27 September, 2006

Thanks, Laurie!

This made me laugh at a moment when I really needed it!

I'll take coffee with my slice of humble pie

Just back from dropping S off at school. the whole process went much more smoothly today. We left 10 minutes earlier so we had plenty of time and the walk was about 120% less stressful. S started out feeling sick but soon calmed down and chatted amiably about Bugs Bunny.

And as soon as we got to school Barnacle Boy showed up and they walked in together.


And now I realize that a big part of S's meltdown yesterday happened because we were late and he was feeding off of my stress. He was already nervous and I completely exacerbated the situation by rushing him and pulling him along. I've got to remember that my mood and behavior still have a big influence on the boys, and although stress cannot be avoided I'm doing my best not to contribute to it.

6 months of Vipassana has made a huge difference in my life, but then something like this will happen and will remind me that I've still got a loooooong road ahead of me...

26 September, 2006

Mama never told me there'd be days like these...

The novelty of the "big school" has worn off and S has officially hit his dip. I had to drag him almost the entire 1 1/2 km today; he cried every step of the way. When I dropped him off he had a complete meltdown and could not be comforted-- I left him literally kicking and screaming at the door to his class.

Spent the whole morning with M running around to exchange our lease car. Which means braving traffic on roads that can be confusing even with a GPS. M took advantage of the down time to field e-mails with his evil blackberry. It's not like I had anything to say, but I hated the fact that I probably couldn't have worked it in edgewise even if I did.

I just spent the past couple of hours "helping" S with his homework. Which basically meant sitting there, willing myself not to explode or split out of my skin and saying every 5 minutes or so very calmly: "Come on, honey, crying isn't going to help. Please concentrate so that you can get this done and go play".

It was so difficult because I felt so sorry for him, but on the other hand it's hard to remain patient and encouraging when someone keeps daydreaming and then having to rewrite each word multiple times because of careless mistakes.

S is wiped out at the end of the day and I question the wisdom of assigning so much homework to kids who are so small. My new role as a cheerleader is certainly testing my sanity-- I think that today I would have rather have had my eyelashes plucked out one by one...

We've had three different children pop by in the last hour. Two of them had a comment about how much doghair there is on our floors. Since when to 8 year old boys worry about cleanliness???!!! Who are these aliens, and why do they insist on inspecting my house? (I'm just glad they didn't notice the fruit fly infestation I've got going here...)

And as icing on the cake Barnacle Boy is back again. S and B are thrilled but I had to suppress the urge to deck him when I opened the door.

I've taken temporary refuge with a cocktail downstairs but must now surface in order to cook dinner for an acquaintance who's supposed to show up any minute. And I'm feeling anything but friendly....

Can anyone help me with custacean removal?

I seem to have developed a barnacle. Or actually, barnacles would be a preferable alternative-- at least they're silent. This one talks non-stop.

The lost boy from last week has attached himself to me and has even started accompanying us home after school. S and B are enjoying the novelty of his company, but he ran roughshod through our house all yesterday afternoon and provided me with yet another Better-Than-Berlitz™ crash course in German:

DO NOT put the cat in the tub!
NO, you may NOT give the dog any chocolate!
Don't you DARE fall down onto the street again and fake a head injury!

In short, he's charming...

He wants S and B to come over and play at his house this afternoon but I'm hedging. Am trying to think of some sort of humane way to get rid of him. If that doesn't work I might have to resort to a long-handled scraper and some sandpaper...

25 September, 2006

Just call me Florence Nightengale #3

Whew! Boys are in bed and life seems to be working its way back to normal.

Yesterday was fun. B had vile stomach virus that morphed him into Joey from A Softer World. That, plus vomiting episodes every 45 minutes kept things interesting.

S had fallen playing soccer the day before- something about the way he was holding his arm when he came running up set off all kinds of bells and whistles in my head. But after a few dramatic, tearful moments he seemed OK, and even demonstrated how he'd fallen, placing all of his weight on both hands to do it.

