Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Here we go again

Friday morning, Zoe and I will be catching a plane down to Copenhagen to see my family and for me to see some friends. I am going to a theater play with some of my friends, so I thought this weekend might be as good as any to go down for a visit. Having flown 53 times with Zoe before I don't anticipate any difficulties or surprises, yet as I have described before, I like to prepare mentally and practically a couple of days before. One thing that has changed recently is that Zoe is very heavy for me to carry in a soft-structured carrier and that although she likes to walk for parts of the journey, I need to keep her close by at certain key points during the trip. For example when going from the train up into the terminal to check in, I can't let her walk, it would take too long, and there are no trolleys with child seats like there is airside in the terminal. Yet, I could think of only a few things worse than actually having to take her stroller with me, getting it collapsed for security and trying to negotiate a carry-on suitcase with pushing a screaming toddler (Zoe still hates her stroller). In addition I have a stroller in Copenhagen at my parents' apartment and my mom mostly picks us up in the airport, with it. So soft-structured carrier it is.

Of other challenges, one is how to manage an almost two year old in my seat. She is way too big to be a lap infant, but since it is only an hour flight and that she still qualifies, I am not going to buy the extra seat. Besides, occasionally the airline will have an empty seat that will magically be next to me. If not, I pity the person next to us who will get Zoe's feet in his/her lap for the majority of the flight.

Finally, there is the patience issue: With Zoe walking most of the way now, she has less patience to stand in line for security and boarding and it can sometimes be complicated to keep her occupied while keeping my spot. Last time she couldn't understand why I didn't just follow her around all queue into the airplane where we were clearly going, why I kept standing behind all those people that she gladly walked around. I honestly thought it was a bit silly too and secretly prayed that someone would just ask me to come up front, but those things don't happen in the real world. Instead I just kept telling Zoe to come back and wait with me, trying to seem like I had my eager toddler under control.

Wish me luck, I will report back after my weekend trip how toddler traveling is these days.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Real life

Something that comes to mind on days where I go to work on 4 1/2 hours sleep because I stayed up past midnight correcting student exams and Zoe woke me up at 5, is how my lifestyle makes my life unreal. Moving country every 2-4 years makes it difficult to think of anywhere as 'real life'. After walking around in a daze today I realized that I have not been thinking of my life in Stockholm as something serious, something real yet. Perhaps due to my rather complex work situation (which needs a full blog post) but probably more importantly because I am not able to (refuse to?) completely understand the language and hence what goes on around me (what people talk about on the subway, what the tabloids say and which politicians are in power), I don't engage. I feel that this is just a game, a temporary thing, something that doesn't really concern me. Ironically I feel very much home in my academic field. I have really close friends who live around the world, (even one or two here) I am passionate about that environment and community. I also have close friends outside the field that do not live here. But walking around in the streets, interacting with strangers in shops, cafes and my gym, I don't feel the 'realness'. And I haven't for a while.

The US was as unreal as this, people would speak a language I am fluent in and I enjoyed small talk as much as the next American. I have a fairly American accent (with a mix of Scottish) so I didn't stick out the way I do here. But I often got to a certain place where the cultural differences caught up on me and meant that I could not emphasize any further with the people I was talking to. I simply could not understand their eagerness to repeat themselves, to talk about irrelevant issues or to talk about themselves as much as some tend to do. Again, don't get me wrong, I am not generalizing about Americans, they come as differently as other nationalities, but the basic cultural differences between me and them, made me realize that my life there was unreal or at least not grounded in a settled notion of everyday life.

One of the reasons it feels unreal is of course that many of my loved ones, including my family, are far away and not easy to talk to due to time difference and diverging schedules. The fact that these people cannot understand my everyday life as I do, means that they cannot advise me in normal matters (like bureaucratic issues or language specific concerns) and that I feel even more removed from them. I think I end up choosing to stay attached to people instead of places, which in return makes my everyday life feel so unreal. I make people in my life important, no matter where, in what time zone they are. Or perhaps it is just the 4 1/2 hours of sleep talking and I will feel perfectly real in my own life tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It was never meant to be like this

When I have a rough day, a straining hour or even just a bad moment with Zoe, like loosing my temper on a subway platform, I often think that it was never meant to be like this. Parenthood was never meant to be a single or even duo person chore. The good old saying "it takes a village" echos in my ears as I wonder where my support network is. Because having my lifestyle and career means that there might be many supporters but none next door. I have several close friends that I could call up at any hour of the day (and I do occasionally); I have wonderful family who even visits often, but all these people all are between 1 and 10 hours flight away and have been since Zoe was born. When I hit my head badly on the kitchen sink last night and the thought flashed through my mind that I might need stitches (not that it was that bad of a bruise but one's mind does tend to wander towards the extreme) the only one I could think of to call to look after sleeping Zoe was a younger male friend of ours who lives 10 minutes away. Not a close friend, not someone who have ever looked after Zoe or any other kids for that matter, but someone who Mark goes drinking with and who works in the same research center as we do. We have colleagues, but none whose phone number I have, or who lives within any proper distance. There is no village.

