A Report From a Swedish Sandbox


A couple of weeks ago I went to visit my friend in Örebro, Sweden.  We don’t see each other very often and both of us are guilty of not responding to emails within the first 3,475 days of having received them but every time we meet up we pick up where we left off.  No awkward silences.  No grudges.  Just good old chat.  This is what friendships for life are all about.

Anyway… there I was, relaxing on the couch, watching the Swedish answer to Antiques Roadshow, sipping red bush tea and thinking about the recent conversations I had with Swedish mums while we (without much success) tried to prevent our merry offspring from consuming all the sand in the sandbox.  The conversation went a bit like this:

  • I tell them about how much Peanut’s nursery costs per month for 4 days a week – they gasp
  • I tell them that after BlueBeretDad and I have spent about 30% of our hard earned salaries on nursery fees, and the remaining 70% on bills, rent and a monthly Blueberry Muffin treat we have enough left to pay for:
  1. about 55 packs of standard nappies
  2. about 55 boxes of Toddler formula milk
  3. 1.8 Alexander McQueen Studded Pump Shoe
  4. 250 Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate bars,or
  5. 416.6kg Asda organic carrots

and the Swedish mums gasp again (Swedish is a very gasp-friendly language).

  • I tell them that a lot of women cannot go back to work as their earnings would not even cover the childcare costs let alone any other essentials, like food or mortgage – they gasp
  • I tell them that we could have sent Peanut to nursery at the age of 3 months (Swedish nurseries don’t accept such young babies) and had I had my first ever job that didn’t provide any additional maternity/paternity pay apart from the statutory support I would be facing a very tough choice or (more likely) Peanut would not be feeding their children with all that sand right now ..yeah yeah, they gasp (I begin to wonder whether I have somehow acquired a new superpower – The Ability to Make Swedish People Gasp as soon as I mention childcare in the UK – and I start cooking up a plan to take over that poor planet Earth). They gasp. I yawn.

When it is their turn to shock me they tell me that:

  • both parents in Sweden are entitled to combined total of 16 months paid leave per child and I shed a tear
  • first 13 months are paid at 80% of the parent-on-leave’s most recent income, rest is paid at flat daily rate and I cry
  • public childcare is guaranteed to all parents with fees capped at 3% of parental income I sob.
  • a lot of shift working parents have access to night time nurseries… Whoop! I know what you are thinking, as I was thinking the same! Until I found out that you need a confirmation from your employer that you actually work nights… Oh well, maybe one day! I blubber.
  • parents have 480 days (240 each) of paid parental leave per child (pay depends on the earnings) that can be used to cover school holidays/sickness etc. until that child is 8 years old I bawl and stuff my face with sand

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not all IKEA and elks dancing on ice in the land of Sweden.  The generous help with the childcare comes at a price – my sandbox friends tell me that there is a higher expectation on mothers to go back to work after having been mammalediga. Being a stay at home mum is not common and may be frowned upon or gasped about.  But there is a choice and if as a parent, you want to continue working the Swedish government does not financially ruin you for having made that “lifestyle choice” to have children.

It also seems fairer that both men and women can take out a considerable amount of paid leave to care for their children, which means that it is not important what gender candidates one employs.  It makes sense and it points Swedish society in the right direction on its way to equality.  It is a shame that Britain is toddling way behind when it comes to taking care of its children citizens.

Just before I went to bed I scratched Nova, a very friendly Labrador with the patience of a Blue Whale,  on her very full belly.  Nova had a great day in her dog nursery today, playing and making new furry friends.  For those of you raising you eyebrows, ready to gasp, it is a legal requirement in Sweden to provide care for your dog if it is on its own for longer than 6 hours at a time.

On the way back from the sandbox I asked my dear friend how much Nova’s nursery cost.  It turned out to be about a third of what we pay for Peanut’s nursery.

They say it is good for a child to grow up surrounded by pets…

Trust No One

trust no

It started with Roquefort; the blue – veined monster was out to get me and Peanut, who at that time was still a bump.  The thing is, I love blue cheese and the more it smells like old socks the better.  Yet, I convinced myself that as soon as a microscopic piece touched my mouth, both Peanut and I would explode and cover the living room in bluish, sticky goo. In the end, I dared myself to have some.  BlueberetDad nuked it in the oven on my pizza.  My heart melted with the cheese.
As it happens, I enjoy my Stilton and gorgonzola with a glass or two (ok then…. sometimes three) of red wine.   A few months into the pregnancy, I went out with my three lovely friends aka the groovy book club ladies for a night of gossip and tapas.  The waiter came to take the orders.
Three glasses for the wine?” he asked.
No,  four.”  I said; it was my monthly treat and no one was going to take it away from me.  He put four wine glasses in front of us with a glare that said it all.   My child wasn’t even born and I already was a negligent mother.  Alcoholic, borderline cheesehead.  Whom can Peanut trust if not his own mum to make the right choices?  I saw him grab the umbilical cord and make an urgent call to the Grey Matter.

“Hello.  Mother, this is why I have already failed before I am even out.  Cheers.”

Then there were the medics.  You know which ones, the natural birth with no medication haters everyone loves to criticise.  The incompetent sleep deprived and often unable to utter a word of English bunch who were supposed to deliver my baby.  After scaremongering birth story number 1,234,567 brought to me by media and other well-wishers whose job is to flock around heavily pregnant women, I hid behind the couch with one hand over my ears, the other over my eyes.
The size of the baby I pushed out! Think watermelon but worse. You’ll never be the same.”
Life put our worries aside.  The staff in the birth centre, where Peanut decided to make his first appearance, will always have a special place in our hearts and memories.  They didn’t fall asleep.  They spoke fluent English.  They held my hand when I screamed in their faces to bloody hurry up with that pain relief.  They wiped my face when, in response to gas and air,  I was sick all over the place.
Until you have a child, you don’t realise that the world around you is occupied by coffee tables, cleaning products, bookshelves, loose nuts and bolts and every baby’s favourite , Evil Plastic Bags,  just waiting to injure, bruise and suffocate your offspring.  You move the clutter up the shelving, then you move it back down again when you realise that, even though out of reach, if your inquisitive monkey doesn’t choke on it, it will knock them on the head.  In the end, most of the stuff ends up in charity shops.

We are not at that stage yet but….soon there will come a day when any man not wearing his own children as a protective badge screaming “Hey. I’m not a pervert. I’ve kids too so don’t give me that look when I approach at the playground’s gate”   may be a potential threat.  Then again, stranger is a stranger.  Be it a woman or a man.  They may just like children.  Or find it refreshing to listen to the clink of the little people’s laughter.   Like I do.  But it’s ok because I’m a woman and by default unable to harm anyone, aren’t I?

Starting nursery was a leap of trust for the BlueBerets.  How could we entrust our most precious possession with someone else?  Someone we didn’t know.  Someone we couldn’t spy on when we were at work.  I even considered placing a spy camera in Peanut’s hair.  Then gave up as there just wasn’t enough hair to cover it up.  The first day at nursery I left with my heart jumping out of my throat while Peanut waved happily goodbye and went on to snatch his pal’s building blocks.

The truth is that the overprotective mother in me would lock Peanut up in a bubble wrap plastered room for the next 25 years.  No bruises.  No falls.  No dangers.  No UVA and UVB.  The sensible mother in me says it is not a good idea.  The sensible mother reminds me that I grew up running outside all day, with a latchkey dangling around my neck.  My friends and I ventured to neighbouring housing estates, filled with excitement, adventure and pride.  We were free.  Any grown-up watching our mischief could tell us off and we were scared of them.  Well, I was and it didn’t help that I used to accidentally cycle into them and their shopping bags (took a while to figure out the whole left – right steering and braking mystery). Bad accidents happened and bad people happened.  Teeth were knocked out, and knees and elbows were but one big crusty scab.  We had a blast.

One of the best lessons in assessing risk that I learned was when I decided to swing upside down from a tree branch to impress others.  I miscalculated the distance and bashed my forehead on the pavement and I never made that mistake again.

If I wasn’t allowed to figure out the world for myself I wouldn’t be the person I am today.  A strong person.  A trusting person.   A ”life is full of great opportunities so grab them” kind of person.

I hope Peanut will be like that too.  The BlueberetMum and Dad will trust him to make his own mistakes.

We will trust.

Trust but verify.