One day Anni was twirling and singing one of her original compositions.
"It's my gift!" she declared.
Dizzy, she fell with spectacular gracelessness.
Laying on her back on the tile floor she began flapping her arms and legs
as if she were making a snow angel.
"Falling down is also a gift!" says she.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Anni's Big Day of Close Calls

As Yankee Transplant noted, it's been a long trip. The girls are showing definite signs of wear. Well, mainly Annika. Frankie has actually settled in here now: falling asleep on her own in her port-a-crib, and back to infrequent nursing and a generally agreeable mood all day long. Frankie has apparently accepted all the German being spoken around here and is happily incorporating it into her vocabulary. On the other hand, Annika is still her mainly sweet and loveable self, but she seems to be tottering on the verge of a meltdown almost all day. This has been a very long time away from home for a girl who thrives on, no requires, regularity and predictability in her life. Don't mess with that girl's schedule. Saturday was pretty much the nadir for her, and I could feel the gray hairs on my head bursting through their coating of L'oreal Ash Blonde. The day started out well, as the girls and I went out to choose some flowers to bring to Kareen, Joerg's sister, for our visit that day. Joerg's father was also coming in on the train for the day, his one and only day with us. Anni was in a yellow daisy mood, and she was quite proud of her selection. After dropping the flowers off at home, we went down to deliver a package of cookies for Rachel's birthday (the middle daughter of our new American friends here at the apartment building). Norma, the mother and a former medical student, greeted us at the door with a stern, "Don't come in!" Poor Rachel had somehow contracted a horrible tummy bug that kept her up all night vomiting, and on her birthday of all days. Norma was well aware that Anni's main vulnerability is to intestinal illness (always, always requring hospitalization), and so she kindly stopped Anni right at the doorstep. We delivered the cookies, and Anni resolved to make Rachel a get-well-card as soon as she got back home. I mentioned Rachel's illness to Joerg, and he (mildly put) freaked out. He was already thinking ahead to missing our flight due to Anni's hospitalization ("You do realize that German hospitals never release you in just a few days??"), and the possibly serious dehydration consequences if Anni had diarrhea during an already dehydrating airplane flight. Joerg is always 3 steps ahead of the game, but those 3 steps are not always the happiest ones. Having given Joerg the relatively unimpressive assurance that there's not much we can do about it if Anni comes down with a tummy bug, we headed for Kareen and Lutz's house. Kareen and Lutz gave us a warm welcome (Lutz actually volunteered to donate a piece of his liver to Anni and they had already bought tickets to the US when Anni's original surgeon changed his mind about living donor surgery), and the girls, always responsive to a loving welcome, were their typically affectionately amusing selves. We headed the girls outside, and away from the many fragile glass knick-knacks in the dining room. A neighbor kindly provided some toys for the girls, and Annika was delighted to discover several spider webs on the ping-pong table. Joerg's father arrived, as well as Kareen and Lutz's son and daughter-in-law. Lunch went well, although my plans for a post-lunch nap for the girls were soon quashed by the girls' eagerness to get back downstairs and into the action. Now, getting down the stairs was a trick every time. Their house was one of the older German row houses - I think that's what they're called. The houses that are connected to one another and go up several floors, but each floor is extremely narrow and long, like walking through a ship. Thus, the stairs were almost vertical, and they spiralled around. It felt almost more like climbing a ladder than walking up the stairs. Coming down could almost induce vertigo. Since the