Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fight to Write

Damon has been gone for two full days and I have spent a large majority of that time on the computer writing.  The days have been mild and sunny.  The kids have played outside, Luke and Leia running an intergalactic fast food joint out of the sandbox as Anakin and Obiwan ride around on their little plastic green tractors saving the universe from loose lawn debris and every so often in coming in for an order of fries.  With ketchup.

I did spend some time making sure that Luke and Leia could measure distance in meters, centimeters and millimeters.  And all four of the Star Wars gang has unwittingly been learning about Germany while playing a great Ravensburger game called "Deutschlandreise'' (Travel through Germany).  Not only are they learning map reading skills, they are learning all the major airports in Germany and which connections to take get from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Kiel.  The coolest thing is that the game is over 20 years old and still shows the divided Germanies.  So that we get a little history lesson built in too.  I'd highly recommend the game to anyone raising kids in Germany.  The kids learn to plan out a route, learn about places in Germany.  And it's fun.  Really.  Ravensburger is great.  And can feel free to advertise on my final web-site any day. 

Right now I just looked up to catch Andrew, in my straw sun hat, enter the bedroom.  Ryan has the camera  - I believe she asked permission and I just said ''Um."    And the four of them are writing and directing themselves in a movie.  Peacefully so far.

But Damon will come home to battle scars.  The latest occurred this afternoon as Luke, Leia and I were reviewing lengths and distances.  ( I get to be Padme, and have endowed myself with the powers of Gaia, something that Luke does not fully approve of but which he lets slide with a roll of his eyes as long as I am willing to remain in character.)  In order to stop Anakin (Matthew, appropriately enough) and Obiwan from waging their intergalactic battle on the sofa, Padme suggested they open a fast food stand on her bed using the Uno cards as currency.  Padme did NOT suggest taking her pens and tattoing their faces with them.  Although she has to admit it adds to the terror when they face their intergalactic space opponents.  Or, in Obiwan's case, scary spiders. 

It also has the added bonus of covering some of the scars Anakin inflicted upon Obiwan in yesterday's all-to-real battle here on Earth. 

Padme can use the forces of good to restore order to the universe.  Or in this case the apartment.

Nothing but time will bring back Andrew's toenail. 

My time is up.  Damon is on his way up the stairs.  I think of my children's battle scars and thank them for their self-less sacrifice on the altar of their mother's writing.

The fight to write.  Tougher than a light saber duel against Darth Vader.  May the Force be with me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

21st Century Woolf

It just occurs to me that the best words of wisdom I have heard about writing come from two writers whose works I really haven't read.  Virginia (Woolf)'s essay entitled ''A Room of One's Own" has been my clarion call since before I read it.  And once I finally did read it, two years ago, well, the woman is simply brilliant.  (I just can't seem to get into her fiction.  Huh.)

I don't have her essay here with me.  But I feel that I am living it.  Virginia's contention is that men in her time were more successful authors than women for a number of very simple reasons:  they had the freedom to write, they had the income to write, and they weren't getting knocked up every eighteen months and raising a passle of snotty nosed children. 

Nowadays the passle of kids is a choice, and not nearly as time-consuming as we all like to moan about.  (Is passle a word?)  The exception is the first few years with multiple small children, but those do pass.  Sure, we have to keep the buggers fed and clothed but we now have ovens, stoves, microwaves and take-out menus.  We have washers and dryers so that the laundry doesn't take an ENTIRE DAY out of every week.    Oh  - and the clothes DO make themselves.  Or at least some underpaid and underfed child laborer in China does.  And we have supermarkets.  We aren't raising and slaughtering our own meat or growing and canning our vegetables or going out the chicken shed or milking the cows twice a day.  And we aren't chopping the wood for our heating.  Or spending another day a week on our hands and knees doing the floor.  (Honestly, I can't imagine caring enough about the appearance of my floor to spend an entire day on my hands and knees on it but..) 

So that I think the biology of breeding has been taken out of the mix as an excuse.

Having an independent income would be nice.  No worry about mortgage or college tuitions or those braces Ryan and Andrew are going to need.  But we have the freedom to earn an income.

So that I'm actually forgetting what I was going to complain about in the first place!

Oh.  Yeah.  THE ROOM.  OF ONE'S OWN.  Time, breathing space, a moment to oneself. 

The second brilliant writer I worship but don't read is Stephen King.  Not my style.  Although I will be taking out all of the books under the King section in the Brisbane public library because I want to see what I've been missing.  I'm not into sci-fi or horror or creepy and weird.  I have enough trouble dealing with the horrors of reality and don't need anything more to lay awake nights trembling about.

