Friday, January 27, 2012

It's here! (after 5 months)

Our furniture and things that we shipped from California are finally here. The moving men dropped it all off yesterday afternoon while I was teaching and Zoe was at daycare. We had been told that they would assemble all furniture, unpack everything and put things back where they were supposed to be. This of course seems like a great idea for people who move from one apartment to another of exactly similar size and number of rooms. However, we have moved from a 1400 sqr feet, 2 story, 2 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath condo to a 700 sqr feet, 2 bedroom small city apartment. In theory we have the same number of rooms but in reality we have about a 10th of the storage space and then of course only one bathroom (all older apartments in Sweden come with only one). It would obviously be a challenge to fit our things but we had cleaned out well already in California, so we were optimistic. Nothing had prepared me, however, for the state the movers left the apartment in. They did unpack some of the things. But since they didn't have anywhere to put them (for some unknown reason the first box they had unpacked was full of books, which was rather frustrating), Mark had instructed them to leave most of the boxes as they were. They then assembled the furniture. And left. Except for our double bed, none of the furniture was placed on the spot Mark and I had agreed on. This is the living room and kitchen.

Living room part
Living room towards kitchen

Today Mark worked all day unpacking and putting books in storage. My contribution when I got home from work was to sort out the kitchen cabinet. I am happy to see my old cups, have proper dinner plates and being able to make a pot of tea. It even looks neat. We have so little kitchen cabinet space here that I have a whole box of things to store in the basement, plus a box to give to Stockholms Stadsmission (a local charity). Tomorrow I'm going to start looking through Zoe's clothes, many of them that will now be too small. 5 months is a long time for a growing toddler.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Furniture overload

Today was one of those dreaded days where chores were in order, more specifically furniture shopping chores. Our half container with all our belongings arrives on Thursday, which means that we have to be ready to receive furniture and boxes full of clothes and books, and somehow make it all fit into our new minimalistic apartment, half the size of the condo we had in California. One slight problem is that we never really had any good bookcases or shelves in California, instead we kept all of our work books (as well as for some odd reason my copy of Anna Karenina) in our offices. The remaining few private books were piled into a small cheap (temporary, yet used for 4 years) bookcase in Zoe's room. Here in Stockholm, both Mark and I, work in open plan offices with very limited book storage. Since we did not ship the so-called temporary bookcase, the books that arrive on Thursday are therefore doomed to either  1. lie in piles on the floor, 2. be stored in boxes in the basement or 3. be unpacked into a brand-new set of lovely book cases that we have bought here in Stockholm. After thorough research, this designer book case is my favorite (the multicolored one) and Mark agrees. Except we do not have 8000 skr ($1200) for a book case at the moment. We barely have money to pay Zoe's daycare. Option 3 is therefore out. Instead were are looking closer at option 2, which brings me on to the trip of today. We are probably going to have to store them in boxes until we can afford a decent book case, but we have no storage space in the apartment apart from one large closet that barely keeps our current clothes. We therefore needed supe-cheap shelves that can go into our basement storage unit, a small narrow space that comes with our apartment (Swedish apartments are great about storage space, most gets at least one unit, all heated and dry so you can store anything). Where to go for shelves? Ikea.

Now I don't dislike Ikea, in fact I grew up with mostly Ikea furniture, but as an adult I have tried to limit my Ikea index (the percentage of Ikea furniture in one's apartment), emphasizing instead longer lasting distinct designer furniture and I am proud to say that our place in California had a very low index. In fact we are only shipping three Ikea items, two of them by mistake (two very cheap side tables that I never meant to have the movers pack but suddenly fund wrapped up and on top of the sofa inside the container), the last one being Mark's beloved arm chair. This doesn't mean that I can't enjoy a trip to Ikea and there are always accessories that are useful to get such as curtains, spatulas and pillows. But moreover, Zoe had not been to Ikea since she could walk and knowing her love for new homes (she would squeal from joy like a home stylist on caffein each time we went into a new apartment when we were house hunting), I thought this was a great place for a family trip. I even told Zoe happily that she was going to an indoor playground and that there would be meatballs (a favorite dish of hers).

