31 January 2010

Phone Conversation Between Paul and I Over the Christmas Holidays

ME: Maggie has been saying "Da-Da" all day.
PAUL: Her first word!
ME: No, it doesn't count unless she connects the meaning to it.

about a week later...

ME: I changed my mind, "Da-Da" was her first word.
PAUL: Why?
ME: Because she started saying "Ma-Ma" today.

30 January 2010

Getting Out of the House with Two Small Children

There are certain laws that seem to govern getting out of our house with two small children. The first being that it always takes at least an hour long to get out of our house than I think it’s going to take. If I am smart, I do as much of the preparation to get out of the house the night before, i.e. give baths, pick out clothes, pack diaper bag, fix drinks and snacks etc. This works well for planned trips, but doesn’t work so well for the more spontaneous trips like a walk to the park or running to the store because I ran out of saline solution three days ago, and forgot to pick it up the last two times I was out.

The second law is that once I have everything ready to go, and I am about to leave the house I realize that I forgot something, and I run back to get it, probably putting down whatever was in my hand, like my umbrella or pacifier on my way to retrieve it.

The third law is that by the time I have retrieved that umbrella or pacifier or whatever it is that I put down when I went back to get whatever it was that I forgot, one of the children have messed their diaper, so I have to take both children back inside again. This has become even more complicated in the winter, when I have to strip off winter coat, boots, snow pants, mittens, hat and scarf to change the offending diaper. By the time I’ve changed the diaper and gotten winter gear back on, the other child has messed their diaper, and I have to go through the whole process of undressing and redressing again. Finally both children are ready to go and a bit fussy because they are so warm inside with all their gear on, and I am sweating buckets, because I didn’t bother to take off my winter gear during all the rushing around and changing of diapers. Sometimes I try to take short-cuts and leave mittens on, or only pull down the pants and snow-pants instead of completely removing them, but this is a mistake because inevitably I will end up with poop on one of these irreplaceable items, making the rest of my trip and therefore my day unpleasantly smelly.

The fourth law is that whatever the meteorologist posted on wetter.com about the weather, I can almost guarantee that when I get outside exactly the opposite is happening. So, once outside I am stripping the children and changing them into something more comfortable, or getting their coats, hats and gloves on. Being an experienced car-less mother who depends on stroller transportation, I keep all forms of gear for every curve ball Mother Nature can throw at me tucked into my stroller and diaper bag for just such an occasion.

The fifth law is really more of an addition to the fourth law, saying that whatever the weather looks like outside of my window or out on my balcony, by the time I get all the children and their gear down the elevator, down the front stairs and outside, the weather has changed.

The sixth law is that I will reach the bus stop just in time to see my bus whiz by. I probably saw this coming, but there was really nothing I could do about it because I was too far away to run with the heavily laden stroller and two small children strapped in. Luckily the bus comes every ten minutes, and if I am really lucky I will sit in the bus stop with some chain smoking old lady who feels it her duty to tell me 101 reasons why I shouldn’t have my children out in this weather. Being a non-German speaker, I smile pleasantly nodding my head, and say in heavily accented German, “Tut me leid. Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.“ At which point I usually receive a “Humph,” and a disdainful look meaning ‘When you live in Germany, you should speak German.’ If I am having an especially lucky day, the stranger recognizes my English accent and switches to English, and then I’m forced into yet another lengthy conversation about why it is so important for me, especially as a mother, to learn the language, as if I didn’t already know that. Please tell me when a mother of two children two and under has the time to learn more of the language than just what is needed to get by.

The seventh law is that because I missed my bus, I will miss my next transfer as well, spend at least thirty minutes of uncalculated time waiting on transportation, and finally arrive at my destination an hour later than planned, only to realize that the drinks and snacks I packed the night before are still sitting inside the fridge back at home.

27 January 2010

Ɯberraschung (Surprise)!

Sunday night when I returned home from my knitting group, Paul was on the computer while talking to his brother. When I walked into the living room, this look of surprise went across his face. "I didn't expect you home so early," then he looked at the clock, "errr I didn't expect it to take me so long."

I looked at the computer and saw a blank Microsoft Word document. Huh? A big grin crossed his face, "Well, let me put it this way, you are not getting a laptop for your birthday."

Paul has never been good at keeping secrets from me, and every year he tries to surprise me for my birthday. It has become a fun game between the two of us. How long will Paul be abel to keep a secret?

I love surprises, but I also like to play detective to guess what my surprise is going to be, so Paul teased me with a couple hints.

