28 December, 2007

Countdown to 2008

Greetings from sunny Holland! Sorry to have left the blog hanging on a negative note! We've escaped to the Netherlands and I left my laptop at home-- on purpose, believe it or not. It was definitely time for a break from my Stumbling habit...

We've had a really lovely holiday. Spent Christmas just outside of Amsterdam with my parents-in-law and my brother-in-law and his family. We've been spoiled by lots of well-chosen presents, good food and delectible wine.

M and I have been taking long walks in the evenings and spent an afternoon hiking in Alblasserwaard. We even got a chance to have a chique lunch together at the Villa Augustus, which was fabulous!

Today we went hiking with the whole family in the Loonse en Drunense Duinen, a national park in Brabant. The weather was gorgeous and I think my batteries are finally recharged.

I did have a totally bloggable moment this morning, though. After brushing my teeth I grabbed one of the kids' cups off of the bathroom countertop and filled it with water. Started gulping and only realized after about half a cup that I had a horrible taste in my mouth. Spit the water into the sink just as M walked in.

What's the story with this cup? There are bubbles in the bottom.

Oh. Yeah. I wouldn't drink out of it if I was you. The kids were in the shower with me this morning and were using it to scoop up old shampoo and soap bubbles out of the shower drain...

It is on that note that I'm closing out 2007, my friends: May your new year be happy, may your cups be clean, and may your drinks be free of soap scum and skin particles... ;-)

20 December, 2007

Altercation with a couple of junior hyenas

One of the things I like about living here is the fact that it's so easy to walk everywhere. I think it's important that the kids don't automatically think of the car when they want to go somewhere. So I insist that they make the 1.5 km trek to school on foot, regardless of the weather.

Other parents all do the same, but there is one striking cultural gap: they send their kids unattended from the middle of first grade on. I feel that this is too early to turn kids loose without supervision. On the surface it seems OK-- there are plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks. But in my experience it's rarely the passing cars that pose a problem.

Most of these children left to their own devices are fine. They walk together, they chat, they giggle. But there are a handful who use this unsupervised time to run wild. They dig garbage out of dumpsters on construction sites and they trample through gardens, taking any flowers, fruit or other random articles to throw at passing cars and each other.

In order to watch out for my own kids I make the trek to school twice a day, rain or shine. Normally walking with your mother would be seen as "uncool" by the kids in S and B's classes, but I use the dog as a secret weapon. She's been called "the most popular girl at school", and their classmates so look forward to seeing her that they seem to forget that I'm attached at the other end of the leash.

And so on any given afternoon you can find me walking home surrounded by an ever changing cast of characters, all jostling for a chance to walk next to D. One of our regulars is a tiny girl with an unwieldy French name. She claims she's seven but she's so petite that I wonder if this is an exaggeration. She's spunky and is one of the few kids that age who really thinks for herself.

Yesterday we were walking home when suddenly two third graders raced past us and started shouting: "Let's go bully that stupid little girl!" My stomach sank as I saw them closing in on M up ahead; she'd left earlier than we had.

They ran up and started tormenting her-- hanging over her, shouting at her and laughing. She ignored them for a couple of seconds but fear took over and she ran behind a parked car to try and escape.

I ran up and told the boys to knock it off-- surely they can see that she's frightened! They just laughed and continued mobbing her. I grabbed one of them by the arm and he just laughed at me defiantly. When I told them both to get lost they only crossed over to the other side of the street where they continued their jeering.

I hugged M and told her not to listen, that we would all walk together. Every 50 meters or so one of the boys would cross the street and start walking behind us again and I would stop and put myself between them and M and tell them to get lost. They really seemed to be enjoying this! I was floored by their cruelty and relentlessness!

I know these kids. They're in S's class and they're a dangerous combination. They egg each other on and apparently yesterday the combination of christmas cookie overload and the heady excitement about vacation had pushed them over the top. I told them I would be calling both their mothers and they just laughed and started shouting their telephone numbers at the top of their lungs.

I escorted M right up to her door and made sure she got inside safely. Then we all endured these kids' obnoxious behavior for the rest of the way back to their houses, which are on the way to ours.

I was so angry I was shaking. Called both the mothers-- it's funny what sets people off. One mother, as expected, was angry as soon as she heard about the bullying-- her voice was shaking as she thanked me for calling and asked me to call again if I ever saw her son doing anything like this again. But the other mother only got really angry when I told her that her son laughed when I told him that I was going to call her. ???

Luckily school is out for the next two and a half weeks. I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed anyway, and this incident had me redlining on anger and discouragement. That, and fear. It scares me to see 8 year olds getting obvious enjoyment out of terrorizing helpless first graders. But it frightens me even more that the presence of an adult did little to temper their predatory behavior. Whatever punishment they receive will probably result in retaliation against S in January. I'm just grateful for the holidays-- and hope that the break provides not only rest but a little perspective. or wisdom. or something that will help me know what to do next time...

17 December, 2007

First Britney, then Lindsay, now the fat man...

Small-town Germany is reeling from reports that Santa Claus has hit rock bottom.

Herr Doktor Claus has been allegedly battling an addiction to pain medication prescribed for a back injury sustained in a drunken sleighing accident last Christmas.

Since splitting from Mrs. Claus earlier this year, Santa has lived on the streets as a vagrant. The sacks in which he once carried toys now house the few worldly possessions he has left.

As evidenced in this photo, Santa has also been neglecting his reindeer. A spokesperson for the local police force has confirmed that the once-jolly saint will be officially charged with two counts of animal cruelty, loitering and a handful of additional misdemeanors.

Santa has been taken into court custody and will be ordered into rehabilitation at an undisclosed location.

14 December, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like.... NINJA!

We finally dug the tree and Christmas decorations out of the basement yesterday.

