A year ago, I ran through Stansted airport with two kids in tow, piling into a never-ending queue, squished up like sardines. Filled with a mixture of apprehension and excitement, we boarded the plane and set out on a new adventure.
Our destination was Copenhagen, to look for a new home. My husband had a new job in Denmark, but rather than relocate the whole family, schools and my business all at once, we decided to split our time between two countries.
A year on, I reflect on how far we’ve come and the lessons we’ve learnt along the way. I won’t bore you with the inevitable teething problems of moving to a new country, but I’d like to share some of the key challenges and joyful moments, and how the day-to-day practicalities have panned out – from finding a new home to managing goodbyes.
Arriving in Denmark
Having never been to Denmark before, we navigated our way through the metro. Like moles popping their heads above ground in the early morning light, I arrived with our two boys in a place called Norreport. As I texted my husband under the lamppost near Starbucks, we gained the first sense of the city – its sounds, smells, shapes, movement, colour and bikes! Little did I know, we’d end up living so close to that special lamppost.
We viewed a number of lovely bachelor pads, which I’m sure my husband would have loved, but none of them lent themselves to the regular hits of toys, cases, dog and endless shoes and jackets that we seem to own as a family! But eventually we found our home – or as we call it, Basecamp 2. Just to explain, Basecamp 1 is our UK home and Basecamp 2 is our Danish home – importantly BOTH are HOME. Language is key in all of this. If we were to call one ‘home’ and not the other, then unconsciously we wouldn’t connect to it in the same way and would never feel ‘at home’ there. So, our home has two bases.
We all love our city pad, Basecamp 2, as it’s so different to our rural home in the UK. There were the obligatory trips to IKEA and it was fun to make it our own. There is something very comforting about entering a familiar shop, where you know how it works and don’t have to ask for help in a language you haven’t yet grasped. Choosing new colours and fun accessories brought us joy and gave the boys the opportunity to add their own uniqueness to their rooms. A big lesson learnt here, EVERYONE has a tow bar on their car in Denmark! Why?? So you can use a trailer for your IKEA trips – that’s why. I am sure we don’t have one as it was just a step too far into middle age and estate driving for my husband, I say with a cheeky giggle. But I have serious tow bar envy, as they are so very handy!… think of the Christmas tree!!
With Basecamp 2 taking shape, we were able to start exploring this northern land. This has become a huge highlight for the whole family, including the dog. We continue to explore the city and dig a little deeper every time we come, but key highlights include the obligatory trips to Tivoli, having a beer on the waterfront, and checking out the gorgeous colours and boats at Nyhaven. It’s lovely to see tourist locations out of season and at very quiet times of the day. We’ve eaten at some incredible places and picked up dinner from the gorgeous Torvehallerne, which is right by our mole hill lamp post. It’s funny how we popped up right by a gourmet food market – talk about following your nose!
Further afield we have taken the overnight ferry to go skiing in Norway, and gone south to the chalky cliffs of Mons Clint, enjoying fossil hunting and the beautiful views of the Baltic sea. We’ve popped east and over to Sweden for dinner; gone west to the original Legoland and north to the stunning naturist area of Skagen. There is still much to do but we love what we have found so far. The water and sea way are key to the Viking soul and Danish heart. Flying in over the speckles of islands reaching into the northern horizon, you can transport yourself to the land of Jon Snow (Game of Thrones) and really feel that winter is coming.
The pain of logistics
With all the travel to reach Basecamp 2, sometimes all you want to do is stay still and just enjoy being there, living day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong, we are incredibly lucky and have always enjoyed travelling throughout our lives – we love the freedom, experience, education, insights, growth and joy these opportunities offer. However, there comes a point when you are so over packing! Not to mention airport security gates.
The logistics of organising and packing are a real challenge. When you are already busy managing a business, keeping things going at home and taking the kids here there and everywhere, it can be pretty stressful planning the next trip – including thinking about what school uniform is needed the moment you return, what you all need for that weekend etc. Throw in any birthdays while we are away, what homework needs to be done, and juggling work from abroad – there’s a lot to think about!
