Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Repeating Highschool

We were on our way to Ollie's baptism on Sunday when Damon popped the question.

"If you could change anything about your past, what would it be?"

Damon's just received his FBI clearance, after four months of waiting, and is practicing interview questions.

"It's a trick question," he told me.

But I was already thinking, seriously thinking about what I would change, if given the chance.

1. Vet school? Nah. I needed that.
2. Coming to Germany? Nah. That's part of who I am.
3. The three miscarriages? Well, yeah, it would have been nice NOT to have had to deal with those, but, then again....they've also led me on the road to where I am now.
4. The finance crisis of 2009? Eh. True, if Damon had been earning then what he is earning NOW, we wouldn't have considered leaving Germany. But then again, if Damon had been earning then what he is earning now, we wouldn't have considered leaving Germany.

Every choice I've made has led me to where I am now.

And I'm pretty okay with that.

I'm going to miss some friends. New ones that I am just connecting to. Old ones that I am reconnecting to. People that are good for me - and that have helped me become the person that I am. I am me again. Thank you.

Funny enough, some of those people - the very people who have stood by me during the darkest times, the people who saw me through a nervous breakdown and called me daily to see how I was, the people who supported me and grieved with me through my miscarriages and who stuck with me through my depression, when I didn't even know who I was anymore....well, some of them don't seem to like the person I've become.

And that's okay too.

I am a better person because they were there for me in the past.

That's enough to be grateful for.

Sometimes it seems to me that highschool keeps repeating itself. The venue changes, but not the content. The best part about it is - besides the fact that I'm LEGALLY AND MORALLY ALLOWED to be doing the things I was doing then anyway - that I get to change who I am, and how I respond, everytime the highschool scenario repeats itself.

I didn't think people understood me in highschool either.

But at least this time around I understand myself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where's the LOYALTY?!

"Ballack? You're wearing a BALLACK T-shirt?"

Wanna catch a young man's interest nowadays try wearing a soccer jersey.

(I like to think the jovial mockery erases the fifteen year difference in our ages.)

"Yeah, Ballack." I answer. "Seems to have been forgotten pretty quickly, don't you think?"

"Nothing wrong with Lahm, though, is there?" he replies.

"No, nothing at all wrong with Lahm. I just think they dropped Ballack awfully abruptly."

(Four years ago the man was Germany's golden boy. It was more than mildly disconcerting that my obstetrician in Tuebingen looked just like him. Good times, those.)

"You don't think the German team is doing well without him?" he asks.

"That's not the point. They're doing fantastic."

"But you're not going to root for them without Ballack."

"Of course, I am. I just don't understand where he is."

(This bothers me, really. Not just the Germans, but the Europeans in general seem to forget individuals awfully quickly. In the USA, they'd at least let the poor guy sit on the team bench and watch the game. Where is the loyalty? Or is this whole emphasis on the individual really more of an American concept? But oops - I promised more dialogue and less moralizing. It's probably just a soccer thing anyway!)

"What do you mean, where he is?" my young friend asks me.

"Well, for example, they've given his number away already."

He hasn't heard that - or noticed. "They have? On who?"

"The new guy playing. The 20 year old. He got one of the goals against Australia."

"Oh. Mueller." He seems pretty impressed I'm paying attention to all this.

"So. You don't think that's awfully quick? To take the man's number away already. Last month, before his injury, he was still captain of the team."

"Nobody is irreplaceable." he replies.

And it doesn't seem to bother him.

"Anyway, I'm not going out to buy another jersey, when I've got this one already."

That, however, floors him.

Michael Ballack. My number 13.

HE may be invisible, a has-been with an injury at the age of 34, but I am like an elephant stopping traffic whenever I wear his name.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Shoulda Stayed In Bed

My Thursday, June 17, 2010.

1. Met angry, rambling mother in parking lot and couldn't get away for 40 minutes. (Note: Did not help her with any of her problems since she never stopped long enough for me to get a chance.)

