Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Birthday Boy Seiji: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

When Jolene told me that she was pregnant for the first time, I wrote a letter to the baby, meant to be read when - well, when it was old enough to read and comprehend a deep and brooding missive written by an emotional 30-something. It was as if I was trying to sell the baby, our immediate family's first grandchild, a vacation home in the Berkshires. I told the as-yet-unknown infant how lucky he or she was to be born to intelligent, creative, and stylish parents. I described the wonderful and diverse city that the baby would live in and warned him or her how eagerly he or she was going to be spoiled rotten on our side of the family by a grandmother and two doting aunts.

Seiji at two-ish: all thumbs up for freshly baked chocolate cupcakes.

Before Seiji was old enough to read and comprehend well, I bemoaned the fact that I have long since misplaced the letter. But in reality, I should have been writing him a thank you letter for what he's brought to our family within his small but formidable frame. Looking back at the last decade on this, his ninth birthday, I want to thank him for all that he's given us, the gifts that he probably would not recognize and may not realize the worth of until he has children of his own.

With a little help from my friends: Seiji celebrated his 9th birthday with fellow March birthday boy Joshua (Yuhki) and the donut version of bobbing for apples.

First off, he's made his mother one heck of a cook. While my sisters and I are no slouches in the kitchen, motherhood and the inevitable rounds of birthday parties, PTA involvement, and holidays have turned Jolene into a cross between Harumi Kurihara, Chef Duff, and Martha Stewart. She specializes in pleasing the pint-size palate as well as delighting more mature tastes with creations that approach restaurant quality for their flavor and presentation.

A "Mini-Me" bento that Jolene made for lucky S + K: our usual lunch in grade school was fried egg sandwiches and bbq potato chips!

Apart from her culinary achievements, Jolene has become one of a legion of moms that keep El Marino Language School together in more than an academic sense. These women form that proverbial village needed to raise each child. They help each other out by pooling their collective cooking, baking, babysitting, sewing, chauffeuring, welding (they had to build a haunted house for the annual Halloween carnival), and any number of surrogate mom tasks that may come their way. A wonderful by-product of this is that they are subconsciously teaching their kids how to be friends and to help each other as well.

Another of Seiji's gifts - compounded by the arrival of his brother Kenzo 18 months later - is how his presence regularly turns my usually reserved brother-in-law Hiro into a little boy himself. "Papa Time" begins around 7 p.m. when the key is heard clicking in the front door as he comes home from work. Amusingly, I am often met with mock disappointment when it is discovered that it is only me coming through the door.

Is that a donut I see before me?: For kid brother Kenzo, dessert hangs in the balance.

But if it is Hiro, joyful screams and small but pounding footsteps echo through the halls as two boys scramble to "stealthily" hide from their father so that they can spring out from somewhere and scare him. Since Hiro moves a lot more quietly, it is usually he that gets to do the scaring, much to his sons' delight.

For Mom, Joselyn, and I, being a grandmother and aunts is like having every superhero, movie idol, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus all rolled into one little guy, and now two. My pride in Seiji came initially from seeing the family's story in his face when over the years, I have detected a glimpse of each member of the family in his character or physical being.

We think of the past when he and his friends remind us what it's like to be a kid and experience everything for the first time. My often-jaded (Seiji, I know you can look this word up if you don't know it already - I've seen your homework and wonder how I got through the third grade) eyes and heart become new again when I share his perspective on almost anything.

But the most enduring gift of all that Seiji has given us is the future that we also see in his face. We all fervently hope that he benefits from whatever we give him in comfort, wisdom, and play. And with each year, we see what he is growing into: every superhero, movie idol, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus all rolled into one.


  1. This is beautiful and poignant. It made me think of my nieces and nephew too. It's a wonder to be with them because, you can see your own and your family's past and also see your collective hope for future. Its an honor to be plugged into that. Happy Birthday Seiji!

  2. Oh Joanie, this piece had me both laughing outloud (selling vacation property in the Berkshires to the unborn child) and brought tears to my eyes. Our children are gifts that give us far more than they will ever know. This is a beautiful and heartfelt love letter to Seiji. Keep writing.

  3. What a nice piece... makes me realize what my new daughter means and will mean to my family. She's also the first grandchild and snoozing peacefully on me right now. Go Joanie go.