Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve morning

It is all quiet and dark when I wake up, no sound apart from Zoe's calm breath next to me. I am in my teenage room, the room my parents have converted into guest room and let me and Zoe stay in when we visit. It is full of book cases along each wall, storing my dad's inherited book collection. Each time I am there I discover a new book that I have never seen before and contemplate reading it. I rarely get to read anything here though because Zoe wants my attention 24/7 and because I enjoy my family's company very much; our evenings with coffee and knitting, chocolate and interior magazines and conversations about our lives. I turn to the chair doubling as a side table next to the bed and pick up my phone, hoping not to wake Zoe with the light. It is 6:30 and I see text messages from last night when I went to bed early. Facebook notifications. Nothing important. "I'm on this number" I reply quickly and turn to Zoe. She will sleep for another couple of hours, her 'schedule' is much later when we are here, which I like, I enjoy having her up with us in the evenings although she sometimes gets overtired. I get up, dress quickly into comfortable but warm clothes and go into the living room where a half-decorated Christmas tree is waiting for presents and more decoration. It looks almost pathetic with one side bare and another side of sporadic glass figurines. I start picking out more decoration from the boxes and put them on, poking my fingers on the needles. I remember Zoe's surprised annoyance when she realized that pine trees hurt. She had quickly lost interest in putting any ornaments on the tree after she got poked the third time.

I give up quickly too and take the long walk through the hallway back to the kitchen. My parents' apartment is one of the 1890s upper class European apartments with all the period features intact: The kitchen in the way back, the maid's room behind the kitchen, the dining room with an oval wall and a bathroom that has been renovated because all it was initially built with was a narrow wash room with a sink and a tub. Toilets were downstairs in the back yard. Even the little buttons in each room for calling the maid are still there although the only one that is still working is the front door. I make myself a cup of coffee, the nutty one, with their nespresso machine. I still cannot use the large restaurant-grade Italian espresso maker that my mom has, or perhaps I just know that my coffee would never live up to her creations.

I take the coffee back to the sitting room, another room from the living room, one next to my dad's office which was originally the "gentleman's room". It is 7 am now. Still pitch black outside and no sound from anywhere. This is my Christmas eve morning. To a Scandinavian this is the same a Christmas morning is to the rest of the (Christian) world. We celebrate the evening of the 24th and today is the magic day. Presents have been wrapped, food prepared. I am not sure how much Zoe understands yet but this will probably be her first 'real' Christmas. Her vocabulary has expanded rapidly the past week: juletrae (Christmas tree), rensdyr (reindeer), julemanden (Santa Claus), julepynt (christmas decoration), just to mention a few. I suspect she knows the words in English too but haven't checked not to confuse her.

In an hour or so I will go and wake her up. We have so many things to do. We have to wrap the last present, put them all under the Christmas tree. We have to make 'konfekt', the marzipan and chocolate pieces that are an integrated part of Danish Christmas. We will watch the Disney show on television, the very same show they broadcast each year on this day. And tonight we will eat duck, potatoes and cranberry sauce, the latter being an inspiration from my many years in the US, no Dane would know what that is. We will light the candles on the Christmas tree and sing songs before handing out presents. I am so happy that I get to spend this day with Zoe and I get teary eyed when I think about how she is sorely missed somewhere else. I cannot even begin to think about next year. I promise myself to take one day at a time. Just like Zoe does.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Passport Please

"Did you remember to give Zoe her own passport", I texted her dad, just making sure we would have it when we return to Stockholm after Christmas. For some reason you need your passport if you're traveling with plane from Denmark to Sweden and are checking in luggage (and possibly the other way but I have not tried this yet). I was surprised one time when we did check in one suitcase and they asked for Zoe's ID. Normally I would just have checked in in advance or printed out boarding passes in the machine, taking only hand luggage and go straight to the plane without having to show ID any place on the way. The Scandinavian countries have had a passport union for like 100 years and I really only bring our passports with us because with our lifestyle we never know where we might have to go on short notice. "Oh shoot" was his answer, or that is my censored version of his Scottish cursing, because he had not given it to Zoe when he dropped her off in Copenhagen airport and it was now in Edinburgh with him. Luckily Zoe is the owner of two passports and all I need is to go and pick up her US passport at his place tomorrow before I leave so we can get back into Sweden. Because after Christmas we certainly will be checking in luggage.

The logistics of the last few days have been rather insane, there is really no better word for it. I was in China when Zoe's dad left for Christmas in Scotland and he had generously offered that she spend Christmas and new years with me in Denmark (next year we will probably switch, something I don't want to think of right now). This meant that he had to drop off Zoe in Denmark with my mom. But having 50 minutes between planes meant he didn't have time to take her out and go back through security, similarly to another time where I was going to Munich. After trying to get a plane ticket so my mom could get in to pick up Zoe and realizing that around this time of year they are at least kr1000/$150, I started looking into other possibilities. It turned out that a friend of a friend is working in the airport and after a bit of back and forth emails he volunteered to come pick up Zoe at the gate and take her down to arrival where grandma would be waiting. All this was taking place when I was on a plane from Shanghai back to Sweden and I called them the minuted the wheels of my plane touched the ground. "Everything went well" my mom reassured me and I sighed in relief. Zoe was happy to be there but apparently now speaks a lot of Swedish and more English than Danish. We will get that sorted out I said and went home to my cold and empty apartment.

Today I had dinner with a friend (my only friend in Stockholm) who gave me a present for Zoe. Packing was easy because all I needed to do was repack: take out my formal presentation clothes from China and put in all the presents. Now all I need is to pack some clothes for Zoe because apparently, she was sent to Denmark with only a snowsuit, her big doll and the clothes she was wearing. But the important part was that she made it and that she is happy. I can't wait to see her, this is the longest we have ever been apart. But I gotta remember that passport, or she will be stuck in Denmark with grandma. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Looking for Coffee

And then I found myself sitting in Marks and Spencer's* cafe, having a cappuccino and a lemon muffin, British music in the speakers, looking out over the buzzing and messy Shanghai streets. Having survived the first week in China without pretty much any coffee at all, I needed this break. Not only for the caffeine and pretty interior fix but to get back into my western easy-life bubble that I realized even more apparently now that I belong to. Having travelled to India and China the past month reminded me and accentuated my knowledge that I am among the few privileged people in this world. I can afford everything but also have a built in right to be here in this sub-part or upper-class area of the world that is Shanghai right now. I have never been ignorant of my own privilege as some westerners, even as an adult my thoughts frequently turn to how my particular situation would look from another person's perspective, in a less privileged situation. How would I deal with a limited set of resources that we take for granted, like electricity and water? How would I have known about infant care if all the information I had was from the other mothers in the village? (I'm not saying that China or India is specifically this, but exemplifying characteristics of 'less privileged' as I view it)  I knew what China looked like before going here, yet I was positively surprised about the infrastructure, the kindness of people and the availability of goods (and yes I mean availability in terms of affordability too, for the people who make a couple of dollars per day). But just as these people who live their life on limited resources and in a tight-knit community of settled cultural customs very foreign to me, just as they don't even dream of stepping inside Marks and Spencers, let alone having a cup of coffee, I find it difficult to walk around and immerse myself in their cultural customs, social structure and simply their neighborhoods. If I don't focus and keep my eyes and ears constantly open, people surprise me with their honking (tooting a horn here, and in India for that matter, means "I'm behind you, watch out" not "Get the h*** out of the way, you idiot" as in northern Europe and the US), they surprise me with their invitations into the shops and offend me by approaching me unsolicited. I constantly have to have an open mind and interpret little actions anew instead of going with my solidly established western social norms. And this is tiring. Exhausting. I am perfectly capable of having a week without coffee, I'm not addicted to the caffein. But I am addicted to my social culture just like most of the people here are settled into theirs.

The other cup of decent coffee I had in China

Tonight I will be flying to Taiwan for our last university visit and then I'm off home to Stockholm. I can't wait to see Zoe in Copenhagen on Friday where she will have been dropped off.

*Marks and Spencer's is the essential traditional solid middle class department store.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

China via Paris

I am in China on a tour of 6 universities with a mini-deligation of my colleagues. We are promoting and  nurturing research collaboration as well as exchange student agreements with these universities and I was selected to represent my sub-field. Or that is, I was available to go to China for 12 days because I negotiated myself out of teaching a course. At first I had crazy plans to bring Zoe but with flying each evening and sleeping in a new hotel each night, such rock-star life style is not fit for a two and a half year old. She was left in the capable hands of her dad and they seem to have a grand time playing in the Stockholm snow when she is not in daycare.

I had particularly been looking forward to my plane ride from Paris (where I was at a committee meeting) that would fly me on Lufthansa's new Airbus 380. If you do not know what I am talking don't bother, if you do, you have perhaps a vague idea of just how excited I was. But as plans go, well, they don't always go the way you plan. I was well on time for my Paris to Frankfurt flight when I entered Charles de Gaulle airport a couple of days ago, only to see the big fat red "cancelled" sign next to my small first flight. Already then, I knew I was not going on a 380 anyway. I was then instructed to line up by the service desk to get rerouted. Except the line already had about 50 people in it. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. And asked the French woman who was on her way to Istanbul if she could look after my suitcase while I went to get a sandwich, came back and waited some more until I had waited, standing up for 5 hours. Finally, I reached the counter and the flustered, overtired (remember, she had been dealing with nasty passengers for over 5 hours) blond woman said "I can give you the direct Air China to Beijing in 2 hours. Last seat". I counted my luck and didn't ask to get upgraded. 

So I flew the worst seat ever on my most despised airline ever, but I got to Beijing, only 4 hours later than I had planned. And the best part, the thing I kept thinking, for all those 5 hours was how lucky I was, not to have Zoe with me. That was indeed very lucky.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The youngest committee member

Yesterday Zoe attended her second academic committee meeting*. Her first committee meeting was when she was just under a year and her dad and I had scheduled travel on top of each other by mistake. It was rather complicated back then even though I had a babysitter and tremendous help and understanding from the other committee members. But I had at least planned it for months and had warned my fellow researchers ahead of time.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was completely unplanned and did not show me from my most professional side. But the best laid plans sometimes don't pan out the way you want them to and this was one of the times. I had arranged, after having Zoe looked after by a friend of mine the full meeting day of Saturday, to hand her over to her dad, who was also attending the meeting but was able to skip the last day. Zoe and I arrived with all our luggage (one small bag for Zoe, one suitcase for me, a laptop bag and Zoe's stroller) at the downstairs reception where I had arranged for Zoe to be picked up. Except her dad was nowhere to be found and did not answer his phone. As the meeting time approached I really only had one choice because I knew my opinion was needed for three papers and that I would be wasting 20 people's time if I didn't show up. "Zoe, do you want to go with mommy to work?" I asked and explained to her that she had to be very quiet and a good girl. That got her a bit excited and on the way to the meeting room she eyed the trolly with coffee and orange juice that the service people was distributing to the rooms. "Appelsin!" she said happily and I knew this was the answer to at least 20 minutes' silence. As I reached for the orange juice still on the trolly an angry French woman told me in clear French that I could not take the juice since it was for the other room and that I had to wait for her to get to my room. I then walked a crying Zoe to our meeting room, while she continuously sobbing and asking for her appelsin. I sat her on the chair next to me and decided to take affair as the meeting was starting. I went back to the trolly and when the lady looked away I snatched a juice from the tray. Except I got caught and she started yelling at me in not so clear French. "My daughter is 2! Deux!" I said just as heated, at this point I was desparate and frankly annoyed; we were the same large group divided into subgroups and there were about 10 juices for each room. Everyone inside the room was now starring as our heated French/English argument got louder, and at one point she tried to take the juice out of my hand. I finally pretended to walk away but ran back as she walked into the room, snatched one and ran back to Zoe. All flustered I gave it to a happy little girl who sat there and behaved exemplary while I argued my way through the meeting, getting my way in two out of three cases.

After an hour I got a text that Zoe's dad was downstairs, he had simply misunderstood the time, and I took her down. She waived bye bye to the committee members and everything was good. But it is hopefully the last time in a long while that I bring Zoe to a committee meeting again.

*Committee meetings, for me, are an essential part of my academic career. It is always an honor to be asked to be on these academic committees where I take part of discussions around research publications.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

10 questions about Zoe and Louise's travels

I have collected a set of questions that one who enters this blog might ask. It also contains hidden advise if you travel with a baby or toddler yourself.

1. Do we travel alone?
Well, no we travel with each other. But yes, not only since I split from Zoe's dad, but also before this: When we lived in the US I frequently took Zoe to work meetings and occasionally overseas travel. Her and I also didn't always go back from holiday in Europe at the same time as her dad.

2. What is the best tool for traveling?
The baby carrier, hands down. I have a Beco Gemini and it has saved me millions of times during short layovers, long walks (now that she can walk) and for having her sleep in.

3. Why do we travel so much?
Apart from living in a completely different country from 1. where I am from, 2. where Zoe was born, 3. where her dad is from and 4. where all of my close family lives (none of these countries being the same), I travel a lot for work. A lot is about 6-10 times per year. Add to that family visits.

4. Does Zoe have her own frequent flier card?
Yes, Euro bonus on Scandinavian because this is the main airline we fly between Stockholm and Copenhagen where most of our family lives.

5. Has Zoe ever been in the cockpit?
No, but if the door is open when we enter she waves at the pilots. When we leave she always says "bye bye airplane" and waves back at it.

6. Does Zoe walk through the security metal detector herself?
Yes, and she has done that since she was about 20 months old. I taught her to wait until I turn around and ask her to come through. She always wants to be 'touched' too and we often have to ask the nice security lady to do a little pat down for Zoe.

7. Does Zoe misbehave when flying?
Generally no, but once as we were boarding the plane, she walked straight over to the air bridge control panel and grabbed the joy stick to the surprise of me and several other passengers. Turns out the controls are on and working when you board. Who should have known? Nobody got hurt. Other people's kids open the car door by accident while driving. My kid moves the air bridge.

8. Worst plane trip memory?
A recent one where Zoe ran away as we were checking in our luggage. I caught her but was so upset that I shook her and yelled at her until she started wailing and we sat down on the floor in the middle of the airport and both cried and hugged for 5 minutes. Not my proudest moment.

9. Best plane trip memory?
All the trips where Zoe, straight after take off, leans against me and falls asleep.

10. Crazy coordination memory?
When I bought an actual plane ticket for my mom so she could come through security to pick up Zoe in Copenhagen airport where I had a very short layover on my way from Stockholm to Munich. Zoe's dad was away too and this was our only option for 3 days' babysitting. Problem is that now Zoe looks for grandma every time we disembark in Copenhagen. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Flying to India

Zoe and I flew to India a couple of days ago. It was the first long haul flight I have taken with her in a year and it means she has reached 100.000 miles now (but let me get back to you on that after I have added things up). It was remarkably different to travel with a talking, walking, running toddler compared to the 18 month old stumbling, babbling toddler from last year. One major difference is that she is now able to sit and concentrate on watching cartoons or draw, or even play with her doll, by herself for about 20 minutes. Another difference is that she can walk most of the way herself on a layover, although having a one hour 15 minute layover in Munich was a bit stressful when she walked over to every single shop with any kind of cuddly bear or colorful bag hanging on display. "Se mor!"[look mommy] she said in that way only kids can, with wide-eyed amazement. In the end I had to simply let go of my fear of missing the plane (and unfortunately I have a bit of a history on that one...) and just be calm. What a nice bag, Zoe. Yes, that's pretty too. Come on, let's go, we are going to India to see your uncle and aunt. "Oh yeah", she would say, as she just realized that right now and follow me.

On the long haul Lufthansa Airbus 340-600 we got seats not too far away from the galley and the stairs down to the restrooms (yeah, I had never been on an airplane with restrooms downstairs, it had ups and downs, mostly downs when you have a not so stable stair walking toddler who loves going to the bathroom). This meant that after Zoe had snoozed for a couple of hours, letting me have my meal and watch TV comedies, she could get up and ask for more cashews from the flight attendant herself. Did I mention that this is a major advantage of having a bi/trilingual kid? She has no problem understanding English when we travel despite her living in Sweden and speaking Danish with me. "More cashews please", she said and after initial confusion and the flight attendant trying to give her apple juice, he got it. Throughout the rest of the flight she continued to ask for more and managed to eat 5 packs. And a small pack of ketchup instead of any of the delicious food that was on her special kids meal tray. As she exited the plane she waved at all the flight attendants: "bye bye airplane", to the smiles of most of them.

Exiting in Mumbai was a bit of a shock to me. Of course I knew that it would look different from what I'm used to in my little Western World bubble, but the smell, the warmth and people running around everywhere was still overwhelming. Zoe was still walking all the way through immigration but as we were waiting for our bag and car seat she got hyper, running around me in circles. I got slightly worried about her running too far away and getting lost in the crowd so I suggested she go in the baby carrier. Luckily she got excited: "Zoe little baby in carrier", she repeated and I managed to drag my two suitcases (a carry on roller bag and a slightly bigger checked in bag, along with the car seat) out towards our waiting hotel transport. Luggage trolleys were nowhere in sight so it took me a bit of effort and I was surprised that nobody offered to help me out. With a toddler on my back and two suitcases and a car seat. In the US I would have had three guys and one fellow mom asking me if they could help. We kept up the spirit and after a long walk faced the airport exit crowd. What a sight. Hundreds of people with signs, people with luggage standing waiting and people yelling everywhere. The warmth was mild but humid. After not seeing my sign anywhere a guy in uniform finally felt sorry for me and asked what company I was looking for. He swiftly found the driver of my ride and in three minutes we were on our way. Mumbai here we come. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Where did I go again?