2. Arrived 30 minutes late to yoga class, expecting to at least catch the end of it. (I NEED my yoga class!) Substitute teacher; class packed; didn't dare go in.

3. Bravely headed to the cardio machines. (Yuck!) Did cardio for one hour.

4. Without the headsets working.

5. The men's sauna was broken so that we had a mixed sauna again. No matter how young and muscular those guys were, was NOT in the mood to sit naked with them and sweat.

6. Dropped glass bottle of expensive cream on the floor.

7. Need I mention it shattered?

8. Changed into lounge-around-the-house-clothes, figuring it was really better NOT to attempt communication with the outside world for the rest of the day.

9. A neighbor stopped by to discuss what we are going to do about damages to our VW. (An elderly friend of his ran into it last week, and the repairs are going to cost more than the car itself is worth. Although the car still runs fine, we are selling it in two months and need to figure out how to get some value out of it.)

10. Realized my T-Shirt was see-through - and I was braless - in the middle of the conversation. Tried casually crossing my arms, but wasn't fooling anyone.

11. Ryan erased part of the boys' Monsters, Inc. tape while trying to record FRIDAY'S soccer game for Andrew.

12. Aidan and Matthew took advantage of a phone call to Lori to put on their bike helmets and run away on their Laufrads, after I expressly told them not to.

13. It has been 50 degrees Fahrenheit out all day and rainy. Forecast for same.

14. A mother from the kindergarten stopped by to return the book we had given her son for his birthday on Tuesday. He has it already. Yeah. Now I get to return it.

It's only 6 PM. But I'm still frightened of what the rest of the day might bring.

15. France lost to Mexico, nothing that personally affects me, but certainly something unexpected. (I LOVE France but their soccer team plays dirty. Good for Mexico!)

16. Friday's soccer matches were a bust though. Sobs for Germany.

17. USA - although a 2:2 is nothing to sneeze at. (Sorry guys, blame the loss of that third goal on me.)

18. AND England.

Although I'm sure the upset of most of Europe's soccer teams can't be my fault alone, I still hope that Slovakian player isn't permanently injured.

Feel like I should at least send him an apology if he is!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wrong Impression

Some Americans have moved into the apartment downstairs and I'm a little worried they might get the wrong idea about us.

Little things. Like when I was chasing the boys around the house Saturday afternoon. Literally. With a whiffle ball bat. While they screeched happily and danced naked just out of my reach. "Monster coming. Monster coming."

(I wouldn't want to live in the apartment below us, but so far, in six years, noone's ever complained!)

"I am not a monster. I'm your mother." Swat with the bat at a naked behind.

Come to think of it, we'd better start saving up for some serious couch time in the fuure.

The other thing that worries me is the song I wrote and taught them.

"I love to beat my children. I beat them every day. And when I beat my children, oh this is what they say."

Rousing chorus from the kids: "Beat me Momma, beat me Momma, beat me Momma, please."

It's a really catchy tune, actually. (You can also tickle the children, hug the children and kiss the children.....but they like the beating the best!)

At the end of the day we sat down to read the poems of Heinrich Hoffmann, a popular German children's book from the mid 1800s. In it, the girl playing with matches gets burned - to death. The boy who won't eat his soup starves - to death. The kid who sucks his thumb gets to live though - after the tailor cuts off both his thumbs.

Go on. It's a lovely collection of children's tales. The boys LOVE it.

I'm just banking on the fact that our new neighbors couldn't understand a word of it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Worlds For Ryan

Here's what I found on my desk - amidst a half-finished chocolate milk and some brotchen crumbs - when I came home from Writers' Group on Saturday.

With all my worrying about whether or not I am doing the right thing for Ryan, about what I could be doing differently, and better, for her, it is nice to have confirmation that just being me, and letting her be herself, is the best I can do.

Ryan's story, written while home alone (the boys were at baseball), VOLUNTARILY for FUN, came complete with pictures of horse and owner. I can only reproduce the written words here. Remember, English is her second language. (Read it out loud; it helps!)

I couldn't be prouder.

Cobolt (Picture of a black horse with Carole.)

Carole Hanson (HEART for loves) Cobolt they meant to be together but Cobolt is Veronicka di Angelo's Horse. She killd Cobolt with forsing him to go over a gump. Dr. Judy had to put him down. Carole wanted to quit riding bekos of Veronika and she almost did. Stevie and Lisa thot (say it out loud!) of a plane. Veronicka shold bey (out loud, I tell you!) Starlight but Carole said: ''You are not gonea kill Starlight and your not gonea get Starlight eather understand!?" and Veronicka said:

That's it. It's a direct synopsis of her favorite book - and TV - series "Saddle Club." Written in a second-language by a child with problems synthesizing information.

Just look at what these kids can do when given the chance and encouraged!

They need an interest. And they need a visual. (The German education system is not very visual, no pictures of the alphabet, no charts of the multiplication tables.)

But I'm psyched - again - about a few months of homeschooling in the fall. The schoolroom will take shape around us. Area history and culture. Language. Reading and math. And I'm thinking TV - and the Internet - isn't all bad for a kid like Ryan, if it is used properly. She responds to the visual and to the story. Our trip to the movie theater on Sunday is just the sort of thing she personally soaks up better than taking notes from the board or listening to a presentation.

Ryan is opening up new worlds for me. I'm thrilled to be able to do the same for her.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

1:1 USA/England

Offensive Material Alert!!! This is NOT about World Cup Soccer. And it's not really about the Brits either. But yeah.....people seem to be a bit touchy nowadays. If you don't want to hear about oil spills, BP and what I think of stock dividends and pension plans in light of the greatest environmental disaster to hit the U.S.....well, feel more than free to wait for the next blog. Get yourself a nice cup of coffee instead. Or tea. I swear, this is not an anti Brit/or USA/or even big, bad oil company rant. I don't think. (But if you own stock in BP - and are waiting for your dividends - be prepared to be offended.)

Those of you who know me personally must be wondering why I've been keeping silent on the whole oil spill thing. Environment. Wildlife. Government. Big companies. I should be going crazy, right?

It's like Liz and the German education system. I'm so furious that I'm speechless.

I read my first news articles and saw my first pictures yesterday.

Denial was so much prettier.

And then Ryan and I went out to see the 3-D Whales and Dolphins movie at the Corso today. (It was last minute or I would have invited Babette, Lori, Cindy, Karen, Syrie and sent out a general email to the English Group. The Corso is an amazing English resource here in Stuttgart; we gotta remember to use it!)

It was nothing new really, nothing that we don't already know. Most whales and dolphins are threatened, if not endangered species. A number will be extinct within our generation.

But it was weird to be watching this in wake of the oil spill. No sorry, in wake of the huge hemorrhaging artery we opened into Mother Earth. (As if you didn't know that's how I've been feeling all along.)

And then it hit me. 3,000 West Indian Manatees. The last of their kind. (I believe there are some dugongs living in the Ganges River; I also believe the Ganges River is so polluted you wouldn't want to be a dugong living in it.)

That species is gone. We killed that species. April, 2010. I know we've killed, and will continue to kill, thousands of insects and plants yearly. Pollution. Climate change. Loss of habitat. Slash and burn agriculture. Overhunting and fishing. (Did you think I'd forgotten all that just because I was silent?)

But we signed THIS species' death warrant with one, specific environment disaster. (Note I didn't say careless business transaction - I don't know enough to place blame. And I do drive a car.)

One bad pipe careless mistake.....hey, accidents, by definition, happen. But this one will kill the Manatee as a species. Then there are the birds, the fish, the crabs, the turtles, the dolphins, the sharks, the plant life, the shrimp......dying slowly. This may not be news to you, anymore......but I'm only ready to accept it now.

