The casserole dish in my hand felt suddenly heavy. In front of me were three long tables full of food: fried rice, potato cakes, shrimp rolls, toasted baguettes, quiches and hummus with vegetables. All homemade. All basically healthy and hearty. And here I was with a casserole dish of chocolate chip cookies.
It was FN Dag (UN Day for us English speakers), and the Hazelnut's barnehage had a celebration, complete with singing and food. The kids in her avdeling (class) wore pink face paint splashed across their cheeks and had their names on pink sashes across their cold weather parkdresses. We were supposed to bring food that represented our home country.
I dug into my "America stash" and finished off my last bag of Nestlé chocolate chips for the occasion. Because that's how much I love my daughter.
But once I was actually at the school, elbow to elbow with other parents arriving to drop off their food contributions, I felt a wave of self-consciousness break over me.
Did I really show up with the only dessert? Is that weird for an event like this? Were we asked not to bring desserts? Did I miss that in the translation of the notice from the barnehage? Were people opposed to giving sugar to the kids? Was this a Norwegian thing I just didn't understand yet? Would people see the little American flag next to my cookie casserole and roll their eyes? I might has well have brought a big sack of McDonald's burgers...
Having done all the plausibly necessary prep, Jonathan and I set out for our first backpacking/camping trip with our 15-month-old daughter on a sunny Saturday in July.
Our destination was a little lake called Skjennungen, approximately 5km from Frognerseteren (depending on the trail you choose), at the end of the 1 Tbane line. We've camped there sans baby twice before. It's close to Skjennungstua, an unmanned hytte on top of a hill, which gave me some comfort in the event of a freak thunderstorm or baby-related emergency. There are also trashcans near the hytte, which meant we could unload some waste weight before the longer hike home on Sunday. Our route took us out by way of Ullevålseter, a manned hytte, where we planned to stop for a coffee break. Total distance over two days was only about 12 km (7.5 miles). Click to enlarge the map below.
We left after naptime on Saturday. The metro ride took about 40 minutes, and we disembarked at Frognerseteren at 3:45pm. The ability to start summer activities late in the day like this is one of the many things we love about Norway. Sunset in Oslo that Saturday wasn't until after 10pm.
- In Jonathan's pack (32 pounds): tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm clothes for the kid, extra socks for all, books for all, food for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, a backpacking cook stove and pot, plastic cups and sporks, water pump and filter, camera, and extra backpacking-related stuff (small lantern, waterproof matches, knife, etc.).
- In my pack (40 pounds): a 15-month-old Cheeks McGee, water for all, first aid kit, trail snacks, diapers and wipes and waste bags, the kid's favorite stuffed animal.
Over the next two hours, we tramped along dry, well-marked trails, taking time to point out different types of trees, birds, and flowers to the enraptured baby girl. She got to see butterflies in motion, which garnered major giggles. She ate blueberries. She tried to get a good look at an itty bitty frog that her mama couldn't quite catch from within a patch of grass. She picked up stones and traced her fingers through the dirt in the trail. She tried to sing along to various hiking songs. Happy Trails, Row Your Boat, etc. But mostly she sat quietly with a fresh breeze in her hair as her parents talked about interesting things. McGee was a backpack champ. After a couple of breaks, she even voluntarily returned to the pack and attempted to saddle up herself. We will be buying our own Deuter Kid Comfort 3 soon!
Arriving at Skjennungen just after 5:30pm, we decided to eat dinner before setting up camp. (One thing about having a baby--even an easy-going one--with you... there's less flexibility when it comes to the timing of meals.) A couple of campsites closest to the trail were already taken up by tents, but one less accessible site, on the opposite side of the lake was open. After boiling water on the stove, I sat at a picnic table and fed the kid, while Jonathan hurried to stake our claim.
We're the Camps. We camp. It's something we've done together since the beginning. Jonathan and I have pitched two-person tents in Yosemite and Grand Teton and Joshua Tree, as well as myriad other campgrounds in the eastern Sierra. When we moved to Norway, we brought all our camping gear along for the ride, including both our 3-season and 4-season North Face tents. In the last five years, we've camped out on Kvalvika Beach in Lofoten and in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's tallest mountain, but mostly we've stuck close to home, trekking not so very far into Oslomarka, the wilderness area surrounding the capital city. Having the marka so accessible is one of the reasons we love living in Oslo.
Two years ago this month, we traveled to Bodø in Nordland to chase the midnight sun. We rented a little fishing cabin to allow us to travel light. What we didn't know then was that the girl basking in the glow of midnattsola--slathered in bug repellant, signing the guest book tucked into a tall cairn at the lookout, and grinning victoriously at her husband--was a couple weeks pregnant. That was the last "camping" adventure we had before our daughter was born in April of 2015.
Last summer, camping couldn't have seemed more impossible.
Our little Cheeks McGee was a born screamer, and her mama's best coping mechanism was a controlled eating and sleeping schedule. The babe was six months old before we attempted putting her to bed anywhere except her own crib. That trip to Berlin proved she could be a champion overnight sleeper no matter where we went, but it was already October, and the window for camping in Norway had closed.
When my semester ended in May, I was craving some time in the woods. I hauled our camping bins up from the cellar and inspected the contents. If we wanted to pull off any camping trips this summer, there was much to be done and much to be acquired: a tent to accommodate three people; sleeping bag for the babe; a backpack-style carrier; a new first aid kit.
On top of that, it's been five years since we owned a car, so any camping trip here requires backpacking, as well. This was no problem in the old days. We tramped many, many miles with 20-25 lb packs. Now one of us would also be shouldering a growing toddler, along with her proper-care-and-feeding miscellany.
But I was determined we wouldn't miss another summer. It was time to go camping in Oslo with a baby!
- We started working out in the evenings after the baby was in bed, focusing on strength-training for our glutes, quads, hams, and calves, as well as core exercises.
- We researched tents and ended up buying an MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3-person, purchased at Oslo Sportslager downtown. Adqequate brand selection; knowledgable staff. An employee allowed us to set up the tent we wanted in the store before we made our final decision.
- We tried on multiple backpack baby-carriers, ultimately borrowing a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 from a friend. In the weeks leading up to our camping adventure, we tried out the pack around our neighborhood and on a shorter hike. This worthwhile endeavor taught us lots of important things. Especially that my hips were impressively designed to bear children, both in the sense of birth and lugging the kid around later on. When the time came, I would carry the babe; my husband, devoid of hips, would carry almost everything else.
