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Whattup, 2018.

We are just crashing into this year doing all kinds of things we don’t know how to do! Here are the things we DID do in 2017:

  • Bjørn got a job that no longer involves weekly travel! Yay!
  • See how long we can manage with one car! (3 months)
  • See how long we can manage with Kim working (almost) full time! (2 months, and went surprisingly well.)
  • Kim got her nursing license!
  • The boys (+parents) drove to Legoland in Denmark!
  • Our guestroom becomes a permanent bedroom for our ‘new’ 16 year old big brother (A)!
  • Kim and Bjørn struggle to understand middle school homework! (‘we are just going to do this long division the old school American way.’)

So far this year, the things we tried for the first time that will certainly only improve with further practice:

  • Handball (Emilian)
  • Making injera (Kim and A)
  • Confronting strong kids doing mean things at school

Blessings and strength as we move into another year!

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Seeing as I’ve filed an extension for my already extended tax deadline, which reminded me of how I carried my tax returns around Italy last year in order to send them WITHOUT the extension, it would seem that an entire 12 months has passed since last year’s summer vacay.

June, 2016

A week before school gets out we pack up the kids and board a plane. I imagine everything went smoothly. *cough cough* Destination: Italy, more specifically Tuscany, even more specifically Ciciana. Our kind and gracious hosts were Ivar and Lil Torunn, who organized everything so we could celebrate Torunn’s 60th birthday. The concept that my kids saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa and learned to say ‘gelato’ before hitting their first decade of life was a total trip for my Midwestern brain.  Who are we, royals?

Anyway, we did lots of fun things on that trip, but a vacation isn’t a vacation unless someone ends up in the emergency room. In childrens bedtime story form, I give you:

Emil and the Snake

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Emil. Actually, his name was Emilian Birk, but his mom called him Emil and his brother called him Mimi and his dad called him Emilian.  The little boy was very clever, however, and answered to all of these names, plus a couple more.

Emil had a big brother, whose favorite thing was to be buried in books, and a little brother, whose favorite thing was bouncing off walls. Emil’s favorite thing — indeed, his calming, happy place — was to sit in the sun, overturning stones and examining the creatures that lived underneath. He found ladybugs and ants, beetles of all sizes, centipedes, spiders, worms; anything the moved in the grass or through the soil, Emil would see it, catch it, and delight in it. In the early years the insects where markedly less delighted than their captor and weren’t always released unscathed. The learning curve was… not flat.

One day Emil and his family drove to the airport and boarded a plane for Italy! It turned out to be a magical place with the most delicious ice cream, and the most delicious pasta, and — most importantly — a myriad of bugs and butterflies and other many legged friends that Emil had never seen before.

Related image

Hummingbird moth!

The hummingbird moth, for example, and rhinoceros beetles. But the most exciting of all were the lizards. They sunned themselves on the stone walls and swished into the grass or flashed into the cracks the second they heard Emil or his family walk by.

 

If you knew Emil, you’d know he is a determined and patient little boy. So when he decided that he wanted to catch a lizard, he set out to do just that. He crept quietly around the grounds of the house, inspecting the walls and watching where those lightning fast lizards darted off to.

After several days of tracking, one afternoon Emil came running to his mom excitedly whispering, ”Mama! I found a lizard and I saw where it went! It’s still there and I can catch it! Do you want to see?” Of course his mom wanted to see! She’s deathly afraid of things with eight or more legs, but lizards only have four so it was totally okay. Emil ran ahead to the corner of a low stone wall. There was a small hole underneath, with large loose rock partially covering the opening. He was too excited to wait for his mom (she was walking quite slowly anyway) and plunged his little hand into hole.

”Ow!!! ow!!!” shouted little Emil, and jumped back several feet. ”It bit me!” Two fat tears of shock and surprise rolled down his crestfallen little face. ”What?” said his mom, ”What kind of lizard BITES?” By now the rest of the family had gathered around. There are many nurses in Emil’s family, and just as many brave dads. Sure enough, there were two small scrapes on his fourth finger on the right. The nurses rinsed and washed and bandaged, and the dads went to examine what this creature was that would bite a little boy.

