Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year, happy new year

I was carefully painting my nails dark burgundy, while sipping champagne and eating the traditional Danish new years dessert: Kransekage, a lovely small cake of baked marzipan, sometimes with chocolate inside, while remembering again that this was my first New Years Eve ever, without Zoe. I guess you could count the ones before she was born, but that was different. This was going to be the first one where I would not be able to say cheers and let her have a sip of champagne, laugh from her facial expression and her running around popping the crackers and generally be cheerful. Not that it would be a lonely evening, I was invited, with a friend, to a large dinner party where they would be plenty of people and children, because that is after-all the age we are all at now.
Zoe and me New Years eve 2013

But reflecting back on 2015 (thanks Facebook for providing me with memories from this day, particularly my status from 2 years ago: "Well, 2013 was even worse than 2012 and 2013 is ending on an all time low. Let's see if 2014 can get any worse." 2014 was not worse, but pretty low too), I realized that 2015 was in fact the best year for me in a long, long time, if not forever. Despite the occasional low, in 2015 I moved to New York and managed to focus much more of my attention on spending quality time with Zoe. Yes, I always spent a lot of time with Zoe, most of it fun, but it is hard to really enjoy when you are miserable (I still remember sitting on the floor behind the kitchen counter of my tiny kitchen in Stockholm crying silently, while she played in the living room, just so she wouldn't notice). Now I have three great jobs to come back to in New York, friends, colleagues, an apartment with a view of the Empire State Building and a life that I really love, all built up within one year. How can it not only get better in 2016? I believe in it, for both Zoe and me.

Monday, December 21, 2015

December with Zoe

This morning I handed over a very excited girl to a very happy dad. They were going to Scotland for Christmas and New Years and had clearly missed one another over the past two months. It was impossible to see that the night before Zoe had clung on to me saying over and over again "I don't want to say goodbye to you Mom" while squeezing my arm and kissing my cheeks. She was ready to go and have fun with her dad for a couple of weeks.

This evening I have been drinking two glasses of red wine and explored my parents' bar cabinet while catching up with work and email, just to numb the feeling of that hole in my heart. When a Facebook friend posted a sensible post about how we should think about those not fortunate enough to be with their loved ones this Christmas, I teared up, feeling I was such person, being without Zoe. Except I'm not. I feel guilty and stupid for being sad, because part of my divorce was of course me. I left a hopeless and depressing situation, yet I know for certain that if someone had actually sat me down and explained to me that I would only be with my daughter for half the Christmases throughout her childhood, I would have done things differently. I would have stayed with all the consequences. But of course my thoughts were so different back then that I could not even comprehend what was happening to me.

So here I am, feeling guilty over being sad and missing my adorable 5 year old. But instead of thinking that this is Christmas (my family here is being hugely supportive and doing something very unchristmassy and non-traditional for the next couple of days, just for me), I'll think back to this past amazing December where Zoe and I did a gazillion things together and with others:
  • We went to see the Fancy Nancy Christmas musical for kids
  • We baked a cake house and decorated it with colored frosting, which took all day
  • We went to see a shortened version of the Nutcracker where Zoe still talks about the giant clock that opened up with the toys
  • We saw the Christmas windows at Saks one evening
  • We went ice skating three times, last time at the Rockefeller Center with the giant Christmas tree above
  • We went to paint ceramics with Zoe's new best friend Lisa, where Zoe made a beautiful princess that now has its place in my windowsill
  • We went to decorate a gingerbread house with her other friend Chloe
  • We bought a small Christmas tree, rolled it home on her scooter and decorated it with the friend above
  • We bought Christmas presents for our family in Copenhagen and Zoe wrapped every one of them herself and wrote every single card herself (with my letter guidance)
  • We wrote Christmas cards to 5+ friends that Zoe put in the mail box or handed out at school
  • We watched A Christmas Carol as musical and went for hot chocolate afterwards
All in all, we have already had a wonderful Christmas and now its her dad's turn. I'll be working until New Years with a glass of red wine (and some marzipan) next to me. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


As I was walking down West 20th street with music blasting into my ears, towards my new job (yes, I got an amazing new fun extra job which will not only pay the bills but also give me industry experience), 8:30 in the morning, I tried to do a happiness calculation. It should be no news to anyone around me that, to put it plainly, I hate Sweden and I love New York. But New York comes with a few consequences, among others a lot of complications regarding Zoe. But in this calculation I considered only my own happiness:
  • When with Zoe in New York I'm 100% happy, no matter my job or having a boyfriend as long as I can pay my bills
  • When in Sweden with Zoe I'm 70% happy but goes down to 50% when having to deal with my job (and no, I cannot just get another job, as an academic you can't just get a professorship at another university, which btw would matter zip since they are all intertwined in terms of colleagues anyway)
  • When in Denmark with Zoe I'm 80% happy but I don't know anything about working there 
  • When in New York without Zoe I'm 50% miserable going up the longer I'm away with a 6 weeks max
  • When I'm in Sweden without Zoe I'm 90% miserable with the 10% being my one good friend there
  • When I'm in Denmark without Zoe I'm 60% miserable but I don't know anything about working there
Living in New York right now gives me 50% with Zoe but when she starts school in Sweden next year her dad is only allowing me to have her here for 4 months out of the year, which equals holidays plus a bit of extra (I guess). To see her for 50% I will have to spend 2 months in Sweden. That model would then give me (70% happy x 2 months +100% happy x 4 months) + (50 % miserable x 6 months) = 5.4 months happiness + 3 months misery.

Living in Sweden would give me 50% of time with Zoe, probably one week/one week. That model would then give me (70% happy for 6 months) + (90% miserable x 6 months) = 4.2 months happiness + 5.4 months misery.

The last model is complicated, it involves me working in Denmark but living in Sweden because Zoe has to go to school there. But I would be able to be in Denmark when I don't have her. I would probably be able to have her for max half a week per month in Denmark due to school. This would then give me: (70% happy x 5 months + 80% happy x 1 month) + (60% miserable x 6 months) = 4.3 months happiness + 3.6 months misery. This model also includes a crazy commute for me with an hour flight twice a week at least. Not something sustainable beyond a couple of years.

New York wins hands down in both more happiness and less misery. As I walked through the revolving doors into the elevator lobby, I let the results sink in. Before I got off on 6th floor I had texted a colleague/friend of mine the words I knew he would get immediately "I'm in."

Monday, December 14, 2015

New York confidence

The Christmas tree we rolled home and decorated

One of the things I love about New York is the friendliness that is all around you. I walk into a bakery cafe and the cashier talks to me casually about laundry and rain. He now recognizes me and always says hi in a super friendly way. Another guy walks in to buy coffee and although I'm just sitting there with my croissant, he tells me to have a beautiful day on his way out again. This is just me on my own. When I'm with Zoe we, particularly she, gets an overwhelming amount of positive attention. Not just the "oh that so cute" comment when we try to roll home a small Christmas tree on her scooter but also the acknowledging smiles when she walks out with her baby doll (now finally with a name: Cutie Pie) in her doll-seized baby carrier. People come up and talk to her (almost never inappropriately) and give her the attention that helps build her confidence.

If I could give her one thing that I always lacked it is self-confidence. Growing up in Scandinavia, the 'jante law' ruled and I don't remember when but at one point it just became wrong to say things like "I'm really good at this". It is to brag. To think you are better than everybody else* (a deeply misunderstood notion actually, because we can't all be equally good at everything, I WAS better than most other kids in dancing, singing and math, but if I said that I was snooty). So when Zoe says these things, I excitedly agree and says yes you are really good at that (dancing, acting, numbers, making up stories), but also that she has to keep practicing. She is beginning to show real aptitude for ballet and all kinds of dancing and since she is way taller than I, she will actually have a good chance of dancing on a higher level than I ever did. But of course she has to practice hard and maintain her dance classes regularly. So I tell her that she is very good, but that it is hard and she has to practice to get better.

