I used to hate my father. Inconsiderate, clumsy, inferiority complex... He didn't hold a management position anywhere, but he'd wear a suit around the house as if he were out on a formal visit. The house was a shambles, I didn't get into the school I wanted, dating was a failure. Everything about my life was sad, and I blamed it all on my father.
As soon as I graduated from high school, I went off to live on my own. Sometimes when I came home to visit, I'd only talk with my mother, siblings and friends. I pretended my father didn't exist. We hadn't talked since puberty.
But when I had my own child, things happened that changed my thinking. My father became a grandfather who doted over his grandchild. When I visited, he'd rush down to the station to meet us. He'd be right there at the exit gate, take the stroller away from me and push it all the way home. From the moment my baby rubbed its eyes open in the morning till the time he went to sleep at night, my father was behind him calling his name. I'd find him in the bathroom every day, humming and chirping while cleaning up the tub before giving his grandson a bath. I was feeling happy to see my son getting so much love and attention when it suddenly came back to me that this was how I'd been brought up too. I hadn't been loved any less.
I think I need to thank my father after all. For my current happiness. For my wonderful child. For the grandfather who spends his time arranging and framing photos of his grandchild for all to see. Bringing up my son's allowed me to find a little filial piety, late as it may be. I've come to understand just how important my father's been in my life. Helping me to see that is my son's first act of filial piety.
My wife doesn't think much of my hobby, photography. Since all lenses look the same to her, it's natural that collecting them might bother her. Even more so since I keep taking fuzzy photos despite so much practice.
I've got an excuse though. I'm so nearsighted I can hardly see. On Athletic Day and Parent's day, when I try to take pictures of our children, I can't see where they are. Then, even if I figure that out, the finished photos are rarely the ones I saw. So, I guess I'm not much good at it. I've taken so many photos of kids with their eyes half shut that if we didn't live in an age without development fees, I'd be up for divorce.
My father liked cameras too. Unlike me, he took lots of great photos, particularly of my older brother and I when we were young.
The problem is that there are a lot fewer photos of my younger brothers and sisters. The more children there were in the house, the less money my father had. He kept smoking up until the end, but outside of that he cut out everything but absolute necessities, which didn't include development costs. In my junior year of high school, my father died at the age of 46. With him, the person who might have taken photos of my younger brothers and sisters was gone. The eighth child, my youngest sister, was 2 when he died. When I think of it all now, these things are obvious, but since I'd left home right after high school, I didn't immediately understand why the photos had stopped.
When I was home for my younger sister's wedding, I was shocked to discover how few photos there were of her from early childhood. On the other hand, there were lots from high school on. That's when I'd begun taking photos myself, I thought. I guess I felt it was sad not to have anything earlier.
"Daddy, take a picture !"
All six kids are yelling at me as they strike a pose. I fire away. I don't want anyone to feel like there should have been more photographs. Maybe, even if I'm not as good at it as my father, I can get the job done by sheer number. Luckily, these days we don't have to worry about development fees. But if I feel the need to be different from my father, it's about something else. This year I stopped smoking. And I'm still 2 years short of age 46.
Your Papa and Mama were put to the test early, just the day after you were born. Having been parents for barely a day, you'd be shocked how unprepared we were.
That morning, our pediatrician and your midwife arrived looking distraught and had to explain to us that there was a gap in your thighbone.
Your mother wanted to know what in the world had happened. She also asked if she was awake or was having a nightmare.
Then we spoke with the orthopedics specialist about therapy and whether it should be done at that hospital or another one. We decided to move you to a children's hospital. But your mother's thinking had begun to heat up and the machinery jammed. We finally decided to stay where we were.
Therapy was to fix your leg in a special position while giving your body a chance to fill out the bone. We were terribly worried, but you just went on: drinking your mother's milk, crying for what you needed and moving your bowels. Every day, you got better at nursing and drank more and more.
I did what I could for you. Not as much as your mother, but I was right there, making sure she ate well so she could pass all those good things on to you. And I tried to stay healthy and positive, to be a positive force at your side.
