Family Update

Frida, watching me put Max’s longest socks on and noting that he has two knees, suggests that they should be called ‘knees socks’.

Tobias, answering my question about our attendance at next Wednesday’s anti-G20 demonstration, patiently explains that Trump a.) is an elected official, and b.) does not care what I think (or yell and scream.)

I somewhat less patiently explain that the demo isn’t meant to change Trump’s mind (although isn’t that a delicious thought,) but to remind the consumers of the demo – neighbors, passersby, city leadership, our cops – of the importance of voting for a candidate who will do the right thing. I’m charged up, glad that my German has come far enough to talk American politics even though it’s dead easy right now: smack the forehead, explain that even with Trump out of the picture there are still millions of Trump supporters feeding off of Russian Fact Soup, say something simple about how capitalism is bad.

Max, trying on a dress from the Nigerian stall at the street festival, twirls and twirls and laughs and twirls.

We are as good as we’re going to get.

 

Cultural Differences, Preschool Toughness Edition

My mother’s old horse got stuck, belly-deep, in wet adobe. On the farm alone, watching the horse flounder and panic in the heavy clay, she went to get a shovel, then a tractor, then a gun. She hated it, but she shot her horse as soon as she knew he was a goner. It was just getting worse for him, so she wasn’t going to let him wait until his guts stopped working, or wait until the next day when Dad got home. She’s kind, and she’s practical, and she’s tough.

My Dad is, too. So am I, although lately my toughness has more to do with opening a Tupperware container that I’m pretty sure has a three-day-old snail floating in it.

I want Frida to be tough. I tell her the Grandma-and-the-horse story when we talk about judging people on the way they act instead of the way they look. Grandma’s not just friendly, she’s strong, I explain. She does what’s right even when it’s hard for her.

It’s a good conversation, worthwhile, but sometimes I take these talks too far:

  • I get shrill when I talk to Tobias about how important it is to reflect diversity in the media we feed our kids. “She always wants to be the blond girl in the story book! Every time! She’s internalizing the messages we give her, so stop saying ‘him’ when you talk about a potential engineer hire! Fuck!” (Even though I’m the one that let her watch Frozen.)
  • I’m hard on Frida when she shows a preference for white characters instead of people of color in her picture books. This morning she reminded me that SHE’s white, that’s why she picks the white characters. I’m like DIDN’T WE ALREADY TALK ABOUT THE FLESH-TONED CRAYONS??!! STOP BEING SO NORMATIVE! (She’s five.)
  • When we read a story that has no strong female characters, I go to great lengths to make some up. (Instead of, you know, reading her favorite stories and/or letting her go to sleep.)

Poor kid, she’s going to end up with a prince on bended knee and me behind her whispering, “But what about grad school? The civil service? Doctors without Borders?! You’ll have more power as an Ambassador than as a princess. Tell your prince to forget marriage – wait until you’ve earned it, then nominate you as his country’s U.N. rep.”

I think we need an Amal (Alamuddin) Clooney doll! If we’re going to play dress-up, at least we’ll put those tiny, sparkly velcro dresses on a human rights lawyer.

In case you were worried that this tendency to be an overbearing asshole about race and gender politics has ruined my chances to cement my legacy as a Super Fun Mom, here’s the veggie tray I made for Frida’s recent school sleepover. Yes, pre-schoolers in Germany are taken on multiple-day school trips. With no parents. Frida’s shown herself to be totally capable with this level of self-sufficiency. Maybe she’s a little tough after all.

I’m a clown! My name is FreeTime!

