Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bilingual Christmas

Zoe expressed her joy regularly ever since I explained that we would spend Christmas and New Year in Copenhagen. She had been asking continuously since December 1st when it was winter and when it was Christmas, only to diss my affirmative answer because it obviously could be neither since there was no snow yet. She has never experienced a Christmas with snow in her life, yet the heavy snow falls during her two winters in Stockholm have left such impression that winter is snowy and Christmas is during winter. Slippery concepts and hard to explain. Especially since it is almost never white Christmas in Denmark and rarely in Stockholm.

Taking the train to Copenhagen on the 21st, I prepared her that it would be cold but no snow, but it would be Christmas. We arrived just in time for a pre-Christmas eve with some of my parents' friends and three children around Zoe's age. The oldest boy started singing a Danish Christmas song which didn't impress Zoe much but when I suggested 'Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer', she chimed in quickly and sang loud and clear the whole song, to each of the adults' bedazzlement. Because she sang it in clear and perfect English. The boy stared at Zoe in disbelief and said "but I know it in Danish" and after him singing a few words, all the adults joined and helped finish it. When I looked down at Zoe she was tearful and quiet. She didn't know it in Danish like everyone else. I tried cheering her up and said she was great at so many other songs. But the look in her eyes, the sense of her being an outsider was etched into her expression and I had to work hard the rest of the evening to make her feel better. For the next few days I kept singing all the Danish Christmas carols I knew, over and over again, so she could hear them. On Christmas day she was able to join on a few choruses.

Being bilingual is one thing, being bi-cultural is even more difficult, especially when not exposed to one of the cultures on an everyday basis. I try to teach her everything about Denmark that I can, read books, tell stories and feed her Danish food. But she will always miss out on things which will then be tough on her to see others master fluently. She considers herself Danish (although she mostly gets confused when people ask her where she is from because what does that mean to a triple citizen anyway?) and loves to speak Danish. But by not living here she is missing out on many things too.

Well, at least her wish came true, which was a complete surprise to me: On Christmas day we woke up to quite a big snowfall and we went out to the park and played and had a snowball fight. She enjoyed every minute of it but I had to prepare her the snow would be gone next morning. "It's okay mom, I don't have my sleigh here anyway". 

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Lately I have been surprised by people who are not able to be tactical. I certainly am, from thinking through the best way of doing my taxes during my 6 months in New York, getting the best set of miles on my account to stay on gold status, to telling certain people something at work and others something else. I obviously can't be specific on the latter one but work is where  most of my speculative maneuvers take place. Yet, people around me fail to do any kind of strategic actions. A coworker went all emotional and annoyed at the very people he needed to keep happy, in order to keep his job. Another coworker did not tell me about an incident because he didn't think I could help even though he knows I'm able to change these things. And friends I am around don't think about what might happen when I'm not included in certain events. I even wonder why some people don't just hook up, get together when it seems like the most obvious thing to do for all surrounding partners. But I guess that's tactics to the extreme. And that's probably the difference between me and others. I'll do tactics to the extreme, be with someone because it makes sense. Stay with someone because it makes sense. And then occasionally I'll fall crazy in love with the completely wrong person because they have that special thing going on and I am ready to give up everything for that person. I lose out and realize I need to be tactical again. What does love have to do with it anyway?

Speaking of not being tactical, Zoe's dad "forgot" to tell me he had filed for divorce. So one evening, coming home to a sleeping babysitter after a work dinner, I was met with a thick envelope from the officials. Our other colleagues had signed and testified that we hadn't lived together for 2 years so no matter if I signed or not, we will be legally divorced after 2 weeks of me receiving the letter. I was too chocked to cry and just sat staring into thin air on my couch; I finally slept after 2am and a sleeping pill. To his defense (although there is really nothing much to defend there when it all comes down to it) he apologized profoundly over text; he had filed a month before and tried to work up the courage to tell me until now (I calculated and realized he filed at a time when he was very angry with me because I had turned down his suggestion to share Zoe with 2 months each while in New York. Only non-moms, and people not knowing how close Zoe and I am, can ever even suggest such crazy idea, who could imagine me not seeing her for 2 months? My head hurt just by the thought of not seeing her for a week, let alone three weeks in January which is the schedule now). In any case, it was hard for him to do, he said. I certainly hope.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The crib

I teared up as I carried the pieces of the white Stokke crib into my apartment from the elevator. The paint had chipped off some places on the top, evidence of a baby biting into the edge while calling for her mom. The wooden bars had screw marks by each hole on each level. The crib had been used at each level from top to bottom. Each piece I carried in reminded me of the days in California when we lived in the two story condo and the crib had been upstairs. It had moved from our bedroom into it's own bedroom, back into our bedroom and back to the baby room again. It was on wheels and I knew how to quickly screw off the side so it could go through the just too narrow doors. It had been dismantled by the moving people and moved to Stockholm where I had put it together again. But the last adjustment I hadn't done. The last adjustment of taking off the side panel so the little girl could get out herself was done by her dad. Because by then I had moved out and the crib had stayed. I couldn't bear taking anything because I wanted Zoe to feel that at least there was something that was the same. But girls grow and recently her dad bought her a 'big girl bed' even though the crib could have been extended with a new mattress. I don't think he knew.

It was less difficult to pick it up than I had feared. I entered the apartment that we had bought together, where Zoe's dad still lives, and went straight to her room. Yet, I couldn't help peaking around on my way out. It is such a nice apartment, I mean, I chose it too. It was weird seeing the furniture we had bought together, some that I had even bought on my own like the red arm chair and the puff. I had never asked for it since none of it would fit in my apartment now. But I missed it, like I missed him and our life together. I considered for a moment if his friendliness earlier when he gave me the key had meant anything. Anything more than 'we can figure out how to be friendly co-parents'. I certainly know I am not over our marriage yet and concluded the other day that it was very likely that I never would get over our split. Just like you don't get over losing someone close. You move on eventually but you don't get over it. I'm doubtful I have even moved on. We still have a ghetto divorce*, so something keeps telling me he thinks the same, but then again, he is not the one to bother about paperwork so it might just be me.

I put the crib pieces in Zoe's small room because they would be picked up even before Zoe would get back in a couple of days. I took a deep breath and thought about how much that crib meant to me. I wouldn't know where to start. The arguments we had over me wanting this lovely crib that cost 900 $ and Zoe's dad not wanting to pay that, only for me to buy it anyway? The millions of times I sat next to it singing songs for a little baby who couldn't fall asleep? The way I would come into a the room with a baby girl standing on her toes to reach up and bite the edges, having paint around her mouth? In any case that part was over. I was handing it down to a dear pregnant colleague of mine who I felt was the only one in this world who should have this crib. I wouldn't sell it for money, I wouldn't give it away. Instead I told her she could borrow it as long as she would help me pray that I would need it back. Because that was probably the greatest sorrow right now, the fact that I didn't need it back myself

Instead my colleague will pick it up on Saturday and it will once again be used for a little baby now that my baby is not a baby any longer. 

*a ghetto divorce is a separation without actual paperwork; technically we are still married. One of the consequences is that if one of us dies the other still gets the money and insurance. I have no problem with that.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

New York dreaming come true

"Look mommy, I'm drawing myself", Zoe said as she drew a picture of herself as well as her house on the whiteboard in my office. I had taken her into my office on this afternoon because I had to work late and had hoped she would enjoy the theater piece that was going on, as part of the opening ceremony for our new building. The play was a bit too adult and she was very hungry, so when it was finally over (and she had eaten all my colleague's crackers) she was excited to run around the offices and get to know my PhD students. But she was very specific when one of them came to ask her if she wanted to be shown around. "I'm drawing this for my mommy, but I'll come afterwards". I praised her artistic skills and we hung up one of her drawings she had brought from daycare. "I'm drawing this for you so you can think of me when I move to New York", she continued. Oh, was all I said first. I knew I actually hadn't told her anything because I wanted to make sure things were settled. "So when are you moving to New York", I then quizzed her. "When I'm this old" she said confidently and held up both her hands. 10 years. "Are you moving on your own?", I asked and she nodded, ah ha. "But if you are moving there then I'm moving with you", I continued, already imagining this lovely scenario. "But mommy, then you have to take another airplane, I'm moving there by myself", she then replied. She was certainly not letting her mom tagging along just like that.