Two weeks into the therapy, your bone began to grow. And then it seemed to grow back all at once. It was all finished in a month's time. Everyone was surprised about your growing power, not just your mother and I, but the doctors too.
Now you're three months old and seem to get a lot of joy out of kicking us in the stomach. Go on now: crawl, walk, run, go everywhere you can.
Your mother and I felt as though we'd been tested by the Gods.
Maybe they were telling us to grow up and be proper parents.
As you grow up, I suppose we may have to face other tests.
But with you here with us, I'm sure we'll be fine.
You don't like cream puffs
You like bread better than rice
You absolutely love cheese
You hate to be late
When you eat, you spill
You cram down food without chewing with an empty look on your face
Sometimes we're exact opposites
When you eat, you start with the things you like,
then go on to the rest
I start with what I like less,
then take my time with my favorites
But maybe your way is better
Since you can carry the good taste with you till the end
What makes you really different from others?
Even if you're hard-pressed yourself, you're always ready to help others
On the way home in the pouring rain
You're ready to get soaked
to accompany a friend who’s forgotten his umbrella,
All the way to his front door, no matter how far away
When you do something for others,
You're eyes show such firm decision
No matter how much time you loose, you're dedicated
You give without hesitation
That's the way I see it
You're a much better person than I am
I'm just your mother
The person who's always saying, "hurry up"
Being quick isn't all there is to life
Maybe I'm immature, but you are teaching me
Really, thank you
But there's still some time till you'll be all grown up
So let me watch over you till then, OK?
I could hear my daughter letting her breath out as we drove out of the tunnel.
"I just held my breath for a rea—lly long time,"
she said, flaring her nostrils with pride. (∩.∩）
I laughed. "Isn't it more like I was driving fast?"
"Why," she asked with interest.
"Well, if I drive slower, we stay in the tunnel longer," I fired back. "Put another way, if the tunnel is long, we get out faster when I drive fast."
My daughter seemed to be thinking about it.
"Because time is speed divided by distance..." I added just to tie up any loose ends.
The road was getting narrower, following a river on the left side of the car. The road was twisty. I dropped down into second and third for a more enjoyable ride. We could smell trees and plants on the wind coming into the car window. We'd almost arrived.
Maybe the first year of elementary school was a little early to breach this kind of topic. No,... more likely my daughter didn't have much of a head for mathematics... (T_T)
We were headed into another tunnel. I heard my daughter gearing up with another deep breath. She shut her mouth tight just as we entered the tunnel. (;゜) ...!
What was that famous phrase about Snow Country being on the other side of the tunnel? I began to wonder what would be waiting there for us.
This time, I drove slow on purpose.
When we got out on the other side, I could hear my daughter huffing and puffing just like before.
"So you see what happens when I drive slow?"
She answered me once she'd caught her breath.
"No. But if I don't breathe, I cut down on the CO2," she said triumphantly. "That's good for the environment." (^o^)
Did my daughter just say that?
It wasn't a tunnel problem.
It was an environment problem. (。^。)コ
Maybe she was weak in math but she knew her environment. I guess I blew that one. (*_*)
Mom is always energetic and outgoing.
When she goes shopping, people stop to say hello. Even my friends would notice her at the store and tell me when they'd seen her.
Why is that? First off, she's so sociable and interested in others.
But it's also because she's so visible. She's 70, with color streaks in her hair and bright red lipstick. No surprise that her clothes are just as flamboyant. She's always full of energy. When I was small, she'd be up every morning at 5, and her voice was the first thing we heard every day. But not from inside the house, from outside, where she'd be chatting with the women neighbors.
A real force of nature!
Once when I cut myself badly on the way home, my mother got flustered. She told me to wait because it looked like it might rain, and she needed to get the laundry in. She was more worried about laundry than her daughter.
There are a lot of funny stories about her, but the best are from when I was in elementary school. My mother’s gotten wind that one of the local brats was running after me saying that my mother wore tons of make up. She went out and confronted him. "Takahiro! Just who are you saying wears too much make up?!" She looked like she was in a towering rage and chased the boy down the street with a broom just like some comic book character.
