Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Being German - So NOT 'Done With It.'

I've done you the favor of NOT posting my last three blogs on what I REALLY think.

Offending everyone is not going to get my message across.

Technically in the Czech Republic.

But my friend's comment this morning in Prep School showed me, once again, that something IS wrong with Germany's attitude of their role in WWI and especially WWII and what I personally think SHOULD be shared collective guilt for the Holocaust.

It started when Aidan brought home this week's school library book on Monday.  The story was about a young Australian soldier rescuing an injured sparrow from the no-man's land between the Australian and the German front during WWI.  On Christmas Day. 

It was well done.  (I SHOULD have gotten the title.  Sorry.)  There wasn't a lot of blood and gore - but the trenches and the front was depicted.  The young soldier raises the white silk scarf he received that day from his family as a Christmas present as a flag of truce and bravely heads out to rescue the bird.  The German snipers watch warily.  There is no blame placed on either side - just the sadness that is war - but as the bird flies free, the soldier says "Merry Christmas Little Bird."  And the sniper, who you only realize NOW for sure is actually German, says "Frohe Weihnachten Digger."  (What the Aussies and New Zealanders were known as after digging in at Gallipolli against the Turks.)  And then the Germans start to sing "Stille Nacht" on their side.  And the page flips to the Aussies continuing the verse in English.

Of course I cried.

And when I told the teacher this morning that I actually thought it was a GOOD book for children, she told me she had had misgivings when Aidan brought it to her to check out.  Especially with his German background.  I explained that my children were aware of my feelings about war - that I am essentially a pacifist - and that they need to KNOW about the horrors of war in order to prevent them.  They've seen Dresden.  (They do have a slight preoccupation with building up towns and then knocking them down - the bombs came, Mom, they tell me - but other than that no harm done.)

Andrew in Stuttgart

They know that they are lucky and safe from harm.  But they also know that evil has happened - even when we were living in a country it happened in - and that it continues to happen to children today.

How are we going to STOP evil if we don't teach our children what it is?

My friend - who is German, living in Australia 10 years - overheard my conversation with the teacher and said, "Oh that.  I heard it three times in school.  I am so sick of hearing about it.  I am done with that."

I didn't say anything.  Conspiracy of silence?  Well, other than that I didn't think a heated discussion on German collective guilt was appropriate in a Prep School classroom at 8:30 in the morning as the kids were coming in, she is my friend, the only friend here I have from Germany.   I like her and I don't want to lose her.  Conspiracy of silence then, yes.

But I do feel I owe it to my country - Germany - to speak out. 

My new goal is going to try to do that without anger and without offense.

Because the German education system obviously isn't getting the message through even to these younger generations.  Possibly because the kids are being taught by adults who don't really feel the guilt and shame themselves.  So that they are being hit over the head with it (once they are older, this  is not appropriate material for younger kids) but not really seeing WHY it is important to acknowledge it.  The majority of Germans do tell me they are sick and tired of hearing about it.  That they had all that crap in school and would now like folks to get over it and move on please.

If you can sit through lessons on the Holocaust three times (over and over and over the Germans tell me) and not feel any remorse and sadness, then those lessons are not being taught properly.

I am not blaming my friend for the Holocaust.  But I am blaming Germans as a nation for not teaching their children to grieve for that broken past.  Germans, as a nation, are still looking for excuses for themselves, they are still talking about the good things that Hitler did for them , still telling us we don't understand and still reminding us about Schiller and Goethe and Mozart, still comparing their actions to the US atom bombs in Japan. 

Ryan in Heidelberg

When I hear this latest nuclear crisis in Japan declared the worst since WWII I can't help but feel guilt that MY NATION, America, dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Uh yeah, other countries have done wrong too.

But German attitude reminds me of a spoiled (possibly autistic?) child trying to get away with something.  Because that kid over there did this and that too.  And because I didn't really.  And because......

I am trying to teach my children right from wrong.  I am trying to teach them to take responsibility for their actions when they do wrong.  Only when they take responsibility - admit to themselves that they even did something they shouldn't have - can they change their actions in the future and move forward.

I don't place blame for imperfect behavior.  We are all of us human.  But I do get beside myself when the kids won't acknowledge and correct it.  THAT is when the $#*$& hits the fan in MY house.  (And then I have to apologize to the kids for my inappropriate behavior later!)

Maybe because I am part of a nation that hasn't taught its children to accept responsibility.

German-American-Australian kids

"I am so done with that."  Over and over and over again from adults in Germany. 

