Leukemia was the diagnosis and the prognosis was even worse. My mother was dying her doctors told us. It was then that I realized that it was time to go home. Returning to my homeland after 20 years abroad had it’s challenges, a single mom, two young kids, no income, my mother sick…WHAT was I thinking! My priority as a mother was to help my children settle into their new surroundings and give them the best chance to get to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It was a huge adjustment to move to a country where the culture was entirely different than the one they had been born and raised in. My four-year old daughter had the biggest adjustment. She could barely speak English and would be starting kindergarten in a matter of months. The first weeks in her new classroom were tough. Every morning I would drop her off at school only to have her cling hysterically to my leg, tears running down her face. We were both miserable. I finally made a pact with her. Her biggest wish was to have a kitten. One afternoon, I got down on one knee, took her in my arms and asked, “If we get you a kitten will you try not to cry in the morning when I take you to school?” She sat quietly for a few minutes and then slowly nodded her head. “Yes.”
Impossibly fluffy Molly and her tiny sister, Isabelle, joined our family two days later. How can you just bring home just ONE kitten? Molly, a mitten foot calico, resembled a multi-colored feather duster. Her sister, Isabelle, also a calico, was all big frightened eyes and shyness. She spent the first entire week cowering behind the sofa. But the crying stopped.
It was weeks later when my daughter skipped out from her classroom, grabbed my hand and looked up at me with her big blue eyes and asked, “Would it be ok if my teacher were my mom and you were my big sister”. I smiled. Success! I felt relief knowing that everything was going to be alright. Our new life was headed in the right direction.
Life was never supposed to bring me to this place. I had a pretty good start and a focused plan to become a successful photo-journalist after college. Then armed with a camera and a pretty good eye I headed out in the world. First stop, Norway. I followed the tall slim, handsome dark-haired Norwegian student that I had met in my home town across the ocean and back to the country he loved — hopelessly starstruck and in love. The Nowegians have such appealing accents…enough so to lure a naive college girl from the safety of her bland midwestern existence to exotic and wild faraway places with the promise of sea and sand and beautiful scenery. And what exactly did I know about Norway except that the men were attractive and fond of having fun and making partying a little bit too hard on the weekends? Absolutely nothing. Yet, I let my fear be overshadowed by my braveness, quite proud of myself for leaving my small, hick midwestern town to venture out in the world to a foreign country. Piece of cake I thought! Oh right, a different language, well a slight problem, but I can figure that out, right.
I remember that I thought shopping was tough…what the hell was in these cans in the grocery stuff with labels I could not read and no one who could tell me what suspicious food type was encased within. I bought several cans of varying sizes and semi-familiar pictures on the label hoping for beans…beans I could deal with. Little did I know that beans were not a normal staple in Norwegian households…so I ended up with several useful cans of food that I couldn’t identify.
It was a good start for this brave young South Dakota girl, as lost in the fjord country of Western Norway as the young wives who traveled to my South Dakota in the 1800’s and felt as lost and alone as I did in the cities they left behind. It was almost as if we had switched places and times. Each struggling to get past our own misery and hopeful to make a good life in our new country.