Ready to accept this horrible accident as change. Ready to try to make comparisons to the rising age of Aquarius. (Couldn't do much with it, although I did learn a lot about astrology trying!) I'm willing to TRY to accept this, prepared to believe that change is part of the natural cycle of things, even man-made change, and move forward.

Then again I'm not a shrimp boat owner in Louisiana or a resort manager in Florida. Then again, I'm not going to watch the ooze spread down the coast of Mexico, throughout the Gulf and into the Bahamas, Cuba and beyond. (C'mon - do you REALLY believe a disaster of this magnitude isn't going to somehow manage to affect Haiti?!)

This is going to move up the Gulf Stream into New England.

This is going to change the world.

What I will not accept - and here comes the offensive part - is the acrimony of British citizens moaning about falling stock prices and pension plans. Life's a bitch, guys. Welcome to it.

BP's actions - be they negligent, or criminal (and I am NOT saying they are, because my guess is they are no more criminal or negligent than any other oil company)- or just plain bad luck - well, BPs actions have changed the face of the planet. We're all going to have to live with that, in one way or another. Fishermen and homeowners in the affected areas. Stock holders and employees world-wide. Wetlands, sea mammals, fish, birds and plant life.

My God, this is HUGE! I am sorry you are hurting, am sorry about your pension plan. (Really, that has GOT to suck.) Not so funny now that it's not the Americans any more is it?

But BP has got to accept responsibility. Not because they are British, but because it's the right thing to do. (I know I am giving a major oil company a lot of credit here but I'm trying to stay positive!)

Can you IMAGINE how the world would react if a U.S company damaged the environment and economy of another country this way?!

You cannot honestly expect BP to pay out stock dividends before they've cleaned up the mess they've made. It's called an investment. I think that implies risk. Guess what, you lost. You cannot be outraged at the excesses on Wall Street and then turn around and ask for the same thing. My money please, to hell with the rest of it.

I can't believe we are witnessing the destruction of an entire ecosystem, and way of life along the Gulf Coast, and talking about stock dividends in the same sentence. For shame.

But it's not because BP is British. It's because we are all human. We opened up that artery in Mother Earth together.

The USA and Britain have been buddies since that little spat they had a couple hundred years ago.

The U.S. is hurting now and we need your help and support, not your bill of services rendered. (I would be feeling REALLY REALLY shitty and apologizing my ass off to everyone in sight if it were an American or a German company, by the way. I do that a lot as it is, though.)

We're in it together. For better or worse, guys, for better or worse. (The rest of the world would be laughing its collective ass off at BOTH countries....ever believe in karma?......except that the tragedy is too horrid to laugh at.)

Together, we've managed to killed the manatee. That's gotta count for something, right?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Team Earth

I really do love the World Cup.

Understand that, as an American, I didn't even realize they HAD a World Cup for soccer until a few years ago. And cared even less.

And then it came to Germany four years ago and captured my heart. I was nine months pregnant with twins. Just waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Because EVERYONE had reassured me that they would come at 35 weeks. And waiting. And waiting.

And those boys - the German team - waited with me. (I wasn't on speaking terms with two inside of me anymore. This was MY body - it was time to GET OUT!)

Germany itself came alive that summer too. And presented a whole new image to the world. We were cute, and naive and charming. The world loved us.

And we loved ourselves. Suddenly, it was okay to hang the German flag up again. And hang it out of your car. And stick it to your face. And wear it. We were allowed to be proud, allowed to be happy about who we were.

"Geschichte," they wistfully tell you when you mention that we should be able to do this more often than once every two years. (Four years for the World Cup and two for the European Cup.) "History." Why Germans don't display their flags like people in other countries do. Why they are always a little embarrassed - and apologetic - to show any amount of national pride or spirit at all.

Well good Lord, if the Americans and Brits can fly our flags, right?!


The thing is that Germany scares us more than most because it is so recent, and because it reminds us of what we, ourselves, are capable of. It's not the destruction of the native Americans centuries ago or the imperialism of the British over India. It's not slavery and its not apartheid. And it's not dark-skinned, Africans in Rwanda slaughtering eachother with machetes or Muslims battling it out in the Middle East or Eastern Europe.

It's not the black man, or the yellow man, or some remote tribe far away. It's us. It is white, Christian people from one of the most highly developed countries in the modern, Western world, a country that brought us music and art, literature, science and technology. It is US, systematically slaughtering people who weren't all that much different than us - but different enough apparently - only three generations ago.

It's too close.

Two years ago I watched the European Cup games with other patients in the psychiatric ward. The common room was filled with all of us, Turkish and Polish, German and French, schizophrenic, bipolar and suicidal, drug addicts and alcholics, teenagers, men, women and the elderly. And we got together to watch the games. It was really nice.

We need that. We all need that. A feeling of unity. A feeling of hope. A sense of being part of something greater than ourselves.

Today the Internet - and facebook - binds us more closely than ever before. And my multi-culti circle of family and friends can choose their battles. We had the Olivo's over to watch the South Africa/Mexico game this afternoon. Omar is Mexican-American. Tracy is British. But I have a big, soft spot for Anita, and Lynn-Ann and Liesl and Beulah and their families who have had to leave their beautiful homeland of South Africa because of political and economic strife and frankly, just plain violence. It's okay - Tracy and I were just checking out the players anyway. Good-looking African boys versus good-looking Hispanic boys. It really doesn't get any better than that!

Tomorrow I play American......but may have the Olivo's over anyway. As long as Tracy and I are rooting for the best-looking player in the shortest shorts - we're rooting for the same thing!!!

And histories collide as Germany plays Australia. Although I've already pulled all the boys to my side with generous applications of face paint and a cool Michael Ballack T-shirt. Let's see Damon paint the Southern Cross on Ryan's face and see how long she roots for Australia!

But see. It's fun. More so than the Olympics (C'mon - does ANYONE really watch the Olympics?!) the World Cup draws us all together for a few months every four summers.

The flags are out again in Germany. And we're rooting for our boys.

"Geschichte" is not forgotten. You want to talk about forgetting history, take a look at Somalia or Nigeria. Any idea what atrocities are going on there, RIGHT NOW? "Geschichte" should not be forgotten.

But the world can only move forward together. We all need a sense of who we are, as a country, and as a member of the larger world community.

Can flags and soccer do that? I don't know. I do know they won't heal the open wound in the earth off the Gulf of Mexico. I do know they won't end the war in Afgahnistan, solve the problem of world poverty, prevent the spread of AIDS or cure cancer.

But it's nice to see the flags in Germany again this summer. And nice to see us smile and root for something TOGETHER, as a country and as a community of people.

It's what we got. And if a bunch of boys chasing a ball around the field brings us closer together, well maybe, just maybe, we can work together on some of that other stuff too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Not Your Average Mom

I have my days.

Soccer days, baseball days, days at the barn and days baking for the class picnic.

Like a "good" mom.

Then there are the other days.

Days I don't feel like doing what I am "supposed" to do.

So the kids eat icecream BEFORE lunch. And get to play with body paint. (By which I mean regular watercolors applied to back and belly.) Or get to jump up and down on the bed naked.

They get to take water outside to the sandbox. And sand inside to their play kitchen.

The rules are "be kind" and "try not to make too too much of a mess."

My kids ARE kind. And they know how to grab the paper towels and wipe up most spills before I find out about them.

So, I'm fairly pleased with the results.

Today we got ready for Germany's first World Cup Soccer match in South Africa on Sunday. Against Australia. As a family boasting passports to both, we had a family discussion on who to root for. Damon, our almost-native Australian, at first convinced the older two to root for Australia. But, believe it or not, I REALLY REALLY LOVE my German team. Those boys were with me - and all of Germany - the summer Aidan and Matthew were born.

So I put on my Michael Ballack T-shirt, number 13. (Don't sweat it, honey, you'll still be hot playing for a German team instead of in England.) Then I pulled out the German flag face paint. Both cheeks. Andrew promptly switched sides at the sight of the facepaint and then I painted the Australian flag on Ryan. (The southern cross on her face, a semblance of the British flag on her left forehead and streaks of blue all over.)

I've promised to paint them for school again tomorrow. Can't wait to hear how Ryan's day goes! But then again, she's not your average kid either!

Just now she came to me - the Southern Cross really suits her, by the way - and asked me what to do with her pink, plastic Disney princess thermos.

"It's starting to get a little moldy at the top here," she pointed out. "Should I just throw it away?"


(Although I did take it from her and wash it in the sink - I am SO PROUD she has been listening to our talks on 'not taking it with you.')

Adventures await. And I do believe our "not supposed" to days have prepared my kids for all the fun that lies ahead. Rules - and kitchen gadgets - are nice sometimes. But they're not ALL life has to offer. My kids know that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You Are Not Alone

(This was written about three weeks ago, as a prelude to the letters I am writing up for the Schulamts in Boeblingen and Baden-Wurttemburg. You'll get those too. Positive actions arising out of my anger!)

I tried to reassure Killian's mother that there was really no rush to pick up her son. The boys really do play well together and it is gratifying to be able to give another mother the afternoon off every once in a while.

But she looked worried.

"You know they've got that math test tomorrow, right?" she asked.

Of course I didn't know. It would explain all the little scraps of paper I have recently pulled out of the bottom of Andrew's school bag. Seems like they are learning the multiplication tables. And being tested on them regularly.

How gratifying to find out about it weeks later from another parent.

Andrew is teaching himself the multiplication tables. Or picking it up at school. Or maybe was just born knowing them. How lucky for him.

But Killian's mother had tears in her eyes. She and Killian are doing their best to help him in school, but.....he had missed a week due to illness and had fallen behind when the teacher hadn't noticed that he was adding everything instead of subtracting. In a class of 32, she just hadn't noticed that he had never picked up subtraction.

This is a child- and a mother - who are trying desperately to learn. And getting no help whatsoever. Sound familiar? Killian's mother finally went online to try to figure out HOW to best teach her child the multiplication tables. And taught HERSELF about flashcards. How far would this family go with just the slightest little bit of help from the school?

She was almost embarrassed to tell me all this. I'm not sure why she did. Lately, people have been opening up to me more and more. Could I be getting a reputation? Or is the positive energy really working? In any case, I put her on my mailing list.


It's interesting. People have an entirely different viewpoint of me depending on which child they know. The parents of Andrew's friends assume everything is hunky dory over here. I must be doing something right. Which right away, in our twisted little German minds, translates into "what am I doing wrong?"


The first step must be to find a common voice. We all want what is best for our children.

What we need is a voice in the school system. This means staying actively informed on our children's education.

1. We need written, concrete goals and expectations for our children. Where should they be? When should we worry?

2. We need more than one parent/teacher meeting every two years. (No, I am not kidding you. I have had ONE face-to-face meeting with Andrew's teacher, in January, since he started school almost two years ago.)

3. We need programs in place to identify when children are not meeting expectations. We need programs that identify the problem and focus on correcting it, so that EVERY CHILD is able to reach his/her full potential.

We need a lot more. We need more money for teachers and teachers' aides and for special education programs. Teachers need a lighter workload so that they can focus more on individual children. We need to integrate mildly learning disabled children into the mainstream. (Nils should not need special ed.) I won't even get into the outdated Hauptschul/Realschul/Gymnasium system or the possible benefits of a longer school day.

For that we need money and a radical change.

But we can start small. With flashcards.

1. What exactly ARE the schools' goals for our children? Don't give me this PISA crap. Tell me what Frau Schmitt, here in Altdorf, expects from her first graders by January.

