Most of you who know me also know that I am a bit scatterbrained. I've hit the point in my life where if I don't write something down TWICE, I forget it. Not only do I have a family calendar on the fridge but I also have a dry erase schedule on the back of the front door. Somehow, I still miss 5% of my life's obligations.
Reiko, the woman who runs the English school I teach at, likes for me to remember the kids' birthdays. I warned her that I can barely remember my own children's special day. If it weren't for Lily updating me weekly about the new and improved plans for her birthday party (starting 9 months in advance), I might actually overlook it.
One of my 10-year-old students, who speaks fabulous English, reminded me two weeks ago that we had missed celebrating her birthday because of the Christmas/New Year holidays. I told her I would bring cupcakes to the next class. The following lesson time, as I was saying goodbye, she said, "My birthday?" Oh, Lord. I told her I was very sorry and would bring TWO cupcakes for her next week.
I didn't write that down. Big mistake.
The following class did not take place in Reiko's home as usual. The flu has hit hard in Japan and two of her children were out for the count. Since she didn't want to expose everyone to those germs, we met instead at a local community center. The first thing out of my student's mouth as she entered the room was, "My birthday?"
NOOOOOOOOOOO! I can't believe I forgot again!
I apologized profusely. Her eyes filled up with tears as she looked down at her feet, trying to compose herself. I felt like...well...have you ever disappointed an adorable Japanese kid to the point of tears? That depth of lowliness can't quite be expressed fully in the English language.
I started the lesson but I couldn't concentrate because my conscience was still busy cussing me out. All of a sudden, I thought of an option...THE DRINK MACHINE. Every Japanese gathering place has a drink machine with 30 choices of water, tea, soft drinks, jello juice, coffee (cold and hot), hot chocolate, corn soup (?) and assorted vile vitamin shots.
I broke out of my calendar review and shouted, "Birthday drinks from the machine!" The birthday girl looked shocked and excited. She jumped up and everyone stampeded for the machine. At first they thought the birthday girl would be the only one getting treated. When it dawned on them that everybody was included, you would have thought that Nancy Sensei was the Japanese Messiah. Hallelujah, free beverages!
I gathered from their level of excitement that Japanese kids do not get treated like this on a regular basis. They were so stoked to pick their own drink and enjoy it in class that the smiles did not come off their faces for the rest of the hour. The birthday girl was ecstatic. To add to my triumph, I even mangaged to weave the impromptu drink celebration into our lesson on the five senses (How does your drink taste/feel/smell?). Oh yeah, I'm a weaver. I weave. That's what I do.
Yessiree, my self esteem continued to skyrocket...until I tried to act out the meaning of the word "relax". I sat down in a chair and put my feet up on a desk, while letting out a long, theatrical "AHHHHHH". The entire class gasped in absolute horror. For a moment, I had completely forgotten that showing the soles of your feet/shoes to others is a deplorable, defiling insult in Japanese culture. Nothing is dirtier or lowlier than the bottom of one's foot. (It is also a terrible faux pas to point to anything with it.)
So after a second round of saying gomenasai (sorry!), there I was, back at square one...feeling lower than, well...the soles of my unfortunate feet.