Friday, September 29, 2006

Having a baby in Belgium or Sweden and the economical consequenses: a comparison

The Husband & I have been talking about having another baby, but the maternity leave system here in Belgium is in direct conflict with our ideas on having children. We have until now not had to take this into consideration; we have managed to provide for ourselves during the first couple of years of our babies lives without having to rely on paid maternity leave. At this very late stage of the Husband’s doctorate education, however, we rely on my income only, and should we choose to conceive another baby, our existence would be at the mercy of the Belgian maternity leave system, whose structure, again, is in direct conflict with our concept of parenting.

I have until now mercifully spared you, my dear readers, my opinions on pregnancy, birth and parenting. My personal philosophy is closely related to that of the Sears family, and in general I advocate natural pregnancy & birth, followed by attachment parenting; breastfeed on demand and practice co-sleeping. You cannot teach your child independence; only found it with security. In practice, this involves me staying home with the baby full-time for about 8 months, and then part-time preferably until the baby is 18 months-2 years.

In Belgium there is maternity leave and paternity leave. The latter is 10 paid days, usually 82% of the salary. Maternity leave is 15 weeks where at least one week has to be taken before the baby is born or this week is lost. The 1st month maternity leave amounts to 82% of the salary, the 2nd month it’s 75%, and the 3rd month 60% of the salary. Thereafter the parents have right to a parental leave which is partially paid. One parent can stay at home up to 3 months enjoying a grant amounting to 558,34 euro brut/month (it can also be a part-time leave for 6 months). This, I’m afraid, is all. In general, a well-meaning employer can also grant the parent an unpaid leave, but this is not compulsory.

In Sweden paid parental leave lasts 18 months and the parent staying home with the child receives 80% of his/her salary for 390 days; the remaining 90 days the parent receives approximately 20€/day. The leave can be disposed of as needed; both parents can stay at home, the father and the mother can take turns staying at home, or the parents can take part-time leave in order to extend it. In order to promote equality, there are also special paternity months that are reserved for the father.

I wish I was employed in Sweden.

By Lovain

The mind of a man: on labor and birth

My Polish colleague G. became a father for the first time in his life a couple of weeks ago. On Thursday evening his family was busy celebrating his birthday, and right after the cake his wife announced that it was time to go to the hospital. My Polish colleague G.’s baby was born the next morning; a healthy boy (as expected) named Rube. Since this was the day my Polish colleague G.’s brother was supposed to come over and pick up our late Ford, My Polish colleague G. and I had sporadic contact throughout the day. When I asked him about the labor & birth, he replied “no, not difficult - only 10 hours and no complications” and then added “now I’m home running around trying to gather things my wife needs - very difficult”. Well. The mind of a man - an excited new father - a caring husband is a wondrous thing.

10 hours of labor & birth = not difficult

Finding your hospitalized wife’s stuff = very difficult

I suspect his wife, having just gone through 10 hours of contractions followed by 1/2 hour of pushing out an 8-pound baby, would beg to differ.

By Lovain

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm a wife of a doctorate student but I see light at the end of the tunnel

As I’ve mentioned before; the Husband, like several of our friends, is writing his doctorate dissertation. It is an arduous venture. Sometime this spring, we made a schedule that had the final draft handed in well before Christmas this year. Over the past few months, I’ve recognized that this deadline will not be met, and the latest forecast predicts early spring as a more likely time of deliverance; sometime around the arrival of our friends M&M’s 3rd baby.

I, as several of my friends (including the amazing M.), am getting tired of being the wife of the constant doctorate student, and it’s not the wife but the doctorate element that must expire. This earth-shattering Opus Magnum has to be finished so that we can get on with our lives!

Yesterday the Husband kept talking about his “paper” and having to finish his “paper”, and finally I had to say “honey, it’s a thesis; a doctorate dissertation” whereupon he replied “yeah, yeah, whatever…” obviously trying to play some kind of psychological trick on himself. I have come to the point where I reply to any similar folly with “whatever works for the Husband, as long as it gets written.”

Confounding my apprehension, the Husband showed me this week’s work last night: 17 solid, ready dissertation pages. If he keeps this up, we might just have a Merry Christmas after all.

By Lovain

The opening of the academic year of 2006-2007 in Leuven

This week represents the official opening of the academic year 2006-2007 in Leuven. Town is suddenly overrun by old and new students, and it is the latter ones in particular that stand out. They take over the streets in crowds, bike like infants, and willingly consent to public humiliation in childish initiation rituals.

