What happens in your house when the clock strikes twelve on Halloween?
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Necessary disclaimer: I understand and acknowledge that not every school in Sweden does things the same way. This is simply a little peek into what we have experienced.
“What does your typical school day look like? What do you do?” I asked my six-year-old son.
He took me over to the whiteboard where laminated words with pictures were arranged in descending order.
“First, we have frilek, then samling, then språklek, then rast, then matlek, lunch, and then fritids.”
I noted that all of the activities (except for snack and lunch time) had the word “lek” tacked onto the end, meaning “play.” Everything my 6-7 year old has done during his first year of “real school” is based in play.
Free play, language play, math play, free time—my son’s school day seemed like a fun time—not much compared to what I experienced as a kindergartener in the US.
I remember a classroom of 25 kids, a round rug, a wooden log cabin for us to play in, and plastic alphabet balloon people that my teacher hung across a string in the room as we learned about each letter. There was a lot of play, but there was also a lot of sitting and being quiet.
My son’s Swedish classroom, on the other hand, isn’t one room at all.
My son can roam between a collection of five rooms connected by a hallway where they hang their backpacks. There are three bathrooms and three sinks to share among three teachers, and 22 kids.
There are two large rooms approximately the same size as my one US-kindergarten classroom, with tables and chairs for the kids to sit and play board games, write, or draw. In the corner of one of the rooms, there is a couch and a large bookshelf where the kids will often sit and read silently.
There’s an art room and two play rooms with various toys—dolls, dress-up clothes, cash registers and plastic food, Lego (of course), wooden blocks, and plastic figures.
I checked out Class 1, where he is headed in August, and their classroom is slightly more formal but they have shared common areas to play in during friltids—free play (or recess as we know it).
If you haven’t read my interview between a Swedish preschool teacher and an American kindergarten teacher, then be sure to read it here. The similarities were more surprising than the differences, in my opinion.
My son has “active” learning from 8 am – 11:30 am, then lunch followed by fritids/recess. We pay extra for fritids–the equivalent of $50/month—and this covers the fritids’ staff time before and after official school hours.
He also has another snack provided by the school at 2:30 pm and I can pick him up anytime before 5 pm.
Compared to paying ~$50/month for my son’s fritids activities, my four-year-old daughter’s full-time preschool/daycare fees are around $118/month.
If we want to compare with what we paid when we lived in Atlanta, GA USA…well, let’s just say there is a huge savings happening here. We used to pay ~$1800/month for childcare for our son.
Granted, parsing out the true costs of Swedish preschool and schools are difficult because so much of it is supplemented by our taxes. We pay for it one way or another but the out of pocket costs feel lower than when we lived in the US.
While they learn math, language, reading, and socialization through play, there is also a ton of outdoor play throughout the day for kids during their first year at the “big school.”
This can be somewhat overwhelming for them at first. Our school opens out to the forest, which is great for exploring, but was intimidating to my six-year-old who had never been in a school that didn’t have a fence and a gate to prevent runaways.
“There’s no fence, Mama! We could go anywhere!” my son said as he cowered into my legs during the first drop-off.
The teachers explained the rules and where the kids could and couldn’t go during fritids and the kids figured it out. They could slide down the boulders but couldn’t climb the trees. They could explore the forest but not venture past a certain point unless a teacher was with them.
During pick-up in the warmer months, it can take a few minutes to locate your kid as the school grounds are swarming with kids, playing innebandy, table tennis, jumping through the sprinkler, and jumping rope.
Fortunately, the kids act as spies for one another and will alert your child that, “Hey! [Name], your Mama (or Papa) is here to pick you up!”
Many times, my son has appeared out of the woods, seemingly from nowhere, running at me full speed.
As a parent, it’s my job to pack a nut-free healthy snack for my child but I don’t have to pack a lunch. Hot lunches are provided by the school and they are pretty good (I’ve eaten a few myself when visiting).
My kids will eat whatever food is at school–chicken curry and rice, blood pudding, tomato soup, etc.,—and yet, they still refuse to eat our usual dinners at home. Hmmm…
As a bonafide lazy parent, I’m really loving the fact that I don’t have to remember to pack a lunch every day. Our tax dollars are hard at work and I love that every child is fed.
