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. 

Hey, Tobias, I Think We Might Actually Be Winning!

This is from a rough time in October. I sat on it for a while to see if it still felt true even when I was less stressed. Yup.

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On Monday morning, Max’s little heart messed up again: too fast, ineffective. The problem self-corrected an hour later, so we didn’t need to call an ambulance. Even without that level of drama, though, there’s still plenty of the kind of excitement that visibly ages a person. We look relatively calm as we decide on the logistics:

  • Frida will walk herself to school for the first time. Lunchbox packed, backpack loaded, hat on, and out the door she goes.
  • Tobias stays with Max while I pack an overnight bag for the hospital, then he’s about to be late for an important meeting at work so he jumps in the car. He can leave early to pick up Frida from school if needed. Via phone as he’s driving to work, we decide to monitor Max for an hour, then call an ambulance.
  • I gather Max’s medical records folder, some snacks, diapers, etc., help Max throw up in the sink (it happens when his body gets too stressed,) and take Max’s pulse every 5 minutes, documenting the results so that we can share them with the cardiology team.
  • Max’s pulse returns to normal a few minutes before the deadline, so I call a taxi instead of an ambulance to take us to the hospital. We go in for an EKG, schedule a follow-up because of some abnormalities, and are discharged before lunchtime.

All’s well that ends well, right? Except that there’s the other work, too. I need to exercise, get some fresh air, get my head on straight. So does Tobias, and so do Frida and Max. I need to give Max’s teachers, grandparents, and various doctors an update on his status. I need to figure out how to get done the work I’d planned to do that morning. I whiplash between a deep sadness that Max is so fragile, and a glorious appreciation of every non-shitty moment; meanwhile I need to reorganize the week’s meal plan because while we were at the hospital, I didn’t get the prep done for Monday’s dinner, and fuck it anyway I’m too tired to cook. That means throwing away mussels, and that means Tobias giving me a hard time about food waste, and that means me feeling furiously under-appreciated and also embarrassed about not being able to manage everything I want to be able to manage. I know, we all know, that stress brings out the worst in us: after a shitstorm like Monday morning, I feel like I deserve a treat so I eat too many cookies and feel grumpy and fat. Awesome.

I find that the work it takes to focus on the moment, to let go of unimportant bullshit (how close am I to my goal weight? how clean is my house? how well-behaved are my kids?) and to focus on the good stuff (how does my awesome body feel right now? how lucky are we to have the things we have? how kind, funny, caring is my family?) is work that I don’t have energy for when I’ve used my energy trying not to scream at the taxi driver when he says that we’re lucky that we have sons, right? (NO, YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKER, AND LUCKY IS NOT WHAT I FEEL RIGHT NOW – YOU’RE TAKING MY SON TO THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, REMEMBER? I AM GOING TO STARE POINTEDLY AT YOU UNTIL YOU APOLOGIZE. Which actually only took about two seconds, and I think he really meant the apology and hopefully the backpedalling he did is a permanent change of perspective, but I still didn’t need a feminist apoplexy in addition to the my-kid-is-passing-out-because-of-heart-failure parts of the morning.)

So it’s manageable in the moment, and yet it’s too much overall. When I take myself off to Munich the following weekend because Tobias and I can’t stand to be in the same room, a reasonable jury would find that the culprit is the stress of the situation with Max.

When Tobias is in a sad situation, he feels sad. When the situation is frustrating, he feels frustrated. When I am also in a sad and frustrating situation, I need the people around me to help me see the beauty and joy in everyday life. I try to do this for Frida, and for Max, and when another sad, frustrated person comes home from a tiring day at the office and lets their sadness and frustration show, I have very little comfort left to give.

I’m writing all of this down here because I think that if we can predict these cycles, we can manage them better. Max has an episode? Expect:

  • Frida to need something physical to do (we raked leaves this time, it was perfect.)
  • All of us to need more sleep in the following few days,
  • carbs to sound good for about 4 days,
  • crying jags, teeth grinding, new pimples, fussy appetites, stinky feet (possibly unrelated,)
  • time to address marital problems no sooner than a week later.

It’s been a week. Let’s get the kids to bed, then change into our best pjs, listen to music and crack walnuts. Let’s find some moments to appreciate together. Let’s be amazed at all that we get done. Let’s be as generous with ourselves as we would be with friends who were trying to manage a situation like ours. Let’s realize that, every moment that it’s not actually broken, we’re making it work.

 

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.

 

Kita Reise

On Monday Frida Rosenbaum, aged 6, packed her suitcase, kissed her family goodbye, and headed to the beach for 2 nights with her friends.

Oh, also her teachers. When I thanked one of those long-suffering souls for her sacrifice in taking our kids for 72 hours straight, she told me that she is neither suffering nor sacrificing – it’s a time together that they all look forward to. I blushed, remembering that she took this job because she likes it and is good at it, not because selfish parents like me ‘need a break’.

Preschool workers in Germany are not babysitters in the same way that fathers are not babysitting when they are parenting. German preschool teachers have extensive training, 3-year-long internships, paid vacation, and the respect of the community. Like other professionals, they expect to work in their field for the entirety of their career: Frida’s teacher has been teaching at the same school for 20 years.

Frida woke up at 5:00 the morning of the trip, said, “Mom, I have Reisefieber” (vacation fever – don’t you love German?!) and went off to double-check her toiletry kit. Last year, Frida came back so stinking proud of herself! At the beach, she put herself to bed and got herself ready in the morning – things that have been a struggle for us at home. This year, she plans to help the little kids brush their teeth if they need a hand – she’s been practicing with Max (whose heart problems and general delay mean that he’s staying home. Maybe next year.) Kids who are 3 and up go on the trip (after a practice overnight at the preschool,) as do all of the teachers and staff aides and the school’s administrator. No parents, though, as that would defeat the purpose.

The German system isn’t cheap, but it’s paid through the city government so everyone pays, via taxes, according to income. The moral of the story? Pay your taxes and you will be richly rewarded. And by rewarded, I don’t mean with 72 hours of kid-free time, I mean rewarded with a kid who comes back grubby, full of amazing stories about the shells they found and dancing at the disco party the last night, and confident in her budding independence.

 

Merry Christmas

Possibly the best moment of my life so far: cozied up in the Colorado farm house with my whole family*, listening to my uncle deliver our annual Christmas Eve reading of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and seeing my 8-year-old nephew laugh out loud over and over. Delightful!

Best wishes for a joyous holiday.

 

*except for Tobias, and he comes tomorrow! Hurrah!