Knocked Up Abroad https://knockedupabroad.com Stories about multicultural parenting Wed, 16 Jan 2019 11:13:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://knockedupabroad.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/cropped-cropped-knockedupabroad_logo_final_rgb-copy-1-1-32x32.pngKnocked Up Abroadhttps://knockedupabroad.com 32 32 The Mom Who Cried Wolfhttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/lone-wolf/ https://knockedupabroad.com/blog/lone-wolf/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 09:38:58 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=48242 The snow crunched beneath my thick soled boots. After a week without snow and temperatures that rose during the day and fell at night, the ground was covered in patchy bits of hardened snow. The top layer was icy, and a confident stride would degenerate into walking like a novice tight rope walker with both […]

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The snow crunched beneath my thick soled boots. After a week without snow and temperatures that rose during the day and fell at night, the ground was covered in patchy bits of hardened snow. The top layer was icy, and a confident stride would degenerate into walking like a novice tight rope walker with both arms flailing out to regain balance.

My six-month-old energetic puppy bound ahead of me, her paws slipping and finding grip in alternating strides. Her pattern was erratic as she kept her nose to the ground searching for smells. She zoomed in front of me, around, and back again within the time it took me to move five steps forward.

We headed to our favorite location—a large wooded area toward the edge of the expansive golf course that provided me with a scenic home office view out my back window. The area held sheep during the summer months and in the winter, served as a suitable place to let dogs run around without their leashes.

The pup discovered the woods absorbed all of her pent-up energy and I felt the fence provided a clear boundary so she wouldn’t get too far away. I relaxed once I closed the gate and unclipped her leash. We wandered around and breathed in the pine trees and listened to the birds still chirping and chattering away—breaking the winter stillness.

After my third trip to the fenced-in site, I noticed a piece torn plastic ribbon with the word, “Fornlämning” printed on it and wrapped around a tree. I recognized the same tape from my recent archeological digs at a nearby ruin. Archeologists used the tape to rope off areas of excavation.

I Googled the location and the word, “fornlämning,” and I discovered that the fenced-in area that served as our makeshift dog park was the site of over 70 burial mounds from the years 400-1100—the Viking Age.

“Everywhere has ruins. You can’t dig a shallow hole without finding something of historical value,” my neighbor explained as I revealed the exciting news that we lived near ancient ruins. “All of Sweden is practically an ancient ruin.” He was unimpressed.

But this was OUR ancient ruin. Practically in our backyard. Actually, it was better than our backyard because we could visit it whenever we wanted and still play soccer without worrying about trampling over ancient graves.

We nicknamed it the “far sheep pen” because of course, there was another sheep pen located even closer to our house. The far sheep pen became my favorite destination on our morning walks. Our dog got some much-needed exercise, and I had a chance to stretch my legs and enjoy the scenery.

We developed a healthy routine of walking to the pen, making a loop inside the fence, and walking back to the house within 45 minutes. The pup often collapsed once we got back to the house and I logged some uninterrupted writing time into my morning every day. What we didn’t know was that our newfound perfect outdoor routine was about to be interrupted by an unwanted intruder.

Out for a walk

On Saturday morning, I headed out with the dog on our usual walk. Grass poked up between the semi-melted patches of snow and we quickly found our way to the far sheep pen. Within sight of the fence, a paw print in the snow stopped me in my tracks. It’s very common to see owners and their dogs walking around the golf course as the conditions were not great for cross-country skiers, so there are countless paw prints in the snow so, why did this one catch my eye?

I could’ve easily dismissed this print as a large dog print, but it was larger than any other paw print I had ever seen. Our dog is a Labrador mixed with Golden Retriever and she weighs about 45 lbs (20 kg). She’s a medium-sized dog (still growing) and I figured that her paw print might be a good approximation for how large of a print I could expect to see from an average sized dog. I found one of her paw prints in the snow for comparison. The larger snow print was 4x-5x larger than the one her feet made.

Now, after much research and paying close attention to my dog’s paw prints, I know now that the conditions of the snow affect the size of the print.

If the snow is soft and melting, a paw print can look quite larger than it is in reality. If the snow is hard and frozen, a dog’s weight may barely make an impression, thereby creating a very small paw print.

Taking in all of that information, it remained a shockingly large print in the snow. I took a picture with my hand next to it and my own dog’s paw print for comparison’s sake.

Wolf print?
My dog's print

I also looked at the tracks of the prints in the snow. They were in a straight line.

Looking at my dog’s tracks, hers were erratic and overlapping as she often doubled back and ran ahead. Her back paws landed just behind where her front paws hit, creating a pattern of two prints on each side of her path as she trots along.

These larger prints in the snow were much farther apart and not stacked in the 2×2 formation. There were also no human footprints in the vicinity.

Whatever animal made these prints was most likely large (at least 60 kg if we’re using paw print size to estimate weight and using my dog’s prints for reference), walking in a straight line, and walking alone. It didn’t follow the pattern of your typical domestic dog out for a walk with its owner.

We like to consider our neighborhood as being “subrural”—a blend of both suburban and rural areas. Our street borders fenced in pastures that corral Icelandic horses in the spring and summer and the other side borders an open golf course.

