Global Mom: Dreamcoat

Weddings. Messiah barn burnings. Feminine hygiene product pitching. New Orleans Jazz. Embassies. My own Mormon church.  And then at last, a biblical musical. It seemed an appropriately epic way to end our Norway years.

Josef Og Det Utrolige Farvet Drømkåpet needed a lead narrator.  Barbara, my multitalented musician girlfriend was already directing the musical’s children’s chorus and doing orchestrations from a massive keyboard, working her big circle of local music talent to build the band.  She was overbooked.

Since I’d already done the English version, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in New Jersey, the producers thought I might be able to do it here. So I said yes to play the narrator in Norwegian.

Then I became the show’s artistic director.

And choreographer.

And even found myself back stage in one of the performances, training dogs. (They were the biggest hounds I had seen in my life, cast in this show as Ishmaelite camels.)

The closing night of Josef, I walked out into the parking lot, costumes in a suit bag, humming one of the show’s tunes.  When I stood next to my car overlooking Oslo fjord, I stopped abruptly in my tracks.  I looked straight ahead.  Had I not noticed before? Across the road and down one block was a small barrack painted barn red. Next to it, a chain link fence.  There was a gravel parking lot and four swings, a simple metal slide, a teeter-totter. I’d known it all first under a meter of snow. And where I was standing that night, still in my stage makeup, congratulatory roses in my arms, was only a few meters from where I’d once hidden behind the steering wheel of my parked car, thermos of peppermint tea in my hand, scouting out this intimidating but undeniably enticing new world, weighing the dangers of a thing called barnepark, considering the foreignness of this cold, impenetrable land.

Somewhere in the middle of the post show cast party we held at our home, I felt the same vice grip I’d had in that dressing room at the television studios.  The whole Bradford clan, Melissa, Randall and their three children, and a dozen of the main players in the cast were gathered around our long Norwegian table, then watched taped footage of our closing performance of Josef.  Claire bopped up and down in the lap of Anita-Marie. Parker was with Tormod and Per Trygve who’d played Jacob’s oldest sons, Reuben and Simeon, doing phrase-by-phrase translation from the Norwegian text to its English original he had learned when I’d done the show in New Jersey and this nine-year-old son, then three, had memorized the whole script. Dalton, now toddling sturdily, raided every last refreshment platter.  Randall did crowd control and video machine duty while dispensing casual Norwegian one-liners to all our guests. 

Here were the faces.  Faces of real people whose language I spoke and whose humor I caught, whose regional accents I could identify, whose families I’d eaten with and worked with and sung with. These folks, they brought me a Thank You gift.  A Thank You gift! . . .?. . .They said they wanted to thank me for helping with their show, for serving them.  I tried to tell them nei, det er ikke lov! And that they forstår ikke.  I tried, but know I never managed to tell them or Johanne or Britt from barnepark, or Bente or Pia or my whole loving church family, or Barbara or Sigrid from Nesøya Skole, or Ellen my jordmor, or Gunnil from barselgruppe, or the nameless conductor on the sinking Yamaha keyboard, or little Karolina or Louisa who’d checked my grammar as well as my sanity, or strawberry-blonde Jesper who’d just needed toilet paper, or my neighbor who’d hiked over my head and shoveled off my roof, or the many nameless but not faceless others who filled our Norway years – I know I never managed to tell them thank you and that nei, nei, nei, I had not done a thing for them. It was they and their country that had done endless much for my young family and for me.

© 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: Farm Wedding

Østfold lies southeast by an hour from Oslo’s talk show and television commercial studios.  In the middle of that county is the village of Ski, and in the middle of Ski is a tiny white stucco chapel.

credit: woophy

There, on one of those brilliantly blue-skied late spring days, Sigrid, the daughter of a prominent local farmer, is getting married, and I’ve been drafted to serenade the day-long traditional farm wedding. What will unfold before me, the only non-Norwegian on hand, is like a movie so enchanting I start to feel I’m unfit as the soundtrack.

I arrive early by car, ready to review the program one last time with the church organist who skids into the gravel parking place on his road bike, and who, with no more ceremony than the nod of his head (which he keeps wiping as he continues to sweat) launches us into a break-neck dash through our program, tearing through four Norwegian love songs at the same speed with which he arrived on his bike. “Well now,” he says, slapping the organ bench, “I think that’ll about do it,” and he’s running over a hill to squirt off at a nearby farm. I’m still catching my breath, leaning against a pillar in the choir loft, when I peer down to see a procession.

A thick, inching sea of rich bunad colors seeps into the chapel’s all-white interior. Figure upon figure, couple upon couple, family upon family file in gracefully, cautiously, as if someone had told them the floor was made of the thinnest sheet of glass.

fylkesarkivet sogn og fjordane

There are mostly heavy black wool skirts that swish almost to the floor, barely exposing the occasional edge of white stocking, which meets the black shoes. On the front of the shoes, ornate, pilgrim-like silver buckles.

credit: artemesia1

In some of the many regional versions of bunad, the skirt fronts, as the bodices, are gathered into the waistline with the smallest pleats—dozens of pin-tucked pleats—that make architecture out of wool. They’re encrusted with clusters of embroidered flowers, the sheen of which looks like jewels in the early afternoon light coming in through the high windows.

Everywhere there are balloons of starched white linen sleeves tapering to lace-trimmed cuffs and, on some women, wrist wreaths of silver coins which tinkle and glint, the sunlight flitting on their surface. There are brooches, some larger than your palm, clasped at the top of the bodice near the collar. Some women wear small hats, wool and embroidered too, without brims and close to the shape of the head and in the same color as their dress, tied under the chin with ample satin bows.

And there are small handbags made of matching wool with iridescent embroidery, affixed to a silver chain draped at the waistline.

There are dresses, a dozen among hundred, maybe, that aren’t black or deep red, but are bright cornflower blue.

The men look like they’ve arrived on the last commuter train from Brigadoon: velvet knickers, embroidered vests, white linen shirts, black leprechaun shoes. Some children, just a handful, are there, too.

One mom indiscreetly yanks her Karl-Andreas or Anders-Håvard to attention, and directs him into the pew next to her as she tugs down the bottom of his red vest and re-tucks the bunched hem of his starched shirt.  He’s sullen. Thirteen. Has spent the morning bailing hay or milking his own goat, I fantasize.  Or skateboarding, my inner realist corrects me.

fylkesarkivet

Here is old Norway, but again contemporary, now-a-day Norway, History and The Present, in all its splendid finery and well-mannered neighborliness waiting reverently for a høy tid.

My organist has traded in smelly lycra bike shorts for full bunad regalia himself, and ashamed that I’m just in my best cream silk suit and heels, I slip behind a marble pillar.  At the same moment, the organ opens up all pipes announcing Sigrid’s arrival.  The groom, vigorous-looking with muscles everywhere, (even in his jaw, which he’s clenching, like his fists), waits at the altar.

