The birth of Antonia Elinor Celeste

pregnancy-birth-9Warning: Long post. And, in Michael’s words, ‘men might not want to read it’ (a couple of gory details not left out). But when he got to the end he said he liked it very much. Here’s a link to Felix’s birth story.

In the months leading up to the birth of my daughter, I walked. For most of the summer, the days were oppressively hot, but the evenings were long and light. Every night, once Felix had gone to sleep, I walked roads and paths and winding loops. Neighbours I had never spoken to greeted me from their gardens and tracked my progress. ‘Not long now,’ they would say. I walked past lawns and trampolines and inflatable pools. Once I saw a tiny deer. Once I walked to the forest, but it was the sky I wanted the most – the sweeps of pink and orange cloud, the watery blue, sunsets that would last an hour. And the moon, which grew and thinned and grew again. I remember looking up at a perfect full moon and thinking – maybe by the next time it’s full, she will be here.

The best place to look at the sky was walking by the wheat field. There is a lovely undulating wheat field not far from our house that catches all the colours of the sun. I found a little path along its far edge so I could look at it for longer.

As with Felix, I had to wait and wait for Antonia to come. I got to 40 weeks. I got to 41 weeks. Nothing. My midwife booked me in for an overdue ‘control’ at the hospital.

pregnancy-birth-4At the overdue appointment they gave me a CTG and an ultrasound to check heart rate, the placenta and umbilical cord, the amniotic fluid and the size and position of the baby. Everything was perfect. The doctor estimated the baby would be between 3.8 and 3.9kg. She examined me internally and found I was already 3cm dilated, giving me a prolonged poke while she was at it. It might be uncomfortable, she said, but it would be nice if we can get this to start on its own. Afterwards I felt crampy and washed out. She booked me in for an induction on Tuesday, when I would be 42 weeks, but said she expected I wouldn’t need it.

Mum was with me. I felt quite weak after the appointment so I let her drive, and we went across to the old town for lunch and apple cake. I had a couple of stray contractions accompanied by back pain. I did not think it would be long. When we got back home I fell into bed and had a much needed two hour nap.

Early that evening, utterly appropriately, we went across to my friend Margrethe’s house for brownies. It was her son’s first birthday. We had visited them for brownies and waffles the night before Felix was born, and the day before she had gone into labour with her daughter, we had been out for chocolate cake together. (This time I had tried to pre-empt things by inviting them over for brownies the night before my due date, to no avail.) We sat on their deck in the sun and it was lovely. Linnea rode her scooter, Felix snuggled with us as he was tired, and the birthday boy crawled proudly around the deck, pulling himself to his feet on their umbrella. I walked back home.

As I read Felix his bedtime stories around eight o’clock that night, I felt the beginnings of more regular contractions. I was glad. I snuggled him on my lap as I read, and lay opposite him as he cuddled up in bed. ‘Mummy loves you so so very much’, I told him. I watched my beautiful boy fall asleep, thinking of the hundreds of times I had done this over the past three years. My baby, my firstborn, my little boy. I lay for half an hour after he fell asleep, feeling the quiet waves of contractions and watching him breathe.

Downstairs I drank a glass of milk and ate some cherries. ‘Is the babbie coming tonight?’ asked Michael. ‘No,’ I lied. I didn’t feel like saying anything yet.

I went for a walk with Mum, as we did every night. We walked towards the wheat field. ‘Shall we try this little path through the trees?’ asked Mum. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I want to go past the field.’ We walked past the field and I looked at the light in the wheat. I looked at the huge moon, just one day from being full. I looked at the tiny orange and white berries on the trees. I sometimes had to alter my pace a little when the contractions came, but Mum didn’t notice. In my head, I counted through them. They would get stronger and dip away again when I reached 26 or so. I guessed they were coming every three to four minutes.

When we got back Michael was watching the end of a Dr Who Christmas special on TV, so I sat on the fit ball and joined him. When it finished I told them. ‘I think the babby’s coming tonight.’ ‘What – when do we have to leave?’ ‘A couple of hours, I think.’ It was ten o’clock. Michael raced off upstairs to finish something he had to write for work. Later he said it normally would have taken a whole day but he did it in half an hour.