In true Swedish style, fences line the areas leading to the houses (not that it stops any deer from hopping over) and are open on the side bordering the wooded areas to allow wild animals to make an exit. This somewhat permeable border doesn’t restrict animal movement at all and provides a false sense of security to the humans.

We’ve seen only evidence of lynx (deer carcasses and bones hauled up into trees) but we have seen moose eating apples, glaring at us as we approach, and of course, the average (and boring) deer tugging on our trees with their itchy and uncomfortable growing antlers. Based on the shape of prints, moose and deer were out, so that left only wolf and lynx as a possibility.

Wolf or lynx?

Wolves often walk in a straight line because they are used to hunting in stealth mode. Domestic dogs don’t even think about walking in a straight line unless walking on a leash and when off-leash, dogs usually alternate between running, walking, and circling back to their owner who is trailing behind.

I was unfamiliar with lynx tracks but knew that there has never been a recorded lynx attack against humans. “It’s probably a lynx,” I thought, and the more comfortable thought of a lynx replaced the wolf assumption in my mind.

I followed the large prints until they disappeared into the frozen grass. Without fresh snow, it was too hard to track the tracks for long. Without seeing the wolf myself, I started to doubt my initial assumption that the tracks were a wolf’s at all, and we continued to the fenced-in sheep pen.

I scanned the hills for any movement and proceeded with caution. My dog sniffed the ground with alertness she usually doesn’t have when playing. A few times, she froze with her head looking straight ahead and one time, she jumped backward in fear. Turns out, she was spooked by some overturned trees that fell over after a strong wind storm the night before. Their roots exposed was a new sight and she was unsure about the changes that occurred in her usual sniffing spots.

However, her behavior was freaking me out. I know that she is scared of birds and airplanes and that I couldn’t rely on her as an early warning system against some unknown predator but she was overly jumpy.

All of a sudden, a group of birds in a tree chirped in a chorus of cacophony. The dog stopped with her tail held high in the air at attention. I scanned the horizon, looking for movement among the trees and bushes but saw nothing.

Was something climbing the tree? Hunting? Were we being hunted? Oh my God, I put us in a fenced-in area for safety and now we’re being hunted by a lynx/wolf/monster. I’m such an idiot!

My mind raced to the ridiculous as the only explanation possible and my freak out was complete.

I clipped the leash back on my dog’s collar and led her out the fence. We were out of there in a flash.

I felt like there was something behind us, like when you turn off the last light in the basement before you head up the stairs and was afraid to look back.

“Just keep moving forward. It’ll be fine. Lynxes don’t hunt humans and the dog isn’t a threat.”

I’ve seen lynx drag large deer up into trees so I was lying to myself that a lynx wouldn’t hunt down my goofy black lab puppy with the softest floppiest ears. She would make for such an easy snack. I felt like an idiot for not turning around once I saw the tracks.

We made it safely home but the specter of something unknown claiming the golf course as their territory put both me and my husband on edge.

In the news

Our local newspaper featured front page articles about residents who saw a few wolves on the other side of town. Surely, those wolves couldn’t have covered that much distance already, right?

We sent the snow print pictures to our friends, they all responded with the wow face emoji and told us to report it the authorities using the app, Skandobs.

The app showed a map of all local observations and as I placed my observation on the map, it was clear that we were the outlier. All of the other observations were way on the other side of town—kilometers away. What was more interesting/frightening was that someone had found bear tracks and scat. A bear!? I have to worry about bears too? Come on, Sweden.

I chose the best pictures and uploaded them into the app. My phone rang 24 hours later from a woman at Lansstyrelsen who asked me questions about what I had reported. She asked if I thought the wolf could be found by airplane or helicopter observation. Yes, I believe with the winter trees, finding a wolf via helicopter would be easiest.

The snow melted and with it, all traces of whatever it was that made those tracks.

Days went by without incident and I began to believe that the entire thing was a fabrication of my imagination. My own fears about the unknown, the never-ending darkness of winter, and the thought of being trailed by a top predator were getting the best of me. I discounted the notion that there was a wolf in our area and chalked it up to misreading a dog’s paw prints.

Confirmation

“I met a woman with a dog who shared some interesting news with me.”

My husband stood in our hallway, removing his snow pants and reflective vest after his nightly walk with the dog. His nighttime loop around the golf course mirrored my daytime loop but instead of heading toward the woods, he stuck to the roads and skirted the outer edge of the golf course by our house.

“The wolf has been confirmed. A man told her about seeing a stray dog on the golf course earlier today until he realized that there aren’t any stray dogs here and that it was much larger than any dog he’s ever seen before.”

Confirmation that I wasn’t crazy was great but it wasn’t the best news to hear. There was a lone wolf in our vicinity and lone wolves, without the benefit of hunting in a pack, often target domestic dogs for their easy snacks.

Great.

I Googled “wolf hunting patterns” and discovered that yes, wolves are nocturnal so my daytime walks should be fairly uneventful but wolves with pups are active during the day (because apparently, even wolf pups never let their parents sleep. We have more in common with wolves than we think.)

The next afternoon, I worked from my home office upstairs and heard the thumping sound of helicopter blades in the air. A helicopter was scanning the treetops and made slow loops over our nearby woods.

The wolf was still out there and we were not the only ones hoping to find it.

