Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bring children to conferences

This was only my third time bringing Zoe to a conference because of our recent better options to drop her off with grandmother. But it was definitely the right time and the right conference. This one is a fairly small one with only 360 attendees, at least half which are core-participants of my research community and therefore "mommy's friends", as I explained to Zoe. It also meant that there were several other parent attendees who had brought their children. Five of the six children were between one and a half and almost three years old, two being a set of twins that Zoe has played with before and who she is very fond of.

We arrived at the hotel a day before so we had the chance to explore (this is a rule of mine, particularly when bringing Zoe, because of often unpredicted travel changes). After half a day going to the park with the twins to play, I realized that we were not going to be able to go much outside the hotel without a stroller. I had not brought one because of our extensive travel schedule but Zoe was now a bit too keen on being carried and my back does not do well with her lovely 34 pounds anymore. Luckily, at the local CVS, they had an orange with blue and green x'es and o'es umbrella stroller for $24.95, which I then 'rented', because obviously we could not bring it back home with us. Five days later I left it in the hotel room with a note asking them to give it to charity. It was worth every penny because I was now able to take a sleepy baby out for dinner and Zoe's dad took her to the Zoo with the twins one of the days.

This brings me to the reason why this conference was such a success: Zoe's dad was there and took her for a full day and half of the next one. When she was actually in and around the rooms of the conference we hung out with the other kids in a corner and played. She dealt well with my colleagues approaching her and talking to her. The only time I tried to take her with me to a session was the closing plenary. After talking to her for five minutes, explaining that she had to be very quiet and that she would get to play games on the iPad in the back, I slowly opened the door in the back of the large staged room (we were 15 minutes late because she had napped in our room). Zoe stepped inside and then let out a scream that left the full room of 300+ people to  turn around and stare at us. I quickly guided her outside again and decided that the closing plenary was probably boring anyway. And that she will have to be at least five before I try this again.

We spent the last night going out for very nice dinner with two newfound colleagues and one very old friend. Next morning we packed an overfull suitcase and took off for the airport. We have a very easy route home with only one layover and will wake up in Stockholm 8am Friday morning. Can't wait to see my own 'new' apartment.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lessons learned

Today Zoe and I learned:

1. Cupcakes are not the best airplane food.

2. People in the security line do not necessarily help you push your trays and bags down when you are busy taking shoes off a 2 year old, or even offer to help. Some people prefer to stare you down.

3. If you kick the tray table with a cup of coffee, the coffee sometimes spills into mommy's shoes on the floor. And then mommy gets mad and takes away the iPad.

4. 40 minute layover in Houston is not enough because often the first plane will be delayed and the second one on time.

5. Just because you get to go up and look at the hotel's sky deck pool at 9:30 at night does not mean you get to go in. Even if you take off all your clothes.

6. Traveling all day, a long drive and two planes, is exhausting and both big and small people need to go to bed at 10pm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Toy essentials

Zoe and I boarded the small Dash 8- 200 that would take us out of the tiny college town where we had spent the past five days. Walking through the bitter cold wind from the gate exit, the noise from the engine scared Zoe and I had to get down on my knees and comfort her as I awkwardly twisted the top part of my carry-on off the small roller suitcase that Zoe still thinks is hers. "We are almost there, Zoe is such a good girl, let's get on the plane", I said and we walked hand in hand to the five-step entrance. Entering, Zoe looked at the stewardess and then as we walked down the aisle asked me "get something?" I didn't understand at first and we had to swap seats because we were not seated together, not even on the same row, but at last I got it. She was so used to get something from the stewardess, a sticker book, a little stuffed animal or a car, that she now expected it on each plane ride. But US airlines don't do that and I had to explain that to her as she tightened her belt. I had a sticker book that she then was happy enough to play with until takeoff. Then, completely unprompted, as the engine fired up, she put her head on my lap and before we reached the clouds she was fast asleep. I definitely had a pro-flier with me.

Our US journey was transitioning to the second part of the three. The first part had been successful in every way: I had been visiting a friend and colleague for some potential collaboration and to give a talk in one of his graduate courses. He had generously offered that we stay at his house and that the nanny of his twin toddlers could look after Zoe for the two full work days that I needed. Zoe immediately liked the twins, as well as the older daughter, so although she cried for one minute when I left in the morning she apparently had a blast. I got several hours of work done including meeting interesting colleagues and got myself involved in another (exciting) research project.

The last afternoon, however, we got a call from the nanny. Apparently one of the twins had broken Zoe's doll stroller. Was it okay if the nanny took her to Target to buy a new one? I agreed because Zoe had gone through lengths to convince me to actually bring this one in the first place. It was not a small doll stroller. It was the size that almost fit a toddler, which in turn broke it in the end, because the twin girl had sat in it, tearing the fabric. The night before we had left for the US, Zoe had packed some essential toys and included the stroller. I had hid it in the closet for the night and hoped that she would forget about it because bringing it would limit the number of shoes I could take. In the morning, however, Zoe went straight to the closet and picked it out. She eagerly put it back in the suitcase where I then attempted to dissuade her from bringing it: "Look Zoe, it doesn't fit", I tried and showed her that it couldn't get into the suitcase. She promptly turned it on an angle and proceeded to sip up the suitcase. "Look mom, it DOES fit!" she happily exclaimed and I realized I had lost.

At Target she got a new stroller and it still fit into the suitcase if you angled it from one corner to another. Next Stop: another little northeastern college town where a really good friend of mine lives and where we will be relaxing and having fun for three days.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Princess Zoe

We have not been in the US for 24 hours and Zoe has already been called princess four times, been told how pretty she is twice and an American woman commented on how adorable her dress was as we entered the plane. I am quite shocked and slightly scared because this is a stark contrast to when we lived here. We kept her hair short back then so even at a year and a half people still had a hard time determining that she was a girl (which I had no problem with whatsoever, but it really puzzled me that people would address her as a boy when she was wearing nothing but pink and purple just because she had short hair). Most comments though, were in the area of cute, sweet and happy baby. At almost three years old the game has changed completely and the gendering of her has been manifested in the language used to address her in public.

The first comment I put down to her actually wearing an adorable dress. I always dress her extra nice when we travel because I know that a bit of positive attention will enhance the trip (and it did, as soon as we got to the US. The grumpy Scandinavian flight attendants couldn't care less about her as Scandinavians usually don't but that is material for another post). It was not a princessy dress but a knitted striped straight up and down dress. She loves it because it has pockets which she uses for coins so she beeps and can 'be touched'. The next comments came when we had entered the US, one in fact made by the customs officer who let me get away with filling in the customs form in pencil, not ink, because of 'my little princess there'.

But it wasn't until the fourth or fifth comment on our way to the elevator after checking into the hotel that I became aware of the significance of this. The gendering here in the US is extremely integrated into the culture, even when it comes to small kids. There are princesses all over (we just downloaded Superwhy for the plane ride, which she loved immediately but it has a princess in it) and toy stores as well as clothing stores are separated into girl and boy sections. With the addressing of her in terms of very feminine terms, focusing on her appearance, this teaches her that looks and appearance are important, perhaps more important than skills because they aren't commented on as often (although of course I do). This obviously worries me and I am wondering again if her growing up in Sweden is better than growing up in the US. She does seem to have the best of both worlds at the moment with English being her first language (however slightly sad that is to me) and an international upbringing, but with Swedish gender values.

Yet, our lifestyle there is not entirely immune to the princess phenomenon because when I picked her up from daycare the other day, the teacher reported charmingly that when they had talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up, Zoe had replied she wanted to be a princess. Chocked, I told Zoe that then she would have to marry one of the Danish princes and that I thought instead she should be a researcher. Or a ballet dancer. Because that was what I wanted to be when I was her age.

This book has been in my Amazon basket for while and I'm thinking now might be the time to read it. In any case, for the two weeks we are here, for each 'pretty princess' comment she gets, I will make sure to comment on her skills, wit and cleverness.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Home Sweet Home (again)

Zoe's room
Today I went to the bank and signed the papers. The apartment is finally mine! After several months of negotiations, paperwork and weekly calls to the bank, the sale went through and I am now a sole home owner for the first time in my life. I wanted to celebrate but tomorrow I'm leaving for the grand US trip with Zoe, so I don't have time to have anybody over for champagne. Instead I hope to have a housewarming in the near future after Zoe and I get home. But for now, I'm just the happy owner of a beautiful, tiny but homey, apartment in Stockholm's hippest area.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Here we go again

On Thursday I'm taking Zoe back to her 'home country', the US, for the first time since we moved to Stockholm a year and a half ago. I have been back plenty times but only on short business trips. This time we are doing a tour of friends/colleagues and finally attending one of my main conferences where I have a paper. We will be gone two weeks. Zoe's dad is going to the conference too so I hope we can distribute the child-care between us and not end up like at the second conference I took Zoe to when she was one year old.

I have started preparing Zoe by talking about what she wants to bring; so far she wants to bring her 'big baby' and the baby's stroller. I just bought an iPad mini which I'm loading up with games and videos for the airplane ride. When we talked about the airport security yesterday I realized one thing: we will be sent through the 'old fashioned' x-ray portal rather than the futuristic body scanner that most people go through and I doubt that they will "touch" Zoe. When I explained her all this she was very disappointed.  "Zoe wanna touch. Zoe big girl, go through big scanner". I know she loves to "be touched", her version of being body searched because she always asks for it, especially if I have to go through it. The security people are usually really nice and give her a light pat down but with the freakiness about child touching in the US I doubt they will even be allowed to do it, let alone be convinced to do it. So I remind myself to explain this to her again when we approach security. Last time she didn't get touched she had a melt down and I had to go and ask for it. Who should have known that we would end up so backwards?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Home sweet home

Yesterday one of the final pieces of my apartment puzzle fell into place: I was accepted by the housing association of the apartment where I'm living and which I'm buying directly from the owner. Housing in Stockholm is complicated to say the least and to have a stable home one must buy. Or be extremely well-connected to get one of the few exclusive rental places that are available. Getting accepted was a bit tricky because they decided initially to reject me on the grounds that they couldn't see I had had an income when looking at my tax papers from 2011. Which is of course true because I didn't live in Sweden in 2011. So after not contacting me for extra information or even notifying me but instead sending a physical letter to the owner who was on holiday I finally got them on the phone, explained and within 20 minutes of having sent them my employment contract, I was accepted as a member. I still wonder what the board members were thinking if they were thinking anything at any point before seeing my employment contract. How would I have gotten a mortgage without any income? But it finally seems that I will be able to sign a contract for my own apartment within the next couple of days.

This good news coincided with me being in Copenhagen to work with a colleague on research and give a talk on a my work. It was nice to be among friends and nice to see old colleagues again. But it wasn't before the train home that I started reflecting; my days had been packed and planned from the start to the end. I had managed one impromptu lunch with a newly acquainted colleague, one unscheduled coffee with a amazingly sweet new friend but every other minute had been scheduled from before I arrived. As much as I enjoy even planned socializing I really miss the kind of spontaneity that characterized my social life before, what you can have in the city you live in. For ten years my social life in Copenhagen has been pre-scheduled from I arrive because otherwise I won't get to see the people I want to, and often I still don't get to see the people I want to. Getting on the train, I sat down for the first time in four days and relaxed. Wondering what I was going to do on the five hour train journey back. Read a magazine. Write on my funding proposal. Eat chocolate. Sit and stare out the window listening to Anya Marina. With five hours on my hands I managed all of them. I reached Stockholm, and (almost) my home sweet home just past midnight.