Alice has just turned three months old.  Already.  And I’m making a return to the blogosphere with a few observations on what the early stages of parenthood look like from here.

In some ways, nothing has changed.  I’m still the same me – back into my old clothes (just), eating the same foods, drinking the same (if not slightly more Belgian) beer, listening to the same music.  I still take the dog for a walk every morning and am back to cooking dinner (almost) every evening.  I still like going out for meals and sitting on patios in the sun (things we continue to manage despite the presence of baby).  I’m even reading again – although at a much slower and more interrupted pace.

But in many ways, everything has changed.  Nothing is about me anymore.  My life is so inherently connected to and dictated by Alice that not only has my routine been drastically affected but so to have my outlook on life, my priorities, my interests.  My needs are attended to only after hers are met.  I don’t miss work (yet).  I like spending time with other baby people.  My days are organized (mainly although not always exclusively) around what works for Alice.  Happily, she is easy going about this and is mostly content to come along for the ride, but we work together to make sure she eats and sleeps and gets changed when she needs to.  I am acutely aware of her daily changes and in tune with her shifting moods.  I worry less about myself and instead focus entirely on protecting and nurturing this little human who depends entirely on me.  I now understand the mother lion.  I feel a bit like one.

Despite fleeting moments of the formerly alluded to nostalgia for the bygone days of my youth – and mine and David’s life as a couple (it will be a while before we spontaneously go away for a weekend, or to the cinema for that matter) – I’m surprisingly content and relaxed about this new priority.  I feel strangely proud of things like Alice’s weight gain, and the fact that she’s rolling over a month ahead of schedule.

Three months have flown by.  I worried at first that she was growing up too quickly (regret at not being able to tell her age in weeks anymore), but each new stage is better than the last.  I don’t know how long this will last (through adolescence?), but in the meantime, I’ll coo and get excited about burps.

Alice has a bath

On Monday, February 11, 2008, at 4:47am Brussels time, Alice Nell Rosner was born. After a lengthy but uncomplicated labour, made as pleasant as possible by the outstanding staff at the E. Cavell Institute, Alice appeared weighing 3.61kg (7lbs 15 oz) and measuring 53cm (21 inches) in length .

We are all home now, settling into our new routine (learning to sleep less and do laundry more) and getting to know each other. Alice eats, sleeps and poops like a champion and seems to like her new home.

View photos at here.

I’ve thus far spent little or no time discussing the trivialities of gestating. Now, as I approach the end of this pregnancy, it’s time to share a few insights.

First, being pregnant has been a surprisingly enjoyable experience. Despite standard annoyances, the nine months has passed well. The notion that my body has the ability to grow a human is mind-boggling. It’s been fun to watch the growth from the outside with occasional grainy snapshots of what it looks like inside. I’ve been mostly energized by the process and have felt surprisingly calm, optimistic and relaxed not just about gestating but about life in general. And despite some fleeting moments of melancholic longing for the soon-to-be bygone days of my youth – and mine and David’s carefree days à deux – I feel more than ready to meet this kid.

And it is a kid now, fully capable of existing ex-utero, and basically just along for the free ride as far as I can tell. As I approach the 39-week mark and my belly skin stretches to impossible dimensions, I am increasingly convinced that this is the biggest baby ever and wonder a) how it can still be comfortable in there and b) how I’m ever going to get it out. And then once it’s out, what I’m going to do with it from now on… Yes, from now on. This struck me in an interesting way after David and I finally bought a crib last weekend. I was putting a sheet on the mattress and it felt a little like I was setting up a bed for a visitor. But this one’s never leaving. Odd. We’re two now but at some point in the next week or so we’ll turn into three. Just like that. Amazing.

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I must retract a part of my last entry.

It has been pointed out that my entries thus far have veered towards the critical:  I may not be giving Belgians credit for all the good things they offer.  I admit this may be true.  But understand that to the expatriate eye, local/national idiosyncrasies are blaringly obvious.  Everything that is sub-par, frustrating or even mildly odd about this host nation is noted by the expat as a (typical) Belgian flaw.  Rightly so, no?