Another time when I was in elementary school, she started telling me to I needed to take this and to not forget that, even though the only thing written in the "Bring to School" section of my school-to-home notebook was "nothing”. "How could there be nothing?" my mother repeated so often I began to get callouses on my ears. I got sullen and wrote "Please bring“nashi" * in the "Bring to school" lunchbox. It must've been in the early summer. Once my mother saw my school notebook, she went wild. "What are we going to do!? Listen, I'm going to run over to the super. Or maybe the greengrocer is better..." Before I could say anything about it being a joke, she ran out of the house. She came back about an hour later covered in sweat. "There weren't any. I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to apologize to your teacher." Since it was too early in the season for pears, this was a forerun conclusion. I finally had to tell it was all a lie. Needless to say, I was in for it.
When I write about her this way she might seem a little wild, but recently when her sister-in-law was bedridden she took care of her without a moment's hesitation. She faces these kinds of problems and helps others with a kind of contagious joy. It's really something, especially when I think of her age.
So I think my mother's the best.
* NOTE: I had to do this footnote because there is absolutely no way to reproduce the pun in English. You might consider leaving this one out of the translations. If you put it in, you need to make it into a real footnote by putting a raised number 1 at the end of the word
It snowed that day in Tokyo. On the way to my friend's wedding, I slipped on an escalator and cut my shin badly. When I ran my hand over my tights, it was full of blood. People at the scene called an ambulance that took me to the emergency room. When I got in touch with my friends at the wedding, they got worried and put the best man on, but I didn't have the heart to show up wounded so I begged off. Nobody likes being in the emergency room. The doctor, so concentrated on sewing me up, didn't say a word. When I asked him if there'd be a scar, my voice was so small he didn't even hear me.
It took 3 hours to put in 32 stitches. The doctor told me to go home and go to bed, but I was so lonely that I went to see my boyfriend. I couldn't walk well because I had to drag my leg. My boyfriend looked so put out that I started laughing.
The night after, I sent a mail my mother. "It wasn't much of an accident, but I got 32 stitches. The doctor would like you to give him a call, so I'm just letting you know." She answered immediately, just when I was worrying that she'd be mad at me for not being more careful. "I'm coming to Tokyo tomorrow." Just that short sentence, but the response time said it all: she was so worried that blame was out of the question. Even if I had had to show her my ugly wound or listen to her go on saying useless things, I'd have called her in immediately if she lived nearby. In that dark and silent emergency room, only my mother's presence could have cheered me up.
As soon as I saw my mother, I felt better. But she was all over me, and we soon started having arguments about stupid things. I finally said to her, "You came here because you were worried. Now, since you've seen me..."
I sent her off at the station. I saw her face in the window as the train pulled out. I wondered what my mother must have been thinking. When she was far way, she had to meekly accept not being able to take care of me. When she got close, she couldn't stop herself. I felt bad about the hopelessness of it all, so bad it made me cry.
Four years have gone by since. I've gotten used to the scar on my ankle. I can't even remember how much the accident hurt. But I will always remember my mother's lonely face. I still feel that pain even now.
Back when I was a child, when my father would get tipsy, he'd say, "Someday, you'll bring some man home to meet me. When it happens the first thing I'll do is throttle him."
More than 20 years have gone by since then, and finally, that fatal day arrived. I let my parents know there was a young man I wanted father to meet and set it up a month ahead of time. The result was that we spoke of anything but that particular subject for the next four weeks. The only way to get a little information through was by passing it to my mother.
My boyfriend is African. I knew my father would be against it. And maybe even society too. I knew all this, and I still wanted to marry him.
Even so, having a frank discussion on the subject was so awkward that I'd put it off. And, I know my father was avoiding the subject too.
My boyfriend came to the house as planned. When he arrived, my father was in the living room pretending to read the newspaper. He just said hello without even lifting his eyes from the page.
My boyfriend had been sitting at the diner table for one hour when my father finally came to join us. He'd emptied an entire bottle of whiskey, and being well-tanked, he just came out with it. "Since I heard about you a month ago, I haven't been able to sleep. Do you know that my daughter is the most important thing in my life? And she has been since day one! Just never make her cry. Do you think you have enough guts to do that?"
