Wednesday, October 7, 2020's that leaving Sweden right before the Pandemic feeling for ya?

When we moved from Sweden to USA in summer 2019, we calculated out loud it would be better to be in Sweden "if something really serious happens". Well HELLO 2020! We were just getting in the groove of our new life in Florida when the pandemic hit. Yes, we feel less secure in USA without the social safety net of Sweden. Our income from my husbands job is secure, but we are so much more vulnerable in the US. And healthcare is so expensive. Even with "the good insurance" covid would be a financial disaster if nothing else if we really needed care. But all in all, we are still glad to be in USA. I do better in my own language, and own culture. The isolation we are experiencing mirrors what we experienced in Sweden, and we are socially starved, but we have also become accustomed to life amongst ourselves, with out regularly seeing many others from our time in Sweden. So, while we were really ready for a more social existence, I find that doing something really emotionally hard like navigating a pandemic is something I prefer to do in my own country, even if it is less secure in many ways. The pandemic has forced us into circumstances we would rather not be in, but at least I can fully understand and engage with the choices we have. We had an array of options of how to approach school, and I am glad we have choices that allowed us to stay with the schools the kids were in last year but learn remotely. So we are home, hunkered down, kinda lonely, but living in the sunshine, in english. It is autumn and I got a bit of a flash back to Autumn in Sweden when (not) back to school shopping with my daughter in an H&M, which is a Swedish store, in a mall, that made me feel like we could have been back in Sweden. I got that feeling of what it is like to expect the cold and darkness to come, and felt grateful to realize that is not what October means in Florida. In Florida, the hard months are June, July, and August, when it gets SO.HOT.  September is a bit of a shift, and October is not the time to hunker down, but the beginning of the good part of the year, and comes with a feeling of release. Soon, we can open the windows. Soon, my walks in the forest by the river will be less sweaty, with fewer mosquitoes. Bike riding will be fun again. We can have fire pits nights, and camping. Soon, the local farm stand will be back with bouquets of fresh grown lettuce and kale, strawberries will be ready to pick,  and oranges, and grapefruits will not be far behind. So it feels good to be looking forward to fall in Florida with blue skies and milder temperatures, in spite of the fact that we are covid capital of the south and in the middle of a total political shit show. Cause at least the sun is shining, and I can follow the story, and make small talk through my mask. Halloween's coming, and there will still be socially distanced trick or treating in our neighborhood, Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Pancakes and Muffin mixes are making it smell like fall, and it's not long before the Thanksgiving-Christmas month, which should be a peaceful quiet one thanks to the virus. And... the first of advent our puppers will turn one year old! It was the right year to get The Family Dog. We made that decision pre-pandemic, and the puppy has proved proved to be a wonderful distraction and good fun for the kids during all this time at home. So, while I have to say we had some suffering and grieving to do to reckon with pandemic living, we're doing all right, thanks.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sweden Round 2: 2016-2019

So, how did that go??

Great. We did it. We sold our US house, moved to Sweden, and now have returned to USA. We returned July 1st and spent 4th of July 2019 still jet-lagged swimming in sunset waters and watching fireworks from the seaside of Siesta beach.

During our three years in Sweden we:
Hosted Swedish family at Thanksgiving gatherings, spent 3 Midsommars in Dalarna with family dancing around maypoles, had two cozy snowy New Years in Dalarna with family (and one NYE watching fireworks over Denmark from the Swedish shore at Nimis in The Free Republic of Ladonia), went on a 10 day backpacking trip in the Arctic without my family, camping-roadtripped in a VW van for a month in Norway (midnight sun! Vikings! glaciers! fjords! trolls! summer snow sleding in July! the WORLDS BEST STRAWBERRIES! Saltstraumen Maelstrom! ) drank too beer with my dad's siblings in German beer gardens of Frieberg, saw Hamilton in London, saw three fireworks shows for Guy Fawkes Night in England, picnicked at the cliffs of Dover, spent Halloween touring the Harry Potter halls of Cambridge University and trick or treating in Cambridge (the Cambridge Dodo! A plague themed Haunted House in a castle!), spent my son's 8th birthday with Stormtroopers at Disney Paris, and rode carousels at night with the kids under the lights of the Eiffel Tower, watched the parades of Fasnacht in Lucern, spent my 15th wedding anniversary at Neuschwanstein Castle, snowtubed upside down in a 360' loop-de-loop and sledded down the world's longest sled run in the Swiss Alps, and gathered with the extended Swedish clan in Gränna, Öland, and Lysekil.

