Archive for the 'School' Category

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.

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.

Early childhood education

8 May 2012

Tonight Husband attended the information session for parents of children beginning school in the fall. In Sweden kindergarten (aka Grade Zero, or nollan) is for six-year-olds (they go by calendar year, so all kids born in 2006 like Little Girl start this coming fall.) Where we are it’s five half-days a week and there is next to no academic curriculum; notably, there is certainly no expectation they will be able to read and will not be taught to do so during the year.

This is disappointing since I think Little Girl is ready for some real education at this point and not more of what is essentially playschool. The big emphasis is on socialization, which is great, but I can’t see how this is any different from these last two years of preschool, which seemed to have a curriculum mostly of mud-puddle-splashing, necklace-beading, and car-ramp-racing. She’ll be in the same building with the same kids doing the same stuff.

On the plus side, there will be two teachers for ten kids, and she’ll know the children, and she’ll know the place, and her schedule won’t really even differ. For a shy and socially-anxious young lady those are good things. And in the end Swedish children are, by all measures, well educated, even if it seems like a weirdly slow start to me.

I realize, of course, that literacy and the like are skills we can work on at home, and we do, as her interest allows. She has been known to sound out a couple of words and loves writing down what we spell out for her, or writing strings of random letters and asking us what they say. Her new thing is putting the two dots found in the letters ä and ö in Swedish on all sorts of other letters, to try to Swedify her writing a bit. She can do some addition and subtraction if we are counting concrete things around us. But though I have books and books of them she’s not interested in worksheets or formal reading instruction. Maybe it’s just as well they won’t be pushed on her yet, but at the same time I keep thinking how fun it will be for her when she can really read.

Husband said the other parents didn’t express any concerns about the (non)academic side of things. Their questions were all about making sure the children felt safe and comfortable, especially since the kindergartners will socialize and share playground space occasionally with the older children. In subsequent years, because the village school is so small, grades will double up, one and two together, three and four together, and so forth, so it’s thought to be important the different age groups get supervised time to mingle. Parents wanted to make sure that in the early weeks, out in the schoolyard, the youngest kids wouldn’t be left to their own defenses, and the teachers said they wouldn’t.

From what I’ve seen of recess, though, it’s pretty Lord of the Flies out there. It’s a vast, hilly area and the teachers are usually all sitting drinking coffee together at a picnic table at one corner. That’s how it is now and how it will likely be next year. I hope Little Girl manages.

Grown-up Job #2

5 May 2012

After I left my horrible social work job I fortunately found a great temporary gig at a research consulting firm (I later ended up a full-time regular employee). Everybody had their own office at this place except for the temps who doubled up and my office mate and I really hit it off. Frankly I’m impressed either of us got any work done at all because all I remember from those days is laughing really hard, constantly, and also lots of lunches out.

The office manager was not a fan of ours (maybe, now that I think about it, because we spent all our time being loud and taking long lunches). One day when our door was only half-open she popped in and informed us that, as temps, we could not close our door at any time. After a few months, when I started having carpal tunnel from all the computer work (which, again, I have no recollection of since all my memories from those days involve giggling), I requested a wrist support pad, which the office manager was extremely pleased to get to inform me I would not be receiving, since I was a temp.

But not all my interactions with the office manager were negative. One day in the break room she showed me how to microwave bacon. And she was also the one in charge of office snacks and she was not stingy. They kept lots of things on hand (several flavors of instant soup, two kinds of popcorn, a huge array of coffee creamers) because they wanted you not to leave the office in search of food, and instead to stay holed up in your office working.

After I was made a regular employee I got my own office. It had no window but was near a copy machine. At this point Husband and I were going through infertility and working with a reproductive endocrinologist but meanwhile, at work, nine ladies were pregnant. My supervisor went on maternity leave. My interim supervisor went on maternity leave. (Thank goodness my next supervisor was in her sixties!) When I finally did get pregnant the office manager wanted to know if it had been intentional, bless her heart.

I quit that job to stay home with Little Girl (I was also in grad school at that time, and went back to that part-time when she was four months old). Everybody at the office was so confused that I was leaving permanently. “So…when is your maternity leave over?” But the person they hired to replace me turned out to be, well, evidently not as awesome as I was, so when Little Girl was about a year old they made me a great offer: work from home part-time as much as I want, whenever I want (it ended up being about 15 hours a week). By that time I was done with my graduate degree and teaching part-time, but I had enjoyed the work (and the pay) so it was nice to go back to it a bit. Working mostly when Little Girl slept, I kept that up for a few years until we moved to Sweden. It was too complicated to employ me from abroad so I quit.