It breaks my heart to read stories in the news about how a school employee was fired for purchasing lunch for a student who didn’t have one. No child can learn when they are hungry.
The kids don’t arrive in school buses unless they have special needs, so there is a flood of parents walking, biking, and driving their kids to school every morning and picking them up every afternoon. The older kids bike or take the public bus by themselves.
I really enjoy dropping my son off every day because it gives me an opportunity to chat a bit with his teachers and touch base face-to-face.
Many kids end up biking home or taking the public bus by themselves at a young age (8-10 years) due to this system.
We have official parent-teacher meetings twice a year where we chat about goals, progress, and updates. I receive weekly updates via email from the teachers about what the kids did that week and can read about any upcoming activities.
In US schools, there is generally one teacher at each grade K-12. There might be a student teacher who is helping out for part of the time or an extra aide for students with special needs, but generally there is one teacher running the show.
In Swedish preschools/daycares, there can be 3-4 teachers in the classroom. In my son’s F-class, there were 3 teachers for 25 students. What a ratio!
I was both surprised and relieved that he had so many teachers giving him the attention and instruction he would need throughout the day. It made for an easier transition from preschool because the ratio was the same.
Now that he is moving onto first grade, one of those teachers will follow him. One thing that I hadn’t realized before was that the entire class moves together. All of this friends will also be in Year 1B, then Year 2B, 3B, and so on.
I don’t know if the same teacher will follow him until Year 3, but it has been known to happen. Having one teacher know your progress from F-class to Year 3 provides a unique institutional memory for each student.
This type of system can have pros and cons, of course. If you have a great class of kids and the dynamics are right, then it’s a pro. If you have troublemakers in your class, then you’re stuck with them for the next few years unless you (or they) change schools.
One of the biggest differences we discovered in our Swedish school was that the kids were expected to shower after gym class. It makes sense—clean up after you are sweaty—but it wasn’t ever something I thought about when I went to elementary school and I didn’t expect my six-year-old to shower after gym class.
I’ve spoken before about how the firstborn child plows the way for parents and pushes them into unchartered territories. Nothing feels more true than figuring out the cultural expectations of both kids and parents in a foreign school. Many days, I arrive for pick-up and am completely surprised about what is expected of me.
“Mama, mama, can Alma come home to us? Please, please!” My son bombards me with last-minute requests for a friend to come home for a play date from school.
“Who am I taking home today? Alma? Alva? Elvira? Do I SMS their parents first? Do I call directly? Should I speak in Swedish or English or a blend? Does it matter? Do you have any allergies? Can I feed you dinner? What time can your mom pick you up?” All of these questions require answers before I can leave school with a stranger’s kid.
It’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out that no, we need to plan these things out at least one day in advance. The last-minute take-home-a-stranger arrangement is slightly stressful.
Just like in the US, one cannot make sweeping generalizations about schools or education systems because they differ so much by county, state, etc., The same is true for Sweden.
Our specific school does things differently than the schools around it within the same kommun because of the teachers and the school’s physical characteristics.
For example, our school hosts the annual lådbilstävling every year, which is a soapbox car race between kids in Year 4 in the 10 schools in our district.
It’s a ton of fun to watch and I can’t wait for our kids to get to that age for them to try their hand at a bit of soapbox car engineering.
When school is officially over for the year, there is a skolavslutning which usually involves a huge all-school gathering, singing, fika, and official goodbyes even though kids can still come back for fritids (most parents are still working in June.)
Skolavslutning can be an emotional time as any chapter is when it closes and skolavslutning traditions differ by school.
Our son’s school had an all-school assembly outside where each grade level sang a song. The older kids in Years 4-6 wrote their own lyrics to popular Swedish pop songs with teachers accompanying them with a keyboard, guitar, and bass. The whole production was very sweet and each song sort of drifted off into a mumbled mess, but it was nice.
My son has grown so much during this first year and he has responded well to “learning through play.” In the beginning of the school year, he couldn’t write his name (he was six) and now, he can write full sentences.
He had always resisted sitting down to learn how to write but the school’s approach of making school a fun place to be, rather than drilling it into him, worked well with his personality.
Could he have done well in a different setting? One with more structure and less play? Possibly. Who knows? But I think that the relaxed atmosphere of the classroom that had three teachers giving him attention, was extremely beneficial.
Next year, our son will sit in hemspråk classes in English for one hour a week. The anticipated homework load should be quite light—read one chapter a week and answer a few questions type thing.
I’ve heard from parents with kids in Year 1 that if your child is an avid reader, they will be bored at the slow pace of the class. Our son loves being read to but he doesn’t know how to read, so I think the pace will be perfect for him.
I very much feel that I am learning the ropes of the Swedish school system with our first child. He must bear the brunt of all of my ignorant mistakes like forgetting to pack a towel on Fridays for his after gym class shower, but he’ll also reap the benefits of me simply not knowing how certain things are done, like coercing me into taking him friends every day after school because “that’s what everyone does, Mama.”
In short…to be continued…
“The moon is a loyal companion.
It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human.
Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”
― Tahereh Mafi,
Julia Inserro is an author and mom of three living abroad with her husband. A mere six months after their wedding, Julia and her husband expatriated to Cairo, Egypt and have since lived in Kuwait, Jordan, and Bahrain.
She says on her website,
“I will admit there were a lot of tears on that flight; I’d given up my career, my home, my friends, my family, and all semblance of life as I knew it to follow this crazy, lovable man to what felt like the ends of the earth.”
We hopped on a Zoom video call together to chat about her first book, Nonni’s Moon, and I got to learn more about the inspiration behind the children’s illustrated story and how kids everywhere—living abroad or not—will be able to relate to loving someone who is far away.
“Nonni is my mom (my kids’ maternal grandmother) and when she was picking “grandma names” she picked Nonni. Two years ago, we moved to Bahrain and we talk with my mother every few days.
On one of the calls, she mentioned to my daughter how they get to see the exact same moon even though we live far away from one another.
The story is about using the moon as an anchor point and sending messages to the ones you love. My kids gaze up at the moon and think of the person they love. When that person looks up at the moon, they’ll receive those messages.”
The illustrations by Lucy Smith are really vivid and I love how they extend across the pages to display life in both countries separated by hours in time. As someone who lives six hours ahead of her parents, I can definitely relate to calling before dinner time when the other person is just getting their day started.
At the end of the day, Nonni’s Moon is all about family and creating a unique coping mechanism to help bridge the distance that we often feel between our family members.
If you’ve lost family members, this book may give you an idea to help your children cope by communicating with your lost loved ones via the moon. Julia even offers up a solution when her daughter can’t find the moon behind the cloudy night sky.
Nonni’s Moon is about the everlasting connection and love we feel for our loved ones no matter where we live on this planet and is beautifully executed.
I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book for review purposes but the opinions are my own.
I sat down with my son, Calvin, to ask him a few questions about his new school and find out what he likes most and least about living in Sweden. His answers surprised me a bit!
After we finished the Q&A, we did a fun storytelling exercise where he provided a few details like the main character’s name and a setting and I took it from there, pausing at random intervals to let him fill in the blanks.
Allowing for 100% pure improvisation can take you and your child down some fun paths and I encourage you to try it out tonight.
Our kid-lib story starts at minute 6:00 above if you want to skip over the Q&A.
I did this same exercise with my four-year-old daughter yesterday and her story was very different from her brother’s.
Sibling tip: I found it easiest to do when you are in a 1:1 situation and your kid can offer up ideas without feeling pressured by their sibling or without their sibling jumping in with new ideas. In order to challenge their creativity and to foster their voice, it really needs to be done 1:1.
**Music provided by bensound.com**
That’s what this is.
Messy and exhausting it’s not
Supposed to be orderly.
It’s not supposed to make sense.
We establish routines for normalcy
So the children know what to expect
But in the end
And we all follow the routines like a religion.
Bath, books, bed, breakfast, drop off, work, pick up, dinner.
Bath, books, bed and so on until
Years feel like minutes and
Memories of their tiny voices fade.
Our current reality always replaces what was.
Daily monotony is broken by giggles unleashed after a tickle spider attack,
Insightful conversations in the car, and other
Tiny moments that aren’t marked by holidays on the calendar.
These special moments are the ones you treasure the most because of their unexpectedness.
It’s being silly in public because it makes your kids laugh.
It’s working through exhaustion because there’s no other choice.
It’s messy, tiring, but it’s life.
