Happy Pearl Harbor Day

‘December 7, 1941. A date which will live in infamy’

For most Americans, Pearl Harbor Day is a day to remember and honor the 2,403 US Citizens who were in killed in the Japanese surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor. It signifies the beginning of the United States’ involvement in WWII.

For Japanese-Americans, this day has a different cultural significance. This is the day in which we became seen as the enemy. Everything was different. Every action was suspect. 74 days later, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 9066 which forced us to vacate our homes on the West Coast and were forced at gun point to board trains to designated relocation camps. Over 70% of those interned were American Citizens. My family was detained at the Turlock Assembly Center until the internment camp was completed at Gila River, Arizona.

This day brings me a great deal of cultural conflict. I’m fiercely proud of all of my family. My mother’s German Irish American story can be traced back to the founding years of American history. My father’s Japanese American story began much later. My grandfather, born in Japan, came to the US on a barge, alone, at age 11 in 1924. My grandmother’s family arrived a few years earlier and she was actually born in the US.

One of my earliest memories was hearing a conversation about internment. I was so young and didn’t understand the context. I just remember hearing that my sister and I were more than 1/16th Japanese, which meant that we would have been interned. All I heard was that we were different, and not white. From that day forth, I always felt the burden of the sacrifice that my Japanese American relatives had to endure during the war. Growing up, when others would joke around about squinty eyes, I felt deep shame, but also immense reverence and gratitude to my family.

I had family that was fighting the Japanese. Family interned for being Japanese-American. And years later I was able to learn more about the path of my grandfather’s relatives in Japan who worked in factories to support war efforts against America. No wonder I feel such conflict.

my father, interned at Gila River, Arizona
my grandparents, my father, and my uncle in Buffalo, NY, where they were relocated to after Gila River Internment Camp

lite it up blue

Today is autism awareness day. Throughout the day I’ve pondered what this means. I’ve arrived at the answer: so much! Such an amazing place to be in for kids who are being diagnosed now. There are people that are acknowledging autism. That is huge. 10, 20, 30 years ago this would have never have happened. Yet it is happening today. That deserves its own celebration! I’m constantly taken aback by the strength that those who have carried the sign, ‘my child has autism’ around for awhile now. There was a time not too long ago when the word ‘autism’ was simply not uttered. Definitely not understood. I’ve learned so much from the few who have walked on this path before me. 

As much as I am grateful for today, there is something voracious that has been eating away at every corner of my soul. We are all doing so much, but, it just doesn’t seem like enough sometimes. There are days that the depth of the pain that I feel for my son who has autism is just too much to bear. Not just my own son, but the community of amazing children with autism and their families who have become my community. Some of these children have learned how to adapt and communicate within the various communities in which they exist, yet some are so grossly misunderstood and isolated. Behind each one of these children that the label, ‘autism’ is adhered to, stands a parent, or two, a family, and hopefully their own community of supporters. 

Why is today so inspiring yet so unsettling then? Because, it’s not just about awareness, it’s about acceptance. It’s about us reaching out to the person next to us, regardless of what their diagnosis is, be it autism, cancer, or epilepsy…and just loving them. Being able recognize that each one of us has strengths and weaknesses and being able to eventually see beyond that to see and hear about each other. There is just so much to learn from each other. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that because of today and the next 364 days, that one year from now we will have achieved incredible steps towards more acceptance. 

The gratitude that I have for those around me who continually accept, embrace, and love my family is overwhelming. Especially today, April 2nd, 2013, autism awareness day. And also on traumatic brain injury awareness day, March 13th, 2013. 

seeking harmony

In response to a question in a rather serious meeting the other day about how our lives have changed since J’s accident, it dawned upon me as I uttered the words…

‘every conversation involves complex emotions and incredibly difficult content. We don’t talk about anything other than issues related to traumatic brain injuries, autism, or behavioral modifications. It is taxing and has taken it’s toll.’

…that I’m ready for harmony, grace, and sharing good times with our family. It’s terrifying. I’m not sure why. But it is. I’ve been thinking about why that is. The last 2 1/2 years since the accident were unbelievably difficult. But, the 3 years prior to that we had been trying to wrap our heads and hearts around figuring out what was going on with our son, O. He screamed all the time. Spaced out. Screamed more. Displayed very erratic behavior. Finally, the year before J’s accident, we got the autism diagnosis.

