Archive for the 'Baby brother' Category


2 September 2013

And now Baby Brother is two! And what a two-year-old he is. The tantrums! The very strong opinions about ridiculous things! The messes! The toy obsessions! The biting! The “no’s”! He loves saying “no” so much right now he’s been known to turn down ice cream!

But he also has lovely manners. Usually the “no” is followed by “tank oo, Mommy.” Or it’s “nej, tack. Inte.” And he’s fully bilingual and astonishingly verbal. And really interested in numbers and letters; he can mostly count to ten and knows most of the alphabet. In fact, his great joy in life is getting someone to go over his ABC flashcards with him. Well, no, his greatest joy is probably playing with cars. Or maybe, “peez iPad Cars, Mommy!” Or when his big sister chases him around or someone reads him a book about firetrucks.

Except when his will is being thwarted, he’s a pretty cheerful little guy. He likes to help out, he likes to give high fives, he likes to be funny, he loves our dog, Loki, he goes everywhere at a run, he likes most food, he loves talking on the phone to his grandparents. He’s the best. He’s exhausting, but he’s so adorable and smart, and we love him.


Back home from my trip home

27 June 2013

Our two-week trip to the US was way too short, a topic I repeatedly picked fights with my husband about during the actual trip, further diminishing our enjoyment of the time we had. Part of the problem was that the first week was mostly taken up with driving places; seeing my mother’s friends; injury; and illness.

The very first morning I set foot in the ocean, I got attacked by a sting ray and required various forms of emergency medical care. I was holding Baby Brother at the time I stepped on the sting ray, which then whipped around to stab me in self-defense with his venomous barb, so Husband had to pull both me and our heavy toddler out of the ocean. His back went out. Then several of us had a cold. It felt like by the time we were starting to relax and enjoy ourselves and I made some headway overcoming my new fear of the ocean, it was time to go back home. Next time we’ll just have to stay longer.

While we were in America, everything felt so natural, like I had never left. It was weird how I had naturally, without consulting or being around any other Americans, prepared for the trip by ordering from Amazon, to have shipped to my mom, the same exact swimming gear all the other Americans around me had, but which I have not seen used in Sweden at all. I just fit right the fuck in. It felt like the last three years in Sweden quickly faded and details were difficult to recall. People would ask me about Sweden, and I’d be like, “uh, it’s green?” At one point I wanted to say something in Swedish, and it came out in Spanish. That was weird. My brain was evidently on a total vacation from Sweden.

My mother’s neighborhood is full of young families and Little Girl made friends with a girl across the street (she played fabulously with all the American kids we met, was hardly shy at all like she is in Sweden, and was totally outgoing at the party my mom through for us with a bunch of people Little Girl had never met; it was shocking, really. She’s such a different kid in America/English). The little girl’s mom and I chatted a bit, and it was just like looking at what my life would have been like if I had, well, to put it frankly, married a different man and not ended up moving to his foreign land. (In related news, tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary!)

The good news is that I am glad I don’t have her life, even with all its comforts and ease. It would be just too insular to have stayed a nice upper-middle-class white Southern lady surrounded only by other nice upper-middle-class white Southern ladies. Difficult though it can be, I feel like it is ultimately beneficial to my character, my broadening perspective on life, and my brain activity to be a fish out of water at times and continuously adapt and grow as a person. I guess that sounds like a snide remark about that woman, who was lovely; that’s not my intent. What I realized was that I never really fit in with that kind of lady to begin with. That’s probably why I married an outsider and moved away. I’ve never cared about hairspray and azaleas and hosting cocktail parties. I didn’t know what life I wanted, and I’m not sure the one I have right now is the best fit, either, but my mother’s wasn’t it. Expats are expats for a reason.

And I don’t quite know how to put this, but I like not living surrounded by the remnants of slavery and racism. It weirds me out that all the nannies and household help and yard workers and elder caregivers we came into contact with were black (or, closer to the coastline, Hispanic). I have a newfound appreciation for Sweden’s more egalitarian society where class features much less prominently and there’s no unquestioned tradition of cheap labor with darker skin to take care of the dirty work.