Meanwhile New York is the best place for Zoe (and me for that matter) to be to build her confidence. Not just because she gets a lot of positive attention but also because her English language skills make her feel confident in communicating. She is going back to Sweden for a couple of months after Christmas but if everything goes well (and her dad doesn't not randomly change his mind) she gets to come back to kindergarten and dance class two months in the spring. I can't wait.

*When I moved to the US as a teenager and relearned to think positive about myself, it backfired when being back in Scandinavia. I still think I rub a lot of people the wrong way with some of the things I say, creating a distance between Scandinavians and hybrid-me. Unfortunately these things are not a sign of a better self-confidence but more an actual awareness of my own talents.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Flying again

I told Zoe we were going to San Francisco for a couple of days and her reaction was priceless: "Great, I haven't been flying in a long time, and I feel like getting off the ground". I dried the smirk of my face before answering her, that it was actually really less than two months since she had flown over here. A few days later as we were walking home to pick up our suitcases and head to the airport, she said a similar thing: "I don't actually fly very often, but when I do I fly really far". I told her that was slightly incorrect, she flew both often and far but it is all about comparison.

This evening we are on our way to San Francisco after a compact week where I'm more shocked than impressed with how much I have fitted in. I have been a teacher putting together a study with some undergraduate students, I was a good mom, taking Zoe and her new best friend from school to a ceramics painting shop where they painted figurines and had a small playdate after. I managed a series of other studies at my other job and was home before the babysitter put Zoe to bed. I then went to three meetings in one day and gave a talk next day on a topic I had just started delving into this past weekend. But the most crazy thing this week is not that I still have two full day meetings in San Francicso while Zoe is with some good friends, I managed to get a manicure and order a few Christmas presents online. Yep, on top of all that craziness, I managed to be nice to myself and others.

Now flybaby is off with her usual kit of iPad and headphones, she has raided the lounge for chips and pretzels while her mom raided it for white wine. Ready for takeoff.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Happy December

Since it is just Zoe and me in our little household, there is nobody to see us and praise us in terms of just how well I'm doing. So I'm going to do it myself. When Zoe's teacher asked me the other day if I got a babysitter now for once per week, I smiled and said, "No, it was just this Monday, it is still always me picking up Zoe". And of course bringing her. In fact we are managing to have some very nice, not too stressed mornings where I get up, shower, make coffee and breakfast, wake up Zoe (although this morning she woke up herself, walked out in the kitchen and scared the **** out of me because I hadn't heard her) who then watches a bit of TV under her duvet in the sofa, before having breakfast with me at the dining table. Last night we had forgotten to read her school book (she gets one book to take home each day in Kindergarten) but had instead read our other books, so we read this at the breakfast table. Then I realize how late it is and rush Zoe into the bedroom where she dresses herself and brushes her hair (which we braid in the evening so it doesn't tangle during the night), while I put on makeup, earrings and clear dishes away. We run out the door 8:10, just with enough time to walk really fast to school and be the second last kid in the classroom.

Permanent dismissal list at Zoe's classroom.
But mornings are the easy part, me having essentially four jobs now (don't ask...) and trying to fit it all into 9am-2pm + 8pm-11pm is rather complicated. And when important meetings fall in the afternoon I have to get a babysitter (who btw, is a Danish student whom Zoe instantly liked). But almost all other days we enjoy the afternoons together; Tuesday we went to Boise Tea house for Russian Earl Grey and macarons before her drama class and yesterday it was rainy and grey, so we just decided to go home, sit in the sofa with hot chocolate and cookies, writing Christmas cards. The hardest part is when Zoe is finally sleeping, then I have to look at all the things I didn't get to, including planning the next day in detail. Last night I was still emailing with a colleague while getting into bed at 11pm. But waking up with a clear schedule really makes my day more efficient. So now I just have to figure out how to squeeze in 14 reviews of student papers, re-reviews of 12 papers and the planning of two studies, all before Thursday next week.

How is Zoe doing? She is doing really well, with her new friends and her mom right here. She reflected (on her own initiative) on her situation the other morning and said what she had said so many other times, this time much more articulate though: I like living with you best mom. I would like to live with you a bit more, and dad a bit less. I miss my dad but I miss you more when I'm with dad. I think it is because we are both girls. Then she crawled up on my lap and hugged me, crying a bit. So there you go. It is still beyond me, why such clear wishes from a child, just because she is only 5, should not be taken serious. But apparently the law knows better.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


I asked Zoe to look in the fridge to find out what we were going to have for dinner. She pulled out some (cooked yesterday) rice and salmon as well as some soy sauce. She then pulled over a chair so she could reach the stove. "Mom, you have to turn it on, but I'll make the rice" she said. I complied. "So I'm the boss cook and you are my assistant", she continued and asked me where the cook book was. I pointed over at the other counter and she brought it over, opened it up at a random page and started reading. "First you put the rice in, then water and then it has to cook for 6 minutes", she said, as she meticulously pointed her finger underneath the letters. Nevermind the fact that she can't read anything but her name yet. "I have an idea Mom, let's be American cooks!" she said and switched seamlessly to English (so far everything had been in Danish). I followed her lead and while stirring the rice and cutting out salmon she started talking with the most amazing Southern, American accent. I had no idea she even knew a Southern accent. Her default accent in English is an adorable Scottish/Irish*/British/Danish accent and since I rarely hear her speak English, I don't really notice it unless someone points it out. All I know is that she is completely fluent and mainly mix English words into her Danish, not so much vice versa. But she had it all down with the American drooling "Ain't that a shame" when she spilled soy sauce and "We don't need no butter", when I took it out to look for something else. I resisted the temptation to go find my phone and record it because it would take the presence out of it all. In the end we set the table with an extra chair for her doll ("the restaurant guest") and she spent most our meal telling me how we would soon have to go out and tell everybody who had lined up in front of the door, all the way down the hall and all the way down the stairs, that we didn't have more food and that they had to come back to the restaurant another day. But she really didn't want to disappoint them all. Still in her perfect Southern accent.

*Her best friend in her daycare in Stockholm was an Irish girl, but she went back to Ireland after the summer

Friday, November 13, 2015

Hard work

After two weeks picking up Zoe from school at 2:40pm every day I finally gave in yesterday and sent her to the after school (which I have to pay for). She was not happy and cried in the morning even though her new best friend Lisa was going as well. I assured her it would be fun and she had sneaked her doll into her backpack in case they allowed toys in the after school. I got three hours more for work, which enabled me to actually write the whole study plan in my funding proposal but which also made feel guilty for most of the afternoon. When I picked up Zoe my guilt was reaffirmed: Already at 5:30 (I came slightly early), 15 min before they were to be picked up, the kids were lined up by the wall at the gym, backpacks and jackets on, instructed to sit still and wait. My heart broke a little bit as I walked in and saw Zoe just sitting there with her head in her hands, waiting for me. She immediately ran in to my arms, we hugged and she told me that it hadn't been so bad, but that she was not allowed toys and they weren't allowed to play freely. Instead they had played games and ate goldfish crackers. I could tell she was exhausted and I let her watch television while I cooked dinner.

I'm the luckiest mom in the world and I am not complaining, but this is hard. I love every minute of my life with Zoe here, and I wouldn't want anything different when we are both here, but it is still tough. It's hard to manage to do all my work in 5 and a half hours while she is in school plus the 3 hours I might be able to squeeze in at night. In fact the night hours are the toughest ones because I'm dead tired myself but still have to try to write something coherent. I have managed the small things by having groceries delivered, getting Munchery one evening and generally trying to say no to things at work. And we are doing very well, Zoe and I, reading a new book every night, packing lunch for her together in the morning and generally having fun. We have not had a single tiff or serious argument yet (although I yelled a tiny bit at her today because she got scared of a dog and almost walking into the street). She does a lot by herself in the morning like putting on her clothes and brushing her hair while I'm doing something else, and she asks for and decides on activities (tomorrow we are going to family yoga for example). She makes everything very easy for me, because she is so sweet and fun to be with, yet, this is hard. But then again, it is nothing compared to being away from her, that is the hardest of it all.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Skating magic in New York

Worn out after an hour's skating
Monday afternoon, the happiest mom and daughter walked home through the West Village's small streets where trees have mangled the pavement and where the narrow houses' front stair cases seem to invite for a rest. Zoe proclaimed excitedly "Mommy, today I didn't just get two new friends, I got three new friends!". It had been her first day of kindergarten and everything had been going well. She was welcomed and quickly became popular. Two days later, as I dropped her off in the morning, a girl ran over to Zoe, looking at her with admiring eyes and grabbed her hand. Her mom, introduced herself: "Kathy talks about Zoe all the time", she said and I knew we have a good situation going. Zoe was the new cool kid.

After Zoe begging me for days, today we went ice skating. It turns out that it is not necessary to pay 70+$ for access and rental at the Rockefeller center, instead you pay 30$ for two pair of skates at the free rink at Bryant Park. And you go on a weekday afternoon when it is drizzling so the rink is not crowded. The best thing was that they had little 'helper penguins' that Zoe could hold on to while skating, which made her much more confident and just when we were about to leave, she said "let me try without the penguin" (she has only been on ice skates exactly twice before). She went off and was able to skate on her own. I was in awe. She was excited and proud. I promised her to buy a pair of used skates so we can come back at least once per week before Christmas.

Flybaby is here and it is magic.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Zoe, your lunchbox is ready for you!
Tomorrow Zoe will make the long journey from Stockholm, via Copenhagen to New York to be with me until Christmas. Excitement doesn't even begin to cover my happy feelings but mixed in with that is also worry. I'm terrified that last minute he will change his mind and tell me I can't have her here anyway. I'm worried sick that if I say something wrong, do something he doesn't like, he will refuse me to see her, even if I come to Stockholm. Since our disagreement about her future, he has used my time with Zoe as a sanction against me (last time I requested flexibility, he instead swiftly took away three weeks of our already agreed time she would have with me) so now I am scared every single minute I don't have her. My heart won't settle until I have her in my arms. When I talked to her Wednesday, she said she couldn't wait to hug me tight and me packing her lunchbox every day. Those are the priorities of a 5 year old. 

At least this time I got a notarized letter; I'll be right at the airport and she is traveling with my brother whom I trust above all. Tomorrow evening, if all goes well, I'll be the happiest mom ever.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Where are you local?

A comment I have recently stumbled upon in my general social media news feed is the point about how people shouldn't ask "where are you from?" but "where are you local?" It is of course relevant to not just to me (I usually add, "but I haven't lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years" to my answer to provide some context), but particularly to Zoe. She struggles with the questions that she gets about where she is from ("Mommy, where am I from?"), if she is in fact Danish (Danes are notorious for asking this if they detect a slight accent) and where she lives ("but mommy, I only live in Stockholm because Daddy won't let me live with you all the time"). I try to provide her with preemptive answers and explain that she is unique and that she can say she is Danish because her mom is.  But one place where we are both local, is in New York.

I was catching the subway to work rather late in the morning because I had had two phone meetings with people in Sweden earlier when I happened to walk into the subway car where a friend/colleague was sitting. We said hello and chatted, agreeing to catch up properly over coffee next week. As I walked out, I casually mentioned that this was strange, it happened to me all the time in New York but never in Copenhagen or Stockholm. I have bumped into friends here numerous times, from the actress sisters who live over on the lower east side to Zoe's friend's mom when we went to the upper east side for music class this summer. I even met a student's roommate on the subway without knowing him at the time, but he was reading the book that my student had written so I walked up and asked how he knew the author. I really enjoy that it is possible to casually meet people. New York is a very small world. And I'm local here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

New York miracle

Zoe is coming over to stay with me in two weeks from today. After negotiations, more negotiations and me giving in, her dad finally agreed to let her come over here for the two months when I have her. I had looked into going back, but now it seemed I could stay here doing my job. At first I didn't want to believe it, but the next day I could not stop smiling. I could eat again, laugh again. The most real thing came when I talked to her yesterday and she said, overly excited: "Mommy, do you know, do you know? I'm coming over to be with you!" We virtually hugged and she said she couldn't wait until I would put her to bed by lying next to her, rubbing her back.

I slowly started planning, signing her up for drama class (the same as this summer) and a new ballet class which is much closer to where we live and cheaper. I looked at the school program and discovered what I had not considered: The after school program is full. I have to pick up Zoe myself 2:40 pm ever single day. While having a full time job. And then I saw it as a blessing. I'm going to spend every single afternoon with my daughter, taking her to playgrounds, baking bread, going to museums (on the free days) and having fun. We are going to sing and dance and chat and laugh and just be her and me. I'll be at work at 8:30 and I'll just have to cram in as much as I can and work a couple of hours again when she is asleep. And I can't wait.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Game over

My phone rang at 2 am in the morning New York time. It was Zoe. I answered happily but still partly asleep. "Mommy, do you know where my baking set is?", she asked as this was the most important thing in her life right there and then. I explained that we had left it at grandma's place and that we would get it next time were were there. "I want to bake a pumpkin cake", she continued and I promised that we would do that as soon as we were reunited. It was early Saturday morning in Stockholm and I realized that she had woken up by herself and decided to call me from her own phone. Nobody else in her house were awake. We chatted for a bit more and I told her that she could call me any time before we said goodbye. I fell back asleep with the phone still in my hand.

It was such a relief to see that she could finally call me on her own and that she did it. A few days later when she called to say goodnight and get a story (or two) she cried again though. "Mommy", was all she could say. She wore her bracelet, the one where I have the other heart part, which I was also wearing. I told her that no matter what I would convince her dad that she had to come over here. And if he still wouldn't let her, I would come back to Stockholm for two months.

On the train home from half a weekend in New Jersey, visiting a friend who had offered to cheer me up and distract me with red wine and good food, I mentally started going through the things I would have to do if she would not be allowed to travel here. Zoe's dad was still refusing me to take her here, saying we didn't have an agreement but since I thought we did have an agreement, I did not know what to do other than keep asking him. After making this mental list of things I would have to do if I had to go back to see Zoe for two months (quite my job here, losing most of my income for two months, losing my deposit on my apartment because I'm leaving with less than a month's notice, kick out my own renters in Stockholm, cancelling my committee meeting in December etc), I realized that this is not an option. I have to get her here. My head started spinning. What more could I offer him? Money? More time with Zoe when we get back? Because the game is over. I can't stay here for much longer. If I can't have Zoe here, there is no way I can be in the US. And circumstances seem to be dictating my next cross-Atlantic move.

After I had read two stories for Zoe, we said goodnight. She told me it was just the girlfriend that evening, her dad was at a cafe (probably out for work dinner) but that is was okay. After all, I'm glad they get along. She is a good friend for Zoe and that's all that matters.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One way back to Stockholm

I'm livid. Nothing less. There is nowhere hiding it and I'm not going to keep quiet or be subtle anymore.

