The summer break was over, and it was time once again to return to the dreaded Japanese school.  I say dreaded because well, it’s extremely awkward for me.  Almost swim class awkward, but not as bad.  The class consists of me and 16 other Japanese moms and their kids, for two hours.  With a few classes under my belt from the spring semester, I knew what to expect.  It is two hours, but it’s only once a month.  I can do this.  Bring it!

The class location for this semester was different from the spring.  This was a good thing because it was in an area I was a little more familiar with.  And it was just down the street from Aya’s work so we could meet her for lunch afterwards.  It was located in a community annex building attached to the middle school.

We were almost late, but not quite.  There was another Japanese woman and her kid that entered the building before us.  It was a little confusing to know where to go and when a school employee saw the both of us wandering around he asked me what we were looking for.  I told him Japanese story time.  She looked at him and said something in Japanese and handed a paper with Japanese writing all over it.  He looked at it, then back at me.  I said, “I think she’s going to story time too.”  She said something else in Japanese and we both looked at her.  I said, “I think we are going to the same place,” and then she followed us.

Once we arrived at the classroom I figured I should change Ellie’s diaper.  It was a long car ride and they run this class on a pretty tight schedule.  I don’t want to be the squeaky wheel later and ask to leave after Ellie leaks.  I want to be true Japanese and blend in.  I want to assimilate and fade in with the crowd.  Plus, I got called out twice during the last class.  I didn’t want any trouble.

Anyway, when I got to the men’s room to change Ellie’s diaper I found myself in a peculiar situation.  I notice all of the sinks went up to me knees and the urinals were practically on the floor.  I was in a building that was designed for sixth graders, and of course there is no baby changing station in a sixth graders bathroom.  There was a bench in the hallway, but there were classes in session, and all the classrooms had windows.  Wanting to get back to class before it started I changed Ellie’s diaper on the floor in the corridor outside the bathroom.  Not my first choice, but I didn’t know what else to do.  And as soon as I took off Ellie’s diaper, here comes a field trip of boys led by a teacher right behind me.  Ugh.

“What’s he doing?” asked a kid.  “He’s changing her diaper, let’s wait until he’s finished,” replied the teacher.  So while I changed Ellie’s diaper, I had an audience of sixth grade boys standing behind me watching.  Look away boys!  Look away!

Finally, we made it to class and they just jumped right in.  Sing song, up and down, hello, good morning, and then review the schedule.  (This is my best guess at what happened, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.)Today’s theme was vegetables.  I knew this not because I know the Japanese word for vegetable, but because the teacher paraded around a rolling suitcase full of fresh vegetables.  “Sugoine!” (That means, “wow, look at my crazy suitcase full of fresh vegetables!”)  They passed the vegetables around the room for the kids to hold and touch, but every time one got to Ellie, she pushed it away and said “No!”  Behave kiddo, you’re going to get us in trouble!

Next, we made a craft for Grandparents Day.  The teacher made sure to tell me this was only for her Japanese grandparents, not for her American grandparents.  Thanks for the clarification.

After craft time it was puppet show time.  What?  No break?  No snack time?  Since Ellie graduated to the next grade up (18 months to 3 years old), I guess they don’t administer breaks.  I could have used one, but I pressed on and focused through the intense story during the puppet show.  It was a story about washing vegetables.  It took me awhile to figure it out.  I kept thinking, why is that carrot brown instead of orange.  Why is the eggplant brown?  Why are they all brown!?  But finally they washed them and they turned colors.  “Sugoine!”  (That means, “wow, look at my clean vegetables!”  It’s a pretty versatile word).  Once I figured it out, I wanted to tell someone, “OOOhhhh, I get it!”  But as I looked around and found no one to share my excitement with, I decided to keep it to myself.

We made it through craft time, a dirty carrot puppet show, a bunch of songs about vegetables, and now it was time… for mom discussion.  ALL the moms sit on one side of the room with clip boards while the kids play on the other side of the room.  I always join the kids, but I was urged to join the moms this time.  I politely declined and said I don’t speak Japanese and would rather play with the kids.  But the teacher insisted I at least introduce myself.  It was like being a kid and my parents had friends over and made me come downstairs to say hello.  But all I really wanted to do was play Leggos.  Well, this situation wasn’t too different from that.  Feeling my face turn bright red I said, “Hello, my name is Matt.  Ellie’s my daughter.  You can call her Kokomi.  I don’t speak Japanese.”  And then I waved and half smiled.  They half smiled back with blank faces and then I went to sit down.

Ellie did not get a break through all of class and by the end, she was ready to leave too.  We met Aya for lunch and then went home.  As Ellie passed out in the car within minutes, I knew she wouldn’t nap at home and I would not get a break that day.  And with songs about Japanese vegetables that I couldn’t even understand swirling around in my head, I could have really used it.

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