Monday, June 04, 2007

Time Flies When You're Not on a Schedule

I've been keeping up with my kids/family blogging mostly at Mostly Harmless, but I'm going to take advantage of the freedom from the CitizenSE Programming Schedule to fill you in on the events of the extended weekend and the doings of the Dramatis Personae here in Fukuoka. With less than two months to go in the Fulbright year, we are already missing it and already nostalgic for it. So we've been doing a lot together as a family and meeting other families, trying to pack as much into the time remaining here that we can.

Onechan has started taking swimming lessons on Fridays with her yochien classmates, so after giving her a few sessions on her own "to get her feet wet" without us, this past Friday we decided to see what it was like. We got to take a 10-minute bus ride from the yochien to the pool, riding with the middle class of three in her yochien, their teacher, and the other parents (well, moms) and younger siblings. It was a lot of fun to see and hear the kids' rapid mood swings, from the excited race to the yochien gate to see who would be first to get in line for the bus to the exuberant conversation as the bus left the school bus to the first dispute that lead to tears to getting excited again as the bus pulled into the pool lot. We could only wonder what onechan's ride was like--the younger and older classes were on a different bus. When we got to the pool, we waited with the other moms and younger siblings in a glass-enclosed area as the yochien kids went into the locker room to change and eventually emerged into the pool area. All three classes had to march in, following their leader, then line up for warm-up dancing/stretching, then march over to the part of the lane that was blocked off for them. Onechan was in a group of two girls and two boys (the youngest in the yochien). They practiced getting in the pool, jumping up and down in the water, getting water on their face and heads (and wiping it away from their eyes), holding hands and converging on the center of their circle and moving back away from it, going under and inside and under and outside a floating hula hoop (which invariably got raised a bit so they wouldn't have to submerge completely if they didn't want to), then going through the same hula hoop held perpendicular to and partly above the water surface (most would lift it higher so they could get under without getting their faces wet), then running in a circle while the teacher made waves, and on to other games to get them comfortable in the water and used to being wet. Right next to them, the middle and oldest classes were running through the same exercises more quickly and going on to more advanced things. There was no real drama, except when onechan tripped and her teacher had to do a quick rescue (she didn't cry at the time, only when they were waiting for the bus to return to the yochien, and then only for a little bit), but it was totally hilarious and cute to watch her and her friends in the water. You could really see the kids' personalities in the different ways they approached doing the same thing--and how different many of them were in the water from the way we were used to seeing them in the playground at the yochien. We got a bit sad that we wouldn't get to see onechan doing what the middle and oldest classes did in the coming years, but for the most part were too busy cracking up to worry at the time.

The next day, we also got to see a bunch of kids together--this time, ages 4-12--when we sat in on an English Day for an elementary school that one of my Japanese professor friends helped organize and which his oldest daughter attends. Like with the swimming lessons, the kids were divided into groups by age and performed skits or sang songs that allowed them to learn together, without anyone being put on the spot or singled out. With all the parents and younger siblings in attendance for this two-hour program, there must have been 50 kids and 30 adults there. My friend said that he started volunteered in April, teaching English for the youngest kids after school; each week, more and more kids signed up, until he had to start turning them away after the class reached double digits. So there's great interest and enthusiasm in English in this eastern suburb of Fukuoka. After the program ended, we visited the professor's family at their house. The girls loved playing with their 6-year-old girl, 4-year-old boy, and 3-year-old boy. We went shopping at Costco for barbecue materials and ended up staying until 10 pm. We would have stayed overnight with them, but we didn't bring diapers for imoto and we had another meeting set up with a different Japanese professor's family in a different part of town on Sunday morning. This visit also involved a train ride out of the central city area and then a car ride to their actual residence. The girls had a great time playing with their 3-year-old daughter and her neighbors at their small apartment complex. Onechan never quite got the hang of riding a bike or jumping rope, but she sure got a lot of practice. And imoto learned what skinning her knee felt like, as she kept trying to walk too fast on the sloped and rough pavement. We got a chance to talk about living in the States with the professor and his wife, the first of many conversations to come, as they will be moving to western Pennsylvania in late July so he can do some advanced graduate work and professional development. We're already looking ahead to getting together in the States.

One of the amazing things about the Fulbright year has been seeing what the lives of couples with young children in Fukuoka are like. We've been fortunate to get to know many families with infants through the kominkan system, many parents with pre-school kids through onechan's yochien, international couples with largely younger children through the Mixi group that meets at various places in the city as well as online, and even some families with kids in elementary and secondary schools through my faculty contacts. It's given us a lot to think about in terms of what's best for our own children and what options we can and should pursue as an international family.

But home is calling us, too. There have been a few births among faculty friends and news of more to come in the fall and winter. There have been new hires in my department and elsewhere. We're already making plans to send our stuff back to the States, get the utilities for the house back in our name, and have a new Prius ready for us to buy when we get back in mid-August. The tsuma is signing up for courses in her Masters in Library Science program that starts in late August around the time my semester does. It's hard to anticipate how much the place has changed in our absence--or assess how much we have. But it's hard not to try.

Maybe imoto's recent clinginess--calling for her mom whenever she's out of sight, wanting me to hold her as much as possible and crying when I leave for work--is tied to this feeling we have of being in two places at once, and neither. Speaking of which, it's time to finish what I need to do here in the office and head home!

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