Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bilingual magic

As most parents must realize sometimes, I occasionally look at Zoe and cannot believe she is already 3 and a half. I cannot believe I have such a sweet, funny, clever daughter who is as easygoing as she is. And I cannot believe that she can talk so much when it was just yesterday when all she could say was 'ma ma' (which meant both milk and mom). But what I also find myself astonished of is her bilingualism and improvement of language every single day, something that might be less common. The most impressive thing to me is that I hardly ever hear her speak English, so when I do it's like if your kid started tightrope walking without you ever having seen her practice. Or riding a bicycle for the first time without any help. I'm in awe how good she is and how clearly she speaks English until I remember that it is actually her first language. And I forget that although she really, really tries, her Danish is still muddled and she is missing a few key sounds that means mainly family and people who know her, can understand what she says. There are no hard r's and no sk's or kl's. In fact her pronunciation makes "sitting" and "saying" (in Danish) sound the same so we have a few funny conversations that are only funny until Zoe get so frustrated that she starts crying and screaming: Mommy you don't understand me! And I feel so bad that I go down on my knees and comfort her by promising to listen better and to understand better. But I still didn't know if she wanted to sit down or say something.

She mixes in a lot of English when she speaks Danish but to adults it quickly becomes part of her charm. She finally started being articulate about the languages herself and says with a laugh when we are out in Copenhagen: Mommy, they speak like us! On the way to a friend's house for a Christmas party, she asked what language they spoke to make sure she would be okay. They speak Danish, I reassured her and she was happy. She knows what she understands and what she doesn't understand. Yet, I really hope she will be able to play with more Danish kids to improve her bilingualism: So far her dolls all speak English and her stories that she read to them are in English. Tomorrow she is seeing her cousin who is only one year older than her. Let's hope she can teach the dolls some Danish.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Picking up Zoe

"You are going to Edinburgh but not staying", the girl who was polishing my nails asked. I explained that I was going to pick up my daughter, not going on holiday myself. "But to pay so much money for a ticket and then not have a holiday?", she continued. But I was on holiday. I was on holiday in Copenhagen with my family and I wanted Zoe to be there too. Besides, her dad was flying to Bangkok two days after and via Paris, not Copenhagen. I guess I could have picked her up in Paris too, but that would add one plane ticket to the puzzle. And yes, this was expensive, I had tried to minimize expenses by flying discount airlines, but it still had made a big dent in my otherwise okay Christmas holiday budget. But where I might hesitate at going out for expensive dinner and decide that presents might have a lower maximum this year (it's the thought that counts right?), picking up Zoe from her Christmas in Edinburgh was never really about choice. She is only three and I'm not going to get into the regulatory details about kids flying alone (because I actually know them for each airline and each route), but she cannot fly alone yet. I sometimes imagine creating a private kids-transportation pairing service for people in my situation: A pool of people willing to fly with a kid (out of charity) and a pool of kids needed to be transported around Europe by plane. Then you enter a route for your child and potential timing and get matched with an adult willing to fly with the kid. This would save me a lot of headache and money. I have already asked friends if they could bring Zoe on the flight from Stockholm to Copenhagen a couple of times but so far without luck. The furthest I have gotten is buying my mom a cheap plane ticket so she could get into the terminal and pick up Zoe, and the power of social networking resulting in a friend of a friend who works in the airport bringing Zoe out to my mom while Zoe's dad caught a connecting flight. The girl still seemed puzzled and I changed the subject.

But today I caught a 10 am flight to Edinburgh, crossed my fingers that the storm over the British isles would not result in any delays and went to pick up Zoe. She spent Christmas with her dad, which she thoroughly enjoyed and I was actually fine about it in the end. My christmas was full of sweets, nice food, glogg and a subset of my close family. Zoe was excited to see me and we all had a coffee before I ventured back through security for the second time that day, now with Zoe in tow, and caught the plane back to Copenhagen. Zoe was very happy to see grandma again and I was exhausted but relieved it all worked out.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Zoe not like flying

Zoe recently got original Boing stickers sent
from a friend of mine who actually works
at Boing. She was overly excited and our
bathroom now has an airplane theme.
This morning I had a conversation with Zoe about traveling. I told her we were going to her grandma's place soon and she asked if we were going to fly or take the train. "Good", she said when I told her we were taking the train, "I like the train, I don't like the plane because it says BOOOMMM". Her gesture was unmistakably serious but I couldn't help laughing a bit inside. "And on the train you can watch the iPad, not on the plane", she continued and I had to agree with her. The short hour it takes to go from Stockholm to Copenhagen is not really enough to take out the iPad and do anything significantly with. She has said it to me before, that she doesn't like the plane anymore, but it also highlights her lack of time perception. It takes 5 hours of train ride to get to Copenhagen but it doesn't bother her as long as we have things to do such as playing with the iPad. I guess I have saved its price manyfold already in cheaper travel (she is a full price ticket on the plane, but free on the train so even if the train is slightly more expensive, it makes sense). So there you go. Flybaby is over flying.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Big Day

As big days go, something is bound to go wrong. For me it was the drop of my eye cream jar into the bathroom sink (I had my deodorant upside down, but due to its round top, it slid down, pushing the eye cream out of the medicine cabinet), cracking out a large piece of the porcelain. The eye cream was not heavy but the 15 inch fall must have transformed it into a bullet. I starred at the cracked sink wondering if I should worry about it or just pretend it didn't happen until the next day. I had two major events in front of me, a special invited talk* and participation in a panel at the royal dramatic theater the same evening. I decided to go the middle way and post a picture on Facebook, as well as texting an acquaintance of mine who might know a plumber. Then I didn't worry more about it that day. In fact I managed to forget it completely until Zoe came home the day after and yelled "Oh No", when she saw it: "how can I brush my teeth now?". I reassured her that the kitchen sink was usable for that too. But this morning I told myself that if a cracked sink was the worst thing that was going to happen that day, it was okay.

And so my big day went well. I did a good talk, had lunch with a colleague and skipped out to get a manicure, something I have never done before in Sweden, because it cost a million here ($100 to be more exact), but I figured that I already needed to spend 2 millions on a new sink. This is the kind of logic my mom has taught me, it works well when I need to indulge myself to feel better, works less well at the end of the month. But in the end I felt like a million dollars too as I borrowed the actress' powder and hairspray in the dressing room. The panel discussion went well, I managed to voice some of my views on female researcher issues and the fact that there are much fewer female professors than female PhD students. I talked about male leadership culture (they listen to you but they interrupt you all the bloody time) and how male leaders sometimes have to "discover" female leadership candidates in order to promote them (I was myself "discovered" or suggested by a female colleague, my boss would never have thought about me on his own even though I was an easy choice). I talked about grade school gender culture and promoting research early on in school and university. In the end we all got a long-stemmed rose and we went home. I washed my face at the kitchen sink and texted the plumber acquaintance again. The sink did indeed turn out to be the worst part of my big day.

*This is sometimes code for something else. It might be the case here too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

November blues

It has been a few emotional weeks for me with issues I cannot tell many people about. Luckily I have a few very good friends here in Stockholm (yes, it happened, I still cannot believe it but it happened) who are of tremendous support to me and who do not flinch when I have a day where I cannot speak without tears in my eyes or have to walk out in the middle of a meeting. My lowest low was the hour I spent crying in a bathroom after walking out of a teaching course I have to take, because I realized just how much I did not want to be there, but wanted to be somewhere else. In my panic I managed to do even more damage, which I spent the next week trying to counter-control. I think I'm back on track and I learned a few things: 1) Have a glass of wine in the morning before a difficult (mentally draining) day. I promised myself that this is a once per year thing because I don't want to end up an alcoholic, but still it worked that day when I desperately needed it. 2) Don't send off emails or text messages when you are really upset, call your mom instead. 3) People who you think are on your side can flip in a blink of an eye and people who seem to find you despicable, have their own issues that are even worse than yours, and their seeming judgement simply reflects their own grief. 4) I'm capable of pulling myself together and run a two day conference for 25 people with a smile on my face despite my aforementioned breakdown.

