Yesterday, an old friend of mine came to visit, she’s staying in Brussels for a couple of days. We used to live together in Brussels when we were both young, free and single and now we are both married with babies. Odd.
Her little girl is two months old and narrowly escaped being called Calypso. Luckily for her, her Da put his foot down. Anyhow, she and her Mama arrived yesterday, beautifully turned out. I was wearing my slippers (I can explain, I can explain, now that the Princess is crawling and eating off the floor, we wear slippers indoors in an endeavour to keep the floor clean, tragic, I know, what’s worse is, the other day I put on my leather jacket – note the trendiness of this for added bathos – tossed my handbag over my shoulder, tucked the Princess under my arm, went out to the car parked across the road and only then realised that I was still wearing my slippers: a double tragedy, firstly, the humiliation and, secondly, it means that my slippers are now contaminated). The Princess was going for that trendy tights over t-shirt and pulled up to the chest look. Frankly, we were not at our bright and beautiful best.
Two month old baby E was wearing an adorable pink hat, matching pink babygro and tights and little white boots. She looked beautiful. I suppressed a deep sigh of envy as her Mama gave me a fab MaxMara coat to hang up. Important point of clarification, coat belonged to Mama. However, baby was dressed head to foot in Jacadi so suspect that her outfit cost only marginally less. Mama is French, so, for that matter is baby. When the Princess was born, guess who gave her her only baby Dior outfit? I used to shop with Mama when we lived together and she always impressed by her unerring ability to pick out clothes that suited her. That girl never bought a dud, I on the other hand, am a dud purchaser par excellence. I remember particularly vividly the shocking pink pumps and matching handbag which I bought in a moment of madness and subsequently gave to the delighted 5 year old daughter of a colleague.
Mama is back to work next month. They only get 2 and a half months paid maternity leave in France. Which is extraordinary. This is almost American in its parsimony. Even in England, where let’s face it they are not known for the wonderfulness of their “social contract” they get six months. I thought that the absolute minimum was three months as set by the all benevolent European Union. Maybe even now, the Commission is preparing a case against France for its general rottenness on this point. On the plus side, Mama is a civil servant and so gets 53 days paid leave a year. Yes, 53, this is not a typo. She tends to take a long weekend every week during the summer and a month in Summer, two weeks in Winter and a couple of other weeks when pressure of work allows. If you are really busy, you take just your statutory minimum (20 days everywhere in Europe, I think – Americans, read and weep) and you save up your other days and after 6 years, you take a year’s paid sabbatical. Nifty eh? Which doesn’t stop the maternity leave being rotten.
Anyhow, M’s husband was made redundant just before her baby was born, which is obviously not great. On the plus side, he has got a decent payment and is available for baby minding. They decided to bottle feed and so split the night into shifts but now, baby E is sleeping through the night anyway. Bitter, me? M prepared a bottle for baby E and saying, kindly but firmly “no bottle without a bib” placed it in view while she tied a sparkling white velvet bib around her baby’s throat. Young E took this very well, my experience of babies is that normally once they see the bottle, they do not brook delay, but baby E is a saint. She then drank her bottle, without drooling, sat up and failed to regurgitate anything on to her mother’s black (the extraordinary risk…) outfit. M showed me a barely visible stain on the neck of the bib and asked “Do you have trouble getting out these stains? I can’t seem to find anything that works.” I was hard pressed to answer. All of the Princess’s bibs are stained red from tomato sauce or pink from some of her other clothing running in the wash
(speaking of which, had a nervous 1950s moment the other day –
Me – Dear, you know your Yves Saint Laurent shirt?
Mr. W – Yes (tone of deep foreboding) why?
It had emerged lilac from the wash, my husband is not the kind of man to buy a lilac shirt. In fact, mildly surprised that he would buy a YSL shirt, let alone a lilac one.
Me – Um, what colour is it?
Mr. W – A kind of pale purple.
Well, fancy that, how little we know our life’s partners.)
I opted for a truthful, “well, we use a plastic bib now”.
Further French childcare problems. Apparently, there has been a baby boom since 2000 and the authorities are completely unprepared. Having spent years trying to persuade the populace to have babies and offering all kinds of incentives, they seem to be deeply surprised that it has worked. Anyway in M’s corner of Paris, only 20% of creche applications are successful, so everyone has to get a nanny. There is a special “share a nanny” website where you can find someone close to you to share the expense. They’ve found one, but it has to start in May. They can’t afford to lose the place in case M’s husband gets a job, so they’ve got to start then. It’s going to cost 800 euros a month and then there’s the rent on their flat which is, of course, extortionate and only one income. Ouch. Nevertheless, M is sanguine and has proposed that today we will stroll down the Avenue Louise looking at expensive baby clothes shops.
Reading and weeping here. Yes, I knew there was such a thing as these magnificent European holidays, but dear god– 53 days .. ? It’s going to take me all day to get that out of my head– why did our ancestors EVER leave Europe?!! This americaine wants to know.
Oh my – I wish that 2 and a half months of paid maternity leave really were “almost American in its parsimony.” The standard in the U.S. is 6 weeks – unpaid.
Beth, the US standard is dreadful. Truly, it is rotten. It is a wonder that American women have children at all. Is there any chance it will ever change? Yours in sympathy..
There was a new law passed a couple years back that enabled most women to take up to 12 weeks off for maternity leave (along with a few other reasons like adoption and family illness) but once again it is unpaid. Many women can’t manage 3 months without a paycheck. I can’t imagine a national paid maternity leave plan would ever make it – social welfare programs just aren’t a priority. Just another of the many reasons I want to move to Paris!