Mother’s Day is a great holiday, in fact I would not mind it if it was more than once a year. It could also be called international Mommy sleep-in day. And a good one in my case as Elena decided to get up at 6:30 today. I dusted off my sleeping in skills, and rolled out of bed around 11 to be greeted with a cappucino and two slices of cake. The cake is still sitting on the table as it looked a bit rich for breakfast. Each time Elena sees it she says “Happy Birthday Mama”.
It’s been a long time dear readers, and a hectic spring. Elena was in the hospital, work got crazy, and we also got sick a few times. The climate in Bonn does not seem to be agreeing with us. But Spring has come, and the sun has started to make more frequent appearances.
Grandma came to visit, to help us out and have some toddler time. We got lucky and she came during a anomalous week where the sun shone every day. In between running around at the UN and headhunting, we had some good times at the park.
It was so nice to have mom around, reading Babar, baking Rhubarb cake, keeping things in order. We even went to Belgium for the weekend, where we had a great time eating chocolates, waffles and mussels and chasing Elena through the old squares.
Elena is talking more, making her demands for popsicles, “apple juice box”, Babar and Little Einsteins loud and clear. My favorite expression is when she finds something big and small, say a measuring cup next to a teaspoon, or her small rake lying on the big rake, — she says, “it’s a mommy-baby”. She is becoming an independent little girl, but mommy-baby is still a compound word, like they always should be together. Agreed.
Despite being in the doctors office a few too many times and sometimes failing at all the juggling, motherhood just gets better and better. We’re sending a big blog hug to Seattle to my mommy.
We booked our trip to the US for the month of July, and we are really excited to visit everyone.
I’m writing this blog as I hold steaming onions to my ears. It’s a trick I learned for ear infections from my German friend. We just spent a week in the hospital, Elena had bronchitis-pneumonia. It was awful and scary.
Now we are home, and I have the worst sore throat like there is a creaky hinge where my throat once was, and I also have Elena’s e eye infection. I am hoping the healing qualities of the onion vapor will sink down my eras to my sinuses. Meanwhile Elena is running around the house opening every bag, box and drawer she can find. As we had been gone for a week, the house was still clean. Now it looks like its been tossed by a small burglar.
We shared a hospital room with a Turkish-German family. Despite language barriers, we bonded after one nurse came in at 8am and ripped into us on how messy our room was — a catastroph! an explosion! It was mainly due to the variety of juices she was feeding her nice fat baby: carrot, mango, apple, orange. Her favorite was blueberry, and she talked about the antibiotic qualities at length. My internet research did not bear similar findings, but the ring from the juice cup left a tough purple stain.
I was still in bed when the nurse held up her dainty finger: “is this your sock?” Um yea, I seem to be living here in this 7×10 room with three other people, not counting husbands. Like Manhattan, the only spare real estate was up, and this was taken up by a giant Minnie mouse balloon, brought by our beloved tagesmutter hanging like a planet in the corner.
Now that we are home, tonight is the first time we will not be eating cold cuts and sliced bread, a typical German supper. When I asked for different food for Elena, the orderly told me that two-year olds eat cold cuts and bread. They also eat bread and jam, the breakfast variation. Not in our house, so when I brought Elana some fish sticks one evening in a version of baby take-out, she said “Good job Mama.”
Home sweet home has taken on its absolute meaning. The simple things are so good: dancing baby beluga in the living room and making muffins. Though before we left, I had some of that hostage dilemma. I felt like I could not go out into the world on my own again, I didn’t remember how. Leaving was like saying goodbye after a bleak summer camp visit, I wanted to swap phone numbers with the staff and our room-mate, but they hardly noticed our exit. Luis was sorry to miss mittagessen (lunch is the only hot meal, and it is hearty meaty-saucy-salty German fare). Everyday a funny German woman built like a linebacker would come to my room and say in a demanding voice “junge Frau, Mittagessen“.
I don’t care how sick I am, tomorrow we are hitting the toy store. And saying a prayer, blessings to you and your precious health.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world takes you to a bookstore that used to be a movie theatre. As the escalator sinks into the floor, she lifts you off your feet. In the corner there is a giant orange mouse sitting on plush blue seats. You give it a hug. Everything in the store is at your eye level. You remove as many price tags as you can. You try to steal a Star Wars Easter egg even though it is only January. You only leave the store after you are promised a ride in the elevator.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world buys you a nutella crepe. It is freezing and you say “yummy” and it is so cute but the vendor does not care. She rips off pieces and hands them to you and you both get chocolate on your hands and faces. You put your sticky hand on her light grey Tahiri wool coat. She will wear it to the office like that for the next month. When she offers you a bite, you shove the whole thing in your mouth.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world takes you for a haircut. At the salon you are very serious. You are beginning a ritual that you will have for the rest of your life. Your reflection stares back at you, completely uncritical. You name all the animals on the front of your smock: zebra, monkey, cat, cow, giraffe, rabbit. The greatest mommy blogger in the world has found that if you are looking, giraffes are everywhere. Under a fringe of bangs, you face appears. She is the proudest mommy blogger in the world.
