The Bar Mitzvah Boy – On “A Hopeful Sign”

Photo by Fotik, all rights reserved.

This week I want to share with you my latest post on the e-zine “A Hopeful Sign.”  If you don’t know it, the site is truly beautiful, with posts from across the globe written by an interesting and dedicated group of people who think positively.  I have been writing for them and receiving their posts daily for about 18 months now, and every day I am awed by the incredible photography, hopeful messages, and fascinating ideas the writers share.

This piece is about Bailey’s bar mitzvah, and the way it connected us all to the past while allowing us to glimpse the future.  I look forward to hearing your comments.

Here’s the link to the site: http://ahopefulsign.com/making_a_difference/the-bar-mitzvah-boy

Please click the link, but if you would really prefer, the text is here:

I didn’t know that poised, confident young man who stood before the congregation leading the service.  He bore a strong resemblance to my 13-year-old son, but surely my child wasn’t as talented and engaging as this boy – or was he?

Strangely enough it was indeed my child up there.  Bailey, age thirteen, recently celebrated his bar mitzvah.  Literally translated, it means “son of the commandments” and it’s the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony that recognizes a boy’s entrance into adulthood in the eyes of world Jewry.  It generally involves leading a service and reading from the Torah, all in Hebrew.  So this is something for which Bailey had been studying for months.

The unusual part of Bailey’s bar mitzvah, however, is that he is doing it twice.  The first one was in August in the U.S. with our entire family, and the second one is in October with our Tokyo community.  It was important to Bailey to have this celebration with his extended family, all of whom are in the U.S., but also with his own friends, at his own synagogue, with the rabbi who had been teaching him for the past three years, even though that place was halfway across the globe. So while I kept on him to study, he was largely self-motivated, wanting to please his grandparents in the U.S. and his beloved rabbi in Tokyo, even if that meant learning two different services.

One of the beauties of Judaism is that the readings from the Torah are cyclical and proscribed.  I feel very comfortable knowing that every Jew around the world is reading the same section of the Torah on any given Saturday.  But given that parameter, it meant that Bailey would have to learn a different portion for the October bar mitzvah than the August one.  And still, he never batted an eyelash.

On this special day, Bailey carried with him, on his person, proof of his heritage.  He was wearing my grandfather’s mezuzah, a casing containing a special prayer, around his neck; he wore my other grandfather’s watch.  He wore my husband’s grandfather’s tie-tack, and as the icing on the cake, he wore his grandfather’s tallis, or prayer shawl, which his grandfather’s grandfather had worn to his bar mitzvah.  Bailey had a piece of ceremonial regalia from his great-great-grandfather.

Only moments before starting the service, Bailey had dragged me away from the gathering crowd to a private room where no one could see us.  “I can’t do it,” he said, and started to cry.  My first reaction, which thankfully I didn’t show, was panic.  Luckily rationality took over and I just held him and let him cry for a moment.  Any mother would tell you that sometimes all a kid needs is a good hug, not words or even treats.  Just a hug.  “It’s a lot of pressure,” I told him, hoping to validate his feelings.  “Do you want to do a quick run-through right this second?”

Bailey nodded and dried his eyes while I snuck out and retrieved his study materials.  We had a quick, ten-minute, last-second rehearsal right there.  When he was through, he stood up and looked straight at me.  He looked so dapper, that boy of mine.  He wore his first full-on suit, a blue striped shirt and a snazzy tie.  The shoes, straight from Nordstrom’s, tied the whole outfit together.

I searched his eyes as he looked at me. “You’re okay,” I said to him and he nodded.  I repeated it.  “You are okay.”

This boy, this baby of my heart, as I used to call him when he was little, stood up in front of 120 of our closest friends and family members and performed like a champ. No one would know that he had had a little meltdown only moments prior.  He sang with a rich, strong tone and spoke clearly without a waver to his voice.  He delivered his d’var Torah, a word of Torah that explained what he read and his interpretations of it, without missing a beat. He bantered lightly with the rabbi, and hugged his grandparents when they went up to share the sweet moment with him.

At times like these, it’s hard to recognize the sometimes-surly child who makes an appearance at the breakfast table each morning, or the scatterbrained kid who can never find all of the elements of a homework assignment at one time.  But it is moments like these that give us hope.  It is moments like these that connect us to the past, yet I could see a glimpse of the man my son has the potential to become.  In an increasingly cynical world where religion sometimes takes a backseat to other, more modern activities, watching a child take his place next to his ancestors as a young man proud of his heritage and ready to take on all of the rights and responsibilities thereof, is like receiving a gift of a vision of the future.

