We have arrived safely. The girls were OK with the flight, although they resolutely refused to sleep on the flight from Detroit to Amsterdam. Annika especially was not so fond of the restrictive nature of the flight seating. Her overwhelming streak of curiosity told her that she must be up and exploring at all times, fasten seat belt light be damned ("Please remain seated until dee fasten seatbelt light is schvitzed off," requested our charming flight attendant.)
The first flight was on a smallish plane - to Detroit from our small airport. Annika was in full grin mode as we were seated, and as the plane began to pull out of the gate she asked, "Are we flying, yet?" We assured her that she would definitely know
when we were flying. This question followed by a concerned follow-up, "We're not going to go upside-down, or sumpin like dat?" Reassured, she settled in to wait.
When the plane finally did take off, Annika shouted "Woo-hoo! Woo! Woo!" She was so excited; I think she made everyone on the flight smile, even the jaded business flyers. She kept up a running commentary on all she saw, sprinkled with questions about the upcoming adventure ("Will we have a bath in Germany?" yes. "Will it be a German
bath?"; "Will we have a bed in Germany?" yes. "Will it be a German
When we finally got to Berlin, Annika was so very tired, and then a potty emergency in baggage claim, where there were no toilets, had her a bit on edge. Add to that the fact that there were 8 adults at the airport, all of whom knew her better than she knew them - thanks to the Internet - plus 2 babies there to greet us, and you have one overwhelmed preschooler.
We ran together to the toilet, Frankie asleep in the sling on my hip, and Annika practically jumped onto the toilet. And then, as if she weren't disoriented enough, she fell into the toilet bowl. The seats on the toilets are a slightly different shape than those she is used to (more round than oval). I pulled her up and she leaned her head into my knees, whispering, "Mama, I'm feeling a little shy
." So we just hung out in the toilet for 10 minutes or so while Anni gathered herself and I explained to her again just who all those people were.
It didn't take Annika long to decide that having 8 adults smiling at you and listening in rapt attention as you explain in great detail every doll that you have packed in your pink and purple rolling suitcase; as well as the story of how you got the rolling suitcase in the first place; not to mention the story of pulling the rolling suitcase yourself through several airports...was really not such a bad thing at all.
Somehow it took us more than an hour to leave the airport (one of the suitcases went missing, of course), but I don't think Anni stopped for breath the entire time. Having that much undivided attention does a girl's heart good. We sent the suitcases to the apartment with Martin and Judit and baby Miklos, who had brought two cars for that purpose (remember that most cars on German streets would fit into our sedan's glove compartment, as Joerg is fond of observing). We rode a bus to the S-bahn station, which gave us a wonderful view of the city on a lovely Sunday afternoon, passing by all the red-roofed buildings with lilac trees in full bloom. Berlin is really a very lovely place. Annika was delighted that we also got to ride the U-bahn, as she was pretty excited about the idea of a train that runs underground.
A short 30 minutes later we had made it to our apartment building, only to discover that the elevator was not working. Our apartment is on the 5th floor. Two of our suitcases weighed over 50 pounds. The stairwell was a narrow, concrete, spiral affair. Wilkommen in Deutschland!
Joerg's kindhearted friends did not seem to mind lugging our junk up 4 long flights of stairs, and even stayed to visit for a while. Annika and Frankie were both captivated by the babies. Frankie was obsessed with the idea of giving Nick his bottle, and equally obsessed with making sure that Miklos had his pacifier in his mouth at all times
. Some sort of transferred oral thing, I guess. Annika, little clown that she is, was on a mission to make both babies laugh, and by the end of the day Nick had only to glimpse Annika and he would start giggling.
Having decided that it would be best to try to keep the girls up until 5 pm before we put them to bed (in order to try to get them back on the proper day/night schedule), we took them to a nearby park to let them play a bit. The park just down the street from our house has a fantastic large playground, covered in the finest sand imaginable. Frankie was a little disconcerted about walking on such a strange surface, but Annika had her shoes off and was partying in no time. Anni tried her very best "Getting to Know You" patter with several groups of girls ("Hi. My name is Annika. I'm 4. What's your name?") with no success, and I tried my best to explain to her that they only spoke German. Judit volunteered to try to teach her how to say all that in German, but Anni came up with the much simpler solution of playing with younger kids, who weren't really fluent in any language yet.
