As soon as Alfie and I arrived at the nursery, it became clear I should have planned better. We’ve passed the little daycare at the foot of our road dozens of times, going to and forth from the supermarket (the highlight of Alfie’s and my social and cultural calendar), but when I woke up this morning and decided it was time to look into registering him, I realised I didn’t even know the name of it.

He needs to be with some kids his own age. It’s not healthy just him and me kicking about all day long.

So we wrapped up and headed down, but of course the door was closed and we could see a circle of kids all sitting cross legged singing some kind of song with actions.

“See them?” I asked Alfie. “They could be your new pals.” He stared solemnly without comment.

I’ve not said anything to Tess about the speaking Swedish thing. It’s obviously nuts, he was obviously just chatting baby talk and the old lady was playing along. Yes it sounded like heter Alfie, but kids pick up all sorts of random syllables when they’re learning to talk. Tess’s mum loves to tell the story of how Tess, at about Alfie’s age, was offered chicken at a family dinner and replied at the top of her voice “fuck the chicken.” There was no way she’d heard that word before, so the fact that Tess instinctively managed to swear like a trouper when she was still in nappies immediately entered family lore. It’s the same with Alfie and heter Alfie. My two year old hasn’t spontaneously learned a foreign language when he and I haven’t been out of one another’s company in weeks, and I don’t speak a bloody word of it.

All the same, it’ll do him good to socialise with some kids his own age.

However, as we watched the class all scrabble to their feet and start to hop like bunnies, I realised you probably can’t just wander into daycares to chat with someone, and felt a bit of a tube. Luckily, just then, a friendly looking young woman in workout gear, a light brown plait down her back, opened the door and said something in Swedish. It crossed my mind that despite her bright leggings and long sleeved T shirt, she looked just like the stereotypical Swedish milkmaid with her cornflower blue eyes and smattering of freckles, as I apologised for speaking English and she waved it away, with “no problem, English is fine.”

I explained I was hoping to register Alfie for a few hours a week, and she asked if we had been offered a place by the commun, and I had no idea what she was talking about so stared at her like a halfwit and she kindly invited me into her office to explain the Swedish nursery system.

Which, with all due respect to Sweden, sounded hopelessly complicated. Or maybe it’s just me. I was imagining there would be a class for Alfie’s age for a couple of hours a day, but instead the principal – Josefin, she said her name was – explained that Alfie had a legal right to up to 30 hours a week because I am on something called pappaledighet but we had to go onto a waiting list on Stockholm’s city website and…

I think I must have looked a bit overwhelmed, because Josefin smiled and offered to help me fill in the online application form. We were in her cramped little office off the main hallway. It’s painted a cheerful yellow and crammed with papers and files and various bits of artwork made by toddlers. Through the thin walls we could hear a rowdy class of children all shouting. I commented that it was a nice soundtrack to work to, and Josefin gave me a rueful grin and replied, “most of the time.”

“Here we go,” she said, as the application form loaded. “Do you live in this area?”

“Yes, just around the corner.”

“Then you are in Stockholm’s commun, which is the right one for a place at this school. What is your address?”

“Lundagatan 44,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows at Alfie, a silent promise this wouldn’t take longer than it needed to. “There doesn’t seem to be a flat number, but we’re on the fourth floor, the name on the door is Erlandsson.” It’s always struck me as odd that there’s no number for the flat itself, but it seems to be the Swedish way.

“It doesn’t matter,” Josefin said shortly, and something in her tone made me look up sharply. She looked away quickly, focussed intently on the screen as she typed, but not before I caught a glimpse of something in her eyes that gave me a chill despite the stifling heat of the tiny room.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

She looked up and nodded shortly, but was clearly lying.

“Listen,” I said. “Maybe we should go, I’m sure I can figure the website out —“ I’m sure I can’t, but maybe Alfie doesn’t need nursery just yet anyway.

“I’ve started it now.” Josefin’s tone invited no further argument. “What is your personnummer?”


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