Both Jane and I have mentioned the concept of the Rabenmutter, which is defined in the Wikidictionary as “A ravenmother, a loveless, heartless, cruel, unnatural, or uncaring mother; a bad mother who does not take good care of her children.” Now no one has dared ever call me that directly, but I have most certainly gotten that vibe off of various mothers in various schools that my children attend, and even from people who themselves aren’t parents! For the most part, I shrug it off. Everyone makes their choices and every person should be able to raise their family the way that works for them. But sometimes, it gets to me.
The last time I got this impression was from a woman in her late fifties that is a sort of acquaintance of mine. A good friend sometimes meets up with other women for a Stammtisch at the Greek restaurant she owns and she often invites me along to spice up the evening (these ladies are not always especially stimulating). This person does work and I am not sure whether she worked when her child(ren) were small, but as soon as I told her about my new job — which I love, by the way, and which is full time — she said, “Was machst Du mit den Kindern?” (What do you do with the kids all day?) That ruffled my feminist feathers. It sounds like I am sending them out into the street while I am being selfish and going off to work.
I feel like mothers are enslaved here in these provincial parts of southern Germany by what I call the “cult of the warmes Mittagessen” or the cult of the hot lunch. (I’m not even going to try to stretch the truth by saying parents instead of mothers. It’s pretty traditional here, and I don’t think fathers are feeling the same pressure that I’m talking about. If you think I’m wrong, I would love to hear more.) Just in case you don’t know, lunch is the main meal in Germany. Walk through the residential neighborhoods of where I live at noon time, and you’ll detect from several directions that alluring smell of onions sauteing in melted butter, the base to any proper Swabian meal. Expectations are high and this includes having a hot meal ready and waiting for whenever the kiddies come home from school and Kindergarten from noon onwards. Even if a working mother starts her working day at 7:30, trying to have the cheese hot and bubbling on the top of home-made Kaesespaetzle for noon might seem like a heroic effort. As a fellow American mother said to me once, “What’s wrong with a sandwich?” Continue reading →
We toy sometimes with the idea of returning to the UK (by that we really mean London). For our careers and old friends and family, it can seem very tempting. Very tempting indeed, until we start talking about childcare. Berlin’s plentiful offering of affordable places for children to spend their time is almost unbeatable and it is one aspect, amongst many, which ties us firmly here for now.
Our children have attended KiTa (Kindertagesstätte – nursery school for pre-school children) since they were eighteen months old. They could have started younger – many children in Berlin are sent at 12 months from 9am to 4pm – but for us that seemed too soon. So we were slower: at first, it was only for a couple of hours each morning, and then progressively more, until we found a rhythm that works for them and for our working patterns: three days a week from 9am to 3pm and two days a week from 9am to 12.15pm. They could stay for longer but we are happy to have them at home as much as work allows. Continue reading →
It was during our second winter in Berlin that I first became aware of Laternenfeste (lantern festivals). We had little twin babies and, despite early heavy snows, I spent much of my time traipsing icy streets pushing the pram whilst they slept. There was a period in early winter when afternoon after afternoon I saw lines of young children – pre-school age – muffled up against the cold, swinging pretty coloured lanterns and singing in shrill juvenile voices. I was intrigued, but not enough to find out what it all meant. My reaction was more one of ‘oh, that’s ever so sweet, it must be some sort of German tradition’ and then to forget all about it, as you do when you can’t imagine your own booty-wearing, rattle-shaking babes ever being old enough or robust enough to march the streets wearing boots and singing songs.
But since then, the unimaginable has happened and our children are now old enough and robust enough for their own winter boots and to attend a local nursery pre-school (KiTa). And last week, for the first time, they too joined the lines of young children piping out songs about lanterns and swinging their own homemade contributions. Off we trudged on an almost chilly November afternoon in the gathering gloom, through the streets, round the park and up to the top of a nearby hill, to find a big bonfire waiting and cups of warming Glühwein (mulled wine). Once there, we sang more songs about lanterns, watched sparks leap from the fire, and ran around in the dark until our hands were too cold and it was time to go home. Continue reading →
I have an announcement to make. We are moving back to Germany next month. The timing of the move was a bit of a surprise, but it was always in the realm of possibility. We were away for two years, and as I’ve started the arduous process of organizing another overseas move now with three small kids, these are my passing Germany Way thoughts on the move: Continue reading →
I mentioned in my previous post that spending the first year of baby’s life with him or her at home is common and expected in Germany, at least in the west. On the other hand, it isn’t so easy to go back to work within the first year or before age three because of the limited childcare options. While finding a Kindergarten (KIGA) in your neighborhood should be possible, finding one with a Kinderkrippe, translated to day care center, is harder. Even if you were able to get a spot for your three-year old at the KIGA that is walking distance down the street, if it doesn’t have a Krippe, you might have to drive your one-year old across town to one, that is if you got a spot and that is, if your town, city or village is big enough to have one at all. Continue reading →
Slowly, we’ve found ourselves integrating into our non-German lives here in America. Instead of hearing the phantom ring of our default Siemens ring tone melody, I’ve gotten attuned to hearing our Uniden telephone gently playing the Star Spangled Banner. Something I cheekily programmed, lest the palm trees outside of our doors didn’t remind us enough of where we were.
Although we are getting more settled, there’s room for reflection at every turn still. What always struck me when I was living in Germany was how picking your career path, often at such an early age, was a real commitment. It wasn’t something that you waited till you were 21 or so to kind of start thinking about. On one hand, I found it a shame that a concept that could be so enriching as a liberal arts education wasn’t mainstream, and I also found it stifling and foolish that it would take years of retraining to switch careers. On the other hand, with every visit to America while I was still an expat, I appreciated the in depth knowledge of his goods which a German shopkeeper might have and understood why the bread tasted so good in Germany instead. On the other hand, it was exciting and motivating to think that there were all of these possibilities in America. If you wanted to become a preschool teacher, why not! You could! If you wanted to work in a bakery, come on in! Continue reading →
The sun is still shining here in San Diego. After 6.5 weeks of being homeless, living in hotels and staying with my parents in Pennsylvania, my family and I are finally installed in our own house, which we now call home in a neighbourhood called Kensington. We are gradually settling in to our new lives here.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
The Germans in my house, namely my husband and two daughters, are enamored with the ice maker in our refrigerator, insisting on having ice in all of their drinks. My older daughter stares enraptured at the microwave, witnessing cold rice going in and hot rice coming out. We didn’t have a microwave in Germany by choice, and I wouldn’t have bought one here except that they seem to be standard equipment in most houses.
We tried the Bavarian Rye bread, which had been recommended by the German members of the North County deutsche Spielgruppe, from Trader Joe’s. My husband said it wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t eat much of it. I begged him to make me some Kässpätzle this evening. It was a nice treat for someone else to cook, but even though he did an excellent job, the Spätzle just didn’t taste the same. It was because of the eggs. Continue reading →