2. What shall we do - together - if these goals aren't being met?

The most radical change would be changing expectations. We need to EXPECT the teachers and schools to actively - and willing - include parents in their children's education. Schools and parents need to communicate openly and regularly. Parental involvement - and working together - needs to be the norm. It IS a cultural thing; Germans work alone, their concept of working together is not the same as what I've seen in the USA, in France, in Africa, in Haiti. We need to LEARN HOW TO WORK TOGETHER; parents, school, teachers, communities.

Why are we fighting these battles alone? Why are we fighting at all?

The system is here to serve us, not the other way around. (Something Germans really really REALLY need to learn as well!)

Let's find a way to communicate - positively - and get our needs met.

Killian's mom, and too many like her, should not be struggling alone to raise the very children that are our brightest hope for the future.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In Any Language

For those of you who see Aidan and Matthew regularly, you will have no problem identifying the twin on the left from the twin on the right. It's amazing how two beings conceived, carried and born at the same time can look so different. Besides both being boys. And there will be no comparisons made there.

All jokes aside, I feel really lucky to have been blessed with twins. I'm an adventurer at heart, a seeker of change, and I honestly wouldn't have missed this special adventure for the world.

How many people get to experience this?

Twins are special. They light up a room and make people smile. In any language.

When they are first born, you are aware of being center stage, but the feeling fades as they get older. You forget the the three ring circus because, well, they're just your kids and the three ring circus part has become old hat by now.

So that it really does come as a surprise when they light up a room and make people smile.

Yes. Yes. GERMANS TOO! I'm telling you, I can take center stage at the Breuni Mall any day. Young mothers - two year old in the stroller and newborn in the Baby Bjorn, looking slightly harassed and totally exhausted by their own ordeal - walk by and almost cross themselves when they see my four lined up on the bench eating their icecreams. You see them counting. "One. Two. Three. Good Lord, that poor woman has FOUR of them!" They run on quickly, afraid my fertility might be contagious!

But I get plenty of comments and pats on the heads too. Comments for me. Pats for the kids. Men too. Okay the men DID used to cross to the other side of the mall when they saw me coming - eight months pregnant and one kid on each hand - but those were the younger businessmen. Like they thought I was going to walk up and pin the blame on them. "Congratulations. You've just won yourself a full-grown family!" Quick. Run. Hide.

But the older men - 50s or so - get a big kick out of us. Let's face it. The boys match. All three of them. We look good. The three ring circus on its best behavior.

People used to try to hook me up with other twin moms too. I remember one time, I was feeling particularly grumpy about the lack of double-stroller access to Ryan's ballet class and running after two one-year olds heading in separate directions. And a very well-intentioned lady mentioned getting me together with her friend with twins. And I thought - "yeah great - this is what we really need. Two of us with FOUR one year olds. You suck. What a crappy idea."

But I was tired. She meant well.

(For the record, now that the boys are older, we ARE hooking up with more twin moms; we have two sets of twins that make up the four man T-ball team so far and there are a couple at the local pool. Seems they can't stand to stay inside either!)

Being center stage can get old. Especially when everyone else knows a better way to do it. Like they did with THEIR twins, right?! Don't go there. I have never been given advice by a twin mom - or offered any myself. Other than: WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU. Twin moms don't judge.

But it can be fun too. Like the time in Mallorca when the boys were 10 weeks old and all we heard were shouts of "gemelos". They couldn't believe we were there with TWO newborns. Like it was any easier at home than at the beach.

And in Italy, when we took the kids out biking, me bringing up the rear with the 10 month old twins in a tandem bike carrier. You'd hear. "Uno. Duo. Gemelli. Gemelli." The circus was in town.

It's sneakier now that the twins are older and dressing themselves. Their sense of fashion is entirely different. So that you leave folks guessing as to how close in age those two really are. As if I intentionally gave birth to two beings three months apart somehow. (All that worry about whether you dress em alike or not; c'mon, they wear what they wear and sooner or later they choose on their own anyway and end up wearing a spiderman costume or police outfit most days of the week.)

So that it's more and more fun to see them becoming individuals.

My children are great.

