Well, we survived the weekend. I can honestly say that as a family we've never been this busy before.
After all the pressure I felt when buying Emi's school supplies last week, part of me (albeit a small part) didn't really want to go to the Nyugakushiki or even send Emi to elementary school at all. Like if I didn't go, then it wouldn't happen. There has been so much talk on the news of bullying at school (ijime) and everyone knows that there is so much pressure on kids in Japan to perform well in school. I really want the best for my kids and because I wasn't raised here I really have no idea what that would be.
Also, sending Emi to elementary school means that I will be stretched a little bit more with my organization and my Japanese and I feel like I've had enough of that. But time marches on and my experience in the past is that it's just better to accept what's coming and find a way to make things smooth and fun for my family (and me!).
Now that I have prefaced this post with all of my concerns, I can say that all (well, maybe most) of my concerns were swept away at the Nyugakushiki. Everything was perfect, even the weather. The sakura trees were in full bloom, we all had the proper attire, we were ready on time (a small miracle) and Emi was really excited. Chikara had worked all morning and when were ready to go, he still needed to get ready, but that worked out perfectly because Natsuki was able to take a little nap and then Chikara brought her when he was ready. Even with only 45 min. of sleep, instead of the usual 2 hrs, she is a much happier baby.
When we got to the school, we received the class list and I was relieved to see that my neighbor's son is in the same class as Emi. She was very helpful with preschool stuff and I had prayed that they would be in the same class. Then as we were taking off our shoes to go in, a lady spied us and said "Yokatta" (Yeah!). I wasn't sure what she was talking about but it turns out that her daughter (who went to the same preschool) had been hoping all Spring Break that she would be in the same class as Emi and the mom was relieved that it had worked out. Even after these first five minutes, I was already encouraged.
We went in and checked her name off and a 6th grader took Emi off to her class and we (me, my MIL, Sakura and Misaki) went into the gymnasium. We were one of the first and we found a seat near where Emi would be seated. The lady who spoken to me when we first came in was beside us and we chatted for a little bit. The gym started to fill up and Chikara came with Natsuki and I started to wonder how Emi was doing and how long the ceremony would be. The chairs in the gym were set up in a square with a big open part in the middle. The 1st graders would sit facing the 6th graders and then perpendicular to that parents and teachers sat on both sides.
Then the ceremony started and the three 1st grade classes marched in 2 by 2 holding hands. They looked so small compared to all the 6th graders and adults. Since our name starts with I, in the Japanese alphabet it comes near the beginning, so Emi was sitting in the front row. Unfortunately, it was about this time my camera battery died. The principal and local community leader spoke for a bit and different 6th graders made certain announcements throughout. Then the 2nd graders came in and sang a few songs and did a little speech about all the fun the 1st graders would have throughout the year. Then they announced the teachers for each of the classes and when they announced the teacher for Emi's class, all the 6th graders whooped and yelled. At the time, we had no idea why. The ceremony went on for about an hour (not too long) and then as the 1st graders paraded out, the 6th graders played a song on recorders. It was all very sweet.
Each class went outside and took a class picture and then proceeded, with all the parents in tow, to their classroom. The teacher spoke to the kids for a bit. He introduced himself and used different things to help the kids remember his name. For example, part of his name is "bara" so he brought out a rose, which is "bara" in Japanese, so the kids would be able to remember by association. Chikara was totally impressed. I've mentioned before that he didn't really have a good elementary school experience but he was immediately taken with this teacher who was so nice to the kids. Last year this teacher taught 5th grade and it seems he was well liked since all the 6th graders screamed when his name was called. Then the teacher spoke to the parents for a bit. I don't really remember what he said, which shows how low my memory retention has become. But we were really encouraged after meeting the teacher and being able to see a little bit about what Emi would be experiencing this year.
The whole thing was over within 2 hours which has to be a record for any ceremony I've been to in Japan. We went outside and our very patient neighbors took pictures of us with their camera beside the sign that said "Congratulations" and the sakura trees. Emi really enjoyed herself and knew many of the kids that were in her class and both Chikara and I were reassured about the choices we have made for our kids.
Even though there were still things to do, we went out to lunch. When we got back, Chikara took his mom back home and went to work. As he was leaving, I was trying to change Natsuki's diaper so I could put her down for a nap. When I was in the middle of that, something happened with Sakura, and I turned away without putting Natsuki's new diaper on. When I turned back to her, she was peeing all over the couch and the older three girls were yelling about something. All the stress I had been feeling bubbled over and I yelled at the older three to be quiet. I finished Natsuki's diaper and put her down, took the soaked sofa cushion outside and told the girls to give me a few minutes. I hate it when I yell at the kids, even when it is necessary, especially after they were so well-behaved throughout the whole morning. Sigh...
