I'm staying at the home of a good friend in Japan who lost both her husband and her mother within two months earlier this year. She and her husband had raised four beautiful bicultural daughters, who went on to spend their high school years in Illinois with their grandparents. My friend has lost a cherished life partner and a loving and inspirational mother. Her children have lost a dedicated and adoring father and a grandmother who mothered them through their formidable teenage years.
It is a sad time for them all, but I see my role being here in Japan right now as helping my friend with whatever she needs. Though all four daughters have now grown, my friend has kept their favourite books in boxes and in the corners of storage rooms so that when grandchildren are born, childhood favourites can live again on the laps of those who love them. Yesterday was our first full day together and there was a lot to get done. But all of it could wait. Out came the box of picture books, and then another pile here, and another pile there. We sat and we read and she talked and I listened. I heard the stories behind the stories.
Author/Illustrator: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Scholastic (Trumpet Special Edition) (1991)
"Her name must be everything she is," said her mother.
"Her name must be absolutely perfect," said her father.
And it was.
In the story, little Chrysanthemum loves her name, but only until she hears other children making fun of her. This tugs on my own heart strings as a mother, since the name we carefully chose for our own perfect daughter is an unusual name in either language and easily mispronounced. My daughter consistently introduces herself with whichever pronunciation of her name she feels will be easiest for the listener to hear. I am like the father in this book, always worried and always trying to help.
My friend, who happens to be godmother to both of my children says that our girls will just have to be who they are for the geography and the situation that they are in at that time. I think I tend to worry too much about issues of identity and hurt feelings when all along, I am fairly certain that my daughter will grow up into a well-adjusted and loving adult. This thing with her name is just a survival skill, and it's her right to choose how to navigate through her worlds. I made her, I even named her but I need to know that she is not mine.