There are two things you have to know to understand this: Firstly, when sharing custody of a child, one parent can deny the other one taking the child outside the country of residency. Mostly this is due to fear of kidnapping but there doesn't need to be a stated reason, if one parent says no, you should not do this, it can lead to custody taken away. Secondly, when sharing custody and there is no written explicit visitation agreement, one parent can limit or deny the other parent visitation (i.e. being with) the child. Just by saying no. The other parent then has to go through the court to get a settled visitation schedule.
After Zoe's dad's and my negotiations about her future residence and schooling broke down (partly because it was all demands and threats from his side, nothing constructive, nothing that would give me an option for seeing her even close to 50%, him turning down any of my counter suggestions) he refused to let her leave Sweden. Let me repeat this: leave *Sweden*. Flybaby, who has spent countless hours flying from one country to another, who is an American and Danish citizen, who has the vast majority of extended family in Denmark and her mom in New York. Basically, he told me, unless I give in to her staying (forever) in Sweden, he would not let me take her outside Sweden from now on. About a week ago I then flew to Sweden to see her (I had been working towards deadlines 12 hours/day until then); last minute he hesitantly agreed that I could take her to Denmark if I bought a return ticket for her as evidence she was coming back. But even after this week, I am still due to see her for two and a half months this fall, as we are still sharing her time between us. But he is ignoring my requests to send her over to New York to spend time with me here (our face-to-face communication broke down long time ago and we are now emailing and talking through lawyers). Zoe keeps asking when she can come over and I keep saying, I don't know but if we both ask him, he might see the sensible in that a 5 YEAR OLD GIRL SPENDS EXTENDED TIME WITH HER MOM.

This morning, after a week in Copenhagen, I put Zoe on a plane as an unaccompanied minor back to Stockholm and got on a plane back to New York myself. A plane I have begged her dad to let me buy her a ticket for as well, for months so she could fly back with me. I was in the air when I discovered the entry in our still shared calendar. I gasped so loudly that two other passengers turned towards me: He had bought tickets for him, Zoe and the girlfriend to go on holiday to Greece in two weeks time. Without consulting me. On dates spilling into what we long time ago had talked about being my dates. So after refusing me to take her outside Sweden, he now makes his own plans to do this.

I'm so frustrated and angry, I can hardly think. Zoe and I cried our eyes out this morning when we said goodbye at the gate, me hugging her, she telling me that she would tell her dad right away that she wanted to go visit me in New York. Now all I can think about is staying on-board, taking the plane back to Copenhagen, going to Stockholm and just forget about New York. I mean, what does it mean anyway? A dream job, a boyfriend, the penthouse in a high-rise in Brooklyn, close local friends? It all means nothing compared to my little girl. Nothing.

I was going to give her the life I always wanted, living in New York and having all the opportunities of dance, acting classes that I never had the opportunity to take (and believe me, she is talented, her teachers are raving about her), good education, being in the middle of everything. Instead I'm going to give her (and me) the life I never ever wanted, living in a country I dislike and find utterly annoying, in a job I literally hate.

Monday, October 5, 2015


At the aquarium yesterday

Zoe fell asleep with her head on my stomach, so even though I was still fully dressed and had my contacts in, I stayed there in our bed for another 15 minutes, just enjoying her warmth and her breathing. She had been slightly restless after spending most of the day at my aunt's place (while I went to give a talk at my old university) and getting back just in time for a game, story time and bed. While we were lying in bed she started talking about family and I told her how I lived with my mom growing up and went to visit my father on the countryside during the weekends. We would take a walk each evening saying good night to the cows and look at the stars. "What did your father do?" she asked and I told her he was a school teacher but before that he was a television repair man. "He fixed your television if it was broken?", she asked and I explained that for most of my childhood we had at least four televisions, three tape recorders and two VCRs in the house at the same time, all in different working conditions. But he made sure there was always at least one working television where I could watch Muppet Show. Just two days before I had nostalgically introduced Zoe to the Muppet Show, which she had thoroughly enjoyed and watched with me. I also told her that my father taught me a lot of stuff about stars and planet. "Did your dad know a lot?", she responded and I said he did. "My mom knew a lot of things and my dad knew a lot of other things, that's the good thing about having two parents". Then she told me again what she has told me 100 times. "I wish I just lived with you, Mommy". I agreed but also said that she would always have both her parents and live some time with each of us.

Tomorrow is our last day together in a while. I'm planning to make pancakes for breakfast, take Zoe to the national museum and possibly the movies to see Inside Out (if she wants). We are going to have sushi for dinner with my mom and then pack up our suitcases. Wednesday, Zoe is going back to Stockholm and I'm going back to New York. My heart is going to break into two pieces, one for Zoe to keep and one for me to hold on to until I see her again.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Copenhagen awaits

Zoe and I were released from our Sweden lock-down and able to go to Denmark to see our family, leaving on the train this morning. Although we normally like taking the train it was a little drawn out this time, probably because it was during the peek wake ours of the day and despite brave attempts, Zoe couldn't fall asleep for the nap that she usually likes taking. We went to the cafe for coffee (mine = coffee with milk, Zoe's = milk with coffee) and distraction for a bit, but for the last three hours Zoe kept asking if we were on the bridge yet. I noticed her Danish R pronunciation improving slightly each time.

We had four fun days back in Stockholm, staying with my friend who has a new baby and Zoe showed her most caring side, holding the baby, entertaining the baby and eagerly playing with her. It was very nostalgic watching Zoe sit in her old crib with a new baby who was now going to grow in it and bite the white paint off the railing, just like Zoe did three years ago. We then went on play dates, dinner dates and bought some clothes, both for Zoe and me.

Now a busy week in Copenhagen awaits until we both fly out next Wednesday, Zoe back to Stockholm and me back to New York.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Deadline season

This evening I fly to Stockholm to see Zoe. I had hoped to be able to take her back to New York for two months but it looks like her dad won't allow her to come back here.

Broken coffee heart
It has been a crazy week of deadline crunching. I have three affiliations at the moment and hence, three research groups to write papers with. This was the first year in Zoe's life where I didn't have her during the deadline. Not sure why I always ended up like that previously (her dad is in the same field and have the same deadlines as me), but I guess I was generous. I remember having to submit early, then pick Zoe up and feed us dinner, then continue editing after she was in bed. I worked until the 2 am deadline, often half an hour extra, got up with Zoe the next morning to put her in daycare, just to go back to my apartment and crash, catching up on lost sleep. This year, I'm catching a plane back to Stockholm immediately after the deadline tonight. I'm excited to see Zoe and don't care if any of my papers get accepted, if I can just be with Zoe. And take her to New York for a couple of months. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


That evening the top of the Empire State tower was hidden behind grey clouds; only the top level was visible behind the fog. It almost seemed appropriate for the end of my day, which had included a journal paper rejection and a research meeting where two people yelled at each other. I have started a new position to complement my (unpaid) visiting professor status and this one is a good 50 min commute away (which is not bad considering New York commutes). I'm actually excited to work with these particular people including one female researcher whom I already get along with very well. The two of us were not among the yelling researchers but I do think I'll have to help sort out some of the issues. But all this was nothing compared to the phone call I received in the middle of the day.

I was standing by the salad bar at the university food court, ordering my tuna and cranberry salad with my new colleague/friend when I heard my phone ring. It was just the two of us but she clearly recognized from my expression that I needed to answer it. I clicked the green button and saw Zoe's wailing face. "Mommy, mommy", she cried. "Sweetie pie, are you okay?" I said, trying to hold back my own tears. I went to a corner of the shop, motioning to my friend if she could please take care of my salad and payment. Zoe just kept crying and saying "mommy, mommy". I asked her what was happening but she was clearly too upset to say much. I told her to take the phone into her room and sit in bed where we most often talk because our chats fit with her bedtime. She sat there still sobbing but now her words were more clear. She explained that she had wanted to call me but her dad said she couldn't. She said she wanted to call now but he had refused. It was not clear if she had taken the phone herself and called (she knows the iPhone pretty well) or he had given in. "Zoe sweetie", I kept saying, "I'm so happy you called, you can call me any time, always". I recalled our last conversation where I had told her she could always ask or use her own phone (she has an iPod Touch where she can skype from) and she had probably remembered. By now my colleague and I had started walking and I tried to calm Zoe down by talking about other things on my side of the Atlantic. "Say hi to my friend", and "Look there is a statue, doesn't it look silly" which seemed to calm her down. When we got into the building where our meeting was waiting for us the connection got choppier. I told Zoe I loved her and we hung up.

I was shaken up the rest of the day. I looked for plane tickets to go back to see her tomorrow. I tried figuring out how that would be possible with an expired visa. I would not. I couldn't stay long enough to get a new one stamped into my passport. I called my mom and she calmed me down. The Empire State tower was still visible when I came home but slowly disappeared behind rain clouds during the evening.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Swimming gear

I cry over a lot of other things at the moment. I tear up hearing about the refugees from Syria and the people helping them. I get sad over people in the posts from Humans of New York and I cry when I see another little child Zoe's age on the street. I cry over all the little things that are sad, sentimental, except the one thing I really want to cry about.

I called the daycare today to talk to Zoe. I hadn't received any reply to my request to talk to Zoe this weekend, just as last weekend, and it was my only chance to talk to her. She was puzzled and hurried. "Mommy, why are you calling me at daycare again?" I told her the truth and said she could perhaps tell her dad when she wanted to say goodnight to me and call me. He might listen to her, now that he was ignoring me. She told me about how she loved a particular type of toast in the morning and how she was happy about her swimming gear for her doll that I had sent, but sad that her doll couldn't go in the water. She said she missed me and wanted to come back to New York with me. She then said she probably had to go and we said our goodbyes. It was so nice to hear her voice and I was happy that she seemed cheerful.

I'm going back to see her later this month but not sure when she will be able to come back. I'm puzzled why it came to this, why her dad is suddenly deciding over her life when we share custody but after the threats and demands, there is nothing else I can do short of just taking her. Which I would obviously never do. So instead, I try to cry over other things than the one that matters the most in my life.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Happy mom is a good mom

It was the usual routine. I video chatted with Zoe while she was having dinner but at one point she started crying because she misses me so much. I tried comforting her, but I always tear up too. Her dad then cut our conversation short as usual because Zoe needed to take a bath (they do bath every night) and we hung up, after she promised me she would call soon again (although I always call her). I had just explained how I'd made a Skype id for her and that she could now call me from her own phone (she has an iPod touch for games, which she calls her phone). And as always, I felt a rock in my stomach and I considered grabbing my bag and head for the airport to catch the first flight to Stockholm to see her.

Walking home later from the Grumpy coffee shop where I had enjoyed a flat white while editing a student's paper, I had a minor revelation. I am here in New York because I know it is best for me and I cannot forget that. And that's the irony. Because even though from the outside, it looks like it would be 'best' for Zoe to have me close by in Stockholm, it would not be best for her to have a depressed mother who hates her job very much. In fact, I don't think it is fair for parents to give up their own happiness for their children, it only bites them in the back later through guilt feelings and blame. It's not simple though and it also doesn't work well in a motherhood popularity contest.

The west village apartment
I reminded myself to think about my situation and opportunities here again. Just lie down and think thoroughly about is. Is this what I want? The New York job, the West Village apartment, the Brooklyn boyfriend? At night I did just that. And even after two phone calls with my new colleague who needed my help on a document that very evening I had no doubts about those three. These are exactly the things I always wanted. Now if just Zoe could get the only thing that she wants too, then we would be all fine.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Don't cry over spilled jam

I was browsing the new delicatessen shop in Copenhagen airport, set on bringing back some nice Scandinavian food. My choice landed on elderflower syrup (good for pancakes) and a specialty jam with chili that tasted really good. I chit-chatted to the Swedish sales person in a mix of Danish/Swedish which she seemed to enjoy. I then left to get a spot of breakfast in the lounge before I had to run and catch my plane. I was flying back to New York via Paris, which I have not done in years, in fact I don't remember ever having a layover there; I have been to Paris many times, but not as layover. So although I had checked that my next flight left from the same terminal ("Yeah, I don't have to go through security again"), I had not remembered the completely insane layout of the CDG terminals. Each little finger of 5-8 gates has their own security. So as I walked through the kilometer long wavy rolling pavements, I somehow exited the security limit, ending up at the baggage claim with my two new-found girlfriends. We had all sat on the same row on the plane and they were both starting university in Paris, very excited to do so. I advised on everything from picking classes that were diverse to making sure they didn't study too hard as we walked out of the plane. When I realized my mistake I promptly went back to the one girl who was still waiting for her luggage and gave her the syrup. "A moving present", I told her and she laughed when I told her I had no choice. I still naively believed they would let me bring the jam.

At the security control they found the jam and the security lady explained to me very elaborately that I had needed to get it wrapped with a receipt inside the bag (just as the lipstick that I had just bought). I nodded obligingly but as soon as I realized that there was no way they they would let me have it back (obviously jam is liquid and very dangerous) I said to her "This is nice special jam. Promise me you will take it home with you and enjoy it". I walked away annoyed but also just in the need of not thinking about it anymore. Wasted jam was the least of my problems anyway.

I'm back in New York and as the avid reader will realize, that was not part of my initial plan back in January. Or that is, of course it was. I'm trying to build my life here now and so far I'm not doing too bad. I'll have a new job by September and I'm able to stay in my little West Village apartment with the view of the Empire State Building. Zoe will hopefully come over in October for a couple of months and things will be good. Where in Stockholm the only thing I liked was my apartment, here I like everything and my apartment.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

All the other people

Being in Copenhagen and sensing the Danish everyday culture with the biking parents, buzzing schools and coffee drinking teenagers in quiet hip cafes reminds me of what an odd life I live. And it reminds me of what I could have had I had not been academically ambitious and had a desire for living in the US ever since I was little. I could have been the mother of 2 children, with a Danish husband making 50% more than I, despite us having the same level of experience after our university degrees, because I took the full year of parental leave with each of the children. I would have been the woman who happily picked up my kids from daycare and school every day, biking home with them in the Nihola bike compartment, covering their little heads with rain covers for 30% of the days.  Living in a 4 room apartment in the neighborhood where I grew up (Østerbro), the kids would share a bedroom because the apartment was structured with a living room and a dining room, leaving the dining room as my handsome blond husband's office. The apartment would be decorated with Danish design furniture in pastel colors similar to all the other apartments my friends would have, complete with a PH lamp over the eclipse dining table and Arne Jacobsen chairs. I could have been the mother talking on her phone, saying things like "Honey, I'm just gonna stop by Irma* to get a bottle of white wine, I think it will be good for my sore neck" (I actually overheard a woman saying this, while pushing a Bugaboo Cameleon with a cute little baby). My biggest problem would be how to make it from the oldest girl's dance class next Sunday at 11am to the youngest boy's friend's birthday party in half an hour, cursing that my husband always played tennis with his high school friend exactly during those hours on Sundays.

