Friday, January 27, 2012

Migrant Whinge

Today, Thursday, January 26, is Australia Day.

Australia Day 2011, since this year was canceled due to flooding

Our local radio station is listening to stories of people who have migrated here,  "New Aussies,"  and reminding us that most of our ancestors have only been here for a blink of an eye as well. 

(Many Aborigines call this day "Invasion Day" since it celebrates James Cook's arrival at Sydney Cove in 1788, and the beginning of colonialisation, not the official birth of Australia as a federation on January 1, 1901  Lookie there - even a new Aussie can learn!)

In any case, we are listening, this morning, to stories of how other Australians got to be Australians.

Like America, there are many tales.

Ian with his Aunt Merle
Debbie's ancestor really DID steal a loaf of bread.

Karina's ancestor jumped ship within sight of shore.

Damon's great-great-great-great uncle McPherson came over from Scotland to keep watch over Debbie's and Carina's ancestors.

Damon and Uncle Don contemplate the enormity of their task

Uncle's parents shuffled him from place to place in the 30s and 40s because his father was white and his mother indigenous and they had to stay one step ahead of the people who wanted to take their children away and reeducate them to 'fit into' modern Australian society.  As a servant.

Mick's mate came over a few years ago from Eritrea, where he was sentenced to death for his religious beliefs. 

Aidan taking matters into his own hands
Leading Damon to break into the greatest migrant whinge of all times.  (Doing a really good impersonation of me at my worst this week.)

"Oh.  Oh.  Oh.  Please don't make me go back to GERMANY!

It's COLD there. 

And it SNOWS!

The state-sponsored schools really really suck.

Although the roads are good.  And everything is neat and tidy.

What do you mean I have to fly to NEW ZEALAND?!

But the airplane seats are really really tight and the movies suck.

AND you have to pay for snacks.

What if the aircon doesn't work?"


And applause.

Liberal Party, Connor-Style

Although I am trying to stay out of the two-ring circus that is the American election, I have to thank Ryan for assuring that Matthew never has a chance of any role in politics at all.

Another example of what happens when you leave the kids alone for too long with a camera.

A HORSE, OF COURSE!  (But apparently a horse in drag!)

You DON'T think this shot will win over Texas?

What about this one then?!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How Many Men?

It's been interesting having Damon home this week, the week school begins.

King's Beach, Caloundra, January 9
Interesting because Damon has now learned WHY the 8 PM bedtime is nonnegotiable and WHY all three boys shouldn't sleep in the same bed. 

Interesting because he now sees WHY I snap up the half-price school shorts and sweatshirts when they go on sale months before we need them.

It's also been a lot of fun watching him send the boys to do errands.  Like yesterday when it took all three of them to go down and hunt for the screwdriver.  Which not one of them found.

Or when he expected them to know where to find their own school clothes.  As they were standing on them.
Wet N Wild, Gold Coast, January
Honestly, sometimes you just give up and get Ryan to help out instead.

Leading me to come up with a lightbulb joke I know I am probably not the first woman to think of.

"How many man does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"

"Only one.  But you need a woman to find it for him."

Ian.  Yesterday.
I'd better go and find out where he's misplaced the baby!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Australia Day 2012 (With Photos From Mapleton Visit in January)

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED HERE ARE VERY LIBERAL - AND PRETTY CHEEKY FOR SOMEONE THEY HAVEN'T EVEN OFFICIALLY LET IN YET!  THEY ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF ANYONE ELSE IN THESE PHOTOS EXCEPT FOR ME.  I just wanted to get in some shots of Aunt Merle and Uncle Don and Sol and our visit to Damon's family in Mapleton so that his family in the USA could see them and forward them on to Nana and Granddad.

I'm a little ashamed.  Not of the pictures of my son in drag that I am going to post tomorrow, but of the frivolous nature of most of my recent posts in general. 

Happy with Merle and Don in Mapleton.
You see, I love it here.  And I am trying to amuse you.  Not proselytize (and not only because I can't spell it!) and certainly not be a drag.

