Humans, Beware

I scheduled the arrival of my 8-hour redeye to coincide with both the immediate departure of my co-parent AND the first day of my kids’ two-week school vacation. Grump threat warning level: GREYISH-GREEN, as are the “whites” of my eyes right now. I’m so tired I could puke.

I took them from the airport to the good museum, I did the 2-hour drive home, I wrapped up some work trivia, and then I fed them watercress, and I must have been looking pretty fucking mean because they ate it right up.

So concludes my ‘how to parent simply yet effectively’ online toolkit.

Oh, also don’t underestimate the value of good-smelling soap in getting kids to wash their hands.

That’s it, really.

Joy

For our upcoming vacation, only 3/4 of my family is available. Unfortunately, the one who’s really talented with luggage is staying behind to work. My plan is to:

  • fly internationally with two small children at a children-to-adult ratio of 2:1
  • pick up a rental car, drive five hours
  • arrive in a town where I don’t speak the language, don’t have any friends or relatives, and have only a loose sense of regulations related to parking.

Here’s why it’s going to be just fine:

  • it’s FRANCE!
  • we’ve been there before, not just to the country, or the town, but to the same stone cottage.
  • we get to see Neo.

Neo is a dog. He lives at the farm next door to the cottage, and he is wonderful. Sweet, joyful Neo, who streaks across the field toward us when he sees the kids coming up the road, and who brakes hard right before he gets to them and walks up, wagging. He’s a licker but not a barker, he’s soft and fast and snuggly, and after a round of playing, when we’re all lying on the grass in a pile together, he looks at me, wiggles a little closer, and sighs. Neo is a good dog.

There will also be strawberries, great wine, fresh oysters at the farmer’s market, pâté and more pâté. If history serves, I will be able to acquire them with only minimal damage to my dignity (my French is the linguistic equivalent of the novice violinist: eager, shows some promise, and sounds really terrible.)

Is the trip worth it? Of course not. Climate change is happening, and frivolous travel – especially via plane – is inexcusable. Even if the tickets didn’t cost much, and the rental car is the smallest available, it’s still an egregious use of resources. If I were applying for an excuse approval, though, I would say that Max – thanks to his genetic condition – is not only not going to live all that long but is also non procreative, thus sparing the world generations of resource use! Max can’t travel by himself, and needs his care team with him at all times. He has had difficult, painful times too often in his 6 years, and the pleasure that he gets from playing in the sun with Neo is

the

point

of life.

We’re talking about the idea of God a lot lately, about how to be a critical thinker and about the pitfalls and benefits of organized religion*, and when we talked about the idea of God being everywhere, and the idea of a feeling of God, playing with Neo was one of the examples.

And this is the part where I make a crack about finding God in pâté. I’ll try!

*I’m a super fun Mom, have I mentioned? Here, have a peanut butter sandwich! On wholegrain rye bread with a truly miserly amount of honey.

WE DID IT!

This is going to sound like bragging because it is bragging. It’s also an elaborate apology/excuse for using a ton of disposable partyware.

Max had a heart episode again on Wednesday, but we still managed to:

  • throw Frida an epic birthday party on Friday afternoon, complete with both salmon-and-cress and hot dog canapé, chocolate fondue, and German children who eat a few mouthfuls of each and then walk away from the table sated, leaving me with 30 crustless sandwiches and about a kilo of chocolate ganache,
  • send Tobias on a long-planned ski weekend with his brother. He left on Friday night and came back Sunday, tired and happy.
  • go swimming and bouldering and out for Indian food with the kids over the weekend,
  • finish the leftover salmon sandwiches and make a good dent in the leftover chocolate fondue.

We also consulted with Max’s cardiologist to change his medicine to something that might do a better job of preventing the tachycardia episodes, and we are very happy that doubling the dose of his beta-blocker doesn’t seem to prevent him from having fun climbing walls and kicking around in the swimming pool.

German birthday party: When kids ask for normal water they mean sparkling. I was chastised by three different kids for not having a trash receptacle on the table (what do we do with our strawberry stems?) 12 kids + 12 fondue forks = 0 disasters. Whew. I tried to convince them to dip a pretzel in the chocolate (not pictured) and failed. Your loss, kids!

There’s so much to cringe about in this picture: paper plates and paper cups and single-use everything, plus out-of-season strawberries plus bananas. Really, though, it’s a picture of two kids I love having a wonderful time. Disposable party supplies are crap except that they really remind you to live in the now!

I feel so proud of my family for pulling it together and focusing on the things we CAN do instead of the things we can’t, and when/if I fold some of the week’s laundry I am going to feel absolutely triumphant.

Let’s Lighten Things Up

Here’s a post without swearing! You’re welcome!

When Tobias and I moved to Tegernheim, it was bang in the middle of the harvest season and we didn’t have a kitchen (our full-service movers cancelled days before the move. We will forever be grateful to the last-minute replacement moving company but, like an emergency C-section after 24 hours of labor, recovery from their slapdash services took about six weeks longer than planned.)

So, there we were without a kitchen but surrounded by late summer’s finest produce. We went to the berry farm and picked to our heart’s content. We went to the farmer’s market and ate a feast of tomatoes and cheese on the walk home. We went to the pick-it-yourself produce patch and thought, well, those zucchini sure look good and weren’t we planning to buy a grill anyway? We’ll just do it on the way home! And then we turned around and saw…

…artichokes. Bushes full of them.

Tobias and I met randomly at an airport baggage carousel and knew each other for about six months before we started getting serious about trying to start a family. We met in 2009, moved in together in 2010 and started IVF, got pregnant in 2011, had one kid in 2012 and another in 2013, moved to Italy in 2014; the milestones flew by amid parental loss and stints in the children’s hospital and new countries and new languages – it was hard to tell who we were as people amid all the newness and the stress. Imagine my relief, then, when, after a minute’s search for a bag big enough for all of the artichokes I planned to cut, I walked toward the artichoke patch – lack of kitchen be damned – and saw Tobias coming toward me, arms full of a family’s worth of freshly-cut artichokes.

We, Tobias and I, are a people confident in our logistical skill, able to change plans when we see an opportunity, ready to celebrate the goodness of the moment, ready to cook 8 artichokes on the grill and then go downstairs to the laundry sink to clean the dinner dishes.

A dishwasher’s a lot more fun if you haven’t had one for a while, and when I compare the best times in my life to the list of ‘wants’ in my head, they don’t add up. I don’t want a kitchen, really, I just want to cook delicious food for my family. I don’t want a nice house, I want to be safe and warm and comfortable. I don’t want the perfect husband, I want one who will make a couple of silly decisions and then have fun living, really living, with the consequences. Hurrah for artichokes! Hurrah for flexibility! Hurrah for kids who are happy to eat on the floor. 

Welcome to the ‘Burbs!

I think I can say ‘we’ve moved’ even though the number of moving boxes in our living room would suggest that we are still in the process of moving. On one hand, there are rolled-up rugs in the entryway with four weeks’ worth of shoes piled on top of them. On the other hand, our kids are already sounding Bavarian. We definitely live here. (Tegernheim, Germany, landkreis Regensburg.)

Did you know that I am someone who will use a Skil saw inside her own house*? The house that I am responsible for cleaning? That I will do this even though we only have one vacuum cleaner bag left? Yes, it’s true. What I will not do is fire up the Skil saw outside, in the rain, at 6:30 on a weekend morning with 30 neighbors within easy hearing distance. This is the sort of dilemma that comes up all the time in parenting: do you do A, or B, when B is unacceptable but A is a pain in the ass and will leave you feeling unrewarded for your sacrifice? You do A. This is why parenting is tedious. I scrambled 6 eggs for breakfast but then the kids revolted ad refused to eat any. Do I:

  • A – eat 6 scrambled eggs, or
  • B – throw away perfectly good food

I’m not doing B, so now I’m uncomfortably full and I didn’t have room for any delicious toast and by the time I finally finished all those eggs they were cold and gross and my kids are selfish little rat finks who would not do the same kindness for me that I have done for them. Ugh. And at no point ever is anyone (except maybe you) going to (comments are open) praise me for my selfless (feel free to comment below) act.

This sort of thing always makes me think of my parents, who spent years finishing my cold eggs. They are amazing people – teachers, farmers, big-picture thinkers. They do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I also think of my sister, a wonderfully thoughtful woman who works actively every day to make her community and the world a better place, and who once told me to crunch up an Oreo into my chewing gum so that I could blow bigger bubbles. Liar. I, meanwhile, spent a childhood fighting about whose turn it was to sit in the front seat and when my sister’s saintly/smug patience made me feel bad about being such a whiner, I would scratch her in the face. I was awful. I also think about my brother, who is incredibly generous, loving, and hardworking as an adult and who, as a child, routinely cried, crossed his little arms over his little chest, and refused to eat when his sandwich fell apart. What a little shit!

