 am or later. If the grocery store, pool, or gym opened before 10:00 am, my mornings would be far more productive.

That being said, I am not a morning person by choice, but my kids wake me up by 6:00 am, if not earlier.

The apartments and houses we were shown when we moved to Tokyo were always void of any previous life. Because we rent, we cannot alter our apartment in any way. Wallpaper is the typical wall finish in most apartments, so one cannot just paint a wall a different color for the duration of the lease and repaint upon leaving. We are not allowed to drill holes into the walls either.

Our current apartment building rents to expats and was the only one with available units in the desired neighborhood at the time. The southern exposure into our main living area, space for our dining table, and the neighborhood vibe sealed the deal for us.

We have five local parks within five to ten minutes walking distance to us with playgrounds and sand pits as well as a football (soccer) field. There are more parks within a ten-minute bike ride. There are many cafes, restaurants, shops, and other amenities just steps away from our door.

We love our neighborhood. It really started to feel like home about a year after we arrived.

We do not have a car in Tokyo. Fortunately, Tokyo’s subway system trumps both London and NYC’s for being super clean and very reliable. Most train stations have elevators and they are always fully functioning, unlike NYC subways where an elevator may be out of commission indefinitely. So navigating the streets of Tokyo with my boys in the double stroller is quite easy.

The other popular mode of transportation for a lot of parents in Tokyo is the Mamachari electric bicycle. Tokyo is quite hilly and you need the electrical assistance to transport yourself and one, two, or maybe even three children on a bicycle. I use mine for school pick-up and drop-offs, trips to the park, or to run errands. It has changed my life!

Being first-time parents to twins has been quite an adjustment. While in NYC and pregnant, we assumed I would return to work after the minimum maternity leave and send our child to daycare. When we found out we were expecting two, sending two kids to daycare was not an affordable option. My boss at the time assured me that being a full-time working mom with twins was completely doable. She would know as she had twin teenage sons and a successful architecture practice as proof.

On a side note, my main client through this firm also had twin teenage sons. All these families with twins were successfully working and balancing their personal lives. My future as a working parent of twins seemed quite promising.

A lot of my friends in NYC had done quite well in their careers and would buy property and subsequently would need an architect to help make their property their own. Luckily, during my pregnancy, a friend had purchased a new apartment that needed to be renovated. He also happened to have one-year old twins. So I partnered up with another architect friend and we started to design this twin family’s apartment on the side. Other projects started to pop-up, too.

The timing was great to start a side gig from my full-time job. My plan was to quit the full-time job after giving birth and grow the side projects into a full-time gig.  I would finally be able to start my own architecture practice.  Plus, this would have given me a more flexible lifestyle, since I would be my own boss. Everything was falling into place.

However, my pregnancy was not going as hoped. At 22 weeks, I was unexpectedly hospitalized, then put on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. I had to stop both my full-time work and side projects abruptly. I was hospitalized an additional three times and pumped with all sorts of medication to prevent preterm labor and accelerate fetal development. It was the most stressful and most boring 12 weeks of my life.

Having had a previous miscarriage, expecting twins, and being over 35 years old put me in the high-risk category of geriatric pregnancies. I was so paralyzed from the stress that I could not do anything productive, yet I craved distraction to help pass the time more quickly.

I was prescribed anti-contraction medication for five weeks and less than 24 hours after my last dose, my water broke. A few hours later, my babies were born and immediately whisked away to the NICU. They spent a week there causing additional stress for us. And finally we brought them home and found a new level of stress we didn’t think possible. Not only were we first time parents with twins, our twins were delicate preemies. How could the doctors and nurses trust us newbie parents with caring for one, let alone two? The 12 weeks of worry about possibly losing my boys had to be quickly forgotten as caring for these tiny beings became our main focus.

Fast forward through four months of juggling two newborns, during which time my husband’s company asked if he would consider relocating to Tokyo. When we got married, we presumed NYC would be home for some time to come, so the opportunity was rather unexpected. And less than three months later, we landed in Tokyo.

Being a new parent is already overwhelming, so we thought we would throw in an international move and add cultural and language barriers to make our day-to-day living a little more difficult! But in addition to new parent difficulties and the relocation, all the things that previously defined me have now been tossed aside as caring for my two boys and husband have usurped everything else. We are very fortunate to have this unique chance to live abroad. This is an amazing opportunity for my husband’s professional growth and a great experience for our family. I wholeheartedly chose and agreed to this new path for my family, but I still often wonder and romanticize how my career might have developed these three years later.

