Month: March 2015

The Great Divide

grandcanyon

Ok I’ve enjoyed the first two months of new-motherhood but now I’m ready for some time off. Maybe a week’s holiday? Or a two? Perhaps I’ll tackle a fresh project now, or return to an old one – get back to my German lessons maybe… What’s that? I can’t? No leave can be granted? Well maybe I could just chuck a sickie? Nope, not that either. What… not even one day to myself?

Sigh – just one of the many laments of early motherhood – it’s relentless and there’s no holidays in sight. Especially at this stage. Feed, sleep, poo, repeat. And the baby doesn’t do much more than that either.

It’s got me thinking about the roles of mum and dad (in general) again. I say “again” because the last time I properly contemplated this was the first time Himself and I became mum and dad (specific). And let me tell you, nothing highlights the Great Divide between the genders* much more than having a new baby. This huge change in the status quo of your relationship is something I’m yet to see listed in all those “Why I’m never having children” articles, but it should be right up there. Alongside the zero-holidays policy.

When you’re the one parenting a new baby at home while your partner is back at work, there’s no getting around the fact that in these early months, you are doing the motherload of childcare (pun intended) and dad is, well, working. In other words, you’ve suddenly taken on very traditional gender roles. And it makes your day-to-day lives very different indeed. Granted, this was more of a shock to the system the first time around when we went from the relatively equal footing of both being full time working “people” to a Mum-at-home-with-baby and a full-time-working-Dad (as opposed to just full-time-working person).

But in a funny way, the gender gap is gaping even wider now. Because I’m also a “trailing spouse”, I currently exist in a weirdly segregated world. The only new people I meet are other women, mostly mothers and other expats who are also usually trailing spouses. The facebook groups I join are generally populated by females and are parenting-focused. I never come across males in a social capacity, unless they’re the partners of mums I’ve met. It kinda sucks.

On the flipside, I chose this.  And I’m lucky to be able to spend this time caring for my kids and not having to work for money outside the home. Himself would love to be home with them more often. If money were no object, I’m sure he’d quit work in a nanosecond (although how long it would take him to reach the boredom/resentment/need-a-break threshold I’ve just bumped into is hard to say… and I guess we’ll never know). If only it were easily possible for me to go out and find employment in this foreign country that pays as well as a male salary…

Not that I even want to work full time. Do I? I’d be lying if I said part of the appeal of this move to Switzerland wasn’t the sweet notion of being able to QUIT formal work indefinitely. Of course nothing is ever quite as good as it seems. And this is an almost entirely female problem. Not many men even get the choice of whether to quit or take a break from work to stay home and look after their babies, although it would be great if they had real options for this**.

As the kids get older, stay-at-home Dads become slightly more common. Slightly. [ASIDE: You don’t hear the male voice in parenting very often so I found it really interesting what Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard writes in his semi-autobiographical book A Man In Love about the mind-numbing mundanity of life as a primary parent. It’s basically several chapters of Toddler Time but more brutal! I can’t imagine many mums admitting the “job” bores them so starkly although it certainly struck a chord with me.]

Then there’s the money and value factors. Of course, rationally, we’re equal partners who are both contributing valuable work so we can afford to live and raise a family. But in reality, it can be hard to see it as entirely “our” money or perhaps more importantly, half “mine”, especially when it comes to the more frivolous purchases I might want to make. And in terms of valuable work, sure I’m doing a very important job but, well, no one’s flying me business class to Boston to be a Mum for 8 hours then back again.

So it’s an odd conundrum. A paradox of feminism? We have the choice but we have no choice. And things aren’t equal, but how can they be? Parenting, at least in the first year or so, is not really an equal opportunity playing field.

