We’re a week into the kids’ summer holidays. I must admit I was a little apprehensive (and it has had its moments) but it has been truly lovely to spend some proper time with these guys. Julius is a cheerful little thing who’s happy to fit in as long as he gets lots of cuddles. He loves to look deeply into your eyes and coo and smile, but it’s difficult to photograph his smile as he distrusts phones and cameras… Antonia is her delightful, energetic, engaging self. She says she’d like to do summer holidays on her own soon. ‘What would you do if you had holidays on your own?’ I asked her. ‘Take a walk in the forest. Climb a tree.’ Felix spends most of his down time building lego. He made a ‘music shop’ this morning, complete with a piano. And last night he was dancing, very creatively, by himself for half an hour, to Rick Astley’s ‘Never gonna give you up’, which he specially requested Michael to put on. I took the photo above just after he’d finished, his face flushed and hair tousled with exertion… These little beings are ridiculously hard work and ridiculously amazing.
There is something about having a small baby that intensifies moments, and puts me in a contemplative mood. When the chaos pauses, and everyone is asleep…
It’s been hot here today. Quite hot. I still feel sticky now, and it’s 10pm, though the air over the fjord is cooling slightly. We didn’t make it to the beach, though we thought about it. I wasn’t sure about the ten minute (or 40 minute, if you factor in Antonia) walk with the baby hot and sticky against my skin in the wrap… We went to the shopping centre instead, all five of us, and got an ice cream from McDonalds. When we got home JJ and I had a nap together, and then we bumbled around outside with the others for the rest of the afternoon. For the past couple of days JJ has been quite unsettled late afternoon and early evening, and it is an interesting juggle keeping up with the other two and trying to keep him happy.
Things I want to remember:
Felix coasting around on Antonia’s blue tricycle (it used to be his), strumming his brand new white ukelele.
Antonia sitting down on the floor in the middle of the mall, telling me breezily – ‘I’ll just take my time.’
Felix’s beautiful wide green eyes when he tells me something very serious about Ninjago or Harry Potter.
Antonia’s squishy, sturdy little body as she hugs me tight as I carry her in from the car, or as she potters around the deck half naked, streaked in melted ice-block.
Julius’s serious, trusting little face as he looks up from my arms as I pace him around and he stops crying for a few minutes. The way the pace of his breath changes as he approaches sleep.
Babies make you think about mortality. I remember when Felix was born the thought of him or ANYONE dying was suddenly absolutely abhorrent. It felt like it should be impossible. I haven’t had that feeling in quite the same way ever again. And yet…
Everything is in bloom here right now. Recklessly, fully, absolutely. You can almost see the grass grow. It is all so lush. When I was doing my evening walks with Mum, before Julius was born, new flowers had opened every evening. The lupins appeared from nowhere, huge flocks of them. ‘It’s amazing’, I commented. ‘Yes,’ said Mum, ‘I suppose they don’t have much time so they need to get on with it.’ And she’s right. Summer and winter feel like different countries here.
I had a baby, another one. And right now my body feels – full, I guess, round and soft. (A lot less round than it was a month ago, but you know what I mean. I’m definitely a few kilos heavier than when I got pregnant.) But I had a baby. In a few years, I won’t be able to. For some reason this makes me feel a bit like the flowers, and the trees. There is summer, there is winter. There are beginnings, there are endings, there are beginnings…
I watch my family getting older. My parents, my grandparents, my children, myself. It is really very strange – ordinary, and beautiful, and sad, and right. Michael has been reading a book about the ways in which people a very long time ago thought about bodies of men and women. It is strange to think about how ideas and images and words survive from long ago, how they are preserved, or lost, or feed each other in long chains. And our bodies survive too – through birth and death, through renewal and decay. How we are linked with people a thousand, two thousand, three thousand years ago, not just through reading what they wrote or gazing upon or touching what they made, but in our cells, our very blood, our breath. It is really very strange.
To be honest, one of the most challenging aspects of the past couple of months has been the energy expended in encouraging sibling harmony. There has been competitiveness, some teasing, and rather a lot of noise. So I thought I’d better write this down as evidence that it can be different. This evening was challenging because Julius was waking ten minutes after I put him down each time and demanding to be settled again. At one point all three of them were screaming while I hastily tried to hang out some washing. Felix had asked me to make him a paper plane and tie a string to it, and so Antonia wanted one too, and they both wanted theirs FIRST, and so it went on. But, after an ice-block procured by their father, a curious thing happened. I was preoccupied with Julius and Michael left them alone. Felix was digging around in the cupboards in the hallway to find his schoolbag, and also found his and Antonia’s pull along travelling cases. And they started to play a most marvellous game together, packing their bags, going to the airport, getting in the aeroplane, and visiting ‘Grandma’s house’. They bent the rules somewhat by pretending our car was the aeroplane, and the episode ended in tears when Antonia accidentally turned the radio on full volume and panicked, but all the same! There was no fighting, teasing or competition, just encouragement, connection and joint imagination. ‘Wait for me, Feli!’ I heard Antonia say at one point. ‘I am I am’, he assured her. And a few minutes later I heard, ‘I’m waiting for you, Feli!’
The camaraderie continued for the rest of the evening, as they decided together which book we should read (Tashi, one book they both love). They didn’t want to have a shower but I managed to steer them in there by saying – ‘you guys are getting along so well this evening, would you like to have a shower together?’ And they did. And they lay quietly to listen to Tashi, Antonia on the bottom of their new bunk bed, and Felix on the top, as I read and fed Julius to sleep for the umpteenth time. Felix kissed Julius and me goodnight, and as he left (to listen to Michael read Harry Potter before he went to sleep) I said – do you have a kiss for Antonia too? He hesitated, and tried to get away with blowing her a kiss, but I encouraged him a bit more and he planted a kiss on her leg.
I’m so proud of my biggest ones. In the weeks (days, in fact) since Julius came home, Antonia has toilet trained herself (it just clicked for her, all of a sudden), and Felix has lost his third tooth, graduated from barnehage, and achieved his 25 meter backstroke and freestyle badge in swimming. The day Julius was born one of Antonia’s carers made her a ‘big sister’ medallion, and she was so proud!
She simultaneously got rather fond of the pretend pacifier that came in a bag of doll-baby stuff I gave her as a present, and for a few days spoke an odd mixture of English, Norwegian and baby talk, so sometimes she likes to be a baby too, which is understandable. But she is suddenly so much stronger and more coordinated – and can managed complicated climbing feats and hop on the trampoline like a big kid, not a toddler.
They both adore the little one, showering him with kisses and smothering him with hugs. Felix says he’s the best baby in the world, he’s just so cute!
We took these last two pictures at Felix’s ‘graduation’ evening at barnehage. They had a bbq down by a lovely lake and it was very special. He has two weeks left now, then summer holidays, then school. Antonia starts in the big kid class in barnehage after the summer holidays, so there are changes ahead for everyone.
I’m looking out at the red sunset over the fjord. I meant to go to bed early but suddenly it’s 11 already. Baby J will wake soon, I guess, you never know, and demand some milk. With his arrival it feels like so much is shifting. Sometimes I feel I’m floundering around with little to hold on to, but right now, looking out upon the water, it feels like our house is a big ship, travelling in the right direction, and I’m sailing.
My Mum is here and she is so amazing. It’s meant these past two and a half weeks have been so much smoother than they would have been without her. For the first ten days I did not feel up to much, and did not leave the house or get out of my pyjamas. And then suddenly I felt better, so I have been trialling things. Laundry. Cooking dinner. Picking the kids up from barnehage. I’ve only done that last one once, on Friday last week, and Mum was with me.
We’d just been grocery shopping with Julius. He seemed quite happy so I thought it would be ok, and was looking forward to introducing him to Antonia’s carers. But as soon as we arrived, he started fussing, so I had to take him out of the pram. I carried him into Antonia’s class, and all the little kids rushed to have a look at him, and her carer cooed – oh, she looks like Antonia! But he was crying and wanted milk, so we went out to the hallway, where I perched next to Antonia’s spot, breastfeeding. Meanwhile my Mum had rounded up Felix, who had been around the back outside. He was edgy and tired and wanted to leave immediately. Mum started gathering up some of Antonia’s stuff that I wanted to take home. Then Antonia needed the toilet, so I handed Julius, who started fussing again immediately, to Mum, and went with Antonia back inside. When we came out to the hallway again Felix was complaining loudly about us taking so long. He’d knocked over the neat pile of Antonia’s stuff that Mum had made on the ground. I found a bag to put it all in, and in my enthusiasm accidentally stuffed in another kid’s shoes. (They were the same design as Antonia’s previous pair, and her current pair had been left at home as she’d peed on them yesterday by mistake.) Finally we were ready to leave, and Felix started wailing about how he never got to sit next to Julius in the car, and it wasn’t fair, and I had to threaten to take away the ipad for the evening in order to get him in the car. He then started begging for sweeties, and instead I promised them both an iceblock for when we got home (it was hot). So, yeah. If Mum hadn’t been there to hold the squalling baby it would have been even less pretty.
Today we went the birthday party of a friend of Felix, the son of one of my closest friends. It was at a play-centre a forty minute drive away, and I was quite pleased with myself that I had managed to arrive (I thought) exactly on time. Michael reminded us to take the presents with us (I’d forgotten them when we went to a different kids’ party the week before, and had had to turn around to pick them up). But I had remembered the times wrong and we were AN HOUR LATE! It all turned out ok and Felix was in time for cake and my friends were understanding, but I felt so silly. For a moment I felt like bursting into tears but thankfully I didn’t.
So. Stormy waters now and then. But sailing.
I expected him to come late. Oh, third baby, third babies are tricky, you never know, everyone said. But Mum didn’t book her ticket to arrive until I was 40+2. I went on maternity leave at 37 weeks, and I wasn’t ready for him at that point anyway – there was so much to do! I tidied up the spare room so Mum would have somewhere to sleep, I cleaned up my own room and put the bassinet together. I spent most of my second week painting Felix and Antonia’s room a pearly sky-blue as the walls in there were charcoal grey which was too gloomy. I knitted his baby blanket. I walked most nights past fields and trees and listened to the birds.
Nevertheless, as the due date sails past, you can’t help but get edgy. I had hoped for a quiet week with Mum before he arrived, and I got it, more or less, though two public holidays at the end of the week impacted the level of ‘quiet’. On Friday, when I was 41+1, we all went down to the seaside town of Stromstad in the morning, and had coffee and cake, and walked around the harbour, looking at the boats in the sunshine. It was one of those magic little strolls where both kids were engaged, and they chatted about which boats they wished they had. Antonia said she was going to build a girl boat, only for girls, and she would be the captain. Felix wanted to sit on the sunny bench looking out over the harbour, and we cuddled.
I was tired and uncomfortable. We waited and waited. Finally, on Monday May 29th, at 41+4, it was time for my overdue check-up at the hospital. The CTG was fine. The ultrasound was fine. The doctor examined me, giving me a ‘stretch and sweep’ in the process. It was profoundly uncomfortable. I think with Antonia I’d had the ‘stretch’ but not the ‘sweep’. She told me I was only 2cm dilated. She said it might happen on its own, but it might not happen in time, and booked me in to begin an induction on Wednesday. They would start with a balloon, she said, and probably send me home, and I’d have to come back in for the gel on Thursday morning. I was a little disappointed. At my check with Antonia I’d been four centimetres, and the doctor had been confident that it would start soon, which it did. I had hoped to avoid induction. Partly because the thought of it was a little scary – deliberately beginning all that pain, but mostly because I wanted to experience again that magical moment, the gift, the surprise, the wondering – oh, is it now?
After my overdue check with Antonia, I knew she would come soon. This time I wasn’t sure. After our hospital visit, we called in for lunch with my dear friend Margrethe and her baby boy Alfred. She had baked ‘come out baby’ brownies, as we traditionally eat cake together the day before our babies are born. They were delicious. I had two.
At home I lay down for a bit before the kids came home, and then Antonia came to find me and bounced all over me. In the evening I felt tired and a bit crampy, but this was not entirely new, and I didn’t feel any clear signs. I read Antonia her books and watched her fall asleep. I felt too listless to knit. I rallied myself to go walking again with Mum, past the fields, through the forest, but we didn’t do the whole route. Like every night, the grass was visibly longer, and new flowers had uncurled.
As I went to bed myself, earlier than usual, I wondered if things would start happening, but I was just not sure. Everything seemed to settle, and I went to sleep. I woke a couple of times, as you do when you are pregnant, and there was nothing, so I resolved myself to waking in my own bed in the morning, once again. And then, at quarter to two, the strangest thing happened. I must have been only half asleep, because I felt it so clearly, A very sharp kick, and then a very clear leak. I started awake, shocked. In my last two labours, my waters hadn’t broken till the baby was nearly crowning. This was different. For a moment I contemplated what to do – I was alone, as Michael was sleeping upstairs. Then I lunged for the bathroom, dripping as I went, grabbed two towels and sat down on the floor against the bed. Oh, I thought. Oh.
It felt like a very singular situation. I sent a message to my facebook group of women having babies in May. Some said ring the hospital. Some said wait. I still felt quite sleepy, so I clambered back into bed, clutching my towels. There was a gentle contraction. And another. I decided to time them before I rang the hospital. They weren’t that frequent – six to ten minutes apart, but I remembered how quickly things had happened last time, and the hospital is about forty minutes away, so I rang. By now it was about 2.30. They agreed I should come in, so I went upstairs to wake Michael. He went to make a cup of tea. We’ll have to leave quite soon, I said. After a brief flurry of packing the car, a third of a cup of tea each, and five long minutes to locate Michael’s glasses, we were off.
It was night time, but it wasn’t quite dark. The contractions were not bad yet, and they were well spaced. When they came I tapped at my thighs, as I had when Antonia was born, and they were fine. ‘We’ve got this’, I said to Michael, trying to convince myself more than anything. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you’ll be fine. You’ll be great.’ I looked out at the shining string of streetlights on the freeway through the haze of the rain.
The hospital carpark was nearly deserted. As Michael went to get the parking ticket, I stood and watched the tiny raindrops glinting and floating in the beams of the car’s headlights. I walked back and forth for a bit. The air smelled so good. We could hear birds singing all around. I would have quite happily stayed there for an hour or so, I think, listening to the birds and walking in the quiet rain, but I took a deep breath, and we went inside.
Because we had left early, this was so different to Antonia’s birth, when I could barely walk and certainly couldn’t speak by the time we got there. We wandered in and chatted to the midwives as they got the room set up for us. It had an antiseptic smell after the lovely rain outside, but I resigned myself to it and felt grateful to be in a place where I was safe. I felt slightly silly to have come so early but the midwives assured me that it was okay to spend a few hours in hospital before the baby was born. They hooked up the CTG and I lay on the bed for half an hour while they checked the baby was ok. When the contractions came I tapped the sheets to distract myself. They were still quite mild. After that they checked my dilation. 4 cm! This cheered me considerably. They recommended I have an enema though, so I lay on my side for another ten minutes while we waited for it to work. I scratched at the edge of the sheets to get through the contractions, breathing through them, focussing on the little stripes on the light on the ceiling. One of my midwives massaged my lower back and it felt blissful.
After that the contractions sped up. But it wasn’t like the other births. Felix’s birth had been a marathon, and Antonia’s had been filled with energy and fierceness. This felt – quiet in comparison, almost gentle, the contractions imperceptibly becoming more formidable – sliding along rather than accosting me. I sat on the fit-ball for a little while and felt myself beginning to vocalise very gently, while I puffed out air through my cheeks. And then I made a dive for the bed, and lay on my side. I was tired. I didn’t want to stand. I was cold too, and the midwives wrapped warm towels around my shoulders. I looked up for the light again but sadly had taken off my glasses at some point so couldn’t focus on it any more. I felt myself getting a bit louder. And then I felt sick. Michael had to help me explain to the midwives that I needed a sick bag – there was some language confusion. Being sick in the middle of a contraction is not the most pleasant thing. After that there were a couple of strong contractions that I Aaaahed and yelled my way through. I was able to remind myself that it wouldn’t be long… And then suddenly they were telling me to push.
I was shocked. I didn’t feel quite ready. Push, they kept saying, you need to push NOW. Later they told me his heart-rate had dropped to 60, hence the rush, but they didn’t tell me at the time. With Antonia they had told me to wait a bit, and she had practically pushed herself out, so I was surprised. ‘I can’t do it!’ I said over and over again. ‘Yes you can! You need to! When you have a contraction, PUSH!’ Michael coached me too. ‘Come ON!’ he said. They flipped me back on to my back. Okay, I thought, if you insist. I could feel a very sharp ring of pain that did not want me to push toward it but I realised there was no way around it. I pushed as hard and as many times as I could through a couple of contractions. Pushing a baby out is strange as it feels so ineffectual. I was concentrating intently but they interrupted me – ‘breathe!’ they reminded. Hah, I thought, I don’t really have time for that, but obliged and took a little breath. Michael said later I was getting a little blue in the face. And then his head came out, and then the rest of him, and he was here.
5.58 am. We’d been at the hospital for a couple of hours, and the entire labour had lasted for four. Julius flopped on my belly and I stroked him while the midwives wiped him and me down as he pooed all over my belly. He made some noises but wasn’t really crying. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his little face. He looked like Felix, he looked like Antonia. After a while they let Michael cut the cord. I cuddled my baby while the midwives stitched up a little tear – it turned out it wasn’t a bad one, but I wondered, as they seemed to take forever. I sang a silly nursery rhyme – one of Antonia’s favourites, about sleeping, hopping bunnies – to distract myself from the stinging. Then they helped Julius latch on, and he had a good drink, and it felt amazing. They moved us to another room, and I held and held him. His movements were so familiar to me from the months he had spent inside me – the shifting of his back, his long feet, his sharp little heels. He was here. He was here. He was here.
