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I’m celebrating a very important milestone.
Uh, no not my 10th wedding anniversary. Although that is very important. Or my son’s fourth birthday. Or my upcoming birthday. No, I’m not talking about those.
I’m celebrating going a whole year without washing my hair.
I mean, a whole without washing it with shampoo I mean. I’m not that gross.
Or maybe I am that gross, as that is basically how I managed to start.
Look, when you have two kids, and one is a tiny screamy baby, and you are still very sick so you never go anywhere, and when the baby naps you just kind of fall into a catatonic state, it is hard to find the energy to actually wash your hair. And so I would leave it for days when my husband was home, which basically meant washing it once a week. I’d heard of people who gave up shampoo and I knew that there is a period like a ‘withdrawal’ where you try to cut down your shampoo, and your hair and scalp react to having less soap, less frequently, and I’m like ‘hey, that’s basically what I’m doing anyway’. So I decided to give not-shampooing a try.
Before I get to the methods and results (I’ll leave you hanging as to whether I look amazing, or whether I look like a freaky birds nest nightmare just a bit longer) I think it is worth going into the whys. I’ve been following Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippyshake for a while, and had read about her No-Poo (as some people delightfully call it) life for a while. There are lots of reasons that people have for going No-Poo, environmental factors like reducing waste being a major drawcard for me. I’m no chemo-phobe, ok? But it does seem to me we don’t need to be pouring all these industrially manufactured chemicals into our waterways all the time. Some of these are having really nasty effects, like microbeads. Also, everything I use comes in either cardboard or glass, unlike plastic shampoo bottles. Finally I really dislike the beauty industries marketing to women that we need to be more. We need to be shinier, thinner, whiter, smoother. And it is an industry based on lies. I can’t fight this huge industry, but I can choose not to buy into it.
But I didn’t want to be, you know, smellier.
This is where the aforementioned blog really came into use. Along with continuing my, ahem, minimalist regime I started to use a combination of baking soda and apple-cider vinegar on my hair when I did wash it. And you know what? It was good. Like, it looked clean. The basic principle is baking soda massaged into hair and scalp for a clean, and then the vinegar works as a conditioner. A note of caution, you do have to be careful not to do this too frequently. For every blog about giving up shampoo there is one about why baking soda is terrible for hair, and how over time it will damage your hair. And it is true. That is actually the beauty of this routine for me. I wash my hair much less often. I only use baking soda and vinegar on the weekend. And instead of being a not so hot mess by the time Friday rolls around, mostly I look just fine.
I’ve always had very very fine hair that is prone to looking limp. I’ve always needed to wash frequently. No matter what shampoo I used – if I used a really good one I could go two days looking ok; with a supermarket cheapie, I’m looking lank after one day. Not having to wash my hair when I shower has worked out really well for me.
These days tiny screamy baby is not so tiny. It might come as a shock to some people, but it is still tricky to find time for a decent shower. I do make time. I haven’t completely given up on personal hygiene. My basic weekday routine is to hop in our shower with the bathroom door open and I have as long as it takes her to find me to wash myself.
I’ve got some great ways to extend the washing time. Like place the most interesting, noisy button pushing toys strategically on the pathway from lounge to shower so she stops to play with them en-route. Like a mini obstacle course. Or to play peek-a-boo around the shower curtain. The days her brother is home, or sometimes when I need to even if he is not, the TV can distract her a bit. But ultimately a full hair wash is risky and prone to interruption.
Now I admit, if I was working I would have to make more time. But I’m not. If it looks a little limp I’m probably not seeing anyone important enough to worry. But what about those days when even I need a mid-week pick me up? I’ve already mentioned you shouldn’t over use baking soda and vinegar. Turns out they are only the start of your pantry solutions for hair care. Careful though, contrary to what my kids think you shouldn’t just pick up any old food and smear it on your hair. So to help you all out I thought I should
taste-test test wash my hair using some of the online solutions. Here goes:
Sounds sticky right? But the trick is to mix the honey with hot water, allow to cool and then massage through hair and scalp. It feels (and smells) sugary, and a bit viscous, but not sticky. My hair feels soft afterwards, and looks clean. Over the last year this has become my favourite alternative wash. Honestly, it is the best thing I’ve done with honey since toast.
