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Wednesday
Nov112015

Chapman Kindergarten

Three-thirty in the morning and I’m wide awake. I thought I had this jetlag licked. Apparently not.

So, . . .

My older son Eoghan kicked and screamed yesterday morning: he did NOT want to go to kindergarten. He was adamant and couldn’t be coaxed or forced out the front door no matter what I tried. After a while my wife gave in and told him to go back to bed and rest.

 

“But no books. No toys. No TV.”

Rather than try to deal with it further, I went out with his younger brother, Liam, to a park that is located just outside the school grounds.

When Liam and I arrived at the park, everything—the swings, the slides, the tire, the lawns—was covered with dew. Living as long as I have in the southwest of Japan where it is seldom foggy, I had forgotten all about dew. I had even forgotten the word “dew” and wouldn’t have remembered it if it weren’t for a young girl of about three or four who called out to her mother and told what the swings were covered with.

“You don’t want to sit down on the swing,” I told Liam. “They’re covered with dew, with water. If you sit down on it, you’ll end up with a soggy bottom.

About forty minutes later, my wife showed up with Eoghan. The boy looked genuinely happy to be there.

“What happened?” I asked.

“He had to poo.”

“Aah.”

Eoghan, standing at the edge of the playground, was about to step in when he stopped himself and suddenly remember: “Oh, I gotta go to school!”

He then ran off towards the school’s doors, my wife chasing after him.

 

Now the funny thing about kindergarten here—and I don’t know if it just Chapman, or all the kindergartens in the Portland Public School system, or all of them in the States—but the daily routine is highly regimented. There are, for starters, quite a few musts: You MUST drop your child off at school between 7:55 and 8:00. If you are ten minutes late, you MUST report to the school office and bring a note to the teacher! You must pick your child up at exactly 2:15! And so on.

My son’s kindergarten back in Japan is, by comparison, in a state of virtual anarchy. Arrival and dismissal times are not clearly defined: you may drop your child off between 8:30 and 9:30. And there is no need to notify the school if you’re late. You can alternate between commuting by school bus and bringing your child on foot or by bicycle, as you please. You may even change the bus stop at which your child gets off as my son often requests. And once at school, the kids spend most of their time playing in the schoolyard and roaming about in the classroom, rather than engaged in structured lessons.

Another big difference, though, is the rituals that mark the day. The kids at my son’s Buddhist school go to school in their formal school attire. Once at school, they remove their street shoes, place them in a cubbyhole, and change into their indoor shoes. Then, they progress to their classrooms where they put their bags into another cubbyhole, hang their water bottles on the appropriate rack and change into their play clothes. For the next hour or so they are allowed to run around, play in the mud, get unbelievably filthy, catch insects, and so on. They are, for the most part, free to do as they like, though there are some controlled activities, such as practice for the school summer festival and the autumn field day.

When lunchtime comes around, they spread their furoshiki out, pray to the Buddha, and then eat. School lunch is served about two or three times a week. On the other days, the children bring their own bentō.

 

Later that night when Eoghan and I were lying in bed, I asked him how his day had been. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many answers. He had fun, that much was clear.

While he didn’t have many answers for me, he certainly had a lot of questions: What does this mean? What does that mean? What is this? What is that? Whenever I explained something it was like a powerful light coming on in his brain: “Ah! So that’s what that was all about!!!”

 

Tomorrow, er, today will be his third day at Chapman. This weekend we’ll have three days off, thanks to the Labor Day weekend, which will provide all of us a much-needed rest for all of us.

But for now, it’s back to sleep!

 

 

4 September 2015, Portland, Oregon

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