23 November 2009

And then there were six

No, I'm not pregnant with twins. I'm talking about the sixth stroller that has been added to our ever growing collection of strollers. Sadly, the double stroller that I was so proud of turned into a piece of junk. The metal was cheap; the front axle kept bending causing the front wheel pop off at inopportune times like when running to catch the bus.

Thankfully the first time, Paul was with me, and he picked up the front end, and the two of us managed to make the bus. Our planned trip to Starnberg was cancelled, but we did manage to re-attach the wheel long enough to get to the city park. All I had to do was push down slightly on the back handle so that most of the weight was on the back two wheels, not a long term solution by any means. When we were in the park, we bent the axel back by wedging it against the concrete enforcements of a park bench.

If we could manually bend the axel back into place, it probably wouldn't take much to bend it again, and it did. The next time the axel bent, I recognized the tell tale wobbliness, and I managed to get home before the wheel popped off. Since then I've refused to take the stroller out for anything more than a walk around the block. Since Max can handle a walk around the block, the stroller has been collecting dust in our bike room.
I've been using the single stroller to get back and forth to Max's Spielgruppe, and this has caused both Max and I to end up in tears multiple times. So, we've purchased a new double stroller, the Phil & Ted's Sport with double's kit, one of the strollers I "reviewed" last time, but wasn't overly thrilled with. I'm still not happy about the expense, or the fact that the front wheel doesn't lock, or that it isn't super maneuverable, but at least I can be sure that the front wheel won't fall off mid-transit.
By now, Paul and I have spent enough money trying not to buy an expensive stroller that we could have purchased two Bugaboos. So, here is my word of advice to all new parents who are looking for a stroller. Invest in a good stroller. Invest in a stroller that is going to be worth something on the second-hand market. A friend of mine sold her Bugaboo and used the money from the sale to purchase her double stroller when her second child was born.
ETA: Just wanted to let everyone know that someone commented and told me that you can lock the front wheel. There is a little knob underneath you can twist to do it. It's not been much fun to kneel down in the snow to lock it before getting on the bus though, so I generally don't. So far my only complaint about the stroller is that the brake only locks one wheel, which isn't so great on the bus. I put my foot behind the wheel when we are on the bus. This might be unique to my Phil & Ted's, as my friend who has the Vibe doesn't have the same problem.

01 September 2009

Learning

Parenting has a steep learning curve. That is what a father of three told me a couple weeks ago at a dinner party. In the twenty-nine months I’ve been a parent, I would say these words of wisdom ring true. I am learning how to be parents; I am not perfect. While I have ideas of the kind of parent I want to be, it is my children that are teaching me how to be a mom. Already I have had to grow, adapt and change.

Max is about to start his pre-kindergarten playgroup in one month, and it absolutely kills me to have to send him away at two-and-a-half years. I never thought I would be sending my baby to school when he was still just a baby. Much less sending him to a school where he did not speak the language and the teachers did not speak his language.

This has been a very humbling experience for me. As much as we have tried to prepare him, we can barely scratch the surface with simple vocabulary like Schmetterling (butterfly) and Auto. I had hoped that maybe by osmosis he was picking up some of the language when I took him out to playgrounds and shopping where he is surrounded by German, but it has become pretty obvious that he has not picked much up. When a mother at the pool asked for her child’s toy back, Max just stared at her completely baffled. When an older boy approached Max and said “Hallo Kliene (Hello little-one,)” Max said “Hi boy!” and the child looked back at Max baffled. Or when my friend spoke to him exclusively in German she said that she got the distinct impression that Max didn’t like her so much anymore. I suspect that this will be much like the interactions between Max and his classmates and teachers at the playgroup.

I can only imagine how confused Max will be, and how hard it will be for me to send him back into that confusion day after day. At the same time I know that this is the best time for Max to overcome the language barrier. As hard as it is on me to send Max to school next month, I keep reminding myself that this is what is best for him in the long run. And I hope that I am right.

21 August 2009

The Great Health Care Divide

Since the health care debate is the main topic of conversation in the United States right now, many people have asked me about my experience with socialized health care. Germany is a mix of private and public health care. Everyone that works here pays into the public health system, and they and their dependents automatically qualify for public insurance. However some people choose to upgrade to private insurance so they can go to specific clinics or doctors and get more services like the gestational diabetes test covered.

Back, when Paul and I lived in VA, we paid out-of-pocket for private health insurance, because Paul’s employer’s health plan was super expensive, and they didn’t contribute towards it. The premium amounted to 9,6% of our gross salary. This did not include maternity coverage. To get maternity coverage we would have to pay an additional lump sum which would have amounted to 12,3% of our gross salary. Furthermore we would have had to pay for the maternity rider for six months before I could even get pregnant to qualify for the coverage. If I got pregnant five months and twenty nine days after we started the maternity rider, I wouldn’t have been covered. And, we could only add this coverage in six month intervals from when we first enrolled. When I got pregnant with Maggie, it wasn’t planned, and if we had been in the USA, we would have had to pay for the whole thing out of pocket.

When we asked our friend, a health insurance sales representative, he told us we wouldn’t be able to find any less expensive coverage. Furthermore, this coverage would not cover any pre-existing conditions, so it was a good thing that we were all healthy. We also maxed out our health savings plan in six months with co-pays and uncovered services, like visiting the optometrist and the dentist. This doesn’t include what we paid for prescription drugs.

In Germany, there also is no such thing as pre-existing condition or maternity riders. For this we pay 7,45% of our gross salary, Paul’s employer pays the same amount as required by law. For each doctor we visit in a yearly quarter, we pay 10€. It was a good thing I got pregnant in Germany where the public health insurance has no such thing as a maternity riders or rules on how to qualify for coverage.

Total out of pocket expenses from my first check-up all the way to post-birth care for two pregnancies: 125€. This included the 3 standard ultrasounds, all the regular maternity visits to my OB, all the standard tests, a gestational diabetes test, a strep-b test, giving birth twice, staying four days in the hospital after Max’s birth and three days after Maggie’s, and getting an epidural once. I paid 0€ when I went into the hospital for a uterine infection staying another four days, and they let me bring Max with me. Though, we did have to pay for Paul and my Mom to stay in the hospital room overnight to help me with Max. My health insurance covered the rental of a Medela Symphony breast pump, a pre-natal class, and a midwife who visited me at home after the birth as long as I needed her. If I choose to, I could have paid 0€ to take an ante-natal get back into shape class. Additionally, I’ve paid 40€ for 3 months of birth control, and I will pay 175€ for an IUD which is good for 3 years.

Regarding pediatrics, we’ve had equivalent care as we had in the States. For sick visits, we’ve get in to see the doctor the same day, for well-visits, we schedule about two weeks in advance. With Max, our pediatrician actually visited us at home after he was born. We only pay 10€ a quarter to the pediatrician including all the World Health Organization recommended vaccinations. We paid 10€ to the pediatric optometrist for a check-up and scheduled within two weeks. We paid 10€ for the pediatric dentist and scheduled the same week.

After three ER visits, we’ve had to pay 0€. When we take the children to the ER, we take them to a children’s hospital, of which there are at least three in Munich. When we took Max for what we thought might be bronchitis, we waited about two hours on a Friday night. When we took Max after he swallowed hand sanitizer, we waited about five minutes. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve ever been to the ER in the States; I’ve never waited less than two hours. When I was in the car accident in Ann Arbor, brought to the hospital in an ambulance and had my neck in a brace, I waited four hours before I saw a doctor. I thought they had forgotten about me. I don’t know how much, but I know my parents got an enormous bill for that, and now ten years later, they are still owed money from the University of Michigan hospital for being over billed.