The first hint: He has to let me in on the surprise before I actually get my birthday present because everything here is in German.

The second hint: I'm not actually getting my surprise until March.

The first two hints made me guess that the gift was an experience, which is Paul's favorite kind of gift.

The third hint: It is something I can wear, but I will need accessories, and I already have them.

The third hint really threw me, because something I could wear, doesn't fit in at all with an experience. He quickly revised his hint, and said it is one of the other meanings of the German verb "to wear," or "tragen." Well, after I went to see the verb tragen in LEO I skimmed the various meanings, and I wasn't any closer to guessing my surprise.

I decided to play fair, and I wasn't going to ask too many questions, and I wasn't going to sneak around our bank account or his email to figure out the gift. I was excited about the possibility of a real surprise that I wouldn't find out until my birthday, and three weeks isn't very long to wait.

Unfortunately, yesterday when I picked up the mail, I saw an envelope for Paul from the Bavarian State Opera House. At this point, it all clicked, "tragen" to carry, I can carry tickets. I left the mail on the desk for Paul, and did not say anything to him. I still didn't know what he was taking me to see at the Opera, and I didn't want to spoil the fun we were having in our little cat and mouse game.

When he saw the mail, he asked me if any of it meant anything to me. For a split second I considered playing dumb. I wanted to keep the game going longer. However, I told him the truth, that I had figured out what we were doing, but I still didn't know what he was taking me to see. About one minute later he told me. We're going to see the Barber of Seville. It's in Italian, but the subtitles are in German, so we have to read the story ahead of time, and maybe find a DVD of it with English subtitles.

While I think both of us were a little disappointed that the game was over, it doesn't take away from the excitement about going to the Opera. Not just any Opera, but the opera buffa of all opere buffe. It's supposedly one of the greatest comedic Operas of all time. And, we are going to the Opera in a real European Opera House. Now, I just have to figure out what to wear.

23 January 2010

Arriving in Dulles with Porter

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig...

Mistakenly, I though the return trip would be easier. It's an overnight flight, so the kids would sleep, right? Wrong. Though they are both exhausted, they are too keyed up to actually sleep. And since everyone else on the flight is sleeping there is no one to help me when Maggie has another blow out diaper. I drag a now, barefoot Max to the airplane bathroom, trying not to think about what he is probably stepping in, as I lock all three of us in the cramped space. While I strip Maggie of her clothes, and wash off the poop that has traveled up her back, Max entertains himself by pulling the toilet paper off the roll and throwing it into the sink.

When we finally clear up our mess and try to awkwardly exit the bathroom through the accordion door, Max takes off running again. Luckily this time, he runs to the back of the plane, and the one grandmother on the plane wakes up and tries to grab him. When she misses, I unceremoniously dump Maggie in her lap and take off after Max, before he can make it around the back of the plane and up the aisle on the other side into first class again. Once I safely buckle him back into his seat belt which is no match for a two year old escape artist, I make him a
nest with his pillow and blanket, and out of pure exhaustion he finally passes out. I retrieve Maggie from the grandmother across the aisle, and nurse her back to sleep. For the remaining two hours of the flight, I watch the documentary This Is It about Michael Jackson.

When we finally land in Munich, a very nice flight attendant helps me bundle the kids up and exit the plane. Of course no one had bothered to unlock the elevator, so I had to back the stroller up three escalators with Maggie dangling out of the Ergo, a diaper bag hanging over one shoulder, Max's pillow in the bottom of the stroller, and the bag of toys in the other hand.

When we got to the baggage claim, I practically begged the security agent to let me deliver the children to their father on the other side before I picked up my baggage, but he instead in his best pissed off voice told me that it was absolutely impossible, because I was in a secure area. So, another father took pity on me, and sent his teenage daughter back with me to retrieve my five suitcases. It turned out that because the plane had arrived half an hour early, Paul wasn't there yet anyways, so the very tired kids and I waited patiently for Paul to show up twenty minutes later. And after a very harrowing drive home with an insane taxi driver, we finally arrived home and I promptly passed out.

21 January 2010

A One Way Ticket to Crazy

The kids and I just returned from a seven week visit to the States. Long visits like this were a promise we made to our parents to try to assuage our guilt about moving to Germany. Paul's German contract promised him six weeks of vacation along with a slew of holidays. A long trip back home would give us more quality time with our families than the occasional weekend visit.

The only way Paul agreed to letting the kids and I go that long was if I was willing to split the difference. So Paul came three weeks in the middle, meaning that I did both flights alone with the kids. I had flown alone with Max once before, and while it was not easy, it was not impossible. When I agreed to doing it with two children, I must have had a momentary lapse of sanity. But what was done, was done, and since we purchased the economy non-refundable, non-changeable tickets, there was no backing out.

