Being Human

Writing a blog about an expatriated family – our growing pains and exploits in a new local and as we travel is a fun, cathartic way to explore oneself while sharing our adventures. But when the world goes and throws crazy at you in every iteration – like organized terrorist attacks in the City of Lights; Stateside school shootings in your “from” and now NOT your from; bombs in Middle Eastern cities; or refugee babies dying on beaches next to their families trying to escape an unspeakable horrific only to encounter more horrific and unwelcome. It makes me stop. It cramps my fingers. I can’t write. It cramps my heart. It makes me sick. It wakes me up at night. I have to breathe through it all to survive.

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SOMMER means summer in Danish

Sommer is coming. So they tell me. Coldest Maj in the last fifteen years. So they tell me. In Denmark, the official first day of summer is June 1st. June 2nd it rained the entire day here. Really RAINED. To be honest, for me, with no other basis for comparison, it has really just felt like the Mays and Junes that I am used to growing up in Oregon, where I’m “from.”normal May and early June in Oregon, that is. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, I lived by the mantra that summer began on July 5th (one day after our National Holiday the 4th of July, if that date didn’t ring a bell for you). I spent many an American Independence Day holiday lighting sparklers and charcoal snakes and smoke bombs in the drizzle. (Yes – fireworks in Oregon suck and the selling and use of is highly regulated. It’s just because we do like our trees there.)

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The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game. Wow. Apparently I’m good at it. Or maybe it’s the opposite, maybe if I was good at it, I wouldn’t be so affected by it. I feel like I am always waiting here. In Denmark. In America, waiting is not a worthy pursuit. Patience is a virtue, perhaps. But time is money, peeps. We don’t have time to waste. We are efficient masters of time. What are you waiting for? It won’t just land in your lap, you have to go out there and get it. Whatever your it is. In America. We work long hours to achieve our “it.” Shuttle our kids to and fro their scheduled active lives. Free time? I might have some. Next Tuesday. Let me check. Worth is measured in how our time is filled. What you do with your time. Downtime must be used efficiently as well. Long weekends are good enough. Fill it up. Get out there and get to it. The doing in the time you have allotted for whatever it was you set out to do. Did we get it all done? Who knows. Did my Facebook album and Instagram feed make it look like I did? Super. (They say that a lot here in Denmark.) Success. Right? Maybe.

Back in Copenhagen. In Denmark. Things are slower. It’s acceptable. It’s expected. Nothing wrong with it. Meals are slower (which I like.) Commuting is slower (on bikes and busses.) So here I wait. I wait for the bus. I wait for the train. Not long luckily, most of the time. I used to have to wait for the electric car to charge before we could make the final legs of our long weekend journey home. While the Leaf’s efficiency in lowering carbon emissions is bar none, the electronic charging station infrastructure outside current Danish metroplexes lends tedium to the logistics of using it. We ditched it. Too much waiting. Currently I wait for my ankle to heal. I dislocated it. Badly. And unfortunately the timing for its healing is vague and amorphous. If you can recall, I was released from the hospital with allowances to attend my pre-planned family reunion round the globe in Hawaii. I did. Make it. It wasn’t exactly fun traveling for nearly 36 hours with brand new screws in my ankle and heparin shots to self-inject. But. The arriving and the being and the experiencing and the reuning with family on the Big Island for a long week was worth it. The warm sun on our faces. The iced Kona coffees shared at the sand-floored waterfront shop. The perma-smiles on my childrens’ faces. Was worth it. Even if I couldn’t get in that blue blue water teeming with colorful sleek fish. So worth it. The return trip home equally as tedious. But again. Worth it. That was Thursday last.

Painting Ceramic Easter eggs at Copenhagen Creative-Space
Painting Ceramic Easter eggs at Copenhagen Creative-Space

God Påske from Denmark! We returned home to a quiet Easter weekend in Copenhagen. Even with 90% of the city shut down – it was beautiful. A long weekend dressed in spring’s finest. Daffodils emerging sunny and yellow. The bluest skies painted with the fluffiest whitest clouds you’ve ever seen. Seriously. You want to learn how to paint clouds? Come to Denmark. Where Copenhagen sits is an island. Clouds blow over the flat landscape in ever mutating puffy shapes. One advantage of our 5th floor flat is that I can bear witness to their passing from my window as I elevate my broken foot. This pro only slightly tops the scales balancing the con of crutching up those flights on one leg. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger may apply here, but allow me some license to gripe. It isn’t easy. And my husband waits. For me. Afraid I might careen back down and break another something I think. Not in my grand plan. But neither was the tossed ankle to be honest.

