Sunday, April 29, 2012

Best. Berliner. Afternoon. EVER!

Yesterday we finally solved the age-old equation:
Beer Garden + Playground + Beautiful Weather + Friends= BEST AFTERNOON EVER

First I must give a BIG shout-out to Annie over at PhD in Parenting.  Annie used to live in Berlin with her two young children and her blog often comes up in our internet searches for awesome things to do here.  Andy found this great post of hers filled with pictures of awesome playgrounds, and one of them had a picture of a beer in it.  Andy emailed Annie to ask her where this magical place is in Berlin, and she emailed him back to tell him.  Annie is a blogosphere ROCK STAR, so I am super impressed and excited that she emailed us back soo quickly.  She must understand how badly we wanted to drink beer while watching our girls scamper around a fenced in area. 

Burg-am-See is in Kreuzberg, which is a bit of trek for us, but completely worth it!  This adorable beer garden is about the size of ½ a football field, filled with tables and benches, and situated right next to a playground.  The playground is fenced in and sits between the beer garden and a canal, which makes it a really beautiful scene on a sunny day.  Like many beer gardens, you are welcome to bring in your own food as long as you are ordering drinks, but they also sell pizza, bratwurst, döner, ice cream and other tasty treats.  We arrived around noon and had no trouble finding a table next to the playground.  There is plenty of shade too, which is especially nice when you plan to spend the whole afternoon. 

Here are our girls, almost playing together: 

This was the view from our table. 

Both of our girls can now say PROST, though Mayzie needs reminding on what to do when you say it. 
( For the record: That's Apfelschorle (apple juice + mineral water) that Annika's drinking there. We're not THAT European!)

The temperatures were in the upper 70s yesterday with abundant sunshine—pretty much perfect for a day out at the Biergarten! 

3 Tales from the beer garden:

-A man in a skirt should not attempt to hang upside down and/or balance on a beam that is 4 feet off the ground.  That was something I could have gone without seeing--ever.  Did the man in the skirt surprise me?  Not at all, but I would have much preferred the frank & beans to have stayed under the cloth! 

-Pointing and laughing at someone whose pizza was just attacked by a flock of birds is not nice.  Andy was picking up brats for the girls and I had to go rescue Mayzie on the part of the playground she couldn’t do by herself, thus leaving my pizza unattended for 30 whole seconds.  Those people at the table across from ours were very lucky my kids were there, or else they might have been wearing that pizza!  BONUS: One of the birds pooped on my bag.  Luckily, we always have wet-wipes and Andy to remind me not to let it ruin my afternoon.

-The entire canal was filled to the brim with groups of people who brought their grills and cases of beer to make an afternoon of it.  I have never seen soo many hipsters congregated in one area and trying to look cool while sunbathing in their underpants. 

I'm not sure I've been ecstatic enough about the fact that we have awesome friends here!  After a few hours of hanging out, several of our friends showed up to finish the afternoon with us in the beer garden.  We drank another round of yummy beers while discussing cultural differences and politics.  It was lovely.   

All in all, I would have to say that this was one of the best afternoons I have ever spent in Berlin.  The girls both fell asleep in the stroller on the way home and we all were completely worn out from being out in the sunshine (and some of us drinking beer) for 5+ hours.  We will most assuredly be doing this again soon.  

P.S. Our first visitors arrive on Wednesday morning and we are sooo excited!!!  Annika is counting down the days until she gets to see her Nana & Pawpaw!   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dear Kate

A few short weeks ago, my friend Kate’s son O was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  He’s 2 ½ years old and she and her husband have been struggling with his behavior for a long time.  She recently wrote a post about the whole diagnosis process which you can find on her personal blog here, and has been struggling with parenting this challenging kid while dealing with…well…a very very busy and ambitious life that might include eradicating child abuse from the state of Texas while simultaneously embodying a liberal Catholic crunchy version of Martha Stewart.  If you can’t tell, I’m completely in awe of Kate.  She is a wholly amazing spirit and I count myself lucky to be one of her friends.  My heart has been heavy for her lately, so I submit to the interwebs a letter to Kate! 
Dear Kate,
The ending of your recent post where you were bemoaning your failures and shortcomings as a mother most assuredly broke my heart!  I know that you have some amazing challenges coming your way right now, but I wanted to point out a few of the things you have going for you as well.  Please don’t get me wrong, I love a pity party more than anybody, and you definitely have reason to throw one for yourself occasionally.  This is not permission to crawl into a black hole of depression or anything so unproductive, rather a recognition that you’re dealing with issues on top of issues and sometimes when the hits keep coming it’s better to cry uncle and take a time out.  Sorry…I get a little obscure and philosophical sometimes...I digress. 