We are rewarded with sleepy morning cuddles and bedtime stories that only last for a limited time only, folks.
“Get yours now while the gettin’s good!”
Today was crazy and tomorrow will be too, but there is an odd calm to it.
I know one day we’ll look back on this time and think,
“Man, those were the good ‘ole days.”
But right now, it’s pure chaos.
The moments of calm that divide the chaos are where the love overwhelms.
Beautiful chaos, that’s what this is.
“The practice of gratitude and fortitude will never be an unfruitful one, and is, I think, one of the greatest gifts of living abroad.”
To which I reply, “Well, it’s a five-square mile volcanic island of fewer than 1,800 people located in the Dutch Caribbean. It’s home to the shortest commercial runway in the world, one of the most difficult medical schools, and the highest geographical point in the Netherlands. Want to grab lunch?”
Saba is a charming mix of cultures. Although currently a Dutch protectorate, the language spoken is primarily English (with Dutch, Saba English, and a sprinkling of Spanish). There are the “expat locals” (American, Canadian, Scandinavian, European, Filipino, and others I have yet to interact with) and the “born and raised locals” (descendants of great sea-captains, pirates, shipbuilders, fishermen, and slaves) in addition to the 500 or so medical students.
Most people who find their way here are divers, as Saba boasts one of the top 10 diving spots in the world, government or public health officials, or educators. The architecture is reminiscent of quaint European villages and tropical plantation homes in Hawaii; the land is reminiscent of Eastern Maui, Hawaii, and Southern Italy.
Every time I traverse the concrete roller-coaster of a road to fetch my daughter from the local daycare, I remember riding in the backseat of my parents’ van as a child driving down the Amalfi coast when we lived in Italy. Although the road is much narrower here, and there are only four villages with not a traffic light in sight to journey through, the scenery is quite similar.
We marvel at the azure waters, fluffy clouds, and laugh at the goats jumping down the cliffs and stone walls and wave to everyone as is the custom in Saba.
[Tweet “”We marvel at the azure waters, fluffy clouds, and laugh at the goats jumping down the cliff.””]
There is very little “schedule” which I find to be quite lovely. Relationships take the place of value they were always meant to have because everyone truly has the time to stop and chat or grab a coffee together.
They are greeted with smiles everywhere we go and are asked about even when they are not present. Many of the local restaurants have toys for the kids to play with, and I am never at a loss for a helping hand while I get groceries, go to church, or get my eyes checked.
Just recently the optometrist, lovely in her gold stilettos, helped me carry my double stroller with the twins strapped in, up the concrete steps leading to her office right next to the local bakery. Her kindness amazed me. Such a relief for a tired mama needing a new prescription!
My husband is a medical student at the Saba University School of Medicine, and I navigate the rugged, but beautiful terrain of life with my three little ones, forging our dwelling among the rocks.
My children (well, mostly the one that can walk) spend their days helping mommy with chores like laundry and cooking because they take longer and are more involved.
Everyone gets their water from the sky (i.e., cisterns) so rationing and boiling are necessary, but my kids get to grow up seeing the ocean every morning with their breakfast.
They are growing up without so many modern conveniences making life so easy for them that they no longer have to use their brains or develop an imagination.
We fill our days with singing and dancing to the Casio keyboard I have had since I was four. They rifle through books and color, creating their own stories. They build with blocks, watch the iguanas and chickens in our backyard eating our mangos, and yes, there is WiFi here, so they do get their fair share of Peppa Pig and Mickey Mouse Club.
But this is a land where “immediate gratification” does not reign supreme. Shipping anything to Saba is a bit complicated, so we have learned to go without and realized we didn’t need a whole lot in the first place.
[Tweet “”We have learned to go without and realized we didn’t need a whole lot in the first place.””]
On such a vertical and tiny island, there are many opportunities for my children to hurt themselves. For example, the concrete steps bridging my front door to the steep road, the intensity of the hot, Caribbean sun, the lack of flat space to run around and not trip on boulders and land in fire ants, and the disappearing beach flanked by a cliff with falling rocks all make me question why I brought my kids here.
But I have to let go of trying to control their environment. I cannot protect them from everything, and I would rather equip them with the knowledge of how to interact with their surroundings and how to recover if the unexpected happens, as indeed, it will.
