Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sometimes you can have it all

My yearly main conference proved to be a bit of a puzzle this year in terms of Zoe and I have had many 'models' in mind, most of them involving me either finding some expensive full day child care in Paris or flying up to Copenhagen, missing a full day. The problem is that I have a committee meeting attached to the conference making this an 8 night long event. As much as Zoe loves her grandmother, and vice versa, the fact that my mom doesn't have child care in Copenhagen made it not really an option to drop her off there for all 8 days. My head was spinning and I was on the phone with my mom a while back when I explained the situation. "I'll come to Paris to pick up Zoe", she said as a matter of fact and I realized that would be the best solution: I wouldn't miss out on many activities, Zoe would only have to be in Copenhagen for 4 days and I could pick her up on my way back to Stockholm. Now the puzzle looks like this: I leave for Paris Friday. Zoe and her dad leaves for Paris Sunday, Zoe stays with me in Paris for two days. Then I take her to the airport Tuesday where my mom has 3 hours in-between flights, and I send them back up to Copenhagen. Saturday I fly back to pick up Zoe and Sunday we fly back to Stockholm. This was the perfect solution, I thought. Now hopefully all flights will be on time. Sometimes you really can have it all. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Moving up

Today I got promoted. I think. A colleague stopped by my office and asked if I had time to chat. She closed the door and said she had asked the head of department if they could make me research coordinator of the unit. Would I accept? I was flattered to be asked and didn't need that much time to think about it. This will mean I get more influence over the research direction in the department, at least within my field and that I have to coordinate funding proposals. I was a bit surprised because I have been in the department less than a year but if this can give me more influence, more resources to do research, then I'm happy. And hopefully a raise.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Everything is banned in Sweden

Growing up in Denmark it was a running joke that our Swedish neighbors had banned everything. The notion of "forbuds-sverige", difficult to translate into English because "forbud" is a bit more than simply a ban on something, roughly encompasses the few stark differences between Swedish and Danish culture: Sweden for example has a licensing system for buying alcohol, it is only available in state-owned shops with limited opening hours; Denmark has a similar system to most other European countries where alcohol is available in supermarkets at most hours. But the Swedish banning culture is not just government inflicted official rules, it sticks much deeper into the Swedish culture, also reflected in the "duktighetssyndrom", the "do-good-syndrom", which I encounter on an everyday basis from Swedish friends and colleagues. As a Swede you are supposed to do the correct, lawful thing. Pedestrians don't cross the street on a red light (and if you do, you are promptly being yelled at, using the c-word, as happened to me a couple of weeks ago, but that's material for another post). People follow guidelines and the many unspoken rules such as how you are supposed to put the dividing stick after your groceries at the check-in belt, god forbid you forget, the look from the person behind will illustrate the unforgivable nature of this.

And this brings me to one the few times where I have actually lost my temper with people in public (note, I have never lost my temper with anyone in public in the US or the UK where I spent the majority of my adult life, at least not that I remember). On Friday Zoe and I were going to the grocery store after I picked her up from daycare. I had had a very late lecture to go to and picked her up as one of the last kids so she was tired, I was tired, but we needed milk. After an almost smooth walk around the grocery store where I convinced Zoe that she could only have one snack (she chose an ice-cream, which she partly regretted later as she got cold eating it in the early spring weather), we got to the register where we queued a bit to Zoe's complaint. "It takes long, long time", she said but finally it was our turn. She was hesitant to give up her ice-cream so the guy could scan it but stopped complaining after I agreed that she could sit on the little shelf for packing the bags, after the belt. I had about 6 things to pack in the plastic bag and popped Zoe up on the shelf so she could watch. She was happy. I was happy. I had packed perhaps two of the items when the register guy said: "She can't sit there". I looked at him. "Tell that to her, I said, she will get mad. This will take two seconds". He repeated it to me and I realized he was serious. I told Zoe that she was not allowed to sit there and took her down. She exploded. Crying, screaming. I threw the last four things in the bag and grabbed her hand, dragging her out. But before that I yelled at the guy a lot of not-so-nice words. "Two seconds it would have taken! Two seconds!" From just managing my overtired, hungry little girl to having a hysterical almost 3-year old who was upset and didn't understand why mommy yelled at a guy, the afternoon was ruined. Luckily we still had the ice-cream and after I explained things to Zoe (Stupid Swedish people don't understand that Zoe wants to sit there) she stopped sobbing. We walked home and she was quicker in gaining back her good mood than I was.