How much turkey can a 3 year old eat?
Finally, I learned not to feel guilty as a mom. I'm doing my best with Zoe and that is pretty okay. Our life is not streamlined, or in any way normal; yesterday she went to dance class in a shirt full of rice from the previous day's sushi dinner and with leftover candy for breakfast, this morning we spent the time wrapping a present for her dad, whose birthday it is in a couple of days when she is with him, instead of eating breakfast. But she is also the three year old that I can bring to a Thanksgiving dinner who will play and entertain the other guests for four hours while I enjoy the company of other adults. And she is the three year old who plays "let's go flying" when other kids play they are going on a road trip. She is also the three year old I can take into a toy store and walk around with for half an hour until she proclaims, "oh, no more toys, let's go" without asking for a single thing. She really wanted to buy her dad a laptop sleeve with sushi on it for his birthday, but I had to tell her it didn't fit her daddy's laptop. She then carefully selected something else. She painted a cup cake on a card for him and tried to write her name but only O's came out. She might not be in bed at 8pm every night after home-cooked dinner at 6pm but I think that is simply not for us. And as long at I'm okay about that, she will be okay.

Hopefully the final weeks of the year will be better. I'm looking forward to a week's holiday with Zoe in Copenhagen and then a fresh start.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Midnight cookies

I was feeling slightly guilty even if Zoe was happily dancing away to the music, because it was 9pm and way past her bedtime. She was supposed to be in bed so she wouldn't be too tired at dance class the next day. But then later, while she 'painted' our cut-out cookies with egg using her (almost) clean water color brush (because who has a baking brush anyway?) and sprinkled them with cinnamon and almonds I had a realization: I am simply not that kind of mom. I am not the mom who follows a ridged schedule, who makes sure my daughter brushes her teeth every single night without exception. And I'm not the mom who has rules about half an hour 'screen time' and 'eat up what's on your plate'. I don't think the most important thing is to eat the candy *after* dinner; if it's there, you can eat it. Instead, I'm that other mom. I'm the mom who decides to bake cookies at 9pm because that's the time we have to do this and Zoe wants to help. I'm the mom who occasionally lets Zoe watch the Polar Express with me and then try to soothe her with an hour of Mikey Mouse afterwards. And if she wants a bit of candy she can have it. Fact is that she inherited her mom's very picky taste for candy and cookies, mainly liking higoodgh quality chocolate or backed goods. She will eat three winegums if you give her a full bag and she never finishes the plate of chocolate I put in front of her. We had fun painting the cookies and while they baked she put on her pajamas. I decided not to feel guilty about any of this but instead treasure the time we have together. I am very lucky because she rarely gets cranky when she gets tired. She slows down but is her usual easygoing self. But moms come in many different types, and I'm simply a different type than one I used to think I was. So although Zoe had a (very tired) fit when I finally told her that she could not take off her pajamas to put on her dance clothes at 10pm, it was perfect when I snuggled up with her in my big bed as we both drifted off to sleep together. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The doll pram

The nicest doll pram
"A happy mom is a good mom", I thought, as the train left the Broadway-Lafayette platform to take me the last two stops to Delancey Street. That's what they say. So although I was missing Zoe to bits, and had even bought her an upscale Corolle doll-pram, partly out of guilt, I knew that this was okay. Two weeks in New York was just what I needed, right now. I was returning to my temporary home on the lower east side from work-related duties, meetings with colleagues, and I had several planned non-work activities for later this week: yoga with a friend, buying a purse for another friend back in Stockholm and coffee with a third friend. All essential New York things. What I had not planned, however, was to be woken up 2am in the morning by a couple of partying girls screaming "a rat!, a rat!" but this was a minor detail.
The nicest winter jacket

Zoe had been less than happy about me leaving and the last weekend her and I had been running around, desperately trying to find a proper winter jacket for her, preferably affordable to me, in exchange for the H&M jacket with the broken zipper. Quality winter clothes in Sweden (the country where there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothes, also when it's -15 C) does not come below 1000 Skr (~$150) from new and this was exactly the price tag of the Noa Noa coat that Zoe fell in love with. I stood there, looking at how it fit her snugly, looking at the price tag. "Okay Zoe, but then I can't afford to buy you that doll pram that you have asked that I take home from New York", I said. Zoe resolutely took of the coat and hung it back. Then she didn't want it. She rather wanted to freeze. We left and as she took her nap in the stroller I trailed the Swedish websites for a used winter jacket in her size.

Now, I was in New York and the jacket situation had been resolved by her dad buying the jacket for her, but she was clearly still worried about the exchange I had offered, because I received a worried phone call from her one day (proceeded by her dad texting me "Zoe wants to call you right now!". "Mor, you remember, you remember, you remember", she stuttered in Danish, almost out of breath. "Remember you said you would buy the doll pram for me?" I reassured her that I was going to the toy store the very next day and taking it home with me. "Tak tak", she said in a tone as if I had passed her the milk. The pram was now waiting by my suitcase in my NY apartment ready to be packed down. It made me feel slightly better that I could bring home something material that I knew was making her happy, alongside my own happiness.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's cold at the top

Today I printed this article about why there are so few women in science and even though I saw it coming out of the (communal for the whole floor of offices) printer on my way to get a cup of coffee, after I had replenished my cappuccino (from the high grade espresso maker that I lobbied for and convinced the higher powers at the university to buy), the article was gone from the printer. In fact it was completely gone from the printing area, even the shelves where we place unclaimed printouts for people who can't make it to the printer immediately. The only possibility was that someone had seen it and decided to snatch it for reading himself. I must say himself because the only other women on my floor is my close colleague* who would have known it was mine and simply asked me for a copy.

After getting past the annoyance of having to go print it again, I was actually very happy that someone took this interest to read this article. I had just had a meeting with my (now immediate) boss this morning where he informed me that he was aware that there was a pay gap between female and male employees in our department and that the government here in Sweden have procedures to try to minimize the gap, meaning when suggesting a raise, I was allowed to suggest a slightly higher raise for a woman with the reasoning that I was attempting to equalize this existing injustice. There were special funds for this particular goal.

But as much as there are official attempts to tackle discrimination, sexism is unfortunately still alive and ripe, however subtle, sometimes straight to my face, even here in Sweden. When we had our first kick-off meeting in my unit and I had bought macaroons, one elderly lecturer said jokingly that he had expected me to bake myself. I was speechless for a second or two as I tried to figure out a joking response but unlike American sit-coms where everyone always has a snappy reply, reality is different and I just continued our agenda. I realize it was a joke and he wasn't really serious, but would ever had said this to a man? Was it actually funny at all? I didn't take it personal and I'm not loosing sleep over it, however unfortunately other incidents and issues are more pervasive and more intrusive. Some are borderline harassment and behavior that I know, hundred percent, would never have been occurring if I were a man. A lot of it exist within the tone of voice in emails and talk, interrupting me, 'mansplaining' things to me and simply ignoring me in important communication.Without being specific it is safe to say that there is a long way to equality in a male dominated field and an even more male dominated department like mine. The majority of people are great, nice, funny and very respectful, but the odd sour grape can really get to me.

One of the interesting things is that sexism shows up slowly as you get older and rise the ranks. When I was a student, undergrad and masters student level, I rarely experienced anything other than the odd comment about women not being able to drive and that I had to pass this technical course that was apparently very difficult, to get my degree (not that I had every failed any technical courses, but the teacher just felt he needed to mention it to me personally. As the only girl in the class). I genuinely felt that my male peers treated me equally and that we worked together well, even as I did my PhD, I never experienced any treatment that could be construed as blunt sexism. In fact, I felt a lot of popular media writing was exaggerated and I truly believed that when they wrote "we are devoted to support women and majorities" in the academic job ads, they meant I had a better chance of getting the job than an equally qualified male candidate. I was dead wrong. Those words are as empty as the five Os in that sentence. Time after time I was passed over for male candidates because once, the head of the committee wanted his own PhD candidate to get the job, another time, they argued that my research was not serious enough and hired someone who was focusing on "politically correct" topics, rather than having a long publication record like mine. One of the jobs I would really have liked despite my life having looked very different now, but others I couldn't care less about; I probably didn't want to be in such department anyway. For a few I obviously just wasn't the right candidate and for others I wasn't able to sell myself right. But as I become more removed from the experiences and see how the candidates who got the jobs have done, I wonder how they did not see my potential. In relation to several old fellow candidates I now have many more publications, more funding accomplishments and am now a research director. And I can't help concluding that part of is was subtle, perhaps unwillingly, gender discrimination.

