So, it's gray in Oslo. Again. This year, there's no escaping it, sadly. Oh, how I wish we could. Last year, we snatched up a cheap airfare deal on Norwegian and ran off to Malaga, Spain for a few days in February. Those memories are all that's sustaining me right now. Sunshine. Sea breezes. Churros dipped in chocolate. Sangria. Tapas. Flowers.
Our first day in Málaga was sunny and bright. We walked straight to the famous Cathedral of Málaga, which we could see from our hotel room window! The Renaissance era church is decorated with detailed stonework and brightly colored mosaics.
The cathedral is most notable for its lone bell tower, dubbed La Manquita, meaning The One-Armed Lady.
This beautiful video went viral last spring, just as Jonathan and I decided we were also ready for something new. It's one of my favorite things. Ever.
Tom Fletcher of British band McFly sings to his wife while the rest of us watch her grow and grow and grow through her pregnancy. I love their dedication to this project. And when little Buzz Michelangelo Fletcher makes his debut at the end of the film, it feels just right. Life, which was already good, just got better. This is our mindset, too.
The metamorphosis of pregnancy blows my mind. I've been fortunate to have an easy, breezy, healthy time of it so far. Wearing the Hazelnut out in the open for everyone to see makes me proud. Even when strangers in the cafe or the grocery store stare rudely at my middle. Even when someone comments, "You're getting bigger and bigger..." I don't care. It's me and her. She's growing. That means we're doing it right. And sometimes, when I round the corner of our apartment, I catch my sweetheart staring, too. With a little bit of pride and wonder. I am egg. I am chrysalis. I am womb. Wow.
Let's play the What if...? game. It'll be fun. You just have to read through my list of hypotheticals and try to follow the way my loopy, school-stressed, Twinkie-loving, pregnant brain works. And then, if you have a blog and feel so compelled, write your own What if...? post. Thanks to Jennie Doering of Momaconda for the inspiration and the tag!
What if childbirth wasn't painful? Those Biblical curses weren't doled out evenly, if you ask me.
What if we were born with some sense of institutional memory? Civil rights, the feminist movement, devastating pre-vaccine epidemics, the price of war. Sometimes I worry that each subsequent generation suffers unnecessary mistakes and regressions because it has not, personally, experienced the things that wised-up the generation(s) that came before.
What if some nutritional value could be added to Twinkies? It's not like there's a risk of making them too synthetic...
What if the United States disbanded the Electoral College system?
What if all politicians were required to match, dollar for dollar, the amount spent on their personal campaigns to some kind of public benefit fund in their states? Food banks, for example. Or a scholarship program. Or relief for veterans.
What if every American student who completed a two year community college program received some kind of learn-your-world-and-love-your-world congratulatory gift? A plane ticket, either domestic or international, to the region of their choice. Perhaps some added perks for a commitment of volunteerism in that region.
What if police officers were required to wear body cams?
What if there were no Facebook?
What if, every time a woman was raped, public scrutiny turned immediately and fully on men, rather than women, as a group?
What if our pets could live healthy lives longer?
What if every guy who ever, under the guise of an internet troll or his gamer handle, threatened a woman online with sexual violence, was required to admit this to his mother, his wife, his sister, or his daughter?
What if foreign language was taught in American schools beginning in 2nd grade? Any language. But especially Spanish and Mandarin.
What if we kept smartphones and tablets out of the hands of our kids until they learned to write their names and make friends with other flesh-and-blood children?
What if everyone who calls for war to be waged by our country's military were required to have some skin in that dangerous game? I'm thinking of every Fox News anchor begging for our President to let slip the dogs of war on ISIS, but makes these rallying cries from the safety of a network studio after hours of hair and makeup. No chance you'll take a bullet in the chest, or an RPG will hit your Humvee, or a black-veiled coward with a machete will take your head off in front of those video cameras? Then, no opinion.
What if adults could continue participating in the Book Bucks program? I'm really only in it for the free personal Pizza Hut pizza. And the free round of mini golf.