But he knows how to write.  And he says a writer has to...guess what...write.  (And read too.  Yay.  I have access to English language libraries again and free license to do what I love best.  And call it work.)  A writer, according to Stephen, has to write.  A lot.  And to do that you need a place of your own.  His own words, a century after Virginia said the same thing.

Stephen doesn't say you need a ROOM per say.  He wrote his first two published novels, Carrie and 'Salem's Lot,  ''in the laundry room of  a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife's portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child's desk on my thighs."  You can either hate people like this or you can try to emulate them.  But the room, according to Stephen, ''really needs only one thing:: a door which you are willing to shut."  And that is when I realize that Stephen's wife, also an author, was taking care of the kids a large percentage of the time he was writing.  I believe he'd be the first to admit it too.  (And the guy was writing four hours a day, at night, while holding down a full-time teaching job, so that I am not saying he had it easy either.  Virginia again.  Independent income.  Which Stephen has NOW but did not have when he started.)

I'm reliving all this in Iglersreuth this month because I don't have internet access.  Poor baby.  Virginia would not be impressed.  But Damon is home, on our only table, working.  He dominates the scene and the access to cyberspace.  And I am drained by the demands of teaching in the mornings, entertaining the children all afternoon (although we have a good time) and then home, hearth and husband to boot.  Always there.  Sapping my space.  I have managed to condense that ''room of my own'', that space with a door, into a laptop and a blind eye to the mischief around me.  And still I am fighting for that.

But Damon is supportive of my writing.  And the kids start all-day school in January.  So that maybe, and maybe soon, my day will come.  I envision myself in puffy blue houseslippers and a flowered house dress, my hair done up in rollers and a coffee in my hand, cheerfully handing everyone their lunchbags on the way out the door.  Never mind the rollers.  Too much work.  Hair in a bandana wearing an old Tshirt of Damon's, sitting in front of the sliding glass doors, sunlight already streaming in at 8 AM, and sitting down to work on my writing.

Virginia's dream realized. 

Because women like her worked hard to make it possible for women like me to have the freedoms and luxuries (and yes, doing the laundry in a washing machine IS a luxury!) we have.  Because technological advancements have given me time I wouldn't have had  a century ago.

And because I've been working long enough, hard enough, with four little monkeys clinging to my back to appreciate the gift of time and space I am being given.

A whole lot of nothing.  That's what I'm getting for Christmas this year.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Peace, Love and Behavioral Modification

Ice skating has also inspired our new behavioral modification plan.  Andrew has been able to chart his progress on the ice by counting how many times he falls down per round (and let me tell you, it's an impressive number!  Also impressive to see.  Will have to post on youtube someday.  Probably when he leads the Australian ice hockey team to victory over the Canadians in the Olympics.  If Australia has a ice hockey team in the Olympics, that is.  And the Canadians come down with typhoid).

Since Andrew is charting improvement by trying to reduce his spills on the ice per round, I decided to try to reduce our whining, crying, yelling, screaming and tearing eachothers' eyes out in the same way.  My screaming.  Everyone elses' whining.  Ryan's pestering.  And yes, they DO try to tear eachother's eyes out.  Casualties from my time spent on the computer yesterday include one bloody nose (Aidan), a damaged toenail (Andrew) and severe gashes to the nose and cheek (again Aidan).  Andrew is starting to lose the advantage of age since the twins seem to fight together.  When they aren't beating the crap out of eachother.  And Matthew obviously needs to work on his temper.  Aidan and Andrew aren't fighters by nature, but Matthew is scary.  As evidenced by the nosebleed, torn toenail and gashes to the head and neck.  All obtained in the two hours I was ignoring the noise around me and telling them to work it out themselves.  Kinda like they do in the German school system.  Works well.   If you want to breed fear into the peace-loving and create a bully. 

Which we don't.  Hence the chart.

It is working well so far today.  I am being fairly lenient, giving out warnings before I strike a point and counting a lengthy bout of whining and fighting as only one point total. 
Results today at 3PM are as follows:
1. Matthew  - 4 points - all for whining
2. Aidan - 3 points - for crying.  All accumulated right around lunchtime
3. Mommy - 1 yell.  Early on in the morning before she caught herself.
Ryan and Andrew have had some yellow cards, warnings, but no points yet. 

The major success of the program seems to be my decreased yelling.  Go figure.  The chart makes me assess the situation, decide what is going on and then react to it rationally instead of just flying into a rage.   I actually gave myself two little gold stars for NOT reacting with screaming when the situation actually could have warranted it.  Turns out stern reminders work as well as threats and swears. Who would have thought it?  Once again it is Mommy receiving the lesson in behavioral modification while trying to teach the kids.  Ain't homeschooling a bitch?!

