Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Few Tidbits About Germany (So Far)

Well, it’s been almost two months since the kids and I have been here. Hard to believe…in some aspects it feels like it’s been much, much longer than that and in others, it feels like just yesterday Lucy was born and we were in the chaos of trying to put together our move.
While the kids and I were staying with my parents, that month while Chad was here flew by in a blur. It was such a blessing to be able to spend such quality time with our loved ones before we left, yet I also remember just feeling more than anxious to get here and be together as a family again, and in a sense, start a new life. Chad and I tried to catch each other on the phone each day…which was new for us, as we’re not a couple that talks on the phone much at all. I’d anxiously await his call and it seemed like each time I’d talk to him, he’d fallen more and more in love with this place and had all sorts of new and interesting things to tell me about it here. I can see how it had captured his heart so fast. Only two months in, and I have fallen in love with it too.  The longer we’re here, the more we discover about life here and, in some aspects, how different it is than the U.S.

Germany is roughly the size of Montana and has a population of approximately 81 million people. Chad has seen evidence of this in the crazy traffic he encounters on the autobahn making a 6 mile drive in an hour and a half on his way home from Patch Barracks. Compared to Colorado, it does seem so much more…dense. And yet, there are so many beautiful trees, vineyard-scattered hills, farm plots, and quaint villages to make it every bit as picturesque as you could imagine. The Germans take the environment extremely seriously… recycling is mandatory and quite a rigid process. Everything is so clean! It’s expected that you keep your walk and drive swept clear of any leaves or snow on a daily basis. (We already have failed in this category…the trees are merciless in shedding their leaves all over our pathway to the front door). The general expectation is that you are to have shoveled by 7 or 7:30 a.m. Also, car emission standards are extremely strict and they have signs posted showing which cars, identified by different colored emissions stickers, are allowed to enter that town/area. Some areas don’t permit motorized vehicles at all if there’s a “no smog” sign. It’s also quite noticeable that many people hang their laundry out to dry. My guess is the outrageous cost of electricity may have something to do with this. That, and it takes roughly two hours to dry one small load with a European dryer.

The German culture is very serious about rest. Virtually all stores, including the mall and grocery stores, are closed on Sunday, as well as most major observed holidays. There is to be no yard work, no laundry hung, or cars washed on these days. There is also what is called ruhezeit, which means “rest period” every day, also known as “quiet hours”, which are observed from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Even the parks are unofficially closed, and everything becomes eerily quiet. Luckily it coincides closely with nap time. :)
In some ways it’s a faster pace of life…there are so many more people, more traffic, etc… but it’s neat because the culture here allows for a more laidback way of life, which is something we’re easily getting used to.

Making a New Friend and Kindergarten!

Chad primarily chose this house for us because of the German kindergarten right behind it. When we first moved in, the weather was lovely and Kane would longingly watch the children play on the playground and even shout the occasional “HI GUYS!”, to which, he got a few curious glances. We knew we’d have to put him on the list, but assumed he’d perhaps be able to start after the first of the year…thinking it’d be done sort of like it is in the US. Not so much.

While the weather was still warm, I’d take Kane and Lucy to the park down the street every late afternoon upon waking from their naps. So far, it seems as though German people are not quite as openly friendly or talkative as what we were accustomed to in the States, especially in a small town like Pueblo. I’d been going for about a week or so and noticed the same mother there with her two young children, a girl…Maja (Maya) that looked slightly older than Kane and says “Hallo” with a sweet smile and wave to everyone she meets, and a charming little boy with an ever-present smile that looked to be about a year old. I knew the little girl’s name because I’d heard her mother call to her, and I remember thinking it was such a pretty name. I’d smile at her and nod, but was too intimidated to say anything and I didn’t want to assume she spoke English. Not nearly as many people here do as I’d imagined. It was through chance that one day a grandmother that was there with her granddaughter came up to me, speaking words I didn’t understand, but with a smile on her face…she referred to Lucy. She immediately registered the look of confusion on my face. She said, “English?” and I replied to her “yes.” She asked how old Lucy was and when I told her 2.5 months she gave me a look of shock and said “BIG girl”! Yes, she is. We get that a lot. The mother with her two children was standing there and joined the conversation. The ice was broken and I could feel myself get overcome with excitement as she spoke English to me...she asked how long we’d been here, what brought us here, where we were from, how old the children were… It felt wonderful to make my first friend here. She introduced her son, Jahn, who is in love with me J (Or rather, loves all women with long blond hair, haha). He is darling and always has the most wonderful grin. My new friend’s name is Friederike and she is such a wealth of knowledge and help!

