The Differences Between Then and Now: Reflections on Integration

Over the past six years, we have become a murky blend of less-American-but-not-quite-Swedish.

We’ve kept some of the old but mostly, we have embraced the new.

The differences between January 2012 (back then) and January 2018 (now) are stark. Stark also conveniently translates into “strong” in Swedish.

The changes in us are noticeable only when we take a moment and conduct a brief mental compare and contrast exercise. Otherwise, everything feels normal, as it should.

Back then…and now…

Back then, we kept our feet firmly on solid ground even when the lake froze over. We’d marvel at the bravery of those heading out on a skating expedition from Stockholm to Uppsala (80 km/50 miles).

Now, we see people skating on the lake and hurry home to grab our skates.

Once there, we are greeted by friends we know who warn us that two people have already fallen through the ice. Instead of leaving, we simply tell our kids to avoid the area with weak ice.

I watch a third person fall through the ice before my eyes and still, we keep skating.

Back then, I had to coerce, threaten, and remind my husband that we moved to Sweden for a better work-life balance and that he had to take time off work for that to happen. (Getting him to take parental leave one summer required many discussions at our kitchen table.)

Now, he takes two weeks off work in December without batting an eye and joyfully sets his summer auto-responder message for our usual five-week break in the summer.

Time off from work isn’t an issue; it’s an expectation.

Back then, we gobbled up semlor pastries like they were rare treats.

Now, we gobble up semlor pastries because they ARE rare treats.

Back then, I was quoted, on camera, saying we would never use a sauna.

 

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Now, we sauna at our house almost every night in the winter with or without the kids. It isn’t unusual for us to sauna with strangers or with friends

What once felt like a stress-inducing social experiment now feels relaxing and calm. Part of our after-dinner ritual.

Back then, we had our neighbor take us on a wild mushroom picking expedition so we didn’t accidentally ingest poisonous mushrooms.

Now, we are the local guides for our non-Swedish friends and show them how to identify the tasty mushrooms.

Back then, I thought that things I didn’t initially understand were wrong/stupid/a waste of time.

Now, I understand the Swedish approach to various things with a better understanding of the why behind it all.

For example, when you are a laboring mother in Sweden, you have to call the midwife and have a conversation before they allow you to come to the hospital. They gauge how far along you are in labor by how well you can hold a 2-3-minute conversation. One might still disagree with this approach but at least I understand why they do what they do.

Back then, I didn’t know what type of childhood my kids would have and I thought that every playground structure was far too unsafe for them to handle.

Now, I know that my kids won’t climb any playground structure they cannot handle.

I also know that despite not growing up in the same country or speaking the same language I did as a child, my kids will have a very similar childhood to my own.

They will experience the freedom to wander the neighborhood without a parent, to explore the woods on their own, and to ride their bikes to school.

Without worry and without hesitation, I don’t regret one thing about the day we decided to transplant our lives in Sweden.

The anxiety and stress about the unknown consequences of every little decision we made in 2012 have faded into the inevitable course of our lives and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

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