Friday, January 19, 2007

Pooping For Applause

\\Pooping For Applause

The photo above shows the arena of this year's major parenting challenge: toilet training. It shows a child-sized plastic seat neatly slotted into the ceramic cavity of the adult-sized toilet. Probably the detail is too poor for you to be able to make out the wires associated with the toilet, this being one of Japan's magical electronic toilets, which, I'm glad to say, we have opted to leave turned off.

A correspondent e-mailed me a while back to commiserate about the "nightmare" of toilet training. But, though I acknowledge that toilet training is important, and though I am aware that my wife has firmly decided that THIS MUST BE THE YEAR, I don't see it as being a nightmare.

What my mother had to put up with, that would have been a bit of a nightmare. No paper diapers, not back then. You had nappies made of cloth, which became soiled with excrement and had to be cleaned up and rendered sanitary. My mother used to boil them up in an old boiler which was used for just one other purpose: cooking the ham which, annually, we would receive from my father's employer, Williams and Rochester, a contracting outfit down at the local oil refinery.

(Actually, I think the boiler may have done its ham cooking in the days of its retirement, all four kids in the family having graduated from nappies to potty to toilet.)

But, these days, in the much more convenient world that we inhabit, I don't see that toilet training is that big an issue.

Even so, I was gratified when, a few months back, daughter Cornucopia volunteered to sit on the toilet and then went and pooped in an adult fashion for the first time ever. Unfortunately, I didn't think to grab the digital camera, and mother and child said "Bye bye, unchi," and the unchi was flushed.

Unfortunately, this event did not seem to be reproducible.

On the night of Wednesday 17 January, however, Cornucopia went to the toilet in an adult fashion for the second time, and was rewarded by praise and clapping.

In the morning, I asked, in English, with one Japanese word thrown in:

"Do you want to do unchi?"

"Denai," said Cornucopia, giving me the plain form of the negative of the verb "deru," ie the verb meaning "to exit," in this case indicating that no unchi had or would issue forth. Ten minutes later, however, she changed her mind:

"Yappari, unchi."

Meaning, "After all, I'm going to poop."

I thought this would be a quick process but I was wrong. Unchi appears in the kids paper panties as if its production was magically effortless, but this unchi seemed to take a bit of straining, like the straining I saw being done by a cartoon character called, I think, Pants Pantacrow, a toilet training character for kids who we saw while watching TV in our hotel at Ito on Sunday.

In Sunday's cartoon segment, PP sat on the toilet and strained, then a beatific smile of satisfaction came over her face. She got off the toilet, bowed to the toilet (which had a very solemn face, the face of a middle-aged toilet, I think, not a young one) then bowed to the toilet. Then walked away. Then came zipping back, closed the door she had forgotten to close, bowed once more an exited stage left.

As Cornucopia's ordeal continued, I felt she needed support, so went and got her Pooh bear. Under the supportive gaze of Pooh-chan, she continued her efforts.


It has issued forth!

But, it seems, there was more to come. So I went and got Akachan, her plastic doll, the hands of which can be manipulated to make them clap together. I supplied the vocals for the appropriate applause track.

Then, finally, we were done.

I wrote a message about the Happy Event and left it on the table for my wife to read when she got home, my wife having left, as she always does, at 0730, because she has to be at the office fairly early in the morning, where as I do not start work until 1000.

This morning I showed up at Waniguchi Gakko expecting to start a training session for teaching a curriculum I'll call Tiny Tots English, English for kids aged two, three or four. I thought the training was going to start at Waniguchi then continue at a venue at one of the stations on the Yamanote line which encircles the heart of Tokyo, a station I'll called Minami Sekigahara.

But, no, I'd gotten the wrong end of the stick. Actually, I had been scheduled to show up at Waniguchi at 1000 so I could teach two lessons. Then, having done that, I would head to MS for the training.

When I arrived at MS, it was noon. Lunch time. I had brought sandwiches, but didn't feel like eating them. As usual, I had loaded myself up with a big breakfast, a huge helping of muesli plus toast.

Thus loaded up, I feel okay until about 1410, which is about when I usually get home after my standard four-lesson shift, all that I do in the course of a working day. On weekends, I have a smaller breakfast, so I'm ready for lunch at noon. But, as it was, I didn't feel like eating.

However, I made myself eat the sandwiches, since training lay ahead, then I was free until 1320, that being when training was scheduled to start.

