Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Social me

One of the characteristics of my personality is that I am a very social person. I can literally be with people all the time. I didn't think this was a particular special thing until a friend of mine pointed it out many years ago. Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly happy in my own company too, but I'm not someone who needs a lot of 'me-time'. It reflects easily in that I could spend all my time with Zoe, if I was allowed to, 24/7. It is one of the reasons I feel so much at home in New York, it is the easiest place to get friends and after two years there, I have the highest concentration of friends and acquaintances there, compared to anywhere else. But Copenhagen is getting better and I'm making an effort to not only initiate things, but literally invite myself for dinner at friends and family. This week I have managed to invite myself (and Zoe) for dinner twice and only reciprocated with one other invitation to 'my' house (i.e. my parents' place). And then of course there is the yearly gløgg party at my place in Stockholm, where I always have to think hard about who to invite because our apartment is still only 34 sq meters and more than 8 people would result in some guests having to stand on the balcony. So this year I have invited 7 plus Zoe and I. We'll have to make gløgg, marcipan confect, honey hearts and pepparkakar. The preparation is of course half the fun.

Last night, Zoe told me not just twice, but three times that she can't wait to have Christmas in Copenhagen, to see her family and to go get our tree and decorate it. Me neither. After this semester, I definitely deserve a solid break and holiday, so does Zoe.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas spirit

It was a lazy Sunday morning when I woke up craving traditional Danish weekend breakfast: the delicious pastries and breads that are just not replicable anywhere else in the world. Luckily, being in Denmark that morning (because these days that's certainly not a given), I walked down to my local modern bakery, now sporting a cafe part where I parked myself for the next few hours indulging in cinnamon snails, hot tea and raspberry short breads. I was reading number 12 of 89 individual student assignments, due for grading by the Christmas holiday, when the children started trickling in, settling at the large communal table in the middle. It turned out that there was a decoration workshop going on, where each child got to decorate their own honey heart (a Danish Christmas cake/cookie) with colorful sugar glaze and sprinkles. Their chatter and excitement cut my concentration short, not because I can't focus with other people around, but simply because it reminded me that this was number two of three weekends without Zoe and just how much I wished Zoe would have been there with me. For some reason, still not really understood my myself, because we were even for the year, Zoe's dad had demanded two extra days this December and they had to be on the weekend. The argument was that I got to spend Christmas with her (we do every other year). If I wasn't going to give him the days, he would just come and pick Zoe up. Zoe cried her eyes out when she found out last Tuesday and stamped her feet. I tried to explain that her daddy just wanted to make sure he saw her as much as me. "But I want to be mostly with you, Mom", she cried as she has done so many other times. I held her tight and tried not to get tearful myself.

After the children at the cafe had started their decorating endeavors, I packed up and left. One day, I'll have Zoe here, decorating honey cakes and sipping hot chocolate. But right now, she doesn't even like those cakes and I still have 77 student assignments to grade.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

New York, Florida and back

Flying to New York

Back in our lovely apartment 

 Zoe and I went to New York and Florida for two weeks. We were busy seeing old friends, having fun, catching up on our usual places and then my conference in Florida before we went to Disneyworld for one day. We had a blast but are back home in Copenhagen/Stockholm now. Next up is Christmas preparation and present purchases.
Zoe in the kitchen window sill

A morning walk in our neighborhood

Saying goodbye to our apartment

Disneyworld! Magic Kingdom

A magic treahouse in Magic Kingdom

On the flying Dumbo rid

Ice skating!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Another Saturday morning

I ordered my almond flat white and sat down to write on a paper. The guy next to me smiled as I sat down and I smiled back, thinking nothing of it until 20 minutes later where I concluded that he had to be American. He certainly couldn't be Danish since they don't look at you and definitely don't smile. He smiled that kind friendly "you are welcome to sit here next to me" smile that means exactly nothing more than that. On the other hand, if you smile or say hello to a Dane, they will immediately worry that you want to be their best friend. But it is possible to have casual conversation and even casual dinner, without pretending it was anything more. Like I had the previous evening with a fellow academic nomad who had a plane to catch later in the evening and I had nothing better to do than to stay late in my office to continue paper editing and figuring out what to do with my computer. We caught a pizza at a local joint where we could sit in faux leather booths and talk for a couple of hours. It was really nice to have an academic- turned private conversation with someone I always admired but never overlapped much with in terms of area. He was a nomad like me, working 25% here and 75% an hours flight away. I worked 100% here but had a 6 year old daughter in school an hours flight away. We bonded immediately.

Flybaby is with her dad for the next week until we fly to New York for two weeks. Her and I are both ecstatic, I have booked three play-dates, an off Broadway show and a tour of a chocolate factory in Red Hook. We are staying for one last time in our old apartment with the view to the Empire State building and I hope to catch up with colleagues and friends, Zoe's old babysitter already booked. We will round of the trip with my conference in Florida and to Zoe the most exciting thing ever: One day in Disney World (Magic Kingdom of course). I'm only sad that we don't have time to more than one day there, but I'll probably take her back another time.

But until then, a drat everyday of weekends blending into weekdays with work and paper writing and occasional academic dates.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday afternoon

"Sorry, we have to end here, I have a flight to catch", was the now common phrase I used to end a meeting. I had specifically volunteered to take on the ground work for our presentation at the research day so we could get out of there on time. A babysitter was picking up Zoe from school as I changed my shoes, grabbed my white coat and pink scarf, and headed towards the airport. I was just one hop away from seeing my little girl who had called me the previous morning to show me she had lost her second tooth. "Mommy, I'm so sorry, so so sorry, I didn't call you right when it happened", she started and we looked at the big vacancy in her lower mouth. I told her that we would see each other the next day and we said goodbye.

Peaking from my window seat, the full moon looked like a man with a big nose, just swaying there in the background with transparent clouds in front of it. My plane was fifteen minuted delayed, fifteen minutes that I would miss with Zoe. But we would be together for the next nine days, weekdays, weekend and another few weekdays. We had plans every single day, almost too many to have just an everyday life, but I wanted to make the most of it. We were going to the theater over the weekend, we had a birthday for my nephew, Zoe's Danish cousin who she loved playing with. We had dinner plans with a colleague/friend who I always wanted to hang out with more. We had a full day of me working and her hanging out with my mom. Then we were taking the plane to school Tuesday morning because I just felt to bad about Zoe missing yet another school day, but my work obligations went into the previous evening. And I will not ever give up seeing Zoe at least half the time, the time I can get allotted for me. I landed safely an hour later and catching the Arlanda express I found myself hugging a little girl in less than one forty minutes later.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Time to board

My office neighbor had wished me a good trip three times before I almost snapped. "It's not a big deal, I'm just going to see my daughter, then I'm back Friday for the meetings. It's like you working from home for one day!" It wasn't even like working from home because I had a three hour meeting with one of my closest colleagues where we managed to write a workshop proposal and discuss a couple of papers that each of us had read recently. But yes, I did have a four hour commute 'home' to Stockholm Wednesday afternoon, just in time to pick up Zoe from school on the later side of 5pm and I did not work on the plane but instead took a nap because I was exhausted from a week-long cold on top of regular work. After a day in school for Zoe, me working 'from home', I picked her up at a regular hour and we headed to the airport. We ate a bit of dinner in the lounge while watching Dumbo together, Zoe crying her eyes out at always, during the scene where the mother is locked up but still manages to sing a lullaby for her cub, rocking the little elephant with her trunk. I comforted Zoe, well-knowing that this scene perfectly illustrates our life and that this is why we watch it and this is why we cry. We arrived at my parents' house past 9pm where my mother was waiting with tea and cookies, but Zoe fell asleep on the couch.

