Either way, for this child, I was already wishing for a warm heart, a curious nature, a quick wit, a thirst for adventure, and enough courage and empathy to stand up for himself/herself, as well as for others. I was already wishing for a love of books, a best friend, an independent spirit. None of these things changed when the ultrasound tech made the call.
"You're having a girl."
There was never any question. I wanted to know the sex of our child, and I wanted to know it long before that final, stressful, painful, desperate, overwhelming, emotional day of my pregnancy. It was a decision that ran much deeper than a simple "because I can", and I've wondered about it a lot in the last few weeks. Why did I care? Why did I need to know?
It's true that boys and girls are different, but it's more true that children are all different from one another. The boy/girl dichotomy is a spectrum like anything else. I've seen it. I've lived it.
The pulsing kernel at the center of my being is striped both pink and blue. My energy at different points in my life has been both masculine and feminine. I suspect this is true for most people, but the way our society structures things in terms of gender norms bullies us into selecting a side based on our biologically-determined sexual apparatus. This is the way sensitive, nurturing boys get pegged as sissies, and the way assertive, confident girls get called bossy.
That's not a view of the world I want to perpetuate. And after careful consideration, I can't imagine a single lesson which would be appropriate for me to teach this girl as I nurture her toward womanhood but would be inappropriate for me to teach to a boy on his way to being a man.
In September, I couldn't tell anyone. It was just me alone in my home nursing a headache and crying over TV commercials, wondering how I could talk Jonathan into allowing me to name the child myself. Not because I don't like the names he picks out (Thor Fjellbjørn?), but because he's so good at vetoing the ones I like.
Little Camper is due in mid-April, which is great, because spring and summer in Norway are the best, and I'd rather attempt this whole motherhood thing for the first time in sunnier, warmer circumstances. I'm now 18 weeks along and feeling happy and healthy and basically normal.
But how about those first few months...
My pregnancy is the real reason my doctor told me to relax and let go of my plans to run the Oslo Half Marathon. I ended up watching the race from the sidelines after training all summer long. That was rough. I did run Munchbreak Hill (as I've christened the steep climb at 15-km, approaching the Botanical Garden) with my training buddy, Corinne of Northern Natterings. She nailed the race to the wall, and it felt only right that I should accompany her through the toughest part. We finished off the loop at that part of the race, then she hugged me and ran off to finish for all three of us!
It's a good thing, ultimately, that I didn't push it. Fatigue had been my worst symptom so far. It was a crushing kind of tired. The kind that made the inside of my mouth ache. The kind that made the act of exhaling seem titanic. I napped out of nowhere, and would sleep for hours if I failed to set an alarm. Drooling, twitching sleep. Dream-filled sleep. Sitting through my classes at the University of Oslo was--in an impressive bout of understatement--difficult.
Why was I so tired? Partially, it has to do with my growing a human being and a placenta, and partially it's due to my inability to either sleep through the night (twice-nightly bathroom runs made me grateful for my heated floor) or to ingest enough calories to fuel my day (to say nothing of the growth of the aforementioned tiny human and placenta). For a straight week, all I could eat were popcicles and pretzels, washed down with ice water. Which didn't exactly limit my trips to the bathroom. A vicious circle.
In honor of Farsdag (Father's Day) in Norway--which happened last weekend, and I missed it--I thought I'd post something sweet and pensive about fatherhood, written by a poet friend of mine.
"Practice Makes Permanence: The other night I held my son in my arms and we exchanged a gaze that seemed to last for an infinite number of minutes. After kissing and asking him if he knew how much his daddy loves him, he stuck out his tongue. I took it as a yes. He's only 7 weeks old but I tell him every day. Sometimes, even though words are not capable of making their way over the tongue, a father and son can still express their love to each other. He will eventually need this when walking the world." -- Enzo Silon Surin
Happy zeroest Father's Day to my sweet Jonathan. Thanks for knocking me up!
