Saturday, 30 August 2008

Tristan's new room

This will mostly be of interest for those closest to us - and those who know our flat. After several weeks of hesitation we finally made up our mind and moved out our old bedroom, turning it into Tristan's room. It took the most of Friday afternoon and some of this morning, and Tristan took a very active part in the process, in particular in assembling his new bookshelf / room divider:

All three of us are rather pleased with the results, and last night Tristan slept alone for the first time in his "new room". He slept very well, which made us think that he may not have liked my snoring quite as much as I had thought. Anyway, for now the room looks like this:

Of course, this triggered a whole lot of changes in the rest of the flat. The middle room (a.k.a. 'The Study') now doubles as the parents' bedroom, and that too turned out to be a good decision. It means we're making much better use of the available space without losing the functionality of the room:

Finally, from now on guests will be offered accommodation in the sitting room, on a newish (and very red) sofa which we inherited from my friend Paula, who's returned to her native Finland after many years in Denmark. We've tested the new sofa, and found it more comfortable than the old one - so we're ready for the first guest. (The old white sofa will go soon.)

On other fronts, Tristan now has four teeth, and in the course of the last three days has learned to stand up by pulling on anything available. Unfortunately he is not steady enough on his feet, so we are facing a nerve wracking few weeks with plenty of bruises. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Childcare in Denmark

Since Tristan was born, we often get asked how the Danish welfare system works with regard to parental leave, benefits and suchlike. Therefore we thought it might be interesting for some of you to read a short overview.

Home with baby

To begin with parental leave, pregnant women may take leave four weeks prior to giving birth. After the child is born, the mother is entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave (the first two weeks of which is obligatory), and the father is entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave during the first 14 weeks.

After this initial 14-week period, the parents are entitled to an additional 32 weeks leave, which they can freely divide between them. For example, both of them can take 16 weeks off (either at the same time or consecutively), or one of them (usually the mother) may stay home for the whole period. In reality the latter is most often the case; according to statistics an average Danish father only takes 3,4 weeks of paternity leave, while a mother spends 42, 3 weeks home with her baby. There is growing consensus in society that something ought to be done about this disparity, perhaps by forcing fathers to take a more active role in childcare – more on that in my next entry.

Back to parental leave, parents may save an 8-to-13-week period for later, but not later than the child’s 9th birthday. Conditions for adoption and multiple (i.e. twin) births are similar. In other words, getting twins do not entitle one to longer leave. In short:

  • 4 weeks leave for the mother before giving birth
  • 2 weeks leave for the father after birth (during the first 14 weeks)
  • 14 weeks leave for the mother after birth
  • 32 weeks leave that can be divided between the parents

All in all, a parent can be home with the baby for almost a year. During this period she is entitled to parental benefits, currently 3515 DKK per week before tax.

The system as described so far only covers the minimal entitlements, as prescribed by the law. Many employers offer better conditions to their employees. These typically mean longer leave and/or full pay for some of the period. Ane, for example could already take leave 8 weeks before Tristan was due, and received her full salary instead of parental benefits for the first 24 weeks.

Baby in care

What this all adds up to is that most children in Denmark begin in some form of childcare between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. This may sound alarmingly early for someone from Hungary, where it is not uncommon for mothers to stay home for three years. On the other hand, for an American it may appear extremely generous. In any case, the system seems to work. The cultural expectation is that women should take a job and build a carrier, and about 72 % of all Danish women do so. Yet Danish birth rates are among the highest in the western world: 1.8 children per woman, compared to the EU average of 1.5.

Who cares?

The three most typical forms of childcare are (1) day nurseries, (2) private or communal day care, and (3) employing a nanny. Day care is usually run by a single child-minder who looks after 3-4 children in her own home. She is normally in a contractual relationship with the local authorities, who also inspect whether her home meet fire- and health and safety regulations. Nurseries and day care are costly affairs, and some families therefore opt to employ a nanny, typically a young girl in her late teens or early twenties. Nannies normally don’t live with the family, but work there only during the week.

As for Tristan, he has been registered for three nurseries in the neighbourhood, and we are quite excited about where he will get a place when Ane returns to work on 1 November.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Tristan 8 months

Tristan turned 8 months today, and we thought it'd be an excellent opportunity for an update on how he is doing. At the last check about two weeks ago, he weighed about 10 kg, which is no wonder considering his mighty appetite. He eats four "real" meals a day now, plus three times breast milk. He has two teeth in his lower jaw, and at least two more well on the way. On the whole, his development in most areas seem to be slightly ahead of average, especially where motor and cognitive skills are concerned. He can track partially hidden objects, and is quite good at both judging distance and picking up things. A couple of weeks ago he began to imitate sounds and movements more consciously, in particular when someone waves at him.
Apart from these, he can also:

  • sit without support
  • crawl (kind of), covering considerable distances and overcoming various obstacles along the way
  • support his own weight when standing upright with help
  • drink from a cup with help
  • feed himself finger food
  • respond to his name
  • respond to 'no', mainly by doing even more of what he shouldn't
As for his language development, it appears to be about average, which is what we find in most bilingual babies. For some time now he has been producing those sweet consonant chains (ba-ba-ba, da-da-da) typical of this age, and is increasingly able to express his emotions through "speech". He takes more interest and pleasure in listening to people, watching their mouths move, and clearly takes notice when Ane or I speak English instead of our respective mother tongue.

Tristan has been a very happy child right from the start. He´s almost constantly in a good mood, and very glad to be together with other people. Lately, though, he has started to get somewhat anxious with strangers - a very normal reaction which is likely to get stronger in the next period. The only problem right now is his somewhat erratic sleeping pattern. He goes to bed between 7 and 8 pm, and falls asleep without problem after a short bedtime ritual, but then wakes up several times during the night. Of course it is rather demanding of us. It can also be that we just had it way too easy in the beginning, when he'd only be up a couple of times during the night, and only to feed.

All pictures from today. See also the attached videos.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The final days of Mårup church

Yesterday evening my friend Orsi and I said farewell to the old medieval church at Mårup, north west of Aalborg. The church, one of my favourite places in Denmark, has been threatened by coastal erosion for centuries, and now it stands right at the edge of the steep cliffs.

When the simple Romanesque church was built between 1200 and 1250 AD, it stood over two kilometers from the sea. Even in the late 1700s, when it was modified and strengthened against shifting sand, the distance was over 45o meters. But by the beginning of the last century, the locals had to realize that the days of the church might soon be over. Consequently, they built a new, nondescript church in the nearby village. Since 1928 Mårup church has only been used occasionally, mostly for concerts and similar cultural events. The last service was held here on Easter Monday this year. In 1998 the church was emptied, and most of its furniture taken to the National Museum. In the meantime, the erosion process accelerated, and now it is only matter of months, if not weeks, before the whole structures tumbles down into the waves below. The picturesque old churchyard is largely gone, although the mass grave of 226 British seamen, who died in December 1808 when their ship The Crescent sank, is still there. So is the ship's huge anchor that marks the grave.

The fate of Mårup church has been the subject of fierce debate in the past decades. The three alternatives that emerged from these discussions were (1) securing the coastline, thus saving the building, (2) relocating the church to another part of the country, possibly to an open-air museum, and (3) letting nature take its course. For a while it seemed like the last (and cheapest) option would be chosen, but in the very last moment the authorities decided to carefully remove the building and store its material until funding and location is secured for a future rebuilding. However, that will be a totally different church, far from the windswept, raggedly beautiful coastline that makes it such a great place to visit. As the deconstruction of Mårup church begins right after the current holiday season, this perhaps most exotic of Danish churches can only be seen for a few weeks.