We took the kids camping, or the kids took us camping, I don’t know anymore. The important thing is that we packed our (million!) bags, tent, fishing equipment, dogs and food, and went out for a night out in the woods. Two kids, two dogs and two adults sleeping together in a tent for 3. I can say that we weren’t cold! It rained a bit but overall it was nice weather. We caught 4 fishes, grilled burgers and had candy. It was quite hard to fall asleep, so I layed there just looking at the roof and listening to the woods… or at least that what I wished I had been listening to! Instead, I was listening to someone else’s really loud music. Ironic enough, our flat in the middle of Södermalm is actually quieter. At about 3am I woke up with the wind. It was blowing very strong and I was trying to ignore the fact that we were sleeping between trees. Tall trees, strong wind, and a tent are not a good combination! Anyway, we got up at 5 (!), checked the rods for fish, and then the tent was empty, just me and two cosy pugs. Six hours later we are home, fresh and showered, tired, but very happy!
Ok, I am late with this post; it should’ve ideally been out back in January, but hey, better late than never!
It was a bit of a mission to get Saga to agree to a theme, or a “type” of birthday party. We looked around for ideas, and things like “pony-riding” and “make your own demo” party themes came up, with their thousands of kronor attached to them. We suggested a day out in the ski piste with her friends, with hot chocolate and a ski lesson, but Saga didn’t really find it “cool” enough.
So in the end, the theme of the party agreed was: Make-up, dance and fun! Little Saga and her friends gathered at our place where they a glittery makeover, danced to Let’s Dance 3, and went out in town for some pizza. Happy faces, happy bellies, happy moments! Not bad for a bonusmamma!
The kids spent last weekend with us. I had to rushed in the morning to my Weight Watchers meeting (did I mention I already lost like 3 -almost 4- kg!?) near Hötorget, and dragged Saga with me. She is always happy to hang out without her sister, so she got ready in no-time and was at the door when I was still drying my hair. Anyway, the meeting was cancelled due to illness, and we found another meeting 5 blocks from where we live. So we rushed back and dragged two fellow “fatties” with us – who were also going to the meeting in Hötorget- and made it on time.
On the way back, I wanted to trim my fringe, so we stopped by the hairdressers where I cut my hair last. Last time I was there I got a really cute feather extension stuck to my hair, and it has lasted quite a while now. As a treat and to reward her really good behavior, I let Saga pick her own feather and get it on her hair. A bright green thick and long feather, perfect for the Melodifestivalen’s general rehearsal, for which we had tickets that afternoon.
Obviously Elsa also wanted one as soon as she spotted the brightly coloured feather in her sister’s hair. So at the time they both were sent to school the following Monday, they both have bright coloured feathers in their hair, green and turquoise, a big smile and lots to tell about Melodifestivalen and getting feathers in their hair.
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.
It’s been a bit tough couple of weeks these last ones. Lots of pressure at work, preparing for guests (my friends Danny and Daz visit was the best!), and life in general. So I have been neglecting my blog a bit…
Anyway, yesterday I gave a lecture at the University, and it was very fulfilling. It’s great to see the faces of the curious and ambitious youth who will take over the world in the coming years. It is also quite draining, so at the end of the day I was exhausted.
When the family came back from school and work, I took S to BR in Ringen, Södermalm, to buy her Halloween dress. It was a very nice walk with her, during which we talked a lot, and she said how much she likes to spend time alone with me. That was really nice to hear. Sometimes kids can be a nightmare, and sometimes they are just so sweet you want to eat them like small cupcakes.
She got her costume with her own money too, which I thought was great. She received some money last Christmas, saved it up, and bought something that she really wanted – and she was very proud too!
Healthy siblings relationships always include a pinch of jealousy, and in the case of my bonuskids this is no different. So you can imagine little E’s face when we got back, and S tried on her costume. She was very, very angry. We tried to reason with her about S saving up and buying it with her own money, but it was little comfort. She had to be reminded of her last e-shopping for headphones, which she got with her own Christmas money too.
Then after some pasta and meatballs, everything was forgotten and routine took back its place: tooth-brushing, face-washing, pj’s and bed. And hubby and I went to bed at 9.
Contrary to what popular culture dictates, and to what the Grimms’ brothers have been telling us generation after generation, having a sassy step-mom is not that bad. Of course there are a few rotten apples out there, and they seem to get the most PR, but I seriously think that not all of us are that bad. It depends a lot on the circumstances. And a bigger lot on the dad. The dad is the component for the whole step-family to work. He is the key piece that links all the other pieces together, or “sort-of together”. A dad that is not on-board can make the whole ship sink.
There are lots of books and blogs about how difficult it is to live in a step-family, countless complaints from step-children, step-moms, bio parents, aunties and grandparents. But just as not everything is pink and rosy, not everything is bad either. That is why for sanity and harmony’s sake, you need to really hang on the to the good moments in order to sail through the not-so-good ones. So here’s a list of my top 10 good moments in my life as a bonus-mamma, no particular order:
1. Saga saying “Glenda, since you moved in Dad has stopped farting, burping and swearing around the house. It’s so nice!”
2. Elsa saying “Glenda, I know you don’t understand a thing in Swedish, but at least you are happy living here!”
3. The look in their eyes when I dress up, followed by “wow..can I inherit that dress from you when you no longer fit?” (they think I will grow taller, not fatter – or so I tell myself!)
4. Their reasoning: “If you are my bonus-mamma, then your brother’s kids are our bonus-cousins… wow, we have bonus-cousins living in Rusia! cool!”
5. “Glenda, we don’t want to go shopping with Dad ever again! He only takes us to Intersport! You should always take us shopping.”
6. Saga: “I told my friends that we always have pancakes for breakfast on Sundays when we are with you. They are so jealous!” (the ALWAYS bit is a bit untrue, though, but the friends don’t know)
7. At a concert in Gröna Lund. after having ridden all the roller-coasters she wanted to try out, Saga said “Glenda, this is the best day in my whole life!”
8. When they say how much they would love to have a baby brother/sister and even think of baby names
9. When they eat double portions because “it was the best you have ever cooked in your whole life”
10. When they yell out from their beds at night so that I come and tuck them in, and they whisper “I love you” when I lean down to hug them.
What does a sassy bonusmamma do on payday? Go shopping for kid’s clothes. Let’s face it. If all the women in my step-kids’ lives didn’t go shopping for them, they would be naked. Or worse, they would be wearing Stadium or Inter-sport from head to toes when it’s father’s week. So just because it is the beginnign of the season, and because they ate two portions each at dinner last night (which very rarely happens when I cook), I am rewarding them with some Autumn essentials: