I've not updated in a while, despite having days bursting with chaos and fun and adventure. So here's my attempt to catch up a little, complete with another photo explosion, a harrowing tale of survival, and a catchy tune to listen to.
We are home (home!home!home!). 22 hours after we awoke to catch our flight, we emerged from our little airport here in town. After a month we had forgotten where, exactly, we had parked our car in the free long-term lot. Luckily the lot is not that huge, and the airport is isolated enough that Joerg didn't disturb anyone by setting off the alarm with the remote in order for us to track it down. As we followed the sound of our car's beeping, we looked out at the sun setting over the field of native prairie wildflowers and grasses planted just beyond the airport as a few geese flew home to one of our town's many small man-made lakes. After a month in a bustling city, it seemed so surreal. Like we were walking into someone's romanticized version of midwestern America in a novel.
The streets were nearly empty as we drove home, and Joerg and I both marvelled at the generous width of our streets, bordered by more green than concrete, and the unhurried pace of our fellow travellers. As we pulled into the driveway, our neighbors came out to welcome us home. Annika was clearly relieved to see that Sabrina stilled lived next door to us, and Anna and Demi still live behind us, and all was as it should be in our home, abandoned for so long. It really was all so cliche...and I love that it is really our lives.
Our last week in Germany was quite tough. Hence the lack of updates. We had some wonderful days (click image to go to Flickr photostream for a larger view):
The excursion to Pfaueninsel - Peacock Island:
The pilgrimage to Tempelhof to view the neighborhood of Joerg's childhood:
The trip to the Botanical Gardens:
Norma and I's long walk to McDonald's with the kids ("Oh, no, you Dih-ent
Her first game of table tennis:
Hanging with Lydia:
Feeding the ducks (illegally, as it turns out):
Climbing her first tree:
Hitting the parks:
Searching for bugs:
Jumping in the fountain near our apartment (her La Dolce Vita moment):
Plus all the extra time with Joerg:
(OK, that didn't all happen in the last week. But it did all happen.)
But during the last week Annika also had some unbearably horrendous mood days. We had to cancel several arrangements that we had made to meet people simply because I was worried about taking Anni too far from the apartment in the state she was in. The thing about Annika is this: Normally, she is a delightful, charming, sweet, gentle, hilarious, wildly imaginative and joyful kid. But the flip side of being so completely engaging is that she also has days when she simply appears to lose all control - sad, mad, and frustrated all at once. I'm sure it is partly her age, and partly (maybe a lot) due to all the drugs she is on. At least two of them are known to cause hyperactivity and mood swings, and some of them have unknown side-effects when taken by children. On her bad days, it is really like she is on speed - she spins about wildly, unable to stop herself, and then crashes spectacularly, thrashing and screaming. It's shocking to observe, even for me.
One of Anni's crashes happened while I was out alone with the girls meeting our friend, Judit. As soon as I realized that Annika was out of control, I headed for home right away. But getting home was a little walk, and then several S-bahn stops and a subway ride away. Annika ran away from me one time, and we just barely caught her before she ran right into a busy street. Then on the S-bahn, she kept saying that she was mad and she wanted to get off at the next stop. So at every stop, she pushed the button for the door to open. Judit had bravely agreed to come along with us, and she kept getting up and grabbing Anni back before she could get off the train. Thank God she was there, because I was too exhausted from wrangling Anni to the station to do much more than watch in mute shock. As Judit sat down again beside me she asked in a quiet whisper, "Would she really do that? Would she just get off the train without you? All alone?" A big sigh and a nod from me. Again, the dark side of having a brave kid.
I'm sure that a lot of Annika's problems stemmed from the cumulative effects of lack of sleep. Both girls had trouble settling in at night, and woke up way too early. I'm not sure if it was the unfamiliar environment, the sleeping together in the same room, the strange noises, the days jam-packed with excitement, or the fact that Berlin is already having sun for 16 hours of the day. Probably a combination of all those factors. And then I think that she was becoming fairly worried about the house, the cats, and all her friends back home. And on top of that, she had several scary experiences. Including:
You may remember that Anni locked herself in the bathroom at Joerg's sister's house, and that it took some work to get her out. You may also recall my mentioning that it was actually the second time she had locked herself into a small space that week. But, yes, it got even worse.
