Archive for the 'Little Girl' Category

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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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.

My little girl is growing up.

22 May 2013

Yesterday was a hot day, as far as Swedish springtime goes. I picked up Little Girl from school and asked her about her day. Mostly we speak in English, but occasionally, more and more frequently, she’ll speak Swedish to me. “Det var skitvarmt ute!” she said.

I about had a heart attack: my sweet, shy little six-year-old had just told me that it was “hot as shit outside.” Now, in my head, I knew that in Swedish this expression is very, very mild, that it is even somehow considered acceptable for children. That everybody says it, though I certainly never would. That Little Girl didn’t even know the word “shit” in and of itself in either language or that it was a “bad word.” (She knows there are “bad words” but she doesn’t know what they are, and we don’t use them in front of her.) So I tried to keep my wits about me and not freak the fuck out about her cursing.

“Did you know that means you are saying it is as hot as poop outside but with kind of bad words? I’d rather you not say that word to me. In English it’s a very bad word, actually.”
Little Girl was horrified; she tries to keep all poop talk to the bathroom. “Then we’d better go back in the school and tell the teachers it’s a bad word, because they say it all the time!”

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There’s a sweet boy in Little Girl’s class whom she’s known for the last few years and has always had positive commentary about. Today he came up in conversation.

“I have a secret to tell you, but you can’t tell anybody else,” revealed Little Girl.
“Okay, what is it?”
“I really like S. I think he is nice. I try to do nice things for him. Like if he is climbing a tree and his hat falls off, I put it back on him. I l……..” and she looked shyly away.
“Were you going to say you love him?”
“Yes, it is that, but I don’t want to say that.”
Awww…

Reading x2

26 April 2013

Little Girl can read now, but she still doesn’t think it’s an especially fun thing to do, not when there are sticks she could be anthropomorphizing in the front yard and Barbies to take swimming in the sink. And English has way too many words you can’t just sound out, in her opinion.

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like books. Oh no, if there is one thing Little Girl is into right now, it’s books. Specially, Bamse comic books. Bamse is a Swedish children’s character, a semi-magical family bear who helps of all of his forest friends and goes on adventures with his buddies Skalman (a turtle) and Lille Skutt (a rabbit). Bamse has been around since the 60s, and you can find back issues of comic books for three crowns apiece at the secondhand shop, and these books serve as a primary motivator for Little Girl (e.g. if you clean your room within 45 minutes, you get a new Bamse). Little Girl can spend hours in bed paging through her Bamses, but it’s been unclear to us how much she was actually reading and how much she was looking at the pictures and remembering what we’ve read aloud to her.

Today I had the belatedly brilliant idea to use Bamse as our reading lesson. For the most part*, Swedish is spelled like it is pronounced, and I just had to tell her what what the Swedish vowels sound like (Swedish has all the same vowels as English, plus ä, å and ö). The English vowels can each have several pronunciations, of course, and can also differ when combined with each other in assorted ways, and sometimes are pronounced differently for no clear reason at all, so compared to that, saying that the “a” always sounds like “ah” in Swedish sounds shockingly straightforward.

And the reading lesson went great, of course; she read two whole pages, and was rewarded with, you guessed it, a new Bamse. She’s in there poring over it right now. Anybody got any recommendations for English-language comic books for little kids?

* When Swedish is not spelled consistently as it is pronounced, this happens mostly around the ⟨ɧ⟩ sound, which can be spelled ⟨stj⟩, ⟨skj⟩, and ⟨sk⟩, or around some of the pronouns, as when you drop the g in “jag” and “dig.”

Three years and a lot of ruminating

23 April 2013

Well, it’s definitely time to put that last post behind us. Besides, the universe seems to have responded to my complaints and is attempting to shape up and I am actually, well, not hating living in Sweden at the moment! Life’s not so bad, after all.

That said, today marks three years since we moved to Sweden, and the first time I ever remember tearing up with homesickness, thanks to “Summer of ’69” on the radio. With its themes of nostalgia and longing for summer and the carefreeness of youth and its classic American vibe (I know Bryan Adams is actually Canadian, but still), it really conjured up some feelings. And next some Europop come on and I felt better, because I love Europop.

Magically, in the two-and-a-half weeks since my anti-Sweden diatribe, spring came, Swedish people started lining up to spend time with us, I got hired to teach some interesting classes this fall (!!!) (if they make, that is), my volunteer work has gotten even more fulfilling, Little Girl learned how to bike on our quiet little street, my sister-in-law had a healthy baby girl whom we’ll meet soon, and my husband and I booked a luxury trip to Prague next month to celebrate our upcoming ten years of marriage. All this bodes well and reflects why we were supposed to be living here in the first place.

