10 November 2016

40 days in Germany

I've been in Germany for 40 days. And Trump is now the president of the United States.

* Warning: lots of ranting ahead. *

I voted for Bernie Sanders, thinking he'd probably lose to Hillary, then I voted for Hillary, predicting Trump would win. But I still couldn't believe it when it actually happened. My partner said the polls all said Hillary was a clear victor. Goes to show how reliable polls are.

I'm still in shock, and taking care of little ones full-time has taken a toll on my brain and my sanity. I'm sorry, but some people are just not meant to be stay-at-home parents. The impatient perfectionists are a good example.

After forty days here, my initial thoughts on Germany (in my bitter state) are that they are absolutely unyielding when it comes to rules, yet this rigidity doesn't yield a perfectly running system. If it did, I wouldn't mind. Instead, everything takes forever, and mistakes abound. Even our amazon packages have been late/wrong/a disaster here. We aren't allowed to open a bank account with any bank (other than Deutsche Bank) because we haven't gotten our resident visa yet. But we can't get our appointment for our resident visa because they're understaffed. We've been on the "emergency" list for a place in school for my daughter for five weeks. How long would it take if it weren't an emergency?

The temporary place she's been won't take her for the remaining six months we'll be here, so we're still waiting to hear back from the ministry of education. We were told they literally call every single school to see if there is a place available. Which is crazy for a so-called modern country. But fine, let's assume that's really happening. Does it take five weeks to make these calls?

We've also been waiting the same five weeks for our residency visa appointment. Not for the actual visa; just the appointment. To see if we can then get a visa. We're approaching our 90 days in Europe, so if our tourist visa expires we'll either have to leave the Schengen region or pay 80€ to extend our visas. Even if it's their fault we haven't gotten our resident visas.

And my younger daughter was lucky enough to get a spot in the university's bilingual preschool, HOWEVER there is what feels like the eternal "settling in" period, which started last Monday, October 31st, and will last a month. A month of settling in. It means we go together for an hour each day, and then we go home. (That is NOT what I call childcare, for the record.)

This week, we were supposed to increase the time to 1 1/2 hours (woo), but on Tuesday, we waited for two hours to go see a doctor to get a note saying my daughter was healthy enough to attend school, and we missed our allotted sliver of time. She got a bunch of shots (without which the doctor would not sign off), and we're scheduled for a bunch more.

(We have always done the immunizations on schedule, but we've been away from home since July, so I guess we've fallen behind. It's a bummer because our family pediatrician (who is awesome) said we could just catch up on everything when we went home, but I guess that won't fly here. So, even though we're paying for both our health insurance in the States and additional health insurance here (because our American one wasn't good enough), we are probably going to have to pay for everything out of pocket, too. Sweet.)

So, we missed Tuesday's hour of daycare and went Wednesday. I got to sit outside for 1 1/2 hours while my daughter played happily in her class, but I wasn't allowed access to their internet, so I got to just sit there and wait. And I was scolded for parking my stroller in the wrong place.

Today, we were supposed to up the time to three glorious hours, but since we missed Tuesday, the teacher said we'd do the 1 1/2 hours again. Except that this morning, while we were on the bus on our way to school, we got a call saying the teacher was sick, so my daughter couldn't come to school at all.

And they said the teacher will probably be sick tomorrow, too, so my daughter probably shouldn't come tomorrow, either.

We also got our daycare bill, and we were charged almost 70 euro for October 31's one hour of settling in. And we'll be charged full price for November, even though I'm not getting any relief from my full-time mommy gig. Really? How is that okay?

It was a rough day. I even had the classic ninny crisis of a chipped nail to top it all off.

So, feeling lonely and frustrated and tired of the dark skies, I decided to throw myself a pity party, thinking about how my partner has his labmates, my older daughter has her (revolving) playmates from her temporary kindergarten, and my younger daughter has an actual group of classmates she'll be with for the school year while I had nothing. Get out the tinny little violins and start the concert...

I did meet one mom at a park playground who took a photo of her son and my younger daughter playing together in the sandbox, and I gave her my card and asked her to email me the photo. I said we just arrived two weeks ago, and she could be my first friend here. Guess that wasn't the right thing to say or else I just wasn't appealing enough as a potential friend because she never emailed. Maybe she lost my card. Or maybe she's racist. Hey, you never know. And it's easier to blame racism than, say, my personality.

