First Week

The business part of my trip is not showing much success so far. One of the documents I need has to go through a notary = money. Or i can do this myself and need an appointment with an official but the calendar is full until December. They finally suggested the best would be through the german consulate in San Francisco. I’ve come almost full circle. So be it.

I still have an appointment with the bank and wonder what the outcome will be. 

There is another problem, the american credit union wants a death certificate or date of someone I know nothing about, the last girlfriend of my father. She died during my visit last year.

Other than that my biggest problem is the time change. Why can’t I adjust? Is age a factor?  I get tired early, go to bed instead of snoring on my friend’s couch and wake up at midnight for 4 to 5 hours. I read, I toss and turn, hug my pillow, uncover myself, recover myself, go to the bathroom and repeat. Then I wake up at 11 am and struggle through the next day. How do people do it who only get a 2 week vacation here?

When I arrived late at night I immediately felt at home. Waiting for the street car I saw opera goers with fancy clothing to homeless and every level of society in between. Everyone using public transportation.

Every day I treat myself by going grocery shopping. First the bakery to get a few Brötchen, and perhaps a slice of cake, then the grocery store for my glass of cherry or hazelnut yogurt, my favorite cheese, or whatever strikes my fancy. From creamed spinach to an ice cream I haven’t had since last year. 

The streets are familiar, the food is familiar, except the people, I don’t recognize them anymore. And yet, they all look familiar in a german kind of way.

It’s so easy to imagine myself living back here.

I was really jealous of my friend’s garden since I had to forgo mine this year. You should have seen her red currant bushes! The fig trees! The zucchini! The chard! The red beets! Everything was bigger than anything I ever grew and they grow organic.

What’s in season right now are red currants and I’m having my fill. And gooseberries.

I love the market in town, a 3 times a week market. Everything my heart desires and has missed.

A store focused on french fries.

My döner, a small one this time.

Radish I didn’t know came this huge.

The broad beans.

Bread.

My morning chores of feeding the turtles that are my age.

Adventures Start

So here I am, finally, Germany.

Flight was pretty uneventful, slept most of the time, but realized that even 3 seats are not enough to sleep comfortably.

When maneuvering through the airport to the shuttle for a ride to another part of the airport and  from there to the train to the Paris train station, I was lost at times but pretended with confidence that I knew where I was going.

It is a known area where thieves are active and I was watching shoes. Fast running shoes that have seen lots of wear: watch out Marianna! Of course I was wearing my oldest running shoes myself come to think of it. 

Clutching my rolling suitcase, my backpack, and my purse, I made it to gare du nord, another known sketchy neighborhood, to walk to gare de l’est. I had 3 different directions how to approach this 1/3 mile walk. But I was too proud to pull out the piece of paper and also didn’t want to give the impression I was a lost tourist. If you watched me closely and saw my backtracking, it must have been a giveaway.

If you ever took Bart in the bay area, you know you insert your ticket to get into the train area and you do the same on the way out.

For some reason I imagined this would not be the case in Paris. I entered inserting my ticket, but was looking for a way out without doing the same. It felt very prison like until I got hold of some courage and just tried inserting the ticket again, fully expecting all sirens and bells and whistles to go off.

Now which exit? Some street names looked familiar. One that I equated with drunkard, one with san quentin, and so forth.

With resolve I entered Paris life where a whole lot of men were trying to foist single packs of cigarettes on passers by. I must have looked like a non-smoker and was approached by no one. 

I did my one street forward, cross the road and then one street back thing, by now I was really good at that, saw a bus with gare de l’est sign and went down that road. Not very far down the road I came to what seemed like a 6 way intersection. Most people with suitcases or backpacks were heading toward the left and when I peeked in that direction I recognized the correct train station.

From there on all went according to plan. Found my train and seat. And off we went toward Mannheim. At some point a fellow traveler took a seat next to me, and I gave him the status of either soccer player or migrant. He spoke very little german and it turns out was in the wrong seat. The conductor directed him to the first class section but he decided he liked sitting next to me. 

Arriving in Mannheim, I was on home turf. Got ticket to my village and waited for the streetcar for half an hour since I just had missed one and it now was after 10 pm and they only run twice an hour.

