Monday, 28 September 2009

Far from family

It never takes much to make me realise how fortunate I am, and how hard others have it in comparison.....

I've been feeling miserable lately about the fact that we won't go to Australia this winter, how we won't get to see family and friends and how once again two years will pass before my kids step foot on Australian soil. It is hard to make the decision to not head down under.

Then yesterday we visited a friend of Makaila's, whose parents come from Irak. The mother in family is heading to the US next week to see her mother, she just found out she has cancer. She will spend a mere two weeks with her.

I asked how long it had been since she had seen her mother and the answer - over four years. Then they all went to visit the grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins in the US. Those kids probably hardly know who their extended family is on their mother's side.

It doesn't make it any easier for me, I will always feel I am denying my children their family.
But yesterday's little encounter does remind me that I am not the only one. And it does help me appreciate what I have - something that hundreds and thousands, millions of families don't have - an opportunity to be together on a regular basis.

She will be broken-hearted when she leaves her mother's side to return home to her own family. But at least she can visit her mother one last time. Many can't even do that.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Women on the run from family life

There was a very interesting article in SvD on the weekend as a prelude to the Swedish annual Book Fair that starts this week. Three books are due to be released in the next couple of months, by three women about three women who have fled their own domestication.

Ironic that this article and these books come at a time when Anna Anka is making headlines and filling the online forums, debate sites and article comments. The rest of the world probably doesn’t know who Anna Anka is but here in Sweden she is blowing up a storm with her traditional opinions about the role of men and women.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Don't do it! Stay at home!

I was at a function on Saturday night where the couple were celebrating their 60th birthdays. The place was filled with their children, their grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends and so on and so on.

This is the sort of event that hits you like a ton of bricks. It is the sort of event that make you realise what your life choices have resulted in. These are the sorts of events you miss when you live so far away from home - family get-togethers, cousin's weddings, best friends' 40th birthdays, babies being born, grandparents' funerals, engagements, christenings, wakes, graduations and celebrations of any kind. These events make you feel like you belong, (or that you don't!), they remind you that you come from a long line of people with generations and generations behind (or ahead?) of you, and many more to come. They remind you that life goes on and that you are not alone in the world. They remind you that blood is mostly thicker than water...

Not such a big deal when you are around and "have" to attend yet another family event. But they leave a hole in your life when you are far away from family and lifelong friends.

My advice to young couples, so in love they are prepared to move to the other side of the world? Go home! Stay at home! Marry the girl or the boy next door. You can travel the world together, live somewhere else, and then go home together.

Life is complicated enough, don't make things worse.

Friday, 11 September 2009

VAB, swine flu and the Swedish medical system

I have a sick boy. He lay on the couch for two days with a temperature, dozing on and off, watching tv and hardly eating a morsel. Monday, day 1, he was a bit sniffly and complained every now and again of a sore throat and sore ears, only later to announce when questioned that No, they didn't hurt. His main symtoms have been tiredness and a fever.

Then on Wednesday he fell asleep under the kitchen table just after 5pm and slept through to the next morning. Thursday he slept for almost 3 hours during the day and was still tired. So today, Friday I decided that perhaps I'd better ring the doctor and get him checked out - perhaps it isn't just a virus but something more serious.

To get a doctor's appointment on the day you need to ring the nurse at the local clinic and she calls you back - which they did after almost an hour. I outlined his symtoms and she asked what it was I was wanting(!) Of course I was wanting to make an appointment for him to be checked out. She then went through a questionnaire that she had in front of her and clearly it was a "swine flu screening questionnaire". They don't want anyone in there who has shown swine flu syptoms in the last 7 days, she informed me. She would leave a message for the doctor to ring me back sometime today.

Sweden is reaching the peak for the outbreak of Swine Flu, according to an article today in The Local, and the government hope to vaccinate some 90% of the population. Ever since it was announced that the vaccine would be freely available to all I've been pondering this attempt to thwart a local pandemic and I can only put it down to the cost of VAB and sickness benefits.

VAB stands for Vård Av Barn - or child care - the type of caring for a child when they are sick, the type of caring I've been doing this week. You see the government pays me 80% of my salary up to a certain amount when I am "vabbing" or caring for my sick child. They pay it every day I am at home with my child and there is no need for a doctor's certificate unless they are off for longer than a week. Their only demand is an explanation and a signed document from school or daycare saying that the child has been away. And there is no limit to how many days a year a child can be off sick. It must cost the state an absolute fortune. Compare that to a system where the parent gets nothing for staying home with a sick child - how sick must a kid be then to justify a day without pay??

