… and because I missed April, here’s another one, of me and Ingrid.
… and because I missed April, here’s another one, of me and Ingrid.
I was practising backlighting last week.
Ingrid made the medallion in our favourite colours – orange is mine, and the blue and green are there to represent turquoise which is Ingrid’s favourite. And she bought me roses for her pocket money. It is not often that I get a gift worth a week’s income.
Every April, when the the garden starts flowering – with all the crocuses and scillas and hyacinths and later on the corydalis – I am convinced that April is the best and most beautiful month of them all.
And then May comes, and I am in love with the world, and April can go and hide itself under a rock.
Everything turns green. The streets in our part of Spånga, that throughout winter and early spring were just streets, now seem to consist mostly of trees and bushes. The hedgerows swell out into the streets, bushes hang over fences, and trees tower over them all. Truly you can stand in our street and look along it, and not see a single house.
And things flower, and smell. Cherry trees and apple trees, hackberry and spiraea and lilac… No showy or dramatic blossoms competing for attention, just masses of white and pale pink and lilac, all in harmony with each other.
I still remember the first time I saw our street. It was about a year before we actually moved here. We came here for the wedding of our friends who live here. We stepped off the bus, walked 50 meters to the corner and turned, and this street opened ahead of us. It was like a dream, like stepping into a place of magic: lush, welcoming, vibrantly alive.
It was because of that moment that we really moved here. Every spring I relive that feeling and I am so grateful and happy that we found this place.
There is a lot of anger in Adrian now, and a lot of screaming. He is angry about a lot of things, and he knows it, and he lets it out with a screech. Or he shouts attans! (“darn” or “bother”) at the top of his voice – especially when some Lego construction falls apart. Or he tells me that då ska jag boxa på dig!, “I will box you!” but he is too kind a soul to ever do it.
One thing that is guaranteed to make him angry is if he cannot be first, especially when walking or cycling. It’s not so important for him to be the first one to get dinner or go out through the door – but when we’re cycling and Ingrid passes him he’s screaming with anger.
He cycles a lot on his balance bike and I think we’ve basically left the stroller era behind us. We put the stroller in the basement some weeks ago and haven’t used it since then.
The bike is still half transportation, half game for him. He is no longer going particularly fast. Instead he likes doing tricks on it: pushing off with both feet at the same time (instead of the normal running motion), or freezing his legs mid-stride, or moving his feet in circles as if he was pedalling, or only pushing with one leg. He also likes cycling really really close to the kerb, really challenging fate – but thus far he’s only fallen over the edge once.
The only real challenge is going downhill. The only way to brake on a balance bike is to put your feet on the ground and adjust the pressure so you gradually stop. Too much friction, or more pressure on one foot than the other, and you fall. Adrian has done that a few times (without any real damage) so now we try to avoid the hilly routes.
When there is the least bit of visible damage, like a tiny scab or scrape, he seems convinced that he is badly hurt. He absolutely needs a sticky plaster, and then he won’t use the hand or foot that has the plaster. But if we put a sock on to hide the plaster, the foot becomes usable again.
When he walks, he sometimes likes to step only on the paving stones and not their edges. And then he wants me to do the same and gets angry with me when I break the rules.
He had a rather radical haircut this month. For the umpteenth time this year both he and Ingrid got lice. And the bare mention of shampooing was enough to make him cry with distress: he dislikes it so badly. So we took the easy way out and cut his hair. First he got kind of a normal short haircut, but then he wouldn’t let us comb it for lice so out came the trimmer and Eric trimmed it all off. It is shockingly different from his old look but actually suits him surprisingly well.
He looks particularly sweet when he combines his minimal hair with a dress and his beloved new pink Crocs. He is yet to really discover gender-stereotypical clothing norms and among his favourite clothes are several really girly things that Ingrid has outgrown: a glittery violet Hello Kitty t-shirt, a red dress with white small hearts, and those glittery pink Crocs that he himself picked out at the shoe store. But he also loves his tiger tank top, monster socks and Lightning McQueen t-shirt.
The Crocs he calls Crocsina, with a creative triple plural form: the original English Crocs, plus the Estonian -id to get Crocsid (which is what I call them) and then the Swedish -na on top of it all.
Adrian plays with Lego a lot. Often he builds small, elaborate, spindly vehicles with wheels and sometimes with wings, too. And bridges. And occasionally just abstract things, like a very long blue stick with a window at the end.
He is way better at entertaining himself on his own than Ingrid is. He can just sit with his Lego and build things, talking and singing to himself.
A month ago Adrian gave up his dummy. For the first few weeks he found it a bit hard to go to sleep and said he missed the dummy. By now it’s ancient history, and he never mentions it at all.
Almost always he goes to bed together with Ingrid. And quite often he then falls asleep within minutes the bedtime story is done. He is a bit tired in the mornings and probably needs more sleep, really… but both kids are so much happier if they go to bed together that I don’t even try to get Adrian to sleep earlier.
