As promised, a short teaser for Global Mom.
This comes from early in the book, soon after we have moved from the Bright Lights of Broadway to the Northern Lights of Norway. Randall has been invited with his new team at work to attend a week of the Olympic Games in Lillehammer. I am with four-year-old Parker and two-year-old Claire, holed up in a snug wooden home in the mountains west of Oslo. There, I’m learning two basics for becoming Norwegian:
Snow and Speech.
This, from my journal:
I spent over two hours shoveling snow in the middle of a major snowstorm this morning. While Parker and Claire stared on from the safe warmth of the house, their rosy faces pushed against the window next to the front door, I snorted and huffed away like a rabid mastodon packed into neck-to-ankle lycra. The craziest thing about this is that everyone else on the street was doing the same thing, although perhaps not in lycra. Not a one of us exchanged as much as a greeting, and in silent, sober duty we jammed our shovels, heaved the weight, and moved mountains. Half sissy, half Sisyphus, I clenched my jaw, doing my part to build neighborly solidarity.
As another meter of snow fell (and we all knew another two more were forecast for that night), we scooped and piled, scooped and piled for a couple of hours at least. Our monuments grew much taller than the tallest man I could spy at the bottom of our hill, digging and lobbing in the unbroken rhythm of jab-heave-heave-hurl, jab-heave-heave-hurl.
I’m not sure exactly what it is yet that I am learning in this new lifestyle, but I think it has something to do with discovering the inherent significance buried in the mundane. I’ll keep digging.
Sometime after that storm blew over, the sun shone brightly for an exceptional six days straight. This was just long enough to cause a crisis when the ice started to thaw. One morning, I found that the entryway ceiling was streaming in several synchronized tributaries onto the floor. Seems I’d been distracted by snow removal from the shoulder down, and hadn’t noted the glacier accumulating on the roof.
I should have known to climb on the roof and shovel off the weight, my tall neighbor from the bottom of the road announced flatly as he took to the roof in two long strides (the snow was so high it met the bottom edge of the rafters) and, in a dozen or so brusque gestures, attacked the slushy beast with a pick and spade. A couple of muscular kicks with the toe of his hunting boots and my roof was dripless.
“Always clear the roof”, he offered in an accent I now recognized as coming from northern Norway, and he stabbed the shovel into a snow mound before leaning his bony elbow on the pick. “Next time the whole roof could fall right on your children and—” he made a fierce sound like a polar bear winning at Go Fish.
You can bet that after every storm that followed I was the first from my neighborhood to shimmy up the drain pipe: The Shoveler on the Roof.
This was at about the same time Randall was on something euphemistically called a regional business retreat at the Olympic Games. He called often from Lillehammer, feeding me with color commentary and cultural play-by-plays, always spilling over with details about this high-pitched initiation into the Norwegian spirit. At noon, he’d be yelling to me over the explosions of cheering spectators right and left; at midnight, he’d whisper like a spy, reporting dispassionately below the rowdy drinking choruses gurgling in the background on whoever was at that moment spread out cold under the table.
I took copious notes. I envisioned the scenes. Breathlessly, I’d pummel him with questions and prod him for more. And I hung a bit, I’m embarrassed but not too proud to admit, on those calls. There was a big world out there.
Not that I wasn’t keeping very busy in my small world at home. I used that week to invite over a steady string of little friends—Jesper, Eirik, Knut, Karolina, Per-Ole, Louisa—to the Bradford house. Bringing Norwegian under our roof in galloping, knee-high form was, as I’d hoped it would be, better then Berlitz. I was the half-mute kneeling hostess, crawling everywhere the conversation went, hungrily watching the kids’ lips, mouthing sounds with my brows furrowed, questioning kiddies on every expression, every turn of phrase. I tell you, I never want to know what those children told their own parents about that new mother who mostly crawled and wrote down every word they said. Because most of the time they’d look at me with their noses crunched in a bundle, and say, “So. . .you’re not Norwegian, are you? Because you do speak a little weird, you know that?”
That tots who couldn’t even pull on their own mittens could spew flawless phrases like that in Norwegian kept me on my knees. I was their humble boot-licker.
During a few of those uncharacteristically sunny hours in early February, I hosted our own preschool Olympics. With ten guests I staged an activity that left my whole backside plastered with snow that fell off in slabs when I lurched into the house to grab Randall’s telephone call. I’d been in the yard with a dozen children making snow angels. I was pooped. The sun was fading (it was almost two o’clock, dusk in a Norwegian winter), which meant we’d soon be coming inside. The very thought of undressing the whole fleet of mushy astronauts made my spine go floppy but my jaw go rigid.