Now I think about that job every time I make popcorn or open Word, but otherwise it’s kind of amazing how something that once took so much of my time and effort has no bearing on my life now at all.

Innocents abroad

3 January 2012

During college I studied abroad in Spain for a term. While there, I decided I was urgently in need of a shower poof. Maybe using the bidet to wash the dust off my feet every afternoon wasn’t cutting it for me anymore, I don’t know.

When I got to El Corte Inglés and didn’t see any shower poofs on display anywhere I decided to ask someone who worked there. I button-holed a well-dressed sales lady. As I had no idea what a shower poof might be called in Spanish, I had to try to describe it. “I need a ball of net, like to catch fish? But it is also like a sponge.” Then I helpfully added, “So that I can put ham on myself in the shower.”

Because in Spanish “ham” is just one letter away from “soap.” And I frequently got them mixed up.

I didn’t realize I had told this poor woman I wanted to purchase fishing equipment in order, somehow, to adorn myself, nude, in pig meat, so when she looked alarmed and perplexed I just figured my accent was the problem.

“I want to put ham on myself? To smell good?” I repeated slowly and cheerfully. “Perhaps a ball of net is available in many pretty colors and has a little rope? Where can I purchase this item? Is it near the toothpaste?”

I never did find a shower poof in Spain.

What could have been

5 December 2011

Maybe I should just go ahead and fall out of touch with my old friends from college. While I’m at it, most of my high school buddies, too. Because talking to them just bums me out. They’re all surgeons at important hospitals and Ph.D.-wielding consultants and costumers for famous musical groups and NYPD cops and head hospital pharmacologists and award-winning lawyers and college professors and, well, what am I? Right, I’m on maternity leave–from my unemployment.

I have a graduate degree, sure, and I had great positions teaching at universities and I worked a rather long time in research, but that was all before I moved. Now I have no contacts or prospects. Swedes seems confused about my credentials. I’ve been told I should probably get a new degree here to be taken seriously. I’ve love to go back to work part-time when the baby is a year old or so, but there’s not even a real university where I live, and that’s my proper milieu. I’d consider myself lucky to teach a night class at the community college, while everyone else I went to school with is getting mentioned in The New York Times, or being sent to China on business, or saving lives every day, or making assloads of money, or usually some combination of the above.

Not that raising my children isn’t a wonderful occupation. Because that’s certainly the one thing I have that pretty much nobody else from my cohort has, busy as they have been with their exciting careers and advanced degrees. I can’t figure out, now, what I was thinking, but I started trying to get pregnant when I had just gotten married after graduating from college, at age 22. How ridiculously young! What did I think was the rush? As heart-breaking as the subsequent years of infertility were, I’m grateful for them, now, for giving me time to go back to school. But I can’t even blame the children on my stalled career prospects. The move to Sweden gets the credit there. And I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking when we decided to do that, either.

I try so hard not to bore my old friends when we reconnect, but our lives are in such totally different places. I’m scrutinizing my infant’s sleep patterns so as to develop a methodology to encourage him to lengthen his naps, and they’re having trouble managing to pick up their dry cleaning in between court appearances and flights to Toronto. They can’t decide which suit-wearing man to go to drinks with, and I’m picking up my husband’s dirty socks again and again and again. If their biological clocks are ticking they haven’t mentioned it, and hearing about my life isn’t going to encourage them. I pretty much always have to hang up because somebody is crying. I guess I should be glad they called at all.

Wrong again

29 June 2011

My Swedish-language-education choices over the last year have been informed by my understanding of the requirements for getting certified as a schoolteacher here in Sweden. The certification isn’t something I’m totally sure I need or want anyway (since my experience and interest is in teaching adults languages in university settings) but which I was told would be a good idea. It’s possible that once I am ready to look for work that the best options will be in the school system, given that there’s no real university where we live.

A month ago I finished the final Swedish-language requirement and completed the paperwork I’d had sitting around, and today I got around to double-checking the website of the government agency that makes sure your foreign teaching qualifications are good enough (they are deeply suspicious, even with American degrees, which you would think they would find comprehensible and legitimate) and guess what? (Apparently I was supposed to know this somehow.) As of July 1st of this year, an entirely different agency is taking over this process, and they don’t have any information available about what the requirements or process will be. I called and was told to “keep an eye on the website in August” when they would post it. (Of course Sweden is on vacation in July so nothing will happen then.)

What if it’s some entirely different set of things they want me to do? What if I took the wrong kind of Swedish? I’m totally stressed out about this. Mostly Swedish bureaucracy is actually pretty simple and reasonable, but you never know, and I have a hard time understanding the language sometimes.

