diving deeper into daddyland

I have decided to delve deeper into the questions of Daddyland.  So I’ve been reading books and brainstorming and doing radio interviews on football and reading books on family life, feminism and masculinity in America.

But I’m not going to write about any of that here yet.  I’m going to focus on a book proposal, and I’ve found that even thinking about short posts or posting photos was too distracting.  Add in my day job, and I just don’t have the space to blog.

I do expect to be back.  Writing this blog dragged me back into a writing life and gave me a voice and a topic to grab hold of.  I like writing each day, and the old newspaper reporter in me likes addressing a subject little by little.  And now it is hard to stop.  I have to stop myself from writing down post ideas as I read books or see things like the conservative Swedish government using its family leave policies as a reason for the country’s thriving economy.

I may post parts of the book proposal here as they get written, looking for feedback and trying to build a little buzz.

This blog has also meant a tremendous amount to me personally, as an expat, as a writer, as a father on paternity leave.  Every comment meant the world, even if I did not have time to respond like I wanted.  Thank you to all my readers.


leaving daddyland for a month of sunlight in the homeland

We are in Chicago right now, loving the bright sun despite the bitter wind, kicking off four weeks of vacation here and San Francisco.

I will not be blogging while in the states.  On these trips, I end up going to bed at like 6:30 pm right after my jet lagged kids, not writing on my computer.

And when we come back, I’m not going to blog in the same way either.  I feel like this fall was the end of an era in Daddyland, as I transitioned back to work, as my boy got bigger and started to talk and laugh when he recites all his friends names.  I’ll still work part-time in the spring.  Nothing is going to outwardly change, I think.  But it still feels different, like we have a kid and a toddler now, not a toddler and a baby.

I’m also going to work on a book proposal based on my Slate essay, more or less.  So I need to go deeper into this whole masculinity thing, not daily.  I need to push myself on it, and that doesn’t happen in 25 minutes on a Tuesday night.

I still want to blog, but I’m thinking it will be more photos, snippets of the book proposal, even a haiku thrown in here or there.

Anyway, happy holidays and see you in mid-January.

singing the 12 days of christmas every night in sweden

At some point, we were given a book of the song The 12 Days of Christmas.  I had fond memories of this song, soley from a Muppet version on a vinyl record that I remember as hilarious, highlighted by Miss Piggy making just hilarious jokes at the “Five Golden Rings” verse.

I have since listened to this Muppet version.  Not so funny.

But my children love both the song and the book.  For three Christmas seasons now, I have sung this song at least once a day, if not twice.  It is a long song.  And did you ever notice that it is largely about birds?

It is also sexist, at least our book, with this vaguely 19-century-ish British-ish guy giving all these presents to a wanly smiling woman at her vaguely British mansion.

Anyway, Oliver Miller at The Faster Times recently reviewed the song, complete with grades for each gift – yes, this is strange, but funny – and I could not stop laughing as I sung it tonight, though I kind of wonder if, like the Muppet version, the review is funnier in memory.

Here is an excerpt:

day5 Review of:  The 12 Days of Christmas

Five Golden Rings: “FIIIII-VE GOOOL-DENNNN RINGS.”  You know why we shout this part of the song?  Because this is the only good present out of the whole bunch.  …The next day at the bar, someone’s like, “So, what’d you get?”  And you’re like:  “A bunch of golden rings.  Which was pretty awesome.  And then” you stare down at the surface of the bar and start mumbling “…some birds or something.”

Next, as twilight starts to fall, you resume your lonely drinking — calculating how much longer you can avoid going back to your horrible, hen-and-dove-infested apartment.  Should you pawn the golden rings to pay for birdseed? Use them to make a down-payment on a second apartment?  Outside, the darkness gathers; but you shake your head, unable to decide what to do…  Grade: B-minus

Nope, still funny.

winter in sweden ruined by trips to sunny beaches – a photo journey

The darkness seeps into your life here no matter how hard you try to keep it out.  You can light candles and appreciate the Christmas lights and have the big sun lamp shining the whole day, but it is still dark by mid-afternoon.  I notice it as I walk from the subway to my kids’ preschool, suddenly stressed that I am late, that it is night and they are waiting.  It is not true, of course, but I feel it.  Of course, there is a flip side.  When you take your kids out on the new sled on a Sunday afternoon, and it is like the deepest night, that is cool, to be playing in the snow under the lights, sliding down hills and building snow sculptures.

