As some of you may know my youngest son is autistic. He was only three-years-old when diagnosed and I can still remember the day as if it were yesterday. I felt as if I were thrown from a ship in the middle of an ocean. I was shocked and terrified, but most of all I was sad. That was fifteen years ago and my son is now eighteen.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ it was also the title of a book written by Hilary Rodham Clinton. Well, it definitely took a village to raise my son and not just one… but three!
When he was ten we moved from Norway to Houston and lived there for two years. From Houston we moved to the Netherlands, where we lived for three years before returning home to Norway. Over the last fifteen years teachers, assistants, caseworkers, specialists, neighbors, friends and family in three different countries have helped and taught both me and my son. It hasn’t been easy and I’m tremendously thankful to each and every one of these people!
If you look Autism up in the dictionary it says… A mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.
This is not incorrect, but it is a very general definition because autistics are not all alike. For example, my son can communicate in two languages, Norwegian and English. He’s never met a video game he couldn’t beat and he’s learning to play the Bagpipes online! Yes, my son is autistic, but he’s also unique and I wouldn’t change one thing about him, even if I could.
My son Alexander was born in Stavanger, Norway in 1993. He was immediately issued a Norwegian birth certificate (his Dad is Norwegian) and after reporting his birth to the American Embassy in Oslo (I’m American) he was issued an American one as well. With two passports tucked in his diaper bag he started flying before he could walk, as we spent Winters in Norway and summers in New Jersey.
He grew up in a home that talked English, went to Norwegian school, had Norwegian playmates in the winter and American ones in the summer. Whenever I put him to bed we’d read Green Eggs and Ham and when my husband put him to bed they’d read Mine Fineste Eventyr, av Grimm.
Alexander’s grandparents lived just up the hill from our house and everyday on his way home from school he’d stop by to say hello and have a snack. He joined the scouts and loved learning about Norwegian nature. He played soccer (fotball, as its called here) would disappear on his bike and learned how to drive a boat, before he was ten. Every year on Norway’s Independence Day, he’d march through the streets waving a flag and singing for Norway. He was happy, growing up in a safe wholesome environment and as his mother, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
When Alexander was twelve my husband’s job took us to Houston for two years and after that to The Netherlands for three years. We left Norway with a boy and came back with a young man. While we were gone, we traveled through America and all over Europe. Alexander has also been lucky enough to travel to Russia, Africa, Jordan and Israel on school trips. He has attended the finest private schools and has made a variety of friends from all different cultures. These experiences have given him an unfaltering understanding and interest in people of all races.
Alexander had one year left of high school when we returned to Norway, it was therefore impossible to send him back to Norwegian school. Instead he attended an International School in Stavanger and had to travel three-hours-round trip, back and forth everyday. It was hard to make friends and impossible to join any sports or activities when living so far from the school.
After graduating he informed my husband and I that he no longer felt Norwegian. He struggled to read and write, and didn’t feel comfortable talking the language, he preferred English. He wanted to move back to Netherlands, back to The Hague where his friends were and what he felt was home!
The realization that our son now considered Norway a foreign land, where he felt bored and uninterested was heartbreaking.
In order for Alexander to receive support from Norway in funding further education, there are certain requirements. One of those requirements is a certificate in Norwegian, to which he did not have. This inconvenience ended up buying us some time, as he could not apply to schools outside the country without it. He would instead be spending another year in Norway, against his will.
We ended up sending him to a boarding school outside Lillehammer, where he not only attend classes in Norwegian and studied international relations (something he loves) but also lived full time with other Norwegian students.
Thankfully, he seems to be regaining his roots, although he still jumps on a plane to Amsterdam every chance he gets and considers himself a citizen without borders.
How did it go when you brought your world travelers home?
Imagine my surprise when on a dreary day in March 2005, my Norwegian husband came home from work and made this announcement:
“There was a meeting at work today, and I was asked to work in Houston for the next two years!”
After living fifteen years in Norway, this Jersey girl was finally going home. Well, not exactly…
In a blur of packing and unpacking we made our way to the lone-star state, where we lived for the next two years in an elegant home on a quite cul-de-sac.
It was at my sons bus stop where I met the other ladies of the cul-de-sac. Congregating at eight o’clock in the morning, dressed in work-out-attire, clutching mugs of steaming hot coffee and squeezing any scrap of fresh gossip they could from one another. (Note to self…bring a cup of tea to the bus stop with me tomorrow) I felt exactly as if were on Wisteria Lane.
I showed up, introduced myself and we quickly fell into a one sided question and answer session. They already knew we were from Norway because they knew someone, who knew someone, who knew our landlord. Long after the bus had driven off with our children one of them remarked on how good I spoke English, for being Norwegian. I set the record straight, letting them know I came from New Jersey! Which in turn opened a conversation on how I met my husband and ended up living in Norway.
Long story short, I don’t think any of them made it to yoga that morning and by the time I finished telling my story one of them said, “I think I smell a book.”
Well, she must have had a very good nose because here I am seven years later, on my way to The Hague, for my book launch on Friday!