When Paul went to the ER for his broken clavicle in Germany , he waited three hours on a Thursday night, paid 0€. He scheduled his follow-up with an orthopedic surgeon one day in advance, and paid 10€. His physical therapy to rebuild his muscles will cost 10€ a quarter. In the USA, Paul went to the ER for his appendix, we waited about four hours the first time. When he went to the ER for his appendix the second time for his appendix we waited another four hours. We walked out of the ER the first time because his tests came back negative, but the surgeon still wanted to cut him open, even though he couldn’t even look at us because he was too tired. Out of pocket, we paid $2000 in hospital bills for what the health insurance wouldn’t cover.
Of course the ERs aren’t full of uninsured people seeking basic medical care in Germany, because there are no uninsured here.

For sick visits to general MD, we’ve gotten in on the same day (even if we have never been to the doctor before.) I’ve been denied by doctors in the States because my health insurance was from a different State. When I had the ovarian cyst in DC, I had to call six doctors before anyone would see me, and the one who did see me only did because I was crying when I called. For Paul’s root canal, we paid 0€. For my cleaning, we paid 0€, and Paul had a special cleaning which he paid 80€ for out of pocket.

All this government running of health care hasn’t ruined it. Saudi Arabians and other nationalities from around the world come here to pay out of pocket when they get really sick. They could certainly afford to go to the USA if they felt the health care was better there. In fact, Munich airport has a medical center for people who fly here for health care. Even the plastic surgery industry is highly desired.

Obviously, I can only speak from our personal experiences with both systems, but in the States, I had many complaints about my health insurance. Here, I’ve not yet had one. And maybe giving birth, uterine infections and broken clavicles aren’t serious enough to be worthy of comparison, but I think they are. They didn’t bankrupt us like medical bills for similar services have done to so many Americans.

Finally, yes Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world, and yes its population is only 82 million, but the United States’ Gross Domestic Product is three times larger than Germany's.

17 August 2009

Passports

Last week, Paul and I went to the U.S. Consulate to report Maggie’s birth and apply for her passport. With Max, we applied for his straight away when he was two weeks old because we had no idea how long it would take for him to receive it, and we needed it to return home to the United States.

Since I know you are wondering if she has dual citizenship, no, she doesn’t. Neither of our children have dual citizenship. In Germany, you only qualify for citizenship by blood. Or, if you have lived here for seven years, you can apply for citizenship. A funny little quirk on that rule is that a friend of mine who lived here for seven years was able to get dual citizenship for her child when he was born, though neither she nor her husband have German citizenship. Once our children are here for seven years, we can apply for citizenship for them, but I believe they would have to choose between the two countries as adults.

I’m getting off point however, so back to passports. We had to get the kid’s photos for their passports, which are good for five years. Because everyone knows that an infant is very representative of what they are going to look like a year later, much less five. The photos couldn’t be just any old photo of their face; oh no they have to be biometric photos with mouth closed, no smile, eyes wide open, and no obstructions.

A two week old baby only keeps their eyes open for a few minutes a day, so I originally tried to take the photos myself. Here are examples of my first attempt at photographing Max for his passport photo.
I thought I did a pretty good job at meeting the biometric requirements, and I even had them sized right for the biometric requirements, but we couldn’t get them to print out to the right size on the do-it-yourself photo printer at the photo studio. So we finally took him into a photo studio to have them done.

Max adamantly slept the entire time we were trying to get his photo taken. He slept through fire truck sirens on the street; he slept through my mother and I undressing him. We tried turning him upside down, everything. Nothing woke this kid up. Of course the whole time I was wondering why wouldn’t he sleep like this at home?

Finally, we had to leave the studio and come back when he was awake. Of course a two week old baby is usually only awake when they are hungry and want to eat. And, if you don’t feed them right away, screaming usually follows, which doesn’t work out so well for the biometric photo either. Finally I was able to feed Max back to calm, and we got the photo which will represent him for five years.

And just for kicks, this is what Max looks like now, two years later.

With Maggie, I wasn’t going to mess around. I took her straight to the photo studio, and got her photos taken and printed out. Only I forgot they needed to be a different size than the standard German passport photo, so I spent 16€ on photos that are too small, which of course I didn’t realize until the night before our consulate interview. However, now we have six perfectly darling biometric photos of Maggie.
So in desperation, since there are no 24-hour photo studios here, I did the only thing available to me, I tried to do the photos myself. This time I had a photo printer, granted it is a cheap photo printer, not commercial quality, but I would be able to get the photos the right size this time. Anyone, who has tried to photograph a two month old, knows how difficult it is to get them to smile for the camera. Of course, when you are trying to photograph them not smiling, they seem to do nothing else but ham it up for the camera.
We weren’t sure if the consulate would take a home-printed photo, but they were quite happy with them, so, this photo is going to her passport photo for the next five years.

On a side note, the passport application also asks for their weight, height, eye color and hair color…hmmmm.

14 August 2009

Quick Update

On Paul: He went to see an orthopedic about his broken clavicle, and found out he has to wear the figure eight sling another 3-5 weeks. He was also very sternly lectured about not using that arm at all. It's very hard for him not to be able to hold his children. Once the bone has healed, he'll have to rehabilitate the muscles in his left arm. Then he'll be able resume holding Maggie and Max with both arms, and I'll be able to walk Asia again.

On Max: Potty training has pretty much fallen to the wayside, as Max has lost interest. He still uses the toilet about once a day in efforts to procure M&Ms. The process has added a whole new array of amusing vocabulary combinations to Max's repertoire, like "a big poop coming," which of course he never tells me in time to get him to the potty. When Max is perfecting a new word he practices combining it with all the important people in his life. His latest, "Maxi's butt, Da-Da's butt, Maggie's butt, Oma's butt, Opa's butt, Asia's butt, Ma-Ma's BIG butt." Thanks kid.

On Maggie: She's eating, pooping, drooling, crying, cooing and smiling. She's also getting Ma-Ma's BIG butt back in to shape, by forcing her to dance her to sleep twenty times a day. Since we never invested in a rocking chair, this has been both of our children's preferred methods of going to sleep in infancy. I consider it my exercise routine, and I recently added squats to my impressive dance routine. It's a good thing we live on the top floor.

On Asia: Poor dog hasn't gotten much exercise lately, since I can't take her for hour long evening walks anymore. She's been a champ about it though, and is pretty much doing the same as Maggie, eating, pooping and drooling.

On Me: Read above, as my life revolves around these three people and our crazy pooch.

29 July 2009

In Sickness and in Health

Only my husband would break his collar bone on the way to work, and still go into the office for a full days work. When he came home that evening I took one look at the mangled mess that used to be his left shoulder and sent him straight to the hospital, after he ate his dinner of course. However, my anger at him for not wearing his safety helmet has overshadowed any sympathy I might have.

PAUL: When I started to fall, I felt like a complete asshole for not wearing my helmet.
ME: You are an asshole for not wearing your helmet.

Later, after he had some problems connecting a logical thought.

ME: Are you sure your head is OK?
PAUL: Well, wouldn't you rather have a dumb husband?
ME: A dumb husband vs. a smart husband?
PAUL: No an annoying husband?
ME: How about a dumb and annoying husband?

My lack of sympathy has been magnified by the fact that until he heals, he is limited on what he can do with the children. The worst part is that he can't pick up the baby when she cries. So if I want to take a shower, it had better be a quick one, and when I take Asia for her evening walk (which used to be my evening ritual, my hour alone to myself, my moment of peace and quiet, my sanity saver), I have to strap Maggie to my chest.

The most optimistic estimates have Paul healing in 4-6 weeks, but everyone we've talked to knows someone who had the same injury and had to undergo physio-therapy after healing to rebuild muscle strength. So it might be several months before he can pick-up Maggie again.

24 July 2009

Music Appreciation

I visited a friend’s house last week for much needed adult interaction. She has a daughter around the same age as Max, and another daughter about six months older than Maggie. The two older kids were playing with a sing-a-long children’s book. It was filled with the simple songs of our childhood, the songs we all know by heart and the ones that when we hear them as adults get trapped in our head for days and weeks.

The book started playing its tinny version of The Wheels on the Bus, and Max started bopping his head to the beat. My friend smiled at him, and asked him if he knows the song. She starts singing the lyrics, half expecting him to join along with her daughter. Max looks at her funny and keeps bopping his head.
Trying to cover my shame, I look on with a half-smile and a non-committal shrug. Max doesn’t know this song, and he won’t know the next one played either, Row-Row-Row Your Boat. He doesn’t know them because I never play them at home, and he only hears them when we are at other more devoted Mothers’ homes. Selfishly, I don’t play, nor do I invest in music that will drive me crazy. I’m already half-way there, and I don’t need any help finishing the trip.

When I’m feeling especially guilty, I will play the podcast, Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. However, mostly Paul and I play music that we like. So Max might not be able to sing along to Hickory-Dickory-Dock, but he can get down to Barry White, and slow dance with Mommy to Van Morrison.

20 July 2009

Secret Smiles

My mother and I are both convinced that Maggie has been smiling since she was just a couple weeks old. My pediatrician thinks I’m mad, which might be true, but has nothing to do with whether or not Maggie is an early smile-er. Of course Maggie refused to smile during her U3, the German well baby one month check-up. However, can you blame her, she was being poked and prodded, hung by one leg than the other and flipped this way and that at a time of day when she is usually sleeping.

Most people explain those early baby smiles as gas, but gas has certainly never made me smile. Maggie’s smiles are becoming more frequent and more obviously a reflection of how she is feeling. When Max leans down to her and whispers “Hi baby,” tickling her with his blonde fringe, a big toothless grin lights up her face. When I speak dinosaur talk, the rolling lips, the clicking of the tongue or the popping of lips, she looks at me, gives me her silent baby laugh and coos.

Those easy un-conscious smiles are one of the best gifts my children can give me. When everything else seems to be falling apart, and I’m not sure I can take it anymore, just one precious smile from one of my children, and I can go on. This time is fleeting, and one day their smiles will be forced if the photographer can coax one out of them. So please don’t take away my babies’ early smiles, they are my little nuggest of gold, the moments I will hold on to when they reach those teenage years, when the smiles become rare and few in-between.

18 July 2009

Germanish

As we are learning German, picking up various German words here and there, we find ourselves often throwing in German words to our English speech. This often confuses others, like once when someone asked about Asia's breed, and I responded with Mischling. They looked at me funny, not sure if we were using the German word or if Mischling was the English name for an strange dog breed. Strange would be fitting since Asia is indeed a strange dog, both in appearance and behavior.

I recently signed up to receive a German word of the day via email, and this has become very useful. Sometimes I already know the word, but more often I don't, and slowly I'm building my vocabulary. Like yesterday I learned how to say "Es ist sehr bewölkt heute," which is incredibly appropriate today if I want to talk about the weather.

Earlier this week I received Rührei in my mailbox. This is incredibly useful, as I can't tell you how many times I'm at a restaurant and I see various forms of Ei (sounds like eye) on the menu. I know Ei means egg, and the part of the word before Ei is how the egg is cooked. Every time I ask Paul if he knows how the egg is cooked, and every time he doesn't. So, I order it anyways thinking once I receive my egg I'll have learned a new word. By the time the egg is served however, I can't remember if I ordered the Rührei or the Spiegelei. I mean to refer to a menu or my dictionary when I get home, but I always forget. So every time I return to a restaurant I'm faced with the same dilemma.

Excited I showed Paul my word of the day, and asked him if he knew what it meant. He didn't get it at first, so I covered the Rühr- with my finger so he could get and idea of what the word was about.

"Oh, it's how the 'eye' is cooked."

See how Germanish can get confusing, but also amusing?

15 July 2009

Ring Around The Moon

I'm hot, I'm sweaty and I'm covered in pee because a new brand of cloth diaper we were testing just failed like a sieve. I'm sitting on the bathroom floor in my nursing bra and panties, with a semi-nude Maggie now safely in a more reliable brand of cloth diaper. She is alternately gulping and coughing to keep up with the fast stream of milk rushing from my breast, which sprays all over both of us every time she pulls back. A naked butt blurs past me, as Max gleefully streaks out of the bathroom past me. Maggie dangling wildly from my breast, I race into the living room training diaper in hand just in time to see his baby white butt launch into the air as he trips over his own feet, and crumples to the ground sobbing. It's another successful day of potty training.

You might think I'm insane for potty training Max this soon after the new addition, and I'm inclined to agree. However, this wasn't my choice, it wasn't Paul's choice, and it wasn't even in our plans for the immediate future. It was Max's choice.

It's been a long time since I've gone to the bathroom without an audience. I've long since gotten over the feeling guilty of holding a wailing baby over my shoulder while relieving my bladder. Later, when Max's separation anxiety stage kicked in, I often carried him with me to the bathroom, sitting him in his Bumbo or in a strategically placed playpen outside the bathroom door. Now going to the bathroom with mommy is such a routine he often follows me in chattering away about whatever it is that interests him that day. I'm so used to this routine, that I have to remind myself to close the bathroom door when I'm at friends'.

Last Thursday, we were following this normal bathroom ritual; Maggie briefly occupied in her playpen, when Max looks at me quizzically, "Maxi poops?"

Not really listening, I replied, "Yes, Mommy is going potty."

He repeats his previous phrase a little more loudly and with a whine at the end "Maxi poop-EEEEEEEE?" because maybe now, Mommy will pay attention.

Startled, and a little confused, I looked up at him, "Is Maxi going poop?"

He nods his head yes. I was used to this, as he has been alerting us for weeks now about activity in his diaper. A preliminary inspection reveals his diaper is still clean.

I start to get a little excited, as he repeats his phrase raising the volume each time, "MAXI POOPS!!!!!"

I ask him tentatively, "Does Maxi want to use the potty?" He solemnly nods his head, yes.

"OK," and I start to remove his diaper.

When I pick him up to set him on the potty, he locks his long legs around my body crying "NO!"

"OK, you don't have to," and I put him down.

He repeats his phrase, "Maxi poops.”

This sequence of events repeats a few more times before I get a brainstorm.

I close the lid of the toilet, and ask him, "Do you want to sit on the toilet now?" He nods yes, and I pick him up, he screams again, but I sit him down anyways. After about 3 seconds, he realizes he is OK and starts laughing hysterically.

Suddenly, I remember the children's step-stool potty stored in our other bathroom. We had briefly courted with the idea of potty training this winter, and purchased one, but after reading the first chapter of the book decided neither he nor we were ready.