He’s grumpy in the mornings and doesn’t like to be woken. We are experimenting with ways to distract him and get him away from that habit of grumpiness. Some mornings I read a bit for him before breakfast; other days Ingrid comes in and wakes him; some days we hand him a plate with apple slices before he even gets out of bed because food also seems to help.
Some evenings I help both kids get ready for sleep by talking them through a relaxation exercise. Other days I sing. Adrian is very used to falling asleep to music. When he wants to sleep during a car ride, he asks us to put on some music, and then he goes to sleep to some 1970s pop music from Vinyl 107. But for the past three Thursdays, on our way to Ingrid’s riding lessons, he’s fallen asleep with no music but with a half-eaten sandwich in his hand.
He is interested in what things are made of, and especially which things are breakable. “This bowl is made of glass and if it falls on wood it will break.” (Glass is a broad category that also includes all kinds of ceramics. Also, mugs and cups are glasses.)
He is strong, just like Ingrid. Once his friend Sigrid was here and we had dinner outside. Adrian climbed up over the armrest of the garden sofa without even thinking about it. Sigrid had to make an effort to pull herself up.
Ingrid has matured a lot recently. Life with Ingrid is surprisingly smooth now. She is content and co-operative. She listens and understands. Ingrid has even become polite – really polite. I am hearing “please” and “could you” and “thank you” all day long.
This is quite a change, and I think it is incredibly nice. I believe she notices and appreciates this.
One day I asked her to start helping out more at home. We talked about what chores she could do, and she chose to help with setting the table. Every day before dinner she now sets out plates and cups and cutlery, and brings out drinks etc from the fridge. On weekends she does it for breakfast and lunch as well. This has worked incredibly well; we’ve had no arguments about it at all. I hope she notices that I really appreciate it, and I believe it also helps her feel more grown.
Often she leaves it until the last minute. That’s her general tendency with all kinds of chores: unless she sees an obvious immediate payoff, she will choose to do it “later”. Clean laundry lies in a pile on her floor for days, despite gentle reminders, until we decide that enough is enough and make her do it then and there. When she runs out of clean clothes she fishes for a pair of leggings in the pile and then leaves the rest, rather than put it away.
But if there is a clear benefit, she will get things done fast and efficiently. Our mornings run like a pretty well-oiled machine now. She gets up with the alarm on her phone. She gets dressed, comes and helps wake Adrian, brushes her teeth, packs her bag, eats breakfast – and often even has a bit of time for some reading before it’s time to go.
It probably helps that she goes to bed a bit earlier now. (Most days she and Adrian go to bed at the same time, shortly before nine.) She wouldn’t wake this early on her own, but neither is she too tired in the mornings.
Ingrid is more interested in society and the wider world. Not hugely interested but at least some. Perhaps this is spillover from social studies at school.
She has been especially curious about money-related questions. She is interested in what different things cost. We talk about bank accounts, salaries, taxes, and saving. We talk about ways of paying for things. Do we pay the lady who cleans our house every other week? Do we give her cash? Why do we use money and not apples to pay for things? We talk about vacations costing a lot of money, and about saving some money every month. What are taxes for? What does it mean to be retired, and how can you live without a salary?
Another area of interest is… well, I don’t know how to summarise it. Crime and warfare? Danger, perhaps? When she builds Lego doll’s houses, there are both fire alarms and burglar alarms, and every room has an alarm button.
When we’re out in the garden, Ingrid and Adrian have been playing war recently. Luckily they have very non-violent wars. There is a fair amount of chasing each other and some waving of the sticks that Adrian has collected over time. But there is even more talking: about who is who (Ingrid is Estonia, and Adrian is a spanjol or maybe from Arablandet), and where their headquarters are, and which stick is the shooter and which stick is the fixer (that you fix a broken shooter with) or the carver (that you use to carve your name in the shooter). Ingrid brags about her shooter, which shoots laser and bullets and arrows and cannonballs and slime and glue as well – and it has a password, too. And the headquarters have an anti-alarm-system. Adrian’s does everything that Ingrid’s does.
She has learned her own phone number by heart, as well as mine. Very practical.
She has grown physically. All sorts of clothes have become too short, and we had to raise her bicycle seat recently.
She is actually choosing to walk quite often, rather than cycling everywhere.
As before, she likes to have things to look forward to. Currently she is looking forward to our trip to Estonia. She drew a countdown calendar with a square for every day, after some counting of weeks in our wall calendar. (It started out at 9 weeks and 3 days.) She is already talking about what clothes she will pack and in what bag, and what other things she will want to bring, and which of her favourite things we will be doing again this summer.
There are beggars in Stockholm. There didn’t use to be many at all, but now not a day goes by without me seeing some in the streets.
There is also a fair amount of debate going on around the beggars. Many of them are Roma/gypsies, many are from Romania, so much of it is coloured by prejudice. People talk about organised beggary by criminal groups, about entire extended families moving here to beg, about beggars being dropped off by car at their spot, about made-up sob stories of sick children.