Yesterday my dissertation-writing friend newly-wed R. (who actually is not so newly-wed any more) reported from her office that “the Economics faculty has some guy driving around Leuven in a car yelling inane…inanities…on a loudspeaker!” which made it hard for her to concentrate. This morning I didn’t see any economics goons but I certainly saw traces of their presence around the boys’ school as I parked my bike & kids’ cart in between some broken beer bottles and vomit. The boys immediately noticed, of course “Mama, somebody threw up! Who threw up?” to which I mumbled “the students, sweetie, the students threw up”, immediately exposing myself to 100 follow-up questions: Why did they throw up? Who are the students? Where did they go? What did they eat? Oh, they drank too much beer? But I can’t SEE the beer! the youngest one noted, studying the vomit thoroughly.

Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus

By Lovain

This school-year's first cold

My productive weekend was followed by a non-productive week. I was constrained by a cold, and although I did not notably neglect my work or other duties, I had no energy left for extravagant leisure such as blogging. A low-key weekend restored my health however, and I have now returned with full strength.

By Lovain

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The weekend when things got done

This weekend was one of those marathon weekends where things got done.

I cleaned the house; scrubbed the bathrooms, sorted out the toys in the boys’ room, swept and washed the floors, changed & washed all the sheets & blankets in our beds, did 4 loads of laundry that I folded & sorted and then I scrubbed the kitchen. I also cut back the ivy in front of our house, mowed the lawn, weeded, paid bills and fixed 4 broken lights. I ran errands in town - with the boys - which included, among other, making them sit still in a tiny fitting room while I tried on 9 different swimsuits. I played with the boys in the backyard and their room, we watched a movie and ate popcorn, went to the KERMIS with our friends, and then I spent a bit of quality time with the Husband. I also managed to call my friend & colleague T. the Dane’s widow and my mother.

As the great Margaret Thatcher once put it:

Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's when you've had everything to do, and you've done it”.

Of course; the hallway and closets still needs sorted, the laundry room needs organized as does the attick in preparation of the Halloween Haunted House. And the grass grew long again. It never ends, does it?

By Lovain

Happy Wedding anniversary!

Yesterday afternoon I called the Husband from work to check if, or rather confirm that he, like me, had forgotten that it was our wedding anniversary.

Did you have something in mind for tonight?” I asked, scouting.

He thought for a while and then asked “How many years is it?” He got it.

Does this happen to everybody after so many years? Or is it just the Husband & I that have a different perception?

8 years ago, we had a very small wedding; a simple ceremony in the Warsaw Town Hall, followed by a family picnic in the city park. Rather than a grand event, our getting married was more of a confirmation of something we had already promised each other when we got engaged.

To mark the occasion last night, I picked up Chinese food – Lemon chicken; the Husband’s favorite – on my way home from work, and after having put the boys to bed we watched the final episode of LOST together.

Happy Anniversary, my love.

By Lovain

Friday, September 15, 2006

A 1991 Ford Scorpio - Part III; Epilog

In the end we decided that keeping our Ford is too much of a financial risk – a risk that we currently can not afford. Hence I posted our car on e-bay where it stayed for 1 whole week, like some forsaken redundancy; shoved into that callous realm they call internet shopping, awaiting its gloomy kismet. Nobody bid on it.

Fortunately my Polish colleague G.’s brother offered to buy it for 250€, and tonight he’s picking it up. I have signed a contract stating that as of today, our car is of a different owner for the representative sum of 1€. As of tomorrow I shall have to carry our milk home myself.

By Lovain

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Swedish elections are coming up

On Saturday I brought the whole family to accompany me to the Swedish Embassy. We entered a festive atmosphere; Swedes standing around chatting, people laughing, and there was a big bowl of Swedish candy centrally placed on the reception table. Swedish children were running around, filling their mouths with candy. The boys threw themselves right in and mingled with the other “blondes”, while I stood in line for a few minutes, and then watched the official voting administrator put my vote in an envelope with the other votes.

I left the embassy with a feeling of satisfaction and pride; I felt Swedish – a Swede that had just fulfilled her citizen duty. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I was a voting Swede: we celebrated by going to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet for lunch. After all, one only votes once every 4 years!