- We followed the weather forecast, watching for a dry week and weekend. Best weather website for Nowegian weather: yr.no.
- We made food plans and packing lists.
- We purchased bug repellant; natural stuff for the babe and her dad and DEET-heavy stuff for her sweet-blooded mama. Also bug-bite reliever. Also a bug-net for the backpack carrier, a last-minute panic-purchase that didn't get used once. All this I found at Chillout Travel in Grünerløkka. Fun little shop with lots of expensive gear, but also a campy cafe and a cozy basement spot to hole-up and plan an adventure.
- We pored over Den Norske Turistforening (DNT: Norwegian Trekking Association) website and maps, choosing our destination and route. Criteria included proximity to transportation and personal familiarity.
- We repeated to each other over and over that our bar for success on this outing would be low. Everyone comes out alive = We did it! No pressure.
The stars aligned two weeks ago. After several hot, dry days, there was sunshine in the forecast. All three of us were fit and healthy. Jonathan was in town. I was still on summer break. McGee hadn't yet begun barnehage. It was time.
Look for future posts this week on the hike itself, along with details about our destination (Skjennungen), and additional commentary on the gear we used. Spoiler alert: It was awesome! Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.
No single thought is more important than any other, at least at the outset.
The trees remain bare all over the city. From my chair on the third floor of the main library I can see across the city to the hills on the opposite side of the fjord, and it is all still black and gray and white. An overcast sky, mottled whites and grays, snagged by the lazy gray turns of seagulls. Spring is on the verge. Spring is tightly wound. Spring is kinetic. There is a paper cut on my thumb. The man beside me at the desk has neon green plugs stuffed deep into his ear canals to block out even the slight rufflings of pages, the scratch of pens, the gentle tapping of keyboards, the sniffing back of running noses, the gurgle of upturned water bottles, the muffled footsteps, the swish of closing doors, the whir of a distant printer, the whispered questions at the reference desk, the unzipping of backpacks. All white and gray noises--delightful sounds--of library life. The man with earplugs finds even these distracting. I don't envy him. And perhaps I am him, too. These sounds now populate this paragraph because I couldn't or wouldn't shut them out and focus on something else. But this is as it should be, perhaps, if I stick with my original thesis. In the moment, unguarded, open, no single thought is more important than any other.
My semester is drawing to a close. There are a few weeks left, but most of it will be dedicated to research and paper writing. Finals come in mid-May, but there's much to do before then. I find it easier now to sit someplace and focus on my assigned readings and writings. I find it easier to tap into that sacred vein where I keep my words and release them onto the page.
In the beginning--January--it was not like this.
Honestly, I felt a bit dead. When I tried to read, the stuff--plot, philosophy--couldn't find purchase in my mind. It was like throwing undercooked spaghetti at the kitchen wall and watching it bounce stupidly and disappointingly to the floor. It was like trying to eat something delicious with a no taste buds. Ash in my mouth. Not for the first time since my daughter was born, I began to wonder whether I would ever be the same again. Whether it would always be this new, numb way. Dread came in a flood and sat there, a stagnant pool. When I moved, everything felt heavy. Heart, hands, head. But I kept trying. And there were, occasionally, shudders and sparks that reminded me of my old self.
It was Whitman that got the gears moving again. A bilge pump. "The young mother and the old mother comprehend me."
It was Hemingway that said, "Don't worry. You have always written before."
Offered in memory of Mimi Chiang
It takes guts to say, I am an artist.
I read to my daughter: I am an artist and I paint a blue horse and... a red crocodile and... a yellow cow and... a pink rabbit...
Jonathan juggles to distract her while I clip her nails. How did they get so long so fast? Her fine motor skills are developing quickly. I have the pinch marks on my throat to prove it.
Then I sit in class and sip my coffee. The coffee is new. It makes me shiver with energy, at least for a while.
We are reading Joyce. Easy Joyce. Dubliners. When the teacher asks if anyone has read Ulysses, no hands go up. I volunteer, "I've tried and failed to read Ulysses," which gets a laugh and murmurs of agreement from the class.
I think of Ireland. We visited two years ago and traveled from Dublin to Killarney by train. I wrote and enjoyed both the flicker of emerald fields through the windows and my own reflection in the glass. It was a simpler, vainer time. There was a stop called Mallow. I ate butterscotch ice cream. We tramped the Dunloe Gap.
Back to Joyce. "Araby." I wonder what a rusted bicycle pump is doing in the Garden of Eden.
There are people who are compelled to write what they see, what they know, what they think, even if it isn't popular. Even if it is ridiculed. Even if it earns no money. Glimmers are all they need.
I listen to a podcast. The host says she has decided not to use the word "should" anymore. There is no need to obligate herself to the whims of life. When she does that, she saps her energy and emotional health, leaving only a depleted version of herself for her husband, daughter, friends. The people who ought to receive the best of what she can offer.
Ticket controllers move through the tram car. This happens frequently now. A change since we moved to Oslo five years ago. The boy across from me shrugs and gestures to his dead iPhone. He can't pull up his ticket. He waits for the control officer to give him a receipt for his fine. Instead, the officer reaches into his pocket and presents a portable iPhone charger, a small purple cylinder, and the boy is able to show his ticket. I can feel his relief.
A bitter wind fights the static electricity for control over my unwashed hair. The next bus is eight minutes away. I stomp my feet to warm them.
When I'm acting in my role as mother, I am keenly aware that I'm not reading enough, that I'm falling behind on my schoolwork, that my writing life is disintegrating in my absence. When I'm acting in my role as student, I am painfully aware that I am not holding my daughter in my arms, teaching her, protecting her, enjoying her. When I'm writing, which is almost never, I know I'm neglecting my home, as well as the work I would get paid to do. I am divided against myself.
We barely remember what life was like without her. Until we do. And then we wish for the old ease. Time, energy, money, the ability to focus on and tend to one another. But then we hear her wake from a nap, and we both want to be the one to collect the grinning, nine-month-old babe from her crib.
I was asked if it's been worth it. This monumental change. This tectonic shift. The trials and tribulations of trying to change something that wasn't in need of changing by being crazy enough or foolish enough to stuff something else bigger and shaped differently inside of it. Was it worth it? The way no single thought will remain solidly in my mind; like undercooked spaghetti hurled at the wall, everything just bounces and flops disappointingly onto the kitchen tile.
She is worth it because she is here and full of exuberant, inspiring promise. And because there's just nothing else you can say about having a child once she's no longer a luxurious and naïve hypothetical.
