Self-reliance starts young


4AE785BC-0553-44D7-8E00-862B73957152Two weeks ago, my daughter graduated nursery school. Last week, my grandmother passed away (my daughter’s great-grandmother). Today, my daughter walked to elementary school for the first time. And the cycle continues…

This is cherry blossom (sakura) season in Japan, and it’s not hard to understand the timeless appeal of watching a variety of slender trees briefly burst into soft pink and white flower bouquets that almost immediately begin to flutter apart, scattering tiny fragile petals across yards and roads with every gentle breeze. Whether caught up in the increasing crush of Chinese tourists to ancient Kyoto temples or grumbling while sweeping out my front porch (a never ending task), I can’t help but reflect on the truism of the phrase: We do not have time; Time has us.

Seven years ago, my daughter was born in a city far from our home, where I stayed by myself, working, separated from my wife and her family as she recuperated from her first C-section. This morning, I waved goodbye as my daughter, sporting a brand new ransel covered with “traffic safety” signs, giggled and shouted with neighborhood kids as they walked to school. Her first day of class.

Just yesterday she was staring into my face and gurgling as I played peekaboo.

The sakura have fallen and drifted away. We’ll see them again, next April.

As I walked with my wife and youngest daughter to the nursery school, the group with which my oldest daughter was walking disappeared around a corner. Another group of school children had already disappeared in front of them, and yet another group had just appeared behind them. Groups of kids aged 6 to 12, all walking to school by themselves. At the larger intersections along the various “school walking paths” there would be adults (sometimes teachers, sometimes parents from the PTA) who sport yellow/orange armbands and little yellow flags to guide kids across busy intersections. But otherwise the kids were on their own.

Can you imagine that, America? No school buses. No parental chauffeurs. Kids walking to school. By themselves. Just like we used to when I was a kid. Can you imagine that, helicopters?

Yes, I was…am…a little apprehensive. This is the first day my daughter walked to school without one of us to guide her. She will have to also walk from school to “gakudo” for after-school studies from noon to six (half-day classes all week…more on gakudo coming soon!).

But it had to happen at some point. We knew from her birth that some day in the future she would start to grow up and do things on her own. There will always be a feeling, a very strong feeling, that I should protect my little girl no matter what. But I can’t be there every moment of every day. Nor should I be. She is just a little girl, but she is…will be…needs to be strong. A strong, independent, woman confident in her own abilities.

Like the one who married me. Like the kind of strong woman Japanese (and American) society needs.

In the meantime, my wife and I go to work and try to figure out who picks up the youngest daughter, who cooks dinner, who gets the bath ready, who does dishes and laundry. Things are getting more complicated…or maybe they always were.

The wheel turns…

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About MThomas

I've been teaching English as a foreign language in Japan for 16 years. A few years ago, I became the first male faculty member in a Japanese technical college to take child care leave. My first blog on Wordpress detailed that experience. My second blog is about my fiction and non-fiction writing, both published and works in progress.
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