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.