I thought I remembered a coffee shop at Minami Sekigahara, but I had misremembered, because the shop was not there. Furthermore, the architecture of the station steps was such that it could never have been there. I must have mixed up MS with some other station. Back in my days of teaching corporate English, I visited about a billion and one stations, and it's hard to keep them all straight in my mind.

I went hunting for a coffee place near my employer's MS location, and was very pleased to stumble across a branch of Excelsior, the coffee shop that I sometimes patronize at Waniguchi.

It had been a somewhat unpleasant trip to Minami Sekigahara, the route suggested by the computer new to me, my field of vision in large measure washed out by the brightness of the sun once I, having traveled without my dark sunglasses, exited from the station.

I was pleased, on venturing into the MS branch of Excelsior, that it was pretty much the same. Counter in the same place, the same sweet cookies sitting on the same place on the counter, the same staircase curving upward to the next floor, and a similar, though not identical, seating setup upstairs. Some tables for two people and a long bench table, in this case a table wrapping round in a square, with neon light falling in places bright enough for you to be able to sit and read your newspaper, which I did.

I don't usually drink coffee but I had a huge one, strong, with two of the cookies, and I could feel my pulse kicking along nicely, energized by the caffeine, as I headed for training.

Training was pretty straightforward. I had been worried about how I would fare with my damaged eyesight if I had to teach Tiny Tots English, because I knew it involved using a CD, and I was not sure if I would be able to cue tracks on the CD in a timely fashion.

What I learnt during training was reassuring. There's a standard curriculum, and, for each month, there's one CD for the lesson, a CD which is just a couple of minutes shorter than the lesson itself. You start it playing right at the beginning and don't have to cue anything, and the CD itself takes you through the steps of the lesson plan, so you don't even have to keep that in your head.

The prospect of teaching Tiny Tots English seems pretty straightforward compared with some of the situations I ran into during the days when the corporate English company I used to work for sent me to junior high school. Sometimes I ended up teaching special needs classes, poorly assorted kids with totally different needs, an autistic kid in the same class as a kid with Down's syndrome and a pathologically shy kid, maybe a dozen kids in the class.

I had absolutely no training for this, had no resources appropriate to the situation, had no guidance on how to proceed, and had to improvise on the spot. Nobody explained anything to me, so I didn't understand why, on some of these occasions, there were adults hovering in the background. I couldn't figure out what these people were doing, whether they were assistant teachers or what, and I couldn't figure out why they sometimes seemed anxious.

Much, much later, thinking back on these occasions, I finally figured out that the adults would, in all probability, have been the parents of some of the kids in the room, to whom I was never introduced.

By contrast, the Tiny Tots English course, all properly organized, with music, books, flash cards, photocopied sheets for coloring and a lesson plan including appropriate instruction language and matching gestures ... well, by contrast, this looks like a doddle, to use a word of native speaker English that most of my Japanese students of English probably wouldn't understand.

The training was over and done with by 1550, but it took me until 1705 to get home, very tired because, usually, I have a nap in the afternoon. Come home from Waniguchi, have a couple of sandwiches and a cup of tea, then crash out on the sofa, that's the routine.

Once home, I brought in the laundry, got the bedding out of the cupboard and made up the futons for the coming night, had a shower then headed for the daycare center to uplift Cornucopia.

The light had been starting to fail as I came home round about 1700, and, when I left for the daycare center, it was 1745 and solidly dark, the streetlighting hereabouts wretchedly bad. Fortunately, I had my Maglite torch, my trusty American flashlight. Even so, the experience was one of venturing through murky gloom.

What I noticed, not for the first time, is that my vision gets degraded by fatigue. In particular, if I'm really tired, then my nigthvision drops off significantly.

To wrap up, "the route suggested by the computer" is a route suggested by the rail and subway system that you can access at:

This is in Japanese, so it won't be any use to you unless you're competent in that language, and you won't even see the Japanese characters unless your computer is set up to display them. But, if you are in Japan, and if you do have basic Japanese language skills, this, I think, is the way to go, because you can print out a route which will give you place names in the Japanese script in which most of the signage is written.

There are English-language sites which have pretty much the same functionality but I always do my route planning in Japanese, and, when I traveled to Minami Sekigahara, I had a printout of the relevant Yahoo page with me, so, if I'd hit a problem, I could have shown any railway staff member or anyone from the subway staff exactly where I wanted to go.

So, that's a wrap, then. Cornucopia will celebrate her third birthday in April, and, all going well, by that time we will be able to consider her toilet trained.


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