What I did on my Summer Vacation

What I did on my Summer Vacation

Social media sucks. It wastes all our time and cheapens our interactions. It addicts our kids and ruins our attention spans. And even more serious things like controlling the public discourse through censorship and giving bigots an easy way to spew their ideas. (OK, I see the contradiction there, I don’t want censorship, but do we have to make it so damn easy for the assholes?) So yeah, social media is problematic.

But then sometimes it results in this:

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The small light gray tent down to the left was ours. Drone photo by Petter Formo.

People travelling together from all over the country, taking a chance on meeting what’s essentially a big group of strangers.

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People who’ve met online, chatted and shared and questioned and sometimes argued, meeting in real life, finally.

People bringing Facebook connections to life in the real world, connections based on common values of trust, compassion, and finding harmony with and on our planet.

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Most of the people who were there. Photo by Marie Vatne, Bygdefotografen.

A parenting group. One of the thousands (millions, who knows) on Facebook. The group isn’t part of an official organization in any way, just a chat group. But then it becomes more than that. People from the group find ways to get together in real life when they can. Smaller local gatherings for those who are lucky enough to live near each other, and a larger gathering during the summer. This past summer one of the families in the group said hey, we’ve got room for lots of people up here, come to us!

So we did!

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And let me tell you about this place! The Hjertefølger family lives here. (Hjertefølger means “Heart Follower” in Norwegian.) It’s on an island called Sandhornøya which you reach by taking a ferry from the city of Bodø. This is Northern Norway, the land of the Midnight Sun, and the Polar Night. The house is built with a material called cob and the whole house is inside a big glass dome. A shining transparent igloo which creates a warm and tranquil space inside. They don’t just have a greenhouse for their garden, they live inside one, nurturing and growing plants and children and dreams all in one big magical jumble.

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As you can imagine, the house and the family have drawn lots of interest from the media both in Norway and internationally. You can read about them here (in English) and also here (in Norwegian). You can also read about their house and ideas here on their own blog (Norwegian) and there’s a lovely short documentary film about them you can watch here. They run retreats and do workshops on permaculture and vegan food and cob-building, so you can go to one of those if you’re in the neighborhood. I would if I was!

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I mean, look at this place.
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Those colors.
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From the beach looking back at the house. Just wow.

And for four days I did get to be there. For four days we got to hang out and recharge in one of the most peaceful, gorgeous places on Earth. Thirty or so families, at least twice that number of children, and the whole experience was amazingly harmonious and conflict-free. I mean, 60 kids running around camping and playing, you might expect chaos. But there was none. Instead there was fellowship and community and respect and good spirits. For a few days we got to experience what it would be like to live in that mythical village we all hear it takes to raise a child. Well, mythical for me at least, and for so many of us. Yes, we have caring people around us who help take care of our kids, but our society is so compartmentalized and institutionalized, there are too many distancing and isolating elements for a real village feeling to develop in most of the neighborhoods here where we live now. But for four days we got to be there, and feel how it could be. I’m so grateful I got the chance to be part of it!

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My daughter, also amazed at what she was experiencing.

 

So much of what social media gives us is negative. More input, more stress, more stuff, more greed. We don’t need that, but we do need more of this. More community. More magic. More coming together. Peace and love and rainbows. I call more of this to my life. I will build more of this into my life, through a web of internet connections or in a real-life village somewhere someday. We start small, gather and share, and then, we fix the world!

Well, a girl can dream anyway.

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A girl, dreaming.

 

Addendum:

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This absolutely awesome full rainbow over the dome actually happened while we were all there. It was breathtaking. I took some crappy pictures with my phone, but they turned out crappy. So I’m sharing this photo taken by the Heart Follower father, Benjamin Hjertefølger.

One parent, whatever language works!

One parent, whatever language works!

-Remember yesterday when we were on the shop?

-Batman are my favorite!

-Today at school we had a try. (a test)

My son’s English is charming. He has creative grammar and makes lots of mistakes. He superimposes English words onto Norwegian grammar, or translates directly to English from Norwegian. My kids are bilingual with Norwegian and English as their mother tongues, but Norwegian has become the dominant language in our house. They hear English from me, when I remember to speak it to them, and when we’re in social situations where switching to English every time we addressed each other wouldn’t be weird or rude, and of course from tv and movies. Other than that they hear Norwegian. They understand English but speak with Norwegian accents and make mistakes here and there. Many a fellow expat has let me know this is all my fault, as I’ve failed at holding the One Parent One Language rule. When raising bilingual children what language you use when you talk to your kids is just one more checkmark on the list of Things You Can and Probably Will Do Wrong.

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My kids in a Norwegian hardware store being Norwegian

There are so many rules and expectations about this. I’m not supposed to speak to them in Norwegian because I’ll teach them my bad accent and grammar. And I’m supposed to always speak to them in English (my mother tongue) to give them a full heart language in the language of their mother. (The guilt! My children don’t share a heart language with me, if that’s not a mama failure I don’t know what is.)  According to some I’m supposed to go so far as to refuse to answer them if they speak to me in Norwegian, waiting in stoic silence until they say it in English. (Can you imagine this approach with an overtired three-year old? What joy this would add to our family life!) On the other hand I’m supposed to help them in their daily life at the Norwegian school and Norwegian activities with their Norwegian coaches and parent-teacher meetings with their Norwegian teachers, and model normal polite behavior out in society (Norwegian), and have normal social interactions with all the children and adults in our neighborhood and community who are, you guessed it, Norwegian. Plus integrate into the society myself, you know, to be a happy, normal, social-functioning adult which helps me model happy, normal social behavior to them. And I’m supposed to do all this whilst never speaking Norwegian directly to my own children. Does Not Compute.

But I hear this again and again. Expats worried and upset at the fact that their children who grow up here don’t speak English perfectly, or (gasp) have a Norwegian accent when they speak it. I just can’t relate. It doesn’t bother me that my children have Norwegian accents when they speak English. I think it’s fine that Norwegian is essentially their first language. I can’t get worked up about this “problem” because having Norwegian as one’s first language is actually in fact not a problem at all. And one-size-fits-all rules about how we should be interacting annoy me.

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Happy kids with Norwegian accents

Kids, my kids at least, are efficient. Not in the sense that they focus on a task and jump to it when I say they should do something (I wish!), but in the sense that they don’t use brain space to force things which aren’t necessary. When we’re around people who don’t speak Norwegian (family from the US visiting, for example) they suddenly produce English, with varying degrees of charmingness, but as soon as they know everyone around them speaks Norwegian that’s the language they use. But the English is in there, they understand it perfectly, so if in the future we travel more and it’s useful for them to produce English more often, I’m confident it will come. In our daily life though they know I speak Norwegian, and I’m not into forcing them to artificially switch to English every time they turn to me.

And it’s not wrong for me to speak Norwegian to my kids either, even if I have an American accent. Give me a break, kids are smarter than that, my American accent rolls right off the language-processing-duck-feathers in their young flexible brains and they go right on their merry way speaking Norwegian like the rest of the native speakers around them.

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My son hanging out with some Norwegians at the mall.

Growing up we used to say what a shame it was that our grandparents didn’t hold on to Italian and keep it going in the family, so that we’d be able to speak it too. They were more focused on integrating and becoming American than holding on to Italian culture. Which I now understand better, because even if the circumstances are different here I am doing the same thing again in a new direction. It’s complex, isn’t it? And to be clear, I’m not saying integration should mean giving up one’s native language. Absolutely not. Language diversity and language preservation and keeping minority languages alive are crucial human rights issues. But on the personal, familial level language use shifts and evolves and flows. People move from this side of the globe to that and their language use shifts and changes along with them. For me personally, integrating and interacting with my kids as they grow up here has meant letting go of my language to a certain degree and accepting the fact that for us, in our situation, the societal language has become dominant.

And of course having English as our second language is a special situation, because English is a special language. Exceptionalismly imperialistically media-istically special. My kids, and all Norwegian kids, get lots of exposure to English all the time. It’s all over the place in tv and movies and youtube and it’s a regular subject on the school curriculum starting in first grade. Scandinavians in general are very good at English. So I’m not worried about my kids losing their English skills. It would be a different situation if their “non-dominant mother tongue” was Latvian or Sinhalese. Then I’m sure I’d feel like I needed to make more conscious effort to help them retain knowledge and use of it. Bilingual families come in all shapes and sizes. Some expat families know their stay abroad is temporary so it’s very important for them to keep their kids fluent in the home language they’ll move back to. Other immigrant families (I identify more with the word immigrant than expat, personally) have moved to a new country permanently and language integration is more of a priority to them. Some people learn languages quickly, others slowly. Some families have two immigrant parents, some have one, and the kids’ needs for exposure to the language in the society around them will vary accordingly. In my kids’ case we have one native Norwegian speaker parent and one immigrant English speaker. And they’ve grown up 100% in Norway and we have no plans of moving anywhere else.

What it comes down to is that language is about communication. If I make sounds and my kids understand them, we’re doing great. If the sounds help us create a connection from our thoughts and feelings to the physical world and to each other, then we’re doing even better. Our connection isn’t defined by which language we choose to speak. I don’t know where in the world they’ll end up living one day (except they’ll all be my next-door neighbors, right?), but I know they’ll adapt and use the language that works best for them wherever they are.

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My heart, in any language

 

Do you have two or more languages in your household? How does that play out for you?

I’m a circus mom

I’m a circus mom

My kids go to circus class. And handball and gymnastics and drama and drill team and marching band. And in previous years ballet and art class and jazz dance and tae kwon do. Not all of them go to all of the activities of course, but 2 or 3 activities per kid, 4 kids in activity age-range, means I spend an inordinate amount of time driving my kids back and forth to activities and shows. It feels inordinate some days at least, like those days during which I spend three hours in the car driving back and forth across the island where we live, and sitting and waiting for this class to end and that kid to come out the door and the baby to finish her nap because she fell asleep again in the car seat but if I take her in she’ll wake up and be fussy for half an hour until she falls asleep again and then it’ll be time to take her out to the car for the next round of driving anyway. So I sit in the car, waiting and driving people places. That’s my hobby right now. Hanging out in the car. Seriously when I get asked the question, do you have any hobbies, my first thought is “driving people places” and then I feel lame. Although I almost never get that question in real life, not sure why, maybe because I’m sitting in my car all the time instead of talking to people, but sometimes I think it in my head. I still feel lame not having a better answer. And for asking myself questions in my head. That’s why I’m starting this blog, see, I need a new hobby, and writing blog posts can be combined with hanging  out in the car!  Two hobbies in one, but I can play down the car part and say my hobby is writing. Yeah.

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I don’t really think the amount of driving is inordinate in the grand scheme of things, or else I’d stop doing it. The kids often get more real-life learning from these activities than they do from school. Sorry school, it’s not you, it’s me, I just don’t love you the way you want me to. And we all know that really means I think it is in fact you, not me. You could do so much more, be so much better! Break out of your funk! Get creative! See the potential in all these amazing kids within your walls and help bring it out in them! But no, for you it’s tests, scores, standards, measure, compare, repeat. I respect you, I can work with you, but we have some fundamental ideological differences. Deep ones. So I see these activities as ways to get other impulses, try out other ideas, let the kids meet and be with other people and learn about all the possibilities that are out there.

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And circus is my favorite of all the activities they’ve tried. Maybe because I like to jokingly say I’m bringing the circus to town whenever I take all my kids anywhere at once. We’re usually loud and colorful and causing enough of a commotion to qualify as a clown act, not that I usually feel so proud and happy about it as it happens, but I can usually laugh about it afterwards.  But circus is just fun! It’s cool to be able to tumble and balance and dance on stilts and ride a unicycle and generally perform in a colorful funny expressive way. Good skills. And there are no winners or losers, no contests. Yeah, I’m sure circus contests exist somewhere, there are contests for everything somewhere in the world, but this activity here is currently contestless and I love that. The kids get measured and tested and compared and evalutated enough in their lives. Sometimes it’s really nice to find an activitiy where the main goal is to move and stretch and try new things and figure out what makes you smile.

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Before starting this blog, the waiting part of my sitting-in-the-car hobby often involved a whole lot of clicking and scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and other such sites. And I note that people have plans and ambitions for their children. That’s good, to a degree. And people’s plans and ambitions tend to mesh with their worldview in general. Understandable. I have ambitions for my kids too. For example I hope they will always feel that running away to join the circus is a possibility. It’s good to have backup plans in life. Of course I don’t actually want them to run away. I want them to be my next-door neighbors forever (Sorry, Mom!). If they decide to join a circus for real I’d be happy to go with them. Not that I have any circus skills myself and I’m of an age when it’d be difficult to build them up sufficiently, I guess. Although there’s that 80+ year old woman who rules the parallel bars, and 100 year old yogi women and stuff. My goal is to be like that one day. I should figure out how to do yoga in the car while I’m waiting for my kids, that would be an even better way to stack my life  (I’m a Katy Bowman fan, yes). Why don’t you just get out of the car and do yoga outside while you wait, one might ask. Well, because I live in a place where it rains 320 days per year, and my baby’s sleeping in the car, remember? and well, because I have a Hobby now, which is writing, I’m very busy writing this blog. But back to the circus, I could still join even if I’m out of shape. I can keep the books, manage the Facebook page, help with costumes, childcare, cooking. I’ll find ways to be useful, I promise.

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My kids of course have their own ambitions for their lives. None of which currently involve joining a circus, hmph. They want to be things like a lawyer, a police officer, and a crane operator. Nice sensible jobs. And yet I don’t think all this time I spend being a circus mom (and handball and drill team and gymnastics and marching band mom) is in vain. My ambition, the hope I have for them, is that they won’t end up feeling stuck. And when they do feel stuck, they’ll feel like they have other tricks up their sleeves, and they’ll try something new. Like dancing on stilts, or starting a blog. For example.

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