Monthly Archives: June 2013

“I Hope You Have A Pleasant Stay in Stavanger” – The Reality of Settling Somewhere for Good

Yesterday we moved.

Kind of.

We still have to go back to Oslo. Our apartment is not packed up, but we have removed most of the things that we use on a day to day basis, like our clothes, toiletries, shoes, and kitchen machines. We are renting it out until mid July, at which point we will go back and help organize and pack up for the movers, who will come at some point. But we will be there for a visit. We will come with the clothes we will wear. We will bring toothbrushes. Cuz that stuff isn’t there anymore.

Yesterday, we loaded up the car, did a couple of random errands like get the dog vaccine card stamped at a vet we will never visit again and pick up some gourmet coffee, and then Kiddo and I hopped on a plane to Stavanger and Hubby drove with Poodle and the car full of lots of our crap across the country. It felt weird, but not that weird.

Until 40 minutes into the flight, when we were almost on the ground, and the pilot announced the weather in Stavanger and said, “I hope you all have a pleasant stay in Stavanger.” Then, WHOOSH! Tears.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “We live in Stavanger now. My stay in Stavanger is indefinite.”

I had a similar moment when I changed my voter registration to Switzerland. I had sent my ballot to Greece for the 2004 election, and then for some reason they were still sending it there for awhile, and then when we got married and I changed my name, I went to the office in the US and told them I needed to be sure my ballot got to me where we were. They asked where that was, and it was a big deal that it was overseas (not a lot of army people in the area? Not a lot of traveling businessmen/women and their families?). The options were to send the ballot there for one calendar year or indefinitely. She asked how long I would be living in Norway and I said, longer than a year, that is for sure, and so she told me to mark, “indefinite.” I didn’t want to then, and I don’t want to now.

Not for any other reason than it is scary.

I think the hardest part about essentially settling here for good (whichever city it is in Norway), is that it is NOTHING like the US. It will never be the US. That can be both positive and negative, but it is true. If I live here and raise Kiddo (and any other babies I might have) here, then this will be her childhood. She wont have…I don’t even know! She won’t have Saturday morning cartoons in English. She won’t have grandma´s house where she goes and watches Nickelodeon and eats cottage cheese and canned peaches. She won’t have a birthday party at McDonald´s. She wont have an elementary school tradition including tea bag dyed pillowcases for Native American celebrations or plaid shirts and cowboy hats and square dancing for the old west dances. She won’t have Halloween. She won’t have OMSI summer camps. She won’t have my childhood, in other words.

Of course my kid(s) won’t have the same childhood as I had. That would be weird and impossible. I think parents always sort of hold on to the idea that their kids will have lots in common with their own childhoods, though, consciously or subconsciously. That is just what we know.

For expats, it is easier to understand – superficially – that our kids will have different upbringings than we had. We expect these obvious differences, such as food preferences, song knowledge, slang words, cartoons and so on. They will adapt to where they are, as much as we make them mac and cheese (or Mac Oh Geez!).

But it is easiest, I think, to avoid thinking about the problems they – or we – will have living away from one easy home base. For us, Kiddo has half her nationalities represented in Norway. She still will likely feel in the middle, because I am American and I do things differently – not exactly American anymore, I don’t think, but definitely not full fledged mainstream Norwegian. How will a child cope with being moved a lot, or in our case, feeling pulled between two poles: one set of grandparents (and cultural references) on one side of the world, the other set of grandparents (with different cultural references) on the other side of the world?

When I started writing this, I was only thinking of myself. How I felt about moving. But I guess it dredges up a whole lot of feelings about my life, which now is certainly centered around Kiddo, and where I fit in the world.

I guess I am left feeling very small, and at the start of a long windy road called life. I don’t know what will happen here in Stavanger. I don’t know what kind of childhood Kiddo will have. I don’t know if I will stay at home for the duration of her early years, or find a job or some sort of other work. I don’t know which way my passions – about organic and compassionate food, music, writing, reading, meditating, and so on – will evolve. I don’t know if we will be able to have another child, and if so, how that will affect our family. There are so many unknowns.

Which brings me back to the Buddhist axiom: you only have today. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow might never come. You have just got to live. So that is what I am trying to do, wherever I am, however I feel, and whoever is around me. It is not always easy but it is all I have. (And that is a lot!)

