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"The world isn't something to waste." Story of the others, I encountered while raising children in Japan.

Updated: Jan 20

It's 2024 greetings, from 🇯🇵. While it feels difficult to express a hearty "Happy New Year!" as we step into the new year in Japan, especially considering the challenging circumstances, I sincerely extend my condolences to everyone in the areas around the Noto Peninsula affected by the big earthquake.


In a situation where it's nearly impossible to say "Stay positive at all times," I hope, including yourself, that everyone can cherish and value what they have at the moment.


Amidst this, witnessing the mutual support and community efforts in the affected areas, such as communal cooking on television, I can't help but think, even in adversity, "people are resilient and warm."


Not limited to natural disasters, there are moments in life, during crises or when one lacks personal capacity, where small acts of kindness and consideration from others can truly uplift the spirit.


Reflecting on my own experiences, there were times during the daily challenges of parenting when the actions of "strangers" were a source of salvation, relieving the weight on my shoulders.


In the spirit of welcoming 2024, I'd like to share stories of those "others" during my parenting journey who made me believe that "The world isn't something to waste," incorporating my experiences and lessons learned.

■ Episode 1: The Grandma Who Helped Put Shoes on My Eldest Son


When my second son was a baby and struggling with severe allergies and atopic dermatitis, I was desperately trying to manage. I often found myself driving for an hour each way to a renowned hospital in an unfamiliar area, with my then two-year-old eldest son in tow.


The popular hospital was always crowded, and the wait for consultation could stretch to two or three hours. On top of that, my eldest son, who couldn't stay still, quickly grew bored in the cramped waiting area's toy corner.

So, with my second son in a baby carrier, I would entertain my fussy eldest son while waiting for our turn.


After a brief five-minute medical treatment, I'd be utterly exhausted by the time we reached the payment counter. With another wait at the adjacent pharmacy and the prospect of another hour-long drive back home, I was completely drained of energy and patience.


As we were leaving the hospital, my eldest son struggled to put on his shoes and looked up at me with a plea, "Mom, shoes." Feeling too tired to crouch down and help while holding my second son, I coldly exclaimed, "Just put them on yourself!"


At that moment, a nearby grandmother approached with a warm smile and effortlessly put the small shoes on my eldest son's little feet. She gently said, "He waited so patiently for so long, even though he's still so small."


Those words struck me. "Oh, he's only two years old..." I realized.


When you have a baby, the older child often seems much older, and as parents, we tend to raise the expectations due to this perceived maturity.

However, whether the child is 0 or 2 years old, both children are small from the perspective of others.


Following the grandmother's words, I couldn't fathom the effort it took for my still-small eldest son (Especially since he is a curious child) to wait for three hours in a confined space.

I felt ashamed for not recognizing his effort due to my lack of composure.


In the car on the way back, as I gazed at my eldest son's innocent sleeping face in the rearview mirror, tears wouldn't stop streaming down my face.

Since then, whenever I felt inclined to tell my older child, "You're a big brother now, so.." the image of that grandmother from that day would come to my mind.


■ Episode 2: The Foreign Mom Who Captured My Daughter

This happened when my daughter was around two years old and still wobbling about, and my second son was in kindergarten.


One day, it was time to pick up my second son from kindergarten, but my daughter was peacefully napping. Feeling reluctant to wake her up and bring her along, and considering that the kindergarten was nearby, and I could return home within ten minutes by car, I decided, "Well, it should be fine for a short while."

So, I quietly locked the front door and left the house(*1).


However, upon returning with my second son, I found the front door unlocked, and my face turned pale as my eldest daughter was nowhere to be seen.

Panicking, I rushed out of the house, shouting my daughter's name while scouring the entire neighborhood. I received eyewitness information from moms at the park that "Michael's mom (pseudonym) was talking to a little child," and I rushed to the scene.


There, a tall foreign mom was securely holding my daughter's hand at the edge of the road. When she recognized that I was the mother, she smiled in relief and said to my daughter, "Mom's here. Good thing!" She seemed genuinely relieved.


According to her story, my daughter was toddling around in just a T-shirt and a diaper, and the foreign mom, finding it odd, decided that it might be dangerous, so she caught her to be safe.


However, being a foreigner, she thought, "This child might get scared because of my appearance," so she contacted a Japanese mom she knew (although my daughter wasn't scared of her).


