The “A” Team


Every since Haru started gymnastics, I have always made it a point to try to get to her school at least 30 minutes before the class begins.  When she was in the kindergarten gymnastics class, that usually meant that we were always the very first ones there and we had the gym all to ourselves.  However, now that Haru is in the elementary school age class, no matter how early we get to the gym, there always seems to be someone who gets there earlier than us.  Most of these kids get there to do stretches, or train on their own.  I usually take Haru there early so we can do my own routine of stretches that are a lot more stricter and harder than what Haru gymnastics class offers.

For a while, no one really seemed to care whether we were there or not.  In essence, we were completely ignored by the other kids as if we were completely invisible.  Haru and I would just grab a corner in the gym and we would conduct our pre-class workouts and no one would really care or notice.

However, when Yuka joined last month, I also started training Yuka in much the same way I would train Haru before class, and lately Yuka has been really doing well.  She is already surpassing many of the older kids on the high bars and vault, and it’s only a matter of time she will also surpass the other kids on the mats as well.  So every Saturday morning, Yuka’s mother would bring Yuka in about the same time Haru and I would arrive and begin our own stretching routines.  But unlike before, we are beginning to grab the attention of some of the other kids, more specifically the girls in Haru’s class who are serious about becoming good at gymnastics.  One girl in particular, who is about the same age as Haru, tries to join in our workouts.  I don’t really mind that she joins in, as a matter of fact, I do welcome it.    However, I am not really a gymnastics instructor of course, and  I am just using stretching routines that I used when I was doing karate in high school, and they are pretty intense.  There were a few times when I even made Haru cry because some of the stretches are so painful.  So naturally inflicting the same amount of grueling punishment on a child whom I barely even know would not be good.  So usually, I  just let her watch us and emulate what we do, but for both Yuka and Haru, or my “A” Team, I actually push them into ungodly positions to get them to stretch themselves.

I also briefly did gymnastics as kid, and I was really good at tumbling, but not so good at everything else.  Although Haru surpassed my abilities a long time ago, I still know the techniques on how to do many of these skills, so I am able to teach Haru how to do the skills, without physically being able to them myself.  As a matter of fact, many of the floor or mat skills and bar skills were taught by me, not her gymnastics class, hence, she is far better and further along than the other kids.  I have also been trying to get Yuka up to speed well, but since I only have 15-20 minutes a week to to teach her, I often give her “homework” which means that she needs to go home and practice everyday, which she apparently does according to her mother.

Right now, I am training Haru to do the back handspring.  This particular skill is like the holy grail skill for beginner to intermediate gymnasts.  People who want to do gymnastics usually want to do it because they want to be able to do either a back handspring or a back tuck.  It’s not a particularly difficult skill to master (although I can’t do it), but it is a somewhat VERY terrifying skill to learn because you are essentially doing a back dive onto your hands, and then pushing off of it.  And while you are doing this skill, everything in your head is telling you to STOP because you’re going to land on your head and break your neck, and your body autonomously reacts accordingly to try to protect itself.  Therefore about 25% of learning the back handspring is about training your body the proper method and technique, while the remaining 75% is training your mind to get over the fear of jumping backwards onto your hands.  This is why it takes so long for a lot of people (especially older kids) to learn.  Unless you have complete control of fear, the older you are the more harder it is because of the fear factor.

Last Saturday, after we completed her usual pre-class stretches, we practiced some back handsprings on the firmer tumbling mats.  At about the same time, one of the older boys (going by his size, probably a sixth grader), was also practicing back handsprings on the other side of the gym while watching Haru and me.  I hope he doesn’t ask me to spot him too, I thought to myself.  He is only a bit smaller than me so there is no way I would be able support his weight.  Haru was already a handful.  At that point, one of the newer instructors came down, and the boy rushed over to his side and asked the instructor to spot him as he practiced his skills.  He had obviously been practicing quite a bit because his handsprings were really good.  The instructor took the boy over to the trampoline where the boy practiced his back handsprings.  Haru and I continued to use the mats which were admittedly difficult to use, because they weren’t soft enough to serve as a cushion, and not quite hard enough to get a good solid jump off of.  Seeing this, the instructor asked us if we wanted to use the trampoline, so Haru, with the assistance of the instructor, Haru was able to train on the trampoline and got some free tips on how to make her handsprings better.   The instructor then commented that Haru probably can do a back handspring on her own, but she needs to get over her fear first.

Training Haruka to the back spring has been a challenge to say the least.  She already has a fear of hitting her head, probably because when she attempted it while back, she did hit her head.  But since she was doing it on our bed, there was no real bodily harm done.  Over the last 6 months, between her cheerleading tumbling coach and me, Haru  got some really good training on her method and technique.  When supported, she has really good form, but when she attempts to do it by herself, she freezes up and she is unable to overcome the fear to be able to jump backwards onto her hands.  But last Monday, we finally made a breakthrough.  Haru managed to scrape together enough courage to be able to attempt a back handspring without support.  Although it wasn’t the best of form, it was the best attempt to date.  Now its just a matter of cleaning it up a bit to make it look like a proper back handspring.