I want you all to like me. 

And so I plan to write about learning to serve that cuppa properly and how to bake scones and meat pies.

Because I want to be like you.  Because I love it here.

Aunt Merle and Uncle Don
And then, in the days before Australia Day, I hear that I may have to leave the country.  That there are no exceptions to the rules and that not having the cash to leave and return - a condition for a 309 visa being that you have to be out of the country to receive it - does not qualify as a hardship.

I cry because I realise that I don't have a right to celebrate Australia Day. 

Because I find I've been kidding myself.

It is a privilege to be here, one I might not be entitled to.

It breaks my heart, not only for me but for the four children I have promised can be Aussies and stay here forever.

The boys with cousin Sol
My husband talks to the consulate in Berlin, he calls Sydney, we go to Brisbane.  And everyone is friendly and wants to help but doesn't know what to do.  Then I go online and find a website, one that directs me to a set of rules that might just get us out of this, a set of rules that SHOULD allow us to get permanent visas without having to fork over thousands of dollars for a forced flight to New Zealand.  We SHOULD be able to qualify for a 100 permanent spousal visa.

And, again, I am reminded of how lucky I am.  (Although, in the end, I will be flying to NZ for two days in March with five children, we will get those permanent visas after all.)

I am a migrant, but I am not a refuge. 

I am desperate to call Australia home and to give my children the privilege of being citizens of the luckiest country in the world.

Uncle Don letting the boys take a breather on the trail!

But not as desperate as those who risk their lives, and their children's lives on it.

Not as desperate as those whose lives would be put in danger just by returning to their former countries.

Really puts those rainy German summers in perspective, doesn't it?

On Australia Day, be proud.  Be proud because you are part of the greatest country in the world.  But be proud too that it IS a nation of migrants, a nation still struggling with the aftereffects of colonialisation on its indigenous people, a nation born of many nations, European, Asian, African, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist. 

Sol, ever the gentleman, escorting Ryan and Aunt Merle

On Australia Day, be aware of how lucky you are if you have been born here.  And realise that all most migrants want is to have the privilege to be like you. 

The first people to Australia came on boats tens of thousands of years ago. 

A second, invading, wave, came on boats a mere two hundred odd years ago.

And more arrive today.
Our tickets to stay!

Let Australia as a nation be strong enough to accept our diverse histories to build a common future.

Let us recognise that who we are, as a people and as a nation, lies not in where we come from but in where we go from here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When It Rains...

"i was at the beach, i was at the beach, oh ho ho. now we ALL want to move to australia."

And who can blame you?!
It rains here sometimes too, Claire.  (And no, you haven't been the first to complain.  Lori was already reminding me to be gentle over a year ago!)

What we don't have are those grey, dark days where it's not really raining but just cold and miserable.  The days where the school insists on sending the kids out onto the ashpalt for recess so that they can huddle in the misty drizzle.  Because it's good for them, mind you - all that fresh air - and, I suspect, having been raised by a German father myself, because it teaches them that life is tough and you just have to endure it. 

First Day of School.  Before the downpour began.
I also strongly suspect it has something to do with lack of staff and needing to herd the kids together for a few minutes so that the teachers can take a coffee break.

And we don't have those days for four seasons end to end either.

The sun shines, 39C (102F) in the shade.

King's Beach, Caloundra.  Beginning of January.
And two weeks later it pours.

And pours and pours.

We are talking about a downpour of 270mm in 24 hours at Caloundra, on the Sunshine Coast, in the last 24 hours.    (No, I have no idea what all these mms are really about either, but a typical really rainy thunderstormy day seems to drop about 4 mm.  So 270 is A LOT!)

We are talking about unremitting rainfall the entire week.

We are talking floods of Old Testament proportions.

Both main roads out of our neighbourhood are flooded and closed.  (Although we managed to bring the kids to school this morning so all is not lost.)

They've called off the Australia Day celebrations tomorrow and the pool is almost flooded.

