It broke my heart as a mother
Mom Natalia is proud of her talented son, but she has a sore memory of the time Alexander Rybak was the boy who was left out.
Interview with Alexander and his mother Natalia in the Norwegian weekly paper Family magazine “Norsk Ukeblad”. Published 5.10.15. Text: Knut Hovind. Photo: Anne Elisabeth Næss and some private ones.
Found and translated by Jorunn Ekre. Revised by Anni Jowett
The talented Alexander Rybak charms people of all ages, but it hasn’t always been like that. Once he was a little boy who experienced being lonely and different.
The only child Alexander was only five years old when the family left Minsk in Belarus at the beginning of the 90s. Naturally he didn’t know a single word of Norwegian when he came here. And mom Natalia Rybak (56) has a sore memory from the beginning:
Alexander was out in the garden, I could watch him from the window in the living room, Natalia tells. Suddenly two boys at his own age approached him. The three of them stand there looking bashful at each other for a while, until the two Norwegian boys start talking to him. But there’s no response from Alexander. He doesn’t understand anything. They ask him another question but still they get no answer. And then they leave Alexander. It broke my heart as a mother. There was such an aura of loneliness around him when he stood there alone…
Mom Natalia sits on the sofa at home in Nesodden and looks lovingly at her son who is visiting his childhood home. We can see the Oslo fjord from the window in the living room which glitters in the autumn sun, and the capital as a distant bright side wing behind it. Together they talk about the beginning of their life in Norway.
In the beginning it was difficult with the language, Alexander learnt Norwegian in record time, his mother continues.
She tells that by third grade at elementary school his written Norwegian was so good that it was difficult to understand that the boy originally had a Russian background, and that he had only lived in Norway for four/five years.
His essays were also original and funny. Alexander once chose to write an essay in the shape of a poem. With rhyme and everything…It was unusual.
It was also unusual that he spent so much time on music. Even before he began school Alexander played both the piano and the violin. He practised diligently on both instruments before he chose the violin. By the age of nine/ten he practised for three hours every day on the instrument. He stuck out and that was of course noticed at school. And some people chose to bully and tease him about it.
But Alexander doesn’t agree that he was the victim of bullying, others suffered much more than him. He did get a taste of the brutality of the mob.
I have felt left out, he says, pauses and tilts his head a bit and continues: But I think most children feel left out. At least at times. Being alone sometimes can be good, but everyone needs a friend. I had a good friend when I was a child and he is still my best friend. You can’t make friends with everyone. This much I have understood.
Alexander made his debut this autumn with the children’s book “Trolle and the Magic Fiddle”. The book is about little Trolle who is bullied by the other trolls because he was born without a tail. He feels left out and a bit different. But one day he finds a fiddle that changes everything. The story isn’t all that different from the story of Alexander’s own childhood.
Mom Natalia is very happy about her son’s book. She looks smilingly at her son at the other end of the sofa. “Alexander has always had a very vivid imagination and a great ability to wonder over things. It didn’t come as a big surprise to me that he was to write a story book for children.”
“Alexander is so versatile and he has so many ideas that I never get surprised when he tries something new.”
Alexander smiles wryly, shifts uneasy in the sofa and thinks perhaps the praise from mom is a bit over the top. Isn’t it so that most children have a vivid imagination?
But Alexander is a bit proud, too, he admits that. The 29 year old artist who so far has been well-known as a singer, fiddler, composer and actor, is happy to be able to add yet another title to his name: author.
Mom Natalia talks eagerly and laughs a lot, she resembles her son very much both appearance wise and in how they behave. She serves green tea and Russian cookies, before she proudly continues to tell more about Alexander’s childhood:
– I remember we often went for walks together in the woods. Walking hand in hand with a small child is a nice experience in itself, but together with Alexander it became story time. To him the trees could speak, and the stones and roots had faces, then he made up stories about how the plants, stones and the trees in the forest could talk to each other. Yes, it was like walking together with a little author, she says with a little laughter.
Alexander has moved away from home several years ago, and doesn’t visit his parents very often, the reason is due to a hectic schedule. But when he does come for a visit to Nesodden, he often stays for two/three days. Then it’s nice to rest, eat mom’s Russian dishes and play the grand piano which has the best place in the living room.
Mom is smart
Alexander has busy days this autumn, he must leave. New appointments await. But before he leaves, he has to do a musical duet with his mother. His mother sits down by the grand piano while Alexander puts the violin to his cheek. And soon the living room is filled with beautiful music.
But before Alexander disappears out the door, I ask him to describe his mother:
Smart, he says
Yes, that’s the first word that comes to my mind. And positive. She can’t say no. I couldn’t either, but I have learnt to. Mom hasn’t learnt that yet. She accompanies three different choirs, is musical director at a school and she has 15 piano students. And if there’s a new child who wants to have Mom as a teacher, she isn’t able to say no even if she has way too much work already. Yes, that’s what my mother is like, says Alexander smiling at his mother.
And then he disappears around the corner with his violin under his arm…