Zoe eating chocolate strawberries in Copenhagen
It is not the actual flying, I explained to my friend, it is the shifting of context that I have to do constantly. I wake up and for a couple of seconds I have to try to figure out where I am. I have to remind myself where I have my things. I have double of everything (well triple if counting my parents' place) but there are just some tings you can't have double of. And shifting context in terms of language and places, makes it hard shifting context when it comes to work. My type of work is already very diverse, I spend one hour preparing teaching, then another writing on a paper and a third in a meeting with colleagues in relation to a new research collaboration, not to mention the hour working on travel claims and planning. This is standard work structure for my kind of position, nothing new there, nothing special about that. But combined with me shifting between three different apartments, two lounges, airplanes and my office actually being the place I spend the most time in total, it is difficult to focus. To retain some sort of structure I go to the same coffee shop in Stockholm every morning after dropping Zoe off, sitting at the very same table, drinking the same type of coffee. It helps a bit. But then I get a notification from my SAS app telling me that I can now check in and I realize that in 24 hours it is time to board again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Puzzle

Walking towards the subway station, messaging an old friend of mine to plan a tea/dinner thing, he pointed out what I already knew through a rhetorical question: "So you live in Copenhagen, but your daughter goes to school in Stockholm and your boyfriend is in New York? That's gotta be a puzzle!" It stung a bit and I didn't confirm, I just told him that we could meet up next Tuesday after my faculty meeting. I looked forward to seeing him after so many years.

They always say it is much harder returning than to actually leave your 'home country' and I have felt that again and again, each time I have had to spend more than a couple of days here. This time is the most extreme, I have not lived in Denmark for fourteen years, not since my mid-twenties when I started my PhD (apart from four months of thesis writeup spent in an office). It is incredibly lonely in the middle of a lot of people because not only am I used to having a packed program when I'm in Copenhagen (you got 5 days to see friends, parents, brothers, cousins), I also don't actually have that many friends here anymore. So I have to rekindle old acquaintances, some whom I have followed on Facebook, others who I never thought I would have conversations with outside work. The former turning out to have changed personality and values, the latter turning out to be worth the non-work conversations anyway.

But yes, I try to work in Copenhagen, have a daughter in Stockholm and a date someone in New York. Tomorrow I get to see the former for a couple of days, in November the latter. At least I get to spend plenty of time in my office messaging people around the world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kind strangers

This morning, at 6am, I left Zoe with a virtual stranger in a strange house because I had to catch a flight down to Copenhagen to make one of my many job introductory meetings. She hugged me and told me she loves me and then went tiredly into the extra bed for another hour of rest, until the other children in the house would wake up and play and have breakfast with her. All before the stranger would take her and the other children to school at the normal school hour. After the door closed behind me I rushed teary eyed down the dark staircase to catch the express train to the airport. There I had breakfast in the lounge and boarded as one of the last passengers at gate 9, on SK410 to Copenhagen, making my meeting with a couple of minutes to spare.

Exactly two weeks in, we are still getting used to our new lifestyle, Zoe and I, and although I knew there would be hiccups in my meticulously planned schedule, this week was worse than I had imagined, colliding with my most important yearly article deadline today. Because I am still starting my new job, there are a lot of meetings that I need to show my face at, not necessarily to receive essential information, but to show that I'm a team player and that I'm part of this new department. It doesn't help that my head of department has promptly informed me that unless I get this "Zoe situation" solved before Christmas I have to go on part-time. That's right. Unless I stop spending one day a week working from Stockholm, I have to switch to part-time. Where all other academics at all other universities have the opportunity (and often the right) to work from home (or the beach) 1-2 days per week, as long as their duties are being done, I somehow don't. "We have defined working hours here, they are in your contract", she argued and I realized that I had indeed signed such contract but because it is so normal for academics to work flexible hours (most of us work way more than 40 hours, both nights and on weekends, particularly in relation to teaching preparation and deadlines),  I never thought I would be held to it.

So when Zoe's dad texted me Sunday evening that Zoe was sick and could I please pick her up at 1pm Monday instead of from school, I panicked* because I had meetings all day and had arranged to have a babysitter pick her up so I could just fly in around 8pm. When I asked the babysitter if she could pick up Zoe earlier she said she didn't want to get sick and then actually couldn't pick up Zoe at all. I did the only obvious thing, I called in sick to my meetings, got on the first plane possible Monday morning, picked Zoe up and we went home and had movie night with popcorn and hot tea with honey. By the next morning she was actually well enough to go to school on the Tuesday, but I picked her up early.

So why did I drop her off at a stranger's place this morning? Well, sometimes people just pop up in your life, who has empathy and understanding, and know that you would do the exact same thing for them. Since the babysitter was now out of the picture (I had asked her to come over to our place at 6am to take Zoe to school, long time ago, so I could catch my plane), I voiced my panic to another set of single moms in my social network. One of them invited Zoe and me over for dinner Tuesday night; Zoe and her two girls got along brilliantly (they all speak English) and she offered to take Zoe to school Wednesday. So of course she is not a stranger, it turned out that we had our basic degree in common, had both lived in Britain, and we bonded immediately over our lives combining careers and motherhood. Zoe was completely at ease being left there and as the pictures that kept tricking in on my phone showed, they had a great morning playing their hearts out with legos. Oh, and of course I got myself a new babysitter who is not afraid of looking after a child with a cold.

*The first thing I did was obviously to ask how sick she was and if I could talk to her, wishing I was there to comfort her. It turned out it was just a light cold, but she was coughing enough to not be school-ready

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A place to call home

Four days ago I left the place that I now consider home. The place I feel most at ease in the whole world.