I’m awaiting a call from the Doctor. Waiting to see when the follow-up surgery required to correct the original corrective surgery will take place. Waiting to see when the light at the end of my tunnel will appear. Right now – it’s pretty dark in there. And there is a traffic jam apparently. Back-up of surgeries more acute than mine at the hospital. Plugging along. But can’t deny that emotionally, it is a wee bit challenging, knowing that you’re rerouting. A big U-turn if you will, back to the beginning of your post-op recovery time. Any progress – less swelling, less pain, more mobility – all null and void. I know. I know. It could be worse. It’s just an ankle. It will heal. But more than my ankle, any progress that I was feeling in expatriation here has slowed to a snail’s pace. Hard to network and explore and share with children when your current reality is moving at a careful, metered crutch-across-cobblestones pace. Eight weeks post-operative progress starts…. NOW. Oh – not now? When, exactly? You don’t know. Oh. Do you know when you’ll know when? No? Ok. Let me know. When. I’m here. Waiting.

I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for waiting with me.

Cheers from Denmark!

Catch me if you can as I cobble and crutch
Catch me if you can as I cobble and crutch

Difference of Perspective

Slow as… molasses. Paint drying. Grass growing. Slow as … insert your own metaphor here, but it will probably fit. If the boot fits, wear it I guess? Oh, that’s me in the boot, remember? Due to recent events properly constraining my personal mobility, everything takes a little longer to accomplish and necessitates much assistance. Like just getting my morning tea and breakfast over to the table. But especially like traveling. Around the world.

Hjælp! (That’s Danish for help and pronounced exactly like the website Yelp!) Ask and you shall receive, at Copenhagen airport, at least. CPH offers mobility assistance from almost every point of entry – from parking garages, metro stops, arrivals drop-off – they will assist those mobility impaired. You can go online and pre-register with your flight # and specifically what assistance you require. They recommend registering a minimum of 48 hours in advance of your departure, but I didn’t. Being discharged from the hospital less than 48 hours before our first flight precluded me from attaining this deadline. But even with only one-day advance notice, my request was acknowledged and accommodated I was.

Backing up a wee bit, my journey really began hours before our actual arrival at CPH. What emotionally felt like the longest travel segment in recent memory, was actually the FIVE flight descent from our building and the three block crutch over cobblestone bedecked sidewalks to the bus stop. Still car-free, you see. Luckily our local bus connects to the airport Metro easily and we only need to switch once. The Kongens Nytorv stop is tremendously accessible with elevators directly in front of the elegant Magasin du Nord department store, taking you right down to the Metro level and transporting you directly to the airport. Designated seating for wheelchairs, elderly and mobility impaired – which I had yet to need use of – suddenly extremely convenient and beneficial. When you reach the København Lufthavn, near the Metro exit, you will find easily identifiable signs with a phone to call in your pre-registered assistance request. What if you didn’t call ahead, but realized that you do need help getting from A to B once there? I’m confident they would still be able to help – it just might be a slightly longer wait. But patience is a virtue here in Denmark. 😉 Yes, we have you here – someone will be there in five to ten minutes. Sure enough, he was. Then wisked ahead and zoomed through I was – the family scurrying behind with the bags, trying to keep up. I was pushed through the check in and security process, transferred right up to the door of the plane. Mange tak for the hjælp!

Passing through the security checkpoint was interesting. The wheelchair went through alone first with my courier. I’m seated awaiting directions on how to proceed. Can you take the boot off? Yes. But. I can’t walk on the foot – no weight bearing for eight weeks. She is processing, I can see the gears whirring, as she holds my metal crutches. Yes – I would love to take off the metal filled leg brace, the metal screws out of my foot and ditch the metal crutches, so that you can accurately screen me without setting off your metal detector too. But to do so, we’d all have to Superman the globe backwards to a week ago when my foot could accommodate your request. Something about this makes me a wee bit snarky. Ha! Says those who know me. You’re always a wee bit snarky. Maybe so. Ok. We’ll put the crutches through. Yes, leave on the boot. (Good idea.) We’ll screen you over here atop this small wooden box. Really? You want me to get up there? Good gravy. Ok. Complied. But, I had to chuckle to myself as he “patted down” my hard black go-go boot cast. I never did actually take it off. Who knows what I could be smuggling in there. Just kidding. No really. I have a prescription for those meds.

