Unfiltered Mommy

An honest view of parenting in today's world

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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There’s a new boss in town

Tomorrow was supposed to be the day that I returned to work after my lovely five month maternity leave. About a month ago, after several discussions with my husband, l resigned from my full-time position. We decided that this is what is best for our family at this time. When we were both working our lives were very stressful. We both spent two hours a day commuting and it felt like we were always playing catch up. My husband’s job required him to travel quite a bit and when he wasn’t traveling, he was working until the wee hours of the night. After picking up our oldest from daycare, where she spent 10 hours a day on average, I found it almost impossible to cook a delicious, nutritious meal every night. We wound up eating out or getting carry out several times a week. Weekends were filled with household tasks and errands that seemed to be never-ending.  I remember how stressful it was the first year back at work after our oldest was born. Trying to juggle all the things above and the responsibilities of being a new mom was more than a little bit overwhelming. I was pumping 4 times a day at work in the beginning and became obsessed with my milk supply. The guilt I felt every night when I saw my daughter after being away from her for 10 or more hours a day was crippling. When she stopped nursing, it became a little easier, and by easier I mean more tolerable, to be away from her. She was growing and learning and although I was missing it, I knew that she was being well cared for by the daycare provider. I cannot, however,  imagine trying to do all of this now with two little ones. Just the thought of trying to get myself and the two girls ready and out the door by 7am seems completely impossible to me.

That being said, I am still getting used to the idea of being a full-time mom and not earning a paycheck. It is starting to sink in a little more each week but still remains somewhat surreal. I can’t believe that I am lucky enough to be able to stay at home with our girls.

Sure, it will be really difficult not having my “own” money. This is one of the hardest things to accept. I have always been fiercely independent and I got my first job when I was 15 years old. I have worked consistently since then with only three brief periods of not working when I was living abroad and when I was a freshman in college. Today I am being paid in smiles and love from my two girls which is worth more than any amount of monetary compensation. The day our oldest asked me not to go back to work, and I was able to say “yes” was one of the best feelings a mother can have. I am so happy to be able to make her wish come true. Being present and spending quality time with my girls is gift that only I am able to give. Witnessing my youngest meet all of her developmental milestones is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The working world will always be there, but these precious memories are only attainable for a very short period of time. I don’t want to have any regrets about choosing work over my kids so whatever corners we need to cut or sacrifices we have to make to make this work, we’ll gladly do it. I am very lucky to have a husband who supports and actually encourages this decision. We are all looking forward to a less hectic and more healthy and happy family life this time around.

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Moratorium on Multi-tasking

As each day passes and my youngest grows before my eyes, I desperately try to grasp on to every last bit of baby time. I find myself constantly begging her not to get any older, yet despite my pleas, she continues to grow. While each new stage brings new joys, it also brings the realization that this may be the last time that I will experience all of these wonderful moments.

My husband and I are not sure whether or not we will have any more children. Part of me REALLY wants more, but part of me kind of thinks that two is enough. My husband is still undecided, but I can tell that he is swaying more in the favor of stopping at two. We’ve decided not to make any decisions about this until our youngest is a little bit older and we are through the infant stage since this is such a difficult and emotional time.

Each day, I do my best to soak up all that new baby smell and cuddles, and enjoy every moment of her infancy while entertaining and interacting with a very busy and curious toddler. The days are so busy running here and there and trying to squeeze in all the mundane life tasks such as laundry and grocery shopping, that I often have to stop and remind myself to be “in the moment”. Practicing yoga for the past 9 years has taught me how to be present and how to slow down my thoughts. Sadly, I still have to make a conscious decision to focus on my baby and give her my undivided attention. I didn’t have this problem with my oldest. I would sit and watch her all day as she slept. I enjoyed every coo and every diaper change. But now it seems like life revolves around my toddler’s schedule and my youngest has to go with the flow.

I decided to do something to try to slow time down about two weeks when I found myself trying to do too many things at once. I decided that if I don’t want her childhood to pass me by, I needed to make a conscious effort to stop trying to be Supermom. I want to give her the time and attention that my oldest got from me. I have decided to put a moratorium on multi-tasking. The idea came to me last week as I sat down to nurse her and automatically grabbed my phone. Instead of rocking her and singing lullabies, I was watching Lost or looking up things to buy on Etsy. Technology has done a wonderful job at making us all feel like underachievers if we aren’t doing three or four things at once. We cram so much into a day that we all become insomniacs because our brains have not had a chance to process the days events by the time our heads hit the pillow.  We stay up all night, tossing and turning, thinking about how we are going to fill the next day with tasks to distract us from our lives.

It’s true, I have learned to do so many things one-handed since I have become a mother. I can cook, clean and even reorganize my garage, but why? Why am I always trying to get so much done at once? Maybe it comes from our society’s ideal of being a Supermom or maybe it is an internal drive to accomplish more than I should but whatever the reason, I am fighting back. Last night as I thought about this problem of multi-tasking I was pumping while unloading the dishwasher, cooking dinner and supervising my oldest. It is ridiculous! From now on, I am going to sit down and nurse my daughter without having my phone nearby and I am making a concerted effort to not multi-task so I can share in the precious moments that are quietly slipping by. I have also made a schedule for activities so I can spend quality time with both of my daughters instead of getting lost in the day-to-day.

What have you done to simplify your life/schedule?

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Why blog?

I have loved writing ever since I can remember. When I was a teenager, in the early 90’s, I wrote a lot of poetry. Heartbreak and teen angst sparked quite a bit of inspiration in me however I rarely shared my writing with others for fear of being judged. I attended poetry readings on occasion but mostly sat in the crowd listening and writing. I admired those brave souls who shared their most intimate feelings with a crowd of coffee guzzling strangers but could never muster up enough courage to get up on stage myself.

In my 20’s I began journaling more and writing less and less poetry. I found journaling to be very therapeutic and since I was on a budget, it was my own little way of processing my feelings without having to fork out the dough for counseling. As I got older, and my life became more stable, I found that I didn’t have much to write about, or maybe I did have something to write about but I didn’t take the time to sit down and do it. What ever the reason, I got out of practice for a few years and one day realized how much I missed having a creative outlet. I started journaling again and slowly got back into practice.

I’ve always been a little bit slow on the uptake when it comes to technology. I guess I am one of those skeptics who just would rather wait and see if a trend is going to stick around before I jump on board. I remember when my friends used to send me text messages and I resisted it for years thinking it was not going to catch on. Boy was I way off on that one! This is why I am just now discovering blogging! I have recently started reading blogs and now I have one of my very own!

Now that I have 2 beautiful daughters, I feel very inspired to write again. I’ve decided to start Unfiltered Mommy as a way of normalizing the thoughts and experiences we are all having every day but are too afraid to talk about.

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