PETALING JAYA: “Mum, it’s 50gm a cookie, right?” asks six-year-old Jonah, pausing before scooping up some chocolate chip cookie dough.
After getting a “yes”, he returns to the task at hand – scooping, measuring, then shaping the dough into balls before placing them gently onto a baking tray.
Sitting on a high chair at the kitchen counter, Jonah’s expression is intense as he concentrates on his cookies, oblivious to the shenanigans of his boisterous younger brother, Jamian.
Four-year-old Jamian is clearly excited at having FMT as his family’s guests in their studio apartment and quickly demands a game of chase.
Jonah occasionally looks up, silently watching his younger brother giggling as he dodges all attempts to catch him. Instead of joining in the fun though, he goes back to his work and lays out the cookie dough in neat rows on the baking tray.
“Jonah’s dream is to run like other children, but because of his condition, he is unable to run with other children at the park.
“He is often left alone, and he’ll tell me ‘mummy, I have no friends’,” sighs his 29-year-old mother Miyumi Yanagi, as she removes a fresh batch of cookies from the oven.
Jonah suffers from skeletal dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that affects his bones and joints and hinders his growth and development.
This disorder causes abnormally-shaped bones, especially in the head, spine and the long bones of the arms and legs.
Miyumi tells FMT she first discovered something was wrong during her six-month ultrasound scan, which revealed that one of Jonah’s bones was not the proper length.
The doctor originally diagnosed him with dwarfism, but later found that the bone was not only short but also bowed.
“They thought it was broken due to the angle and, until the day of the delivery, suspected it was Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), otherwise known as brittle bone disease,” says Miyumi.
“Once Jonah was delivered, he was diagnosed again. Fortunately, it was not OI but skeletal dysplasia.”
Miyumi turns her attention to Jonah, sitting at the kitchen counter, and asks if he’s ready to frost the rows of gingerbread cookies cooling on a table next to the Christmas tree. He smiles eagerly.
Doting grandmother Rina helps Jonah off the chair and he enthusiastically makes his way to the table full of colourful frosting bags.
As Jonah keeps busy, Miyumi keeps a watchful eye on him – explaining that his bones are much more fragile than the average child’s.
“When he was two years old, he fell and fractured a bone. He has had two fractures so he has to be extra careful. But I am very grateful it was not OI.”
While the tiny baker continues to ice the gingerbread cookies, Miyumi recalls how her son decided to start his own YouTube channel after being inspired by a fellow YouTube artist.
And, while most children Jonah’s age would ask for toys or even handphones for their birthday, this aspiring baker only asks for baking utensils.
Spurred on by her son’s love for baking, Miyumi helped Jonah launch Jonah Bakes in mid-December, specialising in gingerbread cookies and chocolate chip cookies.
“The gingerbread cookies are my mum’s recipe, which is a big hit with the boys. It is surprising to see the number of orders flooding in now. Earlier it was just friends and family, but now we are swamped,” smiles Miyumi.
She offers a freshly baked cookie for tasting. It has a light crunch on the outside, and is soft and chewy inside. The light sprinkling of salt on top balances the sweetness nicely.
However, things haven’t always been so sweet for this family. Miyumi’s voice falters as she talks about her recent escape from an abusive marriage.
“I grew up without a father and I didn’t want the same to happen to my boys, so I stayed put in the marriage despite the abuse. But last year, I hit my breaking point and my cousin helped us escape.
“We stayed with my cousin until my job stabilised and we then moved into this small studio. The rent is affordable and we can manage,” says Miyumi, who now sells carpets for a living.
But the single mother has looming worries when the new year begins. For starters, she has to find transportation for Jamian when he begins kindergarten and look for a school that will accept Jonah.
Her ultimate dream is for Jonah Bakes to take off so she can quit her job, help her son bake cookies and take care of her children full time. Most importantly she would like to home-school Jonah.
But for now, there’s Chinese New Year to look forward to and Miyumi reveals that Jonah will be releasing new sweet treats for the festivities.
Hearing this, Jonah drops his bag of frosting and walks over to his grandmother so she can remove his apron. He then pretends to be a dinosaur and chases after Jamian.
The tiny studio apartment in Damansara Perdana is filled with the delighted squeals and giggles of playing children.
Could this be the reason why Jonah Bakes’ cookies taste so delicious, filled as they are with familial love, laughter and most importantly, the unbeatable spirit of a tiny six-year-old with a big dream? It could very well be!
Keep on baking, tiny Jonah!