Unfiltered Mommy

An honest view of parenting in today's world

German Customer Service

One of the things that I miss so much about American is Customer Service. I know it sounds strange, but when you come from a country where the “customer is always right” you really take it for granted. It wasn’t until living here and having the daily experience of interrupting with unfriendly store clerks who are annoyed because they have to help you or the cashiers who make me feel like I can’t get through their line fast enough, that I realized just how good we have it back home. It has got to be one of the biggest differences between the two cultures that I have come across so far. Rather than continuing to be annoyed with it, I have started to just shake my head and laugh when I hear this stuff or have these experiences, because honestly, some of it is truly is unbelievable.

For starters, nothing is open in Germany on Sunday except for gas stations and a few bakeries. It is considered the day of rest so very few people work and you are not allowed to do anything that would annoy your neighbors by the way of noise pollution. So no mowing the lawn or doing yard work on Sunday. No hanging laundry out on the line to dry in the sun because seeing you doing yard work or seeing your laundry is bothersome. Seriously? Um, yup! So even though Ruhetag or “Quiet day” sounds great in theory, I am not accustomed to it and it makes my weekend seem that much shorter. Every Saturday is spent running all the errands you need to do to get everything ready for the weekend and finishing up all the yard work. Meal planning for Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning needs to be done and all associated purchases need to be completed by end of day Saturday, which here is 10pm. To me it causes more stress. But it seems to be consistent with the theme here of “hurry up so you can relax” that I have seen. I think I personally like to be “calm and steady”, taking time to relax when I get the chance. So how does this relate to customer service? Oh yeah, well since everyone in town has to run all their errands on Saturday, the stores are crowed and the already unpleasant experience of shopping here just adds to the fun.

Limited Selection: Stores are small here and often have very limited selection. I went to the drug store to purchase a flea and tick collar as well as a few other items. The store has a very small pet section so I thought they may have basic needs like a flea collar. It is Spring here and there are many children and animals who have been getting ticks this month. Yuck!! So after looking, I could not find the collar so I went to look for an employee to help. This is difficult because other than cashiers there may be 1 or 2 other people working. Usually 2, but one is on a smoke break. Hahaha! (not really kidding) I found a woman who was helping someone else, so I stood there and waited my turn, hoping that she would not ignore me and walk away when she was finished. I got here (yeah!) and was able to find out that they do carry them but that they are sold out (of course) and would get a shipment on Tuesday. You guessed it, it was Saturday so it would be another 4 days before they had a flea collars. Oh my God! That would never happen in America. If you went to CVS, they would probably have a whole box of them in the back to restock or they would have them the next day. So on Monday, I drove across town to the pet store and bought one where they had a pretty good selection of 3 different kinds to choose from. I selected the ultrasonic tag for her collar. We’ll see if it works.

They only have one in your size: If you go to the mall in a small town like ours and have a common foot size like I do, 40 or 41, it can be difficult to get shoes you like in your size. Stores only get 1 or 2 pairs in each size, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. Some brand name stores can order it for you with free delivery to their store but since most of the stores here are independently owned, they don’t offer to order it for you. I guess they just hope that you’ll settle for something else they have in stock in your size, but coming from America and having an endless selection to choose from, makes one very picky about things like shoes and clothing. Plus these items are so expensive here, I really have to be sure I love them if I am going to commit to the purchase. It’s not like going to Target or DSW and spending $30 on a pair of sandals. When you are paying more than twice as much, you want to be certain they are the “right” pair. I will say though that I have found people working in small shoe stores to be quite friendly in comparison.

Unfriendly, often annoyed cashiers: The people who work at grocery stores and restaurants are really lacking in the customer service department, with cashiers at these stores taking the prize for the most unfriendly people. They are borderline hostile, I wonder that is all about. I really don’t get it. Cashiers here sit on chairs and scan your groceries and take your money. That’s it. There are no coupons, bagging or anything else. Just scanning and taking money. Sounds easy enough but oh my gosh, if you change your mind and decide you don’t want something after it is scanned, they have no ability to void the item. They have to re-ring the entire order? Yup, it has happened more than once. They get pissed and they make sure they give you the death glare long enough so you know just how pissed they are, and to give you a chance to change your mind so they don’t actually have to work that hard. But guess what? Tough shit. It’s your job. Do it. If something is leaking or a package gets opened, I don’t want it. Especially if I have not paid yet and I have not left the store with it. I am not buying it!!