Enough with the heavy stuff. The children were good travelers, we loved the food (mostly lowcountry and seafood), we swam a lot in various pools, Little Girl adored time with her grandmother fishing and gardening and biking and generally tagging along, we rode boats, Baby Brother was game for most everything, we saw a lot of friends and family. It was a good trip. We’ll have to do it again. (We have a billion great photographs, but here are some snapshots from the waterproof camera as proof of our trip.)



Year in Review

3 June 2013

I write posts all the time and then don’t post them because I feel conflicted about sharing feelings with the public or I just can’t figure out an elegant way to express myself or I’m just being lazy and watching a lot of pirated TV instead. Now a lot of my posts are no longer timely, so here is a summary of what I really should have posted since February.

My English storytime that I give as a volunteer at the library started taking off and now there’s a spin-off English-speaking playgroup in our city. At this playgroup, Little Girl is about a million times better at English than the other kids. This has given strength to my decision to keep Baby Brother home with me (instead of starting daycare) at least another school term. It’s important to me that my kids be well-established in English as their mother tongue. Besides, his Swedish is not behind at all either, so I don’t think it’s to his detriment.

I gave up on trying to be a part of the village mommy-group because they always wanted to take two-hour stroller-pushing speed-walking forest treks in freezing rain. This torture combined with speaking Swedish in a high-stakes social setting stressed me out too much. Then, I tried attending their coffee/pastry get-togethers, but since all the other babies were pre-walkers (because the mothers disappear back into the workforce once their kids turn one) my toddler was having a very, very boring time at their homes not being allowed to interact with their un-baby-proofed coffee tables full of knick knacks and remote controls.

My psychologist fixed me right up! That and the reappearance of the sun. Perhaps hating living in Sweden is seasonal? Also, when I wrote my post all about hating Sweden, I was very sleep-deprived, being at the end of an (unsuccessful) week-long attempt to get Little Girl to stay in her own bed all night long.

I joined a volunteer group that visits elderly shut-ins. I got assigned to someone who was neither elderly nor shut-in, but was very lonely. It became quickly clear why nobody wanted to have contact with him. Now I don’t, either.

My very own evening English courses, with assorted specialties, are being offered for the fall!!! My name is on the school’s website and everything! This does not equal certain employment because it depends on how many students sign up, but it’s close!

That problematic seven-year-old boy at Little Girl’s school threatened her with a knife and nobody at the school thought this was worthy of a mention to me. Husband and I went nuclear and let Little Girl stay at home a while (she was too scared to go back), and then I attended at her side for a few days to help her feel safe and see what was going on there exactly. Mostly, I have to say, I concluded her kindergarten experience was good, if shockingly un-academic. Since my time was a kindergartner, Little Girl reported they had “fixed” this boy, which I guess meant they were making some kind of effort at the school to keep her safe from him. In recent weeks, however, she has said he has called her names and spit on her face and kept her from being able to get food. I would take this up with the principal again, except that he, the fifth principal for this school in three years, is taking sick leave due to being stressed about dealing with the school’s many problems. Yes, what a typically-Swedish solution to having too many work problems: claim you are “stressed” and fix none of them at all and don’t worry about how this affects other people. We are pissed and powerless.

I became alarmed that I have so many Swedish readers and felt worried I was offending them/you guys whenever I bitch about Sweden. I was grateful I have never gotten any dickish comments from anyone anywhere.

My in-laws are lovely people and my kids think they are the BEST.

I lost my mind over the winter regarding Baby Brother’s name. I decided I hated how it’s pronounced differently in English and Swedish and this turned out to be related to a bunch of issues I have about being an immigrant. Now, thanks to the psychologist, I am back to having a delightfully uncomplicated relationship to his name, which is a relief.

I tried to join Little Girl’s school’s version of the Parent-Teacher Association, which actually is just the P, since there are no Ts in it and thus no A. I was going to make the school better! It turns out their focus is on party-planning in order to do things like raise money to purchase McDonald’s for the kids while on a field trip. There is nothing at all about improving the actual school. Also, it was fascinating to see how they planned their events. I couldn’t follow the logic at all when it came to, for example, how much to charge per waffle and how many waffles to prepare. I am going to call it a cultural difference because the alternative is concluding those ladies were morons.

