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.