I Have to tell you, I have very much appreciated your support and insights about my situation here in Sweden. There are lots of terrible things about blogging but the feelings of connection I have to people who understand me isn’t one of them. It’s always amazing to me how writing here improves my spirits and outlook, and not just because it’s as if I have divested myself of my problems by dispersing them into the ether of the internet, but because of knowing you guys are out there, giving a shit. Thanks, you guys!

I’ve had time to think about everyone’s comments on my last post, and I want to clarify that my complaints about Swedish society and people were not particularly directed to the people in my village. They were the culmination of every negative thought I’ve had from any Swedish source these last three years. And I don’t say that just because of my terror that someone in this village will happen upon my blog and tell everyone else about it, probably at a party to which I wasn’t invited.

No; people are perfectly nice to me. Acquaintances chat with me when we run into each other while walking our dogs; strangers ask friendly questions at play places; friends text me to make plans. Just because not everybody is clamoring to be my best friend doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly lovely people, different as they may be from me. One again I remind myself: Swedish niceness is not American niceness, therefore a lack of American niceness does not equal Swedish rudeness. It’s just…something else. And the locus of my social life can be elsewhere without its meaning that I am shut-out from the village. I guess I have just had some idea that living in a village where you could get to know everybody and walk to your friends’ houses meant that you had to get to know everybody and have friends there to whose houses you could walk. But really it can just be an address.

These realizations are one thing leading to my feeling better, but probably the change in the weather, the sun’s reappearance, is really the main thing. Six months of winter are more than enough, thanks. Of course, now I think that 52 degrees Fahrenheit is a lovely, warm day, worthy of shorts and bare feet. I have no idea how I’ll survive South Carolina this June. Maybe then there will be some homesickness reversal!

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.

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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Educating children

18 March 2013

One thing that is working well these days with regards to my life in Sweden is my volunteer work at the library. I offer a monthly song-and-storytime at the city library in English to kids.

The library didn’t really do much to let anybody know that this event was occurring, so a few times nobody at all showed up. Which, yes, sucked, but which turned out great for Little Girl, who, with my mother-in-law, always comes along. Little Girl sat in the big chair at the front of the story room and pretended to be the teacher for us, which I think is a good step towards public speaking for a shy person.

But the last few storytimes I’ve had tons of kids! I guess word is spreading, and some families come regularly. This means they find it valuable and enjoyable, of course, which is very gratifying since that was the whole point. Once an American woman told me that it felt like being back in the US. Awww.

(And then she totally freaked me out by saying she has a great job here and has lived here for nearly a decade and it still doesn’t feel like home and she wants to move back. Thank you for that very encouraging conversation, random American mom. Actually, I really connected with and liked her, and am kicking myself for not asking to schedule a playdate or something for our same-age kids; I just couldn’t dare it because my confidence is shot from having failed at so many social overtures since moving to Sweden. Plus it might seem creepy if the lady from storytime asks you out.)

Little Girl, at age 6.5, is the oldest participant and the average age is probably three. Since everybody is so young, and not everybody is equally comfortable in English (most of the families have at least one native English-speaking parent, but not all) I do a lot of songs that also exist in Swedish and which have hand or body motions. Interspersed with the singing are about four books from our vast home collection. I always have some theme, such as “Things you should know,” for which I selected books featuring numbers, colors, body parts, and sharing. I’m sure the children do not actually notice my themes but it makes me feel like there is some greater pedagogical aim in mind than linguistic and cultural enrichment, which of course are valuable in and of themselves. At at the end the older kids (by which I mean those over age two) are invited to stay for a game like Simon Says. I think it’s working pretty well and I’m glad to have, as a side benefit, created a meeting place for English-speaking families around here.

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In reaction to the recent official report that Little Girl’s school is totally fucking terrible, Husband had a quite long sit-down talk with the (very new) school principal about her terror about that one particular kid and also why do they keep having different substitutes and does he have any defense for how poorly things have been run and what are they learning over there anyway etc.? I wasn’t at the meeting but Husband came back feeling positive about the future. This principal has a background in special ed and insists the problematic child will be helped more appropriately for everyone involved, and that everything else at the school will also be ship-shape and awesome very soon.

Nevertheless I am still extremely concerned and have put Little Girl on the waiting lists for several other schools. What really bothers me, though, is that the whole reason we moved to the Swedish countryside with a small elementary school was for our children to have a simple, pleasant childhood based here in this particular place. Problem classmates and having to switch schools to get a proper education do not figure into my plan. If we took the kids back to the US, I could do some research and have Little Girl in a wonderful school next week. Except that, of course, the slow academic start of Swedish schools combined with evidently the crappiness of Little Girl’s particular school mean Little Girl is way behind American six-year-olds.