Sigrid, also blonde, is fresh and freckled, poised in a simply-cut white satin gown.  She proceeds up the aisle: a cool, tall glass of milk. I’m staring at her while I take a deep breath and begin singing: “Kjaerlighet, varmeste ord på jord. . .”  Love, the warmest word on earth.

credit: andersmadsen

When the ceremony ends, the new couple clambers up into a handsome horse-drawn carriage which, trailed by other horse-drawn carriages carrying parts of their bunad entourage, clops over the rolling hills of Østfold toward Sigrid’s family estate.  The parents who’ve invited me to sing, Solvor and Lars, lean down from their carriage to give me road directions, complicated automobile ones, I’m told. It’s much more direct over the fields.  I’m in a tailored suit with stiletto pumps, driving a motor vehicle with a CD player and automatic windows.  I’ve obviously missed a road sign and driven into the middle of the wrong century.

fylkesarkivet

This family farm’s got to have its own zip code. Lars escorts me up to a crest beyond the limits of the groomed property that radiates outward from the central manor house, and there points to a place on the horizon that I’m sure must be Sweden.

“It’s just the easternmost edge of the property,” he smiles softly.  Then he swings his arm in a full arc in the other direction and, those specks over there?  Those prominent mountains several kilometers away?  “Also the edge of the family domain.” It’s deep green the entire expanse of it, abruptly tree-rich in spots, deliciously farmable in general. Lars seems too soft-spoken to own a whole county.

credit: woophy

“It’s my husband’s family’s soil, too, you know,” I tell Lars. “Aamodt, Haakon. Thorkildsen, Christian. Farmers going way, way back. Do you know the names?”

“Then,” Lars reaches down and pokes his finger into the earth, drilling it softly, pinching and rolling its brownness in his fingertips like he’s testing its character, “Somewhere not more than a century or so ago, we were family, your husband and I.”

Back at the manor house people are starting to arrive, leaping down from buggies, off of single horses or out of Volvos. Solvor wants me to see the house, and doesn’t hesitate to escort me, room by room, through its every antique corner.  The place is a fortress with massive oak staircases flanked by oak banisters so big you’d need two hands to grab the circumference, leaded-pane windows dating back 300 years, lustrous floors of wide, worn planks bulleted in place by chocolate-colored dowels, hand-tufted carpets brought from Sweden and hand-woven linens from Denmark.  Huge family portraits with their oily sheen on pallid, stern visages line the walls above a stone fireplace that cuts a garage-sized hole in the front salon.  Everywhere I turn there are signs of The Hunt, and rounding a bend a bit too frivolously, I nearly lose an eye on a low-hanging reindeer antler.

creidt:papafrezzo

The men look ready for a barn raising, but tonight they’re only reinforcing the orchestra pavilion in the courtyard, and moving into rows the long, decorated banquette tables where wine, breads and dried meats are already being laid by a troop of diligent women. I’m handed a pewter platter of cured venison and a wooden trough of sculpted pickles and radishes to put on a table somewhere and make myself inconspicuous (in my twentieth century silk suit and patent leather stilettos) by being industrious like every last body around me.

Suddenly, the farm’s cutting loose. There’s the metallic commotion of cow bell ringing and wild whooping, everyone around me chanting something in unison, something that’s accelerating, something that has us all stamping our feet and clapping our hands at once.  I dive in full-throttle, although I end up almost falling over when I jab all 4-inches of my  stilettos into black-brown farm soil.

The bride and groom have arrived.

A large woman, Inger, red-headed and white-toothed, clinches her fleshy arm around my shoulder and shoves a glass of wine in my hand, hollering and stamping still.  Since I don’t drink, I wrap my arm around the shoulder of the next guy, Ingemar, white-haired and red-cheeked, do a little holler and a light stamp, and shove the glass into his hand.  He downs it in one hearty swig like water, establishing the drinking blueprint for the rest of the night.

People stay primarily sober for at least the first two hours of the four-hour dinner for two-hundred guests, a spread of gelled vegetable aspic, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and sour cream with dill, crab and coriander salad, cucumber salad in a light vinaigrette, lamb, and tender little new potatoes, all served in a grand hall downstairs in the central house. I sit on the middle table, not far from Lars and Solvor, who are poised under an enormous stuffed black bear head that looks like it’s belting a high note.

credit: US Gen Web

After dinner and under a sky of polished cobalt, we all dance and sing like barefoot children.  Really like barefoot children, because somewhere between the hired band’s Johann Strauss and Bee Gees, I’ve kicked off my shoes like everyone one else.  Has grass ever felt so cool?  Has the moon ever been so close? Have I ever not lived here, not loved these people, not wanted to sing at every single one of their weddings?

Around four in the morning I watch the delicate, black shadows of horse-drawn carriages tiptoe over the far ridges, disappearing in a rising sun: spiders crawling into a flame.  Motors cough and hum, the trumpet player Hermann is packing it in, the lead singer Nils drops another empty Aquavit bottle onto a pile of many other empty Aquavit bottles.  Its “cli-shink” makes the mottled cat dart under a cleared banquette table.  Solvor comes at me from behind and, putting one arm around my waist, strokes my hair, and draws my head to her shoulder.  A mother’s touch. A new sisters’ pact.

credit: woophy

© 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: Winging It and Singing It

After today’s post, there will be two more that  specifically describe some special professional singing opportunities I was blessed to have in Norway. Why do I bore you with all this? Did you come to this blog (or will you come to Global Mom) for a run down of recitals?  I hope it’s clear there are several reasons I hang on this note for so long.  In Global Mom I want to show, not merely tell, what it means to leave a promising trajectory in one geography (New York) and transplant it elsewhere (Norway). That’s helpful, I think, for those who are reluctant to move internationally because they fear not being able to parlay their identity and professional/creative pursuits from one place to another. I also want to share how that very effort knit me– knit us as a family –to an entire people, a people with an exceptional love of all music, and how Norwegians were so welcoming and supportive.

Beyond all those reasons, I’m painting a canvas of Norway in this section of the book, and these intimate stories give that canvas depth, perspective and texture.

So . . . continued from the scene where you last found me singing a Norwegian sheep herder’s song with four lumberjack types and Ole the accordion player under the moonlit mountains . . .

From Global Mom: A Memoir

**

. . .I don’t think it gets much better than this.

Unless you’re doing a screen test for a Norwegian television commercial for  [can I say this here?]  feminine hygiene products:

“Fine, fine, that was just fine, Melissa. Let’s just try it one more time, and this time even more enthusiasm.  All right?”
“No problem. Enthusiasm? Got it!” I responded in Norwegian. I’d gotten the script just that morning from my agent, and had drilled it in the car on the way to this recording studio on the northern edge of town. I clear my throat, mess up my hair a bit (my enthused look), stare deep into the black hole of the camera, and start afresh:

“Now I dare to try on whatever clothes I like on whatever day of the month!”  Beaming, I pick up a small, imagined cardboard box from an imagined counter off to my right, and flirt with the camera, adding, “Always Ultra Feminine pads with wings! So you can really fly!”

“Super! Cut!” someone calls out and the man holding the hanging microphone lets his arms drop with a grunt.

A woman in a sound booth steps out and all I see in the shadows are the hem of her short denim skirt and boots. “Now remind us, Melissa, you’re from . . . let me see . . . Trømsø? Or was it. . .” she’s flipping through some papers, “from Bodø? You’re from the north I can tell, am I right?”

