Half or Double?

In today’s edition of The Japan Times, Kristy Kosaka writes about the  half/double dilemma

My husband and I had a little chat about it this morning at breakfast.  “What do you think is the best term for children like ours?” I asked him.  “Half, bi, or double?”

Hafu, the Japanese rendition of “half”, is the most common way to describe children with one Japanese parent and one foreign parent.  To me, it brings to mind that old Cher song, “Half-breed.”  (“Half-breed, how I learned to hate that word,” etc.).  My husband, however, has memories of a Japanese musical group from the 70s called Golden Half.  Apparently, they were biracial and way cool.

“What about bi?” I asked him.  (Actually, this sounds like “bisexual to me,” but I tend to refer to our children as “bicultural.”

“That makes me think about buying something,” he said.

Okay, whatever.  “How about ‘double’?”  This is a more recent term, one, I believe, that was coined, or at least encouraged by, filmmaker Reggie Life.

For my husband, that would be two fingers of whiskey.

So what do you call your kids?

Punk Babysitters

In one or two movies I’ve seen recently, there were punk babysitters with pierced noses, multiply-pierced ears, dyed hair, and in at least one case, a surly attitude.  These babysitters appeared for comic effect, and I’ve always believed that no mother would seriously hire someone looking like that to take care of their kids.  I guess that shows my Midwestern, middle-aged conservatism.

This weekend, I went to Tokyo for Writer’s Day, an event put on by the Tokyo Branch of SCBWI.  It was world class.  Three international picture book writers (actually one, Tanya Batt, bills herself as more of a storyteller) gave stellar presenations.  Irene Smalls had us acting out our characters, and Laura Rennert, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, had us all dreaming of half a million dollar deals (the kind that she puts together), but she also gave us some very practical advice.  (And she told us fun stuff about her husband Barry Eisler.)

I had a great time, and my mind was at ease because I knew that my kids were safe at my sister-in-law’s.  I trust her, and the kids love her.  She had a few errands, so she told me in advance that one of my niece’s friends would be helping with the babysitting.  I’ve never met this girl, but my kids have, and they like her.  And if my sister-in-law says she’d dependable, then I believe her.

Last night, as I was tucking Lilia into bed, I asked if she’d finished her homework.

“Yes,” she signed.  “B. [the friend] helped me.”

“Wonderful!” I said, liking B. very much at that moment.

Then Lilia pointed to her tongue and made the sign for “ouch.”   A stud??

“Does B. have a pierced tongue?” I asked Yoshi.

“Yes,” he said, “and multiple piercings in her ears.”

This morning it occurred to me to ask Jio about her hair color.

“It’s yellow,” Jio said.  (B. is a high school drop-out.)


I’ve totally revised my ideas about pierced and dyed babysitters.   Anyone who can get Lilia to do the weekend’s  homework in one day is all right in my book.  Punk babysitters rule!

Speed Racer

The other day we were all in the car, cruising down the narrow back roads of rural Japan.  The speed limit where we were was 40 km/hour, but Yoshi was going 50 km/hour.  “Daddy is breaking the law,” my son piped up from the back seat.  I didn’t even know that he knew that phrase in English.

Boys will be Boys

For nine years I’ve been shrieking, “No toy guns!” and vetoing every attempted purchase of said items.  You’d think it might have had some effect.  But no.

Today we went to a nearby strip mall (yes, they have those in Japan, too) because the kids wanted to get out of the house and had a little money to burn.  We looked at pets for awhile.  I was amazed to see chipmunks for sale.  They looked wild and totally hyper.  One of them kept falling off the exercise wheel, he was going so fast.

Lilia bought a chunky comic book full of sparkly-eyed girls with her money.  I told Jio that he should save up for Legos or whatever, and that he didn’t necessarily have to spend the money he got as a reward for getting 100 percent correct on his kanji test.  (Only the second 100 percent in two and a half years.)  But then, when we were just about to go home, he mentioned something that he wanted to buy.  An action figure, I thought.  I waited at the entrance with Lilia while he paid for it with his own money all by himself.  It wasn’t until we got into the car that I saw what it was – a toy gun.

It’s supposed to be a policeman’s revolver, and it came with a badge.  Okay, so better than a robber gun, I guess.  The funny thing is, he got a toy policeman’s kit for Christmas a couple years ago in the U.S.  It included a vest, a walkie-talkie, a badge, a bullhorn, handcuffs, and a pad of paper for writing tickets, but no gun.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Japanese policeman packing heat, but here, you get the gun.


In Praise of Japanese Music Class

When I was a kid in Michigan, music class meant that we gathered our chairs around a piano and sang songs from a mimeographed lyric sheet.  Maybe once in awhile the itinerant music teacher would pass out some tambourines and castanets. 