I left a number of close friends
I left a set of amazing colleagues
I left the place where Zoe flourished with schoolmates and dance classes
I left my apartment with a view of the Empire State Building
I left the place that I love
I left a guy who just the other night called me his girlfriend and then cooked me dinner
I left it all because of this one little girl.

Because I refuse to see her less than half our time, because I refuse to have her miss me as much as she does when we are apart more than a week.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Taking the plane to school

On the Amtrak going to Northern California, looking out at the hilly green landscape I tried to plan the next four month in even more details. As much as I'm excited about my new job and the thought about never having to be apart from Zoe for more than a week, I'm also realistic. It will be hard. I'll be tired and I'll be missing meetings, missing friends, trying to write that brilliant paper on my one hour flight and have breakfast in the lounge more than I care (their coffee is not that good). But it wasn't until I bought (and wow, it's easy for me to buy plane tickets with my mobile Scandinavian Airlines app) a plane ticket for me and Zoe to fly from Copenhagen to Stockholm, early one October morning so she can make it for school that day, that it dawned upon me the reality of this: My daughter, Flybaby, will be taking the plane to school. If we catch the first 6:15am plane from Copenhagen, we can just make it for 8:30am, being probably 15 minutes late. But I have a work dinner the previous evening, so we have no choice. It's not just my life that will be chopped into pieces of different settings and countries, it is also Zoe's. I hope that I'll be able to support her and comfort her if it is all too much one day, and I hope that I will be relaxed enough to just let things (and plane tickets) go if she needs to take it easy.

I arrived at my California destination and rolled my little suitcase out to my hotel. Later on, Zoe's dad texted me telling she misses me. My heart broke in two and I had to comfort myself with with the fact that in 10 days we will be reunited. Meanwhile I have a committee meeting to run, six big boxes of stuff to pack, one lecture to write and a couple of flights to take back. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Scenes from the last 3 weeks

Copenhagen airport, end of June, 11am

"Excuse me, excuse me", I squeezed through the slightly annoyed passengers at gate B2 waiting to board the plane to Stockholm, probably wondering why I thought I had the right to get on first. But I was not getting on. Instead I was waiting for the littlest passenger disembarking from the slightly late arriving plane from Stockholm. I was craning my neck to see the people exiting into the glass tube from the air-bridge, well-knowing that she was not allowed to go out on her own and had to wait until the end. My heart was pounding and when I finally saw her in the distance behind several layers of glass it skipped a beat and I gasped loud enough for the gate agent to pay attention to me for a second, yet still ignoring the fact that I was clearly overstepping the border between gate and air-bridge. When Zoe turned the corner and saw me, she started running as fast as she could pulling her little suitcase. "Mommy!', "Zoe!"; we hugged and kissed and I held her close, careful not to squeeze her too hard. When we finally let go, I looked up at a very young confused airline employee who had accompanied her out of the plane. "Are you continuing on a different plane?", he asked and I told him no, I had just arrived from New York which is why I was still inside the terminal. I wanted to explain that we hadn't seen each other for two months but then I realized that I didn't care what other people thought at all. All I cared about was that Zoe was here with me and we were going on holiday for three weeks. As we walked towards baggage claim, Zoe kept looking up at me and clench my hand, "it's so good to be with you again, Mommy".

Late night in our summer house, early July

My dad raised his glass filled with single malt that he had bought specifically for celebrating my new job in Denmark (he knows I love whiskey, particularly the peaty single malt kind): "To your new job in Denmark. We are very excited to have you back. And to you getting back to the US again". I knew exactly what he meant.

On the plane back to New York, mid July

Zoe with a glass of apple juice and I with a glass of sparkling wine in the front seats of economy plus that we had gotten upgraded to. "Cheers to New York", I said and held up my glass. "Cheers to New York, and cheers to Denmark who gave you a job so we get to live in Denmark!", Zoe added (in Danish) and my eyes welled up. 

New York the day after we got back to our apartment

Zoe was sitting on the side of the bathtub in our tiny NY bathroom while I put on makeup by the mirror. "But mommy", she said thoughtfully, "I don't really have any friends in Denmark. I have friends in New York and in Stockholm, but not really anyone in Denmark". I agreed with her and made a mental note to work on that. 

New York early early in the morning

"Mommy, is it morning yet?" Zoe sat up in our dark bedroom. "No, but we have jetlag. Do you want to go for breakfast?" Zoe agreed excitedly by the thought of pancakes and bacon and we headed out into the still cool West Village morning and found a dinner close to her school that was open at 6am. As we sat there with the crass but friendly waitress serving us orange juice, bagels and bacon I couldn't think of anywhere better to be. This was our third summer in New York City so we were prepared for the sweltering heat and we knew where the free outdoor pools were. This was also the start of some kind of end though. Zoe would be in day camp for a couple of weeks, the same ones as last year, and then I would have to take her back to Stockholm before returning on my own to finish my work in New York. She would start in yet a new school where she knew nobody (three kids from her old daycare were also starting there, however all in the other class) and in September I would start my commuting life between Copenhagen and Stockholm. I already had plans for us to come back to New York in November and December, courtesy of a conference and a committee meeting. But right now we were here, waking up to the view of the Empire State Building every single morning.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hell and back

On Wednesday two months of me being away from Zoe will finally come to an end and we will be reunited in Copenhagen airport as she steps off a plane from Stockholm as an unaccompanied minor (something she is a pro at by now). She will fling into my arms and I'll hug her so hard that she will have to tell me to stop. We are going to have the most amazing summer together, first going to my new job for a couple of meetings (she is super excited to see my new offices) and then going to the summerhouse with our family, including her two little baby cousins.

But until then I am flying back to New York from a conference where I was invited to give a keynote talk. Being a small conference it was very social and nice because it was an opportunity to catch up with old friends while also make new acquaintances and find potential collaborators. I even got to hang out with two friends from Stockholm who I hadn't seen for a couple of months. We exchanged gossip and general information, them telling me about Zoe, how she eats bacon for breakfast each time she visits them.

Last time I said goodnight to her, we counted the days. "Mommy, if we don't count today, how many days until I see you?", she asked and I showed her six fingers. Okay, she said. I kissed her goodnight through the video and told her I love her.

She, out of everybody, knows nothing of what I have been through the past 3-4 weeks and she will not know for another many years. But then she will because she is clever and she will figure things out. Some of my friends know a little, others know more, but none of them know it all. I share one or two things with each of them, but I will not bother anyone with all. Because that is too much. Just like you don't tell your mother about that one thing, because you know it would tear her apart that she couldn't protect you. I try to turn even the worst thing into something positive, like I'm actually seeing a therapist now. I think that's good for me. But even her, I have yet to tell the details of how my dreams are disintegrating in front of me again and again. And again.

It was the second morning at the a chic coffee shop with great service in Chicago where I finally found tears dripping down onto my phone. It was not something I had expected but the betrayal and the hurt I felt just over floated as I sipped my double latte. The incoming calls on my phone remained red and that was not going to change for the next while. "Remember, put the mask on yourself before helping others", my friend had reminded me on the phone the other evening, using the airplane analogy. This is something I frequently have to remind myself. I told her some of the stories but not even half the pain. She has enough pain herself I'm sure.

On the plane back to New York I thought about the most amazing part of this: I'm still standing. I'm standing right here. I gave a killer keynote, had senior people asking me to write funding proposals with them, had a guy flirt with me in a pretty non-equivocal manor. And if anyone can take all of this in one go, all four horrible things, it is me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


I wake up to the buzzing sound of traffic and noisy neighbors. On weekends when my alarm is not there, it usually only takes me ten minutes of trying to snooze until I realize that I'm in New York and instead of wasting time in bed, I can spend my morning breathing in that hot New York air, walking the still sleepy streets with the other single woman on their way to get their morning coffee, the jazz player rolling his double bass to the brunch restaurant and looking up at the fire escape clad brick buildings. I hop out of bed into a soft Brooklyn Industries dress and go to pick up a croissant from the french bakery down in the village. I kiss Zoe's picture on my desk on the way, imagining her playing with friends right now and looking forward to spending a whole summer with her. I have lunch with a friend and dinner with another. In between I send emails about committee work and grade student theses that were due last week. I'm finally calm after a few difficult weeks.

After two weeks of grueling decisions, chats to most of my friends and me crying more than I should, because I was bound to lose out in both cases that I had to chose between, I finally reached a place in my head where I can breathe and where I think I can do most for Zoe. I think leverage is the best term here. So although I have not made an official announcement in my real life, I might as well describe my upcoming years here. And it is about to get even more messy:

From September I will be working full time in Copenhagen (with only one job). In any normal scenario this would mean I would also be moving to Copenhagen, but since Zoe is stuck in Stockholm, I will technically move back to Stockholm. But I will also live in Copenhagen, and I will certainly also be living in New York as much as I can to keep my sanity. I told Zoe part of this on the phone the other day and her eyes lit up in amazement. "Are we going to live with grandma?" she excitedly asked and I said I didn't know yet, we probably will have our own apartment in Copenhagen as well as keeping the small one we have in Stockholm. I will fly to Copenhagen for weekdays and fly back to see Zoe on weekends, with her hopefully coming down to Copenhagen half the time too. Because after all she is Danish and we have all our family there.

Let me be clear: this is in no way my dream scenario or dream life. This is something I have to do for Zoe. She needs to see her mom regularly without having to go for two months without, crying whenever we talk because we miss each other so much. My new job is a helluva lot better than my old one in Sweden and has several major benefits: Three of my good friends work there, making the work environment good (back in Sweden I had one close, amazing colleague friend, and she still will be, but two people do not a community make); people speak my native tongue at work, not some kind of Muppet version of it where they refuse to consider me as anything but a strange foreigner until I speak English; I get to teach two subjects that I really enjoy. Oh, and I'll obviously keep my gold status on my airline because I will be spending the better part of a two days per week 'commuting' between two major cities. Yes, I'm trying to see that as a benefit. But my new job is not my dream job in any way, it simply is not. That I had to say no to. Instead it is another bump in the road to the actual dream job, which I might be able to take in 10 years time. I might only just have one life, but Zoe only has one mom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Game over

The Empire State Building is green and red, two colors Zoe would find boring, but she is not here to complain. Instead I'm hitting the two week mark of her absence where I start really feeling it in my heart. Her pictures around the apartment, her toys still scattered a bit between the bedroom and the shelf in the living room reminding me that she was just here and will be back again. In another two months. Not for long, because her dad informed me today that he wants her to be back in Europe for at least two weeks before she starts school so she can get over her jetlag. Not like something we could talk about or agree about. "I want her back in Stockholm by x date". I am not sure exactly when this whole parenting thing turned from two people trying to agree about what is best for Zoe, to demands and requirements. It is honestly the weirdest thing. And it only adds fuel to my hurting heart, missing her, missing hugging her, chatting to her, reading long chapter books before bedtime and rubbing her back as she falls asleep. She is and will always be my little baby. And being without her is like missing a piece of myself.

If it wasn't enough that I miss her, my life is as messy as it could ever be. Having my visa cancelled out of nowhere was nothing compared to this. On top of having a major life decision in front of me, I'm responsible for coordinating some conference work that will take about 30 hours to do this weekend and be a major chore this summer. And then I have all the work at my second job, which is actually my main job at the moment since they are the only ones providing me with a salary. On top of that I pay too much attention to someone who doesn't deserve it, someone who can't help pay attention to me either, but who should know better. I just want to move on. I just want to have made this decision, to be on the other side, next to Zoe, having pizza on a weeknight and discuss how the stars were made and why her friend in school doesn't speak another language.

I keep concluding that it's game over. That I have been defeated by circumstances and really bad life choices such as who I decided to have a child with. It makes me depressed and sad and incapable of working on anything serious for a while. But then I remember my promise to myself. That I'll never give up. That I *will* one day have that professor job in the US, no matter how much I have to sacrifice. Except I'll not sacrifice any time with Zoe. And this is where I fail again. And again. As her dad satisfactory said to me last time he picked her up: "I have my research group now, this is what I always wanted". I'm so happy for him.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Last night was the first time where I just didn't have the strength to explain my situation to yet a new person and simplified things, just telling the newly befriended acquaintance that my daughter went to that particular school in her neighborhood. It stung like crazy when she happily suggested that we might bump into each other in the morning because she always walked her dog down Bedford Street around the time of the school run. It stung because there is no more school run. There is no more chit-chatting to the other parents, getting approached for volunteer activities and then me running off to work, stopping by the bakery for a warm croissant on the way, running back in the afternoon to pick up and take Zoe to dance class. Exactly a week ago I said goodbye to Zoe in the lobby of a hotel, both of us crying and me hurrying out because I just couldn't do another hug.

Most women, mothers or not, even sometimes men, tend to go quiet when I talk about my situation. They first have this "what a great life you have, a great job, a great situation", until it dawn upon them what I have had to give up. And that if I want the career, the success, which is right in front of me now, offering to make up for lost years, I have to give up spending my everyday life with my daughter, the person who means the most to me in this world. And no matter what, I'll spend countless hours (and money) on airplanes to see her for short moments.