A few days later I was able to tell her that her dream is coming true, except she will have her mom tagging along. We are moving to New York! For 6 months. I am going to New York on a mini-sabbatical from January 2015 to work with some awesome researchers at a great university there. Zoe is going with me for part of the time. Getting my apartment rented out, finding a temporary place there and getting a visa has all been smooth sailing compared to the negotiations with her dad in terms of taking her with me, though. Of course if you ask Zoe if she wants to go with me to New York for 6 months she does not hesitate to answer excitedly yes. She has a good friend there and I have already signed her up for acting and dancing camp, something she is very excited about because it will be in English. But we share custody and her dad needs to see her too. So instead we are cutting her in half, sending her over to me a month and a half after I arrive and sending her back early too. The joy I feel over going there is most often overshadowed with the pain of being without her for several periods of 3 weeks. But I try to be strong and look forward to getting away from Stockholm for a bit. In any case, New York, here we come!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The glamour of flying

Sitting in Tampere airport waiting an hour and a half for my 1/2 hour hop back to Stockholm. The giant factory lights in the ceiling are blinding me, the security is not open yet and the woman at the check-in counter is surfing the internet. There are five strings of holiday lights in the window to push the Christmas spirit and illustrate that someone in the airport cares. The airport has four luggage carts that are probably used once per day. The machine that produces coffee from powder charges 2 euro coins, but I only have cards. Not that I want any coffee anyway at this time of night. I wear my big coat and woolen scarf indoor but my feet are still freezing. The last flight to Stockholm on a propeller Embrayer leaves at 9:35pm and arrives half an hour earlier due to the time difference. Flying is indeed glamorous.

Meanwhile I wonder why guys are such jerks. I mean really. I wish I could do all the things to them that they have done to me. I wish I could break all their hearts, expose their weaknesses, make them cry and feel undermined and worthless. I wish I could get revenge and just laugh at it all. The day I left for Finland I talked to a colleague of mine who I'm trying to be friendly with and told him I don't have the best perception of people like him at the moment. He surprised me by saying it was okay. I was entitled to feel that way right now. I wondered how he of all people had the sensitivity to think that and say it too. I decided that I hated all guys except him. Then he blew me off the next day and we are back to square one.

The airport gets more crowded with business people speaking Swedish, typing away on their phones, talking into thin air with white cords running out of their ears and people using the single check-in machine. It reminds me that back at the lounge in Stockholm they have taken the consequence of most travelers being men: the three bathrooms are distributed accordingly with one for women and two for men. Out of the 14 passengers now, four of us are women. I realize I can't buy the Mumin book I promised Zoe the morning I left because there are no shops here. Luckily I bought an advents calendar earlier today. We are working on numbers at the moment so that's at least relevant. At 9:05pm they announce that the plane is 2 hours delayed. I hate guys and I hate airports. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Frequent flyer

Last time I checked into the lounge they cut my gold card in two. Not because I am not gold anymore but because it had expired. Since I now have a combined credit/frequent flyer card I'm supposed to use that. Except I don't like running around with a credit card in my hand when I rush to a plane and I often let Zoe hold the 'tickets' too, which in my case is the card, in her case mostly a paper boarding pass (why they can't also put her boarding pass on her card is beyond me but it's probably because she flies on a child ticket). I grumpily went to the website and ordered new cards for both Zoe and me. When I got them it turned out she has been downgraded from silver to basic, mainly because I tend to buy her tickets on my miles so she doesn't earn nearly as many as me. But it did get me thinking of her amazing skills as a frequent flyer. Here is a list of her coolness when it comes to flying:

1. Zoe has security down. She walks up to the conveyer belt as a pro, takes off her jacket without being asked and guides the process of what goes in which box. She always insists on taking off her shoes and in the US I have to explain this to the officers who always point out that she doesn't have to because she is a child. These days she goes through the metal detector first but when she was little I would go through first before turning around and call her to come through. When she is through she asks me if I can ask the officer to 'touch' her. In Europe they always do it, very smilingly because she is so serious about it. In Stockholm where they have the shoe tester, she asks to use that too. So much for not letting strangers touch your child, but Zoe thinks this is an integrated part of security control. Oh and last time, I walked away and she was the one reminding me that we forgot our carryon suitcase.

2. Zoe enters the plane with a nice 'hello' to the flight attendants and asks how far down we are going. Then she counts the rows to the number I tell her, for example row 12, and hops in by the window. She buckles up herself and her doll and tells the doll not to be scared even though it is going to say 'boom' when we take off. She picks out the menu and tells me what we should get (most of the time she orders a small bag of chips). Recently she has realized that we fly through the clouds and is very fascinated by it. She wonders how soft they are and why the sun is always above them.

3. She still likes to take naps during the flight and fall asleep immediately with her head on my lap. But mostly she watches a video or play a game on her iPad.

4. Upon exit she says goodbye to the flight attendants again.

5. Zoe is now able to exit the airport by herself! A couple of weeks ago I had to drop her off with my mom in Copenhagen and continue to another city myself, but I only had 40 minutes between planes and didn't have time to go out and back through security again. We have been in this situation before: once I bought my mom a cheap ticket so she could go through and pick Zoe up airside, another time a friend of a friend who worked in the airport helped her out. This time I asked her if she thought she was big enough to go through herself and she proudly agreed. Luckily I was changing to domestic and it turned out that the exit at that part of the airport is much shorter than the international main exit. I had told her that if she didn't want to, of course I would exit with her and simply just risk missing my plane (Zoe's sense of safety is after all more important to me than any business meeting or lecture I might be doing) but when we got to the doors, she could see her grandmother on the other side through many layers of glass. She lightened up and ran off, forgetting to hug me goodbye.

All in all, she behaves like the frequent flyer she is. 4 years old and everything. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Still here

I'm still here. Having an almost calm work semester. Particularly compared to previous deadline ridden ones, this one is easy piecy. My personal life is complicated to say the least but it's nothing I can blog about. Some things I can't even tell my best friends about. So let me get to the most juicy things I can possibly write semi-publicly about without hurting anyone or get fired. Actually my job is very safe and Sweden is liberal, I could probably even sleep with my students and still be okay. But I try not to do that anymore. Not that I didn't have someone just yesterday who made it quite clear that if he got just a hint of a chance he would take it.

I wish I could fire people though. The job security in Swedish governmental institutions (universities go under this category) makes it completely impossible, in fact after several meetings about a particularly difficult case, it turns out that because we are such large employer, we have to try to find another role to the person first, even if that is in a completely different department. So we are stuck with a person who cannot perform their duties. At all. Then we are also stuck with a person who makes other people's life miserable. Anyone around him gets a nasty comment and he has no lid whatsoever to put on his negativity. I have others threatening me they will leave if he stays and I can't get rid of him. I had a good chat with one of the people affected yesterday and he said some interesting things about the situation, which helped. I got a plan now and it's not pretty. Luckily I have no sense of closeness to this place, I'm an outsider and I don't plan on sticking around. My weakness is that I care about people, particularly when I get to know them. Even Swedes. Then I just want to go and hug them and tell them to take a day off and be good to themselves. Tell them not to worry. I'll wave a magic wand and make their problems go away. Except I can't do that and when I go home I don't care anymore.

I'm a bad boss because I do people favors. I twist and turn the truth and make sure I can keep the people I like and let the ones go that I don't like. Without looking at the bigger picture because I don't care about the bigger picture. I'm sure a lot of old white men in CEO positions do the same but it doesn't make it better. Right now my one consolation of a boss is leaving and a new one is entering. Someone I don't trust the least. Again I have to play a game and do people favors such as manipulating work tasks and cover up the truth. And it turns out I have a lot more power than what I initially thought and I am of the 'its easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission' type person, so at least I do things. And I have no patience with people who do not do things, which unfortunately there are many of here. Or complain about working more than their allotted 37 hours.