On an unrelated note: yesterday, I spent an hour reading aloud from James Joyce's Dubliners collection to the Hazelnut. In an Irish accent. Disney seemed pretty entertained by the whole thing. I know it's impossible for my daughter to learn these things via osmosis, but I feel like little bits of her personality are already beginning to catch the light. She kicks more when I'm laughing than almost any other time. She seems soothed when a purring kitty is draped in front of my tummy. She is calm when she hears Jonathan's voice or feels his hand press close to her.
It's Mother's Day in Norway. My first. Before becoming pregnant, I think I would have raised an eyebrow at a first-time pregnant woman celebrating the day. After all, I haven't had to do any of the classic tough mom things yet. Staying up all night hanging onto a screaming infant. Changing diapers. Cutting grapes in half. Tending to scraped knees. Telling hard truths at the right times. Forgiving endlessly. You know, the stuff that deserves a whole month of gratitude set beside on an institutional level. (But sure, we'll take a single day. No biggie.)
So can I call myself a mom yet? For the last 30 weeks, I've been making a person. Fingernails. Eyelashes. Earlobes. Heart. Brain. Uvula. Pinky toes. It'll be 10 more weeks before she's in the world and separate from me and begins requiring the classic mom stuff. But I am getting prepared.
Yesterday, we went to Bærums Verk for a childbirth class. It's been a rough week for Jonathan and me, but this thing was on the calendar, and I thought it would be good for us to get out of the house and into the bracing winter air.
We spent four hours learning from a pair of Norwegian jordmødre (midwives) about childbirth. The phases of labor, the pain, the breathing, the impossible strength and flexibility of the vagina, the way a baby spins in the birth canal, the role of the husband in support of his laboring wife. We watched a film of a water birth. We watched a doll manipulated through a plastic model of the bones of a woman's pelvis. We heard that babies emerge facing the floor, but that in a very small number of births, the baby will arrive facing the ceiling.
"These are called... um... star-lookers," said one of the jordmor.
Star-gazers, I thought. But it was an unnecessary correction. Here were two women, longtime midwives and advocates for mothers, leading an English-language class for foreign women in Norway and their partners. Their English may not have been perfect, but it more than sufficed for us, a collection of people from France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, India, England, Pakistan, and the United States.
I took copious notes. Both because that's what a perpetual student does in anything that even resembles a "class," and because it helped to keep my mind centered on the task at hand.
"It is a myth that a woman may begin pushing immediately at ten centimeters dilation; the baby must also have arrived at the pelvic floor. This can take several hours."
I've experienced a few Braxton Hicks contractions recently. Never painful, just strange and rigid. They pass quickly. It's a reminder that, though I'm not yet nervous about the birth, it's still coming. Overwhelming and brutal and entirely outside my control.
The hardest part is the stillness, the quiet. Though Crypto was a quiet kitty her whole life, walking about on dainty paws and only mewing when requesting (demanding) her dinner, there's an achingly quiet void in our apartment now. One shaped like a furry heart.
Yesterday, we said goodbye to her for the last time. Since November, her health had deteriorated rapidly. Mystifyingly. We tried prescription pills and a kitty inhaler for a sudden onset of feline asthma. Feeding her became an ordeal as we crushed steroids into her wet food, and had to watch her eat so that Disney didn't accidentally Mark McGwire himself. But over time, her breathing rattled and wheezed, worsening with each passing week. We could hear her from all over the flat.
Tragically, the labored breathing was worst when she purred. So, when we stroked her beautiful, silky coat or scratched her precious chin, she would close her eyes, lean into our hands, and wheeze until she gasped for breath.
Crypto was special. All people who have and adore their cats think this, of course, and that's only right. But Crypto really was.
Here is her story:
When Jonathan moved to his first apartment in Dublin, California in 1999, he bought a bunch of furniture (much of which, including a giant, black, leather reclining couch, we still own) and then went directly to the local pound to find himself a cat. He was a 22-year-old single guy with a good job and a flashy car, so rescuing an animal and giving it a home may not have seemed like the predictable next step, but that's the kind of guy he was (and is). At the pound, Jonathan met Crypto. She was bright-eyed and healthy, though she'd been found on the street. In the getting-to-know-you room, Crypto flirted and nuzzled his hands and purred. Jonathan signed the paperwork and took her home in a cardboard carrier.