My boyfriend's Japanese is not that good, but no one could miss the gist. And he promised, "I'm going to make her happy." My father looked back and said, "Now I can sleep." Then he left the room and went to bed.
The next day, I heard from my mother. "Your father said that it's tough enough when your daughter brings a man home to marry, but on top of that a foreigner! And on top of that, an African! Just think! For your father, it was the toughest day in his life."
For me, it was the day when I felt my father's love the most.
When I came out of the building with my retirement notice in hand, the blue sky fit my mood. I liked my work, but I'd taken an early retirement for family reasons. Looking up at the sky, I felt calmer than I thought I would. I'd been looking forward to this day with a smile and now I felt relieved. I bought flowers for my mother whom I'd promised to visit on the way home.
My mother actually seemed to regret my retirement more than I did. "You were such a crybaby, it's hard to believe you became a teacher," she repeated over and over again with a smiling face. All the hours of work, the pleasure of the job, the sudden dramas... Sometimes I would gripe and she'd say, "So much responsibility, but I'm sure helping people to grow gives you a lot of satisfaction. It's a good job, don'cha think?" Maybe my mother once wanted to be a teacher. I hesitated to tell her I was taking early retirement right up to the end. Just as expected, she said, "What a waste. I suppose it's settled, isn't it?" At the same time, if I'd made it this far, she deserves much of the credit.
When I arrived at mother's house carrying my pot of orchids, she greeted me with the same smiling face as always. I called out as I came into the house, "Everything went fine. I'm retired! I got through it all with your help. Thank you!" Then I handed over the luxuriously wrapped orchids. She pointed to a pot of ladies tresses on top of the shoe stand in the entrance, "You gave me these flowers too."
"You got them from the children in the first class you ever taught. You brought them home from a day trip you'd been on. There's just one of them that took root, but it blooms every day." I'd forgotten all about it. I didn't know what to say.
I'd been dead set on not crying, especially in front of my mother, but the tears filled my eyes to the point where I couldn't see her anymore. "Well, you've been at it a long time and really given it your all," she said in the same steady, warm voice that always comforted me.
I feel so lucky to have you as my mother. Your are the greatest gift the world has given me.
I left home just after graduating from college 24 years ago. I've spent half my life in the southern hemisphere. I worked, gained my independence, married and raised a family; all in a foreign country. Far from Japan, I've adapted to Western customs. The inevitable hugs, the kisses on the cheeks, against my nature and without fear of contagion: that's how people express their feelings here.
My parents were approaching their seventies when they came to visit me in this far off place where I live. Their last visit was 6 years ago. When I thought about it, I realized that I was now the same age as my parents were the day they came with me to the airport to send me on my way. I've never gotten hugs, "I love you", or words of encouragement from my father. He barely even gets on the phone when I call.
But parents are a mystery. In the midst of lost words in an airport—"You keep well now" – "Sure"—my father brushed his hand, thickened with age, over mine and in that brief touch I could feel how much he cared for me. I don't know when I will see him again, but I am looking forward to it. Until then, the memory of your touch keeps me strong, Father. Thank you for coming to visit.
When I go back home to visit, I go to the kitchen. I take up position by my father's side while he cooks and comments on cooking all the while. He loves to cook. On the other hand, my mother never did. It's not the way things are usually done, but they cut a fine couple. My father would even make my lunch box. Not all the time, but when he was on holiday, he'd get up early and get the kitchen moving.
"Here's your lunch box. I hope you like it!" he'd say, passing it on with a chef's flair. On those days, I'd always be excited to see what was inside. My name written in seaweed topping, or the image of a young girl's face, or just "love you" written across the rice. It made me think of my father's impish expression and it sort of embarrassed me in front of my friends. 4 years ago, my mother passed away and my father was left alone. As much as he'd loved making food, he gave up the kitchen.
Food for one just makes me lonely," he explained.
That's all he had to say. Somehow, I wanted to help him. As time passed, it seemed to me that I was seeing his broad shoulders waste away. It made me sad. Then one day when I went home, I said, "Tonight let's make dinner at home instead of going out."