There ARE sadder things than an unused pool.
The pool is almost flooded.  That's like complaining that your child is underchallenged in school.

Cmon.  Let's think of some REAL problems here.

Because, honestly Claire, I still can't complain.

Aussie girl.
I belong here like I have belonged nowhere else.  A country of extremes, of highs and lows, of flood and drought.  There's no middling greyness - there is sun and there is rain.  If ever a country were to be called bipolar, Australia would be it.

And, true to my underlying competitive German nature, I can also say, that although we whip your ass in beach and sunshine, when it comes to rain, we certainly give you a run for your money there too!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Some Thoughts on Boobies (With NO pictures of Boobies, Promise!)

Am I the only nursing mother in the world whose milk actually dries up when she hears her baby cry?

I remember going to English Group in Boeblingen with the twins during that first year.  You girls remember, the year AFTER the twins when EVERYONE in the group had a baby.

July 2006,  Making it look easy!

One baby would cry and everyone would groan as their milk letdown.

Me?  I could feed an army after 8PM when the baby has gone to sleep and I'm sitting downstairs relaxing with a cuppa - or something else I SHOULDN'T REALLY be having, like the leftover Margaritas from Christmas.  Feet up, legs curled up under me on the sofa... and a good book.  That's what works for me.

Some other interesting notes on boobies I have rediscovered over the past four (has it really been FOUR?) months

1.  Men really don't look further down past the boobies to your ass if your boobs are big enough.  Yay boobies.  Great camouflage for post-partum fat-ass.  (Although I still don't know why I get this since I have been reassured by many pregnancy books that I don't actually carry the babies in my rear end!)

2.  If your husband has told you he WASN'T really a boob man anyway, because you were a size A after two years in the Peace Corps, you will never actually know the truth until you turn into a DD after breastfeeding twins.  "Boobies."  No dear.  Those AREN'T for you.  Remember, you aren't really a boob man anyway, right?!  And the time to show an interest is NOT at the end of the day when another man (or two) has been attached to them for the majority of the day.  To be sure, it's a bittersweet breast enhancement all-around.  After nursing five children, they aren't the boobies he fell in love with all those years ago anyway. 

August 2006 at Europa Park.  Yup, that's two at once under there!

(A corollary here, for those of you worrying that you are too fat.  When I came back from two years in the Peace Corps in Haiti, so proud of myself that I was FINALLY a size 6, and around 130 pounds/60 kgs, none of my male friends who hadn't seen me in two years were all that impressed with the weight loss.  I'll never forget the disappointment on Dan's face when I met him at the bar in Stamford.  "But, but, but, where are the boobies?"  Spoken a BIT more discretely.  Note: you aren't as fat as you think you are.  And noone else wants to see you as skinny as you want to see yourself!)

3.  Men stop looking at your face and focus on your boobs when they are babes at the breast.  HELLO IAN!  Mommy's face it UP HERE!  North of the where the milk comes from. 

Ian, January 2012.  Working out the logistics.

On the other hand.  Not everyone IS looking at your boobs as much as you think they are.  News alert Christine:  you are not as central to everyone else's lives as you think you are!  I have managed to walk through Horseland, buying Ryan's Christmas presents, with one boob entirely exposed before the sales lady at the counter discretely pointed out to me that I MIGHT like to close up my nursing bra BEFORE heading out into the real world again!

This explains the numerous ladies I have spotted at the shops with their boobs hanging out trying to make it through Woolies before the baby wakes up. 

And kudos to Lawnton's LOTE (Language Other Than English, in this case German and Mandarin) teacher, MALE LOTE teacher, who actually WAS speaking to my face a few months ago when I noticed that my front was undone.

Nothing sexier than a man who actually IS focusing on what you are saying!  (I was trying to rope him into a Lawnton School Writers' Group I have floating around in my mind.) 

It's a short time though, the time when your world revolves around your boobs as food source.

January 2012,  Movie World, Gold Coast, Australia

After all, a mother DOES have other roles.

There's the cleaning, the shopping and the prepping for school.  (Which starts tomorrow, YAY school!)