They say it is cold at the top and I believe they are right. But I was never worried about that when taking on this leadership role, because, for me, it is already pretty cold over here in my department. I get weird looks, ignoring eyes, disrespecting emails and simply get excluded from a lot of common socialization. Moving upwards is a way of formalizing this awkwardness towards me as the odd woman in an almost all-male departments. On the other hand, when people do get to know me, they tend to relax a bit more and we can talk like equals. They realize that I might be a woman but I'm not an alien. As much as I sometimes feel like one, just like many of the women in the article.

*This is not strictly true, we have a part time PhD student visiting 1-2 times per week from another department because her secondary advisor is in our department. However, she was not in today.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Do you ever get lonely? someone asked me this past weekend. No, I'm good at being alone I said knowing the one part was true, the other not. I've always been good at being alone, it doesn't scare me and I'm never bored. I always find nice things to do, reading a book, listening to music, writing, when I can't (or don't have to) do work-related tasks, most of which I also enjoy or tolerate. But if lonely is defined as feeling alone then it's not true that I don't get lonely. I feel alone the minute Zoe leaves my presence. It feels like part of my body is missing. At first it is okay and I enjoy the freedom of going somewhere at an adult pace, I enjoy an undisturbed adult conversation with people. And I enjoy my research work. But when I haven't seen her for days, I start feeling it. The missing body part. I hear her voice in my head "Moar" and I hear her laugh when I tickle her. I see her cheeky smile and her chubby hands. I feel her hair when I rub it before she sleeps and I feel her hug while she tells me that I'm the best mom there is. All while I know she is having fun and hugging her dad just as much, wherever she is now. And I know that he must feel the same when Zoe is with me. But I still feel that something essential is missing.

I have been too busy to unpack since I got home Wednesday evening, handing over Zoe in the same go. Or perhaps it is just too hard to do because the clothes in the suitcase will just remind me too much of the missing part. Perhaps I'll unpack on Sunday when she comes back. She will enjoy helping me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Choo Choo

Zoe and I took the train back to Stockholm today, after almost a week in Copenhagen. It was a vacation for Zoe but part working and part duty for me since I had an important doctors appointment too. It was an uneventful and easy 5 hour journey where Zoe watched Dora ("On television, Mom", as opposed to the game) through the iPad tethering from my iPhone. I had to by 99 Skr's worth of more data, but she was happy and I got through half a magazine, 4 pages in "How to be a Woman" by Caitlin Moran, and 7 pages of internal work papers describing how to do career development meetings with my "subordinates". When she got tired she asked me curiously and a bit timid: "Mom, are we allowed to sleep on the floor?" I asked her where we were and after thinking it through she got excited and explained: "We are on the train, so we can sleep on the floor! When we are on the plane we are not allowed to sleep on the floor, but we are not on the plane". I nodded and down she went, with duvet, doll and iPad. Opposite most passengers who laugh when the flight attendants announce that "Passengers are not allowed to sleep on the floor", Zoe had taken this very seriously. Perhaps because she actually fits on the floor and given the chance, likes to cuddle up and take her nap there. I had to position my bag between her and the aisle to be sure people wouldn't accidentally step on her hair.

Our flight down to Copenhagen almost a week ago had been equally uneventful. I didn't have much luggage and with the fast track lane to security and her knowing the ins and out of the process, the main issue on the whole trip was that Zoe wanted chips and the flight attendant had to come back with them, which was a long, long wait for her. She saw grandma through the big exit doors from the baggage claim and ran ahead of me, over to hug her. I got the plane tickets on the voucher that I got earlier this summer for giving up my seat flying to Milan. In the end that was a good deal. On the train Zoe is free but she is a full fare ticket on the plane. This means that Copenhagen is increasingly being visited by train, helped along with an iPad and 3G internet. Oh, and it wasn't too bad either that my mom had provided us with a large packed lunch. Fly baby is also a Train baby.

Monday, September 23, 2013

An unreal life

Today I met a colleague for coffee, a professor affiliated my department, but whom I have only briefly interacted with before. In fact it turned out he did not know my history or how I had ended up in Sweden*. When he asked about an industrial research company in Denmark, I admitted that I had only ever gone to university there, most of my adulthood I have spent in the US and the UK. I laughingly said, "Unless you count waitressing in my early twenties, I have never held an actual job in Denmark". We continued talking and he again showed lack of knowledge in terms of my background by explaining that it can look good on your CV to have co-authored with a range of people. It was a well-intentioned piece of advice but also something I have been aware of for over 10 years and which is reflected in my list of publications. He continued: "I mean, if you want a career here in Sweden". I laughed again but bit my tongue and didn't say the obvious: "But I don't want that. I want to make sure I have a CV that can take me out of here again". This was when I realized that he had definitely did not know about my situation and in a way it was nice. I was a blank slate to him and could give a fresh impression.

But it also hit a nerve because it made me remember that people think I'm here because of a specific desire for me to be living in Sweden. I even try to convince myself occasionally that I want to be here. But with each weird encounter on the street, each experience with Swedish lack of ambitions in my research world, I am reminded that it was never my own self-motivated choice to move here. Fact is that since I never consciously decided to live here, I keep pretending I don't. My Swedish has not only deteriorated, I am also refusing to speak it now, except for ordering my morning latte. I find myself speaking English to people if I need something outside of work (at work I only speak English, per principle) and Danish if I need to have a short conversation (Danish and Swedish is close enough that most people can understand basics of the other language if spoken slowly and keywords are replaced). I pretend I don't belong in this society but that I'm here on short transit. Almost two years ago, I felt my life here was unreal, and honestly, it hasn't changed much since. I continue a narrative inside my head, expressing just how annoying Swedes are and how stupid things can be here. I count the number of Swedes that I really like at any given moment (three right now: a colleague who lives in the US, a friend who lives in the UK and my close collaborator and co-manager in my department; can't think of anybody else). Everybody else I tolerate, get along with, or they are foreigners like me. Because that's what happen when you live in a foreign country: You gravitate towards other foreigners and my closest friends here are not Swedish.

But it also motivates me to not give up. I have not given up on moving to a place where I really want to live, or a place where I can be closer to my family. In fact, some of my recent decisions in terms of work are not just to improve my immediate situation, but also for building up a springboard that can possibly take me away. And I really, really hope that my personal life will let me; however right now I'm here and I'm gonna make the best of it. Real or unreal.

*Note, that this is not a case of me imagining that I am terribly famous but more a reflection of my field (and I would say many academic fields) where a lot of us know one another and know about one another through colleagues. It largely comes from reading others' research papers and people moving research groups frequently.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dancing in Swedish

Zoe has always loved dancing. Her first steps were moves to music and I remember her laugh as I did a few pirouettes in the kitchen when she was still a baby. She soon tried to imitate them. We dance together in the living room and it is no surprise that she loves it, because so did I. I told my mom I wanted to be a ballet dancer when I was 4. I took classes throughout my childhood, classic ballet, jazz, modern and then back to a few seasons' of classic as an adult. In fact, last time I took a course was when I was pregnant, proudly still jumping in week 27. I couldn't wait until she was two so I could take her to dance class. Last year we went every Sunday to a studio in Gamla Stan where a nice Romanian girl would make sure we all (because parents were dancing with the kids) were having a fun time with hola hoops, drums and most importantly moving our bodies to music. I followed Zoe's lead and quietly told her what the teacher said she should do. She picked most of it up herself through watching.

But the teacher left and I felt it was time to try another studio. I was looking around too late and several studios were already full. But one, which was on the same subway line, had a kids-dance class, one where the kids danced by themselves, with the parents on the side if needed. The season started last Sunday and Zoe and I went excitedly with great expectations, this time Zoe wearing her actual ballet dress and slippers that we had bought in New York.