bathroom was upstairs, and Anni loves being in other people's bathrooms (she even insisted I take a photo of the cool toilet in Maja and Schaefer's apartment), we went up and down those stairs several times, always with me behind her on the way up and in front of her on the way down. Despite my worries about the stairs, the problems all started when Anni locked herself in the bathroom. She has done this before (again, at Schaefer and Maja's), but she's always been able to unlock on her own, or we've always been able to talk her through the unlocking process very easily. This time, though, it turned out that Kareen and Lutz had not used the bathroom lock in over 10 years, and really couldn't remember exactly what it looked like or how it worked. So we were relying on Anni's description of the mechanism, and perhaps you have already noted that Anni's descriptions of things tend to be peppered with her own flights of fancy. Eventually, we were reduced to instructing her to try "making the little guy go to sleep," and, when that didn't work, to try "waking him up." Needless to say, this didn't really work. Eventually Dirk, Kareen and Lutz's son, got out a hammer and chisel and attempted to remove the door's hinges, which had clearly not been tampered with in decades. Once the hinges were off, the door still would not budge. Somehow the locking mechanism was still holding it closed. We all looked skeptically at the colored glass window in the door, and wondered how we were going to get Anni out of the way of the flying glass should we have to knock it out. Annika remained remarkably calm throughout the whole process, even after being locked in there for nearly an hour. Still, the loud noises of Dirk hammering on the door outside had made her fairly nervous. Finally, I told her to go wait in the bathtub so at least she wasn't directly behind the door. Just when we were all completely exasperated, Dirk took a chisel and managed to pry out the lock from the door jamb. Anni rushed out, relieved, and threw her arms around me, "You did it, mommy! You saved me!" "No," I told her sternly, "Dirk saved you. Please say you're sorry for locking yourself in and thank you for getting you out. Plus, you are no longer allowed to go into bathrooms by yourself." Anni looked stricken, evidently expecting a hero's welcome for surviving her imprisonment. She mumbled, "I'm sorry," and "Thank you." Then she took off down the stairs, too quickly, and fell down, hitting every stair with her head and tummy on the way down. Joerg had a front row seat, and rushed after her, but gravity proved faster than he. I was in the other room, collecting Frankie, but I heard every horrible bump and scream on the way down. I hurried down the stairs with Frankie to find Joerg holding a screaming Anni in his lap. Looking at them, I didn't know who to be more concerned about: Anni, who clearly had broken no bones, but might have caused some serious internal injury due to her very swollen spleen and increased bleeding time, or Joerg, whose face was drained of all color and didn't seem to be breathing quite right. Soon it was apparent that Anni was screaming more in fright than pain, and so I focused on Joerg, who claimed to be fine, but looked as if heart failure might be imminent. We decided it was time to head home, especially as anxiety had turned Anni into a bit of a banshee. Brave souls, we decided to go ahead and stick to our plan of visiting Joerg's friend Karin and her family (Michael, Milena, and Tim) on our way home. It was our last chance for Annika and Frankie to see their new German friends before Milena and Tim left for a week-long trip with their school, so we decided not to cancel. On our way there, Annika asked us, "Will Milena and Tim still speak German?" Despite evidently hoping that they had magically become English-speakers in the week since we had last seen them, Annika was very well-behaved until it was time to go, but it was clear that she was running on fumes by that point. (Hmmmm. I'll have to continue detailing our past few days later. Joerg needs to get going to the University.)