"Mommy, I don't understand why it is, but I cry more when I'm with Daddy than when I'm with you. I just get upset a lot", Zoe told me as we walked to school the last day. She had just spent a long weekend with her dad, on holiday. I said I was sorry but didn't know what else to say. To me it is obvious. I don't really have a choice, I know what to do and maybe in another ten years I'll get another chance.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When half is as good at it gets (2)

The first weekend without Zoe is always the hardest one. It didn't help that I hadn't planned much in terms of being social, only an adhoc drink with a visiting friend on Friday. After managing to buy a birthday present to Zoe and work out Saturday, by Sunday I was going into such mental disarray that I felt out of control. A final spur of energy made me turn on Eurythmics' "Sisters are doing it for themselves" and get out the door, walking to the Lower East Side in the pouring rain. And there I was, in my Tory Burch ballerina flats, having a double latte at El Rey (where they also happen to sit in Master of None, but by then I already had three stamps on my coffee card) feeling really stupid that I felt so sorry for myself. Yes, I didn't get all the things I wanted but I still got a lot. In fact, it was as if I have gotten exactly half of what I wanted in life.

I wanted a family but I have half, two of us to be exact, and that exactly half the time. I wanted to live in New York forever, but I got to live here for a year and a half. Not that that is half of forever, but perhaps if you round it down a bit? I wanted that nice professor job and I got a professor job in a country I hate. I got to kiss the guy on the top of the subway stairs. Okay, on some counts I definitely got less than half, but I got something. I put on a smile and thought about all the things I got instead of all the things I didn't get or will lose. Because that's what it looks like, I'll lose New York and get something entirely different. And sometimes, half is just fine.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Closing in

I have been ignoring it for two months but now it is getting real. In two days, Zoe will be picked up by her dad, go on vacation with him, the girlfriend and some of his friends. Then we are all going to a conference before they fly back with Zoe for her to spend the rest of the school year in Stockholm. I will not be able to see her for two months, since I can't go back before the end of June when my holiday starts. Well, in theory I could go back, but then I would not be able to return (visa issues) and I would not be able to work and have a salary for the summer. Not unlike last year where I had my first two months ever without Zoe. They were some of the hardest days I have ever had, but we survived.

This evening, as Zoe was happily playing with some of all her birthday presents from Saturday, I started thinking of the reoccurring theme: How will this lifestyle of living in two different countries, of having to switch context often, of having two sets of friends, yet being far away from extended family, how will this affect Zoe? How will she deal with it later on when her opinion will matter more? Will she be able to understand why we live in two different countries? Will she like one country above another? I occasionally mention things about moving, both because my future is uncertain, but also just because I'm subletting and can't stay here forever. Today I said something about next time I find an apartment and she flinched, looking up at me. "No mommy, no mommy, I want you to be here." She wants to stay exactly here in our tiny apartment, going to her wonderful local public school with her wonderful friends, taking acting and dance classes a few blocks from here. I realized that she likes stability, because in her life she has seen very little of that. Today on our way home from acting class, we counted just how many apartments she has lived in. Eight different apartments, four different cities, three different countries. And she is turning six.

Later we sat in the bed with pajamas and duvets, watching Muppet Show, the one with Debbie Harry, Zoe's favorite. We both sang along to all the songs and laughed at the grumpy men while outside the window, the Empire State Building shone its signature color. I wrapped my arm around her and hugged her extra tight, knowing it was the second last night in a while. But right now, I was able to just enjoy the moment, just the way things are and life just didn't get much better than that.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Super Mom

So despite my life being as messy as always (heart broken, uncertain work/living future) I managed to have the most amazing New York Living week, partly because Zoe's babysitter was away. After our usual yoga Monday I was the super mom and went with Zoe's kindergarten class to the Zoo on Tuesday. It was wonderful to get to know her classmates better and to be that mom who has the time and energy for this. I had to stay up past midnight to finish work but it was worth it all. Wednesday evening I went to the ballet with a good friend and because we are both working moms, none of us had had dinner so we had to go for burgers and wine afterwards, making me tipsy and hungover the next day. Thursday, Zoe had a play date with her good friends whose dad took them to the playground, fed them sushi and let me pick her up at 7:30pm meaning I got a lot of work done and was able to go to bed early. To top the week off, Friday night I went to a benefit dinner party for Zoe's school, with open bar and 10$ babysitting. I danced with the other moms and traded gossip, before picking up a sleepy Zoe. All in all, a week of New York Living at its best.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Saturday morning thoughts

Zoe woke me up by gently squeezing my arm, telling me it was weekend. We made bagels with nutella and I used my last bit of milk for a strong latte. She started making birthday cards to her grandmother and my brother who both have birthdays coming up, very creative with hearts, stars and glitter glue. I started my 3rd job's tasks, things that I mostly have to do on weekends, often when Zoe is asleep. This 3rd job means I'm surviving in New York as a single mom.

But time is running out. By mid-May my visa is expiring, which means my jobs are running out, which means I have no income. I have a few options, one is applying for another visa, but it is insanely expensive (6000+ $) and I would need to have a job offer. Which I'm not sure I will have. I'm waiting for three people to get back to me about options right now, something that I hate, putting my fate in others' hands. I feel I have ended up in some bad situations in my life by waiting for others or let others influence my decisions. I followed my ex-husband three times for work, which means I have missed out on so many opportunities that other people like me have in my field and ended up in a horrible work/living situation. Trying to correct that now has been extremely difficult. But I'm not giving up (not entirely sure what giving up would look like anyway), I'm still looking for that permanent position in a country I like living in (i.e. the US), that pays enough for me to support a middle class lifestyle for Zoe and me. One pair of designer shoes per year for me and weekly dance classes for Zoe. It's all I'm asking.

Oh and it would be nice to have a boyfriend too. So far, since my divorce, I have managed to date a flaky liar, fall in love with a guy who works for my ex and then my boss. I get dates with guys who buy their degrees on the internet and end up sleeping with my friends, usually putting an end to that friendship. Once a month I vow never to deal with any guys again and live happily ever after, just myself. But then I see them all around me, being all nice and sexy and cute and sometimes even amazing dads. And I fall head over heals again, over the most inappropriate guys who have no interest in me whatsoever.

Zoe finished her birthday cards and we packed them into envelopes. I finished my reviewing of papers and we went to have sushi in the afternoon. At least we have each other and that's not too bad.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Getting to everyday life

Muppet show at the conference

When Zoe arrived about a month ago we went straight to a conference and spent a week in a hotel, seeing friends, having fun and me taking Zoe to sessions now that she is capable of sitting still and simply watch a show while I listen to the talks. I did realize that Muppet Show was not the best thing for her to watch because she started waving her hands and moving in her chair when the songs began, to the amusement and distraction of the other attendees. But besides that, I even managed to ask a few questions of presenters while she was there. When we got back to New York our everyday life started again, full on with acting and dancing class and a new babysitter twice a week. By Thursday the first week she was crying the whole way to school because she hurt her foot, hadn't had time to get proper breakfast and was still jetlagged. Instead of sending her to afterschool I picked her up myself and simply brought her back to work with me. I felt so sorry for her for putting her through this and just wanted to sit down and spend an uninterrupted day with her, just her and me. Unfortunately having 3 jobs to make ends meet does not allow for me to do that much.

