Many people think I must be brave because I have moved around a lot, but the truth is I am a big fat scaredy cat. Seriously. Case in point – when in Okinawa, the day came when I had to take The Kid out on my own, in the car, and navigate the streets while my husband tended to some important business.
“Okay,” I said, reluctantly, with a gulp. “I can do this.” Inside my head, total panic attack. My internal voice of fear screamed: Go out? On my own? In a car? In a new place? A place where I can hardly speak the language? Go and navigate the streets alone? Don’t do it!
Like I said, I’m a scaredy cat. But, I know it is something I am going to have to get over. Because to decide to move somewhere new requires you to get lost. To make mistakes. To be full of fear and confusion. And to survive. Because what else can you do? Hide inside?
Come on scaredy cat, I said to myself, GROW A FRIGGING SPINE ALREADY.
So I checked the maps, I tried my best to set the GPS — which is in Japanese, by the way — and had a pretty good idea of where I was going.
Our destination was Kujira Koen, the Whale Park. It’s a huge blue concrete thing that you can’t miss as you drive down the highway.
I grabbed the keys, strapped The Kid into the car seat, and turned on the ignition, and went. I knew where I was going, kind of, but kind of not. I had seen it from the highway many times, and figured I could find it.
Only problem was, the street that I thought I could go down turned out to be a one-way street.
Shit. Panic level rises a little bit.
Okay, just take the next street, and we’re sure to find it.
Next street, okay, but it leads me into the myriad of tiny back alleys that are so characteristic of Okinawa.
Shit! I say again. Probably out loud. Panic level goes up another notch.
Finally I see the big whale. But where to park? I have no idea. There are no parking lots for this park. It’s a residential area. I look at the street signs and try to remember what the Japanese road signs mean. Is it no parking? No entry? Shit, shit shit.
I take a risk, and pull the car into an empty lot next to an apartment building. Chances are everyone has gone to work and I can get away with leaving the car here for half an hour. But still, another shot of fear goes coursing through my veins. As we go to the park my head is full of paranoia – what if someone comes back and sees my car there and calls a wrecker? Shiiiiiit! But we go anyway.
The park is not so great; most of the slides are closed off and there isn’t much to do. So after 20 minutes, I decide to go instead to Onoyama Koen, which is sort of like the Central Park of Naha.
The car thankfully has not been wrecked by an angry local resident. We hop in and make our escape, unscathed.
Back in the car, I punch Onoyama Koen into the GPS. There are four options for parking areas — none of which I can read properly in Japanese yet. So, I take option 1.
We follow the navi, and a few minutes later pull into the car park. But it’s on the wrong side of the park.
Shit, I think, feeling another surge of fear. Now what do I do?
I start driving through the park. Wrong! I know it’s wrong. I’m not supposed to be here. The police are going to come any second now and tell me to leave. How do I get into the damn parking?
I put down my window and ask a friendly looking grandpa if I can park here. It seems I’m on the wrong side. He gesticulates going back around to the road.
All right, let’s try that again. Back out the exit, onto the road. Drive a bit more, look around, and, success! I find the right entrance. Whoo hoo! A small success for a scaredy cat. We park in the correct spot and bound out the car. We have a lovely time playing in the lovely park. And I am full of relief. I have not gotten lost, crashed the car, or gotten towed. It was just fine. No big deal. No reason to be afraid.
At the park, we play, and have fun, and feel happy, and chat with another mom who has two young boys. The Kid talks to the older boy in English, and he talks to her in Japanese, and they seem to get along fine despite the language barriers. I try my best to chat with the mom in Japanese and she does the same in English. When we say goodbye she says, “Hope you have fun in Okinawa!”
I drive home, and report back to my husband that for three hours I successfully navigated the streets by myself, took The Kid to two different parks, stopped to buy groceries, and didn’t get in to or cause any accidents. I’m like a kid saying, ‘Look ma, I can do it!’
And I guess that’s the thing to remember — I can do it.
Even if I’m scared.