This week, I’m writing something for Sunday Assembly NYC under the theme of “Mythology.” And as I research and write, I keep thinking about my first “myth story”: my first story to explain something I didn’t quite understand, but in repetition, finally learned a truth within the woven words. The spiritual, amazing first myth of most children: The bedtime story. So I’m going to share mine, an actual excerpt from an autobiographical play I did about a decade ago. Here it is…
Once upon a time there was a girl. And this girl asked her mother for a bedtime story. Being Japanese, the mother was at a loss for stories to tell her American daughter.
“I don’t know any.” The mother’s thick Japanese inflection seemed to take her self doubt to another height, a profound fear that her ignorance of American stories and poor memory of wild Japanese fable would lead to some great catastrophe. Maybe her daughter would be so baffled by a story about a boy born in a peach that she would stumble out the door, her diapered rear-end wagging a last farewell. Even the mother didn’t understand why a boy would be born in a peach. What child would accept that as a pre-slumber tale?
“Okay, okay.” Mother closed her eyes and with furrowed brow and searched the deep recesses of her mind for a good bedtime story. She searched, and searched, flipping through pages of her memory. Soon, her face softened, and a smile moved across her face like sun rises across a front yard. She touched her daughter’s cheek and took a deep breath.
“Once upon a time there was a couple who loved each other very much. So much so, that they had too much love. This love was filling the house and spilling out the window! So for all the love in the house, this couple decided it was time to find a child. Because a child could eat up all the love!” Mother tickled her daughter’s cheek with gobble gobble sounds and the daughter giggled.
“…And then, as a family, they could share all the love they have…forever. So the couple went to the baby store and asked for a baby girl who was half Japanese and half white so she could look like the couple. Well, first the baby store gave them a half Korean baby.” Mother waved her hands in a huff, waving away the frustration of the agencies she was calling baby stores. “That’s because baby stores are filled with white people who don’t understand that Korean and Japanese are different.”
“So the couple took it back!” Mother paused. That wasn’t right. What she meant as, “I mean, they waited. They waited for the half Japanese girl. Then, the agency showed them a Hawaiian baby, but hula dancing is not Japanese. Japanese women do tea ceremonies. There’s no hip shaking and hand waving. So they waited some more. But then the store said the couple was running out of time and they may not get half Japanese girls in stock for years. But the couple had all this love and they knew the perfect baby was out there. So they waited and waited until one day, the phone rang. Guess who it was?”
The little girl, barely able to keep up with the story said, “Baby!”
“It was the baby store.” The mother paused. “Not a baby. Baby store called. Babies can’t use phones.”
The little girl smiled.
“Okay! Okay! It was the baby store. The baby store said they had one half Japanese girl in stock. The couple had to hurry. So they ran to the store and saw the most beautiful baby in the world. Her eyes were still purple blue and her hair was nothing but a patch of soft fuzz. And she smiled. Like a hundred suns. So the couple took her home and they gave her all the love they had and they will continue to give their love forever.”
The little girl was confused. This was as complicated as the one about the girl and the shoe and the pumpkin car. She was out of her depth. The mother wondered how this child was going to get into college. “How do baby smile like sun?”
Mom whispered conspiratorially, “They smile like you.”
Still in mystery, the little girl giggled as her mother touched the tip of her nose.
The child would not understand until a couple years later that this story was truly about her. The girl heard that story every night until the mother could see the recognition in her eyes. When the girl, now out of diapers and in Snoopy pajamas said, “I was in a baby store,” that was when Mom sighed and smiled. Thank God, she may just make it into college after all.
And it was years after that when the little girl learned not all little girls come from “baby stores.” She was special. She was adopted. And all the many facets of her special origin story would reveal themselves piece by piece as time went on.