It should be no surprise for the observant reader (someone who for example reads the title of my blog) that I travel a lot. In one month (October) I was in the US twice, and in-between, I was in London. All for work. The nice thing is that I am around other people who travel a lot too, since academia, and particularly my branch of social science, bases knowledge exchange on conferences and workshops, often international since my field is rather small. There are probably not more than a couple of thousand people in Sweden who are truly working in my broader field, PhD students through full professors. So today when I had coffee with a colleague who had just returned from three back to back trips and we exchanged journey experiences, I suddenly blanked on where I had been while he was also away. Not just blanking for a couple of second, but no I simply could not remember where I had been. At all. "I know I was flying somewhere!", I said and my colleague laughed and reassured me this also happened to him sometimes. After a couple of minutes and changing the topic, I finally remembered. I was in Florida. For two and a half days. In a resort for the conference the whole time. No wonder I couldn't remember.

Next week Zoe and I are off to India, a completely private trip for the leisure of both of us. My brother and his wife live there and I am so excited to go visit them and see parts of India for the first time. I am less excited about having a 2 and a half year old on a plane for 12 hours, but grandma brought 8 new books last time she was here and I am borrowing an iPad with movies on. I have also taken out my old baby wrap, which I can still carry Zoe in, hoping that the excitement of 'Zoe little baby in carrier' will add calmness to the trip.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Christmas in November

One of the best Scandinavian Christmas traditions is the so-called advents calendar. Despite this name in English, it is in fact a daily calendar where we count down from December 1st until christmas eve: December 24th. It comes in many shapes and types, chocolate calendars, present calendars and some with just pictures. However, a stable one in each Scandinavian home is also the calendar candle. It has a series of numbers running down the side and is often decorated prettily in tasteful colors.

This year I will not be home for most of December. I am going to Paris (bringing Zoe) and flying directly to China (without Zoe), landing back in Stockholm 19th and possibly going to Denmark the 21st (bringing Zoe). Instead of using the calendar candle for December I then had the brilliant idea to use one in November. Zoe will be able to learn numbers and instead of counting down to Christmas we are counting down to our trip to India. We leave on the 23rd and I bet that a two and a half year old has a hard time distinquishing between 23 and 24 anyway. I bought a very nicely decorated calendar candle yesterday (and an ornament for Zoe, shaped as a drum, she did not want to leave the shop without) and we have started countdown. Zoe meticously lights it every day watching that she doesn’t burn her fingers, which she did once and therefore never will again. Only 19 more days to go.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Working overtime

This autumn has been the first time in several years where I have had time-consuming teaching obligations again. On top of my research. I knew it was going to be hard but I have so far dodged things by working at night after Zoe is asleep and doing certain tasks to a minimum of satisfaction. To my surprise, few have noticed this lowering of my usual work standard apart from myself. On top of my over-ambitious level of travel, I have been exhausted from just thinking about things. But this November is taking me into overdrive. I wrote down the hours I need to complete my obligations, that include a paper that I have already received a 3 week deadline extension of and a funding proposal that is a once in a lifetime opportunity because I don’t qualify next time it comes up. I need to spend 95 hours of actual concentrated work before November 22nd, and with other meetings cutting out quality day time hours, I need to work 9 and a half hours per day. If I was young, without family obligations, this would be tough but totally doable. However, I have a daughter who needs to be put in daycare and be fed at night and well, I also like to read her a bedtime story and actually spend some quality time with her in the evening hours. A normal work day gives me 6 hours during the day, realistically and extra hour at night after Zoe is in bed. I could try to get up even earlier, and put Zoe in daycare at 7.30 to get another hour, but this just gives me more guilt feelings and makes for a stressed morning.

In the end I managed to make a schedule where I 1) work 3 hours every Sunday while Zoe is with a babysitter and 2) cut student project grading into skimming instead of reading and doing this on the train in the morning. I am optimistic that I will make my deadlines but there is no possibility for margin of errors here. My gym has to be visited Saturday mornings while putting Zoe in the kids club and the rare morning she is with her dad (who is traveling again, leaving me with Zoe 3/4 of the month). If I make this, I swear I will get better with treasuring and controlling my time. I might be a university *teacher* but my big ambition is to do research and for that I need research funding. If I don’t take time out to apply for this I will end up in the eternal lecture trap that I see so many people succumbed to here: Lecturing and teaching, having a research career that ended with one's PhD.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

41 hours to get to Florida

This fall I have had a lot of travel, recently the US, more specifically Florida. I was attending a small conference where I was presenting a research paper and since I was not able to bring Zoe, I tried to make it as short as possible. Still, it was at a resort in south Florida in October so I did schedule a day at the pool, just before the conference started. Things didn't  turn out that way though.

I left a very early Saturday morning, leaving Zoe with my babysitter because Zoe's dad would not be back from his trip to the US for another 28 hours. She was a bit cranky that I woke her up at 7am but I didn’t have the heart to just leave her sleeping. She might not remember that I  had told her I was leaving the night before. She was to spend the full day with my babysitter and at night a close friend was coming over to spend the night with her, playing with her in the morning until her dad arrived early afternoon.

I left teary eyed in the morning, getting the Arlanda Express and feeling business woman like with my small black suitcase and Kate Spade leather carryon. I boarded the plane that was going to take me to Frankfurt, to my connecting US flight. When waiting for the plane to back out, we got the news that there was a technical error on the plane, the engine fire indicator was malfunctioning. If there is something you want to be indicated of, it is a potential fire in the engine. We deplaned and boarded another one, leaving one a half hour later, bringing me to Frankfurt the same minute as my US plane took off. I rushed to the service center in the hope that they would be able to reroute me via some other US destination and at least get me to the right side of the Atlantic that day. No luck. Due to the soon arriving tropical storm Sandy, many US flights had been cancelled, leaving the remaining fully booked. Even the attempt to route me via San Francisco was unfruitful. I was sent to an airport hotel, “right next to” the Frankfurt airport and provided with an itinerary for next day.

Internet and Latte at the brown airport hotel

The hotel was grim to say the least. Up until then I had kept my cool, realizing that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the situation. My day at the pool was lost the minute they said ‘technical error’ on my first flight. But as I got to that godforsaken hotel, 20 minutes drive on the autobahn by a taxi driver who clearly enjoyed the no-speed limit to the fear of his passengers, I had had it. Not only did my 7am flight mean that I had to take a 5 am shuttle to the airport from the so-called airport hotel (“our shuttle leaves every hour on the hour”), the internet at the hotel was also limited to an hour in the bar, leaving my ability to at least use this ‘intermezzo’ for work rather difficult. But worse, I had left Zoe for this. I had left her with strangers for money when I could have stayed with her instead. Obviously this was a not really true, because I could not have left on a Sunday (tickets overseas not including Saturdays are deemed business tickets and cost the range of $3000-4000 instead of $1000, making it very unlikely my department would have paid for it) and I could not have predicted that my pool day turned into a brown german hotel day. I was probably much better off in terms of getting to the US here in Frankfurt than back in Stockholm under the circumstances. After shedding a few tears I went down to the bar and ordered a latte, which in Germany apparently is a bit of coffee with a liter of milk, and spent my one hour internet allowance surfing Facebook and random blogs.

Next morning the shuttle picked me and some other unfortunate Swedes up at 5 am and my journey to Florida went smoothly from then on. Zoe’s dad made it back to Stockholm before I left Europe, making me feel safe about leaving. I skyped with her one evening where she said that mommy should fly back to Stockholm and that “Zoe love Mommy”. I missed her but I’m getting better in leaving her for a couple of days. In the end I am returning before a week has passed from when I left her.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lights out

As much as I love my apartment, with it being small and cozy and high ceilings, those high ceilings come with a certain cost. Emotional cost. The beautiful windows and almost 3 meter ceilings also means that, like most apartments on Södermalm, the block was built in the 1920s. Now, it is well-kept and the kitchen is of course renovated (in fact less than 3 years ago) but one thing they have not exchanged is the power box.