Poignantly, this blog's last post was made about the 4th of July in the USA.  July 4th 2016 turned out to be a day I was called to a birth as a midwife, and I missed hosting my mom and grandma for the last time at my house before we moved. My daughter made the blueberry and peach pies in my absence, served the family, which I enjoyed when I returned at 4 am exhausted. It was the last gathering I would have of my family - my mother and grandma died while we were gone. This highlights the burdens of birth work, even at a part time schedule- on-call, personalized midwifery takes over your life. You can not be certain to make any scheduled event.... for years ..."unless I am at a birth" was the caveat for everything.  Now it is reason I am searching for a new career. Once I had kids, the cost for the time spent away, and the absence of time I could just nap and make up for lost sleep, meant American midwifery ceased to be a manageable lifestyle.

In that vein, I  enrolled in the Master's in Public Health program as I hoped I would. I am glad it was only the day I was accepted to the program that I learned apparently my plan to move across the world for a MPH at Lund was a bit of a long shot. It is the most competitive Master's program in Sweden. I was one of 50 accepted, out of 1400 applications! I started in 2017, and am still finishing it up this year, from USA, because of course work I missed when I returned to USA to help with my mother's death/ estate. 

The kids made an admirably smooth transition to Swedish school. I got teary watching them the first day, seeing a little girl take my then 7 year old daughter by the hand as the class walked away into the forest for their morning walk. We lucked out with lovely (the best!) teachers and a beautiful school, and the kids made great friends. They are all fluent Swedish speakers now. Me, not so much.... school+family loss+general sense of displacement meant I had little energy to focus on learning Swedish. 

I was correct in thinking before we left that three years in Sweden would afford the little kids a low pressure Swedish childhood full of nature, play, and freedom. That we could sneak in three years with our then 5, 7, and 11 year old,  and step back into USA life with some nice experiences, and them more matured, and able to handle US schools. The kids are back in school now, and two weeks in they are trying to get up to speed with the intensity of American school. It is all business and no play with lots of homework by comparison. I do not mind them stepping up to the more rigorous education. I believe they are up to the task, and they will adjust just fine. We moved back to a small neighborhood with tons of kids that love to be out playing, so they still have lots of free time, movement and play in their life. 

And I was right that Sweden is not a place I fit in, but a fun place to go. I was smart to enroll in the Master's degree program to keep me occupied in English while there. Going to school with millennials was a thing to do, but not a place for me to find community or friends. Once my classes ended in January, I felt very isolated and lonely. I went into the start of last school year last year willing to fit in and stay in Sweden, but by March I was clear we needed to pack up and head back to USA. In Sweden I am a foreigner in every situation, full of awkward and lacking connection. I depend on my husband to do everything in Swedish, and I become a half functioning person, unable to navigate some very basic parts of my life. I can do that about three years before it takes it toll, and my soul starts dying. It was time to come back.

I am so glad to be back.  I was afraid about how it would feel to return to US- we left while Obama was president, before the last election. But this is still where I am from. Here, things are easy and people are nice. My experience of Sweden is things are hard, and people are weird. I am grateful to have a life of ease again, where I can fully participate in all areas- understand the kids playing at my house, have small talk at the deli counter, get the big stuff -the administrative stuff of life- done in my language. Florida in July was not hell, either. I loved the lightening, the warm rain, the swimming pools, and watermelon. My oldest daughter fell right into the old group of friends, and my little ones have been both seeing old friends, and making new ones in the neighborhood and school.