A friend writes, she is so cute, how do you stand it? The truth is that the greatest mommy blogger in the world has to hug you you constantly. When you press your nose to her face, it is delicious. She holds your small hand and you walk in the snow wearing matching wool peacoats, boots and jeans. She dresses you like herself without thinking.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world dreams that she is flying a blimp low across the Hudson to Manhattan. But the blimp skids on the water and is hit by a great blue whale. It crash-lands in Battery Park. She can see it all perfectly in her head for several days afterward and wonders what it means. She realizes that she been reading too many children’s books.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world takes you to the grocery store. You want to run loose through the aisles so she hands you the IPhone. You play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on repeat. She sings along while picking out the dairy, vegetables and pasta. A few people look at you strangely but it is a calming way to shop. The greatest mommy blogger in the world wonders if there are kids that actually sit still shopping carts.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world thinks about time. How it cannot be stopped. How she cannot hold onto the perfect moment when you sit in her lap in your polar fleece pajamas with feet reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. How there is no way anyone at anytime has ever held onto one moment. When the caterpillar has a tummy ache you point at its sad face and say “ooh, baby”. She thinks about all the other mommy bloggers from the beginning of time and how they have each felt the same thing. The feeling is a wave and it is beautiful and hurts at the same time. She wonders how it will change as you grow up.
The greatest mommy blogger in the world thinks you are the greatest two-year old in the world. You took off your shoes all by yourself today. You can almost count to twenty. Yesterday you pointed at the sky and shouted “moon!” and it was just a tiny sliver so high up that it was almost invisible. She wants to remember this forever, how good your face feels against her check. How you sleep in perfect child’s pose. How you wake up laughing.
I’ll admit it, I was intimidated. It just seemed like too much. This has been a giant trip, but what else are you supposed to do in Orlando but visit the happiest place on earth?
And like the wicked witch who wanted to make nightmares come true, I too was won over by dancing princesses, Mickey and Donald. This morning I told Elena: get ready for the funnest day of your life.
We spent the day in the Magic Kingdom, and seeing it through the eyes of a two-year-old is a perfect thing to do. We hit the rides without height limits and caught all the shows with talking puppets. The good thing about this strategy is that the lines are shorter for these attractions, though really the park is built for small children through and through.
As soon as we got in we found ourselves in the middle of a Disney dance street party where Elena’s eyes lit up to see Mickey live boogying with Donald. Then we caught a musical number on Cinderella’s castle, rode on Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean (Elena gripped Luis shoulders in the dark scary parts).
We saw Mickey’s Philharmonic 3-d show, spun in the Tea Cups, watched the southern bears sing twangy songs in Frontierland, visited the Haunted Mansion (Elena was very brave) and finally caught a show at the Tiki Room where parrot puppets of various nationalities serenaded the audience from the rafters.
My favorites would have to be the Tiki Room and Pirates. We could always hear Abuelo’s laugh even if he was a few rows or cars back in the dark.
On our way out of the park we went to town hall, and got our very own five minutes with the Mouse himself. We asked Elena if she wanted to meet him, and she said OK (she still doesn’t say yes).
When it was her turn she walked up to him all by herself and gave him a hug. It was like he was family. I was overcome with pride. We have a video that we are sure to be watching over and over. I tried to by her mouse ears but she refused. But we did get our own Minnie Mouse to take to Bonn.
Disney has it down to a science: we did not struggle with long lines for food, bathrooms or the various trams required to head in from the parking lot. They have professional photographers around the park that just give you a card you can enter online later to get the photos. The lines were policed for cutters. No one batted an eye about a party of six. With the new fastpass system you can even skip lines on a popular ride or two if your organized.
We saw dozens of small Disney princesses throughout the park. I wanted to take pictures of the people: the Japanese tourists holding up signs that said “We love you Mickey”, the fat tough-looking teenagers wearing silver sequined mouse ears, an old man waiting outside It’s a Small World wearing a T-shirt that said “I have a degree in being grumpy.”
I was juggling Elena, map, stroller, my own wonder… and so we do not have tons of photos. I came home wanting proof that it had happened. But the fun slips through your fingers as time rushes by. We took the ferry back to the parking lot after seven, and there it was, Cinderella’s castle sparkling in Christmas lights, too luminous to be captured in a photo, slipping away. Mickey —- we miss you already.
After Luis came back from Doha exhausted, we headed to Florida to meet my family in the Florida Keys. We’ve been talking about having a warm Christmas vaca for a few years now, and this looked like a good spot in between Seattle and Bonn.
The Keys are string of islands connected by 42 bridges and highways at the very tip of Florida. Cuba is just 90 miles across the pond. The water is green blue like the Caribbean. It is a wonderful place.
We stayed on Summerland Key, and just the name sounds magical. It is not far from the Looe Key Reef, a famous diving spot, and the home of the very special Key Deer, an endangered species of miniature deer. (We saw one crossing the highway, we were on the edge of our seats screaming, but he made it).
