Monday, July 28, 2008

We Were on a Break

This missive comes to you from my upstairs bathroom, where I've holed up with my giant duffle bag while the movers swaddle my belongings in bubble wrap. Last time I peeked down at them they were building a cardboard box around my grandmother's rocking chair. It looked very much like a Trojan horse.

I'll probably be offline for the next week or so. Don't worry, I'm just trying to keep my toddler quiet for twelve hours in a row while we hurtle through the sky in a huge metal cigar case. Or I guess you could worry.

Either way, I'll be blogging again soon, no longer an expat but not quite an American resident yet.

Auf Wiedersehen.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Things Theo is Doing Right Now That Are Killing Me

Warning everyone not to get too close to the stove.

Lining up all of his cars and yelling CHOO CHOO, then separating them and parking them in a row under the couch.

Smelling his own feet and giggling.

Repeatedly trying to convince me that he can climb the stairs by himself, when his little legs are not long enough even to step up a curb.

Holding a calculator up to his ear and saying "Hewwo?"

Figuring out that saying "Please" will get him almost anything he wants.

Using different dance moves depending on the tempo of the song.

Saying HUUUUUUG and then walking up and hugging people. Mostly people he knows, but I can see where this is headed. Soon he'll try to hug the cashier at the grocery store.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I've received so many nice e-mails congratulating me on our impending return to the USA. "Congratulations and welcome home!" they say, and it's a reminder of one of the reasons we're moving back, the embrace of those who know us and like us and want to have us around. When I am feeling generous and self-confident, I imagine these people are saying, "Congratulations on a new phase of life, on Jeff's new job, on making a big decision!"

But if I'm honest, my initial reaction to these messages is horror that all these people think the past three years have been nothing but a long slow trudge and toil toward the ultimate goal of getting the hell out of here. That they believe I call Jeff at work twice a day and say, "Have you checked It looks like they need a greeter at The Gap in Los Angeles?" (If you know Jeff, you see that this is a funny joke because he would hate nothing more than a job where he must stand in a mall and talk cheerfully with tanned strangers all day long.) I can't imagine why anyone might believe that leaving Germany is a triumph for me, unless they read my blog, and posts like this one, or heard me whining about how the Germans are cranky and don't believe in air conditioning or elevators, or somehow got the vibe that it's going to take a vat of authentic Baja Fresh salsa to make me happy. Well, maybe it's not such a mystery.

In fact, moving back doesn't seem so much a victory as a wobbly step toward a place where we know we should be. Germany is definitely not home, but even after just three years away, our old hometown seems like our OLD hometown. It has all the stuff I've been craving since I left - books I can read, movies I can see, shampoo that doesn't wreak havoc with my scalp, and above all a support system and language I can understand. But when I think about having all that stuff and more, lit up and blinking and declaring its presence all around me, all the time, I get a little panicky. All those Sundays I spent complaining about how there was NOTHING TO DO and NO ONE TO DO IT WITH around here are coming back to haunt me, because now I'm concerned that I will never relax since something delightful will always, perpetually be around the corner - farmers' markets! family birthday parties! that new Kashmiri restaurant that opened last week! the X-Files movie! - and I will never ever have a moment to just sit down and eat the burrito that currently lives only in my dreams.

I hope I'll remember the lessons I've learned from this culture and from the reserved yet kind Germans who have taught me that a long walk in the park is sometimes better than a drive to the mall for an Orange Julius, and that sometimes it's nice only to have a nodding acquaintance with the scruffy bearded guy who lives next door instead of knowing every detail of his life story. I am even calmed a bit when I try to imagine those congratulatory messages through a different lens, and wonder how a German might respond to his friend who has announced she is moving back home after a stint abroad. It is unlikely that he would use any exclamation marks (in fact I think the exclamation mark takes finger gymnastics on a German keyboard, not surprising). He would probably say something along these lines: "I hope your husband's new job is with a stable company and don't forget, the taxes here are high. Your mother will be lucky to have you nearby to help with her health problems. Please call us at Christmas and we will make an appointment for coffee." Translation: Welcome home!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sweating it Out

When I was seven or eight years old the prime attraction of a hotel stay was the possibility of an indoor swimming pool. I've never been a water lover, but when my best friend and I were lucky enough to unfold ourselves from the back seat of her family's Suburban after six or eight hours on the road, we flung on our bathing suits and sprinted toward the pool because the pool meant we were on vacation. And next to the pool at the Holiday Inn there was always a teeny tiny wood-lined sauna where we played around throwing water on the fake lava rocks and climbing up and down the cramped benches until a hotel employee sent us back to our room to eat Domino's pizza.

So I've always known what a sauna is, though I didn't realize until recently how popular they are in some parts of the world, and even then I shrugged off the practice as one more quirky European habit I'll never understand. Sitting and sweating naked, feeling my lips chap and trying to stand the heat for one more second, hoping the stranger on my left doesn't remove his towel before I gasp toward the door and the fresh air outside? Nope. Didn't get it. But lately my head has been miserably clogged with allergies and tense with the anxieties of the move. My sinuses are overflowing and my neck is clenched, and yesterday when a friend suggested we spend the afternoon swimming and sweating, I decided it might be a perfect antidote for my ailments.