This was a recent trial, after seeing the suggestion on Lucy’s latest haircare blog. Obviously I’m not making a nourishing chocolate drink for my hair. The idea is to use this as a dry shampoo, kinda like how the professional kitchens I’ve worked in throw salt on the floor to soak up grease. Why cocoa? Well I have dark hair. If you are blonde use something that matches eg cornflour, or a redhead could try cinnamon.
So that’s her theory, how did it go? I probably used a bit too much powder, you really only need a teaspoon or so. And brushing it out, which I did bent over my sink left it quite messy. But, it wasn’t so messy I couldn’t do it with a toddler hanging out at my knees, and when she wandered off I could go after her and come back to the sink after a couple of minutes without leaving a dust trail behind me. My hair did look less greasy afterwards, and it was quick. On the whole I’d do it again, it looked fine. Well, fine enough that I took my new passport photo that afternoon. However, there was a slight chocolaty aroma when I showered the following day. So perhaps not a great one pre job interview on a rainy day. Although there are worse things to smell of, right?
Speaking of smelling, that was probably the number one thing that put me off trying this. Even though I remember reading about egg-masks for hair way, way back in high school. Well, the smell and the mess. But again thanks to Lucy’s suggestion to whip the egg white I was able to get over my fear of the last one at least. I’m not going to lie, this is my least favourite of the washes I’ve tried so far. I’m not sure if it was just because I felt a bit too much like a walking pavlova – actually I’m pretty sure that is part of it – but it is also the most expensive alternative, and the most time consuming which negates my whole reasoning for getting into this situation in the first place.
On the other hand, nobody has said since ‘what happened to your hair?!’ In fact nobody has said anything like that to me all year while I’ve been secretly not washing. I don’t go to fancy hair salons, so it is pretty normal for me to get a haircut without a wash, but none of the hairdressers have batted an eyelid over the cleanliness of my hair. Even when I’d most recently washed with honey. My husband claims to not have noticed the cocoa or egg or honey until I confessed just the other day. And maybe he is unobservant. Or maybe it is because my hair looks great.
Or maybe that is wisdom learnt from ten years of marriage.
I wonder about those who cannot walk in another person’s shoes. Those who only see the opportunities taken, but cannot see the price paid.
I wonder about those who feel so threatened by people like me they can only respond with hate. Oh, I know, not really people like me. I am the right sort of immigrant. But, I am still an immigrant.
I wonder if they have ever thought what that would entail.
I wonder if they have ever walked off a plane, out of a railway station, and looked around, lost, no landmarks they recognise. And not with the excitement of a few days to bumble around a city, but with the knowledge this is your home now. Find your way, make it work. This is where you stay.
I wonder if they have had to register people’s surprise, when they open their mouth and begin to talk. Oh, you’re one of those.
I wonder if they know how it feels to stand in a queue, at the shops, the post office, mentally rehearsing the conversation you need to have once it is your turn. Hoping it stays on predictable tracks.
I wonder if they have ever felt the hopelessness of not being able to make yourself understood. I wonder if they know the moment the conversation moves beyond you; if they have ever felt that blank stare on their own face, searching their mind for words and grammar they don’t have, only for it to be met with a flicker of irritation.
I wonder if they know how exhausting even a trip to the supermarket can be. What it feels like to stand in front of all the cleaning products, trying to guess from the pictures which is the one you want. How bewildering the selection of flour can seem. How sometimes you buy something and get it wrong, or you don’t buy, only to find out later you were looking at the right thing after all.
I wonder if they know how it feels to be the person who spends too long reading the signs: the notices up at daycare, the notices to residents of your apartment block. This is, I suppose, what it is like to be functionally illiterate, lacking the access to information everyone around you takes for granted.
I wonder if they know how unpredictable the world can seem, when all the little social rules are so clearly ingrained, and yet so impenetrable to you. That nobody ever knows you didn’t know until too late. The sort of clothes your children are supposed to have, what to take with you to parties, what foods you are supposed to eat and when. That every public holiday is a surprise.
I wonder if they know what it feels like to have a child more fluent in the local language than you. The pride, mixed with frustration at not being able to follow them into conversations they want to have.
I wonder if they realise that these language problems are fleeting and generational. Adults will manage and muddle through and if allowed children will integrate easily. Bi-lingualism is not a threat. It is a skill, an asset, a bridge between worlds.
