We have lived in four houses in the four years since we moved to Sweden. I was tired of the gypsy life and after watching the real estate market climb 15% each year, the window of opportunity for owning a house was closing rapidly. If we didn’t buy a house soon, it would be out of our reach. We had to move quickly.
After three months of searching and watching houses disappear from within seven days (or less) of posting, we bought our house in a stressful bidding war. My husband hadn’t even seen the house we had purchased when we were signing the closing documents. Can we really consider that a win?
The house needed a new roof, new windows, and a whole host of other repairs but it was situated on the back of a beautiful golf course and overlooked a pasture full of horses. The horses weren’t there when I saw the house, but I hoped the current owners weren’t lying. We couldn’t afford a perfect house, so we would have to make do with a fixer-upper.
After viewing the house for a rushed 30 minutes, I called my husband and said, “We can raise our kids here. It’ll be good.” I said that more on a gut feeling than real knowledge. The ultra-competitive housing market doesn’t afford buyers any time for extensive research or contemplation.
We moved in the middle of December when it was cold, and very very dark. Upon moving in, we discovered that Swedes take all of the light fixtures in a house when they move out. The lack of light fixtures resulted in a pitch black house after the “sun” set at 2 pm. The sun never rises in the winter and each day averages about two hours of sunlight, so needless to say, it was dark and slightly (okay, really) depressing.
I was reduced to unpacking boxes with a standing lamp with a naked bulb that I had to unplug and replug into the next room every time I moved around the house. We couldn’t afford $1000 of light fixtures, so we made frequent trips to the secondhand store and elbowed our way through crowds of other bargain hunters for $10 lamps. I cried a lot of tears.
We had no way of knowing if the neighbors were friendly because we never saw them—Swedes hibernate in the winter. It wasn’t until a few months later when the weather turned warm and sunny that children emerged, and started riding bikes and scooters in the neighborhood.
With the warm weather, out came our bikes and our adventurous spirit. Our dark claustrophobic house was now bright and airy. My depression lifted, and I no longer noticed the bare wires hanging from the ceiling.
We felt compelled to explore our woods and discovered a tiny beach on a lake only a ten-minute bike ride away. “I bet this place will be gorgeous in the summer time. We will need to come back and go swimming.” said my husband, eager to find any redeeming quality about the expensive debt of a house we had eagerly taken on.
Last weekend, we loaded up the bikes with all of the necessary beach and picnic provisions. The bike trailer was loaded with kids clad in swimsuits and floaties. We headed to our newfound beach and hoped the water was warm enough for swimming—it was.
Not only was the beach close to our house, but it was like a scene from the movie, Dirty Dancing. I felt like I was transported back into the 1950s with kids jumping and pushing each other off of the dock, laughing, and splashing. Naked children swam without care and parents relaxed on beach blankets and folding chairs.
Swedish women appear to embody the self-confidence that American women tend to lack when wearing bikinis—they just wear them regardless of their body shape or size. There is a modest changing area but for the most part, people change into their swimsuits on the beach or under a strategically placed towel. Bodies are bodies, and we all have them—there is no shame in seeing bits and bobs. Everyone was there to have fun and play in the sun.
We didn’t know when we moved into this house that it would be rich with hidden treasures.
Today, I sat on the beach with my towel-clad son in my lap, cuddling him close and instructing him to close his eyes and lift his face toward the sun.
“Feel the warm breeze on your face. See the orange color behind your eyelids. Can you hear the water lapping against the rocks? Can you hear the wind rustling the tall grass in the water? Do you hear the kayakers dipping their oars into the water as they zoom along the lake? Can you hear the kids laughing and playing in the distance? This is summer. This beach is our special place.”
These new traditions of summer might be my favorite. Soon this beach will become so familiar that we will wonder what filled our lives before we lived here. When the kids are older, they will bike here with their friends, strip down, and swim and play without us. It will be their special place. Maybe the site of their first kiss, their first drink, their first illicit something.
It feels wonderful to feel the roots extend into the earth and settle us into something solid—something larger than ourselves.
The sounds of summer echo in my ears and I know that we made the right decision.