Thursday, March 10, 2016

We're moving.


Year of Requirement Part 1

My father’s work took the family from Japan to the United States in the mid ‘70s. I was three and a half when we moved to the United States and I was fourteen when we moved back. For as long as I could remember, my parents were always reminding me and my brother and sister that we’d move back to Japan someday and that we’d have to assimilate back in. The three of us went to Japanese Saturday School every Saturday. The school was in Skokie when I started going there and then it moved to Arlington Heights. They always gave us a lot of homework.

Keeping up with the Japanese Saturday School homework got really rough in the upper grades, and I stopped turning in my homework and I hid it under my bed (keep in mind I’m doing regular public school stuff five days a week). Then I got found out, and my dad hit me in the face for it. I can see that you can’t let your kid get away with lying, but I still wonder what would have happened if I’d told one of my public school teachers that my dad had hit me in the face for not doing homework for a school that technically has no legal basis and falls under the same category as gymnastics class or piano lessons. This was in 1982 or thereabouts, so it may or may not have generated the anaphylactic reaction of child protection it would now. And, it may or may not have led to having a more functional relationship with my parents now. But that’s another can of worms for another day.

My point is, the Japanese School was hard work and it was taken very seriously, even though in retrospect it should have been more important to do the American public school stuff. We were always reminded that we were going back to Japan and that Japanese schoolwork was HARD and we’d never be able to keep up unless we did that Japanese Saturday School homework, and maybe not even then. It was kind of like bracing for Armageddon for most of your childhood.

Unlike Armageddon, it eventually happened, albeit several years later than my parents thought it should. It was still too soon for us kids, though. We’d been hoping it would happen much later. As in, never. By the time I started high school, I’d begun to wonder if there was any way I could just stay in the US, like go to a boarding school or something (one of my dad’s co-workers sent their son to one of those East Coast prep schools where everyone was, well, preppy), but apparently that wasn’t a part of my parents’ plans. Or their bank accounts.

So, one fine spring day in the mid ‘80s, Armageddon Lite happened. Or rather, we boarded a plane and landed in Tokyo International Airport. We stayed at my grandparents’ place until my parents found a house for us to live. The yen had suddenly risen in value (it was the peak of the bubble economy) and I think they didn’t have enough money to put a bid on a house or something, because I know they ended up borrowing money from relatives to make a down payment on the small, run-down house they bought (and still live in today. The house is semi-run-down now, but it was pretty nice for a while. This situation warrants a whole section in this narrative). Due to the inactivity and stress eating, I think I gained a kilo or two during those couple of weeks, and got stretch marks on my thighs. That weight gain may or may not have sealed my fate for a year of intense misery.


Annie Crow said...

I don't know how I would have managed in your situation. Basically my childhood approach to any kind of work was, if I was interested, I poured everything into it, and if I wasn't, I did everything I could to avoid it or do the least possible amount so I wouldn't get into trouble (this went for schoolwork too). That is to say, when we moved to Germany, my German was pretty pitiful. It wasn't certain that I would get into the International School due to space constraints, so my mother took me to a science-based Gymnasium (the German competitive high school) and they basically laughed in my face.

Unlike you I was very excited about moving overseas - I figured it had to be better than my suburban existence, yes? (And it was in some regards and it wasn't in others.)

pumpkinmommy said...

I am beginning to wonder if my feelings about our shared suburbia are revisionist. I have fond memories of it, especially the final three years. Maybe I love it so much because the year immediately after it was so awful. But the awful is amusing and interesting and formative. It's a prime example of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Or something.