Zoe and I came home one late afternoon last week and I was in dire need of a coffee so I turned on the espresso maker (my department for some reason tends to run out of milk at the most annoying times like the day of my 8am class and I cannot drink coffee without milk) and I was about to heat up leftover lasagna for early dinner. Zoe wanted to watch a bit of cartoons so I put my laptop in the charger and turned on a 30s Donald Duck episode. Then everything went PUF and the apartment went dark (yes, it is very dark outside at 5:30pm here now). Zoe started screaming, 'oh no, oh no' and I started wondering what kind of electricity system we had here, because I have lived with a range of types through my time as an international dweller. Then I remembered that it was the old system with fuses and that a fuse had probably blown. I had to use Zoe's high chair to reach the fuse box and as I looked on the shelf below I realized what I had suspected: The owner had not left me with any spare fuses. I tried desperately to calm Zoe but looking at the clock it was now close to 6, the time most stores apart from grocery stores close. I took Zoe with me and started ringing doorbells at my neighbors. Nobody home. I found one guy above me who nicely enough came in, looked and seemed more confused than me. "But we modernized" he said and recommended me to go down and buy a new fuse. We got our shoes back on and ventured down. Before I left, I cleverly took a picture of the fusebox so I knew what I was looking for. I grew up with this type of system so it couldn't be that difficult. I put Zoe on my back in the Beco, since her stroller was already parked in the basement one flight of stairs below and I did not have the strength to pull it up again. She was overly joyed to be in the 'back pack' as she calls it.

At the grocery store no fuses looked like the ones in my picture. It didn't help that they were named something different than what I had talked to the upstairs neighbor about. Swedish electricity terminology was not something that came easy to me. I concluded that we needed to go to a hardware store the next day. By now we were hungry and when I asked if we should go for pizza on the way home (there would certainly be no cooking at home that evening) Zoe said "No, sushi!", so we found a sushi bar in the big food hall and had dinner. Zoe was still uncomfortable, probably picking up on my concern to spend the night without power and keep asking if there would be light at home. She asked if a friend of mine could come fix it, which I was surprised about; said friend did not usually help out at home but he is one of Zoe's favorite people.

As we were finishing the salmon nigiri, I realized something that I couldn't believe I hadn't thought about at first: there were three fuses in the fuse box and it seemed as only one had died. Not that I knew because it seemed to be tied to everything in the apartment (hence probably the problem with over-heating in the first place), but the bathroom light had still been on. We walked home and I eagerly went up on Zoe's chair and switched the fuses around. Now I noticed that the inside of the fuses actually resembled the ones available in the grocery store. I cursed a bit. I should have known that, I now remembered exactly how they look from my childhood where my mom would proficiently exchange them regularly. Okay, I turned the main switch on and WEOU WEOU WEOU WEOU, turned it quickly off again, climbing down to comfort a very scared and now loudly crying toddler. The fire alarm was apparently attached to the final fuse. After comforting Zoe I did one attempt more, which Zoe was not happy about, she kept repeating as she curled up in the couch "scary, scary, scary". When the sound went off again I gave up. I'll fix this tomorrow I told Zoe and we got out tea candles and the small reading light she had gotten from earlier mentioned friend. She said she wanted to sleep and I let her fall asleep in my bed, in my arms.

The next day we had to wait getting up until it got a bit brighter but then we hurried to daycare. She was really clingy and I told the teachers what had happened. I rushed back, past a grocery store and home to fix the problem. As I managed to keep the power on for slightly longer while the alarm was going, I realized that it was not the fire alarm but the gas alarm that was plugged into the wall above the fridge. It had probably broken in the process and was sounding like most broken alarms do. I unplugged it and changed the fuse and electricity was restored within five minutes. All I had needed was 5 minutes Zoe-free time, something that was not an option the night before. It annoyed me slightly that I hadn't thought about taking the fuse out and bringing it to the grocery store in the first place but there were so many ifs and buts and it made me remember how much longer things take and how much of my energy and brain I spend on my child when with her. Zoe could definitely have been without this experience but I made sure to explain and show things to her when we got home later that day. I took a 'work at home' day and worked from a cafe to get beyond the whole thing. And I made sure to leave three extra fuses in the back of the top kitchen drawer, the very same place my mom kept ours.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A room of one's own

One of the 'features' of my new apartment is that Zoe has her own room. The apartment is tiny and I sleep in the living room but Zoe has a small room of her own, a concept that she already loves. There is an open space between her room and the kitchen, done obviously to get light into the small internal kitchen and where I was a bit worried about this at first (how do I make coffee at night without waking her up?), it has shown to be one of the best features in the apartment. She enjoys playing in her own room knowing that I can peek down at her and knowing that I am right there. When I fetch a glass of water for her at night she does not run after me because she can see me open the fridge and I can say hi while pouring it. Okay, I don't make coffee (I have a noisy espresso maker) at night anymore, but I do wash dishes and boil water for tea. She sleeps fairly heavily and so far I haven't accidentally woken her up.

I prioritized decorating her room over my own (well, getting a sofa bed was a fairly big priority, for almost three weeks I slept on a borrowed mattress on the floor) and I think it is almost there. When my mom was here a couple of weeks ago she bought a roll of wrapping paper with the Mumins on and stuck directly on the wall. Eventually I want actual picture frames for the posters I bought in Ann Arbor last week when I was there for a research meeting. And the rug desperately needs a non-slip plastic sheet underneath so we don't slide in it all the time. But these things are details. For now Zoe has a wonderful room of her own.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How to dress a 2 year old (with an international sense of fashion)

One of the things that happens when moving from country to country and you end up living in 4 different countries (we are not counting cities here) within a decade is that you develop a fairly international fashion sense and know where to get what types of clothes. I get my basics from the US (Banana Republic makes great dress pants and Anne Taylor has jackets that fit me well) and my more hip and expensive clothing from Denmark. I buy accessories such as scarfs in Sweden but generally they have similar stuff to Denmark, just more expensive. I love Ted Baker and Paul Smith, which I always buy in the UK, occasionally in Heathrow when I have the time. I never buy shoes in the UK because of the rubbish quality there and in fact I have bought 80 % of my shoes from a tiny little independent store in Copenhagen called Scarpa for over 10 years. They cost a fortune but they last both in terms of fashion and quality for at least three years. They are worth every penny (or every øre).

Zoe has been well-dressed from her first day outside my belly; my best friend introduced me to Petit Bateau her first christmas, leading to an addiction of high quality French underwear and onesies. But here is what I discovered with Zoe her first few months: Baby clothes doesn't last three seasons, in fact the first few pieces lasted about a month, then two months and finally after her first year, it might now last six months. Babies grow fast. And technically clothes last much longer than their little growing arms can fit into it, leading me to discover the only environmentally friendly option: 2nd hand clothes. As a parent it is your responsibility to make sure your child wears at least 50% reused clothes and that all the clothes that can be worn again are passed on to an appropriate source, that be the thrift shop or your friend who has a baby one year younger than yours.

In the US I was an avid fan of ThredUp (who btw have chanced their concept since I moved), an online trading resource for children's clothes and even toys. I got some of my best clothes from there and got great reviews for my own. When moving to Sweden I discovered their core secondhand resources: Blocket and Tradera. Blocket is the local Craigslist type resource where you go pick up the goods, which is great for larger items such as snowsuits etc. and Tradera is basically Ebay in Swedish. On Tradera there is an unspoken friendliness among moms who buy and sell: it is almost like a club where we transfer money through bank accounts instead of the dreaded paypal, and where everyone knows that if you take a week or two before sending or paying you are not a bad Ebayer, you are simply a super-busy mom.

Zoe's shoes however, like mine, I also buy in Denmark. For some reason Sweden has not caught on to high quality children shoes and although I am not against second hand shoes per se, it is rare that I can actually find some that fit Zoe well and are suitable for what I'm looking for. Last weekend when I picked her up from a week at grandmothers, we went shopping for her winter boots. I ended up with a fashionable pair of Sofie Snoor boots in black for the steep price of $165. I know that sounds crazy but they are not only gorgeous, I also know that these are the ones she will be wearing October through March every single day. Playing outside every day. I rather want to know that these fit her perfectly, are warm enough and will not break, than to gamble and buy cheap ones where I might have to replace them once or even twice during the winter.

So my international clothes shopping routines are clearly being transferred to Zoe as well, with the addition that she wears a lot of "preloved" clothes. Oh, and her Petit Bateau underwear I get shipped from an online store in the UK because it is cheaper than buying them here in Sweden. For some reason there are not much underwear available in the secondhand stores or online. Wonder why.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two return tickets to India

I just bought two plane tickets to Mumbai, India. One for me and one for Zoe. It was not a difficult decision although some people in my life (read: my mom) think I travel too much. After all, what else is a "single mom" to do when she has freedom to do whatever she wants to do and happen to have a brother in India? That's right: my brother moved there in May with his other half who is now doing fundraising and yoga while my brother manages a department in a large producer of factory parts. I have never been to India but always wanted to visit, I have had many nice Indian acquaintances and find the culture fascinating. So why not find the first available week and go visit? In the end of November, I will grab Zoe, get on a plane and spend a week there including weekends on both sides.

Now I knew that India requires a visa, or that is two, one in Zoe's passport and one in my passport. Zoe has two passports so I chose to use the Danish one where the visa is the cheapest. For some reason Americans pay a premium for most visas in this world, something I learned when we took Zoe to China and her visa was three times the amount of her parents' visa. I also know that a visa requires you to hand in your passport for a short time. What I hadn't calculated was the very short time between my US trips this fall and the fact that I would need my passport for these. And what I hadn't done was to prepare my India visa application for handing in the minute I stepped off the plane in Stockholm two days ago. Today I realized that I have to wait with the Indian visa until I get back from my next trip to the US in the end of October, which leaves me with 15 business days to get it done. The website says 10 days so that should be okay. Still, I cannot help worry a bit and thinking that I am the one who needed two passports, not Zoe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Polishing the heirloom silverware

I moved to a new apartment a week ago and opposite the one I had over the summer this one is unfurnished. I am not going into the details of the housing market in Stockholm, other than mention that it is brutal and unlike any other in the world due to very specific Swedish housing rules. When I saw the mini one-bedroom very bright apartment with an elevator to its 5th floor, located 5 minutes from Zoe's daycare I jumped at it. Or that is I wrote a very detailed plea to the subletting guy who then apparently felt I seemed like the best candidate for this expensive 355 square feet (33 m2) apartment and let me rent it. So now I have a place for 6 months. It might not have furniture, it might only have a bedroom big enough for Zoe's bed and toys, a kitchen so small that the freezer door doesn't open entirely, leaving it impossible to use the top drawer but an apartment with a little nook with giant 1920s windows where we can sit and eat our breakfast. Except so far, Zoe has insisted on sitting on the kitchen counter for all her meals, dangling her little feet over the edge and asking for babyccinos because she shares space with the espresso maker.

Breakfast at the kitchen counter
In terms of furniture I have had to be creative. I have taken the furniture I felt that Mark could do without, such as the table we had stored in the basement, extra chairs and kitchen stuff. The whole setup reminds me of our early days in our mutual apartment, before our furniture arrived from the US. In fact, I have taken into use my old heirloom silverware again because that was the only utensils I had. I bought a used bed for Zoe on Blocket and I am sleeping on a borrowed mattress on the floor. I splurged on two things that I am waiting for: A BoConcept convertible sofa bed that looks great and a Bestlite lamp. For all the used and borrowed stuff there is something about choosing a few key pieces for my new life. And as long as I have somewhere to sleep, my espresso machine to make babyccinos and silver forks to eat with, I think Zoe and I will be okay.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Taping the banana

One of the things I thought I would be good at when becoming a parent was to be firm. I believe in limitless love of your children but I also think they need a bit of structure and that sometimes they just need to do what you tell them because you tell them. I am willing to ask what they want but they need to take what they get. Very common thinking for future parents to-be. Especially parents who think that family life is idyllic with two parents present. Great thinking in a situation were a child does not have to experience moving home five times in one year or has to witness hostility between her parents on a weekly basis. But things don't always turn out that way and all things considered I think Zoe is doing amazingly. She cries for me when I am not there sometimes (Mark says) and yesterday she answered very clearly to my simple question of if she wanted to bring anything over to daddy (a book, her doll or something): "yes: Mommy!" And who can blame her. She does love when she has both of us, like most 2 year olds. But occasionally she is a mess. These are the times where she has a fit over having to walk home (because Mark forgot to bring the stroller to daycare, he lives much closer than I do) or where she simply can't express her feelings and desires and break down because I can't understand what she says. And these are the times where I patiently tape up the banana which I cut in half for her, only to realize that she certainly didn't want a half, but a whole banana that she can peel herself and eat from the top. I realize that sometimes life just needs a bit of taping up and all the firmness and structure cannot make up for the fact that her life has been cut in half and she needs extra love and attention. So I think I'll have to keep taping bananas for quite a while longer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Zoe started her new daycare yesterday. It is a private daycare where I had to charm my way in but it is 5 minutes away from where I live (and where Zoe's dad lives) which will turn our previous hellish commutes into a leisurely stroll. The concept of the daycare is that it is trilingual, English, Swedish and French. Zoe is in the English group of small children under two and a half which makes her one of the oldest. Her obsession with babies (any little person that is younger than her or uses a pacifier) makes this a good situation right now. The daycare's strategy is that each teacher uses one language with the children so even though the common activities are in English, there are teachers who speaks in Swedish and French with the children during more individual activities. More structured language practicing takes place once or twice per week where the children have specific activities in Swedish and French. So now Zoe is being introduced to a fourth language. Why not?

Here in Sweden so-called "in-schooling" can take up to two weeks where the parents spend the first two days with the child in the daycare and the child is picked up early all the way until the last day. I have no idea how working parents do this here, perhaps they have family around who can help, but I was not thinking this was a good idea for Zoe. She is already familiar with the idea of daycare, she likes it, and would be confused if I stayed there with her for long hours. After talking to the head teacher I was then allowed to do a speedy in-schooling. This was the right choice. Zoe impressed the teachers and even me the first day by being completely comfortable there, eating a good lunch, using the potty and playing calmly with all the new toys. When I came to pick her up yesterday after lunch, just before her midday nap she lay down on a mattress: "No mummy, Zoe sleep here! No sleep klapvogn [stroller]". I promised that she could nap back at home in my bed and she reluctantly followed me. This morning she went directly to the table with the play-dough and after a brief chat to her teacher (a really sweet woman who teaches english and art) I told her I was leaving and she kissed me goodbye. I am so proud of her and think she will be just fine with a fourth language. Oh and the new daycare.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


This past week has been sort of an involuntary staycation for Zoe and I. As I have mentioned before, I have moved to a separate apartment and Mark and I are not living together at the moment. This also means that we are not having any holiday together but instead have done separate things, with and without Zoe. I have therefore been on my own with Zoe in Stockholm for most of this week without daycare since Zoe's is not starting her new place before Monday. Mark is traveling with some friends. It has been a lot of fun but also stressful. Stressful because I have a lot of work in terms of papers that are due very soon, both accepted, semi-accepted and brand new papers, but with an energized toddler, work is out of the question; when she finally sleeps at night, I'm so exhausted that I can barely clean the kitchen. But also stressful because when Mark out-of-town, I am very alone here in Stockholm where I have barely made casual friends yet. I admit that much of this is my own fault, I try to socialize but honestly, my Swedish is not fit for girlfriend talk and the English speaking people I have met so far have mainly been stay-at-home wives who have followed their (sometimes Swedish) husband here and I don't feel I have a lot in common with them. I do have a few Swedish colleagues that I speak English with and whom I would consider friends. But they are on holiday this week. So Zoe and I developed a routine for doing toddler-focused activities morning and afternoon, and for me to have coffee and relax during her mid-day nap so I didn't go mad from spending 24/7 with my lovely but quite demanding daughter.

Zoe stamping my ticket at the tram museum
Wednesday for example we went to the Tram Museum where they have a little train the kids (with adults) can ride and I knew she loved it, so I showed up early enough to get early tickets (half an hour into opening hours the next available train times are usually 3 hours in the future. Good luck entertaining kids for that long in a museum). And today we went to the Postal Museum that had a special kids-section open in where she could paint her own postcard, send it off to grandmother (they actually gave us stamps!) and play in a special kids sized postal car. She was a darling all day despite having slept two hours less than normal, perhaps because I spoiled her with two ice creams and a lollypop.

But today was the last day. Tomorrow her dad is back and will take her in the afternoon where I hopefully will be able to finish one of my papers. And then vacation is over.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What goes around comes around

It is amazing the material stuff that a parent accumulates of completely necessary baby stuff. I view myself as belonging to the category of 'minimalist moms' (although some people do it way better than I) and I have only ever had two pram/strollers (=baby vehicles), two carriers (one which I still use), two car seats (one for the nanny, one for us) and Zoe still has very few toys since we live small and she has plenty opportunity to play with other toys in daycare and playgroups I take her to. Yet, for some reason all these things are used, then discarded because a baby grows into a toddler and suddenly the legs are too long for the stroller and the head sticks out the top of the infant car seat (yep, I tried to squeeze her in when she was still under the weight limit but too tall, since she is "tall and skinny" on the charts). And in other cases we moved and shipped 90% of Zoe's toys not realizing that she would like things to play with during the 6 months while we waited for it. So we bought double (remember the cup-holder problem?).

So for the longest time I had wanted to sell or pass on many old things that are just taking up storage space, things that another baby, somewhere, could have great use of. Today was the day. I meticulously wrote well-phrased ads for Blocket, Sweden's version of craigslist, checked the Swedish again and again on google translate and paid the fees. I woke up to several emails with interested people and managed to get all four people to show up this afternoon. I was not only proud of my own accomplishment in terms of communication and coordination, I was also amazed of how easy it was and how many people were interested in my 2 year old no-name pram that Zoe had for her first 4 months. I guess I listed it too cheap. The other things also sold easily, I think because they were brand name items.

