Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Letter to my son on his 3rd Birthday

Today you turned “fweee yeez ohd”. It seems yesterday you were but a wide-eyed pink pooping machine I had no idea what to do with. But today you are three. And Mummy is so proud of you.

Of course I’m proud that by the miracle of humanity, in the past year, you learned to run, sing, find new ways of expressing yourself and have almost mastered peeing and pooping in the potty. But I’m most proud of the little person you’re growing to become and am privileged to be your steadfast guide and comfort through this wallop of an adventure that is our life.

You’re resilient. I want to apologize to you my son. For all the change you’ve had to endure this past year. Plucked from your life with loving Mary Poppins to a school full of foreign kids and too few teachers. From daily strolls along the seashore to daily drives around town. From the warm Adriatic waters to a backyard pool. From a language planted in you from 3 months old to having to start all over again with new sounds and words. From the comfort of a loving, supportive circle of friends— who became family to, luckily, a new, smaller circle.

But I want to Thank God for your wonderful ability to adapt and thrive, lay down your roots somewhere new while still cherishing the faces from your infancy. I admire this quality most in you baby boy. So perhaps I won’t apologize fully. Your Dad and I brought you to this new country for opportunity and the way you’ve blossomed will ensure you’re that much stronger on your journey to manhood.

You’re happy. I often wonder how many parents can say their toddlers are really happy. But you truly smile from the time you jolt me out of dreams with “Mama, wake up!” to the time we say goodnight after prayers (and you continue screaming “Goodnight” “See you soon!” as I’m on my way down the stairs). You cry when “Mama, I huht maseff (I hurt myself)” or when you know you’re in deep doodoo. But God that smile...I’m thankful for it every day.

You’re smart. I had no idea you could speak Swedish until you surprised me by singing along with your little Swedish troup at your daycare performance. There you were, in the front row, covered completely in muck, in the rain, singing your little heart out. I had no idea what you were saying, but I cried anyway. You know your colours and the alphabet, your shapes and have even memorized the words to your favourite books. You’re a little parrot, repeating everything your teachers say to learn to speak their language.

You’re loving. From stopping to chase and pet the “KAT-TEN” on our nightly walks to those big open-mouthed kisses to asking where your brother is if he’s not sitting in his usual spot when you come home. You may not be an entertainer when the family Skype Shows begin, but your grandparents and far-away family should know that you ask about them at the oddest times: On the car ride to and from daycare, in the grocery store with a mouthful of ice cream cone or usually five minutes after a Skype call has ended. People are drawn to your spirit little one. I saw it today. The two high school helpers assigned to your school were waiting for YOU to arrive. You’re a little charmer, just like your Dad.

You’re beautiful. My favourite part of everyday happens sometime around 5am. I open my eyes instinctively to see your sleepy eyes hovering by my pillow. I don’t always remember the part where I pick you up and lay you next to me but I wake up every morning to you snuggled in between your Dad and I. Your hair has gone from black at birth to white blonde to a now darker shade, marking the moments of change in your life. I miss your face during the day and enjoy that very instant you see me, stop play and run with arms wide open. We could never make another one like you.
So today your father, brother and I will trek over to your school at 2:30 with a lactose, strawberry, kiwi and plum FREE “Lightning McQueen” cake and we’ll join your class in singing Happy Birthday. We won’t have your grandparents, aunts & uncles or cousin with us to celebrate, but we will have each other and best of all, we have you.
Happy 3rd Birthday my son.
Love, your Proud Mummy xoxo
July 30, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From East to West Part 1: Healthcare

We moved to Sweden in January, after a 2.5 year adventure in the Adriatic Beauty that is Montenegro. Bordering the jewel of the Adriatic, Croatia, Montenegro really is the best kept secret of the former Yugloslavia and in 2007 was named the fastest growing tourist destination in the world by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Snow-capped mountains, blue waters and lush green vegetation abound. We packed up our life in Canada at the request of our dear Swedish property developer friend and headed to a country we knew virtually nothing about, excluding compulsory Internet searches of course. I was 7 months pregnant at the time but had sense and opportunity enough to fly back to Canada to give birth to the little guy.

I digress. I'll save the long story of our life in the Wild Beauty (cue Montenegro tourism commercial as seen on CNN) for another post. But after spending almost six months as a resident of Sweden, I thought it was about time to compare life in this Eastern European country (freshly independent from Serbia circa 2006) to life in one of the richest Western European countries. This will be a weekly series I believe, because there's too much to say and I don't know when to stop typing. So here goes,

From East to West Part 1: Healthcare
- If your employer will pay for it, you have access to free healthcare, though some specialists have private practices if you can afford it
-For 30 euro (well it was 20, then went up when she figured we were rich), we got a private pediatrician to make home visits for Joseph. Perfect. No waiting around in archaic waiting rooms with dozens of other sick and screaming kids. And when we were forced to go into the local health center for vaccinations, we were always first in line!

