Before we set out on this trip, Lilia’s teacher loaded her down with homework. She was supposed to make a calendar for the month of December. This involved writing in the numbers and making a Santa face out of origami for decoration. We did that the first night here, while in the throes of jetlag. She was also supposed to keep a daily record of what time she woke up and went to bed, the weather, and tasks performed. She was then supposed to tape a picture on a chart. Due to jet lag and our irregular schedule, we have not accomplished much there. Lilia has been keeping up with her daily picture diary. Some of the events documented include watching her uncle and grandfather cut down a big dead pine tree, meeting a couple of curious horses while out on a walk, and receiving a glamorous pink Barbie-as-Rapunzel dress for Christmas. She has also been putting a sticker each day in her school calendar to keep track of the passage of time ( which is seemingly especially difficult for deaf kids). I have been doing my best to teach her the finger-spellings of two new words each day, although we’ve fallen behind there, as well. Some words she’s learned to finger-spell over the past week include terebi (TV), kuuki (cookie), hikouki (airplane), uma (horse) and kaminari (thunder and lightning). Lilia’s teacher was very concerned about Japanese Lilia being in an all-English speaking environment (gasp!) for two weeks, but Lilia’s been scribbling away in hiragana. I’m also proud to report that she has been enthusiastic about the English word game Boggle, Jr.
I realized about an hour into our 11 1/2 hour flight from Osaka to Detroit that I hadn’t prepared enough toys and books. My kids love to draw, but Lilia dropped the only pen I’d brought and it rolled away, never to be found again. We wound up making a puppet out of the airsick bag and making shadow puppets with our hands. There was also a movie about a super hero family, which kept the kids occupied for about an hour. They had to sit on the armrests in order to be able to see over the seats in front of them. To make things more interesting, Jio woke up with swelling under his left ear. We’re thinking mumps. Oh, joy.
This has been a busy week for me. Tomorrow morning we are leaving for South Carolina so I’ve been scrambling around, trying to get my Christmas shopping done, my New Year’s cards written, the house cleaned, and our suitcases packed. Oh, and I had to finish that book review. But it looks like we’re ready to go.
Last weekend I made a rare trip to Tokyo to make a presentation to the Tokyo branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors. My talk was about writing for children’s magazines. I was a little nervous beforehand, knowing I would be speaking in front of people who were well established in children’s publishing in Japan(notably Naomi Kojima and John Shelley), but everyone seemed to learn something. One of the attendees was a guy I met by chance in the library in Tokushima about ten years ago. He is now living in Tokyo and remembered my name! I also got to meet Holly Thompson, whose wonderful story “Bloodlines” appears in my anthology, The Broken Bridge. Everyone was so friendly and interesting. It made me want to move to Tokyo.
Okay, so I didn’t even know what a meme was until I was tagged to write one. I’m supposed to write 15 things about books and my preferences and then tag three people to do the same. Here goes:
1. Right now I’m in the middle of reading a young adult novel set in my native Michigan (this story’s in Traverse City, where I once ran a cross country race on my birthday) called Going for the Record by Julie Swanson. It’s a terrific first novel!
2. Tomorrow I’m going to Tokyo where I will meet Holly Thompson, author of the beautiful expat novel Ash, and John Shelley, illustrator of many children’s books. I will be a guest speaker at the meeting of the Tokyo branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’m very excited to be going, but I will probably miss my children like mad!
3. Last night I read How My Parents Learned to Eat to Lilia. Or rather, I signed it.
4. Tonight I read a few chapters of Geronimo Stilton to Jio. It’s a pirate story, with some references to the pirates in the book I finished a couple weeks ago.
5. A somewhat embarrassing fact: I have written two (unpublished) romance novels. I was planning to use the first one to pay my way through college but then I got a scholarship. Phew.
6. I love novels about expat women in unstable developing countries.
7. As a kid, I read Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books. My neighbor and best friend used to tell me the endings before I got to them.
8. My son doesn’t want me to read The Lost Boys of Sudan to him again because “it’s sad.”
9. My favorite expat-in-Japan books are Ash, Green Tea to Go by Leza Lowitz, Audrey Hepburn’s Neck by Alan Brown and In the Empire of Dreams by Dianne Highbridge.
10. I’m currently big on Nigerian novelists, but I have to ask, what’s up with all the twins?
11. My friend and writing guru Andy Couturier has just published one of the best books on writing ever: Writing Open the Mind. Unfortunately, I am not mentioned in the acknowldegements.
12. My daughter is going to attempt a picture book at school on Tuesday. I can’t wait!
13. My son has already written a picture book about visiting the Ice Age with his sister.
14. If we lived in the United States I would just go to the library and we would save so much money!!!!
15. My review of Modern Japanese Culture by Leith Morton is due next week.
Today was the monthly birthday party at the deaf school kindergarten. It’s more of a ceremony, I think. All of the children sit in a row in the playroom, with all the mothers in a row behind them, and the birthday kid(s) make an entrance. This month’s celebrant was Y., Lilia’s classmate. He just turned six. So Y. marched, er, ran to the table at the front of the room and sat down and then a mother brought a cake (your basic white cake with whipped cream and strawberries; there is no other kind in Japan, apparently) to him. The cake is always decorated with some character from TV or manga that the kid likes. I think neutral things like rabbits or hearts would be more wholesome, but that’s just me. Y. likes a cartoon dog called Cinnamon Roll, so that was his cake decoration. Then the teacher put candles on the cake and he blew them out. I once asked a mother if the kids make a wish first and she had no idea what I was talking about. I explained the American tradition, which she found very quaint, but no one seems to think it’s odd just to put candles on the cake and immediately blow them out. The cake ceremony is followed by the card-giving ceremony. Everyone makes a card featuring the kid’s favorite TV character and then the kids present the cards. This is followed by the entertainment portion, in which the birthday boy or girl performs something. Lilia, for the record, did somersaults when it was her turn. Y. did three connect-the-dot prints. Everyone was very impressed that he could connect the dots in order up to 60. Then there was the group photo, followed by the washing of hands and eating of cake. For some reason, Y. kept coming at me. I think he thought I had control over the cake.
A couple of weeks ago in Hiroshima, seven-year-old Airi Kinoshita was abducted and murdered on her way home alone from school. A few days ago, a Peruvian national, Juan Carlos Pizzaro Yagi, was arrested for the crime. Predictably, much has been made of the fact that this man is a foreigner. The TV news magazine News Station went on about his inability to speak Japanese well. I’m sorry, but do people here actually believe that language skills are associated with psycho behavior? One of the mothers at my daughter’s school had much to say about the creepy Filipino who hangs out at a park near her house. (Or maybe he is actually Japanese; she’s not quite sure.) And the government has set up a task force to deal with the problem of letting foreigners who might commit crimes into the country. Sure, it might have been helpful to know that this Pizzaro guy had served time in a Peruvian prison for child molestation before issuing his visa, but most of the heinous crimes in Japan are committed by Japanese. I’m willing to bet that another seven-year-old girl who disappeared on her way home alone from school whose body was just recovered in Ibaraki, was killed by one of her fellow countrymen. Maybe we should accept that there are perverts of all nationalities in the world and reconsider the wisdom of letting small children walk the one or two kilometers home alone from school.
Right now I’m reading It’s a Boy like all the other mothers in Cyberspace. Several essayists write about how, in spite of their best efforts, their sons were drawn to violent play, in accordance with gender stereotypes. Others write about how their sons were drawn to sparkly jewelry or the color pink, to the discomfort of acquaintances. I started thinking about a conversation we had at dinner a few nights ago. Earlier in the day, I had taken Jio and Lilia to play Mushi King, the game of fighting beetles. Yoshi told Lilia that she shouldn’t play because it’s a boy’s game. He was kidding, I think, but I was still shocked to hear those words come out of his mouth. I said, as I often do, “Girls can do anything that boys can do!” Jio, with whom I’d had a little discussion about Kingston by Starlight piped in with, “Girls can even be pirates!” Good boy.