Chronology Is Not My Strong Suit

I might be a little angry. I just reread that last post and the lady who wrote it (me, yesterday,) sounds troubled. Luckily, she went to a restorative late-evening Zumba class and woke up to blue skies and sunshine today. Actually, technically, she woke up to ink-black skies and a second-grader who was eager to get started on homework at 6:25am on a Saturday but you can either be annoyed about being woken up OR be proud of how the guilt/drive you’ve instilled in your daughter is now self-replenishing, and I chose to bask in the latter.

Max is at the stage where he asks for what he needs: food, snuggles, a tree to pee on, a tissue, a drink. He says things like, “I love holding hands with you, Mom.” and “I hate myself. Just kidding, I said that to get attention.” He’s all about the feelings, complicated though they might be.

I am embarrassed by how difficult it is for me to ask for what I need, and how enraged I get when I ask for kindness or help and don’t get it. Taxes bring all of this shit to the fore, and man am I glad to be done with them forever! Ha!

It’s funny to think of marriage as a job: I applied for the position and was selected after multiple rounds of interviews. I thought the job was a good fit, signed the contract, got a couple of promotions to Motherhood1, then Motherhood2, Special Needs, and a certificate for Motherhood, International, but have kind of plateaued since then and am in danger of being put on a Performance Improvement Plan. I’m usually ambitious; what would the next level be? What training/skill development would I need to be considered for senior management? Oh, just stop being such a bitch about the taxes/laundry/chewing noises? Hmmm. Something to think about. Ideas:

  • Trailing Spouse1, Gainful Employment
  • Trailing Spouse2, Language Proficiency
  • Household Management1, Laundry Basics
  • Household Management2, Traditions, Celebrations and Houseguests
  • Household Management3, Neighbors are Jealous of Flawless Garden, Spotless House, and Daily Craft/STEM Projects
  • Financial Head of Household
  • Eldercare1, Emotional Support
  • Eldercare2, Co-location with In-Laws
  • Eldercare3, End of Life Care
  • Retirement1, Travel
  • Retirement2, Post-Travel
  • Spousal Care1, Job Transition
  • Spousal Care2, Acute Illness
  • Intimacy1, Sex
  • Intimacy2, Everyday Kindnesses
  • Intimacy3, Both Sex and Everyday Kindnesses

It’s funny what we expect of ourselves and our partners, isn’t it? No one person has all of those skills without deliberately acquiring what they’re missing. As a worker, I value feedback. As a wife, I fucking hate it. Maybe it’s time to let feedback fuel my ambition rather than crush my buzz. Wish me luck!

They Are Mine to Indoctrinate As I See Fit

As an atheist from Colorado living as a permanent guest in Germany, I feel it is my duty to prevent the worst actions of my fellow Americans. When I see a foreigner on the bus and yell, “Go back where you came from! We don’t want you here!” it is because I know a Mormon missionary when I see one, and they can fuck right off back to Utah. Come to MY house to steal the souls of MY children? Fuck you. The fact that you’re a young man sent away from your own community at prime date-raping age does not endear you to me. Keep your wild oats in your own damn town. If what you’ve got going for you is enthusiastic naiveté I will fix that for you right now. Any defensiveness I have about my parenting choices really comes to a head as soon as I see two 20-year-olds wearing short-sleeved white button-ups with black name tags. This might out me as someone not great with criticism, and maybe I’m just jealous that they have eight healthy (if pale) siblings and my daughter has none, but man do I hate a prosthelytizer.

Is my reaction divisive? Yes. Did they fucking start it? Also yes. The right thing to do would probably be to gently let them see the error of their ways, to guide them into a better understanding of themselves and their God, and to offer them a path to righteousness and hope, which they can read more about in a leaflet about Betsyism. Nah. Although here’s a photo of Frida that’s a pretty good start for the leaflet.

