What's New at the Pålssons'


What's New at the Pålssons'
Self-absorbed rambling, useless trivia and shameless bragging

December 18, 2004

Christmas is almost upon us! Max is excited about Santa's impending visit and sings carols constantly. (He can carry a tune but wanders off key.) His performance at the Lucia pageant on Monday was a joy to watch. Here you see him singing with the other kids. Below, he was a sober Joseph. (I made sure he understood that this was not a role you could ham up.) 

This week was important for another reason, though: Bengt and I decided where Max is to go to elementary school next fall. He'll go to a Vittra school (which has elements of Montessori) called Thorellska. This isn't the one I visited and wrote about a couple weeks ago, but it is run by the same company. This one is much smaller and is right here in our neighborhood. When I visited, I got a really good feeling from the people I met, how I saw the kids treated, and the premises (though on the outside I find it resembles barracks). It was a place where you could be inspired. 

We don't want Max to have to sit at a desk for hours every day during elementary school; I don't think little kids are cut out for that. (Max isn't, anyway.) There are many ways to learn, and books and workbooks are just one way—a way that's not used very much in this school. 

He'll get to be with kids of different ages and do projects with other grades. The school only goes up to 3rd grade, so starting in 4th grade he can go to either Vaxmora school (the bigger public school in our neighborhood) or Johanssons (the other Vittra school, the one I visited first, which is right by where I work, about 2 miles away from here).

Now I'm actually excited about Max starting school, even though it'll be a bit more intense than it would have been if he'd started at Vaxmora school, and he won't be going to Birgitta after school, as we'd always assumed he would. Birgitta is a super person, wonderful with children, and has the most wonderful influence on Max. She has offered the best daycare imaginable, and it's really weird and rather awful to think we'll be saying good-bye next fall. 

But at Max's new school the six-year-olds go full time (8:30–2:30) and then stay for after-school activities. They aren't required to participate to the extent that the older kids are. They can play indoors or run around in the fenced-in playground, instead. But they're encouraged and supported in whatever they want to learn, and we think by next fall Max will be more than ready for this. He'll be longing for it.

On Monday I'm meeting with another mom of a 5-year-old. We're going to write a letter to all the other parents of 5-year-olds we know in our neighborhood, and invite them to participate in an email discussion group or BLOG concerning schools, starting school next fall, which school, etc. I guess we might even arrange a meeting for the parents of kids starting school next fall. For my part, it's just to share ideas and experiences. The other mom has specific issues she wants to get others mobilized on.

Max wanted to watch Star Trek Voyager with me the other night, so I chose an episode where Tom Paris and Neelix find a baby alien and take care of it until a parent comes. I thought this would appeal to Max, but he practically freaked when he saw this alien hatch out of its egg. I thought it was cute, but Max covered his eyes and exclaimed, "It's really ugly! And it has a beak!!" (He's been afraid of birds' beaks for years, a fact which I unfortunately hadn't taken into account.) He refused to watch any more and asked for a lot of reassurance that those aliens don't really exist.

Later that night, I heard Maja meowing outside the bedroom door, and I asked Max to let her in. He was just about to turn the handle and open the door to the darkness outside when he hesitated and said, "There's not really any baby aliens. Right?" Poor guy!

He does have an active imagination. I'd say role-playing with stuffed animals is probably his very favorite activity (GameBoy and Lego Stunt Rally notwithstanding). Has been for a year or more. Themes vary, but these days it's good guys vs. bad guys. We act out various crimes, then call 911 (or 112 if we're pretending we're here in Sweden), and the police come to deal with the problem. But although we have a couple of superhero and rescue hero figures, we almost always use only stuffed animals. It's funny to watch Max setting up the scene. He enjoys it so much, and from his giggling it seems he understands the incongruity of his cute stuffed animals committing heinous crimes. It can go something like this: 

"Ok, here's a family of cats and bunnies. I'm the dad and you're the mom. We take care of them. Now, here are the murderers—big bear, and murderer mouse. [Giggles.] And today we have leopard police! [Smiles and giggles even more.] The jail's over here in this corner. Here are the handcuffs...." [We have toy handcuffs, which Max/leopard later snaps onto the paws of the murdering and thieving teddy bear.... ]

One night he started talking about black people and war in Africa. He has very little clue about what's going on in the world, but he understands that there is a lot of violence on some parts of the African continent, and he knows that most people there are black, so he seems to have  deduced that black people are bad or violent. This wasn't the first time he's said derogatory things about people with dark skin, and I find it very upsetting and do everything I can to counteract it calmly. 

This time I said that yes, black people fight, and white people do, too. But every single person, no matter what color skin they have, every person in the whole wide world wants good food to eat, and a comfy bed to sleep in at night, and someone who loves them, and someone they can love. This was met by silence. Processing... processing.... After a few moments he said, "That's true, Mama. That's right." It seemed to have hit the mark. I guess he couldn't imagine that anyone could not want those things. And anyone who wants those things has a lot in common with him. Phew!

Max somehow got a tiny splinter of glass in his finger the other day. It stuck out just a bit and I could barely see it, but because of the pain, Max knew exactly where it was. After a couple of feeble attempts by me, Max took the tweezers and pulled it out himself. :-) 

Max reported this to me this morning: "I got up and pooped last night. I knew you wouldn't want to get up to wipe my bottom, so I just sat there and waited. Then I realized that I could do it myself. So I did, and then I went back to bed." YAY! :-)

Lately Max has been claiming he hates girls. One of the boys has been saying it's gross to like girls. However, Max clearly likes girls. He invited Malin to attend Disney on Ice with him on January 6. Not Nils or Mattias or Johan, but Malin.