Baby Brother is 21 months old and just totally amazing and delightful and deserves not to be a footnote so he’ll get his own post.

Husband and I took a long weekend trip to Prague to celebrate our ten years of marriage. (In other news, TEN YEARS? WTF?) The kids were cared for by their grandparents and benefited from the Swedish-language immersion, meatballs, and ice cream. We particularly enjoyed swimming in a pool without trying to keep anybody from drowning; both drinking alcohol at the same time; and flying on an airplane without trying to keep anybody else from kicking the chair in front of them. We fly to America later this week where we will have none of those luxuries, but the consolation prizes are Mexican food, cheap clothes, and a large assortment of over-the-counter pharmacy goods.

I took over dropping Little Girl off at school in the morning, where I am the only parent of a child under ten who does not park his/her car and walk his/her child into the building, down the hall, up the stairs, to his/her cubby, and into the classroom every single morning. Look, the school only has like 80 kids in it and it is no mystery to Little Girl where she is supposed to go. I can’t figure out why everybody walks their kids into the building every morning. The school has a pull-through driveway at the front door for, I can only assume, the precise purpose of dropping/picking kids up. Despite early protests from Little Girl, walking to her classroom herself has turned out to be a good step in regards to her self-confidence and independence. Sometimes they grow up on their own; sometimes you have to give them a push.

White Easter

31 March 2013

Ugh, you guys, it is still hardcore winter here. Will it ever be spring? It’s like I’m living in a fantasy or science fiction novel where it is always winter. Happy Easter anyway!






10 February 2013

My mother is visiting from the US and she, Little Girl, and I just got back from a long weekend in Paris! When visiting major cities I am very goal-oriented and, subway map in hand, I run around trying to see All The Things. While I had been to Paris before and checked a bunch off my list already, there were places I wanted Little Girl to see and which she, a fan of the Madeline books, had an interest in (like the Eiffel Tower). And of course there were sights that would be new for both of us.

Little Girl is a great traveler. She likes any form of transportation, and on this trip we did almost all of them: plane, train, taxi, subway, tram, boat, funicular, bus. It’s really fun to travel with her because she pretty much just goes, goes, goes, eager for the next experience.

Loves the metro

Loves the metro

Boat tour of the Seine

Boat tour of the Seine

Planes are her favorite because they keep bringing you food and you get to watch videos!

Planes are her favorite because they keep bringing you food and you get to watch videos

We saw, among many, many other things:

The Louvre

The Louvre



Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

She came home talking about all the 4,000-year-old Egyptian household items she found intriguing The Louvre, as well as her plan to set up shop as an artist selling her works along with all the painters at the Place du Tertre, where I bought a terrible charcoal portrait of her (if she were 25 and Barbie). She ate raw oysters and pain au chocolat and escargots and crêpes with Nutella and said “Bonjour” and “Merci” and “Ça va bien” to the people of Paris. She loved the topiaries at Versailles and seeing the Eiffel Tower from different distances, perspectives, lighting, and heights all around the city. She thought the Easter-themed Hermès window display on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré was awesome and the interior of Sacré-Cœur beautiful—and fascinating due to the presence of real live nuns in habits! Little Girl enjoyed chasing the birds in The Tuileries and checking out the decorations on the bridges crossing the Seine. It’ll be interesting to see which are the enduring memories for her of our visit.

Taken on the Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde

Taken on the Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde

I’m not sure yet what the highlights of the trip were for me since we just got back tonight. I still can’t believe how close Europe is when you actually live in it; previously all my experience with trips to Europe involve time disorientation and exhaustion on both sides of the visit, but now it’s so easy*. And coming back to Sweden is increasingly feeling like coming home, if only because this time my husband and baby were waiting for us at the airport. For now I’m basking in seeing Baby Brother again, who managed to learn new things in just three days away: now, instead of waiting for someone to stack blocks so he can knock them down, he’s building his own towers. And his cars now jump off the ground and say “vroom vroom!” But I can’t help but notice how much he looks like a cherub in an 18th century painting, all fat thighs and golden curls, and wonder what he’ll like about traveling, once he gets bigger.

* Nobody looked at our passports even once! And we flew on four flights involving four countries!



16 January 2013

On Sunday evening, right before the children’s bedtime, the whole family was in Little Girl’s large room, playing. Baby Brother was toddling around holding a blanket and stepped on it, causing him to stumble and crash mouth-wards into the bed-frame.

There was screaming, blood, a totally split bottom lip, an emergency room visit, surgery under general anesthesia, and five stitches. Baby Brother was a trooper, though, even rallying to play “peekaboo” at 11 PM with the nurses on an empty stomach (no food or drink for six hours before surgery) with a big wound in his face. And they let us go home shortly after he left the recovery room, as he showed them how enthusiastically he could drink his milk and wet his diaper.

In recovery, receiving oxygen

In recovery, receiving oxygen

Husband and I were with him for the entire ordeal except for about fifteen minutes while the surgery actually occurred (they had to have him unconscious for the stitches due to his young, wiggly age and the severity of his injuries). Thank goodness for Husband’s parents, who looked after Little Girl. We had been informed only one parent could be with him in the operating room while they put him under, but when the time came we were both there (I suspect it may have been because they knew his mother would want to be present, and they wanted to avoid any comprehension difficulties on my part: sometimes it pays to be an immigrant).

What a heart-rending experience, though, of your baby falling limp in your arms when the IV drugs get started, and then their taking his floppy body from you and putting it, alone, on that big bed, and ushering you away, you clutching the beloved bunny your baby always sleeps with, all covered in blood.

Later, a trip to the dentist provided the news that teeth had, indeed, shifted position, thanks to the blow (but are currently still stuck firmly into his head, at least.) Today he’s got a fat lip and thinks his stitches are weird, and has a new-found passion for his pacifier (he’s also getting molars), but otherwise is his usual busy self.

This makes Baby Brother’s second facial scar already, at only sixteen months. He was cut on his cheek by a scalpel on the occasion of his birth by c-section, in the operating room right next-door to where he got these stitches. My first sight of him was marred by the sheet of blood covering his cheek. Nowadays I am only the person who can even really see that scar and be bothered by it, but of course I’m his mother.

One day old; the cut is on his right cheek, near the ear

One day old; the cut is on his right cheek, near the ear

Poor baby. Let’s hope he’s now used up his lifetime supply of bad luck.

Growing up

8 January 2013

Little Girl went back to kindergarten today after three weeks off. As always at the beginning of time off from school/preschool, I wondered how we would all keep busy at home without school. And as always at the end of time off from school/preschool, I wondered how we would keep busy at home without her.

During fall semester, Little Girl was at school all morning, and then Baby Brother napped when she got home, and then she would have a playdate or an activity, and/or we would talk the dogs, and then it would be dinner, and then it would be bathtime, and it seems the two kids never got much time to learn how to play together. Little Girl would do her own projects and complain when her brother tried to join in.

These weeks having them both home have been so great, though: they are now buddies! Baby Brother doesn’t totally understand the games they play, but they are very exciting for him nonetheless. She’ll push him around in a laundry basket and say it’s a boat, or she’ll rearrange all the baby toys and have her baby dolls join him in “baby dagis” (daycare) and she’ll be the fröken (“miss,” or lady in charge). They chase each other and play hide and seek and pretend to be kitties and look at books and knock down block towers and play in the tub/shower together and sit together on the couch and watch TV to chill out for a little bit when everybody is getting out of hand. There’s five years between the two but they’ve found ways to enjoy each other.

Baby Brother is fully a toddler now, and very verbal, which, unfortunately, does not mean he doesn’t also express his frustrations, sometimes, through hitting and biting. And he gets into all kinds of Toddler Trouble now (e.g. drawing on my sheets in lipstick; dumping food from boxes in the pantry onto the floor; removing keyboard keys; throwing things down the stairs.) It’s a good thing that little boy sleeps pretty solidly so I get a break from attempting to civilize him.