Zoe trying her ballet outfit in the Capezzio
flagship store in New York
Zoe is a bit shy and I sat down with her at first, noticing that I was the only parent in the ring. The other parents were on the side, encouraging their little outgoing ones to stay and listen to the teacher. Who started talking. Fast and a lot. She was asking the kids questions. Explaining that they had to hold up their hand when their name was called. Asking what they thought their horse was called. Asking if it was a shark, a crocodile or a fish that was swimming in the water. In between there was some running around and jumping, but not much dancing. And a lot of questions that Zoe and even I had a hard time understanding. Zoe clung on to me and kept asking me to come dance, which I eventually did for most of the hour but not without being slightly annoyed that she couldn't do it on her own, as the only kid in the room. But I also know that she was extremely intimidated by the new situation and she kept asking me "mom, what is she saying, what is she saying?" I honestly didn't realize that Zoe knew so little Swedish but on the other hand I wasn't surprised. Her whole world is in English apart from my house and when we go to Denmark. She juggles two languages pretty well and is just now starting to understand the concept of different languages (although she often names them wrong). But Swedish is not one of them.

In the end I asked the teacher if we could switch to the earlier class where the kids dance with the adults. I probably offended her in the same breath by letting her know that, well there was a lot of talk in the class. Unfortunately it is the same teacher in the earlier class and I have to see how Zoe is dealing with it, or if we have to think of something completely different. Because while Swedish might be an option, dancing is not.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What did you do at work today mom?

Like most evenings we were sitting down at our dining table in the large bay window, having dinner, Zoe and I. She was happily munching away on cucumbers and pasta when she asked "what did you do at work today mom?" I tried not to laugh because it sounded so much more grown up than her 3 year old self could contain, but I have heard her ask that a few times before, obviously modeled upon my eternal "what did you do in daycare today, Zoe?" Because she is 3 and have a hard time remembering even the smallest things from daycare on command, she most often says "I don't know". I then encourage her, or try to give her a "template" for conversation by telling her exactly what I did that day at work. It is an excellent exercise for me, and I believe for any adult, to try to condense and describe a workday so a 3-year old can understand. I often try to explain that I write articles so that others can read them, that I teach adults difficult things. She has been at my work several times so she has mental references to my office and my colleague who had to look after her once.

So when she asked this particular evening I tried to explain in a simplified way what had happened. "Well, I had a meeting with my boss. And he said he thought I should be in charge or more people. In fact he gave me a whole new type of job where I get to tell others what to do". Zoe seemed unimpressed. "I'll get more money", I explained and she lightened up. "Zoe want money too", she said and I laughingly promised her that we could go and buy her a present next weekend.

So there you have the big news. The head of department offered me the position as head of one of the sub-departments (our department is so large that it is divided into four, each the size of a small academic department). After a week of considering I accepted on several conditions (that shall remain unmentioned here). I was very surprised about the offer because our department is heavily 'old male' oriented to say the least but a colleague had put in a good word for me and I honestly think that it is a good idea to have some 'young fresh blood', seen from an objective perspective. From a management perspective, I am that. In fact I'm the only female in a leadership position there; oh wait, I'm one out of four or five female faculty members out of 50+. Well, that's natural science for you. After accepting I speed-read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and discovered that it is very much a book about leadership and I actually felt I could use a lot of her expertise and experiences. We will see how it goes, so far Zoe seems mainly excited about the doll-pram that she might be getting because of mom's new job. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

New Yoirk baby

Zoe sleeping on the floor in the Guggenheim Museum
Sometimes, things just turn out beautifully. This week has been one of those weeks where, through luck, through hard work on my part, and through a lot of nice people, Zoe and I have had a brilliant time. We came to New York (or New Yoirk, as Zoe pronounces it, as the novel part in "coin") a little over a week ago and I had no idea how I was going to manage to work (I am doing data collection here), and also have a bit of fun with Zoe. Luckily, a new acquaintance from upstate New York had put me in contact with a potential babysitter. I texted her and on Monday morning I ventured out to Brooklyn, a 45 min commute, to see her. She was really nice and I left Zoe in her capable hands to see if they would get along. I came back after doing a bit of work in a cafe (I'm frantically writing articles and funding proposals, all due mid September) and found them dancing to old jazz cassette tapes. I decided they were a good match and hired her for the week. It turned out that not only was she a great creative babysitter, she also happened to be working on and off at all the art museums in town, so, oh by the way, was it okay if she took Zoe to the museums during the day? So the past week, Zoe has been going to a new art museum each day, playing, drawing, watching art, while I am writing and collecting data. Today she apparently took a nap on the floor of the Guggenheim before they went to the library and checked out giant colorful animal books. I'm starting to get slightly jealous that Zoe gets all the fun, and I get to write and do funding proposal budgets.

Other things that have resulted in an amazing week:

  • The availability of almond milk for my latte in virtually every cafe
  • The availability of giant pretzels on every street corner in case Zoe gets hungry
  • The standard of friendliness on the subway when coming through with a stroller and ending up with a sleeping baby in front of a staircase. Particularly black guys in Brooklyn.
  • The fact that I can eat for $10 french macaroons from Dean & Deluca in one day
  • The availability of affordable service wash & fold around the corner from me (oh, why does this not exist in Sweden?) All of Zoe's clothes, and I mean all of them, $8!
  • A local sushi restaurant where they quickly realized that Zoe eats salmon nigiri and edamame beans as long as they keep them coming

This weekend I'm taking off work and taking Zoe to the High Line Park, Central Park and probably also a toy store of some sort. Tuesday we are off to Stockholm on a direct flight from Newark.

Prologue: immediately after writing this Friday night, before publishing, the power went out in my apartment (and hence also the internet). Obviously being so happy about things backfired. I had been warned that this could happen and I knew I had to call the restaurant downstairs and ask them to flick the main switch. Problem was that my phone was just out of battery and it was very late. After checking that Zoe was indeed fast asleep I ran downstairs, only to find the restaurant closed for the night. I have been in a similar situation before and realizing there would be no power before the morning I opened the window and got ready for bed to the light of my (fully charged) iPad. The most tricky thing was to get Zoe's pajamas off her, because sleeping without AC and only a window open in this heat would be way too hot for her. Next morning I went down to the restaurant and got them to switch on the power again before going out for the day. I charged my phone in the coffee shop where we had almond lattes and a giant pretzel. New York power infrastructure sucks but not enough to not love the city anyway.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Naked people

Oh, New York City. Today I ventured into a lovely local bookstore, thinking I might pick up some Zoe nap reading. I was glancing over the magazine section (I was also considering buying a Vogue because it featured an interview with Marisa Mayer) when I found Zoe sitting on the floor leafing through a very colorfull magazine with artfully photographed, but also very naked, people. The reason I even noticed was because she pointed at a particular place on a particular girl and said "mommy also have that one". Mommy indeed also has such one, as have all other women. I could have panicked and yanked the magazine out of her hands but I decided to take the situation with my head held high. I know there is a cultural difference here and my Scandinavian background definitely colored my approach here but I have also given these kind of things a lot of thought because no matter how much you want to shield your children from adult images (and I'm using the word adult to include images that most often need an adult person's interpretation), they will pop up here and there. Besides, these images needed an adult's interpretation to make anything more out of these unclothed people. Which is all they were to Zoe. So as she continued looking through them she asked about completely different things than what I had expected. Why was she dressed like that? Why was the picture orange striped? Was that a boy? To her, nakedness is still normal and I think it is very important to make sure she continue to think that for a long long time. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New York exploring

Since picking up Zoe on Thursday we managed to walk all over SoHo and TriBeCa, go to the fire museum where Zoe insisted on getting a fireman outfit, find a babysitter and go to brunch at a yacht with some old friends of mine. We are having a brilliant time and I'm learning to navigate almost without my google map (especially because holding a phone and pushing a stroller at the same time is rather difficult). I have also learned a few things about New York infrastructure that differ a bit from the usual cities I frequent (Okay, I've been here 20+ times but only a couple of times with Zoe).

