Global Mom: An Ambassador

There would be many other singing engagements over the two years that would remain in Norway. There were months when I was learning new music every week, my children wandering in and around the piano or sometimes around other vocalists or orchestra members. I was recruited to sing at all sorts of functions; the library’s opening social, a 50th birthday gathering, the kindergarten’s closing social, the local book club, a corporate mid-year social, a neighboring town’s Late Winter Song Evening, another town’s Early Spring Poetry Reading, a high school’s mid-spring chamber concert, and the frequent American Broadway potpourri.
Breech after flagrant breach of the sisters’ pact.

When invited with three other American musicians to give a private concert at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, I took along nine-year-old Parker. He sat primly in his navy suit and bow tie, his hair parted on the left side and slicked flat like a confederate soldier.

“You have to sit right in that seat, honey,” I told him, pointing to an upholstered chair in the front row, “Because in one song, I’m going to give you the signal like this,” I nodded just once and discreetly, “and then I’ll come get you with my hand just like this,” I took his fingers in mine, “and then I’ll bring you uon front of the audience. Then I’ll sing right to you. Right into your eyes. Kneeling in front of you. Got it?”

“Got it. I don’t have to sing, too, do I?”

“No, you only have to listen. And you also have to help me not mess up, buddy. Can you do that?”
It was “Not While I’m Around,” a lyrical, haunting piece from Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical, “Sweeney Todd.” When I pulled the young boy with a bow tie and confederate hair to my side and knelt on the stage and sang right into his eyes, I nearly abandoned all efforts at composure. I nearly forgot about the respectable audience, the professional distance, I almost forgot about Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador sitting right over my shoulder in a gown and suit. I nearly let emotion seep into my vocal chords, a perilous thing. But I was composed and tried not to feel the moistness of his palms as I held his two hands, tried not to sense a quiver climbing up my sternum. I just kept singing the tender tune a bit baldly, I think; “Nothing can harm you,” I sang to my child, “Not while I’m around.”

And I finished, as I remember, with a smile so totally incongruous with the broader context from which that song is taken – a smile, now that I think about it, like that of a weather channel person waiting for the camera to blink on – I ended smiling with my head tilted, squeezing his skinny suited shoulders, giving him a peck on the cheek and dismissing him with a tap on his rump, clapping the fingertips of one my right hand on the palm of my left,  nodding to him and then to the audience, “Too cute, isn’t he?”

(Some minutes in life you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness. Others you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness and to mentally redo them altogether.)

After a performance with fellow artists. The Great Dane favored us with a solo.  It was in Danish, of course.  And great.

 

 

I didn’t take the children to all of my performances. One such, I described in my Journal:

Flå is a small arts community tucked deep in the folds of Hallingdal. Flå had invited an “American Broadway Singer,” to appear at their annual Arts Days celebration.

I stood in a glitzy American gown on an outdoor stage with microphone in hand and sang three hours of show tunes and big band standards flanked by twenty-five somewhat rigid but nevertheless hearty and well-amplified members of Hallingdal’s civic “Big Band.” The locals, robust and impossibly well-scrubbed, wielding sausages and wearing boiled wool knickers, stomped patterns across the pavilion’s dance floor till all the Aquavit ran dry and the moon peered over the rough ridges of Hallingdal’s towering walls. I went through everything the band had in its repertoire; Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, even Neil Diamond.  Which was a good fun even though I felt strangely like a disco ball rented for a country picnic.

But then there was this last number, a traditional Norwegian Saeter tune I’d prepared just for this event. When it was announced, five band members, rosy-cheeked, woolen knickered, flannel plaid, stood to join me.  Against the evening chill I slipped the bass player’s boiled wool jacket around my shoulders.  Three of us sang tight harmony first with Ole on the accordion, then all six of us sang in a capella harmony, arms wrapped around one another’s waists or shoulders.  We howled like mountain sheep herders under the moon’s perfect spotlight. And on the way home, driving alone down that ancient black canyon, I decided things don’t get much better than this.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Harvard Business Review on Global Leaders

I was recently forwarded this article written in the HBR and knew instantly you’d have something to say about it.  Up to now I’ve done most of the talking here, and I’m getting the feeling you might be tired of sitting in your chair hearing me drone on.  You’ve fidgeted, I’ve seen it, and your eyelids were droopy that one time at 4:00 a.m.. And I know, I know, I haven’t even let you go to the bathroom.  Since May.

Because when Melissa’s got the floor, folks, she’s really got the floor.

Since I’m aching for more dialogue here, please speak up.  Please read. Digest. Reflect. Discuss. And then respond. Frankly. Fearlessly. And remember we are all friends.

Respond to any of these questions or make up your own question and plug it in here. Because, again, we’re friends:

1) How have you experienced cultural empathy or the lack of it?

2) What do you think author Bronwyn Fryer means by “egolessness” with regards to cultural empathy? And do you have experiences that illustrate your position? (And if you have an ego, no problem, everyone does, so you’re in great company.)

3) What has learning another language done to your empathy, brain, spirit, world view?

4) Fryer points to a specific “huge hole” in the American educational system.  What do you make of her assertion?

5) How do you react to Fryer’s quote from USA Today, describing other countries’ view of Americans as “uncouth and obnoxious”? (Whuh?)

6) Tell us all what you’re doing to be culturally empathetic and, if you have children, to raise them so that they are.

Now. . .Please, relaaaax. This is NOT A TEST. But you will get a free neon yellow smiley Emoticon if you leave a comment 🙂

**
From Harvard Business Review:

. . .For C-Level leaders in global organizations, one single characteristic — “sensitivity to culture” (so-called “cultural empathy”) — ranks at the very top of the requirement list. This rare quality can’t be “taught,” or injected simply by working in an overseas office.

Cultural empathy requires a degree of egolessness, because you have to surrender the notion that your country, or language, or point of view is best. Cultural empathy means that you have to not just see through the eyes of someone who is different, but you have to think through that person’s brain. True cultural empathy springs from personality, early nurturing, curiosity, and appreciation of diversity.


But, very importantly, it also springs from deep exposure to more than one language. And this is where American executives fall short.
Americans are seriously lagging when it comes to learning foreign languages (http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2011/01/04/language/) . Only 19.7 percent of those surveyed speak a language other than English in their households. Contrast this with Europe, where 56 percent of Europeans speak a language other than their mother tongue (http://ec.europa.eu/languages/languages-of-europe/eurobarometer- survey_en.htm), and 28 percent speak two foreign languages.


As anyone who has ever learned to speak a foreign language fluently notices how each language shifts one’s consciousness. One day, you wake up and you realize you have been dreaming in the new language. Eventually you realize you are thinking in that language. And when you shift back and forth between, say, your native tongue and the acquired language, you feel like you are driving a car with a stick-shift; you are more involved and engaged in the experience. You take in more; you hear more. And you literally feel different; you are “more than yourself.”
This is because, on a physical level, your brain is processing things differently than it does when you are operating in only one language. Recent scientific research has shown that learning another language sharpens cognitive abilities and can even ward off some of the effects of dementia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3794479.stm) .

Babies who grow up in bilingual homes are more able to switch their attention and focus on the properties of both languages at the same time. And these babies grow into more focused adults: bilingual people are better at filtering out “background noise.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17892521)
These findings, combined with those of the experts in global leadership, point to a huge hole in the American educational system — one which has been growing since the 1980s, when educational values began shifting away from the arts and humanities and emphasizing the “hard”-skill stuff — math, science, and, yes, business. Increasingly, the subjects that give students a healthy appreciation for listening (music), global complexity (the humanities) and cultural empathy (languages) have been starved, if not cut off altogether in all but the wealthiest public schools.


Meanwhile, business majors — who now account more than 20 percent of undergraduate degrees (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/education/edlife/edl-17business-t.html?pagewanted=all) — don’t need to study the arts, the humanities or languages. To graduate, they have to pass basic, lower-division English composition and a social science course, but that’s more or less the extent of it. And since every business professional around the world has (happily for them) been taught to communicate well in English, American business students simply — and arrogantly — assume that they don’t need to bother with learning Spanish, or French, or German, or Mandarin, or what have you. (And in a pinch, they can always lazily rely on Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/) .)


