Archive for the 'Images' Category

Two

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.

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Seven

19 August 2013

Age six was a big year for Little Girl! She learned to swim, ride a bike, and read English and Swedish. She became very much more outgoing and self-confident and responsible. She developed clothing and hairdo preferences and had her first sleepover and lost seven teeth. She ate all the time and shot up more than three inches. She built robots and designed zoos and wrote comic books and invented gymnastics tricks and called relatives on the phone for a chat. She got addicted to the iPad and stopped sucking her thumb. She traveled to Greece, America, and France. She helped out with chores and was occasionally very nice to her little brother and played and played and played and played days-long imaginative games. Happy Birthday to my happy girl!

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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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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!

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Paris!

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

Versailles

Versailles

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!

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Scars

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:

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Check out that robot!

30 October 2012

Last weekend we went to Nearby Big City to a Halloween party hosted by Americans. Little Girl can make anything out of paper and tape and she’d been working for months on her costume. Husband and I helped at the end with some finishing details, but the concept and materials and design were all hers.

It doesn’t seem like homemade costumes are the most common thing anymore, certainly not here in Sweden among the children of Americans. Too bad, because they are awesome. Little Girl’s costume was amazing.

Baby Brother was kind of a skeleton, but one with internal organs. Basically he just wore some of his pajamas. Thirteen-month-olds are not that into Halloween. I was supposed to be Elizabeth Warren, not that anybody could tell.

Halloween is my favorite American holiday. All things being equal, it’s the holiday I’d most like to travel to the US for. Here it’s not widely or accurately celebrated and I don’t like the candy, anyway. We did carve pumpkins, though, and they’re freezing their asses off on the porch at this very moment (winter is already here).

Bedroom décor

2 October 2012

Back when this was my in-laws’ house our bedroom was my father-in-law’s office.

It’s not weird that it’s the master bedroom now instead; there is no such thing as a master suite in Sweden so far as I can tell. I’ve never seen a bathroom connected to a bedroom and the layouts of homes generally seem haphazard to my American eyes: any room could be virtually anything. I’ve seen the parents’ bed on a stair landing in a house where they ran out of bedrooms, and very often you have to go through one room to another room. The room that is now our bedroom has a balcony off it, which is lovely, and the room that my in-laws used to share we made smaller when we built out the bathroom, so using this room as our bedroom made sense. It also gets excellent morning light, and the former walk-in closet (with a window) that opens off the room is the baby’s room, which is convenient.

It was the first room Husband renovated (painted the ceiling, put up new wallpaper, refinished the floors, new light fixture), and it is one of the few rooms that has no furniture at all from the US. It’s all very white and Swedish ladies just love the bed; it’s very stylish for the moment. But aside from a few pictures and one of those kinds of lanterns on the windowsill which everyone in Sweden has (it was a gift from my mother-in-law) I haven’t really decorated the space. I’ve put up no curtains and most of the walls are bare.

So I want some advice on making the room look finished and not so bare. A full-length mirror somewhere? Throw pillows? Black picture frames or white? Lots of little pictures or a few big ones? Art or family photos? Plants? Window treatments? Some color?

Here’s how it looks now:

And, just for fun, here’s the view from the balcony: