Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options, pt 3

So my in-laws have come out against us continuing trying to get our kids to speak Finnish. This is a surprising development because 1) They speak Finnish 2) They are Finnish 3) They’ve raised multilingual kids, so they’re familiar with the struggle.

But, in their opinion, Finnish is a pointless language. Nobody speaks it except for the five million people living in Finland. It would make much more sense, according to them, for us to just concentrate on German and English, both of which are much more important languages internationally.

Part of me feels like this is the Finnish low-self-esteem expressing itself again. Finns have a long ingrained sense of “our country will never be as important as all those countries around us.” Their culture? “We don’t have one. We took everything we have from the Swedes.” Their language? “It’s very hard to learn.” Their food? “It’s awful.” At the 100th Anniversary of Finland’s independence party we went to, everyone had to talk about what they liked about Finland. What followed were muttered responses about the nature and, uh, the education system while the uncomfortable reality of none of the people there actually living within the Finnish nature or its education system.

But Finns do admire the Germans. My husband told me this story about a consultant he met who was in Finland consulting to a Finnish firm. All the recommendations he would make, they would just ignore and tell him that those are American ideas and they would never work in Finland. Then the consultant found out that Finns really admire Germans. So when introducing changes, he would preface it with, “I know this German firm who does this.” And the Finns would nod and agree to the change because hey, those Germans! They know how to get shit done! When Finland won independence, they originally wanted to import a German nobleman to be their King. They didn’t though; they probably realized it’d be cheaper to just be a republic. A lot of Finns are still upset the Germans lost world war 2. I’m not joking, though I wish I were. Maybe they’re just even more upset that the Russians won.

So from that perspective, it’s not exactly surprising that my in-laws are more supportive of their grandkids learning German than Finnish. But they also point out that the kids’ German is so much better than their Finnish. And it is. At this point, they will have to learn Finnish as a second language because their knowledge of it is so poor it can’t counted as a first language anymore. A lot of this is due to my husband’s inconsistent teaching of Finnish. He speaks it to them, but not enough. He doesn’t sit down with them enough to really enforce it. And even worse, when they don’t understand something in Fnnish, he’s resorted to speaking to them in German to get his point across. He’s actually put forth the idea of dropping Finnish and just having both of us speak German to the kids, which is a horrible idea. His German is worse than mine and while I’m technically fluent in German, as the kids have grown I’ve found my German to simply not have the vocabulary necessary to keep up with them. I have to use English anyway for homeschooling, but even if it weren’t for that I would need to use English. This makes my husband very unhappy because if he can’t do Finnish, he’d at least like for them to learn German. So I have to keep reminding him that German isn’t my native language. And while it may hold a very solid place in my heart, my vocabulary is lacking. It is much, much harder for me to maintain speaking German with the kids than it is for him to do Finnish…simply because Finnish IS his native language. Even if the kids don’t understand it, if he would just keep up with it and take the effort to build up their vocabulary, they could learn Finnish.

So sure, we could drop Finnish if he really wants to, but absolutely under no circumstances do I want him to do German.

Whether his parents realize it or not, keeping Finnish has a lot of benefits, aside from the fact they’re Finnish citizens. Unlike German and English, Finnish is not a Germanic language. Its grammar is so wildly different, it really forces your brain to think in different ways and they would benefit from that alone.

So in the short-term, we’re keeping all three. My husband is putting forth more effort with Finnish and has actually sat down with them twice a week to do Finnish for the past two weeks and the kids have actually used Finnish in those times. We have some other plans afoot to increase their Finnish exposure (labeling things in Finnish, copying our Finnish language DVDs so they will work in our van). And we’re keeping a short-term stay in Finland in the cards because no matter what we do, the best way for to learn a language is to live.


Comparative Insecurities

A few years ago, I flew cross-country to attend the wedding of one of my close friends from high school. At the reception, an older woman approached me and two other high school friends. “So, you guys went to school with Samantha?” We answered yes. “And you’re still friends?” We answered affirmatively again. “Wow that’s so neat! So what are you guys up to these days?”
The first friend answered. “I’m in the final year of my surgical residency.” Positive comments followed.
The second friend answered. “I have two years left on my MD/Ph.D.” Very, very impressive.
Then it was my turn. The set up could not have been better, I thought with internal mirth before replying cheerfully, “I stay at home with my two kids.” A moment of awkwardness followed before the woman embraced me with a warm hug and congratulated me on my choice and told me how wonderful it was. Not being a huge hugger, I accepted her hug as best I could. The four of us chatted a bit longer: her son had recently graduated from our old high school, was attending college in Washington, D.C., they lived on the same cul de sac as Samantha. Upon parting, she gave me another hug and told me, “I feel like we’ve formed a real connection!” My friends slightly avoided my gaze.

