A Californian finally feels spring winter in Sweden

This week it seemed like spring in Stockholm. The snow is melting, leaving thin sheets of ice over the shadowy depressions in our park. There are green shoots poking through the earth, and the temperature got into the high 40’s probably.

But I am not deceived.  I know the winter will return.

But it will be what Swedes call spring winter. This is mostly a northern mountain phrase, but to a Californian it goes for Stockholm as well.  It is the time of year when the sun is returning but the winter refuses to go.

In years past it has been the hardest time of year.  My body feels the winter ending, feels the sun warming my closed eyelids as I stand and face the heat.  But the winter does not end. I still dress the children in snowsuits, I still bundle up, my feet still freeze.

It seemed like spring stalled, leaving me in a winter limbo.

I am a minority on this, I think.  People seem to love spring winter, getting to ski in the sun, camp and ice skate, that sort of thing.

And this year I get that.  I get spring winter. I have finally been in Sweden long enough for my soul to calibrate not to the snow, not to the temperature but to the sun.

The sun returns slowly, inching forward, but then near the end of February seeming to come 10 minutes earlier each day and linger well after we have come back from work and preschool.

In Sweden they do not measure seasons by the calendar but by the weather.  So spring comes when the temperature is above freezing for so many days in a row.  That sort of thing.

But that does not reflect the joy of the sun returning, even behind overcast clouds, even in a freezing wind like today. So we get spring winter.  And I get to know that in less than three weeks, we will be tipping over the spring equinox and suddenly days here will be longer than in the US.

And that brings the promise of summer and of the forest and the blueberries and the lake by our summer cottage and riding my bike to the country store miles away.


Video: The Backyardigans are cool. Especially when they surf.

We used to watch the Backyardigans every night for our brief “afternoon TV.”  Sadly no more.  Because I loved the Backyardigans.  Great music. Great genres. Great boy and girl characters.

I really loved the surf episode with the Afrobeat music. It made me cry once with longing for California.

There are, like, four great songs in the episode, dude. But this, dude, is a good choice on a rainy, icy, overcast day in Sweden.

Dude. (And, yes, I really used to say dude this much.)

From the sun to the snow … looking back after the jet lag

This is where we were.

Though it could be windy.

Mostly glorious, especially in January.

And now back to this.  That poor kid falling down says it all.  Except that my kids had just spent 20 minutes falling down on purpose and screaming with laughter about it.  So all is not gloomy when you get fresh snow on your return from the beach …

One of the crowd in a California playground

I feel special in Sweden.  I also often feel alone at the park or in the preschool dressing room.  But I also feel special.  I hug my kids a little more, am a little louder, don’t make them wear their snowsuit every afternoon, swing them in big circles and talk both to them and to myself as I hunt for the lost mitten (and there is always a lost  mitten).

We went to a park today here in northern California.  And it was filled with dads.  And it was filled Americans.  And, even though this happens every time we come to California, or I hang out with American dads in Sweden, it dawned on me that I am not special at all.

I mean, I’m sure I’m special and unique and will get a trophy at some point.  But  it is a good reminder to see all these guys taking care of their kids, to see all these parents talking like I do and playing like I do.

It’s not that American parenting is better.  It’s not.  It’s not worse either.

And it is both good and bad to feel part of the crowd.

It was good today.

no escaping jet lag with small children

You do not rush jet lag with a toddler and a baby, at least not ours. There are no strategies. You cannot turn a nap into night sleep, you just end up awake for three hours in the deepest part of the night. Nope, their little bodies shift at their own pace, slowed by the faint Swedish light and the cold that keeps them inside and not out.

It is always harder coming east too. When we go west, they just get up at 1am, 2am, 3am and you start your day earlier and that is fine. Maybe it is because I am more a morning person, but having two kids up until 1am is less fun. Those sporadic late night naps are the worst. Then I wake up at 10am sort of panicked that the day is done, which it is not, of course.

The kids are quite happy, of course. They do not know. They just play into the night, and after five weeks off together and with family and friends, they play quite in harmony, with lots of laughter. We go to the library, the store, and we turn on music to dance after everything closes.

We shudder a bit at the cold because we are not used to it. And the apartment seems really small. I think we were away too long and our sense of space shifted, though now it is shifting back again and I do not feel like we own a fine two bedroom closet.

And I want to stop complaining because we are coming out of a glorious happy five weeks. Sun, pool, playing, travel, football, grandma and grandpa, lots of Dora the Explorer and so on. It was beautiful in the more delicate, rare sense of the word. So I apologize to any and all who had to suffer the Swedish dark … or had to work the past month.

But that is likely why we are a bit let down. We had it that good. Well, that and the cold and the dark and the jet lag, the creeping won’t go away jet lag.

it is cool to be all grown up, even if i stopped growing

My wife and I like being grown ups. Actually, maybe we like being adults, because as our three year old pointed out to us today, we are done growing. All grown up, while she is still growing, as is her little brother.

And I would love to grow another inch or so.

But adulthood, we are reveling in that right now. As our generation (and the one before us and the one after) seem to flee it, we just giggle at the thought of two mortgages, of two kids, of the impending 23-hour plane journey to Arizona.

Not that it is easy. It is not. We do not sleep. The baby threw up all evening. The toddler has decided to cancel Christmas, both sullenly and loudly. And so on.

But this is our life. We made it ourselves. We chose it with care – the small apartment in the city, the summer house in the country, the two kids, no car, the reduced work schedules, the big travel plans, the budget priorities.

Now I am four days from parental leave. We are spending five weeks in sunny Arizona and California surrounded by family and friends. E will study this spring. I will write more (here and elsewhere). We will spend huge chunks of time out in the country. We are giving ourselves space as a family.

The beauty of these choices crystalized for us in the falling snow of the countryside this weekend. We had avoided the summer place all fall – too sick (mostly), too busy, too comfortable in the city.

But we went up for a day over the weekend. I took the kids myself on the train, and we got off into the first snow of the season, big soft flakes floating to the forest floor. E waited for us with a fire going and the house warming up more than we thought. We had family over for a Christmas fika. We put away all the summer things, finally.

It was ours. And we loved it. Then the children slept poorly, and I had to get up at 4:30 in the cold, and it is a long way to walk to the bathroom (in the barn) in the cold. So we left after a day.

Because we could.

the countdown to paternity leave

I have eight more days of work. Then I am off to paternity leave (called pappaledig in Swedish) for eight or nine months.

And, yes, there is a countdown. Right now it is tied up with our flight to Arizona five days later and Christmas and a trip to California and seeing grandparents and greatgrandparents and friends. It is tied up with escaping the dark drizzle and waking up to the real sun, no matter if it is a cold desert sun for a few hours.

But I am also counting down to the days after that. To the hard slog of February with a restless baby and a toddler exhausted by daycare. It will not be easier than my quite OK job. I will get to write more, I guess, which is nice. But I will only write more if I sacrifice my naps or my moments alone. But that is all OK. I am counting down to changing the pace of all our lives, of regaining my baby momentum (which I gain and lose each weekend, or each early early morning).

There is something unmodern and more natural about life on leave. Yes, even for a guy. I refuse to believe that men are not cut out for child care, that way back in the forests of our beginnings, that the men did not care for the babies at the end of the day or while the women were out gathering or whatever.

And then I will go back to work because I do not want to be home forever. But that is OK too. Because I don’t have to make that choice. That is the beauty of Sweden. That is not this countdown.