“WAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! WAAAAAAAHHHHH!” This is the background soundtrack that echoes and resounds in my eardrums. I hear it sometimes, like now, as I sip my deliciously sweet Swiss Mokka and try to concentrate on my writing while I slouch on the sofa of my favourite kooky café. I can also detect the wailing while I drink a perfectly cold mediocre draft beer at a bar. It’s also the sound I hear while walking around Reykjavik and when I turn around, there they are: toddlers swinging like mischievous monkeys on a nearby statue.
It sometimes feels as though nearly everyone here has a child or is expecting. The parents usually look pretty young. Maybe the fountain of youth is a hot pot. All you have to do is walk down Laugavegur to see devastatingly fashionable women pushing their highly sophisticated baby strollers. It makes me wonder how it is possible for Iceland to have so few people. It’s hard to believe considering the abundance of children around. Reykjavik seems to be a baby mecca. I have actually met a few foreigners who ended up getting pregnant (or getting someone else pregnant) within months of moving here. Maybe all the volcanic energy makes people especially randy. I’m not sure.
Recently my boyfriend and I were asked by the eight-year old child of a friend of ours if he could see pictures of our kid. When we responded that we did not have an adorable tyke of our own, he looked at us quite perplexed and inquisitively questioned us. “But, doesn’t everyone have at least one?” he asked with the holy innocence and honesty that only a child has. I definitely understood where he developed this presumption. If I were eight I probably would have made the same conclusion.
What is the cause of this baby mafia? Maybe it has something to do with the significant changes made to the Icelandic Act on Maternity/Paternity and Parental Leave in 2000, extending the amount of time parents can stay at home with their child. New fathers are now given three months leave, as are mothers, and an additional three months are shared between them any way they wish. Furthermore, parents who are active in the labour force are paid 80% of their salary. It really is amazing how much the government respects and supports family-oriented job policies. If there were anywhere I would want to have a child, it would definitely be here. On the other hand, the country whose passport I hold (USA) is one of only five that does not provide or require employers to provide some form of paid maternity leave. Quite a shocking and sad realty. Iceland is definitely a leader in this respect and other countries should follow its example. That is, unless they have a problem with over population because statistics show that fertility actually increased in the aftermath of these changes.
On second thought, maybe there is no baby mafia. Maybe it is an illusion created by a country that defends the rights of parents. Children are seen crying, laughing, skipping, and yelling at every corner. This is probably because they are let wild on their wistful rampages since parental supervision tends to be at a minimal in a country that is so safe that babies are left outside bundled in their strollers as parents sip wine inside a restaurant or enjoy coffee and grown-up conversation. Also, because of the significant and rightly earned paternity leave, parents can actually spend time with their newborn and not relegate this muchneeded bonding to babysitters. This baby mania may just be a mirage.
Or, maybe not.