Monday, January 31, 2011

Parenting a 7-Year Old

Here's antother of my roles: Being the mother of a 7-year-old.
Keywords to parenting this little girl: Reassuring, back rubs, hugs, reading, teaching how to weave, knit and sew, talking about Life's big questions, such as birth, death, love and God, more reassuring, listening , going to the movies or plays, playing piano, singing, walking or driving to school, piano or choir, playing in the snow or in the swimming pool, baking and cooking together.  Her questions challenge me more and more, and I have to really think before answering.  The world is opening up around her, and it's both exciting and scary, and there are lots of worries, lots of thinking, but also laughter, play and hiding the cat in her bed at night and thinking I didn't see it...  It's amazing how the little baby suddenly is a girl, with all this imagination and skills.  Once in a while feelings grow too tall, and there is despair and genuine sorrow.  Then, I am still able to console her, to give comfort and perspective, just by holding her tight.  How I wish it always could be that easy...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Maternity by Picasso

While thinking of illustrations for yesterday's entry, this painting by Picasso came to my mind.  However, I didn't want to use it only as an illustration. It's one of the most beautiful paintings I know, and I felt that it deserved a presentation by itself.  
It was painted in 1905.  I have never seen this one IRL, and I haven't been able to find out where the original is.  If somebody knows, please tell me!
15 years ago, I mailed a postcard of this painting to my best friend.  Without signature, it silently told her that I was expecting my first child...
The picture itself doesn't need me explaining anything.  It's just beautiful, that's all.  Tender and vulnerable, and it shows the dull ache of a new mother's overwhelmed feelings...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Teaching about Babies, Breastfeeding and Babywearing

 In the series "Different roles", who started with this entry , I'll talk today about my new parent classes.  A couple of times each month I walk downtown to the public health center, where I teach two different classes.  The first one is for parents-to-be, and I talk about those first days and weeks of parenthood.  I share tips and advice about caring for a newborn, and I teach about breastfeeding and babywearing.
I believe it's an important job, helping these couples to navigate through the enormous mass of information that is available these days, and I keep telling them to trust their own parental instincts.  This is part of a series of several separate classes. There is the physical therapist talking about how the body changes, the midwife showing them the delivery rooms and talking about birth, the dad educator talking to the "pregnant" dads, and then there is me talking about what's going on afterwards, when birth is over and life as parents has begun.
The fourth class is held a couple of months  after delivery, and the group return to the health center,  bringing their babies.  This time they get  to talk about the experience of childbirth and life with baby.  I answer questions, but mostly I try to help them talk, share their experiences, their feelings, and hopefully make friends with the others in the group.  Networking for young parents is important too, and realizing that they're not alone in their sleep-deprived world of diaper changes and feedings.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arranged Marriages (Arrangerte Ekteskap)

Photo: Olav Urdahl

This is a quick translation of an article I wrote for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.  It was published on January 24th, both in the paper and the web version. I wrote it to challenge the public opinion about arranged marriages, to make people think and maybe see that other cultures, other traditions also have a point.
Sorry about the language.  Translating isn't easy, and this article was thought, and written, in Norwegian.

The phenomenon of arranged marriages has caught my interest. I think it contains a lot of  wisdom that we have lost on our way to absolute individualism.
Let us re-introduce this in Norway. Let parents and extended family be part of the picture, let it be ok for others to have an opinion when it comes to long-term relationships.
Before Christine Koht and Frode Thuen wrote about arranged marriages in  A-Magasinet a few weeks ago, I had never read a Norwegian statement that supported this, and when I tried to discuss it, I got reactions such as laughter or disbelief.
We must not believe that we have the entire truth! Maybe it's time that we change the way we look upon the world, and see that we have much to learn from other cultures.
A proverb goes something like this: "It's better with a pot that slowly heats up and boils, then a boiling pot that slowly cools down." Divorce figures in this country speaks for themselves. It starts with crazy love, but often turns to hate and ends in sorrow and bitterness. Psycologist Thuen writes about "relationships that never should have existed in the first place", because they often were doomed from the start, something everybody else could see, but not the two concerned.  A lot of pain would have been avoided if it was allowed to give advice, but this area is considered so private that no-one is allowed to speak.
We should be open to marriages where, to quote Koht, "more than two madly-in-love, young and horny world champions  have the right to speak up."
If everything is based on strong emotions, the relationship can be in great danger of failing to withstand the various conflicts that may arise, particularly where the two have different backgrounds, beliefs and interests.

Arranged marriage, as practiced for example in India today, is about connecting two people, based on things such as religion, language, social status, age or education, and it's not just parents who are heavily involved: When the community learns that one has started the search, the entire network is mobilized. Friends, colleagues, extended family, everyone is looking, and all have the same goal: to find a compatible partner for him or her. A matrimonial service is often being used, a place where profiles are compared. If both sides agree, the two can meet, and the final choice is theirs.

