Family in America
by Hitomi Dickey

I'm writing about what I realized through my children and my tendencies that I have accumulated since my birth:
Both of my parents have been working full-time since I was a child.
Due to that circumstance, my grandparents who lived next door and my aunt were the ones who usually looked after me.
However, because my grandparents ran a liquor store and were very busy, we didn't have very much time to talk.
I grew up in a rural area where it was a common place to look for other people's faults or weaknesses, rather than to give complimentary remarks to others, share in their joys or sorrows.
I remember that I used to play with my father often on his days off.
But as for my mother, all I remember is the times when she bought me nice clothes, which would make my friends feel envious.
I was always conscious about how others might look at me.
In everyday life, I was always negative and pessimistic about the way I thought or reacted to what I heard.
Now when I think of it, it amazes me that someone like myself was able to come to America, so far away from home.
When my mother's younger sister came back to visit from the US from time to time, I used to yearn to be like her because she looked like she was always full of joy.
Since my home town is in the countryside, my aunt, with her hair dyed in red, stood out very much.
I used to wonder what America was like.
I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would live here as I do now.
In the course of time, I became a mother.
Since I grew up looking at my mother who was always busy with work, I was ill-equipped at parenting with absolutely no idea how to nurture or talk to a baby.
I didn't even know how I should express my love toward my own child.
Before I gave birth, I used to think very casually that it would be a breeze for me because I had taken care of my younger sisters, nieces and nephews.
However, that false confidence of mine was overturned 180 degrees, which made me feel even more negative.
Thanks to the great support from my husband, my children and my parents-in-law, I was able to attend cosmetology school.
In the class rooms, even my smallest accomplishment was acknowledged by the teachers and classmates, and they would give me hearty compliments.
But I didn't know how to accept them.
I couldn't genuinely accept those words of compliment.
It was completely different from what I grew up with.
I had no confidence in continuing with my education because I was not good at meeting people at school, making new friends, exchanging words with them, or doing things together with them.
When my family told me that I could quit whenever I wanted, I thought to myself that if I quit now, I would remain forever in my own comfortable shells.
And that wasn't what I wanted.
Due to the tremendous support from my family, I was able to obtain the California license as a cosmetologist.
During those two and a half years, my entire family, including my parents-in-law, my sister-in-law and her husband, my aunt and her husband spent a lot of time in lending support to me.
I thought I learned English well in Japan, but I didn't have a good command of it at all.
This was another shock for me.
Even then, when I truly decided to exert myself, I felt that Ryodoji-sama extended their compassionate support and I was able to pass the important exams.
My children were very patient as well.
Gradually, my heart started to open up, but even then, I couldn't bring myself up to expressing verbally what I had in mind.
When I tried to say something, I heard my own voice inside, saying, "People will laugh at me if I said something like that," or "I'll get ridiculed if someone like me who is a total country bumpkin said that," and as a result, I couldn't say anything.
No matter how much affection I felt toward my children, I couldn't even tell them, "I love you" if someone else was around me."
If people said to me, "You must really adore your kids," I would reply, "No, not so much," or "I don't really feel it yet.
In reality, I wished I could answer straight, saying, "Yes, very much so," but what came out of my mouth was completely opposite.
I always felt it to be so painful as if it were piercing my heart.
Unlike me, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law openly express their affections toward children in words and in attitude and raise the children so lovingly.
I wondered when I would be able to behave like them.
I wanted to break through my tendency of protecting my self-ego.
I increasingly became so frustrated with myself.
When I saw no one around, I was able to express my honest feeling very quietly.
But I was fed up with myself always acting so secretively.
Once I sought guidance from the seniors in the teaching (jogubodai) about this.
And I learned that the area where I grew up had a strong connection with those who practiced Christian faith in hiding to avoid persecution.
I realized that my thoughts and feelings are closely related to that of people who could only pursue their faith in secret.
In any case, I made an effort to say what I wanted to say, gathering up the courage to speak explicitly.
Although it took me a long time, I am now able to talk to my children straight from my heart.
I feel as though Shojushin'in-sama has given me a light push on my back to step forward.
Last summer, my mother came to visit here and stayed with me for a while.
We had a lot to talk about.
One day, we had a conversation about the time when I was small.
She was in tears and apologized to me, saying, "I was a terrible mother for you children.
I'm so sorry."
Perhaps because I had been nurtured in the Teaching since I was very young, I knew that she did her best trying her ways to be a good mother, giving us the disciplines in the best way she knew how.
Normally, someone in my position might have held a grudge or bitter feeling towards a mother, but in my mind, I never once felt that way.
When I saw her crying when sharing the past memories, I thought that she must have gone through so much agony, and realized that I was about to do the same thing toward my children.
I'm filled with gratitude for this opportunity I had.
My parents are the one and only for me, and I love them with all my heart.
One time, when I received Sesshin training, I received an indication of many unborn babies who were related to my and my husband's side of the family.
They were not able to come into this world and experience mother's love.
They must feel lonely, sad, and wish that they could feel even a fraction of my happiness.
On the other hand, how much appreciation do I really have for all the happiness I have received though the teaching? I feel ashamed and humbled about that.
As a matter of fact, I felt I received a "message" recently.
When I was forgetting about the spiritual words that I received through Sesshin or when I lacked my awareness of the unborn babies related to me, my children wouldn't go to sleep easily.
No matter how tired they were, they didn't fall asleep.
They would sometimes wake up crying soon after they fell asleep.
Also, when my children reached for my hand to hold it, I would pull it away from them unintentionally.
When I noticed it, I wondered why I couldn't be more warm and tender toward my children.
I thought any ordinal parents could hug their children or hold hands with them.
Why can't I be like that? But I was acting this way unconsciously.
Because it continued for a few days, I reflected as to why.
Then, when I was offering the evening chanting with my children, it hit me.
"Oh, it's the unborn babies!" Right afterwards, I talked with my children about how I was forgetting to have sincere heart toward them.
From that evening, my children slept deeply through the night.
It was really amazing.
When my children came to give me a hug or to hold my hands, I thought of the unborn babies in the spiritual world and replied with my wholehearted love.
Then, my children would give me the most wonderful smile, which in turn made me so happy.
I regret that I should have realized it much sooner and gave my full affection to my children.
However, I will never fail to have the gratitude for having had this realization at all.
I will not forget the warm and compassionate heart of Shojushin'in-sama.
As I raise my children, I will continue to show my affection to them more and more, so that they will not feel the way I did.
Thank you very much.