I grieve FOR Germany, because they cannot grieve for themselves.  They will never ever be truly 'done with that' until they stop being Hitler's Germany.  (Another essay I need to 'desensify' which argues that Hitler has won until Germany admits its collective guilt.)

My children are learning (age appropriately) that great evil not only occurs, but that it has been done by people who are no different than they are.  Our only defense against evil is teaching our children about it, pointing out where it exists (or existed), explaining why it is evil, and encouraging them to abhore it in all forms.

It doesn't mean placing blame on generations that weren't alive when the evil occurred, but it does mean acknowledging that the evil occurred in the first place.  (And not talk about Hitler's damn Autobahns and about how they didn't know and.......excuses Leute, you will not be let out of the corner and back into the classroom until you know what you have done.)

Moving to Australia won't change the past or make you any less German.

I can grieve for the Holocaust's 10 million innocent victims.

And I can grieve for Germany.  Because you not only lost the war Leute (something which still pisses many of you off more than the Holocaust) but you are still letting Hitler win every single time you don't open your hearts and realize that, no, you are not 'so done with it.'

Monday, March 28, 2011


My Mommy worries when I don't blog.  Like there is something I am hiding from her.

Well yes, Mom, I am hiding a lot lately, thanks for asking.

Which is why I write about koala poop and today thought I'd mention our 5:45 AM capture of the Huntsman spider the kids found in their bedroom.  (Piece of cake, by the way.  Doesn't even faze us anymore.)

What the Huntsman is covering up is 3 blogs on Ego and Taoism, mushy pieces of self-discovery and personal growth that I really didn't feel the need to burden everyone with.  (Although, I suppressed the Ego, tried to remember that it was NOT all about me, followed the path of least resistance and had the satisfaction of it following the path I had wanted all along, WITHOUT my Ego pushing it.  See why I saved you the trouble of reading it?!)

The Huntsman is also covering up 4 blogs on German collective guilt and shame.  One of which I will post this week.  Again, not sure I need to go there publicly, but hiding it hasn't been making it go away either.

One of my friends has a son undergoing a second round of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant for childhood leukemia, on Friday one of my best friends here ended up in the hospital with a brain anuerysm and yesterday my mom told me she was going back in for surgery and chemotherapy for metastasis to the liver from her colorectal cancer 6 months ago.

Which really puts the cough and fever that has laid me out flat for the last two weeks in perspective, doesn't it?! 

And makes the blog I have been researching on the Burke and Wills exploration and what it says about the Australian spirit seem fairly trivial.

I find myself completely unable to deal with Japan and natural disasters.

And then they throw Libya in the mix.

All of which brings up my belief in karma and reincarnation and makes me question again why the Christians did away with such an intuitive concept.

Making it hard to focus on the blog about Andrew being selected as goal-keeper for the travel team in soccer. 

By which I mean to say that things are business as usual around here. 

I have a hard time hiding anything from my Mommy.  Probably made her wish she hadn't asked though, didn't I?!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


We had koala poop outside our front door this morning! 

Identified by the kids.

Kinda makes up for the 3:45 AM cockatoo wake-up calls.  With the kookaburra laughing his head off.

Although to be honest, that still hasn't gotten old either.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ambition and Sick Kids

Aidan had to stay home LAST week.  He fell asleep with 'Big Ted' a friend from Prep.
So I got the kids in school for six hours a day.  Tennis lessons Monday mornings.  Sports Wednesdays and Thursdays (depending on which kid and which sport) until 4:30.  Music and clubs at school.  The pool just outside the door.  Easy shopping at the mall.

I really don't know what my American friends are complaining about.

This is EASY!  (Compare to having the kids at home at noon for a warm meal, no programs at school, really inconvenient shopping with NO selection AND NO pool, just ice and snow, outside your door.)

So much time!  And NOT to clean the windows and sweep the front steps either.

Besides volunteering at the school (really, they LET you do that here!), heading over to the library, and quite frankly, taking it easy at home, I've been looking at places to move (this place is nice, but small and temporary) and considering work. Really, they LET me DO that here.  (Once my VISA goes through and I'm not just hanging out on a really expensive tourist visa.)  We are right near Brisbane, and the University HAS a vet program.  So tempting.  The private practices are always looking.  And then there are the wildlife programs, the koala rescue, the bird rehab....oh look, citizens working FOR their community instead of expecting something from it.  The RSPCA would probably fit me perfectly.  Because finding a nice cushy government job - doing public health and quarantine - would really be asking for miracles.  20 to 30 hours a week.  So that I can be home at 3:30.  And do I get a company car with that too?!

