Homesickness

A funny thing happened today in Gran Canaria…. it rained. I know this sounds like I’m mocking everyone who lives with rain throughout the year, but I am actually serious. I’ve seen rain three times since we moved here last October, so it is indeed a rare thing to behold.

Funny enough, the rain makes me homesick for Oslo. I always enjoyed curling up under a blanket and sipping coffee in the mornings, but such a thing is more unusual here. “Koselig” (the Norwegian word for “cozy”) is used in all kinds of situations – an evening with friends around the table, a gathering of children happily playing together, a weekend getaway to your cabin in the mountains. But most often, I think of koselig as snuggled under a blanket with either rain, snow or grey skies outside my window.

Norway is in the news a lot these days because of the Breivik trial. My family was traveling back from Crete on the day of the attacks, so we only heard the news through frantic text messages and patchy media coverage. We were in Oslo for much of the aftermath though, including the street closures caused not by the attacks themselves, but rather by the heavy outpouring of roses and flowers around Oslo’s main cathedral.

Never once did I hear that Breivik’s message against multiculturalism had taken root and would continue to grow. Instead, I heard the Prime Minister say that the attacks would make Norway stronger in its resolve to be an open, democratic country. In typical stoic Norwegian fashion, crowds gathered to mourn silently, yet proudly, and to illustrate that this tragedy would not be their undoing.

So when I read about yesterday’s gathering of more than 40,000 people to – once again – stand together against the hateful messages coming out of Breivik’s trial, I am filled with awe at the Norwegian people’s resolve.

I miss my dear town of Oslo. Even though I was only there two years, it does feel like home to me. Maybe because it’s where so many of our friends live, or maybe because it’s where my son was born. Or maybe because it’s where I spent so many koselig days and nights. Even more likely, it’s because I can identify with the Norwegian people gathering together to sing in the face of ugliness.

The world is watching you, dear Norway, and you are setting a sublime example for us all.

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Cheerios

I recently recommended Cheerios to a Norwegian friend for her six-month old baby boy, but she didn’t seem to know what they were.

So here’s an explanation for European mommies everywhere who might not be aware of this essential American baby food. Cheerios are popular across the U.S. for keeping children quietly occupied in the car, doctor’s offices and church services:

Happy baby, happy mommy!

That is all.

You should see the other guy….

This morning, I was imagining in my head a conversation between Per Christian and his little friends at the local barnehagen. It went something like this:

*****

Nameless baby at barnehagen : “Dude, you look pretty messed up today. Scrapes and bruises everywhere and – wait – is that a chipped tooth in your mouth?!”

Per Christian : “You bet it is. And you should see the other guy…”

*****

Random mind ramblings aside, it is true that our little warrior now has a two chipped front teeth. He slipped while furiously crawling around the terrace the other day and went tumbling nose-first into the cement floor. All I heard was a resounding “crack!” of something or other, and then lots of heart-breaking tears.

The tears finally dried and the blood was finally all wiped away to reveal a cut on his upper lip and two cracked front teeth. He’s eating normally (“with great gusto” is how he normally eats…), so I’m assuming the injury isn’t painful any longer.

I asked the doctor during a routine appointment what I should do about the teeth, and he just shrugged and laughed. “Get the camera,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot of goofy photos for a while.”

So here’s my attempt at capturing the injury for y’all:

Oh well, what can I say? This kid may be injured, but he’s still way too squirmy to pose for a photo!

Why I hate IKEA

The Ikea multistory car park at Ikea, Birstall...I know this is an unusual opinion. I know lots of people love IKEA. And I know there is  a time and a place for IKEA in one’s life.

But the problem with IKEA is that it’s created a home furnishing phenomenon that’s leaking to mainstream retail outlets. The entire concept of “putting it together yourself” has become contagious. I don’t always like or want that concept, but apparently I don’t get a choice anymore.

I can remember when IKEA first came to the U.S., bringing its ultra-cool Scandinavian design sensibilities to college campuses and young professionals everywhere. No longer did co-eds have to survive with charitable hand-me-downs from mom & pop – now we could afford to go out and buy stuff ourselves! The materials may not have been the best quality, but we saved money by suffering through strangely-illustrated instruction manuals and somehow managing to assemble our furniture at home. Clumsy people like me suddenly felt like full-fledged carpenters with that little screw wrench in our hands.

It was fresh, young, modern. A revolution in the dull world of furniture retail.

IKEA hit the world by storm and is still growing by leaps and bounds. We even have an IKEA on our little island of Gran Canaria, and they’re so popular that they’re looking to expand.

The problem is when I go out and buy what I consider to be “adult” furniture from a real “adult” furniture store, and it’s handed over to me in a box with assembly instructions. When did this happen? I’m positive I remember my parents getting furniture actually delivered in one piece to their house, unloaded from a large truck in our driveway and without the requisite screw wrenches. When did the shift happen that furniture companies everywhere took the IKEA concept and started to apply it as an industry-wide standard, all the while still charging me “adult” prices?

I just came up against this new reality when I purchased a desk for my new office space. I bought it at El Corte Ingles, which is the largest and best-known department store on the island. Very “adult” material. I saw exactly what I wanted in their showroom, pointed to it and said (quite shrewdly, I thought), “Yo quiero esta, por favor.” Nowhere on the display model did it show a screw wrench. Nowhere on my receipt did it warn about “assembly required.” And yet, two days later, it was delivered to me in a giant box with IKEA-esque instructions (and screw wrench!) inside.

So that’s why I hate IKEA. I respect their business model and I respect that there’s a place for them in the world. I furnished my son’s entire nursery with IKEA goodies. I even love to wander around their aisles on a quiet afternoon, stocking up on colorful tea candles and frozen Swedish meatballs. But I hate that they’ve created something so popular that furniture stores everywhere now assume that’s what I want.

Trust me, if I want to hone my fledgling carpentry skills and save a few euros in the process, I’ll head to IKEA. But when I pay full “adult” prices for something, I expect you to deliver me the goods in one piece. “Assembly required” is not the status-quo, my fine furniture-dealing friends….

For better or for worse

There’s a long list of people out there who say that having kids changed their marriage forever. And they’re usually none too positive when they say it, seemingly hoping to travel back in time and remain childless if the opportunity were available. “Don’t get us wrong, we love our kid(s),” they all insist. “But…..”

And there it is – the BUT heard ‘round the world. The BUT that only married people with kids can understand. The BUT that scares couples everywhere away from the baby path.

Here’s my thinking – there’s really no way for a marriage not to change when a little one comes along. It’s an entirely different life, made up of three people rather than just two. It’s a threesome (or foursome, or fivesome…) for all eternity. I think anyone would find an eternal threesome a difficult relationship to manage.

Before having children, a marriage is pretty black and white. Every month at work, you receive a salary to confirm that you’re doing your job correctly. You have rational, adult conversations with rational, adult people and decisions are made, well – rationally. And then you come home, and you have all your free time to spend doing exactly what the two of you love to do together.

It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s your own.

Things inevitably change when you invite a third person to the party. 80% of your days are like your good days at work – and when they’re good, trust me, they’re really, really good. Your child does something simple, which seems extraordinary to you, and you smile lovingly across the table at your spouse. You both smile a lot on those days, and you feel closer to this family unit you’ve created than you ever imagined. You’re bound deeply together by a miniature package of extraordinariness. This is how children change a marriage for the better.

You don’t always hear that side of the story, and that’s a shame.

More often, you hear about the other 20%. On those days, you’re dealing with an irrational boss who refuses to issue clear instructions, and who just does whatever they damn well please. On these days, you’re moody and almost definitely short-tempered. You feel like a failure in one way or another, or maybe in a hundred ways all together. It’s been a bad day at work for one or both of you – there’s tension in the air, one or both of you is pissed off, and angry words may be spoken.

It happens. For better or for worse.

At Casa Svendsen, we’ve definitely had an 80/20 split over the past year. There is truly a domino effect of emotional happiness in our house, which begins with the smallest (and yet most powerful) one among us. When Per Christian has a good day, then so does Mommy. There are lots of giggles and silly stories to share in the evening. Pappa comes home to a happy house and is, by extension, also happy.

The opposite curve works the same way in reverse – a grumpy baby leads to a grumpy Mommy, who feels exhausted and run down by the end of the day. I then, of course, take it all out on Per when he walks in the door. On these days, Pappa has to bear the brunt of all my own feelings of maternal inadequacy because our son is too young to shoulder such burdens.

Luckily for us all, Per errs on the less emotional end of the spectrum and realizes, quite rationally, that whatever troubles await him at home shall soon pass. Per Christian won’t always be so small and require so much work. I won’t always be home alone caring for him. We won’t always find him such a mystery to understand or feel ourselves to be so helpless – although I do expect that we’ll always feel entirely inadequate for the task.

