Day 458: The End

As my son is falling asleep for the night in the other room, my wife singing “Trollmors Vaggsång,” I sit here typing my last post.  I go back to work tomorrow, meaning that this is officially the last day of Pappa Leave for me (at least consecutively, anyway).  So many ways I could sign off, lots of “things I’ve learned” that I could list off.

Instead of all of that, I’ll just cover what I reflected on today when I was walking back from the store to pick up my wife’s 1-day-late Mother’s Day gift that my son ordered for her 😉

I was there picking up a package, and I picked up the package speaking only Swedish.  Today we went to Skansen (an outdoor Museum & Zoo in Stockholm that is amazing), and when buying our annual pass, I also did this all in Swedish.  And then I realized that as the last 15 months has progressed, I have actually been speaking more and more Swedish when I am in Sweden.

“So what?!” You might say, “You live in Sweden after all!”  Ah, you see, I have not been speaking fluent Swedish in the 4 years (ok, 3 years + 1 in Hong Kong) that I have lived here.  I absorbed a lot, obviously, but was never confident enough to try to speak it – worried that I would be judged, misunderstood, or that people would think I was stupid because I can’t figure out “ett” or “en” or pronounce words like “rutschkana” (slide) without saying them 4 times.  But it turns out I learned a few things in this time away.

My self worth has always been tied to my productivity, my ability to be a solid worker, my efficiency, and my integrity.  My self esteem has always been connected to what I can do for other people (and frustrated when I was not able to contribute or help), and my ability to contribute to society as a whole.  Ability to and actually doing it are two different things, but the ability to contribute has always been key to me.  To work and contribute to larger things, and to be able to say “see, look what I have done!  I am smart / awesome / amazing – and I can prove it – see?!” – the ability to do so but not doing so (most of the time) – this was always of utmost importance to me.

So when I wrote in the “about” section and occasionally throughout the last 457 days that I am a guy who loves to work, I can tell you this was no exaggeration.  Loves to work.  Funny phrase in today’s culture where connecting work to your identity is passe, and having amazing hobbies and leisure time is the goal.  I still will love to work, because that is who I am on the inside – and it is something I will never be apologetic about.  Some people are just this way, and I am one of them.

But what I have seen about myself in this last year is that I am more than just a worker bee, more than an ant marching (albeit happily marching).  I am a good friend.  I am a supportive husband.  I am a family-driven person.  I am smart.  I am adventurous.  I am strong.  I can contribute to the world in other ways than just by working and getting results.  There are great people everywhere, with all kinds of backgrounds, and most of them are just as curious as you are.

I learned to have the confidence to speak Swedish even when I might suck at it, so that I can learn to speak it better – and that means I don’t really care as much about what people think of me as I used to.  It could also mean that I don’t hold the same power to language as I used to – after spending this amount of time in Hong Kong where people communicate without perfectly speaking the language (English), it has probably given me some perspective.

I learned that I am a good father.  A really damn good father who knows his son, who knows what he needs, and who gives his son what he needs before he needs it (most of the time) – and that means I know that there are times when not giving him what he wants is what he needs.  And, there are times when he’s gotta struggle and I shouldn’t help him with every little thing.

So it turns out in this post, I did list off all these things that I have learned after all!

I guess I don’t know what I expected when I started this blog.  I did not expect to have any followers (thanks to everyone for reading!).  I did not expect to actually write a blog post every day, or to even keep doing it.  I did not expect it to be rewarding and cathartic, as it has been.

Above all, aside from the confidence in myself, I truly believe I am more self aware than I have ever been.  I know what my needs are, I know what I want out of life.  That’s a pretty good end result of taking 15 months away from work to take care of your child.

Thanks again for reading – maybe I’ll start a new blog later, and if I do, I’ll post an update! (if you have suggestions, please share them in the comments section!)


Day 457: We’re not in Hong Kong anymore

We have been out in Stockholm enjoying yesterday and today – running errands, getting things taken care of, and so on.  As a 50-year old hipster man zoomed by us on a long board in front of the most expensive department store in Sweden, we both laughed at the black and white differences between Hong Kong and Stockholm.  

We went to a large playground on Södermalm, the epicenter of the cool and wannabe cool (and the “think they’re cool”).  This is where trends are born in Sweden, and at first or second glance you could be amazed at the diversity in styles and appearance choices.  But after a while, you see that everyone is so “different” that they are the same – after all, there is a set way to be different, you know.  Anyway, we found ourselves feeling judged and analyzed by the other parents, probably because our son was not wearing pink or gender neutral enough clothing.  Maybe because we did not look like we had never washed out clothes.  Or maybe because we were all three playing together like a stereotypical family, and in Södermalm that is not cool.  It was super strange.  To be fair we did meet one nice family there.

Then of course we went to a few other parks in other parts of the city (Hammarby Sjöstad, Östermalm, another part of Södermalm, etc).  These parks had a different vibe and were much more in line with our style of parenting and our family in general.  There were a lot of people who are probably super nice, and there was no feeling of judgment.

The key differences for me are twofold.  First, in Hong Kong, the playgrounds are clean.  The ground underneath  the equipment is covered with this soft padding stuff that if you fall means you will not get hurt as badly.  A lot of the playground equipment is plastic.  In Sweden, the equipment is rugged.  Metal, wood, sand, stones, grass, mud.  Oaaoohhaaa! (Sound of Vikings beating their chests). The kids will fall, they will get hurt, and they will be fine.  For example today a 10-month-old started crying and when I looked over I saw that another child was pouring sand and little stones on his head.  The moms had been busy talking and didn’t notice.  This would never ever happen in Hong Kong for so many reasons.

The second reason things are different is the attitude of the parents at the playground. In Sweden I mentioned above a bit of the judgment we felt, but it is also just a little more isolated.  Not much kid-to-kid interaction unless the kids or parents are friends. Basically it is “parent and child” isolation at the playground.  In Hong Kong, the parents are a lot more open to interacting with other parents and kids, and seem to be more open to letting the kids become temporary playground friends with the other kids.

I should say that I am sure that as we get more used to things here, and we start going places regularly, we will surely fall right into place back here in Sweden.  It won’t take long!

Day 456: compact living

In Hong Kong we were living in a space of about 85 square meters.  The apartment in Stockholm is 42 square meters.  We do not get into our new (bigger) apartment until September, so that means a lot of adjustments to “compact living” now.

As we get the suitcases unpacked and things put away, it is less overwhelming, but it is becoming apparent that one thing we need to figure out is where the little guy’s toys go.  They are currently everywhere – a few here, a few there, and next thing you know it is a mine field of Duplo, plastic animals, cars, balls, books, books, books, and stuffed animals.

We will find some solutions for toy and book storage, which I think will mostly involve simply limiting the available toys and rotating them often.

As for the things belonging to my wife and me – I think we will simply have to keep things put away and be careful not to leave things out – not only for the toddler’s curious hands, but to prevent a massive mess of clutter in the apartment.  Here’s to compact living!

Day 455: we made it!

After a long flight, connection time, and another flight, we have made it back to Stockholm!  Tjoho!

To be honest, I am happy our original flight was cancelled and we were put on a replacement flight by Lufthansa.  Mainly I am happy because of these reasons:

  • It was a night flight (Hong Kong – Frankfurt) and that made things easier as the little guy could sleep most of the flight (and so could we)
  • Lufthansa flight crew see a baby/toddler and say “how can I make your life easier?” (Maybe they give you toys or maybe they are simply accommodating and empathetic of your situation). SAS flight crew see children and roll their eyes as if to say “another one?!  Don’t people know we hate kids and their parents?”
  • Food choices: sas only has one meal option and non-alcoholic drinks for free.  Lufthansa has the industry standard of 2 meal options and free beer and wine.

We had to hurry up and get on the plane 10 hours earlier than planned, but that also meant that even with the connection (the sas flight is direct), we were home earlier.  Additionally, we checked some valuable artwork and the baggage team did not ruin it.  

So there is really nothing bad that I could say – I’m just glad we were able to jump on this flight – now it’s all about getting over the jetlag. 😉

Day 454: go go go!

Oah!  This morning we found out that our direct flight tomorrow to Stockholm was canceled and will be for a few days too.  Reason?”operational reasons” – so that basically means whatever reason they want.

