Archive for the 'Family' Category

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.)

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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.

Why I hate living in Sweden

6 April 2013

I write, or at least begin, far more blog posts than I end up publishing, mostly because I don’t want to subject you all to the same sort of whining that you’ve been hearing for the past three years I’ve been in Sweden. But usually the act of writing is therapeutic, and reading your comments even more so, giving me outside perspective and a feeling of being understood or appreciated. I should really write more.

Now that I am in actual weekly therapy with a psychologist with whom I have a rapport I am not at all feeling less full of thoughts and insights to share. And while I am currently feeling even more unhappy about my life here than usual, and it’s miserable, it’s good to know why, at least.

First let me tell you about time with my Swedish therapist. For one thing, we speak in Swedish. That has some benefits, such as the therapist probably understands me with less effort and, when she talks to me, can focus more on the content than the form of what she says. It also means she is experiencing me as the majority of Swedes do, which is helpful since a good deal of what we talk about is how I relate to Swedes and Sweden. I am also more succinct in Swedish since I usually only have one way to say something. I guess this way I get more bang for my therapy bucks. It’s also kind of neat to know that I can manage a sociolinguistic situation so complex as talk therapy in another language.

Of course, what’s not good about speaking Swedish is that I fucking hate speaking Swedish, feel like a childish idiot when I do, and can’t always explain myself and my feelings as precisely or fluently as I’d like. Nevertheless, when the therapist hasn’t seemed to have quite understood my intent at first, it seems like the problem is more cultural (e.g. expectations of behavior for an American from the south).

In general, this woman really seems to get me. She understands my feelings, my situation, my reactions. I can’t tell you how novel and valuable it is to feel like a Swedish person gets and appreciates me. She doesn’t think that all my problems with feeling at home here in Sweden are all my fault, or that I’m doing something wrong, or that my life is a series of mistakes that sounded like a good idea at the time. The therapist is good at pepping up my self-esteem by telling me various of my solutions to problems or my initiatives (e.g. volunteering at the library) are creative. And she has had some great insights into psychological and societal processes that are affecting my state of mind:

• I don’t actually having any sort of anxiety or depression disorder as I was beginning to suspect, according to her, but rather am just uniquely unsuited to my current status of being an unemployed educated immigrant from the southern part of the United States living in a rural working class Swedish village, and am thus having an especially difficult time adjusting to the change of living here. The facts of who I am just don’t mesh at all with my environment and for assorted reasons I am particularly sensitive to this discord.

• It’s probably not that the ladies in the village don’t like me (especially since they don’t really know me); rather they’re not interested in making the extra effort to communicate and connect with me, given my foreignness and my accent. They are comfortable with known entities, and don’t want any new friends or even acquaintances. This is a very strong phenomenon in a rural Swedish village and my therapist advised I straight-up give up trying to be friends or even all that friendly with the mommies in the village. Theoretically if I stop trying, I’ll stop being disappointed (shout-out to Facebook, for facilitating much of this disappointment!), which is wreaking havoc on my self-esteem. I’ve never had trouble fitting in or getting along with people before, and I really like socializing, and I feel very alone out here in this village, so this bit is very hard for me.

• Where I come from it’s your social class, education, and work accomplishments that provide status and context for an individual, whereas here it’s who you know and where you grew up. I don’t know anybody and didn’t grow up here, so I’ve got no cache. Though I could of course take personal and professional satisfaction in having an appropriate job and doing it well, and thus compensate for my lack of social capital, I still have no such job.

• My map/guidebook for interacting effectively and winningly interacting with people and institutions (e.g Little Girl’s school) is of no use so besides the language difficulties, which still arise, I feel bereft and powerless in these contexts.

• In my “previous life” in the US, I did everything a girl like me should: played the piano, rode horses, did well in school, went to a good college, got married before living together, worked a professional job, had a baby, stayed home to care for her. It was all by the book for my milieu. And then I went off and moved to Europe, which was totally off the rails, and this one major life decision that was the first which was entirely my own isn’t turning at a) at all how I’d hoped and b) very well for me personally at all. This is apparently why I can’t seem to feel comfortable with any decisions I now make, about issues big or small; I don’t trust myself to make good ones.

• My marriage is now direly unequal, since I rely on Husband more and more (instead of the expected less and less) for so very much as I am emotionally dejected by previous failures and in practical terms not interested in repeating them (e.g. not securing a refund on a defective item at a store; unable to convince school personnel to take me seriously). Now I try to get him to call or be present at appointments for everything, having no faith in my ability to manage them. This makes e feel the opposite of capable and adult. Being an immigrant is like being a five-year-old.

