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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Problems

1 February 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


Entering the workforce

26 January 2013

Guess what, you guys! For the first time, somebody besides the government in Sweden wants to give me money! And not just because I reproduced, but in exchange for labor! That’s right: I got a job!

Career-wise it’s a bit of a step down from researcher and university instructor to substitute teacher at a middle school, but it feels like an accomplishment nonetheless. However, I’ve never taught middle schoolers before, and from what I recall, early adolescence is a tough age for those going through it, and those around them. Like their subs.

Wish me luck! Or even better: give me tips!


Refugees in rural Sweden

22 January 2013

Sweden is the biggest recipient of refugees in Western Europe and establishes its quotas regarding whom to admit, i.e. from which unstable countries, from the UN’s recommendations. Some spots are left open for more individual cases (e.g. someone is unsafe in their otherwise safe country for some reason). Almost 2,000 came in 2012. Sweden is not an especially populous country so the addition each year of basically a small town’s worth of people who need a lot of support (subsidized housing, language lessons, job training, and so forth) to become possibly employable and self-sufficient can have a significant impact on Swedish society and finances. As a result not all Swedish people think it is the best thing ever to admit these refugees.

My opinions are mixed. I sincerely appreciate living in a country that puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to policies promoting the welfare of children and people in danger. And Sweden’s low birth rate means it could use more young people to keep its pension system afloat. But, sure, refugees require resources that otherwise would be spent on people who already live here, and due to a combination of factors are more likely to be unemployed and engage in, if not outright illegal, then certainly un-Swedish social behavior; I can see why some people are not psyched about taking in refugees. The whole thing is, of course, extremely complicated and I’m comfortable not having a formed opinion on the subject in the abstract.

For most people here, ideas about refugees are only impersonal. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suppose that the majority of ethnic Swedish people don’t really know any refugees personally. Maybe they get irritated when they see foreign names associated with crimes in the paper, or are perturbed by their behavior on the bus, but from what I can tell most ethnic Swedes are pretty isolated, associating socially with only people who are like them.

I, however, happen to know quite a few refugees. Some I went to Swedish classes with (which they were disincentivized to finish, knowing their student benefits were more than unemployment benefits) and most of the others, weirdly, from local rural villages. This is because lately my region in Sweden has decided that a good way to find cheaper housing for its refugees, and (I suspect) to keep them from all living in one place together which inevitably becomes ghettoized, is to distribute them around in small villages. While I appreciate the intent, in reality it makes things for the new refugees really difficult and isolated (though inarguably better than whatever they were fleeing from). Let’s take the case of three families, given pseudonyms of course, whom I know personally:

Elena, from Honduras, whom I met at a state-run indoor play place one village over. She speaks no English or Swedish, poor thing, and fled here a few months ago, just her and her toddler, to escape potential kidnapping in her native country based on financial/political motives I can’t claim to understand fully. I heard her speaking Spanish to her kid and struck up a conversation, and we got together a few times in her bare, one-room apartment, furnished with a few pine furniture pieces courtesy of the government, when I was dropping off Swedish books for her to study (she wasn’t eligible yet for Swedish classes, or childcare even if she was) and hand-me-downs from Little Girl. Her child had only two toys and hardly any clothes (they escaped Honduras with the clothes on their backs).

While visiting, Elena needed help from me in understanding the letter from the government, written in Swedish (so helpful, Migrationsverket; and on a side note, I was super-impressed with myself for being able to translate bureaucratic Swedish into comprehensible Spanish), which was denying her request for extra money for additional winter clothes and a stroller. Elena also wanted to understand how to prepare soup she had bought in the tiny village store which was not the soup she had intended to buy; that kind of mix-up is particularly stressful when you can’t afford to waste money on food you can’t figure out how to eat.

Bana, from Eritrea, where many refugees are coming from nowadays. She and I met at a church-run indoor play place in a nearby village, where she was with her two daughters under two (her two other children still live in Eritrea, where she says they are safe; tragically, she says she’ll never be able to see those children again). She speaks lovely English despite having left school at age 13, and was the grateful recipient of more hand-me-down clothes and toys, not having very much for the girls (I swear I don’t befriend these ladies just to clean out my closets.) Somehow she managed to get her hands on an aged double-stroller so she can at least take her two babies out, at least the few times a day the bus shows up in rural Sweden. I saw her out and about with a Syrian friend, also a recent refugee, the other day. It is the village church, and not the government, that is providing the most support to her and other refugees in the form of social gatherings for refugee women and beginning Swedish lessons.

Azhar, from Pakistan, whom I introduced myself to today at my kid’s village school at pick-up time, psyched to see another non-Swedish person; his children’s presence means Little Girl is no longer the only immigrant! Azhar had a lot of complaints and questions regarding why his children can’t take the bus to and from school (he lives .1 kilometer less than the two kilometers far away you have to be to be eligible) and what he is going to do about that if he ever works, and also about how infrequently the city bus comes to the village, and furthermore why does he lives in the middle of nowhere? I sympathized. I don’t know how people can live out here without a car, and not speaking Swedish to boot. Good luck. (His youngest kid is in the grade above Little Girl; I’m thinking about offering to give him rides home on Wednesday, when the younger grades let out early, so Azhar doesn’t have to make three trips to the school that day.)

I don’t have any clever conclusion to share here about the situation of refugees in Sweden. If I did I would write the government and let them know and not muse about it on my blog. I do what I can, personally, to try to help those I meet and make them feel welcome in their new lives here because I feel a kinship to them in our mutual alien-ness to Swedish society and, shit, it’s hard enough to be a foreigner here when you have all the advantages I do; I can’t even imagine how it’d be without.


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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