After the service, there was dinner and dancing, and Bailey danced like a brick wall had been lifted from his shoulders, as well he should have.  Joy, hope and pride all mixed together to form a twinkle in his eye and he whirled and played.  I have a feeling that I will recognize that twinkle many times in the years to come.  I cannot wait to watch.

On Being Done

Tuesday was my last day as a teacher at the International Secondary School.  Last week my son finished grade 7 and my daughter finished grade 4.  My writer’s brain searches for meaning in everything, so I can’t help but wonder what it all means – starting, finishing, seasons, changes – all of it.  But now, after two days of processing,   I don’t think it means all that much.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are still milestones to mark, boxes to tick off, and occasions to note and celebrate, but maybe certain things do not have to be dwelled upon ad nauseum.  There are millions of books, articles, blog posts and poems written about startings and endings, and everything in between, but maybe it’s okay to just acknowledge the change and simply move on.

I’m saying this because we, as a society, have become fixated on these ideas.  Our kindergarteners graduate, our fifth graders graduate and our eighth graders graduate.  There is pomp and presents at every turn.  Maybe sometimes we have to just relax and move through things quietly.  Maybe sometimes we can stop and reflect quietly without a ticker-tape parade.

In Tokyo the expat community is contracting severely.  Banks are moving operations to other countries, as are various large firms, so many foreigners are moving not home, but to another place in order to keep their jobs.  So this year, not only is the year ending for the international schools, but with so many people moving, things will look very different when school re-opens in the fall.  Those of us staying are mourning the loss of their friends to whom we have been close and secretly wondering if they know something we don’t know.  But I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.  I want to let it all slide by me.  There’s nothing I can do about it, so I am avoiding the bigger parties and concentrating on spending one-on-one time with my friends who are leaving.  Normally I feel pretty excited at this time of year as I ready myself and the kids to take our long summer holiday in the U.S. But this year, I just want to quietly mark and pass the time.  I want to wish my friends well in their new lives, and prepare to move forward with my own.

There is something to be said for simple, quiet reflection.  Celebration and the special marking of the passage of time are all good in their place, but this year, I’m all about it the quiet reflection.

A Baby No Longer

This is a photo of the Baby of my Heart, as I have always called Bailey, at age one, nearly twelve years ago.  He loved boxes and would squeal with delight if he saw the UPS guy in our driveway.  It never mattered what the boxes contained; the boxes were the fun part.  As you can see, most often Bailey himself ended up in the box.

He has always been a talker, this boy of mine.  He talks through his feelings and ideas, and can give you the play-by-play of every baseball, basketball or soccer game in which he has ever played and scored.  This past week when he was away with a grade-seven trip to Izu, south of Tokyo, the house was wildly quiet.  He has also always been an independent and curious person, eager to explore the world and what it has to offer.  He never went through an attachment phase and he has never minded leaving my side to go to school, to a sleepover, or even sleep-away camp.  He is always happy to come home and holds on tight when he’s here, but leaving is not an issue.

So last night, after the three days away with very little sleeping, he went to bed early.  By 2:30am he was in my room, waking me up.  “I feel funny, Mom,” he said.  Well, it’s really to be expected, I explained.  Just as his body is changing through puberty, so is his brain.  Part of the issue was that when they were away near the beach, they were required to shake out their shoes lest there be a caterpillar in them – the biting type of bugs, and he was concerned that one might have gotten into his stuff that he brought home.  His bag, when he brought it into the house and opened it, exploded in a mass of wet and stink! I assured him that we had already thrown his entire bag into the laundry and there was not a bug in sight.  But then he went into the particulars of the social nuances of the week he had spent.  There was one kid on the trip who was a bully and no one liked him any better on the trip than they did at school.  There was one boy on the trip who is “different” – on the autism spectrum – and Bailey tried his best to include him with varying degrees of success.  He talked to and played card games with girls for the first time.  He was concerned that some of the teasing that occurred on the trip would be carried over back into school.  He feels glad that he has a lot of friends spread out over various social “groups” at school, but gets frustrated that the groups, which he is experiencing for the first time, exist at all.  He keeps asking why everyone can’t just sit together – why does he have to choose which group to sit with at lunch every day?