So off we go instead of leaving tomorrow, we got on today’s direct evening flight via Frankfurt.  The flight even with connections will arrive a few hours before the direct SAS flight.

So now instead of taking it easy our last evening, it’s go, go, go! – our time to get every last thing done has passed, and somehow this seems fitting – waiting longer is just delaying the inevitable, right?

Day 453: auberge hotel, discovery bay Hong Kong 

Most people either moving to or moving from discovery bay find themselves staying at least one night at the Auberge Hotel.  We did the same for the last two nights, and although we have been to the bar and restaurant parts of the hotel, which most people would agree is nice, I was surprised at how nice our room was.

Fresh room, ocean/mountain/city view, a balcony, and all the other elements of a nice hotel.  Two things were notable: the baby cot was already in our room and set up without us having to call them a thousand times.  The other thing is the shower – it was amazing!In addition to all of this, the pool is very nice, and I enjoyed swimming with the little guy and his friends there.  Further, there is also a sweet playroom for the kids!

the shower 

The breakfast was good with a lot of selection, so definitely do have the breakfast if you stay there.

Overall the stay was made by the nice little extras, which is mainly achieved by the very helpful and attentive staff. Definitely a good one to consider for anyone visiting Hong Kong and Discovery Bay, or even Disneyland, which is just a short bus ride away 😉


Day 452: the final days before the move

Here we are now with our empty apartment, suitcases virtually all packed, and the little guy sleeping in a makeshift bed.  Tomorrow the movers come, we go to a hotel for a few nights, and then we go on our way.

The important thing for me has been to “let go” now of any last minute things that I may have wanted to do now; just enjoy the rest of our time here.

In doing so, this means maintaining the routines for the little guy is of utmost importance.  It is important so he will feel secure, and not be bothered by any changes.  I think he has been doing really well so far, although this could be because we have always been going a lot, packing up and flying off – so he probably knows we are going to go again and it is not a big deal.  Or, maybe he is just concerned with playing and eating, so as long as those things are covered, he’s just fine 😉

Day 451: Love Your Toddler

Yesterday I was sent a link to a site that had an article about “26 effective phrases to calm an angry child.”  The person who sent it to me is a newer parent and was curious about my thoughts on it because I am dealing with a toddler now and she thought some of the stuff in the article seemed a bit off.  Upon opening the link, I immediately had a sour taste in my mouth, but I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why.

Last night at 2:00 in the morning when I could not sleep because the little guy was having a rough night, my problem with the article hit me:  There was no love for the toddler in the article.  No understanding of what they are going through, no compassion that this toddler thing is not easy for them either. No realization that when a toddler is having a meltdown or being difficult it is because they had some other (probably previous in the day) circumstances acting on them rather than the immediate moment. In fact, the article was more like “things to say when you are exploding at your child but do not want to sound like a total jerk in case other people hear you.”

The other issue I have (besides no love for your child, which is pretty huge already), is that the article flips the situation from you (parent) exploding at the child to you being so condescending to the child that they would probably be disgusted by you, and so will any other parents who hear you.

I’ll give you two examples, can you see why I have a sour taste in my mouth?

  • #12. Instead of: How many times do I have to say the same thing???

    Try this: I can see you didn’t hear me the first time. How about when I say it to you, you whisper it back to me?

  • #19. Instead of: I can’t deal with you right now!

    Try this: I’m starting to get frustrated, and I’m going to be right here calming down.

My issue with these two examples above goes like this.  With the first one, maybe you are not saying it in a way they can understand or remember.  It’s an “encoder / decoder” situation, and you the encoder are maybe not presenting the information in a way that the toddler can process.  You as the parent are responsible for communicating effectively, so saying the same thing and it not getting thru to them is not their problem, it is yours.

The second one is annoying to me.  You should not ever tell your child that they are frustrating you, in my opinion.  First, that can’t be good for their self-esteem.  Second, they will likely learn the ways to push your buttons, and you will probably have a really weird rollercoaster ride of frustration following you thru your parenting years.  Why do you have to tell the child any of the examples in #19?

Admittedly there are more than a few on the site that I like and will probably use .  I like these select few because they foster a teamwork attitude with your child, teach problem-solving, and so on.  For example, I like:

  • #9. Instead of: We. Are. LEAVING!