I’m ready to look to the day in the future that I can say, ‘yep, those were some tough days, but, look at how strong we all are for having made it through them together’.

true beauty

This photo speaks volumes. In simple terms it speaks of a boy who is etching the letters from a gravesite. Little does the casual observer know the incredible story behind this photo. The boy who is doing the etching was granted another chance at life. The woman of whose headstone is being engraved did not get such a chance.  It was 1918, Masue Kaizuka had newly immigrated to the United States with her husband, leaving her son, aged 3 at home in Kada, Wakayama, Japan to be raised by his grandmother until they could make enough money to send for him. Sadly, that dream was cut short as after caring for the children of her community members who fell ill from the influenza virus, mostly from Wakayama, she contracted the disease and died on November 8th, 1918. Her son, Masao, came to The United States on a barge by himself at age 11, 6 years after his mother was put to rest in this Japanese cemetery in Vacaville, CA. He fended for himself and made a life. A beautiful life. He had a beautiful wife and 3 sons. The boy in the photo is the grandson of his eldest son. Nearly two years ago, this handsome boy survived a tragic accident in which he incurred a traumatic brain injury. If it weren’t for the fact that he was born now, lived in The United States, near an incredible trauma center and was the recipient of the very best of the best that neurosurgery had to offer in 2010, he would not be here, etching the letters of his great great grandmother’s headstone and honoring her.

Funny how life is. If it was she that was born now, most likely she would have survived. And if it were he that had incurred his injury in 1918, he would have not survived. As the mom of this darling and courageous boy, I’m grateful for the life that my great grandmother sacrificed for us. We are forever grateful for you. I’m also so grateful that my son was given another chance to live. Yes, beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. Today, I smile at the beauty that lies before me in this photo. Such sadness, sorrow, grief, and true beauty. Yet I can’t help but to feel so blessed.

still stings

Yep. The pain is still there. It hasn’t subsided at all. I don’t know why I think that it would have dulled in this year and a half. You get over confident. As soon as you think for a second that it’s okay. It’s okay to breathe in, and breathe out without worrying. Without having to hold your breath on the inhale, or the exhale. It’s always there. Always. Breaths are labored. There is either a subtle hold on the inhale, between breaths, or on the exhale. This is how I exhibit pain. No matter how hard I try to hide it. This is how I recognize pain in others. It’s so obvious. It’s so painful. I didn’t choose this path to be able to feel this, or to recognize this, but it is just what it is. It is there. It is glaring and blatant…and unfathomable. Yet, it is here and now. My heart bleeds for those of whom hold their breath on the exhale. I know them. I am them. Or the inhale. It’s so painful. I know you. I want to reach out to you. But, I don’t. I just try and exist and pull it together. I do stop in my tracks, pray for you, pray for me, and hope that we are both somehow pushing forward in this struggle. Against what? Against the pain. The loss.

Today it hit me when I didn’t expect it. I was cleaning the garage. The plastic container of cleats was over flowing. There were two pairs that needed to be added to the box…last year’s football and baseball cleats. I put them in the container. My hands were shaking. Maybe one of the younger boys will use them. Maybe not . I hope not. Yet, I still hold onto them. I cannot let go.

cylindrical shadows

I wrote this poem after being fundamentally moved by a ballet performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet. As the second of three ballets presented as New Works as a part of the 2011-2012 Season, I found it entirely captivating.

A link to New Works: New Works by PNB

Here is an excerpt on you tube: Cylindrical Shadows

Cylindrical Shadows

random. yet expected.

perplexing. yet complacent.

chaotic. yet calm.

wanted it to end. wanted it never to end.

mesmerizing. yet subdued.

superbly intriguing. yet incredibly dull.

comfortably calm. yet enthusiastically enchanting

starkly black or abundantly white. no space for grey.

perfectly autism.

back to school

Got O settled into Kindergarten. He is in the same K-1 split class. 9 boys all with a variety of developmental delays; all perfectly lovely. Same 3 wonderful teachers. Different classroom. Uh-oh…something different. That threw our friend, O for a loop. He has been doing a wonderful job of self-soothing talk lately. When we walked in the classroom he said, ‘Well, this is different. (l o n g  pause) BUT, I think that it could be okay’. Major relief washed over me. Okay, crisis averted there. Pretty much, he’s been doing great lately. I left the room with him delightfully happy and participating in a drawing activity.

I returned to the classroom at 3 to pick him up. He couldn’t answer a question. He was so spaced out. The look in his eyes told me that he had had too much and just needed to leave. We left. A meltdown was eminent. Just a matter of time. I told him that we could get an ice cream cone to celebrate his first day. He only wanted to go to the candy shop and get candy there. Once I gave in and said, ‘ok’, he kinda switched gears and was on board. He still couldn’t make eye contact and was spacing out, but I thought, ‘maybe he’ll come around’. Spoke too soon…major meltdown…couldn’t get him out of the car at home. Ugg.

