How did I get here, pedaling a mama-bike with a towering morning glory plant in my front seat? I’ve just come from my parent-teacher conference marking summer break. I’ve got the morning glory which is a tell-tale sign in Japan that I’ve got a first-grader.
This feels like my own parenting rite, me with this blue plastic planter which vine up and cling against a trellis. The frame is maybe two feet above my head as I steer. I am chauffeuring it back home, dropping it off so I can step out again. I’ll need that front seat for my son.
Green leaves, purplish-red blossoms. A water bottle that fits in a special space at the base, reminding me of a class hamster or gerbil. Each child will water their morning glory or asa gao. They will chart it with hand-drawn diagrams, and a running narrative of keeping this vining, flowering plant alive.
“Two times a day”, she says. “Ichi nichi ni kai”, twice a day.” (Nevermind that we will leave for America this Friday. Maybe we can hand it to her Grandparents here for their balcony).
We are at friends’ home, preschool friends of my girl’s. I am able to keep up my relationships with the moms and she is able to keep being friends. The two moms came over this past week and we decided then on our first ever shukudai party/homework party. There are all sorts of summer homework assigned to first graders in the Japanese school system. They are concerned that with my girl gone in America for a month, this homework will prove too difficult, and any books too heavy for taking with. They say leave her with them, go do the teacher conference. Go get that asa gao plant.
How did I get to pedal with a towering plant, that bloom opening in the morning? They feed our children food while I am gone. They eat cold Chinese noodles with a sweet sauce, cut mini-tomatoes, matchstick cukes, and ribbons of sweet crepe-style egg. I supply snacks of chocolate cookies and rum raisin cookies that must be for adults.
They read over my girl’s sentences, check over her addition and subtraction, curling their red pencil in a flower across the paper which in Japan means “alright, great”.
They read her journal entry, hear her question about a certain spelling of a certain word and think on it before answering. They think about how we can continue homework and reading on our airplanes.
How did I get here, with two moms next to me, feeding my kids, checking her work in Japanese? How did I score a team that says, “Yes, let’s make dinner, too. We’ll feed our children together again and let them continue playing.” I chop cabbage, green pepper, and spring onions in her processor. I crack two eggs with my right hand, baby on left hip. I mix special flour for okonomiyaki, a kind of savory pancake, mixing these elements with her pink-handled whisk. The point is not its pinkness, but rather the fact that I am in another woman’s kitchen, in a country not of my own, speaking with sprinkles of Japanese which mixes with flecks of English. I am known somehow. My children and I are fed. I use her range and wipe down her white coriander counters. I set the table for all of our kids.
This is what I’ve wanted. This is the hankering I’ve desired—to be able to spontaneously decide with another that yes, we should do dinner, all of a sudden bringing ingredients together. To watch the blade sputter while our kids play in fits of laughter.
This village is my morning glory. My bottle of water. That is to say, I am refreshed. I am empowered.
How did I get to be in another woman’s kitchen, watching her baby nurse, chopping cabbage, with her for a shared dinner? How did I get to take home that plant, to sit in a conference over my child in her class, with a teacher who says he has express confidence in her thinking and responsible manner? To raise up kids in this community, with tendrils that vine because of its trellis, its sun, and that water. Because of hot meals, new foods, new jokes, new thankfulness for translation apps.
It hasn’t always felt like a village. Read I Felt Like an Outsider.
We break with kids running in the street, our mothering hushes, “shizukani shitei kudasai, please be quiet.” It is summer, but this is having manners here. Neighbors need quiet on the back of our laughter; our kids must take their sweaty summer bodies and bathe. “Jaa, ikimashou”.
We fed them two meals, two snacks. We bounced babies together and handed out chopsticks, forks, plates, compliments. I pat my girl’s leg behind me and thump my boy’s shoulder. I am proud. Proud of us, proud of them. Proud of each and every leaf we’ve grown, each flower, each stem and all of those cells that even make up this particular shade of reddish-purple.