Our efforts of the last month was truly rewarded around lunchtime today, when Aidan was having a meltdown and Matthew was well on his way to provoking it further.  Just as I was about to separate the two of them myself Aidan turned to Matthew, looked him deep in the eyes and said

"Matthew, Matthew, remember.  We only think and speak words of love."

It's an affirmation from Louise Hay, designed to decrease anger.

It's a confirmation that, charts or not, my basic message is getting past the blood and bruises after all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poem About Ice-Hockey

We've finally found something the whole family enjoys doing together.  Not one kid whining.  Everyone
psyched to go, even Mom and Dad. 

Ice-skating.

Go figure.  Anybody got the address of the nearest skating rink in Brisbane?  I think they call it New Zealand maybe?!

To celebrate our new-found group enthusiasm we took the kids to a semi-pro hockey game in Weiden.  The Weiden Blue Devils versus some other team in red.  We called it semi-pro but we're not really sure.  I didn't even know Germany HAD ice hockey teams until last week!

And, to be fair, it wasn't really hockey the way Damon and I knew it.  Damon from the Philadelphia Flyers and me from Cornell.  (Don't laugh; it's actually the one sport the Ivy Leagues are respected for!)  And the Canadians would have been laughing their heavily padded fannies off.  Our highschool team played rougher than these guys.  Although it was nice to see some finesse put into the game, to see guys chasing the puck instead of slamming into eachother.  Again go figure, the Germans play hockey like gentlemen!

We enjoyed the game.  I sat next to a nice lady my age with Downs Syndrome who apparently was a regular.  She had a row of friends behind her - also with Downs Syndrome - and every time the Blue Devils scored they all had a roaring round of high-fives. Also every now and then in between just to keep up the enthusiasm. She was also patiently trying to explain the game to me. (Having been mostly to Cornell games, it was the first hockey game I can recall going to sober.  All I remember about rules is that shot of 151 per goal scored.  And Cornell scored quite often.) As far as I could make out, whenever in doubt, you were supposed to yell...."Man out...one of the red ones."  In German of course.  It had the same effect upon the ref/ump/guy in charge out there that our yelling "safety school" at Harvard did way back when but I was still fairly impressed with her command of the game.  I was having a hard enough time trying to keep track of the ball - which all four of my kids kept yelling at me to call a puck - and was pleased to have someone sitting next to me who was patient enough to explain things to me on my level.  I'm not going to let a little thing like everyone else having Downs Syndrome keep me from fitting right in!

It was also the only time I'd had all week to open my notebook.  To get that "mind-writing"' onto paper.  (Credit for that term goes to Michelle Anderson, and yes Michelle, you have unfortunately inspired me to write a mind-poem about Pilates class too!  More on that later!)  Try as I might, in between cheering for the Devils and giving colas to my devils, I could not get this stupid ditty out of my mind.

So here it goes.  And do feel free to blame Michelle for getting me going in this direction at all!

My Poem About Hockey   (written in the mind, as per Michelle Anderson)

There's lots of words that rhyme with puck.
Like "lots of luck."
Or "You guys suck."
"Our team's got a lot of pluck."
"Hey man, you had better duck!"
"I've got some beers out in the truck."
"The pretzels only cost a buck."
Which is why I have to cluck
And wonder why my mind is stuck
In the muck.
F*@#!

You gotta be impressed that I found ALL those alternatives.  Don't you?

Or is there a reason I missed before that Michelle calls it MIND-writing?!!!

(The Blue Devils lost, by the way, on penalty shots, but we are lacing up the skates again this Friday before heading into summer next week.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life After Dresden (On Trafalmadore)

I came away from my visit to Dresden knowing where I came from and excited to see where I was going. I had - and still do have - the beginnings of yet ANOTHER book - but this time with characters I knew and could work with. Still do.

And then I read the copy of Slaughterhouse Five that I had picked up in a bookstore in Dresden. In English, of course, but also by a German-American (who studied the sciences before turning to writing, and who taught at Cornell University!). Yes, I DO like comparing myself to Kurt Vonnegut! Kurt, in a few terse words that always appear to be dancing around the subject matter but then somehow seem to hit it right on the head, brought out the horror of my ancestry. You have to see Dresden - or Florence or Rome - to know the splendors Kurt's American POWS saw when they first stepped off the wagon. But you can go to all too many places on earth - Hiroshima and Nagasaki spring to mind first, but also London, France and all of the former Naxi-occupied territories in Europe as well as Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan - to feel the horror they felt after the bombing.