The whole situation made me feel unexpectedly awkward. I felt like I was being pitied and for the first time since becoming a stay-at-home mom, the thought occurred to me that my position in life might be something worth pitying.

Truth to be told, my group of friends from high school was a very high achieving one. I’m the only one among us who doesn’t have a master’s degree. Among our ranks, there are 3 medical doctors (and is the aforementioned MD/PhD), one PhD in Biology who is now a professor at a college, a masters in geophysics working for a large oil company, a social worker, and a CPA with a master’s degree and probably some other degrees as well. She likes to collect them. I’m proud to know them and I love to tell people what all my high school friends are up to and I know that they’re always down for interesting conversations.
Not only am I the only one without a master’s degree, but I’m also the only one who has more than one kid. I have exactly one friend with one kid…and then I have four. I’m the outlier in that respect. I’m also the only one who graduated with her Mrs. degree, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I heard the term in a movie. I got married when I was 22 and my husband was 24. If we hadn’t needed a visa in order to live in the same country, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten married so young, but we we were sure enough of our relationship for it to seem like a good bet. I had my first kid at 24 when most of my friends were still working on their master’s degree, and I’ve been a stay at home mom ever since. T

One day when I was puttering around doing my normal stay-at-home-mom-with-four-kids-who-homeschools routine, I found myself wondering what one of my former middle school friends, Jessica, was doing. We had been pretty good friends through freshman year, but we grew apart in sophomore year and didn’t really talk much the rest of high school. I remember when I went over to her house once freshman year and we spent time leafing through various girly magazines like Seventeen. It was boring. I remember looking up at her and being surprised at seeing her completely engrossed in her magazine. How could she find it so interesting? I can even remember one of the articles/ads I saw in it: a shampoo for people who’s hair was always at its best two days after washing that you could use every day to get that every other day effect. But…why?

At any rate, I decided to look her up and see what she was up to these days. Thanks to Facebook, I quickly found her. She’s married. Cool. She has two kids. Neat. Still living in the Bible Belt. Better her than me. She’s a stay at home mom, too. She has a blog. I clicked on the link immediately and started reading.
Her blog had unfortunately been defunct for about a year, but it was pretty successful when it was going on. She had nearly 800 followers. But as I read it I became more disappointed. It was a mommy blog.

Pot calling the kettle black? I know. But it wasn’t my type of mommy blog. It was that type of mommy blog where many of the posts are pinterest-esque craft ideas or start out with “I was given this product to try out for free, but received nothing else and was not required to write a positive review.” Where they have guest bloggers from other related blogs who offer their advice. One such post featured her friend with four kids (Hey! Me too!) and how she manages to keep control of the dishes. Disappointingly, her post did not consist of:

How I manage my dishes

Instead, she discussed how with four kids, she served a lot of dishes from one big platter and did this and that. Oh. Okay. I just shove mine in the dishwasher and start it. Beta cleans out the dishes and Gamma cleans out the silverwear. I load.

There were a few posts about her daily life, but most of it was of the style that was meant to increase readership and, presumably money. It was so boring. And I was disappointed. No interesting discussions, thoughts or observations. Just “make these paper bags into cute reindeer for a teacher’s gift!” Seriously, just give the teacher a $50 gift card to Amazon. He or she will appreciate that more.

But that’s probably her idea of boring. I guess I don’t have to wonder why we grew apart in high school, and I realized that she wasn’t just reading those teen magazines because she felt that’s what she was expected to be interested in. She really thought they were interesting.
Out of curiosity, I poked around a bit more on her Facebook and found a whole bunch of other people we went to high school with. And to a large extent, they were all living lives similar to mine: stay at home moms (one former cheerleader listed her job as “CEO at home. That’s right! I’m a stay-at-home mom.” My husband: “why do American women always list staying at home with the kids as their jobs? In Finland if they stay home with the kids, they just put, ‘unemployed. Taking care of kids.'”). Or they had jobs, but they were normal jobs. As far as I know, not a single person I went to high school with is a hollywood A-lister, or member of a famous rock band. One is doing post-doctoral studies at Stanford, which is pretty cool. Another helped discover some new type of LED or something. But even in our high achieving set of students, we’re all relatively normal 15 years on.

I told my husband about my realizations and he thought for a moment. “I don’t think your life is lame. You homeschool. You work from home. You travel. You garden. You do a whole lot!” I guess it’s true. But it’s not a high status life, and maybe that’s what I was sensing at that wedding. While I had the family, my friends had the status. They were the ones our former teachers would be proud to have taught, as though they were personally responsible for their achievements.
I could lie to myself and say I could have been a doctor, but the reality is I could not have. Not only do I lack to the aptitude, I lack the desire. I’ve never been passionate about having a career or trying to amass any sort of status. But I have been passionate about kids ever since my first nephew was born when I was 11. I’ve always enjoyed working with them. And I’ve been passionate about languages since I was at least 7 and have spent time trying to learn at least a dozen and even made up my own (I didn’t get very far designing its grammar though. The verbs were very regular). And now I’ve living my normal, everyday life combining both of these.
I’m still extremely proud of my high school friends. I’m really proud of how smart and hardworking they are and just like our teachers must, I like to tell people about what they’ve accomplished. But I’m also proud of my life. I’m proud of the way I’m raising my kids and how much they’re learning.

All in all, I have a pretty good life.

Google search result for “Stay-at-home-mom.” How the hell is her kitchen floor so clean? The look on her face is on point, though.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options Pt 2

(Find the first part here)
Our second option to improve the kids’ language ability would be to move. This is counterintuitive at first, so bare with me.

We have long planned on spending a year in Germany and Finland in order to improve the kids’ language abilities and their understanding of Finnish and German culture, though we alternate between staying half a year in one country and the other half in another or staying a year in each. But our discussion the other day opened up a few other options.
“Part of me is thinking,” my husband began, “that if Igot a job that required commuting into Boston every day of the week, we could enroll him at the German school and he’d go with me every day and I’d drop him off there.”

Boston German School is a school that offers bilingual instruction based on the state curriculum of Thuringia. High school students can take the Abitur and end up with both a German and Massachusetts high school diploma. It also costs $18,000 a year and, with sibling discounts, that means we could educate all of our children there for the low price of $60,000 a year!

I’m being sarcastic there.

“It’s too far to drive everyday,” I told my husband. “We’d have to sell this house and buy one closer to Boston.”

“We can do that!” he insisted.

I looked up real estate prices around the Boston area and, no surprise, they were high. Really high. “It would be cheaper to move to Germany than to move closer to Boston and send our kids to the German school there,” I argued.

“Well, we’re already planning on doing that for the year, right? Or do you mean long term?”

An important question and one whose answer varies based on my mood. On the whole, I like living in the US. I like living in New England, but when I look at the future of the US, I find myself less and less optimistic, especially when looking at the current administration. It just signed a tax bill into law that has a good chance of driving the federal government into bankruptcy by the next presidential election unless spending is drastically curbed (which it won’t be). The healthcare situation is getting worse and worse. Our employer provided plan’s costs are going up by 20% next year (that’s on the premiums we pay, not what our employer kicks in) and that’s a low number among people I know. And they still don’t cover my asthma medication, which costs me $300 out of pocket every month. The US is opting out of the Paris Climate Agreement (which, while I have problems with, overall I support its goal) and seems to be trying to move toward increasing our CO2 emissions more than decreasing it. So in the best case scenario, we can look forward to living in a country experiencing more adverse weather events, more flooding, extremely expensive healthcare and a bankrupt government that is still theoretically supposed to be taking care of all this stuff, but won’t be because it will be broke and no one is interested it a solution that would get the government out of these areas so we individuals can actually make shit work ourselves.

And I haven’t even mentioned the net neutrality repeal, so add shittier and more expensive internet to that too.

Looking at all these downsides to the US, I have to echo a lot of my friends when they read articles about how great Finland’s educational system is: “Why do you still live here?”

Why not move…in this case to Germany because my husband is very much against moving permanently back to Finland.
Germany is a lot like the US in a lot of ways. Its tax system is similar to the US in that the code is convoluted and there are a lot of deductions and you have to spend a lot of time filling out your tax returns (In Finland, the system is very simple. Take your money and give the government most, but not quite all, of it). The climate is comparable to New England, so nothing new there.
But there are a lot of positive changes we could gain by moving to Germany.

Take our carbon footprint, for example. In the US, our family of six creates 484 metric tons of CO2 in a year and most of that is due to transportation. Just by moving to Germany and changing nothing but our transportation from cars to public transportation, we would decrease our footprint to 132 metric tons. And that’s just switching from driving a large petrol car to public transport, not accounting to the fact that we would actually be walking and bike riding more.

