Word search

I’m searching for a word…

… one word that seems to elude me…

… one word that is somehow capable of encompassing gratitude, humility and an overwhelming feeling of both astonishment and being blessed…

Whatever that word is, that’s what this post is about.

As almost everyone on the planet knows, this project has almost entirely consumed the Svendsen household since the beginning of July. It’s required previously unimaginable hours of my own time, and it is by far the most exciting project I have ever lent my professional time towards.

However, the project was not mine alone. Besides the 62,642 people directly involved, there exist many more who have lived & breathed it from the shadows. This project, and its success, also belongs to the innumerable friends, family and loved ones who stepped up and helped my family manage the chaotic intersection of business timelines and household responsibilities.

This post, this word, whatever it is,… is for you.

To my mother and father, who allowed a three-year old to set their house on end and forced their dogs into hiding for an entire month, who made sure a sandwich and/or glass of wine were never far from reach, and who taught me in the first place to work hard for what you love….

Word.

To my mother-in-law, aunt and uncle, who traveled from Norway to Istanbul to take on said three-year-old in his natural environment, who offered to spend their holidays in my home, and who invested heavily and willingly into the Turkish wine industry…

Word.

To my friend and female soulmate Katy May, who selflessly lent her various homes and wi-fi connections to my insanity, who spent her airline miles and vacation time on my account, and who took on Google’s incomprehensible customer service desk when I was near tears…

Word.

To my friends Robert & Neda, who sacrificed our long-planned Italian holiday to a cooler on wheels…

Word.

To my former classmates and colleagues who provided advice and referrals over the past two months, and to every friend who liked, shared and promoted this project throughout the internet stratosphere….

Word.

To my entire project team scattered across the world who managed to respond personally to over 20,000 comments, inquiries and criticisms, who provided structure when there wasn’t any and who even now continue to invest time and energy into this project…

Word.

And, of course, to Per, who allowed me to leap without fearing the landing, who is my never-faltering cheerleader in all things, and who has now learned enough about coolers to last a lifetime….

Word multiplied by 1,000.

I’m increasingly a believer in the “you-can-have-it-all” mentality, but I’m also rapidly learning that no one can do it alone.

Word, folks.

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Say it like you mean it

Picture this….

My little boy, not quite two years old, last night pointed his finger at me, stomped his miniature foot to the ground, scrunched up his face and said “NO!” in his best possible Mommy impersonation.

Talk about looking in a mirror.

He wasn’t even fighting against anything at the moment – I wasn’t trying to dress or undress him or change his diaper or give him a bath or wash his face or do any of the other 1,000 things that would usually elicit such a response. We were just in the bedroom laying out his pajamas for bedtime and his pulls this little act out of nowhere.

I couldn’t help myself, I just burst out laughing. My child has become a parrot, mirroring back to me unfiltered snippets of everything he sees and hears throughout the day. He walks up to our dog and says, “Cara, OUT!” for no reason at all, thereby banishing her from wherever she was relaxing. He must have picked that up from us, right? Our poor old dog spends her days wandering from room to room according to her young prince’s pleasure.

He sits at the table and simultaneously asks, “Juice? Cheese? Banana? Cookie?” I’m almost certain he doesn’t know what he’s requesting, but he’ll continue attempting different combinations of those four words until he gets something on his plate that suits his mood. The other day, I gave him spaghetti and meatballs in response to his request for cookies and he smiled triumphantly up at me, as if he knew all along that he’d eventually get his own way.

I fear such successful Mommy-trickery is doomed to be short-lived.

Most surprisingly, he says “Adios!” to our Spanish helper as we leave the house in the morning, and yet he somehow understands to say “Ha det!” in farewell to his Norwegian Pappa and daycare teachers. It’s remarkable that he can somehow differentiate the use of two – even three – languages within his tiny toddler brain. How does that work? Can I go back in time please and learn a new language with such apparent ease? Pretty please?

It’s such a fun age, but also quickly puts your life into sharp perspective. Why does he learn to say “no” more quickly than “I love you“? Of course I understand the reason why, but I suppose in an ideal world it would be the opposite way around. We all want to believe that we nurture and inspire our little ones all the time, not that we hold them back at every turn.