Yeah, my work is dull and full of a lot of listening to people I couldn't care less about but at least I have my tiny research group and 1-2 days of research fun per week. I long towards each Friday which is research day and I get to work from a cafe and home. Today was one and i got one page on a paper written. At least that's something.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


One of the apparent perks of living in Sweden (and other Scandinavian and some European countries) is that on paper we have 5-6 weeks of paid vacation per year. I often hear non-academics, international people telling me how lucky I am and how nice this must be. I have to agree not to seem ungrateful (which I am not). But fact is that I used to go on actual vacation or holiday, (that kind of trip where you fly somewhere, stay at a hotel or similar, and relax for x number of days, expanding your cultural horizon) way more when I lived in California than when I moved to Sweden. In fact I have not had a single holiday since I moved three years ago. Instead I take days off going to Copenhagen for a prolonged weekend, I have a summerhouse with my family in Denmark where I go during the summer for a week or two, and I take the occasional extra day or two in extension to a conference, most often with Zoe. Zoe has never been on such holiday either, not that I think she is missing out on anything, she has plenty of variety in her life, flying places with me and seeing the world, but traditional holiday, she has no idea what is.

As a researcher focused on my career, trying to publish as much as possible, six weeks of vacation is not really an option, unless you want to not move up in the system. I would never have time to do the research needed to maintain an academic career if I didn't spend teaching-free periods on this, and this is a fact generally acknowledged among researchers. What I often end up doing, is taking 'fake' vacation, entering it into the HR system and working anyway. Since the university requires you to take all the vacation that you have, because otherwise they have to pay you cash for it, and that is not within their budget I usually just take the last bit in the end of the year (I understand it from their perspective, as a large organization, they did not have much influence on the broader academic system and the negotiation of vacation time among workers in a country, so it should not become an extra expense to them).

But I do miss real holiday. I miss planning a trip through Europe, taking the train, flying to Japan and exploring different cultures. But with no partner to do this with and a single income to live from, it is no longer really an option. I look forward to when Zoe is just a bit older and her and I can go exploring in far-off countries. Right now I'm planning extended weekend trips with her to other European capitals. Perhaps Berlin, perhaps Amsterdam. Perhaps next year.

I know most researchers are in a similar situation and that vacation is something rarely taken in the traditional way and I'm not being ungrateful for what I have, because I know that many people in this world don't even have options for days off. But I do find it to be one of the things I miss the most from my previously married life and it becomes apparent around this time of year where I enter my fake vacation into the system.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Yesterday I realized that I need to keep a spare mascara in my office. And that, if I push the chair in a certain angle, people can't see me through the glass panel. As long as I sit on the floor.

I don't post many things about my very personal life because when divorced, one's love life turn from fairly public (marriage is a public institution) to messy and sensitive. You don't want to hurt anybody, I certainly don't. So of course I have tried my way through to someone new (and old) but so far failed miserably, partly because I'm in no way over my marriage. Partly because I tend to fall for guys who don't fall for me or think that life with me 'is too messy'. 

But this is not only about love. It's about work. I used to do a lot of research with Zoe's dad and although we didn't actually work well together (he is very dominating) I enjoyed most of our academic conversations (alongside of course all the other conversations). He is one of the smartest people I know and we could talk about our research area without end. We co-published quite a bit but always with one of us (mostly me, he had several other projects with different people) driving the process. When we split, these conversations were one of the things I missed the most and I still do. I have great intellectual conversations with other people but I don't have one person to turn to on a daily basis (btw, this is not uncommon, over the years I have observed my parents: My dad is a professor and he always discusses problems at work and research projects with my mom, and she provides a lot of support). I'm sure he misses me this way too.

But yesterday I realized that he has someone new. Someone has taken my place. In a large research meeting he chose to present a paper that he had just written with his new girlfriend. I'm not good at suppressing feelings so the sight of her name on a slide made me physically sick. I walked out of the room, threw up in the bathroom and sat crying on the floor of my office for an hour. My sweet colleague and friend came to see if I was okay and I managed to pull myself together for teaching in the afternoon. But today I'm bringing an extra mascara to keep in my office drawer. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Deadline season

It's deadline season in my little tight field, which means that the yearly deadline for submitting papers to the major conference is coming up very soon. Everyone I know are frantically working overtime to collect the last bits of data, running analyses on it and writing up contributing results. Contribution is of course key, if a paper does not contribute with something 'new', it will not be accepted to this top-notch conference with a 20% acceptance rate. I submit on average 2-3 papers here each year and publish almost half of those, actually putting me in a group with a better average than the conference itself, something I should be happy and proud of. And of course I am.

What I'm not proud of is the tendency I have to push paper writing (and sometimes analysis) to last minute, like many of my colleagues. Back pre-baby this just meant a week of 14 hour work days but with a child, this is more complicated; she needs to be fed, played with and put to bed. Yet, I still for some reason push work to last minute, imagining that I will be able to work after Zoe is in bed. Last year around this time I managed to finish a rough paper in a week exactly this way. I slept 5 hours per night and the morning after the deadline, I dropped Zoe of in daycare and went straight back home, sleeping until early afternoon. The paper got in. It had a contribution.

Tomorrow I get Zoe back after 5 days away; I woke up crying on Sunday because I missed her so much. I'll pick her up early and take her to a playground and we will get ice-cream. I'll let her help me make pizza (she loves her rolling pin) and we will watch Danish kids tv together before reading a few bedtime stories. I'll see what my paper looks like after she is asleep. Perhaps I won't have any energy to continue working on it but I don't care. I have her almost every day until the deadline and I'm very aware I might not come up with those key contributions my two papers still need. And so be it.

It was no news to me that women pay a huge career price for having children, but new studies surfaced online yesterday confirming this outside academia as well. They even controlled for hours worked and socioeconomic level. On the one hand this kind of knowledge gets me down, but on the other hand it gets me furious and makes me want to work harder to prove the stats wrong. But it's a catch 22. To get more done, more hours are needed. These hours are directly taken away from me spending time with Zoe because I already optimized most optimizable parts of my life. But I'm not willing to do that. It's not Zoe's fault that I have a major deadline. She misses her mom as much as I miss her and she hopes to spend time with me. And I can't help thinking that this is exactly how I'll end up being a perfect example of the statistics.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Home bitter home

I straightened my hair to perfection and put on Dior pale pink on my lips, before gliding into my heeled Tory burch boots. The elevator ride down from 5th gave me just enough time to put in my earphones and turn on a slow beat playlist. Just high enough volume to keep out the reality of Swedish everyday street noises but still low enough to navigate the crosswalks safely. I didn't want to risk anything: my life in traffic OR accidentally listening to Swedish.

I had been back in Stockholm for less than 48 hours before I ventured down that spiral leading to the big black hole that's so hard to get out from. The combination of leaving Zoe with her dad and attending a meeting that illustrated the incompetences within my department all too well just added to the trauma of being back. My friend, whom I confided in over text, tried to make a joke out of it, suggesting I should have a bottle of port in my office drawer. But I had not even managed to get out of the house or even get out of my pajamas, I was still lying face down on my sofa trying to make sense of it all. I was suppose to be happy with things. I have friends here. Except none that I could summon other than to joke with me.

At 4 I was sitting by my computer and had actually sent two emails. The phone rang and Zoe's dad apologized for forgetting that daycare closed early that day. Could I go pick her up?

Zoe was ecstatic to see me and kept saying "my wish came true! I wished mommy would pick me up today!". We went for tea and croissants at our usual bakery where her dad picked her up 45 minutes later to her screaming and crying. "I want mommy, I want mommy". I shed another tear on the way home but managed to work for another 3 hours before going to bed. Next morning I woke up to a grey sense of determinism that I'll get through this.

Welcome home Louise. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wonderful day

It was our last day in New York for this time and as I watched Zoe drift off to sleep, her arm around my neck, I felt like the luckiest woman in the world, having all of this. The last thing I had said to her before saying goodnight was that I hoped we would have many more Sundays like this.

I woke up much earlier than her, making coffee and eating half a bagel while reading, before I heard a little voice "mommy?" from the bed. We got up and while Zoe painted using her new water-based crayons, she had an idea. "Mommy, I have an idea! We can go and get nail polish on our feet!" I hesitated and said we probably didn't have time but the look on her face signified that this was a priority. We hurried down and into the nail place half a block down. I could have swore, my whole child-free life, that I would never ever take my under-14 daughter to a nail place but now that I have a daughter and she is very aware that I paint my nails (I hate to make excuses but I actually have a condition that makes all my nails look very rough without polish, which is why I like to cover them up. A bit like if you have uneven skin color and try to help it with foundation), I think it would be silly to make it into something 'forbidden'. Also, it was cheaper to take her than to go on my own while paying for a babysitter, *and* we got to spend some nice time together. We sat in adjoining chairs and chatted, her laughing uncontrollably with each strange thing happening: Why does she put cream on? That's yucky, why does she put paper in-between my toes? It tickles! We ran home just in time for the babysitter to meet us at the door. He got a happy whine from her (how am I so lucky to find someone she just instantly likes?) and I rushed out the door. I managed to exchange my iPhone cover at the Kate Spade store (who exchanged a broken one immediately without any questions) and sat down at a SoHo pastry cafe for two hours of funding proposal editing. On the way home I managed to pick up bagels and tomatoes.

Zoe dancing after getting new sunglasses
The afternoon was still young when the baby-sitter left, giving both Zoe and me a big hug, me hoping he would become a more stable person in her life. We took off for some last SoHo exploring. At the Piccolini shop she played and looked around for half an hour before finally asking if she could have the animal doctor dress-up set. I asked if that was really the one thing she would like and agreed. At the counter she picked up the very same sunglasses that I had considered buying for her two months ago but wasn't sure she would fit, and surprise, they fit her perfectly. She proceeded to take the floor, dancing to the Beyonce that the store owner turned up. None of us could stop laughing until we finally exited the store, heading for food.

We sat down at Jacque, where Zoe could get french fries and I could get chardonnay. She immediately tried on her veterinarian kit and played doctor with the toy dog until turning to inject me with various medical concoctions (this is good for you, it will make your polka spots go away!) and telling me my temperature was way too high. The older couple next to us asked politely where we were from and I sighed silently before giving a simple story: We are Danish but go here all the time. Zoe is also American. The guy started a long story about him visiting Copenhagen in the early 70s and Zoe got mad at me for not giving her any attention. When we later talked about it, I told her that it is polite to listen to people you don't know and then you sometimes ignore the ones you know. It's all about pleasing people you don't know because the people you know they already like you. But I realized that made no sense and I apologized and thought I would do it differently next time.

On the way home we passed by gimme coffee; I got an almond latte and she got a glass of water. We sat on the bench outside and just chilled and talked. "I wish this could be every sunday", I told her and she said the inevitable. "But what about daddy?" "Hmmm" was my answer.

As I  was packing up our things while she watched Danish kids TV later, my mind started wandering down to that dark place that has filled my head and heart for too much of the past two years. It's exactly two years since he told me it was over. If I didn't move back in at that point, there was no way back. And I knew I couldn't at that time. Perhaps later, but not at that moment. I was finally having a bit of independence and enjoying my life in it's own right, I needed that after what I had been through. But I didn't need to split up Zoe's family. And that's when he stopped talking to me. Other than emails with information about Zoe and polite coffees where he seems like he is about to leave the whole time, he hasn't talked to me since. Eight years of relationship and three months was what I got. As I folded each piece of clothing I tasted pieces of the bitterness. The new girlfriend that Zoe had told me about (not him), leaving me depressed for several months, sitting on the kitchen floor crying silently so Zoe wouldn't notice. The thought that Zoe will grow up split between two parents. The ultimate goal that I cannot talk about yet. The fact that as much as I like guys and think there are many sweet versions out there I can't imagine ever getting into a serious relationship again. I just can't trust anyone like that again.

I squeezed my shoes into the suitcase but didn't attempt to close it. "Time for bed", I heard myself say and Zoe surprisingly said okay. After some vague toothbrushing, we snuggled up in the bed together. What a wonderful day I thought and felt like the luckiest woman in the whole world having all of this.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happy mom, happy baby

I was lying in the king-size Chicago hotel bed, rubbing Zoe's back so she could fall asleep easily, while she asked me about my work today. "What did you work with today?" she asked, because I had been at a committee meeting while she was with her dad. "Remember when daddy brought you into that big room with all of Mommy's friends? And the big screen?", I asked. She nodded. "I was working there all day, writing on my computer and saying things such as 'No, we cannot reject that paper!'", I continued. Zoe laughed and took that as enough of an answer. Three minutes later, she was fast asleep.

The train station in Mountain View that we are now very
familiar with
The past two days have been full of discussion with my international research colleagues, something that I enjoy tremendously. I have exchanged research ideas, updated knowledge on different areas and provided my (sometimes unpopular) opinion on other's research. I found that my own academic vocabulary, talking about my own research improved highly over those days and I was able to explain a project much more elaborately to a colleague earlier today. I miss having this in my everyday life, but meetings like this partly make up for it. For the rest of the afternoon today, a colleague who had a baby invited me and Zoe over to her house and we hung out, just playing and talking. I felt very lucky to be able to spend quality time with a colleague that I respect and admire for her research and ability to juggle child and career. We exchanged a lot of experiences and Zoe said the baby was so cute she just wanted to eat it.

As Zoe lay there asleep, all I could think of was how happy I was right now. I don't need anything else right now. Not at all.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Friends around the world

I am so lucky. I have so many really really good friends, spread around the world. But as it turns out several of them live here in California and particularly in the Bay Area where I am for three weeks. It all started when I was a visiting research student at UC Berkeley over 10 years ago but several of my friends have also moved here more recently. For a week I have been going out almost every night with new or old friends, dancing swing dance, drinking margaritas and conversing over single origin drip coffee. The weather is beautiful as always and the people are friendly and fun. I have given talks at the big tech companies and get work done during the day, sometimes in the company offices with colleagues. I get reminded what it is like to be part of a company where a significant group is working seriously on the same research issues. And my heart ached slightly at the thought because this is what I really miss in my life, back in Stockholm. I miss that critical mass of research colleagues who work on similar issues and who you can talk to about it. Leaving today, shaking the hand of the manager whom I have known for years, I had to hold my tongue to refrain from suggesting that they hire me. I want so badly to work at this place and have this group.

After going to the gym for an hour and a half, I took the Caltrain back and cooked dinner while looking forward to Monday when I finally get Zoe back. She counts the days and I count the days. Three more nights and three more days and I'll pick her up from daycare and take her down here to my friends where she can play with the other children and we can hug and chat all night. Her dad is the reason I cannot move back here. She and I would love it though. And I would have just a few more of my friends nearby. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

California dreaming

I'm back in California for a couple of weeks, and excited and happy are not words enough to describe the feeling. Home isn't either because being an expat for half my life, I'm home when I have Zoe, when I can joke with people around and have friends nearby. So this is just one of my many homes. But this is one of the happiest homes, if not the top one.

Walking back from the pharmacy yesterday, to the friend's house where I'm staying, I sucked in all the sunny air and all the smiles and all the friendliness that is around me. From the woman who had turned around in the queue at CVS to discuss the brush she was buying and me engaging, thinking this might be a good brush for Zoe's tangled hair, to the restaurant manager who walked over to a playing Zoe and explained very nicely and gently that Zoe needed to stay within a certain space, not to have the waiters fall over her. I was gobsmacked and just blurted out how in Sweden (or Denmark for that matter) the manager would have walked over to me and told me firmly and rudely that I needed to keep my child in tow (which of course would have lead to an argument between Zoe and me, but here, the manager knew that Zoe would react much more obediently to a stranger). From the amazing mexican food to the ad-hoc parties I'm invited to because this is where some of my best friends in the world lives. And they have ad-hoc parties.