I don’t know exactly what the childhood predictors are for being good people as adults, but I’m hoping that my kiddos’ occasional egg avoidance doesn’t translate into de-regulation-of-emmisions-during-climate-crisis/tax evasion/close-the-borders-behind-me levels of selfishness as grown-ups. I’m hopeful they will be caring, kind people like my brother and sister and me; I’m hoping they will grow up to be egg-eaters, too.

Love to all from the south German suburbs. Come visit.

*in case you haven’t, and to be clear I encourage you not to, the problem is sawdust EVERYWHERE. In the toothbrushes. Everywhere.

(If you think that you’re especially clever and have devised an option C that involves putting scrambled eggs in the fridge, I will say goodbye for now and will see you in a week back at option B.)

Overconfident, sure, but her heart’s in the right place.

When I slipped on the hiking path, seven hours into a seven-and-a-half-hour hike, I went sliding downhill towards Frida, who’d stumbled on the same section and who was fifteen feet in front of me on the steep path. She’s 26 kilos now; I’m three times that plus a huge backpack. I thought that I was going to send her tumbling down the mountain as I barreled into her, and, as I was starting to fall, I tried to figure out how to get her out of my way. She, meanwhile, heard me thrash, whipped around on the path, and, before I regained my footing, she was running uphill towards me, arms outstretched, ready to catch me.

Oh, Frida, I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to see what you turn into when you’re big.

 

I’m the Enemy

Shit, this feminism stuff is hard.

Things we know:

  • women are paid way less than men for the same work
  • that’s not right
  • we should fix it

Things that are surprising:

  • putting a male name on a CV elicits a very different response than putting a female name on a CV
  • the norm in Germany is to put not just a name on the CV BUT A PICTURE AS WELL
  • women who have children see their immediate earnings, opportunities for advancement, and therefor long-term earnings, drop; men who have children see theirs rise

Something both shocking and embarrassing:

  • when assigning work to contractors this week, I did not offer a project to a person because she recently gave birth. I assumed that she would be busy, maybe overwhelmed, that the work would make her feel guilty, that maybe just receiving an email would interrupt precious bonding time with her baby. If she had not recently given birth, I would have sent her the project. Because she gave birth, I didn’t. She didn’t get the work because she’s a woman who gave birth.

Shit, you guys, I am the problem! And I have a women’s studies concentration from a school that’s waaaaay too PC! And then I spent over a decade working for one of the most feminist organizations on the planet! Imagine the poor slobs who didn’t spend hours and hours and hours and years talking about how to fight institutionalized sexism? If you can go to marches about this stuff and then literally deny economic parity to a person based solely on their maternal status, you should spend a little more time appreciating how often your husband (whose engineering training definitely did not include gender studies, or many girls at all, actually,) gets this stuff right. Yeah, he might say things like ‘Putzfrau’ and ‘Feuermann’, but he’s a believer in equality and he thinks that women are smart and capable and he thinks that Angela Merkel is a great role model for our daughter AND our son.

So, let’s take a minute to remember how complicated this stuff is and how easy it is to want to do the right thing but get it a little bit wrong, and let’s celebrate our progress while we keep working to change both the system and ourselves.

Here’s what I ended up writing to that contractor (once I unsent the email that offered the project to someone else,)

Here is a project. If this is too much too fast, please let me know – I appreciate that schedules at this stage can be a bit unpredictable, but I want to make sure that you have the option to take this one if it works for you.

And here’s how she responded, 4 minutes later:

That’s all good, happy to take this!!

Note the multiple exclamation marks, telling me that offering economic opportunities to people without regard to their reproductive equipment and what it might have been doing lately is the right thing to do.

 

Frida and I have an ongoing joke about bragging: at some point during my usual dinnertime haraunging about kids needing to eat two bites of broccoli/liver/whatever, I point to my empty plate and say, “I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at eating broccoli. Liver, too, and also cake. I’m pretty good at eating!” The kids groan.

Or, when brushing teeth with kids who are finicky about getting started, “I don’t mean to brag, but I am really quite excellent at putting toothpaste on this toothbrush!” I hand over their toothbrushes and they tell me not to brag, and get started.