Also, becoming financially dependent on my husband has been an added adjustment; I often feel like I am not pulling in my weight in this partnership. Additionally, I think my husband feels the pressure of becoming the sole provider for three dependents.

In an ideal world, I would love to find something design-related on a part-time or freelance and flexible basis. If there was a sure thing that I could do here in Japan, I know I could make it work. However, I have no desire to pursue just any random job for the sake of having a job. My boys require so much attention as they are in the midst of the terrible twos. When they are on, they are ON.

Friends and family back home had suggested I start a blog on our expat adventures, but I could barely manage posting one Instagram photo a week!

The expat community is rather transient. My initial experience into this world began with a lot of mommy-dating. I met up with different moms and their children by chance meetings in the park or through organized events and activities. We try to see if we have any connections besides the fact that we have kids. Luckily, out of necessity and perseverance, I have made some great friends. Unfortunately, I have already had to say goodbye to several families as they moved onto other new expat adventures of their own. So I often feel like I have to continue mommy-dating and it can get quite exhausting.

There are a lot of accomplished, well-educated, and interesting women out there taking extended maternity leave during their expat days and some who seem to feel this strain or limbo period of not doing enough. As if taking care of our kids is not enough of something to do, when I think it is actually the hardest job I have ever had. Knowing I was not alone in my feelings has helped me deal with this struggle. I have also been able to befriend working moms who are either Japanese or non-Japanese with a Japanese spouse, and it is interesting to see that despite different parenting styles and culture and maybe even a full-on work schedule, they all have similar feelings and struggles on the matter of raising kids.

Overcoming these parental struggles include doing non-kid-related things such as date nights with my husband, group dates, and separate boys’ and girls’ nights out. We hire a sitter as needed, but amongst a few other neighborhood moms, we take turns babysitting for each family so that one couple can go out and not also have to spend a lot of money on a sitter. Obviously, the mom who is babysitting has her husband at home to watch their own children.

In an attempt to create our own village, several moms and I take turns hosting kid dinners. The host family provides dinner for kids so that the moms do not need to worry about cooking dinner for their own kids that evening. Kids get to play with each other and get to know all the moms of the group, too. The hostess is left with the post-dinner and play mess and we rotate homes each time. We have simplified the menu options so that it is a healthy, but easy mass dinner to prepare.

Prior to having our own children, my husband and I naively judged our parent friends with their parenting style, time management, and home décor. We vowed we would never be like some parents. Hah. Seriously, all parents are doing the best they can.

With the upcoming move to Tokyo, we Konmari-ed our things before we ever learned about the tidying guru. We did not want to store anything in New York and only wanted to take things that we knew we would need and use. This included getting rid of over 500 art, architecture, fiction, and non-fiction books. In its place, we acquired a lot of infant and toddler toys and equipment as gifts or hand-me-downs.

I wanted the boys to have free reign in our new home. When the boys started walking at 10.5 months, they started to climb everything. We had to childproof our living room by removing every non-toy except for the larger pieces of furniture. Every week we would rearrange our spaces to make it harder for them to climb and access things they should not touch. All of our art kept being rearranged and moved higher and higher up.

I never really minded clutter before kids, but probably because my husband and I didn’t leave so many little cars or blocks scattered throughout our home! Our home ended up looking like an indoor playland — exactly what my husband and I vowed we would never allow.

Recently, we brought my husband’s and my toys back out. Our computer is on an elevated window ledge in the living room instead of on a desk. Our stereo has been placed on a higher cabinet to avoid little hands from destroying it. Although our boys now know they should not touch these things, they love to test us all the time to ensure we are constantly vigilant.

C and M have been attending an English language preschool on a part-time basis since they were 18 months old, as I needed some breaks from caring for them all the time. The few nannies we tried out had a difficult time handling both boys on their own without me there to help. But mainly, we wanted the boys to be in a somewhat structured environment and to socialize with other peers and adults. We have also been adding the number of days they attend as I find it harder and harder to entertain them on days that they do not have school. There are only so many playdates, trips to the aquarium or large play spaces I can take them to multiple times a week without burning myself out.

