Weeknights

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.

 

Wednesdsay night

Ten past eight on Wednesday night, mist outside, the candle on the table from dinner still burning. Sleeping children upstairs. In a moment I will finish tidying the kitchen (Michael’s done most of it), have a shower, and read the end of the novel I am teaching tomorrow, making notes as I go. Any and all of that may be interrupted by dear Antonia, but I have already settled her once this evening, so she might sleep for a while. Antonia has been doing better at barnehage this week but she was so tired this evening I wish I had picked her up just a little earlier. Next time.

Our day started at 4 this morning when she wouldn’t go back to sleep. Thankfully we both squeezed in an hour’s nap between 6 and 7 before we had to leave.

My parents left on Monday and it was sad. A full day teaching sonnets on Tuesday cheered me up, and we are doing ok. I had a swim at lunchtime with a friend (I have a pool at work! And one of my best friends works in the exams office and can come swimming with me!), and now my shoulders are pleasantly sore. Oh, the laundry. I forgot about the laundry. Maybe I’ll fold a load of washing before I get to the novel… Maybe not.

Things Fall Apart. It is a quick read and powerful and I’ll never forget how much it moved me when I encountered it as one of the first texts I studied at Adelaide University. This time as I re-read it it touched me differently. As a mother of two children, the description of the loving sibling relationship between Nwoye and the doomed Ikemefuna just about undid me. I actually had to rush out of my office for a breath of different air.

This is my fourth week back at work and I am just about used to it. I’m teaching two literature classes and it’s busy but manageable. It could unravel fast if (when) the kids get sick. I’m sure I will stumble on through.

As I walked back to my car this afternoon it struck me – this is my job now, mine. And it was a nice nice thought.

Antonia took a couple of unassisted steps yesterday – she hardly noticed – she just wanted to get to the door to go outside. It was raining, so I didn’t open it. This evening I acquiesced and we had a little walk together up our driveway and onto the quiet road. She held my hands and stepped and stepped, occasionally getting down on hands and knees, drenching her jeans in the process, to investigate stones or weeds. She was just so excited when we encountered people walking by. ‘Ah! Ah!’ she called to make them look at her, and then she beamed. ‘So flink du er å gå!’ They all said.

I put her to bed a little early then made some promised custard for Felix which we ate together before we cleaned his teeth, and as he chatted away I thought – how lovely he is. How lucky am I.

By the way

May2014-2-1

Did I tell you I got a new job? It is so momentous (and took such a long time to be confirmed) that when it finally happened (well over a month ago now) I couldn’t quite bring myself to write about it. But, there it is – I have a permanent job as Associate Professor of English Literature at my local University College. The start date is August 1. August 1 also happens to be the due date of my baby. Norway is one of the very few places in the world in which this isn’t a problem – I can take parental leave, and begin work next year.

It will involve the type of teaching I’ve already been doing (though slightly less of it), plus research and admin responsibilities. Even now, it feels a little too wonderful to write down. It is truly my dream job, which I’d almost abandoned hope of ever getting, in my dream location (a five minute drive from our house), with excellent colleagues and lovely students. And I will be able to get into research again, and there will be a point to it, and it will be supported.

It does feel a little strange that I won’t be able to start right away (currently I’m working there under a temporary contract, which will carry me through to the end of the exams period). Right now my head and my heart feel pulled in two directions – I’m 29 weeks already – can you believe it? I’m getting to the point at which I need to pull Felix’s baby things down from the loft before I’m too heavy to do so, and preferably clear some cupboard space for them first. The kicks I’m feeling are more solid, slow, persistent, and the baby blanket I’m knitting is growing. Third trimester tiredness and discomfort are catching up with me. But the fact that the job is waiting for me is a wonderful thing indeed.

May2014-2-11

Days

I cannot believe tomorrow is Friday again already. The weeks have been shuttling past so fast. There is always something to do but somehow there has been time for everything, time for resting, time for chatting, and even time for cleaning. In any case, there is only one week left of quite this pace – one week of teaching, and then a break for Easter, before the piles of marking will come in. To tell the truth, one pile of marking came in this week, but given that I have a paper to present on Monday that I have not had time to concentrate on before this week, the marking can wait.

Writing a paper, for the first time in so long, has been an utter joy, though of course I need to hurry up a bit now and tie up some loose ends so I have something to say on Monday. I’ll then have a month or so once teaching and marking are over to finish the longer version.

The little boy is loving not having to sleep in his ‘box’, as Michael called it. We are losing half an hour of sleep in the mornings, but it’s just about worth it to see him padding in to greet us, bearing gifts. Sunday morning he turned up with four books and announced proudly: ‘I have books!’ This morning he came with a pair of socks, a bike light, his bear for himself, Jemima Puddleduck for me, and his blue stuffed dragon for Michael. Michael had already gone downstairs so Felix propped it on Michael’s pillow for a while while he snuggled, and then carried it downstairs to present to him in person.