With Max following me excitedly, quipping his new favorite phrase, I quickly dig the potty out and install it on the toilet, the whole time sure that Max is going to fulfill his prophecy on the floor before I get it installed.

As I'm installing it, Maggie starts to cry, but I don't want to lose this moment with him, so I ignore her. Once Max is safely on top of the pot, I quickly retrieve Maggie who wants to eat. Max is thrilled with this new throne, and chatters away about it for several minutes. I hover over him expectantly holding fussy Maggie. Nothing happens. Five minutes pass. Nothing happens.

Trying not to let the disappointment show on my face, I look at him, and ask, "All done?"

"NO!"

This is going to take a little longer. So, I sit down on the floor to start nursing Maggie who is now voluminously voicing her displeasure at not being fed on demand.

"Mama, Maggie, go!" Have I ever mentioned that the hardest thing about your child learning how to talk is when they start telling you what to do?

"I can't go honey," I can't leave him on my hastily installed potty that at any moment topple and send him plummeting two feet.

"Mama, Maggie, go!" Who is this kid, who has been accompanying me to the bathroom, his entire life, but is suddenly overcome by modesty?

"OK," I relent, and Maggie and I retreat to the hallway the bathroom door open, Max in clear view.

I nurse Maggie, while Max blabbers away. When I'm finished nursing and burping her, I ask him if he is done, and wants to get down. He is emphatic in his dissent. I grab the bouncy chair from the living room and put Maggie in it next to me. I'm starting to get a little bored now as the initial excitement has worn off. I inspect the potty; there isn't even a drop of pee on it. Every time I ask him if he wants to get off, he refuses. So we wait.

Then a bell goes off in my head, my dad potty trained me in 3 days or so he claims. He sat me on the potty the entire time, feeding me food and drinks and entertaining me. So I run and grab his half-drank juice from breakfast and a book, Everyone Poops from the living room. Then I do what every good mother does, and I grab the camera. After a few shots of him reading the book on the toilet, he still refuses to get down from the toilet, yet this is yielding no results, I realized we are going to need a few more books, and a little bit more food. Eventually I install a bedside table next to him, complete with a neat stack of books, and a bowl of grapes, followed by cookies, followed by pretzels. I sat down again next to Maggie, feed her again, and call Paul to tell him what is happening. I'm the pinnacle of patience right now.

Suddenly I hear a stream of pee which Max inspects with his hands. Thrilled, I exclaim, and clap my hands. Maxi claps too. I ask him if he is all done, he still refuses to get off the toilet. A few minutes later, he poops, and I'm so proud of him when I can't get through to his father to share the news, I wake my mom up on the East Coast. .

Since Thursday, the novelty of the potty has worn off for Maxi. When he's not distracted or too busy, or he sees an opportunity to make Mommy put Maggie down, he lets me know when he has to use the potty. Since the first amazingly successful day, we have had a few pees and poops in the toilet, a few pees on the floor, and a whole lot of M&M rewards (read bribes). I introduced the M&M's to encourage Maxi to get off the toilet. Otherwise Max would spend half the day up there.

08 July 2009

Something you never want to hear over the baby monitor

Your cell phone ringing...

Memory like an Elephant (when it matters)

Conversation between my parents, Paul and I. My mother was talking about how she has had a bad memory since she cracked her skull.

PAUL: (exasperated) Are you kidding me? You don't forget anything, your hold things against me that I said years ago. Imitating her in his best mother-in-law voice, "Well you said 'Blah, blah, blah'"
MY FATHER: (laughing) Paul, women have this special memory for the things we say that they can use against us later.
ME: The only reason women have this memory and men don't is because WE ACTUALLY LISTEN.

Sex After Baby

Conversation between Paul and I about 3:00am in the morning, after Maggie woke up to eat.
PAUL: (groggily) She slurps too loudly. I'm going to sleep in Max's room.
ME: (bleary eyed) Humph.
PAUL: Is it OK?
ME: (still bleary eyed) Humph. I'd have a lot more sympathy for you if you helped me over the weekend.
PAUL: Humph. (as he leaves the room)

The next morning.

ME: Do you think you'll start sleeping on the couch now?
PAUL: Yeah, probably.
ME: If you think you aren't getting much sex now, you're going to get even less if you stop sharing my bed.

Paul hasn't left me in the middle of the night since.

07 July 2009

PANIC and running around aimlessly

My first day alone with the two children, and we ended up going to the emergency room before we'd even reached lunchtime. While I was attending Baby Maggie, my two-year-old, Max, got into his father's backpack and swallowed an unknown amount of hand-sanitizer. He ran into me crying, holding the half empty bottle trying to get it out of his mouth.

The hardest part about being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, is dealing with emergencies,

My first reaction was to PANIC and run aimlessly around the apartment half-crazed, while trying to peel back the label for the promised "additional drug facts." After the 30 seconds which felt like forever it took me to peel back the label I read "Keep out of the reach of children. If swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center immediately."

My reaction more PANIC and more running aimlessly around the apartment half-crazed. I didn't know the phone number to a German poison control, nor can I speak German to someone on the phone. Not being able to use body language makes it almost impossible to communicate even with people who understand English pretty well.

My brain addled by the PANIC I was still feeling, I called my husband. He told me to call the ambulance, which was a pretty appropriate response to the amount of PANIC I was conveying over the phone, though not appropriate to the situation. Max was showing no signs or symptoms of being poisoned and was immensely enjoying chasing his wild eyed mother around the apartment.

The PANIC and running aimlessly around the house half-crazed briefly paused, and I told Paul I was going to call the pediatrician. This led to more PANIC and more running aimlessly around the apartment half-crazed in a wild search for my wallet which has the pediatrician's card on it, because when I am in PANIC mode, my brain can't compute the obvious. The wallet was in my bag where it belongs.

I tried calling, but after ringing a couple times, I got a strange message in German, and elevator music which is not at all soothing while PANICKING and running aimlessly around the apartment half-crazed because your two-year-old just swallowed an unknown amount of hand sanitizer. I hung up and dialed again, and got the same result. More PANIC, more running around aimlessly. I called Paul back and was met by a busy signal. More PANIC, more running around aimlessly.

Not sure what to do, I attempted the pediatrician again, at which point Paul showed up on call waiting. I told him I couldn't get through to the pediatrician, and he sensibly asked me if the pediatrician was open. I retorted, "Of course, the pediatrician is open." He suggested going straight to the pediatrician's office instead of calling.

My addled brain responded with, "THAT ISN'T EXACTLY EASY WITH TWO KIDS," no car, a stroller in the basement bike-room, and at least 30 minute door-to-door commute if I catch the bus at the exactly right moment.

His response, "That isn't the point, is it?"

My response, "Sometimes I hate you for bringing me here where I feel so helpless," which was really my way of saying, "I hate that you are being reasonable, while I am PANICING and running around the apartment aimlessly half-crazed." So I hung up and accidentally turned the phone off, which meant more PANIC and more running around aimlessly because I had to search in our file cabinet for the stupid pin number to turn the phone back on, because I can never remember it. Who puts stupid pin numbers on cell phone anyways?

After more PANIC and more running around aimlessly, I found the pediatrician's card that I had set down in the bathroom during a previous episode of PANIC and running around aimlessly. I looked at the back and realized that the pediatrician’s office was about to close for lunch and wouldn't be open again for another three-and-a-half hours, enough time for the hand-sanitizer to take effect, and my child would no longer be laughing while chasing his wild eyed mother around the apartment.

