I have two New Year's Cards that are precious to me. Both are from my father.
In my last years at school, my efforts to tie down a job did not go well, but I finally signed a contract in December of my senior year. I remember how relieved I was to have been hired before the New Year started. When my father's New Year's card arrived, it was full of congratulations and advice on going out into the world. His words filled me with happiness and courage for all that lay ahead.
A few years later my father died of cancer. It was about the time that I was beginning to have some confidence in my life. While I was helping to organize my father's things, I found another New Year's card in his desk drawer that was addressed to me. It was written the year I graduated from university. He'd written a message of encouragement, "What's this about messing up your job search ! Take another year and keep fighting !!"
It was an alternate card for the one he'd actually sent, written before I signed my contract. In the end, he didn't have to send this version, but looking at it now I could feel all the wonderful care my father had surrounded me with through the years. So, I still keep these two cards, and look at them from time to time. They encourage me to become someone who looks out for others and who cares about them the way my father did.
When she calls, it's a win for me, but when I call her, it’s a loss.
A year after I came to Tokyo for work, I had to limit phone calls to my mother to once every three days. We were calling each other to complain about our problems, so I set these rules.
When I'd just started working, there were a lot of things that bothered me at my workplace and I was always reaching for my mobile, but I finally began to hesitate because it somehow felt wrong. The days when I poured out my spleen over the phone began to feel like failures and just made everything worse.
When I'd been on the job for a half a year, I was so unhappy about work that I would need to call on my way home just so I'd make it to my door. After calling a few times like that, my mother answered one night with a voice full of joy, something I hadn't heard for a while. I could hear lots of noise in the background as she blurted out "A relative got promoted." My mother was drunk. A relative, who was at the same party, came on the phone and wanted to know about my work. Then another and another, until I just cut the phone off in the middle of it all.
After that phone call, I didn't just feel like a loser; I was miserable.
Two weeks later.
My phone rang after work, which hadn't happened for a while.
I saw my mother's name on the screen, so I took the call.
What she had to say wasn’t very promising.
"I'm missing some words on my crossword puzzle."
We spent 2 hours trying to figure them out together.
As we worked on it, the constant misery I'd been feeling lifted away.
The reason I felt better wasn't what we'd talked about. It was just the sound of my mother's voice. From then on, I never hesitated to call my mother. What'll we talk about today? Getting calls from a mother who once did nothing but complain are now a moment of happiness.
"I'm sorry, but I'm with someone I like."
It was at our graduation ceremony at the end of the third year of high school. After three years of infatuation and a long entreaty, I was dumped in less than 10 seconds. My feelings of hopelessness would not go away, and even crying late into the night would not stop my tears. In the midst of all this, my father, who usually has nothing to say, announced, "Sayaka, tomorrow morning we're going to go out early together, so please get to sleep." The next day, we left at five in the morning. Before I'd even been told where we were headed, I was swept to the airport, and we got on a plane to Hokkaido. Once there, we quickly got in a rent-a-car. We'd left home 9 hours ago.
"Here we are !!" We were standing on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There was a white lighthouse and endless sky stretching out over the sea. I just stood there speechless.
We were on a lookout at a place called Earth's Cape at Muroran, famous because you can see the curvature of the earth when you look out to sea, just as if you were looking from outer space. My father spoke to me in a sweat voice, "A long time ago, a girl broke my heart and this is where I came. I remembered the world was round, and when I thought about that my sadness just naturally disappeared. Isn't the world round so that sadness and happiness can reabsorb each other. Then you realize that the energies of land and of sea have been subtly balanced." As I listened to my father, I noticed that all the pain from my momentary mishap fell blissfully and naturally away. I thought I felt the winds changing in my heart.
Since my father had to get to work, we spent only 30 minutes at Earth's Cape and had to head back home. We got back in the middle of the night. It was a hard schedule. That was all more than 17 years ago. My story of lost love turned out to be of little importance, but I have no doubt that those 30 minutes fixed the course for the rest of my life.
"Failing at something isn't important. This round world is round to keep things circling. It keeps all our energies in balance."
He loved getting free samples at the department store food sections, but would always drop them on the floor and need to get served over and over again. At family restaurants he'd get mixed up and sit down at the neighboring table. He was forever stuttering and stammering, so he'd say the same thing over and over again.
From ever since I can remember, my father was nothing but a pain.
My father, ...just worthless.
When I started high school, my mother and I left.
I found myself alone, day after day, in the small room we'd rented, and I started thinking about my father all the time. I really wanted to see him again, even stinking of tobacco and hair oils, with his dirty feet full of athlete’s foot.
I guess I was remembering something else.
Carrying me piggyback at the zoo.
Taking me fishing.
Napping together with our legs under the kotatsu.
His eating alone at the table with his back to me after coming home from a long day's work.
And the day we left home, his crumpled face holding back tears.
So I went out to meet my father.
I was so shy because it had been so long.
And he was just as shy as I was.
First we spoke of all our regrets.
I wish I had been more obedient.
I wish I had been more generous.
I wish I had said I was sorry.
With so many things to be sorry for put behind us,
we were lined up for a fresh start.
There was nothing we could do about fixing the past,
so we decided to work on the future.
The past would always be there, but we were free to build our own present.
And there seemed to be so much we wanted to do together.
My father is shabby and my father is worthless.
So what, I love him more than anything.
You say "Mamama" when you call me.
That's one "ma" too many.
You chase after me with uncertain steps, a little bumbling.
You've just turned one.
Every day you cry a lot, every day you laugh as much.
You wobble a lot, but have mastered standing up.
You haven't quite gotten how to handle that heavy head of yours, but have figured out how to hold on to me for balance.
You're hungry, you say.
I nod and use some cellophane to roll you a nice, tight rice ball.
As always, I add your favorite topping.
While I'm rolling your rice ball, you latch on to my clothes.
Let's eat, you say.
I wipe off your little hands and bring the rice ball within range.
You chortle and laugh and stuff the rice in your mouth.
You're so busy eating you don't notice the rice that gets stuck on your cheeks.
And you eat and eat and eat, with an occasional sip of barley tea.
Outside it is snowing hard.
So white, like the world's been covered in rice.
The people outside wear thick coats and breathe white clouds.
You and I won't be going out today. We're watching the snow, with you on my knees eating your rice balls.
Your soft cheeks are sticky with leftover rice.
Here in our room it is so warm. We can still smell the odor of fresh cooked rice.
When I wipe the grains of rice off your face, you squeal like I was tickling you and I start laughing too.
Someday I guess you'll get up on those feet and go out into the world.
You're head won't be wobbling anymore. You'll be on a steady keel, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying.
Whether the snow falls hard and white, or the sun shines bright,
you'll leave my outstretched hand behind and make your way in the world.
Someday you'll notice you've got one "ma" too many in your Mama.
Whether you take to calling me Mama or Mother, even if you don't clutch to my clothes anymore, I'll always be here to roll you these rice balls from fresh-cooked rice. And I'll always add your favorite topping. And I'll recognize that twitch in your nose when it senses the odor of fresh rice, and you'll laugh, and so will I, both of us together.
When my father passed away at the age of 77, I found a set of 34 notebooks from his days as a company man. My father was a ready writer, a well-met and hard worker. His thoughts turned easily to joking, yet he was short-tempered. His own father died young and he paid his own way through school, graduating from a commercial high school to work his way to section head in a blue chip company. Keeping these notebooks helped him to gain that position. They were full of detailed accounts of on-going business. But there were also occasional notes on things happening at home. When I saw my name and the words "got a fever," my eyes teared up.
Since my father was frequently transferred, I ended up attending 4 different elementary schools. In the spring of fourth grade, I was in my third school. It took me an hour to get there every day, passing over a small mountain, over a brook, through farm fields, picking pomegranates with my classmates, chasing range feeding chickens, trapping crayfish.