And I'll be able to do it.  (I've got my eyes on a lovely young neighbor with a baby who is looking for a way to stay home...would minding my four children from 3:30 to 6:00 help out?!) 

So I make my plans.

And then a kid - or two - gets sick.

I'm sure there are ways around it.  (Once again, would my lovely young neighbor like to take my snotty kid to her baby play-group with her?!)

But it gets hard. 

I've heard employers are really good about that here.  (As opposed to the USA.  Try working for the US military while your kids are with a German Tagesmutter who won't take a kid with a runny nose because SHE doesn't want to catch a cold!  Try explaining that to an American boss.)
Grown-ups get sent home sick too.  (Which was appalling at first.   German men catch a sniffle and stay home for a week.)  But isn't it nice that your employer would send you home by taxi from Brisbane because you are too sick to drive?!  Again, in the US, if you aren't missing a limb, there are at least 300 to 400 people quite ready to take over for you.  Permanently.  Vomit in the bathroom.  Pop as many pills as you like.  But I don't remember ANYONE ever taking a day off sick.

Matthew was home the week before.  Don't know if the cold cloth helped his fever any, but it made ME feel better!
But no matter how many high-power ideas I get in my head: koala rescue, Brisbane U, public health and safety officer, when my kids get sick I just want to stay home with them.

I don't know if this is copping out or not.

If I could get my #($*% together and write my novel, I'd have the best of BOTH worlds!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Aussie Firsts This Weekend

The boys watching a street performer in front of the Frauenkirche in Dresden.  Nothing to do with this weekend, just the tortured ambiguities of my soul!
A good one - finally drove a car here.

And a bad one - finally took the national anthem for granted.

As the kids sang 'Australians let us all rejoice, for we are young and free' my mind was on the houses I am looking at, at possible job prospects with the government, on people I needed to talk to about...well, it doesn't matter.  It wasn't where it should have been.

I snapped out of it long enough to realize that, oh yeah, I am in AUSTRALIA!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!  It helped.  Because while starting over is hard, it reminded me that I am lucky to have all this opportunity to worry about and agonize over.

Or luckier than I would be if I DIDN'T have all of this to worry about in Germany.  (I am sorry, I watched Valkyrie this weekend too, and while I am going to take the sane root and NOT say what I REALLY feel, let it be noted that I DID briefly consider handing in my German passport.  As if that would change anything.   I am very very disappointed in my country.  Let this be grist for the novel!)

On a MUCH lighter note, at least if you aren't driving along the same roads as I am, Damon DID finally let me get behind the wheel Sunday evening.  As I keep reminding him, I never payed that much attention to the road while I was driving on the RIGHT side of it from the LEFT side of the car, so I couldn't really see the difference it was going to make driving on the LEFT side of the road from the RIGHT side of the car. 

Somehow this didn't reassure him.

The car is only a borrowed one from a neighbor - and we aren't officially registered to drive it - so I've been good and kept a low profile.  But I got to drive home from a barbeque at a friend's on Sunday.  (German beer AND Aussie beer for Damon, keys to the car for me!)

It really wasn't all that hard.  Maybe because it was dark.  And maybe because I really DON'T pay that much attention normally!  Or maybe because I've already been here for four months, know nothing else than the view from the left.  And maybe, just maybe, the other thing I have been reminding Damon holds true.  "I may NOT be a brain surgeon, but I AM a veterinary surgeon.  And if I can do a hidden suture with both hands, I think I can probably figure out how to use the stick shift with my left hand."

I can.  I did.  Even almost got the hand of using the signal on the RIGHT instead of the windshield wipers on the left.  Pretty soon I'll even be signalling in the correct direction.  (It is DOWN to go right, UP to go left...in the direction of the wheel...but opposite from a left-sided signal.)

And since I HAVE to draw a pithy little conclusion, let us say all three are about freedom and power.  Personal choices to stay strong and positive (and do the RIGHT thing you ASSHOLES - oh sorry, that just slipped out!)

It may not be much, but at least I can go to the mall on my own now!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Healthy Good-Byes

We said good-bye to two school friends last week; Nibbles, the Prep classroom guinea pig and Ms Easlea, Andrew's fantastic fourth grade teacher.
Matthew with Nibbles

Nibbles developed signs of a urinary tract infection two weeks ago, something which I'd hoped might be cured with a small round of antibiotics, but which ended up being the symptom of a much larger problem: bladder stones.  Even not taking the costs (and risks) of surgery into account, Nibbles was fading and the prognosis looked grim.  He was euthanised last weekend.