"Sounds good." It's the first time I'd seen my father happy in a long while. We went into the kitchen.
"Cutting cucumbers this way is faster."
"Really, ...I didn't know that."
It was the first time he actually showed me his own, special way of cooking. It was breathtaking.
"This kind of soup stock is best made with this white soy sauce... that's my little secret."
Deep in his element, my father seemed to sparkle. I saw the familiar face of the father I knew, the charmer who would hand me my lunchbox. From then on, visits home went straight to the kitchen.
"Next time you come, I'll teach you how to make my Kenchin chowder"
If I put in an early request, he'd go out of his way to get the ingredients. Making things together was better than doing it alone and eating together was way better than eating alone. And through our teamwork we developed our own special cooking style.
When my daughter started kindergarten, I made lunchboxes modeled after my father's.
"That was a heart on top of the rice, wasn't it?"
My daughter looked forward to her lunchboxes just as I had.
"I learned how to make today's lunchbox from your grandfather."
More than just delicious, these lunchboxes were as much a daily thrill as heartwarming. They were like secret recipes handed down through the family.
When I was in elementary school, I wrote a composition entitled, "My mother's a nurse and I'm proud of her." Half of it was lies, because I didn't want my mother to feel good. Parent's Day, school-family excursions, interviews, Athletic Meets, expositions: I always wanted my mother to attend. The day I fought with my schoolmates I wanted her to be there to hug me. The day my teacher praised my work, I wanted her get in the tub with me and listen to me brag. But she was always busy being a nurse, a wife, a daughter, and a mother. She seemed bothered the moment I'd speak, and I just made myself small. Finally past 60, her health began to fail and before we knew it she was bedridden.
After that, I'd sometimes go home and sleep by the side of her bed. I was a thirty-year old woman with two children of her own, and still all I wanted was to hold my mother's hand and sleep by her side. I would have liked to be innocent enough to roll myself into my mother's covers and say, "I'm going to sleep here with you." But my mother was already too weak and too much in pain. I thought whatever I might say might hurt her. Even today, I still think, "if I had just reached out my hand to her, if only I could have crawled under the covers with her..."—but the ship has sailed.
When I see my daughters, I always think. Am I hugging them enough? Am I paying attention to what they say? Am I giving them all they need? I have regrets from my own childhood, but there is no way I can fix the past. Through the relationships with my daughters, I have been given another chance to experience the mother daughter bond. We'll have arguments, long talks and caresses. It’s a special moment we share until they find that special someone who loves them even more than I do. When that day comes, I'll have no more regrets.
Ever since I can remember, there's been one rule around our house: keep smiling. It's my father's way.
Even if something happens that disturbs you, keep smiling. If you can, the God's will see you and bless you for it.
When I was little, I'd cry if my parents scolded me or if I argued with my friends. When that happened, I'd look at the words pasted on my wall, "Keep Smiling," and feel like I'd failed.
Now, I'm convinced of the importance of smiling.
I've left home to go to college. The parents who always listened to my stories and sometimes rebuked me are no longer at my side.
I'm in an arts school where I can get downcast about poorly executed pieces or sharp criticism from teachers. When I'm down, I remember my father's words.
Whether you're happy or sad, if you can keep smiling, the God's will smile back on you.
These words are my solace.
And really, I do believe that a smile can go a long way to making both people and situations fall into place. For myself, smiling seems to take the worst out of the hardest moments.
Of course, there's times when the going gets tough and crying or complaining might help. But in the end, a little laugh can go a long way.
My father taught me the importance and power of smiling. I hope in turn to pass this on to my children. It's what I want to do.
Recently one of my daily chores has been giving my mother a message at bedtime. I call it massage, but since I'm not a professional, I just do whatever I feel might help her relax. We usually talk at the same time. If she's tired, she'll get irritable, but most nights, we talk about how our day was. She loosens up slowly, and I think it is really helpful for her. I'm a senior in high school, so I think a lot about my future now and how to get there. Both my father and mother listen carefully to everything I have to say, and they give me a lot of encouragement. To tell the truth, they sometimes nag, but since it's for my own good, I listen carefully to their rebukes.
