One of the hardest parts of my first labor was taping the IV needle to my arm—or rather, removing the tape when all was said and done and a healthy girl with all her delicate features intact was looking up at me. I was group B strep positive and had received penicillin just prior to the time my baby would cruise down the birth canal. I don’t mean to sound like a total jerk complaining about tape. I had a wonderful labor and delivery in a sanctuous birthing house in Tokyo, of which I am most thankful. Everything was marked with abundant peace, but blast that tape! You see, I am on the hairy side, a far cry from the Japanese women I encounter. I am the Ashkenazi Jew with memorable arms. My midwife ripped. Off came two bald spots and an embarrassed little clump of womanly-pride. (I know. Vaginal, drug-free delivery, with a baby coming out, the words “Ring of Fire,” and here I am whimpering about arm tape).
I tend to be dramatic about this predicament, or so my husband says. He doesn’t hear my students, four- and five-year-olds, point and liken it to their dads’. He is generally not with me when I encounter outspoken school children on the train. Kids are exactly who I should listen to; they are brutally honest, but not necessarily mean. Theirs is usually the opinion one can trust. Of course, here, moms take a razor to even the most already-naked arms, shaving off brows to draw them in. Naturally, I would land here, and not some hairy area of wherever, with tropical/hippy/cavemen/French Polynesian/pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific ladies with their hairy underarms, or in some remote swampland, sans Vogue or Seventeen. I should be with untouched women like this, perhaps crouching with a tiger under a banana tree, in a Gauguin painting. I could stand with the prominent brows of Frieda. I am here, though, in the land of everything Feminine, everything smooth, without hair or furrow. I am late 1960s moonlighting on an early 1950s set.
It isn’t just Japan—when I taught in the Latino community of Lake Worth, Florida, one of my students pulled my arm hair and said, slowly and disgustedly in a thick Spanish accent, “Que?? What is this? It’s like my Papa’s!” I am at home nowhere with these arms.