backpacking with small children in romania via stockholm, sweden

Parenting can mean many things, even time travel or a warping of space, taking you from Sweden at 7pm to, say, a Stalinist Romanian suburb at 2am in 1998.

I’ve been yearning to travel lately, and I do not mean the week in Spain at a resort, though that would be lovely, what with the buffet and kids pools and all.  No, I’ve been yearning to wander again, to backpack, to set forth for a longer trip and no set itinerary, even if it means cold nights swaying in a train station waiting room, or dozing locked to your train seat, hoping you don’t get ripped off, or setting up your tent in range of a really mean dog outside a Bulgarian disco.

Well, I don’t yearn any longer.  On Saturday afternoon I took the kids alone to a very cool Thanksgiving dinner, where I stuffed myself with four servings of stuffing and greedily ate the drumstick.  We left at 6:15 and ran through the slush for the bus – we were at the end of the line – on the edge of a dark forest and beach – with a 30 minute wait if we missed it.

We got off in the middle of the small, friendly city of Sundbyberg.  But in Sweden at 6:45 it has been dark for hours.  Sleet was falling.  The bus stop was across town from the bus stop for one of the three buses home, a fact conveniently left off of the Swedish public transit website (Thanks guys!).  I had a 2-year-old insisting on getting up, and a 4-year-old crying to rest – and for salami.  We trudged through the empty streets, finally hitting a strip of bars.

“Look, Daddy, we’re not lonely anymore!”  (This is my daughter translating directly from Swedish, which has one word for alone and lonely, though I did not know this at the time so thought she was being profound).

There is little as alienating as walking past drunk smokers with two small kids at night.  The restaurants were full, the lights bright.  But we had to get home, and we were far away.

Exiles in Sundbyberg.

Finally, we made it to the bus stop.  And as we sat there, a rusted, hulking car careened around the corner.  A death car, the kind of which you never see in Sweden, much less America.   More in nightmares and horror movies.  It veered from curb to curb, sparks shooting high.  And then it turned to us.  I threw the girl into the corner and put myself in front of the stroller.  The car slowed – a lone silhouetted driver inside – but rolled straight towards us, even going up on the curb before turning and – smoke and sparks again – racing off to the other curb and back and then down the street.

I started running towards the car, I was so angry, before I stopped myself.  Two guys came over, shouting, asking if we were OK.

My daughter claims she was not scared.  And I actually believe her, from the way she told the story to her mother.

My glasses broke, a loose screw lost.  I shook. Then the bus came.  When we got out near home, I had to transfer the older kid to the stroller, where she slept, and put the boy on my shoulders, my glasses hanging oddly from my face.

And the walk home seemed long, and I was taken back to that Romanian suburb, terrified of the sameness, cursing the guidebook, afraid to talk to anyone, certain I was lost and going to freeze … until the hotel came into view as promised.

And we eventually got home, as promised, where the girl slept and the boy fell asleep before I could go fetch Rhino.

It was 7:45pm but seemed like darkness point of night …


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