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.

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!

Oh’ld English

I worry that I’m not funny anymore. I’m certainly not funny in Germany, or Italy. I spend too much time being too practical; too much energy translating the punchline for cultural digestibility. The offbeat stuff doesn’t work so well when the conversation’s moved on but I’m still paging through the dusty dictionary in my head, trying to remember if spinach is masculine*.

A few weeks ago, though, I got to have laughs with an old friend. She’s 41. Ha!

A few weeks ago, though, I got to have laughs with a dear friend. We were college roommates, soccer buddies, travelers and sunny, bright young things together. She was the one who asked me, pointedly, why I was marrying my first husband (back when I could have done something about it.) When I’m wondering how sad I should be about a C-section, she’s the one who helps me figure it out. She cares for me, I care for her, and we have two decades of mutual fandom and practical support as a basis for some pretty torrential conversations during the 30 hours every two years that we heroically manage to get ourselves face to face.

It is so refreshing, such a joy, to make her laugh.

Frida finds me largely unfunny, I’m afraid**. She deadfaces me when I clown around, and rarely has the context needed to get my asides (without which they just sound snide. My asnides.) Mostly she just doesn’t find my humor to her taste. I am delighted when, red-faced and sweaty from a sprint through the train station, we wait for whole minutes for the train’s doors to close after we’ve burst through them. It was delayed? But we ran to catch it? And we could have walked? Hilarious! Frida nods sympathetically when I try to explain how funny this is.  I probably am going to regret every time I’ve let her hear me say ohmygodfuckinggermans under my breath – she’s German – but oh my fucking god, Germany, why do you not train children to seek humor in the absurd? Poor Frida’s American half has a pretty heavy lift!

It doesn’t take much to add some laughs, like sprinkling in some garlic salt while you’re sautéing spinach, but it makes it all so much better. I’m going to keep trying.

*of course, right? Trust yourself, Betsy, if you feel in your bones that spinach is very much masculine, choose the pronoun and move on.

Or maybe we could just call spinach ‘they’.

**for the non-MidWesterner, I should explain that ‘I’m afraid’ is not used to describe something that I’m afraid of, but rather something indisputably true that I am sad about, e.g. “I’m afraid she didn’t pull through surgery.” (Oh also, ‘didn’t pull through’ means she died.)

Right Away, Ma’am.

Frida, home sick but with enough energy for a little dry humor before her now-rare afternoon nap, glares at me and barks, “You. Snugglatorium. Now.”

If your goal is a pre-nap snuggle with a Betsy who’s laughing so hard she’s crying, this appears to be a sure bet.

Love to all, and may your holidays be rich with just the right mix of antibodies.

 

Good Thing It’s Winter

In Germany, I am comparatively ridiculously concerned with offending people. If I’m buying the last bottle of milk, I’ll offer to share it with the person in line behind me (they’re like, “Inefficient. Also odd. I have no receptacle for one half liter of your milk. No.”) I’m more comfortable in a society where everyone is the same level of polite; the German approach feels rude to me and I’m not used to being the tender violet. It’s hard to balance assimilation and cultural competence with a sense of self; hard to differentiate between what is really important to me and what is just habit. There are times, though, when even I see that my definition of politeness is just too damn much:

At the cash machine, I don’t like the feeling of covering the number pad when entering my pin code. The machine’s signage tells us to, and I guess we do it in case we’re being recorded, but I always feel like apologizing to the people around me, “You’re probably totally trustworthy, I don’t mean to imply otherwise, but if I don’t do this every time I’ll just feel like a paranoid, profiling asshole the times I DO cover the numbers. Sorry. It’s better this way.”

I’m a full-grown woman and yet I am not convinced that telling the wine merchant that I like a mature, not-too-dry red is more likely to get me a wine I will like than saying “Red? Unless there’s a white one that you especially like?” And when the wine lady asks what I want to pay, my answer is basically, “The integer at the nexus of inoffensive and indulgent.” So I end up with some obscure, way-too-dry white that is a great bargain for people who prefer their wine to be interesting rather than delicious. Ugh.

Unfortunately it’s the same with haircuts. Last Saturday I secured a last-minute appointment, sat down in the salon chair ready to chop off 6 inches or so, and, head filled with visions of a sleek, face-flattering, easy-to-care-for statement on my fabulous life, said, “Um, just do what you think. But short.” She’s the professional, right? Let’s not offend her by playing armchair quarterback. An hour later I realize the haircut lady decided that I, as a middle aged woman trying to pass in a crowd in Germany, would be best served by a hairstyle unavoidably reminiscent of Hitler Youth: white walls, deep side part, straight comb-over.

Fuck, you know what though? I’m 41.

It’s not Hitler Youth.

It’s Hitler.

God damn it.

Shoot for polite, end up with the Hitler Haircut. I’m doing this wrong.

I’ll Continue to Miss Out

I’ve lived in Germany for 15% of my life. Although I’m not exactly comfortable doing it, I speak the language and I have learned to tolerate being nude in the sauna with a bunch of unspeaking* strangers. I don’t know everything about Germany, though, and the tricky thing about living your life without benefit of full cultural context is that when your 5-year-old comes home from school and tells you that she ate 4 bowls of hot cucumber soup for lunch, you just believe her. You’re can’t walk through your culture’s flowchart to find out what she really ate for lunch (e.g. did you have grilled cheese with it? Then it was tomato soup. Or, was it garlicky and in a really small bowl? Then you ate everyone’s tzatziki. That was supposed to be a garnish. Or, is your teacher/cook/superintendent fucking insane? Then, yes, you might have had hot cucumber soup.)

We’ve trained Frida to have good manners, I’ll admit, but four bowls is more than politeness calls for. Was it actually hot cucumber soup? And was it actually good?!

 

 

*’unspeaking’ is not the problem. The problem is that I am naked. Small talk would make the situation unbearable. This is why in Italy we wear bathing suits in the sauna. It’s either chattiness or nudity. Never both.