Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Now is now

I've been reading a lot about giving birth lately, and I find it funny to hear again and again how disappointed women are to not be able to give birth "naturally" (and this refers to everything from painkillers or epidural to induction to c-section). A new opportunity for disappointment with twins is to not have the chance to bond with the first baby before the second one comes (or even if the second one isn't imminently on the way, and the doctor takes the first quickly to do all the necessary health checks).

And I have to say, "Huh?!" I'm sure it's lovely to have that first bonding session, to attempt nursing, to just check each other out, but isn't the health and safety of the baby priority? I had my first by c-section and although they were so thoughtful as to put her up next to my head for about 10 seconds, I didn't see her again for 2 hours. And we seem to have bonded alright. Nursing went fine. So I have to say that although those first few minutes can be an emotional and relaxing time, they are a luxury that you may not get depending on the circumstances.

Women should be careful of disappointment because it can easily lead to depression. If the birth hasn't gone as you expected, it's important to accept the outcome and enjoy your baby as you would if you'd pushed him out yourself. It's not "unnatural" birth. It's modern. Live in the now. We're lucky to have so many possibilities to get through this extreme situation without (or with very limited) danger to us and our babies.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nine months ago

Nine months ago we thought, "Hey, let's have another baby. It's what we want. We can do it." Chloé was a year and a half old, that would make the age difference two years and three months, the same as between my sister and me. Chloé was a good baby: happy, healthy, more or less agreeable.

So we did what we had to do to instigate this plan, and low and behold, we were instantly (well, within one month) successful! I pretty much knew I was pregnant when I didn't get my period, and a pregnancy text confirmed it, albeit with a weak positive. I also started to feel other common symptoms. But one didn't strike me until later: I was incredibly hungry, and I had to eat all the time, or else collapse in energylessness. They say, though, that every pregnancy is different, and you can't compare the second to the first. So I figured, that's how it is this time. Okey-dokey.

So I made an appointment with my gynecologist, for two weeks later. During those two weeks I somehow managed to instill in myself the fear that I wasn't pregnant at all (recalling the home pregnancy test) and was just having a freak month. Looking back, I have no idea how I did this. I was so nervous at that appointment that I checked the pregnancy test in the garbage in the lab to make sure that my doctor wasn't going to laugh at me in the next few minutes. Alas I saw a firm positive. Whew!

So into the doctor's office I went, was congratulated and then brought to the dignity-eradicating stirrupped chair to allow the doctor to search for a tiny embryo implanted in my uterus. I have to say: my doctor LOVES ultrasounds. In the books I read, they try to document pregnancy without ultrasound unless there's some problem they don't understand. Not so for me. I'm ultrasounded every time I walk into the exam room. Maybe it's because I have private rather than state health insurance..?

At any rate, on we went to the ultrasound - internal, of course. Still relatively innocuous compared with some of the stuff done in a gynecologist's office. She's maneuvering her wand around (yikes) and we're both watching the screen. As a layman I don't feel particularly comfortable reading and commenting on what appears on that screen, and I know that with every movement of the wand, what you see changes. So when I saw two darker areas about a centimeter in diameter, I thought, oh, shit, two?! and then, no, it's just the same one twice. Until I saw her looking at me with a funny little smile as she asked, "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" and I thought again, shit.

Apparently it was two. At that point I started to feel a little suffocated. But I was stuck on that table fixed by a wand attached to the machine with the screen displaying those two dark areas. Trapped. So I tried to breathe. "There are two. Congratulations," my ever-considerate doctor said.

Breathe, I reminded myself.

"This is good - here you see they each have their own amniotic sac and Dudelsack," she tells me. Dudelsack? Did she say "Dudelsack?" German for "bagpipe?" My two new dark spots have their own bagpipes? So I can expect some hardcore Scottish tunes in the next months?

"Is it okay that the white areas are different sizes?" I asked. They were. I was trying to concentrate. Surely she didn't say "Dudelsack."

"Yes - you can see the Dudelsacks are the same size, so I think that won't have any effect on the embryo." It still sounded a lot like Dudelsack. Focus. "This is good. They both have their own environment and their own placenta, she continued. "So there are fewer complications and a better chance for survival for both."

So definitely two sets of bagpipes?

Later I had the chance to look up this word. It's "Dottersack," or yolk sac. Pretty close to Dudelsack.

And now we're 39 weeks pregnant with twins, waiting for them to make their move.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Multilingualism at age 2

Continuing on the linguistic theme, here's some data on how an almost-two-year-old learns three languages. Straight from the baby's mouth.

At first, we had words from both languages (see posts from Feb. 1 and Feb. 22), with a little bit of overlap, then we had some verbs and the indefinite article.

In the middle of March, Chloé's cousins and grandparents came for a weekend. The results: we had new door trimming (her grandfather is very helpful around the house) and Chloé was singing "Lapin, lapin" (lapin=rabbit) and grabbing every chocolate Easter bunny in the supermarket screaming "lapin!" Among other words, "chaussure" (shoe) and "chaussette" (sock) became very popular around the house. In short, her French vocabulary exploded.

Over Easter we spent a week in France at Gaetan's parents' house.
la sit
par la

and from the depths of sleep: C'est un cookie, Maman.

Sometimes I have the impression that there's more French in there than English. I find this not only disappointing, but surprising. I talk to her all day, everyday, in English and she seems to prefer her dad's language. How cool is that??

But on the other hand, I'm glad that the French is "taking." It's important that she speaks both languages, at least to communicate comfortably with both sides of the family.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I'm just sitting here at the laptop looking out the window to the balcony. Chloé is crawling around in her diaper and a t-shirt on the new-and-not-yet-completely-painted-trunk. She just ate a pear and I'm afraid her sticky fingers will stain the one coat of paint I managed this week. "Cecilia" is playing on the mix-CD on the stereo, and Chloé is singing, maybe "Cecilia." The sun is shining but the clouds are rolling in with the wind. It's at the same time too hot and too cold to be running around without pants on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An indefinite article

It's been a while.

Here's an update on Chloe-speak:

Among other things, we have the indefinite article. You know the one, "a" (or "an" depending on the noun in question, although not in Chloé's case). A sheep. A car. A juice.

We have lots of verbs. Sit, wash, walk, go.

We seem to have some confusion with "Chloé." She understands that it's her name, and she uses it appropriately to tell us what she wants (or to remind us that something is hers). Chloé sit. Chloé walking. Chloé cookie. But she also uses it to express her frustration (she wants to, say, get up and run around during a diaper change and we won't let her): Chloé! I'm assuming she's just repeating what we say to her when we're frustrated with her - her name. So I'm trying to explain to her that her name is not a word which generally expresses frustration, it just expresses our frustration. She needs to say, "Mama!" in that same whiny tone instead.

And, still, we have sentences, paragraphs, and lengthy monologues of indeterminable meaning. Often I can guess from a word here or there what she might mean, but sometimes there's nothing, nothing at all, and I have to react to something out of the environment that she might be commenting on.

Just when you thought you were getting the puzzle pieces put together, someone gives you a new puzzle. Or a child.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ich bin kein jelly donut.

I always liked the theory that Fasching (in Germany, although within Germany there are many other variations on the name), Carneval (more generally known internationally) and Mardi Gras (what we Americans know of the holiday from the celebration in New Orleans) was a pagan tradition carried over into Christianity. It does look like it could be, with all the animal, devil and witch masks we see in the parades. And as it (or rather, the high point and grand finale) takes place sometime in February - actually the week before Lent, so roughly 40 days before Easter - it could logically be a time when ancient people donned masks and lit fires to chase away the winter. Like Halloween, where people dressed as ghosts and monsters so that they wouldn't be recognized as one of the living by the evil spirits roaming the world on the night before All Hallows' Day.

But apparently this theory is no longer the standard. It's really just a Catholic tradition of celebrating before the long 40 days of fasting. There are loads of fascinating aspects of this holiday - particularly the etymology is fantastic, although probably only to a linguist, so I'll spare you that - but this blog post is not a history lesson. I wanted to tell you about enjoying the holiday as a foreigner.

