Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moving Challenges

This week I am in a frenzy of trying to make our new apartment into a home or at least a place where we can live in from this Friday on. Our temporary lease is up and our new apartment is ours. Mark picked up the keys on the 22nd when Zoe and I were in Copenhagen and yesterday, after we had flown back the evening before, we entered our new home together. Our situation presents several challenges since we are not getting our half container of furniture and stuff (read: books and kitchenware) before the end of January. This means that that we will be living rather minimalistic, sleeping on an air mattress, sitting on pillows on the floor and eating off a borrowed table (thanks Jacob!). Today I went to Ikea to get some minimal level of kitchen utensils. I felt really silly buying things that I already have in a container somewhere on the Atlantic ocean. But I am not doing badly because when in Copenhagen I dug through my old stuff and found my inherited silverware which I brought back with me (yes, I have real heirloom silverware, forks, knives, a teapot and for some odd reason a million teaspoons. My grandparents must have had many people over for tea all the time).
 I also brought my old European sized Vipp bin that my brother had borrowed for half a decade. So for the next month we will drink espresso from my new posh espresso maker (my lovely husband's Christmas present to me), eat with real silver and enjoy throwing trash in a posh trash can. All while sitting on plastic chairs, eating one-pot meals like risotto and stews by candle light.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Flooring surprise

The new floors drying
When we bought our new apartment we discussed if we should keep the floors their black color. I liked it but after Mark did a photoshop of the room with white floors we decided to redo them and get them white washed. After shopping for a decent flooring company, a nice guy named Micke went to check out the floors so he could give us a quote. Turns out the floors in the whole apartment (the whole apartment, except obviously the few square feet in the tiled bathroom) are sanded down to their last millimeters. This means that they will never be white. Instead Micke was able to cover it with a wonder-cover called hardwax that prevents the black oil smudging as it did before. It looks great unless you look at the kitchen part where the floor boards are pushing up in the lining, revealing the 0.5 millimeter of wood. More long term we will have to have them relayed. As in having put in new hardwood floors on 65 square meters (that is around 700 square feet). Wish we had known this before we bought the place so we could have used it as bargain leverage, but hey, you live and you learn.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Walking, walking, walking

Last Friday I flew down to Copenhagen with Zoe. It was one of the easiest flights ever with her, she was a darling despite being slightly ill, coughing and sneezing. I don't travel with a stroller, have never done and will never do. I have a used one in Copenhagen for getting around there and I take her in the Beco on the way to and from the airport for the stretches where she can't walk herself. The great thing is she is increasingly able to walk more and more by herself. She walked onto the airplane herself and was very patient as we stood in line on the air bridge for close to 15 minutes, having her head bumped by inconsiderate business men with their big laptop bags. She cried for 20 seconds as we got seated at our window seat and fell asleep right after take off, sleeping until we landed an hour later. She walked off the airplane herself too and as if my magic, an airport provided stroller appeared (yes, this is one of the reasons I love Copenhagen airport) right outside our gate. She put her little bag underneath the stroller like her mother does, except this version didn't have a basket so I had to save it from being run over before we took off. When we had to leave the stroller before the arrival gate she turned around and waved goodbye to it, as it was her dearest toy in the world. She walked, holding my hand, past all the baggage belts until we reached number 6, much to the amazement by other people who probably rarely saw such little children walking by themselves. At the carrousel we stopped and Zoe looked excitedly for the big green suitcase she had seen her clothes disappear into back at home in Stockholm. When I got it, carrying her in my arms was out of the question, and I managed to lure her into walking the very last stretch through the customs by telling her grandma was waiting at the other door. She was and Zoe ran up to her, with open arms, giving my mom the biggest hug. My mother's eyes welled up. Nothing better than a toddler that recognizes you with love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Today I got a piece of really good news: an academic paper that I wrote based on thoughts I have had for a long time, actually since I did my first empirical studies during my PhD, has been accepted to the prime conference in my field. They have a 23% acceptance rate and although I have had papers there before, this is my first 'solo-author' paper. It shows that my rather controversial thoughts on the topic are valid and I now have the opportunity to presents these issues to a larger audience. I am obviously already nervous if I can defend them well enough during question time, but so far, this is overshadowed by my excitement.

This also means that I am going to a conference in Texas in May, leaving on Zoe's 2nd birthday. Alas, she will be a full fare ticket and since there is no childcare at this conference, and Mark is going too, I have decided to leave her at home with grandma. It will be the first time I am away from Zoe for more than one night, but she loves her grandma and I know she will be fine. May is still 5 months away.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bye bye grandma

Grandma flew back earlier this afternoon, leaving Zoe whimpering at the door but in a home much more homey than when she had arrived: My mom managed to add a bit of Christmas decoration to my pathetic first attempt and sprinkle pine filled decorations around the apartment. Zoe has eaten more chocolate the last 3 days than she has eaten her whole life but at least she took some broccoli in her mouth this evening before throwing it on the floor. She is now sleeping through the night again, which she will hopefully continue to do this week, which will be my last work week before Christmas vacation (apart from a few work meetings in Copenhagen). I am looking forward to seeing my lovely husband again tomorrow morning when he flies back from Boston.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grandma to the rescue

This morning I screamed at Zoe because we were late for daycare (very late) and she needed her diaper changed but wouldn't lie still, probably because her tummy hurt. It was yet another stressful morning where she woke up late after having been awake for the two neat hours between 2am and 4am, like the other nights, leaving me a zombie when my alarm went off at 6.45am. Experiencing one of the low points of my 19 months of motherhood, I lost my temper with her in desperation to get her to lie still, but oddly enough she didn't get scared, she didn't cry harder. She just looked at me with a puzzled look, wondering why I was yelling so loud when she was right there. We eventually managed to get out the door and walk the extra blocks to another subway entrance where the elevator was surely working, opposite our local entrance where the elevator had been out of order for two days. After dropping off a crying tired toddler, I had to compose myself in front of the daycare director when I passed by her office on my way out, but burst out crying as soon as I had the front door to the daycare behind me. On my way to work, after having collected myself I called my mom with the pretense to ask how the Lucia dress was going. She asked how Zoe was and I started sobbing again. "I don't know how I am going to manage, she doesn't sleep at night and she is still not eating much. Mark is coming back Sunday but until then I am just on my own". My mom paused. "Do you want me to go and get a plane ticket to come up there", she said inquisitively. "Yes", I whined. And this is why grandma is coming on the first plane to Stockholm tomorrow, with a Lucia dress size 86 and a roll of marzipan (a Danish Christmas delight).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Daycare makes babies sick

I started last week with a visit to the nice Swedish health services. It turns out they have walk-in hours everyday between 9.30 and 11.30 where you get to see your "house doctor" (general practitioner). Since I didn't have a house doctor yet, I just waited for the first one available, which was about half an hour (their signage was so bad that I ended going upstairs first, just to stand in line to be sent back down where now everyone who had also arrived at 9.27 had signed in). Meanwhile Zoe charmed the waiting room by her eiiis and ohhhhs and at one point waving bye bye at me, turning around with her pull-along train and walking out of the waiting room, into the larger lobby. She looked back several times, waving again, and I just waved back. When she couldn't see me anymore she walked back, realizing that she wasn't really comfortable being that far away either. Occasionally she started crying out of the blue, holding her hand on the right side of her head like it was hurting and it was for this very reason, plus her on and off slight fever, that had brought us in. The doctor made me hold her head still so he could look into her ear, which I was not happy about, especially because I knew that she would hold it still herself if I had time to explain it to her and distract her. But there was apparently no time for that. My instincts were right, a light ear infection on her right ear. She didn't need antibiotics unless I observed her getting significantly worse. This is when I thought it would take two days.

Four days and one failed morning of daycare ("Sorry, but Zoe is just crying after her nap, I don't think she is over her illness yet", the nice director told me on the phone at 1pm, trying really hard not to make me feel like the bad mom that I was) after, I managed to submit the funding application that was due that week after having worked each evening, when Zoe was finally asleep, not in my arms. The research report that was also due this week had to wait, nobody was going to die if I submitted it next week (I might get a black tick in somebody's book of professional people who deserve funding from a particular agency in the future, but hey, I'll just have to find another funding agency...).