sometimes it's better not to know

It's late and I should go to bed, but I can't sleep. It's my own damned fault for going to a webpage that I had already been warned about before I even clicked.Amanda over at Imagine Bright Futures has been doing extensive research into biliary atresia and how it is treated around the world (BA was Annika's liver disease), and she found this page created by an extremely religious family in Dubai who essentially decided not to treat their daughter's liver disease. It was a hard read, and I'm not sure why in the world I did it. The worst part was reading through the journal from the bottom of the page up, so as to follow the chronology, and recognizing all the stages that Annika went through as I read along. And the parents (and grandfather) were writing these journal entries in this (to me, anyway) weirdly joyful tone, while accompanying the entries with pictures of a baby who was clearly needing serious medical care right then and there. So as the parents jubilate about "how well she is sleeping," I am thinking about how worried I was about how I had to wake Annika for every single one of her feedings. As Anni's arms and legs turned to little sticks like that baby pictured, I set my alarm through the night to make sure that I didn't miss a single opportunity to feed her. Did those parents really just not know? Or were they experiencing the biggest, hugest case of denial ever? Eventually, they write a journal entry about deciding not to pursue liver transplant. It's clear at that point that they realize that this is a death sentence for their daughter, unless a miracle happens, which, judging by the evident intensity of their faith, they may well have been expecting. No longer denial, I guess. But then there are all the entries following that one that detail her descent into liver failure and death. It was awful reading those entries and remembering Annika doing those same things - the weird breathing noises as the fluid filled her abdomen, the sleeping interrupted only by periods of wailing, the refusal to sleep anywhere but in my arms. And one day after that entry noting that she would only sleep while being held, while I was still nodding my head in remembrance, I read that she died. There's a picture of her there by that entry. A rather strange photo of her with her jaundice turning her practically neon, and her eyes closed with her mouth in an open "O". I am disturbed by the thought that these people took a picture of her moments after she died. It's a creepy thought, and I feel guilty for thinking this of them. But they seem like foreign creatures: these people with access to planes and connections to hospitals in South Africa, and even London, who say not only to themselves but to the whole world through their website, "We give our baby to God, rather than follow medical advice." These people who seem to think that being separated from one another for months would be a worse fate than watching their daughter die, and doing nothing to stop it. Amanda, who originally posted this link over on CLASS, was in full-blown shock when she posted the link. Of course, we all know that there are kids all over the world dying of simple cases of diarrhea and other completely preventable causes, and it comes as no surprise to realize that babies born with BA in situations like those are unlikely to receive the help they need. But I think her (and my) shock came from reading of a baby dying with no intercession, born to parents who travel between countries and have a computer, a digital camera, and access to the internet. It all seemed so incongruous. I'm hoping that just writing this all down will get it out of my head for the night.
One day later, and, although writing it down did help to abate my horror, I am still thinking about that little girl and her family. I don't think I can ever fully understand their decision, and the fact that they are evidently at peace with it...but I did at least remember how awful I felt after Anni's first surgery, the Kasai procedure, at just 6 weeks old. Immediately after surgery she was on an epicaudal (like an epidural, but numbs you higher up), which meant she felt no pain from the surgery. But as they moved her out of the PICU and toward coming home, they had to remove the pain medication, and it was evident that she was not comfortable, to say the least. I remember thinking about the fact that the Kasai procedure has only a 25% success rate (success meaning that transplant is avoided), and agonizing that all this pain for my baby might, in the end, be for naught. I can only imagine that this family was in some serious denial about how sick their baby really was, judging by the tone of the posts. Perhaps the doctors didn't do enough to prepare them, or perhaps they weren't prepared to hear it. Once denial became impossible (transplant is recommended), perhaps they just weren't mentally prepared for that step. Perhaps coming down off such high optimism led them to the lowest depths of pessimism, in which they couldn't imagine putting their daughter through the pain of a surgery that wouldn't be a guaranteed success. God...I don't know. Just the idea of losing that little giggle of Anni's makes my eyes swim. Normally I find the harmless voyeurism of reading other web journals a lovely evening diversion. I should know that voyeurism is never completely harmless.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Annika makes me laugh