I rocked around on the fit ball and wrote some messages to friends on facebook. Mum timed the contractions for a little while and they were coming every 3-5 minutes. They were still quite manageable but I remember thinking at the start of some of them – ‘I really don’t want to do this.’ Don’t be silly, I told myself, you need to stay positive. I had a shower. It was nearly 11 at this point and I was feeling a bit tired so decided to try to lie down for a while. I also wanted to make sure Michael got some rest as he’d been at work all day and I was anticipating we’d be up all night. We lay in bed and stroked our black cat Mermos. The space between contractions lengthened slightly but their intensity didn’t. After a while they started feeling a little too sharp for my liking, so I got up. ‘I’m going downstairs to call the hospital’, I said.

I paced around while on the telephone and they told me it was up to me whether I wanted to come in yet or not. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m coming.’

They were relatively strong and frequent now, I felt I had to brace myself against a doorway and flex my legs to manage them. I wrote a note for Felix and got out a chocolate egg for him. Mum packed us some cheese sandwiches and a hot water bottle. I felt so much more lucid, alert, and nervous than I had during Felix’s birth. I must have been doing a good job projecting calm because Michael didn’t realize for a while that we had to leave now, but soon enough, just after midnight, we were off.

At this point I was panicking slightly about how I would manage the 45 minute drive. But I turned the classical radio station on and that calmed me a lot. I found if I slapped my thighs hard in time to the music through the contractions, I could manage quite well. I listened to the sound it made. If the pain got worse, I slapped louder. I was grateful that I had read Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills in the lead-up to labour, as she talks about the efficacy of techniques like this – anything to distract your brain from the heart of the pain. I think sitting in the car also slowed the rate of the contractions, which helped a bit. ‘Tell me if I should be driving faster,’ said Michael. ‘No,’ I said, ‘there’s no hurry. I’ll probably be in a bit of pain, but there’s no danger.’ I explained about my weird tapping/slapping pain-management technique.

All the same, I was glad when we arrived. I staggered out of the car. Being upright again increased the pace and intensity of the contractions. It was hard to relax between them because I had the most terrible heartburn. I braced myself against the hospital walls and sign-posts during the contractions, and paced about quickly between them, as Michael got the parking ticket. 12.52am. I vomited into the hospital garden. Once I had collected myself a little, we went inside.

Huffing and panting through the corridors, we eventually found the right spot (the normal birthing wards were closed for the summer). I could barely speak to the midwives. They ushered us into a tiny room and our midwife fussed around for a while trying to attach the heart-beat monitor. I insisted on standing while she did it. The baby’s heartbeat was all good, so she made me climb up on the bed for a moment to check my dilation. 6cm already! I hopped down again immediately. I thought – I don’t want to do this. I can’t take hours of this. This time I just want an epidural and to lie quietly on the bed and relax. Of course I didn’t have time to say any of this, because the contractions kept coming and coming. Just do it, Mel, I told myself, don’t be scared, meet the contractions head on. There wasn’t time to think. During contractions I bent over, clutched the little side table, swayed my hips and groaned loudly. The noise helped a lot. The sounds I made were very, very low, I could feel the vibrations. In the short breaks between contractions I perched on the edge of the little bed, panting, clutching my legs just above my knees.

Last time the contractions had felt like a twisting, snarling dragon; this time they felt like a quick-rising sea of pain. I groaned and sang at them. I made different shapes with my mouth and listened to the different tones it made. I spared half a thought for poor Michael having to listen to it all but put it out of my head. I needed to focus. When the pain worsened I bellowed louder and louder. Not screaming, roaring. Michael said they would have been able to hear me on the other side of the river. And all of a sudden the sounds I was making changed slightly and I found my legs wide apart and something pressing down between them.

The midwife looked up from the computer screen on the other side of the bed. You need to climb up on the bed now, she said. Michael helped me up. I did not like being on the bed at all. I felt panicky. I need to check you, she said. I need to do a poo! I yelled. She needs to do a poo! said Michael. It’s the baby, she said.

Suddenly there were about four midwives crowding around the end of the bed. They fussed around trying to get my legs in the right position. Eventually we ascertained they wanted me to hook my hands under my knees and hold them up that way. This wasn’t particularly comfortable. I tried to rest one of my legs on Michael.

Don’t push! They said. Are you joking? I thought. Don’t push, said Michael. Ok, I thought. I remembered the book I had read. If they tell you not to push, you need to pant, lots of short little breaths. I panted loudly. I didn’t push but my body pushed a little on its own, I couldn’t stop it. This was new to me, it hadn’t happened at all with Felix. That’s great, they said, fantastic. Breathe normally!!! They told me once the contraction had finished. As in Felix’s birth, it was getting a little difficult to tell when I was having a contraction.

Eventually they said, ok, when the next contraction comes, then you can push. A big baby wedged inside your birth canal is uncomfortable. I don’t like this! I thought. But I thought – I need to work as hard and as cleverly as I can so that this is over as quickly as possible. I clenched a wet face-cloth with my teeth. I held my breath and pushed, three times per contraction. Is everything ok? Michael asked the midwives. Yes, they said, everything is perfect. This was reassuring, as it all felt very strange and very quiet. Only a few contractions later, she was coming out. Wait, they said, wait… ok, push. I felt a large, lumpy thing sliding through. She was out. She was quiet for a few long seconds, and then I heard her grizzling, and then she was flopping on my belly and I held my child.

pregnancy-birth-24

pregnancy-birth-32

pregnancy-birth-29I was stunned. 1.47am. It had been less than half an hour since I was 6cm dilated. Less than an hour since we drove into the hospital car park. And I felt – fine. At Felix’s birth I had been so dazed and exhausted, but now I just felt normal. But here was our baby! Better than an epidural – it was already over. Michael kissed me.

antonia-1-1After what felt like far too long they finally let us transfer to the recovery room. Antonia curled up on my chest and I held my daughter for hours as the sun came up on her very first day.

antonia-1-4sunrise-2

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Brother

I am dozing on a row of empty seats on the plane. Felix pads up to me and touches my arm.

‘How you making a baby, Mummy?’

‘Erm… Very well, thank you!’

‘Your body is good at that?’

I hesitate. After three losses, it doesn’t feel like it. ‘Yes’, I say. ‘Yes it is.’

 

We are walking back to the car after a morning in town.

‘What does the baby say?’

‘Erm… Blob blob blob!’

‘Noooooooooo!’

‘Ok, what does the baby say?’

‘Beep beep beep beep beep!’

 

‘There’s a baby in Mummy’s tummy.’ He likes to say. He gives it a pat. He comes with me to a couple of doctor’s appointments and listens to the heartbeat.

‘What they put on you Mummy?’

‘Jelly, so the machine can listen.’

‘I don’t want jelly to get on the baby!’

 

One morning as we snuggle on the couch, he says – ‘I like the baby.’ He repeats all the things he knows. ‘When I was a baby, I was inside Mummy’s tummy. It was warm in there. And when I came out you were very pleased to see me and you gave me a big hug.’ ‘I just eat with my mouth but the baby has a tube! And it says beep beep beep! And when it comes out it has blood on it. And it says Waa waa waa. And it can’t walk.’ ‘When I was inside Mummy’s tummy…’ he pauses… ‘When I came out, I drank milk from Mummy’s boobies!’ ‘Who else is having a baby? I want there to be lots of babies. Sooooo many.’

 

‘Do you think it will be a boy or a girl?’ I ask him.

He looks confused.

‘You’re a boy, and Linnea’s a girl. It might be a boy like you, or a girl like Linnea.’

‘I think it will just be a baby.’

 

At the scan, two weeks ago, we discover it will be a girl. I buy some baby clothes with roses on them. I show them to Felix and Michael on the weekend. ‘Put them away!’ says Felix. ‘I don’t like them!’

That evening, he says carefully – ‘Mummy, which house the baby going to live in?’

17 May

It’s that time again. The day when Norwegians get dressed up in their gorgeous bunads, watch their children march down the street waving flags, buy them an overpriced balloon, eat copious amounts of ice-cream and hotdogs, and complain about the weather.

It’s also the only day of the year when you will see this many people in the Halden town centre. Michael got some great photos back in 2009, when not only was the sun actually shining, but Norway had just won the Eurovision, so everyone was on a high.

The bunad tradition is apparently based in nineteenth-century romanticism. I’m a fan. As I had to look after the little guy, who was more interested in walking around in circles and poking his little flag into the holes in the park benches, I didn’t get a very good view of the parade. It didn’t matter, because everyone who walked past me was wearing something like this, so I had plenty to look at. Secretly I’d quite enjoy wearing a dress like this. One little girl we met was wearing a beautiful dress that her grandmother had once worn.

No photos of us, because although we learnt our lesson in previous years and did not turn up in jeans, we can’t really compete with the natives. You do feel conspicuously non-Norwegian on the 17th of May. We were invited to a party in the afternoon, and Felix ate a hotdog in lompe (a kind of potato pancake), tasted jelly for the first time, and generally had a ball playing with other kid’s toys and trying to keep up with the big kids. So despite the fact that we are all really very tired just at the moment, it was a very nice day indeed.

A day in the woods

Every weekend, whatever the weather, Norwegians go into the forest, make little fires and cook their lunch. Last Sunday some of our friends invited us to join them, and it was a lot of fun. Remember these photos? It was so sweet to see the little guys together again a year later.

Just how do I get to that truck?

And after reading Blue MIlk’s post about photos of the invisible mother, I just have to include this photo too. It may look like the babbies are pretty self-sufficient in the above photos, but that is an illusion!

 Our friends cooked us pancakes.

After their lunch, the little guys slept in their prams while we ate more pancakes.

After that a couple of intrepid Norwegians changed into their running gear and went for a run (did I mention it was freezing?). Felix woke up and practiced his walking. All in all, a pretty perfect day.

A little birthday party

Today some close friends came over and we had a little birthday party for Felix. Good friends are so precious. In this photo you can also see: Felix’s lion, which was a hand-me-down from a very lovely lady in Idaho Falls, who has a son a couple of years older than Felix (Felix adores this lion, so my cake was an attempt to approximate it); the curtains my Grandma gave us; the coffee cups and milk jug my Nanna gave us for our wedding; tulips which reminded me of the ones you can see here; a vase which was a birthday present from the barnehage; a delicious cheesecake made by my lovely Norwegian friend; a colourful bowl that my parents gave me when I moved to York; a candle holder that Michael acquired many many years ago, long before I met him; and the gorgeous cardigan that my Mum knitted for me while we were in Australia, shortly after these photos were taken. So although we are a long way away from our families, we were pretty much surrounded by love. And Felix seemed to like the cake.

The little guy had a good time playing with his birthday presents and his new friend Pearce.

In the background in this one you can see the walker that we spied in a shop in Adelaide, but Michael’s parents bought for Felix in Germany. It was a happy day. Surrounded by love, indeed.

More photos from Australia Day

On Australia Day we had a BBQ at my aunt’s house, which turned into an impromptu early birthday party for the babies. Here they are testing out each other’s presents.

I made some bug-cakes

Mala tried to steal Grandma’s lunch

Felix practiced his standing

and learnt how to wash the dishes.

Next time the little guys meet they will be taller, older, wiser. This next little sequence of events is too sweet not to record.

A most beautiful afternoon

We took Felix to Brighton beach again this afternoon, intending just to get a coffee and then have a stroll along the sand. Felix had other ideas. Mum held him while I kicked off my shoes, and she said she heard him gasp when he saw the ocean. He wriggled and wriggled, so we put him down to play on the sand. But he was off like a shot, crawling full-pelt towards the water. Mum caught up with him and stood him up in the shallows for a couple of minutes, then carried him back. He was away again immediately, ‘like one of those turtles’, as Michael put it. I ran after him, but there was no way he was standing up this time, he wanted to sit in the water!  We didn’t even have a towel with us, but we stripped of his clothes, slathered him in sunscreen, and let him go.

He had the most fabulous time. He crawled straight into the water, and even went quite deep at times, but not too deep. The little waves splashed him. He splashed them right back and clambered around and dug his hands into the sand. Then he spotted a two year old girl and crawled over to her, and they played and played, splashing and picking up shells. I chatted to her grandma. And I do not tell a lie when I say it was one of the loveliest hours of my life.

Christmas take two

The next day we did it all again with the other side of the family at my Grandma’s house.

