Sunday, July 15, 2007

Writer's Therapy or The Workaholic's Wife

I am writing now because if I weren't I would be telling my children all kinds of terrible things about their father that really, a mother shouldn't tell her children. I would be using words to describe him that the children are not allowed to use and actually, shouldn't even hear and hopefully, don't yet know. So I have stomped off into the tatami mat room (which I find soothing and which also conveniently enough houses our computer) to practice my deep breathing stress relief techniques and to try to discover that well of strength that most mothers appear to possess--the one that allows them to project stability and harmony into their children's lives no matter what maternal tempest is brewing inside.

Failing to find such a maternal well of strength, I have at least put some physical distance between my children and their teeth gritting, colorfully cursing, daddy-bashing-Mommy. Which sometimes is the very best thing that I can do for them.

Living with a workaholic is not so difficult. That part I have gotten used to. He isn't here when I am at the 5:30 p.m. moment of mental melt down. He isn't here when Reno is waving her homework in my face asking for help and Saki is sobbing and screaming because I have once again refused to let her have ice cream for dinner. He misses out on their daily blood curdling screaming fights which often evolve into pinching and hitting bouts.

He isn't here to see me delight the girls with a new dance I've invented to one of Shakira's songs off of her CD, "Laundry Service." We dance in a circle, hands joined--the girls are absolutely glowing. He isn't here to watch me play karuta with Saki or watch as I work side by side with Reno teaching her to read and write in English. I don't know if he even knows about the "relaxing baths" that we sometimes take together where we line up all our scented candles along the ofuro turn off all the lights and play Buble on the portable CD player just outside the ofuro.

He has never been present when I have sat at the kitchen table with electronic dictionary on one side and the DS lite Kanji program on the other laboriously looking up kanji/new vocabulary words in order to help Reno with her homework latter that day. He has never watched me try to simultaneously make dinner, appease a screaming four-year-old who can easily scream for over 40 minutes, relentlessly hound a stubborn nine-year-old into doing her homework while ignoring the hairy shedding cat that nips me on the calves angry over the fact that wet cat food persists in not appearing in its bowl on demand. He has failed to witness how our four-year-old can gag at the mere sight of a vegetable not to mention projectile vomit one an amazing distance.

He doesn't know our after school routines, our pre-dinner routine, our after dinner routine, nor our pre-bed routine. He knows they take piano lessons but he doesn't know where or when. He would not be able to pick out their friends if I put them in a line up right in front of him. Asking him to name their friends would be as futile as asking him to tell me the middle names of the last ten First Ladies of the U.S. His chances of picking out the girls' favorite bedtime stories are also basically null and void.

Living with a workaholic is not so difficult. The thing one has to learn to do, has to work at being able to do, is to live with out the workaholic. And I have worked. Of course I had several years of resentment sculpting, following by anger/aggression management and finally I have reached what I see as the "Aum" plateau. I have finally realized that nothing I do, nothing I feel, will in any way affect the hours my husband chooses to work or not to work. The only person over whom I have any power to affect change is myself. And I don't like being angry. I don't like feeling resentful and I was really really scared this spring when I had a full blown panic attack.

So scared that I uttered my first very little and hesitant "Aum" as I lay hooked up to the heart monitor in the local E.R. And I felt a little bit better.

I tried it again at home when 5:30 p.m. hit me on a school night. "Aum." I felt a tiny bit of a ripple, like the kind you get when someone dives into the pool while you are floating on your back being buoyant. I sucked in some more air to make me more buoyant. The next time that Saki started to scream the house down demanding refined sugar for dinner I fixed her with a "look" while I let my mind gently fade to white and I did a quick breathing exercise. Then I smiled and poked her in the stomach and made it into a joke. She was still giggling even when I put the spaghetti dinner that she had been contorted in rage over, right in front of her. She stopped smiling when the green dinner salad appeared to its left but I didn't. Even when she began the loud piercing lament of the green legumes wail--I just "aumed" my way through it.

When I wake up at night now and sense that Masa still hasn't returned home from work--be it 1 a.m, 3 a.m. or 5 a.m. I just breath in and out and sink back down into the rhythm of sleep. I know from experience that waking up and clock staring won't bring him home any faster. I know that waiting up and picking a fight won't change anything--even if I "win" it. I know that getting up to see if he is home doesn't really matter. It is the middle of the night or the early morning. It is time to sleep. My children will be waking in a few hours and they won't be tired or lethargic. They will be hungry. They will prod me and poke me and sing loud "what's for breakfast? I'm huuuuunngerrrrry!" songs into my ear. They will wake me up by wrapping themselves around me, climbing on top of me and demanding that I too get up to be awake with them. Whether or not I know the exact time of my husband's return home doesn't matter. It is late. It occurs while I am sleeping in between my two cubs, getting ready for another day of pouncing and stalking and hunting and rough housing. I can't afford to let the pride down.

But that doesn't stop me from feeling like roaring on occasion. Tonight when I went to answer the phone me pre-Aum self allowed a single thought to flick through my mind, "Oh! It's probably Masa! He's coming home!"

It was Masa. He wasn't coming home. It's a Sunday today and he left for work at 8 a.m. this morning. He called at 9 p.m. The Sunday event that he went in to work for finished hours earlier. No, he was still there doing other things in the office.

"Will you be working through the night again?"

"Um. Looks likely. Yeah."

" Pity."


"Well, tomorrow will be wasted then. You'll just sleep all day."

"Uh. . . actually, I have to work tomorrow."

And I suddenly forgot to breath. Instead I could feel the center of my stomach hardening. The savanna grasses began to wave back and forth in front of me and I startled to slink down, settle each steeled muscle into the wave of grass as I looked for the target. I wanted to kill him.

So I passed the phone over to Reno. "It's your Daddy. He's going to go to work tomorrow, on the National holiday. Say hi cause you won't see him tomorrow!"

And I heard the bitter words clipping out across the space of what had been the lovely end to a lovely day spent playing and laughing together. My eldest daughter dragged her feet, literally as she plodded over to take the phone receiver I waved fiercely at her. "Hi Dad" fell in muted tones as I started to struggle against the pressure of the water. Sinking. Must breathe.

But when I opened my mouth instead of sucking in air to buoy me up I hissed out a few choice words describing the depth of my resentment for a man who chooses to stay at work such long hours that he not only sabotages family holidays he jeopardizes his health and the future of his family. Realizing what I was turning into I scuttled off across the sandy floor to retreat to the tatami room, clawing the sliding paper doors shut behind me.

When I sit down at the computer and the first word is formed I push off from the bottom. I start to paddle my way back up onto the shore and as I start to throw my thoughts into sentences and pull them into paragraphs I begin climbing. I am running along a theme, following an image, riding a simile back up to the plateau where I sit down, cross legged and say, "Aum."

And Reno and Saki sense it. First Reno asks hopefully if I don't want to take a shower with her? Saki appears with a sleepy look and her current bedtime favorite "Pakun" (a book about a little worm who eats his way through the seasonal foods of Japan) hugged to her chest, won't I read "Pakun"? As I lay out the futons and breath in the scents of wet hair and fresh soap still clinging to my daughters soft little forms I think about how lucky I am. The view from up here is startling clear and the fresh plaetau air is filling my lungs.

I don't know when he will be home. I even sometimes have to admit that one night he may not come home. With his health condition, the medications he takes, chronic sleep deprevation and his commute. . . the future could hold any combination of scary outcomes for us. But what I do have is right here, right now, sleeping next to me. On my right is Reno, who still even at the age of 9, insists on holding my hand as she falls asleep. On my left is Saki, who will, throughout the night, continously nuzzle and prod me, happiest when she can lay her bare hand on my stomach. And whereas I felt earlier like roaring, I find to my own amazement that I now feel like purring. And although the worries do not dissapear, I simply greet each one with a level "Aum" and the night gets on with its ritual of restoration and renewal.


AnneMarie said...

hugs. I don't know if there is anything I can say to help, maybe not. Just know that I'm rooting for you!! Keep "Aum"ing and keep a good grip on your girls.
AnneMarie Kumamoto

Darrell said...

Found your blog via GaijinMama. Just thought I'd say "hi" and let you know you've got a new reader. I'm an English teacher in Shimane. Yoroshiku and all that.

Claire said...

Wow, what an amazing piece of writing you've produced out of such a stressful situation. I love the image of you as a lioness! All power to you and the girls in creating a satisfying family life, whether or not your husband ever comes to his senses and decides to join in. (Though the longer he works, the more scared he probably is to come through the front door...)

Christelle said...

I am amazed at how honest you are on your blog. I hate the Japanese work ethic. Take care of yourself!

Christelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

I hated the first job my husband had after we moved to Japan. He worked such long hours but at least he hated it. I can't imagine if he'd been OK with it. We always knew that he was busy but after he quit, it really hit him that he didn't know our second daughter who had been born and reached her second birthday by that time. She was a complete mystery to him. With the job he has now, he works from home half the time and I cannot imagine how I would parent four kids without him.

It is very brave of you to continue on day after day. I would have had hissy fit accompanied by a lot of foot stamping by this time. I know I wouldn't be able to cope.

Are you OK to continue this way? Are you hoping for a change? I just hope whatever he's doing is important enough to merit the attention.

Anonymous said...

Dear Laura,
I never found anything in written words which could describe as precisely my own situation than your wonderful posting!! You are great, really! How did you get this unbelievable clear sight! How delicate you are, how much details you recognize!
Admmiring you....
Gabriele in Chigasaki

Gina said...

Laura, I'm just at a loss for words. I read this post yesterday and it stuck with me all day long. I just wanted to say, I respect you so much! You are one heck of a fabulous mother. Dancing with your children to Shakira. Reading them their fav book "Pakun", between piano lessons and all. You have me rooting for you over here! And I'm listening! Your girls will have the best most wonderful memories of you when they get older! : )

And the Japanese work ethic in Japan, is really horrible isn't it?

PS, I have looked for your email address on your blog since month's ago. I wanted to ask you if you needed something from Guam in April and again 2 weeks ago. I also wanted to ask you if you wanted me to burn you a CD. I had no idea how to email you, so I am just saying it here! Ha ha ha.

Em said...

Wow!!! Hello Laura. I do not know your present situation. I went in search of blogs/articles about women with workaholic husbands and yours was the first one I found and read. (I'm currently dating one and considering marriage, but furious with his work right now.) It has been over a year now since you wrote this entry, but I was deeply moved by all of it. I'm sure your life is a bit different by now. Even so, your story is gripping. Thank you for sharing it with the world. I do pray you have found rest from this tiresome draining and life-sapping way of life. I will be an avid reader from here on out. Here's a hug from one Mom of two girls to another. You're a champion in my eyes.
My blog is called Happy Feet. Look me up sometime.

Anonymous said...

I don't have time to read ALL of your bloggings right now but I really, REALLY want to continue. I can't say I know what you're feeling. I can't say I understand. I can only read and learn and hopefully take heart that I'm not the only one who feels like screaming and crying and stomping around calling people worms and worse.

Thank you so much for your blogs. I appreciate you!

Anonymous said...

hey there,
i know this has been written a long time ago, but i just found it today. i wonder if you still keep going. i am about to just let go of everything and go back to my home country. i have no kids, but a little bit of dignity and self esteem left. so i feel i should pack both up and run as long as i can. i am feeling so numb... and there is nothing i can do to make him realise he is ruining himself, us, and lastly, me.
how can i make him realise?? i am very, very desperate.
big hugs!

coarse gold girl said...


((Hugs)). What you are going through is hard. If I hadn't of had children in the picture, I am sure that I would have left. Why? Because honestly, it seems like the only way to get through to them. Others advised me to go. Even with the kids. They said that it might finally get through to him. I'll never know not having gone down that road.

These days, he comes home some weeks regularly before 10 pm. Other weeks, he is back on the 9 a.m. till past 1 a.m. track. Although lately, on those nights, he does come home for dinner with me and the kids, helps the kids with their homework and then goes BACK into work. But compared to a year ago--much better.

I have found that using anger to express my hurt and disallusion over living with a workaholic got me absolutely no where--but did put my marriage at high risk.

So, I try to compromise now. If he comes home late, I don't greet him with rage. I might go to bed with the kids and sleep through the night if I am tired. I usually wake up when he comes in though, and then I go and talk a bit with him, make sure he eats something, then I go back to bed.

And he continues to try to get home earlier and he has stopped working on the weekends. So weekends are honestly family time now.

I don't know your situation, our your history with your workaholic or your present with him. But if you don't have kids in the picture, then you do have more options. I hope you can find a way to act that helps you.
And even though I am no hugger (see "Hug Therapy") I would give you a big hug, were we to meet. Empathy definitely disolves my anti hugging barriers.

Anonymous said...

Hi!!! is one of the most outstanding informational websites of its kind. I enjoy reading it every day. All the best.