First I want you to know that ALL parents feel like they are failing at some point.  Personally, I can probably count the number of days since my first positive pregnancy test more than 4 years ago that I didn’t feel like I was somehow failing one of my children.  Parenthood is hard!  Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to sell you something, on a major cocktail of antidepressants and/or alcohol, or just sucks and you shouldn’t be their friend anyway.  It is freaking exhausting and I totally lose my Schmidt most days at some point.  I’m not even going to pretend to know what it is like to try to parent O, whose challenges are different than our girls, though sound strikingly similar sometimes too.  The point is this dear Kate: parenting is the hardest job I never knew I wanted, and parenting a kid on the spectrum surely amplifies the challenge.  Give yourself a break and know when you need to put yourself in time-out.  Luckily you have an amazing partner who is supportive in every way he knows how, and both of you will grow together through this learning process.  Even the experts don’t know how to do it sometimes—see here for evidence please.  Don’t despair!  You are not alone!   

Secondly, I know that you feel like you are flailing since this diagnosis and that a whole array of new challenges and concerns just opened up for you, but labeling the issue is at least a start.  Before the diagnosis, you were just stuck trying to figure out a way to deal with an often inexplicably quirky kid.  Now you have a name to the issue and a whole litany of different suggestions for how to deal with it.  Yes, that is completely overwhelming and scary in a different way, but at least you have a place to begin.  Does that make sense?  Besides, you know how to wade through all the BS that is out there and come up with a plan of action that you can get behind.  Which leads me to my third point…

Third, YOU ARE KATE!!!!  I swear I thought you flew an invisible jet to class in college.  You always had 10 million different balls in the air and plans for the future that were soo over the top outrageous that they were surely bound to work.  Do you remember what you were like in college?  Always studying while at the same time running several different student organizations, volunteering for the local community organizations, raising money for international development projects, traveling all over everywhere and back, etc etc etc.  This is not even touching on the amazing grace and beauty that floated with you into any room you entered, and the intelligence and critical gaze you could bring to any discussion.  Then, when you were a grown-up, you survived a Texas August with no air-conditioning while 9 months pregnant!  You had a baby with no pain meds at all!  You are AMAZING and you can do ANYTHING! 

I don’t want this to sound too much like a love letter to you dearest Kate, though you surely deserve one for all the fabulousness that you bring to the world.  I’m cutting myself off, lest I sound too gushy.  Soo remember: 1. We all think we suck as parents sometimes.  2. This diagnosis was just the beginning of a new journey. 3. You rock and you’ll pull through.  Things aren’t going to be easy for you, but when did you like to take the easy route anyway?  You’ll get through all the kicking and screaming and hair pulling out and relish the times when you get to sit down and enjoy cuddling with your little O monster.  Your battle-cry will be fierce, as it always has been, but will now be focused in a different direction.  Oh the stories you will have to tell!  I just hope we get to be in the same old folks’ home. 

One of your biggest fans 

P.S. You should most definitely become friends with the Stark Raving Mad Mommy!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Short Cut

Annika has been begging for months for a haircut that is as short as her dad’s.  Yesterday I finally took her to the local walk-in place in our neck of the woods.  The weather is warming up here, so of course the salon was hopping.  I think it is a true testament to how much she wanted her haircut that she was willing to wait 40 minutes before she even got into the chair.  While we were waiting, she spotted a picture of Michelle Williams on the cover of some celebrity magazine here and told me, “like that Mama.  I want my hair like that.”  Here is a link to a similar picture.  We chatted about what was going on around us and exhausted my German hair salon vocabulary when we were checking out the tools of the trade.  (I didn’t feel too bad, since my English vocabulary for this stuff is also very lacking!) 

When she finally got to sit in the chair, the overly tanned and made-up 40+ lady in shorts with tights very nice stylist asked me to explain what she wanted.  I told her and showed her the picture.  The conversation from there went something like this (but in German):

Stylist: Are you sure that you want it that short? 

Me: Yes.  That’s what she wants.

Stylist: I just don’t want anyone to be crying when it’s done. 

Me: No tears.  I promise.  She’s been asking for this cut for a while.

Stylist: You REALLY want to do it that short?

Me: Yes, really.  I talked to her about how it will grow back if she doesn’t like it.

Stylist: OK.

She started to cut her hair and I stayed where I could watch and smile encouragingly in the mirror as it was happening.  This prompted the stylist next to her to say.

Stylist #2: You’d better be perfect.  You’re being observed very closely.  (She then pointed at me.)

Me: Am I not allowed to watch? 

Stylist #2: No no, it’s fine. 

I kept watching, and kept smiling like the cheesy Midwestern American that I am.  

When the cut was done, Annika jumped up and declared that she loved it.  

We walked to the bakery to celebrate with a Pfannekuchen filled with Kirsch (basically a donut filled with Cherry compote instead of jelly and covered in powdered sugar).

When Ani woke up this morning, the first thing she said to me was, “Mama, I love my haircut!”  This made me very very happy and slightly less worried.  She skipped all the way to school, and was blissfully unaware of the taunting from the other kids about her hair.  The taunt they used here:
“Did your Mom make you cut your hair?” 

Really kids, you hang out with Annika 5 days a week and you think I could actually make her do something?  Hahahahahahahaha!  I’m not that delusional.    

