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Guys. We did one Christmas letter once, when we had one kid and worked one 100% fulltime job between the both of us.

That just isn’t the case anymore.

BUT: you can have this personalized, hand-typed, digital entry instead! Yay!

Oh, 2016. It’s been a year. Not a bad year, but a…fluid one. As in, a fair amount of movement. Where to start? I heard once that the beginning is a very good place to start…

January: Iiiiiii don’t really remember January so well. But we can throw out some basic principles that held throughout the year: Bjørn and Kim are both employed. Bjørn is good at what he does, and therefore hired for a position in Oslo, even though he lives far, far away from Oslo. This means that for the past year and a half or so he travels weekly to Oslo. In January, I was still working at the nursing home in Verdal, about 25 minutes away. A couple of years ago Bjørn’s grandparents gave us their old car (which Bjørn’s dad at some point had given to them) which still runs remarkably well (as long as you can start it), and which made it possible for me to work in Verdal at all. So, so grateful for that car.

This may or may not become a recurring theme.

Anyway, I DO remember feeling like there were a lot of unknowns in January. The nursing home I was working at was being shut down. Bjørn and I had our first training-weekend to be foster parents. I finally submitted my nursing registration application. There was also an incident of lice at school that WAS NOT US.  In December we met a young Syrian brother-sister pair, and pushed our way into their lives as well. On the news everywhere, every day, there was talk about refugees and asylum seekers and politics vs. humanitariansim.

We barrelled into February. I drove to Verdal, Bjørn flew to Oslo, we picked up kids from three separate locations, we picked up our extra kids from extra locations. I spent a few weeks teaching very very extremely basic Norwegian at the reception center for asylum seekers. Then on February 23rd I got a text from Bjørn asking to be picked up at Urgent Care.

Blank. Stare.

Turns out the road up the hill wasn’t wide enough for a tractor with a plough and station wagon. You may guess which vehicle sustained the most damage, and you will most likely be correct.  Anyway, the car was totalled, but Bjørn and Cai were thankfully fine. Well, Cai was traumatized. Every time he got into a car for MONTHS afterwards, he said, ‘don’t crash into a tractor.’ He actually just said it again the other day, now that I think about it. Poor guy. But again — SO so thankful for our second car. Which now only I could drive, because for some reason or another getting hit by a speeding tractor resulted in Bjørn losing his license for three months. Get a life, Norwegian traffic regulators, is all I have to say about that. So that kind of felt like the theme of the next months. I packed the little sedan full of kids, and drove around town.

March gave us another weekend away learning about fostering, and Easter. And lice. Not necessarily in that order.

April. April gave us a three year old and a 40 year old. I flew to Wisconsin with Emil and Cai for 10 days in the beginning of April, and for anyone out there who is nervous about flying with a 5- and almost 3-year old alone…continue to be nervous. I don’t know how we made it, but we did. (oh man – it’s coming back to me now. Bjørn wasn’t even home when we left, so I sent Karel off to school — after sending explicit emails to his teachers about who to contact in case of an emergency — and loaded us and our bags in the car to drive to the train station. Then got us off the train and on the plane. Only had to threaten to turn around once. (“Get up right now or we are taking the bus back to Norway!”)  Being fed and pampered for 10 days gave me just enough energy to do it again on the way back. Lovely visit, as always. Tacos and coffee for me, dinosaurs and ice cream for Emil, birthday cake and throat cultures for Cai.  Can’t win them all.

Also, Bjørn bought a bike.

Bjørn turned 40 and I had to admit defeat. I wanted to throw a big party, I really did. Something inside me kind of freezes up when I think about planning a party here. I don’t know why. I feel like a scared rabbit. Petrified, yet twitchy. But I will get over that in time for 41, don’t tell Bjørn.

May…. In May, Bjørn found us a new car. Yay! A seven-seater, AKA minivan. It was amazing — he did the entire transaction from his office in Oslo. So one glorious evening after he got home, I took the train to Stjørdal, was picked up by the guy who owned the car, and then drove it home.  Just in time for 17 May, the big national day. We ate the traditional meal (the local delicacy of Sodd*) at our place, and packed the big car full of big and small kids to drive to the parade. STILL not enough room, so Bjørn biked in his suit, like any grown European man would do.

