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.