Is it all worth it, you wonder? The simple answer is “yes,” but the more honest answer is “not always.” Here’s the thing – despite the challenges of the 20%, I really, really don’t want a time machine (most of the time). I would not give up my son for all the free time in the world (most of the time). Yes, I’m tired and yes, I do miss my former ability to impersonate a calm, rational adult. And of course I miss our carefree days alone, drinking Prosecco for breakfast on a lazy Saturday morning, as opposed to venting on my husband all my furies after a difficult day of tending to our meatloaf.

But my son is a part of me, taken directly out of my body and walking (stumbling, actually…) around in real life right before my very eyes. How miraculous is that? I can watch him and see reflections in him of both my husband and me. He is an extraordinary being; I can find no other words for it. And when I see my son in this light, I know that I love my husband and my family down to my deepest, darkest core.

So yes, children change a marriage, there’s no way around it. We lose our tempers more often and are made to bear more responsibility than we could ever previously imagine. We will never, ever again get to be selfish and think about only ourselves. Our threesome is here to stay, and all the subtleties of joining three separate people into one loving family unit have to be managed with care.

There are 20% of hard times for our unit, when my husband has to play the roll of punching bag because the real criminal agent is too young to understand Mommy’s frustrations.

But then there are 80% of really great times, when I walk in the door and see my son literally bouncing with excitement over my arrival. And then I see my husband standing right behind him, with an equally large smile on his face. We’re a family, and we’re so very blessed.

That’s just how a marriage with children works. For better or for worse.

Number 7

I’ve written here and here about how to spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have a new addition that tops the list!

Yesterday I was out walking with Per Christian and I saw something unmistakably Norwegian. Like good, dedicated researchers everywhere, I quickly grabbed my camera and sneaked off two photos paparazzi-style. ‘Cause that’s how unbelievable it was.

So here it is – #7 on our growing list of How to Spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria:

Roller-skis! Frequently seen in Norway for cross-country training during the warmer months, but they still crack me up every time I see them.

Still going strong at Casa Svendsen

It’s been a while since I posted as we’ve been busy with stomach flues, visiting friends and general Life. Here’s a pictorial round-up of the past few weeks with the Svendsen family in Gran Canaria:

Per Christian spent a day at the beach:

And rode his new bike:

And started taking his first brave steps:

Mommy & Pappa took our guests to Mogan (is that Bruno’s speedo in the background?):

And Per Christian wore a hat:

We did some more unpacking:

And planted some flowers (thank you Are & Sandra!)

One missing photo is our hosting of a barbeque for 20 people last weekend. There are no photos because – incredibly! – it was raining most of the day. Somebody is laughing at the irony of us not having rain for the six months since we moved here, except for the one day we planned a barbeque!

Now we’re ready for another fabulous visitor from my Peace Corps days coming next week. Let the fun continue!

Strawberry daiquiris

The last time somebody made me a strawberry daiquiri was in mid-summer 2010. Pappa S and I were at a traditional Norwegian “hytte-tur” (aka – drinking binge) with some “friends” (aka – fellow bingers) in the mountains.

Except that he was not yet Pappa S and I was not yet The Mommy. In fact, I had only two days earlier met for the first time a little blue stripe on a little blue pee stick that signaled that the times, they were soon gonna be a’changin’….

Anyway…. hyttetur.

Pre-Pappa-S and I were in a room full of friends and one particular friend (he-who-shall-not-be-named-but-who-just-got-engaged-yesterday) had the incredible foresight to bring his blender, some rum and lots of strawberries to an isolated cabin in the middle of the Norwegian mountains.

So there we were, with friends, far from anywhere, and rum, and one HUGE little secret among the two of us.

As glasses were passed and our friend’s alcoholic foresight was toasted to the heavens, I managed to sneak myself into getting a virgin version by professing to dislike even the slightest hint of rum. (This proclamation, from a girl who used to pressure big, strong Norwegian men into competing against her with tequila shots was of course not to be trusted. But one must try anyway.)

The point of this story is that when Pre-Pappa S and I finally did announce our pregnancy a conservative three months later, everyone on said hytte-tur was quick to connect the dots.

And the second point of this story is that today, 22 months after that infamous hytte-tur, someone made me a real strawberry daiquiri.

Rum and all.

And it was goooooooooood…..

May all of your Tuesday evenings be filled with daiquiris of all shapes, sizes, color and content!