I called Paul back, and told him that I had to go to the emergency room. Still the voice of calm and reason, he told me he would call a Taxi when I was ready. So after I retrieved the baby's car seat from the attic and put shoes on Max and me, I made sure I had my wallet with health insurance cards, when I realized that I didn't have any cash. More PANIC and more running around aimlessly, I called Paul and told him I didn't have any cash to take a taxi. Still calm and reasonable, he told me to ask the Taxi to take me to a bank.

Once I was in the taxi, the PANIC and aimless running around subsided, because I now had a sense of direction, but mostly because I was restrained by the seat-belt. Max was sitting in the taxi's car seat happily babbling away about taxis and autos. We got to the children's hospital, and we were almost immediately triaged in to see a doctor. This was disappointing to Max who was having fun riding the carousel in the waiting room.

After the doctor contacted a Berlin Poison Institute about Max's choice of poison, she informed me that the amount missing from the 1oz bottle wasn't enough to do any harm. She still did a full examination of him to make sure that he wasn't showing any signs or symptoms of poisoning, and with a reassuring smile she told me that every child this age swallows something like this.

Crisis averted.

06 July 2009

Stroller Poor

When I purchased our fourth stroller, I thought it would be our last. I had no idea that I was already pregnant with my second child. We weren't trying to get pregnant at the time, and we thought by the time baby number two would come along, that Max would no longer need to ride in a stroller. So when we found out that Maggie was on her way, we started to explore how we could avoid getting a fifth stroller.

Our first attempt was to get the Buggy Board, a little board attached to the stroller where the older child can stand. Max did really well on the first test run. He seemed to really enjoy riding the stroller this way, until we reached a familiar path, and Max decided he would prefer to walk on his own. This made it enormously more difficult since Max likes to wander around taking his time picking up rocks and inspecting the bugs.

Paul decided we needed to "train" him to stay on the buggy board. That weekend we took Max shopping. He did great getting there, though it took all four hands to pop him on the bus, followed by the stroller, parking the stroller and getting him seated. Still, something I would be able to manage by myself with practice. Then we go to DM (a kind of CVS) where we needed to pick up a few things. As soon as we entered, Max popped off the buggy board. We tried to convince him to stay on the buggy board, but half way through the store he was too distracted to cooperate anymore. So, our next solution was to try him on the child size shopping carts. Max bounced around the store like a pin ball. Watching him run at full speed pushing the shopping cart through everyone and everything in his way was entertaining, but not practical.

Our next thought was to teach him to walk next to us while we pushed the stroller, holding his hand. Trying to convince a two year old to stay with you when there are so many tantalizing things on the shelves is harder than convincing U.S. Congressmen to impose term limits in Congress. Our next thought was to give him something to occupy his hands, so we picked the biggest item from our shopping bag, and gave that to him to carry. This actually worked several times, and it seemed we had a solution to shopping with our two-year-old on the loose.

Several times Paul and I ventured out with Max, strollerless. Usually our trips ended with Paul carrying Max home on his shoulders or asleep in his arms. Still we kept our heads in the sand, convinced that we would be able to get Max used to the buggy board or walking along side us.

Then Maggie was born. I could carry Maggie in a sling, and push Max in the stroller. This worked the first couple times, until I tried to go down the escalator at the train station. When I would bend over to hold the stroller, I had to use one of my hands to keep the baby from falling out of the sling. Max's safety now depended on my other hand holding the precariously perched stroller on the escalator. On shorter shopping trips I put Max on the buggy board and Maggie in the stroller. Max's first time off the buggy board, I gave him a giant bottle of water to keep his hands occupied. Shortly afterwards he had managed to pick up a Snickers bar and would have fit a few other items under his chin given more time.

The last straw was on the way home, when in typical two-year-old fashion, Max kicked and screamed in my arms the whole way home, while my mother pushed the baby stroller. This was the last straw. My mother wasn’t going to be in Germany forever to help me. I needed a double stroller with all the features I described here, and it needed to seat two children. There isn't a single double stroller that fits into our elevator, so I would have to enter the building via the garage and leave the stroller in the bike room. Still there were features we couldn’t live without, like big wheels for getting on and off the bus and trains. All the inexpensive tandems out there didn't have big wheels, and few of them are designed to balance on the back wheels long enough to ride down the escalator.

There was one stroller, the Phil and Ted's stroller that is ingeniously designed, with an sibling seat that fits under the stroller, but after seeing one in person, and its design flaws, I didn't feel like it was worth the money, 800€ after adding all necessary accessories. We didn’t want to pay that price when we hopefully won't be using the stroller for more than a year-and-a-half.

So it we started looking at side-by-side strollers with necessary feature, like the TFK, Urban Jungle or Easy Walker, but those prices were still sky-high. We looked at E-Bay and visited a family selling their double stroller. Even second hand, we were looking at spending at least 6oo€ for something we wouldn't use for very long.

We briefly considered buying Chariot’s bike trailer that doubles as a buggy. 1000€ doesn’t seem so bad, when a bike trailer can hold the children up until they are about six-years-old, and afterwards can be used to lug around groceries or any number of items you might want to take along with you on a bike ride. This we would be getting a lot more mileage for our money, but it was still a lot of cash, when we are trying to save for a car.

So back to the drawing board and after a full days search online, I found a little known stroller company, which makes the Crown. It still doesn't fit into the elevator, but it had all the desirable features plus some extra perks, and with all the accessories and shipping cost only 350€. The only thing I would change about the stroller is to make a larger storage compartment and to go back to one of their older models where they have two front wheels, not just one. Two wheels makes it much more stable when going up escalators or getting on to buses.

Now if only Pasing Bahnhof would finish the construction on their escalators and elevator, I’d be set.

Update: Within 3 months of purchasing this stroller, it started to fall apart, and I regret not buying a more expensive stroller.

05 July 2009

Seven Year Itch?

This morning when I was getting in the shower:


(Baby monitor goes off)
ME: Honey. can you handle her?
PAUL: Yes. (as he leaves the bathroom)
(Baby monitor goes silent)
ME: Honey, she put herself back to sleep.
PAUL: (no response)
ME: (a little louder) Honey, she put herself back to sleep.
PAUL: (snapping) I know, stop yelling, you'll wake her up.
ME: (defensively) I didn't think you could hear me.
PAUL: (popping his head into the shower) I went in there, I saw her, stop hounding me.

A few minutes later after I emerged from the bathroom, Paul was still in the apartment sitting on the couch with my mom and son. I was surprised to see him there, as he had to go into the office today.

ME: You are still here?
PAUL: (sheepish eyes) I didn't want to leave on a bad note.
ME: (heart melting) Sometimes I have to remind myself why I love you.


This has been typical of our conversations of late, the stress of having a new baby in the house, adjusting to sleep debt and adjusting to juggling two children.

We're entering the seventh year of our marriage and our ninth year together, though we spent so much time together those first two years, you could almost say we were already acting married. Over the years, we've weathered different storms, and right now I feel like our marriage is still very strong and happy. Through the difficult times, we both have had to remind ourselves why we love each other.

I realized Paul was my true love when I realized I could be 100% myself around him. He loved every bit of me, even the scary parts. Our relationship is comfortable like a pair of old tennis shoes. Sometimes they get stinky and itchy, but with a little work, some repairing of the sole or a new pair of laces to add some excitement, we've been able to make them comfortable and reliable once again.