After school, we head to one of the local parks with or without friends to run around and burn off about two hours of energy left in them. Then we head home and have a long bath splash or quick shower depending on how dirty they got and how much more energy needs to be burned. This is usually the bewitching hour of h-anger (hungry-anger) tantrums and me trying to prevent a burnt dinner.

After the food fight — I mean dinner — the boys ride their indoor bikes and climb their jungle gym to allow time for digestion. Finally we wrestle PJs on and read books in bed and do a lot of chasing back into the bedroom. If my husband gets home in time, he helps with this part of the bedtime routine. After books, it is lights out and I sing for 15 minutes or until I fall asleep, whichever happens first.  Then, eventually I sneak out or my husband wakes me. By the time I leave their room, I am utterly spent. I do not have the energy to form coherent sentences or even read.

I am eternally grateful we can afford to send my boys to school to give me a few hours without them a few times a week. During the time they are in school, I am cleaning up our home, running errands, buying groceries, and prepping dinner, so that I can spend more focused time with the boys when I am with them. More recently, I am trying to do more self-care and outsourcing. I spend at least one day per week on something design-related whether it is attending an exhibition or touring a building or reading up on design-related topics. I have lunch with various friends without our kids at least once a week. I recently quit the gym that I barely stepped foot into and started personal training sessions.

On weekends, my husband might take the boys out for a few hours, but we often all hang out together as a family so that I can see my husband, too. We explored a lot of Tokyo during our first year, but not sure if it is due to getting too comfortable or the difficulty of managing twins in public that we prefer to stick to local parks more recently.

Lately, my boys have started to interact more with each other whereas before was a lot of parallel play and vying for Mommy’s undivided attention. I love seeing them scheme together, play jokes on each other, and sing together. Their imaginative play has become quite creative and complicated. Now I see how the twin bond is forming. I miss their immobile infant stage and when I see or hold a friend’s infant, I contemplate a third child. However, the possibility of having another set of twins, or having a crazy day with my current boys usually squashes that desire.

Life in Tokyo is good. It is very baby and kid-friendly. I know my boys love our home right now and I hope they remember it as a place of love, safety, and comfort. I hope they remember me as someone who gave them love, safety, and comfort.

However, I hope my boys forget all the screaming I do! I hope they do not remember me as the one homeless-looking mom at school drop-off! I am still hiding bedhead under my bicycle helmet and the clothes I slept in under my jacket. Japanese moms always look immaculate in their full make-up and cute outfits at school drop-offs and playgrounds where their kids are getting dirty. I need to become proficient in Japanese to learn their secrets.

I wish someone had told me how having twins would completely change my life and that I will not find joy and happiness in every minute I raise my kids and would sometimes feel resentment, too. I feel like since I gave birth, my mind is constantly filled with very mundane details and tasks that are essential to surviving the day (Did I pack at least six diapers and enough wipes? Where is that school form? Where is my wallet? Where is my bike key?). There is no space available for creativity or inspiration to take shape in there. In retrospect, I find that the first year of raising twins was a breeze as they were less mobile and had only the most basic needs that needed to be met. I’m sure in a few years I can look back on this time and think it was a breeze, too.

–-

Janet, you totally made me laugh out loud with your desperate hope that your boys won’t remember you as the bedheaded mom at school drop-off! Thank you so much for your honesty and humor today. It was fun to peek in on your life in Tokyo.

Friends, would you — or have you — done it? Moved to another country with two little, little ones, without friends or family…or a job? I’d love to hear your stories, so please do tell!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

31 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Janet Weston”

  1. First, you are a brave woman! I thoroughly enjoyed your honest portrayal of your life. Definitely someone I can relate to! Hope it calms down a bit from now on and that you can think coherently after bed time once again!

  2. I love this post! Love her honesty and her candidness. We lived in Madrid for a year , moving just after our second was born. Crazy times but the best of times too. You can’t underestimate the challenges of living in a country where you don’t speak the language (although I tried) …. I totally got why expat communities stick together. The comfort of know others are going through the same transition, the advice and support of others a bit further down the transition than yourself. Despite Janet’s concerns, it sounds like she’s doing an amazing job ….