She is worth it because she overwhelms us with joy at odd and surprisingly frequent moments. And because she looks exactly like both of us at the same time, even though that doesn't seem like it should be possible.
I don't know that I'll ever forget those first dark, chaotic weeks of her infancy, but maybe I will. I'm still not myself. Often I feel like I've ransomed my intellect and my emotional well-being just to have her.
Worth it. Absolutely.
Or at least that's what I'll say without thinking about it too hard. After all, anything less than reckless and total commitment to the cause of motherhood will get you branded as some very unfortunate things in this world.
And besides, I love to sing to her--Red River Valley tonight at bedtime--and I love to kiss her toes, and read her books, and brush her hair. I drop down on all fours in our dirty hallway to coax her forward in the rolling walker. I burn my fingers as I skin hot sweet potatoes to puree and I wipe her running nose again and again. The indiscriminate ma-ma-ma sounds she makes send my heart scampering in my chest, because soon she could say it to me and mean me all at the same time.
Won't that be something? Her Eve moment. Naming the things that walk, crawl, swim, and fly in her garden.
This is motherhood. Parenthood, actually, as Jonathan is now on papaperm three days a week.
We've put the ball in the air and we're moving downfield. Tomorrow we get the keys to our new home. It's all so adult, I can hardly stand it. And though we're exhausted, and though we sometimes question who we are, and though my self-esteem has been hobbled, and though our bathroom often smells like dirty diapers, we wouldn't trade that little girl away.
She tried to pinch a freckle right off my soft, fleshy forearm today--thinking it was just another small thing to be inspected and picked up--and I laughed through the smarting tears in my eyes, because that girl is the most precious, perfect little being in the universe. And we get to keep her for a while. Guide her, guard her. It's a privilege.
You couldn't pay me to have another, I don't think. (And Norway would!) But this little one, this Cheeks McGee, this Little P, this dancing baby... oh, we thank everything from God to our lucky stars for letting us be the ones who have her.
Perhaps, one day, my brain will unfracture; perhaps my hands will refind their places on the steering wheel of sanity. Until then, I'll be taking photos and videos of my giggling, squeaking, precocious girl child and hoping she'll look back on her life with us one day and decide it was all also worth it.
The husband and wife who stormed a work party and murdered 14 people in San Bernadino yesterday left behind 6,100 rounds of ammunition, dozens of unexploded bombs, and a six-month-old daughter. A six-month-old daughter. A six-month-old daughter.
Just when I didn't think these acts of terror could be any less explicable, a mother leaves her six-month-old daughter to follow her husband on an errand of murder and suicide.
A six-month-old daughter. A six-month-old daughter.
My daughter just turned seven months. She is a delight. Her eyes are incredibly blue. Her cheeks are as soft as whipped cream. She is strong, dexterous, curious, patient, determined. Her innocence abounds. The only way I could abandon her on the way to commit an act of violence would be to do it on her behalf. To throw myself in front of her. A mama bear. Walking through fire because it's the only way to secure her safety.
Maybe that's what this woman believed she was doing as she worked in her garage, fitting together the parts of a makeshift bomb. Or as she knelt to pray. Over and over again.
I feel ill at the thought of this woman, because new motherhood binds us. I don't want to be anything like her, but we are alike, simply because having a new baby requires a level of base, primal, survivalist thinking that is unique. I know how many diapers this woman has changed. I know how long she has stood on aching feet, holding a warm, wiggling, wailing bundle. I know she has sung lullabies and blown tummy raspberries and counted piggy toes and played peek-a-boo endlessly. And I can't sync any of those rituals--rooted as they are in tending to the future--with someone who sought violence on any level.
Then again, mothers are sometimes soldiers.
"Tell me this isn't the worst the world has ever been."
Yesterday, after the Hazelnut had been tucked into bed, I sat beside Jonathan and pleaded with him to help me sort these things through. The honey-sweet smell of our baby girl's freshly shampooed hair still clung to my nightshirt. "Tell me that we haven't brought her into the scariest time in history."
It took a few minutes of discussion before we agreed.
No. The world has always appeared to be on the verge of absolute disintegration. World Wars and Cold Wars. Epidemics and pandemics and plagues. Holocaust and genocide. Religious fanatics and witch burnings. Mankind has been attempting to annihilate itself for centuries. The rise of mass shootings in the United States and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East are only the latest in a long, sad, predictable string of avoidable catastrophes, and have replaced things beaten back by the better elements of our society (e.g. HIV/AIDS and other diseases, destruction of the world's rainforests).
This didn't cheer me up.
Since the November attacks in Paris, I've been sitting under an especially dark cloud. I still go out almost every day. I dutifully dress my baby girl in layers of wool and fleece, buckle her into her pram, pull a beanie low about my ears, and walk out the door. I remember where I was on 9/11, and I know that hiding at home and changing my personal prerogatives means the terrorists win. So, we go out.
Sleet melts in the gutters, and I move the way the Norwegians do on the colder days, leaned forward to avoid slipping on black ice between the painted white stripes in the crosswalk. The tree branches are bare and dripping with moisture in the perpetual shade of late-autumn this far north. Until recently, I have always felt safe in Oslo. Even after a Norwegian Christian man set off a bomb in front of the Labor Party's buildings downtown, then massacred almost 70 children on an island in the fjord, I have felt safe. But I'm losing my grip on that feeling.
A pair of cafés. A concert hall. A soccer stadium.
A work party.
A Planned Parenthood office.
A shopping mall. A movie theater. An elementary school.
Today, Oslo's police force is armed. When we moved here, beat cops didn't carry guns, but that changed as terror threats against European cities began to rise. The government almost disarmed the police again recently, just days before Paris. Now I doubt my daughter will ever see the peaceful, optimistic city we once moved to. Rather, she'll grow up believing that all law enforcement officers must carry weapons because criminals are likewise armed, and she requires that level of protection.
Perhaps she'll be right, too, which is more depressing.
Good god, what do I tell her.
And who am I addressing when I say things like Good god?
Every time I see a news story like this one, I hear Lieutenant Dan's voice in my head. Where the hell is this God of yours? he asks Forrest, a man of childlike faith. Indeed. Where the hell is this god of mine?
Politicians slink around and pay lip service and cower before the dismal and confounding fact of the NRA's power. Some of these politicians even claim to pray for an answer to tens of thousands of gun deaths. More than 330 mass shootings in 2015 alone. The Daily News ruffled some feathers today by declaring on its front page that God Isn't Fixing This. Which is true. It's not fixed. Some people think He can't, because He doesn't exist. Some think He won't, because He does exist, but He isn't involved in our everyday lives. Some think He can and will, and so they keep on praying. And some don't think about it at all, but toss out the sinfully easy hashtag with their morning coffee-and-status-update, as though that counts for something.
