Learning a new language in your 30’s is kind of like walking through a minefield. You tip-toe your way around new words and try to navigate them into full sentences. Then you finally get up the nerve to speak them aloud in public, only to retreat back to the security of your own native language as soon as your fledgling skills are critiqued. I had one experience in Oslo where I shamefully mixed up the Norwegian words “titte” (to look around) and “tisse” (to pee) in a clothing store when asked by the assistant if she could help me with anything.

It’s a minefield, folks, I’m telling ‘ya….

And now I’m trying to mix Spanish into my English-Russian-Norwegian head of languages.

I have an email subscription to an online “Word-of-the-Day” service. It’s pretty self-explanatory – every day I get one new word in my Inbox with an example of it used in a sentence. I started this service a while ago to keep my head in the Russian language game. And when I found out we were moving to Gran Canaria, I signed up for another daily email with Spanish words.

It sounds simple enough, but sometimes I wonder who’s sitting behind the green curtain and churning out these emails for the language service. Some of the words and phrases I receive are so arbitrary, I think they must be written just to see if anyone’s actually paying attention. It’s almost like the writers are sitting on the sidelines, just waiting to roll on the floor with laughter when one of us gullible schmucks actually uses some of the words they send out.

A few Spanish examples:

  1. ir a tascas : to go bar-hopping, as in “Come bar-hopping with me tonight.
  2. emborracharse : to get drunk, as in “I got drunk last night after bar-hopping.
  3. azuzar los perros (a alguien) : to set the dogs (on someone), as in “Stay out of my orchard or I’ll set the dogs on you!

And I’m not even kidding – this is what appeared from my Spanish word-of-the-day service on consecutive days last week. So, I’m assuming that in Spain it’s best to stay out of people’s orchards after getting drunk while bar-hopping.

Good to know, thanks.

Compare that to what I’ve received on the Russian side (apologies to the non-Cyrillic readers out there):

  1. боль : pain, as in “No pain, no gain.
  2. хрустящий : crispy, as in “I like pickles when they are crispy.
  3. печень : liver, as in “Vodka can be harmful to the liver.”

Hmmmm….Now, anyone who’s been to Russia for any length of time knows that vodka goes quite naturally with crispy pickles, all of which can create pain and be harmful to your liver. So, I’m assuming the writers want me to understand that in Russia, consuming alcohol and pickles and letting your liver rot is all worth it in the end because, duh – no pain, no gain.

Also good to know. Thanks again.

The moral of this story is that language learning is a minefield folks, and that apparently I’m in need of a new word-of-the-day email service.

A day in the life…

When Per and I moved to Gran Canaria a few months ago, everyone was imagining the Svendsen family living amid the constant sunshine, with long, relaxing days on the beach, Mommy sipping prosecco and little Per Christian cheerfully playing in the sand next to me.

So now inquiring minds want to know… how exactly does a Mommy on full-time maternity leave spend her days in Gran Canaria? Is it all sea and sun and a life of leisure?

Surprisingly, the answer is no.

I’m the mother of an active, inquisitive and sometimes challenging ten-month old. I’m not working at the moment, so I spend my days the same way as most stay-at-home-mommies all over the world – I feed my son, I play with him, I (try to) get him to nap, I clean his clothes, I change lots and lots of dirty diapers, and I (try to) get us out of the house once a day.

There’s not too much sun and leisure in there, I’m afraid. Here’s what a typical day looks like for Mommy Svendsen:

7am – In the shower, dressed and semi-assembled before Per Christian wakes up (Hint: this is the key to everything!! Getting myself up first means I’m at attention and ready for enemy fire from the very beginning…)

730/800 – Wave One begins. PC is up, gets his first diaper change and his morning bottle. Then a bit of playtime in the living room while Mommy catches snippets of the BBC and slurps down her first coffee of the day.

900 – PC gets breakfast, which means that he practices getting fruit in the general vicinity of his mouth and Mommy practices her clean-up skills. Second (and sometimes third) diaper change of the day. Second (and sometimes third) costume change of the day.

