Friday, February 25, 2011

Elevator Update

If you haven't read yesterday's post about the elevator, do that first. This post contains a spoiler.

I wondered what would happen to the sign after I wrote my note at the bottom. Would it still be there today? Would whoever made it take it down? When I left the house today I found the following:

The new note says: "Wonderful! Be so heartily welcome in our house."

It feels nice to be welcomed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Elevator

We live on the fifth floor of an apartment building. One of our major criteria for a home in Copenhagen was that it must have an elevator. We wanted an elevator mainly so that we could transport Riley's stroller up and down without lugging it up stairs. Upon arriving at our home for the first time, we learned that the stroller doesn't fit in the elevator without being folded up. Not awesome.

There's a sign in the elevator that says: "3 Personer" and you can guess that a 3 personer isn't very big. It is basically a tiny wooden box. To add to the inconvenience of the elevator, it does not have doors that open themselves like our elevator in DC. Nope. This elevator has one set of doors that swing into the elevator making the small space even smaller and an outer door made of heavy metal that must be pushed open. This is not easy when you are carrying a baby and it's virtually impossible when you're carrying a baby and anything else.

Once you get past the inconvenient aspects, the 3 personer is kind of cool. It has glass windows and Riley loves saying hello and goodbye to each floor as we pass. It is smooth and quiet in its journey up and down and it feels old-fashioned in a good way. Plus, it still saves us from carrying Riley up and down five flights of stairs.

On our floor, the outer door of the elevator doesn't latch itself when left to close on its own. It needs an extra push. On occasion I have forgotten to make sure it's latched and the elevator has been stuck on our floor. This is annoying for Neil when he comes home and I am certain for all the people on floors 2 through 4. I am sure our neighbors have forgotten to be sure the door latched a time or two as well. But there are only two apartments on each floor, so if it's stuck up here it was either them or us.

On Tuesday, we went shopping at IKEA for some household items we need to finish moving in. Neil had to return the car to work and I ended up in our lobby with a bunch of stuff and a baby. I loaded the elevator with our things and carried Riley in an Ergo carrier. When we got to our floor, I propped the outside door open so the elevator would not leave with my IKEA purchases inside. As I was carefully removing things and putting them in the hall by my door I heard a neighbor yell from below to "close the elevator door!" I said something like, "I am getting my things out. I'm sorry!" and hurried to get the last of our things out of the elevator and let it go downstairs. Once the bathroom cabinet was out and in the hall I shut the outer door and said, "Here you go!"

I went inside and had a slightly uneasy feeling because the woman who had shouted a) sounded really annoyed and b) spoke in English which means she knew I was the one holding up the elevator.

By this morning, I had basically forgotten all about the Tuesday evening incident when I stepped into the elevator and read a sign that said "To make the elevator run please close the outer door." I thought, "Hmm, maybe other people are not remembering to close it too," and then I had my ah hah moment when I realized I was able to read the sign in the elevator which meant it was not in Danish like ALL the other signs in our building. Nope, this sign was in English and was for me. I couldn't decide if it was very rude to put a sign in the elevator in English, or very funny. I settled on rude but also hilarious and decided that since the sign was to me, I should reply on the sign. I wrote a little note on the bottom that said, "Hello Neighbors, We are very sorry for forgetting to latch the outer door. It sticks on our floor. We will do our best to always be sure it latches. Our apologies."

We'll see if the sign is still up tomorrow morning. Hopefully my neighbors accept my apology and don't hate the Americans on the 5th floor.

A slightly blurry photo of the sign and my reply

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Magical Musical Tuesday Mornings

A big challenge that came with moving to Denmark was for Riley and I to not become isolated. Staying home with a little baby is inherently isolating and moving to a city where we knew nobody was a risk. What if I was miserable and lonely? Let's be honest, there were some days in DC when I was staying home with Riley and was miserable and lonely. Being Riley's mom is the best thing I have ever done and staying home with him for this little while is the best decision I have ever made, but it's also harder than any job I have ever had. So, why not move to a foreign country in the midst of the hardest job of my life? Why not leave our wonderful network of friends and our family across the ocean? Hmm...

Since we've been here, finding activities for Riley and I, and finding new friends here have been my top priorities. I will not be lonely. I will have plans every day. We're going to have fun even if the trying to have fun is a bit exhausting at the start.

I have been to several playgroups and new mom groups and have been collecting tips. Based on the number of recommended activities and groups, Denmark sounds like a paradise for children and parents of young children. One of the recommendations that came out of an early meeting I attended was a sing along session for small children at a church north of Copenhagen. It was described as having delicious food and fun songs for kids and being all in Danish. The all in Danish part was a bit intimidating, but otherwise, it sounded pretty great. I have been looking for music classes for Riley and this seemed close.

My new friend Daniella (a Colombian who came to Copenhagen via college in the US and a stint in London) and I tried to go to the musical church two weeks ago, but the session was canceled that week because of a school holiday neither of us knew about.

When we returned this week we walked into the church and were greeted by the smell of fresh-baked bread. We found our way upstairs where a room full of moms and little kids between Riley's age and around 3 or 4 were eating the fresh-baked bread and a variety of other food while seated around several round tables. An older woman greeted us and upon learning we spoke English, quickly switched to English and proceeded to give us a tour of the cleanest baby changing station I have ever seen. She then told us it was 20 kroner (about $4) for adults and free for kids and we could eat all we want. She promised fresh bread every week and explained that she and her husband lead the singing. Light was streaming into the eating room and little kids were frolicking around. Everyone had taken their shoes off at the door and we were standing on the cleanest, shiniest wood floors. At some point our hostess's husband began ringing a little bell and everyone filed into the next room, a fabulous space decorated with all kinds of twinkling lights, toys and one large paper lantern.

Then the music began. The husband and wife sang beautifully in harmony and played guitar along with one other man playing guitar. The leaders were very animated and captured the attention of their young audience. All of the kids and moms sang along and knew the proper hand motions to go with the words. Riley sat in awe as watching other kids and singing are two of his most favorite things. My expression probably mirrored his.

When possible, our hosts told us in English what the songs meant. There was one about chores, one about Sleeping Beauty and a surprising number of songs that I sang as a child. (Only I sang them in English). Children in Denmark also sing the Hokey Pokey, The Wheels on The Bus, and Where is Thumbkin. It got me wondering about the origins of children's songs. Were those songs in English first or Danish? As they sang them, I thought, "Hey, that's an American song," and then realized that more likely it was a song from somewhere else.

After a half hour of singing there was a short coffee break and then another 20 minutes of singing and movement. About two hours after we arrived, the music was over and it was time to go home.

It's hard to explain, but there was really something magical about the entire morning. It could have been a fresh-baked-bread-induced euphoria, or it could have been my friend Daniella using her British-isms and saying how brilliant it was quite a few times, but I suspect it was something else. There was just a joy in the entire experience. From the perfection of the space, to the well-chosen kid-friendly decoration, the fresh bread to the animated singing, the spirit of the Tuesday morning music is hard to miss.  I'm looking forward to returning every Tuesday morning that I can.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Things We Like About Denmark So Far

1. People move out of the way for strollers on buses and metro trains.
2. We have swans and ducks in a pond very near our home. (I have always wanted to live near swans)
3. The pastries are out of this world amazing. This is both good and bad.
4. There is a spire on a building with four dragons whose tails are intertwined. It is very cool. We don't think anything like this would be built in America.
5. We get money back for recycling plastic bottles - real money, not just a nickel.
6. There are several cobblestoned walking streets downtown with all kinds of shops and restaurants that are fun to explore.
7. The hot waffles found on the walking streets are, perhaps, the best things we have ever eaten.
8. The royal guards have a parade every couple of hours when they change shifts that includes a 30 minute concert in front of the royal palaces.
9. The royal guards wear big funny furry hats.