I’m 37+5 weeks now (well, for another half an hour, it’s late here), and I had my last day of work on Friday. I’d been feeling exhausted and floaty and not great, and I kind of wish I’d finished up earlier, but there it is. I feel much better now. I can focus, a little, though it still feels like there are way too many things to do. Monday was a holiday here, and today Felix had a visit to his new school, so I’ve actually only had one day of leave to myself so far. I want to NEST but so many corners of our house are in chaos since we cleared out the last of the stuff from our old house, and we actually have to throw a lot of it away to clear space to tidy everything up. And I can’t do heavy lifting. And our hall downstairs is clogged by an enormous disassembled bookshelf that I insisted we needed to bring back from the old house even though the new owners were quietly hoping we’d leave it there. I thought it would be perfect for the kids’ room. And it probably will, but we can’t erect it till we PAINT the kids’ room, because it will look terrible with the current charcoal colour on the walls in there. And I want to paint their room anyway, and have even bought the paint, but should this job be first on my list? Should I pay someone else to do it? Should I clean the bathroom and catch up on laundry instead? Not sure.
I need to buy a chest of drawers so I can wash and unpack our old baby clothes. I have been aware of this for months. I chose one last week and went to buy it on Tuesday, but it turns out you have to order it, and it takes three weeks. I asked about another one that I liked less – same deal. So now I have to check other furniture shops. Maybe on Friday. Maybe I can clear one of my own drawers for the baby in the meantime and at least get some clothes and blankets ready there… Maybe I could even begin to pack some sort of hospital bag…
I need to put the bassinet together. I need to buy a new mattress for it. I found some in the baby shop today but need to check the measurements. I feel this great buzz of undirected energy, but then I notice the kitchen is a mess, and stacking the dishwasher almost undoes me. Bending over things is not my favourite. I turn it on, then have a cup of tea and a piece of toast and blueberries even though I know they will give me horrific heartburn. They do.
You see I’m convinced I’ll get close to 42 weeks, as I did with the other two, but there are always moments when you wonder otherwise… (Sitting up in the green recliner at midnight with fierce Braxton Hicks, for example. But I remember this happened with Antonia too, and led nowhere…)
I’ve started walking religiously every evening as I did with Antonia. I started a little later this time, because it’s only just become light enough to walk in the evenings once the kids are asleep, and the weather in April was horrible. Freezing rain horrible. But May so far has been lovely and I’ve got myself into a rhythm for the past week or so. Of course we’ve moved house, so the walk is different. And it is the beginning of spring, not the end of summer. I walk up a hill, past farmhouses and fields, until I reach a paddock of horses. Two reddish, two brown, one white. A bit further down the road, I turn left, past more fields, and the sky. I see three deer in a field. I see a hare, bounding. I see a goose, honking and flapping. Most of all, there is birdsong, constant, a sea of it, lapping in from the forest behind the fields. The sky, blue and pink and orange, sometimes charcoal as I return, is silhouetted by bare trees. The first leaves are just appearing now – a haze of green upon the birches, so delicate it really does look like mist, as though someone had breathed green dust all over them. And the moon. Sickle when I began, now just an edge over half full. I look up at it – over the fields, over the road, though the trees. My body feels round and the moon dreams of roundness. When, I wonder. When you have waxed and waned again? I cannot keep my eyes off her. As I tramp down the final hill she shines back cooly, clearly, through a gauze of pink cloud.
Thought I’d better do something about the lack of content here. I’m still only taking photos on my phone (something I plan to fix within the next month) but these are better than nothing. This morning Antonia totally bailed on the Easter egg hunt (she’s not into sweet things and couldn’t see the point) but Felix declared today to be one of the best days of his life. He woke up early and put two fleeces on and went for a solo ‘expedition’ with Whitby to the forest to check if Easter Bunny had been yet. She hadn’t. Luckily Easter Bunny managed to sneak out quietly before making waffles.
Easter starts early in Norway (it’s closer to a week than a weekend) and it’s been so lovely to have this time to potter around with the kids. It’s been filled with everything good: gardening, hiking, crafting, baking, reading, knitting, hanging out with friends, and wandering down to our little beach. With some cleaning and sorting thrown in as well. At times (especially Friday, when Antonia had a fever all day) there has been a bit too much screen time for the kids, but it’s always worth it when we manage to peel them away. Michael’s been making a real effort to take Felix hiking – he complains a bit but I think he’s getting better. We’ve been pushing Antonia a bit too, though if we make her walk anywhere it’s slow going as she likes to roll around on the ground every 20 metres or so…
It hasn’t been entirely without challenges but on the whole it’s been really nice, and exactly what we needed. We finally sold our old house on Tuesday, and we had a somewhat stressful few days of emptying our loft and basement before we handed over the keys. (We’ve thrown a lot of stuff away but are still not sure where to put everything, so will have to get rid of a bit more.) But it’s been so nice just to slow down and hang out with the kids and enjoy being here. I remember really enjoying staying in Norway for Easter two years ago, when Antonia was still a baby. We tend to try to get to Germany for Easter, but last year that was so gruelling that we’ve decided to take a break from that particular endeavour. It’s just not warm enough yet to make it easy to hang out there with the kids.
Also it is just so lovely to get the chance to cultivate a few of our own traditions. We’ve never spent Christmas in our own house with the children (in fact we’ve only ever spent Christmas in our own house once, when I was eight months pregnant with Felix). So it feels special to have this time just for ourselves, to have an egg hunt, to make the hot cross buns. You can’t buy them here and Easter just isn’t the same for me without them. Felix helped make them so they are quite rustic to look at but they were delicious. They have orange rind, apple pieces, sultanas, dried apricots and cranberries inside, and plenty of spices. We spent last Easter dreaming about this house and deciding to try to buy it – we had a look at it the day before we left for Germany, and bought it the day we returned. I looked out of the window this morning and saw a squirrel preening itself on a tree branch. It is good to be here.
Yesterday we walked down to the beach after dinner. The sun had come out. We had to pester Felix terribly to get him out of the house, but as soon as we got to the beach he saw that the little wooden landing was in the water again, and he clambered out to it straight away, deciding that it was a magical vehicle that could be a boat or a plane or a car. Antonia was more or less happy to go with his storyline (“you’re fishing in the air now, Antonia, not the water, we’re flying.” “Ok”). He navigated us to magic land and cloud land and beach land, fetching rocks to throw into the water to get the “bad guys”. And it was pretty perfect.
In the car, driving away from barnehage, Antonia says sadly, ‘I want to say goodbye to my friend Isak.’ Anticipating disconsolate screaming, I suggest, ‘If you say it really loudly, he might still hear you. ‘Goodbye Isak!!! … What Isak say?’ “Goodbye Antonia!’ ‘No. Isak say Har det bra.’ I laugh, impressed. ‘Yes, Isak says Har det bra, Antonia!’ ‘No! He says Har det bra Ahntoonia!’ (Pronouncing Antonia the Norwegian way.) ‘Yes,’ I smile, ‘yes he does.’
When Antonia says concentrate, it sounds like cons mine tate. For example: ‘I’m cleaning my cup. I want to cons mine tate.’ Or: ‘I’m reading! I’m consing mine tate!’
She is currently obsessed with the movie Inside Out, which the kids call In and Out. She’s started telling me fiercely: ‘Stop saying everything will be alright!’ (I’m assuming that’s a quote from the movie but I’m not quite sure.) Yesterday she found a little bag in her play house outside and pretended it was a school bag. She then spent ages and ages ‘going to school’ – wandering back and forth from the playhouse to the trees on the other side of the driveway, the bag hitched on her back. Later in the evening she declared loudly: ‘Stop the bus! I want to get off!’ She then came close to where I was sitting on the green armchair. ‘I came back,’ she said. ‘Hnnn hnnn hnnn I’m sad. I want a hockey team.’
Late Saturday afternoon we all walked down to our little beach. Antonia needed some coaxing, but once we got there she was in her element. Straight away she sourced herself a long stick to go ‘fishing’ with, and sat poking the water for a long time, in between finding stones to throw in, and stones for me too. This was a welcome change from every other time we’ve been there, when I have been responsible for sourcing the stones. She even let me have a turn of her fishing rod. Felix, who had raced ahead, and sat pensively on a bench looking out over the water by the time we arrived, was disappointed that all the ice had melted. But he quickly decided that climbing up all the rocks would be worthwhile anyway, and scrambled around the place on his own for a while before convincing Michael to join the rock scaling adventure. We watched the yellow light on the water as the sun dipped behind the hills on the other side of the fjord.
Today we had a picnic in the little patch of forest right next to our house. Michael strung up two hammocks he had brought back from America, and lit a little twig stove to toast marshmallows. It was just. so. good. Like camping, or being on holiday, but only one minute from our garden. Antonia got a little stroppy around nap time (I don’t bother trying to get her down anymore, but sometimes you can see she needs it), but she redeemed herself later, finding a ‘salad’ for me of twigs and leaves. She insisted on going out again just before bed – she dresses herself in her snowsuit, boots and hat, and heads out the door. She instructed me on when to walk and when to follow, where to put the pinecones she found for me, and then sat down with a stick on her lap, pretended it was some kind of musical instrument, and sang ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. Then I had to do it too.