Modern parenthood is very independent and lonely in its structure and we tend to pay people to do the chores that was done by extended family and neighbors in "the good old days". This has become even more apparent now that we don't have an arsenal of payed people in our household anymore (well at least a nanny, a cleaning lady and an occasional babysitter seemed like an arsenal when we now only have one busy occasional evening sitter). Scandinavian daycare and wage levels plus our general financial situation means this is no longer an option.  When Zoe was sick two weeks ago and Mark's board meeting overlapped with my teaching I called an emergency nanny service. I left a sick toddler with a stranger and paid her a considerable amount of money to go to work. She was my village.

I keep reminding myself that this is how things are; I have made a choice to live like this, I have decided that I can do that. Even when I scream at Zoe because I just can't take her crying for the 5th day in a row while I am in the shower and there is nobody to distract her and she got tired of Pingu, I try tell myself that it is okay because it was never meant to be like this. I am in an extreme situation. And perhaps one day soon there will be a bit more of a village.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Running mommy

Stockholm Subway: We live by Mariatorget (red line), work by
Kista (blue line) and Zoe's daycare is by Stadshagen (blue line)
If you see a woman running in the subway, to the train, between the trains and up again, that would be me. As I have talked about before, Zoe has a wonderful daycare but one that is now two times three subway stations away, which includes a quite long walk between trains at the central station, not to mention the several escalator/elevator rides down and up. Door to door it is half an hour, with a toddler in tow it is more like 40 minutes from the first attempt to put her snowsuit on, until she has her "home shoes" on (a Scandinavian must). The only good part about this setup (apart from the wonderful daycare with great staff) is that it is sort of on the way to work, meaning if we take the 'long' way to work, it is by one of the stations where the train stops (and of course Mark and I are lucky to work in the same building right now). But it still annoys me that I have to spend so much time in transport. Yesterday, for example I got my hair done at a boutique salon near home, which at the time of booking seemed like a good idea, but it turned out Mark had late meetings and I had to pick up Zoe. I have perfected the technique of the home-to-daycare journey from knowing exactly what train I can catch when I see the information board upstairs and I know exactly how fast I have to run between the two platforms to catch which train. I also know exactly which end of the train I need to be in and I even know which car, which door to get in the morning so I can go straight into the elevator with Zoe in the stroller without having to walk on the crowded platform. I get incredible annoyed when perfectly capable people take the elevator up from the platform, filling it up so I have to wait with Zoe in the stroller and I have no problem pushing my way through the long rolling pavement that separates the two platforms I have to change between on the central station. As a mom you suddenly realize how precious time is and daytime is extremely valuable to me. If I am not working I want to spend time with Zoe, not in the subway (and I particularly don't want to spend time in the subway with Zoe). So I guess that is why I run.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bad mother 2

This weekend my parents were in town, partly to see our new apartment, and partly so my very practical, handyman dad could fix a few things around the house, like installing an outlet in the kitchen, putting a hook in the ceiling and telling us that we are in fact able to sand our floors and white wash them. I enjoyed their company as always but Zoe was ill and surprisingly grumpy. So grumpy that she was difficult to take out and screamed pretty much the whole time in the stroller or when walking by herself. The only thing that was good enough was her mother carrying her. At one low point, my mom and I (who were out with Zoe by ourselves) decided that we needed a break and on the way into the cafe a frowning middle aged woman passed us. "She has to have a hat on" (Hon ska ha mösse på!), she ordered and looked harshly at me, then back at a snowsuit clad Zoe who was screaming her head off. I was rolling Zoe through the door held open by my mom as I started steaming inside my head, the irony of course being that this had happened before. And exactly like last time, my temper got the better of me and while the woman righteously walked away with her head held up high, I yelled quite a few profanities after her. My mom seemed a bit shocked and Zoe magically stopped wailing. I took a few deep breaths when we were all fully inside the cafe and looked behind me to discover three people, staff and guests, stare at me. I held my head high as I took Zoe's hand and walked over to the counter to order our coffee.

I am still looking for the perfect reply to this insane interfering with something that 1. is not that bad and 2. is not their problem. Not to talk about 3. is a big problem between me and Zoe since she takes her hat off the minute she has gotten it on (and yes, she has about 5 different types; the ones she can't pick off herself, she just pulls and screams bloody murder until I remove it). I wouldn't think that the Swedish social services will take your child away from you, even if you commit the massive parental failure of not making sure your kid wears a hat, but I could be mistaken. At least with the way people react here, it seems to be as close to child abuse as you can get. Who knew?

