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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On the Fly: Bumps in the Road

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 5:10 PM

click to enlarge At the hospital in Kyoto. Dahlia was too upset to take a photo of my bloody face, so she got us from the side.
  • At the hospital in Kyoto. Dahlia was too upset to take a photo of my bloody face, so she got us from the side.

We spent our last night in Japan in an emergency room.

One of my biggest fears leading up to this trip was that one of us would get injured or sick and end up at the mercy of foreign doctors, hoping to communicate and get the care we need. However, when I imagined this scenario, it was always one of my children hurt or sick and me crazy with worry.

We had just finished our last evening meal in Japan and were heading back to the ryokan, or inn, where we were staying before leaving for China in the morning. Walking through the neighborhood — a touristy but beautiful area built into the hills with shrines and winding streets filled with art galleries and restaurants — I noticed a lovely alleyway lit by the Japanese lanterns. When I saw a chance to cross over the main road, I did something I don’t normally do.

I didn't see any cars coming, so I began to walk across the middle of the street — something I have taught my children never to do — an my family followed me. It was such a lovely evening, and we felt comfortable in Kyoto, and I was tired and ready to make a shortcut back to the ryokan. Midway across, I saw cars speeding toward us, so I yelled “Run!” and pulled Kaya’s hand.

I didn’t see the metal reflector built into the road marking the middle line since I was looking at oncoming traffic, so when my foot hit it, I went flying. I landed on my belly, and then my jaw came crashing down onto the road. I felt the blood gushing out of my mouth.


I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could. I knew that the cars had not seen me, or slowed down, and that if I stayed there one more second, I would be run over.  On one side of the road I heard Adam roar, “STOP!” to the traffic and Dahlia screaming. Somehow, I got myself up, and Kaya and Lola made it to the other side safe with me. Adam yelled, “Are you OK?!” while Dahlia was crying. “Is the baby killed?” she asked.

It happened so fast that it felt surreal. I guess that's the nature of accidents. I held my mouth, convinced that if I opened it, my two front teeth would fall out. My other hand held my belly. I was so scared that I had indeed killed the baby inside me.

A kind passerby directed us to a nearby hotel where I was given a bag of ice and we called a taxi to the hospital. I had started to shake violently. I felt a tightness in my belly that scared me.

After what felt like a game of charades trying to explain what had happened to the hospital registration desk, we managed to communicate that I wanted to check on the baby. After about an hour of waiting, I was ushered into a room where they performed an ultrasound. To my great relief, I could see the baby’s heartbeat and movements.

I was still so shaken up that I neglected to ask about my lip. As we were leaving, I showed Adam my mouth. He cringed when he saw the gaping wound where my bottom incisor had punctured my upper lip. “You need stitches,” he said.

But it was past 10 p.m., and the girls were exhausted. So was I. The thought of trying to communicate with the staff again to explain this was too much. It’s the inside my mouth, I figured. It should heal OK. We hailed a taxi back to the ryokan and dropped onto our tatami mats beside each other, grateful that everyone was safe.

Adam and I lay there, watching shadows from the garden outside create mysterious shapes across the shoji screens. We held each other and reflected on the week that had passed. We had traveled to Tokyo, where Adam and Lola climbed Mt. Fuji while Dahlia, Kaya and I went to see the Tokyo Sky Tree — the second tallest freestanding tower in the world.
click to enlarge Homeschooling at a converted conference center in Shikoku.
  • Homeschooling at a converted conference center in Shikoku.

We visited the island of Shikoku where we swam in the ocean, stayed with a Japanese family and ate communal meals. We went for long walks, collected shells and homeschooled the girls in a monstrous yet empty converted 1960’s conference center overlooking the ocean.

We stayed in the Iya Valley where beautiful, deep gorges with whitewater rapids were the backdrop to the onsen (traditional Japanese baths) where we sat and cleansed our bodies and minds.

In Hiroshima, we met a septuagenarian survivor of the atomic bomb. He told us his story, gave the girls his hand-carved wooden pencils and implored them to be ambassadors of peace back home. We toured Peace Memorial Park and were moved by the stories our guide told us of children survivors. We saw thousands of origami paper cranes at the monument for those children, in particular Sadako Sasaki, whose story was immortalized in Eleanor Coerr's book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. (We read it together before leaving for our trip.)

It was a whirlwind week of trains, buses and subways, navigating through city after city, one new cultural experience after another. 
click to enlarge Exploring the shoreline on the island of Shikoku.
  • Exploring the shoreline on the island of Shikoku.

After more than a month together we had been feeling the intensity of this adventure. We fought heatedly over where to eat, what activities to do, how to school the girls and who was getting on whose nerves. Maybe this is too ambitious, we thought. I even suggested that Adam take a day every week to himself since he was getting frustrated; I knew the children and I were slowing him down. I cried, we yelled, the girls squabbled. We were all feeling low.

This is the part of travel you can’t plan for: the inevitable unraveling of the tight bonds we spent the better part of the month forming. In retrospect, of course, it's completely natural that we would go through transitions on this trip. In Adam’s work, they call this “forming, storming and norming.” 

The accident put our fighting in perspective. All of it seemed inconsequential next to the fact that I could have been run over and the baby could have died. Adam and I held onto each other all night, listening to the girls breathing, watching the shadows on the shoji screens and finally falling asleep.

Tomorrow would be a new chapter, in China, and I knew our family would be ready and stronger than ever — fat lip, cracked tooth, bruised body and all.

Kids VT contributor Jessica Lara Ticktin is traveling the world with her family, homeschooling three daughters along the way — while pregnant. She’s documenting her family’s adventures until they return to Vermont in December. 

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