Monday, May 31, 2010

Forget Paris

I have to confess. I've never been to Paris. When we first arrived in France, with a newborn and a two year old, it just wasn't worth the bother and expense. We railed and backpacked to other major European cities, including Zurich. Enough said. Then the twins came along and....well, honestly, I prefer a vacation on the beach to time in the city. No matter the city.

How can I profess to love France when I haven't even spent a day in the city that considers itself her heart?

Dare I suggest that I know the real France, the countryside and everyday, rather than the face of the French to the world?

We are different than the made-up, spruced up, face we show in public.

From what I hear, the France most everyone else knows is rude and arrogant. Really? I can't even imagine. But then again, I've never been to Paris.

Americans complain that the French refuse to speak English with them. Well...honestly...we are in FRANCE, right?! Maybe try a little ''Bonjour''? It's not THAT hard to pick up some basic questions. But then again, I've never been to Paris.

I'd suggest asking for help after a German customer. You think the French don't like speaking ENGLISH?! My friends from aerobics class tell me you have never met an angrier person than a Frenchman confronted by a German who doesn't speak French. They didn't mention how they feel to the Germans who DO speak French though! (And I've got to admit here, I've never seen a country so willing to speak other languages than their own than the Germans. In fact, Americans often complain it is hard to learn German here, because there are always so many people willing to help out and speak English with them. And I know a large majority of them speak French too. So that I don't QUITE understand the problem with travel but....)

I've seen a woman at the Christmas market in Strasbourg give an American friend the cold shoulder as he was trying out his French on her. I was surprised. Maybe she thought he was German? I don't know. She responded to my French, which is far from good by now. And she was a she, so it wasn't the blonde hair and blue eyes that seem to make most Frenchman forgive any errors in pronounciation. (They don't seem to mind how Germans LOOK, just how we talk and act!)

In any case, I've never been to Paris. The France I know is local butchers and bakers and bankers and mothers....all smiling at the children, greeting me warmly, and happily helping me with my bumbling French.

I’ve never been to Paris. But I love the France I know without her make-up.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

You're Not In Germany Anymore

Damon had an interesting experience while in line at the bakery the other morning. He was multitasking, walking the dog at the same time, but that generally doesn't seem to be a problem in Europe. Damon looked for a ''no dogs'' sign and, not finding one, simply brought the dog in with him. I know. I know. But this is France. ''Le petit chien joli'' can under no circumstances be forced to wait alone, outside. It just isn't civilized.

It's like that all over Europe, Germany included. ( I don't know about Great Britain but, going by the old adage that the British love their dogs and horses as well as, or more than, their own children well.....) I'm still mildly appalled at seeing dogs at the mall, in the shops, and at restaurants. Somehow, it doesn't seem right. But...since it generally HELPS my situation, I'm not going to complain about it. We don't take Wolfy to the mall or to any fancy restaurants, but he's allowed at the beer gardens and ….in an emergency will come into the bank or post office.

A lot of smaller neighborhood groceries, bakeries and butchers, don't allow dogs. But they always provide a hitching post out front.

Europe is very dog friendly.

Wolfy was sucking up all of the attention while in line at the bakery. He gets very still, and puts on a demure, love me, love me, can't help but love me, look that dog-lovers can't resist. He had four little German girls swooning all over him the day before. He really knows how to milk it.

Damon was practicing his French and flirting with the French lady at the cash register. (He didn't tell me this last part but, I know. I've seen him in action!) ''Le petite chien est tres joli. Et quel genti aussi. Awwwww!'' Does this really need to be translated? The French were swooning over him. ''Quel age?'' (How old? And forgiveness from anyone who speaks French, I can only think of the question in Creole right now?! ''Ki laj li genyen?'' for anyone interested.)

It continued for quite a while. The line was long. The mood – and pace – were French. It seemed like every French family camping here also needed their baguettes and croissants and pain-au-chocolate. Fresh out of the oven. Warm and flakey like only the French can bake ém. (And the northern African immigrant who won the award for best French bakery this year. Globilization – you go girl! Seems even the French agree that anyone who can make French pastries counts as a real Frenchman, regardless of race or ethnicity.)

Appears that most of the German families were home eating Muesli. Either too cheap or too health conscious to spring for white bread, no matter how light and buttery.

I know. It's not fair to pick on ém. More than anything, I've noticed that countries define themselves by their breakfast pastries. The French have theirs, light and flakyt. The Germans eat brotchen. (Also delicious, hearty and crisp.) Americans have donuts, sugary and fattening, but like nothing else in the world. Maybe the first meal of the day helps define who we are as a people.

But they make it too easy sometimes.

As Wolfy, and Damon, basked in the adulation of the French, the woman in front of Damon obviously couldn't take it anymore. She turned to Damon and, in heavily-accented English, loudly told him that the dog didn't belong in there. The line got quiet. Because the accent was quite obviously NOT French and because the sentiments, and the abruptness, were even less so. Damon told her to mind her own business and leave him alone. Not very polite either annoying to be told what to do by a GERMAN in a French shop.

Of course she was German. If she'd been Italian I wouldn't be writing this story. (What do the Italians eat for breakfast anyway?)

After the lady left, the French slapped Damon on the back and congratulated him. ''Don't worry about it man'' they said. (Or something close to it!) ''We're damn sick and tired of the Germans coming down here and acting like they own the place.'' (Insert line about when the Germans really DID think they owned the place!) And, rather patiently from the women, ''it's not their fault. The Germans are just odd that way.''

I've always said it. The French have a lot in common with the Americans. (Although neither side wants to admit it.) We are both scared to speak a second language. (It's not only arrogance, folks, it's fear.) We both value individual liberty over common law. Both of us fought revolutionary wars, against kings, for 'liberte, fraternite,egalite.'' It's something the Germans wouldn't understand. French liberty emphasizes the individual even more than the American does. If a Frenchman isn't following the rules, noone corrects him, the way they do in Germany. Its almost as if the laws and signs are a suggestion, rather than a command. And there is nothing to compare it to in the German psyche. Germans need their rules.

In the same way, the German old-world structural heirarchy makes ''egalite'' an impossibility. But, playing by American rules here, that everyone is created equal, I don't really notice. I do know, however, that it pisses my German cousin, and a lot of other German businessmen, off that we Americans come over here so darn friendly and smiling and shaking hands and being nice to everyone. Who do we think we are?

I've seen German ''fraternite'' only once. June/July 2006 when the German soccer team rose to the finals in the World Cup held in Germany. Germany charmed the world that summer. We need more of that. The jokes say that the only two times the Germans ever felt national unity, they started two world wars. But I'll be the first to agree that that has got to change. When Americans see eachother we practically fall all over eachother like long lost relatives, irregardless of the fact that we've never met. The French are a little more dignified, but smile warmly, secure in the knowledge that they are countrymen, The Germans, I swear it, are sizing eachother up to detemine if they are going to have competition for the choice spot at the pool.

And now it hits me. The French hate a bully. They fight for the underdog. In this case, our Wolfy. In others, our kids. Six years ago, when I was flying from France to the USA alone with Ryan and two year old Andrew, I had a heated exchange with an older (French) man sitting in the row ahead of us on the airplane. Let's face it. His seat sucked. Andrew was on his best behavior, but he was two. This meant playing with cars, listening to stories and singing nursery rhymes. Apparently my singing was not impressive. When the guy turned around and asked me to keep my kid under control I apologized that I was doing my best. I empathized with him and told him I was very sorry. He told me that wasn't good enough. I suggested that if he could do better, he was welcome to try. I also, in a show of support, suggested he take advantage of the free red wine the airline was offering. I sure as hell was. He told me I was a ''typical American'' , unwilling to accept responsibility. I told him he was a typical man, one who had obviously never spent any time with the three kids he claimed to have raised.

