I’m part of a circle. We’re going to have to go back eight years to understand what that means. My daughter was two and the wife was itching to return to her company. So we found a decent nursery school in our neighborhood. Finally, I could cut down on the 50 and 60 hour work weeks.
Orientation for the nursery school was on a Saturday morning. We tried to dig out a dress for the kid that wasn’t covered in snot, puke or whatever that last stain was. The wife was smoking hot in her navy blue business suit. I was smoking not in my jeans and sweatshirt. The nursery was only a five-minute drive away, so of course, we were five minutes late.
While my wife looked for a parking spot, I stuffed the kid under my arm and sprinted into the lobby. “Orientation 2F”. The room was packed with parents sitting on the wood floor, black-haired rugrats perched on their laps. With a Sumimasen, I squeezed my white butt into a gap between two families. In the front of the room, a buck-toothed lady with perky breasts was leading the orientation.
A couple of minutes passed before my wife slid the door open and slithered inside. “Your shoes!” she whispered in my ear. In my haste, I hadn’t realized I was supposed to change into slippers at the genkan. I discretely covered my feet with my jacket, hoping no one had noticed. My kid farted. I hoped no one had noticed. It smelled really bad. I hoped…
The room was decorated with finger paintings of elephants and monkeys. The gulag rules were being emphatically explained by Ms. Perky Breasts. “I can handle this”, I thought to myself. I leaned back on my elbows, enjoying the show. A boney hand squeezed my shoulder. I turned my head and was met with the mole-covered face of a bald father in a rumpled business suit. “I translate for you.” This I definitely could handle. A deftly delivered Kekko desu, despite being polite, is remarkably similar to the English “F*** Off” and I must’ve nailed it because he pouted and turned back to listening to Ms. Perky Breasts.
An hour and a half later, we rose from the floor and tried to rub life back into our seized up knees. A formal group bow of gratitude to the leader and orientation was finished! I got the kid bundled up in her coat and scarf as she squirmed and protested. But we weren’t ready to leave yet. My wife had disappeared. I scanned the room looking for her and Ms. Perky Breasts captured my gaze. “Mama,” my daughter squeaked, as she tugged on my jacket sleeve and pointed. In the corner of the room, there was a cluster of women yapping away, one of them in a navy blue business suit. These were mothers that had run into each other at the pediatrician and playground a few times, and now they were shooting the breeze with the intimacy of veterans at a Normandy reunion.
They were forming a circle. There are university circles, high school circles, and retiree circles. A university circle will often have a common theme like skiing or karaoke to unite them, but the main point is just to share time with others. At a nursery school, a circle is simply a group of parents that agree to support each other and plan activities for their children to do together.
That was eight years ago. The same six women that formed that cluster in the corner after orientation are now close friends. Our kids play with each other after school. We go camping, hiking, and grape picking together. We have dinner parties at each other’s houses where the women engage in boisterous conversations well past midnight over empty wine bottles and half-eaten plates of fried rice and gyoza. They are united by the desire to help each other become better parents. It was a support network that formed organically and voluntarily.
There are no laws requiring diversity or inclusivity in our circle. In fact, at times we are discriminatory and intolerant. One mother tried to join our circle a few years back. Her mistake was demanding that I only speak in English to her child. One of the mothers in our circle overheard the conversation and iced her out from that moment forward. It was their turn to say, “We can handle this.” And they shunned her in the terribly effective manner that only Japanese females can. The point of the circle is to bring us together and that woman’s demand was a thumb in the eye of our unspoken charter. I’m grateful to be part of a group of people that treat my family as equals and not some resource to be exploited. My gratitude runs deeper than the gratitude I had for those perky breasts eight years ago in orientation.
*Thanks to Couch Potato for the editing help.