Tic Tacs and Toes

(The title means nothing, FYI.  Just two things I’m lookin’ at…)

Anyway: 6/28

My attitude, thought not subject to gravity, is nevertheless defying it.  There’s a clear and direct correlation between that and the second grade music classes I watched today.  Cute meter’s on overload again…

“Watched” isn’t really the right verb because the teacher threw me into performance mode almost immediately.  She wanted me to sing the English versions of “Bingo” and “Old MacDonald” so the kids could learn pronunciation, and thus I found myself at the front of the classroom alternately politely coughing, nervously kicking the floor, and attempting to ready my mind.  With zero prior experience singing for an audience except accidentally or in karaoke- in which case cake shots come into hazy play- I had to draw on that for inspiration.  Thus, I abandoned all hope of being impressive and focused on my more accessible ability to act stupid and make people laugh.  My accompanist played way up high on the keys, so I took a deep breath and falsetto’ed away, clucking, squatting, and thrusting my head like the chicken on Old MacDonald’s farm.  

Whew: “chickchick” was a hit.  Also the mooing.  I tried to make a lot of eye contact while mooing, which is really the only way to do it.  Children, as it turns out, love it when you look deeply into their eyes and low at them in a voice of equal depth.   Their delight overwhelmed me, and I took my seat udderly cowed.

No, I’m not sorry about that pun.

The kids sang next, and oy!  What noise!  For awhile I was totally mesmerized, then I got emotional again because my lacrimal ducts have hijacked my nervous system, and then I flipped back to science mind in an attempt to stiffen my flaccid upper lip.  I wanted to see if, while occupied by their own teacher and lessons and not by me, their behavior would be similar to that of American kids or if there’d be a noticeable cultural difference.  

It’s essentially the same.  Some kids were absorbed by the lesson; some were involved but not actively engaged.  The rest were doing stereotypically student things like falling out of chairs, picking scabs, and poking around for a nose-lunch.  Gross.  My tears were effectively dried and I waited for the end of class.

One thing I really like about this school is the schedule.  Side note: I’m afraid to generalize about anything because I’m only attending one of, like, thousands of schools in Japan. I don’t want to make assumptions about an entire country’s way of life in the same way I wouldn’t want people making assumptions about Maine based solely on a conversation with our governor.  Thus, the “about this school” singularity.  The other American teachers are having similar experiences, to be sure, but that’s still only four schools and they’re four schools that were purposefully selected for this exchange.  So.  Side note concluded.  

Anyway, the schedule here is great.  Kids have a 50 minute class followed by a ten minute break, and repeat as necessary all day.  During the breaks, they’ll go absolutely bananas, running pell mell up and down the hallways, zipping outside for a quick unicycle workout, or generally just jumping up and down and shouting at each other.  They’re in school longer than elementary students in Portland, but they’ve got plenty of time for motor breaks and socialization.  I wish I could say that it improved their behavior in class, but that wouldn’t be true: they’re pretty much allowed the run of the place.  I feel, though, that an extension of our schedule to add these little recesses would do wonders for Portland kids, and exterminate the interminable bathroom and water requests during lessons. This Shinagawa scheduling brilliance seems both student and teacher centered.  I like it.

When music class ended, I thought I’d stick around and maybe high five some kids and watch them jump at me.  A few did in fact rush up, but before I could stand and raise my hand, a couple of the more assertive ones climbed into the lap area and started stroking my arms and my hair.  I bent slightly at the gathering kid crowd and more of them aimed for my blondeness, touching reverently and murmuring, “yellowwwwwww.”  And I’m telling you right now that if you haven’t had this experience, friends, you haven’t lived.  

I felt like Jesus, or a Beatle- except in a disturbing and thoroughly fraudulent kind of way… though I’d be lying if I said that part of me didn’t enjoy it.

A lot of me didn’t, though, and here’s why: a couple of days ago, one of the teachers made what she probably thought was a complimentary comment about eastern jealousy of the western look.  It’s been eating at me ever since.  For starters, beauty isn’t at all about coloring or height, which is my assumption of what she meant by “western”.  Scientifically speaking, it’s about symmetry, simple as that.  I mean, I’ll give you the “big ole eyes” thing because that’s one of the main reasons we think children and puppies and stuff are cute.  I read in this science essay once (because I’m a huge nerd about stuff like this) that evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense for the youngest of our species to have adult sized eyes in their heads, because eyes are where we make our most primitive but deepest connections.  If they’re proportionally bigger in a child, we’re more likely to get sucked in and want to take care of them, which is good for the whole propagation thing.  Throw the big eyes together with symmetrical features, and you’ve got beauty.  Skin color?  Immaterial.  Hair color?  Immaterial.  Height?  Same damn thing.  We may think those things matter, but that’s psychology and not physiology speaking.  And as we know, our psyches are easily manipulated.  

I tend to figure since you can’t help the placement of your facial features, you do the best you can with posture, smiles, and thoughtfully placed accessories.  The notion that there’s anyone out there- especially a child- who thinks otherwise breaks my heart a little.  I just wanted to grab these kids playing with my hair and say, “YOU’RE beautiful, YOU are.”  

Just, you know, not in a creepy way.


4 thoughts on “Tic Tacs and Toes

  1. Colleen Foster says:

    Just sitting here with my cup of joe enjoying all your insights.


  2. Judy Wentzell says:

    Saw Claire at school today and she sent me this link. A rush of memories for me plus your take on things. Thanks! One piece of sushi I had actually moved (by itself) between the time the chef placed it in front of me and I stoically placed it in my mouth. My teachers room was quiet and serious, no fooling around there. Once I figured out my daily official assignments, I spent the rest of the time visiting every other class as often as I could plus the library, naturally. It’s hard not to fall in love with the students – I especially loved bringing out my camera. What a great ambassador you are!! Judy


    • Thanks, Judy! I wish I could take a million pics of these kids, but was told in no uncertain terms that they were not to go on the Internet and also that I should take my giant earrings off. This place is amazing, though- thanks for the note!


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