when i was batman

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on January 15, 2010.

“We’d like to see you in the office, Nikki.”

Jens had called from the stairs and turned back as abruptly as he had come, startling me out of the book I had been reading in my room. Flashback to high school, middle school, elementary school: getting called to the office was never a good thing. I scanned my memories of the last two weeks. Had I fucked up? Not that I could remember. The twins hadn’t even behaved particularly badly.

I put down my book and hurried down to the office where Janet was waiting behind her desk, her husband seated on the couch across from the door.

“You guys wanted to see me?”

“Yes we did. We thought it was time for you to start driving.” Up to that point Janet had always driven to the kindergarten. I came along and brought the twins inside while she idled on the curb outside. Once I took over the driving she could get back to doing more of whatever it was that she was always doing behind her computer, and I would have another few centimeters of independence.

Driving sounds good, I thought. Images of the family’s cars flashed through my head—Porsche, Fiat, Ferrari, Mercedes, Mini-Cooper, BMW—followed by images of myself, wrapped in a blanket and bleeding from a head wound as police and EMS workers bustled around me in slow motion and I contemplated the 100,000 car I’d just totaled. My forehead wrinkled. “Wait. What am I going to be driving?”

“The Porsche of course,” Jens cried, springing up and putting on his cap. “There isn’t anything else.” He tossed me a key ring with one black key attached. “Let’s go for a test drive.”

A typical stereotype of German people is that they are auto-philes, and Jens was the embodiment of the stereotype. He collected cars, had Mr. Walters meticulously wash and wax the collection regularly, dabbled in amateur car racing, and had adorned the walls of his sitting room—a niche of leather couches and untouched coffee table books outside of my bedroom—with framed photographs of famous car racers. All in all, I think it would be safe to say that he spent more time with his cars than he did with his children.

Now, sitting in the passenger seat of the Porsche and obviously excited, Jens was telling me to pull out of the garage and asking me about the cars I had driven in America. We drove around the block a few times, and I parallel parked in a narrow space near the twin’s school, thanking the gods of fortune that I had learned to drive on a stick shift. “So far so good,” Jens said as I slid into the spot. “Let’s go on the autobahn.”

The autobahn, contrary to popular belief, does occasionally have a speed limit, though these limits are much, much higher than those generally found beside American highways. We drove a few exits out of the city, and Jens urged me to go faster and faster.

“Come on! You’ve got to see what this baby can do!” This, the man who was supposed to be testing whether I could safely transport his children to kindergarten and back. When our exit came, I slowed. A little blue Peugot was coming up behind us, and I was going to let it pass before merging into the exit lane.

“What the hell are you doing!??!” Jens shouted, slamming a hand down onto the black dashboard. “This is a Porsche. The Porsche always goes first. Hit the gas, cut them off!” This, the man who was supposed to be testing whether I could safely transport his children to kindergarten and back.

Was he serious? Was this a test? I glanced at his face, and his eyes said “serious,” “obsessed,” and “possibly insane.” I sped up and left the little blue car behind us.

Friday March 30th 2012, 9:00 am 3 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies,expat life,germany

dumpster find of the week: baby tub

And you thought I hated that color. Well, I do. But when I went out to take out the trash and found this baby tub and (umm, what do you call these things? ummm…) toilet trainer seat thingy, I shrugged and took them home. There are a number of baby tubs lying around the Wagenplatz that would have worked just fine as well, though many of them were a little on the big side, and none of them had a drain plug in the bottom. (Note to self: do not get cocky and use inside the trailer where it is bound to somehow come open and flood everything.)

What have you found in the trash recently?

Read about why I do a “dumpster find of the week” series here. Or check out some of the other treasures I’ve pulled out of the trash here.

Wednesday March 28th 2012, 9:00 am 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan

spring: too early, and fucking finally

Throw open your windows!  Pack up your coats!  Screw the amputated arm back onto your purple sunglasses and bask in sunlight!  Swear on every single white cherry blossom that, this summer, you will not complain about it being too hot.  (Not even once!)  Chant it with me now: vitamin d, vitamin d, vitamin d!!!

We haven’t lit the wood stove in days, and the good mood is catching.  I came out of the shower yesterday—in a skirt, no jacket, no tights, hair wet—and the air felt so perfect, so pleasant, so warm.  It is the big “ahh” of relief after a long-hoped-for refreshing drink has arrived.  I almost always have a hard time believing it’s really happened, once it comes.  Spring!  Spring spring spring spring spring!  This is me, yelling from the roof tops.

Every time I go outside my mood shoots directly up through the impossibly warm air to the impossibly blue sky.  It probably shouldn’t be this warm in March.  But it is, and I can’t say I’m not enjoying it.

Monday March 26th 2012, 10:00 am 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,wagenplatz

in the margins

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on January 14, 2010.

Slowly, we got used to each other. We went to the park where the twins ran around with friends, and I sat on benches reading and writing letters. Franz Joseph threw sand in an infant’s face, and the mother whose stomach the infant was strapped to at the time screamed at me for five minutes when I came running, screamed at me as if I could have prevented his actions through eye-power alone, as if one year babysitting these children would have any effect on the aggression problems already germinating. Joseph was a sweetheart, but wasn’t good at expressing himself with words. Instead he communicated physically: throwing sand, toppling all of the furniture in his room, throwing small metal planes at his bedroom door as I closed it behind me.

Franci was easier to tame, but at four was already showing signs of the moody diva she would probably become as an adult. She liked to play Barbies and dress-up, loved glitter and princesses and the color pink. Her brother liked playing cops and robbers, knights, and having car races that he accompanied with the sounds of revving motors and explosions that were always on the tip of his tongue. We played doctor and hide-and-go-seek, drew pictures and had tea parties. They dressed up in costumes and sung along to their favorite songs—Robby the Pirate and Hoppel Hase Hans (Engl: Hoppel Rabbit Hans)—for an audience of stuffed animals on the steps. Most days it was a pretty plush job.

Bath time was either a godsend that would keep the twins happily playing for 45 minutes while I read on the stairs or a curse that left all of us soaked and disgruntled. I threatened no dessert, and they got dessert anyway. I threatened no TV, and they would successfully haggle for a half an hour. With five children in the house, most nights find you too tired to argue. “It’s important that we never contradict each other in front of the twins,” Janet had told me the night before my first working day. “Feel free to discuss anything with me in private, but if we undermine each other in front of them we’ll lose our authority.” A reasonable idea, when put into practice.

When Joseph had a tantrum, and he had a tantrum at least once a week, I would leave him in his room to scream it out. Later, I would carry him upstairs and shut the soundproof doors to the fourth floor for a time out. He could scream for hours. His mother took a more aggressive approach: “Do you want to go sit in the cellar?” She would ask him calmly as she dragged him down the stairs. “Because there is a monster down there and if you don’t start behaving I’m going to make you sit down there all by yourself.” Sometimes she’d tell him that the neighbors had already called the police, that they were on their way to arrest him. When his screams turned to scared tears she would take off her “bad cop” mask and led him gently back to his room.

One afternoon in the park I was reading an article about motherhood: “The function of the mother is to internalize forms of domination and treat them as love.” I picked up my pencil, and right next to that line I wrote in large capital letters JANET COLE.

Friday March 23rd 2012, 9:00 am 1 Comment
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies

gorilla mama: the first month with baby pickles

Having a baby is liking being given a gift.  Not in that “oh she’s my little precious angel sent from heaven” sort of way (though, shit does having a kid make you cheesy), but in a totally new, “you are now in possession of the most accurate and effective bullshit detector ever invented” sort of way.  Life is, at least at the beginning, reduced to the basics—eating, feeding, trying to (and too often failing at) drink enough water to keep up with both hydration and milk production, sleeping, sleeping, and sleeping.  And what that means is that suddenly it is really easy to spot even the most subtle of bullshit.  Priorities become stunningly easy to identify, and crushing those that set off the bullshit detector under your mean little toe becomes even easier.

On a slightly related note, I have also happily realized that having a kid means I will never be required to be social again.  (A point also very hilariously expounded upon on here.)  When did I become such an embittered hermit?  I used to, like, enjoy being social and going out, didn’t even particularly like sitting at home alone.  Now I just want to be left alone with my book and/or computer, and I don’t often bother to hang out with anyone I don’t already live with.  Though given that I live with seventeen people, maybe I’m not a hermit after all, just incredibly lazy.  Hmm.