Apathetic employees: We had the most uncommunicative travel agent too! Crazy right? My husband and I went to the travel agency sans kids to get some information on a package to go to Sicily for a week. You would think the travel agent would want to sell you a package for 4 people including airfare, rental car and resort for a week but she was totally uninterested in us or selling us anything. I honestly think she was half asleep during our interaction because their was no “selling” or even a hint of interest in helping us plan our vacation. We left there disappointed but not totally surprised either.

This was similar to our experiences buying furniture. The salespeople did not offer any information about things and getting them to explain about delivery and installation was like pulling teeth. We had to ask every questions every time. We also learned that it takes a minimum of 8-10 weeks for delivery of furniture if you have to order it, which is like everything here unless they are selling the floor model.

Take zero responsibility: The absolute worst was the AEG repair man who told me that we broke our brand new dishwasher because we did not scape and rinse off each dish with a brush before placing it in the dishwasher. Somehow, that burned out the motor on a 4 month old machine. I explained to him that I have read the Owner’s Manual which specifically says “DO NOT RINSE DISHES PRIOR TO LOADING” and he began to lecture me about how in Germany they are about conservation so German dishwashers only uses 3 liters of water, blah, blah blah.Hey says “In America, you are all about…”, to which I replied “Shit that works!”. Oh man I was so mad at this point. So on his way out, he feels the need to insult us and our dog by saying “Oh, and don’t feed your dog so much and he won’t be fat.” WTF??? Yes, thank you dishwasher repair man for your 2 cents about how we care for our dog! So I kindly said, “Oh thanks, but our dog has a condition. She has a growth here” (and I pointed to her ‘fat’, which actually is a growth) .

So on Friday I have to get my iPad fixed (which is still under the 1 year warranty) so we ‘ll see how that goes!


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The Oxymoronic struggles of day-today life in Germany

The one thing that really sticks out in my mind as something that I really, truly did not know about German culture before we moved here, was how oxymoronic the social norms are here. If you think you know something about a culture just because you have a friend, cousin, or husband, or whatever from that culture, let me tell you, you have no clue unless you yourself have personally lived there. And I’m not talking about being an exchange student here, I mean really lived there as in carrying out everyday tasks like grocery shopping, working and jumping through all the necessary legal hoops to become integrated into the culture. It has been a huge eye-opener to say the least. Not only about my own life and experience in American culture, but also getting the full experience of German culture.

  1. Order, cleanliness, and… DOG POOP! So Germans are known for being orderly and having strict governmental regulations, laws and structure right? They also have a reputation for being clean, respecting the Earth, being eco-conscious etc. So after almost a year of living in a house that backs up to a large working farm, which doubles as a favorite place to let your dog run off leash and, ah hem, do it’s business, I  am shocked to see that hardly any one picks up their dog shit! Let’s say for example last week, I walked our dog behind the house. There were 4 other people there with a total of 9 other dogs. I was the only one who picked up after my dog. It is disgusting. Right by the field there is a container that always has free poop bags and a garbage can to put the filled bags in. So it is not a matter of not having a bag. They are provided. The girls and I have to watch out for poop every where. And it is not just here in the field. It’s all over the sidewalks, in parks adjacent to playgrounds. I mean c’mob people, really? Oh your dog just took a huge shit on the sidewalk, no worries. The other day I returned home from running errands, opened my car door IN MY DRIVEWAY, and luckily for me, I looked before I got out because, yup, you guessed it, there was a pile of shit right there in my driveway. SERIOUSLY? WTF?
  2. Structure and Punctuality. Oh my god, this has got to be one of the worst. I am not super punctual but I do like to be on time. I feel like with two young kids, it is almost impossible to be places bang on time or early. I mean, stuff happens when you are trying to get out the door. But here if you are on time, you are late. If they say they are meeting at 9am to go somewhere and you show up at 9am, they are gone. So apparently 9am, means 10 till 9 or so. I guess it is good, they are training kids from a early age to be on time but for me it causes a lot of unnecessary stress. Sometimes the bus ever comes early. So you think, ok I have to be there at 9:48, you arrive at 9:47, the bus never comes. Why? Because it came at 9:46 and you were not there! Arghhh! One of the most important government appointments we have had was scheduled for say 9am. They said “Don’t be late. If you’re late, then you have to reschedule.” We arrived early, like 8:45, checked in and sat in the waiting room. Waiting, waiting. 9am came and went, the number on our check in slip never popped up on the screen. Waiting, waiting. Our Relocation Specialist asked what was going on. They said  “Oh, you must have missed it. Your meeting was at 9am.” To which she replied, “No we did not miss it. We have been here waiting since 8:45”. You see, if anything ever goes wrong here, it’s never their fault, It’s is aways yours. There is a huge lack of culpability here, which is extremely infuriating coming from the land where the “customer is always right” but that is a topic for another day.
  3. Illusion of relaxation. One of the favorite German pastimes is walking or hiking in the woods. It appears that they are relaxed but in everyday activities like driving and shopping, everyone seems so pissed off and so hurried. I constantly feel like I am in someone’s way. They stand over you breathing down your neck while you ponder which box of tea to buy or try to make sense of the ingredients in the deodorant you are trying for the first time. Checking out at the grocery store or drug store is so stressful. Not only are they breathing down your neck because you are buying too much stuff, you also have to pack your own groceries and you aren’t doing it fast enough. There is no helpful young teenager there to assist you. You have to place the items back in your cart and then pack them into your own reusable grocery bags once you get to your car (yes it is a total waste of time) or scramble to get them into bags as they fly down the conveyer belt, hoping that the little foil lids on your yogurt or the packages of soup mix don’t get punctured before you get home because you don’t have a chance to lovely pack them in a way that keeps them safe. At the beginning of my time here, when I had a 3 year old and 1 year old in the grocery store with me, I would have panic attacks at the checkout. I dreaded going grocery shopping. I still do but I am woking on my bitchiest RBF to scowl back at them as I carefully repack my cart with my paid groceries and then take another 10 minutes to put them in the bags in the trunk of my car.
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Have I lost my umph?