Monday, February 6, 2012

A room of one's own

A friend of mine sent me a link to this lovely kids room. It is based on Montessori values (which I don't know much about in detail but have a generally positive attitude to. In fact Zoe is on the wait list for a well-reputed Montessori preschool near us) and looks serene and beautiful. I have yet to actually pick out style and acquire interior for Zoe's room apart from her crib, which is white. She also has a changing table with baskets for toys but her being 21 months, I don't see her needing that for more than 6 months to a year longer. Besides a dark red wall and three really cute owl pictures by Jennifer McHugh that I bought in San Diego, her room is a blank canvas. Apart from the oddity of this room having been fitted completely with chair and table before the baby was even born (Scandinavian superstition prevents us from having anything inside the house for the child before the baby is born), it struck me as pushing a few values that, while sensible, made me feel slightly inadequate as a parent of a flybaby. The link to the montessori furniture and accessories made me realize that Zoe has absolutely no 'everyday tools' that are her own, apart from her toys. For example this weekend I stopped her from taking out her own clothes from her baskets because I couldn't face the 10 minutes of straightening out that it would take me afterwards, leaving her complaining very loudly. And she still sits in a high chair with a baby rail, which means I have to help her up and down at dinner. She doesn't have a small table and chair, despite me trying to find one for ages; I can see she loves those, she is drawn to them and sat at each one she found in Ikea. But I am settled on finding a secondhand (cheap), vintage (unique) set and not cave into something like the Sundvik chairs that shine Ikea standardization and cheapness. So the Montessori principles are hard to find in our home.
Zoe's little nook in the bedroom
Our home is based on ad hoc solutions and minimizing transportation of stuff. Instead Zoe likes to make her own little nooks with a blanket and pillows; she pulls in whatever other cloth-type thing she can find (this weekend it was a towel and one of Mark's dress shirts), brings her two dolls and a book and sits there reading for hours. She has a nook in each room now: the corner next to the table in the living room, under the desk in Mark's study/her own room (it is two parted, separated by a half wall) and behind the curtain in our bedroom. Her increasing independence and feeling of security in our new apartment makes me happy and I can see that she enjoys playing with whatever is available at hand. I guess that is also a consequence of raising a toddler while moving and traveling as much as we have done. Now it is time to start settling down and get some furniture for Zoe (and perhaps a bit for ourselves too).

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A low point of motherhood

Yesterday afternoon during rush hour, a mother stood on the subway platform, with a completely hysterical, screaming, leg-kicking toddler in a stroller, trying to break free of the harness. The mother screamed back at the toddler and shook her out of frustration until the mother started crying herself. It was a horrific sight, except of course that this mother was me and the toddler was Zoe.

I had attended the preschool's first birthday party in the afternoon that included 'champagne', cake and chips, some of which Zoe had eaten. As we left she wanted to take a balloon, but they were tied to the wall and I said no. This started her first fit but I got her into the stroller with the promise of a snack (I often give her snacks on the way home, on good days fruit and less good days raisins or crackers and on really bad days chocolate. It eases up the 40 minute commute). She chewed away on a sesame cracker and off we went. As we entered the first train she started wanting to get out of the stroller and this is where I made my first mistake. I let her. She was standing holding on to the stroller but still toppled over when the train left each station. I carried her out at the main station and explained to her while we sat on a bench that if she wanted to walk to the other train (a 3 minute walk to another platform), she had to hold my hand the whole time. She did but the walk took more like 10 minutes. The elevators were busy but as we approached the new platform I realized that I could not have her out of her stroller here because this is a very busy and narrow platform. When the elevator stopped I wedged it open with the stroller and put Zoe back in. She was not happy. She wanted up. And I wanted to be home. I had already had a long day at work, spent good quality time in a ridiculous teaching meeting and had planned on taking Zoe to the hair dresser on the way home. She screamed and screamed and arched her back like I had never seen before. I kept trying to talk to her, "Zoe bee, you have to sit in the stroller, it is very dangerous to be on the platform". I let a train pass by because I couldn't face going into an overfilled compartment with a screaming and kicking toddler. I talked to her but had to hold her down, I was worried she would be able to free herself of the harness (and god forbid run somewhere I didn't want to think of). And this is where I lost my temper and screamed back at my little stubborn daughter, to please please stop it. She obviously didn't like that and just cried louder. I finally wedged her into the next train, tearful and guilty of loosing it when I was the adult who should be in charge of the situation. She continued crying loud the remaining 3 stations and didn't pause until we were in the elevator riding up from the platform. "Zoe", I started explaining, "you are too little to walk on your own when we take the train. When you turn two you can walk on your own. But you are too little right now". She nodded and answered her clear "Aye" (she is half Scottish after all) as if she understood every word that I said. Okay mom, now I understand.

When we got in, I only took off my shoes before I broke down crying on the bed, hammering the pillows to get rid of all my frustrations. Zoe looked bewildered at me and then resolutely went up and pointed at my chest. "Ma ma?", she asked. Could she have some milk? She sure could.