After my first trimester in fifth grade, just at the beginning of summer, the company announced we'd be moving again. The night I heard that, resolved that even death was better, I desperately complained. My face full of tears, I announced I was going to stay put —I wasn't going anywhere. None of my friends had to move around. Why did I have to keep changing schools?
My father raised his hands in surrender. He looked me in the eyes and, without once raising his voice, began to explain. Why the company transferred him. What he hoped to accomplish as a manager in the next place he was going to. Why he couldn't refuse the transfer. Why it was better for the family to stay together. One after the next, he carefully explained issues that I could barely understand, full of vocabulary that was over my head. And then, he said that he knew changing schools must be terrible for me and told me how sorry he was, but begged me to please stay with the family. I began to feel bad about what I was doing and in a small voice muttered, "It's OK." Then I collapsed in my father's arms and cried. I can still hear my father's voice close to my ear repeating, "I'm sorry."
Many times, the notebook pages around transfer times were full of blanks with only sparse comments. Trips between new place and old, looking for a rental, getting things moved, watching over a smooth transition in the old job place, meeting everyone at the new place: he must have been swamped with work. And in the middle of it all, he'd put aside his usual impatience, and calmly reasoned his squalling ten year old son. And I can still see his face that day now, and I am still grateful for what he did.
I've never had a single moment of esteem for my father.
He's quick-tempered and has made nothing but trouble for my mother. He's got nothing interesting to say. He looks sloppy.
He never made a single footstep anyone would want to follow in. He's more like a perfect bad example.
I revolted against my father by being calm, making my conversation as interesting as I could and keeping a Spartan trim to my body.
But then I went to college where I lived alone and began to see that the students around me came from all kinds of different environments, and that's when I finally noticed something. My father had left me more freedom than any of the people around me had ever enjoyed. He respected my choices, let me do what I wanted to and never forced me to do anything.
I had never thought to thank him for this. I thought it was normal, so just took it at face value and never even considered how difficult it might have been.
Even now, if I'm happy about my life and continue to live without constraints, it's because my father gave me this freedom.
When I turned 20, I got a mail from my father
He rarely sought to get in touch with me but when I turned 20, he sent me this mail: "Congratulations on becoming an adult. I'm sorry if I've not been much of a father."
It was a little embarrassing, but I answered: "As a father, you taught me everything I know. Thank you."
I'm the kind of person who blames other people when things go wrong. When I kept having arguments and getting spanked by my mother, I just thought it was the bad nature of a demon mother. I was bored at school and there was always trouble at home, so I was the kind of kid who found life just plain tiresome and who people tended to stay away from.
Everyone goes through a rebellious phase, but mine turned into a life and death experience.
That was in high school. My parents wouldn't let me leave the house. I tried to jump out of my third story window to the roof of the adjoining building but I didn't make it. I landed head first on the concrete and was brought to the emergency room in a coma. When I finally woke up, my demon mother was standing woodenly right there in front of me. "What happened !? You're really a troublemaker." Even then, she was preaching at me. I was in such pain the words really cost me, but still so mad I yelled, "Get out !!" and fell back asleep.
When I got home from the hospital and was beginning to feel a little better, I talked with my younger sister about the accident.
She said, "You're really an asshole."
"Well, maybe it made a big splash but nobody really cared."
"I just figured my older sister was more resistant than a cockroach so you'd never die" Laughing at me on death's bed, I thought. "But you know, Mom was really crying."
For just a second I wondered if I'd heard her right. Then I remember asking her a lot of questions. What did she look like? When and where did she cry? I was just like a little child. For me, this kind of story was totally new. And as old as I was, it seemed I'd been thirsting to know that my own parents cared about me. Still, the idea of my mother crying made me unbearably sad. My sister's casual statement has stayed with me ever since.
That all happened seven years ago. My demon mother still gets mad. But as much as I complain, I listen to what she says. Meanwhile we're a happy family and all having a good time.
