So you start off with filling out all of the forms that you need to tell the system in your new country that you have arrived and are planning to stay for at least forever in our case. It was a big move with 2 kids and even though we had made decisions quickly, we hadn’t done it lightly. It is widely believed that kids are very adaptable. My 4 year old son told us more than once in the early days that he hated us for moving him away from all he knew. We at least needed to get him to like us again before moving on. That could take years.
Here in Norway, you need to register with the police first to show them that you have a permit to live here. You can then get a personal number which is a bit like a social security number. As with any new place you move to, you sit down and figure out how to register with a doctor, who to call if you burn your house down, where you can find language courses, how childcare works, how to get a bus to the beach, how to buy tickets for the bus to the beach and so on.
And then come all of the firsts. The first time at the doctor with one of the kids, I could speak approximately 5 words of Norwegian. It was a locum doctor. I could speak to her in English but she only responded in Norwegian. Such a simple situation was so unsettling. I had 2 voices in my head, the adventurous saying a little proudly and smugly perhaps, well isn’t this crazy, who would have thought I would be here this time last year. The other kill-joy menacing voice was whispering, you irresponsible nutter, how can you have a doctor talking to you about your child’s health and you don’t understand what she is saying. We muddled through. If it is only the results that count, we were all in good health again after a few days. A win.
The first time I opened the door here to a small person bearing gifts, there was a nice boy bringing a big bag of fresh baked pastries. I didn’t know him, he talked in Norwegian, I could recognise the word Mamma and figured his mum had baked these as a welcome gift. I exclaimed in English, he looked confused and then scared and ran away to the house next door. A win…I think.
And then there was the first time the fire brigade arrived at the door. The authoritative ringing of the doorbell at 9pm one winter evening, opening to reveal a fire truck with a silent rotating light and 5 tall norsk men in their full gear in the garden. My husband was out and the kids were sleeping. Brannmann Sam said hello and spouted out supersonic speed norsk to me. I had to give him my best blank luck and say, sorry, no Norwegian here. It turned out that the over-anxious fire alarm in the empty apartment downstairs had triggered a fire alarm at the station. He needed to check our fire and chimney. He spoke excellent English so I got a bit carried away and fired a load of questions at him about how, what, when, are you serious, is that how it works here, and then what… and so on. They didn’t stay very long. This one was a draw.
The first parents evening at the barnehage (kindergarten) was in a whole new league for me. The teachers and other parents were incredibly nice. Teachers presented to us in Norwegian of course. The most I could do was introduce myself in Norwegian. I who would normally have 15 questions or points to make or observations to add was stoically silent, nodding mildly now and then to show interest and alertness. I floated home on a surreal cloud afterwards with a determination to be in a fit and able state to understand and contribute and question next time. I felt the need for a red wine to close off the evening. Definitely a win.
The first swim in the fjord here was great. Cold, cut feet, exhilarating, whooping for joy, memorable.
And underpinning all of this was an amazement that not so long ago. we were living in London in a daily pace and rhythm that I didn’t think would fundamentally change until the kids grew up and moved out. We had a good life there. In so many ways, it would have been easier to stay.
But by opening the door to the possibility of change and new experience, it was impossible to shut it again even if we were in our forties and by normal convention, past the voluntary big life upheaval stage. Not everything has fallen in to place here yet but I am hopeful it will. Whatever happens, we reset the dial and underneath all of the uneasiness comes a sense of satisfaction that we were crazy and courageous enough to do it. Norway is great and the kids are thriving. And a good friend recently told me that learning a language when you are over 40 staves off Alzheimers. I am still trying to figure out how I will test that one.