Little Miss Mala stole the day, walking laps of the gardens with various adults in tow.

Everyone was happy to have another generation around.

The desserts were pretty good too.

Felix got thoroughly spoiled – at one point the three of us were sat together on the sofa, pretty much buried under an avalanche of presents.

Here Felix is looking about as exhausted as I was by that point,

but it was a wonderful, wonderful day.

Aussie babes

We met Felix’s second cousin Mala today for the first time. Caitlin and I reminisced about the days they were born, just over ten months ago, on opposite sides of the globe. I was still in hospital when I heard Mala was born; Caitlin was in the early stages of a protracted labour when she heard about Felix. We had announced our pregnancies to our families on the very same day last year, and met up in Berlin when we were both about 20 weeks. It was so sweet to finally see the little ones together.

The babes were oblivious to the significance of the occasion, but were very happy munching their vegemite toast.

Sleep – another perspective

“awake training” for mummies

I’m not sure who wrote this but I came across it on a parenting forum, and it’s just too funny. (So, um, if you wrote it and you want to be credited, or you don’t want me to repeat it here – let me know! Also – I love you.)

Dear Fellow Babies,

OK, here’s my situation. My Mummy has had me for almost 5 months. The first few months were great – I cried, she picked me up and fed me, anytime, around the clock. Then something happened. Over the last few weeks, she has been trying to STTN (sleep thru the night). At first, I thought it was just a phase, but it is only getting worse.

I’ve talked to other babies, and it seems like its pretty common after Mummies have had us for around 5-6 months. Here’s the thing: these Mummies don’t really need to sleep. It’s just a habit. Many of them have had some 30 years to sleep – they just don’t need it anymore. So I am implementing a plan. I call it the Crybaby Shuffle.

It goes like this:

Night 1 – cry every 3 hours until you get fed. I know, it’s hard. It’s hard to see your Mummy upset over your crying. Just keep reminding yourself, it’s for her own good.

Night 2 – cry every 2 hours until you get fed.

Night 3 – every hour.

Most Mummies will start to respond more quickly after about 3 nights. Some Mummies are more alert, and may resist the change longer. These Mummies may stand in your doorway for hours, shhhh-ing. Don’t give in. I cannot stress this enough: CONSISTENCY IS KEY!! If you let her STTN (sleep through the night), just once, she will expect it every night. I know it’s hard! But she really does not need the sleep; she is just resisting the change.. If you have an especially alert Mummy, you can stop crying for about 10 minutes, just long enough for her to go back to bed and start to fall asleep. Then cry again. It WILL eventually work. My Mummy once stayed awake for 10 hours straight, so I know she can do it.

The other night, I cried every hour. You just have to decide to stick to it and just go for it. BE CONSISTENT! I cried for any reason I could come up with:

-My sleep sack tickled my foot.
-I felt a wrinkle under the sheet.
-My mobile made a shadow on the wall.
-I burped, and it tasted like rice cereal. I hadn’t eaten rice cereal since breakfast, what’s up with that?
-The dog said “ruff”. I should know. My Mummy reminds me of this about 20 times a day. LOL.
-Once I cried just because I liked how it sounded when it echoed on the monitor in the other room.
-Too hot, too cold, just right – doesn’t matter! Keep crying!!
-I had drooled so much my sheets were damp and I didn’t like it touching me.
-I decided I was sick of all the pink in my room so I cried.

It took awhile, but it worked. She fed me at 4am. Tomorrow night, my goal is 3:30am. You need to slowly shorten the interval between feedings in order to reset your Mommies’ internal clocks.

Sometimes my Mummy will call for reinforcements by sending in Daddy. Don’t worry Daddies are not set up for not needing sleep the way Mummies are. They can only handle a few pats and shhing before they declare defeat and send in the Mummy.

Also, be wary of the sleep sheep with rain noises. I like to give Mummy false hope that listening to the rain puts me to sleep sometimes I pretend to close my eyes and be asleep and then wait until I know Mummy is settling back to sleep to spring a surprise cry attack. If she doesn’t get to me fast enough I follow up with my fake cough and gag noise that always has her running to the crib. At some point I am positive she will start to realize that she really doesn’t really need sleep.

P.S. Don’t let those rubber things fool you, no matter how long you suck on them, no milk will come out.