Being in Sweden for me is like going underwater, scuba diving.... I can dive in, love the chance to look around and see a new world, but I am not of that world. I do not have what it takes to be part of that world. It's a nice place to visit, but not a place I experience BELONGING. So I come back, to USA, to participate, to fully function, to belong.

Will I be back? Maybe some day. We always say give us three years and see how we are.... we came back for USA highschool which lasts 4 years. Maybe we'll return in 4? I will finish my MPH, maybe go to American nursing school. If I get an RN in USA,  I can probably work as a midwife in Sweden. Now I am in the system, I can take Swedish Language as a distance University course, and improve my Swedish BEFORE I live there again. So with my existing midwifery education + two year USA RN + Swedish language maybe I would be eligible to work as a Swedish midwife, and possibly find a place in society for myself.  That is how I imagine I would approach the next chapter of The Swedelife.

Now I am back in my hometown, with out the family roots I always had. This is where I used come home to my parents.  Since my mother and grandma died while I was gone, I find it is still home, even if not a place where my family lives. It is a place to root my own children, swim in the gulf, see people I know when I am out, call on their help when I need it, and read the paper.  We even got a dog. We are set up to stay, maybe work through retirement, but still open to returning to Sweden some day. So it is, learning to live with bits of our hearts in two countries.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Independence Day

Today, it is nearly 4th of July in the USA, and my family is swimming in our warm 85 f swimming pool, in our sweet home, on a nice sized private lot in my hometown, prepping for having my mom and grandma over for 4th of July, and A MOVE BACK TO SWEDEN.

We moved to Sweden 7/22/2008 and left on 9/11/2012. The last weeks got crazy, I ended up in the ICU for a group A strep infection on my leg, cut the road trip to Norway out of the plan and went straight home to Florida. I remember the Florida heat those first few days.... Sending kids out to play, and only being able to stand out there a few minutes before being soaked in sweat, having to run back in to the cool air conditioned air to escape the humidity and the heat. We stayed a week at my parents, then got a beach condo, and enjoyed some Florida pool and warm gulf water while we commenced a search for a job and a house.

Our SwedeLife house sold, and we found we were in competition with investors for the residential properties in our little Florida town. Houses were being snatched up before making it to market, and we ended up renting next to some old friends. We thought that would be great, but soon learned families with school age kids are busy-busy-busy, and even being next door the children seldom had time to play. They were out at 8:30, back at 4:45, and had 15 minutes on the street before the 7 year old had to spend an hour on homework, then off to bed..... the house had problems that made us sick. We ended up moving into five places before we were able to find a home, and even then, we ended up with a house with major undisclosed problems.

Returning was not what we hoped. Relationships had shifted while we were gone, baby friends had grown to busy school aged friends, moms once at home and ready to get together had gone back to other pursuits. The ready made circle of friends I expected to support me was no longer intact. It took sometime before I realized we needed to forge new relationships, and create a whole new life. It seems dumb, now, looking back that it took me so long to know there is no 'going home', but you are always making a new path.

No one told me it is easier to be a stranger in a strange land, than a stranger in your own country.

Readjusting to my life in my "home" was awkward, and painful.  I expected to fall into a comfortable, familiar place, into the loving arms of family and friends that were excited to have us back. But in reality the whole thing was kind of like this:

Two years after we returned,  I found a blog that explained repatriation really well. When you leave your country of origin, it is like you leave a country of circles. You,  a circle, go to a new country, where everyone is a square. You adapt and change under the influence of the squares, you stretch and your edges become different. You return back to circle country, and are no longer a circle. You are a little bit circle, a little bit square- a hybrid new shape, a triangle. What I know now I did not know then, was by leaving my country, I would never quite fit in either place ever again. It is interesting to realize the people who have become our friends since moving back are mostly people who are in cross cultural relationships or have lived internationally. We instinctively found we are now most at home with other triangles.