On our last day before we were to leave, we were invited to a birthday party for Lydia, Annika's new friend in the building. By the time we left at 9 to go pick up a birthday present for her, the day was already hot and sunny with the still air of a city that we wind-whipped prairie folks are just not used to. Feeling expansive with all the time we had before the party was scheduled, I indulged Annika's overwhelming urge to travel in the elevator to "-1" (the basement) before going back up to the ground floor exit. I began to regret that decision as soon as we stepped into the tiny space, its air redolent of fart (who would do that? can't you just hold it 30 seconds until you're back out into the world of circulating air?) with its glass windows on 3 sides letting the morning sun bake the interior. I really didn't want to spend any more time than necessary in that stinky oven, but I had already agreed to the adventure, so down we went.
Annika loved going to -1 because the elevator doors open onto total cave-like darkness. If you stand there until the elevator doors shut, the dark is completely engulfing, heavy, and damp. On some days, we let her bring along her penlight to play along the walls. Then she would rush over to the tiny little orange glow that marked the light switch on the wall, which she would triumphantly throw on with a flourish worthy of Thomas Edison demonstrating his light bulb for the first time. Then we would wander a little ways along the corridor while Annika intoned, thrilled, "Spoooo-oooooo-oooooooky!" She always checked to see if the door to the underground garage was open, and if it was she would stare at the cars hiding out below our building like she had just discovered the lost treasure of Pirate Island.
Today she had no pen light, and the garage door was closed, so our trip was thankfully brief. We called the elevator back, and it was a bit sluggish opening the doors (foreshadowing...spoooooooooo-oooooooo-ooooooky!). The cool air of the basement made the heat of the elevator all the more shocking and uncomfortable. The doors closed, Anni pushed 3 and held it while I yelled, "No way, Anni!" and pushed 0. The elevator stopped, displaying 0 on its floor readout, but the doors didn't open. I punched 0 a few times, and then the door open button, all to no avail. Which is when I might have freaked a tiny little bit, just for a moment. I definitely have a thing about tiny, hot, enclosed spaces. I began ramming on the emergency alarm button. Over and over. Remembering that Anni had hit it once when she was messing around. We lectured her that she was never, ever to do that unless there was an emergency, but I also remembered that nothing had happened as a result of her pushing that button. So there I was hitting that button for all I was worth, wondering if anyone was up on a weekend morning to hear us. Judging by the noise outside our windows the night before, the entire city of Berlin had had one hell of a Friday night and was surely sleeping it off at that moment.
But the Germans, bless their hearts, do believe in making sure that things work the way they should, and the alarm actually connected me to an emergency operator who worked for the elevator company. I was way too upset to even attempt to explain things in German, so I just shouted out in English, "We're trapped in here! In this elevator!" In perfect English (again, bless those German hearts for their resolute commitment to multilingualism at a young age) the operator assured me that someone would be contacted to get us out.
Finally able to calm down, I set about trying to somehow reduce the temperature in the elevator. I got the inner doors opened with no problem, but the outer doors (ridiculously dirty, by the way) would only open a centimeter or so. Luckily, though, we were still close enough to the basement that even just that tiny opening let in some of the cool underground air. Annika was beginning to cry, surprising me given that she had not cried a bit during the entire bathroom ordeal, so I got Frankie out of the stroller and strapped in Annika so she had someplace to sit, and moved her into the shady part of the elevator, nearer to the cooling basement centimeter of fresh air. I sat on the elevator floor right beside her, and took Frankie in my lap. Frankie did not cry, but she nuzzled her head into my neck, burrowing in as close as she could get. Anni launched into a 10-minute question session that ran along these lines:
"Are we trapped in here forever
"Will I ever see Grandma Elke again?"
