5 months, after a 3-month hiatus
Wow blogging is hard; like all accounting, I suppose. Especially when you stop. First, I got busy and the blog nagged at me to stop, pause. And then, I stopped; I had plenty of time then to blog, but no spirit to do so (to say the least). Life is funny that — and in so many — way/s. I have liberated myself from the accounting sort of blog, but I wanted to chime in here. Who knows who of you might peek in again. Mom will.
I’ll do it in reverse; recuperating the past doesn’t work anyways; the present presses.
And short paragraphs. For me and for you.
The school for the girls turned out to be a disaster somehow. Simone has noted the irony so pointedly: the harder they try by them (the girls) the worse it gets. And it seems, quietly, that we have all given up on one another. The school created pull-out activities for the girls: paper-making, cooking etc., but at some point the pull-outs seemed silly and perhaps better suited to younger kids, ones not so desperately in need of quality teen company and also with a hankering, whatever it means, to “learn something.” Rumor is that the girls have been noted to have been “raised well” because through it all they have been polite and reply that “yes, they do like the school.” And they do appreciate the well-meaningness, and the kindness of individuals, but it just hasn’t worked. By the time we looked for other options: the highly competitive international/American school fare in Seoul, our efforts were met with in some cases, literal guffaws: 3 kids for part of a semester at our school? By the 4th or 5th call it was nearly humiliating. Put in our place. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Andy had occasion to hang out with Isaac at a playground of one said desirable international school and it made him realize a bit that we might have been fish out of water there too. The girls have made some peace with the small group of girls in their class — 4 other than them — but it hasn’t been easy. The age is hard and somehow it just didn’t work. Carm has a warm relationship with one girl — they spent an afternoon shopping and a sleep-over here and we’ll do it again, but linguistically they are limited. “What was I thinking,” Andy would say. Not enough. Not hard enough. I guess. But the dice might have fallen another way, I tell myself too. So, who knows what the girls will take from “alternative” “Korean” school; so hard to sort out the “Korean” from the “alternative.” Just now, I think, “normal” (structured) “American” schooling looks pretty delicious.
The saving grace: Ho Jin. Their artist/”brain” tutor/friend, 30-something going on 20-something who breezes in/out of their lives every Wednesday p.m. and all day Friday (the school was glad to see the girls go on Fridays because they have some sort of therapy session to deal with the longstanding issues of this particular formation of kids — the girls could say much more on that one).
(Secretly I am hoping my long-last blog might spur Carmen to resume too). Not so secret.
Ho Jin has them into algebra, augmented by Andy’s ever creative web surfing for materials. And Carmen and I are inching through my own make-shift curriculum on The Red Pony — what a beautiful book; how lucky I am to reread it as an adult. And Simone and I of late on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Equally amazing; read some 50 pages aloud of it yesterday with my voice raspy from pneumonia (just one more thing) and Isaac sat for the last 20 or so. How can he be so funny, smart, poetic…WOW. But don’t be impressed — none of this has been steady or consistent. Ho Jin grabs them and they head down-towns and enjoy each other’s breezy company. We have been blessed by many good people, even as some of “this” has been hard.
Isaac had the months when he spent the first stretch of school immobile on the floor — I never witnessed it. I guess 30 minutes was about as long as it went. He was hard to rouse (actually that is a constant), hard to push out the door (mostly Andy’s department, on his way to Seoul National), and then came the antics at school. But the make-shift arrangement for him seems to have worked better and there are few complaints, fewer antics, and a surprising number of mornings lately where he is the lone of the 3 heading to school and still he doesn’t complain (too much). I think that he and the school have accommodated one another: there is only so much accommodating he is going to do and good riddance. I think he is spending quite a bit of time coloring; I’ve lost count of the various people who come in to read with him etc. He takes most of the kids as the furniture in the room and I’ve stopped trying (we went through the phase in which we printed pictures of each of the kids and tried to learn their names…). The truth is it seems that he has some relationship with a few of them and to my parental chagrin he doesn’t manage much manners for the rest. So it goes. His favorite, Chusong, son of the flight attendants who took to greeting Isaac with bigger, warmer, Englishier greetings from the get-go. They had one after-school playdate at a café and yesterday Isaac announced he would like to have him over to help him in the immense task of widening the riverlet he is making at the edge of the river (the Hongjechon) that we live just above. That river, like many of the tributaries that feed into the immense Han River is day by day becoming more and more of a lovely civic space, for walking, biking (the district office lends bikes for free), light shows, ethnohistory (a reconstructed mill and merchant boat just down the hill from us) etc. And when I asked yesterday, Isaac that is, if he would like to go home tomorrow, he said two months is fine. He has cut out his work. He has a pail, 2 shovels, and trowel. Have water, accoutrements, and Isaac’s imagination and all is well.
