Monday, July 14, 2014

Everything up

Wishing well
I've been thinking a lot about something a doctor said to me this week: 'Obviously there is more to life than having children.'  Obviously.  


I'm busy with lots of boring things.  Mostly really super important doctor appointments that were just being pushed back and pushed back while more important life things took precedence.  Two year olds and doctors offices do not mix.  That means I can only go in evening or when I can arrange child care.  A lot of times when I call I am told doctors aren't taking new patients or I have to wait months for an appointment.  I took for granted how hard it is to do these basic appointments with a toddler in tow.  Right now my glasses are paint chipped and held together with tape.  'Get new glasses' goes on the never ending to-do list.   The rest of my is spent taking care of Sophie.  We now go on a weekly zoo trip as well as play group and visiting the wild park, play grounds and walking the dog.  I try to be as patient as possible but some days there are only so many times you can say 'please don't touch bird poop' before threatening time out forever. 

I'm trying not to be resentful of the last year in Brandenburg.   I feel like it was a stagnant, frustrating year of waiting and trying to get all our ducks in a row so we can proceed with our plans.  The year is almost over and everything is about to change for us.  Our agonizing Kita search thankfully reached an happy end.   My stupid health stuff is slowly being taken care of, one referral and appointment at a time.  I finally get to find out if I have glaucoma!  I get to know for sure if I am pre diabetic!  Ugh.  In an effort to not die early or go blind I started running again.  This time in the evening after my husband gets home from work.  Exercise is the fountain of good health.  It's also more stress relieving than the couple glasses of wine I had started to consume on a regular basis.  I'm doubled down on eating healthier but I think I'm going to be paying for the three weeks of American food indulgence for months to come.

Being accepted to grad school means going through the enrollment and registering bureaucracy.  I clearly remember this was confusing and frustrating ten years ago when I enrolled at NIU.  This time it doesn't seem so bad.  Yet.  I am so lucky my husband found this program for me.  My brain is so excited to do something more challenging.  I can't wait. 

These photos are from the Berlin Botanical Garden where we spent about an hour before getting bored and going home on Saturday.   Maybe it's more interesting in Spring?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Germany loves us

After my rant about how much I hate Brandenburg (I had just come back from three weeks in the USA) Germany decided to be extra good to me.  The weather has been fab.  We're in the middle of cherry-watermelon season, yum, yum, yum.  We've been discovering great things on the West side of Berlin.  I found a Strandbad at the lake just a few minutes from our place and I got accepted into grad school.  So ok Germany, you win.  I have to admit, it's really nice to be back. 

It's going to be non stop go from now on.  I have a lot to do, I have a plan, and I'm back on track.  I've been feeling so super motivated I managed to run 5 miles in my first week home.  In the last six months I managed to put four pounds of sad weight on top of the baby weight I have yet to lose.  I am not concerned about it one bit.  Between yoga, running and working out I'm pretty sure it will gone in no time.  I am going to take the last three months of Summer and enjoy them to a maximum.  This is the last break before going back to the real not-stay-at-home-mom-world. 

I am so happy and excited for what's in store.  Getting into grad school made moving here worth it.  This is something I've wanted to do for years.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Happier times: moving from West to East

I was looking at some old pictures from Malente today and I felt awful.  Remembering those tough but happy times I realized just how not very happy we are all now.  

I'm sad to say but I still haven't gelled with Brandenburg.  Not at all.  Yes, I am way closer to the city.  Yes, we finally live near family and friends.  Yes, my husband comes home every night.  But I don't feel at home here.  I don't particularly like Brandenburg.  I keep wondering if we should have stayed in Malente or taken the baby death trap apartment in Berlin.  Just so we'd be in the city?  Would it have been worth it?  For a while I entertained the idea of moving but I couldn't find a place I'd want to move to.  The rents in Berlin are rising fast and I don't find anything remotely charming about downsizing to 70 something square meters.  That's almost halving our space, not cool.  The better apartments are on the East side (where all the Americans live it seems), far too far from my husbands job. I remind myself of the pragmatic motivations for coming here but my heart isn't in it.  I'd take back our terrible cold Summers, deep glacier lakes, and Northern beaches if given the chance.  I lost all enthusiasm for writing.  Nobody wants to read about my misfortune day in and out.  I stewed around in misery. 

 Being alone with a baby was hard, but I never felt as isolated as I do now.

 I don't take 'I'm so happy today' selfies anymore.

To be fair, it isn't all about Brandenburg.  We had a crazy run of horrible luck: a close family member died, I got so sick I had to be in the hospital, there were Kita disasters and hair disasters and personal disasters.  I looked and looked for a job but only got a few offers that ended up never materializing.  Our neighbors turned out to be the kind that are nice to our faces but bang on the ceiling and ring our bell when Sophie is sick or has jet lag or cries.  When I think about it, the last 8 months have been one bit of bad news after another.  Given the law of averages something good must be due our way soon.  It might be that I'm sort of over being an expat or that I'm dealing with a mild case of cultural shock going from West to East.

I lived in the Western part of Northern Germany for six years.  I had contacts, friends, jobs, a support network.  Maybe I've been a roaming expat for too long because this time around when I think of the monumental task of rebuilding that network I feel depressed.  It doesn't help that we live in East Germany.  I can't find an English speaking doctor in our town.  Which is fine, because I speak German, but there are some issues that I would prefer to deal with in my native tongue if possible.  Some days I feel so frustrated I want to scream.  I simply can't wrap my head around the small town East German way of doing things.  From what I've experienced so far, East Germans are ruder, less considerate and take more pleasure in making life difficult than their Western counterparts.  I don't like taking walks on Sunday morning because I know I'll be stepping over pools of vomit left over from Saturday night festivities.  We live in a small town too, so it's not like party central.  That never happened in Malente, even though it was a vacation town with lots of visitors.  The whole vibe makes me sad, it feels like desperation.   