Saturday, again, was spent keeping the kids on course, but Saturday night I pulled out the Easter candy I bought last month and put little chocolate eggs in little plastic eggs and then hid them around the living room. On Sunday morning, the girls searched for the eggs and I have to say that although they were excited about finding the eggs so they could eat the chocolate, they were a little lame at actually *searching* for the eggs. They would take turns meandering around and then looking at me and saying "I don't know were they are". Duh, of course you don't know, that's why you're supposed to search. Sigh. Maybe next year will be better. They were really excited about the chocolate so I let them eat two eggs worth of chocolate.
In the midst of the ensuing sugar rush, we got ready and went to church. Chikara and I, along with some other members of the music team, sang "How Great Is Our God" by Chris Tomlin, translated into Japanese by Chikara, as a special song and Chikara was leading worship so we had to be there early. Chikara was in a rush and on the way to church, I asked him, as a joke, if I could stop at the convenience store. He was not amused! The service was great and after lunch, the children's church workers had an Easter Egg Hunt for all the kids of the church and their friends. After they found eggs, they colored and decorated them. At one point, Emi put her fingers in the bowl of pink dye and her fingers were stained pink.
At around 5, we left church and called Chikara's parents since we were supposed to have dinner them for my MIL's birthday. I had realized at church that I hadn't bought new sneakers for the girls for school so we stopped at the mall to get some. During this time I started to feel sick. I asked Chikara if we could postpone mom's birthday but he didn't think it was a good idea. After we bought the shoes and proceeded to the restaurant, I started to feel more sick. I tried my best to enjoy the evening, but I could hardly eat. Natsuki was being difficult since she hadn't eaten very well all day. I used her as an excuse and went out to the car to nurse her.
We all went back to our house, even though it was a complete mess, to have cake and coffee. Yes, I gave the girls cake right before bed, even though it was late and Emi & Misaki had a big day the next morning. There was no other choice. At the earliest opportunity they were down to sleep and we spent a little more time talking with Chikara's parents. Once they left, I realized that I had a fever and I was not doing well. My husband spent the next few hours making sure all of the girls things were ready for the next day. He spent most of that time writing Emi's name on her school supplies.
One thing that I learned from this process is that at elementary school, the kids need to bring different things to school and back home each day. Perfect. One more thing to keep track of. Fortunately they write everything in hiragana which Emi can read so my goal will be to get her to a point where she can organize her things by herself without too much help from me. There is so much stuff that we'll have to prepare a place for her to keep the stuff she doesn't need to take. At preschool we have the same type of program, but each week is pretty much the same so once you get the hang of it, it's easy to remember. Seems like elementary school is not the same.
Now we're up to today when we'll see if all the preparation we've done is enough. We woke up just after seven to get Emi up and ready on time, but she was already awake, of course. She changed into the clothes she had picked out the night before and had breakfast. Chikara took her at 7:45 to the meeting spot for our neighborhood. All the kids and parents of the 1st graders walked to the school together. We have to take her to school and pick her up for the first three days and then after that she will go to school with all the neighborhood kids and then come home with any kids who are done with school when she is. I am thankful that our school is close. Some 1st graders take a train *by themselves* to go to school and come back home. I don't think I could handle that.
At 8, we woke up Misaki and Sakura. Misaki got ready for school. Her bus comes around 9 so she will have a nice relaxed morning all year, which will be good for her temperament. She's not a morning person! While Misaki was getting ready, Sakura kept saying "I'm going to elementary school". She was very disappointed when only Misaki and I went out the door. After coming back home, I was exhausted. Natsuki, who hadn't eaten very well on Sunday, woke up at 2:30am, so I woke up and nursed her, and then again at 6:30am, when I ignored her until 7:00. Also I was still not feeling well so I went back to sleep for awhile. Natsuki was already back in bed for her morning nap so Chikara only had to watch Sakura.
When Emi came home, she willing shared about her day. They learned aisatsu (greetings), which was mentioned at the Nyugakushiki at least 5 times along with signs everywhere saying "Let's Do Greetings Happily", where the bathrooms are and about where all their stuff goes. I was relieved to hear the girl beside her and the girl in front of her had the exact same pencils. She really enjoyed herself. Misaki also had a good day. She has a new teacher who's name is also Misaki, which she thought was cool.
I think the climax of the weekend for me was tonight. The older three girls were already in bed and I had sent Chikara off, too. I had just finished nursing Natsuki and changing her diaper to get her ready for bed. As I stood up to burp her, she started choking on some phlegm (she's had a cold) and suddenly she threw up all over me. I was silent for a moment and then I laughed out loud because it was so typical of the youngest child to have the last say. Chikara had to come down and hold her while I mopped everything up. I hope she sleeps well tonight!
Other than that debacle, it seems like all of our hard work has paid off. For me, it's been quite an emotional ride, which is probably why I've been sick sometimes. Fortunately, the girls have a very positive attitude towards school so their enthusiasm pushes us along. As a mom, it's hard to watch my kids grow up and move on without me. It's what we've been working towards but when it actually happens, it is an emotional time.
A new step has been taken by our family and it will be fun to see where it takes us. I know this was long, so thank you for reading to the end!