After we had been on vacation last March, I wrote this:

Another highlight was something we could have discovered at home, if we were relaxed and playful enough: Bengt's new way of playing with Max's stuffed animals: Bonsai Bunny and Ninja Rabbit. He had Max and me laughing hysterically! (Someday soon I must get this on video.)

Since then Max and I have been treated to performances by Bonsai Bunny and Ninja Rabbit every once in awhile. I don't think Bengt enjoys it very much, but Max and I have a very good laugh. (I drop whatever I'm doing every time Bonsai Bunny turns up.) Well, the other night, right when we were settling down to Bonsai Bunny, Bengt stated that this was the last time—that Bonsai Bunny was retiring. Max and I were both shocked and immediately burst into tears. Bengt was really surprised. (Actually, I was, too.) He (and I) had no idea how much we enjoyed Bonsai Bunny, who is a real personality, someone Max and I are thrilled to interact with as often as possible. Fortunately, our spontaneous display of emotion convinced Bengt that the Japanese rabbits can't possibly retire. 

I took Max bowling for the first time last Sunday. We invited Mattias to go with us. Mattias invited his mom, Christel. :-) Anyway, we had a blast. Our local bowling alley has automatic bumpers that pop up when it's a kid's turn and, to Christel's dismay, recede into the gutter when it's an adult's turn. Max and Christel tied for third place, hee-hee! I scored only 105 and was first.

I'm sure I won't have time to write again until after the new year. 

Happy Holidays, all!

December 10

I had the most hectic week. Max claimed to be sick on Monday, so we stayed home with him, but he seemed ok (if a bit subdued). He claimed to be sick on Tuesday, as well, but I suspected he just liked staying home with us, so I pushed it a little and he agreed to go to daycare.

Thursday morning Max came into our room and asked if we could get up. I looked at the clock and said, "It's quarter after five, go back to bed." He did, and we fell asleep again (at least Bengt and I did), until Max came back in and woke us up again, saying he didn't want to sleep anymore. I looked at the clock and said, "It's only quarter after five. Go back to bed." Bengt, more alert, said, "Still??!" He checked his own clock (which he doesn't set because I get up earlier and then wake him up) and exclaimed, "It's quarter after eight!!" Holy cow, my clock's battery had run down. Probably it was already after 7:00 when Max woke us the first time! We bounded out of bed and raced around getting ready. I skipped my shower, but I was 2 1/2 hours late for work. ARGH!

Then soon after noon I got a call that Max's butt was dragging and he should probably be at home. By the time I picked him up a half hour later, he had a fever. An hour later he was tossing and turning with a high fever. I gave him Tylenol and he slept for three hours. Which was good because I got in a full day's work on material I'd brought home with me. 

Max slept fitfully Thursday night, and of course we kept him home today (Friday), but he didn't have a fever today, just seemed drained. I assume he'll be all better by Monday, when he's to perform in the Lucia show at öppna förskolan. Apparently he's playing Joseph in the little pageant. I knew nothing of this, but Max claims he got to be Joseph at the dress rehearsal....

I went to work this morning and was supposed to come home by noon to relieve Bengt. But I was so swamped that he let me stay the whole workday and longer! So I got a lot done and that feels good, even if I'm not yet caught up. It's not my fault I got so far behind; I just get way too many assignments—something my boss realizes and is working with me to remedy.

Last Sunday was Max's first "performance" with Sollentuna Gymnastics. All the kids did a combined show, three hours long, but we didn't stay for the whole thing. Though there was a huge crowd, Max managed to find me up in the bleachers and waved to me. By his body language you could tell he was really enjoying the crowd and the applause. (He probably felt like all the applause was just for him.) He did all his tricks the way he was supposed to and even surprised me with one that I hadn't seen before. He made a victory gesture and danced to the music and hammed it up a bit. I saw a couple of other people point to him and smile and comment to each other. Yep, Max enjoys an audience! He was a little nervous beforehand, so I'm glad he was able to enjoy it. There's obviously nothing wrong with his self-esteem.

The pictures I took at the show turned out terrible, but there are gymnastics pictures from Monday's session on Max's website.

Recently Max had another two- or three-day patch of incredible rebellion. He can be extraordinarily cooperative and kind, but when he's testing the limits and comes up against one he doesn't like, boy howdy he lets you know! First nicely, but when he doesn't get his way, it can escalate into an argument the likes of which I didn't expect to see at least for another 7-8 years. He tries out the whole range: Sulking, purposeful crying, insults, threats, nagging, guilt trip, heated discussion—all of which he's pretty good at. (Where did he get all this? It couldn't be from me and Bengt?!?) Most of those get him nowhere, but coming up with a good argument is sometimes rewarded with a compromise. 

And he's been very mature in his arguments. Frequently I have to sputter to a stop and say, "Well, now, that's a good point! However,...." I won't say I'm struggling, but I have to be on my toes when we're at odds. He's not even five years old! I can hardly believe this.

Anyway, he's back to his normal cooperative self now, and as a special bonus, Max now both falls asleep and sleeps the whole night by himself. It didn't take any real effort on Bengt's or my part. Seems like it was just the right time for all of us.

Our snow finally melted away late last week. It stayed on the ground pretty long, for being the first snow of the winter!

November 28

This is Max's latest portrait from daycare. Nice, huh?! The photographer they get does a great job.

Bengt and Max were in Perstorp this weekend without me. Awesome! I got so much done. For example, I wrapped all the little presents for Max's advent calendar (the beautiful one that Anna-Brita did in needlepoint last year) and put the thing together. He'll love it! 

I also did some laundry, cleaned the kitchen more thoroughly than it is usually cleaned, and so on. And I did some computer maintenance—uninstalled programs I haven't used in years, cleaned about a gigabyte of old files off my computer and defragmented the hard drive, backed up a bunch of files, and made an Internet Explorer "home/bookmarks" page suited to Max so that he can surf the web and listen to fanfares on my computer with less assistance.