When my mother turned 40 she said, "We live till 80, so starting next year, I'll be deducting a year for each birthday"
"Oh come on, you mean like a count down to death," I shot back.
She didn't much like that idea and answered, laughing, "Well... anyway, next year I'll turn 39, so please remember to get it right."
If you accept the principle, my mother is now 12 years old, younger than her granddaughter.
Since my mother started taking off years, she's gotten really peppy. She dives into anything that attracts her interest without hesitation. The year before last it was gardening, then last year, the game of Go. This year, she's taking up the piano and practicing on the very piano her children once fought so hard to have.
"The teacher's got me practicing scales. Maybe he's right, but... can I really get to play at my age? I mean there's a couple of years of basics to get through. I may be dead before I ever get to play anything with a name on it. I just don't know..." she chatters while laughing about it. I'd say that's half-joke and half what she really feels.
In the middle of all this, I noticed that I myself was coming up on "The birthday that turns the clocks back." And I finally realized something. I understood what my mother felt when she started taking the years off. My mother was just fighting against the years. She wanted to go on, trying new things, to be forever young. It's every woman's hope.
As it is, this 40 year old daughter has to run to keep up with her mother, a self-proclaimed 12 year-old. When I see her, I wonder if I wouldn't do better to follow her example. I don't know if I'll go so far as to start taking off year's like most women want to, but what I see is a woman brimming over with curiosity, my one and only, unique and wonderful mother.
If I just had 2 hours, I'd flop into bed, sprawl out and sleep. Before that, maybe have a bath and soak right up to my ears, then shut my eyes for 10 minutes with nothing in my head. Even better, if I had the time, I could go out. Put on something slick, add a necklace, plus that nice little handbag and shoes with a bit of a heel.
At noon, head for the noodle shop, put on a pile of hot spice and eat while it's hotter than hot. Or maybe, for something even spicier, go get some TanTan Noodles. But really, dressed up like that, it might be better to have some cake at a Café. These days, you get a pile of cream whether you're eating luxury strawberries or something more ordinary, and no one bothers you while you're eating. Today there'll be no one around to bother me while I dig into all that cream around the strawberries on top and the fruits in the middle.
But, ... my two hands and my chest will feel like something's missing.
If I had just two hours, and if my children were free the same two hours, we could all go out together. At noon, we could go to the noodle shop. Everyone could share. Let's be careful how we eat and try not to spill anything. And yes, yes, they’ll bring lots of tea. Then we could go to the park. T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Don't forget the baby carrier. We could all hold hands on the way over.
Today you can even get full of mud. Towels, tissues, and tea, Mama's bag is chock-full of everything. I'll set the timer for the bath to be hot when we get back, and we'll get you cleaned up in a jiffy.
But before you get all muddy, let's pick up some cake at our favorite bakery. Mama's favorite strawberry cake's really good, right? Just today, Mama's share of the cream will go to your older brother and the strawberries to your younger sister and we'll pick out the fruits in the middle. The youngest can get a taste of it all from Mom's breastfeeding, so there'll be a slight wait there.
My father is the perfect picture of an ordinary company man. The kind of guy who leaves the house every morning at 7:00, eats a bowl of noodles at the company cafeteria every day for lunch, comes home to get scolded and made to sit in a corner by our mother.
On days off his chore is weeding the garden. During downtimes, I'd bring out our old badminton racquets and a shuttlecock and we'd make a show of hitting it back and forth. My father, who never had much to say, would provide a running commentary on my moves. It was our chance to communicate, and though it even seems strange to me, I looked forward to our weekend matches well into high school.
Finally, in my third year of high school, pressure about my future took precedence and put an end to badminton. Grades on my practice tests at my cram school were dropping and I felt cornered by high-flying phrases like "career choice" and "dream job." I was dragging myself from one day to the next and began to feel that life was a pain. After all, what did I want to do? To live and be happy? With these thoughts in mind, I finally went to my father and asked, "The life you live hardly ever changes. Your salary is low but you work very hard. Is there anything happy about your life?"
My father didn't get mad or try to avoid the question. His eyes just blinked a bit at my suddenly blurting this out and answered, "Yes. Playing badminton with you."
His answer was totally unexpected. I went back to my room and cried. In the midst of my ongoing struggle with the meaning of life, my father's words were the happiest thing I'd ever heard.
Compared with my friends whose fathers drove fancy cars and played golf, my father didn't look like much and I thought there was nothing special about him, but he had just taught me something important about life.
"You are my happiness." Because we are Oyako, of course. His words gave me self-confidence and the power to go on.
Now, it's been years since I've visited my father. My work keeps me so busy that my life is like a round-trip ticket between my home and the office. What keeps me afloat under all this pressure is a simple sentence my father said to me years ago.
When they set up the pool in the school's plaza, you always knew that summer was on its way. But when I looked in my drawers, they were still brim-full of warm and fluffy winter-ware. I thought I'd step in and get my summer season clothing in place. Mom looked on with a smile, "Sure, you should try it!" First, she'd need to teach me how the stuff was folded.
Left and right are folded in the same way. To ward off wrinkles, keep some tension on as you fold. Summer is near, but there are still chilly days to come, so best to keep a few long-sleeved shirts available in the drawer. Put them along the side and fill up the rest of the space with short-sleeve shirts. That looks about right.
Finally, move the winter-ware to their storage space upstairs. This involved several trips up and down the stairs and ended up tiring me out. Nonetheless, I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I looked back in my drawers: everything was neatly folded and nicely lined up. My clothes were bright and colorful.
My younger brother had also gotten interested in what I was doing. "I'm gonna do it, too," he said. He watched as I followed my mother's instructions and repeated my actions. He carefully folded his favorite polo-shirt, the one with the American flag on it. We gathered all the clothes that had gotten too small and put them in a bag to give to little Mana-chan. We kept things that were just getting a little tight in hopes of squeezing another year out of them. Going through our clothes brought back lots of memories, and as Mom helped us fold, we recalled lots of stories. Still, I'd like to get to where I can handle the whole thing by myself.
My parents were very easy-going. I don't have a single memory of their ever getting mad. My mother used to laugh and say, "Since you're my child, it's not surprising you're not cut out for academics." and my father, "There's not just one, single way through life." Whatever happened, they were always behind me. They spoiled me, and I grew into a selfish and irresponsible daughter.
I never wanted to have my own children, and I married a man who accepted that I wasn't good dealing with children's straight-forwardness. I couldn't see myself changing diapers, chatting with all the mothers, joining the PTA: It was like a plague. Nonetheless, I suddenly found out I was pregnant. A bolt from the blue. I was 42 ! I worried about my late age, but since getting pregnant was my fate, I made up my mind to go through with it. With a lot of help from support groups and the people around me, I gave birth to a little, baby girl without any mishap.
Just one look when she was born, and I knew how cute she was. I didn't care about changing her diapers. All I wanted was for her to be happy. And this kind of thinking brought me new courage. I hardly recognized myself. I kept taking photos of my daughter's happy face, and each one added to my own happiness. Then one day, I chanced on some of my own childhood photos. I too had been such a happy child.
I choked up and cried. Whichever photo I chose looked just like the photos I had been taking of my daughter. Pictures in bed, pictures sitting... I could hear my own parents, "Shiori, look this way, Shiori" "Oh, this is a good one !" My parent's feelings at the time flowed out of the pictures as clear as day. All I could do was admit that I'd never really been conscious of all the love they'd surrounded me with. Once I hit puberty, I acted like I'd brought myself up. Still, as a child I'd had my diapers changed, been bathed everyday, spoon-fed... they took such wonderful care of me. Without a doubt, if it weren't for my parents, I wouldn't have the life I have today. It took me more than 40 years to figure this out, and as much as I was ashamed for to be so late, I felt deeply grateful. This groundless confidence that, despite my total lack of any talents, I will somehow be fine came from my parents, who were always their for me and never turned me away. It's the mooring deep in my subconscious that the whole ship is tied to.