“From the west, actually.  The western States, actually.”

“Hmm? Really? Interesting. Hey, can we put some more on the tape here?” the woman asks. “Like, I don’t know, Melissa. . .Uh. . . Can you sing?”

“If you’d like me to, yes.”

“Give us an American song, is that good?” I can’t tell who said that, but I think the voice has come from the mike guy who is no more than a shadowy shape on top of green Converse All Stars right outside the glare of white spotlight. I shield my eyes with both hands, like I’m looking into a solar eclipse.

“Sure, well, okay, let’s see,” I stall. “What’s your favorite American song?”

Mike guy has a face, I can now see it as he steps to the right.  And he looks exactly like a teenaged Ron Howard.  Reddish hair, fair eyelashes on smiley eyes that make him look vulnerable and also kind to foreigners, baggy dark denim jeans on a pole-thin frame.  I’ve claimed him as my friend. If it comes to it, I’ll get him to sing back-up.

He’s quick with a favorite song and starts whistling it right there from the dark.

By “rainbow, way up high” I’ve taken over because, like millions of people, I know this tune by heart.  I sing it a capella, into the baking but also calming heat of four huge spotlights. I sing it all the way through. All the time from “there’s a land that I heard of ” to “why, oh, why can’t I?” under all that text and simple melody, I’m scratching my inner head, laughing a bit to myself, asking how did I get here? But also feeling like I had fully awakened in this country like Dorothy awakens in her black and white comfort, that there’s no place like this home.

At the same time, my agent was deep into plans for that concert tour the next year.  We’d done publicity photos and a demo CD.  He was contacting venues. We’d had preliminary meetings to pin down calendar details.  “You must bring your husband and children, too,” he’d said, “It would be a great cultural experience for them.  We’ll let that son of yours play on the drums between shows.”

Also at about this same time, Randall’s company was discussing a possible transfer back to the States or a transfer elsewhere outside of the States.  Randall and I, however, were lying next to each other in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, “Ever thought about. . . just staying here? For good?”

And, “Do you also just want to stay here for good?”

And, “What do we need to do to stay here for good?”

**
© 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: 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.

Global Mom: Holmenkollen Kapell and T.V.

On another night, it snowed heavily over Oslo, but I was toasty inside. I stood in the fully restored Holmenkollen kappell, a stave church high overlooking the Oslofjord, an important historic landmark built entirely of wood and lit with candles that night so it glowed like a jewel box.

The chapel was packed to SRO capacity. From where I stood at the microphone on stage, who did I see seated front and center? My family. And behind them, Bente, Jan Åke, Børre, Pia, and a whole pod of friends from church and from our island of Nesøya and from Randall’s work. Family, too.

There, as soloist with Norway’s beloved Big Chief Jazz Band, we did a program of American spirituals – When the Saints Go Marching In, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, All Night All Day – and then American holiday favorites – Chestnuts, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. We got the whole audience swaying and singing along.

 

The founder of Big Chief became my agent and as a means of launching what he hoped would be a concert tour of Norway and Sweden, he got us a spot on the Sunday evening talk and talent show called “Wesenstund.”  That morning at church, our congregation was patting me on the back, wishing me the best.

“Make us proud,” Stein Håvard nodded at me.

“Don’t wear pearls. No jazz in them,” advised Trond.

Lykke til!” Karin said, smiling, her thumbs up for “good luck.”

Ah, those miniscule 15 minutes of fame. I had a total blast singing my heart out with Big Chief, kept a tape of the broadcast, and have watched it exactly once with my parents, who looked both amused and proud.  My great-great grandchildren, if I’m so lucky, will one day find the whole recording an inconceivable, riotous hoot.

There was a moment that evening right before show time when I was alone waiting in my tiny dressing room at the NRK studios, after makeup and hair and tech people had done their preliminary rounds and all the members of Big Chief had patted “lykke til” on my back and gone out a side door for one last smoke.  I sat on a black naugahyde adjustable bar stool in front of one of those mirrors with white bulbs all around, sat there watching my backstage television prompter up in the corner, waiting for Gru to knock on my door with a two-minute signal, watching myself mouthing the texts for two songs we’d only decided on two hours earlier when we’d done light and mike checks.

It was there and all at once that I was oddly in another far-away dressing room. It was that other New York dressing room where there was a big band overture signaling a second act. I was in a green robe and body mike and had just gotten off an odd backstage phone call with Randall when he’d told me that the offer to move to Oslo was real, and it was imminent. I was pulling on my platinum ‘40’s wig and shoving my feet into my heels, trembling a little bit, but not for stage fright.   And though I should have been mouthing texts and mentally going through choreography, in that moment I was mouthing to myself in a low, dreading mumble, “Norway?”

“To minutter igjen,” Gru chirped, leaning into the door.  She smiled from behind her rectangular violet-rimmed glasses, giving me the two-minute signal.

And now my whole chest cramped with such a vice grip of gratitude I was out of breath when I stood up in my blue suede heels, stroking flat the wrinkled blue velvet on my thighs, shaking my shoulders under my red slik blouse to loosen things up, humming up and down the scale to warm my chords.  I walked through that shadowy, curtainy darkness every stage person knows so well, thinking the whole time of my little family, my my kind husband and our three beautiful children all  lined up in front of the television on their knees and in their jammies, watching impatiently through the first parts of this Norwegian talk show – Norwegian they now actually understood word for word. Giggling. Shuushing. Eyes wide. Chubby faces. Somehow slightly reverent. Waiting to see their Mamma sing.

**
© 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: Song of Norway, Händel

The following few posts are from our final couple of Norway years, and from the chapter in Global Mom entitled “Song of Norway.”  It took time, work, and lots of support from family and gifted musician friends, but building a musical career in Norway was getting some serious traction. Slippery traction at times. But a grip, nonetheless.

From Global Mom: A Memoir

**

“Wouldja listen to me? Whatever you do, do not do weddings.”

The brunette soprano in fishnets and a body microphone was schooling me, wagging her polished pointer finger my direction.  We were in our dressing room between the acts of the Tuesday matinée at the Westchester Broadway Theater, a bunch of the cast half in costume, half in costume change, chatting about agents, 8×10 headshots and all the details of musical theater careers.

“No fun’rals, eethah,” piped in the fiery belter with a red wig and a killer Bronx accent. “Soon’s ya go Equity, mine as well stay outta churches altagethah.”

Translated, that meant that as soon as you were a member of Actor’s Equity, the union for professional stage actors, all that kind of work – funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, clam bakes – was beneath you, even illegal, a breech of your Equity contract. When you got your union membership card, my theater friends agreed, you do the Big Time, nothing else but.  This was our solemn sister’s pact.

Now what could I do with this fancy schmancy Equity card of mine? The one right there, tucked in the pocket of my fleece-lined anorak? I’d left that fledgling theater trajectory to follow my husband’s career and, I’d hoped, to offer a big world to our little family. But now I was frozen in my tracks, literally and professionally.  My identity was in crisis. Last thing I’d heard, though, there weren’t any Big Times coming any time soon to my tiny island.

