Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sweden show why national politics and school grading policy don’t mix

What does an A mean? What does a B or C mean? Having survived the NJ public school system, I know they mean different things to different people. But at least I can be sure that when I try to convince my Grandma that F means fantastic (on a spelling test of course, if you couldn’t guess from this blog) – she won’t buy it. My mother had the same grading system in the 60s.

Here in Sweden, since I moved here, they have had 4 different grading systems. That is 4 different assessment systems teachers had to understand, interpret and apply in little more than a decade.

There was the 1-5 system. Then the VG-G-UG (high pass-pass-fail). Then they added an MVG (very high pass). Then they switched to an A-F system.

Most of the changes were due to policy changes directly from the government, that while built on actual pedagogical research, lacked the one thing I personally think is most important in a grading system – stability and general understanding of what each grade means.

Yes, in the US the grade C is supposed to be average, but the whole grading system is so inflated that C really means ‘poor’ in most schools. And that is OK because it is generally understood to be so. Many report cards will also include an explanation of each grade.

Teachers in Sweden have just barely managed to establish what an MVG means and it disappears.

If you want to give Swedish kids a fair shot, and lessen their stress levels, quit pulling the carpet out from underneath them, politicians, and give them a leg to stand on.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Giving birth in Sweden: Pain management at my Swedish hospital Part I

So I blogged before about how it takes some work to get an epidural at my local hospital in Sweden (and some readers let me know it was the opposite at their hospital – so this doesn’t seem to be standard Swedish). And so I thought I would post about what types of pain management by hospital readily offers and has offered me.

I consider most of these to be in the ‘natural birth’ category, but perhaps my ‘laughing gas’ fog means I did not have a ‘med-free’ birth. I don’t know. I don’t care. Laughing gas made me crack up during the tough times. And was totally useless in the end anyway.

A candlelit bath with lavender essential oils – So this is where I started out with both of my births, and I LOVE it. You get in a giant bath tub, the lights are low, it feels like a romantic movie, but your innards also feel like they are about to explode, so it is not so romantic. Nurses bring you cups of ‘fruit soup’ (which tastes remarkably like juice) and occasionally put some contraption in your stomach to find your baby’s heart rate. Your significant other can spray down your stomach with hot water during contractions using the showerhead. This pain management technique gets 3/5 stars from me. Only 3 because you can do it at home (but it was not half as relaxing in our tiny bathtub where I felt like I might not be able to get up again from weeks 38 and on of pregnancy). And also because last time I almost passed out when getting out of the bathtub and felt like crap. But it was nice while it lasted.

Wheat pillows heated in the microwave – I loved these suckers during my first labor. They are just regular wheat pillows you warm in the microwave and then cover your stomach and back with until you are almost too numb to feel anything. I was afraid I might cook the baby, but then I was so uncomfortable I forgot to care. With my second I requested one and it felt like putting a band-aid on a hatchet wound. I did like it a lot for my afterpains though, although I had to bring one from home, and beg the nurse to tell me where the staff microwave was in the patient hotel because as she said “I just can’t figure out those darn wheat pillows” (Except she said it in Swedish in an equally annoying way…). I give wheat pillows 2/5 stars because they get cold quickly and end up being a bit of a hassle with the nurses.

TENS – You know those electrical shock belts they advertise on the TV to help you lose weight while you are sitting on the sofa eating bonbons and watching soap operas? That is what TENS is. Basically you give your self electrical shocks to trigger your body to not react so much to other kinds of pain because you are reacting to this pain instead. It sounds insane. You are even supposed to practice shocking yourself before labor. I actually ended up using this with my first and loving it. I think it was a placebo effect. I could relax a lot more when I was focused on when to give my self shocks than when I was just doing nothing but waiting for the next contraction. I had told the Swede that I wanted to use TENS again this time around, but we never had time for that. I give TENS 4/5 stars only because it sounds absurd and I don’t think anyone would use it if they weren’t desparate.

Laughing gas – Ohh laughing gas. How I love and hate you. The idea of putting a tiny little mask over my mouth and nose while in labor freaks my inner claustrophobe out do no end. I wait until the midwife is begging me to put the damn mask on before I give in. I hate that part. But then, the giggles. And the fact that, like TENS, it gives you something to focus your energy on. Laughing gas makes me think I am hysterical. It makes me crack up. And it makes me think that maybe just maybe this damn contraction is worth getting through so that things will be so hilarious afterwards. But in reality, laughing gas does nothing. And when you hit transition, it will be nothing but a tease. I give laughing gas 3/5 stars for getting you over the hump of “How long is this going to take” to “Oh crap what the hell is happening to my body” but then being totally useless.

To be continued ……..

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The dangers (or is it the fun?) of blogging

I’ve had this blog for a few years now and am really happy with the way it has grown and developed. I’ve ‘met’ a ton of interesting people, I’ve been asked to get involved with different projects, and I’ve had fun getting everyone’s opinion.

But one of the most interesting things about having a blog like this is that often, on other sites, some of your material is discussed or referenced. And I find it fascinating to see who is using my posts in a debate or discussion.

For the most part the reactions have been pretty positive. I’ve had some of the posts on ‘Babies sleeping better in the cold’ get linked pretty high up on sites like reddit and 4chan. My post on Breastfeeding in Sweden led to my highest traffic in one day when a major French publication referenced it in one of their leading stories.

But one of the posts that gets the most hits is my IsFeminism Good for Men post, about my take on the results of ‘feminist’ politics on the role of men in Sweden. Mostly the reactions have been good, from both men and women.

But then one major ‘Men’s rights’ publication linked to my post and when I went to go read their post (I will not link it here, because I do not want to give them traffic or launch a debate with them) I could not figure out why they were quoting my article, which is pro-feminist, in an article totally ripping apart Scandinavian feminism. This article was then picked up and translated by a Spanish site with a similar agenda.

It turned out they were quoting some of the comments to my blog, and using them as facts. The blog post also contained another gem, equally well-quoted from another blog’ comment section, claiming that men in Sweden pay 50% more tax than women in Sweden. (Have you not heard of the penis tax? I had not either).

That one article generated a ton of traffic for my blog, and I wonder if their readers were equally as confused as I was. I don’t know.

But I do find the danger of blogging, and probably the danger of the Internet in general, is that everyone is free to make up their own facts. I try, in this blog, to be very clear (sometimes I think too clear) that this is just one woman’s opinion. I don’t claim to speak for Sweden, nor do I claim to speak for the entire immigrant population.

I like discussion. I like debate. And I like to hear what people think. But sometimes the things you write can be taken out of context. And that can be incredibly frustrating. You must really have to fish for facts if you are taking snippets of comments from blogs as your source material.

(And in the spirit of good measure I will say that the article was written awhile back and can be found on a site that is named after a very manly tool – the spear- and maybe also the particularly killy part of said tool –the head- when those words are put together—along with an article and a hyphen)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Getting an epidural at my Swedish hospital

OK, so a few weeks ago we welcomed the newest Swede into our family, and once again I was quite happy with the way things went at the hospital – despite a few minor complaints. And once again, I went thru the whole shebang almost all au naturalle, except for a few hits of laughing gas (which always makes me wonder why I paid 1 dollar for that crap in Grateful Dead parking lots).

Getting an epidural at my local hospital is not the easiest of tasks, if one is to believe local rumors and stories. And in my experience, epidurals are certainly rare beasts. 

I have never written up a birth plan. I am not a planner and the idea of planning something with so many unknowns involved just seemed so overwhelming I skipped it. And I still ended up with 2 epidural-free births.

If you want an epidural at my hospital, I imagine you need to plan accordingly, completely opposite of the American experience (from what I have read).

If you are going to get an epidural it probably depends on

1) If your midwife is pro-epidural – Seriously, one of the midwives I had with my first got me all prepped for a possible epidural, so that I could opt for one later if I wanted. But the next shift’s midwife was all ‘you don’t need that, you are doing great’ and did everything she could to give me other options (I hope it doesn’t make me sound ungrateful here, I loved midwife #2 and was in the ‘I will try to go without an epidural if I can’ camp before my kids).

2) If the anesthesiologist is around – A lot depends on what is going and how available the anesthesiologist is. There is, I am pretty sure, only one and it can be hard to get him/her. There will be a wait.

3) You scream your head off  - One of my friend’s said she got really tired of all of the alternatives and just started shouting “EPIDURAL” or rather “RYGGMARGSBEDÖVNING” until they caved and got her one. I will say, this friend is a bit on the dramatic side, so I tend to believe this story. It may sound extreme, but then, labour does strange things to a person.

4) Let them know right away – Walk in the door and say you want the epidural. Don’t let them talk you out of it. Get your heplock put in immediately and tell them it is all you want. Although this may not work if the anesthesiologist is not around (My friend from the story in #3 did not have time to get one using this technique for baby # two).

I have heard rumours that my hospital has a 10% epidural rate, so that explains the extreme techniques. I do know other people from other hospitals have different stories. In the end I am happy with my birth experiences. But considering how much my husband had to nag about just getting me a damn yoga ball (which we never got, despite having walked past it in the hallway when we checked in) and how I kept saying “I really cannot lie down anymore get these machines off me” before I just stood up and let them fall off (lady do not say I did not warn you 18 times) – I can only imagine how much work it would take to get an epidural. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Swedish dreams – or things I have learned since moving to Sweden

Yesterday morning, in a desperate attempt to get Little Swede to be happy and excited about going to day care, I vaguely promised that we would bake cookies when he came home again. And then I went and forgot. Until he busted through the door screaming ‘COOKIES!!!’ and I went ‘oh crap’ – but not out loud. I don’t think.

A quick check of the fridge showed we were out of eggs. Really oh ‘crap’.

But what did this all-American girl, raised by a women who saw resistance to baking as a feminist action point, master of any Betty Crocker cake mix do?

