The dim fell in the middle of the morning over Haparanda and I just could not resist.
Already 8 months months have passed since we moved to Stockholm and I still haven’t tired of the wonderful views: the narrow streets in Gamla Stan, the canal meeting the sea, the colorful buildings. It is indeed a beautiful city. Arguably the most beautiful city I have ever lived in (despite the weather).
There is a lot of good things about Sweden. Great outdoors, very clean water (except in Skellefteå), a great social security blanket, and Saturday’s candy – to name a few. Another great thing is that everything seems to be in place for people to get back to work after having a baby, as the kids can stay at subsidised daycare places, called Dagis. It is great, and it works: men and women can continue working and producing and paying taxes, while their little ones stay in a nice, safe, cosy place where they learn to socialise and other stuff. Dagis is one of the most important steps Sweden has taken towards equality between genders.
If you are a parent who works full-time, you get full-time number of hours at Dagis as your right. If you work part-time, then you get less hours. And if you are unemployed (for whatever reason), then you get some hours a week – with the purpose of having enough flexibility to find another job and get back into paying your taxes.
So far so good. However, there is a catch. This law seems to be based on the idea of a traditional family. The parents work fulltime and pay taxes, and their common kids are well looked after. If the parents divorce and have shared custody, then each of them get the number of hours at Dagis according to their own working situation.
And the catch is: what happens when the dad meets a new girl, who does not work full-time or does not work at all? Well, in that case, the number of hours that the kids can be at Dagis are reduced accordingly. That is, when she’s at home, the kids must stay with her. If she has a day off during the week, the kids stay with her. If she is unemployed, the kids have no right to Dagis, and stay at home with their new stepmom, even though the dad works full-time.
It happened to me when I first moved to Sweden and didn’t have a job. I didn’t know enough Swedish to get around (even if everyone speaks English), I had no network, and I lived in the middle of nowhere. I had to start from the beginning. Moving from a great job into unemployment, from London to Vagnhärad, from having an amazing network of friends to knowing 10 people in the whole country, from living a single life to being married and looking after a 4 and 6 year old girl who I could not communicate with. Not easy at all.
I started by trying to get into a routine. Getting up, helping the kids get ready, take them to Dagis, read, watch TV, listen to as much Swedish as possible, trying to figure out how things work, trying to find a job or internship and a language course, trying to make their home my new home… and sometimes even unpacking my boxes. Then I would pick them up, bring them home, and wait for about 30 minutes until hubby came back. So when the teacher at Dagis told me that the kids could not continue coming to Dagis, and that I had to look after them full-time, my already overloaded and unexperienced hands gave in, and I bursted into tears (note: this happened at home and not in public!). How could I ever get a job and learn the language, and be as flexible as I needed to be in order to get out there and start a new life? Why did I have to look after 2 kids who aren’t mine, full-time? and, why were these kids being thrown at someone who didn’t really want to look after them full-time? Because, let’s admit it, as horrible as it sounds, I really didn’t want to.
However, after being scolded by the teacher at Dagis about me leaving the kids there, I did not really want to set foot in there again. I was embarrased, angry, felt like the whole thing was very unfair (after all, they had always gone to Dagis when Peter was at work, and was sort of part of the un-spoken deal), and overall, very unconfortable of even walking by that place, let alone come in and leave the kids. I was also ashamed of feeling like that! I was expected to want to be their full-time carer, only because I live with their dad… So Peter took back this task. He would take them there in the mornings, and pick them up after work. And the funny thing was that the teacher at Dagis never said anything to him. Not one word about what happened. Thankfuly, I got a job very soon after this happened, and the ridiculously early commuting meant I didn’t have to leave or pick the kids from Dagis, so I never got to talk to that woman again.
This is something that I wished changed in the law in Sweden. Maybe there aren’t a lot of foreign stepmoms out there who are new to the country, unemployed, and can’t speak Swedish. Or maybe there are?
