Welcome aboard

You are held up in traffic on your way to the airport. It’s as though the universe wants you to feel anxious. Miss one turn.

You arrive and join the queue for check-in. Your child’s nappy needs changing. Luckily you roll a Six and have time to run through the airport pulling her shoes off as you go, reach the changing area, clean nappy, and run back, before your husband reaches the front of the queue.

Airport security. You must scan you boarding pass and enter through the gates one at a time. The gate opens and the toddler rushes through first, followed by the preschooler who gets stuck as the gate closes. Miss one turn while airport security let him out.

You manage to control your children while waiting for carry on screening. Miraculously you haven’t forgotten any liquids or picnic knives in your overfull bags. Five.

You’ve got through security in plenty of time. Just in time to read your flight is delayed. Miss one turn.

Duty Free. Race through, nervously keeping children away from hazardous objects and temptingly placed chocolate. One staff member offers you a whisky taster; you turn it down as you rush past. You will regret this decision. One.

You find seats at the gate, but they are not close to the windows. Your children spend most of their time watching planes out of the window anyway. The toddler makes an occasional dash for freedom. Luckily no-one alerts security to your unattended baggage while you are running after her. Five.

child in airport window

Boarding commences. You miss the boarding opportunity for families – because, toilets. You and your husband bicker the whole time you are queuing, whilst walking across the tarmac, and getting on to the plane. But you also successfully juggle passports, boarding passes, bags, and two small children. Three.

You get side-eye from fellow travelers as you claim your seats. You remember you are supposed to bring goody bags to hand out to other passengers to placate them for the inconvenience of you paying to use a form of public transport. You opted not to bring any as you had enough to carry in the form of kid’s books, changes of clothes, and nappies. This is the right choice. You need nappies. Four.

Your preschooler is thrilled with your seats; he has a  window and can see the wing and jet engine behind him. As you zoom up into the air he chuckles watching everything get smaller “The cars look like toys.” You both pretend to pick up houses and trees and cars between your fingers as the plane climbs. When you fly through cloud and come out the other side he gasps “Are we flying all the way to the sun?” Six.

Joy is short lived and  boredom sets in. The kids are fidgety. In a moment of desperation you consider allowing your toddler to kick the seat in front of you repeatedly. This makes you a very bad person. The plane begins to experience turbulence, and now you have to hold your squirming toddler on your lap long enough to truly regret your thought crime. Miss five turns.

Drinks. You booked a low-cost airline and so will have to pay for your coffee. You desperately need this coffee. They don’t have lids. Drinking black coffee out of a paper cup balanced on a tray-table at high altitude whilst sitting with small wriggly hazards humans seems like a terrible idea. You desperately need this coffee. Buy one after all. You do not scald yourself or your children. Six.

Landing. You locate the toddlers dummy, and find toys that will keep them occupied during landing. Your toddler occupies herself by repeatedly dropping the toy through a gap in the seat back and onto the floor. Another passenger repeatedly hands it back to you. Neither of your children are having a hissy fit. It’s tedious, but we’ll call this one a win. Four.

Passport control. The queue is long, but your preschooler announces, loudly, that he needs the toilet. There are no toilets this side of passport control. For once airport staff act humanely and you are fast-tracked. Free roll of the dice.

Baggage collection are advertising a long wait. You find a bench, and sit down next to a well-dressed middle-aged woman and her husband. She asks you how old your children are. Mistake! The talkative preschooler latches on to her and begins to tell her his version of your family history. Take the chance to relax while your husband checks over-sized baggage for the pram. Five.

You relax a little too much and switch back on to realise the toddler is attempting to ‘share’ her breadroll with the well-dressed woman. Sharing involves pushing the breadroll towards her face while the well-dressed woman leans back. ‘Thank you’ she laughs ‘but I don’t eat carbs.’ As she says this you are distracting your child by allowing her to ‘share’ with you. Shame on you for eating anything as hideous as bread. One.

It’s late and you need to feed your kids before you leave the airport. The only thing here is Burger King. You buy over-priced fast food and wonder what the well-dressed lady would think of you now as you eat your fries. The only problem is the kids don’t really like Burger King, so you have to actively encourage them to keep eating the evil-capitalist-crap whilst hiding the crappy plastic toy you don’t want and to this day is still lurking unopened in its wasteful plastic bag somewhere. Finish your kids meal for them. It has been a long day. Two.

Congratulations! You have successfully completed the Game of Air-travel. We recommend our next level game Domestic Train Travel. Estimated playing time: 3hrs and 27mins.