While I dislike the fact they summarily shut down all of their nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster (because if there’s one thing Germany should be concerned about…it’s tsunamis caused by the large and devastating earthquakes that regularly occur there except they don’t and Germans are worried about that for essentially no reason) and replacing the missing power with coal of all things, I really like their whole Energiewende. I like their environmental action. While I used to loathe the Pfand (I have an entire page dedicated to hating it in my scrapbook from my year as an exchange student), now I think it’s swell. The fact they finally made it universal makes it that much better.

I like the fact corporations have so much less power in Germany. Here the government and corporations work together so much, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them. I like the fact that their healthcare system is an actual system and functions fairly well –although the government finds itself insuring an every increasing proportion of society. My asthma medication and my husband’s diabetes medicine won’t  cost an arm and a leg there.

And obviously, the kids can learn German in Germany. They also have a ton of Finnish schools and we could live pretty close to one even without living in a major city, or at least as far away from one as we currently do. The difference is we could ride a train to get there instead of driving ourselves.

The downside, of course, is that homeschooling is illegal in Germany and my kids really like being homeschooled. Alpha has declared he never wants to go to school, but this isn’t really feasible anyway. And if we were to immigrate, we wouldn’t homeschool simply because other countries don’t have the highly developed homeschool networks the US has. Add to that the fact that their schools aren’t mired down by tons of standardized tests and extremely long school days and we’re actually fine with sending our kids to school in Germany.

We could even send them to private school. I looked at the International School of Hamburg and it’s 10,000 Euros a year with some additional fees and some sibling discounts…so it’s still cheaper than the German School of Boston. We could educate our kids for the much lower price of $40,000 a year! Huzzah! (Still being slight sarcastic there…).
Of course there are downsides. We’d have four kids in Germany, which is the equivalent of having 10 here. It’s a lot of kids. Housing is much smaller in Germany and the kids would have to share rooms. While getting by without a car would be easier, we would have a hard time having a car that would fit our entire family. Unlike Americans, Germans don’t buy minivans when they have 2 kids. They rarely buy minivans at all. Electricity is godawful expensive there (thanks to the Energiewende, which clearly has its downsides).

But it’s something to consider and for us to keep in mind when we do our short-term stay abroad to shore up the kids’ language abilities.

All of this may leave you wondering…what about Finnish? My husband doesn’t want to live in Finland permanently, but we would like to do a short-term, 6-month to a year stay there as well. It’s really important to me that they learn Finnish since they have Finnish passports. They are Finnish and it would be weird for them to be citizens of a country whose languages they can’t speak. It’s even more important to me that they get to know their family members there. I really want them to have relationships with their grandparents because I never had that as a kid. My grandparents were either dead or horrible people and put no effort into being better grandparents than they were parents. This isn’t true of my in-laws. They’re good people. And they constantly make us jealous by spending tons of time at my husband’s sister’s house, helping out with their kids. Ahhhh how much more relaxing would our life be in someways if we had family a bit closer?

But they’ve advised us to to forget learning Finnish and concentrate on German, which brings me to part 3: dropping Finnish.

Finished with Finnish? Considering Future Options pt1

An off-hand comment has spawned a parenting crisis in my household.

We had just returned home from German class and Alpha showed me this Christmas card he had made there and gleefully pointed out how he had written over “Frohe Weihnachten” in his secret code. He likes to do this: not pay attention during German class and write things like “lol stupid” or “death” or whatever in his secret code instead. I looked at the paper as disappointment washed over me again and told him, “Alpha, sometimes I think it would make just as much sense to put you in a closet for an hour as to send you to German class.”
This triggered my husband, who is already suffering from language anxiety. Finnish has fallen on the wayside, largely due to his inability to schedule a set time where he sits down with the kids and does Finnish with them. Their understanding of Finnish has plummeted. They very, very rarely use any Finnish at all. Beta says “olkapäällä”when she wants to ride on DH’s shoulders, Gamma says “hattu” (hat) and a few other words, but for the most part they speak English with German coming as a distant second. Consequently, my husband has decided that if they can’t understand him in Finnish, he’s going to speak to him in German. Problem is: his German sucks. I mean, fine, it’s better than my Finnish, but it’s like my Spanish: he had it for many years in school, can understand it pretty well, but anytime he can’t find a word he goes into his next best language (in his case, Swedish) to find it– oh, and his grammar is lacking. It’s completely pointless.

