Friday, August 31, 2007

On Growing Up Too Fast

Onechan's been saying some things since we moved away from Fukuoka that are really heart-breaking. Here are a few:

  • "I want to be a baby again."
  • "I miss my friends at the yochien."
  • "I miss my friends at Chiba."
  • "I miss my friends at [her old day care place in Fredonia]." [This after realizing that yesterday was her last day there--next Tuesday she starts at the university children's center we're calling her hoikuen to link it to and distinguish it from her yochien.]
  • "I want an onechan. A big girl." [This after playing with an 8-year-old all day yesterday and a 5-going-on-6-year-old half the day today.]

These aren't so bad on their own, but in context, they are. I'm not just talking body language and tone of voice. I'm talking about the kind of reception onechan and the tsuma have been getting when they primarily use Japanese out in public here in western NY. (I guess imoto would be getting it, too, if she used more than two words regularly.) Let's just say that they've already gotten more nasty looks and cold shoulders in just over two weeks here than I got the entire year using English in public anywhere in Japan. It would be bad enough on its own, but onechan is old enough to notice it.

Fortunately, it hasn't been all bad. Reuniting with her friends has been great, if awkward at first. With her best friend, onechan slipped into her Fukuoka friendship mode, chattering away in Japanese almost continuously while role-playing various games. In a larger group of old and new faculty kid friends, she went back to her mode on the first few weeks of yochien--quiet observation, tagging along, imitating what the kids were doing, and eventually loosening up.

And it's not like it's not going to get better quickly. Her Fredonia hoikuen is set up remarkably similarly to her Fukuoka yochien, and she started playing with the kids in her room right away when we visited it last week. She's been speaking English her whole life, unlike Japanese, which she's really only started speaking seriously with people other than her mom since January, so it shouldn't take her long to be able to express herself as well in English as Japanese. Her Buffalo hoikuen every Saturday will at least get her speaking and learning Japanese on a regular basis, not to mention interacting with Japanese and Japanese-American kids. And the tsuma and I are doing everything we can to help her stay bilingual, have lots of play time her friends in Fredonia on Sundays, and learn to deal with the eyes on her when she speaks Japanese in public.

But still, it's a complicated homecoming--and worse, onechan is starting to notice the complications. It had to happen eventually, but a part of me was hoping it would come much much later. Staying up worrying about it isn't going to make it any better, so time to sign off. (But I can't help noticing that the day care costs for both girls going twice a week here in western NY are roughly twice what they were in Fukuoka for onechan to go to yochien every weekday, plus get swimming lessons on Fridays with many of her classmates....)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Itai vs. Dame: On Conversations with a 16-Month-Old

Imoto's first language, to the extent she uses language, is Japanese. I'll be writing about onechan's adjustment to life in English tomorrow, but today I want to look at imoto's. Unlike her older sister, who started using words like "wan-wan" (the sound a dog makes in Japanese, but also the name of the lead character on Inai Inai Ba, both girls' favorite toddlers' show on Japanese tv) and "atta" (that--often in reference to a dog she spotted in the distance while we were driving around) from a very young age and built up quite an extensive vocabulary of complaints in Japanese in the first half of her first year, imoto has been much more what we expected from a toddler hearing both Japanese and English at home. She's a real listener and in Dunkirk has gone back to doing what she was doing our last month in Fukuoka--repeating a lot of words and sounds. (For a stretch there in Chiba, she was talking in phrases and sentences in a language mostly of her own invention.) Every once in a while she'll pull out the right word in the right contest ("ohayo" to baba one morning, "owata" when she finished breakfast this morning), just to show off what she knows. But she's found she can get around all day mainly using only two words: "mama" and "itai."

At first, I thought she was calling me "Mama" mistakenly, or out of a desire to tease me (this is actually quite plausible, given her sense of humor--she started doing "inai inai ba" [peekaboo] to other people and giggling uproariously at the drop of a hat before she was 6 months old, if memory serves [and it usually doesn't]), but then I realized that she uses "mama" to let someone else know that she wants something from them. When pressed, she'll throw in another word--like "gigi" for some kind of drink (again confusing, because that's the baby word for grandpa, really)--to specify what it is she wants. But in most circumstances, she'll repeat "mama" until someone figures out what she wants.