We are farmers, so in the busy seasons my parents are up at dawn and work till nightfall. They work terribly hard. I got the idea of giving massages to my father and mother when I saw them coming home so exhausted. As I wrote before, these days I only do it for my mother. And like I said, we usually talk while I'm massaging her, though sometimes we're silent and she falls asleep. On silent days, I can see her fatigue, and I admire her dedication.
Time went by so fast for me. All of a sudden I was in High School. Now, just as suddenly, I'm in my senior year. My parent's generosity and care are even clearer to me now. Little things like our evening meals together have become important for me. Right now, all I can do is give a massage, but when I actually start earning money, I want to show my appreciation more fully. Even when I'm older, I don't want things to change. I think I will always be close to my parents.
Children like to line things up in order. Maybe not every one of them, but if I take my own daughter as an example, she loves to rank things. Placings at the athletic meet, short to tall in her class, the lineup for getting afternoon snacks, she seems to get a kick out of all of them.
In general, she doesn't seem to see anything particularly special about being higher in the ranks. It's more about feeling good about just having a place in the set. So when she comes in second in the foot race at the athletic meet and she says, "I'm second. Isn't that great!". It's not just bluff. She's full of joy. Anyway, as far as I can tell, that's what's going on. Nonetheless, if she's number one, she can be so proud that it can get tiresome hearing about it.
There's one thing though that bothers me. It's the order in which she puts the people and things she likes. She always and invariably places herself in the number 1 slot. After that, the ranking is forever getting shuffled.
When I asked recently where I was on the charts, I'd moved to number 4. Her mother was number 2, and number 3 was reserved for baked gratin. My daughter loves udon, and that dish my constant rival. This time, though udon usually rules, it seemed I'd won out. Out of pity for my rival, I mentioned this, "What about Udon?"
"Oh, I forgot," she said, and immediately adjusted the rankings. Udon moved to 4, and then 5 thru 8 were her grandparents. It looked like Udon wasn't the only thing that slipped her mind. But then I was put in 9th place. Hearing from someone you love "I like you in 9th place" and "of course you're lower than gratin and udon" is something I never thought possible before becoming a parent. Nor did I know what a pleasure unrequited love could be, not until I had a child anyway.
This is a story from when I was seven or eight years old.
One evening, when I came home from playing with my friends, I couldn't get my mother on the apartment's inter-phone so I could not get into the building. I rang and rang, but no one ever answered. I got scared and rang the buzzer over and over again. Finally, I attacked the door with all the force I could muster. Even when my hands began to hurt, I just kept beating on it. Tears were running down my face. Where was my mother? She'd abandoned me. I'd never see her again. That's how I felt: sad, miserable and abandoned. If only I had been a better child. I was full of remorse.
Just then my mother came home. She'd just been out running an errand in the neighborhood. Finding me crying outside the house really shocked her, so she gave me a big hug and took me up to our house. She apologized again and again for not having been there when I came home. When I think of it all now, all seems so foolish. But I always wonder why I felt so hopeless at the time. Whatever my feelings were back then, they seem lost in the past. All I can think is that for a small child, the mother's presence is so ultimately large. Back then, she was my whole world.
Last spring, when I left home to go to graduate school, it was my first time leaving home and my first time living alone. Through, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and college, I had always lived at home. In my new situation, there were so many new things to deal with that it made me anxious, and I often returned home.
When I played on the regional baseball team for six years, my fathered volunteered as a coach. My father and I always had something to talk about then, even when the team was off. But going to high school and college put enough distance between us to kill our conversation time. Finally, after I left home, I'd come back often, but my father never seemed to have much to say. At meals he'd be silent. Then he'd go off and watch television.
The feeling of distance I was getting began to bother me. Just around the time I was trying to think of some way to bring things back to the way they were when we were talking all the time, I heard my father call out casually, "I bought some Cola for you." At the time, I thanked him and was happy to drink the Cola.
