Monday, March 5, 2012

It was a long dark winter.

Cabin fever, defined: For the second winter in a row, for nearly 6 weeks, the only adult I spoke to who knew my name was my husband.

There are no stay at home moms in Sweden. For me, this means raising kids here has been a surprisingly lonely prospect. 92% of children are in daycare after age 18 months, and according to Jonas Himmelstrand, the advocate for parents at home with children and leader of the group Haro, "Home care is discouraged, and in a sense socially marginalized. Parents will be persuaded, during medical checkups of children, on government institution home pages and through media, that children above one year of age need day care for their development, and that parents need work for their well-being." This contradicts my cultural givens, personal experience, as well as developmental psychology that children under three do best with their parents. That being home with your parent is best if at all possible certainly until age three, and best if at least until school age. A parents nurturing makes the brain grow more. Children can also thrive with a care giver who really knows and loves the child. We had a wonderful nanny when my first was young, she no doubt loved my daughter and their relationship enhanced my daughters life and development. But our school here does meet that criteria for my youngest. Even with a 4:1 ratio of kids to teachers at our Waldorf school, it is not warm and nurturing enough for my three year old who clearly prefers home. I get it, I see the teachers do not understand her context, at the end of last year they did not recognize the word she calls her big sister who she plays with at that school everyday. In other words, they do not really know her, and could not be the caring personal assistant a young child needs to navigate the world. We benefit from the Swedish preschool by using the Waldorf school as a drop off play group for my girls, especially valuable in the absence of relatives that could watch the kids a few hours or friends we would play with if parenting in the more social world we had in Florida. And my 6-7 year old really does do great with a group of kids she can play hard with often. I am mostly home with my kids, but very few others are. I often find myself longing for the community of mothers and families I had in the USA that made this work of raising kids light and fun.

The one good friend I have here who has kids is a german literature professor. Education and language are her natural skills, and she spends lots of one on one time with her kids, so it did not surprise me that her kids had learned to read and write german, english, and swedish by age 4. Her oldest will reach school age this year and is not a fit for the swedish school system, since she is far advanced of the typical swedish child. So her family wishes to continue to teach the child at home, but since Swedes do not value being at home with young children, they are down right suspicious if you wish to be at home with an older one. My friend and her family will relocate to USA, shall I say flee, as if they stay and do not enroll the girl in school they will face fines and even the threat of imprisonment. I was rather hoping that the education law that passed in June 2010 and banned home schooling would not be strongly enforced, but Jonas Himmelstrand the voice of the Swedish home school movement and attachment parenting movement just fled the country under threats and fines of $26,000 a year for not enrolling his children in school.

This place is pretty, oh the red barns and canola fields and children skipping to school through the woods!!...but today I feel rather condemning. People do not socialize. Having barbeques here to extend my social circle results in quiet stares, and comments like "wow, this was such an interesting thing to do, why thank you!". I miss my friends, my people, and no matter how crazy the US is, at least you can be yourself and find someone to go along with it! I have a baby about to turn one, I am going to be doing this taking care of young kids thing a few more years and I can not stand to do it in isolation like this. Back home in the Florida sun there are people who love me who could meet me at the beach, or hang out and have a cup of coffee with me while our kids play, and provide the simple connections that sustain me.

I was admiring someone else's bloggy life from afar, dreaming of her town of Nederland, CO thinking maybe with more sun, English language, and friendly Americans this gig of being at home in the forest with kids would be more fun. But then she picked up and moved from loneliness. Funny how the pictures can convey the dream with out the emotion. I want to catch this blog up with all the pictures of the living the dream in Sweden, it has been good, I will fill in the blog so it is a record of our time here... but I think the clock is ticking, a count down towards our next phase of life....

We came here to get to know family, immerse myself and the kids in Swedish language and culture, and help out family. We have done what we came to do.

Sorry, got a three year old who wants me to drive her pretend train to IKEA. Not much time for blogging these days, so the story is not told in full!


Abby said...

