Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mushrooms and Dirty Socks

I signed up to be a sort of cultural ambassador, so periodically I'm called on to visit a school and talk about America. I figure it's good for kids to learn about other countries, and also I pick up a little pocket money. Today I went to a nearby elementary school to talk to the sixth graders. In preparation for the visit, I looked up my elementary school on the Internet. I also looked up some school lunch menus and was appalled to find that everything I learned from "Supersize Me" was true - at one school, the menu features pizza, chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers over and over again. There is no miso soup! Hardly any vegetables! No fish! I'm so glad my kids eat lunch in Japan! Anyway, I packed a lunch in order to show the kids what American kids eat for lunch. I'm guessing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are still popular.

They had so many questions! Do Americans think that matsutake (expensive and rare wild Japanese mushrooms) smell like dirty socks? How do you say 'war' in English? What is America's biggest problem? Do Americans like anime? I was heartened to meet with such curious children.

Just before I left, they gave me gifts - a head of lettuce, a daikon radish, and a bag of citrus fruit.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hear the Bells?

A couple of months ago, Lilia's physical therapist at school told me about a monthly group therapy session at a nearby school for the disabled. He encouraged me to bring Lilia. I figure Lilia can use all the physical therapy she can get, so I signed her up. I also figured that this would be sort of a no-strings-attached activity, like going to Hinomine, the other place where she has therapy, but no. There is a mother's group and they suggested performing a song on handbells. At this first meeting, "Silent Night" was rejected as a possibility because it's "too easy." Another mother said that the children would be more delighted by a lively song. Never mind that at least two of the kids are deaf. Anyway, yesterday was our big rehearsal. As it turned out, half the kids were sick, some in the hospital, so their mothers weren't there to rehearse. We wound up going with "Silent Night." I took piano lessons as a kid, so I know what middle C looks like on a sheet of music, but all the other mothers learned "do re mi." I'm supposed to hit the "re" notes. Whatever that means.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Thanksgiving doesn't happen around here unless I manage to order a turkey from the Foreign Buyer's Club and dig up my pilgrim centerpiece. Like anyone cares (except for me). This year I didn't manage to pull it off, but, in the spirit of the season, here are ten things that I'm thankful for:

1. Everyone in my family is healthy (although Yoshi got hit in the head with a baseball today and is wearing a plaster).

2. Beacon Press is going to publish my anthology.

3. Lilia can now do her math homework on her own, more or less.

4. Jio has started to read in English.

5. The Democrats kicked ass in the election.

6. I have a job that I enjoy, part time though it may be.

7. I have Internet access.

8. I am involved with Literary Mama.

9. I have good friends.

10. My mother-in-law has a new pastime (pyramid sales).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

There Will Be Champagne Tonight!

I just got word that Boston's venerable Beacon Press has agreed to publish my anthology on parenting disabled children. I AM SO HAPPY!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks to those of you who participated in my straw poll a few weeks ago. I believe your comments may have helped tip the scales.

For those of you just tuning in, I have spent the last few years working on an anthology of creative writing - fiction, poetry, nonfiction - on parenting children with special needs. My intention is to show life as it really is - the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful - and to make the case that the lives of families of the disabled are worthy of literature. This is not a book of inspirational pieces for the parents of the disabled. It's a collection of wonderful stories, essays and poetry that happen to be about parenting disabled children.

I will keep you posted!

Life: The Class

Today there were open classes at the Deaf School. Lilia's class, the first graders, had Life. I've never been exactly sure of what they study in Life. I know that they grow vegetables and fruits and harvest them during this period. They also cook and eat the vegetables. I think this is also the time when they go out and collect fallen leaves and acorns. Anyway, it seems to have to do with plants and other living things. Today they made tops out of acorns and hoops out of dried vines, which they then used in a ring toss game. Lilia became ecstatic whenever one of her classmates managed to toss a ring onto a toilet paper roll. She hugged R. and bumped fists with D. Y., the autistic kid, thought the whole thing was boring, and didn't try very hard. He pulled down his pants in class a couple of times, which made all the kids laugh, but I can understand that his mother failed to see the humor in it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Woman, Blossoming