So that rather than focusing on the boobs, I've decided to nickname Ian and myself after ANOTHER role vital during that first year of infancy - carrying.

On the days that I don't feel like a permanent food dispenser, I feel like the robotic sidekick that MegaMind has designed to carry his pet fish around. 

Minion and Dad at Dicky Beach, Caloundra, Australia

Minion.  That's us.  With Ian propped up in front of me, face out, commanding me with flailing arms and shrieks of joy to show him the world he can't quite reach on his own yet.  (Although he's trying.  Giving Andrew a run for his money on first to crawl.  ALMOST has it, working eerily methodically on mastering the coordination required.)

At least carrying him around like that covers the booby I've probably forgotten to tuck away again!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Speaking of Reincarnation

The other debate at our house is whether the punishment is being reincarnated as a big, old, hairy, smelly man.
Aw!  But they start off so cute and cuddly!
Or being the woman who has to put up with living with a big, old, hairy, smelly man.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wolfy? Is that you?!

We've got this reincarnation theme going on at the moment in our house, ever since Ian was born and we knew he had done this before.

Then Ryan realised Ian had the same hair colour as Wolfy, our old dog and.....

Wolfy wondering what he's done to deserve this!

Now it's between Wolfy having found a way to be allowed up onto the couch and a little old Asian man in saffron robes from Tibet wondering what the heck he did to end up as a funny looking white boy in Australia.


Monday, January 2, 2012

12 years Later - A Day at SeaWorld Australia

Stars at SeaWorld.

If you'd have told me twelve years ago in the birthing suite of Stamford Hospital in Connecticut that I would be spending the day at SeaWorld on the Gold Coast in Australia with Damon, our newborn daughter, Ryan, and her four younger brothers - including a set of twins -  twelve years later I honestly wouldn't have cared.

Okay, I might have been a bit psyched about the whole twin thing in the future, but for the most part I wouldn't have believed that life got any better than it was at the moment my daughter was born.  (For the record, I was content when Andrew was born, elated with the twins, and frankly, just a bit pissed off and suffering from loss of blood when Ian arrived on the fast train recently.)

Peaceful moment at the shark tank.
If you'd have told me about the intervening ten years in France and Germany - well, I don't think that is something we need to talk about.  People ask me often how I did it.  Folks, I had NO idea what I was getting myself into...ignorance is bliss and all that jazz.

But I did it.  I got through the big, fat, hairy, ugly mess...climbed the mountain...met some really cool people in the crossing....and found the beach on the other side.  Literally, in my case.

I'm not saying that life is going to be all smooth sailing from here on in but, let me get away from the pithy sayings and give you the rundown of our day at SeaWorld as an example.

Birthday girl in the audience.
The bakery was closed for the holidays. (Aussies felt ripped off that New Year's occured on a Sunday and so wrote themselves an extra day onto the books on Tuesday.  Same for Christmas.  We work hard, but let's not get too crazy and work as often as the Americans have to!  After all, where has that gotten them?!)

So we had the brownies I had baked the night before for breakfast.  No worries.

A few minutes later, on M1 South from Brisbane to the Gold Coast, Matthew informed us from the back seat of the car that he had to vomit.  Maybe the brownies hadn't been such a good idea.  We pulled off onto the emergency break, had a breather, and relocated him to the middle seat next to the baby - Ryan's usual spot - with the air on full blast and a plastic bag in his lap.

Thumbs up from Matthew.  Good to go.
Half an hour later - almost to Sea World - he vomited profusely into the bag.  Twice.  I reached from the front seat of the car, handed him a napkin and a bottle of water, tied up the bag and placed it into a second scented disposable nappy bag.  While Damon kept driving.

We recollected fondly the chocolate cake vomiting incident on the highway from Stuttgart to Belgium on Andrew's second birthday.

And made it to SeaWorld in time to take in the first dolphin show.