"Will I ever see Grandma Bond again?"
"Will I ever see Grandpa Bond again?"
"Will I ever see Sabrina again?"
"Will I ever see Daddy again?"
But this did at least give me the idea of using the cell phone to call Joerg upstairs so that he could come down and offer some moral support to little crumbling Anni from the other side of the doors. I know, I know. It took me 15 minutes to think of using the cell phone! Remember, I'm not used to having a cell phone. Which is why it took me another 10 minutes or so before I finally reached Judit and asked her to call Joerg for me since I couldn't find his number anywhere.
Joerg rushed downstairs, and at the sound of his voice, Anni burst into fresh tears. "Daddy! We are stuck in here forever
!" (I guess the drama queen period is not yet over).
Joerg pulled on the door mightily, but only managed to open it another few centimeters. However, that was enough to let in sufficient basement air to drop the temperature in the elevator considerably. The sun had also risen high enough in the sky that it was no longer shining in directly on us anymore, and I was beginning to feel quite cheerfully optimistic about the whole situation. I reassured Joerg that I had talked to a very friendly, calm woman who had promised help was on the way. But then he asked the very reasonable question, "Did she say how long it would be?" A very reasonable question that I had not thought to ask, of course, which brought me down a peg or two, remembering that it was the weekend, after all.
As the morning hour got later, the building began to come to life. Various people came to the elevator, expecting a ride up and instead finding my husband pacing outside, explaining in a disbelieving voice that "my wife and two small daughters are trapped in there!" Every time Anni heard him tell someone this, she would echo back in her small little voice that still mispronounces sounds in that heartbreakingly cute way, "Daddy? Ah we twappt in hee-ah fowevah
?" Which Joerg, of course, denied heartily in his best most confident voice. Repeat scene 5 or 6 times.
Finally, friendly English-speaking lady came again over the elevator's intercom speaker to give me an update. The guy was at the building, but couldn't find parking. Joerg, apparently about to burst, muttered something about sidewalks and emergencies. 5 minutes later, we heard Joerg greeting someone. I braced for the sound of a crow bar grating against unyielding metal, ready to cover the girls' ears and move them back from the door. But instead the doors slid open in their tracks, as if this guy had just waved his hands and intoned "Abra-cadabra. Open, Sesame!" Turns out all it took was a key. Hmmm. 45 minutes of stress solved that easily just seems wrong.
Joerg reached down and grabbed up Anni, who clung to his neck harder than I have ever seen her do. Frankie stuck to me, and we wearily climbed the stairs. Having learned a bit from the art therapist who visited the kids at the Kohl's house after Anni's transplant, I had Annika draw out her feelings about the incident. Much to my surprise, it really did seem to work and she calmed down nicely. She wasn't, however, prepared to venture back out into the big world just yet. For Lydia's present, Annika drew a picture in which elevators and a guy with a toolbelt figured prominently.
Of course, this also means that the elevator was again out of order on the day we moved out, as it was on the day we moved in. Joerg did note that at least it was easier getting 60 pound suitcases down
the stairs, rather than up
I joke that she will now turn out to be seriously claustrophobic after her trauma, but of course Anni is made of stronger stuff than that. The next day at the airport in Amsterdam we had a 3 1/2 hour layover, which Anni wanted to spend riding the elevators up and down.
So, yes, we are home. Unpacking has already stretched across 3 days, and is as yet unfinished. Our home was as we left it, except covered with a dusting of soft, fine cat hair, which fluffs up in the air like the particles in a snow globe every time we sit down on any furniture. The girls have touched every single toy they own with loving fingers, marvelling at their permanence, falling in love with their plasticky goodness all over again.
I finally vacuumed today, listening to Anna Domino's
"Home" on repeat, amazed that a CD that I bought 15 years ago could be the soundtrack for me now, utterly changed by the unexpected turns of motherhood and domestic life.
For your listening pleasure (in a new window), a small sample of the blood-pressure-lowering sounds of Anna Domino, well worth paying import prices for: