Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Baby Love

I recently read Baby Love by Rebecca Walker. I could relate to her ambivalence about becoming a mother, her difficult birth and her inability to remember any lullabies. I was also excited to read that she'd made a trip to Shikoku, the island where I live, although she didn't have a great time. And I appreciated her defense of fatherhood. Feminist or not, I think we have to recognize the importance of fathers in the lives of our children.

But on page 89, when she's trying to decide whether or not to have an amnio, she writes "I just can't get too excited about a huge needle that close to my baby. On the other hand, I have to be honest with myself about being able to care for a baby with special needs. I don't think I can do it."

Here's the thing, Rebecca: No one wants to give birth to a baby with special needs. Don't we all say, "as long as it's healthy"? And probably most of us believe that we are incapable of caring for a child with special needs. To be honest, if someone had told me when I was pregnant that my daughter would be deaf and unable to walk, I would have been very disappointed. And yet now, I can't imagine not having Lilia with us. I would rather have Lilia as she is than not have her at all. She has made me a better person.

Having a child with special needs isn't necessarily bad.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Top Ten Short Stories

In response to Susan's post, here is my off-the-top-of-my-head list of my top ten favorite short stories:

"Gypsies in the Place of Pain" by Hollis Seamon
"People Like That Are the Only People Here" by Lorrie Moore
"The Age of Lead" by Margaret Atwood
"The Lives of the Saints" by Catherine Brady
"Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage" by Maria Thomas
"Story With Spiders" by Julio Cortazar
"Spaceships Have Landed" by Alice Munro
"How to Talk to a Hunter" by Pam Houston
"The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Bestiary" by Julio Cortazar

What are your favorite short stories?


Katei Homon

Today was the dreaded annual home visit by my son's teacher (Lilia's teacher will visit in the summer). My friend L. said that she didn't understand why the visits occurred so early in the scholastic year. The kids have only been in school for two weeks. What could there possibly be to talk about? I reminded her that the visits are not meant for discussing the children's progress. The teachers enter their students' homes to check out their living conditions. For me, as an American, these visits constitute an invasion of privacy. The closest American equivalent I can think of would be a visit from social services. I guess the difference would be that Japanese teachers don't make any suggestions about changing their students' environments. They just take notes and file away the information for future reference. They might then cut a kid some slack if they know he's living in squalor with his single mom.

Last year I couldn't find the appropriate moment to hop up and serve refreshments. This time, I made sure I had a pot of coffee and a plate of cookies all ready. As soon as the teacher came into the house, I directed her to the sofa and poured the coffee. And then we talked about yesterday's paper-ripping incident. Yesterday evening, Jio was earnestly taping one of his prints back together, saying that his teacher would be angry. (She has complained already about the state of the prints that he shoves into his backpack.) Upon further questioning, we discovered that some kids in his class ripped his homework print. There have been other similar incidents, and Jio is not one to talk, so we're ever vigilant.

It's hard, though, to strike a balance between caring too much and caring too little. We want him to be able to fight his own battles, but we don't want him to be bullied. He's a sensitive kid, and I'd like to nurture that, but I don't want him to get stomped on.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Imaginary Wheelchair

About a year ago, I ordered a wheelchair for Lilia from the (as it would turn out) appropriately named Dream Shop. I figured we'd get the chair, with its bright yellow seat, in time for my daughter to use in first grade. But then as weeks turned into months and numerous phone calls yielded nothing, I began to wonder if we'd ever see that wheelchair at all. What could possibly be taking so long? The paperwork had gone through months before. I started to think that these chairs were being handcrafted by little elves at a mountain factory. Or maybe the whole thing was just a dream. Then finally, a week after Lilia started second grade, the wheelchair finally arrived.

Lilia is thrilled to be able to wheel around her classroom. I've seen the ease with which she goes over to the cubbies to retrieve her book bag at one end of the room, and then on to the other end to grab a homework print, whereas before she balked because she knew crawling on those hard floors would hurt her knees. My only concern is that she won't be using her legs as much as before and that they will weaken. For now, though, it's nice to see her reveling in a bit of independence.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Bad Mommy

Normally, in writing, I try to make myself look good, but I'm no saint. Lilia has decided to live in a box because she is hurt and angry with me. It all started with the homework (my bete noire). As usual, she has a lot, and today, for some reason, she couldn't apply herself. It didn't seem all that difficult to me, but she just couldn't get it. She's learning to tell time at school. My son has a hard time with telling time, too. Anyway, she was goofing off, kept dropping her pencil, and then just sat there doing nothing. I lost my temper. We have spent an hour and a half on homework (or rather not doing homework) so far, and she's done only about a fifth of it.

I was already in a cranky mood because my son's dour and humorless new teacher, who seems exceptionally lacking in the social graces (not even a konnichiwa!), told me that Jio shouldn't bring all his books to school every day as he has been. Lilia's teachers are always saying that she should take responsibility for what goes into her bag every day, so I figured the goal of Japanese education was self-reliance. It appears, however, that in Jio's new teacher's eyes, I am not measuring up. School, I realize, is all about the mothers.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


I'm all for rituals, so I decided I'd begin my next big writing project with one. I bought a papier mache daruma doll and colored in one eye, as per custom. Often, Japanese politicians color in an eye of a daruma as they embark on a campaign and then color in the other eye after they've won the election. I'm going to color in the other eye after I've finished the novel that I've just begun to write. (It may be a long, long, time, but I look forward to that day.) In the meantime, I've thought of some other little things I can do to mark my progress, such as bottle of champagne after every 5,000 words. It'll have to be the cheap kind, though. My daughter likes the daruma and signed that she wants one, too. "What will your goal be?" I asked her. "To work hard at math?" "No," she signed. She's going to write a book, too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Second Grade

This week the twins started second grade. Here are my daughter's textbooks. Lilia has two books for music class, as well as three textbooks for Japanese (she has the standard one, and a slow-paced one and then something else). Last year, Jio had a textbook for P.E. Who knew you needed a book to learn how to do jumping jacks?

So about the teachers. Lilia has the same homeroom teacher as last year, but her special helper teacher has changed. No longer do we have the dour and conservative Miss N. Now we have the bright and good-natured Ms. Y., who if I recall correctly, taught a deaf boy with ADD or something like that, last year. Miss N. was always in a bad mood by the end of the day, and I felt kind of sorry for my girl. I understand that she is difficult. She's extremely willfull and easily distracted (except when she's being stubborn about something), but she's also a cheerful and funny kid. I was happy to see Ms. Y. laughing when I went to pick up Lilia yesterday. My friend L., who taught high school in Australia, says that high school teachers should never teach small children. Maybe she's right. Last year Miss N. moved down from the high school to be Lilia's teacher. Now she's gone.

Jio didn't get the rumored kibishi (strict) teacher he expected. He said his new teacher is nice, and he came bursting out of school on the first day with a big smile on his face. The woman took one look at me, turned to Jio, and said, "Does your mother speak Japanese?" I found this very off-putting and wanted to slap her, but maybe things will get better. At any rate, Jio's anxiety seems to have died down a bit.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bloggers Who Think

I am deeply honored to be nominated for the Thinking Blogger Award. Thank you so much, Vicki! I'm also feeling a little guilty about my lack of posts, as of late. It's not that I haven't been thinking - I have! It's just that I'm trying to tie up loose ends on my anthology on parenting disabled children so it can be edited and published. Also, we had two weeks of spring vacation, during which I had to keep my children away from the Nintendo games and the TV.

The thing about this award is that I get to name five other Thinking Bloggers. Although several of my favorite bloggers have already been tagged, I'd like you to check out

Lotus Reads, who manages to read an awful lot of books about Asia and present them to readers with intelligence and enthusiam,

Here in Korea, who provides intriguing snapshots of the expat life in our neighbor country and makes me feel not so alone

Schuyler's Monster, in which an alternadad writes about heartbreak, hope, depression, and his disabled daughter, all with a dash of humor and irreverence

ReadingWritingLiving which makes me think about race and adoption and writing in ways in I hadn't thought before

and Pinwheels, 'cause Jennifer's writing is so lovely and 'cause I'm eager to know what it's like to raise a child with Down Syndrome in Montana.


Friday, April 06, 2007

In Celebration of New Teachers

In just two days, my twins will begin second grade. I can't wait to find out who their homeroom teachers will be. My son has heard rumors that his will be a strict male teacher who piles on the homework, and he isn't quite looking forward to that. My daughter, however, is counting the days till she advances to the next grade level (while I worry about the homework).

It's possible that her homeroom teacher will be H.-sensei, who just earned his master's degree from Ehime University. H.-sensei was once my husband's student. He is also profoundly deaf, and I think he is the first deaf person my daughter ever met. It's very difficult to pass the teacher's exam, and very few do on the first try. Clearly, H.-sensei is a remarkable individual and he will be a shining example for the deaf kids at Lilia's school.

Elsewhere, Hirotada Ototake, author of No One's Perfect, was appointed a full-time teacher at Suginami Daiyon Elementary School in Tokyo. Ototake was born with tetra-amelia, a congenital condition that stops the limbs from developing properly. Basically, this means that he doesn't have arms or legs. His disability is very obvious. I am sure that these two men will wield a positive influence over the coming generations.


Monday, April 02, 2007


There is no joy Chez Kamata today. After winning the quarterfinal game, my husband's team lost the semi-final. If they'd have won, they'd have been able to go to the All Shikoku tournament (not Koshien, as previously reported; you'd think I'd have that straight by now, having been a baseball widow for ten years or so). In this morning's newspaper, there was a photo of the scene immediately after the game - the victors, running forward with their arms raised; the losers and their coach standing in the background, heads drooping. Yoshi felt that the photo constituted harrassment of him and his players. I thought, from a journalistic point of view, that it was a great photo that told the whole story, but I managed to sympathize with him.

In somewhat related news, I finally got my contributor's copies of Skipping Stones, featuring my inspired-by-a-true-story story, "Baseball, Dad and Me." It was written from my son's point of view, about how his dad's team lost the prefectural championship a couple years ago by one lousy run in the tenth inning. Interestingly, the illustrations are of a little girl playing baseball with her dad. Politically correct, yes, but the story was actually about Jio.