And after weeks of, to be honest, straight-up bribing Little Girl with candy to just try sounding out words, she finally got the idea behind reading! And she can read things like, “The cat sat on the sand” and is self-motivated about the whole thing now! I’m just delighted. It will hopefully make learning to read Swedish in school next year at age seven easier if she knows a thing or two about reading already.

My darlings:




Celebrating traditions

25 December 2012

We celebrate Christmas both the Swedish and American ways. This makes for a lot of celebrating!

For us, it all begins the day after Thanksgiving, which we usually celebrate on the Saturday afterwards, because, of course, Thanksgiving is not a work holiday here. If they are selling trees we’ll get our Christmas tree, but usually they aren’t yet, so we put up some minor decorations. As time passes we put up a lights display outside on the hedge and upstairs balcony and front gable, plus some lighted up polar bears in the yard. It’s not very many lights by my American standards, at least what’s visible from the road, but there’s only one other house in the entire village that has outdoors lights at all, so it ends up making a statement (imagine if I could get a Santa and a sleigh for the roof!) The common Swedish decorations are stars and advent lights, which look kind of like menorahs, which shine in most windows. We have those, too, and a bunch of other Christmasy crap in nearly every room (Little Girl even has her own small tree.)

Santa Lucia, on December 13th, is the first Christmas event. Swedish children dress up as a martyred Sicialian saint or a limited assorted of other characters (e.g. Star Boys, who look like KKK members, Santa, or Gingerbreadmen/women) and wear/hold battery-operated candles while singing in a procession a limited assortment of Santa Lucia songs. This year Little Girl was in two such events and we ended up unwittingly attending a third.

Meanwhile, during the month of December, our elves, one of which is an official Elf on a Shelf, are spying on the children during the day and moving around by night to different perches in the house. And every day Little Girl opens a window on the advent calendar (this year’s was by Playmobil) and we watch Sweden’s public television advent show, which is a mini-series, different every year, for children. We actually stopped midway this year because it was too frightening for Little Girl, featuring ghosts and talking skeletons and dead pet mice and bullying and aliens. Christmas has been sort of involved in the plot (e.g. you can use Sweden’s traditional Christmas soda, Julmust, to melt bones, on the pretext that soda unhealthy for your body) but there’s a lot else going on, too. (Husband says one year it was all about the different constellations and it is not weird it is not very Christmasy.)

We also like to fit in one public dancing around the Christmas tree singing the same folk songs you sing (e.g. about small strange frogs or doing the laundry) when you dance around the Maypole in the summer. We did this at another traditional Swedish Christmas event, an outside old-fashioned Christmas market, where you can by handicrafts and glögg (mulled wine) and locally-produced flour and see an old-fashioned Santa (known here as Tomten) who disconcertingly is wearing grey and not red. (This was the first year Little Girl could not be cajoled to sit on Santa’s lap.)


We do a full celebration of Swedish Christmas on Christmas Eve with all the cousins at the grandparents’ place. This involves food and a visit from Tomten, which the children’s grandfather sadly misses each year as he happens at that moment to be out “buying a newspaper.” At home that night we put out milk and cookies for Santa, and the next morning we go downstairs to see he has eaten his snack, filled the stockings, added a present each for the children, and left footprints by the fireplace. It is a lot of Christmas, frankly, but the two Christmases seems unavoidable now that Little Girl is used to both. And it’s also fun!

I have a weakness for Christmas music and insist on its being played throughout the house non-stop at all times for the entire month of December. It’s a real bummer that they don’t play Christmas music on the radio here (occasionally they’ll sprinkle something in with the usual boring stuff). This year we had some perfect timing: Little Girl lost the second of her two front teeth and could sing the classic kids’ song “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”

While I do enjoy some religious Christmas music, otherwise my celebration of the holiday is entirely secular. At school Little Girl has learned about, and done crafts featuring, Jesus. (Also, the entire school walked down to the village church twice in the month of December for religious events, which drives my American separation-of-church-and-state-self nuts). Following Little Girl’s informing me of the goodness and importance of Jesus I felt I had to let her know that some people (like Mommy) think that the story of Jesus is a nice idea, but not necessarily true.

