Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Happy Story

Last week I went to the mairie to apply for SCB's French ID card. I had collected together all the documents on the list: my ID, proof of address and an official copy of her birth certificate dated less than three months ago. (Nothing makes you realise that time is flying by like your baby's birth certificate being out of date. And for British people, it's a bizarre concept anyway, because how could a birth have changed, but it's because in France, other life events, including death, would also be recorded on the birth certificate, so it does make sense here.) I had to fill in a form with SCB's details, including her height in cm, which will have changed in the time it takes to produce the card, she's growing so fast at the moment.We had also managed the amazing feat of getting approved style photos where SCB had her eyes open and her mouth closed - basically what a baby would look like if one were ever included in a prison line-up. The lady at the mairie actually complimented SCB on her poker face and we joked that she clearly already has the required skills for life in France.

When it came to the documents, however, she was not so sure. I had brought a justicatif from our energy company and not a bill, which is apparently not always acceptable, and she was almost certain that they would want to see UFM's ID, as he is the French parent. We live not far from the mairie, so I told her I could go and get the other documents to add to the file but she said they couldn't accept an incomplete file, so either I could hand it in and they would phone me if they needed more details or I could take everything away and come back to start from scratch. So far, so typical of l'administration française.

Being optimistic, lazy and not in a desperate hurry to receive the ID, I decided to take my chances. She gave me a receipt, told me it would normally take 3-4 weeks for the card to arrive and reiterated that they were likely to ask for the French parent's ID. So when I had a message on Monday from the mairie, I assumed that was going to be the reason ... but no, the card is sitting in their offices already and all I have to do is go and collect it! After our recent (and ongoing) experiences with the bank, all I can say is that I was in need of a pleasant bureaucratic surprise.

In other happy news, Nicholas Sarkozy has been knocked out in the primaries for the presidential elections next year. I can't say I'm a big fan of Fillon's ideas, but at least he isn't the man who was defeated last time by the guy who went on to become France's most unpopular president of all time. I was also pleased to see Jean-François Copé (he of the "droite décomplexée") come last with a paltry 0.3% of the vote. In the age of Brexit and Trump, it's good to know that the worst doesn't always happen.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Liberté, Egalité (Baby)

Yesterday afternoon at 16:34, women in France staged a walkout from work to highlight the fact that, due to the gender pay gap, for the rest of 2016, French women will effectively be working for free. And France is not the worst offender, with a pay gap which is actually below the EU average and significantly less than in the UK or Germany.

Equality between the sexes is a subject which has been on my mind a lot recently, particularly as I am currently taking parental leave and being paid precisely nothing at all.

"On paper" I really have nothing to complain about. Compared to many other countries, France offers a lot of options in terms of balancing career and family. I had 16 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, and Understanding Frenchman and I both have the right to take time off work or work part time right up until our daughter is three, when she will be starting school. And while the state handouts are not as generous as they used to be for parents taking time off, there is quite a lot of financial and structural support for childcare, making going back to work a relatively easy and financially viable decision. The liberté of choice is there.

On a personal level, I'm also happy to be spending time at home with our baby. It has its lonely and difficult moments, but generally I enjoy our days together and I appreciate having the flexibility to take things as they come. I would have found it very hard to leave her when she was 3 months old, but by the time I do go back to work, I think we'll both be ready for a bit more variety and stimulation. I don't even really mind doing the lion's share of the housework, given that I have the time (and also have to live with the consequences of not doing it all day every day). It seems only fair that when UFM comes home from a long day or week at work, he should spend time with the baby rather than mopping the kitchen floor.

So the problem is not that childcare is currently my full-time job. What frustrates me and gets my feminist hackles up is when looking after the baby turns in to my all-time job. And by that I mean the times when, even when both of us are there, UFM gets on with other things without a second thought and I am left, literally, holding the baby.

It's not that my husband is sexist. Pre-baby, we had a wonderfully balanced relationship where housework was mostly shared out according to who hated doing what the least and he was actually better at some typically "female" things, like remembering birthdays, than me. And since the baby was born, he's been a caring and involved dad who can do all aspects of childcare apart from breastfeeding just as well as I can.

So how did we get into this situation where looking after the baby is, by default, only my job?

Feeding is the most obvious practical element. SCB considers expressed milk in a bottle as the equivalent of serving vintage Moet in a plastic cup and reacts with fervent Gallic protest, meaning that if I do want to go out without her, I have to plan it into a three-hour window of freedom and/or hope that she doesn't wake up before she's expected to. And when you're keeping track of feeding, you tend to keep track of naps and nappy changes as well, which leads to also being the person who is keeping tabs on her exact position on the living room floor and whether she is about to suffocate on a cuddly blanket.

A long working hours culture is another one. UFM leaves the house at 8am every morning and returns at 8pm. This corresponds almost perfectly to SCB's waking hours, meaning that even just having bathtime with daddy is tricky on weeknights. As a result, he is less tuned in to her routine and the cues that certain things need to happen, meaning that he does sometimes depend on me to tell him what needs to be done.

With the move and all the work we've had to do on our flat, we've also been forced recently to adopt a largely divide and conquer approach to getting things done. And dividing according to stereotypical gender roles is often the most efficient approach, even if it isn't the most fair.

Finally, I am to some extent my own worst enemy, partly because I like looking after SCB and partly because I find it hard to relinquish control. I know that I don't need to be checking up on everything that UFM does as a dad, but if I hang around or offer suggestions, it definitely looks that way, and I'm so much in the habit of monitoring everything in my own head all week that it's difficult to stop at weekends!

What is the solution? In an ideal world, I think both of us would work part time and each have days in the week when we would be solely responsible for childcare. Unfortunately, while this is technically possible, society is not yet really in sync with the rules and, in my husband's job, it would not be easy to do. (This is partly a sexism thing, but even if he were female, I think he'd be expected to make use of some of that wonderfully available childcare rather than take long-term parental leave.)

Instead, we are trying to make weekend childcare his responsibility. It doesn't mean that he has to do everything, just that it is his job for planning what needs to be done. At the moment, that tends to work on Saturday mornings, while by Sunday afternoon we're more in a sharing situation, but it's a step in the right direction, and I definitely feel more positive about our division of labour by the end of the weekend than I usually do at the end of a long week!

What about everyone else? Any tips for correcting inequality, whether it's in childcare, in your relationships or at work? (And if you know how to get a baby to take an occasional bottle without giving up on breastfeeding, I'm all ears for advice on that too!)

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Recently we have mostly been ...

Charming grandparents (SCB): my parents came to visit last week, followed in close succession (as in, four hours to change the beds and do the hoovering) by my in-laws. SCB has been enjoying lots of attention and cuddles and I suspect is feeling quite disappointed now everybody is gone and she's stuck with me all day.

Administering Doliprane (Me): SCB has also been getting majorly into teething over the past week, although we have yet to see a tooth. Cue interrupted sleep and lots of crying. At one point, our upstairs neighbour knocked on the door because she'd heard all the screaming and wanted to check if I needed a hand, and I had explain that my parents were here but even with three supposedly competent adults, we couldn't calm the poor baby down. She reappeared an hour or so later with a plate of American desserts (they are from the US) to keep us going, so I need to invite her back at some point for cuddles with a hopefully calmer baby! It took a day or so for us to work out that the screaming was almost entirely teeth-related and give in to administering regular doses of the sticky pink syrup. I don't particularly like giving SCB lots of medicine but whoever coined the phrase "mother nature knows best" clearly wasn't thinking about how humans acquire their first teeth.

Bedroom hopping (but not in that sense) (all 3 of us): the reason UFM's parents came to visit was to help us decorate what will eventually be our bedroom, which when we moved in was entirely covered in old-lady wallpaper.

Yes, even the undersides of the shelves in the cupboard.

New paintwork
The new colour was supposed to be cream, but as the paint was bought by UFM and his dad, and my father-in-law is colour blind and UFM didn't realise that the colour would come out much stronger on 4 walls than on the sample sheet, it's actually pale grey, so what you can see in the second photo is my attempts to find a new colour scheme. The logistics of having various people sleeping the the right beds and working around the decorating meant that we ended up sleeping in all 3 of the bedrooms in the flat, including the one where chunks of paint have been falling off the ceiling ever since the flood, but we're back to normal now.

Admiring the autumn colours: all four grandparents needed to be introduced to the walks in our new area. There have been some lovely sunny days and the leaves this year have been beautiful, so it was nice being out and about.

Admin, admin, admin: between the baby, the move, the flood and our endlessly-incompetent bank, we seem to have endless paperwork to do, and now that all the visitors have gone, there's no excuse for not tackling it. Which is why I'm sitting here blogging, of course.