Anyway, I am always disappointed in how much Swedes seem to dislike the winter.  I want them to be cheery and positive and embrace it.  But they don’t, in general.  I have a theory too.  They have been ruined by air travel.  Back in the day, they knew nothing else of winter.  Today, literally, my kids have two classmates and a teacher on vacation in Thailand. And this is weeks before the big rush to the sun starts.

Long ago, meaning 2004, my wife and I spent six weeks in Thailand in November and December.  We returned to a Stockholm sublet that was being renovated, meaning we lived with little heat, much dust and shared a bathroom in the cleaning closet with an old junkie. We both got the flu for almost a month, and the winter was a hard and cold one.

Better to illustrate it – to see why a Swedish winter might be such a shock.




And returned to this (first pic aside, I only have access to my more picturesque shots of that Stockholm winter, but you get the idea).




This all said, I wouldn't trade our upcoming sojourn in the sun for all the cheery ski and sledding and cozy candlelit afternoons in the world …

how to survive the stockholm to chicago flight with two small children

In just about two weeks, we fly off to America, to Chicago and then San Francisco.  We can’t wait to be there, with family, friends, and our good pal the sun.  Yes, even if Chicago is frigid and blustery, it still features the sun, or at least a bright sky.

Ahh, but getting there.  I just wrote a blog post for YourTango.com on the joys, or lack thereof, of the transatlantic flight with small kids:

“In a few weeks, my wife and I will undergo our annual marriage stress test—the transatlantic flight with small children.

There may be no greater parenting and marital challenge than surviving up to 25 hours together in a succession of claustrophic buses, airports and airplanes. This year, we have it easy—only an eight-hour flight from Stockholm to Chicago, with a trip to San Francisco a week later… plus the return flights, of course.

Last year, we went from Stockholm to Tucson, then from Tucscon to San Francisco and back (with an overnight delay throw in after we had already boarded the plane) and then, a day later, from Tucson to Stockholm …

Yet these trips are also never as bad as we fear. The kids do not ever really scream. We do not ever really scream. And even though every trip is different because our kids are at different ages and stages (this one will suck because our son is almost 2, meaning we did not pay for a ticket but we have a really big almost 2-year-old to put in our lap), there are a couple rules we follow to keep some semblance of control.”

You can read the rest here.

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 …

the nightmare of dressing kids in winter in stockholm

Winter has come to Stockholm – the slush, the ice, the freezing rain, but above all, the bundled up kids.

Getting both kids ready to go out is an even more complex process than most kid management.  You don’t want them to get too hot.  You want them to eat.  You don’t want to get too hot yourself.  You have to negotiate three levels of getting dressed – in our house, we get the regular clothes, the snowsuit, and the hats and gloves on in three distinct stages, often with more than just the last one taking place outside.

In other words, I’ve been 15 minutes late to work every day this week.

Gabe Stein – an American guy on paternity leave here in Sweden – recently wrote an essay on the challenges of winter dressing for The Local:

While my son was finally fully dressed and ready to go, my daughter started to show signs of rebellion. Except for the tests that she puts me through in public, her dressing-time challenge is my worst nightmare.

This is what will happen.

I have probably already worked ten minutes getting her brother dressed, so by the time it’s her turn, I am already sweating. (A while back I realized that I needed to get dressed last, otherwise I would lose my temper at the first hint of a defiant gaze.) First, she’ll run away, forcing me to either scream no from on the floor in the hallway or chase after her and carry her back. If I’m carrying her back, she’ll most likely be screaming no and speed kicking her legs into the air.

It is a funny scene.  I especially appreciate the bit about him getting hot.  I too have spent up to 30 minutes all bundled up, about to pass out, while I tried to talk children into their rain coats.  It is not a pretty scene.

Gabe later posted a video of the whole painful process …