When my husband got transferred to Brussels for his job, we were both unanimous in our desire to live in the city’s center. We wanted to be at “the heart of it all” and decided that the St. Catherine neighborhood was it for us. What we didn’t know then was that I was already a few weeks pregnant, and that come six months, I would somewhat regret our decision.
Mind the Gap
I’ve heard people complain about it with a shrug of the shoulder and an “Oh, well. That’s Brussels.” But some of the city’s cobblestone streets are a downright menace. Once my pregnancy advanced to the I-can’t-see-my-feet-or-where-I’m-stepping phase (Winter 2012), I started having mini-anxiety attacks just leaving the building. Not only did I have to worry about slipping on the icy sidewalks (which in our neighborhood are never shoveled), I also had to keep a vigilant eye on all those loose cobblestones, which can trip up the most careful of pedestrians.
Don’t get me wrong — I like our neighbhorhood… especially in the summertime, when St. Catherine and nearby St. Gery are bustling with life, but you can’t say Brussels’ city center is the ideal place to live when you have small children. My daughter’s first few weeks, I hated taking her out for walks, even though my husband insisted we do it. Every time we hit the streets, I’d watch her little head bounce back and forth in her Maxi Cosi like a bobblehead doll. (And our buggy has big, air-filled tires!) We bought a special neck support pillow — it didn’t do any good. I watched other babies we passed in the street, their heads rocking violently from side to side… parents seemingly unconcerned, and wondered if I was overreacting. Other people seemed to think this was normal. Maybe all that head bouncing was good? Helping babies develop their neck muscles?
In the end, I stopped taking the baby out for walks in the stroller/Maxi Cosi and opted to use a sling instead. I tripped and almost fell at least a dozen times, but I soon learned to master what I call the “bear walk,” a not-so-elegant stride that — while sweeping my legs from left to right — helps me anticipate some of downtown’s many booby traps.
Now that my daughter is older, she loves going out in her stroller… especially to the Grand Place and (currently) the holiday market at St. Catherine. It continues to bother me when I see how much the poussette shakes, but she’s almost 10 months old now and can handle the shocks. I still look at some of the other babies, though, and cringe when I see a newborn with the bobblehead thing going on. I am often tempted to stop the parents and have a chat. Something like: “Can you believe this? How are we supposed to take our kids out for walks when the streets are literally crumbling beneath our feet!?!”
The only thing stopping me is the fear that my husband is right… that I’m manifesting a particulary North American obsession with wide, even sidewalks and that other people will look at me blank-faced, wondering what it is I’m yammering on about.
I don’t know if all of Brussels has this problem, or if it’s just the city’s center that is baby unfriendly… but if I had known then what I know now, I may have agreed to living in a less lively neighborhood, if only for the sake of convenience.
For the time being, we’re staying put. But once our daughter starts walking… well — let’s just say I’ll be teaching her the “bear walk.”
By Marina, December 2013