Small note to my brave first born daughter: 
Dearest Annika, 
I am soo proud of you and you amaze me all the time.  I know grown women who cry every time they get their hair cut 1 inch and would NEVER be brave enough to get a short cut like this.  You are awesome-sauce and I wish I could be more like you.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cutting Myself Some Slack

Today I went to a very interesting symposium all about the way that statisticians count "Migrants in Germany."  It was much more interesting and nuanced that you are probably imagining and I really feel like I learned more than I expected.  There were amazing presentations and the professionals presenting are renowned scholars in their fields.  I geeked out at this thing, and I'm not even a statistician groupie.

I recently had a discussion with two American friends wherein we all agreed that we think it is weird when people here learn that we are American,and then proceed to ask us "Wieso kannst du so gut Deutsch sprechen?"  This translates as "Why do you speak such good German?"  We agreed that not only is it an odd thing to ask, but that there really is not a good way to answer this question.  I have also recently been lamenting the fact that my German probably isn't ever going to get significantly better than it is right now.  My German is by no means perfect and I am always finding the limits of my vocabulary as I have documented here before.  Today I chose a different path for myself.  I'm working on changing the way I think about myself, and I like to think that this small step today was just the beginning.

The entire symposium was in German--not just regular run of the mill German, but academic German which can be very difficult to understand.  Add onto the vocabulary failures, the fact that there were at least 5 different accents floating about, and you can perhaps imagine the fun that could have been my linguistic incompetence today.  But the thing was, that my language skills did not fail me.  I honestly understood at least 90% of everything that was said AND could not only take notes but make critical arguments in my head about what was being discussed.  That is new to me.  Yes, there were a few words here and there that I did not know the meaning of, but that actually happens to me in English at academic-y things too.  I'm not writing this to brag at all, rather to remind myself that it is just fine to not understand every single word in German all the time.  I need to cut myself some slack with regards to language more often here!  Once I thought about these facts, I actually felt accomplished and smart for perhaps the first time in our entire stay here up until this point.  How silly is that?  Hopefully this slack I'm cutting myself can also move into other realms of my life as well, though letting go and not being hyper-critical of myself for not living up to my ridiculously impossible standards has never been my forte in general.  I carry the banner of pragmatic unrealistically ambitious girl too well at this point in my life!  Isn't it funny that the things some friends treasure most in you, you cannot apply to your own life?

In related news, my research is going well right now.
Time for note writing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

8 Signs You've Been Abroad for a While

I’ve noticed a few small changes about myself lately.  Some are very German specific, but I think most apply to living abroad in general.  

8 Signs you’ve been abroad for a while:
1. An SUV driving down the street makes you turn your head in surprise. 
2. Your ears perk and you turn to see who is talking when you hear English.
3. American money looks oddly shaped and boring when you see it. 
4. The thought of real ranch dressing makes your mouth water. 
5. You are no longer surprised when the weather is nice and the thermometer says 15 degrees. 
6. Sorting your trash into 6 different bins no longer feels so confusing. 
7. You know what time it is at home without even having to think about it. 
8. You sometimes forget the English words for things.

Can you think of some?  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Lovely April Saturday

This morning I took the train into the city to purchase a bicycle from a very hung over Englishman. I had emailed him the night before about thebike that he had posted on Craigslist. It probably should have tipped me off that he would be young when I asked him what time he could meet me in the morning and he suggested 11am. The bike is a lovely 5 speed German made city cruiser with kinetic lights and I LOVE it already. He even had a very official bill of sale printed up and filled out for me, despite his inability to actually read it, so that if the police stop me, I have proof that I actually purchased and did not steal the bike.

Before I move on, please let me notehere the reasons that the police might stop me while on my bicycle. Besides the obvious reasons such as doing something illegal or getting into an accident, the police in Berlin can stop you on the street to inspect your bicycle. The police here WILL happily write you tickets for running red lights and riding your bike on the sidewalk, but thankfully there are bicycle stoplights and plenty of bike lanes in the city to help guide you on your way. What I find the most fascinating is the fact that they can stop you and fine you for not having the “proper equipment.” This includes reflectors on the spokes and pedals, a light on the front and back, and a bell, among other things that I need to take note of before taking the bike out too much. As at home, you may also be fined for riding your bicycle while intoxicated. Here that is defined as 3 beers. I don’t foresee that being an issue for me, as if I drank three ½ liter beers I’m pretty sure bike riding would not be an option for me.

Without going into too much of a tirade, let me just say that I find the whole German hyper-regulation thing pretty fascinating, intimidating, and overall a little bit psychotic. Yes, that’s right. I said psychotic. Being here always has this amazing duality for me in that it both reinforces my love for some German things while at the same time making me turn my little American nose in the air in superiority at other things. Yes, it makes for a very conflicted existence, but the nuances of my personal philosophy are what they are because of my experience…blah blah blah…back to the story of today.

