Now that spring has (finally!) come to our part of Sweden, communities are having their biannual fixardagar or städdagar (fixing days or cleaning days). Most communities, be they neighborhoods, marinas, apartment or condo associations, or parent-cooperative preschools, have a day in the spring (and another in the fall) when members of the community get together to do whatever cleaning and maintenance tasks are required.
Two Sundays ago, both our bostadsrättsförening (apartment association) and our föräldrarkooperativ held their spring fixardagar. In the morning we stayed in our neighborhood and helped to sweep the gravel off the sidewalks (in our part of Sweden, winter might as well be called "gravel season", as the roads are covered in gravel to provide traction over ice and snow, and the gravel seems to get everywhere—especially in the house—for about six months). The boys were very helpful in this task and took their job very seriously, though August pointed out that if we kept working so hard all day we would get very, very tired. =) A neighbor brought out strawberries after seeing them work so hard.
After sweeping, we went to the boys' preschool to pitch in. (I'd like to pause here and add that on our 10-minute drive to preschool, we noticed groups from no fewer than three other preschools and apartment associations working together to improve their communities.) James raked while I took care of the kids (to be honest, we aren't at the most efficient phase of family life), and we returned the following week with just a couple other families to do a more labor-intensive task.
Now, I'd be remiss not to mention here that the first hour or so of our second meeting was spent having fika (coffee), and then we spent almost another hour figuring out that we didn't have the right supplies and then going to get them—so efficiency isn't necessarily part of the fixardag tradition.) But, after several hours of scraping, painting, and chatting with other parents, I went to bed that night feeling great.
What was great about standing outside and scraping and painting on a cold spring day?
It came down to two things: community and service. We had fun chatting and getting to know the other families a bit better, and the small group of kids kept themselves quite entertained the whole afternoon. And I had that wonderful feeling of satisfaction of having done something small to help make our community better. As I laid in bed that night, I remembered the role that service once played in my life as a volunteer with AmeriCorps, and I had a strong desire to make service something that we do together as a family. Ideally we would find an organization where we could serve regularly, so that we could find ourselves doing service within a community of (new) friends.
This is something we love about living in Sweden. Much more than I've experienced living anywhere in the U.S., there is a strong sense here of being a member of a community and therefore having the responsibility to participate in and help improve that community. As regards the environment, this is seen locally as participating in community cleaning days (and not littering or polluting in the first place), and globally as being one of the world's leaders in sustainability and combating climate change. It's also a country with a large social safety net, ensuring that everyone has access to free or very-low-cost health care and education. This may seem paradoxical to Americans, but in Sweden there is an individual responsibility to be a contributing member of the community.
I'm very curious to hear from families who have been able to do community service with small children; right now, especially with a newborn, that seems like an insurmountable challenge, but I'm sure it can be done. What organizations and types of opportunities are good for the littles to participate in?
Photos by James.