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Saying Goodbye and Feeling Forgotten

The time has come for goodbyes. The things I am doing and the people I am seeing will stay in Oslo, and I will move away.

I have been doing pretty well with it up until now. I have been going to old haunts – the petting farm at Ekeberg, the beach on Bygdøy, the park, the shopping haunts in Grunerløkka – and meeting friends for drinks and playdates and lunches. When I do these things, I try to enjoy them fully for what they are and not spend too much time thinking: “this is last time I will be doing this” or “if I do this again I will not be coming from my awesome apartment but a hotel or something.” And my friends have been acting in just the way I want. They have been sad and expressive. One friend who is close but not that close offered her couch to me for whenever I want to come to town – “we will make it work.” I felt loved and wanted – and those are good things to feel!

Then last night I saw a friend of mine whom I don’t see very often, but when I do we have a great time and we have lots in common – especially our parenting styles, which gives me a lot of comfort since I often feel like the odd women out around here. We had a nice evening, with great discussions and a glass of wine and some food. As she walked me a block in my direction, she ended with something like, “Well, have fun in Stavanger and maybe I will see you there someday.” I don’t know why this has overturned all the positive “grieving” I have been doing about leaving Oslo. Suddenly I don’t feel like people are going to miss me at all. I feel like their lives are going on and that person they saw sometimes isn’t gonna be around anymore. It doesn’t feel nice.

I am pretty sure she would like to see me if I am back again. I am also fairly certain she didn’t mean any sort of subtext when she said that – that it is just weird to say goodbye to someone when you really don’t know when you will see her next.

I think what this brought up for me was the feeling that I am the one who is losing in this situation. (Of course, I am winning too, to extend the metaphor – a new house, a set of grandparents nearby, a garden, etc.) Still: the world I have been in will move on without me and I will relocate. I have to start over, and they get to continue seeing their friends, visiting the familiar places and being here – the place I am used to.

The exciting part of moving, of course, is just that: starting again!

When I was studying abroad in college, I had recently broke off my first serious relationship (and started a new one – pffff), and used the opportunity of being around totally new people in a new place to introduce myself as a nickname that I had never used before. I had tried it once in 5th grade on a trip to California – those people still address me as that in cards. You know what? I didn’t like it. I felt like a fake. Sometimes people would say the nickname and I wouldn’t turn around, and there would be this awkward moment where I had to pretend I was spaced out.

I think this is a reminder to me that starting over in a new place doesn’t have to be more meaningful than it already is. I don’t have to change things about myself just because I have the opportunity. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t embrace the change. And none of this means that the friends I have from Oslo will disappear. I have phone, texts, emails, and everything. If I make the effort (and so do they), these friends can still be in my life. 

Letting go of a place

I am in between. No, really, I am in between two places – Oslo and Stavanger – and I feel uneasy. 

Yesterday we sold our apartment. That last string tying us to Oslo has been – poof! – cut, and I feel it. When we bought the house in Stavanger, it was a big deal because it meant the move was happening. But we still had our real house – our place in Oslo – our beautiful, high ceilinged, central, old apartment in Oslo. Now we don’t. Someone else owns it now (or they will soon enough).

It makes me want to cry.

There, I am crying.

At the same time as all of this is happening, I am reading more about Buddhism. I am reading a fantastic book by Stephen Batchelor called Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, which talks about how he went from becoming a Tibetan Buddhist monk at age 21 to renouncing his vows ten years later and finding a way to live from Buddhist principles without all the religion (rebirth and karma and prayers and chanting and stuff). So in a word, it is perfect for me. He is talking about how the Buddha created the Four Noble Truths not for monks, but for lay people – real people out engaging in the world – working and living in it, not just thinking about it. What is relevant about that now? Well, Batchelor talks about the second Truth, which is letting go of craving. He writes that we cannot remain constantly unchanged, whether that means being happy or suffering, for the duration of our life. When we really understand this for ourselves, craving – for one place, for things, for fame, for money, for food, and even for stability for example – falls away and we can more easily live in the moment. (Plus a lot more, but this post isn’t a summary of Batchelor´s book.)