After taking the train back out toZehlendorf, we harnessed the girls in their new trailer and went out for an afternoon bike ride. Naturally, 5minutes into the ride we had to make a quick stop to pull the hands under knees tree watering trick with Annika, but then we were on our way again. With highs in the lower 50s (Fahrenheit) and abundant sunshine, the weather was really just begging usto get outside. We rode all around the paved canal path near our apartment and then stopped at a spot to feed the ducks and have a picnic. We rode intoTeltow, a sleepy little town just across the canal from us and stopped to let the girls play at a playground. We rode up to the local gelato shop to get a few scoops and then back down the other way into Kleinmachnow to show Andy where the Museumdorf Düppel and the Kinderreitschule are. All in all it was a very lovely family day capped off with a big pot of vegetarian chili.

As usual, each of us learned a few lessons that were not on the agenda.

-Andy learned that riding a bicycle while towing 100 extra pounds of trailer, kids, and picnic supplies can be a major workout.

-Mayzie learned that if you don’t eat gelato fast enough, it will melt, your parents will try to help you with it,and throwing a fit about it will result in it being flung to the ground and inedible.

-I learned that the angle of the bicycle seat can make it dangerous when getting on it.

-Annika’s lesson came when the girls were in the bathtub this evening. She learned that kissing Mommy’s razor is not a good idea, and that lips bleed profusely though heal quickly.

Our adventurous little girls are sleeping peacefully having been completely worn out by our day, and we will surely not be up too late tonight. All that lovely fresh air and sunshine definitely were just what we needed.

A few pictures from our adventures:    

The new trailer!  Great for carrying little girls AND beer home from the grocery store.  

Here is Mayzie returning to get more bread to feed the ducks that kept swimming away. 

At play

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2 Major Milestones!

Recently, we reached two major milestones in our lives here in Berlin!  One was obvious, though still a little surprising, and the other was unexpected yet welcome and not so shocking.  Our time here so far has been amazingly eye-opening on many levels, and these two milestones definitely exemplify our personal journeys here so far. 

The first milestone I only happened to notice because of the date on the calendar.  We’ve passed the halfway point in our time here in Berlin, and will be heading home in less than 6 months now.  I was completely surprised that it had passed already, so quickly, without setting off any alarms in my head at all.  Annika has already started saying that she likes it here, though she still peppers her commentary with the names of people she misses at home.  (Most often heard is “Maggie with the blonde hair” these days!)  6 months is the longest time I personally have ever been abroad, and what could have been a momentous occasion was really only a “meh” in my book.  This could of course be related to the massively anxiety producing issues that come with our return to home and the realization of the harsh realities of life back in the USA.  I continue to be a big fan of several German things, one of which is the social safety net that does not allow anyone to go bankrupt from lack of health insurance.  This net also has many drawbacks that I will not enumerate here, but suffice it to say that health insurance woes upon reentry to the US are a massive concern of mine.  Professionally, I know that I have less than 6 months to collect the rest of the data for my dissertation too, but somehow I’m not worried about that at all.  Most novice researchers (such as myself) collect far more data than they could ever use for one single dissertation, and I know that I’ll have plenty to write about when I get home as far as my research goes.  I honestly thought this would have been a bigger milestone to pass for some reason, but the indifference to the passing of time may also be a product of my research busy-ness and the pace at which our lives here are going in addition to not wanting to think about those humongous worries that will have to be dealt with at home. 

The second major milestone came in the form of a joke.  When we were out and about yesterday, Andy turned to me and cracked a joke with a Curious George reference in it.  It was then that I realized that we had reached this awesome milestone in our relationship where we both completely understand the funny, torturous, cuddly awesomeness, tediousness, adorableness, disgusting barfiness, and balls to the wall SPASS (fun) of being the primary care-giver.  I did not expect this milestone at all and the realization took me completely off guard for some reason.  This is not because my husband is a troll who just plops his kids in front of the TV and plays video games while their brains turn to mush—that’s just really not his style.  He’s always been a very hands-on kind of dad who makes his daughters feel special and spoils them a little more than mama does.  The spoiling has lessened as he spends more time with them, yet his gentle patience persists with them long after I would have lost my Schmidt.  He’s always been a really supportive and as-understanding-as-he-could-be kind of partner to me, and that really hasn’t changed at all.  This realization wasn’t that he’s a good father either, rather that we have this newfound appreciation for each other and empathy for the situation that we are each navigating.  Yes, the specifics are different.  I most assuredly have never had to be the primary care giver in a country where I only speak a bit of the language and he’s never tried to conduct anthropological fieldwork for a PhD, but this milestone still needs to be appreciated.  Dare I say Andy has acquired the emic perspective?    

Upcoming milestones that we will also be celebrating in the coming months:
May: Our first visitors arrive from the USA, Annika turns 4, & 1st family road trip in Germany
June: Our 8 year wedding anniversary & more visitors!
July: Mayzie turns 2 & more visitors!
We’re very excited to welcome all kinds of visitors and to show off this spectacular city that has really started to feel more like home now.  Surely many more milestones will come along the way in the next 6 months.  Bring it on!  We’re ready!    

