Tag Archives: Oslo

“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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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!

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!

On being home

Image

My daughter and I hanging out after an appointment, watching some big machines do their work.

Suddenly we are home. We have no place we have to go during the day. No shops to check out, no museums we must see, no zoos to visit, no lunch to be found and no dinner either.

We are home, waking up, taking the dog, making breakfast, buying groceries and doing laundry. Today I washed sheets for the first time in a half a year. I feel a bit annoyed, like 5%, at having to clean up the kitchen several times a day, but not really. Really, I am happy that I can prepare healthy food that I choose, from a recipe, and try to find things that my family and I will like.

So that is nice.

With Kiddo, it is hard to tell how the big uprooting is affecting her. She has been having super big meltdowns. We had put the pause button on requiring much of her. She was being a great kid on the trip, but she was also watching a lot of videos, eating a lot of junk food, and otherwise having habits that I generally hope she wouldn’t do under normal conditions. Now, I think it has been an adjustment. She had a meltdown asking for chips the other day. Someone who stayed in our apartment through airbnb had bought them and left an unopened packet, and I made the mistake of offering them to her when I was trying to finish a phone call, and then she wanted them for the rest of the day. But she hasn’t asked for them since.

She wants to watch videos, but not as much as when we were on the trip. I am pretty radical about screen time in that I believe that if allowed unlimited access (or just about), it becomes one other toy in a whole world of toys, and not a limited and therefore attractive good. So I was a bit concerned that she became used to seeing a lot of videos and playing with a lot of apps since those were easy to have with us, and our small stash of toys was not constantly appealing. Now that we are home, she will go all day without asking for the iPad. She still can get a bit overloaded if she watches it for a long time, but then I try to talk to her about it and find other things to focus on, and she will then forget about it for hours and hours.

She still likes books! We only had one book with us. Well, we had a few more, but we sent them home from Hawaii because they were just taking up space and there were so many things we were doing in the day we were making up our own stories. Now, she goes looking for her books, and loves talking about the pictures and the stories. A lot of video time did not make her forget that books are their own kind of magical, too.

She is still a music loving, animal loving kid. We tried to give her access to these pursuits on our trip (mostly animals, but also listening to music in the car and in the hotel/motel rooms), but it is different when you are out in the world, with beaches and car trips and new birds and zoos and cool museums and things – and I think it can be hard to be sure if your passions are still there or if you are just a passive spectator to exhibits that look nice. To illustrate my point, which I am not sure I am making well at all, I have a story:

We were watching Enchanted, the movie, because I was tired of playing with blocks and the toy kitchen and I heard “Happy Working Song” on my run and thought it would be fun to watch it with her. When it started, I thought, “oh dear, what have you done? It is an over the top princess movie, with full on stereotyped ditzy princesses and knights in shining armor and what have I done?” Well, the thing she hasn’t stopped talking about was about rescuing the dragon, which was actually the evil queen, who gets killed by the valiant Patrick Dempsey. We went outside for a walk this morning to “rescue the dragon!” “with a plane!” “woohoooooo!”

Okay, so my daughter is still able to take a lot of stimuli and walk away with her passions intact – living creatures, big or small, imaginary or not. It was a fun lesson.

Speaking of coming out of a passive tourist state, I have been getting back into meditation. I went to a course on Saturday about the Buddhist concept of the art of loving kindness. It was interesting and it gave me an even deeper respect for Buddhists. I tried reading a book one time and I don’t think I would ever be a full on Buddhist, but I do like their teachings a lot. As I discussed with one of the participants at the course, Buddhism seems to be the only religion that doesn’t qualify their teachings on love with “but.” Like, “love thy neighbor, unless he is of another religion, and then convert him.” Or something.

Anyway, it is nice to be back and to be able to do other things than just looking around and seeing new and exciting things. It is nice to be able to lose myself in a book, to explore interested that came up or deepened while on the road, without feeling like I am taking time away from seeing a place I don’t know if I will ever see again. I have sewed a lot since we got back. I have cooked for more hours in the last three weeks than I have in the last maybe months before we left, even. We have just been outside to be outside, not to catch a bus and go across town and no something. And when we have had to go across town and do things (an amazingly long list of things pile up to do when you are gone half a year! – well baby visits, residence permits, vet appointments, and so on), we take our time. We pack a lunch and sit around, watching construction sites when we come upon them and collecting leaves or rocks at other times. It is pretty awesome.

Traveling the world was amazing, but so is coming home.