Thank God they were direct flights, so I did not have to make a connecting flight by myself. Just like any other day when I am managing the kids by myself, the key to success is organization. So, first I tried to minimize the amount of luggage I was taking with me, which ended up being a car seat and four suitcases, two of which were filled with Christmas presents and other things for friends and family. On the way back, we left the car seat behind, because as it turns out it was only approved for use in the United States anyway, but we picked up a fifth suitcase because the obscene amount of Christmas presents we received for the kids.

Carrying on the flight, I brought only the bare essentials: one diaper bag, one bag of toys, winter coats and trappings for all three of us, as well as necessary restraining devices like the Ergo and the stroller.

The last time Paul and I flew back from the States, we fed Max so much to drink that by the time we reached security his diaper had leaked, and we had no spare set of clothes in our carry on. We ended up running around the airport to try and find him some clothes, and ended up purchasing a tourist sweatshirt four sizes to big, and stuffing him in his sleep sack for the flight.

This time I was careful to monitor both kids liquid intake, check their diapers regularly and bring extra clothes in the diaper bag, just in case. And, it's a good thing considering Maggie had a blow out mid-flight. Getting through security and walking to our connecting flight went fairly well. Max only ran away from me when we were waiting to board the plane.

Another mother looked on sympathetically, and pointing to her teenage son saying, "He use to run away from me all the time." If there is one thing I have learned about trans-Atlantic flights is to depend on the kindness of strangers. I immediately befriended this mother and her children. She had been there before me, and no one can relate to me like another mother. Besides that, her eleven old daughter loves children and babies and could not wait to play with my kids. There were also a slew of other grandmothers on the flight that quickly offered to help me by holding the baby while I rushed to the cramped bathroom to change Max's diaper. I also quickly enlisted the help of a college kid who was sitting next to me to keep an eye on Max when I needed to change Max's diaper.

Max was great for the most part. Yes there was some whining, crying and general disobedience, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary, or anything I couldn't handle. The only time things got hairy was when Max peeled off, running gleefully up the aisle through business class and straight into first class. I didn't think it was the right thing to yell at him and wake up all the passengers in business and first class, so I followed along as quietly and quickly as I could with Maggie dangling from one arm, using the other arm to try and grab a weaving and dodging Max. It wasn't until we reached the glut of first class flight attendants, that someone intervened, "Ma'am, Ma'am, you can't be up here." As apologetically as I could manage in my somewhat exasperated state, "I know, I'm sorry, he got away from me." The very nice flight attendant grabbed Max's hand and cho-cho trained him back to our seat.

It was on this journey to and back from first class that I noticed that there was a kids movie on one of the channels. When I got Max back into his seat, I tried to find the movie, and when I realized that the channel wasn't working for either my seat or Max's seat, I called for the flight attendant. I should have realized from past experience this call button is completely useless. Either the flight attendants pay absolutely no attention to it, or they just assume that Max is playing with one of the buttons.

So I finally flag down one of the flight attendants, and she tells me that they can't do anything about it until they reset the movies for the next run. The next run comes, and nothing has changed, so I flagged down another attendant. This one tells me, that she can't do anything until they reset the movies for the third run. This time, the desperation starts to creep into my voice, "But I already told one of the other flight attendants this was a problem, it is the only movie appropriate for him."

So, she tells me she will see what she can do, and she comes back to me five minutes later apologizing, saying that she is going to try and reset the movie to another channel for the third run, but she can't do anything until then, because it would disrupt the rest of the passengers movies, and there aren't and other free seats in the airplane. As a conciliation she gives me a postcard of appreciation for my understanding. Great, meantime what am I supposed to do? I know, I'll let Max play with the post card, I'm sure it will entertain him for all of three seconds.

At this point the eleven year old girl comes up and offers to play with the kids in the aisle, and I have a moment of calm. Finally we land, and I know it is only an hour or two before we get through immigration, baggage claim and customs. Max is a champ, the eleven year old girl entertains him while I hunt down a United Airlines porter in the mess of what is Dulles international baggage claim. The porter helps me with my luggage, and gets us through customs quickly to the waiting and very expectant hugs and kisses of grandparents.

Weeks later that postcard of appreciation for my understanding resurfaces, and I visit the United website to claim whatever the voucher is for. Oh fabulous, it is for 10% off any international flight originating in the United States. Too bad, I live in Germany.