Taking Leave: The Book


renrakucho

Well, I finally committed myself to a project I’ve been talking and writing about since April 2011: Turning this blog into a book.

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Sleep, perchance to…


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One of the biggest differences since we moved into a house is the sleeping arrangements. When our oldest daughter was a baby, we were living in an apartment with a traditional Japanese straw mat (tatami) room and no bed. So like most families in Japan, all three of us slept on futon in the same room. No crib for the baby; she had her own tiny futon…and as she got bigger, she would roll her way around nearly the entire room at night time, sometimes eventually kicking one or both of us in the head at some point.

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Organic dining with kids


I owe my love of organic gardening to my father, who started growing his own vegetables on the Methodist Church property behind our apartment in the “oil crisis” of the early 1970s. From him, I learned how to compost, properly prepare the soil, plant both seeds and seedlings with appropriate trellises, water and mulch during hot weather, and keep away pests without using chemicals.

“Organic” has taken a bad rap in the US media, thanks to lacksidaisical labeling that allows certain percentages of chemically-based fertilizers and pesticides. My veggies may not look as pretty as the store-bought kind, but they taste sweeter, have more pulp, and have a high yield. More importantly, I know exactly what my kids are eating.

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Paternity leave: It’s a whole new ballgame


Paternity leave just got a big mention in US media this past week, thanks to baseball.

New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took three days leave for the birth of his son in Florida. Radio talk show personality Mike Francesca took some pot shots at the concept of paternity leave, for 20 minutes straight, saying that he was “surprised” that men would even need three days off. In any profession.

“What are you gonna do? Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital for two days?”

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Nursery Schools: Part II (Finally)


As I posted some time ago, we were fortunate that my oldest daughter was able to enter a city-approved nursery school. We were even more fortunate to have first choice on a new housing plot that wasn’t even technically on the market when we were shown it by the real estate company. To make a long story short, we built a house less than a five-minute walk from the biggest, and oldest, nursery school in our city. It’s run by the local Buddhist temple, has around 120 kids from infant to 6 years old, and is very, very well organized. Cost? Depends on your income, but in our case we pay roughly the equivalent of $650 a month for the oldest daughter. Our youngest daughter had to go to a private, non-approved nursery another 10-minute walk away, but thanks to the “point system” lottery to determine eligibility to enter nursery schools, our youngest was also lucky enough to enter the same nursery school as my oldest in April of last year. Needless to say, I probably should have posted this about 11 months ago….

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Usagi and the Bear


Furry friends

Since my daughter was a baby, she’s been obsessed with rabbits (usagi, in Japanese). We first had a stuffed sheep doll for her, but she quickly became enamoured of a musical pink bunny whose cord she could pull to start up a lullaby. When my wife’s great-grand aunt brought a white bunny with a purple ribbon as an early birthday gift, my daughter was hooked.

I don’t think the bunny was ever meant to be an actual child’s toy – we had to repair it on more than one occasion, as my daughter enjoys throwing it up in the air and flinging it by its feet — but it quickly became inseparable from our daily life. Usagi-san’s ears were frequently subject to all sorts of decorations: hair-bonnets, rubber bands, arm bracelets, hair clips and anything else my daughter could figure out how to attach.

At some point I started to pretend to be Usagi-san and “talk” to my daughter to get her to eat food she didn’t like (which was basically everything from age 2 to 3). From that point, Usagi-san became a part of our family. Our eldest would bring the doll to bed every night and pat it on the stomach saying, “Ne-ne shite” [Go to sleep]. She would bring it to every meal and make it taste her food to make sure the food was OK to eat. She would pretend that Usagi-san was sick and give it medicine. Once she started nursery school, Usagi would also go to “animals nursery school.” After some time, she began to insist that Usagi-san was a girl and demanded that my wife make the doll a purple velvet skirt (which eventually stained the bottom half of the doll purple).

The climax of our eldest daughter’s relationship to her “baby” Usagi-san doll came during our first trip to a zoo in Kobe last spring. Continue reading

Paternity Leave: A few thoughts after the fact


I haven’t written on this blog in two years for a very good reason: I didn’t take a child care leave for my second child.

From April 2010 to March 2011 I took a one year of child care leave of absence from my workplace in Japan, which was a national school and thus was obligated by law to grant me leave for up to two years. When I returned from the leave, I experienced both negative and positive reactions from my colleagues. Keep in mind, however, that (a) child care leave for fathers is being encouraged in Japan and (b) there is a serious lack of children in Japan. Of course, the (b) point could be said for most of East Asia in general, but the (a) point is unique outside the Scandanavian countries.

My second daughter was born in January 2012, at the end of the first academic year back from the child care leave. As much as I wanted, I just couldn’t do another leave, especially not so soon after the first. There were several reasons: my colleagues already resented me for the first leave, I was just defending my doctoral dissertation and was preparing to apply to other positions, and my income had been severely affected by not being paid for a full year. What I didn’t mention in previous posts was that my pension from both my school and from the national pension system had been affected by not paying into either system for a year. Later in 2011, my wife and I began to search earnestly for a house and when we settled on a location, I had to rely on both her and her parents for the down payment (as a national civil servant at the time, it was however easier for me to get the housing loan…)

I just switched jobs in April 2013 to a private university, for better pay, more prestige, and better working conditions (this last one is, apparently, considered debatable, but this is not the proper forum for such talk). I’m better off financially than I have been in years, have successfully published, have a wonderful wife who works extremely hard and deserves all the accolades she earns. My oldest daughter is going to turn 5 this coming May and can speak two languages, as well as draw and play piano much better than her daddy. But I regret not being able to take a leave for my youngest. I feel like I have missed something by her being accepted into the same nursery school as my oldest.

So why write now? Continue reading

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