So what did I learn this week? Well, firstly, I should always be one full week ahead with my deadlines because with a child in daycare and a husband that also works (and is attending a full time Swedish course at the moment), anything can happen. Secondly, Sweden has a wonderful health system with apparently no co-pay for house doctors (in opposition to the emergency room) and great walk-in services. I'll use them again. The second lesson is definitely an easier one to deal with than the first one.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The pressure is on

I opened the news letter from the daycare, and although I was prepared for some potential holiday activities, I wasn't quite prepared for the level of requirements that awaited. In December it is Nobel day and Lucia day. Nobel day seemed viable, the children simply needed to wear 'elegant clothes'. Zoe has several dresses that can, in the right light, look at least cute (still not sure how you make a chubby toddler look elegant). Lucia day was a bit more complicated: she needed to wear a Lucia dress and carry a little battery driven candle. I am all for traditions but the thought of having to buy a white dress that my daughter will wear for two hours, then shove it in the drawer until next year where I will take it out again, only to discover that it is now a miniskirt and it would offend all the teachers if I let her wear it, was just a bit draining. Plus, we are on a serious budget. How much sewing would such dress be in need of, I thought. I probably had an old sheet somewhere, I just didn't have a sewing machine here. But guess who has a sewing machine? My mom (who used to have her own designer store). One text, a phone call and a measuring tape from Zoe's shoulders to her feet later, I had a deal. My mom will make a long dress that I can possibly reuse because of its long hem and her creativity when it comes to adding edges next year. Sent by express mail. I already felt some of the mommy-pressure ease off my shoulders.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Peace on earth

My slightly pathetic attempt to decorate for Christmas
Yet another thing that I didn't think of in August when we packed our stuff into 1/2 container in sunny California, was that we would likely have to live without it through Christmas. This meant that I packed all my decorations, even the little golden Georg Jensen mistletoe that I got from my great aunt (who was always a role model for me, getting not only one of the first high school science degrees as a woman  in the 1920s but went on to have a successful career in the pharmaceutical business), and which I always hang up on my front door, where ever in the world I am. Instead I now have to improvise Christmas decoration and that on a budget (since we just spent all our money and a bit more on a new apartment). I bought a couple of pretty holiday pieces to hang up and they were lying on the kitchen table when Zoe was milling around. This lead me to the next moment where I heard myself saying firmly to her: "Zoe, be nice to the earth!" She was banging one of the ornaments into the table; the ornament happened to be a globe. I took it and let her help me string the ornaments on a metal hanger, another impromptu Christmassy device (okay, I saw that in a magazine). We tossed cinnamon sticks and silver hearts into the four-candle metal box that will be our 'advents wreath' and that will be the Christmas decoration of this year. The globe is now peacefully hanging in the window together with a star and other pretty things.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has never been my holiday but with an American daughter I am starting to think that perhaps I will try to celebrate it in the future. I have been living in the US for many thanksgivings, more than I can count on two hands but each one of them have been remarkably different, ranging from a day off by myself (when I was a grad student in Irvine) to traditional celebration with really good friends in New York. Last year Mark and I simply made a nice meal for ourselves and enjoyed a day off. I have only been with American families a couple of times but each time has been a treat, although the family wasn't mine; because thanksgiving is not my holiday I only missed my own family slightly (now christmas, that is a whole other thing...). I was with my family one particular thanksgiving: the year my mother decided that our American au pair Andrea should not be without one. She cooked a turkey and made cranberry sauce, something that has now crept into our christmas dinner every year and Andrea made the pumpkin pie herself. It was a wonderful afternoon, or should I say evening, because we had to do it late since it was a normal school day in Denmark. Andrea taught me the skill of saying thanks and be thankful and I really think that was an important lesson. These days, even though I can't celebrate thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin, I still make sure to phrase my thankfulness, even if that means telling it to Zoe as we walked home from daycare. When it all comes down to it, Zoe is the person I am most thankful for of all things in the whole world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A place to call home

Today we bought an apartment! We have been looking for a place since we moved to Stockholm because our present apartment is a temporary sublet. Stockholm is rather unique when it comes to its housing market in that it is really hard to rent but fairly easy to buy. You don't actually buy the apartment but buy the right to live there and pay a fee to the housing association. People often misunderstand this system and think it is a bad deal to pay such big amount of money 'just to be able to rent' but in reality it works as a normal owned apartment because you obviously are able to sell your 'right to rent' again for a similar amount. In fact Sweden is one of the countries where the housing market has not crashed (at all) and the prices are high but also not overpriced. The benefits are that you get a well-run association that takes care of all the external maintenance of the larger house and infrastructure. The stairwells are meticulously well-kept and the systems such as electricity and pluming are looked after before any damage can happen. The back yards are communal and often have small play grounds and there is always a room for the strollers (and bicycles) downstairs. They really love their children here.

We bought a two bedroom (also referred to as a '3 room apartment' here) apartment in the part of Stockholm called Södermalm, an old working class area that has been gentrified to a more bohemian, hip neighborhood. It has an open plan kitchen/living room, which is not very common in apartments here but I really got to like this setup in the US because you can all be in the same room together while doing a range of activities. This is code for "Zoe can't easily get into trouble without me watching". The two bedrooms are fairly small but sufficient as one for Zoe and one for the adults. It is about half the size of our two bedroom condo in California, mainly because it lacks a stair case and only has one bathroom. It also lacks decent size closets which will be the biggest challenge but luckily it comes with storage space in the basement.

I am hugely excited about this place, it is beautiful and bright and embodies all the Scandinavian minimalism and clean design that I love. I can't wait till after Christmas when we get to move in.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FlyBaby CryBaby

It was a short flight from my favorite airport to another airport with a super-fast train back to the city and my mom was taking us to the airport. This was going to be an easy piecy, simple trip home. We get to the self check-in automat and I proudly show my mom that you just need to swipe your credit card to get the boarding passes. Except the automat says "card read, please try another one" (directly translated from Swedish, why it spoke swedish to me I have no idea). It repeats this announcement with my 4 other cards and I finally just find my booking reference in my Tripit entry on my phone. EI35T. "Your flight has been cancelled, go to check in desk for assistance". I go to the premium counter because I am silver and because it has no queue and is 3 meters away from me, still with my mother pulling my luggage and Zoe on my back in the Beco. While showing my card, the middle aged, grey clad woman asks me if I am silver on SAS. I reply (honestly) that I am silver on BMI. Then she can't help me. I have to go across the terminal to the economy counter to find out what they are going to do with me. Thanks. I get to the other counter where they put me on the next flight, now I have 2 1/2 hours of wait time and a toddler who will be home 1 hour past her bedtime.

Security was fairly easy even though I let Zoe walk herself for the first time. I heard myself say "stay with mom Zoe, stay here" over and over again because I was terrified she would go the wrong way, go behind a counter or just disappear among all the busy people. She stayed with me and I carried her through the metal detector.

Waiting in the airport, Zoe behaved exemplary considering the situation. After pushing her up and down the terminal for 45 minutes in one of the small luggage carts that had a seat for babies, she wanted down and push the luggage cart herself. We found a corner where she pushed the luggage cart around for another half hour until we really had to board the plane. She started crying because I had to take the carryon luggage out of the cart and this is when I had to take a deep breath. It will be fine, I told myself and I kissed Zoe and hugged her while she cried that tired, hungry, I-don't-want-to-do-this cry. Really, this is when I had to pull myself together not to have a meltdown myself. The thought of being on a full airplane with other people monitoring my slightest move and Zoe's every peep was not my kind of fun. She stopped crying and was fine until I had to take her to a window seat (I specifically ask for a window seat with her because otherwise she can easy wriggle herself out of my lap and into the aisle. She will also not understand why she is not allowed to go into the aisle. In a window seat she is stuck). Then she started screaming and kicking and all I could do was to hold her tight, talk softly to her and try to prevent her from kicking our neighbor and I eventually calmed her down. The flight attendant came and gave us the extension belt that they still use for infants in Europe and the little infant lifevest that goes in the seat pocket. Asking if I knew how to use it I nodded and said friendly that we had tried before. I proceeded to pick up my phone so I could turn it off but the flight attendant came back telling me that I had to strap her in now. I didn't have patience for her type so I looked up at her, and said in a very calm but firm tone "I am turning off my phone. (pause) I will strap her in when I am done turning off my phone." She looked at me a bit confused but then left. Not only were we still steadfast on the ground, I also knew that the moment I put a belt on Zoe she would start crying again. Which obviously happened after I had turned off my phone and continued the settling-in process. I ended up nursing Zoe for take-off and she was fine for 10 minutes.

The rest of the flight was cry, scream, kick seat in front, calm for 5 minutes, repeat. I was happy when we toughed down foggy Stockholm but of course the de-planing process was full of screaming, crying because we were still stuck, now with all the other passengers' eyes on us. I let her walk out herself because I knew there would be baggage carts right outside. Zoe was proud as a pea walking down up the aisle herself and waved at people who were waiting outside the plane for boarding, like nothing had happened. I put her back on my back before we exited customs and after a short train ride we arrived at the train station where Mark picked us up. She was ecstatic to see him but also tired beyond belief and so was her mommy.

Next time we are taking a short, easy one hour flight we are bringing more snacks (on the plane all I had was chocolate which she ate 3 pieces of) and 23 episodes of Pingu on my phone. I will also check my flight before we leave and in case of cancellations see if they have another flight at a time that does not collide with Zoe's bedtime. Although more likely I will end up in the very same situation again anyway.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Right Stroller

I am in Copenhagen with Zoe for a long weekend and after a rough start where Zoe twisted her neck in the morning and cried for most of the journey to the airport, in the airport, boarding and then fell asleep on my lap 10 minutes into the flight, we arrived here to the joy of my parents. My mother greeted us in the airport with the stroller that I bought last time; it was used and cost $50, plus $30 for a spare tire. It is over 10 years old and very ragged but my mom has done a great job covering up the worst part with new fabric. It does a great job in getting Zoe around here without me having to bring our Stockholm stroller. Just like Stockholm, Copenhagen is a public transportation city and I walk around here even more because my parents live very central.