We have had blue skies and sunshine for hours. The world feels so different.

Sunday morning

Felix’s train engines are having polite conversations as they shunt each other around the track. ‘Can you take my flat bed for me?’ ‘Of course I will. Straight away. We’ll have you back on the track in no time.’ I wonder what percentage of Felix’s life so far consists of pushing little wooden trains around and making up stories. He’s all floppy hair and blue pyjamas. We’ve already cooked and eaten pancakes. Baking is his other passion. ‘Shall we make something in Mummy’s kitchen?’ By the time I’ve finished cooking my pancake, he’s nearly finished his. ‘Who’s going to eat Mummy’s pancake?’ ‘Mummy!’ ‘Who else?’ ‘Just Mummy.’ ‘Mummy share!’ I acquiesce but he realises he’s full and its back to the trains.

Tomorrow it is back to teaching for me after a much needed høstferie, autumn  break. Six weeks into the semester now, and it’s been great but intense – I committed to a little too much so I feel I’m rather stumbling through the weeks, and would be doing a better job if I were doing less. All the same, while teaching British civilisation as well as literature has been challenging, it’s been fascinating, and I hope I have the chance to do it again. I’m thrilled to have some more teaching lined up for next semester (a much civilised 8 hours a week, instead of 13).

The cold kicked in here about three weeks ago. Until then it was cold in the mornings but warm by midday, and then, suddenly, it wasn’t. The colours are gorgeous. I’ve nearly finished knitting a jumper for Felix – just have to cast off the neckline and sew in all the ends. I have lacked the momentum to do so this past week as I know actually getting the thing on him is going to be a ridiculous struggle. Despite chatting endlessly about how it’s ‘nearly winter’ and we have to wear ‘lots of clothes’, the reality of wearing more layers is not going down well.

The boy needs some attention now. I may be back.

Summer rain

It’s raining and still a little light at 10pm. I’m sitting in my office room, which has been recently cleared of more than a hundred exam papers, and is calm, white, inviting. Today was my last day at work at the barnehage for a while. Summer holidays start tomorrow, and then I have six months leave in order to take up a full-time temporary post at the University College in my town. I’m excited and a little nervous. Before my summer holidays start for real, I need to finish off a very important job application, due Monday, but here I am, writing on my blog instead.

I felt a little strange at work today, because I didn’t know whether I was saying goodbye or not. The afternoon was warm with a threat of rain so the kids wore their rain trousers and boots and peddled madly on the tricycles and bounced on the bouncy balls and splashed in the puddles and dug in the sand. There are two job applications in the works, and if either of them comes through (far from a certainty) I won’t be coming back to work in the barnehage. I’ve been away a lot this semester, due largely (though not entirely) to my teaching commitments, so I felt less in tune with the place than I would have liked. In any case, I have good friends there, and Felix will continue to go there, so I’ll maintain a connection with the staff and the children. Several of the children in my class have just turned four, and I’ve been working with them for three years. To see them grow up from babies to chatty, clever little people who can write their own names in the role book is quite extraordinary.

Michael has been away this week but it is much less exhausting being alone with Felix now he is a little older. Can’t wait to spend more time with my little man throughout July. He’s so incredibly entertaining at the moment, and loves acting out scenes from his favourite Thomas the Tank Engine stories with his trains and buses, complete with snippets of dialogue and renditions of the theme song.

Lately

woodencar

Felix keeping a very firm grip on the wheel a couple of weekends ago…

The blog has been quiet lately because I have been busy. Every spare moment (i.e. every moment in which Felix is sleeping and I am not) I have been marking essays. They are all done now save one. Despite this, it’s not going to get any easier till July. The next big deadline is the end of May – my level three Norwegian test, and before then I also need to finish my syllabus for my teaching next semester. In the midst of this I’m trying to straighten out the house a bit to make life more streamlined. And one week after my Norwegian test, I’ll have fifty exams to mark. I have one day a week to myself – the rest of this must be done in the evenings. One day at a time.

lunch

Despite this Felix and I have been enjoying ourselves. Michael was in America last week and I was impressed with how calmly we kept things together. Yesterday Felix and I spent an hour in the park in town. Felix poked sticks into puddles with some bigger kids, and then ran round and round in the rotunda while the seagulls reeled about us. And today Michael was back, bearing gifts, and we had the loveliest day all together again.

It’s Michael’s birthday later this week. When I asked Felix what he thought Daddy would like for his birthday, he thought about it for a minute, then said ‘beads’.

beads

Good morning

whitby

Well, it’s evening here at the moment, but I like this snap of Whitby I took a few weeks back with the sunrise reflected in our windows. I have been busy teaching and preparing my course outlines for the autumn. Did I tell you that I have a very exciting temporary job for the autumn semester? I’ll be teaching full-time at the University College in my town – English Literature and Culture, and a second year subject in Postcolonial Literature. I’m very excited indeed.

