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!

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. 






Only one day left of second grade.  A few days ago, I had a conference with Lilia’s teacher.  We talked about how she had become adept at counting on her fingers, and how she can now add and subtract triple digit numbers quickly and accurately.  We also talked about her inability to memorize the multiplication table, and how this will make long division in third grade very difficult.  We talked about how at ease and independent she is in her wheelchair, and how wonderful that she can go to the bathroom at school by herself.  We also talked about how she rarely uses her legs at school even though many therapists have told me that she looks like a kid who will stand and walk one day.  We talked about how she has not been able to learn how to speak, but she can understand a lot through lip-reading and listening.  We talked about how she can now recognize some written words and can now write some simple sentencesby herself, and also about the fact that the third grade Japanese textbook will be too hard for her to read.  Her teacher suggested that she study Japanese with the first graders.  It sounds more practical than pretending that she can keep up, while she gets in way over her head, but the girl has pride. 

I know that her cerebral palsy makes her different from other deaf kids, in ways that I’m still trying to figure out.  I feel like I’m standing on a divide – on one side, are teachers giving up, and the other is the shiny future I can give her if I push harder.  Or maybe it’s mostly up to Lilia and she will find her own way.

Santa Lives!

I did a little Christmas shopping yesterday.  I suddenly panicked when I realized that I had to get the “Santa” presents ready before we leave on the 20th for our trip to the States.  See, Santa won’t be bringing my kids’ presents to their grandparents’ house – too much baggage. They have to be all wrapped and strategically placed so that upon our return, when the children rush into the house to see what Santa brought, the presents are there.

I was thinking, rather Scrooge-ishly, about what a pain all this is, and maybe it’d be better just to tell them the truth about Santa (and the tooth fairy) and spare myself the trouble.  But then I thought of myself at the age of 9 (I think), when my next door neighbor and best friend told me that my parents were really the ones buying those presents.  I remember how I wept in the bath when my mother confirmed the rumor.  I’d love to spare my twins the pain!

I was talking about this with Y.’s mother.  She said that Y.’s older sister, who is about ten, I think, has started to have doubts on her own.  She no longer believes that Santa is the one who brings her a Christmas present each year; she thinks it’s some guy who lives in Tokyo. 

I am Famous

My son has always been blase about my writing and publishing, which I sort of thought was natural because I’ve been publishing since before he was born.  But a few years ago, when asked what I did, he said “nothing.”  I realized then that I should tell him more about my writing and my accomplishments.  I wanted him to have respect for the work that I do, and I wanted him to understand that I have my own passions.  In Japan, mothers are supposed to be totally devoted to their children and have no interests of their own, but I don’t want my kids to think like that.

So anyway, I’ve been talking to my son about my books and what I’ve been doing to promote them.  He hasn’t seemed terribly interested or impressed.  (Lilia, on the other hand, is quite thrilled!)  But last night, he had to write sentences for Japanese.  One of his sentences was “Boku no okaasan wa yumei da,” which means, “My mother is famous.”  It’s not quite true, but I realized that maybe he is just a little bit proud of me and aware of what I’m doing.  At least it’s a step above “My mother does nothing.”

Am I Overprotective?

We’re on an outing, at the beach.  We’ve come with friends to the dolphin training center, which is on the sea, accessible by a floating ramp and platform.  It’s windy, and raining, and the platform undulates as we stumble across it. 

“Don’t run,” I shout to my son.   “It’s dangerous!”  There are no railings.  The sea is cold and deep. 

In the past, I’ve seen my son fall into a pond, fall off an eight-foot high rock wall, and tip over my daughter’s wheelchair as he was running down the corridor, pushing, in a luxury hotel.  He came home from camp with a huge gash on his knee – an injury incurred when he tipped over in a canoe.  He’ll have a scar.  My son is accident-prone.

But I’m the only one shouting out, “Don’t go too close to the edge!  It’s dangerous!”

My friends say nothing to their kids.

Later, on the beach, the children are drawn to a large dinosaur sculpture.  It’s slippery and offers no clear purchase.  Of course, my daughter wants to climb around as well.  Not a good idea, I think.  It’s dangerous.

My friend’s daughter stands on top of the dinosaur’s back holding a big stick.  What if she fell?  I think.  But I don’t say anything.  My friend says nothing.  “Be careful,” I say to my son.

“Hand her up to me,” my friend says about my daughter.  So I hoist her up, and my friend holds her.  I pray that she doesn’t get overexcited and go spastic.  It’s slippery, and she is heavy and hard to control.

Then my son starts goofing around.  He is suddenly hanging from the dinosaur’s neck, afraid to fall.  He grabs onto my friend’s leg and brings everyone down with him.  I try to catch them all, but I can’t. They fall.

I gather up my sobbing daughter, who seems more scared and betrayed than hurt.  My friend will have bruises.  My son goes down to the shore to brood; he feels responsible.  But I know that it was my fault.  I knew it was dangerous. And yet I also know that I must allow them to take risks once in awhile.   It’s very hard, though.  I couldn’t keep my children safe inside my body, so now I do everything I can – maybe too much – to keep them safe in the world. 

Mother’s Day, Schmother’s Day

So here is how I’ve spent my special day (ha ha ha): I nagged Lilia throughout the morning about her homework. Then we went to the mall, and Lilia kept wheeling away and disappearing, in spite of my talk about strangers. For the nearly the past eight years, the kid hasn’t been responsible for her own safety, and doesn’t know the importance of sticking close to Mommy in a crowded shopping center or of watching out for cars. At one point, while I was standing at a cash register, she took off out the door and went into the parking lot. Dangerous! We will have to have a talk about traffic safety, in addition to a reinforcement of the talk about strangers.

I’ve decided that I’m not cooking dinner, as it’s My Special Day. If we have go to McDonald’s or order pizza, then so be it.

This evening, my husband is taking his mother to see “Tokyo Tower,” an undoubtedly schmaltzy Japanese movie. I will be staying home with the kids. If I can get them to bed early enough, I’ll have a glass of wine and watch “Le Divorce” on DVD. (There is no hidden meaning in my viewing choice; I’m just in the mood for Paris.)

Baby Love

I recently read Baby Love by Rebecca Walker. I could relate to her ambivalence about becoming a mother, her difficult birth and her inability to remember any lullabies. I was also excited to read that she’d made a trip to Shikoku, the island where I live, although she didn’t have a great time. And I appreciated her defense of fatherhood. Feminist or not, I think we have to recognize the importance of fathers in the lives of our children.

But on page 89, when she’s trying to decide whether or not to have an amnio, she writes “I just can’t get too excited about a huge needle that close to my baby. On the other hand, I have to be honest with myself about being able to care for a baby with special needs. I don’t think I can do it.”

Here’s the thing, Rebecca: No one wants to give birth to a baby with special needs. Don’t we all say, “as long as it’s healthy”? And probably most of us believe that we are incapable of caring for a child with special needs. To be honest, if someone had told me when I was pregnant that my daughter would be deaf and unable to walk, I would have been very disappointed. And yet now, I can’t imagine not having Lilia with us. I would rather have Lilia as she is than not have her at all. She has made me a better person.

Having a child with special needs isn’t necessarily bad.