Monday, July 2, 2007

Getting Ready for the Onslaught

So. It's that time of the year again already. Summer vacation will soon be upon us.
The push is on.

I called the dentist this morning to get my teeth cleaned this week and next week (here in Japan they like to clean just a couple of teeth at each visit. It has something to do with insurance payments but it is really irksome for foreigners who come from countries where the dentist can clean ALL your teeth in one sitting!). I'll have to get a hair cut maybe next week. Gotta remember to dye my roots then too.

Oh and mustn't forget to organize my sanity and ponder some universal truths in solitude.

It's time to make a list titled "things I can't do with children underfoot" and try to get through them all before the educational institutions of Japan release my offspring for a month.

I remember the good old days (which were right up until the year 1998 when my first daughter was born) when summer vacations were "mine". I owned them. Summer vacation was for three main activities:
1. Sleep
2. Idling away the day light hours doing things like swimming, then laying in the sun to dry, then getting back in the water, then drying out again, then getting back in the water. . .
3. Social drinking (without having to care whether or not it would impair my ability to be my best on the next day--I mean submerging oneself in water and drying out doesn't require that much mental finesse.) The socializing was the real high light of it anyway--staying out late at clubs or at friends' houses, talking and laughing, being carefree and witty.

And now I'm embarrassed. Did my mother at the age of 40 long for her graduate school day summer vacations as well?

Since the year 1998 however, summers have been changing. The biggest change came when my eldest started elementary school here in Japan. And brought home summer homework. A big pile of it. And a daily schedule. On which she was to record the time of day she woke up, her daily activities and the time she went to bed--for every day of summer vacation.

And then there was the knock at the front door from the representative from the local child's association. She gave us a Morning Exercises card. During summer vacation we were supposed to get Reno up and alert and down to the neighborhood park to do rajio taiso (Radio Exercises). Rajio taiso starts at 7 a.m.

So now here I am, just weeks before the start of another summer vacation and I am panicking. Saki will start going to preschool for mornings only from July 17th. That means both she and I get the joy of getting her up in the morning, fed, dressed and wrestled onto the preschool bus only to have her reappear at our doorstep shortly before noon. I get to make lunches!

Why it is that before every school break the preschool goes to half days the week before I don't know. . . just to increase the mounting tension among the mothers?

July 19th will be her last day of preschool. However, for some horrible reason, Reno's summer break doesn't begin until one week later. What makes a pubescent 9 year old angrier and moodier? Try sending her off to school while her younger sister waves at her from the wadding pool out back!

So, I have the girls signed up for swimming lessons (but it'll only be a 5 day course). My husband Masa spontaneously enrolled them yesterday evening. Later when I thanked him he replied, "I didn't want to hear your whining."

Of course, I get to ride the bus to and from swimming lessons with them and I get to sit up in the second floor glass encased viewing area to peer down at them during their lessons. With about 100 other mom's and their toddlers and babies. At least Japanese women don't smoke in such situations. I recall nearly going ballistic when I went to the "video and picture taking day" at the swim club one year. Apparently, the lure of using photography and video equipment was enough to get the Dad's there because on that day I ended up wedged between two men who chain smoked the entire time. And I was about 8 months pregnant with Saki at the time.

I was so surprised the first time I put Reno in swim lessons to learn that I was expected to stay right there at the club and watch every second of the goings on. In the U.S. Mom dropped us off at the YMCA and sped away, rather happily as I recall. . .

Other than the swimming lessons there will be the rajio taiso, the daily schedule, the summer homework and the dreaded summer art/craft project. Although we never have glued together the miniature log cabin that Masa brought home from a business trip to Canada for Reno. . .

If my husband Masa got a summer holiday than it might be different. But this year instead of time off he actually has conferences to go to out of town on most of the weekends in July and August. If I could drive it would be different. I currently don't hold a drivers license anywhere in the world. . . stupid, stupid, series of events lead to this. . . but bottom line is that I can't drive legally here in Japan. So the girls and I are kinda stuck here in our neighborhood.

I love living in the country side but have realized that the biggest thing I have had to give up by moving to the country side in Japan is a regular, convenient bus service. Here the buses come once every hour or so. In the cities in Japan they come every 10 minutes. Plus most of the bus schedules can be obtained in English. Here it is entirely in Japanese and often, the local stops aren't even listed. . . My neighbors,when I first made inquires about the local bus service, laughed politely and explained that they had never used a city bus. Now when I am on the city bus I look around and sure enough, everyone else on there (both of them) appear to be elderly citizens who either never learned to drive an automobile or have had their license/driving privileges revoked. And me. The clueless foreigner who just "forgot" to renew her U.S. drivers license thus letting it expire and then I waited too long to renew it and now am unable to get an international drivers license and . . . well, there I am, sitting on the bus, perched on the edge of my seat, wondering what the next stop will be as I have no clue how to read the kanji displayed in the "next stop" electronic scroll at the head of the bus.