I don't know how long my husband and I will be close to our daughter, but as long as we can be with her we will surround her with love, so that later she can know that this was so, so that she too can have this foothold to keep her steady on her way through life.
I was sure I'd heard my mother's voice falter. Faintly, but quite definitely.
It was at our kindergarten reunion banquet. Her voice wavered... was she crying?
My mother hardly ever cried. Perhaps the drinking had made her sentimental.
At the end of the coming of age ceremony, the grown-ups gathered together with all the children. For my mother, it was an occasion to catch up with all the mothers who had been her friends. It should have been a pleasant moment.
A friend who became a pastry chef was there. They laughed about another friend who'd had an accident playing sports in high school. They spoke about a girl he used to like who they'd heard was marrying the owner of the hostess club where she worked.
My parents got divorced when I was in high school. I went with my younger brother to live with my father, but my father started to rage around the house. My brother, who was in his first year of middle school, began to skip school. In high school he acted withdrawn, and once in college, just played computer games. I failed my entrance exams for college and took a year off before taking them again. That summer, I left my father's house. During my first year of high school, I'd placed third in an important tennis match. The stress I had at home brought all my talents and efforts to nothing. I suffered from PTSD and Yips. I was unable to concentrate during matches. My hands and neck froze up and I played worse than a beginner. I'd always been good at studies, but that too went bad. I couldn't forget the things I wanted to forget, nor remember the things I wanted to remember. Soon, it would be time for career placement. They said I needed analysis, needed to revive old memories. I fell into depression. I lost all my friends. During all this time, only my mother stood by me. Somehow, I got through my schoolwork and went on to graduate school. But independent studies didn't help me back to life. I couldn't see my way to any future like I did in the past. And still, my mother was my ally. "You just need to do something you like." That's what she'd say.
"I can never thank you enough."
If I finally decided to get work in public safety, I have both my father and mother to thank for the way that my life has turned out. Last month I turned 27 and celebrated my birthday abroad. I work for the United Nations to help people who suffer from domestic violence.
The other day, I was suddenly called out on a business trip and had to leave home. I was worried because my wife was convalescing at the hospital, and the night before leaving I off-handedly asked my son Sōta, age 5, to do something for me.
"You'll be the man of the house, so if anything happens to Mother, I want you to watch over her."
Of course, it was a kind of joke, but I just wanted to see how my son would react. In fact, when he heard what I'd said, his first reaction was a kind of vacant look, but then he got a sterner look on his face and seemed to bite his lip in determination: his way of saying "OK."
The next day, I called my wife from my hotel at the end of the day.
"Hey, how are you? Is everything OK?"
"I'm doing fine, but Sōta's been here all day and refuses to leave me alone. Did you say something to him?"
That's what she asked me right off the bat. I couldn't figure it until I remembered my son's look of determination.
"He brought his Ultraman and Zetton dolls with him and is just sitting here holding them."
He'd brought Ultraman and Zetton with him to help protect his mother! I too had been a little boy and I knew exactly what he was thinking. That's my son, I thought. His Mom might find it strange, but I was proud of him.
And I heard later that he stayed at his mother's side with Ultraman and Zetton throughout the three days that I was gone.
There's an afterward to this story.
When I got home, I spoke with my wife:
"Sōta's a real trooper, but he's still a crybaby"
"Maybe, but he's your son"
"When you were a kid, didn't you have an Ultraman doll? And didn't you get in a fight with some kid who was bothering your sister"
Thirty years ago I too had called on Ultraman. I turned a little red, but it did look like my son and I were two peas in a pod. During our discussion, Sōta had taken cover by falling asleep, so I started tickling him. As usual, Ultraman and Zetton were right by his head on the pillow.
My father and mother are both selfish so they argue a lot. My mother often contradicts herself and complaining about it seems to fit my father's disposition. And because of that, I often pick arguments with my father.