I felt it at King Henri's fortress in northern Haiti. (He was the first of Haiti's many brutal dictators. He fought - and I believe conquered - Napoleon's army - but also delighted in power over others, at one point ordering his soldiers to march to their deaths over a cliff - just to prove they would.) I felt it at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. (Where George Washington's army froze and starved to death waiting for winter to end so that they and the Redcoats could slaughter eachother over the right to Native American lands.) I felt it at War Memorials all over France and Germany. And I feel it enough NOT to have to go and visit the former concentration camp only a few kilometers from where I sit right now.

So that this is my legacy. Not just the horrors of belonging to a race that systematically slaughtered the Jews and almost conquered most of Europe into Russia, but the reality of belonging to the human race that has committed such atrocities before and continues to commit them today. The Crusades. Christians killing Muslims. The Thirty Years War. Christians killing eachother. WWs 1 and 2. The Cold War. Killing Communism - and communists. And now back full circle to Muslims killing Christians. Except that now we're civilized enough to spread the horror worldwide. Good for us.

I don't want my story to be about this. My story is supposed to be a story about a young woman's quest for herself - or her Self. It's supposed to be an everywoman kind of story, one that everyone can see her - and him - self in. One to laugh along with and relate to, maybe cry along at the sad parts, but certainly emerge whole and strong at the end.

And - being only half German - it had always felt false, üebertrieben if you will (overkill for lack of a better English translation), to spend this amount of energy on something that happened before I - or even my father - was born. False sympathy. False guilt. Kitschig. But the more I try to avoid it the more it stays buried inside. I need to unearth it - and sorry here, write about it - before I am able to determine it's actual weight in my personal story.

Kurt says it better, but I can only say it my way.

I've got LOTS of good stuff to write about too. The days here on the farm in Iglersreuth, sunny and clear. The homeschooling in our little house, an enlightening but surprisingly enjoyable enterprise for all of us. The hiking and history, the swimming and skating. The Bauers and our revelations over the campfire. I've only got two days in which to do it too. We only have one ancient internet connection while we are here and Damon is on it constantly. Working he says. And I can't very well promise him my random musings will be picked up by Random House and immediately be made into a film by Steven Spielberg.

We leave for Australia on Wednesday, November 3. We will have no internet or phone for the first two weeks there. So that I feel a little lost. I AM writing. I have pen and paper. And I use them. But it doesn't seem like I am doing anything unless I share it here.

I DO write for myself. I have been getting more and more tense the longer I don't post. But I also write to share it. The character I am developing, the person on a quest for self-discovery, me, needs others to understand as well.

"Because he doesn't know who he is, people recognize themselves in him." (Tao Te Ching, 22)

Kurt's Tralfamadorians have a philosophy too.

''That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones."

I'm still not sure whether Kurt is being facetious or not. ("Um," said Billy Pilgrim.) On one hand, the Trafalmadorians see in four dimensions and know that time, as we see it, is an illusion. So that Trafalmadorians have the option of ignoring something unpleasant in one instant by knowing it is pleasant in another. Which is sounding kind of Zen, or Taoist, in a way.

Ignoring the implications of at least half my heritage hasn't been working for me though. Most likely, I have not felt WORTHY enough to embrace all of my past. Not worthy enough to even feel guilt about the horrors of being human. So that maybe Kurt means that we humans AREN'T Trafalmadorians and DON'T have the luxury of looking at our atrocities through space alien eyes.

In any case, I feel much better for having gotten that all out into cyberspace.

If the novel ever DOES get written, and published, and maybe even becomes a big hit, you can say you read it first here! And front row seats to all 18 of my loyal fans (17 really, since my sister is signed on twice! but I really need the numbers for an ego boost right now!) when the movie version premiers.

In the meantime life continues on Trafalmadore, ie Iglersreuth. We will contact Earth as soon as our spaceship lands. (Not metaphorically, that could be a while for me, rather when we land in Brisbane and get our phone and internet up and running, sometime the second week in November.)

"Poo-tee-weet?" (Read Vonnegut, the man is brilliant.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Roots?


So, we're going to Dresden today. My dad was born about 30 kilometers away in the town of Rathen. On February 24, 1945, 10 days after the bombs fell.


I think of his mother, my Oma, pregnant with what they THOUGHT were twins, mother of two small children already, watching the night skies light up as her city burned. What kind of a future could she imagine for her children?


Oma came to visit us a few times in the USA when I was still small. I remembered her as a serious woman. "Regal in her austerity" was the line I used in a highschool essay. Her black hair was always pulled back in a severe bun. She never wore pants. She always dressed in dark colors, even way before Opa died. This was in stark contrast to my American Grandma who wore her blonde hair down and bright summer-colored bermuda shorts.