Silence warmed the room. I considered my hands, my boots, the fibers of my jeans, the stacks of paper on shelves in the anteroom across from me. I counted books and meditated on paintings and faded photographs in frames on the walls. Without a clock in sight, I willingly lost track of time. People continued to enter the room.
By and by, I found myself talking with God.
Though to put it that way makes it sound as if I received some answer, which I did not. But the silence flushed my mind clean of all distractions and opened up my channel of communication with the divine, which has existed since I was a small child. I have always spoken to God. Gently. Questioningly. The way I would address a dependable friend. This isn't something I've even considered prayer. It's a reflex. My thoughts are simply open, and sometimes directed skyward. But it's been a while since I've spent any time in this vein intentionally.
Part of that has to do with the noise of my life. When I have downtime, even to cook or clean, the television is on to keep me company. When I walk somewhere in the city, I listen to podcasts. I begin and end my days at my computer or fingering the screen of my smart phone. That bright light--all those digital images and instantaneous updates from friends--is noise, too. It isn't that I can't tune it out; it's that I don't even try. I am complicit in a life lived noisily.
There have been times in my life when I have dutifully given myself over to silence. Daily devotionals in high school. Writing sessions with friends. One weekend away at a remote hytte in Northern Norway. It is no surprise to me that these respites end with better writing from my pen or with a deep sense of personal peace.
For many years, my brother the Marine could only fall asleep at my parents' house with his stereo blaring or the TV on. I could not understand this. Or I could, but I didn't want to dwell on it. Silence did not comfort him. Even as he drifted off to sleep, he needed the backdrop of screaming, angry music.
I must admit that I cannot easily fall asleep in total silence either. We grew up with white noise at bedtime: a fan whirring in the hallway between our bedrooms. Today, my fan whirs atop my dresser, and Jonathan has gotten used to it. It's almost an addiction, me and this fan. But I don't really hear it. That's the way white noise works, as a regulator, a canvas against which I can experience the world with more control. I can fit my mind into a specific slot for that hour or two, let my hands and feet move as needed separately from it, and emerge sometime later, productive, though perhaps not in mind.
It's like hypnosis. The worlds of others--real and fictional--unfold as I fold laundry. My brain pulses with this information, none of it necessary, none of it satiating, all of it pleasurable. A low hum of mildly stimulating data, which I can release as quickly and as soon as I can see it. No one expects recall.
But what is sacrificed in this practice? Maybe I avoid admitting all this--avoid even acknowledging the problem--because to sit in silence and allow my thoughts, varied as they are, to find one another on the downhill, to trickle together until they become rivers, would be to stop denying the constant pain of the real world outside my carefully constructed bubble.
Everywhere there is war, violence, mayhem. Everywhere disease, famine, abandonment. Everywhere hopelessness. It crushes me to read the news every day, which is something I do because I hate willful ignorance more than almost any other human tendency in this world.
There is so little I can do in the face of these large scale tragedies in the world that long ago I began to allow myself denial. A sweet balm. A heady temptation. To live here and now, to do right by my fellow man insofar as I interact with him daily. And to do nothing else. To pretend everything else happening to everyone else out of arm's reach isn't real. To shrug off the existence of these graver issues because I can string together 10,000 unaffected days, personally.
I hate a hypocrite, especially when it's me. So, I give money to reputable organizations and inform myself about issues so that I may assuage the fear perpetuated by the media machine, both in myself and in others. And I live with white noise in the background.
This way, it remains easy to laugh at my husband's jokes or wipe my leftover dinner into the trashcan or spend two hours at a movie theater watching superheroes save the world from aliens. (Because invented superheroes require worthy foils. Because starving children and racial hatred and genocide as they exist today aren't flashy enough for the likes of Thor or Captain America.) With the white noise, I remain in control.
Turns out, there aren't that many maternity shopping options in Oslo. This is strange to me because the culture here is extremely supportive of pregnant women in every other capacity. Also, because women wait longer to have kids in Norway, the women shopping for these clothes are interested in looking sophisticated and purchasing high quality goods. The demand is there. But when my jeans starting getting a little tight around the tummy, I did some Google searching and discovered that--as one of my mama friends put it--I was pretty much stuck with H&M and online shopping.
That said, I remembered seeing a boutique in Majorstuen with a preggers silhouette on the sign, so I detoured there on my way home from class one day.
Svangerskapet is a great little shop. I spent about 45 minutes in there that day--not my original intention. All I really wanted was a simple belly band. It's something I'd needed for at least a week, but never got around to buying. Why? Let me see... Denial. I've been roughly the same size for fifteen years. My three and four-year-old jeans were making me feel nauseous whenever I sat down, but I refused to equate those two things. Also, when I went online to shop for an Ingrid & Isabel Bellaband, I was bummed to find that they don't ship internationally. Given their popularity, I'd guess that will change soon.
I don't actually care about celebrity babies any more than I care about regular old commoner babies, who I've historically not cared about much either. Yet, I see that Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have welcomed a baby girl into the world, and I click. What the what?
There is no information in this article beyond a birthdate and wild speculation about how Ashton is handling this lifechanging event. ("He is a nervous wreck," one unnamed source tells People magazine. How's that for journalism?) And I find both of these actors a little obnoxious, personally. But here I am, scrolling through photos of them in various casual outfits as they stroll Hollywood holding paper coffee cups. The That 70's Show pic makes me smile. Jackie and Kelso. Crazy kids and their inevitable out-of-wedlock baby. I grew up with them. Maybe that's why I suddenly care.
At 16 weeks and 3 days pregnant, I have little to show for it. My symptoms, other than fatigue and scattered headaches, have been mercifully mild. My baby bump could easily be confused with the result of an enormous dinner. In fact, I'm barely above my preconception weight (which was happily low, thanks to a summer spent training for the Oslo Half Marathon). But there are a few signs that I'm undergoing a metamorphosis. Among them:
I'm baking, baking, baking. I do that every fall, but my drives are stronger this year. The other night, I whipped up what may have been the most scrumptious banana bread of my short and unillustrious career in the kitchen. It could have been the recipe, or it could have been catching my bananas in the perfect state of over-ripe blackness. But I think it was also my increased care about the quality of my baked goods. No joke: I took my time, double checked the recipe, smashed those bananas to a perfectly vile looking consistency before tossing them into the mix, and enjoyed every minute of it. That's weird, folks. Trust me.
I'm having trouble retaining what I read. This is a complete bummer because my reading comprehension levels have always, always, always been extraordinarily high. It's why I've thrived in school. I've only ever had to read something once to have all pertinent info stuck valuably in my brain. That skill is (at least temporarily) gone. Gone. Now, when reading, I have to slow way down. Remind myself about character names halfway through a novel. Highlight the beautiful, important lines of prose so I can flip through and find them again. (I used to be able to just plain remember that kind of thing, too!) As a student in a literature program, the timing of this early onset dementia couldn't be much worse. And it's got a name. Pregnancy Brain. It's the same thing that makes me forget whether I shampooed my hair... whether I locked the front door... whether I... whether I... whether I...
Children still sometimes bug me, but I don't feel any deep aversion to babies. In fact, occasionally at least, I'm intrigued by them. As a preteen, I babysat the children of our family's neighbors a few times, which means I'm sure I've changed a few diapers and handled a few bottles, but I don't remember those activities specifically. If I'd been any good at it, I would have kept at it, right? Instead, the minute I hit high school, I quit taking babysitting jobs entirely. I had a reason. Babies were never my bag. I found them to be sticky, squalling, smelly little things with nothing to offer the world beyond cuteness and potential. These things are all still true, but I don't hold it against the babies I see nowadays. I even give them more than a passing glance. They're figuring out the world, and it's fun to watch, even a moment at a time.
And finally, this celebrity baby thing. Duchess Kate and I are about the same number of weeks along in our pregnancies. She was outed once again by her hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness). I do not envy her, poor girl. I mean, I do, obviously, because she's royalty and beautiful and poised and well-educated and all. (In the photo above, she's as pregnant as I am. Poor wretched thing. How does she leave the house like that?) In my shallowest moments, I find it fun that Kate and I are pregnant at the same time because my mom and Lady Di were pregnant at the same time (my brother Ted and Prince Harry). This, along with Ashton and Mila's baby, does not matter at all. So, I chalk my increased fascination up to another symptom of the pregnancy itself.
Blame the baby. That's my policy.
Just for fun, here are the most recent additions to the pantheon of celebrity baby names (a couple of solid choices, but also some fun head-scratchers):
- Scarlett Johansson's daughter Dorothy Rose
- Alyssa Milano's daughter Elizabella Dylan
- Pete Wentz's son Saint Laszlo
- Carson Daly's daughter London Rose
- Christina Aguilera's daughter Summer Rain
- Rebecca Minkoff's daughter Bowie Lou
- Amy Lee's son Jack Lion
- Ashley Hebert's son Fordham Rhys
- Jennifer Love Hewitt's daughter Autumn James
- Holly Madison's daughter Rainbow Aurora
- Chelsea Clinton's daughter Charlotte Clinton
- Kerry Washington's daughter Isabelle Amarachi
- Megan Hilty's daughter Viola Philomena
- Ciara's son Future Zahir
- Eva Amurri Martino's daughter Marlowe Mae
- Gwen Stefani's son Apollo Bowie Flynn
I stood contemplating our pin map, which hangs in the entryway of our flat. It was my first anniversary present to Jonathan. Red pins for the places we've been and green pins for the places we want to go. There's a little plaque at the lower lefthand corner that reads: Jonathan & Audrey Camp's Adventures. I stood there in the afternoon light and considered the pins.
Red smattered across the U.S., from San Francisco to Boston. Red from the Arctic Circle down through Scandinavia and across Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy... all the way to a tiny Greek island off the Turkish coast. A pair of red pins on the southeast coast of Australia. Each one brought to mind a place, a time of day, the taste of croissant flakes on my tongue, music, sand between my toes. Ten years of adventures.
So much in our lives is going to change.
Jonathan was behind me, suddenly, that warm, calm, solid presence.
And he said, "We're going to need a third color."
I live in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. I suppose there are many countries which have incredible landmarks and geographic features. The United States of America, my home, boasts 59 national parks, all of them spectacular in their own ways. Yellowstone is my favorite, followed closely by Yosemite and Grand Teton. I've also visited the Swiss Alps (and the Italian Alps), which take the breath away. Ireland's Dunloe Gap made me woozy with all the green, green, green. And I've stood stunned on the brink of the Blue Mountains in Australia. But Norway, even after all our travels, is special. This latest time lapse video from Rustad Media demonstrates that in high definition detail.
Yes, I've been to several of the places featured in this film. I've wandered among the sharp peaks of Lofoten and cruised the deep, placid fjords of Vestlandet, and hiked the snowfields in Midt-Norge, and walked above the clouds at Norway's highest point, Galdhøpiggen. But what I love most about this video is actually the way the cities and towns are woven into the narrative, too. Bright, gold lights flicker in the windows of snug, colorful buildings in these typical Norwegian towns. It's what I'll actually remember most if and when I leave this place one day: that among the wilderness, Norwegians have carved out the cosiest spots for themselves. As a resident of this place, I promise here and now never to take that for granted.
October is my favorite month, and this year, it's going to be an especially good one.
I'm finally in the swing of things as a new masters student in the English Literature program at the University of Oslo. Getting used to the class schedule took a few weeks. The assigned readings are a little overwhelming sometimes, but I'm interested in almost all of them. The school has a lovely campus, and the leaves in the trees and on the crawling vines have begun to change. The gold, red, and orange fluttering in the chilly autumn breeze makes me think of bouquets of sharpened pencils. It's a good season for learning.