One of the things Sweden is amazing about is second hand stuff, particularly high quality items. Nothing is cheap here, you can find more affordable things but a real stroller is still 700$ and up and if you want to be hip with the hipster moms on Södermalm, you need a Bugaboo or an Emmaljunga pram with your color matching child dressed in Molo or Marimekko. I was fairly brand name savvy before I became a mom and I still am a firm believer in quality which comes with particular brands so Zoe is often found in Petit Bateau, Noa Noa, Polarn & Pyret (lovely Swedish kids clothes) and of course Molo. But as I looked at her today I also became proud of my ability to budget: her Molo t-shirt was bought from the UK mail-order on sale together with the Petit Bateau undershirt; her Wheat pants were hand-me-downs from my girlfriend whose daughter is 7 years older than Zoe. Finally, her Molo rain boots (that she wears every single day, rain or sunshine) were a present from my mom since her old ones had so many holes in them that... well let me just say the normal functionality of rain boots was non-existent. The high quality of clothes here, both in terms of material and design, as well as durability, gives me a sense of responsibility to also pass things on and I have so far managed to sell 15+ items on Tradera, Sweden's eBay (see my current ads).

So today was big cleaning out day. What I had not predicted was Zoe's still very present attachment to all the things. She spent 45 minutes playing in, around, and under her old pram, crawling into it and putting her doll into it. I explained that a nice little baby (named Jessica), who did not have a pram of her own, needed it and that we were passing it on to her, but Zoe still cried her eyes out when they rolled it away. The infant carseat went a bit more easily although the mom hadn't brought the baby, but perhaps Zoe had realized at this point that she really didn't fit in there anymore after eagerly attempting and falling out a couple of times. At one point between the Brio trolley and her pram I broke down and promised that we buy her a doll pram. As a minimalist mom, we don't have one at home despite Zoe loving them when at a playgroup or visiting others kids who do. I regretted immediately because I knew it was a "bad mommy moment" and hope she doesn't remember tomorrow. At least she finally stopped crying and we went over to buy a footstool (second hand) for her so she doesn't have to climb up on the bathroom bin to reach the sink. I might be minimalist but this is one item I should have bought long time ago, before she broke the lid off the waste bin.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Copenhagen Beach Baby

Summer Zoe in her new wet suit
Summer is here! The past week has included the worst pre-plane ride experience with Zoe so far (she ran away while in the massive line for checking in luggage and I lost my temper with her, ending up crying with her on the floor of Stockholm airport), a wonderful visit from a friend and her 4 year old daughter, my brother getting married and Zoe bathing in the ocean for the first time. While some experiences were obviously better than others the week has surely been packed with vacation adventures and the next one will hopefully expand my Copenhagen 'staycation' type holiday. Tomorrow I am taking Zoe to my family summerhouse in the country side by the ocean together with my parents and two brothers, and my brother's new wife. Zoe will be spoiled by all of us adults and be able to explore nature, sand and water and sleep her midday nap in a hammock every day. She will be eating at least two ice creams every day and go to sleep at 9 pm when she drops off on the couch and wake up again to bird song and rolling waves next to a mom who hopes she can entertain herself squeezing ants or something equally educating for at least half an hour.

It should not be a surprise that I will be offline until the beginning of August since the sea side of Denmark is fairly internet free.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Runaway baby

It was supposed to be one of those easy trips, a single flight down to Copenhagen to start off our holiday. Zoe was in a happy mood and although I was a bit stressed about leaving for almost a month and making sure I had packed everything, we got out the door just fine. Zoe helped carry her own back pack and I rolled the two suitcases while instructing her to stay close. She did well all the way to the airport and after checking in we just had to wait in line to drop off one of the suitcases. Zoe was her chirpy little self but she must have detected a slight nervousness on my part when I saw the long snaking line going all the way back up to the other part of the terminal. I judged the waiting time to around 30 minutes. This is usually the time where I hope that other people will see the obvious: children between the age of 1 and 3 (4?) are not patient. They do not just stand there in line patiently and wait while their parents push the luggage cart forward. They jump around a bit and walk in and out the railings until they do really naughty things. But people don't see that we need to skip the line, in fact they mainly stare you down and wonder what you are doing in an airport with a toddler. Or at least it feels like that. The large amount of summer travelers were not an exception and the people behind me kept walking so closely to my cart that I couldn't get back in front to continue moving it forward. At one point I got so annoyed that I pushed the woman in my attempt to get to the cart handle. Did they think that if they squeezed up against me the line would move faster? We were two people away from the check-in desk when Zoe had enough. She looked at me with that cheeky smile that says 'Mommy, I'm going to be naughty and run away'. Before I could grab her, she started running, really fast, down alongside the queue. At first I thought she would come back and I yelled at her but I then realized she wasn't. I panicked because by now she was turning a corner. I ran after her and caught up with her about 150 meters down. Again, I was wondering why nobody had stopped her. I was embarrassed that I had the ill-behaved toddler and angry with Zoe. I grabbed her arm and carried her back, yelling at her. My cart was untouched and people had gone around it. Why would anybody push it forward with the queue while I tried to catch my runaway daughter? I mean, what in the world was I doing there anyway? How stupid could a woman be traveling alone with a kid? I got to the counter and threw my suitcase on the tape, got it tagged and left the cart right there. I was so mad at Zoe. When we got out of the crowd I sat her down and yelled at her, I shook her and pinched her little arms, I wanted to hit her. "Don't do that Zoe, don't ever run away from mommy!". She started crying when realizing how mad I was. I started crying myself. Who was I to shake her and scream at her? I sat down on the cold floor, in the middle of the busy airport and hugged her and tried to calm down. There I was, being the crazy mom who loses her temper with her child in public. But like before nobody paid any attention to us other than stare as they walked by.

We got on our plane and Zoe slept on my lap the whole way to Copenhagen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Endings and new beginnings

Today was Zoe's last day in the daycare where she started when we arrived in Stockholm last year. Since we lived in one particular area for the first 3 months (in temporary accommodation) the central daycare coordination could only assign us daycare in that area despite us being 100% sure we were moving to a different area in January. Since then, we have therefore commuted 45 minutes each way with two different subways with Zoe in the stroller, often with stressful experiences. We finally got a new public, Swedish daycare offered back in May but after a bit of legwork (i.e. calling, emailing) I got Zoe into a trilingual daycare very close by, which means the language transition will be gentle (her old one was English only) and that she will keep speaking English in her daily life. The last language is French and my sentiment has been, well, she is already surrounded by three languages, why not a fourth?

I picked her up already at 4pm so we had time to say goodbye and pick up all her things. She was in a great mood and I think she understood that this was her last time there. I had bought two presents for her teachers but they were already on holiday so we left them in the office. Zoe was excited to leave (perhaps because I had told her we were going for pizza with daddy) but as we were half way down the path leading to the subway she paused and turned around. "Bye bye, daycare" she said and looked at me for confirmation. Yes, this was bye bye. I felt a bit sentimental myself because this reminds me what we do to our children all the time: give them friends and take them away again. I am still a bit heart broken over our wonderful nanny that we left in California.

She was easy on the subway despite us having to take three different trains due to closure of one of the lines until October (yet another reason I am thrilled not to have this commute anymore) and we got home early enough to have an ice-cream at the big tree-lined square before meeting Mark at the pizza place. Tomorrow morning we fly down to Copenhagen to spend three and a half weeks with my family. It will be really nice for me to have the vacation I need from work, but it will also be intense times, having Zoe around all the time. I look forward to spending a lot of time with her but hope my family will babysit on occasion.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A polite baby

With Zoe having three language around her, she is a bit behind in actually talking. I was aware that was often the case with bi/trilingual children but then I had also read that this is a myth: Children differ widely when it comes to language development and the presence of more than one language is not always affecting it. However, when I'm around children close to Zoe in age, I am realizing that she is indeed quite behind. Other children already talks in sentences and use a wide vocabulary where Zoe mainly says one word at a time and adds her own babbling. Her pronunciation is quite bad, she says 'tom' instead of 'come' although when I ask her what it is called, she will correct herself. One upside is that she is extremely good in understanding what is being said to her, not only does she listen attentively but she has continuously surprised me with how she understands complex issues. For example she remembers if I promise her something after a specific activity and she has a large (understanding) vocabulary of things and directions (i.e. "Zoe can you get the purple pillow that is under the desk in your room?" means that she will run in and get the purple pillow that I had ended up storing alongside a blanket under the desk in her room).

