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.