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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.

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”This was not a good morning.”

”No. Should we start over?”

We’ve actually been doing really well, considering. Considering I’m working 50% for the first time since we moved here. Considering Bjørn travels to Oslo for 2-3 nights a week. Considering the kids wake up every three hours during the nights I get home at 10 p.m. and need to leave again at 6:45 a.m. the next morning. AND considering we added a kitten to the household.

But man, the last couple weeks have been tough.

These weeks we’ve been relay parenting. Bjørn is in town so that I can work my 2-3 shifts a week, and when I’m done he heads to the airport. There are frequent examinations of the calendar. We signed the kids up for activites that I just can’t get them to. Shoot, I can hardly get them to eat breakfast in the morning.

It’s been totally doable, but we’ve toed the line of the tipping point last week.

The running tickerline in my head, the one that sometimes supports but more often judges, says things like, ”what have you done wrong? why don’t they respond when you speak? but how can i tell them to sit still and finish something when all they see is me jumping on and off of my chair? But should I just sit there and not clean up the spilled milk? Am I not modeling good behavior? Is sending him outside when he’s out of control going to make him see the outdoors as a punishment? Is it okay for the big one to watch the small one? At the sake of homework? What part of the equation am I missing? What am I doing wrong? Do we need help or is this normal?”

Everything and nothing is probably what we’re doing wrong.

A woman I work with, who is also not Norwegian, was explaining the other day why it feels harder for us to parent here. We who are not native speakers, who come from different cultures, whose networks are stilted and stunted if existent at all. We feel isolated. Isolated doing the earth’s most common and yet most exhausting job. Despite meeting parents all day long — at barnehage, at school, at practices, at the store — there’s never more than a few minutes to maybe say hello and comment on what a great job the child is doing putting on her shoes. It’s not exactly culturally appropriate to blurt out. ”They are making me crazy. I am going to lose my mind if he runs away from me one more time,” in the coatroom.

Part of it’s me. I’m too quick to speak and too slow to listen. Too quick to pounce on an anecdote and come up with a similar one. I’m working on it.

********

I wrote this, and then was interrupted by the phone. Turns out I’m not as isolated as I felt; my friend called to check in, probably wasn’t expecting the outpouring of tiredness and stress and emotion that she got. But she took it in, smoothed it down, and I was grateful. Next time I’ll do it for her. And we’ll keep on keeping on, reminding each other we’re doing the best we can, and we can’t do more than that.

No title. None.

So these conversations happened today:

#1 (Me, three boys, and the kitten sitting in a ring on the rug around a bucket of LEGOs)

Me: So, Karel, I hear that you’re starting to sound like me lately. I mean, yelling at Emil to stop doing things. I’m going to try to stop shouting. Because here’s the thing: it never works.

(Thought but not verbalized: UNLESS you have the element of surprise on your side, in which case it DOES work.)

Karel: Yeah… EMIL STOP TAKING MY LEGOS!!!!!

#2: (In the car on the way home from little-kid-gymnastics, with all three kids, during which the middle child was a screaming hyper nightmare blatantly doing the opposite of all I asked, including but not limited too: running away from me while laughing like a hyena and exerting that maddening magnetic pull he has on his younger brother.)

Karel: Mama, I was wondering if you could do something.

Me: What, honey? (just lightly tinged with dread, hopefully unnoticeable)

Karel: Well, I was wondering if you could be a little more like me. Like maybe not being so angry at Emil and scaring him by saying you are going to leave him.

Me (sighing at the sweet injustice of being lectured on parenting by a 7-year-old) I know sweetie. I don’t like to get angry. I don’t want to scare Emil. I would never leave you behind. But you are seven and Emil is five, and you know what the right thing to do is… etc. etc….listen to your parents… keeping you safe… What AM I Supposed To Do?? when Emil runs away? I can’t leave Cai Ruben, because he’s only two. He could run off and I wouldn’t be able to find him…

Karel: Because he’s so small.

Me: Yes. (And because he is a lightning fast fearless maniac). So sometimes I just have to walk away to show you (ahem) the right way to go.

It’s so frustrating.

Karel: Oh Mama. I understand.

My boys are highly distractable, highly independent, incredibly difficult to motivate unless it’s something they themselves want (read: practically unbribeable), and are deaf to all sounds in parental-voice decibel range.

BUT it seems, friends, that if nothing else we at least have an empathetic listener on our hands . If only you could have heard the tone with that ”I understand, Mama. I really do.” Seven going on seventy.

Please excuse me while I finish my scotch.

p.s. The kitten is a real thing. Also a boy. I would write about it now except I need to eat some ice cream.

Here’s what I remember about starting the school year:

Getting the list of school supplies sent to our home sometime in early August. Finding out which teacher I’d have. The general jitters of the unknown.

I do NOT remember having to be dragged out of bed on the morning of the first day of school. Or whining over breakfast about how boring I already know second grade is going to be. For example. I mean, is seven really the age where we start to pretend we’re not excited about school? Already?

Sigh. It’s going to be a long year.

Predictably, our new second grader perked up after breakfast, and walked voluntarily to the car. Here he is, in all his off-handed glory:

first day second grade

Happy skolestart, one and all!

(Incidentally, there is no list of school supplies to buy  when one begins school in Steinkjer, The information listed on the schools website includes AND is limited to: The date school begins, the time it begins, and the last day of school this semester. I’m not even really sure what time school ends today.

Sometimes I do really well with not having all the information. Sometimes I need to take a lot of deep breaths.)

UPDATE!

The day went well, according to the miniscule amount of information I could get out of Karel. The best part of MY day was seeing the little brothers throw themselves at Karel when we walked up to meet him….at the guesstimated hour. And Cai using his few words and sounds to immediately tell Karel about the cat we saw on the walk up to school.

However, sweet as all that was, and the 1,047 ideas that came spilling out of Karel’s head/mouth once we got home that were surprisingly oriented at doing nice things for Emil, we did have to face the Homework Demon on the very. first. day. Sigh. Wailing, gnashing of teeth, rubber limbs, defiance, insolence, avoidance. Granted, it was the ”write/draw what you did on summer vacation” deal, which is the type of thing we, found out last year that Mr. Concrete Task doesn’t do so well with. But come ON! We took the big airplane to America! We camped and played and swam and saw the dinosaur skeletons and fireflies and Leogland and friends and aunts and uncles honestly is ”we ate ice cream and jello” the best we can come up with here??

Whatever. The assignment was completed in time for sports practice, which was the motivation and the goal.

Anyway.

Also: Included in his take home folder was aaaalllll the necessary information for the rest of the school year, including when school is out each day. I have made copies already and tacked them to the bulletin board. This has become my new strategy. Treat the information as if it is gold and never let it out of your sight.

Five years, man, and I STILL don’t know how to find stuff out.

Here’s the thing: CR doesn’t talk much. He makes his needs known by using lots of sounds and his incredibly intuitive mother’s interpretation abilities (ahem), but doesn’t exactly have a lot of words. Like maybe 10. Bjørn contends that the majority of those are verbs. For some reason it’s easier to make an animal sound than actually say the name of the animal. Neigh, baa, woof, that incredibly realistic pig noise he must have learned from his father… but I digress. His sign/sound for plane is ”ah ah ah ah ah whoooosh!!!” with a palm-down chubby little hand racing into the sky.

Here’s the other thing: Years from now we will probably talk to people about how we travelled every other year or so with the kids while they were all sizes of small, and based on their own experiences will either show their own battle scars or look at us wide-eyed as if we have halos. Or are crazy. Or have crazy halos. Anyway, let our internet record show that 2.25 years of age is actually an IDEAL time to travel. Maybe even the most fun. THEY ARE SO EXCITED!!!!! We’ve travelled with three different 2 year olds now, and I’m telling you, the amazement and wonder (AH AH AH WHOOOSH!!!!) at seeing planes everywhere, and then being on one, and then looking out the window…it almost makes those sketchy 3 hours in the middle of the long flight worth it.

We’ve been home 2 weeks now, and about every third time we get in the car, Cai asks hopefully if we’re going to whoosh. That child is ready. to. go. I ask him who he wants to visit. No answer. Purely the journey.

Anyway, CR totally charmed the older couple across the aisle from us. Long golden locks and dark brown eyes… it’s not surprising. i will gladly listen to strangers gush about my children, but how do you respond, right? That demure and self-deprecating one-liner that covers a) why yes, you think they are the most gorgeous children on earth, b) you know you think that because they came out of you but, c) how lovely to have your suspicions corroborated by these impartial strangers! and finally d) somehow despite all these emotions of love and pride I cannot quite make the words ”he is such an angel” match up with any of the children I assumed the kind stranger was talking about (aka mine).

I, in all my eloquence, resorted to a blank stare as all the non-angelic deeds of this particular child flashed through my head on speed reel. Small forced smile, polite laugh, ”Ha ha ha… God makes the naughty ones cute, I guess.” There may or may not have been a reference to a desire to throw naughty children in the fjord.

My second favorite comment was from the lady who, while debarking, looked at the little fallen bodies around us and reminisced about how she used to do the flight from London to Chicago with FOUR kids, back in the old days. I presume that means before in-flight entertainment. At that moment I was the wide eyed one seeing the crazy halo on her. I squeezed out a ”God bless you.” and just had to close my eyes for a second.  Then she carried on down the aisle, with a quick parting comment tossed over her shoulder:

”The fourth one was a girl. Just throwing that out there.”

Cue internal hysterical laughter.

Brown cheese and knekkerbrød for breakfast: We’re back in Norway. The day before leaving to come back home from 3.5 weeks in the U.S. we started focusing on the positives of coming back to Norway. Or rather, I did. Ripe raspberries, our own beds, our own coffee pot ( 🙂 ). The boys’ LEGOs, Norwegian cartoons. Because it’s a rainy 50 degrees out now, and the raspberries are NOT ripe, and the kids are watching Norwegian cartoons (or rather cartoons in Norwegian), let’s do a quick review of our American Summer, because let’s be honest — it’s now or never.

We can start with the pre-trip warm up: Two days before departure we celebrated Karel’s 7th birthday with his school friends in a water-oriented party at our house. Thank goodness the weather cooperated, and water balloons rained down on 7 little boys. Chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches, pizza, brownies, and carrot sticks — ! think everything was consumed.

One day before departure we were calmly packing, two parents at home, two children at barnehage.The trend toward the least-stressful traveling experience known to the Lyngstads most likely started on this day.

Day of departure: We arrived on time, with all luggage and children intact and happy. No security escapades, no flight drama, just a bit of mild ”how are we going to do this?”, echoed by every passing passenger, when all three kids were fast asleep upon touchdown in Chicago. And then they woke up and were so excited about being where we were that they walked on their own tired little feet off the plane and through all the subsequent lines. Which were short. And all of our luggage showed up on the right belt, except for the stroller which was just one belt over. Which I found out by asking the lovely English speaking attendants standing nearby. I wanted to hug everyone working at O’Hare. Emil noticed right away the difference in interpersonal communication; he asked me if I knew that lady I was talking to about the stroller? No, darling Emil, I don’t. This is just how we talk to everyone we meet in America. Sweet freedom to be expressive. Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Chris were there to meet us with open arms at the airport, and Grandma doesn’t even have to break the ice with the bigger ones anymore by having toys in her pocket.

The first days are a blur of early bedtimes and 3 a.m. snacks, finding bread/peanut butter/jelly/cheese that isn’t totally rejected by norskified taste buds. Tuesday arrival, Wednesday dress fitting and grocery shopping, Thursday Target-run and cherry-pitting, Friday birthday party with ALL Leyrer aunts and uncles!, sick Cai Ruben through it all, Saturday Kim & Mandy take on the mall and emerge victorious (wedding shoes? check. Wedding clothes for kids? check. Haircut and Kim’s first ever eyebrow wax? CHECK. All in three hours or less. That’s right.) Saturday bachelor party, Sunday men: recovery, women and children Sunday school and church. It was a relaxed but productive start. Our first planned outing was already on Sunday. Packed up Grandma’s car with borrowed camping gear and headed an hour north for Harrington Beach State Park, with one rather long stop along the way. Turns out our trips to the U.S. correspond with the furlough years of my mission family in Malawi. That very Sunday we were heading an hour north, they were hosting an ”African Reunion” barbecue that was totally on our route. So there I was, hugging and chatting and getting teary eyed and laughing with the friends that were family in Malawi and Zambia, with my own family in tow whom most of them have never met. And it was a huge boost, to be back among people who knew me as independent and capable.  A contrast to my current life and location where I can barely speak and sometimes beg my husband to make phone calls for me. So on that high, we carried on to meet our dear Minneapolis friends Jen & Dave, Ella & Enzo. We set up the tent, grilled some hot dogs and marshmallows, caught fireflies, and watched with amazement as the two 7-year-olds ran back and forth from site to site together, exactly how I remember camping trips when I was the kid instead of the parent. We knew there was a 60% chance of rain. Maybe didn’t exactly know HOW much rain there was a chance of.

(Catie Michaelson, this is for you! I DID remember to do part two 🙂 

(Also, for everyone else, this is waay too long and not interesting so just skip it)

Where did we leave off? April? Which brings us to

May: Oi oi oi. May was a big one. I was just cruising through the ”draft” folder and found this:

I am so tired.

I am so tired that even before typing those words — just thinking them — i had to get up and refill my coffee. The coffee pot that I almost filled up yesterday morning, before I remembered that I’d be the only one drinking it. These guys have been living with and helping me manage our day-to-day chaos for the past 2 weeks, and just left yesterday morning. They arrived the day after we got back from a taste of summer and a 60th birthday festival in the south with these guys, and this guy has been travelling for basically the past two weeks.

And life goes on in the meantime. Swimming lessons, track practice, library books, school meetings. Finding lost papers, paying forgotten bills. Putting up the ladder for the chimney sweep who just had to come now.

I think I was meaning to insert pictures of Mom, Dad and Chris, Ivar and Lil Torunn; and Bjørn, respectively, after each mention of ”guys.”

It’s all coming back to me — We flew to Kristiansand and drove to Arendal for Ivar’s 60th birthday celebration, which was to be a mega party of several days. I don’t think we’d flown anywhere since the previous fall, when Emil Birk hitch-hiked back from the zoo. So, please, imagine our surprise when ALL OF THE TRAVEL WENT INCREDIBLY SMOOTHLY.  Not a single horror story to relate. And we ate and drank and celebrated 60 years of Ivar in the warmth of the southern coast.

We drove home from the airport after Arendal, and then drove back the next day to pick up our American grandparents and Uncle. They fit right in to our routine like they live next door. Bjørn was gone for 8 of the days they were here, and I was extremely grateful for the back up. It’s not fair to travel all the way to Norway just to babysit, though, so we took one long weekend and drove our Wisconsinites, who had just survived a winter of polar vortexes, back into the snow through the mountains to Røros. One UNESCO World Heritage Site and one Eurovision Song Contest in one weekend? Pretty sure that checked ”Cultural Experiences” off the to-do list.

It can’t be said enough how grateful the five of us are to have family that is willing to travel to come see us. A very belated thank you for a very lovely visit.

June: June, june, what happened in June? YES — the first showing of our house. Can I just say how weird it is to have your house be so clean and empty that it echoes? Part of me was proud, and part of me rolled my eyes. I’d spent seriously years trying to banish the echoiness of that house. Anyway, we took Karel to track practice, ate pizza in the park afterwards, and kept waiting to hear from the realtor. No one came, friends. No one came to witness the beauty and echoiness of Solvangvegen 17. Anyway, that’s all I really remeber about June.

Wait! My little brother asked his beautiful girlfriend to marry him in June! Hearing the words ”and I asked her to marry me” come out of his mouth caused my heart and gut to react in exactly the same way they did watching our last baby take his first steps. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jessie for saying ”yes” to Jon and all of us.

July: Another snippet of forsaken blogpost:

Summer 2014: It was hot. We develop a routine — one day at the beach, one day at home. We counted that we visited seven (or was it eight) different beaches, most more than once. Cai Ruben learned to walk at the beach — on the sand, on the rocks, in the water. He discovered splashing and sitting and throwing rocks in the water. He used the inflatable swimming ring as  walker and cruised along the waterline.

We really did spend July in the water. As in, I actually went into the water. We hoped we’d be moving in July, so we didn’t make any travel plans. And we couldn’t have found better summer weather anywhere else. The boys were naked all. the time. I’d get them dressed, send them out to play, look out the window and their pants would be gone. But can you believe there are so many beaches around here? Long sandy, shallow beaches where you can wade fifty meters out and have water still be below your knees. PERFECT for children of a slightly water-phobic mom.

AND we had guests! My highschool classmate Katie and her husband Tim just happened to be in Sweden, and decided that it wasn’t too far out of the way to come and see us! It was a real blessing to reconnect after so many years. Katie and Tim’s visit had a lasting effect — Emil Birk, who until that point had refused to speak English to anyone (despite his perfect comprehension), suddenly just started explaining things to our guests. In English. We were quietly elated.

Oh! AND after three more showings, our house sold! Cue simultaneous feelings of freedom and slight anxiety. Now we can move! But where??

August: Right, so, since we needed to find someplace to move TO, the primary activity of August was househunting, and getting ready for Karel to start school at the end of the month. By the grace of God, both objectives were met with more success than we had hoped for. We found a house that we thought was out of our league — twice as big, good condition, stunning view, walking distance from school, apples trees in the back yard! — and put in our best offer. Turns out it was the only offer, which meant our best was good enough. Even now, 6 months later, we’re still in a little big of shock. Our bid was accepted the week before school started, and transferring Karel’s information from one school district to the new one could not have been easier.

So then there was that — our first born starting first grade. He was excited, and nervous, and brave and started in his new school without a second glance back. But just how he got big enough to start school I still do not understand.

Upping the tempo a bit here now, because this is NOT going to go to a part 3.

September: Bank meetings, paper signing, walkthroughs, PACKING PACKING PACKING, calling on friends shamelessly to move heavy objects from one side of town to the other on repeated days. Moving in the middle of the week for reasons that we questioned in the midst of the process. We started to paint and plaster at the new place with the dream of finishing before we moved in. Bjørn travelled to Italy, I got sick, Bjørn travelled somewhere else, I became a bit of mess… but one way or another we got all of our stuff in and were waking up to the view of the fjord by the end of the month.

September brought some bumps in the road for Karel during school, as we set down that path of learning some of life’s hard lessons. September also brought us a 4 year old, and saw a one year old who could barely walk start to hop. With both feet. Off the ground.

Heaven help me.

October: As of October 1st, we turned over the keys (and consequently the mortgage) of Sølvangvegen 17. Super great to be back down to having only one house to clean. We spent October getting organized, I think. Or at least settled. We made applesauce and apple pie from apples from our very own apple trees. We discovered that there is a small woods adjacent to our lot, so while we no longer run through the woods to get to barnehage, we can at least play in one when we’re home.

November: I think November was pretty calm, too. We worked on getting into our new routines with school. Bjørn was travelling a bit more again, and things were a bit tense at times with trying to help a first grader with way too much homework while willing the two smaller ones to not harm each other. But we made it. I started looking into what it would take to be a doula in Norway, and had a lovely and informative meeting with one of the two doulas in our section of Norway. We celebrated Thanksgiving with the local North American crew, which had everything it should have: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pies, wine, friends, family, running kids, and as if that wasn’t enough, for one reason or another we all started singing from ”The Sound of Music” … and the day was perfect.

December: December brought us to our first Christmas in our own house, and all that came with it. Gingerbread, decorating, meal planning. Bjørn had arranged for Ann Inger to take ALL THREE BOYS for a night in the beginning of December (honestly, I had nothing to do with it) so we were able to start out the holiday season with clear heads and child-free shopping. This year felt much more relaxed than other years, and I wonder if that early night out had something to do with it. On that little trip I also bought a new dress. It is wool. A wool dress. And it is the most comfortable and warmest thing I have ever had on ever so I think — I think — I have jumped up another step on the assimilation ladder.

December isn’t december without a little bit of drama — ours came in the form of urgent care visits for a cat bite (Cai Ruben); a sudden overwhelming sulfer-y smell in the house on the afternoon of Christmas Eve (I was desperately forming evacuation plans in my head); and a little conversion mix-up which led me to accidentally buy a 20 pound turkey (instead of say, 8) to feed 5 adults and 3 children on Christmas Day. Needless to say, everything ended up juuuuust fine.

So there we have it. Seven — no, eight months recounting the random blessedness of our little lives. The Lord continues to shine His face upon us… and keep us warm.