Daniel's Story Chapter 5.
5. School Days
In the past chapters I have written about Daniel's life in a chronological way.
Now I would like to focus more on his character in a non-chronological way.
When Daniel grew older, the point came where we had to decide to which school he should go. before we got married, Yuki had worked at a hospital-affiliated elementary and middle school. This school is not too far away from home and we thought it might be a good idea to enroll Daniel there. The advantages were the small size of the class, with only 8 pupils, the vicinity of a hospital in case of emergency and that he would not likely be subject to bullying.
But the disadvantages had to be seen also. We wanted Daniel to grow up in a normal environment, thus a normal school would be better. His sisters Yumi and Tami were still small, thus it also would be difficult to bring him to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon.
All the operations were over, and his health condition was fairly stable, so finally we decided to enroll him in a normal school. It was a step in the right direction.
The teachers helped him very much, his classmates loved him. Of course he was always the smallest, could do the least, and was often the last to finish a task. But his teacher and classmates were very helpful. In fact I think that having a handicapped peer, his classmates learned a lot in respect of human relations, seeing the differences of a handicapped child, but much more - they could see that despite his physical difference and handicap, he was a normal boy.
More than once he told me "boku wa ninkimono" (I am very popular) with a proud voice.
During his first and second year he was physically strong enough to walk the 1 km from home to school. Only later, he became weaker and Yuki had to bring im to school by car. Since he was walking to school, we looked for a lightweight satchel for him. In Japan, very often the grandparents buy the first satchel for their grandkids. Thus there is a striving industry, which offers sturdy leathermade red or black satchels for wealthy grandparents who do not think too much about money when their grandkids are involved. But those satchels are fairly big, and thus heavy. We were looking for something lighter and we found a simple, black satchel made of woven fibers, which was only 800 g. We heard of it from a friend who lives in a neighboring town. It seemed that the issue of lightweight satchels for handicapped or weak children is not a concern for the parents, since we have had not information about them in our support group.
Another concern for us was if Daniel could pick up with the taught material. In his kindergarden days he did not learn to read or write. This was Yuki's and my decision, since kindergarden is a time for playing and not learning. Learning, and with it the stress of learning, memorizing and possible failure, comes early enough in life. But now, when Daniel started to go to school, I thought that it might be a bit too late, since many of his classmates could already read and write the Japanese alphabet. So Daniel might have a tough time, we thought.
But we did not put Daniel into our equation. He learned fast and soon he started learning kanji, the more complicated characters derived from chinese characters. He had so much fun reading and writing that he soon knew more than the required kanjis for his grade. We bought a kanji dictionary for him. This book should become his steady companion. Whereever we would go, he would take his kanji book and read, write and memorize kanji. Sometimes I asked him "what does this and that kanji mean?" He would not only know the meaning and reading, but also in which school year this particular kanji would be taught. Soon he knew several hundred kanji and still would not stop learning. In third grade he knew all kanji up to the sixth grade.
Inadvertedly, childrens books became boring to him. When he asked for his own Bible, he expected that we buy him the adults version. Every Sunday he would take his Bible to church and listen to Pastor Jerry's sermon. (see whatotherswrote.htm for an essay of what other members of the church thought about this). He would look up all the Bible verses, sometimes Yuki or I had to help him finding them in time. But then he would read and underline them.
I still can see his proud face when he was asked to read from the Bible in our monthly gatherings at home. He liked to be with adults, taking part in discussions.
5.2. sports festival
In Japan there is a big sports event every year, called the "undokai". It is a big gathering, where the pupils are divided in two groups, the white team and the red team, and compete with each other. They run 100 m races, throw as many balls into baskets in a certain time, and so on. It is a big event to which all parents and grandparents come. It lasts for the better part of a day and is more a social gathering than a serious sports event. Still, the pupils train and exercise heavily in the weeks before the event. Speeches of the principal and the student body give this undokai an official stance. I had ambiguous feelings about it. Especially the marching of little kids, and the presentation of flags is something that I have problems with - maybe due to my German background. (see www.debito.org/undoukai.html for an essay by Arudou Debito, an outspoken friend of mine, on his view on undokai).