No funerals. No weddings. No clam bakes. No gigs underneath a hyacinth trellis with a Latvian accordion player doing Lionel Ritchie. And like the Bronx gal had said, I had to stay out of churches altogether.

So what did I do? I started singing in every last church in sight.

**

. . .What did I sing, with whom and where? Let’s just say the range was eclectic.  Among the most memorable holiday gigs was Händel’s “Messiah”, staged in a dilapidated barn hidden deep in the mountains. A glacial manger.  The small baroque choir and we the soloists stamped boots in brittle straw covering the upper loft of this barn where we crowded together, trying to generate some heat without utterly desecrating Händel.  Our vibratos were like machine guns. Our faces were tinged with smoke and our hair almost ignited by the small live torches we were given for heat as much as for light, since there was no electrical source but for the shizzing generator into which a Yamaha keyboard, our only accompaniment, was plugged.

I was so jittery, a sympathetic audience member, an older gentleman with a beard to his belt, lent me his floor-length, fur-lined World War II army coat. Then he tossed me his hat. The costume kept me from getting whiplash or chipping my incisors from all the chattering, although strangely, I did expect every one to salute me when I finished.

Talk about atmosphere. All that candle light and singed hair, that residual laryngitis and my walking pneumonia until April.  Still, I smile when I recall how the legs of the keyboard began shaking then slowly folding in on themselves, and neither the pianist, still pounding away, nor the vocalists, still singing, missed a beat. The keyboard sank to the floor, the conductor crouched following his fingers, the closest baritone scrambled to his knees to recover the conductor’s sheet music flying all over the place, our voices mounted higher as we neared the dramatic end of the chorus, until everything, keyboard, conductor, sheet music, reached the floor with a thud. And just as we landed on that last, sustained, triumphant “Ha-leeehhh-lu-jaaah”, this conductor shouted at the top of his lungs, “You’re never going to forget this!”

And I haven’t.

© 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: Velkommen til Lofoten

Randall’s work routinely invited employees and their partners on occasional trips somewhere in Scandinavia. The most memorable of these for me was to the dramatic beauty of the Lofoten Islands north of the Arctic Circle.  It wasn’t, however, the dramatic beauty of those picturesque black blades of angry granite shooting out of the silver plate of sea that made the trip memorable. There was other drama awaiting us.

Before we board for the intended six hour hydrofoil ride from the mainland to the islands, a crew member with a cleft chin, missing teeth, and a closely cropped red beard announces casually that this will be a rough ride.  North Sea. Midwinter. Choppy waters. Brace yourselves. Grimly, mechanically, the crew is moving about, battening down hatches, slamming doors shut, unbolting and then belting life jackets and life preservers.

Norwegians, for all their virtues, will not hear that any thing is supposedly rough or hard. Because, naturally, they are what’s rough, they are the thing that’s hardy. Everyone on board is elbowing the next person as if to say, “This chap said what? Ho-ho! Bring on rough.

Oskar and Mette, our friends, are seated right behind us.  While the engines rumble and the vessel jerks and crunches into position, these two are sharing snacks from their hand luggage, giggling, chortling. There are other friends of ours everywhere we look, too, lusty, hunky-dory travelers, who ignore the engine grinding into full ear-slamming throttle and the muffled crew member’s advice over the intercom: We’re heading out. Best to be seated. Waters are especially lively with the wind coming down from the northwest.  We’ll be heading straight into it. Please sit down.  Really.

So these Norwegians, not wanting to be told this might test their Norwegianness, reluctantly find their seats.  A few guys are slapping backs and sniggering, rolling their eyes like high school seniors who’ve just been told by the squirrely substitute teacher to return to their seats and listen to the lecture like all the other nerds.  They’re just about on their cushions when, in the space of 0.3 seconds, the vessel lurches from a perfect stand-still to mach speed and I’m slammed into the headrest, cheeks fluttering, gums exposed. A collective Whuuoooh rises like a wave from the passengers and out my little porthole to the left I see we’re slicing like a power saw through a deeply grooved and teethy horizon, gun metal razors spitting silver shavings every direction into the air.

With each hump of air we sail over, we’re airborne, a good half-foot above our seats.  I’m whehing and aaahing and ooohing like everyone else, flopping wildly up and out of  and slapping back down into my seat.  At first this is so funny.  We all move like synchronized swimmers, hair flying, limbs rubbery. It’s carnival time.  But the roller coaster’s not ending like any predictable amusement park ride.  It doesn’t let up at all, in fact. It gets worse.  We’re strapped on the back of some rabid cosmic bronco, all hundred or so of us, being randomly whacked and thrashed until our jaws are unhinging, our heads on the verge of being snapped off.

The mood gets heavy.  Only a weak laugh or two – Ha. Ho. Ha-ha. – just a couple of diehard one-liners from a log-throwing type back there in the corner.  And then instantaneous and complete cricket chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

And the rhythmic slosh of ocean slapping metal.

Slosh. Whish. Whoosh. Slosh. Whish. Whoosh.

“Oh, Lord,” I hear Oskar mumble, “Make me pass out soon.”

And then the scene gets juicy.  From the silent spaces between the whish-whooshes of the steely walls of our vessels cutting the steelier wall of ocean, someone hurls.  Someone hurls in that hacking, open-throated, intensity that cracks the tomb and immediately fills the air with the raw sting of bile.  We are quiet, so quiet, so deathly quiet, and the chopping of the water keeps mocking, kershlocking our insides.

I can ride this, like labor pains I can ride this, yes, and ride it through, ride it out, I can, I know I can, yes, ride this, riiiiide.  But my whole interior feels whoosh-sloshed and my brain is whishing soupily in my skull.  Someone grunts “I need air,” and a bunch of people follow his drunk-like tread out through the ship’s back door and to a small deck. Randall, who’s to my right sitting chipper and looking in the pink, nods to me, motioning that he’ll go around to see if anyone needs help.  So like him to be impervious and pleasant, even when slamming and violently gyroscoping through the lowest bowels of Odin’s wrath.

Mette and Oskar are still behind me, groaning and grousing, and all at once Oskar, (who’s a big guy with friendly jowls and a thick neck), projectile vomits.  Something damp lands on the back of my ear.  “Oh, come on, Oskar.  Do you have to be so loud?” Mette is still friendly though she chides him. After all, they are newlyweds. I happen to have sung at their wedding just a few months earlier, and therefore feel a certain investment in their marital bliss. Do you need a piece of gum, I would say? A Tic Tac? In other circumstances, yeah, but for now, forget it, I can’t as much as move my hand to open my bag to get them anything if I had it to offer help in the first place, but I do manage to turn halfway and wink, I believe, wink spritely while I feel an ochre-toned sludgeness glurping from my lower limbs up through my torso, spreading like rancid greenish pancake batter across my whole being, up, out, upward, outward toward my esophagus and tingling toward my trachea. My jaw goes totally slack. I schlurbble something bubbly from my lips toward Mette, caught as I am in that haf-winky-turn, unable to rotate my shoulders back toward my seat, afraid to move at all, and so I watch helplessly at Mette, whose got her hands wrapped around her head and her head between her knees and her knees drawn up to her chest, and is now rocking softly. Not a sound comes from her.  And Oskar’s friendly jowls have gone Alfred Hitchcocky; they’ve melted into moroseness the shade of recycled cooking oil.  Mette’s hair, I see, has been in the line of Oskar’s fire. But she’s oblivious.  She will not yet lose patience with her puking new husband. For this moment, they’re doing splendidly.