Monday, April 9, 2012

Chocolate Eggs and Slippery Balls: Osterfest in Berlin

Easter in Germany is a 4 day affair.  Almost everything closes on Good Friday and apparently in some spots in the country you can actually be fined up to 1000 Euros for making too much noise as it is a "quiet day."  Saturday most places are open again, but in the usual Saturday altered hours way.  Apparently there are many Easter Fires to be had around the country that celebrate the beginning of spring by bringing the heat to scare the cold away.  (It worked, as long as the sun was out too btw.)  Easter Monday is similarly holiday-ish with many festivals and things going on and most people not working.  We took advantage of the 4 day weekend by having some amazing adventures around the city.  We've been having soo much fun!  Here is a summary of the awesomeness that was our long Easter weekend in Berlin.  

Despite knowing it was a "quiet holiday," we threw caution to the wind on Friday made the trek all the way into the city to Alexander Platz where they had a big Easter Market going on complete with gigantic sausages, pan seared mushrooms with yogurt sauce, tiny wooden shacks filled with knick-knacks for purchase, and nominally expensive and hilarious activities for the kiddies.  After determining that Annika was not heavy enough to go on the trampoline-bungee waistband activity, we made our way over to the gigantic hamster-ball things where for only 5 Euros they filled the ball with air, sent it afloat in a blow-up pool, and let her run and goof-off for 5 whole minutes.  Annika called these the "slippery balls" and frankly the name was appropriate.  

After the slippery balls, the next activity was the mechanical bull.  Yes, that IS my not quite 4 year old laughing her head off on a gigantic mechanical bull situated in the center of a blow-up American flag circle thingy.  She was definitely the smallest to try it, and she held on as long as he kept it on the slowest setting--about 3 minutes.  It was pretty great to watch, AND the first time I actually heard Annika yell a German word.  "SCHNELLER!"  (FASTER!)  
After we ate some typical German festival fare and our amazing friend Chris joined us, we had to take the girls on the obligatory carnival ride too.  (Why did I not take a picture of Chris?  Note to self: Take more pictures of friends!)  Please note Annika's amazing new sunglasses that she picked out from one of the aforementioned shacks.  They have blue flames on the side, and make us feel extraordinarily American when she wears them.
We headed over to check out the Neptune Fountain in front of the TV tower, where Chris showed her truly amazing skills by both suggesting we take a family photo AND getting one where we're all actually looking at the camera.  All in all, Friday was a great day out.    
After our amazing family day out and after the girls went to bed, I did sneak out to meet my friends at our favorite karaoke bar here: Monster Ronson's Ichiban Karaoke!!  I rocked out some Raspberry Beret in tribute to my 2 friends who had also studied in Minneapolis, and even got to whip out my extremely rudimentary Dutch skills on a group of boys there for a bachelor party.  Good times!

Saturday...hmmm...what did we do Saturday...OH yeah, NOTHING!  We practiced a little "dulce far niente", mostly because the weather was rainy and in the 40s, but also because mama wasn't feeling so well.  You know you might be old when you go out the night before, get home at 4am, and can't sleep past 8am!  I also know I'm old because I KNEW I was sick and not hungover.  It wasn't pretty, but at least it's over.    

We had originally planned to take the girls to an Easter Fire as recommended by some German friends of ours.  Alas the crappy European viruses and weather conspired to keep us indoors that day.  Andy went to the grocery store with Mayzie, but that was about it.  When we opened the front door, we found that the Easter Bunny had been there early (aka: one of our awesome neighbors anonymously left our daughters chocolate)!  The girls were sooo excited and I was moved for sure.  Despite Mayzie's bored look here, I assure you she was surprised and excited!    
 Then came Sunday!  The Easter Bunny DID make a stop at our house, and our girls were ECSTATIC!  Those adorable faces were covered in chocolate for the next hour.  It was great.  I think.  Andy mostly took the pictures so that I could see them, when I finally woke up from my 13 hour nap.  

When I finally got up and moving, we made our way up to Spandau for the 6th annual Easter Knight Festival at the Citadel there.  You really must love a Medieval Festival situated in a fortress built in the 16th Century.  

The building was really amazing to check out, and they had some lovely historical museum bits that I would love to go check out again.  They had an impressive collection of war weapons, helmets, and original plans for the outfit.
There was, of course, a jousting display of great knight feats that our girls got to enjoy from the tops of our shoulders.  I honestly saw none of it, except for the pictures that Andy took with his hand above his head.  (When are the young ones big enough to start taking pictures from up top anyway?)  This purple knight was Annika's favorite, because she is a GIRL knight.  I really appreciate this reinterpretation of history myself.
We walked all along the top of the walls, which were surprisingly grass covered.  There were these steep cobbled paths to get up there, but we appreciated how much they wore the girls out.  Annika was particularly wired from all the bunny-loot, so we spent much of the day chasing after her.  Mayzie had an excellent time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the old building.  This was some hole that we couldn't see the bottom of.  I think she looks like she's listening for ghosts here.
Naturally, we climbed a creaking wooden spiral staircase all the way to the top of the tower.  We took turns carrying Mayzie up while the other parent tried to keep up with Annika.  Once we got the top, Annika announced, "Ok, I'm done.  Let's go back down."  We DID get her to stand still for about 10 seconds, though we figured out quickly that taking pictures was not really an option as imminent danger of children plummeting several hundred feet to their death didn't seem to be a concern of the constructors.