930/1000 – PC goes down for his morning nap. Angels sing in heaven and Mommy breathes a (small) sigh of relief. The morning nap used to be a good two hours, but lately our sneaky little boy has been cutting this down to an hour or so. I am not impressed with this development.

There is just enough time during the morning nap to quickly clean up the disaster from Wave One (dishes, laundry, pulling porridge from my hair, etc.) and to get ready for Wave Two. I prep his lunch “matpakke” so we can eat out during the afternoon wherever we are, I check and refill his diaper bag and make sure the car/stroller is all packed and ready to go. Also Spanish lessons twice a week during this time (all the while praying PC stays asleep just a little bit longer….).

1030/1100 – Wave Two begins. We have a good three hours to get out of the house around this time everyday. We do grocery shopping once a week. We hit up the local fruit & veggie stand (with a stop for cortados and shameless flirting with the vacationing grandmothers). We go down to the Norwegian church for their children’s sing-along hour, or we go by Pappa’s office and distract him. We even sometimes get out the dreaded baby jogger and try to put it to good use. When the weather gets a bit warmer, this is hopefully the time when we’ll get down to the beach and get little Per Christian’s toes in the water.

1330/1400 – PC goes down for his afternoon nap. Angels sing in heaven and Mommy breathes a (slightly longer) sigh of relief. The afternoon nap is usually at least two hours, and it’s the best time of the day for me to get my own stuff done. I do some writing, I take care our finances, I email friends, I research local barnehagens, I do a bit of dinner prep, etc etc etc. If I’m very lucky, I may even finish my to-do list just in time to put my head down for exactly 42 seconds before Per Christian awakens.

1530/1600 – Wave Three begins. Snack time and play time and, quite honestly, the nicest time of the day. We’re all finished with our errands by now, so it’s just me and my son and the fantastic afternoon sunshine. We bring the play-mat outside to enjoy the cool breeze on the terrace, where there is a lot of room for Per Christian to crawl around and play with his balls. This is the time of day when I’m most grateful to have this precious and oh-too-fleeting time with Per Christian.

1730 – A final race for the finish line… bath, pajamas, bottle, lullabies, bed. I love, love, love bath-time. Per Christian can sit on his own in the tub now, and he enjoys playing with his stacking cups and rubber ducky friends. He gets a nice, long soak in the tub to wash away all the debris from Waves 1-3. (Note: the length of time spent on dirt-removal increases in direct proportion to the length of time he’s crawling around the terrace. It’s getting longer every day…)

1830 – Glorious, glorious bedtime! Per Christian falls asleep very well on his own now, so there’s not much to worry about after he goes down. I get to make dinner in peace, and then Per comes home and we have an actual, real-life meal together.

The ironic part is that, within an hour or two of Per Christian falling asleep for the night, I start to miss him. I find myself checking on him several times, just peeking into his room to hear him snoring away in his crib. He’ll be asleep now for 12-13 hours, and then we get up and do it all over again.

So that’s the less-than-glamorous island life for the Svendsen family these days. It’s a bit different than we originally expected, but make no mistake – I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Boys and their balls

Remember that episode of Sex and City when Charlotte was dating someone with a pair of “low-hangers”? Carrie was rebounding from Mr. Big with the Hot Yankee, but all they could talk about was Charlotte’s boyfriends’ balls… Because he kept playing with them all the time.

Well ladies, I’m here to tell you that this boyish fascination with balls begins early. We first noticed a bit of grabbing from our little one when he was about six months old in the bathtub. It was more funny than worrisome, and it’s my secret belief that Pappa Svendsen was actually proud and encouraging of his son’s new discovery.

But it’s getting out of control. Bath-time, diaper-time, you name it… our son is enraptured. Changing a dirty diaper has just become exponentially more challenging — as soon as the pants come off, his little fingers magnetically gravitate down there and begin fussing about.

Have you ever tried to keep a little boy from playing with his balls long enough to scrape a layer of smelly dirt off his bottom?! I swear, I must have missed some fine print in the baby contract somewhere because I did NOT sign up for this.

There must be something to balls in general though, but this ball-grabbing fascination isn’t confined to his anatomy. He seems to be learning to enjoy his miniature football as well (that’s soccer to my fellow Americans). It’s my not-so-secret belief that Pappa Svendsen is proud and encouraging of this new discovery as well:

At this point, he prefers to chase his football around the terrace and then sit by it, waiting for someone to kick it again. Kind of like the Chesapeake Bay Retriever we had when I was little – except not, because then I would be comparing my son to a dog.

And if you’ve managed to read down this far without turning off your computer in disgusted embarrassment, here is your reward:

What a face!!!

I just hope a bunch of spoiled thirty-something women aren’t sitting around wondering about my son’s ball-playing habits someday…

Our dirty little secret

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been thinking about it for several months, what I wanted to say and how to write it down in words. But I’ve noticed a lot of discussion in the blogosphere world around the topic lately, so I really can’t hold back any longer.

Our son has been sleeping for 12 hours a night since he was about five months old. People seem completely amazed and perhaps a bit envious when they hear that the first time. But here’s the thing… we didn’t do it alone, and he cried a lot in the process.

After a particularly draining “vacation” to Greece last July, we hired an “online nanny” to help us with Per Christian. She was based in the UK, we were in Norway (consultants everywhere should make note of this telepresence arrangement). We had phone calls every morning and evening to talk about what was happening with our son, and she’d give us our marching orders for what to do next.

It was – in a word – a relief.

Per and I were beyond exhausted as new parents, and we were completely overwhelmed at the plethora of information (and mis-information) out there. We had no clue what we were doing and we needed help. We agreed to work long-distance with this baby consultant for three weeks, and to follow her instructions 100% during that time. If it didn’t work out or if we felt at all uncomfortable with the arrangement, then we’d go back to forging it alone. No harm done.

Our first order of business was to get Per Christian sleeping on his own. I quickly realized that we had been caught in a never-ending cycle of issues… Per Christian wasn’t nursing well because he wasn’t sleeping well, and he wasn’t sleeping because he wasn’t eating.

So we did the unthinkable – we left our fourth-month old to “cry it out.”

This is what’s garnering so much attention lately, the debate of “To Cry or Not to Cry.” Per Christian was left to cry for 20 minutes at a time – mostly during the daytime, and during periods when he should typically be napping. Trust me, those 20 minutes felt like an eternity to a nervous, new mother staring at the clock ticking down the seconds on her iPhone. But we received specific instructions from our super-nanny along the way, as well as some much-needed reassurance when I was ready to give up the entire experiment.

That very first night, Per Christian slept for eight hours. The next night for ten hours. The following night for 12 hours… and we haven’t looked back since. We of course still have the occasional sleepless night from teething pain or traveling chaos, but overall we’ve been good.

This is, understandably, a hot-temper topic among parents… Is it cruel to let our babies cry? Is it creating mistrust? Have we re-wired the neurons in his brain to hate the world? Is it putting the need for parents’ sleep above the need for infant comfort?

All I can say is that it’s worked well for us. I feel more confident taking care of my son now because I know what to expect. I know he can settle himself for naps and for bed in the evening. And if he’s not settling – or wakes up crying in the night – I know something is wrong. I don’t have to lie in bed and wonder. I just know.

I do not believe that this sleep training taught Per Christian that nobody will come for him when he cries, so he might as well suck it up and go to sleep. I still come and comfort him if he’s not sleeping after 20 minutes, and if he cries at 3am then I’m out of bed in a flash. What I do think he’s learned is how to re-settle in the night without the need of a tight swaddle, or a pacifier, or food, or hours of rocking to sleep. I believe that this is just one of the things that every child will have to learn eventually… we teach them to eat properly, how to walk on their feet, how to say their first words. Shouldn’t we also teach our children how to sleep?

I’ve been reading a lot of anti-crying and anti-sleep-training rhetoric lately, so I thought it was about time to throw my own hat into the ring. Not many of us stand up and say, “Yes, I left my child to cry and that was the right thing for us…”, but there do seem to be a lot of vocal proponents of supposedly more “gentle” methods. So what’s the right way to teach your child to fall asleep on their own?

