29 December, 2006

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash*

I have just spent 22 hours in bed. Ugh.

We all have our own steadfast traditions for Christmastime. Some people bake cookies; some create intricate Christmas cards. Our family cultivates virulent viruses. And we share them with a vengeance. Every. Single. Year.

Forget romantic snowy vistas, for me the term “White Christmas” conjures up the color of our faces just before we toss our (sugar) cookies into the nearest bin/ bag/ toilet/ park.

And as I sit here completely enfeebled on the couch I’m not sure which is worse: the Ghost of Sickness Past or the Ghost of Sicknesses Yet to Come. Because it’s only a matter of time before Jacob Marley rattles his chains and the next family member takes his turn as the newest WC accessory…

It’s kind of suspenseful to see who will fall prey to the Holiday Ebola next—perhaps we should set up a pool. It would be nice to be able to earn some extra cash to spend at the sales.

If you’re reading this right now that means that you’ve been fortunate enough to dodge us and our contagious holiday greetings. Hope you’re healthy and happy and ready to ring in the new year!

*The quote for the title comes from Clement C. Moore's "Twas the night before Christmas" and the double entendre used to crack me up as a kid. It hits a little too close to home these days...
...When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash...

23 December, 2006

Straight out of left field

I've read a lot of parenting books. Have mined countless parenting-related websites.

But nothing can ever really prepare you enough to know how to react when your kid comes downstairs with a bloody nose and an explanation that starts off with:

"We were just playing volleyball with those two plastic chairs in our room and..."

22 December, 2006

Does this sound familiar?

This just cracks me up!

20 December, 2006

Please tell me you didn't do what I think you did!

Heard giggling upstairs while the boys were having their bath. Went up to investigate and:


Haven't seen anything like this since the days when B used to produce floaters in the tub as a free-and-easy toddler.

Even the dog was impressed!

It took several seconds before I remembered that Sinterklaas had given bath dye to the boys in their stockings.

They were so psyched. B couldn't even sit still and all of a sudden he blurted out:



Pitfalls in the German school system

Recently on the way to school S started crying. "I've got to go to the bathroom but I am afraid to! A couple of times when I've been on the toilet some other kids have taken the key and locked me in there-- and then I got into trouble with my teacher for not coming back to class right away!"

So when we got to school I went with him to the restrooms and waited outside the door until he was finished. He was so relieved afterwards that he gave me a big hug and said "Thank you for waiting, mama." And he was so earnest and grateful that it broke my heart.

I don't get the feeling that S is being singled out. These kind of things happen at random and are not caught because there is no supervision in the halls in the mornings or on the playground during recess. I've had more than one parent tell me how helpless they feel because their first graders are being terrorized during breaks, coming home with scratches, bruises and hair-raising stories. It's apparently a sport for fourth graders to attack random first graders! And the parents go to the school director who promises to take action, but the situation doesn't change.

I am having a hard time understanding the aggressive atmosphere that seems to pervade school life here. The teachers, stressed out to the max by large, rowdy classes, end up taking out their frustrations on the children. S's screaming teacher is not an exception to the rule-- that kind of behavior is apparently tolerated here and is even considered normal!

And when teachers are hostile toward their students is it any wonder that the children are, in turn, aggressive with each other?

I'd considered the possibility of changing schools but have heard from other parents that the situation is no better in other places. There is a private school near here that has an excellent reputation. There's just one problem: because so many desperate parents have started yanking their kids out of our public school and enrolling them in the private one, the classes are now stretched to the limit and similar situations are occurring.

And there's an additional problem that I'm starting to notice here. The German school system is set up in a way that the children have shorter school days. They get home at lunchtime and then continue their schoolwork at home in the form of homework. Which puts the onus on the mother for a sizeable chunk of the child's education. (A friend from Michigan laughed when I told her this and said "So basically you're homeschooling?" which really isn't that far from the truth!)

I am very lucky in that I am well off enough to be able to afford to stay home and guide S in his homework. I am also well-educated and am far enough along with my German that I can actually help him when he needs it. But not everyone has these advantages. In this way the system actually discriminates against the students who need the most help and ensures that they will lag behind their peers.

In spite of the odds S is adjusting to school here and seems to have found some sort of fragile equilibrium with his teacher. But I can't help but wonder about the future of a generation that is being socialized in this kind of environment.

18 December, 2006

Hey hey BABY!

Last thursday I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and played hooky from class. Which gave me the same sort of rebellious adolescent thrill that I used to get when I skipped class in high school. (So my enrollment in the VHS is worth it even if only to recreate that heady excitement!)

Decided to pamper myself so I went out for a facial, something that would never usually even cross my mind. It turns out our salon had a special on a super dee-luxe treatment that included a massage and a masque. And then afterwards she even did my makeup.

All was well until I passed a mirror on the way out-- I looked like a two bit hooker! (the makeup was probably expensive, though, so maybe we're talking 2 1/2 or even 3 bits.) Pink and blue eyeshadow, thick lip liner and triple-coated eyelashes that would probably have better suited a drag queen! She'd even spackled me!