But I don't have that kind of life. Instead, I live somewhere between New York, Stockholm and Copenhagen, apartments in two of the cities, friends, phone numbers and bank accounts in all of them. Instead, I'm working during my vacation at least 4 hours per day, trying to keep up with my eight papers with ten people on four different research projects. Instead, I sit in cafes talking on the phone saying things like "Honey, I think you should get me a business class ticket because if I don't get my passport back in time, I need to be able to change the flight". Instead I read goodnight stories over skype to my daughter every second evening and text old Danish babysitters in an attempt to have them look after Zoe in Stockholm so she can maintain her Danish language. Because I'm also the person who has that kind of life where I cannot bring by daughter with me to New York where I now live and work unless her dad would agree. And her dad thinks it is more important to get some kind of revenge on me leaving and make sure that I will never have a good life again, than to actually think about what would be best for our tiny 5 year old. One part of what is best for her, is for her to have a happy mom. And the majority of that happiness lies in New York.

Perhaps I should have taken the easy way out in life. Perhaps I should have married the Danish handsome blond guy and had my 2 children, one during my PhD and another during my post-doc. I would have been a full professor by now, having slowly but surely moved up the ranks. Then at least, I would have been able to kiss my kids goodnight every night.

*The nicest of the grocery stores here, not entirely unlike Whole Foods

Monday, August 10, 2015

Reading your mother language

Swan water bike
I was walking home alongside the east-most lake in Copenhagen. The lake where I, as a little girl, fed bread crumbs to the ducks and on one unlucky day got bit by a swan almost taller than I. The lake that I strolled around with Zoe in her pram during many of our visits to Copenhagen. I continued through the tiny streets with the 'potato row' houses watching kids play on the street and parents sitting in their mini-gardens drinking coffee. I was returning from brunch with my brother and parents, at the 'coffee salon' next to the rental water bikes on the lower lake. The sunny sky was a perfect backdrop to my Copenhagen nostalgia. Yet, my mind had been partly on Zoe because I knew she would have loved the brunch (bacon, waffle, melon) and we would have rented a swan and biked around the lake. She was in Stockholm with her dad, having fun camping. I will see her next Friday when she comes down for the weekend.

Books for Zoe
With nostalgia in Copenhagen comes nostalgia for my childhood and extra effort to provide Zoe with tools for learning her mother tongue and learn about her mother country. I stumbled upon a used book store a couple of days ago and tried to stay within the limits of what I can fit into my suitcase to take back to New York. I already have a set of books from my parents and other important cultural artifacts that I want to bring back so I carefully selected just four. I can't wait to read them for Zoe when we talk over skype or when she comes back to New York in the end of October.

My summer holiday in Copenhagen is wrapping up, I'm leaving next week after three weeks trying to see as much of family and friends, while working on papers and skyping into meetings in the evening (due to time difference). One of my good calls was staying with my brother and his family for a couple of days so I got to see more of them, particularly my adorably little nephew who recently started talking. He is slightly confused because he usually sees me together with Zoe but now he gets more of my attention without Zoe pointing out that I am her mom, not his mom. Don't worry Zoe, I will always be your mom, always.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Speaking your mother tounge

A while ago I asked Zoe, because I was really curious about it, what language she was thinking in. She laughed and said silly mom, silly question. "When I'm with you I think in Danish, and when I'm with daddy I think in English, of course". Yes, silly me, I forgot that when you are bilingual the whole thinking process is as transitional as the speaking process. But there was a reason I asked. Because I have always been aware that one of the reasons my English is so fluent, despite me not starting to learn until I was 10 or 11, is that I think almost exclusively in English. When moving to Florida right after high school to go to college, I simply switched my main cognitive language from Danish to English. I quickly got compliments for my accent (American) and just make a a lot of effort when I speak, which means I can easily pass as American (however, occasionally with an exotic British twang). Zoe, on the other hand has a Danish/Scottish/Irish* accent in English and a cute English accent (lack of the very distinct Danish 'stød') in Danish. I'm sure she will eventually settle on something, hopefully a Copenhagen accent like me and a Scottish accent in English.

These days I find myself having to dig up a lot of Danish from the back of my mind, in order to teach Zoe. I'm actually still very good in spelling and phrasing myself in written Danish, despite often claiming I have forgotten. But for Zoe's sake, I need to keep it up and teach her so she can become fluent. I will have failed if she is asked "where are you from" in Denmark when she becomes a teenager. She is from Denmark because her mom is. And she is proud of it.

Meanwhile, I'm on my way to Copenhagen to spend two weeks there on holiday. While Zoe is in daycare in Stockholm, spending August with her dad.

*Her best friend in daycare is Irish and I noticed recently that they have exactly the same mixed accent, probably because they spend a lot of time together. Sadly, she is 6 months older than Zoe and started school this year, where Zoe is not due to start kindergarten before next year according to the Swedish system.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sharing Zoe

It is probably clear to any regular readers of my blog (as well as friends who have ever seen me in real life) that Zoe and I are very close. Since she was born and throughout her 5 year lifespan, we have spent the majority of time together; we have fun together, we travel together and we sleep next to each other. I am probably the luckiest mom in the world because she is so incredible easy and fun to be with. We rarely have any tiffs and honestly, if she does get mad at me, we quickly get over it. She actually doesn't like being mad or angry: last Monday, as we walked through Bleeker Street after returning milk bottles in Murrey's Cheese shop, she suddenly started stumping her feet and whimper. "Why are you mad?", I asked and she first didn't reply. "What's wrong?" I repeated. She said she didn't want to leave. "I don't want to be angry, but I'm so annoyed*. I don't want to go flying". I quizzed her more, why she didn't want to go flying. "I don't want to go back to Daddy. I want to stay with you here. I want your place to be my real home and Daddy's place to be a pretend home. And I just want to be happy**". At this point we had stopped in front of the door to the Bisou Macaron shop where we had planned to get coffee. I didn't know what to say because as much as I wanted the same, it was not that easy. In fact it was very complicated. We went inside and a very milky latte and a chocolate macaron made her bad mood better.

"I love you Zoe"
When Zoe's father and I first split up, I had taken care of her for the majority of time until then. I never minded that because tiny babies mainly need their mom, for food and care taking. Besides, I was the one with a non-permanent job that could be put on hold, so even though I didn't want that, it was the "obvious" option when we didn't have daycare for a couple of months after moving to Sweden. As we started sharing her officially 3days/3days, I still took the majority of the time with her. It just ended up being like that because he was busy, needed to travel, go to meetings and I often traveled to Denmark to see family with Zoe. I tallied the first year and a half at one point and Zoe had been with me exactly 66% of the time. He tended to go on vacation without her, I tended to go on vacation with her (not that I went on much 'vacation', because I could never afford that after the split, but I would bring her to conferences and to see family). The following year, the split became slightly more even, but the tradition of me bringing Zoe on vacation and her dad going on holiday without her, was still alive. I took her to doctors' appointments and the dentist. I arranged play dates and communicated with the daycare, even being the parental representative for her group. When I talked to the teachers last time (phoning from New York), they informed me that he did not show up to the last teacher/parent meeting.

Her dad's demands surfaced when I got the opportunity to move to New York, first for one semester, now for potential renewal.  Zoe was not allowed to go with me for long. The first demands were that she could only go for one month. Then I got it negotiated to two months. I managed to make her stay with me 2 1/2 out of the six. The two months we were apart in May-June were the toughest months in my life, and undoubtedly also the toughest in Zoe's life too. The first times we talked on Skype after she had returned to Sweden she could only cry. She didn't want to hang up, he had to take the iPad away from her in the end.

I'm trying my best to suggest options, possibilities, testing different formats for sharing her time between us, but I am only being met with demands and now threats. Threats that he will sue me for custody. I broke down completely when he insinuated that; just thinking of Zoe not living with me at least half the time makes me terrified. She would be heart broken. I cannot count on both hands anymore, the times she has leaned in and whispered to me "Mommy, I wish I lived with you all the time".

