Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A latte and a biscotti please

I ordered a latte while Zoe crawled up on the barstool so she could see better. "I'm hungry", she proclaimed and I asked the barista if they had something to eat. It was a minimalistic coffee bar that I had found via my new favorite app and no food was on the counter. "We have biscotti?", he said and I looked at Zoe who nodded. Latte and biscotti it was, and one minute later we were out the door with our breakfast heading down to the subway station where the E train could take us to work. At the station, Zoe asked to taste my latte and she proceeded to drink at least a third on the train. After three bites she put the biscotti in her pocket. I guess she is a true New York baby by now, simply having a latte for breakfast before going to work.

Because going to work she was. In-between dressing myself and Zoe, my phone had rung this morning, Maria from Zoe's preschool informing me that there was no school today. The water main had broke and there was no water in the whole 5 story building. And I should not bring Zoe over before hearing back from them, i.e. this could take days. I quickly sent two text messages to my babysitters well-knowing that they themselves had to go to work and resistance was futile. I had to bring Zoe into the office for my three meetings. We packed up a few toys and most importantly the iPad, some snacks and set off.

Being a single mom is hard. Being a single mom in a city where I have peripheral friends and no family is really hard. But I also know these kind of things will happen and that there is absolutely no reason to panic because there is nothing whatsoever I can do. I don't have friends I can call up and ask for a favor, I don't have extended family here who can help out in a pinch. Wherever I go, Zoe follows. And this is great, we both enjoy it. We chat on the way to the subway, we walked all the way home through Greenwich Village, talking, jumping, buying fruit and a princess Pez. In my office, Zoe made a book on printer paper with a black and a red ballpoint pen about a naughty mom who turn into a dragon and blow fire (I don't want to put too much into that!), an activity that took the better of an hour where I got to review a student paper.

In the end the babysitter stopped by after work and looked after Zoe for 2 hours while I went to a coffeeshop to review a few academic texts that are due Thursday. She had done the dishes and Zoe was in her pajamas when I came back up, so all in all a pretty good deal. And I'm sure Zoe can't wait until another plumber messes up the preschool building again so she can share my breakfast latte. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jumping on hotel beds

"You are my favorite travel buddy", I whispered into Zoe's ear after we had settled into the shared ride at exactly 2:50am, taking off for Newark airport. She had woken up immediately as I gently touched her, put on her skirt and sweater herself (she had slept in the rest of her clothes to make this easier), and taken down her little owl suitcase from 4th floor herself. Without as much as a whinge. We chatted about houses and cars and lights as the driver took us to our way-too-early-but-cheap flight.

Zoe and I are off to a conference in Vancouver where I have a paper, and a workshop to attend. Since I'm alone with her in New York, I have no option but to bring her, which is also my preference. There are two simple reasons for why I like to take her 4000 miles across the country and pay close to a 1000 dollars for her to be with me: Firstly, I don't want to lose out on any time with her these days. With her dad wanting her 50% of the time, I am making the most of it, even if it means having to go home early from the conference dinner and see few actual research presentations. The other reason is that not only is she easy to travel with, she is simply a delight (to paraphrase my 90 year old aunt) to travel with. She hardly ever complains and sees everything as fun exploration and reminiscing with me because we have most likely been on that type of plane, in that specific airport and bought that type of airplane snack before. She cried exactly twice, once when she squeezed her finger in-between her suitcase handle and the suitcase, and once when I interrupted her and asked the shop assistant if they had a different type of sushi rolls. Zoe wanted to explain to me exactly what she wanted and I just overruled her, leading to her frustration. I apologized and we were good again. She got the sushi she wanted (we flew via SFO, which has a great sushi place where I have been many times) and we ran to the gate, boarding as the last people.

Onboard the first flight, she quickly fell asleep together with me, her cuddling up on my lap, me nodding most of the way. When we woke up the plane was shaking from turbulence and I hate that. The big secret about me, (and yes, I recognize the irony) is that I actually *hate* flying [blush]. I am just plain scared to fall down. This also feeds into the desire for me to always fly with Zoe because the thought becomes slightly more bearable that we should both fall down together. But Zoe held my hand and comforted me. She suggested we watch some tv on the iPad because that usually helped her, she said and we did. I was very relieved when we hit the ground safely.

On the second flight we reached a milestone. Normally, my attention has to be devoted mostly to her, even if she is watching cartoons or playing on her iPad, and if she is sleeping it is mostly on my lap, limiting my movement. This time, however, she watched cartoons (with my noise canceling headphones) so focused that I pulled out my computer and proceeded to write on a journal article that I'm working on at the moment. I managed to write almost a page, something I have never done on a plane with Zoe before.

We landed and walked the kilometer and a half from the gate to immigration where we had to take the non-resident queue. It took us 30-40 minutes to reach the front, which Zoe patiently waited out with only a bit of complaints. I cursed the officers and fellow passengers for not pulling out the mom traveling with two kids, one 1 1/2 year old who did NOT have 30 minute's patience. But obviously everyone in front of her felt it was more appropriate to listen to the little one crying for most of the time. Finally, it was our turn and I proudly walked up with our rainbow passports. "Where is her father", the young attractive officer asked. "New York", I answered shortly. "Do you have a letter from him?" I froze for a bit. I normally always travel with a letter, I make sure other people traveling with Zoe have a letter but this was just a short trip within the same continent and I had not even thought about bringing passports until two days before. I sighed. "You are actually the first one ever asking for that", I replied honestly and received the obvious "you should always travel with a letter" but after a few more questions he let us through. I joked with a friend later that I was now the child-smuggler.

