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So this is the New Year

After a hectic few weeks of holiday parties, Christmas pageants, and shopping, we enjoyed a little bit of laziness and hibernation at home. Matt’s schedule at work had been so intense since we arrived that he in particular was ready for a week and a half to unwind, hang out with the family, and play. So play we did, for almost two solid weeks. And it was great.

It was interesting to watch Gabriel relax and calm down bit by bit over the two weeks. Although he’s doing great at school and making friends, he’s an angry little boy at the moment. It makes perfect sense–we uprooted him & moved him to a strange land far away from everything that’s familiar and comfortable to him. What’s interesting is that he seems as surprised by his angry outbursts as we are. He can’t really describe what it is that sets him off, and he’s always quite repentent after the fact. Whenever we talk to him about how he’s feeling, he says he loves Finland–his school, the snow, riding the train, getting to go sledding so much–and he’s completely enamored of our new flat (as are we), but there’s definitely some sort of resistance or fear lurking there that we’ll have to work through.

It’s not really doing anything for my residual guilt about putting the kids into such turmoil, but it is teaching me yet another lesson in both patience and unconditional love. So he unwound bit by bit over the two weeks and I’ll be interested to see if he winds back up again next week when school starts, or if we’re through the worst of the adjustment period (considering that I was expecting 6 months of adjustment, I’m guessing we’re not out of the woods yet).

Although the kids have another week off, Matt is back to work, and I’m feeling like the honeymoon is over and it’s time to get to work. Yeah, whatever that means. I’ve unpacked the house, mostly furnished it (although there are still curtains & rugs to be purchased), gotten the kids settled in school, and figured out the day-to-day necessities like shopping & transport. Now what?

Not exactly a new question in my life, so it’s surprising how often I find that I don’t have an answer. After deciding that running on snow pack in sub-zero temps was not to my liking, I joined the local gym. I’ve been knitting quite a bit. I joined the freaking PTO (go ahead, poke fun, I’m certainly laughing about it). And of course, my Finnish continues to develop at a snail’s pace. But it looks like 2011 may be the year where, once and for all, I have to admit that I am not a career woman (I’ve been dabbling at a career, you see, since roughly 2001, but nothing I’ve done has really inspired me to stick with it) and figure out what, then, I actually am. I’ll let you know when I come up with something worth mentioning.

In the meantime, I thought I’d take a stab at another perpetual question: What is Helsinki like in the winter? Wow. It’s really freaking dark. Seriously. You can read the descriptions, you can look at all the day-length tables that are out there, but you cannot really understand the darkness until you’ve been here. The sun allegedly rose at 9:24 this morning (about 12 minutes ago) and will set at 15:28. That means there’s roughly six hours of daylight at present (although we were about half an hour shy of that at the darkest point two weeks ago).

But that does not, in my opinion, tell the whole story. They sky sort of gets light at 9:24, and it definitely gets fairly dark (streetlights aside) at 15:28. But honestly, I’ve found that the sun doesn’t actually crest the horizon until around 11 and dips back down just after 1. For frame of reference, the picture at the top of this post was taken at about 11:30, at what I would call actual sunrise (i.e. sun rises above the horizon). So even though it’s light on either side of that two hour window, it’s not the Vitamin D-producing, feel the sun on your face, drive away the winter blues sort of light. Twilight is lovely and all, but not when it’s your only light option.

We did buy two Philips Wake-Up Lights to help us get up 2.5 hours before the sun. And they do help. I’m also considering getting a sun lamp. I thought I could just power through the darkness, but I think my boy child needs it too, so I’m relenting and will probably go pick one up next week. They’re expensive, but I’ve probably got 2 more winters here and I think it will be worth it in the long run.

The lack of light is a lot more daunting than the snow and cold. I have figured out that -10C (14F) is about my limit in terms of being able to enjoy being outdoors. Thankfully, it does not regularly get colder than that, although we’ve seen temps down to -19C for brief periods, and the wind-chill has dropped well below that as well. We have close to three feet of snow at this point and, surprisingly, Helsinki actually has more than the rest of Finland (yes, even more than Lapland) at present, which is very unusual.

We’ve been out snowshoeing and skiing several times and it’s wild to do so in such deep, dry snow. Even with my snowshoes on, I need gaiters and am still sinking in up to my knees. The kids are having a bit better luck because they’re lighter, and I also think their bear-claw shoes have more surface area for their weight than our adult ones do. It’s still fun (and an awesome workout), but I’m looking forward to getting out on the skis without the kids now that others have blazed some nice ski trails through Kaivopuisto–there’s a loop that’s about a mile from what I can tell, so I can probably get some sun and a good workout in by doing a few laps! A mile is still a little too far for Lily and although I think G could do it, I want to build his mileage slowly so that he doesn’t get frustrated or discouraged, especially in his current state of mind.

5 Responses to So this is the New Year

  1. Mom

    Sorry to hear Gabriel is having a hard time. He’s such a good little guy, he’ll work through it. But I know it’s hard to watch him going through a rough period. I hope he’s better when he starts back to school.
    I don’t think I would like the short days but just think what happens in the summer — long days of lots of light!
    I’m glad your flat is getting furnished. It’s got to be a feeling of accomplishment to get settled in and comfortable. Love you. Mom

  2. Scott Brown

    Julie, I lived in Alaska (Anchorage) for six years growing up (ages 6 – 12), and so I have some understanding of the darkness in the winter, but this seems a little more extreme even than Alaska (at least southern Alaska). I think you’re right that the lack of daylight is affecting Gabriel (and you all), especially coming from mostly-sunny Colorado.

    I’ll slip into therapist mode just for a sec here, and say that maybe Gabriel is expressing some grief and loss, and some hurt. I do believe the overgeneralization that men (and boys) often express hurt as anger. Such a big change, even though he appreciates it – such a loss of control, even though he is enjoying much of it. Love him and comfort him (and each other), and he’ll know you’re there for him.

  3. Julie

    Thanks, Scott. I think we’re all grieving a little bit even as we celebrate our new home, which was very much expected. I’ve started all of us on DHA & Vitamin D supplements and am trying to get Gabriel in particular to do some light therapy with me (Lily & Matt do not seem much affected by the daylight–probably the Swede in Matt’s side of the family coming through!). We’ll see if it helps. The nice thing about this particular problem is that it has a very definite timeline. With us gaining 2-3 minutes of daylight each day, we’ll all be feeling sunnier soon 😉

  4. Kristen

    SO interesting to hear your take on the experience. I’m glad you’re a better blogger than I 😉 I remember not being able to live without the Phillips light products as well. At least you have the fun snow to play in to make up for the lack of light!
    How do you find speaking Finnish? Do most Finns speak English as well?

  5. Julie

    My Finnish is dreadful. It’s a very difficult language to learn and my current struggle with the few words I do know is pronouncing them in a way that the Finns can understand. There are about twice as many vowels in Finnish as there are in English and the subtlety is really throwing me for a loop.

    Luckily, everyone speaks English, otherwise I’d really be struggling. I will continue to work on it though. My first goal was to be able to tell taxis in Finnish where I needed to go. I can do that now, so I’m moving on to being able to interacting with wait staff and store clerks in Finnish, which will be a bit more of a challenge. Baby steps!!