So I turn away and pin myself to my porthole, begging inwardly for Oskar to at least keep his vomit within his own aisle.

The red-beareded crew member is striding by, casually doling out these tidy, pint-sized white bags.  He’s just riding this Perfect Storm, this fellow, riding it like you ride a parade float on freshly spread asphalt. Cruisin’.  He hands me a bag and I smile in thanks, but I sense my lips have been replaced by those from a horny toad and I’m coming undone, becoming amphibious.  Focus, focusConcentrate, concentrate. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale. . .

Out my porthole is the horizon, so cruelly removed, so placid way out there, so unconcerned, conceited, so stuck up, that horizon.  I drill my glare right into its line and start Lamaze breathing. I am becoming one with the horizon.  It is in me.  I, in it.

Horizon.

Horizen. Zen.

Ohmmm.

Is that Oskar softly crying?

My back is turned from the grisly scene where I know everyone’s hacking, groaning, buckled over and falling sideways into seats, legs slumped in all directions or curled into the fetal position.  Someone’s spread eagle on the grimy Astroturf floor, her fur coat speckled with someone else’s (I assume Oskar’s?) fluids. More people are heading outside, trudging over the limbs of the vomit-coated victim in the middle of the floor.  Each time the vessel takes air, she’s a couple of centimeters or more off the floor, and then comes thumping back down again limply.  Barely a whimper.

I need to escape Oskar The Spewer, so I rise from my seat like an arthritic head of state, ready to address my executioners, eyes closed, shuffling blindly toward air. Along the vessel’s railing outside there’s a line up of rear ends above half-buckled knees.  A couple of bodies are even on their knees, arms strung through the railing, grips loose or clenched, heads tucked into the chest.

Per Olav, tall, barrel-chested, normally gregarious enough to do rollicking Elvis impersonations at company dinners, stands in the middle of the crouching cluster where he’s letting out a low, sonorous Gregorian chant of a growl.  His lips are chalky.  His eyes are sunken and red. His pockets are bulging with crisp white vomit bags. Then in one movement his head’s in one of those bags he holds with two lifeless fingers, he’s convulsing twice, filling the bag, and then he throws the thing into the wake like a trucker throws his twelfth cigarette. “Jeg haaaaaater Lofoten!” (I hate Lofoten) he yells, a mucusy gurgle lubricating each vowel.

The woman next to him isn’t so well prepared and, with a half cry, vomits, too, but into thin air.  Into thick air.  The chunks and juice make a swirling, fireworks kind of pattern and drop on the chest of the pasty-looking man to her right.  Neither she nor the man as much as flinches.

I return to the tangy interior and, eyes half closed, finger my way to my seat. Back in deep meditation, I’m in the most perilous mindset, feeling smug, convinced I might actually end up being one of the superior two or three übercreatures here who survives intact, without spilling or splitting my gut. I’m all calm, all peaceful now, and by sheer force of will I’m hummy-dumming something to my frontal lobe while my eyes, blinkless, channel the sea gods.  A small circle of my forehead is melding with the cool, steady glass of my porthole window, and I see nothing, know nothing but the steady, perfect serenity of the horizon.  I am that line.  I am the line. I am a line. I am in line. Line. Line.  Line.

Then the unthinkable happens.  A tap-tap-tap on my shoulder.  My teeth I grit so tightly I can’t speak, can’t respond, and though I do not want to turn – no, I can not turn, glued as my skull is to the glass – I’m chronically polite.  I turn.  The way people freshly set in neck braces turn, I turn.  I tuuuuuurn my head while peeeeeeeling my eyes off my line. And here: Randall’s blue eyes. “So. . . how you doing?” he whispers sympathetically, leaning close to me. His tenderness undoes me.

That he’s able to rip out and open one of those white bags in time to catch the perfect upward arc of my vomit, remains to this day a moment of matrimonial wonder.  And he never even winces when that eruption comes with the same sound and force you get when you rip a whole gymnasium’s carpet off of super adhesive on cement. He extends me a scented moist towelette.

Six virulently fetid hours later, the world stops beating us up, the sky settles down, the hydrofoil shudders into harbor. I smack my lips, drag my trembling fingers through my sweaty hair, and look around to see that every last one of us (but Randall) has just stepped out of the ring with The Destroyer.  Folks have bruises and abrasions, clothes are torn and soiled, hair is plastered into gummy, geometric shapes, someone actually has a gash on his face and Anita, dear Anita, Randall’s assistant, has broken her ankle.

The huddled masses yearning to breathe free stagger into the linoleum-tiled entry port at Lofoten Islands.  I am relieved to see Mette and Oskar limping together, even if the young husband is leaning heavily on the young wife, and the wife is looking with disgust in the other direction while handing husband his wadded sweatshirt, which he takes in one hand as if barely coming out of full anesthesia, and uses like a towel to wipe off the last drips of bile clinging to his chin.

© 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: Vi er Norske!

Dalton Haakon Bradford. We chose the name for our baby because Dalton, as you’ve gathered, is my maiden name. And Haakon  (pronounced similarly to “hoe cone”, but that’s where similarity ends), is one of those big names of Norwegian royalty, much like Charles or George in England, Louis and Philip in France. It happens, for instance, to also be the name of the current Norwegian crown prince, Haakon Magnus.

Royal lineage, however, has nothing to do with why we wanted that name for our Viking baby.  Personal lineage has.  Haakon is an important name from Randall’s maternal line.  In the year of 1856, Haakon Aamodt, Randall’s great grandfather and the youngest branch of at least a dozen generations of farming family from the county of Østfold, Norway, joined the Mormon church.  Summarily kicked out of the King’s Royal Navy, he did what thousands of European Mormons of that time were doing.  He took himself a wife, Julia Josephine, and emigrated to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Although you might not believe this, we knew nothing of Haakon’s story until we’d lived in Norway over a year.  It’s then we got a letter from Randall’s oldest sister, who had more or less inherited the matriarchal and family history responsibility when their mother, Shirley, had passed away suddenly less than a year before we’d been offered the job in Oslo. Shirley had been a charitable, humble, self-effacing person who shared few of the details of her upbringing, and even fewer of her extended family history.  And so we all understood only that her heritage was vaguely Scandinavian, but the details ended there.

So it came as a surprise when this oldest sister put two and two together and discovered that their mother Shirley was only three generations removed from a small community right in the middle of the endless rolling farmland of the county of Østfold, less than an hour’s drive from our doorstep which was a few minutes west of Oslo.  It seemed that Shirley’s father, Albert Aamodt, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Haakon and Julia.  Haakon’s father was Christian Torkildsen who lived on one of the many Aamodt farms in Østofld and, as was the way then, took the name of the farm, Aamodt.  Our research told us that preceding Christian, there were ten consistently linked generations from that one corner of Østfold.  In other words, the Aamodt line is Østfold.