Keys life is slow and breezy and animals are all around — iguanas, ibis, pelicans, lizards, alligators, dolphins, manatees, sting rays and many bugs large and small.
We went to Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West where he wrote 9 books, kept his beloved boat Pillar and eventually left his second wife for one of my favorite writers Martha Gellhorn. The descendents of his original six-toed cats are still there living the good life.
We snorkeled in a barrier reef and found rainbow parrot fish. Luis fished off the dock in the front yard every night and we had lots of fish soup.
I won the prize for having the most bug bites (80, really?). I think of Florida as built up and commercial, but Keys still have some authenticity to them. I am fantasizing about buying a trailer and parking it at the end of road.
Elena has had a great time. First it was her birthday – YAY we are two! It was a real treat to celebrate it with my side of the family. We made a cat cake and had presents and it was just the cutest.
A few days later we had an early Christmas stocking fest. She has become a great assistant for opening presents. She loved being with G-ma and Dyan-a and Raffi and Alex and Steve. So many people to play with and fling her around. We discovered Dora the Explorer Yogurt so she got lots of calcium. Much of the time she was barefoot in a diaper. The week went too fast.
So much to say, where to even start. It was a busy Fall. We had a small Thanksgiving, then Luis went off to Doha in Qatar for COP18. In an unusual twist, I also went to Doha to make sure our event for the Land for Life Award went off smoothly. So, cousin Katrina came to the rescue flying over to Bonn.
Everyone said things like, “Oh its harder for the mommies than it is for the kids,” and I thought they were full of hogwash. But they were right, it was very hard to just get it all organized, and work marathon hours, and keep the various peace required. I got to Doha missing key items one would normally pack… I literally did not have room in my head for it all. Doha was a mad rush, but a real privilege to take part in COP18. I had been to big UN conferences before, but never as part of the UN’s delegation.
The more I learn about climate change, the more I worry. We could prevent a future of disaster zones, Elena’s future, but it seems the key conversations cannot get going. The city of Doha itself is fascinating but shallow. It is saturated in money. When a Qatari boy turns 16 he gets 100,000 dollars. The girls get 24,000. But what has the money bought them? I am not sure all that much. There are many empty sky rise buildings, waiting for people to come to a land that desalinates all its water.
Elena and Katrina were fine. It was great to have a visitor for Christmas market season, and we also went down the river to see the Marksburg castle and appreciated the fact that we did not live in medieval times when life expectancy was age 25 and women wore giant hair pieces.
We crashed a tiny Christmas Market in the town of Brubach, arriving just in time for a men’s chorus, my dad would have called them “old farts”. Right behind the chorus were two miniature goats, four rabbits and five geese. Elena had a fit of giggles during Silent Night, setting off the geese who started honking. But we got away with it. Now we’re off to America for Christmas with family in Florida. Its cold, let’s Go!
Cutiefiles HQ has moved! We’re still in Bonn, but went from sleepy Bad Godesberg where we lowered the average age by 20 years every time we left the house, to Südstadt, where I am the old one and the bars are full of students (so I assume, I don’t actually make it there).
So, life is never boring. After months of house hunting (about 20 visits) we found an apartment in this coveted ‘hood, just a short walk from the city center. The houses are pre-war romantic, pop out window boxes, high ceilings, old brick. San Francisco-esque. We are on the ground floor and we have a large yard. For Bonn, it’s a coup.
The old apartment was a beautiful dachgeschoss with an exposed loft ceiling like living in a ski lodge. At one point we had four guests stay for a week and we hardly noticed them. This last month I was having waves of nostalgia driving up the leafy hill, looking out the balcony, cleaning my oh-so-spacious kitchen. I loved listening to the rain fall on the skylights and hanging out in the giant bathroom. What more could you want?
A friend asked me, “are you sad to leave the place where Elena was born?” And there was a twinge. Part of me wanted no change at all, feared it. I was worried about the light in the new place, our furniture fitting in the smaller rooms, the nearby train tracks.
But moving day finally came and I have not looked back. We are a block from the subway, the nearby playground is a huge upgrade and Elena has her own room. The other place was ridiculously large, but the rooms were so far apart that she slept with us.
Of course the moving process is a marathon of logistics. Selling our kitchen to the new tenants (don’t ask), filling out German utility websites, fighting the hoards at Ikea to acquire a giant closet, installing lights and finally digging out of the cardboard box mountain. The work continues. Once we’re settled, I have to figure out this gardening thing.
But as the saying goes, change your house not your spouse. We will have a new perspective here, closer to the city and the action. I got rid of things that we did not need and learned a valuable lesson that yes, a house can be too big. There is always hope in a fresh start.
Elena has not minded a bit. In other news she is repeating all kinds of words, her favorite are: stars (shta), moon and moo-vaca (one word). And we have learned the great parenting secret revealed only to those who read it daily: Goodnight Moon is really about the mouse.