Earlier today I took a walk, partly to get Zoe to take her midday nap and partly because I needed to go get a birthday present for my brother. I didn't even get a block before I was overtaken by a mom with a brand new black Odder pram and a baby hiding underneath the obligatory cloth hanging from the canopy. It was so shining new and posh looking that I immediately felt embarrassed with my greyish worn out pram. It reminded me of the woman who had gasped at my forward facing Zoe in the stroller: "I was wondering... can you, does it flip around? I mean you get all the wind right in there", she had tried but really what she had wanted to say was "how could you face forward your baby? That is awful". I didn't tell her that Zoe was actually really excited to face forward because she didn't do that at home, but when my parents had put together this used stroller, they had forward faced it and I didn't want the bother of changing it. But that would just sound like an excuse. The comment stung anyway. Just like the next cream colored Emmaljunga stroller that came towards me reminded me that here having the right stroller is essential in order to belong and be a true yummy mommy. But then I see my beautiful daughter who excitedly looks around while hugging her doll and remember that it is not the stroller that matters but what is inside.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend trip to Copenhagen

This upcoming weekend I am taking Zoe to Copenhagen to see family and friends. I used to take the train from Stockholm to Copenhagen since it is convenient, relaxing, affordable and environment friendly but just the thought of having Zoe on a train for 5 hours makes me hyper-ventilate from stress. Instead I am taking a highly expensive fast train to the airport, standing in a long security queue, walking to the airplane to board and then, after flying for one hour, hopping on a train in the other end again. All in all, door to door, I am saving one hour compared to the train, but I am providing Zoe with plenty of entertainment in the shape of varied activities, modes of transportation and only an hour where she has to sit on my lap. I have taken small trips with her what feels like a million times before, yet, I am already starting to think it through. She is walking so much by herself now that I am wondering if I should let her walk more than carry her. I will still bring my Beco carrier, which recently turned out to be a lifesaver, just for the times where we need to get somewhere quick. Luckily she is one of those kids who do pretty much what I tell her to and rarely goes out of my sight, at least without looking back to see my approval. I am looking forward to see how she will be doing and will report back.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Post-traumatic pancakes

Next day, after Zoe had fallen down the stairs, I made pancakes for us in the afternoon. For a Scandinavian like me, pancakes are of course what many others refer to as crepes because they think they are French. But they are a stable also in Denmark where they are served with jam, preferably strawberry, and/or sugar. Zoe munched them down and gave me that cute shaking-her-shoulders 'mmmmmm' that makes me happy all the way down my toes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What parents fear

Yesterday, the thing that all parents fear happened to me. Zoe fell down a staircase. Not just a couple of steps but a whole floor, 19 steps marble staircase. From top to bottom. She is fine.

It was one of those days where I tried to do just a bit too much. After talking to the daycare principal around 3pm that day and being told that we could start the next day, I realized that Zoe had almost no clean clothes and rushed up to put on a wash in the communal laundry. To get to the laundry room we take the elevator to 5th floor and walk the last floor up to the big iron door, which leads to several smaller laundry rooms. Zoe loves it up there and she stood there just watching the washer spin as it cleaned her clothes. We went back up to put them into the dryer before leaving to see an apartment that was showing not too far away (yes, we are still looking). Zoe was getting tired and hungry as we got back around 6 pm, but I thought it would be a good idea to go get the laundry on the way in, instead of having to wait for Mark to come home and go get it, so we went directly up to the laundry room. As we exited the iron door, I let Zoe go ahead. She always wait for me to hold her hand before walking down the stairs. The landing on top of the stairs is quite small and it was difficult for me to juggle both my bag and the laundry bag, but I managed to get the heavy door open and closed as Zoe stood there, getting ready to hold my hand and walk down the stairs. Then she got brave and took a small step down but lost her balance. I watched her fall over and tried to reach for her but my bags made me too slow. She started rolling. I screamed. She screamed. I ran after her, trying to grab her, but she rolled too fast. I screamed even louder. At the bottom of the steps she finally stopped rolling but continued screaming. I reached her and hugged her, still screaming "oh my god, oh my god, little Zoe girl". She sobbed and cried and explained to me what had happened: "baba lala bala daba dadu", pointing at her head and the floor and then the staircase, then back at her head. Despite my panic I did consciously think that this was a good sign. She had not been knocked unconscious. When I think back, I remember seeing her little arms above her head as she was rolling down, the reflex that most of us have, to protect our head. I hugged her and kissed her and looked over her little head, moving her hair around but didn't see any bruising. Still feeling a surge of panic I made the decision to ring the doorbell of our upstairs neighbors, a family of five where I had met the mother and chatted to her briefly earlier in the afternoon. "I don't know what to do", I blurted out when she opened, "Zoe fell down the stairs". She went down on her knees to take a look at Zoe and Zoe explained again what had happened: "balala duba bada da", pointing at her head and back at the staircase. "It's not your fault", was the next thing my neighbor said, "but you should take her to the children's emergency room". She gave me the name of it and suggested I take the bus, it would be faster than a taxi.

I called Mark in the elevator on the way down after having grabbed Zoe's stuffed lion George and my Beco baby carrier. There was no way I was going to get the stroller down the stairs and pack Zoe in there when I could have her close to me in the Beco. "Don't worry, she is okay", I said but I want to get her checked out. Meet us there?" At the hospital they were efficient and nice as everywhere else in Sweden and we got to see a doctor within half an hour of arriving. He took a look at my now overtired daughter who was running around, happy with all the attention and after a few tests he reassured us that she was fine. "They are bouncy at that age". I felt relieved but teared up again when explaining to Mark what had happened on the bus home. Turned out the most traumatized person here was the mother.

That night I insisted that Zoe slept in our bedroom and she ended up sleeping right next to me most of the night. I hugged her and kissed her and thought that there definitely must be an angel looking after her. She had no bruises whatsoever on her body, her thick winter clothes probably cushioned the fall. This morning, although tired, she seemed to have no fear of stairs but still waits for me to come hold her hand when going down. One thing is for sure though: I am never taking her to the laundry room again. Sorry Zoe, I'm not.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Flying with kids, US vs. international

The New York Times recommended the article "Are we there yet" as top of my reading list. No surprise there. What did surprise me were all the bad experiences people reported when flying with children. I have always been able to board fairly early, although I have rarely taken advantage of that, since a bouncy toddler needs as little time as possible stuck on my lap. And I have only once been seated away from Mark, but it turned out that it was the back row on a tiny Embraer with a 2+1 configuration and it was done to give me an extra seat for Zoe. People have always been friendly and Zoe always managed to charm some flight attendant into favors like the ride on the drinks cart, or should I say the five rides back and forth through the cabin which finally lead to her having an overtired melt down.

But then I realized that firstly, I have only one child to travel with (so far). Traveling with two is surely much more taxing than with one little (mostly) well-behaved Zoe and I have nothing to say about traveling where adults are outnumbered by the children. Just hearing bits about my two friends traveling with 4 month old twins tires me out (did you for example know that two lap infants cannot travel in the same row? There is only one extra oxygen mask per row of 3 seats so twin parents are most often seated at the two aisle seats across from each other. Often well-meaning fellow passengers will offer to change seats, but no, the twin parents will have to swap babies across the aisle all trip long). I hope to convince my friend to write a guest post about plane travel with twins.

Secondly, the difference between me and the parents quoted in the article is that I have probably traveled more hours internationally than internally within the US. My all time favorite airline is Air New Zealand but I also love Scandinavian because they always give Zoe a book and a little stuffed animal. In fact most of the flights she ends up getting a series of stuffed animals because all the stewardesses want to make sure she got one. As I have pointed out in a previous post I tend to bring bottles of milk on the plane even though I breastfeed Zoe (well, actually this is not necessary anymore, Zoe cut the bottles 1-2 weeks ago) and I have never run out of milk. In fact, well-knowing that they were probably only stocking coffee creamers in coach, I have once sent Mark over to Starbucks to get milk, approximately 3 minutes before the gate closed. He ran so fast back that the milk spilled out the top of the paper cup they had had to pour it into, since they didn't have actual cartons of milk for sale. Onboard I managed to pour most of it into the bottle but at take-off we were then stuck at a bulkhead seat with half of cup of milk. I would have loved to donate it to the family cited who needed it. I am very aware of the differences though, between international and US domestic air travel. The worst travel experiences with Zoe has been the long flights, in domestic coach.

Zoe, not entirely sure that she likes the food
in 1st class, on our way to China at 10 months

I must admit that a lot of the casualness I have with flying with Zoe, alone or not, comes from a lot of experience with flying in itself. I pay attention to details and imagine scenarios before they happen. When I was pregnant I started imagining every situation with the addition of a baby. I also mentally go through my whole journey before leaving for a trip and this is actually one of my best pieces of advice. If you are worried about something, face it in your head first, put all the bad scenarios into it and you will feel more in control when you know you are able to deal with it (of course, if you are a worrier who would just be even more worried, don't). It is not easy to travel with children but it is also not that difficult if you prepare well.

