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.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I can deal with this

Zoe and I got off the train in Edinburgh after a busy weekend visiting a friend, in fairly good time to get the bus to the airport where a plane would fly us directly back to Stockholm, arriving just past midnight. I was pulling the small suitcase that Zoe thinks is hers, and pushing the stroller, sometimes with Zoe, sometimes without. Due to tram building the whole street above the station was closed off and the airport bus was nowhere to be found. I walked around and got a bit agitated; it was not easy to roll luggage and stroller around. I finally saw an airport bus and asked the driver with hand gestures where he would stop. I then rolled everything in the direction he pointed, no bus stop was to be found. I then tried to follow the bus but I got lost at a small crescent where I also hit the curb so hard with the stroller that Zoe fell out. "Zoe walk with mom", she promptly decided after I apologized and made sure she was okay. Now our flight was approaching an hour away. I hate giving up, but I also hate missing flights. I hailed a taxi and had to ask him to stop by an ATM where I could then spend £4 on taking out £20 so I could pay him. He told me the bus stop was on the other side of the station where I hadn't looked and I felt a bit stupid.

We reached the airport on time but when I looked for the desk to check-in SAS was not listed. I found a small screen in the corner with actual flights listed and it showed a two hour delay. So much for hurrying. My flight tracking application on my phone had not notified me. Zoe wanted ice-cream. I realized we hadn't had dinner and it was close to 8pm. "You can have anything", I said and continued rolling ourselves down towards the cafe area. The little convenience store had no ice-cream. The guy laughed and said "it's too cold here". Zoe broke down. I went down on my knees and tried to explain that we were going to be here for a long time and that we could look for something else to eat. At the same time they called the passengers of our flight over the speakers. We were to report to the service desk because our flight had now been cancelled.

At the service desk I was informed that they would put us up in a hotel but that the bus would not be there for an hour and a half. Then the plane would fly the next morning. "Hotel?" Zoe asked excitedly and I confirmed. At least it was not a boring hotel. We cozied up in the cafe and I let her watch non-stop children's shows on the iPad while eating the rest of our nuts from the bag and two pasta screws from a pasta salad that unfortunately had yucky stuff on it.

Meanwhile I tried not to panic as I calculated our arrival time with the new flight tomorrow: At the earliest it would arrive one hour before my students had their final exams, 10 students who had prepared and who needed this exam in order to graduate this spring. An exam I could not let anyone else do because it was project based. I can deal with this, I thought and called a colleague. "Can you look after Zoe for two hours tomorrow afternoon?". She agreed and luckily Zoe has seen her a couple of times before so when I told her, she was excited. "Zoe like Katy", she said and I sighed in relief.

When we finally got to the hotel they were quick to check us in and without asking the price I bought a 24 hour internet pass. They offered us dinner but I laughed, looking at the most tired 3 year old in all of Scotland and just shook my head. Zoe fell asleep the instant she hit the pillow and I went to work. Writing students that I might be late. Very late. Writing a presentation for the day after, which I originally would have had the next morning to do. I slept at 1 am and my alarm went off at 6:30. I woke Zoe up as late as possible and she tumbled into her clothes and into her stroller. We caught the bus as the last ones and checked into the flight. When we got to security they had implemented little gates like on the subway, where scanning your boarding pass opens the doors. Our boarding passes didn't work and we had to go to the staffed gate. Zoe started wailing when she was just let in. The security officer quickly held back the queue and closed the gate with his card. He then handed his card to Zoe and let her scan it, opening the doors. She was thrilled and I nodded at the guy: "You saved our day". In the lounge Zoe drank two bottles of orange juice and had one bite of cheese.

A tired Zoe finally on the way home

Our flight was even more delayed and in the end we touched down half an hour after my exams officially should have started. We jumped in a taxi and I prayed the whole trip that the taxi driver would drive cautiously; I don't ever take Zoe on the freeway without an actual car seat (which is also illegal), but there was really not much option here. Taxis here have booster seats but no special belts. My colleague met us at the entrance and I kissed Zoe before running over to the 20 students waiting for me. Their presentations and exams all went well.

The most difficult part of the trip was the subway home from work. Fortunately I could leave my suitcase in my office because I was going to Copenhagen the next day (without Zoe) but she was so over tired and travelled out that she didn't want to hold my hand on the train station and I had to hold her down in her stroller and strap her in. Something I have only ever done once before.

We got home and I made the bed immediately, letting Zoe fall asleep under my duvet. Then I sat down on the kitchen floor and cried. Just a bit.