Yesterday the neighborhood kids came around in happi coats and hachimaki with the omikoshi (a palanquin carried on their shoulders). There was some sort of event at the nearby shrine. My mother-in-law handed me an envelope of money to give to the kids when they came around, before heading out somewhere with a friend.
Lilia, who is way into kimono and other Japanese-y things, was very excited about the o-mikoshi. When we heard the kids at the compound next door, we hurried out to wait. Lilia was in her wheelchair at the edge of the driveway, holding the envelope, and I was standing with her. Jio wouldn’t come down. He watched from a window upstairs.
The kids stopped in front of our house. Total silence. Nary a smile. Lilia tried to hand them the envelope, but they just stood there, hands at their sides, staring at us. Finally, one girl reached out and took the money, and, without saying “thank you” – or anything else, for that matter, they went on to the next house.
I was ticked. They could have at least said “arigatou.” We have lived in this neighborhood for over two years, and I’m sure that at least some of them have seen us around. And I’m pretty sure that there is a native speaker of English visiting the local schools, so they shouldn’t be afraid of foreigners. Maybe the kid in the wheelchair freaked them out.
It would be better for neighborhood relations, I know, if Lilia could go to public school. And if Jio went to public school, he might be able to make friends with the kids around here. But he might also be bullied because he is different, and his family is different.
Later that evening, I asked him why he stayed upstairs. I thought it was because he was shy, or because he had a bad experience with the neighborhood kids. (He actually tried to make friends with a boy a year older who lives two houses away when we first moved in, but their association ended abruptly.) He said, “I saw from upstairs how they just stared at you and didn’t say anything.” And then I realized – it wasn’t because of something that had happend to Jio; it was because of us – the blonde American mom, and the crippled sister. Jio is better integrated than Lilia and me, and I sometimes take his comfort for granted. I think he was embarrassed for us.
Lilia was nothing but happy. She drew the scene in her picture diary.