Clearly, in an increasingly globalized world, all this is a huge mistake. No wonder that it’s hard to find talented global leaders, particularly in America, a country in which only 30 percent of the population holds a passport (http://articles.cnn.com/2011-02-04/travel/americans.travel.domestically_1_western-hemisphere-travel-initiative- passports-tourism-industries?_s=PM:TRAVEL) . No wonder people in other countries perceive Americans to be “uncouth and obnoxious (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/travel/2007-08-23-faux-pas_N.htm) .”

No wonder that when list-makers name America’s best leaders, they consistently point to PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi (http://www.usnews.com/news/best-leaders/articles/2008/11/19/americas-best-leaders-indra-nooyi-pepsico-ceo), a multilingual Indian woman.


The U.S. has built its economic success on being a place where people around the world come to do business — just riding the New York City subway is evidence enough of that. But in a multipolar world, America can no longer count on everyone doing business its way. If Americans want to continue to lead global companies, they will have to become better global leaders.

Why America Lacks Global Leaders – Bronwyn Fryer – Our Editors – Harvard Business R…            Page 1 of 2

http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2012/08/why_america_lacks_global_leade.html            8/27/2012

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Je Craque

Newly-tinted cover for Global Mom

It felt like I was constantly running, constantly having to gear up for the daily basics. There were a million daily inconveniences — not just broken feet, flooded basements, fire ant invasions, bat bombings and the like, but countless other picayune demands  like connecting the phone, getting a French driver’s license, buying nine bags of government-approved schools supplies, filling the house’s subterranean fuel tank, all that I had to execute, 1) in French, which I could not possibly learn fast enough, 2) with a child lugging a plaster leg perched on my hip and, 3) alone.

Randall was traveling from Monday to Friday to places I had to look up on the map, and so I had no on-site back up.  No reprieve.  When Randall was in the country, (which was less than 20% of the time), we were in and out of conferences — for Parker and Claire on a weekly basis over three months, trying to help them adapt to a new language and school system: American.  For Dalton we were in just as frequently, but to help him adapt to these things in French. When Randall was away (the whole month of October he was hopping between three continents and eight time zones and dropping in at home for five dinners only), I had the rich task of single-handedly getting my kids speedily up to American and French speed.  I was sleeping three hours a night, eating three real meals a week, going gray in hair and skin, my eyes and clothing were sagging.

It only became clear to me, at the end of one especially long evening of tutoring and coaching, how little our two eldest knew about things their American teachers and you, Anglophone reader, probably take for granted.  I’d gone through some simple math problems with Parker and had left him on his own at the far end of our long table to finish the rest.  Meanwhile, I was singing for Claire a bunch of stock American nursery rhymes (“Ring Around The Rosie”, “Humpty Dumpty”), for a writing project she had to do, since she only knew Norwegian equivalents like songs about wild mushrooms and ditties about trolls.  From the other end of the table, Parker was showing signs of tetchiness:

Parker less than thrilled with the Marché de Versailles

“I can’t do this one, Mom.  I just don’t get it,” he grunted.  “How am I supposed to do this?  It’s impossible to understand.”

“Just. . .please. . .just finish it up,” I said, head in hands and eyes closed. I was fighting a headache and I felt something like what I imagined an ulcer must feel like forming under my belt.  “And please, please just quit grumbling. Okay Claire, let’s try this one more time from the top: Here we go loopty loo, here we go loopty lie. ..

I was so worn out and threadbare, you could hear my soul through the shredded fabric of my voice. Claire had her forehead in her hands, singing monotone to the table top; “”Loopty lie, loopty — this is such a dumb song.”

He took out his frustrations in the basement on his drums

A minute later, my son’s head-shaking visible in my peripherals, I perked up in my best answering machine voice:

“Don’t keep telling yourself you cannot do it, Parker. You’re smart, honey. You can.” I extended a hand to touch his shoulder, rub the nape of his neck, “I just know you can.”

“Yeah, Parker. You can do it,” Claire backed me up, although her voice was flat and she was still staring at the table.

He shook off my hand and snapped, “I can not!!”  then slammed his pencil down on the table so hard, it went flying off into the far wall. “I don’t even know what they’re talking about in this stooopid math book!!”

His pencil rolled along the floor as he sat there, huffing, looking straight ahead, not at me.  I looked at that round nose, nostrils so small but flaring.  His chin, puckering and twitching while he ground his teeth.

I just stared at him. I’d totally run out of options. Why in moments like these did I feel resentment skitter across the floor of my brain like a greasy rat? It wasn’t resentment at my children, but resentment at Randall. Absent Randall.  I chased it out sometimes, that skittering rat, with a brusque clearing of my throat. But there were times when that rat hovered, flicking his scrawny paws in a dark corner, squeaking in a faint rat voice that That Husband of Mine, well, he should be here helping me.  And as soon as I’d paid even that much attention to the squeak, the rat began gnawing at the dry wall of  my brain.  Squeak: He’s probably in a four-star restaurant somewhere right now.  Squeak-squeak: Or he’s in an airplane reading to his heart’s content. There were times I had to whack my hands together or stamp my feet to scare that rat out of my mind.

After all, I knew it was just a rat.

And I knew Randall.  He wasn’t one.

Parker was now making steady, moist, bull snort sounds.  I looked down the table to Claire. She gave me the eye and the sh-h-h sign.

Then Parker’s hoarse voice came from behind his fisted hands covering his mouth: “So. . .what are deem-ahs . . . and kwahr-tairs. . . anyway?”

“What?”

He looked down at his workbook lying open on the table.  With one finger poking up from a fist, he signaled a general place on one of the pages. “Deem-ahs,” he dropped his head, fist on forehead and mumbled,“and kwahr-tairs.”

“Let me see this thing,” and I dragged the manual over to where I sat.  I looked at the page.  I swallowed.  I closed my eyes and shook my head.

I looked back up at my glaring, nostril-flaring, confused son.  I looked back at the book and re-crossed my legs in my son’s direction.

Then I scootched much, much closer to him and put my hand on his arm.

Deem-ahs are what you get when you are Norwegian and read the English word dime.

Kwahr-tairs is what you get when you read quarter.

Back then, when we’d first come to France, my nine-year-old had never dealt with American currency. How was he supposed to figure out a math word problem based on U.S. coinage?

“Hey, sweetie. So, does your teacher know you don’t know what these words mean?”

“No.  I haven’t told her all the things I don’t understand.”

So guess what.  I did.  I went back into the school and tried to make it clear to that teacher and to the others who worked with him that we were building from ground up. I even brought the math workbook and pronounced the whole problem as if reading it as a  Norwegian child would with no idea of English phonetics or coinage.  From all of them, except for one administrator, I got nods of recognition and kind encouragement. That was enough to keep me this side of nutso for a while.

When not doing read-a thons and math-a thons in English to help Parker and Claire integrate, we were doing the same in French, to help Dalton do the same. There was an evening (I could have really used you there) when I had one child chanting, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”; another child worried sick about a boy named Jack who’s broken his crown; another belting “Sur le Pont d’Avignon.”

In between them all, my soul was pushed on its knees in a pray-a-thon, begging for all the heavenly intervention I knew without which our whole family would most certainly be deported.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Il Crache/Il Crash

La langue means the tongue, which tongue, in this context, means the French one.  And that’s exactly the part of me that was tied in a sailor’s knot when I sat staring into the large liquid brown eyes of Madame M.

Il Crache

She had called a special conference with me after school hours.  I’d spruced up, throwing on pearls, ironing a seam down the front of my pantyhose and brandishing killer heels. I came quickly, mincingly.

“Your son, Madame,” said Madame M., “Il crache aux enfants.”

He certainly LOOKS innocent enough. . .

