Monday, June 29, 2009


Childcare in Korea: Don't Sweat It

Someday if anyone asks me what the aftermath of my son Daniel’s birth felt like, I will probably be able to say, without hesitation, that it was very humid.

Korean tradition dictates that a brand new mother should not be exposed to things that are too cool, fearing that a sudden drop in temperatures could potentially be fatal. I’m sure that there is an anecdote dating back to this country’s agrarian past that can explain why new mother’s should avoid things like bathing, air conditioning, short sleeves and Nicholas Cage’s recent film career, and one day I’ll look it up.

(While I’m at it, I’ll painstakingly research what it is that makes them believe leaving the fan on at night can kill you, and why Koreans believe themselves to be genetically prone to mad cow disease.)

In the meantime, all I know is that my wife observes this traditional view, basically for the same reason Americans elect a vice president: not out of a conviction that it is necessary, but because it’s always been done. It’s not like I wasn’t warned it would be like this; back in September, when we were newly wed, my wife told me she would prefer not to have a baby in the summer months because it gets very humid here and we wouldn’t be able to use A/C.

But, to quote millions of first-time fathers everywhere: “Oops.”

Daniel was born in the middle of June as temperatures soared and millions of Koreas lay in bed sweating for fear of turning their electric fans on, my wife went into labor. Approximately 20 hours later, after my son had been delivered via c-section, we were together in the hospital room, and I had to decide on my sleeping arrangements for that night.

I knew I couldn’t leave the hospital, because my heavily sedated wife might need something, and then I’d have to spring into action, and call one of the nurses who might be able to understand what she was mumbling in Korean. In order that I might perform this vital service, I chose to sleep on the couch in the hospital room.

On that sultry not-technically-summer evening with no air conditioner and all the windows and doors shut, I had a dilemma: Should I sleep with a shirt on and sweat out an extra kilogram, or should I take my shirt off and risk terribly embarrassing the female Korean nurses, most of whom react to the site of a shirtless man the way an American nun might if she accidentally walked into the Cincinnati Bengals’ locker room?

Ultimately, I chose to latter option because, if a nurse should walk in before I was awake and fully dressed, I was confidant that I’d have perspired enough to give the blanket a certain adhesiveness.

The next day my wife and I were given the opportunity to view our offspring at designated times. My first glimpse at him was in the evening, when they allowed me to view him from behind a glass door. From that position, there wasn’t much I could do except look at him, snap a few photos and compare his appearance to that of the previous day. I can definitely say that, on day two, he looked a lot less red.

I’m guessing we weren’t let near him because the people here are concerned about germs; new parents rarely have visitors over to their homes for the first several weeks for that reason, after all. Still, when I relate this to female friends, they are often outraged that I wasn’t allowed to hold Daniel right away. I did get to do so on day three, though, and got to experience the two timeless sentiments felt by new fathers everywhere.

The first of these is “I’m not going to break him, am I?” and the second is “Does it hurt to be in debt?” It is kind of a shame I couldn’t have gotten those out of the way on day one or two.

On the fourth day my wife took over, by which I mean she began feeding. Although, since she began answering his cries every couple of hours when Daniel was ready to eat again, the expression “took over” might not be correct, as it implies she was in some sort of control. Still, it meant that both of us would get to see him with much greater frequency.

This situation repeated itself for several days, until on June 22nd, when he was six days old, Daniel and his mother came home for good. Now we’re together in a place where there’s still no air conditioning, we have to answer to his cries every couple of hours, and begin planning how we’ll react to the decades’ worth of needs he’s going to have.

Even if it weren’t summer, I’d still have many reasons to sweat.

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