Suzuki Violin Concert – A Benefit for Tohoku that Personifies Japan

On Tuesday, my daughter participated in a Suzuki Association of Japan concert to benefit the Tohoku region.  The whole thing was done with typical Japanese style and organization, and it was a wonderful experience (mostly) that we won’t soon forget.

Forget for a moment that Sydney is 9, and I burst with pride with whatever she does. (No photos allowed in and around the hall, by the way, so no pics of her this time)  She’s my kid – I’m a typical parent. It took guts to be one of only 3 white kids in a group of about 200 kids in her group.  Sydney is accustomed to such situations, though, and my amazement didn’t cause her to even blink twice.  But that’s not my point.

Rehearsals for this major undertaking began in late February, on a Sunday.  Marc took Sydney to a hall in Ikebukuro, about an hour from our house, for a 1-hour rehearsal with the group and the conductors.  I took her again two Sundays later and again last Tuesday, but to a closer hall in Okubo, only 30 minutes on the train.  The first hall, where Marc took her, was normal sized and could accommodate the crowd, but the place I went with Sydney was too small, in a basement, airless, and hot.  There were no seats for either kids or parents.  In addition, Okubo is Korea-town, which is wildly popular right now.  The swarms of people in the streets and crowding the sidewalks caused us to walk with a straight-armed shuffle.  We probably could have lifted our feet and been swept by the group, that’s how crowded it was on a sunny Sunday and a National holiday Tuesday.  Needless to say, not a great experience on the rehearsal thing.  Luckily, Sydney is speaking enough Japanese these days to understand enough of what the conductor was telling her, so she was able to follow the expectations of the group, making it less painful for her than me, watching her amid the other 100 or so Tiger Moms poised to jump at the smallest sign of stress.

And it is indeed the Tiger Mother concept that intrigued me the most about all this.  Living here in Japan, I come into contact with it peripherally sometimes, but every now and then it hits me smack in the face.  There were real rules and regulations for this thing that the mommies were expected to acknowledge and follow.  First of all, we were told we had to attend all 3 rehearsals or not go to the concert.  Then we were given a little tag for Sydney to wear, showing her group number on it.  We had to fill out the back.  I got my own tag, as Sydney’s mother, to accompany her to rehearsals.  We were warned 3 times to make sure we had safety pins with us for the tags.  Clearly, as evidenced by the lack of fathers in sight, it was the mommies who were dealing with this.  Well, that and I kept hearing the Japanese word for “mother” from the conductor’s mouth as she explained everything.

Then there was a form to put into the violin case, lest it get lost.  It didn’t just have a name and address on it, but also the teacher’s name.  There was a form to buy the DVD, because of course there is no filming or even photography at Suntory Hall.  Sydney had to wear a white blouse, black bottoms and black shoes with preferably white socks.  We were to arrive at Suntory Hall at precisely 11:20, having both fed and pottied our children.  These rules were told to me in perfect Japanese, of which I understood little, and then repeated in multiple forms, given to me multiple times, and then finally translated for me by our teacher.  The regimentation of everything, and the strict rules, not to mention the strict adherence to those rules, sometimes makes me, a Westerner, a little batty.  But I’ve been doing it long enough that I have learned to roll with it, and do my best.

All that being said, the concert itself was majestic.  There were cellists and flutists as well.  There were beautiful ensemble pieces played by what amounted to a string orchestra.  All of the pieces – and it was a two-hour concert – were played by children between the ages of 3 and 18.  None had yet graduated from high school, and each piece was played with the love and care of a master.  And being Suzuki children, there was not a single piece of sheet music in sight.  While Suzuki kids can read music after the first few years, they play by ear, always memorizing their pieces. These were remarkable children.

The most moving part of the concert was when they brought out eight children who had traveled to Tokyo from their home in Sendai, an area badly affected by the earthquake and Tsunami.  The children spoke of their homes and their violin playing – and their hope for the future.  They were happy to be in Tokyo and playing at Suntory Hall, the Carnegie Hall of Tokyo.

