There is a charter school we'd like our older son to go to starting next April (new school year here starts in April). We've been preparing our application for months now, and it had to be submitted today. In person. By a parent or guardian. So I got dressed in a suit, a severe gray suit, put on all my makeup (not just a quick powder and eyeliner job), and even used hair spray. I took off the extra rings I usually bedazzle the world with. I was going for the conservative, conformist, not-going-to-cause-a-ruckus-even-if-she-is-a-foreigner mom image.
On the way to the school I stopped by the shrine to drop off our New Year's decorations for burning. In Japan, New Year's decorations, even the chopsticks used for the three days of the New Year's, are sacred and cannot be thrown away, but must be burned by a priest at the shrine. I also made a small donation towards the burning, though I didn't pray as I'm not a believer.
On the way to the train station, my shoe felt weird, my special orthopaedic shoe that I've been wearing since injuring my foot 8 months ago. It doesn't call attention to itself by being outrageously ugly, this shoe, but if studied, its extreme utilitarianism will reveal it as orthopaedic. I looked down and saw that the buckle that kept it at the right pressure for my foot had broken. A few steps later, I knew that keeping the shoe on my foot painlessly sans buckle was not an option. So I stopped at a convenience store, bought a box of safety pins, and used one where the buckle had been. It nicely slipped right in both loops the the buckle had held together . Great, I thought. Now I'm no longer conservative, conformist, not-going-to-cause-a-ruckus-even-if-she-is-a-foreigner mom, but punk rock mom, with orthopaedic shoes. Maybe no one will notice this bit of flashing silver on my otherwise black shoes, I thought.
On the train, the other passengers looked down at my shoes, then up at my red hair and blue eyes, then back down at my shoes. So much for no one noticing.
I arrived at the school 45 minutes after it had begun accepting applications. I took a number and sat down. My number was 81. There are only 90 spots available next year in the school, and more parents were streaming in the door behind me. Competition is going to be stiff. Still, I thought it lucky that my number was a perfect square (81 = 9 squared). I studied the people submitting their applications before me (the first 80!), saw who they bowed to, who they greeted, etc. I have to mimic other people's behavior in Japan since I don't have a natural social sense for what is appropriate here. I watched people get to the end of presenting their documents and then reach into their wallets for the application fee. I'd forgotten all about the application fee! It was only the equivalent of $22, but I often (to my husband's consternation) carry very little cash in my purse. I surreptiously peeked into my bag and saw that I had $23. I could pay the application fee, but I wouldn't have enough to buy a $2.30 train ticket home. If only I hadn't bought the safety pins or made a donation towards the sacred bonfire.
After all this going wrong, my presentation of documents went quite smoothly. I answered the questions, paid the fee, and was on my way. Trekking back to the station, I stopped at a convenience store that had an ATM and found that (for an outrageous fee) I could withdraw some money. I was on my way.
Now I'm just wondering whether or not to replace the buckle on my other shoe with a safety pin.