The wait was fine as I took in all the familiar sights and was flooded with memories. Streetcars in other directions came and went. Spilling out opera goers in fancy getup to people in tattered clothing and everything in between. They all shared the idea of public transit and it made me smile.

I kept on listening in to conversations and watching my fellow travelers. It was almost 11 pm when I arrived and had a short walk left to where I was staying.

There was a little hiccup in that the sidewalks are mostly cobblestone and rolling a suitcase along shattered the silence of the night. I was waiting for the shutters to open behind me and getting screamed at. But this stayed a fantasy. When I turned into the street where my friend lived I did lift the suitcase the last few meters.

Then it was a few hours talking and off to bed. Sleep is not easy with the time difference!

Home Again

It’s not even been a year, and here I fret all over again what clothing to bring. How to fill my suitcase. What to bring on my trip to Germany and France.

I packed during the Women’s World Cup soccer season while a heatwave swept over France and Germany and other places I’ll not be going to. Easy! Every lightweight t-shirt and skirt went in. And one sweater for that one cool day.

Then the heatwave was over and I saw I might be arriving with rain. Ok, 2 sweaters! Then a call from Germany and a complaint of how cold it is. 3 sweaters!

I know I’ll want lots of space for chocolate and tea and soup broth and other little gems I’ll discover over there and will want to bring back. Did I mention the glorious bath towels with colors never imagined before? So bright and lovely I want to shower every hour.

No buying yarn this time. Basta! I have enough. Also, only one skein for the trip over in case of a very rainy day. Not too old to have learned my lesson last time.

Suitcase packed, it turns into a waiting game. Time is in slow motion, even at my age. I don’t allow myself to finish every last task in one day, because then what? Today I try to get control over my meds situation. Tomorrow vacuuming and dusting and if necessary the floors and bathrooms.

Next day the fridge.

Less mundane, for me at least, is finding the flight book, the downloadable one that will keep me distracted from my absolute horror of being so far above ground that I’m sure I would not survive a fall from that height.

Thanks to all the friends giving recommendations, though I have read quite a few of them. I checked out the rest by downloading reading samples. I’ve already started over 10 books this way. And all, ALL, of them have many holds at the library ebooks site. I wonder why ebooks are not unlimited borrowing.

Before I pay for a book I want more information, and here I admit to a bad habit: I read reviews (and posts to news stories, but that’s another story). Usually just the one-star and five-star reviews. But now I’m under time pressure and only focus on the one-stars.

If reviewers think there is no plot and the story drags, I imagine it won’t hold my interest and distract me when I hear a noise and think the plane’s engine must be on fire.

The book situation is not solved yet, but i have a backup. I started a German series on the way back from there last year and could just download the second book. But I have a hard time following the various characters and as usual forgot what was in the first book already. First world problems, right?

Today I’ve done shit to get ready. I have another little tooth problem that I’m hoping will not end up as a longer post here. I think I’ll quit eating nuts. Usually the culprits. The last time, a couple of weeks ago, or was it only last week? I ended up having a bridge removed and the accompanying teeth. That leaves a 3-tooth gap in my mouth. Yes, I’m not jumping for joy.

Toby is supposed to come home today. We received a text earlier when they were ready to depart, around 12:45 pm. They’re flying in to Redding where their buggies are parked. And then home! Sure hope there is time for a visit, however short. And I want to hear Alaska stories.

About 10 years ago Stephen and I started a blog on our journey to Boulder to visit Liana. I’m celebrating with a reread: http://theeastwardmovement.blogspot.com/2009/08/night-before.html

Clothing Dilemma

Is this how my trip to Germany is going to start? Worrying about what to bring and wondering if a shopping trip is in my near future?

My closet:

It’s a bit on the meager side. Especially when it comes to winter, like October and November in Germany. I do black t-shirts very well, and I do own two black long sleeve t-shirts. Do you think anyone minds frayed sleeves and neck on the long-sleeves?

And can you see the plaid shirt? Yes, long sleeve, from our son Toby, he’s ok parting with it.

