Monday, December 13, 2010

PEKIP

I first heard about PEKIP through some of other parents I met here in Germany who had gone through it with their children. I knew that it was a class that mostly mothers attend with their babies during baby's first year of life, that you attend with babies of similar age, that it's taught by some sort of licensed instructors, and that it's - well - in German. So after getting a recommendation from Simon's physical therapist (who, incidentally, has a grandson born on Simon's due date) we finally entered our first PEKIP class in November!

The first day did not get off to a good start. I arrived at the address where I thought the class was being held, but could find no sign of it. I called Martin (who had to come out of a meeting) and asked him to check my email because it appeared I was at the wrong spot. I had been corresponding with the instructor in German, so I would not have been surprised to have misunderstood where the class. Turns out - I was at the right address. What I had overlooked was the words im Hof, which means more or less in the Garden. I hadn't noticed or thought to check a little courtyard area that you can find behind many buildings. Only 10 minutes late - we had arrived!

We walked in and joined 7 other mamas and their babies on the floor mats of a nicely heated room. All of the babies were either naked or their diapers, so I stripped Simon down to his unterhosen as well.


I would describe it as a support group for moms. We sing songs and give the babies a chance to play and interact together. Most importantly, it gives moms a venue to connect with other moms and talk about frustrations, successes, worries, doubts, etc. Is this normal? What should I do? When should I start this? It reminds me of Parents Anonymous, a support group program for parents in the US, only with a name that doesn't seem to suggest some sort of parenting deficiency (love the program, not the name).

The song we open with has these lyrics, which I think are a good reminder to all parents:

Erst ich und dann du (First me and then you)

Good stuff.

Simon's best German buddy - Tim.

For me, it has been a great opportunity to meet German friends and force myself further into German culture. I participate in German, and usually understand what we are talking about, but maybe not everything that is being said. And, of course, Simon loves playing with his new buddies!

A quick google search lends a more formal explanation as to what the program is and where it got started. You can find it here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kindergarten

(I started this post in August)
I was recently asked if we had picked out a Kindergarten for Simon yet - "there's a 2 year wait, you know." WHAT?? NO - I DON'T KNOW!! Here I am, looking at my sweet little 6 month old boy, thinking about when I am going to start solids - not where is he going to go to Kindergarten. So the search for a German Kindergarten begins. (Let me point out that 1 year ago today (August 26) I still didn't even KNOW that I was pregnant, or that I was moving to Germany - so I don't feel too bad about being behind the ball on this one.)


(And now I am continuing)
First, let's talk about the word Kindergarten. It is a German word that literally means "children's garden" and in the US it usually refers to the first year of school. However, in Germany it is more like preschool, and usually starts after the child turns 3. So apparently, I am not looking for a Kindergarten, but a Kita. From what I gather, it's like daycare/preschool. And for whatever reason, it has recently become harder to enroll your kids in Kita and people usually start before their baby is due.

Here's what I know about the process so far:
  • There are 4 different types of Kitas, (private, public, coops, and Tagesmutter)
  • Waits can be from 1-3 years (coops have the longest waits)
  • Most people apply to several (or many - someone told me 16!!) and hope to get accepted somewhere.
  • Some are bilingual (German/English)
So, I really don't know much, and that's because I really haven't done much about it. I guess if there is any chance that I work while I am here that I need to start checking into it. It's one of those things that I just keep putting off. For now, I am happy at home with my little guy.


Friday, November 19, 2010

In-law Land

Simon and I made another trip to Sweden in October - our second since we got to Europe! It was my first time flying alone with Simon. I had to get creative but it worked out. :)



Simon also experienced his first snow on our first morning in Stockholm (October 21!). Luckily it wasn't sticking around, as my my Farmor (Simon's Grandma), Simon and I were heading out on a 3 hour drive to Vastervik, Sweden to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday.


Marina, my sister-in-law, also has a 5-month old girl, Nora, so it was quite the full house. Simon LOVED being around his cousins. He was so well-behaved (during the days) while we were there that Marina finally asked if he ever cried. Simon and Nora could sit in their highchairs facing each other and play forever. Even though it was a bit hectic with all the kids, it still felt like a break. Simon and I stayed with Marina and Johan for a week before heading back to Stockholm where Pappa joined us.

















We were able to dress Simon up for his first Halloween!



















I have to admit, I am excited for Christmas! And watch out world - I think Simon will be crawling!