And I know there is some of that going on. One sub-group of beggars is the “cards in the train” type. They have printed cards with a photo of some sick family member and a few sentences about their situation. Once I watched one lady set out her cards on the seats in the train and saw that her sick child had different diseases on the different cards… A friend reported on Facebook seeing a beggar dropped off by a nice car in the morning. And they are definitely organized: there is usually a man outside our local supermarket, but recently I’ve seen a woman in the exact same spot, so maybe they swapped or maybe he’s gone and left his seat to her.
But there have also been stories about their life back home, by actual journalists who actually visited their families and saw the grinding poverty and deprivation they live in, and interviews with beggars who tell about the soul-crushing humiliation of having to beg for a living. I don’t doubt any of that, and I can’t feel angry with them for making that choice.
I think about them every day as I pass them. I pity them because I cannot imagine having a life where begging would be my best option.
I am also angry, bothered and embarrassed because I feel helpless. I do not know what to do about it.
I could give money to them, of course. But I cannot bring myself to do it, because I cannot disregard the big picture.
They are so many. One day I counted five on my way home from work: at Fridhemsplan, at St. Eriksbron, at Karlberg station, at Spånga station, and finally one at the supermarket. Which one do I give to? One? All?
Giving creates a relationship. I see that guy outside the supermarket every day. How could I give once and then ignore him? I would feel an obligation to keep giving. Daily? Weekly?
Giving will help that family, but it will also mean that their second cousin will hear about it and will also make his way to Stockholm to beg, which I don’t want to happen.
I cannot affect the people and government of Romania to make them take better care of their weakest, or to provide equal opportunities to gypsies.
The problem is so close and vivid that I cannot ignore it, but I also cannot do anything about it. I hate this.
Yesterday Ingrid found another eggshell, on our way home from school. (Here’s the previous one.) This one was a neat half-egg so it had definitely hatched.
There are no good resources for identifying birds’ eggs on the internet that I could find, but some guesswork based on egg size and local bird populations, backed up by Google image search, leads me to conclude that it’s the work of either a blackbird or a fieldfare.
Even though I know that there are millions of blackbirds in Sweden, and probably thousands in Spånga alone, it is still exciting to know that another little creature has been born. The miracle of life, happening every day.
It’s always Ingrid who finds this kind of things. She has her attention on the ground and notices small treasures. I’m too far from the ground when I’m cycling to even see them – and too busy worrying that Adrian will cycle into the street or into Ingrid etc etc.
The slope of weeds is slowly progressing. Here it is in all its current glory:
You can clearly see the old soil, the new soil, and the soil still to be shovelled in place.
Also you can see some stones. That big one in the foreground is the largest stone that came out of that slope. It is so heavy that we pulled it out with the car. Now I’m not sure what to do with it. It is kind of decorative, and I like it because it now has a history. So I’m thinking it might be nice to have that stone in some sunny spot in the garden. But it is effectively impossible to move without a crane, and I’m not exactly going to rent a crane just to lift this stone into a pretty place.
The stones bordering the staircase is what I worked on this weekend. I had already stacked a layer of stones there last summer, to separate the soil from the stairs. Those stones also all came out of the slope as I was digging there. Now as I started putting the new soil in place, I realised I needed to raise the border if I wanted the slope to have a reasonable angle. So I added another layer.
It’s only twelve or fifteen stones but it took me hours and hours to assemble. I want the wall to be stable enough for the kids to step on it. It should neither fall apart nor hurt any kids. That means stacking the stones so their weight rests on other stones (not loose soil, or the edge of the stairs) and finding the right stones so they fit well together, without wobbling or slipping.
After a while I realised that the heaviest stones gave the most stable result, so I ended up working with stones I could just barely carry. It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle with huge stone pieces and no one right answer, and half the pieces didn’t fit anywhere. I still have a pile of stones left over.
I was knackered by the evening but I did get it done (and didn’t break any of my fingers) and the end result feels really good and solid!
My to do list has a tendency to grow and grow and never get any shorter. Until some of the items on it grow so old that they become irrelevant and I throw them off the list without doing them.
I think I have finally hit on a solution. The trick is to not stop.
I like the Getting things done (GTD) methodology. I like getting my mental list of things to do down on paper. (My organiser is still as it was in 2006: a set cardboard sheets with sticky notes.) But GTD only helps me know what I should be doing. It doesn’t help me actually do them.
For me the hardest part is getting started. I have this long list of things and I really should do something about it… but maybe a bit later, OK?
I’m like a heavy wagon. Getting the wagon rolling is the hard part. When it’s rolling, keeping it going is not that difficult.
The solution, then, is to minimize starts. Once the wagon is rolling, do not let it stop.
This is the opposite of what I think as the conventional approach, where after some period of work one takes a break. Do some work, then relax for a while before doing more. No no no! Breaks are dangerous! Instead, as soon as I am done with one task, I get up and pick up the next. I only rest when I really run out of energy.
This works best if I am pretty relaxed about which particular task I pick up. Doing some small task, any task at all, is better than thinking about the most highly prioritised task right now but then not doing it because it’s too hard, or I don’t feel like it, etc.