[Tweet “”I have to let go of trying to control their environment.””]
Beautiful Saba is teaching me and my children that making a life involves navigating inconveniences and the loneliness that comes from living in such an isolated place with joy and a sense of adventure.
We are learning how to forge unlikely friendships and savor the slow, simple side to life. The practice of gratitude and fortitude will never be an unfruitful one, and is, I think, one of the greatest gifts of living abroad.
[Tweet “”Growing up the Saban Way””]
Kelsi Folsom is a singer, art lover, poet, wife, and mom to three making her dwelling on Saba, Dutch Caribbean. She is a regular contributor to Red Tent Living as well as Women Who Live On Rocks. You can keep up with her international adventures and musings at shamelessbeauty.org.
For more stories about raising children in foreign countries, read the Knocked Up Abroad series.
The 1980s are alive and well at Lådbilslandet—or Soap Box Car Land—an amusement park in Sweden with soap box cars, “motorcycles” (they have three wheels so they are more like tricycles with engines), tractors, and river rafts.
Lådbilslandet is a place where your kids can feel like grown ups.
It’s a “kids only” type of place and adults aren’t allowed on any of the rides. Not one. If your kid doesn’t want to ride alone then you’ll need to find a willing child (or sibling) to ride along with them. Honestly, that shouldn’t be hard at all to find since every kid I saw was dying for extra rides.
The kids are really in charge at this amusement park and parents have no choice but to relinquish all pretenses of being in control of the situation. The kids quickly figure out that the grownups are stuck on the sidelines and they discover the awesome power of driving on the open road without any adult behind the wheel.
Included in the admission fee at the Lådbilslandet are six tickets to ride the go-kart rides and unlimited access to the “circus”—an area with bouncy inflatable houses, tea cup rides, an automated train ride through the woods, and a more traditional Swedish wooden obstacle course in the forest. The rides in the circus area are definitely lagom speed (not too fast, not too slow) and are better suited for the younger crowd.
Perhaps it was because we visited the park in Öland before the high season began (we were there July 4-July 12) but the park attendees were very relaxed in their duties. If the ride was already moving and another child showed up behind the chain, the 19-year-old ride attendant would stop the teacups and let the extra rider hop on.
If the kids wanted to ride again, they didn’t have to hop off and file through the line again; they were allowed to stay on and ride as many times as they wanted.
“Anyone want to ride again?”
And the ride would start up again for another few minutes.
In short, it was heaven for the kids.
For the adults, maybe it was a bit more stressful version of heaven.
I consider myself to be a fairly laid-back parent when it comes to allowing my kids to do daring things. I give them some instructions before they jump from heights like, “Be sure you’re going to land in a soft spot and remember to bend your knees,” but this was on an entirely different level. “Parental bravery required” should’ve been posted on their entrance sign.
For most of the rides, the go-karts/soap box cars were slow enough that even a head-to-head collision wouldn’t cause any damage or injury. For five of the six rides, I was totally chill. I was a cool mom, not like those other moms.
But for Traffikskola (Traffic School), the biggest experience in Lådbilslandet, I was not a chill mom. I was a nail biting, repress-my-squealing, watch-through-my-hand-over-my-eyes mom.
I thought they would teach my kids how to drive. You know. Like, how they do in Traffic School. Nope. They didn’t teach those kids any rules of the road and the results spoke for themselves.
Traffikskola is THE ride. Kids get to choose what type of soap box car they want to drive and they aren’t just cars. They get to drive grocery trucks, ice cream trucks, fire trucks, police cars, city buses, etc. The options were really awesome.
Traffikskola was essentially a small city created to scale for the kids to drive through. There were bridges, roundabouts, a church, gas station, grocery store, school, and mechanic shop—everything that an actual town would have. Really really cool stuff.
However, since the lagom 19-year-olds manning the park were entirely cool with the kids doing whatever, there was zero “skola” in the Traffikskola. I asked my six-year-old if he had received any instructions and he said, “the guy asked me if I had ever driven before and I just said yes.”
And that was it.
What is super fun about Traffikskola is not just that the kids get to drive on “real roads” in real “traffic” but also that they get to do it for such a long time. I don’t know how the park attendants were timing the kids, but they didn’t wave them in for what felt like an eternity.