And so there we were aboard our first flight towards family. So far, so good. But rolling through crowds of people, the bulk of them on two healthy legs, at speeds brisk enough to put a breeze in your hair, you notice things. The perspective change that comes from a two foot decrease in height while aboard a – dare I say it – “roly chair” is remarkable. First of all – eye contact, or lack thereof. Upon first impression – there was very little. With me anyway. When following oncomers’ lines of site, there was a clear diagonal right over my head to, I can only assume, the driver of my speedy roly-chair. Now this could conceivably have been because they were worried for the safety of their own toes due to, let’s say, the “efficiency” of my driver. But it felt strange. Strangely anonymous. This new perspective.

I’m a smiler. I make eye-contact. I say hej. (pronounced hi) Even if Danes don’t respond back or look at me incredulously. I learned this from my dad. It was his nature. I remember asking him as a girl – did you know that person? Why did you say hi to him/her if you don’t even know them? Because it’s nice. He didn’t differentiate – the janitor, his peers, his friends, his kids’ friends, the grocery store clerk, the guys who made his coffee – actually these would usually become his friends too. But they all received his goofy gap-toothed smile and hi. Its just one of the things I loved about him. I still love about him. Maybe because of this, I do it too. I’ve internalized it. It’s part of my nature. When my opportunity to do so is intersected, it feels odd. Enough so, that I noticed it. It made me feel invisible – until that is, I was hyper visible at the screening check-point up on the block feeling wobbly and being ineffectively screened. Or while slowly making my way down the airplane aisle to my seat. But back in the roly-chair, it was like a Harry Potter-esque cloak of invisibility. No one could see me again. Perspective changed. Do I ignore people in wheelchairs? How awful. But I couldn’t definitively say one way or the other to be honest. At the kids’ former schools in the States, there were disability awareness days. Activities were planned for the children to maneuver through several stations “trying on” if you will, how being blind, not having use of your hands or being confined to a wheelchair felt and how that impacted your mobility. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but I certainly didn’t internalize anything personally. Being in the chair yourself, out of necessity, definitely hammers the sensation home. A difference of perspective for sure.

In Copenhagen, in stark comparison to many large cities in the U.S. and Europe, there very few homeless, beggars, or “street” people. But the few that you do see – anomalies in your new socialized landscape at first – become recognizable and familiar features in your everyday. If you live in Copenhagen, maybe you’ve met them also. There is the accordion player under the bicycle/pedestrian path along the lakes near Nørrebro. He always smiles and plays a wee bit louder as you walk by. There is another toothless smiley accordion player at the Nordhavn S-tog station – we smile and nod as I ride with my littles to school. His maybe not as altruistic as mine while his dish of coins beckons passersby, but I like to think it is just that – a smile shared. Others are less musically gifted than these gents, like the funny hunched over recorder man who works the Strøget, Copenhagen’s busy pedestrian shopping street – his huffy-puffy recorder sounds stop when he gets tired or is not getting the coinage he desires. So he shifts a few paces down and starts his huffy-puffy again. This shtuck must work. That’s his perspective. At the Svanemøllen train station there is a regular who sells the Hus Forbi street newpaper, but I can’t read much Danish (yet). I smile – he smiles, and he always says “Tak for smilet.” Thanks for the smile. This gives me perspective. And it makes sense. Above all, and I don’t think it’s just me, we all want, need, crave basic human connection. Even as a marginalized member of the highly organized socialized state of Denmark, he just wants connection. At its simplest – just some eye contact. Just a hi or hej. Just a smile. It doesn’t take much. It surpasses language barriers, it defies disabilities, it provides perspective. We aren’t alone.

My perspective while finally boarding our last flight from Los Angeles to Kona, Hawaii three hours late, nearly 30 hours after starting down those stairs, thousands and thousands of miles away and nearly almost able to see my extended family for the first time in four and a half months was nothing prophetic or quote-worthy. I could NOT WAIT. And to be honest, my broken foot couldn’t either. OUCH. But my flip-flop was calling (only one) and they’ve saved me a lounger at the pool. Til later – tak for smilet and Aloha! (and Cuchi Cuchi!)

Aloha and Mahalo
Aloha and Mahalo