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.