Jungle Boy

Saturday-17Michael took these gorgeous photos one weekend while Mum worked in the garden. Felix had helped her for a while, and then discovered this broom handle and the need to tear around the lawn with it, racing and whooping. A Felix at three and a half is a lovely thing, if challenging at times. He is reflective and feels things very deeply, and never forgets anything. He knows how to make magic with language.

Saturday-12He likes the baby. He likes to bounce. He likes ‘sweet stuff’. (As I do. We are working on it.) He loves to cook. I had to rush out of the kitchen to settle Antonia back to sleep the other day, and when I returned he’d located his (not so sharp) knife and chopped up a carrot. He likes you to play with him.

Saturday-26He likes building things – a couple of days before Mum left he built the most amazing extenstive airport out of duplo blocks, spread over two duplo plates, complete with a control tower and a luggage belt. He loves the craft cupboard I put together in the summer before Antonia arrived. He’s an ace negotiator. The afternoon Mum left, I was madly tidying whilst Antonia slept. Felix looked at me. ‘How many things,’ he said, ‘how many things do I need to put away before I can paint?’ ‘Ummmm’ I said. But he continued to tidy up all his toys so thoroughly that I couldn’t refuse him, and he spent the next hour very carefuly covering sheets of paper in one colour each. Later, he tried to build a huge duplo bridge and it kept falling down. ‘It’s a bit unpleasant building this bridge’, he said.

Saturday-24Sometimes he whines and wails, and these are our least favourite times. Other times he can have a thoughtful conversation with you about nearly anything. He rarely stops asking questions.

Saturday-15He gives us so many hugs and kisses. He doesn’t love his ‘bear’ as much any more – he still likes him, but doesn’t notice if he’s not in his bed. He has a lot of other ‘friends’ to cuddle, and his beloved ‘echidna pillow’. Only two months ago he was asking us why grown-ups don’t have bears, and assuring us that he would still have his bear when he was a grown-up.

Saturday-14He is beginning to play more with his friends – he’s just at the cusp of a new stage. He comes home from barnehage now and tells us about a ‘shop’ he runs in the playground, where his friends come and buy toys from him. Recently we went to playground with his best friend and his mother, and it was not his day and everything went wrong and they just argued and fought and couldn’t agree who’s turn it was to drive the boat. But there were some funny moments. ‘Come up here on the deck,’ I said to Felix, ‘we need to be on the look-out for animals!’ ‘I see some fish!’ He said. ‘What kind of fish?’ ‘Blue fish!’ ‘I see some yellow fish!’ said his friend. ‘Nooooooo’, screamed Felix, ‘there are no yellow fish, they are blue fish!’

Saturday-19To us, all these things seem utterly remarkable. He knows about kings and queens and death now.

Saturday-20Sometimes his face looks suddenly older to me, and other times he’s still my baby. He is a tiny baby, he assures me.



We spent a long time deliberating over Antonia’s names. I thought I would call my daughter Lucia, but Michael went off it. Then he returned from a trip to Germany and told me – ‘I’ve got it. Antonia.’ I paused. I thought of Willa Cather’s beautiful novel, My Antonia. I thought, I could have an Antonia of my own. I looked up the meaning of the name. Antonia means ‘priceless one’, which is exactly right. I had waitied so long for her. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I like it, but what would you put with it?’

I wanted a name that meant light, or the sky. I very deeply wanted this, I don’t know why.

After trawling through name sites, I found Celeste. Antonia Celeste. Michael wasn’t sure. It’s not a common name here or in Germany.

We tossed up using family names, but none of them felt right. ‘We could give her two middle names’, said Michael. I didn’t want to, but he really did.

We decided not to use family names, and just find names that we liked. I didn’t like any that Michael suggested: Teresia, Juno, Viktoria, Augusta, Octavia. ‘We can’t name our baby after our car,’ I said. ‘ I was thinking more along the lines of Austrian empress’, he said. She would have Michael’s surname. ‘The middle name has to mean something to me,’ I said.

In the end I gave him a list. One of these, I said: Celeste, Lucy, Elinor. Mostly, I wanted Celeste.

Not Celeste, said Michael. Unless we have two. Elinor Celeste.

I wasn’t sure. We stopped talking about it. It was quite stressful. I didn’t want to argue.

pregnancy-birth-34We didn’t raise it again until she was a day old. I cuddled Antonia on the nursing chair by the window in the hospital. Michael lay on the bed beside us. We looked at Antonia and stroked her little hands.

‘What shall we use as a middle name?’ said Michael.

I drew a deep breath. ‘I really want to call her Celeste’, I said.

‘What was the other name I liked?’ asked Michael.

‘Viktoria? Teresia? I don’t like them.’

‘No, the the other one.’


‘Yes. We can call her Antonia Elinor Celeste.’

I looked down at the tiny warm being curled on my chest. I loved her. I loved Michael. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Okay. She can have all the names. Antonia Elinor Celeste.’

Antonia, priceless one. I like ‘Antonia’ because of its meaning, its sound and its look on the page – perfectly balanced and framed with ‘a’s. It has the same number of letters as Melanie, and an ‘n’ and an ‘i’ in the same place. I like that it’s a Latin name, like Felix – it seems appropriate for a child of mixed Eurepean ancestry. Michael thinks it would look good on a scientific journal paper. It is a pretty name, and a strong name. I like its reference to the beautiful book, with all its descriptions of light, and rippling fields of grass.

Elinor is the Scandinavian spelling of Eleanor. The spelling is also used in England – Jane Austen uses ‘Elinor’ in Sense and Sensibility, which I had been reading in the final weeks of my pregnancy. I’ve always liked the sound of Elinor, and it reminds me of ‘Elanor’, from the Lord of the Rings – a small, star shaped flower beloved of the elves. Sam Gamgee names his daugher Elanor at the end of the novel. (That book was my alternative universe during my teenage years.) People often think Eleanor is related to Helen, which means blazing or bright, and would tie in with my ‘light’ theme, but it actually means ‘unknown’, ‘other’, or ‘foreign’. Antonia is deeply familiar to me, not foreign at all, but the meaning is perhaps not entirely inappropriate for a child of parents of two different nationalities, born in a third country. It is also a beloved name in Norway, which is nice.

Celeste – heavenly, celestial. I wanted a name that meant the sky, or light, and this means both. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking up at the sky, reading it, dreaming it, writing it, and some beautiful moments of my life sailing through it. I think of Dante’s Paradiso, the Psalms, and Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline: ‘the sky is the garden of Tourmaline’. And we are made of stars – all the elements we are formed from were forged there. When I told my Mum one of Antonia’s names was Celeste, she knew immediately, and said ‘that’s really for you, isn’t it’.

Antonia Elinor Celeste is a big name for a tiny being. She is earthy, not celestial, although her face is round like the moon. She is familiar, not foreign. She is undoubtably priceless. A lot of the time she gets ‘Teeny Tiny Toni’, or Puff Puff, or Pudding. Or even, from Michael, Brussel Sprout. But these are her baby names, and she will not be a baby for long. Names are gifts and dreams, and she can take or leave them as she chooses, and as those around her choose. But she came to us, and through us, and we have named her with love and with joy.


selfie-5We took this on Saturday at an autumn festival in town. Six weeks as a family of four, and one week successfully balancing the needs of  two children all by ourselves. Michael’s also very pleased with this one – two cheeky monkeys. The pair of them have exactly the same sense of humour involving nonsense and wordplay – I can’t keep up.


Baby, again

Antonia-day5-1The main reason the blog has been quiet lately is technical difficulties – my computer died and I can’t find my camera charger (and the camera is a bit worse for wear anyway). I’ve got hold of one of Michael’s cameras but it’s not as versatile as I’d like and I have no way of getting the images onto the computer I’m using. And the time and energy required to solve these problems are not forthcoming at the moment. But I must try.

