By Lela Nargi
Carina Tannenberg is the owner of online shop Sweden Toys, which brings a whole host of adorable, educational Scandinavian playthings to American tots. But perhaps none of the shop’s offerings is quite as…unexpected as its duo of plushies called Pee & Poo.
You read that right: Pee & Poo plushies, meant to lift some of the mystery for kids from the always tedious and challenging event of potty training. Here, Tannenberg, not a mom herself but doting auntie to Maya, age 10, and Noah, age 8—they call her their “extra mom”—talks about what she sees as some critical differences between raising kids in the U.S. and raising them in her native Sweden.
Where did you grow up, and when did you move to the U.S.? I moved here in 1996 to go to film school. I currently live in LA’s Westwood area, where I've been for the last 15 years. There are some similarities here to back home in Stockholm: I live in a residential area in a big city. I think it’s a good place for kids to grow up, but it is not as free here for them. My niece, Maya, rides on the Stockholm subway by herself or with friends. I think that shows a lot about the difference in how we perceive a child's maturity.
What are some of the differences you’ve seen between Swedish and American parenting styles? I know many of my Swedish friends who are parents feel locked into all the rules. But in Sweden you can easily have a career and be a mother. Here, it is very difficult, as schools seem to expect mothers to spend a lot of time with the school's programs, as if they have a free schedule.
I also see is how important it is for kids to see that they can do things for themselves; being so dependent on their parents, as they must be in LA to get everywhere, can prevent them from evolving freely. I would add that there is a gender difference that is imposed more here than in Sweden. We are very careful in Sweden not to impose our ideas on our kids, and to try to let them learn and grow freely.
What’s your background, and how did you get involved in selling kid’s toys? I have a degree in Building Engineering from a university in Stockholm, Art and Graphic Design from a university in Paris, and Film Producing and Business from a school here in LA. Overall, I am interested in design and wellbeing, but especially for kids. I have Swedish friends who have designed these amazing products, and I wanted to get them out there.
The response to Pee & Poo has been great! I believe that even at a very young age, kids like to learn responsibility. I think this is why they love dolls and puppies so loved much—caring for them is in our nature. Once we find that teddy bear we love, we become very involved and “listen” very carefully to what it needs. With the Pee & Poo characters, we can get the child's attention and explain how Pee & Poo needs to go to the potty and not in the diaper. We will also soon come out with Apps for Pee & Poo potty training, so that the child can be part of a rewarding program for their potty visit.
You are a breast cancer survivor. How has this changed your perspective on what you do? I was diagnosed in 2010 and I have been clear for 5 years, so I can call myself "cancer free!" I have always been interested in health and wellbeing—both physical and mental, they go together. I believe this interest started at a young age, so working with kids and health makes my life so exciting.
Going through cancer was life changing. When you don't know if there is a tomorrow, you let go of all of your expectations and start to look at life as new again. Everything in front of you becomes a blessing because you no longer can expect anything—like a child; children are so excited about everything. It’s amazing to be able to have that again as a grown.