I know exactly what you're going through. Though Sweden is a beautiful country with so many benefits...the isolation for expats who do not live in one of the 3 largest cities is unbearable. I left Sweden exactly one year ago. I put my relationship on the line because I was so deep into my unhappiness and loneliness, leaving was the only way to save myself. It was the best decision I made...I am myself again, my career is back on track and my relationship with the Swede has taken the step forward that we would not have done if I had stayed in Sweden.

I know what you are going through, it's so hard to explain in some ways, and so easy in others. Many Europeans call us "shallow" because Americans are overly friendly, but what they don't realize is when we come to a country like Sweden which is reserved and hard to break into socially, it can really do a number on our spirits. All I can think of is what it would be like to put a butterfly in a dark room with just a little bit of light here and there...for a while it's ok...but eventually the weight becomes too much to bear.

Sorry to ramble, I just saw a lot of myself in this post..minus the three children. I'm glad you're writing again...and I wish you all the best. <3

SwedeLife said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SwedeLife said...

Oh, you left! Your blog never showed up in my feed, so I did not get that.

Your comment will likely be the social high light of my day, 5 pm and not seen a friendly soul since two weeks ago Thursday.

It is strangely gratifying to hear other expats have or are leaving, it makes me feel less like I am a failure for not wanting to stay forever.

I am instead trying to recognize we managed a super successful three year vacation to Europe, instead of making myself wrong for wanting to go back.

It is good to hear it was a good choice. Since I am from Florida, this is my first time of living with seasons, I will miss the white wintery sledding days when the sky is blue and the trees are decorated with snow, but I can book a ski trip if it really gets to me, right?!

Florida summers are insufferably hot, so the dream life is to become 'location independent/ digital nomads' and come back to Sweden for a few months each summer when it really is heavenly. Then the quiet of Sweden will be a welcome respite from the busy busy overstimulation of American life.

Rose said...

I have too much to say in this tiny little space, so I just wanted to say hugs to you, mama. You are in my thoughts and we welcome you back to the Florida insanity whenever you are ready.


Hello Heidi
I empathise with you completely...
I have teenage sons...been here 3 years in the forest and a husband that skips off to London every other week to I have been completely alone in the forest with an elderly couple as neighbours...I feel your isolation. At a crossroads in my life ... a major move to Uppsala or back to this space.
Please inbox me if ever you want to chat or Skype
Sending many loving thoughts your way
Just off to my Yoga and meditation's worth the looong saving grace YAY!

Abby said...

Yeah I did...I don't think I ever wrote anything simply because it was far too painful to write it in that blog...I wrote about it in another blog of mine, but it usually is about a different topic other than living in Europe.

I am so sorry you're having to go through this...I just remember day end and day out of just waking up and watching endless reruns of bad American daytime television...wishing for a busy shopping mall...a target...something...anything.

I think the plan of splitting your time is COMPLETELY doable...Swedish summers can be so beautiful...even if you are only there for a few weeks, it will still be could stay with family, or buy a cute summer cottage to also help "reset" from the hustle and bustle that is America. And keep up with the Swedish language. :)

MermaidLilli said...

Heidi.... my heart is sad thinking of your loneliness. My own dilemma is wanting the experience and the flavor of living in Spain and the pull which is my family and my roots which are in America (Tallahassee, specifically). I have also crossed into a different age group, which makes me think of what my later years will bring, or that I want to have.
I realized thaat these pulls are important to pay attention to and that I need to find the balance. I am leaning towards living in Spain, living in Tallahassee and living in another place where I can volunteer or have a midwifery job that will keep feeding my birth junkie soul. I don't have to pick one or the other. And no matter where I live, I want to have what will nourish my soul.
Back to you.... are you doing or having something in your own life that is specifically for you and not all the others in the family? Like a yoga class, piano lessons, or anything that you like. These things that can connect you with other adults. And when ready make the move... find your balance. The life you have written about in your Swedish blog always sounded so earthy and wonderful and you can still have that. Then come to your other home... and have your balance. Much LOVE.

Sara said...

"Funny how the pictures can convey the dream with out the emotion."