The entire afternoon – and between the rehearsals and concert itself, it was a whole day, pretty much – was a very Japanese experience.  It was organized, regimented, proscribed, somewhat annoying, and in the end, just lovely.

Parenting and Writing

There are definitely days when I feel sorry for my kids.  Having a writer for a mother cannot be easy.  At ages 9 and 12, they have not yet discovered all the places where their lives are exposed for the world to see and on which to make comment.  Not only do I keep a regular blog on which they appear often, but I write monthly for “A Hopeful Sign” which is more of an e-zine devoted to messages of hope, optimism and beauty and they’re often the focus of the stories.  I have written about Bailey in a magazine called Asian Jewish Life and I had a two-page spread a few years ago about both kids and my observations about their Montessori classrooms in the official magazine of the International Montessori Association, Today’s Child.  Sometimes little blurbs about them appear in my academic writing since I test out so many of my pedagogical theories on them first.  When I give speeches, I tell anecdotes about them, and in my classrooms, all of my students invariably know a lot about what the kids are doing.  Admittedly I used them as entree for lessons.

It is my choice to self-disclose in a public way.  Bailey and Sydney, however, have not made this choice – their public mother has made it for them.  Actually, at this point they still like it somewhat.  They feel famous.  I haven’t yet mentioned to them that the venues in which I publish aren’t quite national news and that their fame has a  limited  readership.

Oh, there are a lot of things I don’t discuss, including the kids’ schools, friends, doctors’ appointments – those are strictly tabo0.  As they move into teenage-hood, I imagine the list of “don’ts” will increase by their demand.  I have already heard, “Mom, are you going to write about this?”  I wasn’t sure of the mood or motivation of the question.

But for now, the kids are my best fodder.  They interest me, and it is a challenge and a goal to make their escapades and adventures interesting to potential readers.  As a writer, I’m always looking into real life for interesting ideas in both fiction and non-fiction.  Of course my family is my first go-to for material.  And hopefully, thirty years from now, after years of very expensive therapy, both of my children will be able to talk easily, if not disparagingly, about their mother the writer.

Nobody loves you like I do, Kid.

I Have A Daughter, Too!

Sydney and I had a ball getting her ready for the father-daughter dinner dance this year!

I write so often about Bailey and his issues and antics, that I have woefully neglected my daughter, Sydney, who is just as interesting as her brother, but in a wholly different way.  Since Bailey is away at camp for much of the month, I have had the singular experience of one-on-one time with Sydney.  What I’ve discovered is that she is a really neat kid in her own right.

Sydney is a bundle of contradictions.  In one moment she’s a princess, and in the next moment, she’s scoring a goal on the soccer field.  She likes to cook and bake, but she loves riding her bike just as much.  Some days she wants to sit in my lap and be my baby, and some days she wants to be left to her own independent devices. Sydney is nine years old, and these types of activities are supposed to happen concurrently; she is supposed to be exploring what she likes and what she’s good at.

Recently, I have noticed that she has a particular skill in processing information.  She takes in what I (or anyone for that matter) tells her, thinks about it and then is able to regurgitate what was said with her own brand of understanding.  She can articulate feelings and ideas easily, and she is always aware of the emotions of the people around her.

Of course she can drive me crazy in twenty seconds or less with her constant chatter and utter insistence on being in control of every situation (I wonder where she gets that from…) but that’s the mother-daughter relationship talking.  In the past two weeks, we’ve taken a road-trip, eaten dinner with various

Sydney and her very favorite activity: EATING!

friends, spent time in many places where there were only adults and no one for her to play with, and done many other things that required extreme flexibility.  She has handled all of it with grace and charm.

I’m sure as time goes on, I will be able to tell some more specific stories that illustrate her personality and the particular daughter-based issues that she and I have, but for now, I’ve just been enjoying her and want to share that with you.

