Who Do We Miss the Most?

So October 2011 was wild – even my last two posts represented the splitting of my personality.  Fortunately I’m back from the brink and I’m thinking about things that anchor me when I’m totally fried.  One thing I know for sure is that friendship helps.

I’m often asked this question by friends and family: Who do you miss the most?  Usually it’s in the form of a statement though.  Like “You must really miss your folks.”  And indeed we do miss our folks.  We think about and talk about and communicate with our loved ones but we are not homesick.  We are not pining to return to the US.  We talk about our return and dream about our new apartment, but we really are doing a sincere job of loving life here in Cologne day to day.  We miss everyone and no one in particular.  This absolutely goes for every single person we know.  Except for one.

His name is Owen S.  He is five and he is one of Keogh’s best friends.  Keogh met Owen the first day of preschool two years ago.  They were fast friends in the way only children and very very lucky adults can be.  Owen and Keogh immediately joined (perhaps created) a gang.  Yes, there are gangs in preschool now.  They called themselves the Bad Guys.  “We are bad guys!” rung out over the playground in regular 6 second clips for most of the 2009/2010 school year.  We know that this made the teachers crazy.  But we secretly loved it.  The boys weren’t really bad.  They just loved saying they were bad.

Owen moved to Seattle six months before we moved to  Germany.  For weeks Keogh talked about Owen and literally dreamt of his old play dates with Owen.  He keenly felt the gap of friendship.  He did not bond with another child in the same way.  Keogh has friends and is a perfectly normal social boy.  He adores a few dear friends from NYC, a special buddy from Philly and a handful of NJ and PA guys.  On some level he understands that these friends will be back in his life on a regular basis at some point in the future.  But Owen can’t be.

I guess what makes me miss Owen the most is twofold.  Firstly Owen was Keogh’s first independent friendship – no parental manipulation.  And secondly it is my and our collective  longing for the possibility of this kind of friendship.  Keogh and Owen looked at each other, connected, started to play and formed a tribe.  Instantly.  The chemistry!  The ease!  The total lack of self consciousness!  Being human just doesn’t get any more cool than that.  A friendship like that cancels out a lifetime of crazy making Octobers.

The bird a nest.

The spider a web.

The human friendship.

– William Blake

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October

When I started dreaming about moving to Europe I did not dream about October 2011.  For 31 straight days someone, and very often more than one person from our sweet little family was sick.  And not “Oh I have a runny nose, I need to stay home and watch Star Wars all day.” kind of sick.  I mean SICK.  Weird bumps on tongues, bodies and intimate areas (I’m talking nuclear meltdown diaper rash here).  Fevers, screaming, crying, and countless lengthy sleep interruptions.   October also marked our daughter’s 15th straight month of NOT sleeping through the night.  And for the record she doesn’t go all sweet Dr. Sears I wanna climb in your bed and cuddle at 2 AM.  She parties.  She jumps, sings, rolls, laughs, talks, dances and generally tries to crush any memory of our old life during her 1 – 3 hours of nocturnal antics.  Alas, it felt like our little European adventure went Poseidon for 4 plus weeks straight.  We went to the belly of the sinking ship and held our breath for a very long time, kicked our feet, swam like demons and cut a damn hole through the hull to escape the reality rout by October.

Yes, this sounds dramatic.  And yes, sometimes I exaggerate but not this time.  We can never go back there.  Ever.  This month got me thinking about how much happens randomly and without one’s consent.  How much of the goods (or the bads)  in one’s life can one ever really control?  Should one even try?  What I think I learned is that I have more control over a lot less than I thought and that yes, I should absolutely try to control somethings anyway.

This international adventure business is part of my DNA.  My Dad, Stan Rash traveled extensively first with the US Navy and then as an oil industry executive.  He lived on the sea (in ships) and overseas for years.  Along with my Mom, Barbara Rash, he lived for nearly a decade in North Africa.  And years later he traveled in Europe with my Stepmom, Jo Rash.  It was after traveling with Jo that he talked most about the idea of living in another country and how much he loved it.  Indeed, at the end of his life when the two of us spent many hours together talking about all the important stuff, he always said his one regret was not returning to live overseas.  A tiny dormant seed inside my heart started to sprout roots.