Or maybe that’s just how it felt from the parent’s perspective.
Meanwhile, you can see parents on the side of the road coaching their kids in vain attempts to avoid constant collisions. Naturally, none of these kids knew how to drive, so they were driving on the “wrong” side of the road, driving two abreast, and making spontaneous U-turns in the middle of an intersection.
One girl was stuck in a roundabout for a few rotations before she figured out which road she wanted to drive down. This type of chaos was challenging the resolve of even the most laid back, hands-off parents among us.
Despite some really close disasters, we didn’t see any major accidents. A few times, a car would break down, and an attendant would run out to restart the engine, but all in all, the kids did best when the parents didn’t intervene.
What a huge lesson for me as a parent.
And nobody was even mildly hurt and they had a blast!
If your kid wasn’t feeling bold enough after driving themselves around all day avoiding the police car go-kart, they can hop on a raft and pull themselves across a nice pond. This was my daughter’s favorite part of the entire park and it looked like a surprising amount of fun. I always forget that sometimes the simplest attractions are the best received with kids.
So, if you’re in the Stockholm or Kalmar area of Sweden, head to Lådbilslandet and remember to leave your helicopter parenting hat at the admissions booth.
Admission fee: 350 kr/child; Adults are free because you’re not riding any of the rides.
No dogs allowed but you can go in/out of the park as many times as you want.
Food is available on the premises but you are welcome to pack your own picnic. There are plenty of picnic tables and there’s always soft serve ice cream.
Toilets are easily accessible and plentiful—this is a park for kids after all.
Best recommended age: Their website recommends kids between 2-9 years but my three-year-old was a bit nervous. I’d say a precocious three-year-old will be okay or kids in the 4-8 year range are really in the sweet spot for this park.
All kids receive a Lådbilslandet driver’s license when they leave so they feel really grown up and may offer to drive everyone home. Gotta watch out for all of those new drivers on the road.
Did you like this article? Feel free to share using the icons below.
The folks at ParentCo contacted me and asked me if they could transform the tips in the article into a shareable video and I absolutely love the end result.
I think the video turned out great and even our dog makes a brief cameo. The kids laughed when they saw Bessie’s rumpa walking away. It’s nice to have a few snippets of their childhood turned into a cohesive video. I hope it inspires more parents to take their kids outside for some adventure and fun.
Even the most familiar and mundane playground can become an entryway to another world if you encourage your child’s creativity. That’s not a slide, it’s an elephant’s trunk. That swing is hanging above a deep ocean, and we need to keep out of the dangerous sharks’ reach.
Parents have the hardest time diving into this imaginary world, but that’s our limitation, not our children’s. See the trees as dragons, a flowing stream as a raging river requiring bravery to cross, and fairies living in the nooks of every tree. Unlock your child’s creativity by reviving your own.
Scandinavians love to quote, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and I chant that every winter morning as I pull on layers upon layers of clothing onto my wiggly kids before heading out into the snow.
Buying new sets of outdoor clothing will be expensive, it always is, but life outdoors is much more enjoyable when you are warm and dry. I shop secondhand stores regularly and scour local Facebook groups for cheap deals on rain boots, gloves, hats, jackets, snow pants, and whatever else I can find.
When your children are in the routine of going outside every day in horrible weather, it is a real joy to be outside when the weather is nice. Likewise in warmer seasons, stock up on brimmed hats, sunscreen, and reusable water bottles.
Don’t forget that you, as the parent/leader of these adventures, also need to be suitably dressed. You won’t last long on a dragon hunt if you are cold or uncomfortable.
Dressing improperly for the weather can lead to tears, exhaustion, and a bad experience for both children and parents alike.
Do you go outside with your kids regardless of the weather?
“Let’s go down there and play,” my husband grabs our daughter’s hand and leads her down the bleachers of the gymnasium. Our son is playing on the other side of the gym with his classmates. I watch them as he leads her gently down the steep stairs and he instructs her to run back and forth on a painted line in her socked feet.
She loves it and instantly transforms from an I’m-patiently-waiting-for-this-practice-to-end sibling into an I’m-having-so-much-fun-and-I-want-to-stay little kid. I mentally kick myself. Why didn’t I think of that?