So we iced it down and gave him ibuprofen and kept a close watch on him. I must have still been puzzling over the whole thing in the back of my head, because all of a sudden in the middle of the night all the pieces fell into place. I sat straight up in bed, might have even shouted EUREKA! and shook M awake: realized that S had probably dislocated it when he'd fallen and that it had popped back into place.

Sunday it was still pretty swollen, so we took him to the after-hours clinic. B threw up in the car on the way, of course, but, being the seasoned mother that I am, I had a roll of garbage bags, tissues, mints and disinfecting hand gel at the ready. (So Mom, if you're reading this, you'll be happy to know that those two miserable years I spent trying to score badges in emergency planning at girl scouts weren't completely in vain!)

The doctor poked and prodded S- said exactly what I'd thought he'd say, but with the one nice surprise of the day: because S seemed otherwise happy and because there was no evidence of a hematoma he said we could wait a couple of days before requesting an x-ray if we wanted to. His guess was that there were no fractures or torn ligaments and that he would continue to improve over the next few days.

Aside from being a big relief this visit was also good practice in German. I felt pretty comfortable in my skin and, except for that one moment when I asked him if he thought S's elbow had vomited, I communicated everything just fine! (Take that, DSL freak!)

S's elbow was less swollen today and, except for a couple of really spectacularly messy sneezes, this morning B was back to status quo. And now it's time for me to go flop down on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee. I think I've had enough excitement for the next few days...

24 September, 2006

Poor little guys!

We're at home this morning slumped on the couch cuddling one kid who's throwing up every 45 minutes and another one who has probably (slightly) dislocated his elbow.

I can think of better conditions for watching cartoons...

22 September, 2006

I have entrusted this woman with my child!?

This does not seem to be my week for seeing the softer, kinder side of humanity. I went to pick S up from an after-school party-- he had been playing with a classmate and mentioned that the boy was looking for his mother. Just to be on the safe side we went back and found him-- when he saw me he burst into tears. This huge, independant 7 year old suddenly melted down into a frightened little mess.

I gave him a hug and promised him that we would stay with him and help him find his mom. We walked around for a while but didn't see her, so I decided that the best thing to do would be to take him back to his classroom. Surely the teacher would know what to do.


I just stood there with my mouth open while S, B and the lost boy stared at her with huge eyes. When I tried to explain that I wasn't babysitting him, but was trying to help him and that he was scared she just said bluntly: "He knows exactly what he's supposed to do!" and walked away.

At which point he burst into tears again!

I distracted him with questions about the party he'd just attended and we walked around a bit more and eventually found his mama.. She had apparently been told by the screaming teacher that she should pick her son up at 4-- a bit of information which might have been helpful to know when I had approached her earlier!

I'm still a little bit shellshocked by the whole thing. This woman is a teacher, for God's sake! Isn't she supposed to be compassionate with children? I have no insight into the nature of their relationship, but I can't think of a single situation in which that kind of behavior is appropriate for someone in her position.

She's obviously forgotten what it's like to be small and lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces...

The "kindness" of strangers 2

Was doing the lawn chair thing again this afternoon-- sitting out front enjoying the sunshine and keeping a close eye on my two little daredevils while they were skateboarding on the street. Was getting the usual weird sideways glances as people drove by, but really, WHATEVER.

So then this lady from up the street comes up to me with a big smile and says:

"Oh, you are so brave to sit out front in your lawn chair like that. I would never dare to do something like that. If anybody looks at you strangely just ignore them-- I think it's GREAT!"

But I get the feeling she didn't.

(This place must be really dull if sitting outside in a lawn chair causes such a stir. I think that next time I'll do it with a pair of M's underwear on my head.)

But the fun and games didn't stop there. she then hinted that I should have kept my hair blond. And to top it all off she offered her services if I needed any help decorating our house-- I get the feeling she's been peeking in our windows and that she didn't like what she saw.

I liked her a whole lot better when I couldn't understand her...

21 September, 2006

Random thought

I spend a lot of time alone with her and entrust her with my deepest thoughts. So on some levels it's disturbing to realize that the highlight of her day is lapping up phlegm from the sidewalk as we pass the bus stop...

Just call me Einstein

Yesterday as I was suffering through the worst symtoms from Internet withdrawal the phone rang. It was none other than a friendly telecom engineer, my knight(ess) in shining armor. She'd checked the line, fixed a few things and was calling with the good news that service would be restored shortly.

I thanked her profusely and asked what the next step would be.

"No problem. Just wait til your husband gets home and ask him to reboot your modem"


It was so absurd that I burst out laughing and responded with a jovial "Why should I wait for my husband? I'm the Internet expert here at home!"

She realized her mistake, laughed and then told me the next step would be to unplug the modem for a few minutes to let it rest and then restore power and then...."

"Oh, no problem!" I interrupted, still cocky, and disconnected the power.

Dial tone....

Being the big fat Internet expert that I am I forgot that we have ADSL and that the phone line is connected up through the modem...

20 September, 2006

The notorious "expat moment"

I've officially had my "expat moment". You know, the one you read about in all the newcomers' guides, regardless of country. That proverbial drop of water that causes the bucket to overflow and makes one want to pack a suitcase and hop on the next plane out. for good.

Just after posting our stressful first-day-of-school experience; after walking the 1+km back home in an icy downpour; after battling traffic to get a very stressed-out M to work on time. After all this I arrived home to find out that the phone was down.

The phone company tested everything and eventually figured out that it was a problem with DSL. So then I had to contact our Internet Service provider's "Customer Service" line.

To say the guy was nasty would be an understatement. He was horrible-- kept telling me that my German was shit and if I couldn't understand him then maybe I should go out and find someone who CAN speak German and who could continue for me. !!!

This went on and on but unfortunately I needed his help so I had to continue to take the abuse. I somehow muddled through and then melted down into a complete puddle after we hung up.

The thing is, I know I'm doing OK with German. I'm not fluent yet, but I'm certainly proficient and am noticing a big difference in my ability to communicate. 5 months ago I couldn't speak a single word, so it's not surprising that I'm still making mistakes.

This guy didn't understand me because he didn't want to understand me. In the big picture this was just a blip on the chart, but it was pretty discouraging at a moment when I was dangling at the end of my rope anyway.

In any case, Internet is finally back up and the sun is shining and the kids seem to be settling into school. Life is good!

18 September, 2006

S's first day of school

S started second grade this morning and I don't know about him but I'm still shaky! It's stressful enough to start at a big new school, but try doing it in a new country in a language in which you're not yet completely fluent! He seemed OK on the surface but every now and then you could see a bit of nervousness flashing through.

And all the friction we've had with the principal hasn't helped matters. I've been going back and forth with him all summer-- Sander is younger than most second graders here, but he's already completed 1st grade and we are convinced that he'll learn German very quickly and that he should continue on to second. He's already reading, writing and even multiplying so I'm afraid that he'd become bored and unmotivated very quickly if he had to repeat first grade here where they start off by learning their letters.

So I guess I've earned a reputation for myself as one of those bullying parents who push their agendas off on the school-- which, aside from being completely off base could also come back to bite us in different ways.

I shuddered internally this morning when I met S's teacher and the first thing she said to me was not "Welcome" or "Glad to have S in my class" but "Well, we'll give this a shot and see if it works"

It's not like I've been asking them to allow S to skip a grade or telling them my son is a genius! He's earned his place in second grade by finishing first-- the whole discussion seems like it should be so straightforward!

So we dropped him off and all of a sudden it started POURING rain. M had to get to work but we'd walked to school and had no umbrellas so we decided to wait it out. And it rained and it rained.