Yes :) And I think that because I try to keep my blog really positive, and portray the beauty in life and not all the hard parts, it sometimes takes people by surprise when "all of a sudden" we're taking off back to the city!

All I know is that I was crying pretty consistently the last couple of weeks we were up there...deep in my emotions and hormones. Since being back in Longmont, I haven't cried ONCE! We are thriving here and couldn't be happier. Listen to you heart mama. Thank you for your comment. I read it again and again. xxoo

Eva said...

As a German with Swedish relatives I'm feeling for you! Germans think very similar in that respect. Sending you warm American wishes from New York!

SwedeLife said...

Thanks all for the comments, they brighten up this quiet world I am in!

Julie, wow, three years already? You too!? Really, it makes me feel a little better to hear it. A nice place to visit for sure, but for vitality of day to day life, ugh.... not so much.

Sara, your post was what prompted me to make mine! I have been thinking hard about Colorado as an option and found a super cute house in nederland to dream of, and I read about the wind...your post may have saved me a lot of grief, so as a PSA I thought I would air my grievances about being a mom here. And yes, a pregnant blogger must protect herself, esp. high pregnant, the people who were commenting or reading my blog would show up in my dreams. You gotta have barriers to protect you from that stuff so you can build and be in your happy birthy world.

Alice, I think for us, and maybe for you having some of each is the dream. Since I am thinking of building my life, now wanting to givem y kids a home, I am thinking very much like you what do I want to have when I am old. Radical Homemakers book talks about relationship being our real wealth, adn after being hte community midwife there, your kids and grandkids there, your real wealth will always be Tally. You can go live the exotic life in Spain, but you know where your home is. I am choosing where to build that home for my kids, and I think I need those relationships and it to happen in english for me. This has been the perfect window for us to be here, and maybe we will try again when I am ready to join theranks of the working people. It would be lovely to be a midwife here, but now is not the time, so if I am going to be mom it might as well be with the community of mothers I help grow from the birthing center. I have not got a thing here. It would have been easier had I learned language before we moved, or before I was pregnant and having two babies. I have been pregnant/new babyland or traveling almost the whole time we were here so I have not gotten the language. The happier expats learn Swedish before they have kids. OUr baby #2 snuck in before she was planned, so it messed my schedule up, I did plan to master swedish before prengant with #2 and it just did not work out that way. But it makes taking yoga, lesson, etc hard for me, the stress of the language barrier counters the value of extending myself sometimes.

Eva, wow, homeschooling in USA from Germany. My friend here has a german husband, so they can not move to his home and school there. You two are so unlucky that germany like sweden are so suspicious of home schooling.

Alina said...

It makes me so sad to hear you do not love the country I love so much. I think knowing the language fluently would make your stay much happier. I lived there for all 4 of my highschool years in a very small town called Malmkoping. My mother still lives there and her sister my Aunt also lives there. I made lifelong friends and stay in contact to this day. I know having some of my family there is a blessing. I have not experienced swedes being non social but maybe southern sweden is different. You have to be where you are happy, so I tink it is great that you can recognize that you are not. I am not as happy here in the US and hoping to move my family there eventually.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog because we are a family who are very keen to move to Sweden after our current expat assignment in Thailand. I just wanted to say that i found your entry really interesting as I am a stay at home mum and that won't change when we eventually move there. I hope you feel happier today and sorry to read it's sometimes a struggle for you

Ulrika said...

I'm a stay-at-home mom to 4 daughters (12, soon 9, 4 and soon 1 years old) who also live in the forest...I wish I lived closer to you so we could visit - we have quite a few things in common. I partly homeschooled my oldest daughter until 5th grade, then after the new school law the principal of the freeschool they go to didn't dare to let her continue that way. Both of my "school aged girls" like their school but would still prefer to home school. My husband is American (I'm Swedish) and if we were able to we would most likely relocate to America or another country where homeschooling is possible. I have also desired to birth my babies at home but it never worked out for me. I still had good birth experiences though, especially the first and the last one.
Well, I totally understand it's a lonely life for you here in Sweden and I wish you and your family all the best!