But there's still so much more to do! I feel like I'm hopelessly behind on everything. I've barely started Christmas shopping, for example, and this year's Christmas letter may arrive in January. YIKES!

I did do two things that weren't on my to-do list: I laid half the tiles on a little table that I've been wanting to refinish with tile & paint, and I spent an entire evening (until late into the night) watching Star Trek Voyager, since Bengt gave me the second season on DVD as a present before he and Max took off. He was hoping I'd spend as much of my weekend relaxing as working, and his plan succeeded.

Latest little chuckle: Max sang "Baa, baa, black sheep", and one line went like this: "One for the master, one for the Dane..."

Latest source of amazement: When we went to finalize the car deal last weekend, we parked our old car and walked toward the line of identical row houses where the seller lives. I asked Max, who had been there with me briefly about four weeks before, if he remembered which one it was. He walked straight to the right door without hesitation—another demonstration of his extraordinary sense of (and memory for) direction and place. I never could have guessed which one it was without the number in hand, and I'd been there twice.

This last Wednesday I went to an info meeting & open house at the private school I mentioned in my last entry (called Johansson's school). It was fascinating hearing about their alternative teaching methods and what Max's school years would be like (according to them) if he went to that school. It is radically different from the public school, incorporating some elements of Montessori, although it's not a Montessori school. 

The meeting went on for three hours because of all the questions parents asked. Then Bengt and I did a lot of research on the Internet, and there are more details we want to check. We've been discussing it a lot—also with Anna-Brita. We think that the environment would be very good for Max in the long run, for example because it's a relatively large school with mixed-age groups, more adults in charge of different constellations of kids, and many different types of learning materials to choose from. 

But  the transition from Birgitta & the Tripp Trapp Trull gang would be brutal. Instead of starting in a 3-hour-per-day program with his friends and then going to Birgitta for lunch and the rest of the day, he'd be going to this school and basically starting first grade (though it's still officially "grade 0"). Max would definitely not choose this for himself at this point. But we have to think of the longer perspective. There are 150 kids in line to get 25 spots in next fall's "grade 0". I'm pretty sure Max will be offered one of those spots, since he's been in line since he was about 5 months old. If we decline, he'll have to start all over in line, and then what if we want to get him out of Vaxmora school (the neighborhood elementary school)? We're not sure we want him to go there. (Then again, we're not sure we don't want him to go there...)

Then there's another school, associated with Johansson's, right here in our neighborhood. It's a smaller school, and it only goes up to grade 4, after which the kids transfer to either Vaxmora school or Johansson's.... Well, there are so many considerations, so many pros and cons, so many unknowns (that we're trying to get more information about), and none of this is of interest to anyone who's not directly involved. Needless to say, we have an important decision to make in the next couple of weeks. It's nice to have a choice, but stressful making it.

Our new Ford Focus is working out great so far. We're auctioning off the Volvo online, and it's up to 1025 kronor (about $150) so far. The auction ends in three days. I suspect the car is worth a bit more, but we're just happy we don't have to pay the junkyard charge of over 200 bucks....

This last picture shows Max playing Lego Stunt Rally. He gets really intense.

Have a good week, everyone!

November 21

We got our first snowstorm on Wednesday. This picture shows what it looks like at our house now. Max has already been out sledding a few times. He wanted to ski, too, but his little kid skis are much too small. Need to get a proper pair. His skates still fit (at least, they did about six weeks ago), but the lake isn't frozen yet. 

Max is hooked on GameBoy. He plays quite a bit, especially on weekends. I watched him play the other day (after he nagged me to) and was shocked—and dismayed—to discover how good he has become at it. Dismayed because there are a hundred better things he could be learning than Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong!

He is also a very good "driver", after having played many, many hours of Lego Racers, Lego Stunt Rally and Tonka Monster Trucks in the past six weeks or so. I hope this is all just a phase, but I suspect it's going to take a lot of maneuvering to divert him to other activities. Unfortunately Bengt sees nothing wrong with an almost-five-year-old spending so much time playing these games. 

Bright side: Given a choice between these solitary games and other forms of playing with anyone, he abandons the games. But he can't (or won't) entertain himself and he still needs our help to organize play time with other kids. 

Last weekend Max's friend Mattias was over here for about six hours. They play so well together. Among other things, they like to pretend they have a rock band. (See pictures if interested.) Max has been really cooperative and reasonable lately. He goes through whiny, difficult phases now and then, but we haven't had one of those for awhile. 

On the other hand, he recently developed a fear of elevators and always insists on taking the stairs (which is fine). And he's terrified of getting locked into a public restroom. He won't lock the door—wants the door wide open. We've talked about this a lot, for example what he could do if he did get locked in, and it seems to have eased his fears, but he still insists on taking precautions (keeping the door open). I can't figure out where these fears came from, but I guess they'll lose their potency as he gets older.

Max starts "grade 0" at school next year. The six-year-olds go part time. Now we get to decide what school he should go to. He was offered a spot at the private one he's been in line for since he was just a few months old. They have an open house this coming week, so I'll go to that and check it out, but I guess we won't send him there unless I hear something really crappy about our local elementary school very soon. I wish the regular school had an open house! I guess they don't need to, since most people just automatically send their kids to the closest school, even though private schools often don't cost any more than public ones.

Smoking update: I'm still not. 

Ringworm update: It came back! You're supposed to use the cream for about a week after symptoms disappear, but we stopped too early. This time we'll follow the directions....

