Monday, July 25, 2011

Back Through The Haze

Before I had Mini Me, I promised myself I wouldn't be one of those people that just talks about their baby. That's why I've avoided writing on this blog. But frankly speaking, three months down the line with a baby that detests going anywhere by car or stroller, my life has pretty much become condensed into staying at home with the baby, wondering if I will ever see the inside of a gym again.

I couldn't understand parents who went into fine detail about their child's bowel movements, my first thought being "Seriously, no one cares about this information except you." but now my day quite literally revolves around whether the baby has taken a dump yet or not. This is usually followed by an excited phonecall to my husband or my mother if the dumping had recently fallen away from its usual pattern.

This is a picture of me on the phone... in an alternate universe

Never again in my life will I be this pleased about someone shitting himself. Because of this, I really don't have much else to talk about unless I come across something amusing on the internet.


And so apologies in advance for this baby related post.

So what's it like raising a baby in Greece? So far, pretty brilliant. Whenever I do go somewhere, we are showered with attention. On a recent trip to the UK, we were fast tracked through check in and onto the flight. This by the way did not happen on the return journey. When transitting through Munich I pointed out that families are usually offered priority boarding and was helpfully told I could board last. Great! Thanks a heap. Anyone who disagrees with this should really try travelling with a small child - you will totally come to appreciate even the smallest little bit of help you are offered.

Greece loves children but this also goes hand in hand with various worries and superstitions which are passed on to you without hesitation. A child in Greece belongs to society, and so people think nothing of telling you your baby isn't dressed warmly enough, or you shouldn't be taking him out this time of day, or you shouldn't be taking him out at all. In Greece, it's uncommon to see babies under 6 months out and about with their parents. There are several reasons for this. First off, people believe it's extremely unhealthy for mother and child to go out in the first 40 days after birth. Although I didn't stick to this strictly, I was restricted in my movement and found it hugely depressing. The majority of people seeing you out with a newborn under 40 days old will make you feel like the worst mother in the world, with a tiny minority praising you for it.

Another reason is the grandparent system of babysitting. Many new parents are understandably too freaked out by the thought of leaving the house with an infant thanks to horror stories and social pressure ("Kiki took her baby out and the mati made it grow another head! I saw it myself!") and so park their offspring at home with the grandparents. In fact in Greece daycare for infants is very rare. Most people rely on their parents and in laws to watch their children while they work, which I think is a wonderful system. I don't have this system available to me, so I had to take Mini Me out with me whether we liked it or not, no matter how much both of us cried in the car and just grit my teeth at the "Ma ti kaneis koritsi mou" ("What the hell are you doing!") comments.

But the two biggest reasons are these: the mati (evil eye) and the MICROBES! Perhaps the thing that scares Greek parents most are the microbes. Those evil microbes are everywhere, lying in wait to attack your innocent baby. To me it came across as incredibly silly and after a while irritating to be repeatedly reminded "What about the MICROBES!!!". After all, this is Greece and not sub-Saharan Africa. But then I realised it's only because the Greek love children that much. It's totally natural for them to extend that concern even to your child although you are a total stranger.

Microbes are the reason Greek mamas iron their children's underwear and socks. It's why new Greek parents, including Mr Zeus, will stand at the door as you arrive to see their new baby and pour antibacterial gel on your hands before they'll let you near their baby. When I myself was faced with the microbe quandry, I thought guiltily of the heart attacks I might have caused by joyfully pouncing on the new babies of friends with my filthy microbe covered hands. So there's a tip for you: no matter how clean your hands may be, when visiting friends with a new baby, it's considered good manners to wash your hands before you even think of touching it.

Do I come across as a crazy hippy who will spoon feed my baby dirt to boost his immune system? It's only because I was raised in a much more relaxed manner, seeing very young babies circulated into the world immediately in both the UK and the Homeland. The 40 days rule applies in the Homeland too, but my mother said "Bullshit" and took us off on holiday when my younger sister was 17 days old. She never ironed our underwear, and trust me the microbes are a lot more lethal in the Homeland.

Anyway, when in Rome and all that. Now on to the mati. This is also a belief that exists in the Homeland. In Greece I have found that half the people believe the mati will get your baby, the other half believe that babies are not affected by the mati. You can offer extra protection by taking your baby to the church for a blessing at 40 days old, in fact you are expected to do this and not to do so is considered careless and a danger to your baby's soul.

Baby boys will be taken around the altar, girls are not. Meanwhile you will be instructed to do something that I didn't catch at all, being so sleep deprived that functioning from day to day pushed out Greek from my brain. But since the priest was busy walking around the altar with the baby, I winged it by making a suitable show of crossing myself infront of the icons, Orthodox fashion, and hoped that would be enough. The priest said nothing so I guess I passed the test, unless one of his minions at the back of the church later told him "You know that girl you just told to go get you a Coke? Well, let me tell you..."

The notion of the evil eye is used to explain every ill a baby suffers. An especially cranky baby that you have done everything else for is usually said to be under the mati (matiasmeno). It's a particularly seductive notion, and many times I have found myself on the phone to my mother in law asking her to remove the evil eye because the baby won't settle. You will likely receive several gifts of beautiful little blue eye pins on your baby's birth, and pinning on of these onto the baby's clothes is considered good protection.

Of course guilt-tripping a new mother is an international phenomenon, and one that would be banned if I could do anything about it. What no one told me about having a baby, despite months of preparing how to actually pop the baby out, is that no matter how experienced you think you are, when it comes to your own first child you will suddenly know jack shit and are mostly doing what you hope is right and won't break the baby. On top of this, the following comments are not helpful:

1. You haven't dressed him warmly enough (The old school notion prevails strongly in Greece that a baby must be warmly dressed, even in warm weather. Thankfully I have a great paediatrician who dismissed this instantly)

2. It's not good to take out such a young baby (Really? Can you come to my house and babysit him then while I run my errands?)

3. Don't bring him in here, the airconditioning is on
4. How old is your baby? Isn't it bad for his ears to be listening to this music (At a wedding from another mother when Mini Me was 2 months old)

This is just a sample. But like I said, it's best to let it slide or use the default answer of "The paediatrician said it's ok".
I think that's enough baby related stuff for now. By the way, who has been watching ANT1's Bollywood Saturday movies? I wonder who chose them, because frankly they're awful.

Oh, and one last thing. Perhaps the most hilariously innacurate image of early motherhood has to go to the Chicco catalogue. As if it's not bad enough that they have airbrushed babies in their catalogue, they really are taking the piss when this is what they portray as motherhood when you've been awake all night and your dress sense has boiled down to what's not covered in vomit, and your house looks like an all night baby rave has taken place there with empty bottles and nappies littering every surface: