In your honor

In your honor

 

It’s the time after. The hollow empty time, when we’re supposed to be done with grieving and life just goes on.

 

dav

 

When you become a parent there’s lots to learn, no matter where in the world you are. But when you’re in a country you didn’t grow up in yourself, the learning curve of parenting is even steeper. And it’s stressful because the stakes are so high. These beautiful magical innocent babies, suddenly under your care in a system you only partially understand. It’s confusing at best, terrifying at worst.

Whenever I needed help, when the system here confused me, you knew the answer. Yes, I had my husband and he tried to help, of course. But so often his solution was, hm, I’ll call my mom. And you’d have the answer, you knew the system, you knew the people. Your network and your knowledge became ours, and it made parenting in a new country manageable.

My own mother raised me kindly, she gave me her strength and a solid array of fundamental parenting instincts to take into my journey as a parent. But Norway was a twist I didn’t see coming. And you gave me the practical know-how to parent my Norwegian kids. To handle the day-to-day questions and conundrums. To discern whether misunderstandings were due to culture or personality. To understand what all these foreign concepts meant, not just the meaning of the words, but how they fit into the Norwegian context. .

You were my Norwegian mentor. My Norwegian Mom.

The generations over us are like the highest trees in the forest canopy. As they disappear we stand exposed, more vulnerable to the whims of wind and weather and less protected from the heat of the sun.

Of course we have other people around us who care. But not the way you did. Not all in, day in day out, calling, asking, remembering each detail and following up. The mother/daughter-in-law relationship is rarely 100% smooth. Sometimes the intensity of your caring felt overbearing to me, but over the years it began to just feel like what it was- love.

And now I mourn what we’ve lost. On one hand the practical help, knowing there was always someone nearby who’d drop everything and reschedule and find a way to make it work if we needed help. Losing that is hard, but we’ll be resilient and  find new solutions for situations like those. No, the hardest part is losing someone who loved my kids unconditionally. Who lived for loving my kids, and all the grandchildren. Unconditional love is rare, there are only a few people who offer it to us in this lifetime. You were one of ours and we thank you.

You gave the kids the wisdom and perspective you had as one of an older generation. You helped keep their world oriented upwards and inwards toward family instead of outwards towards peers and pressures. You could absorb their bad moods, deflect their tantrums, turn their energy around without reproach or shame. You remembered each detail of what they told you and followed up and asked how things were going. You offered food and comfort. You taught them patiently and spent long hushed hours doing crafts with them- knitting, embroidering, weaving.

You gave us everything you had. Your last energy, your last days, went to us, your family. We say that death came quickly at the end, that the illness took over quickly. But I think it’s the other way too. That the illness was already taking over, but you held on and stayed so strong so long because you wanted to spend that time with us.

Visits in the days leading up to Christmas. Helping us plan the Christmas gifts we could buy for the kids from you. Finding someone who could sew N’s bunad. (even though I procrastinated and it should have been too late). Organizing the list of silver necessary for said bunad. See, you were helping me learn something new about Norway right to the very end. Christmas Eve celebration with family. You were smiling and in good spirits all that night. Coming to K’s 7th birthday party on Boxing Day. You sat on our couch, right where I sit typing this. You chatted with all of us about the little things you loved to hear about. J’s gymnastics, N’s confirmation, knitting, everyone’s busy schedules, local happenings. You helped K count his birthday money and add up the big impressive number. You smiled and laughed and gave hugs.

Then you were in the hospital. We didn’t know for how long but we didn’t know the end would be so soon. We had a lovely visit with you New Year’s Eve. K climbing on the windowsill. L trying to run out the door to the corridor every time it was opened a crack. You sent M out to find fruit for the kids. J got a pear, K a banana. Even there you were still taking care of us. Making sure we were fed and comfortable and making the best out of the circumstances. You told N about a jacket you had that never quite suited you, said she could have it if she wanted it. Your last gift directly to her. You asked about M’s plans, her class ski trip, wondered how things were going with her friends. You showed us some old pictures in the history book from your hometown. And then you gave us all hugs. I’ll never forget how strong your arms and back felt when I hugged you that last time. So solid and strong, you had so much strength left in you.

You gave us so much, and you still had so much more to give.

As we watched the fireworks that night we cried, sad that you weren’t there watching with us. We had to ring in the New Year without you and then one day later you were gone for real.

We’re grateful for everything, too many things to list. But right now we’re especially grateful that you gave us so much those last days. Our last memories are not of your illness, but of laughter and smiles and hugs.

It takes a village to raise kids, and now our village has lost its matriarch.

I’m not ready to fill the void, I’m not even sure I can. But I’ll try, and because I must, for my kids, I’ll manage.And when I manage it will be because you showed me how.

It’s the time after now, and life just goes on. In your honor.

inyourhonor2

 

Listening

Since the election I’ve been listening. Reading, hearing what people are saying.

I thought I was progressive before. And I was, but my definition of progressive had crystallized 15 or 20 years ago and I had only kept up with the discourse on a superficial level since then. My social justice awareness developed within the liberal California college environment of the 90’s, and then deepened during the 5 years I lived in Switzerland. I cared and cared and cared, but with a focus on the issues that dominated in those different environments.