Wolves in our folklore

Wolves have an undeniable place in human culture and folklore. In Native American tribes, wolves are admired for their strength, hunting prowess, and cooperation as a pack. They teach us about sharing, caring for our family unit, and living courageously.

Folktales portray wolves as either ruthless and fierce or noble and loyal—I guess it the traits emphasized changed based on the lesson being told.

In Norse mythology and Native American culture, the wolf is associated with warrior status. Odin is accompanied by two wolves as loyal companions. Nearly every Native American tribe had some wolf lore and considered the wolf to have the power to heal, provide strength, and courage,

Wolf Conservation

I Googled my town’s name and varg (wolf) and discovered that interactions between humans and wolves rarely ends well for the wolf. Generally, the wildlife folks at Lansstyrelsen track new observations using the app, Skandobs, a database of Scandinavian large predators, and attempts to find and remove the wolf before it harms anyone.

In 2018, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency handed over the rights to hunt wolves, bears, and lynx to the decision of the counties as long as a minimum population is maintained (preventing total wipeout of the species).

In short, the counties don’t take much action aside from notifying residents about a wolf in the area unless it starts eating family pets and people start to become outraged. Then, a hunt is licensed and the wolf’s days are numbered.

I’m not a fan of feeling uneasy walking my dog in my own neighborhood, but I’m also not a fan of killing a beautiful animal just because it wandered into our town.

Humans are encroaching more and more on the wildlife and it is our human development that changes the territories of these wolves.

If you want to take action and help save the gray wolf, Defenders of Wildlife has some great options.

Stay tuned for updates on the wolf story by following Knocked Up Abroad on Facebook and turning on Notifications or join in on the discussion on Instagram

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Celebrating Santa Lucia in Swedenhttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/celebrating-santa-lucia-sweden/ https://knockedupabroad.com/blog/celebrating-santa-lucia-sweden/#respond Thu, 13 Dec 2018 12:08:24 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47938 Today is Santa Lucia and children everywhere in Sweden are honoring the faithfulness of an Italian woman and martyr, Lucia.   Lucia’s Story—The real stuff The year was 283 and Lucia was born to rich noble parents. Lucia’s father died when she was just five years old and in an attempt to look after Lucia, […]

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Today is Santa Lucia and children everywhere in Sweden are honoring the faithfulness of an Italian woman and martyr, Lucia.

 

Lucia’s Story—The real stuff

The year was 283 and Lucia was born to rich noble parents. Lucia’s father died when she was just five years old and in an attempt to look after Lucia, Lucia’s mother arranged for a marriage between Lucia and a rich pagan gentleman.

Unbeknownst to her mother, Lucia had already promised herself to God and vowed to distribute her wealth to the poor. Marrying some pagan guy wasn’t her style and Lucia refused.

Well, refusing to follow through with the marriage arrangements didn’t sit well with the patriarchy and Lucia was ordered to burn a sacrifice in the emperor’s image.

She refused.

OK, no sacrificial burning? Lucia was sentenced to enslavement at a brothel. (Nice guys, huh?)

When the guards knocked on Lucia’s door to take her to the brothel, they couldn’t move her—she was as heavy as stone.

They purportedly hitched a team of oxen to Lucia to move her and could not.

They set oil and wood on fire around her but she would not burn.

Was the divine intervening on Lucia’s behalf? 

The divine managed to put off the inevitable for some time but couldn’t stop the effects of a sword through her neck. 

There are different versions of Lucia’s story—that she was tortured by eye-gouging and another that she removed her own eyes after a man remarked on how beautiful they were.

Since this all took place 1300 years ago, who is to say what really happened? However, in all of the stories, Lucia is a badass feminist who was ahead of her time.

She didn’t bend to the wills of the men around her no matter how much they threatened her and she died for her beliefs.

 

Celebrations around the world

Lucia is celebrated in the Scandinavian countries, Italy, Hungary, The Philippines, and of course, on the island of St. Lucia.

In Sweden, Santa Lucia is the bringer of light and one young girl is chosen to represent her with a crown full of lit candles.

(Side note: She wears a cloth napkin over her hair to catch the melting wax and often takes a break during church service. Smart thinking.)

Her handmaidens wear a wreath of green on their heads and carry single candles in a procession.

Last weekend, we attended our first Lucia concert and it was remarkable. The church was dark and warm and the light from the procession of 25 girls holding candles had a beautiful effect.

 

Celebrating in Swedish Schools

In schools, kids dress up as any number of characters—both male and female–Santa, gingerbread kids, star bearers, or Lucia herself. All are welcome to dress as they please and parents can find costumes at the local grocery stores and department stores.

We’ve had a gingerbread boy (pepparkakorgubbe) for years and our daughter has loved playing Lucia.

After the crown of battery-powered candles fell off her head a few times, we substituted the heavy crown for a silver garland tied in a knot. Cheap, simple, and she loves it.

Photography was not permitted in our church during the Lucia procession so please enjoy the one below. It really is a beautiful tradition.

Swedes aren’t a religious bunch but when it comes to lighting candles, they are unrivaled.

Santa Lucia lyrics so you can sing along

(Source: https://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=1302

Natten går tunga fjät
rund gård och stuva;
kring jord, som sol förlät*,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus,
stiger med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten går stor och stum
nu hörs dess vingar
i alla tysta rum
sus som av vingar.
Se, på vår tröskel står
vitklädd med ljus i hår
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret ska flykta snart
ur jordens dalar
så hon ett underbart
ord till oss talar.
Dagen ska åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

English translation

Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks 
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

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Supporting Your Son Wearing Pink Clothes to Schoolhttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/support-your-son-wearing-pink-clothes-to-school/ https://knockedupabroad.com/blog/support-your-son-wearing-pink-clothes-to-school/#respond Mon, 10 Dec 2018 13:31:10 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47921 A pile of clothes littered the bedroom floor. Stuffed animals sat on bookshelves wearing my daughter’s underwear after she dressed all of her furry friends in her clothes. Usually, I let the kids manage their rooms and pick up after themselves, but this time I had to intervene. The mess was at my limit. We […]

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A pile of clothes littered the bedroom floor. Stuffed animals sat on bookshelves wearing my daughter’s underwear after she dressed all of her furry friends in her clothes.

Usually, I let the kids manage their rooms and pick up after themselves, but this time I had to intervene. The mess was at my limit. We were slipping on the books that were haphazardly strewn about the room.

Opening the pine wardrobe that could house an entrance to Narnia if only it was handmade and not assembled from IKEA, I started removing clothes and assessing them for size, style, and season, sorting them into two piles: Keep and Donate.

Last year’s Christmas Pinkie Pie hooded sweatshirt came off the hanger, and I asked my daughter if she’d wear it again this year. She shook her head no; it was too small.

“I’ll wear it!” My son piped up excitedly and approached the Donate pile.
“It’s too small for you, babe. You can’t wear it.”
Looking at me square in the eye, he said softly, “Boys can wear pink, Mama.”

“We are entering the unstable era of adolescence where the thoughts and actions of peers take precedence over parental approval.”

My heart fell as I realized that my son had just lumped me with “them”—the people who think that boys can’t wear “girl colors”.

Why would he think I would ever betray him?

I am the one who helped him pick out the bright blue, pink, purple, and teal socks. I’m the one always telling them that there are no “boy colors” or “girl colors” just colors of the rainbow. I’m the one always telling them there are no “boy toys” or “girl toys”—just toys for children.

It cut me to the quick to think my son thought I was discouraging him from wearing a “girl sweatshirt” when it was truly a sizing issue.

Trust can be so easily broken and so difficult to regain.

“No, babe, that’s not it. I’m not saying you can’t wear it because it’s pink, I’m saying you can’t wear it because it won’t fit you.”

To prove my good intentions, I unzipped the sweatshirt and let him slip his arms inside. As predicted, the sleeves stopped mid-arm, and the zipper was tight against his belly.

“If you want, I can buy one in your size. Of course, boys can wear pink and purple clothes.”

“My friends at school always tease me when I wear my Trolls socks. They ask if they are my sister’s…” His stance was defensive as he relived the ridicule.

Scrambling to think quickly, I remembered that YouTube song the kids were just listening to.

“How does that song go, again? ‘I don’t really care about what they say…Imma come back like a boomerang.'”

Yes, I sang JoJo Siwa’s sugar-sweet pop hit, Boomerang, to him.

No shame, here. I was in recover and rebuild mode and pulled on every available resource at my disposal.

The Boomerang lyrics earned me the beginnings of a smile, and I pulled him into me for a strong hug. I wanted him to know that I was always on his side.

“You know that I support you no matter what, right? You can wear whatever you want. Seriously. Whatever you want.”

But the truth is it doesn’t matter what I think about him if the kids at school disapprove. We are entering the unstable era of adolescence where the thoughts and actions of peers take precedence over parental approval.

I was impressed that my son had held out for so long and continued to wear his colorful Trolls socks despite being repeatedly teased at school. A child of mettle.

In a recent GQ article, Isn’t it time we reform men, too? we need to teach our boys to perpetuate the ideas that having compassion and empathy for others are human traits, not characteristics reserved only for the feminine gender.

As adults, we know that the color of the clothes you wear doesn’t determine your gender identity or sexuality, but the kids are still figuring that out. 

They often mimic what they hear at home or see in the stores. Gender identity is everywhere in our culture—stated both subliminally and overtly.

It takes a lot of consistent messaging from parents, teachers, and peers to undo the gender identity misconception that the colors of clothing symbolize anything important.

“Bright colors match his charming personality, and I’m not surprised that he is drawn to wearing fun colors in his clothing and shoes.”

In her 2018 Families in Global Transition presentation, Dr. Laura Anderson described how we could support our gender-expansive and LGBTQ children.

Click here to watch her presentation.

Her child asked to wear a purple dress to school, and she feared her child would be misunderstood and ridiculed. As a child psychologist, she knows that supporting our children’s discovery of who they are is a matter of life or death. Children who are perceived as being gay or transgender are 8x more likely to try to commit suicide.

In her emotional presentation, Dr. Anderson challenged the audience to not only have compassion for gender-expansive and LGBTQ children, but she added that it might be our own children who explore their gender identities.

Right as rain, here we are.

It’s so vital that we support our kids as they explore their likes and dislikes. We ultimately don’t know who they will grow up to be.

I will always support my son if he wants to wear pink sweatshirts and purple socks. I bought him hot pink snow boots because he thought they were great.

“They’re perfect!” he shouted in the store as he admired the pink stripe down the back.

Bright colors match his charming personality, and I’m not surprised that he is drawn to wearing fun colors in his clothing and shoes.

Pink is not a “girl color” in our household; it’s just a color

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There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidayshttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/no-place-like-home-holidays/ https://knockedupabroad.com/blog/no-place-like-home-holidays/#respond Mon, 03 Dec 2018 20:25:26 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47906 There’s no place like home for the holidays… Many people interpret home differently when they become adults. For me, home is wherever my family is. However, the definitions for both home and family have changed over the years. With each stage of life, they take on new meaning and I’ve shifted into different roles. When […]

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There’s no place like home for the holidays…

Many people interpret home differently when they become adults. For me, home is wherever my family is.

However, the definitions for both home and family have changed over the years. With each stage of life, they take on new meaning and I’ve shifted into different roles.

When I was single, family meant my parents and my brother. I played the supportive role and helped my mom with Christmas dinner and cookies.

When I was engaged-then married, my family became my partner, my immediate family, and his immediate family by extension. We brought the expensive gifts as we had two incomes, no kids, and plenty of discretionary funds to keep the economy booming.

When we had kids, family became the family we created. The ones I nurtured from a cluster of cells into crying babies into adorable toddlers. They became my home, too.

My role shifted from the supportive minor league player in the background to the pitcher on the mound. It was now our tree with presents beneath, our dinner to cook, and our Christmas cookies to bake.

As a result, the home in the Christmas songs now refer to our home, not our parents’ homes. It’s a weird feeling when that happens. Like when someone passes you the baton and you’re left standing still on your feet. I wasn’t yet ready.

There’s no place like (our) home for the holidays.

The Kids Don’t Travel for Christmas Rule

We don’t ever travel for Christmas. We’ll travel before and after, but not during that crucial +/- 2 days around Christmas.

The “kids don’t travel for Christmas” rule was established when I was growing up. It all stemmed from their experiences as kids and their desire to do something different.

 

A Christmas Frenzy

My dad regaled us with stories from his childhood—as kids, he and his siblings would all race to open their presents and would tear through the wrapping paper in a matter of minutes. Christmas morning was a race. Wrapping paper shredded on the floor. Leftovers from a fray.

They’d play for a few hours and then pack up into the station wagon and head off to visit with extended family. That was the part that really wound him up. As a child, he had to leave the toys he had just opened to do the boring “visiting” part. The family obligation.

Once he became a parent and it was his turn to make the Christmas traditions he never wanted us to have to leave the house on Christmas. Christmas Eve, sure, that’s when we did the family visiting, present exchange, and a bit too much eggnog drinking by the adults, but never on Christmas day.

He also slowed the pace for our Christmas mornings starting with our stockings, pausing for breakfast, and then resuming opening the presents one at a time.

Basically, the opposite of what he experienced as a kid.

For me, Christmas day was all about wearing pajamas all day long and playing with our toys. We lounged, read books, and if anyone wanted to visit us they were more than welcome to arrive in the afternoon.

The Balance of Expectations

When I first met my husband, the family travel rounds were made easier by the random chance that our parents lived in rather close proximity to one another. Different states but a reasonable drive and we could easily split the holidays and celebrate with one family before and after Christmas.

But, as soon as my son was born, I slammed on the brakes on the Christmas travel. That was all well and good when we were childless adults but with a baby? No way. No travel with kids on Christmas. Period.

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit strict? He’s a baby. He won’t even have presents to play with during his first Christmas.”

“It’s not just the presents, it’s the airport chaos, the unpredictable weather delays, the SNOW. It’s everything. Nobody wants to travel during the holidays. It’s miserable. Besides, now we have a very handy excuse to ask people to come to our house.”

As it turned out, my Christmas travel ban was premature.

We bought plane tickets and wrangled our baby with all of the other Christmas travelers that year.

 

Smashing Expectations

Our sudden life changes meant that we were moving to Sweden a month later. Not traveling to visit with our family during our last stateside Christmas would be cruel. We had to go.

What was supposed to be a joyous Christmas visit turned out to be not as-joyous so long/ farewell tour.

The atmosphere was…tense at times and sad at others. 

My husband took video of our son opening presents and in the background of the video you can hear my voice off-camera. Shrill. A register higher than usual. I cringe watching those videos now. 

I can tell how stressed I was during that time. My stress was very thinly veiled. I was grateful that nobody lashed out at me under their own stress.

Here was my child’s first Christmas and I was smashing everyone’s expectations for how this family thing was going to play out.

We had introduced a whole new wrinkle—international travel—and I had no idea how it was going to work. My smile is tight during the pictures of that last US Christmas. I had no idea if this was our last or just our last for now.

Would it ever be like this again? Was I making a huge mistake? 

I had no idea.

 

Instead of making a rather reasonable demand of having people fly only two hours to see us in Atlanta, GA, now our family would have to fly 9-13 hours (depending on direct or connecting flights), to see us at a considerable greater cost and effort.