“Why do you do that?” I asked him. “It’s not going to improve their Finnish and it’s definitely not going to help their German.”
“I refuse to speak to them in English!” he insisted. “I’m not going to do it!” But he does. We both do. It’s inevitable when you’re homeschooling or when you live in an English-speaking country and the kids talk about most things in English.
But what followed was an angst-ridden evening on his part where he threw out suggestions ranging from the ridiculous to the implausible to improve their German and Finnish. “We’ll take their tablets away for the whole weekend unless they actually speak in German in their German classes and Finnish in their Finnish classes!” Alpha’s eyes immediately teared up. “We’ll just move to Germany and stay there for as many years as we need to until their fluent in German!” Sigh. He knows the kids the are against moving to Germany and phrasing it that way makes it seem like a punishment: you’re going to stay in prison until you’re sorry for what you did! I told my husband that this was not the time nor the place to discuss this, especially if any of the suggestions were going to be as ridiculous as those were. But still, he spent a lot of time telling me how upset it was making him that we were failing in our attempts to teach the kids Finnish and German and how they didn’t appreciate how we were trying to give them a leg up in life. “Languages open so many doors! They could go to university in Finland or Germany and save a ton of money, but they need to know the languages!” (Germany actually has a lot of English language university programs, but he didn’t know that) His despair was palpable. And, honestly, even I’ve been feeling that way a lot more when it comes to our languages.

The next day we finally had a chance to talk about things and, through the course of our discussion, came up with three plausible solutions to improve our kids’ language abilities:

1) increase the home study and make sure the kids do Finnish three times a week and German twice.

2) Move, either closer to Boston or abroad to Germany or Finland, either temporarily or permanently.

3) Drop Finnish. Concentrate on German. Or drop both of those and let the kids pick a language to learn.

Option 1 is fairly straight forward.  I already sit down twice a week with the kids and do German, using the German at home course “Einsterns Schwester.” The kids aren’t fans of it (given the choice between doing it and not doing it, they would rather not do it), but they do it and I’m pretty impressed at how much German Alpha understands and recalls. Beta…well, it feels like she’s learning German more as a second language now as far as recall is concerned. So German is covered.
Finnish is a whole other story. For the longest time (two years maybe?) my husband has had “Finnish” penciled into his calendar for every Friday. Guess how many times he actually sat down and did Finnish with the kids.
In August after another period of language angst, we had decided that twice a week DH would do Finnish with the kids while I drove Gamma to preschool and the other day of the week, I would do German with the kids while he drove Gamma to preschool. Guess how many times this actually happened? Yep, zero. I drive Gamma to school every time. Though twice now after smaller bouts of language-concern, my husband has sat down and done Finnish with them, though one of those was this morning, so I’m not sure it counts.
My husband has lots of reasons why he doesn’t have time to do Finnish with the kids. He has a lot of work to do. True, this is a constant factor, it’s not going to change. He either needs to work around it or give up. We don’t have a good resource for Finnish like the ones I have for German. Also true: the Finnish schools won’t even hand any over to my mother-in-law when she asks. It’s like they keep their curriculum under lock and key and, true to low Finnish self-esteem, don’t actually think there might be children who want to learn Finnish at home. He can’t find the materials we do have. This isn’t even a proper reason; it’s just his lack of ability to find anything and then not asking me where they are (though I would probably tell him “On the bookshelf,” instead of giving him the exact longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates he’s probably looking for).
I’ve tried doing Finnish with the kids at home, but my Finnish isn’t good enough to understand a lot of the Finnish-language stuff we have, so I have to ask my husband for help translating if it’s not in my Finnish-English dictionary. My pronunciation is pretty bad, too. “You should really have dad do this,” was my kids’ advice after the first time I tried. I agreed with them.
The basic problem, I think, is one of habit. DH is not in the habit of teaching the kids. I am, so throwing German into the pile on top of everything else a couple of times a week isn’t a big deal. But for him… it’s a wild deviation from the norm. He also isn’t a natural teacher. I don’t think I am either, but I’ve learned a few things over the past 4-5 years of homeschooling. DH is good at explaining things to adults, but it doesn’t translate well to kids.
We ran through some suggestions, including the possibility of getting the kids Rosetta Stone for Finnish. That fell flat when I looked online and discovered that in the 11 years since i last looked for a Finnish Rosetta Stone program, they still don’t offer one. So screw Rosetta I’m-going-to-offer-courses-in-Irish-Dari-Pashtu-and-Swedish-but-not-Finnish Stone.
So I started throwing out suggestions that he would have known had he read the book on Growing up Trilingual I asked him to read 5 years ago but he never did. Make language learning fun! Play games with the kids, like memory or Uno or this Finnish Moomin game I can’t understand and so have never played it with the kids. He’s followed this advice, but a new complaint from the kids has arisen: “You always win when we play games with you,” Alpha groused.
My husband looked sheepish. “I’m not trying to win! It was just luck!”
There are other things he could do, like bribe the kids. Here’s a list of Finnish vocabulary words. Every time you learn one you get a dime.