Adults also get sickness benefits. The first day off is without benefits but after that they receive 80% of their salary. A doctor's certificate is needed after a week and again there is no limit on the number of sick days a person can have off in a year, although questions do get asked after a while.

We have a long winter in this country and for six months of the year viruses run rampant and both kids and adults are regularly at home with colds, coughs and flus. If the swine flu hits Sweden like they are anticipating it will it will without doubt lead to a serious budget blow-out. Add that to the already high unemployment levels (also get 80% of salary with exceptions) and the Swedish economy is going to take quite a beating!

No wonder the Swedish government is both willing and hoping to vaccinate 90% of the population - I just wonder how anyone will get a doctor's certificate when the doctors clearly don't want anything to do with those of us who are sick!

More information available in English from Försäkringskassan

Reproduced from the Live In Sweden Blog!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Joys Of Being A Waldorf Parent

My sister and I chuckled on many occasions over being good Steiner mothers (Steiner in Oz, Waldorf in Europe), which saw her trying all sorts of crafts over the years. Now that my daughter has started school I am really starting to understand what that means.

Starting school in Sweden is weird, at least for an Aussie mum who only knows one way of doing things. Firstly kids start school the year they turn 7, which in some cases means they are almost eight years old. Compare that to starting at 5 in Oz. Then there is no list stating exactly what the school uniform should consist of, which pieces are compulsory and which are non-compulsory, as well as where to buy it, there is no school uniform. There is no list outlining exactly what pens, pencils, writing books and even text books to buy, no fees to be paid before school starts (not even non-compulsory fees as in Oz). These kids don’t even need a lunchbox, a thermos or a drink bottle. All their food is provided by the school and the after-school centre, free of charge.

Instead of the list we have to make sure she has two pairs of slippers, or inside shoes, for both school and after-school care - the no-shoes in the classroom policy is also weird when you are not used to it.

Swedish education law says schools are to provide children with what they need, and they are not legally entitled to charge fees of any description if they are teaching according to the Swedish curriculum. It is all in the name of Sweden’s socialistic roots, in the name of equality. No child should be disadvantaged because of their family’s financial status. Every child should be guaranteed one hot meal a day. It is all about taking care of children, no matter what their lot in life is.

So while most parents have little to organise for their children starting school (I’m assuming), the Waldorf parents amongst us are busy, busy, busy. With Makaila starting Grade 1 we were given two important tasks back in the spring – a name-tag and a crayon case, along with detailed instructions as to how these tasks should be completed.

Naturally, like all enthusiastic, well-prepared parents we did not use the summer wisely, nor did we con one of Ty’s talented aunts into doing it for us – we left it hanging over our heads until the pressure built sufficiently!

Once I finally got started on the name-tag, I decided it wasn’t all that bad - although it is tough to embroider when you haven’t really done it before. I bought one of those cross stitch kits when I was about 11 years old, the ones where the pattern is printed on the fabric and all the colours are chosen for you. It was of a clown and I’m not sure what possessed me to buy it but I clearly remember my dad giving me a hard time, telling me I would never finish it. Guess whether or not I did……

Anyway despite struggling with the stitches I actually enjoyed sitting doing this handcraft in the evenings. Then one night when we were discussing how on earth I was going to embroider her most beloved animal, a killer whale, it was taken from me. Ty took over. After all, equality is the name of the game in this country.

We found a great picture on the net which we were able to copy and he did it over two nights. A friend even called in and was so inspired when he saw Ty sitting embroidering at the kitchen table last night that he went home and got started on his daughter’s name tag (gotta love these Swedish men!). We (both) added the finishing touches (water) and hey presto – it was done! Here’s the final result. Not bad huh!

The next task was the crayon case and I knew that would be fairly easy – which does not explain my procrastination! It took me the better part of the afternoon-evening but I got it finished and I’m pretty pleased with the results. Just so long as no one looks too closely at the stitching because it is extremely amateurish.

The kids were so amazed to see me pull out a borrowed sewing machine that they watched my every move and questioned all I did. Kieran tried to get an understanding of exactly how the machine worked and was so fascinated he snapped a few shots of me in action.

Counting to make sure I've left enough space.

The finished product aims to reduce classroom noise.

Tied up ready to be put away.

What started off as a “Oh no! How are we going to manage these little projects” has ended with a “Well that was fun. What’s next” kinda feeling.

Makaila was totally and utterly thrilled with both pieces – and I think kind of amazed by her parents. Now that brings joy to these Waldorf parents!