After the show with the cast
Getting to an everyday life when changing context every two months is hard. And although I try my best to smooth the transition, making sure I take her back to the exact same places, lifestyle and people, it is never ideal. But she is incredibly adaptable and brave, and after a week she was back to her usual popular Zoe-self who is greeted by her three best friends at school every day, who excitedly tells me everything about her day when I pick her up. She asks that I never move from our tiny one-bedroom, view-to-the-Empire-State-Building apartment and she asks for sushi from her usual places. By now she is having a blast, having play dates, hanging out with our friends (Easter break brought three friends to New York that we got to hang out with, one a bit of a surprise). We have seen two musical shows, been to one museum and had a weekend in Montreal to visit a friend of mine who has a daughter Zoe's age. All while making this into our everyday life.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

When half is as good as it gets

This morning I took the little kids duvet from the couch where it has been warming my feed for the last two months back to the bed where it belongs. I also took out two pair of boots from the closet, size 29, and put them next to the much bigger boots in the hallway. I took out the Hello Kitty lunch box from the top shelf and the Frozen themed glass with the pink spiral straw, which lights up when you flick the switch at the bottom of it. I didn't need to take down the tiny tea set and the children's books are all lined up on the lower shelf of the long book case.

I know the routine by now. The things I teary eyed took away, put into closets so I wouldn't get reminded too much of Zoe's absence are now being brought back for use again. The things that I kept out to remind me that I have the most adorable and sweet daughter, albeit far away, are being put back to their appropriate place. Zoe will be here this afternoon, staying for two months, exactly two month after she left, as she has done now for over a year. She will go back into her routine of school, dance class, acting class and see her good friends (she has three close friends here) regularly again, but she will also miss her friends and dad in Stockholm.
Reflecting back to the beginning when her and I had to be without each other for first 3 weeks, then two months (these first two months were still the hardest months of my life, hands down) it has become, if not a comfortable routine, then at least something I have gotten more used to. And time flies. The time she is away, I burry myself in work, staying in the office until 7pm, going in on Sundays, writing emails to students past midnight and simply just try to focus on my career. And one day takes the next, I have coffee with friends, dinner with colleagues, go to the Guggenheim museum on a Saturday night and look forward to my everyday life with Zoe.

The situation is not ideal for Zoe (to a large part because she misses her mom a lot) but when two parents can't agree beyond selfishness and principles, half the time is sometimes as good as it gets. And as I look at the pink toothbrush and the bubblegum toothpaste by the sink, I can't help but just be utterly grateful and excited to spent the next two months having a normal everyday life with the most important person in my life.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How to make everyday life work

This week has been one of the craziest, busiest weeks in my life recently, with me trying to keep up with all my 4 jobs and get a lot of work out the way before Zoe gets here in less than a week. It has also been crazy because I let it: when Zoe is not here, I tend to work long hours, sleep too little and try to be social. To top things off, lots of little stupid things happened such as me getting a 100$ fine in the subway, by the police for walking in through the exit door without asking the attendant first (yep, not because I didn't have a ticket, because I have a weekly pass. I just tried to save time/energy from the turn stile rejecting me, I had gone two subway stations too far and needed to go up and over, entering the subway again before 18 minutes had passed) and the Instacard shopper forgetting my bagels (how could he? It was the most important part of my shop!). Bigger things such as teaching, conference chairing and paper deadlines were just standard parts the week. But it got me thinking that I need to write an updated "how to make it as a single parent in New York" since the last post like this was written in Stockholm (alas, it was "how to make it as a single mom in Stockholm").
  • New York does not have the exact same concept as arstiderna.com, instead I buy groceries on Instacart (which is expensive because you have to pay for shipping plus tips) or FreshDirect. Instcart has the huge advantage that I can spend 10 minutes when I get to work, collecting my standard groceries and have them delivered in evening when I get back. They are always on time and they are good at providing exchanges when the item you ordered is not available. Except when they forget my bagels. 
  • When I really don't have time to cook I get food from Munchery. They have great kids meals too and instead of traditional restaurant delivery which is always half-cold on arrival, this you have to heat yourself, for 10 minutes in the oven. It is prepared with that in mind and tastes really good, always.
  • I do not have a cleaner here in New York, I simply can't afford it. Instead Zoe helps cleaning on weekends and I just care less than I used to.
  • I have a score of fun babysitters with more or less flexible hours. There is the pole dancer (who I also helped getting a job in a bar) and the Danish college student. There is the girl who always bring her ukulele and the strict librarian type girl with glasses. But more importantly, I  prioritize spending time with Zoe and sometimes bring her to my office where she usually enjoys a bit of iPad time and free snacks. 
  • Laundry is much less of a problem than in Stockholm. I simply take it out and pay 14$ for 10lbs. We drop it off on the way to school and pick it up on the way back the next day.
As for the things I hadn't figured out two years ago, there are still some things I haven't and probably never will:
  •  Zoe still watches television (on her iPad) every evening when we get home while I prepare dinner. We have a rule that there is no television/iPad time before after 6pm because I don't want her to spend the afternoon watching television. But sometimes, it spills into book reading time and she is not happy about putting down the iPad. This doesn't mean she watches television every day, sometimes she just plays with her toys and forgets about it. 
  • I'm still not a morning person and neither is Zoe. But we have improved our mornings tremendously, particularly after she started having to be in school at an exact time. We pick out her clothes the evening before, she can now get ready almost by herself. We braid her hair the night before so she can brush it herself (if not, it tangles and I have to spend 10 minutes brushing a screaming, crying girl). This doesn't mean I got it all down and occasionally things just break down. We still laugh at the thought of the morning when I placed a jar of Nutella with a spoon in front of her. "Sorry sweety, I have nothing else, this is your breakfast".
  • Missing Zoe. I always miss Zoe terribly when she is not with me. This is something I will never get over, I feel cut in half when I don't have her.
  • Having someone to share your day with. Two years ago I lamented not having someone to talk to about little everyday things, sharing the ups and downs and in particular the little cute things Zoe says. Living in New York has altered my everyday mood completely and honestly, I have nothing much to really complain about. More importantly, Zoe has grown and is now capable of more detailed conversations. We play the "tell me a funny thing about your day" game at dinner every night and I get to tell her about my annoying boss, the funny lady on the subway and that I talked on skype to a friend. She tells me about lunch, how another boy got kicked out of the classroom and that her teacher gave her a star for her letters.
All in all, things look slightly different than two years ago, but mostly for the better.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Be my Valentine

I hate Valentine's day, I always have. It is not that I'm single or that I don't think we should celebrate love (what ever that means) but I hate that somewhere somebody decided to take advantage of this as a commercial opportunity to guilt people, make them feel bad if they don't feel loved and to sell stuff. Growing up in Denmark in the 80s we did not celebrate any of these types of days, in fact I had never heard about Mother's day, Valentine's day and the like before our social science class teacher told us that these were invented by merchants who wanted to sell more stuff. Living in America now I am obviously overwhelmed by the commercialism of these so-called celebrations which I think are bogus. For one thing I spent my first mother's day in the hospital with a 4-day old baby who wasn't able eat because I wasn't producing any milk and later being yelled at by her dad for ruining the first week of her life (because I couldn't feed her). These are memories I can do without so I couldn't care less about mother's day.