Then, my older daughter decides to tell me I should go back to California, and she and Papa and her sister will stay here in Germany. You don't want Mama to be here with you and Papa and your sister? She shook her head no. Ouch.

So, I was pissed at Germany with its nitpicky tunnel vision. And did I mention it's cold and grey and rainy? It even SNOWED on Tuesday. The one day we ventured to a neighboring town to go see the one bilingual English-German international school in the area. If my older daughter went there, it would take us an hour to get there by public transport, so I could potentially commute four hours to get my daughter to and from school every day. Good times.

We talked about getting a car, but considering how slow/paperwork-ridden/ridiculously complicated it is to do anything here, I can't begin to imagine what it would take for foreigners to buy and register a car, get insurance, and then sell it in six months. It would probably kill us.

I fantasized about moving to Taiwan and quitting this German sabbatical. We have to give two months' notice (of course) to our castle and the school my younger daughter attends, but we would still have 4 1/2 months left, not including the summer. It could still be worth it. The girls would learn Chinese, the weather would be warmer, I'd speak the language and even have friends (!!!) to spend time with. The food would actually be delicious... We didn't need to stay here. Why suffer? What were we trying to prove?

But quitting didn't feel so good.

So, tonight, I asked my older daughter why she said she wanted me to go back to our place by the beach while she and the rest of the family stayed here, and she explained that she wanted me to go bake some banana bread for her because she missed it. (We don't have an oven here in our lovely castle but tiny kitchen.) I just about died laughing and was relieved that she didn't want to get rid of me as an unsatisfying mother. She just missed my baking. Or, my banana bread, more specifically.

Funny how food can make us feel at home (or the lack of familiar food can make us feel so homesick).

So, with a bit more perspective, I'm giving Germany my full effort. Once my daughters both actually go to school, I'm going to start taking German lessons. Maybe I'll make a friend there.

And if I'm totally lonely and miserable, maybe I'll write an incredible novel. (Again, once my daughters both somehow go to school.)

And going back to Trump, I was in a dark dark place but am fighting to be positive. One person can't ruin a country. Even Hitler and Osama needed help. And I'm not saying Trump is Hitler or Osama; I just mean that everyone who is afraid that he will single-handedly ruin America and take the rest of the world down with him can hopefully rest assured that it would take a lot of people to carry that out.

So, our responsibility as Americans and conscientious citizens of the world is, as Hillary said, to keep fighting for what's right. If we all remain vigilant and involved, I believe we can keep moving forward.

Everyone says stupid things and makes mistakes; we should all be given room to learn and grow. So, looking on the bright side, maybe he'll surround himself with capable, intelligent, open-minded people (and thus won't have to make any big decisions on his own), and he can just be the loud and charismatic mouthpiece.

I'm still hoping good will come of this. Maybe he can be the unapologetic scapegoat the country needs to do some of the things no one else wants to do. The world seems to be moving towards a more inward-looking period (see: Brexit), and maybe the US, too, needs to look inward and focus on the repairs needed in our own country. Obama started the process of lessening the US's role as the world protector, and maybe it'll be a good time to withdraw troops from around the world and start bringing everyone home.

Start focusing on our domestic problems and needs: homelessness, education, infrastructure.

You know, rebuild this country and make it great again.

Okay, sorry. Not funny right now, but I fight to remain optimistic and see possibility in every situation.

I know I'm just showing my ignorance and naiveté now, but I want to believe that the US, truly a global leader, will keep its head up through thick and thin.

And just maybe, when confronted with hate and anger, we need to be even more idealistic and loving and generous. We have to focus on something positive, or we'll never make progress.

So! Maybe we really will come together as a country and move forward. You never know.

There's always an upside. Sometimes, you just have to dig deep to find it.


  1. Hey Jennifer! Found out about your blogs thanks to the mail you sent. I want to say I am sorry to hear about your troubles. I have been here for 7 years now and I have to say the first year and a half was sheer nightmare! For a bunch of reasons that are similar and different to yours. I was the only stranger here, my husband is from here and we were living with the in-laws. But it was the first time I became a stay at home mom and could not write what with all the mommying things I had to do. All I can say is that if you ever need help or to vent, I am there. I didn't have anyone I could complain to, and that made things worse.
    Hang in there!

  2. Thanks, Moushumi. It's funny. I know staying at home with our children is a luxury (one that I wished for when I had my first child), but now that I'm actually doing it, I think it's much harder than working at a job. Things are getting better (slowly), but thanks so much for your support and kind words. It's always nice to know we're not alone. :-)