When I was younger I was very outspoken. I was not afraid to be who I was and I did not take shit from anyone. I wore what I wanted ; which ranged from short pink patent leather skirts with teeny tank tops to ultra baggy Jenko jeans and oversized concert T-shirts. I got decent grades and stood up for victims of bullying. I was in the Marching Band and Drama Club. I stayed out late and had friends from all walks of life.

I grew up in  a conservative family in a very nice (and… Conservative) community north of Detroit. The kids at my high school were mostly WASPs, and kids who caused trouble were sent off to alternative schools or to the Fox Center, never to be heard from again. I got into my fair share of trouble at school and made my parents less than proud on a few occasions, but overall I was a good person with a good heart and I knew that once I got the hell out of there, I would be able to “find myself” and be me. You see, in a small town like ours, there was no getting away with things. People knew my parents and I lived in fear that they would tell my parents if they saw me doing something, like smoking cigarettes. The fear of disappointing my parents was the worst. I could never imagine having to tell my parents I was pregnant or calling them from jail to bail me out so this fear kept me out of a lot of trouble.

When I moved 2000 miles from home to attend Arizona State University, I was so excited to be away from all the people I had known my whole life. The kids that thought they knew me and I was grateful to have a fresh start. I made a lot of friends from the Mid-West and also had some pretty crazy roommates. Actually all of them. I learned about love, life, and heartbreak. I dated the wrong guys and made some not-so-good decisions. But I always stayed true to myself and I always spoke my mind.

But somewhere between here and there I lost that part of myself. Maybe it’s because I grew up or maybe it’s just being too tired to care anymore, but somehow I stopped being that version of me. I stopped being the me who loved to go out on the town and dance the night away. I lost the part of me who loved to get dressed up all fancy and accessorize new outfits. Ok, ok, so having two young children is probably why I have no time or energy to invest in my looks or social outings anymore, but what about my spunk? My umph?

Some would say that I still pretty outspoken. Being a Social Worker requires me to step up and advocate for others and to fight oppression. I still cannot sit in silence and watch others be degraded or taken advantage of but I feel like my tolerance for ignorance has changed. I remember that I noticed a distinct shift in myself a few years ago when I started working at a new hospital. I was working in a very wealthy area of San Diego and I’ll never forget the day when we had a patient who was a meth addict who was on a ventilator and on death’s door. I cannot remember all the details of his case now but he had numerous brain aneurysms and some other medical issues. His family was all Spanish speaking and I had contacted them in Mexico to have them come and speak with the doctor regarding his situation. The nurse taking care of him that day said “Uh, I don’t know why I even have to take care of this guy.” Standing there in shock, I said “Well, because he is our patient and he is very sick.” “Yeah well this is (name of our hospital), we don’t get patients like this here!” she said. My reply, which was the only thing that came out was “Well, we do now, and we will be getting a lot more of them from now on.” Now, old me would have just laid into her about respecting the dignity and worth of the person and helping her understand that addiction is a disease and that although he was not a US citizen, he was still a human being. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see how doing in to this much detail with this particular nurse was going to make one ounce of difference so I chose not to.

For the next 3 years that I worked there I tried my best to speak out and be a good advocate, but when you are working in a company steeped in “Good Ol’ Boys” charm, and working with patients who run multi-million dollar companies, you have to mind your Ps and Qs. I learned to bite my tongue and choose my battles. I decided to bide my time until something changed and promised myself that I would not expend any more energy than necessary. After all, I would get nowhere, and I knew it.

After having two kids and after finishing enough hours to apply for the LCSW license, I was finally able to quit. I quit, for multiple reasons but I never told them how I felt about the corporate bullshit there or the way that walking into that job everyday made my heart sink. I never told them that despite the fact that they were constantly telling us how “lucky” we were to work there or what a great place to work it was, I secretly hated it.

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An “Oink, Oink” here and an “Oink, oink” there


Growing up in the Mid-west, our meat of choice was beef. My mother also cooked chicken but very rarely made anything with pork. When I moved to Spain in 2001, I had to get used to eating more pork than I was used to. I also had to learn to like seafood, and a variety of other things that I had not acquired a palate for such as sardines and tomatoes. I learned to like some things I never thought I would and still detest other things, Murcia anyone? I never developed a taste for “the other white meat” but I learned to tolerate it.

Here is Germany they eat more pork than anywhere on Earth (this is just my opinion). Seriously, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am totally porked out after 10 months! As a child, I refused to eat Bologna and choked down pork chops when I had to. I never liked anything pork, other than ham. Honey Ham was pretty good, especially as a family holiday tradition.

I can honestly say that I had no idea that so many things could be made out of a pig until i moved here. The deli counter is quite impressive so see but about 80% of it looks totally inedible to me. When I see other customers ordering things like gelatin round filled with pork tongue pieces, I want to hurl. How can they like that shit? I mean seriously, just my imagination of what the texture of something like that, is enough to make me lose my lunch. And it is a Bologna lover’s paradise here. There must be 10-15 varieties in every grocery store. From pistachios, to mushrooms, broccoli, and peppers, you can literally have Bologna with pretty much anything the heart desires mixed in.

I have joked with friends and family about how I will probably become a vegetarian by the time our contract ends, purely because I am in meat overload here. We have instituted meatless meals every week and I do not eat anything pork when we go out to restaurants. I dream of veggie wraps and burritos and long for the day when I can have traditional Mexican food again. Smoothie and juice bars are also things I lust after. I never knew how lucky we were to be in a place with so many healthy food options. I truly do miss the convenience and variety of American Life, black beans, salsa and 5 for $1 Avocados! Yummy!!!

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You know you’re a mother when…

This is a phrase I utter to myself almost on a daily basis. It is hard to imagine all the little things that a mother does day in and day out and it is almost impossible to imagine all of the things that mothers see or hear during the day. These are the things that may fade from our memories but they are things that make motherhood what it is… the most amazing and difficult journey of a lifetime.

1. When you get “free time”, the top priority is either showering or going through a week’s worth of mail that’s been collecting on the counter.

2.  Knowing that the “To-Do List” that used to take you 3 days to complete, now takes 3 weeks. And that’s okay.

3. The only channels you have stored to memory are Nick Jr and Disney Jr.

4. You’re ok with your kid eating just plain white rice for dinner.

5. Not a day goes by without having a full on discussion about poop, pee or vomit.

6. You spend more on your kids shoes or clothing that they will wear for 2 months than you do on your own clothing that you will have for the next 10 years

7. You can’t remember the last time you showered, shaved your legs or had a Girl’s Night Out. I mean, seriously, I saw GNO on FB the other day and had to really think about what it meant. Sad, so sad.

My friends and I often talk about the difference a decade makes. So much has happened in all of our lives since our mid-twenties but we rarely take the time to look and see just how much we have grown. It is important to slow down and reflect. To take time to learn from the past. I think it helps us appreciate the present and plan for the future.