I'm enjoying every minute, yet aching because I dropped off Zoe two days ago. She will spend the next week with her dad in San Francisco, going to a daycare there. I can't wait until I pick her up next Monday and I'm considering flying down south to take her to Disneyland. Just because I can. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

No charge, no power

On Sunday (3 days ago) evening I was slowly getting things together, cleaning up my apartment, packing clothes for Zoe and me, carefully selecting what we needed for four weeks in the US. Luckily it is summer and we mainly need dresses and sandals. I also needed a suit jacket for my talks and a couple of books for reading. I still had an article to revise, which I planed to do on the plane while Zoe would be watching newly downloaded cartoons on the iPad, so I figured I might as well charge my computer. Except the charger was not in my bag. In fact it was nowhere in my apartment and I concluded that I had to have left it in the office on Friday. I called my friend and colleague praying that he was also still on an old macbook and could lend me his charger but he had upgraded to the new one with the new charger plug. I cursed. With a 10 am flight the next morning and a sleepy 4 year old there was no chance that I could make the 45 minute trip to the office and back with her. It would mean a very delayed bedtime and a cranky girl the next morning. Besides, we hadn't had dinner.

The big wonder (and annoyance) of my situation was how I had gotten to Sunday night before noticing. But then I remembered a busy weekend starting with me rushing out of the office because I had a date Friday evening. An actual real date. I had chores to do before getting home, a dress to put on and lipstick to apply and rushed out around 5:30 pm. Saturday I spend most of the day out with Zoe and my friend who babysat her the night before and Sunday I packed my big suitcase and helped Zoe sort her toys. I guess I should be happy that I hadn't felt the need to work on a Saturday evening but still now I cursed myself for charging it last minute. I could even have run over to get a new charger before 4pm on Sunday.

But even more, it made me reflect on how this is exactly the type of situation I run in to all the time being a single parent. There is simply no buffer for mistakes. There is nobody to send down for milk when you realize you are out at 7pm and the child is screaming because that is the only thing she wants (and she doesn't want to go with you). I can't just leave the suitcase outside the bathroom in the airport with someone else while taking her inside.  And she is not old enough to go on her own. I can't run down for a workout for just an hour while she is playing at home (which is part of the reason I haven't been to the gym more than twice for 2-3 months, and part of the reason I have gained %$^&*@$ 3 kg in the same time span, the SATS mini is closed over the summer). And I can't just carve out two hours to work on a paper while someone else is looking after her. Well, I could and sometimes do get a babysitter in for a couple of hours on a sunday (however both my regular ones are on holiday), but this is July and July is very special in Sweden. It is sacred in terms of holiday and it is slowly getting to me.

I feel guilty that I don't think I can take a full month off to be with Zoe (technically I have that much vacation, career wise that would be academic suicide). I try to take a week off and work a week, while mixing the things the other weeks. Except I have no daycare because I refuse to put Zoe into a new Swedish daycare for 3 days when she will also be in a new daycare for 2 weeks in the US so I tell myself that I can just work a bit in the evenings. But the bright summer nights means she sleeps at 10pm and I'm exhausted and feel I deserve a glass of rose which makes it impossible to have a coherent thought around 11pm when I have cleared the toys and done the dishes. The end result is that I find myself with a research paper that still needs hours of revision by the end of this week, another paper that needs to be written before the end of the summer and two talks to be prepared for my US trip, just to mention the really important stuff. And a 4 year old to take care of 24/7 (her dad is already in California). All due to bad decisions and bad planning on my part.

Going to California and New York for a month
On the bright side I'm really proud of myself as a mom. I actually spent a lot of quality time with Zoe already this summer. From our weekend trip to the summerhouse and the week-long holiday in Copenhagen where we rented a bike and rode around to all the playgrounds, all the paddling pools and ate sushi too many evenings. I have been attentive to her and listened, we have played and danced around the living room and hotel rooms. And I know what old wrinkly Louise will tell young Louise in 20-30 years time: Those times you spent with Zoe were way more important than your research papers and what you have given her of your time will come back 1000-fold. But who am I kidding? The same wrinkly Louise will also add wryly: But if you had just slept just a little less, drunk a little less rose, you would have finished those paper earlier, written your book before you applied for that job and gotten promoted to professor just a bit earlier. And that ambitious part of you would have been happier.

I packed up my laptop without my charger. On the plane I watched a movie, read the Economist and 4 pages in a book. When I got to NY I couldn't drag Zoe out to buy a charger but got one the next day. Instead of revising my paper, the first thing I did with my newly charged computer was writing this blogpost. Bad decisions and everything.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chickenpox panic

I usually get a bit emotional when taking off on a plane, either because I'm going somewhere I long to go or leaving a place where there are people I love. Today was no exception but my emotions were just a bit more of relief. The past two days have been taxing on my usually calm travel heart. But now things seemed to be solved and I was about to be reunited with Zoe again in 4 hours.

Two days ago I got a video call from my flybaby in Scotland, who as the first thing asked me "Mommy, are you on an airplane?". No Zoe I'm on the subway to work. "Are you in Stockholm or another country?", she continued like this would be normal. I looked at her. She had spots in her face. "Mommy, I'm sick" she finally said and I immediately knew she had the chickenpox. Her dad confirmed in the background and tried to hug her over the choppy video. She had been sick since Saturday and spotty since the day after. Their holiday had been slightly derailed but at least they were staying with his sister and could snuggle up in bed. I said goodbye and went on to work, not realizing that the consequences of this.

I got a text message a couple of hours later, slightly panicky, saying that she would not be allowed to fly now, until Thursday. Her dad had taken her to the doctor and although she was not contagious any longer by Wednesday the doctor could not clear her for flying before Thursday. And as things go in our crazy travel life, we had left absolutely no margin for anything like this. Zoe's dad was leaving for California, one hour before his girlfriend would be taking off with Zoe, bringing her to Copenhagen via London. She had to be back in London that night as well, for work.

We don't have a big network but the few people we do have around us are extremely kind and willing to go far in terms of helping hands; like my mom who flies to Paris to pick her up, and Zoe's dad's sister who is willing to look after Zoe for several days. But for some reasons things didn't work here. I was ready to jump on a plane to go stay with Zoe, but I had to be in Copenhagen Thursday for an important medical thing. I couldn't ask my mom since she would not be comfortable being in an unknown city with a sick child. Other family members were away on vacation. I finally asked my close friend and colleague who knows Zoe very well and he agreed to go if we got stuck. I sighed in relief and can still not imagine that I am this lucky to have such friend. It would cost me app. 8000 Skr/1100 USD for plane tickets and we concluded that no medical insurance would cover anything as crazy as this situation. But it would work. He had family in Scotland where he could stay with her. We even looked at a way for me and  Zoe to get to Copenhagen via land but I still wouldn't make it back for Thursday.

After several text-messages throughout the day and me not being able to focus on my article at all, we decided to give it a day and a half. Tuesday evening we decided to coach Zoe into *not* revealing that she had chickenpox to any airline staff whatsoever and since she had been fever free for more than 24 hours by now, we would take the chance. "It's just a skin rash", the girlfriend would claim and just before I took off in Stockholm to go to Copenhagen to pick up Zoe at the gate, I got the much awaited text message: Boarded, everything is okay. There must be a special travel angel looking over Zoe, my not so small any longer FlyBaby.