And the phone is not at all easy for me. It happens in person, too, where I think we have communicated successfully, but then later on I realize there was not as much of a meeting of the minds as I had thought. Plus I’m always getting social things wrong.

For example: It was recently Sweden’s biggest holiday, Midsummer, and we got a flier in the mail about the village’s celebration, which involves dancing around a Maypole singing about frogs, on a Saturday. We went to it last year. I think I thought Midsummer was like Thanksgiving, in that it’s a one-time event that everyone does at the same time, so when the preschool said it was having a Midsummer party for the families on the previous Thursday, I figured it was just like a cake-and-coffee thing. It was drizzly that day but since I was operating under the theory it was an indoor get-together I didn’t bring rain gear (this is pretty much always a mistake in Sweden to begin with, one I make all the time). Of course it turned out to be the pole-dancing-outdoors thing and we got all wet while everyone else was well-covered in rubber.

I have a bunch of sad little anecdotes like this, of missed social messages and awkward confrontations when I’ve done stuff wrong. They’re miserable at the time, and funny in the re-telling, but the net effect is that I am less likely to want to do stuff. What else will I get wrong? Will I get yet another another impromptu lecture from a storekeeper or pool employee on proper behavior, who will treat me like I am an idiot just because I have an accent and didn’t know the unwritten rules? Or worse maybe, what will I do wrong that will have negative consequences and I’ll never even find out?

I hate being wrong and confused all the time. It’s the worst thing about being an immigrant.

Please advise!

24 May 2011

The US dollar is so weak and the Swedish taxes so high and the Swedish selection so slim that I have been going to town shopping online at American sites these last few days. I’m having stuff sent to my mother’s for us to receive during our vacation which starts–!!!–next week. Mostly baby-and-Little-Girl-related items, since what Husband and I are craving can be found mostly at grocery stores and pharmacies. These include exciting products like antibiotic ointment and A1. (As for my friends and relatives, their orders for stuff they would like me to bring back from the US revolve mostly around Yankee Candles and Butterfingers.)

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My formal Swedish education is nearly done. I purportedly have achieved the competency in Swedish of a high school graduate (yeah right). Currently I am procrastinating on writing my very final paper for school! In my life! Ever! Of course that’s what I thought when I finished grad school, too, that I was at the end of the road on schooling. So I guess we’ll just see.

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When not not doing schoolwork or frantically filling my online shopping carts with nursing tank tops I have been hard at work in the yard, moving sod from one place to another as part of my grand plan to create a different parking area. This project is taking quite a while, but it’s been so beautiful outside, and now the baby cows have been let out into the pasture next door, and I feel better when I’m active, that honestly it’s something of a pleasure. Little Girl spends her time hunting worms and then torturing them to death.

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Speaking of activity, I started pregnant lady yoga and have been forced rapidly to learn a bunch of new vocabulary. The instructor kept telling us things like “Make sure your mystery body part term touches the mat mystery adverb!” and “If you have mystery medical condition, do mystery verb instead!”

Today we have prophylactic breathing yoga class (bring your partner!) and we are also booked in what I vaguely understand to be a hospital tour for expecting non-first-time parents who are immigrants. We are sadly not allowed to take the regular birthing class since we are not first-timers, but the midwife has scheduled an extra-long appointment with us later this summer to answer all my questions. I had made a big list of these based on my knowledge of US birth protocols (e.g. “Can you eat/drink during labor?” “Do you have any special rules for VBACs, for example regarding pitocin and due dates?”) but then I got a Swedish-language book from the library on child birth and learned that here there’s a whole other range of things I don’t know anything about regarding the Swedish way (e.g. “What is the deal with using laughing gas for pain?” and “What hospital do we get sent to if the local one is full?”).

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In other pregnancy-related news (sorry, I don’t have a lot going on), we went to The Big City for an ultrasound and discovered several good things: I have the right amount of amniotic fluid (around this time with Little Girl I started running low), the baby continues to have the correct quantities of things like heart chambers, and the Swedish slang word for “penis” is “snopp.” This would have been good to know before going in, because when the lady started talking about the “snopp,” I was not cognizant of the import and came off as weirdly affectless until Husband clued me in. But anyway it’s a healthy baby boy!

While we didn’t realize it until that moment, we apparently had been assuming it was a girl. I mean, Little Girl is a girl, right? We make baby girls! But no! It is a boy! And we have no idea what to call it. We’ve had a girl’s name all ready for years but nothing concrete for a boy. So we are taking suggestions, please. We need a boy’s name which works in English and Swedish, is preferably spelled and perhaps even pronounced the same in both languages (Little Girl’s name changes one vowel sound but not spelling in Swedish and that’s fine), and is slightly more common (but not trendy) in Sweden and slightly less common (but not weird) in English. Ideas?