But here is the thing. After thinking a lot about I still have no idea why Zoe was not allowed to sit on that little shelf. Don't tell me that it can take 5 full grocery bags but not a 15 kg/33lbs kid. Don't tell me it is because they are worried she will stretch the 20 inches over to the moving belt and get her fingers stuck. I don't recall ever hearing about any fingers getting hurt in a grocery belt but I could be wrong. Perhaps Swedish grocery belts are specially designed to trap little fingers. Instead, this was a clear example of the ingrained Swedish culture of "bans": you are simply just not supposed to do that, so you don't do that. And there are lot of things you are not supposed to do. Growing up in Denmark enables me to recognize these situations and articulate them but worse, my international living experiences help me hate them even more. I could not ever imaging anyone in the US tell me not to do something with my child unless it was clearly dangerous, I sense this would be an invasion of my privacy. In addition to my limited language skills, this is yet another reason I find it so difficult to live in Sweden with its many unspoken rules and regulations. I keep reminding myself that daycare is great and virtually free to make up for the bad things. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Gold treatment

Flying home to Stockholm from Easter holiday with family in Copenhagen was Zoe's and my first flight as gold. I hadn't received my card yet, or even been updated in the system, obviously, since the journey that made me gold (and Zoe silver) was the flight there four days earlier. But as I approached the counter I explained the situation simply. The check-in attendant (I had a small suitcase to check in since I was bringing back liquids) called up the frequent flyer service and confirmed that I had indeed made gold a couple of days before. From then on she made sure everything was in finest order, wrote a note on the boarding pass so we could go through fast track, called the lounge to tell them we were on our way (which meant I barely had to flash my boarding pass to get in, because how many single moms with 2 year olds go to the lounge anyway?). All in all the experience was contrasting our previous experience of the very same people snootingly sending me away, despite me having a baby on my back and the economy check-in line being miles long. Now we finally belong to the exclusive club worthy of American style friendliness. In the lounge Zoe made herself at home in the play area and I had a glass of chilled white wine. Arh, the jet-setting life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

29.000 down and counting

Yesterday I "lost" 29.000 kr, roughly 4400 dollars. I recently got my tax return here in Sweden and since my official paid job started January 2012, this is the first year I'm taxable in Sweden. My job situation last year was complicated to say the least, I worked freelance as a teacher for a while, "sold my soul" (i.e. academic integrity) for money and finally got a two parted job as an associate professor and a research scientist. I was aware that each of these jobs taxed me as it was my only job (i.e. too little), but I figured that since I had been income-less for several months in the beginning, it would even itself out. I even did some rough calculations. I was 21.000 kr wrong. After calling up the very nice English speaking tax people and being on the phone for an hour, I am now more knowledgable about the Swedish tax system and how to pay back what you owe. If I pay 2500 kr each month, I will be almost debt-free by December when they start charging interest.

This brought me to my next loss. I have recently been given some specific advice from academic colleagues in terms of promotions within the Swedish university system. Without getting into details, it turns out that the advice was straight out wrong so when I asked my boss for a raise yesterday (to help pay my taxes back), it turns out I have been eligible for a raise long time ago, back in fall 2012. In fact I had had all the paperwork ready January 1st this year but been advised not to submit it due to another promotion that I will apply for early 2014. Those were the next "lost" 8000 kr. Don't cry over spilled milk I thought and submitted my application this morning. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I have always prided myself in buying good quality but few items for Zoe. That goes both for clothes and toys. Yet, between presents and mommy guilt, I feel she does get new toys all the time. Most recently we added another doll to her collection but I made sure to give away the teddybear that was always lying on the floor receiving no Zoe-love at all. Now I hope another baby will be happy to cuddle him, since he was  imported all the way from India where the Leela Hotel staff gave it to Zoe as we left. What they didn't know was that Zoe does not care for teddybears or any other stuffed animals in fact, but likes only dolls, or babies as she calls them. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised when I cleaned up her room earlier this evening to see that all her toys actually fit into
one box. Except of course her "babies" and the books (the cabinet contains clothes and drawing tools). She loves playing in her room and is getting better and better in playing on her own, and who can blame her, when having such a lovely room?