Entries in raising children (6)


Boys Have Dingdongs


Boys Have Dingdongs & Other Observations is a collection of about 150 mostly silly, occasionally moving conversations I had with my sons from the time they started speaking until the elder one graduated from kindergarten.

Although I originally intended to save this collection until the boys were twenty, after reviewing them during the spring break I decided that now was as good a time as ever to go ahead and publish it. The reaction from my son--he ended up sleeping with the book in his arms--told me that I had made the right choice.

Dingdongs is available as an ebook and paperback.







Feels like Groundhog’s Day today.



Liam wakes up, crying. We give him a half bottle, not too much because he’ll probably throw it all up. Ten minutes later, he’s asleep again. Figuring I might as well get up and get some work done, I go into the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee.



I’m at my desk. As I’m writing down my goals for December, one of which is to finish the current version of Rokuban once and for all, I hear the pitter-patter of Liam’s feet.

“What is it?”

“Mama. Mama.”

“Where’s Mama?”

“Mama ne-ne.”

“Mama’s sleeping?”

“Un.” (Yes.)

“Do you want to lie down with Daddy?”


I pick Liam up and take him back to the futon. He insists on lying just to my right. That’s where Eoghan usually sleeps and in Liam’s mind it is a position of privilege. I scoot over so that my wife Rié is on my left, Liam on my right, and Eoghan beyond him.

Before long, Eoghan wakes up, finds his position being usurped by the upstart Liam and begins kicking and pushing. I put Liam back between me and Rié. After a while, both boys calm down and fall back asleep.

Or so I think. As soon as I sit up, Liam opens his eyes and gives me a look as if to say, “Where the fuck you going?”

I lie back down and rub his back, run my fingers through his long, curly hair. Every now and again, he looks to see if I am still there. When he’s finally snoring, I head back to my office.



My coffee is getting cold. I’m getting cold. The wind is still strong outside. The windows whistle with excitement. I hear the bedroom door slide open, then closed, the hallway door open, steps, then Liam’s voice, “Daddy. Daddy.”

I open the door and find Liam standing there, rubbing his eyes, his hair wild.

“Hold me.”

I pick him up and take him back to the futon. He’s asleep in no time.



My coffee is now cold. I’ve been up for an hour and a half and all I have written is: “Finish Rokuban.”


Sighing, “At this rate, I won’t be finishing anything.”

I pick Liam up and feel his diaper. Full tank. I get a fresh diaper and carry him back to the bedroom.

The nice thing about Liam is that for a two-year-old he is remarkably meticulous. He closes doors behind himself, he puts the caps back on the pens when he’s finished drawing, he returns his plates to the kitchen after eating, he throws his diapers in the garbage, he goes to the toilet himself, and when he’s done removes the potty trainer and puts it back in its place. Eoghan, on the other hand, has a habit of tossing everything onto the ground.

So, I change the boy’s diaper and lie down next to him one more time.

“Liam, baby.”

That means Liam wants to lie down on Daddy’s chest. He crawls up on top of me, yawns, and falls asleep.

The boy is getting big. In the past few months, he grew about four or five centimeters. As he is lying on my chest, his toes touch my knees and the top of his head is only a few months of growth away from touching my chin. I give that mop of hair of his a kiss, then slowly lower him down to my side.



I make myself a fresh cup of coffee and head back down the hall to my office.

We have finally managed to get through the night without either of the boys vomiting. Progress! Now to make some progress on my writing.




Sleep Talking

   We had a long night last night, the boys taking turns crying and demanding our attention. While my wife is generally responsible for the baby—thank God these nipples of mine are purely ornamental—taking care of Yu-kun has become my job. This hasn’t caused too much of a disruption in my life because, one, I’m at the end of the school year and will pretty much have the next three months free, and, two, Yu-kun has always been “Daddy’s Boy”.

   His first word as a child was “Daddy” and when he had learned how to crawl, he would make his way every morning to the room where I was sleeping and snuggle up to me for the next hour or so until it was time to get up.

   Yu-kun was an early talker, something that I did not expect. Children raised in bi-lingual homes tend to acquire language later than those from single language homes. The power of low expectations.

   Today, he is about 40-60 bilingual, something that I’m fairly satisfied with as what he is hearing is 90 to 95% Japanese.

   One of the things that I’ve tried to do consistently—and, I do believe that consistency is one of the keys—is to speak only English to him. (I even use English when speaking to my wife in front of him to give him more exposure.) When he replies to one of my questions in Japanese, a common occurrence that can’t really be helped, I make him repeat the answer in English. If he doesn’t know the English, I will teach him. Also, if he calls out to me in Japanese, I try not to respond. I won’t look his direction if he says, “Daddy, mité!” I won’t pick him up when he says, “Daddy, dakkô!” And so on.

   These are minor things, but these short words build upon each other eventually becoming full sentences.

   Another thing I try to do is to give him the easiest way to say something, and when he has mastered that, give him a more difficult way. For example, I taught him “No . . .” at first, rather than “Don’t . . .” Or “. . . nothing” instead of “I don’t have . . .” And so on. When he wanted to be held, I taught him to first say “Up”, then “Hold me!” and most recently, “Pick me up!”