One day though, I would love to get into the cockpit and see all the instruments and meet the pilots, so I hope they introduce that again before Zoe gets to old to be an excuse for that.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We got daycare!

We finally got daycare! After changing strategy and calling up the central daycare registration, telling them the story that we are now taking vacation days (something Swedes take pride in having many of, but which make little sense in my job as a researcher because if you take the day off, you just gotta do the work another day) to take care of Zoe, they finally managed to find a spot. Yesterday we went to visit the preschool as they call them here, and we filled in paperworks on the spot. It is two subway stations away from where we live now, but sort of on the way to work and it is an English speaking one. I didn't immediately take to some of the staff but the teacher in the Rabbit group where Zoe will be was sweet and she clearly also liked her. I am overly excited that Zoe finally gets to go and play with other kids, play with different toys (or any, she has something like 2 dolls, a sorting box and 10 books at home, the rest is on a container on the way through the Panama Canal) and get an actual regular daily life. We are not sure when she can start because it depends on the council's paperwork (doesn't everything?) but they will call Monday to let us know. As an optimistic precaution I have cancelled the babysitter for next week.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Keeping my career alive

One of the things that has been a challenge these past 3 months has been not just to keep up with academic duties that comes with the job of being a researcher, but also at least try to continue keeping up with my own work. The good thing is that I am not in an actual paid position at the moment so I don't have someone breathing down the back of my neck, but the bad thing is that the future committee who will review my tenure case, professor application or any other serious step up the academic ladder could not care less. I am a researcher, therefore I work. Paid or not, daycare or not. When we were in London I managed to work several hours every day because I had arranged childcare. Here in Stockholm I had been promised, by the council, that Zoe would have daycare some time in October and hadn't arranged anything else, partly also because a gap in income means we have to save the pennies now. I thought I could deal with looking after Zoe for a couple of weeks. Where, in London, I managed to revise a (good, if I may say so) paper of my own and submit it to the main conference within my field, I have barely managed to keep up my academic duties here in Stockholm. These past few days I have handed in week-late reviews of other's papers, an important duty within academia and one that I had tried to say no to. But then a colleague asked if I could review a paper that didn't just lean on one of my previous studies but which actually built all their data on my old study. If I wasn't the best reviewer, who was? And then this new young colleague had trouble finding anyone and it was already 1 week before the deadline. So I felt sorry for her and agreed to review a paper for her. And then... You see the pattern. This is why I ended up on a Thursday afternoon, half an hour before a date with Mark, in a cafe, trying to remind myself what this paper was about. I must have read it one afternoon at the playground or at least while Zoe was around because the pages are a bit crumbled and 'someone' has taken a bite of one of the corners. My notes are really hard to read but after skimming the paper again, they make sense. It might be a while before I get back to my own research, but then I remember I actually do have someone breathing down my neck. The science fundation that funded my last study just sent me an email reminder that the final report is due at the end of the month. Daycare or not.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Letting the baby sleep outside

One of the things that my mother worried about when she came to visit me in California, while I was 36 weeks pregnant, was where the baby would nap. She was worried that the balcony was too noisy and the little court yard only had a small window that I couldn't see out from the living room. I said I would think about it and try and solve that. Not at one moment did I question that the baby would be napping outside like a proper Scandinavian baby. When Zoe was born I forgot she was Danish and let her nap in the bassinet inside, next to our bed or the bassinet in the living room or, as happens with most newborns, on top of my chest. We went to Stockholm when she was only 3 1/2 weeks old and for my 3 months maternity leave here, she napped in her lie-flat pram when I was taking my daily walks, just as all other Scandinavian babies. Returning to the US I never tried to recreate the outdoor napping, mainly because it was too hot in Southern California and it was too difficult to for her to actually fall asleep outside.

In fact, I never thought much about the cultural differences between baby napping before I read this blog post about letting your baby sleep outdoors (or Americans' reluctancy to do so). I have thought a lot about other cultural differences such as lie-flat sleeping vs. car seat sleeping (I am still convinced that Americans are breeding a generation of people with serious back problems when they get older) and baby-carrying (as in a soft-structured carrier or wrap) vs. logging your baby around in a car seat and stroller. But for some reason in the US I simply adopted the US standard of letting the baby nap in her crib, in her room.

So when we got back to Stockholm this time, I was really happy to see that Zoe has not only started liking her stroller more, or should I say, at all, she also falls asleep in it and likes to snuggle up inside her little foot muff (which is its proper name, but a complete misnomer since this covers her up to her ears), lying flat in her stroller and nap. I usually go to a cafe and leave her sleeping outside so she doesn't get to hot from all the clothes and today she slept a record of 2 hours and 15 minutes. The blog post above wonders how Scandinavians can just leave their babies outside and having experienced motherhood from both worlds I see where she is coming from. I would never leave my baby outside in the US, simply because infrastructures such as buildings, paths, roads and pavements are bigger, there is more space between window and entrance, and there is no appropriate place to put a stroller. Here in Stockholm on the other hand I was able to place the stroller 4 inches from the window, sit down about two meters from the window, watching if Zoe's feet moved. The atmosphere is one of friendliness, there are 100 of parents out and about, dads and moms, and there is always someone with an acknowledging smile. There is a sense of 'us' not 'me and them' and I have the confidence that if Zoe cried and I didn't hear her, someone would pop in and ask whose baby it was. As for the blogger's rather unimaginative question to how to dress the baby for sleeping in the cold weather I just have to ask if she has never been out herself in cold weather? Clothing my dear, clothing and some more clothing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Feeling at home in a suitcase

During a recent visit to Zoe's grandmother, it turned out that
she found herself more at home in our suitcase

Finding a home

Today, Mark, Zoe and I continued our Sunday pass time activity of looking for an apartment to buy in Stockholm. The place we live in now is temporary; it is owned by a very nice lady who has ME (a chronic tiredness disorder) who needed to get away from the dark and cold Stockholm autumn and is therefore kindly letting us stay here for a reasonable price. She is coming back in the end of December so we need to buy an apartment before then. The past two Sundays and on occasional weekday evenings we have looked at places around the area where we would like to live. The system here is that the apartments for sale keep an open house at a specific time during Sundays where potential buyers can come and take a look. I am not going to bore my reader with financial issues but one of our surprises have been just how expensive a cozy little two bedroom apartment can be if you want to live in a nice neighborhood with cafes around the corner and an appropriate train station within walking distance. Basically our dream place is about 700.000 SKR (the equivalent of 110.000 USD) more expensive than what we can afford. We have seen close to 20 places now, all just within our price range, some slightly above it, and so far there is only one that we really like, unfortunately it is slightly above our range, but we are considering bidding lower. It is not perfect but it encompasses minimalistic cosmopolitan living and has a really nice feel to it. And it has high ceilings. The latter has ended up being one of the most difficult things to find within our price range and within the area we want to live. I grew up in an apartment with high ceilings and it is the one thing that, if missing, makes me completely claustrophobic. High ceilings come in apartments built in the 1930s or before, the more modern complexes has much lower ceilings, often just 2.5 meters. But I am realizing that we might have to compromise somewhere. Perhaps size?

Zoe is enjoying the viewing, walking around opening cabinets and sitting on sofas. Today she made herself home in the bathroom of one place, inside the shower cabin where she enjoyed pulling the curtain back and forth until another viewer asked around if anyone were missing a child. I hadn't panicked yet, but had started looking for her, so I was grateful for the discovery and got her out of the bathroom with a few objections. When I asked Zoe if she would like to live in that apartment she shook her head and said "nooo". Yet another reject. Apartment hunting continues next Sunday.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Going from 'I think I am having a nervous breakdown' to 'this is tolerable', I am now slowly starting to enjoy the situation of being a temporary stay-at-home-mom. Especially because I have managed to get myself out of it for the most part. This week things finally came together a bit better and my upcoming weeks look something like this:

Monday is mommy-Zoe day; we go to the open preschool in the morning where I have met a couple of really nice parents that I talk to while Zoe meanders around by herself, playing, in this child-safe haven. I feed her a pre-lunch there and as I leave she falls asleep in her stroller, packed snug inside the stroller bag and several layers of clothing. I quickly find a cafe where I read an academic paper, check email or listen to an interview (research data). She wakes up 1 1/2 hour later, we go home and get some real lunch. If weather permits we go to the play ground and play and get home for dinner at 6pm.

Tuesday is babysitter day. Sasha is our new babysitter from England. She is very nice and had no clue what babysitters get paid here in Sweden so she asked for a ridiculously small amount per hour, which I had to add 10 Kr to in order to keep some sort of clean conscience about employing her, but she is a darling and Zoe and her get along really well. I go out between 10 and 3.30 pm where I get to work in a cafe. When I get home, weather permitting, I take Zoe to the playground.

Wednesday: repeat Monday, except I go to another open preschool where there are English speaking parents. In the afternoon I go to the gym where Zoe plays in the 'mini club'. I am very impressed that she doesn't mind being there considering she probably understands zero of the child-minders' Swedish. But as long there are toys, she seems happy.

Thursday: repeat Tuesday

Friday: I go to the gym in the morning and hand Zoe off to Mark who does a daddy afternoon (and works home in the morning). I go to a cafe with big candles in the window and where the owner serves cappuccinos with smiley faces. The cafe's lack of internet is also a bonus because it means I can only read and write, not surf.

All in all I get to do some work, stay on top of email and well, write a bit on this blog and stuff, while still pretending to be a stay-at-home-mom. This apparent comfortable situation of course didn't prevent me from calling up the daycare coordination office again last Wednesday, using a few key phrases such as 'I have to get back to work' and 'I was told my guarantee month was october', conveniently with a crying toddler in the background. The friendly operator (you never get to talk to the right people straight away, government services are like a secret society where you don't know the codes to get in or even find the right door) ensured me that somebody would call me back; however, I have yet to receive a phone call now Friday afternoon.

I want my daycare place now!
The most difficult part of my situation is of course still the lack of adult interaction, particularly interaction with like-minded colleagues. The research center where I am going to work is a good 45 minute commute away and I have therefore avoided going there, even when I have the babysitter. Six hours of child care can quickly turn into two hours of actual work if I spend 2 of them in transport and two of them setting up my desk. But the frightening notion that, right now, my most important quality is being able to coerce a toddler into wearing a snowsuit *before* we leave the house and get a stroller elegantly in and out of a bus, is gradually getting to me. Mark is being a star, cooking almost ever evening and complimenting me work-wise too ("Today I discovered that your X paper is now one of the most referenced papers in Y!" and "[colleague] tells me that he really enjoyed your last study of Z"). Yet, being without regular adult conversation is one of the things I can't live without and this is one of the reasons I was never meant to be a more steady stay-at-home-mom. So please, day-care people, call me back with some good news. Zoe and I are waiting by the phone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Yesterday I went to a different open preschool, one that the Australian mother had recommended and found her sitting at a table with the 6 month old sleeping in her arms and the 2 year old throwing food on the floor. She was friendly and had either not heard my accidentally rude comment from last time or pretended not to. She introduced me to other 'ex pats', an Irishman and an Englishman, whom I already plotted to befriend Mark. The conversation was typical of settled foreigners in a country: what are the cultural differences, what was awful about the country and what was good. I got to complain about how Swedes (and Scandinavians in general) don't look you in the eyes on the street or in shops, how they turn away and pretend not to see anyone else, and I learned that British men are generally more involved parents than Australian men. As much as she loved Sweden, still, the Australian woman would like to go back there to live again so they could have her parents look after the kids once in a while. I mentioned that we have a babysitter and she explained that she couldn't do that. The girls had never really been with anyone else, the only times her and her husband went out was when her parents were visiting from Australia. I tried to hide my chock and explained that that had never been an option for me. I cannot spend that much time with my adorable, wonderful daughter, I need me-time, work-time and Mark and I need us-time. She said that her girls simply didn't couldn't be with anyone else, no further explanation. I kept thinking I should feel lucky that I have always been able to leave Zoe with others. Sure it has sometimes been difficult, but I have never thought about not leaving her with babysitters. But in the end I felt lucky that I am a bit more realistic. Wanting to make such a bit move to have babysitters, is not realistic. I can understand being hesitant about leaving them with someone else but I believe it is necessary for both children and parents. Parents can only be good parents if they are happy in their own skin and get a bit of time off. And I truly believe that children will be just fine with other care-takers on occasion. On my way home with a sleeping Zoe in the stroller, I decided to offer to babysit her two girls next time I see her. She and her husband seriously needs a night out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Playgrounds for the parents

Sweden has a reputation for high taxes and as much as I have yet to bring home a paycheck to witness this myself, I am increasingly getting a better understanding of where these go. Throughout the city there are publicly funded "open pre-schools" with teaching staff were parents can take their little ones for some socializing with other children and coffee drinking with other adults. They are not daycare as such but a place where the parents stay with the kids for a couple of hours. I knew about these public play groups from last year where I spent my early maternity leave in Stockholm, so the first weekday here I ran over to the closest one to get some adult interaction and for Zoe to see some actual toys (the one small bag of toys we brought with us, I forgot in New York, leaving her with a second-hand push-trolley from London, two dolls that her aunt gave her during her visit and the lego car her dad brought back from the US last week). True to my daughter's upbringing the thing she reached for as the first thing in this toy-heavenwas the giant plastic airplane. I helped her get it down from the shelf and for 10 minutes she was engulfed in putting little figures into the plane and taking them out again. I got to practice my Swedish but must admit I felt relieved when Zoe refused to stay in the circle of parents and babies when they started singing. Obviously also in Swedish.

This morning we went to another playground than the one two blocks from our apartment and I stumbled upon two English speaking moms. It was as if Zoe was gravitating towards them, reminding me that she does not understand a word of Swedish yet but must feel more comfortable hearing English. The moms had two girls each and they did not promote that whole big family very well. The American's oldest girl of 2 1/2 managed to take Zoe's purse out of her hands twice, making Zoe inconsolable and tempting me to wrestle it back with a vengeance. The Australian mother kept yelling at her older girl whenever the girl did something wrong, which obviously a 2 year old with a new little sister did a lot. I almost asked her how much time she spent only with her older daughter but realized that just because we immediately all bonded over the being foreigners in Sweden, she was not by best friend yet. Instead I accidentally thought aloud when they were about to leave and the older kid needed the bathroom *just* after she had been put in her snowsuit: "It must be so hard with two kids, this isn't a good example is it?" I could have bit my tongue but instead tried to cover up my unintended rudeness: "We all have our tough days, don't we?". The Australian seemed too caught up in trying to twist the kid out of the fluffy garments but then turned to me, handing over her 6 month old: "Can you hold her for a second?" I felt honored to be allowed to hold such precious little cargo and put her on my leg while kneeling down so Zoe could see her. The baby started crying a bit and Zoe went over, looking a bit puzzled. "There there", I said, padding the baby on her head and Zoe helped out. Together we comforted the baby and handed back a smiling girl when her mother returned. Perhaps I didn't make such a bad impression anyway. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction in terms of making friends. In any case I am going to be happy to pay my taxes.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Today I opened an account in my fourth country. On Wednesday I will then have debit and credit cards in 4 countries, Denmark, the UK, USA and Sweden. I also have personal security numbers in each country, which is necessary in order to get bank accounts in three of these (UK is an exception, instead they require a vast amount of paperwork including "proof of address", which usually presents a catch 22 of getting official letters sent to your address when you don't have an account yet). When I asked to apply for an actual credit card as well they questioned me if I really wanted that? Did I not just want a debit card? In the US they throw credit after you, continuously sending you offers for company affiliated credit cards where you earn points: frequent flyer miles, retail points and even coffee points. Here you don't get any points at all but instead a dirty look from your banker.

I am really looking forward to have an actual Swedish card to pay with in the shops. One of the major problems with having money and cards in 4 different countries is that you occasionally (well, often) have to pay with a card foreign to the country you are in. For US cards this is a challenge. On average they close off my card after about 6 transactions in another country. Then I have to call my US bank and tell them that I did indeed travel (like I do 5-8 times per year) and used my card in a foreign country. Then they lecture me that I need to call them up in advance and I agree, knowing that I am never going to do this because 1. between packing and planning a trip, who has the time to call your bank? 2. half the times they have not closed off at least one of my cards making payments perfectly possible. 3. Really? (Mark once had a rant at a banker over the phone questioning why they just couldn't write a note on our cards that we travel often.) But I guess if I had called them up this time I would have been spared the embarrassment of having both my US cards rejected while trying to explain in my broken Swedish that "US banks hates other countries and therefore closed off my cards" (that was as nuanced as I got). The 25 year old clueless store clerk just looked at me like I was the biggest crook trying to pay with cards with no credit. Or worse, cards that weren't mine. So I really look forward to have my own card, at least if that gets rejected it is because I am genuinely out of money and I can only blame myself.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lost in Translation

The reader who knows me personally will know that Sweden was not my first choice in terms of country to live in. Instead it was chosen for me by some sort of twisted sense of humor, a joke probably only understandable to Danes (who always make fun of Sweden, the Swedish language and all things prohibited, like everything in Sweden). I have embraced the situation with my head held high and have gone through many tutoring hours (and a lot of money) to learn to speak Swedish. Yet being new at a language again is something I am not used to and find rather difficult. Like when at the playgroup yesterday where a woman I attempted to compliment for her shirt looked at me wide eyed, repeating her "what?" because I had clearly not pronounced 'shirt' correctly. I tried with a "not your dress but that one", pointing at her chest but that didn't go down well either. She snickered and I considered my friendship bid a failure. Luckily I later managed to strike up a conversation with an Irish dad feeding his 14 month old a jar of vegetable puree, still in Swedish, about sleep patterns and daycare. It turned out to be a match in heaven, he spoke slowly enough for me and was patient enough to wait for my corrections when I accidentally used a Danish or English word. The irony here of course being that the conversation would have been manyfold smoother if we had just switched to English. But we were both engaged foreigners in Sweden, doing what we can to fit in, even if that is speaking Swedish, just for the practice of it.

