Love Trumps SCUBA

During a celebratory dinner last night for the successful conclusion of a conference I was working on, it came up that I used to SCUBA dive. While I would prefer not to use the verb phrase “used to”, the last time I went SCUBA diving was when I visited Belize in 2003. It is really hard to say that I still dive when it has been eleven years since my last sub-aquatic experience. There are multiple reasons for this, but the primary cause of my lack of diving is that my wife does not dive.

So when it came out that I do not dive any longer because my wife does not dive, that was met with a bit of derision from a few of those that I was celebrating with. “How could you stop doing something you love just because your wife does not do that? You should always do what you enjoy regardless of your partner.” Now, this is not the first time I have been met with such a reaction; and most often this seems to come from women. And despite me efforts, I feel that I fail to ever adequately explain why my lack of diving, or any other activity that I once enjoyed as a single male, is okay.

If I had to boil it down to be as clear as I can make it, I would say that I love my wife, and being with my wife, more than anything else. While the joy and wonder of experiencing an underwater realm of continuous mystery, movement, and magic is great…it does not compare to the joy and wonder I get from being with Momma S. The thought of going on a tropical vacation and choosing to spend an entire day separate from her (regardless of the reason) is not worth it. Add to that the fact that we have two all encompassing boys, there is just no chance. Not only do I not want to be apart from Momma S; but, to do so would mean that I am then leaving her with both boys. For those of you who may not have children, trust me when I say being left alone with the kids while your partner goes out to do something fun is not exactly a “great time had by all”. Not that we are not willing to do this. I know that Momma S would support my diving, and that I would support her should she want to adventure off on her own to do some photography or visit the spa…but the reality is, we prefer to do it all together.

I don’t SCUBA dive now; but I will. There are years ahead of us, and once K and M are old enough to join me on those mysterious and magical sub-aquatic adventures, Momma S is going to love the time alone at the spa or wandering around a new town taking pictures and reading travel magazines at a quite outdoor café. But until that time, we are going to be together. And you know what, it is really not a sacrifice at all; cause there is nowhere I would rather be than with my wife…kids and all.

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Burma Bound

It’s May 24th, the day before Mother’s Day in Sweden and here I sit in an airport lounge in Stockholm waiting to board a flight to Bangkok…and I am flying solo. I can’t say that the prospect of taking a 16-hour flight by myself does not appeal; in fact it feels like a well needed vacation from life. On one side of the flight, I leave behind two loving, demanding, self-centered, caring, tender, temper-tantruming, moody, funny, and sweet boys. And I leave them with my wonderful, amazing, beautiful, supportive, and uber-nice wife who has agreed to let me venture off on a new adventure…leaving her solo with the afore-mentioned children of Jekyll & Hyde proportions. On the other side of the flight awaits a country in the grips of a coup and martial law, a painful visit to the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, and then three weeks working with some great people to pull off a pretty monstrous national forum on disabilities, and a chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues from yesteryear.

So, for the next few hours I will allow my self to nap, read WIRED magazine (of which I am only 11 issues behind the most recent edition), and enjoy the silence of loneliness. It is a guilty pleasure, and one for which I seriously owe Momma S a huge debt of thanks…a debt I am sure she will cash in.

Thank You Momma S. I love you very much…and the boys too!!

Back to the Grind

Following a year of being a stay-at-home dad, I am now back working full-time.  And while I am definitely enjoying being back to work, there are a few notable things that I am missing.  They are, in no particular order:

Morning nap time…ah yes, it is 8am and time for M to go back to sleep for two hours.  Such a pleasant way to restart the day, a nice morning siesta on the couch for daddy.

Mid-day grocery shopping…just M and I rolling down the aisles of ICA Maxi and being able to checkout without waiting for the post-work lines to slowly wind their way through the check-out.

Shadows walking in the forest.

Shadows walking in the forest.

Leisurely Strolls through the Forest…anytime, any day, M on the back and daddy hiking though the wonderful forest of Almhult.

 

 

 

 

K watching the diggers at work.

K watching the diggers at work.

Construction Watching…pick up K from preschool and go spend the next one to two hours visiting all of the construction sites around town, talking about the big vehicles, and just chillin out together; daddy and his two boys.

 

 

 

 

Cooking for Mommy

Cooking for Mommy

Having dinner ready for when Mommy comes home…yeah, its just good to earn some extra brownie points from my wife by having something yummy waiting for her when she got home after a long day.

 

 

 

“Hey, you’re that guy with the kid on his back!”…I think I became a regular townie standout as I strolled up and down the single main strip with M strapped to my back.

Train Spotting with K

Train Spotting with K

Train Spotting…M and I would pick up K and instead of checking out construction sites, we would go to the train station to watch the trains go by and the commuters go back and forth.

 

 

 

Parential Gossip…catching up with all of the other stay-at-home parents when they were dropping off or picking up their kids from preschool.

Swedish Classes…I was actually making some progress in my language acquisition, which has all evaporated since I started working.

Blogging…on those few nap times each week where I didn’t nap, I was able to keep this blog updated.  Not so much any more.

Afternoon nap…yep, for a while there I was able to take both a morning and afternoon nap. (Though don’t tell my wife I typically tried to make it sound like I did something more productive than sleep all the time.)

The boys and I at the park.

The boys and I at the park.

Time with M&K…it was really special to have some wonderful extra time to get to know my boys and for them to know me.  I think we really firmed up a strong relationship.

 

 

I am sure there are more things that I will miss, but these are a few of them now.

Happy Birthday Sir K!!

Birthday CastleToday is my son’s birthday.  It also happens to be my birthday as well.  When my wife first got pregnant and we did the calculations and determined that K would probably be a July baby, two thoughts went through my mind: oh no…having a summer bday is tough, & I really hope we don’t have bdays too close to each other.

Cancer’s tend to be a bit self-centered and selfish…not always the best at sharing.  And sharing a birthday was not something I was looking forward to at all.  My own history with birthdays have been a bit negative.  With a summer birthday, many times I could not celebrate it with my friends, either my family was traveling or they were on vacation; I could never bring in a cake or snacks to share in my elementary classroom; and, as a Cancer (notice I blame it on the sign and not myself) I might have a slight inclination towards being just ever so slightly mellow-dramatic and birthdays seems to be triggers for some unnecessary drama.

Sword, Stone, BoyNeedless to say, I have been less an optimistic about sharing my birthday with K.  Yet today, I had an excellent birthday and it was excellent cause my wife and I (with the great assistance of the grandparents) were able to cater completely to the desire of K and provided a birthday experience that we all enjoyed.  We went back to Kalmar Castle, which we visited for our first Christmas Fair back in December (click here to read that post).  But instead of Christmas treats, we were in search of knightly experiences.  Kalmar Castle has a squire to knight program for those that are 7yrs and over.  K is not that old yet, but we went and asked if something could be done for him.  They immediately agreed, and set for K just one task (to pull a sword from a stone) and upon his success the Queen of the castle knighted K to become Sir K, Defender of the Realm and Barrier of the Castle Key.

With that experience, an awesome wooden castle with knights and many knightly related books for gifts, and a delicious knightly decorated cake, K is still awake (way too late) playing out his Medieval fantasies…happy as can be.  And I am just as happy seeing him so happy.  I think I have realized that one of the aspects of my birthday that always unsettled me was that while I wanted to have a grand event for me, I was always uncomfortable with all of the attention on me.  I am much better as a host caring for others than being fretted upon by others.  Now my sharing my birthday with my son, I can enjoy elaborate events, but K gets to bask in the bulk of the attention.

And one more reason why I’m alright sharing a birthday.  When I finished helping K wash off his face after devouring the cake, I asked to a hug and kiss before he ran back to his room to see what turmoil beset his castle…K hugged me hard and very genuinely said, “Happy Birthday Daddy.”  Even with all of the gifts and the cake and the attention focused on him, K still remembered that it was my birthday too.  There is just something a little extra special in that.

Blogging: It’s been a while.

For those dedicated readers out there…(maybe there are a few)…I have not posted in some time.  I started this blog as a means to fill the spare hours of my day as I was learning to be a stay-at-home father.  And during all those wonderful nap times, I had some solid moments to sit quietly with my laptop and relay events from my day.

Then I started getting a little antsy as the long, cold, winter days pulled me into a funk.  To address this, I began taking Swedish classes and enrolled M part-time into dagis.  It worked out quite well.  I was having more adult contact (very important for a stay-at-home parent) and M was getting much more socialization and Swedish language immersion than I could provide.  We both were happy…and K now was able to stay at this pre-school for the full day, which made him immensely happy.  All were winners, but my time for this blog began to sag.

Follow this with an opportunity to start working full-time in May, and my attention to this blog jumped out the window.  And while I feel I should say how hard it has been to leave M at dagis all day and that I am really not doing justice to my family by leaving and working again; I honestly am very glad to be working.  And while that position was just filling in for someone for two months, it has turned into a full-time job starting in August, which I (and my whole family) am very excited about.

I sincerely and truly enjoyed the months that I had with M.  Watching him grow, being with him the way I was, has definitely strengthened the bond that we share.  I do not regret any part of the experience and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with him.  At the same time, I have no regrets of returning to work, even if earlier than planned.  I find real enjoyment in the work that I do and that enjoyment carries over to my home life.  And while I enjoyed being a stay-at-home father, i did feel that there was something still missing for me.  Though my new career is different from what I was doing previously in Burma, I am still helping others, fostering growth and understanding, and working to make the world a better place.

But with everything, there is a balance.  I will continue to be a great father to my two sons, an excellent educator for those that I work with, and an ever loving husband to the most phenomenal wife…but it might just mean that there may be a bit less activity on this blog site. I trust you understand, and thank you for still reading.

A Marvel Miracle

Comic card meets Action figurine.

Comic card meets Action figurine.

To be honest, over the past few months there has been growing tension between my eldest son, K and myself.  For one, he is continually testing his independence and boundaries as he is of that age.  For another, we are way too much a like, which might have something to do with us sharing the same birthday.  Another, we are both very physical individuals.  This has all been well and good until K’s little brother, M, began to be much more mobile (he is walking quite well now) and more opinionated and demanding.  With this, K has been lashing out at his younger brother, sometimes on purpose, but often without even thinking about it.  I in turn am forced to physically remove K from M and find that I am often reprimanding K more than providing the positive reinforcement he deserves.

Another factor is that until this year, K has mostly had mommy at home and has a very strong connection with her.  As I am now the stay at home parent, our relationship has strengthened…until these past few months, which resembled something akin to the Cold War.  While not outright hostile, not exactly friendly either.

Bonding over old Marvel trading cards.

Bonding over old Marvel trading cards.

Now enter Marvel.  At some point in the early 1990’s, my parents picked up a pack of Marvel Comic character trading cards from a garage sale.  I never really read comics or followed them at all (to which I regret now), but I do remember reading through these cards and playing out various scenarios with them in my head.  Randomly, as I was sifting through the tons of boxes my parents have kept for me when I was preparing to move to Sweden, I came across those cards and decided to pack them in and bring them to Sweden.  A few weeks ago, I pulled them out as M was taking his morning nap in an effort to keep K occupied and quiet long enough not to wake his little brother.  Very quickly, K has made this a father/son bonding experience.  Now, every weekend when K is home for M’s morning nap, he pleads for us to put M down to sleep sooner so that he and I can look through the cards.  We sit together, maybe on his bed, on the couch, or even the floor somewhere and sort through them.  Which ones are good guys, which ones are bad?  Which ones show conflict?  What is causing the conflict?  What family groups can we put them into? Etc etc.  It’s a bit challenging, as K is still only three years old and his mom and I have been trying our hardest to minimize his exposure to violence and fighting.  But he is in preschool, and he now loves the bad guys…because fighting is bad, so only the bad guys would fight.  Now all of a sudden I am trying to explain, with reservations, that sometime to uphold justice and protect those that are weak, good guys might fight too if they have to.   It is a big slippery slop that I am on, but the sled is starting to go, so I might as well try to direct it a bit.

This past week has been the Easter holiday here in Sweden.  K has been home everyday, so every morning we sit together and sort through his Marvel Superhero & Super Villain card.  He has also begun to shop on-line with Mommy to find the perfect Wolverine & Hulk t-shirt, or some other merchandize.  (He now is very partial to the Utah Jazz cause he found a shirt with both Wolverine and Captain America on it for the Jazz.)  I have even surfed YouTube with K to watch the intros of the Spiderman Cartoons.  (We still don’t allow him to watch any of the actual episodes.)

All in all, these Marvel Superhero cards has created a bridge between my son and I, it has allowed us to have something special that we share and bond over.  And honestly, I am very happy to help direct my son down the comic path, the one I regret not exploring when I was a youth myself.  So thank you Marvel, not only do I now have a good excuse to start embracing my inner neglected nerd self, I also get to bond with my son at the same time.

Dagis

An icon illustrating a parent and child

An icon illustrating a parent and child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Swedish daycare/pre-school (dagis) system is pretty cool.  Once a child reaches 12 months, they are eligible to attend, though it’s not like you can just show up and drop your child off.  First, Sweden really values parents being home with their children, which is why they have such a great paternity leave plan.  Between the two parents, it is possible to take up to 480 days leave from work, ideally split evenly between both the mother and father with 240 days each.  It is possible for one parent to give some of their days to the other, but not all.  In addition, if a parent is leaving work to take care of a child, they are entitled to 80% of their salary.  This leave can be taken at any point until the child reaches the age of seven.

But, if you find that you need to place your child into dagis, this is how it works…at least for us.  First, I needed to justify the reason for placing M into dagis.  As I am a hemmapappa (stay-at-home dad), I should be taking care of M, not sitting back reading a book while he is away at dagis.  For me, I joined a Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) course, which is also provided gratis by the state.  So, during class hours (3 hours a day and self-designated study times) I can have M attend dagis.  I informed the Kommun of the situation and gave them the my top three schools I wanted M to attend.  The Kommun contacted the schools to see who had an opening, and luckily I got into my first pick, a nice school under expansion that is only a five-minute walk from our apartment.

Now that he has been admitted, M and I had to go through an “Induction” period.  Typically this will last two weeks, but as my course was starting sooner than later, they worked with me so that I only had to got through one week of induction.  For this week, I attend the dagis with M during the hours he would be attending.  It is designed to adjust the child, and the parent, to how things will be working.  As a parent, it allowed me to see how the school functions, what the routines and practices are, and allowed the staff to clarify various factors with me about M; for example, how to put him down for nap, feeding habits, etc.

M’s class is the youngest bunch 1-3 years, of which he is definitely the youngest at 13 months.  The preschool allows a lot of play, both indoor and outdoor, with an introductory focus on self-maintenance, such as how to eat with a fork and spoon, clean up after yourself, and wash hands.  They have a nice outdoor play area, where the kids will spend time every day, and inside a good selection of toys, a water and sand station, and a painting room.  The class is also very nicely diverse.  Sweden takes in a lot of refugees and immigrants and there are multiple children in the class that do not have Swedish as a first language.

M’s routine will be pretty straight forward.  The dagis invited him to come a bit early than necessary so that he had more opportunity to socialize with the other kids, which I very much appreciate.  He arrives for about 30 minutes of indoor play followed by lunch.  After lunch and clean-up, it’s nap time, followed by more play time until I pick him up approximately four hours after dropping him off.  During the Induction Phase, it worked out great.  For the first couple days, M was not able to sleep…sleeping on a mat on the floor was new to him as he has only slept in his crib and the schedule was a little different than his norm.  So, the school allowed me to bring in his portable crib (Baby Bjorn Portable Crib has been a life saver for both my boys) and he was able to sleep.

Then came yesterday…the day where I actually had to drop M off and go to my language class.  I expected it to go smoothly and not be a big deal.  M is a very happy kid and rarely cries, and has never cried when momma has to go to work, or one of us leaves.  But, M has always had one of us with him and over the past six months he has never been left without one of us while he has been awake.  So, after I set up his crib I had one of the very friendly staff hold him as I said good-bye.  I didn’t just want to sneak away, I wanted him to know I was leaving so he won’t look for me.  Well, instead of his normal goofy smile and waving good-bye, he cried and tried to reach out to me and hold on.  Oh ouch.  For some reason, I did not expect this reaction, I thought he would be perfectly happy at dagis.  But he cried, more specifically, he cried out for me.  And I smiled, waved, and turned my back and walked away, not wanting to feed into his cries and making it worst…but after I was walking away in the snow covered streets I felt a pain inside my chest and was quite sad to leave my little dude.  We have spent everyday together for the past six months, this has been our time together and a strong bond had been formed, which is why I was staying at home in the first place.  And now I was choosing to leave him at dagis so that I could go and try to learn some Swedish.

When I came to pick him back up, M was so excited to see me.  I picked him up and gave a big hug; but then, unwisely put him back down so I could go fold up his crib.  He wailed.  Even when one of the staff members picked him up and carried him along so he could see me, he wailed and wailed until I finally held him again.  We hugged each other tightly as my heart tried not to break.  The staff said he was fine.  After I left they put him at the table for lunch and he immediately stopped crying and ate a good portion of mashed potatoes and sausage and then slept a solid two hours.  After waking he had plenty of friends from the older classmates and was great.  So, not a total lost.  Which is good, cause in an hour I have to drop him off again.