She was overly excited. This is the best place we have ever taken her. Not only were there escalators that she could go on up and down, up and down (holding Mark's hand), shopping carts that she could ride ("look Zoe, this is like when we go flying", I found myself saying, realizing that most kids would be more familiar with supermarket carts but if we ever took a cart in the US, I had Zoe in a wrap or carrier. These days we only use baskets). There were also kids tables and chairs all over and she was equally thrilled whenever she saw one more. Her excitement probably got amplified by the half cup of coffee she managed to down as I let her taste mine (?!?) in the cafeteria but it was all cheer love of the situation and she was easy to distract if we had to continue and for example leave her "new" bed behind (yep, she found a toddler bed and lay down to relax for a moment, what kind of kid does that?).

We managed to spend 4 hours there to buy two book cases and a stool. We were looking for other things but in the end we were not able to make such big decisions (agreements)) as to buy a bookcase for the living room when we (I) really want the Woody one. The only crying moment was when Zoe had to be put back in her stroller and rolled out into the snow where we had to wait 15 minutes for the bus. It was sweetened a bit by chocolate cookies that I had bought in the food shop and generously handed her as she picked out the chocolate heart in the middle. Hopefully, Zoe is now prepared for all the furniture that will appear in our otherwise sparingly equipped apartment on Thursday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Perpetual expat

I really like The Minimalist Mom and tend to follow her blog. At the moment she is living in the UK as a Canadian expat. Her account of differences in lifestyle and experiences made me ponder about my own situation. I consider myself a perpetual expat, never really being quite integrated into the culture where I live, yet not feeling at home in the country I grew up in anymore. Since I turned 18 I have lived in four countries apart from my own. The bulk part has of course been the US where I spent roughly 10 years, split between Florida (2 1/2 years) and California (southern, northern and southern again). Second comes Scotland where I lived for 2 1/2 years and now Sweden where I have spent a couple of summers and now live permanently. Well, as permanently as a perpetual expat can live somewhere because I don't expect we will be here for more than 4-5 years but who knows?

What this means, and which is why I felt sadly detached from minimalist mom's account, was that she considers her Canadian home habits and setup as the basis of her comparison. I found myself longing to have such basis, to have a 'default' country, but even Denmark where I grew up has changed so much that I have a hard time proclaiming it to be 'the best country in the world', something I was completely sure of when I moved to Florida to go to college almost 20 years ago. Instead I compare in circles, bringing out advantages from one country and culture and putting down other chacteristics. I am always the first one of my European friends to defend Americans because as a stereotypical mass they have a bad reputation here. And I am always the first one to criticize the Swedish passive aggressiveness as a way of dealing with fellow train passengers and fellow supermarket shoppers. But I always defend the Swedish social system over American disparity and I truly believe that Sweden is a better place to be a parent than the US.

It is tempting for me to say that I don't feel at home anyplace anymore but that is not true. I have learned to make myself at home in a strange setting. It also helps having a partner and now a family. It is not about things, even the special ones like the pillow your grandmother knitted or the clock you inherited from your uncle. It is about getting to know a new apartment and a new neighborhood so you can get around without looking at a map. It is about finding that cafe nearby where the staff says hi third time you show up with your laptop and ask for the internet password. And it is about getting to know where the nutella and the mango chutney is in the grocery store. When you got these things down, home is slowly forming and living in a new place becomes comfortable. I used to say that "home is a hard place to find"; I have realized that is it not about finding home but instead creating one. And I seem to get better and better at it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Morning chaos

I am trying to get our morning routine streamlined, partly in order for me to get into work at a decent time and partly to get Zoe used to a regular set of morning activities now that we are finally in our new apartment with a full-time daycare. Okay, mainly because I want more time to work and because Swedes pick up their children ridiculously early, making me feel like a terrible mother when I rush in at 4.30pm to a virtually empty room with the last four neglected kids left. I have no idea how the Swedes do it, but between two full time jobs and commute time (45 minutes each way), we have to adjust our previously leisurely mornings. Last weekend Mark and I sat down and distributed the drop offs and pick ups between us, me generously doing 6 and him doing 4 (due to the difference in our job flexibility, he is the director of a research lab, I have more flexible work hours). I ended up with 4 drop offs due to several factors and therefore decided to move wake-up time for Zoe and myself half an hour to 6.30 am (me) and 7 am (Zoe). So far, none of this "streamlining" has been successful.

Zoe might not like hats in public,
 but at home, after a refreshing day
in daycare, she loves to try mine.
This morning, all that could go wrong went wrong. Zoe decided to wake up at 6.30 am, which meant that I didn't have any time to get ready myself without her following me around which added probably 10 minutes. She was in the bathroom while I showered and wanted to brush her teeth when I did. When I was taking down her cereal she accidentally saw a box of Pringles that we had bought last Sunday and which she had tasted when visitors came around. Because I didn't want to give her any, she threw a hysterical fit, including laying down on the floor hammering her little hands into the newly waxed wooden blanks. When she finally finished her breakfast she didn't want her clothes on, even though both Mark and I attempted to convince her. We ended up holding her as she cried while putting on clothes. I managed to get her into the stroller two hours after us waking up and got to the daycare at 'normal' time. When I reached my office at 10 am I was so exhausted that I just sat down in the couch area with an article and a cup of coffee. So much for getting up early. And I still have no idea how people do this.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bringing babies to conferences

As I proudly announced about a month ago, I had a paper accepted to the prime conference in my field. It is the conference I always attend and have attended since starting my PhD, so I have been going for almost 10 years. This year the conference is in Texas in May, starting exactly the day after Zoe's second birthday. Which means that, opposite last year, I am not considering bringing her. She would be an international full flight fare. Non-expensable. Luckily, my mom has graciously offered to look after her for the week it takes to travel, attend for 4 days and travel back. Another reason I am not going to bring her is due to last years experiences of bringing a baby to conferences:

Being part of an academic couple that actually publishes and attends the very same conferences presents a few perks and a lot of complications. The perks are that we save on hotel money, travel together and then of course, generally have someone to go home with at the end of the evening (yes, conferences are great for hooking up, in fact we initially hooked up at a conference ourselves, albeit one that Mark actually didn't attend but sneaked into to chat me up...). The complications before we had Zoe were negligible but now we are facing a whole new set of factors. Last year we had two conferences where we both wanted/needed to go, one in China when Zoe was 10 months and the conference described above, in Canada when she had just turned 1. Because of her age and since we didn't live near family in California, the only choice was for one of us to stay home with her or for us to bring her. We decided to bring her for both trips with remarkably different outcome.

It turns out that 10 months is the ideas travel age for a baby and now that I know this, I cannot stop recommending parents to take a trip (if that is a possibility) at exactly this time. It is also the ultimate 'bringing baby to a conference' age, especially if the conference is fairly small and is mostly attended by close colleagues/friends. We had an amazing time, Zoe got all the right attention and I actually felt I was able to attend the conference. A few key highlights include Zoe sleeping through two sessions in my wrap, while I attentively listened to my colleagues' presentations and her sitting in a high chair munching rice and fortune cookies while we ate lunch and chatted with same colleagues. She was small enough to still be carried on my front easily, she could fall asleep there and she was still mainly breastfed, making the stress about food non-existing.

However, it turns that 12 months is the worst time to take a baby to a conference. At this time she had started scooting (hopping on her bum to get forward, something that especially bright babies do just before they learn to crawl and then learn to walk...), which meant that she was not happy just sitting down. She needed action around her, preferably right now and if it didn't happen she made sure to let me know her annoyance. Loudly. She was not sleeping easily in a carrier, in fact I had to roam the hallways for hours to get her to go to sleep in her stroller, the mode of transportation that we had now adjusted to. She had found her temper and stubbornness and did not take a "wait one minute" very lightly. I spent an hour in the conference center's medical room where they had let me in to nurse her because all other comfy corners seemed full of colleagues that I would like to be able to look in the eyes again later on. But most of all, I felt like a mom at this conference. Zoe had taken over my professional personality. Where she at 10 months could be sitting quietly in her carrier on me, and still be just an accessory, now she was a full fledged proof the I was a Mom with capital M. Gone was professional Dr. B, the author of several well-cited articles and known for insightful research within interesting subfields. Instead was a Mom who had crashed an academic conference. Some people talked to me, even with Zoe scooting at my feet, but others clearly avoided me, as if they didn't want to succumb to the Mom-ness. It didn't help that Zoe had recently decided that Mommy was best. Leaving her with her dad would introduce a fit of screaming, of course only until I was out of sight, but this was enough for me to hesitate handing her over. The end result was that I got to see one actual session the whole conference. The remaining time, I either rolled Zoe around in her stroller trying to find the new exciting thing that would entertain her (escalators anyone?) or roamed between three sessions because when I finally had an hour, I hadn't had the time to check the program and walked into the wrong session but didn't realize for 10 minutes. Then of course there was my own presentation and a session I was chairing, neither which included topics of great interest to me (including my own presentation, yes).

