Saturday, May 30, 2015

Keeping your problems

For the past year or so, this saying has keep popping up in my head. It goes something like this: If everyone took all their problems and put them in a big pile, we would all take our own problems back.

One of the nice things about me being in New York is that I have many friends here. Being in Academia I have friends around the world but for some reason it turned out that I not only have some really close ones here, I also have good friends stop by and wanting to hang out with me. And you never know anyone's situation before you have actually talked face to face and then you realize that yes, you would take all your problems, including your extra five kilo, wrinkles around the eyes and money issues back. Those problems are mine to keep.

My friend asked me about how I'm dealing with being away from Zoe and I said it as it is: It's like having my arm cut off and I cry at least once per day by now. But I'm managing. She smiled compassionately and said that it must be somehow nice to also have a bit of freedom, like just being able to work a lot and see friends at any time. I looked her in the eyes and reflected on my walk over to the cafe where we met: I had overlooked a little boy, Zoe's age, screaming and crying because he wanted candy and the dad had to drag him along the sidewalk. It was clearly not a comfortable situation for either of them. And all I could think was how I wished Zoe was here, crying and screaming over not getting a doll, me not giving her more toys, candy. At least then she would be here with me. So no. Not at all. From my perspective I would gladly have her all the time including the screaming and crying, the babysitting scheduling, the bringing to work, the flying to conferences. This is obviously easy for me to say because fact is that Zoe is probably the most well-behaved 5 year old girl in the world and our tifs are tiny and rare. But no. As much as I take advantage of being here on my own now and go out as much as I can, it merely covers up the numbness in my stomach and distracts me. 26 more days. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Story Time

Friday was the day where everything culminated. It was the semi-yearly paper deadline for me for one of my two main conferences and my research group and I were submitting two papers with my name on it (four altogether in the group). I had barely slept the past few nights because paper writing and editing was of course taking place up until last minute but I did manage to take a yoga class in the morning to try to fix my, by now, broken body. My grad student back in Stockholm texted me (about something else) and it turned out that she was looking after Zoe that evening. I asked to talk to her and we skyped while they ate sushi and I dug into one of the little phone rooms that is needed in an open space office environment. We chatted lightly but then came the question she always has: "when do I see you again mommy?" When can she come back? I told her it was another many many days and she got mad, saying that she wished she could just go on a plane now and come see me. And  if she couldn't fly alone, why couldn't Daddy just take her. She started crying and so did I. Before we said goodbye she said what I sometimes say "Mommy you are in my head all the time, all the time". We shakily hung up. I went back to my paper writing but had to turn Zoe's picture away for the rest of the day. My focus was gone. 3:15am, after meeting the deadline (midnight PST) with two decent papers, I walked through the door to my apartment and fell asleep, sleeping straight for 11 hours.

The t-shirt I bought for Zoe
Next day I went shopping to treat myself, not because I can afford it, but because I haven't bought anything for myself since November (okay I bought a couple of t-shirts and a few essential toiletries, and a pair of jeans when my other pair broke but that's it). I felt like a true New Yorker when I walked into a kids store to look for a t-shirt for Zoe and the owner not only recognized me but also told me how she just thought Zoe was the sweetest and that I had to bring her in when she comes back. I bought a tote and a t-shirt for Zoe, not batting an eyelid by spending money on her, but cringing when spending $30 on a t-shirt for myself. I finally got a pair of ├╝bercool sunglasses in Kate Spade and tried on a $369 pair of sandals that I wish I could buy.

The book I read for Zoe
This morning Zoe called me again and told me she had gone camping with her dad the previous day, spending the night in a tent. She always wanted to do that, and now she told me she wanted to go camping with me as well. "Don't tell me we have to say goodbye Mom" she said a few minutes into the conversation, which is how I got the idea to read her a story. I picked out one of her books from the shelf and read it to her, showing her the pictures on the video screen. She followed curiously and clearly enjoyed. "I hate time", she said in the end, "I hate time so much, I want time to go away". I agreed and said that I hate when we are apart too but in 32 days, we can like time again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Two weeks and counting

As for Sundays goes, this was one of the better ones. I got to spend all afternoon with a really really good old friend of mine. In fact I like to call him my oldest academic friend because we met at my very first academic conference back in 2002 when we were both graduate students let lose in a foreign city with two goals: following as many interesting talks and meeting senior researchers during the day, and having as much fun drinking and partying at night. The latter is what I remember the most, including him and I dancing in a basement disco to the tunes of electronic beat music. This was still three years before he would, at a similar occasion in a different city, reach behind my back and cockily snap open my bra. Just to be silly. Since then we have seen each other once or twice per year, closely following each others parallel life of buying a home, marrying and having children, changing jobs and moving cities (well only me). Opposite me, he is still happily married but he has seen me through ups and downs and been hugely supportive whenever we get to talk. In fact, I remember more than once, me being upset and him hugging me, telling me things would be okay. Not something you find in your average academic colleague. Just today I was reminded how this guy, of all men I know, is one of the most observant guys when it comes to emotions. He noticed I got teary eyed when talking about him being away from his family. He asked and listened attentively to why I got divorced. No judgement, just listening.

