As we enter the darkest month, as we count the days, hours really, until we fly off to the sun of Arizona and California, I want to write about a source of warmth and heat right here in Sweden, something that breaks through the stony public wall of Stockholm.
Yes, my kids.
I spend a lot of energy worrying about how reserved Sweden affects them, how the baby’s first year here compares with his big sister’s first year in New York in terms of smiles and compliments. In other words, she got gushed over, even as we floundered in exurb isolation, and he does not, even though he is just as cute.
You always hear too that there is a warmth to Sweden, a shy almost childlike glow behind the stern exterior.
Usually I scoff, especially in the winter, but sometimes you see the truth.
I was out with NK the other week in the center city. We sat in a waiting room, and a man struck up a conversation with her about the sunflower seeds she was eating. We walked past a church and another man called her an angel. We went in the church so she could “sing” and another man gave her an apple (she did not eat it) and the first man brought over a candle. A couple took her picture and showed it to us and offered to send it to us (they did not, but I do not care). NK danced and chattered and suddenly a minister was smiling and then an hour later the McDonald’s staff gave us extra toys and a balloon and NK sang a loud song (for herself, not for the audience) and they clapped.
And a few days later, out with the baby, he started flirting with everyone we passed, and, the thing is, that it worked. He got a response, not stony stares. No, he got smiles and giggles and not just from old ladies either (who are the one constant source of attention here).
I wonder where it comes from, my kids’ projection of warmth, because, faced with a silent Stockholm, I shut down with the best of them.
But I am learning. That I should get over my resentment at having to always make the first smile. Because Sweden has been so good for us, and if we can get smiles on top of everything, well, that almost makes a November with 14 total hours of sunlight liveable.
Excuse me. I am going to go back to visualizing the desert sun coming up over the mountains.