I don’t know if we’re actually going to move back to the US anytime soon (there have been some intense discussions recently about it but nothing is decided). But I feel like I can’t just sit around hoping The Swedish Way is going to work for Little Girl anymore. If we are going to move back, she needs to know more stuff. Even if we don’t, this current school she is stuck in (not that I really want to move her someplace new anyway; she’s so shy) is apparently not even meeting Sweden’s own low standards for educating six-year-olds.

So I am going to homeschool! I feel like I really have got to get a handle on her education. She deserves it. I will do that, and I will join the PTA, if only I can figure out how the hell to contact them. I’m only going to do the homeschool stuff for an hour a day or so, on top of Little Girl’s regular schooling (which she enjoys but is only four half-days, so we have plenty of time.) While I have done some home education with Little Girl before, she hadn’t been too into it, but now she is more interested. Which is great, because I already have a ton of materials. (I see that it really is quite a lot now that I have collected everything in one place.)

Maybe this plan to supplement with homeschooling is ridiculous and reactionary and American-centric, but I don’t think it can hurt and it makes me feel like I have some control in this situation. And it’ll be a good way to give Little Girl some extra attention.

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Guess I’m not the only one

14 March 2013

Yesterday the local paper published a scathing article sharply criticizing Little Girl’s small village elementary school (email me for the link or Google’s English translation).

Evidently the school recently had a standard visit from Skolverket (The Swedish National Agency for Education) which determined that the school is extremely deficient in physical safety, creating a secure environment, paying attention to attendance, having zero tolerance for bullying and violence, supporting children who are being left out, monitoring the children during free time, teachers’ attitudes towards and respect for the students, providing support for Swedish-as-a-second language students, communicating with parents, meeting the needs of more advanced students, having communicable educational goals and results, and meeting national educational standards. Additionally, apparently the school has had five principals in the last two-and-a-half years.

Awesome. I am so thrilled we moved across the ocean so that our children could grow up in this charming little village with such a lovely school.

I called a mom contact of mine in the village and asked her what she thought, and she told me her kids had been on the waiting lists for other schools for years as they’ve been disappointed with the school for an assortment of reasons. Good to know. WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME THIS STUFF BEFORE? Moving here seems more and more like a very uninformed decision.

On the bright side, the attention the school is now getting will hopefully make things better, including the issues I wrote about in my last post about the pseudo-bullying that so bothers Little Girl. It’s also good to know I am not crazy and over-reactive and culturally insensitive for being unhappy about aspects of Little Girl’s experience there. Apparently they are supposed to have lesson plans and watch the kids at recess and take violence seriously and provide support for Swedish-as-a-second language students; it wasn’t just The Swedish Way that they haven’t been. This certainly seems like a good time to get involved with what is, I am now learning, the large group of dissatisfied parents of kids at that school.

It’s not exactly bullying but…

4 March 2013

There’s a boy in Little Girl’s school, a grade ahead of her, of whom she is terrified. And rightfully so, since I’ve seen him shove toddlers and push same-age kids downhills backwards on their bikes and punch teachers in the mouth and trip classmates and cut in line by scaring children away and squeeze kids too hard under the guise of hugging them. The school says he has ADHD and he has a personal assistant, but that person is not always able to prevent him from attacking others. If he’s in a room, Little Girl doesn’t want to enter it. If he’s around at a school event, Little Girl wants to leave. If they’re at recess together, she keeps one eye on him all the time.

The other children don’t seem to be as scared of him because they’re accustomed to his ways (which I find sad) and most kids are not so sensitive as Little Girl (whose teacher told me she is the only shy child in the entire school). Many parents have, however, complained about this child, but, other than getting the assistant, nothing seems to change.

We’ve talked many times to the teachers about Little Girl’s fears about being hurt by him, which I think are totally reasonable; however, they talk like her reactions are the problem and not his actions, and act like if he didn’t actually hit her, it’s okay that he “just” ran at her and scared the crap out of her. They’ve tried to get her to play with him in order to get “used” to him, and ask him to hug her to apologize (and then he squeezes her too tight.) I don’t, however, want him to think it’s okay to touch her in any way. Sometimes I feel like that their reminding him of how scared Little Girl is of him just makes him more interested in bothering her.

While it’s not a daily issue now, I’m concerned for next school year, when he and Little Girl will be in the same class, since grades one and two are together. Any idea on how we should handle this situation?

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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