*I would like to take a moment to discuss sodd. Sodd is NOT a soup, no matter how closely it resembles one. Impress your Norwegian host by never, ever calling it soup. What it IS, is is lamb broth, with tiny meatballs of beef and lamb,  tiny cubes of lamb meat, served with carrots and potatoes (that you put up in the broth). Tasty? Yes. Void of pork (as was relevant to some of our guests)? Yes. The formal and traditional meal that almost all families were eating on that day, so that we weren’t weird for once? Yes.

And, friends, it comes ready made, frozen in a bucket. It’s like this huge gift from the cultural deities that on the 17th of May — when the kids have to be clean, their clothes have to be fancy (and clean), their shoes shined, the car washed, flags found, umbrellas and rain jackets in place on top of the fancy clean clothes and quite possibly woollen long underwear underneath, all the while assuring the children that yes they can eat as many ice cream cones as they want because apparently children gorging themselves on this day is half the point — the only work required for the meal that I am expected to prepare is boiling water and taking the bucket out of the freezer on time.

I just can’t even describe the gratitude I feel over this meal. It’s honestly like a divine “I see you working so hard and am going to cut you a break.” Sigh.

 

Moving on.

Bjørn also got his license back in May, so we were back to two drivers, two cars. I have to admit, though, that I had many moments of complete contentedness and happiness shuttling around town with the people I love under the same (mobile) roof. Going somewhere. Actively doing something. Driving and laughing and getting people to places on time, with constellations of Karel, Sherwan, Emilian, Mohammed, Cai Ruben, Delvin filling out the seats… Having sole transport responsibility wasn’t always as bad as it sounds.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned, though. Next month, in keeping with the vehicular theme, Emilian rides an Italian ambulance.

 

Tell them, America.

Tell them, if that’s how it’s going to be. If it has to be us and them. Or you and them. Or everybody else and them. For God’s sake, for the sake of all that is Holy, tell them what they need to do to not be shot.

Then tell me, so if I run into someone who doesn’t know, then I can tell them. So that the monumental heart crushing fear every son’s mother of every color feels when watching this video or reading the news can reach toward a tiny crack of hopelight. Tell me so that when I read these articles, here safe across the ocean, when I read them and see the pictures and see my friends brothers husbands sons face instead, when I read them and am ashamed and confused and so far away and so so sorry,  when I read them and see the videos and feel the despair

the despair, the rock bottom, that I thought only came in situations of true desperation and then realize that it IS true desperation and has been for centuries and it is only a matter of time before the same injustice, fear, hate is carried out on my children, on young men and women that I love, God forbid I live long enough to see it

my sons, blue eyed and blond haired. The children of my heart, eyes and hair green and brown and dark and light.  Me.  How long before they are the feared, powerless color? Before I am the feared undesired color, who makes a mistake with fatal consequences

because I didn’t know the rules?

But there are no rules.

There is only the terrifying cycle of fear. The cycle that not even love and faith in their small numbers seems to be able to break.

 

 

Mother’s Day

I had no idea how profoundly motherhood would change my interpretation of the world.

I can look back and pinpoint each perception shift. As a young nurse: collecting and assimilating individual bits of data into a comprehensive whole. As an aid worker: breaking down the comprehensive whole into its individual parts. As a well cared for, well supported, economically stable young woman: realizing for the first time that I could be treated unequally just because of my gender.

But motherhood? Shoot.

About a year after Karel was born, Bjørn and I and some good friends ran a half-marathon. I remember thinking I wished I had a t-shirt saying: ‘You think this is hard? Try birthing a baby.’ I felt stronger than ever. More connected to women throughout the ages. Your vision becomes simultaneously broader and more concentrated. I talk all the time about the constant ticker-line of risk analysis running through my head. (‘how much damage would a fall from that height do? how likely is it that he’s going to fall? How have similar situations turned out? He’s got pretty good balance i mean he’s been hopping on one foot since he was two ohmygoodness i can’t take it ‘GET DOWN FROM THERE!!!”)

Now the motherview manifests itself in ridiculous ways. Most ridiculously in the compulsion to pinch cheeks and smotheringly embrace half-grown men.

For example, one evening before Christmas Bjørn and I were sitting in a bar in Trondheim. Seriously, every time a group of nervous looking 18 year old boys walked into the bar with their button up shirts and huge scarves, I felt my maternal spirit actually leave my body in order to hold their hands and ask them about their lives. What are you really interested in?  I thought-stared at each of them. Besides wondering if you smell okay? Eye roll. Ridiculous, right? Do not even get me started on the young men we know here in Steinkjer, that live continents away from their mothers. Every time they bust out a silly grin my heart melts like it does for naughty toddlers, and in my head these men who have survived the worst of the world suddenly look like 2-year-olds. I want to pinch their stubbly cheeks.

Deep breath. Let’s say it together, now: RIDICULOUS.

I have to remind myself that I’m not nearly as big as I feel. That what I intend as a matronly, bosomy, comforting Greek grandmother hug would probably actually feel like being accosted by a crazy chicken.

But is it so ridiculous, really? Seeing random strangers through their mothers’ eyes? I mean, the effect of sending one’s flesh and blood into the world is fairly profound. For the past year I’ve worked part time at a nursing home. Many of the residents had some degree of dementia. The majority of them are women. When I was new, they’d tell me about their families. Again and again. About their children, how many they had and — before anything else — how many had died. Sixty five years later, the memory of the baby son that couldn’t be saved because the doctor couldn’t get through the snow storm lives strong. Or forty years later, the daughter who died of cancer in her twenties. One woman had two sons, both of whom were alive and well and lived nearby. She’s aphasic, and I’d never understood anything she said, until her grown son came to visit one day. She attached herself to his arm, beamed to everyone around her and said, ‘MOR‘ (Mother), clear as day.

I just about cried.

When it all falls away — all the things we’ve done, seen said, won, lost — the red thread stringing our hearts together in a line, or web, of human connection shines through in its beautiful simplicity. Not a new story. A story intended from the beginning of time, intended with the impression of His image stamped upon us.

 

Pride goeth…

Me, last night, to Bjørn: “We are so blessed our kids have been so healthy through the years. No chronic illness, no even so many colds lately. You know what? I’m going to take some credit for that. I breastfed them for a loooong time. That has to have helped their immune systems.”

Me, tonight, pouring pesticide on their scalps to eradicate lice: “There goes that…”

The Last Lesson.

Today was very likely the last day of my Norwegian-teaching career, for two reasons. Number one: upon reaching lesson 5 I realized that we were moving from a teacher-student dynamic to a learning-together dynamic. This is only natural, seeing as my Norwegian skills are surpassed by the tiny children all around me, aka are crap. Number two, as of next week there probably won’t be anyone left to teach. So on this last day, with 10 students instead of the normal 20, 30, 40, we had kind of an open lesson. Kind of an ‘ask what you want to know’ lesson. I was tired because I’m always tired, and worried I was teaching the wrong thing. Worried the grammar was wrong, worried about these faces in front of me, worried about their worry. So I drew faces on the board and wrote the corresponding emotions (how do you draw hungry?), we reviewed Norwegian greetings and replies. How to say “I love you,” and which version to use when. The women practice across the aisles.

“Teacher, I love you.”

 I did it on purpose, you know? Brought up emotions. In Norway if someone asks you how you are, you say you are fine. That everything is great.

Things are not great for the people sitting in the room with me. The hotell-turned refugee camp was always just temporary. Temporary in this case was 4 months, and co-residents became family. This week the family breaks up. In my mind’s eye they are ice floe fragments, jagged edged islands being slowly swept away.

“I cried when they left, Teacher. They are like my brothers.”

Maybe the good times are reminiscent of summer camp: strangers sharing late nights, bad food, gathering outside to smoke. A camp with the shadow of fear of being deported back to death and destruction hanging over you. I started coming one hour a week — just one hour — to teach beginner Norwegian. Stumbling over vowels I can’t pronounce myself, pretend confidence covering a multitude of errors. The first lesson we learned, “My name is…, I am from… , I speak ….”