I remember a recurring theme between my two grandmothers. Grandma would try to get Oma to go shopping in the USA. ''Buy a bathing suit for the pool.'' she'd say. "Buy some shorts and T-shirts, or at least a pretty summer dress while you are here." I never saw Oma in a bathing suit. It would have been black if she had worn one. Her skirts and sweaters were too warm for our Connecticut summers, but she was comfortable in them none-the-less. ''Oh. Those colors aren't for an old lady like me." Oma would tell Grandma. ''They are meant for someone young, like you.'' Oma was two years older than Grandma. Still is.


But Grandma's future husband came home from The War a hero. (He fought the Japanese on the Pacific front.) Oma's first husband, a German soldier, died early on. Her second husband, my Opa, was too old too fight. (Until the very end when they were sending anybody.) But he lost his factory, his livelihood, his country and his humanity.


Then the Russians came and he lost hope up ever getting them back.


He was an old, old, old, old man by the time I first remember him. And it stuns me now to think that he was only 70 when I was born. The War ended when he was in his late 40s. He and his young family fled East Germany when he was 60.


I never knew but a shell of an old man. But I can only imagine the bravery it took to leave. I can only imagine he did it for his children. He left the children from his first marriage in East Germany. His son became a prominent communist writer. His daughter, who had met her husband in a concentration camp when interred there for speaking out against government policy, moved to Israel and raised her children, my half-cousins, Jewish.


I grew up with cousins from Oma's first marriage. Imke now owns a specialty bookstore in Berlin. Her brother, Joerg, works for an international consulting firm. He is currently in Romania. Little Lars (who is now over six feet tall) is a nurse in Cologne. His brother Frank is a professor of - god, I would love to be smart enough to understand it - something chemical, subatomic, engineering or something of that sort.


None of us live near eachother, even within Germany.


My brother lives in Texas, my sister in Arizona. I am setting up home in Australia.


I'm sure this isn't what Oma envisioned when she looked upon the bombs falling on Dresden that day not so long ago. I'm sure she couldn't see anything but death and dishonor, futility and despair. She has thirteen great-grandchildren from the ''western'' cousins alone. (Opa's children were already in their twenties when my dad was born, and were living behind the Iron Curtain until twenty years ago, so I don't know anything about them. The Israeli cousins don't officially even know they are related to anyone German.) Oma's great-grandchildren are German, American, Italian and now Australian.


Funny enough, we cousins are a fifty-fifty split of free thinkers and super-achievers. (Sometimes both.)


We don't know eachother. We see eachother rarely, if at all. I assumed it was because I was raised on the other side of the Atlantic, and was too American to have anything in common with my German family any more.


But now I see my German side. I see that I am rootless here as well.


As the elder Herr Bauer and I stood looking out over his fields in Iglersreuth the other day we discussed my family's emigration. "Du koenntest mich nicht entwurzeln." he said. "You couldn't uproot me.'' And I imagined what it would have been like to have been born into a family who still owned and farmed their own land, who still lived together where they had been born for generations. Who KNEW their roots and who they were. (Who were lucky enough to end the war under American occupation and not the USSR.)


It would have been nice, I think. But it wouldn't have been me.


A lot of people tell me they admire our move to Australia. They consider us brave. They tell us they envy us, that they WISH they could do it, but that they don't have the courage or that they couldn't leave their families.


And I tell them it has nothing to do with courage.


It has to do with roots.


"I don't know where I'm going and I don't know where I've been."' (Rory Gallagher)


But I do know that I'm lucky not to be watching bombs fall, my country (any of them) destroy itself or it's citizens wage war on eachother for race, religion or power. I have the liberty and the power - and the fortune of circumstance - to determine my own future and that of my children.


Uprooted, yes. Entirely rootless maybe not.








Sydney's Famous New Building

Being bilingual is so much fun. You understand things from different persectives. You get to mix and match. And, sometimes, you get to misunderstand things in an entirely different way too.



Ryan and Andrew presented their posters on Australia today. To a not-so-rapt audience made up of Aidan and Matthew and their six-year-old friend Jordan, who is also staying here for the week. Since Jordan, and all the other guests Ryan and Andrew are hoping to present to (their BIG debute, here on the Birkholmhof in Iglersreuth!) speak German, they prepared the presentation in German.



Andrew likes to improvise so it's really fun to hear what he comes up with sometimes. I've heard the speeches FOUR times since yesterday so I just keep reminding myself that they are learning the facts - oceans and states and historical events - as well doing something that makes them feel important. And I amuse myself with the extra "facts" Andrew comes up with. (Ryan uses flashcards and keywords - she was in the German school system far too long to feel comfortable with improvisation.)