The Swedish elections are one Sunday, and it’s a very close call. The parties have joined forces and are divided into 2 opposing sides this year: the blue side and the red side. The blue side is represented by the conservative party ‘Moderaterna’, the liberal party ‘Folkpartiet’, the farmers’ union ‘Centern’ and the Christian democrats ‘Kristdemokraterna’. The red side is represented by the Social democrats ‘Socialdemokraterna’, the socialists ‘V’ and the environmental party ‘Miljöpartiet’. It is the latter group that are in majority for the moment, but as of Sunday, our prime minister might not be Göran Persson any more, but Fredrik Rheinfeldt. God help us.

By Lovain

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My friend T. the Dane is dead

On Thursday morning at 5:30 am my friend and former colleague T. the Dane suffered a massive heart attack and died almost instantly. He was 59 years old.

On Monday, 4 days later, T. the Dane's first grandchild, whose birth he has been proudly proclaiming and eagerly awaiting, was born.

The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh Away.

By Lovain

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Babies to come & babies lost: I'm oh so happy but oh so sad

In July two of my friends confided in me; one of them had just taken a positive pregnancy test, and the other one had just had a miscarriage. The due dates of the baby to come and the baby lost were only a couple of days apart.

My friend the amazing M. is now somewhere around 15 weeks pregnant; we have seen solid ultra sound pictures of her healthy baby, and it is no longer a secret that she is expecting. 3rd time around, her body certainly knows what to do and you cannot be mistaken when you see her: she’s having a baby. We’re all happily expecting our addition at the end of February of 2007.

My other friend has wisely kept her secret, and although having recovered entirely physically from her miscarriage, the loss and sorrow remain. When I confirmed the rumors she had heard about the amazing M. expecting another child, and added the exact due date, my friend’s sadness came over her again. I’m happy my friend lets me share her grief. I have never had a miscarriage but I know what it’s like to loose a family member; you go on living a happy life, but the tears still come back once in a while.

By Lovain

I'm reading "Kant: A Biography" by Manfred Kuehn

Last night I started reading “Kant: A biography” by Manfred Kuehn. With the Husband finishing his doctorate on the philosophy of Kant, one would have thought that I’d read it before, but it’s one of those books that I never got to. Until now.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a great philosopher and an interesting man. He devoted his entire life to philosophy and never married or had kids. He never went further than 70 miles from his hometown, Königsberg in Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), and yet, or perhaps consequently, he produced some of the most read philosophical texts ever. There are millions of pages in several languages written about him and his philosophy. I shall read my share while the Husband works on yet another opus.

By Lovain

Friday, September 01, 2006

First day of school and the boys did great

Today was the first day back to school. On Wednesday evening we took the boys to an open house at their school, just to reacquaint them with their class rooms and new teachers. This morning the boys excitedly ran into the school yard, dodging crying children and stressed parents, and made their way to their class rooms. The Husband followed the youngest boy, and I the oldest one; he hung up his coat and ran into the class room with a look of expectation and delight “bye mama!” and immediately started playing with his classmates. The teacher had a big smile on her face. What a relief.

I went back to the youngest one’s class room for a last check; he was busy assisting his new teacher in taking care of the younger, crying children in his class, putting their lunch boxes in the lunch box box, and had taken on his over-protecting concerned look. He seemed confident and comfortable.

I kissed the Husband good-bye and went to work. It was a good morning.

By Lovain

New research: breastmilk cures cancer

There is an article in a Swedish paper about research on cancer cells at a university hospital in Sweden: Professor Catharina Svanborg and her team have identified a protein only existing in breast milk that cures cancer. Named Hamlet “Human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cellens”, it has actually been tested and proven to cure certain types of cancer. The concluded study involved an external benign cancer, papillom, which is a type of wart; however the cells in these warts are somewhat similar to cells in uterine cancer for example, and this, of course, makes the discovery even more fantastic.

40 people with the papilliom cancer participated in the study. After having brushed the protein on the cancer over a period of time, 8 in 10 were fully cured. 2 years after the study the cancer had not returned. Experiments involving urine bladder cancer are currently underway. Here, the protein is injected into the bladder. So far, the study has been as positive as previous tests. The protein actually kills the malign cells without hurting other cells.

Isn’t it amazing? And all we had to do was lactate; something women have been doing for 100,000 years, and I for 5.

By Lovain