Sunday, October 17, 2010


I was talking to one of my students, a mother with three children about how her family spends their weekends. We got to talking about how life really revolves around the children while they are young and how the husband and wife relationship is sort of put on hold. I can talk a lot about this phenomenon.

Couples in Japan enjoy a fun time of dating and courtship (there are still arranged marriages in Japan but that is another story). And then they get married. And then there are children. And then the husband and wife don't do things together anymore.

Tetsu and I were married 5 years before Takumi entered the world. But with his entering, that meant that we were now a trio and it was the three of us that did things together (hmmm. Daddy worked an awful lot so actually Takumi and I were a duo during the weekdays.) And Leiya came along and we were a family that did everything together. And that was fun! BUT...

Tetsu and I never went out again just the two of us for the next 13 years... There were the baby days when I felt I just HAD to get away for a couple of hours. So Tetsu, who was overjoyed being a Daddy, took over (I went to a patchwork class for two hours when Takumi was a year old.) But it wasn't even possible for Tetsu and me to go out alone for a dinner or a movie etc. THERE ARE NO BABY SITTERS IN JAPAN! There just isn't the system or way of thinking. High school girls do not baby sit and besides...what mother would WANT to get away from her children for an evening? BAD MOTHER!

Some Japanese couples do have a live-in baby sitter in the way of a mother-in-law (parents often live with the eldest son's family) and Grandma will watch the children if the young wife has work to do, but baby-sit while the young couple goes out for fun? Uh-uh~ Whoever heard of such a thing!

In our case, Tetsu's mother never lived with us though she was in the same city... but she made it plain that she could not and would not baby sit (she has a slight handicap). There aren't such things as company Christmas parties or dinner out with friends anyway but it would have been nice to have an anniversary dinner together or take in a movie other than Doraemon (a cartoon character).

I remember our 10th anniversary when Takumi was five and Leiya a year old. We all went to some Chinese restaurant and Leiya proceeded to throw hand towels at the customers in the next booth and Takumi spilled his noodles. Tetsu cheerfully took up Leiya and said I should go ahead and eat while he waited in the parking lot and then we could switch places and I could wait with her while he came back and ate. I sat there looking at Takumi who'd fallen asleep with his head in his noodles and thought "THIS IS NOT MY IDEA OF A ROMANTIC ANNIVERSARY DINNER!" (And Tetsu bought me tennis shoes as a 10th anniversary present... I've never let him live it down!)

When I explained to my student that Americans use babysitters, she couldn't understand why American mothers should want to get away from their children. After all, we WANTED children didn't we and wanting to get away from them was very strange...

Of course I COULD HAVE pointed out (but didn't) that Japanese mothers put their kids in kindergarten on weekdays from age three for 5 hours a day and the mothers are SO relieved to finally have some time of their own again after being housebound for three years... That's always seemed a little incongruous to the "good mother" principle (but my kids went to kindergarten at age three too... More free time for me, didn't add any couple time with Tetsu.)

Just cultural differences and I guess one is not good and the other bad. A little hard on the foreigner...

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