And then S's class had a break and he came out with the group of kids and was completely MORTIFIED to see that we were still there. We all did our best to pretend that we didn't recognize him but it was all I could do to keep from scooping him up and smuggling him out of there and back home.

Poor little guy! It's going to be a tough couple of weeks for him. (and probably for me as well to tell the truth!)

17 September, 2006

And I haven't seen him since...

M has recently had a "difference of opinion" with the authorities about maximum speed limit on a local highway. This has resulted in a month long time out to contemplate his offending behavior. Which means morning commutes to work with me and bumming rides home in the evenings with a friendly colleague.

They usually arrive here after 7pm, weary from traffic and the daily wear-and-tear of the office. And I rarely know beforehand when this friend will be coerced into staying for dinner.

On the surface this poses no problem-- I always cook an extra portion to eat for lunch the next day. I've come to like the guy, and am happy that he's offered to help out M in spite of my performance as Ms. Freakazoid America when I flashed him a few weeks ago.

But I'm always a little self-conscious about my cooking. Don't get me wrong, I put a lot of time and thought into our meals-- to call me nutritionally-obsessed would probably be an understatement. And although our family has come to appreciate my mostly vegetarian high-fiber, low-fat, low-sodium meals, I somehow doubt that they are completely palatable to the general public.

S and B are almost as vegetable-averse as their peers, but studies have shown that if you keep forcing veggies on kids that they eventually grow to like them, or at least tolerate them.

One amazing thing I've noticed is that visual cues really do make a difference. If I give them a dish with individual chunks of vegetables in it they'll gag and groan and act as if I've served them rat poison. But if I puree stews and soups they wolf it down and ask for more.

So Thursday was another rat-poison evening: Curried chick pea stew with tomatoes and spinach. Whipped out my hand mixer and blended the whole thing-- served it with fresh carrot bran bread and it was met with rave reviews.

then came the call: "Hi, it's M. We'll be there in 10 minutes-- do you have enough to feed H as well?"


Other evenings I've had at least some forewarning and have been able to make the meal more palatable for outsiders, but unfortunately it's just not possible to un-puree a stew. So I said "sure" but that H would have to eat at his own risk.

H brushed off the warning with "Oh, it can't be that bad-- what color is it?"

"Sort of vomit-colored"

Which was met with an embarrassed giggle.

He thought I was joking!

To his credit he did not run screaming from the table and actually cleaned his plate. Had to stifle a laugh, though, when I saw him pouring on the salt when he thought I wasn't looking. I'm thinking he probably scarfed down some spoonfuls of lard when he got back to his apartment.

And am left wondering: 1.) if he'll ever stay for dinner again and 2.) if he actually survived my carrot bran bread. I get the feeling it can be lethal for the uninitiated...

16 September, 2006

Avast me hearties!

September 19th officially marks International Talk Like a Pirate Day! No stress, but you've only got a couple of days to bone up on vocabulary, pickup lines and general silliness. (There's even a German section!)

Web Zen, One of my favorite virtual distrations, has also devoted the latest issue to the topic.

Enjoy! I'm off to feed me bilge rats...

15 September, 2006

A new milestone

They've finished summer kindergarten and they are PUMPED!
S and his teacher part ways. He'll be starting 2nd grade next week but has gotten a fantastic head start in kindergarten!

Hypothetical question 2

Let's say two boys decide to play the Black Eyed Peas song "Pump It" repeatedly in their room for several hours at a time. How many days in a row would it take before (a.) a neighbor or (b.) their mother snaps, charges in and gnaws through the CD player power cord with her her teeth?

14 September, 2006

Still cracks me up

We were all pretty punchy one evening at dinner earlier this week. I don't know how it happened but the conversation (d)evolved into one big joke fest, with me dredging up corny elephant jokes from the darkest recesses of my memory. These turned out to be international, because M had a few Dutch ones from his own childhood.

S and B jumped in on the game and started making them up on the fly. Kids seem to have a gift for the absurd:

Why are monkeys brown?
Because if they're black then it means you've cooked them too long.

While we're on the subject of twisted humor you might want to check out Making Fiends. I watched a couple of episodes yestderday and it cracked me up. I'm wondering what they're putting in the food at UCLA?

11 September, 2006

Some small solace

The doorbell rang midmorning on Saturday. M opened the door and was startled when a small German boy walked in, announced that he'd already finished his breakfast and ran past to go find S and B.

"Who the heck was that?!" M asked as footsteps echoed up the stairs.

J is new here and knows S and B from kindergarten. He's becoming a familiar sight riding his bike up and down our street with other playmates. And he's only 4 1/2 years old!

One of the things that really strikes me about this area is how much freedom parents give their children, even at a very young age. Especially coming from Belgium, where families watch a child's every move and whisper conspiratorially among themselves if they see a neighbor's kids playing alone in the front yard.

I don't know how real the threat in Flanders actually is-- there have been multiple high-profile kidnappings and illustrious pedophile rings in Belgium in recent years. But in any case, the common perception is that children are not safe being outside on their own.

So it is refreshing to enter into a community with very low violent crime statistics and very high numbers of families who obviously feel safe enough to give their children room to become independent and explore the world around them.

Today marks an important anniversary for Americans both home and abroad. I was 8 1/2 months pregnant when those indelible images shocked the world. I worried then about the climate into which I was bringing B. And I continue to worry for my sons and their generation when I see just how volatile the global situation has become.

It is so easy to become paralyzed in the face of abstract fears. The media bombards us with stories of terrorism, war, pedophilia and the countless other vicious and inuhumane acts that people carry out against each other. The only way I can continue to function as a rational parent is to focus on the present and the positive things I am experiencing directly.

And it is comforting to know that in this day and age it is still be possible for a small boy to finish his breakfast and go out to explore the world around him without trepidation. J knocked on our door last Saturday morning with nothing more serious than legos on his mind. I can only hope that there are many more like him out there and that he's not an exception to the rule...

10 September, 2006

The kindness of strangers

Dogbert disappeared on Friday. She trotted nonchalantly out the back door and took a two-hour field trip. Two hours which shortened my life by about 2 years!

As soon as we noticed she was gone I recruited the help of an American neighbor and we went out canvassing the area. On the bright side I got a lot of practice with German; some incredulous stares, some gentle smiles.

One man burst out laughing when I asked if he'd seen a black Labrador-- his answer began with: "As I told the other American who came around asking a couple of minutes ago..." Oopsssss. A little embarrassing, but at least my language gaffes were met with patience and understanding.

We eventually found her, with the help of a gaggle of school children and a couple of kindly retirees. She'd topped off her sightseeing tour with a trip to a nearby orchard to eat fresh apples. Can't say I blame her but hope she's gotten her fill because I don't think I can handle any more search parties any time soon.

D's escapade has granted her a kind of celebrity status in the neighborhood, though. M took her out for a walk this evening and was approached by a couple of strangers who bubbled over: "Oh great! You found your dog!!!"

Have I mentioned lately how much I like this neighborhood?

08 September, 2006

Virus 0, Betsy 1

Woke up clearheaded and ache-free. Just got back from a hike-- hit the ground running. literally. Sprinted about 1/3 of it, crashing heedlessly through the brush. Only stopped when my legs turned to spaghetti and my heart threatened to rocket out of my chest. D was bounding back and forth, drunk on freedom after several days of confinement.

Today I ignored the birds and crickets. Brought my iPod along and relished Godsmack at borderline dangerous levels.

Am I the only person over 22 1/2 who likes these guys? The lead singer is of questionable character and their lyrics are shallower than an inflatable toddler pool, but I really like their sound. I'm playing / replaying their acoustic album, though, so I figure I can call myself a "sophisticated listener". ;-)

Am off to the grocery store so that I can cook some REAL food this evening.