But just starting with sitting down with them three times a week…would be a great start in the short-term. The other two options I’ll discuss in later posts and are more long-term in as far as planning and consequences are concerned.

Happy 100th, Finland

Today is the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence. Truth be told, if I hadn’t met my husband, I wouldn’t care much about it. But I did and as such, Finland has become my second adopted homeland.

What do I like about Finland? Let me count the ways:

  1. The kebab. Okay yes, it’s a bit silly to include something that isn’t strictly Finnish on this list, but the kebab in Finland is unique. Germany has it’s Döner kebab and Finland has its rullakebab:
    My husband recently told me that the EU Food administration is trying to ban kebab in Europe because it has too much salt for it. If there ever were a reason to stand up for your national sovereignty, this would be it. SAVE THE KEBAB!
  2. The bike lanes. Finns love to moan and bitch about their bike lanes, especially when I talk about how awesome they are. Maybe they just haven’t experienced the average American bike lane:


This is horrible. Sorry, but painting a bike in the middle of a car lane does not make it a “bike lane.” I’m sure no car will hit a bike every, at all. Finnish bike lanes, on the other hand:


Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it SAFE? Maybe what Finns mean is that there simply isn’t enough of them and I would agree with that. But they are a million times better than American “bike lanes.”

3. Moomin. Everyone loves moomin. When Gamma started going to preschool, his Japanese teacher asked me where I was getting his moomin clothes because she remembered watching Moomin on TV every Monday night at 5pm. She was surprised to learn that Moomin was Finnish, although the animation was done in Japan. A little girl heard our discussion and told me that her Grandma gave her moomin stuff, too, from Poland where her grandma was from. Moomin: uniting the world around strange, vaguely hippo-like creatures.


4. Their traditional foods. Generally speaking, traditional Finnish food is pretty bad, which is what makes it so great. Finns love sharing it with unsuspecting foreigners, maybe so they can a) laugh at the foreigners b) pat themselves on their backs for their higher levels of sisu and c) cry silently to themselves over the fact Finland isn’t located in a warmer climate so they, too, could be renowned for their cuisine. When France’s president talked about how horrible Finnish food is, the Finns were rightfully offened and Koti Pizza released a pizza featuring three native Finnish ingredients: Reindeer meat, blue cheese and mushrooms. Where else can you get reindeer meet on pizza?

Mustamakkara. I’ve eaten it. It’s good.

5. Their berries. Finnish berries are everywhere…in Finland. I’ve never had cloudberries outside of Finland, but they’re ubiquitous there. I always have to bring home some sort of Finnish berry jam or berry flavoring when I go there. My husband loves to talk about how he suffered through rounds of berry picking at their summer cottage as a child.


6. Mökki. Ah the aforementioned summer cottage…where urbanized Finns leave their cities to remember a simpler time, way back in the 1930s when they didn’t all live in cities, have running water and electricity. When a proper sauna was a smoke sauna with a lake not too far away to jump in. Where berries and mushrooms could (or had to be) foraged for food, accompanied by makkara and whatever’s planted in the garden.

Not my in-laws’ mökki.

7. Äitiyspakkaus. The box that every pregnant Finnish woman gets for her baby, containing (almost) everything the baby will need for its first year. I wanted one of these so bad, I really wanted to have at least one baby in Finland. The clothes are so darn stinking cute and serve as a kind of uniform by which you can tell what year someone’s kid was born (at least until they grow out of it.

Had Omega been born in Finland, I would have received exactly the clothes you see here.

8. The silence. Americans are loud and boisterous, and this can wear down the more introverted among us. The Finns, on the other hand, are “ein Volk, das in zwei Sprachen schweigt,” (a people who are silent in two languages) according to Bertholt Brecht. It’s almost like taking off an extroverted suit and getting to relax for a while when I go there. No need to be loud (though, comparatively, I probably still am), silences aren’t awkward, but enjoyed. It’s nice. Having said that, my kids are damned loud there.


9. The public transportation. Granted, it’s not nearly as great as what you find in Germany, but Finland is a country where you don’t necessarily need a car and it might actually be more inconvenient having one at times. Turku has an excellent bus system, as does Helsinki. Cities are connected both by long distant buses and trains (some trains even have dedicated family cars where there’s a play area for little kids!). Helsinki has a metro that I’ve only used once (and I figured out how to use it without the help of my husband, who has an odd form of public transport dyslexia), but it worked and was pleasant. Things are otherwise very walkable and or bikeable within towns of any respectable size.