We figured it was a good place to start looking for family.  So we packed up the kids and took off one day in search of the first church with a graveyard in that county.  Not only did we find that, but a nice older couple out for a stroll that afternoon pointed us right in the direction of the largest Aamodt farm where they promised us the owner would love to chat.  He was quite interested in genealogy himself.

An hour later I was playing with the children on ancient wooden farm equipment surrounded by goats and cows while Randall waved at me through kitchen windows. Inside, he was seated next to the family’s long pine farm table where he and other Aamodts shared glasses of cider pressed from their local apples. This American son talked family matters with these Norwegian sons.

All these generations, and there Randall stood, right on Haakon’s very patch of natal soil. Serendipity, a professional stroke of luck, and we believe Shirley’s quiet celestial lobbying had landed us, an American family of five, less than an hour from the roots of Randall’s family tree.  Using Haakon’s name for our child born in his country, a country Haakon never set eye on again after emigrating for his faith from the verdant fjords to a chalky expanse of an unknown desert, was our small way of gratefully closing the family circle.

Dalton Haakon Bradford.  The string of firm, double-syllabled titles seemed to fit his dense, big-boned build.  A strong, heavily-connected appellation for a strong, heavy boy.

But the Norwegian government would have nothing to do with it.

After submitting the name to the civil registry, we got a note back saying Haakon was great, but Dalton?

Nei, det er ikke lov.

Not allowed.  Our choice was “unacceptable.”

Unacceptable?

Unusual, maybe. I could accept that.  But unacceptable?  Pshaw.

We read on. There were several points detailed in the nice shiny brochure they’d enclosed which outlined which names one must avoid in Norway.  I recall some vague guideline about not giving a child a name that would be “disadvantageous” to him in adulthood.  Here, I suspected they were thinking of Chastity Bono, Moon Unit or Dweezle Zappa, and any number of American mashups meant to evoke father, mother, eye color and astrological sign in one fell swoop.

Marvellabluvirgo. For instance.

Furthermore, the pamphlet instructed us, the parents were not to use as a given name the mother’s maiden name (our first infraction), nor any last name for that matter, to avoid doubling up on names when one marries. Messing up the genealogy charts and stuff.  An Olson Olson. A Carlson Carlson. Marvellabluvirgo Marvellabluvirgo.

Oh, the effrontery.

But wait! You’re thinking, (as we were), that Dalton was, 1) a boy, so he would not, given the tradition, take on the married name of his Norwegian bride with the family name of Dalton and become a freakish and stuttering Dalton Dalton, and, 2) the name Dalton is not Norwegian in the first place, so the chances were less than zero that there would be someone in this vast country named –

Randall whipped up the phone and brandished his finest, most professional Norwegian which was by now and in this moment of frustration, polished and gushing at full force like a 300 meter Norwegian waterfall after thaw.

“This is the Norwegian Civil Registry. I’m Snorre at the office of Name Laws. May I help you?

“Yes. Good day, Snorre. I’d like to name my baby.  What I want.”

“Let’s see. . .are you Norwegian citizens?”

“Nope. Neither is the baby. We’re temporary residents in your lovely country. So of course we can’t be subject to your Name Laws.”

“Let’s see. . .let me transfer you to my colleague.”

“Hello, this is Odd.”

“Hello, Odd.  I am Randall.  Neither my newborn baby nor my wife nor I are Norwegian citizens and we want to name this baby what we want.  We’ve decided on Dalton Haakon. Is his going to present any problems for your office, your country, King Harald and Queen Sonja? And if it does, what if I name him anyway? You going to confiscate him?”

(Goodwill snicker.)

No snicker back.

“Actually, Randall, in order to receive a Norwegian birth certificate, you have to comply with our Name Laws. If you do not comply, no certificate.  No certificate? No passport.  And your son is then officially illegitimate.”

“Alrightee, Odd. May I speak with your supervisor?”

“Hello, this is Hrothgar, office of Name Laws.  You might want to consider putting your son’s second name, Haakon, first, and just putting Dalton second.  This is a good compromise, don’t you think? According to this footnote, you can, in fact, use a family name as a second name. But not as a first.”

“No, Hrothgar,” Randall said, “I think not. My baby.  My name. No compromise.”

“Then I’m afraid I can’t help you. We at Norway’s Name Law office want to protect your child.  If one day your son marries someone Norwegian with the last name Dalton—”

“Time out, time out, Hrothgar!  First, help me understand, would you please, how many people with the last name of Dalton are currently living in Norway?”

Pause. Computer click-click-click sounds.

“There are. . .hmmm. . . six.  I see there is. . .um.. . one Dalton on an island off the southwestern coast.  And one Dalton. . .let’s see. . .yes. . . northeast of Hammerfest near the Arctic Circle and–”

“Right.  Okay, so what’s the probability of this little baby Dalton Bradford one day marrying one of these Daltons and then crashing Norway’s entire genealogical data system by taking her name and becoming Dalton Dalton?”

Silence.

“Well. . . Randall. . . there is still the other issue.”

“The other issue?”

“We just can’t be sure that Dalton is an acceptable first name.  I’ve checked, and it’s nowhere on our Acceptable Names list.  It is normally a last name, your wife’s last name, am I not right?”

“Hrothgar, may I speak with your supervisor?”

“Hello, this is Beowulf.  You are calling about the Name Laws, aren’t you?”

“Right, yes. Okay listen. Dalton is a fully acceptable first and last name. And to make everyone happy, I’ll personally see to it that our son not marry a Someone Dalton from the Polar ice cap. In fact, I won’t even let him date anyone from there.  Can we just name our baby what we want?”

“For this exception, Randall, you will need to provide a letter of intercession from your native government. Then, you will have to be able to show proof that this name Dalton is acceptable.  Solid, tangible proof.”

So did you know that you can, if you really have to, receive via Fed Ex Express vintage bubble gum cards of the New Orleans Saints football player, Dalton Hilliard? A CD cover featuring Dalton Baldwin as accompanist? And title pages of every last one of Dalton Trumbo’s screenplays?

A fortune for all that plus a paltry bribe of one packet of El Paso Taco seasoning for an Embassy affiliate, and we got the obsequious letter begging for the right to name our baby as we, and as his great-great intervening Norwegian grandfather who must have been smiling somewhere, wished.

 

© 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: Viking Mother

Although I’ve escorted my readers to a certain chronological spot in this story, the spot that welcomed Luc William to Versailles and introduced me to mothering in France, I can’t resist looping back to Norway for a post or two. That was the spot, as you remember, that welcomed Dalton Haakon to Oslo and introduced me to mothering in Norway. There, a new me was birthed. Please meet Melissa the Viking Mother:

From Global Mom: A Memoir

Nursing baby Dalton meant doing so every other hour on the hour around the clock.  This child was draining fluids from every inch of my being including my uvula, so my doctor suggested that rather than switch to formula (which was unnatural, so of course vociferously discouraged in Norway), I rent a pump.