The stewardess came by and told me not to worry about it. Later, as we were exiting the plane, more than five other passengers (women, to be sure) made it a point to come up to me and show their support. ''You did just fine,'' they said. Loudly. So that my antagonist would be sure to hear. ''We didn't even know you had two kids sitting with you. That man had no right to treat you that way. Good for you for sticking up for yourself.'' My French was better then, but I remember the message. On a plane full of French people, against a French antagonist, people took my side. It had nothing to do with nationality. Probably more to do with the solidarity of motherhood. But even more to do with right and wrong.,

Damon's incident at the bakery has less to do with nationality than it at first appears. (Although,let's face it, sixty years isn't going to erase centuries of rivalry over land and domination.) The fact that the woman was German, was unfortunate, for her and for the reputation of her countrymen. But she might just as well have been a well-intentioned, bumbling American. The point is that we don't own the countries that we come to visit. The campers are German and English and Dutch as well as French. Even a Lithuanian license plate and some Americans. You hear as much, or more, German and English, than French. (It was worse when we vacationed in Italy, or in Mallorca. It makes you realize why the Germans always look so shocked when you remind them that German isn't a world language.)

But this is THEIR country. And you play by THEIR rules.

What fun is a holiday in France, if you've never even bothered to leave Germany? You can go to France, and to Italy, and to Mallorca without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Book through a German travel company and you'll never have to hear a foreign language or try a foreign meal.

Try leaving your (German or American) self behind the next time you travel. You'll be amazed at how much fun you have. My goodness, at least try learning a LITTLE of the local language. (Don't look so shocked when I tell you that French really IS a world language!)

And, word to the wise, if everyone else is admiring the little dog in the bakery – in THEIR OWN COUNTRY – try joining in instead of antagonizing everyone.

Personally, I agree wholeheartedly that pets don't belong in a bakery. general I think, not only in France, being friendly gets you a lot farther than being right.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Faux Pas

I love France. We all do. I love the French. They seem to like me back. They let me practice my French instead of jumping straight into English or German. Mostly because they don't speak English or, god forbid, German. And the camping is fun too. Everyone is friendly; even the Germans. The sun is strong. The pool is heated. The beach surprisingly NOT crowded. And Sue was right, the public showers are really quite good.

I still have some issues with the French meat though. This is the culture reknowned for its cuisine – REALLY?!!! Or we can get the British stuff. Enough said. We're doing just fine with bar-b-que, rice and some cucumbers and tomatos. Breakfasts make up for it too – CROISSANTS and PAIN-AU-CHOCOLATE. It doesn't get any better than this. Tonight we are trying shrimp on the barbie.

I've been spending some amount of time getting acquainted with the public toilets here. (Mostly Matthew.) Although I WOULD prefer to be spending the time on the beach, or at the pool, I've gotten to feel quite at home in them. So much so that yesterday's incident was a little like having a stranger come into your home and....well....use your bathroom.

First off, I'm kinda assuming it's a unisex bathroom. Something I have a hard time getting used to, although it really doesn't bother me in theory. I'm in there with Matthew after all, and I'm used to sharing my ''privacy'' with at LEAST two little men at home. Still, I can only compare it to what a Muslim woman must feel like when she's in the wrong side of the mosque. Every time a man walks out of a stall, while I'm standing waiting outside of Matthew's, I feel like I shouldn't be there, like I've just encroached on some forbidden space.

Don't get me wrong, the men don't seem to mind at all. They generally flash a warm smile in my direction (Did I mention I LOVE France?!) and leave with a happy ''Bonjour.'' ''Bonjour'' I mumble back, shyly, gaze at the floor. Where is my burka when I need it?!

I'm also getting an inside look at the private workings of a male bathroom. ''Wash your hands,'' I want to scream. ''Lavez votre mains.'' For crying out loud. There are some things you KNOW – like that most men aren't going to bother to wash their hands if they aren't being directly observed by their mother – but that you just don't want to SEE. Let the women of the world dream that you've retained a modicum of what we're been trying to teach you since childhood.

Back to yesterday. Matthew and I were at the -one, tiny- sink washing his hands. Only because he had so much dark, Mediterranean sand on them that it was going to be hard to....uh...take ''things'', or ''thing'' rather....''in hand'' unless he washed some of it off. (I don't have one but, from what I've heard, you don't want to be handling it with sand paper.)

We headed back to what I had assumed were the kiddy potties only to see men standing in front of them using them as urinals.

Faux pas. Faux pas. Had I been seating my child on the men's URINALS all this time?!

''Bonjour.'' ''Bonjour.'' Both men turned around at about the same time and left. Without washing their hands. I had to close the doors a bit to look at the front. (Do I even need to mention that neither of the men had bothered to close the doors?!) Both doors had a giraffe on them. Both doors only came up about two-thirds of the way of the ''normal'', what I had been assuming were adult doors. Was I supposed to know that the giraffe is some sort of universal sign for men's urinal? Or was it just the French sign for it? Does two-thirds of a door signify ''urinal'' in a public mixed-sex bathroom?

I'm a beginner here. Any camping I've done before this was in the USA, mostly in Alaska. Let me just clue you in, ''camping'' in Alaska does NOT include public toilet facilities and a pizza shop and grocery store! (More like melting the snow for water, checking for bears and bringing your rifle just in case. And oh, either backpacking up a mountain or rowing over in a kayak, to get there.) But I'm not complaining. Honestly, I like the ease of ''camping'' in Europe. Remember, I've got four kids. I need a convenience store in the vicinity more than I need my own private island and shotgun practice with our ''empties'' on the beach. (Ah, those were t

So I asked Damon what he thought. Had he been putting the kids on the giraffe potty? Or had he been using the giraffe potty himself?

I think I've gotten to the bottom of it. (So to speak.)

The giraffe potties here are the first ones on either side as you walk in the door. The only way you are going to get men to stop using the children's toilets as urinals is to put the children's urinals at the END of the line. (Or in a separate room.) It's nothing personal. It's just a guy thing.

I've also learned that, if I ever have to use a men's bathroom in an emergency, that I should use the LAST stall in the room.

I'm not complaining. I love it here. The men have other, better, qualities – like eye contact, and a smile, and this look that hints that they don't mind so much that you've got four sea urchins in tow behind you – that I'm going to forgive them for peeing on the kiddy potty. Cést la vie! And it's a good one.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Love Song To Zurich

I want to love you, Zurich. I really do.

But the truth is I love the thought of you more than actually being there with you.

I am thrilled every time I cross the border into Switzerland. It's not just leaving Germany; it's arriving in Switzerland. The air feels different the minute the border guards decide you are cool enough to join the privileged elite.

And Zurich. You like me too. You are warm. You are friendly. You smile at my children and make room for them on the train or tram. You wait patiently behind them on the Bahnhof steps. You smile and show us where to find the closest McDonald's or Burger King.

You don't look down on us for not being able to afford anything else as a family of six.

And you just as cheerily take Euros and dollars when we run out of Swiss Francs.

I find it cute the way everyone here speaks English. And I mean REAL English, the way it was meant to be spoken. You turn it into a global language, accented with Italian and Spanish and German. You'll speak to us in German too, and not even look down on us for being German. But – if we're not going to speak your language properly, it seems you prefer your Swiss brand of English.

I love it. Swiss English is the language of the world.

Zurich, you show me that people CAN wait for the people to get off the train before gentiley boarding yourselves.

You are more beautiful, better dressed, wealthier and down right classier than your neighbors. You are the Bold and the Beautiful of German-speaking Europe.

It takes a minute to get used to your friendliness. Strangers greeting you as they pass by on the street. „Gruezi.“ And smiling. Always smiling. Conversations on the tram between people who don't know eachother. A camaraderie simply from being in the city together. And smiling. Always smiling. Offering seats to the children. It's like being in another world.

I love that you love me Zurich. I love that you accept me, welcome me, treat me as one of your own. It never seems to occur to you that I cannot afford your 20 SF (20USD/17 Euro) minipizza for each of my children. So that I feel like I shouldn't be here at all. You make me feel welcome. I am the one who knows I have no right to be here.

We've tried to make it work, dear Zurich.

But I have horrible memories of each time I have been here, dear Zurich. The worst of my Europe memories. The first summer we came, when Ryan was two and Andrew just born. We took the train and backpacked it. To a hotel with no fan, let alone airconditioning. And couldn't afford any of the restaurants, including Burger King. (15 SF for ONE person at BK, dear Zurich, your love comes dear.) Other times – without stroller and carrying two unhappy children, with twin stroller and two unhappy children plus two crying babies.

I can think of no happier sight in Zurich than those golden arches. (Imagine spending 60 dollars to eat at McDonald's!) Unless it's that orange Migros sign. Migros. Food for the hungry masses. Rolls and croissants. Taken straight out of the grocery bag, and passed around, eaten dry. Some fruit and cookies. Bottles of water and coca-cola shared on the street. Hunger assuaged. Thirst quenched. And still I feel vulnerable, defeated, like I am on the verge of not being able to provide sustenance for the children. Another few days here and we'll be begging in the streets.

My worst fights with my husband have taken place in Zurich.

You make me confront my worst nightmares.

My memories of you, dear Zurich, generally revolve around trudging through gray streets, in ungodly summer heat, looking for a restaurant we can go to with the kids. We never find it. Your cafes are quaint, but too delicate for us. We don't dare venture inside to anything more formal. And so we trudge on, surrounded by expensive boutiques and classy restaurants, but with nowhere to sit and grab a meal for a family with four small children.

You have a fantastic zoo. With the most formal restaurants I've ever seen near a zoo. They looked warm and friendly on the inside as the four children and I stared through the window from our place on the sidewalk. Damon was at a conference. He is always at a conference. He doesn't feel the lack here, the way I do.

It's not your fault, dear Zurich. You must be a fantastic place to live. Everyone here is so friendly and helpful. They must be happy here.

It's not my fault either. I just don't fit in. I'm not interested in the boutiques, even if I could afford them. You are too large, too worldy and important, for someone like me.

But, I want to love you Zurich. I really do. I think that maybe, someday, our time will come.

On that day, dear Zurich, I will sit at a cafe and order that 20 SF omelette. Maybe even spring 5 SF for some ham. And order an 8 SF coffee. I will smile, because the sun is warm, but the breeze is cool, because the day is young and I haven't a care in the world.

Until that day, dear Zurich, I must be content with the thought of you.

The reality is just too darn painful.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Danger: High Water

Going to the bathroom at our house isn't as easy at it looks.

The other day I was helping one of Aidan's and Matthew's friends. He's not yet four, so he was more than happy to stand still for assistance. He stood perfectly still while I undid his zipper for him. Stood still as I took down his pants. Undies next. I was kinda waiting for him to, well, take things into his own hands standing there. Hmmm. Could be he wanted me to hold it for him too - been there, done that, - but I didn't want to offend.

He just stood there patiently waiting.

Turns out he sits to pee and was waiting for me to arrange the toilet seat and step-stool.

No sweat.

At least he was able to make it out of the bathroom on his own. Only because noone had told him about the high water.

Matthew has to be lifted off the seat and onto the bathmat because he doesn't want to fall in and get his feet wet. OH you don't know? The water. The water that is the bathroom floor and requires an intricate maze of bathmat and stepstool to cross.

Aidan just has an issue with stepping on "the lines" but is usually able to tiptoe out on his own.

They tell me I'll miss the simplicity of these days, but right now the simplest things are looking mighty complicated!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

At Our Expense

Germany - or Schwabenland anyway - mobilized on Sunday.

The sun came out. And with it the motorcycles and bicycles and old-timer automobiles (American of course, in the region that discovered the automobile!)that have been standing idly in garages since last summer.

A German man explained it to Damon a few months ago. "There are two sides to Germans. In the winter we all retreat into ourselves and get gray and grumpy and pissy and angry. Like the weather. Just wait until spring. Then we smile again."

It's true.

Nothing like a little sunshine to make everything better.

Heard another joke - kind of - via another German friend. He had been talking about organizing a Stammtisch while he was getting his PhD at Tufts, in Boston. Just a dozen or so Germans, drinking beer and getting wasted. "Well," he said. "You should have seen what the Dutch students got together in response." Hundreds of them. And a serious political party. "We just wanted to have fun." continued Martin. "But it appears that when Germans mobilize, the Dutch just want to be sure."

Let's face it. You gotta have a sense of humor if you're German.

Jay Leno had one too. "It appears that walking and exercise is good against depression. It also appears that more than half of Germans are depressed." (Only in the winter Jay! Only in the winter!) Jay wrapped up as expected. "Poland and France have reacted rather strongly to these studies. Ain't nobody want to see Germany mobilized and on the move again.!"

Again, you had to laugh.

But I don't think there's anything to worry about this Pentecost Sunday. Unless you are Italy or Mallorca. Half of Germany has headed south for the Pentecost two week school holiday. (Just as Jesus would have wanted - spreading the word, or just the Euro, around a bit.)

But, honestly folks, we're just looking for the sun.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Labelling the Kids

Having twins in the house has made us rather label conscious.

First of all there is the label "twins." Don't really like it. But haven't figured out a way around it. They used to be "the babies," but that can only last so long. If we didn't have an older brother, they could be "the boys," but yeah....we got more than a couple of those. We've tried "the little ones" but that always irked me when my friend did that with HER four-year old twins. For crying out loud, they can only be "little" for so long.

My shrink - who also has twins - suggested calling them "Aidan and Matthew," but that's rather a mouthful on a chaotic weekday afternoon. I've generally got that "Ryan...Andrew...Aidan...Matthew....oh to hell with it, you know who you are".....thing going on.

Add to that the fact that I have always talked to the OTHER twin while I was physically comforting his brother. Since I can't be everything to everyone all at once, I tried to split myself in half by reassuring one with my arms and the other with my voice.

This has led to interesting results.

Imagine having your mother cradling you in her arms, all the while calling out reassurances to your brother.

"Mommy," Aidan has taken to complaining recently, "I am NOT Matthew. I am Aidan."

My goodness, is he expecting both my physical presence AND attention?!!

Well, I guess at least I'm lucky he knows which one he is. (Thank goodness for kindergarten!)

Aidan has retaliated though. He calls ME "Mommy Connor." Or, when he's really angry "Mommy Mommy Connor." Appears I spend a lot of time calling them by their full names.

The strange thing is that Mommy Connor doesn't really exist. I am officially still a Steinmann. Dr. Steinmann if the kids are going to get snooty about it. Damon's mother is remarried to a Crossen, and has been for over twenty-five years. And Damon's father's mother - the REAL Mommy Connor - died in childbirth over sixty years ago. I consider Aunt Linda, Damon's father's sister, and a Sanicola by marriage, as the matriarchal head of that whole clan.

Mommy Connor. It is so weird to be known - and loved - by a name that really isn't mine. It's as if the kids have taken me, erased my past, and invented a brand new person for their own private, little world. Which is part of what being a mother is all about.

Ah well. I take it all in stride. Yesterday Matthew was pretending to be his sister, Ryan, and refusing to answer by any other name. If that continues, things are going to get mighty confusing around here.

Although, come to think of it, at that point his NAME is going to be the least of our issues!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Germany's Children

The counselor was there to categorize my child, not help her.

I am extremely pleased - no let's face it - ecstatic beyond belief - to announce that Ryan has an above average IQ. I still don't believe in IQ tests. But I'm still pleased, because on this graph she is smart.

And the graphs matter more than the reality.

According to the graphs, the counselor HAS to at least recommend the Realschule for her, possibly even Gymnasium. You can tell that made her uncomfortable, but she IS German and she WILL follow the graph.

Never mind that my child would never survive in either one of those schools. Graphs don't lie.

I didn't bother to ask which subjects were the ones where she shot way over the mark. It was gratifying to see, but it wasn't really important. The two that interested me was where the chart showed absolutely no comprehension at all. Above average intelligence, generally high scores and two that are so low they barely register.

What does that say to you?

The counselor hadn't bothered to check.

Turns out they were in spatial comprehension - concept - and in picking out a fifth word that doesn't belong in the group. Also comprehension of a concept. The counselor decided it was because Ryan was bilingual and that she just needs to increase her German vocabulary.

Are you kidding me? And this is the lady who is supposed to be trained in this sort of thing.

She obviously didn't care. Not her job. She had done the graphs.

Never mind that the graphs clearly pointed to a child with a learning disability - my guess is on a mild form of ADD that doesn't manifest in the typical hyperactivity but in dreaminess and an inability to synthesize details into a larger ideological picture. I know one other child with the disorder and now see the similarities. I clearly see it in the math, but also in retrospect on her slowness to convert her knowledge of the alphabet into sounds and reading.

I drew a blank stare when I commented on the results pointing to a learning disabilty and mentioned that Ryan also has juvenile hypothyroidism - which has been linked to an increased incidence of ADD and other learning difficultires. I asked what system was in place to help children with learning problems.

What do they do with all the German children who have learning disabilities?

She checked the box marked Hauptschule.

My God Germany, what are you doing to your children?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Maybe You Should Fly A Jet!

This has always been my all-time least favorite Dr. Seuss book.

I do find it cool that my "real-life, responsible, grown-up" job is listed in the title: Maybe you should fly a jet! Maybe you should be a vet! (By Theo LeSieg, illustrated by Michael J. Smollin, in the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books series)

But I never liked the sentiments expressed within. Especially from Dr. Seuss.

"You've got to do something. What DO you want to do?"

Like kids need that kind of pressure.

"You've got to BE someone sooner or later."

It just isn't the creative, child-friendly, nurturing tone I associate with Dr. Seuss.

But my kids love it. Ryan even brought it in to her English class when they were learning careers at school.

And the last page is growing on me.

"Maybe you should be a voice. Someday you must make a choice. Maybe you should be a FOICE! ????? When you find out what a FOICE is, you can tell us what your choice is."

It leaves some room for self-discovery.

I'm still not sure what a foice is, but I am studying both the Tao and the Bhagavad Gita to find out. I'd let you know when I find out, but I have read enough to know that it is something everyone has to find out for themselves.

That Dr. Seuss is no dummy.

I've tried on lots of roles in Dr. Suess's book. And will continue to try more.

And it occurs to me. Maybe I SHOULD be a voice! I've been speaking to more and more people lately about the lack of special education programs in the school system here. If it's not that, there will always be other causes I want to rush out and defend. I am a voice.

I speak for those who cannot speak up for themselves, either because of convention or shyness. I speak for those who would LIKE to but are afraid or discouraged.

I may be a pain in the ass, but I have more people thank me for it than condemn me.

My goal now is to speak FOR a cause, to speak FOR a group (or better yet, WITH it), to speak FOR change and FOR something better. To speak FOR all of us, and all of our children.

I have a letter to write to the school board here, and to the school authorities in Baden-Wurttemburg. The more I think about what I am going to say, the more I discuss it with other parents, the more I realize that it has to be written. I can't just jump ship and run.

But I am going to write FOR our school system, FOR change within it, FOR special education programs, FOR integration of special education into the main schools. It's a step that Germany needs to take. And will. But someone - lots of someones - have to be willing to take that first step and speak out.

I am going to be a voice.

I've worked my way to the end of the book and it's high time I made a choice!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Random Thought: Sand

Sand is not dirt.

Tracking sand into the house is a sure sign of spring.

It brings a little beach into my home.

(And yes, this picture was taken in April. It is really THAT cold here.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Learned something interesing in Body Fit this morning.

We were discussing Arnold Schwarzenegger - mostly complaining to our teacher, Martina, that although we liked looking AT Arnold Schwarzenegger's muscles, we didn't necessarily want to LOOK like him. So enough with the heavy barbells please.

We continued the conversation during our stomach crunches. The general consensus was that it was okay to watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger film with the sound off. Something about that terrible accent of his.

All of which I'd heard before. Until it hit me that these were GERMAN-SPEAKERS complaining about the accent. "Wait a minute" I asked. "Are you talking about his terrible ENGLISH?" No, no, they were talking about his GERMAN!

"It's not just that he's Austrian," my mat neighbor explained. "He's okay in his early films. It's just that after all that time in America he really has developed the worst American accent. He can barely speak German anymore."

BARELY SPEAK GERMAN? Let me clue you in guys, the guy is barely understandable in English too!

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE Arnold. I like his ideas; I actually think the guy has brains as well as brawn. He just has problems expressing them.

And- all right - I simply like looking at him. What's wrong with that? I'm suggesting we get the guy on the presidential ticket.

Obama is hot, but he's no Arnold!

(In eight years, ladies with brains and conscience, in EIGHT years on the ticket!)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Firehouse Memories

Just got back from our annual visit to the Altdorf Volunteer Firehouse. It's the usual small-village beer fest, with brats and beer. It's also a chance to climb into the firetrucks, play with water and jump around on the trampoline.

Usually we're in shorts and T-shirts.

This year the temperature is barely in the 50s. Although the rain did hold off.

The first years we went alone, thrilled to be part of a village community event. We liked it so much - hokey, but fun - that we began to invite friends. The Grabzynscki's one year. Joe helping Andrew man the firehose. Kristy in the trampoline with two year old Matt. Us camped on the tarmac with Aidan and Matthew, who were at that awkward "can't really get anywhere, but don't like to sit still in the stroller either" stage.

We had so much fun that year, the older kids soaking wet, the younger ones stuffing themselves with french fries, that we sat out on the lawn or tarmac all afternoon.

It was sunny.

Last year we met Maria and her brood there. It was my first time out of the house in over a month, and I was still carrying the fetus they'd told me was dead. Damon and I were in shock. But the kids had fun. And Maria (Bill was out of town) led Damon and I to her house where she fed us burgers and beer.

It's not a sad memory.

Our annual pilgrimage to the firehouse this year reminded me of all the times in Altdorf that I've shared with the friends close to me here. The Grabzynscki's have moved to Georgia, but I still remember our boys - and a girl - walking in the village Fasching's parade together. And I can't forget all that the Adair's have done for us - usually a good homecooked meal and a walk and a talk when I really needed it. Maria was always here - just down the road - and I don't think it has hit me that she's really gone.

And then there's the 4 of July. Which always reminds me that I had to cancel Babette and Erica's barbeque plans because I was busy delivering the twins. We celebrate now with a low-key party at the Hildrizhausen pool. Lori. Anita. Maria. Whoever can make it.

Last year it threatened to rain and Maria took us all bowling on base. (Except for poor Anita, who somehow missed the message, and ended up at the pool anyway!)

So this year we took the Olivo's to the firehouse. It was cold. It was empty. We didn't let the kids play in the water. But the fries were still good, and we still sat in our usual seats on the tarmac.

Omar and Damon took the boys up a basket suspended by a crane. Then we mosey-ed through the fields in a covered wagon towed by a big, green, tractor.

It ain't much, but it's what we got.

On the walk home Damon and I found ourselves telling Omar about all this little village has to offer. "Yeah, in July there's the annual Bach Fest, more beer and brats. In September there's the International Motocross." We also proudly pointed out the new sidewalk. "Yes, this is only a year old. You know, when we moved in six years ago there was no sidewalk and the Netto and Edeka (the two small grocery stores) had just been built."

Altdorf has its memories, but its the friends we've made here, not the town itself, that matters.

Kristy in Georgia, Maria in Colorado, Tracy back again some day in is change and people move on.

But isn't it nice to know, that on a spring Sunday every mid-May, Altdorf's volunteer fire department will still be holding its annual open house? And with it our memories.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

New Labels for Everyone

"What's your sign?"

I'd just tried to help an elderly couple disentangle two shopping carts in front of the supermarket. The husband was wheeling two of them around, stuck together, muttering to himself and the wife was looking confused. So I ran up and told them not to worry about it, this happens all the time, and offered to put my Euro into the one slot to separate the two. Turns out they had already tried that. It really WAS busted. They were still looking slightly confused, but able to manage on their own. He was just going to wheel the two carts around until he got to the help desk. I laughed. "You know, you could probably just shop with them like that and see if anybody notices."

They didn't quite know what to make of me. I was laughing, I was friendly, I'd offered to help a stranger. (Last week, swear to God, Damon watched THREE separate people walk past a handicapped elderly gentlemen who was looking for help getting a shopping cart. Damon finally had to get back out of the car to help.)

I like the elderly here. They are so friendly. And thrilled that someone my age is friendly back.

The incident was strengthening my conviction not to label people based on their nationalities anymore. I am studying Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Both believe that we are all part of a universal consciousness. Part of self-realization is seeing us all as a whole. I don't explain it very well, but then again I've spent my entire life in a Judeo-Christian society. Jesus did say something similar, something about us all being sons of God, all having God within us.

The Dalai Lama says it well too. All of us just want the same things, to avoid suffering and to be happy. When you realize that, you can empathize and see yourself in anyone.

Mother Teresa had it right too.

So I was - and am - going to see everyone as myself. No age, sex, race, religion or nationality. Just people. Part of the same universal consciousness as me.

Her husband went off pushing both shopping carts but his wife ran back to ask me a question. "What sign are you?" she asked. "Huh?" I eloquently replied. "Your sign, your sign, you know, I want to know why you are so exuberant and happy."

That nasty part of me wanted to tell her I was American, and that that's why I was so exuberant and happy, but I had my new resolution. (My accent is slight enough that a lot of people, especially serious Swabs battling with an accent of their own, don't notice it.) This had nothing to do with nationality. It had to do with being friendly.

"Aries." I told her. "April." As if that explained everything. "Oh" she replied. "I'm a Pisces." And off she went, as happy as can be, looking for her husband and the two shopping carts.

"Hmmm" I thought to myself. "Looks like I've found myself a new system for labelling people."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Himmel huh? Pente what?

Easter was cold and wet this year, but that's hardly something new. At least we know what we are celebrating at Easter, colored eggs and chocolate bunnies, right?

Funny enough, noone seems to know exactly why we have all of these May holidays.

I asked Andrew, since he's the one in religious education at school, why we were all home on Thursday. "What exactly is Himmelfahrt, Andrew?" He mumbled something about some guy who had built a ladder into heaven. Hmmm? Jacob's ladder maybe?

For the record, the "Himmelfahrt" we celebrate in May is "Christi Himmelfahrt"; it translates into the "Feast of the Ascension, commemorating the day Christ ascended bodily into heaven, forty days after Easter. You know, the cave and the boulder story.

This is as opposed to “Maria Himmelfahrt”, the Catholic Feast of the Assumption, celebrating the ascension of Mary into heaven on August 15. Since she did this during the summer holidays anyway, it really isn't as noteworthy.

Next we get two weeks off for "Pfingsten". “Pfingsten” translates into Pentecost or Whitsunday, the day in which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, fifty days after Easter.

I only remember this because of a really chipper song we learned at Sunday school. "At Pentecost some people received the Holy Spirit. To spread the good news through the world to all who would hear it." Refrain, with hand signals, totally cool and totally catchy. "I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church together". Big hug at the end. Really great tune. Nice with a hip Sunday school teacher in fringed blue jeans and an acoustic guitar. I'd teach it to my kids, if only I wasn't now a Taoist.

Anyway, I can't say much about the Holy Spirit, but nowadays most everyone in my neck of the woods catches the holiday spirit and heads south for two weeks.

Spreading the good news? At least spreading that Euro around and praying it will still be worth something when we get home.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just Me (An Apology)

I knew I'd probably offend someone at some point, but I hadn't counted on hurting a friend. At dinner last night, Ladies' Night at the Brauhaus in Boeblingen, I casually mentioned the unfairness of the last line of my latest blog. I'd already added an apology for it in the comments section and I was obviously thinking about it enough to bring it up.

But my friend's reaction totally stunned me. "Yeah, you are right. That is totally unjustified and unfair. It isn't right to bring up something from over 60 years ago. At some point it is time to stop bringing it up and let it go."

She hadn't read the piece, and doesn't read the blog regularly, or I don't think the one line would have been as offensive. If you truly know me, and my writing, you know when I am venting unfairly. And you know the true me underneath it.

But all of a sudden I didn't want to take it back, no matter how unfair it is. It is MY blog, these are my personal thoughts and essays, and I don't force anyone to read it. Or agree. In fact, let's face it, the crowning glory of a blog would be to get an animated exchange of opinion going on between its readers.

I see my friend's point. I truly do. But all of a sudden I am fighting for the right of a writer to write.....even if it is a pile of shit. Even if it is hurtful or painful or even untrue. I suddenly understand why Stu quit our Writers' Group when Starbucks asked us to keep our readings nonpolitical. It wasn't that any of us were planning on writing anything political, it was just the point that a writer shouldn't be asked to curb his/her thoughts.

Okay. I get it. (But I'm still doing Starbucks.)

But it also brings me back to that last line, and why it is so important for me to keep the stupid thing in there, overexaggerated and unfair as it is.

It's because I am angry. And because I am finding it more and more difficult to live in a system that just accepts things as they are and is uncomfortable with change or with any ideas different than their own. (And yes, I do realize I could be talking about just about any society!)

It's not about Germany, or Germans; it's about more than the school system (which I will however continue to disapprove of and work to change).

It's about being German. It's about knowing that a part of me, that people close to and directly related to me were part of one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind; and let's face it that's saying a lot. It's competing with the American blight of slavery and racism. The annihilation of the native American culture. Ditto with the Australian Aborigines. More recently, countries all over the world look on at ethnic and religious wars in Kosovo, Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Nigeria.

Indirectly, I am guilty of way more than one stupid, little misguided sentence.

I do think quite often about what I would have done if I had been alive in Germany when Hitler was VOTED INTO power. My grandfather was too old to fight this time around. He was bummed about the loss of his factory. My grandmother had two young children and another (my father) on the way. One of the daughters from my grandfather's first marriage ended up in a concentration camp. She survived and married a Jewish man she had met and fallen in love with. They relocated to Israel,covered up her German heritage and raised their children, my half cousins, as Jews and Israelis with no knowledge of their German background.

I can't imagine not working to save as many children as I could.

So, in the end, it's all about me after all. I can say that it's the American in me that loves freedom, change and the rights of every individual to determine their own lives. Or the German in me that abhors racism and intolerance.

But it's just me. Just dumb little-old me. I can be a lot of things. (Irresponsible, irreverent, silly, stupid, funny, insensitive, unfair and wrong.)

I can also be sorry, sorry friend, that I hurt you. I know how you feel, I understand and even empathize with your view, you are right and I am unfair.

But I cannot be silent.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pardon Our Manners

I think we're going to have to stop going to English group. The Brits are starting to get a little intimidating.

When Sarah told me she was going to go over manners with the 3 -5 year olds, I figured I'd be able to keep up. I even sang a Barney song on "Please" and "Thank-You" to show off.

Then she sat the kids around the table and asked who eats with their fingers. Well, honestly, how else are you SUPPOSED to eat french fries and chicken nuggets?! Pizza too. And hamburgers. Tacos. The list goes on. I finally came up with the answer I thought she was waiting for. "Americans!" I proudly exclaimed. "Babies." Sarah's four year old daughter, Mia, corrected me. Oh. Trick question I guess.

Next Sarah threw a knife and fork on the table. I breathed a sigh of relief. I know what both of those are. "Now, do you just throw the utensils on the table like thät?" Sarah asked. Thank God she was asking the kids. And thank God the twins weren't talking much. Because that is EXACTLY how I throw the utensils on the table.

I thought I knew what a napkin was too. Except that Brits and South Africans call them serviettes. I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. But I looked it up in the dictionary later.

But Sarah overheard me asking Sue about napkins and serviettes. Appears one is paper and the other cloth.

Cloth? Oh dread. Now I'm going to have to pretend I know about ironing too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Third Grade Math: Far From Over

Ryan finally brought home a test result I could smile at this week.

In fact, I laughed out loud, embraced her with tears of mirth streaming down my face, and did a little happy dance of disbelief around the kitchen.

I'm not sure that helped her self esteem any.

She'd hit the jackpot, though, an incredible NONE CORRECT on the entire one-hour test. "Well, Mom, " she quietly said "Frau Danzinger did give me partial credit on the first question." (She was cowering behind the kitchen cabinets, not quite sure if my war whoops and insane laughter were a good sign or a bad one.) Yeah, because Ryan had managed to write a correct word into a completely incorrect sentence, and Frau Danzinger really has been doing her darndest to give Ryan whatever points she can. She gave up after that first one though.

What do you say to something like that?

I was curious, and so I called the teacher. "So, how about that weather, huh?" Frau Danzinger was not at all fooled. "Fine then, how about that test result?" She didn't have an answer. "It's okay. I'm not angry. In fact, I laughed." That loosened her up a bit. She guesses we still need to work with Ryan on some things. You think?! I am grateful that she didn't yell at Ryan - although she did write on the test that she thought Ryan could do better than this? Really? CAN she do better than this?

We discussed it once again. "Do you still honestly believe that this child has no learning "weakness"?" I asked her. (It's a nicer word than disability and, since they still don't believe there is anything wrong, also less insistent.)

What Frau Danzinger is trying to reassure me is that Ryan is a lovely child, that she just needs time to mature. She keeps reminding me of the IQ results. (They were good.) She is a pleasure in the classroom and never causes trouble or disruptions. Which is why she will never be looked at in this system. If she were a typical ADD child - male, loud, unruly and disruptive - they would have listened to me four years ago already.

And she gets what they consider average grades. 3s to 4s. Consistently. (C's in the American equivalent).

I just can't believe they don't look closer - especially with a parent hounding them for four years. Her math tests recently for example. The first half - dealing with fairly complicated multiplication and long division - rote math - is ENTIRELY CORRECT. The second half - dealing with application of the concept - ENTIRELY FALSE. For months now.

Ryan has ADD. I'm sure of it.

I'm also sure she will never get the help she needs here in Germany.

I finally had my mom ask Marie, our family's guidance fairy and a trained psychologist, what she thought about Ryan's symptoms. She sent me to a website, that in turn led me to another website,, and piles of information.

She has also been reading my blogs, and....go ahead and read all those essays on Third Grade Math yourself again if you are interested. Ryan has almost every classical symptom of ADD, except the hyperactivity. It's a quieter, dreamy form more common to girls. And most often overlooked. I've been documenting it for a year without knowing it.

What bothers me is that the school here didn't even try, doesn't even really care.

I'm learning a lot. I'm giving up the guilt. (Don't Shoot The Dog: THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.) And I'm reading about the Individuals with Disabilities Acts, the U.S federal law requiring public schools to serve children with specific learning disabilites by developing an Individual Education Program (IEP), including individualized learning goals and A TEAM OF EDUCATORS, PSYCHOLOGISTS AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, for EACH student with a disability.

German websites don't even mention Ryan's form of ADD. The school has no health care professional, no psychologist, and noone trained to handle special needs education.

I think we all know what the Germans do when someone doesn't fit into their system.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

FIghting For The Short Bus

Americans know the "short bus." In a country where kids are bussed to school on large, long yellow school busses, the "short bus" is the yellow bus that picks up the "special ed" kids. Short yellow buses are also used on long rural routes with few kids, but....the stigma remains. The kids coming off the short bus are the kids whose limbs flop awkwardly from wheelchairs, who wear helmets and crooked smiles, who are...let's face it....just thrilled to be able to attend public school at all.

There is actually a short bus in my area of Germany. It picks up the kids with severe debilitating ADD and slight learning delays and brings them to a special school nearby with class sizes of 6 - 10 and one class where the teacher's dog joins the class daily. We also have a child with Down Syndrome in our kindergarten and a blind child in the local grade school.

So, I guess what I may be fighting for isn't exactly "special ed." I don't actually know the status of special ed here since none of my children fits into the category. I don't see it, I don't hear about it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't excellent. I do know anyone with a physical handicap requiring a wheelchair or other walking aid would have to be carried up and down the stairs of the elementary school. (I know this, as well as the impossibility of using any public buildings, such as the gym and Rathaus, because I was unable to navigate them with a double stroller, since they have no ramps, no elevators, and are therefore wheelchair - and double stroller - inaccessible.)

What I'm fighting for is the kids in the middle, the kids with mild speech impediments, or slight hearing loss or just slightly slower abilities to learn than average. I'm fighting for the "less-than-average" and let's face it, less than average sounds a lot worse than "special."

"Special" kids in Germany are quick, bright, and again, let's be honest, often blonde. Or at least from your traditional German family. To make it as an immigrant, you have to not only be very very special, but also able to assimilate into the traditional German view of what a scholar is.

Oh. Yeah. And do it before the age of ten.

Everybody agrees that the current system is absolutely stupid and unfair. And also that it will take decades to change it. (Put in your own comment on the pace of change in Europe; I can't even begin to go there right now.)

Right now the kids are filtered into three separate school systems beginning in fifth grade. (Some rare cities such as Berlin are beginning to do this later, in seventh grade.) The smart kids go to the Gymnasium, basically highschool, with ages from 10 thourgh 18. From there they are expected to go to college. (Decided, once again, at the age of 10.) The average kids go to Realschule where they are prepared for very respectable careers as bank tellers, office staff and kindergarten teachers. (No kidding, the FIRST teachers your kids have in Germany aren't even considered good enough to go to college.) The dumb kids - and immigrants - go to Hauptschule, whose name has now been changed to Werkrealschule to make people feel better about it. And, although everyone keeps trying to tell me that Hauptschule is fine, that the kids are just slow starters, and that they can work their way up from there, the fact remains that noone knows what to do with these kids in the future.

Hauptschul kids officially graduate in 9th grade. Ready for a job as a bricklayer or prostitute. And there aren't a lot of jobs open for bricklayers right now.

Okay - the official line is that these kids mature and feed into the Realschule, in exceptional cases even into the Gymnasium and then into college. The system is supposed to be flexible, meeting the individual needs of each individual child.

But in reality, Germany has labelled and cut their losses on an overwhelming two-thirds of their kids. By the age of 10. Turns out I am too American to accept this. Instead of "no child left behind" they voluntarily weed out the kids to leave behind, and leave them behind early. "Make a sprint for college, son, and don't look back at all the dumb friends you have to run over to get there." I'm sorry. It's just so typically German.

Don't get me wrong. The American system is far from perfect too. But at least there is debate and change. At least we are fighting for the right of EVERY CHILD to learn. At least the theory works, even if the reality is still ugly and messy.

The top third of ANY education system are going to do fine. Those are the third you only need to place a book in front of and they sop it up. It's really really hard to mess up with those. (Believe me, I know, I have one of those too.) The sign of a really superior education system would be its ability to help those who can't learn on their own, its success rate with those that actually need HELP learning. I mean, isn't that what teaching is all about?!

So, yeah, I guess in the end I'm just fighting for the same old thing that parents everywhere should be fighting for. More money for teacher's aides, for reading programs, for special education classes.

I'm still trying to convince the school Ryan even HAS a learning problem. (Shouldn't they have picked this up by now? Or is it easier just to filter them out than it is to teach them. More cost-effective in the short-term, I guess.)

Funny isn't it? All those years you spend laughing at the kids on the short bus. Until you become a parent and realize how "special" every member of society is, and how they all should have access to the same opportunities.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mister Sun?

Chance of snow in the mountains? CHANCE OF SNOW IN THE MOUNTAINS? I heard it on Tuesday but I've been trying to ignore it. We are not in the mountains. It is May. If only I can hang on to denial until the sun shows up again.

It is not MY fault. I repeat, this is not MY fault. I had not put the winter clothes entirely away. Although I did give a few away to friends. We still have our snow tires on. (Okay - they're all-weather but still) And our sleds are still standing ready for use next to the bikes in the driveway. Not only because I've been too lazy to store them. Honestly, I've been working hard on not jinxing our precarious summer weather.

It couldn't be because I spent the entire sunny week we did have outside on the playground with the kids instead of dutifully cleaning the windows, could it? (Really, I was the ONLY one out there....people really WERE taking advantage of the only sun and warmth we've had in MONTHS to open up the windows and do spring cleaning. Instead of going outside. Serves them right, really. Hope they enjoy huddling together for warmth in their clean homes while I savor memories of that sunny week outdoors.)

It's been cold again too. Damon had been fooled by that streak of sunny weather last week into turning off the heaters. So the kids have to sleep together at night in order to conserve body heat. It is that cold. Today we caved and sent the twins to kindergarten in their winter jackets. Minus hats and gloves. You can only push me so far. Sigh.

The sun came out for an entire week last week. That makes a total of 19 sunny days since November. I counted. One week in March. One in April. And I'm estimating a handful for winter. It was that ugly.

I've been surprisingly chipper as the gray skies great me each morning. For one, at least it is light out. No more February darkness, regardless of the rain. And then, is IT May. I'm assuming there must be an end in sight.

I'll be fair; it's not always quite THIS ugly here. We had warm fall weather - an Indian summer, German-style (meaning no parkas, just heavy layers) until the end of October. I keep track. And usually we do see the sun for a week or two in Februay - just a taste of things to come. And we've got the winter jackets away by April. Summer sucks mostly - unless you are from England in which case it is fantastic. It either rains the entire month of June OR July. You don't get both. The summer the twins were born it rained EVERY SINGLE DAY in August. Believe me, I remember.

The first summer we were here it didn't stop raining for more than two days in a row all summer. Again, I know. We were still naive enough to be waiting for the rain to clear long enough to heat up the water in the outdoor pool. Now we just go with jackets and umbrellas and seek shelter when the worst of it hits. The summer BEFORE the twins were born - and my parents were on vacation with us in Switzerland - it rained so hard and long that the Swiss had to call out their national guard for flooding. Then again, we have an issue with Swiss vacations - our two October trips there have also ended up as minor national emergencies, with mountains and roads closed down to unforeseen early heavy snowstorms. In Switzerland. I have come to believe it has something to do with us crossing the border.

The Brits I know honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. After all, you wouldn't want it to be hot all of the time, would you now? All that sweating! (It's called SUMMER folks, and it's a lovely custom in much of the rest of the world!) I have to look to my South African friends for sympathy.

Anyway, Aidan and I had a moment to ourselves Thursday morning. And so I asked him if he would please help me call Mr. Sun. "Mr. Sun", we said - quite sternly I might add - "Mr. Sun. Come here please." "Here. Right here. Now Mr. Sun. Here." I did a little Bill Cosby calling the kids routine. (Funniest skit EVER - google it NOW if you've never heard it.) Nothing. Aidan looked out the window and discovered the source of the problem.

"Mom." he said, quite seriously "Mr. Sun doesn't have any eyes."

Oh I get it. He's having trouble FINDING Germany.

I'm going with the sun in his traditionally masculine role since I am assuming he's not LISTENING to us very well either! Then again, it's supposedly a young sun, right, maybe she just hit puberty.

So yesterday the kids and I spent some time drawing pictures of what we remembered the sun looking like the last time we caught a glimpse. Kind of like a police sketch of a missing person.

I'm thinking of posting them on the Internet.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pardon Our English Part Five: Savoury Snacks?

The concept of savory snacks came up in English Group the other week. It may have been savoury snacks, if that's how the Brits spell it.

In any case, I had no idea what they were. My British and South African friends were sympathetic. After all, I am only an American. "What do they call them where you come from," they asked, imagining me and my family circling the wagons against Indian attacks, I suppose.

So I looked to Cindy for support. What DO we call them in America? "Savory snacks." she replied quietly. Maybe the difference is in the spelling.

Not buying it. And so I emailed some friends from school. Appears those of us in NEW England are pretentious enough to serve "hor d-ouerves", if not smart enough to know how to spell them.

And the German kindergarten hit me with another one the other day when they asked us to bring in "finger foods" for a buffet. Now THAT's English I can relate to.

We use French, the Germans use English. Honestly, let's all just order out for pizza and save ourselves the hassle!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Where Are My Pain Meds When I Really Need Them?



I don't know that I can adequately describe the intense inner turmoil and severe emotional pain my ten year old daughter causes me on an almost daily basis. Just writing that line was hard. But, since I am trying to prove myself worthy to be called a writer, I am going to give it a try.

Let me begin with labor. It sucked. I wanted natural childbirth; they strapped a continuous stress monitor on my belly and kept me on my back the entire time. Noone listened to how I wanted it. Nothing went the way I wanted it to. I was so angry I threatened never to marry her father, and never ever to give her his last name. When I hadn't dilated past 3 cms after over 24 hours of labor I overheard them discussing the possibility of a C-section. And I told them right then and there that if they were going to cut into my stomach after all of this then they might as well just go ahead and tie my tubes while they were in there. They had apparently heard this before and followed routine procedure.

They asked Damon if HE'D like them to give me an epidural.

Blissfully tanked out of my gourd, I drunkenly proceeded to council the lady screaming in agony behind the curtain next to us not to be a martyr and to go for the epidural. Since she came in begging for one, but already 10 cmns dilated, I wasn't helping anyone in that department either.

Honestly though, anyone who dilates to 10 cms without knowing it and then delivers within two hours of mild cramping doesn't deserve pain relief. (You KNOW who you are, Laura, Cindy and Tracy and yes, I am so jealous. Although, Karen, delivering in the car doesn't count in this category; for that you deserve our sympathies - and a life-time supply of narcotic relief.)

Back to the pain. I did learn, after the first one, that it does end and that it ends in joy. But the first time you're going : when will it end? Will it get worse? Will I be able to stand it? Will I be strong enough - and good and worthy enough - to see this through and to do it well? How could I do this better? (Okay those last two might be just me, the result of having an overcritical father who also happens to be an ob/gyn.)

And I'm still there - in labor - trying to bring my daugher into the world. And it still hurts and I am still wondering if it will ever end. Or just get worse. And if I am strong enough to be able to stand it, good and worthy enough to deserve joy as an outcome. Or could I be doing something better? (Thanks Dad, for that last one.)

It's harder now that she can speak and resist andfight back. At least in the hospital we were working together.

Doesn't she understand that I am trying to help her? That I only want what's best for her? Why is SHE strapping me to the bed when I want to get up and do it my way?

I brought her into THIS world. Why does she now insist on creating her own?!

Life hurts. And brings us joy.

If someone would just give me an epidural until she's out of the house, please.

Lucky 13

I gotta admit it, I was pretty psyched when I got home from Florida a few weeks ago and saw I had a new fan.

I had a new follower on my blog, number 13, and let me tell you, as much as I say I am writing for myself, it felt really fantastic that someone I didn't even know had signed up to read me regularly.

I've also kept some good reviews - from Lynn-Anne, Liz and Sylvia - just for when I'm looking back (fondly?) on the early years.

There's also a little thrill - and a sense of gratitude - whenever Catherine or Babette or Sue or Anita mentions that they read something of mine. When Amanda comments from the USA or Maarit mentions a piece over the phone.

I guess I gotta apologize to readers 11 and 12 too, because darn it, I couldn't figure out who you were to email you and thank you. I'm pretty sure one of you may be Laurie, only because I googled "twintensity" a few weeks ago and found out I was one of the ten most popular blogs read in Haiti.

ONE OF THE TEN MOST POPULAR BLOGS IN HAITI. Means more to me than my sarcasm shows. I thank my one follower there. (I will NOT cry and make sad comments; I will NOT cry and write something melodramatic.)

I've been writing this blog for over a year now. In that time I have become a writer. Because I have to write. Because I love to write. Something I lost, or gave up, almost twenty years ago in order to pursue the more practical and serious pursuits of life and veterinary medicine, has become a part of me again.

(Insert memory of pretentious twenty year old at Cornell University telling her creative writing teacher that she wouldn't switch from premed because she wanted to live and experience things, have a real life, and not just "settle" into writing as an undergraduate. Ouch. And duh. Arrogant little snot. Serves me right.)

Number 13 introduced herself to me at English group last week. I think I might have blushed. It was almost like learning that the cute guy with the really great biceps one seat ahead of you in highschool geometry class likes you too. (For the record, I got a "C" in geometry, but I still remember the biceps!)

Writers often claim to be needy and insecure. Yup. I don't need EVERYONE to love me, I just want MOST everyone to at least like me a little bit. Oh, who am I kidding, I want you all to find me as clever, witty and insightful as I find myself.

Number 14 joined recently - silently, during a time when I didn't have access to my computer. And the thought, once again, that someone I didn't know found something I had to say even remotely interesting, or perhaps just kinda funny, inspired me to learn how to access my blog from my netbook.

I write. I have some fiction I am working on. I have some ideas on a collection of personal essays. But honestly, I'm just as thrilled to share my thoughts and ideas with those of you willing to read them.

Nice to meet you. I like you already. You are obviously brilliant!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day

It's probably appropriate that I start blogging again on May Day. Although I'd like to be contrary and call it Walpurgis Day, after the German pre-Christian holiday of Walpurgis Nacht, celebrated the night before. In our little town in the 21st century, Walpurgis Nacht has been reduced to toilet papering the trees surrounding the BMX track in our neighborhood, but it's nice to know someone remembered to mark its passing.

I only know Walpurgis Nacht from the famous German children's book "Die Kleine Hexe" written by Otfried Preussler in the 1970s. "We" all grow up with it the same way we grow up with his stories about the littel ghost, the little waterman and "Der Rauber Hotzenplotz." That last one's kind of scary, especially the 21st century screen adaption. In German of course; it's a cultural phenomenon but it's no Disney.

The witches dance on Walpurgis Nacht, a throwback to pre-Christian pagan religions.

May Day, or Beltane in Gaelic, celebrates the beginning of summer.

So, here I am, back on my broom for summer.

I actually did try to take the family to the pool this morning. The outdoor pool. Yes, it WAS a bit chilly, AND the forecast was for rain and thunderstorms but... it seems I just can't fight my own nature. The American beach-goer in me was screaming that it was MAY, goddamn it, and time for picnics and pools. The German in me was thinking, well, since we're getting a season pass anyway we might as well make the most of it. My Dad would be so proud.

Since Damon and I were unable to hoist the kids over the locked iron gates and the water still looked slightly green - and partially frozen - we decided to eat our brotchen and play baseball in a little meadow in some nearby woods. The kids were in bathing suits, and it was COLD, but we made due with beach towels across our legs and shoulders. SUCK IT UP KIDS, THIS IS FUN!

What we hadn't counted on was the German Red Cross setting up tents and tables for a May Fest. At 10 AM Damon came back from the concession stand with a big mug of beer, telling me that they hadn't gotten the coffee machine going yet.

You gotta like that in a people.

By noon the meadow was filled with kids playing soccer around our baseball match, and somberly dressed people eating Maultaschen and Wurst. It was just so quaint, so out of a history lesson, so very very....well, German. Although if I never see another Maultasche again as long as I live, it will be too soon. (It's a southern Swabian thing. Íf you want REAL meat, go to Bayern!)

Around noon the heavens opened up, the way they invariably do here. In other countries, the sun shines, I swear to it just rains.

But once again my heart swelled with love and pride as I watched my dark, soberly dressed, beer-swilling and Maultaschen eating country-men and women simply whip open their dark-colored umbrellas and keep right on going.

It was like a scene out of Mary Poppins.

April was a tough one for me, in case you were wondering. Andrew turned 8 on April 1 and I celebrated that with what I assumed were anxiety attacks brought on by some medication my poor therapist has been dying for me to try for YEARS now. And since I'd managed NOT to get knocked up for almost five months now, it seemed a good idea to listen to her. Until I couldn't breathe. So I stopped the meds - decided to wing it without thyroid meds too - and celebrated MY birthday on April 10 on my hands and knees in a hotel bathroom at Europa Park trying to force air into my lungs. Turns out I need thyroid meds.

Then I left Aidan alone in front of the desktop watching You Tube. For two minutes while I helped Matthew in the bathroom. And came back to find the screen blank. Aidan explained that the noise was too loud and that he'd pushed a button or two to remedy that situation.

It's taken over three weeks for Damon to hound the computer repair guys into fixing the thing. Although I don't think they bothered looking too hard since it ends up being the power supply. In the USA they would have fixed it the same afternoon it came in. Socialism. I am honestly swinging way to the right here, something I am not going to be able to forgive this country for.

Although they are only charging us 50 Euros for what a capitalist country probably would have charged us hundreds for.

And I have had to learn to access the Internet on my Netbook.

Growth is so painful.

But at least some things never change.

All over Germany, or at least here in Swabenland, people are out in the village squares eating Maultaschen and Wurst, drinking beer, and putting up the May Pole. All under cover of rain.

If the winds of change ever do hit this tiny little region of the world, there's going to be a lot of broken umbrellas!