Balancing Society, Family and My Veggie Garden
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida


Now that I am half way through my 30s, people are constantly asking me when my husband Tony and I plan to have kids. The truth is, we haven’t even decided whether or not to have children at all, much less when we’re going to start. I mean, we just celebrated our one year anniversary this past week. It’s a big responsibility, and not one that we are taking lightly.

In 1999, we still live in a country where hate crimes against people like Joseph Ileto, Matthew Shepherd, Asian college students in the Midwest and Jewish children in the Valley, seem to be occurring with even more frequency. I cringe when I hear people talk about these acts of violence as being isolated incidences. I feel sad when adults give kids toy guns or water pistols, and don’t think that video games with excessive violence is a problem. We have a president who understands this, but fails to make the connection of the message it sends when he’s bombing Kosovo, Iraq, or the villain of the day. What’s next, China?

We’re living in a time when small independent book sellers like Sisterhood Bookstore have provided decades of books for women of color, gays and lesbians, and can’t compete against corporate-owned mega-bookstores who move in across the street and drive these mom & pop (or mom & mom) shops out of business. Overnight, the location of the former Sisterhood Bookstore has turned into a business that sells empty cardboard boxes for shipping. I cried as I drove by the store last week.

This is also a world where people like Michael Eisner of Disney earns almost a million dollars every day, compared to workers in third world countries making Disney products earning less than $5 a day. Heck, we live in a city where the Staples Sports Arena can pop up virtually overnight, while poor people living in Los Angeles ride overcrowded buses year after year, having to fight just to get more buses, cleaner buses and safer buses. Meanwhile, millions of dollars of taxpayer money continues to line the pockets of contractors, lawyers and politicians.

So much work needs to be done to combat violence, racism and injustice, so much to learn and do in this lifetime, it’s almost overwhelming. So it’s more than just finding the time to raise a family, balance work and home life, and contribute to society.

It’s funny, I know people who have always wanted children. I know people who name their kids after them so that their names will carry on, and their kids to take care of them in their twilight years. Sure, some of society’s problems seem so huge, I can understand why people have families and do their best to raise healthy, well-adjusted, socially conscious children.

Although I never really thought I would have kids when I was younger, I never thought I would get married, either.

***

As busy as we are at work and in the community, Tony and I signed up to become participants in a newlywed marriage study called the Marriage Enrichment Project at UCLA. They have been tracking couples who are planning to get married in the next six months, as well as couples who have been married for less than one year.

As participants in the program, we completed extensive questionnaires and went through 5 weeks of the CARE program, facilitated by graduate students in the psychology department at UCLA. We learned that about half of all marriages end in the first five years. The purpose of the program is to identify common problems most couples face, target these problem areas and teach skills in communication and handling conflicts, outside pressures and cope with disagreements.

While many of the concepts of CARE (Compassionate and Accepting Relationships through Empathy) are relatively simple, we have found them to be very helpful, both in our marriage, in our relationships with others, and even in our work in the community. The two main ways are by being a friend and handling conflict.

We learned that stress can be an opportunity to be a friend, working together as a team, using kindness to handle bad moods, and to nurture our relationship. We learned about trigger points for bad moods, and entering loaded situations.

One of skills we’ve actually had fun putting into practice is through daily random acts of kindness and affection. Although it may seem corny, I’ve found that very small gestures like leaving little sticky notes around the house, can go a long way to show how much you care. I’ve also found that thinking up these acts of random kindness are as exciting as receiving them.

Tony and I have learned how to show empathy and support for each other, melting bad moods and preventing trivial arguments. We’ve also practiced supportive listening, trying to understand the feelings, rather than judging or criticizing, or offering opinions to fix the problem. We’ve also tried to focus on finding the softer feelings that lie beneath hard feelings, looking for sadness and hurt, rather than anger or hostility.

So far, we have been really trying put these skills which we’ve learned into practice. We have been trying to apply this not only to each other, but with other relationships as well.

***

For those of you who can hear my biological clock ticking and are still waiting for me to make some kind of birth announcement, here goes. I’m proud to announce the birth of Zuke, my 7-1/2 pound, 18 inch zucchini. I’ve been carefully cultivating my garden for the past four months, watering, feeding and taking care of my little zucchini seedling I planted next to the tomatoes, lettuce, onions and habaneros chili peppers.

Practically overnight, my baby zucchini grew from a tender flower, into the 18 inch zucchini that I picked last week. Zuke weighs a pound more than my cousin’s new baby, but is an inch shorter. I was so proud of Zuke that I told everyone, my friends and family. I even took pictures, and called Taky from Tak’s Hardware Store on Jefferson near Crenshaw to ask about entering Zuke into the zucchini contest he has each year. Too late, Taky said that last year’s winner had a 12 pound zucchini. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to try again next year.

______________

Jenni Emiko Kuida is an aspiring gardener and co-author of the original "101 Ways to Tell You’re Japanese American, with her husband Tony. For more info about participating in the UCLA project, call (310) 206-6049. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo or the Marriage Enrichment Project.



Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, September 1, 1999

Updated: 11/10/02

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