Although the heat between us told me right off this was serious, I had no idea what “crache” meant.  So I took a stab (which you should never do in French unless you’re fencing), and guessed it meant the obvious: my child was crashing into the other children. Head butting.  My three-year-old, toe-headed fullback.

Il. . . crache?” I asked in falsetto.

“Oui, Madame,” she dropped her eyes, pain wrinkling her forehead.  It was very touching.

“Aux enfants?” I winced, burying my chin in my chest, my shoulders drawing up to my ear lobes.

“Oui, Madame.”  She exhaled audibly. “Aux enfants.”

. . .Well-mannered, legs crossed. He even wears a hat. . .

We sat for ten seconds in silence. She stared into her lap.  I stared at the part down the middle of her hair.

Vraiment?” I said, double-checking if this was true, since Dalton really wasn’t a violent boy at all. “Il—”, and I made a head-butting, fullback movement. Crashing. Into imaginary other children. “Il crache?”

Madame M. looked up at me, perplexed. Then like floodlights flipping on over a soccer pitch, she said, “Oh, non, non, non. Madame Bradford!” Then she laughed.I laughed, too, relieved. Thank heavens my son wasn’t doing something as coarse and crude as head-butting.

Non, Madame, non, non!” She then cleared her throat and straightened her skirt. “Il. . . crache!” said lovely Madame M., as she drew herself together to demonstrate what was meant with the words.

And with that she spat.

She spat left, right, and right at me, her eyes widening, nostrils flared, bottom lip glazed with spit. “Il “ (spit, spit, spit) “crache aux enfants!”

“Oh. Voilà,” I said, as a slight tide of nausea swept over my torso.

OK. So there might be a tendency toward exuberance, maybe. But. . .?

“When the children try to speak to him, he backs into a corner,” this kind pedagogue said, “And when he backs into the corner, the children try to coax him out. It is all meant in fun, I am sure.  But the closer they get, the more he refuses, and when they get close enough, Madame—“

I interrupted here by spitting, my brows drawn up, questioning if I got it right.

Dalton, my crach-ing son.

Dalton  testing the efficacy of the gates of the Château de Versailles. Generally, though, we kept him far from sharp objects.

What I needed to do, I decided, was expose my little boy to more French environments besides just his preschool. Take him out with me on errands, let him meet people who don’t corner him or poke colored pencils into his tummy when he can’t respond with the right verb conjugation. We were in Versailles, after all, which means every corner was a mini culture capsule manned by authentic locals with whom I could certainly try to speak my baby French.  And my baby would of course follow suit.  Ease in.  Quit the spit. I had a great plan.

So I started next day at the grocery store.

Il Crash

It was noontime on a day other than Monday, when Dalton otherwise would have stayed all day at maternelle to dine in the cafeteria, and so my husky three-year-old was with me at a mid-sized alimentation, helping me stock up on essentials, which now included a flotilla of bottled water, endives, fennel, radishes, only two cans of ravioli, eight types of cheese, and an artillery of yogurts in parfums that for some reason made me think of Christian Dior working a butter churn.

With my back turned on him for a split second, Dalton tried to scale the outside of the full cart, and it flipped over on him right in the middle of the frozen hors d’oeuvres aisle. The echoing crash drew a crowd of women, all in their sixties and seventies. They flocked near us, encircling the momentarily winded, saucer-eyed boy clobbered by an impressive heap of Evian and produce. Dalton lay motionless on the tiles. The Roquefort and Gruyère lay smushed quite definitively under his splayed arms.

Heads bobbing, the ladies discussed this évenément between themselves, then offered me their conseil.  Madame should not move il pauvre (the poor guy) because the blow might have damaged his spine. Madame should knock him a sound one on his derriere for having smashed such fine endives as Madame had selected. Madame should rescue her Roquefort from underneath the tins of petit pois and, by all means, get the dairy products home before they spoil. Madame should take a taxi to an emergency room because Madame cannot drive with the invalid in her arms and as it was noon, none of the eight doctors’ offices surrounding the market would be open for three more hours.  Ah, oui.  The inevitable and interminable lunch break.

. . .Domesticated him. . .

Mumbling whatever few French responses I could muster, I gathered the bruised bundle of child (not radishes) in my arms, and left my monument to la gastronomie in an indecent sprawl, the women shoppers gawking and pecking at it, at each other, at the mother and child genuflecting their way out the sliding glass doors.  My handbag shoulder strap creeping down my arm, and sweat dripping down my front, I headed straight for the closest hospital, Hôpital Mignot, Dalton’s human siren accompanying us all the way.

The doctors at the emergency room, after searching for internal injuries with an ultrasound, found none.  (Then I told them to check my son.) They discovered that the grocery avalanche had broken my boy’s foot.  My Viking, they told me, was finally going to get his armor: a knee-high cast. The kid was going to be cobbled.  And Madame la maman? She was instructed to keep her invalid completely sedentary. For the next month.

Could Monsieur le docteur write a prescription for traction? Tee-hee-hee?

Not even a smile.

After one week, Dalton was wielding that cast like a judo instructor, and by the end of the month-long chrysalis, we had it chiseled off with butter knives because it was so battered, it and his leg were decomposing. During that whole time, of course, he couldn’t attend maternelle since according to Madame M., his cast would give the other children even more reason to cajole, and Dalton more reason to crache.

The Bradfords, a visiting friend, and the cast

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: La Gastronomie

When Dalton stayed full Mondays at maternelle, it meant he was invited to dine with his entire class in the cafeteria. Dining meant just what it sounds like: four courses,  linen, silverware, straight backs.  No plastic utensils, trays or cups. No nuggets and ketchup, no canned corn. No sandwiches, certainly, since how can one eat a sandwich with utensils? Even les pommes frittes, or French fries, were to be eaten with a fork, we learned.

Photo credit: thedowns.malcol.org

The value in dining, explained Madame M. as she and I stood outside the cantine, peeking occasionally through the port-hole window in the door to watch how Dalton was doing, was to eléver le palais, a phrase that threw me at first. Was this some kind of telekinesis, lifting up palaces or something?  What it meant was to educate (or raise) the palate.

“A child,” Dalton’s cheery pedagogue explained, “must not be given food that will degrade the palate. If early in life he develops an appetite for bad food—fast food, cheap food, tasteless food —- how then will he distinguish later in life what is truly excellent?”

I peered at the preschool children sitting straight in a row, linen napkins across their knees, utensils held firmly in each hand. My Dalton, his back to me, was eating les épinards, or spinach, quiche and sliced fresh fruit with yogurt.  In a blue ceramic dish was a small salad with mustard vinaigrette, I was told.  He and his classmates would be offered a selection of cheeses after that course before the small square of chocolate to finish off the meal.  He drank water from a glass-glass. A woman in a white frock and orthopedic sandals touched him on the head and pointed to his napkin when he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He then used the napkin. And looked both ways as he pressed it flat across his lap.

Photo credit: socialcouture.com

“This, Madame Bradford, is as important a part of la formation as is anything else your son will learn.  The French, you know, consider food to be about much more than just eating. La gastronomie is an art and a science and,”  (to this day I recall these words with the sound of a background gong) “the sign of an evolved culture, of an evolved human being.”

Whuh-o.  That one hit like an indictment, a personal kidney punch, though I’m sure gentle Madame M. didn’t mean it as such. But I cringed, and while cringing, felt my back instantly hunch over, hair cover my entire face and then my whole body, my knuckles start dragging on the ground.  All those barnepark brown bags of a single slice of bread and goat cheese? Eaten with bare hands? All those Norwegian birthday parties with a set menu of tepid hot dogs, chocolate cake and red punch? The Norwegian office buffet for Randall, which, over the years, never changed from sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, two sorts of cheese, bread and a platter of room- temperature canned herring? What about the one and only brand of milk — its carton said, simply Melk — that first year we lived in Norway? And the two types of cheese — goat (brown) and cow (yellow) –— compared with the 378+ types in France?

Golly.  We’d kind of liked that approach to food.  It left so much time for the important stuff.

