Jan 252010

It’s that time of year again, the time when my son is scared. When the days grow shorter and darker he traditionally develops a fear of – something. One year it was skeletons, one year it was masks, one year it was ghosts, one year it was robbers, this year it’s quite specific, a green skeletal devil with horns.

It all started at the beginning of November (yes, that’s three months ago, almost) when he sat in front of TV to watch something about a zoo. At 5 in the afternoon there was a trailer for a murder mystery. In this trailer there was a tiny blip showing somebody wearing a halloween costume with a green mask and devil’s horns.

The night before was the last night my son has slept in his bed since then. And if that wouldn’t have been unnerving enough he is also afraid of being alone. So when, for example, he is playing in his room, and I’m sitting in the kitchen, and then I want to get something from the basement, and I’d be unwise enough to open the actual door and get down the stairs there would be a wailing child running after me. And when I’d get up again he’d stand there, mad at me and screaming, “How dare you leave me alone? You know I’m scared!” On the other hand he will totally go to the supermarket alone and buy a toy. No problem there. It’s just being alone at the house. Or rather somewhere where he doesn’t see or here another person because we never ever leave him alone at the house.

When he is going to sleep there has to be someone with him in the next room (we have drawn the line at being in the same room) at all times. So I’m no longer allowed to watch DVDs in my very favorite chair in front of our big old TV, no I have to sit on the hard and cold kitchen bench with my laptop who then decides it doesn’t like this particular DVD. After that I go into my bedroom without having talked a word with my husband (who is in the annex, working on his new album) and get to bed, the bed I share with my son. I’m not allowed to turn off the light completely, and I have to push him back to his side of the bed repeatedly and with force because for some strange reason I don’t like to share my pillow. Also, repeatedly through the night there will be a clear, ringing voice calling, “Mama?” in near panic. Which makes me more awake than him and then, just when I have gone to sleep again, he asks again.

My husband and I have been taking turns in “night duty”, and once or twice a week he sleeps at my mother-in-laws place to give us a break. I only really realized how much I feel like being on a leash when yesterday while my son was away with his grandmother I sat in the kitchen knitting, and then wondered what my husband was doing. I sat there for a while and then it hit me: I could just stand up, leave the room and go over into the annex without someone yelling at me! Wow. Sweet freedom.

Now, for those of you not familiar with my son, he is not 18 months old, no, he’s 7 years. He knows perfectly well that he is safe in the house. Ever since he turned three we could leave him playing in one part of the house and go to the annex, at least briefly. He has always been afraid of the dark so he there’s a light in his room, and for quite some time now there had to be someone in the next room when he went to sleep. Once he had fallen asleep whoever was on duty that night could walk out, and then only return when it was time to got to sleep ourselves.

I have a big problem with this. I can’t sleep properly. When I hear anybody scream “Mama?” I have to suppress the urge to slap that child whoever it is. I have told everybody I’ve met for the past three months about this. I’d say I have a problem.

Now, I know that he is really scared. I know that his fear isn’t rational and I remember how it is at that age. That’s why he has a light on while falling asleep, and that’s why there is someone near. But then I also remember that even though I was afraid there were bears in the basement I still went there. Telling myself, “There are no bears in the basement, there are no bears in the basement.” all the time. And you know what? I never saw a single bear there.

My son on the other hand, my son who knows perfectly well that there are no strange devils lurking in the corners of our house, my son ends every talk about how we just please want to sleep again, and how we know that he is scared but that he is perfectly safe with the same sentence: “But I’m scared.” Yeah, we knew that already, thanks.

I bought nice educational books, I elevated his stuffed giraffe to a monster-slaying super-toy (worked for half an hour), bought him a magic slumber mouse (he was set on trying to sleep alone but then he went off to his grandma’s and the next night he was – too scared again).

Everybody we have talked to so far has said the following things:

  • every child is afraid of something
  • there are a lot of children who still sleep in their parents beds
  • this too will pass
  • maybe stickers will help
  • and the final thing, when we kept on saying, “Yeah, we tried that but it didn’t work.” or “Yeah, I knew that already.” then people say, “You have to get help.”

And you know what? They might be right. On the other hand it’s not as if I didn’t know anything about behavior modification or parenting. And our son is really, really stubborn. You know, I’m a pretty stubborn person but that’s nothing compared to him. I talked to a student who happens to have a son the same age as mine about what to do when your son is really rude and threatens to hit you, and he said, “Well, then he has to go to his room until he has calmed down.” And I looked at him, blinking for a couple of seconds with a blank look, and then I said, “And he just goes there?” And he said, “Well, if he doesn’t I make him.” That made me laugh really hard. I can, of course, lift my son up and carry him to his room, and I might even manage to close the door behind him but since we don’t own a key to that door there is nothing to keep him in there. I put him to his room, he comes out again, I put him back, he comes out again, I start screaming, he’s howling, I put him back… One time we spent 90 minutes pulling on opposite side of the door both of us screaming, and then he was only three years old. And when everything fails he just runs off to his grandmother.

