The Crèche

September 18, 2013

When Megan was born, my new friends at a mothers’ group told me that it is almost impossible to find an opening in government-run crèches or pre-schools.  I immediately put my name down at the village garderie, just in case.  A year later, Megan has a spot two afternoons a week and her space has come at the best possible time.

If I lived in South Africa, with access to family and affordable domestic help, then Megan wouldn’t be at daycare so young.  I’ve developed an overactive thyroid and my body is telling me to slow right down.  I can’t carry on collapsing into bed every night like a felled tree.  I need some time during the day to rest.

images-19It is good for Megan to hear more French and hang around real dinkum Swiss kids instead of expats all the time.  Two of the carers are Portuguese and I imagine Megan will speak French with a Portuguese twang.  My boss at my old job said his American mother learned most of her French from her Portuguese cleaner and, for the rest of her life, she spoke French with a Portuguese accent.

I’ve been impressed with the crèche so far.  It’s bright and buzzing with activity.  It reminds me of a big chimps’ tea party and I am pleased Megan will experience this kind of vibrancy during the cold winter months.

On the other hand, the crèche is so … Swiss.  It’s structured, organized and sterile-clean with no frills. There is one carer to every two babies, which I think is fabulous for a government-run daycare.

It is not as touchy-feely and cootchy-coo as I imagined a crèche to be.  They practice the French parenting ethos of ‘C’est moi qui décide’ (It’s me who is in charge) which may be a shock to Megan’s system because, while I have been very clear that she is a Princess, I may not have been as explicit that I am the Queen.

Orientation week was intense.  I had a two-hour interview with the chief carer who quizzed me about Megan’s sleeping and eating routines.  We walked through a list of every vegetable on the planet to confirm Megan has no allergies.  They asked me if she had tried côte de bette, artichokes or beetroot.  When I got home, I had to look up côte de bette (“chard” in English) in the dictionary.  Perhaps Megan’s palate (and mine too?) is not sophisticated enough and I must expand my meal repertoire.  I think Swiss-French kids have the same advanced eating habits as my niece who, when she was four years old, asked a waiter, ‘Do you serve Won Ton Soup?’

During the orientation, they dabbed a blob of sun cream on Megan’s arm and asked me to confirm she didn’t develop a rash overnight.  They enquired about my bum-wiping preferences – wipes or just water?  Drinking options are fennel tea or water (filtered, then boiled, then cooled).  There is one formal snack time at 15h00 when they have yoghurt or fruit compote.  There are no sweets, no junk.  It’s my kind of place!

images-22When I left Megan for the first time, my instinct was to slink out or disappear in a puff of smoke – poof! – and then return later.  They said this approach was traumatizing and suggested I look Megan in the eyes and explain the situation as if she were an adult and not a one year old.  ‘Megan, Mommy is leaving.  I will be back later.  I will fetch you in two hours.’  I wasn’t aware that Megan had such a good grasp of language but they said it’s amazing how much a baby understands.

The first few times I left her, Megan flung her head back and wailed, her mouth a big, wide O and her face a livid red.  Sometimes when I collected her, she seemed unusually passive and I found her numb, trancelike state a little disconcerting.  I suspect she was just emptied out by the emotional stress.  As soon as she was back in my arms, she was quiet and happy, as if a switch had been flicked.

This crèche ordeal reminds me of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel The Hand that First Held Mine.  One of the characters, Lexie Sinclair, leaves her child at daycare and this is how she feels about it:

When she leaves the house, she senses a thread that runs between her and the baby, and as she walks away through the streets, she is aware of it unspooling bit by bit.  By the end of the day, she feels utterly unraveled, almost mad with desire to be back with him.  It takes a while to wind back to rightness, to get the thread back to where it ought to be – a length of no more than a couple of feet or so feels best.

images-37I think that is why Megan and I are struggling with the crèche experience. The first few times I left her, I couldn’t sit still.  I walked around the house like an agitated ant.  We haven’t been separated from each other before and when we are apart, we feel unspooled.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how parenting is full of extreme paradoxes.  I need Megan to go to crèche so I can relax but I can’t unwind properly when she is not with me. I need time to myself but I am wild with longing for Megan when she is away.