Jib and I have  been extremely fortunate to forge a deep and extraordinary relationship with two German friends.  Maya and Roland are our German family.  We choose to live in Germany  because this is where Maya and Roland are.  After M&R moved back to Germany from NYC in 2002 we started regularly visiting.  Our friendship grew over the ocean and we spent dozens of weeks over the years vacationing together in Europe and back in NY.  We spent hours and hours eating, drinking and talking.  We lamented their leaving NYC, conjured up ways to get them to move back and yes, hallucinated about taking ourselves to Cologne for some extended time.   Nine years slipped by.  And all the while the seed grew, from roots to sapling and finally into a real live viable scenario.  The move to Europe was on.  And then off.

I owned two businesses, Jib had a healthy important career in the US, we owned a couple of homes, had commitments and obligations.  How could we leave it all?  In 2009 we decided to move anyway.  We came to Cologne to find a kindergarten for Keogh and to research how to make it happen on the European end.  We told some of our family and friends.  The apartment wasn’t rented and our careers were not really up for supporting this kind of long distance commuting but we wanted to go and intended to figure it all out.  Then the one thing that could and would hold us back happened.  I became pregnant again.  We briefly waffled about having the baby in Germany and in the end decided to have the baby in NY.  I considered it a delay.  And I was right.

The move was back on.  The birth had delayed us but also allowed space for 5 major supporting factors to happen.

1. Our NY home was rented and then sold – miraculously we received an offer we couldn’t refuse and we took it.

2. One of my businesses was sold.  I had received many offers over the years, but this time was different.  This time I had the wisdom and ability to do what I thought was best for my family and that business.  Move or not, it was time for that business to have a seismic shift.

3. Two partners and I hatched an idea to work together.  They took over general operations of my second business.  I became first a quiet and then a silent partner in that business.

4. Mentally and emotionally my man, Jib, and I started riding the same wave.  Two minds working toward the same goal, from very different angles, turned into a potent and successful approach.

5. Our not at all insignificant financial stress got largely resolved.  We were back on solid ground after more than five years of struggle due to my starting that second business.

All five scenarios were interconnected.  I mean how can a couple ride the proverbial same wave when one has her head in a fledgling business and the other has his head in the decapitated bank account?  A tough recipe that turned ugly many a time before we figured it all out.

So October 2011 came and went.  We’re all still standing and happier than ever to be in Europe!  We couldn’t control 90% of what happened last month.  But it turns out we really only needed to control 10%.  That bit, that 10%, got us through October.  And I’m thinking it’s the 10% that got us here to begin with.  I mean it wasn’t like we spent every waking moment over the last 9 years contemplating how to move to Europe.  It was the 10% that did it.  Now if only I could remember this the next time Poseidon strikes.

6 Reasons Life is Excellent

After 2.5 months, life in Germany is really excellent  . . . .

1. We are learning a second language!

Here is where we are so far: Wren is fluent.  Really.  She responds to anything that one says to her in German.  Keogh understands 50% of what one says to him in German.  He speaks a little German daily and with gusto.  I understand 30% of what one says to me.   I have hundreds of vocabulary words in my head.  Jonathan is learning one new word per day.

2. I ride a bike everywhere.

This morning, in 24 degrees I rode to my German course.  The quote about there being no bad weather, just bad clothes rang true.  I was dressed right and the weather didn’t touch me.  Indeed a woman feels mighty powerful after riding in the freezing sunshine for 15 minutes.

3. Bread, chocolate, and hot drinks.

I don’t know why but the baked goods and chocolate and hot drinks in this country are great.  I think it’s a standard of excellence.  The grocery store cannot have shitty bread because NO STORE has shitty bread.  The lowest bar is probably the corner kiosk and even a roll with butter from there will work in a pinch.  It only sucks because you pay as much for one roll in the kiosk as for five in a bakery.