Still I have decided not to let him oppress me any longer. He wants to wail behind me when I’m leaving the room? So be it. I also told him that he has to sleep in his room again. He’ll get a sticker for every night he spends in his own bed, and after two weeks we’ll go ice skating. Yesterday he actually fell asleep in his own room. My husband was lying next to him, but still. I went to bed at 11. At 11.30 he started calling me. Then he called again. Some time later he started crying. Then he called again. At 1 o’clock in the night I allowed him to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of my room…

Tonight we’re signing a contract, both of us. He will either sleep in his room alone without making a noise or he will go to my bedroom on tiptoes without disturbing me and stay in the sleeping bag. When he stays in his room until 6.45 there will be a sticker. 14 stickers equal a trip to the ice skating rink. There will be no discussions , no wailing, no nothing. I might have to add that we have a “no discussions about things I should do or buy for him after 6 in the evening”-rule. This child will have a debate about whether or not he will eat breakfast, come to the table or dress himself for school. I told him he’s free to not eat and walk to school in his pajamas, whatever he wants. Then he yelled at me for no making him stop reading when it was time to get ready. Very funny.

Wish me luck.

Dec 212009

I was about to write a post called “things that fell by the wayside in 2009”. But then that was a bit depressing. I also thought I might do a post about the books I read in 2009 but since I already wrote a longish book post not that long ago, well, and 2009 isn’t really over yet.

The things that somehow didn’t happen this year were about all the new good and healthy habits I had incorporated into my life since 2004 or even before that: exercise, healthy and moderate eating, sleeping enough, cleaning, making music, writing, meditation, you name it. On the other hand I’m proud to report that I made music just yesterday, and last week I actually dusted and vacuumed half the house. Ahem. I’m on it, though. I’m slowly picking myself up again, I have started de-cluttering, and if I go on like this, who knows, maybe even my son’s room will be clean before Christmas.

Last week was even a bit more busy than always with my son turning seven on Thursday. Here’s the usual “table with cake and present”-photo,


taken at about seven in the morning without any light to speak of (and yes, that’s a pink unicorn, sorry, but he loves it), and here the “all his other presents” one:


Well, apart from the bike my parents gave him but we only bought that later in the day after school. As you can see my son has a well rounded personality, he loves both pink plastic princess things and manly machine things. I made the doll myself, it’s another Ysolda pattern. My son loves it so much that he insisted on taking the doll with him all day, and her hair is already starting to come apart. Also he says I need to make her a jacket. And a nightgown and underpants. The book on planes is from my sister (and he loves that too), the other book is a collection of poems for children. His new bike was carefully selected to be manly enough for now and the next three years. (And, but don’t tell him yet, he gets loads of very boy-appropriate Lego “Power Miner” things for Christmas.) And because I’m so proud of the doll (I had to embroider the face!) here’s another picture of her. My son named her Gabriele:


I am very, very happy that I could persuade him to skip the usual birthday party with seven friends, and cake, and games. Not only because I find that kind of children’s party exhausting and stressful, no, I distinctly remembered last year when the party was over and he said, “I never want to celebrate my birthday again!” He doesn’t like chaotic and loud any more than I do. Over the year, of course, he forgot all about it and wanted to celebrate at a fast food place, or an indoor playground or some other crappy and commercial place that other children are celebrating there birthdays at. There is even a local furniture store where you can have your child’s party, no kidding. Needless to say that I didn’t want to do anything like that. So I thought a bit. He was dead set on not staying at home (that would have been extremely uncool, obviously), and he’s new in school with only a few, very few friends. So I thought, why not take his best friend to a museum? And that’s what we did. It was splendid. We went to the Deutsches Museum. This museum is really interesting, and they have a special part for children. My son had never been there but his friend had been often, oops. It didn’t matter though, they both loved it and we went and tried things and looked at things and huge sailboats and airplanes and helicopters. We weren’t there for long, only about 1 1/2 hours but that turned out to be perfect. Afterwards I let them choose between cake and burgers, and we had – burgers and fries.

I know, this sounds like it couldn’t have been fun but that’s only the way I’m writing this. As proof I quote my son’s best friend who said on our way back home (exciting train ride) that she wants to celebrate her birthday at that museum too. Ha! The museum does offer real birthday parties as well but, well, that would have required planning ahead. Also more costly than train tickets and fast food. I didn’t really have to pay for the museum because I had bought a 10-block-ticket years ago, and it is still valid.

My son also wanted to celebrate with another friend, one that he knows from kindergarten and never sees these days. He wants to have a pajama party. I dropped an invitation at his place (very late), and still have to hear back. I think this was all too near Christmas so I’ll phone his mother after the holidays to arrange something. That was the deal, two birthday celebrations. But I’m good with that.

So now it’s only two more days until Christmas (we celebrate on the 24th, of course), and I still have to get a tree and a lot of the food. But we decided to make Christmas even more low key than usual, no big fancy cooking either, and so I hope that everything will be nice and quiet. I already go all the presents (yay me!) but I haven’t wrapped anything, and I think I will leave that for Wednesday evening. We’ll have to work until then, quite late in my case unless my students don’t show up as happened today (the three last students canceled and the one before that just didn’t show up). Then on Thursday we’ll get up late, and then put up the tree, and then make some music or knit or something, and then decorate the tree, and then make our special Christmas food that’s supposed to be dinner but I think we’ll just have it for lunch, and then lazily unwrap presents so that my son doesn’t drive us all crazy. You see, in my husband’s family you have to wait for the unwrapping of gifts until after dinner. First dinner, and then the singing of Christmas Carols, and by then the child is totally freaking out. Since I have a very impatient father we used to unwrap the presents at some time in the early afternoon so you could play with your new toys before having dinner. I hope we’ll do it a bit more like this this year. And then he can put together his Lego for hours and hours and the next day and the next, and I will be sitting next to him, help him read the manual and sort the pieces. That’s one of my favorite memories from last year, spending two days building a ultrasonic space ship or something.

As for the next year I have decided to start the new year right now and my goal is to become happy again. That will be interesting. I have already started, and I hope to gather momentum even before New Year’s Eve. What about you, did you have a good year? A bad one? Something in between? Usually it’s something in between, isn’t it?

Aug 282009

I have to say so far this summer break has been very enjoyable. We decided to stay at home and do touristy things here. That was a great idea. I actually did quite a lot of the things on my list.

We rode our bikes, and hiked, and went swimming, and had food from our garden, and made pizza from scratch, and went to Bamberg, and had barbecues, and the weather was fantabulous, and on the days that it wasn’t we sat indoors, making things. As always I haven’t been as productive as I had wanted to, but my piano is all working again (and the sound is much better now, I can’t believe it), and I have knit half an unplanned cardigan.

So, here are a few pictures (Well, quite a lot of pictures but I was amazed at how many things we had done without taking the camera.):


First harvest this year.


Hiking to the Andechs monastery.




Ammersee again (there’s nobody in the picture I know, by the way)


A day later we grilled the fish be bought at the lake, and again some of our own peppers.


We even moved the garden furniture. (And behind the furniture you can see the pots that hold all our tomato, eggplant, pepper, and chili plants. Right before the jungle of zucchini, and beans, and potatoes.)


We made lactose-free pizza from scratch, with spinach,and eggplant from the garden.)


I taught my son how to use a sewing machine, and he made several bags.


I went to the botanical garden.


And it’s hothouses.


We went to Bamberg as every year. (And I have no idea why the weather looks so grey, it really wasn’t.)


My son took a lot of pictures, including this one of me packing.

I read a lot of books, I knit a lot, I spun a lot (and I have to tell you about my new spinning wheel), went to beer gardens a lot, and rode my bike a lot. We’ll be having friends over on the weekend, I’ll prepare my sock knitting class for the German raveler meeting, and will help my husband with his album in the making. He’s been busy recording and mixing for the last few weeks.

Two and a half more weeks to go. We’ve been enjoying our family time so much, I hope we can keep this up when school starts again.

Jul 232009

My son has been away with the kindergarten for two days now. Most of those who will be starting elementary school in fall went to a hostel in the Alps on Tuesday morning and will return today, Thursday, in the afternoon. It has been a really great time for me and my husband.

I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks now. It’s not that I actually wanted to get rid of my son, it’s just that I imagined an almost three day break from parenting to be quite delightful. And it was.

This time I managed to pack in advance and without stress, I think I’m getting better at this traveling thing. We ended up having to borrow the biggest suitcase my mother-in-law owns for his things. We got a list of things to pack, among them hiking boots, rubber boots, regular shoes, and house slippers. Three times everything and about as many towels as I would pack for the whole family. The list wasn’t unreasonable though, it just took care of possibilities like him getting wet or dirty every day.

When I sent him off on Tuesday I once again was struck by the tendency of modern society to make everything into a huge drama-filled event. Fortunately only one child started crying when entering the bus but there was a lot of forced smiling going on with the mothers. Instead of dropping my son of with his suitcase in tow, like I had imagined, I got to stand around for half an hour. When the bus finally disappeared around the corner I overheard several other mothers talking about how hard it was to let their precious children go away on their own for two nights. And I thought, “Huh?”

Of course it is weird to have him stay away from home without relatives but then I know he’ll have a blast. And while I do miss him I miss him much less than I thought I would. When all the other mothers went away wiping their eyes I put on my ipod and set the music to loud while thinking, “Yeah! I’m free!” There was a swing in my step and it hasn’t really left me since then.

I’m used to not having my son around all the time. He spends his day in kindergarten until 4 in the afternoon, and then he is at his grandmother’s three days a week. And on weekends he frequently sleeps at her place too. So I really didn’t think that I spend much time on caring for my son. Often I only see him shortly before bedtime, and in the mornings for breakfast. So I went on about my day on Tuesday as usual when suddenly after my last student left I realized that, no, I didn’t have to rush off to fetch my son. I could just stay at home, watch the Tour de France on TV and spin. Very relaxing.

In the evening I waited for my husband to finish work before having dinner. We spent a delightful meal talking and eating. Afterwards we did the kitchen and just when I thought, “Oh my, it’s bedtime.” I remembered that it wasn’t that day. Instead we went for a long walk and still had enough of the evening left to watch Torchwood in my case, and obscure bands on youtube in my husband’s. I went to bed at midnight, feeling slightly guilty for staying up late, and then I realized that I didn’t have to get up in the morning. No alarm clock! I just slept in until 8.30, and woke all rested and relaxed.

The next day again there was time for talking with my husband, eating lunch at a leisurely pace, watching a bit of Tour de France and spinning before teaching, and after work, instead of rushing off to fetch my son to put him to bed before having dinner myself I could just play the piano a bit before eating with my husband. (Wednesdays my son stays with his grandmother after kindergarten and I fetch him in time for him to go to bed. In order to get him to bed on time I postpone my own dinner until 8.30 or something. Usually I start getting hungry around 6.)

I got to watch two episodes of Torchwood this time, knitting away, I went to bed at twelve again, and again, I got up in the morning somewhere around 8.30 feeling fresh and well.

I have to say that I’m a bit shocked about the amount of time and energy I have when my son isn’t home. I didn’t know it was that much. I’m also quite shocked at how peaceful I feel without him. Yes, there is someone missing, and I really don’t want him to stay away, only I suddenly find that my life works better without him.

