Surugadai Summer.

It’s our 7th August in this house, the rental that needs so many fix-ups we cannot name them, yet has become our tenderly loved spot in the world.

August is summer break in Japan, splitting the school year in half: a whole month of river trips with onigiri picnics, cold soba noodles to delight our palettes, hanabi in the street and at festivals, trips to the pool, excited calls for kakigori from the back of the car, slip’n’slides at the park with friends, neighborhood kids running in and out of the yard, suika after dinner, sharing sake with our retired neighbors while sweat runs down our backs, nightly cold showers that prep our bodies for warm sleep, and the song of semi accompanying all our comings and goings. It is a month of crazy, exhausting fun, and I have really come to love it.

There is a band of neighborhood kids that have played together each of these seven Augusts and beyond: five boys and three girls, ages spanning two to thirteen. They have had water balloon wars, made movies together, went fishing at the pond down the street, snuck out onto our roof (!!!), played for hours in our tiny pool, and created a general ruckus on our block and theirs. When the crazy is happening, I am so overwhelmed by it that I see them as a total nuisance; but when I stop to write it all out, I think, “These are the moments my kids will remember with nostalgia when they grow up” — and I don’t want them to ever stop.

Those kids are all at my house right now, with wet hair and fresh clothes, bunched up on our nasty, old couch to watch English cartoons together, and I think my heart might burst. One little boy, a year older than Ezra, used to pester us incessantly with questions when he came over, following either Bryan or me around the house to ask us what we were doing and why and for how long. But that was years ago now. He has grown into such an interesting kid, with a kind smile and the best one-liners. He has freely given us his best compliments, including this recent one: “The things that happen in this house are amazing.” We love him. I hope he always comes to my house. Another boy, the oldest of the bunch, has been the ring leader for finding new and interesting play; he seems reluctant to leave childhood, and I don’t blame him. I think, in fact, that these days of running and laughing with friends younger than him greatly benefit the rest of his week. We have known him the longest, since he started coming over by himself when Jones was just three years old and he was six. At this point, I think we will stay in touch with him for the rest of our lives, and I often imagine him showing up to tell us about his new job or to announce his engagement. The little girl, a year older than Harper, comes to ring the doorbell with her mom, and even if none of my children are at home, she wants to come in and play Licca-chan while petting Iggy, the family dog. I can tell she feels comfortable here, and even when I’ve had kids in my house up to HERE, I love this about here. She and my little ladies could play make-up or Sylvania or mama-gokko for hours, and have.

These kids fight, too. They are all human. There have been disagreements at the park that erupted into yelling and tears, or accidents that have flustered some of the group, or older kids ganging up on the younger ones. What I love about this group is that each family seems to value the freedom of play and discovery in childhood, even as it reaches into relationships and communication. The kids handle these disagreements on their own, retreating to their own homes to take breaks from one another and dump their frustrations to mom, dad, or grandma. But no parent is angrily ringing doorbells or demanding reconciliation. We are in silent agreement that kid problems need kid solutions, and our interference would be just that: interference. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that this group has remained friends spanning elementary graduations and schedule changes and pre-adolesence. They seem to play and fight with the comfort of siblings. Among many other reasons, this is perhaps the most pertinent for why we hope to remain in the neighborhood: this band of friends, from different families, cultures, and languages, spending their summers together in Surugadai.

++++

onigiri – rice ball
soba – buckwheat noodles
hanabi – fireworks
kakigori – shaved ice
suika – watermelon

semi – (extra large and loud) locust
Licca-chan – Japanese version of Barbie, pronounced “Rika”
Sylvania families – Callico Critters in the US
mama-gokko – playing cooking, kitchen, and babies

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