Haru also has been doing really well in tumbling as well.   She’s been doing it for less than six months now and she is already in the top 2 in her class.  I already knew that she was the best in her class, but now it’s not just my opinion, because her tumbling coach confirmed it the other night when he told me that if Haru is able clean up her back walkovers so that her legs are much straighter when she does them, Haru will move up to the advanced tumbling class with one other girl.  This will be a serious step up, because most of the girls in advanced tumbling are much older and very good.  They are the “aces” and “elites” of the cheerleading team, so it was definitely nice to hear that Haru is doing well enough to join the best.

Still needs work, but here is Haru’s first attempts at a back handspring without any support from me.


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CheerFest Summer 2014


Last Sunday, Haru performed her cheer routine in public for the first time as a member of the “Clover Team” (a promotion from the previous “Peach Team”.)  Although her routine wasn’t without it’s mishaps, there were no noticeably huge mistakes.  I think the only people who really noticed was my wife and me.

For some reason, Haru was particularly excited about performing this year -so excited that she invited most of the neighborhoods kids, and some of her kindergarten classmates to come and watch.  I didn’t see any of the neighborhood kids in the audience; this might be due to the fact that Haru gave them the wrong location, or perhaps they didn’t try to come at all.   But, three of her former classmates did show up and watched Haru’s cheer in the audience.

Unlike last year, the weather wasn’t too hot.  In fact, it was much cooler than normal which was good for Haru and her fellow cheerleading teammates.  But as usual, the Hearties Junior cheerleading event was by far the most popular event of the day -far more popular than the magic show (although I did get a kick out of it when the “magician” dropped all of his magic balls that “mysterious” seem to change colors at the wave of the hand, revealing the secret to the trick), -far more popular than the  senior citizen singing quartet, -far more popular than the other cheerleading teams and hip hop dancers, -even more popular the 50+ year old Flamenco dancers.  Hearties Junior really pack the audience in, like they did last year, to the point where they had to extend the spectator area again like they did last year when I lost my perfect unobstructed view of the stage and ranted about it on this very site.

This year, I was prepared!  I had a better lens for my camera (my Disneyland “Go To” lens that does everything -presumably), although its not quite the lens I would liked to have used, it did its job.  And when they moved that rope that held the spectators back, closer to the stage like they did last year,  I was able to get right up their before all of the people started piling in.  So I was front row center, no obstructions what-so-ever.  The only issue was that perhaps I was too close, because the cheerleaders who were in the front row (where Haru was) was now literally three feet away from me.  I didn’t want to make Haru nervous, but she didn’t seem too phased by me being so close and visible.  Haru’s friends Sakura and Yuka S (Haru’s personality twin and kindergarten rival). were also in the front row and a few feet away from me, watching the event.  At times I could hear them shouting “Look! There’s Haruka.  Go Haruka!”  I was a bit concerned that this may also make her nervous, but Haru confidently waved back and smiled.

Haru’s debut as a Clover went well.  No major mistakes, no falls, and no nervousness.   There’s still some kinks that she needs to work out of her routine, but not a bad performance at all.

 

 

 

 

EDIT:  Video from the event:

 


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New School


Three years ago this week, Haru started what is to be a 15 year (minimum) academic career.  She was only three years ago, and I remember thinking how she had grown up since she was a baby.  But as I reflect back and read my old blogs and look at the old pictures, I can’t believe what a little baby she was back then compared to now.  Of course, six years from now, when she graduates from elementary school, and six year from that point when she graduates from high school, I will probably looking back to this moment and looking at these pictures and saying the same exact thing.

Three years ago this week, when Haru began Kindergarten, it was for some, the very first time away from their families.  Many kids were crying at the initiation ceremony, as they were forced to sit with their fellow classmates and away from their families for the first time.  Haru never shed a tear through the whole event.   As a mater of fact, she offered comfort to her now best friend, Yuka, who back then was a very quiet and somewhat sad child, who rarely smiled.

The initiation ceremony at Haru’s new school was quite different.  First of all, there was hardily any crying -not by the students at least.  I did spot one boy who was crying during the ceremony, but I have no idea why.  As the new first graders entered the the auditorium, a chorus of upper class boys and girls sang songs very off key and off tempo, and they really did sound unrehearsed and just plain awful.  At Haru’s old kindergarten, this would have been un-thought of, but I guess the quality level drops a bit when going from private school to public school.  But the one thing that really caught my attention were the teachers -more specifically the principal teacher.  Apparently he is new -just started this spring, which was kind of obvious.   He gave a really awful speech during the ceremony.  Maybe I am just a stickler for proper wording, but he was say some really peculiar things in his speech.  As an example, there was this one line that caught my attention, he said, “We are trying to become a more happy and cheerful school”.  Trying?  In my own head, this implied that the school is a sad and gloomy place to be, and going by the school’s overall appearance, it did seem that way.

Maybe I was too use to seeing the cleanliness and upkeep of Haru’s kindergarten, or maybe I was too use to the cleanliness of the elementary school that I attended, but Haru’s new school looked pretty bad.  Maybe the principal was referring to the external appearance of the school?  If so, that would definitely be a welcomed change, because I’d personally hate to spend six hours a day where the paint is pealing, and walls looked so gray.

On a brighter note, Haru was able to see some of her old kindergarten classmates at the initiation ceremony.  Except for Yuka, who wound up being in Haru’s class once again, the other former classmates were sorted into other classrooms.  But having Yuka in her classroom once again was a very positive thing, since the kids have been the best of friends for 3 years now.