A couple of days ago, I received the happy news that my short story, "Woman, Blossoming," will appear in Cicada. This story, the first one I wrote after becoming a mother, orignally appeared in All Nippon Airway's flight magazine, but I'm willing to bet none of Cicada's readers have come across it yet. It was inspired by a story I read in the newspaper several years ago, about a Japanese woman who was rumored to have finished her husband's paintings after his death. She was a painter in her own right, but I gathered that she sacrificed her own art to take care of her husband. This all happened in the early 1900s in France. I'm not sure when the story will be published, but I'll let you know.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Educational Reform

I am feeling very uneasy about Prime Minsiter Abe's proposed reforms. I wonder, is it really necessary to teach love of country and about how beautiful Japan is? In my experience, most Japanese people already think that this country is the best place on earth and that Japanese people are superior to all others. Does that really need to be emphasized in the classroom? And what will happen to my son? Will he be despised because he is only half Japanese? I thought we were just starting to get past that kind of thinking in Japan, but what with all this talk of forced nationalism and nuclear armamament, I'm starting to get very worried.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

School Boy

Recently, my son's teacher told me that he is hyper. Actually, what she said was "ochitsuki ga nai." I find this a little surprising because whenever I've gone to open classes, he has paid attention and participated in class, with his little bottom on the chair. He is active, yes, and we love that! At home, it's the opposite. His dad wants to play catch with him (in the living/dining room, where the ball goes sailing onto the table and knocks over the soy sauce!), but Jio just wants to read his book.

Yesterday, his teacher told me that he does not hold his pencil or chopsticks correctly, and that he is always spilling food at lunchtime. I know that he does know how to hold them properly, because his dad went to a great deal of trouble to teach him. And I'm pretty sure that at home, he holds pencils and chopsticks the way he should.

Today his teacher told me that he needs to work on writing Chinese characters nicely. Granted, his writing is a bit messy. Also, they have timed exercises, like the SATS, where you have to complete tasks within, say, ten minutes. I asked her if public schools expected the same thing, and she said that it's important to be able to calculate quickly in preparation for the future. Whatever.

I'm not particularly bothered by these issues. I am very happy, though, that he has actually started to read in English. That's why I sent him to this school.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Visit to the Doctor

This morning we had a meeting with Dr. T., the professor and audiologist who is overseeing Lilia's progress with the cochlear implant. He was in town for some sort of cochlear implant confab,and wanted to meet up with Lilia before he got on the bus that would take him back to the other side of the island. Instead of my leisurely cup of coffee, I got everybody dressed and in the car by 8AM. We found the professor in the lobby of the hotel. Someone from the confab pointed out that he wasn't wearing shoes. I really liked it that he was down there in his stocking feet. I'm always pleased to find eccentricity in this country where everyone is under pressure to conform. Anyway, he said that his shoes were up in his room, and then this woman asked where Lilia's mother was. I was standing right there! I know she doesn't look much like me, but it's always a bit disconcerting to hear something like that. After the others had gone, we settled into the more or less vacant lobby, which resembled a large living room. The monkeys went wild. Dr. T. started setting up his laptop in order to check something on Lilia's speech processor, and Lilia crawled away and hid under a chair. I guess she thought it was going to be noisy and unpleasant. I finally dragged her out, the test was completed, and we said our good-byes to the doctor. Ordinarily, I would have been mortified by my daughter's behavior, but there was no one around and the doctor was very understanding.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Accidents of Nature

Right now I'm reading Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson. It's about a girl with cerebral palsy who experiences a political awakening while at cross-disability camp in North Carolina in the 1970s. I first heard about this book about ten years ago when I attended a writers' conference in Charleston. Harriet was a fellow attendee. She gave a reading from her wheelchair in a crowded bar. Her story had nothing to do with her disability. If I remember correctly, it was about a hunting trip. Anyway, she mentioned this bizarre camp her parents had sent her to, and that she was working on a story about it. And this is the story.

