One of the hardest things about living in a new country is the fact that I have to speak a new language. It’s really hard for a girl my age!! Sometimes I get so frustrated because people tell me they think I speak really well, yet I feel like I am expressing myself like a child. The whole thing has really made me appreciate my own language too, with all of its expressions and nuances. I miss being super expressive. I am sure that I will get close one day though. I am going to keep plugging away at it at any rate. I will never give up! Haha. I saw this little bit today on my FaceBook feed and it gave me another reason to stay persistent.
Well, it’s been forever since I’ve written anything. Not for lack of having anything to say. It’s been more of a lack of time, and follow through, with a dash of laziness thrown in for good measure.
The new school year has started up without a hitch so far. Anders and his friends are very busy most days after school, and after their various activities. They have made a secret hangout in the woods. They have been brainstorming how to make it the best it can be, and have put in a lot of hours making it into something. I even let them take some of my Christmas decorations over there so they could decorate it and make it cozy. There has also been need for defense as some older kids have challenged them and set out to destroy their hard work and some younger kids who have threatened to take it over. I know all of this because I hear them talking amongst themselves and I ask questions here and there. I know the hangout is in the woods across from our house, but I haven’t been there. It is theirs after all.
This of course brings me back to my own childhood. I think of all of the secret places we found, the secret clubs that were formed, the hours spent, and how important it all felt at the time. There were conflicts, hurt feelings, confrontations, but also lots of sharing, imagining, and working together. All of this was done without the help of anyone’s parents. We hashed it all out together in our own ways and learned how to deal with conflict, jealousy, joy, excitement, problem solving, and basically figuring everything out on our own. After all, free play is just a fun way to prepare ourselves for society and how we might contribute to it in the future, and how we might react to conflict, creativity, teamwork, etc. once we’re grown up.
I feel sincerely grateful that Anders gets to participate in these types of activities, as this would never have been an option where we lived in the US. The kids were more spread out and there would be too many parents saying it might be dangerous. Some might worry about kidnapping, getting lost, getting hurt, or protecting their feelings and making sure there are no conflicts. Some might feel the need to be close by to remind their kids to “be careful” and “watch out for that branch over there,” etc. I know I have those tendencies and have been slowly letting go over the last year and a half. But I have learned that when things are too tough, Anders will ask questions and ask for help to try to solve problems. He tells me his feelings about the things that happen so that we can walk through them in the aftermath. I feel that he has matured so much in many ways.
A lot has happened since the latter part of May. I finally graduated from school, which has been something I have been working on for several years. For most of the time I was working almost full time, and with having kids and all, well, let’s just say that I was really busy. I am so pleased to have finished. I was lucky to be able to go to UiO last summer to the international summer school and finish up this last year while not working at all after our move to Norway. It was really nice to be able to put a lot more energy and time into my schoolwork. We went for an all too short vacation to the US to see Max graduate from middle school and to see my mom and sister, and so May was pretty busy. We were home on June 3rd, and Max came back with us. The summer didn’t really kick in until last week and we’ve had really beautiful weather which has led to some good hikes, and just being able to do yard work and be outside is great. With my newfound down time though, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how different my life is in the last year. It became very apparent to me when we traveled to the US. When we got off the plane in Newark and had to hurry to our connection after customs, I realized that I have become very accustomed to a slower paced life and a much lower exposure to everyday stresses. The Newark airport used to seem very manageable and really just somewhat run down and dirty, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t completely gob smacked by the amount of people, and the pace that everything moved this time. I was really off of my game. When we got to Atlanta we rented a car. I have driven on practically every major highway across the US in my adult life when I traveled with the Apples. I drove a 15 passenger van loaded with people and gear and could parallel park in the tightest of spots without a second thought, and suddenly the sheer thought of driving on the US interstate system made me feel a sense of dread and panic. Luckily it all came back to me really quickly, but I realized that it is definitely something that I don’t really miss. Driving in traffic, hurrying, the thought of being late and having to factor time in for traffic and congestion etc. is definitely just something I dealt with as most people do. I am learning to embrace life at a much slower and more leisurely pace and I have to say I am quite fond of it. It has been really good for me and I realize that I am much more content and happy which is a very positive observation. I realize that being busy and stressed are not badges of honor, or something to brag about at all which is something that used to make me feel inadequate when talking to others who seemed to thrive on being able to top my busyness and stress. The slow life suits me!
