Ok, so I’m a year into this whole parenting thing, and the novelty is definitely starting to wear off. My nerves are in shreds, and I haven’t slept in what feels like eons. The word kawaii is more likely to provoke a kowaii reaction than a proud smile, and since we can’t go anywhere without my one-year-old son being accosted by well-meaning strangers brandishing keitai cameras, I’m doing well to keep my temper at bay. My oyabaka days are long behind me.
It recently occurred to me that it would be so much easier if the okusan and I could get out more often in the evening – maybe grab a bite to eat or catch a movie. I suggested we might approach the friendly school girl who lives upstairs, and after pushing her a couple thousand yen and all the natto she can eat her way in exchange for two hours babysitting- surely, an offer no gakusei can refuse. My wife just looked at me aghast. How could I think of such a thing? Maybe in London but never in Meinohama.
So I hit the streets desperately seeking an end to my woes. I stopped people with young children just to ask – how do you do it? How do you buy yourself some quality time in this town? Visibly shocked as my bleary-eyed bulk lunged in their direction, a few were kind enough not to call for help. “If I want to go out at night, I take my baby to my parents,” Rie Uchino of Yame City told me. “If I can’t do that, I change my plans and stay home.” Not what I wanted to hear, considering my parents live in Solihull, England. “My friends told me they take their baby to a daycare center,” explained Chikara Miyake, a university student from Kitakyushu. “Or they leave their child asleep.” Cripes! Is that legal?But daycare sounded promising to say the least. With my wife’s help I discovered that Fukuoka is actually overrun with daycare centers, some of which are exceptionally well run. Minnajuku, on the 9th floor of IMS, provides a wonderful playgroup on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Because it is so popular you are advised to book well in advance. The downside is that you have to be present during the time your child is there, so you don’t really get much rest at all. Of course there are centers where children can be left, but these are usually closed by 9pm at the latest – not very helpful to those of us still determined to do the late night karaoke shuffle on occasion.
Real babysitting services (a sitter visits your house, eats your cookies and uses your phone to make long distance calls) exist in only very small numbers and even then there are high registration fees, along with problems involving language and insurance. Anyone wanting to investigate the more accessible of these might try visiting Grace Fukuoka 0120-8000-20 or even the Fukuoka Family Support Center (092) 736-1116. However, parents of slightly older children, or parents on short-term contracts in Fukuoka, may be concerned about communication problems, in which case they’re back to square one.
Now, Fukuoka is a wonderful city to live in as a foreigner. The services available to us are many and often wonderfully varied. Just flip through any issue of Fukuoka Now – and you’ll see you can get California roll at the drop of a hat, book your very own Santa-san, and dance Flamenco ’til my feet turn blue. This bleary-eyed buffoon could even try out as a model if I had the urge. But gaijin-friendly babysitting? Forget it. There are more of us foreign parents lurking in the back streets than you might think, and with more and more mixed-race marriages happening ever year, the potential number of toddling clients is bound to be on the increase. It seems crazy that nobody has thought of setting up an international babysitting service.
British / Insomniac Father
Illustrations by Shirley Waisman
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn73, Jan. 2005)