We got our new used car today! It's a 2001 Ford Focus station wagon, dark blue. I'm really excited. Bengt is just relieved, he says, not to have to drive the Volvo any longer. It was a good car for us—and, of course, inexpensive, since Sven gave it to us in 1999—but it doesn't have power steering or power brakes, and it's like driving a tank. Not to mention the fact that it's full of rust and failed to pass inspection a couple weeks ago. Anyway, the Focus seems like the right size for us. It's small for a station wagon. (Bengt wanted a station wagon. I would have chosen a sedan. This was our compromise.) 

November 3, 2004 – Election Day + 1

I followed the results of the election today on cnn.com. The very close race was exciting but very disappointing in the end. Most Swedes would have voted for Kerry, so things might be a bit uncomfortable for me in the coming days or weeks. (And I'm going to stop here because this is an unprotected web page and I don't want irate email from Bush supporters who might happen to find my comments.)

I will allow myself to pass on this link, though: http://www.wc3sear.ch/misc/Voting_Machine.wmv  If I haven't already emailed this to you, have a look. It's hilarious! (Even Max thinks so.)

Speaking of Max, I was explaining this presidential election to him, and at first he thought Bush and Kerry were going to duke it out or compete in a 100-yard-dash or something. Heh heh.

Well, Halloween was a fun day recently. The holiday isn't fully established yet here in Sweden. It gets stronger every year, but for example there's still no consensus on when Halloween actually is. I don't think October 31 is going to work for them – it's got to be on the weekend every year. Anyway, this year the 31st was Sunday, which was handy. 

Nils' parents, Susanne & Lars, threw a Halloween party for the kids who go to Birgitta for daycare. The girls came dressed as witches (with sweet little Malin the sickest and scariest looking one), Nils was a bat and Max went as Buzz Lightyear. Max and I arrived a bit late because we had a birthday party to attend before that, but we got there in time for snacks, which were normal foods with disgusting names (like vegetable dip called ground earthworms or snot, carrot sticks called severed fingers, and ketchup called blood). Then we three adults took the kids trick-or-treating, which isn't common here, either, but Susanne had arranged it in advanced with other kids' parents and Birgitta. We also let the kids go to other houses that had pumpkins or other decorations on display, or where we knew the people.

Trick-or-treating brought back, well, not so much memories as a feeling – walking briskly in the crisp cold air, admiring the kids' scary costumes, seeing their little legs pumping fast to get to the next house, hearing their excited cries ("Bus eller godis!"), etc. It was a blast. Tua caused merriment by asking everyone if there were nuts in their candy. (She's not supposed to have nuts.)

Last time I wrote about Max's scaly patches. We did go to the clinic to see the nurse on duty, but it was packed there (you can't make an appointment) and we had to get to the airport within a few hours, so we couldn't wait. Instead, we simply started treating the scaly patches with anti-fungal ointment and it worked great. The spots are gone now. It must have been ringworm, as I suspected.

I puzzled briefly over where Max might have picked up a fungal infection near his armpits. Then I remembered the rented beach house and the water park we visited this summer. He could have gotten it by using someone else's inner tube—you know, holding it under his arms to stay afloat. That's my guess.

My big news is that I quit smoking. A year or so ago I smoked about four per day. Then (urged by my doctor) I halved that but had no desire to give up those last two. Finally I had the inevitable conversation with Max: He said that he wanted to smoke when he gets older. I told him it's dangerous and of course he responded, "Well then why do you smoke, Mom?" etc. In the end he agreed to never start smoking if I quit. (Of course I wouldn't hold a young adult to a promise made at age four, but Max went along with it and even asked me to remind him of his promise if he forgets. It's worth a try...) 

Actually I hope Max simply forgets that I ever smoked. And I hope he loses the positive associations he has in connection with cigarette smoke. (He really likes the smell—it's right up there with car exhaust and gasoline fumes.)

A week ago Bengt's parents unexpectedly gave me a sizeable chunk of money because I quit smoking. Sven had been giving me gentle nudges all along. He never bribed me, but I got this big bonus when they heard I'd quit. I came home and told Bengt that this really puts the pressure on me to keep my word. How could I face them—especially Sven—if I started again, after being rewarded like that for quitting? Bengt laughed and said, "Yeah, he really knows how to nail it down!" That's when the dime finally dropped and I realized that that was the point—to make sure I don't start again. That's about the cleverest and most loving parental strategy I can think of. I'll have to remember that one.

Another boost was when I went to my doctor and she was very enthusiastic that I had quit. She is one of those doctors who really seems to care, and her praise felt really good. She said that between that and my newly lowered cholesterol levels (I started taking cholesterol medicine about 6 months ago, and now my levels are in the normal range), I had taken two big steps toward a longer life. 

Next step: More exercise.

Speaking of bodies, I was reading an article in the newspaper recently that showed 10 drawings of a female body, from emaciated to obese, and 10 drawings of a male body, ditto. (You can see the drawings here.) They had interviewed four young people, asking them which body they thought was ideal, which one they themselves were attracted to, how they viewed themselves on that scale, etc.

Max saw me reading this and started asking about it. I explained some and asked him, too, what he thought. Generally I avoid all mention of fat or thin and just try to promote the view that everyone's body is different and all are to be accepted. But Max does occasionally make derogatory comments about someone being ugly (in his view), having a fat bottom, being of a different color, etc. I find this very alarming and it takes effort to respond calmly and promote further thought instead of shaming him for having said something unacceptable.

Anyway, we were discussing the pictures and he claimed that the ones all the way to the left were most attractive. The others were too fat. I pointed out that the slightly heavier people have extra fat cells on their body that they can use if they get sick or something and can't eat for a few days, and that's good, especially if you're a little kid. He saw the advantages of this. 

Then I pointed out that my own body is much further toward the right than those drawings he said were attractive. Immediately he threw his arms around me and said, "But you're Mama!" The message was clear: As Mama, I'm not judged by the same standards as everyone else. Well, I guess that's comforting. ??? (I just thought it was funny, really. He's so transparent.)

Here's another funny little thing: We'd been driving around with some other kid's winter coat in our car. I asked Max if he knew whose it was, and he said, "I don't know – let me smell it." He proceeded to sniff the coat and then announced that it was Nils' coat. When I asked what Nils smells like, Max said, "Dirt." J Sure enough, I know myself that Nils often smells like he's rolled around in dry dirt (and he probably has). And yes, the coat belonged to Nils. 

Another time I remember Max identified Tua's scarf (or was it her hat) by its smell. At first I thought it was so weird to identify someone's clothing by its smell rather than by sight. Then I realized that smell is more constant than clothing. I mean, we change clothes every day, but our smell is probably pretty much the same from day to day. Huh!

I didn't mention before that we took Max to the dental hygienist (is that what they're called?) about six weeks ago. (He gets an appointment automatically every year.) She said his teeth look healthy but he had so much plaque that they'd need a separate appointment to remove it. (They showed it to me, and indeed it was disgusting when I took a close look.) She said that our policy of letting Max brush his own teeth was definitely not working out. (It seemed like Max was being so thorough. He followed directions carefully. We brushed our teeth facing each other so he could learn.) She said we needed to brush his teeth for him with an electric toothbrush once a day, and it was ok to let him do it himself the other time. 

Since then we've been doing just that. Max is amazingly cooperative (thank you, God—I know that for some parents its a real battle brushing their kids' teeth) and his teeth get very clean once a day. We went back yesterday and were very gratified to hear that most of the soft plaque was gone! The hygienist was impressed and Max and I both got a lot of praise for the improvement.  

Of course there was still some gunk to scrape off (like there would be on anyone's teeth), and Max held perfectly still on the chair while she cleaned his teeth. Every time she pulled out of his mouth to switch instruments or something, Max had a new question. "What's that button for? What does it say on that poster? Why do you use that pointy thing instead of this other pointy thing to clean my teeth? What's that instrument called? Why are you wearing gloves? How many teeth do I have? Where did my spit go that you just sucked up with that tube? How come that polishing stuff feels like sand in my mouth?" Etc. etc. etc. Oh. My. God. But the hygienist was great. She answered every one of his questions and praised him for holding still in between. He really did a great job and didn't seem tense at all. (Definitely going to request the same hygienist, Jenny, next time.)

I myself got a new filling last week, and it still hurts. I can't chew on that side, and it's sensitive to cold and heat. When we were at the dentist's office yesterday I asked how long it can be expected to continue to hurt. They said it could take as long as six to eight weeks! Geez, I had no idea. (I guess that tells you how often I need a filling.)

Here's one thing I'm really tired of: Laundry. There's less laundry in the summer just because we wear fewer clothes. But now there are long pants and sweaters, as well as Max's outer wear that needs to be washed often. Three people generate quite a bit of laundry. I do six or seven loads a week. Bah! At least I don't have to vacuum or do the bathrooms. Bengt takes care of that.

We have to have the Volvo inspected next week, and we're nervous that it's not going to pass. It's 25 years old and has always passed with flying colors, but now the rust is taking over. 

So we're looking for a new car. We have our eye on a 2001 Ford Focus station wagon that some acquaintances are selling. (Bengt says that the European Focus isn't the same as the American one, but I don't know...) Bengt and I had a good look at it and test-drove it last week. I really liked it. It's small for a station wagon but has lots of room in the back. Easy to drive, too—doesn't feel like a tank the way some other station wagons do. Bengt was only slightly above neutral about this car, but he is willing to let me decide. (Next time we'll get the Volvo V50 that we both actually want. The V50 is so new that used ones aren't yet available, and I'm strongly against buying a new car when there are so many other things we could spend our money on.) The current owners of the Ford Focus need to have it inspected this month, and then we can work out a fair price. 

I have a little more I could write, but I might as well save it. You're probably bored stiff, and I'm tired. Signing off!

October 19

We're all better now. Except that Max has a red scaly patch of skin under each arm (near the armpit). He's had one of the spots for a couple of months now and we figured that whatever it was would probably go away by itself. But now it's getting worse, and he's got one on the other side, in the same spot, as well. Could be ringworm (which is a fungal infection, despite the name) or eczema. We're going to the clinic on Thursday to see. 

Max has been glued to Bengt's computer for the past 10 days or so. Bengt got him a Lego racing game and joystick, and Max just loves "driving" a car of his own making on various racetracks. You have to pry him away from the thing. Sigh. 

This game even led to naughty behavior the weekend before last. This was before Bengt set it up so that Max could turn on the computer and log on by himself, and Bengt had to set it up himself each time Max wanted to play. Anyway, Bengt was napping and Max was forbidden to wake Bengt and ask him to set up the game. After awhile Max said he had to go to the bathroom. Half a minute later I heard Bengt scolding Max. Yep, Max had lied when he said he was going to the bathroom, and went to wake Bengt instead. 

I explained to Max what he did wrong (as if he didn't know), and as his punishment he wasn't allowed to play computer games the rest of the afternoon or evening. He had a fit. Cried and complained that the punishment was too harsh. I was actually kind of impressed with his argument, but he didn't even apologize, so no deal. 

Then he did apologize, sincerely (at least it seemed that way), an hour or two later. We made up and then he wanted to play his game. I said I appreciated the apology but he still couldn't play. More tears and accusations. Ugh. I guess this is about what I can expect—at least on occasion—for the next 15 years or so.

We've been playing nice games, too, for example with his stuffed animals, cars & trucks, board games and Play-Doh. 