Increase lactation, he said.

Churn some serious cream.

This pump I got must have been a design joint venture between Hummer and Hoover.  It sat like an idling dune buggy on our kitchen floor and when I strapped it on, I had to buckle myself to a piece of heavy furniture to keep from being yanked across the room.  It could have sucked the chrome off a trailer hitch, as could have Dalton.  After only a couple of months, I was almost ready to stop the nursing/vacuuming experiment because I noticed all my internal organs had been rearranged and pulled to the surface. (When I did eventually wean him, Dalton went straight to reindeer steaks, if that gives you an idea of what kind of appetite we were dealing with.)

Thankfully, I had my barselgruppe, a typically Norwegian wonder that is an essential component of being a viking mother. Barsel is a word for birth, and your barsel group is a support community for those first months of a baby’s life or forever.  When Dalton was born, the state registered me along with five other freshly delivered mothers from my immediate geographic surroundings to be part of a support group led by a nurse/social worker who specialized in postnatal adjustment, family counseling and facets of early childhood education.

Every month in the nurse’s station of Nesøya Skole down our street on the island, we mothers met with our supervising worker named Gunnil and shared snacks and stories while discussing our babies and ourselves.  Was little Morton sleeping? Was darling Kerstin on solids yet? Was Melissa’s breast pump available to take a spin around the block or to vacuum out someone’s garage? We kept this up for a year and then, as was often the case with these groups, ours took on a life of its own and we met independently at one of our homes, a corner café, or walking out along the fjord.  It wasn’t uncommon in Norwegian culture to keep these barsel friends for life. Lots of women I knew attended the marriages of the babies, now fully grown, whose births had brought their moms together.

One day at barselgruppe, we discussed milk.

One of the mothers just had too much of it, she said. Constantly leaking all over the place, very annoying and inconvenient, not to mention messy and embarrassing, she sighed. So Gunnil suggested this mother bag all the extra milk her baby didn’t consume, and take those bags to the melkebank , the local annex of the hospital created expressly (no pun intended) for this purpose.

That mother had a slight build, but was ample in maternally strategic places.  She sat right next to a lanky brunette, naturally beautiful in jeans from about 1974, with capable large-knuckled hands that had milky unpolished nails.  Her manner was cool and solid, like a big deep ceramic basin of setting mascarpone.

When I then mentioned I was becoming totally drained emotionally from being so totally drained mammarily, someone in the circle suggested I go to the melkebank.  If there were deposits, there were withdrawals.

For dried up women.  Like me.

“Maybe I’ll take my extra milk there,” another mother said. “I’m constantly soaking my shirts.”

“And I’ve got too much, too,” the mother sitting to my right added. “Mornings, my bed is drenched.”

“Me, too!” a first-time mother of twins exclaimed.

“You know, with all my three babies it’s been the same story,” the brunette basin of mascarpone interjected, curling her long legs up under her hips on the couch.  “I make more milk than my father’s cows did.  And that milk fed us five children when I was growing up.  I’ve got cow DNA.”

Laughter and sisterly eye-winking all around the room.  But for me.

Because right then is when I started feeling about as succulent as the last potato chip in the bag, no more use to my hungry baby than a couple of medium-sized, plastic-wrapped, year-old fortune cookies. Without the fortune.

“Maybe you need to eat more,” suggested Gunnil, motioning to a piece of chocolate cake.

“Some foods help stimulate production,” a woman said, taking a big bite of the gooey dark confection.

“Foods like chocolate, I hope?” I asked, and bit deep into my piece of cake brought this time, as last time and like the time before, by the deep cheese brunette. I had noticed she always brought rich things like dense brownies and carrot cake and creamy toffee bars, so not only was she apparently our barselgruppe’s crowned Dairy Queen, but she was the Treat Goddess to boot.

Maybe I had a mild case of milk envy. But you understand that I was, as I’ve told you, doing all I could but was still not quite able to keep the milk wagon stocked for Dalton. My mommy ego was growing concave.

“Funny,” Miss Treat Goddess Milky Way spoke up softly, “I’ve never donated to the melkebank.  All this extra milk, you know, I just keep it in my freezer.”

“In your freezer?” the mother of twins, also helping herself to a second piece of cake, nearly laughed. “Why in your freezer?”

“Because it has so many uses.”

Gunnil, putting aside her cake and licking her fingers, reached for her notepad and pen to take notes. “Uses? For example?”

“Well. . .” Ms. Lactose smiled as golden as a cube of chilled butter, “It’s good, for example, for treating pink eye.”

“Yes, I’ve heard this,” Gunnil jotted a note. “Full of antibacterial properties.”

“And for softening cracked skin,” Yogurt Gal told us, those lean hands looking smoother than I’d noticed before.

I downed three big mouthfuls of cake.

“Yes, it’s rich in emollients,” Gunnil was nodding around the circle, hoping we were all listening to this perfect example.

“But really,” our Lady of La Leche said, “I don’t use it so much for all that.”

“Oh?” the mother of twins said, licking her lips.

“Oh?” the mother to my right wiped crumbs from her chin.

“Oh?” I swallowed my fifth bite.

“Then how do you use all your extra milk?” Gunnil’s pen was waiting.

“I use it all in my baking,” Curdle Girl said, perky as a dollop of whipped cream. “Another piece, Melissa?”

© 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: My Two O.B.’s

Respectable women do not make demands on the medical system. This is what I was picking up in my conversations with my neighbors who were each giving me their two centîmes on where I should go for gynecological care. This was going to be especially helpful since, a year and a half after we arrived in Versailles, we were thrilled to be pregnant with number four.

“We”, I write. By then we were apparently speaking in the royal plural, which happens, I suppose, if you’re learning the French of Versailles. I now felt comfortable in the language, which for me was an essential prerequisite to entering into the most intimate world of a culture, the world of giving birth. No way was I going to føde, (give birth) in Norway unless I could somehow manage start to finish in that language. And no way was I going to accoucher, (give birth) in France unless I could muddle through in French. It was this curious little deal I’d made between my tongue and my ovaries.

Our Luc, le petit prince, three days old and in that perambulator

I had been reading as many articles as I could on French obstetrics and gynaecology, and was concerned but somehow not surprised to find out that France ranks among the top ten countries in the world for the highest number of Cesaereans programmés, or scheduled cesarean sections. This concern I took to my girlfriend Eleanore, who was as narrow as a baguette and always smelled of lavender. She’d grown up in le Midi, or the south of France so certainly she, I thought, a girl from Aix-en-Provence, would be a naturalite and would not prefer scheduled C-sections or even epidurals, episiotomies or intravenous drips. She’d definitely give me advice on where and with whom I could deliver our baby.  I have no idea what my logic was, but I figured her perpetual scent of lavender meant she’d given birth to her two children in a field of it.  But no. She explained the same thing my other neighborhood and church friends told me. On ne fait pas ça en France. Meaning, we don’t do that “natural thing” in France.

The Clinique was housed here, and this just happened to be within a walk from our home . . . so it was practical. It was.