We ended the day by taking the girls on a carousel.  Are you sensing a theme here?  In a medieval twist, this one was MAN powered.  After everyone was loaded, two men would position themselves on opposite sides of the carousel and push it around while running.  (Not a job I would sign up for, though it did look like quite a workout!)  Here's the action shot.
Every time they went around the girls would yell "HI!"  It was freaking adorable, and even made the stoic Germans laugh in delight.
Easter Monday, we trekked back over to Domaene Dahlem for their Easter Egg Hunt.  They were giving out free bags of goodies to the first 1000 kids, so we made sure to get there early--though I'm not sure that was really necessary in hindsight.  This was no American egg hunt to be sure.  When we arrived, we stood in a long winding line of parents and kids waiting to get these bags.  We stood in the line for 20-25 minutes, and then each kid received a bag filled with organic candy and one colored egg.  The only hunting to be done was when the parents would randomly place the eggs or other treats they had brought for their kids around the farm.  Several times I noticed one parent placing eggs or toys, only to have some other kids notice them before the intended recipients "found" the gifts left by the Easter Bunny for them.  It was a pretty adorable game that the parents were playing with the kids, and much different than last year.  (Last year was a rainy Cleveland Easter when we got to watch Annika and hundreds of other kids "look" for thousands of candy-filled eggs all over a hockey rink in the Cleveland Heights Community Center!)
Here is Mayzie enjoying her loot this year.
Here's Annika enjoying her chocolate too!
 Of course, we capped the weekend off by riding yet another carousel.
 Annika even got to ride her favorite black horse!

All in all, I'd say we definitely enjoyed our family Easter Weekend here in Berlin.  I've left off the bits about the screaming tantrums and public scrutiny on purpose here.  I want to remember the weekend like this.  I want to remember the fun times and not the insanity and exhaustion of parenting two small children when taking them out for adventures--or pretty much 80% of the time.  Sadly, Annika ended the weekend with a fever, so we may pay dearly this week for taking her out and gathering all kinds of crazy germs.  It was worth it in my book.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kegeln: Not the Same as Kegels

Last weekend, Andy was in London running around the city to do some shopping, sight-seeing, soccer watching, and wedding attending.  Him being away always reminds me how I would be the suckiest single parent EVER and how much I lean on him.  I'm going to let him post his own pictures from his adventure and move on to this week in our lives.

On Thursday we persuaded our friend to come babysit for us so that we could have a date night.  Andy planned a very fun outing to the local Kegelbahn restaurant that he'd been scoping out.  We weren't exactly sure what we were getting into when we went, but it was a great time for sure.  We went to Kegel Koenig (I would link to them, but their website is currently under construction), and enjoyed some good old fashioned 9-pin bowling.  We honestly had NO idea what it was all about when we arrived, and were very thankful to the table of 4 older couples playing in the lanes next to ours.  The bartender who took us into the basement did not explain anything at all, and simply lead us to the lanes and turned them on.  She did tell us "have fun" as she left to go make our drinks.

 Upon arrival, we tried to figure out what the heck was going on here.  There were only 4 lanes and the lady had given us 2 of them--one for each of us.
 Here's an inside view of the lanes.  The lanes were approximately 14-18 inches wide with a gutter on either side all the way down a long alley.  At the end of the alley, there were triangle pieces of wood where the ball could fall over the side as well.  The 9 pins were arranged in a sideways diamond shape, were smaller than we expected, and were all on strings.  Every time we threw the ball down and knocked any pins over, they were all drawn up and reset to their original formation.  There was also a string in front of the lane about  6 inches off the ground requiring us to throw the ball underneath to get it to go down the lane.
 As you can see, the balls were also smaller than American balls (insert crude joke here), and there were no holes for us to put our fingers in (surely there is another crude joke that could go here too).
 Here is an action shot!  Once you threw the ball under the string and actually got it to go down the lane, it typically did not go straight.  It actually would weave from side to side like it had had too much to drink, which we deduced was a good thing from watching the group playing next to us.
 Here's me with my ball in the amazing lighting of the lane.
 Naturally, we figured out AFTER we had finished playing that there are different kinds of games you could play with this set-up.  Yes, we should have done our research instead of just playing the same amount of rolls as the people next to us.  We noticed later that they had this amazing matrix of scores all crossed out on this wipe-board in some sort of interesting game that they were doing.  We did not get it at all, and really just had enough trouble trying to figure out how to work the controls that were most likely from the 1970s.  We each rolled 15 times per game, and typically could knock down 7 pins at a time.  Andy once knocked down all 9 pins and got the light board to do a happy show for us and I once knocked down all 8 of the pins around the outside somehow magically missing the one in the middle.  This also made the light board do a fun buzzing dancing thing, but we really don't know why or how.
  All in all, we agree with this little gnome dude: Good Wood!  It was a good time, and we'll definitely do it again and with more friends.  We'll also do some more research on how the game is played, though frankly just guessing was pretty fun.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Are you there fashion?