"Itai!" is what you say when you're hurt in Japanese--like "ow" or "ouch" in English. But imoto uses "itai" for anything she doesn't like. She'll throw herself on the ground and repeatedly scream "itai" if stop her from doing something she really wants, for instance, which got us all kinds of looks when she did this in public in Fukuoka, Chiba, and Tokyo. Nothing like the sight of a gaijin carrying around a gaijin-looking toddler who's screaming "itai" into his ear in a supermarket to get the concerned looks....

Imoto's gone from being the Happy Science Girl to being the Fearless Stunt Girl. Thanks to onechan and her friends, imoto is all into climbing everything, "because it's there." So the words she most often hears from the tsuma and me are ones like

  • "dame!" [dah-meh]: stop it!
  • "abunai": that's dangerous!
  • "kyotskute": be careful!
  • "yasashii": be nice/gentle!

That last one usually comes up when onechan's throwing a tantrum of her own and of course becomes an easy target for pinching, poking, and hair-pulling.

These last two weeks, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, imoto has been going with her big sister to the day care place onechan went to most of the year before we left for Fukuoka. From next Tuesday on, however, she's on her own. Onechan is graduating to my university's children's center (more on this tomorrow). Oh, and did I mention that as much of a daddy's girl onechan is, imoto is a mommy's girl, and more? So of course we're more worried about how she's going to adjust to day care in a second language than onechan, for whom our anxieties are more diffuse and complex (on which more tomorrow).

As we were getting ready to leave Japan, I kind of figured that imoto would have the easiest transition of us all, but now I'm wondering if hers is going to be the most difficult, and by how far. It's hard enough for onechan to get her head around the fact that the way she talked to her friends in Japan will be incomprehensible to her friends in Fredonia and Dunkirk, much less the idea that most adults in the U.S. have even less Japanese than her dad (whom she's been teaching about a word a day)--what imoto will make of all this, I have no idea. I know she'll adjust and adapt eventually--but in what ways and with what effects on her personality and her Japanese, I just don't know.

The folks in Buffalo we are just starting to get to know who organize or use the yochien-like day care arrangement on Saturday mornings and Japanese language classes for older kids all emphasize that once the kids hit elementary school, it's tough to get them to keep speaking Japanese at home. But we haven't heard so much yet about 1-year-olds' adjustments. If you have, please let us know--thanks!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Rip Van Winkle Effect

I did everything I could to avoid becoming Associate Chair of my department upon my return to the States from my Fulbright year in Japan, but had to settle for a one-semester gig in the end. If the position didn't give me +10 in boringness and -8 in cleverness, I'd write a witty riff on the above title to convey what a year leave does to my competence at and motivation for departmental service, but I think you get the picture.

In case, you don't, here's a random list of actual Rip Van Winkle moments in the English department office:

  • "Why isn't this computer connecting to the internet? Ah, great, someone from AIT can come Friday afternoon to fix it--wonderful!" [Fast forward to Sunday morning, the first chance I have to get into the office that weekend.] "What?! How can this key not be working? Am I cursed?" [Result: plan to get to the office bright and early Monday morning, but don't actually make it in until the late afternoon.]
  • "How could I have forgotten both my user ID and password for the key portal into everything I do as a teacher, advisor, and mentor?!" [Result: a series of increasingly-desperate calls to the Help Desk.]
  • "Where is that damn page on the department's contributions to general education? I could have sworn it was easier to find in the old site design!" [Result: cranky email to department listserv, fortunately blocked by the listserv program, which no longer recognizes my address.]
  • "I used to be able to use this program to update my home page and course web sites. Why can't I download the upgrade? What the heck do I use instead?!" [Result: More pestering of the Help Desk, followed by a call to the University Web Coordinator, who had fielded a similar panicked question from Fukuoka when the university changed its web security protocols on me. Turns out the correct program had been on my Mac's control strip all along; nobody ever told me that was pretty much the same secure FTP program that I had downloaded for my Japanese PC laptop. Live and learn.]
  • "Yeah, it does sound like that course ought to count for that requirement. I wonder why it doesn't. Just what is our procedure for appealing transfer credit assignations these days? And what's the latest articulation agreement with that particular community college?" [Result: Sent the student to the new chair, to whom he would have eventually had to talk, anyway.]
  • "I have a vague idea of what our policy on college credits for AP English scores used to be. I wonder what it is now? Time to send another student to the chair!"
  • "Yeah, I think you'd better give me extra advisees, so that the new hires don't have to deal with more than 10 advisees their first semester on the job. And how about giving the other extras to a, b, c, and d? What?!--a and b are on leave?! Oh no!"
  • "Well, I'm really going to have to talk to my wife before I agree to [that particular potential service commitment I shouldn't blog about]. She's starting a MLS program and all, so we have to see how this semester works out before I decide."
  • "I'm sorry I didn't run for any union positions this election cycle. By the time the forms got to me in Japan, I had missed the key deadlines."