It’s light till half past six now. It feels like a different world.
Apart from this I cleaned and did laundry, which felt overwhelming and annoying at the beginning, but now I feel so much better. Felix helped by spontaneously tidying up the family room so I could vacuum. The house was in chaos from Michael being away for eight days, back for two, then away again for two (he got back on Friday night), and we were both exhausted and near the end of our tether. But it is better now. It was so good to be outside in the forest all together. There is some kind of grace in this place. It is good to be here.
I guess it’s time to say (or well past the time to say, but never mind) that there will be another little munchkin around here in less than three months. I’m 29 weeks, and the little one is prodding at the computer on my lap as I write. It feels exciting but a little unreal. What is not unreal is the fact that bending over, putting on shoes, and picking things up from the floor are all becoming a lot more challenging.
Things that happened today that make me smile when I think back on them:
- after some reluctance and a heartfelt explanation from myself about the difficulties of tidying up on my own, the kids very sweetly and whole-heartedly got involved. They even did a team job of wiping down the stairs!
- it’s very sweet the way they can co-operate and work together at times – Felix explains patiently what to do, and Antonia says ‘ok!’ and complies (they do wind each other up at other times, of course)
- Felix had a very cute moment with my friend’s one year old – passing him a glow-worm doll to play with, and patting him gently on the back
- Felix hacking into parsnips and carrots with hair-raising enthusiasm, and passing them to Antonia to put in the pot for the soup
- Antonia gleefully dipping her asparagus and cucumber sticks into her soft boiled egg at dinner time
- Antonia deciding that Felix could play with her wooden rocket after all, once she understood how sad he was about it. She’s quite good at this – you just have to talk to her about how people are feeling and give her a minute to process it
- Felix managing to swim backstroke (slowly and hesitantly) in a straight line at his swimming lesson for the first time
- Felix managing to swim freestyle across the pool without stopping to take a breath (the instructor had asked them to go as far as they could, and then breathe if they needed, and he decided that he just had to make it all the way. He loves diving under the water so he’s had a bit of practice. It was the fastest I’ve seen him swim. Normally when he swims freestyle he takes far too many breaths which slow him right down. The instructor wasn’t watching properly and I don’t think she believed him when he said he made it the entire way across, but he did – you should have seen him puffing when he finally came up for air.)
- reading Pippi Longstocking to both kids before bed. They liked it a bit too much and Felix decided that when I told him to got to sleep, he would, like Pippi, put his feet on the pillow and his head under the covers
- Antonia cuddling up in bed with the pink hobbyhorse she only decided yesterday that she liked. She kept getting distressed if the horse’s pole wasn’t tucked in properly!
And not related directly to the two of them:
- the soup itself (yum)
- the snow swirling all day outside our windows (it was definitely an *inside* snow day – so windy!)
- hanging out with my friends
- reading for an hour after the kids fell asleep at 8
All that talk of books to read to Felix got me thinking about what I was reading – I hadn’t been able to find anything that was quite right. Then I found Elizabeth Strout’s latest – My Name is Lucy Barton – in our college library, and I just adored it. I’ve just finished Amy and Isabelle on my kindle, and I’m grateful that I think there are another three novels of hers I have yet to read. (I read Olive Kitteridge a few years ago on the urging of a friend, and loved it, but hadn’t tried any of her others till last week.) If any of you know of anything else I might get into – let me know!
The other thing I want to note down is that last weekend Antonia started drawing figures! Faces with arms and legs! She draws them over and over again, and today drew some dinner for them too, and a house. So far she’s been drawing with her left hand.
As Felix has approached six years old, I’ve been looking for ways to introduce longer bedtime stories. When I was in York in October last year, I spent several hours browsing the bookshelves of a large bookshop, and came home with Pippi Longstocking, Flat Stanley, and The Magic Faraway Tree. We haven’t got onto Pippi yet, partly because Felix was annoyed that the illustrations were different from the abridged version Mum bought the kids in Stockholm last year. He adored Flat Stanley. I remember my very first teacher in primary school reading this aloud to us. She was fabulous. He’s very intrigued by the Magic Faraway Tree but finds it a bit scary, so we are only about five chapters in…
Michael has a collection of five minute Batman stories, which Felix practically knows by heart.
In Australia we picked up Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which he has loved. I managed to find the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, in my library, and he gulped that down too. Michael and Felix have also got through Fantastic Mr Fox, but I think Danny the Champion of the World is a bit heavy for now. For Christmas I gave him all four Bad Guys books by Aaron Blabey, which he thought were hilarious (and a bit scary), but he was devastated when they ended on a cliff-hanger. These are written in a comic book format, and I’m sure he’ll revisit them when he learns to read.
My Grandma gave him this absolutely gorgeous picture book for older kids, Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon, by Torben Kuhlmann. We’ve read it several times, and I’m sure there will be many more.
I recently asked my friends on Facebook what else they would recommend, and they came up with quite a list!
Some were books which I remember fondly from my own childhood:
The Little House on the Prairie
Tom’s Midnight Garden
Now We are Six, and Winnie-the-Pooh
Wind in the Willows
Beatrix Potter books
More Roald Dahl, especially James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvellous Medicine
The Narnia books
The Famous Five
Every Arthur quest book ever written (I remember my fist King Arthur book, which was half about King Arthur and half about Robin Hood, picked up at a second hand book sale at school. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever.)
Midnite by Randolph Stow (I didn’t read this as a child but it’s one of my favourite books. Laugh out loud funny (for adults, at least). I recently finished writing a chapter about it. Felix is probably about the right age to start getting into it…)
The Secret Garden
And some were new to me:
The Tashi books (lots of votes for these and they look gorgeous)
Andy Griffiths books (13 Story Treehouse and sequels – they look very popular with kids at the moment)
Moomin books, especially Moomin Papa and the Sea
Anything by David Walliams (one of my friends had personal reservations about them, but admitted that the kids loved them. I saw today that my libray has a lot of these)
The Children of Cherry Tree Farm
The Boxcar Children
The Magic Treehouse
Milly Molly Mandy (several votes for this)
Astrid Lindgren’s Lotta books
Emily Rodda’s Fairy Realm books
How to Train your Dragon (these are in my library)
My Father’s Dragon
Swallows and Amazons
Graphic novels like Hilda and the Midnight Giant
Asterix (ok this one isn’t new to me exactly but I never read much of it myself)
The Tale of Desperaux
Treasures in the Snow
And, according to Penni: As read-alones, the Billie B Brown and the Hey Jack books by Sally Rippin are perfect. They are really great everyday social stories too, good for gently rehearsing every day problems like losing something or mean friends or whatever.
And from another friend, who has a boy Felix’s age: As for reading himself, he is reading a series of books about a pig called Mercy that are fun and easy to read.
Anyway, one of my friends asked that I collate the suggestions into a blog post, so they would be easy to find later. So here they are. I’m very aware that he won’t be accessing these books at school (apart from the Scandinavian ones, I guess), so I want to make sure he gets a solid grounding at home. I also think I’ll try to get hold of Bill Bryson’s A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, as Felix wants to know it all. Let me know if you have any more suggestions!
My darling Felix turns six tomorrow. We had a party yesterday. He’d been dreaming of this dragon cake from the Women’s Weekly cookbook for nearly a year, and I’m so pleased we managed to pull it off. Michael took Antonia out swimming on Saturday morning and Felix stayed home to help me decorate the cakes and the house. ‘This is the first time we’ve decorated this house!’ he declared, solemnly, joyfully, as we sticky-taped his Jurassic World banners to the windows. Themed party decorations were also high on his wish-list, after he had wistfully observed them at his friends’ parties. It was so gratifying to be able to oblige.
I was a bit nervous about the party, as it was a lot of work to prepare, and he would have a mix of his old and new friends there, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to work. In the end it was fine. The parents of his new friends didn’t stay, so I didn’t need to worry about engaging with adults who weren’t comfortable speaking English (we lived in a bit of a bubble at the kids’ old kindergarten, which was bilingual). I did, however, have to communicate with a handful of 5-6 year olds in my creaky Norwegian, but I got by ok. The new friends monopolised Felix but the old friends played with each other, and there were no disasters apart from one kid tumbling down the stairs (oops) and another one getting nervous and hiding and not wanting to eat lunch. Felix beautifully calmed this one down, and enticed him to rejoin the celebrations – I was so proud of him.
Felix loved the party, and even relished the singing of Happy Birthday (in both Norwegian and English). When he was younger – maybe even last year, I’m not sure – we could never sing it to him, he was far too self-conscious. Today he’s been cheerfully putting together the lego sets his friends gave him. We went for a little walk in the afternoon to the frozen fjord. I have pictures – I’ll try to put them up tomorrow. But it was funny, Felix’s comment about decorating the house, because I have been musing a bit on the house over the past couple of days. How our lives and daily routines have changed, expanded, to fit this space. How our move here in May last year coincided with a big change for Felix in terms of what he wanted to play with – he’s hardly touched his trains since he’s been here, and they were such an obsession for years. There’s more to say about this, but it’s bedtime, and oh so nearly his birthday.
One of Antonia’s favourite things is a rectangular duplo plate and a stack of square little duplo blocks. She systematically fills the plate with blocks, takes them off, and does it again. She tries various strategies. ‘Look! All around the edge!’, she tells me, when she has covered the edge of the rectangle like a frame. As she’s sticking them on she sometimes assigns them to people: ‘this one’s for Daddy, this one’s for Felix’. Sometimes I am allowed to help. ‘You can choose the brown one, Mummy, and I’ll do the white.’ Yesterday as she took them all off she lined them up carefully on the sofa. ‘They’re going to sing a song,’ she told me. Later in the hallway, she arranged them into two piles. ‘The boys can sit here, and the girls can sit here.’ There is something enchanting and oddly familiar to me about all this.
In the bath she invents games and instructs me to join in. We have to pretend that we’re sleeping, complete with fake snores, and then we take it in turns to be the ‘wake up master’, and wake each other up. Usually this involves: ‘wake up, it’s morning!’ Sometimes it’s even more elaborate: ‘wake up, it’s Christmas day!’ We then have to pretend to give each other presents and unwrap them. Usually they are teddy bears.
It’s our last couple of days in Adelaide before we fly home to the cold again. Christmas was magical. The first couple of weeks here were a bit of a slog as I was on my own this year with the kids, my parents were working and we were battling jetlag, coughs, and then a fever for Antonia. But since Christmas it has been lovely – my parents have been on holidays and I’m in the swing of it now! The past week Felix has been having swimming lessons everyday as part of the vacswim programme. We’ve been going to a really sweet little outdoor pool. It’s so relaxing to have a splash then hang out on the grass eating paddle pops. Felix has learnt a lot and can now navigate deep water by himself (only just, but he is so confident and determined!). Antonia has watched the level one courses with fascination, and practises blowing bubbles and kicking her legs.
It’s been crazy hot the past couple of days but it’s toned down to pleasant today. Yesterday evening we spent half an hour (or more) pumping up a new paddling pool shaped like a shark. We had to use a bike pump and it took forever but the kids (especially Felix) insisted on helping and the process of putting it together was almost as engaging as the finished product.
Mum and Dad have taken the kids grocery shopping and I’m suppose to be doing the final edits to an article but gosh it is hard to concentrate on that right now. I will get it done somehow, it’s very close. We’re planning on going to Glenelg later, so Felix can have another go on these monstrous blow up waterslides, and Antonia can have a play in the playground.
We’ve caught up with friends, hung out with family, picked cherries, gone to the museum, the beach, the pool. I’m bracing myself for the transition back home – the cold, the jetlag, needing to leave the kids at barnehage (normally they don’t mind, but Antonia has made it very clear she prefers the current lifestyle), work, having to cook dinner… Best not to think about it too much.
We spent the morning on the deck today, puddling about on the swings, and pumping air into the paddling pool. Felix found a stretchy strap that had fallen off Mum’s bathers and announced he would use it to make a sling shot. After the early efforts were unsuccessful Dad cut him out a wooden one with holes, and Mum threaded the elastic through. He shot frozen peas and apricot stones off the deck. The peas didn’t work so well but Antonia ate up the ones he didn’t need.
Antonia wants to be a dinosaur. After some quiet reflection in the car the other day, she announced wistfully: ‘I don’t even talk like a dinosaur.’ I told her she could practice.
I always meant to write a post about weaning Felix, but I never did. I wish I had. With him I reduced his feeds gradually over a few weeks, and then suddenly got hit with mastitis while we were in holiday in Austria. The doctor there gave me antibiotics and a pill to take to stop milk production. It was hard to make myself take it, I felt so sad. I remember standing in the little kitchen of our holiday apartment, hesitating, holding it in my hands, and then going for a long walk through the wildflower meadows. I weaned him at 17 months, mostly because I was eager to have another baby, and my body wasn’t up for that with him feeding every hour or so over night, which he had done since he was three months old. Once he was weaned he started sleeping like a champion.
Antonia likes to feed all night too. At least every two hours, and more frequently as morning approaches. I have cherished my breastfeeding relationship with Antonia, although it has at times been gruelling. Felix would always do a decent stretch of sleep in the early evening but Antonia never did, always requiring more within half an hour of going down, and more again two hours after that. I have fed on demand and fed her to sleep and it has been the magic cure-all for everything – if she trips over, if she’s tired, if she’s missing me, if she’s bored. She has delighted in it, to the embarrassment of some. Whenever I talked to my parents on skype she decided it was a good time to take advantage, and I think she was showing off. ‘Meh!’ she would declare, with emphasis and clear delight.
Her requests in recent weeks have included: ‘Meh time!’ ‘Meh outside!’ ‘Bedtime meh’ ‘Meh sofa!’ ‘Sit down Mummy’ ‘Meh now!’ Meh – yah?’ And the solemn, throaty, trusting ‘uh side’ (other side). I only ever used to feed her one side at a time but when I tried to cut down the night feeds a month or so ago I let her have two sides before bed, and she thought that was fantastic and needed to be experienced on every occasion. This was not a problem really during the day but quite frustrating at 1 and 3 and 5 in the morning.
I always planned to night-wean her in the summer holidays and I did, almost. I wasn’t willing to give up my sleep-ins so gave her a free pass around 5. Which crept back to 4.30, then 4, and then…
She got a couple of little colds, and wanted to feed all day and all night. We would get home from work and she would tantrum on the floor because I was cooking dinner and not breastfeeding. She would climb on my lap when I was eating breakfast and try to help herself. I started to resent it. This wasn’t nice for either of us. After a particularly disturbed night after her second birthday party on Sunday, on Monday this week I decided I’d had enough. I would just stop. That would be it. Classes start next week, I would have a week to get through the worst of it. I couldn’t bear the thought of another semester balancing precariously on nights of patchwork sleep, and the restriction of not being able to leave her at night.
It’s been going well. Last night at bedtime she said ‘all gone meh’. And when I picked her up from day care today, she said, cheerfully, firmly, in her little sing-song way, ‘no meh’. She is still disconsolate in the middle of the night but she is getting used to it. This evening, when I turned off the nursery rhymes we’d been watching after her bath, she said ‘meh now, peees?’ And I would have liked to, oh, I would. ‘Peees, peees, peeees!’ ‘Look,’ I said, ‘you can have some more weetbix if you’re still hungry.’ ‘Strawberry?’ she said. ‘Raspberry?’ And picked one up from the table as we went past on our way downstairs and that was the end of it. It is bittersweet.
I feel lighter already, younger, even. There is a heaviness to nursing – a beautiful heaviness, but a heaviness all the same. And, as Andie Fox has memorably put it, extended breastfeeding can be ‘a lazy mothers best friend‘. As it fixes everything, you can pacify them without having to think too much about it. You can sleep in together. You can entertain them wordlessly while you finish a conversation with a friend. You can bribe them to come to bed. In short, it is lovely, and an excellent tool. But there are other ways of doing things.
I feel I have been more alert and attentive to her since I’ve stopped. I feel I have more to give of the rest of me.
Of course the milk is not gone, yet. It will take a while. I have been expressing in the shower morning and night, but I think I’ll be able to drop to once a day soon, and gradually express less and less. I was terrified the first couple of days that I would develop another infection. It hurt. What am I doing to myself? I thought. I even got hold of antibiotics and intend to keep them close by me over the weeks to come. But now it seems to be okay. I am glad I didn’t have to take a pill, like the first time. This slow ebb is better.
I wrote this post two or three weeks ago, but it didn’t feel finished and I never got back to it. I remember Michael saying ‘soon the breastfeeding will just exist in your memory’. Which isn’t quite true. Antonia still remembers it, but she’s not upset or wistful in any way. She sat on my lap the other day, and declared cheerfully, ‘drink meh last time!’ (Last time I sat here I drank ‘meh’.) It’s more than a memory – it’s part of her body, and mine. But it’s ok that that part is over.
Antonia had been anticipating her birthday for months. Mostly I she wanted us to sing happy birthday to her. We had some cake after dinner on Tuesday, and barnehage gave her a cardboard birthday crown. She was very slow opening her presents because she loved them all. (A wooden rocket, and a plastic breakfast set with salt shakers, coffee pots, eggs and egg cups. ‘Dolly’ from Grandma, and ‘Baby’ that Oma gave her last week. Once she discovered the pram all she wanted to do was take her babies to the ‘playground’. We’re having a party with some friends on Sunday, so the festivities aren’t over yet.
- Hiking in Ystehede.
- Drawing robots.
- Preparing a lentil shepherd’s pie.
- Eating it, with a glass of wine.
We went for a walk today on the other side of our little fjord (which is really an inlet from the main fjord). We had a picnic there last week with Michael’s parents, and Felix and Michael had managed to explore the hiking track a bit, but today was the first time Antonia and I went there. It is just so lovely there. We climbed up the hill through the forest and were able to look over the water to our house, and had a little picnic a bit further on. Antonia acquiesced to sitting in the ergo backpack if I galloped along like a horse now and then to cheer her up. We let her walk some of the way but she kept stopping to sample blueberries and the weather was rather threatening so we didn’t want to take hours. She was bitterly disappointed that I wouldn’t let her scramble over all the rocky beaches on the way back (it was raining lightly, and they were slippery). She managed to negotiate for an icecream once we got home to make up for it.
Once we got home the kids and I practiced drawing robots. It was a good thing to do with Felix as robots are quite doable and rather fun. ‘Too scary robots’ are a thing in our house now. We saw a man dressed up as a robot outside the science museum in London a few weeks ago, and Felix loved him but Antonia did not. She was in tears a day later when we accidentally sat next to a life size toy robot in the Victoria and Albert museum of childhood. Felix of course is delighted and has decided he loves robots. But Antonia is warming to them, and it was her idea to draw them today.
Then I made my pie in response to the slight hint of autumn in the air, and it was good. It was very good.
I made a list because various other parts of the day were scrappy and challenging, but these bits were so nice. I do that a lot, I think – collate the best bits to remember. Life is gradually returning to routine after the summer holidays – classes start in two weeks. I often think of writing here in the evening but end up tidying or sorting laundry instead.
Also Felix today asked me if rocks could be big enough to reach another galaxy. Well, I said, lots of rocks float around. No, he said, from here. No, I said, they can’t. What if you stacked them up? They’d fall over. But what if they were really flat ones?
For more than a year, after Antonia’s bath, I would wrap her up in a towel and jiggle her up and down in front of the mirror. ‘Who’s my baby bundle, who’s my baby bundle?’ I would sing. ‘Antonia! Antonia! Anto-ni-a!’ And she would giggle and ask for more. Eventually she would ask for ‘baby bundle’ herself as I was drying her. And then, about a month ago, she started asking for ‘baby bundle’, and then interrupting with a cheeky ‘Nei!’ as soon as I started. ‘What?’ I asked her. ‘Where’s my baby bundle?’ ‘Gone’, she’d shrug. ‘All gone.’
My Mum was recently here for a month, and just before she left, so say, the 8th or 9th of July, as Antonia turned 23 months old, something shifted. It was palpable. Until that day she’d said yes to nearly everything, or, to be precise, ‘Yah’. She said ‘yah’ because she was a generally agreeable soul, and she’d also say it when she wasn’t sure what else to say. Sometimes it was bright and emphatic, sometimes a low drawl that always made us smile. But all of a sudden, she’s nearly two, and has discovered the delights of ‘no’.’Did you have fun in the barnehage’, we ask. ‘Nei!’ she chirrups. ‘Not!’
She’s discovered that she can scream really loudly for a long time, even in the middle of the night, if she’s not pleased about something. Long repressed memories of Felix at the same age have begun resurfacing.
She still mixes up her pronouns a bit but has started using the first person and speaking in sentences. She can say pretty much anything she likes and her pronunciation is getting clearer and clearer. Until recently, everything was ‘help-oo’, or ‘Mummy help-oo (you)’, but she’s started throwing in the odd ‘me’ or just leaving out the ‘you’ altogether. ‘Mummy help!’ When we read the page in The Tiger Who Came to Tea when they all put on their coats and go to a cafe, she says ‘I do that?’
She can count to ten and name quite a few colours. She can, and often does, sing Happy Birthday and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with gusto all the way through.
I have been *cough* attempting to wean her, or at least to reduce her feeds a little. It was going quite well, and for a while I wasn’t feeding her at night until – well, the aim was 5 but it quickly slid to 4.30, and then, well… But I had also completely cut down on feeds during the day, apart from just before her nap if we were home. And I stopped feeding her to sleep for her nap and just before bed, I’d give her a feed, read her a book, and sing her a song. Twinkle Twinkle was the song of choice. And it was working well…
But she still wakes frequently and screams so very loudly that after two or so I just don’t have it in me to resist. She’s totally taken advantage of my wavering and is now once again asking for it all day every day, sigh. I try to distract but I’m a bit of a pushover. On Friday I picked them up early from barnehage (bagabaga as she calls it), and as soon as we got home she demanded ‘meh’. I managed to distract her with a huge bowl of popcorn (one of her favourite foods) and some water. We all sat outside together eating our snack. She happily sat on her little red chair, munching away for quite some time. Then she stood up. ‘Done!’ She declared cheerfully, ‘meh-time!’, and strutted towards me, beaming.
We had pretty much the perfect evening. After dinner on our deck (mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, meatballs for the kids and yesterday’s pasta sauce – supplies are running low) Michael suggested we put the picnic rug down on the lawn and soak up the sun. So we did. And Felix ran and jumped off our big rock – watch me! Look at my new trick! And Antonia tried the same – watch me! My new trick! She couldn’t manage to jump off the rock (thankfully) but climbed up and slid down on her bum. And then we all ran races back and forth and the kids were stralende (glowing, radiant – not sure if this is the correct way to use it but for some reason this word seems perfect). Ah so so nice.
And tomorrow I’m off to Stockholm with my baby girl, for a conference, along with one of my favourite colleagues, and I’m going to meet my Mum there! Michael’s excited about a boy’s week at home (has never happened before). My conference paper has had great difficulty attracting my attention over the past couple of weeks (and still does), but it’s not till Friday, so all will be well. Happy. Happy. Happy. 11 pm and the sky is still pink. But yeah, better finish packing my bag.
So the new house has lots of outside spaces to play in. One morning shortly after we moved in I walked into the hallway to find Felix solicitously putting Antonia’s shoes on so they could play together outside. We’ve been here two weeks now and the weather has been gorgeous and we’ve been outside a lot. And we’ve instituted a new rule of not leaving our computers lying around and not having them turned on when the kids are around. (Screen time was getting a bit out of control.) After just a couple of days they’ve completely stopped asking to watch anything, and as well as hanging out outside a lot we’re reading more books and making more puzzles, and it is good.
Even my garden gave me a birthday present – all its flowers opened up over the past week, just in time. Michael got afternoon tea ready. Antonia learned how to sing happy birthday (she likes to sing it to me as long as I sing it to her too), and Felix reminded everyone that we needed to sing it, and insisted that I have the first piece of cake. My gorgeous friends threw a surprise picnic for me last weekend, no less. I’m feeling fortunate, and feeling loved.
The last afternoon playing in our old house. Felix was very nostalgic about the big tree and took lots of photos of it.
All of a sudden, summer. On Saturday night we got back from a few days in Kristiansand. We’d never been there before, and it was gorgeous. It’s Norway’s favourite holiday town, and has a very famous zoo and kid’s theme park, which has been a national treasure for fifty years now. Michael took the kids one day while I was at a conference. The conference was great, and a real thrill for me – I got to present a paper on my current favourite poet, and she was actually there, listening! She even laughed in the right places.
We took the ferry from Stromstad to Sandefjord, and that was lovely too, all sparkling sea and low granite islands. We didn’t get any photos of the trip, but on Sunday, once we got back, I was lucky enough to go with some friends to a rocky, granite outcrop, complete with tiny islands, not far away from here. Felix tried crab fishing for the first time – he was very intrigued, but a little too nervous to pull them in without help. Antonia jumped at the chance to sample the local mud.
I’m cheating a little, because I took these photos last Sunday, not the week before. I meant to take some the week before, but couldn’t get the camera operational in time. It would have been the same photo but in better light (evening, not morning), and the kids were wearing their fleece-lined raincoats. It’s gone from really quite cold to really quite hot over night.
Antonia is obsessed with Felix right now and wants him to do everything for her. Strap her into the stroller. Push her in the swing. ‘Gegick, push!’ she cries. ‘Gegick, come!’
Today it is two weeks until we get the keys to our new house. Soon we need to start packing. This weekend, I suppose. I am very excited about our new place but it is strange to think we will leave here. The blossoms are out in our garden. We’ve been hanging out outside a lot – having pretend picnics on the lawn, complete with friends and mini tea sets, digging in the sandpit, swinging, bouncing on the trampoline, sliding down the little plastic slide. This evening Felix climbed up the slide, grabbed hold of the dangling branches of the tree, and swung down onto the ground. Practicing paragliding, he said.
Solo parenting again this week while Michael is in the US and I have to say I think it’s getting easier. There are, admittedly, several moments every day that are ridiculously chaotic and I lose my calm, but still. They happen, they pass. Felix is constantly surprising me right now. He wants to do so many things, he wants to help. In my head I have a list in order of the things I need to do to get the two of them washed and in pyjamas and off to bed, and he comes to interrupt and ask to help. And because his ideas were not in my original plan, it’s so easy to say no when I need to say yes.
This evening I had Antonia in the bath when he came to ask me if he could put help me put the grocery shopping away. (The grocery shopping had been a story in itself – imagine two small children with a small trolley each, running wild.) After your bath I said, thinking to myself – argh but I wanted to put everything away fast, it’s going to be a pain. Cue tears. I just want to do it! I don’t want a bath! He wandered off back to the lounge room, very sorry for himself. (I can’t bathe them together as our ‘bath’ is a plastic tub which I place in the shower cubicle, and they don’t fit.)
And then I thought about it. And called him back, and asked him to watch Antonia while I untied the knots on the shopping bags. And I told him he could put everything that needs to go in the fridge away. And bless him, he did. And he took the shower gel into the bathroom and put that away too. He just asked for help with my conditioner because he couldn’t get it to stand up straight. He put nearly everything away all by himself and it makes such an incredible difference not to be sole agent of creating order.
On the weekend he even spontaneously tidied up a box of toys that his friend tipped out!
I asked him this evening if he was excited about going to our new house soon, and he said yes, I’m getting braver.
Dear Antonia is cuddly and snuggly and lovely and cheeky and utterly enthusiastic (especially about washing her hands, hugging Felix (‘Ge-gik’), wearing beads, putting on gumboots, going outside and anticipating ice cream ‘i-peem!’), but has a tendency to trip over her feet and burst into tears. This can be a little trying when I’m trying to get them out the door in the morning and I can’t find my hairbrush…
But really they are such good company. I think we need a quiet evening at home tomorrow as so far the week has been full of activity – swimming on Monday, dinner at a friend’s house yesterday, and grocery shopping this evening. As Felix keeps telling me, just four more sleeps.
One of those Sunday mornings where everything goes right. We made an apple cake early in the morning and Felix insisted on peeling and coring the apples himself. Antonia helped me make the cake batter and put the apple pieces on. Then my dear friend came over with her two children, and the apple cake and cream went down a treat, and then somehow we ended up with play-doh and matchsticks out and the kids played happily for ages.
Saturday was nice too – we played in the park for hours and hours, and had lunch in the cafe across the street. We kept bumping into people we knew. Felix had an icecream with his best friend while Antonia napped in her stroller, and when she woke up she was ready for action once again.
Just for fun here’s Felix, just a little younger than Antonia is now, riding the same horse. (From this post from July 2012.)
Feeling tired, but good-tired, after a weekend packed with friends and kids riding bikes. We even did some work in our yard this morning. We often lament the fact that we haven’t done outdoor work, so decided it was time to stop lamenting and just all go outside together and have a go. It was nice.
It’s not exactly warm yet but it is light well into the evening, and a lot more pleasant outside than it was last month.
The kids were absolutely gorgeous last night, climbing up onto the armchair together and spontaneously reading a book.
And they’re both loving their bikes. We got Antonia a balance bike at Easter in Germany and spent quite a lot of time waddling after her giving her little pushes and stopping her falling over. Very hard on our backs. But now she’s able to walk it along by herself. She doesn’t glide along yet but it’s a start! She insisted on ‘riding’ it nearly all the way to the park from the carpark at Michael’s work today. She wanted to ride it back, too, afterwards, and was very sad when I had to trap her in the stroller as we didn’t have time…
Sick, that’s right. A fever for sixteen days in a row. I recovered just in time for our week in Germany over Easter. Insert here a photo I wish I took: the car all packed, Felix and Antonia perched cheerfully in the front seats, looking for all the world like they were going to drive us to the ferry… A few days into our trip Felix came down with another nasty cold, resulting in very high fevers for a week and a half, and pretty much needing to sleep all the time. Antonia got it just in time for our return journey. She often vomits when she has a fever. Yep. Anyway… We were very relieved to arrive home on Easter Monday. We managed a few loads of washing, a lot of unpacking, and once the kids were asleep upstairs I collapsed on the sofa thinking – why do I feel so shivery… Cue another week of fever for me, with both kids also home sick. Yep. I’m finally feeling a little more human now and very much hoping that’s the end of fevers for a while. March was a write off.
Anyway, in the midst of all that, we BOUGHT A HOUSE! It’s beautiful. There’s lots of room for visitors, a lot of room for the kids to run outside, and it has a view of a fjord! We can’t quite believe it. We’ve been talking about looking for a bigger house for a while, but Michael kept saying we weren’t ready. A couple of weeks ago I started dragging the kids around to a few open inspections, just to get a feel for things. We’re not ready, said Michael. But then he looked on the website. What about this one, he said. It’s gorgeous, I said. We looked at it on the Friday before we left for Germany, and thought about it the entire time we were away. Our offer was accepted the day after we returned. I had to get my head around it a little because it’s a bit out of town (only a ten minute drive, but the house we’re in now is walking distance to town and to schools), and it will mean Felix will go to a different school to the one he would have started at if we’d stayed here. But in the end I thought why not. Let’s try it. So. There we are.
We take it over at the end of May. We’ve decided to change the kids to a different kindergarten, because their current one is out of town in the opposite direction to the house. This made me so sad. I feel awful about moving Felix away from his friends given that he only has one year left before school starts. But the new kindergarten is brand new and looks really nice, and he’ll get the chance to make new friends that he might be going to school with, so we think it will work out fine, and will simplify our lives considerably.
We’re excited. We went for a drive and an explore around our new neighbourhood today, and had a picnic by the fjord. We’re hoping that living out in the countryside will be the inspiration we need to start making more of all the fantastic hiking and exploring opportunities around here. It will be a busy couple of months as I have two conferences coming up in May and June, and Michael has a US trip at the end of April and a big conference for work the week after my conference in May, but we will make it. My Mum’s coming over in June and she won’t have to camp in the lounge room as we will have a whole spare room for her!
I haven’t been taking a lot of photos, but there are a couple lurking on the camera that I may find soon, but right now I just wanted to make sure I wrote something. I’ve missed you guys, all three of you. The kids have been adorable as always and I’ll try to write more about them soon. Felix has his first ever swimming lesson tomorrow evening, so we’ll see how that goes. But now, bedtime.
We took these photos just before bath time tonight when I realised I didn’t have any photos from the week. Come into the hallway where the best light is, said Michael, after I snapped a blurry one of Felix at the dining room table. Both photos feature Michael’s new toy, lego TARDIS. Both children are entranced. Antonia is not really allowed to play with it, but I noticed she was being very quiet and when I went to check on her she was sitting up to the table, making the little lego Dr Who figures climb up and down the TARDIS stairs.
This weekend was considerably better than last weekend, but I am STILL SICK with sinus pain, headache, a nasty sore throat, and a low grade fever. I am somewhat fed up and steeling myself to get some writing done this week despite feeling groggy. I managed to take the kids swimming on Saturday morning which they enjoyed. Antonia was happy to wear her floaties around her arms (like Felix does) but refused to go in her ring. She did manage to swim around for a little while on her own with the floaties on, even twisting in a circle, before getting a mouthful of water and needing assistance. After her nap we went to the local shopping centre and had a coffee, bought some photo frames and a few groceries. Felix found the shopping cart shaped like a car and was gracious enough to let Antonia sit in it, when I warned him that was not negotiable. The only problem was trying to get her out of it, later.
Today some friends came over in the afternoon, and my achievement for the day was this black forest inspired chocolate sponge cake, with cream, cherries, and cream mixed with chocolate. I used this recipe for the sponge and it was delicious.
Now it’s nine o’clock and I’m going to bed, to see if an early night can help me kick this thing. Good night!
Not a week I’m in a hurry to repeat, coloured by upsetting news from far away, ferocious colds and slushy snow. We’ve all had colds but Antonia and I have been the worst hit. Managed to take the kids out to the cafe yesterday which was the highlight of Felix’s day. He drew two Thomas the tank engines, complete with smiley faces and yellow number 1s, and a more abstract looking drawing which he said represented a ladder falling apart. I didn’t get time to aim for better photos as they both wanted to commandeer the camera. Felix took the one below of me drawing a ‘wow wow’ for Antonia. Looking at the photos on the camera, Antonia pointed out ‘Tonya’ and ‘Bebix’ for the first time. I was so proud.
Felix: making echoes.
Antonia: very pleased with our matching hats, as we wander around the roof of the Opera house in Oslo. It’s very cool and looks a bit like an iceberg.
I took these photos on Tuesday, when we arrived back in Oslo from a mini-cruise to Copenhagen. Our friends invited us to come with them, and it was so much fun! We slept on the ferry on Sunday and Monday nights, and had a day in Copenhagen on Monday. Copenhagen was lovely. I think my family was most enamoured with the lego shop. Michael got a Dr Who Tardis set, Felix got a Jurassic World dinosaur, and Antonia got a duplo whale and an igloo. These were cute enough to get past my no-more-duplo-in-the-house-we-have-nowhere-to-put-it rule.
This week the sun has come back and today we went to the forest with some friends. I had promised Felix he could ride his new bike. When we got there I discovered the path was still basically pack ice with a light sprinkling of snow on top. Up and down two kilometres of hills. Too late to say no. Off he went. I am proud and relieved to say he was absolutely fine and only fell over three times and did not complain or break any limbs. I didn’t get any photos because I was trying not to slide down said hills while pushing Antonia in the stroller. It was quite invigorating but never again.
Here are some bonus photos of the two of them hitting the musical dance floor in the science museum in Copenhagen.
