Archive for the 'Husband' 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.

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.”

Reading

11 October 2012

Little Girl is six years old and can’t read at all. She can write and recognize her name and mostly knows the alphabet, but is not at all interested in reading. This is not problematic by Swedish standards—it’s not until they are seven and in first grade that they are supposed to learn to read—but by American standards she is woefully behind. It seems like every kid her age I know of in the US is reading and writing fluently, while she still writes her name backwards half the time and acts like I am torturing her if I try to get her to sound out something like “ma.” And in some ways it’s fine that she’s not reading; she is busy with other pursuits (swimming; playing with sticks; drawing pictures; making teddy bears and robots out of paper, tape, and tissue; taking care of baby dolls, etc.), and she certainly won’t be bored when they start teaching reading in school. But I worry that her disinterest in academics, her having Swedish as a second language, her perfectionism, and her shyness, will combine horribly into a really difficult school experience as time goes on.

She started kindergarten about two months ago but it was only recently that one of her teachers talked to Husband and me about Little Girl’s lack of involvement in class. Whenever asked a question, she just buries her head in her shoulder. The teachers had interpreted that as “no” but were starting to realize that, much of the time, she either hadn’t understood the question or was too unsure or perhaps shy to give a reply. They asked me if they should maybe treat her like a second language learner.

Oh my God, yes. Despite my having told them and their having the paperwork, they somehow hadn’t realized Little Girl was four before she really started being exposed to Swedish, and since she was so silent they didn’t know much about her command of Swedish until they started individually evaluating the students as to their reading capabilities.

Now that they’re doing some individual work with Little Girl it turns out they think Little Girl’s Swedish vocabulary is extremely deficient. I’m not surprised about this because when we are out and about she is always asking me what people are saying in Swedish, and when we read Swedish books and I feign incomprehension about what has happened, she often does not herself know what the book was about. The teachers say they have no experience teaching second language students but I hope they can figure something out. There are two of them for eleven kids so there should be plenty of opportunity.

Little Girl is a clever girl, even if she’s not especially academically inclined at the moment, so I’m sure she is able to read and will master it in both English and Swedish eventually. I just don’t know how we will get her there.

Where have I been? I have been in Greece!

26 September 2012

After waiting all months and months for summer to start in Sweden, only to find autumn mercilessly showing up instead, we had to flee the country for some sun. We booked a week-long trip to Rhodes, Greece, to stay at a huge, all-inclusive family resort on the beach that had no fewer than seven waterslides. And it was TOTALLY AWESOME!

These kinds of charter trips are extremely common in Sweden, but it’s the first time I’d ever done anything like it. You pay one price for all the travel and food and hotel, and the travel agency arranges it all for you. All you have to do it show up at the airport on time. And this particular resort was basically its own self-contained village; it had several restaurants (also all-inclusive), a store, a great playground, several playrooms, tons of activities, a kids’ amusement park, countless pools, the ocean, water sports, boats… We only left it for a morning trip to an nearby, gorgeous, acropolis, and for a short glass-bottomed boat tour up the coast, both of which were fun additions.

I had been worried about taking the baby on such a trip, as he’d not been always the absolute best sleeper and I’ve never taken a small child to a hotel before and all my previous experiences with air travel and babies have been miserable. But Rhodes is only three hours by plane and he mostly slept, and all the swimming and food and playing really tuckered him out and he slept pretty well there. So did Little Girl, too; swimming and climb up stairs to waterslides six hours of the day in the hot sun really takes it out of you!

Not to mention the nightly children’s shows that started after bedtime! It took me a couple of nights to catch on, but apparently the trend at this family-friendly hotel was to let your kids stay up really late! One night I was out at ten thirty to mail some postcards, well after my own children were tucked into bed, and there were tons of families at the playground. I had no idea you could relax bedtimes on vacation!

It came to dawn on me that family vacations to these kinds of resorts (people usually go for two weeks; we only went for one, but will absolutely stay longer next time we do something like this) are basically what Europeans do instead of camp. My husband never went to camp growing up, though I was forced to attend assorted religious North Carolina sleepover camps over the years, and did essentially the same things we did on this vacation, only sans adults: group mealtimes; swimming; crafts; archery; boating; group gatherings; mini-golf. This was sort of like family camp but with alcohol and air conditioning. Or maybe it’s like Disney World for Europeans?

It was wonderful, at any rate!

Getting out

5 August 2012

My mom and aunt recently left; while they were vacationing here, Little Girl and I took them to see a bunch of places in Sweden we’d never gotten around to checking out before. Funny how it takes guests to get us going anywhere new.

Little Girl is awesome to travel with. As long as you feed her regularly and be spontaneous with your plans in response to neat things you happen upon, which is good advice for any traveler really, she does great. She never gets tired of walking, seeing museums, trying new foods, exploring new places, or posing for pictures. She especially enjoys a nice boat tour and public transportation. Her favorite memory of the trip is probably from Stockholm, where she got to approximate flying on a souped-up trampoline bungee cord set-up at Kungsträdgården.

Baby Brother stayed home with his dad, who was on vacation. For about ten straight days Husband was the primary baby caregiver, even when we were in town, owing to not enough spots in the car for everybody to go on expeditions together. He kept marveling at his inability to accomplish anything with a clinging, teething baby (I think the baby is a little more independent for me). They took lots of long walks together and really bonded. The baby learned some more Swedish, too.

I had been pretty apprehensive about leaving my infant, partly because I was worried he would learn to walk in my absence (he did not). But he thrived with his father and it was good for me to have some baby-free time with Little Girl, too, and some excitement away from home.

And now our guests are gone and Husband is back at work and Little Girl starts school next week!

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!)

Party of two

4 July 2012

With Husband and Little Girl gone on an adventure of their own, leaving Baby Brother and me alone at home, we ended up having a little excitement of our own.