Bussi joukkoliikenne föli turku keskusta puolalanmäki syksy
pick a bus, any bus

10. The language. Finnish is, hands down, one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Is it any wonder that Tolkien based Quenya off of it? The vowels may look intimidating, but it’s a lulling language that moves along slowly. I’m ashamed I haven’t spent more time learning it, but I’m determined that one day I will be able to have a conversation in Finnish.

You could just say “koira,”but it might not be grammatically correct


11. Their reputation. Finns are almost universally admired. Their passport ranks third internationally as far as visa-free travel is concerned (tied with the US, Denmark, Itally and Spain) and traveling as a Finn doesn’t cause the same dislike that traveling while American (due to our current unpleasant reputation) or German (due to their past war crimes) does. Having said that, Finns aren’t known to be a traveling country to the same extent as other European nationalities. Their schools are internationally admired and have caused a strange sort of “school tourism” for educators. For the most part, they’re content to stay there and enjoy their excellent reputation by reading about it in the news.

12. Gender equality. Women got the vote in 1906 –11 years before Finland got independence. There is only one word in Finland to refer to he or she (hän) and women can go naked just as much as men do without being arrested (not so in the US!). They have high employment rates, high education rates and their husbands are helping more around the house these days than in previous generations.

This picture features Finland’s uglier language, Swedish

Alright, that’s enough. I could list more, but then I wouldn’t have any blog post topics for the future. Finland has some problems (structural economic ones, for sure), but it’s done pretty well for itself in the past 100 years. Let’s hope the next hundred are just as impressive!



Just don’t mention politics

Posting on Facebook has become difficult.

It’s symptomatic of the growing divisions in our country that I’m wary of posting anything I fear anyone might take issue with and defriend me over or decide they hate me. I already had that happen once over vaccines. What made it even more obnoxious is that I only started posting things about how dumb anti-vaxxers are after watching weeks of the anti-vaxxers on my feed post about how anyone vaccinating their kids is injecting them with horrible toxins and giving them autism. So they can dish it out, but they certainly can’t take it.

After that I decided I shouldn’t argue anymore on facebook and I should do my best to never, ever post anything political that wasn’t tongue in cheek, humorous, or thought provoking (in the sense of “this article was really interesting!”). Then again, the last category may be a mistake as well since most people don’t like to have their thoughts provoked so much as confirmed.

My position is a bit more awkward than most. I consider myself to be libertarian, but over the years my views have changed slowly. I’ve gone from right-leaning libertarian to left-leaning libertarian, to be exact. Or maybe I’m not even libertarian at all anymore. I don’t know. I may actually be more of a neo-liberal now. But since my wider social circle is heavily libertarian, I don’t really want to rock the boat too much.

Take climate change, for example. I used to not believe in it. Then I decided okay fine, the climate IS changing, but it’s not humans who are doing it. The Earth’s climate just changes over time. Then my husband told me one day that he now believe in anthropogenic climate change.

I stared at him. “This is like waking up one morning and discovering I’m married to a leftist.” Then I asked him to explain why and send me the information that changed his mind.

I read through it and it changed mine, too. And with how I am, if I discover I’m wrong about one thing, I have to examine the vast majority of my beliefs to see what I think about those. It’s annoying and time consuming.

Even more annoying was the number of people on my feed who didn’t (and still don’t) believe in climate change. So if we have a cold day in summer, it’s “global warming lol.” If Spring is particularly cold, it’s “I could sure use some of that global warming lol.” But when it’s mid-October and we’re still running around in shorts…crickets. When we have a week of 100F weather when we used to have none…crickets. When the DoT has crews going around the state enlarging culverts to handle the increased water flow, they don’t notice. When people talk about Boston disappearing under a higher sea level, nothing.

But  I know if I were to post about my new views on Facebook, I would be shat on.

The interesting thing is I do know some libertarians personally who do believe in climate change, so I know I’m not alone. But I get the feeling they, too, are closeted.

I eventually reconciled my belief in climate change and libertarianism by remembering that the environment as a whole is a good example  of market failure. No one owns the air or water, so no one has a direct incentive not to dirty it. No one owns the future of the Earth and our own shortsightedness makes us reluctant to do anything to protect it for those who will, especially if it might mean some inconveniences today. So I’m perfectly fine with the government intervening and creating a market for carbon, such as trading carbon credits and having a carbon tax. People need to be made responsible for their negative externalities as much as possible.