Of course I spent a lot of the past days musing about whether I am a heartless, and unfeeling person. I watched the other mothers when their children left the parking lot. They weren’t looking elated, they were sad. Or maybe they were just putting on an act, driving home in their cars afterwards, closing the doors to their homes, and pulling out the champagne, but I doubt it.

I find that I spend a lot of time thinking about why I don’t feel like people expect me to feel. Like the “they’re growing up so fast”-sentiment. That’s always uttered with a sense of loss. Like Beck did in one of her parenting posts. And I really believe that she – and all the others – are feeling it, and yes, I even can understand the urge to keep my child close, only most of me shrugs her shoulders and says, “So what?” Yes, he’s growing up, yes, he will be going away someday, and you know what? I love it.

I don’t want my son to stay at my side forever because, frankly, he’s got better things to do with his life. And I’ve got better things to do with my life too. Of course I want to stay in his life. It would be very, very sad to have a son who refuses to speak with me when he’s older. I hope that we’ll always love, respect, and cherish each other, and that we will seek each other’s company.

I didn’t quite know if I should write this post. Because in all this you have to keep in mind that if anyone came to take my son away from me I’d probably try to kill him. We’re speaking of my own flesh and blood, about a person I love more than my life. But still, having a break from being a parent feels nice once in a while.

Oh, and the best thing was when about two hours after the children had left I found two calls on my answering machine (we almost never answer the phone). First was a message from a fellow mother saying, “Oh, you’re not home, well since we agreed on calling each other when the children are safely at their destination…” (I didn’t agree on anything, I didn’t know I was supposed to sit next to my phone until someone told me my child had survived a 90 minute road trip.) The next message started with, “Hello, this is Verena from the kindergarten…” and my first thought was, “Oh God, something has happened!” because why would she call me otherwise? Well, she called to say that – the children had evidently survived the trip. Please, I don’t need an hourly update on my child’s status. Really. I’d like to hear from you if something went wrong. When I hear nothing I’ll just assume that he’s alright.

He’s probably having a great time. He’s surrounded by all his friends and teachers he loves, they have been hiking, and playing, and telling stories, and sleeping all in one room in their sleeping bags, and eating delicious food. And as everybody knows, the only thing better than having a nice vacation is coming back to a nice home again. He’ll be back in about three hours. Until then you’ll find me enjoying my time. And then I’ll give my son a great big hug.

Mar 152009

When, about two years ago, I became obsessed with knitting and sewing again, my husband was very puzzled. He asked me, since when I had become a crafter. My first reaction was, “Well, always.” but then, if this were true he wouldn’t have been puzzled. The fact is that I was crafting like crazy all through my teen years, then I did less in my twenties, and when my husband and I met, I only had one knitting or crochet project going on, and those projects tended to spend months and month in my knitting basket without being touched.

So, while my husband knew that I sometimes knit or sew a bit he was quite unprepared for today’s situation where yarn, fabric, and needles are everywhere. There’s an on-going knitting project in every room of the house (well, not the basement at least), and my fiber-related paraphernalia is crammed into every available closet. For example I now am the proud owner of three functioning sewing machines (I only use one of them, though), and I own at least two pairs of knitting needles in every size available.

Of course I started thinking about when did this start, and why did I have the feeling that it never stopped. And I realized how important making socks, and sweaters, and skirts had once been to me, and how I slowly gave it up. First the things I sew almost never fit, and the sweaters didn’t either, and then I stopped wearing hand-knit socks in the house because I started wearing sneakers indoors. So there was no need to knit new socks because the old ones didn’t wear out.

And then I was looking for a warm woolen cardigan, and there were none to be found, so I bought wool, found a pattern and made one. And then I found knitting blogs, and ravelry, and since then I have been knitting like a madwoman. With occasional sewing. (I just made an apron for my son last weekend. Fun, and quick.)

It all started when, in the summer of 1975, my parents, sister, and I were vacationing in Hungary. We were camping, and some other woman that we met had a crochet shawl. My mother loved it and the woman showed her how to make one. I wanted to make one to, and so we bought yarn (very acrylic in orange and blue), and my mother showed me how to do double crochet and chain stitches. It is a nice simple pattern like half a giant granny square. I actually finished the shawl on my own. I only never got around to attaching the fringe, I think my mother did that for me. Seems I always had a problem with the finishing.


Sorry for the bad quality, this was a group shot from a carnival party. I was supposed to be a gypsy. My mother made a skirt for this. As you can see, already the orange and pink-combo appealed to me. The look and face remind me of my son a lot.

The summer after that we had to learn crochet in school but since I already knew how to do it, I got to make advanced pot holders. I was so proud!

That year a friend of mine and I met to play with our Monchichis (those were all the rage, then, I had to buy my own because my mother is against horrible plastic toys), and lamented our lack of Monchichi clothing. Since we didn’t have any money we asked our mother’s for yarn, took our crochet hooks, and this is what I made:

My very first “design”:

monchichi2 monchichi3

A dress, complete with a slit for her tail, a coat and a hat. I actually have more of the clothes I made for this doll and another one, and I took pictures of all of them. Shall I show them to you?

In the summer of 1977 our vacation lead us to Cornwall. Here we met another German woman who knit sweaters for all of her four daughters. Again, my mother loved the sweaters, and that woman showed her how to make them. And I got more yarn and needles and learned how to knit. I wanted to make a sleeping bag for my Sindy-doll. To this day the two parts haven’t been sewn together.


That’s me, age 10, playing. It’s a bit weird that I have a picture of the very first garter stitch square that I knit, and almost no pictures of any of the dozens of sweaters I made. Maybe my parents have more pictures of that time than I do.

Back at home I picked up a book on knitting from the library and tried to teach myself how to purl. If I had been left on my own I would have become a combination knitter but my mother looked at my purl stitches, and showed me how to to them “right”. The first thing I knit after that “sleeping bag” was a horrible vest, made of bulky yarn. My mother made me knit it because she thought it was the perfect beginners project. Quick, and easy. She always tried to dress me in blue because she likes it, and she thinks I look good in blue. Of course I don’t like blue, never have, never will, and avoid it as much as I can. Knitting things of blue yarn actually makes me feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless I eventually finished the vest because I only got new yarn after finishing a project.

The next thing was one that I chose myself. It was a glorious cardigan, made with four different colors, it had stripes, and textured patterns of knit and purls, set-in pockets, buttonholes and everything. The brochure from the yarn shop showed it in different olive, and rust-colored yarns but my mother was adamant, she didn’t like those colors (I still dream of them. I would have looked so great in that sweater!), so I got to make it in four shades of – blue.

I guess my mother secretly resigned herself to make something out of that yarn after I would have given up on it. She never would have finished it for me since she doesn’t like her knitting to be complicated. Well, I do like it to be complicated, obviously, because I finished it. The project after that was a Norwegian sweater with a yoke in stranded knitting. Again, I had to do it in blues.

The next thing (I think) was a sweater that was knit in one piece from the front to the back, increasing for gigantic sleeves of the kind that we call “bat-wing”-sleeves in German (I don’t know how to call them in English, they basically start after the waist, and look as if you could go hang-gliding using only your pullover). It had an intarsia pattern with 12 different colors. Again, I couldn’t have the yarn the pattern called for, the only yarn available that had that many colors that worked together was a mohair yarn. My father sat down and re-calculated the pattern for me, which was very, very nice, only since he didn’t have a clue how knitting works (and I basically was a beginner, too), I tried to do things that are impossible with a yarn that you can’t rip back. It took me a long time but I finished this one too. It never looked as it should have, though. The colors were wrong, the drape was wrong, and I had made the increases and decreases for the sleeves in a way that made the sleeves much too tight, also it was too warm.

After that I stopped using patterns and made up my own designs. The first of those was a bright pink cotton sweater with a lace pattern. Sadly, there are almost no pictures of me wearing my sweaters, and I have thrown them all away over the years. You also have to remember that those were the 80s when sweaters were boxy and had no shaping. I designed a striped hat when I was thirteen that was very popular with my friends, and I made several for them as gifts. I taught myself how to knit socks from a book, I figured out how to knit gloves on my own, and I learned to look at other people’s sweaters and copy the stitch patterns. A friend of mine had an entrelac sweater her grandmother had made for her, and I remember sitting in class one day, looking at her back and trying to figure out how that was done. (I did figure it out, and made myself a white cotton vest). You have to know that I knit so much at that point that my English teacher said he didn’t recognize me without my knitting in my hands. (Back then we were allowed to knit in class.)

Over time I got weary of the fact that most of my sweaters didn’t fit, and I thought this was because I never could use the yarn the pattern called for. I didn’t know then, that swatching is more complicated than knitting up a tiny piece of stockinette, measuring it any which way, and guestimating how many stitches to cast on. In the nineties I started knitting from patterns again. I made a silk lace cardigan with a crochet edging I have worn so often that it’s starting to fall apart. That one didn’t fit either, at first, I had to make the back much wider than the pattern stated to save it.

Then I made a couple of sweaters using fashionable novelty yarn. None of them fit, and you can’t rip back novelty yarn, so I threw them away, knitted sweaters got out of fashion, and it took me three years to make a measly crochet scarf.

Until about two years ago. Now I’ve found a new determination. I’m much more thorough in preparing and executing my knitting, and I’m also willing to rip back everything and start anew. Also, I no longer use novelty yarn or mohair which makes the whole ripping back-approach much easier.

I have always been proud of how independent and fearless a knitter I am. I will approach everything in knitting with fierce determination, and work my way through it. I like to learn from books, and the internet helps a lot. But only the other day, when I was threading my tapestry needle, was I realizing how much I have learned from my mother. She has a hard time following a pattern, and she doesn’t like intricate stitch patterns, complicated construction, or doing colorwork. But she was the one who taught me how to cast on, and off, and how to sew knitting together, how to thread a tapestry needle, and how to alter a pattern on the go when you see that it won’t fit. She was the one I could take my failed attempts at self-designed sweaters too, and then she’d help me think of a way to save it.

I’ve been so much in my own with my knitting that only last year did I realize how firmly I am embedded in a tradition of crafty women. My maternal grandmother was the master-crafter. All her daughters know how to knit, and sew, and crochet, and do embroidery. Every one of the them has something she likes doing best, one is knitting socks for children, one is making embroidered tablecloths out of the linen their mother weaved, and one is quilting, and sewing.

I’ve always considered myself to be on my own but I’m not. Even my sister is knitting, and crocheting, and quilting, and making things, and has a spinning wheel. It seems to be a family thing.

Feb 262009

I just closed my feed reader rejoicing that there is not one post left unread in there. Marked unread, that is. I found – again – that the thought of not having read my bloggy friend’s posts was a heavy burden upon my shoulders. So I scrolled through some, commented on some others, and deleted the rest.

I know that I have subscribed to too many blogs, I really know, only I don’t know which to unsubscribe from.

This week was supposed to be a week of rest after months of sickness, and hectic life. It’s carnival break after all. Well, it started with – yet another bout of sickness which was thankfully brief, and now I find myself sitting lethargically at the kitchen table, knitting frantically without much enjoyment, drinking tea or beer, reading a book that I don’t particularly like, while the dirty dishes are staring at me, and dust bunnies accumulate in the corners.

Family life at the moment consists mostly of me and my son fighting over things like putting on clothes, or going to sleep. He isn’t good with transitions (is there anyone who is good with transitions?), I know that. But it’s really no fun that getting him to change his clothes is a 30 minute drama twice a day, complete with yelling, tears, howling, and tantrums.

I am a teacher, I know my pedagogy, and I have tried all the tricks and strategies I know. I have given up, sometimes, and dressed him myself only to have him yell at me because he wanted to do something else instead. I have tried the “do what you want, if you’re still in your pajamas by 8.15 you’ll wear those to kindergarten”-approach only to have a howling 6-year-old scrambling into his clothes at the last minute. Sometimes he has to go without breakfast because of the dressing debacle but he never went without his pants.

We have the same sort of conflict in the evening. Asking him to put on his pajamas, or any clothes results in him pulling down his pants, and then standing there staring into space for the next twenty minutes or so. The funny thing is that I remember being the same as a child, only I don’t remember any conflict. I remember that in third grade I realized that it often took me so long to put on my socks that my feet were ice-cold by the time I got around to it. Also I finally realized that taking such a long time to dress made me late for breakfast, and then I decided to learn how to dress myself faster.

So I totally understand having difficulties with transitions, and being slow in things like dressing, only the transitions don’t get easier by procrastination, they get harder, and more hectic. When, for a short time, using a timer my son had to beat was an effective method to remind him about the passage of time while dressing oneself, we found that it took him less than six minutes to dress himself. On any given day it takes him between 20 and 30 minutes while two adults nag him, and he whines, and we all get angrier by the second.

The other thing is his falling asleep, or better, his lack of falling asleep. Sleep has always been an issue with him. But there have been times when we could tuck him in, turn off the light in his room (not in the corridor, never in the corridor, and the door has to remain open), and go off to watch TV, or play music, or talk, or read blogs. Not anymore. For months at least somebody had to sit in the kitchen until he fell asleep. Which may take more than an hour. With him getting out of bed just when you thought he’d surely be asleep, asking you something, and then needing you to guide him back to bed because he is afraid to go back into his room even though the light on his nightstand is on.

To minimize anger throughout our family we devised a new tactic yesterday: I’m helping to put our son to bed but my husband will be the one sitting in the kitchen. So that I have the feeling of not being on duty 24/7. We only remind him once about changing into his pajamas, and such, and then he’s on his own. When he isn’t into his pajamas by 7.50 there will be no story-reading. Likewise I talked to him yesterday, and reminded him of the conflicts we used to have about washing hands before meals. At some point he just gave in, realizing (with a bit of help) that we always insist on washing the hands, and that if he just did it life became much more pleasant. I made a deal with him about the dressing and undressing. In the mornings my husband will stay in bed until we are finished with breakfast. He’s not a morning person, and having to eat breakfast while two people yell at each other ruins the day more effectively for him than for any of us. So he gets to stay in bed a little longer, and I get evenings off.

This morning my son fetched his clothes, and dressed himself without any conflict whatsoever. It took him 11 minutes. I felt an intense happiness. Until we started to fight about the “cutting of the fingernails because of recorder lessons” half an hour later.

Yesterday evening, by the way, ended with my son falling asleep next to my husband in our bed while watching soccer an hour after his bedtime. We’re working on it.

You might think that he needs less sleep, and that’s the reason why he can’t fall asleep but against that stands that a) he falls asleep in about 5 minutes when he’s sleeping in our bed, and b) on weekends he always sleeps at least half an hour longer than on weekdays even though he goes to bed at the same time.

Life’s not all confusion and conflict, though, on Tuesday I met a friend and we went to this very special sauna. It was very nice to meet my friend again, since we hadn’t seen each other for months, and the sauna was very relaxing.

I also finished a lot of knitting which I will get around to show you eventually, and finishing means that I can start new things. I made a hat, finished a shawl, a beret, a pair of mittens which make me very proud because I learned how to do two-handed stranded knitting for them, and two pairs of socks. Oh, and a cardigan.

And who knows, maybe my son will learn to dress himself without drama like he learned to wash his hands without drama. He’s an intelligent chap, he’ll figure it out eventually.

Feb 082009

We’re all still living, that’s the good news. I have been teaching with a fever on Friday (new discipline, and I did splendidly, and managed not to cough on students, that’s a plus). You have to know that I never get as much as a temperature. If my temperature rises I’m really, really unwell. But I did it, thanks to ibuprofen.

My husband has been fighting the flu with a vengeance, and successfully, until last night. Now he’s the one spending the day in bed, which I did yesterday. While I feel much, much better today, I still would like to spend a bit of time in bed today for recovery purposes. Which I will, just after I have cleaned up the kitchen, done the monthly taxes, and have written this post.

My son is the one who feels worst right now. After a week of flu, fever, coughing, not being able to sleep because of coughing, and then finally feeling just a tiny bit better on Thursday; he has been feeling worse again. Starting Friday afternoon, of course, when all doctors are closed.

