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.