We walked through the West Village and SoHo, ending up at my secret sushi place where we got the chef's selection of amazing fish, including mini squid and fried fish bone. I realized how lucky I am having such good friends around the world who know me well, who comfort me when I'm sad that Zoe is not with me. Five weeks more. Just five weeks.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Interviewing Zoe

Occasionally my research involves interviewing people and transcribing those interviews. For a particular project, I conducted five interviews last month when Zoe was here. She happened to be around for four of them, partly because one had to be on a Saturday, partly because her school was closed one day and I had to take her to work. Today I had to listen through them and write notes which was with a nostalgic and sometimes heavy hearted feeling. She came and disturbed be through all of them, though nothing major, just little "Mom, I can't find the scissors, can you help me" (she proceeded to make a paper princess crown, painting it all by herself during one interview), or "Mom, my video is scary, can you help me find another". I missed her even more listening to her voice and wished I could hug her during that scary part (I remember doing, but you can't hear that on the recording) and help her with the crown.

It got me thinking how she has always been part of my work life. How I somehow have managed to work quite a bit when she is around. Not the work that requires sharp thinking but the lighter parts, such as interviewing (I once had her with me in a stroller and managed to schedule it during her nap time), reading academic materials and preparation of teaching. I just never felt I had a choice, I am not willing to give up spending a lot of time with her. She is still little and I want to enjoy the time we have together because it is short.

As I went through old voice recordings on my iPhone later this evening I found a very old interview of Zoe herself from when she was 2 1/2 years old. I don't remember any details but I ask her what her name is, where she is going and she is hesitantly answering. Her voice is the cutest, sweetest and I can't believe this was just two and a half years ago. It was a different world. I recorded a little message for herself and snapped a picture of the Empire State Building, sending it to her dad. I have promised her a picture for every night when the building is a different color and that is what she will get. Hopefully, the days will go fast until she comes back to me to stay again. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Flybaby birthday

Happy birthday Zoe
Today is Zoe's 5th birthday. I made a little video for her last night, showing her that the Empire State Building was red in her honor and this morning I skyped with her as she opened the present I had sent back with her. She was excited but distracted by the present (a little suitcase set for her American Girl doll) and the dinner guests. She seemed happy.

I have been nicely distracted most of the day by work, first preparing teaching, then having the last lecture of the semester before planning a research study with a grad student. I didn't want to leave much time to think about it because she is so far away. But later this evening it dawned upon me what a milestone this is for my flybaby: She is now allowed to fly on her own. And she is excited about it. I bought tickets recently for her first solo-flight: A weekend trip down to Copenhagen to see her grandmother and the rest of our family. She will make the one hour flight on her own, with stewardesses taking her to and from the plane and looking after her. I know she will do just fine but I also know my baby very well. I can see why others would be hesitant.

Next up might be a trip back to New York for her. I cannot afford to go back to Sweden or Denmark any time soon (NY living is very expensive) so unless I find someone willing to take her back here, she will have to fly on her own. I got her ticket on miles, so there is not much flexibility. I imagine her with her little owl-suitcase and her doll sticking out, walking up the aisle looking for her seat. I imagine her crawling in by the window and holding her doll so the doll doesn't get scared when the plane takes off. I imagine her asking for milk and turning on her iPad with movies, watching the whole way.  I imagine her talking to the other passengers telling them that she is going to see her mom and that she is excited. She cuddles her doll again on the way down. And the stewardesses take her through immigration, and hand her over to me. And then I think that I really need to find someone who can take her back here so she doesn't have to fly that long way on her own. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Counting down

I have been counting down since last Friday. This was our last sushi after dance class. This was our last lazy Saturday morning. This was Zoe's last day at pre-school, this was the last afternoon with the babysitter. This was our last colored lights on Empire State Building (the view from our bedroom window). And today is our last day together before I'll take Zoe to the airport and send her off back to Sweden for two months. I have been teary eyed the whole week and couldn't hold them back when she had to say goodbye to the teachers and her new friends, or when she gave me the heart from the candy necklace with a "this is for you mom, because I like you so much". I almost forgot to give my aunt (who is flying with her) her passports because I have been trying to suppress the eminent departure.
A little candy heart

Zoe is going back to Stockholm to spend the next two months with her dad. Of course she misses him and is looking forward to seeing him and she is excited to see her friends at daycare again too. It was part of the deal I was able to make and she comes back to New York in July where she can go back to the pre-school with her friends and I can take a few days off to spend with her. Although I thought I would be able to go back to Stockholm during these months, bureaucracies and finances have not made it possible. I'm bracing myself for not seeing her at all for two months. I'll skype with her at least once per week and she is flying down to Copenhagen by herself to visit my parents (and keep up with her Danish) at least once. I'm telling myself it is going to be okay.
Zoe dancing on the 'wedding cake'

But one thing is for sure though: these past two months have been the happiest months of my life, hands down. Living in New York, having my dream job, being with Zoe every day and just having this simple and fun everyday life. Getting a pickle on the way from the subway in the evening. Having a playdate with new friends and me getting a bit of adult time. Stumbling upon a book release panel with two of my favorite scholars (and having a babysitter ready for Zoe). Zoe proclaiming that she wants a latte when we walk past a nice coffee shop (and getting her way to the barista's surprise) and her getting on top of the "wedding cake" to do a little spin on the way home late at night. I'm a single mom here more than anywhere else but nothing has phased me, no school closing (I brought Zoe to work), no conferences, no small temper tantrums or no house work (Zoe helps me clean the house and we get groceries delivered) have been of any problems. In fact, where I used to be thrown off by Zoe and her 4-year old behavior sometimes ("I won't leave before I get an ice-cream") and lost my temper, screaming at her and pulling her out, I have not lost my temper here. Not once. Instead I hug her and talk to her and we make up and talk about how we don't want to be mad at each other.

But happy times will come back in July when she returns and we can walk around in the New York heat and get ice-cream every day and play at playgrounds.