My days are a lot different than they were pre-pregnancy, though they aren’t so very different from when I was waddling around with a watermelon stomach and spending most of my time in bed.  Except now I rarely have two hands free to type when I’m hanging out in bed, my waddle is improving daily, and the baby is busy giving me hickeys.  And I get up a hell of a lot earlier.

Mornings start around six or seven, when Pickles decides that being awake is more interesting than being asleep, and I attempt to keep her astoundingly loud gurgles and sighs and grunts quiet(ish) so as not to wake the Beard, who needs to be well rested so that he can bring me breakfast in bed while Pickles is breakfasting in bed; light the wood stove and chop wood, and make kindling; and do yet another load of laundry—all while I do what to the untrained eye looks a lot like laying around on my (miraculously shrinking) ass, but is really more like being a one-handed waitress/juke box/milk factory/mattress in a who-can-stay-still-the-longest contest.  Sometimes Pickles drinks enough of the knock-out juice to sleep for another few hours, and sometimes we hide out in a blanket tent cooing at each other until the Beard finally does wake up and the daytime diapering/playing/sleeping/nursing marathon can begin.

The good news is that we’re still getting a (relatively) lot of sleep.  Also: that she’s starting to look friendlier (less Stewie, more laughing and smiling), she doesn’t scream during every diaper change, my wrap carrier is fucking amazing, I’ve gotten really good at putting her in prefold diapers, I’m still not annoyed by the amount of laundry maintenance that using cloth diapers requires, and I no longer walk like a duck.  The bad news is that she screams through every minute of every car ride and bath.  I don’t understand how a person who spent nine months in warm water and was sired by someone who would spend all day every day lounging in saunas and heated pools if she could afford it could not like a hot bath.  But then again, she was also sired by folks who don’t bath that often themselves.  Go figure.

further reading

In case you, like me, are trapped in a position for most of the day that allows you to do little more than read, I thought I would tell you about two of my favorite recent internet finds.  The kind of internet reading that has you going back and reading entire blog archives it’s so good.

Mother Load…This is a blog on Jezebel written by Tracy Moore, an absolutely hilarious and talented writer who had me at “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Pooping During Childbirth.”  I spent an afternoon reading everything she’d written in the Mother Load series, and I laughed (out loud!) (multiple times!) during every single post.  I have no idea if I would have found it funny pre-Pickles, but now, wow.  Excuse me while I go stalk everything else this woman has ever written.

Feminist Breeder and blue milk…There is a whole world of feminist mama blogs out there that have been making my mornings with their dearth of product reviews and giveaways and their wealth of intellectually stimulating discussion of feminist issues related to motherhood.  These two blogs are my favorites so far.  And Feminist Breeder is written by Gina Crosley-Corcoran who used to be in Veruca Salt, which earns her extra punk mama points.




Thursday March 22nd 2012, 2:52 pm 11 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,gorilla parent (year one)

the weirdest thing i ever found in the trash

I’ve posted this picture before, but when I came across it in my blog archives I thought: now there’s a story worth telling twice. So here goes. Once upon a time I took a long Sunday bike ride through some nearby fields. Those nearby fields are also near some big box stores. I had never checked out their dumpsters, so I biked behind them, finding nothing until I came to a huge high-security fenced in trash area. This is what was inside, and for a good thirty seconds, I actually thought it might be real.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in the trash?

Wednesday March 21st 2012, 9:00 am 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan

it burns, it burns

This morning, this quote from artist Banksy:

People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

I stumbled across it (on feminist mama blog blue milk), and I felt a hint of inspiration to fuck shit up in the same way that I felt it a lot during my first year in Germany, when so much that I was reading in books and on walls (ah, the beginning of my graffiti obsession) had the passion pumping hot in my veins.  It’s a hard passion to keep kindled, though, particularly in the face of a big bad world with creaky hinges that are taking painfully long to oil.  And when I read this and felt that heat begin to glow, I wanted to share it with you, in case you needed a light yourself.

And also: high fives for every person who has ever done billboard modification.  If I thought having heroes was a good thing, you would all be mine.

Tuesday March 20th 2012, 9:00 am 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life

relax, these are the good old days

Oh my cod, hello nostalgia! So while enacting Operation Sanity (aka preparing some bloggy stuff for baby kick off time and gathering material for the second issue of Click Clack Gorilla: The Zine) I reread everything I’ve written since the beginning of 2009. And 2009 just happens to be the year that I got trash house aka my very own Wagen/trailer. Pre-trash house the Beard and I had been sharing one trailer, the red Wagen that you’ve probably heard me refer to as “the sleeping Wagen.” Re-reading my post from post-first-trash-house-viewing and pre-trash-house pick up was so much fun, that I decided I really needed to drag you all down memory lane with me. Wow. I had no idea how much work I was in for.

wagon wheel, june 2009

I imagine that it went something like this.

I was sitting in the red Wagen, thinking about how I was freakin’ never going to get the money together to buy my own wagon (a room of her own, blah blah blah, etc etc). “Maybe I should just give up beer for a while, put a euro in a jar every time I want a beer. It worked for Sleeveless.”

Zoom up into the clouds were a gaggle of white-toggaed, beer-toting, white-haired old men are looking down from the heavens on me. “Another one’s talking about giving up drinking,” one says. They looked at each other, worried. “We can’t let another one go. They’re dropping like flies. Somebody go talk to the Dumpster God.”

The next day I got a call from Workshop. There was a wagon in Rüsselsheim, and the owners were giving it away. I did a cartwheel, walked to the trash, and found a carton with six unopened bottles of wine.

The wagon owners are giving away their cute little wagon because the gardens are being “evicted” so that the city can build something else there. They’re a little older, and, 20 years ago, had the great idea that they would bury most of the wheels. Why, I’ll have to ask them when I meet them. I like to imagine it was a zanny solution to not wanting to build an extra step to get in the front door.

I have yet to go inside, but have been assured that it’s “tip top” in there. The only flaws on the outside are a missing window, two or three rotten boards, and two missing bolts on the towing bar. I’m pee-my-pants excited and at the same time, don’t believe it, won’t believe it until we’ve managed to get the thing home.

The foggy plan so far is to try to dig out part of the wheels, left the fucker up with a jack, fill in the holes/put boards in the once-wheels holes, and then come back with a truck to pull the thing home. If the wheels still work. I imagine that beneath the wheel top you can see above the ground there is nothing left, that the wheels are just phantoms of what they buried 20 years ago. Cross your fingers for me.

Aaaah, what a feeling of gratification to know that we got her home alright, that I fixed her up myself, and that she looks so damn pretty today. See what I mean? Ah. Today the high fives are for me, for actually following through on a huge long-term project. (Unlike my follow through on many larger writing projects. Ehem.) This is one of those moments when I really wished that I liked champagne.

Monday March 19th 2012, 9:00 am 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,tiny house livin',wagenplatz

the origins of hazing

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on January 4, 2010.

For the first week I wasn’t expected to work. Instead Janet drove me to the Ausländers- behorde (alien’s office) to fill out visa paperwork, to the central train station to find a photo machine that took passport-sized photos, to a language school to take placement tests, and to another office where I was issued the Frankfurt Pass that would get me discounts at museums and a free membership at the library.

The paperwork was easy, that first time. Health insurance, visa application, address registration—Janet was organized and experienced because every year there had been a new au pair to lead through the bureaucratic gauntlet.

Before me there had been a woman from Eastern Europe who the family would laughingly compare me to over dinner: I was vegetarian who ate tons of vegetables, and Olga had eaten more meat than anyone they’d ever met. Before Olga there had a been a woman from Africa who, according to Janet, had never eaten cheese before moving to Germany. “You should have seen her. She gained at least 10 kilos. But she didn’t buy new pants, she just left them open and tied them up with a belt. She always said ‘Why bother? When I go home there won’t be any cheese, and I’ll lose all the weight.’” The rest of my predecessors however, have already faded from my memory, as, presumably, I have already faded from the twins’. Every year a new au pair.

Janet was a stay-at-home mom, and in the case of the wealthy, this tends to mean paying others to do the grunt work and parading the kids around like little trophies when it is convenient. More specifically, it meant that Janet spent most of her time in her office behind the computer, shopping, and at her weekly sewing course. She wore her motherhood like a gold metal, but left the work to Anna, Maria, Mr. Walters, and I.

My average day would go like this, she had told me: wake up the twins and get them dressed, breakfasted, and to kindergarten. The rest of the morning belonged to me, or my German class, depending on the day. After lunch, which was a formal sit-down affair prepared (and served, and cleaned up after) by Anna, I would play with the twins until dinner. In the warm months this might mean going to the park or taking them to a friend’s. On Tuesdays it meant driving them to English lessons at the country club. In the winter and in the rain it meant playing Barbies and doctor and car chase and hide-and-go-seek. Later there would be baths and dinner, television and sleep. I should sit on the stairs until they dozed off, Janet told me my first night, and then I had Feierabend (end of the work day, literally a compound of the words “celebration” and “evening”).