10. There are all kinds of great paths and parks for walking and biking.
11. We have a kitchen table and Riley has his own room.
12. We live near a beach.
13. Handball is amazingly awesome - see future post for more details.
14. There's a big park on the edge of town with hundreds of deer in it and we can take a train there and go for walks.

Leave the Baby Outside, Ma'am.

Back in DC, Neil was under the impression that our stroller was really big. He thought it was also really fancy and kind of snooty. He was a little bit right. We have the Uppa Baby. Not THE most expensive or THE biggest, but it's a nice size and a good quality stroller. (I over-researched this particular purchase for sure.)

Moving to Europe, we were pretty sure that most things about us would be super sized. We are, after all, Americans. For the most part, we were right. The paper towels we brought with us are about 2 inches too long to fit on the built-in paper towel holder in our kitchen, our bathroom is about half the size of our previous bathroom, milk is sold in containers the size of American half & half containers, our cookie sheet would have to be sliced in half to fit in our oven, even the heads of lettuce here are smaller. But, not strollers.

Strollers in Denmark are the size of small cars. They are humongous- at least twice as big and twice as fancy as our stroller. Perhaps because of their size, but perhaps not, it is common practice to leave the strollers or prams outside with sleeping children in them when parents shop or dine. Walk around Copenhagen on any given day and you'll come across dozens of strollers on sidewalks. These strollers cost upwards of $1,000 and contain peoples' precious children, but they are rarely locked up. Some are obviously empty, but the ones that are all bundled up almost always contain a napping baby or toddler. The Danes think that sleeping outside is good for the babies and their strollers wouldn't fit in whatever shop or restaurant their parents were going to anyways.

Apparently in the last 30 years, or so, there have been three kidnappings in Denmark. One resulted in a missing child who was never returned. The other two occured when hapless bike theives mistakenly took bikes with passenger carts attached that had children napping in them. The first asked the child where he lived and dropped him and the bike off at home. The second took the child to a nearby home and left it on the doorstep. People don't steal kids in Denmark.

Being American, leaving Riley outside in the cold asleep in his stroller goes against all of my programming. I am worried about many things in this scenario: What if someone takes him? What if he wakes up and cries and I don't hear him because I am inside? What if he is cold? What if someone comes and smokes near him? And also culturally programmed in to me is the "What if Child Protective Services takes him away from me?" question.

I learned my second week in Denmark that Danish moms also worry about their babies waking up and needing them. For this reason they have "baby alarms" in the prams. As best I can tell, a baby alarm is a battery operated monitor. Some of them are super-small and high-tech. As for concerns about cold babies, the prams come with many many layers of warmth. It's like wrapping your baby in a high-tech coccoon of protection. They are not only insulated and waterproof, but I saw a label on one saying it's rated to protect from sun as well as SPF 50 sunscreen.

So now the question you've all been asking, have we left Riley outside in his small, non-insulated American stroller? Before I answer that, I would like to mention that we have a super-cool sleeping bag thing for Riley that's designed for all inclement weather. We also have a rain cover for his stroller. He seems to be more comfortable in his stroller out in the cold than he is in his crib at home.

And now, the answer: Yes. I did it. I left Riley outside, asleep, in the rain, while I had coffee with new friends. It should be noted that I could see him in the window the whole time, he had a rain cover on, it was only sprinkling, and because I was with other foreigners who are not entirely comfortable with this practice, our strollers were chained together with a bike lock and we had a baby alarm on.