  3. We moved overseas almost a year ago with a 2 year old, 4 year old, and 6 year old. I can totally relate to mommy dates and to feeling like life is full of mundane thoughts. It’s been a challenge to find friends who understand us, and it’s been difficult for my kids to understand different accents. So building community is a lot more work than it was at home. We live in a cold, wet place where dryers are not used as there is no space. I feel like laundry has become an overwhelming hassle that sucks up my time…but we love where we are and plan to stay. There’s just a lot to adjust to and life with little ones can make it feel overwhelming. Although, it will be worth it in the end. :) It was really nice to hear someone else’s story as I could relate to how you’d be feeling. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Love your honesty! My twins are now 14 and those early years were hard, even with preschool and help. I have continued to work, mostly because I need something of my own, something I can control. Thank you for this peek into your life!

  5. Thank you! Thank you!! We’re moving to Tokyo at the end of the summer with a newly-minted three year old and a five year old. I’m nervous and excited and nervous! Thank you for the peek into your life, it’s calming to know how good it is. Now I need to look at that neighborhood and put getting an electric bike on my list.

  6. Hi,
    Janet- if you read these comments, I’d love to know where you got the blue and red sofas and what brand they are!
    Thanks!

  7. Thank you for your honesty! It’s been a long day here and it was a nice reminder that I’m not the only one who has these thoughts, worries, and feelings.

    On a different note, if you don’t already own it, I bet your boys would love B is for Bulldozer. Trucks Roll is another one we read many many times a day! (I have four boys (and two girls) and I now know more about construction equipment than I ever dreamed it was possible to learn!)

  8. “There are a lot of accomplished, well-educated, and interesting women out there taking extended maternity leave during their expat days and some who seem to feel this strain or limbo period of not doing enough. As if taking care of our kids is not enough of something to do, when I think it is actually the hardest job I have ever had.” <– This spoke to my heart! I am a Naval Officer turned SAHM. Although I don't have twins, I have a 3YO, 1YO, and am expecting Baby #3. Ours days and worrying about the professional What-If's are very similar and made me feel less alone in my feelings today. Thank you for sharing your home and your story!

  9. A great look into your apartment and life! I did the same thing with having moms and kids over when mine were younger. What worked for me was that the mom packed lunches/dinners for their own kids to bring to my house and I made the moms a yummy adult meal. Kids won’t remember what they ate but moms will:)

    1. We are going to have to try that way, too!! One of my mom friends here manages to cook for both kids and moms when she hosts. I’m trying to get to that level.

  10. I feel like we are living (almost) the same life! I am an architect and mom of twin boys! They are 4 and a half. Though, we did not move across the world before they turned a year old! I cannot imagine. I did go very part time (24 hours, 4 days a week) for their first two years and that was KEY for my sanity. They went to daycare five days a week and I would take Friday’s and have alone time where I would sit in silence for, sometimes, all day. It was glorious. I also reminisce about the days when they were immobile and even when they were two! They are so funny and talkative and smart now, but also pouty, and sassy, and throw tantrums like they never did when they were two. I also have the same thoughts about another child. I miss the baby stage but What if I had two again?! I know I have recently felt like having twins has taken every ounce of creativity and energy out of me. I know it will come back. It will come back for you too! We live in a rental because of my husbands job and so I know it can be frustrating to be a designer but not be able to impact your own living space. Seriously, reading this was like reading a journal entry of my own. Good luck!

  11. I loved reading your story, Janet. Thank you for your honesty. I could relate to so much. I have 19- month old triplets. I also was not quite prepared for how much life would change. Giving up my job, moving, months of bed rest, preemies, NICU stay. And then the reality of them coming home. My husband and I moved in with my parents and still live with them. I can’t imagine what it would be like moving to another country without a support system in the midst of everything. I love my kids dearly and do not regret staying home, but I do feel at times that I don’t have an ounce of energy left for me (or for my husband either). This whole experience has taken its toll on me more than I realized. I started seeing a therapist and it wasn’t until I broke down crying while telling her my pregnancy and birth story, that I realized I hadn’t allowed myself to process the whirlwind of the past two years. I don’t mean to sound like a downer. It’s just nice to know that we are not alone. Your apartment is beautiful and it looks like you’ve really made it your own even with the limitations of renting. Oh, and I like your taste in books. We have the race car one as well.