How about pants? Well, I’m in trouble. One pair, and I don’t even like them. And I’m not sure if i can pull off PJ pants in Germany, too thin. I shouldn’t whine, I get to go to Europe!

And then, how about shoes, let’s change the subject.

Socks, I’m good on socks. As a knitter it would be a shame if I had no socks. And look, not one of them black.

Today is the official day I start on my adventure. Though it really started yesterday when I pulled the suitcase from the garage to let all the spiders escape that might have considered hibernating in it.

Tonight and on the weekend: a trip to a clothing store. Long overdue. I will post my loot soon.

Ancestry Part 2

The Sins of the Mother

My mom modeling a mardi gras costume made by a local taylor.

Most of my adult life I believed that Hans was my father.

One day in 1982 I collected all my courage and contacted him. He agreed to a meeting that would end up lasting hours. So many questions on both sides. Including from his wife he had brought along. We had dinner together I’d made in advance, and when we said goodbye he invited us over for dinner at his house.

Unfortunately, that never happened. Within 2 weeks of that meeting we moved due to a job transfer; but there would be mail, or so I thought.

Over the years I kept in touch with letters and photos. From him I received one vacation postcard that his wife wrote. I was always left wondering if his wife hid my letters. She did say in our meeting that Hans having had a child already was almost a deal-breaker for her.

I called a couple of times, but Hans was never home. After a tragic event in 2007 and before heading to Germany, my mom now dead, I called again. This time he answered and we ended up talking for an hour. Catching up, lots of questions from him. When I asked why the silence to my mail he replied that he wants and wanted no contact with me. I asked why he didn’t just tell me so, his answer: I thought you would get the message.

Wow! Return the letters or say something, but this was cowardly. A child never gives up on their parents without a clear message.

And so ended my barely started relationship with my bio father. Until….

Yes, after DNA results that suggested relatives in the US (see previous post), I wanted to know more and contacted him, or rather his daughter, via Facebook.

I talked a little bit about that in yesterday’s post. But here are the gory details.

The daughter forwards a letter from him to me via Facebook messenger. He asks why I want to know about relatives of his in the US and says there are none; what the purpose of this DNA test is; if it was a paternity test between Mr. Wheeler and me; who is Mr. Wheeler.

He writes that my mother declared him the father in court and that she didn’t have sexual intercourse with anyone else, so he was forced to admit paternity with all its consequences (that would have been around 50 DM monthly for my support).

More questions from him: How is it possible that another man makes an appearance after 63 years? Have I known about it all those years? Is it possible to exclude him as my father without a DNA test between him and me? Does my DNA test prove my relationship to Mr. Wheeler? How can he legally find out that this new situation reverses his paternity he admitted to in 1954? He writes that this is a legal proceeding and a few lines on Facebook will not be enough. And that if my assumptions are right, this would be of great importance to him.

As you can see, many more than one question. And not one showing empathy with me and what I’m going through. Just him, him, him.

What can I answer? Yes, he’s not my bio father, but I have no idea who my father is. I have no information about the law in Germany. Also, as a teenager I was adopted by my mom’s husband, so there is no certificate I own naming Hans as the father. At the time, he had to agree to the adoption.

I reply with: Oh my! and that this is better done through email than Facebook messages through his daughter. I give them my email, and promptly get theirs. It’s “chat-with-marianna@….” I get my own email address to correspond with them. No comment to that.

I’m back trying to figure out the mystery of my bio father and the twists and turns in that journey when I receive another email from Hans’s daughter with a letter attached by him. And again it’s a me, me, me letter: Weeks have passed and I should at least answer the questions I can answer. And it should be clear to me that the answers are important and interesting to him as well as his family.

Does he want to know about Hedwig and Don and all the other little tidbits I know? I decide that it’s none of his business. If he would have accepted me over the years we could have shared in the forthcoming information and cried and laughed together. But he showed no interest and so has no right to this personal detective story that’s unravelling. He will get his answer when I know who my father is, in the meantime I let him know he can be assured it’s not him.

He goes on in his letter to inform me that he finds it hard to imagine that a man would be willing to do a paternity test with me. He asks if it is the law in the US. And if I find out the paternity he has to react and fight his status if there is a document. Oh, I should not worry: he will not ask for the return of the unjustly paid support for me.