Expat community

4 May 2011

One thing I am really enjoying about my new life in Sweden is how I get to spend time with people from all over the world. There’s the Swedish people, of course, and Husband’s family (which consists of Swedes but also a Finn, a Serb, and and a Croat), and then there are my classmates who are all immigrants who came here as adults, too.

Now that I am Big With Child (24 weeks) I have gotten a kick out of fielding everyone’s comments about my pregnancy. The general consensus is that I am carrying a boy, but each nationality has a different theory as to why. The Pole says it’s because only my belly has gotten bigger, not the rest of my body. The Japanese can tell it’s a boy because my face has not gotten “aggressive.” The Bosnian says boy because it mostly kicks down low. (We’ll find out for sure in two weeks with a private ultrasound.) I’ve also had my belly rubbed way more than I did in the US, which is absolutely fine with me. People are excited for me–what’s not to like about that?

I really love going to school. It’s my main social interaction, for one thing, and I’ve gone to school for 70% of my life and as a result it’s what I’m best at. As an unemployed, non-fluent recent immigrant who relies on her husband for, like, everything (I can’t even go to the garden supply store without having to call him up to help me figure out what landscape fabric labels are trying to tell me) it’s easy to feel kind of bereft and useless, but at least with school I have someplace to be, things to accomplish, people to talk to.

There’s a group of people there I’ve made friends with, and I am really, really going to miss them, and the purposefulness of school, next year when I am mammaledig (as the Swedes would say; it means maternity leave from my non-job. In the US I would just say I am a stay-at-home-mom but they don’t much do that here). Most are in their twenties and have no kids and I kind of don’t see myself getting together much with them like we do now (usually for fika, aka coffee-and-pastry get-together.) Oh well. I hear Sweden will more or less assign me to a mothers’ group after the baby comes (if all goes well). Unlike with my school buddies, with whom I speak English, I guess with those ladies I’ll have to speak Swedish, but I should probably keep up the language, anyway.

My friends are pretty impressive, all the languages they speak, all their various life experiences. There’s the gorgeous Tunisian who grew up in Germany and studied at the Sorbonne (she’s expecting, too, so maybe we can be mommy friends? I definitely will need one). There’s the 20-year-old Israeli guy who loves South Park and might have a crush on me, or maybe just my Americanness. I’ve talked about my Japanese buddy before, of course, who’s my best friend here, and wants to throw me a baby shower, even though they don’t do them here, because she knows it’s an American custom. Can’t forget the Somalian guy I met in my first Swedish class and keep up with. And there’s the Iranian who also has a four-year-old girl with whom we occasionally have playdates, and several others from the Balkans, the Middle East, Eastern Europe. I love the mix. And I’ll miss it.

My accent

13 April 2011

Yesterday a school buddy of mine asked me, “When are you going to get rid of your thick accent in Swedish?” Well, fuck you, too! Jeez. I thought my Swedish accent was fine. I mean, I always know what I’m saying! (And then he went on to tell me about how this other American he met, who came here as a teenager and has lived here for thirty years, has less of an accent than I do. Well, duh.)

In general I think I do have it pretty easy here with my American accent; since people are more familiar with the language and its sounds, it’s probably often easier to understand me in Swedish than someone whose first language is, say, Portuguese (which is, by the way, my favorite accent. So pretty!)

But sure, I know that oftentimes I speak Swedish like it’s English with funny words. I can get some accurate pronunciation and pretty good prosody going if I am a) 100% sure about what I am saying, e.g. it is a story I have told in Swedish before; or b) if I am, for whatever reason, In The Swedish Zone. But still, nobody’s ever going to confuse me with a Swede (and I have no problem with that whatsoever).

One of my Swedish teachers loves to select individual students, often me (she just loves picking me to do stuff; in any class discussion I know I must prepare an opinion, as I will be asked to share it), to read long, complex, new texts aloud in front of the whole class. Along the way she interrupts multiple times to correct pronunciation, and then quizzes the reader on the content. I don’t know what the hell pedagogical technique she is under the impression she is using, but it is a figment of her imagination. Since I have, you know, a Master’s degree in how to teach people other languages, sometimes I can guess at what her intentions were, but she can never successfully pull them off. It’s like she once watched a 20-minute video about teaching and and second-language learning and is desperately trying to recreate what she dimly recalls.

