I have been a negligent blogger lately. Some scattered things I meant to write about:
Seoul Man, who took the Korea-blogging world by storm last year, is leaving Korea. That’s the problem with being an ex-pat -- people are always leaving. You finally meet someone, you invest in a relationship, and a year later they move on, hopefully to some exotic location so you can plan to visit them. Last year saw the departure of at least 3 friends; this year will see a few more. In some ways I think that ex-pat friendships can become very strong very fast because there’s a sense of being in a special situation that not many people can relate too. But sometimes I think these friendships never get past the acquaintance stage because you know the person (or yourself) isn’t going to be around very long.
So Aiden is in elementary school now. We’ve spent the last two weeks or so preparing. We had to get all his school stuff (backpack, new indoor shoes, new outdoor shoes which are -- holey moley -- the same size as my mother-in-law’s shoes, a desk, crayons, etc.) We had to clean out a room for him to use to study, which took a REALLY long time, and now our “office” is full of discarded toys that I need to donate. But his room is really nice now. He doesn’t sleep in there, just studies. I knew all this was coming, and I knew it would be busy and tedious, but I had trouble getting up the motivation to do all of it. It is March! I can’t get used to associating March with the start of school. It is funny how the seasons trigger such strong memories and associations. No matter where I am or how old I am, the fall reminds me of starting school, makes me want to go out and buy new notebooks, and run in the crisp fall weather (memories of running cross country). With great difficulty and much avoidance and griping we managed to get Aiden set to go to school.
People have been telling me, with a slightly maniacal gleam of the eye, that once your kid goes to elementary school life becomes really difficult and busy for the mom. Moms are expected to help out a lot at the school, cleaning the classroom or serving meals or standing on the street making sure the kids don’t get run over. They also have to run around preparing all the things the kid needs for school each day. Some teachers discriminate based on how much the mom helps or how much money the mom has given the teacher, so there’s a great deal of anxiety about finding out which teacher your kid is assigned to. Plus, so much of future social life depends upon the kids in the class -- elementary school kids bond here in a way that doesn’t happen much in the States. KC still regularly meets his elementary school friends, they have reunions and stuff. Aiden’s friend’s mom (Carol) and I requested that our kids be in the same class, which usually they won’t do, but we argued that because I’m a foreigner and unfamiliar with the school system I would need someone to show me the ropes so that Aiden wouldn’t be a burden on the teacher. They granted our request, and now our kids are in grade 1 class 4 together, with a 50-something female teacher who has a reputation for military-style teaching, low tolerance for troublemakers, and discrimination based on how much the moms help (but not based on money, that’s good). The parents got scolded twice already -- first for hovering around the classroom windows and distracting the kids on the first few days, then for not having sent all the necessary materials on the second day. But watching her talk to the kids, so far I have to say that she seems like a good teacher. She is authoritative and firm but not mean, and the kids seem to like her. She’s one of those very solid looking women you don’t want to mess with -- no lace and coy smiles from her. She wears practical shoes, not heels, and she has a commanding gaze. When the kids came unprepared, she didn’t scold them, she scolded us. That’s fair. It explains why Carol called me in a panic the second morning and warned me: “Don’t forget this and this and this! OK see you later!” Teachers are taken seriously here.
Another strange thing about school here is the graduated start. The first day of school only lasted an hour or so. The second day (which was a Saturday -- another strange thing is that they go to school 2-3 Saturdays a month) was also only an hour (10am to 11am). The next three weeks they only go from 9am to 11am, then after that they finish at noon. So first grade here starts off pretty easy, to let the kids get used to it, I guess. Nevermind that most of these kids have been in school for 3 or more years. Max, for instance, now goes every day even though he’s not quite 3, and his day lasts from 9:30 to 2:20 -- far longer than Aiden. I feel hesitant and ambivalent about sending him so long at such a young age. So far he’s doing well and seems to really like it, and frankly, I enjoy having some time to myself each day, catching up on all my crap.
People move on, kids grow up. Lately Max has been really into playing with Daddy. He walks around the apartment with a toy gun tucked into his pants (and often falling into his pants, since the gun as almost as big as he is) and a blanket tied around his neck (his cape), saying “Daddy! Let’s sword fight!” But then a few minutes later the gun will fall into his pants again and he’ll cry, because he’s still that touchy kid who loses it sometimes. Then will retreat together to cuddle in the bed, him nursing and holding onto me with his chubby finger. He’s still my baby, though if I call him that he corrects me: “No Mommy, I’m a BIG BOY.”