But with my child taking part, my view changed a bit. Of course I wanted to see how Daniel was doing. And he did good. He was active during the events, like all other kids. He did his best and he could not be deterred. For the 100 m race he was given a 10 m advance. Still, all other kids went past by him and he was the very last to cross the finish line. But he was determined to run. He was not embarrassed at all. I am very proud of this. He was determined to live his life in his fragile and imperfect body together with his class mates. Of course he could see that he was physically unfit for a 100 m race, but he ran as good as he could.
The last year, in 4th grade, he was already in a wheel chair. He could not participate in the sports events, but then the organizers allowed him to give the opening speech. So they gave him a very important role, and he had the chance to use his talents for this event.
5.3. Daniel's speeches
Daniel liked to be in public. He was a quiet boy, but he was not ashamed of himself. In third grade he wrote an essay and he was chosen to read it in front of the whole school body. So the gymnasium was packed with pupils from 1st to 6th grade. He stood on the podium, bowed in the typical Japanese way, and read his essay with a loud voice. Even though I wasn't there at the event itself, I listened to his practices at home.
How could he do that? I think one of the main points was that he knew that he was accepted by his class mates and throughout the school. This gave him the security to stand in front of 600 persons. I am not sure if I could have done this when I was that age.
5.4. being regarded a foreigner
In Japanese "foreigner" means "gaikokujin" which can be translated as "person from an outside country". Many Japanese use the less polite abreviation "gaijin", which can also be interpreted as "outside person", or "a person who does not belong to the group".
One day Daniel returned from school and was crying. That must have been 1997 or 1998, when he was in first or second grade. I was very worried and I asked him why he cried. He would not give an answer. He was sad all afternoon, but all the time when I asked him why he was sad and crying, he would not answer. Finally on the next day, he said that some middle school kids on the ewy home have called him "gaijin". He was so shocked by this that he couldn't reply and ran home crying.
Daniel always felt as a Japanese and didn't like being called any different. He looked different, but he always felt to be a Japanese. He always felt being included in his class, among his friends. He was no outside person. I am ver glad that this was one of the very moments where he must have felt different. Except this, his surrounding always gave him the security to belong to the group - something that it tremedously important to develop a healthy psyche. Especially a physically weak person needs a strong mind. And I am happy that he had it.
5.5. being alone
Daniel hated to be alone. He hated being without his mother. I think this came from being too many times in hospital. All together he was hospitalized more than 20 times and spend altogether nearly one year of his life in hospitals. He spend the first few weeks of his life in ICU. When he was hospitalized the second time - with 8 months - Yuki could stay with him over night. But then came the time of the third operation and he was alone on the ICU again. I can only image how terrible it must have been for him, when he was old enough to realize that neither his mother nor his father was at his bed at night.
This fear never subdued. He was very attached to his mother. Sometimes she could not even leave his hospitalbed for 5 minutes to go to the toilet.
At home either Yuki or I had to be at his bedside until he was at fast asleep. He had a very light sleep and the slightest noise would wake him up. And with slightest noise I mean slightest. Even the crackling noise of the knee joints when Yuki got up from her chair would wake him! Thus prekindergarden and kindergarden time was the hardest for us in this respect.
Lateron it became a little bit better, so that I could stay at his bed in hospital during the day and Yuki could go home, or do some shopping. Yuki promised to be back at a certain time, lets say 5 o'clock. He would then ask me every now and then "Papa, which time is it?" "Half past two, son." "Then it is two and a half more hours?" he would reply.
At times I would become angry, because this hurt my feelings. Is papa so much worse then mama? I cared for Daniel as much as Yuki did and she also needed some rest!
Then there came the time, when Daniel allowed me to stay overnight at his bed. Since the university hospital in Sapporo is on the university campus I just had 5 minutes walk from my lab. Thus I would often visit him and when I stayed overnight would go directly to work the next morning.
5.6. to be continued.............