A while back my amazing Aunt Mora posted a link to this great article about “plus size” models and the campaign to restore some waistline sanity in fashion.  Some businesses are even catering to the “plus-size” community now, like this one in Brazil that is making bikinis for the bigger girls.  What does that mean though: PLUS size?  Apparently, the fashion world thinks that plus size is between sizes 6-14.  Funny, I’ve been all but one of those sizes in the past 5 years, and I never considered myself to be plus sized.  I hear all the arguments for using walking hangers to display the artistry of fashion, and I completely get the idea of wanting to dress beautiful people to promote the art and amazingness that is fashion.  Do forgive me, because I am a very recent convert to even beginning to try to understand or even pay attention to the fashion world, but I have a few critiques I’d like to lay out here. 

Our former roommate A-M was the one who actually got me thinking about what I might actually look good wearing with her obsession with What Not to Wear.  Sure, I had friends who liked to dress me up in college; I swear that my friend Holly should be my personal stylist guru.  But it wasn’t until graduate school that I actually started paying attention to any sort of fashion trend.  This was very unfortunate timing, as most people know that graduate students have little to no income.  Of course, I’ve never had a very large income, having gone from undergraduate student/waitress to grad student/mommy.  Soo the really sad part is that once I actually started paying attention, I either could not afford to buy anything really fashionable OR was soo penny pinchingly Scrooge-ish that I refused to spend the money to buy really nice clothes.  It’s a problem.  I’m working on it. 

I am not writing this blog entry to chastise the fashion community for the ridiculous perpetualization of horrific body images and the ideals that they are putting forth.  That is not my fight to fight, and there are many others doing it much better than I ever could.  I’m also not writing this blog post about the scariness of raising girls in this hyper-advertisement centered world where they will be held to impossible standards and forced to navigate a minefield of self-esteem pitfalls far too early.  Yes those are amazing fights and important discussions to be having, but that is not my focus here.  This is personal! 

Some days, like many women I know, I wake up and feel like every single thing I have in my closet makes me feel like a chubby blubber monster.  I am NOT a chubby blubber monster.  I exercise.  I eat healthy food, most of the time.  I can run 5 miles without stopping.  I can row 5K in 22 minutes.  I can carry a screaming flailing 30+ pound child up 4 flights of stairs and not be sore the next day.  I am healthy!  So why do I feel like a chubby blubber monster?  I am 33 years old, and my whole day can still be ruined when the tiniest bit of my waistline is cinched in my jeans.  Why is my self-esteem inexplicably tied to the way my clothes fit and the way I perceive them to make me look?  I don’t get it.  I can intellectually flay the absurd logic that tells me that I’m supposed to look a certain way that I am never realistically going to achieve, but that doesn’t change the way I feel when I get up in the morning and want to throw all of my clothes out the window and scream WHY WHY WHY am I a chubby blubber monster?   

On a much more practical level, I do actually have the money to go out and buy clothes that fit, look nice, and make me feel well.  There are 3 major problems I’m facing.  First, I am currently living in a place where I don’t actually know where to buy stuff all the time.  Second, I am one of those ladies that needs a second opinion, and sadly my fashion guru friends who like to dress me up are all living elsewhere.  Third, the current fashion trends going on in Europe right now are mostly not at all befitting a lovely 30-something grad student mommy.  Examples: I refuse to wear skinny jeans!  I know they would look horrible, so I don’t even try them on.  (I am not the first to make the joke that they shouldn’t make them in my size, it is just a lie!)  All the spring/summer stuff is out now, and I am also not going to embrace the current super-short shorts with leggings/tights underneath.  No, just no!

This brings me to my final point.  I understand fashion as art and models as hangers, but wouldn’t it be a much better business decision to make fashion that makes average sized people look and feel good?  When you can decorate an average woman and make her feel special and beautiful only by putting on your wares, then you will have accomplished something.  Fashion world, you are missing out on a serious money-making opportunity here.  I AM the average sized woman, and I do not feel good when I put my clothes on most days.  I’m sure that Stacey and Clinton could help me with this, but frankly the effort it would require of me to actually figure out what to purchase is not in me right now. 

As of now, I will be taking applications for a Cinna-esque stylist position.  You need not look like Lenny Kravitz, wear gold eyeliner, or make me clothing with pretend flames, but you absolutely MUST make me feel good about the way that I look.  I promise to buy lunch during our shopping days and shower you with hugs of appreciation.  Anyone want to play dress-up with a 33 year old semi-athletic squishy tummied mommy of 2 grad student living in Berlin?   

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ein Ganz Unruhiges Kind (A Very Restless Child)

The day Annika was born a very nice pediatrician taught us how to swaddle her the tight way that soothes most babies.  As soon as he left the room, she kicked her feet until they were free from the blanket as if she could not stand being bound any longer.  When we took her home, one of the only ways we could soothe her was to sit and bounce on an exercise ball while holding her.  (We give mega-kudos to our friend Ruth who suggested trying this!!)  From the beginning Annika has had a need to move and not be restricted in an adorably exhausting way, and I’ve been dreading the conversation I had with her teacher yesterday. 