The kids handeled it much better than I'd imagined.  All I could think about was the parents I knew in Germany going on and on about the effect this severe stress - CHANGE so early in the school year, for crying out loud! - would have on their POOR, distraught children.  Good reason not to have a class pet at all, one would think.

As it turns out, kids handle change - even death - quite well when it's confronted as a fact of life. Not something to avoid, but something to accept and grow from. 

Aidan's gentle side

The kids all KNOW that Nibbles is up in heaven.  (Religion aside, heaven is such a comforting thought for little ones that I think I'll keep it around a bit!)  Not only that, but Nibbles is joined by our Wolfy, several other guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, hamsters, lizards, turtles, dogs, cats and even a horse.  The kids were cool with it.  Sad, but cool.

And another little guinea pig will be joining them shortly.  It won't be Nibbles.  But life continues in the face of sadness, becomes joyous again.

And change is okay.

We felt so fortunate to have had Nibbles with us for a weekend.  Which is how Ms Dance and Fiona explained it to the kids too;  that grieving for Nibbles was okay, but that we should be happy for the time we had with him.  I am not a big guinea pig fan, being the one who has to catch them and treat them without being bitten, but Nibbles was cool.  If ANY guinea pig had character it was this little guy.  So I am glad that we had that one weekend.

Andrew introduces Nibbles to Ryan's pet bunny (Fluffy?)

Ms Easlea, Andrew's teacher, has only been at the school six weeks, but she was a kindred spirit from the start.  Not just because she professed to love Andrew's poetry (which, while enthusiastic, gets a bit ridiculous at times!) but because her gentle, caring spirit really shines out upon the kids.

You love her without trying.

She was my hero BEFORE she left, for being able to manage a classroom of kids all day and THEN go home to her own.  But she is an even GREATER hero to me now, for admitting that her own kids and family were suffering as a result, and for having the courage to admit she has to wait awhile - focus on her family - at least for a few more years before she once again takes on the role of full-time teacher.  (I believe she said as much to the kids so that this is NOT breaking any confidentiality.)  THAT is a SUPER-WOMAN!  In this day of career women claiming they can - and should - do everything, it is empowering to see a woman step back and reevaluate.

Of course we'll miss her - she is really a super teacher - but how can you be unhappy about someone making the decision to be happy herself?

Is it odd we have so many pictures of Nibbles and none of Ms Easlea?!

And the kids WILL adapt.  In fact, they are getting a MALE teacher, something which might shake things up, in a good way, for some of the boys in the class who need a little shaking sometimes!  (Let's just hope he likes corny poetry too!)

I admit, I'd be flipping out a bit more if it was RYAN'S teacher who was leaving, because Andrew really is the one who you don't worry about, no matter what, but in a healthy school environment, with a stable home environment, changing teachers shouldn't be traumatic.

In fact, I can think of nothing MORE traumatic, then struggling AGAINST change.

Ryan and Nibbles

I still remember the child psychologist I took Ryan to in Germany telling me that he thought all the change and travel in her life was making her insecure.  This despite the fact that she had been living in the same home for the last six years, the only home she could ever remember.

Could it have been all the bullying and degradation at school that was making her insecure?!

And that just from the teachers, really.

So that it is good to see change being accepted. 

Maybe it's the ability to see hope for the future, rather than dwell on the securities of the known past.  (Even if it sucks, at least you know where you stand!)

All I know is that I am excited to see what happens with Andrew's new teacher.

And happy that Wolfy has so many friends in heaven.

Wolfy.  I still miss him. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ryan Emerging

It's so much fun watching Ryan come alive.  She's still often overshadowed by Andrew's accomplishments and by the needs of her whirling dervish twin brothers, but she is quietly making her own mark too.

Ryan brings home her flute after her first lesson at school.

You just have to take the time to look for it.

She's discovering music, encouraged through the Glee Club, which meets on Fridays to listen to popular dance tunes. (Think Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus)  Classical training it is not, but the kids get to sing and dance along.  Have fun with their peers.  Enjoy themselves.  And isn't that what music has always been about?  (Remember, Mozart was the Mick Jagger of HIS day!) 

Ryan gets to belong just by being herself.  How great is that?!

She has done a Power Point presentation for her German class on our move from Germany to Australia.  And some other work on the computer at school that I've only heard about.  One was about saving the wolves in the western USA and one about saving the koalas here.

She is being encouraged to write about what she enjoys.  And the work isn't coming back crossed out in red pen, the mistakes she's made overshadowing the joy of the ideas she put into it.

And look what's coming back!

Hanging in the school foyer, Ms Valley's grade 4/5 class designed their own personal flags.

Her work is improving on it's own.  Without third drafts and red ink.  They're just letting her WRITE!

She gets to write about herself too.  Define herself.  And have pride in who she is.

It looked as if Ryan could have written FOREVER!
And look.  The artwork is FREE-FORM!  THANK GOODNESS she's been allowed to put away that DAMN ruler - in ART CLASS!  And been allowed to explore her creativity instead of being graded on her straight lines and neatness.  She took first place in a classroom coloring competition because her entry looked DIFFERENT from everyone else's!  DIFFERENT?  She would have had to redo the assignment - properly, like everyone else's - in her old school.

Not enough room on the paper for all that she is!
Ryan's class in Germany did a project where the kids had to find two things that everyone in the class did well.  It was meant as a form of encouragement.  But Ryan was known for two things - all four years - she spoke English well and she loved to ride horses.

That was Ryan.  Summed up and neatly packaged, ready for delivery to Hauptschule.

Here she speaks English funny (although better than her parents who still don't know how to pronounce 'tomato') but German well.  But that doesn't define her.  We've got kids in the school from Africa, Japan, the Phillipines, Thailand, New Zealand, indigenous Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, even another American whose Mommy speaks in proper southern dialect to distinguish herself from the Canadians WE sound like.

Everyone is encouraged to be proud of where they came from.  But it doesn't define them.  Neither do their accomplishments.  Or weaknesses.

The reality is, here like everywhere else, that kids from different socio-economic backgrounds or living situations, will realistically have different opportunities and futures. 

But here at least we can dream.  (Just like in the USA where the disparities in opportunities are more glaringly obvious, at least the DREAM is that every child CAN grow up to be president!)

No government-sanctioned labelling and sorting.  Germany, we do NOT need to be 'realistic' about our childrens' futures.  If we don't let ALL of them reach for the stars, there is no chance for them to get there.

Trying on a new role for size.

And, while it is easy to bask in the light of brilliant stars, or to embrace the sweetest children, it's the kids that DON'T shine on their own that need and deserve our attention and encouragement.  It's the kids that are hardest to love that we need to love the most.  (Easier said as a part-time volunteer mother than a full-time teacher, I admit!)

The best part about kids is that they continue to surprise us.

Let them out of the box, and let's see what they can do!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


The Pirate Princess and Her Crew performing a street dance.
An unexpected bonus of our move overseas has been the absence of a television.  We cancelled service in Germany at the end of August.  (Although they are still trying to collect monthly bills, having refused our cancellation.  Because we obviously did something wrong, because it is obviously our fault, and because we are obviously delinquents trying to cheat them out of their rightfully earned money.  For programming we haven't watched in close to half a year in an apartment we haven't live in in that time!)  An expected bonus of the move has been the ability to ignore the bone-headed German service businesses contracts that refuse to end.  The German rail system and my fitness center too.  And some others.  Honestly guys, we don't live there anymore.  And in one more month you won't have our forwarding address anymore either! 

But enough about German customer service.  Or that oft-vaunted efficiency, for that matter.

We've never been big TV watchers.  In the States we had minimal service and watched a few favorite sitcoms and some early morning children's programming.  When we moved to France we had 3 or 4 French channels.  We learned French through 'Dora the Explorer' in the mornings and 'France Seeks a Superstar' in the late nights when Andrew wasn't sleeping.  Ah, Luca, you had NO talent, but darn were you beautiful!!!
Cardboard cut-outs and some string.  The pirates aren't even missing their toys yet, let alone the TV.

'Dora the Explorer' helped us hone our language skills when we moved to Germany too, but most programming was so lame that we stuck to the few channels that ran American shows - Lost, Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck - you kind of took what they gave you. 
The problem was we got stuck in the pattern of using the TV to numb the kids after the twins were born.  Saturday mornings.  Weekday afternoons while I was doing homework with the older two.  Then evenings when I just couldn't take it anymore.  Most of it was crap (although Germany did have some good children's news programs on in the evenings) and most of it was just noise.

So that I didn't miss it at all in Iglersreuth.  We had a channel or two that gave us some teen mystery program the kids watched once or twice but frankly, we had better things to do.

Of course when we hit the big hotels on our way back to the Stuttgart airport - and I saw those large flat screens built into the walls across from the luxurious bed - well, I couldn't resist.  The result?  Crap.  Okay, I personally get a kick out of watching Heidi Klum berate beauty contestants in any language. (She's even ruder on her German show than she is on the American one.  Must be nice to be so perfect that you feel you have the right to be condescending.)  But other than watching Heidi be mean, I found that I had missed nothing in past years of not watching.