Zoe jumped eagerly on the hotel bed as we finally got in and we both went to bed early after a long successful travel day.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Work-life happiness

In between lunch meetings, a visitor talk and teaching prep (why did I think it was a good idea to have a lecture on topic X, which I have only ever taken one class on and not used or read about for five years, when I set up the syllabus?) I was sitting at my desk in the large open offices at my university pondering how things are just so nice here in New York. And how lucky I am to be here. I *really* like my colleagues who are all super competent, smart and hard working. We differ a lot in terms of research approach, I'm very qualitative where my neighbor for example is very quantitative. But we get excited about similar subjects and can discuss our research in dept. The open offices mean that we say hi and acknowledge each other throughout the day and in my group we have 2-3 impromptu meetings per day. I don't actually feel disturbed when I have to focus but I also come in a bit earlier than most of my colleagues and get a peaceful head start.

But what I also really like about this university is the positive energy of people and the smoothness of procedures. I had been here for less than two weeks before I had been introduced to and were on first name with most of the administrative staff as well as faculty members. Open offices also helps with this since you are much more likely to bump into colleagues walking through to the kitchen and common areas. The atmosphere is saturated with positive attitudes, "Yes, we can figure that out, yes, I'll help you with that", contrasting my university in Sweden where you most often get a No (we don't have money, resources for that) or an "I can't help you with that, find someone else who can".

So when people ask how things are here, I can't stop raving about how wonderful my work is. I have been asked to stay over the summer which is great but beyond that, unfortunately there are no options. I'm not the kind of person they are looking for to join their faculty here. Although that would probably make my life complete.

If my job satisfaction was not enough, my life-satisfaction is beyond anything in over three years. I'm being social with people I like (new and old friends), I have the most fun and adorable daughter to spend off hours with. Zoe is happy as happy can be because she is with her mom and at her new preschool she is starting to make friends. We have playdates with other children (new and old friends) and she is stoked to be in dance class where she understands everything. I downloaded Redrover, a mobile app that shows activities for children in New York (the app also works for a few other major cities in the US) and that took us to the doll festival at the Japanese Society last Sunday and will take us to creative open studio at the Guggenheim this weekend.

Being outside in the buzzing city is just the cherry on the top of the cupcake. Although it is still cold and snow covers large parts of the sidewalks, the New York atmosphere is unbeatable with the friendly chat and small favors (like letting me in to the subway through the emergency door because I had just used my card but left again to get a snack for Zoe). Zoe and I almost never get on to a full subway car without someone getting up so she can sit, something that never happens in Sweden (in fact people will keep their seats so Zoe and I have to sit diagonally from each other instead of just scooting in). All in all we got ourselves a really good deal here.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New York Headstart

I was sitting on the couch with Zoe last night, chatting and deciding what book to read as bedtime story when she suddenly looked at me with a very sad face. "You know Mommy? At daycare (she still uses the Danish work for daycare since there is no word for preschool), the other kids know letters. All the letters!" At this point she started crying. She still looked at me but sobbed: "They know the letters without the teacher helping them!" I tried to comfort her and told her that they had learned and that it was no big deal, she would learn too but she was clearly really upset. I picked out her alphabet exercise book and we colored Q and learned words with Q but I could tell she was still distraught.

I was possibly even more upset because I had never seen her be so sad about not knowing something and she was used to being ahead or at least equal to her class mates in Sweden. I had worried slightly about this because I knew they were ahead in the US and basically follow a very different teaching philosophy than in Scandinavia where teaching academic skills is not in the curriculum (i.e. letters or math) before kindergarten. This is also why I had bought the exercise books, but with our busy lives we had only managed to make it to Q in the first book. I know Zoe knows numbers up to 4 as well as the three letters in her name but other than that she is typical Scandinavian in that they only pick things up if they really want to. Teaching is not structured and most of the 'teaching' in daycare is about themes such as nature, transportation and the body. Being from this system myself, I can appreciate it, particularly since I was rather slow in learning to read but ended up in the higher range of the educational system. But I also realize it does not work for all and being able to "measure up" with your peers is important everywhere.

So I asked a friend who home schools her twins (so far) and who is much more knowledgeable about childhood education than I am, if she could give me some advice. This morning I followed some of her tips for books and tools for learning to both recognize and write letters and numbers. The tiger mom that I am, I got same-day delivery (I didn't even know there was such thing, but that's another benefit of being located very centrally) and just as Zoe had put on her pajamas, we received two sandpaper tracing books, one for letters, one for numbers. She was excited and immediately drew the number 10 with a green crayon.

When I told the teacher this afternoon about Zoe's concerns, she tried to comfort me and explain. She firstly told me that the children were all at different levels. But she also told me that this particular program was called Headstart for a reason. The other parents were very keen on academics (I had never heard this word being used in relation to small children before) and pushed the teachers to make sure there was more specific learning than play. I told her about the Scandinavian system and she seemed to understand. It was not that Zoe was behind, it was that this had never been part of her daily routine*.

In the afternoon we walked home through the snow and when it got too thick to walk through, we went inside a cafe for hot chocolate and apple pie. Zoe asked me for a pen and proceeded to draw the nicest 3 I had ever seen on a paper napkin. "I learned this today", she said proudly and I exhaled a sigh of relief. She is a fast learner. She will be drawing numbers by the end of the week and know the alphabet before the end of the month.

*That said, I know that in Zoe's Swedish daycare they do a lot of 'math', counting, recognizing numbers, and talking about things. They also do a lot of physical work like dancing and gymnastics, play outside two hours a day and have structured activities. But they would never all any of them academics.