I've learned that the first man to land in Australia who COULDN'T play a didgerigoo was James Cook. That the weather in Australia is too warm to go snowboarding anywhere but in the mountains. But that snowboarding is so dangerous that most Australians wouldn't want to do it anyway. He wasn't sure about ice-skating. (I couldn't shake the image of 1900th century Australians iceskating in Sydney Harbor.) And that the English sent prisoners down to Australia as punishment until they realized that the weather in Australia was so nice that all the people down there were sunbathing and surfing and watching koalas in the trees. Then they got mad at themselves for being stuck in the cold and rain and stopped sending people there.



This one only works in German.



"The Sydney OPER house,"explained Andrew this morning, " is a big old place where Opas can go to sing.'' He thought about it a moment. "I'm pretty sure Omas can go and sing there too.''"



Just for that, I think I'll make an effort to keep up the German in Australia after all!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Connor Moments: Damon's Words of Wisdom

I'll be honest here. Moving was hard on the relationship. And it took us a few days to recover.
It hit me hardest when the kids, Andrew especially, asked me to stop yelling at Daddy so much. "He's doing his best." Andrew told me.

I think we passed the worst of it on Friday, October 1, when we were driving around and driving around and driving around (and I DO mean driving AROUND) some areas somewhere between Nuerenburg and the Czech border - possibly - with an unreadable German map and a GPS system just as lost in this area as we were. (We've since retired the GPS system. He wasn't helping any.) I was bitching and moaning that reading the map and knowing where we are used to be Damon's job and that I had taken over just about everything else and was damned if I was going to do that too and.....

well....you really don't want more than a fleeting glimpse of all the other mean and nasty things I can say....I AM a writer and I can use to words to draw blood when I want to...

Damon was STILL looking at the damn map. And he STILL wasn't moving. Too slow, too slow. Always too slow. "What's the problem NOW,'' I whined. (I do know, in retrospect anyway, when I am whining.) ''Why are we still sitting here? We just worked out the directions to the highway.''

''JUST SHUT UP!'' he yelled. (Or something like it). Head still bent over the map.

"I'm thinking out the other end."

Dead silence. As it hit us both what he had just said.

"Yeah, I know exactly what end you are thinking out of." I replied.

And then we laughed so hard that tears rolled down our eyes.

The kids realized it was okay to laugh again.

We're okay now. And a hard time has become a family memory. A legacy perhaps, something Connors in generations to come will pass on to their kids.

"Give your father time, honey. He's just thinking out the other end!"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wolfy: Chasing Field Mice in Heaven

"Couldn't have picked a better moment to arrive, could I?"

It was 9 AM on September 30 and Lori was here to help. Damon and I had already dropped the twins off at kindergarten, repainted a wall in the kids' room, spoken to the Rathaus about our landlord's refusal to take back possession of the apartment and made an appointment to euthanize the dog later in the day.

As it turns out, Lori, there really WASN'T a better moment. The Rathaus closes at noon. Our neighbors/witnesses had to be somewhere at 1:00. Euthanasia at lunchtime. And we had a three to four hour drive ahead of us. After one last run to the dump. And loading the car.

In the meantime, as it turns out, the Stuttgart police were tear-gassing and water-hosing protestors, including children and the elderly, at the Schlossplatz, but I hadn't even had the time to brush my teeth, my hair OR even change out of my pajamas, let alone tune into and feel empathy for tragic current events.

Lori had walked in on our own personal tragic current event. I had just told Ryan and Andrew that we would be euthanizing Wolfy that afternoon. His new family had called that morning and he just wasn't doing well. I knew immediately that it was time to put him down. Ryan burst into tears. I followed. And then Lori walked into the room, saw us both sitting on the floor crying, and joined us.

Turns out THAT'S what friends are for.

The rest of the morning was a blur of cleaning out the apartment and talking to the neighbors across the street about what to do about the landlord. He hadn't shown up for the keys the night before, as required by German law. Dominique showed up with coffee, breakfast and the rest of the laundry we had left at her house on Tuesday. She and Lori dragged the last of the stuff, mattresses and things we'd needed til then, to the dump, while the neighbors drove me over to the Rathaus. I spoke to the mayor in my pajamas. And then tried to stalk the landlord one last time. Martin, Dominique's husband, the twins' godfather, and today our lawyer, who deals mostly with international drug cartels, had never met such a low class of people.