 

 

 

 

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Camp Luck II


It’s April, and this is Haru’s last week of spring break.  Last week, she spent four days at Luck Ski Camp, with a few of her kindergarten classmates.  When I was initially approached about this  camp idea a few months ago, I didn’t think it was a big deal -after all, she did attend the Camp Luck last summer and she had a great time.  I also thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to have some much needed quiet time for myself.  However, as the time came closer and closer, I became more aware of the details about the ski camp and it had gotten me into somewhat of a personal frenzy.

Somehow, I was under the illogical notion that the camp will be fairly close to Yokohama.  But of course, that would be impossible, because snow in Yokohama in late March would be an extremely rare occurrence.   Even if it did snow in Yokohama in late March, it would be implausible that there would be enough snow to ski.  So I don’t know why or where I got the idea that it would be anywhere nearby.

Her previous Camp Luck trip was to Yamanashi, which is about an hour away, should there be a need to drive up there in the case of an emergency.  This ski trip was in Niigata which is about 4 hours away, assuming that there is no snow on the roads on the way up.  So unlike her previous trip, accessibility would be pretty poor, should something happen.

This sent my mind racing with “what if” questions.  I tried to hatch up contingency plans for these what if scenarios.   Would I be able to get to her, if she is injured?  What if something happens here?  Would she be able to come back?

Later, I learned that her kindergarten friend and rival Yuka S. was not going.  Apparently her father was not comfortable with the idea of his daughter being so far away, and didn’t want her to attend camp until she has started elementary school.  Again, I started to question if this ski camp was a good idea.  If this was just a regular camp where they would be spending a few days in the mountains catching bugs and lizards, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal to me.  But so many things can go wrong on a sports outing such as this, especially given the fact that Haru has never skied before.

I began to debate in my head whether to pull the plug on this whole ski camp idea.   This is a bad bad idea.   I thought to myself.  She’s too young.  If I said no and explain to her why she can’t go, she would surely understand.  She can stay home and watch cartoons, and play with the neighborhood kids.  But the more I tried to justify the reason in my head, the more ridiculous it got.  The reality is, she would never understand.  She would be extremely disappointment and resentful that I canceled her much anticipated trip just days before she planned to leave.  I just have to get over my own silly anxiety.  After all, hundreds of kids are going, including her friends from school, so it will all be good, and I can get the much needed quiet time that I really needed.

The night before Haru left for ski camp, I was a bit of a nervous wreck.  I made it point to put down my usual routine of checking my email, surfing the net, and doing other thing I would normally do to wind down after work, in favor of focusing more of my attention on Haru.  I found myself lecturing her on being careful and to listen to everything that the camp counselors say.  She went to bad at her usual time, 9PM and usually I would stay up later to catch up on my TV shows etc, but I went to bed only slightly later.

The next morning, I woke up at my usual wake up time, 4:50AM.  Haru was still fast to sleep.  I was tempted to wake her up so I could give her a hug, and lecture her again on being careful and listening to the camp counselors, but I knew she would not welcome that.  So instead, I just gave her kiss on her forehead and left for work.

The next few days were suppose to relaxing cartoons, toys, child, and noise free days for me and I had been looking forward to it.  But the reality is that although it was a cartoons, toys, child, and noise free four days, it was packed full of worries.  It’s amazing how a person’s mind under stress and anxiety can imagine even the unimaginable.  There were no daily pictures, emails, or progress reports from Camp Luck to relieve the worry or anxiety.  Even the pet hotels that we boarded Princess and Jenna at gave daily reports.  So unfortunately, the relaxing  carefree Haru-free days that I was anticipating turned out to be much more stressful than I had planned.  The only day when I had any sort of relief from the worries what when my wife and I went to see a movie together.  This is the first time in probably 10 years since we went to see a movie without Haru.

Haru returned from camp last Sunday evening.  Sunday was probably the only day when I got any real peace from anyone including myself.  I felt relieved that she was finally coming home.  She was extremely excited and all she could talk about was how much she loved skiing.    As a matter of fact, she insisted that we all pack up and go skiing the following weekend.  We explained to her that ski season was coming to end and that we would have to do it the following winter -that is if we go at all.  I guess she figured that there was always snow up in the mountains because she didn’t quite get the concept of what a ski season was.  Eventually, although it took several hours, she calmed down and got off the subject of skiing.

 

I was happy that she enjoyed herself and relieved that she came back in one piece.  Although I haven’t gone skiing in almost 20 years, I think this is a good opportunity start again.  Perhaps this winter, we can go all go skiing together.

 

Below are pictures from the camp.  They are not the best of quality, because I actually did a screen capture from the DVD that the camp sent us.  I was surprised how quickly she was able to learn to ski.  She stumbled an fell a lot on the first day, but by the second day she was skiing fairly well.

 

 UPDATE:

Here is the DVD video from the camp coordinator.   It’s very long -almost 2 hours, so I included some links of the areas where Haru can be seen.