I would never change anything about where I am right now in life but it is funny to think how much goes on in just 10 years. When I was 26, I was in my Master’s Program, working full-time and going to school 3 nights a week. On Saturdays, I studied and wrote papers. On Sundays I did my internship for 10 hours in an Emergency Room. We had just purchased our first home and gotten a puppy. Somewhere in there I still found the time to do my Krav Maga two or three times a week and sneak in a happy our with friends every now and again.  At the time I could not understand where I found all the energy. Reflecting back on it now I realize that it was one the best times of my life. I learned and grew so much during that time. Meeting the woman who became my mentor for the internship changed my life and set me on a totally unexpected career path as a medical social worker. I am so grateful to have met her and for all the wisdom she imparted on me. It truly was a life changing year.

This year has also been a huge life change and I am certain that in 10 years I will be writing a reflection about it as well. But right now, it feels like I am just going through the motions of becoming acculturated. I have to remember that right now the most important thing is slowing down and enjoying my children’s youth. I rock them every chance I get. Hold their soft little hands and kiss their squishy little cheeks because I know that someday they won’t want me to do these things any more and I don’t want to regret not taking the time to share these sweet moments while they last.

Slow down and enjoy life's simple pleaseures

Slow down and enjoy life’s simple pleaseures

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A Stranger in a Foreign Land

One of the biggest adjustments I have had to make has been being a stranger in a foreign land. People tend to think that Germany is a lot like America, probably because it is an industrialized nation with a  high percentage of well-educated people. But I can tell you that despite the similarities, life here is quite different from in the States. Everything from the food to cultural norms are different. My husband has a hard time putting in to the words what he sees as different but today I am going to try to explain it, at least a little bit.

Personal Space: In the USA, we are very fond of our personal space. We like to have at least one foot of distance between us when we are standing in lines and when we go out to eat, we want our own table. Even if the table can seat 6 people and we are only 2, we are not fond of having “joiners”. In Germany, space is tight. The entire country is about as big as the State of Minnesota (according to my father). Many people live in flats and those who live in houses (like us) live in half of what is called a “Dopplehouse” or Duplex in the US. Other houses are 5 houses all in a row. This means that you have very little privacy and yes, the neighbors are listening! There is no 6 foot wall around your yard shielding you from curious eyes or 30 yards of space to buffer the everyday screams and shrills of toddlers struggling to get their way. Oh and they don’t care if you are standing in line patiently waiting your turn to pay, they will cut you off and when a new register opens, just because you are the next in line does not mean you will be served first. The people behind you will run over without giving any thought to the fact that you were actually in front of them.

The Food: The stereotypes of eating sausages and bread for every meal are true! When I first lived here in 2004, I had a hard time adjusting to eating coldcuts and cheese for breakfast. I have never been a big fan of breakfast, I don’t like cold cereal, didn’t eat eggs for about 10 years and from about age 8 until 18, I hated sandwiches as well. When I first went to my father-in-laws house and saw the amazing spread of conducts he had laid out for breakfast, I thought “huh?”. I pretty much just ate the delicious rolls with jelly and left the rest. I have adjusted somewhat now, although I still cannot even look at some of the meat that early in the morning. And yes, they can eat bratwurst here everyday for every meal. The amount of pork eaten on this country never ceases to amaze me. Growing up, I think my mom cooked pork once or twice a month. It was typically Shake-and-Bake Pork Chops which were very well done out of fear of undercooking. I grew up not liking pork but now that I have tried it cooked many ways and various cuts of meat, I am learning to like it. If you have never been to a German deli counter, it is pretty amazing. The amount of different cold-cuts or “wurst” they make here is incredible, and mostly, 90% pork! Crazy!

The other thing is the amount of sews and cake eaten here. Every where you go; a pizza place, a bank, all give your kids candy. They don;t ask, they just do it. Even the people cleaning the toilets at bars have candy for kids. Eating cake in the afternoon is also very common. “Kaffee und Kuchen” is typically around 3:30pm and you eat cake and drink coffee. It is nice but seriously, who needs all these sweets? I also my girls to have candy and sweets but sometimes I get really irritated when we go somewhere for dinner and suddenly my kids are screaming to eat a sucker instead of waiting of our dinner. Grrr!

Government Bureaucracy: This is probably one of the biggest differences I have found so far. The German government really is “Big Brother” watching over you. There are so many rules and endless amount of paperwork when immigrating here. First of all, every German resident has to be registered with the government. They have your current address on file. You must notify them every time you move, meaning you have to re-register in every city by going to the city office in person. We are fortunate enough to have a relocation expert working with us (provided by my husbands employer) to help us navigate all lot this. She has been amazing. Now that I am all registered and officially have my Visa to live here for 3 years, I am required to take an Integration Course which is 600 hours of German language courses as well as courses on the political parties and government structure and social programs available to me and my German children. At the first meeting with the government official, he explained all of this to me in German, very quickly and without making eye contact with me. He explained that I am required to take these classes because my immigrant status is linked to my children being German citizens and not because my husband is German. So in the event that our marriage does not last, our children and I are permitted to live in Germany so I need to know what my rights here are and what money etc… I am entitled too. Also, they have to make sure that I speak German. it is actually a pretty cool concept and I think that we should do this in the States. Imagine if all the people who immigrated to the US had to learn English and have some knowledge about how our government works… Oh yes, and these classes are paid for by the government!

Oh yes, and I also have to retake the driver’s license exams here, both theoretical and practical. Apparently having a driver’s license from California holds no weight here. The process is ridiculously long and complex. It took us about 3 weeks just to figure out which driving school to register with. The programs are not tailored to the individual needs and it is super expensive if you have to pay for all the classroom hours (which I do not need! Yay!). Yesterday we got that squared away, and on Sunday I spent all day at a First Aid class (which was a huge joke) and getting my vision test and picture taken. The amount of red tape here is ridiculous! I really do not understand how a culture that is known for being efficient, can still have such archaic ways. Nothing is done on computer here, it is all pen and paper with official stamps. Totally 80’s if you ask me.

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Have tots. Will travel.

I have travelled with my daughters both on planes and on road trips. Each time I learn something new and each time, it also gets a little easier. 

I found traveling on a plane with a breastfed infant to be the easiest. My first time on a plane with a child was a solo mission from San Diego to Portland, OR to visit my sister and niece when my oldest daughter was 3 months old. I had my diaper bag fully stocked with diapers, wipes, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, extra baby clothes, plastic bags and snacks for myself. I was hungry every 2 hours while nursing. I nursed her on take off and things were going great. After a few minutes, I smelled something. I could not really put my finger on what it was, and the only thing I could think of was burnt popcorn. I figured that the flight attendants were making coffee for the beverage service. The smell grew stronger. I looked around and realized that the smell was a huge poop blowout all up my daughters back, and incidentally, all over the sleeve of my shirt. I could not wait for the fasten seatbelt sign to be turned off. I needed to get to the bathroom and clean up what I knew what the worst diaper I had yet to change. I waited. And waited. The seatbelt sign was taunting me and other passengers were beginning to take note of the stench and our situation. I couldn’t wait anymore. I stood up and started walking toward the bathroom. A flight attendant kindly told me to return to my seat stating that there was too much turbulence to turn off the seatbelt sign. I stared at him, moved my baby away from my drippy mustard yellow stained shirt and said “I need to change this diaper. I will be careful”. He motioned for me to go past him with a look of pity in his eye.

Lesson learned on this trip: Pack an extra change of clothes in the carry on for myself.

The trip home from Portland was equally exciting. Now that I knew about my daughter’s system sesitivity to changing altitude, I was now ready with my extra clothes and other items. After take off, the seatbelt sign was turned off, so I went to change her diaper. I got to the bathroom and much to my surprise there was no changing table! I asked the flight attendant and he said “oh my, this is a brand new plane. I guess they didn’t have time to install it yet.” Whaaaat? So there I was, holding my 3 month old poop-laden baby wondering how I was going to change her in a tiny airplane  bathroom with no changing table. Luckily I had the skip hop changing wallet which has a huge changing pad. I sat on the toilet, spread out the changing pad on my lap, and gave her a good ol’ wipe bath on my lap. Disgusted? So was I, but what was I supposed to do? The thought of changing her in the empty airplane seats next to me crossed my mind, but since I was a first time mom. I wasn’t quite this bold yet. I had barely become accustomed to nursing in public with my nursing cover but after this trip, I felt like I could conquer anything that came my way. 