There were only 3 days the first week. They all kinda went the same. It’s hard to see him struggling when he was doing so well.

Today I picked him up. I met one of the specialists in the hall who was telling me how well O was doing this week and just this morning what a great job he did participating in the classroom activity. But, then his main teacher came down the hall and said that O was in the classroom and wasn’t very happy. As soon as I saw him my heart melted. He was so spaced out, laying on the floor, kicking the cabinet. His eyes were overflowing with tears as he stared straight ahead. Without even blinking, the tears were flowing. His eyes look more bluish than green when he is crying. I looked away because my eyes began swelling with tears as well. I managed to pull him out of it a bit by having him show me around the classroom. We sharpened pencils together in the new pencil sharpener.

He came home and just wanted to go downstairs and play legos. He’s really been enjoying that lately.

Tomorrow’s a new day. Lets hope that it goes more smoothly.

the summer of boredom

Welcome to summer in our household. I’ve taken upon myself to create ‘the summer of boredom’. It’s a long story how I got here, but I’m intent upon seeing this through. I believe in the principle whole-heartedly. I’m tired of being a slave to everyone else’s schedules only to have them unhappy and irritated at the end of the day. Is it all worth it? I often ask myself, ‘what am I doing?’. Every summer until now has involved a tremendously complicated schedule of who has to be where and when. The process begins in January…what camps? …will my child make baseball All Stars?…if not, we need a back up plan…if they do, how long will they play for?…who else is in the camps you are signing up for?…will my child even be friends with them when the camp rolls around?…can I afford this?!!

There is this unbelievable pressure that you feel if your kid isn’t trying to excel at EVERYTHING at EVERY GIVEN TIME. Gone are the days that you just give you kids time to ‘be’. Make some mistakes, find their creativity, learn their own strengths, be silly, and find out what their balance of their own expectations of themselves is with that of their family’s. I know…there is the flip side of this where if you give your kids too much room that they’ll dive into the world of drugs and become hoodlums. Quite honestly though, I wonder if another group of kids might be more susceptible to this…the group that are pushed so intensely by their parents in sports and academics to achieve, achieve, achieve . They want to revolt against the constant pressure. The looks on their faces of sheer agony when they miss that goal, miss that basket, lost that game.

I feel like I’ve been given a chance to just step back, enjoy, and let my kids just ‘be’ for the summer. They all have some things to do. We got a puppy last week that we’ve been planning for. We’re learning together how to care for him. We are going to learn how to fish. We are spending time with family. J is going to an Outward Bounds trip in Maine for 2 weeks. That will eat up most of our family’s entertainment budget…but it is worth every single penny. I’m so excited for him to learn. Learn about himself. Learn what his mind tells him to do, what song his heart sings, and how his spirituality speaks to him. What a wonderful opportunity for a 14 year old boy. He’s had a year that would make most veer off course, but he has held strong. Very strong. Unbelievably strong. I want him to be proud to be himself and to create his own internal barometer for his life. I want that for all of my kids. Hence, the summer of boredom endures…learning how to be bored is something that kids these days in our world aren’t often given the space to just ‘be’. The voids are seemingly filled with passive activities like tv, video games, etc.

Growing up, we certainly knew how to be bored. We built forts, we roller skated, we made up words that made no sense for no reason and laughed hysterically. It is great to have a sense of others’ expectations and a sense of humility. But, is over programmed and being told what to do at all hours the answer? Say what you might, but what seems to be missing in the kids these days is their own voice. They are so busy ‘being’ for someone else, for something else, that they hesitate to express themselves in that.

It kills me that my kids stand there waiting for the next direction from me. I hear things like, ‘I want to play with your iPhone’, ‘I want to watch a kids show!’ ‘What are we doing next?’ ‘When are we going to …’ Dare I declare that those days are over in our house?!! Well, I’m certainly going to make a concerted effort to make a change.

We recently attended the Ironman celebration in Coeur d’Alene to cheer my sister on. (btw, what an awesome event…so proud of my sis!!!) The kids were all sitting on the hillside complaining that they were ‘bored’. My mom told them to ‘find something to do’. About 10 minutes later they were all down on the street handing out water, powerade, ice, and cheers to the passing athletes. The older kids helping the younger kids. They didn’t have to be told to do it. They did it because they wanted to. They had a really, really great time doing it, too!  If they had been asked or told to do this they would have dragged their feet and revolted to no end, causing pure misery to everyone in their paths, including themselves.