Apparently she is just like her father, as his mother informed me.  Andy was also a very restless child who was easily bored and needed near constant attention until around the age of 10.  One of his teachers once comforted his exhausted mother by saying, “He’ll make a really wonderful adult.”  This does not bode well for my nerves for the next 6 years!

I also need to preface this story by telling you that last week the head of the school had a talk with Andy about how Annika hasn’t been behaving well.  She runs away from the group all the time and they have to look for her.  She doesn’t sit still…EVER.  She needs to work on it.  We talked to her about it for the rest of the week, and then on Friday I asked one of her teachers (the one who thinks we eat fast food every day) if she was doing any better.  He told me “a little bit” and then proceeded to further demonstrate his ignorance when he asked why she didn’t know how to behave at school, didn’t she go at home in America as required at age 3 here.  (BTW: sooo not a fan of this guy!)  I explained to him that it is not required at 3 at home and that we simply could not afford for her to go to preschool there.  He looked at me in disbelief when I told him how much 20-25 hours of preschool/daycare would cost at home.  Yeah duder, I think it’s horrible too…I digress. 

This brings us to Monday.  I went to pick up Annika, and actually got a chance to talk to her favorite teacher.  She tells us stories about this teacher and runs to her when she is upset.  She is a great teacher who sings lots of songs with the class and seems to have an unending well of patience (which must be a job requirement).  I was happy to get a chance to ask her how Annika was doing and to talk kid strategy with an expert.  Here is a shortened, English, version of how things went down (in German):

Me: Has Annika been doing better?  We’ve been talking to her about her behavior. 
Teacher: Yes, she is doing a little better, but I’m still concerned she doesn’t get it. 
Me: We’ll definitely keep working on it at home.  Should I be addressing anything specific? 
Teacher: You know (deep breath with her eyes closed) Annika is a really restless kid.
Me: (deep breath in) Yes, she always likes to be moving.  She always has.
Teacher: It really is exhausting sometimes.
Me: Yes, for us too.  Do you have any suggestions for us as an expert in kid behavior? 
Teacher:  You know, she really is such an intelligent girl and is just so full of energy.  Certainly part of it is a language issue.  She understands so much more than when she started, but still not quite everything.  She is so much fun and really trusts me.  I think that is just so important. 
I suggest talking to her Pediatrician and taking her to get professionally evaluated.
Me: Ok.  Thank you.
Teacher:  I really do love having her in my class.
Me: (trying not to scream) I know.  She loves coming here.  Thank you for your advice. 

THIS was the EXACT conversation I had been dreading for years.  I certainly did not expect to be having it a month before she turns 4 and in my second language.  Frankly I was ill prepared to deal with it at that moment and I’m still not exactly sure what to say. 

As a medical anthropologist, I am certainly equipped to debate the merits and deficiencies of the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual with regard to the medicalization and categorization of cultural “abnormalities” that should not really be pathologized at all.  I can talk at length about the over-prescription of pharmaceuticals to control behaviors that are physiologically and developmentally appropriate in children and adolescents.  I am trained to debate the ridiculousness of cultural norms that expect children to actually sit and listen in order to learn, when that is only one of many different ways to learn as proven by many scientific studies.  I can deconstruct cultural norms and regulations like it is my job (which it is in a weird way).  But I’m not JUST a medical anthropologist. 

I’m also a mother—a really tired mother that sees the ways that my kid is exhaustingly different from the other kids her age.  I’m a mama-bear that will defend my kid with ferocity.  As her mother, I want her to have every opportunity to learn and find her own way in her own way.  I want so much for her, and I want to help her along her path as much as I can.  I don’t want to break her spirit, because she is such an amazing kid in soo many ways.  I don’t want her to be labeled just because she doesn’t conform.  I just can’t help but be frightened that by not being at all open to the possibility that talking to someone about her energy level as compared to other kids her age might also be closing off a different opportunity for us to grow as parents and for her to learn new ways to learn and behave.  I am definitely NOT open to the possibility of putting my kid on pharmaceuticals, but I AM open to learning new strategies for dealing with her behavior.    

Are we going to talk to Annika’s pediatrician here about it?  Probably not.
Am I going to start doing research about dealing with high energy kids?  YES.
Why didn’t I do it before?   No idea…well…I did have those pesky PhD requirements. 
Is it possible to remain critical of psychological and psychiatric principles while still understanding the fact that they help MANY people and applying some of them to our lives?  ABSOLUTELY. 
Do I think it is a slippery slope to go down?  Only if you are not an informed consumer. 
Suffice it to say, I am an OVERLY informed and critical consumer on this front. 
Am I angry at Annika’s teacher for overstepping her bounds as a professional?  Surprisingly, NO.  After much thought, I’ve decided that my kid is an absolute original.  I love that she confounds even the most seasoned professionals and that she doesn’t fit in their (tiny German) box (yet).  The act of balancing her originality, intelligence, and energy with what is best for her learning environment may have begun a little earlier than we expected, but thankfully she came into a very loving, concerned, overly educated, and advocacy oriented family. 


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