Only now, all these years later as a mother in Japan, do I understand how lame all that was.  We never learned musical notes or how to play instruments or the names of the great composers.  Not during the regular school day.

Last week my daughter was thrilled to get a recorder and to begin learning how to play it.  The kids at the deaf school also learn to play taiko – traditional Japanese drums – and perform at the annual culture festival.  Before the recorder, my kids learned to play something called a harmonium. 

I had a look at my son’s music class workbook and noted that he was learning about Bach and Beethoven.  And although my hearing son has a dread of music class whereas my deaf daughter loves it (go figure), I’m so grateful that my children are being educated in the arts.


Bye Bye Bunnies

Today’s activity in Occupational Therapy was to decorate a small box.  The therapist demonstrated by cutting shapes out of colored paper and pasting them on the box, and…voila!  A rabbit!  I thought that Lilia would choose to do the same, since she’s always loved rabbits.  But she shook her head. 

“How about a bear?” the therapist asked.


“How about a cat?  Or a panda?” 

 “No, no.”

“What do you want to make?” 

“Sakurai Shou-kun!”

So Lilia lovingly cut out a head, a body, and clothing and made a box doll of her beloved pop star idol.


Dream Come True

According to Amazon.com, today is the official publication date of Love You to Pieces.  Reason enough to celebrate, right?

But get this:  Lilia has learned to say “Mama”!

We’ve worked on this for awhile.  For a long time, when she wanted my attention, she called out “Ahhhhhhh.”  And then, after she got her cochlear implant, she called me “baba”.  She could hear the difference, but the “m” sound is really hard for her.  I had her touch my nose while I said “mama” so she could feel the vibrations, and sometimes she could do it, but when she tried too hard, it always came out “baba.”  The other day, she commanded my attention and pronounced “mama”.  She was very proud that she could say it without touching her nose.  I’ve been waiting years for this moment.  No one could have given me a better Mother’s Day gift.

Golden Week Report

We are now on the last day of that string of holidays known as Golden Week.  This is the time of year when the highways are clogged with traffic, and every public space is mobbed.  Also, most families have plans to visit relatives or do something fun.  I have been trying to get us through this period without driving too far (gas just went up 25 yen per liter) and without spending too much money.  My husband has had baseball games every day, so we’ve been on our own.

Yesterday, Jio talked me into going to a park an hour from our house.  He told me that the third graders in his class had arranged this outing.  They actually conpsired the week before to get their parents to take them to a science park near here.  We spent six hours in the great outdoors, playing kick ball (also very well organized by the third graders – oh, how smoothly they sorted themselves into teams) and running around, after which I was too exhausted to make dinner. 

Yesterday morning, although it was cloudy, I made sandwiches, loaded all of our gear into the car, and we set out for the park the kids had agreed upon.  Turns out, no one else was there.  It’s a big park, and it was a holiday, but all we saw was a high school kid running laps, and an elderly man on some sort of power walk.  Jio immediately said that he wanted to go home.

I made him play for about two hours.  He skated on his rollerblades, and we hit some balls, and had a picnic, and then we went home.  In the evening, one of the parents called and said that today everyone is going to another park, and that yesterday’s event had been organized by the children without parental approval.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law believes that someone has stolen her keys. 





The Mystery of the Reluctant Third Grader

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been living in dread of this morning.  As recently as two days ago, Lilia started throwing hard, plastic objects at me when I mentioned going back to school.  Yesterday, I hung her formal attire in plain view to help her prepare mentally, and she hurled Jio’s new school shoes at it.  Ordinarily she loves dressing up, but I was afraid she’d grab it and rip the fabric to shreds, so I had to put it aside.  On other occasions, she has cried fat tears, making me think that she had endured some trauma at school that I knew nothing about. 

On the best of days, we have to drag her out of bed in the morning to get ready for school, and since she’s been sleeping in until 9AM or so these past two weeks, I could just imagine how difficult it would be to rouse her this morning at 7AM for the first day of third grade.  I was thinking yesterday that I would need to tranquilize her in order to get her into my car.  When she doesn’t want to do something, she starts thrashing and flailing, and boy, those little fists can hurt.

So this morning I asked my husband to get her up.  I was busy making breakfast when she came into the kitchen.  She seemed surprisingly chipper.  She ate her breakfast, got dressed all by herself (including tights), and checked the inventory of her school bags.  Towel?  Check.  Tissues?  Check.  She was at the door, raring to go, while I was still in my pajamas. 

“Man or woman?” she signed, wondering about the gender of her new teacher.  Her eyes were sparkling.  “Today I will get new textbooks!”

It was all very weird, but in a good way.  Maybe she was possessed by demons, and they’ve flown the coop.