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.

”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.)


#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.)


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.


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.