Natali is almost at the end of her first school year here in Denmark. She has come a long way from the first day I brought her to school and all the girls stared at her. I told the class that she could understand a lot of Danish, but couldn't speak much, because she had lived abroad for so long. They stared some more.
And she was different from them in other ways. They are almost all blondes, and the ones who aren't are still of much fairer complexion than her. Mind you, she doesn't get her melanocytes from me. She also dressed differently with her jean shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. Her hair was short and rarely, if ever, organized or combed and she never wore (or wears) two matching socks. The girls in her class wore very expensive fashion-conscious outfits.
Her first few weeks were tough and she took a nap on a couch in school on two occasions, because trying to fit in was so taxing. She simply lay down to sleep, because it was a way for her to get away for a little bit. But thankfully her Danish kicked in very quickly and she inched her way into a trial membership of a group of girls.
Natali weighs a little bit too much; she has always been a little heavy but gained a few dangerous pounds during the divorce. But she carries it well and certainly didn't stick out in her school in La Crosse. In Denmark, her weight is something the girls comment on, sometimes to be mean, sometimes simply because it's something to talk about.
I worried about the girls teasing her; but it didn't turn out that way at all. I think her accent helped a lot, and the fact that she could sing along with the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. The accent disappeared quickly but she is still able to throw in an unusually constructed sentence to seem exotic. She is not a great singer but when I asked one of her friends how music class was, she said that Natali was, of course, the best singer in her class. Amazing. She even composed a rap song about how people shouldn't call her Natali but Natty (Natty is very un-Danish), and people made their own versions of that song.
So, to my surprise, my little poorly dressed pot-bellied daughter became supremely popular in school. She pressed her luck by asking Simon to be her boyfriend; she was turned down immediately by email. A few boys made fun of her, but the girls stood by her.
She is still bothered by the fact that we live in an apartment, as opposed to her friends' big houses by the river. She begs us to buy a house in the neighborhood by the school, so she can walk over to her friends' houses to gossip and jump on the trampoline. Even though she is popular, she is still different from the other kids, and they are all very aware of it. Right now, my ex-wife has only allowed me to keep Natali here until the summer of 2011 (which is sooner than we plan on moving back, so there is a shock waiting on the horizon), and Natali talks about this with her friends. Even though it's more than a year away, she worries about having to leave and told me the other day that she wants to stay in touch with everyone on Facebook.
Lately, I have worked a lot of nights. When I leave, Natali often breaks down in tears and cries herself to sleep in bed, because I am not there. Not that she doesn't like the Girl, but they are more like friends than mother-daughters. I read the Hobbit to her these days (or, actually, she reads it to me). We lie in bed and whoever is not reading gets hair rub from the other. It's heavenly quality time but when it's over, she wants me to tuck her in and come check on her again and again. It's separation anxiety to the extreme, brought on by the divorce and the constant changes that followed.
She leaves for a long summer in la Crosse in less than two weeks. Her first trip as an unaccompanied minor, from Copenhagen to Chicago, where her mom will pick her up. when we went back in March, she loved her new step-sisters and had a great time. She didn't want to return to Denmark and cried for days, because she missed her mom so much. I worry about how she will feel after 6 weeks.
I worry about her about her in so many ways every day but she also brings me so much joy in life. I often think of how wonderful it is to have a 9-year old daughter and be able to see the world through her eyes. I worry about her, feel gut-wrenchingly guilty about my son in La Crosse, and feel confident that, no matter what, the Lorax will turn out okay.