Preparing for Kindie
I never thought this day would come, and now that it has, I'm left emotionally unprepared. Over the last few days, I've been struggling with the very idea of my son starting kindergarten. It's too soon, I keep telling myself, even though everyone I know has told me that it's done their kids wonders.
In Norway, a lot of kids start kindergarten at the age of 1. A state subsidised service, it gives working parents the chance to get back to work sooner (well, ok, as soon as their 1-year parental leave is over). They can then choose how many days a week their kids will be at kindie. Since my husband and I work full-time and don't have any family nearby, our son will be at kindie "full-time" as with (and I'm just guessing here) most of the kids in his class.
And as much as the idea of him being at kindie for 8 hours from Monday to Friday is killing me, we were lucky to be given a spot in our first choice of kindie (which has been heralded as one of the best in our area), and lucky to have it be so close to where we live (quite literally, a 1-minute run). So, I'm trying my darnest not to complain.
race for a spot
In Norway, it is common practice to register your child for kindie as soon as they receive their birth number (no more than a couple of weeks after birth, really). This is often the case for families who live in the bigger cities, where getting a spot at your preferred kindergarten is often met with challenges and long waiting lists... so much so that many parents have to find alternative childcare solutions for several months, if their children were born before the start of the autumn school term (August) or winter term (February). I’ve got friends who had to cut back on their work hours, and even had a family member come over all the way from the Philippines for a few months just so that the gap between their parental leave and start of kindie is covered.
But it is only in August when spots are guaranteed for all 1-year-olds, and that’s because they are given priority above everyone else. So children born in December, for example, may not be guaranteed a spot in the February term openings even though they're a year old, but they will definitely be prioritised for the August term as with all the babies that have turned one before the start of term (though some babies younger than a year can be given a spot in the kindergarten if there is capacity or if the circumstances merit it). And this is why you have so many Norwegian kids being born around the summer holidays, so that parents minimise the waiting period to only a few weeks at most (my son was, unfortunately, born in April, so we had several months of dropping of our son at the day nanny and having a babysitter come over to the house — this deserves its own post, which I will write about soon).
it's not (entirely) free
Contrary to popular belief that education in Norway is free from the very start, kindergarten isn't free but neither is it expensive. The district you live in dictates the maximum price for kindergarten and in Bergen, the cap is set at 2.910 NOK / month for 2018, and all siblings get discounts. I used to think this was expensive until a friend of mine who moved to the Netherlands told me that kindie in Rotterdam would cost parents 1.000 EUR / month (which equates to about 10.000 NOK)!
So really, considering just how much everything else costs in Norway, 2.910 NOK is nothing and in exchange, your child gets to play the entire day in a safe and protected environment, is provided lunch and a second fruit-based meal every day, and is cared for by qualified teachers who work under some of the strictest regulations. Sure, kindie will never replace the home environment, or mamma's hugs and kisses and pappa's jokes and tickles, but its the second-best alternative for parents who don't have anyone else to turn to when work comes-a-calling.
beware of the list
When you finally get your baby's acceptance letter, you will also receive another letter outlining all the things you will need to buy — and it's a LONG and expensive one.
Having come from a country where our seasons are split down the middle between dry and rainy, there is very little need for layering unless its raining, then you get to wear a raincoat of some kind... and even then, it doesn’t really matter because underneath it, you’re most likely wearing a uniform of some kind issued by your kindie/school. You’re required to buy at least a pair that you can alternate and done. That and the mandatory black shoes and white socks combination, and the list is short and sweet.
So when I first saw my son’s utstyrliste (translated to outfit/kit list) I was immediately overwhelmed. It was only with the help of a friend who works at a kindie that I managed to wade my way thru the list without experiencing some kind of a mental fit (and mind you, the list differs from kindergarten to kindergarten, and some can be longer!).
