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 Baby Diaries 9

Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.

P.J. O’Rourke

angkor-watI took my baby boy to the lovely Welsh assistante maternelle today. She’s still undecided about whether she’ll return to being an assistante maternelle after the last three years in which she’s spent under the famille garder while raising her young son. Even so, she’s kindly agreed to watch my boy for a few hours a day, a few days each week, while my husband is away working as an accompagnateur, and I’m grateful.

So today I dropped him off at hers for the first time, went home to write, and attempted to have something to eat at a leisurely pace. But all I could think about was how I really am a different person now that I’ve had my baby boy and this unsettles me. I feel as though I’m more emotionally tender, and consequently more vulnerable than I’ve ever been in my entire life. A little person depends deeply on me now and I am completely responsible for him. I realise, now, that my life has been relatively carefree thus far. I’ve cared about jobs, work, boyfriends, husbands, sure, but ultimately I’ve always been free to do as I wish. To go out to a dinner at midnight. To sleep till 10am. To miss the last train and take the night bus home or stay with friends. To travel to exotic places with my only concern being to get the correct inoculations beforehand. To leave a job or a place or a man because I’m unhappy. To do most personal things on an impromptu basis. To do most things selfishly.

I’d been so cavalier before having my boy about putting him into care as soon as it was possible so I could resume my professional interests. I was so cavalier about taking him with me on travels to places I want to visit and revisit in the second and third worlds. But now that he is in day care and not with me, I find myself feeling nervous, agitated, and I have an enormous, nebulous sense of guilt. As for traveling to obscure locales with him, I think ‘No way!’ I suddenly fear excessive heat, uncomfortable lodgings, bad water, food poisoning, malaria, typhoid and hepatitis!

I’m not the easy-going mother I’d hoped to be, taking my child everywhere with me and not particularly concerned about dangers, and more carefree. I fear I am conventional. That said, maybe things will change with time as he ages and becomes less vulnerable? Although, from what I hear from my elders, one’s child never really seems grown-up even when they are. Maybe as I learn to trust that my boy is happy in care, or at least not unhappy, I will be able to relax and concentrate on other things. Maybe with time I’ll better remember warm days and nights, exotic food, and the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, rather than its heat, poverty, and potential for bad stomachs.