Harriet is a wonderful writer, with a dark sense of humor. She has also given me a lot of think about. The following passage has been dogging me for days now, from the time I read it, through Lilia's therapy session, and up until right now:

"It is funny. Therapists, teachers, relatives - everyone - they all think walking is such a wonderful thing. And we don't question that. We believe it must be worthwhile, or they wouldn't torture us for it. And then, finally, you get up on your feet, take a few halting steps - pardon me, I mean courageous and determined steps - and the cameras flash, and everyone's inspired. But then you find out walking is a lousy way to move from place to place. And as you get bigger, it's worse. When you fall down, you have farther to go. When you start to think for yourself, you realize a wheelchair is a better way to get where you're going."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ali Baba and the Drummer Girl

I feel like I should write about the Culture Festival since my pre-Festival post finally came through (there was some message about rejecting it at first). I actually spent almost all of that day in the udon tent, where I would periodically grab a handful of seaweed and toss it into a bowl of noodles. During all the action on stage, I was helping to get everything set up. I slipped away to watch Lilia do her drumming. She didn't smile, even though she is normally Little Miss Sunshine, so I guess she was pretty nervous. She did okay, but she dropped her drumstick at one point and I was afraid she was going to fall out of her chair while trying to pick it up. Luckily, a teacher rushed up to the stage and retrieved it for her. She did well in her role as Dancing Girl in Ali Baba, too, though she only had one line. She was in her SRC (a walker with a table in front) and it was too dangerous for her to move, she signed, so she just moved her hands. At one point, the other Dancing Girls held hands and danced around her. I'll bet she liked being at the center of things.

I actually saw the dress rehearsal the previous Thursday, so I was able to enjoy the entire program.

The first time I saw a Deaf School Culture Festival, I was concerned about the dignity of the kids with multiple disabilities - Y-chan, the girl with cerebral palsy who, I believed, couldn't communicate with signs and thus couldn't convey her compliance or non-compliance; T-kun, the deaf-blind-autistic boy who can't see what's going on; and Y-kun, the autistic boy in Lilia's class who doesn't really like to do things with other kids. I thought it was kind of cruel to put these kids onstage without their total understanding. But this time, I thought how wonderful it was that they were involved.

The older elementary school kids put on a play in which Y-chan was a central character. In the first scene, she disappears, and the other kids, who are responsible for her, have many adventures as they search for their friend. In the last scene, she is found in a sort of golden grotto. I immediately thought of Lourdes, but I'm sure that's not what they intended. Still, I thought it was kind of cool that the whole play was about Y-chan.

During the fashion show, where the students model the clothes they made in Home Ec, T.-kun pulled off his shirt and threw it in the air behind him. It was deliberate and funny and everyone laughed. He participated, and was memorable.

And Lilia. The kid can't walk, but she can sure dance.

Friday, November 03, 2006

My Halloween Gig

Today I had a gig as a Japanese-speaking Foreigner. I was supposed to talk about Halloween in America to a bunch of kids as part of a storytelling event. The whole thing was an hour and a half and included getting treats from a confectionary, storytelling, a costume contest, and a craft.

The storytelling came before my little spiel. The first picture book presented told the history and meaning of Halloween, thus decimating the speech I had planned. This was followed by two more storybooks, by which point the kids were getting restless. They wanted to get up and move around, but they were supposed to listen to me. By this time it was an hour into the event, and there wasn't much time for the craft. Also, I didn't have much to say, so I just said whatever I could think of that hadn't been mentioned yet. It probably took about five minutes. They paid me, but I feel guilty about how little I did.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Family Dinner

You may be wondering how those weekly family dinners have been going. As you may recall, my mother-in-law prepared the first. Last week it was my turn and we had nabe (hot pot). While fishing vegetables and tofu out of the broth, my husband said, in Japanese, that next week would be my mother-in-law's turn (of course), but when it came around to us again we could make octopus fritters or fondue.

So. Tuesday night I was looking forward to not having to cook, and to my mother-in-law's fabulous feast. Since she has so much time on her hands, when she cooks for us, she spends the whole day at it. Nevertheless, when I got home from work, she didn't seem to be cooking. There was no scent of dashi or fish wafting over from her quarters. I decided to make a run to the store for milk. When I returned, she popped over and said, "Oh, you're back." I figured that was her cue to start bringing over her trays of food. But nothing happened. By this time, we were all getting pretty hungry. Finally, Yoshi sent Jio over to see if there was anything he could help with.

Jio came back a minute later and said that Obaachan hadn't prepared anything. She thought we were making fondue.

I sometimes wonder where the miscommunication occurs. We use three languages in our household, so it's easy to make mistakes once in awhile, but I clearly recall my husband saying in Japanese to his mother that it was her turn to cook this week.

We all wound up going out for sushi.