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Kidzania


It’s spring break -or at least it is for Haru.  For me , the 6:30AM to 4:30PM workdays still continue.   Haru will have about 2 weeks off until she starts the first grade.  It will be a new school with a new teacher and new friends.  She will be amongst strangers once again.  Not only will she be entering the first grade, she will also be in a new gymnastics class, and a new cheer leading class.  Everything will start off fresh and new, which can be daunting to some.

So, to make the transition a bit smoother, Haru has set up some play dates with her kindergarten friends.  Yesterday she spent the day at Kidzania with Sakura, one of her (now former) classmates.  Originally, Yuka (Haru’s personality twin and de facto rival), Sakura, and Haru were all suppose to go, but apparently Yuka was grounded by her father and could not go, so it was just Sakura and Haru.

Kidzania is a theme park that allows children to have a very realistic experience of being in various occupations within the workforce.   The children are given Kidzania money, which they keep in Kidzania bank, which has a real working ATM in which the children use a real ATM card to deposit and withdraw Kidzania money.

Within the Kidzania city, children can choose an occupation of their liking, and get first hand experience or what it would be like to do that job.  There is a Morinaga candy factory where children can make real Hi-Chew candy, or they can experience what it’s like to make a real MOS Burger hamburger.  Of if they don’t want to work in the private sector, they can choose to be firefighters or police men and women.  Haru and her gang of friends visited Kidzania not too long ago and had already done the Morinaga candy factory and the fire department.

The candy factory is one of, if not the most popular attraction, so you basically have to get there really really early, because they start limiting admission to the factory really early, and late arrivers simply don’t get in.  The other popular attraction is the modelling agency.  Haru has been wanting to do this for a long time, but not only do you have line up really early, you have to be at least six years old.  Now that Haru is six, she is able to experience what it’s like to dress up, walk down a runway, and even have her picture on the cover of  Kidzania magazine.

ANA flight attendant and a Kidzania police officer are some of the other occupations that Haru and Sakura participated in this time around. Overall, it was a good day for all.  Next up on the agenda is Luck Ski camp next week.  Given that Haru has never skied before, it’d be interesting on how she does.

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My Graduation


Last Friday was Haru’s final day of  kindergarten and her graduation ceremony.  It was a fairly big and ceremonious event, probably even bigger and more eventful than my college graduation, which in contrast was somewhat unceremonious and boring.  Initially, I thought that the whole idea of graduating from kindergarten was a bit odd and silly.  I don’t recall having any graduation ceremony when I moved from kindergarten to first grade, or from elementary school to junior high school, or even from junior high school to high school.   I kind of felt that it somewhat minimizes high school and college graduation which in my opinion are much more significant.  It kind of reminds me of this argument between Helen and Bob from The Incredibles, in which Bob says, they keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity… which is so true.  However, having said this, I did find that Haru’s kindergarten graduation a good opportunity to say her final goodbyes to the friends whom she had spent the last three years in school with.  Many of her friends will move on to other elementary schools; some will even move away to other cities all together.   Even the kids who will continue on to  the same elementary school that Haru is going to next month, will probably be sorted into different classrooms.  So in some ways, its a fresh new start for everyone, hence its a true commencement ceremony for the rest of her academic career.

We were all seated in the school auditorium in tiny little chairs that were obviously built for 5 years olds.  Most of these chairs were over 30 years old, which is probably as old as or even older than the children’s parents.  The stage was tastefully draped in the nation’s flag as well as the school flag.  I was a bit concerned that that the lighting was a bit poor because the sunlight blazed the through the glass facade behind the stage causing a back light, making it difficult to take photos of people’s faces without a flash.  After tinkering with the million settings on the camera, I was able to get a decent, albeit not perfect setting that allowed me to counter the back light without using a flash.

We sat in the tiny steel and wooden children chairs for about 30 to 45 minutes before the graduating class made their entrance.   My back was already killing me, and according to the program, we still had at least another 3 hours that we had to be in the seats.  As the children filed in into the the auditorium, sounds of camera shutters fluttered in mass, as if a bunch movie stars were walking down the red carpet.  I don’t about anyone else, but I was already in pain from sitting in my chair.  At this point, I was just hoping that a blood clot doesn’t form in my leg and go to my brain and kill me before I leave the ceremony.

The head master called each student up to the stage one by one where they were handed their diplomas?  graduation certificates? -for a lack of a better description of what those pieces of paper are.  Each student received their certificates in a genuine imitation leather folder, and respectfully bowed to the headmaster as they exited the stage as kindergarten graduates.   The whole process of reading off each of the student’s name and presenting the certificate to them took about an hour and half.

I occasionally scanned the audience of proud parents as their children received their certificate.  Some (like me) were growing restless, as they constantly shifted in their seat in an effort to find a more comfortable position.  Some spaced out and sat emotionlessly, as they stared at either the ceiling, the floor, or the walls as they increasingly grew bored with the already long and drawn out ceremony, probably wishing they were somewhere else.  Some where captivated by the whole event and snapped pictures non-stop or shot videos of even the less interesting parts (like the speeches that the instructors made).  I even spotted some emotional parents in tears as if they were on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

By the time the ceremony was over, my leg was completely numb.  I could have stuck a dull and rusted butcher knife into my thigh and not felt a thing because of the numbness.  I was happy just to be able to stand up from the old 30 year chairs, so that my blood could flow in my legs again.  We all walked back to Haru’s classroom where Haru and her classmates waited.  After a few minutes of restlessness, a smaller less eventful ceremony took place.  Each student were presented a canvas bag with various items inside.  One of the items consisted of a yearbook filled with photos of all of the “class of 2014” students, and various events they participated in during their “senior year.”  The only things that were missing were the “most likely to _____.” section, and the notes and signatures from the students.  When I got home later that night and flipped through her yearbook, and I could help to think what I would have differently to make the yearbook a bit better and a bit memorable.   For example, I would have definitely included a “current events” sections with news clips of some some the major events that happened during Haru’s last year of kindergarten.  For example, the Sochi Olympics, the rise of the national sales tax, the capture of the final Aum subway terrorist attack suspects, etc…just to capture significant historic events of the time.  For me, it was the fall of the Berlin wall, the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Exxon Valdez  oil spill, and the election of George H.W. Bush.  But I guess I sort of captured the history already by mentioning it this blog.

After the final ceremonies were completed, and Haru’s teacher had finisher very tearful speech, we changed venues and moved over to the Yokohama Prince Hotel, for the post graduation banquet.   It was held in a pretty lavish banquet hall, complete with waiters, table cloth, and cloth napkins.  And the buffet, although made more for small children, wasn’t too bad either.   Wow, all of this for a bunch of kindergarteners.  I didn’t get anything like this during any of my graduation days.

Haru got to see, what would probably be the very last day she will ever see some of her friends.  One of her friends will be moving away, while others will be going to other elementary schools.  Even her Disneyland buddy, Ayaka will be going to a different school next month which Ayaka looked noticeably saddened by.  Ironically, she only lives only about 5 minutes away, but she lives on the other side of the school district line from us, hence different schools.

For the majority of the banquet, I made it point to take pictures of as many of Haruka’s friends and teachers as I could.  Thank goodness for the digital camera, because I snapped close to 1000 photos during the course of the day.  Had this been an old fashioned film camera,   I would have spent close to $400 USD on film alone.  Strangely, Haru preferred to hang around her best friend Yuka, who will be attending the same school next month.  In reality though, Yuka is more clingy towards Haru.  Prior to to the start of the banquet, I had a chance to speak with Yuka’s father, and he told me that in the 3 years she’s known Haru, she had changed a lot.

Three years ago around this time, Yuka was a very quiet and secluded child who was riddled with various health issues, rarely smiled, and constantly cried.  Every morning was an event for Yuka’s mother, because for the longest time, Yuka could not board the morning school bus without breaking into tears.  Haru had the difficult job of trying to comfort her every time she got homesick on the bus or during class.  Seeing Yuka smile back then was a very rare event, and her parents were very concerned over her well-being.  But over the course of the last three years, Haru and Yuka had become very close.  Yuka stopped crying, she smiled more, and was able to make her own friends.  Haru always remained her best friend to this day.  And for this, Yuka’s father thanked me for helping break Yuka out of her darkness.  I knew Haru had been a positive influence on her, but I had no idea to what degree until my conversation with Yuka’s father.  I could only hope that Haru can remain a positive influence on Yuka as well as others going forward.

Then there is the other Yuka.  Yuka Sasaki, who is said to be Haruka’s personality twin and de facto rival.  She too is very athletic, and somewhat hyperactive, and has her own following among her own friends.  I never really got to know Yuka too well, but from I have heard and seen at the banquet, the assessment that Yuka is Haru’s personality twin is pretty accurate, as they competed at who was better at gymnastics.  Although Haru could do more gymnastics moves, Yuka wasn’t too far behind.  No one seems to agree with me, I think she kind of resembles a young Corey Feldman. Unfortunately, Yuka is one of the many students who will be going to a different school next month.

Finally, there is Yuna Murakami -another member of Haru’s fan club.  She’s a tiny girl, even smaller than Yuka if that is even possible.  Up until the graduation ceremony, I only knew her by name so I didn’t know what she looked like.  Apparently, she is another one of Haru’s clingy friends.  As matter of fact, Yuka and Yuna actually got into a heated fight as  to who gets to sit to Haru, which I thought was funny.  Eventually, Haru had to settle the argument between the two.

When I was at the graduation banquet, I noticed a very tiny little girl who somewhat resembled a bull terrier puppy, sitting at our table by herself playing with her mom’s digital camera while her mom helped organize the banquet.  She is so tiny I initially thought that she was the younger sister of one of the graduates; perhaps a first year student who just wanted to wear the school uniform on graduation day just to fit in.  But as it turned out, that was Yuna.  Yuna also followed Haru all day, and often jumped into to get a photo op. with Haru.  Yuna’s father company recently transferred him to Osaka, so she was moving away in the following weeks, so I felt that it was especially important to get as many photos as possible of her, because she is probably one of the kids Haru will probably never see again.

Haru will be free 2 weeks free, until her first day of elementary school.  Until then, she will have somewhat of a busy schedule with her cheerleading and gymnastic practice, ski camp, and other what-nots.