Trust me.

Sincerely
Bub

Choices

Reading Penni’s meditation on the choice to have – or not to have – children – I have been thinking about my own choices. As she points out, it’s a discussion that is somewhat fraught, because not everyone makes the same choices, and not everyone is given these choices to make, and the pain of this can be terrible.

I was never possessed with a burning desire for children but I always assumed I would have them one day. I remember realising in my early twenties that yes I did want a family of my own, but it wasn’t forthcoming at that time, so I quickly turned my focus back to other affairs, like stories about dragons, European cities, and medieval poems. As I progressed through my late twenties it remained clear to me that I wanted children at some point, and I remember discussing this with Michael, telling him that he needed to think about whether this relationship was really long term or not, because if it wasn’t, I needed to know.

My desire for children at this point was intellectual, deferred. I had never had much to do with them.

The other consideration, of course, was career. If you finish a PhD aged 30, you really need to factor in several years of post-doc work, if you’re lucky, most likely preceded by several years of patchy contract teaching, trying to write, research and publish at the same time, and if you are lucky enough to get a permanent position at the end of all this you need to be prepared to move to wherever in the world this might be on offer. Which would mean, if I did everything right and was lucky as well, I might get a permanent position in five or six years. But where would that be? And where would that leave us? I decided not to find out.

So there were a multitude of little choices. I chose to move to Norway. I chose to accept a job there that had nothing to do with my career prospects but would provide not only an income but paid parental leave. Just in case.

As I finished my PhD we both started thinking about it and wanting it more and more. Michael was very keen. And in the end it was pretty much a physical compulsion to stop taking the little pills. My body wanted babies. And my mind, and my heart, and my partner agreed. We expected it to take a while.

We got pregnant immediately. Shortly after this, it went spectacularly wrong, and we were faced with a much more difficult decision.

We conceived again quickly, but the four months between ending my first pregnancy and discovering my second were painful and strange. I hadn’t anticipated how vulnerable you suddenly become, when you decide to say yes, let’s do it, let’s see. Because it’s not really a decision to do or to make or to achieve something, it’s a decision to let life happen, to open yourselves up to transformation and change which may or may not come, and often not in the way you expect, or at the times you had planned.

And now we are a family and our lives are changed and we are changed. We are only at the very beginning, and we are feeling our way forwards. We are learning how to balance our needs and our desires with the very pressing needs and desires of our little one. Michael reckons we should have got started five years earlier. I don’t. I relished the freedom and confidence and geographical, social and intellectual exploration of my late twenties. But right now I am entranced, challenged, and utterly in love with this little being we brought into the world. (And of course still exploring the world and relationships and ideas, but in different ways.) It is a marvelous adventure.

Felix meets a friend

We had some friends over for tea and scones and the babbies entertained themselves.

This is the gorgeous Aksel. It’s hard to believe Felix will be as big as he is now in half a year or so!

By the way, Annie, if you’re reading this – we love the socks you gave us. He wears them nearly every day.

This one’s for Nanna

Now that the little man loves to play on the floor where it’s a bit colder, Nanna (his other great-grandmother)’s cardigans are coming into their own.

He really really loves his koala. He talks to him. And knocks him over. In the photo above the penguin’s already been got. Agh he’s growing up so fast! All the little suits that fit him perfectly last week are now too short…

Mutton Bustin’

We went to our first ever rodeo last night. The bucking horses were cool. The ‘fast horses and pretty ladies’, as they put it, were nice too.

The bucking bulls were terrifying, but sadly Michael’s camera had run out of batteries by then, and mine wasn’t up for the job. But the most hilarious events were those involving children. The rodeo opened with a group of 8-12 year olds chasing two calves with money pinned to their flanks.

The calves eventually got tired of the whole affair and started chasing the children.

The main event, however, was the ‘mutton bustin’. The series of photos below shows how it compares with adult events.


Green green green

I should have taken a photo of the Norwegian flags entwined with sprigs of fresh birch leaves which adorned the kindergarten today. Tiny, crinkled, bright green leaves. Finally. The Norwegians certainly love their flags. Today we celebrated their national day (May 17) early. Ice-cream, hotdogs, flag-waving, and a procession down the driveway, complete with mini marching band and straggling two year olds. (The Norwegians also love their hotdogs. Service stations and kiosks stink of them.) I’ll miss the main event this year, because I’m taking advantage of all the public holidays and escaping to Berlin tomorrow. Hurrah!

