I saw this comic and was thinking about my own work-life balance and how I would illustrate my days. It would take a lot of ink.
The following list of things is from Thursday, which was a normal day, selected only because I wrote everything down after reading the aforementioned comic:
4:00 am- Get up to write and drink coffee. Spend most of your time responding to emails/texts and work a little on the new short story about the girl and the tanuki in the woods.
6:00 am- Start the laundry because your eldest son neglected to put his stinky uniform shirt in the wash the night before even though you reminded him several times and he said “Okay, mom, okay. I got it.” and you, for some stupid reason believed him and you did not notice until you were putting things in the dryer that his shirt was not there so when you got home, you asked if he had another short sleeve shirt to wear tomorrow and he said no and so you said that you would wash it in the morning because it was already 10:30 pm and you did not want to annoy the neighbors.
6:15 am- Put the breakfast on the table, granola, yakult, cheese, and grapes. Play The Breakfast Song from Up On Poppy Hill (like you do every morning) and as you are going out to the balcony to water the plants, spritz a bit of water on the sleeping kids to rouse them. They will complain and you will threaten more spritzing. By 6:40, they will all be at the table except your daughter. She will resist until almost 7.
6:40 am- Run the laundry to the laundromat in your pajamas. Feel greasy and conspicuous but say fuck it and go anyway.
6:50 am- Begin putting all of your youngest’s things in his randoseru. Check the pencil case and make sure all the pencils are sharpened, make sure his eraser and ruler are in place. Change out the textbooks, check over the homework as you put it in the zippered folder. Notice that he forgot to do an entire page of addition in his notebook, fight with him over it for a bit until you write it for him, forging his messy handwriting and feeling dumb for not checking last night but then remember that you were busy last night translating your daughter’s geometry homework and trying to figure out all the language for parallelograms in Japanese then explaining it to her, then of course fighting with your eldest about his screen usage. So, yeah, you were busy but still… You take out the correspondence diary and reading log and stamp it, even though it has been days since he did the reading with you. Change out his handkerchief from the clip pocket you made for him and change out the cloth place mat of his side lunch bag. Clip on his name tag and make him brush his teeth.
7:10 am- Begin to brush your daughter’s waist-length hair and put it into neat braids because at a teachers’ meeting at work one time the teachers were discussing a student’s messy hair and since then, you have been obsessed with making sure her hair is tidy and clean so she won’t be judged poorly. Sign her reading card even though she did not do her reading either. Help her find her hat.
7:20 am- Fill up the thermoses with wheat tea and ice. Check and make sure everyone has everything. Remind your daughter to get her reading card off of your desk. Realize that your eldest is dressed in a short sleeved shirt and ask him why he said he did not have a shirt yesterday, which he denies saying but then your daughter backs you up and then they begin bickering, which is how they spend 98% of their time together.
7:30 am- Eat a cup of soy yogurt with a bit of granola sprinkled on top and watch a video about revenge though you don’t watch all of it because halfway through, your eldest has remembered that he has pool and cannot find anything. Help him find everything and remind your daughter about her reading card.
7:35 am- Gather your work clothes and go to the shower. Tell the kids good-bye. Get in the shower then poke your head out to tell them they need umbrellas. Finish your shower and get dressed, dry your hair only half-way because there is no time, get your own thermos packed with ice. Realize as you are getting your bike key that your daughter forgot her reading card. Ask your husband, who has been on his phone since he woke up at 6:30 am then watching videos on his computer, to please take the card up to the school since it makes her feel bad to not have all her stuff (and since he does not have class until 3:30 pm). He agrees. You say good-bye. Then you remember that you left the laundry at the dryer. Run back upstairs to ask him to pick it up. He says he’ll get it when he takes his laundry over, since he washes his clothes separately from the family’s, not wanting his clothes to get ruined by ours.
7:50 am- You ride your bike to work quickly, stopping at the vending machine to fill up your thermos because the kids used all the wheat tea in theirs. Make it to work just on time.
8:05 am- Turn on the computer, check the morning memos, go to the gym for the Before Summer Holidays assembly. Return to the office. Do some work (grading papers mainly) go outside in the rain for first crossing guard duty. Eat lunch (a SoyJoy bar, as usual) do some more work, go outside for the second crossing guard duty, this time in the heavy rain. Work some more then go home, having to walk this time because the rain is flooding the roads.
5:45 pm- Arrive at home soaked. Change clothes and notice that your daughter’s reading card is on the desk still. Growl a little. Begin heating up the lunch your husband “made” for the kids (pre-made fried rice and pre-made gyoza). Realize you are feeling faint. Eat a rice ball and take a headache medicine. Start to fold the laundry then as the kids finish their dinner, help them with their homework. This time your youngest has a lot of homework that he already finished but made mistakes on. Help him out and as you are doing so, the other kids all gather around, eager to teach him about telling time and how to subtract two-digit numbers and when to use ‘o’ and ‘wo’ and when to use ‘e’ and ‘he’.
6:30 pm- See a message from your husband letting you know he is coming home from the mall where he stopped after his class. Get your shopping bag and go out into the hallway where you are gathering the stray umbrellas your kids abandoned out there when your neighbor pauses on her way to the store to talk about the weather. And mention how hard it is for you, having to take care of the kids and how she heard the washing machine at 6 am and just wished me luck. Tell her you will do your best and thank her while also apologizing. Put the umbrellas in the house and go to the patisserie instead of the grocery story. Buy two summer jellies for your neighbor to apologize for the noise. Get some extra cash from your dwindling bank account. Go home, hoping to catch her along the way. Realize it is almost 7:30 and decide not to bother her until tomorrow.