Spice market, St. Rémy, Provence, France

Olive stand, open market, Aix-en-Provence, France

Going back even further, what about all those New Jersey vending machine hoagies eaten on the run? The Slurpees downed in an elevator? The Big Macs scarfed behind the wheel? I’d not only been eating the wrong food, I was now realizing, but I’d been eating all of it all the wrong way.  Mobiley.  As my Parisian neighbor Lauren would tell me some years later, eating while taking an elevator, while driving, while watching T.V., while doing anything but eating was, well, a sport for barbarians.

Now I understood better why, on the other days when I would arrive to pick up Dalton for lunch, the mothers and babysitters were all gathered around the school gates discussing lunch menus. You’re going to braise endives? And she’s going to sautée chicken livers? And she over there will whip up a souflée to go with the fennel salad with chunks of Parmesan and toasted walnuts? It seemed everyone wanted to know what was on everyone else’s menu for the 50-minute lunch break to which they would treat their three-year-old cherub.

I just held tight. It was somewhat destabilizing to listen to everyone’s fancy menus.  At this early stage in our life in France, I was feeling challenged enough merely figuring out what was in those shelves in the grocery store, or where to get things if I deduced that what I needed was not there, and who to task for help to find something as basic as salt, for starters. Because that whole food-on-the-table thing was, with everything else going on (floods, ants, no reliable heat, no closets in the entire house, finding a place to park, learning a new language) really all I could handle for the moment, I listened closely to the women’s talk primarily because it was an excellent source of language education, and only secondarily so that I’d feel culinarily inept by comparison. Never did I dare admit what my own son was going home to:  a vulgar, cheap bowl of microwaved canned ravioli.  In a Barney dish.

You can bet I swore him to silence.

At least he’s using a utensil

**
© 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.

Global Mom: La Bureaucratie

Bureaucratie is a French word, of course, and France won’t let you forget it.  Getting Dalton into French school was not my first experience with French bureaucracy, though. As soon as we’d landed in Versailles (a Friday), unpacked our suitcases in a hotel (on Saturday), gone to church (a Sunday), and Randall had flown off on an extended trip to Karachi, Pakistan (Monday), all my days thereafter, it seemed, were filled with sorting through French forms.

New American family moves into Rue René Aubert. There goes the neighborhood.

Just a detail: I did not speak French.  I had not studied French law. I had no background in governmental negotiations, neither did I have any one to help me peel off those pesky official royal wax stamps without losing the whole middle paragraph in the process. I had three young children, no child care, twelve suitcases and, the week we finally moved into our home, I had a flooded basement that turned to mulch thirty-four cartons of precious, irreplaceable belongings. For that baptism by basement flood, I had a skinny Portuguese plumber with his Polish Sancho Panza. How the two ever understood each other, how I ever understood them, how they ever understood me enough to clean out the mess without being electrocuted by the live wires dangling above the soupy reservoir that just the day before I’d stocked with all my storage, remains to this day one of the weirder mysteries of my life.

I also had a deadline. There were two weeks before school start for me to get everything up and running. For those two weeks, Randall would be absent, establishing his first connections with his direct reports in the Middle East, an area which, along with Europe and all of Africa, comprised his new area of professional responsibility.  If I ever wondered how he was doing in Islamabad, Karachi, Cairo, Beirut and couldn’t reach him, I just turned on the news. As you know, interesting things were going on there. And as you can guess, this was not the Calm Pill a wife and mother needed.  Ah, but he had gone to that two-week-long personal security course at Langley, near Washington.  There, he’d learned how to effectively wield a kubaton, how to identify a sniper and roll for cover, and how to drive a get-away car at high speeds and from the floor of the passenger side with only one hand on the pedals.  And that was supposed to make us all feel much more secure.

All this on my mind, I’d find myself taking those forms in a big folder to an endless string of offices, dragging three restless bodies with me, essentially crawling through French legalese with the help of a frayed dictionary and flailing arms.  Mine and the children’s. One of these many offices, I was sure, held the mystical keys to unlock the entrance to this new world.  It seemed they didn’t want me there, these alarmingly uncharming French.  Well, unless I was willing to be their circus pooch and fling myself through the endless hoops to jump.  My three children, my stressed-out self, hopping through hoops, standing in offices, beseeching what felt like a whole pageant of unsmiling officials behind glass walls in cigarette smoke-filled bureau after bureau after bureau.

Today I wish I’d kept a tally to share with you how many times I arrived at some office, a sweaty wad of forms in hand, barking children at my ankles, ready to get the coveted stamp so I could proceed to the next stamp-dispensing venue, only to be told I was missing one signature, one blood sample or a birth certificate. (And this was just to install a clothes dryer.) The American in me who values convenience and accessibility, the German in me who prizes efficiency and order, and the Norwegian in me who extols simplicity and cooperation, balked in one groaning triad at the convolutions of our new host culture.

The children took the big tangle of inconvenience in stride, though, only because they were too young, probably, to realize what we were doing fingerprinting them every week.  Then Parker had his own run-in with bureaucracy when he discovered the basketball hoops in a sport center in Rue Remilly around the corner from our home in Rue René Aubert. Parker loved nothing as much as he loved basketball, and was going crazy not playing.  So I was almost ready to let him scale the fence to shoot some hoops there once in a while in the middle of the night.  But the fence was high and there’s an after midnight no-noise law for Versailles and I’m a rule-keeper, so we waited until we saw a live person inside the gymnasium one extremely hot August day.  Then we went straight in for shade and to plead our case.

Parker shooting hoops

“Bonjour, Monsieur,” I said with as much confidence as I could muster without donning combat gear.  The middle-aged gentleman in a small office at the entrance of Gymnase de Remilly looked up at me, nodded, released a puff of smoke, and flicked the ashes from the end of his cigarette.

“Bonjour Madame, jeune homme.”  It was Boris Karloff’s long lost French cousin, I swear it.

I’d brought Parker, my jeune homme, to help me plead and, if necessary, to impress the court keepers with a three pointer from the back court with his eyes closed. To convince a potential person in authority or stamp dispenser of just how much this boy really loved basketball and how, maybe, his engagement in their Versailles Club de Basket (I’d seen a sign advertising try-outs) would benefit them as much as it would him.

Grown Parker, playing the game

“Excuse me. I disturb you,” I start in, taking the same lines I’d first used on Britt at barnepark, only in French, not Norwegian, and with slight modification. “We are Americans.  We inhabit house not far. ” I say this pushing nine-year-old Parker in front of me. “We are hot.”

Which is not the right thing to say.  In French, it, meaning the weather, makes hot. But you are not hot. No decent Mormon mother of three, at least, is hot or announces that she is.  And not on a first encounter with Karloff’s cousin.

“And you have the air,” the man responds, his face as unmoved as the heavy heat wave that is making parts of me, like my brain, liquefy.

I have the air? Well, in fact, I don’t have the air.  I have none. Which is why I think I’m going to faint on the spot.  I don’t have enough air, that’s for sure, but this guy, the guy who’s smoking and therefore giving me less air, is accusing me of having it. Only weeks later do I learn he’d just been saying, “You sure look like it.” But right now and because I have to be a wee bit obsequious, I tell him what any hot, needy newcomer would; “I’m terribly, horribly desolated.”

Things in that moment aren’t going precisely as I’d hoped, and I begin aching for a woman with half a red jumpsuit and a coffee thermos to walk in from around some corner back there and sing, “Hurrah! Komm in!”

But there’s a door. And it has a plaque. And the plaque has a title.  And all this, I think, belongs to this cigarette-smoking man who’s clearly leaving me to my own devices.

“My son plays on the basket,” I bulldoze indelicately over my string of unwitting French faux pas, trying to recall the phrases I’d written on Post Its and studied on the walk here.  “Is it that you have perhaps a place for him, Monsieur?”

“S’il vous plait?” Parker peeps.

The man then lifts himself from the chair, tossing his cigarette into a trashcan, and stretching his shoulders. “Shwee pah coach,”he says with a shrug. Which means nothing at all to me for a full minute.

Then a light goes on, and it has to do with what I now see are the man’s janitor’s clothes and the broom he reaches for.  I now know. I’m not the coach, he’s told me.

The coach, when we did meet him on our next visit, was animated, even gregarious, and completely keyed about an American boy named Parker  like “Tony Parker!”  he shouted, who’d himself grown up playing basketball in Versailles. The coach shook the hand of the nine-year-old boy who’d just moved in around the corner, the one who had a Norwegian mom, (the coach thought this forever), the boy who loved more than anything, Le Basket.

But being France, there was a certain protocol. Only after several forms, mug shots, blood tests and fingerprinting, was Parker allowed to wander in there as he pleased and shoot away.  Some months later, he would become a full -fledged member of the Versailles CB (Club du Basket) where he played three times a week on a team of resolute French players who spoke no English except the essentials even I could understand: “dribble” (pronounced “dreeebl”) and “Parker,” pronounced “Par Coeur”, as in “by heart.”   The motivation to make that switch from Norwegian to French got some traction. And in no time, he improved his game while picking up loads of local basketball lingo.  Alright, so not quite French of the court of Versailles. But French of a court of Versailles.

Parker, grown again, teaching his brothers and sister how to play Le Basket

**
© 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.

Global Mom: From the Garden of Eden to Les Jardins de Versailles

Moving from Norway to France meant trading in one splendid extreme for another equally splendid, but strikingly antithetical one. It was a move from north to south. . .

From Nordic to Latin; from a calm island to the bustling Île de France. . .

From the tundra to the Tuileries; from craggy fjords to the sleek Seine. . .

From the untamed spirituality of Brønnøya. . .

to the crafted symmetry of the Jardins de Versailles;

From the Land of the Midnight Sun. . .

To the Land of the Sun King. . .

From stark homogeneity. . .

To vibrating variety; from two kinds of cheese to 378+; from hot dogs and dried fish. . .

To haute cuisine and patisseries. . .

From IKEA to Louis XVI; from the comfy lilt of the economic Norwegian tongue to the highly stylized lavishness of le Français; from cooperation to competition. . .

From the community to the moi; from rigorous obedience to la Révolution; from no-nonsense androgyny. . .

To the religion called la Beauté; from muddy park dress. . .

To starched parochial uniforms; from Birkenstock sandals to Charles Jourdan stiletto pumps.

From innocence. . .

To experience. . .

From Eden. . .

To the World. . .

Or more specifically, to the old world, since we began our French years in Versailles.

**

You know of Versailles.  I had known, too. I thought.  But I had not known that for the French, “Versailles” is as much a concept as it is a city or a château. When the French refer to Versailles, they are referring to la vieille France—the old France—and all that implies; nobility, Catholicism, traditions, and families who today live in the same home their ancestors built back when the Place Hoche had a guillotine for public executions.  “Versailles” as concept means both the extravagantly gilded and velvet-heavy furnishing (things overwrought yet serious about it are très Versaillais), and so are the five or six children dressed in navy skirts or knickers and white knee socks, trailing a mother with a practical chin-length bob locked in place by a navy hair band.  That phenomenon is also what my neighbor, in a whisper, called très Catho, or übercatholic.  Versaillais implies le patrimoine, which has much to do with the preservation of historic France as it has to do with lineage, which is signaled by the family names beginning with “du”.  The city’s slogan, if you asked me to come up with one, would be, “What was, is.”  As commoner newcomers to the kings’ court, we were about to learn what “was” was.

Around the corner from the rive droite train station, was a renovated turn-of-the-century home with a white stucco facade and an oval window smack dab on its front. If you opened up the navy blue double front door, you could look directly through the depth of the house (it was one room deep) into an enclosed backyard with four small round bushes placed like thumb tacks in each corner of a table cloth of green.  The house had a bright white interior with emerald green trim throughout and tasteful tiles in all its four bathrooms, a kitchen with glossy yellow walls that reminded of Provence, a side view straight onto the dome of the Église de Sainte Jean d’Arc, and a back view onto the local synagogue.

  It was a fifteen-minute walk to the Place du Marché where the bi-weekly open market had stood since the thirteenth century. And only a fifteen-minute jog down Boulevard de la Reine, crossing Boulevard du Roi, and through the gilded gates of the sprawling Château de Versailles and its even sprawlinger Jardins du Château de Versailles.

Like a movie set. Except for the hoards of white-athletic-shoed tourists who could have been extras out of costume in an otherwise period film.  They came directly from the train station or in enormous buses that parked in what used to be the Royal Horse Stables.

With time, everything in Versailles turned out to be a former “royal.”

The home was also directly across the street from the private Catholic (or catho, if you insist) École Hulst.  From all appearances, this was the most prim and trafficked preschool in toute la France. Fascinated, I peered through my kitchen window, gulping and plotting, rubbing my hands together guardedly, hidden behind my kitchen window the way I’d been hidden behind the steering wheel of my car looking over Blakstad barnepark.  I applied my same methods of observation, wanting to be part of it all and could have sent little Dalton there, until I learned I would have had to have put his name on the waiting list the hour I thought that maybe I might want to get pregnant with him.

Okay, so Hulst was in demand.

But it was also demanding. At least for a loosey-goosey fresh-from-barnepark mother and child duo like us.  Watching the children scooting in and out every morning, I could have sworn they all came from the same navy blue gene pool.  Dalton, in contrast, (and myself, for that matter), seemed to lack that certain oui-oui chromosome needed to slip in without causing a tide change.

Granted, that could have all been in my perception.  But to be honest, I was too intimidated by what I observed as the school’s “was-ness” — its exacting French A-lines, the one boy in a blazer and burgundy velvet knickers, all that crispness  — to enroll my son. Not without at least a few months in a preliminary crisper.

I went around the corner and down the Rue Remilly to l’École Maternelle Richard Mique, which was public, ecumenical, and visibly less crisp — comfortably wilted, let’s say — and set my sights on enrolling Dalton there.  Following my barnepark method of attack, I stalked the Richard Mique premises in off hours. I then loitered at corners during drop-off and pick-up, noting the habits of local adults.  I listed the children’s gear, shoe styles, hair cuts, behavior.  I then made eye contact, greeted mothers and fathers, took Dalton there by the hand twice, just to practice the trek. And to build nerve.

Eventually, I dared approaching a real person on the street to question her about the school.  I’d selected her, actually, over a few days scoping for The Most Open Face in Versailles. Her name was Rita. She was wonderful. She became a friend.  With four young children herself and relatively new to Versailles, too, she could instruct me in Annie Sullivan French about applying a month late to the school, as I was doing.  And wouldn’t you know it? Like Johanne from Norway, Rita told me to go directly to the main office the next day and request a place for Dalton.  “Mais vite, vite”—but hurry!—her wide eyes insisted.

There was no chain link fence around Richard Mique as had been around Blakstad barnepark. But there were serious-looking walls and gates that were padlocked at all hours but the 15 minute intervals at morning drop-off, lunchtime pick-up and drop -ff, and afternoon pick-up.  Timing it precisely, I was able to enter and find the directrice’s office, where I was greeted by a brunette woman who resembled in no way but hair color our dear tante Britt.  There was no snow-blown look or red  front-zip barnepark jumpsuit.  No thermos of coffee.  No messy hair and ruddy cheeks.  Instead, this delicate woman wore perfume. And pearls.  And a fitted skirt.  And heels.  And she sat behind a large desk sipping a porcelain cup of tea.  I felt myself suck in my gusto and make myself as absolutely  French as physically possible without turning a shade of puce, and approached her with soft, alluring steps.  She was not ready, I’ll bet, for the slaughter I made of French, but she was genteel and was used to working with people a tenth her age, so when she spoke at me with single syllable words and those large semaphore movements, I was able to discern just enough to know what she told me.

Rendez-vouz.  Need of one.  Speak with school director.  Come back  with another faith.

(Whuh?)

Oh. Right.  Come back another time.

To this day I still wonder if those red cowboy boots might have grabbed her attention, upped my chances somehow of getting a slot right off.

As it was, I smiled, thanked Madame profusely, scooted spritely on my way, and went home to re-wax my legs and knuckles, starch even my underclothing, and prepare my speech and posture for the next morning’s private audience with Madame directrice.
**
© 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.

Global Mom: Julestemning

Christmas in Norway.

Three words, and my bones go all cheese fonduey.

That’s  because there is, even in my memory, a special spirit to a Norwegian Christmas.  With New Jersey’s jingle jangle still in my head, Norway’s quiet spirit caught me off guard the first Christmas we lived on our island.  And during all the Christmases that followed, I felt slowed down, whoa-ed down. Again and again and again.

Christmas in Norway is synonymous with making music, and since singing was my job, I did a lot of it during the holidays.  Where did I sing, with whom and what? Let’s just say the range was eclectic.   “Chestnuts Roasting” and other American standards with a jazz band in Holmenkollen kappell, a restored stave church high overlooking the Oslo fjord. The “Messiah” with an electronic keyboard run by a generator in a dilapidated barn hidden deep in the mountains. (I was offered an ankle length military uniform coat from an audience member, which I accepted so I could sing the soprano solos without getting whiplash from my teeth-chattering.) Scandinavian folk tunes with traditional instruments surrounded by candlelight in a stark Lutheran church. Spirituals with trumpets, sax and drums on Norway’s answer to The Tonight Snow.   “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a screen test for a national T.V. commercial.  Brahms with full orchestra and viola descant in a sumptuous opera house.  Simple hymns with our Mormon congregation’s small and struggling yet achingly sincere choir.

Then there was that most unforgettable of Christmases: The Viking Birth. That’s when I sang out five-kilo Dalton Haakon on a high note of “Amazing Grace”:

“And grace my fears relieeeeeeeeeeeeved.”

And grace sure did.

This post will be the last that focuses on our Norway years contained in the first few chapters of Global Mom, A Memoir, coming to you in January.  The next posts about Global Mom will introduce you to France, or more specifically to Versailles, where we first landed straight from our Nordic island isolation.

Versailles of the Sun King. Of the famous château.  And of our son, our petit prince, Luc William.  And of the not-so-famous château where he was born.

Then I’ll give you a good long look at Paris.

Then Munich. The City of Monks. Our Monastery Years.

Then Singapore. With flash-backs to Hong Kong.

Then Switzerland. With flash-backs to Vienna.

And much of the craggy, glossy, pitch dark, shimmering terrain in between.

So sit back.  It’s October wherever you are in the world.

But right now in Global Mom it’s December.

My attempt at a hand drawn family Christmas portrait one of our last years in Norway.

Global Mom, A Memoir

JULESTEMNING

Bente calls me at 5:30 a.m. Whispering in Norwegian, she tells me to hurry – run!— to the T.V. to catch the broadcast.  My friend has no idea what she’s asking.  I’m almost nine months pregnant, which means running resembles a slo-mo animation of global plate tectonics, my pelvis held together by what feels like no more than three shredded rubber bands.  But I waddle obediently down the stairs and dump my fertile self into the sofa.

Sitting breathless and alone in the darkness, I watch. In total stillness, the program illumines. It is one long, still moment until this crescent of blonde girls dressed in floor-length white gowns and with wreaths and burning candles atop their heads begins singing:

Night walks with heavy steps. . .

Shadows are brooding. . .

In every room so hushed. . .

Whispering like wings. . .

Santa Lucia.  This is the darkest night of the year. And in Norwegian, that means darkness of the underside of the blackest inkiest black.  Something about that thick backdrop makes my anticipation for this moment and for this season more intense,  intimate.  I’m awaiting the Christ child’s birth, awaiting the Bradford child’s birth. The Unknowns; one under the taut skin of my belly, the other under the night skin of the world, and this slow awakening happening in the sphere of my body, in the land of Norway.

Baby rump gyrates up under a rib.  A knee there.  A foot print there.  A head grinding relentlessly like a street dancer spinning on my bladder.  Now he’s rhythmically filing his toenails on my lowest left rib while he hiccups the effects of last night’s spiced lentil soup.  I push down with the heel of my hand. The lump bulges right back again, defiantly. Can he hear the television? Because he’s pulled a lever on his recliner so he can spread eagle from my pancreas to my esophagus. I’m stretchy both in skin and in soul.

Bente has prepped me about Santa Lucia.  “If you want to really get Julestemning, you must watch the performance live or at least on the live broadcast from Stockholm.”

Julestemning is an untranslatable expression, but every Norwegian knows what it means.  Closest thing we have in English is “Christmas spirit.”  But used in English, it conjures up for me at least images of neon pulsing robotically waving snowmen in shopping malls, the slosh of musak in the dairy aisle of your supermarket.  Andy Williams rapping “Ole Saint Nick.”

In Norway, that spirit is different. Deep as the darkness.  Fresh as snowfall in the nighttime.  I hadn’t understood the term, really, when just a few weeks earlier at a Norwegian friend’s house their young adult daughter was on the phone from California. She was there doing a year-long exchange in the land of The O.C., cooler than anything, you’d think. But from her end of the line I could hear she was sucking back tears, sobbing to her family, “Det er ikke Julsestemningnen her enda!” (There’s no Christmas spirit here yet!)

But now I begin to understand. In our basement, in the dark, low in sofa, high in pregnant, I watch the television glow with angel girls singing about the heavy tread of darkness and the pending light, singing with innocence, their faces almost iridescent with the sweet liquid warmth of a musical sunrise, and I’m lulled, nearly half-dozing. Before I can tug on the corner of the blanket that has slipped off my shoulder, I realize I’m draining tears from both eyes.  Crying, for hormones’ sake!  Punch drunk on Julestemning.

Bente, my formidable friend of the predawn phone call, has gifted me with something priceless in that phone call.  She and her family are, in every respect, our tutors in things Norwegian.  This holds true particularly when it comes to holidays and music. Here, she tutors me in Christmas:

“You begin,” Bente’s bright blue eyes widen enthusiastically, “with a thorough Christmas cleaning.”

This means, I learn, on-your-hands-and-knees scrub down of every inch of pine, including the ceiling.  Polishing windows with vinegar and lemon. Beating rugs and bedding and mattresses and bushes.  Flossing your banister. Tipping over the fridge.  Wiping under it.  Picking lint out of the wiry element on the backside of your appliances.  With a Q-tip.

“Then you’re ready for Christmas curtains,” Bente’s adorably girlish Swedish sister-in-law Pia schools me. She is also smiling.

“Curtains” means taking down all your everyday window treatments. Washing them, folding them, storing them in plastic bags you’ve sucked the air out of. And replacing them with flouncy fabric in red and green. Holly berries, candy canes, bows, polar bears, trolls.

“So, where do you pick up these curtains?” I am decidedly curtain challenged, except for stage curtains, which I’d never sewn or laundered.

“Pick them up?  Oh no. You buy the fabric. You sew them.”

“Sew? Curtains? For all your windows?  For every Christmas?”

Was this even legal?

“And after that, you do the syv sorter,” Bente adds, still smiling.  She is tall, has four tall children, and they all have peachy complexions with bright, winning smiles. I conclude it’s a national mandate.

Syv sorter means making seven different sorts of Christmas cookies all in the course of one day. (And there are prescribed sorts, I was to learn, of which Pillsbury ready-bake is not one, you sluggards.) Real Norwegians like Bente are born to do seven sorts in a day and from scratch.  But they are also born with peachy complexions, winning smiles, skis on their feet, a hockey stick in their fist, and something in their constitution that lets them slurp the teensy eggs out of the tails of raw shrimp.  And still smile.

“And don’t forget kransekake,” Pia wants to explain to me, her dimples softening the blow.  By now I’m feverishly scribbling notes. “You start with hand-ground almonds and powdered sugar and — you want to borrow my moulds?” She hands me her cast iron ring moulds for the traditional stacked wreath cake, then pulls me aside. “You can actually buy the dough ready made.” She lowers her voice, “But not a word.”

I’d never seen darling blonde Pia look stern.  This time, she’s glowering.

At Bente’s, we all gather for Christmas Eve.  We have come in our best clothing (Bente and Pia’s children are in Sunday best and opulent traditional Norwegian costume) because, as Christian, Bente’s oldest has told us, this evening will be “litt høytidlig.”

A bit solemn. Formal.  Reverent.

I gather this is code for. Please, pants with belts. Drawstrings and elasticized ankles turned away at the door.  (And you will forever be labeled, “Bumpkin.” )

We gather around Bente’s table set with a great-great-grandmother’s crystal, heirloom silver, china handed down generations. There are candles. There is an order to things, a program. A first course followed by a song.  Another course.  Another song.  There are pewter warming plates and hand-tatted linens from another great-grandmother. The menu includes substantial fare; traditional white sausage, delicately boiled potatoes, steamed Brussel sprouts and caramel pudding right before the crowning treat: stacked rings of the kransekake, each ascending ring decorated with small Norwegian flags.

No paper plates, even Chinette. No feet propped on the coffee table.  No root beer floats in mismatched Jets and Yankees mugs. Not a single popcorn ball, corn dog or Jell-o salad. Nothing of that sort anywhere from the Arctic circle all the way down to the southern border that Christmas Eve.

Just a guess.  But one I’d stake my life on.

LANGBORDET

Given that Christmas in Norway means gathering, we buy a huge table.  This particular three-meter plateau of pine has room for twelve, and we have twelve traditional curved farm chairs made and painted to match.  In a pinch, there is room for fourteen.  Sixteen, if everyone dines armlessly.

Even with the table as talisman, I never really fully master the Norwegian Christmas.  Maybe because it takes much longer than five years to do so. Maybe because I do not really master so very much domestically, if you must know the truth.  I do get all the traditional decorations, serve mounds of fish in every possible state at every one of my gatherings, make vat upon vat of something called gløgg, an onomatopoetically named cider that Norwegians consume with or without alcohol. (But mostly with.  And with lots).

I even perfect my own recipe for gingerbread, the very mortar of any true Norwegian Christmas.  I learn all the local songs about the art and lure of gingerbread-baking. I sing them with my children and add choreography I can still pull off today if you put a kransekake mould to my head. One year, I made enough gingerbread dough to re-shingle our roof.  Then loaded it in my car and took it to church where two dozen children built a scale model of Machu Picchu, looked like. Machu Picchu with shiny green gum drops and red striped fences all around.

In the course of our Norway years, I scrape off the biggest scabs of the vestiges of a crusty old feminism that had preached disdain for all things — for every thing — domestic.  I shimmied out of that brittle role model while also squeezing sideways past The Good Norwegian Housewife one.  (I never, for instance, tipped or Q-tipped my fridge. Never once).  But I took a swan dive into the one domestic task I liked:  Food preparation. Food preparation, specifically, that gets people together. I gave up Gloria Steinem for Rachel Ray and traded in Bella Abzug for Julia Childs.

In fact, I now see that in some ways I at least subconsciously took Mrs. Julia Childs as a muse, a model.  Many years after leaving Norway, after Childs’ death, I saw an exhibit at the Smithsonian which featured her huge meat cleaver-scarred Norwegian farm table. She said it had been the heart of her home.  She even had similar curved farm chairs to mine. Or better, I did to hers. And they were all collected during the time she’d lived in Oslo with her husband, Paul.

Hmm. She’d also lived twice in France.

And once in Germany.

And along the east coast of the U.S.

Now I’ve got you thinking we’re nearly identical, Mrs. Childs and I.

But besides the fact that I am not six feet tall, do not have an arsenal of kitchen knives, have never in my life made a boeuf bourguignon nor, lets be honest, a single pot roast, and besides the tiny fact I’m neither genius nor legend, there is one feature of our lives, of my life and the life of Mrs. Childs, that does not match.

Children.

She had none.

I was bursting with my third.

Which was  good.

But given the paragraphs below,  hard.

**

TROLLS

From my journal:

This year has marked the kids’ surge in growth of all kinds.  Parker’s making great headway with his Norwegian, managing to converse like a native with his little first grade buddies and participating in the church  program with a major speaking part.  Wise Man #1.  And at school for the Christmas program he’s Troll #1. 

Is the universe trying to tell me something?

Parker as a troll in his class Christmas spectacle at Nesøya Skole. The lip liner should be given special credit.

He’s lost teeth right in front so he epitomizes the gangly six-and-a-half-year-old, wild about his sport club, crazy about his weekly swimming classes. Claire has refined a large repertoire of native folk songs which she hollers and croons at all times and in all places.  Both children are sturdy and active,  joyous reminders to us of the vibrancy and hope of childhood.  I can drone on and on about their energy and bright minds, how Claire loves all things theatrical, how Parker has a penchant for memorizing long texts.  Actually, it’s a little creepy, his ability to memorize.  According to his teachers, they’ve never seen the likes. He has something like a perfect aural memory.

But. But. Adjusting to the whole local school thing has been hard work for him. For us all.  HARD.  Parker’s teachers have been terrific—kind, flexible, patient—and the school’s principal, Sigrid, has been an absolute wonder. She’s called me in to conference with her every week—a schedule that will spread out to once a month, we plan—just to make a team out of home and school in order to assure this boy, this first non-Norwegian child they’ve ever had, has a good experience in the school, in Norway.  

So here goes: I came close to crying in yesterday’s conference.  As Sigrid was expressing her concerns about Parker’s behavior (and his four teachers around the table were describing how disruptive he can sometimes be in class, erratic, uncontainable, sometimes explosive), I felt that salty wave climbing my throat.  Times like this I’m convinced that it would have been better for everybody had I stuck with full-time theater, had we not moved to a foreign country, and had I let child care professionals duke it out over this child.  It’s all so tiring.  So deflating.

Point is, I have little natural talent for domesticity, for mothering.  All my other talents, (that short list that’s steadily getting shorter) have no application at home. I can love, love a lot, but that love doesn’t seem to be the pill for Parker.  So while I am listening to the Norwegian terms for this boy — “strong character”, “unchanneled energy”, “sensitive” — I don’t say it out loud but my internal voice is blaring on loudspeaker, “This is too much for me!  This here? It’s nowhere in my skill set!!” 

Well, bless her heart, Sigrid reached across to me when I guess she saw my eyes drop to the table top, and she put her hand on mine;  “Think”, she said, “of the adventure we’d all miss without his powerful presence in our lives!” 

I managed a smile then. But hearing her words now in my mind makes we weep with confused but sweet gratitude for this boy.

And writing those words many years later pierces me straight through.

On Decmeber 29th, approximately 5:30 a.m., I called Bente.  I whispered, “Han er kommet.”

He, our baby boy, has come.

And with that arrival, the arrival of number three, a second son, the dark winter skies confirmed that there was now even less of a chance of turning back from being the worthless and incompetent mother I was wholly convinced I already was.

Darkness shall take flight soon

From earth’s valley.

So she speaks

Wonderful words to us:

A new day will rise again

From the rosy sky. . .

Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!

 

Our three Norwegians.

**
© 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.

Global Mom: Barnepark

Another excerpt from the forthcoming book, Global Mom, A Memoir.

Here, I have been advised by my new Norwegian friend, Johanne, to enroll our two barna (children) at our local branch of barnepark, Norway’s ubiquitous outdoor preschool. This is early January, an American’s season for hibernation, hunkering down.  But this is Norway, where weather is only the poorest excuse for escaping.

Besides, after a full week in this new country, I’m already  feeling compelled to go native.

I’ll let my children go first.

Norway, view from our window, 1994

**

Global Mom, A Memoir.

Norwegian Wood, January, 1994

Before petitioning the barnepark, as Johanna had suggested, I first set up a stealth surveillance post. Atop a hill and from behind a pine tree close to Blakstad barnepark, I  hunched behind my steering wheel, warm in my down sleeping bag and earmuffs.  Parker and Claire wore their hats and coats and were wrapped in a massive feather comforter while they read books to each other in the backseat.  I dissected the social experiment playing itself out before me.

Photo credit: Flickr

From this outpost, I spied a trio of red-suited adults (only later did I discover that they were women) standing sentinel amid fifteen to twenty or so small bodies that played in hip-high snow and chased snowflakes with their tongues. The women in red stood there, removed from the activity in the snow.   Unless there was real trouble like the random child stuck head first in a snow bank, limbs flailing wildly for help, the women stood far away, stamping their boots every so often, clouds of breath rising from their faces.  Occasionally, they would sip from thermoses or slap their mittened hands on their thighs. This same silent movie repeated itself all morning long, the sun never really rising very far into the sky, dusk a constant backdrop on those limpid midwinter days.

Photo credit: Flickr

At midday, and with the ring of a hand-held bell, all the children would gather into a small wooden barrack for an hour. After the hour, they emerged again. Repeat of silent movie. All afternoon. I would later learn that this was the pattern, day in and day out, sleet, hail, snow, hell or high water, all year long, for three years of these children’s lives.

And everyone in Norway did this?  Everyone?

Just watching the ice slides made me choke on my swig of peppermint tea from my big green Land’s End thermos. Some of those kids were whizzing so fast down slides packed so hard with gray ice, they looked like upholstered torpedoes shooting out of polished marble barrels.

Claire Bradford, Blakstad barnepark, January 1994

One tiny figure in particular (to whom we still refer today as Hannah the Human Bullet) seized my attention.  She might have been three, but a small three.  Her snowsuit was red as was her little knitted cap that looked just like a strawberry, green twig stem and all.  From where I huddled in my unmarked car, I could just make out her mounds of cheeks; two buffed pinkish apples in a grocer’s crate.  She was either intrepid or on Phen-Phen.  Circuit after circuit, she hiked the slick path to the top of a handmade precipice where she flopped herself prostrate, planted her mittens to get some traction, and like a teensy pebble out of a sling shot, exploded down the steep incline.  Sometimes she landed on her belly.  Sometimes on her back.  Always, she caught some air. No one, least of all Hannah, seemed to flinch at the peril, the astronomical potential for lawsuits, the sure threat of injury.  I, on the other hand, was left winded and jittery just keeping up with her above my dashboard.

Photo credit: Flickr

Kids were roaming about, gluey noses scarlet with cold, all those clouds of breath hanging over their heads like empty thought bubbles in a comic strip. The tall red suited adults only piped up every half hour or son, maybe, while all the children kept doing normal kid-in-snow things like pelting each other with snowballs, grabbing the littler guy’s shovel, constructing elaborate fort and tunnel systems.

When they were whonked over the noggin or got stuck in the frozen tire swing, no one came rushing with theatrical rescues and apologies for the misery of it all.  No one came most of the time, in fact.  Generally, a tall person’s hooded head raised itself a bit, I would hear the faint holler, probably reciting a rule, and the child maneuvered itself to safety or self-consolation.  Once or twice a big person split up a knotted wrangle of clawing cubs, barking in about four syllables something that shut down the scuffle like a lid over fire.

This?  No-sir-ee-sir, my two would never survive.

Photo credit: Flickr

I had raised Parker and Claire — my treasures, my snoogly-wooglies — to be softies. Like me.  Accomodating, even obliging, sensitive.  Freaked by speed.  This Nordic system, as I watched it agape and gasping, would make them hardy, that’s for sure.  But in the process it would give me a heart attack. Putting them here would be like tossing them into a doggoned menagerie, I shuddered, more of a farm, even, than any well-organized playpen.  I second-guessed myself.  I second-guessed the Norwegians.  I was back to second-guessing Norway as a whole.

Parker, Norway, 1994

After a couple of days of playing driver’s seat anthropologist from an unmarked Saab, I slipped into my best jeans which I tucked into my fancy red cowboy boots, a big hit when I’d worn them in New York City, and they made me immediately identifiable as The Girl From Utah.  I pulled on a padded but flattering and therefore actually not so padded and therefore totally useless down parka, and checked my foreign newcomer smile in the mirror while drilling my Norwegian lines. I’d written them out phonetically while Johanna had coached me over the phone. With a prayer in my heart and one bundled child on each hand, I waddled gingerly all the way down the slope to the Blakstad barnepark barrack.

Mother on a snow stroll with children in tow
Note the attempt at a flattering pose. . .

It might have occurred to you that the soles of cowboy boots are meant to slip easily in and out of stirrups, an advantage while roping calves in rodeos.  The relative slickness of the soles helps cowgirls slide in and out of stirrups with ease, even elegance, so they can win big trophies and custom-made chaps.  But this engineering factoid never crossed my mind before I stepped out onto my first Norwegian iceberg.  Lesson learned? Aerodynamically designed boot toes and high-gloss soles are no help on a 70˚ angle of black ice.

Parker, Norway, 1994

Slush-splattered, a massive bruise forming on my left hip and limping lightly, we arrived.  I’d timed our entrance for noon, knowing this was the children’s lunchtime, a prime opportunity to beg for dagbarn plasser.  A few whacks on the wooden door and a very tall, attractive brunette woman wearing several layers of woolen sweaters under a lumpy red snowsuit unzipped to and gathered at her waist, opened to me.  Her pronounced, flushed cheekbones pointed right to her broad, sympathetic smile.  Behind her shoulder I caught sight of a spartan but cozy interior filled with a whole picnic table of ruddy-cheeked children, most of them toe-headed, leaning over small bundles of what must have been sack lunches.

In silence they examined their strange, shivering visitors.

Blakstad barnepark, Norway, January 1994

Two other blonde women, also in half-zipped red jump suits, appeared to be manning the lunch break.  The interior looked so soothing after the piercing cold outside. Claire, shy and clingy in new situations, was gripping my brittle fingers so desperately I thought they’d break. And both children really needed a toilet.  I was afraid.  Afraid for them.  Afraid for me.  My feet were searing with pain. My rump was soggy and sore. I searched inwardly for my first line.  This is where my years as an actress kicked in, shoving me through stage fright.

The woman waited, smiling.

I was frozen on all levels.

I licked my lips to defrost them, but they remained immobile.

Out of a mouth that felt like two stacked Goodyear radials I forced a smile and the following in halting Norwegian:

“Good day.  Sorry that I disturb.  We are Americans.  We inhabit house not far.  We freeze.  Have you dagbarn?”

Tall, gentle tante Britt, as I later learned was her name, responded in Norwegian-For-The-Learning-And-Hearing-Impaired, and drew me at once into the barrack and into a wobbly but warm conversation.  All this was done while the two blondes, (whom I was later to know as tante Eva and tante Anna) invited Parker and Claire over to sit on a bench and sing nursery songs with the others while I beat my hands back to life.  They smiled, my two, a bit stiff with fear of separation and all-eyes-on-us self-conciousness.  But that lasted less than five minutes.

Picnic time, Blakstad barnepark, Norway, January 1994

My hands began thawing. The palms started itching like crazy.  I watched my two wriggle into a place between other children on the bench. Claire’s cheeks a flaming shade of fuchsia, Parker’s bangs matted and angular after he tugged off his thin American beanie.  A spot in my lower torso felt ignited, heat-filled, by the sight of my two crammed in between a girl, maybe four, and another, not much older. The first sat next to Claire and secretly put her hand on Claire’s thigh, smiling, whispering something Claire of course could not understand, but to which Claire nodded a bit sideways.  This is where that torso hot spot took quiet flame.  I honestly felt warmer. My eyes must have been defrosting, I knew this, because they were leaking down both cheeks.

But my fingers remained concrete.  I never did get blood to them, in fact, but I nevertheless managed to sign, in runic alphabet, the sheet of paper that admitted our two as dagbarn the next morning.

Parker Bradford at barnepark

**
© 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.

Global Mom: Snow Angels

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.

Photo credit: UK Telegraph

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.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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.

Photo credit: Kim Rormark

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!

Click.

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.

Photo credit: norskogarchiv notam02

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.

Actually, no.

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.