ETA: Zoe and I reunited inside the air-bridge right as she deplaned to her astonishment: "MOMMY, How did you know I would come out here?" she asked sweetly. Well Zoe, I have my ways and if you look determined enough, nobody stops you from walking onto a deplaning air-bridge. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Travel confusion

Last night, in Copenhagen, I asked Zoe to pack her backpack with toys to take to Scotland where she will spend a week with her dad (and his new girlfriend but that's a whole other issue that I'm not ready to go into here yet) but she quickly got upset with me. "But how will I remember to take them back?", she cried and I had to sit down with her and explain that she was not going to Stockholm despite us flying there, she was continuing straight to Scotland, before coming back to Copenhagen in a week. No wonder she was confused because the past weeks have been nothing but Mommy travel, Daddy travel, her spending weekends with babysitters and now five days in Denmark. Now she was going to Scotland via Stockholm because I have to fly with her still. We sat hugging for a while and I empathized with her feeling of being tossed around like a ball and not being able to decide anything herself. I promised that very soon she would be able to decide on her own when she wanted to go where and how she wanted to go. Not that I think that is really a possibility but I need to figure something out. I am a structured parent who believe in stability and routines and parents' obligation to say no to their child, but I am also very aware of children's powerlessness in their lives, particularly in a split family like ours where her whereabouts depend mostly on our work travels. Yes, it's true, her home for the night mostly depends on which one of her parents are in Stockholm at that time.

After comforting her, I told Zoe (even though it was 9pm and bedtime) that we could play anything she liked for the next 15 minutes; she wanted to jump in bed, play magic ice powers and have a glass of milk. I decided to try to stick to the next step after this and told Zoe that after six days with Daddy she was coming back to me for 20 days, showing two hands two times. She was excited and we left it at that. I did not tell her that in the middle of those 20 days we are going to the US, first two days in New York, then to San Francisco where we will stay two days with my aunt, then Zoe will spend 11 days with her dad there before coming back to me and fly to Chicago where she will have a babysitter for two days and then go back to New York for a week with me. Both her dad and I got some work in California and will go back for a couple of weeks (he is staying for 5 weeks). This will be my first time back since we moved almost three years ago and I'm very excited. I'm also worried that I'll miss it too much when I'm there but hopefully it will be okay. I'm excited to see old friends, colleagues and show Zoe where she was born. But right now, all she knows about is her next trip.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


One of the horrible things about divorce and splitting up is that suddenly, eight years of your life become very difficult to think of. Zoe's dad and I had a wonderful relationship, and did amazing and fun things together; we traveled a lot, we laughed a lot and we did all the mundane things such as watching television at night while drinking tea and him rubbing my arm. I loved the vast majority of the time and we have lots of pictures from our journeys around Europe that I fondly used to look at and I would go through all the good moments in my head. I remember the posh hotel in Malaga that had a slide from one floor to the next, which he took, I remember the overnight train from Berlin to Krakow where we had dinner in the dining car before trying to cuddle up in one of the bunk-beds, and I remember the way he laughed so hard at my miserable parking skills when I drove the rental van we had for the day to pick up furniture for our new home in Southern California (not that he could park better, in fact I became the master of parallel parking, so much that if he was driving and we needed to parallel park, he would drive up, without a word walk around the car and let me get in the drivers seat just to do the parking). I also remember all the flights where we got champagne because there was always something to celebrate, the first time I got upgraded because of his gold card (I since got my own), calling my mom from London Heathrow: "I got upgraded! We are going to the US on business class!", I yelled into the phone, embarrassing him because it was not a big deal to him.

My miserable parking skills, 2007
But when you split up, all these memories become painful. Every single one of them and I often try not to think to much of the positive parts of our relationship because it reminds me of how so many good things can be gone in an instant. The memories cannot be shared with the other anymore and they remind me instead of how we failed to maintain our family. I still think people get divorced or split up way too easily today without trying much at all, because relationships are tough. Nobody ever said it was easy and yet, people expect it to be easy. When things got tough for us, we tried for three months before he said he didn't want to try anymore. Three months. When I said I wasn't able to move back in right now he said that then it was over. Eight years relationship gets a three month trial. At the time I really couldn't move back in because I was emotionally messed up and very sad about my situation. So I turned to someone who were able to give me attention and who was there for me. For a short time. Six month later I was ready to, if not move back in, at least try again with Zoe's dad because he was after all the love of my life and we had a wonderful daughter who deserved a whole family, not to mention eight years of wonderful memories, but he was gone. He declined my suggestion without much thought. This was not even a year after our initial split.

Our first trip to the desert, 2007
Time flies when you are having fun. Time also flies when you are having a miserable time, it just flies differently. I try to cut out the eight years in my memory because it is so painful to think of. Last time I was in the basement of our old apartment to pick up some of my 100 books that still reside there, I saw that he had put all our old picture books down there. We used to get a picture book made for each of our holidays or events (our wedding, Zoe's first year) but apparently it was too painful for him to look at them too (I still don't understand how he can live in our old apartment with our old furniture because that would make me sad every day to think that we got all this together, created this home together). But despite me cutting out at least a big part of the last eight years in my mind (I did have an independent life with friends and work that is joyful to think of) it pops up again and again. Zoe's questions prompt a lot since she is at a stage where she is just beginning to understand that I know her dad very well and that we had a life together before here. She remembers nothing of her life before the split, she was only 2 and could hardly talk. We used to have a book that went with her, where we wrote down things she had done, said, what we had observed. Now two years later she tells me all kinds of things about what they do and how things look and it is nice to recognize his habits. Zoe gets rice with fish for dinner and he tells her the same jokes he always told me, just the kids version. She explains how she has a table with colors and paper in the corner of the living room and how her changing table is now only for storing clothes. And I have to tell her that I know, because I set up all those things. I retrofitted a coffee table and put it in the corner and bought the chair for her. And her dad and I bought the baskets for her clothes in her changing table before she was born. So I'll cherish the memories that I can at least share with her. And when she gets older I can't wait to tell her all about her parents' travels to Japan, our life in California, and all the funny and nice things her dad used to say to me. Because in fact, the only thing that really makes memories into memories is the sharing of them.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Welcome to America

When I arrived in Shanghai, China three years ago with a 10 month old Zoe strapped to my chest, I didn't stand in the immigration queue for more than a couple of minutes before a uniformed woman came to pick me up and wave me to the front. Zoe was not upset at this point (after having cried every 20th minute for the full duration of the 13 hour flight, even with the nice flight attendants had been carrying her around to calm her down) but the Chinese bureaucracy clearly didn't think it was nice for a mom with a baby to wait in line. China is unfortunately the only place where I have seen this happen so swiftly and so undramatic.

When I was standing in the visitor's immigration line (Zoe was not with me to let me go through the citizen line) the other day, on my way into New York, I watched a mirror image of myself two years ago: A mom traveling on her own had an overtired, crying 2-year old boy at her feet, trying to shuffle hand luggage and making sure he was moving with her. He was at that stage where he could only cry and scream because everything is wrong. According to his body it was 8:30pm, probably way past his bedtime. His mom tried everything but was clearly also frustrated, particularly because of all the eyes on her. The queue bent five times as a snake and moved very slowly. I could hear them coming towards me, I was one snake-line ahead. The more I listened to his tired screaming and obvious torment the more furious I grew that nobody let them in the front. When they were almost leveled with me, I pulled up the black belt divider and motioned to her: "Come in front of me", I said firmly but she hesitated. "But won't people say something?", she asked but I said in a slightly louder voice: "Nobody will say anything". She walked under, pulling her still screaming boy and thanked me. I said hello to the boy who stopped for a moment while being scared of this strange women before going back to screaming again. We were now in the front snake line, which finally resulted in a guard picking her out. "32" he said and she was whisked away to the final part of the queue. She gave me one of this looks of gratitude that means she was going to remember me forever as the one who made her immigration experience just a little less hellish. I know, because I remember every single person who has done the same for me.

