24 August, 2013

CAJ Staff Wife Part 1

CAJ field.
Yesterday we went to an event that has become special to me: the CAJ staff and family start of year BBQ. There are only three times a year when I'm welcomed into this staff family and this is the only time my kids are embraced too. The other times are the Staff and Board Christmas Party and the End of Year Dinner. That's not to say that we are treated badly other times, it's just to say that we aren't treated in any special way at other times.

In fact, eight years ago, as a new staff family without children at the school we sat in a weird situation. We were a part of the CAJ community but I just teetered on the edge.

That was underlined when I went on campus. I had to go to the office to sign in as a visitor. Those who were "really" a part of the community could just pull out the name tag that they already had and walk on without any hassle. And it was a hassle, because I had two or three boys under seven (sometimes the eldest was at school) who I had "dragged" around with me at all times back then. But that's another story.

David and I at one of the Staff and Board
End of Year dinners we've attended. Guess the theme?
Now the reason why this is hard to write about is, how do I explain that I wanted to be welcome at my husband's workplace? That seems odd. However, CAJ is more than just a workplace. It is more like an extended family. More like the feeling of belonging you can have at a church or club. This feeling you get as the parent of a child at the school, but even more so as a staff family.

You might ask, why did I want to go on campus at all? Well they had an English library, for example, which, as a staff wife I was eligible to use. We were also members of the home schooler's branch of the school, because I was homeschooling my kids part-time while they were in the Japanese system. So we came over for periodic events that that branch of the school ran. We also came over for Thrift Shop, of course!

CAJ campus in cherry blossom season.
Two years after David began work at the school, I was glad to have our eldest become a student at CAJ, because that seemed like an improvement in my status. No longer just a staff wife, I was a school parent (with my own name tag). But I still didn't get to know many people at school, because we still lived far enough away that I didn't go there very often and I never took my son to school (he rode with his dad).

Last year someone asked me what kind of help new staff members (and their families) get when they join CAJ. We didn't get much, probably because we'd already been in Japan for 3.5 yrs when we came to the school (though none of that was in Tokyo). We already had visas and knew about and were able to independently register at the local city office, organise health insurance etc. OMF helped us organise our accommodation and we had furniture. We also had enough Japanese to get by.

Having our middle schooler involved in
sports has meant I've met more staff
and other parents. Here our son is
receiving instructions from his coach
during a wrestling meet.
So the school provided nothing in the way of assistance with any of this. But for newbies, or at least direct hire staff, I'm pretty sure they do.

Then there was the unofficial assistance given. I can't actually remember much except on older couple who befriended us and took us to Costco for the first time a few months after school started. I wonder if we'd received more help if we'd lived closer to the school. As it was we were tucked away in a convoluted pocket of Tokyo about 20min (or about 6km) from school. I was stuck at home with a 6, and 3 year olds and a little baby.

Perhaps that's why I felt so lost when it came to CAJ. I didn't have a set ministry outside the school, except that I was a SAHM (stay at home mum). If you think being a SAHM can be challenging in your home country, try doing it in a foreign land. Wow, that is lonely work. We were pretty disconnected from OMF at that point too, in that neither of us were able to go to many mid-year meetings. We made it to the annual conference, but not much else. My main weekly face-to-face adult connections were kindy-mums. A few Japanese ladies who had the generosity to include this strange foreigner in their conversations and little groups.
Here I am with our only other "down under" staff member
Pam, in black. She's a Kiwi. The lady in red is a
valued former teacher of my eldest, she believed in our
 son during a particularly difficult time in his life.

So, we were in Japan as OMF missionaries, though I didn't feel much like a missionary, just a mum living in a foreign land. I was so happy to see my husband fulfilled in his work. He loved working at CAJ and still does. It was a real joy to me. But it did leave me wondering where I fitted into this whole missionary gig. But that leads to another story altogether, part of which I've written about in Finding my Sweet Spot and in the journey God's taken me on to become a writer and editor.

This has turned into quite a long post. Suffice to say that I now feel more at home in the CAJ "family". Over the years I've grown to know and love many of the staff members and it is a joy to be here (most of the time). It's gotten more complicated over time too, as I now have three boys at the school, so friends have become my kids' teachers and we've occasionally had some of those not-so-fun meetings. Additionally I'm periodically a volunteer Occupational Therapy consultant at the school too. Ah, the fun of an international life. It is a little bit like life in a small town!

1 comment:

April said...

"But for newbies, or at least direct hire staff, I'm pretty sure they do."

Yup, they definitely do. :)