But the day I hate the most is Valentine's day. Because for some reason I'm always heartbroken on that day. I distinctly remember one particular day, 12 years ago: I was checking out groceries (probably chocolate and mochi icecream) from Trader Joe's in California where I was a PhD student at the time and the clerk wished me a happy Valentine's day. I stared at him, probably a bit too vicious because he flinched and apologized, but that greeting was not what I needed. I was terribly in love with another student who I couldn't have because he had a girlfriend. He was also into me but not brave enough to break up with her to be with me. So instead we used every single opportunity to spend time together just the two of us, going to the movies, going for long lunches, hanging out with the other students but making sure we sat together and one of us had to drive the other home. There was so much electricity between us that other people noticed and I was left with the constant feeling that it was just a matter of time. But months passed and nothing happened. Valentine's day was just another rub in face, in which I spent the evening eating said chocolate in front of the television while trying to write on my dissertation. Alone. Nothing ever did happen, the guy stayed with his girlfriend, then we both moved elsewhere. I still know the guy, we see each other regularly at conferences. Not too long ago we had a nice nostalgic talk about back then and he subtly let me know that we could never be in room alone together again because, opposite his girlfriend back then, his wife now was extremely jealous at heart. I'm apparently that dangerous.

Zoe giving me her heart
For the eight years I was married we had an agreement about skipping Valentine's day completely. We were both made of cynical fabric and he agreed with me about the commercialism making it fraud. It was nice not having to worry about it.

These days I have only one person I really love deeply and who loves me unconditionally. And we don't need any special days to express this or any symbols. Zoe had written me a letter with a drawing for when I picked her up in Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago. "Mommy, this is me giving you my heart". For us, every day we are together is Valentines' day. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bad moms of Stockholm

Last week I was a member of the bad moms club of Stockholm. My friend and I were laughing as I picked Zoe up at the completely darkened playground, after my friend, with her 9 month old, had looked after Zoe for an hour while I went to the parent-teacher conference at the daycare (Zoe is still in daycare in Sweden). She told me how the other parents had looked back at her with dismay as they left, because normal Swedish children would obviously be at home and brushing their teeth by now, and other mothers did not let their children go into the empty fountain to hug the dragon sculpture. We laughed and laughed with our daughters on our way to the train station past 7pm, talking about how it was them who lost out. Our kids had a blast. Zoe was in bed by 9:30pm together with a jetlagged mom and next morning I woke her up singing our good morning song from the kitchen, making coffee, leaning over the gap in the wall to caress her hair.

Zoe and I baking in out kitchen in Stockholm
On Saturday I had promised Zoe noodles at the noodle place with a little play area, completely forgetting that Stockholm is not like New York. Said noodle place was in a shopping center and had closed an hour before we got there around 7:30. Instead we decided to go for Pizza at Vapiano, sitting in the lounge because there was a 20 min wait for regular a table. Again, joining the club of bad moms, I had a glass of wine and let Zoe play on my phone while we waited. She showed me a few games but when we got bored she just lay on the couch sticking her legs up into the air, making up a story about the girl and the mom in the mirrored ceiling. At 9pm we were full from pizza and gummy bears (free after a meal there) and walked home through the cold winter air. "Mom if you come visit me in the summer we can have a play date with my friend Lucy at the playground with the water", Zoe said and it stung just a bit. I wanted to repeat what I have told her many times, that she lives with me half the time, just like she lives with her dad but instead I changed the topic.

Sunday afternoon I dropped her at her dad's place and rushed off to the airport, catching the direct flight back to New York after a glass of wine in the lounge. Landing in Newark with a view of the World Trade Center, and a blue and red Empire State Building, I felt at home except for the most essential piece of the puzzle.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Paperwork to make it all work

Zoe has by now traveled by herself, with family members and with our friends. She says she likes flying with her mom the most, and I have to admit that I hate flying anywhere without her. But the life we live always takes us into situations where I need to send her with someone else or where we have to find creative ways of getting her from A to B. This leads to a lot of paperwork, paperwork that doesn't always go the way it was supposed to because, well, this is just not a common situation.

Last time Zoe flew by herself I was flying back to New York at the same time and we therefore didn't need the escort to the gate. The guy at the check-in counter got confused and kept an essential piece of paper instead of giving it to Zoe. I thanked myself for being foreseeable enough to make sure Zoe landed in Stockholm before I took off from Copenhagen: I got a desperate phone call from an SAS stewardess who was not allowed to hand over Zoe to anyone since she did not have the legal document to do so. I reassured her that it was fine to hand Zoe over to her father, but she proceeded to yell at me for not making sure the paperwork was in order. "I could lose my job", she said in Swedish and I felt terrible. But Zoe was reunited with her dad and I took off for New York, paperwork or no paperwork.

Last year when my two friends were bringing Zoe back to New York, I had a near heart attack when the immigration officer called me, telling me that the letter I had provided them with was worth absolutely nothing and that he had no intention of letting Zoe enter the country with them. We managed anyway and since then I make sure people have a notarized letter when flying anywhere with Zoe. Interestingly Zoe's dad tells me he never had any problems entering United Kingdom with her by himself, despite them not having the same type of passport (I presume he lets her enter on her Danish one, I know he hasn't claimed her British one yet even though she is entitled to one).

