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#DailyDiary 006: Why Did I Leave Scandinavia for the US, If It is So Great?
Why would anyone leave the happiest country in the world with one of the best support structures in the world? And now that I'm back, when will we leave?
Hi friends! I get this asked a lot, especially in the US: “Why didn’t you just have kids in Scandinavia or return after you had them—vs. starting a family in the US—when the benefits and the parenting culture is so great?
I have always told myself and others it was because of my career ambitions or because of love, but being in Finland for the fall, I realize now that that was not at all why I didn’t return.
And it also explains why I am so mesmerized and fascinated by all the everyday magic that is Finland and the Nordic Way.
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My Story: Why I left Finland
I was planning to save this one for later—because I have never discussed it before anywhere and not even to my… friends or even really to my husband—but some of this somehow came out in my interview with KaksPlus magazine, so I’ll tell you why I actually left Finland.
Which puts my new perspectives you are reading here in a better context too. I’ll also tell you what we decided in terms of staying in Finland or returning back to the US!
Disclaimer: I’m taking a creative license here when I talk about Scandinavia, but I’m not changing it, because few people know where Finland is.
When you say Scandinavia, they at least sort of do. Finland hasn’t done a great job in putting itself on the map, and my very smart, highly educated American friends asked me to show where Finland is on the map before we moved to Helsinki for the fall.
It’s not their fault: the American education system or news simply don’t put much of an emphasis is on international news beyond the biggest headlines, and you don’t hear that much about Finland otherwise.
Geographically speaking, Scandinavia doesn’t officially include Finland even though Sweden, Norway and Denmark share the motherhood and parenting philosophies I talk about in this newsletter.
And because that’s my point, sharing the Nordic Way for moms, I’ll keep calling it Scandinavia!
How Far Can I Go?
I left Finland—when motherhood hadn’t even crossed my mind—because I didn’t have that happy of a childhood here. Since I can remember, I daydreamed myself elsewhere, where I could recreate myself, and be free of my ghosts.
From elementary school to high school I experienced severe bullying, which was simply because what I did was too different for the suburb I was lived in.
The best the school counselor could offer me at that time (things have dramatically changed since then) was “how about you light some candles and take deep breaths at home (to cope with it)?”.
When a Different Choice Was the Most Unpopular Choice
I lived in a house in a suburb of Helsinki and started modeling as a kid: I loved it and booked a lot of work, which resulted me being in ads people could see anywhere from bus stops to magazines.
This alone would have caused me to become extremely unpopular (“How dare you show off like that! Who do you think you are!!”).
But I didn’t stop there. My modeling earned me money, and that allowed me to keep pursuing an expensive hobby I also loved: figure skating.
Now the hatred was at another level.
And then when I dared to occasionally wear a skirt instead of Levi’s 501s, I was not only attacked verbally before and after school and at recess, but also frozen out of all selections for sports teams at physical ed, or friend groups in general, and pushed around and even thrown rocks at.
I was a total nerd too, which also made things worse: making straight A student meaning 9s or 10s—I literally had no redeeming qualities to be accepted.
When I Decided Enough Was Enough
It was a years-long battle that the school staff nor the society didn’t yet have the skills to manage, but I loved the learning part of school, so I somehow managed by day dreaming I was somewhere else… until I finally told my mom I had had enough and would never go to school again, unless it was a different school.
I still don’t know how my mom was able to pull it off (as your school is determined by where you lived), but at high school I was able to transition to a different school, into a class specializing in dance, and I fit right in and loved it. Everyone was doing different things. You didn’t have to be the same.
All at the same time, there were struggles with alcoholism in my family and the daily life at home was very volatile to say the least.
When I Set the Goal to Go
I got an extra job at 15, at my favorite luxe candy store called Karkkipussi, and at 17 I auditioned and got a job as a TV host and youth producer at a TV station, and at 18 I got a gig as a morning host for a radio show.
I saved as much as I could, learnt as much as I could, until at 19 I figured my experience and money ($1000) was enough to leave my ghosts behind and start my live over somewhere else: in the United States. Wasn’t that the place for dreams,The American Dream?
So then I was off. Until now.
When Home Calls
My turning point was really my children. As they grew, and I still didn’t have a close relationship to Finland—letting years go by without visits—I had this inescapable feeling:
I couldn’t let my ghosts stand in the way of my children having the opportunity to fall in love with Finland, make their own Finnish friends, and live like a Finn - and fully experience the other country that they had all the rights to, a country that was also their own.
Then my father died, in rather dramatic circumstances, and perhaps as my siblings and I sprinkled his ashes into the Baltic sea, as we knew would be his wish, I made my final peace with him, as I also felt, that in heaven, he was free of his demons. As a parent, I also could see my past differently and his, forgive and let go: reading letters and journals he had written, and saved, I could understand his struggles and hardships and all the really beautiful, loving parts of him.
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Healing Inside Out
As far as the bullying experiences in the past, the most healing experience has actually been moving here for the fall, and seeing my children in a Finnish school.
I put them into a school in the city center, with a Principal with so much heart and passion, with one friend they already knew, with so many kids with different backgrounds who do different things and are special in different ways.
Seeing firsthand how aggressively the Principal and the teachers and the school push an anti-bullying agenda, makes my sad memories melt away. My kids came home the other day chanting the Finnish slogans they had made up in class, that put bullying down. That day I told them my story.
I realize now that I never wanted to bring up my kids here, because I never wanted them to have the experiences I had.
And I realize now that I needed to bring my kids here, to have an experience I never had: experience all the magic that is Finnish childhood and Finnish education.
Decades past my own experience, I see how it has all changed, and how right was done at the end. The world has grown and learnt.
I left to get as far away from home as I could. And now I returned, to feel at home again.
So we are staying. Nearly till Christmas.
Next week I’ll write about How Scandinavians Decide: Working Mom vs Stay-At-Home Mom. And what the consequences are for those choices. And I’ll also present a mindset that I think all of us moms could all adopt when it comes to our purpose and passions!!