James has been an ichi nen sei (1st grader) for one whole week. I have been stressed to the eyeballs for the entire week, too! The ceremony passed without event though a neighbourhood mum, whom I had not seen in possibly four years, stopped for a chat in the gym. I did remember her but what with returning to work four years ago I have failed to keep in touch. Was nice to see her and I am a bit sad our sons are not in the same class, but I’m sure our paths will cross again.
James’ teacher is a fresh out of college newbie teacher. I’m guessing we are both going to struggle this year and mess things up. Even worse, it’s a he. A young man teacher. After the ceremony all the mums and dads (every other child in the class had both parents present on the first day) went back to the classroom. We all piled in and saw the mountain of stuff on our child’s desk. More stuff to label. More things to read in a foreign language. Very little info was given out – just told to look through the literature and figure it out basically. When we were asked if we had any questions, I do not lie when I say nearly all the mums’ hands shot up. We all wanted to know if we needed to make a bento that first week. We had heard the horror stories of how it could quite possibly be illegal to open a school canteen during the first week of term. Low and behold, no school lunch until Thursday because the first graders finish school at 10:30 am (what the F*@!) So a bento was needed and James would be at gakudo (kids club) most of the week again. I can only imagine that the teacher didn’t deem it necessary to impart the importance of a bento to the mums, because I assume he still lives at home with his parents. His mum most probably makes his bento for him everyday so not high in his list of priorities – bentos just get made and kids somehow arrive at school fully equipped.
There were no instructions about what or how to label things – obviously name on note books, text books, pencil tins, glue stick, scissors etc… If I hadn’t been forewarned from several colleagues with kids already in elementary school, I would never have dreamed of initialing every coloured pencil in the tin, nor would I have deemed it necessary to spend a ridiculous amount of time writing the letter J on every single one of the cubes in the maths set we had been given. The only indication that we were expected to label every god damn thing in the equipment box, was the inclusion of a new marker pen in the said box. Why would James need a marker pen, I thought to myself… Oh, it’s for mummy to use. Nothing written in the wads of info given to us. What if you had literally just been beamed in from Mars and had absolutely no idea about the ways and customs and expectations of the people you were now living among? You are just expected to know these things. Many other such examples where communication problems are the direct result of the implicit knowledge you are expected to have. The unspoken should be understood by all. Needless to say, mind reading is not one of my strong points.
Luckily for me, Tamiko has been on hand to help with simple questions about the everyday things. Do I need to send James to school with a flask so he has access to a drink? I have no knowledge of drinks machines, milk monitors, drinking fountains in Japanese elementary schools and NOTHING had been said about it or written about it. Apparently, only in summer do kids take a flask because they get thirstier than usual. There are lots of little issues like this that you can only know about if you have been through the system or been told about them before hand. The maths set labeling fiasco was related to me by several friends and colleagues which leads me to assume that this is the number one bone of contention with starting school among my Japanese peers – so many of them remembered the trouble they had to go to.
Anyway, before my head explodes just thinking again about the logistics involved in getting your child to school everyday, I will say that James seems to be enjoying himself. He has made some new friends already. He hasn’t really done very much by way of study – written his name in a purple crayon, lots of instruction about how to sit in a chair, how to hold a pencil, how to greet people properly and politely, how to feign interest and look enthralled at the banality of your first week in school. Why delay the start of school to only set standards at the lowest denominator when the kids finally get their bums on a seat? I really hope it picks up a bit this week, but a phone call from the teacher informed me that James has four lessons on Monday – 1. whole school assembly thingy 2. Kokugo (Japanese) 3. Maths 4. Music and then the kids will eat lunch – in the classroom because elementary schools in Japan do not have a dining room. After lunch James will go to gakudo until 6pm and then come home. I know it’s all knew and kids need to adjust gradually, but keeping track of when my son is at school and when he’s at gakudo is crazy. Everyday has a different finish time at the moment. Luckily, they get guided into the gakudo as they leave the school entrance.
All these new things have taken their toll on James – he has been one grumpy little sod this weekend. After waking ridiculously early on Saturday morning, he fell asleep on the sofa shortly before lunch and didn’t wake up until 3:30pm!!!! When he woke up he was hell bent on annoying Alexa and not two minutes after he’d opened his eyes they were fighting like cat and dog. Deep breaths… Today he was asleep on the sofa before 7:30 pm. After an afternoon in Kinshi koen and a mini meltdown in the supermarket over some ice cream he wanted but I refused to buy, we got home and set the evening routine in swing. When I returned from my bath I found him deep in slumber on the sofa. I transferred him to his bed (difficult task these days as he weighs 27kg and measures 130 cm.) where he is still snoring away in the land of nod.
Adding to my stress of school stuff in a foreign language, was the amount of time spent searching for a flight/ package deal to Lanzarote for this summer. What a nightmare it is to navigate those sites. After weighing up the offers on various “cheap” flight sites, I decided upon a flight only to be told as I clicked “book now” that the flight was now sold out. I tried another flight – a little more expensive but what the hell. This time I was told that this flight was now more expensive than advertised and so I clicked “book” only to be again told that this flight had also sold out. (insert several expletives here!) After browsing on Friday night and then again on Saturday for hours I finally managed to book a week long package deal in a resort hotel – great facilities for the kids – for the princely sum of 2000 pounds. So much for cheap holidays. Not in August and not in the Canary Islands. It does look like a nice hotel and I’m just praying we (me!) doesn’t frazzle in the heat) I think the kids and me are gonna have a ball. We need some fun and some time away from Japan I think. This holiday will naturally involve a couple of weeks in Manchester and the UK as well. So much to cram in in the three weeks we’ll be away.
Better get off to bed now. Busy day tomorrow…