However, I take the opposite tack what with the magical elves and Santa and so forth, actively encouraging her belief in something that, unlike Jesus, has absolutely no factual basis, and I wonder why I do this. If I want her to value facts and good sense and to avoid magical thinking, then why do I not take a hard line on Santa, too? If I think it’s harmless and comforting fun to believe in Santa for a while as a child, as I do, then it seems I should treat Jesus and Christianity the same…right? This conundrum is related to my wondering whether religious Christians get irritated by the enthusiastic celebration of Christmas by non-believers, who happily leave the entire “reason for the season” out of the equation.

Of course we do have a reason for the season. Tradition for its own sake, family togetherness, an excuse to spoil each other and brighten up the winter, the passing along of cultural knowledge, the sheer fun of it. I don’t think those reasons are too bad.

Snow and snow and snow and snow

7 December 2012

A whole bunch of snow has been falling on us in the last week and today it was -20 C (-4 F), making everything good and wintery around here. I do prefer it under freezing to over freezing this time of year, if given a choice, because it’s no fun going out in the rain and the snow is pretty and lightens things up a bit (next week will be the shortest day of the year). It doesn’t need to be quite this cold, exactly, but at least there’s no danger of this lovely, fluffy snow melting and then refreezing and being my arch-nemesis, ice. And we did spend all kinds of money on proper winter clothes so it’s at least nice we get some use out of them.



When snow’s on the ground children take their sleds and helmets to school to go sledding at recess. They even canceled gym one day for extra time sledding.

Snow also provides adults with exercise via the need to shovel it. I always think of winter as a time which is a break from yard work, but when the snow never stops coming down, endless physical labor is involved in removing it from your car and your driveway and your walkway and your steps.

The consolation prize is the fun for the children, the beauty and quiet of it, the change of pace and scenery and season.



Being a stay-at-home parent in Sweden is not really a thing

2 December 2012

One of the aspects I have enjoyed about mothering in Sweden is the absence of the Mommy Wars. Everybody does everything in basically the same way—everybody tries to breastfeed, everybody pushes a gigantic pram, everybody uses disposable diapers, everybody starts solids at four months—so what’s to argue about? And this sameness seems pleasant and benign until you are the one who is out of step with the norm.

Baby Brother turns fifteen months old today, and a fifteen-month-old out and about with his stay-at-home mommy is a rare creature. At that age, if there is a stay-at-home parent, by now it is usually the father’s turn. Meaning I have lately been chatting with a lot of 30-something Swedish pappas wearing skinny jeans while we watch our young toddlers kick balls around in indoor play areas.

And also meaning I get the question nearly daily as to when Baby Brother will be starting daycare. I tell people I don’t work, but that actually doesn’t constitute an answer to the question; plenty of work-seeking but unemployed people put their children into state-run subsidized daycare 15 hours a week very cheaply (e.g. thirty bucks a week). Next, people assume we are simply waiting in line for a spot, but in fact I am about to say “no, thank you” to Baby Brother’s start date at the village daycare another time since I don’t need the place he’s been offered. Finally, they want to know, don’t I think it’s high time he makes some friends and learns some independence? Don’t I want some time to myself?

Um, no. Honestly I have no idea what I’d do at home with no children. As for the other question, Baby Brother gets plenty of socialization with other children in a variety of ways, and I don’t think toddlers actually need close, personal friends; that’s what his family is for.

I simply don’t feel the need to put him into daycare unless there is what is for me a really compelling reason: I have to be somewhere else to work. It’s true that I am (kinda) job searching. But even if I did find something, I have no interest at all in teaching anything more than a maximum of two half-days or evenings a week. Ideally I’d do what I did when Little Girl was small and have the really sweet deal of a work schedule complementary to Husband’s, meaning she was always with one of us, and/or work from home.