Rainwear and waterproof boots
Warm coveralls, for when it gets colder
Warm clothes to wear under the rainwear and boots, preferably wool
(they asked us for 2 sets because one set may get wet when they're out
playing before nap time, but my friend recommended I should have 4 sets
stashed away in my son's personal cubby hole at any given day)
2 hats, one for the outside and one to sleep with
(by the by, they all nap outside in their strollers)
Mittens, preferably wool
Waterproof mittens, for the rain
Sleeping bag for the stroller
(and you'll need 2 types, one for warmer weather and one
for the winter)
Harness system for the stroller
(and not the underwear slip-on type, because they often change
diapers with the children standing up)
Slippers or "indoor" shoes
Loose clothing that makes it easy for the child to move
(this one is still very vague to me, like is this in addition to the warm wool
clothes or will they be wearing this on top of said wool clothes? or will the
wool clothes only be worn when they go outside? then again, they're always
going to be outside! hence, said confusion)
Own water bottle
A cuddle toy, if your baby needs one to sleep
Pacifier, if your baby uses one
A lunch box for breakfast, either porridge or NAN
Of course, for most Norwegian parents, this list isn’t new information because a lot of them would have already bought these things for their kids long before they start kindie -- but when you're a transplant parent such as myself, who prefers the coziness of the great indoors to the sogginess of the often grey Norwegian outdoors, I never found the need to buy my son a full rainwear set or warm coveralls, because I couldn't ever fathom the idea of letting my son nap in his stroller outside in the rain or snow. Though, it is without saying that babies who nap outdoors often become good sleepers!
In any case, it's an expensive list because you have to buy some of them in bulk (and wool clothing does not come cheap!) but the silver-lining to it all is that if you buy Scandinavian brands -- despite them being ridiculously costly sometimes -- they tend to run on the bigger side. So they’re sure to last longer than expected.
working mom guilt is real
I've been dealing with episodes of working mom guilt ever since I went back to work. Working mom guilt is as psychological, as it is emotional and physical. You're plagued with very valid reasons for feeling like crap because you can't be with your baby, and it only gets worse when they start kindie.
Not only are you going to feel sad that time is passing you by so quickly, you'll be made to feel worse knowing that you won't get to spend this already fleeting time with your child. Instead, you'll be at work, and he/she will be in kindie, learning his/her ABCs, numbers, and colours without you.
You're essentially, paying someone else to do the stuff you were meant to be doing but can't because you have to earn the money that you'll need to keep your child alive, happy and thriving.
And then, to make matters even worse, you're wracked by a sense of helplessness, knowing that you out of the 24 hours available to you, you really only get to spend a no more than a few hours with your child each day and clearly, it's never going to be long enough, what with everything else getting in the way. I did my calculations and maybe I get to spend 1 or 2 hours in the morning with my son, but this is amdist the rush of getting myself and him out the door. Then I maybe have no more than 3 hours in the afternoon/evening with him before he has to go to bed (no later than 8pm), and by this time, I’m usually tired from work and my daily commute, and still have to prepare dinner, bathtime (my husband takes care of this one when he isn’t away for work), and then get everything ready for the next day in the hopes that this will save me some time in the morning.
It's an incredibly sucky place to be in, but I've been trying to make it work by spending more time with him at bedtime, deleting my Facebook and not using my phone other than its camera, and delaying all my me-related tasks until after he falls asleep. This way, he gets my full and undivided attention, even for just those fleeting few hours everyday, and making sure that I make up for all that lost time during the weekends and holidays.
As I'm writing this bit, I'm welling up in tears. This is the choice my husband and I had to make because life in Norway isn't cheap and we don't want to be that family without a rainy day fund. And because I have neither a trust fund nor have I won any serious lottery money, we've had to settle for remaining as a 2-income family. Of course, it is without saying that I've been secretly wishing for my husband to get promoted again. That way, I can quit working for a while and just be a full-time mamma up until that age when my son thinks that hanging out with me will be all sorts of uncool, then I wouldn’t mind going back to work.
A girl can wish.