But at least after the massages I was totally relaxed; I probably could have made some extra tips if I had hit the corner right afterwards. And now I know where to go for prepping if I ever decide to change professions...

Image thanks to Günter Hofstädter

17 December, 2006


This afternoon we took a 2+ hour hike in the woods. Got back about an hour ago and have been snuggled up on the couch with a cup of tea and listening to the sweet, mellow sounds of James Taylor. All is right with the world...

14 December, 2006

Of course! What was I thinking? (II)

S: Tomorrow I have to bring my favorite stuffed animal to school for show and tell. I was thinking of bringing Tom.

Me: Oh really? Your monkey? That's a good choice!

S: No, the frog.

Me: Wait-- I thought the monkey's name was Tom.

S: It is. (goes back to staring out the car window)

Me: ??? Hang on-- they're both called Tom? That sound confusing! How do they know which one you're speaking to when you talk to them?

S: Because the monkey is called Tom with one m and the frog is called Tomm with two m's!

Crazy dancing guy (III)

Following up on last week's theme on krazy dancing (including Napoleon Dynamite and random crazy person) I just had to include this video that Davezilla had on his site today under the title: "You will never be this cool". Enjoy!

13 December, 2006

Need a laugh II

Davezilla had a link to this version of "Oh Holy Night" on his website. I am still cracking up over this one-- just when you think it can't get any worse it does! :-D

Update: Down in the comments it says that NPR rated it as one of the year's most annoying songs in 2002. rightfully so. :-)

Deck the Halls

I've had some really interesting feedback to my last two postings, including a few very thought-provoking emails. Don't worry, I'm not actually feeling as cynical as my post may have sounded. Or maybe I am, but it doesn't really have anything to do with being an overworked, overwrought mother. Those are just observations that I've made over the last couple of weeks and something I can empathize with.

I think my malaise has more to do with a post-move dip than anything else. We seem to be mixing too many December holidays and I'm having a hard time figuring out what traditions our family should follow.

M's family has always celebrated Sinterklaas and mine has, of course, its own American Christmas traditions. But at the moment we're also having to pull in elements from German Weinacht for the school and kindergarten.

I feel obliged to pass that magical holiday feeling on to my kids but am at a loss as to how I should balance these three holidays. Especially since I don't personally feel very drawn to any one of them... This makes me feel very guilty.

Every now and then I forget that we're still in transition. I'm sure that next year more of the pieces will have fallen into place. We'll hopefully feel a bit more comfortable in our own skins and then the picture will be clearer.

For now, though we're celebrating in a rather haphazard way, and I guess I should try to make the best of it... Any tips for how your family ends up balancing different cultural traditions?

12 December, 2006

Your brain is full of spiders, you've got garlic in your soul**

I can't stop thinking about yesterday's post and the plight of modern day mothers. I've been thinking about this a lot lately-- especially in light of the added responsibilities of the Christmas season.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy, carefree time; one that people look forward to all year long. But I've hardly seen any Christmas cheer this year-- and this has nothing to do with Germany, rather it's the product of modern society. That mothers who are already at the end of their ropes are landed with the extra responsibility of decorating, baking, shopping and still maintaining a warm, happy demeanor.

Last week I got home to a hysterical message on my answering machine-- a mother from our playgroup who was near tears about a glitch in a Secret Santa gift exchange. And of course it wasn't the gift exchange that was the real problem, she's got 4 kids under 5 and is feeling completely overwhelmed at the moment. But the point is that the added stress of organizing the gift exchange was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Yesterday a neighbor dropped by to pick up a document I'd edited for her. I could tell when she walked in the door that something was wrong. When I asked "Everything OK?" she rolled her eyes. "I HATE CHRISTMAS!" she groused, obviously relieved to be able to vent to someone. "I was already stretched to the limit and now there is so much more to do on top of it-- I'm just SO tired! I can't wait until the holidays are over!"

And I can completely empathize with this statement. I recently confided to another friend that Christmas seems like a chore. Something that has to be done for the children's sake, but which is not at all enjoyable. This is a feeling that's further complicated by the fact that I am not Christian and cannot identify myself with the holiday-- I celebrate it merely because it is a cultural phenomenon and a tradition that I feel obliged to pass on to S and B.

Modern women may have made a lot of strides in the struggle to choose the course of their lives, but sometimes these victories can also spell our downfall. The more choices we have, the more we take on, and we're starting to lose a part of ourselves in the process.

I have no solution for the problem, but merely wanted to acknowledge it by putting it down in writing. And, of course to elicit comments, because I'm curious if the rest of you are sharing the same experience.

**10 points for anyone who recognizes the quote in today's title! :-)

11 December, 2006

Culture clashes

Agitated Iraqi Guy is starting to seriously work my last nerve. He's openly disdainful towards women, in spite of the fact that he's a minority in a roomful of earnest, hardworking females. You would think he'd have the sense to keep his mouth shut. But instead he continues to make snide comments and at some points is even disrespectful to the teacher. It's unbelievable!

