Monday, August 8, 2011

The land of the free, and the home of the...babysat?

Some unfortunate information was uncovered, and I had a long, ranty, self-deprecating, angry post worked up, but instead of pissing and moaning about how utterly stupid I feel for not reading between the lines more carefully when it came to maternity leave coverage, let me share something fun about the world. America thinks it's hot shit. Ask your average American citizen why we're so super awesome, and they will likely list a range of only vaguely-informed reasons for our glory, including how massively successful we are as individuals, how our glorious economic prowess lets us sit court as a major world power, how our ass-kicking military kicks EVERYONE'S ass, and probably something about our Renaissance-like music and culture. Also, anyone can be in politics, no matter who (Sorry I had to wave my political flag in your face for a minute there; I'm disgruntled.)

One of the funny things about living in America as a citizen of this supposedly glorious nation is that while many of my problems are decidedly first world problems, many are also legitimately problems. Don't get me wrong: I love and cherish the freedoms I am afforded, not least of which being my rights to present myself (sort of) however I want, say (sort of) whatever I please, associate with those whom I choose (assuming I choose people who are considered "safe"), and go wherever I want to, as long as I want to go somewhere I'm allowed to go. Waaaaaaaaiiiit a minute...

Okay, my right to run around naked on a military tarmac screaming insults about the GOP while dancing with a bunch of non-white friends notwithstanding, I am really pissed off about America's policies regarding maternity coverage. Only a scant handful of countries (including Botswana, Lesotho, and Papua New Guinea) have maternity coverage worse than or comparable to that legally allocated in the USA. In fact, nearly the entire world has better coverage for maternity leave than America, including countries that my less-than-geopolitically-informed brain didn't even realize were still in existence. Tunisia, where mothers only get 30 days off at two-thirds of their pay, offers almost exactly the same coverage I will be getting when I have you, Batman. I will need to take some time off without pay - possibly up to a month - in order to both recover from giving birth to you and to, hm, gee, I dunno, bond with my newborn child before needing to plop you into daycare with people I hardly know.

This sucks. Your father might not even get more than a week to get to know you before returning to work, as he (not the one pushing you out into the world through part of his body) is not entitled to any paid time off beyond the five "Family Sick Leave" days that every employee in his school district gets annually. I don't even have that: I have three personal days, fifteen sick days, and probably ten rollover sick days from last year, and beyond that, I'm on my own. Both of our districts allow for up to twelve months of time off following the birth of a child during which our jobs are considered "safe," but neither of our schools are obligated to pay us for ANY of that time off. I understand that this is pretty standard in most schools, and potentially more generous than many other employers in other industries, but still...WTF? The Federal laws addressing maternity leave - and any sick leave - are pretty damn weak if you ask me.

Now I'm all worked up. I've got visions swimming around in my head of how much BETTER so many of my students might be - as learners, as friends, as people in general - if they had been given time to bond with and be supported by their families immediately following their births instead of parents needing to rush frantically back to work after a matter of days of leave. I know of parents who have gone back to work after - no joke - fives days of leave; one father didn't even miss work the day his son was born, and returned to work the next day because there was no one to cover his shift. What the hell kind of place do we live where this is okay? I know I'm better situated than many, in that I get ANY paid time off, and we (technically) make enough money to be able to afford childcare and feed ourselves at the same time, but there are definitely going to be months when we eat a lot of rice and beans...and maybe don't use a lot of electric devices.

Let's end on a high note, shall we, Batman? Your father and I stopped in to Border's this afternoon, both to scavenge cheap books and to check in on some of my former coworkers (oh, wait, that's kind of depressing, too), and we ran into one particular friend who supposedly possesses the super power of being able to feel the gender of a baby just by placing his hands on a pregnant woman's stomach. He's pretty sure you're a boy, which confirms my gut feeling. Boy, howdy are we going to feel silly if you're a girl.

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