7:30 pm- See that your husband is home. He is sitting in his boxers on the computer, watching some sort of sculpting video. Ask him if he had plans for dinner, thinking about how he could have taken care of that during the day since he only taught two afternoon classes with five kids in total. He says he does not know. Ask him if he wants to come with you to the store. He says sure but makes no move to get up. You go and check on the kids, putting some plates in the sink as you go. You ask your eldest kid to do the dishes after he finishes his homework. Your second son declares he will do the dishes. The two argue, since there is chore money involved. You stop them and feel very dizzy. You look at the clock.
8:00 pm- You see that your husband is still in front of the computer. You tell him you are going to the store, wishing the laundry was already finished so you could double duty the trip. You get sandwich things for him, salad things for yourself.
8:20 pm- You return and find that he has migrated to the sofa and is snoring loudly. You make him a sandwich, prepare your salad, boil an egg for your youngest, then put your husband’s sandwich and beer in front of his computer. You put your salad in the fridge, put the wet laundry in the bag, and ask your son to do the dishes, because he is just sitting on his phone. He offers to take the laundry but you know it is a ploy to get out of the house. You call him on it and he says, of course, I can’t stand to be stuck inside all day. You remind him he has only been home for an hour. You ask them to get the beds set up. Your husband has moved back to the computer.
8:40 pm- You put the laundry in the dryer, 300 yen for 30 minutes. You head across the street to the other grocery store. You buy breakfast food and some oil-free salad dressing. And another SoyJoy for tomorrow’s lunch. You return to the laundromat, get the dry stuff back into the bag, and head home. You put away the breakfast and take out your salad. You eat your salad and read two pages of your book.
9:30 pm- You read a chapter of The Great Glass Elevator to your youngest two while your eldest son finally washes the dishes. You kiss them good night but your daughter is insulted by your youngest son for some unexplained reason and will not go to sleep. You let her follow you into the bedroom while you fold the laundry and listen to a podcast about politics and demagogues. Your youngest son comes into the bedroom, knocking over a stack of laundry in his haste to lay down next to where you are sitting. You tell your daughter to return to bed now that her brother is in there. But Luca! she cries in protest and you promise that you will carry him in to the bed in just a few seconds. She goes and you finish the laundry, put it away, then carry your youngest to his bed. Your eldest son tells you about the basketball fees he needs for tomorrow, that he forgot to mention before, as he got the paper last week explaining the fees.
10:20 pm- You put down you and your husband’s futons. He comes in to remind you that you did not drink your beer. You ask him to drink it for you. You set the alarm for 3:40 am, take another headache medicine and turn out the lights.
It is the same cycle every day. My husband works part-time but since I know how to do everything, everything becomes my responsibility. This has been a source of frustration and resentment since our kids entered school, forever ago. Communication does not work because he does not see the situation the same way. According to his account, he is the one who does everything and pays for everything. After so long, I am not interested in fighting about it. I just want the kids to have a good school day everyday.
On the weekends, there is less school-related stuff but I still do the laundry, including the gym clothes and room shoes, and help them with homework AND do all the shopping and cooking. The last part is my fault, according to my husband, because I like to cook food. Yes, I could do the instant thing like he does but I have this weird thing about wanting them to see me cooking and to help me with the meals so that they like to eat good food. Today, I stayed home with them while he went downtown to get some supplies for a project he’s been working on. I have my own projects, of course, but that is why I wake up at 3:40 everyday.
I used to be very angry about everything, as some of you reading this account might feel, towards both of us. I found that it does not make matters better. Yes, I should have a backbone and tell him what to do, but even when I do, it is ineffective. When I was younger, I used to get mad, like many women do, because it did not occur to him to help out. Then we got to the divorce stage of things and I became more vocal. That was not sustainable, and worst of all, ineffective. So instead, I do the lioness’ share of house/child work plus work full time and try to maintain the peace/harmony because of the kids. I know it is wrong, because they are witnessing a bad dynamic, but on the other hand, I really just want to get through the day. As, I imagine, do thousands of other people who find themselves in similar straits.
I share this not to elicit sympathy but just because this is my reality. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all but looking over it all, I feel exhausted. I think back to the beginning and wish I had been more assertive then, before everything was fossilized. I did not know I needed to speak up though. I assumed eventually he would figure out, perhaps by noticing me working my ass off, that he needed to match my actions and initiatives. Reading that comic, I just want to tell those younger women and that young woman up in the picture there to not accept anything less than equality. That just because you are over the moon for someone in the early years does not mean that you cannot be dragged into household purgatory, a state where love is suspended if not destroyed.
For me, living overseas without any support other than my husband, I have had to make the decision to just do the work so that the kids can be alright. But, there are times when it is glaringly obvious that the kids are not alright. Like when your eldest returns home for the basketball fees you forgot to put in the school envelope and upon discovering that no one in the house (being his younger siblings) has the necessary two bucks, he punched a hole in the wall.
How many holes have I repaired now? Too many.
This is the first one by him but really, the very first hole I fixed should have been the last one.
In writing these books about my life, I am also writing about all this. It is necessary for several reasons but the two most important to me are to give the kids an explanation for everything and to help illustrate how it is possible to get to this point. I know I am not alone because every time that I write about these aspects of my life, I get a lot of private messages from people who are struggling with the same issues. I hope that in by sharing my account, others can avoid some of the traps and pitfalls I have fallen into, because while I may be carrying on, it would be better to do so without hobbling.