Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Gaijin Reads a Story

JULES: Oh, it ain't quite time yet. Let's hang back.
Pulp Fiction written by Quentin Tarantino


The five first grade classrooms are on the same hallway. Each classroom has two doorways that open onto the hall. The first doorway is the back of the classroom where all of the cubbies are for the children's stuff. The second doorway is the front of the classroom where the chalkboard hangs. A few mothers, evenly distributed down the hall, stood near the back door of each classroom.

I read the scene, noting that the other mothers were hanging back, awaiting the clock to strike 8:30 a.m. My mind wandered to why the children were sitting on the floor at the back of the room, including my own son. Entering the classroom, at 8:30 a.m., I laughed aloud- the chair in which I was to sit was obscured by children jockeying for position for storytime. I was there to read, in English, to Japanese first graders for fifteen minutes.

If someone announced, "A polar bear has entered the room," this may give a sense of the rarity a gaijin's appearance has in this situation. I garner the children's awareness by exoticness. I started in with, "Ohioguzimas!" They eagerly retorted, "Ohioguzimas!" I'd hooked them. They echoed "good morning" and all sorts of things after that no problem. They counted from one to ten in English as I pointed to the rubber ducks in the storybook. Pick a random American school: how many of the first grade children could, unprompted, count to ten in Japanese? I was impressed, and I loved the smiles on their face. I called, they responded.

Later one of the office workers at the elementary school told me that the Moose, "is so happy that his mama came today." I laughed and said, "I could show up in my pajamas and he would be happy." He's a mama's boy. I'm just lucky enough to be his mama. Being a mama is about cleaning a lot of crap, but it is also an inside track to the privilege of watching a personality form. When your children are so different from each other, from you, it is easier to see where you end and they begin.

"On Children"
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran
Storytime for ichi nensei (1st graders) with Mama Gaijin