During a Skype call with some Milanese friends last weekend, it became abundantly clear: The little boy who was weaned on Grana Padano and tortellini, who preferred olives over baked beans and didn't try soft play until he was three, had forgotten every word of Italian he ever knew.
It was inevitable, of course. The Bean was only 2.5 years old when we left Italy. Children forget as quickly as they learn at that age, and when we got here he needed to learn Swedish fast. He has, astonishingly so. He has changed in so many other ways too. Partly of course due to now being a Whole Four Years Old (which comes with special superpowers, don't you know, like running faster and jumping higher. Not being afraid of the dark may need to wait until Five though). But with so many changes to our environment and lifestyle too, it really was inevitable.
Our Little Italian has, slowly but surely, turned into a Little Swede.
Messy Hair, Don't Care
Gone are the severe crew cuts, sensible navy blue shoes and crisp shirts favoured by the Italians. Swedes strongly believe in a child's right to express themselves based on who they are, rather than on how society expects them to behave. Adulthood, on the other hand, is very much about conformity, but for now at least the Bean is free as bird. Nobody would bad an eyelid if he went in to preschool wearing a tutu, and like many Swedish boys his hair is almost never cut. Rather convenient, this openmindedness, because he's decided he wants to grow a pony tail.
Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes
I now struggle to believe it, but there was a time the Bean did not like potatoes. For 2 years he lived on pasta which had the sauce mixed into it (can you imagine!!!), big chunks of oily focaccia, platters of roast or cured meats, juicy peaches handed to him at our local market. Now? Meatballs. The blandest of cooked hams. The odd cucumber stick. Mountains of potatoes. Can you tell I struggle with this particular change? I have to remind myself: fresh, interesting produce is hard to come by in a country where nothing grows for six months of the year, and anyway the summers do make up for it. In Milan he would never have been able to go foraging for blackberries or go on a school trip to pick and barbeque corn. He now knows not only what elderflower looks like when it's ready to pick but also what to do with it. And in any case: he still appreciates a good olive oil and a chunk of Grana, but won't touch pickled herring. Thank goodness.
All the cosy things
I am not going to mention the H-word (because heaven forbid we over-use it), but with two Scandinavian winters under his belt our Bean has the pursuit of creature comforts down to an art. Soft blankets, handknitted jumpers, long afternoons spent doing nothing but watch films and play trains. It surprises me how sloth-like a 4-year-old can be, but the little face tells me he likes nothing more.
And on a related note...
We fought and fought at first, about the overalls and the wellies and the hats, but now even he knows that if you are going to venture outdoors in Sweden, preparation is everything. Our array of outerwear, all with subtly different levels of fluffiness, warmth and waterproofness, has become vast. Children spend a portion of every school day playing outside, with the lower limit in temperature being about -15C, I think. We have not had to worry about an upper limit yet.
All this layering, in combination with a more gender-neutral approach to children's clothes, has had a fun side-effect: the opportunity to go really funky.
He picks his own clothes and I love watching how his mind works. At the moment it goes something like: Stripes underneath for warmth. Loud leggings (handmade by a friend of mine) for pizzazz. Soft t-shirt with fun print (this one is by Frugi) because, why not. Appropriate head wear to avoid upsetting your mother.
Then when you are finally ready to get out there...
Perhaps the biggest change of all has been the Bean's attitude to exploring the outdoors. He still isn't that keen on getting wet. But now, see above. He practically has an armour at his disposal, and with he it he comes home covered in mud from his head to his tippy toes. My vaccuum cleaner doesn't like it much, but after so long sheperding him around concrete, smoggy Milan it makes my heart sing.
In a few years' time the Bean will start proper school. An ordinary Swedish one, most likely, so I'm quite sure we will have an even more Swedish Swedish boy. Lord help us - just this morning he pointed out: "Mum, you can't say Swedish words properly". Perhaps he will even learn to eat that herring?