Sunday, December 29, 2013

The History of the Middle Child in Car Trips

When he was a roly-poly rambunctious 18-month-old, he chugged down bottle after bottle of formula on long car trips.
After each bottle, I'd say, "Now, sweetie, just hand Mommy your bottle."
And without fail, he'd hurl it over his shoulder and it would land anyplace but where we could find it.  After one such trip, the car started smelling funny.  It smelled funnier and funnier, to the point where my husband vacuumed the whole car and I swabbed the seats (with this fantastic German cleaner called Frosch) and after a while the car smelled not quite as funny, but that dead rat odor was still around somewhere.  One day my husband rolled up his sleeves and reached under--way under--every single seat.   But a good six or eight months had elapsed since the bottle had first gone missing.  We had, in fact, forgotten all about it.  Now it turned up--under a seat and still half-full of some now very green, astonishingly thick, formula.
We tried boiling the bottle, once we'd emptied it, a task in itself.  Bye-bye bottle.
Then came Reading In the Car and fortunately all three kids love that.  Lately it's The Hunger Games, and when I insist after an hour that I need to rest my voice, he is the most vocal, insisting, "READ!" But he does let me rest.
On this last six-hour trek to Bavaria, he was eating a boiled egg, and according to him it left a few bits of eggshell all over his plastic plate, which did not mix with the Zwieback.  
"So could I just open the window and shake the eggshells off my plate, Mom?"
We were going down the Autobahn at 100 kph.
"Noo . . . . "  But my cry went unheard in the whoosh of wind that blew in as he opened the window and stuck out his plate.
Bye-Bye, plate.  
On the way home he laughed the loudest at tales of his infancy . . . like the time he marched into his big brother's room, slammed him in the back with his fist, and beat a hasty retreat to his own room where, cornered by me, who unbeknownst to him had observed all, said, "Gee, Mommy, I accidentally walked into L's room because I somehow thought it was my own and then by accident my arm just swung around somehow and I really didn't mean to hit him, Mommy."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Helmut Schmidt's 95th Birthday and the Critical Mom

For what would Herr Schmidt like to be remembered?
Taking a drag on his cigarette, Herr Schmidt gazed thoughtfully into middle distance, and replied, "That I recognized my duty and I did it."
Should Obama live so long, and should he have any successes, would he say, "That yes, I did it!  I fulfilled my dream of leading the American nation!"
What would Queen Elizabeth say?  Prince Charles?  Any Brit?  That they did the moral thing.  (Take that, coloniality!)
We have recognized our duty:  to eat, drink, and be merry, and we are doing it right now.  The children sit before their tablets and cell phones, making horrid luridly-colored figures hop up and down on railroad tracks, and I sit answering my email, and my husband slept a little later than usual, and we're about to go shopping for things we don't need one little bit.
It's Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Preliminaries and the Critical Mom

 "I just ran into Frau X, your classmate's mother," I start to tell my eldest.
"Did it hurt?"
"Where's your Christmas spirit?" I ask.
"In that piece of cake you wouldn't let me eat."
"Well, you asked me to be strict about your diet.  So I'm being strict."
He grins.  At home he'll request, and receive, a quesadilla.  His brother is bored and tired and says so.  We are on our way home from the Christmas concert at their school, where they sang carols in Chinese and the eldest played clarinet with the orchestra.  There's a full moon, a few clouds drifting past it, and the tram is very, very delayed, so we take a different tram and walk a little more and now everybody's home, safe and sound, and a good time was had by all.  I remembered to give the music teachers and the cleaning lady and the soccer coaches little bags of Christmas goodies, and there's a big plastic bag of refrigerator-cookie dough just waiting to be rolled out, baked, and decorated.  Christmas cards are done . . . they need only be inscribed and mailed . . . . and as for the presents, they'll wrap themselves.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Critical Mom and Puberty, Round Two

The boundlessly energetic soccer-goal-scoring eleven-year-old has a hoarse voice and Mommy thought it was a sore throat.  Oops, voice changing.  He has just been invited to a birthday party by a girl.
"I don't know why she would invite ME!"  An incredulous look.  My husband and I lock eyes, each willing the other not to announce, "Because she likes you!" which I made the mistake of telling his older brother once upon a time back in our first round of sixth grade.
Our soccer player makes a hobby of getting his teacher's goat.
"Hey, Mom, here's a note in my assignments book you have to sign."  I read it.  It reminded me of the time his first-grade teacher scribbled a similar note complaining that our kid had burped extra-loud on purpose and disturbed the class.
This time, the teacher had said, "if one more person makes one more sound I'll write a note in your book!"
So our kid said, "Beep!" and handed her his book.
His teacher is blonde, sweet, quite beautiful, and would be most suited to leading a class of repressed, placid, not overly intelligent little girls.  Instead she's got the boys, most of whom are extremely bright and none of whom like to sit still.  In English class she makes them sing, 

Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick.
So she phoned for the doctor to be quick, quick, quick.
The doctor came with his bag and his hat
And he knocked at the door with a rat-a-tat-tat.
He looked at the dolly and he shook his head
And he said “Miss Polly, put her straight to bed!”
He wrote on a paper for a pill, pill, pill
“I’ll be back in the morning yes I will, will, will.” 

Now, the very few girls in the class enjoy waving the props as they sing:  holding up the dolly, then the doctor's bag.  After that they sing "Five little ducks" and the girls squeak the rubber ducks.  Our kid scowls and pretends to mouth the words when the teacher is looking,  and when she looks away, he stands thinking of what a mess Percy and Annabeth have gotten themselves into, falling into Tartarus, and whether Drakon will rescue them.

Here's hoping they give our soccer player some tough old war horse who understands guys next year.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Critical Mom's Conversations With Her Kids

"So have your friends changed since you've known them in fifth grade?"
"Well . . . (thoughtful pause) A is taller, and B is taller, and C is taller, and D is taller . .  ."
"Is that what you wanted to know Mom?"
"I mean . .  ."
"Also A. is still a human, B is a human, C is a human, and D is a Homo Sapiens.  OK, Mom?"

This morning, this sub-zero morning, I insisted that my other kid put on his warm Winter jacket, a conversation that resolves itself in ever-inventive ways almost every morning.

"Mom, stay out of my personal affairs!" said he.

"Good vocabulary," commented my husband.

I put a meal in front of my daughter.  "Mommy, I did not ASK for that!"

Oh, it is the Christmas season.  Ho ho ho.  Merry Merry Merry.  And as soon as they all have enough sleep, they'll be angels.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Critical Mom's Midterms

This morning, after staying up way too late putting together a midterm that I was supposed to give today, I left it sitting on my desk.  In the nanosecond I spent remembering to tell my daughter where her swimsuit was, I forgot the midterms, which are still cooling their heels on my desk, after my husband spent all that time printing them out for me on our only functional printer, and after I spent an unplanned amount of time teaching the class instead of giving the exam.  That called for inspiration, the child of desperation, but it all went just fine.
When I walked up to the tram stop this morning with my eldest son, before I even realized the exams were not in my bag, we saw the "two minutes" sign announcing the tram, and joked about whether we'd wait two minutes by the clock or "too minutes," as in too many minutes.  Funny how ten minutes go by while the announcement board insists that we're waiting "two" minutes, or that the tram is coming sofort, or immediately.
Immediately can last a long time in Deutschland these days.
Next Tuesday, I will compensate my students for their anticipatory anxiety (which I may be imagining . . . they are either politely lying or genuinely relieved) with some chocolates. And that perfectly-printed midterm.  
One of my plans, never realized, is to get some sleep.  At the moment I don't see that happening.  For one thing, there's the 72-euro guinea pig sitting downstairs waiting for me to medicate her infected paw.  Yes, 72 euros--that's what the weekend emergency trip to the vet, plus oral antibiotic, plus antibiotic ointment and iodine, cost.  Plus she needs a checkup.  But she's been awfully sweet about the whole thing.  Her husband bit me on the finger when I lifted her out of the cage, though.  I wouldn't call it chivalry, since he tends to snatch food out of her mouth--or her paws.  But all the same, he misses her.  So I better go downstairs right now and attend to that paw.  

P.S.  The 72-euro piggie is now the  128-euro piggie, having had an operation to remove a stone in her urinary tract.  But she is bearing up, bearing up.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A New York Thanksgiving in Northern Germany

We celebrated on Saturday, November 30 since Thursday is business as usual here--besides, both my daughter and I didn't want to skip our ballet classes.
When I picked up our 15-lb (7.5 kilo) bird at the market, the lady handed it to me with a cheerful, "Happy Advent!"
Here I am busy with the pilgrims, the Indians and the harvest festival, while the Germans already have their noses into Christmas.  Way in.  Christmas trees have sprouted everywhere by the middle of November.   Their harvest festival was at least three weeks ago.
The day the turkey had to go into the oven was also the day we had to visit another gymnasium for the child who will go there next year (it was great, except for the nuns) and get my daughter to ballet class, too.  So we charged home at 11:00 and I speed-smeared the bird with butter (after rinsing it off, of course, and removing what passes for giblets around here--a neck.  I cut off the parson's nose and those two items became the basis for what turned out to be a really good gravy)
So I set them aside, and after smearing the bird with enough cholesterol to choke a camel, covered it with strips of bacon, stuffed it with the celery-bread-onion-butter stuffing I use every year, and put it in the oven at--this year--only 150º C (about 300ºF) where it incubated the whole time we were visiting the gymnasium.  When we got home around 1:00 I examined and basted, and by 3:30 kicked up the heat to 160º C (320ºF) where it continued to bake nicely and only around 5:00 did I really turn up the heat to 200º (392º).  For, maybe twenty minutes.
The turkey was as juicy and tender as it could be, accompanied by yams, mashed parsnips with baby carrots mixed in, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, mashed pumpkin mixed with a bit of the leftover pumpkin pie filling and baked, and cranberry-orange sauce.
We ate until we were comatose, drank champagne, sherry, and wine, watched Mr. Bean's Holiday and had apple pie, pumpkin pie, and ice cream.
I pasted the December 2 New Yorker cover of a car with a massive turkey tied to the rooftop on our door.