Trust

When my oldest three were babies and toddlers, for like my first five or six years as a parent, I knew everything. I could have written a book. Sure I had to adjust to becoming a parent. I read some books which resonated with me, I learned some theories which aligned with my natural parenting instincts and I gained confidence at putting it all into practice. And it all worked! We had some ups and downs but mostly ups. My theories and ideas were awesome, my babies and toddlers were awesome, and it all just worked! I could have written a book.

And I should have written it back then, because fast forward ten years, and exponential amounts more of parenting experience, and now I know nothing. Some things still work. But these little people grow up and (shocker) become guided by their own personalities, interactions with the outside world, and (for lack of a better word) their own destiny. And I can’t always find a parenting tactic or theory that will help. Some things are too complex for a tactic or theory, and we just have to flail around trying this and trying that and sometimes just being there, hoping it will be enough.

One of my great theories (not MY theory, but one I was guided by) was attachment parenting. That giving them a solid foundation, a good base of attachment and safety during their early years, would help them be better prepared for whatever the world might throw at them later. But did it? Maybe. Maybe the challenges now would be even more challenging without that foundation. But they feel pretty massive and challenging some days anyway, and then I feel like all the pretty theories don’t mean anything, not when all I can do is LOVE with all my heart and hope it’s enough.

We don’t have a control setup to see where we’d be if we’d done things differently. An alternate universe we can step into and see how things would be going if we’d done otherwise. Maybe without that focus on attachment the situations now would be worse, we’d have weaker coping mechanisms, our stress and anxiety reactions would be more extreme. Maybe. Who knows really, but all that pretty theoretical waxing on about the solid foundation of attachment feels so ephemeral and distant when trying to help older kids navigate the losses and confusion and heartbreak of this world. I want to pull them back in time and just hold them, back to when when our attachment was literal. Physical. When my presence, my arms, could physically comfort and hold away the hurt. And that was enough, or at least it felt that way then.

My kids aren’t here to be molded into proof that my theories work. Most people will nod and agree. “Yes, mine aren’t either.” “No, of course not.” But then I hear it over and over in various forms “I do this that or another thing and look, my kids are so harmonious and well-adjusted. So clearly this is a good way to parent.” Or encouragement to follow a parenting theory such as “kids with a secure attachment in the early years will be more independent and smarter and just awesomer in general later.”

Ok, your kids are harmonious. Mine are too, sometimes. That’s awesome, it feels good, it is good. Or your kids are displaying independence and cleverness and general awesomeness. And that’s really cool too. But what about the more difficult phases that even the most independent harmonious ones go through? What about the shy ones, the nervous ones, the ones with social anxiety. (Ah don’t get me started on the stress caused by a society that values extroversion and tries to “fix” introversion, that’s a whole topic for another day). What about the ones who never quite fit in at school, academically or socially. What about the ones who get into difficulties, who need counselling, who need help from other sources outside the family. Did something go wrong, what about all that attachment, why aren’t they harmonious and why aren’t things perfect? Is it the theory’s fault? Yours? Mine? Big bad society’s?

We have to be careful about not having goals that our theories will result in our children being a certain way. Because when they’re not it will feel like failure. Of course if something’s not working right we should change it. We shouldn’t stick to a theory because it looked pretty in a book, but we also shouldn’t just discard a theory which aligns with our instincts because the “result” isn’t what we expected, or what the outside world would dictate upon us.

We don’t like uncertainty, we don’t like to accept that the world’s chaos can and will enter our lives and just following a pretty parenting theory won’t always keep it at bay. We want a theory and techniques to fix things and create a shield against pain and worry. If we tried so hard and focused so much on attachment, why are things still so difficult and confusing later? And there we are again with the alternate universe thing, we don’t get to know how things would be if we’d done it all differently. Maybe attachment parenting doesn’t fix and prevent these things, but instead lessens the scope of the issues. Maybe in general, the challenges faced would be more daunting, even insurmountable, and the attachment has helped keep things more manageable. Maybe. Parenting teens is the era of Maybe.

Right now I’m still parenting a toddler, and I still focus on attachment with her, using classic tools like extended breastfeeding, carrying, co-sleeping, gentle parenting, and so on. But I have teens and older kids too, and with them there’s no easy “toolbox” of techniques to turn to. I have to stretch and grow and work to find ways to keep our connection strong, and I don’t always know if I’m succeeding.

Over the years a single concept has filtered down through all the theories and techniques I’ve read and tried, and that concept is trust. Just trust. I want my kids to trust me, and in turn I have to trust them. Not just straightforward trust in terms of doing right or wrong, but also trust that we’re moving in the right direction. Trust that their development is moving forward in the best way for them, and trust to let them make choices (bigger and scarier ones!) which turn their paths in new directions. Trust looks different at different stages. Trust might not always look right to an outsider, who interprets the world and my child based on their own designs and desires for who we should be. But holding on to the bond of trust with my child is more important than creating a pleasing image for the outside world. Sometimes trust looks like attachment, sometimes it looks like letting go. And sometimes it means holding out and projecting love while a swirling storm of change and hopelessness sweeps through our lives. And trusting, TRUSTING, that the foundation we laid will hold, that somehow we’ll both land on it again, connected in spirit even as our physical lives diverge. Trust in our connection and trust the adults my babies are becoming.