Pick up my copy of Swedish baking bible Sju Sorters Kakor and find a recipe for the ingredients we have in the house. Then Little Swede and I whip up the perfect patch of Swedish sugar cookies, or Swedish ‘dreams’ you ever did taste. They were almost Pinterest perfect looking as well, but I was too busy eating them to take photos.

How much more Swedish can you get?

If you want to try these Swedish delicacies that are, I confess, rather easy to make – and somewhat less offensive than other Swedish desserts – here is the recipe. They do include one random ingredient that can be hard to find in the US, but you can always substitute with baking soda. And they aren’t half bad and smell less funky while baking.

Swedish Dreams

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon crushed ammonium carbonate (also called baker’s ammonium)
(1 teaspoon vanilla – optional)

Preheat oven to 300°F.

In a small bowl mix flour and salt (and baking soda if using alternate ingredient)

Beat together butter and sugar until light and airy. Beat in ammonium carbonate.  Add flour mixture slowly until well blended.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls and arrange 1 inch apart on baking paper.

Bake cookies in batches for about 18 to 22 minutes. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sweden Eurovision Fail

I am pretty sure there is some unwritten rule agreed upon in the back alleys of major European cities that you cannot win Eurovision twice in a row. Sic Google on me if I am wrong, maybe there has been a rare twice-in-a-row winner, I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up. BUT, the host country of the Eurovision seems to be an automatic loser of the night, despite having the crowd behind them. And I am pretty sure that Sweden has set itself up to continue this long tradition of failure.

 I admit, in writing this, that I did not watch Melodifestival, the Swedish competition to choose a song to compete at Eurovision. It is pretty much the equivalent of spending 4 Saturday nights in a row watching a nails on chalkboard competition – how would you judge that? I do not know, just like I do not know how to judge this mess.

That said, Sweden has a confusing and odd system in which the Swedish people get to vote for the best song, but in the end it is an International Jury that decides which they think will do best internationally – or as I tend to think of it ‘which one will cause Sweden to lose so that their countries will stand a better chance’ vote – but maybe I am the lone Melodifestival conspiracy theorist.

See, Sweden had an entertaining number they voted for that, while it may not be a winner, probably would have gotten attention and votes. Also it would have won if it were the Japanese music festival.

I give you ‘Yohio’ – the only act I managed to catch a part of while channel surfing during the 4 (or was it 5) weeks of this mess. You can give Yohio a lot of crap, but it isn’t boring. And it is memorable. Two things that win a lot of plus points at Eurovision.

Instead, the jury chose Robin. Just a small town boy, who barely qualified through every single round (and there are way too many rounds) he entered to make it to Eurovision. Seriously, if he couldn’t win over the Swedes, how is he going to go down with the Eastern European Voting Conspiracy? Not very well. 

If you want to hear him sing, cut to the 4 minute mark....

His song is not memorable. He is not a blonde Swedish walking stereotype of a bikini team member, and his name is not Carola. I imagine this entry will go the way of The Ark (that means almost last place). I don’t even think he will muster up any press about how Europe loves him and he is a frontrunner.

So, Sweden shelled out a lot to host Eurovision this year, but they have pretty much guaranteed themselves not to have to host next year. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sweden sweeps Oscars - Searching for Sugar man and other Swedish film news

So I haven’t updated in awhile, because things have been afoot here. Or at least abreast. And there is now one more Swede amongst our numbers. But more on that soon… there are a lot of posts I am behind on here. So I am going to try to catch up. And will try to write about giving birth in Sweden without too many personal crazy birth details, as soon as I have a moment to process it.

But until then, Sweden had quite the night at the Oscars, winning a surprising 3 out of 3 catagories. I say surprising because 2 of the Swedish nominees were in the same category, so obviously we only expected one possible winner. But NO! Swedish tie! Everyone goes home a winner.

Looking for Sugar Man was the big winner for Sweden though. A really uplifting documentary about tracking down a long lost singer who it turns out is really big, not in Japan, but in South Africa. It is a great movie and well worth checking out, I enjoyed this one and if you like documentaries, this is certainly a fun one. But as far as Swedish film goes? Hell, as far as documentary films go for 2012? I am not convinced.

Sugar Man is a long way from Bergman. And that is OK. I don’t think, sadly, Bergman would get to far in this day and age. But there have been some interesting Swedish movies to come out this year, and the Swedish Film Institute did not nominate them for Best Foreign Film, even if they were worthy of the nod.

If you are looking to see an interesting take on life in Sweden, you should not miss Äta, Söva, dö -  Eat, Sleep, Die. A little movie that stars an actual afterschool activity counselor, about what it is like to be an unemployed immigrant in Sweden (not so fun).

As for documentaries, Sugar Man was nice, but it was up against How to Survive a Plague, an incredibly powerful documentary about what it was like to battle AIDS at the end of the 80s and early 90s. While this topic hits me a little closer to home than Sugar Man, having lost loved ones during this time who were members of Act Up, the group the documentary is about, this is a fascinating look back at just what the AIDS virus meant in the US during this time. So I hope some people also take a few minutes, or hours, of their lives to watch this one as well – and remember.