That's how I found myself inhaling eucalyptus aroma in a hazy roomful of nude men and women (yes, I was naked too), as we gazed at an aquarium of exotic fish installed in the wall. Nemo flitted among the coral and I sat there in my altogether, trying to liken this spa-like experience to the cramped stinky quarters at the Holiday Inns I've known and really, there was just no comparison. I wandered between a steam room with flickering starlights in the ceiling to an outdoor hut larger than my own living room, complete with roaring fireplace. I felt my nose clear and my shoulders fall. I breathed lemon-scented heat, then plunged into a peaceful pool with a view of...well, with a view of a bunch of naked people.

I lay there in the water, watching fifty unclothed bodies stroll from sauna hut to bar to lounge chair. I worried about the etiquette of the situation (Should I look? If not, why is everyone else looking? If so, isn't that weird?) and then I finally got distracted by all the fascinating people I saw. The last time I saw so many nude bodies in one place was either onscreen in "Eyes Wide Shut," or backstage at a ballet performance in college, and those were just flashes of skin. But here I saw beer-sipping, laughing, lounging, negotiating, strolling, pretzel-eating. Old people, kids, long hair, pink hair, a guy with just one hand, and what looked like a business meeting in one corner of the bar. All without clothes, or towels, or bathrobes. Though one lady was wearing Crocs.

I don't spend much time thinking about my body. I inherited genes that keep my weight issues to a minimum, and I've never had the kind of curves that make anyone sit up and take notice, so really I'm just grateful that it does what I need it to do - walk, house my brain, digest almost anything, grow a cute kid. But I realized as I lay there watching some lady scold her kid for running near the pool (yes, they were both naked) I've had a seed of an idea in the back of my brain that Normal People have bodies like Victoria's Secret models. And that's because the only time I see naked or nearly-naked women, it's in a lingerie ad or on a skin poster. And the last time I saw a bunch of people like me without their clothes on was in the locker room in high school PE when we were all 20 pounds lighter and firmer in every way.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to advocate handing out towels and collecting clothing at the door of your next corporate event (BlogHer 2009: The Year We All Went Naked!), or even promoting nudie posters of big beautiful ladies (though that sounds good too). But what if, at the gym, I didn't hide behind the locker door and instead allowed the group of giggling tween girls changing into their swimsuits to see what a grown-up lady looks like? What if I had seen my squishy grandma's body, including her mastectomy scar, without clothes when I was forming ideas about strong women? What if we were allowed to see what even those Dove ads don't tell us: that women's nipples are different sizes, and people have hair in different amounts and different places, and even that girl you think of as skinny and gorgeous has cellulite on her hips?

What then?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We spent last week on vacation, where Theo was showered with loving attention from his grandparents, aunts, uncles, both parents, and many cheerful French people who smiled and patted him on the head. He ate a bunch of stuff I'm not sure you're supposed to feed to toddlers (smoked salmon canapes? crepe-wrapped sausages? pain au chocolat?), usually while wandering around the room with his mouth open, yelling "MORE MORE MORE." He was awake when he was supposed to sleep and partying when he was supposed to be napping and sleeping in the car when he was supposed to be eating dinner. He even slept in our bed with us for two nights, something that sounds cozy and nice but he's the kind of sleeper who bangs his head against the headboard periodically and tries to pluck out my eyelashes one by one while proclaiming "EYE EYE" at 2:30am.

We made it home on Monday, exhausted and well-fed and with suitcases full of filthy clothing. I spent Tuesday doing laundry and trying to get all of us back in our normal routine. All I really wanted to do was upload our photos and find a quiet corner to sleep off the Benadryl I'd been popping due to a head full of allergy snot. So when there was a screaming breakfast rebellion, followed by whiny writhing when naptime rolled around, ending with tears when I refused to relinquish the last few bites of my dinner, I was ready to walk out of the house and return to France, the land of built-in babysitters and puff pastry served with champagne. I think Theo was wondering why he couldn't go there too, to the place where the snacks flow freely and one can just lie down and sleep any old place.

Today, we've both resigned ourselves to being home, and things are much better. There was nowhere to go but up.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bon Voyage

Did I mention that Theo is finally walking? As in, taking steps, going from place to place all by himself. I had that Holy Crap moment a few days ago as I watched him stand in the middle of the floor, guzzle water from a sippy cup, then hand it back to me and say WATER. That moment when I realized I need to start calling him My Son instead of My Baby. As in, "My son is cutting his thirteenth and fourteenth teeth right now, so don't get too close because he may unexpectedly shriek in your ear before gnawing on an article of your clothing."

These developments should make our upcoming trip to France - including but not limited to a flight scheduled for maximum naptime upheaval, followed by a four-hour ride in a rental car of indeterminate size - a thrill a minute. Who takes a vacation just before an international move, you ask? Apparently, that's the best way to go, since we spent four days in Vegas just before we moved here and now we're off to a family wedding. The anticipation of a week of sipping wine and eating cheese while adoring family members chase after my toddler(!) has successfully numbed my anxiety about packing all of our stuff and tossing it on slow boat before boarding yet another transAtlantic flight, not to mention looking forward to several weeks of corporate housing and suddenly being thrust back into that world where people are going to ask me What I Do.

You won't see much action around here for the next couple of weeks. I should be back to check in before the big Westward Ho!, unless I decide to just stay poolside and learn French.