Brenna James, my youngest grandchild, has lived in Tokyo since she was two. She and I have not had many chances to hang out together over the years. She will be 15 in a couple of weeks. I have watched from afar as she grew into a beautiful young woman.
Gradually, over time, I have come to realize that while her heritage is both Japanese and American, she was becoming Japanese in her everyday life. Her lifestyle, language, and cultural orientation, I thought, had become totally Japanese.
While I understood this was only natural, it saddened me to think that my relationship with her was practically non-existent and would only grow more so with the passage of time.
And then, a few months ago, things began to change.
Brenna wrote a poem she titled I’m two but full. Below are a few lines from her poem that surprised and delighted me.
“I’m two pieces, like the way you split KitKats into two equal pieces.”
“I have two countries to represent in my body.
I have the responsibility to be able to know that nationality
I have the right to choose which one I want to make my home
But I don’t, because both of them are equally my home.”
“I have a full heart
Even if I have to change who I am between cultures
I will never change the kindness I have towards anyone in the world.
My outside might change but my inside won’t.
I’m always going to be two pieces
But always full—at the same time.
I was inspired by her words and grateful to know that she embraced her American heritage along with her Japaneseness.
And then, what seems to me like a small miracle occurred. She and her dad, who lives in the US, had been in touch daily via an app that allows both visual and audible international exchange. Brenna wanted to increase her English vocabulary. In order to do that, father and daughter were sharing articles. Brenna read aloud and when she came to an unfamiliar word, they discussed it, she learned its correct pronunciation, and then she wrote a sentence using the word. They set aside a time every day to do this. I was thrilled when they invited me to join them.
Together we have been reading excerpts from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. He writes beautifully, with great clarity, and he uses plenty of “hard” words. Brenna takes them all on with glee. We laugh about alternate meanings and some of the craziness of the English language. Is the word “read” past or present tense? Or both? And how do you spell the past tense?
Sometimes our conversation strays. “Yuk,” said Brenna. “Dad thinks uni (that’s raw sea urchins) are delicious. I think they are disgusting.” And then they went on to talk about durian, a fruit that is prized b y many but that smells so bad that by law you cannot carry it onto a train in Singapore. This morning we were together for more than an hour and a half.
She’s a long way away, and who knows when she will be able to travel to the US? No matter.
I have my granddaughter back.