The ça, the “that”, was always spoken with a certain emphasis and mild wincing. My friends, their friends, and all their doctor friends refused to believe my talk of meditation instead of medication, concentration instead of caesarean sections, of walking and rocking and singing and water births, and when I told them about the simply beautiful (and natural) birth of burly Dalton, it invariably left them with a look in their eyes that was a melange of panic, pain, embarrassment and bemusement.  My fulsome praise of Ellen my Norwegian earth mother, who essentially left Randall and me alone in our private birthing room requesting only that we ring a little cow bell when everything was ready and I knew it was time to give birth, made my full grown adult French friends slap their foreheads and drag their hand over their eyes in disbelief.
“Oh yes, we’ve heard of those primitive tribal practices in Lago-Lago,” Rita told me.
And, “Those poor Nordic women are too naïve to know they have modern options. Right?” from Mathilde.
Here I came, a woman who’d had a really pleasant birth experience with a child that had weighed in at nearly 5 kilos, and what? I was still walking? They made me step back and turn around twice, all while looking me up and down and sideways, like I was Connie the Barbarian.

L’entrée principale, Clinique du Château de la Maye. We strolled there to deliver .  We strolled home when delivered.  As I said, practical.

“There is a center I once read of,” another friend Caroline whispered to me, “in Paris in the bottom of the 15th arrondissement.” She lowered her voice even more.  I had to cup my hand around my ear to hear her.  “There, you might be able to convince a clinician to assist you in such a birth.”  Caroline was glancing both ways, too, as if this place were where a branch of illegal immigrant Wiccans shared a practice with a voodoo doctor, a tarot card reader and a psychic named Esmeraldino. Aeh. The 15th was  Paris, a 20 minute drive in daytime traffic.  Too far.

The French preliminary gynecological visits themselves were nothing like what I’d experienced in Norway. There, my family doctor, Doktor Ø-N., (his actual initials), had been the designated “attending physician”, but in Norway a doctor in the delivery room was looked upon kind of like a strand of puka shells or maybe a tiara: One accessory too many. Hence, the presence of a highly skilled team of earth mothers assisting the woman in labor, and across the hall an operating room with a squad of emergency physicians who were always on hand in the hospital itself.


Doktor Ø.-N. was thoroughly Norwegian. This means he was ruggedly handsome, matter-of-fact, and dealt with his patients like he probably dealt with all living organisms from moose to mushrooms: with respect, equanimity and a certain androgyny. There was never a thing in his manner that could have been interpreted as flirtatious or even drolly suggestive. On a scale of one to ten, one being acrimonious and ten being fawning, he was a solid 5.3, courteous on all counts but never chummy or chatty about anything personal.  His job was to monitor my growing baby which was only incidentally, it seemed, housed within my uterus.

Grandmother, Claire, Parker, New Baby, and Mom in tears of joy. Less than an hour after delivery. This was our private delivery room, my delivery bed.

There was one exception to Doktor Ø.-N.’s professional distance. On a below-freezing January morning I arrived at his office with three-week-old baby Dalton bundled snugly in the car seat for his first new baby check-up. I got out of my Subaru and stepped into the eyeball-freezing cold, closed the driver’s door, and through glacial winds scuttled very carefully over the blue-gray ice to the other car door where I would take out my baby bundle. There, on the other side of the car, I discovered that that car door had either frozen shut or was jammed. I yanked and pounded on that door then shuffled quickly back to the driver’s door – also jammed or frozen –  then pounded and shook all the others then even the hatch back, but nothing opened. In that short time, everything had frozen shut.  My newborn was sitting inside this meat locker. Panicked, I ran, slipping and falling on ice all the way, to the building then up the stairs to my doctor’s office. “My baby’s locked inside my car!” I panted loudly to the woman at the reception desk, “My baby’s freezing! I’m locked out!”  Hearing me, Doctor Ø.N. stepped out of his room, already pulling on his coat, a spray can in one hand and a metal rod of sorts in the other.

Without exchanging more than four words, he and I raced down the stairs and out into the gale and to the car, then, deftly wielding the magic spray and wedging this metal rod tool under the lip of the Subaru’s hatchback, the doctor pried the back open. Then all six-foot-six feet of him  climbed into the back and over the second seat, and he got right next to the car seat of my now crying baby. He unlatched the car seat and handed it back through the hatch to me, but not before checking on Dalton who was wailing his husky self into all shades of mulberry, but who (was this even possible?) went completely silent when my doctor, still crouched and contorted in the back seat with his knees up to his ear lobes, blew one light puff of air into the baby’s face then covered the baby and the whole car seat with the thick thermal blanket I’d tucked in there for warmth and lining. With one nod of the head and  “Sakte, sakte” (slowly, slowly), my doctor sent me back inside the building carrying the car seat with my baby boy.

While I stood , infant in arms, watching from the window of his practice, this man stayed out there checking every door of my Subaru, coating the edges and lock mechanisms of each door with the spray, checking and rechecking.  After ten minutes or so, his reddish brown hair looked like a flocked wig and the back and shoulders of his coat appeared to have been dipped in glass. Only now did I see he hadn’t even put on gloves.

When he did come back inside, frost rings for nostrils, frost awnings for eyebrows, there was not a conversation, not even a word about what he’d just done for me and for my child. He just stamped off his shoes, hung his coat, shook off his hair and returned to his other waiting patient.  Just like that. Your every day, no-frills superhero M.D.

“In bad weather like this,” he explained to me during our appointment, “You can just phone a day ahead and we can organize a house call.”  At any time and for any reason, in fact, I could call him and he’d visit my baby in the comfort of our home.

Well then.  “As long as you might be stopping by, could you check the oil?  And there’s this weird clicking sound in the steering column.”

(I got him to smile with that one.)

Big and Beautiful

As for medical advice, throughout my pregnancy my doctor told me to keep eating heartily, rest if I got tired, to not go slalom skiing after, oh, maybe the seventh month, (it was a minor balance issue, he said), and to drink something called tran and another thing called Vørter øl, if I could gag them down. All the Norwegian mothers swore by them, he told me, but they might be an acquired taste, he warned, and so with typical zeal, I of course gagged down double doses every single day.

Ellen, our “earth mother” and another attending midwife.  And Dalton (look at the size of that head) Haakon

That I was putting on weight at a steady rate of two kilos (five pounds) or more a month was neither surprising nor troubling to Doktor Ø-N. “We want you to be well-nourished and your baby to be strong,” he told me. “You also need a good layer of fat to produce good milk for your child. Don’t worry, you’ll ski it off by the next year.”

Randall and our earth mother, Ellen. And 7 minute-old Dalton Haakon

He was unfazed when I tested him about actual birthing options. What if I wanted to birth, say, in a tub? Or on all fours? Or while practicing arias? He said it was my birth and my body, and given this was my third child, I should know what worked best for me.

Left in my private room for four full blissful days. Just like this.

So Norway had set the standard for giving birth.  It had proven to me how lovely – how exquisite –-the experience could be, how powerful in respects physical as well as spiritual. And now France had to follow that act.

Baerum Sykehus, Norway, where Dalton Haakon was born.

To be continued. . .

Le Château de la Maye, Versailles, France, where Luc William was born.

© 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.