Lessons learned: I can change a diaper anywhere

Traveling from your home country to a foreign land on a transatlantic flight with toddlers brings a new set of challenges. There is the long flight, cramped spaces, and of course jet lag! Our first flight to Europe was when our oldest was 18 months old and I was about 10 weeks pregnant. Despite the fact that Tess was under 2 yrs old and didn’t need a seat, we bought her a seat. I could not see how it would work out with a wriggly toddler on our laps (mostly my lap since she is a momma’s girl) for 14 hours. A friend lent me a “sit-n-stroll” chair that was a stroller (sort of)and a car seat in one. It came in very handy for pushing her around the airport. We used it like a car seat on the airplane seat and also as a car seat in Germany. I highly recommend these to anyone who plans to travel a lot with a toddler. It was comfy and safe and we did not need a separate umbrella stroller at the airport. Once we figured out to use the seat in flight, we were off. Things had gone pretty smoothly until this point. My daughter was crying a bit on take off and was kicking the seat in front of her fo the first half hour or so. After apologizing to the not-so-understanding woman in the seat multiple times, I started to get annoyed with her glaring back between the seats. Yes, my daughter was kicking her seat a bit but I was doing everything in my power to make her stop and I was apologizing. Finally I had eqnough of her judging and said “I have said I’m sorry. There is nothing more I can do. She is one year old.” Shortly there after the Benadryl kicked in. Thank God! We all slept until the cabin lights came on an hour before the flight landed. Overall, the flight was a success. The hard part came that night around 1am when our daughter refused to go to sleep. We tried everything. Movies on the iPad, playing, reading. At about 4am she finally stopped screaming and we got a few hours of sleep.the. Ext night was worse instead of better. We tried the same tricks again. We tried Benadryl. Nothing worked. I was exhausted. Two days with out sleep, 24 hours of travel time, 10 weeks pregnant and a screaming toddler at 3am. What to do? We went for a walk around the neighborhood which worked! Yay! It took another 2 days before she got straightened out. I still refer to this as my “4 days in Hell”. The flight back home was better and the jetlag at home only lasted 3 nights. 

Lesson learned: Jet lag with young children in Hell. Be prepared and don’t fool yourself into thinking it won’t happen. 

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“It’s just stuff”

Well to say that things have been totally insane and upside down for the past 2 months would be an understatement. Since Christmas, we have managed to not only fit in enough study time so I could pass the second (and final) half of the Califonia LCSW exam…Yay!!! But we have also had 2 moving sales, returned 2 lease cars,  spent 2 days at Disneyland, prepared our 75 lb. Labrador, Zoe, for the big move and packed up an entire household.

After passing the exam, we were able to focus on the move. We had 2 weeks left to go through all of our belongings and decide what to keep, sell and donate. Not an easy feat for someone like me who likes to save things. I mostly save things that I plan to use again or thigs that have sentimental value, but after going through the multitude of Rubbermaid totes in the garage that contained my stuff, I realize that the last time we moved (which was only 5 years ago…ahem) that I also save a lot of crap. That being said, I am not a hoarder, and I am. It where near hoarder status. Almost half of the stuff in our garage was baby stuff that we had just finished using or were waiting to use again. Getting rid of baby things is easy. At our age, everyone we know is having babies. It was getting rid of everything else that was hard.

Going through the boxes was emotional. I found so many things from college and my young adult life and had a great stroll down memory lane. As I pitched the majority of them into the trash or sell pile, I felt good. I felt like I was releasing emotions attached to these earlier life stages as I said farewell to the “stuff” that represented those times.

When it got to the more serious items, like high ticket items we recently purchased as gifts for one another, or things we weren’t sure we could use in Germany it became more difficult to decided what to do. I spoke to some friends who said things like “it’s just stuff”, “purging is good” or “you can be a minimalist now” and I secretly wanted to strangle them. Did they not understand what I was saying? What I was going through? Yes, it is just stuff. But it is our stuff. Our stuff that we have spent our hard earned money on and the thought of potentially throwing it out or giving it away KILLED ME! For example,  hubs bought me a Blendtec for my birthday in July (a $300 crazy ass blender that makes ice cream, smoothies, soup and more) what was I going to do with that?  As far as I knew, I could not use it in Germany, and each day and night, my brain did cartwheels thinking about things like this. 

I had anxiety. Serious anxiety. I have never experienced anxiety attacks before but when I started having physical reactions to the stress, I sought help. My doctor prescribed me one month’s worth of medication, which I used sparingly, but I thank God I had it. There truly was no other way I was going to get through this move. 

