Yesterday was an exciting day for me! My contributor’s copies of the September issue of Ladybug arrived! Check out the giraffe on the cover. That’s by Felicia Hoshino (illustrator of the way cool picture book Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin), who did the illustrations for my story “Feeding Time,” about a little Japanese girl named Lilia (heh heh) in a wheelchair who goes to the zoo with her dad.
In her article “Is ‘disability’ still a dirty word in Japan?” Tomoko Otake writes:
“Government statistics show that, out of a population of around 127 million, some 3.5 million are physically disabled, 2.5 million are mentally ill and 500,000 are mentally disabled. That’s a total of around 6.5 million individuals.
But where are they? Granted, we see more station elevators, wheelchair-accessible toilets and buses with passenger lifts nowadays. Such facilities are visible, but many people hardly ever encounter those who use them — let alone anyone with non-physical disabilities. In fact, apart from people with disabled family members or friends, most Japanese quite likely live their whole lives without ever interacting with their disabled fellow citizens.”
While much of Otake’s report is disheartening, to say the least, she does note that Uniqlo, semi-official clothier of the Kamata family, has made it company policy to hire at least one disabled person at each of its stores. Maybe Lilia’s dream of working at a clothing store will come true. (In another article, Otake reports that Starbucks in Japan is now hiring deaf workers.)
Lilia’s therapist at the deaf school is way into baseball. Whenever I am present at her therapy sessions, he asks me about my husband’s team and tells me about how his sons are doing. The other day he told me that one of his sons spent five hours practicing bunting.
As an extension of his love for the sport, S.-sensei conducts a practice session once a month at the deaf school for students and siblings. I’ve known about this for awhile, and have been interested in it for Jio, but I missed the deadline for the various forms that had to be filled out in Japanese and, frankly, I wasn’t sure what I would do with Lilia. A couple days ago, however, S.-sensei mentioned it again and suggested I bring Jio.
I got my mother-in-law to watch Lilia for the morning. These baseball workshops are all day – from 9AM to 3PM – but I didn’t want Jio to burn out on the first day and he is still tired from jet lag.
There were three other first graders participating. One was deaf with a cochlear implant, one was more hard-of-hearing and goes to a regular public school, and the other was a hearing sibling.
They started out with about an hour of drills – running backward, sprints, throwing motions, etc. It got hot very quickly. I think it was close to 90 degrees, and I started to worry about heat stroke and whether or not the school has a defibrillator. I’ve heard of coaches depriving their charges of water in order to develop toughness. When they finally did take a break, Jio was not a happy camper. I thought I might have ruined him for baseball for good.
Fortunately, they got the balls out shortly after that. The first graders worked on fielding. From way across the field, where I sat wilting under a tent with the other mothers, I could hear my child’s laughter. He was smiling by noon.
I guess he can handle this once a month. It would be good for him to spend more time in Lilia’s world, and occasional baseball seems better than the daily hours-long practices that are customary here for organized sports.
We set out from Lexington, South Carolina yesterday morning at about 7AM. Within the first hour of our 9AM flight to Detroit, Lilia had eaten all of the lunch that Grandma had packed for her, Jio had spilled a cup of juice all over himself, and the twins fought with each other so much that I had to split them up. *Sigh.* In the second flight, the worst thing that happened was Lilia gobbled up her lunch and then immediately threw up. She’s okay, though.
A word about Northwest Airlines. When I made my reservation, I requested assistance for wheelchair-bound Lilia. No one helped us at all. I thought maybe the flight attendant, seeing us straggling off the first plane after every one else, loaded down like packhorses, would at least off to carry a bag (I was carrying Lilia and a heavy backpack, and Jio was encumbered with two backpacks), but no, she just stood there, smiling sweetly. A fellow passenger offered to help when we were getting on, and I took him up on it. When we deplaned in Detroit, I saw an airport worker waiting with a wheelchair. “Is that for us?” I asked. After hearing our name, she confirmed that it wasn’t. On the other hand, we got lots of help in Japan.
