Note from the teacher

By on September 10, 2014

“Swimming cap?” I asked my first grade son.
“Swimming cap,” he said as he handed me a note from his teacher.
“I need to have a cap for swimming class. By Friday.”

Friday? Wait a minute. That’s not enough time. That’s only two days away! I don’t know Tokyo well enough yet to locate a sports store. I don’t know Japanese well enough yet to ask for a swimming cap. I just started Japanese classes.

My son looked at me and shook his head. “Don’t even think of it, Mom. I’m not shaving my head.”

Last month my family moved to Tokyo from midcoast Maine. In Maine, I know where to buy a swimming cap. In Tokyo, well, it’s going to be another “wicked good adventah.” As I have quickly learned over the past weeks, I can leave my apartment with an “easy” task, and come home hours and hours later with a memorable story, but something all together wrong.

On my way home I passed a Japanese school with a swimming pool. Caps must be there.
“Swimming cap?” I asked the woman behind the desk.
“Slippers,” she said.
“Swimming cap?” I said.
“Slippers,” she said.
“Swimming capo?” I said. I had recently heard that adding an “o” sound to some English words may help with the translation.

She looked at me. Oh, maybe this trick worked.
“Slipperso,” she said. Oh no, it didn’t work.
So, then I did it. With much theatrical flair, I acted out putting on a swimming cap and then began to

pretend to swim around the lobby. My backstroke is terrible.
“Slippers,” the woman said again. This time she acted out too. She pointed to her feet which were in slippers. Then she pointed to my feet which were still in my outdoor shoes.

“Ticket?” I said.
“Ticket,” she said.
“Ticket?” I said.
“Ticket,” she said.
It took about 30 minutes, but we were now downstairs in front of the swimming pool…and in matching slippers.

There was a vending machine at the door. Apparently, you need to buy a ticket to swim. I wasn’t here to swim. I just wanted to buy a cap for my son. How do you explain that?

I bought a ticket.

“Swimming cap!” I said enthusiastically. And, there it was! The woman had it behind her desk all along. It was beautiful. It was blue. It was waterproof. It was for an adult.

“Child cap?” I meekly asked. “This cap fits an adult,” I tried to explain. “Do you have swimming caps for children?”

Forty hilarious minutes later I emerged from the school. I had spent money on a ticket for a pool with no intention of swimming; I spent money on a cap for myself because I didn’t know how to tell her I only needed a kid’s cap; I spent more money on a kid’s cap; and I spent an incredible amount of time faux swimming around a lobby.
“Swimming cap,” I said to my son.
“Swimming cap?” my son asked.
“Swimming cap,” I said again as I gingerly laid it on the dining room table. I was absolutely exhausted but very proud of myself. Kind of like a lioness bringing antelope back to the pride.
“Feast on this,” I said.

“Hey Mom,” my fifth-grade son said a few minutes later.
“I have a note from my teacher. I need a recorder for music class. By Friday.”

About Karen Pond

Karen Pond is mother to 3 boys and author of Getting Genki In Japan: The Adventures and Misadventures of an American Family in Tokyo