After a bit of debate my husband and I diagnosed him with a secondary bacterial infection and gave him a bit of penicillin that we have had around. So far it’s not working. It will be big fun when, on Monday, I take him to the doctor again and tell that I thought it was a good idea at the time. (Don’t worry, we’re not foolish, it’s a completely new and unopened bottle of children’s penicillin, still fresh, and there’s enough to give it to him for five days. Chances are that the doctor would have given some to him anyway, only I think it should be working faster.)

Also, my father comes to stay overnight tonight. I’m still contemplating how to make him comfortable while avoiding actual contact. I don’t want him to get sick too. My mother-in-law offered to have him sleep in her guest room. Maybe that’s the best solution.

And? Thank God my mother-in-law is still feeling well because she has to babysit again next week.

I didn’t want to sound all whiny, this is just to tell you why I have been almost incommunicado for the past days. I hope to be well again tomorrow or the day after, and will send both my son and husband to the doctor tomorrow morning.

Dec 302008

Though I have to say that the holidays as such weren’t the real problem. Not even when my brilliant plan of de-stressing our Christmas celebration (on Christmas Eve as is traditional in German) by making the traditional Christmas dinner a Christmas lunch before putting up and decorating the tree afterwards, and opening the presents in the afternoon instead of in the evening when everybody is cranky and tired, went wrong because the wood stove acted up, and our Christmas lunch was three hours late. (I have to say that at least these days we know how to handle a crisis like this: when you realize that nothing is going right, let everybody have a sandwich.)

The holidays also weren’t the problem when on Christmas day we decided to have goose leg with red cabbage and my husband said that we needed to have potato dumplings with that. I keep forgetting because in the Northern part of Germany where I grew up people don’t eat dumplings much. Usually when we make dumplings we buy them almost finished, you just have to boil them, but this time I had to try and make potato dumplings from scratch. They didn’t taste that awful but the next time I try this I will put more flour in so that they actually stay dumpling shaped when cooked.

I don’t exactly know why but this year’s Advent was the most stressful I ever had. First there was my husband’s pneumonia which left him weak for weeks. Since he didn’t have a fever, and since my son and I had been coughing for weeks too we thought he just had a bad cough, and he didn’t went to see the doctor until just before Christmas. Of course he didn’t stop teaching (that’s the joy of being self-employed, you never stop working if you can stay upright, and still possess all your limbs). While my husband was mostly out of commission my son had the ongoing waxing and waning coughing-sneezing-tummy aching-fever having-malady. That added a bit of excitement to the last two weeks before Christmas because we never knew if he would be fit to go to the kindergarten Christmas thing, where the children did a play, or his own birthday party.

I didn’t feel that well myself, I had been coughing for six weeks at that point, and just when I felt almost human again (and hoped to maybe be able to sing again some time in the future) I got the next cold. On top of that I had to be Santa’s little helper and organized all the presents we gave anybody for Christmas, and all the presents anybody gave my son for his birthday and Christmas. I also wrapped them all, baked three batches of cupcakes, and organized my son’s birthday party which left me totally drained after having spent the entire afternoon thinking that now I knew why everybody always tells me that my son is so well-behaved and quiet – it’s the truth. And that doesn’t mean that my son really is that quiet, it’s only that all the other children are less well-behaved and much, much louder.

The party seems to have been a success with everybody, except for me and my son who told me that he doesn’t want to have a party next year. He was suffering from the noise and chaos almost as much as me.

I can tell that I was stressed out beyond what I’m used to at this time of year by the fact that my period was ten days late, something that never ever happened before. (No, never, not even when I got pregnant.) Of course that just added another layer of stress to these days, the whole panicking if I could be pregnant in spite of birth control, the buying of pregnancy tests, and the wondering if the tests could be wrongly negative, or what I should do if I were pregnant. So that in he midst of thinking about what games to play with my son’s friends I wondered if I knew anybody who wanted to get rid of their baby stuff, and whether my marriage would survive a second child.

As I said before, I’m not really sure what stressed me out so much but I think that it might have been the sheer amount of tiny organizational detail. I promise that I haven’t been a perfectionist about Christmas. This year I didn’t even put up the Advent decorations. I didn’t bake Christmas cookies.

The only things I might do better next year is:

  • Next year when I order my son’s presents in mid-October I’ll wrap them right away.
  • Instead of baking the cupcakes four to five days in advance and freezing them I will bake them at the beginning of November.
  • I will buy the special birthday candles sometime in January and put them away for next year.
  • I won’t volunteer to play guitar at the Christmas party. (That was my way of avoiding to have to act in the play the parents did for the children. Instead of meeting with the other parents three or four times I only had to play the songs through once before the event.)
  • I will make an appointment for my husband to get a flu shot in September.
  • I hereby give up the notion of baking Christmas cookies. Not even the ones I bought all the ingredients for in December 2007.
  • I will make hair dresser and beautician appointments in November.
  • I will make a list of games to play, and what to do at my son’s birthday party in November too.

Since Christmas I have been sitting and recuperating. At first I was at a point where I was too tired to knit but since the weekend I have been improving, started a new intricate shawl project, and might even do some housework. (Well, I already cleaned a bathroom for the first time in ages but I have great hopes for the future.)
I still don’t have to teach until next week so I hope to get some time for contemplation. I hope your holidays were peaceful and happy.

