Disclaimer: I am not a mommy…but I do make a good-looking bento, albeit my ingredients and recipes have advances beyond white rice.
This week Hiromi and I managed enough time to get dinner together.
Our relationship is complicated but good. To over-simplify things, in Japan there is still a great deal of social importance on maintaining certain social levels. You don’t generally slosh back and forth sometimes having “rank over” with person X but sometimes being subordinate to them. Hiromi and I have a complex relationship in that I am sometimes her teacher, I’ve been her dance “Sempai” and someone she looks up to but I am also her employee in her studio. The language gap we both face makes this easier in many ways, as we can’t use the sort of polite-speak and distance called for in navigating levels of rank and thus can dispense with a lot of our individual cultural constructs. We talk in a rather naked, straight forward, way.
We similarly use a lot of metaphors and similes to get out points across…because often you can use simple words in creating a metaphors that convey larger, more verbally complex, meanings.
Hiromi, due to a complicated year in which she ran the studio while living down in Osaka, is just now returning to regularly teaching at the studio. Most of her classes will be Beginner levels classes. This is her comfort-zone and where she feels she excels. These classes are also slightly outside of my own comfort zone, they are where I feel I am flailing the most. It’s getting better, but I still have an easier time in Zills and Drills and the places where my geekery and niches are the focus.
Hiromi worries that being good at teaching beginners is a bland thing. She compared it to always making a white-rice bento.
Which is when I started to rant about how she can’t look at making white-rice bentos as a BAD thing…which lead to the Busy Mommy School of Bento Teaching…wherein your teaching goals revolve around making that white rice bento exciting with a few easy tricks, so your kids enjoy eating it, they growth…and the eventually learn to make their own damned lunch.
“So, you’re on a budget…cash and time is tight. Still, you need to feed those kids. You need to figure out a way to make the same, easy-to-cook items, look exciting and fun OVER AND OVER AGAIN, so your kids don’t complain, so they eat what they get, and…hopefully… so you WOW them with what is essentially the same few items over and over again.
Go to the 100 yen shop. Invest in a few rice-ball molds, some nori-cutters, and maybe some cute plastic containers. Google a bunch of bentos. Draw inspiration. Remember what made and makes you happy when you open a bento.
You’re on your way! It’s still the same rice, nori, lunch meat, and simple salad…but today it’s a panda rice-ball near a forest of yummy, tomorrow it’s a fish-shaped rice-ball ridding green waves past hotdog-octopuses, and the next day it’s kitty-chan! Same ingredients but they feel fun and different. What will be next?!
And the more they like their bentos, the more you get them involved in the process. Ask them, “What do you want to make next?” Tell them, “Let’s see how we can make that together!” Show them, “you’ve got the rice and the nori so if we do this with these ingredients THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE you can make this and this and things you haven’t yet thought of.”
And eventually, they can happily make and enjoy a bento that they make their damned selves!”
And that’s the Busy Mommy School of Bento Teaching.