Most recently though the one thing I have noticed is how modeling works. I have never told Zoe to say thank you, please or anything of that kind. Yet, she has picked up the most hilarious politeness in many daily situations. The first one I noticed was one she must have learned in daycare. At first I was puzzled by her saying "happy-peas" repeatedly. She seemed to say it if she couldn't open a door or open a box by herself. Then I listened and realized that she says "help me please", skipping the l's. The second politeness is simply saying thanks when ever she is handed something. It was not until I realized that  we tend to do that when she hands us something that I understood how she picked it up. But it is very nice to hear her say it, particularly when she is given something by others. And I have never even asked her to say thank you in these cases. Finally, a politeness she has picked up the last few days is to say "no thanks" when she refuses something. It is often hilarious to listen to and it is impossible to argue with a kid who says, in the most mild tone, "no thanks" when you offer her a healthy snack.

Interestingly though, and this is where the three languages and the polite baby are not always smoothly interacting, she will mix the languages even within one sentence. For example since she can't say 'thanks' yet, she uses the Danish and Swedish 'tak'. "No tak" and "mor, happy peas!" are common expressions. She is picking up the fact that there are different languages that is used with different people though and consistency is paying off. If I repeat what she said (in English) to me in Danish, she switches smoothly. Mark tells me the same thing happens when he is in charge but since he doesn't speak Danish, he has to guess more often than not what she actually means. This results in extreme miscommunication such as her telling him she wants to go out with the stroller and him thinking she wants to eat lunch. Perhaps that will be a motivation for her to start talking more clearly very soon.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where are we going?

One morning a couple of weeks ago, Zoe woke up and decided to pack. She took our little car suitcase (that she think is her own, despite me sometimes traveling with it myself) and started pulling her clothes down from the shelf, putting it inside. When she thought she had enough she zipped it up and pulled it through the living room into the hallway. There she put on her sandals and took down the keys from the hook, which she can reach herself. She then asked me to take her jacket and sun hat down, which I did and she put both on by herself. Then she 'unlocked' the front door with the keys (it was already unlocked), opened the door and said 'bye bye mommy', while pulling the suitcase out to the stairwell. At this point I had to stop her because fact was that we were not going anywhere that day, and I was seriously worried she was going to try to pull the suitcase down the stairs. But she cried as I explained that we were not going flying or even by train, this was a regular daycare day. It took me a few minutes to make this clear but finally she calmed down and we continued our regular morning routine.

Zoe leaving again
Although this might seem like a fun morning game, I felt guilty and sad because I knew exactly why she was leaving and why she thought this was just one of our routine travels: a week before this, I had moved out from our family home, into a small apartment close by, without Mark. I had taken Zoe with me but she would also go back and stay with Mark for a few days in a row. This might come as a surprise and I have not been very open about our difficult situation, not here, not to anyone in real life apart from my closest friends. But fact is that we have had serious relationship problems since we moved to Sweden, problems that got worse over the winter and culminated in April. It took me a long time to talk to Mark about how unhappy I have been with my situation and how much I felt he was not considering this or even realizing this, but it only took me a couple of weeks from then, till I decided to move out. I felt this was the only way I could gain back the independence that I had given up and missed sorely after we moved to Sweden. It was never my choice to move here in the first place and my work situation was horrible, but at the same time I didn't feel that Mark took this serious. My lack of integration and engagement with swedish people and the language is clear evidence of this. In some ways I didn't feel this place was real.

Moving a 2 year old for the 4th time in her life feels tough but splitting up her parents feels terrible. The guilt sucks me in every time Zoe wants something and I give in very quickly. She mainly sleeps in my double bed where I stroke her hair until she falls asleep instead of putting her in her travel crib and let her fall asleep on her own, which she used to do. I let her decide if we should eat inside at the table or outside on the balcony, even if that means moving mid-meal. But apart from her thinking we travel and move every week, she seems to deal with it well. She has not had any temper tantrums out of the ordinary and she does not cry and ask for me (or her daddy) at night. And Mark and I are amicable and settled on doing this in a way that she is the least affected by. We have two rules: One rule is that we make sure to do something all three of us one day a week. Today for example, I came over with breakfast and we went for a long walk through the city, after which we went for early dinner at a nice italian place. We went back and I gave Zoe a bath before Mark put her to bed. Rule number two is that we are working towards staying together, not splitting up. I might have needed to be by myself for a while, be independent and have my own life, but neither of us really wants out. We are planning a date next week and I hope that will lead to more couple stuff and eventually me moving back in. I try to stay optimistic. But right now, Zoe is of the belief that we move every 4-6 months because that is all she knows.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cheep fare, expensive ride

When returning from my partly involuntary vacation in Copenhagen (mixed in with a very voluntary midsummer celebration at my dear dear friend's summerhouse), I for some odd reason had chosen to take Zoe on the train. If it was the 250 kr ticket (vs. a 1200 kr flight) or the wishful thinking that she would sleep for most of it I'm not sure, but already one hour into it I would gladly have paid another thousand for a flight.

The problem for the next 13 years is that Zoe is a full fare on the plane but free on the train. This makes a set of train tickets, which would usually be slightly more expensive than a flight, approximately half price of flying between Copenhagen and Stockholm. Especially for the next 3 years where Zoe still is not able to fly by herself. When checking return journeys for this trip I had even found an extremely cheep train ticket because it would take us into Stockholm's central station as late as 15 minutes to midnight. Thinking that this would give me one hour of waking Zoe and 4 hours of sleeping Zoe I booked them. Except I forgot that when my lovely, regularly sleeping daughter stays with her grandmother for a week, her sleeping schedule will more likely resemble a teenagers with late nights and no naps. When I boarded the train at 6.30 pm it was with the most cheerful, awake, excited toddler who sat down in her seat, reading a book, eating cucumbers and almonds. After about an hour though it was an overtired, cheeky monkey, who wanted to run up and down the aisle that crawled all over me. She kept hitting me with her 'baaaang', not hard but also not appropriate and I had to tell her sternly that it is not nice to hit one's mom. Around this time people around me started asking the conductor if there were available seats in the quiet compartment. Others just looked for seats further away themselves. I took Zoe for a long walk through the train and we went back to the little bistro where I had a cup of coffee (to keep up with Zoe's energy) and she had a bag of cheese doodles that they conveniently place in child's height for her to pick out herself. Suddenly she started crying and wanted to go back to our seats, possibly because we had left her doll there but possibly also because tired kids do unpredictable things. I tried to coerce her into lying with her head in my lap and fall asleep but she could not find rest. She muzzled around for two hours while I managed to stay fairly calm despite her playing with the armrest, constantly popping her head above the seat to say hey to very uninterested people behind us and trying to get comfortable. Finally, at 10 pm, her eyes lowered and she fell asleep.

At the central station I surprised myself even more by packing up and rolling out our car suitcase and several bags while being able to carry a sleeping Zoe out of the train. There she woke up and wide-eyed walked with me while I told her what we had to do. We had to get up from the tracks, take a taxi and get in and up the stairs to our apartment. She did everything with amazing skills and easily fell asleep again in her own bed. All while I wrote down a couple of notes to myself in my head: "Do not take the train again any time soon, even if it looks like a good idea at the time".

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Baby's first miles

Zoe earned her first frequent flier miles on Monday, 500 for a short trip from Stockholm to Denmark. I have (for complicated reasons that are uninteresting to my readers) had to change frequent flyer and signed Zoe up for the same: Scandinavian Airlines' EuroBonus. Since it is difficult for us to get anywhere out of Stockholm without flying with SAS, this was the obvious choice. I have no expectations that she will make gold any time soon but the miles, or 'bonus points' as SAS calls them, will come in handy for upgrading on occasion and for buying tickets when I bring Zoe on work trips. Since she turned two in May she is now almost a full fare and I stare in disbelief at the double numbers when I make reservations for us. But here we go, Zoe is growing up. One plane ride at a time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One way plane ticket to Berlin

This is what I had to buy today. Not that anyone is going to Berlin but I have ended up in yet another crazy travel situation with Zoe.

Zoe's dad and I share our electronic calendar and you would think that would help us coordinate at least major travels. Well, one day he came over to my desk and asked if when my calendar said Munich for two days, did that mean I was actually going to Munich? Because, he had just arranged to go to Gothenburg for a writing workshop, which he had arranged with 5 others who could only do those days. Yes, I replied, when my calendar said Munich, I was actually going to Munich. I thought about possibilities for a few moments, including sending Zoe to Gothenburg with her dad and arranging daycare there (it doesn't cost anything to take her on the train but she is a full fare plane ticket these days), but that was vetoed by him. I actually contemplated for one second to ask a friend to pick up Zoe from daycare and stay the night with her but since this friend has never been alone with Zoe, although he adores her and she gets along with him, I didn't think it was an actual possibility. A proper babysitter was out of the question for the sheer price of it, considering it would be 4pm to 8am and then 4pm to 11pm again the next day. The only real option was for me to drop Zoe off in Copenhagen with my mom. Luckily Copenhagen is sort of on the way to Munich from Stockholm where we live so I went ahead asking my travel agent to book tickets. Tiny detail was that I cannot leave before 5pm the day I go to Munich because of a meeting at the university. There was literally only one option for flights, leaving me with one hour in Copenhagen to drop off Zoe before my continuing flight to Munich left.