I’m typing with Antonia sleeping on my chest – her favourite spot of an evening. She quite insists upon it. She is so lovely. Calm and cuddly and her head smells nice. I put her in the bath with Felix this evening – helping him to hold her head above the water – and it was adorable. She was weighed yesterday at her six week check and she’s already 5.8 kilos and 60cm! When she was born they told me she was 50cm but I’m certain that was a mistake and she was more like 54.

10671407_709543925800904_2566291290407506977_nTo begin with, the night wake ups were way more brutal than I remembered. I hadn’t been particularly worried about them, especially was I was waking several times a night anyway towards the end of the pregnancy, but there is a bit difference between your own body waking you and a complaining baby waking you. For the first few foggy weeks I thought every time – ‘what? Really?’ Now I have acclimatized a little and adjusted my mindset and it’s not so bad. She needs cuddling all evening (but will happily snooze on your chest as you lie on the sofa), goes down for the night between 10 and 11.30, and generally wakes around three or four and again at five or six, but these days will usually snooze off again pretty easily. Felix has even been pretty kind with his wake-ups and I often don’t have to start the day properly before 7.30. Argh sorry this is so boring, must remember to skip the details…

Saturday-30It’s hard not to constantly compare the two experiences – Felix’s babyhood and Antonia’s. There’s not the same seismic identity shift as when you become a mother for the first time. But there is something.It’s more gradual, in a way, but your identity does alter. Being a mother of two is different from being a mother of one – it’s more of a juggle, and more repsonsibility. And Antonia is herself, is different to Felix, so my relationshiop with her is different, and affects me differently. Oh, these observations seem dreadfully bland, but I am trying…

antonia-1-26I love… her breath, her weight on my chest, her sticky cheek on my skin. I call her ‘Puff Puff’ because of her quick puffing breaths. Sometimes she reminds me so much of a baby Felix – especially when she pulls off after a feed, utterly sated, whinying slightly, her little chin scrunched, her cheeks puffed out. A lot of the time she looks exactly like me – like baby photos of me – which is also curious and delightful. She was a very serious newborn – I’ll never forget the baffled, deadpan expression on her face one night when, only a few days old, she drank far too much milk and after an uncomfortable half hour projected the lot of it half way across our bed. But now she smiles sometimes, and coos, and looks earnestly into my eyes, and tries very hard to poke her tongue out at Michael, and is generally very agreeable. Felix can’t stop kissing her. She’s going to have a very good immune system.

10646706_706468239441806_7298739228512698418_nShe was whining in her little chair this morning as I raced upstairs to collect Felix’s ventolin puffer, but when I got down again she was quietly sucking his finger! He’s seen us do that to calm her down, and thought he’d try it. (He’s also insisted on sucking my finger too – when I was chatting to the nurse at her check up yesterday she was attached to my little finger and he was attached to my thumb!)

I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun buying and dressing her up in ‘girl clothes’, but it’s also adorable to see her in striped pyjamas inherited from her brother.

photo 1(1)And I feel I must be writing countless inane platitudes here, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re falling in love. I feel ridiculously proud of her – of her chubby thighs and the curls in her hair and her soft soft cheeks. When she smiled at me for the first time I felt this incredible warm relief in the pit of my stomach – ‘you’re there’, I thought, ‘you see me’. I hadn’t even realised I’d been waiting for it. And the bigger she gets the more present she is, and I am so very glad she’s here.


Six weeks with my Mum


Mum left yesterday. It is always sad to say goodbye. Felix says, paraphrasing one of his favourite books: ‘we are sad when the dawn comes and we have to part. But we can meet again.’ The book, which is about the friendship of a duck and a mushroom creature who lives deep within the earth, goes on to point out that even when we are far apart, sometimes just thinking of each other makes us happy. Thinking about my Mum makes me happy.