I did that after Paris, too.
Dear Husband & Father of Our Child,
Thank you for stopping by the grocery store on this cold, drizzly morning to pick up bread and milk. Our cupboards need refilling so much more frequently these days, and the kid isn't even eating solid foods yet!
And thank you for swinging by Crepes d'Elen for a pain au chocolat, as well. It was a lovely treat to have awaiting me after I failed to put our daughter down for her morning nap. Again. After having been cried and screamed at for almost twenty minutes in the dark.
Drinking a cup of hot tea and eating a French pastry allowed me to hold it together a bit longer. Meanwhile, you played on the bed with our daughter, distracting her from her fatigue, making her smile. You know, by juggling or making hand-fart noises. Whatever works.
Isn't that smile beautiful? And isn't it a rare kind of privilege to be one of the two people on earth who know exactly what to do to coax it from her?
I love watching her draw a tiny, pink palm across your face, perplexed a bit by the texture of your stubble. This is Daddy, she is thinking.
Daddy. The guy who woke and sat up in bed beside me last night at 3am as the kid cried herself into an unprecedented frenzy. This, after I'd fed and changed and burped her. We were all up for more than an hour for the first time in months. Your hand on my back as I sat on the edge of the bed, sighing heavily at the thought of returning to her room again--oh, again--made the whole thing infinitely more bearable. Your level of calm maintained my level of calm. You refusing to blame me for any of these tough moments makes it easier for me not to blame myself.
Well, no. I still blame myself for every failure--major or minor--but I don't have the added pressure of your blame. And I can turn to you in those dark moments of self-flagellation and hear you say, No, she's not still awake because you're doing something wrong. She's still awake because she's a baby. She's 25% the product of what we do and 75% random banana. (Which, by the way, is my favorite thing you've ever said to me. Ever. When she goes bananas, I always think of this. It saves me. It save us all.)
In one of the least explicable parts of early motherhood, I find that, after battling to get her down for yet another nap, and finally finding some peace and alone time, I spend some measurable amount of that priceless time flipping through photos and videos of the kid sleeping in the next room. As if I miss her. Which is true. This shocks me. It's like the way I miss her when I manage to get away for a quick, afternoon run--the way an astronaut's body must miss gravity while in space. I run in a loop, and I find myself picking up the pace to get back to her, even though my bondage to her was what I was running gratefully away from in the first place.
These days, the Hazelnut is more alert than ever. She bounces and wiggles when she wakes up and sees me. Being awake is her joy. As I hoist her from the crib and press my lips to her cheek, I am simultaneously overcome by two thoughts:
Look how marvelously big and healthy she is, and
Where is the the little newborn she was just yesterday?
There's so much I won't miss about those first weeks. For example, how in the dark I was about why she was upset and how I might stop it. Attempting to problem-solve through the air-raid level of her wailing.
Actually, come to think of it, that's it. That's all I won't miss. I mean, I wouldn't want to go through the physical discomfort of labor or breaking in my breasts for nursing again, either, but other than that, it wasn't so dreadful. What I do miss is the general tininess of her. The crumpled, curled-up look of her. The dark eyes meeting the light in the room as if for the first time each day.
She is always making new sounds. The latest is a high-pitched peal that seems half sigh, half screech. She explores the bounds of her mouth with itself, sucking at nothing and pushing her tongue in behind her upper lip so that she looks like a little monkey. Every part of her seems to be moving unless she's asleep or leaning that way. I'm exhausted and I yearn for her to nap long and deep and without needing me.
Then, the second this happens, I begin watching videos captured after her last bottle of the day before--huge smiles and prolonged, happy noises--or of her twisting on the activity mat in a bid to roll over. Or, many weeks ago, swaddled and gazing uncomprehendingly into the camera's lens uttering the faintest, least intentional, most darling series of little coos. What a thrill that was, and how far we've both come since then. My heart cracks at this thought.
There's no going back. There's no again. From here on out, there is only new and different and forward and bigger and louder and more complex and more sophisticated.
That crack in my heart mends quickly under the balm of hope for the future--hopefulness being a byproduct of the mere presence of such unabashed and vital youth in our home every day--but there remains a scar. A hairline of glistening, slightly stretched skin. It joins the rest of the little splinter-sized heart scars: one for the first night we moved her out of our room; one for the first time Jonathan fed her with a bottle, and my breasts went disused; one for the first onesie she outgrew; the swaddle we discarded; the first time she seemed to recognize her name; the first time she looked for me when placed in the arms of a stranger. All these good milestones I prayed to come to pass. They hurt. And they are what make me want to run into her room and pull her close and breathe her in just the way she is now. Bottle the moment. Never let her go.
Today marks our little Hazelnut's 100th day on the planet. In honor of that, and in honor of the super-sized crush I've got on my kid, I thought I'd list one hundred things I love about the fact of her. A little sappy, I'll admit. Don't care. I'm too sleepy to be more original, and too much in love not to do exactly this.
1. 1. Pulling open the curtain and looking at her for the first time each morning.
2. 2. Her big, bright, blue eyes, so much like her Daddy's.
3. Smiles of recognition. (Mommy. Daddy.)
4. How toasty and cozy she feels once unwrapped from her swaddle or sleep sack.
5. Nursing. I never expected it to be so precious.
6. Tiny fingers brushing back and forth across my chest, gripping my fingers, feeling the air.
7. The way her body alternates between firm and floppy.
8. Her constant (constant!) kicking
9. Placing her between us in bed for morning snuggles.
10. Planting kisses on those cheeks!
11. Watching her play with Daddy.
12. Little soft burps.
13. Great big window-rattling burps.
14. The growing range of intentional sounds she makes, like a piglet, a cricket, a mouse, a bird.
15. Furrowed brow as she inspects anything "new," from a rattle to a blanket to her own hands.
16. Smiles of wonderment. (The sounds of whistling.)
17. Smiles of joy. (As she kicks the jingling heck out of her baby gym.)
18. Adorable baby clothes.
19. How fast she outgrows them!
20. The fact that she has grown five full inches and doubled her birthweight in three months.
21. Her hair, soft as duckling down, blond in some light and dark in others.
22. Eyelashes. Invisibly blond when she was born, now dark and long and precocious.
23. The way she brings her hands together and entwines her fingers, as if plotting.
24. Talking to her all day long.
25. Hearing her "talk" back.
On the floor, she kicks and kicks
and looks at me
and kicks some more,
softly and firmly,
so that I might expect little grunts of effort
--like a piglet or a tennis player--
but she is silent.
I lift her to me,
glad at the breadth of her
abiding little body between my hands.
Blue eyes open wide, and bubbles
burst from pursed lips.
Her shoulders shrug upward
as if to say,
I wish I knew.
I sing; she smiles.
Lying at my breast.
the way her hands press my flesh,
the way my life transfers to her. So hot,
in the duck down of her hair.
Satisfied and serious, she speaks.
In the babble, the gurgle,
the burble, the coo,
I hear something else, too.
Though I didn't know I hadn't yet heard it
--and in a language alien to all but her and me--
she calls my name.
Dear Mom of the Crying Newborn who lives on my street:
Yes, I hear her. But I also hear you, moving in the darkness of that room alone. Or maybe with a boyfriend or husband or partner. But still, mostly alone. You are trying everything you know how to do, as well as quite a few things you don't, in a bid to soothe that little screamer. The one with the big eyes that are identical to her father's. The one who hasn't yet learned to smile, but will, and when she does, will light up your life with a single flash of those pink gums.
Yes, I, your neighbor who wants to sleep blissfully in my own home, can hear your crying child. But I can also hear your heart, beating harder than ever these days. There's the anxiety of trying and failing to calm your baby. There's the fatigue after so many nights of interrupted sleep, and what feels like a million napless days in a row. And then there's the stress over how your little one's wailing might be perceived by the rest of the adults who inhabit your city block. Because they can hear her. Oh god, WE can hear her.
Can I tell you something? Forget us. You're on the front lines of hell: a screaming child who cannot communicate her needs any other way. You're growing a seedlet of human being into a person, and these first months are a level of crucial that rises above the desires of others. Yes, one day you'll be responsible for keeping your kid quiet in our civilized society. But not today. Today, it's about feeding her. Keeping her clean, dry, warm. Bringing her to your heart and singing every song you know. Walking the floor in your home until she is soothed.
And this will go on until your feet hurt. Your throat aches. You're light-headed from all the shhhhh-ing. Until your arm goes numb. Your eyes burn. You smell like sour milk. It's all you, babe. I hear you. And I'm with you all the way.
The next time you're in your home and your newborn is shaking-the-walls-wailing, don't think about the neighbor who might be disturbed or offended by those cries. Don't allow her insensitivity to ratchet up your loneliness and desperation. Don't stare bleakly and angrily at the contorted face of your baby and hiss, Shut up! Miss So-n-so needs her sleep! Don't close your windows if it's too hot and stuffy for your baby to sleep, or for you to breathe. No, dear one. Rather, think of me, your fellow mom-of-a-newborn, also in the dark, also wrestling a child into a swaddle she doesn't want, or out of a bathtub she wants to stay in, or through the first cycle of a nap that she can't complete without help. You aren't alone.
We are in the darkness together, windows flung open for a reason. And anyone who doesn't understand that... anyone who doesn't have sympathy for our position... anyone who doesn't trust us to make the right decision for our kid under the heavy artillery fire of a late night scream session can go straight to hell and sleep there.
I hear her. I hear you. And you know what? There's something you've said a lot recently--have whispered endlessly over the cradle to ears that often can't seem to hear it--but it may have been a while since anyone else has taken you in their arms and said it to you. So, allow me:
It's okay, it's okay, shhhhhhh, it's okay.
Those first four weeks after bringing the Hazelnut home from the hospital were some of the most overwhelming of my life. Scratch that. They were THE most overwhelming of my life. Exhausted, confused, desperate, frustrated, fearful, and utterly clueless about how to manage life with a newborn. I became the single neediest person on the planet.
My husband took his standard two weeks off after the birth. (His Norwegian papapermisjon will begin in January.) My mom flew in from California for two weeks. While I fed and changed and comforted my wailing baby daughter, they fed and changed and comforted me. Then my mom flew home, and Jonathan returned to work. And there I was, with a tiny baby who seemed to cry endlessly, angrily, and inconsolably.
Here I have to state for the record that I am exaggerating. I didn't know it at the time, but the Hazelnut's crying was absolutely within the normal range. Maybe three or four hours total during the day in the beginning, and never consecutive. Any little thing would set her off, which made it seem endless; the sound she made--frantic, earsplitting--made her seem angry; the fact that Jonathan and I apparently sucked at consoling her made her seem inconsolable.
After eight weeks, I'm happy to report that both of us now have a repertoire of baby-comforting moves. Rocking, bouncing, shushing, swaddling, patting, pacifying, dancing, singing, swinging... No single thing always works. No single thing works two days in a row, in fact. But something works. Every time. It might take five minutes or an hour and a half. It might need to be combined with something else. But she calms and, eventually, goes to sleep. She's done it every day, multiple times a day, for the last two months. This is something we have to keep reminding ourselves of, especially on those days when she fights off her nap, and it seems that she may never ever ever ever ever sleep again.
Thankfully, in my neediness, I was never alone. I've managed to surround myself with strong, savvy, sensitive women in Oslo over the last four years, and many of them are mamas already. When I was at my most lost and confused in those first weeks, my friends came through for me. The following are three products, introduced to me by my mama friends, which have saved my sleepy, weepy self over and over. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh delivered to me by three wise women.
On one especially rocky Saturday, the Hazelnut stayed awake for fifteen straight hours. I didn't know newborns could do that. She was exhausted and on edge the whole day. Jonathan and I were beyond fried as the screamy time stretched into the evening. Along the way, I posted something about our mini-hell on Facebook, thinking I was being self-deprecating. I wanted to tell the "truth," while hiding just how hard it was actually hitting me.
When the doorbell rang after 9pm, Jonathan and I stopped and stared at each other. We were zombies. Unshowered, dressed in pajamas from the night before, with spit-up covered burp cloths draped over our shoulders. The Hazelnut was weeping madly into Jonathan's chest. I picked up the intercom phone.
"Audrey? It's Maddie. I have wine. Let me up."
My neighbor, my hero. Maddie swept into our home that night with hugs for me, an offer to babysit, a bottle of wine, chocolate, chips and salsa, and some advice. Carry the baby, she said. Strap her to your chest. Like a bomb, I thought.
But baby-carrying, especially in the first three months of her life, was something I'd always intended to do. It's just that neither of the carriers I had (ErgoBaby360, Sakura Ring Sling) could be employed fast enough or comfortably enough to be convenient.
It was Maddie who told me about the stretchy Boba Wrap. She'd donated hers to the Oslo Sling Library, but she urged me to borrow it. So easy, she promised. And the Hazelnut would sleep in it. And I'd get my hands back.
All this sounded too good to be true, but I attended the next Sling Library meet-up and tried the Boba. Immediately I was in love. Tying it on is already second nature to me, and it takes a simple knot. Because the material is stretchy, it will continue to accommodate my growing daughter for months. The Hazelnut sleeps long and hard in the sling, both in our home and out on walks.
This week, I stopped in at Bæreglede in St. Hanshaugen to buy my own. I use it every day. My hands are more often free. My heart is lighter. And I owe this to Maddie.
This morning I shuffled to the Moses basket-style bassinet in our bedroom, pulled back the hood and looked down into it, my eyes still taut with sleep, and looked into the face of my daughter. It is a face I already know better than my own. Round as an apple. Cheeks like marshmallows. A hint of a widow's peak. Tiny upturned nose. An expressive little mouth and two big, bright blue eyes. It is a face I have both dreaded and craved in the last seven weeks. So often, this face is contorted with displeasure or discomfort into a frown, a grimace, a cry, a scream. Far more often than I would have imagined before she arrived.
That was late April. Back before I had learned how to dance with an infant on my shoulder until she calmed. Back before I'd learned to eat, wash, type, and live with only one hand at a time. Back before I'd learned abject humility. I knew nothing about motherhood and even less about babies. But there I was, teetering on the brink of this freefall, excited.
I'll leave my birth story for another day. Suffice it to say, with one or two exceptions, my labor was average and the birth was a natural one. Suddenly there was a small, warm, wet lump of human being laid on my chest. Her eyes were scrunched shut; her hair was slicked flat to her soft skull. In awe and terror and excitement, I looked to Jonathan. He was holding onto me, tears in his eyes. We'd done it. There she was. Still attached to me. Breathing. Heart beating. Flesh turning pink as the dawn outside the windows.
She rooted and found my breast on her own. I cried with relief and joy and fatigue. It had been 27 hours since my first contraction, and now it was over.
But I kept crying. For four days at the hospital hotel. For four weeks at home.
Nothing could have prepared me, though I'd tried valiantly to prepare myself. My life was upside down. An apt cliché. Everything revolved around feeding the tiny breathing, pulsating human I'd given birth to. My daughter. I heard myself say those words aloud, but they felt utterly foreign. Almost fake. My child. I knew it was true in an empirical sense, but in my arms, she was still an alien. I feared an absence of love. While a great, primal force compelled me to feed her and comfort her and protect her, I knew it was biology. The thing which has perpetuated our species since the beginning. There was extreme wonderment. I could spend hours staring at her, counting her invisibly blond eyelashes, marveling at her miniature fingernails, tracing my finger down her spine and feeling the velvet of her skin. But love? Perhaps. But it felt off-kilter and heartbreaking.
Especially as I watch events unfold like the university massacre in Kenya--where 150 Christian students were executed for their beliefs by members of a terrorist group pretending to be acting in line with Islam--I begin to think religion is the bane of our world. When a father tosses his child into cold bay waters from high atop a freeway bridge, I doubt there is a god. When thousands of women and children in Nigeria remain missing after being kidnapped by terrorist groups like Boko Haram, I definitely doubt that the god up in his heaven is the one I've long believed I know. Still, my faith remains. Like lint on a black shirt. Like a cat hair interrupting the surface of a fresh cup of coffee. Like a plastic bag tangled in the branches of a tree. Inexplicable. Unexcisable. Inconvenient.
I'm in the midst of a thoughtful and provocative anthology titled Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics & Atheists. Little interests me more than philosophical writing by poetic people on their personal systems of belief. Every one feels like a touchstone for me. They remind me to live an examined life. They remind me of all I have in common with the majority of mankind. It is a peaceful, hopeful, thoughtful, reasonable majority, and one I'm happy to point out does exist.
In Anne Perry's essay What Do I Believe?, I came across this gem:
That brings me face to face with my black dog of a word: obedience. I have no respect for disobedience nor for an instant do I advocate it. As children, we must begin by obeying. We are not safe to do anything else. But I want to move as fast as possible to the concept of learning, discovering, eventually doing the right thing because I understand it, and it is who I wish to be! To do something because I am told to and will be rewarded for it--or punished if I don't, or even to please God--is not a worthy purpose. It may have to be part of the process, but my goal is to become the person who does the brave, honest, or kind thing because it is my nature. It is not what I do; rather, it is who I am.
I want to be brave, not just look like it; be honest because I have no wish to lie, above all to myself. I want to help others because I see my own pain in theirs, and I want to ease it--for them, not for me. It may be a long journey!
Here in my safe, happy corner of Oslo, there is little I can do to stop angry, violent people from doing angry, violent things to those who are helplessly located in the path of destruction. All I have are my prayers and my vote to affect the big picture, and often both of these things seem laughably inadequate. But I can work on myself toward a definable end, namely the one Anne Perry so eloquently outlines here. I can examine my own life and actions and affect the people in my path, encouraging them to do the same. Who knows? Perhaps this butterfly effect will reach someone who has known real peril. Perhaps the good can still own the day.
As I close in on the birth date of my daughter, I'm also reassured by quotes like the one above. Life is a long journey, and hers is just beginning. Obedience will be one of her first, cognizant stages in life. She will be looking to Jonathan and me to guide her choices. But I will want her to know that we'll still be learning, too. That all of us are lumps of clay.
I received a past due notice from the university library this week. I owe them 80 nok and a Norton Anthology of American Literature. The book has been sitting in our front hallway awaiting its return since last month, but I haven't been on campus since just before my birthday. It turns out that, even an easy pregnancy like mine is too taxing in the last month to make sitting behind a desk for four hours twice a week worth it. I miss being in school, but I'm happy with the reason.
My baby girl, my little Hazelnut, is due today. We discovered my pregnancy fairly early, at exactly four weeks, so this day has been a long time coming. At the same time, the pregnancy has moved smoothly, so my moments of real impatience have been few. I wanted to feel her sooner than I did (21 weeks). I wanted to start to "show" sooner than I did (26-ish weeks). And now... I want to meet her!