Furniture: What to Bring & What to Leave Behind
Remember that big city flats tend to be small. Unquestionably, we brought too much furniture. Because Jonathan's company relocated us, we took that opportunity to ship almost everything. While this may have been smart from a cost perspective at the time (buying new furniture in Norway, especially, is a steep proposition), we have since wondered about that choice.
Examples: We brought our massive TV from the U.S., which required that we also buy a large, expensive power supply. We've never even plugged in our game system. A pair of extra desks is now wedged into our basement storage. Lighting solutions for our apartment required different lamps, so the ones we brought are also tucked away. When we realized Jonathan's big, manly reclining chair didn't fit in our new flat, we sold it.
Of all the people Jonathan's company has relocated, we are (I believe) the only ones who transitioned with a container full of stuff. Everyone else sold what they had at home and bought new stuff when they arrived, or moved into furnished flats.
If we had it to do over again, I think we would have taken advantage of the relocation shipping container option, but would have pared down our personal inventory to the most important things: our bed set, our sofa, a couple of kitchen appliances (more on that later), etc.
What to Buy Before the Move
If you've been considering any big purchases (camping equipment, computer equipment, etc.), price check them in your destination country. If they're far more expensive, it may be worth springing for that stuff at home before everything moves over. For example, our best pre-relocation purchase was a high quality mattress.
One thing we wish we would have purchased before moving: downhill skis and boots for Jonathan. He's a strong skier; this is a skiing culture; the price of ski rental packages here is excruciatingly high! It's tough to maintain some of these more expensive hobbies over here. Do what you can to set yourselves up before you arrive.
Right now, the Norwegian krone is very weak against the dollar, for example. It was incredibly strong against the dollar when we were relocating back in 2011. So, this tip is really food for thought, rather than a timeless rule.
We love to climb. I wonder if she will.
That's not always the way it works. When I was little, my parents played volleyball on weekends with their friends. They trucked my brothers and me out to the elementary school playground and then, after putting up the net, proceeded to ignore us while they had fun.
Heat wavered above the blacktop. The metal slides and chains on the swing set were scorching to the touch. After a while, bored with the games of my little brothers, I'd crawl into a shady spot to read. I couldn't have cared less about volleyball. It was the thing distracting my parents from the pleasure of my company. If anything, I resented the sport for being worth their time.
They wore neon windbreaker shorts and tank tops. For a while, my dad even had a pair of Reebok Pumps. I think. Anyway, they played with two other couples while a boom box blared Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime. They were slick with sweat and red with exertion, and they were having a blast. Between games they stopped to chug water, and we skipped over to be nearer to them. But soon enough, the game would be on again.
If someone shanked the ball, we were called upon to shag it. I hated that, too.
When, a few years later, I prepared to start high school, they suggested I try out for the volleyball team. I scoffed. I choked. I rolled my eyes. I gagged. I grimaced. What a stupid idea. What a beyond stupid idea. The kind parents have. Parents who don't know anything. Ugh. God. Lame.
The only time I miss having a car is when I know it's time to shop for kitty litter. I've had more than my share of fun snafus when dragging those heavy boxes home from various shops around the city. Particularly on icy days like the ones we're enjoying in Oslo this January. Good news! We've found a solution: DEX.
Dagligvarexpressen (DEX) is an online grocery shopping service. This is something I know my American friends have been enjoying for a while (and DEX was established in 2008, so it's possible I'm just the last one to the virtual supermarket line here in Norway, too). It's a lifesaver.
Now, we only use DEX for kitty litter and cat food right now. The heavy stuff. The stuff we would have liked to be buying in bulk for years! Thinking diapers and some other baby stuff could be added to that list soon, too.
Here's how it works:
Go to dex.no...
