Stop. In the name of love.

I told myself not to write this yesterday.

I knew anything I wrote would be too angry.

I think we can agree that the death of an endangered animal in a zoo was a tragedy.

What I don’t understand, what makes me angry, is how the mother of a four year old boy is now public enemy number one.

I don’t want to argue specifics. Other people have done that. There are plenty of places and articles dissecting the events at Cincinnati Zoo. Some are even managing to do so without hysteria.

And maybe this mother is a shit mum. Maybe she is completely selfish, thinking the world revolves around her and her children. Maybe she is lazy. Maybe she is incompetent. Maybe. But I don’t think we can know this from one moment of inattention. Maybe she is guilty of nothing more than assuming there was no way her child would be able to climb into a gorilla enclosure at a large, well-known zoo.

Since when did one mistake make you criminally negligent?

The fact that seems to have been forgotten is that parents are not in control of their children 100% of the time. Fact. We can’t be. We won’t be. Parents never have been. It’s just that ten, twenty years ago, nobody had camera phones to capture the moment. Children are autonomous beings, with their own desires and impulses, with an ability to move independently.

Yes, it is a parent’s job to teach their children to control some of their impulses, to guide them to act in a way harmonious with their society. But this takes, years. More than four.

When our children are little the potential for disaster is always only a moment away. Just last weekend my son scooted ahead on a crossing, towards the oncoming cars, one of which hadn’t yet stopped. Just last week my daughter shoved a perfectly round stone in her mouth. Just a month ago my daughter crawled off to join her brother in the bedroom while I cooked, I could hear them laughing and thought they were fine, until I looked only a minute, maybe two, to find my son had tied a collar round her neck. One like a choke collar. He was pretending she was his dog.

A few months ago we visited Copenhagen. Standing at a tram station, trying to calculate our ticket purchase, we suddenly looked down to see our son wasn’t there. Just as a tram pulled out of the station. There was a moment of sheer panic, imagining him alone on a tram, watching it drive away from us while we yelled his name, only for him to poke his head perplexedly around a barrier. I hope that all the people saying she should having been holding on, he should have been on a leash, never learn what it feels like to look for your child and not see them. I hope that when they do, it all ends as uneventfully as it did for us.

If things hadn’t ended well, would it make me a bad parent? One awful moment. One catastrophe. A never ending stream of newspaper headlines announcing my failure to the world.

This sort of judgement doesn’t just effect people when something goes badly wrong. It is an extension of the same attitude that judges parents every time their child misbehaves in public. This idea that we should always be in control, able to stop a tantrum with what, firmness? By which people mean, our children should be so frightened of us that they stop a normal expression of frustration and anger with just a look, or a word.

Should parents brains always be on high alert for the potential to misbehave, or have accidents? Should we hover over our child, protecting them from the world, the world from them? Will you then judge us for being helicopter parents? This doesn’t sound healthy for anyone. Sometimes parenting involves giving your child space and hoping the mistakes they make don’t lead to catastrophe.

It isn’t enough to tell parents to avoid the internet, the source of all that is toxic. You should not make the mistake of thinking that this is confined to the internet. Avoiding it means not listening, not making eye contact. And I do not think that is any sort of solution.

The only solution is respect, support, kindness, compassion. No-one wants to live in isolated bubbles. So stop pretending you have the right to one where ever and when ever you choose. Stop pretending you are perfect and never make mistakes.

Stop judging, and grant children the same freedoms and guidance and love you were once granted.

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Dance. Dance. Dancing your sorrows away.

Last weekend two really magical things happened.

On Friday night A slept from 9ish to 6am. That’s like all night! Not only was that her longest sleep by a reasonably long shot, it coincided with her brother’s best night’s sleep in a long time. It is amazing how different the world seems when you have some sleep in your system.

Saturday was kinda drizzly, but we got some chores done, and I made pizza for tea. We fed the kids first and put them to bed. We do usually eat as a family, but it is nice, every now and again, to have some time that is just my husband and me. We drank wine and watched TV and it was lovely. It ended up being a late meal, and a late night. Of course the kids didn’t repeat the sleep of the night before. But two nights sleep in a row would just be greedy, wouldn’t it? (Would it?)

But that wasn’t the second magical thing. The second magical thing was we took my son to his first concert, featuring his favourite TV host, Rosa, from the Danish children’s channel Ramasjang. Rosa hosts a show about baking cakes; M Loves it. So we thought it would be special for him to see her show.  Also M is quite obsessed with asking if things are real or not. So seeing his hero Rosa in real life, for real, on a real stage, singing real songs, was quite exciting. Really.
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We approached it with a small amount of trepidation. M is quite sensitive (for lack of a better word) and doesn’t always cope well with large crowds and loud noises. But the thrill of the occasion was enough to compensate. Sure he spent some of the show with hands over his ears. Sure he was only brave enough to get off my lap towards the end. But I don’t think that mattered to him.