This floored me. Is there one case where a child over 63 years later is asked to pay back child support? Are you kidding me? What an insult! How generous of him.

He asks me if I know if Mr. Wheeler was in Germany at the time of my conception and if he was in contact with my mother. He is interested in doing a paternity test with me. And wonders whether we would do this in Germany or the US.

He writes about the difference between ancestry and paternity. And that family court in Mannheim would deal with fighting paternity, because that’s where he admitted it.

He reminds me that he had no contact with my mother after Oct/Nov of 1953 (I was made in September). He didn’t find out about my birth until 3 weeks after I was born. (My grandmother found out about me the day of my birth. My mother refused to name the dad, but social services threatened her and she eventually named Hans. So most likely no one knew he was the father for 3 weeks.)

My mother was quiet about the pregnancy when they ran into each other in May 1954, a month before I was born. He claims my mom stayed overnight with an American family she worked for and there were lots of parties. (All I know is that my grandmother worked for Americans. My mother worked for a publisher as a secretary.)

He continues insisting on his right to find out what I know so far. That he’s 82 already and needs to schedule dates in court and find out what needs doing before he gets too old to act.

I have no idea what my mother knew or didn’t. She must have thought he was the father. Or she was playing a big game. At the time she was 16 and 17. I can only guess. But Hans was her boyfriend for a while and they had sex. The circumstances of my conception, we’ll probably never know. It could have been a one-night stand, a rape, a short relationship with a GI, a drunken escapade….

I did write back to his last letter and informed him that he’s not my bio father and that the rest of the information I know should be of no interest to him since it’s personal information that doesn’t pertain to him.

Let’s hope it’s the end of the story and a relationship that never was. If he ends up seeing me you’ll hear me scream throughout Nevada County.

Ancestry Part 1

Life can be exciting. Mine recently brought changes that make me question reality.

Liana, our daughter, married into a family with an aunt who’s enjoying the adventures of ancestry. No surprise then that Liana was gifted a DNA kit to expand and fill out the family tree.

Her results show many US relatives and she informed me that my father is not my father. Yeah, right. I told her this was impossible. I’m an illegitimate child of a German man who wanted nothing to do with me. Painful? Yes. I carried that pain around for far too long to now accept he isn’t my father.

She insisted. I knew nothing about ancestry or what relationships mean to make any sense of it. Perhaps my father has a brother who emigrated to the US. That would be a simple explanation, Occam’s razor. Or could it be, a mistake was made and I was exchanged at birth? No, remember, Occam’s razor. But she had me intrigued.

After access to this new family tree, I could find no connection to my maternal family, and none to the one I thought of as my father’s family. While some families have many, many children, generation after generation, my family’s forte was keeping it small with one or two children. This new Wheeler (name changed to protect the innocent ;-)) family seemed to focus on many children and as many marriages. It was a labyrinth of a family tree.

I’m not in touch with my father (you know the one I thought was my father), though I have his address and phone number. With a Facebook search I find one of his daughters and since I’m no family secret I ask her in a Facebook message if I can pose a question. Her eventual answer is that she gladly will answer one question but is not available for further information, as her father didn’t wish to have any contact with me.

Oh boy, one question. I’d better make this a good one, and I decide to wait before asking.

That’s when Liana gifts Stephen and me DNA tests. I wasn’t convinced it would show anything beyond what I already knew. OK, I was a little intrigued by some US relatives, but not that much and thought it a waste of money and spit. Spit I didn’t seem to have lots of.

The results arrive via the ancestry web page  where you sign up with your assigned number. And much earlier than expected, I see the emailed results.

No surprise, I’m 97% European. But the 13% Irish is a surprise, so are a few other numbers scattered over Europe, but all too low to be significant.

The other aspect and the most interesting one to me is the DNA matches with others who took the test. To my relief, Liana is our daughter, no mix-up at the Italian hospital where she was born. We had to leave her alone for an hour the first day to do the paperwork at a local government office. Well, you never know, I mean she was the prettiest baby ever.

I learned so much more about ancestry and familial relationships than I ever wanted to know.

Surprise No. 1: I have a first cousin, no, two first-cousin matches. And yes, they are cousins to each other. What does that mean? We have an uncle or aunt in common.

With absolute certainty I can say that my mother was an only child. Unless she was exchanged at birth back in 1937. Nah, not likely. So this uncle or aunt has to be on the paternal side. This is getting interesting.

The Wheeler family has an extensive family tree online, and I fit in there somehow. These new cousins have many aunts and uncles. It has to be that one of their uncles is my father. This is earth-shaking information.

I’m 63 and all of a sudden I find my father? I start feeling lost. Have to let go of the man I thought was my father. But how can I do that before I find another one? I don’t want to be in limbo.

I message the woman I thought was my half-sister and tell her I have no more questions. That I had been interested in any close relatives who had emigrated to the US, but now know that her father is not mine and to pass this information on to him. Greetings and thanks, Marianna.

One of the first moves is to message the first cousin and second cousin. That works through a system on ancestry.com. It takes a while to get an answer, and there is a family story that one of the brothers had a child in Germany they were in touch with. Well, no one was in touch with me, so that must be another child. And it turns out to be so.

There are 4 brothers who could be my father. 3 of them are dead. One of the dead ones we can rule out, as I’m a cousin to his son. That leaves 3. One of them is older and was not in Germany at the time of my conception, that leaves 2. One alive, Jack, one dead, Don. Supposedly both sterile. None of them ever had kids. How can that be?

Jack thinks that both of them were in Germany in my village at the time of my conception. He’s 86 now and it is hard for him to deal with this as I understand from my new cousin, of course he thinks his sterility counts him out as the father. I’m 63 and it’s hard for me, too. He always wanted children but couldn’t have his own, and his wife was against adopting. I decide I want him to be my father, if for no other reason than he’s alive and I could meet him. Perhaps.

The only way to find out if it’s him or his brother Don is through a DNA test. He hasn’t agreed yet. He insists he’s sterile. I believe him, but when did that happen? Through mumps as an adult, perhaps after my conception? My huge imagination is running in all directions at the same time.

I have no direct contact with Jack, everything goes through the first cousin. But she’s not that close to him. My latest idea is contacting him myself.

How about a dead father, Don, as a possibility? And this is where the whole story meanders, and twists, and turns.

Don brought back a wife from Germany named Hede who was my mom’s age and from a neighboring village. They were married a short time before getting divorced. No one has heard from her since.

I contact my mom’s friend from back then who married an American and now lives in Florida. She recognizes the last name but says she only knows a Hedwig Mayer who married a Wheeler, his name was Don and he was a heavy drinker. Hedwig was very unhappy in her family and they were glad to get rid of her and signed the papers for an underage marriage. Hedwig and Don went to the US and she never heard from Hedwig again.

Hedwig is not Hede, but close. Liana eventually finds papers online where Hedwig applies for citizenship. In this paper she also asks to change her first name to Hede. Chills.

She married Don June 1955 in Mannheim (I was born June 1954 in Mannheim). They travel to the US February 1956. In May 1959 she applies for citizenship. We lose track of her after that.

According to my mom’s friend who still has an excellent memory, Hedwig didn’t know my mom and my mom also didn’t know Don. We will see.

I know: he is my father. Or his brother is. Will I ever find out? Is it important?

One change: before I was an illegitimate child, now I’m an illegitimate child of a GI. That makes me a child of the occupation. I’m one of 200,000 to 400,000 children, many of us searching for our father.

Oh To Be Awake

Pee, brush teeth, comb hair, and I’m good to go most mornings. No need for coffee or other brew, perhaps add 30 minutes of ignoring me, but I’ll promise, that’s it, I’ve turned into a more or less pleasant person ready to interact with the world.

Last night I discovered that it takes totally different skills to wake up at night. And here I thought all I had to do is reach for a book or the iPad to make me sleepy again.

The decision was to reach for a book: Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors. Fiction, the third in a series. The other option would’ve been Heather Ann Thomson’s Blood in the Water, The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy.