S was in charge of the stockings. But somehow this wasn't what I had in mind when I handed them to him. That kick is called ab chaki (or something like that) and he tells me it's very dangerous.

Somewhere the woman who needlepointed these is clawing her way out of the grave...

13 December, 2007

Where does he come up with these things?

There was a note for me on our chalkboard yesterday:

Go look undr yor bed.

S and B have been doing this a lot lately, and the treasure is usually a piece of gum or candy that they've dug out of my cupboards. But this time when I checked there was nothing there. ???

When they got home from school later on I got right to the point:

Hey guys, I got a note this morning saying that I had to look under my bed, but there was nothing there...

B started smiling and hopping from foot to foot with excitement. HA! YEAH, I KNOW, FUNNY, HUH?!!! THAT WAS A PRANK!

S looked confused. Huh? What's a prank?


12 December, 2007

The vegetable orchestra

I have a cold; scratchy eyes, stuffy nose and am really spacey. This video had me mesmerized. Either it was very cool, or maybe it was just due to the fever...

08 December, 2007

Flashback #4: Moscow

A friend of mine had a litter of kittens she needed to dispose of. She gave a couple away and paid someone to sell the rest at the pet market. (Who knows what really happened to them but at least her conscience was clear.) She had one kitten left over and in a moment of weakness I took him.

His tiny round head and soft fur were beguiling: from the very first moment this cat was a menace. He climbed the curtains and shredded the wallpaper in my "pet free" apartment. He urinated consistently on my carpet and pooped in my bed. I had no washing machine and when I ran out of clean sheets I was sometimes forced to sleep curled up in a fetal position around sodden putrid spots on my bed.

This cat was so nefarious that I christened him Monster.

There was no cat food to be had in the grocery stores, so I got to make my own. Mornings found me gagging at the stove, stirring a pot of oatmeal studded with malodorous fish heads, tails and skin that I'd bought at the market the day before.

Monster's behavior became increasingly erratic and I started to reach the end of my steadily fraying rope. I was venting my frustrations to a colleague one day when she smiled reassuringly: "Sounds like he's hitting puberty. You need to have him neutered-- that will solve all your problems!"

She just happened to have a cousin who was a vet and called right away to make an appointment. I was relieved, if a little confused, when she hung up and said: "You're all set. He'll be at your apartment this afternoon."

I took a long lunch break and dashed home. The doorbell rang and a middle-aged man with a leather bag walked briskly into the room. I greeted him and started to apologize-- I had no cat carrier and wasn't sure where to put Monster so that he could transport him to his office.

He wasn't listening. He caught Monster, turned to me and asked: "Where is the kitchen?"

I led him to the kitchen and switched on the light. He held the cat down on the butcher block table with one hand while he pulled a razor out of his bag with the other. "Hold his legs for me, will you?"

I was so dumbfounded that I did as I was told as he shaved the cat's nether regions. Then he pulled out an enormous syringe.

Up until that moment I'd been trying to convince myself that this wasn't happening. That any minute he'd wrap Monster up, take him away and return him two days later as a purring, happy eunuch who had miraculously learned to use a litter box.

He pulled out a scalpel and I fled; sat in the only other room in my apartment and cried. About 15 minutes later he brought in a sedated Monster and placed him gently on the carpet. "He'll come around in a couple of hours. There shouldn't be any complications-- if you have any questions you can reach me through my cousin."

I paid him and grabbed my bag-- I had to return to work. We were passing the kitchen on our way out the front door when something caught my eye.

Adorning the middle of the kitchen table were two glistening testicles...

(Move on to Flashback 5:  Moscow)

06 December, 2007

As cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel**

S is spending a lot of time emulating teenage behavior lately. He's sullen, moody and sometimes just plain nasty. This has been kind of a shock because he's usually such a charming, easy-going kid.

Last night Sinterklaas came and brought the kids a few carefully-chosen presents. This morning S seemed happy with them, but then later he actually started complaining that B's presents are always better. and more exciting.

The first time he said it I made a remark about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence, but the second time I got really annoyed-- how is it possible that my normally sunny child can act like such a spoiled brat?!

As soon as I got home I pulled a Grinch: slithered around and gathered up his presents, candy and gum. They have now been shelved on top of my closet for a month.

Depending on his behavior during that time he might or might not get them back. Anyone out there looking for a brand new dart board? I might have one to sell cheap...

**I'm starting off the season early with my Grinch references. The title was a nod at one of my favorite songs ever! "You're a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce."

05 December, 2007

I never liked the taste of liver...

Believe it or not I'm still alive and kicking. I've been having a hard time staying afloat this past week. I feel like my canoe has been springing leak after leak. And I don't like what's seeping in: sadness, aversion, guilt. I'm bailing it all out steadily-- but I'm not always very efficient in my efforts.

On top of everything we all seem to be fighting off a virus. And all this struggling leaves me irritable and bellicose. There's a fresh-faced woman in my German class who is still young enough that she can afford to see the world in black and white.

Yesterday she saw fit to pass judgment on an entire demographic of people. People who are faced with some very personal, highly-nuanced decisions at the end of their lives. And this young, healthy, fortunate woman passed her self-righteous judgment on them and wrote them off as "wrong".

Her arrogance floored me. I found myself willing her to burst into flame right there on the spot. Debated with her for a couple of minutes but then let it drop-- the windmills at which I was tilting are ancient and well-established, and they'll be around long after I'm gone.

The altercation is long over but I am still feeling the burn of residual indignation.

I can't seem to shake this heavy feeling. My "to-do" list is growing steadily-- I should be out right now running errands but am tempted to just crawl back into bed.

I've got a bad taste in my mouth; the greasy, repugnant flavor of liver and onions...