More radically, I also support charging 5 cents for shopping bags. Free shopping bags really piss me off. They’re such a waste. There’s no reason every item I buy in the grocery store needs its own bag. All those bags do is join the thousand others in my cabinet until I finally need a new one for my trashcan. Five cents is a small enough cost to just be annoying and motivate people to bring their own reusable bags.

But from how some libertarians I know react, you’d think it was the same as suggesting we should try wiping out the Armenians again. Apparently personal responsibility doesn’t extend to the trash you produce or the consequences of the things you consume? For many libertarians I know, they believe in personal responsibility only to the point where it’s inconvenient. Then it doesn’t matter, isn’t important or the problem doesn’t exist in the first place. This is the position they take on vaccinations if they’re anti-vax (“Herd immunity is a myth! Vaccines cause the diseases!”), climate change (“Government grab for power! The climate has always changed!”) and educational neglect (“Government grab for power! It’s unschooling! There’s nothing wrong with putting your kids to work!”).

You have to admit, denying a problem exists is a clever way to justify you not taking any responsibility for it. The problem is eventually that denial is going to catch up with you and kick you in the ass.

So, at any rate, I try not to discuss politics, which is difficult considering my social group. It’s probably time to work on finding a new one, or seeking out the ones in the group who find themselves in a similar predicament.


Happy Thanksgiving

I’m done homeschooling for this week. Over the summer I decided to switch to a more year round homeschooling schedule because 1) I realized with a 2-3 year old in preschool and a baby, we were going to have a lot of illnesses and doctor appointments and 2) I was going to need regular breaks to decompress.

So far, I’ve been pretty much right on both of those accounts. We’ve had about 20 colds since Gamma started preschool in September, which really sucks. We’ve had well-baby and well-child check ups, too, which usually kill an entire morning.

But holy crap my need for a break…that is the overwhelming benefit to year round scheduling. So far it seems as though we need to take one week off a month. We took off a week in August when my dad came to visit, a week in September when my in-laws came to visit, a week in October when my husband went out of town, and now we’re taking off a week in November because of Thanksgiving and the fact Gamma’s preschool is closed for the rest of this week.
One thing I’ve learned is that while homeschooling with a baby is doable, homeschooling with a toddler is damn near impossible. Granted, my baby isn’t colicky and sleeps well at night, so that makes it easier. She hung out in the sling asleep when she was a newborn, on my lap as she grew older or in a bouncer. Now I give her a few toys to keep her occupied and she’s good.

Gamma on the other hand…We have one full day of homeschooling a week where he’s home and it sucks. He wants to be involved. I try to set him up with an activity to keep him busy, but he gravitates back to the dining room table and tries to steal everyone’s work, sit on it, knock things over and just generally make things impossible. Sometimes he and Beta will play nicely together so I can work with Alpha, but he and Alpha do not play well together. They may start out well, but it rapidly descends into fighting and then I have to pull them both apart.
The worst is when I get out Beta’s Touchphonics set. It comes with a bunch of rubber phonemes kids can manipulate to form words.
Gamma loves letters and numbers (collectively known by him as “numbers.”), so he proceeds to dump them all out and take them all while going through them and announcing what letter he currently has. He won’t give them back when we actually need them to make words. Instead he grabs his front end loader and proceeds to load the phonemes into his dump truck with accompanying noises.
Beta has tried to negotiate with him, but you can’t negotiate with terrorists or two-year olds. I usually end up trying to sneak them away so he doesn’t get mad and start screaming. I don’t often succeed.
Hence the time off. I need this time to relax, do things around the house that I otherwise wouldn’t have the time to do, and do things with the kids I otherwise wouldn’t have time to do. In October, Gamma went to preschool and the kids and I stayed home and played Settlers of Catan and Monopoly. Alpha ended up storming off because he kept needing to take mortgages out on his property, but it was a good experience.

This break I’m going to continue with getting shit done around the house, introduce Gamma to Candyland and possibly shoots and ladders. I’d also like to get my husband to play Settlers of Catan with us, but it’s a hard game to play with a toddler running around what with the movable board and everything.

In the end, on Thanksgiving morning, Beta asked me how much work we had to do today. “None,” I told her.
“But I have to do my phonics, right?”
“No. No work. It’s Thanksgiving.”
“Not even phonics?”
She couldn’t believe it and ran over to Alpha. “Alpha! Guess what! We don’t have to do ANY work today!”

Man, maybe I am kind of a hardass when it comes to homeschooling.