A few of us who left Sweden at the same time, from Ireland, Australia, and USA all related very much to that post, that idea, nearly two years after we were back, and thought, yep, that really is how it is. We all saw our lives in the words, and felt like 'well, that would have been helpful to know!!"

I came back just in time though. Part of returning was because of family health concerns, and though we had no way to know it at the time, we made it back in time to spend the last year of my father's life with him. We have been with my mom while she was very sick, grieving, and adjusting to some new medical treatments that now have her doing pretty well.

Kids have done great settling into various programs we patched together: home schooling, home waldorf programs, charter schools, the public school I went to as a kid. Everyone has managed to get what they need. My husband got work in USA, I returned to being a part time self employed midwife while homeschooling.

We have had a hard few years, and a lonely few years, and overall they were easier done here than there. We have finally gotten comfortable in the life we have built upon return.

Then this spring, there was one particular moment when I thought "maybe we should go back to Sweden". I was with the homeschooling group for my 7 year old, my 5 year old also in tow, standing with half a dozen adults one Friday afternoon, watching our kids play on a pile of dirt. And as endearing as my children playing are, I thought, "I used to be able to let my kids play in piles of dirt and I did not have to personally supervise it, when we were in Sweden". After 11 years of parenting, I am feeling like I want to spend some time pursuing things that matter to me, and watching kids play in the dirt is not my current life dream.

My little kids are home schooling in USA because we really prefer the Swedish way: play based, movement rich early education, and academics later. We loved our Swedish Waldorf school for my first daughter. And when we did come back to USA, she fell into the school academics without any difficulty, and was more physically developed than her peers, and was better off from never having been asked to do academic work she was not developmentally ready for. So doing the math, we still have a 5 year old, and we still have two years left before he reaches that age of 7 when we feel we can put him in American school with out damaging him. So it was we started considering what it would be like to move back to Sweden.....

In so many ways, it has been great to spend these difficult years in USA where I could easily make new friends, participate in groups, and enjoy all the USA has to offer. Family. Life with my school aged daughter in English, and my culture has meant I can chaperone field trips, and understand the nuances of life. The abundant craziness of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, shopping at the Dollar Store for Helium birthday balloons at 9pm, the glory of warm gulf water beaches and warm swimming pools. My mom. Setting up a facebook event for camping, and having a load of families sign up, and join us for a weekend in the woods. But these years were lonely, and full of grief, too. My dad got cancer and after five short months of treatment, died. Our house, now fixed, was bought with a load of undisclosed problems that cost us $50,000 and had us strip it down to the studs, and move in unfinished. If we leave this chapter of life behind us, I will welcome a fresh start.

My husband can work here, there, anywhere. I am a Swedish citizen now, and while I speak basically NO Swedish, I can go to University tuition free and there are a load of  English language Master's programs I am eligible for, and make a career change from 24-7 on-call clincal work to public health work. It has been exhausting to be an on call midwife again, and I am looking at ways to translate my passion for birth into a job in policy, so I can make birth better, but to also sleep at night, and have a regular schedule. I have applied for Master's programs in Sweden. We enrolled the kids in the Waldorf schools in our region. We are patching up the last fix it ups on our Florida home, getting it on the market, and getting ready to have a last holiday with family for 4th of July.

We are crossing fingers all the moving parts will come together so we are back in Sweden for the start of the new school year.

When we left in 2008, we said "let's give it three years and see how we are". We stayed 4 years. When we came back to USA in 2012, we said "Let's see if we can sell the Swedish house, and get a US job, and see if we can spend the stay at home toddler years in USA, where there are so many at home moms, then see how we are." It has been 4 years. Now in 2016, looking at school aged kids, my desire to get back to work and improve my professional prospects, weighing the value of family relationships on each side of the Atlantic, two sides of the family an ocean apart, two cultures we want our kids to know, we are looking to return to our Swede Life.