More recently, Neil and I left Riley outside at a little basement cafe and sat by the window watching him the whole time. It still feels very counter to my nature and way too trusting to leave him outside as part of regular practice. It even challenges me to leave the stroller outside without him in it. But we do that very often. Just today we left it outside where you board the canal boat tour for our entire hour-long boat ride. Certainly in the US, it would have been gone on our return. Not in Copenhagen. At the conclusion of the tour it was right where we'd left it. Besides, who would want it here anyways when there are all those fancier strollers for the taking.
Confession: I may not feel entirely comfortable with leaving babies around unattended in their strollers, but I think the Danes are right, Riley naps very well with a little fresh air - even really cold fresh air.
Riley sleeping in his stroller on a warm day in Copenhagen. I did NOT leave him here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What on Earth are we Doing Here?

Nobody is certain when the idea first came into our heads that moving to Denmark with a 7-month-old baby and two dogs was a good idea, but sometime either shortly before our little boy was born, or shortly after, my husband mentioned an exciting job in Copenhagen and I said something along the lines of, "Well it can't hurt to look into it, you never know." I remember exactly where we were. It was warm outside and we were walking across the street in front of the US Capital building near the Botanical Gardens. I also remember thinking that there was no way I was moving to Europe.

And here we are. Our son, Riley is nearly 8 months old, we left our friends and family behind in the states and we're living in an apartment in Copenhagen. We arrived in late January and didn't know a single person in the city aside from some of Neil's co-workers. Since then, we have managed to meet some people, we finally received our shipment of belongings that spent 6 weeks on a boat traveling from Washington, DC, and we're beginning to learn our way around a little bit.

Riley and I have been attending a Monday morning playgroup for international mom's and babies. We've met new friends from Colombia, Iceland, Scottland, England, Austria and Germany- including an Icelandic baby named Kejrtan. Neil has made some friends at work and maybe in a nearby candy shop. We've done some exploring, found the good grocery stores, learned how to get money back for our recycled bottles and how to say thank you (tak) and excuse me (ood - skool). Things are coming together and we're adjusting.

All that being said, do not be fooled. This isn't easy. People do speak English, but most things happen in Danish. The littlest things (changing a light bulb for instance) are much more difficult. All the cliches hold true. We are outsiders. We do not know things - like light bulbs aren't sold in most grocery stores. You have a better chance of finding them at lighting stores.

We are living in a very nice older apartment. It is much larger than our apartment in Washington, DC and has a great deal of charm including wood floors,  and floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets in the kitchen. It's sunny and there are windows in every room. However, please enjoy the following list of things we have had to deal with since moving in:

Riley's stroller does not fit in the elevator.

The light in the master bedroom turns on only every 10th time you flip the switch.

The oven does not work. This particular joy was discovered after I made a large batch of dough for challah bread and then had no place to cook it.

We have an unusable front closet that inexplicably smells like the filthiest ash tray on the planet.

The faucet in the guest bathroom leaks.

We didn't have a mail key for a week.

There are no window coverings.

The floor boards squeak so loudly that walking across the house can wake Riley up.

All of these issues can be resolved, but have made getting adjusted particularly annoying. Not to mention the fact that we can't figure out how to get our cable and Internet working because the instructions are all in Danish and the cable company doesn't respond to our emails and hold times for phone calls are astronomical.

Nothing like moving to a foreign country to make you feel completely helpless in so many ways. At home, I could easily figure out how to get all of my issues resolved. Here, we don't even know where to begin trying to find a way to do online banking in English. Who could help us with that? We can't figure out why the voicemail greetings we keep recording for our phones don't ever greet callers. We are clueless.

Of course, all of this culture shock is what we were looking for when we signed on for this. We missed out on study abroad in college. We wanted this growth experience, we craved the adventure. We believe the international start to Riley's life will enrich him. And so, in our darkest moments, when all we can think about is our cozy little apartment in Washington, our friends, a cup of coffee that only costs $4 (that's right, who could imagine we'd miss Starbuck's prices?)...we will remember that we embarked on this journey for a reason and if we cling too hard to all of our "Americanisms" we will not be able to truly experience all Copenhagen has to offer.

We hope you'll keep us company as we embark on the next two years in Denmark.