• I feel super-guilty, apparently (as evidenced by all the crying in therapy), about having left my mother and grandparents behind in the US. When I moved, my grandparents were both in serious decline, and my mother had left her work to care for them full-time. Very shortly into my time here some things happened I am not comfortable detailing here, but they were pretty horrifying and necessitated my return to the US to deal with the fallout. My having moved abroad was one reason they occurred. GUILT.

• Additionally, I am a good southern girl, and we are supposed to take care of our families, sometimes I of course am not at all doing from another continent. MORE GUILT.

• Much of my expectations have been met with disappointment. We were supposed to come to be near Husband’s large extended family, but we hardly ever see anybody except his parents. The country life was supposed to be idyllic, but the villagers ignore us and there are a couple of men who drive around our village and others trying to convince schoolgirls walking home to hop in their cars for who knows what terrible purposes. Apparently Little Girl’s sweet little country school is crappy. The long winters and unreliable summers are taking a toll on me. The graduate degree I got in the US with the explicit purpose of being more employable abroad has turned out to have no practical value in Sweden. I had expected to travel within Europe a fair amount but we don’t get around to it too much, what with the never-ending house renovation using up our time and money instead. And, not to be too middle school about it, but nobody wants to be my friend, at least nobody Swedish, and that’s disappointing.

• I feel like a culturally incompetent parent and I hate that for my children’s sake. They deserve someone who knows what’s what and can work the system on their behalf.

• There’s a fair amount about Swedish culture I just don’t like and now I’m going to make some big assholish generalizations here in discussing them because I am in a bad place about Sweden at the moment and don’t feel like being fair: Swedes don’t appreciate how good they have it. They take advantage of their social welfare mechanisms and expect to be taken care of entirely in a very entitled way. Everybody wants to look the same and do the same things (preferably in a group) and buy the same crap and it’s boring as fuck. Swedes hate change and innovation unless it relates to their iPhone. They are too casual about sex which I personally think is part of why their rape culture is so strong. The typical foods are boring and bad for you. Adults are rude and unfriendly and children indulged and undisciplined. They don’t value education beyond trade school, which they sometimes call university even though it is not. They think everything about Sweden is automatically the awesomest and are incurious about everywhere else. Extended family has little value, and neither does staying home with one’s children. Swedes are suspicious of and/or uncomfortable around anybody who is different. The only books they read are cookbooks, and then they just go ahead and fry up ready-made meatballs all the time anyway.

• My point about the above diatribe is that a lot of what I see as common Swedish values I do not like and I do not share. It’s tiring and frustrating and demoralizing to run up against them, to work against them in raising my children, to see them at work everywhere.

So now that the therapist has figured out why I am having such a hard time, we need to figure out how to make it better, because I can’t go back in time and not have moved, and even though we could and might move back to the US (something I think about many times a day), that’s not going to happen for a few more years for practical and ideological reasons. I want to be happy here, but how?

For a positive update, click here.

Problems

1 February 2013

The substitute teaching so far has been fairly terrible (I’ve worked three full days with grades 5-9). A few classes here and there were enjoyable and productive—the ones where I actually got to teach rather than try to follow an absurd lesson plan consisting of “make them work quietly by themselves for an hour”—but largely the subbing has been a combination of babysitting and police work of classes populated by disrespectful, unpleasant, entitled tweens and teens. I’ve turned down requests to sub for now and am giving it some thought before I ever consent to put myself in that situation again. As I saw the students behave decently enough towards the regular teachers I guess the problem is me and not them, which is dispiriting. I’ve never had trouble with classroom management before when I taught adults (and I did follow y’all’s tips and the rules of the school). Perhaps I am not suited to the teaching of children.

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Baby Brother fell again and cut his lip again in the same damn place. This time didn’t require stitches at any rate.

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I’m an anxious wreck, to be honest. I feel like it’s sort of been building since we moved to Sweden and has been especially troublesome in the last year, but I’m not sure if I’m just reacting to the uncertainty of cultural and linguistic ignorance coupled with (what feels like) social and professional failure or if I’m actually suffering from a psychological disorder. Frequently I stay awake half the night obsessing about topics including, but not limited to, Little Girl’s school experience, Baby Brother’s name, social mistakes I have made and/or fear making in the future, and my professional and personal development. Why does everything seem so worrisome and hard when, in practical terms, I and we have it easy, have it good? Anyway, I made an appointment to talk to a doctor about it.