Megan has slowly improved.  She cries initially but settles down a few minutes after I leave.  She is still delicate and prone to bursts of tears but the carers assure me that she will soon adapt to the new normal.  I hope I will too.


How I know that winter is on its way

September 12, 2013

DownloadedFile-14The squashes are back!  That means more variety in our evening meals!  Hip hip hooray!  Only people who live in Switzerland will relate to the joy I experienced when I walked into the supermarket today and saw a pile of various types of pumpkins and squashes in the vegetable aisle.  It’s the same glee you feel when you greet a much-loved relative at airport arrivals.  One of my friends even announced it on her Facebook status.   It’s a big deal.

In Switzerland, fresh produce is distinctly seasonal.  You cannot find any type of squash or pumpkin in summer.  I have looked all over.  Butternut is my favourite squash – it is so versatile and makes delicious baby food.  I discovered organic (and expensive!) butternuts at a health shop in France but they were nowhere in Switzerland.

Seasonal fruit and vegetables were a shock to my system after living in places that bow to the I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-NOW culture of the day.  It is annoying when you crave a butternut in July or when you feel like a strawberry at Christmas and you can’t find one.

After almost three years here, I realize that I like not getting everything I want when I want it.  It is ok that the shops are closed on Sundays and I must wait until Monday to restock the grocery cupboard.  It is ok that I can only get certain foods at certain times of the year.  Actually, the sacrifice becomes kind of fun.  I have learned that it is to our benefit to go without sometimes.  It helps me appreciate life’s small and simple pleasures, such as biting into the first rich, orange pumpkin of the season.  I close my eyes as I chew it.  I swirl it around in my mouth like a noble and precious wine and I think, ‘I missed this.  I love you Mr Butternut’.

In South Africa, spring starts on 1 September.  It’s clear cut and simple.  In Switzerland, the start of autumn is a grey area and no one can pinpoint the date.   When I see squashes at the supermarket, I know that winter is on its way …


What I have learned so far … PART 7

September 7, 2013

Never let a baby nap anywhere other than in the cot

Daytime naps are sacred.  When I arrange to see a friend, we agree on a time nap-dependent.  Everything revolves around naptime.  You never ever wake a sleeping baby.

DownloadedFile-7I don’t like it when Megan sleeps anywhere other than at home.  I like her to sleep in her cot so I can chill out, have a cup of tea, write some blogs and watch a bit of Keeping up with the Kardashians (I know what you’re thinking but I love the mindlessness of it).

Megan is not a good daytime sleeper and each day she sleeps for around 45 – 60 minutes.  If I am lucky and I have burnt her out with some feverish activity, then she sleeps longer.

I need Megan’s down time to be mine too so, when she sleeps in the car or at the shops, it is not good.  If she kips her pram, I can tickle her feet so she wakes up.  I can’t do this if she dozes off in the car and this bothers me because it eats into my precious 45-minute break time. I shout, ‘MEGAN!  MEGAN!’ or I sing repeatedly and with great gusto, ‘OLD MCDONALD HAD A FARM. EE AY EE AY OH!’  One of my friends says that when her son falls asleep in the car, she keeps him awake by winding the electric windows up and down until she arrives home.

I have a French friend who has limited English vocabulary and she uses the word catastrophe (pronounced catastroff) as a catch-all for not good, an inconvenience, a problem or a mild frustration.  Everything is a catastrophe. It’s raining today – catastrophe!  There’s a traffic jam – catastrophe!  I forgot to hang up the washing – catastrophe!  I think that when a baby sleeps in the car and then wakes up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as soon as you arrive home it is, without doubt, a genuine catastroff.