Upon one of our first meetings at the park she asked of Kane’s age and mentioned the school nearby. I told her the house overlooked it and we hoped Kane could go there after the first of the year. She replied that they’d already started and I’d need to get him on the list (and basically “good luck getting him in!”) I knew I needed to get over there, but had been dragging my feet…a combo of feeling intimidated by the language barrier and the kids’ nap schedules. That day, we walked home from the park together and I pointed out our house (she lives further down the road). A day or two later, she stopped by to let me know to go to the kindergarten the following day and to talk to a certain teacher. That particular school was full, but the teacher would help me find another nearby that might have an opening. I was so grateful, but found myself nervous too! Ok, now I had no excuse…Friederike was helping me out and I needed to follow through. So, I went to the school with Kane and Lucy in tow after returning from my first MOPS meeting on base (to be featured in a future post), and walked in and found a lovely older blonde woman cleaning up in the kitchen… “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” She shook her head no. Of course. Oh, boy, this might be tougher than I thought. Luckily, she brought me over to a woman named Karen (unsure of the spelling, because it’s pronounced more like Car-In, only with a soft roll of the “r”). She explained there were no spots for Kane but she’d put him on the list. She went on to tell me every year there are many three year-olds beginning kindergarten in the fall, so it might be a year until he would have a place anywhere. I felt my heart sink a bit. Chad and I both so wanted for him to be able to go…he needs that interaction. There’s a waiting list on the base and it’s MUCH more expensive. Plus, there was the added bonus he’d learn German and meet other children in our neighborhood. Kane immediately made himself at home, pulling out puzzles and books to look at and he couldn’t wait to get out on that playground he’d so longed after! Karen was a good sport and indulged him and his excitement to be there…I could tell she got an absolute kick out of him. Before we left, she said she’d have the director of the school call me should a spot open up. I tried not to get my hopes up, but from the minute we had walked into that place, I fell in love with it and prayed hard he’d be able to get in before next fall. I just had a feeling…

The following Monday was Columbus Day. Chad had the day off, and, we decided to go to Ikea to try to find some furnishings for our still very empty townhouse. It was a disaster, but we won’t get into that :P Someone had called while we were out, but our prepaid phones don’t have voicemail, so I had no clue who it was. I gave Chad the number and he looked it up online. It was the kindergarten!!! I was so excited, but tried not to be. I wasn’t sure what it was about yet. So I called the next morning and left a message…rambling, I’m quite sure. Shortly thereafter, Frau Nesklar (sp?), the director of the school called me back and greeting me saying, “Ms. Jones, I have some good news…” I honestly think I half-shrieked. I couldn’t believe it, I was so excited! I shared that with her a few times as well. I could tell she thought I was pretty funny, but she humored me and my over-abundant enthusiasm. I felt like I'd won the lottery...because in a sense, it was exactly that. She said to come the following couple of days, whenever I had time, to fill out paper work. I did, and Kane once again went right out to play with everyone and made himself right at home. I had a good feeling about this. I was delighted to find out it will cost 60 euros a month for him to attend every morning from 8 – 1230. We’ll have him start on November 16th, the day after my mom leaves to return home. We are so anxiously awaiting her arrival on the 10th and look forward to this new adventure for Kane beginning the 16th! When I told him he was going to get to go to the school all the time soon, he looked at me with the most genuine smile and brightness in his eyes and said “I’m SO excited Momma!” He wanted to go right that minute. I know it’s going to be an adjustment, but I also know in my heart he’s going to thrive and he’ll love it. So thankful to Friederike for her help in pushing me to get my foot in the door and to God for answered prayers!