   You figure out rather quickly what a child can understands and use and then run with that, expanding and applying the bits he knows to a variety of situations. This is important when learning to speak a foreign language. People usually want to say in a foreign language exactly what they would say in their own language, but that is a recipe for failure. It’s much better, and more interesting to communicate your ideas in a creative, roundabout way.

   Anyways, Yu-kun’s speaking has really taken off these past two months, again, much, much faster than I expected. His vocabulary in Japanese is growing particularly quick so I feel sometimes like I’m falling behind in the language race. This will change, of course, once he has more exposure to the U.S. and other English speakers. I’m even considering starting an English class for children his age. When I’ll find the time to do so, I do not know, but there will be no shortage of kids wanting to take part.

   I meant to write about Yu-kun’s sleep talking, but got side-tracked.

   Yu-kun has always been something of a chatterbox. This doesn’t stop when he’s asleep. (Me, too.) His lips keep moving and throughout the night he’ll crack up, explain something like “How surprising!” Or, as he did one night a few weeks ago, he’ll yell something off the wall, like “More! I want more! I want more . . . baseball! More baseball!”

   One of my favorites is when he started laughing in the middle of the night and said, “Daddy tooted . . . again . . . a lot.”

   I’ll leave it up to your imagination what “toot” means.

   A few nights ago he let out a blood-curdling scream: “No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Bear-san, no!”

   “Bear-san” (Mr. Bear) is a polar bear puppet that the wife of our OB/GYN gave Yu-kun when he was still a baby. There was a time when Yu-kun wouldn’t go anywhere with out Bear-san. We’ve even taken him to the U.S. with us. Airport security was a bit of a challenge: the boy cried when he was forced to part with Bear-san for fifteen seconds as the toy was scanned by the x-ray machine with all of our other carry-ons.

   I once left Bear-san on the subway, but was fortunately able to recover the lost bear a few hours later. That little adventure motivated me to order a spare-bear from New York in case Bear-san was irretrievably lost in the future.

   Recently, poor Bear-san has dropped in the rankings of favorite toys. Yu-kun prefers to play with his cars and trains now, so much so he usually takes a parking lot full of vehicles to bed with him every night. Let me tell you, I sure miss that bear whenever I roll over onto a cement mixer in the middle of the night.


Putting the Pieces Together

Little Chatterbox   This morning, my 20-month old son came into my room where I was sleeping, pointed towards the ceiling and said, "Dark." He then took the remote (this is Japan, everything has a remote) from the table and turned on the light. "On," he said. 
   He also found my glasses on the table. Picking them up and unfolding the temples, he placed the glasses gingerly on me. This was a first. He then pointed at the clock on the wall and said, "Six!" 
   I looked at the clock myself and saw that it was seven-thirty. "Close enough, boy."
   Eoghan then pointed at my computer and said, "Apple. Nena." He meant that he wanted me to turn the computer on and Skype his grandmother.

   It's remarkable how language starts developing, how a child puts the pieces of the linguistic puzzle together and starts communicating.


Early Childhood Education in Japan

The 7 in the top left corner should be a 17.

   Ask a group of Japanese under the age of, say, thirty-five if they'd had lessons--what the Japanese call narai goto or o-keiko--when they were very young, and you'll probably find most, if not all, did. Having been in the Eikaiwa (English conversation) trade for many years and having personally taught many preschool and elementary school aged children, I know from experience that Japanese children maintain schedules that would have American kids on their knees, crying, "Uncle!"

   The whole business of training, cultivating, and educating children would be one to research some day. In the meantime, here are the results of a half-arsed survey I did the other day.

   Of the twenty university sophomores (18♀/2♂) that I surveyed, 17 had had lessons of some kind before starting elementary school. By the time they had enrolled in elementary school, all of them were taking some kind of lesson. The most popular lessons were piano (15), swimming (13), calligraphy (11), and English and cram school, i.e. juku (10). Asked if they would also send their own children to these kinds of lessons, 19 said yes. The type and number of lessons they would like their children to take, however, changed.

   I've long been interested in knowing not only what people studied and when, but also whether they feel they had benefitted from the lessons and whether they would do the same for their own children. Most, it appears, feel they did and would make their future children do likewise. 

   As a father myself the time will come soon enough when I will be forced to decide if I will make my own son take these kinds of lessons and what I will have him study. I am already leaning towards lessons in a third language, guitar, calligraphy, soccer, abacus, and swimming. The poor kid.


I've Been Shot!

   In your typical war movies, a soldier is shot in the gut without realizing it. He carries on, fighting along side his buddies, only to notice something strange: a warm feeling growing across his abdomen. He looks down and sees the blood stain. Looking up at his comrades, he says incredulously, "I've been shot."

   The same thing happened to me yesterday when I took my son from the bath, bundled him in a towel and held him close to me. "You're awfully warm this evening, boy," I said.

   Looking down, I noticed the stain. It was growing across my abdomen.

   "I've been shot."