All of those questions and that information came out in the hour between 2:30 and 3:30am last night.  I didn’t say much – just listened and gave a few minor suggestions. Finally, as his talking slowed, I told him to just go to sleep.  Just stay there and go to sleep.  As he fell asleep and I stroked his hair, I assured him that he was normal. I told him I appreciated that he wanted to talk to me and that I would never say no to a conversation.  If he wanted me in the middle of the night, he should always come to get me – or his dad.  I did assure him that we are good for talking in the middle of the day, also, and at other times when we’re normally supposed to be awake.

The baby in the box is definitively out of the box and out in the real world these days.  In just three months he will be a teenager and I feel like we’re just at the start of the all the changes that are on the horizon.  It is going to be a wild ride, I am certain.  But I do realize that if I can get Bailey to keep talking to me, then we’re most likely going to get through it just fine.  I admire the young man he is becoming as much as I adored that little boy in the box.   Here  we go.

Growing Together – A Hopeful Sign

The following is a post that first appeared on the e-zine, A Hopeful Sign, for which I write monthly.  The site itself inspires me every day with its messages of positive living and the beauty of life.  Please look at it if you get a moment.

For me, the ability to process my life through language is one of my biggest gifts.  I write because it helps me make sense of the world around me.  Please enjoy this attempt to learn and grow as my children learn and grow.

For twelve years, my life has revolved around kids and kid activities. Even though I have usually worked at least part time, my first priority has always been the munchkins.  I’ve been involved with their schools, done charity work with them, had dinner with them almost every night (except book club nights – those are sacred) and fretted over every whim and trifle that has come into their lives.  However, about two weeks ago, I had a glimpse into my future – my kid-free future.

That week my daughter’s school had a few days off for a mid-winter holiday, or as it’s commonly called, a ski break.  I couldn’t get the days off from teaching, so I sent her with a good family friend on a community ski trip.  My son was headed to the Valentine’s Day dance on Friday night.  On Thursday, we got word that since the flu was so rampant in his school, they were cancelling the dance – too many pre-teens in close proximity to each other.  Of course my son was upset, but only for a minute.  He and his friend cooked up the idea of a double date to the movies.  We had discussed it a few days earlier and agreed that if the dance went well with the girl he was taking, that perhaps in a few weeks, he could ask her to the movies in a sort of group date.  After speaking with a few of the other mothers, we had all agreed that the plan was fine.  Well, the dance was not happening and I couldn’t think of a good reason why the group “date” thing would be okay in a few weeks, but not right that minute.  It was one of those parenting moments when it took all of my self-control not to shout, “I’m not ready!”

My husband has spent the balance of this winter working at a client site away from home, so he wasn’t in town at the time.  It was left to me to handle this date thing.  I got home from work at 5pm, and Bailey had to leave for the movies at about 5:30.  He had had a snack and planned to eat something at the theater.  He had some money in his pocket and was prepared to spend it on his own movie ticket as well as the girl’s.

A second or two after I got into the house, Bailey said, “Mom, Star Trek is on.  Can we sit on the couch for a few minutes to watch?”

Certainly I wasn’t going to refuse.  He actually sat right next to me on the couch, his legs touching mine.  Bailey is a snuggly kind of kid (don’t tell him I told you) and he leaned right up against me slouching a little so his head was on my shoulder.  I didn’t dare move a muscle; I just squeezed his leg a little.  I sat there with my son staring at the meaningless flickering images before me, going through all the moments in the past that led us here, to this day, to this moment.  The baby of my heart, as I had called him all his life, was becoming the young man I knew he could be, and he still stopped for a moment to put his head on his mother’s shoulder.

After about fifteen minutes, he jumped up suddenly, proclaiming that he really had to go if he wanted to be there on time.

I jumped into action with him, making sure he had his phone and his wallet in his pocket, and reminding him to come right home after the movie. Tokyo is an amazing city.  Without a moment’s hesitation I could let my twelve-year-old son head out to the movies on his own and wait for him to come back without worrying about his safety.  He promised, kissed me, and threw a vague “love you” over his shoulder in my general direction before zipping off down the street.

And I went back inside the house from my perch on the front stoop.  I shut the door.  I stood there staring at it for a second, and then, without warning, I sat down hard on the floor and burst into tears.

My husband was away on business, my daughter was up skiing, and my son had gone out on a movie date.  It was Friday night and I was home alone with nothing to do.