Jokes for Sale

Max is stable,

I am able,

Time to go back to work!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about WHAT IT ALL MEANS, and, though I’ve come to no conclusions, I have tossed out several possibilities. They include:

  • the possibility that nothing matters because we’re all going to die anyway. If we’re all going to die anyway, now is more important than ever!
  • the possibility that everything I do matters: if I do everything perfectly, perfection will ensue. Hahahaha nope.
  • the possibility that I can luxuriate in my free time without wishing that someone would call me, desperate to get my answer on a very important decision. Need to get a big-picture perspective on your new staffing idea? Want to discuss the future of corporate compliance and what it means to your bottom line? Care to strategize for a worst-case scenario, and then translate that to a most-probable scenario? No? You were just asking me what lettuce I wanted because I’m at the front of the produce line at the farmer’s market? Oh.

Introducing….

Watercress Consulting

Specializing in strategic planning, organizational effectiveness, and energy infrastructure in a rapidly warming world.

We’re green, but it’s a dark green.

 

 

My Glass is Half Full of Sour Milk

I had a brief moment today when it seemed like I was almost getting sick of feeling sorry for myself, so I’d better hurry up and get my whining in now. Here goes:

  • Donald Trump is taking away the possibility of me living near my  family by dismantling Obamacare and nominating a Secretary of Education who believes special needs education is not a worthwhile investment. I can’t insure Max in the U.S. without Obamacare’s pre-existing condition clause, and he is blossoming in his specially-calibrated, generously funded spot in German preschool.
  • Because Trump is such a schmuck and so much needs to be done about it, my recommendation for wonton soup is not getting the wide audience that it deserves (I am an asshole in lots of ways but I don’t go around posting recipes when what we need are riots.)
  • Max was in the hospital again last weekend. It was especially tough on Tobias, who took him to the ER and watched him get heart-stopping medicine while I was obliviously enjoying my Saturday morning yoga class.
  • Tobias deserves some self-care but I am being a chit about his 3-night solo ski trip this weekend. I already had 60 minutes of yoga this month; I should be cool about this, right? I’m not.
  • We were tired and stressed so we missed our appointment with the social services office about being foster parents to a refugee kid. Not only does this put us out of the running for being helpful in that way, it also makes me wonder what the fuck we were thinking. We can’t even make it to the first appointment? How out of touch are we about how we’re doing? But then I get mad at myself for thinking that way because lots of people are way worse off than we are, they’ve worked incredibly hard to get to Germany and we have an extra bedroom… there’s really no good reason that we shouldn’t be pitching in. We couldn’t even get off our asses to go to one meeting?! Jesus. Selfish fucks. See also: ski vacation, energy for and ski vacation, wife response.
  • Max had an EEG last Tuesday and I still haven’t been able to get the results, and when I explain that I would appreciate a quick response in light of his upcoming electro-cardiology appointment, recent cardiac emergency, and the possible link between seizure activity and tachycardia episodes, it sounds like, “Please fast tell me, fast heart problem, maybe head problem, too, ok?” and if there is a single ounce of smugness when the administrative assistant takes my fourth message and assures me that if there were a serious problem the doctor would have already called me, it makes me so fucking frustrated I can feel my cheeks swelling from the blood pressure surge because, despite having set myself up for language and culture and general understanding problems, I DO NOT LIKE TO BE PATRONIZED and, unfortunately, when I complain about the EEG result issue to Tobias and he offers to call, ‘patronization’ is the category his offer falls into. I’ve always been a shitty patient, now I’m a shitty advocate, a failing mother, and a bitchy wife. Not all of the time, maybe, but too often.
  • All of this is making it very difficult to enjoy Nutella on rice cakes, and that was difficult enough when Obama was president. That did not need to get harder.

Waah, waah, I have to decide between socialized medicine and enough space for a countertop toaster. Meanwhile my Lithuanian friends are coming to visit and our weekend planning was interrupted by a quick discussion of wether or not her parents are ok, given that Nato just sent German troops to Lithuania in case Russia invades.

Luckily, this blog doesn’t really count as journalism so I can safely say FUCK YOU, PUTIN, AND FUCK YOU, TRUMP. I might not be all sunshine and roses right now but I’m a hell of a lot better off than you two miserable bastards.

I might have to protest you, but you have to BE you.

