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.