The first week the twins did what kids often do when a stranger shows up and tries to order them around: they acted like monsters and did everything they could do to expose my limits. At the end of my second week in Frankfurt—my first week working—I sat on the stairs shaking my head at a screaming match I had just won. Janet had heard the ordeal from the master bedroom, and when it was over, she came out and looked at me, sprawled out on her wooden stairwell, relaxed. “I’m really impressed,” she said. “You’re the first au pair who they haven’t pushed to tears after the first few days.”

Friday March 16th 2012, 9:00 am 12 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies

gorilla mama: the postpartum belly

A few weeks ago I wrote a little ditty about body image during pregnancy.  I told you about the skinny voices I’ve heard all my life (the voices coming from magazines and television and the way people around me talk about weight that made me feel like being and/or staying skinny was somehow crucial to my happiness), I rejoiced at their disappearance during my pregnancy, and I silently hoped they wouldn’t return to plague me once Pickles had been born.  My post was even picked up by Eat the Damn Cake, a lovely website about self-esteem and body image written by the same writer behind homeschooling blog Skipping School that I have been reading for the past several months.

Now, writing this at a little over two weeks postpartum, I’m taking stock.  I have a 20-centimeter-long scar just above my pubes that I was afraid to look at for days after the birth.  I’m still afraid to touch it, and when I finally brought myself to place my hand between it and my navel, I found the skin there strangely numb—a side effect of the epidural perhaps?  But as my uncle said: “Sorry they had to bring the knife in, but then again who doesn’t want a new cool scar!?”  (He has a point there.  Scars make you seem more dangerous and mean.  Too bad any opponent I will ever have to face in a back-alley knife fight won’t be able to see mine.)  I’ve already lost 22 of the 33 pounds I gained during my pregnancy, but my belly sags slightly over the scar.  And have the skinny voices returned?  No.  (No!)  No, they haven’t.  Now there’s something worth celebrating.

But it got me thinking.  Why is it that pregnant ladies rejoice in their bellies when baby is inside, but hide them away once baby is out?  In hiding those bellies we’re doing ourselves a disservice.  We should be celebrating our baby houses just as much postpartum as we did prepartum.  Because if we did that, then Hollywood wouldn’t have a monopoly on what Most Folks know about postpartum bodies.

Ever watch Lost?  Notice how the blond chick was insta-thin after giving birth to her little boy?  Yeah, that pissed me off.  Ever watch My Name is Earl?  Notice how Joy was insta-thin after giving birth (in about three minutes, ha!) in her kitchen?  Yeah, that pissed me off some more.  Because if most of the western world only sees pregnancy through the eyes of film and television makers, then most of the western world is going to expect that real, live pregnant ladies get insta-thin immediately after giving birth.  Which creates a lot of pressure on postpartum ladies.  And the last thing anyone needs is more pressure to look a certain way, especially a woman recovering from birth.  Every pregnant woman starts at a different weight, gains a different amount of poundage, and loses it (or doesn’t) at a different rate.  But no postpartum woman looks like she did before her pregnancy directly after the birth.  And the implication that that is even possible is poison.

So in celebration of postpartum bellies, I thought I’d share a picture mine, with a nice scar close-up for good measure.

I had good luck; I didn’t get any stretch marks.  I didn’t smear any magical creams on my belly during my pregnancy; I just had the good luck to not gain more weight than the elasticity of my skin could sustain.  (Though I was pretty surprised, when I was 13 or 14 a growth spurt covered my thighs with them, so I thought I was pre-disposed.)  But why do I even consider that good luck?  Why is the world so down on stretch marks (and bellies!) anyway?  Once upon a time a hippy boy I knew saw the stretch marks on my legs, apparently the first he had ever seen, and asked, “Hey what are those?  They are beautiful.  They look like roots.”  I think he had the right idea, and so far I’m loving the curves pregnancy has given me too, not to mention the beautiful baby.

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Thursday March 15th 2012, 9:00 am 18 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,gorilla parent (pregnancy),gorilla parent (year one)