Master's for me. Swedish language and culture for the kids. Play school for our little guy. Midsommar maypoles with my husband's clan, and the perks and hardships of Swedish life, things we know now we are in for. When we left before, I was starry eyed and unsure what we were heading for. It was 4 years in Sweden with two pregnancies and newborns. Now, it will be school for me, school for kids, and hopefully me finally learning Swedish. Now, I know what it means to be "a triangle", and will adapt more like the child of divorced parents who has to bounce between two households. Rules at mom's are different than the rules at dad's. Instead of comparing the two cultures I live in, I can just accept that USA has wonders and irritations, and Sweden has upsides and downsides, and know they are just different. I can just make the most of either place while there.

We are looking foward to Waldorf schools, forests, lignon berries, midsommar, snow, dark skies and starry nights, and the challenges and discomfort of being outside my first language and culture. I leave my cultural comfort zone and take a bold step, a new path, in pursuit of new set of wonderful adventures. We have a trip to Norway we never got to make, and look forward to traveling around Europe once again. We are thinking, give us three years, we will see how we are....

So this 4th of July/ Independence Day, we are making plans for a Swede Life, once again.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Swede Life for Sale!

Now my dream life can be yours.

Dear Universe,

Please help us find another home with character, wilderness, where the kids can play outside with nice neighbor kids. We have loved this magical home, and expect the next owners will too, but believe the best is yet to come!

Thanks for The Swede Livin'.

Friday, August 3, 2012

It has been Swede.

We are moving back to the USA, for a time, for good, who knows. But we have decided are leaving as fast as we can pack, to get out before school starts. At this point we think we will rent the house out, and hope for an eventual set up where we are part the year in Sweden, part the year in Florida. I apologize for not putting up more wonderful pictures of our last year in Sweden. Since the third baby came, life has been simply lived and not blogged about. Everytime I think I will just put up a few pictures I get overwhelmed, so many beautiful places, so many fun things in those photo files. In spite of the good times, fresh air, clean water, and Pippi adventures, we are going back to Florida for now. As lovely as Sweden is, I have felt a little like I was living at a high altitude when here. I am functioning at diminished capacity, like there is something missing that keeps me from really thriving. I am really looking forward to going back to where I understand everything and can participate fully in all parts of my life. It will be like getting fully oxygenated once again. Like they say.... We have gotten to know and helped with family, my kids are fluent in Swedish, we have all lived the Swede Life. We had two babies here. It has been good, and we are looking forward to seeing what life has in store for us next. Maybe we will be back, but for now, Cheers.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

More in support of the Swedish home schoolers, an article from July 27th edition of The Wall Street Journal on the new fusion education, Roam Schooling.

I don't know how most people spend their second morning home schooling. I spent mine hyperventilating into a paper bag. After less than 24 hours of educating my child at home, I was struck by the realization that I wasn't up to the task and should move immediately to Plan B. Except I didn't have a Plan B.

For two years leading up to this I had watched my daughter convince experienced, well-meaning teachers that she was incapable of mastering long division when, in fact, she simply didn't like long division. Alice's ploy raised a larger concern: At age 9, she appeared to be cruising along in school without actually doing any work. To my sorrow, it appeared I had given birth to myself, another pleasant slacker fated to a lifetime of successfully studying for midterms between classes until barely paying attention stopped working. Alice wasn't learning how to learn, she was learning how to coast. Maybe I could wait and see if she came to learning on her own. Or maybe she needed a different kind of education.