We’re going where the sea is blue

It has been a stressful time recently, so we decided what could be more relaxing than a holiday with kids? We decided to take advantage of a long weekend and traveled to Ebeltoft for a night. For the most part it was fabulous. Fabulous. But it was also testing and tiring.
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We don’t have a car, so travelled by bus from Aarhus. On the way there it worked perfectly. But on the way home, tired after new exciting experiences, M decided to be – difficult. I’ll take some responsibility; we did briefly lose track of time, and then we realised we needed to rush to make the bus home. They are only hourly, and waiting for the next one was getting too late. Have you ever tried to rush our son? After working hard to keep the holiday calm and relaxing it suddenly turned into GET YOUR CLOTHES ON! GET YOUR SHOES ON! While he yelled NO! NO! And then we really only had 15min until the bus, with a 10min walk to the bus stop. So I said WE JUST HAVE TO GO EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T HAVE SHOES ON!!

He went from uncooperative to hysterical. It was awful. I realised that he hadn’t seen me shove his shoes under the pram, and so thought I meant we would leave his shoes behind. Hysterical, but also cooperative. Shoes on, M dumped down on the buggy board, and I raced off; my husband grabbed the bags and locked the door. We made it. But my son spent almost the entire walk crying. It was not the end to our holiday we had hoped for.

* * *

Nobody has asked why I chose the name I did for this blog. Perhaps some vague assumptions about Scandinavian design, and innovation. The behemoth of furniture shopping that shall remain nameless. Of course that was on my mind. But it is also how I feel about this nomadic-expat lifestyle my husband and I have fallen into. This year will be our tenth wedding anniversary, and we have lived in four countries during those ten years. Not by design, or even strong desire. Life just kinda worked out that way.

Every time we move we have to dismantle our lives. Pack the boxes. Choose what to take, and what to sell. Say goodbye to friends and places and routines. And then arrive somewhere new. Reassemble our lives. Unpack the boxes. Fit our old belongings into a new house. Try to make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

And like flatpack furniture, things don’t always fit together the same as they did before. It is always a little different, the angles have shifted slightly.

The folk-wisdom of expats is something like this: the first year is either exciting or depressing. Then you know your way around, but you don’t really feel like you belong. Three years feels like maybe you could stay. Five years to feel like you really belong. We’ve never managed the five years.

We have gained a lot, and had such wonderful experiences with this life we’ve led. But I also know that every time we leave somewhere we lose something too. There is a part of me that will always call Wellington, Cambridge, Canberra ‘home’. And my childhood homes too – Lower Hutt, and Germany. Some parts of me will never be at home again.

If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that even when you know you are leaving eventually, you can’t live in a state of impermanence for long. You have to make yourself a home. Dig your heels in and build a new life. Make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

* * *

Ebeltoft is situated on the Djursland peninsula which juts out in to the Kattegat; the strait between Denmark and Sweden, that eventually opens out into the Baltic Sea.  The Kattegat – around here at least – can seem strangely calm to a New Zealander, who has grown up near coasts where winds blow straight from Antarctica. Ebeltoft was particularly idyllic. Nestled into a bay, the opening of which is tucked in under the peninsula, the seas were very calm. It would be spectacular in summer. We’ve had a couple of cold weeks, sleet and hail, wind and rain. They say in Denmark you always need to be prepared for any kind of weather. Well, we were not prepared for the amount of sunshine we got.
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On that stunning Saturday afternoon we walked out to the end of the harbour pier, where in this peaceful place the cannons are still fired weekly. Ahead of us was blue sky and blue sea, green hills curving in to mark the entrance to the bay. Somewhere behind those hills, further down the coast lies our home, Aarhus.

Our home. Hjem. It feels like that to me. And certainly to my son.

I stood at the edge of the sea, feeling these northern winds blowing gently on my skin, the hush of a calm northern sea. The Dannebrog waving above us. And I knew, then, one day we will leave a piece of ourselves behind. One day we’ll ask our son to lose something much bigger, much more important than his shoes. Maybe a different child would take it easily, but we have to deal with the child we have; he is not going to find it easy.

We have a good life here. We are able to give him some wonderful experiences. But we also have to teach him how to uproot himself. This isn’t something that can be done in a rush. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to our life here. To start again, somewhere else. But wherever we end up, we’ll do it. Make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

I also know, we’ll carry a little piece of Denmark with us when we go.

Everything is Awesome

We visited Legoland Billund with my sister last week. This is the first photo we took DSCN0026 It pretty much sums up M’s reaction.

Summer finally arrived the day we left. Unfortunately we were slightly unprepared in terms of summer clothing, and even worse we had lost M’s much-loved sunglasses. Luckily I’m a paranoid traveller, and we arrived at the train station much earlier than we needed to. Early enough to pop into the large supermarket nearby and buy the only pair of sunglasses in his size: pink Hello Kitty glasses that he was absolutely thrilled with. Also early enough to buy a coffee for the train trip. Not early enough to compensate for the panic of trying to board a packed carriage with four kids, three suitcases, and two prams, before realising it was the wrong carriage and having to get off and start again. But after one train ride, and one sweltering bus ride we arrived.