The next time I came home, he chirped, "I bought you some Cola" when I passed him in the hallway. And the next time it was an abrupt, "Gotcha some Cola!" This went on and on, with him buying stocks of cola for each of my visits and greeting me with "Gotcha some Cola!" And even though the house was always stocked and he liked Cola himself, he wouldn't touch it unless I was there. He just left it to cool in the refrigerator. It seemed to be my father's way of saying, "Please just come home whenever you want." And "Gotcha some cola" became a whole conversation in a single phrase.
I was in my thirties when my dear wife's father became bedridden and I pitched in as his caregiver. Just at the same time, we had the child we'd always hoped for. It was a lot, but I took on childrearing and caregiving at the same time.
Many of my friends thought I was crazy, but it quickly became obvious that doing both at the same time can be a real plus. My very stubborn father-in-law, who fight's all the advice of his rehabilitation therapist, was inspired by his grandson's supple movements. My son, born into a lifestyle built around his grandfather's wheelchair, learned to push it from the age of one. There has been no end of tips on caregiving from this, our youngest adviser.
Balmy autumn breezes flood in through the window. Holding a sleepy baby, I sing a lullaby while by my side; a drowsy grandfather drifts off to sleep. When it comes to changing kiddy diapers and grandpa diapers at the same time, the room really begins to stink. My father-in-law's a former rugby player. Elevating his hips is quite a chore. But all these chores bring us together and create stories that warm the heart.
I alternate from one to the other, childrearing to caregiving, with faultless timing.
I hardly ever really do both at the same time. I've been doing this for 2000 days. And now we have 3 children. There's no time to sit around comparing childrearing and caregiving. It's just a story that turns round and round.
When I was a kid, I didn't like people saying I looked like my father, particularly concerning the broad forehead. And it was a very broad forehead, broad enough to broadcast us both as father and daughter. Once, an old man who was a perfect stranger passed us in the street, then stopped and ran after us just to say, "You two really look alike!" I don't know how many times my father told that story. Each time I heard it, my heart would sink.
I always didn’t wanted him to come to Parents Day at school, because we looked so alike then one time I discovered both my mother and father in the hall, I blurted out, "Oh! Daddy came too!" He had a tremendous smile across his face. I don’t recall if I waved, but I remember being so shocked.
The other day, I went home for a visit and the two of us went out to lunch. It had been a long time since I'd sat opposite my father. My Dad launched into a long harangue on politics, which gave me the time to get a good look at him. His receding hairline was gaining ground. It was hard to define exactly where his forehead started. Nonetheless, it was very much there, broad, prominent and familiar. Our eyes look the same behind their glasses. If even I think we look alike, it shouldn't be surprising that others do too. But why did I ever decide that I hated looking like him. I mean, is that so bad?
After lunch we went back to the house and my parents talking in the other room. "The neighbors are going to jazz me about being out with a young woman." my father said. What? Anybody who the 2 of you could see you’re related. There's no way two foreheads could make such a perfect set.
I didn't have to search deep in my heart to remember the little girl in the school hallway who was put out by her father's arrival. But that was another age. If I ever chance on my father around town, I'll run right up to him. Even if it blows my bangs back and exposes my forehead for all the world to see.
I was born into my family as the elder sister of our house's successor. First born, my mother was crestfallen that I wasn't a boy. Three years after, my brother was born. He monopolized all my mother's attention. I might have become the poor little girl spurned by her family, but actually my situation allowed me to grow up free and strong.
I informed my parents about my getting into college, getting my first job and even my marriage after the fact. My parents were so full of their son and heir, I told them they needn't bother about me. I thought my stance as praiseworthy, but they just started complaining about what I'd said. This depressed me.
Then I had a medical checkup, and they found I had cancer. I'm just in my thirties. The doctor told me I had 6 months to live. Was it punishment for being so fancy free? It looks like I've inherited my father's DNA for cancer and an early death.
I didn't want to trouble my mother because she is so old, so I said nothing. My husband finally told her I was ill. My mother's so frail she can barely walk, but she came to see me at my home. Being suddenly diagnosed with cancer had so deeply troubled me that I couldn't face my mother, and I chased her out of the house.
