Swedish summer is a bit like the bashful Swedes themselves. Cool at first, it takes a while to get to know them, and I think for a long time that there must be a secret code I’m missing to get through the door. But once in, it’s only warmth and light and kindness and helpfulness and everything good that any culture could hope for.
For a while there in June I thought I was going to be wearing winter pajamas to bed and jackets out during the day, but July came and it’s been all bathing suits all the time, flip flops, hair in a ponytail, and I would be lying if I told you that the words, I’m way too warm right now, haven’t left my lips. We are all allowed moments of total irrationality. Even in the summertime.
Swedish summer 2014 is everything anyone has written about summer and then some.
Dipping my toe into the Baltic Sea for the past year sent freezing shivers into my fingertips, each cold wave washing on the sand beach claiming no happy visitors. In the past few weeks though, we’ve spent almost every afternoon splashing in its warm waters, watching Little Boy overcome his fear of the water and walking out deeper and deeper until even I have to stop him from going any further. Baby sits on the shore splashing in the waves and digging sand with a shovel.
Swedes are consumate egalitarians, which means that men take paternity leave, wash the dishes and supposedly do most thing Swedish mothers do, likewise Swedish women do all the things Swedish men do. The beaches hold their own form of egalitarianism – almost every woman I can see is wearing some form of a bikini. It doesn’t matter how old or young she is, the sag or tightness of her body parts, the drooping, thick hula hoop of skin around her middle, her colour, the number of or lack of children. She’s in a bikini, and she is not looking around wondering what everyone else is thinking of what she looks like (at least, I don’t think she is – I could be wrong about this).
I’m still Asian in some of my clothing sensibilities, but I have never felt more free to run around in a bathing suit in all my life than I have been this summer. Mommy, come to the water!!! Little Boy has screamed afternoon after afternoon, thank God I listened. We play, we dance, we splash, water running down our faces, cooling down our skin, bathing us and making us new one risk at a time.
We eat strawberries and watermelon for afternoon snacks, red juice dribbling down chins, red skin pushed under too-long toddler fingernails, who has time to cut fingernails in the summer? Baby’s belly is permanently stained with sticky watermelon residue, he could sink his teething gums into the rind all afternoon long.
There were the date nights – often two per week – Husband and I feasting on time together after a year of almost none. I felt like a giddy teenager every evening we went out: Getting ready, sketching on eye liner and spraying the perfume, the heels came out, and every fun summer dress I could find in the closet. Mommy, why is there purple on your eye? Little Boy wanted to know one evening. He still thinks spit up is a normal part of a woman’s hair. I will have to re-educate him in the weeks to come.
I couldn’t hold Husband’s hand enough, we kissed for what felt like an eternity on the bridges of Stockholm, explored Gamla Stan (the old town), ate good food, walked arm in arm and watched too many sunsets except there’s no such thing as too many sunsets.
I’ll never forget the pink summer light shining on the palace when we drove up to it on one of the bridges, water and canals on either side, legion of boats in their docks, majestic buildings on every side, clear blue skies streaked with feathery, yellow clouds. It’s 7:30pm in Stockholm. The sun is hours away from setting.
WE LIVE HERE??!?!?!? I squeal to Husband. You’ll have to allow me some cliches and platitudes, I spent most of the last year changing diapers and not sleeping.
One evening we went out without knowing where we would end up for dinner. I dressed up because when you normally wear food-and-liquid-encrusted clothes all day long, you dress up because you can can can can can. We ended up at a well-known vegetarian joint, Hermans, and quickly realized we were overdressed by…a lot. In my youth this would have caused endless minutes of insecurity and self-consciousness, but not tonight. No hippie bohemian liberal is getting in the way of my date night face.
We roll with the daily routines of one child getting up between 4:30am and 5:30am and the other up by 6:30. This is my second time around with the Swedish sun; I know they’ll be sleeping until 8am when November rolls around, and if not, I want my money back (or at least, my sanity back). For now we try to keep breakfast simple and manageable. And thank God when nap time rolls around at 11am.
I cook some special things, but mostly we do a lot of simple food with Husband regularly pulling out the charcoal barbecue. We tag team, him cooking some days and me some others. He took almost all of his annual leave in July, it was not part of our plans, but we knew our family needed some space to breathe. Ok, that’s not true. I needed some space to breathe.
I could not be more thankful for the man I married than I am right now. We celebrated our fourth anniversary in July, and I will forever remember this past year as the hardest of my life, the one I survived, just barely, the one where I broke many of my marriage vows yet was loved graciously in return. We saw our real selves this year, and it was rarely what we hoped it would be, but we made it. We’re here. Still standing, or sitting as it were because if I have to choose between sitting my ground and standing my ground, I choose sitting. Every time.
We have play dates with new cherished friends, conversations that make my heart sing, people with whom there are real relationships, and we talk as the wind blows by, and slowly, slowly the dream of community starts to take shape. It’s not what I thought it would be, there is no plan or formality about it, but these surprises are so much better, the connections deeper and sweeter. After the long drought, it is cold, refreshing, pure water to the soul.
The blueberry bushes cover the underbrush of Swedish forrests. I have no idea that it’s there until a Swedish friend took us to her family farm out in the country. We go on a walk to forage for wild raspberries and blueberries. The berries are smaller than the store variety, it’s been a dry summer, so they are also a bit sour. You won’t see them unless someone guides you, but once you know how to spot a bush, it’s easy to wade into the middle, bend down and begin uncovering each deep blue jewel. No one in my family cares how sweet, sour, big or small each berry is. We are berry fanatics each one of us, and within minutes Little Boy’s fingers are black, his lips and mouth blue, his eyes bright.
Brushing through each bush, pushing back the leaves to find our little berries, we bend over and silently, methodically work through each one, picking and eating, picking and eating. The berries never seem to run out, there is plenty for everyone, for everyone who can find them, for everyone who can see.