I’m also happy to report that I passed my level two Norwegian tests that I took in January. I’m very pleased and relieved, and am already plotting when I can take the level three ones. They’re offered three times a year. October is probably the best bet but I’m allowing myself to consider May, in order to trick myself into progressing faster. I don’t need to decide till the first week of April.

Already I’m using every spare moment to feed words and grammar into my fuzzy brain. Learning a language is a funny thing. You can’t learn to speak a language without making a million mistakes, because everything hinges together and you can’t learn everything at once. At the moment it feels like I’m laboriously constructing a scaffolding in my brain, upon which I’ll be able to build a more elegant structure at some unspecified point in the future…

This afternoon I was wondering – just how exactly do you say ‘probably’ in Norwegian. I found it in the adverb section of my grammar book this evening: ‘sannsynligvis’. Very good, I thought. But then I read on, and discovered ‘modal adverbs’. ‘Ved’ and ‘nok’ also mean (approximately) ‘probably’, but they function a bit differently within the sentence. To complicate matters, these words mean completely different things in different contexts – I was more familiar with ‘nok’ as meaning ‘enough’. Suddenly a sentence I had been squinting at the day before became a lot clearer, if ‘nok’ could mean ‘probably’ instead of ‘enough’. A lot of the time I feel I’m peering hazily at one of those magic eye pictures, and just sometimes an image emerges out of nowhere.

36 hours later

We are back in chilly Norway. The house feels small. The snowy expanses were very beautiful when we came in to land. Felix was an absolute darling throughout the whole trip. He slept quite well and the rest of the time was cheerfully occupied observing and commenting on everything that went on. He loves planes. He loves airports. ‘Lady make it dark!’ he declared when they switched all the lights off for landing. When we finally arrived in Oslo after stopovers in Singapore and Frankfurt, he said ‘more plane! More in the big plane!’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘we’ve had enough of planes now.’ He looked out of the window. ‘More plane! Blue one!’ ‘Do you want to go in the blue plane?’ ‘Yeah!’ He was so excited when we got off the plane that he ran all the way to the luggage belts with only one crash. He was still talking about the planes on the train home.

Our good friends picked us up from the train station and cooked dinner for us, which was about the nicest welcome back imaginable. Felix finally and comprehensively conked out about an hour before we arrived in Halden, so we laid him down on their sofa and he didn’t make a sound.

Now we are home and the fire is burning. It is hard to say goodbye to the beautiful light-filled love-filled days in Adelaide. Having a toddler to supervise on the long journey back, I haven’t had a lot of time to dwell on it. And here I must hit the ground running. I have a Norwegian test on Wednesday and another one next Monday; I’m back at work on Tuesday, and on Thursday I have four hours of tutoring at Oslo University, with some preparation still needed. (I’m tutoring an introduction to British literature subject this semester, which is exciting.) When this crazy fortnight is done and dusted, I have a meeting about some other possibilities for the autumn. I take a deep breath. I will do my best.

A good day

Sorry about the text-heavy blog lately. If I had remembered to take my camera with me today I would have taken a photo of Felix in his pram, with his matching Norwegian hat and mittens and velvety black coat, beaming at me.

This week was my fourth week back at work, and the first week I managed to work a full four days (the other weeks Felix or I or both of us had been sick). Spending so much time away from him is tough, even though I work in the room next door to him. When I leave him the image I feel in my heart is that of a small tree being ripped out of the earth, its roots dangling. I am not sure which one of us is the tree. And then when I pick him up at the end of the day, I feel a constellation springing back into life within me – stars lighting up, as though someone re-connected the electricity.

(Mind you, at 9pm, and 11pm, and 1am and 3 and 4 and 5am I am not so pleased to hear from him.)

But today was our day together, and we spent the morning in town. Felix was his sparky, charming self for the first time in weeks – I think he has been feeling quite under the weather until now. He pointed excitedly at all the children we passed; he showed the shop attendants his mittens. When we went into the wool shop, he exclaimed ‘ba! ba!’, excited to be in a shop filled with balls.

We stopped for a coffee in my favourite child-friendly cafe. He ate a fair portion of my cinnamon bun, and then played happily, first with a toy microwave and then with some tiny wooden cars. ‘Brrrrm, brrrrrm’, he said as he pushed them across the floor. Watching him, I was so happy I cried. When I drove him back up the hill, he sang ‘Mama mama mama’ all the way.

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.