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It’s been almost two years since I was last in the US, and I feel like we should go there this summer and see people and eat stuff and swim in the ocean, but I just can’t seem to feel strongly enough about going to buy tickets. (Husband consents to going but doesn’t really want to). It feels disturbing that I don’t want to visit my country when we have the time and money to do it, but it’s just so far away, and traveling with toddlers is hard, and it wouldn’t be as relaxing a vacation as in Greece (where I actually want to go) because we’d have to, you know, clean and cook and drive around, and plus what I miss about my life in America—mostly knowing how things work and fitting in—wouldn’t exactly be fulfilled in two weeks of visiting. My friends mostly don’t live where we’re going so there’s not many we’d see. It all seems kind of too difficult to be worth it. And these are my feelings and I should respect them, I guess, but it seems pretty fucked up not to want to visit my country. Surely it’d be fun if we went, right? America is still fun?

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A month ago my dad emailed me about dates for his buying a plane ticket to come visit, and I kept trying to write him back that they were fine, to be nice, but instead was overwhelmed by anger over issues of my feeling he was either absent or inappropriate during my childhood, and is a mediocre father and grandfather (and terrible houseguest) now. All these feelings seem triggered by the life stages of my children and likely by my own less-than-stellar psychological state. So I wrote him a whole long letter telling him all this, and he responded with a bunch of non-apologies that amounted to “I’m sorry you feel badly about things that did not actually occur,” and proceeded to point out parenting mistakes he feels Husband and I make. I really have no response to that, but I guess I should come up with one.

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Last June I high-pressure-washed all the patio and walkway pavers and got what I guess is tennis elbow and it’s still bothering me. I guess I can bring this up with the doctor, too. Speaking of the doctor I’m going to see, she’s my GP, but I don’t like her at all. Once I saw her out and about and waved a friendly greeting and she looked frightened and backed away. Swedish people, man. Sometimes they drive me totally nuts.

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.)

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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.

Therapeutic

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?

Snapshot

18 July 2012

So far the summer has not been especially summery. There hasn’t been any lake swimming since, like, May!, and only once have we had ice cream after dinner on the porch stairs. At least the cool weather is good for doing yard work, which I have been quite busy with as my mother is arriving for a visit tomorrow. If I have not properly weeded the flower beds and trimmed the hedge and so forth she will take it upon herself to do it, the better to communicate that fact to me.

Husband has nearly finished renovating the front porch; only the new door needs installing. The children are losing and gaining teeth as is commensurate with their ages. I’m a little run down with the constancy of child-, house-, and yardwork but there’ll be no break soon, what with house guests (my mother is bringing along a relative).

At least the sun pops out occasionally and I get to put my feet up and enjoy it. And the children are both in contended, happy phases, and enjoy each other (except when they don’t!)

The Boycott

30 June 2012

Originally it seemed obvious to me we would vacation in the US every summer, especially since when we did live in America, we would vacation in Sweden every year. And dutifully, a year ago, we went. We drove around seeing people and stuffing our faces and maniacally stocking up on cheap stuff, and while it was truly fun to see our friends (and to swim in the ocean), mostly the trip was a let-down.

We weren’t used to the heat. The food wasn’t as good as we remembered. The shopping was stressful. Nothing was quite like we’d remembered it. Driving around in big-city traffic was a drag. Air travel was a hassle. It was a relief to get home.

Still, I had assumed this summer we would go to the US, but as time to make summer plans approached, nobody was feeling it. My American family members come over (perhaps more than) often enough as it is, and as for my friends, well, as awesome as it would be to hang out in person, I do keep in good touch with them on the phone. As for the shopping and the eating, well, both of them have their downsides (for the former, frantic rushing around, and for the latter, weight gain). And not to mention that nowadays I think it is unbearably hot if it gets over 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

But those weren’t the only reasons. We’re also kind of disgusted with the US and aren’t sure we want to associate with it just at the moment. Husband and I keep sending each other articles about horrifying turns of events: his are mostly about invasions of privacy (strip searches, the NSA) while I get all up in arms about the War on Women and anti-immigrant sentiment. We also take issue with the TSA, the IRS, various government officials, etc. The whole prospect (not to mention traveling with an active infant) didn’t sound all that fun.

