Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Way Beyond Thomas

It's official. Sam is obsessed with trains. Yes, his dad is disappointed he is not obsessed with cars, but what do you expect when you make the kid ride the trains for over three hours five days a week? He loves his new Thomas train set. It is easy to get him to brush his teeth if you pretend you are a train on the way to the sink. When he hears the announcement for his sister's school's train station he says, "NeNe," because he knows that is where we pick up Mina. His favorite thing to do is visit the level crossing, with its flashing lights, clanging and passing trains five feet in front of his face. He also likes to ride in the very last or very first car of the train where he can watch the conductors. We were sitting in the first car on a little fold out bench that can be stowed away if a wheelchair needs to be placed there. We had just caught the earliest train possible after dropping Mina off at school and I was happy to be heading to the park with Sam. He was kneeling contentedly on the bench beside me looking out the window and I was breathing easy, making a "to do" list in my mind. Suddenly, I hear a buzzing sound and the train starts to slow down. I look around me, wondering what is going on, why the is train stopping between stations, and just over my right shoulder, between Sam and I is the Emergency SOS train stop button. Great. Just great. Yes. Sam pushed the button. A train full of people trying to get to work is stopping in the middle of nowhere because Sam is curious and clever enough to push the little cover aside to get at the button and I am a negligent parent. A voice comes over the speaker. I apologize and explain, then turning to bow in apology to everyone in the car. He understands and very shortly the train is on its way again. I am clutching Sam in my lap. He knows something serious has happened. I am sure he can feel my heart racing, he can certainly understand the hot tears of shame that are beginning to stream down my face. He sits quietly on my lap for the rest of the ride. I consider getting off at the next station, but stay where I am, thinking about how many of these people must be cursing the stupid foreigners who are ruining their country. I am sure it has happened to countless Japanese parents as well (or would they never dream of being so careless?), the conductor understood immediately, I am sure they even have a code for it to report in or write in their logs, but whenever you make a mistake here, you have to worry about it adding to the disdain towards foreigners. When I stopped cursing myself, I started cursing the country. If I wasn't living in Japan this never would have happened. Sure, I know my children would find ways to embarrass me in the States and I know I would still make mistakes there, but it is easy to turn your frustration, any frustration, into a frustration with Japan. Then I worked my way around to cursing our choice of school, when did we decide that it was sensible to take our children on the trains every day? Did I really sign up for this? Which took me right back to "if we lived in California!" I changed thought patterns (trains of thought?) and started to look at the positives. Thank God it wasn't the Express train. Thank God we were four stops from Mina's school rather than one, where a hundred other mothers would have been witness to my blunder. By that time we had arrived at our station, and I had reached two decisions: I was not going to share this little story with Toshi and we would NEVER sit near the wheelchair accessible SOS button ever again. I waited on the train platform as the train pulled out so that I could bow a final apology to the conductor at the rear of the train and off we went to the park.

Although it sounds like a frustrating experience, your vivid prose made for an engaging tale.
Although it sounds like an incredibly frustrating experience, your vivid prose reflected your speaking voice and it made for an engaging story. It seems like differences in culture is half your battle in trying to keep up with the Tanakas.
I loved your story of "Sam & the train." Your description of Sam's new found passion was marvelous! But, please those little ones are fast and I do think you were a bit hard on yourself. Just relax and breathe...
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