As the wailing sound gradually moved away from our earshot, I overheard another mother telling her 8 year old daughter, in a joking voice "honey, can't you scream a little too?" The father chuckled and they clearly thought it was all fund and games. I wanted to scream at her, asking if she had amnesia? Did she really forget how that is like in a few 6 years time? Did she have no compassion? Did she not realize that the mother would gladly have waited another 35 minutes if her son hadn't been crying? And then I promised myself that forgetting is fine, but compassion is something you should carry with you always. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The baby penalty

As a female academic with a child, not to talk about my early and continuing perpetual desire to have a family, the discussion of academic career and children has always been relevant and worrying to me. Having read all the books (Mason, Hewlet, Hewlet and of course Sandberg) makes me acutely aware that anything I do in my professional life I have to do better, faster and more rigorously than others to get ahead. I have to keep focusing on research, papers, networking and politics without skipping a beat. I repeat to myself the age-old saying (that Charlotte Whitton has been credited with): "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men. Luckily, this is not difficult." Because I have to keep my sense of humor to get through the day. I find all these statistics and anecdotes indicating that children hurt women's career where they are an asset to men's, hugely depressing, not only for myself but also for all the other women who are not getting the most out of their life because they have to change career track and ambition level. These women are not contributing enough to society with their intellect because that is the duality of the downside: women don't get to contribute intellectually because they can't keep high level jobs and they are not happy with their lives because they had to give up careers or turn down ambition level to make ends meet. The ones who, like me, attempt to 'have it all' (like this is an unfair demand!) end up torn in half from this attempt, either compromising a career or compromising togetherness with our children.

And it is really hard to sell yourself, being someone who have made choices favoring the family for most of my career. I sometimes envision myself adding the following to my CV, right after me leaving the US and the top institution where I was, and the resent years, in the employment section and publication section: "The change of affiliation was due to family reasons and my priorities to my family took center stage for a short while, as I tried to maintain my professional contacts and publication record. The gap in my publications is in no way a reflection of a sudden lack of ambition or lack of ability, but simply a reflection of serious personal family complications. Future level of work will again reflect my true ambition level and opportunities".

I'm not sure how this would be interpreted but my big fear is always that people see my publication record and think "Oh, she had such great potential. Then something happened and she is clearly not dedicated anymore". Yes, something happened. I had a baby, got divorced and had to start all over in a new country with few potential collaborators and a scarce research resources (in Sweden, for example,  you don't 'get' PhD students, which has been detrimental to my research and career development). All in 2 years. But I am just as dedicated as I have always been, I'm as ambitious, if not more, as I always was and I still want to 'make it' in the academic system. I want to do interesting and valuable research, I want to publish and I want that solid, (semi)permanent well-payed position, no matter what the name of it is. I want the opportunity to do good work. And that's bloody difficult when you have to pick up a girl at 4:30pm and somehow feed you and her dinner while answering all the emails you didn't get to during the day, grade papers at night while the dishes are growing moldy and feeling guilty that the girl was watching an hour of TV while you were trying to review a paper.

If I were to be part of the statistics I would stay in this position, publish three workshop papers a year and never make professor. Ironically I'm already ahead of the US statistics where women stay in temporary teaching positions, get tenure much later and do too much administrative work to publish. So apparently I do have some sort of potential. I just need to find out where I can build on that because it is certainly not here. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Zoe puzzle

I find myself in Amsterdam at a conference that is peripheral to my overall field but core to my research subject. I was invited to moderate a panel and happy to accept back when June seemed like far in the future and when plane ticket prices did not enter my mind*. But as always is the case when not planning well, it turned out that Zoe's dad had arranged work travel overlapping with my trip. We were never good communicating when we were together (in fact I think that is one of the reasons our relationship broke down, he had no idea how unhappy I was and I presumed he knew) and we are even worse as divided parents. So we end up in these chaotic situations of trying to patch together care for Zoe. Luckily a close friend of ours is able to help out. He is picking her up from daycare Thursday and spending Friday (which is midsummer, the most holy of the holidays in Sweden but a workday in all other European countries) with her. I fly back Friday evening after my panel and meet up with them Saturday. Zoe will have a great time and so with my friend hopefully.

Meanwhile I miss Zoe like crazy at the conference and wish I had declined the invitation.

*Plane ticket prices means a lot in my situation because although my own business travel is covered, Zoe's ticket to Copenhagen for care taking my my family is not. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sleepless in Stockholm

Zoe and I flew back to Stockholm last night on the plane and route that we know too well. We spent an hour and a half in the lounge because it was 45 minutes delayed but we built lego towers, read three books and I read one page of a newspaper while downing a cup of coffee and Zoe played on her own in the play area. By now I have learned to ignore the suited men around us who once in a while give me the look indicating that they do not find this to be an appropriate place for kids to chase their mothers with a toy snake. I couldn't care less. In fact I find this place entirely appropriate for kids to spend the waiting time that is most often needed before a flight. And I once again forgot how far the gate is from the lounge and had to rush Zoe down there without time to look at the duty-free chocolate. Too bad for my sweet tooth, good for my waistline.

When in Denmark, I showed Zoe my old daycare
and she pressed her nose flat to see what it was
 like inside. We played a bit on the playground
outside, which to me had shrunk incredibly since
 I was there 30-something years ago.
As we walked down to the gate, Zoe noted: "We are still in Denmark, Mom". Yes, Zoe, this is Copenhagen airport, we are going back to Sweden. And likewise, when we landed and she walked very groggily from the plane insisting that she didn't sleep at all (she slept from the moment we took off, till the moment we landed) she said "This is Stockholm, I know it". Yes, Zoe, this is indeed Stockholm, the city where we live.

At home we had to wait for a friend to come over with my keys, which I had clumsily forgotten in the door as we left 10 days earlier because the taxi called while I was juggling a suitcase, two carryons, an elevator door and a 4 year old. I realized in the taxi and called panicking, asking my friend to go pick them up and as the stars would align, he didn't only have the extra 15 minutes to do that then, he was also home when we got home last night, flying to Bologna only this morning. He let us in and upon Zoe's asking for milk and my look of defeat because who has the foresight to pick up milk on the way home from the airport, he took her down to the convenience store to buy milk, while I unpacked the most necessary stuff. This is a really good friend.

Zoe decided she wanted to ride the giraffe on
her own when we went to Tivoli in Copenhagen
I woke up at 4am in the morning to the Stockholm summer brightness that I always forget until I'm actually here and it is actually June. Even in Copenhagen the white blinds had let so much light in that it felt like daytime at 4am but I had managed so I thought I was good. But Stockholm is even brighter and my body was not about to be convinced it was still night. I tossed and turned until 6am when my alarm disturbed me even more than the light. I decided to make a temporary bedroom in Zoe's room when she gets back to me on Thursday since she has blackout curtains there. I have a mattress that just fits on the floor and hopefully will give me more sleep than the partly covered windows do in my room.

So we are back in Stockholm after 10 days of fun in Copenhagen, partly holiday, partly me trying to finish two papers while my brother looked after Zoe for 3 hours a day. We seemed to succeed on both parts.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Home is where your duvet is

For the past couple of weeks I have been looking at apartments, each sunday as is customary in Sweden, going to 'viewings' with Zoe to see if we can find something just slightly bigger. Or that is, one with a bedroom for me too so I can get a proper bed and not have to sleep on a sofa bed. It was actually a comment from Zoe's dad that got to me and made me think about moving. He said, during one of our not so easy conversations about things that I also have this "strange apartment", as in, that it is not appropriate for me and Zoe. It is 34 square meters, roughly 360 square feet, one nice sized living room and a small room for Zoe that just fits her bed and toys. The kitchen is separate but open towards the living room. The large bay window faces east and it is on 5th floor, which means it is very light and I love having breakfast at the balcony. It is located smack in the middle of everything, 10 min from daycare, five minutes from 10+ cafes and restaurants. I love it and think it is probably the best apartment I have had (ironically perhaps apart from the one Zoe's dad and I bought, the one he took over and lives in now). In any case the comment got me thinking and I found myself going as far as to talk to my bank and get a maximum price, almost cry over one apartment that I couldn't afford and seeing five or six potential ones.

Today we saw the last one though. It was a slightly bigger one but not by much, it had a bedroom for Zoe and an alcove room for me. The wallpaper in the kitchen was hideous though and the built-in beds needed to be lowered. Worst of all though was the location, it took us 30 min including a bus half the way to get from daycare and as we walked away, I felt we had ended up on the countryside. No people, low houses, lots of trees and no shops. I knew this was exactly the one I could actually afford so if I wanted a bedroom for myself and one for Zoe that will fit a bigger bed, this was it.

Setting up a picnic
When we got home, I started cooking while Zoe went to play in her room. I handed her her doll through the gap between the kitchen and her room (probably made to let light into the kitchen) and she proceeded to bring her duvet out in the living room, setting up for a picnic. When dinner was ready she insisted that we sit on the floor, her bare legs under the duvet, and eat the edamame beans and the spaghetti I had whipped up. I let her because it looked so cozy. And then I realized what I should have realized several weeks ago. Zoe is completely happy here in our 'strange apartment'. She is in no need of more space, a different setup or even a bigger bed. She is entirely happy here and so am I. In fact this apartment makes living in Stockholm more acceptable. I can hear the buzz from the city and we can see the moon from the window. I decided not to look at any more apartments at all from now on and throw away the brochures I had gathered. This is our home. Our wonderful home. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Doctors and Macaroons

I coincidentally lifted Zoe's hair as I was brushing it last night, only to reveal a large patch of eczema behind the top part of her ear. "Aaauuuuuch" she proclaimed as I tried to touch it. "We have to go to the doctor tomorrow", I concluded because as much as I probably could dap some hydrocortisone on it, I wasn't sure if that was the best/only thing to do. I wished my best friend who happens to be a doctor was here, but she lives in Denmark.

Hence, the week started with me getting out of bed just a bit too late, waking up a drowsy Zoe who luckily was so excited about going to the doctor that I could convince her breakfast would be a glass of milk and four crackers that we brought in a bag for the bus. Because the doctor is over by her dad's place, four bus stops away. The doctor turned out to speak only accented Swedish, which meant that Zoe didn't understand a word; the doctor gave me a piece of paper with instructions to apply hydrocortisone on the ear morning and evening. Zoe was so unimpressed that she tried to escape before I had gotten the prescription. Plus for Swedish healthcare: they have drop-in for small issues and it is free for kids. Minus for Swedish healthcare: the healthcare terminology is very weird so we first ended up in the drug abuse unit, me being slightly confused about the tattooed people in the waiting room; doctor communication quality, a bit random.

Luckily daycare texted us to which park they had gone in the morning because by now it was closer to ten in the morning and the day had been going for a while. Taking the bus back to where they were, we quickly found them and Zoe ran off with Alicia, her Irish friend. I was stressed by now and to get some peace and quite I decided to hide in a coffee shop with a flat white and write on my paper. I partly succeed although two guys from my unit came over and said hi but left quickly.

By lunch time I managed to get going on my tax issues and ended up spending two hours trying to deduct all the travel expenses I had on research travel, which had not been paid by my employer (or anyone else). I rand out the door at 3:30 to get to daycare before 4:30 where Zoe was excited to see me. "Can I have an ice cream" she asked and I agreed because it would be her treat for going with me to the gym. We walked to long way to the gym with the nicer play room and she laughed when I left her: "Mommy, this is like daycare!". I agreed and didn't say out loud what I thought: Yes, but here you don't cry when I leave. When I returned an hour later, she was doing an alphabet puzzle and the girl who looked after her was very impressed: "She speaks so many languages!". I just laughed and waited for Zoe to finish.

Zoe and her Macaroons
We went to the grocery store on the way back because we were out of milk but in the freezer we found the most wonderful thing: Macaroons. They were small and frozen but there were 12 in a pack and Zoe hugged them all the way home. "Can I have one now", she asked but I managed to keep her away from them until after dinner. At this point, it was 8pm and past her 'getting ready for bed' time. I tried desperately to get her in her pajamas but even though I only read three short books, she tossed and turned in bed, clearly not that tired. At 9pm we had been singing 7 songs, talked about how many days before we go to see grandma and Zoe had told me that she doesn't like it when I travel without her. She then sat up and looked at me. "Mom, you are the *best* there is", she said very seriously and looked me straight in the eyes. I teared up and gave her a hug. It might have taken an hour and a half to get her to sleep and I might not have time to write anything more on any papers this evening, but it was worth it just so see her little face with the sincere look exclaim something as simple as that. When I get older, these are the moments I will remember and cherish, not the moments of paper writing and email reading. She finally fell asleep ten past ten with her legs sticking out of the bed and two dolls in her arms. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Home is where you speak the language

I often get the question: so is Zoe trilingual? when explaining our situation. I laugh and say no, she is bilingual, her first language is English, second is Danish. She is in an English speaking group at her trilingual daycare (the third language is French) so she is not around much Swedish. But fact is that she is learning. A couple of her good friends there are Swedish speaking and she understands a lot and uses a great tactic: She holds her breath for a second and thinks, then she says the thing in Danish with Swedish intonation and Swedish words if she knows them. It's adorable. Except I hate it. I hate that she is learning Swedish because of my own rejection of it and my own aversion against living here.

It was a close friend of mine who pointed out the problem last night during a long phone call where I had expressed my grief about yet another matter (because if my life wasn't complicated enough, my love life sucks as well*). Fact is that Zoe likes Sweden because it is her home. She needs to learn Swedish if she is here so she can integrate other than just in daycare. I have seen her joy when we are in Denmark or the US and she can speak to people in public. She doesn't shut up, she tells everyone in a shop that it's her birthday and that she got a present, or that she is going to the playground. Here in Sweden she uses her best listening skills before turning to me asking "Mom, what does the lady say?" and I have to translate.

Zoe likes Sweden and if I express any dissonance in relation to her home, she will only get confused and sad. I tell her things like "we don't speak Swedish at home" if she ever utters a single Swedish word but it only reflects my own grief, it does not help Zoe in her understanding of her home and identity as Danish/Scottish/American/Swedish. My friend also told me to stop complaining, because I can't change the things I don't like about Sweden, and instead make a decision to stay or go. So that's what I'm trying to do. Trying to make that decision.

*As in being in love with someone who doesn't want you, having an affair with someone who also then doesn't want you and really just wanting to be back with someone who definitely doesn't want you. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Happy birthday Zoe!

I wrote letters, Zoe did the edge...
Zoe turned 4 a couple of weeks ago and as flybabies do, she had parties in several countries. We started in Denmark where I returned to from a conference, finding her telling everyone she encountered that "it's my birthday today". It was wonderful to see her excitement when everyone from the hairdresser to the shop assistant gave her chocolate and three hairbands; I didn't have the heart to tell her that it was not until the day after, but I did have a thing or two to explain my mom who had convinced Zoe that the day of the Danish party was her actual birthday. In the evening I told Zoe the truth and she was mainly happy: "I get many happy birthdays!".

And so she did. Another one on her real birthday where two of my friends came over (her dad was still traveling) for sushi and another large party at her dad's place where she got the big present she had wished for the whole year: A real bike with pedals and a seat on the back for her doll. And finally she had a party for all her friends at daycare which I had planned with another little girl's mom to save a bit of the hassle. Zoe was more than happy to share her birthday party with Alice as long as there was a Hello Kitty cake and balloons. We had reserved the play room at the Nordic Museum, a hidden gem in Stockholm.
Waiting for the birthday party at the Nordic Museum
It was her babysitter who pointed out the obvious: Although we, Zoe's parents, have split up, we held the parties together. We were both there for the adult party and we were both there for the kids party. We have many mutual friends and apart from the nostalgic pain I always get from being at my old apartment (the apartment we bought together as a family where Zoe's dad still lives with all the furniture that we acquired together through the years), we were perfectly fine, chatting to our mutual friend and playing with the kids. I guess that's an important thing to give to Zoe. And I hope we can continue that for many years forward. I guess that's the best birthday present we can give her.