So this summer, instead, we are staying put. There’s tons in Sweden to see. Husband and I already spent a day at an amusement park riding roller coasters, and tomorrow he and Little Girl drive to Denmark to go to Legoland. We’ll take day trips to the beach (if the weather ever improves) and have booked a hotel by the ocean. There will be a few days in Stockholm and we’ve been visiting, finally, all the museums and attractions in our own city. (Though the photography museum one might not have been a great idea to take the kids to, what with all the graphic nudity we had to steer Little Girl away from, and the echoing that encouraged Baby Brother to shout.)

America’s not going anywhere. I can go later if I want. But for now, to my surprise, I don’t, not even to visit. My life here is fulfilling enough.

Lessons from Denali

23 May 2012

During much of my childhood my dad lived in Alaska and I would visit him there for a few weeks each summer. Once we visited the Denali National Park and I ended up in a small propeller plane taking a tour of North America’s highest mountain (also known as Mt. McKinley) with some other tween girl. While I do remember some breathtaking views and the alarming dip of the plane from side to side as we passed by peaks, mostly I recall rapid-fire chatter with the girl. I did manage to take this photo:

But it was normal, though, at that age, to be more interested in socializing than in meditating on the magnitude of what I was being given to experience.

Learning to be at peace with my needs and desires and not wishing they were something else, not living with regret for failing to match up to a theoretical standard of behavior, these were two lessons I gained from time with my father, from his hands-off approach, in contrast to my mom’s. I remember I used to feel bad I didn’t take more advantage of outdoorsy opportunities when I was at my dad’s, and instead preferred to play video games and eat pickles. But that’s the kind of change of pace I needed when I was away from my mother: the chance to decide for myself, to do nothing productive, in response to my over-scheduled regular life. It’s what I needed, and only when at my dad’s, where there was really no guidance at all, did I get to learn to respect and develop myself in making my own decisions. Sometimes they were unfortunate, but at least they were authentically mine. And you can’t learn from your mistakes if you’re not allowed to make them.

Old medical supplies

22 May 2012

My grandfather was a surgeon who grew up in the Great Depression and this combination of experiences led to hoarding tendencies related to medical supplies. Several years ago, being helpful, I took it upon my self to clean out the First Aid supplies stored in multiple bins above the washing machine.

It turned out to be quite the project. Here are resuscitation tubes in two sizes (infant and regular). What, you don’t have resuscitation tubes in your First Aid Kit?

This antibiotic ointment expired in 1974.

There were a lot of enema kits.

This one is an enema/douche!

Mystery equipment.

I think these are a sort of clamp for gaping wounds.

Mostly, though, there were bandaids. Thousands of them. The worst part was they were mostly so old they weren’t sticky anymore. But he still had several new boxes stashed away. He bought bandaids every time he had a coupon.

Why I am not planning on trying for any more children

19 May 2012

—Want to pay very close attention to the children I already have.
—Really, really enjoy sleeping.
—Not all that sure I would do a decent job with more children.
—Don’t desire the all-consuming, maniacal worry of pregnancy.
—Husband doesn’t want any more.
—Enjoy occasional kid-free time, don’t want it to diminish further.
—Don’t want to go through any more miscarriages.
—Like not giving two shits about my fertility anymore.
—Feels risky, asking fate for another perfect and healthy child.
—Travel gets harder the more children involved.
—Not psyched about the idea of a third c-section.
—I only have two arms.
—Feel very fulfilled with my two special little people.

In the mail

7 May 2012

Mother’s Day is a different day in Sweden (in all of Europe?) than in the US, and it’s not quite yet, and our calendar is Swedish (we had to get a Swedish one so we’d know when the many “red days,” or holidays, are, and what week number it is, since nobody ever says things like “the week of the 7th,” they say “vecka 19″) so American Mother’s Day, evidently this coming weekend, was not on my radar. But of course the relevant Mother’s Day card/present receivers in my life are in America (my mom, my dad’s Special Lady Friend, and my paternal grandmother), so now I’m scrambling to figure out what I am doing so everything can be shipped in time. This means quality time with my computer.

We keep a credit card in the US using my mother’s address and I use it mostly to buy personalized photo cards from Hallmark and presents from American websites to be sent to Americans. (And occasionally to buy stuff for my mom to send to me in care packages.) It’s really not that much trouble to mail things from here to there (at least not since I figured out the post office is in the grocery store of all places), and I’m sure it would be fun for people to get mail from Sweden just like I love getting mail from the US, but I rarely seem to be that organized to send stuff with enough lead time birthdays and whatnot since international mail can take weeks. And sometimes it takes like four days. Weird.