Life as a full-time mom in Japan

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I need a decoder ring.

I have enrolled Mika, my four-year-old, in a Japanese kindergarten for the remainder of the month as I stay in the country to sort out my parents’ affairs. It is a fiendishly difficult business, this settling of an estate, in a land that never saw a government-required form it didn’t like. Also it would help if I could read at the level of a ninth-grader.

But the language I am finding even more opaque is the one of the full-time mother.

Mika has attended school for three days now, and not one day have I gotten the etiquette right. The first day, I drove to school. It’s not far, but we live on a steep hill, and I didn’t want to traumatize my American-bred tot with a hike on her first day of foreign kindergarten. Big mistake. No one, and I mean no one, drives to school. It turns out I need special permission, which of course means filling out forms, lots of forms.

Yesterday I turned up for the 11:30 a.m. pick-up at 11:30 a.m. Big mistake. We are to arrive at 11:20 for the morning greeting by the teacher. By 11:30, Mika was the last child left in the room, her little shoulders quivering with abandonment.

Today I arrived at 11:15 and marched over to the door of the classroom. Big mistake. We are to wait until the teacher gives the signal, which of course all the other moms knew, because they are not American dorks.

Thursday is the first lunch day. I have so far spent about $100 and four hours assembling all the necessary tools to create the obento lunch. I will not sleep the previous night as I sweat over the proper assembly of the onigiri rice ball.

How do moms work here?