 

 

 

 

Tune in next week for wonton recipes and an apology about saying fuck so much.

Just Ask

Our doctor appointments in Germany have more options now, thanks to my improved language skills. Now we can use the doctor’s stilted and oversimplified English, or we can use my stilted and oversimplified German. Either way, I’ll nod to indicate understanding no matter what you say. My pride is ferocious, my fluency is not.

Max’s heart problems are a bit all-consuming right now, even though the action items are relatively sparse: weekly EKGs, frequent medication changes, lots of phone calls to the specialist in Bremen to see if Max is  a candidate for heart surgery 5 kilos (2 years) before the usual recommended minimum size. Max is pretty happy day to day, but there’s plenty to worry about.

Trust me (and anyone who was watching me try to go for a run yesterday morning): Beyonce’s “Hold Up” for when you need a good cry; Bob Marley’s “Small Axe” for when you don’t.

Joy, Jokes

As the kids go to sleep I tell them stories designed to be relaxing, and by relaxing I mean boring. Sometimes it’s a quick story about an outdoor family adventure followed by the family eating warm soup, lying down by the fire, letting their heads sink into their pillows, feeling their shoulders getting heavy and relaxed, noticing their foreheads growing smooth, feeling their calves and their ankles growing still, their jaws loosening, their breathing getting slower and deeper, etc. It’s hard for me to stay awake during these stories. Other times, I just drone on about the day’s minutia and tomorrow’s weather. It was during one of these stories that I murmured, “I love you, Frida,” to a kid who was almost asleep, and she, in a terrifically bored, inattentive voice, said, “Good.”

“I love you, Frida.”

“Good.”

We thought it was hilarious. Now, weeks later, about a third of the time that I tell Max I love him, he will drop his eyes to half-mast, slacken his cheeks, drone, “Good,” and then start cackling.

Family in-jokes make my heart sing.

 

Dear parents of new babies,

It will get better. And then it will get great.

Love, Betsy

 

 

 

Kid Stuff

As someone who has killed hundreds of houseplants over the years, I am particularly proud to announce Frida’s 5th birthday. I have fed and watered her every day for five years. At this point she can make her own breakfast, so I think we can chalk up a win in this phase of the project and turn our attention to the next one, “How to Raise A European Who Doesn’t Smoke.” Wish me luck.

Yesterday, Frida claimed that bananas didn’t have seeds (as she was pinching off her banana’s bitter bottom tip.) I explained that if she put the pinched-off part in the ground, it would grow into a banana tree, make bananas, those bananas would have seeds, etc. Frida thought for a minute and said, “What was the first banana?”

Kids react to the emotions around them, so maybe it’s my fault that she was so excited about the next 30 minutes’ discussion of cell division and chromosomes and how single-celled organisms evolved into fish and bananas and birds and monkeys and us.

We as parents want a better life for our children than we had, so by God I’m making sure that Frida doesn’t go off to college thinking that evolution is intentional. (Thanks again to my sister Nancy for taking me aside freshwoman year to straighten me out on this concept. Nothing makes me sound more like an idiot than spouting off about how evolution decided to do something.)

This morning Frida said, “Will you tell me about the fish and the bananas again?”

Better than pie for breakfast, that.

(Although you should by no means assume that Frida is someone who can or will get dressed for preschool without making one of us cry. We might be interested in science but we’re still human.)

****

Max is talking and talking and singing and talking. He can say, “Max get straw,” while balanced on a chair, up on his tiptoes, reaching into a cupboard. He likes to choose what he will wear (hint: it will be red.) He’s an excellent snuggler and will eat all the persimmons you give him. He has been having more frequent heart problems – episodes of tachycardia and some other times that he cries and says he feels yucky in his chest – so we’ve scheduled some more testing and are always packed for an ER visit. This also means that he’s not travel-ready, so he didn’t come with me and Frida to Colorado for Christmas, and he won’t go on January/February’s ski trips. Tobias and I started feeling sad about that and then remembered that Max is three, so maybe a fabulous ski vacation in the Alps wasn’t going to make his top-10 list anyway. Taking a ride on the subway, followed by a hot chocolate in his favorite pajamas, takes up #1-8 on the list. #9 is pressing elevator buttons and #10 is being allowed to join Frida’s ballet class, which I will start lobbying for after his birthday in February. Max isn’t going to live forever; if he wants to spend his time on Earth in a red tutu, I’m going to help him make it happen.