 

 

Video of the graduation ceremony


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Last Year


This is Haru’s last month in kindergarten.  She will graduate next month and start her first year of elementary school.  Often times, I think about what I was like when I was six years old.   Like for example, on my first day of first grade, was I able to read and write?  I think I was able to, but not so well.  I remember there was a girl in my first grade class named Rebecca.  She was unusually very smart.  She was able to read and write like an adult (or so it seemed at the time).  While I still had to sound out my words (example: c…aaa…t, cat!), she was reading whole sentences fluently.  The teacher would often call on her to read out loud, because she read so well.

Haru’s reading and writing level is not quite at the Rebecca level, but it does surpass what I was able to at her age.  She has been writing letters back and forth to her friends since she was four.  I’m not sure if this is normal for person entering her first year of kindergarten, or if she’s a bit ahead.

There are certainly things I could do when I was six that Haru still struggles with.  For example, I think I was able to put together moderately difficult puzzles and model cars when I was her age.  Haru doesn’t seem to have the patience or attention span to spend more than a few minutes piecing together puzzles together before she gets bored.  I think I was a lot more aware of my surroundings back then than Haru is.  For example, when I would overhear two adults talking, I would know what they were talking about.  I remember one day on the way home from school, a strange guy who was visiting our apartment complex said hello to me.  I didn’t respond because, well …he was a stranger, and kids are taught not to talk to strangers.  He then turned to a woman (our neighbor) next to him (presumably his girlfriend) and ask “what’s his problem?”.  The woman responded “He’s probably going through separation anxiety.  Most latch key kids do.”  I remember thinking to myself back then, “No stupid, I don’t talk to strangers!”  Although I may not have known what “separation anxiety” meant at the time, it didn’t sound like a good thing, and those words, along with many other words that I didn’t understand when spoken to me at that young age, stuck with me until I was able to figure out what it meant a few years later.  But I am sure that this isn’t too normal.  I have a very strange, near photographic memory that let’s me recall only strange things that happen to me.  Its too bad I can’t apply this ability to more practical things.  In that respect, I think Haru’s lack of awareness, or at least not having the same awkward and somewhat useless awareness ability that I had when I was her age, is more due to her innocence rather than intelligence.   When I was her age, I had to grow up and learn about things going on around me quickly, hence making me lose my sense of innocence and oblivion at a much younger age.

In terms of talents, Haru is by far much more talented than I could ever wish to be at her age.  She has an innate ability to do things on stage, and do it with a smile.  Perhaps this is from doing cheerleading for nearly two years.  While the other kids get stage fright and stand their like a deer in headlights, Haru looks very comfortable and relaxed.  She often says that she gets nervous, but she doesn’t show it all, which is a sign of a real showman.

And of course she is pretty good at gymnastics.  This year she will be bumped up to the junior level so she will be able learn some new things without being disturbed and distracted by the unruly little brats  kids in her class.   Most of the kids in the junior class are kids who want to take gymnastics, and are serious about it, as opposed to their parents forcing them to be there in the attempts to get them over their little quirks or phobias before elementary school.  The junior level class definitely separates the wheat from the chaff.

A video of Haru putting on a show with her classmates at kindergarten:


Fast Tube by Casper

 

 

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Camp Luck


This summer, Haru participated in two camp events.  One was with her kindergarten class.  Basically, it was to allow the kids to experiences a night away from their parents away from home.  To a lot of kids in Haru”s class,  this is kind of a big deal because many of them have never spent more than a few hours away from the parents,  let alone a whole night away from home without at least one of their parents present…including Haru.  But in reality, it wasn’t a real camp and the kids were taken to a venue across town less than 15 minutes away by car, just in case someone really couldn’t take being away from home for a night.  The night away from home with her kindergarten class was pretty uneventful.  None of the kids cried or through up too much drama, and everyone came home the very next day perfectly grateful for the experience away.

Camp Luck, a camp program independent of Haru’s kindergarten school a bigger deal for the kids and some of the parents.  This was a real camp, spent at a venue several miles away in Yamanashi prefecture, a mountainous region just west of Tokyo and Yokohama.  If the kids get homesick and want to go home for some reason, its several hours to make the trip there, so its not as easily accessible as the kindergarten camp.

Haru’s best friend Yuka, opted out of going to the camp.  3 days 2 nights away from home was a bit more than she could stomach.  However, for Haru, she had been looking forward to this for weeks.  The whole idea of being away from home was exciting to her.   Apparently the trip with her kindergarten class didn’t quite  live up to all of her expectations and she really wanted do more and spend more time away.  Camp Luck would be the perfect experience for her.

As one of the many activities at Camp Luck, the children were allowed to catch a Kabuto Mushi (a Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle).  Although keeping these things as pets is part of the Japanese culture, I absolutely objected to letting Haru bringing one home and keeping it as a pet. For one thing, they are absolutely disgusting looking.  To me, they are nothing more than a large cock roach with horns, and I despise ALL insects.  Secondly I KNOW that Haru is not responsible enough to keep a pet on her own.  It would be me or my wife who would have to ultimately care for this thing.  And since I am absolutely disgusted by these grotesque insects, it would have to be my wife.