In some ways I can see it’s actually worse for the dads – slogging away at a crappy job (all jobs are a bit crappy right?) and missing out on time with the babies that goes so quickly. Plus, he has to do a big chunk of childcare and housework too – particularly putting in the hours with our first child in this second-baby situation. And yet, and yet… he also gets to go out of the house every week day, he gets to talk to people who aren’t obviously involved in their own childcare battles about things that aren’t to do with kids, he gets validation for skills that have nothing to do with parenthood. And he gets the chance for 7-8 hours unbroken sleep per night. It’s not a competition, but if there were a ledger of achievements and sacrifices, I’d say sleep is a biggie.

Likewise, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding and feminism. Is breastfeeding a feminist issue? Feminism is about choice and equal opportunities. So Bfing is another paradox. Sure you have a choice, but there’s also no choice, as in, no one else can do it for you (with rare exceptions), well, your partner can’t anyway. And, like giving birth, it’s in no way an equal opportunity situation between the sexes. So I’m stuck. But I chose this. But, only by dint of being a woman was that choice possible. And, based on where we are at as modern, first-world people and parents, it was in many ways the only option. So therefore I had no choice. But still… I chose this. Argh.

I’d really like a day off.

 

 

*I suppose this is true for same-sex couples (assumptions, assumptions!) if you substitute “mum” for “primary carer” and “dad” for “the one who continues to go to work”.

** I’m a total advocate of The Wife Drought theory articulated so well in Annabel Crabb’s book – for society to move on, men need a life and women need a wife.

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Jucker Farm Photos

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We went to Jucker Farm for brunch last weekend.

About a 20 minute drive from our apartment in Zurich / Oerlikon, this place is somewhat of an institution for family days out. The jury is divided on whether people love or hate Jucker (yes, their logo font makes it look like it’s called Fucker, haw). As far as I can ascertain, the hate is mostly due to parking nightmares – even the Jucker-lovin friends we went with mentioned that in summer the whole nearby town becomes an extended parking lot with long walks up the hill for the unlucky.

But we were there on a snowy Sunday in February and parking was no problem!

Our friends had booked brunch in the Hof Restaurant, which was great. A big, rustic table that would have comfortably sat eight for us four adults, one toddler and two babies. We were right by a large glass door and windows with impressive panoramic views down over snowy fields to the half-frozen Lake Pfäffikon (Pfäffikersee) and the mountains beyond.

Have I talked about Sunday brunch in Zurich before? It’s A Thing here. Perhaps even more so because the shops are closed. Most places seem to do similar brunch arrangements with a fixed-price, all you can eat buffet. Food comprises:

  • hot stuff: bacon and eggs, wurst (sausage), plus Jucker had fried eggs on rösti – which is a traditional Swiss farmer’s breakfast, I’m told.
  • several kinds of bread: proper loaves that you slice yourself including the tasty Zopfli (a buttery braided loaf) and gipfeli (croissants).
  • There’s deli meats and a plate of different cheeses – what European breakfast would be complete without?
  • Then there’s a load of jams – in this case all homemade Jucker farm products.
  • A range of fruit juices. Here, they were Jucker juices too.
  • Cereals including another Swiss specialty, Bircher museli – I’m a convert to this healthy wet dish!
  • There were also tasty cakes, which I was almost too full to eat. Almost. Mmm. (Thankfully, breastfeeding makes you ravenous and you can eat what you like. Not that I usually stint myself anyway!)
  • You order coffees separately but they were included in the price (as many as you want).

It cost chf32 per adult. Our toddler’s meal cost chf2 per year, so chf6 because he’s three. Most places do this kids’-age-price thing and I reckon it’s a nice touch.

So far, we’ve been to a few brunches in Zurich and I look forward to many more. This was the fanciest yet and just lovely. The room was stylish-rustic, lots of wood with delicate touches, vases of branches and classy gauze table runners, tea light candles in glass, vaguely “woodland”-themed decor. And not too crowded. Our friends had warned the staff we’d be arriving with two buggies so they had kindly put us to the far side where both prams could sit easily by the wall and be out of the way. It’s so nice to have room to manoeuvre, rather than extra tables shoved in where they barely fit just to maximise profits. I do love Switzerland for this (the restraint of easy affluence!?)