For a control freak, pregnancy can be especially strenuous. We can't control any of the aforementioned milestones. We have no idea how our labor and delivery will go. Instead, we dutifully watch what we eat and how much we exercise, and we read book after book about pregnancy and childbirth until we have at least a false sense of control on that issue.
Here's the stack I've worked through over the last few months. My favorite was Becoming a Mother by Gro Nylander. I read the English translation of this Norwegian classic, and its reasonable, encouraging tone made me confident about motherhood. It's one of two books I'm bringing to the hospital with me. The other is Australian midwife Juju Sundin's Birth Skills, which has equipped me for labor. By that, of course, I mean that I understand that the pain I feel will be purposeful, and I hope this will alleviate my fight or flight reflexes and keep me calm. I also have a list of strategies to help me cope with the pain. Whether I will have the presence of mind to execute those strategies when the big day comes is anyone's guess. But still, a false sense of security is better than none at all in my world!
Beyond that, I found the two What to Expect books to be a little cliche, but the First Year edition should be a good reference. And I'm very pleased with The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. Here's hoping his fourth-trimester philosophy makes as much sense in concrete as it does in the pre-baby abstract.
Native Norwegians stood stranded at bus stops, boots deep in drifts of white, scratching their heads and wondering how they could have been so wrong. Within the last few weeks, optimistically, gravel has begun to disappear from the sidewalks. Clusters of crocuses were planted in boxes outside apartment buildings and storefronts. Usually, the Norwegians aren't so far off about the onset of spring, and I depend on them to let me know what's happening. (I'm a Californian. I don't know how to identify seasonal shifts. I got a pedicure yesterday.)
I had to dig my snow boots back out of my closet, reluctantly stuffing my sweet, little spring-pink toes deep into the shearling. I had to put on my parka again. Thankfully, after telling the Hazelnut to suck in, I was still able to zip it all the way up over my bump.
I am egg.
I am shell, white, yolk. I am fertilized.
I am haven. I am universe.
I am holding on. I am necessary. I am perpetual.
I am passing the time and counting down, but also keeping a record of these moments.
I am the only one who can feel her.
I am feeder. I am breeder.
I am cliché. I am tradition.
I am gene pool.
I am eternal.
I am quiver, oyster, envelope, compass.
I am a planter box. I am prairie.
I am heavy.
I am round.
I am passed over by the eyes of strangers.
I am envied. I am scorned.
I am offered chairs.
I am strong.
I am limited in my range of motion.
I am limited in the range of what I can eat and drink.
I am thirsty.
I am whole. I am hopeful.
I am two hearts, two brains, two tongues.
I am singing to her in the shower.
I am reading to her from my favorite books.
I am nesting.
I am sleeping, if miserably.
I am unsure of my footing and pausing on the stairs to breathe.
I am daunted.
I am undaunted.
I am full of dreams. I am peaceful.
I am aquarium. I am marsupial.
I am doing nothing new in the history of womankind.
I am doing everything new in the history of me.
I am lost in thought, forgetful.
I am attuned to the emotions of the children of others.
I am aware of my own mother's sacrifices.
I am brave. I am dependent.
I am lusting after my husband. I am dormant volcano.
I am potential energy.
I am half an equation.
I am pod. I am capsule.
I am en route to delivery.
I am tickled by kicks that land behind my ribs.
I am forced to stand up abruptly.
I am spilling over with words. I am learning a new vocabulary.
I am open to change. I am unwilling to slow down.
I am never alone.
I am hamster ball.
I am confident. I am bound to make mistakes.
I am incredulous that responsible adults will soon send me home with an infant to care for.
I am vibrating.
I am waves in the ocean. I am wind against the wheat field.
I am the keeper of a generation. I am gripped by fear at random.
I am primal.
I am evolutionary.
I am wrapped around a gift I don't get to keep.
I am prepared only to be surprised.
I am preemptively heartbroken.
I am protective. I am armed for bear.
I am destined for pain.
I am swollen with grace, pride, and water-weight.
I am always in the bathroom.
I am threshold. I am crossroads.
I am arms wide open.
I am time bomb. I am one beat in a universal rhythm.
I am a volunteer. I am selfish and foolhardy.
I am wishing on stars. I am speaking to God.
I am waiting.
I am patient and impatient.
I am, for a little while longer, at least, still...
As much as we're aware of the short term challenges of parenting a newborn, Jonathan and I are constantly considering what will come after that. After the incessant diapering, the breastfeeding, the sleep training and failures and subsequent exhaustion, the just-barely-managing-to-maintain-sanity-after-four-straight-hours-of-screaming, etc. We can't practice any of that stuff. It's just going to come. If we have the stamina, and if we remember to rely on and support one another, I have a feeling that, given our basic competency in life, we'll survive that stage. All three of us.
From there, the questions become bigger. More philosophical. More nuanced. What can we do to make her a compassionate person? How can we teach her to respect the natural world? What should our reaction be the first time she lies to us? Which manners are most important, and how much stress should be put on her to learn them fast and follow them? Can ambition and self-motivation be taught without also damaging her psyche? Must we allow her to make our mistakes all over again for herself?
Yes, I know it's impossible to answer many of these questions. But I love that we're asking them now. Jonathan has the mind of a philosopher, as well as of an engineer. Hearing him devote time and energy to the prospect of fatherhood warms me all the way to my toes. My cup runneth over.
In his memoir Hitch:22, Christopher Hitchens makes this observation about fatherhood:
To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase 'terrible beauty.' Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body.
I know my husband's heart better than anyone. He chose me to be its keeper for the rest of our lives, and I continue to be honored by that choice. Knowing that there soon will come another human who has an absolute claim to his heart, too, is a little scary. His heart has always been safe with me. I hope it will always be safe with her.
Photo: Last summer, we visited Telemark with some friends. On the back terrace of the famous timbered Dalen Hotel, after a round of aquavit, we found an antique spyglass, which made Jonathan's whole day.
Last week, we lost Jonathan's grandpa, George D. Camp, at the age of 92. Unfortunately, we were unable to fly home to California for the funeral and memorial service, but we did have the chance to send something to be read at the memorial service. Jonathan and I talked for a long time about his relationship with Grandpa Camp, and I used that as an inspiration to write something in Jonathan's voice and from his point of view:
grandpa's hands were large, squared off at the fingers, and always in motion,
whether he was building a new machine, swinging a golf club, or telling a story
at my parents' dinner table. He was quick to laugh, and this was indicative of
his happiness and fulfillment. After all, he'd accomplished so many of the customary
goals of American men: a long, loving marriage, a healthy family, a home he
built himself, and a career that provided for his wife and children. By every
indication, my grandpa was a simple, old-fashioned man, embodying all the best
parts of what have been termed "traditional American values." It would be easy
to sum him up this way, but his legacy in my life is far more complex.
losing Grandpa Camp, I've been trying to put my finger on what exactly he gave
or taught to me, personally. This has been difficult, because I cannot recall
specific lessons about the "hot side" of an electrical outlet, or how to mark
off the foundation of a house. These practical lessons, along with so many
others, I picked up from my dad and his brothers, my Uncle Don and Uncle Gene.
