Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 14

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you. Calvin Coolidge

French babyAfter putting my son’s name on the waiting list for the crèche (nursery) when I was four months pregnant with him (almost a year ago), and intermittently popping by to say ‘hello’ to the Directrice of the creche, show her my growing belly, then my new baby, and reiterating my desire for a place when there was one available – we have been given one! Hooray!

But in addition to keeping myself on the forefront of the Directrice’s mind, there’s an official process. I quickly had to go to my ‘fixer’ – an Irish woman who knows the French systems of bureaucracy like the back of her hand and gets paid by expatriates to delve into these waters on their behalf. In order to employ the services of the crèche, and an assistante maternelle (nanny), I must show that I earn income and, more importantly, pay taxes to the French government. So, she set me up as an auto-entrepreneur (self-employed). It quickly gets you into the system, which is why there has been a huge amount of criticism in France about this scheme and its supposed abuse by foreigners. But, for the moment, it exists. I must report income every quarter and then pay around 25% of my income, give-or-take.

For the crèche, my husband and I must produce an Avis d’Attestation (official breakdown of earnings) for last year, utility and bank bills proving we live locally, a letter from the doctor declaring our son is fit to be in collective care, as well as an ordinance, or prescription, for Doliprane in case of a fever, proof that we have supplementary healthcare (for that 20-30% not covered by your taxes and the state), official paperwork proving that we have gainful employment (the letters from the organisation that oversees profession liberales, or freelance and contracted workers), and duplicated pages from our boy’s Carnet de Sante (a health book given at birth in France that records all health visits, vaccinations, hospital stays, etc.) proving he’s had his necessary vaccinations. The French love paperwork, but I’m freakishly organised, so compiling this dossier and putting it neatly in a binder is actually fun for me. It’s perverse, but it’s also useful in this country.

Then there’s the adaptation process. It is literally a period in which your child is adapted, or assimilated, into the crèche. If your child does not meet their expectations, for example, not eating and sleeping when they have that scheduled, then your child loses his place in the crèche and you must apply for a place in the following year. I agree with this in theory. I think it’s a great idea to slowly introduce your child into a new environment and its regimens and people and if it doesn’t work for all involved, so be it. But something in it also makes me think of the last person picked for a team during physical education in school. If you’re not accepted, then you’ve not fitted in, and regardless of what one may say about the entity that has rejected you, or the reasons for the rejection, you’ve been rejected.

The first day you go with your baby into the crèche and sit with him there for about an hour. The second day, you sit with him for an hour, and then leave him for an hour. The third day, you leave him for two hours, which coincides with either their eating time or their sleeping time. The fourth day, it’s three hours, which again coincides with their eating or sleeping schedule. The fifth day, he stays half a day. The sixth day, he stays the whole day. I found it exhausting and overwhelming, so I can imagine what my wee one thought. The women seemed nice enough, with the exception of one who was rather shrewish, though all of them would be coquettish with my husband and look me up and down with a cold, polite smile every time I came in. There are two or three women working on a given day, and eleven babies at a given time. I was amused to see that they have a wooden contraption that has four baby seats on it in a row, and they literally feed the babies a mouthful and move down the line at feeding time. The babies sleep on separate cots in a room together. They would let the babies cry rather than going to them- they’ll fall asleep on their own (or they should!). But dang! I was amazed and pleased when my baby came back to me tidier than when he went in – even his nostrils were cleaned!

At the end of the adaptation process, the shrewish woman told my husband that my son was ready, but she was not sure if the mother was ready (me!). She didn’t mention that to me when she told me he was accepted. But who cares? He’s in for two days a week (as the lovely Welsh assistante maternelle has agreed to take our boy three days a week!) and hopefully it will be the start of his French education and a great introduction to the best of its culture, to the lessons that have given birth to its auteurs, and its wonderful writers and philosophers, rather than the beginning of his training to be a clerk in a Balzac-ian society.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 2

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” Colette

My doctor doesn’t think that anything I’ve done to date will harm this baby – not even smoking. However, he is concerned about the fact that I’ve acquired a kitten. Apparently Toxoplasmosis is common in France – ‘because we eat a lot of raw meat and are dirty,’ he told me. I thought it was something one got from tampons, but apparently not. I’m pleased it gets me out of kitty litter duty, but my doctor is not amused. As a result, I shall be tested for Toxoplasmosis weekly for the first three months, then monthly.

We found this kitten when we purchased a used car from a French mountain guide and his wife. The man had been left alone to care for the mother cat and had let her ‘prowl’ unguarded while she was in heat, so his wife had returned to a pregnant cat. As a result, they were getting rid of the kittens immediately. We drove out to their farm outside Annecy. Their stone house has been in his family for generations. We first saw the kittens as they were nursing from their mother! I asked the farm lady if they were old enough to be taken from their mother? She said that they were eight weeks and that was plenty. I was sceptical, thinking that one of these babies would be parted from the safety of their mother that very day and that me, a mother-to-be, would be the culprit that literally pulled the kitten from its mother’s tit. I told myself that the mother cat would be batting these kittens away in the days to come, wanting her independence again, and I’d give it a good home, but my hormonal heart wept. We sat on the ground in their living room with all five of the kittens playing around us while the woman made a fresh quiche for us from the eggs their chickens had laid that day and her husband smoked incessantly and looked grumpy. My husband wanted one of two particularly feisty tabbies, but there was a wee black one that kept coming up to me, and I knew that this was my kitty; she is brave and independent. We took her from her mother that day and put her in a box with a dirty piece of cloth that her family had been sleeping on in their cellar. She mewed in the car on the hour-plus drive back to our house, her little heart beating so quickly, but she never wet or pooped. How scared she must have been with the sound of the cars motor and the movement. She was so small, then – the size of a teacup. She immediately took to her litter box even as she had to scale its wall and fall into it. It was difficult for her to eat food, so we wet it and she would eat one little nugget at a time. I couldn’t bare the idea of her sleeping alone so I slept on the couch with her for the first several days. She would suckle at my neck when she was getting ready to sleep, which was a little ticklish and a tad uncomfortable, but mostly poignant.

And now my doctor is telling me that my brave kitten is dangerous to my baby. What have I done? No, I will not get ‘rid’ of the creature (either one). We took the kitten to the vet’s to have a check up. I told the vet that my doctor tells me that the kitten is bad for my unborn baby. She was irate and demanded to know who my doctor is. When I told her, she called me a liar (she’s tactless, but a great vet). Then she promptly got on the phone and called his office. After a rapid-fire conversation with him, she told me that I am not to clean the kitty litter, or to sleep with the kitten anymore, and I’m to wash my hands every time I touch it. My doctor hasn’t said anything about the phone call, and he still prescribes the weekly toxoplasmosis test.