Annika's reaction to homesickness has been to be a little, itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bit grumpy. Frankie's reaction has been to take up nursing with a vengeance. Before we left, Frankie nursed twice or sometimes three times a day and I had been making tentative efforts at weaning. In the past week, Frankie has been requesting (desperately and with much shirt-tugging) to nurse 5 or 6 times a day. I think it's all about comfort and security when so much in her little world has been upended. So I once again got to experience that awful burning of nipples hardening up for heavy use, and I have not exactly been hauling my breast out of the bra enthusiastically. Anni, ever concerned for her sister's welfare, never fails to inform me when Frankie feels the need to nurse. I end up with a toddler wailing, "Nursie! Nursie! Nursie!" while grabbing for my breasts pitifully, and a preschooler helpfully standing by my side saying, "Mama, Frankie needs you. She reeeeeaaaalllly wants to nurse. It's time to nurse her. She needs you." Thus, Frankie now wails, "I need you! Nursie! Nursie! I need you!" (Yes! She's using pronouns now. How cool. But do proper pronoun use and continued nursing really go together? Ah, well, I think Frankie's a bit advanced verbally, if not gastronomically.) This morning I picked up Frankie from her port-a-crib and resignedly sat down for her first nursing session of the morning. "That's great, mama," Annika praised me. "That's just what she needs." Annika watched me pull out my breast, and Frankie latch on as if her life depended on it. Annika begin to dance around the room, singing "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast. Except she was singing, "Be Our Breast". It's hard to notice burning nipples when you're laughing that hard.
Today we decided to go to a lovely playground we had noticed on our way home from Schloss Charlottenburg last week. Joerg gave me very clear directions, but unfortunately I left my map of Berlin at the apartment. All went well until the last leg of the journey, when I had to choose whether to turn left or right on Spandauer Damm outside of the S-bahn station. Somehow I hadn't worried about that part, figuring that such a large landmark as Schloss Charlottenburg would surely have a sign pointing tourists toward it outside of the station. But, no. I should have learned that lesson from our own apartment building - this is a city where buildings disguise their stairwells as standard-looking apartment doors helpfully labelled "A," "B," and "C." No exit signs, no little stairway symbols, nothing. So if the assumption is that one should already know where the fire exits are, well then it stands to reason that a palace as large as Charlottenburg would not need any signs pointing it out. Obviously, I chose the wrong direction, and walked a rather long way before I finally conceded defeat. We were planning on meeting Judit and baby Miklos at the park, and it was clear that we were going to be late. So I tried to call Judit on the cell phone that she and Martin loaned us for our visit. Mind you, we don't have a cell phone at home, and I have made exactly one call from a cell phone before in my life, so I wasn't exactly hip to the usual menus and submenus of a mobile phone. But there I was trying to navigate the menus in a foreign language. I finally found a listing for Judit, only to discover submenu after submenu, including, apparently, 3 different numbers listed for her. Feeling like I was hurtling down a country road with my headlights off, I (thought) I chose a number and dialled it. To my dismay, a happy little garbage can appeared on the screen as a bouncy wad of paper jumped into it. Argh! I threw something away. Sending apologies Martin and Judit's way, I tried the next number, choosing a different option. This one was evidently a voice-mail. The third time finally gave me the "Tooooot. Toooooot." sound of a European ring, and (whew!) Judit answered. At the park, Anni had a great time climbing on an elastic rope structure, which allowed you to climb and bounce at the same time. She got pretty high the first time, but like a little cat, lost her nerve coming down. I talked her through until she was over halfway down, but then Frankie distracted me when she tried to eat a bit of lovely Berlin park dirt. I yelled, and ran over to her, which evidently threw Annika so much that she fell flat on her back the rest of the way down. I spun around and went back to Anni, figuring that bodily injury trumped digesting a bit of dirt. Annika was fine, although a bit stunned. A few minutes later, she was climbing again. Never one to scare easily, that girl. Again, when it was time to come down she had lost her nerve. "Mama! How do I get down?" I told her, very reasonably, that she should come down the same way she got up. Evidently focussing on the "same way" part of my advice, she asked me in a shocked voice, "What? Do you mean fall down?" Then we went to the swings. Unlike our parks, the Berlin parks are really pretty stingy on the number of swings provided. They have these huge play areas, with just two swings. Two! So waiting becomes an integral part of the play experience. We had gone to the park near our apartment the day before, and as Anni swung high in the air, she shouted with her usual exuberance. And this is what she was shouting: "Hey, everybody! I am flying so high! I am a giant bumblebee! Watch out for the giant bumblebee! I am a giant bumblebee and I am coming to eat you all!" So perhaps it's better that none of the kids there spoke English. I reported these hilarities to Joerg when he met up with us after his meeting at the Technical University. As I told the stories, Anni hunched up her shoulders and grinned and generally looked like she was about to burst with pleasure at being the star of these tales, laughing at the punch lines harder than anyone else. I hope reading these anecdotes will give her that much pleasure in 15 years.

a little homesick

The girls are homesick, and also just a bit sick. Probably the sick part is contributing to the homesick part. There's nothing like your own bed when you're a bit under the weather. Still, they just have the sniffles, so we're still planning on getting out and enjoying the fact that the weather has finally turned into the lovely German springtime that we were expecting. Frankie and Anni have both developed a taste for croissants in the morning, and Anni inquired innocently whether we might find time to head over to Paris some afternoon. That may have been the result of a visit from Malke, who is a jewelry designer currently living in Paris, who peppers both her German and English with charming French expressions. Anni enjoyed her breakfast conversation with her, and she's savvy enough to recognize style when she sees it. Don't think she didn't notice Malke's wondrous shoes. Meanwhile, here are some photos from our expedition to the working organic farm in Dahlem Dorf, right in the middle of Berlin. Click on the photo below to see the whole series (you'll have to click on the "next" link by the thumbnail images up in the upper-right-hand corner to see all the photos from the farm trip. Sorry, I've used up more of my free account privileges):