Then I ended up in Norway and had 5 babies in 13 years and focused on that. My caring was devoted to them, and my activist thoughts, those I had the energy for through the haze of sleep-deprivation, focused mostly on birthing and breastfeeding and the right to autonomy over one’s body during these processes. And gender issues, the school system, family issues, parental leave, and so on. And slowly, in sync with my growing fluency in Norwegian language, I began to gain a deeper understanding of the wider issues going on within my new country of residence as well.

The rest of the world was outside this bubble. The US was way outside this bubble. I still cared, but I only got glimpses of what I should be caring about here and there. A friend’s photo from protests in Chicago. A link on facebook to an article another friend wrote in New Orleans. The news, filtered through the small number of websites I could find that didn’t disgust me with their overly obvious bias.

But this winter I was shocked into focusing on US politics again. I knew a lot about the US’s foreign policy issues of these past years (you know, living in a “foreign” place and all), but the domestic issues were more hazy. So I admit I’m one of the shocked. There are many voices out there saying this isn’t new. This racism and bigotry was rampant before and it’s only people with privilege, those who didn’t experience it directly, who can be shocked it exists. And I agree. In that sense I was wrapped in a bubble of privilege over here in Norway and I didn’t realize how extreme it had gotten, or how extreme it was all along, just not focused on in the environments I was part of. I knew this strain was there in US society but I didn’t know it was strong enough to lead to this election result. I’m sorry for not seeing that more clearly before.

And some voices are also saying, the only good side of this election was that the racism and bigotry has been brought out in the open, which might hopefully wake more people up to join in the struggle against it. And I agree with this too. And along with that sentiment comes anger, that it takes this level of assholery to shake the privileged out of their bubbles to join the fight against oppression. Where were we before? (In our bubbles.) Why don’t we care about injustice before it spits in our face and threatens us directly? (Because it’s easier that way, and because we benefited from it. Hard to face but true.) Will we use this momentum to push for real change, or will we fall back into old patterns once the immediate threat is over? (I don’t know what to say, I really hope not the latter.) Are we gonna stay with the struggle for justice or become complacent? (I can only answer for myself. Stay.)

So I’ve been listening.

And I learned that my way of caring was outdated. That the discourse and terminology I knew how to use was stale and superficial. That the conversations had continued without me and the issues had evolved and deepened and changed. I learned new terms which have helped me understand other perspectives on the human experience. I learned that many of the terms I already knew have nuances I was unaware of. And I learned I have a ton more to learn, so I have to keep paying attention.

I learned that ally is almost a dirty word in some activist circles. That it’s not a label one gives oneself, but an action one strives to achieve in each individual situation. In each situation you choose your behavior, and if you see injustice around you, in any big or small way, you choose your actions to be on the side of justice, to turn the situation towards equity and away from oppression. And then, in the next situation, you have to assess and react and make that choice again. Striving to be an ally is about constantly choosing, constantly working to be on the side of justice, each day, each individual situation at a time. I’ve used the term ally in a self-labelling way before and I apologize for that.

I learned that sometimes the best way I as a white person can help is to be quiet and listen. To support and amplify the words of the people who have lived experience with the issue at hand.

Listen. Amplify. Stay in my lane.

If oppression is happening (and it is) I have to listen and read and hear if the issue is being addressed by the group directly affected. I have to lift those voices up, link to them, amplify them, defend them to any white/privileged friends or acquaintances who would belittle or ignore them.

It’s hard not to want to jump in and say your piece on an issue you care about. It’s hard not to want to say “yeah, but I’m not like that” when you hear someone talking about how white people have hurt them. It’s hard, but we have to learn to hear these things and take them in without reacting defensively. We have to let those voices be heard. Let the words come from the people experiencing the injustice. Hear the message in those words without needing to have it filtered through a white perspective first. There are times we should speak, but not when our voice talks over or drowns out marginalized voices.

I see the irony in writing this post about how I’m trying to learn to hang back and just listen. I get that there’s massive centering happening in this post. (That’s what this blog is, mostly, an exercise in centering.) But I write this as a white woman to other white people, other people who may need to learn to listen. Which voices are you hearing? Where do their opinions on the subject come from, lived experience or outside-in observation? What bias do they have? Why is this voice more comfortable to listen to than another?

I want to learn more humility, to increase my ability to sit back and listen. Yet here I am writing this. Finding that magic balance where adding my voice to the discourse is more useful than not is a tricky one. So here’s the thing, after all the learning my listening has brought to me, and though I will humbly attempt to amplify others’ voices when possible, I still feel that when in doubt I have to err on the side of saying something.  Because the conundrum is that in some situations staying silent means showing tacit agreement with the oppressor, or the bully, or the President. So when I feel the scales tipping towards injustice, I’ll speak. Or write. Even if I center and whitesplain and whitewash. I’ll try not to do those things, but I know I’ll make mistakes. Then I hope I’ll have the strength to accept the criticism and continue learning. But I also hope my words might reach someone who can learn from them. The blatant racist who “doesn’t see color”. Or the white people who aren’t sure they want to leave their bubble yet. The ones who unfortunately might still need to hear these things first from another white person before they’re able to open their heart to other voices. And the people like me who are trying to figure out how to care without causing harm. Because that’s what it all boils down to, I care.

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A drawing of sparkly dots and a flower, by my daughter. The kind of thing I randomly find in my phone’s photo gallery. I think it fits here. Peace, love, sparkles, flowers, yeah.

Which voices are you listening to?