It is also sometimes just difficult to get the right kind of plane ticket. On Monday I'm flying to Stockholm to see her for a week but since she has been in Copenhagen this weekend to visit her grandparents and our other relatives (she adores her 2 year old cousin who is due to have a little sister soon) it made sense that I pick her up there instead of letting her fly back alone. I was on the phone for 20 minutes with a helpful but clueless SAS sales representative. "Since she is under 12 she is an unaccompanied minor and has to have an escort, that will be 300 Kr extra". "No, she does not need that since I'm on the same flight," I said and gave him my reference number. "But that flight is from New York", he proclaimed and I had to point out that I had a layover in Copenhagen where I intended to pick her up. He paused for a bit too long where I wondered if he was trying to figure out if this was real. "Oh, I see", he finally said, "that will be 250 Kr in service fee for ordering the ticket over the phone. "No, it will not; since she is under 12 years old, I cannot make this reservation online, so there should be no service fee". He finally agreed and I got her ticket. Now I can't wait to see her, and spend every single hour with her for five days. Hopefully without any issues of paperwork.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Coming to terms

One day back in December I overheard Zoe talking to her best friend Chloe* through the closed double doors into our bedroom where they were playing, Chloe being here for a sleep over. "See, my dad is the boss of my mom, so he decides that I have to be mostly in Sweden," Zoe explained as her reasoning for not being in New York more. She and Chloe have been friends since they were little because her mom and I are friends, bonded by international lifestyles and multilingual kids (Chloe speaks Spanish, French and English) but they don't see each other more than 4-5 times a year. As an afterthought Zoe said that of course she rather wanted to be here for most of the time so they could have more play dates. I always wondered how Zoe was viewing the situation and there it was. Very simple. He dad is the boss.

Two evenings ago, I was talking to a friend over a glass of wine, and voiced my biggest fear: It is not just the judgement that I get from other parents who don't understand my situation, but the fear that Zoe will think that I abandoned her. He answered shortly but discarding. "I don't think you are"; the words warming more than the red wine and anything else that night.

Earlier that day I had bought a plane ticket to go see Zoe in a week's time. I miss her so much and I know it will be good to be part of her everyday life, even if it is for six days due to my teaching here. She was ecstatic when I told her over skype, especially that we get to stay in our own apartment. "I can't wait to hug you so tight Mommy". I guess this is the beginning of my new lifestyle, living in two countries at the same time. And what is a plane ticket but a dent in my credit card?

*I rename all our friends here for anonymization

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fly party

I told my friend that I had probably never flown as much in one week as I did this past week. Last Monday I flew back to New York from Stockholm and Friday I flew to California to attend a party. This was of course not just any party but a dear friend's yearly highlight of a party that I have flown over/up to many times. This year there were at least five reasons for me to go (including but not limited to racking up miles, hanging out with a guy I really like and seeing other friends) and I even managed to mix a bit of business into the pleasure. One thing I have realized with work is that if you are there, people think of you. If you are not there, people don't think of you.

Zoe's first latte, February 2013
As much as I hate flying (I know it's contradictory but I really hate the actual being in the air), the trip was still fairly painless, my jetlag made it easy to get up at 3am in the morning to catch a 5am flight and the lounge provided me with food and drinks. I managed to work on the flight out (remaking the syllabus for the class I'm teaching this semester) and sleep on the way back (because sleep was not something I got much of those two days). I nostalgically walked through SFO thinking back to the many times I had traveled there with Zoe, it was as if the places in the airport had her imprints. That was the sushi place where we had dinner, that was the bathroom where I had changed her when she was a baby. That was the moving walkway where she lost her balance while pulling her too big suitcase and that was the Starbucks where she had drunk her first vanilla latte, literally taking it out of my hands. The memories were sweet perhaps also because I know it is only a bit more than a month until her and I will pass through that airport again, together.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

One week in Stockholm

The plane got thoroughly de-iced as efficiently as they can only do in Stockholm, while the ten snow plows, neatly lined up in parallel with adequate breaking distance of each other, cleared the runway ahead of us. The smell of fuel and distilled alcohol seeped through to the cabin, making me cough. All of this orchestrated well enough for us to make it safely to the big Apple. My mind wandered back to earlier that morning as I woke up next to my sweet daughter sleeping with her leg on my belly. I had to wrap her in the duvet while hitting the shower at 5:45am before waking her up half an hour later. Zoe-bee, I called, it's time to wake up. She mumbled half-asleep and I took her up on my lap to get her to wake up quicker, stroking her hair. "Mor, I don't want you to..." was all she could say because she was so sleepy but also knew that this was our last morning after a wonderful week together. I kissed her cheeks and held her close while reminding myself just how many things we had managed. We had been at two museums, seeing five of our friends in different capacities and read a full chapter book over the five evenings. We had eaten breakfast together, she had drawn several drawings of the two of us and we had danced to music in a friend's apartment with actual floorspace. We had played in the snow and she had hit me with more snowballs than I could count. But now it was time for us to part again, this time for 6 weeks. I would be dropping her off as the first one in daycare, then haul my suitcase out to the airport and take off for New York. I had work to get back to and she had her dad to get back to. "Mor, can I not go with you?", she said, still half asleep while pulling her shirt over her head. She knew the answer, but I assured her that I wanted nothing more and that we could talk every night. She could call me and say goodnight if she wanted. I would call her and read her stories.

Zoe in the Nordiska Museum
Two things happened this week that I made a note of in terms of Zoe and her identity. The last night while having dinner we started talking about something that has always confused Zoe: Where are you from. So far she has simply dodged the question by answering "I don't know", which I thought was bad, but she tells me that she simply doesn't know, it's just a fact. But more recently, probably because in New York her and I are distinctly Danish (we have our own language), she started explicitly identifying as Danish. At dinner she was surprised to learn that one of the people were Swedish, perhaps because he has always spoken English to her and she is used to Swedes speaking Swedish and her just not engaging (see next paragraph). She volunteered with a "I'm Danish" and I acknowledgingly  said Yes, and what else? She looked at me puzzled. "Just Danish from my mom" she said and when I reminded her she was also British she just repeated it. "No, I'm just Danish from my mom". I didn't want to push it but I was surprised because I have always tried to emphasize all of her multicultural heritage, that she was born in the US and should be proud to be a US citizen, but that she is British from her dad and Danish from her mom.

The view from my bedroom
The second interesting thing, I realized in the Nordiska museum's play area where a few Swedish children started talking to her. According to her dad and from talking to the daycare my impression was that she spoke quite a bit of Swedish. They keep emphasizing this, but I was very surprised to see her being clueless when the kids talked to her. She went back to me and asked how to say particular sentences. I told her but when she returned to the children she had forgotten. She came back to me very frustrated and asked me to help out. I did for a bit but she was not able to really interact with them. It all reminded me of when my family and I (8 years old) went on summer holiday to Sweden and I tried to play with kids on the playground; I thought they were just trying to steal my little toys because I did not understand what they were saying. Fact is that Zoe still does not speak Swedish.

Eight hours and forty minutes after de-icing, I landed in Newark to a clear view of Manhattan and particularly my beloved Empire State Building. That night it lit up in Orange and Pink as to welcome me back. My mom texted me briefly saying that I was probably happy to be home. I am.