This life

I’m far to tired to write a proper post and need to be sleeping, but wanted to drop by. The snow is slowly melting – most of the roads are clear now. Teaching is going well. I’m even thinking tentatively about research. I’ll get a stack of essays at the end of this week. The kindergarten is exhausting, but today it included a complimentary massage and chocolate cake, so I can’t complain. And this afternoon I instigated a disco with the two year olds which involved jumping and arm-waving and twirling about in circles and collapsing on the carpet in spasms of giggles.

December II

The weather has been uninspiring, as have the extensive hours of darkness. At least it’s nearly the winter solstice and the sun will slowly start inching its way back towards us. Even better, I get to jump ship for a month and experience the summer solstice instead. Really looking forward to a holiday. Everyone in the kindergarten is exhausted. Also, Michael has been away for work forever and ever and it’s getting extremely boring around here.

Enough whinging. Probably just the December blues. I wrote a poem yesterday, which made me happy. And I just spoke to Michael for an hour on skype, which made me even happier.

Last weekend we had a Christmas market at the kindergarten! We sold things the kids have made, and put on a little concert. There was mulled wine, coffee, pepperkaker (gingerbread made with heaps of cardamom), and lots and lots of cake.

As usual, I wasn’t wearing enough clothes, and my feet slowly turned to blocks of ice. Need to get me some fur lined boots.

After the concert, the Julenisse led a dance around our outdoor Christmas tree. Before I joined in, everyone swirling around the tree reminded me of some kind of pagan ritual. I half expected a human sacrifice. Then I thought – what the hell, when have I ever danced around a Christmas tree before? And I joined in.

December

December arrived yesterday with frost and sunlight. The sun caught in the harbour was too bright to face. I turned my eyes away and pointed my camera in vaguely the right direction. This morning, the scraping-of-ice-off-the-windscreen kerfuffle was the hardest yet. Worse still, by the time I left work it had to be done again! And the ice was inside as well as out!

I kicked myself for not taking the camera to the kindergarten this morning. The trees were covered in thick frost all day long and looked like Christmas decorations made of glass. I watched a pink streaky sunrise over a white world. By the time we made it outside at three the sun had already set, but enough light lingered for an hour of playtime on the frozen sandpits and crunchy grass, the small hill perfect for sliding down head first.

Birthday thoughts for Grandma

It’s snowing outside. It started this afternoon, so faintly I didn’t notice at first. But the babbies didn’t like it, it was far too cold, so I took them all in again. Now, under the streetlights, the night is broken by swirling white.

It’s my Grandma’s 80th birthday tomorrow, which is already today in Australia. Happy happy birthday!!!

I have thought of my Grandma often since I started working in the kindergarten. Being with all the little children has made me remember my own childhood. My Grandma was such a big part of it.

My brother, my cousins and I spent so much time at her house. I remember…

Sitting in her clothes basket in the garden. I’m not sure if this is a memory or a memory of a photograph.

Having very many dinners with my cousins around her kitchen table. Recently I’ve been re-imagining all these memories from and adult perspective. What must it have been like to have all those children around?

Sneaking down the long hallway on sleepovers because we ‘couldn’t sleep’, and knew if we poked our heads around the tv room door we’d get hot milk with honey in the cups with the birds on them, and half an hour of late night tennis watching.

Grandma showing me these incredibly long cloths embroidered by distant aunts a long long time ago.

Her kitchen. The texture of her bench-tops, the ABC news on the radio, the funny little secret drawers where the flour and the sugar were kept. The day we were making Christmas pudding and the mixer exploded and we got Christmas pudding all over us. The day I accidentally broke a china bowl and she wasn’t angry at me but I could see that she was sad because it had belonged to her mother. I felt terrible, and so did she. But she said – ‘it’s only a thing’.

Trips into town for afternoon tea.