So, this is a kids program here in Norway and in this clip they are explaining how the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, etc. work and how menstruation occurs. They also have clips about what happens to breasts, and penises during puberty. This Newton program also has scientific content unrelated to sex education. This kids program was deemed unacceptable by Facebook because it shows a woman naked from the waist down. I find it really annoying that Facebook, and everywhere else thinks it’s okay to sexualize women, to Photoshop them, to set impossible standards, but it is not okay to plainly show and explain something to children in a non sexual way. There are Facebook pages dedicated to sexualized images of girls, even very young girls, and I find this very hypocritical. Here is an example: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sexy-Girls/895226733842027?fref=ts. I have seen a lot of nude images show up on my Facebook feed time and time again and nobody censored those, but try to have a scientific kids show that aims to teach kids correctly what is going to happen to their bodies or what is happening to their bodies during puberty, with real and non sexually suggestive examples and it will be censored. That is so backwards to me! I am glad that Anders gets to see shows like this on television and in school, and that he will not grow up thinking that bodies are inherently sexual, or something to be ashamed of, photo-shopped, etc.
A funny little post I wrote back in June about our trip over.
We successfully moved to Norway. On the 2nd of June we rented a minivan in Lexington, KY and started to drive to Newark, NJ for our flight to Oslo on the 3rd of June. We had 4 suitcases, a jumbo-sized dog crate and our 75 lb. Weimaraner, a cat Sherpa bag, a 15 lb. cat, 2 kids, my husband and myself. The cat was completely freaked out and started trying to chew and claw his way out of his bag. We let him run around the car and he meowed and panted most of the time. We were all covered in hair, I’m sure we were eating hair. We had to stop at Petsmart on the way to Newark to buy a new cat Sherpa bag since a large hole was developing in the bag thanks to the incessant clawing and chewing. Checked in at the airport and had the dog in his crate. We gave him a sedative we got from the vet. As we walked toward security we could hear him barking. Can we just get there already? My husband gave the cat his sedative and he was out like a light. He looked so weird and was so calm. At the gate we changed him to the new bag while he was out and realized with the sedated cat, we were in the clear and all would be smooth in the cabin. Hopefully the dog was okay underneath. Boy was I wrong! 3-4 hours into the flight, I was dozing in and out of sleep. I open my eyes slightly as I hear the brisk footsteps of a flight attendant coming from first class, and in my drowsiness I realize he is holding a cat. I think to myself, hmmm… weird he has a cat… and then momentarily, oh fuck, he has OUR CAT! I shake my husband to wake and garble out something like, ‘flight attendant walk by, cat, he has our cat!’ Husband feels the bag… holy fucking shit; he’s not in the bag! We argue for a couple of seconds about who will go back there to the flight attendant, but I make my husband do it because the cat is technically listed under his name. Hehehe. One flight attendant found it funny that our cat was wandering around first class, while another scolded my husband in Norwegian to keep an eye on his cat! The last few hours of the flight consist of my husband and me taking turns with a hand in the cat bag, petting and trying to calm the cat. It’s nice in this situation that our kids are so self sufficient and require little help. When he starts to try clawing and chewing the new cat bag, my husband takes him to the bathroom and clips his claws. This seemed to calm him down quite a bit. He liked being in the bathroom, and he drank from the sink. My husband seriously contemplated spending the rest of the flight in the bathroom with the cat, but he did end up coming back. The cat finally calmed down after that. The dog did remarkably well in comparison, and to think, it was the dog that I spent most of my time worrying about pre-flight.
Two weeks and some change later, the cat literally owns my in-laws house. It’s like he never went temporarily insane, or flew across the Atlantic. He’s steadily gaining weight (which he doesn’t really need), seeing invisible stuff on the walls that he attacks with vigor, and is basically living like the King that he is.
