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.