Last night, after a bruiser of a day, the kids were climbing into bed, arguing about who’s turn it was to turn off the light. I broke in, “I’m closest to it, and, I don’t mean to brag, but…” Frida broke in, “Mom, no bragging! Everyone’s good at turning off the light!” To which I said…

I’M ALSO GOOD AT BRAGGING!

Now you know what it takes to make a tired 6-year-old run for the bathroom so that she doesn’t pee herself laughing.

I’m not good at everything all the time, no one is, but having laughs with the kids makes it feel like whatever my skills and energy and hope and effort, they’re enough.

Some Days Are Better Than Others

Max, sweet boy that he is, asked if I needed coffee this morning. “Probably, but we’ve got to go.” We had an early doctor’s appointment, a 3-hour blood draw at the endocrinologist. I heard him muttering “probably” to himself as I got our shoes on and hustled him into the cargo bike for the 15-minute ride to the medical complex.

An hour later, he’d been given a whopping dose of growth hormone and half a bag of saline in exchange for the first 4 vials of blood. The IV failed during the second round of blood draws, and, after 3 horrifying attempts at restarting an IV, they called it quits and rescheduled us for next month.

My role in this is to prep him for the appointment: no food, lots of water, bring toys, wear comforting clothes, tell him over and over what’s going to happen (it will hurt for a few minutes when they put the needle in,) and what we’ll do afterwards (eat meatballs!)

And to be there during the appointment: count to 20 to let him know what’s coming and when, hold his sweat-slick body down, hard, so that his thrashing doesnt make the needle slide past the vein.

To murmur soothingly that it will be over soon, and to forget that it won’t, really, ever.

We’ve done the best we can today, and we’ll do the best we can next time. It will work, probably.

In the meantime, I don’t yell at the nurses (it’s not their fault,) or at Max (it’s not his fault,) but I do want to yell.

As ever, the frustrating thing is not so much that I have to do things that are painful and hard, but that I have to hear myself say things like “I need time for self care.” So annoying!

I don’t want a fucking pedicure! I want to not want a fucking pedicure!

But actually if there’s a mani pedi salon that includes massage and will let me just screamshout FUUUUUCCCCKKKK! the whole time, sign me up! Sounds healing.

In the meantime, I’m yelling it onto the internet:

Goddamn this goddamned genetic flub!

Fuck fighting about me time!

Stupid tiny needles that aren’t small enough? I hate you!

Fuck cotton balls! Fuck you, cartoon bandaids!

Bullshit waits in the waiting room? Fuck yyyooouuuu!

Expired insurance cards cluttering up my wallet? Get stuffed!

Oh, you already are stuffed? Ha ha, ok thanks for that.

Now I’m laughing. Whew, I feel better.

Thanks.

 

Sometimes his life is like this…

and sometimes he gets to ride on Frida’s magic flying stick! He loves it! All told, he has a good life.

Walking

I’ve just done three days’ walking in the Yorkshire Dales. 90,000 steps, most of them in sheep shit. The weather was gorgeous, the locals delightful (one of them opened his inn so that I’d have a place to stay on an otherwise-closed Tuesday,) and the scenery is a dream, especially if you were a James Herriot fan as a kid.

It was the first time I’ve done a multi-day, point-to-point-to-point hike by myself, and the longest I’ve been alone in maybe ever. It’s certainly the most I’ve walked, day after day. I spent five or six hours each day just walking and looking around (and then looking at the map, backtracking, slogging through a wet spot, and rejoining the path.) One, ahem, item of interest, was that during those many hours of walking and walking I was HORNY AS HELL. There was not a tree I went by that didn’t look sexy to me, and the local farmers are lucky to survive unscathed by my ardor. Jeez, man, I could not stop thinking about sex! For hours at a time! Luckily, a combination of lack of opportunity, respect for my family situation, and lack of opportunity kept me virtuous. Also, at this stage that sort of thing is fun to think about in theory and a total drag to think about in practice. (Yes, I would love to imagine x and y and z and yet if I factor in how I’m going to tell my husband about it and how I’m going to live with myself afterwards and how I’m going to get these shorts off in this field without getting sheep shit on my legs and ants in my pants, just thinking about things gets a lot less sexy.) Anyway, it certainly made me think about walking as a pastime in a more curious way and when I came upon another solo lady hiker we literally high-fived as we passed each other and I spent the next couple of miles wondering if the horny-walking-daydream-thing was why.