It’s an impossible question to answer.

I do know that our experience will not work for everyone. Those first three days were tough emotionally on the entire family, and I wouldn’t criticize anyone for going a different route. We did get through it, and I personally believe we’re all better for it as a family, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t had my doubts.

Anyway, there’s my two cents thrown into the sleep training arena. I’m extremely grateful that we had help along the way, but in the end I still believe every parent has to do what feels right in the deepest, darkest corners of their gut.

Who invented these things?!

Wall decals suck. I’m adding them to my new list (that started with the jogging stroller) of baby gear that seems like a good idea, but isn’t.

Let me explain… Today I purchased Per Christian a brightly-colored set of airplane wall decals, similar to this one:

I wasn’t sure where I was going to put them since his nursery furniture is still en route from Oslo, but he seemed interested when I waved them in front of his face. So purchase them I did. (Note – I did of course know he was only responding to my own big smile and dance moves and not the decals. Give me a little credit at least…)

Having no other place to hang them, I stuck them (temporarily) onto our landlord’s TV console, which is where Per Christian often gazes at his own reflection in the shiny plastic exterior. I showed my handiwork to him, expecting something akin to euphoria and excited curiosity.

But my son, of course, was more interested in the cardboard packaging the decals came in than those wonderfully-painted, brightly-colored planes. Hmmm… maybe he can’t see them from where he’s sitting? So I sat him closer, pointed to them with an excited smile on my face, “Look, Per Christain, aren’t these cool?”

I received a blank stare in reply, then a half-hearted attempt to peel them off the console. When that didn’t work, he returned to his important work of folding, biting and dissecting the cardboard packaging.

OK, I get it – he’s a nine-month old boy who wants to touch and feel and destroy things. Makes sense. Let me take them off the console and stick them onto the cardboard packaging instead. Yes, that’s it! I can cut out the cardboard around them, making them into real-life, brightly-colored airplanes that he can touch and feel and destroy! I’m such a smart mommy…

So the arts & crafts project begins. Pasting the decals onto the cardboard, cutting around them with our kitchen scissors and softening the edges so my little explorer doesn’t injure himself. This will be fabulous! I am a rock star mommy!

“Here you go, Per Christian, aren’t these cool?”

I received a blank stare in reply, then a half-hearted attempt to use the cardboard airplanes as a teething toy. When that proved to be lame, he returned once again to his important work of folding, biting and dissecting the pieces of cardboard now scattered around our living room

Wall decals suck.

Exploring the island: Agaete

This weekend, quite by accident, Per and I discovered Gran Canaria’s answer to the Amalfi coast. If any readers were present at the 2010 Svendsen wedding, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to… a beautify, twisty road along the Italian coast, with cliffs to one side and a steep drop to the water on your other side.

On Saturday, we drove north into the mountains, and then took a sharp left to find the coastal road to Agaete we had heard a bit about.

We were not disappointed.

Per Christian surely won’t remember anything about the trip, except perhaps the fabulous new teething biscuits he’s fallen in love with…

There’s definitely a lot more to the island than sun-bathing at the tourist resorts! Hopefully we’ll have plenty of chances to get out and explore some of the lesser-known sights over the coming months.

I hope you all had a great weekend also!

The myth of the Baby Jogger

Once upon a time, a woman who considered herself a runner became pregnant. She and her husband were excited in all the usual ways a newly-pregnant couple are excited (in other words, they were completely naive and clueless).

And they, like all newly-pregnant couples, began to buy things. Not a ton of things (in their minds anyway), but things that were considered “necessary.” A car seat, for example, which you cannot even leave the hospital without having installed (this was not a bus-going kind of couple). Top of the list, like all newly-pregnant couples, was The Perfect Stroller.

The runner/newly-pregnant woman was already envisioning long, leisurely jogs around Songsvann lake with her blessed child peacefully asleep in his or her jogging stroller. She researched and read reports and talked to other runners online, until finally – to the great relief of her husband and Albeebaby.com – a decision was made.

