An all new photo album with pictures of Ingrid in various baby carriers.

Time T
Time T + 2 minutes

Things from London that I miss:

  • Sandwiches and sandwich shops. Well-made sandwiches are one of the best parts of British cuisine, and besides, they’re very practical as a quick lunch. M&S’s Wensleydale and caramelised carrots, for example, or their Mexican bean wrap, or Pret’s Brie & cranberry Christmas specials.
  • Spitalfields market. Not because I bought much there (apart from the occasional pie or brownie) but because it was fun to browse. The same goes for all the odd little shops in the small streets of East London. I’d never even go in, but it was fun to walk past and peer into their show windows full of things like Indian wedding accoutrements, cheap household electronics, or exotic vegetables. The neighbourhood where we live now is purely residential, and the few shops to be found are all eminently ordinary and practical, such as a hairdressers’ or a pizzeria.

Things in Stockholm that I like:

  • Wide open blue skies. London is clouded over quite a lot of the time. Must be a local thing, maybe caused by all the traffic pollution? And even when it isn’t cloudy, the sky is never as in-your-face as it is here in Stockholm. The sky here is bluer, the streets wider and the houses lower, so the bright blueness of the sky hits me with a big smack whenever I go out. I also feel that the sun is brighter here: I cannot go out cycling during the day without wearing sunglasses, whereas I hadn’t yet brought out my sunglasses in London during the spring.
  • Hot water as soon as I turn on the tap.
  • Lifts in every single tubeT-bana and train station. And they always work, and they’re almost always clean. The whole experience is so smooth that I don’t think twice about taking Ingrid on the T-bana in her pushchair, whereas in London I would try to avoid trips to town if possible. Not surprisingly, therefore,
  • The town is full of parents with pushchairs and prams. They are everywhere. Really, one can get the impression that the fertility rate in Stockholm is about three times that of London.

Well, we’re not buying the house in Skogsbacken. We participated in the bidding for a while, but the price soon passed our limit so we dropped out. The price then went up a good deal more, quite a bit higher than we had expected. We will have to think again about our approach: it may be that it is not feasible to get what we want for the price we are willing to pay.

Some unknown catastrophe has destroyed the Earth. The world now consists of burnt earth, ashes, ever-present clouds, ashy rain and ashy snow. Most human life and all non-human life is dead.

Several years after the catastrophe, a father and a son make their way through the devastation towards the sea. Not really expecting to find anything different there, they keep walking because they need something to aim for. With a shopping cart to hold their possessions, they scavenge whatever small scraps they can find, and hide from “the bad guys”. The only food to be had is tinned.

It is late autumn / early winter. Some days it rains, other days it snows. The two are thin and cold and filthy and hungry, frequently hovering near death.

The son, born days after whatever cataclysm caused this devastation, is young enough to not question things. He has learnt to be afraid of everything, and yet he has a child’s innocence and unconditional love for his father – and anyone else who is not a “bad guy”. The father knows what has been lost but is slowly forgetting what life used to be like.

The father keeps going only because he knows that he needs to keep his son alive. (The mother gave up years ago and took her own life. In a world like this, suicide is the sane choice.) Both are only kept alive by their love for each other – neither can imagine a life without the other.

That’s Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. A dark and grim book. The world he describes is depressing, brutal and miserable. A world without hope, and without hope of hope. But nevertheless there is so much love and tenderness in this book that the enduring feeling is one of love. A heartbreaking book, to be sure, but at the same time also strangely uplifting.

In any case it’s a powerful and compelling book. It’s stark and minimalistic in language and description and plot. In fact there isn’t much plot, just repetition of the same few activities: walk, hide, scavenge, shiver, sleep. No chapters, just moments. Little punctuation, and as few words as possible. Things and people have no names, even: there is “the man” and “the boy”. But when the world has ended, who can care about punctuation?

The Road should ideally be read in a day or two, so you can immerse yourself in the feelings, and let the book take hold of you. As soon as I had finished it, I wanted to re-read it, but didn’t, because it would have been too much. It’s one of those unforgettable books that will stay with you forever.

Amazon US, Amazon UK.

Best review: NY Review of Books.

What emerges most powerfully as one reads The Road is not a prognosticatory or satirical warning about the future, or a timeless parable of a father’s devotion to his son, or yet another McCarthyesque examination of the violent underpinnings of all social intercourse and the indifference of the cosmic jaw to the bloody morsel of humanity. The Road is not a record of fatherly fidelity; it is a testament to the abyss of a parent’s greatest fears. The fear of leaving your child alone, of dying before your child has reached adulthood and learned to work the mechanisms and face the dangers of the world, or found a new partner to face them with. The fear of one day being obliged for your child’s own good, for his peace and comfort, to do violence to him or even end his life. And, above all, the fear of knowing—as every parent fears—that you have left your children a world more damaged, more poisoned, more base and violent and cheerless and toxic, more doomed, than the one you inherited.