- Fill your handlevogn with the goods you need (and they've got it all, including fresh produce)
- Select a day and window of time for the delivery to be scheduled
- Delivery charge is only 99 nok!
- Give them your address and place your order
- If you schedule your delivery before 2pm, they'll even deliver the same day! I've done that. Hugely satisfying.
It should be noted that items for sale on the website are more expensive than you'll find in stores. One reason why I haven't gone completely lazy with the shopping. Yet. Instead, we order a dozen boxes of wet cat food and a half dozen boxes of cat litter, and we call it good. Because the delivery comes all the way up our stairs to the door of our fifth floor apartment. And that, my friends, is priceless.
At some point during a blogger's pregnancy, it's obligatory, right?
For so long, the Hazelnut was only with me. She was the shock and the blurry, happy numbness in my fingers as I held the positive pregnancy test. She was the raw, beautiful squeeze of a bear hug Jonathan gave me when I told him the news. She was a blinking set of pixels in the middle of a kidney bean shape on a screen at the 8-week ultrasound. She was on my mind. She was the exquisite curve of a forehead and shoulders bobbing and spinning at the 12-week ultrasound. Even after I shared the fact of her with our family and friends, she remained mostly my own. She was the galloping horse of a heartbeat on the doppler. She was the flexing arms and kicking legs and precious lips at the 18-week ultrasound. She was the tightness around my middle that required elastic-waisted jeans and belly bands.
Then, one day around week 20, she was a flutter. She was a vibration, a shudder, a spin, a tumble. She was a blink, a fidget, a bubble bursting, a breath against my skin. But still all inside. Still all mine.
From the outside, to the stranger on the street, I looked like the same girl I'd always been. Or maybe that same girl after recently enjoying a few too many pints of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream. Which is fine by me. The better shape I stay in now, the easier time I'll have regaining my previous shape after the birth. At least, that's what the books tell me. I can still zip up my parka without too much trouble, which is important as temperatures plummet, as they did around Christmas. That's the milestone I'm not looking forward to... losing that capability. Here's hoping we can make it to March first. Probably a pipe dream.
Only recently has the Hazelnut become a presence in the world, too. Something obvious. No more guessing. She gets noticed. I get congratulated. It's lovely. And I'm proud to wear her out in front of me. Better still is the way I now share her with Jonathan, as her kicks and turns have become, at least occasionally, unambigous and strong enough for him to feel with his hands.
This is as close as we'll ever be; it's as much control as I'll ever have. For the rest of my life, she'll only be drifting further and further from my side. Now, at least, I can move my palms over the rise of my own stomach and feel her there. My kid. That dandelion of potential. She's safe with me. All mine.
My third trimester begins in a week and a half, just after I start a second semester at the university. It's going to be a challenging few months for body, mind, and soul. Wish me luck!
A real winter storm finally arrived on Norway's west coast this weekend. Snow piled up in Oslo. I love our city, and I can never decide when the streets look prettiest: blanketed in white, or full of yellow-leafed trees, or under the violet-skies of perpetual twilight, or filled with lilacs. At every turn of a season, I think I have the answer. Then I change my mind again.
Since sledding and cross-country skiing (the way I do it is dangerous even on the flat-n-straights) are out of the question for me this year, it would be easy to let the snow keep us inside. Thankfully, a double date for brunch with friends on Saturday morning got our weekend off on the right, snow-booted foot. The four of us spent a couple of hours laughing and gabbing and sampling the tasty, eclectic menu at our local creperie, Les Crêpes D'Elen. Located just off the 12 line in Frogner, I highly recommend this little place. Delicious food and a fun, French atmosphere, as well as a friendly staff.
After brunch, Jonathan and I wandered all over the city. We were on a quest: a rug for The Hazelnut's room. We've been nesting, and finding a rug that is pretty, soft, on-theme, and affordable in Norway has been close to impossible. It was still a good excuse to walk the snowy city streets.
Without anything to show for our wintery outing on Saturday, you'd think I wouldn't be pointing to this weekend with such pride. But we still had all of Sunday to be productive, and I'm pleased to say... we were!