Emi is starting elementary school in April and we're all really excited but this event is also bringing out the cultural differences. I can't remember clearly what happened when I started elementary school (it was a really long time ago) but all I was really expecting was for people to be excited for her. I was wrong (I'm not getting more comfortable with saying this!).
Before I jump into how much my MIL is not getting what I'm trying to tell her I would like to tell you a story about the childhood of my husband and I. Both of us, for completely different reasons, were bad at completing homework. I was clever (or so I thought) and therefore felt I didn't need to do homework (this was always a mystery to my parents who both hold master's degrees) and my husband hated school and avoided homework at all costs (he still hates any form of paperwork). Both of us wish we had been more faithful because school would've been a better experience. So we decided a long time ago that our kids would do their homework at the kitchen table where we could monitor them and also be available to help them until they had created a good homework ethic or graduated from high school, whichever came first. This sounds good, right?
What I did not realize is that in Japan when kids start elementary school there are things that every "responsible" parent is supposed to buy and that grandparents like to help out financially in this area. Without trying I have inadvertently cause my MIL major frustration by telling her that we don't need these things.
The first is a randocel (sp?). Click here to see what I'm talking about (scroll down the page). This is the classic backpack that elementary kids use to go to school. It costs between $250 - $500 which seems crazy but the bag is very sturdy and in most cases kids can use the same bag for all 6 years of elementary school. The city of Settsu (where we live) decided many years ago that instead of the randocel they would issue a backpack (also pretty sturdy) to each child for free! When I found out I woo-hoo'ed but when I told my mother-in-law she was crestfallen because she was really looking forward to taking Emi to buy one. This wasn't really my fault so she got over it quickly and we were on to the next disappointment...
Then she asked what type of desk did Emi want. Desk? I'm not planning to buy her a desk. This comment was met with disbelief (crestfallen having already been used). No desk? What will she do her homework on? Uh, the kitchen table. I explained to her what we had decided and why and she was decidedly embaressed when I mentioned that Chikara wasn't good at doing homework, like I was blaming her for the fact that Emi was going to be deprived of the joy of having her own desk. Click here to see what type of desk "regular" kids get. Yes, you read the price tag right, 500 bucks! Also, we really don't have space to put it, I told her. So she started to look around my house for a good place to put a desk even though I had said WE ARE NOT GETTING ONE. (the yelling was in my head!)
With these two major purchases off the list of possible gifts for Emi, my MIL has moved onto smaller things like school supplies, etc. This is great, I would love help in this area, knock yourself out (although I said it nicer and in Japanese). I showed her the list and she went right out and bought about half the stuff and GAVE IT TO EMI TO USE RIGHT AWAY! So basically I'm going to have to buy it all again and save it for her to use at school. Sigh...
So now, like me, you would think that this crisis would be over but it seems that my MIL is very determined that Emi also be properly attired for her New School Ceremony and has asked (through Chikara this time - clever!) if she can buy Emi an outfit for the ceremony. An outfit? What is she talking about? My husband explained it to me and you can click here to see. Did you see those prices? Just put a dot before the last two zeroes. This outfit is just for the ceremony and it will never be used again. I kind of knew about this and that parents are supposed to dress up too. That means I have to buy one of these and I just don't know if I can do it. Hannah, what should I do? Expat moms?
So this is the latest in the seemingly-never-to-end struggle between my MIL and I regarding Emi's starting elementary school. Although it seems like there couldn't be much more to explore about this situation I have witnessed my MIL's "selective memory" in action before and I also know that the disbelief that I don't know How-Things-Are-Done will continually prompt her to "help" me. Woo-hoo!