Mark tried to comfort me at home telling me that in 6 months I would be completely fluent and not worry about it anymore but I am not so sure. Right now I am in that frustrating state of wanting to make jokes, talk insiderish and just feeling that I belong, but not having the words for it. I find myself saying "jag är dansk", I am Danish, before people even say hello because I know that my accent is implacable, and I want them to understand the context. I want them to know that I am almost one of them, I just can't speak like them. And yet I know that I am not. My claim to be Danish is only a small part of me and it simply explains why I talk the way I do using odd old-fashioned words to a Swede, yet being fairly fluent in the Stockholm dialect. But I am a foreigner here, wondering why people don't hold the door, why they don't say hi when you enter a shop and why people drink so much coffee. They certainly wouldn't behave like that in my home country of America where I wonder why everyone pretend to be so happy and why the waitresses suck up to their guests in ways that seem almost inappropriate. Not like in Britain where their subdued friendliness has an edge of sarcasm to it, making servant/guest interactions   more sleek. Then I remember that I am not American, neither British but Scandinavian by birth and upbringing. But these days I am a foreigner everywhere I go.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stay at home mom

This past Saturday we flew the two hour flight from London to Stockholm. Stockholm will be our home for a foreseeable future, not sure how long, not sure how short. Zoe made up for her crying on the plane from Copenhagen the week before by, hold on, sleeping the whole flight, even though it was not her naptime. She sat in her own seat (thanks SAS) between Mark and me, got a bottle for take off and leaned against me as the plane roamed into the air. She was asleep before even the flight attendants were allowed to stand up.

I have temporarily turned into a stay at home mom because we are waiting for the lovely affordable government subsidized daycare. When I called up the central daycare administration Monday they were very nice and told me I was number 47, but that I would have to talk to the local agency of my area. Another woman then called me up today and told me that 1) I would not be able to sign up before I had a person number (which takes 3 weeks from our in-person application that we did this Monday) and 2) that I had signed up in the wrong local area and would therefore be put in the back of the queue anyway, when I get my person number. Or more specifically Zoe's person number. I almost started crying. Holding back tears I said in my accented Swedish "But I need to go to work". I argued my case for a bit and after emphasizing that I had contacted them in February because I knew I was going to move to Stockholm and I knew that I needed daycare right away, the administrator softened. She promised to call my local daycare coordinator and tell her about the situation. "Sometimes things can happen quicker", she said almost as if she was providing me inside information, hinting at that magic that can happen if you play your cards right, even in the uptight bureaucracy of Sweden. I thanked her several times using words that were not normally used with official people here and hung up.

Non-Scandinavian readers might ask why I am not just getting a private child minder or even a part time nanny as we had in the US, so let me explain. Firstly, it is our aim to get Zoe into a daycare. I am a firm believer in daycare for children above 1 year and the quality here is high. Secondly, even a temporary private solution would be insanely expensive. Official prices of one-on-one childcare range from $30 per hour and up, almost twice what we paid in the US. This is the reason why private solutions to childcare do not really exist here, the quoted prices are for occasional babysitting, i.e. 1 day per week or evenings. So unless you have a grandmother who can look after the child for free you rely on the official channels here. Therefore I am a stay a stay at home mom at the moment.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faking it or making it

One of the biggest compliments that I have received as a parent is one from a young colleague and friend of Mark. She has visited us and stayed a couple of times so she has seen the ins and outs of us dealing with parenthood. She says "you guys make it seem so easy". She visited when Zoe was less than three weeks old and she took me aside telling me I looked great and that she was so impressed with how we dealt with things. I broke down in front of her, sobbing (as one does 3 weeks postpartum) and told her that breast feeding was hell and I felt like a bad mother for not being able to nurse my newborn. She hugged me and said if I haven't admitted how hard things really were she would have thought there was something seriously wrong with me. So since then the compliment that keeps me going is her genuine statement that we make it look easy to have a baby.

This compliment was the one I was thinking about as I stood with Zoe in Cafe Nero, having placed her sitting on a high stool, dangling her little legs in the air (obviously holding on to her), while feeding her yogurt and drinking a cappuccino myself. The mother and daughter behind me peeked, especially the daughter, seemingly around 14, kept turning her head towards Zoe in that sweet 'I love babies' way that only girls who want an extra little sibling can do. And right that moment having a calm, cute, babbling 16 month old who gulped down yogurt from a bar stool in one of London's SoHo cafe's definitely was the easiest and most wonderful thing in the whole world. What the 14 year old and our friend couldn't see and didn't know was that 10 minutes prior Zoe had screamed hysterically in her stroller trying to fight her way out because she had rejected her lunch and was now really hungry but I had fed her my last cracker. All while I frantically looked for a place for a snack that was not a pub and not a restaurant.
And what they would never know was that 10 minutes later, I would have to run over to BabyGap to get a new pair of pants for Zoe because she, for the second time that day, had managed to pee through her diaper, soaking first her original pants, then the spare pants I always carried with me. What they wouldn't witness was my struggle to get said pants on Zoe in the world's tiniest bathroom after carrying her down a spiral staircase, leaving the stroller upstairs praying it would still be there when we returned. Yes, it does look easy, especially when you see only fragments of everyday life. But I still dwell in the compliment that we make things seem easy, even if they aren't always.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crash and Burn

Last night, Zoe and I flew our 44th flight together coming back to London from a long weekend in Copenhagen. It was a short flight, an hour and a half and I was in such relaxed state beforehand that I forgot to put diapers in her changing kit (I flew hand luggage only so I had some in my roller suitcase) and I didn't think of dinner before we were inside the terminal around 5.30pm. It was one of those journeys that ended up being 'interesting' rather than bland or eventless.

The security guard asked me, for the first time ever in Copenhagen airport, to take Zoe out of my carrier with the logic reason that "If not, they couldn't search me properly if I beeped". It might just be me who is particularly clever and capable of reasoning that in the case I beeped, they could ask me to remove her, but no, that would be to hard to figure out. He then proceeded to ask me if she could walk through the metal detector herself. Zoe is 16 months and if you have ever experienced a 16 month old you would know that 1. they do not like to be far away from their parents, and 2. sometimes they love being away from their parents, so much that they run off in a different direction entirely. "She is not walking through herself", I answered through my teeth. On the other side a security officer offered to get me a hand luggage cart, which I politely declined but applauded him for the help.

I was in perfect time for my flight, not too early and no need to rush. Except when I looked at the screen the flight showed an hour and a half delay. Nice. With a tired toddler in an airport. After consulting with information it turned our that Copenhagen airport has a little known, large play area with toys and seats for adults. We stocked up on dinner (sandwiches) and headed over there. Zoe played with a French boy whom she followed around like a puppy but who didn't think much of her. One hour was easily killed.

Zoe was her usual little happy self when we got to the gate and I let her walk onto the plane herself for the first time. Walking on as the last people, she was charming all the other passengers, waving her little hand as she walked down the aisle to 28A. Little did they know that they were to see and hear much more from her.

She sat in her own seat as we took off, fully occupied by the little stuffed chicken that they crew had given her along side a book that she flicked through. I was the proud mother of a patient, cute, calm little girl as we started out flight towards Heathrow. After take-off I asked for a blanket and a pillow for her because by now it was quite past her bedtime and I could tell she was getting tired. She adorably pulled the blanket over herself and tried to make herself comfortable on the seats (we were given a full row to ourselves because the replacement plane was twice the size of the original one) but she wasn't really able to lie down long enough to drift off. She knew she was tired but she couldn't calm down. I nursed her a bit, trying to help her sleep but she gradually went into her overtired overdrive that I know only too well.

I finally let her go into the aisle where she quickly looked around and then took off towards the front. I ran after and took her hand, explaining that she had to hold mommy's hand. We then walked up to business class where a flight attendant and I exchanged looks, me expressing that I knew she wasn't allowed her and her expressing that she had to ask us to turn around. I was mostly worried about Zoe turning her attention to passengers who did not want her attention because she waved and pointed and said hi (Bah? Da? Gaga) to most of the people she passed. After a few trips up and down, the most childfriendly of the flight attendants came down and asked if Zoe wanted a ride. We looked up and the stewardess lifted her onto the now empty drinks cart. "Hold on to the side", she demanded and Zoe did as she was told. The flight attendants then proceeded to push the cart up and down the aisle to Zoe's clear joy and amazement. When they finally came back, Zoe was certainly not done but I had to take her and thank them. She was now not just overtired but also set on getting another ride so she started crying when I held her close and tried keeping her in her seat. I explained to her she had to stay there, I tried with snacks, I kissed her and I tried holding her loosely, knowing we were about to land. At one point the stewardess from business came down and asked if her ears were hurting. I almost snapped. "Her ears are not hurting, she if completely overtired". "Is there anything I can help with", she said but I declined and this was probably my mistake. As she left, I almost lost my temper and I squeezed my hysterically screaming toddler so hard that I know I should't and hissed at her. I wanted to hit her, I wanted to pinch her. I took a bottle with rice milk and stuffed it into her mouth. She spat it out, still arching her back. I took it and stuffed it in again, now holding it more firmly. After three tries, Zoe finally started sucking and before she had sucked the 3 ounces down, she was fast asleep in my arms. Now I was the only one crying.