After Zoe finally fell asleep an hour into the conference reception I left her 
in her stroller in a corner with a this note: "If I cry please call my mom or 
dad [phone numbers]". It was the best hour of the conference.

Although, or perhaps because, my field is largely male dominated (however my subfield is closer to 30/70), we have frequent discussions about bringing children to conferences. Opinions are generally openminded and encouraging, but also cautious of directly accommodating parents and children. In fact, when the conference is located in the US, insurance issues dictate that we are not allowed to bring children into the conference centers (a problem I obviously wasn't faced with last year). I wish I could be wholeheartedly arguing for parents always bringing their children if they need to but my personal experiences illustrate the ambivalent issues at place here: when is it possible to bring a baby and still remain professional, still feel that you are being taken seriously as a colleague? (because we all know that screaming "No, you cannot eat that plant/take off your clothes/throw that muffin at the nice senior professor who I always hoped would respect my work" at your toddler does not improve one's professional look.) And when is this just not possible and you need to actually skip the conference if you cannot find suitable childcare? Well, I found the fine line between the two, but the hard way. However, I hope to at least pass on my experiences to new academic mothers who have to make the tough decisions of what do with their baby when attending a conference.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bad mommy

I was on my way home yesterday after picking Zoe up from daycare when a middle-aged woman approached me on the street. She mumbled and I smiled and went a bit closer to hear what she was saying, perhaps asking for directions. She pointed at Zoe and told me she needed to wear a hat. I frowned and just starred. Did she just tell me how to be a parent? It was cold yes, but not freezing. Zoe was wearing her snowsuit that has a hood but the hood was half way down. Zoe does not like to wear hats and I have given up, knowing that the time we actually spent outside on the way home is mainly in the stroller with a canopy and a hood that sort of touches her ears. I feel them once in a while and they are never too cold. (we have a similar problem with gloves but that is another story). I was not having a good day already so as the lady moved away I swore and said some very loud not so nice things in my native language. I kept thinking why people would think it is okay to come up and tell me such thing. In what situation would a parent (with a child in a snowsuit for crying out loud) need to know that the toddler also "need" a hat? Instead she added to my already existing bad-mommy feelings because I am not forceful enough to have Zoe keep her hat on (have you ever had a screaming child arch her back and pull so hard in the hat that it breaks?). Or the bad-mommy feelings that tells me that I am not patient enough to wait for Zoe to settle and realize that she need to have her hat on (do you have 30 minutes extra to just sit there explaining the reality of hat-wearing to a tired toddler?). In the end I just accepted the bad-mommy guilt and took Zoe to Systembolaget, the Swedish license shop where you buy alcohol. I let her have her own basket and she took little cartons of wine down from the shelves as we walked around shopping.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making a home (out of very few things)

Last Friday we moved all our things from our temporary apartment to our new apartment in two taxis, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I tried to make it comfortable in our new home with what we have. Then, at 5pm, Mark arrived with Zoe after picking her up from daycare. I was surprisingly nervous of how Zoe would react, what she would do when she saw the new place and if she would feel at home, which is why I started by making a comfy play corner for her. Not before her toys and stuffed animals were out, did I open the boxes with glasses, silverware and the pot (yep, we have a pot). She was happy to see me and we had an easy dinner but after that I had to unpack her little travel bed. I took her into her new room and proceeded to open it up, explaining that this room was where she would sleep and play. Her little face turned to utter disappointment, and then she started crying. It was like the scene from Planet of the Apes where the main character realizes, after seeing the broken Statue of Liberty, that this is earth. Zoe realized we were staying here. We weren't going home. She cried her brave tears and ran out of the room, over to the front door pointing up: "da, da." I felt my heart sink as I explained that we were living here now. This was home. She calmed down and I let her sleep in our bed the whole night.

Since then she has cheered up, exploring different parts of the apartment but she is still particular about things sometimes. Today she only wanted to sit on my lap to eat (with my heirloom silver fork) and she is not so happy with her play corner. She does love the new trash bin though, which she has learned to open and close by herself.