Want to see more pictures? Check then out here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

St. Martin's Day

November 11 is St. Martin's Day here in Germany. No, it's not a day to celebrate my husband ( I do that everyday, of course!). I didn't know much about it, but I knew that it was something that children celebrate with parades - and there was going to be one in our neighborhood, so we decided to check out. I got Simon bundled up and headed out to find the parade (his first!). Sure enough, I found its source at a local Kindergarten where parents, kids and Kinderwagens (strollers) were streaming out. All of the children and many of the Kinderwagens were sporting paper lanters - all with various colors and shapes. From what I could tell, most of them are now electric rather than sporting real candles.

What I hadn't realized, was that this was more of a participatory parade than a spectator parade. Simon and I walked along the sidewalk while the parade streamed down the barricaded streets of Pempelfort. Bands played and children sang traditional St. Martin's day songs. And all along parents and children continued to join the parade. We made it to the front of the parade and found St. Martin himself leading the parade, riding a horse and wearing a red cloak. If only Simon were a little older (and not asleep) to enjoy in the excitement.

Admittedly, because we were not participating it really was not a terribly exciting event. But in some ways it was. It got me to thinking about the time when Simon will enjoy these kinds of things - and the joy it will in turn bring us. I can't wait!

(For a real explanation of St. Martin's Day in Germany, click here.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Love/Hate

Sundays. I have a love/hate relationship with Sundays now that I live in Germany. Saturdays too, really. It has been nearly 5 months and it really hasn't changed much. I thought it would. I thought I would appreciate it more by now. But it's hard sometimes. An adjustment. I am still adjusting.

The thing is, in Germany everything is closed on Sundays. I mean everything. The grocery store at the airport is open, most restaurants are open for at least part of the day, and I guess gas stations are open . The rest - shopping, groceries, etc. - closed. When we first moved here, I thought it was so perfect - it forces you to take Sunday and relax, not go out running errands all day, feeling like you have to be productive. But in doing so, it has turned Saturday into a clusterf*&k of squeezing it all in.

Today is Saturday, for example. It wasn't bad, really, but here's how it went:

7:30 - Wake up and feed Simon
8-9:30 - Clean the kitchen, play with Simon, feed Simon
9:30-11:30 - Simon naps, I go to the market, Martin cleans up around house
12-2 - IKEA (it's painful, but it has to be done sometimes)
2-3 - No idea - suddenly it was 3
3-5 - Met some friends for coffee (and to check their car seat!)
5-6 - Simon napping in stroller, we did our grocery shopping
6-7 - Made dinner
7-8 - Fed Simon and put him to bed

So, not a bad day, I'll admit. We are getting better at this. But nonetheless there is this constant stress hanging over my head on Saturdays. What are we going to eat on Sunday? Monday morning? The fruit-veggies shops and the butcher shops close by 2 or 3, so think ahead, way ahead. Want to bake a cake? Make soup? Better be prepared!

But then Sunday rolls around, and we can't go back to IKEA to return the defective pillow case (it's always something) and we can't go get Simon a new toy. And I can't make that soup because I don't have the beans and I can't make the cake because I forgot we are out of flour and eggs. So maybe we will just relax, organize the house, do some yoga. If it's not raining, we'll take a nice walk. Maybe Simon can even play on the swings. It's just that to get to Sunday, you have to get through Saturday, and it's not always pleasant. And on Sunday, you have to just let go.

But I am learning - it's getting better. There are a lot of new things here - a lot of adjustments to make. Some days it's easier to accept them than others. Today was one of our best Saturdays. We are still adjusting.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Time for me

I didn't know quite what to feel about spending my first night away from Simon. I was excited, really, about being free of that responsibility for more than an hour or two, but unsure if this emotion was appropriate. Should it be killing me inside? Should I be sick with separation anxiety and go back early? Hmmm....not so much.

We left Simon in the excellent care of his Grandma and headed out for German wine country, only a one hour drive from Dusseldorf. I couldn't imagine not seeing Simon for a whole 24 hours - but I was ready. We had been planning this for months, knowing that my mom would be in town and this would be a rare opportunity for us to have childcare we were comfortable with for Simon. I started pumping over a month in advance to make sure he had enough milk while I was gone. (I know - after all that milk I donated I was a slave to the pump once again!)

And really, it was great! Even though I missed Simon like crazy, it wasn't hard to be away from him. I didn't think about him every second, and I enjoyed spending time with my husband.

Two days later I was headed to London to visit my Dallas colleagues who were there for a conference. Once at the airport waiting to board the plane, I realized that this felt different. A one hour drive versus a one hour flight - I had a small knot in my stomach, and I kept thinking if my flight got canceled I wouldn't be too disappointed. That flight, that act of getting on a plane and flying away from Simon, that felt different.

Once in London with my old friends, however, it seemed somehow surreal that I had a little baby waiting for me back in Germany. I missed him, but I needed my time as well. I had rarely stepped out of the apartment with Simon in tow. It was time for me, and I needed it and I loved it and I missed him.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

60 Years!

Herzlich zum Geburtstag to my fabulous father - today he turns 60! He's celebrating with my pregnant sister in Charleston, and having a fabulous time on the beach, I am sure.



Today I want to honor my father and the amazing 60 years he has lived. He has been an amazing father and taught me so much about life - always live it to its fullest. He is the epitome of Minnesota friendly, has a contagious smile, tells stories better than anyone I know, and well - he's awesome!

Here are some of the highlights from the 6 decades he has been around (mostly from when I have known him - I am sure there are many more I missed):

  1. He was pronounced dead - but lived to tell about it. (Or hear about it - he was still a baby.)
  2. He invented paintball, but unfortunately did not have the wherewithal to patent the game. Oh well.
  3. He fell through the ice on a snowmobile - and only managed to break back through as his breath was running out.
  4. He has ridden an ostrich.
  5. He has watched more hours of Little House on the Prarie than most dads.
  6. He is the best turtle catcher EVER!
  7. He went waterskiing with his dog.
  8. He has purchase and driven more Buick Road Masters than ANYONE at any age.
  9. Gotten out of more speeding tickets than anyone I know. (Favorite - Got a speeding ticket in a speed trap in the morning. Pulled over in same speed trap a few hours later - different cop. "What kind of idiot do you think I am - I know there's a speed trap here I have a ticket from this morning. This is a rental car - must be broken." Not only does cop not give him another ticket - he rips up the first one. And just to clarify, nothing was wrong with the car.
  10. Has made loads of the best banana bread that never even get a chance to cool - YUM!
  11. He can cook a whole chicken on 13 charcoals. Maybe less. But he's got it down to science and he's very good at it.
  12. He sometimes starts a sentence with, "I saw on Oprah the other day..." and then has to admit that he watches Oprah (occasionally).
  13. He made bulgogi a household menu item. (Thanks Aunt Sandy for passing it on!)
  14. He has served more turkey dinners than his years suggest - time of year is not important, just food, family and friends - that's all the occasion you need!
  15. He racked up miles hauling kids to practice...
  16. He sent 3 daughters to Mac where they got a great education. And he financed it by selling used access flooring - if that's not a niche market, I don't know what is.
  17. He is a master road tripper - I don't even want to know how many hours straight he has driven with his sleeping family in the back (of the Buick Road Master, of course).
  18. Who needs a dune buggy? Picture this - Buick Road Master with two kids in the car topper, three sitting on the open back edge with legs dangling off, and driver and passenger each sitting in the window sill. On cruise control being driven by Dad's foot.
This is just scratching the surface of what my father has done in his life, and what makes him such an amazing person. I am so lucky to have him in my life as a father and a grandpa to Simon (who we believe attempted to sing Happy Birthday on Skype today).

Happy 60th Dad - I love you!

Simon dressed up for Grandpa's birthday and we even had some cake!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Links, links, rechts

Links, links, rechts! Links, links, rechts! Zeit! (Left, left, right! Left, left, right! Time!)

I felt like I was in boot camp tonight as I embarked on my Probestraining (trial training) at a local boxing studio. After having a baby and moving to Germany, I am looking for ways to get back into shape, and boxing sounded different and exciting. So a few weeks ago I dropped by the studio and talked to the owner (in German) about the Fitnessboxing Kurs. In my halting German, I understood it to be somewhat like Tae-Bo, but a little less perky…

When I walked into the studio tonight I caught the last few minutes of the previous course. I was already a little intimidated to be in this group setting when my German isn’t very good, and then I heard Herr Trainer barking orders. Yikes! (Here I must tell you that I have a theory about yelling in foreign language – probably German in particular. When you don’t understand exactly what’s going on, it’s easy to imagine things much worse than they are. I will take my in-laws as an example. As I don’t really understand much Swedish, there have been many times when yelling is taking place at the Oppenheimer household, and I misunderstand it for much more than it is, imagining great feuds and family turmoil. It's usually just talking, according to my husband.)

I digress – back to boxing. We started by jumping rope for about 10 minutes. Sounds simple enough, but it was easy to pick out the Anfangers (beginners) – our feet kept getting in the way. The next hour was filled with boxing, sit-ups, push-ups, and sprints –with Herr Trainer barking orders (I just followed the other Anfangers). Needless to say, it was nothing like Tae-bo and I think I will be hurting tomorrow. Despite Herr Trainer’s less than amiable demeanor, I think I will try to give it another shot. Maybe there is a little boxer in me…

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

6 Monate

Hard to believe that my little boy is 6 months old today. 35 more of these and we will be shipping him off to college. Whoa - getting ahead of myself there!!


Here are a few things he's accomplished:
  • Spent 45 days in the hospital and still came home 1 month before his due date.
  • Quadrupled his birth weight. He weighed 3 lb, 6 oz (1.5 kg) when he was born, and he is now over over 14 lbs (6 kg)
  • Increased his length by more than 50% - 16 in (41 cm) at birth and now over 25 in (63 cm).
  • Rolled over front to back and back to front!
  • Ate some banana (today f0r - the first time) and he liked it!
  • Been to 8 US states (Texas, Arkansas, Tennesee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota) and 4 countries (US, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands).
  • Been to 2 professional sporting events - a Mavs playoff game and a Twins game at the new stadium.
There's so much more out there to experience with him - can't wait. I think we'll start with Paris in September. :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Baby Nephew

Simon has a new cousin coming soon - my sister Kate is due November 3rd. She found out she was pregnant the day I went into labor, which was also the same day my other sister got officially married. Crazy sister day...



Anyways, like so many families we are spread out across the globe which makes these important life moments tougher. I guess I always thought my sisters and I would raise our little bambinos together - take turns watching each other's kids while we ran errands, started working again, or went to yoga. I haven't given up hope. :)

While Kate was visiting MN one last time before becoming a mom, she had a baby shower, and I skyped in to say hello. Here's what I said to my sister:

Motherhood is such a defining moment in a woman’s life. So many changes that no matter how you prepare yourself, you cannot fully anticipate them. It is the start of a love a that is unparalleled, and the end of a lifestyle that you will never truly know again. It also redefines words that used to mean one thing - and will forever (or at least for a while) mean another. Here are a few examples:

Blow-out - No longer refers to the Vikings 0-41 loss to the New York Giants in the 2001 NFC championship game. We laughed so hard at Simon’s first one - I encourage you to do the same.

All-nighter - Has nothing to do with studying for boards, cramming for an anatomy exam, or dancing ‘til dawn. Cherish those moments - they grow up quickly, and you will miss those intimate late night rendezvous at the crib.

Modesty - Out the window! After bearing it all for childbirth, and swollen leaky breasts, the word just changes meaning. Your boobs will peak out when your little man beckons - whenever, wherever.

Sleep - Well, sleep still means sleep. It’s just that you get a little less at first. They’re only babies once though - so it must get better, right?

Mom - You have one, you work with them all day, but to become one is entirely new and unique. You will define (and redefine) this every day for the rest of your life.

In need of a shower - It’s not always easy to find time to shower - and sometimes it’s just not high on the priority list. But if you do make into the shower, it’s sometimes also challenging to remember where you are in the process. I have found if you are not sure if you already shampooed, just do it again. This may result in 3 shampoo sessions in one shower, but who knows when you will shower again?

Husband - This is big - husband becomes father! The love continues to grow and evolve as you see your big man with your little man- amazing!

I wish I could be there to celebrate with you today. I am so happy for you and Josh and can’t wait to meet the little guy!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Skype

What would my life be like without Skype? It's not just that I moved abroad and it's a great way to stay in touch with friends and family - Martin and I have beenusing it for years to keep in touch with his family. When our nephew was born nearly 2 years ago, we spent that first Christmas setting up Skype accounts for the rest of the family. At the time Arivd was just 2 months old - and we didn't see him again until this past weekend...but that's not exactly true.



Although we hadn't physically seen him in a year and a half, we had watched him grow up on Skype - saw him play with his new toys, checked out his new teeth, and watched him scoot across the floor - and then start walking! And seeing him now - we weren't strangers. He knew how to say our names (even Baby Simon!)


While it's not ideal, I am so grateful for it. It makes living abroad so much easier for both us (one of us will always live abroad) and makes me feel better knowing that my family isn't totally missing out on my life - and I am not totally missing out on theirs.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Big Week!

Last week was a big week for Simon. At the beginning of the week, he started taking more interest in his toys, opening his hands more to play with them. He sat and stared and touched - you could just see those neurons connecting - it was exhausting just to watch!

Then on Wednesday he had his first physical therapy appointment. It's pretty typical for preemies to get a little extra help in PT so that they don't fall too far behind. We got a few exercises to help his stretch out his neck and strengthen his core - and the next day he rolled over!
video

As a new mom, it's amazing how exciting these things are. You're heard other moms go through the excitement before - but there's nothing like it when it's your own. And, for me at least, it's a subtle excitement. Not "Woo hoo Simon rolled over - let's party," but more like, "Wow, somehow we created you and you can do these amazing things like rollover. Can't wait to see what's next." It's just fun being a mom - you should try it if you haven't already.

Settling in

We have been in our apartment for almost a month now. It means we have a home, we have our things (although not enough space for them), and for me it really means that our life here begins. It's now easier to work on getting Simon into some sort of routine, and me as well. I get to explore our neighborhood, identify my favorite bakeries, fruit markets and Metzgerei (butcher shops). I can start working on my German, making friends, and most importantly - planning some weekend getaways!

Here are some highlights so far:
  • I found a great Bio Supermarkt near our house - that's an organic grocery store. And it seems organic is cheaper here...
  • First weekend getaway - Sverige to see the in-laws. 3 cousins within 19 months of each other - FUN!
  • I stalked an American couple with a baby I saw in my neighborhood. They have virtually introduced me to a group of English-speaking parents who meet up regularly with their little ones. Hoping to actually meet them soon. :
  • We live in an awesome neighborhood. Dusseldorf Hofgarten (Dusseldorf's largest park), the Rhein, Alt Stadt (Old Town), Konigsallee (shopping area) area all within walking distance and provide ample exploring opportunities.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The German Kitchen

Moving into a German apartment has been quite an experience - not what you would expect with a rental. First of all, most German apartments do not come with a kitchen. Correct - NO KITCHEN! Now, there is a room that is the kitchen, and it might have some pipes coming out, but no appliances, sink, countertops, cabinets, etc. So you must bring your own kitchen to each apartment. It has been explained to me that this way the renter has the kitchen they want. Hmm.....This is one I just can't wrap my head around. We were fortunate to move into an apartment after a French couple who were not interested in taking their kitchen with them back to France (because French apartments already have kitchens) and we were able to buy their kitchen from them. (Although I did wonder, if we didn't buy it - what were they going to do with it?) So, we have a kitchen (but we did have to buy a dish washer and fridge.)

Another big difference was that most German apartments, like ours, do not have closets. You have to purchase Kleiderschranksysteme (wardrobes) for your bedrooms, storage for your bathrooms, etc. (This might explain why Germany is IKEA's biggest market.)

Needless to say, our apartment is still a huge mess. We are trying to figure out how to tuck all the clutter away without that linen closet, or hall closet...But hey - we live in Europe!!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Simon Says

A little background on the name of this blog....

Of course I always knew that having a kid would be alife-changing event. I mean, I have always been the kind of person that likes routine and maybe a bit of control. Before I had a baby, I swam, did yoga, read books, enjoyed cooking - and I hated to miss any of it. I liked things that way - my way. But, having a kid changes all that. When Simon entered my life, I said goodbye to my schedule and hello to his.

So, yeah, my son's name is Simon. He came into the world in dramatic fashion 11 weeks before his due date. This caused me to miss my sister's wedding the next week in Mexico, although I was able to attend via Skype. I still gave my wedding speech, joking that I was not able to be there because we were playing a new game in my family called "Simon Says."


When Simon was just 3 months old, we hauled him across the pond and moved to Dusseldorf, Germany. New baby, new language, new culture - why not?


Of course, you can't really live your life by the rules of "Simon Says." While my son may change my life, he won't make all the rules(or so I tell myself). The same applies to navigating life in a foreign country - while I will learn about the new cultural norms in Germany, I may not follow them all. Unlike the game, however, it doesn't mean I'm out. I get to keep being a mom, and keep living in Germany, learning as I go.

This blog is a collection of my experiences as a new mom and as a foreigner in Germany. I don't know what the future holds, but I can't wait to find out. And don't worry, I'll tell you all about it.