When we left the US in June, Anders had just completed the 2nd grade. In Norway, he started with 4th grade because they don’t have Kindergarten. Anders is a typical elementary school age boy. He likes to run, climb, bike, jump, play sports, play pretend games, etc. At his school in the US the children were given a 20-minute recess. Yes, 20 minutes, that is all!! Furthermore, in the colder months they stayed inside during recess 80% of the time that year. When they stayed inside they did not get to run and jump and move their bodies. Not surprisingly, I got quite a few notes home about how Anders could not sit still in class, and how he had a hard time keeping to himself. I would pick him up from school and he would be miserable, stating, “We didn’t get to go outside again. The teacher took a vote and mostly the girls wanted to stay in. There are more girls, so it just isn’t fair!” I was never able to justify that to him because I never thought that it was fair, so I could only commiserate with him. I also am perceptive enough to see that if the kids get to run around, move their bodies, and wear themselves out a little bit, they sit still and pay attention more. We parents easily noticed it yet the system is set up to work against itself. More and more, school was heading in the direction of only teaching for the tests, which obviously leaves little to no time for such frivolities as recess. We even got notes home about talking to our kids about testing, asking us to tell them to do their best, tell them their previous score so that they could beat the score, give them an “extra” nutritious breakfast, put them to bed earlier than normal. These kinds of demands are insane for children that age (and this can be fuel for a whole other blog post), but kids’ lack of being able to move around and use their bodies should also be considered when administering these oh so important tests. Would it not be prudent to look at the research that is out there about the importance of play and movement when it comes to learning? The school systems in the US seem to be repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot as they strive to reach a better educational standing of US students worldwide, and this is just one small but important thing that could be easily fixed to help classroom learning and behavior. Here in Norway, Anders has been enjoying the 4th grade. He has recess at least 3 times a day for at least 20 minutes a time. They always go outside, no matter what the weather is. He has been climbing trees, building snow forts, having snowball fights, playing soccer, basketball, and hide and seek type games. They do class hikes, and next week they are having a ski day and everyone is going cross-country skiing for the entire school day. He also has math, English, Norwegian, Science, Social Studies, and RLE (religion, spirituality, and ethics) everyday and has been learning just as much (if not more) than he was in the US. He comes home from school every day feeling satisfied, and has become much more socially mature (partially because he is growing up, but also because he is navigating his social life and negotiating conflict resolution without constant adult intervention). These changes have been extremely positive, much more so than I ever expected and really make our decision to move here feel like we did the right thing if for no other reason, than for Anders. This also makes me angry for all of Anders’ friends in the US, and my friends back home who have children in the public school system. I really hope that school systems will wake up and see how important active play is in a child’s life, and how it can enhance a child’s ability to sit still and absorb information in the classroom. There needs to be an outdoor recess everyday. I would also argue that there needs to be more than just one 20 minute recess a day as well, but first we need to get them outside.
It’s a funny thing about Norway… people don’t smile at each other or wave and say, “Hey, what’s up?” People generally seem to keep a respectable distance and try not to make eye contact. If you meet someone you know at the grocery store you can just barely nod to acknowledge him or her, or you can choose to have a quick conversation, but it’s not at all mandatory. There are some aspects of this that I really do admire because it gets you out of those awkward moments in the store where you keep bumping into someone that you have already just greeted and said goodbye to, and maybe even made tentative plans with. Or maybe you’re just not in the mood to have the “stop and chat.” Even so, I don’t see the harm in making a little eye contact and smiling to people as you pass them, or brush them as you walk by. I have always done this. Americans in general are known for smiling, waving, and asking how someone is doing that they don’t even know (even if they don’t wait around to hear the response which is admittedly a little weird). In the 7 months I’ve been here, and all of the times I have visited, I have not stopped my habit of smiling to people and being friendly. Compared to some Americans, I am even more smiley and friendly, but it is genuine and it makes me happy. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel connected to the human race. On days when I’m blue, it makes me a tad happier to be amongst people that I don’t know, or that I do know, connecting. Being friendly. I have had a few experiences since I’ve moved here where I smile and wave in the store to someone that I know or have met, and they look at me like a two-headed monster and look away. That’s okay, to each his own, and I don’t have any agenda to try to change anyone or demand to be treated a certain way. Besides, it is the culture here, and I accept it… and there are good things about it, like I said. But, I also don’t intend to change the fact that I’m going to probably walk around looking a bit happy, maybe people think I’m high or on something, and perhaps it seems rather strange to people. But, some things I am just not willing to change.
This semester, school has given me a particularly heavy work load and I haven’t been managing my time well. I have also started taking my local language class here in Sunndal to fulfill my language course requirements that come with my permanent residence status. We bought a house and are moving into it soon, so all of these things combined have made it difficult for me to find time to write anything, but there are so many things to talk about! Well, after the New Year I won’t be as busy. Only my language class, and then one more university class and I will graduate in May…..finally!