The silver lining among these thoughts is the other new trick he’s picked up lately…. mimicking kissing like Mommy and Pappa. In this case, he’s plants a 100% joy-filled, open-mouthed, sloppy, toothy and wonderful kiss on my lips when I pick him from his nursery in the afternoons.

Now that’s the kind of mirror I like to see.

CIMG2344

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….

I’m not sure how this happened…

The Svendsen family has three people in it – two adults and one 14-month old child.

And yet, somehow, this is what our toothbrush container looks like in the bathroom:

And no, we don’t have any visitors at the moment.

It all started innocently enough. I read somewhere that you should start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they pop through. So, being an inexperienced mother that blindly follows any and all parenting advice, I went out and bought some brightly-colored mini brushes for my son’s mini teeth.

He hates them. He took one look at them, pushed them violently away from his face, and that was that.

However, as I reported here, Per Christian loves hangin’ in the bathroom with us in the mornings. And he loves Pappa’s adult-sized blue toothbrush. Not Mommy’s pink one, and not the cute mini green ones I bought especially for him. Nope, just Pappa’s plain old blue one. He literally screams and cries out for it anytime he’s even close to our bathroom.

So, being an inexperienced mother that loves a bit of quiet during her bathroom time, I’ve started letting him crawl all over the house with Pappa’s blue toothbrush. Maybe he’s teething and like the texture of that brush, maybe he’s already developed a God complex about his father and wants whatever he has. Maybe he’s just 14 months old and a mystery.

Whatever.

He’s happy, Mommy can pee in peace and now Pappa needs a new toothbrush.

All of which leads me to another CFM moment at Carrefour yesterday, standing in the aisle with hundreds of toothbrushes, trying to buy a new toothbrush for Pappa.

Hmmm… if Per Christian sees Pappa with a new toothbrush, he’ll want that one instead of the blue one. So the new one should look similar to the blue one. But not too similar, because Pappa is color blind and needs something he can tell apart from the blue one being dragged around the house.

And here’s another little mini one with different colors on it – maybe Per Christian will go for that one rather than the green ones I got him earlier. If I just find him the right color or shape or size, he’ll love his own toothbrush and all my feelings of maternal insecurity will be washed away and I will be a Truly Successful Mother…

Seriously folks, I’m soooooo thrilled I got my MBA in order to figure out these life challenges.

The end of the story is that we all have new toothbrushes, but Per Christian still only has eyes for Pappa’s old blue toothbrush. So that stays around for now and our toothbrush container looks like we’re a happy family of seven (although all with perfectly-manicured dentures).

Oh, and that new, brightly-colored mini brush I bought him?

Fogetaboutit, yo….

I fear this means that in 30 years some woman will scream at my son for wearing t-shirts with holes in them and refusing to throw them away, and his response will be that they’re “broken in” and comfortable.

Poking a snake

Since Pappa S is working 15-hour days opening his hotel, I find myself with a lot of solitary time in the evenings. Our miniature meatloaf goes to bed around 6-6:30 every night (I know, I know, everyone hates me….), so there are still several hours to kill before I can reasonably permit myself to go to bed as well.

I’m not complaining, I enjoy a quiet night alone just as much as every other full-time mother. I have a couple different options of how to spend my time – take a look and see if you can figure out which one should not be included on future lists if I want to preserve what little sanity I have left:

  1. Reading – I go through books as quickly as a French chef goes through butter. I thought I’d have less time to read after our baby was born, but it turns out it’s quite the opposite. Every guest that visits us is instructed to bring me their latest reading treasures, and I’m not picky about the genre. If you enjoyed it, pay it forward and send it my way.
  2. Graboid – I discovered this online streaming service a few years ago as a way to keep up with American television while living abroad. I may be far away, but I still need my weekly dose of Grey’s Anatomy every now and then. When I’m home alone in the evenings, I watch the really trashy shows that I can’t admit to in real life (hellooooo, Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor Pad). I’m so ashamed.
  3. Cooking – All my friends know that I’m a fanatic list-maker. And without a regular job in Gran Canaria to occupy my brain and list-making mania, I do the only other reasonable thing you could expect… I plan meals. I make lists of ingredients. I take Per Christian to the market during the day. I buy ingredients and cross them off my list. And then I cook all night because our refrigerator is overflowing and needs to be emptied. So if Pappa S isn’t at home in the evenings, you can find me either in the kitchen cooking or else making another list somewhere. (And, yes, I realize this sounds slightly sad and pathetic to all my fellow MBA colleagues out there, but I promise you’ll enjoy a full stomach whenever you visit Casa Svendsen.)
  4. Blogging – I have more than one post on here that was written in a cloudy haze of solitary red wine drinking (present post included). Probably not a great idea, but I do notice that those posts tend to get more hits than the soberly-written ones. Go figure.
  5. Look at Old Photos and Videos of Per Christian – This one is definitely the kicker. Right as Pappa S and I have decided that we’re perfectly content with our little threesome and feel no need to repeat the experience, I do something stupid like watch old baby videos. The problem is that they’re just soooo cute, it makes me want to do it all over again. Uh oh…..

