The So-Called Birthday Disaster

October 2, 2008
By Shilpa Kudva, Flower Mound, TX

As I walked up to the school, I felt so humiliated! I couldn’t believe I absolutely had to do this. I wished my parents would just be normal and American, and not have their own beliefs and traditions…

It was a pleasant, cool, autumn New York evening. I was completing my homework on the couch of our sunny, ventilated apartment near downtown.

“Mei, why do you do your homework on the couch? You will get a sprained neck!” Mom commented.

“Fine. I’ll do it at the table.” I replied. My sister, Toru, strolled in as I scampered over to the table. She is an exact copy of my mom, with silky black hair and brown highlights, tannish skin, and delicate eyes. My appearance is like my dad, with long, black, hair, large brown eyes, pale skin and a small mouth. Toru gibbered some words in Japanese to my mom. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. When Toru was five, the family moved from Japan to America. Eventually, I was born here, in New York. My parents are extremely religious, and still follow all of the traditions that the other Japanese families that live in this complex have abandoned. My mother and Toru turned to me.

“Mei, your birthday is coming up soon,” Mom reported.

“I know! Do you think I wouldn’t know my own birth date? October third. I was born October third.”

“We know, Mei. What we are trying to tell you is, that since you’re turning thirteen, you have to go to the shrine on the third of October and celebrate Shichi-Go-San,” Mom explained.

“What! But…I don’t have to wear a kimono, right?” I asked. “I can just wear a T-shirt and jeans.”

“No…Mei…” Toru began.

“Mom! You know I hate dresses! You know I hate kimonos! Why do we still celebrate Shichi-Go-San, when every other Japanese family doesn’t?” Mom chose to leave that question unanswered and left the room.

Toru then retorted, “You know, on the third, you have to wear your kimono to school because Mom has to pick you up so you can go to the shrine at 12:00 P.M.”

Oh, no. I would die if I had to go to school in my kimono. Everyone at the University Middle School would make fun of me! I would be the laughing stock of the whole school! I started dreading October third, my thirteenth birthday.

It was silent at dinner that night. There was no talk or chatter except when Dad asked me to pass the cherry blossom rice, or Mom asked Toru to pass the okazu. Days and days passed, and sure enough, October third, my birthday, arrived. When I woke up that morning, I knew I was supposed to dress in my kimono, but I threw it aside in disgust. I put on sweatpants and a nice, regular, American shirt instead. There was no way I was going to get teased at! Nevertheless, when I went downstairs, the look on Mom’s face was so furious, I flew back up the stairs. I came down in my kimono made of silk and flowers, a ribbon in my hair, and giant flip-flops on my puny feet.

There was no exchange of words on the ride to the University today. Mom simply dropped me off, saying that she’ll see me at 12:00 P.M., and left. As I walked up towards the school, I could sense all of the eyes on me. Feeling embarrassed, I crawled toward my huddle of friends waiting outside the door, trying as best I could to hide my outfit.

“Wow, Mei! That’s such a cool dress!” my friend Hilary called, “Where on Earth did you get it?”

Suddenly all my friends were crowded around me, trying to get a better look at my kimono. It was like this all morning, and not one person made fun of me. When my mom came to pick me up, I felt good about my Japanese culture and heritage, unlike before. I finally realized what Mom and Dad were trying to do when they made us follow all of the traditions. They were trying to help us appreciate Japan and its culture.

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