My writing life remains active. I just taught my first creative writing workshop here in Oslo alongside my friend and fellow author, Zoë Harris. Eight students signed up to take our Writing A to Z: Creative Writing Basics class. They were diverse in their interests and backgrounds, and all of them displayed a core curiosity and creative spirit. We had fun sharing our insights about writing with the group--running writing exercises and teaching--and I hope we get a chance to do it again soon.
Tonight, several writer friends of mine will gather in my living room to put our pens to paper together. We've been meeting for three years now. Thanks to them, my life is even more full of words.
Baking with Julia is one of the cookbooks I received from my optimistic relatives in the weeks leading up to my wedding. Good news, it's been much used and loved over the last ten years. By far the most used recipe is the one for Baking Powder Biscuits. In fact, if you pull the book from its shelf, it will fall open to the biscuit page, the result of hand-written notes in the margins and a dusting of flour across the text and down in the binding. I've got the recipe memorized, of course, but I like to have the book out anyway. Just in case. I'm no Julia Child, after all. It's just that I can make her biscuits. And now you can, too!
Baking Powder Biscuits
"Among bakers, one hears the expression "She has a good biscuit hand". Like pie crusts, biscuits are a measure of a bakers talents and a pastry in which bakers take particular pride.
"To have a good biscuit hand is to have a light touch and restraint-a biscuit dough is so soft that it invites poking and prodding, kneading and mashing, when it should be barely worked. The golden rule with biscuits is to stop doing whatever you're doing to them two beats before you have to. So when you're rubbing the shortening and flour together and there are still some chubby chunks of shortening-stop. When you're tossing the flour and shortening mixture with the milk and the dough looks only just moistened-stop. And when you turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it just to work it into a mass, count each knead, get to ten-and stop."
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening (68 g butter)
1 cup of milk
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 F (218 C).
(Here I'll just say that Julia's recipe calls for you to grease a 9- by 12-inch baking pan and set it aside. I don't grease mine. There's enough butter in the biscuits to make this an irrelevant step, I think. That said, you might want to try it the "right" way, first!)
Mixing the Dough: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk or stir with a fork to mix. Add the shortening/butter. If you're using shortening, follow Julia's direction to "roll it around in the flour mix to coat it, and break it into 4 or 5 pieces. Rub flour and shortening together with the tips of your fingers, making little crumbs and letting the crumbs fall back into the bowl." If you're using butter, you can cut it into the flour mixture with a hand-held pastry cutter tool. Either way, you'll end up with lots of small buttery crumbs and a few larger pieces. Add milk and stir with a fork to moisten the flour. Don't worry about mixing completely. If you've got "a sticky mass of dough," you're on the right track.
Kneading the Dough: Remember to use your aforementioned "biscuit hands!" Scatter flour across your clean work surface and scoop the dough out of the bowl onto the counter. "Knead the dough ten times--no more, even if its malleable texture tempts you." Listen to Julia; she's serious about this. Pat the dough into a large circle about 9-inches across. Then you can use a "2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter" to cut out your biscuits. I use an overturned glass.
Baking the Biscuits: Move the biscuits to the pan. If you want softer biscuits, push them close together, even allowing them to touch. Placing them apart will make them crispy. If you're butter-happy like Julia (or my mom) you can brush the tops with melted butter before baking. I skip this. Because there is such a thing as too much butter, no matter what Paula Deen says.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden on top. Serve warm.
It's fall. That's why everyone I know has been baking, baking, baking. I do recommend Julia's whole cook book. Some of the recipes are a little ambitious for my taste/capability, but many of them are simple and straightforward. Plus, it's Julia. A brand we all can trust. Happy Biscuits to you all!
Want more of me baking? Who doesn't? The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (October 2013)