I started revolting against my father around the end of elementary school. We were quarreling all the time. When we tried to talk, all I'd end up saying was "You'll get back just what you give" He'd answer that this was no way for a woman to act, and then we'd have a full-fledged argument about that.
Things went on this way for about five years, till it was time to graduate from high school. We were all supposed to write a letter of thanks to our parents as part of the Graduation Ceremony. I thought about what to write. And while I was thinking, I noticed an ugly gash in the floor. I remembered how it got there. It happened when my father got mad and threw something on the floor. And then it all came back: how he never listened to anything I said, caused nothing but trouble and made me furious. He didn't hit people, but he made up for it by throwing stuff around. On the other hand, I'd never done anything to help him with the anguish he obviously felt about human relations. Rather, I'd just made things worse. And now I suddenly felt very sad about it. Maybe I could use the occasion to write something about it.
On graduation day, I cried a lot but I was somehow able to express what I wanted. When I looked up into the audience, I saw that my father was crying too. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. He's a man who usually hides his emotions. He gently patted me on the head and said to go back to my classroom as if he could get out of everything that way. His behavior unleashed another wave of tears. In fact, until this day the memory of his warm hand on my head brings tears to my eyes. My sweet father, our time together has run out, hasn't it? I still can't bear quarreling, but now have a different way of looking at what all that really meant.
I may be too proud to simply say "thank you," but my thankfulness will be there with is, in every moment we get to spend together.
June 13, 1994, the day an angel dropped its burden at my door. My doctor diagnosed me with palsy and said that I would never be able to live by myself, perhaps never talk. My mother's eyes went dark. She wailed and cried. But she had no intention of giving up. "I'll fight until this child can live on his own," she said, and then hugged me.
That was the beginning of our struggle together. Motor nerve paralysis is a monster. When you have no sense of touch, any kind of training becomes nearly impossible. I'm the greatest block to my own future. But still, my belief in the unending resources that human beings has given me the strength to face each new challenge, one at a time.
There were even some miracles. My proudest moment was passing the level three kanji skills test. That one amazed my Doctor. The worst part was holding on to the pencil. I had to hold my breath as I wrote each stroke inside in the right place on the paper. I had to keep using my eraser. Since I started elementary school, I'd practice my calligraphy 3 hours every day. In 5th grade, I was able to write well enough to take written tests, and in my second year of middle school, I started taking kanji skills tests.
Starting at level 10, I worked my way up through level 4 fairly smoothly, but was finally knocked out by level 3. I gave it my best shot, but they did not accept my kanji. What helped me through this trial was something my mother said, that this setback was a chance to make some real progress. With this idea in mind, I trained even harder.
But still, I failed the test a second time. I felt just as though I'd been abandoned in a desert and couldn't see the way out. But then my mother encouraged me, saying, "If you give up now, everything you've done will be like foam on the waters. Once you decide to do something, you need to go through to the end !" She roused my spirits. I practiced more than ever and finally passed the test.
I took up the challenge in my mother's stern words, and changed the energy of tears into smiles. Words can't tell the whole story of my courageous fight, but it is all there to see in my calligraphy.
These days, I still continue training for my independence while doing volunteer work for a convivial and barrier free society. I still carry the burden of that package dropped on me back in 1994, but I've gotten much better at it, enough to believe in my future.
My mother is always singing.
In the morning, she opens the window, looks up at the sky and sings. She sings when she's making food, when she cleans, when she walks the dog, watches television, and looks at the sunset. And we're not talking about humming. She sings at maximum volume, never out of tune and never missing a lyric. Day after day, she puts on her own concert. And she has quite a repertory: children's songs, choral to Italian classical, all of them delivered off-hand.
She's always in the mood, but frankly when I was a kid, I really didn't like it. You're in the supermarket at the vegetable stand and your mother is belting out song like it's a concert stage. You can imagine just how much I wanted my friends to see us then. I still remember the face she made when I finally said, "It's really embarrassing, could you please stop singing."
That was something like 30 years ago. My mother is now past 70 and still singing. Time has gone by and she's gotten quite old. Her feet are slow and her back and shoulders have rounded. She's had a life of such happiness, she doesn't deserve to age this way. Her chest is worn and I'm sure there are now some days without song. But she does still sing. And it's when she sings that I love her most.
There's going to be a local vocal music performance soon. Mom's been taking lessons for it. I want to get her an enormous bouquet. And listen again to her warm and unconstrained singing voice, and hear it again and again.
When I first found out I was pregnant, rather than being happy, I was filled with anxiety.
My own mother died of illness when I was a child. When I think about her, I remember delicious food and handmade clothes, and of course her smile. For me she was a little distant but very wise mother, something I feel I could never become. That's what I thought. On top of that, my husband, who lost his parent's even younger than I did, seemed remarkably unsuited to taking up the role of "Father."
Nonetheless, we hurtled towards my October 10 due date and our son actually showed up a half-month ahead of time. I went into labor with a "C'mon Mom" attitude, but that was a bit weak for the labor pains I endured, and then suddenly my child was out and I thought "Look, you're a mother" as if I was a spectator at someone else's delivery. "It's a healthy boy," they were saying when I finally saw my child, and just as quickly burst into tears. I kept recalling my mother's face. My husband was spluttering syllables like "Ahhh" and "Hyaaa" as if his throbbing pulse had taken over his vocal chords. "So, now you're a family," announced the nurse. My husband's face was blubbering with tears, and I wasn't holding up any better. Yet, we were both in a swarm of happiness.
Now, a year later, our son has sprouted at top speed and is already running around the house. Take your eyes off him for just a second, and he comes back with a big lump on his head and screaming tears. Being a parent is rough, but it's very important for my husband and I. And then, there is so much happiness. Every day is scattered with little moments of fulfillment. Just being called a father or mother by someone makes us grin. We join in with our child's laughter, and end up having a tremendous laugh together. And we both clearly feel that in all this our own parents are with us, their lives carried on in our family. We were always held in our parent's circle of Oyako, and now we are adding our own.
"...my dear son, thank you for making us parents !"
I'm here to hug you till the day you finally get sick of it.
But today, as always, Mom's ready to put in a full day !
"Get divorced, quit my job and go home" that's what I was saying on the phone while sitting in an enclosed terrace nested in one of Tokyo's towering buildings where I was unwrapping the lunch I'd picked up at the nearest convenience store.
"Just a second," my mother said, "I'm going to put your father on." My father said, "Just think about it carefully one more time, please." I did think about it again, then got divorced and went back to the countryside where I'd grown up.
Actually, after living in Tokyo for ten years, going back to live with my parent's was awkward in the beginning. They'd always have something to say if I applied flextime to our bath schedule or if I came home late. There was so much trouble over trivial stuff. Nonetheless, as the months went by I got used to it. "I'll do the dishes !" "I'm going out. Is there anything we need to buy ?" I'd finally gotten more considerate where my parents were concerned.
One night after dinner, in a prolonged session of our usual girl's talk with my mother, I confided that I'd found a boyfriend. He was from the same region, but he needed to go live in Tokyo for a while for work. If I wanted to live with him, I'd need to go back to Tokyo. Deep inside I knew how grateful my parents were to have me back at home, and even I had always felt that living nearby my parents was the least I should do to show my gratitude. When I openly explained my feelings to my mother, she cut me off by saying, "This place is just a gasoline stand ! Wherever you may go, if your life is full and you are happy, then that's for the best. Go to Tokyo. If you get tired of it, you can always come back here. Your father thinks the same thing."
In the midst of the mixed emotions that I felt, I could just barely whisper my thanks.
My time back home was short, but the recharge was a max. Now I am getting ready to head back to Tokyo. And not just for myself, I'm looking forward to living with and for someone else again. Thanks to my Mom and Dad Gasoline Stand, my future is bright and ready to go. My tank is full of warm feelings, more than enough for both me and my boyfriend.