And this is just in my first two weeks back in the time zone and first week in the office.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Before. After. Draw your own conclusions about the impact of teaching in Japan on my teaching in the U.S.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Starting Over

It's the first day of school! Which means it's time to announce a new programming schedule here at CitizenSE, now that the blog is on American time (even if I'm not yet).

Teaching Tuesday: I still won't blog about current students, but I will offer some reflections on the way I approach and handle teaching now that I'm back in the U.S. again.

Service Wednesday: After a service-free year in Japan, I should have one or two interesting thoughts on what it's like to ease myself back into the kinds of institution-building activities I devoted a good deal of my pre-tenure time to.

Free-form Thursday: Combines and replaces the old Unexpected Hawthorne Wednesday, CitizenSE Hawthorniana Link-o-rama Friday, and What Would Hawthorne Say.

Family Friday: Onechan will be having a yochien-like experience every Saturday in Buffalo, so combined with her American hoikuen and imoto's beginning onechan's old day-care arrangement on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Fredonia, I'll have plenty of stories to tell.

Research Weekend: A less quirky but more inclusive name than the old CitizenSE's Latest Crazy Hawthorne Idea, but basically fulfills the same function and allows me to make my old Close Reading Tuesday and Intertextual Thursday posts a little more substantive.

Yes, I'm turning CitizenSE into a less research-centric blog than it has been in the past. The leave is most definitely over, but it's not just that. I figure I ought to try to better represent the full range of things I'm doing as a tenured professor. They're new enough and strange enough again to me after gaining some distance on them over the past year, literally and figuratively, that I should be able to do something interesting with them. And since my core audience seems to consist of fantastically-talented and incredibly-prolific graduate students, giving some perspective on (professional) life off the Research I track may be of interest to them.

Looking back over my summer output here, it's clear that the travel, talks, and teaching took a toll on my Hawthorne blogging. Putting myself back on a schedule may help CitizenSE get back on track--and help me regain my momentum on my primary research projects. We'll see!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Zutto Zutto Tomodachi; and, The Collected Adventures of Sparkychan and Gojochan (Thus Far)

Cross-posted at Mostly Harmless

Has a better ring to it than "best friends 4evah," right? Well, it has about the same meaning. It's a line from the song onechan and her friends sang at the graduation ceremony for the older kids in her yochien this past spring. Since we're leaving Fukuoka before she can get to take part in a similar ceremony herself--in fact, we've already spent a full day in Chiba--I'm taking a break tonight from LPGA blogging to convey a big "sayonara" to all the Fukuoka friends she's leaving.

Maybe their parents can read them the Collected Adventures of Sparkychan and Gojochan (Thus Far), courtesy of Uncle Bill Benzon, and leave a comment or three here for him and onechan....

July 9: For onechan [in response to this and that]
July 10: The discussion continues
July 11: Onechan's Adventure [in response to this]
July 12: Where's Onechan? and Calling Onechan! Calling Onechan!
July 14: Help is on the way and There They Are! Yippieeee! [in response to this]
July 17: Onechan's Choice
July 19: Calling all kidz! Calling all kidz! [in response to this]
July 23: Sigh
July 28: Catch you later alligator
August 1: Where's the bunny rabbit?

[Update (8/3/07): New one--Onechan Tells a Story]

[Update (8/11/07): Another new one--The Little Worm from Kansas]

[Update (8/14/07): And another--Twas brillig]

[Update (8/16/07): And yet another--Sparkychan & Gojochan Adventure Time Mystery Theatre]

[Update (8/21/07): Check the comments on the last installment (thus far) for onechan's and imoto's immediate reactions to Sparkychan and Gojochan showing up in Dunkirk!]