I wonder if they know the nagging question I ask myself. Is it worth it? So far from ‘home’, from family? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
I wonder if they understand that we make new homes. We grow to love places that were not ‘ours’ to begin with.
I wonder if they know the doubts. The way parents question themselves, as they watch their children assume a new identity. Will they be accepted?
I wonder if they know how it feels to watch their child play with their friends; the funny-sounding parents as important as who does or does not have a cat, less important than who does or does not like to dig holes with you. I wonder if they know how it feels to think that all it takes is media hype and careless words for your children to discover that they were not welcomed after all. Merely tolerated.
I wonder how it would feel for that toleration to disappear. To find decency is no longer required. To find yourself put up for public judgement and the verdict is you are not welcome.
It’s true that nowadays people are more accepting of the wide breadth of gender expression that people feel, rather than the strict gender binaries of yore. And while I fit into a fairly conventional gender role myself, I think it is really important that people have these freedoms. But I worry that our kids are being forced to define themselves much more narrowly than us adults. That while we dream about every colour of the rainbow, big business seems determined to tell how children how they should look.
Have you been into a kids clothing store recently? Where is the green? Red? Orange?
It’s pink. It’s blue.
And it isn’t that I think there is anything wrong with blue or pink. Or boys who like trucks, and girls who like ponies. My son has a very healthy obsession with various modes of transport. When M was born I quite happily stocked up on baby clothes from the boy section, mostly in blue, lots of cute puppies and robots. I love blue! I love robots! But as my son has grown I find the clothes are less cute puppies, more Angry Birds. I bought him a Batman t-shirt, but Batman looks quite frowny. My son loves flowers and cooking, and cuddling his little sister; he worries about growing up and being old enough to go for walks on his own because he will be ‘alonely’. It seems crazy to dress him as though his default emotion is rage.
Now I have a daughter, and my eye wanders over to the girl department, and they glaze over. I find myself frightened to enter. I swear those sparkly ponies are waiting for a chance to stampede. I swear if I squeeze through the aisle of pink frilly skirts I’ll get lost and end up in Narnia.
But what about when she is older? I want her to dress to please herself, not other people. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to look a certain way to be accepted. That she doesn’t have to look a certain way to have her bodily autonomy respected. I don’t want her to think she should look like a Disney princess. Or that looking like a Disney princess is somehow a reflection of inner character, and that all the baddies she meets in life will look like Ursula. That looking like Ursula means you are bad. Though tentacles would be unfortunate…
I want my children to know they are loved however they express themselves. I want them to wear a riot of colour, or black from top to toe. They can be as conservative or not as they like. But the messages all around them are so strong. The boys’ side, and the girls’ side of the clothes store. The shoe shop. The toy store.
And it’s hard. It’s hard to swim against the flow of that message.
And before you say, it’s just clothes, don’t you have bigger things to care about? The answer to that is ‘Yes’. I do have bigger things to care about than if dressing my daughter in too many of her older brother’s hand me downs confuses people. I have more important things to do than to shop once for a boy, and then do the same thing three years later when I already bought clothes that size, just because of a double X chromosome. I have more important worries than if a stranger thinks dressing my son in floral t-shirts because he loves flowers is ‘a bit gay’. Because frankly if he decided he was gay that wouldn’t worry me in the least. And also, that’s not how it works.
The wonderful thing about small children is how accepting they are. They are so curious, and can ask awkward questions, but when we show them things are normal, acceptable, they accept it. But they also take small samples to representative of the whole; my son saw one train driver, and since then every duplo train has a female duplo figure driving it. We need to stop dividing our children into dichotomies of girl/boy, beautiful/boisterous, nurturers/adventurers. Because if we teach them that this is how it should be, how can we expect true equality for them when they are adults? If we teach them these rules matter, how can we expect them not to conform?
I could choose to push hard myself against it. Choose to dress them defiantly. But them I’m forcing that. It has to come from them. I think living as immigrants makes it harder. M is the foreign kid at daycare; with foreign parents who, as one child charmingly put it, understand nothing (but I understood that!). He is a foreign language speaker, and although he is pretty fluent, danish is still his second language, and he has a slight accent. He gleefully wears his pink Hello Kitty glasses; even on dark winter mornings because actually they are eyeglasses, and ‘oh-oh everything is blurry.’ He wears t-shirts with dandelions and other flowers on them, because he loves them. How much more do we let him stand out before the wolves start circling?
It’s too early to know who my kids will be when they grow up. A is only eight months and her preferences are pretty limited so far. Three year olds change so quickly too. Every winter I quietly worry over how much my boy will change. So far each spring when the buds break through the soil my little florist returns to me. He wants to pick every flower. We are barely able to go for walks we spend so long collecting dandelions.
And this is how I want to parent. I don’t want to tell my children how to be. I want them to be. I want to nurture the best of them. To embrace and cherish what makes them unique. To keep it safe. Not in a glasshouse. Not dried between pages of a book. But wild, fresh and blooming for all the world to see.
New Zealanders – looking for gender neutral clothes for kids? This online store Freedom Kids is awesome.
The night after my mother’s funeral my son discovered potato chips with dip. He stood at the coffee table absolutely devouring them. He was so full of junk food, he barely touched a more nutritious dinner later, and I could not have cared less. Quite frankly after the week we’d had, certainly the most stressful week of his life, if not mine as well, I thought the fact that he wouldn’t go to bed hungry was good enough. My extended family were still around; if any of them thought I should find the energy to instil good eating habits in my nearly-two-year-old they knew better to say anything. They joked about it with me, while playing games to keep him entertained.
How lucky I was that in a difficult time, experiencing a ‘parent fail’, I was surrounded by kindness.
Sometimes I wonder why kindness is hard to come by.
Online can be this amazing place where we share or get support, and I love it. Except for when it goes wrong, and then I hate it. Someone makes a joke, or has a bit of a whinge, and so often someone has to come along and throw in their expert ‘advice’, and all of a sudden people are made to feel shit about perfectly normal things that happen.
Here’s a test. A friend posts: So tired, the baby cries for hours and I just want it to sleep. Do you comment:
A) That sucks. Hugs.
B) Feel for you. Bob used to do that. We ended up using a white noise machine. Do you want me to drop ours off for you to try?
C)We had a good bedtime routine and never had any problems getting Bob to sleep. He learnt it was bedtime, and always slept fine. You should read all the baby books.
D)I knew someone whose baby cried. It had this really awful disease, and they had to pay a doctor a million dollars to rub coconut oil on them and wave crystals around.
Congrats if you chose A or B. If you chose C or D, you actually get a big fat F for Fail. Generic advice that is actually criticism, or diagnoses for perfectly normal baby behaviour are never, ever helpful. Why is this so hard?
And then you get offline, and out in public. Oh boy. That’s when the real evil-eye, sledge hammer judging comes along. Obviously it is all our fault – can’t we all just control our children?! People look askance at the parents of the tantruming toddler, forgetting that tantrums are completely age-appropriate behaviour and not a sign of poor parenting. If we give in to get out of a humiliating situation then it’s our fault, because we are teaching them ‘to get their way’. Or people think we should be prepared to pack up and go home. But once I have dressed two kids in snowsuits, mittens, hats & boots and gone out, maybe, just maybe, I would prefer to arrive home with the food I wanted to cook for dinner tonight. And if we ride it out it can be terribly embarrassing. Like the time M had a meltdown over wanting to ‘choose’ the bottle of coke, and I’m standing there like ‘I swear he doesn’t know what it is!’ but everyone is watching…I felt slightly better when the next time it was a 2kg pack of birdseed. Slightly.
The other day I found myself in town, with A asleep in the pram and a bit of time to spare before I needed to collect M from daycare. I decided to try clothes shopping. And of course I manage one shop before A wakes up; while I’m trying on a t-shirt. And you can’t pick up a baby while wearing a top you aren’t going to buy, so I have to change quickly, while she cries in the pram and everyone is staring, and I’m pretty sure the guy talking to his girlfriend in the changing rooms copped an eyeful of my stretchmarks and feeding-bra while I scrabbled to get clothes on and comfort A in her pram parked outside the inadequate curtain. And of course A doesn’t stop crying even when I pick her up. But I did like a cardigan, so I push the pram one-handed over to the counter and wait, and everyone is staring and going ‘aww’ at the poor baby. Because of course I am just a shopping obsessed woman who cares more about clothes than making sure her child’s basic needs are met. And this is why my wardrobe is entirely made-up of maternity clothes or clothes that don’t quite fit. Apart from one nice new cardigan. And how often do you see or hear snarky jokes about how Mums with babies don’t dress nicely?
Then people judge the parent who over-reacts at naughty behaviour. Without asking if that was the first or the millionth infringement of the day or week. Children are experts at winding their parents up, and sometimes even the best parent loses their cool. That doesn’t make them bad. Or their kids bad.
Or we judge them for ignoring something that we think should be stopped. I know I ignore some behaviour that other parents wouldn’t. But there are only so many boundaries I can enforce each day; and only so many times I can tell him off before we get into a negative spiral, that leaves me feeling like a nag, and my son feeling picked on. So sometimes, when it doesn’t matter, we turn a blind eye. Less ‘No jumping on furniture’, more ‘No jumping on the furniture near the full length glass windows please’. We’re not the only parents who do this. It’s not ill-discipline. It’s just that we expect our three year old to get carried away, to forget himself, to be over-exuberant, and we save our energy for the times we think discipline really matters.
And then, oh god, feeding a baby in public. Breastfeeding = bad. Bottlefeeding = bad. Solids = messy and gross to watch. Then you have a small child, and if you give them a treat then the wrath of god falls upon you. Don’t you realise you are setting them up for modern ‘lifestyle’ diseases? Because people can make an accurate judgement of your child’s actual diet based on one that one time (ok, more than once) you bought them a cake.
We spend our lives around people we don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know who’s sick. Who’s grieving. Who has just lost a job. Who is celebrating a new one. Whose kids have genuine behavioural disorders and special needs. Who was up consoling and comforting a loved one when they desperately needed a sleep.
And it can be hard to take a step back and ask ourselves what’s really going on. It can be hard to know the right thing to say, or how to help. And sometimes we say or do the wrong thing. I know I’ve done it.
Try not to judge me too harshly for it, please?
Today I have no jokes. No pithy remarks about my life as an immigrant. I’m not sure I can add anything to the debate surrounding the current ‘migrant’ crisis that can change the mind of anyone who hasn’t had it changed by those photos. I’m not the person to tell you about the crisis in their homeland, and the journey they take.
But, I have something to say about who these people are, to anyone whose fear of the ‘others’ holds back their better natures.
Those others – they really are just like you.
I know this because I am an immigrant in a non-English speaking country. I went to language school. Those others? They were my classmates.
When I started last year, about half of my class would have been migrants from the middle east. The biggest single group – Syrian. Nearly all men, though many had wives in another class, it had just worked out that way. Some had children. One who I got to know well had young daughters who had spent two years of their short lives living in refugee camps.
There were times in the classroom that showed we came from different worlds. Like talking about our families: ‘I’m the youngest of 12 children. But five of them are dead’. That’s not something many twenty somethings in the west would say.
But that didn’t happen often. Mostly they were just like me and you. Laughing at the same bad jokes. Struggling to learn Danish. Working hard, because unlike me, they don’t have the luxury of leaving if it doesn’t work out.
They weren’t terrorists. They weren’t misogynists. I’m a vocal feminist, and if you think I’d be silent if I saw sexism, then ‘Hi’, because obviously we’ve never met. They treated all the liberal western females in my class just fine. Showed interest in all our diverse cultures, and in our families – both to the married mothers, and the unmarried ones.
They were family men. Educated men. Men who worked hard. Men who liked to watch sport and play chess. Men who would laugh as they handed me pens I dropped once my pregnant belly got in the way. Who’d chat about how their families were adjusting. What their kids’ school was like.
I’ve moved around the world. I’m not stupid. I know I’ve been able to do this because I’m the right sort of immigrant. Because of the colour of my skin. My nationality. Because we are educated. Because decades ago my father-in-law was born to New Zealand parents in the UK. Because of quirks of fate.
There are no easy solutions. Many of our leaders are right when they say taking in more people won’t solve the root cause. Maybe they should think about what might. Maybe that doesn’t matter when children are drowning while trying to reach safer shores.
Last year New Zealand celebrated winning a seat on the UN Security Council. This was John Key’s response:
“We have worked very hard on the bid for close to a decade because we believe that New Zealand can make a positive difference to world affairs and provide a unique and independent voice at the world’s top table…It has been more than 20 years since New Zealand was last on the Council and we are ready to contribute again.”
Now is a time to contribute. Our way of life is not so fragile a few hundred people can threaten it. But closing our doors, that black-mark on our humanity. That’s the real threat.
Sign a petition to increase NZ’s refugee quota here.
Summer finally arrived the day we left. Unfortunately we were slightly unprepared in terms of summer clothing, and even worse we had lost M’s much-loved sunglasses. Luckily I’m a paranoid traveller, and we arrived at the train station much earlier than we needed to. Early enough to pop into the large supermarket nearby and buy the only pair of sunglasses in his size: pink Hello Kitty glasses that he was absolutely thrilled with. Also early enough to buy a coffee for the train trip. Not early enough to compensate for the panic of trying to board a packed carriage with four kids, three suitcases, and two prams, before realising it was the wrong carriage and having to get off and start again. But after one train ride, and one sweltering bus ride we arrived.
We stayed in the Legoland Holiday Villiage, where they took the name ‘Pirate Cabins’ very seriously. Skull and crossbones shower curtain, a lego parrot, and a treasure chest full of duplo to play with. Once there everything is made from Lego. Everything. Even the animals.
Considering Legoland is free for under-threes, I was a little worried there might not be enough geared towards M to justify the trip. It turned out to be the most magical place for him. He enjoyed minitown, in particular the airport, and these whales, that revolved in the water and spouted water as they breached. He got to ‘drive’ cars, and trains. He also got to steer a boat, for real, albeit on a rather restricted track. It took R a moment to realise why they were bumping into the walls, as in every other ride the controls were fake.
He rode in a monorail
The low points (pre-schooler meltdowns aside): the aquarium had a three minute long intro film. Did I say three minutes? Because it felt like forever. It wasn’t helped by the fact every line was spoken in three different languages. M was completely baffled, even though he speaks two of those three languages. Also I had mistakenly called the aquarium a ride, so he spent the three minutes asking when we were going to go ‘ride a fish’. He did enjoy the aquarium once we were finally allowed in.
We also watched a show full of physical comedy to appeal to a multilingual audience. Sorry, did I say physical comedy? I meant people shouting ‘oh ho’ before falling over, in a tedious, repetitive, unoriginal show that my sister and I sat through for the sake of her oldest because it had a princess in it. (Note to A, skip the princess thing please).
We were pleasantly surprised at the food options. There was even fruit on sale. But we had ice-cream instead.
Little A was pretty oblivious to it all. Now I know what my Mum meant when she said she breastfed her way around Disneyland with me. She did go on one ride though, this revolving tower (no it doesn’t drop!). I’m not so great with heights or enclosed spaces, so I felt pretty brave going on it. The views over Legoland were good.
Unsurprisingly, M is keen to go back. I’m not sure we’ll manage, not unless we stay longer than currently planned. It was a fabulous two days, seeing our little boy so excited made it pretty special.
Today is a big day for my family. It is my son’s last day at his daycare before he starts børnehave (pre-school), and my father and my sister’s family arrive in Aarhus for a weeks holiday. It is also one year since my mother died. One year since I kissed her good-bye and said ‘see you tomorrow’, imagining that I would. This day seemed impossibly far away this time last year, and so much has changed it is bewildering. I can’t help thinking how pleased Mum would have been with it all.
We’ve welcomed a new baby into our family; a girl at the end of April. ‘A’ is gorgeous, and we are all delighted to have her. As much as I wish my mother could have met her, the joy I know she would have felt helps. She would be so proud of how well my son has coped with the challenging year we’ve had. And she would have enjoyed listening to him singing danish children’s songs. Though she would have understood even less of it than his parents do.
She’d have enjoyed the activities we’ve got planned for the next week. OK, maybe legoland will be a bit of a challenge for us all. But the photos, and the reminiscing afterwards, while we laugh about the inevitable pre-schooler dramas, that she would have enjoyed.
And she would’ve enjoyed the family dinner we’ll have tonight. Our first night together in Denmark, although we are without one sister’s family still. A nice dinner; steak, roast potatoes, fish fingers for the kids. Because let’s face it, whose kids like steak. And a nice glass of wine, or two. For dessert I finally decided on drømmekage, so-called because it tastes like a dream.
I wonder what the life Mum imagined we would be having now looked like. I know it looked different, but in the essentials she would have been right. Our families, spread out across the globe, but with bonds as strong as ever. The tomorrows that kept coming, bringing tears, and love and laughter.
Sweet Dreams everyone.
‘Bang. Bang. Bang.’
