Short Story du Jour #10 – Heliotrope

Although I didn’t meet her then, Kelly Luce and I once lived in the same prefecture in Japan. She later emailed me asking for literary advice, but I could tell, after reading her work, that she didn’t need much help, if any, from me. One of these days we’ll see her collection in print. In the meantime, she’s been publishing stories in all the best literary journals. Here’s a short short story to give you a taste.

Short Story du Jour #1

In honor of the aforementioned short fiction month, I’ve decided to point you, dear reader, to a different short story every day in May. Today’s story is a favorite from the archives of Literary Mama, a funny story about an expatriate Finnish couple in Alabama (which I understand is not a funny place right now) and their misadventures with an au pair.  So here it is – Au Pair in Alabama, or The Legend of the Dog Killer by Tua Laine.

All my best to the people of Alabama, especially Tuscaloosa, and to Tua Laine, especially if she’s still in the state.

Teaching Compassion in a Time of Crisis

Yesterday, the first day back at school after the week-end’s disaster, the third graders at my daughter’s school decided to gather pencils and notebooks and things for the children who had to evacuate their homes in northern Japan. The teachers discussed the earthquake with the kids, and they are making further plans to help out on a wider scale. My daughter brought a box of pencils to school today to donate.

My husband, who is a high school teacher at a school for the disabled, led his students in a moment of silence to honor the thousands of victims of the tsunami.

I asked my son what he did at school in relation to the quake.

“My teacher talked about it a little,” he said, “but we had to practice for graduation.”

According to my son, there was no further initiative to help the students deal with whatever anxiety or concerns they may have regarding the quake. Nor did I hear of any efforts to comfort or help the survivors, or remember the lives that were washed away. I found this incredible, especially since at every event open to parents, the principal talks about how the school is helping the students to develop kind, caring hearts. Can they really be so busy practicing for graduation, that they can’t spare an hour, or even fifteen minutes, or even a moment of silence?

Again today, nothing.

But then I was thinking about how, after school on Friday, I turned on the news and watched the approaching wave over and over – the houses washing away, the people scrambling desperately up the hills, the cars swirling in the water.  I could hardly tear my eyes away. I wanted my daughter to bear witness because these are her people. This is her country. And at almost twelve, having toured the Peace Museum in Hiroshima and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., having been deeply moved by these horrible events, I felt she was old enough to deal with tsunami footage.

Maybe I was wrong to make her watch it for so long. To make her wallow in tragedy.

At seven o’clock, she tried to find her favorite cartoon, “Doraemon,” on television, but every station was broadcasting tsunami and earthquake updates. She was disappointed, and I became irritated with her.  Was she really so spoiled and lacking in feeling?

She didn’t see any disaster scenes all day Saturday or Sunday. We made crepes together. It was a normal and fun activity. Usually, her weekend diary is about baking or cooking or maybe shopping. When I asked to check her homework, she showed me what she’d written Saturday evening.

She’d written about watching the news with me. She wrote about the earthquake and the big wave and the fires and houses that floated away. She wrote about how scared it made her feel. 

Maybe she’d had enough.

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.)

“Oh!”

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!

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.