It did not take long to start seeing the cultural differences play out in even the younger set. On the playground there is a very long rubber mat suspended off the ground by maybe 12 inches. It's actually rather hard to describe it, but the idea is that you can stand on it and jump to make it bounce. It has two ends so that two kids can stand on either end and time their jumps to maximize the wave along the rubber. This was exactly what a couple of German girls were doing, perfectly in time with one another. Annika excitedly climbed up to join them, and promptly started jumping like a little insane monkey, completely oblivious to rule and order.
It was soon apparent that Anni was beyond exhausted, and so we took her home for a quick snack before a 5 pm bedtime. Annika took one bite of her peanut butter cracker (we brought the peanut butter along with us, as it is apparently an exotic American food here and outrageously expensive), and we watched in amazement as her head drooped down to her chest mid-chew. I gathered her up in my arms and tucked her into her bed.
Frankie followed her to bed at 5:30, and Joerg and I didn't last much longer, either. At 10:30, we heard the sound of Annika crying, and discovered her on the steps. Evidently she had gone downstairs looking for us, and got very scared when she saw that we weren't there and the house had gone dark. After that scare, we let her curl up in bed with us, and so we spent our first night in Germany getting kicked all night long. Frankie, content in her port-a-crib, slept for 17 hours straight (although she did require a midnight nursing session).
The next day, Annika awoke with a fever and tremors in her hands. The tremors are a prime symptom of her prograf (her main immunosuppressant drug) level being too high, which can be toxic to her kidneys. We agonized for a while about the best way to go about arranging for a lab draw to check her levels here, but then it occurred to us that she might just be dehydrated and exhausted from the grueling trip. So we cancelled our plans for a big trip around Berlin, and decided to stay home for a quiet afternoon with lots of fluids and rest. Sure enough, by afternoon she was already much better. And by Wednesday morning she was completely herself again.
Mornings have been spent with Grandma Elke, and both girls were delighted that a Grandmother was generously provided for them on this side of the Atlantic, too. Frankie is still at the age when she pretty much expects great things to come her way all the time, and her expectations are pretty easy to fulfill when a piece of gouda cheese is all that is required to get her all rapturous. But Annika really understands how great it is that a Grandma is here for her, too. She loves these mornings spent with an adult whose only job is to love and admire, and Elke excels at both these important tasks.
Annika has been trying to pick up a bit of German here and there, saying "Gesundheit" to sneezes and "Tschuess" instead of "Bye." These are all phrases that she has been explicitly taught, but Monday night she pointed to her bed and announced, "I schlaf da!" Her first self-generated German phrase! Well, Denglish (Engeutsch?), anyway.
Our apartment here is lovely, with a main floor with a study and two bedrooms upstairs, along with a large open area that we have declared the play area, which has been generously filled with toys loaned to us for our visit. Off the main floor is beautiful glassed-in terrace (a conservatory? But that sounds a bit too hoity-toity.) The apartment has the wondrous high ceilings found in dwellings all over Europe, and is completely light-filled for most of the day. It is not, however, exactly designed for small children, as I have never before been in a space with so much glass: huge glass windows, glass doors, glass walls, cabinets with glass fronts. And the staircase to the second floor is a rather open affair, which Frankie has only today felt confident in climbing herself (our third day here).
When we first arrived, the place was rather stuffy, as Berlin was in the midst of an unusual spring heat wave. But finally yesterday the promised rain came, and with it a cooling to more normal temperatures. After the rain through the night, we woke up and threw open all the windows. Inhaling, we breathed deep the smell of Berlin in the spring - wet concrete and lilacs. Everywhere, lilacs. But not the leggy lilac bushes we have everywhere, with their mold-ridden leaves. Here the buildings and parks are filled with lilac trees - curvy trunked and sculptural, like a dogwood, but covered in sweet, white lilac blooms.
Both the girls love the feel of a big city. They love walking the streets with thousands of other people; they love riding on the top of double-decker buses; they love the feeling of pull as the U-bahn gathers speed; they love watching the traffic whiz by from our 5th floor window; they love the stands with flowers and fruits and postcards and books and t-shirts, all out on the sidewalk to touch and smell; they even love the noise, which kept them awake the first night, but now is only exciting - we'll probably leave before they reach the stage of familiar unconcern.