Afterwards we had a wander round the farm grounds. Himself and P-boy went further afield than S-baby and me. As well as three separate-but-together function rooms making up the restaurant, it’s a proper working farm with fruit orchards, animals, kooky straw statues (!!) and a prime lakeside position close to Zurich. Apparently “they” tried to buy it several years ago for redevelopment but the owners held on and now it’s a popular and profitabile attraction. It was fairly uncrowded when we went but you can see how it would be rammed in spring, summer and autumn when they also have demos and kids’ activities such as showing how cider is made etc.

I’d definitely book brunch again, particularly for a special occasion such as a birthday or with visitors in tow. As stunning as the farm was under a light a blanket of snow, my pals assure me it’s even lovelier in warm weather. And the farm activity days sound fun if you can find a parking spot. Roll on spring!

I saw some Dinosaurs

Sauriermuseum and Dorothy, of course!

I’m currently living with a baby dinosaur. The noises he makes – gurgles, hiccoughs, squeaks, grunts, sighs, squeals and grumbles – are primal, almost prehistoric. And his little mouth is like a tiny pterodactyl or elephant – that kind of beaky but human shape. (Although his coos and increasingly regular smiles are very human 😉 ). So perhaps it’s appropriate that we recently took him and our not-so-baby-dino to the Dinosaur Museum / Sauriermuseum at Aathal, a 20 min drive from Zurich.

I must admit, I was a tad sceptical about a dinosaur museum. I mean, I have nothing against dinosaurs per se. Except for the fact they seem kinda fake. But I guess I believe in science more than god so, yeah. Anyway, the Dinosaur Museum exceeded my expectations. For one, it was bigger than it looked. There were heaps of full size skeletons of some really huge and not-so-huge dinosaurs (mostly replicas, although a few displays contained genuine dinobones) as well as models and pictures of what they’d look like in the flesh.

There were lots of rooms over several levels that were loosely themed so you got to see standing dinos, swimming dinos, flying dinos, meat eaters, herbivores, etc. Pretty much all the info was in German, but that didn’t matter much. P, our nearly-4-year old, can’t read (although his spoken Deutsch is better than ours) and the names are all in Latin so they’re the same anyway. Plus, there was almost too much info to stand around reading everything. An unexpected plus was a whole display on Archeopteryx – a sort of half-bird, half dinosaur about the size of a crow from c.150 million years ago – which just happens to be mentioned in one of P’s books about birds, so he was fascinated to see that.

Other particularly notable displays were the triceratops skull (very sci fi), giant turtle dinosaur bones, pterodactyl bones and those of the Steven Tylosaurus – a huge-mouthed shark-osaur.

On the whole though, P was a bit freaked out by the dinosaur museum. And fair enough, they are pretty freaky, and big. The website does say suitable for age 4 and over. Plus, we’d mostly convinced him they were all extinct and just models anyway and he’d calmed down, then we came across an awfully lifelike model of a baby dinosaur with a WINKING EYE that freaked him out all over again. (Also: how to explain dinosaurs are real and extinct but, say, dragons never existed?)

The museum was created in 1977 by a Swiss guy, Hans-Jakob Siber, a mineral and fossil dealer, who worked on some pretty hardcore excavations of dinosaur bones in the US and suchlike. So it’s got proper chops. And there did seem to be plenty of good information about palaeontological research, excavation methods, fossils, dinosaur eggs, dinosaurs in Switzerland etc. Although again mostly in German. (Interspersed with cheesy displays of Dinosaur and Monster movie paraphanelia and screenings of films such as The Land Before Time, heh). Plus there were activity corners where kids could do colouring in and stuff.

So on balance, the Dino Museum was pretty cool, but I don’t think we’ll go again too soon. A bit scary for young kids and, at CHF21 per adult, quite pricey for the rest of us!