Fast forward 18 months later, and you’ll find this same woman sweating and cursing at this originally-beloved jogging stroller as they struggle up a ginormous hill in Gran Canaria. It’s not because of the stroller, which is lightweight and manageable and blah, blah, blah all things a good jogging stroller should be. It’s because jogging strollers – although brilliant in concept – are a load of BS in reality.

Here’s why:

1. You can’t use your jogging stroller for actual jogging until your baby can sit upright and hold it’s head steady. Makes sense, of course, but by that time your miniature companion is most likely a 20-pound weight in the saddle. Get the most lightweight model on the market, you’re still pushing around a pretty hefty meatloaf. It makes running on even the slightest incline very difficult.

2. By the time you can run again after the delivery of said meatloaf, you’re going to really, really miss the old days. Your body will jiggle like it never did before, and in places you never really imagined. I’m not talking about just a pair of saggy boobs, either – those can be held in place with some magnetic force fields and a good running bra. I’m talking about those nether-lands that began to drip, drip, drip… ever since you got pregnant and still haven’t stopped. Nature’s laughing at you, my post-partum friend, and the baby jogger ain’t gonna make that one bit easier to bear.

3. The best part of running, in my mind, was always to get away from it all. Not to bring it with me, for heaven’s sake! So imagine you’re finally back in your running game and finding your stride again. This is the perfect opportunity to leave the baby at home with pappa, and go out on your own. It took me four months after Per Christian was born to actually take a few minutes to myself for a run around the neighborhood (which, let’s face it, was more a walk/jog at that point). I was so happy, I honestly cried mid-stride. No joke.

So forget about finding the perfect baby jogger to take them with you on your runs – instead, force your partner to get fat and out of shape for the next nine months while you enjoy some time off (quid pro quo, my friend…).

Don’t get me wrong, I do love my jogging stroller as a stroller in general – it has a great canopy for the Canary sunshine, it reclines back when Per Christian wants to nap (ha! as if…), and it has an ample basket underneath for when mommy & pappa take their Prosecco to the park. But there isn’t a jogging stroller in the world that makes it better than going out and running on my own.

So, for the meantime, pappa gets to put on a bit of weight while mommy gets out for her runs. The way I see it, he can complain about it only after his nether-lands start dripping…

Big barnehagen decisions…

The “barnehagen” in Norway is like daycare or nursery school in the US, except that it’s free for everyone (via our enormous tax dollars). But although you’re technically guaranteed a barnehagen placement by law, I’ve heard too many woeful tales to believe it. For example, you might get your place as promised, but it’s in a school across town from where you work, or you have two siblings in two separate schools at opposite ends of the city. Or you can have your place, but only beginning in August whereas your maternity period ends in February, thereby leaving you stranded for six months. The theory is great, but it sometimes falls apart in practice.

On the other hand, I love the concept because of the below photos – this is what you see around Oslo on a daily basis in good weather (and sometimes in rain… remember that there’s no bad weather in Norway, only bad clothing and lots of skoposer).

The Norwegian barnehagen lifestyle is unique because the kids are always out and about. No worries about liability or other nonsense you would have at home, they’re all dressed in florescent vests and out they go. I’ve seen them in the parks, walking down the sidewalk and overtaking the public trams and metros. Loud, rambunctious and lively without anyone complaining – how good it is to be a kid in Norway!

Now that Per Christian is reaching his first birthday, we’re looking for a similar environment down here in southern Canaria. There is a Norwegian barnehagen practically opposite Per’s hotel, which is a great option. It’s filled with Norwegian children and teachers, so I’m sure he’d feel right at home. It seems normal enough – toys around the room and someone keeping a close eye on the kids. It’s clean, convenient, has space available and is in our price range. Simple decision, right?

Not so much.

Yesterday I visited another option, one that I described to Per as the “Cadillac of barnehagens.” It’s a 20 minute drive from our house to the town of Maspalomas, and wow – it was impressive. A big open space with children as young as three months and as old as three years from all over Europe, including Norway, UK, Finland, Germany and Spain. The working language is Spanish, but they do teach some English and German songs when they’re in the oldest 3-year group.

