Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tolerance is a virtue

Lately I've been seeing a lot of Facebook rants about everything.  Particularly in my expat parent group.  Arguments run a gantlet of subjects.  Generally they run the theme of: circumcision is genital mutilation, piercing a babies ears is child abuse, not breast feeding is horrible, Germans are racists or not racists, the great vaccination debate, etc. 

Personally, parenting has been an exceptionally humbling experience.  I don't always make the correct initial decision.  My child has been strong willed and emotional since she was a new born.  We're constantly renegotiating the terms of our relationship.  I have found myself doing things I never thought possible before I was a parent.  If you had asked me, 'Hey Sara, will you ever bride your child to put her shoes on in the morning with gummy bears?' I definitely would have answered, 'Never ever!'.  Now I'd probably just side eye you and refuse to answer because I have a train to catch and no time for judgment.

I used to be terribly opinionated and very sure I was always right.  This was a great personality flaw.  I was also argumentative.  My formal higher education began to show me how relative and theorized general knowledge exists.  Most of what we know is just an idea. Getting older and seeing more of the world has also tempered my views on things.  Being an expat and then being an expat parent has pretty much hammered the rest of my opinionated and argumentative nature to dust.  My life has put me in contact with a lot of different beliefs and world views.  There is only one way to approach relationships with people who have radically different views on the world, and that is with tolerance.

Seriously, agree to disagree.  Accept that everyone is different and being different is actually good.  How boring would the world be if we were all the same?  Agree that individuals have different experiences, that those experiences are personal and that the conclusions therefore are relative.  Except that different methods of doing things can have equally good results.  We don't all have to have the same values, eat the same food, parent the same way or speak the same language.  Instead of focusing on the differences, focus on the constant overlap of human experience and how beautiful and diverse our world is.

Tolerance is a virtue.
Live and let live.
Right and wrong are relative to your cultural values.
Diversity is good for all of us. 


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Retail therapy for basic bitches

So, November and December were the months when I bought all the things instead of buying nothing like I planned.  What can I say?  Stress makes me shop and I have a talent for smashing expensive shopping sprees between classes, cleaning and being a mom.  On the bright side I found a killer pair of double zipper ankle boots at TK Maxx.  I'm convinced TK Maxx is the best place to buy shoes, it never lets me down.  I even found a pair of cloud leopard calf hair and paten leather BCBG flats there discounted a further 40%!
perfect for all my new boot cut jeans
I wasn't sure about them at first but they are the most comfortable shoes so now I love them.  Carrying my two year old, dog and two backpacks down the stairs every morning wasn't going to happen in heels anymore.  My child is getting too heavy to carry around so casually.

Sophie went through a growth spurt and now she's out growing her new 3T Winter clothes.  I bought her a 4T sweater from the Gap and it fits.  How can this happen?  I'm hoping some five dollar leggings from Old Navy and whatever I can get from Zara will get us through the rest of the cold months.  She can't possibly outgrow another children's size for a year, right?  Right?!

Finding jeans that fit comfortably is hard.  I found a brand that fits and some boot cut styles that I like.  It feels a bit 2004 but that's ok.  This is how I used to dress when I went to NIU.  Now I'm just way older.  I'm not giving up on my skinny jeans totally but it's nice to have variety. 

American and basic, that's how I shop.  
I still love that Zara coat I bought back in September.  No regrets at all, despite the price.  It's so warm.  I've also been keeping my eye on a few sweaters from the Gap and some classic fitted button ups.  Spending so much time waiting for trains mean standing on a cold platform so layers are a must for me. 

I got this Coach bag back in June when we were in the US.  I'd had my eye on it for over a year.  It was better than the Micheal Kors bags, better than the current Coach bags.  The strap is just wide enough not to hurt my shoulder.  It's big enough to fit everything I need plus a book and I am so glad I got it.  I'm super picky about bags and shoes.  Coach lasts forever and take so much daily abuse.  I throw my groceries in it, Sophie's snacks, books, water bottles.  Somehow it all fits and the bag still looks new almost six months on.

Louis has been keeping me company in the last couple of weeks before Christmas break.  I can not wait for Christmas break.  Life has been nothing  but non stop work for almost two months and I could use some time to chill out and reflect.  Between everything we've been really good about spending time with Sophie.  Cooking together, taking walks, doing art and day trips. I could use some straight up uninterrupted family time.  This is always the busy parent's dilemma.  I have one more paper to write and then I'm all done until next year.  I can't wait to visit the Christmas markets and relax with some cocoa or mulled wine.  Time is running like water.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Being a non traditional student in Germany

I've always been a non traditional student.  My high school tracked kids who planned on going straight to college.  I was not one of them.  I never took the SAT.  When I graduated high school I started working full time for a couple of years and taking night classes on and off at the community college.  I partied a lot and tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life.  At the age of 20 I sat down to work out a budget and realized I would never ever be financially independent working full time and making $10 an hour.  I amped up my community college efforts and was able to transfer to a four year school at 22, cut back from working full time and finally graduate with my BA and sizable student loan debt at 25.