I forgot the trick about the subway: Today I tried to let Zoe go through the turnstile while taking the emergency door with the stroller myself. I let her go before me but I didn't listen to her telling me she wanted to go *with* me, so as she got through she started screaming. I pulled the emergency door but it didn't budge. Turns out that you can only open it from the inside. I knew the alarm would sound but I figured it was the only way to get the stroller through. Luckily a lady quickly went through and opened the door from the inside for me so I could get reunited with Zoe. Honestly, I was terrified she would run away (because she was angry with me) and get close to the tracks. I have a major trauma issue with tracks and my rule is that Zoe has to either hold my hand the whole time we are on the platform or sit in her stroller. Train platforms is the only place where I have physically held her down in her stroller and put the seatbelt on. I comforted her and promised her to be better in asking her next time so we can go together. Riding the train I was a bit proud of myself for actually just getting out here with Zoe. 

I also learned that when going out to find something, make sure you only have one goal, not three. Yesterday I ventured out with the goal of getting both a doll and ballet slippers for Zoe. I searched for "toys" on google maps and passed through a couple of local toy shops that didn't have dolls. The next one we encountered turned out to be an 'adult toy' shop and I just laughed and told Zoe that the toy shop we had been heading for was... well, closed. Ballet slippers were even more challenging because the only dance shops were uptown. I gave up as we passed through the fire museum and Zoe got all excited. We went in and it was a hit. After seeing the fairly small exhibition she fell in love with a fireman dress up outfit that included a hat and mockup fire extinguisher. She wanted it. "I wanna be a fireman", she insisted and in the end I had to bargain. "You can get it but then you don't get a new doll". Okay, she said. "Who are you then going to sleep with then?" I asked. "You mom", she said and that was then settled. She immediately put on the outfit when she got home and used the hat as both a fireman hat and a building hat. I'm not sure how we will fit it all into the suitcase but that's not important right now. We only managed one out of our three chores (special hair stuff for me) but we had a lovely day. From now on, I'll have one goal in mind when we walk out the door in the morning.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


My work as a researcher* takes me through its ups and downs, both in terms of teaching situations and collegial interactions but particularly through the merciless part of publishing research results. Research areas differ but one thing is certain, getting a paper published is hard. Not only do you have to have groundbreaking interesting results, they also need to be written up in a clever, thoughtful way and the results need to be carefully related and differentiated from previous similar results. I fare pretty well in terms of getting my work published but it doesn't mean I don't struggle with each paper and that I don't put a lot of effort (blood, sweat and tears) into each and every part of an article. Like most other researchers I get emotionally invested in the review process, that being in a conference review committee or a set of journal reviews. Meaning, yes, I have almost cried over getting a paper rejected, I have screamed and jumped up and down by another one getting accepted and I have sympathized with many colleagues doing the same. At a committee meeting many years ago I found a colleague crying in the bathroom after her carefully written paper describing a longitudinal study that she had worked on for years got rejected. "I don't know what more the reviewers want!" she sobbed as I tried to make her feel better. Reviewers are those cruel anonymous people behind sentences such as "I really like this paper but the contribution is just not significant enough for publication at this point", and "The topic and method is great but the sample size is just too small for such study". They most often don't know the authors either and cannot see their tears, their shredded dreams and their funding slip away as they reject the papers.

I'm not saying that research papers are being rejected for no reason. To non-researchers it looks like a simple and fair process that we as colleagues check each other's research for flaws and novelty. But reality is different, particularly in interdisciplinary fields like my own. Reviewing papers is not just about checking the facts, the calculations and if this has been done before. It is also about pushing for a specific type of research that the reviewer find important, in essence trying to drives one's own agenda. Nobody is of course willing to admit that this is the case but talking privately to colleagues, it's obvious that such prejudice takes place. A classic (very simplified) argument goes that these researchers should not have used this method for this study but another method (one that happens to be of the reviewer's expertise). And they cannot claim the results on the basis of the method used. When the authors review the reviewer's research, they will argue the opposite.

Zoe sometimes helps me write papers
I just spent two days in a committee meeting where we decided on a set of 75 papers to be presented at one of the main conferences in my field. Committee members were ruthless in their slashing but also occasionally compassionate. I got convinced of accepting one paper that I initially felt was not good enough but I also argued for rejection of another one due to its lack of serious contribution. My own paper** was also out of luck. After three rounds of discussion (where I of course had to leave the room, this is customary) it was rejected by a committee member who felt the theory we had used was not developed any further but simply used to illustrate our data. The positive part this time around was that the particular committee member identified himself to me and offered a bit of advice and a suggestion to what to change and where to submit it (a second tier conference with deadline in 8 months). I nodded and took a few pointers but I'll be ignoring most of his guidance, for a variety of reasons. What I didn't tell him was that this time the rejected paper has direct consequences for me: because I don't have any research funding in my new job yet I depend directly on published papers for travel funding. This rejection very likely means that I will not get any travel funding next year and cannot attend any conferences or committee meetings unless I get some research funding (I have applied for several grants but they take 6-8 months of review time). So although I have yet to cry over this rejection, I am utterly stunned and perplexed over the random and person-centric system of reviewing yet again. I am running on borrowed steam because of my sh**** job situation where I am just building up a research agenda and a research group, and this was a tie-over publication based on research in my previous job. Luckily I'm a very driven person and as soon as I get over this (probably by tomorrow), I'll use my annoyance to motivate my next writing efforts. I will do this. I will continue to publish interesting, novel and relevant research. And I'll continue to get rejections but hopefully also at one point accepts.

*Technically my job title is associate professor but I like to refer to myself as a researcher because research is the core part of what I do. It might not be the part I spend the most time on but it is the most important and interesting part of my job. 

**Like most other research papers, this is a collaboration paper with several coauthors who did an amazing job contributing to the paper, in fact two coauthors did the majority of the work in this case.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I wish we lived here

This past week has been a little slice of a possible life that could have been, if things were different. It was a normal workweek for me and a normal daycare week for Zoe. Except we are in a small college town in upstate New York, 3400 miles from where we usually live in Stockholm. And except for that I enjoyed numerous intellectual academic conversations that are quite rare at my usually job. And except for how I was able to pick up Zoe early every single day because I'm not teaching and my life was so much simpler that I had more time for her. I enjoyed every minute of this but also realize that it is not realistic for us to ever move here. That opportunity was lost when I declined a post-doc here around 9 years ago. Now I get to go visit and my professor colleagues here get to ask if I ever consider moving here and I get to lie and say sure. If my situation was different of course I would be extremely happy to land a faculty position here (which is a stretch by any measure) but well, I'm stuck in Stockholm.

Zoe went to a daycare ten minutes walk away from where we lived, a walk through a wood lined residential neighborhood with four-way stops in each intersection. Occasionally the weed and wild flowers crossed over the sidewalk, from the ditch to the edge of people's gardens, creating what Zoe referred to as a little forest. She excitedly wined each time we drove her stroller through and pointed out all the different types of green. She learned which small streets I would let her cross without holding my hand and she learned the way that took us past the house with the funny toy horse in the front yard. "I wish we lived here, mommy", she said one of the first days as we walked home from daycare and I hmmm'ed. She then repeated it the day after and on Friday after I had picked her up, she explained a bit more: "I wish we had a house here, mom, I wish we lived here". I was really puzzled because of all our destinations, this is the first one where she has expressed that opinion. I mean, we go to Copenhagen all the time where her grandma lives alongside our other family but she has never said that there. I acknowledged her wish and explained that then we would live really far away from daddy. "But then daddy can come live here too!" she said, as if it was that easy.

But she has a good point. Things are good for kids here. The playgrounds are amazing and I was that mom that made all the other moms look bad by dropping Zoe off at 9am and picking her up at 4:15pm. We played almost every day with my colleague's son who is exactly Zoe's age and whom she got along with brilliantly. We went to see the waterfalls and we had pancakes for brunch on Saturday. The little food market on the way to dinner with another colleague had homemade popsicles and we just sat at the edge of the sidewalk and ate one each. A random lady stopped us at a coffeeshop and gave us 10 colorful balloons because they were used for a one-day opening event and were on their way to the trash. People said good morning to us when we passed them on the street and I had random conversation with fellow moms who completely understood that we had stopped in the middle of the path because Zoe needed to take her sandals off.