Kids and Art

Oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Picture Fund, 37.375. Photograph ©2009 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A rainy Saturday in the city calls for a bit of creativity on the part of the parents.  Luckily in a dynamic place like Tokyo, it’s not all that difficult.

What we decided on was the National Art Center, Tokyo because they have a Renoir exhibit that is only here for a few more weeks.  Both Marc and I are

huge fans of Impressionist art.  It felt really crazy to be looking at European art in the middle of an Asian capital, but the paintings were so beautifully hung with such obvious care to their order and organization.  The explanations were clear and interesting – and many of them were in English.  It was more English than I’ve seen at an exhibit in Japan ever.

The kids were great.  They read the explanations; they enjoyed the paintings; and they were interested in the section of the exhibit where the curators had taken both x-rays and infrared photos of the paintings so they could study their structure and composition and color.

At first they did not want to go but Marc and I were persistent.  We took them out to dim sum for lunch and asked them to behave themselves so that we could all enjoy the exhibit.  We made them part of the decision to go see the paintings.  And of course, there was a tiny bit of bribery involved.  We all love dim sum on a Saturday for lunch.

Even with all that, I’m still so pleased with the way the kids behaved and how they handled themselves.  It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy Saturday.

Saturdays With Kids: The General Runaround

My son Bailey (age 10) exists at a low hum.  By this I mean that he only has two speeds: ON and sleeping.  He’s constantly on the go and he is moving every second of the day.  The child can participate in seven races in a swim meet and then ask us what we’re doing in the afternoon. My daughter, Sydney (age 7) is active and busy, but not to the same extent.  She actually needs more sleep in a night.

Recently our Sundays have taken on a pattern with the kids. Both of them go to Sunday School at the Jewish Center in Tokyo for most of the morning.  Up until recently that was all they did until it was time for soccer in the late afternoon.  Sydney plays with the British Football Academy from 2:30 to 3:30 and Bailey from 3:30-5:00.  Now, however, we have found out that the winter basketball program in which Bailey participated last year moved from Saturdays to Sundays.  Luckily it’s from 1:00 to 2:30 so it does not interfere with either Sunday school or soccer, which is year-round.

There are a few other families who take soccer with our kids – two of which have a younger girl and an older boy.  Most weekends, since it’s 5pm by the time we are done, we get together and order in dinner.  The kids play together and the grownups have a glass or two of wine together.  It’s very congenial and easygoing. Dinner ends by 8pm because everyone has school and work the next day.

If you can believe it, I agreed to this insane schedule.

But what am I supposed to do? Should I force Bailey to rest because I feel it’s too much activity for one day?  He doesn’t need the rest.  Frankly, when we had our first Sunday of it last week, Bailey was so tired by 8:30pm that he asked to go to bed.  It might have been the first time ever.  He slept well and had no ill effects for the start of the week.

All of this over-scheduling worries me though.  The kid is part of the school ensemble, plays table tennis, takes violin and Japanese lessons, and goes to mid-week Hebrew school.  That’s all Monday through Friday and doesn’t include the weekends.  He then asks if he can have tennis lessons sometime.

Sydney takes a dance class after school and participates in a dancing and acting group outside of school.  She also takes violin and Japanese lessons.  She’s less scheduled, but still has a lot of activities.

The kids are so happy though, and all of this is within our budget.  They get some time for creative play in there.  I guess we’re lucky because beyond nightly reading, my kids don’t have homework because they go to a Montessori school.  The common Montessori philosophy states that children work hard enough during the day and don’t need homework beyond the learning they do with Mom and Dad anyway – and reading.  The kids are happy and well-adjusted, or so they seem now.

Marc and I have decided to let them do what they want to do and are able to do now, and then as they get older and necessarily have to give up some things to accommodate schoolwork and the like, we’ll deal with it then.  Some people might think we’re crazy, but this is what works for us.

I welcome your comments and opinions and experiences.