That’s what I mean about seeing into my future: the kids were busy and I would have to think up something to do all on my own.  There was no one to whom I was responsible for the next three plus hours and my time was my own to fill however I liked.

At first the idea of that much time alone felt scary.  I missed my babies. I missed the running after them, the picking up after them, and even, in a weak moment, bathing them.  I couldn’t help but think of the past few years of nightly homework patrol and activity shuffle.  All of that was eventually going to come to an end and for the first time I could picture that alternate reality.  Those two amazing kids would probably become amazing adults with whom I’d hopefully have a great relationship, but at some point, they would be on their own and I would have a different life.

It took me a few minutes to pick myself up off the floor.  It was cold down there, though, and the kitchen would be warmer.  Then I realized that I could eat the leftovers from the night before all by myself.  In fact, I could make popcorn and eat the whole bag.  Perhaps I could even put on a chick flick and stretch out on the long sofa that I was all mine for a few hours.  Wait a minute!  This wasn’t going to be all bad after all!  A long time ago, a friend once told me that the purpose of an education is so that you’re never bored.  I am almost never bored and I wouldn’t be bored or feel sorry for myself this night either.

When Bailey came home around 9:30, he found me watching the end of an episode of a crime show that I like.  I am always glad to see him, but not often that glad.  It had been a great time by myself, but I was ready to hear about how he didn’t eat much because his arm was occupied around the girl and how he had walked her home (she lives hear our house) first and that he couldn’t wait to do it again soon.  I heard that it was fun with the other friends and that he enjoyed the movie.

Foolishly I had thought that parenting only involved watching the children grow and change on a daily basis.  Before that night, I never thought about the changes in me in response to the growth of the children. But as with every move we’ve made or new job I’ve taken, I will now be aware of the need to be flexible and at times, maybe even reinvent myself.  It’s all part of the journey that my son – and daughter – and I are taking together.

Neither French Nor Carpe Diem Mothering

It’s not unusual for me to read parenting articles, but recently I read two articles about motherhood that made me think about the actual act of being a mother rather than just the idea of being a mother.

The first one I read was passed around on Facebook a million times – from a blog called “Momastary” and it discusses the impossibility of carpe diem, as admonished by old ladies in the grocery store, when dealing with running, filthy toddlers.  The author distinguishes between chronos time – when picking up dirty toys, or buckling squirmy babies into car seats and Kairos time – a moment when you take time out to kiss a sleepy child, or snuggle up to read a book.  The post is awe-inspiring in its ability to allow mothers to be frustrated and not feel guilty if they cannot appreciate every germ-ridden, screaming moment of being a parent of a young child.

The second one I read appeared in The Wall Street Journal Online and the author theorizes as to why French parents are superior. The author, an American woman living in the suburbs of Paris, noted that French children are models of restraint and the parents were much more relaxed.  It turns out that the French parents value teaching children the value of delayed gratification.  Kids learn from a young age how to entertain themselves, wait for long periods of time, and that no really does mean no.  Is it a perfect system?  Far from it.  However, the discipline instilled as a result of such teachings make for very relaxed parents – something many mothers I know are craving right about now.

One thing these articles highlight to me is that motherhood requires a great deal of self-reflection, and to do it well requires not only reflection, but also a willingness to look in the mirror and face the hard truths as they hover in front of you.  A lot of women don’t want to think about the hows and whys of their methodology – they just move forward with the day-by-day and minute-to-minute parenting that children require.  Being meta requires a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking and looking for ways to do things differently should a situation arise again.  That’s some tough stuff.

I thought I would want to be a stay-at-home mother for my precious babies and I was wildly wrong.  The grime, the tedium and the children’s physical needs made me sweat and yearn for my peaceful office.  In fact, I was so insistent on working that I got my doctorate while the kids were little – I graduated when they were four and seven years old.  I would have done anything to keep my mind otherwise occupied.  I would have poked nails in my head rather than admit it back then though.

When we moved to Tokyo the second time in 2007, I did not seek out employment like I had the first time. I thought that I would get involved in the kids’ school or volunteer with organizations and indeed, I did all of that.  I even found myself doing a bunch of freelance writing for the first time.  But as time went on, it still wasn’t enough for me.  I missed teaching – I had the doctorate and I wanted to use it again.  Over the summer, I applied for a job and I got it – in fact, I got two part time jobs that are keeping me way too busy.  It’s too much to work like I am now, but the experience has been invaluable and now I know how much is too much.  I can arrange thing differently after this school year.  In my world, I love working.  That being said, I am also enjoying parenting more than I ever have before.  The kids are 9 and 12, and their burgeoning worlds and ideas are fascinating to me.  They’ve become my favorite dinner companions as they’ve learned to play card games and wait patiently for their meals to be served.  Now I’m looking for balance, I think, as we all move forward.