House 10. Erik Tegels väg. Decent-sized garden, nice ground floor (high ceilings but a bit smallish), but then we came to the top floor which felt like it consisted only of nooks, crannies, corners and doors: cramped and inconvenient. No buy.

House 11. Norrgårdsvägen. “Subsidence damage and need for renovation” turned out to mean big cracks in pillars and walls, and floors slanting so much that you could feel it when walking around in the house. Estimated cost for straightening up and stabilising the foundation: SEK 500,000. No buy.

House 12. Skogsbacken. Excellent location (quiet street, 10 minutes’ walk from the station), relatively large garden, and the house itself was quite nice, too, except for the 1970s interiors (“some need for modernisation”). Not quite the light, open interior we were looking for, but it could probably get quite close if we knocked down a wall, made one window three times larger, and tore down the large dark roof over the terrace. The first house we’re actually interested in!

House 13. Solhagavägen. Reasonable in all ways, but not really exciting. We would probably have been tentatively interested if we hadn’t seen Skogsbacken. This one is in great state and needs no modernisation, but on the other hand it is twice as far from the station, and has a noticeably smaller garden. No buy.

Through some magic, Ingrid has learned to sleep.

Step one: she learned that sleep is good. One of the few signs we taught Ingrid (before her spoken language got going) was the sign for sleep. We signed “sleep” every evening before I put her to bed. One day, several months ago now, she signed “sleep” before I did, and walked off towards the bedroom on her own. Since that day, our evenings have become a lot smoother.

Sometimes she still resists going to bed (and what child wouldn’t, when there is so much to be done?) but many days she happily toddles off towards the bedroom (or towards me, when she would rather be carried) when I suggest sleep. And sometimes when she’s tired, she suggests a nap before I’ve even thought about it.

Step two: she learned to go to sleep. Something happened, and suddenly she got to a point where she can fall asleep in less than five minutes, assuming she’s calm and tired. She does things that I had previously only heard stories about: drifts off in the pushchair while we’re out walking, or even sitting in my lap. No boobs and no crying and no jumping involved. Absolutely wonderful.

In the evening she still likes me to lie next to her for a while. But she doesn’t complain when I slowly move away to sit by her side, once she is almost asleep. Most evenings she falls asleep with me holding her hand, or just sitting there and doing nothing at all.

The hard part is making sure that she is calm and tired in time for bedtime. She needs to get out and run about during the day, in order to be properly tired for the night. The days we spend indoors, for one reason or another, she usually has trouble falling asleep. Instead she runs about like a madman even though it’s late. Some part of her brain and body is tired, but not the right part, so she cannot calm down. When I put her to bed in that state, she can spend a good 40 minutes getting the energy out of her: kicking her legs against the mattress, flexing her legs again and again, slapping her feet against the wall, etc etc. And then the night ends up too short, and she’s cranky in the morning and the day after… So we generally make an effort to get her outdoors every day.

Step three: she learned to go back to sleep on her own. It used to be that whenever I heard a whimper from the bedroom, I rushed in, because if I didn’t, the whimper inevitably grew into loud crying that escalated until I went in to calm her down. Now she sometimes cries out but then goes right back to sleep (or maybe she doesn’t even wake). Sometimes she makes more noise, and then I usually go in to find her sitting up in her bed. She appears confused and peeved, but is effectively asleep, so the moment I lay her down again, she is asleep again.

Other times she half-wakes and seems really annoyed and I just cannot calm her. I suspect that it’s because she pees in her sleep, and doesn’t like the feeling. She wears disposable nappies at night, but even with those she feels something. And she hates night-time nappy changes that follow. She doesn’t like laying down flat on her back. During the day she stands up for nappy changes, but during the night of course she definitely does not want to stand up, she wants to lie down and sleep! And she isn’t sufficiently awake to understand that it will be easier to go back to sleep when I’ve changed the nappy. So whichever way I choose, she struggles and fights me. I usually end up breastfeeding her after these episodes, because that’s the only way to calm her again when she’s that worked up.

But in general, we all sleep better than we’ve done in a year and a half.

Setting up a flexible working arrangement at previous Big American Employer:

  • Discuss needs with manager and team leader.
  • Submit a Flexible Working Agreement proposal via special web form, specifying working hours and place for every day, providing a business justification, listing potential difficulties and how they will be resolved.
  • Wait for proposal to be approved by manager and HR.
  • Receive written confirmation of FWA.
  • Follow FWA.

To be honest, calling that procedure “flexible working” was misleading, because after the agreement had been negotiated, there wasn’t much flexibility in it. If the FWA stipulated working 80%, with Mondays off and Fridays worked from home, then the employee was expected to follow that. “Nonstandard working agreement” would be a more correct name. Still, it worked well in practice and I was quite happy with the arrangement.

Setting up a flexible working arrangement at current Small Swedish Employer required exactly two five-minute conversations.

HT – Can I work part-time?
CEO – Yes, you can.
HT – Do you prefer a full week but shorter days, or a shorter week?
CEO – Whichever… talk to your team leader.