Her garden. The big leaves out the back where we played at being tigers. The miniature violets I used to pick for my great grandma, who lived with my Grandma at the end of her life. She told me fairies lived there. Sometimes I pretended I saw them. The broad green lawn where my cousins and I build space ships out of garden furniture. The swings on the island. The jasmine growing on the bridge.

Her love of beauty – whether mountains or gum trees or autumn leaves or jacaranda blooms or Lalique glass.

Her stories of the wide wide world. Her joy in my chance to explore that world.

My Grandma taught me how to make bobbin lace, and how to make the perfect sponge roll. When I was doing my masters in York, Grandma and Granddad came to visit me, and took me to St Petersburg because I loved Dostoevsky.

So, yep, my Grandma is pretty special. She has always adored all of us, no matter what, and we’ve always known it. And these memories only scratch the surface. I’m so glad you had a wonderful birthday party last weekend, and I hope you have a brilliant day today. I’m sending thoughts of the last bright autumn leaves and the first whirling snow flakes into the beginning of your Adelaide summer. And I can’t wait to see you at Christmas. xxx

Extreme kindergartening

Last week I picked up my new raincoat, waterproof  trousers, ‘warm dress’ and a pair of gumboots. The ‘warm dress’ is pretty much a ski suit. I nearly died of heat stroke when I tried it on. The sales assistant told me I looked like an astronaut. They tell me I’ll be glad of it soon. In Norwegian kindergartens, you play outside every day. Rain, sleet or snow.

When I first started, one of the other assistants asked where the children’s sleeping room was. ‘Oh no, we don’t need one of them’, said the boss, ‘Norwegian babies like to sleep outside’. ‘What, even in winter?’ ‘Until it gets to minus 10.’

They’ve certainly been pretty happy sleeping outside in their ‘wagons’ so far. (The Norwegians call prams wagons, which I think is pretty cute.) Last week we took them out to the forest to pick mushrooms and blueberries. They bobbed around in the bracken with their little hats on. But they were most excited about the lorry we passed on the road. ‘LASTEBIL!!!!’ they cried with glee. The driver beeped and waved.

Michael can’t believe I get paid for this.

bleh

I caught a cold from the babbies which is making me very grumpy. The same kind of grumpy I felt last time I flew to Australia and I was exhausted and I noticed that the people at the back of the plane had four seats to themselves and could lie down but I had no space and had to sit up. Yep.

Today the sun is shining for the first time in just about forever, and it is gleamy and bright and cool in the most magical autumn way, and the leaves outside our window are already going gold. Most of the leaves about town are still green, mind, but it won’t be long.

Michael’s gone out for a ride but I’m not well enough. Might wander down to the harbour later though.

Apart from that, things have been slotting into a new routine quite nicely. At the moment I’m working three days a week at the kindergarten and two days at Michael’s work – proof reading and working on a newsletter and a website. The proof reading has been fascinating in some ways – it’s funny seeing which parts of the language slip for non-native speakers. The biggest problems for Norwegians writing in English, it seems, are conjugating verbs (you don’t have to do it so much in Nowegian), and using words which sound the same in Nowegian and English. ‘Start’, for example. It means basically the same thing, but when writing in English the Norwegians use it far too freqently, and in a much broader context than it can be used in English, for example when they mean ‘initiate’. Anyway…  I realise that their English is far far better than my Norwegian or my German!

Sorry the blog’s been rather neglected of late. I’m feeling my way into a new space, which to start with didn’t leave me much time for musings. That’s changing, though, as I get the hang of it.

In other news

I’ve started in the kindergarten. It’s brilliant. I love it. I’m terribly attached to the children already and I’ve only known them a week. I have the little ones, 1 to 2 and a half year olds. They are incredible. The way they figure things out, the way they tentatively relate to each other and to us, their laughter and curiosity and sadness and rage, the ways they assert themselves, the way they are upset and then calm, the way they are all so different, the newness of them, the uniqueness of them, their utter trust.

And I cannot help but laugh when I look around and find myself in a sea of bumbling babbies and wonder how I got there!

So much to tell you

I have been scrambling along for the past couple of weeks and haven’t really had the headspace for blogging. Had a brilliant weekend though. My brother and I went to Oslo today. I’ll tell you more soon but must go to bed now. My new job starts tomorrow. The Vigeland Park helped get me in the mood…

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