But I have figured out the bus to the pool/recreation point. A bilingual (and literate in Japanese) foreign friend came and visited us here this past January and she decoded the bus to the pool for me. I am sure we will be busing it many times during the hot summer months.

So soon, my day will be taken over by schedules and lists--the antithesis of my summer vacations from way back when. For Saki, summer vacation is still fun. The problem for Mommy these days though is how to keep Saki happy and safe while forcing Reno to sit and study every day for 1-2 hours or more. Saki can already repeat most of the dialog from nearly every Disney animated feature that there is. (I have to stop relying on the DVD player so much.)

Of course, Saki already has her little stash of "homework" activities--drawing, learning her numbers and her alphabet as well as her hiragana (the Japanese phonetic writing system). But it drives her sister crazy because Saki just flat out has FUN when she studies versus the agonizing pain that Reno appears to have to put herself through to do anything school related. So to make herself feel better Reno likes to tell Saki that her handwriting is messy and that her artwork is pathetic.

And then Saki begins to wail. And over the sounds of her little sister's shrieks will come Reno's admonitions of "don't be such a cry baby, looooser." Sometimes she'll toss in a scathing, "nakimushi" which I translate as "crying worm". I don't know what the real translation is but my own translation works for me. In fact, Saki will begin to writhe very much like a worm as her cries of outrage crescendo, breaking over our household.

And I will feel like crawling away and submersing myself in some water and then crawling out onto a nice lawn chair and drying out. But I won't be able to. Instead I'll have to stay with the taunting elder sibling and the crying worm. If I am inspired and have the energy I will choose that moment to whip out a fun summer time activity that all three of us can participate in. If on the other hand I am tired and uninspired I will calendar gaze--counting down the days until containment.

*Language Note: nakimushi translated into proper English is: cry baby. So older sister is just putting little sister down bilingually--the same insult in two languages. Kind of like my mother's famous, "Cease and desist!" from my childhood. I remember when I realized that both words meant the same thing and came up with the flippant teenager come back, "bit repetitive and redundant aren't you Mom?"

**Language Question: Anyone know the kanji for nakimushi? My original translation came about because I associated "naki" with the Japanese verb "naku" to cry. And I associated "mushi" with the Japanese noun "mushi" which is insect/bug. Then I flipped that bug into a worm, cause, well, picturing a worm crying amused me. With kanji though, you can have the same pronunciation as another word but have an entirely differnt meaning/word on your hands. Wondering how close to/ far off the mark I was on this one. . .


Sarah said...

I almost didn't survive the first week of Spring Break this year so I have been avoiding thinking about what we will do when the summer hits us.

After reading your story, I realized that I need to count my blessings. I can drive and my older two girls are only one year apart so they can participate in a lot of the same activities although Emi will probably have homework. I think that keeping Sakura occupied will be the biggest issue for me.

Everytime I call my mom to complain about my woes, she reminds me that me and my siblings (four of us) were home for 3 months each summer so I shouldn't be complaining! That doesn't make me feel better, though!

Donna said...

wow, I homeschool and your summer vacation schedule is busier than my school year one! 2 hours of study every day? And do you have to take your daughter down for exercise, or is this suggested? Because I think we would oversleep every day on that one.

Kanji for nakimushi is 泣き虫, the kanji is crying and bug, just as you thought. I guess maybe mushi is used because it's so small and insignificant, cry-bug instead of cry-baby?

Oh, you asked on my blog how I found yours--I had looked something up on google, found another Japanese blog, started blog-hopping from that and found yours--it looked interesting so I added it to my bloglines.

Claire said...

Now you've got me worried! This will be the first summer holiday I've had the boys at home - until now they've been in daycare, which carried on throughout the summer. I'm going to have to get a haircut pronto, before it's too late... thanks for the heads up.

At least I don't think we do rajio taiso here. Nothing came round about it last year, anyway.

I have to admit that, bad mum that I am, I don't watch the boys' swim class all the way through. The pool is upstairs from a supermarket that has a coffee shop, so today I took my computer and worked for most of the time they were swimming. It was great, actually - it's amazing how much more I can get done without the distraction of Internet access!

Trisha said...

Just wanted tolet you know that I finally got around to the meme you tagged me for. Stop by and check it out when you have time.

Tigermama said...

And this is exactly why I am heading home on July 12th....well, that and the excrutiating heat! That Rajio Taiso sounds like pure torture although I have heard that most kids really enjoy participating in it.

Gambatte ne!!!

Christelle said...

Your blog made me laugh so hard! I'm also starting to have second thoughts on the whole starting a family thing. (Just kidding- well, half kidding).

Trisha said...

Just wondering if you wold like me to pick up anything for you while I am in the States- maybe a little something to help the kids pass the time or something to help ease the pain for me. Just let me know by next Tuesday July 10. You can find my e-mail address on my about me page.

Christelle said...

I just reread your post, the part about "taunting elder sister and the crying worm" makes me laugh every time. While I read those paragraphs I could picture it all so vividly, brilliant writing! :)