Her father and I checked out a few middle-school programs known for their rigor. Each promised to challenge Alice academically but also promised hours of homework every night. I'm greedy. I want my child challenged, but I don't want her staying up until 2 a.m. every night translating "The Aeneid." I knew we had a small window of opportunity to teach Alice to love learning, but I also knew there was an equally small window for her to be a child. Her academic options seemed to lie on either side of a wide chasm: a fluffy pillow on one side, a jackhammer on the other. I tried home schooling because I couldn't find a better alternative.

It turns out I'm not alone. Today in the U.S., some two million children are home schooled, growing at an annual rate of 7% to 15% for over a decade, according to the president of the National Home Education Research Institute. The term "home schooler" once implied "isolationist religious zealot" or "off-the-grid anarchist who makes her own yogurt." Today, it also means military parents who hate to see their kids keep changing schools; or the family with a future Olympian who ice skates five hours a day; or your cousin whose daughter is gifted but has a learning disability. The average home schooler is no longer a sideshow oddity.

"I could never ever teach math," more than a few parents told me in horror at the very idea of home schooling. Or science. Or a foreign language. But mostly, it was math. Here's my secret: I can't teach math either. Once they start calling them integers instead of numbers, I recoil as from a fat, angry snake, which is why Alice takes an online math class, with great lashings of help from her father.

But the biggest thing people want to talk about is socialization. Everyone is worried that I keep my child in a crate with three air holes punched in it and won't let her have friends until she gets her AARP card. There's a long answer, of course, but I'll sum it up this way: Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.

In fact, home-schooled kids are just as socialized as other children. They certainly seem to grow up to be, and feel, fully engaged. One study, by a Canadian home-schooling group, found that 67% of formerly home-schooled adult respondents said they are "very happy," as opposed to the general population's 43%. Another study, published in the Journal of College Admission, found that home-schooled students perform better on their ACTs, have higher college GPAs and are more likely to graduate in four years.


I shared many of the negative preconceptions before we began home schooling, but I can see now that my kid is as socially well adjusted as the dozens of other kids she hangs out with. (Her mother still needs work.)

As we approached the end of our first year home schooling, we asked ourselves whether Alice should continue the experiment or return to what many of our friends still call "real school." At this point it no longer seemed to us like a binary decision. It was less a matter of either/or than of how-much-of-each.

I suspect that many Americans will reach the same conclusion as they adapt to new social and economic realities. Online classes have already become part of an extended curriculum for many students. In the iTunes version of public education, relevant learning experiences will originate from the large redbrick building down the street, from a recreation center downtown, from a music studio in Seattle or a lecture hall in London. As our habits evolve, it won't be home schooling as we've known it, but it won't be brick-and-mortar schooling, either. I call it "roam schooling."

Imagine that your high-school junior spends half of every day at the brick-and-mortar school up the street. Two afternoons a week, he logs into an art-history seminar being taught by a grad student in Paris. He takes computer animation classes at the local college, sings in the church choir and dives at the community pool. He studies Web design on YouTube. He and three classmates see a tutor at the public library who preps them for AP Chemistry. He practices Spanish on Skype and takes cooking lessons at a nearby restaurant every Saturday morning.

Is this home schooling or regular school? Who cares? He's learning. More important, his curriculum hits the basics but also works for him. Nobody expects all young people to download the same 20 or 30 songs on iTunes. Why should they be limited to the same dozen or so classes for school? And if you think that public education will never change because it's too big, I'd point out that the music business looked like an invincible Goliath before digital technology raised its slingshot.
Some lessons are best learned at a kitchen table, others in a lecture hall, a chemistry lab or a gym. It would be nice if students everywhere had access to every option, and more of them will, I expect, over the next decade. With each passing year, the division between home schooling and institutional schooling will continue to dissolve. We will go to the education, and the education will come to us. The bad news is that it doesn't work that way yet. The good news is that we get to build it.

—Adapted from Ms. Cummings's "The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling," which will be published on Aug. 7. Follow her on Twitter: @quinncy.
A version of this article appeared July 28, 2012, on page C2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: My Education inHome Schooling.