Kindergarten bento -My first attempt (Friday 28/Sep/18)

For the first time, I packed mashed potato in lieu of rice for our daughter’s bento today. All the dishes in the bento are the leftover from the previous evening’s dinner, except for the boiled egg.

As Japanese, it required a bit of contemplation to do so – we simply don’t eat potato as much and are not accustomed to it. For me, potatoes are vegetables, and not staple food. But my half Dutch daughter didn’t seem to care at all, and the bento box came back empty without any complaints.

Kindergarten bento – Lotus Root (Wednesday 26/Sep/18)

The brownish vegetable in the bento box is stir-fried lotus root slices with chicken & sesame. I love the crunchy texture of lotus root, and it’s healthy with a full of fiber. I so wanted my daughter to eat it, but she initially refused to do so (as she always does for anything unfamiliar). But she gave in and took a bite after I sang a Japanese children’s bento song, which goes like this (translated by me):

This big / Bento-box / Onigiri onigiri / Pack your onigiri / Sliced ginger ‘n / Sesame sprinkle / Carrots / Burdoc root / Shiitake mushroom / Lotus root full of holes / Full of fiber, Fuki-root!

If you’d like to listen to the song, here is a YouTube link I found:

Kindergarten bento – Frozen (Tuesday, 25/Sep/18)

For the past long weekend, we took a short trip to Hong Kong to attend one of our best friend’s’ 50th birthday party. It was a ravishing, spectacular soirée, with more than a hundred people attending to celebrate her special day. All the guests were dressed in their beautiful chic attire including our daughter, with live music and endless flow of champagne and chatter. I wonder when I had a holiday this much fun last, and that made me feel heavy and hesitant for going back to reality.

As cruel as it can be, it was time to go home to my normal humble life. Our flight back to Tokyo got delayed by an hour, which means arriving home even later than what we thought was already late for a school night. And this means no stop over at a grocery store to replenish our empty fridge.

In the car back from the airport, I quickly assessed in my head what was left in our fridge/freezer for our daughter’s bento the next morning. I remembered about the pesto sauce in the freezer I had made a couple of weeks ago, as well as the frozen steamed carrot slices, blueberries and apple mousse. I also remembered the eggs & ham in the fridge hadn’t gone expired yet. And the outcome was a not so bad pasta bento for our little girl.

Kindergarten bento – Sandwiches (Thursday 20/Sep/18)

As requested by my daughter, I made sandwiches for her bento today.

Coming home, she told me that she had diligently followed my instruction by starting off with savory cheese sandwich, moving on to ham & cucumber, then to peanut butter & jam, and finally finishing it off with Nutella.

She also followed my instruction not to tell anyone she had Nutella in her bento, as sweets are not allowed for the bento time at school. I want to show her that sometimes the rules can be broken and live life a little, so she can learn how to be lenient and flexible in otherwise quite a disciplined environment. So every once in a while, I enjoy sharing this small piece of delicious secret with my little cheeky girl.

Kindergarten bento – Behind the scenes (18/Sep/18)

Today’s bento: Hamburger steak, Tomato omelet, Simmered carrot, Boiled broccoli, Shirasu (baby sardine) rice, Apple for dessert.  

I love my daughter’s kindergarten. It is a great school inside out, with kind and highly competent teachers, thoughtful educational philosophy focusing on Japanese culture and seasonality, and it even comes with the beautiful garden with a lot of green and soil on the ground instead of concrete (very rare for Central Tokyo). Apparently the bento is also part of their education, so that the kids would spend their important first few years of their lives, always eating healthy home-cooked meals prepared with love.

But there is no such thing as a perfect school, is there? Out of all the positive aspects of my daughter’s school, there is one characteristic that I just cannot overlook: they do not encourage women to go back to the workforce. They wouldn’t stop you from working (they can’t), but the head teacher publicly made the statement that they provide childcare, not for mothers to go back to work, but for the well-being of our children. They believe the physical participation of the parents (and in this context usually targeting mothers) is crucial during school hours, involving various events and activities organised by the Parents Association. Want to work full-time? Oh, it would be difficult if you want to send your kids to this kindergarten… etc., etc. How backward, my super liberal Dutch husband would lament. We knew this before enrolling our daughter, but both of us had this wishful thinking that this might change, or perhaps we could make a change…

What makes it difficult to do so, I came to realise, is that some fellow mothers are totally against working mothers as if to say working is a vice. Some mums voiced that “work” cannot be an excuse to miss school commitment, that there would be no special treatment, because kindergarten in general is not for people who wish to work.

In good old Japan we had a common understanding that women should protect the household and spend time with their children. Poor kids if mothers have to work. This is slowly changing but is still followed by the great part of the society. With my semi-international background I always have a slight sense of guilt for not working full-time, but now I have another layer in my guilt for working at all. Work, or not work, it surely isn’t an easy place for a person like me, and this, reflects the modern but undeveloped Japanese cultural state in my opinion.

Yet, I still love my daughter’s kindergarten. I can’t think of a better place for her to be despite the struggle. A part of me wants to make a difference and fight it, while the Japanese part in me just wants to conform or escape. I go back to my daily bento making, daydreaming that one day, some miracle happens to change people’s mindset for the better.