HT – I’d like to work part-time. Do you prefer a full week but shorter days, or a shorter week?
TL – Whichever you like.
HT – OK, I’ll try a shorter week, then. Which day off would work best?
TL – Whichever you like.
HT – Umm… Wednesday?
TL – Sure. If you want to change it later, let me know.

At the bottom left.

For over a month I’ve found myself thinking of Ingrid as “almost two”. She is nowhere near two, of course. But my brain wants the calendar to be decimal, so seventeen or eighteen months get rounded to twenty months, which should be the same as two years. I’ve now trained myself to ignore the months and just think of her as “about a year and a half”. Today she is exactly a year and a half.

The past month has been strongly language-oriented. Ingrid’s vocabulary is growing daily. Most of it is passive – she understands but doesn’t say the word herself – but her active vocabularly is also growing by leaps and bounds. And while much of what she says is still hard to decipher because many words sound the same, her pronounciation is definitely clearer as well.

I think there was a release, a step change, when she figured out that Eric and I have different words for the same thing. I knew that she had passed that important point when, one day, she pointed at an apple and said “äpp-e” to Eric, then turned towards me and said “õuu”. There aren’t many words where she actively uses both languages like that – for most common things she understands both names, but only uses one of the words actively herself. Trains are always called “taa” (Swedish “tåg”), navels (which she for some reason finds very entertaining) are called “naba” in Estonian.

Her vocabulary mostly consists of nouns and some verbs (especially for important things such as eat, sleep, go out, stand and sit). I don’t think she’s grasped adjectives yet. She is especially good at body parts, food (fruit in particular), things found around the house, items of clothing, and lots and lots of animals. She can point out parrots and turtles and butterflies and zebras and lions so on and on and on. Cats and dogs and pigs are particular favourites. Cats and dogs because she has seen real ones, and pigs because of their sound. Eric does a great pig grunt imitation, which Ingrid finds fascinating. She tries to imitate it but cannot. So instead she points out every pig she sees. It’s impressive that she can grasp the abstract concept of “pigness” so well that she recognises even stylized pigs in logos, with just the snout and half a head visible.

Stockholm has a lot more cats and dogs than central London. I think Ingrid has seen more of each during the last week than during all of her year and a half in London. There are two cats in our house who tend to hang around outside, so we often run across them when we’re going out, and my in-laws have a pair of schnauzers, plus we tend to meet many dogs while we’re out. All this has meant a lot of close contact with both cats and dogs. Ingrid is still cautious around them, but she is far more comfortable being close to them than before (although not to the point of petting them yet).

The other thing Stockholm has more of is good playgrounds. Playgrounds in London tend to be quite small and sterile things: a small rubber-covered area with a swing, a few spring riders, and a slide or two. The swings, spring riders and slides are present here, too, but there are also sandboxes, and the whole playground is usually covered with coarse sand rather than rubber – and sand (plus a bucket and a shovel) can keep a child occupied far longer than a spring rider. Even more importantly, the playgrounds around here always have other children, whereas in East London I was often alone with Ingrid, so we’ve been spending a lot more time in playgrounds here.

Initially, climbing, sliding and swings were Ingrid’s favourite playground activities. The small playground which is closes to our house (100 metres away) only has “big girl” swings made out of old car tyres, and she has learned to use those, too. She knows that she needs to sit still without twisting, and hold on hard with both hands. She has also learned to slide down Swedish slides, where the metal slide part has a rippled texture which makes them more slippery and faster, and to land on all fours (rather than her face) when coming down the bigger ones.

Sand only became interesting a few weeks ago, when she got to borrow a shovel from another child. Which is why it’s so nice to meet other families at playgrounds – I hadn’t even thought of buying her a shovel!

I think we found sandboxes at just the right time – I believe she enjoys playing with a bucket and a shovel because she just recently mastered the use of spoons. She can now get food onto the spoon, and get the spoon into her mouth, without turning the spoon upside down on its way. It also turns out that she can pick the husk off a physalis fruit, and spit out the seeds from a grape.

Speaking of food… bread, cheese and fruit are still among her favourite foods, but meatballs has now been added to that list, and butter. She now licks the butter of her bread and would probably be happy to eat butter with a spoon if we let her. Her interest in cooked food is a bit unpredictable, but I think in general she prefers sweet and fatty food. We went to IKEA today and ate at their restaurant. Ingrid got a traditional kids’ meal of meatballs, potatoes, sauce and lingonberry jam. She ate the jam and the meatballs, licked the jam off a potato, and otherwise ignored the potatoes completely. (We had been wise enough to not take the ice cream also included in the kids’ meal.) But in general she is now suddenly eating much bigger portions. If I had to guess, I’d say that a month ago she got half her nutrition from breast milk, whereas now it’s a small fraction.

Other favourite toys and activities: reading picture books about animals; moving fridge magnets between the fridge and the steel hanging folder file; the marbles and pebbles that decorate a few of the potted plants in this apartment; looking into kitchen cupboards; putting a plastic bowl on her head as a hat; looking through a sieve; pointing out people’s navels; carrying large objects such as her Wheely Bug.