I made friends at NIU but I didn't make any lasting friendships.  I was older than everyone else and too busy juggling two or three part time jobs.  When I did have free time I spent it with my friends from work and high school.  I felt like they better understood my experiences because they had jobs.  Most of the students I knew at NIU were living off their parents or loans.  They didn't have to work.  When they would tell me about how busy they were I couldn't take them seriously.  I was the young woman who read my school texts standing in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant.  The manager would buy all the waitresses margaritas if we stuck around after work and flirted with his alcoholic friends.  Half my paychecks from that job bounced so I was really working for crappy tips that the patrons did or didn't leave.

There was a six month period that was financially uncertain. I constantly worried about how I would pay my car insurance and afford gas to get to work.  I knew people with power were exploiting me because I young.  I wanted to claw my way to a better position and education was the only way I could get there.  Eventually I figured things out and didn't have to worry about money all the time.  But I always worked.  The year I graduated I had three jobs to help pay for our wedding. 

This time around in Germany I am married so I don't have to hustle to keep my head above water.  Unlike in the US there are very few non traditional students in Germany.  Out of 50 people only two are non traditional.  Everyone is 22, coming straight from a bachelor program.  It's a little weird to have people eleven years younger than me disagreeing every time I ask a question.  Young people have opinions on everything, but very seldom are they original opinions.  It's usually the 'right' answer, the one they read in the text, or reiterating what the professor told them.  Young people also have a certain callousness that I never noticed when I was that age but I'm sure I was the same way.

Growing up changes people.  For example, I liked kids before I had Sophie but I didn't understand their worth and vulnerability.  My love for my daughter is so great that it extends to all children and all families.  I can't be callous when I talk about children.  Every child could be my child, every family could be my family.  I try to treat other children the way I would want strangers to treat my child.  I hope for the same from other people.  I can't talk about child labor in an offhand manner because I am thinking of what it would be like if Sophie and all her little kindergarten friends were being forced to work in a factory every day.  It's not an abstract idea, it's personal.

I've been trying to reconcile my new position.  I find myself having no social currency or status.  Because all the other students are 22, the students and professors approach me as though I am also 22.  We're all equals.  Having a child and being older doesn't matter at all.  There isn't any support for non traditional students.  The only leeway I've been able to leverage is by working ahead.  This is how I completely things on time when my weekdays are filled with packing lunches and giving baths.

Every week I question if I am doing the right thing.  I think about quitting.  I don't feel like I belong at university in Germany.  If anything I feel alienated.  But I keep going because I know that it is better for my daughter to have a better educated mother.  I don't care too much about EU politics but I find the theory and data analysis classes really interesting.  Sometimes I look at jobs or houses in the US and I remind myself that there isn't anything else I can do with my time that would be worthier.  Being alienated is a small price to pay for a MA minus more student loans.  I am one of the fortunate ones.   I had and have options that others do not.

The education system in Germany is tracked.  Most people don't deviate from the path at all.  As a person who has never been on a conventional path in life I find this to be a bit of shame.  Being different is not a cake walk but it does teach you things that you couldn't learn otherwise.  It's just not where you end up in life, but also how you got there that matters.


P.S. it's a little mean but sometimes when I'm sitting in class this song goes through my head.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving miss #7 and cheap refurbishing

Every year when Thanksgiving rolls around I think 'yay!' with the whole idea that I'm going to make a mini Thanksgiving meal for my family.  Then I check the calendar and it's always that I'm working or the husband is out of town or something.  This year I had classes all day and we had construction people in our apartment.  So no Thanksgiving, for the 7th time (it should be 8 Thanksgivings but I went home for Thanksgiving my second year in Germany).  It's like fate is always working against me.   I always have something going on Thursdays in November.  I hope everyone who got to celebrate ate pumpkin pie.  I miss pumpkin pie.

It was still a pretty good week.  We got the last of the small construction problems fixed in our apartment: all the floors needed to be fixed or replaced, we needed a new front door because the old one had a half inch gap at the top, and one of the cabinets in the kitchen was broken.  Getting these small but annoying things fixed, a whole year after we moved it, was super.  We've had the carpenter in and out for three weeks in a row but it was totally worth the hassle.  I love the new floor they picked for the living room.  It's a light and neutral, way more modern than what we had before.  While I was going through things in the basement I found a rug I bought in Malente that we'd forgotten about.  It had never been used and it fits perfectly under our dining table.

I used the momentum to push for new textiles in the living room.  I didn't want to spend much money on new furnishings because I know we'll be moving sooner rather than later. Ikea makes it possible to refurbish on the cheap.  Our rug was covered in bright blue spots of play dough and the sofa covers were something I never stopped regretting.  This last year, mostly thanks to Pintrest, I had started hating those sofa covers with a passion.  They were fading unevenly from being washed so much.  I always pick neutral home furnishings.  The one time I thought I would live dangerously and buy something not only with a pattern but also in color and I NEVER stopped regretting it.   No more patterns or colors unless it's on something small, like a throw pillow! 

Rearranged play room.
  Sophie's room is the only colorful one in our home and it has all the colors.  She likes it though.

I wish you could see my living room when it's clean, but during daylight hours it pretty much always looks like this or worse.

I feel like it's much more relaxing without all the pattern.
Comparison photo, not terrible but that floor was so old it creaked loudly every time we stepped on it.
I'm actually looking forward to putting the Christmas decorations up.