But, the truth of the matter is that Isaac lives for MWF 10-12 at PPCoffee, the café where Isaac is king and doted over by the prettiest most charming 20 something Rea and her younger brother’s dearest friend, early 20 something, handsome and winning Jin. To make a long story short: the principal thought to take Isaac there in the early months, salve for the then obvious wounds of schooling in a foreign tongue. We heard about the café, the magician Gene, coffee made of cat poop, and the “work” that Isaac was doing there (on his special Friday visits with the principal). This went on for a couple of weeks until one week we had Isaac out of school on a Friday when the principal called to say that Isaac was expected at the café and suggested that I might call directly (to apologize, I gathered). So, we chased the call with a leisurely visit (after a small hike — we have had little success but with the shortest of hikes) one weekend afternoon. Instantly, I understood. The tiny café, about half the size of our kitchen (if that) is home-spun; everything crafted lovingly by Rea, from the cushions, to the painted branches and delicate lights on the ceiling, to the crafted high-up shelf with pretty little tea cups, to the one-of-a-kind menu in a notebook, to, to, to… to Rea who is, well (I hate to admit to Isaac’s long attraction to) simply beautiful, but in the most charming way. Everything about her. Simply everything. I love seeing her too. Who wouldn’t? I had a belly laugh with the girls’ teacher — who I really like — when I told her that I had discovered just why the principal was so happy to take Isaac there every Friday. I’m sure that occasioned her visit — but I have never checked. The café is a stone’s throw from the school and really but a neighborhood deal with prices that far exceed the home-spun décor. Who wouldn’t pay? One elderly gentleman, just return immigrated from NYC, gave Isaac — who served him ever so gingerly — a man won (6 some dollars then, about 8 today) tip. Rea and Jin speak remarkable English because of Rea’s sister and her husband’s coffee farm in the Philippines. So, in the eaves of the alternative school, another stitch of alternative culture in Seoul. They bring groups to the Philippines for coffee plantation experience, maybe some English, peppered with barrista culture etc. etc. I half joked back when (we are into the second month of this arrangement) that maybe Isaac could do some schooling there — he was already convinced that he was “working” there and had me doing the dishes during my first visit — because we certainly weren’t having much luck with the stack of little books he was supposed to go through on the quest to be able to read English. And then — I was surprised — she called: with a plan and a price. How could we refuse? I am shy to write about the details of Isaac’s time there. There is indulgence and then there is indulgence, this one the latter. The PPCoffee shop is labeled head to toe in English; there are the stuffed puppets that eat the “sight words” that Isaac flips through; not to mention the spattering of sweet drinks; snacks; water-gun fights; construction projects; and promises of future outings. Gosh, I really hope that THAT is not just the half of it. But who knows.
So, needless to say, Rea-days (after all it is only an hour+ before Rea and a couple of hours after) move Isaac’s week along. Now, how lucky is that. And who are we to complain about anything. But does he want for little-kid company. Desperately.
Dare I admit more. Two loving babysitters, again charming (and pretty) who hang with him a few days a week after school. And, the girls would wince to read this, but Isaac is a charmer, so these are all warm, cozy, loving arrangements for him. No wonder another two months is OK.
So, that is how we’ve made school “work” — or not — for the kids. And we are riding it out. Will I never hear the end of it from them? Who knows? Time will tell. But I have called a spade a spade, and acquiesced that not all can be chocked up to “experience” — do the girls ever have an allergy to that word; it rhymes with Korea and anthropology — an unholy trinity.
Writing is amazing. Putting it to paper makes it somehow not the disaster I even have been feeling it was. But then again, I am writing this blog again so it’s a chicken and egg thing. When the Blog was unwritten, everything was unfurling and all wrong. How bad can all of this really be?
Not to mention the week+ of their grandmother’s just-visit, the visit of Isaac’s buddy Zona back when, Ruth and Molly’s visit and tonight the arrival of Dana, Craig, Jonah, and Evie, dear hometown friends here for the next while. But there have been moments with everyone wanting to turn back the hands of time: sad, unproductive, moppy sort of moments.
Today is a Thursday, to weight the sunny scales even more. It has been about a month that Carm joins Isaac’s class for the “nature play” outing for most of the day. The sun shines and sets on Carmen for the girls in Isaac’s class — he is rather nonplussed by it. Carm packs goodies/presents for the gaggle, carries their backpacks, piggy backs a few at a time and puts every inch of her Korean to use. In pied piper mode she is happy as a clam. And she is so talented with that age. So. And her Korean is simply amazing — lots of passive understanding and lots of creative energy to spin what she knows together into a fabric of some meaning (I do recognize myself there). The other evening she trotted off on the #10 neighborhood bus to the subway station to the make-up shop where Grandma had indulged the girls and apparently lost her (red sox) credit card and with “grandmother,” “yesterday,” and “card” she learned that they had definitely returned the card (and picked up some much-needed make-up remover on the way). Simone has neither the interest in children nor in Korean per say. But we, in the know, know that she takes it all in. All. And that when push comes to shove, it is often Simone (i.e., in a cab) who in fact knows just where they are. And thank goodness for whichever teacher it was who told me back when that there is so much to be had from rereading because if there is one thing Simone has done here in spades it is rereading!! And I mean in spades!!! I think it was Mrs. “V.”
OK, I think I am going to read through this me/ass once, and leave a trail of things for next: Hapkido (the brightest light for the girls, already brown belts), Zona and family’s visit, old friends Alan and Sumie in Seoul, Ruth, Molly, Grandma, low/high of my myriad of talks, Jeju, Buddha’s birthdayand the rest will follow.