Anyway, whenever she has me do these readings, she stops me after the first few sentences. “Do it more Swedish!” And since I had anticipated that comment, I had already started out trying to render these unfamiliar phrases as Swedishy as possible. But then I gotta somehow take it up a notch. One day, out of frustration and disdain, I decided to make a joke of it and started reading in my best imitation of The Swedish Chef. I was basically just fucking with her. And the teacher loved it. So apparently I can only produce an acceptable facsimile of Swedish speech when I am parodying it. But that just feels so ridiculous in normal life.

I remember from learning Spanish in high school that it wasn’t until I had a very strong command of the language’s grammar and vocabulary and idiomatic expressions that I was finally ready to focus on my accent. This happened sometime after I had studied abroad in Mexico. It was like a switch went off and all of a sudden people were (probably jokingly) asking me which Spanish-speaking nation I was from.

And maybe something like this will happen again, or maybe I am just too old and Swedish has just too many sounds I can’t quite say. People always seem to understand me, though, so I have a hard time getting motivated about improving my accent. Why trouble myself? Plus, the truth is I don’t speak Swedish as often as you’d think. At home it’s English. With my friends it’s English. With my in-laws it’s English (though sometimes they’ll speak Swedish to me). Only in class (unless I am chatting with my friends) or out shopping (unless someone hears me speaking English and initiates it) or sometimes in medical settings (though not usually) or with workers at our house (this is my least favorite setting) and at the day care (with the sweet teachers and kiddos) do I ever speak Swedish. And I don’t watch Swedish TV or anything, though I do read (assigned) novels. My mental life is 100% English.

Honestly, for living in Sweden, that doesn’t add up to a lot of exposure to Swedish. And I haven’t even been here a year. So all things considered, I think I am doing pretty well, even if I do say stuff kinda funny.

So!

4 April 2011

We had a visitor from America! And she brought Cheez-Its! This family friend was in England for a meeting and took a few days to pop over here. It was fun and spring came with her, which is fabulous. Birds singing, blue skies, a nearly complete lack of snow, the whole deal.

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We’re a bit stressed around here. Our kitchen renovation about to start; our new carpet is about to be replaced (long story); my courses are gearing up for major national exams; and our American driver’s licenses are about to expire since we’ve almost been here a year and we still haven’t earned our Swedish ones and the whole thing is a big, overwhelming deal. I hope I don’t end up having to take a bus. I live outside a tiny village and the bus just doesn’t come by that often.

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Little Girl is happy these days despite a weird rash behind her ear and poop accidents every day (I have no idea what to do). Suddenly her artwork has gotten representative, and we’re quite impressed, and she can get so engrossed for hours in her imaginary play.

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I’m 20 weeks now and feeling fetal movement several times a day, which I just love. Husband has felt it once but Little Girl has been unsuccessful, I think because she always wants to blow bubbles on my tummy and I guess the baby stop moving out of surprise. LG just loves my big tummy and kisses it all the time and tells everybody (I mean everybody) about what’s in it. Very sweet.

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There’s a government program here that’s supposed to support foreign academics in learning Swedish and getting work here. When I met with the agency to talk about it in the fall they told me it probably wouldn’t help me much given my qualifications and more advanced Swedish skills and (this was unspoken, but probably) since I’m white. I had only been interested in it because I wanted to get through the levels of Swedish faster, but it was eight hours a day five days a week and I ended up convincing the adult education school I’m in now to let me take the two levels of high school Swedish simultaneously anyway, so I didn’t mind passing on the opportunity. But apparently I was put on a waiting list for the program anyway, and last week was called in to talk to them about it. I didn’t see the point but took the appointment, and they agreed that since I’ll be done with the highest level of Swedish in a few weeks that I wasn’t a good fit for the program (as previously was mutually decided, but that’s the government for you.)

But what’s interesting is that during the meeting they suggested I apply for teaching jobs beginning in the fall even though I’m due at the end of August and plan on staying home at least a year. They said I should try to hide my pregnancy, accept any job offers, and inform them they’d need a substitute worker for the first year under the parental leave laws. I told them I totally couldn’t apply for a job I knew I would not be able to perform. Schools looking for someone to start teaching this fall, not next fall, you know?

I guess I’m just not Swedish enough still to take advantage of the system’s benefits properly. We still keep failing to use the 480-whatever paid days off Husband is entitled to for LG, (even though she wasn’t born here!), despite how Husband’s family informs us of our options nearly every time we see them. And (if all goes well) we’ll soon have another 480-some days available! Husband could stay home with nearly his normal salary for years ! But we just can’t wrap our heads around it. His job hired him to do some stuff, you know? Not stay home while getting paid. Plus I’m already mostly home and the dagis takes care of LG when I’m in school so I don’t even know what he’d be doing on parental leave!