It all needed to be done an hour before. And all my carefully laid plans of the last few weeks were stripped bare as I hauled haphazardly packed suitcases and boxes to sit in the drizzle on the driveway. With the kids. One of who had never taken the time to change out of HER pajamas either.

Jess dropped off Wolfgang. She cried. (She also offered to help me lug boxes out into the driveway. There ARE people like this in the world.) Ryan and Andrew saw Wolfgang and cried too. Damon came home from picking up the twins and cried. The neighbors came over to bear witness to the state of the apartment, before I dropped their testimony and the keys off with the mayor. They cried too.

I didn't cry. I still hadn't had time to change out of my pajamas.

But in the middle of the turmoil, in between dealing with lawyers and testimonies and keys, I sat down with the kids and spoke with them about something Lori had told me once when we were talking about an afterlife. (I'm telling you, we debate some major theological issues while we are picking up the kids' rooms and washing the dishes!)Lori believes in a heaven where we are all resurrected in our original, healthy states. The old are young. The sick are healthy.

It's all a bit too cut and dried for me, (and I realize that using the belief for family pets might be watering it down some!) but I liked the idea of a young Wolfy, running around in heaven looking down on us.

"Just think of how sad Wolfy is right now." I said to the kids. They looked. He did look pretty miserable and pathetic. "Think of how happy he will be to look down at us from heaven with his healthy eyes that can see again." Aidan thought about it. Ryan and Andrew were still bawling. "And he will be able to hear again, hear us when we are talking about him and remembering him." That got ém thinking. "Yeah and maybe he will be able to hear a fieldmouse running by." said Ryan. "Think of him chasing all the fieldmice up there in heaven on his brand new, healthy legs." said Andrew. All of which got me to thinking that doggy heaven must be fieldmouse hell. But the kids - and I - saw that Wolfy was old, sad, and in pain....and we were able to let him go thinking of him younger, happier and pain free.

I went alone to euthanize him. I never imagined I would be strong enough to do it. But it's amazing what you can do when you do it for your family. And I did cry. I cried and held Wolfy while he calmly fell asleep. And then I stopped. Because it was the first time in close to a year that he looked relaxed. Okay, the vet HAD given him muscle relaxants, but looking at him on the table I realized that he had probably been in pain for months now. He was trying to keep up with us, he wanted to be with us, and he did his best. But he couldn't do it anymore. He couldn't stay with us. He couldn't follow us. And he didn't want to live without us either.

At 3PM on September 30, after I dropped the keys to our apartment off with the mayor, and while the kids and Damon were standing in the driveway in the rain with our luggage, I sent Wolfy to heaven to chase fieldmice.

Of all the things I can't take to Australia with me, this was the one thing I couldn't accept. But I finally did it for him. I made him young again.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Reality Of "Enduring and Committed"

This is what I WOULD HAVE LIKED to have sent to the Australian Embassy as part of the paperwork for my permanent residency visa. We have to prove an enduring and committed relationship. Huh?! Spoiler Alert: We did have to put Wolfy to sleep on Thursday, September 30, in between my pajama meeting with the mayor and packing the bags and kids into the car for the trip to Iglersreuth. He'd crossed continents and oceans for me before, but just couldn't bear this last trip. He died peacefully, in my arms, the way he wanted. Memorial to follow.....inspired by Lori.

Christine M. Steinmann
Iglersreuth 12
95671 Bärnau Germany

October 6, 2010
Australian Embassy Berlin
Visa Office
Wallstrasse 76-79
D-10179 Berlin
Germany

To Whom It Concerns:
This letter is to accompany the application for Christine M. Steinmann migration to Australia. To the support documentation required on section 85 (written statements from you and from your partner detailing the history of your relationship).

Damon and I met as Peace Corps volunteers in Haiti. Our staging took place on April 11, 1996 in Miami, Florida. From there we flew to Haiti and spent three months in Les Cayes training. Damon pretty much hit on me immediately, but I was determined to not have this be about a relationship. Still, times were hard and the pickings were slim. At some point I remember him with the last bottle of Haitian Five Star (Senque Etoile)rum. That did it. I was head over heals, literally, since the current in the stream we were sitting in was stronger than I'd thought.

I remember him asking my permission to kiss me after he'd hauled me out of the stream. What a gentleman. The moon was full, the stars were bright and we were alone in the countryside of southern Haiti. It felt as if we were worlds away from reality. "Why not?" I remember thinking. "Noone will ever know. What's the worst that can happen?" If I'd known about the fourteen following years then, I might have held out for a second bottle of Senque Etoile rum.

We started Peace Corps service in July. At this point Damon began to play it cool. He was distant and uncommitting. (Damon blames his bad attitude on his frequent bouts of profuse vomitting and diarrhea which I never had the pleasure to witness but which severely curtailed HIS dating prospects with anyone who did.) Honestly, if there had been any one else on the island I could have fallen in love with, I would have. I tried. Ronald was with Sarah. (And still is, two kids later!) Marco was with Jean-Carla. (And still is, two kids later!) Jen wasn't gay. (I'm not either, but I was really taking a hard look at ALL my options.) Damon quips that if the roads to the Dominican Republic were at all passable, my kids and I would be speaking Spanish right now. The dog didn’t help either. One night when we were having a fight, and sleeping in separate chambers in what passed for a hotel in Les Cayes, Wolfy cried all night until I went back in to find Damon. Some help.

We spent the spring of 2008, after our Peace Corps service, in Washington D.C. That was nice. D.C is a great city to be young and in love in. Sushi nights. All-day movie days. Free museums.

We bought the condo in CT, got real jobs as an accountant and a veterinarian and my life became the suburban hell I’d always dreaded. Just as we were considering investing in two kayaks for our waterfront property, I threw a big “Jump Into 30” party for myself, and Damon knocked me up, at 5 AM on April 11, 1999, on the sink counter in the guest bathroom since all the other rooms were taken. Four years to the day we met in Miami. Damon and I both vaguelly recall the "incident" and Ryan IS the spitting image of him, so we're all clear there. (I never did get to go sky-diving, Lindsey, but it was a great party none-the-less, with an extra little party favor nine months later!)

Our daughter, Ryan Elizabeth, was born on January 2, 2000 in Stamford, CT with me screaming at Damon that I would never ever ever give the child his last name OR get married to him. Until they gave me the epidural. After that it was okay. Damon is a great dad. You have to see the video of him trying to pick up Ryan for the first time. Or her first bath. Forty minutes long. Who spends that much time on a kids’ head? The twins didn’t get bathed until we could smell them. The only one who doesn’t get bored watching the video is Ryan.

Damon applied to graduate school in Arizona, we sold the condo in Connecticut and bought a house in Avondale, AZ. We got married on June 9, 2001 in Sedona, Arizona. Our second child, Andrew Damon, was born on April 1, 2002. Because one week after the wedding Damon said, “Oh, come on, what could happen this one time? We just got married.”

6 weeks after Andrew was born we packed house in Arizona and moved to France for Damon to finish up graduate school. We stayed there until February 2004 when we moved to Germany. The twins, Aidan Christopher and Matthew Frederick, were born on July 4, 2006 in Tuebingen, Germany.

After that, noone else would have either one of us.

We’ve spent the last few months selling off all of our household belongings. INCLUDING the kitchen sink. We’ve boxed up toys, photos and books, sorted out winter clothes from summer, dealt with an unruly landlord and an obnoxious school principal. All without help. Unless you count Nintendo and the TV set as paid babysitters.

We adopted our dog, Wolfgang, over fourteen years ago in Haiti. He’s been with us through thick and thin, across continents and over oceans. We had to euthanize him only a few days ago, but the rest of the Connor/Steinmann gang is still together, going strong, and ready for a new home in Australia.

I didn’t really want the dog. I didn’t really want the relationship. But I really miss the dog now that he’s gone. And as far as I can tell, Damon and I are stuck with each other as well.

If that’s not an enduring and committed relationship, I don’t know what is. (And if they sell Senc Etoile in Australia I'll even call it love!)

Sincerely,
Christine M. Steinmann

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Coming Home?

I've got less than an hour to explain how I ended up speaking to the mayor of Altdorf in my pajamas.

Why Lori, Ryan and I sat on the floor Thursday morning and cried.

But to get there I would have to explain why our lawyer, most often known as Aidan's and Matthew's godfather and a good friend, was telling us it was perfectly alright to abduct a little old lady and force her to sign papers in our home.

But it's Sunday in Iglersreuth. The opening ceremonies for the new bike path into the Czech Republic start at 1:00. The potato king and queen need to be crowned. And the beer isn't drinking itself.

It's a tiny corner of the earth, direct in the middle of Europe. Landscape that inspired MY husband to speak of "undulating hills and fields." Mornings we look out onto the largest contiguous forest in Europe. Afternoon drives that have caused us to change our family motto to "we don't know where we're going and we don't know where we've been." Fewer people than Altdorf (pop. 6,000) in the entire township.

www.birkholmhof.de Exactly as shown on the Internetsite. Five star quality. (NOT jsut another partially renovated farmhouse to squeeze money out of the city suckers.)

But enough about Iglersreuth. You'll want to hear about the pajamas.