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.