Last Sunday we went to the parade here in Kornwestheim. Now, Kornwestheim is no Dusseldorf or Cologne; really it's a small town. Yet there were more than 40 clubs, bands or other performers involved. It was quite a show. Chloé loved it (except when there was suddenly a giant animal mask in front of her face - then she seemed to be unsure whether to smile or scream) and we got loads of candy (for her, of course!). Gaetan got some red and black ink smudged on his face by a couple of cheeky witches. Just like the rest of the [German] inhabitants of Kornwestheim, we called "Narro!" after their "Narri!" They threw candy at us. They admired our beautiful little girl. We sat back and enjoyed being a part of the German culture.

Another fun event in Stuttgart is the Cannstatter Wasen or Frühlingsfest (basically the same event in the fall or in the spring [Frühling = spring]). This is a giant carnival - with beer tents. The carnival part is pretty straightforward and you can easily imagine the rides that spin and spin and spin, the throw-a-ball-win-a-stuffed-animal stands and German versions of various fast food - sausages and more sausages and heavy noodles with sauerkraut). The beer tents, though, are a world unto themselves. Almost the only thing to drink is the Maß (1 liter of beer in a very sturdy, thick glass), brought to your table in the hands of strong men and women. Just getting the glass to your mouth is exercise for your biceps. After several sets of this bicep training, you're ready to take the next step: onto the bench. There you sway back and forth, arm in arm with your neighbor (whether you know him or not), to semi-folk/rock remix music - often live. Now I realize that my students while I was teaching English claimed that they NEVER did this, but I'm not afraid to admit that I had a great time! Okay, it's probably not too funny without the beer, and getting drunk and dancing on tables isn't something you do for a huge part of your life, but again, it's a social thing. It brings people together.

I guess that's my point. Get people together. Happy. Sad. Celebrating. Helping. I seem to be the quintessential American; I never joined groups, I never asked for help, I come from a small family with almost no contact to its extended part. I've never been a part of things, and I always assumed this was American, although of course not all Americans are like this. Still, in another context, when you ask an American about, for example, "socialism" they become hostile and claim that government control is BAD but I think really they don't want to help others - and for the most part, don't expect to be helped. Maybe the geographic isolation of America has rubbed off on the individuals who inhabit it and they've become human islands without a boat to take them across to the other shore. Finally, this "American culture" is spreading throughout the world, and I don't know if I can say this will be a positive development.

In the end I'm saying that a huge benefit of being an expatriate is not only to see and learn how other people live - but to live with them! It's not automatic, though; you have to open yourself up to the differences and join the parades and sing the songs and drink the beer. When in Berlin, do as the Berliners do. I'm no Berliner, but I'm not just an American anymore, either. And I like it that way.

The bad example

Here in Germany you find a sign at intersections with stop lights:

Be a good example! Don't walk on red!

Every time I see this I want to look left, right, left and cross to the little red man.

But the Germans are serious about this. Especially older people will stop you (when you get to the other side, of course) and tell you how that's not right and we have to be good role models for children. I just smile and keep walking. I'm not here to ruin their day, I'm just living my life.

Are they wrong, though? Certainly not. It's a great idea to be a good role model for children. If we could know that everyone would only walk when the pedestrian light was green, we wouldn't have to worry about our children crossing against the light. They would consistently see how the others do it, and if they didn't, there would be someone there to remind them.

In Germany it might work. I'm starting to wonder if Ordnung is in their genes - but it's certainly a part of life (nature vs. nurture? a little of both probably) and they definitely feel the need to conform to this practice. But still there's always someone who's flouting the rule, a rebellious teenager, someone in a hurry, me. It's just not something we can control.

And outside of Germany, forget it. Usually I think of the other extreme: Cairo, where crosswalks are apparently just decoration and the cars, drivers and pedestrians exist in some indefinable symbiosis. But all along the spectrum, there's just no guarantee that people will follow the rules. In the end they do what they want. (Wow. I think I could really take this somewhere, but in this post I'm just talking about crossing the street.)

So back to the role model. My kid's role model is me. It's my job to show her not to cross against the light. Just me. Not a stranger on the street. Honestly I don't want to leave something that important to just anyone.

And as for the other kids, they need to learn that not everyone follows the rules - and that they need to follow the rules of their parents. So I'm the bad example (when I'm not being a good example for Chloé :-)).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Blasted by the past

It's still happening. Facebook. Those names that haunt. The past haunts us.

Am I a coward for not going there? I don't think so. I like the idea of looking back and smiling. But if I need a smile, I can find one here, in the present.

Yeah, there were great things. But life has only gotten better, bigger, broader since then. I've discovered so much - and incorporated those discoveries into my life. So I can look back and smile, knowingly.

But go there? The question is: go where?? There's nothing there. Stephen King drew us an eerie picture of the past in "The Langoliers": it's a grey, inert place lifelessly waiting for the sharp-toothed pac-men to come and eat it up. And if you're there when they come, they'll eat you, too.

Traditionally spirits are the rope that hangs us from our painful memories and exorcism is the only path to freedom. But can ghosts be helpful? Can talking to ghosts of high schools past be the exorcism we need to lay that putrid past to rest and move into the future? Or are the ghosts just teasing us, manipulating us into believing that holding on is the only way to keep from getting lost?

I say that we have control and the ghosts only have the power we give them. We just have to be aware of the tension existing between them and us, between the past and the present, and try to keep a balance. That can be hard to do, though, as we're being blasted by the past during our cutting-edge tour of the World Wide Web.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


This is one of the newest words bubbling out of Chloé.

"Wash?! Wash?!" Wiggling her red, greasy hands in my direction after a mostly fork-less meal of spaghetti bolognese. Rubbing her yogurty shirt (there was a spoon involved but it's just not reliable in the hands of a 20-month-old). Standing in the bathroom trying to pull her pajamas off.

Everything gets washed - even the dishes, with a little help from Daddy.

It's so indescribably cute to hear these earnest words. "Wash?!" "Chat!" "Popi?!" "Snowing?" which sounds just like her version of "Soleil" and "stroller" so you have to be aware of the context...And one of our personal favorites, "Kaka?!"

What else?

moap (milk)
names: Daddy, Mama, Chloé, Mami, Papi, Caillou, Soleil
sowi (stroller, snowing, Soleil)

And surely some more stuff that didn't occur to me while typing.

It's coming along.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A reminder

I was walking to the train station all by myself yesterday evening (Gaetan was watching Chloé so that I could go to a reading organized by a member of the writers group - we've tried Chloé at readings and the two just don't mix) and I was thinking how easy it was to be alone. No pushing, carrying, dragging, chasing, explaining, worrying. Just walking. My little messenger bag over my shoulder instead of three bags with diapers, juice, cookies, fruit, and extra clothes (actually I usually forget the extra clothes, and luckily we rarely ;-) need them).

Then I thought how cowardly it is to not have children. To not be up to the challenge of changing your life. To stay in your safe bubble of monotony and predictability. Because having children means relinquishing control, accepting that you're not the only force directing your life.

In our double-income-no-kids world, that's a scary thought.

But I can tell you that letting go can also be fun. Yeah, you're chasing and carrying and explaining, but you're also seeing the world reinvented. And when you're struggling to get home, repeatedly calling, "No! This way!" and you turn and see her walk up and down two steps all by herself and then grin proudly at you, you realize that great things can happen while you weren't getting what you wanted.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More babbling (me or the baby?)

The words are starting to come.
hossey (horse)
ti boo (for cats or all small animals)
moo (cow sound)
maa (cat sound)
woo-woo (dog sound)
qua-qua (duck sound)
wawa (water)
choo-choo (for trains and big trucks)
appie (apple)
baba (banana)
ba (bag)
baou (ball)
poon (spoon)
petze (pretzel)
ca (car)
ha (hat)
popi (people, or "Little People" the Fisher Price toy collection)

voiture (or Arthur?)
au revoir


And lots of strings of unrecognizable words comprehensible only as questions, statements or commands.

Interesting, the French is 1/3-1/4 of the English and the German is 1/3-1/4 of the French.

I also find it interesting that she doesn't seem to have a fixed expression for "milk" (or "lait") since that's a pretty important and constant element in her life. I wonder if there's confusion between the languages...

Sometimes I really feel for my daughter. She hears me give names to objects, she repeats them like a good 19-month-old, then her dad gives the same things new names, and I swear I hear her thinking "What the hell?" (or the 19-month-old equivalent). Generally she doesn't repeat what he says, and sometimes she repeats the English.