My “kids don’t travel for Christmas” rule now came at a great cost and burden. Was it fair? 

 

Compromise?

Should we compromise and meet our family at a neutral midway point? Maybe we could do Christmas in Spain? That would be fun?

“Mom, Dad, what about celebrating Christmas under the Northern Lights in Iceland this year?”
“No. Your kids shouldn’t travel during Christmas. We’ll come to you or we’ll see you next year.”

My dad was still strict on his own rule but this time he was imposing it on us.

I was still experimenting with family arrangements that wouldn’t put the burden all on one side or the other. I didn’t want to be unfair and it felt terribly one-sided because it was.

For years, our parents traveled to Sweden to spend Christmas with us and we appreciated the tremendous effort and cost they endured to make each year extra special.

 

A Pajama Day Christmas

Last year, we celebrated our first Christmas alone as a family.

I really loved it. We had the full-on pajama, play with toys, read books, no shower day, and it was wonderful.

You see, we are never really alone as one might imagine.

We’ve cultivated friendships and near-familyships over the past seven years that mimic a supportive family network. As adults and parents, we’ve created our own traditions that blend the local culture with our American family traditions.

We drink the glögg and eat pepparkakor in the Christmas markets, we walk to the Christmas concert held in our local 13th-century church in our backyard. We celebrate Swedish Christmas on the 24th and our American Christmas on the 25th. It’s perfect, actually.

We are so fortunate that the holidays have never felt anything close to loneliness. I know the holidays can be bittersweet and that it’s not always the warm and jolly feeling for everyone.

We are so fortunate to have family willing to drag presents halfway across the globe to spend time with us during the worst travel season and I’m so grateful they do it despite all of that stress.

We are lucky to have family who makes that effort and we are lucky to have successfully transplanted our lives into new soil.

 

Family and Home

This Christmas, my parents are making the long trek through customs and across time zones and I’m eternally grateful.

Although, as long as my dad has a “no kids travel on Christmas rule” I suppose it’s only fair that they come to us, right?

Family can be…complicated…and decisions to move family away from other family can be difficult. 

To boot, home may be defined differently now than it was in the past. Maybe you’re trying out a new role and it feels uncomfortable. There may be a lot going on in your life right now. As someone who was standing on the edge of that precipice years ago, not knowing how everything would pan out, my advice is to trust yourself.

Trust that you’ve built a loving family and that you will build another loving network wherever you land. It will be different but it will be wonderful in time.

Regardless of whether you’re near or far this holiday season, cheers to you and yours. 

Have a no shower full-on pajama day, read a book, and drink some hot chocolate.

Happy Holidays! 

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Swedish First Grade—Room to Growhttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/swedish-first-grade/ Wed, 28 Nov 2018 10:22:50 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47882 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. I’ve written in the past about my children’s experiences with Swedish preschool and with föreskoleklass so, now it’s time for an update as the fall term of first grade […]

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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.

I’ve written in the past about my children’s experiences with Swedish preschool and with föreskoleklass so, now it’s time for an update as the fall term of first grade comes to a close before the holidays.

School day length

When my son transitioned from föreskoleklass to first grade, I wasn’t sure how the official school start and end times would change. His official school day starts a bit after 8 am and ends at 1 pm. He has frilek during the fritids program until I pick him up before 5 pm.

 

Recess/Outdoor play

During the school day, my son goes outside to play at least one time after snack (the only thing we provide). He plays outside during fritids as well and it is mandatory that everyone plays outside for a certain period of time, then they are allowed to return inside to play.

I often find my son at fritidsgympa which is when they play elaborate tag games, innebandy (floor hockey), or obstacle courses in the gym down the hall.

Overall, he is outside playing in all weather 2-3x/day.

 

School building Structure

I’ve mentioned earlier how each class has multiple rooms for classroom activities and play. His first grade class also has multiple rooms that are shared with the other first grade class. 

Each end of the shared school wing has an outdoor entrance/exit with a breezeway (and toilet for easy access). The breezeway provides an air buffer between the climate outside and the interior of the classroom. The breezeway opens to the children’s coat room/cubbies where they hang their clothes and store their shoes.

They have indoor slippers/shoes that they wear when walking around the school to the cafeteria.

In total, there are about 20-25 kids per class and two classes in first grade. I counted six rooms of varying sizes and dimensions for the 50 kids to share. Some of the rooms were smaller breakout rooms and others were larger.

Only two of the rooms have desks with chairs for every child to sit—the rest have some tables and chairs but are arranged for smaller activities.

 

Modersmål/mother tongue classes 

I was really excited for my son to take modersmål classes—mother tongue lessons in English. Sweden provides language classes for native speakers once the child reaches first grade.

However, I must say that I have been disappointed with the way things have turned out. Classes are once a week for 45 minutes and the students are from the entire school, so there is a blend of ages and skill levels.

This one-room schoolhouse approach is nonsensical and 45-minutes/week is essentially a waste. 

As someone who has taken language classes, I know that the benefit only kicks in when done regularly throughout the week. 

The modersmål teacher is overstretched. She cannot possibly cover all of the schools during the week as it is, let alone if her workload was increased.

Providing kids proper language instruction in their native language would require more resources. 

