My relationship with bodily functions will never be the same again after Joakim. It all started
when I was pregnant. Not only did the old bodily functions suddenly become more INTENSE - not to mention
ACUTE (I have to pee and I have to pee NOW!!) - but I got a whole new set of body functions! Once I
got used to the idea of having someone else inside me (and got over the "invaded-by-aliens"-feeling)
I actually enjoyed the feeling of small, unidentifiable body parts kicking me (I never figured out what was
the head, and what the butt!). But unlike some of the flowery descriptions I read Joakim never felt much
like "the fluttering of butterfly wings". To be honest - he felt like GAS ;-) And gas I knew - phew -
another side effect of pregnancy along with having to pee and puke at all hours of the day (so much for
morning sickness). Mind you once Joakim was born I would have been happy to pee painlessly but
that is a whole different story....:)
When Joakim arrived there were yet more new body functions - POOP being the main concern. But babies also spit, barf, burp, puke and fart loudly and merrily. As parents we were really impressed with Joakims digestive system. For such a small baby (he was somewhat below average when he first arrived) he made the most incredible and impressive noises. When he filled his diaper we could hear it clear across the apartment (thus eliminating the need for a baby monitor)! These days he is more silent but the smell is a dead give-away (yecch). The odd thing is, I don`t even mind the smell. I change diapers without holding my nose (but OK, OK - I gag on occasion) and even Joakim urping and burping in my face doesn`t matter. Strange huh? it must be love...
I rely on public transportation to get around, and have since the spring of 1994 (the last time
I had regular access to a car). But public transportation is not always baby-friendly. Hell, it is not
even very pregnant-friendly! When I was pregnant with Joakim I commuted to work using various combinations
of subways, buses and streetcars. In the first four months I would carry a barfbag wherever I went and I
would usually take the subway (easy to get off and loos at many stations). Once I got past the puking
stage everything was fine and dandy....until I started getting BIG. I used buses etc up till the day Joakim
was born (OK; so we took a taxi to the hospital;-) and I *once* (yup, *once*) had someone give up their
seat to me. I would be coming home from work, dead tired, massively pregnant (with a belly so big my
belly button would cross the city limits), carrying my shoulder bag and the groceries and I would be
standing on the streetcar all the way home. And it is not that people didn`t notice me. Au contraire -
they would look up, look at me, look down to my belly and then get this glazed-over look in their faces,
turn in a different direction and remain seated. Sheesh, how I hated them. I was taught by my parents always
to offer my seat to elderly people and pregant women and I sure am going to teach Joakim the same!
Now that Joakim is very much here I still have a love-hate relationship with the city transport company. When he was a newborn it was fairly easy. He was a winter baby and winter here in Oslo usually sees lots of snow so I didn`t use the pram for the first four months (if we had had a sleigh, though....;-) so he travelled happily and snugly in a babybjorn sling on my belly. Interestingly I got several offers of seats when people saw Joakim hanging on the OUTSIDE of my belly, as opposed to on the inside. Go figure. But once the snow went away I started using the pram, and, wheeee - how difficult things became!
I always need help getting the blasted thing on and off buses / streetcars. Sometimes people will offer to help but more often than not I have to stick my head inside the bus and yell "can anyone help me with the pram PLEEASE". (this works best when you stare hard at someone as you yell. They will then be overcome by guilt and help you) Then it`s hope and pray the driver has seen me and doesn`t drive off while I am still hoisting the pram inside. Once inside you have to find a place to put the pram without squashing anyone. Then park it, brake it and go pay. Aaargh. And most buses only have room for a maximum of two - 2 - prams so if the quota is filled I am left standing to wait for the next bus. And to top it off: someone recently suggested FORBIDDING people to take their prams on buses and streetcars for reasons of road safety..! While I can see the point (it is dangerous to have babies not strapped down in a pram that hasn`t got good brakes) I would like to know just what the hell the road safety people think carless parents are supposed to do. Stay put for the next two years (or however long it takes Joakim to learn to walk)? This suggestion came with an addition: of forbidding wheelchairs on public transport for the same reasons. Naturally, the disabled people`s organizations are all in a huff about this but I have yet to see a public outcry among parents of young children.
Norwegian maternity / paternity benefits is one of the things that make me real happy to be a Norwegian.
(btw, is there a gender-neutral word for such benefits? Can one say parental benefits?). As far as leave is
concerned, there are two basic options: 42 weeks of PAID leave with 100% of your salary (up to a maximum
ceiling), or 52 weeks with 80 % of your normal pay. (note: this supposes you were working for at least 6
out of the 10 months before the birth). The money for this grand scheme comes from taxes (your own
money, really). My taxes over the last two years pays for my leave and there is still some tax money left
over for roads and such..:) Out of the leave, mom *has* to take 3 weeks off before her due date (she is
not forced to by gun-toting social security people, but if she works till she gives birth, she can`t take
those weeks after the baby is born). The first 6 weeks post-partum is likewise reserved for mom. In the
interest of equality the government is not-so-gently nudging dads to take leave by reserving 4 weeks of leave
for dad. If he doesn`t take them, mom can`t have them (except single moms). The rest of the leave you can
divide as you like between the parents.
At least in theory! Most people still do it "traditionally", i.e., mom takes most of the leave and dad takes his four weeks (about 80 % of dads do). Magnus and I have done things differently. I stayed home for four months, then Magnus was a fulltime SAHD and now we both work 50% and are on leave 50% of the time (this means in practice we work every other day). This was a way of doing it that fit both our needs (and those of my employer!). It is also in line with the official "propaganda" that dads should take more leave, to get to know their kids, for the sake of equality etc etc. But this is still a most unusual way to do things and we have encountered a number of obstacles. Firstly, we have scandalized a number of people some of whom insist on letting me know a) that I surely am a bad mom for going back to work so soon and b) whattagreatguy Magnus is for actually taking care of his own son. He gets the medals and I get the shit....AAARGH When I first went back to work, people would ask me where the baby was; wondering how I got a baby that young into daycare and so on. It NEVER occurred to them that the baby had a father! *rantrant* What really got to me whas when the pediatric nurse that gives Joakim his shots, weighs and measures him etc; told Magnus she thought it was too early for me to be working. As if it were her business!! And if she really wanted to stick her nose where it doesn`t belong she could at least have told me. AAAAARGH again.
The rules for dividing leave like this are quite complicated and even the social security people have trouble interpreting them correctly. We complicated matters further by moving and thus ddoubling the number of clerks involved in our case. We have heard so many different things from different officials (some of them contradictory) it makes you wonder. We nearly lost 2 weeks wages each because of our holiday arrangements. We were supposed to take our holidays simultaneusly as the computer system COULD`T HANDLE the fact that we took time off separately. The computer system, anyways, was the excuse given to me by one of our caseworkers. In the end they worked out the glitch by deliberately faking the dates of our holidays so that it on paper looks as if we did have holidays at the same time. I still wonder why no one said anything about this before when we had given them notice of our holiday plans 2 months in advance as we were supposed to...!