But I have faith. She's getting there.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three babies, cont'd

I've found my love for my two new babies (the kitties) but I have to admit that they have tremendous potential for driving me nuts. It's great that they're curious, playful and active, and I love to see them paw at little things - Legos, pens, the cap to the milk that I set on the counter for 20 seconds...Sometimes I want to, well not only want to, sometimes I do scream at them to just stop! Don't touch anything! I mean, aren't cats supposed to sleep 20 hours of the day?? Now Soleil is regularly in the wall cupboard in the bathroom, randomly tossing Q-tips, combs, and jewelry (no one's supposed to be in that cupboard!) into the sink below. So now the bathroom door just stays shut. Pretty soon the cute kitties will be spending all day, every day in their room with their litter box.

Sometimes I wonder if I really need another baby - since I already have three. I spend my days telling Chloé not to play in the litter box, Soleil not to drink the water from the sink, and Caillou not to chew on the plants. I've got my hands full.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


This evening we watched the movie “Wanted” and I knew halfway through the movie I had to write something about it.

It's a movie full of clichés and borrowed ideas. “I'm your father...Wesley.” The good guy is the bad guy and the bad guy is the good guy. His girlfriend's fucking his best friend. The secret society “the weavers” reading code from a loom. The traumatized daughter of an assassinated man becomes an assassin. Honestly, any amateur screenwriter could've written this. Exciting concepts like the assassin that can bend the tragectory of a bullet (useful!), great blood-splatter effects and flying cars give it a bit of a boost. But it's not surprising to see these things in a comic. Good thing they were kept in the screenplay!

Every time someone did a curve shot (and since these were always in slow motion, they were hard to miss), I thought, it's like every gangster's dream of throwing their gun arm around their body and shooting a curve bullet. Fun.

Angelina Jolie – a horrible choice for a super-assassin. She looks frail when she's just walking across the screen, she's so skinny. Yeah, she looks tough and beautiful, and sitting in the train with James McAvoy she looks positively dangerous, but a few burgers would do her good. Her name is Fox. Because she's a fox. A scrawny, skeletal fox, but a fox nonetheless.

Some things to look forward to:

Morgan Freeman says “motherfucker.”

Angelina Jolie on her back on the hood of a moving (well, racing, really) car, her crotch in James McAvoy's face, steering with her knee and shooting at the car behind her.

Corpses for target practice.

Flying letters of a keyboard spell “Fuck you” in midair – and the “u” is the roots of a tooth from the guy who got hit with the keyboard.

I have to say I liked the end. “This is me taking control of my life...What the fuck have you done lately?”

Good question.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sleeping baby

I'm very happy to share with you, Reader, that Chloé continues to sleep through the night. Most of the time.

It truly is heavenly. The only [tiny] problem is that I've become used to continuous sleep, so that when she wakes up and I have to comfort her I'm unable to fall asleep, although it generally doesn't take long to get her back to sleep. A small price to pay, I suppose.

We have friends who are still fighting to keep their son (who is the same age as Chloé) asleep through the night, and I definitely see similarities with what we were doing before. It seems these kids are just taking advantage of what we give them. Fair enough. They figure, I cry, they come. I keep crying, they don't leave. Yeah. I have total control. We apparently didn't mind being manipulated - until this manipulation was helping no one. She wasn't sleeping alone, in our arms, or even in our presence. At that point, something had to change.

I'd like to tell my friends that at this point, they may have to let him cry a little. I didn't like the "cry it out" theory when she was 2 months old, and I know parents whose children at such a young age responded very badly to this method - screaming until they puked, for instance. But at 18 months, our kids can do and handle a lot more. And unless you've chosen to have your child sleep in your bed with you (and if this is still working for everyone involved), they probably need to learn to sleep and fall asleep on their own.

And I think this was the most important lesson. After learning that she could just lay down in her bed and sleep without mommy's or daddy's shoulder, everything became simpler. Going to sleep in the evening, and staying asleep in the night (which is often waking and going back to sleep again). She still cries a little, of course, but if she's tired, she sleeps.

Now if only I could sleep...