Per Christian was taken to the “La Luna” playroom for children under one year while I had my tour of the school. When we came back 20 minutes later, he was staggering across the floor in one of those baby walkers (which we don’t have at home), sharing a toy with another boy in the group and looking at me with the hugest smile. In typical Marguerite fashion, I did a very poor job of hiding my tears. (I can’t even blame this on post-pregnancy hormones anymore, I’m truthfully just a bucket of emotions wherever my son in concerned.)

So this option is also nice, they have space available, it’s in our price range, but it is not convenient. I know my mind is already made up though, I noticed it as soon as Per started questioning the school last night and I kept defending it even though I’d only spent one hour there during the day. My gut says this is the best place for Per Christian, but it really makes no logical sense since our perfectly good Norwegian option is right around the corner.

It’s kind of like the car decision we made last year – we ended up going for what we wanted even though it wasn’t necessarily the smartest choice. For better or for worse, this is a typical Svendsen family decision.making trait. I guess we haven’t suffered too badly from it in the past, but should we allow it to guide our big barnehagen decision as well?

Baby travel tips

Per Christian just passed nine months. During my usual routine of overly-emotional reflection, I realized that this kid has traveled more in his first nine months than I did my entire life before college.

Wow. The times, they are a-changin’!

That’s a lot of airline miles and a lot of lessons learned the hard way. I decided that – finally! – perhaps I do actually have a bit of baby-related wisdom to share.

So I started a new page of this blog to document some advice, entitled “Baby travel: Tips for Survival.” My hope is that other tried & true parents more experienced than myself can add to the list with your own insights. Maybe it’ll be helpful to someone in the blogosphere world or maybe not – either way it’s public information now.

With that, I leave you with the latest milestone achieved here in the Svendsen household (please ignore the trash bags in the background, it was New Year’s day so mommy & pappa had a lazy prosecco morning….):

Ta da!!!! He’s so proud of himself….


Cleaning out the cobwebs

I suppose everyone disappears over the holidays, and this blog was no exception. My apologies to those readers sitting on the edge of their chairs, eagerly anticipating blog updates. If you do indeed exist, please forgive my absence.

I was traveling with our meatloaf from December 3 until the 28th, a trip that included Ireland, South Carolina and finally Disney World. (… admit it – you’re all picturing a crazy bag lady at the airport, holding up security lines with a stale meatloaf wrapped in saran wrap and mumbling incoherently…)

It was a great holiday in many ways, most of all because our little Per Christian got to meet and play with his cousins for the first time. He spent intense hours examining the inner workings of the laundry room with his cousin Thomas, and he finally discovered someone that spoke his own language with my niece, Emily. (Mommy of course stood on the sidelines with overly-emotional tears in her eyes, which is about normal these days.)

We then returned to the Island and had a quiet New Year’s Eve with multiple bottles of bubbly. Too many bottles actually, but that’s about normal these days as well.

We did our usual year-end reflection as the fireworks went off, recalling all the good times in the year that brought us our son. And I realized – selfishly, of course – that I am so happy that 2011 is over. This was a hard year, folks, the hardest of my life. I won’t lie to you, there were days (and looooong nights) when I wished I could jump ship and run away. I am self-admittedly NOT a baby person; I do much better with someone I can boss around and who does what I want. I love my son beyond belief, but I do not miss those early baby days for one second. And I’m leaving them all in the past with the turning of the clock.

2012 will be the year I get myself back. This will be the year that Per Christian takes his first steps, spends his first day in the kindergarten and celebrates his first birthday. I’ve paid my dues and gotten him this far, now I get to sit back (relatively speaking, of course) and watch him grow. This is the year I get to figure out what the f#$@ to do with myself here in Gran Canaria, the year I get my body back into pre-baby shape, and the year I can put myself first for the first time in over 18 months (relatively speaking, of course…).

So good riddance 2011! You brought me the best of times and the worst of times. Now I’m ready to re-even the score.

Enjoy the photos below from our holiday travels. I wish everyone a happy 2012!