It has been nice. And I could take another week or month or year. But we are on to our way to the next part of the month long journey. Tomorrow we will go down to New York where Zoe's dad will pick her up and where I will take a train to a two day committee meeting. Zoe is a bit sad to leave but excited to see her dad. I'm excited that this week was so nice.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Swede in America

Zoe and I had arrived at our home for the next two weeks: a house where we are renting a bedroom that includes unlimited kitchen and living room privileges. But it did not include food and we calmly ventured into town with her borrowed stroller, not because she can't walk well by now, but because I really worried she would have one of those "I'm too tired to do anything but lie here on the street"-fits that occasionally comes with jet lag. And it would be easier to carry the groceries. After a spot of lunch (dinner?) I found a posh organic market that would normally be for specialty foods or for splashing out, pretending to be rich and wanting to display one's concern for the environment, but this time, it was simply the closest grocery store that had all the basic things we needed. Zoe found a shopping cart in her size and we managed to buy 79$ worth of salad stuff, bread, cheese and a box of extra cheesy cheddar bunny rabbit crackers. As I went to pay, Zoe lay down on the couch (yes, this posh organic supermarket/cafe had a couch next to the tables in the veggie area) and I started chatting a bit to the cashier. I really enjoy the ability to just chit chat with shop people, something I cannot do back in Sweden for two reasons: My miserable and question mark inducing Swedish and the general Scandinavian attitude that any excess words exchanged means you are weird. Why would anyone have any interest in you as a customer? Or if I say anything to you other than the final amount, you will think I'm coming on to you.

"So where are you two visiting from", the cashier asked. "We live in Stockholm", I happily replied, "we are here for a couple of weeks". "Arh, I thought I detected a slight accent", he continued and I instantly got annoyed. He thought I was Swedish. "I didn't say I was Swedish", I cheekily replied and he said something about me then at least picking up the accent already. Meaning the Swedish accent. I wanted to scream that a Swedish accent was probably the least of any accents in this world that I possess but at this point he had finished tallying up the groceries and asked if I wanted a bag. Still wanting to seem cool and super environmental, I said that half could probably fit under the stroller so if he just gave me a small bag I would be fine. He switched the big paper bag with handles out with a smaller paper bag, but I was so confused about him trying to bag them for me that I didn't noticed that the new bag didn't have handles. I had completely forgotten the tradition of cashiers bagging your groceries here, both because I want to forget all the annoyance I always had with them putting one thing in each bag and heavy stuff on top of the eggs, and because I ended up going through the self-checkout 90% of the time back in California, *just* so I could bag them myself. So in my attempt to stay cool and "American", I just popped the heavy stuff in the bottom of the stroller and put the small handle-less bag in the seat. Fetching Zoe from the couch I hoped to get out of there in a rush, but when Zoe saw the bag she let out an elaborate scream "where am I gonna sit?" I rushed her out the door, not wanting to embarrass myself anymore and juggled even more with the groceries outside. Finally, after dropping tomatoes and pepper on the ground, I managed to wedge the bag between my own bag and the back of the stroller so Zoe could sit in it. I walked away with my head held high, but knowing very well that I'm not American because 1) I have a weird Scottish/British/American/Louise accent and 2) I do not instantly expect cashiers to bag my groceries. But I so much want to be part of their small talk tradition and chat to people I interact with. I want people to smile at me when I pass them in the street and I want them to come help me in an instant when I can't open the door while pushing the stroller. That's one of the best things I love about the US and well, many other places apart from Scandinavia. So perhaps that's one of the reasons I take such offense of being presumed Swedish.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sleepless in NY

Zoe and I flew to New York yesterday and have a night in a hotel before we continue to upstate New York where I will be working for a week and a half with great colleagues. I found affordable daycare for Zoe and although she is not as eager about 'meeting new friend' this time I'm sure she will be fine. When I tell her they speak like daddy, she says excitedly: "I can talk like that!" I managed to get a very nice hotel room, close to where our bus leaves in the morning, and upon arrival the staff promptly gave Zoe a coloring book because she so happily danced to the background music in the lounge. We apparently also got one of the biggest rooms in the hotel, one where we can actually turn around and have our luggage on the floor, contrasting most New York hotel rooms.

But traveling west also means jet lag and although Zoe held on to 7.30pm playing games on the iPad, she woke up already at 2.30am, her regular wakeup time in Europe. And where you would think it is an advantage to have 24 hour television here in the US (broadcasting stops during the night in most of Europe), 3am television turns out not to be very child friendly, even on the cartoon channel. She got really scared by an American Family episode, I really need to be more attentive when we turn on the 'real' TV. So now we have spent 10$ on pay-per-view so she could be entertained while I try to get some work done. Zoe is completely zonked out with red eyes and stumbling around, yet refuses to lie down and relax. I'm not too good myself. But this will pass, I know and we will be fit for everyday life in a couple of days. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sleeping all the way to Copenhagen

Though I have taken my fair share of sleeper trains with mixed experiences (too hot, too cold, too rumbling to sleep, getting up at 3 am to go through immigration), I have always thought this would be fun to do with Zoe. And as I was booking our journey to Copenhagen for the summer holiday, I found fairly decently priced tickets, with the caveat that where Zoe is usually free of cost on the regular train, she cost a 'bed' on this one. I splashed out anyway and thought about it as a fun experience and one that actually fitted this exact journey well: I needed to work all of Thursday but really wanted to be in Copenhagen by Friday morning when my brother and his wife arrived from India. 1300 Skr for oneway tickets in our own little cabin. Not bad.

I picked up Zoe from daycare and immediately told her the surprise: Now we go home, pack our bags and take a taxi to catch a train where we will sleep. When we wake up we will be in… Malmo... (then we take a quick 40 min train to Copenhagen, I quickly added) Zoe was her usually excited self: Now? She asked, Now go see Mormor? Yes, almost now. On the way home we stopped in a new noodle restaurant that deserves a shout-out for its yummy noodles, fair prices, kid-menu and amazing play room: Noodles Mama. We managed to kill the two hours needed.

The train left at 9:30pm, a bit on the late side for Zoe but she was a darling due to all the excitement and graciously held the door for the family entering the train carriage after us, leaving me to haul our luggage down the long hall way. We found our three layered bunk-bed compartment and settled down. Luckily the higher beds had good support for the sides to prevent people from falling out. Still, I wasn't comfortable letting Zoe go up on the top one. I had imagined her sleeping in the lower one and me in the middle one but it was clear that we could fit together in one; besides, the lower one had a hard back cushion that took at least a quarter of the bed width away. We went to brush our teeth in the hallway bathroom which was surprisingly clean. Zoe tossed and turned and pulled the curtain to look out the window three times, insisting on me going down to pick up her doll that she had forgotten in her bag. How could she sleep without? Finally around 10:30 she feel asleep and I decided that I needed my Zs as well. After all the main problem with this train was that it was only 8 hours, barely enough for a full night's sleep. We would get kicked off at 5:40am.

The other problem is that the normal journey is actually only 5 hours. This means that the sleeper train chuckles along at a cow's pace and take lots of breaks. They artificially make it 8 hours for people to get a good night's sleep. I woke up many times as the train halted to a stop and as faster trains rushed by with lightening speed right next to us. But Zoe slept like a baby. And when I had gotten up and dressed around 5:15, she was hard to wake up. She finally sat up and I dressed her in bed. "Come on", I said as she dragged her rucksack down to the exit door. "We need to get off and get on the other train". The other train left from a platform a short walk away, but a walk that was very long for a very tired 3 year old. Zoe sat down and cried at one point but I managed to get her up again. I couldn't carry her because of our big suitcase and two other smaller bags I had to carry too.