That creature, it turned out, had a tail like a lizard but no legs at all. Coiled up in his hiding hole was a very frightened snake. Our courageous little hero had tried to wrangle a snake!

Snakes, as you know, are mostly harmless little guys just trying to get by, but there are a few that are poisonous. Who knows about poisonous snakes in Italy? Google. Google knows. Some of the grown ups googled, and some of the grown ups decided to try to catch this snake so they could see if it was dangerous or not.

Emil’s dad was also very brave (perhaps that’s where Emil gets it from?) and took a barbecue tongs and reached right into that little snake cave and pulled that little snake out. Except it wasn’t a little snake. It was a very long, very grown up snake. A rather frightened snake that did NOT want to be contained in a bucket. But the bucket had a lid, so the snake had no choice.

But back to Emil and his bitten finger.

What do you do when a Norwegian boy is bitten by an Italian snake? Google told the moms and dads and grandparents about a couple of poisonous (though rare) snakes that live in Tuscany. A grown up called the lady who owns the house and told her the story, and that kind lady (who is also a mom to little curious little boys) decided to call the hospital and talk to a doctor. And the hospital decided that they should take a look at Emil’s finger, and the best way for him to get to hospital without getting lost was to pick him up in an ambulance. (!)

By now Emil’s two fat tears had dried up, and his finger was still exactly the same size and color it was before being hit with snake teeth, so his mom and the other nurses were pretty sure he was going to be okay. The ambulance came anyway, and they heard the siren for at least 5 minutes as it drove up the swithcback road to get to the house on the top of the hill.

The ambulance team was very nice, and wanted to see the snake. The snake tried to get out of its trash can prison when the lid was lifted, which surprised/totally freaked out the ambulance driver who then whacked its head off with a stick.

Definitely the most traumatic moment of the entire ordeal, and moms and dads danced around questions of ‘what happened to the snake? Is it okay?’ for the rest of the night.

Our little hero and his dad ride down the hill in the ambulance, watch football in an Italian hospital, and arrive back to the house on the hill later that evening. While they were gone and the other two brothers were sleeping or playing, Emil’s mom sat by the swimming pool completely alone in peace and quiet for the first time since they arrived in Italy. She didn’t wish at all that her little boy had to have such a crazy afternoon… but all’s well that ends well…and poolside quiet time is never undervalued.

The end.

 

 

 

 

When I reach the melt-down point boiling point with one of the kids — and one in particular — my brain starts to spin out of control. My body starts to fall into itself, the physical crash after an adrenaline rush, but my soul — because I don’t know what else it could be — swirls around like a tornado faster and faster

anger fear frustration inadequacy powerlessness

whipping around, rising

Until it stops. If I am still long enough, the emotions are stopped by that ever useful boiling-blood – brain barrier. The cyclone that tried to blast out through my arms and legs and mouth is contained in my head.

why how what why why why where have i failed?

Then my brain flings out frantic search beams into the cloud of memories, anecdotes, stories, books, advice, hearsay, logic, illogic; begging these diverse bits of information and theory to fall into some kind of semblance of direction.

It doesn’t. They don’t. I still don’t know what to do, and am too tired to search. But the whole hot mess subsides and I start to breathe again. Nothing is resolved, but we have survived another crash. We have made it one step further. We recover. I gather my strength. I know that whirlwind of negative emotions is indeed my soul, the core of my being, because there is neverending love at the collective root.

And it hits me that this whole wavelike thing feels familiar. I’ve done this before. This is labor. This is giving birth. This is maintaining and pushing through the peaks of pain of frustration. This is gathering strength in the moments between contractions. This is knowing that they are going to keep coming,

the contractions are going to keep coming,

until they stop.

They started when he was ready to leave the safe space of my womb, and they stopped when he achieved it.

Pain and doubt and anger and fear are then literally flooded out by love and pride. I can still feel the rush of that flood through my veins.

I can do this. I have to do this. No one else can do this. Each contraction pushed him farther from my womb, into my arms, always in my heart.

Where are these contractions pushing him?

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…”