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 KĂžnigstrasse 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.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Those hands, that butterfly cake


I've mentioned Ian's good hands before. The ones I married him for.
I've told that story, right?


I explained the way everything about Ian, when we first met, seemed to fall into place, one piece at a time, as if I had been waiting for him to show up and finish my puzzle for me all my life. And how on the way home from our first dinner date, the one I showed up an hour late for because... well, that's a story I haven't yet told, he walked me back home through the snow-glazed streets of Lienz, Austria-- one of my favorite competition sites where the race course snakes down the mountain through the trees and sends you catapaulting down a final waterfall-steep headwall, and spits you out right at the sidewalk's edge of the village. And on that walk, Ian reached for my hand, for the first time, and caught my fingers in his and pulled me into his world right then and there.
And it felt a little bit like going through the wardrobe and into another, more pure, more promising world than the one I'd been inhabiting for so many years.



 Well those same hands made two- dozen butterfly cupcakes, orange and lemon sponge cake with butter and powdered sugar frosting,  for Isla's birthday party over the weekend. (I suspect he used this Delia Smith, he's loyal to Delia, recipe.

The man, and his hands, never fails to surprise and amaze me with his ability to bust out the cookbook, or, in this case, find a video tutorial of the British persuasion, and produce the most amazing edible concoctions.



 These butterflies ended up getting snowed on in the end.  It's always snowing in Narnia. A light dusting of "icing sugar." They also got gobbled up, no scraps left behind, by a rather modest number of party guests at the ice skating rink where we had the party.






And when his hands were done with performing kitchen alchemy, they washed up nicely and deftly fastened Isla's new birthday locket, given to her by my parents, inside which she intends, as soon as Daddy prints out the right size image for her,  to keep a picture of her beloved dog Ruby, gone but in no way forgotten.

"We'll never forget Ruby, will we mom?"

"Never, Isla. Never."

Sunday, November 04, 2012

November is so transparent

Just before Super Sandy huffed and puffed and blew the rest of the leaves down.


And unexpectedly beautiful with her 50 shades of brown, tucked in so neatly under the puffy, thick, gray quilt of sky.

And she's well put together. Her dried up gray milk pods are the same color as the sky.

The beauty of the  bare silver birch trees reflected on the surface of the dark pond takes you by surprise. As does the patchwork pattern of brown on purple, purple on brown, across the surrounding hillsides, defiantly proving that even impending death, complete dormancy, can be beautiful.

November hides nothing. How could she when she's been stripped totally bare naked. Down to bark and pulp. 

And she makes no promises. She knows better. She knows she is pretty much the end of the line. Just one more month to go behind her before it all starts over again.

I never thought I would say this, especially after the frighteningly listless past few weeks I've had, but I am actually looking forward to seeing, feeling, what kind of cosmic shift November brings.

I use this new-age language, not my mother tongue, because the shift is already happening. 

November 1st was a hellish, snot-infested, all-over body aches and chills, generally depressing affair, complete with an uninsured dentist appointment where I learned I need to have a crown replaced. (I've been ignoring my broken tooth for months.)

 A crown. For the whopping price of, yep, you guessed it, just about the total that Christmas was going to cost back before I learned Christmas might not be coming this year. Well, not the kind of Christmas my kids are hoping for, the kind with beaucoup presents.

Sorry kids, I'll say, flashing them my shiny new gold crown, mommy was the only one to get anything sparkly this year. I'm exaggerating, kind of, but if anyone had told me I would one day, in my mid forties, shudder with financial terror at the thought of an unexpected dental procedure, I'd have ignored them.

"Oh don't be such a pessimist,"I would think. "There will always be money. Right."

Maybe not. But, despite the inauspicious start to a normally inauspicious  month, each new day of November, and its decided "here we go folks, you didn't actually think we could skip this part, did you?" air, has seen my spirits rise, and lift, and, as of today, practically levitate on a breeze of annoying positivity.

The whole world around me is dead or dying, dried up leaves, skeleton bone trees, crispy grass, not a soul on the street, and definitely not enough money in the bank, yet I am filled, at least today, with that sort of calm self assurance that all is as it should be.

There will be a father in this house, unlike last November that saw us pining pitifully. There will be wood for the fire. There will be less driving around, chasing the frivolous daylight. There will be more layers, and wool and socks, I'm finally ready to accept the reality of socks. There will be more family time. There will be cabin fever, the kind which inspires creativity and hones our dealing with boredom skills.

And, if we know what is good for us, there will be a certain amount of austerity.

And, I'm hoping and guessing, but not promising, there will be more time to write.

I'll leave it at that, for now.

I've got a feeling this chair will see a lot of action in the coming days.