What I mean by all this is that all mothers have to make these decisions for themselves.  Working, not working, discipline, seizing the moment – it’s all by choice.  Those articles I mentioned promote themselves as if they’re for every woman – that fictitious human that is part mother, part trash can, and part pack mule.  There’s just no such thing.  We’re all different and we should be celebrated for the mere act of mothering and for our differences on how we approach motherhood.  Oh, I think parenting articles are fine if someone wants some advice or ideas, but there is by no means one “right” way to do it.  And even each mother will have her own changes over time.  Things that are right when the children are little may not be right when they’re older.  Maybe they will, though.  There are no absolutes in this parenting game.

Go forth and learn from your mistakes.  Enjoy the ride, wipe a few noses and certainly smooth the covers and kiss the babies.  Do it your way.

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.

My Son The Writer

My grandmother with my children in 2010.

Last week my son had a conversation with my grandmother, his great grandmother.  He had a school assignment to speak to someone – anyone he knew and could interview – who had a connection with World War II.  My grandfather was a pharmacist on a hospital ship based in Europe during the war, and though he died fifteen years ago, my grandmother was the obvious go-to source for help.

Before the call, Bailey created a list of questions to ask.  I looked over the list and they were good questions – ones designed to get her to talk and tell a story.  I knew my grandmother wouldn’t need much prompting to talk.  He wanted to know if Papa enlisted or was drafted.  He wanted to know if Papa ever saved any lives and how he survived the war.  He had questions for Grandma about the home front as well.  It was a good list.

As I predicted, Grandma didn’t need much prompting to talk.  She told Bailey a great story that Papa had told her about how the convoy that included his hospital ship normally sailed in complete darkness for secrecy, and then noticing the beauty of the lights on V.E. day when they could be more overt.  She reminded him that Papa was in Europe when my mother was born and he came home to fatherhood for the first time. She told him about how Papa donated his uniforms for Israeli soldiers after the war.  She told him about the patriotism of New Yorkers and how everyone did their part.  I listened to the entire interview as it happened on speakerphone.  My grandfather was just an ordinary guy, but at the same time, a great guy and a wonderful grandfather.  I spoke to him every day the last year of him life, and Bailey carries his name.   The whole conversation was rife with meaning – to my grandmother, to me, and even to Bailey.

With all of this info, Bailey had to write not an essay, but a poem.  That night, he sat down with his notes and wrote each line that Grandma had told him.  Then under it he wrote a line or two of description or analysis of the story.  He wrote concisely and tried to be as poetic as possible.  He really crafted the words.  He ended up with more than 400 words.

The next day Bailey’s teacher had a few words to say to the students about how to write, and actually suggested the method that Bailey used – quote then analysis.  He also had a word limit of 300 words, so Bailey then had to go back and tighten his language without losing any meaning – a tough exercise for any writer, novice or seasoned.  But he did it – he got it down to just about 300.

Bailey spent Tuesday evening reading the poem aloud over and over again to give it in class on Wednesday.  He said it went really well and the teacher and his classmates seemed to like the poem.  I was pleased for him.

Somehow he captured the feelings – he captured the idea that while my Papa wasn’t a war hero per se, every act at wartime is an act of heroism.  He found the words to name the sacrifice of missing the birth of his first child, and the depth of meaning behind giving uniforms to the army of the burgeoning state of Israel, much of whose initial population was comprised of former concentration camp victims.

I really didn’t help much; Bailey found the words to do it himself.  For me, as a writer, it was joyful to watch him do it.  The learning process – the thinking process – that is going on in his head as he develops never ceases to amaze me.  Is he learning from me?  I don’t know and I am not sure it matters much.  Bailey is just at the start of his educational journey, and I hope he can derive the same sweetness from it that I have had over the years.  He’s off to a strong start.

2012 – Here We Go!

Many bloggers post their New Year resolutions, but I am not going to.  I really only have one goal for the most part and that is: setting realistic expectations.