Sunday, May 15, 2005

strolling down someone else's memory lane

The weather here has been truly awful: colder than we anticipated, and rain nearly every day. And Annika seems to be getting sick (it had to happen - crammed into those subway cars with all those people breathing all over her). Still, her temperature has not topped 101 and she seems to be dealing with it just fine, so outside of a few moments when I have the mad feeling that I need to find a good lab to have her blood drawn to reassure myself that it's not rejection or something liver-related, we're feeling pretty comfortable. Even more reassuring is the fact that Frankie spent yesterday being unusually grumpy, and Joerg is currently laying on our cool, red, faux-suede sofas (Will those things fit in the overhead compartment? I so love this furniture we have here.) watching Star Wars in German (and Darth Vader is sooooo cool speaking German) and complaining of feeling icky. Both of which facts lead us to believe that it's just a little viral bug and no big deal. Frankie is already back to her happy, hopping self, and Anni shows no signs of getting violently ill. Today was spent with one of Joerg's ex-girlfriends, Claudia. Actually, she is the ex-girlfriend - the one that he was with the longest, including a long period of cohabitation, the one that he had the closest relationship with before we married. When I told my new American friend, Norma, about our plans for today, she laughed and rolled her eyes. I'm not sure which of us she thought was crazy for this plan, Joerg or me..but I suspect it was me. I forgot to mention to her that this ex-girlfriend had already come for a visit to us in the States, living with us for 2 weeks (along with Schaefer and his ex-girlfriend). And that visit while I was 6 months pregnant. I don't think that Claudia has ever seen me, outside of pictures, when I wasn't a bit full of figure. Still, the fact that Joerg has kept up a relationship with Claudia does not disturb me, although I remember it did a bit in the first years of our marriage. I laughed as I told Joerg about Norma's reaction. I explained to him that I don't really worry about affairs anymore. I, personally, am just way too tired already to find the energy and time to somehow create a secret love life for myself. I said I assumed the same was true of him, too. "No," he said, "I could probably work out the time and the energy, but I couldn't take the guilt." I was shocked. SHOCKED. Clearly, I need to send a bit more work his way. Just to safeguard our marriage, of course. * *Joerg, if you are reading this, please know that I am in no way saying that you do not do enough work around the house. Those last few sentences are for humorous effect only. Your efforts are valuable and appreciated. And you've got the magic touch with laundry. Then there is the fact that I don't worry about him leaving because of what we have been through together. It would be very hard to find someone else, no matter how empathetic a soul, who could really understand how nervous and nauseous I get when I smell Big Red chewing gum, which is exactly like the smell of the floor cleaner they used in the hospital, or who could nod silently when Joerg curses the sight of the gorgeous Chicago skyline as we drive in for another checkup. An intimate conversation with anyone else seems impossible, without that major reference point - the intense fear and helplessness we felt together as we faced Anni's worst medical crises. And then Joerg pointed out that the fact that someone else would not understand those things might be exactly the draw, as many affairs are begun exactly to escape the pressures of family life. That's the thing about my husband - he can't help but be logical and reasonable in his conversation, even if it's really not what I want to hear at the moment. Sometimes I find that endearing, especially when I've already had one glass of wine. And the wine that we each had one glass of last night (and no more, lest we not be able to roll out of bed cheerfully at 6:30 when our bright sunshine morning girl comes to insist that the day can wait no longer) was exactly the Corsican wine that Joerg used to drink back in the days when he and Claudia lived together. The days when they motorcycled together across Europe to spend months lounging around on beaches in Greece. I insisted that Joerg choose a wine as we stood in the supermarket faced by all the unfamiliar choices, and he chose that one in honor of Claudia's visit. Wine and beer are pretty much the only things that are cheaper here than in the US, and they are both much cheaper here. Even the Californian wines are cheaper here. Joerg was curious to find out how his old wine tasted after all these years. He uncorked it and poured us both a glass. One tiny drink, and I could already feel the hangover begin. Joerg, generously, called it "dry." I called it "vinegary," less swayed by fond memories of downing bottle after bottle on warm beaches at night. I was surprised that this was the wine that would have become the "house wine," as he called it, of any house. But then we both remembered that in our younger days we scorned any wine that dared be even slightly sweet. Fruit notes and oak finishes were for wimps. It was probably the same impulse that drove us to late late nights and breakfasts consisting mainly of black tea and strong cigarettes. In any case, his memory of the wine was far better than his experience of it now. He (and I) have become people far different than we were just 10 or 12 short years ago. There's our marriage, and our kids, and the ever-present worry about Annika. We're the type of people now who seldom drink, in order to have more productive mornings and less snoring at night. Did snoring ever enter our conversation 10 years ago? Absolutely not. Joerg observed that it was funny to talk about us being "different people," referring to personality issues as is usual, since after 10 years it was probably also true on the molecular level, as well, as our cells died and new ones were created. I do believe that conversations with one glass of wine each are a good thing for us. And the visit with Claudia went well. She brought us organic asparagus and potatoes from a farmer she knows, and we had a glorious feast together, which dirtied nearly every pan in our small kitchen (yes, the lack of dishwasher has already lost its rustic appeal for me). She looks much the same as she did last time I saw her, which was 5 years ago. Watching Annika do a little dance to her beloved Kim Possible soundtrack kept my mind mainly off that fact. I am glad, though, that I covered my gray before we came.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Friday, May 13, 2005

more photos

visit to Schaefer and Maja's place playing with Milena and Tim (again, click on the thumbnail of the photo if you want to read the commentary)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

1001 Bad Ideas

A shop dedicated to bath (German: bad) design. Joerg has suggested this should be the new title of my blog. He's got a point.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

fashion heads

Berlin has the poopiest sidewalks ever. But the up side is that this also means that Berlin is filled with friendly pooches to send my girls into paroxysms of delight. Joerg and I have been betting each other over whether Frankie will quit screaming "DOGGIE! DOGGIE! DOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGGGGIIIIIIIIEEEEE! DOGGIE! DOGGIE! DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGIE!" every blessed time she spots a dog before we leave or not. We're both kind of leaning toward not. Berliners are not such a crusty bunch of city-dwellers that Frankie's noisy little joy sessions are not met with a smile or two. Actually, everyone here is exceedingly friendly, and not just Joerg's friends, either, who are already predisposed to be kind to us noisy folk. I was really very curious what the reaction to us, as Americans, would be here in post-Iraq, post-Bush-reelection Europe. So far I've not noticed any real difference. Of course, I do my best to blend in around here. I packed all my best scarves, which go a long way in my efforts at camouflage. You can bet I colored my hair before we left - which I actually meant to look natural, but you know those at-home jobs always end up looking a bit Fifth Element - and I told Julia that she could make my hair hausfrau-funky at my appointment a few weeks ago. I also discovered that the only item I forgot to pack was my favorite color of lipstick, a very low-key brownish shade that's more lip-balm than really lipstick. So all I have is my "experimental" shades, which means that I've just gone all-out and been wearing eyeliner, too. Wild! And we didn't pack any baseball caps. Even though Anni is incredibly cute in them: cookiemonster1 Annika's been making her own fashion statements, though: So I don't really think we stick out as American. Not, at least, until I open my mouth, which has yet to utter much German at all. As Malke put it when I refused to answer in German, "Feigling!" (chicken!) There is a conversational German course here tomorrow night, which I might just attend to practice my German in the safety of similarly challenged speakers. Poor Joerg is in a full-blown linguistic crisis, often speaking sentences half-German, half-English. And occasionally finding himself unable to think of a word in either language. I'm beginning to understand why he decided not to speak German at home when he comes back from the university at night. It's quite a mental task to switch between 2 languages for different audiences. Still, Anni's interest in learning German has certainly been stoked by this trip. She's finally convinced that German is not just silly noises that Joerg makes into the phone on Sunday mornings, his friends and family calling time. The fact that everyone speaks German here has impressed her no small amount, and she has been listening carefully and soaking it all up, often interrupting to ask what a word means. Frankie, too, has added "Danke" and "Tschuess" to her vocabulary. So we'll be looking at Muzzy when we get back home. (Anyone know how to get it cheaper? Ouch.) I've really been enjoying our streamlined existence here in our miniaturized abode. Actually we have plenty of room to live very comfortably, with 3 bedrooms for the 4 of us. Anni and Frankie enjoy sleeping with each other, and they have a play space just outside their room. The toys out there are limited to the contents of one banana box and one bookshelf, plus one desk with art supplies. This means that clean-up at night is a breeze, and is not so overwhelming that a 4-year-old and a very helpful 19-month-old can't accomplish it easily in 5 minutes. Heaven. The spare bedroom is used as a study, keeping it safely away from the ambitiously imperial pen of Frankie (is there any surface that she does not feel the need to mark? We seem to have convinced her that paper is the only appropriate space for pen marks, but that doesn't do anything to protect Joerg's lecture notes or my address book printout.) We have 2 weeks worth of clothes for each of us: more than half warm-weather, and the rest for cooler days, which means there's no digging through all those clothes that I haven't been able to wear in years to find something to wear in the morning. And Annika can safely choose her own outfit without falling in love with something wildly inappropriate. The refrigerator is just slightly larger than the one I had in my dorm room as an undergraduate, which means that I'm not likely to lose any left-overs in there, undiscovered until one