So I feel like my craving for stability and friendships and the happiness I have had in Oslo isn’t bad, but it also isn’t based on reality. My great group of friends there started falling away mere months after I found them. I found more, and others fell away. This is life in general, but especially life as an expat whose friends consist of 99% other expats. After I am gone, others will in turn begin to leave. It is a good metaphor for this idea of a fleeting, contingent world that the Buddha taught about. And it helps pull me out of my mopey funk at “being pulled away from my friends” and “starting off into the unknown”. The latter happens every day, no matter where I am in the world.

There are some concrete things that make me feel better. First of all, the friends I have who are not moving anytime soon will only be a 50-minute plane ride away. I technically can still be a part of the book club I am in in Oslo, although I am not sure I am so excited about that anymore since the turnover has been so high. My sister in law lives in Oslo with her boyfriend and they have a guest room, so we can always crash there, although it would be wisest to get a hotel if we start doing that often – from experience I can say that couch surfing is not a good way to keep familial relationships strong in my family.

Finally, there is a lot to be excited about in Stavanger. We have access to our in-laws for that family feeling, for babysitting, and for advice/connections. We have access to the winter cabin and a fishing place that are too far from Oslo to use. There is a great organic farm here with two outlets for buying all our crazy ingredients, including our lots of organic fruit and veg, our favorite tofu, alternative grains, alternative baking supplies, organic snacks and organic meat, eggs, and cheese. It is a great place to meet people, too. People put up signs there about activities and there is even one from a women who is possibly even more alternative than I am, with her phone and email (although I tried to text her and got no response – meh!). There is a Friday playgroup not far from our temporary apartment. There is a new organic bakery and café within a short drive or long walk from our temporary place.

I guess I am actually looking forward to exploring and finding things here. What I will miss is running into my friends, or getting a text from someone I feel really knows me, saying, “wanna grab coffee?” or even asking how I am. That is the part that makes my heart hurt the most.

But there is hope. Yesterday, I decided to get out of the house a little bit, so I went to a shopping center to find some hand weights and check out a sale at a baby store, and I ran into the one person I actually personally know in Stavanger, with her baby, at the baby store! On the one hand that means: shit, what a freaking small town. I get a text from this store that there is a sale, and so does she, and we both are there at the same time. And my MIL said she saw her earlier yesterday too! What the… On the other hand, that means maybe it isn’t so scary. Maybe it won’t be too hard to find people here.

Lastly, I have been fantasizing about meeting my people – like those people, male, female, don’t care, whom I really click with. People who get me. People who question. People who think deeply. People who make me a better and more thoughtful person.

You know what, though? That is hard to find ANYWHERE. Childhood friends drift apart, college friends move away and get different jobs and do different things, work friends disperse, get promoted, and find new jobs, and people are all basically over the place. People are changing all the time. I have moved so much in my life and changed so much in my life that it is a wonder I have any friends left from the earlier stages of my life, sometimes. (Actually I only have a couple, but let´s not dwell on that!) I try not to label, but my current description of expat, stay at home mom, super-crunchy, extended-breastfeeding, co-sleeping, non-deodorant wearing, non-shampoo using, part-time vegan, business class loving, fancy car driving American makes me wary of finding people who aren´t put off by some or all of these things that make up my current persona. They aren´t me, though, and as reassuring as it is to find people who have similar interests to me, I don´t need to put myself out there as THAT type of person. I just have to be “me” as I feel each day and hope that people connect with that person. Equally important, I have to not judge people by their current actions – just as I try not to judge my friends and community and enemies and basically everyone, where ever they are in the world. If they parent differently and live differently, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some things in common.

So another part of letting go of Oslo is letting go of an idea that I am one certain kind of person and I only will get along with one specific other type of person, and that my eternal happiness depends on finding that type of person, in a couple of specimens, in Stavanger, within a few months, thankyouverymuch. That just isn’t reality.

I have to be open to the city and all its people and places and spaces.

Which leads me to close this post by mentioning another Buddhist aphorism. We live only in the present, but that doesn’t completely diminish the fact that the past set the foundation for it and the present sets the foundation for the future. The past and the future are important, in other words, but there isn´t anything we can do about them today!