*I'm trying to translate the Danish word "sur", which is somewhere between angry and annoyed
** "glad" is somewhere between happy and being in a good mood

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New York - Stockholm

I love you mommy
A couple of days ago, Zoe and I flew to Stockholm via Copenhagen. As usual (I can't believe I can write that) we got upgraded to economy plus, which meant absolutely nothing because the online entertainment system was broken anyway and our legs are so short that we don't really need the extra legroom. In fact, Zoe tends to just place her feet across my lap, put her pillow on the armrest by the window and fall asleep. Being stuck under her, I had a restless sleep but it didn't matter. I was with her and she held my hand when the plane shook as we descended. In Copenhagen she told me that now we did not have a secret language anymore and I had to continuously remind her when she talked too loud in the lounge. In Stockholm I handed her over to her dad, whom she hugged tightly and told she had missed. I missed her the second they turned the corner leaving for the bus and had an even more restless sleep that night.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Danish way of Parenting

This week marks the end of our "dance/theater camp and full time working mom" month and so far it has been a success. Earlier today I came home to an excited Zoe who played sleepy house with the babysitter and her dolls, after a day full of drama camp, sand and water at the playground around West 100th Street. She was exhausted but also excited about the final show tomorrow. While she finished putting her dolls to sleep I had a chat with the babysitter who ran me through the afternoon. She told me about Zoe insisting on noodles for lunch and my well-behaved child who had accidentally called her mommy a couple of times. We bonded over our Danishness and I realized exactly why Zoe has been so extra happy with this girl. She trusts that Zoe is doing what she is supposed to, she treats Zoe like a person, and lets her make a lot of choices herself. The playfulness more than emphasis on 'teaching' and the respect for the child as a person. Not that only Danes treat children like this, although my new book is hinting in that direction, my friend pointed out the other day that this was more a non-American perspective than anything and that he (who is Australian) had also used such strategies with his children. I never gave this much thought, to me an equal, trusting, explaining attitude was always the foundation of being a good mom. But I have been very lucky, because with two brothers much younger than I, interaction with children has always been a big part of my life. So when I had Zoe, I had already thought about many things in terms of children and I knew pretty much how I wanted to raise them and treat them. But I also knew that I had to improvise and think about things as I go along.

After the babysitter had left, Zoe watched an hour and a half of television while I cooked, we ate and I cleaned up. I figured she had spent all day being very active and just needed to relax. Then we brushed her doll's teeth (and Zoe's) and read three books in bed before talking a bit about family. At one point she realized that while my mom has three children, my step-dad only has two, but my real father died four years ago and Zoe started crying, hugging me. I comforted her and told her it was okay and I would take her to the island where he had lived one day. She asked me about his life, what he did and it was nice to be able to tell her about that now that she is old enough to understand. I said, he would be looking down and be very proud of his grand daughter. She disagreed and told me that he misses me more than her because I am his child. Which was actually very insightful of a five year old. She then fell asleep while I caressed her back. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer in the City

One of my vices this summer is drinking cold read wine. It came about after our 4th of July picnic in Brooklyn Bridge Park where we last minute realized we weren't allowed to bring alcohol. My friend (who is Scottish and therefore never short of ideas of how to smuggle alcohol) poured a bottle or two into a large coke bottle. As it turned out we were five people short (for various reasons ranging from food poisoning to obsessive compulsive disorder) and hence had a full two litter coke bottle of red wine left. I promptly put it in the fridge and it has been sweetening my evenings on occasion since.

Summer in New York is hot. To cool us down, Zoe and I discovered a small pool within the confounds of a playground just a couple of blocks from us. We went over one day almost too late but managed to dip out bathing suit clad bodies in the cool water for ten minutes before they closed. Zoe was ecstatic. She loves water despite being scared of it and not being able to swim yet. This is an activity for her and her dad though. I rarely swim although I like it and am quite good (fast) at it. When it all comes down to it, I'm more of a gossip-in-the-hot-tub-with-a-drink kind of person. Gotta wait a few years for Zoe to join in on that. 

The summer weather reminds me of the past two summers where we also spent significant time in New York. The main difference back then though was the better state of my finances. This summer I prioritized babysitting and summer camp for Zoe, which has cost me more than half my (sorry Swedish) paycheck. As I bought cheap generic goldfish crackers for Zoe rather than organic cheddar cheese bunnies for double the price, I thought about how I could have done it differently. I could have gone to Denmark for the month of June with Zoe, missing out on a whole month's work, which would eventually affect my career significantly because my main conference has paper deadline mid September. Then I could have come back to an empty office in August working my b** off while all the Americans were on holiday and while Zoe was with her dad. Probably the most depressing situation I can imagine. I love my life with Zoe in New York. It keeps me energetic, happy and optimistic. And Zoe has been overly happy with her different day camps, as well as her new Danish babysitter. If I had to make that choice again, I would do the same. And enjoying the cold red wine. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Everyday structure

This morning, as we were about to leave Zoe looked puzzled at me: "Mommy, we did not do what we used to do today?" I looked at her to get an explanation. She said that I had watched TV (iPad) with her while having breakfast. I agreed. While eating my morning granola I had watched some show with a Frog teaching basic concepts of math (plus and minus) and wondered if Zoe was picking up on anything in terms of actual numbers and counting or just enjoyed the cartoons and the songs. I like the Danish math shows much better because they are more silly and weird, adhering to the Danish sense of humor. But we had watched 5 of those the previous evening.

Which got me thinking about just how much our everyday life in New York has changed and become more messy. I find it really hard to admit, but it is true: Zoe has not eaten dinner at the dining table since she came back here in the end of June. We eat while watching a show on the iPad on the couch. Part of my giving in is actually that our dining table is squeezed in along the wall with too little space for the chairs and it is so unstable that a small push makes it wobble. It is not cozy to sit there. Another part is that I don't think of this as everyday life. Since we came here it has been an exceptional time. New York was (officially) a temporary space and everything we did was temporary. I made exceptions for everything. On top of that my intense work meant that I relied on a number of babysitters (to the downfall of my finances) and still do now that she is in half-day camp. No day is the same, sometimes I come home 6:30 pm to a Zoe who has already eaten, other days we come home at 5pm and I scramble to make some dinner out of what I can find in the cabinet (pasta with butter with a side of cucumbers being a favorite).

I made rules and structures like we had back in Stockholm except they were different rules. There we had a rule about having dinner at the dining table without watching TV. Now we have a rule that says no TV until after 6pm. I used to be strict on breakfast, now I let her grab the last part of the chocolate cookie because it was there and, I, myself, had the last half of a macaron for breakfast, so who am I to judge? I truly don't think that bite of cookie is going to be Zoe's downfall to doing drugs at 14 (or becoming obese for that matter) but I'm starting to worry that I'm using the "single mom" as an excuse. I have never wanted to think that I couldn't do an optimal job being Zoe's mom, just because I'm on my own. In fact, I think I can do a better job without being with someone else that I constantly have to negotiate with in terms of what to let her do and not do. Her dad is way more strict than me, he keeps special days for candy where I let her have a little bit most of the times she asks (which is really not a lot) and he says no a lot more than I do. Instead I have no choice but to focus on her when we are together (not that I would ever want to do anything less) and I don't agree when people say "well, it's nice to have a bit of time on your own too" in relation to her spending two months in Stockholm. I don't need that kind of time on my own. I need to work during the day and I need an hour at night after she is asleep. Other than that I need to be Zoe's mom.

I think it is time for a couple of new rules. But I also think I'll talk with Zoe about them tonight. If anyone should help making them, it should be her. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Heat stroke

With Zoe being back for July and me working, I have signed her up for several half-day camps according to her interest such as dance, music and acting. She even got into the much coveted Frozen themed dance camp that was overbooked on the first day of signup, possibly because the dance studie wanted to give the spot to her (or simply because she was on top of the waiting list but of course her mom always think the former). I have a babysitter for some afternoons but want to spend some time with her too and expect to just have to work more at night.

