Tag Archives: Norway

“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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Starting the move to Stavanger

The time has come that we have fewer days left in Oslo that I think I can deal with. Like, instead of months, or even weeks, I feel like we have days. Just days. Like, 9 days for sure, and a few more that might happen if we need to or want to or can manage.

NINE DAYS?

Are you kidding me?

When did this happen?

I feel NOT good about this. In fact, I feel sick about this. Yesterday, I flew with Kiddo and Hubby drove with Poodle to Stavanger, from Oslo. We are getting keys to the temporary apartment, and we have fishing rights on the river nearby early next week, and we were going to rent out our Oslo apartment through airbnb but had to cancel, so the plan is that we will be here until next Monday, which is about 10 days. Then we go back to Oslo for 9 days, and spend the next essentially 6 weeks at the summer cabin, and then a week in Italy with my parents, and then…Stavanger?

Because of all these feelings that arose when I realized how few days we have left in Oslo, I was bitter and surly to Hubby yesterday. I didn’t want to go to Stavanger, but I didn’t want to stay in Oslo alone with Kiddo and no backup (I have a health issue that I will probably write about soon that makes that scary). I knew I was upsetting him, but I couldn’t help myself. I was trying to be kind to myself, to honor the feeling, to be honest with him, but at the base of all that, I was just pissed off. 

Let´s spend just a moment on that. Why, when this has been coming for so long – I mean really since I met Hubby I knew we would probably end up in Stavanger so he could work with the family business – why do I feel so upset about this?

This is what I come up with:

  • Change is stressful.
  • Oslo is so nice this time of year.
  • My friend just had a baby and I want to see her a lot.
  • Friends in general.
  • Barbeques and beer and stuff in the park?!
  • Our apartment is amazing and we have been keeping it cleaner and I love being back in one place after so much traveling.

But Stavanger will be undeniably great on paper.

In Stavanger, I will have access to a place that is my own. In half a year I will have a house with a garden, something I have dreamed about for a long time! But I will be trading in my real city life of walking absolutely everywhere for a life where you can walk, but will probably drive. I hope we will bike more often, though.

I can make friends – this I know! But it is undeniably stressful. (Of course, it is also beautiful when you connect with someone for the first time!) It is hard, as an introvert, to put myself out there. I feel too different. I feel like a crazy person, like who could possibly jive with me?  When I moved to Oslo I fell into some amazing friendships literally within days. But I was younger then; I had lots of time. Specifically, I didn’t have a child who is age appropriately dependent on me and who I parent in a way that is respectful to that. Also, I feel like being a stay at home mom in socialist Norway makes me some sort of pariah, or at least a veritable freak.

Also, I am the kind of person who wants a handful of people that are really close. I don’t want hoards. I don’t want to befriend the entire English speaking population of Stavanger (let alone the whole Norwegian population, jeez!). I want a few great chums. I don’t look forward to the part when you weed through people whom you might get along with but might not.

Anyway, this is why I am apprehensive and irritated about the move. 

I guess it is normal? Unless you thrive on change and love meeting new people, you probably dislike moving, and even if you are those things maybe the other aspects of moving are unappealing. I think it is not a natural human thing – to move so many miles from one place to another (says the person who has done four major moves in my life already!).

I am making some deals with myself to ease the move and motivate myself to get out there:

  • Sign up for a class – anything! Guitar or painting or drawing or I don’t care, just: something. (I had Norwegian class in Oslo that put me in touch with the first and best friendships I have!)
  • Find fun places to work out – a park, a running route, something where I can get my blood flowing and maybe run into other people who are out doing the same things.
  • Connect on Facebook and social media to people with similar interests – I am already doing this with an international moms group and a group that is interested in traditional foods.
  • As much as I don’t like them, try out all the playgroups I can find.
  • Also, try out all the åpen barnehager or open daycares that I can find.
  • Find a book club.
  • Get a library card and join stuff at the library.
  • But: don’t overload myself all at once or I will just burn out and feel horrible. If I don’t feel like doing anything that day – don’t!
  • Spent lots of time with my in-laws, because they are family and can help out and know the town and love me for me.
  • Spent lots of time with Hubby, because haven’t we always said that at the very basic core, we just need each other?
  • Remember to breathe! Life is for living, not for stressing about!

Here is to trying, forgiving myself, loving everybody, and living in the moment. I will need a lot of all of that in the weeks to come!

Why I don’t love the summer cabin and what I am going to do about it

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The sun sets over the little island – this picture was taken around 11:30pm in July.

(Warning: I am aware that I probably am going to come off so spoiled in this post, but I am trying to be honest!)

Every year this happens.

We come down to the summer house that my in-laws own for the first long weekend of the year, Kristi himmelfartsdag or Ascension, which usually is in May. And the weather is terrible.

Hubby´s family literally shakes with giddiness about the prospect of spending the weekend cleaning up from the winter, planting potatoes and herbs, eating extravagant dinners at 10pm, lighting fires in the fireplace, fishing, taking the boat out, rain or shine, being outside in rain suits and fisherman hats for the better part of the day, having to go outside to get from one room to another (including the bathrooms) and generally doing things that Norwegians like to do at their cabins or “hytta”. 

Many Norwegians have a hytte. Usually it is a kind of small shack at the mountain or by the sea. My Norwegian family has one of each. But they are not shacks; they are proper cabins with heating, dishwashers, toilets, and even a washing machine. So, I could have a lot more to come to terms with. 

And what do I have to come to terms with, exactly?

Tradition. Hubby and his family have a very traditional kind of Norwegian holiday at their cabin, which is not at all what I am used to.

