Today my mother-in-law returned from her weeklong housecleaning trip to Tokyo. She paid good money for the privilege of getting up at 5AM to clean the imperial residence with others. I suppose, for her, it was like a good Catholic going to the Vatican to help clean up. When she was born, the Emperor was still divine. She has a calendar with pictures of the royal family on her wall. Anyway, she said that she got to see the Empress and Emperor and the Crown Prince, who offered their thanks, and also shook hands with Prime Minister Koizumi. There was also some fun stuff thrown in, like a musical and a pro baseball game. My mother-in-law showed me her commemorative photo – a bunch of women in white aprons.
So I was on the Internet checking out Ayun Halliday’s food blog when the doorbell rang downstairs, heralding the arrival (fifteen minutes earlier than expected!) of Jio’s teacher. She was here for the Official Home Visit, which every parent in Japan must endure during the primary school years. Japanese mothers, I’ve heard, start cleaning their houses a week in advance and make a big show of serving tea and treats. My husband said that some parents give teachers gift certificates to Sogo. I can’t remember the word he used, but it sounded like “protection money,” which in our case might have been apt. Anyway, our home visit was decidedly anti-climactic since the teacher’s already been to our house three times. She – and the principal – have seen my living room at its absolute messiest. I did clean up, but I didn’t serve tea or treats. I was going to, actually, but I was unprepared and it would have seemed awkward for me to jump up in the middle of our fifteen minute conversation to put a pot on to boil. And besides, she probably forced herself to drink tea at the three or four houses she visited before mine. Nevertheless, I’m sure that my husband would be APPALLED to know that I didn’t serve refreshments. Not only am I the anti-education mama, but also it appears that I’m the anti-hostess.
The boy who scratched my son was made to apologize to Jio. His mother apologized to me twice in person. She also called here last night to apologize to my husband, but Yoshi was not satisfied. He said that the mother should have come to our house with her son and a box of cakes to apologize.
This got me to thinking about all the situations in this country where people don’t eat dessert in which you are supposed to show up with cake:
- when you go to someone’s house for the first time
- when you go to someone’s house for the second/third/fourth time
- when you have received a monetary gift and want to express gratitude
- when you have rear-ended someone in traffic and want to apologize
- when someone rides their bike into your car and you want to make sure they weren’t injured too seriously
- when you want to thank your sister-in-law for babysitting
And, in an example from Gwyn Helverson’s short story “…all mixed up…”, when you miss out on your koto recital due to measles thus irritating your teacher.
Three poems that I wrote about Lilia appear in the spring issue of MotherVerse. Check it out.
Last night Jio’s teacher dropped by with a big bag of bread. It seems that she was aware of the problem Jio was having with that other kid and she wanted to talk about it. I know that teachers, my husband included, often visit students’ homes, but it’s still a bit disconcerting to have people drop by when the house is a mess. I guess Japanese women are obsessive about housework for just this reason. Anyway, I let her speak with Jio privately for awhile. I wasn’t eavesdropping or anything, but I overheard her say “At school, I’m your mother.” Uh, no. I don’t think so. I’m the Mommy ALL THE TIME.
So the little girls suddenly became sweet and nice to Lilia, but last night Jio took his shirt off and I saw this huge gash down his back, like someone had raked him or something. I asked him about it, and he told me who did it, but he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. The kid in question went to the same kindergarten as my son and they sometimes played together, but I had the feeling that he wasn’t altogether in control of his emotions and sometimes lashed out. I don’t think it’s a case of bullying, but my husband is convinced that Jio presents himself as a victim and doesn’t fight back. I think he’s learned to restrain himself because Lilia is always biting him and pinching and pulling his ears and he doesn’t hurt her back.
At any rate, it’s tough to know how to handle this kind of situation. Jio doesn’t want to be a tattle-tale, and I think the teachers are already aware of the potential problems of this other kid. Yoshi wants to inform the teacher of what happened. Something like this occurred before at Jio’s kindergarten and Yoshi made a bigger deal of it than it was, and now Jio is reluctant to talk about these things. We need to keep the channels of communication open, I think.
I feel compelled to offer a postscript on yesterday’s entry.
Today I brought Lilia with me to pick up Jio. When those little girls from yesterday came out of the classroom, they shouted “Lilia!” and then came over to talk to her. They were extremely friendly and curious. I even taught them a little sign language. Whatever the teacher said to them was effective. I’m really glad that they seized upon that teachable moment.
Some older girls came up to Lilia, too, and said “kawaii,” which means “cute,” and is much better than “kowai” (“scary”).
Now that “Mothering Abroad” has finished its run, my favorite column at Literary Mama is Ona Gritz’s “Doing It Differently.” I admired Gritz’s writing even before I knew that she was a mother with cerebral palsy. In this month’s column, she writes about finding her tribe.
Today Lilia had physical therapy after lunch, and then I rushed to pick up Jio. She was in her purple wheelchair, wearing her red braces,and of course she had this coil sticking to her head and her hearing aid. Some older kids were speculating about whether she was a baby, and I patiently explained that she is six and she wore the braces because she can’t walk, but she’s practicing walking.
Then, Lilia got out of the wheelchair and started crawling on the cement, and some little girls cried out, “Ew! How dirty!” I was annoyed, but I said, “After she washes her hands she’ll be fine.” I don’t know if they were paying any attention to me or not, but they came closer to Lilia and they asked what was on her head. I explained that it was a hearing aid. (I wasn’t in the mood to try to explain cochlear implants to six year olds.) And then, they started saying, “Kowai!” I tried to remain patient, and asked “What is scary about her?” But they are only six and they can’t articulate that. They came closer and closer to Lilia and one of them was holding a stick. At that point I became pretty pissed off. One of the foreign English teachers appeared right about then, and I said, “These kids need some sensitivity training” and I explained to her what they were saying. Then I did my best to hustle my kids out of there.
I had this vision of Lilia in public school, being tormented on a daily basis by little girls like those, who are probably sent to piano and English conversation class and swimming so that they will be high achievers and make good wives and then fashionable education mamas with Chanel bags, like the ones I saw at the entrance ceremony. I imagined their parents feeling sorry for me because they have such perfect little girls and I don’t, and I hated them all.
I write essays and stories and articles about disability issues and I try to be open about Lilia’s disabilities, but my intense anger toward those little girls made me realize how far I have yet to evolve.
I’ve been working on some picture book texts for Makiand, photographer Makiko Hamada, who lives in the neighboring prefecture, and her cohorts. Makiko photographs mouse dolls made by a woman known to me as only Mrs. Comi in elaborate settings. It looks like my first submission, “An Afternoon on Firefly Hill,” will be produced sometime soon. The other books scheduled to come out this year will appear in both English and Japanese versions, so I’m assuming mine will, too. Can’t wait to see the results! The book will be for sale on the website.