Living near a major city has as many negatives as positives.  Literally every fun thing is so crowded it sort of automatically becomes much less fun.  At the hight of tourist season Malente was never close to being crowded.  My beach at Hohwacht was still deserted in the middle of the week.  I hate to say it, but we're the kind of people who like to enjoy things with as few other people around.  We don't belong in a high population density area.  Brandenburg and Berlin are probably the most densely populated areas in Germany.  Things are crazy crowded on the weekends and traffic is horrific.  Sometimes it takes just as long to get downtown as it did in Hamburg, but now I'm driving half the distance. 

I'm an eternal optimist.  I really believe that everything turns out ok in the end (unless it doesn't).  I find myself really struggling with unhappiness.  For a long time I was in denial but not facing the truth of how I feel was hurting more than helping.  I don't want to be unhappy.  I'm not an unhappy person.  But in this issue my hands are tied, I'm temporarily stuck.  So how do you find happiness in an unhappy situation?  There has to be a way.  Even if we get eaten alive by mosquitoes (so many mosquitoes here!) or have to go to the zoo everyday (I do love that we're so close to the zoo: silver linings!) I am determined to make the best of things.  Since writing was one of the things I did when I was happy I think I'll take another go at it.   


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Consumerism in Germany and the USA

How much stuff do you need to live?  How much stuff do you need to be happy?  How do you benchmark those needs?

I'm not even going to lie, I like shopping.  Everyone knows I like shopping.  But I only like shopping for fun things, like clothes or toys for my daughter.  I hate buying things like hair dryers, which is why mine is over ten years old and held together by packing tape.  There is no point in buying a new one because I know I will drop it in the first week and it will end up just like the one I have now.  But anyway, back to the point.   Like a typical American I always believed that more and bigger were better.  Success is defined by money and the big house full of stuff you can buy with that money.  Love and attention are shown with gifts and the more you spend, the more you love someone.  Buying things is good because it helps the economy, makes the world turn and so forth.  Stuff shows your character, individuality, and defines you.  You are the car you drive, the dishes you eat from and the house you live in.  That's the driving message behind consumerism.

But it's not just about stuff, it's also about winning.  Societies balance delicately between a need for cooperation and competition within the society.  We need each other to create great things like roads and cars and jobs but we also compete with each other for resources.  When some people gain an advantage they try to hang onto it and pass that advantage to their children.  In societies with great inequality, like the US, the deck is stacked grossly unfair.  If one person wins it means someone else is going to lose.  You reap your success from the disadvantaged. 

I am going to suggest something a little bit radical that not very many people may understand, but I would rather pay more taxes, have less money and live in a society with greater equality.   I am not about to take you on a little ego trip of my own self righteousness.  There are actually logical reasons for this: while acquiring things does make people happy, that happiness only lasts as long as the desired object is new.  To keep that level of happiness they must keep acquiring more stuff, locking a person into a never ending cycle.  That kind of happiness is not sustainable.  Material goods take up time that you could be spending with people. Inequality also trends toward more violent crime and less stability.  Nothing good has ever come from hungry children and homelessness.  What if you choose not to be defined by the things you own, but rather the things you do?  Maybe, I am not my Coach purse and J brand jeans?    Maybe I am a mother and wife and friend and pet owner. 

There is consumerism in Germany but it doesn't feel as all consuming as it does in the US.  A good example of this is the difference in attitudes about engagement rings.  In the US having a large expensive ring is an important sign of social status for many women.   It shows the world that you have the disposable income to conspicuously consume a frivolous piece of jewelry.  A large ring is also equated with partner devotion, since one partner has chosen to spend a considerable amount of money on this piece of jewelry that is then displayed.  In contrast, many Germans don't buy engagement rings at all.  If they buy a ring it will later double as their wedding band.  The rings tend to be simple with a small setting or no setting at all.  The focus of the engagement is not on the ring and it's unlikely that the ring will be displayed in the same way it is in the US.  Seen from the outside American engagements start to seem driven more by consumerism than by the monumental task of choosing a life partner.

I only had a vague idea the pressure to consume was so relentless until I stopped living in the US.  It is a relief to live in a place where strangers are not engaged in a senseless competition with no end and no goal.  Stores are mostly closed at least one day a week.  Holidays are more about spending time with people you like.  If I'm going to be judged on anything, it's probably the car I drive and that is something I can live with.  Sometimes I spend a few spare minutes hating on the curtains was inherited from the last tenants and imagining what it would be like to actually invest time into personalizing my living space.  But I don't have enough desire to invest any resources knowing I'll likely be moving again in a couple years.  This kind of unattached living is working out great with a toddler and a dog.  I really don't care too much if they spill juice on the carpet or if I've washed the sofa covers so many times they have faded unevenly.

I am always going to struggle with guilt for having white middle class privileges.  I grapple with finding a balance between my desire to succeed and my desire to live in a fair society.  I want to win but I don't want there to be homeless kids in the world or hungry people.  Europe does equality better for now.  I hope that American influence doesn't seep too much into German society.  Sometimes we can be a bad influence.


Two articles worth reading if this topic interests you-

Mother's Day surprisingly dark history
Concern for Equality Linked to Logic, Not Emotion