day an odd smell forces me into an unpleasant expedition. We shop nearly everyday for that day's meal, rather than storing a lot of food in the apartment that we somehow change our minds about eating. I do miss the dishwasher, but the rhythm of doing the dishes after every meal is oddly comforting (but ask me again at the end of the month). Somehow it's like living a simpler life. Like we've gone off to Walden Pond, rather than a large and bustling city. We've met a couple of American families here. Actually our neighbors are American, also with a German father, with a child nearly Anni's age. They are from Massachusetts, but when I enthused that Anni would love to hang out with a child who speaks English, her mom replied, "Oh, well, she mostly speaks German." And there was an obvious feeling that it was strange that we were raising a monolingual child when one of her parents was German. I decided not to reply something along the lines of, "Oh, well, we were too busy her first year tearing out our hair with insane worry while she waited for a liver transplant to save her life. And then the second year we were a little occupied with the news that she needed a second transplant and its subsequent long recovery. Then the third year we thought we might concentrate on getting her to roll over, then crawl, and, (what the hell!) walk! Plus there was the matter of her stubborn refusal to talk to us, in English or any other language. Hey, then we got just a tad busy with a post-transplant cancer scare and a 4-month-long rejection episode, all while tending to a newborn. But I'm sure we'll get to it eventually." Instead, I just said, "Well, I bet Annika would love to play with her, anyway." After nearly a year of living in Europe, the mom didn't even bother replying with the American's enthusiastic, yet completely insincere, "Sure thing!" * Instead, she quickly found that she needed to be elsewhere. Immediately. Alrighty then. * Or is that only a midwestern thing? And I'm certainly not saying that the insincerely polite thing is the way to go. I can't tell you how often I've been surprised when a fellow mom who seemed quite enthusiastic at the time to set up a play date with Anni ignored my calls. Did they pull the old fake-number trick? Tonight, though, we met another family, from Michigan this time, who were quite sincerely pleased to meet up. Annika and their youngest daughter hit it off pretty much right away, and the mom and I chatted about being academic-types who somehow found themselves at home and surprisingly happy, aside from those bad days when the kids seem like little alien creatures sent to conduct strange mental torture experiments on unsuspecting humans. And speaking of the kids: Yesterday, Frankie said, "I love you, Mommy" clear as day. It was one of those miracle moments, like the first time Annika gazed into my eyes and then gave me a big kiss on the cheek. Today, Frankie said, clear as day, "I love you." To her cookie. Well, she is awfully impressed with German food. Annika saw some mannequins in the window of a clothes shop. "Look at those fashion heads!" she said. Later she insisted on trying on shoes at Karstadt, and fell in love with some bright and well-constructed shoes with a 68 Euro price tag. You don't want to know how much that is in dollars. And tonight in the bath her dinosaurs were doing their usual interrogation routine of each other ("What's your name? How old are you? Where do you live? etc.) Several of the dinosaurs gave "The Mall" as their address. Oh, je. As the Germans would say. I think. Tomorrow we go for another play date with Milena and Tim, children of an old friend of Joerg's, Karin. Annika is pretty smitten with both, and has been practicing what she will say in German to Milena. Somehow I doubt she will actually remember any of it when her German skills are actually on the line. All in good time, little Anni.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

excuses excuses

I should also mention that we do not have internet access in our apartment, and so my commenting elsewhere will likely be sparse (and I will have so much catch-up reading to do when I get back home). I also forgot to bring a book (egads!) and the library down the street from us is strictly a children's library, so I suppose I will be a Janosch expert by the time we get back home.

Photos, lots of them!

What do you mean? Of course I'm taking pictures! Here's where you can find them: Yes! I want to see tons of photos, complete with commentary! (on my mac, though, you don't see the commentary if you choose the "view as slideshow" option. well, you can see the commentary, but you have to click on the photo itself for it to appear, which kind of defeats the purpose in my book)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Berlin in Springtime

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 bed?" etc.) 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.