We had the most gorgeous six and a bit weeks together. Two weeks before Antonia was born of long evening walks, playing with Felix, visiting Stromstad and Fredriskstad, and frequenting of coffee shops. And then an whole month following Antonia’s birth, involving baby cuddles, more playing with Felix, picnics in the forest and by lakes, adventures at the fortress, clothes shopping for us and the children (how much fun it is to buy baby girl clothes!), returning to Stromstad and Fredrikstad with our babe, and many, many more coffee shops. Mum also helped with cooking. washing, waking up early with Felix nearly every day, and completely sorted out some very messy patches of our garden, taking away a dead bush, planting trees, shrubs, and spreading pine bark.


A second baby does not enable the same quiet cocooning that I experienced with my first. Everyone told me a second baby is easier, and this is true and not true – yes I already knew how to look after a newborn, but looking after a newborn AND and an exhuberant, curious three year old at the same time is a new adventure. Adding to the excitement, Felix had not one but four medical emergencies during Antonia’s first month home! Two asthma incidents requiring ventolin inhalations at the emergency department in the middle of the night, one tick bite behind his ear which got infected and neede two weeks of strong antibiotics, and to top it all off, a pea getting stuck up his nose. The whole family (apart from Antonia and me, thankfully) also had terrible colds for the first two weeks of Antonia’s life, so energy levels suffered. The lowest point was two days after we returned from my hospital, just as my milk was coming in. I was exhausted, in pain (those who told me breastfeeding wouldn’t hurt a second time were wrong indeed), Mum and Michael were sick and Felix was coughing up a storm and getting more and more distressed. I sat on the toilet sobbing, while Michael took care of Felix. Mum asked if I was ok. ‘No!’ I said. ‘Everyone’s sick. I’m going to get sick, and Antonia’s going to get sick, and I’m going to get mastitis.’ ‘It will be ok,’ said Mum, ‘just remember it’s your hormones talking.’ I had a shower, and felt better. Antonia and I didn’t get sick, I didn’t get mastitis, and the cold going around was just a cold (despite Felix’s asthma), not some lethal virus which could hurt my baby.

Two nights before Mum’s departure Felix’s asthma saga reoccured (he gets it every time he has a cold). Michael was away for the week. We had two trips to the emergency department over night (first Mum, then me), then at 9 in the morning Felix was still in terrible form so I took him to his normal doctor who sent us on to the hospital. Luckily he stabilized on the way over, but we still spent the day there, having tests done and getting another inhalation for him. I was so, so pleased Mum was with me. As Felix sat in his bath after we got home that evening, he said – ‘but we didn’t have an adventure!’ ‘Oh’, said Mum and I, ‘I think we did.’

But the rest of the time was truly lovely. It was wonderful having Mum with us during the first weeks of Antonia’s life. Four weeks is long enough for a little personality to emerge. Rare smiles and long serious stares and little ‘hnnnnn hnnnn’s. Long enough for a baby to grow round and soft. Antonia squeaks with delight as she lies on her change mat and looks across at the picture of the baby on the pack of diapers. Over the past week, she has been genuinely pleased every time she sees my Mum – she smiles, and looks intently, purses her little lips, and coos.

In less than three months we’ll be in Australia for an extended holiday, so Felix is right when he says ‘we can meet again’. But I’ll always remember this special, special time of Mum being with us as we became a family of four. A time, after all, of quietness, love and adventures. As Mum’s stay drew to a close, we found ourselves consciously repeating things we’d done before, to close out the circle. On Tuesday, on Antonia’s one month birthday, we went back to the very same cafe in Gamlebyen where we had eaten lunch the day of my overdue control, just hours before Antonia’s birth. And yesterday, we took Felix back to the cafe in the harbour where we had taken Mum the day she had arrived, and then we all walked her across to the train station together. I cried. I feel so very looked after.