A ridiculous amount of good news for one day

I got an email from Oslo University last night, asking if I wanted to teach a course on colonial and postcolonial literature in the spring. I emailed them ages and ages ago, and they said they didn’t have anything at the moment but they’d keep me in mind. I hadn’t expected to hear from them again. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Much bouncing was involved.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it, because I will be in Australia for a completely wonderful conference during the first week of teaching, so I’ll need to start a week late. But they emailed back today and said that’s fine. I got this second email at work, during my break. There was more bouncing, to the astonishment of my colleagues.

It’s just two hours a week, so I’ll keep working three days at the kindergarten. But I will teach the entire course by myself, and there will be a mix of BA and MA students. I can’t believe my good fortune.

 

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.

Very good news!

Well, not in the grand scheme of things, I suppose. But in the miniature scheme of things, in the everyday and the here and now, very good news indeed. This kindergarten job that I ummed and ahed about for so long, and then hesitantly took the plunge, has suddenly become much more appealing. Instead of having to drive 40 minutes to the next town, I have a position right here in Halden! And instead of starting next Monday, I’m starting in three weeks, which leaves more time to tie up the loose ends of my summer job, and means I will be working three days a week rather than five sooner than I expected. (This is a very good thing indeed, as it is extremely difficult to find the time to consolidate any post-PhD writing at the moment.) As an added bonus, I will be looking after one to two year-olds instead of three to four year-olds, and I imagine they will be less linguistically demanding. Hurrah!

I got my Norwegian person number a couple of weeks ago, and applied for a bank account last week and a tax card today. A sim card for a mobile phone is next on the list. There is rather a lot of paperwork to be sorted. This is all on top of my Norwegian residency permit, which I secured last year. I got the residency permit because I was able to prove that M and I had lived together for two years in England. I think my UK passport also helped. Although Norway isn’t in the EU (which causes all kinds of logistical problems for foreigners like ourselves) they are at least friendly toward to the EU.

Anyway, I am glad I will have a routine and a way to contribute and a deeper connection to this town. Walking back through the town centre after filling out the extremely confusing tax card form, I noticed I was already starting to feel differently about this place. Despite my wondering documentation of the seasons here over the past couple of years I have felt very much a visitor – transplanted to our little flat in which I write about Australian poetry and read Australian blogs. The thought of having an ongoing job here – and such a humble one – changes that.

I also had dinner with a lovely bunch of Norwegians last night which steeled my resolve to learn some of the language. I even learnt a new word: ‘potatgul’ (probably spelled atrociously). Literally, it means ‘potato gold’, or, in other words, ‘crisps’.

I am not giving up on my academic dream! But I am planning neither to starve to death nor to go bonkers with frustration in the mean-time. Three days a week of work should leave me time to straighten out a few articles. On the top of my list are the chances of securing some postdoctoral funding from the Norwegian government (one of the best places to be in terms of funding, I have heard), and possibly a bit of teaching at Oslo University next year.

We’ll see. There are strange parallels with my life nearly ten years ago when I finished my Honours degree in English and ended up working as home-care worker for the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association. I remember going to interviews at nursing homes, desperate for some kind of a job, and seeing puzzled looks as they looked first at my CV, and then at me, and asked: ‘What are YOU doing HERE?’ I loved the care work in the end. It was important. A lot has changed for me since then. But I am glad to be right here, right now.

(Although I wouldn’t mind knowing where in the world summer has wandered off to…)

Oh, and if you have any tips on entertaining Norwegian toddlers, let me know.

Hello from the road

Weddings and conferences and sleeping in friends’ spare rooms make for plenty of blog content, but not much blogging time or head-space. For now I’ll say: the wedding was gorgeous, the conference was tiring but brilliant, and it has been most enjoyable catching up with old friends and taking advantage of their hospitality in the process.

It’s my graduation tomorrow. Well, today actually. I can’t sleep. My brother and my boyfriend are both here to help me celebrate. We had a great day in York today (well, yesterday), and on Sunday we drove out to the Dales – a superior pub lunch in Grassington followed by a stroll to Malham cove. Yorkshire is just the best.

My brother says that meeting my lovely, talented, hard-working friends, many of whom graduated with their PhDs several years ago now, is making him reconsider his postgraduate plans. Most are struggling by with scraps of teaching supplemented by library jobs.

I’ve been dithering for a couple of weeks as to whether to accept a part time job in a kindergarten in Norway, to cover costs while I work on articles and a book proposal. I accepted it yesterday and now I feel slightly terrible. M had counseled against it, on the grounds of missed holidays (chances to tag along on his business trips to exotic places), early mornings and having to drive the car to the next town even in winter, it will interrupt my brilliant two-month summer job, and a couple of other things. Sigh. Why are decisions so hard to make? I accepted it on the grounds of money, Norwegian integration and a structure to my week.  But I’m still not sure. My applications to several academic jobs in the UK didn’t get anywhere, which wasn’t a surprise given the current market, but disheartening all the same.

Anyway. I’m still pretty proud of the PhD. And looking forward to wearing the floppy green hat. Photos to follow!