So, yeah, of all five items above, the last one is the most likely to send me flying over the cookoo’s nest. Of course these videos make me nostalgic for baby-hood; they capture all the wonderful giggles and first-time movements of our own freshly-minted human being. We don’t have any videos of late-night feedings or screaming sessions. There are no videos of mommy slurping coffee with her hair standing on end after a sleepless night. There are no videos of me scouring the internet for answers to why my baby won’t sleep/eat/poop/sleep. They’re all good times, and they make my uterus scream out for a repeat.

So I think it’s best that I stick to drunken blogging and trashy television on my nights alone. We really are a happy little threesome over here – and I even have the videos to prove it.

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.

Tending the wounded

Since Friday evening, the Svendsen household has washed approximately 72 loads of laundry, changed approximately 189 green diapers and gone through approximately 49 pairs of clothes.

That’s right – our poor little Per Christian is waging his first serious battle against a stomach bug. And it’s horrible, just horrible.

Thankfully, his fever is back down again, he’s finally drinking a bit of flavored water and he’s starting get some hours of long, uninterrupted sleep. I’m personally going a bit stir-crazy in the house, but – as usual – am trying to suck it up for the Greater Good. (Note : This does not imply that I’m doing it quietly or without complaining to Pappa Per. Some things cannot be helped…)

I suppose we’re lucky we’ve made it this far without too many sick days beyond the usual colds and runny noses. But I’m definitely adding another bullet point to my previously-published list of You Know You’re a Mommy When…..

  • You know you’re a mommy when you calmly hold your baby as they’re vomiting all over your new blouse, and your only concern is that they know they’re loved in this moment and that you’ll do anything you can to help them get well again. Blouse be damned.

But even illness cannot stop us from photographing our handsome meatloaf:

Pappa's multi-tasking skills

TV time with Mommy and Sesame Street

Laundry load #33 and counting

Per Christian's food for the past three days

Mommy & Pappa's food for the past three days

A recent conversation

Mommy : “Good morning, Per Christian! Did you sleep well last night?”

PC : (standing in his crib and pointing to the ceiling fan) “Dubbidida dubba da da gugu ga!”

Mommy : “Oh, was it too cold in your room last night? Was the fan too cold for you?”

PC : (now pointing to the door) “Dubbidida dubba da da gugu ga!”

Mommy : “Oh, you want to say good morning to Pappa? Let’s go visit Pappa while he gets dressed for work.”

Pappa : (speaking in Norwegian) “God morgen, lille gutt! Har du sovet godt?”

PC : (this time pointing at Pappa’s shirt button) “Dubbidida dubba da da gugu ga!”

Pappa : “Oh, you want to help Pappa get dressed for work? Such a sweet boy, thank you for helping Pappa with his buttons!” (Pappa passes PC back to Mommy so he can re-button his shirt.)

Mommy : “Per Christian, can you say bye bye to Pappa before he leaves for work?”

PC : (waving his hand at his own face) “Ba byyyyyyyye… ba byyyyyyye….

Mommy and Pappa melt.

Such a good start to the day.

Avoiding grandma’s stare…

Since I first moved abroad in 1998, I have sometimes unwillingly taken a bit of time in between check-in’s with my family. However, if too much time has passed, I always receive a not-so-subtle message from my mother, requesting that I drop her a line ASAP that (1) I’m still alive, and (2) all my appendages are still intact enough to compose a brief letter home.