We had high hopes for the very first day music camp on the upper east side where I had packed lunch for both of us (the price of camp is strenuous on my budget to say the least) and expected to go to central park between that and dance class later in the afternoon. We excitedly found a bench in the shade because it was scorching hot, but Zoe was exhausted and didn't eat much. Instead she lay down on my lap and fell asleep. I covered her bare arms with her sweater and put more sunscreen on her cheeks but it was a very hot day and just because your bench is in the shade when you sit down, does not mean it continues to be in the shade. The sun tends to move. I really didn't want to wake her up because she had already slept less than she needed, having to wake up at 7am to make it to music class for 9am, so I let her be while I listened to music and surfed Facebook. After an hour she woke up again and we packed up. As she started walking, she started whimpering and complaining that her head hurt. I made sure she drank a lot of water and we made it to the subway only because I carried her one full block and a half. When we got on the train there were no seats and I for once cursed the New Yorkers for not getting up for a crying 5 year old.

We got off at the station close to the dance studio and despite Zoe's previous enthusiasm, she was now clearly not feeling well. "Can we please just go home?" she asked and I knew this was bad if she did not want to go to dance class so I immediately flagged down a taxi. At home I made sure she got more water and left an abundance of snacks on the table next to the bed including chocolate ice-cream which she had two bites of. I looked it up online: Zoe clearly had heat exhaustion, the step before a heat stroke. She was hot but since I don't have a thermometer (which says more about how rarely Zoe is ill than my qualities as a mother) I didn't know how much.

She slowly recovered and although she was not on top of things the next day, she insisted on going to music class. I let her and bought a thermometer from the pharmacy on the way home. I now know that she had 38.5 C, which is a fever but not a terrible or dangerous one. She did not eat much for two days but on day three she finally cheered up, no fever, being back to her normal self. Needless to say, we are now looking for indoor actives to do during the day and no naps in Central park anymore. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Child delivery service for New York

I answered the phone as I exited the train at Newark airport station having a slight fear of what was hiding behind the six digit phone number. "Good evening, is this xxx?" I confirmed. "This is xxx with immigration services, are you expecting someone this evening?" I confirmed, providing him with Zoe's full name. Then I told him who she was traveling with. "Did you provide them with a notarized letter?". I confirmed explaining that I provided a letter stating that my friends were allowed to travel with Zoe. At this point I was running up the escalator heading for the air train that could take me to terminal B. The voice on the phone asked again. I realized my mistake. "I gave them a letter, but no, it was not notarized", I confessed. The officer explained to me that this letter was worth nothing and that I needed to have a notarized letter to confirm that they were allowed to travel with my daughter. My heart was now somewhere between my upper lungs and my throat and I was short of breath from running. "I'm right here in the airport to pick her up", I said. "Please, sir." As I entered the air train compartment he finally took to a nicer tone, telling me that next time I needed a notarized letter and I repeatedly apologized and said I would make sure of that. He hung up. I burst into tears and as the air train came to a stop in terminal B, I ran as fast as I could towards International Arrival. I saw them from afar, recognizing Zoe instantly. When she realized it was me she started running too and we met and hugged until Zoe said "Mommy you are squeezing me too tight", and I cried a bit more and she looked puzzled at me. "I was so scared they wouldn't let you in", I told her, but it seemed that she had never understod that part of the situation. She had happily explained exactly who she was traveling with, exactly who she was going to see and why she was traveling with them. And now she was just happy to be back with her mom. And so is her mom. Who will remember to get a notarized letter next time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Illegal alien

When I came to New York in January it was with the intention to stay for six months. At least officially. I quickly got offered to stay over the summer to continue my research and to work with the amazing PhD students and my fellow researchers here. Since I have no teaching in Stockholm over the summer, I happily agreed. We have planned this since March or April and I wrote the people in charge of my visa about a month and a half ago informing them that I needed it renewed, at least from July 1st to September 1st. They needed more paperwork, which we supplied them with a couple of weeks ago. Today I realized that I still haven't heard back and that my visa runs out in a week. I am really worried about it it because if it does run out it will have enormous consequences for me. I emailed the person in charge twice but haven't heard back. I'm on a J1 and when you have been on one, and it's done, you cannot get one again for another two years. Period. There is also a 2 year home requirement but that's a different rule and that can be bent if you have the right connections and paperwork. I could potentially go on another visa but there is none that would fit my situation since H1s are reserved for actual faculty (I'm a visiting professor) and is very expensive for universities. I would basically have no option to stay here. I'm freaking out a bit and pray to the administration gods that things will go through before next week. Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Midsummer rain

Zoe and me on the beach in
Denmark 3 years ago
I might not live in Stockholm any longer but my Facebook feed and friends are all cheering and being family like for the world-known Swedish Midsummer Celebration. Zoe is somewhere undisclosed on the countryside celebrating with her dad and the new girlfriend. What worse is, people think this is a Scandinavian tradition and greet me happy midsummer, when it is really only Swedish (okay, full disclosure, I have absolutely no idea how they celebrate it in Norway). In Denmark, on the other hand, we celebrate the actual longest day of the year (which is next Tuesday and is called "Sankt Hans Evening", not midsummer) by burning a witch, usually made of sticks and cloth, and sing a couple of old herritage songs around the bonfire on the beach. Because in Denmark there is always a beach nearby. I actually hate midsummer and try to avoid it. From my first summer in Sweden where, to foreigners, everything (and I mean e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g) is just closed for two days and then we go back to work, to my more settled times where I was simply just home alone because it is a family holiday and Swedes don't include anybody else but their family. Add to that a divorce and a fragmented family and this holiday is just one of those ugly portraits of what I don't have anymore. And even in New York, I'm reminded of it's existence.

Several studies have looked at how friends' and connections' positive social media posts will make people post positive posts as well, and potentially make them happy too. Fewer studies mention how positive social media makes people grumpy and jealous because they don't have what others seem to have in those posts. My feed was full of romantic couples and happy families the past few days and it finally got the better of me. I miss my family, I miss my extended family in Denmark. I just want to sit on that beach and watch that witch burn and look over the blue water and hug Zoe. Five more days. And no more Facebook for me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Yesterday I attended an outdoor event with a lot of important people talking (in an aim to stay semi-anonymous, I can't be more specific) and lots of press. It was amazing to see the New Yorkers being proud of being New Yorkers and I got chills of excitement when they said "In New York, the possibilities are endless". I was so proud to be living here and realize they were talking about people like me. I can do anything here. Zoe can do anything here. We are now New Yorkers.

Meanwhile I got terribly sunburnt because they had promised rain in the morning and I hadn't thought about the sun going through the clouds and been foreseeable enough to actually put on sunscreen. You would think, with my pale Scandinavian skin, I would have learned by now, but no. As I sat having lunch later on, I felt the burning start on my arms, the main part that had been exposed to the sun because I had taken off my cardigan. It ended up being so painful that I had to sit with frozen pea bags on my arms, shifting it from the right to the left every 10 minutes. Today I'm taking it easy, working from cafes, fully covered up.

But the sunburn brought one significant thing with it. As I cursed my stupidity I made a decision to not waste my precious time and feel sorry for myself. Instead I finally got started on my book, the academic book that I have had in my mind for six years or so, the one that I'll write and the one that will help me get my next job. It wasn't so hard. I realized that I know so much about this topic that I can just write like I write literature (yes, I wrote a novel, unpublished, but finished). When I get in to it, writing everyday, it will be done in a year. I can do this. Sunburnt or not.