Matthew as coach thanks to a pizza delivery box.

Aidan is a knight in bubble wrap.

We had twenty-four hours on the airplane too.  AMERICAN PROGRAMMING.  And again I thought, THIS was what the fuss was all about?  I DO like 'How I Met Your Mother'.  But I strongly suspect it is mostly because I like watching a gay man play a straight womanizer with a heart.  And, although I have watched it here since, it's no 'Friends' or 'Cheers.'

Although Patrick Dempsey is hot, hot, hot, 'Grey's Anatomy' is no 'E.R.'  'The Practice' is a less smutty version of 'Nip/Tuck.'  And honestly, if you are GOING to watch that sort of thing, the more smut the better.  Don't get me going on C.S.I.  Anywhere.  THIS is quality television.  THIS is what people are spending their nights watching?

I have ethical issues with two programs I COULD have watched in Germany.  'Big Love.'  Although the Mormons told me I was being oversensitive, I just can't see the value in glorifying a polygamous family.  I don't care how cool they are.  These are not my values.  And 'Dexter' is truly disturbing.  I tried, I really did.  But the third show I watched flashed back to a five-year old Dexter watching his mother being sawed to pieces.  You see the child watching.  You hear his mother shouting, 'Cover your eyes, Dexter.  Don't watch.  Cover your eyes.' as she tries to protect her baby even as she is sawed to bits.  I can see this as a disturbing Stephen King piece.  But to do it week after week after week?   What does it say about us as a society that we NEED this sort of titillation?  Does it make us feel better?  More alive?  Sorry, this is one thing I do not need.

Andrew narrates Mother Goose to a captive audience.

So that yeah, I still like 'Supernatural.'  (The difference being that they are GOOD guys getting rid of PURE EVIL, like Will Smith in Independence Day, so that there are no moral ambiguities about the blood and gore.  They're both really hot too, so that helps.)  And I will watch 'Desperate Housewives.'

I can get my American news from John Stewart here.  And the Aussie news isn't as horrendous at the American news, or as boring as the German news. 

The kids watch some 'So You Think You Can Dance' every now and then.  Mostly so they can refine their hip-hop moves and so that I can show them some truly cool male dancers.  'Aussies Funniest Home Videos' is something I can put up with for half an hour.  But 'Biggest Loser Families' and reality cooking shows?  Really?  REALLY?

Need I say more?!

I'd meant to write a blog about the benefits of living without a TV.  (We're reading the fifth Harry Potter book aloud, the kids create dances and plays, we make things out of cardboard and we color.)  And I still intend to.  I have some cool photos of Aidan and Matthew dressed up in bubble wrap pretending to be knights or in large pizza delivery boxes while Ryan drives them around the room like coach horses. 

But the surprising thing is how easy it's been to give up.  The kids don't ask for it at all, even on Saturday mornings or weekday evenings.  We've all found better things to do.

Honestly guys, this stuff is really crap.  Mind-numbingly addicting crap. 

You'd be amazed at how alive you would feel by just peeling yourself away from it.
Ryan as mermaid.  Water bubbles on one side, tropical beach herself.  And when people complimented me on my work, I was proud to say she had done it HERSELF!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Teenage Wasteland

Over a decade ago it was the Columbine shooting in the USA.  Timothy McVeigh.  Angry young men murdering innocent people.

Now its young Muslim men.  Arid Uka.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.  Angry young men murdering innocent people.  (Or trying to.)

Can we blame radicalized Islam for the former any more than we could blame popularized violence on TV for the latter?

I don't know.  But words hurt.  Sarah Palin telling her followers it was time to reload.  And one of them doing just that and shooting a congressional representative.

These are kids.  They are confused young men.  Man, I was angry all the time as a teenager.  Remember the Pet Shop Boys? "Everything I Do, It's a Sin" was like my own personal logo.  The Who.  AC/DC.  Heavy Metal.  Mosh Pits.  We are angry young people, bursting with hormones.  And who did we blame?  Our parents.  The status quo.  And we were going to take our anger, channel it, and do exactly the opposite.

I think this is called healthy adolescence.

What is not healthy is when adults infiltrate the adolescent psyche and manipulate it for their own purposes.  Man, for a religion that reveres the past, radical Muslims certainly have embraced the internet.  How easy for a lonely, shy, confused young man to become part of a group.  How easy to find purpose. 

Arid Uka grew up in Germany.  And while I do have my issues with that country, it is not a bad place to live.  He got to go to school.  His family had a home and work and food.  They are allowed to practice their religion.  And they aren't in danger of being slaughtered.  Life is NOT easy, but it really could have been a lot worse too.

As for the Americans, they stepped in and saved Kosavan ass when noone else in Europe really wanted to.

Dare I say that this isn't at all about religion, or nationality or race?  It's about angry CHILDREN being manipulated for an evil purpose.  How easy to pull the trigger and yell 'Allahu Akbar.'  I'm guessing his girlfriend dumped him.

So what can we do?  How can we keep these young men from destroying themselves - and others with them. 

Does it really get back to mom and dad keeping on eye on what their kids are reading and watching on the internet? 

Or can we get an international campaign mounted - Muslim and non-Muslim alike - telling these children that they are being used?  Telling them WE care.  Telling them there are other options.

I know.  Let's get everyone listening to The Who again.   Because, after all, the lyrics go like this:

I don't need to fight
To prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven

Teenage Wasteland.  If only it were as simple as running over a few mailboxes, like they did in my day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Koalas in the Courtyard: Week 9

I picked up a literary magazine two weeks ago for inspiration.  (Writers Forum out of England.  Some fantastic hints on writing and some great competitions to enter.)

In it, Barbara Dynes told me I was a lazy writer, one of those 'full of ideas' people who write all the time but get so many new ideas that they never stick to any one thing.  "If you're one of these people, understand that you are being lazy not creative: you would rather play about with a new idea than get down to the hard graft of writing the story, wouldn't you?" 

Well yes, Barbara, thanks for asking.

Also Barbara you forgot to mention how absolutely brilliant all of my ideas are and how my devoted audience - all 23 of them - wouldn't know WHAT to think if I didn't share them!

The upshot of Barbara's article was that I wrote 6 blogs and didn't post them.  Which really wasn't helping either, since the one thing I have consistently done for the past two years is this blog!  I also entered a small 100 word local library competition.  And ANDREW's been published in the school newsletter.  Does that count?

I once again got to work on the NOVEL.  This time I started with my characters.  They are parts of me and parts of my past, but they are beginning to breathe on their own.  I have a setting and I have a conflict.  And I am going to go from there.

I've been avoiding my piece on the Brisbane floods versus the Haiti earthquake because it was just too overwhelming.  (Sorry about that Jim!)  But hmmmm.....now believe a piece on Haiti versus Christ Church would be much more appropriate!  I'd have to work instead of ramble, even edit and rewrite (UGH!) but it would be character building.  And quite possible something to publish.  Oh yeah, I tend to forget that part of the writing process.

My excuse for continuing my manic ravings on the blog is that -  number one, I really like the validation of hitting 'Publish Post, number two, it is the only way most people are able to keep up with me right now, and number three, I like to think the ideas I develop here are ideas that my characters can build upon and make their own. 

But.... I am going to TRY to limit my Australian school system raves to one day a week.  I'm sorry.  You know I love it here.  But there is no reason to keep hitting you over the head with it!

Fridays.  School Assembly.   Weekly rewards and reminders.  And so here comes the first installment.

Ms Egan addresses the students.

1.  Two of the sports captains were commended for GIVING THEIR OWN SUNHATS to two students who otherwise wouldn't have been allowed to play outside during break period.  It has been HOT here.  Tuesday hit over 35C again (over 100 Ffor you Americans!).  And, while it is not a DRY heat or a MOIST Florida heat, it is a RELENTLESS, sun-scorches-you-the-minute-you-step-outside kind of heat.  Students are not allowed to play outside without sun protection.   These two young men, when they ran out of the school-supplied spare hats that they were distributing with sports equipment from the sports shed, didn't think twice about GIVING THE HATS OFF THEIR HEADS to two other students in need.  The generosity of Australians never ceases to amaze me.  It is one thing to give a spare.  It is quite another to give YOUR OWN.  Shades of St Martin giving his cloak to the beggar.  Aussie-style.

2.  Was it Melinda or Ms Egan, our principal, who asked the students what they should do when they see another student by themselves at lunch time or break?  I can't remember because I was busy flashing back to the bullying and take-care-of-yourself attitude of our German schoolyard.
"They need to learn to take care of themselves."  Or, the classic from Ryan's 2nd grade teacher:
"I don't expect the children to allow everyone into their games.  They are allowed to exclude others.  Because that is life and they need to learn to deal with it.  We don't all get alone with eachother as adults so I don't think we should expect the children to either."

Uh.  Heads up.  Aussie adults seem to get on quite well, thank you very much.   Maybe because, since they were small, they have been taught that if you see someone else alone and lonely you should ask them to join you.  "Imagine how you would feel." said Ms Egan. 

Which is why you see kids from ages 5 to 13 playing together in the courtyard.

And which maybe, just maybe, is also the reason those two boys didn't think twice about giving their hats to someone else in need.

3.  We ended with Prep D - Aidan and Matthew's class- singing a little song they'd rehearsed.  "Friendliness is the cure for loneliness."  I honestly couldn't love this country - or this school - more.

"Friendliness is the Cure for Loneliness".  Sung by the Preppies.

On a side note, Aidan did get his first Student Achievement award this week.  I have to point out that he received it - for participating eagerly in all group and small group activities and behaving with respect and courtesy at all time - the week that Matthew was out sick for two days.  (Fever.  He's fine now.)  Does make you think about the advantages of separate classrooms for them.  Because the one seems to shine when the other isn't there. 

Aidan.  So proud.

And another of Andrew's essays was posted in the weekly newsletter.  Let's face it: the guy knows how to get recognized.  Some might call him a 'suck-up'.  As his mother, I have to call it 'knowing his audience.'  This is what he wrote. 

School is very, very fun.  Not only recess but everything that is going on.  Koalas running across the lawn...exciting and totally cute!  LOTE (Language Other Than English - which is Chinese or German depending on the day!) is good, PE is fun and reading is the best of all.

My teacher is the best and works at the best school ever!

Boy does that kid know how to get invited to the monthly Principal's Tea!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why multiculturalism WON'T work in Germany

(This was written over a week ago before the shooting of American military personnel at the Frankfurt airport by a young Kosavan Muslim this week.  NOTHING condones that young man's actions.  Life is hard.  The emotions of youth are messy.  That doesn't give anyone the right to go out and take the lives of others.)

A street performer in Tuebingen, an old (think Middle Ages) university town in Germany.
We DO have some free spirits.  I admire their strength in being different in a culture that doesn't value being different.
When I heard on the news that both England and Germany had officially declared multiculturalism a failure last week, I had to laugh.

My mother could have told you this thirty-five years ago.

It's not so much that Germans are more racist than anyone else in the world.  Really.  It's not that they mind you being a different color or religion or nationality so much as they mind ANYONE being different at all. 

It's really nothing personal.   But yes, there is something wrong with you if you don't act exactly as we expect you to. 

Watching the performance on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Thirty-five years ago we asked Turkish men to come over and take over the garbage collection, the street cleaning, the potato picking and any of the other jobs we Germans didn't really want to do.  (The jobs that we ask Mexican immigrants to do in America.) 

We thought this was pretty broad-minded of us, letting darker skinned Eastern Europeans, Muslims even, into our beautiful country.  See how liberal we are?

The problem was you men began to expect things from us, things like bringing your wives and children over too, building mosques and opening kabob stands.  And now, two generations later you own hair salons and newspaper delivery services and your children sit next to ours at school.

This would all be a lot less disturbing if you would try to look and act more like us.

We don't mind the kabob stands so much.  But would you mind switching over to Schnitzel and Bier, please.  Because we really don't know what to make of the smells coming out of YOUR homes.  (Would be delicious if they just weren't so FOREIGN!)

Couldn't resist this quick shot.  Germans as relaxed and casual as I've ever seen them!

I'm tongue in cheek here - because it's easy and its fun - but I have the experience of bringing a WHITE AMERICAN into Germany, of going through the paperwork of getting Damon a work visa so that he can work in a country I and my children are citizens of.  We were greeted - well, GREETED is definitely the wrong word - with such disdain at the audacity of such a request.  You want to WORK HERE?  LIVE HERE?  Because I truly believe the Germans felts we were taking away THEIR jobs.  Like we were taking from their slice of the pie.

I cannot even imagine the treatment we would have gotten if we were darker.  If a German citizen cannot bring her white husband into the country without criticism and disdain, how is multiculturalism ever going to work?

Again, it's nothing personal.  It's not that we don't want YOU.  We just don't want ANYONE different.  We have our ways.  They work just fine.  We don't WANT to think outside the box and we certainly don't want to hear about areas we might be able to improve upon.

We are the way we are.  And that's just the way it is.  (So ist es in Deutschland.)

America has asked for 'your tired and poor.'  (Although there's been some debate on that in recent decades!)

Germany would like anyone who looks and acts exactly like the rest of us.

Or at least knows their place when they don't.
Audience participation is always a doozy.  Get the 8 year old to throw fire.