One quick little thing that I want to share is that Anders is now making his own lunch a few days a week. I think it’s great! I know a lot of kids here make their own lunches, but I didn’t know any kids back home who did. They do food projects every couple of weeks here at school. He has to bring an apron (his bestemor made him an apron and embroidered his name on it in heavy metal letters designed by his tante Gunnhild), and they make a meal. The last thing they made was tacos. They split up into 3 groups of about 4 kids. They chopped onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocados, and I don’t remember what else. They seasoned and browned the taco meat, shredded cheese, and sat down and ate together. Earlier they made fruit salad, and chopped up a lot of different kinds of fruit together. Their teacher let them put vanilla sauce on top… yum! Since he has been doing this, he has become very comfortable with chopping and wielding a large chopping knife. 🙂 This is one of the things that I love about school here. They really do a wide variety of things that pertain to life and not just math and reading.
I recently read a blog post by a mother who had gotten reprimanded for letting her child play alone outside. A woman, a neighbor, brought the child home, rang the doorbell and condescendingly let the mother know that she was being negligent as a mother in so many words both spoken and unspoken. But that wasn’t the end, and what ensued was a nightmare, unnecessary and downright dangerous. (There is a link to the blog post at the bottom so that you can read for yourself) This incident brought me back to a woman I know back home in Lexington. She lives across the street from her son’s elementary school. She had been letting him cross the street (this is not a major street, it’s a neighborhood side street) by himself in the morning to go to school, as she watched from the doorstep of their house. She could see almost all the way to the front entrance, and she could see her son’s classroom window from where she stood. After a week or so, she started to get reprimanded by other mothers who warned her not to do this. They stated that it was unsafe, and they treated her like she was a bad mother for doing so. She also had a toddler at home and it seemed ridiculous to get her and the toddler dressed every morning just to walk across the street. She ended up having to get dressed and accompany him with the toddler in tow, as she felt very bullied and judged by the other mothers. There were two instances this summer that I recall where mothers got arrested for letting their children go to the park alone, or dropping them off to play alone at the park. Anders often wanted to walk down the street to explore, or walk away from where we were in a park to explore another part. I did not let him, but it wasn’t because I didn’t trust him, or that I felt that he would be in danger. It was because I was worried that I would get in trouble or be reprimanded by someone else… another parent, or a police officer. That is kind of sad.
This is becoming more and more prevalent. Why can’t we let our children play outside? What are we doing to them by not giving them any freedom to explore, and figure things out on their own? Why are we judging each other so harshly? I have heard over and over back home, “it takes a village to raise a child….” Where is that village? Instead of judging each other, why aren’t we lifting one another up and looking out for each other as fellow neighbors, mothers, fathers, parents, men, women, and friends? If you are a neighbor, instead of condescendingly dropping a child off at their doorsteps and judging their parent(s), why don’t you get to know the parent(s) and the child? You can help as a neighbor and be a part of the community by being alert and helping to look out for children’s safety, while still letting them explore the world around them. I am afraid that we are doing our children a horrible disservice by not letting them have any freedom to explore, and there really is no conclusive data to back up that the world is a scarier and a more dangerous place than it was “back in our day.” And, if it is, shouldn’t we prepare our kids to be able to intelligently and confidently get around in it on their own without us hovering over them?
This is one of many reasons that we moved to Norway. We wanted Anders to roam through the neighborhood, ride his bike, knock on a friends’ door spontaneously without having a pre-arranged playtime set up by us. Since we moved here he has been doing this, and it feels so good. Many days after school he rides down the bike path, crosses the bridge that goes over the river and goes to a friend’s house. If that friend isn’t home he goes to the next one, and so on. He has a phone, and he can call me and I can call him. Even if he didn’t, I would be okay with it. I know where his friends live, and we use common sense and rules. There is a feeling here that parents and neighbors here are paying attention and looking out for one another.
I wish for the same for all children and I hope someday things will change. I understand that this is a complex issue. I hope that parents will stop judging each other. It’s not a contest, and in the end, if the kids have fun, learn, become independent, social, and happy everybody wins. I wish to add, that I know that every neighborhood and every parent is not like what I am describing, and there are many people who do not experience this at all, but I do worry about it because it has become far too prevalent.