 

Last month, despite my objections to bringing home any kind of wild animals, bugs, fish, etc., my wife had bought Haru an infant jelly fish to keep as a pet.  Yes, it was very adorable but I was very upset over the fact she did this without asking me first.  I have a strict policy of not keeping wild animals or insects as pets, because I am a strong believer that all living creatures are the most happiest living in their natural habitat and not in a cage or a jar.  Suffice it to say, the jelly fish didn’t live long.  None of us knew how to take care of the poor thing despite my efforts researching how to care for it.  My wife had changed its water (which is of course is suppose to be sea water) with artificial “sea water mix” that she had bought at a pet store,  and it died the next day.  She most likely got the water to salt ratio wrong.  What really irritated me the most about this whole incident was not that fact that I was never asked if they could bring this creature home, but the “oh well, too bad” attitude both my wife and Haru had when it died.  I also didn’t like the fact that I was the only one who really cared enough to try to find out how to care for it, while no one else really cared.   Of course, I can’t really expect Haru to do the research since she’s only five years old.  But I really wanted to her to understand the preciousness of life and that the jelly fish would have been much happier living in the ocean rather a tiny plastic jar full of poorly mixed artificial sea water.  After that, I reiterated my stance on my no wild pets policy, and I thought they would understand after the jelly fish died, but they didn’t.  Before Haru went off to Camp Luck, I told her point blank that she is allowed to catch the rhinoceros beetle and keep it while she was at camp, but she MUST let it go before she came home.  It took a few tries to explain to her the reason for this, but eventually she agreed.

As the kids loaded onto the bus for the long trip out to Yamanashi, emotions flared and some kids cried and even refused to get on the bus.  But Haru happily and excitedly boarded the bus, but not without saying “You are now free for two days” to my wife.  We knew she wouldn’t have any homesickness issues while she was away.  As a matter of fact, she probably would be more upset when the whole thing is over.

The next two days were very peaceful.   For the first time in a very long time, my wife and I were able to have an adult conversation at the dinner table without someone interrupting us every 5 seconds.  I was able to watch TV and catch up with other things in peace.  But although things were very peaceful and quiet, I really missed Haru.  I tried not to think about her too much, because my imagination would start to run away from me, and I would start think that that something bad might happen to her and worry.

After two of the most peaceful days in 5 years 8 months and 5 days, it was time for her to return.  I returned from work to find Haru in the living room with a huge grin on her face.  My wife had a more concerned look on her face, so I knew something was up.  Haru apparently had a very good time at Camp Luck and talked non-stop about it.  She then dragged out a clear plastic box with not one, but TWO rhinoceros beetles inside, a male and a female.  Almost immediately, I imagined a room full of rhinoceros beetle larvae oozing around the living room leaving a trail of mucus everywhere.

Outside! I said in a loud booming voice.  My wife immediately confiscated the box of bugs from Haru and placed it on the outside patio on the side of the house.   I demanded an explanation and my wife said that the bugs weren’t staying, and that they would be given to my wife’s cousin’s kids as soon as possible.  Although I objected to the fact that they were even brought home and not let loose as Haru had promised, at least they wouldn’t be my problem.

At dinner, Haru asked if she could keep one of the cockroaches rhinoceros beetles to which I immediately objected.  But I will take really good care of it, she protested.  I explained to her that beetles don’t make good pets because they don’t live long and that we should let them live outside where they belong.  My wife also brought up that we have Princess and Jenna, but Haru didn’t consider Princess and Jenna her pets because they’re taken care of by my wife and me.  She considers them to be more like her siblings and she really wanted a pet to take care of by herself.

Despite all of the protests and arguments from her, I continued to object to her keeping these insects as pets.  They belong outdoors in their natural habitat, not caged up in a tiny plastic box on the patio.  Realizing that she was losing the argument, her eyes began to well up with tears.  I felt bad for her, but I was not going to give in.

I really do want to teach Haru the responsibility of caring for a pet, but I know that she would neglect these bugs as soon as she got bored with them.  Contrary to Haru’s belief, they were neither cute nor adorable, so I had no motivation for caring for them myself when Haru eventually got bored with them, and I know my wife would eventually neglect them too.    But just saying no without anything to offer as an alternative wasn’t good either.  I decided to take a gamble, and offered her a choice in the hopes that she would make the right choice.   I told here that she had the choice of keeping ONE of the bugs, or getting something better like a goldfish or a hamster when the weather cools down out bit.   Being impatient, she didn’t like the idea of having to wait until the weather cool down.  She wanted a pet NOW.  I told her that its too hot and the pet might die if we get one now, so she decided that she wanted to keep the bugs instead.  My gamble backfired on me!

I had to find a way to get her to change her mind because I was not going to have these things in my house.  I know that she would eventually try to sneak them into the house, they’ll get loose, and the next I know I will have a house full the beetles flying all over the place.  So I decided to give her an ultimatum.  I told her that she could keep these bugs, but if they die because of neglect, she would NEVER be able to have another pet as long as she is living in this house.  No dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, fish…NOTHING.  She’ll have to take REALLY good care of them, all by herself with no help from me or her mother, until they die naturally.

The tears that had welled up in her eyes had swelled up into drops until they broke loose and streamed down her cheeks.  She tried to fight the overwhelming urge to cry until she could no longer fight the sadness that engulfed her.  I think she new that without our help, the task of caring for the rhinoceros beetles would be too much her.  But Haru isn’t the type to give up so easily.  She accepted the  challenge and decided to keep the beetles…ugh, disaster!