These three men--capable and intelligent and fun and generous with their
knowledge--shaped me directly into the man, husband, and soon-to-be father I am
today; and Grandpa Camp was the genesis of all of that.
Today, many people see only the mystery in things: plumbing, circuitry, a car's engine, the internet. So long as these things work the way they're supposed to, the average person has no interest in understanding the way they work. If a thing breaks, these people call someone like my grandpa. He saw the world through a different, less passive lens. He believed in the inherent logic of the world built around us. This was not an idle curiosity, but rather something active. Not only did he wonder how the mechanics of things functioned, he wanted to pull those things apart and put them back together. And that's exactly what he did throughout his life, a practice that made him both inventive and dependable.
Curiosity is something most of us are born with, but curiosity left unencouraged is almost useless. Grandpa stoked the fire of curiosity in his three sons, and that was passed along to me. Today, when I walk into a room, I see more than four blank walls. I see what is likely behind them. If I'm not certain, I want to know, and I'm willing to pick up my tool box and set to work finding out. I will hammer through the dry wall. I will lift the hood of the car. I will reverse engineer a difficult piece of computer code. This is what Grandpa Camp gave me: Confidence in my own competence.
hope to instill this same valuable trait of character--this constructive curiosity--in my own daughter and, in this way, to
allow Grandpa's legacy to channel down into the next generation.
I grew up without grandparents close by. My Grandpa Ed (Pancoast) died before I was born; my Grandpa Pete (Campagna) lived in Illinois, so I saw him only a handful of times. When I met and married Jonathan, I inherited his grandparents, all four still living and lovable. We spent so many holidays and birthdays with them. I blew out candles on the same cake as Jonathan and Grandpa Camp. The grandpas exchanged war stories at the dinner table; the grandmas debated the best way to wring the neck of a chicken. When Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson passed away at the end of 2012, I realized how close I'd become to these four beautiful people. I consider them my grandparents, too.
My brother-in-law, Josh, recorded the memorial service for us. We watched last night, which made us feel close to the family. Grandpa Camp was a wonderful man of god, a generous human being, a builder, a legend, a good neighbor, a loving husband and father and grandfather. I wish he'd been able to meet his first great-grandchild. Now I'm just hoping the Hazelnut considers arriving a couple of days early so that Jonathan can continue to share his birthday with someone he loves. Either way, we'll always take the time on April 16 to remember Grandpa Camp.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Where previously there was none, a flower blooms, a fruit suspends itself from the branch of a tree, and this is what we see: round, starburst thing. Velvet petals and smooth, rosy skin. Shape and matter, weight when we lift it between our own curious palms. Where did it come from?
That might well have been Joseph's question as Mary swelled in front of him, soft and glowing with a future for which she'd never asked, and in which, Joseph held no physical stake.
We now know all about fertilization: pollen grips stigma, sperm penetrates egg. Though it happens in the red-shadowed darkness, conception is not magic, either in flora or fauna. Unlikely to the point of miraculousness in its overwhelming repetition the world over, certainly, but not magic.
Yet, in those early days of prophets and shepherds, the spontaneous fire of life in the womb of his betrothed must have stymied Joseph.
And what of Mary? A child herself in both age and stature, limited by social constructs and by her religion to a small geography and an abbreviated list of choices, most of life's mysteries likely seemed magical to Mary.
Were the conception of her child not, in fact, immaculate, it is equally doubtful either that she consented to a lying down in the dark with a man not her betrothed, or that she understood the consequences of such actions.
Whatever the case, a blastocyst implanted itself in the ripened lining of Mary's uterus early in the spring of a year that would be zero. Was it the product of egg-meeting-sperm? Or egg-alone plus a tadpole-sized dose of the Holy Spirit? And does this matter?
"I am trying to summon all my strength just to not want anything for you. Not to hope you have all the things I didn't, and all the things I did, nor to frame your being with the stiffened angles of my own regret. Not even to hope you will be able forgive me, for all my many trespasses."
-- Susanna Hislop, To My Unborn Child
There are far too many exquisite quotes to pull from this particular Hislop piece. We're so in sync. It's as if she's drawing her fingers across the pulsing surface of my heart and translating the Braille of its rhythm. Okay, just a couple more, but you really ought to read the whole thing!
"You are endlessly fascinating to me, even if I did sometimes find myself - in the slow, empty chaos of hours and days and weeks after you were born - torn asunder by fear and boredom and shock. Even if a genetic predisposition to not dealing with you at all well hovered in the shadows of the room as I held your hungry mouth to my breast. No. I love you, I am sure, more than all the love I have ever held in my heart."
"But in this catching of happiness - if I am to be a good mother - will you make me dull? It's the women I listen to. George Eliot ridiculing Celia in Middlemarch: that familiar figure of nappied inanity lost in a world of maternal arrogance. A pregnant Plath, having 'boarded the train there's no getting off'. But then Woolf, with whole houses and a mind of her own, howling, childless, in the night..."
"My very far away, unborn hope: of you I am as terrified as of an unknown child in a darkened room, whose clear vowels rise through the moonlight, asking only for love."
"I can't tell you what to do. No one can. But as the mother of two children, I can tell you what most moms will: that mothering is absurdly hard and profoundly sweet. Like the best thing you ever did. Like if you think you want to have a baby, you probably should.
I say this in spite of the fact that children are giant endless suck machines. They don't give a whit if you need to sleep or eat or pee or get your work done or go out to a party naked and oiled up in a homemade Alice B. Toklas mask. They take everything. They will bring you the furthest edge of your personality and abso-fucking-lutely to your knees.
They will also give you everything back. Not just all they take, but many of the things you lost before they came along as well."
― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
(Nothing like some Strayed-esque wisdom. I'm so happy/relieved, by the way, that the Wild movie comes out before the Hazelnut does. I can't wait to see it, and I understand that movie-going stops being easy once you have an infant to tote along with you.)
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!
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."