After conferring with my friend who has her children enrolled in non-english modersmål, she reported a similar finding.

The kids aren’t really learning, they aren’t engaged, and the whole thing feels like a political charade to seem inclusive of immigrants but not really.

Since learning English is compulsory for all Swedes anyway, I’m not too concerned, but for the non-English speaking immigrants in Sweden, the program is vastly insufficient.

Sweden is not some all-inclusive paradise—there is a lot of room to improve and this is just one small factor that requires more attention, if people actually cared.

We will need to do a bit more homeschooling in the language department, as I haven’t seen any benefit from these classes yet.

Yes, you will see Swedish children walking around on these stilts during recess.

Gym class

One major change from F-klass to first grade is that the kids now have gym class twice a week instead of once a week.

Later in the year, they will all take mandatory swimming lessons at the local pool, which I think is genius. 

 

Adults in the room

When I last checked, there were six (6) adults in the room for the 50 kids in first grade. Two certified teachers, two teaching assistants, and two fritids staff members. 

 

 

Homework

A lot of foreigners complain about the lack of homework in Swedish schools, but I’m ok with it. My son has weekly reading assignments (read a chapter each week), and weekly math homework that is conducted online.

Frankly, I think they can handle a bit more homework than they are currently given but my son seems to think that what he already has is enough.

My son completes the weekly homework in one sitting, which I don’t think is all that helpful. Short tasks to reinforce daily learnings would be better, but I’m not the teacher here, so…

Health

I received a notice about mandatory MMR vaccinations in my son’s backpack and was prepared to make an appointment with our pediatric nurse in the center of town. No need! The school nurse located on the premises called me and set up an appointment. I grabbed my son and he received his vaccines, sight, and hearing tests by the school nurse. She asked him about his friends and social life, if he could ride a bike, and swim, and a few other questions about diet.

She then invited him to come back anytime he’s not feeling well and said that his visit next year would be by himself, without a parent. #bigkidstuff

I was impressed that the nurse on the premises was in charge of delivering the vaccines. It makes sense in a country with universal healthcare and an elimination program against MMR but needless to say, quite different than my experience with school nurses in the US.

Performance

The quality of Swedish public schools has been debated over the past few years and resulted in some major teacher qualification and curricula changes in 2011. According to OECD assessments, science, math, and literary skills in Swedish 15 year olds were average compared to other OECD nations. (Source OECD)

I actually really like Sweden’s performance on some of the other indicators that go beyond school performance that I don’t think should be overlooked.

Kids attending Swedish schools feel like they belong whether they are native or immigrants. And there was virtually no difference in boys and girls collaborative problem solving performances.

Sweden has very high expenditures on resources for education and each school has high autonomous ratings which leads to greater oversight and responsibility at the local level.

You can see all of the OECD performance indicators for Sweden here.

Conclusion…for now

Is there room for improvement in the public Swedish school system? Absolutely. Is Swedish elementary school pretty good for our kids? I’d say so.

The kids in our local school have a lot of classroom space, adult supervision, and age appropriate activities. The instruction time is relatively short, homework is not stressful, and there is still a great emphasis on play.

My son received speech therapy, unknown to me until after it happened, to help him with his pronunciation of his R’s. That type of intervention and responsiveness is really great and not something I had expected after hearing other parents describe how their schools were dismissive of learning impediments like that.

From my understanding, the quality of the elementary schools are somewhat even throughout the town but they do vary in terms of size and teaching staff turnover, which can impact your child’s ability to thrived depending on their personality.

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Winging it in West Africahttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/winging-it-in-west-africa/ Tue, 27 Nov 2018 09:25:03 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47876 Listen to Nicola narrate her chapter in Knocked Up Abroad Again Nicola Beach is a second-generation expat who has dodged bullets in Lagos, stray cats in Istanbul, got cozy in Jozi, and is currently in Hong Kong. She blogs about her family’s far-flung travels at https://expatorama.com  Did you enjoy Nicola’s chapter? If so, be sure […]

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Listen to Nicola narrate her chapter in Knocked Up Abroad Again

Nicola Beach is a second-generation expat who has dodged bullets in Lagos, stray cats in Istanbul, got cozy in Jozi, and is currently in Hong Kong. She blogs about her family’s far-flung travels at https://expatorama.com 

Did you enjoy Nicola’s chapter? If so, be sure to read the book and leave a review on Amazon.

Continue listening to other chapters in the series here: https://knockedupabroad.com/audio

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Where is Home?https://knockedupabroad.com/blog/where-is-home/ Tue, 13 Nov 2018 08:44:00 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47866 Candice Cabutihan Cipullo describes her experiences raising her kids in Japan, Canada, and the Philippines. Her chapter dives into the challenges of experiencing life while always feeling foreign and how she explains the answer to her kids when they ask her, “Where is home?” Listen to Candice narrate her chapter here. Candice Cabutihan Cipullo has […]

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Candice Cabutihan Cipullo describes her experiences raising her kids in Japan, Canada, and the Philippines. Her chapter dives into the challenges of experiencing life while always feeling foreign and how she explains the answer to her kids when they ask her, “Where is home?”

Listen to Candice narrate her chapter here.

Candice Cabutihan Cipullo has a degree in child development and education. She’s the author of Kaya Mo Maging Super Yaya (You can be a Super Nanny) in Filipino and English, aimed at teaching basic child development concepts to nannies and parents alike. Follow her adventures at travellingmaybahay.com

Did you enjoy Candice’s chapter? If so, be sure to read the book and leave a review.

Continue listening to other chapters in the series here: https://knockedupabroad.com/audio

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When the Clock Strikes…https://knockedupabroad.com/blog/when-clock-strikes/ Wed, 31 Oct 2018 13:14:47 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47823 A silly rhyming Halloween poem counting the creepy things that happen hour after hour

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What happens in your house when the clock strikes twelve on Halloween? 

Did you like this story?

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A Visit to a Swedish Outdoor Preschoolhttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/outdoor-swedish-preschool/ Thu, 25 Oct 2018 12:11:20 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47797 A wooden propeller plane makes for a great climb Cold. Uncomfortable. Rugged. Rustic. Miserable. Those are the words that I would’ve used to describe a Swedish outdoor preschool before I knew any better. Preschools in Sweden are for children ages 1-6 (the year they turn 6, they head off to “big school” so some kids […]

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Outdoor Swedish Preschool | knockedupabroad.com
A wooden propeller plane makes for a great climb

Cold. Uncomfortable. Rugged. Rustic. Miserable.

Those are the words that I would’ve used to describe a Swedish outdoor preschool before I knew any better.

Preschools in Sweden are for children ages 1-6 (the year they turn 6, they head off to “big school” so some kids leave when they are still 5), which in many people’s perceptions, is too “young” to be exposed to the elements all day.

Does outdoor preschool = miserable?

Especially Swedish elements that are cold, dark, and snowy/rainy most of the school year. I imagined that the kids’ fingers were freezing, toes numb, ears frostbitten, and noses all red and runny.

Also, how does potty training work in the winter when you have to peel off all of those heavy layers?

I really thought that only Viking-tough Swedish families aimed to send their children to outdoor preschools.

The kids nap outside (not an uncommon practice and we did that too), eat outside (ok…we do picnic sometimes), and learn about nature, the alphabet, and create art outside (we definitely don’t do that all of the time).

While part of me wants to be the nature-loving adopted-Swede that I dream of becoming, another part of me always thought it would be a miserable experience.

All of those beliefs held true until I visited an outdoor preschool and saw the set-up for myself.

Cozy corners for reading, art, and play

My son was invited to a birthday party hosted by a parent who teaches at one of our local outdoor preschools. As a teacher, she had backstage access to the preschool on a Saturday.

It was the ideal set-up for a kids’ birthday party. (They should really consider renting it out to parents on weekends because it was awesome and they could make some side cash).

If you’re going to be outdoors all of the time, the space should be amazing

The playground itself was impressive with tons of places for kids to climb, balance, swing, and play.

Picnic tables and sitting areas around grills were placed at various points on the property—most likely to maximize exposure to the sun in the winter time or to shady areas in the spring/summer.

The preschool itself had a covered porch where the kids’ sleeping areas were arranged and each kid had a cupboard overflowing with cozy warm sleeping bags.

There were toilets inside for the kids, a kitchen, and long tables for indoor learning areas.

Situated on the property was a stand-alone building with sliding glass doors where they held their art supplies.

 

Not that different

After perusing the preschool and reading the rules, I saw that it was a preschool like any other.

They had policies and procedures for safety, First Aid kits were placed near the doors and bathroom, and the kitchen was high-quality and efficiently organized.

I found a schedule tacked to one of the walls and it described how the kids were divided into groups and each group leader/teacher would take them in, manage their outdoor clothing, and begin an activity indoors while the other kids remained outside.

It all seemed quite reasonable and orderly.

The pictures of the students around the school showed happy kids learning and playing. Just like in my kids’ preschool.

So, the outdoor preschool isn’t exactly 100% outdoors.

They did have a building with facilities but they also had provisions for staying outdoors if they wanted.

Outdoor sinks for hand washing

 

“In any weather” preschool

In reality, the “outdoor” preschool wasn’t so much outdoors as it was “any weather” preschool meaning they didn’t allow the weather to affect their activities.

Pretty cool, in my opinion, and something we all could use a bit more of because we can’t control the weather, so why should we allow it to dictate what we do?

As I left the outdoor preschool, I no longer saw it as a miserable, cold, and dreary experience for kids but my words instead were:

Fun. Creative. Natural. Play-oriented. Adventurous.

What are your thoughts? 

Would you enroll your kids in an “any weather” preschool?

Bonus pics:

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Lucy’s Birth Planhttps://knockedupabroad.com/blog/lucys-birth-plan/ Fri, 12 Oct 2018 11:24:11 +0000 https://knockedupabroad.com/?p=47787   Listen to Lisa narrate her chapter in Knocked Up Abroad:   Want to listen to other chapters in the series? Continue listening for free (no sign-up required): https://knockedupabroad.com/audio/   Click here to read the other stories in Knocked Up Abroad

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Listen to Lisa narrate her chapter in Knocked Up Abroad:

 

Want to listen to other chapters in the series? Continue listening for free (no sign-up required): https://knockedupabroad.com/audio/

 

Click here to read the other stories in Knocked Up Abroad

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