So, guess what E’s “cold” turned out to be? Continue reading
Oh, the humidity… Continue reading
So, it turns out my husband’s career isn’t adequately supporting me… Continue reading
I work part-time and this means, with a couple of notable exceptions, that my seven month old is elsewhere while I’m doing so. “Elsewhere” for us means a nice childcare center less than 10 minutes from where his father works. We were lucky to get a place at all, let alone in one that’s vaguely convenient, new and modern, complete with largish, airy rooms, kids grouped by age, outside space, and a carer-to-child ratio of 1:3 for the babies.
For some people, that’s still not cool, though. Childcare at all for a baby is just. not. right. He’s too young! He should be at home with… well, me! Or a family member, at least. Or someone like that, I don’t know, you figure that part out, but still!
What are we thinking?
A simple answer that, actually, childcare seems to suit Mr. K reasonably well and I don’t think it’s so bad for him to be looked after qualified individuals who, so far, seem to be taking exceptionally good care of him when he is with them may be the best solution for my own peace of my mind. It doesn’t really give my life-commentators the explanation they’re seeking, though, and even though they’re not really entitled to such, I still find myself wanting to provide one. A defense, a justification, an explanation, something.
The only socially acceptable answer really seems to be a sudden admission of abject poverty. That raises a whole new problem, though, in that we are suddenly talking about money and that is a bit of a taboo. Do they really want a breakdown of our household income? Or the details of the financial mess caused by my father’s unexpected death (another taboo!) and how I would like to help my mother? Do they want an in-depth discussion about university debt, rent prices, the coat of fresh food? Perhaps I can explain, in depth, what starting unpaid maternity leave early cost, or the expenses that a baby generally accrues.
I’m doing part-time work, so things can’t be too bad. I must only want money, not really need it. Maintaining a certain quality of life, pfft. Perhaps if I cut out some of those expensive extras… my idea of an expensive extra is a 500 coffee set? No, that can’t be it. Those expensive overseas holidays… visits to my family? Huh.
Do I need to I explain that no, my husband doesn’t make enough money to cover this? Shall I explain why it works that way? And that I also prefer him having a job where I actually see him as opposed to a more financially-lucrative job where he’s absent for six days, sometimes 7 days a week? Perhaps I need to stick to more general comments on money? But then, I doubt they really want to hear my extensive and largely negative commentary on the full-time wage, Japan’s “Abenomics” version of neoliberalism, Japanese work culture, gender roles, men generally working themselves into the ground?
Talking about politics and criticising the esteemed Japanese culture, yes. That’s going to go so well, don’t you think?
Should I tell them that I actually enjoy my work and, on the days I don’t, that I still get satisfaction from doing it? That’s just selfish, though, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how I might feel about work or staying at home, or how well I know my mental state. Nothing is as important as being a mother and being a mother means being there all the time, duh.
If I need help, I could ask my mother… oh, right, Australia. Well, my mother-in-law, surely? She must be so excited about her grandson! Should I then explain how strained that relationship is, the now non-existent support on that front, and how non-interested she is in Mr. K at all, especially compared to her daughter’s baby girl? Hell, perhaps we need to discuss the weirdness of my husband’s family generally, and exactly why my sister-in-law is getting a divorce too.
Or, you know, we could discuss where the fathers fit into all of this and we could branch into my thoughts on your somewhat outdated notions about gender roles to boot. That sounds like a bit of fun too, doesn’t it?
In short, the more I try to think of appropriate responses and explanations, the more I realise that just about every line of conversation these supposedly innocent remarks about childcare could take us on touches on something taboo. All of the explanations that are expected of me lead to topics that have the potential to be scandalous, interesting… and absolutely uncomfortable. It’s generally accepted that these are things people might not want to talk about, and we’re generally not expected to do so.
Since these people are fairly often well-meaning students, my inner troll sometimes sticks its head out and I find myself fighting the urge to tell them that my God, they have shown me the light! I see the rightness of their words! I’ll quit my job right now and hurry home to resume childcare duties at once!
Oh, what? That leaves you without an English teacher? Well then.
Since trolling is definitely out, the only acceptable response to an unsolicited comment on what was not an easy decision about raising my baby is… no response. I am supposed to simply take this throwaway criticism in my stride, maybe act appropriately ashamed and sad to top it off.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t entirely want to do that. What I wish instead is that we could all add another taboo to the list of those I’ve outlined above, that being the offering of unsolicited criticism, however throwaway the comments might be, on people’s parenting decisions.
The simple fact is that, unless the child is obviously being neglected, it’s fair to assume that no small amount of thought went into the decisions about his or her care. It’s also reasonable to assume that the decision isn’t up for review right now and that the parents don’t need to add a little dose of pointless negativity to their days… so try not to offer it.
Most of the time, sorting out who is caring for Mr. K is fairly straightforward, or so it feels. Every now and then, though, I’m reminded that it’s actually a bit of a game of Jenga and we’re one misplaced block away from the whole thing falling apart. Or, as we found out yesterday, one high temperature reading on the thermometer away, anyhow.
My husband and I have varying schedules. This is somewhat planned in my case but with elements of chance for both of us. R will usually have two days off per week from his full-time job, one of which is usually Sunday plus one other that is determined by his bosses and organizational needs. For me, I do work where people sometimes want me and sometimes don’t; this means that I can be very busy in a given week, or very quiet depending on what other people want. It usually ends up working out quite well, though. Mr. K goes to childcare regularly, but is far from full-time and he gets quite a bit of one-to-one time with both of us, no mean feat given R is a full-time worker.
This week was supposed to be one of the quiet ones, with Mr. K set to attend childcare for one day. That was supposed to be yesterday. When we got up in the morning, Mr. K was his usual self, albeit with a hot head. Teething, I concluded, but we’re required to take his temperature prior to dropping him off at childcare and, unfortunately, the thermometer confirmed that he had a bit of a temperature. It wasn’t terribly high, though, and it seemed to be dropping. R and I decided to just carry on as usual; after all, he just had to get through this one day.
So off we drove in the car. Mr. K was still cheerful enough, and I noted that he actually felt cooler by the time he got to childcare. Their thermometer, however, disagreed. Mr. K had a low-grade fever, they have a policy on these things, and they weren’t going to accept him that day. We had to make alternative arrangements.
We were pretty alarmed, but not yet panicking. It was too late for me to call my boss/coworker and ask her to come out from Tokyo to do my classes, so that left it up to R to sort out. I really only needed Mr. K to stay at childcare for the morning; while it was preferable that he didn’t join in my afternoon conversation lesson, my student wouldn’t mind if he came along. When Mr. K had roseola, R had swapped shifts to do the late one instead and so he set about calling his company and seeing if he could do the same. In the meantime, I started calculating precisely how early I could leave the nursery school where I was teaching following the conclusion of my classes. It would all work out, we were sure.
Then the company said no. They were already one person down and R hadn’t been trained to cover an area he would need to manage.
The next step was R’s mother, who lives nearby and is supposed to be our back-up. R’s relationship with his mother has deteriorated greatly in recent times, a story unto itself, and my relationship with her never really had a high point full stop. Her interest in Mr. K is minimal, especially in light of her relationship with Mr. K’s cousin. Neither of us were keen on this idea, but it didn’t end up mattering anyhow, though – her answer was an outright no.
That left us standing helplessly in the streets near R’s office, Mr. K still gurgling happily in his pram, with our back-up plan in tatters and minutes until R was supposed to be starting work.
In the end, one of his coworkers with a scheduled day off proved to be awesome and agreed to go in to work in R’s place (I must remind myself of this when R inevitably doesn’t get our anniversary off – the coworker was very nice). Everything ultimately worked out, but only just. Japanese companies are not known for their flexibility, to be a bit understated about it, and the idea that the father should be the one sacrificing shifts is all but unheard of. I’m quite grateful, but we can’t push our luck on this front again, and with baby-sitting similarly not being the done thing here outside of family, we’ve had to consider alternatives to just optimistically hoping Mr. K will fall ill on the days when one of us isn’t working.
Thus, R spent his day pre-registering with various childcare centres around our area who take care of sick children for the day. It’s not really ideal; if a regular childcare centre is a breeding ground for viruses, who knows what he would pick up in one of those places? Still, I guess I need to be grateful that these places exist, and probably a bit more grateful for the days when everything runs smoothly. Lesson learned, I hope.
As for Mr. K? His fever came and went throughout yesterday, never getting especially high, and he was pretty perky all the way through. He’s back to normal today, and so I’ll be grateful for that too.
I don’t think I was ever going to be a stay-at-home mother for that long after Mr. K was born. I know some women do, and that’s fine. Some do it for a long time, or even indefinitely, and that’s also completely fine.
It wasn’t for me, though. There was a brief period in my mid-20s where I wondered if this was something I should aspire to and even daydreamed a bit about it, but I recognise now that this had everything to do with how much I hated my job at the time and little to do with how well suited I might or might not be to it.
Much as I love Mr. K, I wanted to return to work. My job is reasonably enjoyable, as jobs go, and I liked the balance that it brought to my life. Having a variety of things to do in a variety of places for a variety of purposes works well for me so far.
While I’m at work, Mr. K is at childcare. I do not think this is a bad thing. It gives him a chance to interact with other people outside of the family, to socialise and play in a different environment. It’s also a good chance to build up his Japanese skills, since English is what he hears most of the time when he’s here. As I outlined here, I work part-time, and this keeps a good balance between time at home and time out and about, and my husband typically has at least one day off per week as well so they can spend time together then.
Despite all of the above, though, the main reason that I returned to work is financial. We need money. I sometimes find myself wondering if I should be working full-time, imagining how much better off we would be, but I do think we’re doing the best we can for Mr. K just now and that’s what’s important.
If I had some trust fund coming in from elsewhere, I might not be working, it’s true. Still, I imagine I would probably have some other side project happening. Maybe alternative-universe-rich-me might be working on a masters degree for the hell of it, or pretending to write a novel (N.B. I do this anyhow) or an important work, or mastering Japanese to some level that is currently relegated to pipe-dream status. Maybe Mr. K would be getting the social experiences I’ve described through a private nanny, niche playgroups, and extracurricular activities instead. I don’t know.
As nice as that reality sounds, this world is the one I live in, and this is the one R and I have to work within the limitations we have, balancing the needs we have to meet with what we want and what we can manage. It’s not easy. Alternatives sometimes look better. For now, though, I work, and it’s actually not that bad.