The other day Max and I were playing and I got tired and didn't want to play anymore. Max pouted and complained. I stuck to my guns and soon got tired of discussing it. Starting walking away and at that point Max lost it and cried brokenheartedly, "You don't love me!" Well, that got my attention. I went right back and put my arm around him and reassured him that I do love him and always will. However, I don't love playing with cars and trucks, plus I was tired so he was going to have to accept the fact that I wasn't going to play with him right then. That worked out fine—he was reassured and he backed off his demands. 

Max took this picture of me with our digital camera just a little while before that happened. 

October 14 (Thursday)

We've had a rough week. Last Friday I was home with a migraine. Monday I came down with a terrible cold. So I stayed home Tuesday, and at 11:00 Birgitta called and said Max was feeling crummy, too. So I went and got him and we watched TV the rest of the day. I felt good enough to go back to work on Wednesday, but Max was worse, and he's still in poor condition. Unless he makes a very quick recovery here today, he won't be able to go back to daycare tomorrow, either. 

Bengt has morning meetings at work every day this week, so we've been working half days each. Of course it's excellent that we can split the time at home, but I would prefer to work whole days rather than half days. I'm still coughing and headachy, too, so I'm not in the most cheerful mood, to put it mildly. Work keeps my mind off it more than taking care of a grumpy four-year-old.

I feel guilty because I just let Max watch TV or play computer games. I could be reading to him or making it quality time in some other way. But I just want to go to work! Get me out of this house and back on a normal schedule! 

Max was lying on the couch this morning, feeling crummy. "I don't feel like lying around like a scrap heap [skrothög] any more!" he complained. Ha, good one. I know the feeling. 

One of Max's problems lately has been dry fingertips. Two of them are so dry that the skin is cracked. That's pretty painful, as you can imagine. We put salve on them at night (expensive salve that Lin gave us), which helps, but it's an ongoing problem. Next time I see the doctor, I'm going to ask what kind of vitamin I might try giving him, or some other treatment. Let me know if you have any suggestions. 

The bike thing (see below) kind of backfired on us. Max feels unsteady on his bike (compared to riding it with training wheels), so now he's refusing to ride. If he would just do it a few more times over at the soccer field, I'm sure he'd quickly become very steady, but he doesn't like doing things less than perfectly. Obviously that's a good attitude to have when you're four years old (or at any age). Well, I don't know what Bengt thinks yet, but I'm sure as heck not putting those training wheels back on. (It's not easy to get them on securely, and it's a dirty job.)

Max's relative perfectionism is evident in other areas, as well. In fact, many times I appreciate it. For example, he is conscientious about turning off the lights when he leaves a room, and keeping bathroom doors closed. (We heat our bathrooms warmer than other rooms, and closing the doors keeps the heat in there.) He washes his hands after every bathroom visit and checks the toilet to be sure everything has been flushed down (I don't know where he got that, but it wasn't from us). I've even seen him straighten throw rugs that have gotten crooked (which is something I would do, but I never taught him to do it). He's not a sloppy boy. 

The down side is that perfectionism is (as I see it) preventing him from playing his trumpet. He wants it to sound good, but of course it doesn't sound like when professionals play. There are probably other things he's discouraged from trying, as well. At least the gymnastics are still going well. It's a definite advantage that he's never seen a real gymnast doing the moves he's learning. 

October 3, 2004

Hi. Sorry it's been awhile. We've been fine. I'm just mourning the end of summer and not feeling very exciting about anything. Max has been sick twice since I last wrote, but fortunately he got better quick both times. I was sick once, as well, and missed an additional two days of work. 

I've found myself forced to get reading glasses. Bah! First I got one pair for working at my computer at ReadSoft. Then I got tired of bringing them home every evening for reading in bed, so I bought another pair – on the Internet! They work just as well and cost 1/3 of what the first pair cost.

Max started gymnastics four weeks ago. He just loves it. He's in a class of 16 kids: 14 little girls age 4 to 6, plus Max and another boy named Axel. Fortunately only about 12 kids make it to each class. There are three leaders for the group, and all three are needed!

Today's big news is that Max learned to ride his bike without training wheels. Anders was here, and he and Bengt helped Max while I took pictures. We lowered the seat way down so Max could touch the ground easily. (That's why the bike looks way too small for him.) I was very surprised how quickly it went. The first couple tries were short, but Max got the hang of it very, very quickly. (I vividly remember learning myself, at age 5, and I can tell you it took a lot longer and cost me many scrapes and tears.)

We also have a movie of Max and his friend Mattias acting like rock stars. Warning: Large file! 25.4 MB. Not recommended for those using a modem or with limited disk space. (FYI, what Mattias keeps repeating is "rockstjärnor, rockstjärnor", which means "rock stars, rock stars".)  

Max has come up with some good lines lately. Once he was coaxing Maja over: "Come, Maja! Come on. Come to Uncle Sid!" This came from the movie, Ice Age

Another morning he was fooling around and suddenly started calling me "Bob". From Mama to Mom to... Bob. Then he started calling Bengt "Wendy". I thought that was hilarious.

That's it for now. 

August 15, 2004

Hi, we returned from vacation on August 5 but we're still settling in. We haven't really gotten back into our routine yet. In fact, we won't have a routine for awhile because Bengt is in between jobs. He's starting his new job soon next Tuesday, and since it involves a commute to town (Stockholm), all three of us will need to adjust our schedules. 

First I have to explain the picture on the right, of Max with his hair almost shaved off. Are you ready for this? I did it by accident! Max needed a trim, so I whipped out the trimmer and took a big swipe down the middle of his head, from front to back, without checking the length setting first! When I saw what I'd done, I just about had a heart attack. But I had to act relatively cool for Max's sake. I called Bengt over, afraid he was going to freak out (the way I would have if he'd done that), but he just rolled his eyes. (This is why I married Bengt.)