The topic of today's rant was that modern mothers complain too much-- they say they are busy when in reality they are just lazy. Look at their grandmothers-- they were at least busy washing clothes by hand and baking their own bread. Contemporary women choose to sit on their laurels, let the street raise their children and complain about their ill fortunes. (And he's serious when he says these things!)

Normally I just let him talk and don't rise to his bait, but it just so happens that I was still doing laundry and scrubbing our toilets at 10pm last night because it was my first real opportunity to do so.

I tried to present a logical argument in which I said that, yes, our grandmothers spent more time on household chores, but that left less time over for raising their children. Much of the time modern mothers now save on household chores we spend on stimulating our children and overseeing their development. The world has become more complicated and so has the task of shaping our children's characters. We talk to them more, are more involved with their schoolwork.

To which he responded with more generalizations and flippant remarks. Unfortunately the angrier I got the less articulate I became. Which means he quit listening to me about 30 seconds into it. (If he was listening at all in the first place-- I am, after all, lower than a donkey according to his reference point.)

I suppose I'm learning a lot about life (and ignorance) through my interaction with him but have to admit I will not be sorry to see him go when we finish this module...

09 December, 2006

For rent

I've decided to rent out some of the space in my dog's head. It's a shame to let it just stay vacant. Let me know if you know anyone who might be interested.

07 December, 2006

Hip headwear

M and I went shopping for Sinterklaas gifts last weekend. And while we were in the mall we decided to pop into a department store to get him a new winter hat and scarf. We felt a little ridiculous shopping for woolen accessories with temperatures outside hovering above 15 degrees Celsius, but that lent a bit of a comical aspect to the whole adventure.

M tried on a couple of lined caps-- most of them had earflaps. And of course they looked absurd, because, let's face it, there are very few people who can actually get away with wearing earflaps and not look like they're a product of inbreeding.

But, OK, it's supposed to get cold here, and M has cute ears and I would hate for them to turn black and fall off just because I'm worried about how cool he looks. (or what his appearance says about me.) So he finally found one in which he looked only mildly retarded.

We were tired and punchy and I was all: "Fine, that's great, honey, can we go now?!" I had definitely had enough of the mall.

And that's when we heard someone hiss "Das sieht scheisse aus!" (literally: "that looks like shit!") We looked at each other incredulously-- and then we heard it again! And suddenly a salesman popped out from behind a rack and said "You can't buy that. You look absolutely ridiculous."

I think I might have reinjured my jaw when my chin hit the floor. But M, blunt Dutchman that he is, was completely unfazed. He said "Well, I'd rather you tell me that now than that everyone else think it to themselves after I've bought it."

And so I asked if they had something in stock that might be a little more trendy. Within about 30 seconds he had put together a matching hat / scarf / glove combo. Which was more along the lines of what we used to see on drunken Russian men who slept off their hangovers on local park benches in Moscow.

But according to this high-maintenance, arguably hip salesguy M now looks "GEIL!" (Cool!) And that's what it's all about, isn't it? ;-)

06 December, 2006

Of course! What was I thinking?

B: Mamaaaaaa! I have a present for you!
Me: Oh, a walnut, how nice!
B: NO! It's not a walnut! It's actually a bowling ball, but it just LOOKS like a walnut!

03 December, 2006

He made it!

On Christmas eve when we were kids we left a glass of milk to quench Santa's thirst. Times have changed and our kids have been influenced by their time in Belgium. The drink of choice to keep Sinterklaas happy? A bottle of beer!

Believe it or not S was not drinking beer in this next clip. We were singing Sinterklaas songs and true to tradition he became completely wired on chocolate and antsy anticipation of all the presents he hoped to receive:

He was also extremely nervous: what if Sint and Piet lost their way on the way here from the Netherlands?

The good Saint must have had a good GPS, though, because he somehow managed to find us here in small town Germany. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and when we opened it we found two huge sacks full of presents!


01 December, 2006

Stardate December 6th

On December 6th we're supposed to be celebrating Sinterklaas along with 15,999,996 other Dutchies. And I haven't even started with presents, gedichten, traditional treats, etc.

Normally this might induce a panic right in line with forgetting to do my taxes or losing my dog, both of which have shortened my life significantly in the last three months. Procrastinating Sinter Klaas preparations is a really, really bad thing to do.

And yet here I am, spinning my wheels, running off in 4 different directions at once and I haven't given Zwarte Piet a second thought.

And that's where my guardian angels come in. My parents-in-law called on Wednesday-- said that they know we're busy and how would we like it if they came over and brought Sinterklaas with them? With all the trappings! It's like I've just been offered the ultimate Pimp my Holiday!

So tomorrow we will enter into a timewarp-- we will magically be transported to December 6th-- there will be presents and goodies and more than a few silly poems. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh. That's the best Sinterklaas present anyone could have given me! :-)