It’s nice to be back here with my high speed Internet connection, even though it’s hot and my car won’t start.
Only one week left of our vacation. Time flies. Jio and Lilia have been enjoying the endless potato chips supplied by Grandma and Grandpa and the endless animation on Cartoon Network. Yesterday we went on a little adventure. We drove three hours to the coast, past fields of soybeans, cotton, and tobacco and a yard full of buzzards, through Greeleyville and Andrews (home of Chubby Checker), past a weathered old barn painted with “Hell is No Joke. Jesus Saves,” on down to Georgetown, which is famous for ghosts, Revolutionary War hero Frances Marion, and pirates. We took a cruise on the Jolly Rover, a “pirate ship” sailed by guys dressed up in pirate gear. They menaced the children with cutlasses and pirate banter (“I’ll cut off your eyelids if you go to sleep”), making the boy who’d swaggered aboard in a pirate costume, and one other kid, cry. The “pirates” sang pirate songs and told stories about Ann Bonny, the infamous woman pirate who spent some time in Charleston, and a peg-legged, one-eyed, hook-handed pirate puppet. It was a lot of fun. I was hoping to see some gators or dolphins, but alas, there were none about.
Check out this month’s fiction at Literary Mama. These stories were my picks. Enjoy, enjoy!
One thing that I have really noticed on this visit to South Carolina is the number of multicultural families. There was the white widow with the daughters adopted from China at my parents’ church; the white foster mamas with the African-American foster babies (one born at 26 weeks, just like my kids) and the Mexican-American foster son at the table next to ours in the restaurant; and all of the rainbow colored families we saw at the children’s museum yesterday. I don’t remember South Carolina being so multi-culti in my youth. There weren’t too many mixed race couples in high school or college, and certainly there were no signs around in Spanish, no refugees from Somalia and Sudan. If it was at all possible to get my husband to leave Japan, this might actually be a nice place to raise my hapa kids.
Yesterday was a very happy day for me in my life as a parent. Jio read an actual English book (with a little help) all the way through! Hooray, hooray! I guess that expensive private school is paying off. The book was the classic Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman. It’s 64 pages, so that almost counts as two books. Back in the day, picture books were nearly novellas. Whenever I read those interminable Dr. Seuss books at bedtime (If I Ran the Zoo, etc.) I’m always thinking, clearly this man did not have children of his own. Anyway, I gave Jio five dollars, as promised, and then had the brilliant idea of making a point card for him. If he reads nine books, he gets a toy. He immediately grabbed Sumo Boy and read/recited it.
In other news, my dad has been working with Jio in the pool. His first day in, he had to be rescued from the deep end. He can now float a little and can almost swim. He’s made a lot of progress in less than a week. I wonder what he was doing in swimming school in Japan…
The twins and I have been in
South Carolina for a few days now. Since the time difference between here and home is 13 hours, we have been waking up at 2 or 3 or 4AM. Lucky(?) for us, my parents have satellite TV, so the twins can while away the early morning hours watching endless anime in English, while Mommy reads. I just finished Kino no Tabi, volume one in the series The Beautiful World. This book was apparently a best seller in Japan. Like the best manga and anime, this y/a novel (with a few illustrations) features a strong and brave heroine. At the beginning of the book, Kino is a couple days shy of twelve years old. She’s about to undergo an operation on her brain to become an adult. Once you’re an adult, you give up your dreams and take over the family business. (Hey, that sounds like Japan.) The characters all have Japanese names, but the story seems to be set in some sort of alternate universe. Kino travels from country to country on her long-suffering sidekick, an anthropomorphic motorcycle named Hermes. She never stays for more than three days in each country. Some of the places she visits are The Land of Shared Pain, The Land of Majority Rule and the Land of Peace. Of course, nothing is as great as it sounds. There’s a lot of violence in these pages, and I found myself wondering how 12-year-old Kino became so adept with weapons, but there is also a lot of food for thought for the relatively mature teen.