So after 43 flights with her, 1/3 of them by myself, I still have lots to learn. One of them is that sleepy toddlers need a bit more help sleeping because crash and burn is UGLY. Another one is that stuffing a bottle (as much as I hate her still having it) in her mouth sometimes works (there was no way I could have stuffed a nipple in the same way, that requires two hands). And the last one is of course to accept help when you need it and not try to be such a supermom. This is the closest I have ever been to hurting her our of anger, because of the frustration of the situation, one that is public (I know for a fact that her 5 minute screaming woke up several sleeping passengers) and one where there a limited remedies (like a bed where you can put your hysterical baby while you cool off yourself). Let's hope I will remember this for her next 40 odd flights.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Full Time Working Mother

Living in the US has made me aware that I am a full time working mother. I never thought much about that term before, even living in the US for years without kids, because growing up in Denmark, the concept simply did not exist; you were a mother and you worked. Like everybody else. But now, even though I could not imagine my life with a baby any other way, I have to relate to that concept and define myself as such. It makes me think about myself and motherhood in a different way. I feel I have to defend myself in my everyday interactions. When I am trying to get onto a full bus at 5.45pm with a stroller and a crying (because she is hungry and tired) toddler I am ready to defend myself: "sorry but she needed a haircut, she couldn't see out through her bangs anymore and the only appointment I could make after work was the 5 pm one". Why didn't I just go on the weekend? "Sorry but I have so many other things to do on weekends, like cleaning and grocery shopping and I also like to take my daughter to the play ground". Okay, I lose on this one, I should really have taken her on the weekend where she wouldn't have been so tired and hungry that she screamed even before the hairdresser got to the bangs (why did she start off so slowly, even pinning Zoe's hair up with hair clips? (which Zoe obviously took out)). And then perhaps Zoe wouldn't have run away from me as I tried to pay the hairdresser, galloping all the way out on the pavement of the busy street, sending my heart racing and me almost pinching Zoe out of frustration and fright. And I feel the need to defend myself when I take Zoe to the indoor play gym on Friday mornings and let her roam around amongst the other kids while I frantically try to catch up with a bit of email on my iPhone. I really should play with her myself, but the reason I can take a Friday morning with her is because I know I am able to coordinate some work while we are away.

What I don't feel guilty about or have any need to defend is that I am a full time working mother. I love my job and have never imagined doing anything else after having children. I could maybe organize things differently sometimes but I really do try my best. My last line of defense is always imaging myself screaming at strangers who give me the side eye: "Yeah, why should we mothers need to go out at all, why don't we just stay home, chained to the stove where we belong". Because that would surely make them see the ridiculousness of judging me for trying to get in to an overflowing bus at 5.45pm on a Wednesday.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Worst plane travel memory

Of all my air travel experiences one moment stand out as one of those moments that you never ever want to relive, one of those situations you think back to and swear never to get into again. Because I have traveled roughly 1/3 of my flights, train journeys and even ferry journeys with Zoe on my own, without the help from Mark, I feel I got most of the single mom organization down. Plus, I have mastered a special look that just hints at a bit of helplessness, without seeming too pathetic, which always works in attracting a helping hand. For example from the mother who helped me assemble my stroller one late night in an airport when everyone else had left and I literally would not have been able to do it with my 4 month old strapped to my chest. Or for example from a woman who resolutely told me not to worry about getting my stroller out the train with 4 steep steps because her husband was going to help me. But my worst travel memory is not one of these situations where I got immediate help. It is all but.

Last summer I was traveling from Stockholm to Copenhagen for a last weekend with my parents before going back to California and although I could probably just have carried 4 months old Zoe in the carrier, I had decided to bring the (fairly big but collapsable) stroller. I guess this came down to my inexperience with carriers and that I hadn't discovered the Beco Gemini yet. I arrived in Stockholm airport ready to buy my plastic bag for 40 Skr (which SAS charge according to their website) for the stroller, put it in and get on my marry way through security. The queue for dropping off luggage turned out to be 70 yards long, possibly because this was a Friday, possibly because they were short on staff. I go in line like everybody else, knowing very well that my flight will leave before I would be half way through the queue. But I have no choice. 10 minutes in a checkin woman comes over and picks me and couple of other people with kids out of the queue and take us over to another counter. She checks me in but she does not have any plastic bags for the stroller and therefore can not check that in. I have to go to the business class queue and get a plastic bag. I go back (this is not an insignificant walk, back and forth) and queue for the business class counter. When I get to the front this lady proclaims that she is out of plastic bags but I can go to the 'special luggage' counter and get one. I walk over there (remember, I still have Zoe on my chest and a bag on the stroller which I am pushing) and see yet another 10 person queue. Having now less than 40 minutes before my flight I skip to the front and ask for a plastic bag, which the guy reluctantly gives me, stating that since his card reader is out of order he cannot charge me. I frantically start taking the stroller apart, first the top, then collapsing the chassis, then taking off the wheels but for some reason the parts won't fit in the plastic bag. The chassis goes in and the wheels but it isn't big enough for the bassinet part. I try to take it out and reverse the packing order but to no avail.

This is the moment I start crying. I am going to miss my plane and I won't see my parents for 6 months. What is more sad is that they won't see Zoe for 6 months. I am trying not to hit Zoe's little head with the stroller parts, which makes it really difficult to shift things around in the bag but I must get it in there. I am sitting on the floor in front of the 'special baggage' checkin with 20 people staring at me trying to get a stroller into a plastic bag. In between sobbing and cursing I am trying to keep Zoe calm by talking softly to her. "It will all be okay, sweetypie". Finally, a British guy comes to my rescue. "Let me help you out", he says "I have a baby of my own at home". And then the stroller parts gets packed and the stroller bag checked in and I venture through security and catch my flight. As the last person entering the plane.

And then I stopped traveling with strollers except for very small light ones.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round...

Here in London, Zoe and I go on a lot of public transportation and I am proud to say I am learning to navigate the underground with a stroller. The trick is to know which stations have elevators and escalators and look helpless at the ones that don't, prompting a nice fellow passenger to help. In the beginning I would still carry her in the Beco or my wrap if we were not going out for long but she is 22 pounds/10 kg now and walking far with her is tough. She has never been a fan of her stroller, (which is one of the main reasons I have always carried her so much) she simply doesn't like to sit still and be driven around, which leads me to look enviously at all the calm or sleeping babies in the strollers around town. How do they do it? Do they drug the babies? Do they bribe them? Zoe might sit without complaining if we are walking through a particularly interesting area with many people, but as soon as I get into a train or bus, she wants up: "Bah? Bah?", she says, pulling her buckle and pointing down.

I had a particularly long train ride to Cambridge yesterday, one I do not want to repeat any time soon. The train we were supposed to catch was cancelled due to unavailable drivers (that's actually what the sign said) so we ended up on a completely full train where, even though I walked all the way up front, each and every single seat was taken. I pushed the stroller inside the train and prepared myself to stand up when a woman at the window graciously offered me her seat. Zoe promptly smiled and padded her on the head when she sat down on the floor in the hallway. Luckily our seat was around two women who clearly had children on their own because they smiled and paid her the right amount of attention, but diagonally across from us was an elderly lady with thin black hair who was not going to be Zoe's friend. She looked a bit at her when she reached out her hands but she huffed loudly when Zoe accidentally dropped a lime wedge (after taking it out of the plastic cup with fruit, biting in to it and making the funniest sour face), which bounced off the lady's stocking clad leg. I apologized but the lady just starred out the window, clearly upset. As I tried to give Zoe a bit of milk from a carton with a straw, something we have just recently started, Zoe squeezed the carton spilling a bit of milk, also on the woman's stockings. I thought she was going to have a fit at me, the irresponsible mother who let her baby eat on the train, but she just huffed louder, still not looking at us, which made the mother across give me an acknowledging look. She knew I was trying my best. I was relieved when we finally reached Cambridge and managed to carry Zoe on my arm, while pulling out the stroller where I put her in, to her loud screams.

