Give me bedtime, or give me death
It has never ceased to bother me after 12-years of marriage and two children that we cannot get the kids to bed at what Canadian parents are likely to consider a normal, healthy and appropriate bedtime. I live a Japanese life. I expect that Canadians have no conception of what that means for the disposition of all the minutiae of everyday life. As I have written before, to begin with the dimensions of life are completely different from what I was used to growing up and the effect is far-reaching. Our apartment is small. It contains four souls. I always begin my explanations of Japanese life with the dimensions of domestic space, the effects it has on personal space, and the way those effects get projected into the interpersonal relationships that make up a society. There is very little privacy compared to what Canadian families with children are used to, and this “lack” of privacy influences everything. It is a prime cultural template. The children do not have private rooms, each separate from others in the home by long hallways and closing doors. We live together, sleep together, and constantly brush shoulders when we move around. Visual privacy is minimal, and aural privacy is non-existent. This proximity means that for their entire lives, it has been impossible to get the children to sleep before we adults go to sleep ourselves. The result has always been children who are still awake at 11:00 or later.
I know it’s insane. When I showed the title of this article to my wife she read it but did not understand it.
“What does it mean?”
“It means exactly what it says.`
“What is that?
“It is insane to have children still away at 11:00 at night. It means make them go to sleep at an appropriate time, or else kill me - please!”
“Okay. I’ll kill you.”
When I was in elementary school, my brothers and I had an 8:00 p.m. bedtime. In summertime when there was no school we could go to bed at 9:00 and we could stay outside playing “until the street lights come on.” (That is one of my sweet memories.)
Here, it is impossible to get my children to bed at anything near that time. First, suppertime is usually quite late here compared to the 5:00-to-6:00 time that I ate at as a child. In Japan, by 8:00 p.m. a lot of children will have only just begun to eat.
More frustrating for me is that relaxing in solitary peace and quiet is an insanely vain dream. Solitude? How selfish of me!
If I want to watch a video I cannot do it until late, after everyone else is asleep. What a drag!
If I want to send or check E-mail I also have to wait until late at night when the family is asleep. (Because I have a dial-up connection, using the Internet means carrying my laptop computer into the kitchen, setting it down on a chair next to the telephone, dragging the electric cables in there as well, plugging them in and then hoping that the wife and kids do not come trekking in and disturb me or trip over the cables on the floor. It a bummer!)