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.