In our last lesson, days after learning they were all going to have to leave Steinkjer for a new holding arena, they asked me how to say “lie” in Norwegian.  I looked it up because I didn’t want to be wrong. How do you say “hate” in Norwegian? a young woman asks. She puts together the words: “I hate snow” from her corner of the room, looking out the window with disdain.

What do you hate, Teacher?

I can’t answer. I shouldn’t answer. It’s not about me.

From the another corner, using vocabulary learned minutes earlier:

”I hate lies.”

……….

We decide class is over when attention starts to fade. “Teacher, how do you say ‘go away‘ and ‘wait‘ in Norwegian? How do you say ‘I don’t want to leave?‘ ” asks a young man who hasn’t joined us before today, pen and paper in hand. He is clearly gathering ammunition. Getting ready for parting cries in the native tongue.

I tell them what they want to know. Grown ups are allowed to express their emotions. I don’t know how to tell them that if they stay in Norway, if they stay in Oslo where they’re headed now, it might be for the best. It might be easier than trying to make a life in this cold town in the middle of Norway in the long run. If they are sent out of the country, with husbands and children and fading futures, I can not help them with the words they’ll need then.

I can’t tell them that seeing the bravery of the Iranian and Syrian and Pakistani Christians filling in pews of the local congregation helped me to be brave there, too. That seeing people who wanted to be seen was soul-balm for me. That that one hour a week with those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who sat diligently writing and repeating words, struggling to verbalize their identities in a completely foreign language — it recharged me. It gave me enough energy to get through the rest of the day, maybe the next two, alert and strong and grateful.

I want to tell them that I love them, too, and that I’m sorry. I hope they know. I wish I had power or influence or even just more money. Sometimes love isn’t quite enough.

for nadia, rasha, hannah, mary, og mai

 

 

”Can we help?”

So, I had to talk to the kids about terrorism today. We’ve kept them sheltered til now. But now it starts to effect us. Now we are going to start to see the results of the refugee crisis in our part of the world. Now, more than ever, it is our responsibility to bravely model our beliefs.

That’s what I tried to get across, anyway. I talked about how the bad guys that made the attacks on Paris have been making attacks on other parts of the world for many years. People from those countries are trying to get away to a place where they can be safe. Safe places like the part of the world we live in. Arriving tonight, in fact. The first question: ”Will the bad guys follow the people here? And start fighting here?”

I said ”No, sweetie, they’re interested in the land where they are. They’re not interested in the people who are leaving.” I was bluffing a little. That is what we’re really all afraid of, right? Deep down I’m afraid, too. Too often and too close, these attacks. We talked some more, and broke it down into two scenarios: ”We” (the Norwegians) might be a bit uncomfortable having lots of new people living with and around us, people who look and talk and maybe act sometimes in ways we’re not used to. ”They” (the refugees) face injury or death if they go back. So I asked our seven-year-old — whose face had lit up just moments before at the idea that Norway could be ”different” with so many new people (”That would be cool!”) — I asked him, what he thought was the right choice? To accept being uncomfortable, or to send the people away?

”Ummm… I know! To be uncomfortable!!”

And I thought two things: 1) How lovely it was to hear that answer, even though surprising it was not, and 2) IS is not going to win. Not if we continue to teach our children to be kind when it’s uncomfortable. Not if we teach them to stand up to bullies. Not if we SHOW them to be kind, and to stand up to bullies for as long as we can.

Anyway, so I was scrolling my newsfeed after they were (finally) asleep, and saw some articles pop up about various states blocking the entry of Syrian refugees after the attacks in Paris. Because a Syrian could be a threat, or someone who is a threat could get in with the Syrians, etc. etc., spin the cycle of fear, etc.

(As an aside, I’m personally more terrified to send my kids to school in the U.S. where the likelihood is greater they’ll be shot by their own (half)countrymen than of being caught in a terrorist attack.)

I thought, ”Hey! I had this conversation today! This was the first fear my 7 year old and then my 5 year old had, too! Huh!” Interestingly enough, when I talked about it a bit more with them, their tune quickly turned to ”can we help?” Flesh of my flesh, our oldest started rummaging around in the cupboards in order to make eastern-inspired food (”indisk mat,” sa han, for you norskis :))

I strongly dislike politics because I strongly dislike conflict. And inefficiency. I’m not making a political statement. All I’m saying is that sometimes lawmakers echo the same fears as children. All I’m asking is if that is acceptable.