We got on the next train and ended up at the local station at my parents'. Both of which were not about to pick us up at 7am, so we walked the 10 minutes home, this time with Zoe being more energetic now that she could see the end of the journey. She told her grand parents with excitement in her voice of the sleeping train and I hope this is not the last time we have been on such travel adventure. Flying does get a bit old sometimes, doesn't it?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Two parents

Most children have two parents, a mom and a dad or two of each. A lot of kids also have bonus parents who have parenting roles and parenting responsibilities but who are not the children's "real" parents, instead this is someone who has entered the child's life a little later as the one of the parent's new partner. I was a lucky winner in that department, growing up with not only two parents but also two bonus parents, except I had a hard time thinking of my "bonus mom" in any terms of mother figure; she was only 13 years older than me. My bonus dad on the other hand made my nuclear family complete with two parents and three kids, me and my two brothers, who I always laugh with when we have to talk about us being "half siblings", because we are as whole as whole brothers and sisters can be. In fact I think I have a better relationship with each of them than they have with one another. So despite me being from a so-called broken family since my parents divorced when I was one, I grew up in the most amazing, tight-knit family, as occasionally dysfunctional as any other. And as most children, from tight-knit to dysfunctional families wish, I always dreamt of a family of my own. I loved children and could not imagine a life without, preferably more than one. It took me all of my twenties to find a decent guy who didn't bail out on me and my demanding career goals (and, I sometimes thought, high intelligence; I scared a fair share of guys away just mentioning I wanted to be or was a PhD student. Ironically my girlfriend's husband got a first date with her telling her he was a meter maid instead of telling the truth, that he was a CEO of a large international company. Silly me never thought about dumbing down).

But as I approach the latter part of my 30s I find myself as one of those two parents Zoe has, not living as a nuclear family, but as two separate individuals. Zoe might tell people she lives with me in Stockholm but she also lives with her dad half the time. That leaves many days and especially evenings for me to just be by myself, a nice thing for most part since I get to work long hours and read books. Oh and I am crocheting again, trying to finally finish that throw I started five years ago. But as any parent, I miss her terribly when we are not together. The feeling is numbed by me listening to loud music, reading non-melancholic articles and take yoga classes. I think about how difficult it is not to have her around, hear her talking, asking, playing and hugging me, telling me I'm the "best mom" there is. I miss her temper tantrums and her drawing on my students' assignments.

My favorite movie of all times: My father had it on
video and I must have watched it over 50 times.
But I take a lot of comfort from my own childhood; after all I turned out a whole person, despite my parents (the 'real' ones) never speaking a word to one other, as far as I remember. And here is what I realize: parents are different. They give you different things. They each teach you different things, if they mean to or not. They talk to you differently and they give you different answers. And that's a good thing. They might give you different limits and they might provide you with different tools for handling life. I fondly remember my father telling me all about the sky, the stars, the moon and explaining planetary science, seeding my eternal interest for science fiction and anything space. My mom could probably not name more than two planets. My father listened when I asked math questions before I started school and explained the basics, recognizing my keen interest in numbers. My mom taught me to write letters neatly and I took on her very special cursive lowercase r, written in a way nobody else do; it is our bond, expressed each time I write an r. And my mom explained patiently the notion of "gay" when I was almost too young to understand, just in so much and so little detail that it made sense to a 7 year old. I'm still so impressed with this and now I know exactly how to talk to Zoe about this topic. They each gave me very different skills, knowledge and personality.

So this comforts me in my missing Zoe when we are not together. She will learn things from her dad that I could never give her and she will know diversity to an extent one parent can't provide. He is around people I would never be and Zoe has more play 'uncles' than any kid I know, each of them unique in their approach and play with her. So this is the approach I'm taking, because after all, the most important thing I got from my father was his undeniable optimism, and optimism so prevalent that my mom and I both started laughing loudly when a psychologist who were evaluating him during a particularly rough time of his illness asked if he had a tendency to be depressed. An optimism he had until his last days where he couldn't see anymore, couldn't walk but still listened to the radio and told funny stories about him and me. An optimism he still had when holding tiny three month old Zoe for the first and last time during what would turn out to be my last visit to his island.

But I also hope that I can be just a little bit better than my own parents and make sure that Zoe gets to do things with both of us together, even if that is just playground visits and occasional dinners. I'm that optimistic.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trilingual conversations

Zoe was called in for her three year check-up at the so-called "BVC", the child health center that does all the checkups, vaccinations etc. from pregnancy through the daycare years here in Sweden. I got a few questionnaires to fill in in advance but I couldn't really do that because they asked about Zoe's language skills in Swedish. I thought she was due for another shot and I explained this for her but it turned out this was purely a developmental evaluation.

Zoe was difficult to coerce into the examination room when it was our turn because of all the exciting new toys in the waiting room, but after being promised stickers she reluctantly followed. I explained in my accented Swedish that we were Danish but that she also spoke English because of her dad and because she is in English speaking Daycare. In fact I was very curious as to how much she was going to understand because it was obvious that the nurse was not about to switch language. Instead she did what many people do when encountering people not fluent in the language spoken: She slowed down and spoke oddly loudly and articulated. To me. And she continued to dumb down each piece of information as we went along, to the effect of me having to do my best to hide my irritation and put on a fake smile. "No we don't do an MMR vaccination at this point *here in Sweden*", she repeated three times after I explained why Zoe was pointing in her arm and saying "stik, stik [poke, poke]". In fact she talked a lot about how things were going on *in Sweden* as if I was fallen down from the sky just minutes earlier.

Meanwhile Zoe did an impressive job at her test. The nurse had a few picture cards and she asked in Swedish Zoe which one you can eat. Zoe quickly pointed at the apple even though eat is a different word in Danish from Swedish. She also pointed at the card with the car when asked which one you can "go/drive with" [åka med], a Swedish expression that is not translatable to neither Danish or English. When she was asked what you can do with a ball, she hesitated and did a throwing motion while mouthing "throw". I could see she knew that word was the wrong one but she couldn't find the Danish/Swedish one. She kept doing the throwing motion and looking at me for hints. I asked her in Danish and that triggered the 'correct' answer: "kaste!", which is luckily the same in Swedish.

She was excited to be measured (101 cm) and weighed (15.6 kg) and carefully picked out her sticker afterwards. I laughed when the nurse asked if I had any concerns about her language and tried to joke about how of course I was worried about her actually becoming fluent in all the languages, but the nurse took this concern to be lack of knowledge on my part and resumed to give me a long and slow lecture on the importance of me always speaking Danish to her, and her dad always speaking English (where I again tried to joke that this is the only language he knows, but merely got a snort here) and then she will easily be fluent in all three languages. I wondered how any parent of a three year old trilingual child would never have researched these things and would really consider this information as new and useful at this point. But the nurse probably sees all kinds of people and had a hard time judging education level.

But what really bothered me was the slow, enunciating talk, which I recognize from many other native speakers (of all languages) when talking to people with accents. The division between understanding and the ability to express oneself in a language is often great, particularly for Swedish/Danish. Adjusting the language ends up seeming like they think you are a bit dumb and is deeply frustrating for someone trying to learn a language. But then again, who says I'm trying to learn Swedish.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to book accommodation

I was frantically trying to book our accommodation in New York City for two weeks in the end of August and complaining over dinner at my parents' that staying in Manhattan is actually going to blow my budget (I have a grant for doing research there), when my helpful dad, who have actually travelled more than me in his lifetime, started to come up with suggestions. It sounds very expensive with 150$/night for an apartment, he said. Have you tried hotels dot com, he suggested. I tried to explain that I don't want to live in a hotel room for two weeks with Zoe since I want to be able to cook meals and have a fairly normal life. Also trying to avoid the obvious: getting a hotel room in NYC in August is always going to cost more than 150$. Oh but they often have suites or apartment type accommodation, he continued. We got something very nice in Thailand once that wasn't very expensive. I didn't point out the obvious difference between the two countries and just smiled. Yes, dad, I'll try hotels dot com. So I'm still frantically trying to book an apartment through airbnb. If people would just reply to me and accept my inquiries, that would be nice. And after a bit of debating with myself I decided that it is worth the extra money to get a decent place on lower Manhattan though. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

New York, New York

As much as my job sometimes put me in rather complicated situations, I have also been very fortunate: I got two internal grants that fit very well together, a grant for a teaching free semester (this is a lot since my normal teaching load is around two courses per semester) and a grant for travel and accommodation for a research project, four weeks in total. I will be working with a colleague at Cornell University, upstate New York for two weeks and then go down to New York city to collect data for another two weeks. I am planning to go to New York in August because that fitted the schedule of my colleague. Obviously I have to bring Zoe but I'm used to travel with her for work by now so I'm arranging for her to go to a daycare there for a week and I'm hoping to find a babysitter for New York city. Her dad will also be there to look after her for five days while I am at a committee meeting. I don't expect to be able to work full time for the whole month but I hope to be able to collect a lot of data and have interesting meetings with colleagues. And then I look forward to pretending to live in New York city for almost two weeks, something I still dream of.