From my perspective, regardless of nationality, skin color, or body size, she was a goddess who, on the spot, used her wits to capture my daughter. I will forever be indebted to her.


We were only acquaintances through acquaintances, and I only knew her as "Michael's mom." After that incident, I've only glimpsed her whizzing by on her bike about once a year. Yet, whenever I see her, I bow my head in gratitude in my heart (I feel like the day I see her will be my lucky day!).


By the way, I found out later, that my daughter knew how to unlock the door and, finding me absent when she woke up, decided, "I have to go meet Mom." With determination, she stuffed her favorite doll into her backpack and cheerfully set off for kindergarten.


Lesson learned, I have since made it a habit to bring my daughter with me, no matter how peacefully she sleeps.


■ Episode 3: The Madame Along the School Route

When my eldest son was in the 4th or 5th grades of elementary school.

One day, he didn't come home even after the usual return time. Concerned, I traced his school route to check on him (*2).


Midway, I found him sitting by the roadside, accompanied by a neatly dressed lady from a nearby large house.


After listening to the story, I learned that my son had gotten into an argument with an upperclassman from his school group on his way home. They had ordered him, "You can't go home!" Taking it seriously, he ended up crying and standing there.


The lady, who was doing gardening work, noticed him, gave him water to calm down, and listened to his complaints like "I hate school" or "The school route is too far."


When I thanked her, the gentle and elegant woman, who was in her late 50s or early 60s, said, "It's okay. My son didn't like school either, so I couldn't leave him alone. However, my child has become an adult now,'' she said with a gentle smile.


"I wish someday, when I have the peace of mind, in my life for parenting, I could be like this lady," I thought. (Currently, I haven't become an "elegant madame" yet, but I have become a middle-aged lady called "Oba-Chan with a dog")


Apart from her, there were others along the school route, like the watchful volunteer grandpas, who have taken care of my three children quite often.


So, I took various opportunities to express my gratitude, and when I was an elementary school PTA member(*3), I would go to the shops and houses along the school route with boxes of sweets, because they watched over the elementary school students, and sometimes they let the kids use the store's bathroom in a toilet pinch.


The active and careless eldest son, the quiet second son, and the adventurer's daughter were all able to complete their six years of elementary school days without incident, thanks to the warm vigilance of the local "others.''


■ Someday, When It's My Turn...

Times when I was raising children that I could not afford, I relied heavily on the kindness of others.

Now that my children are growing up, I'm beginning to feel that it's almost my turn to be on the watching and helping side (though I can't quite say "I have peace of mind" yet).


When I walk my dog every day, several times a year I come across an elementary school student in my neighborhood who has lost his/her keys and is unable to enter the house.

I approach them, contact their parents and school, and sometimes wait with them until their parents arrive.


I also guide new first-year students who walk alone to school by taking the wrong route, sometimes.

When a middle school student fell off their bike in front of my house and I provided first aid, the parent came later with a thank-you gift.


Also sometimes, I've taken lost children to service counters at nearby supermarkets or shopping malls, and I've guided elderly or foreign individuals who asked for directions. (I seem approachable, as I'm often asked for directions.)


In this way, the small kindnesses from "others" that I once received have turned into a natural way for me to repay the favor in a different form to someone else when it's my turn.

Even for someone like me, who was originally shy and reserved, it has become something taken for granted and a natural part of helping others like "ATARIMAE" things.


Eighteen years ago, I was a delicate, inexperienced mom, and now, bit by bit, I'm becoming a stable and orthodox middle-aged woman (I also keep candies called "Ame-Chan" on hand like Osaka-madame).


It's an era where loneliness is easily felt, but even so, perhaps by gently helping each other as others, supporting each other quietly, and loosely watching over one another, the world keeps turning.


 

(*1)

As of 2024, In Japan, it is not illegal to leave a child alone for short times. However, if a child is involved in an accident, parents may be held legally responsible for their protection or negligence.


(*2)

In Japan, it's common for children to walk to school on their own. They walk the route determined by the school rules. In some schools, children who live close to each other form groups and go to and from school as a group. School buses are not very common in public elementary schools.


(*3)

Japanese schools have volunteer organizations called "PTA", that support the school, but it's not well-received by parents. This is because, unlike originated PTAs in the United States, Japanese PTAs often have the image of forced participation and unpaid and meaningless chores. In recent years, some schools have abolished or reformed PTAs.

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