“You wouldn’t believe it, sweetheart” Randall laughed, “but there are trolls everywhere here. Huge troll statues, little troll dolls, troll sweatshirts, troll oven-mits, troll bumper stickers. It’s a total troll-o-rama. Wish you could see the poor guy we saw in head-to-toe troll gear grilling meatballs. Incredible!”
I tried to conjure the picture. Jesper needed to go to the toilet and had to be totally undressed. Hard, with a phone pinched between ear and shoulder.
Randall kept feeding me images:
“And we just passed the biggest ice sculpture I’ve ever seen. Solid ice. Gorgeous. Mammoth. A Viking ship. Or a polar bear or something, I think.”
“Not a troll?” I asked, unzipping Jesper who now lies flat on his back on my kitchen floor, and I don’t have the Norwegian words for, “Me your slave?”, and I’m tugging at his rock solid Cherox snow boots so I can then pull off a couple of layers so he can now waddle, dripping a trail of snow, to the toilet.
“No, a moose, maybe. Anyway, I’m thinking winter’s not so bad here after all if you can do it like this every time: the press, the cameras, the celebrities, the perfect blue skies. I guess—“
I couldn’t’ make out the rest of his words for all the noise on his end.
“Where are you? What’s all the yelling?” I wondered as I adjusted the phone in hand, mopping up Jesper’s mush tracks with a rag under my foot, all the while keeping an eye on the happy scene of several very sweet angels indeed, including my two, flapping and chortling outside on a mantle of diamonds.
Randall was on someone’s cell at the ice hockey rink where he was sitting only rows—“only rows, honey!”— behind Hilary Clinton, who’d swung through Norway to support the U.S. hockey team.
Up to that point I was smiling, though sweating, on my end of the conversation. But in an instant something stung and deeply. The collision in my mind of those two scenes–the Olympic, versus the Neighborhood Games—pinched a nerve in me. Just then, the hockey team made a goal and pandemonium from that end of the line covered the silence on my end.
Jesper was now standing forlorn in the kitchen doorway. His below-the-waist bareness and wide open stare said he needed toilet paper.
“Mel? Hon? You still there? Hey, I got you a great sweater. Please tell the kids I’ll bring them back real troll hair.” (Laughter. A roar for a missed goal.) “Honey?. . . Mel?”
Some moments say more than one can grasp in the instant they strike. This was one of those moments. There I was in bigger-than-life Norway, the momentary focal point of the globe. Important people were discussing important things; and even if they weren’t, at least they were discussing something. It was then that I feared what loomed on the horizon: that our two geographies, Randall’s and Melissa’s, would from thenceforth be cloven down the middle, distinctly and necessarily disjointed. Just like the bucket seats of our very first, poor student car, a V.W. bug: Driver (gear shift, and) Passenger. Instead of sharing that joint adventure with Randall, I was afraid I’d only get the adventure second hand, across a gear shift or through the irritating filter of a cell phone exchange. Instead of being there, I was here.
“Thanks, sweetheart, for the sweater,” I said. And I meant it.
But he hadn’t heard my words over the hockey rink bedlam. The Finns had just made a goal. And I was busy handing a roll of toilet paper to Jesper.
“Well, can’t hear you so well,” Randall yelled, “So if you can hear me, Thanks, hon. I miss you here!”
On the raw pine floor, a puddle of snowmelt spread in a dark pool round my boots. Lillehammer was only two hours’ drive away. But impossibly far from my world where tottering, snow-encased trolls were now lined up outside along the floor-to-ceiling kitchen window smashing their pug noses and smearing slime on a frosty pane that barely muffled the new music of Norwegian banter.
I watched a row of children, soft faces pressed to transparency, mouths and nostrils expelling little gusts of spirit that clung to glass like ragged circles of moist gauze. Their shrieks and pantomime jarred my stupor, and I waved back as they turned into the sunlight, plopping into their custom angel prints. It was only then I noticed this amazing thing: Parker and Claire, heads bobbing naturally while their mouths spoke simple Norwegian phrases, mixing in with these others from whom they are virtually indistinguishable, those small bodies weaving in and out of light and shadows.
Like all births, the births of my two were at once common and astounding events, universal and unique. Now I knew I needed to turn my focus to the everyday protracted labor of rebirthing them—these two, these extremely important people — into a new world.
What I first needed was to turn my focus to boiling a dozen hot dogs.
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.