It’s not that I’m a wet blanket type of a mother, but I’m a rule follower, and that means that I don’t always think about bending the rules. Couple my rule-following personality (which is a great cultural fit for Sweden) with a language barrier and the end result is a slightly hesitant parent.
In a lot of ways, my husband reminds me of my own dad (insert your own psychological studies and “daddy complex” theories here) which is probably why I married him (not gross, don’t think about it). My dad always played with us when my brother and I were growing up. He sat on the floor with us and watched Saturday morning cartoons. He ate cereal with us at the breakfast table.
I used to think it was because my parents were young when they had us (early twenties, no judging), but after watching my dad play with my kids, I realize it’s because he has embraced his inner kid and lets that kid out to play whenever possible. Having fun is fun, no matter how old you are.
My husband doesn’t ask for permission—he never has in anything he does—work or play. As a result, he has a lot more fun with our kids because he doesn’t let cultural norms prevent him from finding opportunities for play. A ride in the grocery cart isn’t a simple ride—it’s a crazy journey on a rocket ship through space. The kids aren’t in the bread aisle, they are in a galaxy far far away and are steering the rocket toward the moon. He’s also not afraid to get stares from strangers who wonder what this crazy man is doing with these kids in the shopping cart.
I see our kids an extra four hours every day than my husband who doesn’t get home from work until dinner and bedtime. His appearance is a welcomed change from all of the whining, poopy underwear, and sibling arguments that I’ve broken up throughout the day. His arrival is always a new change of pace and an influx of fresh energy.
While I’ve spent my entire life striving to be taken seriously by my peers (I’ve heard enough dumb blonde jokes to last a lifetime) my husband has been ever increasingly embracing his inner child ever since I became pregnant. From his perspective, we were entering a brief period for him to relive his own childhood. Out came the Brio train tracks, Transformers, and old He-Man figures, and I often wonder, “Who is having more fun—my kids or my husband?” He actively creates adventure and fosters their imaginations. (Read his amazing article on ParentCo about unlocking your inner creativity as a parent.)
I could steal his techniques and approaches to make myself more appealing as the “fun” parent, but the truth is, we make an excellent team as we are and I’m fine with my role—no competition necessary. Being the fun parent means jumping into cold water while swimming and I am happy to let my husband take that on.
Kids need a blend of fun and responsibility, and they get both from us at different times of the day.
This morning before packing everyone up for preschool, I sat on the floor and zinged cars back and forth with my kids, laughter erupting every time the cars unexpectedly collided with the walls. See? I can be fun too.
Fortunately for our family, we have an overgrown kid who can demonstrate what real fun looks like for our children while whipping up a delicious meal and handling bedtime.
To read more about the varying cultural norms of fathers around the world, read The European Mama’s article Fathers Around The World. Olga’s chapter in Knocked Up Abroad Again discusses the roles of dads in the Netherlands.
Don’t forget to grab your free ebook, What I Wish I Had Known Before Raising My Family Abroad.
Looking back, I feel ashamed. What type of monster am I that I felt so much enjoyment and excitement out of such violence? They were innocent poor peasant farmers who had done nothing wrong. But, at the time, I didn’t care.
I was a dragon, and I brought the fury.
Everyone knows that imagination-based play is a crucial element of childhood. It improves our children’s language development and their ability to process the outside world. Children can experiment with various approaches to problem-solving through play, and it’s a crucial element of growth and development.
Because of this, there are a lot of good articles out there right now about how to foster imagination-based play for kids, but not as many about how to increase parents’ interest in it.
Imaginary play is also a nice way to escape your troubles. I felt relaxed when I was pretending to be a dragon with my children. I no longer felt the weight of a million worries about bills, my job, or taxes on my mind. My only job was to destroy a village with my fiery dragon breath.
As an adult, it’s easy to play pretend but rarely does a parent actually believe that the carpet is flowing lava as you jump across couch cushions. Now we just walk through the motions of play rather than re-experience childhood wonder created by play.
Years of pretending to be an adult have drastically reduced my ability to pretend like a child.
But once you are in the land of make-believe, it is impossible to forget — the feeling is intoxicating. I’m not sure how it happened (possibly we binged on too many episodes of “Game of Thrones”), but one day I was playing with my four-year-old son when a switch flipped.