Am I religious? Hell, no. Am I spiritual? Spiritual people are annoyingly self-centered and they smell like patchouli, so no. Funny, then, that the books on my nightstand are all about religion, and that my kids go to church more often than once per week. I blame it on choir.

Frida is seven, and asks great questions: why do the adults tell those stories in church with a straight face, even though the stories are ridiculous? A talking snake, come on!

God is not a man, right? Why do people say he is?

Why were people so mad about Jesus?

Max is six, and also asks great questions: where was I when you met Papa?

Did it hurt you when they cut me out of you?

(about our bodies going into the ground, or being burned, when we die) Is the person who puts the bodies into the ground kind of a magic person? Do they get dead, too, when they do that?

They’re ready to get meta: to talk about why people make up stories to explain the things that we don’t understand. They have consistent ideas about some topics:

  • there is something special about the changing of the seasons
  • there is a feeling of wonder, and of love, that is useful to refer to when you think about what God might be, and that feeling is in a pretty specific place in your upper chest (I can’t remember which one said it, but they said, “Oh, yeah. That’s the place where crying starts.”)
  • they don’t really believe that they were never here
  • they easily understand that when something/someone dies, they are just not living anymore. The mystery of where we are before we are us is much more moving to them than the mystery of where we are after we die
  • outer space is a disturbing, wonderful concept that is easily forgotten.

I am enjoying Neal MacGregor’s “Living With the Gods”, about the relationship between faith and society, and the kids like listening to it at bedtime. It’s hard to come away from that book, which looks at so many different ways that we approach religion and myth, without some skepticism when anyone explains the one true religion. It’s also impossible to come away without a feeling of wonder, and respect for the spirit of our fellow humans. Cool stuff.

Religion is stupid in lots of ways, but if you told me that you wanted to invite me to be in a group where we gather to think carefully about how a society should serve its membership, how to describe a standard of behavior for humanity and how to collectively teach our children to make moral choices, I’d say that Sunday mornings are a convenient time for a meeting. Sign me up.

I Am Sorry For Our Loss

Imagine Pippi Longstocking as an adult. She’s lived through a bad motorcycle crash and maybe a marriage, she has kids of her own. Her garden is epic. All the neighborhood kids want to hang out at her house, lying on the grass under the trees. She is a mother, a member of the community, an artist and etc. but mostly she is herself.

Now imagine that you are a 14-year-old girl, ambitious and uncomfortable, living in a small country town where the parents of your classmates boycott Garth Brooks CDs because he said something good about the gays. You waffle wildly, trying to fit in with your volleyball teammates (we’re going to State!) while outfitting your room with NARAL Pro-Choice America bumper stickers and wondering how you’re going to make it through high school without screaming. (Hint: you don’t.)

Imagine meeting an adult who doesn’t list your achievements the minute you meet them! Imagine an adult who expects to find you entertaining, who will judge you clever or not based on what you say in that moment. Imagine a woman, an adult woman, a mother even, who’s thinking about her art and her garden and who makes you welcome by leaving you to putter, or jump on the trampoline, or make up games with your friends.

Patricia Mock was intimidating, inspiring, and confidently kind. She carved out space for both of us in Olathe. I am so grateful to have known her. I still want to be her someday.

Wrong Glass, Ma’am

As an American parent of German children, I strive to set a good example and to be a better ambassador for my country than the person who literally has that job right now. To these ends, I try to maintain a mein of dignified composure when presented with cultural differences. My Respect First, Laugh Later ethos has been sorely tested recently:

  • The Birkenstock store in Regensburg, Germany sells socks.
  • At-the-farm milk vending machines in Austria are convenient, delicious, and not always refrigerated.
  • My fridge contains a very special cheese that smells exactly like my basketball locker in college.

Things are different, but they’re good. Good enough to stick around for a while: we’re buying a 350-year-old farmhouse in Ütz, Austria. Come visit! The milk is so fresh it’s warm! Cool evenings but you only brought sandals? We have the solution! While you’re here, you can help me stoke up my nerve to try this cheese.

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.