    Try this: What do you need to do to be ready to leave?

    • I would change this so it was “what do we need to do to be ready to leave” – we are a team, right?  then why is it “what do you need to do”?

All-in-all, I think it’s just so important that you as the adult act like an adult.  Any time you spout off like a child and say things like “I can’t deal with you right now,” you are not being a mature, loving role model for them.  Maybe you can’t deal with them right now, but maybe if you have an attitude where they are on your team, and it is a “we” situation instead of a “you vs them” situation, you will have those “can’t deal” feelings less often.

So at the end of the day if your base parenting style is “we” (a family team) and “love,” then I think you can usually skip these kind of “XX # of ways to stop your toddler from YY” type of articles and focus more on making sure your overall actions and communication with your child show them that base level of support and nurturing that they need.  Focus on how to deliver that love and how to set up an environment where weird toddler behaviors are not given any power, and I think you have a winning formula.  But what do I know? 😉

Day 450: The Goodbyes Begin

Tonight began what I would consider the first of a long series of goodbyes for our friends in Hong Kong.  One of the dads in our friend groups is traveling this week, so today was our last chance to catch him before we take off and he returns.  So we had a nice brief encounter this evening before both parties had to go, and then they gave us a book as a going away gift, from their son to ours.

This book is super cool!  Photos from the first few meetings up until very recently, chronicling the time we and our children have known each other.  Not only photos, but videos embedded with QR codes, so all we have to do is scan them and then they pop up on our phone.  Amazing what they can do these days 😉  The book was so cool because it showed all the little guy’s little friends as they morphed from babies to toddlers, and the little guy looked at this book for at least 30 minutes after he got it.

I have to say it made me almost cry tonight.  I have always been a guy on the move, starting from the very early years of my life, we moved a lot.  Lots of moving, always the next place, always a new set of friends.  As I got older, it was moving for opportunities as life presented them; surely the “shallow roots” a byproduct of a lot of moving growing up.  The friends you make are not always deep-seeded friendships as you go from one place to another, sometimes for a temporary time period (for example, graduate school).

But this was a little different because it made me realize how close I am with these other parents, and how we have been “in the trenches” together learning about having children this last 15 months.  We have listened to each other, supported each other, and just basically became good friends in a pretty short time.  So to leave these friends and go back to Sweden is bittersweet.  Sure we all say “we will see each other again” but with this friend group, I truly hope we will.

Day 449: Usborne “Look Inside” Books

About a month ago I purchased a used “look inside the airport” book.  I thought it would be fun for the little guy, and if he didn’t like it, no big deal.  And now that book is easily his favorite book.

img_6094 img_6096img_6097img_6095The book is made by Usborne, a UK-based book publisher.  What makes them special in my opinion is that they have multiple levels within the flaps.  Like there could be a flap that shows a house, and then one that shows someone in the kitchen making food.  And maybe another flap in the kitchen where you can see what’s in the fridge.  How fun!

If you want variety, the publisher has tons of titles.  Look inside: an Airport, Sports, Food, Space, and on and on, even to the more obscure ones like WWI and WWII (what?!), and “famous palaces”, and so on.  From what I understand, there are 2 series: “look inside” and “see inside”.  The “look inside” series seems like it is for younger kids, and the “see inside” series is for a little older – hence the range in these flap books from airports to WWII.  Check out their catalog here (look inside books) and here (see inside books). I think I’ve purchased about 6 that will be going back with us to Sweden.

I will say that these books are a bit too old for the little guy, because he could rip the flaps off if we are not careful.  But they could be good books to teach him to be careful with books as we go from board books to paper.  The content is also a bit over his head, but I strongly believe in elevating our levels one step before he is there, to help his growth (in other words, read books that are slightly above him instead of books that are below him).

I think the reason the little guy likes these Usborne books is that they are interactive, so he gets to quite literally explore every page.  And he loves books so much, that every flap is like it’s own little book.  I like that they take a while to read, and that means the little guy learns to focus for longer than a few minutes as he does with shorter books.  The books are packed with so much information that you as the parent will learn something, and the kid will learn it too – maybe just not at this very moment for the little guy, who at 18 months is not so interested in how airplanes take off and land 😉