It is just past midnight, on the 1st of January. I am greeting the New Year holding my shaking toddler, who has finally agreed to look out the window, to see the pretty lights that come with the terrifying noise that woke him. M is almost shouting the words, with force but no intonation. I don’t know if by joining in he hopes to calm himself. We watch for only a few moments before he wants away from the window, and cuddles on the couch with his father.
Although R and I are of course not frightened of the fireworks, we are rather bemused to find ourselves spectators of this Danish New Year. We had been told that NY was celebrated with friends, and everybody lets of fireworks. We didn’t expect this to mean constant crackers starting at 630, reaching an absolute crescendo at midnight for almost half hour before starting to tail off, with the final stragglers finishing, oh about 2am.
On our morning walk through deathly quiet streets the next day we saw evidence of crackers let off in the grass strips on the major roads, on footpaths, and throughout the nearby botanical gardens. Looking out our windows at midnight we could see neighbouring blocks with large parties gathering on balconies, and a large group of young men down on the street. Lacking the necessary culturally transmitted information we had expected only intermittent fireworks. When they were so persistent all evening we speculated that perhaps the custom was to have finished with fireworks by midnight. How wrong we were! These fireworks weren’t the basic sort, a flash of shooting blue or pink I remember from childhood, but elaborate (presumably expensive) bursts of colour or copper rain falling through the sky. If we hadn’t been so pressed to keep M calm perhaps we would have stepped outside ourselves, to admire the riot of colour across Aarhus’s night-sky.
This custom of personal celebrations comes at a price, with three confirmed dead in fireworks accidents this year, and hundreds more injured. I can’t imagine how Danes would react to being told to abandon their fireworks. The health and safety culture is completely non-existent here. Living here confirms over and over again that ‘Nanny state’ and a socialist system of government are two entirely different things; despite what many would like us to believe. Something that is deserving of its own blogpost, when I get around to it.
As it was we retired to bed, with M in-between us, listening to explosions, and to Magnus’s personal encyclopaedia – ‘Dolphins usually be in the water’, ‘People have feet’ etc, getting sleepier and more incoherent as time wore on. Perhaps it wasn’t the most exciting NY we’ve ever had. It was certainly one of the loudest though.
It has been an effort to prepare for Christmas this year. Well, Christmas usually takes a lot of work, it is just this year I have struggled to motivate myself, and feel the Christmas spirit. Not that that’s surprising. We will be having a winter Christmas, just the three of us. And it is my first Christmas since Mum died. And I’m pregnant so I can’t even drink, or eat fancy cheese. For much of the last couple of months it has felt easier to bury my hand in the sand and pretend it would just be an ordinary winter day.
Then Christmas lights started to appear, on shopping streets, and in neighbourhood windows and balconies. My son loved them. Then they had a Christmas party at his daycare, with a tree and Julemand (Santa). Sure, I’d picked up a few things thinking we’d give him some presents. I hadn’t planned to skip Christmas entirely, I just sort of hoped it would come and go of its own accord. Now it became clear that M had some idea that ‘Christmas’ existed. What exactly he thinks it is we don’t know, but what I did realise was that while he is young, Christmas will be what we make it.
So this year I’m giving him Christmas.
We’ve bought a tree and decorated it together. The first Christmas tree R and I have ever had (pot plants don’t count). Mum loved decorating the tree every year. It was bittersweet, enjoying M’s delight over the process, knowing how much Mum would have loved seeing it. M loves to switch the tree lights on in the morning, and when he gets home from vuggestue. And to pull decorations off, and put them back on again.
Last Friday I finally baked a Christmas cake. I’ve bought a leg of lamb, and sweet potato, even though I know it won’t be anything like proper kumara. I’ll make pavlova, stuffing and gravy. And just to prove I’m not doing things by halves, I’ve even made an attempt at the traditional Danish rice pudding, risalamande. M and I will make cheese straws for nibbles. Lunch will be late and M will be overtired and hungry by the time I get a roast on the table. I’ll drive R mad by playing terrible music; it’s not Christmas without Boney M.
I know this year I’ll miss Mum terribly. We all will. Although he is only little, too little to really grasp events, this last year has been tough on M too. He is going to have a great Christmas day, and then we’ll do it again next year, and the year after. Because traditions, and celebrations aren’t something that just magically happen. My parents made them happen, even when times were tough. Now it’s our turn.
Happy Christmas everyone.