Ryan meets Nicki and Nala.
Matthew rallied bravely, surviving on donuts, churros, coke, a snowcone and a bite of Dagwood Dog for the rest of the day.  As well as a rather nasty tumble outside the Ray Exhibit, where a nice lady from Sydney whipped out her emergency kit and gave us two band-aids to staunch the bleeding on his side and elbow.  (I have not yet mastered the knack of bringing an emergency kit, and not yet had the need, since someone else nearby has usually mastered it for me!)

Aidan confidently had popcorn for lunch while the others had their snowcones.  And also rallied from his decision to watch the Sponge Bob 3-D movie a second time while Andrew and Damon went to the pirate ship to join in the water gun battles.  He was a bit disappointed to learn, upon coming out of the theatre, that you really can't be in two places at one time, even at the very rapid and energetic age of five, but managed to forget about it fairly quickly racing up and down the penguin exhibit, torn between watching them underwater on the bottom level and seeing the baby penguin sleeping on his mother's (father's?) feet on the upper one.

A butt, but a cute butt.
Maybe if all those other people hadn't been in the way he COULD have picked up enough speed to be in both places at once.

"Nice rallies on everyone's part." I told the boys on the way to the car later.

"I didn't rally." answered Andrew.  Rather truculently, I might add.

"No.  But you didn't even have to.  Better yet, mate." 

We like this one!

If you'd have told ANYONE who knew Andrew as a baby in France that you could go a whole day - let alone an hour - without hearing him scream - they wouldn't have believed it. 

And the birthday girl.  Doesn't the photo say it all?  (We are looking into geting copies for the family from - just in case you can do it yourselves!)

We sat in the front row - almost missed having her picked by having the announcer note the baby and tell us they couldn't allow a baby into the show - and then waved and screamed loud enough to catch his attention a second time and tell him it was her birthday.

The three kids picked were from America (originally from America she said) South Africa and England.  Which we thought was kinda funny! Since Australians are even more uncomfortable with 'Ryan' as a girl's name than the  Germans were  - the announcer passed right over it after he asked - she has to explain herself.  As well as that funny accent.  We might be able to pull it off as a Brisbane accent farther afield from here - like in Darwin or Perth - but were too close to home to pull it off this time around!
Any Aussies in the audience?!  (Hey, it IS a nation of immigrants!)

Ryan spent the rest of the day being recognized as the girl who was in the dolphin show.  And, as it turned out when we went to pick up the photo at the end of the day, having her picture hanging, framed, in the photo shop out front!

Her favourite animals are the rays, gliding through the water with quiet elegance, giving off an impression of hidden, ancient wisdom and serenity.

(Shame about the whole Steve Irwin thing really.)

Ryan's favourite place to be, the Ray Tank.

Lower my expectations?  Turns out I don't have to.  My daughter - she of the Third Grade Math series - has exceeded them in every way.  Having set them high to begin with makes it even better.

And the day at SeaWorld?  I've got the vomit-in-the-car and the blood-on-the-pavement as well as the surviving-all-day-on-sugary-snacks (because the alternative is a $70.00 greasy burger and fries carbo meal) thing down pat. 

So that I am able to enjoy the sight of my daughter gently waving her hands in the water as the rays glide by.

Opening presents the night before.  Good thing too, because Meka sent the purple shirt she wore for the day from the USA!

And make it a perfect day, after all.

Sage Advice Revised

I will never forget the advice my Peace Corps liason gave me back in Haiti.

"Lower your expectations." she told me.

My first and my last.
Never ever ever EVER forget it because it was the worst advice I'd ever ever EVER heard. 

Although well meant and, in retrospect, rather suited to life working in government.

I prefer the poster hanging in the Reflection Room at Lawnton State School.

"A goal is a dream with a deadline."

(Have I mentioned how much I love this school?!)

Traveling light!  (And yes, I am missing one!)
The thing is that my expectations are what drive me to achieve.  I accomplish more -make those dreams into a reality - because I do expect more.

The fact that they are so high are also what make me feel like I can never accomplish enough, though and I like to think that this is what my Peace Corps liason was refering too. 

So that the best advice so far is printed on a little placard (still packed up in a box somewhere behind the bar) given to me by my mother.  Although I don't have to make this up, it fits nicely into the story, don't you think?!


Andrew's camera.  (Plight of the dolphin or the beauty of it?)
Make peace with imperfection.

I think we should stop and meditate on it.


Hourly on days that need it.

What it means is that I don't have to clean the entire house before I sit down to write, the way I used to be able to clean my entire apartment before sitting to study for an exam in vet school.  Cathartic, yes.  Necessary?  Not if I ever want to get anything else done but clean the house.

What it means is that I have gone from needing to clean the entire house to being able to just focus on a room or two at a time.  Which has, since the arrival of more and more kids, developed into just making sure the kitchen and bathroom meet basic standards of hygiene.  And lately, just that the sink and toilet get done. 

What it means is focusing on what's really important to me despite the clutter that is life.

January 1, 2012
Accepting that the clutter will always be there, in my mind as well as in my life.

And moving beyond it. 

It doesn't mean not trying to end world hunger, but not letting it get you down when yet another natural disaster claims more innocent lives.

And, most likely because Aussies tend to like you for who you are instead of judge you for who you are not, it means you don't have to have the perfect household, car, job or children, to like yourself.

Perfection at the Peace Pagoda in South Bank
C'mon.  I know you aren't supposed to care what other people think of you, but how good can you feel about yourself if your German neighbours don't feel comfortable coming into your home unless the dishes are done?

The nice thing is that this advice also allows you to forgive them for it and move on.

To forgive yourself for what you haven't done and focus on what you have.

If life really is, as I have said, in the big, fat, hairy painful struggle  (or as Miley Cyrus has stated a bit more eloquently, it's the climb) I like that my high expectations can still be there, without bogging me down in the business of getting on with it.

Reality at same said pagoda!
Make peace with imperfection.

And discover that life really is just fine the way it is.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Without Snow: Summer Holiday Photos Continued

One of my favourite TV commercials here has university students from the University of the Sunshine Coast at a rally in support of those less fortunate than themselves. 

The leader of the rally urgently describes the plight of those poor university students in the cities.

"They only have a beach that is a few hundred meters long." he explains to oohs of disbelief.

"Yes.  That's really small."  he continues, shaking his head sadly.

Pause for the punch line.

"And it doesn't even have any waves."

You gotta love a country that knows how good they have it.

So, once again, do we miss the snow?

Feel sorry for us all you like!  Our lagoon in Brisbane doesn't have any waves!

Won't they be surprised once I AM walking!

Well Aidan, we just won't tell anyone Mommy is drinking a Margarita while breastfeeding!  (December 22, South Bank, Brisbane)

Wrestling Daddy at the lagoon in South Bank, already rebuilt from last January's flood.
Matthew at South Bank lagoon.

Ian and Daddy at South Bank.
Ian greets the local sea urchins, Aidan and Ryan.

Christmas morning.
Looks like Santa knows where Australia is after all.

What?!  No turkey for Christmas?!
And all Ian got for Christmas was this palm frond that fell into the pool.

Zianda, Chris and Ollie came to wish Ian a Merry First Christmas.
Ice cream!  Ice cream!  (Days after Christmas.)

Um, no, not missing the snow!
Would you mess with THIS mob?!  (Sea World, Gold Coast, for Dad's birthday on December 29)

Can't do this in the snow!
Sea lion show.
Ian.  Because I couldn't very well end with a sea lion now could I?!
2011 is over.  It was one of the most turbulent years in Queensland recorded history: flooding, cyclones, earthquakes in Christ Church and Japan, record high rainfall and record low temperatures.  The latter two which affected us not at all since the worst lows here still made it warm and sunny in comparison to Europe. 

2011 is also the year Ian was born and the year we began our lives as Aussies.

It feels right that we should have been here for the floods, to share in the tragedy and the rebuilding, the sense of community and good will, the knowledge that although we do live in a country of violent extremes, it is still the lucky country.

Even without snow for Christmas!