When my family went on holiday as a kid, it was either to visit my dad´s family in Los Angeles or to a summer resort called Inn at the Seventh Mountain in Central Oregon. Or to the Oregon Coast. A handful of times we did other things, like rent a motorhome and drive until it broke down one state away, totally not making it to our final destination, visit my dad´s sick friend in New Mexico, and take other road trips within several hours drive, like to Victoria, BC, or Ashland. We also took a cruise to Alaska one year and went to Hawaii another year. When I was older, my vacations always involved water polo tournaments.

What do 99% of these have in common? Hotel rooms. Cars. Outside time confined to heated pools and pickle ball courts. Maybe horseback riding. Possibly Disneyland. Or in bad weather, a short walk on the rainy beach before coming inside and watching TV or curling up with a book afterwards until it was time to sleep. Warmth. Comfort. Whole days for reading.

So, it is hard for me to picture a weekend on an isolated coastal island as restful in the same way. I love making food, so that part is fun, but I don’t get to plan the menus. If I am lucky, I will plan a couple of meals throughout the weekend.

Otherwise, my idea of an ideal day on vacation would be something like this: wake up, make and eat a super healthy breakfast, possibly work out before Kiddo wakes up, read the paper, or go out to a place where we could buy and read the paper, do something that the Kiddo wants to do (beach, playground, loud crazy sweaty indoor gym, walking around picking up rocks, whatever works), eat a super healthy lunch, possibly a picnic, read a book while she naps, spend the afternoon either outside again, maybe going for a hike or doing something cozy inside like reading books, drawing, painting, playing with playdough or something messy, making and eating dinner, and curling up and watching a movie together. That sounds amazing.

Here, we have some of those elements but I have no freedom of movement as this is an island and I don’t drive a boat. I am not actually interested in boats, but I am planning on getting my boating license just so I can actually feel comfortable getting myself somewhere. I would be happy if I never had to use boats, or maybe this is more accurate: I would not notice it if I was never on a boat again. I just am totally apathetic towards them. So I resent the fact that the summer cabin life revolves around boats, boat cleaning, boat parking, knots and all that stuff.

It is very hard for me to get motivated to work out here, which is bad because exercise really helps me feel positive and happy and all those good things. I would have to drive the boat to somewhere to go jogging, and in bad weather I am 100% not going to do that. I have gotten much better over the years at finding workouts that I can do here. Plyometrics, workout videos, maybe now yoga are all good candidates. But I really only can do them in good weather because there is nowhere I can stand to do them while it is raining (there is limited space inside and I don’t really like people to watch me while I do them!). Hubby loves to get his exercise from finding some random job to do in the yard, like shovel something or move rocks or something. I just can’t get into that, but I guess I could try.

A lot of time here is spent on upkeep. Sweeping, vacuuming, taking the trash off the island, hosing down the stone wharf, cleaning up after fishing excursions and so forth. There is always lots of shopping to be done since we are 6 adults now (My in-laws, their two grown children and each child´s partner) and there is only so much room in the fridge. We have gotten in a large dramatic argument in the past about how clean we keep the bathroom we are using, since it is the one people would use if they were visiting. This makes it stressful to do things like cook and live in a space where I feel my cleanliness is constantly being appraised.

This brings me to the last problem of this place: we are constantly with my in-laws. I really like them – they are super lovely people. But they are not my parents, and they are from a different generation, which means that the way we are raising Kiddo is not only strange, but possibly actively threatening to them. Our lack of a schedule, lack of a bedtime, lack of punishment, and lack of rules on most things parents have rules about are constantly in their faces when we are here, and it is hard for them not to comment on them. Add to that that I am still breastfeeding Kiddo at 2 years and 4 months…all this adds up to a situation where I feel very vulnerable as I carry out my daily parenting moments one after the other. This would be the same at any location, but it is extra strong here, since we are all in a 100m2 on a tiny island, all the time. There is no place to get away. For us, or for them. It is a challenge for all of us.

So, those are the reasons it is hard for me. This is not my ideal vacation (and for Hubby, it really is. It is like all those vacations I had as a kid rolled into one). The mismatch is hard because Hubby “just wants me to be happy”, and I don’t want to disappoint him or myself by being a recalcitrant sulker who cant wait for the next time I can sneak away to read my book. Plus, Kiddo loves it here. She told me she dreamed last night about playing in the sand here (FIL has a couple of manmade beaches with rough sand on the island). It made my heart melt. She has such a great time here! 

My promise to myself is that I am going to make this tradition a part of my own life. I won´t just be a tag along to someone else´s traditions and someone else´s idea of a good vacation.

That means that on the one hand it is okay that what I want to do most when I am on vacation is read books and cook food, but on the other hand I would benefit from trying my best to get involved in the activities of the day here. That means I need to learn out to drive a boat and get involving in the gardening here. I am actually interested in gardening and we are about to have our own, but I find it really intimidating, and when I first have some free time here, I am not inclined to read about gardening or dig through the seeds we ordered, but instead pick up one of the 20 books I brought 😉

Also, I need to remember that Hubby and I are on the same team. Some times I will have bad days where I want to swear at everybody and take Kiddo and drive back to Oslo (I couldn’t anyway – we are renting out our apartment through airbnb this week). That was yesterday. But I can talk to Hubby about it and try my best to be kind to myself and my husband and be compassionate to my in-laws, who also have a large challenge of having to parent their grown children while watching them parent their own children very differently. Hopefully they can all be compassionate with me in a real way while I continue to learn the ways of the Norwegian cabin holiday, which is not at all what I grew up with.