Love you babe!

03 July 2009

The Origins of "Ba-Ba-Boon"

Max, Maggie, Oma (Grandma), Opa (Grandpa) and I spent all Wednesday at the Zoo. Maggie's experience was less memorable considering she slept the whole time.
Max had a very memorable experience. First glance of the polar bear exhibit is a bit dismal. If the exhibit in Berlin is Paradise, this one looked like a trailer park on the wrong side of town complete with floating debris in dirty water. However, timing is everything with the polar bear exhibit, and after my fourth visit to the Zoo, I finally had an "Ah-Ha "moment, and the reason behind the floating debris came clear.
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After watching the playful Pavians on Baboon Island, Max perfected the word "Ba-Ba-Boon" because it so much more fun to say with the extra syllable.
Saying"Ba-Ba-Boon" lost some of its charm when the Mandrill intimidated Max.
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Luckily the memory didn't last long, and Max has been saying "Ba-Ba-Boon" ever since.
The "Ba-Ba-Boon" might replace the "La-La" (Gorilla) as his favorite primate, as long as the Mandrill doesn't give him nightmares. Hmmm, maybe we should rent Lion King so he can see the Mandrill isn't such a bad guy.

P.S. If you are reading this on Facebook, you can get a fuller experience from viewing my blog where you can watch the videos.

"Ba-ba-boon"

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Adding the extra syllable makes it so much more fun to say.

02 July 2009

Bumble-Bees Say Bzzzzz....

One of Maxi's favorite things to do is tell you what the animals say. When he was just about 1-year-old, he started imitating our dog panting, and the meows of our cats. Since then he has acquired many more animal and bug sounds, and loves to identify the different creatures in his books and on his shelves. Because he loves animals so much, I never guessed his reaction when encountering the real thing.

On our walks with Asia, Max started identifying the various bugs he saw, ants on the sidewalks, butterflies in the fields, snails in the path etc. On this particular walk he saw bees buzzing amongst the flowers. He stopped to look at them, and knowing his curiosity, I told him to be careful, not to bother the bees, because bees sting and stings hurt.

Shortly after we reached the field and started to walk down the path, Max let out a shriek and started crying. I rushed over to him thinking he had been hurt, and in sobs he said "bumble-bee," and put his arms up saying "up-up". I picked him up, and wiped away the tears, after which he immediately stopped crying, so I knew he wasn't seriously hurt. I started to set him back down on the path, which resulted in more crying and shrieking. Paul and I both tried to convince him to walk on his own, explaining that there were no bumble-bees, only flies, but he refused to walk, backing up against me crying and screaming"UP-UP." Once we were safely off the path he piped up "Bye-bye bumble-bee," as if nothing had happened.

A couple days later, Max got something in his eye, and started sobbing "bumble-bee" which leads me to believe that the day we were in the field, Max was reacting to a fly that flew into his eye.


About a week after that, Max woke up with a piercing shriek. Paul rushed into his room, where Max was sobbing "bumble-bee." Paul had to shake out all his blankets and his pillow to show Max that there were no bumble-bees in his bed. My poor baby had a nightmare.

27 May 2009

Take Two...

Even though I had been told the second baby would be easier, I didn't believe it until it actually happened. From day zero, baby number two has been 100 times easier.

Pre-Delivery: With Max, I read every book about labor and delivery inside and out. Paul and I took a birthing class, and we practiced various massage techniques, visualization and positions to ease the pain. I even wrote out my ideal birthing plan. With Maggie, I didn't read a single book, not even a single website about labor and delivery. It didn't hit me how unprepared I was until I started having hard contractions. I didn't even remember how to breath. Luckily deep breaths in and out seemed to suffice.

Labor and Delivery: With Max, I was in labor for 10 hours. It started with my water breaking followed immediately by contractions every two minutes. I was begging for an epidural even though I originally wanted to try and do it drug free. I also had an episiotomy that cut so deeply into the muscle, that the midwives were worried about it tearing with my second baby. With Maggie, I had been having contractions off and on for several days, so I wasn't sure if I was actually in labor or not. By the time I was convinced that I really was in labor, we left for the hospital only three hours before the baby was born. My midwife had to break my water when it was time to push. I had no time for drugs.

Breastfeeding: It took six weeks for Max and I to learn the art of breastfeeding. Maggie immediately took to the breast, before we had even left the delivery room and has been eating like a champ ever since.

Sleep Debt: Max wanted to sleep all the time, and probably would have if I hadn't been so histrionic about him needing to eat every four hours during the night. Maggie has been sleeping six to seven hours every night since she was born, eating well during the day, and is already back to birth weight in the first week.

Stress Levels: Paul and I struggled the early weeks with the stress of feeding Max and adjusting to the sleep debt. This time around, we are so much more relaxed about the little things and of course it helps that we are sleeping well.

Baby Blues: I cried every day for several weeks after Max was born, I haven't cried once with Maggie. I suspect I won't get the baby blues this time, at least not until Paul has gone back to work and my mother has returned to the United States. Then I might be singing a different tune.

Temperament: It's a wonder that Max turned into such a relaxed child after the struggles of his early weeks and his crazy parents. Maggie so far seems to be pretty relaxed, but I suppose we'll find out with time how her personality develops.

What I've learned: I have to agree with my girlfriend Pernille's grandmother, "Easy parents lead to easy babies."

Introducing...



Maggie Ruth
May 21, 2009 8:11am
3450 g (7 lbs 10 oz)
53 cm (21 inches)

14 April 2009

Purl, Knit, Purl, Knit

Right before Christmas of 2007, I found a new interest in knitting. My oldest sister is a fabulous knitter, and I was quick to tap into her for advice and information. After I finished my first project, a Christmas stocking, I quickly got distracted with other things, like our new house, our new city, and the million and one activities I was involving Max in from story time at the Staunton Public Library to Buggy Busters in Gypsy Hill Park.


Now that I'm back in Germany, where knitting is pretty prominent, at least amongst the older generation, I started to get interested in it again. My big sister also got me hooked on Ravelry.com, where I found out that a local English speaking knitting group meets every week for what is affectionately termed "Stitch n' Bitch." My fellow knitters range from University students to working professionals, parents and single people, and there are from all over the world. The one thing they all have in common, other than their English and living in Munich, is how utterly awesome they are.


This group has been a much needed escape for me. It's been great to meet people, and do something that isn't based on the commonality of having children alone.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Another, yummy, yummy recipe.

I did a test run on these over the weekend for Max's 2nd birthday party next weekend. The cupcakes themselves were fabulous, but I'm going to try a healthier alternative to the recipe by using considerably less sugar, substituting a whole wheat, wheat germ and white flour mix for the white flour, and substituting apple sauce for the vegetable oil. As for the frosting, both my husband and I thought it was too sweet and not cream cheesy enough, so I'm going to double the amount of cream cheese and half the amount of confectioners sugar. I'm going to do another trial run this week. If it turns out well, I'll repeat it for this weekend's party.

Edited: The alternative worked out great. I substituted a equal part mixture of Wheat Germ, Whole Wheat Flour and White Flour for the all purpose flour. I also substituted apple sauce for the oil, and used only half of the called for sugar. For the forsting, I used twice the cream cheese, and only half a cup of the powdered sugar. I didn't use the cream at all. This was also really yummy, and I had to restrain myself from eating the whole bowl of frosting. On a side note, you need less than half of this frosting to cover the cupcakes, so keep that in mind.