I still get a belly-ache when I think of that teacher from Dagis, and the fact that she chose to confront me with the issue, and not him. She chose to scold me, knowing that I would not be able to talk back (come on, in Swedish?), that I didn’t know my rights, and wishing that I would just lower my head and say yes. That’s easier than confronting a 1,95m tall guy who knows his and his kids’ rights, and who can stand up for himself. Shame that it came from a woman too.
I’ve recently been to the funeral of a very dear member of our family. Being my first funeral in Sweden – and first funeral as an adult! – I did my share of research in order to avoid any cultural mistakes, and to understand better what was going on.
Compared to the Mexican way, the Swedish funerals are a lot more emotional – at least for me. I could not get myself to read the Psalms, let alone sing them. The family was placed at the front of the church in order of closeness. I am sorry to say that I was not very far. I almost felt like “on the spot”. Scared of making a mistake and swallowing all the feelings (remember, I’m Mexican, drama is in the blood), I just followed what everyone else was doing.
The body was cremated and put in the ground in a beautiful part of the cemetery, which is like a big garden. This for me was a first one too. I guess we usually put the bodies in the ground, and the ashes in some box in a church or a wall. So ashes in a garden seemed a bit strange. Well, today I came across this idea: turning into a tree after you die. And you can choose the kind of tree too.
According to the website, it is the profaine ritual of regeneration and the return to nature. Bios is a mortuary urn made from biodegradable materials: coconut shell, compacted peat and cellulose. Inside it contains the seed of a tree. Once the urn is planted, the seed germinates and begins to grow.
Not my cup of tea, but I can understand why people would be interested:
– less land mass
– recycling (if you can call it so)
– lengthening life – somehow
– some sort of legacy
It does rise some questions like, what happens if you don’t germinate? what if the land is to be re-used to build housing or a shopping mall? would I haunt the owners of pets that piss on me? Or maybe if I do become a nice, big, leafy tree my grandchildren will come and read under my shade. Maybe a Rainbow Eucaliptus.
A few days ago I was having lunch with some friends, and mentioned how little miss S (who is 8 ) complained to me that no one had taken a day off to spend it at school with her. Have to explain this better: in Sweden, parents can and are encouraged to spend a day at school with their kids, so that they get to experience what it is like to be at that school, the activities in the day, etc. Some sort of (from my perspective) school propaganda directed at parents (“come and see how amazing we are… we eat 100% organic too). Anyway, little miss S complained that no one had taken the time to go to school with her, hoping that I would jump in and volunteer. I told her that it was probably because when she is at school, her mom and dad are actually working (note: mom works shifts, so in theory she could… however, I don’t blame her if she doesn’t jump up and down with excitement over the idea), so it is hard. And she asked – as expected – “what about you? Don’t you want to come?” I explained I work full-time office hours, and that it is not that easy to just take a day off to go to school with her (come one, I have very few holidays and I intend to spend them in Mexico).
So anyway, there I was telling my cute little story about how sweet it was that little miss S actually tried and pulled some very good arguments as to why I should take a day off and come to school with her, when one of the people at the table so naturally replied “bah, that’s not your job.” At that point I could not mutter any more words (which is actually very rare for me). There was nothing to reply. I could not agree, and I could no disagree. Instead, I have been giving a lot of thought, and all I can do is formulate the actual question in my head: “what is my job, then?”
Everyone knows what a mom does (if you don’t, watch this). There are some debates about what a dad does – depending on where in the world – but it is also pretty straight-forward. What grandparents, uncles and aunties do is also widely known. The role of cousins, friends, friends that become cousins, cousins that become siblings… all is very clear. But who can explain the job of a bonusmamma? a lot of smart cookies out there seem to be able to… however, after 2 years, I still wonder.
Seems like not a lot of foreigners are getting jobs in Sweden right now. I am one of the lucky few who is lucky (and determined) enough to actually work in the area of my choice – and love it. Last year I was involved in a project for designed to help foreigners with studies and work experience get a job in Sweden, at Stockholm’s University. They have now published a review on the program, Korta Vägen.