Lilu has started school this year, and it has certainly been an experience. I’ve experienced a couple of first school years with my older children in Australia, and I was very curious how Norway would be different. The new starts to barnehagen (kindergarten) when my kids were younger were about me learning what Norwegians do so I could do it too. That worked out well until my influence on how I wanted my children raised started conflicting with what barnehagen wanted. I’ve had more experience with Norway and the Norwegian system since then, so this new school start I approached differently. I came into it with my own set of ideas of what I want for my children’s education and upbringing. Let the fun times begin!
I was not too impressed with the initial information given out to new first grader families. Lilu was supposed to have an individual meeting with me and her new teacher six months before start to discuss her ‘immigrant’ differences. That never happened. There was a brief information day where parents had to walk around the school and ‘oooo’ and ‘aaaah’ at all the buildings, books and classrooms. No information in the form of paper, email or website was given out to fill in the gaps. They did stress how important it was for parents to be involved with their child’s reading. I agree, but I also think they should be involved in their whole schooling. However, this was not expected and I was left with the idea that the school thought it was their duty to teach my child how to socialise and be a Norwegian citizen.
The first problem we have had to deal with (and is still continuing) is the school milk service. IF YOU WANT, you can be a part of the school milk service where everyday you pay a small fee (via a semester lump sum) and get a choice of low-fat chocolate milk, apple juice or low-fat plain milk for your children’s lunch. Sounds great doesn’t it? However, if you don’t participate it is likely your child will be the only one left out. (Parental peer-pressure at its best.) We didn’t like any of the choices on offer (I much prefer to give my kids high-fat milk because the fat has a lot of nutrients the body needs and also helps in the absorption of certain vitamins – yes, I’m studying Human Nutrition at university). We chose the low-fat plain milk. Lilu is the only one who gets the plain milk in her class. Everyone else gets the juice and chocolate milk and every week Lilu begs us to have these. She still feels left out. Firstly, she has noticed that the other cartons of drink have cartoons on them. Secondly, I think the other kids are flaunting the fact they get flavoured drink. Thirdly, the teacher is trying to convince me (and worse still, Lilu) that the flavoured options are healthy. For nearly a year our family has cut out drinking juice for our health – juice is very high in sugar, and because the fibre has been taken out, it spikes your bloodsugar levels. I must say, the chocolate milk on offer is as healthy as the low-fat plain milk. However, I despise the chocolate milk, and Tine, the company that makes it, because they are using a MacDonald’s marketing technique. The healthier chocolate milk is only available at school, you cannot buy it in the regular stores. In fact, the next best thing is a chocolate milk that has 42g of sugar, (the whole daily amount of recommended sugar for children) and is four times more expensive. Tine trains kids in school to expect chocolate milk, so that is what they want out of school too. I’ve tried to explain to the teachers that I don’t want Lilu drinking juice because of the high sugar or the chocolate milk because of the marketing ploy. They don’t understand. So, Moose and I have thought of a way to make Lilu feel that she is not missing out. We make Bento-style lunches for her and she takes a thermos of home-made (healthy as kale) flavoured milk (lovely and warm for these cold winter months) in pretty printed containers with non-commercial animal figurines. I’m wondering how long it will take before the teachers disapprove.
About a week into school I was enjoying having the mornings to myself again when Bear, our Saint Bernard, was barking out front. I opened the door to rouse on him and to my surprise stood Lilu’s whole school class. The teachers were shepherding the class around the neighbourhood to show the children where each other lived. The child would have to stand on the doorstep and announce who lived in the house with them (pets included). I had to shake my head. Now all the kids in Lilu’s class knew where their classmates lived but their parents didn’t. I could imagine all the kids that would go missing that week. That day, even before I got to chat with Lilu about not going off to a classmates house without me knowing, she was gone. For two hours I waited. I didn’t know if she was at another kids house or something more sinister was at play and I needed to call the police. Moose ended up finding her teacher’s personal phone number in the yellowpages and called her. She rattled off a few classmate addresses where Lilu might be and Moose went wandering around the neighbourhood in search. Yep, Lilu was at another classmates house. I wonder how many other instances like this happened that week because of the teacher’s irresponsible activity.