I’m expecting any day now to receive a similar message from my mother regarding photos of her grandson. It’ll read something along the lines of:

“It’s been too long, Marguerite, where are you hiding my adorable grandson?
Love, Mom.”

In order to preempt such a message, I hereby present the following recent photos to you all. There aren’t many, but they should reassure parents and grandparents everywhere that items both (1) and (2) above are indeed accurate.

And for those of you expecting some witty remarks more substantial than just photos, my apologies. I’ve been in a bit of a downward-facing funk lately and can’t seem to find the gumption to get anything down on paper. But the winds of change shift on a daily basis here at Casa Svendsen, so hopefully something will push through in the nearest future and get me back on track.

Until then….

Two weeks in a nutshell

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Svendsen household, traveling to London and back, and then (finally!) receiving our furniture shipment from Norway. I find it incredibly ironic that all our cold weather winter gear arrived right after we made our trip to freezing London, but as my five-year-old niece likes to say, “c’est la vie….” (PS – don’t feel too bad if your own five-year-old doesn’t know French yet. We clearly have genius genes in our family.)

Amid all this chaos, our own little meatloaf has decided that pulling up on all types of furniture is a fun thing to try. Per Christian is moving so quickly now, I’ve had to switch my camera to the “Sport” setting to even try and catch him in action. He’s also had his first two days at his new barnehagen, with a few tears shed by us both. I finally decided on a small, local Spanish baby centre right across the street from us, and it seems like a good fit for the entire family.

And if that’s not enough already, he’s also starting to wave and babble something shockingly familiar to “bye-bye.” I’m now trying to convince him that – yes, he can say bye-bye to everyone he sees on the street and to anyone in his life, except for Mommy. Because Mommy will always be there. He will have no need for any other woman in his life, because Mommy will always be there. No bye-bye’s for Mommy, forever and ever and ever…

He seems a bit hesitant to absorb this critical information, but I think we’re making progress.

And now, a few recent photos for all the doting aunts, uncles, grandparents and farmor‘s in the audience:

My superhero self

There are hundreds of articles and pieces of advice out there about what to expect from your post-baby body. Changes in hip and waist sizes (ugh!), changes in bra sizes (fabulous!), hair loss, tender joints and sore lady parts…. You name it, someone out there is postpartum and feelin’ it.

But nobody told me about Mommy Ears. Not visible to the naked eye, Mommy Ears is a curious phenomena that only newly-minted mothers can appreciate. (Fathers are, apparently, immune.)

It results in a heightened sense of sonic abilities – some are so powerful they could land you on the cast of Heroes or X-Men. You can hear the tiniest peep from your little one several rooms away and at all hours of the day or night. You can instantly distinguish your little one’s cries amid all the other noise at the shopping mall or your mommy group meeting. You can sleep through earthquakes and natural disasters, but never through your little one crying.

This is some serious Superhero stuff.

Take, for example, my experiences over the last several nights. Lille Per Christian is teething up a storm, so everything I knew about his sleeping and eating habits has flown out the window. Damn.

So I’m deep in an exhausted sleep and wake suddenly for no reason at 2:50 am.

I lay in bed, body tense, holding my breath.

30 seconds…. 90 seconds…. three minutes….

Whew. Nothing. Roll back over to sleep.

But NO! There it is. A small whimper from the nursery. A pint-sized stirring that warns me my son is awakening at a most unappreciated hour. I leave him for a few more minutes to make sure, during which time his small murmurings become much louder and more insistent. A few more minutes to make double-y sure…. Yep. The little guy is up.

How is it possible that those tiny sounds can travel through walls and sealed doors to snatch me so abruptly from Slumberville? I can sleep through all manner of drunken debauchery on the streets outside my bedroom window, but I wake at this?!

Mommy ears, I’m telling’ ya.

I’m unsure if these abilities will intensify or weaken as Per Christian gets older and I grow more comfortable with my Superhero powers. I half-expect he’ll be a 27-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in the Zambian outback and I’ll still be laying awake at night for the sound of him waking.

But I guess that’s all part of being a Mommy (aka Superhero).

Note: This image is NOT representative of Per Christian during teething.