Today I then called up Scandinavian airlines to find out how I get my 2 year old from the terminal to the arrival without having to go back through security. I simply don't have time for that and if I miss my flight onwards to Munich, I miss my meeting the next day. The airport told me that they have not provided non-passengers with gate passes since 2006 due to security restrictions, and it is therefore not possible for my mom to come into the airside area to pick up Zoe. I then asked for unaccompanied minor assistance, well aware that this will cost me extra. But since Zoe is not 5 years yet, they were not able to find anyone who can follow her out. I honestly thought for another three minutes that there has to be someone I can ask to take her out. A nice grandmother type or another mother with a kid who can understand the situation. It is a 500 feet walk from the point-of-no-return doors, through the luggage hall and out the big doors to the arrival hall. My mom will be waiting right there. But I guess this is one of those things you just don't do.

This is why I found myself booking a ticket to Berlin with a discount airline for my mom. It was only a couple of dollars more than the unaccompanied minor service would have been and she now has a boarding pass so she can come through and pick up Zoe. Considering how easy this was I am a bit amused about their 'no gate pass policy' since 2006. Most things can still be bought by money.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Subway panic

It was a very strange day because both Mark and I had late afternoon meetings and after some discussion I had agreed to cancel mine and go pick up Zoe from daycare. However, as I was preparing to leave he walked past my desk (we work on the same floor a few days a week) and said cheerfully that he would be happy to pick her up since his meeting had ended early. I considered going back to my student assignments for a quarter of a second but then suggested we go pick her up together. We have only done this once or twice, when Zoe started daycare 6 months ago.

Zoe was squealing from joy when she saw the both of us and we were all happily chatting on the subway back. At one point Mark suggested that we should go to an outdoor cafe not too far away from us, to celebrate the nice weather and that we had picked her up early. This meant that we needed to board a different, more populated train, at the central station where we changed. It was packed to the last square inch and as I squeezed into one compartment, Mark took Zoe in her stroller through another set of entry doors to the train. Or so I thought. As the train left the station, I saw Mark and Zoe standing on the platform mouthing to me that they would see me at the next station. Note that I always put my bag into Zoe's stroller so I now had nothing other than a lip balm in my pocket. No cell phone, no wallet. No problem, I thought, and got off at the next station so I could wait for them. Here I watched a mother with a toddler in hand and a pram trying to enter the now even more full train. Suddenly the train doors beeped and the doors closed WITH HER PRAM INSIDE THE TRAIN. The mother started screaming and as I was the first one to understand what was happening, I ran over to knock on the doors, mouthing that they should pull the emergency brake. Luckily the people inside did after a couple of seconds' driving and the train came to a halt, the doors opening so the mother could go inside to her pram. At this time I had noticed that she had her baby on her chest in a carrier. Thank god.

When the emergency brake is pulled on a train it takes a while before it can leave again. This was 10 very long minutes where I waited for the next train to come in. I boarded but couldn't immediately see Zoe and Mark. Then I saw a green stroller canopy and pushed myself through to the next compartment. Zoe was distraught and had cried ever since she realized the train had taken me but not them. Apparently they had experienced exactly the same thing except Mark had been able to pull Zoe out: the driver had closed the doors right on the stroller, scaring Zoe. She lightened up fairly quickly and we went to the cafe and I had two glasses of white wine. I can't wait till August where we will have a place in a daycare two blocks from our house. No more strollers in rush hour subways. Oh, and Mark called the subway security next day and reported the driver.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How do I get to Berlin?

With Zoe being two, I have not flown by myself for two years apart from the occasional short trip (I can count them on one hand) and then of course the big conference trip two weeks ago. Today I flew down to Berlin for a 4-day research meeting and some differences in flying habits became apparent.

When traveling with Zoe:

  1. I leave on time with a plan for how to get to the airport and who can help me. I have bought the airport train ticket online the day before.
  2. I know exactly how long the flight(s) are and the duration of the the layovers. 
  3. I know how to get things out of my bag quickly for security and I wear shoes I can take off without hands. 
  4. I know what is in my bag. 
  5. I have a window seat so Zoe can't get out. 
  6. I turn off my phone before I board.
  7. I know how to get from the airport, that being train or a taxi that I know has a car seat.

This is how I traveled today:

  1. I left and realized as I boarded the subway train that it would have made more sense to take the "pendel" train because the platform is much closer to the airport train platform.
  2. I knew when my flight left and what airline. I had no idea when I was arriving.
  3. I had to drink half a bottle of water in front of the security guy to get my bottle through (I religiously recycle bottles because I am a firm believer in the ecological value of tap water). I had to rummage through my bag to actually find my computer.
  4. I managed to sneak in toothpaste and lip gloss that I had left in my bag (this happens a lot though, I believe airport security is actively ignoring small liquidy items to save time and because we all know there is no actual danger in liquids like this)
  5. I was surprised to find that I was actually in economy extra where I got a meal, wine and help with placing my carry-on suitcase. The travel agency had booked my ticket according to my inflexible time requests and I hadn't noticed before I boarded.
  6. The stewardess (not the nice one) had to tell me to turn off my phone because I was still texting a friend while we taxied out to the runway.
  7. Last, but not least, I had no idea of how I was getting from the airport to the hotel. All I had was the hotel name and a firm belief in public transportation. I found a friendly face at the pharmacy where I bought a pair of nail scissors (that I couldn't have flown with due to no checked in luggage) and he pointed me to a bus that took me straight to the Zoo, 200 meters away from my hotel. Only with a little help from my iPhone and my Danish sim card that gets me online everywhere in the world for no subscription fee.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Calming down

Things are calming down after the conference trip that I looked forward to and dreaded at the same time. Zoe of course did amazing at my mom's place for a week and we celebrated her (belated) birthday at a brunch party when I got to Copenhagen. The flight home was a breeze and Zoe is now such professional traveler that she takes off her coat when she sees the security line and waits patiently for me to be padded down and turning around before going through the metal detector. Did I say she is two? She continuously surprises me with how much she understands especially because her spoken language is still rather garbled and it is a hit or miss if I understand what she says. Today she had a rant at Mark who dared to ask her if she wanted to go for a walk with him, a rant that none of us understood any words of but one where the meaning was crystal clear (and hilariously funny). We both had to bite our tongues not to laugh at her "ba de hu bachi jubu NO da da", all said in a very loud, serious tone. She is a kid with stark opinions about things, that's for sure.

After coming home last Sunday I have tried to catch up having a normal life, taking Zoe to daycare and going to work. It is nice having a normal everyday life again but of course it is only for a short time, next week I am going to Berlin for 4 days for a review meeting. Zoe is staying home with Mark and this will be the first several nights she is alone with him. I am confident they will have fun but I will miss her terribly. So much for calming down. At least we should be used to it by now.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Traveling sans baby

So one thing I learned today was that the only thing more difficult than traveling with a baby is traveling without your baby. Zoe and I had spent the night with my best friend who is to look after Zoe for 3 days until my parents are back from the US (where my dad has been at an arctic research convention) and can take over looking after her. We had a relaxing morning with breakfast, gourmet coffee (because my friend is like that) and my friend's 9 year old daughter had bonded with Zoe, chasing her around the house and letting her draw with her best coloring pencils. I went down on her level and explained to Zoe that I was going, that she had to say bye bye to me but that I would be back in a week. She started crying and hugging me and tears ran down my cheeks too. I handed her over and left hurriedly. I cried all the way to the station. My friend called when I was on the train and said she had stopped after one minute and was now jumping on the couch with her daughter.

It is strange traveling without Zoe now that I am so used to it. I was seated next to an extended family with a 2 year old girl, her parents and the mother's parents. I made sure to tell the mother that her daughter was adorable and she did really well on the plane. I got a lot of work done on the trip, slept for a couple of hours and got reminded just how bad airplane food actually is. I could not even finish it and when I got to Houston for my last connection I was starving, yet not wanting to eat any of the American airport snack food that is so disgusting I rather go hungry.

I was excited to see one of my close colleague friends on the last plane ride and she switched seats so we could catch up. We babbled the whole 30 minute connecting flight to the conference city where we shared a taxi to our close but separate hotels. When I was finally in my hotel room past midnight I called my friend to hear how Zoe was. "She is such an easy kid", she said and apparently they had had a wonderful day, she had only been sad when she had to sleep, but now they were all ready to bake chocolate muffins and celebrate Zoe's second birthday. As I hung up I finally felt ready to enjoy myself here, knowing that Zoe is not only in good hands but also happy being where she is, surrounded by nice people.