Friday, April 27, 2007

Pretty Terrible Alright aka PTA Japanese style

Seems like a long time since I have written anything here. . . writing has sort of suffered the same fate as my "I will work out every day" and "I will experiment with cooking new and tasty foods" and "I'll make weekly menus" and . . . well most of my good intentions to do anything on a regular basis. Kids get sick, visas expire, applications for permanent residency must be submitted (which means gathering a pile of paper work from official offices all over this island nation) and the ultimate death knell for personal plans and "me time", the husband gets sick and takes a week off work to recover at home.

Oh, and the start of a new school year is always loads of fun. I don't know what it would entail in the U.S. (my Native country) but here in Japan it meant that I got to go to parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings and spend many evenings labeling small objects with my children's names. And this year I got to sew "loops" onto nearly every piece of clothing my Miss 4 wears to Pre-school--except for her socks! The school has them wear their uniforms to school, then upon arriving at the school every morning the kids change out of their uniforms into their gym shorts and smocks. . . so everything has to have a big "loop" on it so that they can hang things in their cubbies. I'm not so sure about all this time being spent on changing into and out of clothing. . . seems like one sure way to kill about an hour of the school day.

Although, I have to admit, the pride and confidence that radiated from Miss 4 the first morning here at home when she declared herself able to "do it myself" when it came time to don the pleated wool skirt, tights, long sleeve blouse, jacket, and bow tie was something I curled right up to and basked in--while it lasted. She did end up nearly strangling herself with the bow tie and in a towering rage threatened to "cut it up". But otherwise, she looked so grown up and determined attiring herself all by herself like that!

So. Currently my husband (who has influenza B) is out with Miss 9 (who also has Influenza B) at the local pediatrician. I think it is cute that my husband is too busy to go to a regular doctor. He gets seen by the pediatrician too! He left complaining about the cute little kitten holding a balloon on his patient card and I had to smile. . . I mean, "Honey, she is a doctor for children after all!" And Miss 4 passed out on the carpet while watching Madeline on the T.V. for a short nap. So I decided to just sit and do it. Blog something.

There hasn't been anything terribly exciting in my life recently. There was the PTA meeting. It was the first I had ever been to as when Miss 9 started elementary school I was working full-time and unable to go to them and then when we moved here last year I was just too overwhelmed by everything to subject myself to that kind of thing. For those of you who live in your native countries to help you get an idea of what a PTA meeting for me in Japan is like, first imagine the longest and most boring meeting you've ever been forced to attend. Then imagine the whole thing was conducted in a language that to you sounded like one word of English mixed in with the sound of nails on a chalk board (I'm trying to get you to my level of frustration with my lack of Japanese conversational skill). Next, imagine that everyone at the meeting didn't want to volunteer to do a single thing and the fact that you didn't understand what the hell was going on just looked like a bad attempt to get off easy in their eyes.

Yes, they actually nearly nominated me head of my class committee. And mothers actually did play rock, paper, scissors to decide who HAD to fill certain positions. And--no one laughed.

I, of course, sat with my committee for the full 40 minutes that we were supposed to--mapping out our plan of action for the year. No one introduced themselves to me. No one looked at me. They talked and laughed for a good 40 minutes while I played with my electronic dictionary and kept raging to myself "I am NOT a moron. I just can't speak Japanese. I am NOT a moron." Then I took out my glasses cleaning kit, took off my glasses, sprayed one side of the lenses and then, without flipping them over as I didn't want it to drip all over me, proceeded to spray the other side and since I am blind as a dead mole without my glasses I leaned in and ended up spraying myself directly in the eyes. My eyes instantly teared up and I think I made some strangled noises indicating great pain. Of course for the class PTA meeting we were all sitting in one large circle. . . when I put my glasses back on I could see several amused glances being cast my way. When the tears finally cleared up the lady next to me finally spoke to me.

"What country are you from?"


"Oh. America. I have an exchange student from, how do you say Kangoku?"


"Yes, from Kangoku. Your Japanese is much better than it was last year."

"Oh?" this one threw me and I must have expressed all my confusion plainly on my face as she finally laughed gently and said, "I called you once last year for the class phone list."

Oooooooohhhhhh. One of those calls. How embarrassing. I wonder how much I had not understood that time.

"Your Japanese is much better now."

"Thank you?" (you have to ask it like a question when it just seems like an absurdly apparent bald faced lie kind of compliment.)

"Can you understand?" she asked while waving her hand in the direction of the still laughing and speed talking other mothers on our committee.

"No. Not when people talk that fast."

"But . . . if. . . they. . . talk. . . slowly. . . and . . . . clearly?"

"Yes. Then I can understand."

It was kind of a funny conversation, a bit irritating in places, but the major feeling I came away with was happiness. Someone had finally talked TO me! And thanks to her I found out a way to contribute to the PTA this year. I will go to the school once in July and once in February and I will help clean windows. I will bring a zoukin (a Japanese dust cloth) and I will clean class room windows.



Sarah said...

Laura! Wow! I let my husband do all that kind of stuff. I feel a little bad because he ends up being the only guy there but he's sweet and I get lots of compliments later.

I have made some friends with the moms of kids in Emi & Misaki's class but I think it was because I was pregnant and usually dragging around another kid. Kind of like there was a huge exclamation point hanging over my head and everyone had to ask about it. For example, You're Pregnant, AGAIN! or something like that. But it did help me get to know other moms.

Our neighbors are also head of the PTA so they sign us up for stuff they know we can do so my husband will be collecting recyclables once in May and then again in February. I have a baby so I don't get asked to do much! Not that I'm recommending pregnancy to get out of PTA stuff but it has worked for me so far. Probably next year I won't be so lucky and I'll end up getting roped in somehow.

I hope things go well for you with your window cleaning.

Sheri said...

Hi, I came through Lily's blog but I think I know from MIJ. Do you have a fondness for David Sedaris?
I am not looking forward to all of that stuff here. DS was in hoikuen until last year and has just started kindy this year. I have already missed some things due to working. (The walk to and from kindy is always with the moms and I feel bad that I can't be part of that for DS. also feel like I am outsider...) I'm not rally looking forward to school. :(
Maybe it won't be so bad, though.
Hopefully you won't continue feeling so lft out, and at least you only have to do the windows. I guess it could have been worse.

Lily said...

Your hilarious! I was given some English magazine for families in Kanto and I thought of you. I couldn't believe people were being paid for writing it- I wanted to email the magazine to look at your blog because you should have your own column (problem is you live in Akita now). Your writing is so entertaining and I think you could make it into a career. The magazine was really poorly written and it makes me sad to think that there is this great talent out in Akita that so many people here would love to read. Have you thought about contributing articles to English magazines or newspapers?

coarse gold girl said...

Oooooohhhh Comments! I love comments. I am a shameless comment addict! Sarah--your husband is a great guy! Wish my DH could do ANY of the school stuff but so far, he has managed to have a parent-teacher conference over the phone with a teacher ONCE, oh, and he has attended at least two undokais! In our family Dad=work and Mom=everything single other aspect of family life.

Sheri--nice to see you here! I've been over looking at your blog--your son is adorable! David Sedaris--recently picked up a book by him but haven't had time to get to it. I'm still too in love with "Because I said So": 33 Mothers Write about Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves. It's a brilliant collection of essays and I just keep going back and reading and rereading.

Lily, THANK YOU! Can I just go ahead and give you a huge cyber hug? Your comments left me all choked up! And because you can write just after giving birth and even on the first day back home from hospital--you are my mommy writing heroine!

Gina said...


I loved this post. I have avoided joining the PTA in Japan as well. This year especially, I have gotten some pressure to join, but I just said, sorry my youngest son needs me and I can't. LOL. Good excuse I know, I know. Like you said, the meetings are extremely long. And my Japanese level is also pretty horrible. I have a good amount of girlfriends/moms from my sons yochien. But there are still a few that don't speak to me either.I just say, screw em'!

Last year, there was a mother/child folk dance thing at the yochien, one afternoon. Before the kids came in, we had to practice with another mom. Now, my girlfriends were already paired up with their younger kids who were able to dance (Noah was too young to dance last year) but my friends had kids the age of about 2 years and 10 month's, so old enough to dance with their moms. Which was understandable why I had no partner. The lady who was my partner didn't want to be my partner anymore then I wanted to be hers, we were paired up, she kept telling her friend behind us. "I can't be her partner, switch with me" And she said "she couldn't speak English" so change. She barely even held my hand to do the folk dancing! I understood what she said. And I wondered how did she know...I wasn't an expert Japanese speaker? I mean I am *not* but how could she assume that about me, right off the bat like that?

Laura, I blogged about this last year. But, I'll tell you. It really and truly hurt me! Like was I really so gosh darn awful? I felt like...getting up and walking out of the room and leaving! I stayed for Branden. Because I knew he would be walking into the room at any second.

Perhaps I am cut from a different cloth then that. But I could never hurt someone like that. Not ever! Heck, I'm human and it hurt my feelings so much last year.

A year has passed and I got like I said, a good circle of friends. But the few that don't talk to me, I just ignore them! I don't need that. And I certainly don't deserve to be treated like that. Even my good circle of friends, heck I have trouble understanding what;s going on at times. A lot of times I just shake my head in agreement, ha ha ha. Yeah right, what am I agreeing to again?

By the way, every year they ask me what job I want. I always tell them I would like to pull the weeds near the flower garden. Because there are not too many, lol. And I get to be in the fresh air and sunshine and Noah can cruise the school grounds since it's gated. Ha ha ha. Enjoy your windows, Laura, you got a pretty good job too, wink wink.: )

Your friend,

coarse gold girl said...

You are a more forgiving person than me! I'd still be glowering at that silly mum! Thank you for your response and sharing your experience with me.

That is such shockingly age inappropriate behavior! Scared to think what her kid must be like!

Sometimes here (and I suppose, probably in the U.S. too, if I lived there) I just have to laugh at the absurdity of the small behavior I encounter. I particularily remember when I was pregnant and HUGE and how people would just literally stare at me with their jaws open! I LAUGHED.

Most of the time, they realized what they were doing then and laughed about it too. . . but sigh.

At last week's mother's lunch/tea at DD#2's youchien (where I have never encountered bad behavior or rude manners before) I was seated next to a woman that just absolutely refused to not only make eye contact with me when spoken to but to even turn her head in my direction.

I suppose on a better day I would have laughed at that--it was like she "froze" upon being addressed by the gaijin. . . but on that day I was in a bad mood and it just got under my skin. Especially when her head would whip up and she'd give a big embracing smile to any of the Japanese mums who directed a comment/question her way.

I understand shy. I am shy. But when rude gets thrown into the mix. . . .

Well. I still know that she may not have meant to offend me/hurt my feelings. It has reminded me to continue to work with my shy older daughter on the nicities (sp?) of social life. Greeting others when you are scared of being potentially rejected, remembering to say please and thank you and to answer someone's question with more than a one word answer.

Maybe life long learning is just underlined and high lighted when you are trying your best to make your way through life in a foreign country and culture!