Putting Antonia to bed tonight, she sang for an hour. Normally I feed her for ten to fifteen minutes, and she drops off. Tonight I fed her for half an hour, and she wasn’t showing any signs of stopping, so I stopped. And she sang. She sang a bye bye song, a Mamma song, a Da(dd)y song, a Yaya song, a lalalala song, and then she went back to the beginning, intermittently pausing to kiss my cheek, or pat some rhythms on her knees, or nibble my fingers, or press her cheek into mine. I wonder how long she could have continued. After an hour I said, Antonia, that’s enough, it’s sleepy time. And she tried to be quiet but the song kept coming so eventually I said, I’m going to put you in your bed and go downstairs. She seemed ok about it until I put her in there (I think she really doesn’t like the corner we’ve wedged the cot into – I’m hoping I might be able to get her to sleep there one day if we move it). Then she screamed, so I picked her up immediately. ‘Meh!’ she demanded. But I didn’t feel like it just then, so I said the meh is gone now, you drank it all up, it will come back later. And I lay next to her and sang her a song, and after ten minutes she finally fell asleep. I remembered just how exhausting it had been to get her to sleep when she was a baby. But it was a very nice song.
Spiderman and the snow princess. Getting ready for Carnival at barnehage. Sorry for the dreadful quality of the photos but it’s all I can manage at the moment. Felix adores his spiderman costume and Antonia even attempted a couple of twirls in her dress. It was her first day back at barnehage after nearly a week home with a fever.
Felix: so thrilled to be five.
Antonia: in her party dress. It was so hard to get a photo as she wouldn’t say still!
I’m very late adding these photos. We were so tired after Felix’s party last weekend, but it was pretty special. I made the cake this year (with help from the two of them). Felix had been planning a ‘Connor’ cake (friend of Thomas the Tank Engine) for a whole year.
It rained all weekend. Here is Felix drawing in the cafe, and Antonia in her play kitchen wearing her floaty ring. As you do. We went to the pool yesterday and they loved it. I think we’ll start doing that more.
We also made pumpkin scones this weekend out of the kids cookbook Felix got for Christmas. They were yum and really fun to make. Antonia now insists on getting in on the act so they both perched on a kitchen chair and stirred with a wooden spoon each. My favourite mental image is Antonia’s soft little paw enthusiastically patting the dough.
The scene, 5pm: Felix happily copying numbers printed on a box, while I read a book to Antonia. You guys look happy, says Michael. I’m going upstairs for ten minutes.
Felix: Can I Watch?
Felix: But why? I haven’t Watched all day! I need to Watch!
Me: But I like to hang out with you and do things. It’s boring otherwise.
Felix: Can I paint my box?
Me (deep breath): ok.
I go to hunt for paints. I cut up plastic bags to put under the box so he won’t get paint all over the table. I find him a different top so he won’t ruin his nice white one. I find the paints. I find the paintbrushes. Antonia finds my old sunglasses and puts them on. Then she starts crying cos they fall off her nose.
Me: I’ll find you some other sunglasses, Antonia.
Felix: Not mine!!
He follows to make sure I don’t give his sunglasses to Antonia. I find Michael’s old sunglasses. She puts them on. She cries because they fall off her nose. I find a paper plate for Felix’s paint.
Me: What colour do you want?
Felix: What? (Antonia cries and cries.)
Me: What colour?
Felix: White. No. Blue.
I squirt out the blue paint and pick up Antonia, still screeching. He does one lack-luster brush of the box.
Felix: I don’t really want to paint.
I put his paper plate in the bin. I wash out the paintbrush.
Felix collapses on the sofa in tears.
Now Antonia wants to paint.
I took the kids out hiking in the forest today, and it was nice, despite some complaining from the one who had to walk all the way.
This evening my kids turned the coffee table upside down so that it became a dance floor, and then jived away on it. ‘Doo doo doo doo’ said Antonia, bouncing away, copying Felix.
We’ve had a couple of nice evenings this week. Nothing spectacular, but nice all the same. It’s dark by 5 o’clock. Felix has found a bit of a groove cutting things up and colouring them in. He showed me how his friend taught him to draw a snake. Last night we got the craft box out and he made a helicopter and a boat out of egg cartons and paddle-pop sticks. All the while Antonia bumbled around on the floor reading herself books and building towers. Felix asked when he could learn to knit, so I made him a tomboy knitting thing out of a toilet roll. Tonight the glue was dry so I taught him how to make the stitches, and he could do it! I’m so proud of him. He’s pretty pleased with the grey and blue snake he produced.
I’d been worried about how much screen time he was having, but for some reason it wasn’t difficult to reduce it this week, and it appears to have paid dividends. Probably he’s just in a good mood but I’ll take it!
I’ve been reading up on eco-criticism and writing a conference paper on my latest literary crush – Kathleen Jamie. I have so many ideas, though writing is, most of the time, a slow slow thing. But honestly, do yourself a favour and get a copy of Sightlines.
Antonia has settled again at the barnehage this week which is an enormous relief. They told me she’s really getting into the music.
Domestic life between the adults in the house has been pretty harmonious too. There’s lots of good stuff coming together at M’s work.
Felix is learning about planets and solar systems in the barnehage so there are lots of discussions about how the moon relates to the earth, and which planets we could travel to, and how long would it take to get to the sun, and are rockets really clean, and what button do you need to press, and what about the other solar systems. Antonia is enchanted with the moon. ‘Ball!’ she declares enthusiastically whenever she sees it.
Not the best quality images, but evidence that I dragged them outside this afternoon to muck around in the remaining snow… We had a week and a half hovering around -15 and it was too cold to be outside much but ah so beautiful. The whole world was frosted white and the sky was clear most days apart from little gauzy wisps of cloud, varying shades of pink and gold and pearly blue. Now the world is grey and soggy. But we had a nice weekend all the same.
I think my snowman building skills need work though. In the photo below Felix is about to start wailing because Antonia is tipping the snowman’s head off – which he had planned to do!
And my dear, dear, puffball Antonia is about the sweetest thing in the world right now.
Looking out of the plane window as we landed in Oslo, Felix said – ‘that’s not snow, that’s just salt from the sea.’ And on the train down to Halden, Antonia said cheerfully her favourite phrase: ‘hot daaay!’ ‘No,’ said Felix, ‘cold day!’ ‘Hot daaaay’, said Antonia. They giggled and giggled.
It is indeed cold. We went from 40 degrees in Adelaide to -13 here. Arriving home to a chilly house and having to dig the car out of the snow before we could drive to the shop to get milk (blessedly, the engine started first time) is not without its challenges. But the snow and the gentle sun are very pretty, in a somber sort of way. This morning as I dropped the kids at barnehage I looked over at the slow-motion sunrise and saw the most remarkable thing. The sun was not yet visible behind the white forest and fields, but what I can only describe as an orange spear of light, like a laser beam, was thrusting up from the snowy horizon into the clouds.
Antonia has spent the entirety of her seventeenth month in Australia. She’s walking faster since we arrived and now has so many words:
Mama, Da-ee (used to be Dad-dee, but she’s condensed it), Mam-ma (grandma), Poppa, Nanna, ba (ball), ba (bath) train, block, car, bubble, book, ear, eye, no (nose), toes, cup, no and nei, bleier (nappy in Norwgian), nana (banana), tato (potato), ba bye (bye bye), bear, oosh (shoe), door, up, hot, hat, more, cracker, baby, juice, shut, tea, bus, beads, sausage
Little two word phrases: hot day (she drawls, and grins), hot chip, hot tea, bye bye Nanna, more book, my Da-ee
And her favourite invented word: alloo (water)
(and meh, of course, for breastmilk)
She has absolutely adored being here and seeing her grandparents every day. Swings are one of her favourite things – persuading her to get down from one is usually quite a noisy affair. She’s very adept at the little plastic bike Felix used to ride around on. She is cuddly and determined and hilarious. She decides who gets a kiss and who is allowed to kiss her. She loves hats. ‘at! at!’ she says. She is quite entranced with little lego men and loves to put helmets (hats) on them. She can build really high wooden block towers (eight blocks high) and stick duplo together. She loves the sea. On New Years Eve she couldn’t get enough of whirling around in the waves – it was quite hard to keep hold of her. She especially loves my Mum and gives her the best snuggles. She is still quite partial to a mouthful of sand.
She loves animals, especially dogs. ‘Wuff wuff!’, she declares excitedly, whenever she sees one, and prepares to go and pat it. At Christmas time we stayed with my cousin and his family, and they had their dog Churros with them, so ‘Churros’ became the fifth name Antonia learnt to say. She adored meeting some kangaroos, which she thought were ‘wuff wuff’s too. She frequently demands that I draw dogs, which is new for me as I tend to draw cats for children, but it’s kind of fun.
She likes to be upside down.
She likes to be close to me.
She thinks Felix is the funniest person in the world and she tries to cheer him up with kisses or gifts of water bottles when he is upset. (He takes good care of her too.) They egg each other on mercilessly, resulting in some very noisy car rides. She is brave and bold and affectionate and insistent and we think she is phenomenal. We love her so.
So hard to believe that this time next week we’ll be in chilly Norway.