Yummy, Yummy Chicken

I have a new favorite recipe to add to the my list. I only made a few changes based on some of the reviews and to satisfy my own tastes. The first change I made was to use veggie stock instead of chicken stock. Next, instead of using Sun Dried tomatoes, I used cherry tomatoes, which I added to the frying pan with the chicken, and then into the broth of the baking pan. I only added 1/2 the stock to the baking pan and a drizzle of balsamic. The 1/2 cup of balsamic, I combined in the frying pan with half the stock. Once it reduced by 1/2, I added 1 tbsp of mustard and 2 tbsp of butter, which I then added to the baking dish in the last 10 minutes. Also, on a side note, it took about 45 minutes for the chicken to cook all the way through, not the 15-20 minutes prescribed in the recipe. I didn't add any salt or pepper for taste.

Subtle Differences

Anyone who moves to a new country, and or new city, notices the differences. Some of these differences make life more difficult, i.e. not knowing the language makes it much harder to decipher a bill or do your own taxes. Some differences are inconsequential, like different food brands. Some differences make life easier, like the fact that the ATM gives your ATM card back before it gives you the cash. No one ever forgets to take the cash they just debited, but how many times has an ATM card has been left behind in the machine?

And then there are the differences that make your life spectacular... especially in Bavaria. For example, we just had a four day weekend, because not only is Easter Sunday a State holiday, but so is Good Friday and Easter Monday. Bavaria has six more public holidays than most of Germany. In 2009, 21* public holidays fall during the work week. Furthermore, we also are guaranteed 30 days of vacation. For the kids, they get out of school for 14 weeks** in six chunks through out the year over the seasons. Now I might be scratching my head, wondering how great this is when my kids are home this much, but I bet that my kids are going to be thrilled. No wonder Germans travel so much.

The only downside to all of these Holidays is that it doesn't only close businesses like my husbands office, but it also closes the stores. So, you had better have all your groceries bought before the holidays start, because there is no where to go to pick up a last minute bottle of milk. The only exception to this rule is gas stations, restaurants and tourist attractions like castles and museums. The same is true of Sundays. With the exceptions of restaurants, gas stations and tourist attractions, everything is closed. At first this was annoying we were used to being able to run out on Sundays for some last minute item we needed at the store, and sometimes we did our grocery shopping on Sundays. Now that we've adjusted, we are forced to relax and enjoy ourselves on Sundays. There will be no running errands on Sundays here. And if for some reason we don't have groceries, we have to go out to eat. Shucks.

Furthermore it's rare that you meet many Germans who work longer than 50 hours a week, and most only work 40 hours.

Now this might make you think, this can't be good for business. The German economy must be in the hole. However, according to the IMF, World Bank and CIA Factbook, Germany has the fifth highest GDP in the world, following the United States, Japan, China and India. Yet it only has 82 million people, compared to the USA's 306 million, Japan's 127 million, China's 1.3 billion, and India's 1.7 billion. I'd also like to point out these figures are after West and East Germany reunited, and it is after Germany converted to the Euro, both which were huge drags on the German economy.

So, Germany must be doing something right. It proves that there can be a comfortable balance between quality of life and productivity. You don't have to work like a dog to be profitable.

*I might have the exact number off here, but it is still signficantly larger than it was at home.

Genius or Stupid?

So last week Paul and I visited the KVR, or the Kreisverwaltungsreferat; try saying that five times fast. This is the big scary government office where we apply for and hopefully recieve residence permits. We were trying to get permanent residence permits for Max and I. For whatever reason when we moved here, they gave Paul one, but not his wife and child. Everyone else we know the spouse and children receive the same duration permit as the other spouse. However, we were told that Max and I had to be here five years, before we could apply for a permanent permit. Not ones willing to leave a place empty handed, we also asked if I was eligible for the Integration course.

The Integration course is a German language course combined with German history, German government 101, how to manage German bureaucracy etc. This course is extremely more affordable than taking classes on your own, as we only have to pay 1€ per class hour. Many of my friends who are here because they married a German were offered or mandated this course, but few of us who are here with our non-German spouses received it. The bureacrats at the KVR I guess took pity on me however, and offered me the course.

Now I have to take the class within three months of receiving the Certificate of Entitlement. Only the class close to our home starts two weeks after the baby is due. It's two and a half hours four times a week in the evenings. I'm not quite sure how it's going to go, as I'll be completely exhausted. I might be a very poor student. However, like I said, it was either complete genius or utter stupidity.

Edited to add: After further inspection, I realized that the Certificate of Entitlement is good for two years. The three month thing is regarding the course registration.

09 April 2009

The Second Time Around...

When I was pregnant with Max, I read every single book we could find about pregnancy and infant development. I even read every book out there about getting pregnant, and then later about childhood development. I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point, I stopped reading, and it was the best thing I ever did as a parent.

It might have had something to do with the fact that Max didn't start walking until he was 18 months. I got tired of reading all of the things that my child should or shouldn't be doing at such and such month, and I was tired of worrying. As long as my pediatrician wasn't concerned, I wasn't going to worry.

Max has pretty much developed at his own pace, and I've learned to accept that about him. He lifted his head and sat on his own, much later than the books suggest is normal. And, he never crawled. He only started doing his ape-like shuffle at 11 months, when a lot of other babies have already started walking. Yet, he was able to throw a ball and stack blocks way earlier than what the books suggest is normal.

As a mom, I've realized children will learn new things in their own time and in their own way. We briefly forayed into potty training, to quickly realize that he wasn't ready yet. Just sitting him on the toilet sent him screaming. We were mildly concerned about transitioning him from his crib to his bed, but he did that on his own over Christmas. One day, he decided to sleep in a bed, and after that we never put him back in the crib. We don't have a problem with him getting out of his bed like some other parents do. The same thing happened with introducing a pillow, a blanket, a straw-cup, and now a regular cup, and pretty much every major developmental milestone.

The kid does things on his own, when he wants to. I suspect, that this will make it easier for us to parent our second child. At least we won't be worried about her doing things too late or too early. The pressure for her to live up to the expectation of the child development books won't be there. I've not read a single book about pregnancy this time, and I've only briefly skimmed the weekly emails I get about her development. I'm not even concerned about taking another birthing class.

Reading books about discipline however, that is a whole other story...

31 March 2009

We have a fully functioning new computer...

...in German.


We recently purchased a new desktop computer to replace our barely functioning notebook. My notebook was getting so bad, that most of the letters had faded off the keys, the Z key went missing, the left mouse button only worked when it felt like it, and there were many many things I could no longer do on my laptop. It was time for the old girl to be retired.


Generally we put a lot of research and thought into a purchase of this size. However, as it happens our new computer ended up being a total impulse purchase. We happened to be in Le Buffet the restaurant at the top of Karstadt Hauptbahnhof Saturday night. As I was heading for the escalators, I went by the computer section noticing that many of their computers were on sale at a fraction of their original cost, and before we left, I dragged Paul back through the computer section.


We talked to the computer sales person for awhile, and he showed us a couple models to choose between. We decided to go home and talk about it, and come back the following weekend to make our purchase. However, for some reason, we decided to turn around right then and go back and make the purchase. It ended up being the last model other than the display model, they had in the store. The poor sales guy was trying to go home, and the store was closing, but the manager decided to let us purchase it anyways.


After we lugged it home, or Paul lugged it home via S-Bahn, bus and trail, in a drizzling rain, we were too exhausted to unpack it and set it up. The following morning, we tried to set up a computer in a language we barely know. Not only were we trying to translate German, but we were trying to translate German computer speak, or more specifically German Microsoft speak which is confusing enough on its own.


The first thing we tried to do was change the operating language from German to English, not realizing that you can't do that in Windows Vista Home operating system without an upgrade and purchasing a language pack. We did manage to change the keyboard to a US English keyboard, which isn't helpful at all since it's a German keyboard. I also managed to accidentally delete the German keyboard settings, which Paul somehow magically fixed.


Next we tried the Internet. So far, we've been able to just plug in our USB cable into my laptop and Paul's work laptop without a problem; this wasn't the case with the new computer. The new computer kept saying it didn't recognize the network. So after doing a snails paced search on the Internet, we uncovered all kinds of problems that people have had with their Internet and Windows Vista, and the network card. We also called a couple of our computer nerd friends and family, but they weren't able to help us either.


We were dreading contacting Karstadt, and HP to try and resolve the issue through broken German, but Paul was going to do suffer through it, and he was going to lug the new computer back to the store so they could show him how to fix the problem. He emailed HPs support desk and gave them my contact info so they could contact me during the day. So today after I received HPs email, I logged on to the new computer to tell the the exactly error message we were getting, and suddenly the Internet was working!


I have no idea how it resolved itself, and I don't care. Now if I can just get used to the German keyboard.

13 March 2009

"Would you like fries with that?"

In my teen years and during University, I worked in several restaurants. This was how I earned my extra income while in school. Because of my experience, I generally have a lot of patience with restaurant servers, and I understand when someone is having a bad day.

German customer service is notoriously bad, especially in restaurants. Generally this is because servers don't work for tips. They actually get paid a decent wage, so they aren't trying to turn tables, or sell you more food to get a larger tip. There are benefits and disadvantages to this. One of the benefits is that you can sit at your table as long as you want, even if you only ordered a coffee... Of course the flip side to this, is that if there are no tables available when you show up to a restaurant, and you don't have a reservation, they will turn you away. No waits lists at German restaurants. The first time we went out to dinner here, it tooks us three restaurants before we could find a table. It was well worth it though, because we had the most fabulous Turkish food complete with belly dancing entertainment.

You get used to not being waited on hand and food, and you adjust to having to flag a server down when you want something like another drink, or the bill. Generally the servers are friendly or at least cordial. And of course, Max tends to charm them all.

Well, for the first time in my life, I didn't leave a tip. I have never had such deplorable service, as I did yesterday. Max and I met my girlfriend and her son for brunch yesterday at the Stadt Cafe, near the Stadt Museum and Synagogue in downtown Munich. It wasn't a fancy restaurant, it's a Cafe. We specifically choose this restaurant because it's pretty open, it's large, and it's casual. Usually these are the things we look for when looking for restaurants to take our children.

Apparently the server did not like children, because she was rude to us from the get go. When she first came over, she lectured us not to let the children play with the menus, because they were very expensive to make. WTF? I've worked in restaurants, and menus get destroyed just by the nature of the business. They get food on them, they get dog eared. Sometimes they get burned with cigarettes. Our children playing with the menus was hardly going to hurt them. These weren't fancy menus either. They were laminated paper, that's it. And, I'm sorry, I know that multi-colored menus cost more to print, but if you're worried about your menu getting destroyed, maybe it's too expensive for the restaurant.

Ok, so we removed the menus from the children's reach, and let them play with our keys instead. Well, the server was rude and inhospitable the entire time we were there. I was very excited because the menu had a PastramiBagel "New York" style on it. Bagels are hard to come by in Germany, and New York style bagels are even harder. Well, when our food came back, it wasn't a New York bagel, it wasn't even a bagel. It was foccacia bread. I was very disappointed.

So, the next time she was within reach of the table, I told her that it wasn't a bagel, and in a very snotty voice, she said, Oh, we're all out of bagels. Ummmm, couldn't you have told me that after I ordered, before you brought the meal out? Now, I'd have to wait another 30 minutes to order something else, so of course I ate it anyways. It just wasn't a bagel.

Finally, as we're leaving, my girlfriend had her two year old son tell the server goodbye. The lady completely snubbed him, wouldn't even look at him, or crack a smile. Instead she got up, and walked away.

If I had left a tip on the table, at this point, I would have gone back and removed it.

To me, this kind of service isn't just bad customer service, but it's bad business. It shouldn't matter that we had children. It shouldn't matter if we were in wheelchairs, or if we were a different race. We were paying customers, and our demographic of stay-at-home moms, we're the biggest spenders out there. And if you are nice to our children, we will tip generously.

23 February 2009

Goodbye American Modesty

The first time I went to a prenatal appointment in Germany, I was in for a bit of surprise. When I hid behind the curtain to change out of my clothes, I was confused. Where were the customary hospital gowns or at least the paper blanket to cover up?.

I peaked back out from behind the curtain, and asked the nurse for something to cover up with. She looked at me funny, and then to my friend Amelie who came along to be my translator. Amelie having been through a OB/GYN appointment in Germany already was quick to explain.

She explained to me, that here they don't provide hospital gowns or paper blankets. I had forgotten how comfortable Germans were with nudity. Well, when in Rome... Anyways, for future appointments, I found a compromise that I was comfortable with. I always wore my longest maternity shirt whenever going to for a prenatal appointment. By the time Max was born, I was comfortable getting undressed without a prenatal gown. And well, after I gave birth to Max, I had completely lost my modesty anyways.

Now when I go to the OB for prenatal appointments, I have no problem getting undressed, though I do find it a bit strange that they still provide you with a curtain to get undressed behind.

04 February 2009

Overheard

Like many other parents of toddlers, we've starting the tour of kindergartens, visiting open houses, filling out applications and setting up the all important personal interviews. Kindergarten in Germany more like preschool in the United States. Children attend kindergarten from three to six years old, and it isn't mandatory, though there are many public kindergartens available. Children don't start formal schooling until six years old.

At first I was rather opposed to sending Max to a kindergarten, much less one of the two year programs that many kindergartens offer. I am not ready to give Max up. If we were in the States, we definitely would not be considering preschool yet.

However, Paul made a very convincing argument. Max needs to learn German, and he isn't going to learn it at home. Many children don't start speaking until three or older, so it would not be a stigma for Max in a two year program. However, if we wait until he's older to expose him to the language on a consistent basis, it could be a problem. We've heard horror stories of children who speak only English and start school, and are completely ignored by the other children. We don't want Max to feel socially isolated, so we need to get him into a language program earlier while it will still be easy for him to learn.

Because the language is the main factor in our kindergarten search, we've decided against the bi-lingual kindergartens. We've also crossed off the parochial kindergartens, as well as the public kindergartens after a very underwhelming visit to the local public kindergarten.

This leaves us to the private kindergartens. From what I can tell, there are three main categories of private kindergartens. There are the kindergartens that are more like day-cares. There are the kindergartens that are practically college prep, and there are kindergartens that fall somewhere in between. There are also different types of pedagogue, Montessori, Parent-Child-Initiative, Waldorf, and probably some others that I don't even know about.

After next week, we'll have visited four kindergartens and interviewed at three. I already have my favorites picked out, but we'll see what happens after all is said and done.