It must also be noted however that we, as non-local members of the host society, often exist in a bit of a bubble.  We associate mainly with other expats, search out foods from home (I was never that interested in peanut butter until it was no longer at my disposal), read English-language newspapers online and listen to CBC and BBC instead of tuning into local radio.  Our knowledge of Belgian news, admittedly, comes mainly from sporadic articles written in the New York Times, the Guardian or the Economist about those Belgian idiosyncrasies we love to poke fun at.
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Belgium is not a consumer-oriented society. Retailers are not set up under the same North-American-Consumer-Is-King model. All stores close in the evenings and on Sundays, some close at lunchtime (though not all, so you’re never really sure if the place will be open). Some post hours on their shop windows and then don’t adhere to them. Sales clerks don’t seem to have any interest in helping you find or purchase anything. It seems that Belgian retailers are not all that interested in making a profit and any that comes their way is just a bit of a bonus, rather than a result of an active marketing scheme. All this in theory should be rather refreshing (why are we North Americans so focused on buying things all the time?), but in practice can be incredibly frustrating.

For someone who is almost nine months pregnant, the notion of traipsing around downtown Brussels on New Years’ Eve did not entice but became bearable when the promise of waffles at midnight was put forward. So off I went with husband, sister and sister’s boyfriend who had all imbibed sufficiently on Belgium’s other source of gastronomical pride – beer. Wandering around the old town where we were told was to be the midnight fireworks display, we quickly discovered that though Belgians don’t consume merchandise like North Americans, alcohol is another matter. Large groups of people were out with bottles of champagne and beer ready to be corked and sprayed at the countdown (many had even thought to bring plastic glasses with them). It was in many ways, a public celebration of the new year like any other except for a couple of things:
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Excuse my absence. We moved into our new (permanent) apartment a month ago and have been occupied with settling in – never a simple affair, even less so in Belgium… for the following reasons:

  • In Belgium, an independent third party comes to conduct an “Etat des Lieux” before the new tenant moves in. This is apparently to ensure that any damage we do, we are held accountable for. In Canada, this would consist of a simple walk through of tenant and landlord together, perhaps ticking boxes on a sheet of a paper. In Belgium, because many folks are employed to do unnecessary tasks, there are people who work full time in this area. The day before we moved in, we met the landlord and the ‘surveyor’ at the apartment to check things out. The surveyor was equipped with a camera, a notepad, and a Dictaphone. He spent over an hour talking into his machine, making fastidious notes and taking pictures of everything. His impression of the apartment will apparently be typed up and sent to us in a formal (15-20 page) document some time before we move out.
  • The apartment has fourteen foot ceilings and came with no light fixtures, or curtains. And no ladder. We’re still waiting for the landlord to bring one. In the meantime, in order to hang curtains, David fashioned height-enhancers from dressers.
  • Appliances do not systematically come with a rented apartment. We’ve bought a fridge and a second-hand dryer and are now waiting for the arrival of a washing machine (model out of stock). Hopefully it will arrive before the baby.
  • Though it was infinitely helpful to have a moving service pack up, ship and unpack all our belongings, a few annoyances ensued. Damage to a couple small articles necessitated dealing with the insurance company, which involved filling out a myriad of paperwork, including a photocopy of a letter written to the ship company (that’s right, the boat) to let them know that we were filing a claim. We’ll see what comes of the €250 we’ve asked for. Also, the all-male unpackers, bless them, they tried, unpacked everything so randomly that I’m still reorganizing.
  • The 14 ft spiral staircase to the second floor is a bit impractical in the 8th month of pregnancy.
  • Being in the 8th month, bending, lifting and climbing on chairs – regular aspects of moving in – are no easy matter and are best avoided. David has thus been presented with a list of tasks on re-entry every evening. We’re getting there.
  • The apartment is twice the size of our last place and thus requires time and money spent to fill it. This will have to happen slowly.
  • There is no Canadian Tire here.

But one month later, everything is coming together. And the place is great. It’s the first and second floor of a converted town house in a fairly lively district of Brussels. Original floors remain, as do the fireplaces (the living room one is still functioning), and we have our own private garden (a rarity it seems). It still needs work, but for now, we’re just happy to be settled into a place that will be ours for sometime to come.

If you’re interested, here’s a little video we made of the place.

Everyone in Brussels drives. Gas is expensive (though diesel is cheaper). Public transport is good (not excellent) and relatively cheap. Parking and traffic are a nightmare. Brussels is not a city built around the car. Still, everyone drives.

Expats here for short term stays bring their cars. Our eco-friendly, left-leaning, downtown-dwelling landlords have a car. When people give you directions somewhere, they tell you how to drive there and are surprised when you say you’re on foot. We are an anomaly.

We’ve signed up for a prenatal class with the BCT in Brussels. The course takes place in the suburb of Terverun and starts next week. We were given instructions to get there – by car. This apparently poses no problem for the others on the course, but getting there on public transport for 7:30pm on a weekday will take us well over an hour and requires a tram, a subway and a regional (not city) bus. A taxi would cost €40 + each way. I decided to look into car sharing.

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