India has one of the lowest divorce statistics, around one percent. Many possible reasons for conflict are already out of the picture, and there is a reasonable chance of stability and harmony.
This is not really foreign to us! We know well that birds of the same feather flock together, and relationships formed through work, school or a hobby have the best odds for survival.
Nor is it unknown in Norway to have a third person help out.  A "matchmaker" is usually an intense, but well-intentioned person who wants to help single friends and colleagues.  Who haven't heard of blind dates?

And what about online dating?  Matchmaking sites on the Internet are more and more common, and it seems that more and more see the benefits of meeting their partner via the keyboard and monitor. A profile is made, and you select potential partners based on criteria such as age, interests, education - wait a minute, this sounds like something that I wrote above? Yes, it's exactly the same as arranged marriages in India!

Maybe we should change the language from arranged to assisted marriage, because this is what it is all about!  Not having to be alone in the jungle looking for Mr or Ms right, but could get help and guidance of someone who knows you well and want the best for you.
So why is it so unthinkable to let parents have an opinion?  Parents, who know their child well and just want their best? Why are we clinging to this  individualism that often does not work? It's like a perpetual teenage rebellion going on among us. "Stay away!  I can manage by myself!"
But, what about love? In India, love and physical attraction are not regarded as absolutely necessary at the beginning of a relationship, because the belief is that it will come, grow over time. When the base is good, and the two are working towards a common goal, love will often have very good conditions.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Of Gods and Men

Tonight I'm talking aobut the French movie "Des hommes et des dieux".  I saw it last week, and it will definitively stick with me for a long time.  I remember the real story behind this movie.  Living in France at the time, it was impossible not to learn what had happened, because the massacre of the French monks in Morocco made headlines everywhere.  I remember being deeply shocked and sad, that anybody could do such a thing.  Kill innocent, poor and peaceful monks, who lived modestly and in friendship with their muslim neighbors. Yesterday, I got to know their story even better.

Of Gods and Men is not a loud movie, absolutely not.  We meet the eight monks, we follow their everyday life, with prayers, chants, work and shared meals.  One of them, brother Luc, is a doctor, and even though he is old and suffers from asthma, he receives patients every single day, treating them, helping them the best he can, with the monastary's modest supply of medicine.

What touched me the most, was the way these christian monks lived in peace with the villagers.  Not only tolerating each other, but being real neighbors and friends, seeing each others as brothers and sisters, respecting each other.

The tragedy is luring under the surface, and as the movie progresses, I felt the vibrating stress, terror of what was about to happen.  We're spared for the images there.  The movie ends, when, after a last meal in the monastery, they are captured and abducted.

The last meal I mentioned was special without anything big happening.  They're eating, no-one is talking, the music they're listening to is the main theme from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, and the whole thing is soul-gripping.

Directed by Xavier Beauvois, with actors such as Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale and Oliver Rabourdin.  For more information, click here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Parenting a 3-Year Old

 I guess most of us can recognize the feeling of constantly juggling many roles, that being different jobs, as well as relationships, occupations and engagements of many kinds.
I want to make a series of blog posts, presenting some of my different roles, and I start with this one:
Being the mother of a 3-year-old.  
Keywords to parenting this little guy: Hugging, reading books, diaper changes, making snacks and lunches, wiping sticky hands and face, playing with legos,  singing, going for walks, answering questions, painting, playdough, giving baths, brushing teeth, helping with clothes and shoes, cleaning up mess, consoling when life is tough, explaining and often myself being the "bad guy"...Yes, there is a strong will involved here, and the need to be part of making descisions.  Not always easy...  When we need to leave for an appointment, and Mr. 3-year-old has decided that he doesn't want to, it takes all I can muster of patience and creativity to avoid carrying a screaming child out to the car.  The same goes for getting out of bed, getting into the bath, getting out of the bath, going to the toilet, etc.  Some days I'm tired, exthausted, even exasperated,  but then again, most of the time it is just so rewarding to be able to follow his steps into the big world, with all the "What?"s and "Why?"s.  It's wonderful to hug somebody who literally wraps his arms around you, and he makes me smile and  laugh every single day, being so funny, lovely and cute.
Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso 1922 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fall Memories...

 Not the right time of year to think about fall, I know that, but I've wanted to make this post for months, and maybe January is as good as any time to think back...

During our kids' fall vacation, we went up to the mountain Venabygdsfjellet, where we stayed in a chapel. Yes, we rented a cabin belonging to the local mountain chapel, and since the weather was about as horrible as it gets, they let us use the chapel as well, both the sanctuary and the kitchen.

We enjoyed cozy evenings of wood fire and board games, and we shared yummy meals, looking out on the wind- and rainstorm raging around the chapel.

We did also venture outside, for short walks, and one of the days we actually made it to a mountaintop, but with the rain and fog we hardly saw any view...

On the mountaintop.  Dreaming about the wood fire and hot chocolate...
(We enjoyed just that when we got down from the mountaintop and back to our chapel!)

Next day we went horseback riding.  A Norwegian saying goes something like this: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes..."

Well, at one point we chose to drive to a nearby hotel, and enjoyed a few hours in the indoor swimming pool.  Swimming and playing, trying the climbing wall, falling down in the warm water, having lots of fun.

A different kind of vacation, sure, but it was real  together-time, and we want to go back one day!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

20th Day Canute

Christmas is over now. "20th Day's Canute chases away Christmas" was a saying in Norway. In Norway, Sweden and Finland there are long traditions for ending Christmas on January 13th, and it goes back to King Canute who, 1000 years ago, declared that Christmas was to last from St. Lucia (December 13th) until January 13th. This day is called "St Canute's day" now. After the Julian calendar, Christmas was January 6th, and New Year was January 13th. For a long time the Julian calendar was very present in people's minds, and this is probably some of the reason for letting Christmas go on until the 20th Day of Christmas.
Still today Christmas is celebrated on January 6th in Russia and Eastern Europe.
But, whether you end Christmas on December 26th, Epiphany (January 6th) or St. Canute's Day (January 13th), I guess we all can agree that it's over now.
Even though there are Christmas lights up here and there, and that is sort of nice anyway, during this dark time of the year.
King Canute / Kong Knut
Ja, da var jula over.  "20. dags Knut jager jula ut", sa man i gamle dager her i landet.  Å avslutte jula 13. januar har lange tradisjoner i Norge, Sverige og Finland, og det stammer fra Kong Knuts befaling for 1000 år siden om at jula skulle vare fra Luciadagen 13. desember til 13. januar.  Etter den Julianske kalenderen, som også de norske primstavene er laget over, var juledagen 6. januar, og nyttår var 13. januar.  I lang tid satt den julianske kalenderen fast i vanlige menneskers bevissthet, og dette er nok noe av grunnen til at det var vanlig å la jula vare til 20. juledag. 
Fortsatt feires jula den 6. januar i Østkirken (Russland, Øst-Europa.)
Men enten man setter stopp for jula 2. juledag, Helligtrekongersdagen (6. januar) eller St. Knut (13. januar), kan vi vel alle være enige om at nå er jula over. 
Selv om det henger igjen noen lyslenker her og der, og det er i grunn ganske hyggelig, i disse mørketider.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The True Christmas Season

These days we start thinking about the end of Christmas.  I say thinking about it, because, in our home, Christmas is not over.  Not yet.
During the first weeks of December, there was Advent.  We lit the candles, one more for each Sunday, until we had all four of them burning.  There were the Advent calendars, the rehearsing of Christmas songs and carols, the baking of cookies and goodies, the writing of Christmas cards and, of course the gift making/buying/wrapping.
Then, a few days before Christmas we went out and got our tree , and the night before Christmas Eve we decorated it, when the kids were asleep.  They woke up on Christmas Eve to a house all transformed for Christmas.  The glittering tree, the special tablecloths and flowers, wreaths and garlands.  During that day there is Church, and there is Christmas dinner.  Then, on Christmas Day we open our gifts, and the party goes on with toys and goodies, parties and Christmas movies, reading and playing.
In Norway we have 1st and 2nd Day of Christmas as public holidays.  But, many Norwegians take more time off, and they celebrate also the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Day of Christmas.  Then comes New Year's Eve, and we have another public holiday the day after.
School starts over around January 3rd, but Christmas is not over yet!  On January 6th we celebrate Epiphany , as we share the special Kings' cake (Galette des rois) , a tradition we brought with us from France.  Then, when the 12 Days of Christmas and the Kings' Day have been celebrated, we start removing the decorations and we move out of the Christmas Season.
This is the traditional way of celebrating Christmas in our part of the world, and it used to be like this also in the US.  But, as I read it on an American Catholig web site : (Future Catholic)
"Christmastime now starts sometime in August and pretty much ends at Christmas (except for those people who leave their Christmas lights on till Easter).  We need to bring some meaning and structure back to the Christmas season."
In Norway, it hasn't been like this at all, until very recently.  Nowadays, people tend to start celebrating earlier and earlier, like they are in a hurry to "be done" with it all, and when Christmas comes, they've had enough already.  They just want to get rid of it all.
Then, we end up with a Christmas Season which has been pushed back, to become mostly about the stash and the rush, and we stress around like crazy, getting things done,  missing out on the contemplative, meditative spirit of Advent, as well as the party, fun and glory that Christmas should be, because when Christmas is finally here, we're tired, exhausted and just want for normal life to get on.
Another New Year's Wish:
Let's keep the Christmas Season, the true Christmas Season.  Let the children find it hard to sleep, because they're tingling inside with Christmas dreams of gifts and goodies and Santa Claus.  Don't destroy it with starting it too early.  Please!