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, 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.