There was no choice but to just go ahead trim off all Max's hair on the shortest setting (which is what it was on). I warned Max that it was going to be pretty short, so he put his hand up and felt the fuzz. But far from being upset, he was thrilled to have a totally new haircut. He went running to the mirror to check what it looked like. "I look like a different person!" he exclaimed happily. "No one will recognize me when I go to Birgitta tomorrow!" 

Max has been completely thrilled with his new haircut and even asked me to shave his head. I don't care for it but have to admit that it wasn't the disaster that I first thought it was. It doesn't look that bad (no one guessed it was an accident) and it'll grow out in just a few weeks. Above all, I'm happy it wasn't traumatic to Max but just another new, exciting experience. I really admire his ability to see the fun or interesting side of just about any situation.

My vacation "report" is below, for those few who are interested enough to read it. Suffice it to say that we had a lot of fun and were so happy to see the friends and relatives we got to see. We are so grateful to everyone who had cook-outs at their houses and took care of us. Never has three weeks felt so short. I was very sad to leave, and burst into tears several times at the airport and on the plane home. Max also cried when Lin walked away from us at the airport, and he says that he misses Ben and Elliot and Aunt Lin. Yesterday he asked me how much older Ben and Elliot will be when they come visit us next summer (which they are tentatively planning and we really hope they do). He wondered why they couldn't come to live with us, or we go live with them. "Then we can give our house to someone who doesn't have one." 

Max's English improved a lot during our trip. Since we've been home he's continued to speak English with me. (Before, he usually spoke Swedish, even though I spoke English.) I notice he picked up many idiomatic expressions. One I remember was when I asked him after a mishap if he was ok, he responded, "I'm not just OK, I'm A-OK!" He's had just the most minor trouble with Swedish, temporarily forgetting a few words.

Never could I have predicted that Max would enjoy our vacation so much. He seems so happy here at home that I was concerned he'd be homesick for his friends and Birgitta. Bengt and I dragged him all over the place to visit many different people that he had no recollection of ever having met before. After the first week there were new places and faces every day, but Max seemed to hit it off with everyone we visited (and of course we only visit nice people). He thoroughly enjoyed all our socializing and was only once ready to leave when Bengt and I said it was time. He was at soccer events twice with Lin, got bored and promptly found some new friends to play with. I'm so thrilled about his openness and self-confidence. Can't take credit for it but just admire it. Hope it stays with him all his life. 

Once a bigger kid told him to go to the grownups and tell them a lie. He did it but told us about it later. That was a new experience. We asked why he did it, and he said, "She was a big girl." That was a good opportunity to explain to him that big kids can be naughty, too, and he needn't cooperate. Interesting! 

Another change in Max is that he kicked the välling habit. We didn't take any with us, and Max was upset briefly but did just fine. Since we've been home he's asked for it twice (and gotten it), but it's no longer a habit. I'm relieved that we never had to resort to bribery or anything to get him to stop.

And finally, Max is a big boy who can fall asleep by himself. In Saline he slept a couple of nights in Elliot's room, and that wasn't very successful. (One night he woke up Elliot repeatedly for reassurance.) But Ben and Elliot were a good example that he wanted to follow – and did, here at home. It's a relief not to have to lie there with him until he's asleep, and then get up again to have a little grown-up time to ourselves. I'm sure he'll be able to sleep all night by himself, too, when we get around to rearranging the beds here.

Our next trip will be to LEGOLAND this fall—a treat for Max, hopefully together with another family we know who has a boy Max's age, for added enjoyment.

Our trip to USA, July - August 2004

Our flights over were uncomfortable but tolerable. Bengt ran into some trouble with his expired green card in Frankfurt and initially was not allowed on the flight. We decided that Max and I would continue on to Detroit and Bengt would follow when he got his visa sorted out. We said our good-byes and were separated for about a half hour, but then Bengt showed up after all – they'd had him write out some sort of waiver by hand. Good grief!

In Detroit we waited around for nearly an hour for our luggage before we finally realized that it wasn't coming. That was a drag. Thank heavens we were staying with Lin & company, because they had just about everything we needed. I borrowed clothes from Lin, Max inherited some from Elliot (a huge pile actually), and Bengt went out and bought underwear and borrowed a T-shirt from Mark. The bags didn't arrive until about midnight the day after we arrived. We were a bit panicked because we were leaving for Lake Michigan the next morning, but it worked out after all.

The house we rented in Michiana (literally just over the border in Indiana) turned out to be tolerable, just barely. It smelled of mold and mildew, wasn't very clean, and was a longer walk from the lake than what we'd been told. Lin and I walked in with the boys and immediately started opening windows, while the boys ran through the house saying, "Wow, this place is great!" I guess it was neat, from their perspective. 

We spent hours each day on the beach, after driving our load of gear over in one of the vehicles. We got to experience a nice range of beach weather, from hot to cool and windy. Sometimes it was calm, other days there were huge waves. I think we all enjoyed collecting stones, of which there was a much greater variety than what we're used to further north. Lin had her kayak along and took the boys for rides. ("Faster, Aunt Lin, faster!") I enjoyed doing the grocery shopping, and one night Lin and Bobbie and I went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a shady look to it but good service and delicious food. The Lighthouse Outlet Mall was also very close, so there were shopping trips. :-)

Evenings we had dinner together and then mostly played games and chatted. I think everyone had a book with them. My friend Nancy joined us for part of two days, and we all enjoyed seeing her again. There was a TV and VCR, with lots of kids' tapes, so the boys relaxed in front of the TV when they were worn out from all the activity. Bengt and Marlin smoked cigars one evening. Bobbie had her cat there for a few days and Max was sad to see it go when Bobbie took it home since it wasn't adjusting very well. 

We drove back to Saline on a Saturday, stopping briefly in Kalamazoo on the way. Stopped in to see Marlin but unfortunately didn't get to meet Jackie, his friend. Marlin gave Max wagon rides down the driveway. I spent almost $80 on used books at Kazoo Books—great place—on the way out of town.

On Sunday we had dinner with good friends, and Monday morning we drove down to Ohio. We spent two nights with my grandma in Sugarcreek, and Marlin joined us. We had a great cook-out at Sam & Jenni's house with Susan, Jon, and Marj, and Max and his second cousin MacKenzie had a ball. Speaking of balls, Max got to try using a bat for the first time. Marj pitched him some easy balls and he got the hang of it after awhile. (People don't play softball here, as far as I know, so we never thought to look into it.) Neat! 

From Sugarcreek we drove to Hubbard, where Bengt lived while he was a foreign exchange student and still has an extended adopted family. The whole gang welcomed us with a cookout at the Roses' house. Max had a blast even though there were no other kids; he was thrilled with all the pets (a dog and three cats, not to mention all the critters in the woods behind the house), not to mention Dick's Camaro and his Chrysler Sebring convertible, which Max was actually treated to a ride in. 

Max was generously showered with presents during our entire vacation, but in this case he got some walkie-talkies that he's particularly fond of. He had a hard time getting the name down, though—called them honkie-tonkies at first, then halkie-talkies, 'til I explained why they're called walkie-talkies!

Then we headed back to Saline for still more visiting. A delicious dinner with Harjus, where Max enjoyed water balloon fights with the kids and playing games on their widescreen TV. A relaxing afternoon with Tracey and Sam, where an unfortunate memory is of a neighborhood cat catching a young rabbit, which was screaming and struggling as the cat carried it off. A late weekend lunch with Marriotts in Brighton, after which Bengt got a night out with his friends. I also got to spend separate time with my friends Wendy, Pam and Pat.

Not to mention the great time we had with Lin and Ben and Elliot, and with Mark when he wasn't working. They live quite close to the Rolling Hills water park, which we visited twice – once with Bobbie when she drove over – and that was a nice place to be on a hot day (and it was very hot most days we were in Michigan). One day I took Elliot and Max over to U of M's campus, where the squirrels are so tame that you can feed them by hand. The boys got a huge kick out of that. (It was too bad Ben was at soccer camp just then.) We all made tie-dye shirts one day, and on our last day Lin took the boys to Chuck E. Cheese's so Bengt and I could pack and rest up before the trip. That was a real thrill for Max.

Max felt very much at home in Michigan. He said several times, "Mama, I feel like I live here!" and "Why don't we live here?" I could sympathize! It was hard for him to understand that we were doing a lot of extra fun things because it was vacation. But really I think it was just as much all the socializing we did that he enjoyed so much. We don't socialize nearly as much here in Sweden, but maybe we can change that to some extent.

Bengt got sick two days before we left and spent two days primarily in bed. Poor guy! Fortunately he was in reasonably good condition for our trip back, and all in all I think we're grateful that no one got sicker or for longer, before, during, or after our trip.

Lin hauled us and all our luggage to Detroit Metro (we had six suitcases home, though we'd arrived with only two!) and entertained Max during the long wait in the check-out line. Lufthansa was paying big money to get people to voluntarily be bumped off the overbooked flight. I was going to ask whether they'd throw in an upgrade to Business Class, but Bengt was set on getting home. 

However, we regretted it, because our trip back was probably the most wretched one we've ever had. (I can remember one other long trip – to Mexico City – that was really bad, but that was because Max was quite little and kind of sick, and because the airport there was a nightmare.) The seats were horribly uncomfortable and the "fasten safety belts" sign was on for 7 out of 8 hours, supposedly because of the potential for sudden turbulence, so we weren't allowed to get up and stretch and walk around. (We were, however, permitted to use the restrooms, thank heavens.) 

We were seated in the middle group of seats (no window seat). The tall, gangly man next to me took up the arm rest and inadvertently elbowed me in the ribs (which I HATE) many times. Fans blew freezing cold air on us the whole time and couldn't be adjusted or turned off. 

We had just gotten our food when Max suddenly became aware of an urgent need to use the bathroom. You can imagine (or maybe you know from experience) how difficult it is to offload the food, raise the trays, get out into the aisle, get past the flight attendants and their serving carts and into the bathroom... then back again. Max did this TWICE! ARGH! We really need to work on getting Max to think ahead a little when it comes to restroom visits!

Anyway, we are never flying such a long trip with Lufthansa again, if I have anything to say about it. It was a little cheaper, but it wasn't worth it. During much of the trip I was near tears from discomfort and exhaustion. Bengt and I didn't sleep a wink, though Max slept a couple of hours.

All our luggage arrived promptly, and our taxi dumped us off here at home around noon on Thursday. Maja was here waiting for us, after having been dropped off behind the house the previous afternoon. The three of us forced ourselves to stay awake most of the day but then slept pretty well that night. (Max slept 12 hours straight, thanks to a tiny dose of melatonin.) I woke up with a migraine (I get them from irregular or repeatedly interrupted sleep), but drugs kept it under control most of the day and I even managed to get in my 8 hours at the office.

It took us days to unpack all our loot (including piles of clothes and toys that Max got from Ben & Elliot) and get the house looking decent again. All of our houseplants survived, thanks to Anders having spent a few days here while we were gone.

Sweden had terrible weather most of the time we were gone. But on August 4 it cleared up and got hot, just in time for our return. The yard needed attention but it was too hot for that. We had a week of blistering sun but now it's cooler again – around 70-75 degrees. One day last week was even quite cool, and there were brown leaves flying around and a feeling of autumn in the air. OH NO! Summer can't be over already! Please! 

There are pictures on Max's website: http://max.palssons.com/




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