They really do, and I am trying to figure out how I can help change our societal structure to show that. Board work, voting, re-educating myself on the language I use, the implicit bias I carry, the images and stories I share with my kids, lots of thinking and lots of reading.
When Max was hurting in the hospital recently, trying to fix symptoms of an unfixable syndrome, there were times that it felt like I couldn’t handle the sadness and the worry. It occurred to me as I was feeling sorry for myself and my boy that I was being ridiculously self-indulgent: he was getting the best care in the world for his particular condition, I have lots of love and support from family and friends, we weren’t worried about how to pay for it (German healthcare, hurrah,) or what to eat or where to stay. The most striking thing, though, was the luxury of being hurt by an unpreventable accident. There are so many moms in so many hospitals who are watching their kids deal with preventable injury: by poorly trained or poorly selected police, by the callousness and implicit racial bias of doctors, by social systems that don’t value black and brown lives enough to ensure that they have enough care, even enough food. It is absolutely enraging that, in a world where there are lots of good things, we are trained to think that some people deserve so much more than other people.
I’m rethinking the car I drive, the brands I wear, the food I eat, the way I spend my time, and, most of all, how acceptable it is to not talk about social injustice. The short story: not acceptable at all, not anymore. I am embarrassed by how much time I’ve spent just luxuriating in the benefits of being a white person in an inherently racist, capitalist society.
Word of the day: Hochbettverbot. As in, “Max, das reicht! Jetzt hast du Hochbettverbot!” (“Max, enough! Effective immediately, you are barred from the top bunk!”) Best delivered loudly from the top bunk in your most imperious big sister voice.
We are quarantining at home until we receive word that our COVID test results are negative. Max had a cough yesterday and, with heart surgery coming up at the end of the month, we went to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t anything that would benefit from immediate treatment. We (Max and I) ended up getting tested for COVID since we both had light symptoms. The doctor thinks that we have some other simple virus, but tested just in case. Anyone who is tested for COVID must quarantine until they have the (negative) test results, so here we are. Frida’s home with us because she would have been tested if she were with us (she’s had a cough and headache and runny nose.) It’s tricky, though: both kids are energetic and keeping them home when they’re almost perfectly healthy seems silly (they’re doing backwards somersaults right now), but if they are infectious they would almost certainly spread it to their school classmates, teachers, and after-school program team. Especially with cases rising so quickly in Munich that schools are likely to close again soon, it doesn’t seem worth the risk. This is how we control the virus, right? Have symptoms–>get tested–>limit contact until test results are back. When this doesn’t happen, the virus is spread. When it does happen, the virus is controlled. Easy peasy, and we’re doing home haircuts and holiday prep in addition to schoolwork at home, so it counts as a win! (As long as it ends in the next 48 hours…)
Frida, now 8, checks out cookbooks from the library and writes grocery lists. “We need marshmallows!” she shouts triumphantly. She knows she’s won. My capitulation pays off, though: she really can manage a meal by herself, and today she made fresh tomato sauce and (packaged) noodles for the family.
Cooking with kids is such a beautiful way to share stories and build on traditions. Today, I watched my daughter start her pasta sauce just the way I’ve taught her: by looking in the fridge for the right sized pan and cleaning out its week-old polenta.
First off, how are you? If I don’t know the up-to-the-minute answer, call me! Skype me! I’d love to hear from you.
We’re lucky: we’re fed, we’re safe, we’re well cared for, we’re finding some wonderful entertainment. Much of the world isn’t, and the discrepancies in care and the effect of COVID-19 fallout on people’s lives are both shocking and miserable. Just in case you came here for something more specific about me me me, here’s how I’m doing.
My grandma is dying, and I can’t get to my Mom to give her a hug. I’m not just thousands of miles away, I’m months and months away from being able to safely travel to her and my dad and my brother and my sister. I want to sing and talk story and grieve and celebrate with them. This fucking sucks.
When the schools are open Max will stay home, obviously – COVID-19 may kill him – but what about Frida? She’s a healthy, vibrant, active kid. Do we lock her up for a fucking year? Fucking fuckity goddamn fuck.
LOL, just realised why my neck’s been stiff lately.
Funnily enough, most of the day I’m chipper: listening to lots and lots of music, laughing with the kids, enjoying work, cooking things both fun and delicious, getting plenty of exercise and fresh air, texting and talking with old and new friends. It’s just once or twice a day that I feel like a fucking walking cold sore, all raw and stressed, weeping and useless.
Wow, that impulse trip to Scotland seems like it happened a lot longer than a week ago! I came home on Thursday, school closures were announced Friday. We left that night for Ötz, Austria, thinking we’d spend 5 weeks hiking and renovating the house, but on Saturday Tirol was announced as a high-risk area and all non-residents got the boot. German borders were closed on Sunday; we drove through at 4:30 on Sunday morning to avoid any awkward questions about citizenship vs. residency. Whew.
Literally two weeks ago I was drinking beers with 50,000 rugby fans, in Edinburgh for the Six Nations Scotland-France game, enjoying the kilts and the camaraderie. The changes have been dizzying since then: my friends in the hard-hit Lombardia area of Northern Italy have gone from funny stories about being bored, locked up for days on end with their kids in their apartments, to fear for their collective future and anguish about losing a generation. The pain they express about having loved ones die alone is difficult to see, and when that’s layered over our worry about the transmission of the virus in Germany and Max’s frailty it starts to seem like it’s…
Time to Break Out Those Coping Mechanisms!
You know what’s great about having a bunch of traumatic ER visits behind you? Knowing how much yoga you’re going to need to do to avoid losing your shit, how much kale to put in the recovery smoothie, how early you’re going to need to go to bed to accommodate for teeth grinding wakefulness, and the difference between discussions held in the clarity of the morning versus the exhaustion of the night. Tobias and I have, thanks to Max’s genetic condition and heart episodes, had so many rounds of catastrophe–>stress–>stress management that the COVID-19 fallout has just kicked us into our usual incident recovery mode: long solo exercise sessions, lots of healthy veggies and grains, less booze, more sleep, try to make time together in the morning and give each other space in the evening.
It’s not so much that we’re curating the perfect catastrophe lifestyle, but rather knowing that if we let ourselves get sick, or divorced, our ability to respond to a crisis is compromised and we have no fucking backup plan so that just can’t happen.
Easy peasy, right? Let me know if Gwyneth needs some content for GOOP’s April Desperation issue.
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
Spousal Care1, Job Transition
Spousal Care2, Acute Illness
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.