The next day was a Saturday, so Haru had gymnastics practice in the afternoon.  It was expected to get very hot and humid in the afternoon, so Haru and my wife moved the beetles from the downstairs patio to the upstairs balcony.  I was puzzled as to why they did this because the beetles where in the nice cool shade downstairs.  The upstairs balcony gets a nice large shadow from the overhangs on the house during the morning hours which makes things a bit cooler, but I wasn’t sure how hot it gets in the afternoon.

After our usual Saturday routine or going to practice and grocery shopping etc, we came home a fairly warm house.  The dogs were asleep on the floor on the concrete tile floor near the front door where there was a nice breeze from the opened windows.  After changing out of her gym clothes, Haru rushed upstairs to check on her pets.  I did what I normally do on Saturday afternoons;  I prepared my lunch and sat down in front of the TV and relaxed.  A minute or two later, there was a very faint sound of someone weeping.  At first, I thought it was either the TV or some kid outside, but the weeping escalated into crying, and it was coming from upstairs.

A few minutes later, my wife came down the stairs with a very sad looking Haru in her arms.  She was still crying.  I asked my wife what was going on and she mouthed the words they’re dead!  Apparently, the upstairs balcony gets full sunlight in the afternoon and the beetles had baked in the hot midday summer sun, right in their clear plastic box.  I was almost about to give the I told you so speech, but unlike when her pet jelly fish died, Haru was genuinely distraught by the death of her pet beetles, and showed true remorse.  I think for the for the first time in her life, she felt responsible for the death of her pets.

I said nothing to her, and gave her a big hug instead.  For me, this was a valuable lesson that I hope she learned something from.  I wanted her to realize that all life is precious, and that the beetles were not toys.  They were living creatures that she had accepted responsibility for caring for, and that this was the consequence of neglect.  But to be completely fair, it wasn’t completely her fault since my wife had also but the beetles out in the hot sun.  She broke her ultimatum, but I probably won’t hold her to it.  She’ll eventually need to learn responsibility and a nice, easy-to-care-for pet is the best way to teach it.

Perhaps when things cool down a bit, I might consider getting Haru something that she could consider he own, like a hamster, hermit crab or a gold fish (any but ugly disgusting insects).

 

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Sports Day


Last Saturday was Sports Day at Haruka’s Kindergarten.  On Sports Day, children perform various “sports” events such as running, dancing, and other activities, in front a large audience of parents, grandparents, and friends.  Last year, I voiced my distaste in this event because its just plain ridiculous.  Parents start lining up at the front entrance as early as 6AM so they get a “good spot” so that they can take videos and pictures of the events.  As much as I don’t mind going to Haruka’s schools events,  this is one I really could do without.

This year, I am doubling down on how little I like these events.  It’s always packed with over zealous monster parents competing for the best spot to take their kid’s picture, and uninterested grandparents wishing they were somewhere else.  As a matter of fact, I really don’t understand why grandparents even go to these things, because most of them just sleep through the events anyways.

We arrived at the school gates at around 7:30AM.  There already was  a VERY long line going up the hill to the school.  I was already irritable,  not only because I had to get up early on a Saturday, but also because I had not eaten breakfast.  Under those two conditions alone, it was minor miracle that I wasn’t in a bad mood all day, and I managed to keep my spirits up for the majority of the day.  But having said that, it didn’t stop me from being annoyed at the other parents (especially some of the grandparents).  But I guess that’s my problem.


Fast Tube by Casper

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Let the Games Begin!


The London Olympics officially started  the other day.  I have been looking forward to the start of the Olympics since the beginning of the year.  The two main areas I’ve interested in watching are gymnastics (of course) and the track and field events.   But surprising judo has been very interesting too.  I was hoping that Haru would be excited about gymnastics, but unfortunately it hasn’t caught her interest.  She would occasionally watch for a few seconds when Kohei Uchimura (the favorite to take the gold medal in men’s gymnastics) is on TV.  He has been the biggest buzz amongst the instructors at Haru’s gymnastics class.  But other than a few glances at the TV from time to time, she seems to be totally uninterested in the Olympics.  I suppose she still doesn’t understand what its all about, and that the athletes are competing to be the best in the world.  Hopefully, by the time the Rio de Janeiro rolls around in 2016, she will express more interest in her sport as well as the Olympics.

Haru will be finishing her summer camp at the American School in Japan.  She seems to be enjoying camp a lot.  She talks about the camp counselors a lot.  It’s always Mr. Eric this or Mr. Andrew that.  Although she hasn’t really pick up too many words, she has learned a lot of new songs in English, and is constantly singing them at home.   She seems to be having fun, and is more motivated to speak English at home, so I guess that’s what counts.

I am finally putting end to my Atkins diet.  I have done it for 40 days, and lost about 4.6 kilograms (just over 10 pounds) and within 2.6 kilograms (6 pounds) of my goal , but I still have some body fat to lose.  I don’t think I will be able to lose the rest on the Atkins diet, so I have begun lifting weights.  The good things is that I feel stronger and healthier, the bad part is that since I am putting on more muscle weight, the weight loss has really slowed down a lot.  So instead of monitoring body weight, I am looking more at bat fat percentage, and it is coming down.  My suits seem to fit a bit looser to so, I guess I am losing fat weight…but it’s hard to tell.

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