We ended up getting rid of about half of our belongings. It was sad to see things go like our couches, TV, and other things we really weren’t done using yet, but we are doing our best to embrace the change. The other half of our “stuff” is in a storage container waiting for the LA port strike to be resolved so we can get our container shipped here. I wonder what we will think about the items we decided to keep once they arrive. It should be interesting to see them again after 3 months or more!

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Sometimes life just gets in the way… and that’s ok!

Since my last post so much has happened. I have wanted to sit down and document all the exciting things we are doing but life has just been so busy, that the thought of adding one more thing to my “To Do” list is too much. So I apologize to those of you who have been asking if I am still blogging. Yes, I am! But there are two major life events that have kept me from being able to post. The first is my preparation for the LCSW exam (my ultimate education/career goal) and the second is the daunting task of getting a family of four and a dog ready for an international move.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I was studying day in and day out for part of the California Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) exam. This was the biggest test I have ever taken and since I had not studied for anything in about 6 years, I was very worried about the fact that I could not retain any of the information I read. For many social workers, obtaining our LCSW is the highest professional degree/license we strive for. It is equivalent to a PhD in Psychology, and allows us to “hang our own shingle”. For me, it was one of the major reasons I decided to pursue an MSW rather than a Master’s in Counseling. As I studied and the time grew closer,  I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I have never had anxiety like this. In fact, I tend to handle pressure with a lot of grace which is why I am good at doing crisis social work. But after experiencing anxiety attacks which caused me to seek medication to help me manage it, I have a new found empathy for people with anxiety disorders. I honestly do not know how they hold it together from day to day. I am proud to report that I passed part one, and I am now preparing for part two, which will be the first week in February. I cannot wait to cross this off of my Bucket List!!

Shortly after taking my exam, out little family unit will be moving to Düsseldorf, Germany for 3 years. Neither my husband or I  have really ever been to Düsseldorf although we do think that it is a pretty awesome city. Right now it is scheduled for mid-February and as I am sure you can imagine, we are all freaking out a bit. There is so much to do, sometimes I really do not know where to start. I wake up in the morning and think “Oh good, I have the whole day to do X, Y, Z…” but the truth is, it is really hard to get any of that stuff done when you have a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old. Obviously I don’t want to ignore my kids, but man oh man, what are they hungry ALL THE TIME? I feel like somedays I never get out of the kitchen!

Thankfully we don’t have a house or cars to sell but just having to go through all of our belongings and deciding what we are going to do with each and every little thing is quite the task. We eventually have 3 weeks to pull this all off. At times it seems manageable, but for the most part, it just seems totally insane! For the past 3 weeks, we have spent every free moment working with our relocation expert to learn about the different areas of Düsseldorf that are suitable for families and looking at houses on-line. Thank goodness for google maps!

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Going off leash

When you are accustomed to taking two young children with you every where you go, you get used to taking time to prepare for all scenarios such as diaper changes with soiled clothing, on-the-go snack time, and a plethora of other things that “might” happen. After kids, an errand that would have taken you 10 minutes including drive time, can take an hour or more.

While the diaper bag is typically stocked with the necessary items, it does need to be checked and often restocked before heading out the door. Then there is the stroller/carrier issue that must be thought of as well. For many of us, it is a rare occasion when we get to leave the house without one or two kids in tow. A few months ago when I got to get out of the house sans kids, my husband told me to take his car, or as he referred to it “the single car”, as opposed to the minivan. As I pulled away from our house in his car with just a small purse, I felt so strange. I felt…FREE! I felt like a dog the moment they get let off leash. I was running free and a huge smile graced my face. Ahhhh! Ok ok, I was only running up to the grocery store to grab a few things but I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This experience spurred a decision in me. I had to get back to a point where being alone didn’t feel so foreign. I spoke with my husband that night about scheduling more “me time”. Obviously when I was a working mom, I had my town hours of commute time to be with my thoughts. I didn’t realize how much I missed my “me time” until I didn’t have it any more. We agreed that for the sanity of all involved, I needed to have one night a week to do something by myself. So far it has been about a month and I have been attending a sewing group at a local quilt shop. I find creating things to be very therapeutic and rewarding so I am happy to be able to get back to this hobby. Once I finish the girls’ Halloween costumes, I will try my hand at quilting for the first time.

What do you do for yourself? How do you schedule your “me time” and what do you like to do?

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