    1. Wow, so many super mums reading this. Thank you and triplets!!! I always try to think of those with triplets when I’m having a very tough day with my boys. I think we may see a light at the end of the tunnel around age 5-6. Hang in there!!

  12. Really enjoyed this one & can very much relate to a lot of it. I left a design job in NYC when my first was born. Shortly after, my husband was transferred to a city in Canada (how I wish it had been Tokyo instead!). Our second was born here and I’m still a stay-at-home mom. It’s definitely both rewarding & isolating. We haven’t met any solid friends and have no family nearby, so it’s been about 4 years since my husband & I have had a date… or done anything at night really. It sounds like you’ve made some headway with friends, which must be so nice! Anyway, I wanted to say that I love all the artwork on your walls & the way you’ve set things up. Very cool!

  13. As an expat stay at home mom in Germany, I can completely relate! Just this week, two of my best friends and their kids went back to the states and I’m left to fill the void they left behind, for both me and my kids.

  14. Oh, Janet! I feel so much of your pain. Our second child was born six weeks after we repatriated to the US from Switzerland. It was a nightmare. (I actually wrote all about it for Gabrielle on my Living with Kids interview!) So much of the stress and strain you articulate is so familiar. You are not alone. Not on that front, nor the feeling that being at home isn’t enough.
    As a Montessori teacher, I want to tell you you don’t have to entertain your boys all the time! Don’t feel obligated to make each day exciting or all about them. I’d be happy to address your specific concerns or questions on my Montessori advice column on my blog, if you’d like! I think it would be a great feature as this is something most parents feel – myself included, honestly! It’s part of the parenting culture embedded in us. Just email me. :) I think that could relieve a lot of stress and make your days less tiring and evenings a bit more enjoyable.
    I love your honesty. So much! In college, I considered doing the Peace Corps. Their slogan is “The hardest job you’ll ever love,” which obviously they stole from a mom. ;) xoxoxo

  15. Hi Janet, I loved reading this post! I have two little boys (1 & 3), and I can relate to a lot of what you shared :).

    On a different note, do you mind sharing where your white/teal climbing and slide structure came from?

    Thanks!
    Yiqian

  16. Oh Janet, thank you for the laughs and walk down memory lane. My own twin boys are 10 now and I have to say, I’ve loved them most since they started preschool at age 4. I remember those toddler years and how maddening they were. :) You’re doing great!

  17. My parents did! Not sure I could. They went to Jamaica in the early seventies and had two kids there – in a place where it was a good day if at least the water, electricity or gas were working for more than a couple of hours each day! Earthquakes were common and you didn’t stop at red lights to avoid being robbed. That didn’t put them off though as, after a short stint back in the UK, they moved to Saudi (to Jeddah, the most cosmopolitan city in the country) and had the next kid. Then onto Thailand to have me! My mum travelled back to the UK a couple of times each year with the children by herself – by the end she had 2 kids under 10, a toddler and a baby. She does admit that in the golden era of travelling she always had help at the airports and on the planes. The pilots would often scoop up the older two/three to spend some time in the cockpit, or staff would show them things at the airports. They moved back to Saudi again when I was 10 for another ten years, finished off in Gibraltar before retiring happily to the English countryside! My mum never had a job – either because expat women didn’t work or because she had her hands full with us lot. They made friends in each place, with other expats and locals.
    As I start my own journey to be a mum I want to be as welcoming as possible to foreigners as I know how lonely it is when you don’t have a support network around you.

  18. We can see your days in Tokyo clearly, and are glad to see you and Dean are managing the life so well enduring all the difficulties, as we had told you earlier you can do. When we have Facetime it’s so pleasing to watch those boys grown a little bit more each time, playing around and talking better. Keep using wisdom and energy with the goal of raising those twins to become good citizens of the world. In the long run the hard time will become a fond memory. We are looking forward to see four of you soon.
    Mom & Dad Yee.

  19. I have twins too – they’ve just turned 7. Unlike you, I found the first year the absolute hardest. Two was golden for me – they could walk! They could talk! They could tell me why they were screaming! They could feed themselves! :)

    I went back to work at 5 months and I promise you – I skipped back into that office. That first year was SUPER hard for me. I considered it a Big Accomplishment if I was showered before 12 every day :)

    On the bright side (and we need those, don’t we?!), I always tell myself, “at least I don’t have triplets” ;)

    All the best to you from Johannesburg

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