I feel like maybe we need a little bit of updating here.

Updating has not been deemed a judicious use of my time the last few months. It’s not a judicious use of my time right now. Cai followed his brother in the ”let’s run around naked” game last night, and then pooped everywhere. So there are some floors that should be rewashed. The rug had to go. I usually clean and conserve and never throw away, but this time I just couldn’t. There’s also a peed-in bed to be dealt with. I was patting my own back this morning — one kid showered, three kids dressed, two diapers changed, four lunchboxes packed, and I even brewed the coffee. Made it to Karel’s school just as the bell rang. I only had to threaten to leave the house without one child, and count to three once. Maybe twice. Anyway.

SO — remember when I took Cai to that interview? I got that position! So since the middle of May I’ve been working at a nursing home 2-3 shifts a week. It’s been good. The atmosphere is engaged and positive, I’ve never worked in a place so well staffed, and the employees are as understanding and empathetic with their foreign coworkers as they are with their residents. My position is  technically ”Nursing Student.” This is also fine with me. I have a long way to go, language-wise, and this job has been helpful in showing me where I am and where I need to be. Is communicating with hard-of-hearing elderly folk who speak mostly dialect in  my high squeaky voice challenging? Yes. Yes it is. My voice was not made to communicate with this population. I consciously lower it. I hear the wrongly pronounced words as they come out, and I know that my mouth is just not able to form them correctly. These are vowels we don’t have, people. Hello, toddlerhood. Now I feel bad that I didn’t get what Cai baby was trying to tell me this morning. Anyway, the communication thing makes me sad, and of course the only thing to do is to get over it and keep trying, so that’s what we do.

Anyway, this position is temporary. The nurse I’m filling in for will be back from maternity leave in January. Even if she isn’t, turns out budget redisributions in the kommune have suggested that this nursing home be shut down…so, right. On the jobhunt again, but it was a glorious few months of not job hunting. 🙂

So then there’s the nursing registration thing. Norway has 3 year nursing program. There is a heavy emphasis on practical hours. I cannot speak to other BSN programs in the States, but mine was heavy on theory. Heavy on developing critical thinking. Heavy on teaching the thought processes and patterns that are necessary for thorough care. SO heavy that this is how I think all the time. I can’t NOT think like a nurse, even being off the field for five years. The registration authority doesn’t really like that other countries might possibly organize their nursing education in a way other than the Norwegian model. So they tell us we’re not qualified.

If I remove all the emotion from the situation, I shake my head in wonder at the stupidity and complete lack of logic in the system. It smacks of corruption, but to what gain? I actually hope that there IS some corruption, because being so blantantly narrowminded is embarassing for a Scandinavian country. If I don’t remove the emotion, my pulse rate doubles and I start to cry. If I open my eyes up a little bit wider, I see that maybe this kind and generous and democratic land maybe isn’t so different from every other country, and maybe the governing bodies don’t actually practice the open-mindeness at home that it is known for abroad.

ANYWAY, YES, I applied once and was denied. YES, I need to apply again. YES I am dragging my feet because I strongly dislike putting time and energy into futile causes. YES the situation might change, as this specific point of US educated nurses is getting a lot of media attention lately. NO I have no idea what this even looks like for the nurses educated in other countries. Pretty sure they’re not getting qualified either. YES I am practicing my nursing assessment skills by surveying the situation and coming up with alternate plans that will bring the same result. Or maybe that skill was developed in Malawi restaurants. They were always out of whatever your first choice was. Always.

So that’s that. Once, when I was still in school, I was listening to a presentation given by a woman who had worked at the mobile clinic in Malawi. She was introduced as a nurse, but then she corrected that statement. ”I used to be a nurse,” she said. And I thought to my sweet, young, naive self, ”Wow. I’m never going to say that. I’ll never not be doing some part of this job.”

Oh, sweet naive motivated student Kim. Never is getting closer all time.

Ohmygoodness — we also have a five year old, a cat, and the rest of the summer vacation to document. They will be much more uplifting posts. But now I have to wash the floors.