So much of stress is derived from what we expect from ourselves.  Time and time again it has been proven that women, in particular, are prone to beating themselves up over a job done less than perfectly.  Working moms, of which I am one, feel guilty about so many issues and we forget to have a sense of balance in our lives.  My children are fine; they are no worse for the wear with me working.  So I sometimes forget to remind my daughter to bring her tennis shoes to school on days when she has tennis lessons – she’s 9; shouldn’t she be remembering too?  So in our home, we’re all going to try to take responsibility for each other and for ourselves, and help each other out.  The kids are old enough to understand the concept of taking responsibility and also for looking out for each others’ interests.  While we reconnected in Hawaii, we talked a lot about it.  We are not going to take on projects that cannot be successfully completed within the time-frame, and if one of us has a particularly big project going on, then the rest of us can support the one.  Again, at ages 9 and 12, the kids understand the concepts, and were able to give examples, like a big test or class project, during which they would need extra support from their parents.  My husband has a few business trips coming up this winter and the kids will have to step up helping in the house while he’s away.  I have grading periods during which my husband and the kids will rally around me the same way. Letting go of having clean rooms might be a little harder for me, but I promised to try in the spirit of realistic expectations.

So this year is all about realism, keeping things together, and figuring out ways to keep the stress level down.  It’s also about support and staying connected with the four people who live under this roof.  Bring it on, 2012!

Transitioning to a Traditional School – Learning To Take a Test

Bailey, last spring,  with a Lego-version of C3POMy son, Bailey, except for first and second grades in a traditional American school in the U.S., has spent the majority of his schooling life in a Montessori classroom – even for preschool and kindergarten.  He’s a textbook Montessori child – curious, self-motivated, and interested in a variety of subjects. Last June, he graduated from the fantastic school which he had been attending for the prior four years and we decided to send him to the big American School here in Japan – literally called The American School in Japan (ASIJ), which is an hour outside the city, in Chofu.  The school runs many buses from downtown, but it has to be located out there in order to have the facilities (read: for sports) that an American school requires.  All of the parents worry about the bus ride, but the kids actually like it.  It’s like an hour-long playdate before and after school.

Montessori method is quite different from a traditional learning environment.  It’s more individualized, child-centered, and independent.  Children stay in the same classroom ideally with the same teacher for three years, and Bailey got one extra year out of his wonderful teacher because she moved classrooms with him.  So he had the same teacher for four years.  The classrooms are mixed age, and often older children teach younger ones because you never learn something so well as when you teach it to others. Montessori method also does not require homework or testing, feeling that the children work hard enough in school, and work to master concepts innately, so they do not have to assess the progress – it’s apparent.  We loved it for Bailey – it was perfect for his style of learning.

But he has done quite well transitioning to the American school too – where in the middle school, he has not only one new teacher, but seven.   It’s a big place and he has to use a locker, a gym locker, and a music locker for his violin.  He’s enjoying it.

But there has been one stand-out consequence of the transition that we have just realized, in the fourth week of school.  Bailey has never had to study for or take a test.

He had a math assessment last week and he did not tell us about it beforehand.  He did okay – 80%, but not stellar.  He was disappointed with himself.

“Well, did you study, Bailey?” I asked.

“I knew the material.  I understood it.”

“There’s more to it than simple understanding.”  This statement floored him.  In the past, if he understood, it was great – he could move forward with the next thing.

So my husband and I sat down with Bailey and literally showed him how to study.  It’s not enough to understand – you have to understand, take in the material, memorize it – own it – and then be able to regurgitate it in the proper format for the teacher.

We talked about various methods of studying.  Some people write to learn, some people say things out loud, some people can learn by staring at the book and then asking someone to “test” them, but most work in a combination of methods, depending on the class and the type of material.

“That’s hard!” Bailey protested, when we found out that he had a health quiz the following day for

which he needed to study.

My husband, Marc, and I agreed – it is hard!  And time-consuming, to boot.

Grudgingly he put in the time to write out the material he needed to learn for the health test, and then Marc tested his knowledge.  Miraculously he did very well on the test!

“That studying thing really works, Mom,” he said, pleased with himself.

“Gee, ya think, Bailey?” I teased.

The whole thing was wildly interesting to Marc and me – knowing how take a test and study is one of those things we take for granted.  I don’t remember “learning” it per se.  And now Bailey will always know it as he works on what methodology is good for him personally.  Onward and upward on this journey!

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.