Tuesday, November 27, 2012
She can wear my sweaters now
When I was teaching high school German, I took a group of students on an exchange trip to Stuttgart. Esther was two and a half and I remember freaking out about leaving her, to travel abroad with a dozen or so children who didn't belong to me, for three whole weeks.
Eventually we arranged for Ian to bring Esther over to Germany from England for the final week. It was the first time I had been away , truly far away, from my child for longer than four or five days. I remember having to ask other mothers if it was alright. As if Esther might possibly be harmed somehow by the sudden absence of her mother. Motherhood has always messed with my unnaturally guilty-filled head like this.
Once I got to Germany, and learned from Ian that Esther was fine, and realized that I was fine too, the sense of physical and mental liberation was profound. Not only was I free, in the physical sense, my freedom came in this very clear context of intellectual freedom, an essential element of life which, from the moment I delivered my baby, seemed to come to a screeching halt.
Now I was in in a foreign country, Germany, responsible for escorting students around Berlin and Stuttgart and other regions, and, most importantly, speaking German almost exclusively in the home of my German exchange partner.
Every day I had to dig deep to prove myself and communicate with all the teachers at our German exchange school. Every day I was called on as a teacher, and a mother of sorts, by any of my dozen students, to solve some problem or other. But also, I was free to explore and absorb and simply enjoy my temporary reprieve from the domestic confines of motherhood. In short, I did not change one diaper or vacuum for three solid weeks.
In my free hours, yes hours, I wandered the streets of Stuttgart. I visited art museums and galleries. I resisted stopping at every fresh-pretzel bakery I passed. I went out of my way to find the longest possible way home and walked, sometimes two hours, through city streets and along woodsy walking paths, to get there. I lost five pounds in two weeks simply from all the walking.
And every night I went to bed with an aching head, swollen with all the new German words and brain twisting grammar rules I was now being forced to actually use, rather than simply recite. The pain of foreign- language acquisition is an exquisite kind of pain. Pain with purpose.
Then, after two weeks, I went to the airport to meet Ian and Esther, who had hopped over from visiting Granny in London. And it wasn't until they were in my sights, behind that glass that separates customs from the arrivals waiting area, that I realized how much I had missed them. By the time they were within reach, I was a sobbing mess. I hugged Esther's little body so hard and cried so many tears I couldn't speak. She pulled away from me, looked into my flooded eyes and said, "Wha' happen'?"
I laughed and answered, "Nothing, Essie. Nothing happened. I'm just so happy to see you."
The minute we were all together in the car, with my host at the wheel, heading back to the house, and my host started speaking English to Esther and Ian, mommy's little foreign escapade was over.
I realized the trade-off of being reunited with my family. And I struggled with the confusion of being both elated to see them again, and disappointed to feel the spell of all-German- all -the- time be broken.
Anyway, the sweater Esther is wearing in this picture-- I bought it at Benetton on the Kønigstrasse in Stuttgart. I've got a bright orange one too. My new, forty-something mom figure can't really pull them off like it used to-- they're a bit tight--so I gave them to Esther.
I love seeing her in them.