 

Lookin’ Up

As I enter the second half of my life I find myself less motivated to fine-tune my language skills, preferring to focus on getting across the main idea and finishing off my message with gestures and (admittedly clownish) facial expressions. I might get the article’s gender wrong when I order my coffee, but if I still get the coffee who cares*?

 

*Germans.

 

My indifference certainly applies to German’s fiddly rules about genitive/dativ/accusative, but it also applies to English. I was just abut to look up the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, but then I realized that a.) I was going to forget the difference again fairly soon anyway, and b.) knowing won’t change the effectiveness of my communication. When I shout, “Jesus gay, people, RUN! There’s a stalagmite about to drop on your heads!”, you’re not going to look down, are you? You’re going to scan the ceiling and run like hell.

 

(OF COURSE I looked up stalagmite just now! Otherwise the joke wouldn’t work. Also, I was right – stalagmites grow up from the floor, stalactites grow down from the ceiling. Now we know. Doesn’t that feel good?)

Planned Parenthood, NWAC, Deb

My first boss, Deb, was amazing. She was kind and fierce and wise and competitive and compassionate and beautiful. She knew when we needed a champion, when we needed a lecture, when we needed a smile. She was absolutely clear, in word and deed, that she would fight for what’s best for people. She believed in our work, and showed us the difference our busy clinic made to our community and to our client’s futures.

When she told me that she had a special task for me, a job that needed my careful attention, I was so proud it felt like my heart was bursting. I was 23. The job was filing forms. I did it perfectly, grimacing with concentration even though I was pretty confident in my knowledge of the alphabet.

I spent the next 15 years at Planned Parenthood, filing ever-more-important forms, happy to be fighting the good fight the way that Deb taught me.

When I hear of churches that don’t allow female priests, I think of Deb and how much they’re missing. When I despair over Donald Trump as President, I remember Deb’s leadership and realize that middle management makes the fucking difference anyway.

It means so much to me to have Deb in my life now, even if it’s through Facebook and 5,000 miles. It chokes me up to think that I’m in her life, too. Thanks, Deb, for 10 months of direct supervision and a lifetime of pride, and hope, and love. You are amazing.

Good Ideas, Executed

Frida has been having the good idea lately, as Hamburg slips into winter rather frighteningly fast, to light candles in the pre-dawn breakfast hour. Ah, she says, nice Christmas feeling.

She’s right, puttering around the kitchen is wonderfully cozy with the candlelight reflecting off the still-dark windows, but I’m afraid our holiday pre-game has been triggered dangerously early. Today, October 19th, I made the kind of eggnog that has eggs in it and I didn’t even bother scaling down the batch to single-serving proportions. We’ve been drinking winter-themed peppermint teas and it’s not yet Hallowe’en. I spied the season’s first panettone at the weekly market, made fun of the vendor for having them way too early, walked away and didn’t even get to the next stand before doubling back to buy it. At this rate we’ll have put on our winter weight by early November, and we’ll be sick of the smell of cloves and nutmeg before Thanksgiving.

That said, when you feel that you are ready to stock your fridge with holiday cheer I highly recommend this recipe:

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-homemade-eggnog-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-214298

And if you’re not ready for a nutmeg-scented glass of cholesterol-diabetes-salmonella roulette, at least try the candles. Turn the lights off after dinner, light some candles, snuggle up in the cozy semi-darkness for a bit, and watch your loved ones flutter to sleep at a satisfyingly early hour.