This is what mattered to him: M and I watched the show together – just the two of us. My husband sat far off down the back with A, who ended up falling asleep. And just like parents need time to ourselves, it was a reminder he needs time with just me as well. Lately we’ve spent a lot of time together, while he has been too sick for børnehaven, but always with his sister present. It was good for him, and good for me, to be able to devote my attention to him. To have me to himself. And Rosa. And cuski, his cuddly, because it was a cuddly animal themed concert. And cuski is not really an animal, but cuski is very loved and an integral part of our family. He sits with us at breakfast, so there was never any question of ‘who’ would go with us.

As we waited, my son giggling and bouncing with anticipation, a teddy polar bear wandered through the crowd. The band arrived on stage, but where was Rosa? To pass time they invited the bear up to dance. Then, the mask came off – the bear was Rosa! A gag as old as time. My son’s genuine surprise and delight was magical to watch.

There are no cliches in childhood. They haven’t learnt them yet.

And that is one of the joys of being a parent. Seeing everything through their unjaded eyes.
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It has been hard lately. When it is hard, it is easy to question yourself. To wonder if you are doing the best for your children. The world is full of articles about the perils of modern childhood inflicted by inadequate/over-bearing/distracted/lazy/busy parents. Sometimes you just have to tune out the world, and look at what is in front of you.

And so for forty-five minutes, while the sun shone in Aarhus and we could believe it was summer, while the band played and the teddy bears danced, while Rosa sang and we waved our hands and sang along to tunes we didn’t know, in a language I don’t actually speak, while all the sleepless nights and battles and stress faded away, while we laughed and listened, we found it.

The magic of childhood.

Breathe

Take a deep breath.

Last night I lay in bed and cried.

Take a deep breath.

Some nights when I try and sleep it feels like I’m adrift in a sea of concerns. The sea is wide and deep and dark. I’m alone and soaked with stress and sleeplessness. The salt taste of regret and angry words. Waves of parental failures buffet me as I float.

Take a deep breath.

People tell you parenthood is hard. I think they do. But what you never know is how it will be hard for you. With newborns it tends to be fairly obvious. You’re tired, listening to screaming, and covered in puke. But when the children get older they blossom into these spectacular little humans. With their own personalities. Their own charms, and interests, and sense of humour. Their own quirks, and frustrations, and problems.

Sometimes your children feel like that lame-ass friend you can’t bring yourself to ditch. You know, the one who always wants to catch up for a coffee so they can tell you all about how difficult their life is, and you listen and are all sympathetic. You visit their house, sit on the floor and eat ice-cream and hand them tissues. You check in on them in a couple of days. But then when you’re stressed, they’re all like. ‘I just have to tell you something. Wait my thing is more important. Listen, listen to me…
… What’s the thing Robin Hood keeps his arrows in? A quiber?’
And you feel like exploding in rage because to be honest you never really gave a shit about Robin Hood.

Take a deep breath.

I read a lovely post from Like Real Life. It was so beautiful, and I want to tell everyone stuck in the doldrums with kids to read it. It has the words we need to hear. ‘It will get easier’.

But the truth is, it isn’t easier yet.

We’re caught up in this place where we need to keep giving and giving, and our children are taking and taking. My husband and I barely have the time to breathe. We try to give each other breaks, and sleep-ins. We even stayed up too late on Saturday, watching Eurovision, just to kid ourselves that we too can have a lame-ass adult evening in like our friends.

It is hard when it is always just us. And the kids don’t sleep well enough that a babysitter feels like an option.

It is hard because M has been sick all year. And it is May. And it feels very unfair. For him, really. He’s tired and angry. And I don’t blame him, but we are tired too. And it is hard that it is just us. I’m tired of carrying this burden alone. I’m tired because it feels like such a grey area and so many parents feel this way, of not betraying your child’s right to privacy, and not isolating yourself unduly because you don’t talk about it.

I know we are lucky that it is ‘only’ asthma. But he has been unlucky in that we haven’t been successful in getting it under control since it first appeared just before Christmas. It has been two steps forward, one step back. And every night we lie in bed and listen to him cough and cough and cough.

Take a deep breath.

Maybe I’m saying something now, because we feel like we are finally making real progress with a new medication. But it is too early to say for sure. We’ve thought that before.

Maybe I’m saying something because I know so many people who struggle behind their closed doors. We only see them open it that tiny chink. My daughter’s struggling to settle in at school. My son has been diagnosed with autism. My husband finished his chemotherapy treatment yesterday. And we console, and condole and celebrate. And we don’t think about all the tears in private. All the worrying about whether it is normal to feel like this or not. All the lying awake in the dark, dark night, stressed and alone.