-7 months pregnant and must undergo (and pass) full physical in order to get work permit. After running around all over the health center and various places in town to receive paperwork and stamps on said paperwork, we're ushered into the doc with the final say. We take our seats, look up to see this Santa Claus of a doctor lighting a fresh cigarette. In front of me. 7 months pregnant me. In a hospital. -When it was time to renew our work permits and undergo another physical, we each slipped $20 into our passports and voila! Clean bill of health. No tests necessary (maybe that's also a highlight?)
-Pediatrician once strongly urged us to use our vacuum cleaner to clean out kid's snotty nose.
The bottom line: If you have money, you get the treatment for better or worse.

- Modern, state-of-the-art facilities and highly trained doctors. THE place to get sick.
- Free healthcare to every citizen (paid for by ginormous taxes). Though you do have to pay a "processing fee" of about 70 SEK up front for appointments.
- Short wait times: Caveat: Apparently, there's a lot of disussion in Sweden about long wait times but I personally have waited no more than 10 minutes, which could be explained by one of the lowlights (keep reading)or luck.
- When I've managed to get my son in to see a doctor (a rare occassion, keep reading), the doctor greets us BOTH with a handshake. Seriously..even my two+-year old. So cute and respectful.

-Gestapo-like checkpoints are set up to prevent mostly everybody from getting an actual doctor's appointment. It's called 1177 and it's a number you call if you're sick. You explain your symptoms and the call usually ends with, "Oh, you don't have to see a doctor. It's just the flu. It's just a cold. If there's blood coming out of his ears, call us back." I come from a culture where we go to the doctor at the least sign of trouble, which likely contributes to the long wait times. "Take him to the doctor". But I can't. Oh I've begged and pleaded but the few times I've actually passed through the gates have been because I've blatantly exagerrated. And sure enough, nothing ends up being wrong. Go figure.
-I've gotten some MAJOR shit from Swedish friends over taking my son to the doctor too. "Jenn, he doesn't NEED to see a doctor!" Geez, Let the damn DOCTOR tell me that ok?!
Bottom line: They don't care who you are or who you know or how much money you have. We're all the same and receive the same.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shine a little light on me...please!

So I have a confession to make. I have this "thing" with indoor lighting. Ok, so it's more of a compulsion. Not the kind of compulsion where I have a house of lamps and strategically placed smelly candles. Just an obsession with certain lights in the house always needing to be "on".

The light above the stove and the light above the sink must be on at all times. Joe's former Nanny experienced this anal attribute when I finally confronted her about her perpetual need to turn OFF the light above the stove. She turned it off. I turned it on. We went on like this for awhile until I finally explained, "Look. I just NEED this light on, ok?" Must have been the deadpan tone and the urgent delivery as she never turned it off again. Though I'm sure she likely turned around and rolled her eyes. Can't say I blame her.

Why this oddball quirk with lighting? Was I imprisoned in a dark cellar as a child? Not that I can recall. Am I afraid of the dark? No more than anyone else. Maybe some brilliant psychiatrist can shine some light on the situation. Even if he/she offered a free comfy couch session, I wouldn't take it. It's my thing. I'm not looking to be cured. Just telling you all how it is.

So today...I stumbled down to the kitchen to notice the light above the sink OFF. Not sure who in this house would have the nerve to screw with my lighting. Turns out it's gone...poof...the big burn out. I'm in panic mode. It's thrown my whole day off. Back up of dirty dishes in the sink. Dishwasher turned on at the wrong time, throwing the whole dish cleaning schedule off. Ended up surfing the blogosphere all day cuz I couldn't focus. To top it all off, I left for the grocery store without the damn bulb. Another dim day ahead tomorrow...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Doohickey Mondays

“Swedish for Common Sense”. We all know where to attribute that slogan, don’t we? The birthplace, of IKEA (cool, build-it-yourself shit), Volvo (economical, fuel-efficient, last-a-lifetime cars) and of course ABBA (music everyone can shake a leg to), it’s no wonder Sweden is full of practical gadgets and gizmos. The “ooohs” and “aaaahs” followed by “That is the coolest thing.” “How come we don’t have these in Canada?” have become a regular part of my vocabulary since I started coming here almost 10 years ago.

Seriously, they have the coolest, “How come we never thought of that?” stuff in this country. So I decided every week, I’d share one of these doohickeys with the world. Alright, so maybe you’ve seen these things before outside of Sweden and I’ve been living under a rock my entire life, but that doesn’t make them any less practical and in my mind, revolutionary!

1. The Sink Peel Cleaner:

How many times have you peeled potatoes over the trash bin to end up peeling the peelings from the side after you’re done? Or maybe you peel your veggies in the sink only to be scraping leftovers up with soppy paper towel?

Introducing The Sink Peel Cleaner. Grab this flexible plastic doohickey , scoop up the peels, seeds and pits and dump into the trash bin. Even has built-in drainage holes. Ok, so it is made of plastic but look at all the trees you’re saving!

I haven’t seen a Swedish kitchen without one of these. I got so excited about it on one trip, I bought a bunch to take home and dispense to friends and family. You’d think I was giving each of them a Volvo by the way I prattled on about its functionality, design and efficiency. Judging by the artificial smiles, they weren’t as excited by the piece of plastic as I was.

No revolution happening in Canadian kitchens. In fact, I’m sure they’ve all been stuffed in junk drawers . But where they should be is occupying some coveted counter space behind the dish soap.