Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 9 1997 3:30 AM

Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan

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       Nothing unusual this morning: A big earthquake shook us awake, and our 2-year-old had a bowl of olives for breakfast.
       Our house in Tokyo rocks and rolls every few days. Books fall off shelves, and the windows rattle; we try to be cool about it. Living in this city is like having something alive and angry under your feet: It's huge, and it wants out. And when it moves, everything shakes. Like everybody else here, we keep an earthquake kit by the front door, although ours is a little unorthodox. Most people have things like prescription medicines, a flashlight, a radio, and a lightweight blanket. We have six bottles of mineral water and a mammoth package of cheese crackers that we bought at the Price Costco in Washington. We bought a Price Costco first-aid kit, too. It is very big and orange, but we can't remember where we put it. We could go buy another one, and have an award-winning kit that we could brag about, as some of our neighbors do. Partly, we're too disorganized to do that. But mainly, we hate the pessimism that an earthquake kit represents.
       Historically, Tokyo is whacked by a massive earthquake every 60 or 70 years, and by that reckoning, we're already years overdue for the Big One. Today's tremor was a 5.2 on the Richter scale. Scary, but not bad enough to dive for the cheese crackers.
       Of course, we can't be cavalier about earthquakes because we have two kids counting on us not to be bozos. But you can't let it run your lives like some jittery Americans here do. We refuse to move from one house to another each time a new apartment building goes up and claims to be "the most earthquake-proof," as someone we know did. Another friend talks about how she has one earthquake kit in her car, one at the front door, and one at the back. She'd probably love to make her kids wear a helmet in the bathtub, too.
       We think we've been reasonable: We fasten furniture to the wall in the rooms where our kids sleep. We don't hang pictures with glass on the walls, because they could fall. We know where the emergency gathering spots are in our neighborhood. Beyond that, we prefer to spend our time thinking about more interesting things, like why our little Kate prefers olives to oatmeal for breakfast.
       This is harder for us to get used to than the rumbling walls. How many preschoolers wake up from a sound sleep, toddle into their parents' room, and say, "Mommy, olives?" Ours does, and we must say, she has a fine olive-eating technique. She gnaws away the green flesh and announces, with an admonishing wag of her index finger, "Don't eat the middle, OK?" Then she pops the pit out onto her plate. Maybe we were sheltered as children, but neither of us can remember eating an olive until we were in college. But Kate, not even two-and-a-half, gobbled a dozen of them this morning and washed them down with a big slug of milk in a bottle shaped like a teddy bear. We have the vague sense that this probably makes us lousy parents. But hey, it's not like we're giving her Hershey bars for breakfast. Maybe this way she'll grow up with an appreciation for Italian food and culture, which will lead to a successful career as an opera star at La Scala, followed by the overwhelming urge to buy her parents a beautiful retirement home in Tuscany. Or maybe she'll just like martinis too much. Tomorrow we should probably start pushing the oatmeal again.

Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan are co-bureau chiefs for the Washington Post in Tokyo.