I am very used to arranging these things and I'm also prepared for bumps along the road. My first bump was when the daycare who agreed to take Zoe in, needed a medical and vaccine record that included a vaccine against chicken pox. This vaccine is not given here in Sweden (and most of Europe) but it is required in the US. My doctor friend tells me it is because it is not 100% and that chicken pox is not deadly or even as dangerous as many of the other deceases that children are vaccinated against. But because we moved from the US when Zoe was 18 months, she doesn't have it. Luckily she is going for her last round of MMR in two weeks time and I can ask to have the chicken pox vaccine too. Then I have daycare.

I go her plane ticket on my miles, which means she won't make silver next year again, but I will not be financially ruined. I was lucky to get the only available flight in August to Newark on the 7th, ironically from Copenhagen via Stockholm. It would have been nice with the direct flight but saving 9000 SKr (~1300$) is even nicer.

I am hugely excited about the prospect of being in New York for two weeks where I can pretend that we live there. I hope to see friends, colleagues and spend time just living there with Zoe. Maybe one day it will be real.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Loving Stockholm

Days like today I almost love living in Stockholm. It was full of fun, sun and good company. Zoe and I woke up and had breakfast on the balcony, and after a bit of play ("Mom come play with me!") we took off to the Nordic Museum. I thought Zoe would appreciate taking the boat there but after explaining it was a bit of a walk to the boat she insisted on going with the tram. Which, it turned out, she had no idea what was because she asked for it when we were on it. I had been to the Nordic Museum once before when Zoe was two months and slept through my enjoyment of an educating exhibition about plastics, and I nursed her among 18th century Swedish table settings. But it turned out that the museum had a play room which could not fit Zoe better: It was a downscaled model of everyday village life settings from the 19th century: a mini grocery store with a large counter, a scale and 'products' (wooden blocks with stickers on); a small 'river' with a bridge and boat, and then the best part: A house with kitchen, dining table, alcove bed and a cradle with a doll in. Everything was Zoe sized but still big enough for me to fit. And everything could be touched, moved, played with.

As Zoe went to the store buying food, came back and made the table and pretended to eat, I thought about how impressed I would have been with this as a kid, getting to play with something like this. I loved playing house and I loved the concept of 'old days', I probably wouldn't have left this place ever again.  So instead of pulling out my mobile phone and check the essential news and social media, I played with Zoe. For an hour.

After lunch at the museum (which has a nice restaurant) and a short discussion with Zoe about where she should take her nap (I voted for her stroller, she voted for my lap), we walked towards the park where we were meeting my friend and her daughter who is half a year younger than Zoe. We managed to have a girlfriend chat about all and nothing before the girls woke up and then they were running around in the sun for hours in the playground. At one point Zoe ran away and I lost track of her. It was only my friend who saw her in the distance where she was heading towards a large play rock and I had to run over there and have a serious chat with her. She was not suppose to run this far away without telling me, how could she find me again? In fact I know that if my friend hadn't seen her, I would have panicked and not known what to do. One thing is losing her in Ikea, another thing is to lose her in a park.

Zoe pretending the water is not cold
The park also had a large paddling pool that the girls went into, splashing and squeaking of joy when the cold water hit their stomach and shoulders. Zoe slipped on some wet rocks and cut her foot a bit so I had to carry her over to the bench and put clothes on her little shaking cold body but she was in good spirit. We then went for sushi at the sushi restaurant with the high bench in the window and the Zoe letter on the window. We talked about her upcoming trip to Scotland with her dad and that she would see her aunt and it would all be fun.

And then I pushed a little tired Zoe over to her dad, who said around 8 words to me (four of them being "say goodbye to mummy") and I left empty hearted and teary eyed. I'll be without her for nine days before she gets back and I can take her for holiday in Denmark. I might have friends and sun in Stockholm, but I still have to share the one thing I care the most about. And that will never be easy, for none of us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Midsummer tears

Today it is midsummer, one of the most celebrated days in Sweden. The general gist is that people go with their family to the countryside, eat and drink all day and dance around a May pole. Apart from the drinking (or maybe in spite of) it is a very kids-friendly holiday. I got to think of Thanksgiving, an equally family oriented holiday in the US where families also gather (in the home) and eat and drink all day. Most of my American friends claim this to be their favorite holiday because it is family oriented and non-religious. It is just about being together. Just like Midsummer in Sweden.

I have spent 10+ thanksgivings in the US and because I have been in Sweden numerous times during the summer (while living in the US), I have also been here during midsummer 4 or 5 times. But it wasn't until today that one contrast struck me: of all the Thanksgivings I spent in the US without my family, I was always invited to join friends or acquaintances in their celebration. Sometimes I went, sometimes I declined (like the time my personal trainer in California invited me over to a pot-luck friends' thanksgiving), but I was never alone or if I was, it was a choice of my own. I went to a friends' sisters' thanksgiving celebration 45 minutes drive away and I went to a Thanksgiving in New York where the only American was the newborn baby (we laughed a lot about that). And I was always welcomed as the most natural 'addition' to the family. Families in  Sweden are not like that. Here, family is much closer knit and not something to bring strangers into. I have in fact never been invited to a midsummers celebration in Sweden. Not that I haven't had nice midsummer experiences like the time Zoe's dad and I, with a tiny newborn Zoe went to the local park for a picnic or the time my brother and I went drinking in Gamla Stan.

It is of course particularly painful for me this year because I don't have my own family to spend it with. For practical reasons Zoe ended up with her daddy this weekend (I'm leaving for Italy early tomorrow morning) and we (read: he) have yet to find a decent way of being together the three of us. I really hope that one day we can do things together all three, if not as a family, then at least as Zoe's mom, Zoe's dad and Zoe.

Luckily for me I have a lot of work to do and the sun is shining on my balcony. I laugh at the drunk youngsters across my street on the opposite balcony and enjoy reminiscing of my own youth where it would have been me drinking, celebrating and having fun. But I'm not the one with a hangover tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Conversations with Zoe

Today I had two awesome conversations with Zoe. These reminded me of the wonderful world of children and that I only have more of these loving
mind-broadening explorations of the world to look forward to.

In the morning, as Zoe sat on the kitchen counter and ate a stale piece of bread with cheese and orange marmalade, I sang a piece of an old Danish lullaby, which included a line about god. I asked Zoe if she knew who god was and she shook her head. I proceeded to tell her a bit about how some people believe in him but others don't. She got curious and asked where he lives and I told her he lives up in the sky/heaven (in Danish sky and heaven is the same word). She laughed and said I was silly because you couldn't live up there, so we continued talking a bit about how one can imagine something and how it can be true for some people but not for others. Then she ordered another glass of milk and told me she was done eating.

Another evening where Zoe decided to move her bed into
the living room because she wanted to sleep in my room
This evening I sang another lullaby when she was in bed, one that talks about being brave. "Mor, what is brave?", she asked in Danish and I started explaining. Brave is when one dares to do something that's a bit scary, like Zoe is so good at traveling. Some people think that traveling is daunting but Zoe is very brave and don't get scared from traveling all kinds of places. It is also brave to make other people happy, like to give them a present that you think of yourself. And it also makes me happy to see when you are brave. "Zoe like making Mor happy", she said, "and Mor makes Zoe happy" she continued. I smiled and realized that a better end to the day would be hard to even think of.