The fact is—and there’s no tactful way to say it—I’d rather work not at all than too much or at inconvenient times, because I don’t work for the money. Partly this is because I don’t make that much to begin with, but also because I plain old don’t have to because, for a variety of reasons, we are doing fine financially as it is. Not that I can say that to people, either. Stay-at-home parents aren’t common here because for most families the tax structure doesn’t make them feasible. You get your one, maybe two years, with a parent at home, and then you’re going to need two incomes to keep life going. The fact that this doesn’t really apply to us (we can’t seem to use up our parental leave days very effectively at all, while most people face the opposite issue, and the money—which I think it is rather a lot, considering I didn’t earn it—they keep sending is just icing and we don’t need it particularly) makes my situation foreign to people.

But here’s what I definitely can’t say to people who have gone another route: I think having a full-time parent at home is incalculably beneficial to small children and I like doing it. I am grateful and proud I get to be my baby’s primary caretaker. I miss the baby after just a couple of hours of being away from him. Heck, I’m delighted to see him again after he gets up from his nap. I would kick myself to miss all the adorable things he does all day, and see how he grows, and teach him, and would hate not to know how he ate or be the one to comfort him when he’s sad. I know being a stay-at-home parent is not for everyone, and many people have no choice about it one way or another, but it is for me, and I do have the choice, and I want to do it. This is why the baby is not in daycare.

Except, like I said, it feels horribly rude to state all this outright, like I am slamming everyone else’s situations and choices. I’m acting outside the norms that other people here both take for granted and are constrained by and as a result have defended so rigorously to themselves that they think theirs is the only right way, that it’s well and good the government has organized things so that you are almost obligated to turn over your children for care at a young age. (I’ve talked to a daycare teacher who has two young ones of her own who felt like this was perhaps the point and not the result of how the tax and incentive structure are organized, that Sweden wants to start its institutional socialization early on.) My current lack of participation is a transgressive act in such a homogeneous society. The only other purposefully and full-time stay-at-home parent I know has strong ties to the US and an uncommon religion in which she is devout (Mormonism), making her quite outside the norm.

In order not to seem too aggressively other, then, and frame my answer in terms more Swedes can relate to, I give half-truths when asked when (never if) Baby Brother is starting dagis. “I’m looking for work. Until then, we have some parental days saved up.”


29 November 2012

We finally got a time with the child psychologist to talk about Little Girl’s social anxiety. Of course, it took so long to get that appointment that she had moved into a relatively good place, but we still had the visit. But “we” I mean Husband and me; the idea, evidently, is to help us to help her, rather than for them to help her.

And it was quite informative. I learned about a large number of things I am doing wrong as a mother to a shy, sensitive, creative, six-year-old: I should stop nagging her about sucking her thumb. I should not try to teach her to read if she’s not interested. I should not insist that she greets people politely and not crawl around under the table in public places pretending to be a cat. I should arrange it so she mostly spends time in situations that are totally comfortable for her.

In short, I should show her and tell her that being who she is great and important and wonderful just the way she is. This sounds really good and makes total sense, is so very obvious, except I also think part of my job as a mother is to help her to stop relying on thumb-sucking for comfort, encourage academic skills, act appropriately and politely, and be able to handle a variety of environments.

However, because I do think her long-term senses of personal and familial security are important, and appreciate the unique opportunity she has in Sweden to a relatively long childhood free from academic pressures, and recognize that nagging about thumb-sucking isn’t making any difference whatsoever, I’m trying to follow the therapist’s suggestions of basically not saying 75% of the things I usually say to her, and let her just be, and convey to her absolute acceptance.

But it’s so hard. I just don’t get Little Girl, I think is the issue. She says and does astounding things every day; she’s so clever, and so interesting, and yet so confusing and infuriating. She’s an innovative introvert, a stubborn creator, and I just don’t relate at all.

And I want to be nurturing and understanding and empathetic, but, especially as I’m not in the best state of mind at the moment anyway (the weather, failed job-searching, unsuccessful volunteer attempts, an inaccurate but nonetheless present feeling of not having any true friends, weight gain) I’m not able to mother in the style that, experts all agree, would best benefit Little Girl, a special person who deserves the best. I lose my temper about small things, I spent too much time pouring over my phone, I prefer chores over play, I choose pursed lips over an encouraging smile. What bothers me most is knowing exactly how I want to be as a mother but not being able to achieve it, not having the wherewithal or the motivation or whatever it is that I am lacking.

This failure is cast into relief by my mothering of Baby Brother, a cheerful and busy fourteen-month-old. Playing with and delighting in him and praising him comes so easily, feels so simple,and requires no effort or thought or coaching. And then I turn around and glower at Little Girl for still not having put away her laundry, even though I have asked her all day, and have to talk myself into, instead of yelling or bribing or punishing, doing what will work and is arguably better for her: making it a game for her, a sorting challenge or a race. Or just letting her go finish building a miniature working replica of the recycling station and put away the laundry myself.

Why does it feel so hard to choose the empathetic course with her, and, worse, sometimes feels not quite worth the enormous effort, especially when mothering her, and of course her less-complex brother, is essentially all I have to do in life?

Min duktiga pojke

12 November 2012

Baby Brother is turning out to be some kind of linguistic genius and it is just amazing and delightful to watch.

He could say twenty words already at twelve months old, and now, at fourteen months, is making two-word sentences (e.g. “nana num num”, meaning “bananas are yummy”) and picking up at least one new word a day at the rapid pace I remember from Little Girl when she was closer to two years old (today’s was “ah dah” or “all done”; he’d already said “fada” for the Swedish for this, or “färdig”.). You only have to say a word or phrase a couple of times before he tries it out himself if it prompts something exciting (e.g. “jump” for jumping into the pool last week, was rendered as “juh! juh!” pretty fast).

Bilingual children are expected to take a little longer in their speech development, but the two languages are not slowing Baby Brother down one bit. About a quarter of his words are in Swedish, and some of them (e.g. “bah” for “ball/boll” and “buh” for “book/bok“) could go either way. He can respond to simple requests, like “Can you get the ball?” spoken in either language, and knows what animals and cars say in both, even when they differ (e.g. Swedish chickens say “kah kah” instead of “buh buh”) and he’ll let you know which one depending on which language you asked the question in. I speak about 95% English to him; when he speaks Swedish to me I usually echo in English, but I do most often say the Swedish for “thank you” to him as I want it ingrained (“tack“, or as Baby Brother says, “tah tah”). His father speaks probably 90% Swedish, his sister both, and everybody else, apart from English-speaking friends, just Swedish.

What’s especially fascinating is that the words he says most frequently in public places are Swedish (e.g. lampa* for lamp and titta for look). I imagine he says “titta” instead of “look” because “titta” is easier to say in terms of when children learn to acquire different sounds, and it’s well-known that small bilingual children often pick the easier word. But it also seems like he is accustomed to using Swedish when we are out and about, because that’s when his mommy breaks it out and that’s the language to which people respond best. When he uses baby English people are much less likely to understand and respond than baby Swedish because they are just not as used to hearing it, so as a result he gets much more positive reinforcement with Swedish.

Otherwise he doesn’t totally distinguish between languages and went through a period where he conflated “bye bye” with “hej då” and told everyone a cheerful, “bye då!”

It’s so adorable to hear his little baby voice and so convenient that he can respond to questions like, “Would you like some water?” with a vigorous shake of the head or a tiny, enthusiastic, “yeah!” I had been doing baby sign language with him but have mostly stopped as he is so capable and willing to express himself in words already.

In a possibly-related development, Baby Brother is totally obsessed with books, which is great, since we have hundreds. He pleads, “buh, buh!” before naptime and bedtime and throughout the day, and comments on what he sees in a mixture of languages. A book about a little boy and his dog fighting over a cookie elicits exclamations such as, “Ma!” (Max, the boy), “bulle!” (for the cookie, which he believes is a cinnamon bun), “woof woof!” (for the dog). It’s just the sweetest, cutest thing!

* “Lampa” is a common first word for Swedish babies, which I guess reflects the cultural importance of lighting in a country with long, dark winters; I never in my life remember discussing lamps with Little Girl when she was small, but Baby Brother has had an endless number of people point out lamps to him, so now he thinks they must be a pretty big damn deal and mentions them constantly.