And yes, it does get better.

But sometimes there is no getting better. Sometimes problems won’t go away. We just have to learn to live with them.

We have to make space in our already cramped, complicated lives. We have to give and give and give some more.

So to all the parents, and people, and carers who are giving and giving and giving.

To everyone who finds themselves adrift at sea.

Take a deep breath.

You’re not alone.

I hope your seas are tranquil soon.

We’re going where the sea is blue

It has been a stressful time recently, so we decided what could be more relaxing than a holiday with kids? We decided to take advantage of a long weekend and traveled to Ebeltoft for a night. For the most part it was fabulous. Fabulous. But it was also testing and tiring.
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We don’t have a car, so travelled by bus from Aarhus. On the way there it worked perfectly. But on the way home, tired after new exciting experiences, M decided to be – difficult. I’ll take some responsibility; we did briefly lose track of time, and then we realised we needed to rush to make the bus home. They are only hourly, and waiting for the next one was getting too late. Have you ever tried to rush our son? After working hard to keep the holiday calm and relaxing it suddenly turned into GET YOUR CLOTHES ON! GET YOUR SHOES ON! While he yelled NO! NO! And then we really only had 15min until the bus, with a 10min walk to the bus stop. So I said WE JUST HAVE TO GO EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T HAVE SHOES ON!!

He went from uncooperative to hysterical. It was awful. I realised that he hadn’t seen me shove his shoes under the pram, and so thought I meant we would leave his shoes behind. Hysterical, but also cooperative. Shoes on, M dumped down on the buggy board, and I raced off; my husband grabbed the bags and locked the door. We made it. But my son spent almost the entire walk crying. It was not the end to our holiday we had hoped for.

* * *

Nobody has asked why I chose the name I did for this blog. Perhaps some vague assumptions about Scandinavian design, and innovation. The behemoth of furniture shopping that shall remain nameless. Of course that was on my mind. But it is also how I feel about this nomadic-expat lifestyle my husband and I have fallen into. This year will be our tenth wedding anniversary, and we have lived in four countries during those ten years. Not by design, or even strong desire. Life just kinda worked out that way.

Every time we move we have to dismantle our lives. Pack the boxes. Choose what to take, and what to sell. Say goodbye to friends and places and routines. And then arrive somewhere new. Reassemble our lives. Unpack the boxes. Fit our old belongings into a new house. Try to make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

And like flatpack furniture, things don’t always fit together the same as they did before. It is always a little different, the angles have shifted slightly.

The folk-wisdom of expats is something like this: the first year is either exciting or depressing. Then you know your way around, but you don’t really feel like you belong. Three years feels like maybe you could stay. Five years to feel like you really belong. We’ve never managed the five years.

We have gained a lot, and had such wonderful experiences with this life we’ve led. But I also know that every time we leave somewhere we lose something too. There is a part of me that will always call Wellington, Cambridge, Canberra ‘home’. And my childhood homes too – Lower Hutt, and Germany. Some parts of me will never be at home again.

If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that even when you know you are leaving eventually, you can’t live in a state of impermanence for long. You have to make yourself a home. Dig your heels in and build a new life. Make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

* * *

Ebeltoft is situated on the Djursland peninsula which juts out in to the Kattegat; the strait between Denmark and Sweden, that eventually opens out into the Baltic Sea.  The Kattegat – around here at least – can seem strangely calm to a New Zealander, who has grown up near coasts where winds blow straight from Antarctica. Ebeltoft was particularly idyllic. Nestled into a bay, the opening of which is tucked in under the peninsula, the seas were very calm. It would be spectacular in summer. We’ve had a couple of cold weeks, sleet and hail, wind and rain. They say in Denmark you always need to be prepared for any kind of weather. Well, we were not prepared for the amount of sunshine we got.
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On that stunning Saturday afternoon we walked out to the end of the harbour pier, where in this peaceful place the cannons are still fired weekly. Ahead of us was blue sky and blue sea, green hills curving in to mark the entrance to the bay. Somewhere behind those hills, further down the coast lies our home, Aarhus.

Our home. Hjem. It feels like that to me. And certainly to my son.

I stood at the edge of the sea, feeling these northern winds blowing gently on my skin, the hush of a calm northern sea. The Dannebrog waving above us. And I knew, then, one day we will leave a piece of ourselves behind. One day we’ll ask our son to lose something much bigger, much more important than his shoes. Maybe a different child would take it easily, but we have to deal with the child we have; he is not going to find it easy.

We have a good life here. We are able to give him some wonderful experiences. But we also have to teach him how to uproot himself. This isn’t something that can be done in a rush. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to our life here. To start again, somewhere else. But wherever we end up, we’ll do it. Make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

I also know, we’ll carry a little piece of Denmark with us when we go.