(I just re-read my list of things to do next year, and you know what that list means? It means I will have both a stressful November and December. Or maybe not. I’ll give it a try anyways.)

Oct 072008

As I have written before, I went to a family reunion last weekend. I left here Thursday in the morning and came back on Sunday just in time to have dinner with my own family.

My father was the one to organize this, and I didn’t realize how much organization there was needed until I saw that there were 27 of us, who came from all corners of Germany, and that our days were nicely structured. I was a bit scared beforehand because I didn’t know anybody there, apart from my parents and me, that is.

On Thursday I was mightily proud of myself because I had everything packed the day before, and I left with time to spare, and I was calm and composed. It seems that in going in panic mode the week before I had gotten over it. The whole train ride was very pleasant, even changing trains went smoothly and uneventful. The only thing I didn’t like was that the table in the train was so small that when the woman sitting across from me put her laptop down there wasn’t any place left for me. I ended up squeezing my lace pattern under her computer cables, where it was hanging precariously. (And on my way back the same thing happened. First a guy with a laptop (who also kept his big luggage under the table so that I didn’t have any room for my feet), and then a woman with a big writing pad and a newspaper. Next time no table for me.)

The hotel we stayed in was about the ugliest hotel I’ve ever seen. (I won’t link to it here for obvious reasons.) The rooms though were big, and so sparsely decorated that they had a serene feeling.

After unpacking I went down to have dinner with the first bunch of relatives. Four of my father’s cousins with their respective spouses. I was surprised at how nice and kind everyone was. Through the whole weekend I felt blessed that these people on the whole are very friendly and warm, intelligent, and with a sense of humor. (I always had taken sense of humor for granted until I met a bunch of my mother-in-laws relatives. Somehow they just don’t get this whole laughing thing.)

The next day the reunion started in earnest and the remaining people arrived. We had lunch together, and then went for a guided tour of Wernigerode. The guide was not as funny as he thought he was, he played guessing games and gave away bonbons for correct answers but at least we got to see something of this really beautiful town. At one point in the tour the guide’s wife approached him saying, “Is this the second tour? When will you be home?” And he answered he’d be home at half past four but you could see that she didn’t believe him. At which point I gave up on ever being warm again.

On Friday evening we had dinner at the hotel, again, talked to each other, and saw part of a video about a historical play one of my father’s cousins has written about the town where my great-grandparents come from. It’s a bit weird to be related to so many people with a totally different dialect. A lot of these people are from Erzgebirge, that’s Saxony, another group came from Hamburg (you know about Hamburg, don’t you, no need to link this one), and the rest from various places around Germany, Hesse, Lower Saxony (totally different from Saxony, and in a completely different part of Germany), and then there was me, living in Bavaria. In viewing the film it was evident that quite a few people didn’t understand a word of it because the actors talked dialect, and two thirds of the audience didn’t understand a word. Interestingly I didn’t have much difficulties. Living in Bavaria for ages and having friends from all over the country obviously has trained me in understanding different dialects. Well, German ones at least.

There was another thing that had me wonderfully prepared, my father sent me an e-mail beforehand, explaining who was expected to come and whom they were related to. I took that out quite frequently to help all those conversations that went like, “And that is Fritz, I think, and he’s the son of the youngest daughter of my great-grandmother. And this is my grandmother, and the guy over there is my father,…” and so on.

There was only one other person in my age group, also a singing teacher, and also called Susanne who came with her son. Creepy, isn’t it? And our mothers have the same first names too. It would be even creepier if both the name Susanne and our mother’s name weren’t so common in our respective age groups.

It also seems that all of my paternal grandmother’s relatives like to sing. There was an episode on Saturday with spontaneous bursting into song. With harmony. Nice. Who would have thought.

It was really fun to look at all these faces and see their similarities, and differences. To see people in the hotel lobby whom you had never seen before in your life, look at them and think, “Oh yeah, she’s one of us, just look at her nose.”

On Saturday we took a steam train up to the Brocken, the highest mountain in that area. Sadly, it was a very foggy day but we were lucky, and just before we had to go down again the fog lifted and we could see a bit of the beautiful landscape.

On Saturday evening the hotel had a dancing party, and someone (might have been my father, also the hotel manager) thought it would be a good idea to attend. Well, the food there was the best I had in that hotel. (The food I ate in those four days had me longingly think about vegetables, and even salad by the second day. They did have salad, in a way, but it mostly consisted of cooked green beans and shredded carrots with sugary dressing.) But then there was a big woman telling jokes, interspersed with one of these unspeakable dance duos, you know the kind, a keyboard and a guitar, and one of them sings, and they play all the songs that I try to avoid as much as possible. And then the music is so loud that you can’t talk to anybody.

And so I excused myself just after dinner, went up to my room, knitted and read the latest Terry Pratchett. A very nice evening but I regret that there were some of my relatives that I haven’t spoken to.

Sunday morning I went back, this time the trains were a bit more crowded but not unpleasantly so.

I found that I really enjoy traveling alone. It was very relaxing to just do what I wanted when I wanted to without having to consult with anybody. It was nice to have my own quiet room. It’s also much easier when I only have to pack my own things without trying to cram my son’s stuff into the same backpack as well. It was lovely for a change but I also missed my family (you know, my son and husband) and was very happy to be back home.

As I’m writing this I’m still a bit tired and overwhelmed by my weekend, and I feel that this account is brittle and dry and doesn’t do it justice. Anyway it was decided then and there to meet again, in about two years at the place where my parents live. And I’m looking forward to it.