I’m not a crunchy, make your own clothes, shoot your own meat, kinda gal. In case you were wondering and don’t know me. I do know that the lessons that I’ve learned the most from in life were the ones in which I had to learn on my own. The ones in which I was inspired by others and was guided by their confidence in me, given space to grow, yet not told what to do. And very importantly, I knew I was loved no matter what.

my thank you speech

This is the speech that I wrote for J’s 8th grade graduation. I wrote and read this with the intent of saying ‘thank you’ to a community of whom rallied for our son. We are so grateful…
About 4 years ago, J came home and said confidently, ‘I am going to go to Villa’. We said, ‘sure, seems like a nice group of kids, high academic standards, superb teachers, and a good community’.  He started at Villa 3 years ago. He learned some amazing study skills, built some incredible friendships, and his life was truly enhanced by his study of the Cabrini traditions.

But, then November 21st, 2010 happened. Playing the sport that he loved, J suffered a traumatic brain injury. It was an unbelievably scary time. Not knowing if he would come out of it and what he would be like. There was a constant during this time, however, and that was the unwavering love, support, and prayer that this community extended to our family. 

In watching the slideshow yesterday, it was abundantly clear to me just how special each of these kids are. They take care of each other. They put someone else’s needs before their own. When one of theirs is down, they pick them up. It has been a privilege to bear witness to the pure kindness and love that they have poured into their prayers, their cards, their posters, their messages, and the way that they have made J feel appreciated, cherished, and important. 

You would be amazed at how the teachers, staff, and administration put so much careful thought and consideration into to his return. They did everything possible for him to be successful. There is even a sofa in the library that was set aside if he ever got tired, he could rest on.

We feel moments of awkwardness because it is so difficult to articulate the deep appreciation that we have for this community. Each one of you has left an indelible impression upon us. Life will never be the same. Colors are more vivid, flavors more intense, intentions more pure. 

We are humbled by the blessings of God and the true power of prayer. J and our family were guided to your community by the hand of God and were graced in your presence. 

You have inspired us. You have taught us to love whole heartedly, to laugh from of the bottom of our souls, and to see the blessings lurking around every corner…even in the most inconspicuous of places.
Thank you.

this Yamato Damashii

The term, ‘Yamato Damashii’ is a fascinating term used in Japanese history to describe the indigenous Japanese ‘spirit’. In the Heian Era, this term meant distinguishing a uniqueness of Japaneseness as opposed to the imported cultural concepts from the Tang dynasty of China. More recently, Japanese nationalists used the term as propaganda to inspire and indoctrine the ‘brave, daring, indomitable spirit of the Japanese people’ before WWII. It fell from favor after that. Interestingly, I learned somewhere in my studies, that the most pure Yamato Damashii exists in the Japanese who emigrated to South American countries, like Peru and Brazil where they were far less impacted by the Westernization of Japan after WWII.

The other night I was privileged to bear witness to a different kind of Yamato Damashii. It was brilliant. I am star struck and and proud. Proud of my ‘peeps’. I had been searching for a way to help the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Of all of the countries, this is the one that I speak the language of and know the culture. I had to do something! My heart was breaking by the minute. Then this amazing opportunity fell into my lap. To join the committee of The Sushi Chef Dream Team event. The dedication of absolutely everyone involved was unprecedented. In a month and a half, we pulled together quite the event. Somebody who knew somebody, who had once met somebody…yes, those were the kind of people that flew out of the woodwork to help in every capacity. Everyone worked tirelessly in the planning. Everyone just worked. Each individual humbly humbled by the person working next to them. It’s so hard to inspire people to rally around something these days without being skeptical. I know. I am, too. Who is the money really for? Who is working the hardest? Why is that person involved? What is their angle? What am I going to get out of this? There was something inherently different about this event. There was an unspoken truth to the willingness of every participant. There was a passion, a love, a deep-rooted breath that our ancestors blew into our lungs through the generations. Yes, it does still exist. That Yamato Damashii that was used to manipulate people for a different cause in a different generation, was apparent in it’s most modern, sparkly form on that beautiful night in Seattle. There was such beauty in the devotion of each participant, of each guest. A selfless need to put everyone else’s needs before yours. To elevate the person sitting next to you to a higher place. To glorify the group by sacrificing part of yourself.

I would like to send a huge shout out to my own peeps from my own hood of Bainbridge Island, who pulled out every stop to participate. Jay Matsudaira of TriFilms tirelessly pulled together an amazing, very inspired video of the pre-event and post-event. Hanz Araki graciously came up from Portland to lend his incredible talents of the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, to mesmerize our attentive listening ears. You two are true super stars and I’m forever indebted to you and the rest of our peeps. Yes, people, the Yamato Damashii is alive in us. Our ancestors would be proud. I’m certain of it.