There have been many other small problems that just put a damper on things. Lilu’s reading books always have some sort of product placement. The current reading book she has talks about drinking Solo, the Norwegian version of Fanta. (And you know my stand on marketing to children.) The book says that Vera won’t have the tea that Ole has made for her and everyone else, and asks for solo instead. Without even thinking, Ole asks his mum for solo so Vera can have a drink with her food. And judging by the picture, Vera gets what she wants.
A teacher asked me to buy some outside over-pants for Lilu (plastic pants that go on the outside of clothes so kids can run around in the dirt and mud). I told her that I prefer to buy snowpants. She said no because it is too hot. So the week I bought the new KR500 (US$100) outside pants, we had a ton of snow. I then had to buy the new KR500 (US$100) snowpants and Lilu has never had to wear the outside pants since.
Even though Lilu can read better than her classmates (while being the youngest in the class with her birthday in December and speaking two languages at home) she still has to go to immigrant Norwegian lessons instead of regular Norwegian. I know first hand that when you are treated like an ‘immigrant’ in Norway, you feel like an ‘immigrant’. Lilu is labelled ‘an immigrant’ because of me. If adults treat her like an ‘immigrant’ then her classmates will too. I really don’t think it is necessary for Lilu to be segregated with only three other students while the rest of the class gets to learn the general curriculum.
But this post has really been a lead up to the problem of the day. For the last two days Lilu has been a little stressed about us filling in a form for her to get a library card for the city library. Everyone else in her class is getting one, apparently. The teacher plans to take the class to the library next Wednesday to borrow a book. And guess what, Moose and I don’t want her to get one. Firstly, because you have to sign up by providing your whole life details, including, not the parents, but Lilu’s personal number, so they can track her down through a government system if she doesn’t return a book on time. Secondly, we don’t use the library. It is small, out of the way and doesn’t carry good books. I didn’t want to pay money for the card and fill in a two page form for Lilu to borrow a book once. We have a large collection of children’s books at home and if we want a book, frankly, we will just buy it. Thirdly, we didn’t want another little nagging responsibility of monitoring library books; making sure they are looked after and go back on time so Lilu doesn’t get fined. We already have enough trouble with keeping track of Lilu’s school reading books. Fourthly, we weren’t asked if we wanted Lilu to have her own library card before it was put upon us. Fifthly, if Lilu wants to borrow a book from the library, we will take her there and use one of our national cards (we have one each for the fantastic Tromsø library). I tried to explain it to Lilu in English, and Moose in Norwegian, but it was the fact that Lilu didn’t want to be left out, again. I didn’t fill out the form. When I was dropping Lilu off at school, her teacher came to me and asked me for the form. I told her I didn’t want Lilu to have a card. She thought it was the strangest thing. I had to tell her all my reasonings and then said that you don’t have to have a card to go to the library and read books. (The concept of a library has changed these days – instead of just being a room with a load of bookshelves and loan books to read at home, you go to the library to read books, hang out and participate in activities.) Lastly, I said that instead of Lilu being left out of the experience I will get her to choose one of her own favourite books from home to take on the library trip. Just as I was leaving the teacher caught me again and said ‘You do realise that you don’t have to pay for every book that you borrow?’ There where so many things that I could have replied to that, but I just smiled and said ‘I know’.
We are only two months into the first school year and I just know we are only at the start of things. Some might say I am just difficult (especially Norwegians) but I don’t want to lower or change my standards, or be dictated to in how I want to raise my children just because I live in a country that subjects themselves to a ‘unity’ system. I don’t mind being different. In fact, I enjoy it. I think my ‘differentness’ is valuable to my children and they will have opportunities to see things in a different light. However, sometimes I feel trapped in Norway into doing what society wants me to do. (I haven’t felt like this anywhere else I have lived in the world.) If I don’t do it, then my kids feel left out. (We really need to dissolve this sort of pressure in society.) I think the teachers and the school should learn that they cannot impose their own morals and standards onto children and families. They want me to be agreeable because it will make their life easier. I think it is more valuable in a community to have a variety of opinions and ideas. This is the difference between me and Norwegians, Norwegians want sameness and I celebrate uniqueness.