When I opened the envelope my mother had pushed into my hand, I found a money order in my name for enough money to buy a first class house. My brother lives with our mother, so I asked him about it. He explained that she'd sold absolutely everything she could and given it all to me. It was to buy me the best medical help I could get, to try and extend my life as much as possible. She'd put all her money for old age into the mix. It seemed foolish.
My brother told me my mother had always worried over me. "If you die, I'm worried she won't survive it," my brother said. I guess love runs deeper in the family than we know. And I realized how fully my mother loved me.
I've had a good life. Loved by my parents, loved by my husband, a brother who looks out for me. I want them to forgive me for not having the time to give anything back.
The children were saying that when we arrived at the family house for Obon and the Harvest Festival, we had to go straight to the cemetery to pay our respects. I'd been trying to explain Obon to my children in the car on the way, and this is the gist of what they'd understood. When we arrived, they grabbed their grandmother and we went straightaway to the graveyard. After we all said a short prayer over the grave, the children freshened it with water, and then the parents were to wipe things down; that's how the roles had been decided. Grandmother would handle the flowers. As it was, the children were splashing water on the adjoining tombs. When that happened, they'd say, "We're taking care of great-grandmother's friends." A child's reasoning. But they didn't say anything about their great-grandfather because they'd never met him. It wasn't that my explanation in the car hadn't been compelling. I'd simply glossed over that part. We took turns watering and wiping. Finally, we faced all the tombs and clasping our hands said "Please keep great-grandma company forever."
Next we went home. The sun was already low in the sky, so we headed straight to the vegetable patch in the corner of the garden and harvested it. Right up to my grandmother's death, she'd looked over it with the greatest care, and then my parents had taken over. This was the season for tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers, but the children were only interested in eggplants and cucumbers. They chose the largest and pulled them out. When asked why, they replied, "Because both our great-grandfather and great-grandmother can ride on the big ones." This time they'd remembered Grandpa. And then, "If we get a lot of horses all their friends can come to!" There was no stopping them. I couldn’t stand in the way of such precociousness, and a quick look at my husband told me he felt the same way.
At dusk, we lined the horses up behind our welcoming fire. The children clasped their hands and prayed earnestly. Just behind them, I was telling my mother about our harvest time. "Well now..." she said. Looking at her, I'd say she found the events promising. Perhaps she thought them clever, but then every event is open to very different interpretations depending on the person's age. They say children mirror the parents. In our case, it would seem like it’s the other way around. My husband probably feels the same way.
When I was 39 I went back to school at a junior college that had evening classes. Since my children were still young, I was full of hesitations. I couldn't make up my mind, right up to the application deadline. What encouraged me most was my daughter's "Mama, you can do it!"
At the time my daughter was a junior in middle school, getting ready for her high school entrance exams. She felt we were fighting the same fight, and she backed me all the way. With her consent, I set out for school. At first, taking on both house chores and a course load was incredibly taxing, but then my course load expanded, and I could barely find the time to breathe. Fighting every day through two years of study, I've never been so busy in my life.
There were times when, both mentally and physically, I thought I couldn't take it anymore, but my family was always there for me. Somehow I made it through those two years and got my diploma. My daughter came to the ceremony. That's what brought me the most joy.
Ten years later, after my daughter graduated from college and left home, I decided to take up my studies again. I was able to enter University of the Air, which broadcasts courses on radio and television. I entered as a third year student.
I followed the courses, sent out my papers and took my tests. At first I was a bit bewildered, but I just buckled down, went over my textbooks and attended as many live classes as I could. I graduated in 2 years.
I stopped studying for a year, then entered a graduate school that had an adult's study program. My specialty was Modern Japanese Literature. There was only one other Japanese beside myself in my group. Almost everyone was a foreigner, most of them younger than my own children. I learned a lot from them, studied hard, and finally wrote the thesis on HIGUCHI Ichiyou that I'd been planning for so long.
Now I'm trying to learn English so I can go on to get my doctorate.
I still remember my daughter's words, "Mama, you can do it!" They come back to me every day, and they help me every step on my way.