But oh, I wish I could just hold them, and it would all be better. Just one more time.

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The Slowness

I have Slowness on me. Big time, like I’m wading in molasses. My son taught me this word, it’s what he says when I’m trying to rush him out the door to get to school on time, “No, I can’t move faster, I have Slowness on me. See!”. Then he moves around in super slow motion to prove his point. I’m not sure if he learned this word somewhere, probably a video game or some superhero story. Just guessing, based on source information for most of the random stuff he throws into our conversations these days. But I’m also pretty sure he thinks it’s a real expression, another example of his “creative” English skills. And it’s obviously a real phenomenon, everyone with kids knows they get Slowness on them instantly when you use magic words like “hurry”or “late”.

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A child (mine) exhibiting great Slowness one morning before school.

But wherever this Slowness word comes from, I have it on me, for sure. Which may seem odd because I do tons of stuff every day, like every mom. (And yes, I know, some dads.) This house would fall apart without me. I’m busy all the time. From the moment I get up until the moment I drop at night. Keeping up with the basic housework, laundry, dishes, making food, getting people where they need to go with what they need to take with them. And so on.

The tired old housewife rant (in my case tired and old can refer to both the housewife and the rant) –

“Hello dear, what did you do today?”

“Uh, um, I can’t remember,

oh yeah,

EVERYTHING”

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Today I did this, for example. 7 people’s worth of laundry. Scintillating conversation fodder.

I roll out of bed, make the food, change the diapers, wash, clean and sort all the stuff. And most of the time I remember the dentist appointments and birthday parties too.

But when it comes to the “extra” things, the things I want to do for myself, Slowness. Molasses. Small tasks, little projects, messages to answer, letters to write, these things get pushed down the list until after that.. and after that.. and, sigh, after that too… and ok, well, maybe after the kids are sleeping. Ah, finally, everyone’s asleep, ah, sleep, that’s a good idea. Good night. The Slowness wins another day.

This didn’t just start now. I still catch myself thinking I have a newborn. I’ve been planning to write down her birth story, but I haven’t yet even though it’s been a “plan” in the back of my mind almost every day since she was born. She’s 15 months old now. And that message from a good friend I’m gonna get to just as soon as I find a moment to sit down and relax and focus my thoughts, I note with shame has been sitting unanswered for 8 months now. (And not just that one, there’s a whole list of them.) To do lists upon to do lists, written and rewritten, never getting done. And this isn’t my first postpartum rodeo. It’s pretty standard for me in the months and years after each baby, so I’m up to more than a decade (14 years in November, but who’s counting) of slogging through Slowness now.

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A delightful little Slowness Monster, whose birth story I may one day write down.

I guess I should be used to it, but it still drives me nuts, and I’m feeling extra slow this Autumn. I have so many ideas and plans right now, but I only get these ten minute windows here and there to actually focus on them. (And I spend a ridiculous number of those ten minute windows gazing absentmindedly out actual windows, gah!) In my head, especially while driving, I’m racing around, getting this done and that written and all those things sewn and sorted and built. Man if I could do things telekinetically my life would be awesome! Although telekinesis itself would be so awesome I probably wouldn’t care anymore about having curtains that were sewn up to the right length, or all my photo books for the last 10 years sorted and sent off to the printer. But right now I care, I want curtains that fit my windows and photo books of my kids. Amongst other things.

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I stared absentmindedly out the window for at least ten minutes before taking this picture today.

Is it too much to want to feel on top of things? To feel efficient? Yeah, probably. I do try to lower my expectations, practice self-forgiveness, be grateful for the little things. I do. But some days I’d just like to go to bed feeling like, yeah, hey, check check check, the To Do list is Done.

Like I said, I’ve come to accept that things slow down in the months (years) after a baby. Accepting this and really forgiving myself for all I never do has been key to keeping my sanity through many a postpartum year. But there comes a time when forgiving yourself for not getting things done turns into just never doing anything. Hard to hold your head high and be proud of your accomplishments when you don’t really have any to speak of. (Yes, I’m proud of being a Mom and all it entails, but I have so many other ideas too!) I’m ready for an upswing now, my baby is 15 months old, the energy-rebound is just around the corner, right? It must be. But it seems to be taking longer than usual. Maybe because I’m 42 this time. Or because 5 kids and a big old house full of half-done renovation projects is just that hectic. Maybe the Slowness is here to stay this time.

Or maybe tomorrow you’ll be the one who gets an answer to that email you wrote me two years ago.

And I’ll sew up those curtains.

And actually publish this blog post.

Take that, Slowness! Pow pow.

 

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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