We stayed in the Legoland Holiday Villiage, where they took the name ‘Pirate Cabins’ very seriously. Skull and crossbones shower curtain, a lego parrot, and a treasure chest full of duplo to play with. DSCN0136 Once there everything is made from Lego. Everything. Even the animals. 0245

0246And (I can’t believe I don’t have a photo) even the chips are shaped like blocks.

Considering Legoland is free for under-threes, I was a little worried there might not be enough geared towards M to justify the trip. It turned out to be the most magical place for him. He enjoyed minitown, in particular the airport, and these whales, that revolved in the water and spouted water as they breached. DSCN0133 He got to ‘drive’ cars, and trains. He also got to steer a boat, for real, albeit on a rather restricted track. It took R a moment to realise why they were bumping into the walls, as in every other ride the controls were fake.

He rode in a monorail

DSCN0105And a ferris wheel, DSCN0118Great for a boy who is currently obsessed with photos of the London Eye (nope, he’s never been to London).

I have a sneaking suspicion his favourite was flying these planes. It was so amazing he was too excited to get in the queue, he had to stop walking to watch the planes flying. DSCN0080

The low points (pre-schooler meltdowns aside): the aquarium had a three minute long intro film. Did I say three minutes? Because it felt like forever. It wasn’t helped by the fact every line was spoken in three different languages. M was completely baffled, even though he speaks two of those three languages. Also I had mistakenly called the aquarium a ride, so he spent the three minutes asking when we were going to go ‘ride a fish’. He did enjoy the aquarium once we were finally allowed in.

0247We also watched a show full of physical comedy to appeal to a multilingual audience. Sorry, did I say physical comedy? I meant people shouting ‘oh ho’ before falling over, in a tedious, repetitive, unoriginal show that my sister and I sat through for the sake of her oldest because it had a princess in it. (Note to A, skip the princess thing please).

We were pleasantly surprised at the food options. There was even fruit on sale. But we had ice-cream instead.

0248Little A was pretty oblivious to it all. Now I know what my Mum meant when she said she breastfed her way around Disneyland with me. She did go on one ride though, this revolving tower (no it doesn’t drop!). DSCN0064I’m not so great with heights or enclosed spaces, so I felt pretty brave going on it. The views over Legoland were good. DSCN0075

Unsurprisingly, M is keen to go back. I’m not sure we’ll manage, not unless we stay longer than currently planned. It was a fabulous two days, seeing our little boy so excited made it pretty special.

Snowflakes coldly fall

Our first day in Copenhagen, fresh off the 32 hour flights, we stepped out into the freezing Danish winter. For some reason, our sleep deprived brains thought our son would benefit from seeing daylight. Wrapped up in his pram, rain cover pulled over to keep the freshest air off him, he howled. Presumably wondering what misery his parents were going to inflict on him next. It was cold. Really cold. It has been a mild winter, but those few days around when we arrived were typical winter days. We beat a fairly hasty retreat to our hotel. There we huddled in the warmth, and our son fell into a deep sleep that we couldn’t even wake him from to eat his tea.

 The next morning we ventured out again, and walked from our hotel down to the harbour to visit Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attraction – The Little Mermaid. So how cold was it? Well, what looked like waves cresting at a distance, was actually frozen sea. That’s something I’d only seen on Attenborough documentaries about polar bears.

 Within a few days of our arrival in Aarhus a thaw had set in. We haven’t seen any snow since those first few days. It has been cold. It has been grey. It has been wet. The ground has been alternatively frozen, puddled, and muddy. Admittedly the last two have been popular with my son. The other week though, a wonderful thing happened. Flowers. Tiny crocuses and snowdrops are popping up under trees, and along the verges. My son has had a long fascination with flowers, and loved few things more than gathering handfuls of dandelions and daisies (two flowers he has been allowed to pick, rather than just smell). For him, pram trips are once again accompanied by hands reaching over the side, imploring us for a flower to admire.

 Spring in northern Europe is such a relief after a long cold winter. Easter also belongs at this time of year. The other weekend was the Danish festival ‘fastelavn’, essentially the beginning of Lent. It seems appropriate to be celebrating the turning of the seasons. It’s a reminder to me how much our idea of seasons is an imported idea to New Zealand. We even follow traditions that conform to a northern calendar. Margaret Mahy has a wonderful poem Christmas in New Zealand, in which she describes exactly this juxtaposition.

And yet around my wall,
On Christmas cards the holly gleams,
And snowflakes coldly fall,
And Robins I have never seen,
Pipe out a Christmas call.

I always miss the evergreen NZ forests when I’m away. I know we won’t get a sweltering summer. After living in Australia for the last three years, I can do with a lack of sweltering to be honest. I don’t know how I’ll manage a full winter here next year. But now, with the days growing longer, and the flowers blooming, Aarhus is growing on me.