Spanish parents often bring their children to dinners although they begin later than 10 p.m. They seem not to do it out of the necessity that they have not found a baby-sitter, but rather because they want to bring their whole family. Such behaviour seems irresponsible to Swedes. However, do not also we sometimes really want to bring our small ones, although we know that it will be inconvenient?
Swedes make a lot of fuss about children’s bed times and it is not without good reasons: small children do sleep better if they follow the same routine day after day. My wife and I usually prefer to let ours stay at home with the au-pair. However, for Valborg on April 30 - the latest organized party we had with the Swedish community - we decided to make an exception. Not so much because we love the tradition to celebrate the arrival of the Swedish spring, but with the idea to give our sons an opportunity to play with other children in their first language. Last year we did the same and our oldest one had a great time running around with a girl who, if possible, is even more blond and blue eyed than he is.
Our youngest one is still a baby so we never had any hopes that he would enjoy the event. It started at the time when is usually being prepared for bed. During the welcome drink, I was in charge of the two boys and luckily enough for me the small one was so tired that he did not mind two of my friends taking turns to carry him. They are both fathers to be so a little practise did them good, especially for the one who did not seem to have much natural touch with children. I needed the support since my shoulders were occupied by our oldest son. He was so overwhelmed with all the new faces that he refused to come down. It did not help that most people spoke Swedish.
Although tired, the small one still had not fallen asleep when we sat down for the dinner. I was balancing him on my lap while at the same time trying to eat a salad. Every now and then I looked at my wife and wondered why she had to talk so much, instead of rapidly finishing the food and then take over the baby. She did not reveal any intentions to do this, so in the end I put down the boy on the floor for a while and cut the food into mouth pieces in order to be able to shovel them in with one hand. “American” eating manners might lack etiquette but can be highly efficient.
After the starters, my wife went up on stage with the Swedish choir. I was as impressed as always with this dozen of girls, most of them already mothers or pregnant and most of them having professional careers. Our baby boy, on the other hand, did not seem to notice his mother’s participation, but maybe the singing calmed him down because I think that he fell asleep right after.
Except for unnaturally many trips to the toilet, our oldest son behaved exemplarily at the dinner table. The other children were too small for him to play with so instead he spent his time drawing pictures. He did in fact seem to appreciate his mother’s singing. In the dance competition which followed, he would have been even happier to see me dancing with her in an improvised quick-step, but by that time we had already put him to sleep on a sofa.
The baby managed to stay asleep during the dances, but was eventually awoken by the big applause for the winners. When they danced their tango for the second time, I watched it through the windows since I had had to take him outside to calm him down again. This took me so long that it was about time to go home when I finally managed to do so.
And there lies a reminder to why we avoid bringing our children in the evening. It can work for a while, but rarely does so for long. However, since we do not celebrate our biggest national tradition – Midsummer - together in the Swedish community here, I think that we will keep Valborg as second best – the community dinner party of the year where we will bring our sons. To teach them a bit of our traditions and with the hope that there will be other children to play with.