Saturday morning I woke up late, at least late for me... typically on a Saturday I'm up at sunrise trying to finish editing and clearing memory cards before my daughter wakes up and begs for my attention until I leave for work around early afternoon. Not these days. This Saturday morning we woke up slowly, we made pancakes, I finished my editing in peace while Tess entertained herself with the myriad of outdoor and indoor activities provided to her, then we piled onto the train and came to an indoor playground packed with young children and happy parents called Remisen. It's Saturday in Denmark and, like all the memes and statistics love to report, “the happiest people in the world” are relaxed and enjoying their children.
Everyone has slept, eaten and prepared for a few days of actual rest. They've made plans with their friends and family members, turned off their phones and put their work out of their minds...
Denmark, as it appears from the outside, is a true utopia for families.
I know, for at least us, I no longer panic when I loose my daughter in the crowd... I no longer stalk her closely at the store, I no longer stress when I leave her somewhere to play without me... in fact, I leave her out in front of our home in the street to quietly ride her bike or jump in puddles almost every day.
I see kids everywhere in this city, freely left to their own devices... to wander and ride bikes, order pizza and sweet rolls at their pleasure, take naps in their strollers… I mean it's a big city! But kids just kind of do their own thing, they have no apparent fear and are taught appropriately... it's a heaven in comparison to what I've grown to know as an American parent, no matter how much of that stress is Facebook induced or not.
I know a big chunk of people reading this and living in Denmark have their own inputs, their own disagreements to my statements... but from a mother raising her daughter in the city in San Diego, these are the things I’ve noticed and have enjoyed seeing in Copenhagen. Nothing is as it appears, but my bubble is still to small to burst yet. I’m not naive, I’m just a hopeless dreamer trying to give my little girl a similar childhood peace that I had growing up.
Encouraged by pedagogues and teachers to just walk away, enjoy a coffee and come back when I've "had some time for myself”.... I can't, it's hard. I worry about her safety even in a place where my daughter is so protected. And I've begun to realize that my behavior, my unwillingness to let go, is probably cultural… possibly instinctual; but I feel like I’m the only one stalking around their child with such intensity here in Denmark.
These kids are not taught how to defend themselves from gang violence, school shooters or child traffickers.. they are taught basic “stranger danger,” bicycle safety and how to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic. They are encouraged to remain innocent and still, instead of pushed to know their ABCs weeks after they've said their first word. They are inspired to be sponges for learning. Childhood is so short and the Danes are hoping to preserve that as long as possible... at least in comparison to what we encourage in the part of the US I come from. I'm not going to lie, as stressful and hard as this has been for my husband and I, my daughter is happy, healthy and moving past many of the milestones she was struggling to meet in the United States… Mostly because she’s being included and not singled out or sent to a “special class” because she’s different. She doesn't carry that label with her here in Denmark.
A little space, a lot of encouragement, some healthy food and support and my daughter is moving forward instead of watching all her friends move around her. It's stressful living abroad but it's also so relieving... I'm broke, I'm still very jobless... but my daughter, she's just flourishing. So I'm torn... on the one hand this is so difficult and I barely sleep, I eat ALL the bread and drink ALL the coffee, my poor hair has definitely lost it’s luster. On the other hand, Tess is doing so incredibly well. She’s becoming so incredibly brilliant in her little self and it’s absolutely a gift to watch.
So I’ve been trying to reflect on why I’m here… At the beginning of our journey, when Aaron was pursuing a Masters program here in Europe, I was so gung-ho about the entire thing. I was so excited for this possibility… but somewhere in the fray I lost that spunk, that drive to make myself better. I lost the traction. After I got here and things became so incredibly hard and my job prospects aren't entirely coming through as I thought, the traction continues to wear down… and I forget why I’m here and what I’m suppose to be achieving. That is, until my daughter says something she could never say before… or does something she could never do before… and I’m reminded that, as long as she’s happy, I need to be happy too. I just want to keep reaching for that. The opportunities to nourish her wellbeing is why I’m here.