One interesting development was that I realized how Little Girl’s running chatter has discouraged me from getting into the habit of talking to the baby in that narrative way that’s supposed to be good for speech development. With the opportunity for both him and me to get a word in edgewise his language skills, at ten months old, kind of exploded in just 48 hours. For example, he’s now delighted to inform you that the doggie says, “ah ah!” and the cow says, “ooooo!”

In general it was just so quiet without Little Girl home. Around people she’s comfortable with she really is quite the talker, but if she’s in an uncertain environment, or, curiously, runs into classmates when we are out, she clams up. It reminds me of Husband in a way. Not a few of my friends have commented on how quiet he seems, though that’s not happened since we’ve moved to Sweden; I wonder if that means, contrary to all his protestations, that he didn’t feel totally at home in the US? Meanwhile, I sometimes can’t get the man to shut up.

Anyway, also while in their absence, I was newly tasked with figuring out what to do. Normally Little Girl always has some plan. “Let’s paint!” “Let’s play outside!” Or Husband wants to go to the store or needs a hand with a project. But with just the two of us, one of us unable to express specific opinions verbally, it was all up to me how we would entertain ourselves, and I got to be the baby’s playmate instead of merely the play supervisor.

We ended up meeting American girlfriends of mine for lunch and shopping on both days. The second of the two meet-ups took place in Nearby Big City, which is the second-largest in Sweden. By American standards it’s still not that large, but I live in a small village now and think it is just totally exhilarating on the rare occasions I am there and see the trams and the copper statues of long-dead kings on horses and all the different kinds of restaurants and stores and all the people everywhere.

Something happened there I have to brag about. I was walking to lunch with my friend and the baby when we ran into someone I knew! (A coworker of my husband.) So worldly, so at home I felt, there on the streets of a major European city, happening upon an acquaintance!

The baby didn’t find the outing quite as thrilling since it required him to spend more time than he’d prefer strapped into the car seat and the stroller. He’s mobile now (via an almost-exclusively arm-based version of crawling, plus cruising on furniture) and would urgently like to put these skills to use.

But, fortunately, most of the time the baby and I were on our own together we were home and he had the run of the place, for once without Little Girl there to boss him around like she likes to do. How that skinny little girl who only has thirteen pounds on him is able to pick him up and ferry him about I’ll never know.

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.

Togetherness

16 June 2012

You’ve probably heard tales about the vast quantities of parental leave you get when you have a baby in Sweden. Basically, you get 480 days to use in assorted ways (with lots of assorted regulations; some of the time is reserved for fathers, for example) until the child turns eight. Even though didn’t move here until Little Girl was three, we got the full complement of days for her, too (for the people who know about this system, the only stipulation was we’d get reimbursed for those days at the lowest rate). And of course we got all those days for Baby Brother, too.

Since I certainly don’t need to take any time off from my non-existent job, this means Husband could, theoretically, take, years off from work. Since he, however, actually wants to do the job he has been hired to do, and I am of course home to care for the children, he has instead just been taking Fridays off. Every weekend for the last year and for foreseeable future is a three-day-weekend for him!*

Except for right now, when he is taking four straight weeks vacation (and he still has three weeks left to use after that). It’s very common for people to take all their vacation days (I think the minimum is five weeks per year) all at once, spending the entirety of July in a lawn chair in their yard, except for the week they go to a beach or a cottage by a lake. Everything shuts down or is drastically reduced in Sweden in the summer (e.g. specialist doctors, restaurants, libraries).

So Husband’s going to be around. Honestly I don’t know what to do with the man. We have a pretty busy social life nowadays, the kids and I, and I can’t figure out if I should not make plans with people? Or include him? Maybe we’d like some time apart? Maybe he wants to see what we do all day? And while it’s his vacation, am I a jerk for hoping he will finish all the half-done renovation projects around here?

I also really kind of need to go someplace. We aren’t flying to the US (a subject for another day) but I wouldn’t mind a night or two in a hotel by the ocean. I’ve seen very little of Sweden and it’d be nice to check it out a bit, especially now the baby doesn’t totally hate riding in the car. However, all of our previous trips and vacations, plus our big move here, were orchestrated by me. For once I want someone else to make the plans. Husband is aware of this and hasn’t made any (he has been crazily busy at work), and since things book up, I don’t know if we’ll be going anywhere. Before Baby Brother was born I left the country every three months; now it’s been a whole year! Although I don’t need to cross any borders I am feeling a little antsy to travel.

By the way, I guess it’s the American in me, but I realized recently I subconsciously feel that taking weeks upon weeks of vacation all at once is, well, a bit much. Wanton, slothful even! Plus it seems risky to me–what if you need those days later and you used them all up? I think anxiety comes from the limited sick and other kinds of leave in the US, how you had to save your vacation for your family members’ possible illnesses or deaths, for example. I also remember not even being allowed to take vacation sometimes if my work needed me around, or just thought it might need me around. And here Husband is, a crucial element of his workplace, leaving for a month! And everybody thinks that is awesome and well-deserved!

I still can’t quite wrap my head around all these great quality-of-life systems Sweden has in place. They’re great, but still feel alien and just kind of over-the-top. I mean, full parental leave rights in honor of the birth of a child who was potty-trained before she even stepped foot in the country? Sweden sometimes seems like a parody of itself. In a good way!

* These three-day-weekends have meant, also, that I’ve had actually not a ton of time I’ve been solely in charge of two children. How easy I’ve had it. Three days a week Little Girl was at preschool for a half day (and her father drove her there. She is now out of school for the summer). Three days a week my husband was home. There was only one day a week I had to do the stay-at-home-mom-of-two thing and that was only for the workday. Spoiled!