Then there is the diary management – ouch! We learnt the hard way. It took a miscommunication to agree that we needed a digital family diary with all the dates mapped out for school, rugby, cricket, swimming, music, birthdays, holidays, work events etc. – you name it, it’s in the shared electronic family diary!
The other thing we have learnt is no big hellos and no big goodbyes. With the perpetual movement and comings and goings, it is never long before we see daddy again. So, we don’t do the super hero thing – daddy walks through Basecamp 1 door as he would Basecamp 2, even if we haven’t seen him for a while. We simply say hello as if we’d seen him that morning. It’s the same for goodbyes – no huge gestures, just a nice calm “bye and see you later”, as we will catch up on Skype or Facetime later that evening. Believe me, we have done it the other way and it didn’t work for us – the regular rush of high and low emotions didn’t make any of us feel good.
The wonder of digital technology
Digital technology has been fundamental to managing our lives in two counties. It means daddy can still put the kids to bed using Skype, reading stories at the end of the bed or helping me on weekends to get the slog of homework done. This may seem alien to some, and people may judge our decision to live the way we do, but it has meant we have really focused time with the kids. For example, there have been some strong bonding moments over particularly hard maths problems, and we both feel that the physical distance has actually helped, as you don’t have a parent literally breathing down your neck as you try to work it out.
Personally, I am still learning how to best manage the transitions backwards and forwards. Even with practise, the lead up, first day and the last day, always require deep breaths. I notice that I sometimes get defensive as the pendulum swings from physically parenting on my own to being together again. In those moments, I know I need to hold myself lightly, be gentle with myself, and allow myself time to land with two feet – so I am ready, healthy and motivated.
It’s obviously not easy juggling so many things, it can leave you a bit depleted at times. I feel that some of my friendships have been affected, as I don’t have any contingency time. If there is an emergency, the impact can be enormous and can send you into overwhelm. Key to our survival and flow is effective communication. Talking to my husband about how I am feeling, sharing what’s on my mind on a daily basis and listening to him too. Our neighbours in the UK are incredibly supportive and I remain forever grateful to them for being on hand whenever we need them.
I do not underestimate how hard it is for my husband at times to be in Denmark without us causing him joyful distractions. He has used the opportunity to explore and has found being outside within nature has offered him peaceful moments of pause and reflection. Getting involved with local sport events has helped stay active and of course his work keeps him busy. The mindful balance of positive energy can be found in planning trips ahead of time since then we have a focus point and of course in sharing the wobbles together, what ever they are.
Communication is absolutely key. I call it the ‘golden nugget’. NEVER make assumptions about anyone’s time, understanding or thoughts… ALWAYS ask for clarity when feeling foggy and share important information about dates, times etc. No matter how small, keeping each other informed is really vital.
It’s important to share the load and ask for help (still need to get better at this) and delegate where possible. You have to let go of the guilt that you have not managed a homemade dinner from scratch every night for the kids, knowing that you are doing a good job just getting them to the right place at the right time with the kit they need; being at 90% of their matches; tucking them in at night; putting a plaster on a poorly knee and being available to friends and family to listen to.
Rocking multi-dimensional living
We acknowledge and share proud moments in each of our lives, careers and work through challenges together. We’ve noticed we share deeper vulnerabilities than when you are together 24/7. There is no room for crap, no room for strops.
All in all, we are rocking this way of living. It’s not easy; it takes work, commitment, courage and strength. The kids are resilient and blossoming, and they have role models showing them that you don’t have to live the same way as everyone else.
I know I have grown; I can’t believe the stuff I manage at times. But I am highly aware that I need headroom and the great outdoors to keep me grounded and connected. Rather than feeling uprooted, having my own focus, my own goals and long-term plan have helped lay deeper roots than I have had for many years. I am proud of what we have achieved in a year. I wonder what the next will bring …