City of Mirrors introduced a new character from back in the 1960s and even mentioned Attica which amazed me and reinforced my belief in the synchronicity of life. Justin Cronin also amazed me by the meticulous research he must have done of that period. I kept wondering when the fiction part of the book would kick in, realizing that I didn’t know enough about this history to even notice. I plodded on. But it didn’t keep my interest and that chapter never connected to the plot in a way I could relate.

I closed the book and put it down and that’s when I realized, looking at the cover, that I’ve actually been reading Blood in the Water, about Attica.

My state of awareness in the middle of night might take some hair and teeth brushing, too.

With all these sign of pointing to confusion at my age, there is always the worry of dementia that comes in many versions. But like all the other signs, I’ll ignore this for now. The possibly obvious still rests under a blanket of plausible excuses. Let’s go with that.

There have been tons of health issues that kept me from interacting with my world here. Instead I’ve been working on pussyhats and other knitting. The Trump election has me confused and angry. The coming Saturday’s demonstration or march in Sacramento is therefore very welcome.

 

Hoarding #358

Here is a topic I keep on coming back to: hoarding.

Philosophers and other thinkers have contemplated life and death, ethics, the mind, emotions, historically just about every topic. And in my youth I probably fancied myself a philosopher with great and deep thoughts, especially when enhanced with a mind-altering influence.

So why do I sit here today and all I have are mundane problems and I can’t even come up with mundane solutions?

I’m cleaning out our shed (thanks Stephen for doing the heavy lifting and dirty work), and I look at this huge pile and contemplate. Left to my usual behavior I know the outcome. In no time everything is back in the shed with a little order, all the while feeling good that I’m accomplishing something.

In the end, there will be 2 boxes I recycle and some little stuff to be thrown away. In other words, nothing accomplished but I scared a few black widows for a change .

So I contemplate some more this time. I try the method of holding each object and seeing how I feel about it. Turns out I have feelings for my table saw.

So I contemplate some more. I look at these objects and their uses. I still think the table saw ranks high on that scale, too. But how about the wallpaper books?

What you don’t know: even before I turned 18 I came across this article in a magazine that showed how to make miniature scenes. Dollhouses you could call them, except they were grocery stores, fabric stores, etc. My heart longed to make these miniatures but my life had other ideas.

Many years ago a wallpaper store gave me their old books, including fabric sample books. So for years now I carry these around, or rather stand them in a corner of the shed. Because, one day I will make these miniature scenes. I did copy a whole book from the library, an out of print book, and before the internet, on how to make the structures themselves. I’m hoarding that, too.

Hier_Können_Kinder

First I waited for the kids to leave the house, check. Then I waited for retirement (I have no idea why I thought that one, having practically been retired all my life).

But since the kids left I immediately filled up every minute of my time with new projects. Never time for the ones I was hoarding saving.

Life is too exciting to limit myself. I get involved in more and more activities, just like the true gemini I am. Of course I might never get to those dollhouses, but can I really be sure, 100%? I won’t and can’t if those wallpaper books are gone, so back into the corner with you, perhaps this winter.

I’ve lost interest in other stuff I saved. Excited about them years ago, yawning now. But who knows, I might be jumping up and down one day rediscovering that stuff. I should let it go for now, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I can still maneuver through our house, so bite me.

What? No More Books?

OK, so here it is. I recommended a book on Facebook to someone and got pounced on.

The story started with a mom writing about creating a chart of chores for her kids involving bribery (her word, not mine). I understand, been there, done that. But then I remembered a pivitol book I read back when our kids were younger that caused me to abandon the gold stars for a while.

The book: Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards. It was eye-opening. All I would get from the kids with the gold star system would be compliance as long as the rewards kept coming. What i should hope for is a kid who wants to show certain behavior, deep down. Hmm.

Made total sense to me at the time. By now I’m probably misrepresenting Kohn’s ideas and have made them my own version, but they are ideas that have followed me through life.

I can pay people to do what I want, I can bribe them with stuff they want, I just have to keep dangling the rewards. I wanted more for my kids. For them to do and want what felt right, regardless of goodies.

So I was happy to point out that some people believe that this gold star or bribery system might have some drawbacks, and I recommended Kohn’s book. Here is the actual post: “re. bribery: perhaps worth looking into what alfie kohn said about this topic in punished by rewards.”

I was not prepared for the backlash. From ‘parenting books make me want to vomit’ to ‘too busy being a good mom to waste time reading books by people who don’t know my kids.’ Really?

Did these folks not read one pregnancy book either? It’s certainly the first thing I turned to when I found out I was pregnant. And not just because we lived a bit isolated in Italy. I wanted to know all the minutiae about pregnancy and delivery. No one’s word was good enough. I had to know it all. Of course we all read books that fit within our framework of beliefs, so it started out with Leboyer, Odent, Spiritual Midwifery, Immaculate Deception, etc. I bet you even recognize some names here.

So what’s with the new moms? No more knowledge from books? Just lore and myth and experience? How does one get from what is to what could be?

We ended up as unschoolers, with many books and newsletters by John Holt at our side and bedside. He was the one who recommended Alfie Kohn and others we read. It all fit so neatly with our beliefs, there was no hesitation: Should we, shouldn’t we?

I’m not talking self-help books, though we grasped for them in later teenage years. Mostly books that opened our minds to new ways of raising kids, believing in our kids. That can be difficult at times when society tries to tell you exactly how they should be, what movies they should watch, what games they should play, what clothes they should wear.

Books I remember: Free at Last – The Sudbury Valley School; Stories They’ll Remember – Frank LordGreenleaf – An Autobiography of a ChildAlfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards; John Holt’s Learning All the Time and How Children Fail, etc., and on and on. All books that had a profound impact on me as a parent. The most important aspect though was not the question am I doing it right or wrong, but the question is my kid OK.

books

Children are all so different that one needs to keep on having faith in them and believing in them and supporting them, no matter how crazy it gets at times. No, I’m not writing my own book here or advising, that’s just what I felt. And at times I was good at it and other times a miserable failure. Then I would pick up a book and recover my faith.

Perhaps parents nowadays are not faced with such doubts as I was. Books are unnecessary because they know it all already or don’t want to know. Strange as this seems to me, I have to accept that the world might be changing and maybe books on children and parents are part of the past.

John Holt et al., I appreciate you took the time to write and open my eyes to a larger world and to my children. You made us part of a bigger movement that is still going strong. And I’m grateful to have been there almost at the beginning and able to contribute.

We learn from each other and we learn from books and we learn from life and our mistakes and successes. We should never shut out any source of information, no matter what aspect of life. A good thing that we get to pick and choose and have our opinions on what we read and hear and see. But quit reading? Never!

Names

I’ve been called many names in my life. My favorite: alien. My least favorite: illegitimate.

When the kids were little and I got to tell them that their mom was an alien and had proof in the form of a government card, it made my day. Let’s hope they let me be an alien for the rest of my life.

But it’s the least favorite that left some scars. Born out of wedlock or illegitimate in a small German village left a stigma with consequences I didn’t realize at the time. Certain kids were not allowed to associate with me, perhaps they thought illegitimacy was contagious.

So when one day a classmate approached and wanted my company and advice I felt flattered. Me? Little wee me? The outcast? Yes.

Since I lived next to a kitchen and knickknack store and she was searching for a present for her mom, she enlisted me to help pick it out. I was exhilarated.

It seemed like hours we were in that store, looking at every single item. Every choice I suggested was met with a: no, not the right thing. Eventually the store closed and we had to leave empty-handed. I felt sad that I failed her.

She left for home, and within minutes the shop owner rang our doorbell. I was dumbstruck when they accused me of theft in front of my grandmother. Yes, of course I had been to the store, duh. But i certainly didn’t steal a thing. It felt so weird, I started laughing and have never forgiven myself for that response as I thought now for sure I’d made myself look guilty. Perhaps I laughed because I didn’t want to cry. Or about the absurdity of the situation.

I had nothing to hide and nowhere to hide anything. I didn’t even have my own room but had to sleep in a room with my grandmother.

I was played. And well. All out of my feelings of inferiority. And perhaps that’s where my sense of justice was born. Thanks for that.