So taking Zoe on public transportation is not my favorite activity but after learning a few tricks I am getting better. One trick is to always take the bus rather than the underground and then take her out of her stroller and on my lap for the ride. She often gets rowdy and difficult to hold because she wants down so she can run around, which is obviously not an option on neither a bus nor a train. I found that she likes my singing so I sing quietly into her ear: "The wheels on the bus goes round and round, round and round, round and round..." So far so good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fried Brains

One thing that happens when you become a mother is that your brain gets fried. I’m sure there is a logical, evolutionary reason for this but for an evolved career woman like me it means that it is now impossible to focus on any intellectual task for more than a couple of minutes, if at all. This is why I am sitting at London's finest Harvey Nic's 5th floor restaurant drinking lattes and blogging about traveling with a baby. Or should I say blogging about not working, because this was what my life is all about at the moment. I have managed to get child care for Zoe, at least 5 hours every day, I got my library card to the British library where I have all the quiet, all the electrical outlets and all the lunch I need for a good work day. Yet, I keep finding excuses to go somewhere else, either because I really do need hair conditioner (I squeezed the last drop out of my travel bottle this morning), or because I am not entirely sure which research project to work on yet. Today I needed to go to the Danish Embassy to vote in the Danish general election, something I haven't had the opportunity to do for about ten years and therefore prioritized. (In fact the last election I voted in was the Scottish regional election in 2006, which I was eligible for as a European citizen, opposite the Danish ones which I haven't been eligible to vote in for many years. Don't ask, it is complicated.)

One of the problems with a fried brain is not that "they didn't tell me this would happen", because I sort of knew something like this would happen through reading about motherhood, listening to other mothers and simply realizing how much energy would go into a child. The problem is that I thought that I, with my amazing drive and great ambitions (ha ha), would be able to work past this quickly and get back in the grind or that I would at least be able to focus on work in little chunks of 1-2 hours. How could I not? I have always been hard working and master deadlines like the pro researcher, working 12-14 hours the last week, with focus, with attention to details. Yet, I find myself so overwhelmed with the back trail of projects that all need my attention, quickly getting older, outdating the empirical data and making me forget why I was studying that phenomenon in the first place. Not only do I feel the obligations of my research projects slowly unraveling me, I am also weighed down from my students' expectations of my involvement and for some a definite need of my involvement. I am letting them down by not working on their project, yet, I know I don't have the time to polish it enough for the deadline, so why does it matter?

So I end up going Harvey Nic's for breakfast on a Monday instead of working on my research, wondering when I will get my brain back.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Earlier this week I was on a secret mission at an undisclosed location (okay, who am I kidding, the knowledgable reader will quickly decipher that this, as any secret mission in the world of research, was a job interview). It was a single day trip, by my own request, since I am still not comfortable leaving Zoe at night if not necessary. It was a very strange experience to simply get into a black mercedes at 5.15am, doze off before reaching the airport, stroll through security (because all I had was a laptop and a book) and walk directly onto a plane taking me off to another city, in fact another country, where I then spent a good 6 hours before reversing the trajectory and ending up in the grotty London Underground at 10pm on a train that was stuck for 10 minutes in the tunnel. This was the only hiccup of my travels. As I stepped back into our little 19th century apartment on 2nd floor, the only evidence that I had spent the day in another country was my Ramlösa water bottle, which I had refilled with English tap water upon landing in Heathrow.

The most surprising part of the trip to me was how little I missed Zoe. Or how little I worried about her. The 'mission' had been planned only two weeks previously and the day, which they give you and which you cannot change, was less than ideal: it was Mark's second day at his new job, only one week into our stay in London so the childcare I had arranged was not somewhere I felt comfortable leaving Zoe at for 12 hours, even if the nice childminder (as they are called over here) had offered. Instead Mark brought Zoe with him the 1 hour commute to work and dropped her off at his boss' house where a nanny was taking care of her little one. He apparently went back for lunch and then picked her up again late afternoon. I was blissfully unaware of all of this, since Mark had been the responsible husband and said, after a brief discussion of what I was to do, "Don't worry a thing, you go to your meeting, I'll figure out what to do about Zoe". And with that I had turned my focus to preparation of the meeting. When it came to the actual day, I enjoyed baby-free travel, particularly the 2 hour flight from 7-9am that provided me with time for a dearly needed nap, since Zoe had woken up at 2am and stayed awake until 3am, leaving me to twist and turn until 4am where I had had to get up. She clearly knew something was up.

As for the outcome of my little mission I have to wait a couple of weeks. But if all goes well, this will be my way of getting into the next step of my professional life. Or that is, start getting paid again for all the work that I do.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The cup holder problem

Moving to another country, let alone another country across the vast Atlantic is not a simple task to undertake. We have been lucky to have the majority of the related expenses paid, including having a set of moving people come and disassemble our furniture, pack everything up in your apartment, load it into a container and send it off, through the Panama Canal. We hope that on the other end, another set of moving people will carry the stuff up to the new apartment, open up the crates and put the furniture back together again. On the surface this seems like a great service and I was happy to have it for the first time of my life, after having moved 15+ times, always packing my own boxes. However, I quickly realized that it was not just the packing of boxes that was important but the judgement of what needed to be boxed and moved, vs. the stuff that needed to be sold or tossed. See, moving a $20 Ikea lamp from the US to Europe makes absolutely no sense because not only would the lamp not work with European bulbs (which are apparently 0.4 cm wider than the US bulbs) or European current, but the cost of moving it would also exceed the cost of buying a new one in a European Ikea. Combined with the fact that I never really liked this lamp and that it was bought merely as a 'transition' lamp (like so many other household items...) meant that it was not to be packed. Multiply that with 50 because we also had kitchen appliances that would not work in Europe, even with a transformer, include pre-pregnancy clothes that I really thought I would fit into by now but which I really should just part with, and you have at least 4 days work. Add to that a nosy little toddler who likes to take out all items I put in a box and who specialize in taking items and putting them somewhere strange (what is your little shoe doing in the cupboard? No, mommy's book does not go in the bathroom drawer), and you have about 8 evenings worth of hard work.

I approached the task with rigor, writing lists, sorting things out beginning one month prior to our big move. For two weeks this was all I could talk about, frequently asking Mark what he thought: Should I bring both of Zoe's duvets or just the small one? Should we keep the big lamp that I loved, but which would need rewiring in Europe? Would it make sense to ship the $1 wine glasses that we never used? He eventually got really annoyed and we snapped at each other, he accusing me of worrying too much and me accusing him of not helping out with the decisions. Instead he kept talking about more abstract things such as the fact that we still hadn't heard from the estate agent in London in terms of where we could pick up keys to our flat, things we couldn't do much about other than try to call them during opening hours (which was never when he expressed his concern). Eventually we found a middle way, me managing most of the household stuff, putting lamps on craigslist, him endlessly surfing the internet for estate agent news and, to his credit, showing and finally selling the car.

Almost everything was ready a few days before the movers arrived, now I just needed pack and decide what things we could not live without for 2 months. It was tough, but I managed to squeeze everything for Zoe and me (Mark took care of his own stuff) into a large suitcase weighing 71 pounds. This was clothes (including light winter clothes, we won't see our boxes before November the earliest), two of Zoe's favorite teddybears, important papers such as immunization records, an inflatable tub for Zoe, two books for me and her cup and bowl. We were also bringing her small collapsable stroller in a separate cover so we could check it in.

For some reason those last days of packing melted into one another with us trying to make the most of it, seeing people for goodbye dinners, goodbye brunches and goodbye drinks. The Friday before the movers were coming Saturday morning was the most difficult day because Zoe had to say goodbye to her lovely nanny, something I still cannot even write about without getting tears in my eyes, and something that is worth a whole other post. I was in a blur, trying to finish some work, managing a new study (yeah, I had just started a new study 2 weeks before we moved, how smart was that?) and on top of that we sold our car, so I had to look after Zoe while cooking for the dinner party we held for our nanny that very evening. When our guests finally left just before midnight I realized that I still had to label everything that the movers were not to take, such as still unsold lamps, suitcases and furniture we were getting rid of. Mark went to bed and left me to it; around 2 am I tumbled into bed, my head still spinning, hoping for the best.

Zoe and the all-important cupholder
The moving men were nice and seemed a lot more professional and meticulous than I had expected. They asked for each item that was not clear, I explained that no electric appliances were to be taken, except of course for the ones that were actually going (our large nice lamp, which we would be rewiring) and they went about their packing tasks. Meanwhile I realized that it was not entirely safe to have a toddler running around, picking up their power drills (NO ZOE, those screws are not for eating!) and generally being in the way of big men with big boxes. Mark took her out in the stroller, leaving me to guide the movers and relax a bit.

Flash forward to the evening where Mark had handed over the car to its new owners and finally, the movers had emptied the apartment and left us with the bare minimum to live with for the remaining two days. We went out to goodbye dinner with a couple of friends and were having a relaxing conversation when I suddenly realized, getting a chill down my back, that when I had put Zoe in the stroller so Mark could take her out that morning, I had taken off the cup holder because I knew he hated it (it was apparently in the way of his hand), and put it in the coat closet. The coat closet where the movers had packed everything from, including cup holder. How could I be taking Zoe for walks around London without a cup holder? How could I get my caffeine fix now? I interrupted everyone with my serious realization to the laugh of particularly Mark who did not share my distraughtness. After a bit of grumpiness from my side, he looked at me and said: If that is the worst thing that went wrong today, then we are pretty well off aren't we. And I agreed. We dubbed these small problems that we deal with 'cup holder problems', which reminds us everyday that we are so lucky to have what we have in terms of each other and Zoe, and wonderful people around us. And now I am off to spend £15 on a new cup holder because I really miss it here in London.