|Open pre-school -- Calvin is loving it|
Parental leave in Sweden is extremely generous according to American standards, but in Europe, it's par for the course. All working parents are entitled to 16 months paid leave per child. A minimum of 2 months is required to be used by the "minority" parent -- generally the father, but there is controversial legislation being proposed that would oblige parents to split the time equally. They are all about equality of the sexes here!
Given that women are often home with their children for 14 months, there are a lot of opportunities for mothers to get together with their babies and socialize and play. There are stroller meet ups and something I discovered recently called "open preschool." In almost every park (or maybe it's every park, I don't know), there is a building near the major playground (there are several) that is open for children to play within with parents present. It's a clean building with a kitchen to warm your food, coffee and sandwiches available for a small fee, and designated times for sing along. In general, churches host open preschools because they have the funds but the local government funds the open preschool closest to our house.
I saw this as my golden opportunity to make friends with babies! We are on a mission to make as many friends as possible before Calvin's first birthday so we can invite friends and babies over for a cowboy or viking 1st birthday party (we haven't decided yet). Since Jon has Ericsson folks to befriend, one of my few options is rounding all of the open preschools in the area and buddying up with moms who speak Swedish and asking if they'd like to be my friend. Yes, I feel a little isolated and loser-ish in all of these social settings, but I'm never going to meet people if I just hide in a corner or stay inside the apartment. Nobody EVER knocked on my door and asked to be my friend. I want that to happen though...it would be so much easier! Fortunately for me, Calvin is devastatingly cute and a good icebreaker!
Open preschool #1: Thursday 11am-1:30pm, Rålambshovsparken (I NEVER pronounce that one correctly)
Calvin woke up from his morning nap a little later than usual so we didn't leave the house until 11am or so. We headed over to the park and into what I thought could be the open preschool. There were lots of words like, "Valkommen" on the sign in front of this building so I hesitatingly opened the door.
**** Let me just pause for a minute and say how difficult it can be if you let yourself become paralyzed with self-doubt. Here I am, walking into a building, with signs in a language I can't read. I have no idea if the signs say, "For children ages 1-5 only" or "Hours 10-2" or "Parents must remove shoes upon entering." I can only guess what is on the signs but I'm sure it's things like that. I don't know. I also don't know if I'm supposed to sign in and register Calvin, if this is really FREE (nothing is free in America) or if people will even talk to me once I'm inside. You could easily hide in your apartment because it's easier. It's much easier to feel safe in your own little circle but that world is limited and we moved to Sweden to experience the country and the people. Ok -- I'm done painting a picture of my awkwardness and inner insecurities; I'll get back to my story. ****
There was a small group of moms chatting and playing with their kids on the floor when I walked in. Open preschools are generally all Swedish so there was a flurry of Swedish being spoken all around me. Most of the children were 12 months old or so and were walking around Calvin and taking his toys. It was the first time he's ever had a toy taken away from him. He looked at his now-empty hand and picked up a new toy. I met a mom, Anna, who is Swedish but happy to speak with me in English. She was very nice and told me about another open preschool on Friday in Vasastan and invited me to meet her there. Not one to say no to an invitation, I accepted and we parted ways at the T-bana station.
International Meetup Stroller Walk: Thursday, 2pm-4pm
I signed up at www.meetup.com and joined the International Parents Stockholm meet up group to make ex-pat friends. The walk was scheduled the week before and NOBODY showed up. I was very close to skipping this meetup as well since I was warm in Thelins and enjoying a nice cup of coffee but something inside me just said, "Well, give it a try." I had 10 minutes to get to the meetup and it seemed like traffic was working against me. As I turned the corner, out of breath, I saw a gang of moms with strollers standing in front of our meeting place. Perfect! I had made it! I introduced myself around. In the group was 3 Americans, 1 Italian, 2 New Zealanders, 1 Canadian and 2 Brits. Their children ranged in age from 4 months to 2 years so we had a varied group. The international cohort walked incredibly slower than which I am accustomed. Jon calls it the Stockholm Stroll -- which is more like a mall walker’s brisk hustle than a stroll. I wasn’t sure if they knew that walking quickly generates body heat, which is really helpful when it is -6C outside. Let’s get moving ladies!
We walked down and back on Norr Malarstrand and headed to an Espresso House in Vasastan. A great number of ladies peeled off at that point and headed home. I stayed on with a smaller group of 3 other moms and we fed our babies and completely invaded the space of the two people working on their laptops. This particular Espresso House caters almost exclusively to moms with children. There is even a small play area with toys for the kids to explore. Anyone without a kid there must be nuts. The place was filled with random mittens, baby food jars, women breastfeeding and random cries and gurgles. The free wi-fi must have been worth it to the guy next to us because he stayed for quite a while. I exchanged numbers with a few of the moms and vowed to text or call them if I was in their neighborhoods. I imagine I’ll see a few of them again on Thursday at the next International Mommy walk.
Open Preschool #2: Friday 11am-1pm
Friday morning I power/Stockholm strolled to Vasastan to meet up with Anna to a church-sponsored open preschool. Sing along was at 11am, so I aimed to be there a little earlier since it takes a good 8 minutes to get all of the winter gear off of myself and Calvin. The church was very nice and warm and there were about 20 moms and dads in the building for the sing along. Calvin and I were learning Swedish together. There was a lot of tickling your baby’s belly, tapping their feet and making their hands clap. I pictured the mommy-and-me tv episode of Up all Night where Reagan gets super competitive with another mom as to who can be the “best mom” in the play group. Calvin WILL be the best hand clapper in the group!
The Swedish sing along was fun. Calvin and I had no idea what we were singing but there was a lot of swaying, pounding the floor and tickling bellies. It was fun to be interactive as a group and to observe other parents having fun with their children. We’ll definitely be back for that group next Friday.
Overall, life with a baby in Sweden is extremely nice. Restaurants have comfortable changing tables, baby food for purchase and high chairs at the ready. Parks are designed for children with lots of play spaces – rock climbing walls, cargo nets, etc. It’s pretty much what we have at Piedmont Park but captured in smaller green spaces dotted throughout the city.