Sometimes it just takes a stranger's smile to remind me of how lucky I really am.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

McDonald's, France

No really, you gotta see the sheepish looks on their faces when the French realize an American has caught them in a Mcdonald's. ALL of them. They're generally packed.

The one in Annemasse had lines out the door, standing room only. Seems like noone else could afford to eat in Geneva either.

Ordering in a foreign McDonald's isn't as easy as it seems. You remember the conversation between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson about "Le Big Mac"? Classic. And true. But the problem actually isn't so much the DIFFERENCES as it is the similarities. Are we calling them Kids Meals or Kindermenu? Is it a chicken nugget or not? Mostly it's in English. Which - when you are trying desperately to think and converse in a foreign language - is sometimes harder than you think.

The counter person of course thinks you're a total idiot for not knowing how to order in your own language, but what the hey.

We were in Lyon - which I LOVE so much and where the people were SO friendly and engaging that I am really thinking I have GOT to give Paris a try after all - when I realized with a start that we were, once again, reduced to a hunt for the Golden Arches. No way. But it was late, the kids were hungry, the walk was long and all of the "restaurants" along the river were only serving alcohol.

I saw them too, the Golden Arches, tucked on one corner of a large intersection that fortunately also boasted a choice of two kabob shops. Middle Eastern food. A fair, cheap and easy way out. Kabobs it was.

Note to English group. We were not given utensils. In fact the owner looked fairly disgusted when my Mom asked for a fork and almost apoplectic as he watched her use it to tear apart the kabob. And the SERVIETTES were a paper towel roll placed in the center of the table.

I'm telling you. Feel right at home in France, I do!

Still do have an issue with the meat though. Except for the burgers at McDonald's. I mean, really, THIS is the culture reknowned for its cuisine? Maybe the sauces. Because the meat is don't know.....NOT like American beef. I guess it's obvious, but for those who don't know. DO NOT. I repeat. DO NOT order a hamburger in France. Just don't go there. Although I can't really offer you much of an alternative either. Those Chipolatas the butcher kept trying to push on me. Really? Those weren't just things you HAD to eat during the war?!

The bread is good though. And the French fries. Which come with everything. Appears the French haven't heard of any other sort of vegetable yet. How do they stay so thin? Oh yeah. The meat. Matthew was in heaven though. Plate of fries with some bread on the side, merci beaucoup. Today he ordered a burger at Andrew's baseball game, minus the meat. Two Euros for a white roll. Thanks buddy.

And now that I've completely mocked their menu, I have to tell you how much I love the French again. We did end up at a McDonald's in Mulhouse. Long car ride, hungry kids, not a kebab house in sight.

The little old French lady who stopped to admire the kids was so excited to practice her German on us, that I had a hard time convincing her to let ME practice my French on her. Seems she had been a nanny for two little girls in Freiburg, once upon a time. French woman speaking GERMAN willingly - and happily. One more myth shot down.

Then, as I walked down the stairs with Aidan and Matthew, another Frenchman, first generation probably via West Africa, saw us and wished us a "Good Afternoon" in English. So here's the French - supposed language snobs of the world - speaking TWO foreign languages with my family in the course of one small McD's meal.

Lori tells me its an NYC/Paris thing. And I know New York. They're not rude so much as they're, well...they're NEW YORKERS. It's just their way.

My first minute out and about in Lyon - walking the dog while the rest of the gang checked into our hotel - I get stopped and asked for directions. Really. And got to - fairly fluently- say "Je ne sais pas. Je suis tres desole. Je suis une touriste." as the guy laughed with me at his mistake. Do I LOOK French?!

No. I just look approachable.

And I'm still going to go with that.

I think I can do Paris. If all else fails, I'll just look for the Golden Arches!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Belfort, France

Funny how little things can make you happy all day long.

Or at least amuse you a bit during a long car ride.

This was taken about halfway between Lyon and Strasbourg.

Imagine me hanging out of the car at 120 KPH to take the first few.

I then realized I could get a better shot through the front window.

Thinking of you, Belfort family!