A baby is drawn to electronics like a moth to a flame

DownloadedFile-8What is it with babies and electronics?  Megan is crawling and beelines for forbidden fruit.  I bought her a flashy, pink Fisher-Price cell phone of her own and she was having none of it.  She prefers the real deal.

She loves the iPad, the external hard drives, any sort of cable, the DVD player, our tv decoder, car keys and her absolute favourite are our tv remotes.  My mom bought her a toy tv remote that looks exactly like a real one.  Megan is not interested in it.  Somehow she knows it is not authentic.  How can she tell?

Babies are surprisingly strong

DownloadedFile-9Megan has reached the milestone where she knows what she wants and lets you know it too. It surprises me how strong a one-year old is.  When I prise the tv remote, cell phones or shoes out her hands, she has a strong grip and I often feel she is winning our tug-of-wars.

If she doesn’t want to sit, which I often need her to do, she cries and makes her body straight and rigid.  It is like forcing a piece of wood to bend.  Sometimes it’s easier to capitulate but I suppose I must be firm and assert my authority.  My paediatrician said that it is fine to treat Megan like a princess as long as she knows I am the Queen.

When you are knackered, you have the craziest dreams

The other day Alastair was giving Megan breakfast and I lay on the bed for a quick catnap.  I slept for ten minutes and dreamed I was breastfeeding a Miniature Daschund.  I then went to the paediatrician (in my dream of course) to enquire whether it was hygienic to breastfeed a dog and then Megan immediately afterwards.  I woke up like a jack-in-box when Al tapped me on the shoulder to say he was heading to work.  ‘What the heck was that all about?’ I thought.  That is what being zonked with exhaustion does to you.

Never take a baby to important meetings

We took Megan to the meeting with the notary when we signed the purchase agreement for our house.  Beforehand I vaguely contemplated getting a babysitter but decided she would sleep or be calm if I distracted her with some snacks and her favourite toys.  She wasn’t.  She had a surge of energy, like she was hooked up to the electricity mains.  If there were a chandelier, she would have been swinging from it.

DownloadedFile-13She was just a happy, energetic baby doing what happy, energetic babies do so it was my fault, not hers.  I couldn’t leave the room because, by Swiss law, I was obliged to be present as the notary read through and explained the contract.

I was desperate for Megan to calm down so I let her dip her head into my handbag and fiddle with my wallet, car keys and cell phone.  I felt as if I was throwing food at her, like a mother bird that drops down supplies to her hungry, open-mouthed chicks in the nest.  By the end of the meeting, I had a splitting headache and the plush, lawyerly carpet was covered in crumbs.  Murphy’s Law, by the time we left the notary’s office, she had burned herself out and withered off to sleep, blissfully knackered.

Babies prefer to poo five minutes after you leave the house, rather than 5 minutes before

I’ve noticed a baby prefers to poo as you leave the house.  As I am turning into the street, I often hear serious pushing action coming from the back seat.  When I get to my destination, my priority becomes finding a suitable spot to change Megan.

I’ve noticed that the most explosive, leaky poos are the ones Megan does when I am out.  Often she does these ones when I have forgotten to pack a change of clothes, like last week when I was in Lausanne for yet another house-related meeting.  Megan did a whopper and it leaked on to her trousers.  I always have a change of clothes with me but that day, I didn’t.  I panicked because it was chilly and I couldn’t leave her soft little pink legs uncovered.  I felt like Macgyver, frantically looking around as I tried to craft a pair of trousers out of the little around me.

Teething is not an explanation for everything 

images-41I tend to use teething as an excuse for everything.  Megan is grumpy – teething!  Megan won’t eat – teething!  Megan won’t poo – teething!  Megan won’t sleep – teething!  A few weeks ago, I thought Megan was cutting her ninth tooth but she wasn’t.  She had gastro.  Poor sausage.  I learned an important lesson – teething is not an explanation for everything.