It's good to be back...

07 September, 2006


Perched on the balcony; small, shivering
entranced by a moody, opalescent cloudscape
deft brown bats careen in the space between.

Soft music dissipates over the railing into the breeze
blending seamlessly with the melancholy drone from crickets below.

First time I've craved a cigarette in more than a decade...

Hello from down here on the floor...

The past couple of days I've been knocked flat by a virus. And I think it was driving a bus. Have that achey/ headachey/ spacey feeling and yesterday at one point I was actually seeing stars! I keep taking my temperature, figuring I'll have an impressive reading to show for my misery, but it keeps coming up normal. go figure.

And the weird thing is that something about feeling so rotten is making me morbid-- yesterday evening I was convinced that I'd poisoned the boys with some undercooked chicken, and last night I kept dreaming that I was pulling stingray barbs out of my chest. That and I've been dwelling on the anniversary of Max's death, which is coming up and lurks as an ominous shadow in the dusty recesses of my subconscious.

M took over household chores and brought the boys to school so that I could sleep in today. I'm just back from our morning commute, drinking a fruit smoothie and then I think I'm going to go back to bed... Let's hope that this time those damned stingrays leave me alone!

05 September, 2006

Does hair color REALLY make a difference?

I just got back from getting my hair cut. I liked my hair blond but it was getting hard to maintain so I've dyed it dark brown, which looks more natural anyway.

According to the stylist, though, this was probably not a good idea. She says that Germans in this area are openly nicer to blond people and speculated that the warm welcome I received in the neighborhood was due partly to my platinum do. ?????!!!!!

I'm assuming this is an exaggeration but have to admit that this thought had already crossed my mind. It certainly wouldn't be unique to Germany, but I'm convinced that part of the reason S and B have been accepted so quickly into kindergarten is due to their Aryan features.

I'm trying to take everything at face value and just be happy that they're settling in well, but some days I wonder about people's deeper motivations...

04 September, 2006

All in the name of science

Defective Yeti has a little science experiment up on his blog... (and of course it didn't help that I was already tired before I clicked...)

You have got to be kidding me!

Today was my first day of a three week stint of driving M to work in the mornings. Traffic was (surprisingly!) fine, company was great, but HOLY SMOKES! The RADIO! I listen to my iPod or to NPR at home so up until now I've been spared the full effect of commercial radio playlists.

How is it possible that German stations can get away with playing Spandau Ballet and the Monkeys?! I've got a pretty high tolerance for schlocky music, but this is unbelieveable!

Wind Beneath My Wings?! On a morning show!!!???

There must be a whole army of little elves that come out at the radio stations every night to blow the dust off of the vinyl 45's and LP's. Unless the station managers have switched to 8 tracks...

03 September, 2006

Who needs cable TV?

Life is so much more entertaining now that we're spiking their juice with Absolut!

Apparently following world politics when not in kindergarten

I was listening to a piece on NPR about a proposal to grant China and other developing countries more electoral power within the IMF. B, who was sitting next to me suddenly started boiling over!

"Did you HEAR that S?!" he shouted with the pure indignation only a 4 year old can muster. "They said China's getting more power! TOTAL NONSENSE!!!"

I tried to explain the IMF and voting power but he waved it off as RIDICULOUS! and ended the discussion right there.

Am still not sure if he was outraged for or against the Chinese situation. For all I know he's upstairs right now composing a nasty letter to the editor.

Neither M nor I follow politics so this has come completely out of left field. Very strange...

02 September, 2006

She was *this* close to being put to sleep.

Just went into the bathroom to investigate sloshing noises and stumbled upon the dog enthusiastically lapping brown sludge out of the toilet! AGH!

*gasp!* *shudder!*

(Upon closer inspection it turned out to be discarded batter from this morning's chocolate chip pancakes.)