4. Folks tend to take pride, responsibility and notice.  But not too much.

The Germans I’ve come into contact with really care about what they are doing.  My favorite example of this is my vegetable lady.  I love her first because she only speaks German to me.  I’m sure she does speak some English but she wants to help me with my German so she only speaks German to me.  This is the sincerest form of respect.  She cares enough to help me improve.  The thing I love next about her is that she knows her veggies.  Apples, leeks, figs . . . she is a human wikipedia of knowledge.  She takes pride and responsibility for her professional world.  And she works with me.  She listens really well to me, asks me to repeat stuff, and then asks me about what I’m making based on what I’m buying.  And she always notices the kids.  Sometimes it’s just a greeting and a smile, but whenever one of them is cranky she notices.  And she digs out some amazing piece of fruit and kindly gives it to them.  What she doesn’t do is over do it.  She doesn’t try to sell me extra stuff when I explain what I’m making.  She doesn’t ALWAYS give a piece of fruit away.  And when she’s done, she’s done.  The stand closes at 7 PM during the week.  And at 6:59 she is ready to shut it down.  It’s intensity with boundaries.  I like that.

5. Richard

My son has a teacher, Richard.  His mom was British and his Dad is German.  He didn’t speak a lick of German until he was 8 years old.  He is Keogh’s mentor.  And that is what I really like about him.  I believe that learning how to participate in a mentoring relationship is a remarkable key to one’s success.  And Richard is teaching Keogh about that kind of relationship.

6.  Pace

If one can’t appreciate pace in this situation then one will never appreciate pace.

The family are all learning German at a different pace.  Albeit Wren is notably and wildly  out front in this area.  Props to the little one!

Of course I have to pace myself when I’m riding everywhere.  It’s just dumb to sleep for 15 extra minutes and then have to ride like my life depended on it.

And the general pace of life, even in this good sized city, is slower than I’ve ever experienced.  Every single retail store is closed one day per week.  Full time work is considered to be 38.5 hours.  Work hours have a real end time.  It’s generally fixed and respected.  Having a meal with friends is a long, happy, uninterrupted exchange.  Folks generally hang out for hours and cell conversations just aren’t done during these meetings.  Indeed, few people walk and talk on a cell, or have the thing sitting out on their dinning table.  I’ve even noticed that totally social or pointless cell conversations generally don’t happen in public places.  Not even in line at the post office.  It’s a different pace.

Young kids seem to be affecting the pace.  They don’t seem to just be hanging on by a thread to the pace inflicted upon them by their caregivers.  They are actually dictating the pace.  In some ways it is very subtle and in others it is right up in your face.  For example, at my language school the director nurses her 5 month old child at 11 AM every day.  Her husband comes in with the baby, the class takes a break, and Katarina goes into an empty classroom to nurse for 10 minutes.  The whole thing is about the child.  And absolutely no one thinks this is unique or weird.  Keogh’s kindergarten sent home a very direct outline of “how to pick up your child”.  They didn’t ask for input from the parents, they didn’t put it up for vote, they simply told us what is best for the children.  The children know what they need and somehow here in Germany I’m hearing it in a whole new way.

So here is what I’m thinking about.  When everything in my world is changing, by design, circumstance, or other, I must pick my pace.  I have to notice the pace and do something or do nothing.  Slower, faster, the same, really slower, or one gear faster.  Pace is really one of the things that really really matter.  Notice, adjust.  Notice, adjust.  Notice, adjust . . . . forever.

How Long Can I Personally Do That?

I launched my blog.  My intention was to post again last week.  Then my daughter, Wren’s Day Mother (Tagesmutter) was ill, there was a German 3 day weekend (Reunification Day – my downstairs neighbor is still cleaning up beer bottles and humming Disco Inferno.  The Germans know how to party.), and now my son, Keogh, is ill.  Viral and he’s out of school until next week.  I feel like I may never be able to post again . . . okay that’s dumb because here I am posting but it certainly feels awful.  Another week gone, never to return.  Recently it seems I get nearly nothing unrelated to care giving done.  How long can I personally do that?  Indeed I needed and took a serious nap this morning.  My husband is an angel and should have been a physician or nurse.  Love that man.

The nap proved brilliant in the end because I’m pretty sure that I would have driven my bike into the Rhine if I hadn’t taken that nap.  You see I bike (walk or public transport) everywhere these days.  On Saturday I’m purchasing an excellent all weather bike with a fantastic riding compartment for the kids and warm rain gear for all of us.  And today I found myself riding to pick up Wren and a drizzle turned into a downpour.  I was instantly soaked.  My glasses completely fogged over so there goes my vision and I forgot Wren’s bike seat cover so her seat was turning into a bathtub as I pedaled toward the Tagesmutter’s apartment.  I finally arrived after taking shortcuts down two one way streets, the wrong way. Elderly German folk generally do not look kindly on this type of blatant misconduct and I was reprimanded by two 80 somethings on their own bikes.  I couldn’t understand exactly what they said but I did notice that they had very cool and effective rain gear, no time to ask where they shop though.  Anyway, I arrived and parked the bike in the rain, grabbed Wren and headed back out.  I braced for crying and wailing because now it’s raining like it’s 3:30 in August in New Orleans.  I snap Wren in, jump on the bike, turn around once to double check her seatbelt, take notice of what is total disbelief on her little face and then turn for home.  That’s when I begin to hear it.  My daughter is laughing.  Really laughing.  She is shrieking and slapping the rain as it collects on the back of my seat.  That look was only disbelief at her sheer good fortune to be riding in the rain!  That’s when I realized that personally, I could ride all day in the rain with her and that laughter.

Sasha and Wren on sunnier days

Less and then More

Chalk, a sidewalk and focus.

Hallucinating: Chalk, a sidewalk and focus.

One year . . .

We sold our home, I sold a business, I became a silent partner in a second business, gave birth to a second child, and then we moved to Europe.  Germany.  Twelve months and more than a decade of ruminating.  We arrived in Europe August 2011 and by the second day I began my mental list of things I wanted to write about.  Yes, I am a list person.  Bullet points, outlines and generally organized – my personal fall back whenever I’m presented with an intense situation.  In no particular sequence here is a portion of the list . . .

1. Children
2. Language
3. Weather
4. Food and Beverage
5. Hair Salons
6. Ehrenfeld and Willaimsburg
7. Public transportation
8. Bicycle riding
9. Small spaces
10. Banking
11. Sunday
12. Internet
13. Friendship
14. Marriage
15. Career

We (my family and I) are living a design.  My Dad loved life as an expat.  The seed was planted early on.  I took a short stint in London back in the 90’s and it was terrific.  Albeit I was very lonely and did not yet have the life skills to make it really work for me.  Besides I had just met my now husband and wanted to be with him more than anything, including being in London.  So back to the states.  It would be fifteen years before we figured out how to get back to Europe for an extended stay again.  In the meantime I traveled a great deal and fell in love with the city of Koln, Germany.  Fortunately my husband fell in love also.  And the plan to move was hatched.  But how?  When?  Could we really leave our families, NYC, work?  So many questions and in the end it happened incredibly slowly until 2010 when it started happening fast.

I will write about how we did it, more deeply about why we did it and much about the details of actually living it.  In the mean time the single most critical thing about who I am is how I took and continue to take the necessary luxury of time and hallucination (chemical free of course) to conceive my life.  Necessary because I believe it is a fundamental impulse.  Luxurious because not every person can execute and not every idea should be executed.

Take one minute, sixty seconds, right now and ask yourself what you dreamt about as a kid.  It’s thinking about less, just a whole lot more.  You don’t have to answer, but start asking.  Just start asking.

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